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Title: The Boy Chums in the Gulf of Mexico - or, On a Dangerous Cruise with the Greek Spongers
Author: Ely, Wilmer M. (Wilmer Mateo)
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Boy Chums in the Gulf of Mexico - or, On a Dangerous Cruise with the Greek Spongers" ***

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[Illustration: "Charley leveled his gun and sent sixteen shrieking
bullets just above the wheelman's head."]



The Boy Chums In the Gulf of Mexico

    OR

    On a Dangerous Cruise with the Greek
    Spongers

    BY WILMER M. ELY

    Author of "The Boy Chums on Indian River," "The Boy
    Chums on Haunted Island," "The Boy Chums in
    the Forest," "The Boy Chums' Perilous Cruise."

[Illustration]

    A. L. BURT COMPANY
    NEW YORK



    Copyright 1913

    BY A. L. BURT COMPANY

    THE BOY CHUMS IN THE GULF OF MEXICO



CONTENTS


         I.                          3
        II. MR. DRIVER.             11
       III. PREPARATIONS            19
        IV. THE START               27
         V. THE START               36
        VI. FIRST TROUBLE           45
       VII. SPONGING                53
      VIII. TROUBLE                 61
        IX. MANUEL'S RELEASE        68
         X. A RASH RESOLVE          76
        XI. A MYSTERY               84
       XII. IN A DIVING SUIT        94
      XIII. A CLOSE CALL           100
       XIV. THE DISCUSSION         107
        XV. A DESPERATE PLAN       115
       XVI. TOO LATE               122
      XVII. OUTWITTED              129
     XVIII. IMPRISONED             136
       XIX. WRECKED                144
        XX. HUNTING HELP           152
       XXI. THE CASTAWAYS          159
      XXII. ANOTHER DANGER         167
     XXIII. THE RELAPSE            175
      XXIV. THE FLOOD              182
       XXV. THE FLOATING HATCH     189
      XXVI. WITH THE BOYS          197
     XXVII. THE JOURNEY            205
    XXVIII. JUDSON                 212
      XXIX. THE FEUD               219
       XXX. BESIEGED               225
      XXXI. THE ENEMIES            233
     XXXII. THE CASTAWAYS AGAIN    240
    XXXIII. THE RESCUE             247
     XXXIV. CONCLUSION             255



THE BOY CHUMS

IN THE GULF OF MEXICO



CHAPTER I.


"IT'S just like stepping suddenly into a strange country. I am glad we
came even if we decide not to go into the business."

The speaker, a sturdy, manly-looking boy of eighteen, was one of a
party of four persons who were strolling along a street in the Greek
section of Tarpon Springs, a small Florida town, located on the
Anclote River, a few miles from the Gulf of Mexico. His companions
were a boy about his own age but of less robust appearance, a little
negro lad with a good-humored intelligent face, and a middle-aged,
heavily-bearded, blue-eyed man whose tattooed arms and rolling gait
told of a life spent on tossing seas and whose confident bearing and
air of authority stamped him as one above the rank of a common sailor.

Those who have followed The Boy Chums through their many adventures
will recognize in the little party their old friends Charley West,
Walter Hazard, Captain Westfield and the Bahama lad, Chris, who lately
returned from a perilous trip along the Atlantic beach searching for
wreckage, and now seeking some promising venture in which to invest the
Fifteen Hundred Dollars they earned on that voyage.

"You're right, Charley," agreed the other boy. "I didn't know before
that there was a sight like this in Florida. Here's a bench. Let's set
down and rest a bit. I am tired from walking."

"Golly, I reckon dis nigger's tired some too," chimed in the little
darkey, "I'se dun had de toothache in mah legs for most an hour, but
I'se had to keep up wid you-alls. Don't dare let you white chillen
prognostracate 'round a queer place like dis alone."

The seat selected was a long bench standing on the edge of the
sidewalk, its back to the sandy street. The four seated themselves at
one end and gazed around with eager interest at the strange scene,
unconscious of the curious glances bestowed upon them by a large,
deeply-tanned man, who, seated on the other end of the bench, was
languidly whittling on a piece of white pine with a large sheaf knife.

The scene was one to arouse more than passing interest. Up and down
the sidewalk hurried swarthy-faced, powerfully-built men of all ages
and appearances, but all possessed of the same clear-cut features and
straight noses. Singly and in groups of two and three, they hurried
past, picturesque in their bright-colored clothing with gaudy sashes
knotted about their waists. About all clustered an air of energy and
bustle uncommon to sleepy Florida towns.

Built up close to the inner edge of the sidewalk was a row of large
buildings startling in their coats of bright yellow, red, blue, and
green paint. Stretching away, close together in the distance, they
gave one the impression of a gigantic rainbow. Through their wide-open
doors and windows the interested onlookers could gain a plain view of
the interiors, from which came the confused jangle of foreign tongues.
To the right of where the little party sat was a busy grocery store,
its windows filled with strings of dried garlic, strange-looking
cheeses, queer nuts and fruits and a multitude of eatables strange to
American eyes. To the left of them was a tobacco factory, the whirling
machines shredding up the huge brown leaves into hair-like fibers and
binding them up into pound packages. Directly before them was a great
hall filled with little tables around which were seated groups of the
regular-featured men, playing cards, eating, or puffing at strange
pipes, with a small hose for a stem, the smoke passing through great
glass vessels partly filled with rose water before it reached the
smoker's lips.

"That's the fifteenth place of that kind I've counted to-day," remarked
Charley West. "From their numbers, one would imagine that these people
did nothing but eat and play cards."

"I'd like to try one of them pipes," said Captain Westfield, wistfully.
"I'll bet they give a good, cool smoke."

"Let's go in and get dinner," Walter suggested. "I am hungry as a wolf
and that food smells mighty good. You can try a pipe after we eat,
Captain."

The man at the end of the bench shifted his position closer to them.

"Strangers here?" he enquired.

"Just came in this morning. We're looking into the sponge business a
bit," replied the Captain.

Charley eyed the tanned man closely. There was a sinister expression to
the fellow's face, and his eyes shifted uneasily away from the lad's
level glance. The keen-witted boy was not favorably impressed with the
stranger's appearance, but the man's cordiality drove away his faint
feeling of distrust.

"I'll go in with you then," he offered. "Those fellows don't speak much
English and you would have a hard job making them understand what you
wanted. I know a little Greek and may be able to help you out a bit."

"Much obliged to you," said the Captain, gratefully. "We don't
understand a word of their lingo. I'll stand treat to the dinner if
you'll eat with us."

"It's a go," agreed the stranger, quickly. "Come on. My name's Robert,
Captain Roberts," he volunteered when the little party were seated
around one of the tables, "I'm a retired ship's master."

Captain Westfield introduced himself and his companions. "As I said, we
are lookin' into this sponge business a bit, but it's hard to pick out
the proper course from these twisted-tongued furriners," he said. "Do
you happen to know anything about it?"

"I used to be in the business myself," Captain Roberts replied
promptly. "I made enough money in it to quit the sea for good."

"Then I reckon you're the very man to give us a few pointers. Is there
as much money in it as one hears tell of?"

"More," declared the other. "These Greeks are getting rich off
sponging. It is not anything unusual for a schooner's crew to clear up
three or four thousand dollars from a single trip. It takes quite a bit
of money to make a start, though."

"We have got a little change in our clothes," said the Captain,
modestly. "Do you reckon a person could get started good on a Thousand
dollars?"

"That would do nicely," declared Captain Roberts, "and I can tell you
just how to lay it out to the best advantage, but let's order dinner
first. We can talk while we are eating."

He beckoned to a dark-skinned, ill-favored waiter and gave an order in
low-pitched fluent Greek.

The waiter was back almost instantly with a tray-load of steaming
dishes which he placed upon the table. The boys could not determine
the exact nature of the strange viands, but they were too hungry to be
critical, and attacked the food with hearty appetites.

"This mutton stew is delicious," Charley declared as he took another
helping. "I don't know as I ever tasted anything better."

Captain Roberts grinned. "You don't want to make any guesses about
Greek food," he declared. "That isn't mutton, but just tough old
Billy-goat, fattened on a diet of tin cans. These fellows have the
knack of fixing up such things so they can't recognize them themselves.
Just wait till the coffee is served. You'll say you never drank any
better. But let's get back to that sponging business now, Captain."

He and Captain Westfield were soon plunged in a tangled maze of talk
about schooners, diving boats, sponges, and divers.

The boys gave but little heed to the discussion for their attention was
partly diverted by the unusual scene around them.

"It's just like being in another country," Walter whispered to his chum.

"Yes, but I don't like the attention we seem to receive," Charley
replied. "Those fellows are staring at us as though there was something
wrong in our being here."

The Greeks gathered around the other tables indeed seemed more than
casually interested in the little party. They stared frequently at them
and their new acquaintance, and exchanged significant glances and low
words with each other.

"I guess we appear as odd to them as they do to us," Walter said,
carelessly. "There is a man who is not a Greek. That fellow leaning
against the end of the counter in the corner."

The man indicated was unmistakably an American. He was short,
heavily-built and had a determined, aggressive face. He was engaged in
a heated discussion with the proprietor of the cafe and his heavy face
was flushed with anger. As the boys gazed curiously, he brought down
his clenched fist on the counter with a force that shattered some of
the dishes piled upon it.

"You needn't smirk, grin, and make excuses," he thundered at the suave,
smiling Greek. "You've got to pay me that bill you owe me. It's been
standing for months and I happen to know that you are making money all
the time, hand over fist. It's no use pretending you don't understand
me," he shouted, as the smiling Greek shrugged his shoulders. "You know
what I say. If you don't come up with the money by to-morrow night I'll
close up this place and have you prosecuted for obtaining goods under
false pretences. And it will not be any use for you to try your nice
little Greek trick of a knife in my back in the dark. I go heeled and
I don't go to sleep when I walk this street. The fellow who tries that
trick on me will stop enough lead to start a cartridge factory."

He turned and was walking towards the door when his glance rested for a
moment on the boys and their companions. His glance swept swiftly over
each member of the little party. He paused, hesitated a moment, then
turning, walked swiftly towards their table.

Captain Roberts rose hastily at his approach. "There's a friend of mine
over there," he said hurriedly, "who I want to speak to. I'll be back
in a minute."

The approaching stranger noted his departure with a grim smile. He
stopped beside the Captain and stood gazing down for one brief minute.

"Are you fools or strangers?" he demanded, crisply.



CHAPTER II.

MR. DRIVER.


THE stranger's smile robbed his words of their hardness.

"Strangers, yes," Charley replied, "Fools, no."

"No offense intended," said the man, quickly. "Strangers will sometimes
take advice but fools will not. My advice to you strangers is to keep
out of places like this and not to make friends with other strangers. I
don't suppose you know who that man is who just left you."

"He's a retired sea captain," said Captain Westfield. "He was giving us
some pointers about the sponge business. Mighty pleasant an' obligin'
fellow. Mighty fair-spoken."

"Bless your simple little souls," exclaimed the stranger. "He's no
captain, active or retired. He's the runner for this place. Lucky you
haven't any of you drank your coffee yet. You'd be waking up in some
alley bye-and-bye with your heads aching from knock-out drops and your
pockets turned inside out. My, but you were easy."

"I don't reckon any one would dare do such a thing in broad daylight,"
Captain Westfield declared.

"It's been done in this place a dozen times. And the victim's kicks
never did any good after it happened, for there was always a dozen
Greeks ready to go on the stand and swear that it was only a case of
drunkenness on the victim's part. Better get out of here."

The humbled little party arose and followed their conductor out to the
sidewalk. As they passed through the crowd they could not help but
notice the wrathful glances the sitters bestowed upon the one who had
cheated them of their victims.

"I guess we have acted pretty green," Charley admitted, as they passed
outside, "but we were so eager to learn about the sponge business that
we forgot caution. Besides, one does not look for such tricks in a
little town like this. It's not like a big city where one has to be
always on his guard against strangers."

The stranger favored the members of the little party with a closer
scrutiny than he had yet bestowed upon them.

"So you are figuring on going into the sponge business, eh?" he asked.

"We may try it a bit if we find out that it pays as well as we have
heard tell of," answered Captain Westfield, cautiously, "but it's
mighty hard to find out anything definite about it from these Greeks."

"Oh, there's big money in it all right," said their new friend. "You
might make a go of it. You are a pretty husky, determined-looking lot
and would soon get on to the Greekish tricks. It's a risky business,
though. I don't advise anyone to take it up."

"We've encountered a few risks in other lines," said Charlie, modestly.
"We are willing to take a few chances if there's money enough in it to
tempt us."

The stranger pulled out his watch and looked at the time. "My name is
Driver," he remarked. "I own a store over on the next street in the
American section. Business is slack at this time of day and I will show
you around a bit, if you wish. My clerks can look out for the trade for
an hour or two."

"No need of thanks," he said as the Captain accepted his offer
gratefully. "If you decide to go into the sponge business, you will
need lots of provisions and I hope to sell them to you. We Americans
do not get any of the Greek trade and we are always glad to secure a
new customer. Now I suppose you want to know about the profit side of
the business first. Well, I can not give you exact figures but I know
that all engaged in the business are making big money. All these big
buildings you see have been built out of sponging, and they do not
represent a hundredth part of the money made out of the business.
There is an enormous amount sent back to Greece every month through the
post-office and bank here. I know Greeks who landed here only a few
years ago with nothing but the clothes on their backs--and those were
mighty poor--that are wealthy men now and they made their fortunes out
of sponges. Oh, there's big money in it all right. But you can look
into that part of the business closer later on. Now, I want to show
you something of the sponges themselves. We will go down to the harbor
first."

The interested little party followed him as he led the way along a soft
sand road flanked by scrub palmettos.

Their guide paused beside one of the several large buildings standing
close to the road. "This is a clipping shed," he said.

The building was open on one side and was filled with a crowd of old
men, women and young boys, all Greeks. Before each was a pile of rough
sponges from which they were clipping the spoilt parts with great
shearing shears. In one corner, a man worked over a big screw-press,
pressing the severed fragments of sponges into huge compact bales.

"That part isn't important enough to waste much time looking at," Mr.
Driver said, as he turned away. "Come on and I'll show you something
worth seeing."

As they followed along behind their guide, the boys became sensible
of a strong, pleasant, appetizing odor in the air, an odor which grew
stronger as they advanced. A turn in the road brought them suddenly
upon the source of the odor. On the shore of a quiet little land-locked
harbor, blazed dozens of small camp-fires over which sat great iron
kettles. On pieces of canvas laid upon the ground were piles of fresh
beef and mutton. Over each pile worked several Greeks cutting the meat
with the sheaf knives into tiny squares about an inch in size. Other
Greeks were dumping the little square pieces into the kettles, while
still others kept the contents stirred and the fires under the kettles
burning briskly.

"They are putting down the meat for their next voyage," explained Mr.
Driver. "They roast it in its own fat, put it into stone jars, and pour
the fat over it. As soon as the fat cools and congeals it forms an
air-tight covering which keeps the meat from spoiling."

"If it tastes half as good as it smells, it must be delicious," Charley
remarked.

Chris viewed the cooking operation with professional jealousy. "Golly,
I bet dey can't cook like dis nigger," he declared, "I spect dem
kettles ain't none too clean noway."

Captain Westfield gave but scant attention to the trying-out process.
His interest was centered on the big fleet of schooners anchored near
shore. They were over a hundred in number and were of all sizes and
designs. They made a pretty sight lying gracefully close together in
the little harbor. But the old sailor soon strolled on to where groups
of Greeks were building and repairing boats on the shore. He inspected
their work with a critical eye, but he was soon lost in admiration.

"Lads," he exclaimed, "I never saw such workmen before. They are
turnin' out tight, neat seaworthy little crafts with no tools but a saw
and a hatchet. Ain't those queer lookin' crafts though."

The boats were about thirty feet in length, sharp at both bow and
stern, and of enormous depth for their size. True to their love for
bright colors the Greeks had painted each plank a different hue and the
little vessels looked like floating rainbows.

The captain viewed their single masts, which inclined aft at an angle
of forty-five degrees, with deep-sea scorn.

"It's clean against Nature for a mast to be set that way," he declared.
"It ain't regular or ship-shape."

"Those small crafts are used as diving boats," Mr. Driver explained.
"They carry a big square sail, but most of them are equipped with
engines also. They are great sea boats and will ride out a gale almost
as well as the schooners."

His explanations were interrupted by loud talking close at hand and
the little party, full of curiosity, hastened to the spot from which
the uproar came.

In the center of a circle of curious onlookers, a large man wearing a
marshal's badge was slipping a pair of handcuffs on the wrists of a
slender boyish-looking young fellow.

"No need to put those things on me, Mr. Officer," the lad was
protesting, passionately. "I'll go along with you without any trouble.
I've only acted within my rights and all I want is a fair trial."

"Anything you say can be used against you at your trial," cautioned the
marshal.

"I don't care, I admit I shot two of those treacherous Greeks. It was
the only thing to do. When it came on to blow a gale, they refused to
cut the cable, and work the schooner. It was a case of making them obey
orders and get her off before the seas or lose my ship. I only wish I
had shot more of them. They have been laying for me ever since to slip
a knife into me and chuck me overboard. I haven't dared take a wink of
sleep for three days and two nights."

"Poor fellow," said Mr. Driver, as the marshal led away his protesting
captive. "I expect it happened just as he says--an open mutiny,
compelling him to shoot--but every Greek in his crew will go on the
stand and swear that it was a case of cold-blooded murder. Fortunately,
the judge is wise to Greek methods and the law deals gently with
commanders."

"He looked mighty young to be a captain," said Captain Westfield.

"It's this way," Mr. Driver explained, "the law compels the Greeks to
have an American captain for each schooner and diving boat, and they
hire the youngest and, therefore, cheapest man that they can get. It's
a dog's life, out alone for months with a gang that doesn't speak
a word of English. As long as the captain is content to be a mere
figurehead he can get along without serious trouble, but the minute
he runs counter to their wishes there is a row. But time is flying,
and I must get back to the store. If you will come back with me I'll
introduce you to a man who knows more about sponging than another
American in the country."

"Just a moment, lads," said the Captain, as they turned to go. "Which
of those schooners do you like the best?"

The two chums unhesitatingly indicated a beautiful two-masted,
snow-white schooner that seemed to rest as loftily on the water as a
floating swan. The grace and beauty of exquisite lines marked her out
from the many shapely schooners surrounding her. In large gilt letters
on either side of her bow was her name "Beauty".

"She's my choice too," declared the Captain. "I wish we owned her. I
ain't never seen a prettier model."



CHAPTER III.

PREPARATIONS.


AS soon as they got back into town, Mr. Driver hunted up the man of
whom he had spoken, and, introducing him to each of the little party,
hurried back to his store.

Mr. Williams was a young man still in his twenties. He was a stocky,
well-built young fellow with an intelligent face, determined manner,
and a short, crisp way of speaking. He sized up the little party with
one quick appraising glance as Captain Westfield stated their errand.

"If you are not willing to stand hardships, dirt, discomfort, and
danger, you want nothing to do with sponging," he declared.

"We can stand anything that it pays us to stand," Charley replied,
quickly.

"Well, that's the right kind of spirit," approved the young man, "but,
of course you don't any of you realize what you will have to meet. I've
seen others start in with the same confidence and get cold feet before
the first trip was over. It isn't any nice, ladies' pink-tea business.
It's a game for real men, but if the men are the right kind, they
get their reward for what they endure, all right, all right. I landed
here with an empty pocket and emptier stomach, and now,--well, I am
not a John D. Rockefeller yet, but I've got enough laid by to keep the
wolf from the door for a good many years. Better men than I have done
better than I have. It's like everything else, the best man wins, and
wins something worth winning, but, as I have said, it's no business for
nice, tender, little Willie boys, it's a man's game."

Charley grinned in sympathy with the reliant, independent spirit of the
young fellow which was close kin to his own traits. "We left off our
short pants last summer," he observed, gravely, "we are fast learning
to dress ourselves, and the Captain there can even comb his own hair."

"Good," chuckled the other, "I guess _you_ will pass muster anyway, so
I will give you some idea of what you will have to expect. First, there
is the loneliness. For three months at a time you'll be at sea without
another soul to talk to, for there are very few of the Greeks who speak
English. With a party like yours it would not be so bad for you would
be company for each other, but for the American captains who go out
alone with a crew of Greeks, it's awful. I've known some to go crazy
for sheer loneliness, and few ever make a second trip,--I'll never
forget my first experience. Second, sponging is a dirty business, the
stench from dying sponges will upset any but the strongest stomachs.
Third, there are the dangers, storms, accidents, and troubles with the
crew. I have never had any serious trouble with my own men, but then I
understand their lingo and that counts for a good deal, and, besides
they all know me around here and know that I will shoot first and
explain afterwards--that counts for still more."

"All that is interesting, but it ain't to the pint," said Captain
Westfield. "The question is what can one make off a trip. I reckon them
little things you're telling about is just details."

"I'm afraid you'll find them pretty serious details," Mr. Williams
said with a laugh, "but you are right, the money point is the main
thing. That's the only thing that has kept me in the business. Well, I
had considerable _bad_ luck last trip but I cleaned up three thousand
dollars. I've been doing better than that."

The chums looked at each other with expressive faces while Mr.
Williams' keen black eyes twinkled as he watched them.

"I seed a schooner down at the harbor," observed Captain Westfield,
carelessly. "She was a pretty looking little craft and her name just
seemed to fit her--'The Beauty'. If she's good an' sound an' for sale,
I might be willing to give a thousand dollars for her."

Mr. Williams laughed, "You are not the first sailor who has fallen
in love with the 'Beauty'. She is the finest ever. She has led the
sponging fleet for three seasons. Many have tried to buy her but
couldn't. You are in luck, however. Her owner died last week and I have
just received a letter from his widow asking me to find a purchaser for
her. You can have her as she lays for thirteen hundred dollars, and she
is dirt cheap at that."

"Will you hold that offer open until ten o'clock to-night?" asked the
captain, "we will want to talk it all over a bit."

Mr. Williams agreed to his request, and, after thanking him gratefully
for his information, the little party took their departure.

"Back to the harbor," said the captain as soon as they were out of
hearing. "I want to take a good look at the 'Beauty'. If she is
anyway near as good as she looks from a distance she's worth at least
twenty-five hundred dollars. Why we could make a tidy sum by buying
her, sailing her around to Jacksonville, and selling her again."

They soon arrived at the harbor again where for a quarter they hired a
young Greek to row them out to the schooner.

They found the little vessel all that her name implied. She was about
sixty-five feet long and broad for her length. She looked more like a
gentleman's yacht than a sponging vessel and they were all delighted
with her appearance. But pleased as they were with her on deck, they
were even more pleased with her below. There, they found a large
main cabin with swinging lamps, hanging sideboard, easy chairs, and
comfortable furnishings. Opening into the main cabin were found roomy
staterooms, two on a side, furnished with large bunks containing
springy mattresses. Instead of the small portholes, common with crafts
of her size, each stateroom was provided with windows of heavy glass to
admit air and light.

Up forward at the foremast was the forecastle, or crew's quarters. It
was large, comfortable and well equipped with bunks. Aft of it was
the cook's galley, containing a good stove and plenty of pots, pans
and kettles. Everything was exquisitely neat and clean. But Captain
Westfield was not content with a mere survey of cabin and furnishings.
He unfurled several of the sails and examined the canvas closely. He
tested the strength of rope after rope. He climbed aloft and looked
over blocks, stays, and running gear. Lastly, he descended into the
hold and examined all that was visible of the vessel's ribs and
planking.

"She's as tidy a little craft as I ever saw," he declared, when he at
last rejoined the boys back by the wheel. "She ain't over six years old
an' her sails an' rigging are all new. She's worth twenty-five hundred
dollars of any man's money if she's worth a cent. All we have got to
do it to buy her and carry her around to some lively port an' we can
make twelve hundred dollars as easy as finding it."

"What's the use of selling her right off if we buy her," Walter
suggested, "Surely a few months' use will not lessen her value to any
great extent. Why not make a couple of trips sponging in her. I am
anxious to have a try for some of that big money they all talk about.
We will never have a better chance than now. At the worst, we would
only lose the price of a few months' provisions, we would still have
our vessel worth far more than we paid for her."

"You've hit the nail right on the head," the captain exclaimed,
delightedly. "That's just what I've been studying over, but I reckoned
I'd wait an' see if either of you boys proposed it."

Charley hesitated before agreeing to his chum's proposal. "I confess,
I am not so anxious to try the sponge business as I was," he remarked.
"First, we know nothing about it ourselves, and would have to depend
entirely upon hired help--which is a bad thing to have to do in
any business. Second, I don't like the Greeks, I don't like their
appearances, I don't like the reputation they have, and I don't like
the idea of being with a gang that doesn't understand English."

"Bosh," Walter replied, lightly, "we will get along all right with
them. It isn't like one lone man being out with them, there are four
of us and they wouldn't dare start trouble with so many. As for making
them understand, why we can hire a man as interpreter. I believe it's
the best chance to make money we've had yet."

"And I too," Captain Westfield agreed. "I reckon we'd be foolish to
let such a chance slip by. That young fellow Williams says he's made
considerable."

"But he made several trips and learned the business before he went into
it on his own hook," Charley objected. "However, I am not going to hold
back if the rest of you want to try it."

"Good," exclaimed the captain, "we will go right back and settle the
deal with Williams. We'll make money off the schooner if we don't off
the sponging."

They found Mr. Williams still in his office. The thirteen hundred
dollars was paid over and they received a bill of sale for the
'Beauty', one diving boat and everything the schooner contained.

"You've got a good boat at a mighty low price," he said. "There is no
reason why you shouldn't make well with her, if you just use common
sense. Doubtless, you have heard lots of hard things about the Greeks,
but I don't believe they are half as bad as they are painted. Half of
the trouble captains have with them comes from their not understanding
each other. Get a reliable man to translate your orders, and you will
get along all right although you will find it a hard life. I wish I
could help you select your crew but I have to go to Tampa to-morrow,
and will not be back until the fleet sails. We will see each other
again on the sponging grounds, if not before. I wish you the best of
luck until we meet."

The now tired little party bade the hustling young man good-bye and
repaired to the small hotel where they engaged rooms and meals.

After supper Charley unpacked his valise and got out the silver-mounted
revolver presented to him by Mr. Weston. He noted its calibre and
sauntering down to the hardware store purchased several boxes of
cartridges of a size to fit. He gave a couple of boxes to Walter who
possessed the exact duplicate of his weapon.

"That's my first preparation for our trip," he said laughing.

But, although he spoke lightly, he was troubled by vague misgivings
that their new venture was not going to be the smooth sailing his
companions believed. For one thing, he doubted if rough, blunt,
quick-tempered Captain Westfield was just the man to successfully
handle the suave, oily, treacherous Greeks.



CHAPTER IV.

THE START.


"WE have got to get a move on us," Captain Westfield said as the
four chums gathered together at the breakfast table. "I've been out
enquirin' around this mornin' an' I've larned that the sponging fleet
sails in two days. Of course we don't have to go with the fleet, but,
bein' as it's our first trip an' we're green at the business, I reckon,
we had better keep with the crowd an' learn all we can. I've been up
to see the United States Commissioner an' got charts of the sponging
grounds an' took out papers for the ship. We're all officers on the
papers, lads. He put me down as captain of the schooner, Chris is mate.
You, Charley, are captain of the diving boats, an' Walter's chief
engineer."

"I don't want to be no mate," Chris protested. "I wants to be de cook.
Dat's schooner's got a powerful fine galley an' a sight ob pots an'
kettles. Golly! I reckon dis nigger can fix up de grub better dan any
of dem ignorant furriners. A mate ain't no manner ob count on board a
little ship. De captain's always blamin' him for somethin' or udder
an' de crew always hates him. He's always in trubble wid one or the
udder. Now de cook's always his own boss, he don't hab to stay out
nights in de cold an' de rain an' ebbery one is powerful perlite to
him, 'cause dey wants to keep on de bes' side ob de one dat handles de
grub. I'd rather be a cook dan an ole mate any day."

"But you don't know how to rig up their queer furrin dishes, lad," the
captain explained. "They ain't used to eatin' grub fixed up good like
you fix it."

"Golly! I reckon dat's so," agreed the little negro, pompously. "I
spect dey doan know much 'bout cookin'. Reckon dey wouldn't eat any
more ob der own if dey got a taste ob mine."

"That's the trouble," the captain agreed craftily, "an' we don't want
to spoil them. Besides, I reckoned you'd like to be mate. Why, I was at
sea ten years before I got a mate's berth. I reckon your folks on Cat
Island would be mighty proud to hear that you were one an' was wearing
a blue suit with big brass buttons, an' a cap with Mate on it in big
gilt letters."

"Golly! I nebber thought ob dat," exclaimed the little negro,
delightedly, rising hastily from the table. "I'se goin' to buy dem
clothes right now an' hab my picture took in 'em an' send 'bout twenty
ob dem to de folks on Cat Island."

"You got around that pretty neatly, Captain," Charley said, as soon as
Chris was gone. "I expected him to insist upon being cook. He thinks no
one else can do it so well. But, seriously, don't you think we are all
rather young to be ship's officers. Men are quite apt to resent having
to take orders from mere boys."

"The law requires that those four offices be filled by Americans an'
we can't afford to hire men to fill the places. Chris will be under my
orders all the time an' will be mate only in name. But you boys are
already smart sailors an' I expect you to be real officers on your
boats. If you weren't on the papers proper you might have trouble with
your men, but the fact that you are regular commissioned officers will
make smooth sailing for you. Any refusal to obey your orders would be
mutiny."

"Very well, Captain," agreed Walter. "What do you want Captain West and
I to do next?"

"Just lay around an' enjoy yourselves this mornin', I guess. The first
thing is to get a fellow who talks Greek an' to hire a crew. I want to
pick them out myself. As soon as we get them there will be plenty to
do stockin' up with grub an' water. Better spend the time lookin' over
your new command an' pickin' up what you can about the business."

The advice was good, and, as soon as they had finished breakfast, the
boys hastened down to the harbor to inspect the diving boats they had
acquired with the purchase of the 'Beauty'. Upon a close inspection,
they were delighted with their new commands. The little vessel was
quite new and its model promised great seaworthiness. Besides the huge
square sail it carried, it was equipped with a ten-horse power gasoline
engine. Its rig was different from any the boys had ever seen, and they
spent several hours studying it, and making themselves acquainted with
the working of the engine.

"I believe I can handle it by myself now, if I had to do it," Charley
declared, at last. "The engine may give us a little trouble at first,
but we will soon get on to it and it's likely there will be several
Greeks in the crew who know how to run it. Now, the next thing is to
settle on a name for our craft."

"I thought of calling it 'Flora'," Walter said, with a little sheepish
smile.

"And I was thinking of naming it 'Ola'," declared Charley promptly.

After a spirited debate over the two names they held in such esteem,
the two lads at last came to a compromise by agreeing to call their
little ship "The Two Sisters". This decided, they rummaged around
in the lockers until they found paint and brushes with which they
proceeded to letter on the bow of their crafts the name chosen.

As soon as this task was finished, they returned to the village and
made a round of the shops purchasing clothing for their trip, pricing
provisions, and learning all they could from the various merchants
about the Greeks and the sponge business.

They were passing a little photo studio when Chris' voice hailed them
from inside. It was hard for them to refrain from laughter at the
figure the little negro presented.

A common blue suit had been too tame a color for Chris'
brilliant-loving soul. He was clothed in a pair of baggish yellow
trousers, many sizes too large for him, a coat of vivid scarlet hue,
and a cap of deepest purple. But in spite of his brilliant attire, his
little ebony face expressed deepest satisfaction. On a chair beside
him was a great pile of finished tin-types and the Greek proprietor,
beaming at the unusual rush of business, was just adjusting his camera
to take another.

"Why, what do you want with any more of them, Chris?" Walter exclaimed.
"You've got enough already to supply everyone on Cat Island."

"Dey ain't no good," replied the little darkey, mournfully, "I 'spect
dis man doan know his business."

Charley examined one of the despised tintypes. "Why, they look just
like you," he declared.

"Dey's just black an' white," protested the little negro. "Dey doan
show de colors at all."

The chums turned their heads aside to hide their grins.

"That's a Greek camera, Chris," Charley said with a wink at Walter.
"You can't expect it to take American colors. I tell you what to do.
Just write at the bottom of each picture: Pants, yellow; coat, scarlet;
cap, purple."

"Golly! I nebber thought ob dat," exclaimed the little darkey,
brightening. "But it hain't like habbing de colors show," he added,
mournfully.

The three were making their way back to the hotel when their progress
was arrested by piercing screams coming from the rear of a large Greek
restaurant.

The boys hesitated and looked at each other.

"Sounds as though someone was hurt pretty bad," Charley commented, "but
I guess we had better go along about our business. We are likely to
get ourselves into trouble if we meddle with things in this section,"
but as he spoke the screams rang out afresh. The chums looked at each
other; there was no need for words between them.

"Well, it's foolish, but here goes," Charley exclaimed.

A narrow alley led into the rear of the building and down it has
hastened followed by his two companions.

A minute's walk brought them to the scene of the screams.

In a little back yard stood a small Greek boy about thirteen years of
age. He was clad only in short trousers and his bare back and legs
were covered with angry welts. Above him towered a dark, scowling
Greek, who was swinging a heavy cowhide whip, while at each descent of
the cruel, stinging lash the lad's screams rose in piteous protests.
Clustered around was some dozen men and boys looking on with unconcern.

Charley caught the Greek's arm as it rose for another blow. "Stop that,
you big brute," he cried, trembling with anger. "You have no right to
beat a little fellow like that, no matter what he has done. If you hit
him another blow, I'll have you arrested."

"He won't understand you, Charley," Walter cautioned.

But the Greek did understand. He turned a look of the deepest hate on
the plucky lad. For a second he seemed in the act of striking him with
the heavy whip, but Charley did not flinch. "Try it, if you dare," he
cried.

The Greek lowered his upraised arm. "Why should I not strike him?" He
demanded savagely, but in perfect English. "He is mine, I pay his fare
all the way from Greece. All day he plays on the street and brings home
no money. I will beat him if I wish."

"You will not," declared Charley, firmly. "If you do, you will be
arrested very quickly. Lad, if this man attempts to beat you again,
you come to us; you will find us on board the schooner 'Beauty'. If
she is not in the harbor you go to Mr. Driver who owns the store, I
will tell him about you and he will see that you are not abused. Do you
understand what I say?"

"Yes sir, I speak English good," the little lad replied proudly. "He
teach me so I can beg the pennies."

The Greek's manner had suddenly changed. His frown disappeared and he
wore a smile that he endeavored to make pleasant.

"The noble young gentleman need not worry," he said, smoothly, "I love
the boy and already regret having whipped him--he is very bad. But it
shall happen no more."

"It had better not," Charley replied shortly, as he turned away. "Come
on, Walt, I am going to speak to Mr. Driver about it now."

Mr. Driver listened to the lad's story with a very grave face. "I'm
afraid you boys have made a dangerous enemy," he said. "That Greek is
Manuel George, and he is a very bad character. He was arrested once
for the murder of another Greek, but they could not prove the charge
against him although everyone believed that he had done it. You want to
be very careful as long as you are in Tarpon. I will gladly have him
arrested if the boy makes any complaint to me."

The boys found the captain waiting for them at the hotel. "I've had
the best of luck," the old sailor declared. "I found the very Greek we
need to make our orders plain to the crew. He talks English as good
as you or I. I did not lose any time in gettin' his name on the ship's
papers. He promised to meet us here at the hotel this noon. There he
comes now."

The chums exchanged a glance of dismay, for approaching their table,
bowing, smiling, and as suave as though they were his dearest friends
was Mr. Manuel George.



CHAPTER V.

THE START.


THE captain introduced the boys to the Greek who beamed upon them as
though nothing unpleasant had ever passed between them. The lads met
his smiling advances with a cold silence which the captain noticed with
puzzled concern.

As soon as he could do so without attracting too much notice, Walter
drew the old sailor to one side. "We don't want anything to do with
that man," he declared, and he hurriedly told about the whipping and
repeated what Mr. Driver had said.

Captain Westfield looked troubled. "I wish I'd known that two hours
ago," he said. "He's signed on with us now an' if I try to get rid of
him he can make a lot of trouble for us. We have got to take him along.
If we don't, he's liable to libel the schooner an' cost us no end of
money and delay."

Walter's face showed his anxiety and concern.

"He said he was going to bring a boy along with him to act as cabin
boy," said the old sailor after an uncomfortable pause. "Maybe it will
all work out for the best. He won't be able to abuse the lad on the
schooner, an' I don't see how he can make us any trouble. All he's to
do is to make our orders plain to the men, it ain't as though he was an
officer over them."

"Well, if it can't be helped, we have just got to make the best of it,"
Walter agreed, "I am going to keep a mighty close watch on him all the
time, though. We will talk more about it later on. He keeps glancing at
us as though he knew we were talking about him."

As soon as he got the chance, Walter told his chum what the captain had
said.

"I don't like the idea of that fellow going with us," Charley declared,
"but if it has got to be, we had better start in by treating him
friendly. It won't help matters any to quarrel with him."

That was sound sense and the boys at once began to treat the Greek
pleasantly, in spite of the dislike they felt for him.

There was no doubt but what the fellow understood his position
thoroughly. With his able assistance, the captain, in a short time,
secured a full crew of fifteen men, including four professional divers
who brought their queer looking suits with lead shoes and heavy helmets
along with them. The boys were pleased with the appearance of the men.
They were well-built, husky fellows and looked to be capable sailors.
They were much alike in looks, all being broad-shouldered and swarthy
with clean-cut features and straight noses. One alone seemed to differ
greatly from the rest. He was a tall, powerful, handsome fellow with
unusually small hands and feet. He seemed to be shunned by the others
and left very much to himself. He was evidently a good sailor and when
the captain set his new crew at work to getting the schooner ready for
sea he performed his part with a quickness and intelligence that won
the old sailor's approval.

As soon as the work was well under way, Charley and Walter, taking the
interpreter with them, went back up town to purchase their stores. The
bulk of their purchases were made at Mr. Driver's store, but there were
many articles that he did not carry in stock which they had to buy at
the Greek stores. Manuel directed them as to the kind of food their
crew were accustomed to. The bulk of the stores consisted of ripe black
olives in small kegs; queer looking cheeses, rice, black flour and an
abundance of tea and coffee. The boys bought three whole beeves and
four lambs, directing that all their purchases should be sent down to
the schooner at once.

"Whew," whistled Charley as he paid the last bill, "we have only got
five dollars left of our fifteen hundred."

"Don't you care," Walter replied, confidently. "We will have a couple
of thousand dollars anyway coming to us when we get back, and still
have the 'Beauty' besides."

The boys next visited the hotel and got their valises and belongings
which they carried down to their new floating home.

They found that the Greeks already had the meat cut up and sizzling
merrily in the great iron kettles.

The new crew were a quick and willing lot and before dark the last
article was stored aboard, and, with the diving boat towing along
behind, they dropped the schooner down the river to the mouth and
anchored for the night just outside amongst a great fleet of schooners
lying ready for an early morning start for the sponging ground.

Long after they had eaten their supper and all of the crew but the
anchor watch had retired to the forecastle, the four chums sat on
deck admiring the beauty of the scene around them. A thousand lights
twinkled from the fleet and high in the air ahead of them the great
lantern of the Anclote lighthouse on its little island of barren rock.

Captain Westfield awoke the boys early next morning, "Hurry up on deck
if you want to see the prettiest sight you ever saw," he said. The lads
hustled into their clothing and followed him up the ladder. As they
gained the deck they paused with exclamations of deepest admiration.

It was blowing a stiff breeze and the blue water of the Gulf was
dancing and sparkling with white-crested waves. Around them was the
fleet all under sail, their snowy canvas towering high above their
shapely hulls. Some lay with sails slatting, still clinging to their
anchorage while their brightly attired crews worked over windlasses,
reeling in the dripping cables. Some already under way lay hove-to in
the open Gulf waiting for their fellows; while still others, anchors
tripped and sails drawing, heeling over to the brisk breeze, darted
away, sending the water tossing and foaming from their bows.

The boys drew a long breath of pure delight at the beautiful picture.

"It's grand," Charley cried.

"Aye, lad," agreed the captain with satisfaction. "There's no place
like the sea for beautiful scenes. But thar ain't a ship in the whole
fleet as pretty as our own. Just watch her now."

The old sailor gave a few short orders which the interpreter repeated
to the crew. A dozen of them sprang to the windlass, while others stood
by the halyards, ready to hoist the big jibs the second the anchor
broke ground. The "Beauty's" huge main and foresails were already
hoisted and her cable hove short.

The men at the windlass shouted some words.

"Anchor broke," translated Manuel.

"Up helm," commanded the captain, "give her the jibs."

The great sails mounted their stays, the "Beauty's" head played off,
and, careening over 'till her lee rail touched the water, she surged
through the waters like a thing alive.

The chums watched the foam sweep past in transports of delight.

"My, but she's fast," Walter cried.

"Aye, lad," the captain agreed, joyfully. "I ain't never seen a faster,
except maybe Black Sam's schooner. We'll have to shorten sail in an
hour if we don't want to run away from the rest of the fleet."

The boys watched with delight as the Beauty overhauled and passed
schooner after schooner.

As she surged past a large black-hulled vessel with three diving boats
in tow, a man on the stranger's deck waved his cap and shouted,

"Good luck to you. Better keep with the fleet."

"That's Mr. Williams," Charley exclaimed. "I am glad that we are going
to be near somebody we know."

"Yes, it is Mr. Williams," affirmed Manuel, who was standing near. "But
here is my little boy to say that your breakfast is ready."

"What is your name?" Walter enquired of the little fellow as they all
followed him below. "I could never remember that," he said, when the
lad replied with a very long Greek name. "I guess we will have to call
you Ben for short."

The band of chums were very hungry and they seated themselves around
the table before the steaming cups of coffee and waited impatiently
for the food to be brought on, but the little Greek lad took a position
behind their chairs and waited.

"Hurry up, Ben, and bring the breakfast," the captain ordered.

"Breakfast there," the lad replied.

The old sailor repeated his order but Ben replied as before.

"I reckon he don't understand," the captain remarked, "Go up and tell
your father, owner, or whoever he is, to come down."

The lad was back in a minute with the smiling Greek.

"We want our breakfast," the captain explained, "the boy don't seem to
understand."

"He understands all right, but, I see the cook does not comprehend. It
is the custom to have coffee only in the morning on sponging ships."

"Nothing but coffee for breakfast?" roared the old sailor.

"We eat but one meal a day and that at night," the Greek explained. "If
the rest of the crew ate the divers would want to eat also, and that
would be fatal for them. The stomach must be empty when they descend to
the bottom in deep water, otherwise they die."

"Well, they can't see us eat an' I want my three square meals a day,"
said the hungry sailor. "Right saving plan for us though if they only
eat once a day."

"They eat the whole three meals in one," the Greek said with a smile.
"I will speak to the cook at once and he will soon have something ready
for you."

In a very short time they were served with a substantial meal to which
they all did full justice. As soon as it was finished, they returned to
the deck where they learned that the "Beauty" was already so far in the
lead of the fleet that sail had to be shortened.

With Manuel's aid the boys picked out their crews for the diving boat.
They found that many of the Greeks were familiar with gasoline engines
and they selected one of the youngest and most intelligent-looking for
an engineer. The four divers were, of course, allotted to their boat,
but besides them they had to have two men to work the air pump and two
others to tend to the life-lines, which made a crew of nine, besides
the young officers, and would leave only Captain Westfield, Chris and
the cook and five men on board the schooner.

The divers at once began preparations for their future dangerous work.
They examined pump and air hose very carefully, for a slight leak in
either one would mean death by suffocation beneath the surface. They
brought out their diving suits and went over them inch by inch for
possible rents or tears. Many of the suits were old and covered with
a multitude of rubber patches. The boys were amazed that their owners
would dare descend in such worn suits, but Manuel assured them that
the patches were so cunningly put on that not only would they exclude
water, but they would outlast the suit itself.



CHAPTER VI.

FIRST TROUBLE.


ONE of the sailors Charley had selected for his crew was the tall
handsome fellow whom the others seemed to shun.

"I can't understand what the rest have against him," the young captain
remarked to his chum. "He seems very quiet and well behaved, and he is
every inch a sailor. I would ask Manuel about him but it is bad policy
to discuss one of the crew with another. It always makes trouble.
Likely, Manuel would lie about him anyway, he seems to hate him, look
at him glaring at him now."

The Greek was leaning against the railing staring at the sailor who was
coiling down a rope near him. Suddenly the Greek addressed the man in a
low savage tone. The sailor's face grew red with anger, and he replied
shortly in a few hissing words. With a bound, the Greek cleared the
space between the two and struck the sailor full in the mouth. The man
reeled back against the main mast, but, recovering himself in a second,
sprang for his assailant. The Greek leaped to one side and whipped out
a long wicked knife.

Before he could use it, Captain Westfield, belaying pin in hand, rushed
in between the two.

"Put up that knife," he roared. "I'll do what fighting there is to be
done on this ship."

The Greek shot one quick glance at him, venomous with hate, then he
glanced beyond him at the two lads who waited expectantly with hands on
their pistols.

"He cursed me," he said sullenly, as he slowly replaced the knife in
his pocket.

"When anyone curses you, report it to me an' don't take the law in
your own hands. I'm master of this schooner, an' you might as well
understand it right off. Tell that fellow just what I've told you."

The sailor's face darkened as the Greek spoke to him rapidly, but he
turned slowly away and walked forward.

"That's a bad beginning," Charley remarked to his chum. "I wish we had
never seen that Greek. I believe he insulted that sailor. The fellow
was behaving himself and tending to his own business."

He repeated the remark to the captain a little later.

"I reckon you're right, lad," agreed the old sailor, "that Greek seems
to be a trouble-maker but he'll find he's got the wrong man to deal
with. I've handled too many crews of tough roughnecks to be bested by
a dirty furriner."

"I'll bet he will keep you busy with complaints," Walter said. "How
are you going to get at the truth of it if he does complain about the
others of the crew?"

"You'll see, I reckon, he will try something like that but I'm ready
for him."

Sure enough, in less than an hour the Greek approached the Captain.

"I hate to trouble you, but I must complain as you have directed," he
said suavely. "The cook, he is very abusive, I tried to instruct him
about your meals but he answers me with vile names."

"Bring the cook aft," Captain Westfield commanded.

Manuel escorted the bewildered-looking cook aft with a look of sly
triumph on his face.

The captain looked the man over appraisingly. He was a
broad-shouldered, well-muscled fellow. He spoke to him briefly but the
cook shook his head. He could not understand.

The old sailor picked up a rope and spread it in a big circle on the
deck.

"This insulting of you has got to be stopped right off," he declared,
addressing the interpreter. "Give me your knife."

The Greek surrendered his weapon.

"Now both of you get inside that ring and fight it out to a finish,"
he ordered. "Lick him good for calling you names."

Manuel's face fell, and, turning he spoke rapidly to the cook. "He has
apologized and my honor is satisfied," he declared.

"All right," the captain said with a wink at the grinning boys. "Next
time any one insults you, I am going to make you give him a good
licking in a square fist fight. I'm not agoing to let any of the crew
swear at you and call you names--it ain't right."

"I guess we won't have any more complaints from him right off," he
chuckled as the disappointed Greek retired forward.

"I'm afraid we're going to have more or less trouble through not
understanding their language," Charley said, gravely. "I don't believe
he had a bit of trouble with the cook. He was just aiming to have you
punish the fellow and get you disliked by the crew."

"I can handle him all right," the captain declared, confidently. "If he
gets troublesome I'll iron him and put him down in the hold. I reckon I
can make the rest understand what I want done by signs, though it would
be mighty awkward if a gale struck us."

The old sailor soon left the boys in charge of the deck and went below
to write up the log and look over the charts.

"If this wind holds we'll be on the edge of the sponging grounds by
night," he said when he returned. "I didn't realize before how big they
are. Why, they reach clear from Cedar Keys to Cape Sable, about seven
hundred miles."

"One thing that has puzzled me is that all these schooners seem to come
from Key West," Charley remarked, '"Of Key West' is lettered on the
stern of every one of them."

"Key West used to be the headquarters for the sponging business in
the old days," the captain explained. "They used to gather sponges
different from what they do now. A schooner would take out about
twenty small boats an' a crew of forty men. When she got to the sponge
grounds, the small boats would scatter out around her, two men in each
boat. One man would do the sculling and the other would lean over the
bow with a water glass in one hand--a pail with a pane of glass for
a bottom--and a long pole with a hook in the end in the other. When
he spied a sponge on the bottom through the glass he'd have the other
stop sculling and he would hook it up with his pole. It was slow, hard
work, but they made money at it until the Greeks came with their expert
divers. They could not compete with them so they either sold or leased
their schooners to the Greeks and went out of business."

The old sailor's explanation was interrupted by a howl of "Oh, Golly!"
from the cook' galley forward and Chris, dripping with water, bounded
out of the open door of the little structure, and rushed aft.

"I want you to put dat cook in irons, Massa Captain," he cried. "He's
done 'saulted his superior officer."

"What did he do to you," the captain asked with a twinkle in his eye.

"Throwed a hull pan of dirty, nasty dishwater obber me. I was jus'
tellin' him how he had outer do, an' tryin' to show de ignorant man how
to cook, when--slosh--he let fly dat big pan full all obber me."

The dirty water was streaming from the little negro's brilliant
clothing and his face was streaked with purple from his cap.

The captain checked his desire to laugh.

"The cook did just right," he said, gravely. "You've got no business
in his galley. A cook is always boss there. Even the Captain seldom
interferes with him."

Chris seemed inclined to protest indignantly, but the old sailor
continued.

"How would you like to be cook an' have some one poking around an'
tellin' you what to do?"

"Golly! I reckon you is right," the little darkey admitted, "I wouldn't
stand such doin's. 'Spect dough dat my good clothes is all spoiled.
Dat water was powerful greasy."

"Better dry them out and lay them away," Walter suggested. "They are
too fine to wear at sea. You had ought to save them 'till we get in
port."

Both boys were glad when Chris accepted the suggestion. They could see
that the crew regarded the little fellow in his gay apparel with a
contempt and ridicule that the plucky, loyal little lad did not deserve.

Under her shortened canvas, the "Beauty" had dropped to the rear of the
fleet. Late in the afternoon the schooners ahead began to shorten sail.
Soon one rounded up into the wind, dropped anchor and lowered sail.
A mile further on another one anchored, a mile beyond another took
in sail, until at last the whole fleet was strung out in a long line
reaching many miles North and South.

The captain held the "Beauty" on her course until the last schooner was
passed then anchored, lowered sails and made everything snug.

"We are on the sponging grounds," he explained to the boys who had been
puzzled by the fleet's maneuvers. "To-morrow we make our first try as
spongers."

As soon as their supper was finished the boys strolled forward to view
the crew at their meal.

The Greeks ate in groups of four. Each group had a great tin pan filled
with some kind of stew. This they divided into four equal portions
with their big spoons, all eating from the same pan.

The stew, black bread as hard as a rock, and ripe olives constituted
their meal, but the boys, hearty eaters themselves, were astounded at
the amount of food each Greek disposed of.

"I never dreamed a man could stow away so much grub," Charley remarked.
"They are not eating three meals in one, but six."



CHAPTER VII.

SPONGING.


THE morning sun rose over a scene of bustle and activity. From the
hundred schooners strung out two or three hundred diving boats with
sails hoisted and engines chugging.

The young officers were up and away with the earliest.

"Go slow," Captain Westfield cautioned them as they stepped aboard
their craft. "Keep your eyes open an' learn all you can. Don't give any
orders unless they are absolutely needed. But if you have to give them
an order make them obey it, don't let them trifle with you. You can
take Manuel along if you want to, I reckon I can manage to get along
without him."

But the boys declined the offer. They had both taken a great dislike to
the suave, smiling Greek.

The Captain had given their crew general instructions before they left
the schooner and the young officers had but little to do but signify by
waves of their hands which direction they wished to go.

All places looked alike to the inexperienced boys, and as soon as their
craft was a quarter of a mile from the schooner, Charley signed to his
crew to anchor and proceed with their work.

The divers at once prepared for their descent to the bottom. The lead
was first hove to find out the depth of the water, which proved to
be about thirty-five feet. Before donning their waterproof suits,
the divers tested the air pump carefully and examined the air hose
minutely, for upon these two things their lives would depend when once
they sank beneath the surface. While they were putting on the strange
looking suits and heavy leaded shoes, the crew slung short ladders
over the sides. The divers put on their headpieces last of all, these
were large globe-shaped coverings of metal with two heavy glasses in
front through which to see. But two divers were to descend at a time.
Their places would be taken by two others at the end of two hours,
which is about as long as one can safely work at a time beneath the
surface. Those in reserve assisted their companions in adjusting the
heavy headpieces. As soon as the helmets were on they screwed in the
air hose, and connected the other ends to the pumps. A line by which to
lower and raise them was fastened around each diver's body and he was
then assisted onto the ladder, for it was almost impossible for them to
move in their cumbersome suits and lead shoes. As soon as they had been
helped to the lowest step on the ladder, each was given a large basket
to which a long line had been fastened, and they were slowly and gently
lowered to the bottom.

The young officers watched their operations with eager interest.
What impressed them most was the vigilant care shown by the divers
remaining on board. One took charge of the tub in which the air hose
was coiled and paid it out carefully as the diver sank, the other held
the life-line instantly ready for the jerks which would signal to him
the wishes of the one below. Not once did either's eyes shift or his
attention waver from his task.

"It's easy to see that this is a dangerous business," Walter remarked.

"Yes," his chum agreed, "I am beginning to see that Mr. Williams was
right when he said sponging was a man's game. It certainly takes nerve
to descend like those divers have, knowing that there is nothing
between them and death but that little air hose. But have you noticed
how they are treating that strange handsome fellow? They all seem to be
afraid to have him near."

The mysterious sailor had approached the men working the air pumps,
apparently with the purpose of helping with the pumping, but the
pumpers drove him away with menacing gestures and upraised fists. He
moved over near the coiled air hose but the diver in charge of that met
him with a torrent of fiercely-uttered words and he slunk dejectedly
forward, and, seating himself by the mast, buried his face in his
hands.

"Poor chap," Walter remarked, "he seems to be hated by the whole crew.
I wonder what is the reason."

"We will find out, I guess, when we meet up with Mr. Williams again,"
his chum replied. "He will likely know, or be able to find out quickly
from some of his crew. But look, we are about to see our first sponges."

There had been a couple of quick jerks on the life-line. The diver
holding it called to one of the crew who seized the line that had been
attached to the basket, and began hauling it carefully in hand over
hand.

The boys leaned over the side, eager for the first glimpse of their
future cargo. When the basket came into view they both uttered an
exclamation of disgust and disappointment.

Instead of bright, clean, yellow sponges with which they were familiar,
the basket was heaped with what looked like huge lumps of dirty mud.

The man dumped the contents out on deck and lowered the basket down
again.

"What greenies we are," Charley said as he glanced at his chum's
crestfallen face. "We might have known if we had stopped to think, that
sponges have to be cleaned and cured before they look like those we saw
on shore. I expect that pile is worth a lot of money in spite of its
unattractive appearance."

Five times did the basket appear loaded to the brim before the divers'
two hour spell below expired. As soon as their time was up they were
hauled aboard, their suits removed and the other two took their places.

"Whew, but I am getting hungry," Walter exclaimed as noon time drew
near, "and we came off from the schooner without bringing a lunch with
us."

"I am glad we did," Charley said. "It's all right having our meals
regular when we are on board the schooner and out of sight of the crew,
but it would hardly seem right to eat now before these hungry fellows.
I guess we can stand it to go without dinner of they can stand it to go
without both dinner and breakfast. Besides, I don't believe I could eat
any lunch if we had it. Whew, but that smell is getting awful."

The hot sun was getting in its work on the rapidly increasing pile of
sponges on deck. Adhering to them were multitudes of muscles and little
fish which were beginning to send forth a fearful stench.

"I am beginning to realize that a sponger's life is anything but a bed
of roses," Walter laughed. "It's easy to understand now why they only
eat one meal a day."

The novelty of the diving operations soon wore off and the boys, to
pass the time, busied themselves with an attempt to learn something of
the Greek language. They selected the engineer for their teacher. He
was a young fellow with an intelligent, good-humored face and seemed to
take great interest in their efforts. Touching different parts of the
boat and engine the boys repeated the English names for them. The young
fellow grasped the idea instantly and repeated the names in Greek,
laughing heartily over their attempts to pronounce the words after him.

In this manner the time passed quickly and pleasantly and the lads were
delighted with the rapid progress they made.

"At this rate we will be able to speak the language a little in a
week's time," Charley declared. "I'm--" but he never finished the
sentence.

From around them rose cries that brought the lads springing to their
feet.

The crew were all crowded against the rail staring as if fascinated
over the side, while the diver holding one of the life-lines was
hauling it in with feverish energy.

As the boys sprang to the rail, the diver's headpiece appeared above
the surface One glance, and they understood the reason for the sudden
commotion--from the metal helmet dangled a short piece of severed air
hose.

The luckless man was quickly dragged aboard, the head-piece quickly
removed, and his rubber clothing cut away, but his eyes were closed and
his face purple--he was dead. A long, weird, prolonged wailing came
from his shipmates which arose and fell strangely, like the strains of
the mournful death march.

The two chums gazed at each other with pale, horror-stricken faces.

"Poor fellow," Walter murmured, "His life went out like a candle in a
gale. Alive one minute, dead the next. What could have cut that hose?"

"Chafed against a sharp branch of coral or bitten in two by a shark,"
Charley replied, sadly. "Well, I guess it means the last of our
sponging, the other divers will hardly want to go down after such an
accident, and I don't blame them."

But, to his amazement, as soon as the wailing chant ceased, one of the
remaining divers began coolly to prepare to take the dead man's place.

"My, but those fellows have got nerve," he declared, admiringly, but
he stopped the man as he began to put on his diving suit and by signs
ordered the crew to get up anchor and return to the schooner.

"It's only a couple of hours to dark and we have had enough for one day
anyway," he remarked to his chum.

When the diving boat reached the schooner his shipmates prepared the
dead man for burial. The body was sewed up in stout canvas and a piece
of iron fastened to it. It was then gently lowered over the side and
sank slowly beneath the waves.

With its disappearance all vestige of gloom disappeared from the crew.
The dead man's scanty belongings were brought forth and auctioned off
to the various bidders, and an hour after the crew were chatting and
laughing with each other as cheerfully as ever.

"Mr. Williams was right, this is a man's game, and a game for rough,
fearless men only," Walter remarked thoughtfully, for a second time.



CHAPTER VIII.

TROUBLE.


AFTER the crew had eaten their supper and rested a bit, the captain
had them transfer the sponges from the diving boat to the deck of the
schooner. The sponges made quite an imposing pile which the old sailor
surveyed with satisfaction. "You've done well to-day," he remarked,
"if every day's work is as good we'll have a valuable cargo before our
three months are up. I reckon, thar's all of two hundred dollars' worth
of sponges in that heap."

"Are you sure that you know how to clean and cure them right?" Charley
enquired.

"I don't, but Chris knows that part of the business from A to Z. Where
he comes from the people live by sponging and pearl fishing."

"Golly, dat's right," observed the little darkey. "I'se helped my daddy
fix sponges many a time. First off, you'se got to beat de mud out ob
dem wid sticks, den you got to let dem lay foah a day or two to die,
'cause dey's alive jus' like fishes. When dey's good an' dead, you puts
dem in nets an' hangs dem ober de side for de water to wash dem out
clean. Den you dry dem out on deck an' string dem out on strings 'bout
two yards long. Dat makes dem all ready for market 'cept for clipping
de bad parts off of dem, which is done on shore. Dar ain't nothin'
'bout fixin' up sponges dat dis nigger doan know."

Just then a small boat came alongside the schooner and the boys
hastened to the side to welcome the two men it contained. They were
the captain and mate of the schooner anchored nearest to the "Beauty".
Both were young fellows hardly out of their teens. They introduced
themselves as Steve Ward, and Ray Lowe.

"We thought we'd drop over and have a little chat with you," said Ward,
who was the captain. "You, of course, don't realize it yet, but an
American face looks mighty good amongst this army of Greeks, especially
after one has been out for a month or two. We all start out together
but before the season ends we get pretty widely scattered and to meet
up with another schooner with an American aboard is like coming across
a long-lost brother. This is my fifth trip and I am getting pretty
well hardened to the loneliness now, but the first time I was out I
nearly went crazy. After we parted from the rest of the fleet, it was
worse than being alone on a desert island, for I had the misery of
seeing others talk, laugh and enjoy themselves without being able to
understand a word. When, at last, we came across a ship with someone
aboard I could talk to I nearly cried for joy. It seemed so good to be
able to understand and make myself understood once more." His glance
fell upon Manuel George, who was leaning against the rail, and his gray
eyes narrowed.

"What made you bring that fellow with you?" he asked.

"We had to have someone along who could talk their lingo," Captain
Westfield replied. "Do you know him?"

"I don't know anything good of him," said the other shortly. "I came
near killing him once and I've always half regretted that I didn't do
it. It was on my first trip," he explained. "It was just such another
case as that young fellow's who was arrested the other day. Although I
was captain, the Greeks owned the schooner, and, because I was young
and inexperienced, they got the idea they could run over me and do
as they pleased. Manuel was always stirring them up and encouraging
them to disobey orders. One day I had some words with him about it,
and,"--the young fellow's face darkened--"well, he carries a bullet
in his leg yet. The others set on me and I had to lock myself up in
the cabin. Likely, they would have got me in the end and thrown me
overboard to feed the sharks, but we happened to come across another
schooner and they had to let me go."

"He don't want to try any tricks with me," Captain Westfield declared.
"I got him to talk their lingo but had him sign on as one of the
crew. If he tries to act up, I'll put him at the hardest work on the
schooner."

"Well, keep your eye on him," advised the other. "He has never made a
trip yet without making trouble. He's a mighty bad egg and as sly and
cunning as he is mean."

The two men remained for over two hours, and from them the little party
learned many new and interesting things about their new business and
about the Greeks.

"We have no reason to complain of a dull trip so far," Charley said,
when the two Americans had left. "Only two days out and one of our crew
is dead, another is supposed to be on the watch to make us trouble, and
a third is a mystery worth solving, judging from the way the others
treat him. If things keep on as they have started, we will have a
voyage exciting enough to satisfy anyone."

If the lad could have known of the exciting events soon to follow close
on each other's heels, he would have had even less reason to complain
of dullness.

The next day's sponging was the same as the first. They seemed to have
happened upon a spot where the sponges were unusually plentiful. The
basket came frequently to the surface loaded with the big mud-covered
masses and by nightfall the diving boat's deck was well covered. All
day the two lads persisted in their attempt to learn the Greek names
for the things about them. By night Charley was able to direct the
operation of getting under way for the schooner. Of course, he was yet
unable to construct sentences in Greek, but he could call the Greek
names for sails, anchor, and different parts of the rigging and the
crew managed to guess the rest. Though it was a crude and imperfect way
of giving orders, it succeeded better than the slow, imperfect signs he
had been obliged to depend upon before.

"If we keep on as fast, we will be able to make them understand us well
within two weeks," he declared gleefully.

It was still light enough for them to see distinctly when they reached
the schooner, and they looked about them with regret as they climbed
aboard. Her snow-white decks were filthy from the pounding out of the
sponges, and bulwarks, sails and rigging were spattered with the foul
mud, while the strong, rank odor of dead fish hung heavy in the air.

Chris and the captain had just knocked off work. Their faces, hands and
clothing were black as soot. The old sailor's face showed set and stern
through its coating of mud. He said little until all were washed up and
seated around the supper table.

"Well, lads, I reckon our troubles have begun," he remarked, grimly.
"Manuel an' I had a row to-day."

"What about? How did it come out?" the boys questioned, eagerly.

"I told him to help us with the sponge cleaning and he refused to do
it. When I insisted he flew into a rage, cursed me, an' shook his fist
in my face. I couldn't stand for that an' he's down in the hold now
with the irons on him."

"Well, I feel easier with him there than with him mixing in with the
crew," Charley declared.

"My row with him ain't the worst of the matter," the old sailor said
gravely. "I called on the crew to help me iron him and they all
pretended they didn't understand my sign, but they knew what I wanted
all right. I had to handle him alone an' we had quite a struggle
before I got the best of him." He rolled up his sleeve and showed an
ugly-looking cut on his arm. "He came near getting me with his knife
an' I had to give him a couple of taps with a belaying pin. That cut
don't amount to anything, but what worries me is that the crew stood
around an' watched him try to kill me without interfering--it's a
mighty bad sign."

"That does look bad," Charley agreed, anxiously. "I guess we had better
keep him a close prisoner and not let any of the crew go near him, he
might try to stir them up and make things hot for us."

"But that means that someone will have to guard him an' carry his meals
to him. It wouldn't do to have one of the Greeks do it, I reckon."

"No," Charley agreed, thoughtfully, "but I believe I've got the very
man for the job--that handsome fellow the others seem to hate so.
Manuel tried to kill him and he is not likely to be easy with him."

The mysterious sailor was at once sent for by Ben. As soon as he came
the captain loaded a tray with food and a bottle of water and signed
for him to carry it and follow him. Charley and Walter accompanied the
two.

As they passed along the deck on their way to the hold, they met angry
glances and frowns from the crew.

The mysterious sailor was very intelligent and they soon made him
understand that he was to guard the prisoner. He grinned with enjoyment
and, seating himself a little way from the Greek, took out his long
keen sheath knife and laid it handy beside him.

The prisoner's face grew black with rage at sight of his guard, but he
maintained a sulky silence.

"I guess he's safe enough now," the captain said as they returned to
their cabin. "I believe that fellow will guard him faithfully. They
seem to hate each other like poison--I wish I knew the reason for it."

"It would not seem so strange if the hatred was confined to him and
Manuel, but all the others seem to share in the feeling," Charley
remarked. "It seems very queer to me."



CHAPTER IX.

MANUEL'S RELEASE.


BEFORE the boys left the schooner next morning, the guard they had set
over Manuel approached the captain, and by signs and gestures intimated
that the prisoner wished to speak to him.

Manuel's sullen demeanor had entirely disappeared and he looked humble
and penitent.

"I wish to make my most humble apologies to you, noble captain," he
declared. "All night long I have thought over my hasty actions with
shame and regret. You were right and I wrong. I will work hard at
whatever you set me to do, and in the future you will have no cause to
complain if you will set me at liberty."

There were tears in the fellow's eyes and his voice trembled as he
spoke.

"Stop that blubbering," said the blunt old sailor, who detested tears
in men. "I reckon, if you are sure that you've learned your lesson an'
won't try to act smart again, I'll set you free; but the minute you try
to start any trouble again, I'll put you down here for keeps."

As he removed the irons from the prisoner, the strange sailor burst
into a torrent of passionate speech.

The captain paid no attention to him for he could not understand a
word of it, but Charley, who was watching closely, saw Manuel give the
fellow a quick glance of sly triumph.

"I'm afraid you have made a mistake in setting that fellow free,
Captain," the lad said, as they returned to the deck. "I believe it
would have been wiser to have kept him in irons until we could touch
some port and put him ashore."

"I never feel like being hard on a man when he's sorry for what he has
done," the old sailor replied. "I guess it will make the crew feel
better tempered to have him set free. I'm going to put him ashore at
the first port we touch. In the meanwhile we'll keep him hard at work
an' keep a eye on him all the time."

"Perhaps we had better take him with us and put him to work at the
pump," Walter suggested. "That's good hard work."

Charley approved the suggestion, for in spite of the Greek's seeming
repentance, the lad did not trust him in the least and thought it
wisest that he and the captain should be kept separated for awhile
after their quarrel.

Manuel went at the hard labor at the air pump with a willingness and
cheerfulness which seemed to show the sincerity of his repentance. At
first, he seemed inclined to talk overmuch with the rest of the crew,
but Charley cut short his talkativeness with a curt command.

"I believe that fellow is a regular Jonah," he confided to his chum
during the noon hour rest. "Yesterday and the day before we got lots of
sponges, but we haven't taken in enough this morning to pay expenses."

"I guess this part of the ground is getting worked out, perhaps,"
Walter replied. "I've noticed several schooners pulling up anchor and
getting under way."

His surmise proved correct for during the afternoon many of the fleet
passed them headed North. Evidently others were finding the ground as
poor as they did.

Late in the afternoon the captain recalled them to the schooner with a
signal previously agreed upon,--a flag hoisted to the foremast head.

"I reckon we'd better be getting under way," the old sailor said when
they got aboard. "I want to keep with the fleet an' all the schooners
seem to be getting under sail. I've noted the course they are takin'
an' with this wind they'll be a long ways from us if we wait until
morning. I hailed one of the captains and he said they intended to sail
all night an' anchor an' get to work early in the morning."

By the time the sails were all hoisted and the anchor tripped, it had
grown quite dark so the schooner's great side-lights of red and green
were filled, lit, and lashed to the foremast shrouds, for, with so many
boats around them every caution must be taken to avoid running one
down, or being run down themselves. The crew was divided into three
watches. Of which Walter was to have charge of the first, from eight to
twelve o'clock. Charley to have command of the second, or middle watch,
from twelve to four o'clock, while the captain would take the third, or
morning watch, from four to eight A. M.

The breeze held steady and strong and the night passed away without any
exciting incident.

The boys were up again at first peep of day, expecting to have to start
out with the diving boat as soon as the sun arose. But, when they
gained the deck, they found the "Beauty" still swinging along on her
course and the captain pacing the deck greatly perplexed.

"It's mighty queer, but thar ain't one of the fleet in sight," he
exclaimed as he caught sight of the lads. "I don't understand it at
all. Go aloft, Charley, an' see if you can see any of them."

The lad swung himself into the shrouds and made his way up to the
mainmast cross trees, but, although he gazed all around, his eyes met
nothing but the broad expanse of the blue sparkling waters.

"Maybe we've run them all out of sight during the night," he suggested
when he regained the deck, but the old sailor shook his head.

"The 'Beauty's' mighty fast, but she's not speedy enough to do that,"
he declared. "Some of those schooners were ten miles ahead of us when
we started. Besides, I shortened sail as soon as I took my watch,
because I did not want to get in the lead."

"Perhaps we have dropped away behind the rest," Walter said, but the
others knew that that was impossible. The "Beauty" was far too fast a
boat to be left so far behind.

The Captain examined the log. "We have come a hundred and ten miles,"
he said. "Do you reckon either of you boys could have made a mistake in
the course during your watch?"

"We didn't vary a quarter of a point from the direction you gave during
my four hours," Charley declared. "I kept watch of the compass most of
the time and the needle held steady at North."

"I was careful about that, also," Walter said. "We were headed exactly
North during my entire watch."

"Well, that compass is true," the captain declared. "I tested it
carefully before we left port. I reckon thar's only one explanation;
the fleet must have changed their course during the night. We'd better
heave-to until noon when I can take the sun an' tell exactly where we
are at. It ain't no use trying to pick up the fleet again, now they
are out of sight--it would be like hunting for a needle in a hay stack."

The crew were immediately set to taking in sail and in a few minutes
the little ship was lying head to the wind under reefed foresail sail.

When the noon hour drew near, Captain Westfield brought his instruments
on deck and prepared to take an observation of the sun. As soon as he
secured it he went below to work out their position on the chart.

When he reappeared his face wore a very puzzled expression. "Heave the
lead and find out how deep the water is an' what kind of bottom," he
said, briefly.

Charley took the lead, a heavy cone-shaped piece of lead, slightly
hollowed at the bottom, and with a long line attached to the small
end. Filling the hollow end with soft soap, he dropped the lead over
the side and let it sink until it struck the bottom. Then he pulled it
aboard again, noting carefully the water mark on the line and examining
the soap to which some particles of the bottom had adhered.

"Depth, six fathoms, (36 feet) bottom, soft gray mud," he announced.

The captain strode back to the compass and stared at it with a puzzled
frown on his face.

"We're forty miles from where we should be," he said as the boys
gathered around him, "Sure neither of you boys made a mistake in the
course last night?"

"Sure," declared both lads positively.

The four puzzled over the strange situation in silence for several
minutes. Then the captain with his knife loosened the screws and
removed the compass' face of glass.

"I wonder how that got there," he suddenly exclaimed.

Cunningly placed, so as to draw the magnetic needle West of North was a
small bright iron nail.

"It couldn't have got there by itself," Charley declared, excitedly.
"It must have been put there by someone while we were all at supper
last night."

"I guess there is no doubt as to who that someone was," with an
inclination of his head towards Manuel who, standing a little ways off
was watching them closely. The Greek, as soon as he saw the attention
he was receiving, turned and strolled carelessly forward.

The captain pondered gravely, "I don't see what his object was," he
said, at last. "If we held on that course long it would only have
carried us further out into the Gulf, so he couldn't have been aiming
to get us wrecked."

"He planned to get us separated from the fleet," Charley declared. "Do
you think we could find it again, captain?"

The old sailor shook his head. "There's no telling where we are now,"
he said, gloomily, "we might hunt for days without coming across them.
If that fellow did put that nail there to make us lose them, he's
succeeded all right."

"What had we better do, captain?" Walter asked, anxiously.

"Well, we aint got no real proof that the fellow put that nail thar so
we can't do anything with him. It might have been in thar all the time,
though I'm willing to take an oath that the compass was true when we
left port. Thar ain't much chance of picking up the fleet again an' I
don't reckon we'd better waste time trying it. The lead shows we are
still on the sponge banks an' I reckon we'd best just get to work, say
nothing, an' keep a close watch on that oil Greek chap."

The "Beauty" was anchored accordingly, sails lowered and furled, and
everything made snug. As soon as that was done, the boys ordered their
crew into the diving boat and, running out a little ways from the
schooner, gave the signal to resume the diving operations.

By sheer accident, they had chanced upon a spot rich in sponges and the
lads watched with satisfaction the steady reappearance of the lowered
basket.



CHAPTER X.

A RASH RESOLVE.


THE boys watched Manuel closely throughout the entire afternoon, but
they could detect nothing amiss in his manner or actions. He did
his work willingly and cheerfully, humming a tune most of the time,
apparently he was at peace with himself and the world.

They were not the only ones who watched the Greek closely. Whenever the
lads glanced at the handsome sailor, they found him gazing intently at
the suspected man, much as a cat watches a mouse, ready to spring at
its slightest movement.

The boys kept well apart from the crew, watchful for any threatened
outbreak on their part. But the men seemed so cheerful, willing and
contented that they soon grew ashamed of their distrust.

Once the handsome sailor approached them respectfully, hat in hand,
and, halting before them, spoke rapidly in a low voice. The lads shook
their heads to show that they did not understand, and, with a look of
helpless resignation on his face, the fellow returned to his work.

"I wish we could understand what he says," Charley said, wistfully.
"He, evidently, has something important he wishes to tell us."

"We will be able to make out what he says before long," Walter said,
cheerfully. "We are learning lots of new words every day."

"Yes, we are getting along pretty well," his chum agreed, "but we
are not picking up the language near as well as Chris. It's really
wonderful how fast he is learning."

The little negro and the Greek boy had become great friends and Chris,
naturally quick witted, was learning with astonishing rapidity to talk
to his new chum.

"It's the best day we've had yet," Charley declared as they returned
to the schooner in the evening. "We have got as many sponges this
afternoon as we have during any entire day."

Captain Westfield was elated over their success. "It's turned out all
right after all," he said. "We've stumbled upon a mighty rich part of
the banks, an' I reckon, we ain't lost the fleet either, as we feared,
thar's some twenty sails coming up from the South'ard."

The vessels, which the boys had not noticed before, were approaching
rapidly, coming before the stiff breeze. Before dark settled down, they
were plainly visible but the eager watchers could not recognize any
of them, they seemed larger schooners than any they had seen in the
fleet. The strangers anchored for the night near the "Beauty" and the
captain got out his night glass and studied them carefully.

"They ain't any of the fleet," he declared with keen disappointment.
"They're Spanish smacks from Cuba. They fish around this coast
regularly every season."

"Well, they'll be some company, anyway, as long as they stay near us,"
Charley said, cheerfully. "I can speak Spanish if I can't Greek, we can
go over and call on them in the morning. I'd like to go to-night, but I
feel too tired out to move."

Soon after supper, Manuel approached Captain Westfield, respectfully.

"We would like to go aboard the schooners, if you will permit," he
requested. "We are nearly out of tobacco and the Cubans always carry a
lot for which we can trade."

The old sailor thought for a few minutes. "You can go," he said,
shortly, "you an' one man. Take the dingy. I don't want the diving boat
used. An' be sure you're back aboard early."

The Greek thanked him effusively for the permission, and, calling one
of his shipmates, the two got the schooner's little boat over the side
and sculled away for the nearest smack.

"They have got plenty of tobacco," growled the captain, as soon as the
two were out of hearing. "Thar was enough sent aboard at Tarpon to last
them for months. I reckon he's figuring on deserting, that's why I let
him go. I'd be willing to lose the boat and the other man to be well
rid of him."

It seemed that the old sailor was correct for when eight o'clock came
Manuel had not returned.

"After what happened last night, I don't reckon it's wise to leave the
deck alone," the captain said as the boys prepared to retire to their
bunks. "One of us had ought to keep watch to see that no one monkeys
with the wheel or compass."

Walter offered to take the first watch from eight to twelve, and,
leaving him pacing back and forth aft of the mainmast, the others
retired to rest.

Charley was awakened by a vigorous shaking and his chum's voice calling
to him to get up.

"My watch so soon," grumbled the lad sleepily, "Seems like I just got
to sleep."

"It's only eleven o'clock," said Walter in excited tones, "but Manuel
came aboard an hour ago very drunk. He must have brought liquor with
him for they are all raising merry Ned in the forecastle now. The
captain and Chris are on deck. Hurry up, there's likely to be trouble
any minute."

Charley slipped hastily into his clothing and securing his revolver
ran on deck. His three companions with revolvers in their hands were
ranged across the deck just aft of the mainmast. From the forecastle,
forward, came an uproar of shouting, cursing, and fighting.

The old sailor was blaming himself, bitterly. "I'd ought to have
thought of it," he exclaimed, "Auguident is cheap as water in Cuba an'
those smacks always carry a lot of it to trade off for other things.
What an old fool I was."

"What shall we do?" Charley asked.

"Nothing, but let 'em fight it out amongst themselves an' keep 'em
from crowding aft on us. Our lives wouldn't be worth a pinch of snuff
if we went down to quiet them. If any of 'em tries to come aft of the
mainmast, shoot him."

The words were hardly out of his mouth when a figure burst out of the
forecastle and came running aft followed by several others staggering,
shouting and cursing.

The captain raised his pistol and took deliberate aim as the flying man
drew near.

"Stop, or I'll shoot," he commanded.

Charley knocked aside his upraised arm. "Let him pass," he cried, "it's
the strange sailor, they have been trying to kill him."

The handsome fellow was bleeding from a dozen knife wounds, and was
breathing short and heavily. As he reached the little party of chums,
he turned about and faced his pursuers. It was evident that he did not
lack courage.

The pursuing Greeks stopped short at sight of the little band stretched
across the deck with leveled revolvers. For a minute they seemed about
to dash forward regardless of consequences, but, after a moment's
hesitation, with a volley of curses they turned and slunk back to the
forecastle. They were yet sober enough to realize the danger of open
mutiny.

"I don't think they'll try to bother us," said the captain with a sigh
of relief. "They ain't drunk enough for that yet, an' I reckon they've
about drank up all their liquor by now. It wouldn't last long amongst
so many of them."

The strange sailor had sunk to the deck in a dead faint, and, leaving
the boys to guard the deck, the Captain and Chris carried him below,
and, laying him in one of the bunks, hurried back to their companions.

"He ain't going to die," the old sailor informed them. "He's just weak
from loss of blood. I didn't take time to look him over close, but I
counted nineteen knife cuts on his body an' likely thar's some I didn't
notice."

"We will have to keep him back aft with us. They would likely kill
him if we sent him back to the forecastle, for he is unable to defend
himself now," Charley said, and his chums agreed with him.

The uproar in the forecastle continued for a long time then gradually
subsided. Evidently, the crew had disposed of the last of the liquor
and its effects were slowly wearing off.

Not until four o'clock, however, did the last noise cease, and the
little party of chums remained on deck until the sun rose, ready for
any violence from the drunken Greeks. Daylight found them pale and
tired from their long, anxious vigil.

"Better go below, lads, and have a good nap," the captain advised.
"They have all quieted down and there is no danger of trouble for the
present. They are going to feel mighty sick and weak from the drink."

"I'm not going to give them a chance to sleep off their bad feelings,"
declared Charley, grimly. "My crew have got to turn to and work as
usual. I'm going to turn them out as soon as Ben awakes."

When the little Greek lad appeared, looking pale and frightened,
Charley sent him below to rouse Manuel.

The lad, apparently, did not relish the task but he went, and, after a
long time, reappeared accompanied by the Greek.

Manuel plainly showed the effects of the liquor. He looked sick and
haggard and one eye was much discolored from a blow he had received. He
was ready, however, with an excuse for the night's disorder. "I did my
best to stop the noise and trouble, and it was thus I received a blow
in the eye."

"You were drunk when you came aboard," accused Walter.

"I took a drink on the schooner," admitted Manuel, "only one little
drink. It was foolish, for I am unused to liquor and it went to my
legs, but my head was clear. I regret the disorder of the others."

There was no doubt in the minds of the captain and the boys that he was
really the author of all the trouble, but they could not prove it and
Charley dismissed him with a curt command to call the crew.

They were a sick-looking crowd when they were at last collected on
deck. All showed the effect of the liquor and many were the black
eyes and bruised faces. Their fighting humor seemed to have departed,
however, and they went about their tasks quietly, sullenly, and
listlessly.

After they had finished their morning coffee, Charley ordered his crew
into the diving boat and set out for the spot where they had found so
many sponges.



CHAPTER XI.

A MYSTERY.


THE two boys kept well apart from the crew, and watched closely for
any signs of threatened trouble, but, although the men looked sullen
and ugly enough for any kind of act, they seemed much subdued and went
about their tasks quietly saying little, even to each other.

"I guess we are giving ourselves a lot of worry without cause," Walter
remarked, softly. "Those fellows seem quiet enough now. It was the
liquor that made them act as they did last night, but they have drank
it all up now and I do not believe we will have any more trouble with
them."

"I wish I could agree with you," his chum said, gravely, "but I can't.
I believe in the old Latin proverb--'in vino veritas'--there is
truth in wine. I've always noticed that when a man gets intoxicated,
he reveals just the kind of man he really is. If he is naturally
quarrelsome when sober he is sure to want to fight when drinking. If he
is good-hearted and kind when sober, he is generally good-humored when
drunk. Liquor seems to destroy a man's caution and make him reveal his
real character. Now these fellows showed plainly their feelings towards
us last night when they were drinking. To-day they are sober and more
cautious, but I believe they feel just the same towards us. It only
needs some real or fancied wrong to bring their hatred to the surface
again. I believe if we had a clash with one of them now we would have a
first-class mutiny on our hands; but, I guess, we had not better do any
more whimpering. They will suspect that we are discussing them and it
will not improve matters any."

For awhile the sponges came up from below every half hour, but towards
noon a full hour went by without the basket making its appearance. The
lads, at last, became somewhat alarmed at the delay.

"Do you suppose they are in any trouble down below?" Charley enquired
of Manuel.

The Greek shook his head. "They would have signaled if anything had
been wrong. There, they are signaling now."

There came several jerks on the life-lines and the Greeks in charge of
them pulled the divers up and into the boat. The men had been below
for only an hour and the boys were puzzled to account for their coming
up before their time had expired. When their head-pieces were removed
the lads could see that the divers were greatly excited. They spoke
rapidly to those around them, and a hum of excited conversation arose
from the before listless crew.

"What's the matter?" Charley demanded of Manuel, who seemed to be the
most excited of all.

"It is nothing," was the quick reply. "The men grew faint for a minute
but they will be all right soon. That often happens to one when diving."

The Greek's excitement was too great for such a trivial cause and
Charley decided promptly that he was lying.

In a few minutes the divers resumed their head-pieces and prepared to
descend again. As they stood on the ladders one of the crew handed one
of them a coil of light rope to the end of which was attached a piece
of light wood.

"What does he want with that buoy?" Charley demanded, sharply.

"There's a bad hole in the bottom which he wishes to mark so that there
will be no danger of his blundering into it," replied Manuel promptly,
but, again, Charley decided that the fellow was lying.

"There's something in the wind," he remarked to Walter. "The crew seem
greatly excited, and Manuel, I am sure, is lying."

A strange change had suddenly taken place in the crew's manner. Before,
they had been silent, sullen and listless, now, they were animated,
their eyes glittered with excitement, and they chattered back and forth
like so many magpies.

Manuel evidently noticed that the boys were watching them closely,
for he addressed them in a low tone and their chattering ceased. They
resumed their work with something like a return of their former manner,
but it was easy to see that their sullenness was now assumed.

The lads turned their attention to the course the diver was taking, and
watched for the appearance of the buoy which would show the whereabouts
of the bad place on the bottom. The bit of wood soon floated into view
not a hundred feet from the boat.

Apparently, the divers were still suffering from their faintness, for
it was a long time after they descended before the first basket load of
sponges appeared, and it was nearly an hour before the second one was
hoisted aboard.

"We are not getting many to-day," Walter grumbled. "If we don't do
better pretty soon, we had better move and try another place."

"There is something queer doing," Charley declared. "Just watch those
life-lines and see what you make of it."

The ropes which were fastened to the divers showed plainly the
direction taken by the men below. The lines were kept faintly taut
to permit of the signals being clearly felt, and their slant gave an
accurate idea of just where the divers were working.

Walter watched for awhile, a puzzled frown gathering on his face.

"Why," he exclaimed, "they are right on that bad part of bottom, and
they haven't stirred for the last fifteen minutes."

The lads continued to watch the tell-tale lines. For another fifteen
minutes the ropes remained motionless, then from their twitching it
became evident that the divers were once more moving around. In a short
time thereafter, the usual signal was given and two baskets of sponges
were hoisted up.

"That's got me puzzled," said Charley, as the peculiar performance was
repeated. "I guess we had better appear not to have noticed it. The
crew is not looking at us in a very friendly way."

The attitude of the Greeks seemed to be growing hostile. Many were the
unfriendly glances they cast at the two lads and the boys could hear
their names repeated in the low-toned conversation going on.

The two lads retired to the bow where, though they effected to be
taking their ease, they kept on the alert for the first signs of
trouble.

Though nothing happened to further arouse their fears, it was a trying
situation and both were glad when the time came to return to the
schooner.

They found the captain and Chris both tired from a hard day's labor
cleaning sponges. The wounded sailor was sitting back by the wheel,
looking somewhat pale and haggard, but not a great deal the worse for
his many wounds.

"His troubles' been sorter praying on his mind all day," said the
captain. "He got a hold of my pad and pencil this morning an' he's been
drawing pictures of the fight and other things--here's one of them."

The old sailor produced a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket.

Walter examined the sketch closely. It was not without a certain
cleverness and was better than one would expect of a humble sailor
before the mast. It depicted a struggle between two groups of men. In
one of the groups, the lad could recognize some of the faces of the
Greeks, who, armed with knives and clubs, were assailing the other
party. As the lad bent over to examine the other group more closely, he
uttered an exclamation of surprise. At first glance there was nothing
startling about those whom the Greeks were fighting, but a second
glance showed something familiar about the figures composing it. He
passed the sketch to Charley.

"What do you make of it?" he asked.

"Why, that little group is intended to represent us," his chum
exclaimed. "See they are just four in number. That big one with the
beard is meant for the captain and the little one for Chris, the other
two are you and I. Why, the likeness to us is quite striking when you
look at it closely."

"I believe he intended this for a warning to us," Walter declared.
"Where are the rest of the things he drew, Captain?"

"I threw them all away, I didn't reckon they meant anything," the old
sailor replied, regretfully.

"Well, never mind," said Charley cheerfully, "we will get him to draw
them over again. He seems a very intelligent fellow. I wish he could
talk so as to tell us what the crew are saying now. Just look at him."

The strange sailor was leaning forward listening eagerly to the buzz of
conversation going on between the Greeks. The diving boat's crew seemed
to have conveyed the excitement under which they had been laboring all
day to their shipmates who had remained aboard the schooner. Groups of
two or three were gathered here and there, talking eagerly together.

Walter called the little Greek lad to him.

"What are the men talking about, Ben?"

The little fellow hesitated before replying. It was plain that he was
greatly troubled and frightened. "They talk about nothing much," he
stammered.

Walter was pressing him with further questions when his chum interfered.

"It's hardly fair to make him tell," he said. "It might cause him a lot
of trouble. His uncle is glaring at him now, as though he would like to
kill him."

There was nothing to be learned by watching the crew's actions, so,
signing to the wounded sailor to follow them, the four chums descended
to the cabin where the Greek cook had supper waiting for them.

Charley was unusually quiet during the meal, but when the Greek cook
and Ben had at last retired carrying the dishes with them, he arose and
closed the cabin door.

"Captain," he said as he returned to his companions, "I am going down
in a diving suit to-morrow."



CHAPTER XII.

IN A DIVING SUIT.


THE old sailor stared at Charley as though he feared the lad had taken
leave of his senses.

"Why, you must be crazy," he exclaimed. "You don't know anything about
that kind of diving."

"I fancy there is not much to learn about it," Charley replied. "I've
been watching the divers closely and it appears very simple. The main
thing seems to be to keep the air hose clear. I've been wanting to go
down ever since the first day, and the strange way the crew have acted
to-day has decided me to try it. I want to see what it is that has so
excited them."

"It's a fool notion and I ain't going to let you do it," the captain
stormed, but Charley only grinned, cheerfully.

"It's no use scolding, Captain, I've quite made up my mind to try it.
I've been thinking it over the whole day."

"I say you sha'n't do it," roared the old sailor. "I'll put you in
irons first, I'm captain of this schooner."

"But I'm captain of the diving boat," Charley reminded him with a grin,
"If anyone interferes with my doings on my own ship it's mutiny, you
know."

"Walt, say something to get him out of that fool notion," pleaded the
old sailor, helplessly.

Walter turned to his chum with a twinkle in his eye, "If you go down,
I'm going too," he said, decidedly.

"You're two young lunatics," the captain declared, wrathfully. "You're
bound to always run yourselves into danger whenever you get a show.
Neither one of you will ever live to see twenty."

But, although he fumed and threatened for a long time, the matter
ended, as was always the case when the boys had determined upon a
thing, in his, at last, giving a grudging consent to their plan.

Chris had followed his little friend Ben on deck as soon as he finished
his supper, but soon after the discussion was ended he returned below
grumbling.

"Dat white child ain't no fitten company to-night," he declared. "He
acts plum scart to death an' won't talk none tall."

"You go up and stay around the wheel, 'till we come up," the captain
ordered. "I thought you were there all the time or I'd been up myself,
I don't want none of those fellows fooling around the compass."

When Chris had retired, still grumbling, Walter brought out a pad and
pencil and handed them to the sailor who had been watching their faces
closely during their animated debate.

The man seized them eagerly and bending over the pad began to draw
slowly with awkward, clumsy fingers. When the sketch was finished he
tore off the sheet of paper and handed it to Charley whom he seemed to
recognize as the real leader of the little party.

The lad examined the sketch with eager interest. "He must be a very
cheerful sort of fellow," he remarked, as he passed it to his chum.
"First, he prophesies a fight with the crew, and, now, he has got us
all shipwrecked. Can't say much for his skill with the pencil though;
that hulk does not look much like our pretty 'Beauty'."

The rude sketch pictured a forlorn, dismasted wreck, covered with
seaweed and with one side badly stove in.

The sailor had immediately commenced upon another picture which he soon
passed over.

The boys looked it over but could not decide what it was intended to
represent.

"It looks like a box full of crackers," Charley said with a grin.
"Well, if he's decided to have us shipwrecked, it's thoughtful of him
to provide us with something to eat."

But the sailor did not seem to regard it as any laughing matter. He
watched their expressions with a face full of concern, and, when
Walter shook his head to show that he did not understand the sketch, he
laid aside the pad with a heavy sigh.

"He has given it up," Charley said. "We had better go to bed, I guess
we have a hard day ahead of us to-morrow."

Chris was recalled from the deck and Walter took his place while the
others turned into their bunks and were soon fast asleep. At midnight
he awakened Charley and at four o'clock Charley was relieved by the
captain. The watches passed away without any alarm, but one thing
struck both of the lads as being curious. All during their watches
three or four of the Greeks remained on deck instead of seeking their
bunks as they usually did right after eating supper. They sat around
up by the forecastle smoking and talking quietly together and the boys
came to the conclusion that they were merely wakeful from the effects
of the liquor they had drank the night before.

The boys looked longingly at the tempting breakfast served by the Greek
cook, but as they had decided to make the descent to the bottom that
morning they were obliged to be content with a cup of coffee.

The captain and Chris followed them aboard the diving boat. "We're
going with you," the old sailor explained. "It's a risky thing you're
planning to do an' I'd be too nervous and anxious about you to stay on
the schooner. She will be all right without us for a little while."

Manuel seemed to note the presence of the captain and Chris with
satisfaction. Before the boat was shoved off from the schooner, he
called the cook to the rail and conversed with him a few minutes in low
tones.

But his satisfaction changed to frowning anger when the boys began to
don the diving suits.

"You are foolish to attempt to go down, young sirs," he said, angrily.
"It is dangerous, very dangerous."

"We are the only ones at all likely to suffer," Charley replied
shortly. "Tend strictly to your pumping, when we think we need advice,
we will ask you for it."

Before his head-piece was adjusted, he found opportunity to whisper to
Walter. "We won't be able to talk when we get below, so I want you to
follow me and do just what you see me do."

"I will," promised his chum. "My, don't these things feel queer. I can
hardly lift my feet, they are so heavy. They make me feel helpless as a
little baby."

The divers adjusted the helmets to the lads' heads and, assisting them
to the rail, helped them down the ladder, and lowered them gently to
the bottom.

Charley laughed to himself as he caught sight of Walter in the clear
water. His chum looked like some strange monster in the grotesque
diving suit. He waved his hand to him and Walter placed one great paw
over his helmet where his mouth was supposed to be, to show that he was
endeavoring politely to stifle a laugh.

But the boys' merriment at each other's grotesque appearance was
quickly lost in admiration of the strange scene about them.

It was as though they were standing in the midst of a beautiful garden.
Here and there were patches of soft white bottom, like winding paths
amongst the marine growth. On every side of the bare places rose
lace-like sea fans of purple, yellow, and red, and feather-like sea
plumes swaying gently to and fro to the motion of the water caused by
the lads' descent. At their bases lay scattered multitudes of shells of
every conceivable shape, size, and hue, while, towering far above the
riot of color, rose mighty trees of snow-white coral among the branches
of which hovered golden, silver, crimson, and every shade of fish,
great and small, their fins flashing gracefully as they darted to and
fro.

For some moments, the lads stood motionless drinking in the beauty of
the wonderful garden, but they had not descended merely to admire and
Charley, after a long look around, hauled gently on the life-line until
he had some hundred feet coiled neatly at his feet. Walter, though not
comprehending his chum's plan, followed his example. The ruse was to
serve a two-fold purpose, first to lead those on the diving boat to
think that the two were a considerable distance from the boat, and,
second, to deceive them as to the real direction taken by those below.

As soon as Walter had got his life-line neatly coiled down, Charley
turned at right angles from the spot and moved slowly forward for the
place where he calculated lay the supposed bad place in the Gulf's
bottom.

He was surprised to find that he could walk with perfect ease and
comfort. The suit, which had been so heavy and cumbersome above the
surface, now rested on him lightly as a feather. He could have walked
with considerable speed had it not been for the care he had to take to
keep his life-line free and clear from the numerous branches of coral.
He watched Walter anxiously to see that he used the same care with the
rope upon which their very lives depended and he was relieved to see
that his chum used every possible precaution.

Although the water was clear as crystal, neither lad could see far
ahead at that depth below the surface for it was too far for the sun's
light to penetrate brightly. Charley was almost upon the rope with its
floating buoy above before he perceived it. He moved forward now with
the greatest caution for, if Manuel's statement was true, a hasty step
might plunge him suddenly into a nasty hole or a dangerous patch of
quicksand. But the bottom did not seem any different from that over
which they had passed. The rope was fastened to a branch of coral where
there was no indication of a hole or quicksand, but, a little beyond
where the rope was fastened, the lad could see dimly a large black mass
rising up from the bottom. Towards it he slowly made his way, followed
by his chum.



CHAPTER XIII.

A CLOSE CALL.


CHARLEY'S eyes were becoming accustomed to the semi-gloom and a few
steps forward gave him a clear view of the dark object. One glance, and
he turned to his chum with a cry which was lost in his muffling helmet.

Before the two lads lay the wreck of a once stately ship, her masts
broken short off and a great gaping hole in her side. She had evidently
lain long in her bed amongst the coral and sponges for long tendrils of
sea moss streamed out from her barnacle-covered sides.

Someone had been there before them for the moss and marine growth had
been scraped from the vessel's stern revealing the name, "Golden Hope".

Charley turned from the spelling out of the indistinct letters to see
his chum beckoning to him wildly and he hurried to his side.

Walter was stooping over an opened box partly filled with what had
once been shining gold pieces but which were now tarnished and almost
unrecognizable in their coat of gray slime. The box had been recently
torn open as was evident from the freshly-splintered wood.

Charley sat down on the box's edge and did some rapid thinking. The
crew's excitement was now accounted for. They had not come upon a
rich bed of sponges as he had suspected but had discovered a treasure
such as men for ages have fought, struggled, and died to attain. The
half emptied box showed that the divers had already begun to remove
the gold. For a moment, the lad was puzzled to know how they had been
able to bring up what was missing without its being seen. There were
no pockets to the diving suits and they could have carried but a few
pieces at a time in their closed hands. A moment's reflection, however,
brought him to the only possible explanation; the gold must have been
sent up in the sponge basket hidden amongst the lumps of mud from which
it could have been removed by the crew without much risk of discovery.
But it was not the removal of the gold which gave the quick-witted
lad the most concern. The amount taken by the Greeks was likely but a
mere trifle when compared with that which remained. It was the effects
the discovery of such a treasure would have upon an already unruly
crew that he feared. As he had said to Walter but the day before, he
believed it needed but a trifle to fan the Greeks' growing discontent
into open mutiny. Here was riches enough to tempt the most steady band
of sailors and it was but reasonable to suppose that it would tempt
the lawless Greeks to deeds of violence and bloodshed. These thoughts
surged through the lad's mind in far less time than it has taken to
tell of them. He would have liked to have talked the matter over with
his chum and settled upon the wisest plan to follow, but that was
impossible below the surface and signs were useless to convey exact
ideas. He must decide alone upon their immediate course of action and
trust to Walter's quick wit to fall in with what he decided upon.

Arising he turned to his chum and laid one finger across his lips.
Walter nodded his ponderous head-piece to show that he understood the
sign for silence regarding their discovery.

Taking up his sponge basket, Charley retraced his steps to the spot
where they had descended followed by his observant chum. Here the
sponges grew in abundance and he at once began to fill his basket, an
example which Walter immediately followed.

As he bent over to tear up an unusually large sponge he became suddenly
sensible of an agitation of the water near him. Straightening up, he
stood frozen to his tracks with fear and horror. Not ten feet from
where he stood lay a gigantic shark, its belly gleaming white through
the clear water. Its little green eyes were fixed upon him with a
wicked unblinking stare. He let the basket drop from his grasp and
flung up his arms with an unreasoning instinct to protect his head from
the impending attack. At his sudden movement the great fish darted
away. Evidently, it was equally as frightened of the strange unknown
monster it had encountered.

The shock had left the frightened lad weak and trembling and he had to
rest a few minutes before he could resume the filling of his basket.

As he placed the last sponge in the basket he turned to signal to his
chum to ascend, but Walter was already gone, his figure, grotesque in
the diving suit, was already well up from the bottom and shooting up
with astonishing swiftness. At the same moment Charley became aware of
a strange sickening sensation. He was choking and gasping for breath.
Before he could realize what had happened the frightful sensation had
passed and he was able to breathe fully and freely, and he felt himself
being pulled swiftly to the surface.

In a moment he was hoisted above the surface, hauled aboard the boat
and his helmet removed. The captain, white-faced and shaken was leaning
against the mast his revolver in his hand. Chris, ashen-hued, and a
sailor, was still pumping faintly. Close beside the air pump lay Manuel
in apparent unconsciousness.

"What's happened?" Charley cried.

"Manuel keeled over in a fit or something," said the captain, brokenly.
"I thought you would both be dead before we could get you to the
surface. It seemed ages before I could get Chris to the pump and the
fellows to hauling you up. They seemed to move mighty slow 'till I
threatened to shoot. They maybe didn't understand what I said but the
sight of the gun made 'em more lively," he concluded, grimly.

Charley walked over to the prostrate Greek and stood gazing down at his
upturned face.

"He has no business to faint when he's working the air pump," he said
savagely. "I guess I'll kick him a good hard one in the face for
punishment."

The manly lad had no such intention of carrying out such a brutal
threat but he wanted to test whether the treacherous Greek was, as he
suspected, really shamming.

The prostrate man's features twitched, he sighed heavily and rolled
over on his side, Charley's suspicions were confirmed.

"Captain," said the lad distinctly, "if anything happens to Walter and
I when we are below the surface, I want you to shoot this man without
the slightest hesitation. He is the only one who can understand your
orders and he must be made responsible for our safety."

"I'll shoot him the first time anything goes wrong," the captain
declared wrathfully, as he caught the wink of Charley's eye. "I feel
like killing him now, for the fright he gave me."

The shamming Greek did not seem to relish this threatening talk. He
showed signs of surprisingly rapid recovery. In a few minutes he was
able to sit up and look around.

"I am overjoyed to find you both alive," he said faintly to the two
boys. "Everything grew suddenly black before me when I was pumping and
I knew no more. It is my heart, it troubles me at times. You young
gentlemen must go down no more, it is too risky."

"We have had enough of it for to-day, but we may try it again
to-morrow," Charley replied, cheerfully. "It is very beautiful and
interesting down below."

"I hope you avoided the bad place on the bottom," said the Greek,
anxiously. "The divers say it is a dangerous hole."

"You must think we are fools to venture near such a place," said
Charley, indignantly, and the man looked greatly relieved.

Above all, the prudent lad wished to keep the crew from thinking that
he and Walter had come upon the treasure. As long as they believed
them ignorant of its existence they would likely continue the work of
secretly removing it without open violence.

He could not talk over the matter with his chums without danger of
being overheard, and he was forced to appear unconcerned and look on
with indifference while the divers sent up basket after basket of
sponges, in every load of which he was convinced was hidden several
hundred dollars of the gold coins.

He greatly admired Walter's manner. The lad chattered over the
beautiful gardens they had seen below without a hint in his voice or
manner of the secret they had stumbled upon.

From time to time the crew shot glances of scowling suspicion at
the little group, but they were evidently reassured by the boys'
cheerfulness and apparent unconcern.

It was like sitting beside a powder mine with a lighted fuse in it, and
both lads were greatly relieved when the long day dragged away to its
close and the diving boat was headed back for the schooner.

They were met at the schooner's rail by the cook who seemed greatly
excited and who greeted them with a torrent of rapidly spoken words.

Manuel listened with a look of sadness, real or assumed, on his face.

"He says," he interpreted swiftly, "that the wounded man went suddenly
crazy this morning and flung himself into the sea."



CHAPTER XIV.

THE DISCUSSION.


THE chums looked at each other in silent comprehension. There was not
a doubt in the mind of either that the sailor had been made away with
during their absence from the ship. They recalled Manuel's talk with
the cook before they left the schooner and the look of satisfaction in
his face when he learned that they were all going on the diving boat.
Even the captain was not slow to grasp the horrible truth.

"It's a terrible business, but don't let on that you suspect them," he
whispered. "We've got to have a long talk and decide what it's best
to do." To Manuel, he said, curtly, "I reckon, it's the fellow's own
business if he wanted to drown himself, so you ain't got no cause to
grieve. Better divide his things up amongst the crew."

Although they were eager for a talk alone, the four lounged carelessly
about the deck, striving to appear unconcerned, until the Greek boy
summoned them to supper below. They talked cheerfully until the cook
had retired bearing the empty dishes with him. Then Charley arose and
noiselessly closed the cabin windows and door so that their words would
not reach the deck. Returning to his seat, he called the pale-faced
little Greek lad to him, and, resting his hand on his head, said kindly,

"Ben, we are not going to repeat anything you say to us, and we want
you to tell us just what has been troubling you the last few days."

The little lad burst into tears, "They'll kill me," he sobbed, "they'll
kill me."

"They will never know you told us," Charley assured him. "We will never
let anyone know you told us."

"They are going to kill you all," faltered the boy as soon as he could
control his sobs.

"Why do they want to kill us," Charley questioned.

"My uncle makes them mad. When you give orders he adds lots of bad
names and swear words to them. He tells the crew that you always take
that sailor's part. He tells them you're going to have them all put in
jail when you get back to Tarpon. He tells them you love that sailor
and hate Greeks."

"But why did they hate that sailor so?" Walter questioned.

"He Turk," explained the lad. "Greeks hate Turks."

The chums glanced at each other in swift comprehension. They knew of
the deadly hatred that existed between the two races. A hatred that
had led to the bitter war in which the Greeks had been badly beaten.
They understood now why the handsome sailor had been shunned by all
his shipmates. They could see, too, how the wily Manuel had used their
defense of the man to arouse the crew's resentment against them. The
cunning Greek had woven about them a net of lies which it would be
impossible to explain away.

"Then they find gold," Ben continued, "that makes them crazy. Manuel
tells them to leave you alone if you don't find out about the money,
but kill you if you do."

"The infernal rascal," exploded the captain. "He goes in irons and down
in the hold to stay 'till we get to port."

"Don't do that!" cried the alarmed Greek lad. "They kill you right off
if you do."

"One thing more," said Charley, as the little fellow's tears began to
flow afresh. "Who killed that sailor?"

But Ben did not know although it was evident that he did not doubt that
the man had been killed.

Charley waited until the lad had dried his tears, then let him go with
the caution to tell none of the crew that he had told them.

"We are in the tightest fix of our lives," he declared, when Ben had
gone. "It seems, from what he says, that we are safe so long as they
do not suspect that we know anything about the gold but I fancy that
Manuel suspects that we have found it and I do not believe we can count
on their being willing to let us reach port alive. The question is,
what had we better do."

"I don't understand all this talk about gold," said the captain.

The boys hurriedly told of the discovery they had made while the old
sailor listened with sparkling eyes.

"Boys," he exclaimed, when their tale was concluded, "you've found what
will make rich men of us all. I remember the excitement caused by the
loss of that ship. It happened twelve years ago. For months tugs and
steamers were scouring the Gulf searching for her. She had cleared from
New Orleans for New York with two million dollars in gold aboard."

"She might as well contain two million toothpicks so far as we are
concerned," said Charley, impatiently. "I'd give up every cent of it
willingly to be safe in port this minute."

The captain, brought abruptly back to a realization of their desperate
situation, thought deeply for several moments before he spoke. "We had
ought to be able to hold our own against them fellows," he, at last,
observed. "We are well armed and I don't believe they have got any
weapons except their sheaf knives which ain't no good except at close
quarters."

"It is not open violence but treachery that I fear," Charley explained.
"We have had two samples already of the way they work. First in that
stoppage of the air hose and, second, in the making away of that
sailor. No, that Manuel is too cunning a rascal to risk open rebellion
when he can accomplish his ends without any personal risk."

"Why not let them continue to get up the gold and hide it as they have
been doing?" Walter suggested. "We can pretend that we do not know what
is going on. Then when we get to port we can turn them over to the
authorities and recover the money without any trouble."

Charley shook his head doubtfully. "That will not do," he said. "I am
as convinced as I am that I am living, that we would never reach port
alive. Manuel is too wise to take any chances and he knows that they
could not remove such a large amount of gold from the schooner without
arousing suspicion. I believe he has entrusted the crew to spare us for
the present only because he thinks that some of the fleet might happen
along and grow curious if we were all missing. Besides, it is doubtful
if any of them know enough about navigation to sail the 'Beauty' home.
Us boys, he probably will not hesitate to remove at any time if he can
give the act the appearance of accident, like what occurred to-day.
The captain, he will likely permit to remain alive until near port. He
will have a long story made up to account for our disappearance and the
gold will likely be well hidden amongst the ballast from where he can
remove it without exciting comment so long as we are not on board."

The lad spoke confidently for he was putting himself in the place
of the cunning Greek and reasoning just what he would do in a like
position.

"I've got it," exclaimed the captain in triumph. "When they are asleep
we'll batten down the forecastle hatch on them and keep them there
until we get to port. We four can work the schooner in, I guess."

"I tell you, you don't realize what a cunning rascal that fellow is,"
Charley declared in reluctant admiration. "He has provided against just
such an attempt. I did not understand the reason for it last night, but
I noticed that all during my watch on deck there were three or four men
hanging around the deck up forward. It's a great stake they are playing
for and they are not taking the slightest chances."

"I noticed the men hanging around," admitted the captain, "but I didn't
think much of it at the time. Let's have your plan, if you've got one,
lad."

"I'm afraid we can't get out of this hole without some violence and
danger," Charley replied. "I have been thinking over it all day and
this is the only thing I can think of that seems to offer any hope
of success. First thing in the morning Walter and I must descend to
the wreck again and bring up enough gold to pay off the men when we
get to port. It's a risky thing to do, but it is necessary to carry
out my plan. You see," he paused to explain, "the men were shipped for
three months and they could demand pay for that time. We haven't got
the money and we have not gathered up enough sponges yet to make up so
large an amount. They could tie the schooner up for their wages and
make us a lot of trouble and expense, a thing Manuel would be sure to
do."

"But they have got a lot of gold which belongs to us, already," Walter
suggested.

"We would have hard work to prove that it is ours, and it would mean a
lot of delay," replied his chum quickly.

"Go on with your plan, lad," said the captain, who perceived that
Charley had thought over all sides of the question with his usual
clearness.

"After we have brought up the money. We will use their own plan for
bringing it up without its being noticed--we will hang around and let
them go on with the work as usual all day, for it would not do to fight
it out on the diving boat. When we get back to the schooner at night,
we will bring matters to a head. We will make them get up anchor and
sails and head back for Tarpon. There's bound to be trouble and plenty
of it but we'll be prepared for it and Tarpon is only two days' sail.
What do you think of the plan?"

He did not have to wait long for a chorus of objections.



CHAPTER XV.

A DESPERATE PLAN.


"I DON'T see that your plan is any better than mine," Walter objected.

"To tarry along while they remove the gold would give them time enough
to remove us one by one," Charley replied, "While by doing as I have
suggested they will have but little chance for treachery, and, although
we will be sure to have trouble with them as soon as we order them to
get up anchor, I think we can manage to keep the upper hand of them for
the short time it will take to reach Tarpon."

"Golly, dis nigger plum hates to run off an' lebe all dat gole," Chris
observed.

"We'll come back for it," Charley declared. "As soon as we have paid
off the Greeks and got rid of them, we'll pick a crew of Americans and
hurry back."

"And while we are wasting time in getting a new crew, the Greeks will
have spread the news and a dozen boats will be here before we can get
back."

"You forget that the captain is the only one who knows where we are
by the latitude and longitude. Without knowing that, fifty boats might
hunt for a month without seeing that little buoy. It would be like
looking for a needle in a haystack."

"Hang that pesky Greek," exclaimed the captain. "He asked me this
morning for the schooner's position, an' I gave it to him."

Charley's face fell, "That fellow seems to think of everything,"
he sighed. "But it's hard to get an exact position by latitude and
longitude alone, isn't it, Captain?"

"A navigator is lucky if he hits within four or five miles of the place
he's aiming for. Of course it can be done if one is extra careful, but
I could not swear to our exact position on the chart now, 'though I
reckon I could come within a couple of miles of it."

"Good," Charley exclaimed, "I guess, we can make it impossible for them
to find the wreck again, if they should manage to get back before us.
It will mean a little change in my plan, though. Instead of getting
off to-morrow night, we will have to wait until the next morning." He
hastily outlined his amended plan, which, after they had discussed it
carefully, his companions agreed was as promising as any they could
think of.

They had hardly finished their discussion when there came a knock at
the cabin door and Manuel entered, smiling.

"I wished to enquire if the young gentlemen intend to go down in the
suits again to-morrow?" he said, suavely.

"We haven't decided yet," Charley said, carelessly, "Why do you wish to
know?"

"Because, if you are, the air hose had better be greased. If it is left
dry for long the rubber sometimes cracks and makes leaks."

"Then have it well greased," the captain ordered.

"I guess he's afraid of being shot if anything happens, an' is taking
every precaution," chuckled the captain when the Greek had retired.

"Perhaps," agreed Charley, doubtfully, "but, I confess, I am afraid of
that fellow. I'll certainly look over that hose carefully before I go
down to-morrow."

When they ascended to the deck, which they had forgotten to have
watched in the excitement of their discussion, they found Manuel and
two of the divers busily engaged in greasing the rubber air hose with
bacon slush from the cook's galley.

Charley's was the first watch on deck and, long after his companions
had retired to their bunks, he paced back and forth aft of the main
mast pondering thoughtfully over the plan he had suggested. It was
the best he could conceive under the circumstances but he realized
that its execution would be attended with the gravest dangers. Most
of all, he dreaded the proposed descent to the bottom for the gold.
He was convinced that Manuel had hit upon some scheme to get rid of
him and Walter without danger to himself. Again and again the lad's
thoughts came back to the greasing of the hose. If the operation was
so important, why had the divers not done it before--They were not the
kind of men to take any unnecessary risks in their dangerous work below
the surface. He had often noted the care with which they had examined
hose and pump before each descent.

But, while the lad puzzled over the matter, he did not neglect to
keep a watchful eye upon the three or four Greeks who lingered on the
forward deck. If he had needed any reminder of the peril of their
situation, it would have been found in the sight of those watchful,
restless figures.

Near the end of his watch, he gave vent to a low exclamation--He had
discovered the reason for the greasing of the hose. For a few minutes
he was appalled by the cunning fiendishness which had prompted the
act. The two hoses lay coiled close together in great heaps on deck.
Sauntering over to them, the lad stooped over each pile for a second,
then, straightening up, he resumed his slow steady pacing.

At midnight he awoke Walter to take his place. "I've solved it," he
told him.

"Solved what?" asked Walter, sleepily.

"Their reason for greasing the hose."

"What is it?"

"To attract sharks and lead them to bite it in two."

"The fiends!" Walter cried as the devilish ingenuity of the plot dawned
upon him. "What are you going to do about it?"

"Nothing, until we are ready to descend," his chum replied, "then it
will be too late for them to practice another surprise for us."

"Are you sure you are right," asked Walter, doubtfully. "They are not
sure that we are going to descend, you know."

"I think Manuel feels pretty confident that we will. If we fail to do
so, he likely will find some excuse for replacing the greased hose with
new ones. You can bet, he's got it all figured out. He is the brainiest
villain I ever met up with. Better hurry on deck now, and keep a close
watch out. There's no telling what other scheme he's got hatched up."

Although he retired to his bunk at once, Charley lay long awake. The
morrow would be filled with danger and his nerves were already growing
tense for the struggle which he foresaw. The Captain had relieved
Walter on deck before he at last fell into a troubled slumber from
which he awoke just as day was beginning to break.

By the time it was light enough to see, he was up and dressed and
making preparations for the carrying out of his hazardous plan. From
the lazerette, he procured a long coil of light rope which he placed
in one corner of his cabin. He next opened up his valise and got out
the ammunition he had purchased in Tarpon and a small, but excellent
pocket compass. These he placed in his bunk where they would be handy
if needed quickly.

When breakfast was over, the diving boat was brought alongside and all
got on board except the cook and four men left to take care of the
schooner and clean the sponges gathered the previous day.

"We have decided to go down and have one more look at those sea
gardens," Charley told Manuel when the sponging ground was reached.
"They are beautiful enough to invite another visit."

The Greeks' face expressed satisfaction. "They are beautiful," he
agreed, "but the young gentlemen are rash to go down. Let the divers
take the risks--they are paid to do it."

"We will be very careful," Charley said, cheerfully. "Walt, we had
better look over the hose before we go down, the divers always do."

The greased hose had been recoiled in the tubs and the boys proceeded
to overhaul them, foot by foot, searching them closely for cracks or
punctures.

Walter was puzzled to comprehend his chum's plan. After what he had
discovered, surely he did not intend to risk using the dangerous
things, but he was well enough acquainted with Charley's shrewdness
to hold his tongue and keep his face from betraying his uneasiness.
He felt sure that there was a good reason for his chum's actions. He
had but just reached this decision when he came upon a gapping hole in
the hose. It looked much as though it had been cut in two with a sharp
knife.

"Here's a bad place," he announced. "It's lucky I found it. Air can't
be pumped through this thing."

"And here's a hole in mine, too," Charley declared in accents so
surprised that no one would have dreamed that he had made both slits
the night before to serve as an excuse for the rejection of the
dangerous hose. "We can't use either one of them, we'll have to get out
the new hose."

Manuel's face for a second was a picture of bewilderment and baffled
rage, but in a moment he was again suave and smiling. "I don't see what
can have made those cuts," he declared. "They can be patched in a few
minutes, however. It would be a pity to throw away such hose, it is as
good as new except for those two little places which can be speedily
fixed."



CHAPTER XVI.

TOO LATE.


"NO patched hose for me," Charley said, decidedly. "If the divers want
to risk using it, they can."

It was not just the reply the wily Greek had expected and he hastened
to answer.

"You are right, it does not pay to take risks. I will get the new hose
and put it on."

But Charley was ahead of him. He did not intend to give the wily Greek
any chance to play tricks with the new hose. He brought it out from
the lockers in which it was kept and, after examining it carefully
connected it to the air pumps and helmets. Before putting on his
head-piece, he tried the air pump also. It proved to be in perfect
working order and sent the air gushing through the hose. Manuel
fastened the life-line below his arms, but Charley called the captain
to adjust the heavy helmet over his head.

As soon as his feet touched the bottom, Charley moved forward for
the wreck, Walter at his side. Neither lad wished to remain below a
second longer than was necessary for they fully realized that they were
running a terrible risk in descending at all. They found the box they
had discovered the day before entirely empty, the divers had brought
another out from the wreck's hold and broken it open. The gold was in
twenty dollar pieces and in a few minutes the lads had transferred
several hundred dollars from the box to the baskets. It was hard to
resist taking more but the risks were too great to permit it. Quickly
hastening back to the patch of sponges, they tore up several baskets
full of the mud and covered fungus and, making a slit in each with
their sheaf knives, stuffed in the coins. It was the very plan the
divers had followed but Charley had decided that they would not be
looking for the adopting of their own trick. As soon as the last coin
was hidden and the loaded sponges placed in the basket with others on
top of them to complete the load, Charley signed to Walter to ascend
and stood watching him until he had been drawn to the surface, then he
gave the signal to be drawn up himself. He was raised a few feet up
from the bottom then he sank quickly back to the place from which he
had risen and he saw the end of the life-line dangling in the water
twenty feet above his head. _It had been pulled loose from his body._

Charley stood for a moment looking at it in terrified dismay while his
quick brain took in the awful significance of his position. Frightened
as he was, he could not but admire the quickness with which Manuel had
hit upon another scheme for his undoing after that of the greased hose,
had failed, for he had not a doubt that the Greek had fastened the
life-line to him in such a manner that it would pull loose with a hard
jerk. He was in no immediate danger of death for the air hose still
connected him with the surface and the fresh air still came gushing in
a welcome stream into his helmet, but a moment's reflection convinced
him that this was not all of Manuel's scheme, for the Greek would know
that the captain and Walter would soon become uneasy over his delay
and would start an investigation which would quickly reveal that the
life-line was no longer attached to him. Clearly, the Greek had another
card up his sleeve which he would soon play and Charley waited for it
with every nerve strained to keenest tension. He felt longingly of
the air hose, wondering if the frail tube would hold for him to pull
himself up to the surface by it, but he quickly decided that it would
not stand the heavy strain and to break it would mean his instant
death. Keeping one eye on the life-line so tantalizingly out of his
reach he moved slowly forward until he stood beneath the diving boat
which showed like a dim shadow above him. Suddenly a thrill of horror
went through him, the diving boat was slowly drifting away--Manuel had
played his trump card. In a flash the terror-stricken lad comprehended
the situation. Some one of the Greeks, under Manuel's instructions, had
stealthily severed the cable, relying on the boat's slow drift being
unnoticed by the captain and Walter until it had dragged apart the
frail air hose. But, just as Charley had given up all hope and waited
for the parting of the hose which would mean his death, the dangling
life-line was jerked up out of sight,--his companions had discovered a
part at least of his plight--upon their next actions depended his life
or death.

The next few seconds seemed like hours to the helpless lad, then a dark
speck appeared in the water above him quickly growing in size until he
could see that it was Chris fighting his way downward with long steady
strokes and following the air hose in his descent. The little negro
was nearly exhausted when he reached the bottom. Thrusting the end of
the line he had brought into Charley's hand, he turned upward and shot
to the surface like a rocket. Charley whipped the line about his waist
and gave the signal to pull up. He was swiftly pulled to the surface,
hauled aboard the boat, and his helmet removed. Chris, breathing
heavily, was standing by the mast, the water dripping from him. Walter
and the captain, pale with fear, stood close beside him.

"Thank God, you're safe, lad," cried the old sailor, tears in his
eyes. "We feared the air hose would part before Chris could get to you.
We had just pulled on the life-line and found it had come loose from
you when we discovered the boat had gone adrift. I reckon, she must
have chafed her cable in two against a sharp piece of coral. Queer how
everything happens all at once that way, sometimes."

It was clear the simple old sailor did not suspect that the trouble was
anything but an accident, and Charley hastened to reply,

"All is well that ends well, but I've nearly had the life scart out of
me. I don't think I'll ever want to go down again."

He was watching Manuel closely as he spoke and he noted with
satisfaction the expression of relief on the Greek's swarthy face.
If he could only keep him from thinking that he knew anything about
the gold and had not discovered his treachery, he hoped to be able to
avoid open violence until they were prepared and ready for it. He was
convinced that the Greek was too cowardly to risk the danger of being
shot in open mutiny so long as he thought himself unsuspected and free
to scheme their removal without danger to himself.

The diving boat was worked back to her old position, another anchor
dropped, and donning their suits the divers resumed operations below.
When they came to the surface at the end of their two hour trick below
they seemed strangely excited and conversed eagerly with Manuel and the
rest of the crew. Charley was for awhile puzzled to account for their
excitement, but 'ere long the solution came to him. Like all plans
intended to deceive, his had contained a fatal defect.

"Walt," he whispered to his chum, "those chaps have noticed that some
of the gold has been removed from that box. We are in for trouble, now,
I fear." The Captain and Chris were warned to be on their guard but
it seemed that the warning was unnecessary, the excited talk amongst
the crew soon ceased and the fresh divers quietly prepared for their
descent.

But in spite of the quietness, there was a tension and earnestness
in the crew's manner which made the anxious little party of chums
feel that they were standing at the edge of a powder mine which might
explode at any minute.

"I would rather have open fighting than this awful waiting," Walter
whispered.

"We will have that soon enough," said his chum, grimly. "It will come
as soon as we try to make them get the schooner under way."

The long anxious day at last drew to its close, anchor was got up on
the diving boat, and she was headed back for the schooner.

As they passed a large piece of driftwood covered with large black
birds with very long necks, Manuel pointed at them, "Those are fine
eating," he said wistfully. "If the young gentlemen could kill a few it
would give us all a great feast."

Walter looked at Charley who nodded assent, for he was not loath that
the Greek should witness their skill with the revolver.

Both boys had practiced often with their revolvers and were better than
average marksmen. Their pistols were automatics, a style of weapon with
which even the unskillful can shoot fairly accurately. Walter fired six
shots in as many seconds, killing four birds and wounding one. Charley
fired four shots at the same time, killing two birds and crippling a
third. The rest of the birds took flight before the boys could shoot
more. The captain and Chris emptied their pistols at the flying flock
without success.

The diving boat was run alongside the dead birds and they were picked
up by the crew. Manuel seemed delighted, "The young gentlemen are
wonderful shots," he declared.



CHAPTER XVII.

OUTWITTED.


THE chums hastened below when the schooner was reached for they were
eager to talk over the next move to be made.

"Things have got to be brought to a head right off," declared the
captain when Charley had acquainted him with his suspicions of Manuel's
foul play. "It's rank foolishness to linger along an' give them more
chances to work out their devilish tricks. It's better to have trouble
with them right now while we are prepared than to wait and perhaps have
them take us unawares."

"Thank goodness the time for action is close at hand," Charley agreed,
"I could not stand this anxiety and suspense much longer. Let's go over
our plan once more and make sure that we each know our parts so that
there will be no hitch when we come to carry them out. Now as soon as
we have supper Chris and I will get into the dingy and pretend that we
are going to row around for fun. We will pull back and forth until it
gets good and dark, then we'll gradually work out to that buoy. We
will cut it adrift, take it aboard, pull due East from the schooner for
a mile and anchor it again. That will throw them way off the scent if
they should manage to get back here again before us, while it will tell
us just where to look for the wreck. That part is easy, the trouble
will come when we get back to the boat. First thing we had better do is
to stretch several ropes across the deck from rail to rail just forward
of the mainmast. That will delay and bother them if they should try to
rush us in a body. The next move will be to get Manuel aft and get the
irons on him. We had better get him down here in the cabin to attempt
that. As soon as we get him helpless, we will carry him up and make him
give our orders to get up anchor and get sail on the schooner. He's too
great a coward to encourage his shipmates to make a rush for us so long
as he is in our power. They may try it in spite of him, however, when
they realize that the gold is going to be lost to them. If they do we
will have to fight them off while Chris tends to the wheel. We don't
want any bloodshed if we can help it but we mustn't let them get aft of
the mainmast, they would make short work of us if it ever came to close
quarters. Do you all understand now what we have to do?"

His companions nodded.

"Then we had better reload our pistols, fill up our cartridge belts,
and get ready," he continued. "I'll get the ammunition."

But in a moment he was back from his cabin, his face pale and grave.

"How many shells have you got left in your pistol?" he demanded.

"One," Walter replied, while Chris and the captain broke open their
weapons to show only empty chambers.

"I have got three shots left, that makes four altogether," Charley
said, hopelessly. "All the rest of our ammunition has been stolen out
of my bunk."

His companions grew as grave and pale as himself at the announcement.
With only four shots left they were practically helpless in the hands
of the Greeks.

"There is just one chance left," Charley declared, desperately. "We
have got to get Manuel in our power and try to control the crew through
him. It may work and it may not, but it's our only hope. Chris, go tell
him we want to see him here in the cabin."

As soon as the little negro had gone, Charley brought out a pair of
handcuffs from his grip and placed them in his pocket. "When I give
the signal, get them on him," he said. "I'll lock the door so that he
cannot get out or the crew come to help him. He'll likely put up a
fight and we'll have to watch out for his knife, but the three of us
had ought to be able to handle him. But hush, here they come now."

Footsteps sounded on the companionway stairs, the cabin door opened,
and Chris appeared, closely followed by the Greek. The little negro
stepped inside but Manuel paused on the threshold and swept a keen
glance over the assembled party. Perhaps some instinct warned him of
his danger, perhaps he decided that the time had come for his last
treacherous move. With a quick leap, he sprang back through the open
doorway, slammed the door to, and bolted it outside, and the little
band of chums were prisoners in the cabin of their own ship.

Charley leaped from his chair, but he was too late.

"Outwitted," he cried as he sank back into his seat. "Beaten at every
point of the game. What fools, what bunglers we are." There was as much
chagrin as fear in his exclamations. To be so badly beaten after all
his vigilance and careful planning was hard to bear.

His companions sat silent with despair. So suddenly had it all happened
they had not yet had time to realize that they were completely in the
hands of the Greeks who could do with them as they pleased.

Charley flipped open his pistol and handed one of his remaining
cartridges to his chum, "That gives us two apiece," he observed,
"although I doubt if we will either of us need them." He retired to
his cabin and reappeared with a blanket and a book. He spread out the
blanket on the floor and stretching himself out on it prepared to read.
"Might as well get what enjoyment we can," he said. "There's nothing we
can do, so we might as well take it easy while we may."

"How can you be so careless?" his chum exclaimed, "any minute they may
come down upon us."

"Little danger of that," the other replied, coolly. "They know we've
got four shots left yet. What would be the use of their taking chances
when they have got everything in their own hands."

But his companions could not view their position with the same hopeless
resignation. While he read on apparently unconcerned, they discussed
plan after plan for escape from their prison and perilous situation,
only to reject one after the other as wildly impracticable. At last
they abandoned the discussion in despair.

"Better turn in and try to get a good night's rest," Charley advised
them calmly. "I will keep watch for the first four hours, although I
don't believe there's the slightest use of it."

"I'm too hungry to sleep," Walter declared. "I wonder why they do not
send us down our supper."

"Bless your simple little soul," his chum exclaimed, "They do not
intend us to have anything to eat. I thought you understood that."

His companions looked at each other in dismay. This, the greatest of
all their perils, had not before occurred to them. They understood now
the awfulness of their position. All the food and water were stored
forward. The Greeks had only to let them alone and they would slowly
die of hunger and thirst.

"They will not get us that way," declared Walter, desperately. "Before
I'll die of hunger and thirst I'll set the schooner on fire."

Charley nodded approval. "I've been thinking of that myself," he said.
"A quick death is better than a slow torturing one. But there is plenty
of time to talk of that. While there is life there is hope and I have
a feeling that something is going to turn up to help us out of this
scrape. I've just happened to think of one thing that's in our favor."

He was prevented from explaining the new hope which had occurred to him
by a knock on the cabin door and Manuel's sneering voice enquiring,

"Are the gentlemen quite comfortable?"

"Quite," Charley assured him, calmly. "Much more comfortable than you
and your mates will be when the law reckons with you."

"There is no law at sea but the law of the strongest and most cunning,"
the Greek said, smoothly. "But I bear a proposal from my shipmates for
your distinguished consideration."

"State it," replied the lad, briefly.

"You are all in a bad position," stated the Greek with oily
maliciousness. "You were cunning but not cunning enough or our
positions would now be reversed. We have only to do nothing now and you
will all die. It would sadden our hearts to lose such loving friends
but we would strive to bear up bravely under the blow. But why should
you all die when we are willing to spare one. All that one would have
to do would be to take an oath to be faithful and true to us and do as
we bid him. Not only would his life be spared, but he would receive a
share of the great wealth we have discovered."

"Why are you so very generous in your offers?" Walter demanded,
sarcastically.



CHAPTER XVIII.

IMPRISONED.


"WE need one of you," explained Manuel, with startling frankness.
"Perhaps we could get along without but it does not pay to take
chances. There is a government cutter which patrols the banks to see
that the sponging vessels are complying with the laws. She may come
upon us accidentally any time and it would be awkward explaining why we
continued to work without American officers. It would very likely get
us into trouble. But if one of you takes the part of the captain and
shows the papers and explains that the rest have died from fever, all
will go smoothly."

"I suppose you have decided which one of us you want?" Charley asked,
curiously.

"Any one of you will do, but we prefer you. You have brains enough to
realize where your own interests lie. It is easier to handle a smart
man than a fool. Consider the chance we are giving you, on the one hand
slow, painful, certain death; on the other, an honored position, great
wealth and safety--we are generous indeed."

"But how do you know that I will play fair?"

"The moment you joined us you would be as liable to the law as the rest
of us," Manuel said calmly, "We would live or hang together. You would
not dare to trifle with us, and I should watch you closely all the
time."

"Here is my answer," declared Charley, whose indignation had been
steadily rising at the cold-blooded proposal. "If you would all keep
your part of the agreement,--which I am convinced you would not do, I'd
die rather than join such a pack of dirty murderers."

"You are a bigger fool than I thought," replied the Greek calmly.
"I will leave you to consider the matter better. Hunger is a great
persuader, and I am in hopes that you will soon see where your best
interests lie. Good-night, gentlemen, good-night, may your dreams be of
the pleasantest."

"He's evidently somewhat worried," said Charley, hopefully, when the
Greek's mocking voice had ceased. "He believes, I guess, that there is
a good chance of the cutter coming upon him or he would not make such
a proposal, although he would not keep his part of it any longer than
the danger lasted. Our only hope is to keep up our strength and spirits
as long as possible. There is a chance that the cutter may come along
before it is too late. Better all turn in and get some rest while you
are still not too hungry to sleep. I will call one of you to take my
place as soon as my four hours are up, although I do not believe that
they will trouble us."

The lad was right in his belief. The night passed away without any
alarm and they were able by turns to get some little sleep. With the
coming of daylight, they crowded to the windows and searched the dreary
waste of waters for sign of smoke or sail, but found none. The crew
were going about their work in cheerful unconcern. Leaving a half dozen
men on the schooner, the balance got aboard the diving boat and sailed
out to the sponge ground where they could be seen working steadily all
day bringing up the gold from the bottom. The prisoners suffered much
during the long day from their increasing hunger and thirst.

At night the diving boat returned to the schooner and the dispirited
watchers could see that the crew had not wasted their day by any means.
Both sponge baskets were nearly full of the gold coins.

"We've got to do something, I don't care how desperate it is," declared
Captain Westfield. "Anything is better than this keeping still and
suffering. By to-morrow this time we'll be too weak to do much and thar
ain't no certainty that the cutter will come along this way at all. I'm
in for doing something, no matter what."

Charley turned from his gazing out of the window, "Look here,
Captain," he called, softly. "Speak low," he cautioned as the old
sailor crept to his side, "we don't want them to hear us on deck."

"Geewhilikens!" whispered the old seaman in swift comprehension,
"they've left the diving boat fastened right under our windows."

"God grant that they may not think to move it," the lad replied,
trembling with excitement. "We can do nothing until it gets dark and
they retire to the forecastle."

Walter and Chris were quickly made acquainted with the suddenly-offered
chance of escape and their joy knew no bounds.

Then followed hours which seemed like days to the breathless, anxious
watchers. The Greeks ate their supper and lounged around the deck
talking and laughing. It seemed as though they would never retire to
their bunks. But at last their voices gradually ceased and silence
settled down upon the schooner. Charley cautiously opened one of the
big windows and swung it outward, then climbing softly toward the
opening, lowered himself to the diving boat's deck. The Captain,
Walter, and Chris followed. Not a word was spoken for each realized
the terrible risk they were running. As soon as all were crouched
motionless aboard, Charley, with his knife, severed the rope which
bound them to the schooner and the boat drifted slowly away from the
ship's side.

No one moved until the schooner was at last lost in the darkness.

"Start up the engine," said Charley, as he took the helm, and Walter
slipped down amongst the machinery. After a few minutes' fumbling in
the darkness, he crept back.

"There's no gasoline in the tank," he announced.

"Everything seems against us," Charley sighed. "Well, get sail on her.
We will have to do the best we can."

In a few minutes the great square sail was spread, and, leaning over,
the little craft sent a line of foam rippling from her bow.

"They'll have hard work finding us in this darkness," exulted the
captain as he took the helm from Charley. "I reckon, we'd better shape
a course for the nearest port,--that's Judson. As soon as we get thar,
we can telegraph to all the ports along the coast to watch out for
the schooner. We've got 'em now, I reckon, lads, they'll have to put
in somewhere sooner or later, an' they'll be nabbed. I feel just like
yelling for joy."

The rising spirits of the little party were helped by Chris' discovery
of a couple of loaves of stale black bread, and part of a bottle of
ripe olives in one of the lockers. They made a meagre but very welcome
repast upon the uninviting food.

But their joy over their lucky escape was soon dampened by the
threatening appearance of the Western sky. A heavy bank of clouds was
slowly rising there from which came flashes of lightning and the rumble
of distant thunder.

"I reckon, it ain't nothin' but a thunder squall," the captain assured
them. "Thar ain't no call to be uneasy, this is a mighty seaworthy
little craft. I reckon, we could ride out a right smart gale in her if
we had it to do."

Before they ran much further the captain gave the order to lower and
reef the great sail. When hoisted again, it was only a tiny patch of
canvas, as compared with its former size.

"Thar's only one thing for us to do when that squall strikes us an'
that's to scud before it," the old captain declared. "We can't heave
her to under that sail. Luckily, the way it's coming won't blow us out
of our course much."

They had not long to wait for the storm to burst. The wind soon
descended with a violence that threatened to bury the diving boat in
the seas it brought with it. But the little craft had been built to
stand just such weather, and, quickly gathering headway, she darted
away before the gale. With the wind came the rain in great driving,
blinding sheets. The boys hailed its appearance with joy. They spread
out their jackets, bits of sail, and even their hats to catch the
precious drops. In a short while they had secured enough to quench
their intense thirst. This done, they gathered around the captain at
the helm ready to render any assistance in their power. There was
little they could do for the old sailor would trust no one but himself
to steer in the heavy sea-way. As the hours passed by without showing
any abatement of the storm, it became evident to his companions that he
was growing anxious.

"I don't like the way it's hanging on," he declared. "We must be making
at least twelve miles an hour and, at that rate, we will have the land
close aboard before daylight. Crawl forward, Charley, an' keep a sharp
look-out, the sky is clearing some an', I reckon, you can see a few
hundred feet ahead."

The lad obediently worked his way up into the bow, and bracing himself
against the anchor bitts, peered ahead into the darkness. He could make
out nothing at first but the heavy foam-flecked, tossing water. He sat
watching intently till, at last, Walter crawled forward to take his
place. He had only got part way back to the stern when there came a cry
from his chum,

"Hard down! hard down!"

With true seaman's quickness, the Captain jammed the long tiller over
and the little craft, escaping broaching in the trough of the seas by a
miracle, shot up into the wind--a second too late.

"Hang on for your lives!" the old sailor cried.

Black masses loomed out of the darkness to leeward. A great wave picked
up the helpless boat and flung it with crashing, breaking timbers, upon
the rocks.



CHAPTER XIX.

WRECKED.


THE boys had obeyed the old sailor's order, and, though greatly shaken
by the shock, they retained their hold on the boat.

"Quick, get on the rocks," shouted the Captain. "She'll pound to pieces
in a jiffy."

Fortunately, the boat's bow had been driven up on the ledge nearly
out of the water. The boys dropped over the side followed by the
old sailor, and, though beaten and bruised against the sharp rocks
succeeded in struggling out upon the one which reared itself above
the water. They glanced back to where the boat had struck, but, short
as had been their struggle out, it had witnessed the destruction
of the staunch craft. Only that portion of her bow lodged upon the
reef remained intact, the balance of her hull was a mass of twisted,
splintered, broken planks.

Great as was the danger from which they had escaped, their present
position was still far from safe. The slippery rock afforded but
insecure footing and it was frequently swept by the larger seas. At
such times, they had all they could do to keep from being swept off its
slimy surface.

"I reckon, we've struck on a reef," the Captain said, anxiously. "It
all depends upon the tide whether we are safe or not. If it's low tide,
now, high tide will cover this rock so deep that we'll not be able to
hang on to it."

It soon became evident that the tide was still rising, though slowly.
The waves began sweeping over the flat rock with such violence that
the tired, wretched, anxious, little party could hardly maintain their
footing. To the right and left of them, rose other higher masses of
rock, but they did not dare to attempt to reach them through the
darkness and the boiling surf. Wet, cold, hungry, and wretched; they
clung to their insecure refuge until day began to break in the East.
With the coming of light they strained their brine-smarting eyes to
discover what manner of place it was upon which they had been thrown.
The outlook was not reassuring. They were, as the Captain had surmised,
on a point of low-lying reef, most of which was constantly wave-swept
by the monstrous surges. To the East of them, lay a low, marshy shore
dotted here and there with small islands covered with cedar hammocks,
but between them and the islands was at least two miles of foaming
water. The boys gazed wistfully at the longed-for land.

"We can't make it," Charley said, sadly. "Chris might, perhaps, be
able to swim it, but it would be a long swim for the rest of us at any
time, and, tired and weak as we are now, it would be impossible. We
will have to stick it out here until the storm goes down a bit, then,
try to fashion some kind of a raft out of the planks of the diving
boat."

"We can't be far from Judson," said the Captain, with an attempt at
cheerfulness. "A boat may come by an' pick us up any minute."

But the boys were not cheered by any such prospect. They knew that the
chance of any boat being out in such weather was very small indeed.
One fact, however, gave them a little hope; the tide was undoubtedly
falling. It had evidently been almost at its height when they had
landed on the rock.

"I wish we had something to eat," Walter sighed, "we have had nothing
but a little bread in two days. I begin to feel weak all over."

Chris gazed thoughtfully at the water on the shore-side of the rock. "I
reckon, I might find somethin' down dar," he observed. "I'se goin' to
try it anyway. You white chilluns has sho' got to hab somethin' to eat."

Although the water was somewhat smoother to the lee of the rocks,
it boiled and foamed there threateningly and the boys endeavored to
dissuade the plucky little negro from the attempt, but their objections
only made him the more determined.

"Golly! you chilluns doan know what a diver dis nigger is," he said,
proudly. "You jes' stay still an' watch him now." He removed his
clothes, handing them to Charley to hold, slipped over the side of the
rock, and sank down beneath the surface. He was gone so long that the
watchers had begun to grow anxious when he reappeared, blowing like a
porpoise. In one hand, he held tightly clenched, a big stone crab and a
large conch.

"Take 'em," he exclaimed, "I'se goin' down again. Dar's heaps more of
dem on de bottom."

He continued diving until he had brought up six more conchs and two
more crabs, then he crawled out on the rock completely exhausted, and
held up one foot for their inspection. There was a tiny puncture in the
sole of it from which the blood was slowly trickling.

"I reckon, I'se goin' to hab some trubble wid dat foot," he observed,
gravely. "Ole Mister Stingaree gib me a dig dar. He warn't much bigger
dan a plate, but der horns are powerful poison."

His announcement sent a chill of fear to the hearts of his companions,
for they all well-knew the dangerous character of the flat, horn-tailed
fish which lurks on the bottom in Florida waters. The Captain did not
lose a second in whipping out his sheath knife and cutting open the
puncture which he washed out thoroughly with sea water. He then made
Chris sit on the edge of the rock and hang his foot over in the water.

The plucky little negro bore the operation with unflinching
cheerfulness. "I sho' wish you'd open up one ob dem conch for me, Massa
Charley," he observed. "If dis ting's goin' to make me sick, I wants to
be dat much ahead."

Charley quickly broke open one of the conchs and gave him the meat,--a
big lump of tough flesh, almost sufficient for an entire meal. He also
opened several others for the Captain, Walter, and himself, upon which
they made a hearty and strengthening, if somewhat tasteless, meal.
Chris ate but little of the tough meat, he soon pushed it away from him
with a weary little sigh.

"I doan want no moah," he said, quietly. "I'ze gettin' berry sick.
Reckon ole Mister Stingaree dun got dis nigger for sho'."

His little ebony face soon took on a dull-ashen hue and he began to
vomit violently; passing from these spells into a heavy stupor, the
mysterious subtle poison from the stingaree was getting in its work.
His grieving companions watched him in helpless suspense, there was
nothing they could do to relieve his sufferings.

"We can't let him die like this," Charley cried, as the little sufferer
twitched in spasms of pain. "I am going to try to reach shore and find
help. He has taken bigger risks for us many a time."

Neither Walter or the Captain tried to stop him. They would have gladly
offered to make the attempt in his place but he was the strongest and
best swimmer of the three.

He removed his jacket and shoes and with a last good-bye, plunged off
of the rock and headed for the distant shore. He had not gone more than
twenty yards when he stopped with a cry of joy.

"Come on," he called back, "the water isn't more than three feet deep
here. There's only a deep place near the rocks and you can get across
that easily."

But he had to return to help them get Chris across the deep narrow
channel, for the little negro's struggles in his spasms threatened
to drown his helpers. At last, the dangerous stretch of water was
safely crossed, and, leaving Walter and the Captain to half float and
half carry Chris between them, the lad waded ahead, picking out the
shoalest and smoothest path to the shore. They arrived there spent and
panting and sank down for a moment to recover their breath. It was not
an inviting-looking place where they had landed. A low rock-strewn
marsh, covered with tall, rank grass stretched away before them for
two or three miles before it met the higher, heavily-wooded mainland.
Here and there the marsh was dotted with small, island-like clumps of
dark green cedar trees, and, picking up the light, little negro in his
strong, young arms, Charley headed for the nearest of these, followed
by his exhausted companions. The passage was made with difficulty; low
needle-pointed rocks strewed the way, and here and there lay pools
of soft, boggy mud, tenanted by repulsive, swollen looking moccasins.
It needed care to avoid the one without stepping on the other, but,
at last, the patch of high ground was reached and, laying his burden
beneath a wide-spreading cedar, Charley turned to his companions.

"We have got to work quick if we are to stand a chance even of saving
him," he said, crisply. "Walter, get in to the mainland as quick as
you can and bring me all the palmetto berries you can find,--hurry.
Captain, let me take your flint and steel and then get me a lot of soft
mud from the marsh."

Tired though they were, the two hastened away to execute his orders,
while Charley worked swiftly to carry out the plan he had formed while
coming ashore. It was a heroic one, but rough measures were the only
ones it was in his power to apply. Hastily gathering together a pile
of dead cedar limbs, he lit a fire with the flint and steel. While it
was blazing up, he stripped off his belt and, tying it above Chris'
knee, with a stick twisted it tight until it was embedded in the flesh,
shutting off the flow of blood from below to the heart. He next heated
a small stone in the now blazing fire and applied it while hot to the
swollen wound. The smell of the crisping flesh sickened him, but he
doggedly stuck to his task until he judged the wound was sufficiently
cauterized. Chris lay mercifully lost to the pain in a deep stupor. The
lad had just finished burning the wound when the Captain returned with
his jacket full of soft mud, and, emptying it out, hastened back for
another load. Charley heaped a lot of rocks upon the fire, and, as soon
as they were hot, ranged them close on each side of the wounded limb,
heaping the soft mud on top of them until he had formed an air-tight
mound over the leg. He now had a great poultice of hot mud of great
drawing power, the danger was that Chris might be attacked by other
spasms and succeed in working his leg out from the hot covering. To
prevent this, the lad tore his shirt up into strips and, binding the
little negro tightly, piled stones around the encased leg so that it
could not be easily moved.



CHAPTER XX.

HUNTING HELP.


CHARLEY next cut off small branches of cedar and placed them under
the unconscious little fellow's head and back so that he might rest
as comfortably as possible. This done, he sat back breathless and
exhausted and waited impatiently for Walter's return.

Captain Westfield surveyed the young physician's work with hopeful
admiration. "If Chris lives, it will be you as has saved his life," he
declared.

"He has saved mine more than once," Charley replied, "but I am afraid
he is not going to live. I don't like this deep stupor he has fallen
into. I wish Walter would hurry."

Walter had been hurrying as fast as he could, and he soon appeared
bearing a hatful of ripe palmetto berries. His riddled shoes and
bleeding feet told of reckless running over the sharp rocks.

Charley smashed the ripe berries between two stones, catching the juice
in his cap. Chris' teeth were tightly set, but he managed to pry them
apart with his knife blade and forced some of the sticky liquid down
his throat.

"I don't know whether it will help him or not, but I am in hopes it
will," he said, as, tired out, he sat down by the little fellow's side.
"Those berries make a powerful tonic and stimulant, and I believe that
is what is needed. The poison seems to have deadened the heart's action
and brought on that stupor. A few minutes will tell whether it is going
to do any good."

It soon became evident that the rude remedies were performing their
mission well, the sufferer's pulse, which had grown slow and feeble,
quickened, and his little face began to lose some of its ashen hue.

As soon as he became sure that a change for the better was taking
place, Charley arose from his brief rest.

"I am going to find help," he declared. "We must get him to some place
where he can have proper attention. How far do you think we are from
Judson, Captain?"

"Not more than twenty miles to the north of it, I judge. Maybe not more
than ten miles. But you must not dream of starting yet awhile, lad. You
must rest for a bit, an' have something to eat first."

"And I am going with you when you start," Walter declared. "Something
might happen to you amongst those slippery rocks and awful bog holes.
The Captain can do all that can be done for Chris while you are gone."

There was no disputing the wisdom of both suggestions and they busied
themselves with the first proposition, the finding of something to eat.
This demanded more time and trouble. Another trip had to be made down
to the water and considerable searching was necessary before they could
collect enough of crabs and shell fish to make the full meal that their
hunger craved. Their rest they gained while their dinner was roasting
in the coals.

Their rest, meal, and Chris' steadily improving condition, put them all
in better strength and spirits, and the boys were cheerful when they
bid the old sailor good-bye and made their start in search of help.

"We'll be back as soon as we can get back, Captain," Charley said, "but
you don't want to worry if we take longer than you expect."

"I reckon, I'll keep too busy to have much time for worryin'," the old
sailor replied. "Jes' be careful, lads, an' get back as soon as you
can."

He watched until the rank marsh grass hid the two lads from sight,
then busied himself with making the camp a little more comfortable for
himself and his sick companion. Chris' welfare was the first thing to
claim his attention. With his sheath knife he cut armful after armful
of marsh grass and added it to the rough couch Charley had fashioned
for the little negro, converting it into a soft, comfortable bed.
The low-hanging cedar boughs formed a kind of rude shelter over the
little lad, but the captain was not entirely satisfied with it. The
rainy season was near at hand and heavy showers might be expected at
any time. A thick layer of marsh grass placed over the lowest cedar
limbs quickly made the covering more to his satisfaction. This done,
he paused for a brief rest and to decide what should be his next task.
Although, he knew that the port of Judson could not be more than twenty
miles away, he realized that, owing to the necessarily slow traveling
amongst the sharp rocks and bog holes, it might be at least three days
before the boys could succeed in getting back with help. His duties,
then, would be the care of Chris, the providing of food for them both,
and the gathering of firewood. Water was luckily plentiful, there was
an abundance of it in a cup-like depression near the center of the
island.

In a Northern country with no weapons but his sheath knife, these tasks
would have seemed almost impossible of accomplishment, but the captain
was not discouraged. The first thing, of course, was to see that the
little negro's marked improvement was not checked. Heating more stones
in the fire, the old sailor piled them around the mound of mud covering
the wounded leg. Then, as the berries Walter had brought were nearly
exhausted, he decided that the next thing of importance was to lay in
a fresh supply. He found the trip to the mainland slow and dangerous.
Where the way was not strewn with sharp-pointed rocks, it was dotted
with forbidding-looking sink holes of soft, slimy mud. Rank-growing
marsh grass covered the whole, making it extremely difficult to pick
out a safe passage through the dangers. At last, however, he gained
the mainland where he found the oily black berries growing in greatest
profusion. He gathered his jacket full of them and then sat down on a
fallen log to rest a minute and look around. It was an inviting spot in
which he found himself. The land rose up from the marsh to form a high,
sloping bluff through which trickled a stream of clear, reddish water.

The bluff was covered with a dense growth of palms, satinwoods, bays,
rubber trees, and low-ground palmettos. It was an ideal place for a
camp, and the captain eyed it regretfully, wishing that it was possible
to bring Chris there from the little marsh-surrounded island. But
that was impossible until the little fellow was able to walk and he
dismissed the idea with a sigh. He was just gathering up his jacket of
berries to leave when a noise in the undergrowth close at hand made
him sink back to his seat on the log. The brushes before him parted
suddenly and a large deer stepped out into an open place not twenty
feet from where he sat. For a full two minutes, he and the timid animal
remained motionless, looking directly into each other's eyes, then the
old sailor pulled out his sheath knife and sprang for it with some
wild notion of securing it for food, but the deer leaped lightly away
a few steps and stopped again as if in deepest wonder and curiosity.
The captain sheathed his knife with a sigh. "I reckon, you don't know
how wicked men are," he addressed the graceful animal. "Guess you ain't
ever seed many men or you wouldn't be so powerful tame. Some steaks
from you would taste right good, but you ain't aiming to let me get
close enough for that. Well, good-bye, old fellow, I hope I'll meet you
again sometime when I've got a good gun."

Saying which, the old sailor picked up his burden and headed back for
the island, the deer gazing after him in innocent-eyed wonder.

He had nearly reached the little camp when a scream from Chris sent him
forward at a run, regardless of rocks and sink holes.

The scene that met his gaze as he burst into the little clearing
chilled him with horror and dismay.

Attracted, no doubt, by its warmth, two huge, swollen-looking moccasins
had crawled up on the little heap of mud and now lay with their flat,
ugly heads within a few inches of the little negro's trembling body.

"Don't move an inch, Chris," he shouted, as he broke off a dead limb
from a cedar tree.

The caution was useless, for, bound as he was, hand and foot, Chris
could only lay and stare in horror and helplessness.

A couple of well-aimed blows from the stick killed the two poisonous,
sluggish serpents, and, dragging them to the edge of the island, the
captain pitched them out into the marsh.

"They ain't very pleasant visitors," he remarked as he returned to his
helpless companion, "but I reckon, they've done you a heap of good. You
was laying like a dead man when I went ashore and now you look right
pert and lively."

"Dey's too sudden an' powerful medicine," grumbled Chris. "Dis nigger
might jes' as well die as be scart to death. Golly! how my leg does
burn and smart. Please take dat stuff off ob hit, Massa Captain, an'
unloose my han's."

But the old sailor feared to remove the mud poultice, dreading another
relapse. However, he untied the little negro's hands, upon his promise
that he would lie still and not move. He was delighted with the change
in the little lad. Whether the shock from the snakes, or, what was much
more probable, the continued effects of the palmetto juice had done the
work, the stupor which had frightened them all was entirely gone, and
the patient soon declared himself decidedly hungry.

Cutting a stick and laying it within Chris' reach so that he would
have the means of protecting himself from other possible visitors, the
Captain departed in search of food.



CHAPTER XXI.

THE CASTAWAYS.


IT was lucky for the captain that he was wise to the resources of the
Florida coast. A stranger to the country would not have known where to
look for food and would likely have soon perished of hunger. Although
he had no other weapon than his sheath knife, he went about his task
with the air of a man who was confident of success. Before leaving the
island, he cut a long, straight cypress pole and sharpened one end to
a keen point. With this in his hand, he made his way down to the Gulf.
The tide was high again but there was a mass of rock some two hundred
feet from shore which protruded a couple of feet above the water.
Removing his shoes, he waded cautiously out, prodding the bottom before
him with his pole and picking his way carefully to avoid stepping on a
stingaree.

The rock reached, he perched himself on its edge and sat peeping down
into the water which was clear as crystal. He had not long to wait. In
a few minutes a fish swam slowly past close to the rock, and, taking
careful aim, the old sailor dove his rude spear down with all his
force. Its point struck just behind the fish's head, passing entirely
through its body. It died without a struggle, and the captain lifted it
out upon the rock with a shout of triumph. It was a beautifully-specked
sea trout about three feet in length and weighed at least twelve
pounds. Although there was plenty of other fish within sight, the
trout was enough for their present needs and, scaling and washing it
carefully, the captain waded ashore with his prize. But he was not yet
quite satisfied. Laying his fish down upon a bunch of clean sea moss,
he examined carefully the muddy beach near the water's edge. Here and
there, tiny jets of water squirted up from the mud, and, where they
seemed to be most numerous, he began to dig. In a few minutes he had
unearthed a couple of dozen large clams. With these and the fish, and a
huge armful of moist sea moss in his arms, he made his way back to camp
where Chris was eagerly awaiting his return.

"I sho' wish I could get up from hyah," mourned the little negro.
"Golly! I reckon, I'd show you how to cook dat fish so dat you nebber
could eat nuff ob hit."

"You jes' lie still thar," commanded the captain. "I'm a Cape Cod man,
an' thar ain't any cook living that can show a Cape Cod man how to cook
this kind of grub. You just watch and learn somethin'."

Chris watched him with professional jealousy and interest. He
firmly believed that no one on earth could cook as good as he but
he reluctantly admitted to himself that the old sailor made his
preparations with considerable promise of success.

First, he scooped out a hole in the ground about three feet deep and
two feet square and kindled a small fire in the bottom upon which he
placed a layer of small rocks, as soon as it was going good, then, he
paused to remark regretfully,

"I wish we had some potatoes. I never heard of a clam bake yet without
potatoes."

"Dar's something jes' as good as 'taters," declared Chris, pointing to
a low-growing plant. "Jes' you dig up some ob dem roots an' try 'em.
Hit's wild cassava, an' hit taste jes' like Irish 'taters."

The captain dug down with his sheath knife and unearthed several tubers
a couple of feet in length and about three inches in circumference. He
regarded them dubiously, but, on Chris' repeated assurances that they
were good and wholesome, he cut off several pieces and washed them
carefully. By the time this was done, the fire in the pit had burned
low, and the stones were smoking hot. Cutting several broad, green,
palmetto leaves, he laid them on the stones and spread over them a thin
layer of the moist sea moss. Upon the moss he laid the fish and over it
spread another layer of moss upon which he placed the clams, covering
them with more moss, upon which he placed the cassava, and, piling a
thick layer of sea grass over the whole, built a small fire on top of
it. Then he sat down and watched the fire while he and Chris waited
hungrily the slow cooking of their meal. At last, the captain declared
that it must be done. The fire on top was raked away, the contents of
the pit were taken out and placed upon green, clean palmetto leaves,
and the two castaways fell-to with appetites sharpened by their long
wait. And what a feast it was,--the clams cooked to perfection in their
own juice, the fish juicy and delicious, the cassava snow-white and
mealy and all rendered doubly delicious by the salt spicy taste of the
seaweed in which they had been cooked. And what a joy it was to feel
that the worst of their troubles were over. Chris getting better, the
boys soon to be back with help, all the worry and anxiety they had
suffered past, the next few days to see them all safely back in Tarpon,
where they would all wait in comfort and safety, ready to claim their
ship when the Greeks brought her in, and, after that, they would return
for the gold and with it they would secure the many things they had
longed for all their lives.

Surely the prospect was bright enough to make the two lonely castaways
chatter brightly, cheerfully, and hopefully over their evening meal.
They could not see the dangers, worries, and misfortunes yet to befall
them, and it was well they could not for it would have robbed the two
of the happiest hour they had had in many days.

At last, the feast was over and Chris had paid the cook the highest
compliment of which he could conceive.

"Golly! Massa Capt., you cooked dem tings might nigh as good as I could
have done."

Although there were many things which the captain wished to do,
darkness was fast coming on and he had to complete his final
preparations for the night. First, he cut a lot of small boughs which
he piled up under the shelter close to Chris to serve as his own bed.
This done, he gathered piles of wood which he spread in a circle around
the big cedar and set on fire to protect them both from chance visits
of snakes during the night. By the time this was finished, it was dark
and he crept in under the shelter close to his dusky little companion
in misfortune, and, after a short, simple prayer full of thankfulness
for their deliverance from the dangers that had threatened them, he
quickly fell into the deep sleep of total exhaustion. But sleep did not
come so readily to Chris. He had slept, or been unconscious, much of
the time since his accident and the stimulating effect of the palmetto
medicine helped to drive slumber away from him. He lay very quiet to
avoid disturbing the old sailor's rest, but, try as he would, he could
not get to sleep. At last he gave up the attempt and lay with eyes
wide open looking out at the stars and the twinkling camp-fires. From
the marsh about came strange noises of the night, the croaking of
multitudes of frogs, the cackle of marsh hens, the squawking of cranes,
and the rustling of the marsh grass in the wind. Slowly the circle of
fire died down, smouldered and went out. Only the big main camp-fire
was left a glowing mass of embers.

Suddenly the wakeful little negro's ears caught another sound mingled
with the voices of the night,--a slow, heavy, creeping noise. For a
time he lay quiet listening, his hearing strained to the utmost to
catch the new strange sound. He waited until there was no doubt that it
was close at hand and steadily drawing nearer, then, he reached over
and shook his snoring companion.

"Wake up, Massa Captain," he cried, "dar's some wild beast a creepin'
into de camp."

"I hear it," agreed the captain, instantly wide awake. "Jes' lay still,
lad, an' don't be frightened. I'll stir up the fire a bit, that will
run it off."

He arose from his couch and strode boldly for the smouldering fire.

"Look out!" Chris yelled, suddenly, "Foah de Lawd's sake, look out!"
His keen eyes had caught a glimpse of a black shape passing between the
old sailor and the mass of glowing embers, but his warning came too
late,--the captain was upon the moving shape before he saw it.

A swishing noise rent the air, a loud thud, the old sailor was knocked
backward several feet flat on the ground, and, with a loud, sharp
bellowing, the mysterious visitor glided away into the darkness.

"Is you hurt? Is you hurt, Massa Cap?" cried the terror-stricken lad.

"A little bit, a little bit," called back the old sailor, his voice
hoarse with pain.

He came creeping back into the shelter on hands and knees.

"It was a big bull alligator," he explained, painfully. "Must have been
twelve feet long. It caught me a fearful blow on the legs with its
tail. I hope thar ain't no bones broken but it feels as though thar
was."

A close examination proved his fears groundless, but the terrible blow
had done all but break the bones. In spite of the pain, however, he
crawled forth again and replenished the fire, but he was faint and
giddy with pain before he succeeded in getting back into the shelter
and stretched out on his couch once more.

"I reckon, I'll be all right by morning," he said, hopefully, "but I
don't calculate I'll be able to sleep any more to-night, my legs hurt
too bad for that. Don't make any difference though, I 'low I've had
enough sleep for one night--it can't be more than a couple of hours
'till daylight."

It proved to be even less and with the coming of light he removed his
trousers and examined his limbs anxiously. He had indeed received a
terrible blow from the prowling monster, both legs were bruised and
swollen where the tail had struck it and it seemed a miracle that the
bones had not been broken. It caused him exquisite pain to rise upon
his feet, but there was work which had to be done, and, in spite of his
suffering, he must do it. So, hiding his pain as well as he could, he
prepared to sally forth to secure food for the day.

But in spite of all his efforts he could not entirely hide his intense
suffering.

"You jes' lay down an' let me go out an' find grub, Massa Cap," Chris
pleaded. "I feels jes' as well as can be again now."

But the sturdy old sailor would not listen to his pleadings.



CHAPTER XXII.

ANOTHER DANGER.


"DAR'S one thing I want you to do 'fore you go projectin' off," said
the little negro. "I wants you to cut me some ob dem palmetto buds.
I'se goin' to braid you a hat. Hit's a plum wonder dat you ain't got
sun struck goin' bareheaded like you is."

"I ain't had time to remember that I lost my hat when we were wrecked.
I'se been so worried an' busy," said the captain. "Now you speak of it,
my head does feel sort of dull an' heavy. I hope the boys will think to
cover their heads with something--this sun does beat down right hot."

"Mass Charley will sho' rig up some kind ob hat," Chris declared,
confidently. "'Sides dey's both young an' can stand a heap more sun den
what you kin. You jes' be mighty careful dis mornin' an' by noon dis
nigger will hab a fine hat fixed for you. I'se done made lots ob dem on
Cat Island."

There was a few young cabbage palms scattered over the island and
the captain cut out several of the buds with his sheath knife and
placed them beside the little negro, then, knotting up the ends of his
bandanna handkerchief to form a turban, he took his spear and started
for the shore.

Chris watched his slow, faltering, painful steps until he was out of
sight then began on his proposed task. The buds were really young fresh
leaves yet unfolded, soft and pliable, yet very strong. He shredded
them into strips about half an inch in width until he had accumulated
quite a pile; then, taking four of the pieces at a time, with deft,
skillful fingers, he wove them into a braid about an inch in width.

In a couple of hours, he had a string of braid several yards long.

The fashioning of the braid into a hat, without needle and thread and
while lying flat on his back was a more difficult task, but he attacked
it with cheerful energy, using the point of his knife for a needle and
small strips of palmetto for thread. At last, his task was completed,
and, although the hat was grotesque in shape and appearance, it was
soft, strong, and light, and would prove an effective protection from
the fierce rays of the tropic sun. The little worker was not yet
satisfied but at once set about the manufacture of a basket from the
same material realizing how useful it would be for the carrying of
clams, fish, and other things.

He was still engaged upon it when the captain came stumbling into
camp bearing a large fish and several dozen more of the clams. The
old sailor's face was red, his movement weak and uncertain, and his
breathing heavy and labored, while he was trembling violently from head
to foot. He sank down in the cedar's shade and wiped his flaming face.

"I reckon, I've got a touch of the sun," he said, feebly. "I feel weak
and dizzy. I'll lie down in the shade for a bit an' it will pass off.
Don't be worried, lad, it will pass off in a jiffy."

But pass off it did not. By the end of half an hour the sturdy old
seaman was lying unconscious, his breath coming in short, wheezy gasps.

Chris watched him for a while in anxiety and fear. He knew that it
might be dangerous for him to move his wounded leg but all thought
of his own danger was lost in the fear that the stricken old sailor
was dying before his eyes. He attempted to pull his leg out from the
mound but could not move it. The heat of the stones had baked the mud
hard. With great effort he raised himself into a sitting position,
and, with his sheath knife cut and dug away frantically at the baked
mud until he had the leg uncovered, then, severing the bandage above
his knee, he attempted to rise but could not move the injured limb. He
fell back and viewed it with frightened dismay. It was not a pretty
sight for it was a mass of blisters where the hot mud had clung, and a
large bluish swelling marked the place where the stingaree's horn had
entered. The tight bandage, shutting off the blood supply for so long,
had rendered it paralyzed and useless. Although the breaking blisters
caused him exquisite pain, he fell to rubbing the numbed limb briskly
with both hands until the blood crept slowly back into the veins. At
last, he was able to gain his feet and by resting most of his weight
on his uninjured leg managed to limp over to the unconscious sailor.
Luckily, he had been raised in a torrid country where sunstrokes were
of frequent occurrence. He knew just what to do and he did it quickly
and surely. His first act was to raise the unconscious man's head and
place a high pillow of twigs beneath it. Then, stirring the smouldering
fire, he placed several large stones in the glowing coals. While they
were heating he removed the captain's shoes and bathed his hot head
and flushed face with cool water, and tearing his shirt to pieces, wet
it and bound it around the sufferer's head. By the time this was done,
the stones were hot, and, rolling a couple up in his jacket, he placed
them at the captain's feet, then, seated by his side, he awaited the
result with fear and trembling. A terrible dread gripped his heart that
the remedies had been applied too late, for the old sailor had all the
appearance of a dying man. Thirty minutes dragged slowly away without
apparent change, then, slowly, the old sailor's breathing grew less
labored and his face began to lose some of its fiery hue. Chris hailed
these favorable signs with joy as indicated that the crisis had been
safely passed, but his joy was somewhat dampened when the hours passed
by without the stricken man showing signs of consciousness. He seemed
to pass from his stupor to a deep sleep from which the little negro
dreaded awakening him. It was evident that the old seaman was in for a
long spell of weakness from the heat stroke he had suffered. There was
nothing more his little companion could do to relieve his sufferings
and he remained seated by his side watching him anxiously until the
waning of the afternoon warned him that it was time to partake of food
and make preparations for the night. He had eaten nothing since the
night before and he was conscious of a sense of growing weakness. The
fish the captain had caught was already tainted from the heat and the
little negro felt too weak as yet to venture forth to secure more, so
he dug up a few of the cassava roots which he roasted in the coals.
These, together with a handful of palmetto berries, constituted his
supper. As soon as it was finished he began his preparations for the
night. Slowly and painfully, he gathered together broken limbs to keep
the circles of fire going until daylight came again. By the time this
was accomplished and the fires lit he was weak and trembling from pain
and exhaustion and was glad to crawl onto his couch by the captain's
side. The old sailor roused into momentary wakefulness at the noise of
the snapping twigs.

"How you is, Massa Capt.?" demanded the little negro, eagerly.

"Weak, mighty weak. Feel as though I couldn't lift my hand to my head,
but I will be all right by morning, I reckon. I guess, we have got no
cause to worry now. The boys will be back to-night or early in the
morning at the latest. How do you feel, lad?"

"Fine," lied the little negro, cheerfully. "Jes' you go back to sleep
again. I'll keep de fires up all right."

With a sigh of satisfaction, the captain closed his eyes and was
soon sound asleep again, but there was no such rest for his little
companion. Twice Chris hobbled out and renewed the fires. The third
time he had to crawl forth on hands and knees. His wound was again
swelling rapidly and he could no longer bear his weight on the injured
limb. He tried vainly to sleep. The wounded leg throbbed with intense
pain which gradually crept over his whole body, making him feel sick
and faint all over. He understood the reason for his sufferings. Some
of the poison still left in his wound had, with the removal of the
tight bandages from his leg, found its way back into the blood and was
coursing through his little body poisoning as it went.

"Golly!" he remarked, grimly, to himself, "if dem white chillens doan
get back wid help an' medicine by mornin', I reckon dis nigger ain't
agoin' to see Cat Island and his old mammy no moah. An' if Chris gits
plum helpless what's goin' to become ob Massa Captain wid no one to
tend to him. He tinks he'll be all right in de mornin' but hits goin'
to take a powerful long time for him to get real peart again."

The long night dragged slowly away. Occasionally the little negro crept
forth and replenished the fires, the balance of the time he lay quiet
listening for cry or sound that would tell of the boys' return, but
nothing fell upon his strained hearing but the croak of frogs, the
bellowing of alligators and the strange night noises of the marsh.

At daylight the captain awoke and attempted to rise, but, although he
was greatly improved, he was yet too weak to stand erect.

"You jes' lie still," Chris counseled him, "dar ain't no call for you
to go projectin' around none. I'se goin' out an' git somethin' for us
to eat."

Although it cost him intense pain, the little negro managed to walk
erect until he was out of the old sailor's sight, then he dropped down
on hands and knees and crawled painfully down to the shore.

The touch of the cool salt water helped the throbbing pain in his leg
and he succeeded in wading out to the rocks where he was not long in
spearing a large, fat mackerel. With this, he returned to the camp,
for he did not dare in his growing weakness to search for clams or
other food. He found the old sailor asleep again, and, cleaning the
fish he broiled it over the coals. As soon as it was done he awakened
the sleeper.

"Hyah is youah breakfas' all nice an' hot," he announced. "You want to
eat a plenty ob hit. I'se agoin' to lay down a spell. I didn't sleep
berry good last night."



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE RELAPSE.


CAPTAIN WESTFIELD ate heartily of the delicious fish. Much to his
delight, he found that, except for the extreme weakness following his
heat prostration, he felt unusually well. He wisely decided not to
invite a relapse by getting up at once, and, as soon as he had finished
eating, he lay back upon his couch and quietly fell asleep again. It
was midday when he awoke feeling much better and stronger. The first
thing that met his gaze as he gained a sitting position was Chris lying
in the same position in which he had first flung himself. He called
to him several times but the little negro lay still and motionless.
Thoroughly alarmed, he crawled over and surveyed the unconscious lad.
The sight of the enormously swollen leg and a few minutes' fingering
of the dark little wrist told him what was the matter. The slow pulse
beats showed that the subtile poison, released from its confinement by
the removal of the bandage, had found its way to the plucky, loyal,
little heart.

The captain sat down by the little fellow's side and dashed the
stinging tears from his eyes.

"He's killed himself for me," he moaned. "If he had laid still just as
he was he would have been all right. But, God bless him, he risked his
life for a poor, old, worthless hulk like me. An' thar ain't nothing I
can do to save him now."

Although he had but small faith that it would do any good in such a
desperate case, he hastily crushed out a cupful of juice from the
palmetto berries and forced it down Chris' throat, then, resuming his
seat by his side, he watched to see if the powerful stimulant would
have any effect.

As the hours dragged slowly away he rejoiced to see that the lad's
condition apparently grew no worse. Encouraged, he crushed out more of
the juice and administered it at regular intervals. "I believe he's got
a good fighting chance to pull through. If the boys would only get back
with some whiskey an' drugs, now, I reckon, we could save him. I wonder
what can be keepin' them so long. They've had plenty of time to make
Judson and back."

But the afternoon wore away without sign of the rescuers, and a new
fear crept into the old sailor's worries. Something must have happened
to the two boys. Late in the afternoon, he left Chris long enough
to hurry down to the shore in quest of fish or clams for supper. He
found the rock from which he had fished completely submerged and a
heavy surf thundering far up into the marsh. Under such conditions
it was impossible to secure fish or clams, and he returned to camp
hungry, disappointed, and with further cause for worry. The heavy surf
indicated another storm in the Gulf which might reach where they were.
If it did, it would render their position still more uncomfortable and
dangerous. A heavy blow would continue to cut off their supply of fish
and clams and would likely flood the low-lying marsh shutting them in
on their little island. If Chris had been well enough to walk, the
captain would have at once moved camp to the mainland, but that was
impossible now. By sunset his fears were in a fair way to be realized.
The wind was steadily increasing in force, and, blowing out of a clear
sky, gave promise of still greater violence. Supperless and worried,
the old sailor watched the night fall with but one thing to cheer his
drooping spirits--Chris was evidently slowly improving. Likely much of
the poison had been drawn out from his wound by the hot mud and the
balance remaining had been overcome in its paralyzing effects by the
powerful stimulant. The lad's pulse was slowly growing stronger and it
was clear that the crisis had been safely passed.

The old sailor was too worried about the absent lads to compose himself
to sleep. Already, the surf was sending up small wavelets far into the
marsh. If the boys were returning the way they went, their journey
would be fraught with perils.

The sky was covered with fleecy clouds but they disappeared with the
rising of the moon and by its bright light he could see far out on the
water where the huge waves broke foaming white on the outer bar.

Suddenly he gave a shout that made Chris stir in his stupor; "The boys!
The boys!" he cried in delight.

In the broad path of moonlight, a small schooner appeared feeling her
way through a passage in the reef under close-reefed sails.

"They must have someone aboard that knows the reef," he mused as he
watched the little ship cautiously weaving her way in between the
dangerous rocks.

She held steadily for the shore until she was scarce two cable lengths
from it, then, she shot up into the wind, her anchor was dropped, and
her sails lowered.

The captain was down on the shore, heedless of the flying spray, when
the anchor hit the bottom.

"Walt! Charley!" he roared at the top of his voice.

There was no answer and he hailed again.

"Ahoy! Shore!" came an answering hail from the schooner. "Who air yo'
and what do yo' want?"

The captain was silent for a moment with disappointment. It was not the
boys after all, but any help was welcome at such a time and he made
haste to reply.

"We're two shipwrecks in bad shape an' need help. Who are you?"

"The Hattie Roberts, sponger, from Key West. Stan' by, an' we'll send a
boat."

While the strangers were launching a boat, the captain had time to
observe that the schooner's decks were piled full of small boats and
that, small as she was, she carried a crew of at least thirty men.

"An old style, pole an' hook sponger," he decided. "I didn't reckon
there was any of them left. I 'lowed the Greeks had run 'em all out of
business."

Manned by half a dozen men, the little boat came tearing through the
waves towards the shore. Flung up by a huge roller, she grounded almost
at the captain's feet. The instant she touched bottom, her crew sprang
over the side and drew her up safely beyond the reach of the next
roller. Even by the dimmed light of the moon, the old sailor could see
that the new-comers were dark-skinned men with heavy coarse features.
He recognized them without the aid of the peculiar accent as Conchs,--a
kind of mixed race belonging to the Florida Keys.

"Whar's yo's companion?" demanded one, who from his air of authority
was evidently the captain.

"He's on a little island just a little ways from here. I'll have to get
one of your men to help me down with him."

"All right, Sam here will go with yo'. Step lively, we have got to pull
out from hyar quick. There ain't as good anchorage as I 'lowed to find
behind the reef. We'll have to make foah a better harbor."

The captain, with the sailor detailed to help him, was hurrying off on
their mission when the Conch's skippers curiosity caused him to stop
him in spite of the preciousness of time.

"How did yo's git hyah in such a fix," he demanded.

"Been sponging with a Greek crew. Crew mutinied. We escaped in a diving
boat. Got wrecked in the night on the reef out thar," replied Captain
Westfield, briefly.

"Sponging with the Greeks!" snarled the Conch with an oath. "Then the
Greeks can help yo' out of yo'r fix, by all that's Holy, I won't. Hyah,
Sam, jump aboard with yo'."

"You are not agoin' to desert us?" cried the captain in bewildered
consternation. "For the love of humanity, man, what do you mean?"

"I mean that I won't raise a finger to help any mons who deals with
the Greeks--blast 'em," cried the Conch, fiercely. "They've ruined
us an' our people. We used to be a happy an' prosperous race a'fore
they came with their diving suits an' tramped all over the bottom of
the Gulf. Killing the little baby sponges with their iron shoes, an'
stripping the bottom clean as a Conch's floor. We've been run out of
the business, an' they did it. We've lost our homes, an' they caused
it. Our families don't have enough to eat an' wear any more, an' they
are the reason--curse 'em, curse 'em, curse 'em."

"But you are leaving us to certain death, man!" pleaded Captain
Westfield, "The water is rising over the marsh, already."

"An' it will be flooded inside of ten hours," declared the Conch with
cruel satisfaction. "All aboard mons an' shove off."

Captain Westfield grasped the gunwale of the boat and tried to hold
it while he reasoned and argued with the fanatical Conch, but the
infuriated man rapped his knuckles with an oar and gave him a shove
with the blade that sent him struggling backwards. By the time the old
sailor recovered his balance, the boat had been shoved off and was out
of his reach. He shook his clenched fist at the Conch's receding figure.

"You'll pay for this," he shouted. "No good will come to you after such
a trick." But it is doubtful if the Conch even heard his voice above
the roar of the wind.

The captain stood watching grimly until the boat reached the
schooner's side, and her close-reefed sails were hoisted, her anchor
broke and she headed to the South inside the line of reef. When she
had faded away into the night, he turned back for the camp filled with
disappointment and dismay.



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE FLOOD.


AS the old sailor made his way back to the island, he was alarmed
to see how rapidly the water was rising over the marsh. He splashed
knee-deep in the water at every step and it was easy to see that it
still continued to rise with astonishing rapidity.

His first act on reaching the island was to move the camp to the
highest knoll of ground, already the lowest lying portions of the
island were submerged. Chris had regained consciousness though he was
still too weak to move without assistance. He watched the old sailor's
preparations with evident interest and looked at the rapidly rising
water with evident anxiety.

"If dat water doan stop comin' up, we is sho' goin' to hab a hard time
gettin' anythin' to eat," he observed. "Can't get ober dem rock no
way when dey is covered wid water, sho' to break a leg in one ob dem
holes."

"The Lord will watch out for us, lad," encouraged the captain. "Look
at all that He has brought us through. He has never deserted us in our
hour of need."

"Golly! I reckon dat's so," agreed the little darkey, thoughtfully.
He remained quiet for a few minutes then said quaintly, "'Spect's we
oughter ask him to look out foah Massa Charley an' Massa Walt. I'ze
getting plum anxious 'bout dem two white chillins. Dey had oughter been
back long 'fore dis. Massa Charley's mighty clever, but I 'spect dat
it wouldn't do no harm to ax de Lawd to help him out a bit if he's in
trouble."

"No one can do without the Lord's help, Chris," the captain said,
gravely, "an', I reckon, them lads need it powerful bad. Something
pretty serious has happened, I 'low, to keep them from coming back.
We'll ask the Good Lord to watch out for them an' protect them."

The old sailor knelt by the little negro's side and in simple seafaring
language prayed that the Heavenly Father would watch over and protect
the missing ones.

The simple steadfast faith of the old seaman and the trusting little
negro filled them with a sense of security and peace. They doubted not
that their humble petition would be answered and that now a Heavenly
Eye was watching over them and their absent companions and that a
Divine Hand would guide them through their trials and danger. They
stretched out on their leafy couches and went fast to sleep, while the
storm raged and howled around them and the rising water crept slowly up
on their little island.

It was broad daylight when they awoke and looked about them. It was
a wild and terrifying scene that met their eyes. The marsh between
them and the sea was completely submerged and covered with rolling
white-caps. Far out on the reef they could see the mighty rollers
flinging their spray forty feet in the air when they struck the sunken
rocks. Of the island, none remained except the high sands and knoll
upon which was their camp. Between the island and the mainland was two
miles of swirling, foaming water.

"Can't get to shore, no ways, now, Massa Captain," Chris observed.
"You had oughter gone in las' night when you had a chance an' left dis
nigger behind."

"The Lord will look out for us, lad," said the old sailor cheerfully.
"I don't calculate that the water's going to rise high enough to cover
this knoll we are on an' as soon as the wind drops a bit, the boys will
be back for us with a boat. It's just a matter of being patient for a
little while. We may get a little bit hungry, but, I reckon, we can
stand that without grumbling."

"Sho' we can," agreed Chris, bravely. "Tho' hit do seem like I was
gettin' powerful hungry already. Ain't dar none of dem cassava roots
dat we can get at?"

A close search revealed that most of the patch of tubers was covered by
the rising water. A few plants however still showed on the little knoll
and these the captain dug at once. There was only a scant half peck of
the roots but that was better than nothing.

The old sailor kindled a little fire and roasted all the roots in the
coals.

"We might as well have one good full meal," he observed, "I never did
take much stock in this idea of going on short rations when grub is
scarce. I always 'lowed that one good feed would carry a man further
than a dozen pesky little ones that only tantalize the stomach."

But the roots shrank greatly in the cooking, by the time the skins were
removed, there was but little left for the hungry castaways. They still
felt empty after their meal was finished.

The day dragged wearily away with no sign of abatement of the storm.
The water continued to rise slowly, but so slowly that the two anxious
watchers were not without hope that the little knoll on which they
were would escape the overflow. Their position was by no means
uncomfortable. There was no rain and the weather was so warm that the
wind did not cause them to suffer any from cold. Aside from their
growing hunger and their anxiety about their missing companions, they
were quite comfortable. Chris, in fact, was in better shape than at any
time since they had been cast on shore.

"I don' reckon dis storm can las' berry much longer," he observed,
cheerfully, when the sun went down in a perfectly clear sky. "Dar ain't
no clouds to back up de wind an' hit's bound to play out 'fore long."

"That's just where you're wrong, lad," said the captain. "A gale from a
clear sky is the worst of all. I ain't ever seen many of them but what
I have seen were all hummers."

The two sat looking out on the gloomy waste of waters until the moon,
now at its full, rose and lit up the wild scene about them almost as
brightly as day. At last they tired of the wild, gloomy, disheartening
scene, and, after a short prayer together, stretched out on their
couches. Chris was almost instantly asleep but the captain lay long
awake, his mind full of their helpless situation, and, of anxious
conjectures as to the fate of the two absent lads. His own position
and that of his little companion was such as to awaken his deepest
fears. So long as the storm continued, their rescue by land or Gulf
was impossible. No boat could live amongst the rocks and raging waters
which now surrounded them. His long experience told him that the storm
was likely to continue at least two days longer.--He had seen similar
gales blow for an entire week without a let up. Even after the gale
was over, it would take some little time for the waves and water to
subside. At the best, they would suffer greatly from hunger before
their rescue would be possible. But, to do the old sailor justice, his
thoughts were not so much of their own situation as of the absent lads.
He could only hope and pray that they had not started to return by
water before the breaking of the storm.

As he lay motionless musing, his ear caught a low grating sound as of
heavy objects drawn on coarse sand. He quickly sat up on his couch and
looked around. In the bright moonlight he could see large dark objects
moving over the white sand.

"'Gators, an' a regular drove of them," he exclaimed. "Wake up, Chris!
Wake up!"

The little negro struggled up into a sitting position, still half
asleep.

"What's de matter, Massa Cap?" he inquired.

"Look at them 'gators, thar's dozens of them. We've got to have a fire
mighty quick an' stick close to it."

Chris greeted the sight of the dark objects with a cry of joy.

"Oh, Golly! De Good Lord's dun answered our prayers. Dem's turtles."

The old sailor sprang to his feet and would have dashed for the nearest
object if the little negro had not restrained him.

"You sho' scare dem all away if you do dat way," he cautioned. "Jus'
wait till dey gets to layin' an' you can walk right up on 'em."

The huge creatures crept steadily on up the shelving knoll. Their
progress was slow and clumsy, and their lower shells dragging over the
sand had made the grinding noise the captain had heard. They crept up
to within ten feet of where the two watchers lay, then, they halted,
and, with their hind flippers began to dig deep holes in the soft sand.

"Dey lays der eggs in dem holes an' covers dem up wid sand," Chris
explained in a whisper. "Dey each lays mighty nigh two hundred eggs. De
warm sand hatches out de little turtles."

The two castaways waited until the great sea hens had begun to lay,
then Chris arose and walked directly for them without any attempt at
concealment. The turtles did not pay the slightest attention to his
approach.

"We'll take dese two smallest ones," he announced. "Dey will be de
tenderest. Jus' grab de shell wid me, Massa Cap, back by de hind
flippers an' we'll flop 'em over on his back. Keep youah eyes an' mouth
shut."

But the old sailor was too excited to heed the advice. He grabbed the
turtle's shell and heaved, then staggered back spitting and coughing
with mouth, eyes, and ears full of sand, which the creature with it's
flippers sent flying in a cloud about it.

Chris waited until he had relieved himself of the stinging sand and
this time the captain, following his advice, kept mouth and eyes
tightly closed. A few seconds sufficed to turn the two turtles on their
backs where they lay helpless.

There must have been at least thirty turtles in the bunch but the
castaways contented themselves with only turning the two, any more
would have been useless slaughter. Those unmolested quickly completed
their laying, covered the eggs and retreated to the water.



CHAPTER XXV.

THE FLOATING HATCH.


THE castaways lost no time in rejoicing over their good fortune. The
Captain hastily kindled a fire while Chris, with his sheath knife,
proceeded to butcher the smallest of the two turtles. Much experience
had made the little negro expert at the work and in a few minutes he
had severed the two shells and cut off several thick steaks from one
of the hind flippers. Then, squatting before the fire, each impaled a
steak on the end of a pointed stick and toasted it over the coals.

How good the steaming juicy meat tasted to the two hungry ones. Steak
after steak was broiled and eaten before their ravenous appetites were
satisfied and they could eat no more.

"Midnight is a sorter unusual hour for a feed," Captain Westfield
observed, "but, I reckon, we will sleep none the worse for it. I 'low,
we ain't got to lay awake none worryin' about food now. Thar's meat
enough to last us for two weeks at least."

"An' maybe, Ole Mister Gale will blow hisself out," said Chris,
hopefully, as, yawning sleepily he stretched himself again on his couch.

It was broad day when the castaways awoke from the heavy slumber which
had followed their hearty midnight supper. They found the gale still
blowing with undiminished violence and the sky still brightly blue. One
thing, however, gave them great satisfaction, the water had ceased to
encroach upon their little knoll. It had evidently reached its height.

After a hearty breakfast of turtle steaks, the two proceeded at once
to dress and cure the turtles, for they well knew that under the sun's
heat the fresh meat would soon spoil.

They had neither salt nor smoke house with which to cure it, but they
went at the task with sure confidence in the result. The meat was first
cut away from the shells and skinned, care being taken to remove every
particle of the greenish-colored fat. Then, cutting across the grain,
the meat was divided into thin strips and spread upon leaves to dry in
the hot sun. It only remained for them to protect it from the dews of
night and chance rains and a few days would see it thoroughly cured and
capable of keeping sweet and good so long as it was kept dry.

With some hazy idea that they might be of some future use, the captain
cleaned and washed out the two, great, trough-like, upper shells of the
turtles.

"Dat looks like a lump of wreckage out dar by de reef, Massa Cap,"
Chris observed as he straightened up from his task of spreading out the
meat. "Pears like de tide is settin' hit in dis way."

"It is a bit of wreckage or a clump of seaweed," the captain agreed
after a brief survey. "It's drifting in all right, but it's going to
miss the island by a good hundred yards."

The two suspended work while they watched the drifting object slowly
near their island.

"It looks like a hatch with something like a stack atop of it," he
observed to the captain as the object drew close.

"Hit's a man or 'ooman atop ob hit," cried Chris, whose eyes were
keener than the old sailor's. "He's layin' plum still, jes' like he was
dead."

Closer approach of the object convinced the captain that the little
negro was correct. There was beyond doubt a motionless body lying on
the low floating hatch. It was evident too that the hatch with its
burden would pass the island at a distance of at least one hundred and
fifty yards. To venture out and attempt to tow it in was to assume
a terrible risk. The water between it and the island was raging and
tossing over dozens of dangerous hidden rocks. Only the strongest
swimmer would have the slightest chance of success, and, even should he
succeed, it might be to find that he had risked his life to rescue a
corpse. But the ocean breeds in its followers a brotherhood that leads
them to deeds of quiet heroism. They never know when they may be in
need of a rescuing hand and it is seldom that one turns aside from the
rendering of service, no matter how dangerous it may be to himself.

When the hatch with its burden was nearly abreast of the island Chris
began to strip off his clothes, but the Captain stopped him.

"You're still too weak to attempt it, lad," he declared. "You couldn't
make it thar an' back, I reckon I can fight it out all right. I've
mighty nigh got back all my strength."

Hastily stripping off the pants and shirt in which he was clothed, the
old sailor slipped off into the water and struck out for the wreckage
with long steady strokes, warily avoiding the foaming spots which
marked the positions of the larger rocks. The swim was not difficult
for so experienced a swimmer. The struggle would come when he attempted
to return with his burden. In a few minutes, he reached the wreckage
and, resting his hand upon the hatch gazed down at the burden it bore.
He saw a man, apparently about forty years of age, attired in rough
seaman's garb, his face bronzed and seamed from long years of exposure
to wind and weather. The stranger was lying flat on his back on the
hatch, his legs dangling over the end. A rope passed around his body
and under the wood work prevented the larger seas from washing him off
his frail support. He was unconscious and the captain reached over and
placed his ear close to his chest. He could detect a faint beating of
the heart. It was slow and feeble but still it was beating,--the man
was alive.

Once satisfied of this fact, the old sailor quickly shifted to the end
of the hatch, and, resting one hand upon it, and striking out with the
other hand and both feet, strove to force it back to the island. He had
not accomplished half the distance with his burden when he saw that
he could not hope to succeed. The tide was slowly but surely sweeping
him in past the island direct for the mainland. Still, he battled
desperately on, swimming with all his strength. Suddenly the little
raft seemed to move forward with increased speed.

"Take it easy, Massa Cap," sounded Chris' voice close to his elbow. "We
can make it togedder all right." The plucky little negro had been quick
to see the danger and equally quick to come to the rescue.

Between the two, after half an hour of heartbreaking battling with
the current, they managed to shove the raft ashore, where they sank
exhausted and panting upon the sand.

As soon as they were able to move, they unlashed the unconscious sailor
from the hatch, and, carrying him up, laid him upon the captain's
couch. The man seemed nearly dead, and for hours the two, wet,
exhausted castaways worked over him, struggling to coax the spark of
life into a flame. At last they were rewarded by seeing a tinge of
color creep into the bronzed face. At length the sailor sighed and
opened his eyes.

"Water," he gasped, faintly.

"Golly! I should reckon he's had 'bout enough water," Chris exclaimed.

"Get some for him quick," Captain Westfield commanded. "The salt brine
he has swallowed has parched his throat and stomach."

The sailor took only one mouthful of the proffered water, then spat it
out with his face twitching.

"Salt, salt," he murmured.

A horrible fear seized the captain. He snatched the shell from Chris'
hand and took a swallow of the water. His fear was confirmed, it was
salt. The Gulf had risen close enough to their little well to percolate
through the sand into it and render it as salt as itself.

The little negro divined the situation from the captain's face. "Golly!
dat's bad," he cried. "Doin' widout water is a heap wurser den doin'
widout food."

"Water, give me water," pleaded the rescued man. "My throat's parched,
parched."

"You shall have some water as soon as we can get it," Captain Westfield
assured him. There was something vaguely familiar to the old sailor in
the man's queerly accented speech. It was more puzzling as he had no
recollection of ever having seen the man before.

Considering his low condition the sailor recovered his full senses
and a measure of his strength with astonishing rapidity. It was plain
that he had not been deprived of either food or water for any great
length of time. He was soon able to sit up and take notice of his
surroundings. A curious look stole over his bronzed face as his gaze
took in the two castaways.

"How did I get hyah?" he demanded.

Captain Westfield related the story of the rescue briefly.

The sailor's rough features worked with emotion. "I remember part," he
cried. "Our vessel struck on Needle Rocks in the darkness an' went down
like a stone. I had just time to throw myself on the hatch an' pass
a rope around my waist. The crew," he shuddered--"must have all been
dashed to pieces against the rocks. God knows how I escaped. An' yo'
risked yo'r lives to save mine, yo' an' that boy. Mon, how could yo'
forgive me enough to do such a deed?"

"Forgive you?" echoed the captain, puzzled. "I had nothin' to forgive."

"I am Rufus Sanders, the Key West sponger who refused yo'r appeals for
help an' left yo' to yo'r fate," cried the man, excitedly.

"I did not know that, but it would have made no difference," said the
captain, gently. "You were a helpless, shipwrecked man." He checked the
flood of thanks on the sponger captain's lips. "You have nothing to
thank us for," he declared. "We have only saved you from one fate to
suffer a worse with us. We are hopelessly imprisoned on this island,
an' we have no water. All we can do is endure, pray an' hope."



CHAPTER XXVI.

WITH THE BOYS.


CONSIDERING the misfortunes which had befallen them, the two chums
were in surprisingly good spirits, as they picked their way through
the marsh, headed South. It was a relief to be free from the dread and
apprehension under which they had labored for so many days.

"I feel almost as though we were on a picnic, instead of being
shipwrecked sailors who have been robbed of their ship, and have lost
all except the clothes on their backs," Charley declared.

"Everything is going to turn out all right after all," agreed Walter,
hopefully. "Chris is going to get over his wound all right. He and the
captain will have no trouble in getting plenty of food and water. We
had ought to reach Judson by dark, and we'll get a boat or wagon and
return for them at once. We can easily get from Judson to Tarpon, and
there we can get the United States Commissioner to take up our case,
and the minute the 'Beauty' enters port she will be seized and held
for us. At the worst it will only mean the loss of our diving boat and
a little patient waiting. And think of the store of gold which will be
ours for a little work."

But his chum was not quite so optimistic. "I do not think that we had
better build too great hopes on recovering either our ship or the
gold," he observed. "That Manuel is a clever rascal. I fear he will
rise to the occasion. He may think that we are wrecked in the storm
but I am convinced he will take no chances. He will plan and scheme to
the last to secure the ship and money and save his own neck from the
halter. He may be caught at last but he will not sail boldly into any
port. He's too wary for that."

His words did not dampen Walter's high spirits. "There is a revenue
cutter at Tarpon," reminded his chum. "As soon as we get to Judson, we
will telegraph to the Commissioner. He will not wait for the 'Beauty'
to touch a port if we can put our case strong enough. He will start the
cutter out in search of her at once."

"I hope you are right. If we are going to make Judson before dark,
however, we are going to have to travel faster than we are going now.
It's slow going amongst this mud and rock. Let us make our way inshore
and see if it's any better traveling there."

But as they approached close to the mainland they saw that there was
no hopes of easier traveling in that direction. The dense hammock
jungle extended down to the edge of the marsh. To make one's way
through it would be far slower than to continue over the marsh. They,
accordingly, retraced their steps to the water's edge. It was slightly
easier traveling close to the water. The waves had beat down the marsh
grass along the edge leaving a kind of beach of rock and mud. It was
hard and dangerous walking but safer than over the marsh itself, where
the rank growth hid the treacherous bog holes.

The boys often paused in their march to examine the masses of stuff
that had been cast up by the waves. The squall of the night before had
robbed the bottom of great masses of seaweed and had taken heavy toll
of the life in the water. Every few minutes the lads would pass great
clumps of seaweed tangled together in beautiful rainbows of bright
scarlets, yellows, crimsons and purples. Curiously enough, the storm
had dealt very harshly with the finny tribe. Likely many of the fish
had been caught in shoal water and their lives beaten out against the
cruel rocks. They dotted the shore and the chums frequently halted to
admire one's curious shape or coloring.

"I wonder what kind this one is?" said Walter, pointing to a long slim
fish of a beautiful brilliant green.

"That is a parrot fish," his chum enlightened him. "I think they are
one of the most beautiful fishes that swim. They are of all colors,
some are violet, some of golden, some scarlet, and in fact, they are
found of every shade and hue. They get their names from their many
brilliant colors, I guess."

"What a wonderful mysterious thing the sea is," Walter commented. "I
never realized before how much of strange life it contains."

"What we see along the beach this morning is only a very small sample
of its population," his chum replied. "Sometimes, I think that all
life must have come first from the sea. There is hardly an animal on
land which has not a grotesque likeness in some creature of the sea.
Take that fish there with the peculiarly shaped head and horns. Its
resemblance to a cow is so striking that it has been named the cow
fish. There is another little fish with a head just like a horse. It is
called the sea horse. Then there is the toad fish, the frog fish, the
snake fish, and hundreds of others closely resembling the animals after
which they are named. But here," he concluded, "is, in my opinion, the
most wonderful fish I have ever heard of. I have seen many of them but
one always has a puzzling fascination to me."

He had stopped before a flat round-shaped fish which lay stranded
in the edge of the water. It was still alive and struggling feebly
to get back into deeper water. It was of a light-tan color and was
covered with spots of darker hue. On its upper surface was a soft,
spongy-looking, circular spot It was not a pretty looking object and
Walter viewed it with disgust.

"I don't see anything fascinating about it," he commented.

"Just put your finger on that soft spongy place," Charley directed,
"that's where it's wonderful secret is concealed. It is not poisonous,"
he added as his chum hesitated.

Walter bent down and pressed his finger against the spongy mass. The
next instant he leaped back with a cry of alarm, shaking his arm madly.
"Jerusalem!" he exclaimed. "What is it?"

"Got a shock did you?" laughed his chum. "That's an electrical fish.
Their mystery to me lies in where they get the electricity with which
they are charged. Even a small one like that contains enough to give a
powerful shock."

The morning had been advancing rapidly as they walked and talked and
the sun was shining down hot on their bare heads. Charley, justifying
Chris' confidence in him, was quick to recognize the danger from its
torrid rays.

He cast a look up at the sun. "It is nearly noon," he declared. "We
must get something to cover our heads with and then find something to
eat. I am getting as hungry as a wolf."

There was nothing along the rocky, muddy beach that would do for hats
and the two bent their steps in towards the mainland. There, they broke
off small leafy branches and thrust the stems down the backs of their
shirts so that the leaves would tower above, and shade their heads.
These made only a poor substitute for hats, but shed off the fiercest
rays of the sun.

Close to where they broke off the boughs was a small running stream and
the boys drank thankfully of its cold sweet water.

"We have no time to waste in cooking and I fear our bill-o-fare for
dinner will be rather scanty," Charley said. "Let's look around here
and see if we cannot find fruit of some kind."

There were palmetto berries in plenty all along the high bank but the
lads had no desire to partake of them except in a case of necessity.
Seeing nothing promising along the edge of the jungle, they scrambled
up the bank and made their way slowly and cautiously into the hammock,
keeping a wary eye out for snakes. They found fruit of several kinds
in abundance, but most of it Charley rejected as being poisonous, or
not fit to eat. They gathered two kinds which he declared were both
palatable and nourishing. One was a golden-red fruit about the size of
a pear. It contained a large nut to which the meat clung closely. One
bite into it and the boys' hands and faces were smeared with sticky
juice. "I would recognize that smeary juice and strong turpentine
flavor, anywhere," laughed Walter, "these are mangoes, the fruit, they
say, you have got to get into a bath-tub to eat if you want to keep
clean."

The second fruit was about the size of a large plum and snow white in
color with a blotch of red on the sides. Its meat was sweet, milky and
slightly puckering.

"They are cocoa-plums," Charley explained. "They are considered quite
nutritious but I would be afraid to eat a great many of them at a time
on account of their puckerishness. We can eat all we want to of the
mangoes however, they will not hurt us."

As soon as their repast was finished the boys filled their pockets with
mangoes and cocoa-plums and hastened back to the shore.

They plodded steadily along while the afternoon wore away, but their
progress over the rocks and mud was slow and they realized that they
would not be able to reach Judson before darkness rendered further
traveling dangerous.

They were passing a matted clump of seaweed on the shore when Charley,
stopping with a cry of delight, fished out from its midst a round piece
of wood about four feet in length, from which trailed a long, light
line badly frayed in places by the rock.

"Do you recognize this?" he shouted.

"No," replied his chum in wonder at his excitement.

"It's the buoy that marked the place where the gold ship lay. The
Greeks will have a job to locate the gold now. That storm must have
chafed the rope in two against a ledge of coral. Hurrah, hurrah."

"I don't see but that is as bad news for us as for the Greeks," Walter
said, dubiously.

"It is, in a way," his chum replied. "Of course it will make it harder
for us to find the exact spot where the treasure lays, but the Greeks
will be delayed by it and that will give us a chance to get there with
the revenue cutter and catch them before they get all the gold removed
and get away."



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE JOURNEY.


IT still lacked about an hour to sundown when Charley called a halt.
"We cannot possibly make Judson before night, and it would be sheer
foolishness to try to travel over these rocks after it gets dark," he
declared. "We would be sure to get some bad falls and very likely break
an arm or leg. The best thing we can do is to find a good place to camp
while it is still light and make ourselves as snug as possible for the
night."

Walter, who was beginning to feel tired out from the long day's tramp,
was quick to agree with his proposal and the two lads headed in for the
mainland, for neither felt any desire to spend the night on the wet,
muddy marsh.

Good fortune seemed to guide their footsteps for they struck the
mainland just where a little stream of clear water bubbled forth
amongst a clump of towering cedars.

"The very place for our camp," Charley exclaimed. "You see what you can
fix up in the way of a shelter, Walt, while I look around and see what
I can find for our supper."

Walter was fast becoming an adept at the science of woodcraft and he
went about his task with certainty and dispatch. First, he broke off
armsful of small boughs which he spread in two piles upon the ground
close to the trunks of two big cedar trees. These were to serve as
their couches and over them he proceeded to erect a rough lean-to to
protect them from the wind and dew. There were plenty of dead boughs
all around, and, selecting two of the longest and straightest, he
leaned them against the trunk of the two trees about six feet from the
ground, embedding their other ends firmly in the ground. Across these,
he laid other limbs a couple of feet apart and upon them piled palmetto
leaves and boughs to form a roof. Before the open front of the rude
structure, he built a roaring fire of dead cedar limbs. Close beside it
he piled up a huge heap of wood with which to keep the fire replenished
throughout the night. This completed his labors, and stretching himself
upon his springy, fragrant couch before the crackling fire, he waited
hungrily for his chum's return. He was becoming alarmed over his long
absence when there came a crackling of boughs and Charley strode into
the circle of firelight, bearing in one hand a snow-white heart, or
bud, of a cabbage palmetto and in the other, a chunk of fresh meat
several pounds in weight.

"What have you got there?" he inquired, eagerly.

Charley grinned, "I'm too hungry to stop and tell you now. Sharpen up a
couple of sticks and we'll broil some steaks, then, I'll give you three
guesses as to what it is, and bet that you don't guess right."

Walter hastily cut two long green palmetto stems and sharpened them
to points at the ends. By the time he had them ready, Charley had cut
a couple of generous-sized steaks from the hunk of meat. The balance
of it he wrapped up in a couple of green palmetto leaves and buried
in the coals. While the steaks impaled upon the sticks were sizzling
appetizingly before the fire, he wrapped up the palmetto heart in green
leaves and buried it beside the roasting meat.

So hungry was Walter that he cut bits from his steak before it was
fairly done and devoured them with eager appetite.

"Like it?" inquired his chum with a twinkle in his eye.

"Fine, it only needs a little salt to make it perfect," Walter
declared. "I can't quite place it though. It tastes like a cross
between pork and beefsteak. What is it anyway?"

"Guess."

"Pork?"

"Nit."

"Coon?"

"Nit."

"Opossum?"

"Nit."

"I give it up then. What kind of animal is it?"

"I found it on the bank of a little creek not far from here," said
Charley, dreamily. "It was sound asleep and it did not look very pretty
or innocent even in its slumber, but beggars can't be choosers, so I
got me a good heavy club and crept up on it softly. When it woke up
I was near enough to give it a good rap over the head. It gave me a
couple of good licks in the shins with its tail, however, before I got
it killed."

Walter rose in his indignation, "Why didn't you tell me at the start
that it was alligator meat," he demanded, "I would not have eaten a
mouthful of it."

"And you'd gone hungry to bed," said his chum with a chuckle. "You'd
have let your prejudice cheat you out of a good meal. It tastes all
right, don't it."

"Yes," Walter admitted, ruefully, "and, now that I've eaten some of it,
I might as well keep right on eating."

"Wise lad," Charley approved. "Let me tell you there are lots worse
things than alligator steaks when one is hungry."

The steaks disposed of, the boys attacked the roasted meat and
palmetto cabbage with such vigorous appetites that there was but little
left when their hunger was at last appeased.

"Pretty slim show for breakfast," said Charley, ruefully, as he eyed
the scanty remains. "Let's see if we can't fix up some way to catch
something during the night."

The plan which they finally decided upon to accomplish this was very
simple. With their sharp knives, they whittled out several sets of
figure-four setters, and, dragging several small logs just outside the
circle of firelight, they placed a figure-four setter under an end of
each and baited the triggers with bits of meat left from their supper.
An animal nosing around after the bait would be sure to spring the
setter and cause the log to descend upon it.

"We will surely get a coon or opossum before morning," Charley
declared. "Animals have lots of curiosity and some of them are sure to
be attracted by the light of our camp-fire. The smell of the cooked
meat will attract them also."

This last task completed, the boys stretched themselves on their soft
couches before the cheery fire whose rays danced and flickered amongst
the leafy greenness of their shelter. It was a cozy, cheery little
camp and the two lads lay long awake, talking hopefully with the
cheery optimism that waits upon a hearty supper and healthy vigorous
youth. When at last they fell asleep, it was with confident hope of a
successful morrow.

It seemed to Walter that he had barely fallen asleep when he was
struggling in that nightmare state which lies halfway between slumber
and entire wakefulness. He struggled pantingly for breath, but every
breath he drew seemed to stifle him. Oppressed with black horror, he
fought his way back to consciousness. But wakefulness brought small
relief. The air was heavy with a stench that nauseated and sickened him.

Charley, crouched beside the fire, was holding his nose with one hand,
his face expressing unutterable disgust.

"What in the world is the matter?" Walter demanded.

"One of our traps worked," announced his chum, grimly. "It's only a
little skunk, but my, what a big smell."

"I should say so," Walter agreed. "We can't stay here. We'll have to
move camp."

"I second the motion to adjourn," said his chum, solemnly.

No time was lost in debating the question and the lads quickly took
their departure from their cozy camp. They made their way cautiously
along the edge of the hammock until the raucous odor was left behind,
then they halted and built another fire.

"The measly little varmint," said Walter, wrathfully, as they crouched
beside the blaze. "He's gone and cheated us out of a good night's
sleep."

"Oh, it isn't as bad as all that," said his chum, cheerfully. "It's
nearly morning now. See, there's the morning star in the East.
Besides," he added, whimsically, "That poor little fellow isn't to
blame. He didn't ask us to set a trap for him. I bet he regrets the
accident as much as we do." Then throwing back his head he sang in his
clear tenor voice, "Driven From Home."

As the humor of the incident dawned upon Walter, he burst into laughter
in which he was joined by his fun-loving chum.

It was too near morning to consider selecting another shelter so the
two sat beside the fire until day broke, then they made their way back
to the camp to examine their traps. All were sprung, but, outside of
the skunk, the only victims were an opossum and a coon which they bore
back to their new fire. The opossum they broiled and ate for breakfast
while the coon they roasted to carry along with them for dinner.

Sunrise found them once more on the march headed South.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

JUDSON.[A]


BY noon the two lads estimated that they must have come at least twenty
miles from where they had left the captain and Chris, and, if the old
sailor had been right in his reckoning, they could not be far from
their objective point, the town of Judson. They began now to keep a
sharp watch ahead and ere long were rewarded by the sight of a low
black line projecting out from the marsh ahead. A closer approach
resolved the low black line into a long, shaky, decrepit wharf, its
piling rotting from age and neglect and its timbers and planking fast
falling into decay. On the mainland back of the marsh a few rude
cabins, each at least a half a mile distant from its nearest neighbor,
rose from the middles of wide neglected fields. One lone, aged sloop
rode at anchor near the wharf. The little port and the hamlet itself
seemed to wear an air of deadly decay, sadness and gloom.

"Not a very cheerful or prosperous-looking place," Charley observed as
they clambered up on the wharf and made their way ashore over its shaky
timbers.

"No," his chum agreed, "but I am thankful to reach it, poor as it is.
My feet are getting sore from tramping over these rocks, I can tell
you."

At the shore end of the dock the two paused long enough to take a more
careful survey of the place.

"I declare it looks as though it was deserted or all the inhabitants
dead," Walter said nervously, "See how the roads are all grown up with
weeds as though they were never used. There is no sign of anyone about
either."

"Just notice those cabins," his chum exclaimed, "They look just
like the pictures I have seen of houses the first settlers used to
build during the Indian times. They are built of great logs and have
loopholes like the forts of those days. What a queer place!"

"Well, there's smoke coming from the chimney of that nearest cabin, and
there seems to be someone working out in the field by it," said Walter
with a sigh of relief. "I was beginning to think it was an abandoned
village."

The two bent their steps towards the cabin indicated. It was set in
a square clearing of about twenty acres, that was surrounded by a
strip of pine woods which separated it from its nearest neighbor. As
they drew nearer, they could see a man at work near the cabin. He was
ploughing up the ground with a rude plow hitched to a yoke of oxen.

As the boys stepped out of the road into the clearing, they were
greeted by savage barks, and a pack of dogs lolling around the cabin
woke into sudden life and came tearing towards them.

The man at the plough let go the handles and sprang into the cabin. The
next minute a rifle barrel protruded from one of the loopholes, "Halt
right where you-all is," called a voice from behind the rifle.

"Call off your dogs," shouted Charley, as he and Walter, snatching up a
couple of sticks, endeavored to keep the growling, snapping curs at bay.

"Who are you-alls an' what do you want?" demanded the holder of the
rifle.

"We were shipwrecked twenty-five miles up the coast. We want supplies
and help to bring in two companions, one of whom is badly hurt,"
answered Charley.

"Come closer an' let me have a good look at you-all," commanded the
cabin's occupant, "Here yu Bet, yu Tige, yu Jim, be still thar," he
called to the snarling pack which slunk growling away at his harsh
commands.

The boys drew near the cabin in obedience to his order. A brief survey
of them seemed to convince its owner that they were not what he feared.
The cabin door was flung open, and, rifle in hand, he appeared in the
doorway.

"Come in you-alls an' have a cheer," he invited. "I'll jis' unhitch
them oxen an' then, while I'm rustling up a bit of supper, you-alls can
give me your story."

The tired, hungry boys accepted his invitation with alacrity, and,
while he was busy unharnessing the yoke of steers, they seated
themselves in a couple of rude home-made chairs, and gazed curiously
about them.

The cabin was about twenty feet square. Its rough log walls were
whitewashed, and its pine-slab floor spotlessly clean. At one end
was a big old-fashioned fireplace from the rafters above which hung
home-cured hams, slabs of bacon, and strings of sausages. A barrel
in a corner was heaped high with huge, sweet, sugary yams. Several
boxes beside it were heaped with onions, cabbages, carrots, pumpkins,
and other vegetables. In another corner stood a barrel of home-ground
corn meal and a big hogshead of water. Taken all in all, the little
cabin's interior was a sight to fill the two hungry lads with satisfied
anticipation. They had hardly completed their survey of it when their
strange host entered latching and bolting the heavy door behind him.

He was a man about forty years of age, strongly built, but sallow
with the sallowness of the native Floridian. His face was kindly in
expression but stamped on its every line was a look of uneasiness and
apprehension. It was not an expression of fear but rather the look of
a brave man who was simply on his guard every moment against expected
dangers.

"I sho' have got to ask you-all to excuse me fur the way I dun greeted
you," he apologized, "but, you see, strangers are mighty scarse around
hyar an' one has to be plum' careful. I'se powerful glad to see a new
face though--it's been mighty nigh two years since I had talk with a
stranger. I reckon, you-alls must be some hungry. I'll rustle up a
little supper while you-all gives me your tale."

With a deftness that indicated long batching experience, he cut great
slices of ham and placed them to broil over the coals, mixed a pone
of corn bread and put it to bake in a Dutch oven, and buried a dozen
big yams to roast among the embers. While he was thus engaged, Charley
related the story of their voyage and shipwreck omitting only any
mention of the gold. His story was frequently interrupted by his host's
exclamations, "I swan, an' dew tell." When the lad had finished, the
stranger beamed upon him with evident pleasure. "I swan, hit's jis'
like a novel I read once," he declared, "hit was writ by a fellow
called Russell, Clark Russell, if I don't disremember his name. I don't
reckon his story was true though. I 'lows he just made it up outer his
head--but the vittals is ready now, you-alls jis' back up to the table
thar an' helps yourselves."

The hungry boys needed no second invitation but fell to work on the
tender juicy ham and sugary yams with hearty appetites while their host
as he ate, watched them with evident pleasure at their enjoyment. When
all had finished, he put away the dishes, filled his corn-cob pipe, and
leaned back in his chair against the wall.

"You-alls can't go back to whar yu left the captain an' the little
nigger to-night, noways," he observed.

"No," Charley agreed, "but we would like to start back early in the
morning if we can get a wagon or a boat."

"Thar ain't no fitten road for a wagon leading up the coast," observed
their host. "I owns that little sloop anchored down thar by the dock. I
reckon, you-alls could make out with her. I don't reckon them Wrights
would stop you-alls from going if they understood jis' how things
stood. I don't 'low they would be so pesky pisen mean as all that.
I'd like to go with you-alls an' see that ole captain an' that little
nigger, I sho' would."

"We would like to have you go with us," said Walter, eagerly. "Why
can't you?"

"'Cause I don't ever expect to leave this hyar cabin alive," said his
host, calmly.

The boys stared at him in uneasy astonishment.

"No, I ain't crazy," said the man quietly. "Hush, jis' lis'en' a bit."

A long prolonged growl came from one of the dogs outside. The man arose
and taking up his rifle stepped over to the loophole beckoning to the
lads to follow. The moon lit up the little clearing almost as light as
day. The dogs were moving around outside, sniffing and uttering low
growls.

The boys could see nothing unusual in the clearing but they felt a
sense of danger in the very air. Their host's eyes, more accustomed to
the surroundings than their own, evidently detected something ominous
in one of the shadows thrown out from the belt of pines. He thrust
the barrel of his rifle out through the loophole and the next instant
its sharp crack rent the stillness of the night. The lurking shadow
vanished amongst the pines with a whoop of defiance.

Their host pulled in his rifle, "A plum' miss," he said, disgustedly,
"Wall, the war is on for fair now. Better outen that light an' draw
your cheers up by the fire an' I'll tell you'alls about hit."

FOOTNOTE:

[A] This account of Judson is the description of a little West Florida
town as it actually has been, and is to-day. Nineteen of its scanty
population have died by a fierce war. The author has only changed the
first letter of the town's real name.



CHAPTER XXIX.

THE FEUD.


"THAR ain't no call to keep watch at the loopholes," said their host
as the alarmed lads' glances kept wandering towards the dark openings.
"The dogs will tell we-alls if anyone tries to come near the cabin." He
leaned back in his chair in silence for a few minutes gazing into the
heart of the fire whose flickering rays lit up his bronzed, thoughtful,
kindly face.

"Hit all began years ago when I warn't but a little bit of a shaver,"
he began, quietly. "Judson was a right-prosperous, happy, contented,
little place, then. Thar was mighty nigh a hundred people living in
the town, an' in the woods nigh about hyar. Each family had hit's own
little cabin an' farm an' raised all hit's own living of meat, corn,
taters, an' sugar cane, an' each family had hit's patch of cotton
with which they bought what things they needed that they didn't raise
themselves. We had a right tidy little schoolhouse. I went to hit two
terms when I was a little shaver," he said with evident pride, "an'
I learned how to read an' write pretty well--the reading's been a
heap of company to me during the years since then. Each family had a
plenty to eat an' wear, an' thar warn't none that you could call real
poor people like I hearn tell you-alls have in the North. We used to
have dances and barbecues, an' picnics an' a right sociable time. The
town was started by two families, the Turners an' the Wrights--I'm
a Turner,--an' all the people about was kin to one or the other
family, which made everybody friendly and sociable with each other.
Hit was jis' a little Eden on earth, this place, 'till the serpent
came twisting an' crawlin' in. The devil must have sho' had a hand in
making some of the men folks believe that the Good Lord intended the
honest corn they raised for anything but food for man an' beast. Yes,
I reckon, hit sho' must have been ole Satan that made a few of the
Turners an' Wrights get together an' start a little whiskey still over
thar in the woods yonder. The womin folks was again hit from the start,
as, bless their hearts, they've always been again the cursed stuff. Hit
was Christmas week that the still was started goin', an' Christmas Eve
the ones running hit gave a big barbecue at the still to celebrate it.
Most everyone went, as they always did to doin's in the neighborhood.
Even my daddy an' two brothers, Ben an' Abe, went to see the fun as
they called hit, but mammy she was a good, religious woman, she staid
at home an' kept me with her. She would have liked to keep the other
boys with her too, but they had grown out of her control as boys
sometimes do." His bronzed face grew sadly thoughtful, as he continued,
"I recollect, I cried because I couldn't go too, but mother sang to me
an' tole me stories--mother was a powerful hand at telling the kind of
stories boys like an' I soon quit cryin' an' went to sleep quiet an'
happy with mother singing to me. Hit was the last time I ever heard
mammy sing. I reckon hit was 'bout midnight when a noise woke me up.
The door had been flung open--hit was never locked in them days--an'
father an' Abe came rushin' in. Father's face was white as a sheet
an' I'll never forget the look on mammy's face. Hit seemed as if she
knowed without a word from daddy what had happened. Thar was a curious
tremble in her voice as she asked, 'Whar's Ben?' At the sound of her
voice father broke down an' sobbed like a child. 'He's dead,' he cried.
'They've killed my boy Ben. Those Wrights have killed my boy Ben.'"

The man paused as the recollection of that terrible scene crowded his
mind, while the two lads looked at each other with sympathetic horror.

"No one seemed to know just how the trouble started," went on their
host, quietly. "All hands had taken a little too much liquor, there had
been a few hot words, a blow, an' Ben had keeled over with a knife in
his side. Then the fightin' started between the kin of both families,
an' daddy an' Abe had run home to git their guns. Sore at heart as
mammy was, she begged 'em not to shed no more blood but to leave it
to the cotes, for mammy, as I have said, was a religious woman. But
both Wrights and Turners came first from the mountains of Kentucky
whar man don't go to law again' man but settles his quarrels with his
rifle, An' so the blood-feud began. Thar was more than Ben killed that
night,--Wrights as well as Turners. When all had sobered up from the
liquor thar came a kind of lull or truce, but war always bruk out again
when either families got to drinkin'. They got Abe the followin' year,
but not 'fore he had shot a couple of Wrights. Hit was three years
afore they got father. Mother, she pined away an' died soon after they
got him. I think she was kinder glad to go, such things are wearin' on
a woman. An' so the killin's been goin' on ever since by spells when
the liquor gets to flowin'. I am the only Turner alive, now, though
thar's a few of my kin still scattered around hyar. I've been shot at
a powerful lot of times, but, I reckon, I've been lucky. Then too,
they ain't none of them hunted me so powerful hard, for I ain't took
no part in any of the killin's. I've shot a couple of times to scare
them away but not to kill. My own kin 'lows that I'm poor-spirited, but
somehow or other, I can't forget the look on mammy's face the night
Ben was killed. I don't want to be the cause of puttin' no such look
on any woman's face. I've knowed all these years though that my time
must come sooner or later. I heard to-day that the Wrights have got in
a lot of liquor from Tarpon Springs an' they are sayin' that the last
Turner has got to be wiped out of Judson. So, I got me in a store of
water an' grub an' fixed to lay low for awhile. I may be able to hold
out until their liquor is gone an' the danger is past, but I reckon hit
doan' make so powerful much of difference. They air plum' sho' to get
me sooner or later. Wall, that's the story, young fellows, hit's been
a right smart relief to have someone sympathetic to tell hit to. Don't
you worry none though. As soon as comes mornin' I'll hist a flag of
truce an' arrange to have you fellows let out peaceful. You can take
my boat an' go after your captain an' that little nigger, but I sho'
advise you not to stop hyar on youah way back. Keep right on to Tarpon
Springs. Some of my kin folks kin bring the sloop back from thar."

"You are very good," Charley exclaimed. "But tell me why you have never
left this awful place. There are hundreds of places where you could
have made as good a living and been free from dread and worry."

"Mammy's grave is out thar among them pines," said the man, simply,
"an' daddy's, an' Ben's, an' Abe's, then, atter all, this place is
home, no other place could be that."

"I see," said Charley, much abashed.

"I am proud to have met you, Mr. Turner," declared Walter, warmly. "I
think you are a noble man."

"No? I sho' reckon you is mistaken," said the man in surprise. "Me
noble? I reckon not. My own kin 'lows I'm mighty poor-spirited 'cause I
won't take no hand in the killin'."

"I don't care a cent what your kin says," began Walter, hotly, but he
was interrupted by the crack of a rifle, the whistle of a bullet, and
the howl of a dog outside.

His host winced as if the bullet had struck his own body. "They've
killed Bet," he cried. "Bet, what I raised from a little bit of puppy.
They hadn't ought to go an' shoot a poor defenceless, dumb animal, hit
ain't right. My God, be they goin' to kill all my poor faithful dawgs,"
he cried, as another shot rang out followed by another pitiless howl.

Rifle shot followed rifle shot while the man stood trembling with eyes
flashing as he listened to the whining of the animals outside. At last,
heedless of the bullets pattering against the logs, he flung the door
wide open and called to the hounds. They came crowding in, a whining,
mangy, ill-looking pack, but disreputable as they were, they had been
the man's only friends through his lonely years and the two lads
respected him for his act.

As soon as he had bolted the door again, he rummaged in a corner and
brought out three rifles. He handed one to each of the boys. "I reckon,
we'll have to watch at the loopholes now the dawgs air inside," he said
quietly. "You-alls can take the ones at the ends, I'll tend to the
sides. Be right careful 'bout standin' in front of 'em, a bullet might
pass through. An' don't shoot to kill if you can help it."

"An' his kin people call that man poor-spirited," whispered Walter in
wonder to his chum as they took up their positions.



CHAPTER XXX.

BESIEGED.


THE boys had little opportunity for conversation in their new rôle as
guards, being separated from each other by the length of the cabin.
Strange as was the position in which they found themselves, they felt
but little fear. The massive logs of which the cabin was constructed
bid defiance to the entry of a bullet, and neither of them could
believe that the affair would amount to more than a few shots being
fired at the building while the attacking party was under the influence
of the liquor they had drank. They believed that with the coming of
day the feudalists would disband and retire to their homes, while they
would be free to return to the rescue of their friends on the island.
Nevertheless, they were not going to take any chances in the duties as
sentinels. They stood well to one side of their loopholes and peeped
out at the little clearing plainly visible in the bright moonlight.

"I reckon they can't see to shot through the loopholes, but you-alls
want to keep youah bodies out of line with them," cautioned Mr. Turner.
"Hit mought be that a stray bullet would pass through one of them. An'
don't either of you young fellows fire 'less you jes' have to. You
doan't want to get mixed up in this hyar quarrel. If yu' jis' naturally
have to shoot, aim low an' give it to 'em in the laigs."

"There seems to be several of them gathering together at the edge of
the woods," called Charley anxiously. "Here they come straight for the
house!"

His host darted to his side. "They've got a long pole an' air aiming to
batter down the door," he announced. "Keep back, boys, an' let me do
the talking an' shootin', if thar's got to be any."

But the boys crowded close to his side, eager to view the coming
attack.

There were about a dozen men in the approaching party and they advanced
at a rapid trot, bearing between them a huge pine log.

"Halt whar you air," commanded Turner when they had approached to
within sixty feet of the house. "If you-alls come any closer meanin'
trouble, someone is goin' to get hurt."

There were enough of timid spirits in the party to cause a halt in the
advance.

"We're goin' to get youah hide this time, Bill Turner," shouted
the foremost of the gang, a big, heavily-whiskered man. "Hit's a
disgrace on us Wrights to have one of youah name livin' still in this
settlement. You're goin' to be done for this time."

"Now, I ain't done nothin' to you-alls in all these years," said Turner
quietly and argumentatively. "You ain't got no cause to come 'round
hectoring me."

"More shame for you," shouted the big man. "We're goin' to do you,
first, 'cause you're a Turner, second, 'cause you've been too
poor-spirited all these years to put up a man's fight."

"Pears lak hit needs a powerful lot of yu to do fo' one, lone,
mean-spirited critter," said Turner, mildly.

The big man stamped his foot with rage. "Hit don't take none but me,"
he roared. "Yu come out hyar an' we'll have it out, man to man."

"I ain't a-doubting you're courage, Jim Wright," returned the other,
slowly, "but I ain't aimin' to hurt no man 'less I have to. Besides, if
I did get the best of yu, all the rest of youah gang would come down on
me. Jes' keep away from my cabin, that's all I've got to say."

"Come on, boys," roared the leader. "He's too mean-spirited to hurt a
fly. He can't shoot all of us, anyway."

There was some hesitation, but his fellows, evidently, believed that
the man inside would not fire. Under the urging of their leader they
picked up the log and started on a run for the door.

But they quickly discovered their mistake. From the loophole shot
out quick jets of flame as the man inside worked the lever of his
Winchester. The log dropped unheeded to the ground as its bearers
broke for the cover of the woods. Some were not able to run but limped
away groaning with pain. After the fleeing ones strode the big leader,
cursing them for cowards and imploring them to return to the assault.

"I don't reckon I've hurt any one of them very much," Turner remarked,
as he slipped more shells into his rifle. "I jes' aimed for their
laigs."

"Thank God, it has all ended without loss of life," Charley said
earnestly, but his host shook his head.

"Hit ain't ended, hit's jes' begun, Jim Wright ain't one to be scart
out by a little lead. He don't know what fear is. If he can't get none
of 'em to come back with him, he'll come back alone. I wish you young
fellows were safe outer hyar, but it won't do for you to try to leave
now. Crazy drunk, like them fellows is, hit wouldn't be safe for you.
Maybe by morning they'll be sobered up enough to listen to reason."

In spite of his words, the boys were hopeful that the night would pass
off without further trouble, but they were soon undeceived. Half an
hour had not passed when the big leader emerged from the woods followed
by a half a dozen of his fellow feudalists.

His followers halted by the fallen log but he advanced boldly direct
for the loophole.

"Keep away, for Gawd's sake, keep away, Jim," Turner implored. "I don't
want to have to shoot you."

"Hit's you or me this time!" shouted the other, "The sun don't rise on
no living Turner in this town."

"Keep back," warned Turner, thrusting his rifle through the loophole,
but even in his desperate situation, the boys, crowded close beside
him, and could see that he aimed only at the legs of the advancing man.

Ruffian though he was, the other was not without brute courage. He
never paused in his advance. "Shoot," he shouted as he whipped out a
pistol, "Shoot, that's what I want yu to do."

The two reports came almost together, but the pistol shot was a
fraction of a second ahead of the other. Like a fire-swept weed Turner
crumpled to the floor, his rifle exploding as he fell.

The big man clapped one hand to his side and fell to the ground.

With the report of his rifle, his followers had grabbed up the log and
rushed for the door, but Charley had been quick to see the danger.
Snatching up the rifle from the fallen man, he fired at the moving
legs as fast as he could work the lever. The whistling lead was more
than the assaulters could stand. Three dropped their hold on the log
and limped hurriedly for cover while their fellows, deprived of their
aid, could no longer sustain the heavy timber, which sank again to the
ground while they hastened after their wounded companions.

The boys watched them in silence until they entered the woods then
Charley set down the rifle.

"I don't think they will be back right away again," he said. "Anyway,
we have got to risk a light. Perhaps Mr. Turner is not dead."

With hands that trembled with excitement Walter struck a match and lit
the lamp, then, the two boys lifted the prostrate man and laid him upon
the bed. "Keep watch at the loophole while I see if anything can be
done for him," Charley commanded.

The man's shirt was matted with blood and the lad did not attempt
to take it off, but cut it away with his sheath knife, exposing the
white chest in the center of which gapped a horrible hole. "He's badly
wounded," he announced after a careful examination of the wound.
"There's two holes, one in his chest and one in his side. I believe the
bullet struck a rib and glanced, coming out at his side. If so, he will
pull through if I can only stop the blood flowing. I'll have to keep
this lamp lit for awhile even it is risky. I'll be as quick as I can."

There was little in the rude cabin with which to do in such a case,
but the resourceful lad made the best of the situation, working with
feverish speed so as to be able to extinguish the lamp as soon as
possible. First, he washed out the wash basin thoroughly and filling it
with clean water from the barrel added to the water a generous handful
of salt. With this he washed the ugly-looking wound, then tearing into
pieces a fresh sheet he found lying on a shelf, he made a little wad
of rags with which, after soaking them in salt water, he plugged up
the gaping hole. Over this he bound wet strips of the sheet to hold it
securely in place. He was rewarded for his labor by seeing that the
flow of blood was quickly checked and soon ceased entirely. As soon as
he made certain of this, he extinguished the light and crept to his
chum's side.

"I think he will pull out all right," he announced. "He is unconscious
yet, and when he does come to he'll be very weak from loss of blood.
Have you seen any more of those fellows?"

"They're still in the woods around the clearing. Listen and you'll hear
their voices every now and then."

"Has the man who was shot moved any?"

"No, he lays just as he fell. I guess he's dead."

"It's a horrible affair," said Charley with a shudder. "I'll never
forget this night. It has put us in a bad fix. We can't leave here now,
and I don't like the way the wind is coming up. If there's a heavy
storm, the captain and Chris will be in danger, it wouldn't take a very
heavy sea to cover that marsh. Just listen how it's blowing."

Walter seemed not to hear what his chum was saying. He stood staring
out at the still figure stretched on the ground. "He hasn't moved, but
maybe he isn't dead," he said at last. "Perhaps, he is bleeding to
death and a little attention might save his life."

"You're right," Charley exclaimed. "We must bring him in."



CHAPTER XXXI.

THE ENEMIES.


IT was a risky thing to attempt. To venture outside would be to expose
themselves in the bright moonlight to the bullets of the feudalists,
but the two plucky lads never hesitated. The body lay not a dozen steps
from the cabin and it would not do to let his fellows approach that
close to the little fort. Either they must save him themselves, if he
was not already dead, or leave him to die alone in the night.

"We must be quick about it," Charley declared. "As soon as I unlatch
the door, we must run out, grab him by the shoulders, and drag him
in--he's too heavy to lift."

In this bold move fortune seemed to favor the lads. They got their
heavy burden to the door before a shot was fired and, then, the bullets
whistled harmlessly above their heads.

"We were lucky that time," Charley panted as he barred the door again.
"Now keep a sharp lookout. I'll have to light that lamp again."

"This fellow is not so very badly hurt," he announced, as soon as he
had examined his new patient. "The bullet has gone right through the
fleshy part of his shoulder. He will come out of it all right if the
wound is kept clean." In a few minutes he had washed and dressed the
wound as he had the other man's, then, putting out the light once more,
he rejoined his companion at the loophole. "Anything stirring?" he
inquired.

"No, I don't even hear their voices now. Perhaps they will not bother
us again to-night," Walter replied, hopefully.

"I am not worrying about them as much as I am this wind," said his chum
gloomily. "We are safe enough here so long as the grub and water holds
out, but, God knows how it is faring with Chris and the captain."

The gale was now howling and whistling around the little cabin with a
force to justify Charley's gloomy apprehension. The boys had to speak
loudly to make themselves heard above its uproar. They soon abandoned
all attempts at conversation and waited wearily and silently for
another assault from the feudalists and for the coming of day.

Either the ruffians had at last become over-powered by the liquor they
had drank or else they had decided to wait the coming of day, for they
did not again show themselves in the clearing. Day, however, came at
last, after what seemed to the exhausted lads an age of waiting.

As soon as it became light enough to see, Charley removed the bandages
from their stricken host and redressed his wound more carefully. "His
pulse is getting stronger and there is some color in his face," he
remarked to his chum. "I believe, I could bring him to, but I guess
it's best to let him lie unconscious as long as he can. He will suffer
enough when he does regain consciousness."

As soon as he finished with Turner, Charley turned to his other
patient who was beginning to move uneasily and show signs of returning
consciousness. While he was yet bathing his wound the man opened his
eyes.

"Gosh! how my shoulder hurts," he growled. "Be mighty careful how you
touch it, young fellow, or I'll skin you alive."

Charley set aside the basin of water and rising to his feet looked down
on the fellow with a face full of scorn.

"You great, big, drunken, cowardly murderer," he exclaimed. "It's a
pity that bullet didn't kill you. You are not fit to live on God's
green earth. You're shot when trying, with a crowd of your fellows, to
kill a lone, inoffensive man. Your friends don't think enough of you to
come back and get your carcass. We bring you in and care for you and
instead of thanks, your first words are a growl and a threat. You are a
cowardly, disgraceful cur,--that's what you are."

Astonished rage filled the man's face. "No man ever said words like
that to Jim Wright and lived," he gasped. He attempted to rise but was
too weak to gain his feet, and sank back with a groan.

"Oh, I guess you won't do any killing for a little while," sneered
Charley, whose anger was at white heat. "I've no doubt people have
been afraid to tell you the truth before, but you are going to hear
it for once in your life. I've no doubt with your strength and
disposition you've bullied everything until they are afraid to do
anything but flatter you, but, now you are going to take a dose of your
own medicine." Then, seating himself just out of reach of the man's
powerful arms, he proceeded to tell him what he thought of him in words
that stung with contempt and scorn. Then, as his anger subsided, he
repeated the story Turner had told him, contrasting Turner's quiet,
patient, peaceful heroism with the other's blood-thirstiness and
violence, with all the power of the earnestness he felt.

At first the man kept interrupting him with curses and abuse, but as
he went calmly on ignoring the interruptions the fellow lay quiet, his
face turned to the wall.

Once Charley stopped, thinking he might have fainted he lay so still,
but he spoke up gruffly.

"Did I kill him?"

"No, but it's not your fault that you didn't," the lad replied, curtly,
and went on with his arraignment. "I don't care a hang what you and
your cowardly fellows think," he concluded, "all decent people would
say that that poor fellow lying there is a brave hero while you are the
mean-spirited, cowardly one. And, now, if you'll lie quiet and keep
your mouth shut, I'll dress that wound. I hate to pollute my hands by
touching you, but it's got to be done."

The man lay quiet while the lad washed and bound up his wound. Charley
could see that his features were working convulsively, but whether from
rage or pain he could not determine.

As soon as his task was completed, Charley relieved his chum at the
loophole and Walter set about making coffee and cooking some breakfast.
They were both sadly in need of food and felt much better after they
had eaten. As soon as they had finished, Charley made his chum lie down
to take a nap, promising to call him, and lie down himself in a couple
of hours.

While Walter was asleep Turner came out of the deep swoon which had
followed his wound. He was weak and in terrible pain but in full
possession of his senses. It was evident that he was greatly bewildered
at the sight of his enemy lying helpless on the floor, and Charley
explained the situation to him in a few words.

"I sho' am glad I didn't kill him," said the sick man, thankfully. "I
jes' shot at his laigs, the gun must have gone off when I fell. I am
sho' sorry I hurt you so bad, Jim, I didn't aim for to do hit."

But Wright kept his face turned to the wall and answered not a word.

As the morning advanced Charley was much puzzled by the constant sound
of hammering coming from the woods near the clearing. It was evident
their enemies were preparing another surprise but he could not guess at
its nature.

All the morning long the hammering continued, then shortly before noon
there emerged from the woods an object which caused him at first, to
stare in bewildered surprise, and, then, as it drew nearer the cabin to
send him to shaking Walter, whom he had let sleep on.

"Wake up! Wake up!" he cried. "We have got to fight for our lives.
Those fellows have built a heavy breastwork on the front of a wagon and
are shoving it ahead of them up to the cabin."

"Young fellows! help me up and help me to that loophole," gruffly
commanded the wounded man on the floor. "Don't hesitate," he cried as
the lad was about to refuse the surprising command, "them fellows have
got a couple of sticks of dynamite in that cart an' if they get near
enough to throw it thar won't be enough left of this cabin to make a
good toothpick. We was aiming to use it last night if we couldn't get
Turner no other way."

Between them the two startled lads got the big fellow on his feet and
supported him to the loophole where he leaned against the logs, his
face twitching with the pain of his effort.

It was just in time, for the wagon with its burden of death was scarce
a hundred feet away when he shouted: "Stop where yer are, boys. Thar
ain't no call to throw any of that stuff."

"Is that you, Cap?" called one of the men. "Why, we 'lowed yer was
dead."

"An' I might have been for all of yu fellows, leaving me to die on the
ground like a poisoned dog."

He paused while a chorus of excuses came from the men behind the
breastwork.

"Well, I ain't dead, but it ain't no thanks to yu fellows," he went on
slowly and painfully. "Now, yu fellows jes' roll that wagon back whar
hit came from an' go home and behave yerselves. Yu fellows know me
an' know I'll do what I say. Hit's jes' come to me, an' hit's come in
a powerful rough way, that I've been powerful mean, pisen an' onery.
My eyes am sho' opened at last, an' I'm powerful ashamed of how I've
been carryin' on. But hit's all over now. From now on Bill Turner is
my friend, an' the man that lifts a finger again' him lifts it again'
me, an' me an' my close kin will make this place too hot to hold him.
That's all I've got to say. Now, go home."

Murmurs of astonishment arose from the men behind the wagon as they
slowly but obediently backed the wagon towards the woods. Over the face
of the wounded man on the bed stole a look of joy unspeakable.

The bewildered but delighted boys helped Wright back to his place on
the floor.

"I want to shake hands with you, Mr. Wright," said Charley, earnestly.
"I am afraid I talked pretty rough to you."

"I needed hit," said the other as he took the proffered hand. "Hit's a
pity, young fellow, that thar ain't more like yu down in this neck of
thar woods."



CHAPTER XXXII.

THE CASTAWAYS AGAIN.


LEAVING the boys safe from the danger that had threatened them, let us
return to the castaways whom we left confronted by that menace, the
most grewsome of all to shipwrecked sailors, the lack of water.

The sponger captain needed no explanation but the captain's simple
words to realize the terrible tortures and awful death that awaited
them all if help in some shape did not soon come to their rescue. His
bronzed face grew white beneath it's coat of tan.

"I am frightfully thirsty, already," he exclaimed, "Is there no way we
can reach the mainland. Thar's water in plenty thar."

"If we were birds or fish, we might get thar, I reckon," replied
Captain Westfield, "but, being as we are only human beings, I calculate
it ain't no way possible."

The Conch eyed the raging water that stretched between the little
island and the shore.

"A strong swimmer might make it," he observed, musingly. "I've swum
farther many a time but it was when I was in a sight better shape than
I am now."

"Yes, I reckon a right powerful swimmer might make it," assented the
captain, "but this little fellow and I are not equal to it, we'd never
reach the land."

"I believe I could do it even now," said the sponger calculatingly,
"but I won't desert yo' two Yo' saved my life an' I'd be worse than a
Greek to leave yo' here."

"If you can do it, go ahead, man," said the old sailor. "You can't do
us any good by staying. Better save your own life," but the Conch shook
his head sadly.

"My life ain't worth much, now," he said sadly. "My little ship's
gone, all my brave comrades drowned, an' everything I had in the world
lost. I've not much to live for now."

"Bosh, man," said the old sailor, "I reckon, thar's always something
for a man to live for as long as the Good Lord let him live. If thar
wasn't the Lord wouldn't let him live."

But the Conch was not to be comforted, the full extent of his loss was
beginning to make itself felt as he regained his strength and the full
possession of his senses after his terrible ordeal. He soon moved a
little apart from the two castaways, and, seating himself on the sand
buried his face in his hands. The two watchers could see the tears
trickling between his fingers and they turned away greatly moved at
that most impressive of sights, the grief of a strong man, ashamed of
displaying his tears. When they looked again he was on his knees and
his bowed head showed that he was praying. When he rejoined them, his
manner was filled with the calm and quietness of one who has found
peace for his afflictions.

"I see there is no wood here with which to build a raft," he observed.
"Things look pretty bad, but they say the darkest hour is just before
the dawn. We must take courage. Yo'r young friends may return with help
at any hour."

The captain shook his head sadly. "Something has happened to them or
they would have been back long ago. They cannot return now until the
storm is over."

"It cannot last much longer," declared the Conch, confidently. "It is
losing force now, I believe it will blow out by morning."

"Maybe, but it will take a long time for the sea to go down so a boat
can live in it, and, in the meantime we have no water."

"We must not give way to despair," said the Conch, who seemed like
another man after his devotions. "Let's dig another well right in the
midst of the island, perhaps we can get water fit to drink."

With but little hope the three fell to work and by noon had dug a hole
to water, but they had only their labor for their pains, the water
was salt, bitter, and undrinkable. Indeed their labor was worse than
fruitless for their exertions had greatly increased their thirst.

Chris kindled a fire and roasted some of the turtle meat and eggs, but
the castaways only partook of a few mouthfuls, as eating seemed but to
increase their thirst.

The Conch had lost his hat when wrecked and Chris, observing his bare
head, set about braiding him another hat from the green palmetto leaves.

The Sponger watched him with interest. "Do yo' think yo' could make a
water-tight mat of that stuff?" he enquired, eagerly.

"Golly! I reckon, dis nigger could," declared the little darkey. "I'se
done made baskets ob hit dat would hold water like a bucket."

"How long would it take yo' to make a mat four feet square?"

The little negro considered, "I guess I could do hit in a day."

"Then drop that hat business and get to work on hit. Work like yo'
never did before. There's a chance, jes' a chance, that it will be the
saving of us. Captain, there is work for us to do. Get the entrails out
of one of those turtle shells. Clean them out good, pack them full of
sand, and stretch them out in the sun to dry. I've got a plan in mind.
It may fail, but it's worth trying. Be careful not to break the skins."

It was evident from the man's manner that he was intensely in earnest
and the old sailor lost no time in asking idle questions but went
quickly to work at the task assigned him. In a short time he had
cleaned and washed out the turtle entrails and filling them with dry
sand stretched them out to dry in the hot sun. When thus prepared they
formed a kind of small hose some thirty feet in length.

While he was thus engaged, the Conch dragged the empty shell down to
the water and cleaned and washed it out thoroughly. Leaving it near
the water's edge, he collected and piled close beside it, a heap of
dry wood. Then he returned to where Chris was working and fell to
helping him by stripping and preparing the palmetto buds for the little
darkey's nimble fingers.

Just before sundown he carefully removed the sand from the dried
entrails and was in possession of a long, tough waterproof hose without
hole or break in it.

Night brought no cessation of the strange labor. A fire was kindled
beside the little darkey and he plaited on by its light while the
captain and the Conch kept him supplied with palmetto strips.

About midnight Chris held up his work with a weary sigh; "Hit's done,"
he announced.

"Now for the test," cried the Conch, trembling with excitement.

Taking the strong, flexible, green mat he hurried down to the turtle
shell which he had filled half full of sea water. Placing the mat
over the top of the shell, he bound it firmly in place with wisps of
palmetto leaves. Then, cutting a small hole in the center of the mat,
he inserted in it one end of the strange hose, packing wet sand around
it to make it air-tight. He next coiled down the hose in the edge of
the sea and placed the other end of it in the empty turtle shell. Then,
heaping wood around the mat-covered shell, he started a fire.

The Captain and Chris at last understood his plan. With his rude
contrivance, he was going to try to distill fresh water from salt after
the manner they do on big steamships with costly and complicated
apparatus. The steam from the heated water was supposed to escape from
the shell through the hose. In passing through it it would become
chilled when the hose was coiled down in the cold sea water and,
condensing into water again, reach the other shell fresh and free from
salt.

In theory the plan was perfect, but would the rude contrivance do the
work?

The three thirsty watchers fairly held their breath as they kept the
fire roaring around the shell and awaited results. At last tiny wisps
of steam began to trickle through the closely-woven mat. Tiny drops of
moisture were dropping from the end of the hose. These grew larger and
larger until at last a tiny stream of water trickled forth.

They danced and shouted for joy. "It works! It works!" they cried.

But thirsty though they were they had to possess their souls in
patience and wait for the process worked very slowly. All night they
staid by the shells keeping the fire going. Just at day-break the Conch
gave the command to put out the fire. In the other shell was several
gallons of clear, pure water. As soon as it had cooled sufficiently
they dipped it up with shells and drank greedily. It was slightly
bitter and tasteless but never did drink taste better to parched
throats. With the satisfying of their thirst, came hunger and they all
made a hearty meal off the roasted meat and eggs left from dinner.
Just as the sun arose they lay down to sleep completely exhausted but
with thankfulness to God in their hearts. Their greatest danger was
past. They had water and food in abundance, and the storm was slowly
but surely subsiding.

They slept through the long day, awakening only when the shades of
night began to fall. Then after satisfying their hunger and thirst,
they lay down and slept until morning came.

They opened their eyes upon a clear, still day. The storm had gone and
the sea was growing calm. Far to the South there showed on the blue
water a tiny patch of white,--a sail.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

THE RESCUE.


THE castaways watched the distant sail with mingled feelings of joy and
suspense. Was it the boys, or was it merely a strange craft beating up
the coast? Would it pass near the island or would it go by too far out
for them to make their presence known? These were the questions they
debated as they strained their eyes on the distant patch of white.

One thing soon became evident to the eager watchers, the sail was
steadily growing larger. Although the storm had passed and the sea
subsided there was still a brisk breeze blowing and each passing hour
brought the stranger craft visibly nearer. No thought of breakfast
entered the castaways' minds, all their attention was fixed on the
approaching sail.

At last it became evident that the vessel was a small sloop, that it
was headed directly for the island and that it was rolling and pitching
frightfully in the still heavy seas.

On it came, plunging and tossing like a frightened steed and sending
showers of spray from its cut water. At last it was close enough to
discover two figures on its decks, one at the wheel, the other forward,
tending the jib sheet.

"Hit's Massa Charley and Massa Walter," shouted the sharp-eyed Chris.
"Praise de Lawd, Praise de Lawd," and his over-joyed companions shouted
a fervent "Amen."

The sloop came steadily on, passing the island and rounding up under
its lee as near as its young captain dared to approach. Anchor was
dropped, sails lowered, and launching a small boat it carried on deck,
its crew of two came sculling for the shore.

And what a demonstration of joy there was when it grounded on the sands
and the chums so long separated and so long beset with perils were
once more reunited. Such hand-wringings and congratulations, and eager
questions and chorused answers. All happy. All excited. All talking at
once, and no one making himself thoroughly understood in the general
clamor.

But Charley soon interrupted the talk-feast. "We will be here all day
at this rate," he said, laughing. "We had better get on board and get
under way. That sloop is pretty old and cranky for these waters and
we'd better get back as soon as we can for fear another squall will
come up. We can tell our stories on the way."

The suggestion was wise and as none cared to linger long on the
dreary little island which had been the scene of so much anxiety and
suffering, there was no delay in carrying it out. All climbed into the
little boat and were carried out to the sloop. Her sails were hoisted,
her anchor weighed, and her bowsprit headed South for Tarpon. Down in
the sloop's cabin the castaways found a hot meal of ham, eggs, potatoes
and coffee waiting for them, which Walter had prepared as a pleasant
surprise. In their excitement they had forgotten they were hungry, but
they remembered it now and fell upon the tasty food with appetites that
only left bare dishes when satisfied, at last. The boys had brought a
pile of clothing with them, and after a wash-down in cool sea water,
the castaways threw away their soiled, tattered garments, and, fed,
washed, and freshly clothed, felt like new men.

The Captain's eyes danced with joy when Walter presented him with a
pipe and tobacco he had brought with him.

Later all gathered around the wheel and stories and experiences were
exchanged, but the reader is already familiar with the most of them.

"Even after the trouble was all over we couldn't get away at once,"
Charley said, concluding his tale. "I can tell you we were worried to
have to lay around and wait for the storm to pass, knowing that you and
Chris must be in danger on the island. The people were awfully good to
us after the feud was ended. They could not do enough for us. They even
wanted to give us money, but of course we couldn't take that. As soon
as the wind went down we borrowed this boat of Mr. Turner and started
out. We are to leave her at Tarpon and he will get her from there."

"Well, all's well that ends well, I reckon," said the captain, puffing
in supreme content. "We are safe an' well now an' while we ain't got
much money, we will have the 'Beauty' as soon as she comes into port,
an' she's jes' the same as two thousand dollars in the bank."

"And we will have another try for that gold when we get her," Charley
declared. "I figure that those fellows had to cast loose during the
storm and scud before it. They could not ride it out at anchor. Now
that the buoy's gone, it will take them a long time to locate the gold
again. We, knowing the latitude and longitude can get back to the spot
before they can find it and get all the gold removed, if we can get a
revenue cutter at Tarpon, as I think we can."

The Captain's face was filled with dismay. "I've clean forgot the
figures, boys," he exclaimed. "I put it down in the log all ship-shape,
the latitude and longitude, but I've clean forgot what it was. I ain't
got no memory for figures."

It was a heavy blow for the golden-hopes of the two boys and a silence
of disappointment followed the old sailor's announcement.

"It's no use crying over spilt milk," said Charley, at last,
cheerfully. "We have still got the schooner, and, with the money we get
from her, we can make a good start at something else."

"You have still good cause for rejoicing," observed the sponger
captain. "You will still have your vessel, but I have lost my all."

The two chums were not the boys to give way to repining and they were
soon again as bright and cheerful spirits as if their brightest hopes
had been realized.

It was midnight when the little sloop at last crept into the harbor of
Tarpon. It was useless to go ashore at such an hour so the little party
made everything snug aboard and turned in on deck for a few hours'
sleep.

They were up early next morning, and, after a hasty breakfast, hurried
ashore to notify the Commissioner of their arrival and get him to take
steps for the seizure of the "Beauty" as soon as she reached port.

Mr. Driver was standing out in front of his store as they came up the
street. Amazement and incredulity filled his face when he sighted them.

"You!" he cried, "Why, I thought you were all at the bottom of the
Gulf."

"No, we are slightly disfigured but still in the ring," laughed Charley
as he shook hands. "Our schooner has not come in yet, has she?"

Mr. Driver stared at him for a second. "There's a mystery here," he
declared. "Come on into the store, and let's hear your story."

Seated in the store's little back room, Charley recounted their
adventures while Mr. Driver listened attentively. When he had
concluded, Mr. Driver remained silent for a moment.

"I hate to be the teller of bad news," he said, at last, "but you must
learn it, and it had better come from a friend. Your schooner is lost
with all hands on board."

"Lost!" cried all together.

"Yes, she went down at anchor during the storm. The Greek sponger
'Zenephone' was passing when she went under. Not a man was saved.
Every one on the 'Zenephone' wondered why she did not scud before it
instead of hanging to her anchor. I understand now. They did not want
to leave the neighborhood of the gold."

It was a heavy blow. At one sweep they were robbed of their all. The
little band of chums sat paralyzed with grief, looking helplessly at
each other. Mr. Driver arose quietly and closed the door softly behind
him, leaving them alone with their grief.

For a few moments no one spoke. "It's hard, but it must be met," sighed
Walter at last. "What are we going to do? We have nothing left now, not
even the clothes we wear."

"God knows," answered Charley, hopelessly, at a loss for once. "I
suppose we will have to hunt work at something or other."

"And likely be scattered and separated for the first time in years,"
exclaimed the captain.

"That's the worst of it," agreed Walter, sadly. "I don't mind working
but I hate for us all to have to drift apart."

"Me too," wailed Chris. "Golly! I don't want to be with no one but
you-alls."

"I don't believe the 'Beauty' is lost," Charley declared. "I believe
this is just another of Manuel's tricks. He is as sharp a rascal as
ever lived. I'll bet she is safe and sound somewhere and that Manuel
just bought the Greeks on the 'Zenephone' to tell that story."

"Maybe," admitted the captain, doubtfully. "The story rings true,
though. It would have been likely for them to hang to their anchor by
the gold."

"And it would be just the kind of details Manuel would think of,
knowing we would be more likely to believe the story if we escaped
alive. He is an artist at rascality."

"Even if you're right, I reckon it won't help us much," said the old
sailor. "The story's tied our hands all right. The Commissioner won't
do anything just on our suspicions, an' we ain't got any money to do
anything ourselves."

"I feel that Charley is right," Walter declared, "but we've got only
one chance to prove it. Get to work, get some money and hire a Greek
detective to look into the matter for us. The first question is, what
can we do to earn money?"

They were engaged in a fruitless discussion on this point when Mr.
Driver entered. He heard their discussion with sympathetic interest.

"There is no work around here," he declared. "The Greeks work cheaper
than an American can. It's hard for an American to earn a bare living
here. I understand from what you say that you do not want to be
separated. I might find work for one of you, but I couldn't for all.
There is only one suggestion I can make in such a case."

"Please give it to us," Walter requested.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

CONCLUSION.


"WELL," said Mr. Driver, "there is a large fish-house at Clearwater,
twenty miles below here. You probably could get a job fishing for it.
You could all work together then. It is hard, dirty work but there is
pretty good money in it if a man works hard."

The chums exchanged glances.

"I believe we will try it," Charley said. "Of course we will have to
talk it over before we decide, but there does not seem to be anything
else we can do."

"Very well," said Mr. Driver, "I'll give you a letter to the fish boss,
I know him personally. And you'll need a little money to pay your fares
there. You can return it when you get to earning."

The chums thanked the kind-hearted storekeeper for his advice and
assistance and adjourned to the sidewalk where they discussed the
matter earnestly. It did not take them long to decide to follow Mr.
Driver's suggestion. They bid good-bye to the sponger captain, who
decided to remain in Tarpon and try to get service on one of Mr.
Williams' schooners, and, accepting the loan of ten dollars, which Mr.
Driver pressed upon them, they boarded the first train going South and
soon landed in the little town of Clearwater. And there, we must leave
them for the present.


THE END.

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired. The original text had no table of
contents. One was created to aid the reader. Chapter I is untitled.

Page 3, "tatooed" changed to "tattooed" (tattooed arms and rolling)

Page 10, two lines were transposed. The original read:

    shouted, as the smiling Greek shrugged his shoul-
    up with the money by to-morrow night I'll close up
    ders. "You know what I say. If you don't come
    this place and have you prosecuted for obtaining

Page 14, "hundreth" changed "hundredth" (a hundredth part of)

Page 43, "alloted" changed to "allotted" (allotted to their boat)

Page 62, "along" changed to "alone" (worse than being alone)

Page 74, repeated word "see" removed from text Original read: (I don't
see see what his object)

Page 78, "Manual" changed to "Manuel" (Manuel approached Captain)

Page 85, "blow" changed to "below" (been below for only)

Page 89, "exclaimation" changed to "exclamation" (an exclamation of
surprise)

Page 93, "captian" changed to "captain" (the captain declared)

Page 100, "gapping" changed to "gaping" (gaping hole in her)

Page 101, "was" changed to "were" (There were no)

Page 102, "that" changed to "than" (time than it has)

Page 105, "aim" changed to "air" (working the air pump)

Page 109, "baton" changed to "beaten" (Greeks had been badly beaten)

Page 128, "averge" changed to "average" (better than average marksmen)

Page 164, "squaking" changed "squawking" (marsh hens, the squawking)

Page 190, "minues" changed to "minutes" (in a few minutes he)

Page 203, "taveling" changed to "traveling" (further traveling
dangerous)

Page 231, repeated word "is" removed from text. Original read: (awhile
even it is is risky)

Page 231, "gapping" changed to "gaping" (up the gaping hole)





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