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Title: The Mercer Boys on a Treasure Hunt
Author: Wyckoff, Capwell
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                           THE MERCER BOYS ON
                            A TREASURE HUNT


                           By CAPWELL WYCKOFF

                               Author of
    “The Mercer Boys at Woodcrest,” “The Mercer Boys’ Cruise in the
Lassie,” “The Mercer Boys’ Mystery Case,” “The Mercer Boys on the Beach
               Patrol,” “The Mercer Boys in Summer Camp.”

                      [Illustration: Series logo]

                                  THE
                     WORLD SYNDICATE PUBLISHING CO.
                    Cleveland, Ohio    New York City

                           Copyright, MCMXXIX
                                  _by_
                   THE WORLD SYNDICATE PUBLISHING CO.

                     [Illustration: Publisher logo]

               _Printed in the United States of America_



                                CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
  I The Professor’s Letter                                             3
  II The Story of the Phantom Galleon                                 13
  III A Royal Invitation                                              20
  IV The Professor is Attacked                                        29
  V The Prowler in the Night                                          41
  VI The Scene in the Moonlight                                       52
  VII Sackett’s Raid                                                  63
  VIII The Search is Begun                                            72
  IX The Ruined Castle                                                81
  X The Rope in the Dungeon                                           92
  XI The Underground Passage                                         101
  XII The Tolling of the Bell                                        109
  XIII A Forced March                                                119
  XIV History Repeats                                                129
  XV The Mountain Sage                                               139
  XVI The Landing Party                                              150
  XVII The Escape                                                    159
  XVIII Treasure and Treachery                                       170
  XIX An Old Friend Joins the Party                                  182
  XX The Tar Barrel                                                  191
  XXI The Cairn                                                      201
  XXII The Den                                                       211
  XXIII The Dragon’s Last Stroke                                     219
  XXIV Ned Takes a New Overseer                                      237



                          THE MERCER BOYS ON A
                             TREASURE HUNT



                               CHAPTER I
                         THE PROFESSOR’S LETTER


“I’d like to have a crack at that ball,” said Don Mercer, with a grin.

His brother Jim returned the grin as he said: “Let’s go out on the field
and ask the kids to toss us one. They won’t mind giving us one swing at
it.” The two Mercer brothers were standing at the edge of a large vacant
lot near the center of their home town one morning late in June. They
had been home from Woodcrest Military Institute for a week now on their
summer vacation, and this particular day, having nothing more exciting
to do, they had wandered around the town, coming at length to a familiar
field where they had often played baseball. A number of youngsters were
on the ground now, tossing and batting a discolored baseball, and the
sight of them had caused the sandy haired, slightly freckled Don to
express his wish.

The two boys walked across the field toward the boys and Don said:
“Wonder how much further I can hit it now than I could when I played
here as a kid?”

“Hard to tell,” returned Jim. “But we certainly got quite a bit of
practise this spring at Woodcrest.”

The small boys looked at them as they drew nearer, but as the Mercer
boys were well known the boys felt no alarm or resentment at the
approach of the larger lads. Don walked over to the boy who held the bat
and held out his hand.

“How about giving me one crack at the ball, Charlie?” he asked.

The boy smiled and extended the bat, a bit of embarrassment in his look.
“Sure, Don. Take a couple of them,” he invited.

“I guess one will be enough,” remarked Don, as he turned to face a boy
who held the ball. “Put a good one over, Tommy, will you?”

The boy addressed as Tommy grinned boyishly and turned to the youngsters
who stood far afield, waiting for flies to be batted to them. “Get way
out, you fellows,” he cried. “This fellow can hit ’em!”

The two fielders backed away and Tommy threw a fast ball to Don. The
latter easily batted it out and one of the youngsters caught it
triumphantly. Don handed the bat to Jim, who in turn cracked the ball
out along the ground.

“Just one more, fellows,” begged Don, taking the bat from his brother’s
hand. When the ball had been turned over to young Tommy he wound his arm
up slowly and then pitched it with considerable force in Don’s
direction.

“Hit that!” he cried.

It was traveling on a straight line and Don swung the bat around
sharply. There was a singing crack as the wood met the ball, and the
muddy spheroid sailed in a mounting curve up into the air. It passed
high above the fielder’s head and made its way straight for the side
window of a small house that stood on the edge of the field.

“Oh, boy!” shouted Jim. “Right through the window!”

His statement was correct. With a disconcerting crash the ball smashed
the window to pieces.

Don dropped the bat and shoved his hands into his pocket. “Well, I’ll be
jiggered!” he exclaimed. “How is that for bad luck? Right through
Professor Scott’s window!”

“I hope the professor wasn’t at home, and in that room,” said Jim.
“Guess we had better go over and see about it.”

“Right you are,” nodded Don. “Thanks for the hits, kids. Come on, Jim.”

Leaving the boys to gather and talk things over in awed tones the two
Mercer brothers made their way across the field in the direction of
Professor Scott’s house. The gentleman mentioned had been their history
teacher while they were in grammar school, and they knew him quite well,
so they had no great fears as to the outcome. No one had appeared at the
window or at the doors, and Jim supposed that the professor was not at
home.

“I guess not,” Don returned, “or he would surely have appeared by now.
But we’ll go over and see, and if he isn’t we’ll leave a note and tell
him who did it, and offer to pay for it.”

While the Mercer boys are making their way across the field something
may be said as to who they were. Both boys, fine, manly chaps, were the
sons of a wealthy lumber man of Bridgewater, Maine. They had lived the
life of healthy young men whose interests were centered in worthwhile
things. Of late they had had some adventurous events in their lives,
some of which were related in the first volume of this series, The
Mercer Boys’ Cruise in the Lassie, when they ran down a marine bandit
gang, and later when solving a baffling mystery at the military school,
details of which were related in the second volume entitled The Mercer
Boys at Woodcrest. Together with their comrade, Terry Mackson, they had
faced many perils and adventures, and now they were home to spend, as
they thought, a comparatively dull vacation. Just how deeply mistaken
they were in their thought will be found later.

They entered the front yard of Professor Scott’s house and walked around
to the side, where the broken window faced toward the empty lot. There
appeared to be no one at home, but when they came opposite to the window
Don raised himself slightly on his toes and looked in. Then he dropped
down again and looked at Jim in astonishment.

“The professor is at home,” he said, in a low tone. “He’s sitting there,
reading a letter!”

“Reading a letter?” asked Jim, amazed.

“Yes,” answered his brother. “Look in.”

Jim raised himself and looked in the window. A tall man with bushy white
hair and a thick iron gray beard was seated at the desk in what appeared
to be a study, busily engaged in reading a letter. Near him, almost at
his feet, lay the boys’ ball, and fragments of broken glass littered the
floor. The professor was apparently deeply absorbed in his letter.

“Well, what do you know about that!” exclaimed Jim, softly. “Doesn’t
even seem to know that the window is broken! We always knew that he was
somewhat absent-minded, but I thought he was more responsible than
that!”

Before Don could reply there was a stir in the room and the next minute
the professor came to the window and looked down at them. He still held
what appeared to be a lengthy letter in his hand, and he recognized
them.

“Why, Don and Jim Mercer!” he cried, showing strong white teeth in an
engaging smile. “I’m glad to see you home again. Did you come to see
me?”

“I came to apologize for breaking your window, and to offer to pay for
it, Professor Scott,” answered Don. “I was batting out the ball for some
boys, and I hit it harder than I expected to. I hope it didn’t startle
you very much?”

“I jumped a little bit,” admitted the professor. “I did notice it!”

“Notice it!” exploded Jim. “I should think that you might have! It
certainly made enough noise.”

“It did make some. I felt that it was some of the boys playing ball and
I was going to throw the ball back to them in a minute.” He picked the
ball up and handed it to Don. “Throw it back, and then come inside,
won’t you?”

Don threw the ball back to the small boys, who were watching from the
field. “Are you sure we won’t be breaking in on you, professor?” he
asked.

“Not as much as you did a few minutes ago!” smiled the teacher. “Come
around through the back way.”

When the boys entered the professor’s study he motioned them to chairs
and asked them a few questions about their school life and studies. All
the time he held the letter in his hand, and when he had finished
talking about their school he took the lead in the conversation.

“I guess you boys wonder what is so interesting in this letter that I
hardly noticed a ball when it broke through my window,” he began. “Well,
I remember how interested you boys were in history while in my classes,
and I’m glad you came along when you did. This letter is from my son
Ned, who lives in Lower California, and it contains one of the most
fascinating stories I ever came across!”

Knowing as they did the professor’s deep interest in historic and
scientific studies and discoveries the boys found themselves interested
at once. The teacher went on, after a glance at the letter, “Ned owns a
small farm or homestead in Lower California near the mines at San
Antonio and Triunfo, where he tests the ores and carries on general
scientific studies. He tells me that the ores are refractory and not
easy to test, but he enjoys the work and is devoting his whole life to
it. I don’t think he is quite as much interested in historic things as I
am, but knowing how eager I am for relics and information of the past,
he has sent me this remarkable piece of news.

“Some time ago, a steam trawler, while fishing in 130 fathoms of water,
hauled up a piece of wreckage in its net. Upon examination it appeared
to be the bulwark of an ancient Spanish galleon, with parts of the
rigging attached. On the sides, plainly distinguishable, were designs in
hand-sewn leather. Some of those big, lumbering ships were decorated
quite extensively, you know, and this one was distinguished by its
hand-sewn leather covering. It was evident that somewhere in the
neighborhood a Spanish galleon had gone to the bottom, and it is always
a safe conclusion that where there is galleon there is also a treasure.
Those ships carried gold, silver and jewels from Old Mexico and Peru to
Spain, and this particular ship may have been going home after a trip up
the coast of California. That was the type of ship that the brave
English seamen of Queen Elizabeth’s time whipped so soundly at the time
of the Spanish Armada, and there were hundreds of them in service along
the shores of the Americas and the Islands.

“The spot was marked in the hope that treasure would be discovered, on
the presumption that it was a treasure ship, and shortly afterward
active operations were started by a California diving company. But
although they searched the shore under water in minute detail they found
nothing. The mystery is not that they didn’t find any treasure, but that
they didn’t find any more of the ship. You might think that perhaps that
particular piece had been washed there from some point further out, and
it is possible, but the piece, when netted, had been buried in the mud,
and it looks as though it had been there for centuries, though ships
haven’t a habit of sinking in sections, one part at one place and
another part in a different place. However, they didn’t find a thing,
and at last the whole undertaking was given up.”

“That is too bad,” said Jim, who was deeply absorbed in the story. “So
it was a false hope from the first.”

“How long ago was that?” asked Don.

“That was a little over a year ago,” answered the professor. “And that
leads me to the second part of my story. Ned had given up all interest
in it even before the diving and salvage company had, and he thought no
more about it. The piece of wreckage is a treasure in itself and was
sent up to San Francisco, where it was subsequently placed in a museum.
Realizing that I would be interested in it all he first wrote to me at
the time it happened, and I read it and wrote for news, but as the thing
died down I forgot it, too. I have planned to run out to San Francisco
sometime and see the part myself, and I intend doing so soon.

“Ned told me at the time that there had been some slight changes in the
coast line during the last few centuries. A number of creeks that
formerly ran into the ocean have closed up and disappeared, some of them
filled with shifting sand and soil. I don’t know if you were ever aware
of the fact or not, but although Lower California has a dry climate and
is mostly barren, there are spots where it is tropical and jungle plants
and trees grow there in luxurious profusion. Although they have almost
no rain, they do have violent storms, and at such times are treated to
regular cloudbursts. At those periods the elements raise the old dickens
and it was during these spells that some creeks and small rivers closed
up.

“Maybe you wonder why I’m particular to tell you all this. I do so
because I believe it has a direct bearing on the most amazing part of
Ned’s letter. I believe it explains the disappearance of the Phantom
Galleon!”

“The Phantom Galleon!” cried Don, while Jim stirred in eager interest.
“What is that, Professor Scott?”



                               CHAPTER II
                    THE STORY OF THE PHANTOM GALLEON


“Well,” answered the professor, slowly. “Up until a very short time Ned,
and others, thought that it was only a legend. He hadn’t been in the
country very long before he heard it, and he put it down as one of those
semi-historic tales that consist of half truth and half fancy. The tale
had been handed down for centuries and always by word of mouth, and this
is the story:

“On a certain evening, hundreds of years ago, a huge, lumbering Spanish
galleon, loaded with treasure, fled along the coast of Lower California,
pursued by three English barks. In the long run there was not a chance
that the gold ship would get away, for the light English barks were much
faster, and it was only a question of time before they hauled down on
her and boarded. The way they were situated was this: one ship was in
the rear of the Spaniard, one was coming up in front of it, and a third
was moving in from the open sea. It was a regular trap, you see, and
merely a matter of time.

“But fortunately—or unfortunately, I don’t know which—for the galleon,
one of those rare tropical storms came up at that moment when capture
seemed assured for the gold ship. There was a furious rush of the wind,
the sky grew black and lowering, and finally, in one great maelstrom of
confusion the three ships and the galleon were blotted out of sight. The
storm only lasted for some half hour, which is unusually long for some
of them, and when it lifted the galleon was nowhere to be seen. The
English barks had had all they could handle and had been so busy holding
their own against the elements that they hadn’t time to keep up the
pursuit, and their conclusion was that the Spaniard had gone to the
bottom of the sea. As it was built much higher and was much harder to
handle than the lighter ships, the conclusion was justified, and the
pursuers drew off and left the shore.

“As I told you, that had happened in the evening, just as dusk was
coming down over the shore and the sea, and the high decked galleon,
with its spread of strained canvas and yellow streamers, its lofty
rigging and its ornamental work, looked like some strange phantom as it
fled down the coast. I don’t know who saw it or how many saw it, but to
this day the story, half legend as it is, has persisted concerning the
phantom galleon. Some fantastic tales still linger about it appearing on
dusky nights and sailing swiftly along the shore, but they are idle
stories to which no one with intelligence pays any attention. Ned never
gave the whole thing much credit until a remarkable circumstance brought
it forcefully to his mind.

“Near his little ranch there is a large old estate which belongs to a
once noble family of mixed Spanish and Mexican blood, and although they
keep pretty much to themselves, out of a lofty sense of pride, they have
been rather friendly to Ned, in their stately and exacting way. There
was an old man who was head of the place, his daughter, and one or two
servants. Lately the old gentleman died, and Ned kindly helped out with
the funeral and the management of the ranch affairs until a permanent
overseer was brought over from Mexico, and in her gratitude the young
senorita allowed him to roam pretty much around the house. I suspect
from his letter that he has of late become rather more than friendly
with the young lady, but that doesn’t make much difference either way.
It seems that she had been left with quite a library, reading being an
important business in such a lonely place, and some of the volumes were
pretty precious, being hand written works of early settlers and priests,
who thus left interesting historic records. One of these books attracted
Ned’s attention strongly.

“It had been written by a priest in the year 1571, and it described the
Spanish treasure hunts, some of which were plain plundering expeditions,
and this particular book related them in detail. Ned wasn’t unusually
interested until he came across the part relating to a chase that the
galleon had had from three English ships. According to the author they
had loaded with something like 100,000 pesos and a fortune in gold and
silver bars, to say nothing of jewels, and had sailed for Upper
California. But near the shores of Lower California the galleon had been
sighted by an English bark, which had instantly given chase. The
galleon, which had a good start, fled, but its chances of escape
suddenly became less as another English ship appeared before it, and
another bore down on it from the open sea. It was growing dark, wrote
the priest, and there was some hope that it would slip away in the
darkness, but something more to the point stepped in when a tropical
storm wrapped the nearby world in temporary darkness. The _Don
Fernando_, that was the name of the galleon, slipped into a nearby creek
or small river and ran hard and fast aground, the lofty masts and spars
crashing down, a total ruin. The creek seems to have been far enough
back for the wreck to have escaped the notice of the English, for they
were not molested, and the crew, after assuring themselves that the
treasure was safe, tried to make their way inland for help.

“But somehow or other—the writer does not say how—they all perished, and
he alone escaped to Mexico, there to write down the story of the flight
of the galleon. He affirms positively in his journal that the treasure
was not touched, and he planned to raise enough men to go and get it.
Whether he did or not no one knows, but if he didn’t that treasure is
still somewhere in a creek, in the wreck of that galleon, perhaps buried
below the level of the sand which has shifted. Ned thinks that it is
nearby and that is why he has written to me.

“The tragedy of the thing is this: the priest wrote everything except
the name of the creek down which the phantom galleon fled. There are
several pages missing from his book, and it breaks off like this: ‘The
ship with its fortune in gold and precious stones, its coin and bars, is
still buried in the sand in a creek called——’ and there it unfortunately
ends. If the name was only there we could tell something, for it is
always probable that someone can be found who will recall the name, no
matter how ancient it may be, but as the name is lost, Ned faces a blank
wall. He inquired from Senorita Mercedes just where she had obtained
that book, but she knew nothing outside of the fact that it had
apparently always been in their house.”

“That certainly is interesting,” said Don, as the professor stopped.
“Your son Ned thinks that it is somewhere near his place?”

“Yes, he believes it is somewhere within a radius of a hundred miles.
The legend has it that the galleon vanished somewhere right on that very
shore, and that would indicate that the galleon ran up some creek very
near to his place. If no one ever did get back and take that treasure it
is probably in the rotted hold of the treasure ship, buried more or less
deeply in the sand, just waiting for some lucky one to discover it. Much
of the land near Ned’s ranch has never been thoroughly explored, and it
may be that it is nearer to him than he has any idea of.”

“Has he made any effort to find it?” inquired Jim.

“A somewhat feeble one, yes. He endeavored to enlist the aid of some
nearby ranch men, some half breed Mexicans, but although they started
with some enthusiasm they soon gave it up. They are the kind who would
not mind sharing in the rewards if someone else does the work. So he
gave it up, except that he patiently read every other book in Senorita
Mercedes’ library in the hope of obtaining some clue, but the missing
pages were not to be located and he is still no nearer to finding out
the name of that creek than he was at first.”

“And he never did find out how that book came to be in the library of
the Spanish ranch?” asked Don.

“No, but we can hazard a guess as to that. The Mercedes family have
lived in Lower California for at least a hundred years, but before that
they came from Mexico. It is very possible that the priest had escaped
to Mexico and fallen in some way in with this ancient Spanish family,
perhaps dying there and leaving the book with them. How the last few
leaves of the book came to be missing no one knows. But perhaps you can
see the possibilities?”

“What do you mean?” asked Jim.

“I mean that perhaps someone has already read that book, tore out the
sheets with the information on them, and has already found that
treasure!” was the startling answer.



                              CHAPTER III
                           A ROYAL INVITATION


They were somewhat dismayed at the professor’s reasoning but at length
Don shook his head. “I don’t see that it is necessarily so,” he
insisted. “Of course, there is a big chance that such is the reason, but
on the other hand it may simply be that the pages have been lost. It can
be taken both ways.”

“Yes,” nodded the professor. “It can. That is why I would never allow
myself any false hopes.”

“Then you are going out and help Ned look for this treasure?” asked Jim.

“I’m going out more because he wants me to come than for anything else,”
said Professor Scott. “And as much for the change as for anything else.
I’ve been studying pretty hard of late, and I’m sure a change of air and
scenery wouldn’t hurt me a bit. I haven’t any idea that Ned will ever
find that legendary treasure, but the fact that he found evidence that
the story of the phantom galleon is true interested me greatly.”

“But if you do go out there you will look around for it, won’t you?”
inquired Don.

“Oh, yes, Ned will see to that! He has the idea that he will run across
it, and nothing stops him once he gets an idea. I’ll join in with him
and do some tramping around, but while he’ll be looking for gold I’ll be
looking for health. I’m rather more sure of finding what I am after than
he is.”

“Just the same,” murmured Jim. “It is a dandy opportunity, and I
wouldn’t mind having a shot at it.”

“You boys are greatly interested,” remarked the professor, looking at
them keenly.

“I suppose we are,” admitted Don, smiling. “It appeals to us, and I
guess it would to any fellow. If you go, professor, we certainly wish
you all kinds of luck.”

“Thanks,” said the professor. “If you went on such a trip, I suppose
you’d hunt the treasure with much energy?”

“I guess we would,” nodded Jim. “If it was anywhere near I guess we
would uncover it.”

“I don’t doubt it,” the professor smiled. He was silent a moment and
then he asked: “Now that you boys are home for a vacation, what do you
plan to do? Have you anything definite in mind?”

Don shook his head. “We might do a little sailing,” he replied. “We have
a fine thirty-foot sloop, and we may sail for a ways down the coast.
Last summer we did and we had a good time.”

“I know about that voyage,” the professor returned. “That was the time
you ran down those marine bandits, wasn’t it? I remember reading about
it.”

“That was the time,” Don answered. “We don’t expect to run down any
bandits this summer, but we may take a cruise.”

“That is fine,” said the professor, somewhat absent-mindedly. “So you
two boys were interested in what I told you of Ned’s letter, eh?”

“We couldn’t help being,” grinned Jim. “I guess every fellow is
interested in treasure hunting.”

“I suppose that is true,” the professor returned. “Well, that is the
contents of the letter which made me so interested that I paid very
little attention to the ball as it broke the window.”

“I’m sorry about that, professor,” said Don. “How much is it, please?
I’m very anxious to have it repaired.”

“Forget it,” said the professor.

But Don insisted, feeling that it would not rightly do to accept the
professor’s generous offer to put it in himself, and at length the
teacher agreed that Don should pay for the work. He rather admired Don’s
spirit in insisting upon paying his own way through life, and although
he knew that the Mercer brothers had plenty of ready money he allowed
Don to pay for the broken glass more as a concession to his spirit of
the right thing to do than for any other reason. After Don had turned
over the money to the professor the boys took their leave.

“Thanks for that interesting story, Professor Scott,” said Jim, as they
were leaving.

“Yes, we enjoyed it,” added Don.

“You are very welcome,” smiled the professor. “I thought you would be
interested, and may—be—humph, well, let that pass for now. Good morning,
boys.”

The boys left the professor and walked slowly down the shady street,
discussing the letter and his story. It appealed to them greatly.

“That sure was a strange thing, that finding of the old book relating to
the flight of the galleon,” mused Don. “Looks like the hand of fate,
eh?”

“It surely does,” chimed in Jim. “Those fellows took that treasure
centuries ago, it lays buried in the sand for years and years, and then
a chance discovery points to where it is. Sort of like a dead man’s
finger pointing at the treasure, isn’t it?”

“Somewhat,” admitted Don. “I rather feel that if the treasure had been
found by someone else Ned Scott would not have come across that book.
Now, that is my own way of looking at it. Just as the professor says,
someone may have torn the valuable leaves, with the location of the
creek on them, out and have found it long ago. But I somehow just can’t
believe it.”

“Nor I,” said Jim. “I’d surely like to be along when Ned Scott unearths
that old ship and its treasure.”

“Provided that he does,” smiled Don, as they reached their home. “There
isn’t any guarantee that he will. It is always possible that the whole
thing happened miles down the coast, for if I remember correctly, from
my school map, Lower California is a mighty long stretch. Well, all I
hope is that he’ll tell us if anything turns up. Just as soon as he
comes back, if we are home from school, we’ll hunt him up and ask him
all about it.”

“Surely,” agreed Jim. “If he isn’t home by the time we are ready to
return to school we can see him during some vacation. Well, what do you
say, old man? Shall we go down and tinker with the boat?”

“Don’t think we have time,” decided Don, looking at his watch. “That
visit to the professor took up the whole morning, and mother will be
waiting dinner.”

The boys entered the quiet but homelike little house which was their
home and prepared for dinner. When they sat down at the table Mr.
Mercer, a kindly and energetic man, was there. He worked in a local
office, where he ran his vast lumber business, and was generally home
for meals. Margy Mercer was also there, and the family was complete.

“Well, what have you two fellows been doing this morning?” asked Mr.
Mercer, as he vigorously attacked a piece of steak.

“Don’s been breaking into people’s houses!” chuckled Jim. “This was an
expensive morning for Don.”

Don related what had happened, and finding his family deeply interested
in the professor’s letter, told them the story of the phantom galleon.
Mr. Mercer smiled as he finished.

“I suppose you two wouldn’t mind going along on a trip like that, would
you?” he asked.

“I should say not!” exclaimed Jim. “We’d go without mother’s apple pie
for a month to go on that trip!”

“Hum!” said Mr. Mercer. “Score one for mother’s pie! I imagine if
anything spectacular comes out of the professor’s treasure hunt the
newspapers will have it.”

The two boys went for a brief sail in a small catboat during the
afternoon and later worked at the bench in their boathouse, turning out
the sides for some bunks which they planned to place in their little
sleeping cottage at the end of the yard. They already had three beds in
the little place, but lately Jim had hit upon the idea of constructing
regular ships’ bunks and they were now busy making the pieces. They
stuck to this job until the time of the evening meal, and after that
they remained at home, listening to the radio entertainment.

Don, who was sitting near the living room window, idly looking out,
suddenly uttered an exclamation and straightened up.

“What’s the matter, Don?” asked Jim, quickly.

“Here comes Professor Scott!” Don exclaimed.

“In here?” demanded Jim.

“Yes, he’s coming up the walk.” And Don got up and went to the door, to
open it for the teacher.

“How do you do, Professor Scott,” he greeted. “Won’t you come in?”

“Yes, thank you,” nodded the professor. “Is your father at home?”

“Yes, he surely is,” said Don. “Come right on in.”

He showed the professor into the living room, where the Mercer family
greeted him, and after a few minutes of pleasant talk Mr. Mercer guided
him to his study, where they might talk in quietness and alone. Jim
looked inquiringly at Don.

“What in the world do you suppose he wants with dad?” he whispered.

“Jiggered if I know,” shrugged Don.

In less than half an hours’ time the two men returned, both of them
smiling, and Mr. Mercer turned off the radio. Then, as they sat down the
father looked with mock sternness at his two boys.

“I want your promise to at least make an effort to keep out of trouble
while you are with Professor Scott,” he said.

“With Professor Scott!” echoed Don, while Jim stared. “Where are we
going with Professor Scott?”

“Out to tramp all around the sands of Lower California, I think,” Mr.
Mercer returned.

“No!” shouted Don, leaping to his feet.

“No? Well, all right. I thought that you wanted to go, but as long as
you don’t why——”

That was as far as he got. “Of course we want to go,” cried Jim. “By
George, this is great. What made you decide to take us with you,
professor?”

“It’s a protective measure,” smiled the professor, pleased at their
enthusiasm. “I saw how interested you boys were when I told you about it
this morning, and I was wondering if you would care to go and if I could
persuade your father to allow you to go. You see, I want to go out there
for a rest, and I’m afraid Ned will insist upon dragging me all over the
country in search of Spanish treasure, so I’m taking you boys along as
buffers, to help him in his mad adventuring.”

“Well,” smiled Mrs. Mercer. “We’ll let them go if you’ll try to keep
them out of trouble, Professor Scott. They have a very bad habit of
getting into plenty of it.”

“I guess Ned will keep them so busy that they won’t have time to get
into any scrapes,” said the professor.

They sat and talked for another hour, the boys unable to believe their
good fortune, the suddenness of which had stunned them. The professor
took his leave at last, telling them that he planned to start at the end
of the coming week. After he had gone they sat and talked some more, the
boys excited at the prospect of their coming trip.

When at last they went up to bed it was not to sleep immediately. They
discussed the event for more than an hour.

“Dad and mother say for us to keep out of trouble,” chuckled Jim. “We’ll
try hard to obey orders, but I do hope we have some exciting times.”

“Don’t you worry,” chuckled Don. “I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if we
did!”

The two boys fell asleep, worn out by the events of the day. It is
doubtful if they would have slept so peacefully had they been able to
foresee the events which loomed before them.



                               CHAPTER IV
                       THE PROFESSOR IS ATTACKED


After three days of preparation the boys and the professor were ready to
leave for the west coast. They were to go to San Francisco and take a
steamer there down to the settlements in Lower California. It was a
bright Saturday morning when they waved out of the window to their
friends on the station platform.

“Well,” remarked Don, as the train moved out of the station. “We are off
for new scenes at last.”

The journey across the continent was uneventful. They enjoyed it
thoroughly, never growing tired of the endless views which unfolded as
the train sped westward. The professor, with his varied knowledge of
places and people, his understanding of scientific facts and his
historic incidents, proved to be a most delightful companion. In a few
days they left the train at the great city of the coast and the
professor hunted up a hotel.

Professor Scott had never been to California, although he had been in
many other cities in the United States, and his interest was as keen as
that of the boys. One of his first tasks, after they had been installed
in a good hotel, was to hasten to the water front and inquire concerning
a steamer to take them down the coast. When he returned he reported his
findings to the boys.

“There is a steamer named the _Black Star_ that will take us down the
day after tomorrow,” he said. “I went aboard and arranged for our
passage. It isn’t a passenger boat, but I didn’t have any trouble in
persuading the captain to take us as passengers. The boat is a fruit
steamer, but they have one or two extra cabins for our use.”

They turned in early that night and the next day took an extensive tour
of the great city. A great many of the foremost buildings and places of
interest were visited, and they obtained their longed-for view of the
piece of wreckage of the Spanish galleon of which Ned Scott had written
them. It was a huge piece, worn by the action of the waves, with studded
leather on the sides and pieces of rigging still clinging to it. It
occupied a prominent place in the city museum.

“If that thing could only talk,” the professor remarked, as they walked
around it. “What a story it could tell!”

“I guess it would be very helpful to us, in our search,” smiled Jim.

When evening came the boys were tired, but strange to relate, the
professor was not. His interest in places and men amounted to a passion
with him, and he loved to study them at every opportunity. The boys were
sitting around in the hotel room and the professor, after walking around
restlessly, suddenly faced them.

“Are you boys too tired to do some more walking?” he asked.

“Well, I’m pretty well played out,” admitted Don. “But if you’d like us
to go with you, anywhere, professor, we’ll gladly go.”

“Oh, no,” replied the professor, hastily. “I just wanted to ask you if
you’d care to take a stroll down near the water front. There are some
very quaint places down there, and I’d like to visit some of them. But I
don’t want you boys to go out if you are tired.” He reached for his hat
and went on: “I’m going down there for a stroll. I’ll be back shortly.”

“If you want us—” began Jim, but the professor cut him short.

“No, no, not at all. You boys stay here and I’ll wander a bit myself.
See you later.”

“Take care of yourself, professor,” called Don, as he went out.

“I will, thanks. Don’t worry; I’ll be right back.”

Once on the street the professor struck off for the water front at a
brisk pace. In the hotel room Jim looked inquiringly at Don.

“Do you suppose it is alright for him to go?” he asked.

“I guess so,” nodded Don. “He is pretty well able to take care of
himself.”

The city was wrapped in darkness when the professor began his wandering,
a darkness which was broken by the bright lights on the business streets
and the more feeble ones on the side streets. The professor headed for
the wharves, where the masts of the medley of crafts could be seen
rising above the low houses which fronted the bay. Down in this section
the savant found some queer crooked streets, lined with rows of box-like
houses and cheap eating places. Groups of men and women sat on the
doorsteps and fire escapes, children whooped and played in the streets,
and scraps of music, jarring one on the other, came from phonographs and
radios. Sailors and business men walked back and forth in the narrow
streets, and the professor found much to study.

He strode along the docks, examining with interest the multitude of
ships there, ranging from huge ocean steamers to small private boats.
Liners, tramp ships, battered steam boats, sailing vessels, schooners,
yachts, sloops, catboats, yawls and power cruisers lay side by side with
tugs and ferries. An army of stevedores worked under blazing arc lights
loading and unloading, and the air vibrated with the rattle of
machinery, the hoarse cries of the men, and the thump of boxes and
crates. So deeply engrossed was the professor in the scenes which he was
witnessing that he forgot the passage of time.

He had wandered far down the shore line when he came at last to a street
more narrow and crooked than the rest. It was in fact nothing more than
an alley, flanked by tall seamen’s houses, with restaurants and pool
parlors on the ground floors. The professor looked at a sign post and
saw that it was named Mullys Slip.

“Mullys Slip, eh?” thought the teacher. “This is the quaintest of them
all. I think I’ll stroll up it.”

Accordingly, he walked up the narrow sidewalk, looking with interest
into the stores and eating houses as he passed by, listening to snatches
of conversation as he passed groups who sat out taking advantage of the
cool air. When he had walked to the end of the Slip he walked back, and
seeing a well-lighted eating place near the dock, entered it and sat
down at a round table. While he ordered a sandwich and coffee he looked
around him.

It was a long, low room, the air of which was nearly obscured by tobacco
smoke, half filled at the time with men who evidently came from the
ships. Most of them were eating, the rest were smoking and talking, and
a few slept, hanging over the tables. The professor ate his sandwich and
sipped his coffee, content and easy in his mind, until, looking across
from him into a narrow corner, he found the eyes of two men fixed upon
him.

One of the men was a powerful individual with a heavy, unhealthy looking
face, whose eyes, set close together, looked slightly crossed. The other
was tall and thin, with long and dangling arms. Both of them were
dressed in rough black clothing, which gave no real hint as to what
business they were engaged in. They might have been sailors or
stevedores, and both showed unmistakable signs of hardy, adventurous
lives. They had evidently been talking about the professor, for their
eyes were bent on him with earnest scrutiny, and when they observed that
he had seen them they hastily resumed their conversation.

The professor paid no attention to them at first, but went on eating,
looking around with keen eyes and mentally cataloguing the men in the
place. But when he once more looked across at his neighbors they were
bending the same intent look upon him. Vague doubt began to stir the
mind of professor Scott.

“I don’t altogether like the looks of those fellows,” decided the
professor, as he called a waiter and paid his small bill. “By the way
they look at me I’d say they were talking about me. All in all, I’m in a
pretty rough neighborhood, and perhaps the sooner I get out of it, the
better.”

He went out of the place at once, casting a single look back of him as
he did so, and he was not made to feel any easier as he noted that they
were following him with the same steady look. He was not greatly
alarmed, for he did not carry much money with him, but feeling that he
would be better off on a well-lighted thoroughfare, he made his way back
along the dark street. It was now growing late and the lights were being
extinguished. He found his road darker than it had been when he had
followed it earlier in the evening, and so he hurried on, bent on
reaching the business section.

He had covered two blocks when he began to think that he was being
followed. It was as much of a feeling as an actual fact, for each time
he looked around he was unable to see anyone who looked as though he
might be trailing him. He fancied once that he saw a shadow dart quickly
into a doorway, but though he looked keenly in that direction he was
unable to make sure.

“Humph, I had better get back to the hotel,” mused the teacher. “I think
I’m beginning to imagine things.”

On the block beyond a number of dark alleys opened from the houses, and
the professor was compelled to pass them. Either the houses were
deserted or there was no one up at the time, for he saw no one as he
crossed the corner. Only far ahead of him, on the opposite side of the
street, a battered old car was pulled up to the edge of an empty dock,
and a man sat looking out over the water at a group of three-masted coal
carriers.

Just as the professor was passing a wide alley he thought he heard a
step beside him. He turned his head quickly, and then gasped. Two
shadows seemed to detach themselves from the passageway and bore down on
him. Before he could utter any cry a powerful pair of arms was thrown
around him and he was strained close to the body of a big man. At the
same time, without loss of a moment, the second man dipped his hands
into the professor’s trousers pockets and into his inside coat pocket.

Taken completely by surprise the old teacher for a second did not offer
any kind of resistance and when he did it was rather feeble, for his
arms were pinned close to his sides, and he was fairly standing on his
toes. But his feet were free, and he managed to kick the man who held
him a smart blow in the shin. A low, growling curse was his reward, and
a blow of considerable force followed, landing on his shoulder. By a
sudden twist the professor squirmed from the arms of the man who was
holding him, and strengthened by his indignation, which was kindling
into hot wrath, the savant punched the second man full on the mouth.

The first man, who was none other than the narrow-eyed individual of the
restaurant growled in his throat. “I’ll bust your head, you old
windjammer!” he roared, and swung his fist at the professor. The blow,
which landed on the teacher’s neck, felled him instantly to the
sidewalk.

“Grab him up,” ordered the second man, stooping over the professor, who
was somewhat dazed. “We’ll dump him in the bay.”

Both men leaned down to pick up the form of the professor when there was
an interruption. The young man who had been sitting in the nondescript
automobile had had his attention attracted by the beginning of the
struggle, and unnoticed by any of the principals he had jumped out of
the car and was now upon them. Although he did not know one from the
other he could see that two were against one, and noting, under the
faint light from a nearby lamp-post that the lone fighter was an elderly
man, threw himself without hesitation upon the two wharf-men. His active
fist jarred against the jaw of the heavyset man.

“Take that, with the compliments of the lone star ranger!” he muttered.
“Don’t know what it’s all about, but that’s my share.”

His blow infuriated the man, who drove at him with an angry roar, but
the professor was scrambling to his feet, and the second man grasped his
leader by the arm. He spoke to him in a low tone, and the two, with a
slight hesitation, turned and fled up the alley. Convinced that pursuit
would be useless, the young man turned to the professor.

“Are you hurt, sir?” he asked, quickly.

In the faint light the professor saw that he was a boy of twenty or
thereabouts, tall and somewhat lanky, with red hair and a lean face, on
which freckles had taken up a permanent home. The professor shook his
head.

“No, thanks to you. Those fellows were going to throw me into the water.
Were you in that car?”

“Yes,” grinned the boy. “That is my private chariot, called ‘Jumpiter,’
because of its habit of doing something very much like jumping! Have you
been robbed?”

The professor felt through his pockets and nodded. “Yes, a few dollars
and a letter has been taken from me. I don’t care much about the money,
but the letter was from my son Ned, and I valued that somewhat. I would
like to thank you sincerely for your timely arrival.”

“Don’t mention it,” begged the young man. “Let’s get out of here. I’ll
drive you to wherever you want to go.”

When they entered the battered car the professor told the boy the name
of the hotel at which he was staying and they rolled away. Then the
teacher asked the name of his rescuer.

“Mackson is my name,” replied the boy. “Terry Mackson, from Beverley,
Maine.”

“Why,” exclaimed the professor. “I come from Maine, too. I am a history
teacher in Bridgewater!”

“In Bridgewater!” cried Terry as they entered the business section.
“Then you must know the Mercer brothers.”

“Know them!” laughed the professor. “I have them here with me!”

“Here, with you? Well, I’ll be jiggered! They are my very best chums!”
said Terry. “Last summer I was in Bridgewater, sailing with them, and we
go to Woodcrest together, in fact, we room together. What are they doing
here?”

“We are going down to Lower California to visit my son Ned, on his
ranch, and make some scientific studies, and perhaps look up a treasure
that Ned feels sure that he can find nearby. How did you come to be out
here?”

“I didn’t have a thing to do this summer,” explained Terry. “My mother
and sister went to visit friends in New Hampshire, and so I decided to
tour the country in my car. I’ve been out here for the last two days,
and I was going to head for Mexico tomorrow.”

“How very strange that we should meet,” commented the professor. “You
must step up and see the boys. They will be glad to see you.”

“I won’t be a bit sorry to see them,” returned Terry, heartily. “They
certainly will be surprised.”

They drove on until they were almost at the hotel, and then Terry, who
had been thinking deeply, suddenly began to chuckle. Then, as the
professor looked inquiringly at him, the red-headed boy spoke.

“Professor,” he said, “how would you like to help me in a little joke?”



                               CHAPTER V
                        THE PROWLER IN THE NIGHT


A few minutes later the professor entered the rooms which he and the two
boys had engaged together alone. He found Don and Jim reading some
magazines which the hotel management furnished.

“Hello, professor,” greeted Don. “Safely back, eh?”

“We were beginning to think that you had been lost,” smiled Jim, putting
down his magazine.

“I was not lost,” returned the professor. “But I have had a most
extraordinary adventure.”

“What was it?” they asked, in chorus.

“I came across a very distressing thing,” the teacher continued. “I
wonder if you boys will help me? Outside, on a lonely street, I met a
young man wandering, and it appears that he has amnesia!”

“Amnesia!” cried Don. “That means loss of memory, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” answered the professor, seriously. “He could not remember who he
was nor where he came from. I questioned him at length, and while he
answers rationally enough, he simply cannot remember a thing past a week
ago.”

“That surely is tough,” murmured Don. “What did you want us to do?”

“I have the young man outside here,” replied Professor Scott. “I
wondered if you two would help me question him? If we ply him with
questions we may be able to suggest something that will make him
remember who he is and some details of his past life.”

“We’ll be glad to help,” said Jim, heartily. “Where is he?”

“I’ll bring him in,” replied the teacher, and he left the room.

“That’s mighty hard luck,” commented Don. “I hope we can do something to
help.”

A moment later the professor returned, gently leading someone with him.
“Come right in here, young man,” he said, loudly and gently. “There are
only friends in here, so don’t be afraid.”

“Thank you sir,” a voice replied. “Oh, if you can only do something for
me!”

Professor Scott appeared in the room, leading with him a dazed-looking
young man with red hair and freckled face, at the sight of whom Don and
Jim sprang to their feet with a cry. The boy looked at them dully and
swallowed.

“Terry Mackson!” they shouted.

“What!” cried the professor, in amazement, as he pushed the boy down
into a large chair. “Do you know this boy?”

“We certainly do!” Don shot out. “This is Terry Mackson, an old chum of
ours. We room with him at school.”

The professor looked down at Terry, who stared in puzzled wonder at Don.
“That is very strange. He doesn’t appear to know you.”

“Perhaps he has been hit on the head,” suggested Jim, coming forward.

“This is fierce,” said Don, worry on his face. “Terry, don’t you know
me?”

“‘Shoot if you must this old gray head, but I don’t remember you, she
said,’” was the unexpected reply, and the corners of his mouth, which
had been quivering, expanded. The professor burst into a roar of
laughter.

The Mercer boys stood for a moment rooted to the spot, while Terry and
the professor laughed in unrestrained glee. After the first moment of
disgust their eyes narrowed and two determined chins were thrust
forward.

“Jim,” said Don, quietly. “Put out the light. I don’t want the world to
witness the awful thing that is going to happen here!”

“Put it out yourself!” retorted Jim. “I am due for a first class murder,
and I’m late now!”

And with that the two brothers threw themselves in mock fury onto the
body of their laughing friend and bore him to the floor, where they
punched him soundly, finding their task an easy one, for the red-headed
boy was weak from laughter. When they had tired themselves they jerked
him up and pushed him into the chair, the professor enjoying it all
hugely.

“That was positively the most low trick I ever saw,” declared Don
disgustedly.

“I’d like to have a look at the brain that would think of such a thing,”
chimed in Jim.

“Oh, boy!” laughed Terry. “If you could ever have seen the kindly,
anxious looks in your eyes as you bent over me to help restore my
fleeting memory! My friends, I thank you! If ever I do lose my identity
I shall request that I be taken to the Mercers, who will surely restore
me!”

“Oh, shut up!” said Don, beginning to smile. “We admit that we were
completely sold that time. Where in the world did the professor find
you?”

“I didn’t find him,” put in the teacher. “Luckily, he found me.” And he
related the events of the evening to them.

“You aren’t hurt, I hope, professor?” asked Jim, anxiously.

“No, just bruised a bit. I would have been severely wet if it had not
been for Terry’s timely intervention. It was while on the way over here
in Terry’s—er—remarkable car that he proposed the trick that was played
on you.”

“I’m surprised you would go in for such a thing, professor,” said Don.
“But you can be excused because you don’t know Terry. But in the future
never do anything that he suggests. If you don’t get in trouble you will
be sure to lose all respect for yourself, so I advise against it.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” smiled the older man. “I enjoyed that little scene
in which Terry lost his mind!”

“The part we enjoyed,” returned Don, grimly, “was the thumping part.”

“You say your letter was taken from you, professor?” asked Jim.

“Yes, and I wanted that more than anything else. However, it won’t do
anyone else any good, so I suppose it is not such a loss, after all.”

For the next hour they talked and Terry related his experiences during
his trip across the country. He spoke of going on down into Mexico, and
the professor listened, his eyes fixed on the newcomer thoughtfully. At
last he spoke up.

“Terry,” he said. “Why don’t you come along with us?”

Terry grinned. “I was hoping you’d say just that,” he admitted, frankly.
“I have no definite plan in mind, and I would certainly hate to miss any
fun that Don and Jim are in. But on the other hand I wouldn’t want to
put you out any.”

“You wouldn’t,” said the professor, heartily. “Ned has plenty of room
for all of us at his ranch. I’m really taking the boys along so that I
won’t have to tramp all over the country looking for Ned’s treasure, and
you can come along to help in that line.”

After some talk it was agreed that Terry should store his car away until
such time as they should want it again. It was late when he left them,
agreeing to meet them on the following day and go to the steamer with
them. The professor and the Mercers slept soundly that night and the
next day were ready to begin their trip down the coast.

Meeting Terry in the morning they all went down to the steamer, a small
fruit carrier, and the captain consented to add one to the party.
Although the steamer was not scheduled to start until evening the
friends went aboard early in the afternoon and settled themselves in
their cabin, a good sized room which was plain but clean. After that
they wandered over the ship, keeping out of the way of the men who were
storing crates, preparatory to their cruise southward to load fruit. The
smell of different grades of fruit was a permanent part of the black
steamer, and it was by no means unpleasant.

In the evening, just before sailing time, Don and Jim stood out on the
deck, watching the men at work. The professor and Terry were in the
cabin. Just before the gangplank was hauled in a heavyset man walked
confidently aboard and spoke to the mate. The captain was nowhere about
at the time. Although not particularly interested the boys noted that
the man had a shifty, watchful look, and that his eyes were set close
together. The mate appeared to know him and engaged him in conversation,
talking in low tones and looking around sharply while doing so. At the
end of their short conversation, during which both men looked at the two
boys, the newcomer went forward and they saw no more of him.

The steamer cast off and headed south, swinging out in a wide arc, and
the voyage was on. Terry and the professor came on deck at the sound of
the last whistle and together they watched the purple coast line fade
from sight. Supper followed and they made a hearty meal of it, eating
with the captain at a private table in sight of the main mess tables.

The evening was spent in talking in the cabin and in pacing the deck.
The night was clear and calm and the sky dotted with a myriad of stars,
and the steady throbbing of the huge engines made almost the only sound
as they ploughed through the blue waters of the Pacific. Quite early
they turned in and soon fell into a deep sleep.

It was Terry who woke up with a sense that all was not right. He was a
lighter sleeper than the others, and some slight noise had awakened him.
He sat up in his bunk, peering across the room at a shadow which seemed
out of place there. Thinking it might be one of his chums stirring he
spoke.

“Hello there! Who’s prowling around?”

His words, spoken quietly, had an effect that astonished him. Someone
moved out of the shadows and for a second into the faint light which
streamed in through a port hole. Instantly Terry recognized one of the
men who had attacked the professor on the previous night.

The man ran to the door, jerked it open and darted along the narrow
hallway that led to the companionway ladder. Terry swung his feet over
the edge of his bunk.

“All hands to repel boarders!” he yelled, and without waiting to put on
shoes or clothing, dashed out of the door after the fleeing man.

The others woke up instantly, to see Terry streaking down the hall.
Terry ran rapidly up the ladder and saw the intruder slipping over the
rail. The steamer was close into the shore, and without hesitation the
man dropped over into the water and struck out for the shore, just as
Terry gained the rail.

While he watched the man swimming for shore the others ran up, followed
a moment later by the captain and the mate, a lean-jawed man with a
hooked nose and wide mouth. To their excited inquiries Terry explained
what had happened.

“No use trying to catch him with a boat,” decided the captain, seeing
that the man was almost to the shore. “What did he look like?”

Terry described him, and the professor and the boys were astonished to
find that it was one of the men who had attacked the professor on the
previous night. The captain broke out in an exclamation.

“Sackett!” he cried.

“You know him?” asked the professor.

“Squint Sackett is one of the worst bay bandits we have,” said the
captain. “He is a noted river pirate, and the police would give a whole
lot to lay hands on him. Mr. Abel, how did that man get on board?”

“I don’t know, sir,” said the mate, promptly.

“You don’t know?” asked Jim, in amazement. “Why you let him on board
yourself. My brother and I saw you talking to him this afternoon, just
before we sailed.”

“It’s a lie,” shouted the mate, darting a bitter glance at him.

“Oh, no it isn’t,” said Don, coldly. “We saw you. After you and he
talked this man Sackett went forward, and you didn’t make any effort to
stop him.”

“I’ve had my suspicious of you for sometime, Mr. Abel,” growled the
captain, “and now I know you are crooked. You get off my ship! The first
port we come to you sling your pack and get out. I can’t prove anything
on you, but I won’t have any mate of mine having relations with a man
like Squint Sackett. D’you understand?”

“I’ll break these kids in two!” shouted the mate, advancing. But the
captain, who was bigger than the mate, quickly barred the way, his heavy
fists raised.

“You touch these boys and I’ll bust you over the rail!” he roared. “Get
down below and pack up. Tomorrow you’re clearing this ship. Now get!”

Muttering angrily to himself the mate obeyed, and when he was gone the
captain turned back to the party. “I’d advise you to look out for that
mate,” he warned. “I’m glad you found out what you did. Did Sackett
steal anything from you?”

A hasty examination of the cabin revealed that Sackett had been in the
act of going through the professor’s inside coat pocket at the time he
was surprised by Terry, but nothing had been taken. Putting the whole
affair down as an attempt at robbery the captain left them to
themselves, assuring them that no further harm would come to them.

“We’ll have to keep our eyes open for this Sackett,” said Don, as they
went back to their bunks. “For the life of me, I can’t see why he should
take the trouble to come aboard and try to rob us. He must have a
mistaken idea that there is a lot of money in this crowd.”

“That may be it,” agreed the professor, somewhat doubtfully. “But it
does seem strange that he should take such pains to follow us.”

“Wonder how he knew we were on this particular boat?” mused Jim.

“That’s not so hard,” Terry explained. “Perhaps he hangs around the
docks and saw us come aboard today. But that mate must surely be one of
the gang.”

“No doubt of it,” said Don, yawning sleepily. “Well, he’s gone, and we
probably won’t see anything of him again.”

But if Don and the others could have even guessed at the plans which
were at that moment being formulated in the evil brain of Squint Sackett
they would have had much food for thought. They were destined to see him
again, and not in the distant future.



                               CHAPTER VI
                       THE SCENE IN THE MOONLIGHT


The sail down the beautiful California coast was uneventful. The fruit
steamer was a staunch old boat, though somewhat battered, and it kept
its course steadily. After the boys and the professor had tired of
exploring it from end to end and looking in on the huge engines which
drove it with throbbing energy they spent most of their time on the deck
watching the passing shore line, enjoying the warmth and brilliant
sunshine. The nights, they found, were cold even in that particular time
of the year, and they were not sorry to use blankets even in the shelter
of their cabins. They became quite friendly with the captain, who told
them stories of many exciting voyages and some unusual storms. Nothing
further was seen of Sackett and the mate went sullenly ashore at the
first port.

No storms broke the monotony of fair weather and quiet sailing, and when
at last they entered Magdalena Bay and approached the settlements they
were almost sorry to leave the fruit steamer. At ten o’clock one bright
morning they climbed into the cutter and were pulled away to the shore,
landing at length on the sandy soil of the small town of Quito.

Ned’s ranch lay several miles inland, and the only means of travel was a
lumbering wagon which went to the mines. Learning that this vehicle was
to start out the following morning they hunted up the driver, a Mexican,
and arranged to drive with him. A small hotel provided them with a place
to put up over night and after a satisfying supper they wandered around
the town, seeing the sights. The steamer had gone on its voyage after a
brief stop.

The population of the town was very small, and exceedingly sleepy. Terry
remarked that they slept all day in order to recruit strength enough to
play on guitars at night. The population was composed of Spaniards,
Mexicans, and a few Americans, whose interest seemed to be chiefly
centered in the inland mines, and a number of halfbreeds. Droves of
dogs, whose seemingly endless variety astonished the boys, roamed the
streets.

“Gosh,” exclaimed Jim, as they came around a pack of them. “I used to
like pups, but I don’t know as I do after seeing these. Guess I’ll look
under my bed when we get back to the hotel and see if there are any
there!”

Soft lights gleamed from most of the houses when evening came on, and
the sound of guitars was to be heard on every street. There were no
lights along the streets, but the night was warm and bright, and the
Americans had no difficulty in walking around the town. Quite early they
returned to their hotel and after drinking some cold orange drink, went
to bed.

Bright and early in the morning they were up, as they had been told that
the mine wagon was to leave at six, and after a hearty breakfast went
out and loaded their bags on the vehicle. The driver appeared shortly
afterward, rolling a cigaret with amazing skill between two fingers.
Terry eyed him in admiration.

“By golly!” he muttered. “I don’t smoke and don’t know as I shall, but
if I did I’d give a lot to be able to roll ’em like that! I couldn’t
roll one that way with both hands.”

Later on, when in the course of their journey the Spaniard yawned, Terry
pretended to be enthusiastic. Without bothering to take the cigaret out
of his mouth the driver yawned heartily, and the cigaret, clinging to
his upper lip, simply hung suspended until he closed his lips again.
Then he resumed smoking, the operation being none the worse for the act,
and Terry again shook his head in envy.

“Wonderful people!” he whispered to Don. “Too lazy to do anything at
all! Wonder what happens to a cup of coffee when he yawns!”

“Probably he keeps right on pouring it down and doesn’t waste any time,”
chuckled Jim. “Great labor savers, these people!”

“I guess their hardest work is to keep from doing any work,” smiled
Professor Scott.

The wagon was a large open affair, with two long boards like benches on
the side, and the boys and the teacher sat on the seats with their
baggage at their feet. The driver sat slumped forward on the front seat,
smoking, yawning and dozing by turns, muttering in broken exclamations
sometimes to the horses and sometimes to himself. Although they tried to
talk to him they received only weary shrugs of his narrow shoulders, and
they soon gave it up and talked among themselves.

The country through which they were passing led up in a gradual sweep
from Magdalena Bay, and they soon drew out of sight of that broad sheet
of blue water and plunged on into the more open country. The soil was
somewhat sandy, with an almost tropical vegetation, and small brooks
spread like silver ribbons toward the sea. As they continued to work
further inland the country became more and more open, with rolling
plains and afar off darker stretches marked the hills in which the mines
were located.

“Ned’s place is off in that direction,” said the professor, pointing to
the southwest. “He tells me that it is in a basin between two small
ranges, so we’ll probably come across it all at once.”

At noontime they halted in the shade of a spreading tree which was more
of an overgrown bush, a species that the professor did not know, and in
which he speedily became interested. The driver immediately sat in the
shade and proceeded to eat his lunch from a black box which he had,
paying not the slightest attention to them. The boys, wishing to make
some coffee, cut some mesquite bushes which were nearby and kindled a
small fire. Jim set the coffee to boil and they ate some sandwiches
which they had been wise enough to bring with them.

When the coffee was made Don took some to the Spaniard, who accepted it
with a brief nod of his head. Terry poked Jim.

“That means thank you,” he said. “Too much trouble to say it!”

Immediately after the noon meal the driver toppled over silently and
went to sleep, a movement that afforded Terry much amusement. On this
particular occasion, however, the boys could not blame him very much. It
was hot, so much so that they were glad to stretch out and nap
themselves. At the end of an hour the driver got up suddenly, resumed
his seat and clicked his tongue at the two horses. The wagon, with its
crew, rumbled on.

It was five o’clock when they topped the final rise and looked down on
the Scott ranch. As the wagon rolled down to the place they had a good
opportunity to study it closely. There was the main ranch building, a
single story affair, constructed of plain boards that showed up gray and
sordid against the declining sun. Two large barns flanked the house and
an inclosed field with some scattered patches of grass afforded a ground
for a half dozen horses. In back of the ranch was another frame
building, which they afterward found out was Ned’s laboratory, in which
he tested metal from the mines.

Ned Scott was at home when they arrived, in fact, he had seen the wagon
top the rise, and came riding out to meet them. They saw him swing
carelessly onto the back of a horse and dash up, and Jim, who was used
to riding a cavalry horse at school, admired the grace and ease with
which he did it. Then, having greeted his father enthusiastically, Ned
Scott was introduced to the boys.

He was a young man in his early thirties, broadly built, with black hair
and eyes and a serious look. For some years he had lived in practically
what was solitude, seeing a few white men from the mines and a good many
halfbreeds and Mexicans. The sight of three boys somewhat near his own
age was welcome, and he looked forward to some interesting days to come.

When greetings had been exchanged the young engineer led the way to the
ranch, where the boys alighted from the mine wagon, and paid the driver.
The man took the money unemotionally and drove off, having only
exchanged a word in Spanish with Ned.

“Well,” said Terry, as they watched him drive off. “That man is a
treat!”

“How is that?” asked Ned.

“He is so calm,” replied Terry, solemnly. “And he is a splendid example.
After seeing him I don’t think I’ll ever be fussed or excited over
anything again!”

Ned Scott led them into the ranch building, a rough but comfortable
place, with a wide, hospitable living room, a big dining-room, kitchen
and a number of small bedrooms, all on the one floor. There was a small
loft above for storage purposes, but no real upper floor. After they had
stowed their things away and had made themselves comfortable Ned took
them around the ranch and showed them the place in detail.

As his chief interest was centered in the mines he did not raise cattle,
but he had one man to take care of his horses and generally help about
the place. There was also an Indian cook, who was blackened by the sun
and wind until his skin glowed with a dull color. Ned explained that the
man who kept the horses and the barns was a mestizo.

“What is that?” asked Don.

“A man of mixed Spanish and Indian blood,” explained Ned. “Sometimes he
is very funny. The Spanish in him gets very dignified at times and he is
almost stately, and at other times he is just plain Indian, not much of
anything. However, he has a passion for the horses and he is faithful,
and outside of the fact that I have to drive him to work in the barns he
is all right. I call him Yappi.”

Yappi was seen presently, a tall old man with curiously mixed white and
black hair, a skin that was a mottled yellow, and dull black eyes. He
bowed to them and passed on, apparently not at all curious. They
inspected the barns and looked with considerable interest through Ned’s
laboratory and the metals from the mines.

Supper was well served by Spanci the cook, and in the evening they sat
on the long low porch talking until it was time to turn in. After a good
sleep they were up, taking a trip with Ned to the mines. He led them
through the tunnels and explained the complete workings to them, showing
how the silver and lead was mined. This took up most of the day and they
were thoroughly tired when night came.

Ned was not impressed by the loss of his letter. “Those fellows who
attacked you have probably thrown it away,” he said. “I’ll write you
another one sometime, dad!”

He asked the boys if they could ride and was delighted to find that they
could. Jim, being a cavalry lieutenant at Woodcrest, was somewhat better
at it than the others were, but they soon got accustomed to it. On the
third day of their visit Ned proposed that they take a moonlight ride
that night.

“The moon, as you noticed last night, is beautiful just at this time,
and there is a lot more fun riding in the coolness of the night than in
the heat of the day,” he said. “I think you will thoroughly enjoy it.”

After supper they mounted and rode out of the ranch grounds, the
professor refusing to accompany them. It was a beautiful night, with a
glowing moon and a sky splashed with stars and they rode for miles
across the open country. The air was clear and cool, the mountains dark
and mysterious near at hand, and the boys from Maine enjoyed every
minute of it. As they were returning Ned spoke up:

“When we get to the top of the next hill I’ll show you the ranch of my
neighbor, Senorita Mercedes,” he said.

His tone was casual, but the boys, remembering what the professor had
said about Ned’s interest in the senorita, felt that he was himself
interested in looking at the place where she lived. He had not mentioned
her name since they had been there, and Terry did not know anything
about her. Nor had they discussed the treasure as yet, thought the boys,
but that would no doubt come soon.

They topped the rise and paused to rest the graceful, lively horses
while Ned pointed to a small white ranch which gleamed brightly in the
moonlight. The house itself was small, but the outlying barns were
large, and Ned explained that the senorita was at present raising
cattle.

“Not many of them,” he went on. “Just enough to keep her alive and
eating regularly. She has three ranchman and an overseer.”

Near the ranch some trees and mesquite bushes grew and Don was looking
toward this clump fixedly. He thought that he had detected some movement
there but was not sure. Ned pulled the rein and turned his horse’s head.

“Well, I guess we had better be getting back,” he said.

“Wait a minute,” called Don, in a low voice. “There are two men coming
out of that clump of trees near the ranch and creeping toward the
house.”

Ned spun around in his saddle and looked closely. Two men were crossing
an open space toward the house, taking care to keep as much as possible
in the shadows. Gaining the side of the house they crept to a window and
one of them reached up and pushed it. Instantly it swung open.

“Are those fellows her ranchmen?” asked Terry.

“I don’t think so,” said Ned. “That is the library window they just
opened. By George, I think they’re going in that window!”

“I suppose that’s what they are opening it for,” nodded Jim.

Ned dug his heels into the flank of his horse. “Then come on,” he
shouted, as the first man slipped through the window. “We’ve got to see
what is going on in Senorita Mercedes’ ranch!”



                              CHAPTER VII
                             SACKETT’S RAID


They galloped down the long sloping hill rapidly, unobserved by the two
men who were entering the Mercedes ranch. The second man had leaped
lightly in the window and disappeared from sight. It was evident that
they feared no interruptions for they did not even glance out and the
party of boys arrived in the yard without having warned the men of their
coming.

But once in the yard the ring of the horses’ hoofs on the hard packed
soil reached the ears of the men inside the house. Two heads appeared
swiftly at the window, at the same time that a candle flickered
upstairs. The men, seeing the party of boys, jumped from the window with
one accord.

“Sackett and Abel!” cried Don, as he jumped from his horse.

All the boys had dismounted, which was precisely the wrong thing to do,
for the two men began to run swiftly for a small patch of trees and
bushes which stood at the edge of the senorita’s property. Ned rushed
forward and seized Sackett, who promptly felled him with a blow on the
chin, while Abel kept on going and entered the grove several yards ahead
of his pursuers. Sackett soon joined him, and before Terry, who was in
the lead, could reach him, he had joined Abel, who was already on
horseback with a second rein in his hand. Sackett tumbled into the
saddle and the two men thundered away across the plains.

“Shall we go after them?” shouted Jim, as the senorita appeared on an
upper balcony.

“No,” cried Ned. “They have too big a start, and I want to find out what
they were doing here.”

Somewhat reluctantly the boys turned away, while the two outlaws put
greater distance between themselves and the ranch party. The senorita,
recognizing Ned in the moonlight, hurried back to her room and soon
appeared at the side door of the ranch house.

“Senor Ned, what is it?” she called, and the boys were attracted by her
soft and gentle voice.

Ned and the boys walked to the steps, taking off their hats, and Ned
spoke up. “We were riding by at a distance, senorita, and we paused to
look down at your ranch. While we were looking these two men that just
rode away broke in a side window and entered the house.”

Ned then went on to introduce his friends, to whom the senorita bowed
with a stately grace. They were quite taken with her beauty and charm,
her fine olive skin and her flashing black eyes. She drew their
admiration, for she was not the least bit terror stricken by what had
happened, but only thoughtful and puzzled.

“In the library you say, Senor Ned?” she puzzled. “But why do you think
they should want to go in my library? What is it that is in there?”

She spoke remarkably good English, with only a slight accent. Ned shook
his head.

“Senorita, I do not know. May we inspect your library and see if
anything is missing?”

“Certainly. Do come right in, and welcome,” she replied, and led the way
into the small library of the Mercedes ranch.

It was a square room filled with books, in cases reaching to the
ceiling. A single table was there, and two comfortable chairs. Upon
examination the boys found that a few books, in a section which was
filled with ancient, hand-written manuscripts, had been handled by the
men.

“It is evident that those fellows were about to steal some of your
valuable manuscripts, senorita,” remarked Ned, after they had made an
examination.

“Yes,” nodded the girl. “But I wonder how those men knew that I had any
books?”

“I’m very much afraid you are wrong in your ideas,” spoke up Don, who
had been considering deeply. And Jim nodded, for his ideas were running
along the same lines of those of his brother.

“What do you mean, Don?” asked Ned, quickly.

“You remember that your father was attacked in San Francisco by this man
Sackett, who took away your letter to him? Well, that letter contained
your ideas about the treasure and that ancient book which came from this
library. Those men are taking that matter seriously, and they have been
here tonight to try and find the other half of that Spanish manuscript
and learn the exact location of the wreck!”

“Ah, ha!” cried Senorita Mercedes sharply. “The senor is right!”

“I certainly believe that you are!” cried Ned. “I had never thought of
it all in that light, but that is surely the answer. Sackett is a
freebooter who will turn his hand to anything that promises profit, and
he has done as you say, taken that letter seriously. I wish it had never
fallen into his hands. However, with all of his knowledge of the
country, and I suppose he has quite a knowledge of the land, he doesn’t
know where the treasure is, so we are safe on that point.”

“Yes,” put in Terry. “But we’ll have to be on our guard from now on.
There is no doubt that that gang will push the search with all vigor.”

“They seem to have faith in the story,” said Ned. “I have unlimited
faith in it because I have seen the manuscript, but they are placing
their faith in my letter to my father. There is only one weak spot in my
claim of thought.”

“What is that?” asked Jim.

“That the treasure may have been found and removed since that book was
written. The priest who wrote the book was going to raise a party to go
back and recover the treasure, but whether he did or not is not known.
He may have done so, in which case our efforts and plans are absolutely
useless.”

“Of course,” nodded Don. He turned to the senorita. “Senorita Mercedes,
you do not know how that book ever came to be in your house, do you?”

“No,” confessed the girl. “As far as I have knowledge, senor, it has
quite always been here. But I can say this, which will perhaps aid you:
before my family came here to dwell we lived in Mexico. You see what I
mean?”

“I do,” nodded Ned. “You mean that this priest may at one time have
lodged at your house and have left his book there?”

“He may have even died there, Senor Ned.”

“That is very true. I lean to the belief that the treasure was never
recovered. Well, there are two parties after it now, so we will have to
be on our guard.”

Terry, who had walked to the window, spoke up. He had been examining the
double windows, which opened like doors, with hinges on each side.

“Do you keep your windows locked at night, senorita?” he asked.

“Of a certainty, senor,” she replied.

“I was just wondering,” said Terry, slowly. “Because these two fellows
just reached up and pushed the window open.”

“Impossible, Senor Mackson! You may see that there is a much thick bar
across that window.”

“Yes, so I notice. But all of the boys will tell you that they simply
reached up and pushed the window open, and that they didn’t have a thing
in their hands when they did it!”

“That’s so,” exclaimed Ned, a sudden light breaking over him. “Senorita,
where is Alaroze, your overseer? How is it that he has not appeared
during all of the excitement? The rest of your men are outside; I can
see them gathered in the courtyard.”

“I do not know,” answered the senorita, “I shall call him at once.” She
stepped to the door and clapped her small hands sharply.

There was a slight pause and then a man entered the room quickly. He was
small and chunky, with a brown face and shifty eyes. He was fully
dressed in the nondescript outfit of a ranch foreman.

“Senor Alaroze, where have you been?” the senorita asked him in Spanish,
which the boys understood slightly. They had studied the language in
high school, all except Terry, and they could follow the conversation.

“A thousand pardons, senorita, but I was awakened by the noise and
hastened to dress,” the Mexican said, softly.

“It took you much time, senor,” retorted the senorita, curtly. “Tell me,
when you closed up did you lock this library window?”

“Surely, senorita. I take pains to always carry out faithfully the tasks
intrusted to me,” he replied, his tone becoming haughty.

“The reason we ask you, Senor Alaroze,” said Ned, still in Spanish, “is
because two rascals have just broken into the house and have searched
this library. But the strange part is that they did not even have to
break in. They simply reached up and pushed the window and it opened
under their touch. That does not look as though they found the window
barred, does it?”

“I can only say that I dropped the bar across the window before I
retired, senor,” replied the overseer, his lips moving uneasily.
“Perhaps someone else——”

“Nonsense!” cried Ned, sharply. “The senorita is the only one who sleeps
in the house. You and the ranchmen sleep in the bunkhouse. You do not
think for a minute that Senorita Mercedes came down and took the bar
from the window do you?”

“I regret to say that I do not know what to think, senor,” returned the
overseer, quietly enough. The other boys watched him closely, puzzled at
his calm and speculating as to what thoughts might be in his mind.

“Well, it is very strange,” remarked Ned, closing the window and
dropping the bar in place. When he spoke there was a trace of gloom in
his voice, especially when he addressed the overseer. “Be more careful
in the future, Senor Alaroze. You alone have the keeping of Senorita
Mercedes and her safety.”

“I am worthy of the trust, senor,” retorted the overseer, his eyes
narrowing.

Ned looked at his watch. “We’ll have to be getting back, or dad will
begin to be worried. I don’t think you will have any more trouble,
senorita. If you do, send one of your men to me and I will come as
quickly as possible.”

The senorita murmured thanks and accompanied them to the courtyard,
where the boys swung onto their mounts. The three ranchmen, seeing that
all was well, went back to the bunkhouse, while the overseer, his face
hidden in the shadow of the doorway, stood back of the senorita.

She bade them goodbye, thanking them once more. The boys quietly
overlooked the fact that she held onto Ned’s hand for a moment longer
than seemed actually necessary. They rode away, looking back more than
once at the gleaming white ranch in the moonlight, until it was lost to
sight.

“I’m very much afraid I don’t trust that overseer,” said Don.

“Well,” said Ned. “So far he has been very good in the management of the
ranch. I wonder if he can be in league with that Sackett gang?”

“Hard to tell,” said Terry. “I don’t like the thought of the senorita
living alone with that fellow around, and not a woman for miles.”

There was a pause, and then: “I don’t like it, either,” spoke Ned,
frankly. “But she claims that she is not afraid. She goes armed all the
time and is very determined to be a success at raising cattle and caring
for herself. Pride, you know, is something that the Spanish are great
for, and I’m afraid she has more than her share. However, sometime——”

He did not finish his thought, but the boys thought that they knew what
he had in mind. They arrived at the ranch in silence and relieved the
professor’s anxiety.



                              CHAPTER VIII
                          THE SEARCH IS BEGUN


“According to this thing,” said Terry, with a grin, “if we find that
treasure the dragon will eat us!”

It was on the following day and the entire group was bent over the
manuscript which had been written by the long dead priest. The book lay
spread out on the library table before them, yellow and fragile, with
corners which threatened to fall away to dust at their touch. Rotted
cord held it together and had broken in so many places that the ancient
book held together by a miracle.

They had read together the thrilling story of the flight from the
English barks, of the wreck in the lonely creek, and the description of
the treasure up to the point where the missing pages spoiled the
worthwhileness of the manuscript.

“That galleon must have been pretty big,” Jim had said. “How big is an
English bark?”

“A bark is a three-masted, square-rigged vessel. The mizzenmast is
fore-and-aft rigged, if I remember my history correctly,” the professor
replied. “There are still barks left in service, and you can see that
they were of a fair size from the fact that they had three masts.”

The statement regarding the dragon had drawn Terry’s attention. It was a
solemn statement to the effect that if anyone who was not a subject of
His Sovereign Majesty the King of Spain attempted to lay hands on the
treasure the guardian dragon would utterly destroy them.

“I wouldn’t pay much attention to that,” smiled the professor. “In the
first place, the Spaniards stole it from the Indians, and it never did
belong to His Sovereign Majesty. We won’t worry about the dragon until
we have found the treasure.”

They had planned to start out on the following day in an effort to find
the river up which the galleon had sailed. The professor declined to
accompany them.

“You boys go ahead and do the hunting,” he said. “I’m a little too old
to be riding around the country looking for gold. But when you find it
I’ll help you dig it out.”

“Well, if we don’t find it, we’ll have a good camping trip, anyway,”
said Ned, who knew that his father did not place much stock in his ideas
regarding the treasure.

It had been agreed that no long trip was to be arranged just yet. Ned
planned to explore the coast for several miles to the south at present,
and if that failed to show any signs of a river or the wreck to make
preparations for a trip of several days. They were to be gone overnight
this time and that was all.

So on the following day they were ready to go. Each boy had a packet of
provisions and his blanket strapped on the back of his saddle and a
light automatic rifle in his hands. The boys had been taught to shoot
with a fair degree of accuracy at Woodcrest School and so felt no fear
of appearing backward in that respect in Ned Scott’s eyes. They all
shook hands with the professor, who wished them luck, and then they rode
away to the southward in the first step of their hunt for the Spanish
treasure.

The day was warm and clear, and before they had been many hours on the
open plain they felt the heat keenly. The sun beat down directly on the
flat, dry soil, and dancing waves of heat soon showed above the ground,
as far as the eye could see. Ned would have turned to the distant
mountains except that their search lay along the sea coast and they
would gain nothing by seeking the coolness of the higher lands.

“What mountains are those?” Don asked, pointing to the sweeping ranges.

“That central range which you see is the Sierra Gigantea,” explained
Ned. “In some places it is three and four thousand feet above sea level.
The high ranges are north and south, and on this southwestern side the
rocks are granitic. There is plenty of sandstone on the other slope, and
the range is full of volcanic dykes.”

“Looks mighty cool up there,” said Terry, mopping his forehead.

“It is. We have all kinds of weather in this country, from burning
tropical heat and its characteristic vegetation to the icy cold of the
peaks.”

In the afternoon they halted under a friendly group of trees and ate a
light lunch, stretching out to talk afterward for a brief time. The
afternoon was even hotter than the morning, and while they did not feel
like sleeping they did enjoy the rest under the trees. They resumed
their journey after three o’clock, keeping the calm blue waters of the
Pacific in sight all the while.

Several creeks were found, but none of them were wide enough to have
ever allowed the passage of a galleon, although they were forced to bear
in mind the fact that the passage of centuries might have closed up
small rivers or narrowed creeks. Sandstorms rapidly changed the
topography of countries, they knew. They followed two large streams for
several miles inland and then cut across country again to the sea.

When they stopped for their supper Ned said: “The fact is, we may be
looking the wrong way. Perhaps we should have gone north instead of
south. The directions in the manuscript were vague, much as though the
priest himself did not know just where he was at the time. After all,
this whole hunt is a matter of faith, and if we don’t ever find anything
we’ll just put it all down as a good time and a summer vacation.”

“Of course,” rejoined Don, heartily. “But I feel as you do, that the
treasure was never found again. But aren’t you neglecting one very good
clue?”

“What is that?” asked Ned, quickly.

“You recall that peculiar piece of wreckage that was picked up by the
steam trawler? Well, the funny thing was that no other piece of the
galleon to which it was a part could be found anywhere nearby. Don’t you
feel that it was washed out of a nearby creek and settled in the mud in
the place where the fishing boat found it?”

“There was no creek anywhere near it,” Ned answered.

“Perhaps not, but it could have come from quite some distance. Are we
near the place where the piece of wreckage was found?”

“It was found about fifty miles further up the coast,” Ned said.

“It is my opinion that somewhere near there the galleon ran up a river.
Can we go there tomorrow?”

“Well,” said Ned, slowly. “I think if we visit that spot we had better
plan to make a much longer stay of it. We ought to spend several days in
the vicinity, perhaps a week. Suppose we spend the night here, go home
in the morning and outfit for an intensive hunt.”

“That would be a good idea,” Jim thought.

“I think we should,” argued Don. “You plan to run over every inch of the
coast north and south, don’t you? Then I think we might as well outfit
ourselves for a hard and active campaign.”

The sun was now going down, turning the hills and distant mountains into
things of rare beauty as the multitude of lights danced and gleamed
along the crests of the mighty range. The boys cut enough wood to last
them through the night, and sat around a glowing little fire, telling
Ned of past adventures until they all were sleepy enough to go to bed.

“By golly,” said Terry, as he rolled himself up in his blanket. “In the
daytime you roast around here and at night you need a blanket. Very
unreliable climate, I must say. Jim, will you kindly dust the snow off
me when you arise in the morning!”

They were up early in the morning and ate a hearty breakfast, enjoying
the glory of another perfect day. Ned calculated that they would strike
the ranch again about noontime, and soon they were in the saddle once
more, striking north along the sea coast. They had gone along the hard
sand at a brisk trot for some ten miles when Jim stopped and pointed to
a group of buildings back against a sandy cliff.

“What is that place?” he asked.

“That is a group of tannery buildings,” explained Ned as they jogged on
toward it. “Years ago, in the days of the sailing ships, when California
and Lower California were first opened up, hides were collected inland
and dragged to that cliff, where they were thrown down below, still in a
raw state. Then, while the ships went on up the coast, a picked crew of
sailors remained here, curing the hides and storing them until the ship
returned and picked them up.”

“I remember reading about it in that fine old book, ‘Two Years Before
the Mast,’” said Don. “I’m glad of the chance to see one of the
tanneries.”

When they arrived at the mouldering tannery they dismounted and went
inside, examining with interest this last relic of an ancient business.
The buildings were made of rough logs, hauled for many miles to the
coast, and some scraps of ancient hides still clung to the storage
racks. The vats were still there, stained with many colors, and a heavy
smell was still noticeable indoors. Outside they found the framework of
the stretching racks.

“That certainly is interesting,” commented Jim. “You must tell your
father, Ned. Perhaps he’ll want to come and look at the place.”

“We’ll tell him,” the young engineer nodded, as they resumed their
journey.

Ned’s calculations were correct, for it was just noontime when they
arrived at his ranch. They rode down the incline toward the house, which
looked deserted. Ned whistled but there was no response.

“Maybe dad is still in bed,” he laughed, as he swung from his horse.

But when they went into the house the professor was not to be found. Nor
was the cook around. Ned hurried to the barns and looked for Yappi, but
in vain. As he hurried back to the house Don called to him.

“It’s all right, Ned,” Don said. “There is a note from him on the table.
He has gone out looking for plant specimens.”

Ned hastened into the room, relief on his brown face, and took up the
note. It was a simple message, worded as Don had explained, but as Ned
read it his brow darkened.

“Look here,” he said, crisply. “Do you know what dad’s first name is?”

“I don’t,” answered Don, and Jim shook his head. Don pointed to the
note. “I see he signed it ‘Duress Scott.’ I never heard of that name
before.”

“It isn’t a name,” was the startling answer. “Dad signed it that way to
let us know that he signed it under duress, under compulsion! The cook
and the overseer are both gone, evidently carried off by the same gang
who captured dad!”

“I’ll bet everything I’ve got that it is Sackett again!” groaned Jim.
“What are we to do?”

“Just as soon as we can tie up a little grub and fill up with plenty of
ammunition we’ll start to run those fellows down,” said Ned, grimly. “I
think it is high time that somebody put an end to Mr. Sackett and
Company, and we’re going to do it!”

“That’s the talk!” cried Terry. “War to the knife! Where is my gun?”



                               CHAPTER IX
                           THE RUINED CASTLE


The professor enjoyed his day of solitude. Long years of serious study
and instructive reading had made him one of the men who prefer being
alone to mixing with a noisy crowd. Not that the professor was the least
bit snobbish or unsociable, but he loved the quietness of inner thought
and the companionship of a book.

After the boys had disappeared over the hill he returned to the living
room and sat in a sunny window looking out over the rolling country
which extended for miles back of Ned’s ranch, away to the purple
mountains in the distance. A feeling of warm contentment came over the
elderly man, for an hour or more he simply dreamed there, enjoying the
comfort of Ned’s best armchair.

After that he read for a long time, until the cook announced that dinner
was ready. He ate alone, well served by the silent Indian and then went
back to smoke his pipe and dream in the window once more. When afternoon
came on he imitated the actions of the cook and Yappi, who both went to
sleep, the cook in a bunk off the kitchen and Yappi beside the barn, his
battered hat over his eyes. The professor sought the dull colored sofa
in the living room and slept until the sun began to go down.

He awoke much refreshed and drank copiously, realizing for the first
time in his long life just how good water could be. Another lone meal
followed and he spent the evening with another book, sitting under the
oil lamp until it was nearly time to go to bed. Then, enchanted with the
fine moonlight, the professor went out on the front porch to smoke a
final pipe before retiring.

The whole landscape was flooded by the brilliant slice of moon which
hung far over in the sky, and the professor drank in its beauty. The
cook had finally cleared up everything in the kitchen and gone out to
the small bunkhouse, to listen for a time to the guitar which Yappi was
playing and then finally to coax the old mestizo into playing a game of
cards with him, over which they droned half asleep, seriously intent.
When Professor Scott had finished his pipe he knocked out the ashes,
yawned and with a final look around, went to his room.

This was in the back of the long, low building, facing the plains and
mountains. He opened the window and finding that there was enough light
from the moon, extinguished the lamp which he had lighted and took off
his necktie. His eyes wandered dreamily over the landscape. Then he
suddenly stopped unbuttoning his collar, his eyes narrowed, and he
became all attention.

On the top of a sand dune a man was standing and looking toward the
ranch. It was only for an instant and then the man disappeared, slipping
down the other side noiselessly. He had on a cape and a sombrero, and
the professor was puzzled. He wondered if Yappi or the cook had left the
place, and after a moment of thought he went back to the front porch and
looked around. There was no light in the bunkhouse now. But when he
started to go out there he saw the cook walking toward the kitchen door
and the ranchman coming out of the barn.

His first impulse was to speak to Yappi, but thinking it useless to
alarm the man he returned to the house and to his room. It was not
either of the men whom he had seen, but some stranger who was carefully
looking down on the ranch. It was possible that it was only some chance
wayfarer who had topped the rise and was examining the ranch, but the
professor knew that Sackett was in the neighborhood and that it would be
well to keep his eyes open. For an hour he looked steadily out of the
window, but he saw nothing more to alarm him, and at last, after making
a tour through the house and locking every door and window, including
the window in his bedroom, he went to bed and soon fell asleep.

When morning came he was awakened by the sound of the cook trying the
back door, and he hastily opened it for the Indian. The cook answered
his cheery morning greeting unemotionally. The Indian had never known
Ned to lock the doors, and he wondered why the older man did it, but no
sign of his thoughts appeared on his shiny dark face and he set about
getting breakfast ready. The professor dressed and then sat down to his
morning meal, after a hasty look around to see that all was well.

Yappi had already attended to the horses when the professor went out to
take a walk around the ranch, and the mestizo was busy in the barn.
After enjoying the clear morning outside the professor went back to the
house and once more resumed his reading, sitting in the window through
which the sun came brightly. From where he was sitting he could see
Yappi at work on a saddle, mending a flap on it, sitting on the low
doorstep of the bunkhouse.

The professor had read for perhaps a half hour and was in the act of
turning a page when he happened to look up and out at the old mestizo.
The man had ceased his stitching and was looking back of the house, the
saddle hanging loosely in his hand. And to the professor’s vast
astonishment, he suddenly tossed the saddle over his shoulder and with
the agility of a cat rolled himself without rising into the doorway of
the bunkhouse.

Struck with amazement at the man’s actions the teacher put down his book
and got up, striding for the front door. But even before he reached it
he heard the back door pushed open and he turned. His worst fears were
realized when he found Sackett standing on the threshold, a rifle in his
hand, and Abel just back of him. Both men were smiling in triumph, but
keeping a wary eye on the house just the same.

“Ah,” said Sackett, grinning broadly. “We didn’t know you was going out
the front door, governor! Or maybe you was goin’ to let us in?”

“What do you want here?” asked the professor, stiffly.

Sackett looked all around. “We ain’t sure, yet. We want you, for one
thing. Keep your gun on him, Abel. Where’s Manuel?”

“Watching the front door,” growled the former mate.

The two men stepped into the house and the professor saw that he was
trapped. He had no idea what the men wanted with him, although his heart
sank a little he resolved to face them unflinchingly. Out of the corner
of his eye he saw the cook glide out of the back door.

“You two men get out of this house!” the professor snapped.

Sackett laughed and walked boldly through the rooms, while Abel kept his
rifle pointed in the professor’s direction. After he had looked through
every room the leader came back.

“Nobody else in the place, just like Manuel said,” he reported. He faced
the old savant. “Where did those boys go to?”

“Off on a camping trip,” answered the professor, calmly.

“Sure they didn’t go looking for that treasure?” inquired the outlaw,
thrusting his face close to Mr. Scott’s.

“Do you mean to say that you believe that story?” sniffed the professor,
scornfully.

“I believe it, and so do you,” replied the chief.

“A fairy story,” said the professor, contemptuously. “My boy has long
since found out that there isn’t anything to it.”

“You and your boy know more about that treasure than you feel like
telling,” retorted Sackett. “You’re coming with us and stay with us
until you tell us what you do know.”

“I guess I’ll stay with you a long time,” said the professor,
humorously. “Because I don’t know anything about it.”

“Stow the talk and come on,” growled the mate. “Want them boys to come
back again?”

“Yes, we had better get moving,” agreed the leader of the gang. He
walked to the desk and took out a piece of paper and a pen, which he
dipped in the ink. “You write a note saying you have gone for a little
exploring trip,” he directed the professor.

“I won’t write a line!” said the professor, stubbornly.

“You write quickly or I’ll punch your head!” growled the outlaw, raising
his heavy fist.

Convinced that he would gain nothing by arguing with these men the
professor took the pen and wrote a short note. He hesitated a moment and
then signed it “Duress Scott.”

“Hey!” cried Sackett, suspiciously. “What’s that you’re putting?”

“You want me to sign my name, don’t you?” asked the teacher, blandly.

“That isn’t your name,” argued the man.

“Oh, it isn’t, eh?” said the professor. “Very well, I’ll sign it just
plain Dad, and then Ned will know that something is wrong.”

The leader thought a moment. “Never mind,” he growled. “That will do as
it is. Now come along, and mind, no funny business, or it will be the
worse for you.”

The professor accompanied them out of the house, jealously guarded by
the two men, and in the back yard Manuel, a short and stolid Mexican,
was waiting for them with a horse from Ned’s own stock. In silence the
professor mounted and the cavalcade moved out of the ranch grounds, the
professor looking around for the cook and Yappi. Neither of them were in
sight.

“Miserable cowards!” muttered the professor, between his set teeth.

They headed for the mountains, the Mexican in front and the professor
riding just ahead of Sackett and Abel, who kept watchful eyes on him.
They travelled in silence during the morning and stopped at noon to eat
and rest, after which they pushed on, in a direction southwest of the
mines. Manuel, it seemed, was the lookout and rode ahead to see to it
that they did not unexpectedly run across some party from the mines or
from other scattered ranches. They had passed to the north of the
Senorita Mercedes ranch and there was no help from that quarter. And
when at last they entered the trees at the foot of the central range
they had not been seen by anyone.

There Manuel waited for the party and they rode on in a compact body,
ascending the long slopes, skirting abrupt cliffs and rising high above
sea level. The woods were of a semi-tropical nature, with thick trees
and bright green leaves, surrounded by dense bushes of undergrowth. It
was cool above the level of the plain and they made good time, coming
out onto a flat plateau late in the afternoon. Before them was a wall of
vegetation, and to the professor’s astonishment they rode straight to
it, pushed their way through and came unexpectedly upon the ruins of a
small castle.

The building was small and now nothing more than a tumbled heap of
ruins. Looking at it closely the professor was inclined to think that it
had never been completed at all, but had been abandoned before the roof
had been put on. Creepers grew in reckless profusion all over the stones
and a bright green snake glided across a door sill with a slight hiss.
The men sprang from their horses and the professor got down slowly,
waiting the next move.

Guided by his captors he was led across the first floor of the place,
evidently the effort of some Spanish nobleman to plant a small empire of
his own in a new country, and ushered into a single room toward the back
of the castle. This room had a ceiling to it and he could see at once
that it was the headquarters of the gang. A stove, made out of bricks
held together by clay, stood in one corner and several strings of red
peppers, dried with heat and age, hung from strings over the stove. A
rough table, two chairs and a bench, and a long box made up the
furniture of the place. Besides the door, which was constructed of heavy
wood, there was a single window in the place, which was barred, though
it had no glass in it. The forest grew close to the back of the place.

“Now look here,” commanded the leader, as soon as they were all in the
room. “Are you going to talk, or do we have to starve it out of you?”

“If you mean I am to tell you anything about that treasure, I guess
you’ll have to starve me,” returned the professor, with spirit. “I tell
you I don’t know a thing about it.”

Sackett turned to Abel. “No use arguing with this man now, I can see
that. Maybe when he gets hungry he’ll sing another tune. Put him in the
dungeon.”

Without wasting a word on the matter Abel drove the professor before him
to a small door which opened in one side of the room. This door, when
opened, disclosed a turning flight of narrow stairs, and down this the
professor went, guided by the light from a lantern which Manuel had
lighted and handed to the mate. After turning around and around they
came suddenly to a narrow cell, in front of which swung a heavy wooden
half door, the upper part of which was composed of iron bars. Abel
opened the door by pulling it toward him and then pushed the professor
inside.

“Stay there until you get hungry,” he said, grimly. “When you feel like
talking just yell for the captain.”

He closed the door with a sharp slam, snapped a padlock in place, and
taking the light with him, remounted the stairs. The professor stood
still, watching the light flash and twinkle on the white stone steps
until it was gone and he was in the darkness alone.



                               CHAPTER X
                        THE ROPE IN THE DUNGEON


The light was gone at last and with it the professor’s hope. He was
totally alone in the inky darkness, a prisoner in a cell whose size he
was not certain of, down under the ruins of a castle in the woods. Far
above him he could hear the slam of another door and the faint footsteps
of the two men. Then there was complete silence and the teacher turned
away from the barred door.

“A truly ancient castle,” grumbled the professor. “The dungeon completed
before the rest of the house!”

He wondered, as he moved cautiously around if anyone had ever been a
prisoner in this cold and wet-smelling cell. He found his way around
without difficulty, running his hands along the wall and extending his
feet carefully. There was not a single object in the place, and he felt
that they had not expected to have him there, for there was no bed or
chair in the place.

“Unless,” thought the savant, as he continued to feel his way around.
“They wouldn’t be decent enough to give me a chair or bed, anyway. No
use in expecting mercy from villains like these, I suppose.”

The walls were perfectly smooth, composed of sandstone, as was the
entire castle. Ned had told his father that the opposite slope of the
mountain was almost wholly composed of this particular type of stone,
and the original owner and builder had no doubt had it quarried and
dragged to the spot, using Indians who had been taken captive by the
Spaniards. Such was the professor’s belief and it was reasonable. Even
in his anxiety to escape from these men he found himself taking an
interest in the place and resolved that if these men were ever cleaned
out of it he would explore it thoroughly.

The floor was also of stone, wet and slippery, and for all the professor
knew, the dwelling place of spiders and other crawling things. He hated
to sit down on it, but there was no other place and he was very tired
from his long ride and the excitement of it all, so he felt around the
floor with shrinking hand and finally found a spot near the door which
seemed to be drier than the rest of the floor. Pretty much exhausted the
history professor sank to the floor and rested his back against the cold
wall.

He was in some doubt as to what to do. He felt that Ned would catch on
to his meaning when he read the word “duress” and the boys would surely
make a vigorous effort to find him, but how long that would be or what
would happen in the meantime he had no idea. The men upstairs were
convinced that he knew something about the treasure, that he possessed
some information which he was withholding, and they would do their best
to get it out of him. They would try to starve him first, and in that
fact he found a ray of hope, for it would take them several days to find
out that he did not intend to say anything, and then they would adopt a
more severe program. In that time Ned and the boys from Maine would have
time to find him, and they would naturally look near the mountains. It
was possible that they might think he had been carried off to sea, but
surely the cook or Yappi would tell them the true facts of the case,
provided they hadn’t been so frightened that they hadn’t even seen in
which direction the cavalcade had gone.

But if the men decided to change their plans and try to pump information
from him he would have a bigger problem on his hands. These men were by
no means gentle, they were men who were willing and able to sweat hard
to earn money and especially dishonest money, and they would not be
likely to stop at anything cruel or inhuman. They were miles away from
any source of help and the woods would effectually hide any story which
might shock the outside world if it were known. Sackett and the mate
must know that the boys would soon be on the trail, and he was inclined
to think that they would resort before very long to methods other than
peaceful.

“If that is the case,” thought Professor Scott, jumping to his feet,
“I’m just wasting time by sitting here. There seems to be no way of
getting out of the place, but it may be that there is some flaw that
will ultimately prove my biggest help.”

So once more he began to feel his way along the wall and then stopped as
a new thought came to him. A few days before Ned had given him a cigar
lighter, a somewhat unreliable engine that lighted once in a great
while, but which always gave off a bright flash when the little wheel
was turned by the thumb. It was in his vest pocket and he reached for
it. He had not had any matches with him and had secretly lamented the
fact, but now his main difficulty was in a fair way to be overcome.

He took the little case from his pocket and spun the wheel. A sputtering
little flash was the answer, which lighted up the cell for a split
second and gave him his bearings. It was evident that the cigar lighter
had no intentions whatsoever of lighting for any length of time, but it
at least gave forth a flash that threw the heavy stones into a sort of
bluish picture for an instant. Working it constantly the old gentleman
moved around the dungeon, exploring the walls and floor, until something
in one corner arrested his attention.

There was a crevice there, running from the floor to the ceiling and in
that crack was a moulded rope. The rope ended near the floor, and hung
straight down from a round hole in the ceiling above him. He took hold
of the rope, to find it wet and slippery but fairly strong. The men had
evidently not seen it and he knew why. Anyone who stood in the room and
threw the beams of a lantern around would cast the light in a confused
way into the corners and so miss seeing the rope, which was deep in the
cranny, and indeed the professor would not have seen it himself if he
had not been standing right at the crevice. Probably the men had never
gone over the walls inch by inch, and unless one did that the hidden
rope would surely escape their eye. But now that he had the rope, what
was he to do with it?

He pulled on the rope and his answering came with a suddenness that
startled him into stepping back hastily. Far above his head a bell
pealed out sharply, shattering the silence of the mountain fastness with
disconcerting vigor. Nervously he dropped the lighter and then picked it
up, his brow wet with a nervous perspiration.

“Great heavens!” murmured the professor. “I must stop that, or I’ll have
them down on me.”

Upstairs there was a moment of silence and then a sudden commotion. A
chair fell over and he heard running footsteps. Apparently the upper
door was opened, for he could hear the words of the men.

“What is ringing that bell?” he heard Sackett roar.

“You got me, captain,” replied Abel, while rapid chattering in Mexican
reached the ears of the professor. “That bell is just up there in the
tower and nobody can ring it. There must be ghosts in this place, I tell
you!”

“Keep shut about your ghosts!” snarled the leader. “What’s that Mexican
saying?”

“He’s howling prayers because he’s scared,” the mate said.

Understanding came over the professor all at once. One tall tower had
struck his attention as they had approached the ruined castle and it was
evident that this tower had in it a large bell, placed there when the
castle was first built. The rope which the professor had pulled led
directly to this bell, a circumstance of which the men upstairs knew
nothing, and he found that fate had provided him with a weapon to work
against them with telling force. Realizing in the long run what this
would mean the teacher once more took hold of the rope.

“Somebody is ringing that bell,” said Sackett, his tone ugly and
uncertain. “Ain’t there no way to get up in that tower and stop it?”

“No,” answered Abel. “The tower has no steps and it’s no use anyway. I
tell you a spirit is ringing that bell! I knew I hadn’t ought to have
come in on a game like this.”

“Oh, shut up,” growled Sackett. “It isn’t ringing anymore.”

But at that moment the bell rang out, and this time the professor used
it effectively. With long sweeping strokes he tolled it, so that the
melancholy sounds sounded out and over the country for miles. It was a
solemn and fearful sound, and the men above were thoroughly awed and
frightened by it.

“Go see if that professor has escaped from his cell,” ordered Sackett,
as the professor paused in his labors. “He may be out and doing this
somehow.”

The professor thanked his lucky stars that he had overheard this bit of
conversation and gave the bell a final toll. Then he quickly resumed his
place near the door, holding onto the bars and peering anxiously out as
the mate came down the stairs with the lantern.

The man flashed the light full in the face of the professor, who blinked
and threw up his hand to cover his eyes. At the same time he eagerly
questioned the mate.

“Why is that bell ringing? What does it mean? Why is there a bell here?”
he cried.

The mate looked troubled but attempted to pass it off. “You mind your
own business,” he said, in a surly tone. At the same time he pressed
close to the door and flashed the light into the dungeon, looking
intently at the corners. Without another word he went back up the
winding stairs, and before he closed the door the professor heard him
say: “The old man is all right. He hasn’t been out of the cell and he
couldn’t ring the bell. I tell you——”

That was as much as Professor Scott heard but it was enough to satisfy
him. His best plan was now to mystify the men in the hope of terrifying
them so that they would leave the place and take him somewhere else.
Whether that would in the end be a better move or not he did not know,
but it was at least better than waiting and wasting time, and it would
serve to bring Ned and the boys to the spot. There was no doubt that the
sound could be heard far from the mountain, and he had no doubt that it
would be of great value to him.

Feeling that it would do him no good to keep on tolling the bell he gave
up the task for the time being, planning to ring it wildly in the very
middle of the night. The men would no doubt be asleep and he could ring
it out in such a way as to bring them to their feet with fast beating
hearts, convinced that the place was haunted by a spirit that rang the
bell. If they persisted in staying even after that he would keep ringing
the bell at intervals, taking care not to break the rope, which,
fortunately for him had originally been tarred and so was preserved.

With that thought in mind the professor pulled his coat more closely
around him, curled himself up on the hard floor and went to sleep. His
sleep was fitful and restless, and after two hours of it he had the
impression that something nearby was scratching. Awakening at last he
sat up, wide awake in an instant, to find that the steady scratching
sound was no dream, but an actual fact, and seemed to come from the wall
beside him.



                               CHAPTER XI
                        THE UNDERGROUND PASSAGE


The scratching sound continued to come as the professor listened, and he
got up and bent his head close to the wall. It sounded to him as though
someone was scraping the rock wall on the other side of his cell, and he
was puzzled over the circumstance. There was a measure of hope in the
sound, perhaps the boys had arrived and were trying to break through to
him. But as he continued to think it over he realized that it could not
be so. The dungeon was deep in the earth and it would be impossible for
them to get down on a level with his cell. The only other thing he could
think of was that there was a prisoner in a cell next to his.

It might easily be possible that Sackett, in some of his other dishonest
games, had taken someone else prisoner and the man was trying to break
through to him. In that case it behooved the professor to try and help
whoever was coming through the wall of his dungeon. He took the cigar
lighter from his pocket, made it flash and then looked at his watch by
its brief blue flame. It was now one o’clock in the morning.

Continuing to make flashes the teacher watched the wall and after a time
found the rock upon which the unknown man was working. It was a large
block in the very center of the south wall, and under the soft blows of
the man on the other side it was already slightly loose. The professor
could see it move. He took out a knife which he had and began to pick at
the edges on his side, chipping carefully and as noiselessly as
possible. It was evident that the person on the other side knew that he
was helping for the scraping stopped abruptly but after a moment it was
resumed.

They worked on in silence, the professor listening for sounds from
upstairs, but none came. The men were evidently asleep or they had left
the place altogether, for he heard no movement and he was not
interrupted in his labors. He found that the soft and rotted material
between the stones was easy to dislodge, and his mysterious helper was
pushing as he worked, so that the huge stone was beginning to move
toward the cell of the professor. Only a fraction of an inch at a time,
but it was enough to give the teacher hope, and finally it was far
enough out to allow him to get the tips of his fingers under the rough
edge of the stone.

By working it back and forth the professor at length got it loose. It
came out with a rush, nearly bending him double with the unexpected
weight. At the same time a light flared in his eyes and he hastily
deposited the stone on the floor of his dungeon. When this was completed
he straightened up and confronted his companion.

It was Yappi, the mestizo. He held a torch of pitch wood in his one hand
and a keen knife in the other. He had evidently worked hard at the
stone, for his hands were dirty and so was his mouth and forehead,
showing that he had stopped more than once to wipe them with his dirty
hands. The professor was glad to see the man but more than astonished at
what he saw back of him. The ranchman was standing in a vaulted
underground passage, which ran back a distance that the professor could
not make out.

“Yappi!” cried the professor, in a low voice. “How did you get here?”

“I followed you, senor,” said the old man, simply. “It was somewhat hard
work, for my feet are not so swift to run as they once were. But when I
knew that they had carried you off to this castle I laughed inside, for
I knew this castle very well.”

In one sense Yappi was a mystery. He was an ordinary mixture of Spanish
and Indian, and yet not ordinary in other ways. He possessed a dignity
and his English was perfect. Ned Scott could never learn where he got
it. Except for rare periods when he became sulky or falsely sensitive he
was always steady and reliable. The professor had greatly misjudged him
when he had thought him a coward, and later on apologized, an apology
which was very graciously accepted.

“What is this underground passage?” whispered the professor eagerly,
forgetting his situation in his interest.

“It is as old as the castle, senor, and I have known of it since I was a
child. Many times I have played around these ruins. But come, we waste
time and must be going.”

The opening that the removal of the stone had made was not a big one and
the professor had a hard struggle to get out, in fact Yappi was
compelled to haul him through bodily. Of a necessity the professor
squirmed out and landed on his face, grumbling at the man who had made
him resort to so clumsy a method of action. Once in the passage he
looked around, finding that it was made of stone and arched overhead,
the entire height being about seven feet. Consequently they were not
compelled to bend over, and they hurried through the passage in comfort,
the ranchman in the lead.

“What was this passage ever made for?” the professor asked.

“I do not know, senor. It may be that once that room was not a dungeon,
or it may be—but who knows? Only I happened to know of the passage and
knew that they would put you in that cell, so I have been at work for
some hours on the stone.”

“I certainly appreciate your hard work, Yappi,” said the professor.

The mestizo made no reply. The professor noted that the passage was
sloping upward somewhat, and before long he felt cool fresh air on his
cheek. Near the entrance Yappi extinguished the torch by grinding it
under his heel and they proceeded in the darkness, until the mestizo
stopped and grasped his arm, pointing silently ahead.

The end of the passage was before them, and lounging there, a rifle in
his hands, was the mate Abel. They could make out the lines of his body
plainly as he stood near a mound, totally unconscious that he was within
five feet of a secret tunnel. The professor could see that the mouth of
the secret passage was screened in some dense bushes and that it curved
right up from the ground. But in spite of all their brilliant work Abel
suspected something, and for the time being at least they were halted.

They held a council of war right there, speaking in whispers. It was
evident that the mate had heard something or had the feeling that all
was not well, for he stood on his guard, the rifle held slightly
forward. Yappi was for rushing him and fighting it out, but the
professor opposed it firmly. The man was armed and Yappi was not, and
the ranchman was old and none too strong. Beside all that, the professor
had another thought.

He asked the old man if he had heard the bell tolling and the mestizo
replied that he had. Professor Scott then went on to tell him how it was
done, and to propose that he steal back and ring the bell, thus puzzling
the men and taking Abel away from his most inconvenient post. The
mestizo gravely approved of his plan and together they retraced their
steps until they came to the hole in the wall.

Knowing where the bell rope was even in the darkness the professor
insisted upon being the one to go back into the dungeon, so with Yappi’s
help he once more pushed and puffed his way through the hole. He landed
on the other side pretty well mussed up.

“Confound these fellows,” he growled inwardly. “I’ve lost several pounds
squirming in and out of these holes!”

He had regained his feet and was tiptoeing toward the bell rope when a
warning hiss from Yappi reached him. He turned toward the hole.

“What is it, Yappi?” he whispered.

“Come back! Light coming!”

Surely enough, at that moment a light flashed on the winding steps and
began to descend. The professor made a wild dive for the hole and then
stopped with a groan. It would take him several moments to worm his way
back into the passage, and already it was too late for that. Sackett was
coming down the stairs with the lantern, and he was now in plain sight
around the last turn.

For an instant the professor remained rooted to the spot as though
paralyzed. The leader of the gang was approaching the door, holding the
lantern before him, his eyes squinted more than usual as he tried to see
into the cell. Yappi had disappeared somewhere, and the professor felt
suddenly alone and miserable.

Sackett looked in the dungeon and his eyes fell on the block which had
been removed. With a snarling oath he saw the hole in the wall and
turned red and angry eyes on the professor. But the old teacher had
decided on his course of action.

Without fully realizing why he did it the professor stepped to the bell
rope and pulled it with all his strength. The bell in the tower pealed
out with a terrific clash, sending the tocsin booming out over the
mountain side. Sackett saw the move and a great light swept over him.

“So!” he shouted, above the clanging of the bell. “You’re the one who is
ringing that bell!”

Swinging the handle of the lantern over his arm he dived viciously into
his pocket for the key to the padlock. As he did so there was the sound
of running footsteps over his head and Abel’s voice reached them.

“That bell is ringing again, Sackett!” the mate cried, his voice showing
his alarm.

“Yes, and here is the bird that is ringing it!” roared the leader. “Get
down here right away, Abel! Where is Manuel?”

“He ran away, scared to death,” replied the mate.

“Get down here and help me choke this old one,” commanded Sackett,
thrusting the key into the padlock.

But Abel called down once more, and there was a new note in his voice.
“Never mind him, Squint! Get up here as fast as you can! Here come a
whole rescue party, with all them blasted kids in it!”

The professor gave the bell one last pull of triumph and then let the
rope go. Sackett hesitated for a moment, muttering savagely to himself
and holding onto the padlock and key. Then he turned and ran up the
steps, dashing the lantern against the wall in his hurry, causing the
glass to break and go tinkling down the stone steps.



                              CHAPTER XII
                        THE TOLLING OF THE BELL


The four boys hastily armed themselves to go and find the professor. Ned
packed some provisions in a knapsack and slung it behind his saddle, not
knowing just how long they might be on their hunt. The other boys
watered their horses and Ned’s and waited around for him to get ready.

Just before leaving Ned made a final look around, greatly puzzled at the
absence of Yappi and the cook. “Must have taken them prisoner, too,” was
his conclusion, as he joined the others. It was a somewhat grim
cavalcade that swung out of the ranch yard.

There were two possibilities, the sea and the mountains. One guess was
as good as the other, but Ned chose the mountains and they headed that
way. They had gone but a scant mile when Don pulled up.

“Who is this coming?” he asked, pointing to a lone figure which was
running over a nearby hill.

“Looks like the cook,” said Ned. It was Spanci and he drew nearer,
evidently recognizing them. When he came up he was slightly out of
breath but able to talk.

“Spanci, where have they taken my father?” asked Ned, in Spanish.

“They have taken him to the mountains, senor, but do not fear, Yappi is
with him, trailing them.” The cook then went on to tell of the raid and
of Yappi’s stealthy trailing and his own effort. “I ran to the ranch of
the Senorita Mercedes, senor, and she has sent her overseer and two men
out to the mountain to aid your father.”

Ned thanked the old Indian for his devotion and the cook went on back to
the ranch, to await the turn of events. Ned was greatly relieved to hear
that Yappi was on the trail, and he knew that the old mestizo would
stick to it and help his father no matter what turned up. It was with a
much more cheerful heart that the party rode on toward the mountains.

“No doubt they will stop and hold dad somewhere for a day or two,”
argued Ned. “We should run across them shortly, and if it is possible
Yappi will leave some kind of a guiding sign.”

“The best part of it is that we know now that they didn’t go toward the
sea,” put in Terry and Ned nodded.

They stopped briefly late in the afternoon to eat and rest the horses
and in the early evening reached the edge of the mountain range. Once
within the shadows of the mighty trees they were at a loss as to how to
go. Had the party gone north or south? It was a big decision to make,
for if they proceeded far in one direction and found that they were
wrong they would have to retrace and lose valuable time. Just as the
last shadows of the day were stealing across the sky they stopped for a
council of war.

“There is nothing to indicate which way they would be likely to go,”
said Jim.

“Wouldn’t they be most likely to go south, to get away into a wilder
country?” asked Terry.

“Maybe,” said Ned. “But the northern part of the range is the wildest.
So we can’t tell. They may have even gone right on over, to the waste of
wilderness on the other side.”

“Whichever way we guess we may be dead wrong,” murmured Don.

“Yes, and we can’t afford to be wrong,” Ned answered. “Look here, we’ll
have to split the party.”

“Split the party?” echoed the others.

“Yes. Don and I will go south, and Jim and Terry north and over the top.
In that way we should be able to cover a lot of territory. I propose
that we make this spot our meeting place, and that we all assemble here
at seven o’clock tomorrow morning to compare notes. Let’s have a signal
of three shots. That will mean to either come back to the meeting place,
or ride toward the shots.”

“Better make it the signal to ride toward the shots,” advised Don.
“We’ll repeat the shooting and keep it up until the other party joins
us. But if one party picks up Professor Scott it had better ride back
here with him and fire the shots from here, because we all know just
where this place is and can find it easily.”

“That’s right,” agreed Ned. “Of course, we are splitting our party and
lessening our strength.”

“I don’t see that we can help that,” Jim argued. “If we were looking for
something that didn’t require every minute we could keep together and
take our time. But there is no knowing what the outfit will do to the
professor. Besides, two of us should be able to handle those fellows,
even if there are three of them.”

“We should be able to depend on a surprise attack,” said Terry.

“Yes,” agreed Ned. “What is that?”

The others looked at him questioningly. Ned listened intently. “I
thought I heard the sound of a bell tolling,” he said.

“Where would there be a bell around here?” asked Don.

“I don’t think that there is a bell nearer than the mines. I guess I
must have imagined it, that is all. Well, it is growing dark. Shall we
separate now?”

“Guess we might as well,” the others agreed.

With mutual goodbyes and agreeing to meet again at the grove in which
they were at present stopped, the four boys split into two groups and
went in opposite directions. Terry and Jim rode north and up the
mountain, and Ned and Don began to make their way south, moving up the
mountain on a gradual slant.

“Funny about that bell,” Ned said, as they rode slowly forward. “I could
have sworn to it that I heard a bell ringing.”

“What kind of a bell?” asked Don.

“Sounded like a church bell, and it seemed to be tolling. But I guess it
was some other sounds that I mistook. Certainly there is no church
anywhere around here.”

“Doesn’t look as though there is,” grinned Don.

The sun had now set on the other side of the giant range and they were
in total darkness. Knowing that it would be useless to push on very
rapidly during the night they planned to put up a temporary camp on some
ridge and wait there until daylight came. That would give them a few
hours to look around before returning to their meeting place to compare
notes.

“Guess we might as well camp and eat,” Ned suggested, and they found a
spot that was dry and sheltered, where they speedily kindled a small
fire and made some coffee. Sandwiches went with it and then they settled
down beside the fire, talking quietly and keeping both ears and eyes
open for any strange sound. It was early when they turned in and slept
soundly.

How long they had been asleep was a matter of conjecture, but they were
shocked into a state of wakefulness by the furious tolling of a bell. It
was near at hand, and they leaped to their feet with rapidly beating
hearts. Alone there on the mountain fastness the sound was awe-inspiring
and unpleasantly thrilling, and both boys felt chills running up and
down their backs. The bell which was ringing so mysteriously was not
more than a hundred feet from them.

“My goodness, what in the name of glory is that!” gasped Ned, as the
horses moved restlessly back and forth.

“Your bell,” cried Don, snatching up his rifle. “We were camped almost
on top of it!”

Ned secured his weapon. “Never mind the horses, let’s see what is up,”
he shouted. They started on a run in the direction of the sound of the
bell, breaking recklessly through the undergrowth. In less than a
hundred yards they emerged into a clearing and came upon the ruins of a
castle, in the tower of which the bell was tolling madly.

A man stood in a doorway, a faint light behind him. He had seen them
coming and shouted something to someone within. The bell ceased to toll
and the boys pressed on, straight for the figure in the doorway. It was
joined by another and Ned raised a shout.

“Sackett!” he cried. “I guess we’ll find dad now!”

His answer was a shot from Sackett’s revolver, and they threw themselves
flat on the ground, to send two high shots whistling through the narrow
doorway. Had Sackett and Abel known that they were alone the two outlaws
would not have run, but they were unable to make out anything accurate
against the black trees and thought that a full party had arrived. The
two men did not linger, but made their way out over the ruins of the
first floor and escaped the boys hearing them take to their horses.

“They didn’t take dad with them,” cried Ned, leaping to his feet. “He
must be in the house yet.”

They entered the castle, to find a candle in a bottle giving light to
the single good room which remained of the ruins. Seeing the door in the
side of the wall Ned and Don made for it, the former taking up the
candle as they did so. They had no more fear of the bandits and they
fairly ran down the stairs, to find Professor Scott waiting at the
barred door.

“Dad!” cried Ned in delight. “So you are really here?”

“Oh, yes, and I thought I’d be here for sometime,” smiled Mr. Scott.
“You boys arrived just in time. How did you like my bell concert?”

“If it hadn’t been for that we might never have found you,” said Ned. He
broke the padlock with the butt of his gun, and then stepped hastily
back. “What is that?”

A dark figure was worming through the hole in the wall of the dungeon.
“Don’t be afraid,” the professor said cheerfully. “It is Yappi, who is
joining the party.”

The padlock was broken off, the door opened and Ned and his father
embraced warmly. He shook Don by the hand and after hasty explanations
had been made they followed Yappi up the stairs. The mestizo had refused
to accept any thanks and took the lead in getting them out of the place.

They made a hasty search but found nothing of importance. The men had
escaped on their mounts, and it was useless to think of following them.
Yappi took them to the mouth of the underground passage and showed them
how to drop down in it, and they walked along it back to the dungeon and
then once more went back to the courtyard before the castle.

“The rascals either took my horse or loosed it,” said the professor. “I
guess I’ll have to walk home.”

“No, no, senor,” said Yappi, quietly. “I have provide for that. Two
horses in yonder bush.”

And he went to the thicket indicated and led out two horses. They
praised his foresight lavishly but he was indifferent to their praises.
Ned then proposed that they go back to the meeting place.

Accordingly they mounted and went down the mountain to the place where
they had left Terry and Jim. It was decided to wait until morning for
the other two, rather than fire off their guns to attract them.

“They should be here at seven in the morning, and it won’t be long
before it is that time,” Don said. “So we might as well wait.”

So they waited, sleeping by turns, waking at last to greet a fine warm
day. Seven o’clock came and passed and no sign of the others was to be
seen. When a half hour had passed they began to fire their guns at
intervals, but there was nothing but silence after the echoes had broken
in different places over the mountain sides.

Refusing to be worried over it they ate breakfast and again fired their
guns, riding out from their camp for a few miles in either direction.
But when ten o’clock in the morning came they once more assembled in the
camp and faced the bitter facts.

“Well,” said Ned, in despair. “Now those fellows are gone. They must
have become lost.”

“Either that,” said Don, gravely. “Or they have fallen into the hands of
Sackett!”



                              CHAPTER XIII
                             A FORCED MARCH


Terry and Jim had made their way northward and up the mountain. It was
growing dark and they wished to cover as much ground as possible before
the night would make their task difficult. They planned to seek some
high point and camp there, watching the mountain sides for a sign of a
fire or light of any kind. With this in mind they pushed steadily on,
winding up the sloping side of the range.

When darkness finally came on they pitched camp, a process that
consisted of very little else than getting off their horses and building
a fire. There was a chill in the air which made them glad of the small
fire, and they ate a hearty supper beside it, discussing the business at
hand.

“If we find that nothing has been discovered,” said Jim, “we’ll have to
beat up the mountain in deadly earnest in the morning. We’re satisfied
that they didn’t go toward the sea, but we must take care that they
haven’t skipped out of these mountains.”

“Right you are,” agreed the red-headed boy, as he poured out coffee,
“but there must be a million hiding places in these mountains, and we’ll
have to draw mighty fine lines. I suppose there is no use of going any
further tonight?”

“I hardly think so,” rejoined Jim, thoughtfully. “We don’t know the
country and we may run into some trouble. We are on a knoll here and
should be able to see any light that would show on the mountain.”

“Suppose someone should see our fire?” asked Terry, practically.

“There isn’t much danger of that,” said Jim. “The fire is small and we
are up pretty high. When we go to sleep the fire will die down and
probably go out. We can comb a few miles of the woods before we go back
to meet Don and Ned.”

After the meal was over the boys cleaned up around their camp site and
stood for some time on the crest of the rise looking down into the
blackness of the forest below them. There was no sign of life in the
dense trees and no light was to be seen. Jim and Terry once more
seriously considered the possibility of making a night search and then
finally decided against it.

“I certainly am sleepy,” yawned Terry, as they made their way back to
the fire.

“Well, as soon as we gather some wood we’ll turn in,” suggested Jim. “I
don’t know that it is necessary to keep the fire going all night, but we
will have wood at hand for the first thing in the morning so that we can
build a fire without wasting any time.”

With their knives and their hands the two boys gathered enough wood to
last them for several hours and then gave a final look at the horses.
Then each of them took his blanket from the pile of equipment, stacked
his gun alongside, loosened shoes and neckties and rolled up in the
blankets.

“If either one of us wakes up he can put wood on the fire,” said Terry,
as he settled himself in the blanket.

“Yes, but don’t wake up purposely,” advised Jim.

They went to sleep without any trouble, being pretty well tired from the
day’s journey. The air was cool and fresh and they were healthy young
men, so they slept soundly. Terry was perhaps the lighter sleeper of the
two, and it was he who shook Jim into wakefulness after they had been
asleep for a few hours.

“What is up?” asked Jim, awaking swiftly, his brain working perfectly.

“Listen and see if you don’t hear a bell ringing!” whispered Terry.

Jim listened, and in spite of himself he felt his flesh quiver. The
mountain was dark, the wind fitful, and the fire was a dull red. From
off in the distance the sound of a bell was heard, a bell that clashed
and rang without rhythm. The sound was far away and very faint, and when
the wind blew with a slight increase in force they lost the sound.

“That’s funny,” murmured Jim, propped on his elbow.

“What do you suppose it is?” whispered Terry.

“I haven’t the least idea. I don’t know where there could be a bell
around here. It might be possible that there is a village nearby and for
some reason or other they are ringing the town bell.”

“Maybe. Shall we go down, follow the sound, and see what it is?”

“I don’t see why we should,” Jim argued. “It might simply be a wild
goose chase. The sound is coming from the south, and maybe Ned and Don
will investigate. I guess we had better stay where we are.”

“I guess you are right,” Terry agreed, throwing some wood on the fire.
“Back to sleep we go.”

Jim followed Terry’s advice. The red-headed boy dozed and woke up,
staring at the sky and moving restlessly. The sound of the bell had
stopped and he closed his eyes and once more dozed off. He had slept
lightly for perhaps an hour when he woke up, his senses alert.

There had been a sound near the camp. The horses were moving restlessly
and Terry raised himself on his elbow and looked into the shadows. The
fire had burned low again and he could not see far. He debated whether
to wake Jim or not, and then decided not to.

“Getting jumpy,” he thought. “I must go to sleep.”

But at that moment two shadows moved quickly from the tall trees and
toward the fire. With a warning shout to Jim, Terry rolled out of his
blanket and reached for the nearby guns.

“Leave your hands off them guns!” snarled Sackett, as Jim kicked his way
clear of his coverings.

Terry looked once at the two outlaws and the guns which they had in
their hands and decided to give in. Jim scrambled to his feet and stood
beside him, dismayed at the turn events had taken.

“A couple of bad pennies turned up,” muttered Terry, inwardly angry at
the new developments.

“All those kids weren’t together,” said Abel, aside to Sackett.

“I see they weren’t. Well, we’ll take these youngsters along,” replied
the leader, taking their guns from the tree where they were leaning.

“What do you want with us?” Jim demanded.

“You’ll find out soon enough,” retorted Sackett.

“You meddling kids made us lose the old man so we’ll just take you along
for a little ride.”

“Ned and Don must have rescued the professor,” said Jim to Terry.

“You never mind what happened!” growled Abel, in such a manner that they
knew their guess was correct. “Get your horses and come on!”

“Where are you taking us?” asked Terry.

“Mind your own business,” snapped Sackett. “Gather up your junk and
hurry up about it.”

“I see,” nodded Terry. “I’m going somewhere and it isn’t any of my
business where! And Jimmy, my boy, all this nice equipment that Ned gave
us is just junk!”

“Quit your talking,” commanded Abel. “We have no time to lose.”

In silence the two boys gathered up the blankets and the camping kits,
strapped them on the horse under the watchful eye of the mate, and then
mounted. Sackett whistled and Manuel appeared, leading three horses. The
outlaws sprang into the saddle and Abel took the lead, the other two
hemming in the boys from the rear. Abel turned his horse’s head down the
mountain and toward the sea.

“Too doggone bad we didn’t keep a sharper lookout,” Terry grumbled.

Jim shrugged his shoulders. “Perhaps, but I don’t know. These fellows
were running from Don and Ned, and their falling in on us was an
accident. We’ll have to keep our eyes open and see if we can give them
the slip.”

The horses picked their way down the mountain expertly, and they had
worked several miles to the southward before they rode out on the open
plain. Daylight was now not far off, and they went on in silence, both
parties keenly awake to the slightest movement of the other. When
daylight did break over the plain they were miles from the mountain and
almost to the sea. There had been no chance to make a break and Terry
and Jim resigned themselves to their fate.

No halt was made to eat, and the boys found that they were very hungry
and somewhat tired. What little sleep they had had was only enough to
refresh them sufficiently to keep going, and they would have liked to
lay down and enjoy a full, untroubled sleep. But they knew that if they
were ever to escape from Sackett and his men they must be on the alert
every minute.

They rode steadily onward, the men apparently indifferent to the thought
of breakfast and the boys grimly uncomplaining. Jim was more used to a
horse than Terry and did not mind the ride, but the red-headed boy was
growing restless. From time to time the men looked back at the distant
mountains, but as they were now many miles below the vicinity of the
ruined castle there was nothing to be feared from the other party. The
sea was now very near and Jim thought he recognized the country.

“If I’m not mistaken we rode over this country yesterday,” he said aside
to Terry.

Before them at a distance of less than a mile, was a high bluff, and
when they rode to the edge of this bluff the boys saw a familiar sight.
Directly below them was the tannery which they had stopped to inspect on
the day before. It was at this point that the Mexican slipped out and
took the lead, showing them a steep and winding path that ran down
beside the cliff and led to the beach below. Down this the party made
its way, the nimble horses bracing their feet expertly, and after some
twenty minutes of steady descending they emerged at length onto the hard
sand of the beach.

Manuel still kept the lead, riding up to the tannery, and at one of the
smaller sheds he alighted from his horse, an example which was followed
by the others. The boys were not sorry to follow suit and when they had
done so Manuel took the horses and lodged them out of sight in the main
building.

“Say,” demanded Terry. “Haven’t you fellows any stomachs? I’m starved!”

Sackett opened the door to the smaller building with a grin on his ugly
face. “We’re all hungry,” he said. “Abel, cook up some grub.”

“Not while them kids are here,” said the mate, promptly. “Let them do
the cooking.”

“I’m too hungry to say ‘no’ just now,” said Jim, promptly. “Somebody get
me wood and I’ll make breakfast.”

Abel brought wood while Manuel went up the bluff and disappeared.
Sackett sat on a ledge near the door, keeping a watchful eye on the
boys. Jim cooked an excellent breakfast and the men enjoyed it. Manuel
had come back and reported briefly.

“Ship’s coming in,” he said in Spanish, but the boys understood him.

Just as the meal was over the Mexican looked out of the door and got up.
“The boat is in,” he said to Sackett.

The leader arose quickly and motioned to the boys. “Come on, you boys,
we’re moving. Abel, bring up in the rear.”

“Where are we going?” Jim asked.

“You’ll find out when you get on board,” retorted Sackett, as he marched
them out of the shack.

“Evidently on a ship,” murmured Terry.

He was right. Off the shore a battered old schooner with two masts was
tossing gently to and fro and near them on the beach a long boat was
hauled up, with its crew of six waiting. The men touched their caps when
Sackett approached.

“Get in the boat,” ordered Sackett, and the boys climbed in, taking
their places in the stern seats. The outlaws followed, all but Manuel,
who stood on the shore.

“Get the horses back to the hide-out,” Sackett said to the Mexican.
“We’ll be back soon.” To the boat’s crew, who had taken their places at
the oars he said, “Row us alongside.”

The crew pulled with a will and the boat moved from the shore, out onto
the blue waters of the Pacific. After a row of a half mile they ranged
alongside of the schooner, which had the name _Galloway_ painted on the
stern. Jim and Terry were ordered up the side ladder, where they dropped
over the rail to the deck. Sackett and Abel, followed by the crew,
speedily joined them.

“Put on sail,” ordered Sackett of the ship’s captain, as that officer
approached. He turned to the boys, a grin of evil delight on his face.
“You kids wanted to know where you are going, eh? Well, we’re taking you
to Mexico, to keep you prisoners on a nice, deserted ranch until it
suits us to let you go!”



                              CHAPTER XIV
                            HISTORY REPEATS


For a moment after Sackett made his startling statement the two boys
could only stand and stare at him. At last Jim spoke up.

“You are taking us to Mexico?” he cried.

“Exactly!” mocked the outlaw. “We can’t afford to have you two boys
hanging around while we are looking for that treasure. So we are going
to put you in cold storage for a time!”

“Mexico isn’t exactly cold storage,” murmured Terry. “Bum joker, this
Sackett man!”

“You’ll find out it ain’t a joke,” said Sackett, as the sails were run
into place. “It’ll be a long time before you boys get home again.”

“You’ll run into a lot of trouble over this,” Jim warned.

“Trouble is something I’m used to,” Sackett grinned. He turned to the
villainous-looking captain of the schooner. “Captain Jake Ryan, keep
your eyes on these boys and put them ashore where I tell you. I’m going
ashore at Peso myself, so I make you responsible for them.”

“You needn’t be afraid they’ll get away from me,” the captain growled,
looking them over keenly. “They’re nothing but kids!”

“Yes, but they’re pretty slippery ones,” warned Sackett. “Come down in
the cabin with me.”

The two men, followed by Abel, left the boys and walked off. Jim looked
at Terry and the latter shrugged his shoulders.

“Looks like we’re in for it now,” the red-headed boy remarked.

“I’m afraid we are,” Jim replied, in a low voice. “But we must get away.
If we are carried to Mexico there is no telling when we will ever get
home again.”

“True enough, but I don’t recommend starting anything with this crew,”
said Terry.

The crew was indeed a rough looking outfit, apparently picked up in many
ports and composed of rascals of every sort. They wore no uniforms and
were seemingly expert in their trade, by which sign the boys took it
that they had spent most of their life on board sailing vessels. They
represented different nationalities and were a hardy and bold set of
men, who would not stop at any kind of trade so long as it promised them
gain of some sort.

“I’ll bet the police of many a town would like to see these fellows,”
was Jim’s estimate of them.

The ship was rapidly leaving that portion of the coast where Jim and
Terry had come aboard and was heading south. That meant that they
intended to round off the tip of Lower California and run up the shore
of Mexico, probably in one of the wildest portions of the tropical
country. The boys looked once or twice over the side, but they knew it
would be foolish to jump over, since they would be shot or overtaken by
a boat before reaching the shore. There was nothing left for them to do,
therefore, but to make the best of the situation.

They wandered over the deck of the schooner, forgetting in their
interest that they were captives. Jim and Terry had done enough sailing
to know something about sailing ships, and this ancient schooner
interested them greatly. It had evidently been in active service for
years, for it was battered and beaten by many storms and its decks were
worn deeply in spots. The vast expanse of sails overhead, close hauled
in the wind, drew their eyes in admiration, even though the sails were
dirty and patched. The crew worked busily around the rigging, coiling
ropes and stowing loose equipment, paying no attention to the boys, much
as though taking prisoners was an every-day affair with them. The boys
noted that two of the men worked apart from the main crew and looked to
be men of a better stamp than the rank and file.

After a short run down the coast a tiny village appeared on the coast
and once opposite it Sackett and the mate appeared on deck. The town was
that of Peso and the captain of the _Galloway_ ordered the boat over the
side. Sackett and Abel entered the boat and then looked up to where Jim
and Terry leaned over the rail.

“Goodbye, boys,” mocked the bay pirate. “If we run across the other
members of your party we’ll give them your regards, shall we?”

Jim only glowered, but Terry raised his slouched camping hat. “Why Mr.
Sackett!” he exclaimed sweetly. “How very lovely of you! If I were only
nearer to you I would kiss your sweet face for that kind thought!”

The crew of the _Galloway_ broke into broad grins and the captain
chuckled. Sackett’s face grew red and he half rose from his seat in the
long boat. But Abel pulled him down again.

“Quit fooling with those kids and let’s go,” he said, and Sackett sat
down, after saying something fiery through his set teeth. The sailors
pulled on their oars and the long boat shot through the water to the
shore. When the two men had been set on shore the boat returned, and the
schooner continued on its way.

Up to that time the air had been clear and the water untroubled, but a
change gradually developed.

A slight haze sprang up over the water and the air became thicker.
Little choppy waves began to form, and before long the schooner was
beginning to rock with increasing force.

In the bow there was a commotion. A lookout in the crow’s nest had
called something down, and the captain came hurrying on deck. The boys
soon discovered a large black schooner to the west of them, some four
miles off, and the sight of it appeared to alarm the crew. Acting under
orders from the captain they crowded on more sail and began to run
before the wind. It was a move that was not particularly wise under the
increasing strength of the rising wind, and the two boys were puzzled.

“Terry,” said Jim, as he stood in the stern watching the schooner in the
distance. “These fellows are running away from that ship!”

Terry looked with increasing interest and found that Jim was right. The
schooner behind them was also crowding on sail, heeling over in the wind
but running toward them in a direct line. The crew of the _Galloway_ was
now fully on the alert and obeying the shouted orders of the skipper.
The two men who had attracted the attention of the boys by their
difference in looks compared to the rest of the motley crew, looked
eagerly toward the oncoming schooner until they were literally driven to
work by Captain Ryan.

As may be imagined the boys watched the chase with an interest that was
painful. The outcome of it meant everything to them. They had no idea
who could be on the pursuing schooner, but whoever it was would be sure
to release them if they overhauled the _Galloway_. When the crew of the
schooner ran out a small cannon Terry whistled in surprise.

“This is no comedy,” he remarked. “These fellows mean business.”

The sky to the south had turned an ominous black and the wind was now
shrieking through the shrouds of the schooner. Cursing aloud Ryan
ordered sail taken in, and the crew sprang aloft, running along the
ropes in a way that took away the breath of the watching boys. The
oncoming schooner was also forced to take in canvas but it did not give
up the chase. The waves, an hour ago, so calm and peaceful, were now
mountain high, raging and boiling along the sides of the laboring ship.

“History repeats itself!” exclaimed Jim, suddenly.

“What do you mean?” blinked Terry.

“Why, it’s just like the story of the galleon! We are being pursued by
an enemy and a storm is surely going to close over us! See the point?”

“Yes, I do. Confound this storm, anyway! If it wasn’t for it I believe
those fellows in back would overtake us!” cried Terry.

“I never saw a storm come up so rapidly,” said Jim.

In that part of the Pacific storms rise with incredible swiftness and it
was such a storm, half cyclonic, as now burst over the pursued and the
pursuer. In a twinkling of an eye the ship to the rear vanished from
sight as the _Galloway_ staggered into a yawning trough. The boys had
all they could do to hang on as the deck slanted under their feet, and
they were soaked to the waist by the wash that flooded the deck. A
single slashing flash of lightening flared in the sky.

“Do you think we had better go below, so as not to be washed overboard?”
shouted Terry above the whine of the wind.

“Nothing doing!” roared Jim, his voice sounding like a whisper above the
crash of the waves. “I wouldn’t miss this for anything!”

So they hung on to the rear mast and the ropes, keenly alive to the
picture of action which was going on before them. They could see the men
busy at the sails, pulling ropes, furling, lashing fast and jumping as
the skipper signalled his commands. They had been forgotten in the
excitement of the storm, and so were free to watch what was going on.
They knew that the pursuing schooner would never haul down on them now.

The captain was at the wheel helping the helmsman, and between the two
of them they could scarcely control the wild plunging of the schooner.
The boys watched with fascination as wave after wave reared up before
the schooner, to curl and break over the bow and come thundering over
the deck in a mad swirl. At such times they were wet to the waist but
they did not mind that, so interested were they in the events of the
moment. Their hands ached from holding onto ropes but they stuck to
their perilous post.

“They are running in too close to the shore!” shouted Terry in Jim’s
ear.

“They should know the coast well enough to do it,” Jim returned.

He had scarcely spoken when there was a slight scraping and grinding
sound and the men at the wheel spun the helm rapidly. The _Galloway_
swung further away from the shore, listing dangerously as it did so. One
of the crew ran down the companionway and reappeared soon afterward,
making his way to the captain.

“She scraped a ledge that time,” called Jim and Terry nodded.

It was now so black that the boys could scarcely see before them. The
captain spoke rapidly with the man, who was the mate, and the officer
quickly singled one or two men from the crew and then made his way over
the bounding lurching deck to the boys. Placing his wet mouth near their
ears he shouted: “Get on the pumps! We’re leaking!”

Without loss of time the boys followed him across the deck to where the
pumps were located. Two men had already seized the handle of one pump
and were bending their backs to the task, pumping up and down with all
their strength. At a signal from the mate the two boys took hold of the
handle of a second pump and fell to the urgent task.

A thick stream of water shot out of the end of the pump and they knew
that the lower part of the schooner was filling rapidly with water. It
seemed to them that there was no use in pumping, but they realized that
it was their only chance. No life-boat could live in those seas and it
was a case of keep the ship from going down under their feet under the
added weight of the water that was pouring into the hold, where a seam
had been opened up by the ledge over which they had scraped. So they
worked with a will, moving the handle up and down, until their backs,
totally unused to the work, ached with the tiring strain of it. A
continual stream of water rushed from the mouth of the pump with every
stroke.

They were soon gasping for breath and both of them longed for the moment
when two other men would relieve them. The two on the other pump kept at
it grimly, somewhat more used to the work, moving automatically,
unmindful of the stinging waves that slapped them from each side. The
schooner pitched and rolled and bucked, now on top of a wave and now
sinking deep into a trough.

To their unspeakable relief they saw two more men approach with the mate
to take over their task. The captain had realized that they would not
last long at the cruel task, and had sent relief. The men were coming
toward them, were almost to them.

There was a sharp grinding sound and the schooner crashed hard aground.
Every man who was standing went over like a stick of wood. Down came the
rigging in a tumbled, confused mass, the forward mast snapped off sharp,
the bow seemed to crumple like paper. Terry and Jim were torn from the
pump handle and hurled through the air, to land like playthings in a
smother of foam and swirling water. All became black in an instant,
there was a sucking sound and the schooner settled down in the water
with a shudder.



                               CHAPTER XV
                           THE MOUNTAIN SAGE


Don’s grave statement to the effect that Jim and Terry might have fallen
into the hands of Sackett was received with a gloomy degree of
conviction by the others. They knew that the outlaws had fled somewhere
across the mountains, and it was very likely that they had run across
the trail of the two boys in their flight. The professor spoke up.

“We must lose no time in following them,” he declared, with spirit.

“The rest of us will follow them,” said Ned. “You had better go back to
the ranch, dad.”

“Why should I go back?” demanded the professor.

“You must be tired. You had a long ride yesterday and didn’t sleep much
last night. You and Yappi go back to the ranch and we’ll push on after
Jim and Terry.”

“I’m going with you,” declared the professor, stoutly. “I’m no child!
Don’t you think I have any interest in finding the boys and running this
gang down? I would be mighty restless back on the ranch. So let’s
start.”

After some further discussion they struck off in the direction last
taken by the missing boys and rode up the mountain, keeping a careful
lookout as they did so. They spread out in fan fashion, keeping close
enough together so as to call back and forth. It was sometime in the
afternoon when Yappi called out and the others closed in and joined him.

The mestizo was off his horse, standing close to the ashes of a fire
which had evidently been out for some hours. They were all of the
opinion that Terry and Jim had built the fire and had spent the night
beside it.

“The question is now where they went from here,” mused the professor.

Ned was searching the nearby bushes and he set up a shout. “There were
others here last night, too,” he announced.

Upon inspection they found the bushes beaten down by the hoofs of
horses, but at first Don was not convinced. “This is probably where they
tied up their own horses,” he said.

“Other horse over here,” replied the mestizo, gravely.

On the other side of the clearing they found the traces of other horses.
There had been two parties, or else one spot marked the location of the
missing boys’ horses and the other that of the second party. The
professor was sure that Sackett and his men had come down on them in the
night while they slept. And later all doubt was laid aside when Ned
found a big foot print in the soft sand.

“Neither Jim nor Terry made that,” he said, with conviction.

The others agreed with him, and by careful tracing they found that the
party had gone down the mountain toward the sea. They followed the trail
for at least a half mile and then lost it on some rocky ground, but they
were satisfied that they were on the right track.

“They are heading for the sea,” Ned said. “Perhaps they have some kind
of a boat down there. Well, we might as well get right on the trail.”

“Looks like a bad storm coming up,” cried Don.

The sun had long since been lost in a slow gloom which had come in from
the sea, and the air was hot and still. Heavy black clouds were rolling
in from the south, and there was an almost ominous stillness in the air.
Far away they heard the low rolling of thunder off at sea.

“It may be a bad one,” admitted Ned, as he studied the sky. “We don’t
have many storms in this region, but when we do get one it generally
amounts to something. Well, we’ll push on until we have to stop.”

They had gone perhaps a mile along the mountain, working down toward the
sea, when the leaves of the trees began to stir with increasing force.
Secretly, Ned was worried, for he knew the strength of some of the
storms his country was subject to, and he would have welcomed some sort
of shelter. Just as he was beginning to think it best that they find
shelter in the lee of some big rock Yappi called to him in Spanish. The
ranchman had sighted an Indian hut just before them in the woods.

They rode up to the place, to find a withered old Yuqui Indian sitting
on a crude bench at his door. He was engaged at the task of weaving a
basket, and he looked up unemotionally as they drew up before his door.
The hut back of him was a simple round affair, made of rough wood held
together with a clay filling, which showed between the logs. Two
windows, neatly glassed with glass which had been procured in some town
nearby, and a single door alone broke the monotonous expanse of rough
wood. A single chimney protruded from the top of the hut.

At a nod from Ned Yappi addressed the Indian in his native dialect, but
it turned out that the Yuqui was very familiar with Spanish. Yappi told
him that they wished shelter during the oncoming storm, and the old man,
without showing pleasure or displeasure on his lined old face, replied
that what he had they were welcome to. No sooner had he finished his
statement than the rain began to descend in torrents.

The white men slipped from their horses quickly, Yappi took the bridles
and led the horses to the shelter of a nearby leanto which the Indian
had, and the whole party entered the hut. The Indian slipped in before
them and was heaping wood on the small fire which burned in his
fireplace, and as the flames shot up they had time to look around the
hut. It was an interesting place.

There was a woven mat on the floor, a bed in one corner, and a rough
table and chair in the center of the room. On the wall was hung a
splendid bow and a sheaf of arrows, several baskets such as the one
which the Yuqui had been weaving, and an Indian headdress. That portion
of the floor which was not covered with a mat was neatly carpeted with
leaves. The fireplace was constructed of hard clay. The entire hut was
neat and orderly.

“The strangers are welcome,” said the Indian, as he sat beside the fire.

Ned thanked him gravely and for a few moments nothing more was said.
They sat and listened to the fury of the storm outside. The wind hissed
and slapped against the windows and the sides of the hut, the wind
moaned overhead and the sky had become inky black. Don was worried.

“I hope Jim and Terry aren’t anywhere exposed in this storm,” he said.

“I don’t think so,” Ned hastened to assure him. “Those fellows know the
sign as well as we do, and they must have dug for shelter. The fellows
are all right, and we’ll hit the trail as soon as we can.”

The Indian was looking at them earnestly, and the professor, who could
speak Spanish quite well, took it upon himself to tell him the
circumstances. The old man listened intently and then nodded.

“I am a sage,” he said proudly. “I tell you that you shall find them.
Yengi is my name.”

The visitors were silent, not knowing how to take this abrupt
declaration. Yappi talked rapidly with the sage and seemed impressed.

“Yengi is a wise man,” he told Ned. “What he says is true. Long has he
dwelt in these mountains, and his ancestors dwelt here before he did.”

The Indian sage nodded and addressed the whole party. “He speaks truth.
For many generations my people have lived in this land. But not here in
this mountain. I live here alone. My people lived far to the south, on a
broad plain, until the people in beautiful clothes came. Those were the
Spanish. They drove some of our people into slavery and killed others,
and because we were few in number we were compelled to flee to the
mountains and hide like wild beasts. My fathers told me.”

The fire had died down, the storm still beat outside, and the white men
were silent as they listened to the simple but tragic story of the
Indian sage. They knew that his tale was only too true, for they had
read many times of such things, the professor being well versed in the
history of the Spanish conquest of the southern part of America. It was
a moving experience to hear it now from the lips of a descendent of the
persecuted race that suffered so many centuries ago. Ned, the professor
and Yappi understood perfectly what the sage was saying, and Don knew
enough of Spanish to follow him without trouble.

The professor was smoking his pipe, so the sage reached into a niche
beside the fireplace, took out a long crude Indian pipe and gravely
lighted it. He smoked awhile in silence and then went on: “But my
fathers had revenge.”

No one said anything and he puffed once or twice and then went on: “The
English were our saviors. They chased the Spanish from our coasts. But I
spoke to you about the revenge that my fathers took. One day in the long
ago there was a storm and a Spanish ship fled from the English and was
wrecked somewhere on the coast. I do not know where, but the men from
the ship came straggling past our hidden village in the fastness of the
mountain. My fathers saw them and ambushed them, slaying all of them,
allowing only a priest to go free. He had been kind to some Indians once
and his life was spared. He had with him a book and he was led to the
sea coast, where he took ship to Mexico and was never seen more.”

Yengi looked up as there was a stir among his hearers, and he was
astonished to see them regarding him eagerly. He took his pipe out of
his mouth in astonishment.

“These men that your fathers killed came from a wrecked ship?” asked the
professor eagerly.

“Yes, so they told my fathers. Why does that excite you so?”

Ned told the sage that they knew the story of the wrecked galleon and
that there was supposed to be much treasure in the wrecked ship. The
Indian was sure that the men must have come from that very ship, but
beyond that he was not helpful.

“I do not know where the ship could be,” he told them. “The men, with
the exception of the priest with the book, were all killed. They never
went back, but the priest may have returned for the gold.”

“As long as the priest had a book, that must surely have been the crew,”
said Don.

But the professor shook his head. “The book which the priest had may
have been his own Bible, or some other book. It couldn’t have been the
written story of the wreck, for you must remember that it was written
after the storm and wreck and after the men were killed.”

“I see,” nodded Don, somewhat cast down. “But you have no doubt that it
was the galleon’s crew, have you?”

“Oh, none at all,” returned the professor. “The story is too closely
allied to the one we know to be at all doubtful. It seems to me that if
we can get the Indian here to take us to the spot where the crew was
killed that would be somewhere near where the galleon struck. At least,
we would be in the immediate neighborhood, and not all at sea, as we are
now.”

“But how about losing time in the hunt for the boys?” suggested Ned.

“We can get some idea of the location and then push on after the boys,”
said the professor. He turned to the Yuqui and asked him if he would
lead them to the spot where the men from the ship were killed.

“I have seen the place,” nodded the Indian. “I will show it to you.”

“If we find the treasure through your help we will give you a share of
it,” promised Ned.

The Indian waved his hand impatiently. “Gold is cursed,” he said,
sternly. “Yengi has wisdom, which is more than gold. I wish none of it.”

The party was impatient to start out but when night came on the storm
had abated but little and they accepted the Indian’s invitation to stay
with him all night. They ate together and sat around the fire talking,
the Indian telling them many more stories of his race in their glory,
himself astonished at the learning of the professor. He found it hard to
believe that the professor had learned so much from books.

At last they lay down and wrapped themselves in their blankets, Don
breathing a prayer for the safety of his brother and his chum before
they fell asleep. It had been agreed that they would leave early in the
morning to look at the spot where the old Indian village had stood and
from there they would push on to the sea in the search for the missing
boys. Yengi, who knew the country much better than even Yappi did, was
to go with them and lend his valuable aid. With many varied conjectures
in their minds as to what the morrow would bring forth the whole party
soon became quiet in sleep, the professor very nearly exhausted by the
events of the past two days.



                              CHAPTER XVI
                           THE LANDING PARTY


When the morning dawned the party was not slow to spring into action,
but quick as they were their host was up before them. He was preparing
breakfast at the fire and greeted them with quiet dignity. Before eating
Ned and Don looked outside, to find a day somewhat better than the one
before it had been, but still showing the effects of the storm. Sullen
gray clouds passed overhead, impelled by the wind which was driving
forward steadily, and the ground was still muddy from the rain which had
fallen heavily. They were certain to escape the exhausting heat which
had lately hindered them, and thankful for this circumstance the boys
went in and enjoyed Yengi’s breakfast.

The horses were saddled and without loss of time the company set out.
The Indian closed his door but did not lock it, saying that no one would
be likely to enter his place during his absence. They struck off to the
south, following the sage and Yappi, who rode well to the front.

The horses found the going a little difficult, as the ground was
slippery, and the men soaked their trouser legs as they scraped past
bushes and small shrubs. This condition of affairs did not last long,
for they soon rode down out of the mountains and reached the level
plain. Here the going was much better and they went off at a brisk trot,
heading for a furrowed section of uplands which they could see some
miles before them.

During the journey they kept a sharp look-out for their missing
companions, but no sign was seen of any living being as they went on.
One or two large jack-rabbits crossed their path and Yappi brought one
down, stowing it in a bag behind his saddle for some future meal. The
act was opportune, for they had now run out of provisions and would have
to depend in the future on whatever they brought down with their guns.

Don was in a curious state of mind as they travelled on. He was anxious
about Jim and Terry, and the thought that he might be going further away
from them with each mile was not a pleasing one. But they had no
definite clue as to the whereabouts of the others, and one direction was
as good as another. All of them felt that they had made for the coast,
but just where on the coast they had no idea. It was simply a matter of
keeping going, and watching carefully for the slightest sign which would
send them in the right direction.

Before noon they arrived at the place where the old Indian village had
been and where the Spanish crew, probably from the galleon, had been
killed. The village had stood in a slight basin, hidden in a convenient
roll of the sheltering foothills, and there was now but little to tell
that there had ever been a village there. All trace of the huts which
had once been there was lost, but several places in the hills, hollowed
out of the volcanic dykes, showed that someone had once lived there.
Some low mounds marked the burial places of the ancient Indians.

The sage pointed to the south. “From that direction the men came,” he
said, his dull eyes kindling as he thought of the glory of his former
race. “The village in which my fathers lived was originally there, but
they lived here in order to flee into the mountains when the Spaniards
came. It was here that the crew of the great ship were killed, and
afterward my people scattered, leaving a few of my race in the hills and
the mountains.”

They looked around the spot with interest and discussed the
possibilities. Some miles east of them lay the sea, and Ned argued that
the creek up which the galleon had sailed could not be far off. He would
have liked to have set out for it at once, but realizing that the task
of finding the missing boys was of far greater importance he smothered
his desire, resolved to return some day and strike off from that spot.

“The Spaniards were evidently heading for the mountains at the time that
they fell into the hands of the Indians,” the professor said.

“Why should they head for the mountains?” Don asked. “Wouldn’t they have
been more likely to have kept to the shore, in the hope of being picked
up by another ship?”

“I don’t think so,” replied the professor. “They may have intended to
make their way over the mountains to Mexico, or they may have feared the
Indians with good cause, for their cruelties made the Indians eager to
lay hands on them. Probably they feared the very thing that did befall
them.”

“Well, now that we have at least marked the portion of the country where
the crew appeared, let’s get on,” suggested Ned. “In all my searching I
fell short of this region by a good twenty-five miles, and this will
help me get my bearings. Evidently the spot of the wreck is still some
miles to the south, but I think we should be able to come across it when
we have more leisure to look around.”

“What is your thought?” inquired Professor Scott. “Shall we strike down
to the coast?”

“I think so,” nodded Ned. “Then we can beat up the coast toward the
ranch, keeping our eyes open for the boys. Surely they didn’t go any
further south than this.”

“Possibly not,” Don put in. “We can’t tell, but I feel we should go to
the shore and see if we can pick up anything there.”

They now said goodbye to the sage, who did not feel inclined to go any
further with them. He was used to solitude and did not care to mix in
with their problems and adventures, and he refused any pay for his
hospitality or information. He once more expressed his belief that they
would be fortunate in their search and then gravely turned his horse’s
head back to his mountains, seemingly no longer interested in what went
on. With feelings of warmest gratitude for him the party from the ranch
went on their journey toward the coast.

The coast was reached in the afternoon and they began to head north,
watching both land and sea for any trace of the missing boys. Hunger at
last caused them to halt while Yappi prepared and cooked the rabbit
which he had killed, and the others enjoyed the meat of the little
animal. As soon as this simple repast was completed they once more moved
on.

“What are we to do if we don’t find them on this trip?” asked Don.

“We’ll have to go to San Diego, recruit a good-sized force and hunt
Sackett from one end of Lower California to the other,” replied Ned,
grimly. “And we may have to get the proper Mexican officials on the job,
too. You see, it is possible that Sackett may have carried them off to
Mexico, and if that is the case we’ll have a fine time locating them.
But we’ll leave no stone unturned to do it, you may be sure.”

“And in the meantime we’ll leave Yappi at the ranch in case any news of
them should come there,” the professor suggested.

Yappi was riding ahead and was just topping a small rise when they saw
him slip from the back of his horse and lie flat on the ground. He
motioned to them to dismount and they did so, wondering. Cautiously they
moved up beside him and looked over the brow of the small hill into the
vale below.

The sight that met their eyes astonished them. Off to their left was the
sea, not now the calm Pacific, but a tumbling, boiling stretch of water,
still showing the effects of the storm. An eighth of a mile off shore a
schooner lay on its side, the black expanse of the hull showing above
the water, a portion of the keel rising out of the waves. The ship had
evidently run aground during the storm, for there was a gaping hole in
the bow and the masts were snapped off short, the rigging strewing the
deck and trailing into water. But it was the sight of several men in the
hollow below which drew their greatest attention.

The men were members of the crew of the schooner and they were at
present gathered around a small fire. They had been wet and bedraggled
and were gathered close to the fire as though their only concern was to
get warm. Some of the crew had gathered wood and lay it piled high
nearby. No one was keeping watch and the party on the hill top had not
been seen.

“Jim and Terry aren’t there,” whispered Don, in disappointment.

They were not, and Ned was about to advise that they pass on, when Yappi
seized his arm and pointed to a spot some half mile down the shore, to
the north of the men. To their astonishment they perceived another
schooner, standing at anchor in a cove, and a boat was putting out from
that schooner and making for the shore. The second schooner was in good
condition and had apparently not suffered from the storm.

“It looks to me as though those fellows were after the men below,” the
professor said, in a low tone.

They watched the boat from the schooner discharge its load of men, who
immediately took to the shelter of a friendly hill and made their way
silently toward the party which sat around the fire. The oncoming men
were led by a tall old man with white hair, who seemed to have full
authority, for the sailors, who were an orderly looking lot in
comparison with the crew below, obeyed his every gesture. They crept
nearer the unsuspecting men below until they were on a hilltop opposite
from the ranch party.

“Why,” murmured Ned. “I think we are going to witness a battle!”

Scarcely had he spoken than the old captain waved his hand and his band
rushed down on the men who were seated around the fire. Their coming was
totally unexpected and the crew from the wrecked schooner sprang to its
feet in dismay. The men from the second schooner fell on them bodily and
a free-for-all fight began, a fight that was short-lived, for the second
crew were superior in number and moreover, was armed. After a few
knock-downs the wretched crew was overcome and all neatly tied up by
their attackers.

“Well, I must say I don’t understand this,” said the professor. “I
wonder which one of the parties is in the right?”

“I don’t know,” answered Ned. “But we’ve got to go down and ask them if
anything has been learned of Sackett or the boys. But I am not sure but
what we are running our heads into some sort of a trap.”

The mestizo had been following the events below with absorbed interest
and had forgotten everything else. He turned to speak to the others. But
instead of speaking at them he stared back of them, and then, with a
motion like that of a cat, he made a quick dive for his rifle, which was
laying beside him.



                              CHAPTER XVII
                               THE ESCAPE


It seemed to Jim that he was under tons of water and that everything
around him was a roaring whirl of confusion. His lungs were filled with
water and close to bursting when he finally gained a breath of fresh air
after expelling the water from his lungs. He was still on the deck of
the _Galloway_, crumpled up against the deckhouse and half buried in the
wash which still swept across the deck.

His first act was to stagger weakly to his feet and look for Terry. He
was relieved to see the well known red-head emerge from behind some
lashed-down canvas on the deck, and a moment later the boy was
staggering toward him, furiously blinking his eyes. To their surprise
they found that the deck of the schooner was tilted on a decided angle
and that the starboard rail was well under water.

The schooner had run hard aground and had settled on its side. One or
two of the crew had been swept over the side and lost, the whole thing
having happened so quickly that no aid could be given them. The rest of
the men were picking themselves up from the deck and looking dazedly
around, uncertain as to the next move. Captain Ryan shouted orders which
could be heard above the din and the men worked their way over the
sloping deck to the large life boat which was hanging at the port side.

Terry started to follow them but Jim grasped his arm, placing his mouth
close to his ear. “Wait a minute,” he said. “Let them go!”

“Aren’t you going with them?” asked Terry, astonished.

Jim shook his head. “Let’s stay here. I don’t think this ship is going
to sink, and we can make our escape. Let’s duck behind the wheelhouse.”

Terry was a bit bewildered but he followed Jim’s lead in crouching out
of sight. “Do you think it is safe?” he asked. “Those fellows are
leaving the schooner, and they should know if it isn’t going to sink.”

“Those fellows are scared to death,” Jim said. “They have forgotten
about us and the only thing they have in mind is to get to shore. I
don’t think the ship will go under because it is too firmly grounded. We
can give them time to get to the shore and when the storm lets up we can
get ashore ourselves. Remember, if we don’t want to make a long trip to
Mexico, we must get away from here.”

“You are right there,” murmured Terry. “Did you get hurt any in the
crack?”

“Got a bruise on my shoulder, that’s all. Look, there goes the crew.”

The crew had jumped into the life boat and had pushed it away from the
schooner’s side. Captain Ryan gave one sweeping look around the wrecked
ship as the boys hastily ducked from sight, and satisfied that they had
been swept overboard and drowned, he gave the order to pull for shore.
The men settled to it with a will, and before many minutes had passed
the boys lost sight of them in the gloom which hung over the sea and
blotted out the shore.

Terry stood up and looked around. “Alone at last, as the song says.
Wonder if we are the only ones on board?”

“I think so,” Jim replied, looking rapidly around. “Is there any other
boat aboard?”

A thorough search convinced them that there was no other boat on the
wreck. They tried to get down into the hold to look around, but it was
filled with water. The schooner would have sunk like a shot except that
it had folded up on a rock and was held there. Jim noted that the rail
was going deeper into the water with the passage of time.

“We’ll have to get off in some manner,” he told his companion. “I think
the ship is slowly turning over, at least it is going to settle
completely on its side. But as to how to get off is the problem.”

Terry peered off toward the shore, over the heaving water. “The blow has
gone down considerably,” he said. “The shore isn’t far off, you can see
it. Do you think you could make it by swimming?”

“I think I could,” replied Jim, after considering. “How about you?”

“I could if I had something to hang onto and get a breathing spell once
in awhile,” Terry thought.

“Well, we can settle that. We can lash a couple of spars together and
use them for resting stations. Goodness knows that there are enough
spars around.”

They secured two large spars and roped them together firmly. Shedding
all of their clothing except those absolutely necessary for use on shore
they were about to leave the ship when Jim was struck with an idea.

“We can take along all of our clothes by tying them on the spars,” he
said.

They tied all of their clothes to the top of the spar and threw it into
the foaming sea, which had abated in force considerably during the last
twenty minutes. Realizing that the men would be on shore directly ahead
of them and not wishing to fall into their clutches they decided to head
for a point further down the shore, and with this plan in mind they dove
off together, landing with a rush in the stinging salt water. When they
bobbed up and shook the water out of their eyes they saw the spars a few
feet before them. They struck out for the rude craft and each boy passed
one arm over it, propelling with the other.

In this manner the spars kept progress with them in their attempt to
escape to the shore, and when they became tired, which was often in the
long struggle, they hung onto the spars and rested. They knew better
than to waste breath in idle talk, so no word was spoken during the
fight for shore. Jim was a better swimmer than the red-headed boy, but
Terry grimly stuck it out, and after a half hour battle they landed on
the shore, almost exhausted.

Terry splashed his way up to the beach, collapsing in a heap on the wet
sand, but Jim, blown as he was, had presence of mind enough to take the
clothing off of the raft and look around them. The storm was blowing
itself out and the sky growing lighter, but as there was no sight of the
men nearby Jim soon lay down beside his companion and rested gratefully.
They had drifted a mile or more down the shore in their swim and felt
reasonably safe from capture.

Jim was the first to sit up and he looked keenly around. They were in a
lonely section of coast country, uninhabited and infinitely dreary. He
wondered what the next best plan should be, and asked Terry. Both felt
that it would be foolish to go back toward the ranch directly, and both
agreed that it would be foolish to go south.

“That means we push inland,” Terry nodded.

“Yes, that is all that we can do. And we are in one fine shape to do
that, I must say! No weapons, no matches, and not a thing to eat! If we
don’t fall into somebody’s hands we’ll starve,” said Jim.

“It does look tough from every angle,” Terry agreed. He got up and wrung
the water out of his trousers and shirt. “I’m pretty tired, but I
suppose we ought to get moving, eh?”

“I think so. At least we should get away from the coast. Maybe when we
get inland we can find some place to put up for the night, some hollow
or something. After a good night’s sleep we should be able to cover a
lot of ground.”

“Little Terry hasn’t been bad, but he has to go to bed without his
supper!” the red-headed boy grimaced, as they started inland.

They walked slowly, keeping a sharp lookout, but met no one in their
journey. They meant to make a long half circle in their return, planning
to avoid the party from the schooner and Sackett’s henchmen. There was
also the possibility that they might run across their own party, who
they felt was surely looking for them. But the present object was to
find some protected shelter and hide away for the night.

Evening was close upon them when Jim suddenly pulled Terry down behind a
bush. He pointed to the right and whispered to his chum.

“A man, over there!”

Terry looked, to see a lone traveler encamped in a small hollow some
little distance from them. The man was seated beside a small fire,
busily engaged in frying something in a small pan. His horse, a
beautiful black animal, was grazing on the short grass nearby, and the
man’s rifle stood close at hand. Terry turned to Jim with a satisfied
air.

“There’s my supper!” he announced, pointing to the pan in the man’s
hand.

“Don’t be too sure of that,” Jim warned. “We want to be mighty careful
who we walk up to.”

“Say, you don’t think every human being in this country belongs to
Sackett’s gang, do you?” asked Terry.

“I suppose not,” Jim gave in. “Shall we walk up and announce ourselves?”

“We’ll walk up and reserve a table!” grinned Terry. “That pan excites
me; let’s go!”

They advanced toward the man, who did not see them coming until they
were barely twenty yards from him. Then he looked up and they saw that
he was a Mexican. He gave a slight start and reached for his gun, but
allowed his fingers to slide from the stock as he continued to look at
them. At the same time the boys recognized him.

“It is Alaroze, the overseer of Senorita Mercedes ranch!” cried Jim, and
Terry nodded.

Seeing that he was recognized the Mexican broke into a smile and
welcomed them in Spanish. He was frankly puzzled at their strange and
uncouth appearance, but he did not ask any questions. Jim, who could
speak fair Spanish, told him that they had taken a trip down the coast
in a ship and had been cast ashore, feeling that it would not be wise to
tell too much. When the Mexican had heard their story he expressed
himself as being deeply grieved and hastened to offer them food. He had
some beans and bread and seemed to have a plentiful supply with him, so
the boys were not averse to taking what he offered.

They sat down and gratefully ate what he set before them. The overseer
talked rapidly, smiling, rebuilding the fire and insisted upon cooking
them more of his provisions. Once when he was out of earshot Terry spoke
out of the corner of his mouth.

“He isn’t a half-bad fellow, this Alaroze. I didn’t think I liked him at
the ranch, but he surely is treating us royally now.”

“He certainly is,” agreed Jim, heartily. “We’ll see to it that he never
regrets it.”

Finally the Mexican sat down and ate with them and afterward smoked
cigaret after cigaret as he talked with them. He did not seem to be
inquisitive as to the whereabouts of the others, in fact, Jim was more
curious than the foreman, for presently he asked him what he was doing
so far away from the Mercedes ranch.

“I am looking for stray cattle,” the overseer said. “Many of them have
wandered away of late and I am looking for them.”

It was growing dark now and they made a large fire, before which the
boys dried their dripping clothes. The three companions agreed to head
back for the ranch of the senorita on the following day and to go from
there to the Scott ranch. Jim and Terry warmly thanked the overseer for
his supper and hospitality, but the Mexican was effusively modest about
it.

Quite early the three of them turned in, the Mexican lingering for some
little time after the boys. He sat beside the fire, still smoking his
inexhaustible cigarets, looking out into the blackness of the night. He
seemed to have no fear of anyone. The boys lay under the shelter of some
sandy banks, for the Mexican had but one blanket, and just before they
fell asleep they looked at the lone figure near the fire.

“Lucky thing for us that we fell in with him,” Jim commented.

“Right you are,” Terry returned. “He certainly has been fine to us. I’m
just about sorry I ever distrusted him.”

“You can’t go by looks,” said Jim. “But I don’t think he is pushing his
search for those stray cattle very vigorously.”

“Well, you know how lazy most of these Mexicans are,” Terry yawned.
“Probably just taking his own sweet time.”

“Funny he should be out looking for them, instead of the other cowboys,”
Jim went on. “I should think that he would be needed at the ranch.”

“Maybe it is his personality that counts,” grinned Terry. “He may
attract the cows and bring ’em home that way. I don’t care how he does
it. I’m going to sleep.”

Both boys fell into a deep sleep. The Mexican sat motionless beside the
fire for some time longer. Once he turned and looked toward the boys, at
the same time smiling at some thought which was passing through his
head. His teeth gleamed for a second and then his face once more became
impassive. Shortly after that he rolled himself up in his blanket and
fell asleep.



                             CHAPTER XVIII
                         TREASURE AND TREACHERY


The boys slept late the next morning and when they awoke the Mexican was
still lying on his blanket, not sleeping but still not working. Feeling
that they should do something to earn the hospitality of their new-found
friend the two boys brought wood from the thicket and kindled the fire.
The Mexican gave them some beans and they speedily made enough for all
of them.

After they had eaten they started off in the direction of Senorita
Mercedes’ ranch, the Mexican riding slowly and the boys walking beside
him. They had managed to dry out their clothes and put them on, and
although they were a mass of wrinkles and ridges they did well enough.
Their shoes had shrunk somewhat and walking was not easy, but they stuck
to the task manfully, plodding along mile after mile without complaint.

Several times during the trip the overseer got down from his horse and
insisted that one of the boys mount and ride for a few miles, and
although they protested he would not listen to them. So they rode
gratefully, in this way saving themselves from a good many aches and
pains. The Mexican was not used to walking but he said nothing, trudging
along on one side or the other of the horse cheerfully.

They stopped once for dinner and then pressed on again. The foreman of
the ranch was sure that they would reach the Mercedes place in two days,
or late on the following day, so they pushed on eagerly. In the early
afternoon they were forced to take a rest from the heat of the sun, but
covered a few miles before it was time to make camp for the night.

They were near the coast at the time and their camp was pitched in the
hollow formed by two small hills. They had looked for a favorable
location, for this one had no wood near it, as the country was mostly
barren, and thickets few and far between. Some green bushes grew nearby
and they resolved to use these as a final resource, but before doing so
Jim and Terry started out to see it they could find anything more
promising. Terry went over the top of one hill and Jim over the top of
the other, while the overseer prepared for their supper.

Jim had a small axe which Alaroze had given him and he walked along the
ridge of the small hill looking carefully around. On the opposite side
of the hill he found a long depression in the soil which looked as
though it might have been the bed of a stream at one time, perhaps some
creek which had originally flowed from the distant mountains. He
wandered down it aimlessly, convinced that his quest for wood was not
likely to be very successful. A vast stillness lay over the country and
he felt very much alone. A mile or more to the east of him he could hear
the sound of the ocean.

There was no use in walking down the defile, he decided, so he started
for the slope of the slight hill which was beside him. As he did so his
foot struck something solid. He bent down to see what it was and found a
small stick of wood protruding from the sand at his feet. He cleared the
sand away around the stick, to find that it was quite large and that it
ran into the sand for some little distance. When he had finally drawn it
from its sheath be examined it with curiosity.

It was a piece of mahogany and it showed the hand of civilization.
Although it was now black with age it had at one time been varnished. It
was a large splinter and he wondered how it ever got there. Examining it
closely he detected signs which led him to believe that it had been
burned at some time. There was a thin line running across it that
suggested carving.

“That’s funny,” he reflected. “Somebody once had a fire here and used
good wood for it. Perhaps there is more nearby.”

With this thought in mind he dug his axe deeper in the sand and began to
scoop it out. Before many minutes had passed he ran across another piece
of wood, but this one he could not get out. It seemed to have no end and
he set to work in earnest to uncover it. But after he had uncovered
about twenty-five running feet he stopped in perplexity.

“This must be a house!” he cried. “Every bit of it burned, too.”

The top of the long section of wood had been burned. It was thick wood
and he tried to dig down under it. But after he had dug sand out to the
depth of four feet he stopped and looked puzzled. It was a straight
wooden wall, extending down into the valley of sand.

Jim stopped his work and walked to the top of the rise, where he slowly
looked up and down the pass. He looked toward the ocean, calculated
thoughtfully and then looked toward the mountains. Then, looking down
toward the long strip of black wood which he had uncovered he voiced his
thought.

“That’s a ship down there, evidently burned to the water’s edge and
later covered up by shifting sand. Now, I wonder——?”

Without finishing his thought he hurried down to the trench and once
more went to work. Digging some five feet down beside the wall of wood
he came to a flooring of hard planks, just what he had been looking for.
It was the deck of a ship, and he began feverishly to dip out sand. In
this task he was finally surprised by Terry and the overseer.

Terry had returned to the camp with a few dead bushes and they had
waited around for Jim to return, but as he did not do so they became
alarmed and set out to find him. Their first glimpse of him was an odd
one. When they topped the rise some distance back of him they saw him
standing in a deep trench, facing a four foot wall of wood, busily
engaged in scooping sand from the hole and throwing it as far away as he
could. With cries of astonishment they hurried up to the long trench
which he was making.

“Jim!” Terry cried, while the Mexican looked on with bulging eyes. “What
is this?”

Jim started slightly as he straightened up. “It is the remains of a
sunken ship,” he cried. “See, this is evidently the rail, a solid wall
of wood, and I’m just uncovering the deck. It was burned to the edge of
the water, and later covered up with sand.”

“Well, I’ll be jiggered!” shouted Terry. “Do you think it is the
treasure ship?”

“I don’t know, but I wouldn’t doubt it. As you can see, I have uncovered
about twenty-five feet of this rail. The deck seems to be good and I’m
trying to uncover enough of it to find a hatchway, so that we can see if
it is empty down below.”

Terry and the Mexican jumped down beside him. The Mexican understood
enough of English to know that they thought the ship beneath them might
be a treasure ship, and he set to work with a sincere will to scoop
sand. They could not make much progress, however, for it was rapidly
growing dark, and at last they were forced to give it up until the next
day.

“That is the best we can do,” Jim decided, peering about him in the
dark. “Let’s chop some of this wood and then we’ll go back to camp.”

With his axe he hacked off enough wood to last them through the night
and the three companions carried it back to their camp, where, amid much
talking, they built the fire and cooked the supper. The Mexican was told
the whole story and he replied that he knew the legend of the phantom
galleon. The boys were not averse to telling him the story for they felt
that they owed him much and knew that his future help would mean
everything. It was late that night before they lay down to sleep, and
with the rising of the sun they were up and at work on the buried wreck.

It took them all the morning to clear the solid deck of the ancient ship
for a space of several feet and at last they came to a hatchway, covered
by a heavy door which was flush with the deck. There was a bolt on the
door but one blow of the axe broke it in pieces, and the three united
all their strength to pulling the hatch open. It came upward at last,
releasing a flood of stale and poisonous air that sent them reeling
backward with all possible speed.

“Diable!” gasped Alaroze. “I think all the fiends are closed inside!”

When the air had cleared sufficiently they all peered down the open
hatchway, to discover a wide flight of stairs leading down into the hold
of the ship. There was now no longer any doubt but what it was the
phantom galleon, for it was built on a magnificent scale. They realized
that had it not been burned the rear of the galleon would never have
been covered up, for the rear of the Spanish ships were composed of high
after-deck houses, but this ship had been burned and only the deck,
which had been below the water, had remained.

“The hold must be full of water and sand,” Terry commented.

Jim swung his feet over the edge of the deck and gingerly felt the step
below. “Full of sand, yes, but not of water. The sand will be wet,
though. Now be careful on these stairs.”

The stairs were solid and safe, but they did not go far. Originally the
ship had run aground and filled with water, and in time the sand had
filled up the hold of the galleon. A space of about six feet only was
open, and in this space the foul air had been held. The three companions
found a bed of moist sand cutting off any further progress.

“If there is any gold in this ship, it is below the sand,” Alaroze said
in Spanish.

“Yes, senor,” nodded Jim. “I think we had better not walk on this sand
for fear of falling into some pit. If we ever sank in this wet stuff,
that would be the end of us.”

“It surely would,” remarked Terry. “What is this sticking up out of the
sand? A piece of brass?”

It was a dull strip of brass, but when Jim scraped the sand from it they
found that it was long and finally discovered that it was the edge of a
brass-bound chest.

“Oh, somebody’s trunk!” said Terry, indifferently.

But the eyes of the Mexican were glittering and Jim himself was excited.
“More likely the top of a treasure chest!” he retorted, and dealt the
chest top a slashing blow with his axe.

With a shuddering, sucking sound the paper-like substance tore off,
revealing to the three in the hold a sight which took away their breath.
Gold in the form of coins of all sizes was revealed, gold which lay and
still gleamed in the interior of the trunk. The Mexican talked furiously
to himself in his native language, and the boys simply stared.

“Gold, the gold of the treasure ship!” gasped Jim, scarcely able to
believe his eyes.

Terry picked up some of it and examined it curiously. “It is gold, sure
enough,” he agreed, dazzled. “Wish we had the professor here to tell us
just what it represents.”

“Perhaps there is more around,” Jim suggested. He began to dig his axe
into the sand, while the Mexican stood back of him, his eyes gone
suddenly black and calculating. But Jim found that there was no more.

“Probably this chest was brought up here, while the rest of the treasure
is still below. At any rate, even if there is no more, there is enough
to make us all rich.” He turned to Alaroze with a smile. “Well, senor,
it was lucky for us when we ran across you, and lucky for you when you
agreed to guide us home. Your share from this will make you a rich man.”

“Yes, yes, senor,” agreed the overseer, breaking into a smile. “I bless
the day we met! May the saints reward you!”

“We’ve been rewarded pretty well already!” grinned Jim. “Well, what
shall we do? We can’t do much of anything until we return home, get the
rest of the party and return here to go to work. Suppose we take along
some of the gold and start out for the ranch.”

They took several of the largest coins, the hands of the Mexican
trembling as he did so, and made their way up on deck again. Terry
demanded of Jim if he was going to leave the galleon ruins uncovered.

“Yes,” replied Jim. “There isn’t much chance of anyone coming this way,
and it would take us hours to cover it up. Let’s spend that time on our
homeward journey.”

“All I hope is that we run across the others in quick order, then,” said
Terry. “I’d hate to lose time while this treasure is lying uncovered.”

Leaving the galleon they returned to camp and prepared to start back for
the ranch. The Mexican went to his horse, picked up his rifle and looked
at it, and then placed it against a tiny mound of sand. With averted
face he picked up the blanket and his few supplies.

Terry and Jim were conferring earnestly. “It will take a large force of
men to dig down into that wreck,” Terry said. “We’ll let the professor
and Ned decide what is best to do.”

“Sure,” agreed Jim, swinging around. “Well, I guess we’re ready to go.”

Then, both boys stopped suddenly. Standing before them, with his rifle
levelled straight at them, stood the Mexican overseer. There was a hard
light in his black eyes and his mouth was a straight line, the lips
white.

“What—what’s the matter?” asked Jim, smiling slightly, and thinking that
there was some joke in the wind.

“Nothing is wrong, senor,” came the reply. “But since you two know so
well where the gold is, I shall regret the necessity of killing you both
so that it will be all mine!”



                              CHAPTER XIX
                     AN OLD FRIEND JOINS THE PARTY


The party on the hill was surprised at the action of the mestizo as he
fairly pounced upon his rifle. But before he could even lift it a
clear-cut voice spoke out back of them.

“Keep your hands off of that gun, or I’ll drill a few holes into you!”

They turned, to find back of them a little short man in a blue uniform
of a sailor, who had crept up on them quietly from the rear. He held a
rifle in his hand and turned it unwaveringly toward the members of the
watching group.

“What is the meaning of this?” demanded the professor, after a second of
silence.

“No meaning at all,” chuckled the man, whose uniform proclaimed him a
mate on a sailing ship. “You fellows march down the hill until my
captain looks you over.”

“Who are you to tell us to march down the hill?” snapped Ned. “This is a
free country, in case you don’t know it.”

“I know it,” chuckled the mate. “But this here gun of mine don’t know
nothing about it! I’ve tried my best to teach the blooming thing, but
it’s just naturally ignorant!”

“Who are you?” Don asked.

“Go on down the hill!” commanded the mate, suddenly changing his tone.
“The captain will answer all questions.”

There was nothing to do but to obey, so, in silence the boys and the
older man walked down the hill, leading their mounts. The crowd below
saw them coming and looked on with marked interest. The captain of the
attackers strode to the front. He was a tall old man with a white beard
and snow white hair, and at sight of him Don caught his breath.

“What have you here, Harvey?” the captain asked.

“This bunch was lying on their tummies and looking over the hill at
you,” answered the mate, a twinkle in his eyes.

“Yes, we were, Captain Blow,” said Don, boldly. “How are you, sir?”

Captain Blow, their old friend from Mystery Island, started at hearing
his name, and looked closely at Don’s smiling face. He had been their
staunch friend at the time they made their summer cruise and captured
the marine bandits. Recognition dawned on him and he joyously seized the
boy’s hands.

“Why, by jumping Tunket, if it isn’t Don Mercer!” he roared heartily.
“What in the name of Goshen are you doing out here, boy?”

Don explained briefly that he was staying with the Scotts at their ranch
and then looked around at the sullen captives. “What is all this,
Captain Blow?” he asked.

“These fellows are one fine bunch of prison birds who are soon going in
their cage!” retorted the captain vigorously. “I’m running a schooner
out here, in the carrying trade now, and this Captain Jake Ryan run off
with two of my men. Last night I chased them but lost ’em in the storm.
Early this morning I saw the wreck and sent my mate there ashore to
locate them. When he gave me the signal, from the hill back of where you
were looking, we came ashore. He saw you fellows and thought you were
part of the enemy.”

Don then introduced the Scotts and told the captain of their search for
Jim and Terry. The captain was deeply interested.

“These fellows are part of Sackett’s gang,” he said. “Maybe they know
something.” He turned to the scowling Ryan. “Did you have anything to do
with two boys?” he asked.

“No!” said Ryan, promptly.

But one of the men who had been liberated by the coming of Captain Blow
spoke up quickly. “Yes he did, Captain Blow! Those two boys came aboard
yesterday just before the storm, down at the old tannery. And they are
still aboard the wreck!”

“How do you know they weren’t swept overboard?” shouted Jake Ryan.

“You know how I know, you scoundrel!” snapped the sailor, shaking his
fist in Ryan’s face. “When you stampeded for the lifeboat I saw those
two boys duck down behind some canvas and I told you to put back and
make ’em come off in the lifeboat, but you was so scared you wouldn’t go
back!”

“It’s a lie,” Ryan retorted.

“No it isn’t. Those boys are still on the ship,” said the sailor.

“I guess they decided to stay on the schooner and keep out of the hands
of these fellows,” decided Captain Blow. “Too bad they didn’t come right
along, and we would have them now. But we’ll probably find them out
there.”

“That is once Jim and Terry figured their move wrong,” grinned Don,
greatly relieved at the news concerning his chums.

“Yes, but they thought they were doing the correct thing,” put in the
professor. “Now, what do you propose to do with these men, Captain
Blow?”

Blow turned to his mate. “Harvey, you and the men march these fellows
back to the boats and take ’em to the schooner. I’m going out to the
wreck with these men and I’ll be back to the ship later. Don’t let one
of these rats escape, and we’ll take them to prison.”

“Aye, aye, sir!” replied Harvey. The crew hustled the captives away over
the top of the hill and then Captain Blow turned to the party of
friends.

“Now we’ll go out and look that wreck over,” he announced. The boat in
which the crew of the _Galloway_ had reached shore was still lying upon
the sand, and they all climbed in and pushed off, the old captain, Ned
and Don taking the oars. It was the first time that the mestizo had ever
been in a boat and he sat gingerly in the bow, holding himself stiffly.

“When did you leave Mystery Island, Captain Blow?” asked Don, as they
rowed out to the wreck.

“Early in the spring,” replied the old captain. “When I saw you last I
told you that Mystery Island would soon be a regular summer colony, now
that the old house and bandits are gone, and sure enough, that is what
happened. Got so full of young men with white pants and slicked down
hair and young ladies with tootin’ roadsters that my polly and me didn’t
have any peace at all. So I came west, got a nice schooner, and am now
running between here and Mexico, picking up anything I can get, mostly
fruit. I didn’t have any trouble, although I had heard plenty about this
Sackett, until a few days ago when this Ryan ran off with two of my men.
Kidnapped them in some eating house in San Francisco and I went right
after them.”

“I see,” nodded Don. “So Bella, the parrot, is still living?”

“Oh, yup! She’s still sayin’ ‘Bella is a good girl.’ Probably she’ll
still be saying that after I’m dead and gone.”

They had now approached the wreck and the captain made fast the painter
of the lifeboat. Climbing aboard was somewhat of a task, as the deck
sloped dangerously, but by dint of clinging to every support available
they managed to do so. But a hasty survey of the deck revealed that the
two boys were not on board.

“Maybe they are in the hold,” suggested Ned.

“I doubt that,” replied Captain Blow. “That hold must be full of water.
You see, these fellows crowded on all canvas to get away from me and
they ran in too close to shore, with the result that they jammed hard
and fast aground. The bottom must be stove in plenty and full of water,
and the only reason they didn’t sink is because they are sort of lying
on a shelf. However, we’ll give a look down the companionway.”

A look down into the hold of the wrecked schooner proved that Captain
Blow was right in his surmises. The hold was filled with water and it
was manifestly impossible for anyone to have gone down there. Don was
worried.

“You don’t suppose they were swept overboard, do you?” he asked,
anxiously.

“No,” said the captain promptly. “I don’t. My sailor says they ducked
down behind something to keep hidden probably with the idea of escaping
all by themselves. My idea is that they grabbed a spar or two, swam to
shore, and got away that way. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if they was
even now heading up the shore toward your ranch, professor.”

“I believe you are right, Captain,” replied the professor. “They
certainly wouldn’t stay here when there was no necessity for it, and
they probably swam ashore, as you say. I think, therefore, that we
should go ashore and follow up the coast, in the hope of overtaking
them.”

“We ought to overtake them,” said Ned. “We are mounted and they aren’t.
No use in wasting any more time around here, is there?”

“No,” Captain Blow answered, slipping down the deck. “Let’s go back.”

On the way to the shore the professor told the captain about the
treasure hunt and he was tremendously interested. Once on shore he spoke
about going back to his boat.

“I wish you the best of luck,” he told Don. “By thunder mighty! I
wouldn’t mind going with you!”

“Why don’t you?” asked Don, quickly. “Can’t your mate sail with these
men to the city and stop for you on the return trip? I feel sure that
the rest of us would be glad to have you.”

“We surely would!” said Ned and his father, together.

“Why, yes, I guess that would do,” said the captain slowly. “I’d sure
like to go along. Will you give me time to go out and tell Harvey what
to do?”

They assented and the captain signalled for a boat, which took him off
to his schooner. He was gone for about fifteen minutes, and when he came
back he had a blanket and some supplies. He joined them and the boat put
off once again for the schooner.

“Harvey is in complete charge,” he announced. “He’ll stop for me at
Quito on the way back. I’m ready to go now.”

The mestizo surrendered his horse to the captain, who protested
vigorously, but the mestizo was a far better hand at trotting along than
the old salt, so they arranged to share the horse, and when it was
cooler, to ride it double. Feeling that their best plan was to push on
back to the ranch they started off, leaving the deserted wreck far
behind them.



                               CHAPTER XX
                             THE TAR BARREL


Jim and Terry looked helplessly at the Mexican overseer as he faced them
with levelled rifle and the cool assurance that he would kill them to
keep the treasure from the galleon for himself. They tried to believe
that he was only joking, but from the set on his face and the glint in
his eyes they knew better. All too often in the history of gold hunting
and discovery had the discoverers paid for it with their lives, so that
someone else could reap the reward.

“But why should you wish to kill us, senor?” Jim asked in Spanish. “Have
not we agreed to see that you have a large share in it?”

“How do I know that you will keep your word to me?” the Mexican
answered.

“Well, I like that!” cried Jim. “We know how to keep our word, Senor
Alaroze!”

“What of it?” returned the overseer, with a slight shrug. “Why should I
not have all of it instead of a small part?”

“Oh, well, if you feel that way about it,” said Jim, turning pale.

While Jim had been talking Terry had been doing some rapid thinking.
They were standing close to the man, and the extended muzzle of the
rifle was within easy reach. Any kind of motion toward it would be sure
to be disastrous, and Terry knew it. There was one thing needed and
Terry did it. With great coolness, a feeling which he was far from
possessing, he looked over the shoulder of the overseer.

“Well,” he said, carelessly. “I guess neither of us will get the
treasure. Here comes Sackett and his party.”

He used just the right amount of conviction in his tones and he won. Jim
looked away over the Mexican’s shoulder and was fooled as completely as
the overseer. With a muttered imprecation the man turned his head
slightly to see who was back of him. That motion was his undoing. Quick
as a flash Terry’s foot came up in a splendid football kick that sent
the rifle flying upward. Before the astonished ranchman could move the
red-headed boy flung himself on him and punched him a hard wallop on the
stomach. With a groan the Mexican sank to the ground.

“Bully for you, Chucklehead!” cried Jim, springing forward and securing
the gun. “Now we have this fellow where we want him!”

They dragged the crestfallen Mexican to his feet and tied his hands
behind him with a piece of cord which they had originally tied their
clothes to the spars with. He groaned and moaned and begged them to show
mercy to him. Terry became impatient.

“Shut up!” he ordered, savagely. “If I hadn’t done that our two bodies
would have been lying here right this minute, and here you are crying
your head off for mercy! You’re getting a whole lot better than you
deserve right now, let me tell you. Don’t howl until you get back to the
ranch, then we’ll give you something to howl about.”

Still dazed at their terrible peril the boys started on the journey,
placing the cowardly overseer on the horse and following close behind.
When darkness came down they made camp, fed the captive without speaking
with him, and then made camp for the night, resolving to take turns at
keeping watch.

“We can’t let this snake get loose again,” warned Jim. “If he ever gets
away, good night!”

“That was the luckiest break we ever had,” said Terry. “If he had been
standing any further away I never could have done it.”

Jim took the first watch and Terry the second, during which time the
Mexican seemed to sleep calmly. His hands had been untied, so they
covered him with the rifle and kept unwavering eyes upon him. In the
morning the march was resumed and late in the afternoon they approached
the ranch of the Senorita Mercedes.

The senorita was the first to approach and she expressed amazement at
the strange sight which they presented as they walked down into the
ranch yard. Jim related the story to her and she was deeply interested.
Turning to the sullen foreman she upbraided him furiously in Spanish and
turned back to the boys.

“He did not go away to look for stray cattle,” she said. “None of my
cattle have strayed. I do not know why he left me, but I think he is
part of that wicked Sackett band. I think he was only kind to you so he
could place you in that man’s hands.”

“By George, I’ll bet that is right!” exclaimed Jim, and Terry nodded.

“Put him in that small shed,” directed the senorita, pointing to a
little building which stood at the edge of the ranch yard. “Then come to
the house and rest and eat.”

Quite willingly the two boys locked the silent prisoner in the little
shed and returned to the ranch house. The energetic little senorita had
hot water, soap and towels laid out for them, and they fairly revelled
in the washing process.

“When I was a kid,” grinned Terry, “I loved to have a dirty face, but
now I know just what luxury it is to feel clean again.”

“Hope I don’t break this comb of the senorita’s trying to comb my
tangled hair,” grunted Jim. “I can’t honestly say that we are any
beauties to appear at the table of the young lady.”

When they sat down with the youthful and beautiful owner of the little
ranch to eat she said: “My men are at present eating, but as soon as
they have finished I shall send one of them to Ned’s ranch for your
friends.”

“That is very kind of you, Senorita,” murmured Jim, as he ate
ravenously.

“Nonsense!” laughed the girl, tossing her head. “You have been through
such thrilling adventures of late! Tell me more about them.”

As Jim knew more Spanish than Terry it fell to him to relate the
experiences of the past few days. They were lingering over their coffee
when an excited ranchman burst into the room. All three at the table
rose quickly and the man poured something out in some unknown dialect.

“Ride immediately to the Scott ranch for help!” commanded the senorita,
growing pale.

“Alas, senorita, the house is surrounded, I cannot go,” said the man, in
Spanish.

“What, is the house surrounded?” asked Jim, quickly.

“Yes,” answered the senorita, rapidly. “This man tells me that Sackett
and three men rode down, let Alaroze out, and are creeping to the house.
Fly to the doors, quickly!”

Flying was necessary. Terry and Jim hurled the main door of the ranch
house shut just in time to keep Sackett and Abel from rushing it.
Rapidly, under the direction of the girl, they closed all windows and
drew the blinds. Then she gave them each a rifle and took one herself.

“We must watch diligently,” she said, her eyes shining. “They will try
to burst in and we must keep them off.”

A shot rang out and a bullet crashed through the front door. Feeling
that they would be attacked from more than one side they separated, Jim
going to the front of the house and Terry and the senorita keeping watch
on the sides. Several shots were fired, all of which did no harm.

It was now very dark and their peril was increased. A concerted rush
might blast their hopes and Jim in particular was worried. It would be
bad enough to have to surrender to Sackett’s gang, but it would be far
worse to have the dainty senorita fall into their hands. He set his
teeth and determined that it should not happen. There was complete
silence outside, a silence that was not reassuring.

Jim went to the girl where she was crouching beside a window, peering
out into the darkness of the yard. He knelt down beside her.

“Is it possible that one of your men could have slipped away to Ned’s
ranch?” he asked.

“I am sorry to say no, senor. My man tells me that they were all penned
up in their bunkhouse. There is no way we can let our friends know of
our danger.”

“I see. They couldn’t see a light from the top of the ranch, could
they?”

“No, the hills are too high. We must fight these men off until morning
and then see what we can do.”

“If we could only attract Ned’s attention someway,” said Jim. “Watch
out, senorita!”

He fairly dragged her away from the window as a shot tore in through the
glass and the blinds. She shook him off, but kept away from the exposed
part.

“There is nothing—Ah, the tar barrel!” she exclaimed.

“Where is there a tar barrel?” asked Jim, quickly, as Terry fired his
rifle out of another window.

“You see that hill?” asked the senorita, pointing to a low mound back of
the ranch. “On top of that hill is a barrel which is half full of tar. I
have been using it to repair my roofs, and it is half full. If that
could only be lighted they would see it at Ned’s ranch.”

“That’s fine!” cried Jim. “I’ll light that tar barrel myself!”

“Senor, you will be killed!”

“Maybe!” said Jim, grimly. “But I’ll start that bonfire, anyway!”

He related his plan to Terry, who warmly assented, and a little later
Jim worked his way to a side of the house where there was no shooting.
Senorita Mercedes wanted to send her ranchman out on the perilous
venture but Jim had opposed it.

“No, I’ll go,” he said. “It means everything to have it succeed, and the
man might get scared or bungle it in some way. Let me do it.”

He opened a low window on the quiet side of the house, while Terry stood
in the shadows, prepared to shoot down anyone who should loom up. Jim
dropped out of the window and lay flat alongside of the house, and after
a moment he raised his head. The attacking party was in the front and
the rear of the house and he had not been seen. Terry closed the window
and watched Jim slide forward along the ground toward the distant barn.

Fortunately the night was dark and Jim had a good opportunity. Using
extreme care he reached the barn and then looked toward the hill where
the tar barrel stood. The senorita had stood it on the hill because she
was afraid of fire and thought it best to keep it away from the ranch
building. Bending low Jim ran quickly toward the black barrel and
reached it in safety.

Near the house he could see three shadows and he knew that they were
Sackett’s men. They had not dreamed that anyone would be foolhardy
enough to leave the building and so they waited for a favorable
opportunity to rush the doors and break in. They had no intention of
doing so as long as those three guns were flashing out viciously.

There were still three flashes from the house and Jim readily saw what
had happened. Terry or the senorita had given the ranchman who had
brought the news of the attack a gun and he was firing. Probably the
attacking party thought Jim was still in the house. Lying flat on the
ground Jim took a long piece of paper from his pocket and a box of
matches. He placed the papers in the soft tar and lighted it.

The tar caught fire quickly, so quickly that Jim was bathed for a second
in its light. He had made no plans for a retreat, and as the tar barrel
burst into flames he was clearly revealed.

A shout arose from the men who were attacking the house and they sprang
recklessly from cover and dashed toward him. This piece of carelessness
cost them dearly, for the senorita and Terry each brought one man down
with accurate shots in the legs. At the same time Jim sprinted for the
corner of the barn and crouched there, his rifle held in readiness to
bring down anyone who should attempt to put out the blazing beacon.

Higher and higher blazed the barrel with its cargo of tar, sending its
light for several miles over the surrounding countryside. The outlaws
had now rushed back to cover, to consider what move to make next.

“I surely hope the others are at Ned’s and that they see that light,”
thought Jim fervently, as he waited in his position back of the barn.



                              CHAPTER XXI
                               THE CAIRN


Professor Scott, the captain, Don and Ned were all sitting around a fire
in the living room discussing the next move to be made. To their intense
disappointment they had not found the missing boys upon their return to
the ranch, nor had they come across a single trace on their homeward
journey. They had just decided that a more vigorous hunt must be started
in the morning when Yappi hastily entered the living room.

“There is a large fire at the ranch of Senorita Mercedes, senor,” he
informed Ned.

The young man jumped to his feet in dismay. “Oh, I hope those fellows
haven’t set her ranch on fire!” he groaned. “Let’s see what is up.”

The entire party ran to the back door and looked across the plains in
the direction of the Mercedes ranch. Just as the mestizo had said, the
sky in that direction was red and they could see the flames against the
sky. But it was several feet south of the house.

“It isn’t the house,” decided Ned. “Perhaps they are just burning some
old rubbish.”

“Why should she select a hilltop to burn rubbish on?” asked the
professor, sensibly. “Does she usually burn things at night?”

“No,” admitted Ned. “There must surely be something wrong. Yappi, the
horses!”

The mestizo sprang around the house and went to the barn, from which he
soon led mounts for all of them. He was instructed to stay at the ranch
with the cook, in case the boys should return, and then the others threw
themselves on the animals and started off. Ned and Don rode well in
front, their anxiety making them impatient, while the professor and the
captain, who were not riders of note, lagged somewhat.

It was not a long journey to the ranch of the senorita, but to the boys
it seemed long, and when at last they ascended the last hill they drew a
breath of relief. They were now near enough to see that the blazing
beacon was a tar barrel, and the circumstances became more puzzling than
ever. But before they had much time to wonder about it they had topped
the rise and were looking down on the scene below.

The light from the blazing barrel showed them a curious scene. The
outlaws had realized that they must make one last desperate assault, and
at the present moment they were making it. Four men were close to the
front door, flat in the yard, a log rolled before them as a shield, over
which they were firing at the door, splintering the wood badly. They
were rolling the log before them as they advanced, and hoped in this
manner to get close enough to the door to make a determined rush. From
the interior of the house came occasional flashes of fire from three
rifles and from the corner of the barn came another.

While the relief party was taking this in the professor and the captain
joined them. The attacking party had not yet become aware of their
presence, and seeing that the moment was favorable Ned and Don charged
down the hill, the older men following. A single shot, fired by Ned,
told Sackett and company that help had arrived, and without even
stopping to offer resistance they fled in every direction.

The captain instantly discharged his gun at one of the fleeing men and
he went down in a heap. The professor shot Abel in the shoulder and Ned
and Don pounced on the same man, springing from their horses upon the
man. The fourth man, who was Sackett, ran to the thicket, made a single
bound into his saddle, and thundered away, passing close to Jim in his
corner of the barn, who fired at him but missed in the excitement.

Jim looked for an instant after the fleeing outlaw and then dashed
around the barn and entered it. The horses stood there, moving
restlessly, and he selected a fine looking steed and hastily saddled it.
Leading it from the barn he mounted and started off with all speed after
Sackett.

The slim edge of a moon was rising above the horizon and by its somewhat
sickly light Jim was able to follow the course of the bay pirate. The
man was making straight for the mountain and felt confident that he
would make it, but he was soon undeceived. The horse which Jim had
selected from the stables of the senorita was a high strung, fiery
animal, and he was eager to run. Jim needed no spur to keep him at top
speed, and the lead which the bandit had held was steadily cut down.

Seeing that he could not make the mountains before the pursuing boy was
well within gunshot the outlaw made for a patch of trees that stood
nearby. They were a little more than a mile before him, and consisted of
a fairly dense tangle of low bushes and trees. His idea was probably to
make a last stand there, Jim decided, and the race settled down grimly
in that direction.

Once Sackett turned and fired at Jim, but the shot went wide of the
mark, for the ground was uneven and the distance too great for accuracy.
From that time on he gave his attention to the task of escaping, bending
low over the neck of his steed and urging it on. The patch of trees was
now very near and Sackett well in the lead.

The outlaw drove his horse into the shelter of the little refuge at
headlong speed and vanished from Jim’s sight. Jim pulled the steed to a
halt and paused uncertainly. Sackett was in the thicket and armed, and
he knew better than to recklessly dash on. If his theory was right the
pirate was waiting for him to do that very thing, and it would be the
worst move he could make. So he sat quietly in the saddle, wondering
what his next move should be.

It was impossible for Sackett to escape to the mountains without being
seen for Jim could see all around the thicket, and if the man tried to
slip from the other side and continue his flight Jim would surely spot
him. And yet, his object in running into the brush also puzzled Jim.
What could he gain by that? In a few minutes the others would come up
and they would be able to charge him and take him prisoner. It seemed to
Jim that there was some deep scheme in the head of the outlaw, and so he
watched with all his senses alert, keeping well out of gunshot.

In this position Don and Ned found him when they galloped up a half hour
later. Don fairly threw himself on his brother in his joy and Ned was
equally enthusiastic. Jim was in rags but was a welcome sight to Don.

Jim explained the position of the outlaw in the thicket and they were
undecided. No sound had come from the thicket all the time that Jim had
been stationed there, and no one had left the place. Ned decided that
they had better spread out and rush the cover.

“If we rush the woods on three sides we’ll have him,” he said. “He can’t
shoot at all three of us at once, and we can fairly hurl ourselves into
the place. By coming up on three different points we can prevent him
from running out of one side of the thicket while we charge in another.”

“We must rush the thicket in a zigzag course,” Don put in. “If we don’t,
we’re likely to be shot.”

Agreeing on a gunshot for signal purposes the three boys took up
positions on three sides of the silent thicket and looked to their
rifles. Each one could see the other and at last Ned discharged his gun.
At top speed they bore down on the thicket, driving the horses in an
irregular line.

To their astonishment there was no shot or sound from the thicket and
they entered it together, to find it empty of life except for Sackett’s
horse, which was quietly grazing close to the edge of the brush. The
patch inclosed by trees was about twenty-five feet in diameter and was
nothing more than a mere cluster of trees and bushes. The only thing to
be seen, beside the horse, was a huge pile of stones. They jumped from
the horses and looked at each other in perplexity.

“Now, where in the world did that man go?” demanded Ned, holding his
rifle in instant readiness.

“You can search me!” answered Don, in bewilderment. “He’s not in the
trees, is he?”

Ned looked quickly up and then shook his head. “No, there isn’t room
enough in these trees for anyone to hide themselves. He must be in the
place, because he certainly didn’t walk out while we were there.”

“He didn’t get away before you came, either,” Jim said. “I kept an eagle
eye on the place, and he couldn’t have made it without my seeing him.”

“Well, he’s gone,” said Ned, walking to the horse and examining it.
“Just vanished into thin air.”

Don was looking at the heap of stones. It was a high cairn, composed of
stones which had been heaped there generations ago for some unknown
reason, and moss had grown over the mound. Stones of a larger size made
up the bottom and smaller stones lay above these. Near the base of it he
found a straight slab with some Spanish lettering cut upon it.

“What is written on this stone?” he asked Ned. The young engineer bent
over the stone, lighted a match and read the inscription.

“I can’t make it all out,” he replied, as the match expired in his hand.
“But it seems to be the burial place of someone of importance. They had
a custom once of taking a distinguished man and piling a cairn of stones
over his grave. Sometimes the custom was for anyone who came past to add
a stone to the pile and in that way it grew larger. This is one of those
piles, and someone is buried down at the bottom of it.”

“All of which doesn’t bring us any nearer Mr. Sackett,” murmured Jim.
“I’d give anything to know where that gentleman went to!”

“It just seems silly!” said Ned, impatiently. “You chase him in here and
he simply disappears. That isn’t logical.”

“Look here!” cried Don, who had been moving around the pile of stones,
and who was now on the other side. “Shouldn’t all of these stones be
covered with moss?”

“I suppose so,” Ned replied. “Why.”

“Because they aren’t covered with moss on this side. The stones here are
different than the others, and seem to be looser. Come here and give me
a hand.”

The other two boys hastened to Don’s side and found that he was right.
The stones to which he pointed had a brighter look than the others, and
where the chinks and crevices of the other rocks had long since been
stopped up by moss, these rocks were singularly free. Moreover, they
were not well placed, and the boys were struck by the same idea.

“Ah, ha!” exclaimed Ned, as he began to tear away the upper stones. “I
think I see a thing or two! Help me with these stones.”

The other two went to work with a will and soon the stones were pulled
out and tossed to one side. To their intense satisfaction a large
opening was revealed.

“Just as we thought, the opening of a tunnel!” exclaimed Don.



                              CHAPTER XXII
                                THE DEN


No sooner were the words out of Don’s mouth than a burst of flame came
from the interior of the cairn and a shot whistled uncomfortably close
to their heads. They made all haste to retreat, Ned dragging Jim aside
somewhat roughly.

“He’s in there, all right,” said Jim, grimly.

“Yes, there must be a regular hiding place in there,” responded Ned.
“The question is: how are we going to get him out? We certainly can’t
rush him in there.”

“We can starve him out,” suggested Don.

“That will take too long,” said Ned. “However, if there isn’t anything
else to do, we’ll do that.”

“I have another plan,” put in Jim. “We’ll smoke him out!”

“Smoke him out!” echoed Don and Ned.

“Sure, why not? I doubt if there is any other outlet to that cairn,
except maybe some small air-hole, so we can easily smoke him out. Let’s
gather some of this green wood and set it afire.”

Keeping a vigilant lookout toward the mouth of the uncovered tunnel so
as to guard against a sudden dash or shot the three boys gathered some
fairly green wood, with which they mixed some dry dead wood, and after
piling it near the mouth of the tunnel, pushed it into place with the
butts of their guns. They knew that the tunnel was straight and not wide
enough to allow the penned outlaw to fire on them unless they stood
directly before the opening, so they took excellent care to keep out of
range. When the wood was piled Ned leaned cautiously forward and lighted
the pile.

The dry wood caught fire and blazed up, touching the green wood and
causing it to smoke. The boys stood with guns in readiness to fire a
shot into the entrance of the cave if the bandit tried to make a thrust
at the fire with a view to scattering it. The flames mounted higher,
causing a heavy pall of smoke from the green wood.

“Take off your hats and fan it down the opening,” said Ned, suiting the
words by the action. All three of the boys fanned the smoke vigorously,
causing it to go into the tunnel.

They did not have long to wait for results. After a few moments they
heard a violent coughing and then at last Sackett staggered out into the
opening, still coughing and wiping his streaming eyes. Before he could
use the gun which he held in his hands they were upon him and had
disarmed him.

“Well, Squint Sackett,” said Ned, grimly, as they bound his hands with a
piece of rope which was on his own horse. “We have you at last.”

The bandit replied by a fit of coughing that made him red in the face.
Seeing that he was quite safe Don scattered the fire and stamped it out.
The quest was now over and the bay pirate securely bound.

“You kids’ll pay for this!” the man said, hoarsely. “You can’t prove
anything against me!”

“No, not at all,” said Don cheerfully. “Just stealing, breaking into a
ranch, kidnapping, and a few other trifles. I guess we can put you where
you belong this time. It was an unlucky day for you when you decided to
attack Professor Scott.”

“Suppose we take a look through this cairn and see what it looks like
before we go?” suggested Jim.

“All right,” agreed Ned. “But first we’ll tie this slippery gentleman
up. He mustn’t be allowed to get away again.”

Sackett was tied to a convenient tree and then the boys made a torch of
a dry stick of wood. With this in hand Ned took the lead and they
entered the mouth of the tunnel, bending low to keep from scraping their
heads on the roof of the passage. They went down on a slight slope for a
distance of about four feet and then came to a single cave-like room
hollowed out under the rocks.

“I see the whole business now,” remarked Ned, as they peered about the
little cave. “This place was evidently some pirate’s den years ago, and
in some way Sackett learned of it. You can see that the place was built
for no other purpose, and the slab outside is a plain blind.”

Ned was right in what he said. Some forgotten pirate had purposely built
the cairn retreat for a refuge in time of storm, when the law was
hunting him along the coast. The room was large enough to contain a
blanket and a low table that had evidently been constructed in the
place. Overhead there was a concealed opening between the rocks, so that
air could get into the place and the inmates could breathe. Once inside
it was an easy matter to place the rocks before the opening in such a
way that no one except a careful observer would ever discover it.

“It is a pretty clever hiding place,” remarked Don. “Anyone would have
one chance in a hundred of finding it. I only stumbled across it because
I was curious about the whole mound.”

“It pretty nearly stood Sackett in mighty good stead,” Jim said.

They left the cairn and went back to the thicket, to find the outlaw
tugging frantically at his bonds, but when he saw them he sullenly
ceased and became quiet. They untied him from the tree, leaving his
hands tied, however, and helped him mount his horse. Then they left the
thicket and started back for the ranch of the senorita.

Three miles from the ranch they were joined by the professor, the
captain and Terry, who had become anxious because of their long absence
and who had mounted and set out to find them. The meeting between the
reunited friends was warm and they were glad to see that the author of
all their troubles was taken at last.

“Well, Sackett,” said the professor, with a twinkle in his eyes. “It is
certainly time that we took you. You had your inning at taking most of
us and now it is our turn.”

“You won’t keep me long,” snarled the man.

“No, we won’t,” struck in Captain Blow. “But the big house with the bars
will hold on to you for a good long time, my bucko!”

“Who are you?” demanded the bay pirate. “I never did anything to you!”

“No, but your friend Captain Ryan took a couple of my sailors with him
when he sailed on his last voyage. He’s taking another sail right now,
down to San Francisco to the jail.”

“Tryin’ to be funny, aren’t you?” retorted the river pirate.

“All of your gang is in custody, Sackett,” said Professor Scott,
quietly.

They went back to the ranch, to find the senorita taking care of four
wounded men, all of whom had slight wounds in the legs or shoulders. The
overseer was one of them and he pleaded for mercy with the boys. Jim and
Terry were undecided but Captain Blow and the professor were not.

“Can’t let these fellows go, any of ’em,” said the old captain. “He
would have left you two boys’ bodies out there in the desert without
thinking about it, according to Terry’s story, so you can’t let him go.
Maybe he wouldn’t ever turn up to harm you again, but he’s a potential
murderer and he’s better off behind bars.”

It was now late at night and the whole party accepted the invitation to
remain at the ranch until morning, at which time they were to take the
prisoners to Quito and see that they were taken from there to San
Francisco. The night passed without incident and in the morning the
whole party, with the wounded men in a wagon which belonged to the
senorita, started for the sea coast.

The journey to Quito was a long one and all of them did not make it. The
professor dropped off at the Scott ranch and the others kept on with the
cargo of dangerous rascals. In due time they reached the town, made out
the proper papers, and then waited two days for a government boat to
come and take the prisoners away. When this was done they went back to
the Scott ranch.

Subsequently Sackett, who was wanted for many types of crime, was placed
behind the bars for the rest of his life and his crew of men each
received all that was coming to them from their lives of dishonesty. The
river pirates and bay pirate gang, of which Ryan and his crew formed the
main branch, was broken up once and for all, and it was a good many
years before any of them ever became free again.

Captain Blow left a message at Quito for his mate and then joined the
party that was going home. He had been invited to go with them on their
gold hunt and was eager to do so. But this time all stories had been
told and the boys in particular were impatient to go and dig for it.

“Well, now we’ll go have a look at that Spanish gold,” said the captain,
as they started on the return trip. “And I want to have a look at that
ship moored in the sand for so long! They say some of those old-timers
were pretty good sailors, but I don’t think much of a skipper who runs
his windjammer under the ground!”



                             CHAPTER XXIII
                        THE DRAGON’S LAST STROKE


The sun had barely raised above the horizon on the following day before
the ranch echoed to the preparations for the treasure hunt. The boys had
slept poorly, looking forward eagerly to the time when they should be in
close contact with the long buried ship in the desert sands. With hurry
and bustle and good-natured shouts they prepared to set out.

Now that their minds had been relieved of all anxiety concerning Sackett
and his gang their spirits soared as only those of the young adventurous
can. They had spent a jolly evening around the fireplace on the previous
day, talking, planning and laughing over some of Captain Blow’s humorous
stories. It was late before they sought their beds, and the professor
had been compelled to curb some of their animal vigor.

Jim had stood at the foot of his bed, surrounded by Ned, Don and Terry.
Captain Blow and Professor Scott were preparing for bed in another room
at the time. There had been some pillow throwing and now Jim was acting
a part.

“This is the way Terry kicked the gun out of the overseer’s hand,” he
said. He was in his pajamas at the time and the other boys were also
ready for bed. Jim loosed a vigorous kick in front of him, but his
enthusiasm proved his undoing. The force caused him to lose his balance,
and amidst the shouts of delight of his companions he thumped to the
floor, knocking the wind out of himself.

“That was some kick!” exclaimed Don, laughing. “No wonder the poor
overseer lost his gun! If the kick had that much force I bet the gun
sailed clear into the ocean!”

“I protest,” put in Terry, solemnly. “I never cut such a wild figure as
that! Your imagination is running away with you, Jimmie, my boy!”

“Somebody else had better start running away!” puffed Jim, in huge
disgust. “Just wait until I get up!”

Once up he bore down on the grinning Terry and bowled him onto the bed.
Don reached for his foot, but received a hearty thrust in the stomach
from the foot, which Jim declared he had tickled. Don then jumped on the
wiggling chums and Ned stood laughing. But in a minute he too was drawn
into hostilities. He attempted to pile pillows on the warring factions,
who promptly turned upon him, and the four young men were soon engaged
in a frantic tussle that overturned one bed and mussed them up royally.

Such was the scene that greeted the eyes of Captain Blow and Professor
Scott as they hastily entered the room. The professor opened his mouth
to protest, but the captain, his gray eyes snapping with mischief,
whispered something to him. The professor smiled and nodded and they ran
forward, the professor seizing the ankles of Terry, who happened to be
on top of the pile, while Blow grasped his shoulders.

“Heave aloft!” bellowed the captain, and in concert they heaved.

To his astonishment Terry felt himself lifted bodily from the struggling
mass and tossed through the air, to land with a bounce on the bed. Ned
Scott followed and Jim followed him. Don, seeing what was in the wind,
made a frantic scramble to get under the bed, but to the delight of the
watching boys he was switched from under by the active captain and
treated to a ride through the air. When he had finally landed with a
thud on the bed the two older men promptly sat on him.

“Now,” said the professor, with mock severity. “What is the meaning of
all this?”

“Jim was illustrating something,” replied Terry, gravely. “And we helped
him out!”

“By jumping tinder!” cried the captain. “I don’t know what in time you
could have been illustrating! Showing your affection for each other,
likely!”

“What ever it was,” said the professor. “I suggest that you stop it. We
want to make an early start in the morning and you can save some of that
energy for digging sand. From the noise we heard we thought that Sackett
had returned and was trying to carry one or all of you off. Who upset
the bed?”

“All of us,” said Don, truthfully.

“I don’t doubt it. Well, to bed now, and calm down a bit.”

Now, on the morning of the hunt, the boys impatiently ate their
breakfast and placed blankets and provisions on the horses. There was no
telling how long they would linger around the sunken galleon, and they
wanted to be sure that it would not be necessary to cut the visit short
because of a lack of provisions. It had been decided to take the mestizo
along with them and leave only the cook at home. When all arrangements
had been made they started briskly off.

The day was bright and somewhat cool and they made rapid progress, the
boys in their eagerness keeping always ahead of their elders. The older
men wisely held them in check, realizing that there was a long journey
in front of them and not wishing to run the risk of tiring out before
they got there. They halted once for a meal and then pushed on, not
stopping for a nap in the afternoon, since it was not hot enough to do
so, and just as evening drew on they topped a small hill and looked down
on the valley in which Jim and Terry had so nearly lost their life.

“There is the wreck!” shouted Jim, pointing to the corner of the galleon
which they had uncovered. “Looks as though no one had been near it, all
right.”

No one had apparently been near the place, for there were no traces of
footmarks in the sand other than those left by the two boys and the
treacherous overseer. They rode down the incline and picketed the
horses, hastening at once to the few feet of deck uncovered. The
professor gazed at the uncovered rail in rapture.

“By George, this is wonderful!” he exclaimed, his face glowing with the
enthusiasm of the scholar. “Just think, after reading a story like that,
to run across the very ship on which it happened! I hope we can uncover
the whole ship!”

“Ned,” asked Don. “Where was that piece of wreckage found, the piece
that first gave the idea of a sunken galleon?”

“About three miles north of here,” replied the engineer. “I guess I see
what you are getting at. You think that the piece was washed out of the
creek that used to be here, and was found, after it drifted down shore?”

“Yes,” nodded Don. “Don’t you think so?”

“I surely do,” assented Ned, stepping down onto the deck of the buried
galleon. “Is this the hatchway?”

Terry lifted the hatch, which they had replaced when they had left the
galleon with the Mexican. “Yes, and here is the flight of stairs. Did
anyone bring a flashlight?”

“I have one,” said the professor, producing it from his saddle bag.
“Let’s be very careful about going down those stairs.”

It was now dark and the flashlight was needed. The professor flashed the
beam of light down the stairs and went first, treading with infinite
care, but the steps were apparently solid. The others, with the
exception of the mestizo, who would not trust himself in a place which
looked so much like a trap, followed the savant down into the hold of
the ancient ship.

“There is the treasure chest,” said Jim, and the professor swung the
beam of light on the mouldering chest. Don lifted the lid and the gold
was revealed.

They fingered it and found that it consisted of coins of various
degrees. The professor did not recognize any of them except some pieces
of eight.

“Sorry I didn’t study up on ancient coins,” murmured the teacher.
“However, I’m pretty sure that there is quite a fortune here.”

“No doubt there is a substantial treasure further down in the sand,”
suggested Ned.

“Yes,” the professor agreed. “Cups and plate silver and perhaps other
things. The sailors didn’t carry anything away with them, expecting to
return and gather it all on some other occasion, I presume.” He turned
his light from side to side. “The hold here was filled with water, and
all above deck must have been burned. We won’t find much of anything
until we get down under the sand.”

After some more looking around they went outside and made camp close to
the wreck, the boys again hacking firewood from the remains of the
galleon. They ate supper and then sat around the fire discussing plans
and waiting for the morrow and daylight.

“It is going to be quite a job digging into that sand,” observed the
captain. “In the first place, it’s mighty wet.”

“Yes,” said the professor. “I’m very much afraid it is too much of a job
for us to attempt. It will take a whole crew to dig down into those
ruins, and a regular excavating gang will be the ones to do it. However,
we can look around and see what we can pick up ourselves, and then later
see to it that the right sort of a company goes to work on the job.”

“We’ll have to make a legal claim to it, won’t we?” asked Jim.

Ned nodded. “That will have to be our first job. If we don’t anybody who
comes along will be able to take it right out of our hands. It is much
the same as discovering a gold mine, only in this case the gold is
already refined and cast for us.”

“I can’t wait until morning!” said the impatient Terry.

“I’m glad you said that,” the professor spoke seriously. “I want you
boys to promise me that you won’t go on the wreck at any time during the
night or in the morning before we are all awake and ready to tackle it.
We have had quite a bit of trouble so far and we want to avoid any more,
certainly any that may turn out to be more serious than any we have had.
I don’t believe that there are any ghosts or goblins on the thing that
will hurt you, but we had better not do anything that we’ll regret.”

“I for one won’t,” Terry promised. “I remember what that dragon says in
the old manuscript!”

The others promised, and after some further talk they all went to sleep
and remained asleep until daylight. After a hasty breakfast they went to
the wreck once more.

“Fine day we have for our treasure hunting party,” remarked Don, as they
went down the hatchway.

It was indeed a fine day, with a clear blue sky and a bright sun. Once
down in the hold, however, all light and warmth was shut out, except for
a single shaft that came in from the open hatchway.

“Now,” said the professor, who was the leader. “We aren’t going to be
able to do much with this proposition, but I suggest that we at least
dig out this room. It wouldn’t be of any use to dig down into the main
hold of the galleon, for it would take us months and it would be
dangerous work. Before anything like that is done all sand would have to
be cleared away from the sides of the ship.”

The room in which they stood, and which held the chest of gold, was
about fourteen feet square. With small trench shovels brought from the
ranch they went to work on the moist sand, digging it out and by a
system of relays throwing it out on the deck. Don stood on a wide step
where the sand was deposited by Ned, the professor and Jim, and
shovelled it up to the hatch, where Terry and Blow threw it to one side.
They worked on with a will, and although it soon became hard work no one
complained.

It was soon found that the chest of gold had been upon a table at the
time of the sinking of the galleon, for they had scarcely begun their
work before they struck the top of the table. It was soon uncovered and
proved to be a massive affair of black wood. It was about four feet
high, and when they had cleared away the sand down to the bottom they
found solid flooring.

From time to time they changed positions so as to give each one a chance
to work inside the buried galleon and also to get a chance at the
sunlight. The person who relayed the sand on the stairs had the hardest
job, as he was compelled to stoop down, scoop the sand, straighten up
and throw it out of the hatch. Don was not sorry to give up his post and
get out on the deck, and later on to get down into the old hold.

When Don got downstairs the room had been almost completely excavated
and some more treasure had been found. Several bars of solid silver had
been uncovered in one corner and even the walls held relics, in the
shape of several old muskets and knives, along with a rusted sword.
There were two heavy chairs in the room also, which were both
overturned, probably by the force of the shock when the galleon ran
aground.

They stopped at dinner time to eat, all of them being profoundly
grateful for the respite. The room in which they had been working was
now almost empty and they decided to do a little more work and then take
the gold and as much silver as they could carry and go back to the
ranch, there to put in motion the necessary machinery to make the
treasure theirs. Accordingly, as soon as the noon meal was finished,
they went back to work.

“Better not do much more excavating,” warned Captain Blow. “That pile of
wet sand on the deck is getting pretty heavy.”

They finished excavating that room, finding nothing more of importance
and then held a parley. There was a door in one side of the room and
they were in doubt as to whether to open it. The professor feared that
something might happen if they did, but the others disagreed with him,
so the door was finally chopped open.

It came out of its frame with a rush, disclosing nothing but a blank
wall of sand. Some portion of the deck, as yet under sand, had evidently
been ripped off or had burned off, and in that manner the ship had
filled completely, much as a paper boat that a child buries in the sand.
They picked at the wall of sand before them, but it was solid and they
gave it up.

“I guess this will be as much as we’ll want to do,” the professor
announced. “The rest of the job is for a regular crew of excavators, and
moreover, must be undertaken scientifically. We’ll be satisfied to go
back with what we have and lay claim to the rest of it in the right
way.”

“Are you thinking of starting tonight?” asked Terry, looking at his
watch. “It is five o’clock now!”

“Is it that late?” cried Captain Blow. “By thunder mighty! this day
zipped right by!”

“Yes, it is that late,” retorted the professor, consulting his own
watch. “We’ve been so busy and interested that we haven’t kept track of
the time. No, we won’t start back tonight. We’ll stay in camp and start
early in the morning!”

“All right, suppose we get back,” suggested the captain. “The bottom of
my stomach is sunk lower than this fishing smack!”

They went up the stairs, Ned and Don stopping to examine one of the
musty guns that was on the wall. The others stepped off of the deck and
onto the sand, and seeing that the two boys were not with them, the
professor called out: “Come on, boys, back to camp.”

“We’re coming!” Don replied, as he started up the stairs, with Ned a
step or two back of him. Don had just thrust his head out of the
hatchway when there came a warning shout from Terry.

“Hurry up!” he yelled. “The sand is sliding!”

The wet sand which they had piled up during the day suddenly slid down
the hill with gathering force. Don sprang forward quickly, but was too
late. The sand hit the deck of the galleon, there was a dull report and
a sucking sensation, and then the whole room which they had excavated
caved in. The deck, rotting and weakened, gave way under the descending
weight of the wet and dry sand, and went through with a roar. Don and
Ned disappeared from sight, buried alive in the wreck of the galleon!

The party on the shore stared dumbly for one minute, appalled by the
horror of the tragedy, and then Captain Blow leaped forward.

“Come on and dig!” he cried. “If we don’t dig like fury they’ll smother
to death!”

As the others followed him the intrepid captain leaped down on the heap
of sand where the boys had last been seen and began to dig frantically.
The sand was loose and he sank down in it, but he dug without heeding
his own peril, and the others helped him. Don’s hand speedily worked
loose from the sand and they caught hold of it.

“Work right around his arm,” cried the captain. “Be careful not to hit
his head with your shovels.”

The scene was one of wildest confusion. By digging with furious energy
they got Don’s head free and only just in time. He was purple and fairly
clawed for air. They attempted to drag him loose, but failed. He pushed
the sand from his mouth and spoke urgently.

“Get Ned!” he gasped. “He’s down around my knees, somewhere!”

The professor’s face was white and he silently kneeled beside Don’s head
and dug with all his strength. Terry and Jim held the slippery sand back
as the two men shovelled it away, and in a few seconds, which seemed
like hours to them, one of Ned’s shoulders was uncovered. Dropping their
shovels the men wormed their hands beneath his armpit and tore him loose
from the sand.

“Here, water, senor,” said Yappi, appearing beside them with a canteen.

Ned was blue and unconscious, and they were forced to dig the sand from
his nose and mouth before he could catch his breath. When he had become
conscious he drank some water, and Don followed his example. They both
were free to breathe but were still buried and sinking, for the sand was
sifting down into the room below.

“This fight has only just begun,” said the captain, grimly. “We’ve got
to get them out of here as fast as we can.”

Then began a spirited battle between the men and the sand, the human
beings putting every ounce of strength into the battle to keep their
companions from being engulfed again and the sand exerting its power to
entomb them once more, with a persistence that was perfectly amazing.
The muscles of the friends ached, for they were tired from the events of
the day, but they knew it was a race of life and death. They dug
ceaselessly, throwing sand as far away as possible, baffled and maddened
by the steady stream of the soil that returned to the charge.

It grew steadily darker and at last the captain, who had assumed charge
of the rescue operations spoke briefly to the professor. “Tell your man
to light a big fire,” he commanded.

When this was done they labored on, and after an hour had gone by they
were down as far as the boys’ waists. They were working in a hollow that
had been made even more of a hole than normally by the collapse of the
deck, and so the sand proved to be a persistent foe. As fast as they
threw it up it slid back, and there was no way to keep it up.

“Now,” said the captain, briskly. “Tell your man to back the horses down
here, throw out a hawser, grapple onto those lads, and tow ’em out!”

When this had been put into the kind of language that Yappi could
understand he quickly ran the horses into position, threw out a rope,
and it was passed under Don’s armpits. Yappi sprang into the saddle gave
the horse the pressure of his heels, his hand steady to check him at
moment’s notice.

The rope tightened, and the boys pushed Don’s body, with the result that
he was hauled out of the treacherous hole. Nothing was said at the time,
and Don made all haste to scramble to safety, shaken by his experience.
It was now an easier task to get at Ned, for the freeing of Don had left
a bigger hole, and they tied him up securely. This time the horse
strained, the boy gritted his teeth as the rope cut into his body, and
the others pushed with a will. With a final rush he came up and out of
the hole.

“Hurrah!” shouted the captain, dropping his shovel. “The battle is won,
mates! By tunket, let’s get out of here.”

They made haste to leave the place and then had a happy reunion. The
professor’s lips moved as he pressed Ned to him and Jim’s eyes were not
steady when he hugged Don. Terry addressed the remains of the wreck,
while the mestizo patted the head of the horse.

“Pretty smart, you old mud scow!” the red-headed boy said. “That was the
dragon’s last stroke, and he nearly made good on it.”



                              CHAPTER XXIV
                        NED TAKES A NEW OVERSEER


They were all glad enough to rest that night around the campfire. The
muscles of the party were stiff and sore, and Don and Ned declared that
their bodies ached from head to foot.

“Got enough sand in me to build a new bunkhouse at the ranch,” Ned,
declared.

They told their sensations as the wall of sand closed over them,
sensations by no means pleasant. Smothering in sand was not an enviable
means of ending one’s life, according to Ned, who had been closest to
it. Don had felt that he had a good chance for his life, for he had been
near the surface, but his chief worriment had been for his friend, whom
he knew to be lower down.

“All things considered, I rather think we earned that treasure,” the
professor remarked, and the others agreed with him heartily.

Yappi could not be persuaded to go near the place again. He was firm in
the belief that an evil spirit had tried to punish them for meddling
with the gold of dead men. During the time they had needed his help he
had been brave enough, but now that there was nothing to fear he was
more frightened than he had ever been. More than all the others, he
looked forward to going home in the morning.

They slept the sleep of the utterly exhausted that night and were late
in getting up on the following day. When all their things were packed
and the treasure which they had taken placed on the horses they left the
place and started for the ranch.

“That place isn’t the best place in the world for us,” laughed Don, as
they paused on a rise and looked around. “Jim and Terry were nearly
killed near there and then Ned and I got a sand bath. That guardian
dragon doesn’t appear to like young men!”

“Maybe he doesn’t object to the professor and me,” observed the captain,
with a broad smile. “We both have beards and are more nearly his age!”

The journey back to the ranch was made without incident and they were
glad to arrive. After remaining there for a day the professor and the
captain took the treasure and set out with it to the coast, there to go
to San Diego and claim legal right to it. The boys accompanied them to
Quito, where Blow’s own schooner, which was fortunately lying at anchor,
took them to their destination. The boys left them in the town and
returned to the ranch.

There they passed several happy days, riding, visiting the mines, going
once or twice to visit the senorita, and generally having a good time.
Ned went several times to the senorita’s and Terry wisely nodded his
head.

“Big doings pretty soon,” he observed, wisely.

“What do you mean?” asked Don. They were out near the barn and Ned was
not with them.

“Wait and see. The young man is going over the hill quite frequently
now, and you wait and see if something exciting doesn’t happen.”

“Getting married isn’t exciting,” said Jim.

“Don’t know, my boy,” drawled Terry, trying to throw a lasso. “Never
been that way, myself! Look at that for a throw, will you! Aimed it at
the fence post and got the corner of the barn!”

When the professor and the captain returned they reported success. Their
claim was legal and they had authority to recruit a gang of men to
excavate the ancient ship.

“That’s the end of the phantom galleon,” observed Don. “It won’t be a
phantom any more.”

“You pretty nearly joined the phantoms yourself,” Jim reminded him.

Terry’s surmise regarding the state of affairs at the Mercedes ranch
turned out to be correct. In a few days Ned announced that they were to
be married.

“There is no use in allowing her to stay over there and try to run that
little ranch all by herself,” he said, as they sat in the living room
one night. “So we are going to combine and form one big ranch, after we
are married. That will end all of her troubles about getting help and
overseers.”

“I see,” said Terry, dryly. “You are doing it so as to help her run her
ranch. Funny way to get married.”

Ned made a pass at him and the red-headed boy dodged. The professor
smiled.

“That’s the easiest way of saying it,” he said. “Ned wouldn’t want you
to suspect that he loves the young lady!”

“Ned spoke about her difficulty in getting an overseer,” remarked Don.
“Another way to look at it is that Ned himself is getting an overseer!”

“Yes, he’ll have to behave himself now,” said the captain, as they all
laughed at Ned’s red face.

In the days that followed an excavating crew came down from San
Francisco and went to work on the wreck of the galleon. In a remarkably
short time it was unearthed and systematically cleaned out. A treasure
estimated in value at something like fifty thousand dollars was found in
the wreck, a treasure that consisted of gold and silver plate, gold
coins, silver coins and several gold chains. There was also some silk,
but it had been spoiled. The wreck itself, when uncovered, showed that
it had been burned to the water’s edge before being covered with the
sands of the plains.

“Well, when that is all divided, up, we’ll have plenty, each one of us,”
said the professor.

“At last my mother will get a few of the things in life that she has
really needed,” said Terry, to whom the fortune meant most.

Not long after that there was a simple wedding in the Scott ranch. A
minister came to the ranch from Quito and Ned and the senorita were
married in the living room of the ranch which was now to be her home.
Ned was quietly happy and the senorita brilliantly so. All the lonely
years of living alone were now over, and she looked forward to a life of
happiness with the American boy whose simple manliness had always
appealed to her. Don was Ned’s best man.

“By golly,” said Terry, when it was all over. “If getting married makes
you feel as happy as Ned and his lady friend looked, I think I’ll try
it!”

“That’ll be fine, Terry,” responded Jim. “By the way, who is the lady?”

“What?” asked the red-headed boy, blankly.

“Who is the lady that will look so happy when you marry her?” Jim
answered.

“Gee, I don’t know!” was the reply. “You have to have a lady friend,
don’t you? I hadn’t thought of that!”

“You had better give it some thought,” retorted Don. “Most people have
one when they get married.”

After a few more days the boys prepared to return home, along with the
professor, who was eager to return to his classes in school. The boys
were looking forward to their second year at Woodcrest, to the study and
the sports of the coming season. Captain Blow left them a few days
earlier, expressing his pleasure at having met them once more.

“I hope I fall in with you Mercer boys again sometime,” he said, as he
shook hands at the dock. “I always have a barrel of fun when I’m with
you. Makes me young again. If you ever sail past old Mystery Island,
think of me, will you?”

A few days later they all said goodbye to the new Mr. and Mrs. Scott,
wishing them well and promising to come and see them if they were ever
in that part of the world again. Before long they were back in San
Francisco and on the train, bound for home and school. Terry was with
them, having had “Jumpiter” shipped by rail.

“Well,” remarked Don, as they rolled past long fields of grain. “That’s
the end of one of the best vacations we ever had. Now we’ll go back to
school, to settle down and take things easy for a change.”

But if Don could have seen the events that awaited them in the coming
school term in the form of a baffling mystery he would not have been so
sure that they would settle down. In the next volume, entitled The
Mercer Boys’ Mystery Case, or the ’13 Class Trophy Riddle the exciting
things which befell them will be related.


                                THE END



                          Transcriber’s Notes


--Copyright notice provided as in the original—this e-text is public
  domain in the country of publication.

--Silently corrected palpable typos; left non-standard spellings and
  dialect unchanged.

--Generated a Table of Contents from the chapter headings.

--In the text versions, delimited italics text in _underscores_ (the
  HTML version reproduces the font form of the printed book.)





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