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Title: The Boy Aeronauts' Club - or, Flying for Fun
Author: Sayler, H. L. (Harry Lincoln)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Boy Aeronauts' Club - or, Flying for Fun" ***

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                       The Aeroplane Boys Series


                        The Boy Aeronauts’ Club
                            Flying for Fun



The Aeroplane Boys Series

By ASHTON LAMAR

   I  IN THE CLOUDS FOR UNCLE SAM

  II  THE STOLEN AEROPLANE

 III  THE AEROPLANE EXPRESS

  IV  THE BOY AERONAUTS’ CLUB

   V  A CRUISE IN THE SKY

  VI  BATTLING THE BIG HORN

OTHER TITLES TO FOLLOW

These stories are the newest and most up-to-date. All aeroplane details
are correct. Fully Illustrated. Colored frontispiece. Cloth, 12mos.

Price, 60 cents each.


The Airship Boys Series

By H. L. SAYLER

   I  THE AIRSHIP BOYS

  II  THE AIRSHIP BOYS ADRIFT

 III  THE AIRSHIP BOYS DUE NORTH

  IV  THE AIRSHIP BOYS IN THE BARREN LANDS

   V  THE AIRSHIP BOYS IN FINANCE

  VI  THE AIRSHIP BOYS’ OCEAN FLYER

These thrilling stories deal with the wonderful new science of aerial
navigation. Every boy will be interested and instructed by reading
them. Illustrated. Cloth binding. Price, $1.00 each.

The above books are sold everywhere or will be sent postpaid on receipt
of price by the

  Publishers      The Reilly & Britton Co.      Chicago

_Complete catalog sent, postpaid on request_



[Illustration: “* * * PULLING HIMSELF UP TO SAFETY.”]



                                The Boy
                            Aeronauts’ Club


                            Flying for Fun


                                  BY
                             ASHTON LAMAR


                         [Illustration: _The_
                               AEROPLANE
                                 BOYS
                                SERIES]


                    Illustrated by S. H. Riesenberg


                                Chicago
                       The Reilly & Britton Co.
                              Publishers



                           COPYRIGHT, 1910,
                                  by
                       THE REILLY & BRITTON CO.
                          ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


                        THE BOY AERONAUTS’ CLUB



CONTENTS


  CHAP.                                                         PAGE
     I  THE CREOLE COFFEE HOUSE                                    9
    II  AN IRREGULAR MEETING OF THE ANCLOTE FISHING CLUB          20
   III  AN EARLY TASTE OF SALT WATER                              32
    IV  THE CLUB HOLDS A SHORT SESSION                            46
     V  IN WHICH JERRY BLOSSOM SUDDENLY APPEARS                   58
    VI  THE _Three Sisters_ SETS SAIL                             72
   VII  BOB MAKES ANOTHER RESCUE                                  84
  VIII  THE _Escambia_ TO THE RESCUE                              98
    IX  A FEAT OF SEAMANSHIP                                     113
     X  A LITTLE LUNCHEON ON THE _Elias Ward_                    126
    XI  BOB BALFOUR UPSETS PLANS                                 139
   XII  THE COMMITTEE BUYS AN AEROPLANE                          151
  XIII  A MIDNIGHT COMPACT CONCERNING THE BLACK PIRATE           164
   XIV  THE _Anclote_ MAKES A FLIGHT                             177
    XV  ONE USE FOR AN AEROPLANE                                 189
   XVI  IN CAMP ON ANCLOTE KEY                                   201
  XVII  TOM LANDS A TARPON AND BOB A TARTAR                      213
 XVIII  MARIE DUCROIX’ SEA CHEST                                 231
   XIX  THE SECRET CITY OF THE SEMINOLES                         245
    XX  TOM’S STORY AND THE END                                  259



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


 Pulling himself up to safety                          _Frontispiece_

 Bob had enough strength to free one arm and grasp the line       43

 Jerry already had the light high above his head                 103

 The colored boy was soon knee deep in a hole                    227



 The Boy Aeronauts’ Club
 OR,
 Flying for Fun



CHAPTER I

THE CREOLE COFFEE HOUSE


The lower end of Palafox Street in Pensacola, Florida, ends in a busy
shipping and fish wharf. On each side of this are to be found, always,
scores of sailing vessels and a jam of oyster and fish boats.

In other days, about the head of this old wharf was to be found a
maze of cheap boarding houses, restaurants and saloons devoted to the
entertainment of sailors. There were to be found, too, other resorts
known as “coffee houses”――institutions adapted from West Indian life,
which have now almost wholly disappeared. In these, might be seen by
night motley collections of brown old tars sipping curacao and _café
noir_ to the strident chatter of captive parrots and cockatoos.

At the present time, one only of these old coffee houses remains. In
this, some of the maritime flavor of former days is retained in the
person of an old Creole who conducts the resort. But, nowadays, the
creole’s most profitable trade is from busy merchants who seek his
_cabaret_ at noon for a cup of old fashioned coffee. The sailors who
once congregated in his shop have almost wholly passed away.

Some of the picturesqueness of the creole coffee house remains,
however, and it was this that drew Bob Balfour to the place just after
dark on a fine evening in mid-February. Robert, or Bob Balfour, was the
only child of a well-to-do manufacturer in Chicago. Between sixteen and
seventeen years of age, it had been discovered suddenly that the boy’s
health was failing. On the order of a physician Bob had gone south with
his mother to await the return of pleasant weather in the north.

“You’ll be all right in a short time,” the family doctor explained
reassuringly, “if you live in the open air and sunshine and get plenty
of sea breeze.” Here he paused and shook his head ominously. “But you
must stay out of doors and give up books,” he added sweeping his hand
towards Bob’s crammed bookcase.

“That’s it,” exclaimed Bob’s father; “this reading is all right, but
the boy has had too much of it. He reads everything. He’s got books
that I’d never think of buying――regular histories and scientific
things.”

“All right,” laughed romantic-minded Bob, “I’ll promise. No more books
for me until further orders. But,” he added, to himself, “I guess I
won’t need any books when I get down there where Spanish buccaneers
used to prowl around and where the last American pirates did business.”

On the second day after Mrs. Balfour and Bob reached the ancient
Spanish-founded city, they secured lodging just beyond the business
center of the town. Having comfortably established themselves, the
evening meal was scarcely over before Bob cajoled his mother into
permitting him to take a stroll.

Bob and his mother had planned to begin their sight-seeing the
following day. Their first expedition was to be by launch from Long
Wharf down the bay to the navy yard and Fort Barancas. For that
reason, he hastened at once toward the wharf, determined to secure all
the information he could concerning the launch and the hour of its
departure.

The orders of the Balfour family physician prohibiting the use of books
had not been so imperative as to preclude Bob reading a “Florida Guide
Book”. Therefore, as he approached the shipping end of the city’s main
street, his ears were open and his eyes were alert for traces of the
picturesque past.

Although he had just left the Plaza Ferdinand VII, with its illuminated
fountain casting its scintillating rays on beds of narcissus, hydrangea
and roses, it would not have struck Bob wholly out of place to have
stepped at once into an old sailor rendezvous redolent of pitch and
bilge water. On the contrary, he found, in the main, nothing but modern
lunch counters, commonplace pool rooms and beer saloons.

Long Wharf itself was dark and the excursion boat piers were deserted.
Deciding that the vicinity was no place for a boy of his age,
particularly a stranger, Bob turned and retraced his footsteps on the
opposite side of the street. Within two blocks, he noticed the creole
coffee house.

There were neither door nor window screens, and, in spite of a modern
lunch counter on one side of the room, Bob saw, on the opposite wall,
several old fashioned prints of sailing vessels. Beneath these were
several tables. At one of them, with a steaming cup before him, sat
a man gazing toward the door. What instantly fixed Bob’s eye was
that, for the first time in his life, he was looking at a genuine old
salt-water sailor.

At the lunch counter, were two boys, but before the curious Bob could
give them a second glance, he was surprised to see the man straighten
in his chair and, with the slow motion of a weather beaten forefinger,
beckon to him.

“I mean _ye_, lad. Come in,” said the sailor, throwing his head back
by way of invitation. It wasn’t a bad face the sailor had. An old
yachting cap lay on the table before him. But what had been immediate
notification to Bob that the man was a sailor was the fact that he wore
small gold earrings, and that, beneath his loosened shirt, were the
tattooed outlines of a ship.

The room was well lighted, and, although Bob was conscious that the
two boys were near by, the picturesque “old sea dog” (for such,
the romantic Bob at once dubbed the stranger in his always active
imagination) was irresistible. The boy stepped into the coffee house
and approached the sailor’s table.

“How do you do?” began Bob.

“Fair an’ clear,” was the response, in a foreign accent. “Tourist, eh?”

“I’m here for the winter,” answered Bob, “if that’s what you mean. I
suppose you’re a sailor.”

“Si, senor.” Then the man shrugged his shoulders. “I have been sailor.
Now I am fisher――Joe Romano. My schooner she is de bes’ on de bay. Yo’
fadder is wis you?”

There seemed no reason why Bob should refuse to answer the fisherman’s
question, so he explained how he had come to be in Pensacola. The man
seemed disappointed, but he took from his pocket a soiled card and
handed it to the lad. It read:

                        CAPTAIN JOSEPH ROMANO
                       Schooner _Three Sisters_
                       Conducts Parties for Sea
             Trout, Red Fish, Spanish Mackerel and Pompano
                      Tarpon Guaranteed in Season
                                          Rates Reasonable

“If yo’ fadder shall come,” said the sailor, “an’ he go for de fine
fish, yo’ shall bring him to Captain Joe. I take him to de bes’ fish in
Santa Rosa Soun’.”

Bob’s father cared no more about fishing than he did about history, but
the boy had an idea. Why couldn’t he and his mother try their luck in
a day’s outing with the tattooed, gold-earringed sailor?

“My father won’t be here,” answered Bob, “and I’m not much of a
fisherman; but my mother and I may go with you some day. What are your
rates?”

“You go wis yo’ mama, alone?” exclaimed Captain Joe, with sudden
animation. “I take you in ze fine _Three Sisters_, cook yo’ fish
dinner, stay all yo’ like, ten dollars.”

“Where can I see you in the morning?” asked Bob with enthusiasm.

“At ze wharf,” responded Captain Joe. “Any one tell yo’ where to find
ze _Three Sisters_.”

“I’m much obliged,” responded Bob. “I may bring my mother to see you in
the morning.”

His face aglow, Bob bid Captain Joe good night, and hurried from the
place. Already framing in his mind the allurements of the cruise, he
turned into the street, head down.

“Hello there, Kid,” sounded suddenly, as he passed out of the Coffee
House. Surprised, Bob paused. Standing on the edge of the sidewalk were
two boys――about his own age. Undoubtedly they were the ones he had just
seen in the Coffee House. Each carried under his arm a loaf of bread
wrapped in paper.

“Hello yourself,” responded Bob. Then, one quick glance establishing
the free masonry that exists between all boys of that age, he added:
“What’s on your minds?”

Both boys were plainly dressed. One, wearing a soft hat with a colored
ribbon band, low tan shoes (needing polishing) and a “snappy” coat,
suggested northern styles. The other, not so athletic, wore a cap, a
coat that was anything but “snappy,” newly polished dark shoes, and a
small, old fashioned “made-up” blue necktie.

“You ah on ouah mind,” answered the latter boy, with a pronounced
southern accent.

“And we’re waitin’ to hand you a piece o’ dope,” added his companion.

“We all’s been a watchin’ yo’ an’ Cap’en Joe,” continued the boy of the
cap. “An’ we ah a reckonin’ you all’s a strangah.”

“I sure am,” answered Bob. “But what’s the matter with Captain Joe?”

“Not a thing in the world,” said the soft hat boy. “He’s out o’ sight.
But, bein’ a tender foot, you ain’t in right. We’re waitin’ to put you
wise.”

Bob laughed. The two boys were smiling and evidently amused.

“I reckon,” continued the boy with the southern tone, “that we all
ain’t no bus’ness a overhearin’ what yo’ told Captain Joe, but we was
waitin’ fo’ ouah crab loaves, an’ we kain’t hep it.”

As his smile broadened, he lifted the loaf under his arm to Bob’s nose.
From its interior came a most appetizing odor of something newly fried.

“What’s that?” asked Bob, his mouth watering.

“That?” repeated the other boy, also holding up his package. “Them’s
soft shell crabs――fried. They jist melt in yer mouth. Want some?”

Bob’s smile was answer enough. The other boys looked at each other as
if to say, “It’s all right, he’ll do.” Then the boy in the cap said:

“We all heard yo’ tell Cap’en Joe about yo’sef. My name’s Tom Allen.
I live hyah in Pensacola. This is Harry Burton. Yo’ can call him
Hal right away, so he’ll know whom youah addressin’. He lives in
Cincinnati, but he comes hyah each wintah. We jes’ been to the Coffee
House a securin’ some refreshments. An’ we ah now on ouah way to
dispose of them.”

“You got to mix it sometime,” interrupted Hal. “You got to know us
kids.”

“Well,” said Bob, a little embarrassed, but shaking the hand of each
boy, “my name’s Balfour. I’m here for my health――”

“So’m I,” laughed Hal. “But I go to school just the same. Pretty tough.
You goin’ to school?”

“No,” answered Bob. “I’ve got to stay outdoors and rough it. I’m goin’
fishin’ with Captain Joe to-morrow.”

“Rot!” snorted Hal. “Ten dollars to a dago for a day’s fishin’? Not on
your tintype. Stick to us, and we’ll give you all the fishin’ and the
roughin’ it you want. And it won’t cost you nothin’――much.”

“What do you mean?” asked Bob, eagerly. “Say, you fellows are all
right, and I’m mighty glad to know you; but ain’t it pretty quick work
pickin’ a kid up on the street and offerin’ to chum with him right off
the reel?”

Tom Allen reached out his arm and dropped it on Bob’s shoulders.

“Yo’ all’s comin’ aroun’ to my house now, an’ meet Mac. We’ll have
ouah spread――Mac’s gone fo’ the pralines――”

“Here’s the idea,” broke in talkative Hal. “The minute we laid eyes on
you, we cottoned to you. If Mac takes to you like we do and you don’t
kick over the traces, we’re goin’ to ask you to join our club.”

“If Mac is your chum,” answered Bob, laughing, “I won’t kick. But I
don’t understand――”

“You like boatin’ an’ fishin’, or you wouldn’t be willin’ to cough up
ten a day to old Joe. All right. We’re all dead stuck on boatin’ an’
fishin’ an’ shootin’. An’ we’re fixed to do ’em all,” continued Hal.

Drawn along, not unwillingly, by his two companions, Bob was led down
the first street to the right and, in the second block, the trio paused
before a white picket fence in which was a tall gate. As this swung
open, and Bob found himself on a shell path between walls of scented
flowers, he saw ahead, a low, one-story house. On its little gallery
opened four latticed windows.

“Is this your home?” whispered Bob, thrilled with the charm of the
place, and turning to Tom.

“Paht o’ the time,” responded the southern boy. “Come in.”



CHAPTER II

AN IRREGULAR MEETING OF THE ANCLOTE FISHING CLUB


When Tom Allen swung open the door, Bob saw that he was in a home of
refinement. On the walls, hung several old oil paintings; a wide,
doorless opening led directly into a little parlor.

“Gran’mothah,” said Tom, with deference, addressing an aged lady
sitting by a window, “this is Robert Balfour, of Chicago.”

As Bob bowed, Tom added:

“Bob, this is my gran’mothah, Mrs. Mendez. She lived in Pensacola
befoah the Indians――almost.”

The venerable lady was rising, with a smile on her wrinkled face.

“Please don’t,” urged the boy. “I’m very glad to meet you. I’m a
stranger, and the boys have taken me in. It’s beautiful here,” added
Bob, glancing at the old-fashioned furniture; “my mother and I have
often talked of such a place.”

“You are a strangah to the south, then?” said Mrs. Mendez.

“It’s the first time I ever saw pond lilies in the winter,” answered
Bob, looking toward a bowl of white blossoms on the marble-topped table.

“They are magnolia buds,” explained Tom’s grandmother. “I have them
for old time’s sake. When I was young, the gulf shore was lined with
magnolias. They are gone now,” she added, with a sigh.

Hal Burton, after speaking to Mrs. Mendez, disappeared into a rear
room with Tom, where an animated conversation was already to be heard.
The words of Tom’s grandmother carried Bob back to vague pages in his
history reading.

“You have lived here a long time,” he suggested.

“Since Pensacola was a trading post,” said the old lady. “But, in the
early days, there was a cypress stockade about our cabin. Then, the
gulf came up to our yard.”

Three blocks crowded with buildings now stood between the little house
and the sea.

“Your father was Spanish?” asked Bob, his thoughts already fired with
the passed away romance of those early days.

“A tradah among the Creek Indians,” answered Mrs. Mendez.

“Are there any relics of those times in Pensacola now?” went on Bob
eagerly.

Mrs. Mendez smiled. “The big house you just passed on the corner is
fifty years older than I am. Within it, are the beams the Indians
helped to raise.”

“What was it?――A fort?” asked Bob.

Again the old lady smiled. “If my son, Tom’s father, were alive, he
could tell you its story――I am too old. But it was where the Indians
came to sell furs. Mr. Mendez was a clerk there.”

At this moment, the two boys and a middle-aged woman entered the room.

“This is Bob, mothah,” exclaimed Tom Allen, and Mrs. Allen gave young
Balfour the hand grasp of southern hospitality.

“They picked me up on the street,” repeated Bob, with renewed
embarrassment.

“You ah certainly most welcome to ouah home,” interrupted Mrs. Allen.
“An’ as fo’ pickin’ yo’ up on the street,” she continued, with a smile,
“I found a real gold ring on the banquette mahsef once.” Then, as Bob’s
confusion deepened, the pleasant voiced woman added, “These young
prowlahs ah about to pahtake of some refreshments in the next room.”

“Charlotte,” exclaimed Mrs. Mendez from her rocking chair, “the young
gentleman asked me about the old post. Won’t you tell him?”

Bob heard a sigh from Tom, who immediately stepped to his side and
whispered:

“Them thah crabs is gittin’ cold. I’ll tell you all about it latah.”

“My own grandfathah helped hew its timbahs,” explained Mrs. Allen. “It
is now a fo’gotten monument.”

She was leading the little party into the rear room. Hal, bearing the
lamp, nudged Bob with his elbow.

“Cut it out,” he whispered. “Them ducks are all dead an’ gone. Come on.
Don’t you hear the crabs shiverin’ with the cold?”

“Some day,” continued Mrs. Allen, “I’ll be glad to tell you the story
of the old warehouse. It was wheah colonial day tradahs made fortunes
on the gulf as the Hudson Bay Company drew wealth from the Indians of
the no’th. It is now a boa’din’ house,” she concluded, with a curious
smile. “Perhaps youah mothah would be glad to come and see it?”

Thanking his hostess, Bob was about to enter upon another line of
inquiry when Tom caught him by the arm.

“You’ll excuse us, mothah,” said Tom, “but this is a regulah meetin’
night. We ah about to considah impo’tant mattahs.”

“Say,” exploded Hal at once, “can’t you get all o’ that mossy dope you
need in the history books?”

“Plenty of it,” laughed Bob, “but that’s at long range. I’m comin’
to-morrow and look all over the old building.”

Tom grunted. “If that’s what yo’ all come to Pensacola fo’, I reckon
you’ll have yo’ hands full.”

“You can read all that,” went on Hal. “And, take it from me, there’s
too much to do to be nosin’ around lookin’ for Spanish things.”

Bob grinned and pointed to the table and the cooling loaves.

“These aren’t Spanish, are they? I’m ready.”

Tom had just lifted the top off one loaf and the savory steam was
welling into the room, when he dropped the section of bread.

“Where’s Mac?” he exclaimed. Then he hastily stuck his head into the
parlor. “Mothah,” he called, “where’s Mac Gregory? He went fo’ some
pralines.”

Mrs. Allen came quickly into the room.

“Gentlemen,” she exclaimed, holding her hands before her face as if to
hide her confusion, “I must confess mah inexcusable ovahsight. Youah
friend and colleague was heah and left a message which I neglected to
delivah. He can not be with you at youah meetin’. A friend presented
him a ticket to the ten-cent pictuah show, and he has repaired to the
theatah.”

Tom’s eyes twinkled, but matter of fact Hal growled:

“Went to the movin’ picture show on a regular meetin’ night?”

“So it appeahs,” laughed Mrs. Allen, as she withdrew.

“Well,” growled Hal, “it’s that many more crabs for us, anyway.”

It required no education for Bob to master a freshly fried soft shell
crab. But by the time three of them had disappeared with crackling
crispness, he was ready to ask:

“Say, kids; what’s the meeting all about?”

Hal and Tom were too busy to reply at once, but, finally, both loaves
were empty. After a search for loose crumbs, Hal pushed an empty loaf
aside.

“Before we go any further, I’d like to know one thing. You look all
right, and you eat all right――though you can’t tell much by crabs,
there bein’ a limit to ’em, but are you one o’ them ducks ’at would
rather get off in a corner an’ read a book than go boatin’ or fishin’?
O’ course, you don’t have to answer lessen you want to, but business is
business.”

“I can’t read a book while I’m in Pensacola,” answered Bob.

“That ain’t the point,” continued Hal, leaning over the table. “Would
you like to do it?”

Bob could not resist laughing outright.

“I don’t know what I’d do or want to do if I had to mosey around town
here for three months all alone. But if you fellows have anything on
that you’ll let me in on, I’ll cut the books.”

“We’ve got a club,” spoke up Tom, who seemed satisfied with the
statement, “but it ain’t a ‘gang’. We ah very pahticulah, because we
got to be. Ouah by-laws permit but fouah membahs, not includin’ Jerry
Blossom. About the end of the season last yeah, we were fo’ced to expel
a membah foh absentin’ himself from a reg’lar weekly outin’ to attend
a picnic with a girl. Are you co’espondin’ with any girls?”

“I am not,” answered Bob promptly.

His interlocutors gazed at each other a few moments in silence.

“I reckon Mac ought to be hyah by rights,” suggested Tom, as if in deep
thought.

“He ought to be expelled hisself,” blurted out Hal.

“But he owns the boat,” argued Tom, seriously. “And, besides, it was a
free ticket.”

“’Scuse us,” remarked Hal suddenly, as he beckoned to Tom. “We got to
confer a minute.”

Bob used the interval to look about the room. On the wall hung a framed
set of engrossed resolutions. They were dated only five years before,
and signed by the officers of the Mexico and Florida Steamship Company,
deploring the death of Captain Malcolm Allen, who had been in the
service of the company in the Mexican trade for many years as master of
the steamer _Mazatlan_. This then was Tom’s father.

“Balfour,” said Tom Allen at last, touching Bob on the arm, “we’ve
elected you a membah of the ‘Anclote Island Fishing Club’.”

“I’m sure I’m glad,” exclaimed Bob. “I hoped it was something like
that. But how about Mac? What if he don’t approve of me?”

“Then I reckon you’re fired,” answered Hal, bluntly.

Bob could not help showing some chagrin.

“I don’t see why that troubles you,” went on Hal. “We’re takin’ a
chance, too. You’ve got the privilege o’ sayin’ you don’t accept.”

“But I do,” insisted Bob. “That is, if my mother consents.”

“There you go,” snorted the doubting Hal. “I knew there’d be somethin’.”

“Well,” responded Bob, “there’ll have to be that condition. My parents
pay my way, and they tell me what I’m goin’ to do.”

Tom reached out his hand. Thereupon, Hal could do no less. As the three
boys, acquaintances of but a little over an hour, awkwardly shook
hands, Tom said:

“If everything is all right, an’ youah mothah lets yo’, come to my
house about three o’clock to-morrow. Hal and I ah fo’ced to attend
school till that ouah.”

“I hope Mac approves,” added Bob, still nettled over this condition. “I
suppose you make fishin’ trips now and then,” he went on. “Do you ever
camp out?”

Hal snorted, and slapped Tom on the back.

“Say,” he chuckled, “do you hear that? Go fishin’ sometimes? Do we camp
out? Kid,” he added solemnly, “we do go fishin’――sometimes. And them
sometimes is every Friday at noon, when our season opens, and that’s
now, and we camp out from that till Monday mornin’. That’s all.”

Bob’s jaw fell. From Friday noon till Monday morning. The possibility
of parental protest fell on him like a wet blanket.

“Where do you go?” he asked hastily.

Tom thereupon disclosed the nature and practice of the select quartette
of adventurers. Three years before, Hal Burton, Mac Gregory, Tom Allen,
and the now expelled boy, had come into possession, through Mac’s
father, of a serviceable old life-saving boat. Rigging up a sail, the
four boys had made a long cruise out of Pensacola Bay and along the
gulf coast to Perdido Bay.

On the eastern shore of this ocean bayou rises a considerable bluff
crowded with dense pine trees. On this, about ten miles from the gulf,
the boys on their first cruise located a camp. The following spring,
Hal brought with him enough money to purchase a 10-horsepower motor,
which was installed in the life boat――the _Escambia_. That year, by
purchase of “culls” from the Perdido River saw mills and a vigilant
search for drift timber, the club managed to secure material to build a
cabin.

“Fine,” shouted Bob at last. “If Mac Gregory don’t vote for me, I’m
goin’ to miss the best thing I ever read of. But say,” and he asked the
question that had been on his tongue for some minutes, “why is it the
Anclote Club? And where is Anclote Island?”

“About three hundred miles from here, over near Tampa,” answered Hal
soberly.

“And do you cruise over there?”

“Nope,” snapped Hal, “but say――listen! That’s the greatest tarpon
fishin’ ground in the world. Quail are great over on old Perdido, and
fishin’ in the bay is fine and dandy. But that ain’t tarpon. Some day
we’re goin’ for the big fish――on the long voyage. We’re workin’ for
a big boat and enough time. When we get ’em both, it’s the Anclote
Fishin’ Club for Anclote Island at last.”

“Are you going this year?” asked Bob eagerly.

“I reckon not,” answered Tom with a smile. “But we are a goin’ to think
about it mighty hard.”

Bob sprang up, his face aglow with enthusiasm. It was nearly ten
o’clock.

“Boys,” he said――nervous in his eagerness――“I’ll be here at three
o’clock to-morrow. If Mac turns me down, hang a black rag on the gate.”



CHAPTER III

AN EARLY TASTE OF SALT WATER


In the early morning, Bob and his mother had an animated conference.
Mrs. Balfour forgave Bob’s late return only after she heard the story
of his kidnaping by Tom Allen and Hal Burton and had listened to his
account of Mrs. Mendez and Mrs. Allen.

When Bob had finished a description of Captain Joe Romano and of the
Anclote Club, his mother at once vetoed a membership in the latter
body. But the boy expected this, and in a short time, with many
arguments, he had made the prohibition conditional. When Mrs. Balfour
said she “would see about it,” Bob knew the worst was over.

Mrs. Balfour had plans for a little tour of her own in the shopping
district, in which her son was to be a guide. And Bob was now too much
concerned with his afternoon program to urge very strongly the launch
ride on the bay. As his mother seemed to have forgotten this program as
outlined the previous day, he did not revive it.

While Mrs. Balfour and the landlady fell to discussing desirable
“French organdies” for sale in a certain shop, Bob decided to begin the
day with an examination of the boarding house premises. A shell walk
led around the house. In the rear, on each side of a deep, wide lot,
were low, white buildings. Their roofs were green, with moss-covered
shingles, while three wide-spreading oaks between them were garlanded
with long strands of sombre but picturesque Spanish moss. The kitchen
yard beneath the oaks was of hard packed earth. In one of the
buildings, Bob heard a colored woman’s voice.

The odor of coffee, the soft sizzle of something frying, and the sharp
clatter of dishes told him it came from the kitchen, isolated as usual
in southern homes from the dwelling house. The woman seemed in a
critical mood, to say the least. As Bob stopped to watch a scurrying
fat hen, he could not avoid hearing what the unseen speaker was saying.

“What yo’ done wid dat two bits I done guv you day befo’ yistiday?”

There was an undistinguishable reply.

“Yo’s a liah, yo’ good fo’ nothin’ loafin’ niggah. Los’ it? How yo’
gwine lose a piece o’ real money? Dat two bits nevah git cole in yo’
pocket. Craps――das what. Ef de money goes wid craps, let it come back
wid craps. No sah, not a nickel.”

There was a feminine sob or two, but they did not sound real.

“Yo’ reckon Miss Franko’s gwine feed yo’ eber day? No sah! Go long now,
boy. Yo’ ole mammy ain’t no use fo’ no crap shooters. An’ Miss Franko
ain’t nuther. She sho skin yo’ ef she fin’ yo’ snoopin’ roun’ hyar.”

There was a gurgle as of some one drinking, and then the other person
said:

“Yo’ done ’sult me, mammy. I’se gwine ’way to stay. Yo’ ain’t goin’ to
see me no mo’.”

The other grunted. “Huh! You’ all don’ go no furder ’an you’ kin walk.
An’ ah reckon de tas’ o’ dat meat an’ coffee’ll be gone by to-morrer.”

“Yo’ don’ know what I’se gwine to do,” retorted the other speaker.
“I’se got a job.”

“Yo’ got a job?” snorted the woman. “Ain’t dat sun hu’t yo’ haid,
chile?”

“Marse Tom Allen allows he ain’t gwine campin’ dis spring lessen I
goes wid him. Das all.”

Bob started. Tom Allen! That was his new friend. This must be Jerry
Blossom. Bob advanced to the end of the yard. Pretending to examine
the chickens, he turned back toward the house, and, as he did so, had
his first sight of Jerry. A colored boy, heavy for his height, and
perhaps eighteen or nineteen years old, was coming jauntily toward the
gate in the rear, intently examining a silver dollar.

“Hello, Jerry,” exclaimed Bob.

“Mawnin’, sah,” answered the boy, touching his hat. “Fine mawnin’,
sah,” he added hastily pocketing his coin. “Ah yo’ a boada hyah, sah?”
he continued.

Bob nodded his head. Beyond question, the colored boy was decked in
garments inherited from older persons of various tastes. His hat was
too small, and his white shirt too large. He wore neither coat nor
vest, and his shirt sleeves were held up with brass sleeve holders.
His trousers, a loud black and white check, were hitched far toward
his shoulders with most intricate and complicated suspenders. This,
however, did not prevent their frayed ends from trailing behind Jerry’s
shoes. These were of patent leather, worn and cracked, with gray cloth
tops and large white bone buttons.

“Yes,” said Bob, with a smile, “I’m a boarder here. I’m goin’ to be
here several months. Do you live with Mrs. Franko?”

“No, sah,” replied Jerry, promptly. “No, sah. Not prezackly――not now.
Ah used to be a waitah hyah, but Miss Franko an’ me we done have a
fallin’ out.”

Bob already had an idea. Jerry didn’t know him. Why not utilize the
black boy to pick up a little information?

“Haven’t you got a job now?” continued Bob.

“Me?” replied Jerry. “Sure, Ah has got a job. Ah wuk reg’lar ebery
year――sometimes.”

“What are you doin’ now?” went on Bob.

“Well, sah,” replied Jerry, throwing out his chest, “Ah is what
yo’ call a chef――dat means a cook, speakin’ common. Dey is a few
rich gemmen in dis city ’at won’t eat no cookin’ ’ceptin’ mine. Dey
constitute sah, what’s called de Anclote Club.”

“Oh, I see,” commented Bob. “I suppose it’s one of those rich country
clubs.”

“Yas, sah,” continued Jerry. “Ah reckon it is about de riches’ club in
de south. Ah has hearn tell dey ain’t nothin’ in de north kin tech de
Anclote club house fo’ bigness an’ costiveness.”

“Must be pretty fine,” said Bob, without a smile. “And so you are the
chef of this club.”

“Dat’s my reg’lar job,” answered Jerry. “O’ course, outen de club
season, Ah has othah business.”

“What’s that?” asked Bob relentlessly.

“Well, sah, recently Ah was assistant janitor down to de Creole Coffee
House. But Ah is restin’ now, preliminahy to my wuk at de club.”

“Then the club isn’t open at present?”

“We open day after to-morrer, Friday. Mos’ ob de membahs ah engaged
in de banks and de countin’ houses till de end ob de week. Ef yo’ ’ll
’scuse me, I mus’ now has’en on as Ah have an appintment to engage some
ob my assistants.”

Bob could not refrain from laughing.

“Wha’ fo’ yo’ laffin at, boy?” exclaimed Jerry.

“I’m laughing at you, Jerry. I’m onto you. I know about the Anclote
Club, and I know some of its members. Tom Allen is my friend.”

The inflated Jerry collapsed like a pricked toy balloon. But he made a
feeble stand.

“Ah is de cook,” he blustered.

“I know,” said Bob. “It’s all right. I’m not going to say anything
about it. Now tell me about the real club; where it is, and what you
do.”

By following the still alarmed Jerry out into the back street to a
convenient seat on the curb, Bob coaxed out of him the history of the
club a membership in which he was a candidate. By the time Bob rejoined
his mother ready for her shopping tour, he was poorer in money by a
quarter, but considerably richer in information.

It was tedious work shifting from one foot to another while his mother
leisurely looked over organdies and summer silks, and it required the
bracing influence of two surreptitious lemon phosphates. At last, about
half past ten o’clock, Bob got his mother on a street car and they went
to the Long Wharf. It was hot, and, somewhat over her protest, the boy
persuaded his parent to accompany him in search of Captain Joe.

The first sight of the _Three Sisters_ schooner, freshly scrubbed and
resplendent in its spring coat of green and blue paint, was reward to
Mrs. Balfour and Bob for the hot walk on the long, fishy, crowded pier.
Captain Joe, pipe in mouth, was lounging on the dock.

The fishing excursion was out of the question, but Mrs. Balfour――somewhat
to Bob’s surprise――at once acquiesced in Captain Joe’s proposal that she
and her son go for an hour’s sail. The boat was roomy and substantial,
and the ease with which the old red-girdled sailor handled his spread of
canvas reassured Mrs. Balfour. As the _Three Sisters_ heeled over and
slid out into the rippling harbor, its feminine passenger even gave a
little exclamation of delight.

After a half hour’s sail out soundward, the _Three Sisters_ came about.
With several short tacks, Bob almost on the bowsprit to enjoy the zest
of the salt spray (despite his mother’s half-hearted protests), Captain
Joe laid over on his last haul for the wharf landing. Then came the
accident that turned the pleasure sail into a catastrophe.

As the little schooner sped gallantly forward, all on board had busied
themselves watching a heavily laden tramp steamer making seaward. She
had loaded with lumber at a private dock, her bow shoreward, and a
puffing little tug had just finished heading her out into the bay. The
_Three Sisters_ was well to starboard, but, the steamer being just
under way, Captain Joe, it could be seen, would pass close astern.

At the moment when the swell from the steamer’s screw first struck the
_Three Sisters_ and the lumber tramp’s rusty red sides rose almost
above the swiftly scudding schooner, a little leg o’ mutton rigged boat
shot across the big boat’s stern. The fragile craft had been concealed
from Captain Joe by the hull of the steamer. Who ever was in the
approaching boat was apparently unaware of the impending collision, as
the occupant was out of sight behind the sail.

Captain Joe, astern at the helm, could escape the little boat only
by falling further off the wind and that meant a collision with the
steamer stern or its low-hanging starboard boat. With a shout of
warning, he took one quick glance at Mrs. Balfour and hesitated. The
moment was long enough to bring about the threatened collision.

Mrs. Balfour screamed and caught Captain Joe’s arm. Bob, still astride
the bowsprit, threw his legs backward onto the deck, and, grasping a
stay, lunged downward in an effort to fend off the little boat. But,
as he did so, a full swell from the now rapidly churning screw of the
steamer caught the schooner and lifted it on a foamy crest. Checked in
its course, the heavy schooner hung for a moment, its sails flattening,
and then, almost jibing, pounded downward into the eddying swirl and
smashed the slender mast of the cockle shell crossing its bowsprit.

There was another piercing scream from Mrs. Balfour, and Captain Joe
threw the schooner into the wind. Its sails flapping, he sprang forward
to the wreckage. Quickly as he did so, Bob beat him, and as the bronzed
seaman saw the boy throw himself overboard, he caught up a line and ran
out on the bowsprit. A moment later, the captain of the _Three Sisters_
was in the bob stays with firm grips on the unconscious sailor of the
wrecked boat and the white-faced Bob.

In truth, Bob’s physical ailment had been largely caused by his
overindulgence in indoor aquatics. He had twice been a candidate for a
place in the Y. M. C. A. polo team, and he had plunged into the foam of
Pensacola Bay with no more fear than if he were starting on a game in
the tank.

He had not stopped to consider the handicap of a full suit of clothes,
minus his coat which he had laid aside because of the summery sun, and
it was too late to do so after he sprang overboard.

He had caught only a glimpse of a boy, had seen him pitch forward as
the little boat sank and he knew that help was needed. Bob came to the
surface――blowing water as if in a forty-yard dash――his hat well adrift
and his shoes already like lead, but with the unconscious form of their
victim in his arms.

Captain Joe threw true, and Bob had enough strength to free one arm
and grasp the line. Mrs. Balfour screamed again, but the experienced
seaman reassured her with a smile. Then the agitated woman even helped
pull the limp form of the rescued boy into the schooner. Thereupon,
although Bob was able to clamber aboard, almost unassisted, she became
hysterical. Bob, a little weak in his legs and arms, applied himself
to her pacification, and in a short time, they were both able to give
attention to the boy on the deck.

“All right,” exclaimed Captain Joe, “breathin’ reg’lar. Got de boom on
’is ’ead. Ain’t no drown.”

A red spot on the unconscious boy’s temple indicated that he had been
struck by a bit of wreckage. While Captain Joe hastened to the helm
again, Bob and his mother raised the boy’s head, wiped his face and in
a few moments, he groaned slightly. Just before the schooner reached
the wharf, the unconscious boy was able to move, and, after coughing
and clearing his throat, he turned on his side.

[Illustration: BOB HAD ENOUGH STRENGTH TO FREE ONE ARM AND GRASP THE
LINE.]

“Captain Joe,” said Bob, “you know who we are and where we are
stopping. If the boy is all right, don’t say anything about us. Take
care of the boy, and if he thinks we ought to pay for his boat, come
and see us. Here’s the money for our sail, and the next time, I hope
we’ll have better luck.”

As the _Three Sisters_ came alongside the wharf, her forward sail came
over and hid the still unconscious boy in its shade. Urged on by Bob,
Mrs. Balfour climbed ashore. At the last moment, the still dripping Bob
remembered a five dollar bill his father had given him. Slipping it to
Captain Joe, he whispered:

“Give him this for his doctor’s bill, if he needs attention.”



CHAPTER IV

THE CLUB HOLDS A SHORT SESSION


Although only mid-February, the sun was far too warm for Bob’s Chicago
blizzard clothes. His mother decided to buy him part of his summer
outfit at once. It didn’t take long to lay in a new stiff hat for
evening wear, a cap for knocking about in, a light rough coat and
trousers and a pair of waterproof outing shoes. The water sogged
garments were left at a clothing store, to be sent to the boarding
house later, and when Bob reappeared on the street, he felt comfortable
for the first time in three days.

“Why were you so particular about those shoes?” asked his mother, as
they boarded a street car.

“Particular?” repeated Bob. “They’re just the thing for the boat
club――if I’m elected.”

“The boat club?” gasped his mother. “You don’t think that I’ll consent
to that now――after what happened this morning?”

“Of course,” answered Bob, with a smile. “That’s just why you will.
You saw that I could take care of myself.”

But his mother shook her head. “I suppose any boat the club has will be
like the little thing we ran down. I can’t let you join――not now. I’ll
be thinking all the time about the narrow escape that boy had.”

“I don’t know that they’ll take me,” explained Bob.

“Why not?” asked his mother indignantly.

“Boys don’t give reasons,” answered Bob. “If they don’t like you, they
don’t――that’s all.”

Before his mother could interpose further objections, Bob immediately
began a long description of the advantages of an outing on the shores
of Perdido Bay.

“You know what the doctor told us,” he added. “He said exercise was no
good unless it comes in the form of pleasure――something you want to do.
I never had a chance to get this sort of fun, with boys. And everything
we’ll do is something I’ve wanted to do all my life.”

Then he explained the natural wonders of the bay on which the Anclote
Club had its house. Next followed the tales of pirates who had infested
the wide silver sheet. There, only in the preceding century, the
buccaneers of the gulf had made rendezvous and thereabout lurked the
legends of buried gold and lost treasure. Never an ancient oak upon
Perdido’s shores but what had, in Bob’s fervid imagination, tangled
within its gnarled roots, the possibilities of iron crusted strong
boxes.

“I’m not really going to look for old Spanish pieces-of-eight or gold
doubloons,” explained Bob, “but I’d like to go where people _have_
looked for them. I can imagine the rest,” he added laughing.

“This is where we get off,” smiled Mrs. Balfour. But Bob had made his
point. After luncheon when his mother again revived the subject of
the club, Bob tempered her objections to it with an account of Jerry
Blossom. But he did not remind her that at three o’clock, he was to
meet the boys to hear the verdict as to his eligibility.

When the hour for Mrs. Balfour’s afternoon nap approached, she
suggested to Bob that he write a letter to his father. His room
adjoined hers. When the dutiful son heard breathing indicating that his
mother was asleep, the letter came to a sudden termination. As soon as
Bob knew that his mother was asleep, he concluded:

“But it is too hot to write more to-day. Please send me another five
dollars. Your obedient son, Robert.”

Then, eager to be at Tom Allen’s home on time, he made his way quietly
downstairs and was off for Zaragossa Street. When he found it was only
a little after two o’clock, he idled along in front of the main shops.
Within the window of a book store, he saw a map of the gulf coast.
Examining a map wasn’t reading, so he went in, purchased a copy of the
chart, and, finding a dusty chair in a half lighted corner of the shop,
he fell to studying the bays, sounds, islands and river mouths of the
coast round about Pensacola.

The scene of all his present dreams, Perdido Bay, was about as regular
as a splash of gravy on a hot plate. To reach it by sea, one had to
sail across the corner of Pensacola Bay, around the point of Santa
Rosa Island, and then, about ten miles to the twisting mouth of the
bay. Bob’s heart throbbed with excitement at the thought of the
possibilities in store for him. Then he recalled himself――he remembered
Mac Gregory.

At exactly three o’clock, Bob walked briskly up to Tom’s house. There
was no black rag on the gate. That was encouraging. By some occult
boy’s reasoning, he knew that the club members were in the back yard.
He had advanced but a few steps on the shell walk when Tom Allen
appeared.

“I didn’t know whethah yo’ all ’d come. Mac’s hyah,” he said in a
rather awed voice. Bob noticed this, and some of his last evening’s
resentment revived.

“Look here, Tom,” he said, “I like you fellows fine, and I’d like to
chum with you anywhere, but I don’t want to butt in. I’m not askin’ any
favors of Mac.”

“Oh, Mac’s all right,” said Tom apologetically, “only he’s kind o’
cranky sometimes. But you’ll like him when you know him.”

The much discussed Mac turned out to be a very ordinary boy with no
education and little natural refinement. He was older than any of the
other boys, but less in stature, although strongly built. In short, Mac
was a shiftless boy, the son of a coast steamer captain, who had been
left to grow up pretty much as he liked. As this meant mainly a love
for boats and sailing and a consequent knowledge of all the adjacent
waterways, he was easily the leader of Tom and Hal in cruises afloat.

As Bob, with a quick scrutiny of the stocky Mac, stepped forward to
greet him with a handshake, the great Gregory nodded his head, and
busied himself lighting a cigarette. Bob was surprised and indignant;
but he showed neither.

“So yer the kid ’at wants to hook up wid us?” commented Mac.

“I was invited to join the club,” said Bob with a forced smile. “But I
was given to understand that it was only if you liked me.”

“’Tain’t a question o’ like ur dislikes,” commented Mac, blowing out a
cloud of smoke. “Kin ye deliver the goods?”

“That can mean a whole lot,” answered Bob. “There are a good many
things that some boys can do that I don’t know anything about.”

“Don’t get fresh,” Mac retorted. “There’s a good many that would give a
lot to git in our club. We don’t know nothin’ about you.”

“I’ll tell you anything you want to know,” volunteered Bob.

“Talk’s cheap,” exclaimed the critical Mac. “Ever do any shootin’?”

“No.”

“Know how to fish?”

“No.”

“Kin you sail a boat?”

“Don’t know one sail from another.”

“Humph!” commented the autocrat of the club. “I don’t see where you
belong in no first class fishin’ club.”

“All right,” said Bob with growing indignation, but showing only a
smile outwardly. “Since I haven’t been elected, it won’t be necessary
for me to resign.”

Mac scowled, but evidently felt somewhat ashamed.

“Say, Kid,” he half sneered, “ye look kind o’ decent, ef ye are kind o’
sissy――”

The next moment, the slouchy Mac had sprung backward, and the
white-faced Bob was standing before him with clenched fists.

“I don’t know what you fellows down here mean by ‘sissy,’ but up where
I live, a boy couldn’t call me that. Take it back!”

For answer, Mac laughed scornfully. He saw trouble coming and welcomed
it. He did not wait for an attack, but darted under Bob’s ready arms
and closed about the boy’s waist. The next moment, the two boys were
locked in each other’s arms on the hard ground.

Mac was tough in muscle and sound in wind. Bob’s lungs were just then
his weak point. In muscular build he had only the strength of the
average boy, lessened by his far from robust physical condition. But he
forgot these handicaps. The only knowledge he had of wrestling was what
he had picked up from observation in the Y. M. C. A. gymnasium.

And this was all he had to use against his enemy. As if attempting to
escape, Bob, who was beneath, started to roll over on his right side.
Mac’s right hand flew from Bob’s left arm to his left shoulder, and the
boy underneath shot his left arm below Mac’s chin, forced it around his
opponent’s head and closed down with a blow on the uppermost boy’s neck.

This simple wrestling hold was a thing Mac had never encountered. As
his head sank downward and sideways under Bob’s arm lock on his neck,
the under boy, with all his strength, threw the upper part of Mac’s
body over, and before the astounded leader of the Anclote Club knew
what was happening, he was on his back and Bob was astride him.

But the effort was too much. Bob’s face was pale now from something
more than anger or excitement. At the sight of a scarlet tinge on his
lips, Tom Allen and Hal Burton sprang forward and pulled the combatants
apart. Bob swayed weakly on his feet for a moment, then braced himself
and wiped away the traces of the little hemorrhage that his effort had
cost him. His weakened lungs had failed him, and his mouth was full of
blood.

“Come on,” sneered Mac, his face almost livid with rage, “finish what
ye started. Ef ye think ye kin do that agin, try it.”

Again Bob’s handkerchief removed a mouthful of blood. He cleared his
throat, shoved his handkerchief into his pocket and began to draw off
his coat. But just then Tom Allen stepped before his leader.

“Mac,” he said in an alarmed voice, “he can’t fight. Bob’s sick.”

“Sick?” sneered Gregory. “He’s sick where I pasted him, I reckon. Come
on,” he snarled, “an’ I’ll give it to ye where ye ain’t lookin’ fur it.”

Bob attempted to push Tom aside but by that time, Hal had also
interfered.

“You got to wait till he’s right, Mac――’tain’t fair.”

“That’s all it takes fur some of ’em,” almost shouted Mac. “A little
punch an’ a little blood an’ it’s all over. Ain’t that right, sissy?”

Even Tom and Hal could no longer restrain Bob. The angry lad pushed
them hastily aside. His face livid and his lips tinged with blood, he
dashed between his friends. As he did so, there was a sharp command
behind the four boys, and Mrs. Allen, white faced and trembling, sprang
between the two boys. Immediately behind her was Bob’s mother.

Abashed and mortified, all four boys hung their heads.

“What does this mean, Tom?” exclaimed Mrs. Allen.

“Mac and Bob quarreled――but it don’t amount to nothin’.”

“Are you hurt, Bob?” inquired Mrs. Balfour excited, noticing the traces
of blood on Bob’s face and clothes.

“No,” said Bob trying to smile, “we were just wrestlin’ a little. I
guess I bumped my mouth.”

“What was the quarrel about?” exclaimed Mrs. Allen, sternly.

No boy spoke.

“Mac,” continued Mrs. Allen, her eyes glistening, “why were you all
fighting?”

Mac, a little defiantly, replied, “Well, it was all in fun. I was a
testin’ him out. I jes’ called him a ‘sissy’ fur fun.”

Mrs. Allen looked at him with no attempt to conceal her indignation.
Mrs. Balfour, her face set, gazed at Mac a full moment, and then added:

“You were testing him? What do you mean?”

“I wanted to see if he was the real goods.”

“Well,” went on Mrs. Balfour, “what is your opinion?”

“I ain’t had no real chanst to find out,” answered Mac, doggedly.

Mrs. Balfour’s lip curled in contempt.

“I’ll tell you an easier way to find out than by fighting. Go to
Captain Joe Romano, of the _Three Sisters_, and ask him who saved you
from drowning this morning.”

Three boys looked up astounded.

“Him?” exclaimed Mac――his mouth gaping.

There were a few quick words between Mrs. Balfour and her equally angry
hostess.

“Ef it was him,” went on the Gregory boy, “why didn’t he say somethin’?
I’m satisfied. He kin come in the club ef he wants to.”

There was a look of increased contempt on the face of both Mrs.
Allen and Mrs. Balfour, but before either could speak, Tom――who, of
course, was familiar with Mac’s accident but not with his mysterious
rescue――sprang to the center of the group.

“All right,” he exclaimed defiantly, “and that makes Bob a member. The
club now bein’ in reg’lah session, I make a motion that Mac Gregory be
expelled. All in favor of that motion, say ‘Aye’.” Hal Burton and Tom
responded with loud ayes. “The ‘ayes’ have it.”

Mrs. Allen, her eyes snapping, pointed toward a gate in the rear of the
yard.

“Mac,” she said peremptorily, “please go away from ouah house, and be
good enough to stay away.”



CHAPTER V

IN WHICH JERRY BLOSSOM SUDDENLY APPEARS


Neither Mrs. Balfour nor Tom’s mother took the time at that exciting
moment to explain to the astonished Bob how Mrs. Balfour happened to be
in Mrs. Allen’s home. But it was easily explained later. Mrs. Balfour
had awakened soon after Bob’s departure for the club meeting. His
absence reminded her that he was to meet the boys at three o’clock. She
felt under obligations to Tom’s mother for the attention the latter had
given her son, and she determined to call at the Allen home at once and
express her gratitude.

When the sounds of the conflict became unmistakable, the two women had
rushed into the yard together to find Mac Gregory and Bob at the crisis
of their encounter.

“And now,” continued Mrs. Allen, with stern dignity, as Mac swaggeringly
withdrew toward the rear gate, “what is the real meaning of this
disgraceful affair?”

Before Tom could reply, Mac stopped, and, with a sneer, exclaimed:

“Ef you uns go campin’, I reckon ye’ll walk. I own the boat――don’t
furgit that. Boat an’ ingine, too.”

The countenances of both Tom and Hal fell in despair. Hal started
toward the retreating Mac. Mrs. Allen stopped him instantly.

“Hal,” she said firmly, “if you evah have anything moah to do with that
wafh trash, please don’t come neah ouah home again. You understand,
Tom?” she added. Both boys nodded their heads. Tom tried to smooth
matters over.

“All right, mothah. If theah was wrong done, it was Mac――not Bob.” Then
he tried to smile. “I reckon that’ll be about all o’ the Anclote Club.”

Expressions of keen disappointment marked the faces of all the boys.
Left to themselves, they would, undoubtedly, have fought the quarrel to
a finish, and then shaken hands all around rather than give up their
beloved organization. Even Mac felt this. The young rowdy was lingering
at the gate. He took a step back into the yard.

“Mrs. Allen,” began Mac, half apologetically, “I shorely didn’t know he
was the boy ’at drug me from the bay. I’m sorry――”

“Mac,” Mrs. Allen answered, without relenting, “it’ll take moah than
words to show me you ah fit to associate with gentlemen. I shall
instruct mah son to have no futhah intercourse with you.”

“Is that so?” sneered Mac. “Well, he won’t have no chanst. An’ what’s
more, he’ll be sorry he let this ‘sissy’ break up the club. I reckon
they ain’t agoin’ to be no club without no boat.”

Mrs. Allen made no reply, but she took a step toward the bragging
Gregory. The “expelled” member of the club turned and fled. He did not
wait to unlatch the picket gate. With an agile bound, he cleared the
fence and scurried down the alley.

Mrs. Allen conducted her guest and the boys into the house, where Tom
told in detail what had happened. The verdict of Mrs. Allen and Mrs.
Balfour as to Mac was reiterated. Neither Tom nor Bob were to have
anything more to do with young Gregory, and Hal was given the option
of choosing between Mac and the other boys. This decision was instant.
Mac’s conduct he could not excuse.

“The club’ll stick together――boat or no boat――” volunteered Hal. “If we
can’t do anything else, we can sail over to Santa Rosa every Saturday
in a hired boat.”

Mrs. Balfour began to feel embarrassed when she saw the trouble Bob had
caused. At last, she said:

“I don’t see why your outing has to be abandoned just because you’ve
expelled a bully.”

“But he owns the boat,” explained Tom. “We could go to the camp on the
train, but campin’ near the watah without a boat ain’t nothin’ at all.”

“Can’t you get a boat of your own?” asked Mrs. Balfour. “There seem
enough of them about here.”

Tom and Hal smiled. Mrs. Allen looked embarrassed.

“Boats that are fun cost money,” explained Hal; “and all our money is
in the engine in Mac’s boat.”

“Would Captain Romano’s boat be ‘fun’?” asked Mrs. Balfour suddenly.

The three boys looked at her in surprise.

“Captain Joe want ten dollars a day for the _Three Sisters_,” continued
Hal. “That’s the answer to that.”

Mrs. Balfour spoke in a low voice to Mrs. Allen for some minutes. Mrs.
Allen seemed protesting against a suggestion. In spite of this, Bob’s
mother at last turned to the boys again.

“Young gentlemen,” she began, “I wasn’t at all anxious for Bob to
undertake these week-end outings, although, likely enough, they may be
just what he needs. I even objected to them. But now, since he seems to
have been the cause of so much trouble, I want the club to carry out
its program. Since he has caused you to lose your boat, he’ll provide
another. I will consider it a favor if the club will permit me to
provide a new boat.”

The long faces of three despairing boys rounded out in beaming smiles.

“Ah reckon maybe we could find some sort o’ craft ourselves,” began
Tom, with an instant burst of southern pride.

“Mebbe a skiff would do,” suggested Hal with a feebler show of protest.

“No,” continued Mrs. Balfour, “I ask it as a favor――for Bob. I want
you boys to charter Captain Romano’s _Three Sisters_ and make it the
club boat. I’ll feel better satisfied anyway, for the captain is an old
sailor――”

“Do you mean it?” shouted Bob impulsively, throwing his arms about his
mother’s neck. “Hurrah for you, mother――you’re a brick.”

Before the amused Mrs. Allen and Mrs. Balfour could stop them,
the three boys shot out of the parlor and were off for the wharf.
Captain Joe was found, but a charter of this kind was an important
transaction――calling for more than the assurance of three exuberant
youngsters.

A few minutes later, the bronzed sailor was before Mrs. Balfour, and
the contract was closed. The day was Wednesday. At the close of school
on Friday, the _Three Sisters_ was to embark the three boys, their
stores and equipment, and sail for Perdido Bay. The distance down
Pensacola Bay, out between the forts and then along the gulf coast to
the mouth of the Perdido and then up those winding waters to the camp
site, was not less than forty miles.

The voyage might be completed that day or not, as the wind served. But,
after reaching the camp, Captain Joe was to take station there until
further orders at fifty dollars a week. Monday morning, Tom and Hal
would be carried by the schooner to the village of Mill View in time to
catch the early train across country for school.

“Unless Mrs. Allen and I take a notion to come out to the camp in
mid-week,” said Mrs. Balfour, with a laugh, “Bob can come in each
Monday with the other boys. Captain Joe will remain in camp ready to
cruise where you like each Saturday and Sunday.”

Tom looked at Mrs. Balfour in an embarrassed way.

“It sounds big, the way we all been a talkin’ ’bout ouah camp. But I
assuah you, madame, ’at it ain’t much of a camp――leastways not as to
the cabin. We’ll be proud to have you and mothah come ovah an’ see us,
but I hope yo’ won’t expec’ much. It wasn’t made fo’ ladies.”

“Perhaps that’s the reason we ought to go,” suggested Mrs. Allen,
with a laugh. “But don’t be alarmed,” and she looked at Mrs. Balfour
knowingly, “there are mosquitoes enough in town.”

“There ain’t a mosquito on Perdido,” asserted Tom stoutly. “Nor nothin’
else that’s wrong.”

When Mrs. Balfour and Bob finally took their leave, the boy caught his
parent affectionately by the arm.

“Mother,” he said, with feeling, “it’s fine for you to do what you’ve
promised, but it’s going to cost a lot of money. What will Father say?”

“Bob,” said his mother, thoughtfully, “when I saw how much brute
strength and vigor counted for in that Gregory boy, I realized, for the
first time, how much any young man is handicapped by physical weakness.
Your father has the means to buy you all the fresh air you need. He
will say I did right.”

“I’ll make him say it,” exclaimed Bob stoutly. “Before two months have
gone by, if Mac wants to tackle me again――”

His mother put her hand over his mouth.

“You’ll be strong enough and manly enough,” she concluded for him, “to
teach him better manners without fighting.”

That evening and the next afternoon and evening were busy ones for
the three members of the Anclote Boat Club. Captain Joe being well
satisfied with his bargain, he placed the _Three Sisters_ immediately
at the disposal of the young adventurers. Tom and Hal produced an
alarming quantity of baggage: fishing rods, old and rusted fish supply
boxes and reels, an ancient shot gun, blankets and partly worn out
counterpanes of marvelous pattern in color and form, old clothes,
hats, and shoes, and from Mrs. Allen――several baskets of preserved
fruits, jams and jellies.

The enthusiastic Tom and Hal carried to the waiting schooner pretty
much everything that could be secured without the expenditure of money.
Hal had only the meagre remnant of his allowance in cash, and Tom
confessed at once that he was devoid of funds.

“Your mothah has kindly provided the main thing,” explained Tom to
Bob. “Hal has enough money to buy the only othah necessities――some
flour, tea, coffee, lard, butter, salt and oil for the stove. If he
has anything left, we’ll get some pork and bacon. But they don’t
count――we don’t actually need ’em. We live on fish, crabs, oystahs,
terrapin and,” dropping his voice, “maybe a little venison, if we get
to hankerin’ after fresh meat. After we get goin’, we’ll trade fish and
crabs for more supplies at Mill View.”

The _Three Sisters_ soon resembled a museum. What appealed strongly
to Bob was Captain Joe’s kitchen. In the cockpit astern was a little
two-foot square brick hearth. On this, Skipper Romano carried a stove
when needed――a little three-legged charcoal brazier. And since Captain
Joe’s meals seldom included more than bread and one savory stew, the
equipment was quite sufficient. Coffee he made when his stew pan was
set aside.

Mrs. Balfour would have been glad to provide Bob with money to
materially increase the somewhat scanty stock of provisions, but she
had no desire to draw attention to her son’s ampler means, and she
suggested sparing purchases on Bob’s part. The other boys consented to
a slight addition to the larder in the way of an extra supply of flour
and some ham and bacon. But with those articles, all agreed that the
provisions on hand were ample.

But, when it came to Bob’s personal equipment, his new chums were
enthusiastic and generous advisers. The customary outfit of clothing
was waved aside with scorn. The things that appealed to Tom and Hal
were the articles they had not been able to own. On these things, they
helped Bob spend his money freely.

“We can all use ’em,” was Hal’s excuse.

A short heavy rod and a large reel for big fish was the first purchase
and a keen hunting and fish knife in a leather case was the second.
Then came the selection of an eight-shot automatic revolver and a
weighty package of cartridges. The fifteen dollars expended for this
made a deep hole in Bob’s funds, but he explained to his mother that no
camp would be safe without this modern firearm.

After that there were shells for the club shotgun, a new camera, at
Mrs. Balfour’s suggestion, a set of gulf coast hydrographic charts, a
safety camp axe, an electric flash light, a pocket compass, two new
skillets, a boiling and a coffee pot to take the place of the rusted
utensils in camp, and finally――although Hal pronounced it a waste of
money――a new outfit of camp plates, cups, forks, knives and spoons.

Mrs. Balfour looked somewhat doubtfully at the list of hardware when
Bob submitted it――the total was a little over eighty dollars――but she
finally sanctioned it.

The excitement of the past week was like a tonic to the not too strong
northern boy. His flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes were reward enough
to his anxious mother. She joined in Bob’s enthusiasm and the next
morning kept him company on his trips to the schooner, Tom’s home and
the “sporting goods” stores.

On one of these trips, his mother awaiting him at Mrs. Allen’s home,
Bob came squarely upon Mac Gregory lounging near Captain Joe’s
schooner. Bob was too happy to harbor any resentment. He nodded his
head and spoke pleasantly. Mac looked at him contemptuously.

“I’ve heard all about it,” he said, with a sneer. “Purty soft fur the
kids. Ye got nothin’ but coin, I understand, an’ the boys ur workin’
ye to a queen’s taste. I don’t blame ’em. But don’t furgit, Son,”――he
didn’t say “sissy” this time――“the little old boat club ye’ve bought
don’t own Perdido Bay. Me an’ my boat is likely to show up there any
time. An’ when we do, give us a wide berth, ur somebody’s goin’ to git
hurt. Understand?”

“Perfectly,” answered Bob. “I’m glad to be ‘worked’――by Tom and Hal.
You’ll notice _you_ aren’t getting the benefit of a nickel. As for
givin’ you a ‘wide berth’, you’ll get it when it’s comin’ to you. And
don’t forget, Son,” concluded Bob, stepping up to the young bully and
facing him squarely, “if ever you try to make me or my friends any
trouble, and I get close enough to you I’ll bend your ugly face in till
it breaks.”

The astonished Mac could only gasp in surprise.

“Ye will, eh?” he managed to exclaim, in his best sneering tone. “Well,
ye’ll have the chanst, I reckon, an’ I’ll just tip it off to you
private――Mac Gregory is a goin’ to bust up the Anclote Boat Club. Tell
that to Mr. Allen and Mr. Burton, with my regards.”

A little after three o’clock, a happy party made its way out to Captain
Romano’s schooner, Mrs. Balfour and Mrs. Allen being present to wish
the eager argonauts bon voyage.

“What’s all this?” exclaimed Tom Allen, rushing forward, as the crowded
deck of the _Three Sisters_ came into view.

Snugly stowed amidships was a large white bundle of canvas, some tent
ropes, poles and pegs, two new spring cots and a fat parcel bound with
ropes.

Mrs. Balfour and Mrs. Allen laughed.

“Didn’t you all invite us to visit you?” asked Mrs. Allen, smiling.

“Sure,” responded Hal. “But what’s all this truck?”

“Our beds,” laughed Mrs. Balfour. “Take good care of them. You’ll find
sheets, blankets, pillows――”

“And mosquito nets,” interrupted Mrs. Allen.

“――in the paper bundle,” added Bob’s mother, immensely pleased over
their joke.

“Yas ’em,” came an unctuous voice from among the litter on the deck,
“dey’ll be waitin’ fo’ yo’, Mrs. Allen. Ah’ll se to dat mahsef,” and
Jerry Blossom’s black face showed a happy smile above the deck cargo.



CHAPTER VI

THE _THREE SISTERS_ SETS SAIL


As soon as the _Three Sisters_ was well on her way out into the bay,
Bob gave his attention to Jerry. Neither Tom nor Hal seemed surprised.

“Are you goin’ along as cook?” began Bob, questioning the grinning
Jerry.

“Cook!” exclaimed Hal. “Can he cook?”

“I met Jerry the other day,” explained Bob, “and he told me he was the
chef of the Anclote Island Club.”

Jerry’s grin was not so broad.

“He did, did he?” broke in Tom. “I only wish he knew enough to fry ham.
Jerry is ouah dish washah, crab fishah, frog catchah, watah carriah,
camp sweepah, boat bailah――are you anything else, Jerry?” concluded
Tom, with a laugh.

“I shuah am. I done bile de coffee. An’ Marse Hal hissef he done call
me de ’sistant chef. I ain’t call mahsef no chef. Yo’ all is who calls
me de chef. I ain’t tell no lie.”

“You told me you had an important engagement to hire assistant chefs,”
persisted Bob.

“No, sah, no, sah, Marse Bafah――dars whar you’ musunderheerd me. Ah
says Ah’s de ’sistant――das what I recomembah fo’ shuah advisin’ yo’.
An’ Ah _is_ dat, ain’t I, Marse Tom?” pleaded Jerry. “Ain’t I de first
’sistant chef?”

“Oh, I reckon so,” conceded Tom, with a laugh, “if that’ll save yo’
from lyin’. But you must quit talkin’ so much Jerry.”

“Where’s he been the last two or three days?” asked Bob, turning to the
boys. “I forgot he belonged to us.”

Both boys looked a little sheepish, and then Hal explained.

“Jerry is usually with us and we half way consented that he might go
along this spring. But when Mac dropped out, he told Jerry if he went
along, he’d get into trouble――”

“Mac told Jerry he’d beat him up if he went,” interrupted Tom.

“Jerry was in a terrible stew,” continued Hal. “He was crazy to go, and
was afraid of Mac. He compromised by lyin’ to Mac, and, last night, he
hid in the schooner.”

“What are you afraid of, Jerry?” asked Bob sharply facing the
embarrassed Jerry again.

“Ah’s ’fraid Mac done see me on de boat jes now,” almost blubbered the
colored boy.

“Well, what if he did? How is he goin’ to harm you, even if he wants
to?”

“Yo’ all know what Mac done say he gwine do to de club?” asked Jerry in
what was almost an awed whisper.

“I know he’s full of wind,” answered Bob. “But what did he say?”

“He done say de cabin is much his as yo’ alls. An’ he done make his
boas’ dat he gwine right to de cabin hissef an’ take up his lodgin’
dar, and ef any one try put him out, he gwine lam him biff on de jaw.
Das what he’s a boas’in’. An’ he say ef he cotch me gwine dar, he goin’
break my haid.”

Bob snorted with indignation. The other boys seemed to take Mac’s
threats more to heart.

“I guess we can take care of ourselves and you too Jerry,” answered Tom
valiantly.

“Guess!” almost shouted Bob. “I think the guess is on Mac’s side. But
look here, fellows――let’s cut out Mac’s threats and bluffs. He ain’t
goin’ to bother us or try to. I think he’s a four flusher. Anyway, I
told him what I thought of him and what he could expect from us. I
ain’t borrowin’ any trouble about him. Let’s quit discussin’ him.”

The other boys seemed willing. Bob amused himself a few more minutes
quizzing the not wholly confident Jerry. While Tom and Hal were
forward, Bob leaned over towards Jerry and whispered:

“Jerry,” he said――suppressing a smile――“did you ever tell the truth
about anything?”

“Yo’ mean to ’sult me Marse Balfah?” answered the swaggering Jerry.
“How come yo’ ax sich a fool question? Yo’ nacherly boun’ to tell de
truf――sometimes. Dey is times when it’s bes’,” and he tried to appear
indignant.

Bob edged closer to the colored boy.

“Jerry,” he asked, “are there any old colored folk over on Perdido? Old
white haired darkies who have lived on the bay about a hundred years,
say?”

Jerry looked up, puzzled.

“Ah reckon dey’s quite some up nigh Mill View.”

“Did any of ’em ever tell you about any pirate treasure?” added Bob,
dropping his voice still lower. “Did any of these old white haired
colored men ever search for pirate gold?”

“Did any o’ dem Perdido coons eber sarch fur pirate treasure?” repeated
Jerry. “Is dey any o’ dem dat ain’t? Say, Marse Balfah,” added
Jerry confidentially, “Ah don’t want to boas’, but Ah reckon Ah hab
got, pussonally, de likeliest treasure tree on de bay. On’y,” and he
scratched his chin with assumed importance, “Ah ain’t nebber had no
time yit to go diggin’ dar.”

“Who told you about buried treasure?” asked Bob breathlessly, grasping
Jerry’s arm. “And do you know a place?”

Jerry, perceiving that he had now attracted attention, began to grow
important.

“I cain’t tell dat,” he answered solemnly. “Ah swored neber to tell no
libbin soul. ’Sides, Ah’s got to gib half de gold to who done tole me.
Ah reckon Ah’s gwine do mah diggin’ purty soon now.”

Of course, Bob knew that Jerry was lying. But this sort of romancing
delighted him. Nothing would have pleased him better than to follow the
colored boy on a wild goose chase for mythical treasure.

“Jerry,” he said at last, very soberly, “I’ll give you two dollars,
and give it to you now, if you’ll let me go partners in your treasure
diggin’.”

The colored boy hadn’t a cent in his pocket. Bob’s two-dollar bill
looked like a blanket to him. The whites of his eyes showed, and he
restrained his itching hands with difficulty.

“Marse Balfah, Ah cain’t do dat. I swored not to tell fur love nur
money. Dat’s a monstrous big treasure. No, sah. Ef Ah eber tells whah
dat is, Ah got to be ready to drap down daid. Ah cain’t tell nothin’
’bout mah _reg’lar_ treasure.”

“Your _regular_ treasure?” asked Bob. “Have you more than one treasure
place?”

“More’n one?” almost sneered Jerry. “Why, Marse Bob, dat old Perdido
Bay is de likeliest treasure diggin’ groun’ in all de worl’. Yas, sah.
Dey’s as good places to dig fo’ pirate gold under dem old pine an’ oak
trees as you’ll disciver even in Cuby, an’ Ah reckon dat’s whar de
riches’ pirates all come frum.”

“But do they ever find anything?” continued his questioner soberly.

“Das what don’t no one know. Ef yo’ fine a box o’ pirate gold dollars,
yo’ mus’n’t tell no one. Ef yo’ do, yo’ luck’s broke――ain’t never goin’
fine no mo’.”

“Well, how do you know where to dig, if you haven’t got a chart?” went
on Bob.

“Das it,” slowly answered Jerry, closing one eye. “Dey’s signs ’at yo’
can tell by. But yo’ got to have a reg’lar treasurer, ef yo’ don’t
know em. I’m feared to drap daid ef Ah tell ’bout mah reg’lar treasure
place, but ef ye’ll gimme de two dollars, Ah know de best treasurers on
the bay――”

Bob laughed and returned his money to his pocket.

“Jerry,” he said, “if you ever run across any fresh treasure tracks and
can show ’em to me, I’ll go along and help dig and won’t charge you a
cent.”

The boys found treasure of various kinds very soon, but none of it was
pirate gold. Before Jerry and Bob could enter into new negotiations
concerning doubloons or pieces-of-eight, Tom and Hal swooped down on
the colored boy, and set him to work repacking cargo. Long before
the navy yard was passed, everything was in order, and Captain Joe’s
passengers were settled to enjoy the sail.

“It’s great,” exclaimed Bob, as he welcomed the fine salt spray, “and
the best part of it is that it’s just about as far from anything I
expected as it well could be.”

“That’s one thing about sailin’,” remarked Hal. “It’s usually far from
anything you imagine. You’d think, scootin’ along here with this
breeze and on this baby swell, that there wasn’t a ‘norther’ in the
wide world.”

“How does she look, Captain Joe?” spoke up Tom, as if to provide an
antidote to Hal’s gloomy comment.

Captain Joe pulled at his pipe slowly, and then looked gulfward and
landward.

“’Tis make a red sky in de eas’ an’ de clouds hang low,” he remarked,
shrugging his shoulders. “Dat make sometime bad night an’ cold an’
win’. But no troub’ on de schooner――all safe.”

It did not require these words to reassure the boys. The most direful
predictions would hardly have disturbed their juvenile patter. When,
about five o’clock, the _Three Sisters_ rounded the west end of Santa
Rosa Island and stood out to sea, Tom, Hal and Bob were on the forward
deck, their legs sprawled out and their backs to the foremast, their
hands and faces already salt encrusted and their tongues wagging.

As the little schooner finally came about and headed west, Bob
exclaimed:

“It certainly gets cool quickly out here. Beyond the protection of the
land, I suppose,” he added, as the _Three Sisters_ began to feel the
rising swell.

Tom, a little wiser, pointed to the east.

“Red sky in east at sunset means bad weather,” he said. “But I reckon
we’ll be in the bay long befoah any wind comes up.”

But the evening chill rapidly increased. Hal nudged his companions
and pointed sternward. Captain Romano’s brazier was already aglow. In
another instant, the three spray soaked adventurers joined the skipper
and Jerry about the little brick hearth. The _Three Sisters_ was
pulling like a horse, cutting her course true and straight, and the pot
was on the brazier with supper preparing.

The boys huddled beneath the rail, glad to escape the freshening breeze
and to enjoy the warm glow of the charcoal fire. Captain Joe’s meal
was not complex――a plain beef stew with potatoes and onions. Jerry had
peeled the potatoes――a labor he did not fail to describe several times
over. As dusk came on, Captain Joe ordered Tom and Hal to light the
port and starboard lights, and just before supper was served, he hung a
ship’s lantern from the forward edge of the cockpit.

As soon as the stew was off the fire, Captain Romano made coffee.
While it was brewing, each boy was given a heaped dish of meat and
potatoes, half a loaf of bread, and the banquet was on. The only sweet
was the sugar that came in the coffee. With a second helping of the
savory concoction, the supper came to an end, the brazier fire was
extinguished, and Captain Joe’s pipe glowed again.

It was now wholly dark, fairly cool, and the breeze had risen until
sheets and stays were cracking occasionally. Bob turned up his collar,
and rather wished for his sweater. Only a few stars were to be seen,
and shoreward, a distant swishing moan told where the swell was
breaking on the low, sandy gulf beach.

Bob was just trying to figure out where he might steal a few hours’
sleep on the schooner when a smash of water on the stern of the _Three
Sisters_ startled him. An instant later, the little craft heeled over
before a gust of wind and then, righting herself, rushed upward on the
yellow crest of yeasty water.

“We’re headin’ in for the bay,” explained Tom, noticing Bob’s surprise,
“and it’s time. The wind has changed and it may blow a bit. But I
reckon we’ll make the pass befoah trouble begins.”

And Captain Romano barely did it. Feeling his way cautiously landward
in the dark, using his ears more than his eyes to locate the narrow
pass into the bay, it was nearly eight o’clock when the _Three Sisters_
struck the outflowing Perdido River current and began tacking through
the narrow entrance. The wind was fair, but strong, and just before
attempting the pass, Captain Romano, Tom and Hal double reefed both
sails, leaving Bob and Jerry at the wheel.

It was all very wet and dark and far from warm. There was a succession
of sharp commands from Captain Joe to Tom at the jib and Hal at the
center board; a great deal of slatting of canvas and quick hauling of
jib sheets before the imperturbable skipper called “all free,” and the
_Three Sisters_ slid into calmer water.

“What’s doing?” asked Bob, at last, as the schooner came up in the wind
and its sails flattened.

“It don’t look like a pleasure sail on the bay to-night,” responded
Tom, panting from his exertion, “and Captain Joe’s goin’ to drop anchor
back of the island till day.”

“Bad as that?” continued Bob.

“The wind’s boxin’ the compass,” said Tom, “an’ it’ll be stirrin’ up
the bay in a little while. It’s safah here in smooth watah.”

The roar of the breakers on the gulf side of the long, sandy peninsula
almost closing the pass was increasing each minute. Evidently a storm
was brewing, and no small one. At that moment, Hal joined the two boys.

“Captain Joe says we’d better take the new tent ashore in the dingy,
and bunk there,” he exclaimed. “I guess he’s more scared than he lets
on.”



CHAPTER VII

BOB MAKES ANOTHER RESCUE


As Hal delivered this message, Captain Joe explained his plans. The
shallow hold of the _Three Sisters_ was crowded with freight. Her
deck was already swept by the fast rising waves. A night’s rest was
hardly possible on the plunging craft. Therefore, all were ordered
ashore――including Jerry.

Skipper Romano was to remain aboard to see that no harm came to his
vessel. The schooner, unless the wind settled in the north, was in no
real danger, although, to Bob, the pitching and tossing craft seemed
already in peril. The near by sand spit――almost an island――could not be
seen in the darkness, but the gulf breakers pounding on its outer edge,
a half mile away, told that the sea was piling up outside.

“It really isn’t much of a blow in here,” explained Tom, “but this
lowah portion of the bay is crooked and shallow. An’ as theah isn’t
even a moon, it’s bettah to wait fo’ daylight. It’s a good thing we got
in heah when we did――she’s a goin’ some outside.”

Getting ashore in the dingy was not easy work. Jerry and Hal took
charge of the oars, and, bumping and scraping against the schooner
and shipping more or less water, three trips were made to the beach.
The place was not unknown to Captain Joe; fishermen frequently camped
there, and a rough pile pier reached a few yards into the water.

On this, Bob, Tom, the tent, some blankets and a lantern were
eventually unloaded. The spice of danger set Bob’s nerves tingling.
As he and Tom struggled shoreward with the tent canvas and poles,
fighting the wind and the stinging spray, Bob was ready to pat himself
on the back. To him, it was the finest sort of a beginning for their
adventure. He even volunteered to take Jerry’s place in the boat. But
Jerry, lazy and untruthful as he might be, knew his business at an oar
or with a sail.

“Lucky it hasn’t rained yet,” exclaimed Tom. “We’ve got plenty of dry
fiah wood. We’ll start a fiah――it’ll help us to set up the tent. Don’t
get wet stuff,” he added, as Bob started one way and he the other along
the shore. Bob hurried west toward the end of the spit around which
the schooner had just made its way to its refuge. He could hear the
rushing waves tumbling in through the pass. Wondering how far it was
to the opening he ran swiftly forward a few hundred yards.

When the open beach had almost disappeared beneath the rising, foam
laden waves, he knew he had partly rounded the point. But it was too
dark to examine the lay of the land or the angrier growing water
beyond, and he was about to turn to begin his wood collecting when he
was sure he saw a moving star.

He stopped and then he knew what he was watching was a moving light.
It rose and fell as if it might be on a boat. He forgot the wood and
made his way forward again. It was certainly a light. Watching it
intently for some minutes, Bob saw that it was moving toward the beach.
At times, it disappeared beneath the crest of the waves and then rose
trembling as if mounting high on the top of an incoming roller.

“It’s a boat,” said Bob to himself, “and it must be a small one. A
light on a big boat wouldn’t disappear like that.”

He was about to rush back to summon his companions when he suddenly
realized that the boat was in deadly peril. It was headed directly for
the beach and coming toward him like the wind. At the same moment, a
familiar sound reached his ears――the “chug,” “chug,” of a gasoline
engine.

“It’s a power boat,” gasped Bob, “and it’s goin’ to be on the beach in
about two minutes. If there are any persons in it, maybe I can help
them.”

He yelled several times for Tom Allen, and at last thought he heard an
answering signal. Then he attempted to warn the storm-bound craft, but
the increasing wind only shot his words back. Bob forgot his numb hands
and wet clothes, and, when the trembling light rose almost over the
beach breakers, he rushed forward, at first knee and then waist deep,
into the shattered waves, and prepared to render what assistance he
could.

He was none too soon. Almost immediately, the scudding light sprang
up just before him. But, as Bob tried to calculate its distance from
him, a swift unbroken wave struck the boy on the breast and swept
him shoreward. Thrown from his feet, he fell flat in a foot or more
of water. As he struggled to recover himself, there was a crash just
behind him.

As Bob gave an alarmed glance over his shoulder, a big, white object
shot by him and there was another crash. The boat bearing the light
had twice struck the beach and was already stranded in the shallow
water. With a yell, the solitary occupant of the unfortunate craft
sprang into the receding wash of water and caught the side of the
beached craft. Before another wave could engulf the boat, Bob had
grasped the other side of the long, white object.

Without speaking to each other, but impelled by the same purpose, when
the next roller came thundering beachward, Bob and the unknown boatman
threw themselves against the craft and, on the roll of surge, shot the
beached boat high up on the shore. Another effort and the boat was
beyond the reach of the water.

Before he spoke, the rescued man reached into the boat and shut off
the engine. In the yellow glare of a smoking lantern, which still
flickered, suspended from a stub of a jack staff, Bob caught sight of
the rescued boatman’s face. It was Mac Gregory, and the saved craft was
the old life saving boat, the _Escambia_.

“On your way to the camp?” said Bob at once, as Mac looked up and the
eyes of the two boys met.

The first answer was an oath. But, to tell the truth, it carried more
gratitude than resentment. Then the astounded and trembling Mac added:

“How’d you come here? Ain’t beached are you?”

“Been waitin’ for you,” answered Bob, with self possession. “I saw you
comin’, and I reckoned you were off your course. No, we ain’t beached.
We are at anchor, waitin’ for better weather.”

“I guess you helped save the _Escambia_,” conceded Mac. “I thought I
was on the bay. I reckon I couldn’t a got her out alone――much obliged,”
he added hastily.

“Then you’ll still have a chance to bust up the club,” said Bob. “I
suppose you are on your way to the camp?”

“You kids didn’t give me no square deal,” answered Mac resentfully.

“So you’re goin’ to beat up Jerry Blossom because you’re sore at us?”
went on Bob. “You seem to count a good deal on your muscle.”

“Talk’s cheap,” muttered Mac, as he made perfunctory efforts to
straighten out the disordered contents of the boat, and then untied
his lantern. “But what you goin’ to do ef ye ain’t no money and no
eddication? I ain’t never got nothin’ yit in my life ’thouten I fit
fur it. Where’s the boys?” he concluded belligerently.

“We’re goin’ into camp up the beach,” answered Bob, who was not unmoved
by Mac’s hard words. “They’ll take you in for the night, since you’re
shipwrecked. But I’ll tell you somethin’, Mac,” he added, his teeth
chattering, “you’ve made a mighty poor beginnin’ toward bustin’ up our
club. Come on.” And he started on a run back to the camp. Within a
short distance, the two boys ran into Tom and Hal.

The surprise of the other boys can be imagined. Halting in the smoke of
the flying spray, the story of the rescue was soon told. Mrs. Allen’s
orders were forgotten. A truce was entered into for the night, and
the “expelled” member was offered shelter. There was only one return
he could make. The stubborn spirit of the hitherto bully was humbled.
Hugging his dim lantern under one arm, he reached out a hand to Bob.

“Say, Kid,” he began nervously, “I ain’t askin’ fur no favors from you
all――I reckon I ain’t worth ’sociatin’ with――that’s all right,” and
his hard voice choked a little. “I’ll tell the truth. I was on my way
to burn up the camp. But I’ve had enough. I’m goin’ back. You kids kin
have the boat, ef she ain’t split up.”

Bob took Mac’s hand, equally embarrassed.

“I reckon Balfour has saved me twict frum droundin’, an’ I can’t say no
more’n ’at I hope I kin do him a turn sometime. Leastways, I’m a goin’
back to town when the blow’s over,” continued Mac.

“Mac,” answered Bob at once, “just forget it. I guess we got blankets
enough for all to-night.”

“Fill your arms with wood,” exclaimed Tom, eager to relieve the
situation. “Jerry’s makin’ a fire.”

“I got the coffee pot an’ some bread and bacon,” added Hal quickly.
“We’ll have some supper if the wind drops enough.”

But the wind did not drop. Breasting its sweep, the boys plodded back
to where the colored boy had nursed a fire into a blaze. For some
minutes, Jerry did not notice the presence of Gregory. When the fire
at last spread into a circle of light and the busy “assistant chef”
suddenly detected Mac’s presence, he let out a yell and darted away
into the night. There was a concerted attempt to stop the alarmed
Jerry, but it seemed only to frighten him more, and, catching up the
lantern, Tom ran after the fugitive.

It was Jerry’s flight and Tom’s pursuit that upset the night’s program,
and, in the end, all the plans of the Anclote Club; for, while the
three remaining boys were wrestling with the tent, Tom’s voice was soon
heard in the distance calling frantically to the other boys. Then he
broke into the camp, out of breath, with the reassured Jerry at his
heels.

“There’s a boat off the pass,” panted Tom. “She’s showin’ a flare.
She’s drivin’ on the beach. Somethin’s wrong with her.”

Running a few hundred yards to the higher part of the sand spit, the
four boys could easily make out the distress signal.

“Ain’t no passenger steamer,” exclaimed Mac. “But she sure wants help.
She’s disabled an’ callin’ loud,” he added, as a tongue of fire swept
skyward. “They’re burnin’ pitch or oil.”

“Come on,” ordered Tom, turning and racing back toward the beach and
camp fire. “Bob,” he asked, as they hurried along, “ever pull an oar?”

“No, but I can,” answered Bob stoutly.

“You’ll have to,” answered Tom, who seemed at once by common consent to
take command. “Mac,” he yelled, “jump into the dingy and bring Captain
Joe ashore. We’ll be waitin’ for you at the boat. Go along, Jerry,”
added Tom.

Without question, the recently disgraced Mac and the frightened Jerry
sprang into the dingy and the other boys shoved it off. Then, Mac’s
lantern in hand, Tom, Hal and Bob set off at full speed along the beach
toward the stranded life boat.

“You got the oars?” exclaimed Tom suddenly, turning and facing the
dark, storm-tossed bay in the direction the dingy had disappeared.

“Under the seats,” came the faint answer.

“We’re all right,” announced Tom, breathing hard, for the young
southerner seemed to have paused not a moment since he sighted the
distress signal. “With Captain Joe at the steerin’ oar, Mac at the
engine, and the rest of us at the oars, I ain’t afraid but what the
_Escambia_ could cross the gulf.”

Bob’s heart leaped. In his wildest dreams of adventure, he had never
pictured himself tugging at the oar of a life boat fighting a storm at
sea.

“I hope the boat’s all right,” he heard Hal say. “Maybe she’s sprung a
leak.”

“The _Escambia_ was built for blows like this,” answered Tom. “If she’s
out of commission, we’ll have to try the schoonah.”

But the life boat was not damaged. While the three boys waited for
Captain Joe and Mac and Jerry, Tom found two small round logs. Then he
and Hal boarded the boat and examined the engine. The propeller was
high on the stern post and protected against bayou and river weeds with
a steel guard.

Before trying the engine, the screw was also examined. Each blade was
intact. When a test was given the motor and the ten-horsepower engine
started up, there were new expressions of relief. But how the wind did
blow! When Bob and Mac left the boat, it was high and dry. Now the
rising water was already slapping at the boat’s keel. Bob reported each
new flare of the distress signal.

“It’s gettin’ closer,” he called out. “But she ain’t headed for the
pass.”

“That’s right,” exclaimed Hal. “She’s sure off her course, and she’ll
be on the beach in rag time, if somethin’ don’t stop her.”

“That’s us,” answered Tom. “Or if we can’t, we’ll take off whoever’s a
feedin’ that flare.”

There was a hasty conference with Captain Joe, who with Mac and Jerry
now reached the scene. He carried a bright ship’s lantern, and at once
took charge. He began to talk about their mothers’ instructions to him,
but when Tom told him to stand aside if he wouldn’t lead in the rescue,
he sprang into the boat.

Mac carried a coil of rope. Captain Joe passed this along both sides of
the _Escambia_, looping it over the gunwales between seats, and then
made the ends fast at the bow and stern. Four long, stout oars were
already in place, and a fifth was in Captain Joe’s hand astern.

Then, by the light of Captain Joe’s lantern, and the aid of the logs
found by Tom, the heavy _Escambia_ was slid part way down the beach
and, with the united efforts of the six persons, turned bow on to the
tumbling water. She was pounding with each new breaker, and as one of
these lifted her bow, the two logs were shoved under her keel.

Quick commands followed. The ship’s lantern was dropped in the stern
out of the steersman’s sight; Mac scrambled to his place just in front
of Captain Joe astern, ready to start the engine, and Tom and Hal took
the seat amidships, each with an oar. Jerry Blossom and Bob stood ready
to shove off.

“You got hol’ de rope?” sang out Captain Joe.

“All ready here,” called back Bob.

“Got de line, sah,” answered the more nautical Jerry.

“Hang on all an’ shove away,” came the instant order.

With a panting thrust, the _Escambia_ moved slowly forward. Then,
caught on a breaker, it rose in the air.

“Hang on an’ shove away,” called out the steersman again.

One more lunge, and the boat smashed into a wave. The wave buried Bob
and Jerry to their waists, and then Tom and Hal caught the water with
a desperate sweep of their oars. The _Escambia_ broke through another
crest, touched the beach once more and then bounded into deep water.
Jerry and Bob were swept from their feet.

With a dozen long sweeps of the oars, the life boat rose and fell,
holding her own against the sea, and then came the welcome “chug,”
“chug,” of the motor, and the propeller took hold.

“Pull in the line men,” shouted Captain Joe. As the _Escambia_ slowly
forged seaward, Tom and Hal shipped their oars, and, bracing themselves
against the wind and spray, laboriously drew Bob and Jerry into the
boat.



CHAPTER VIII

THE _ESCAMBIA_ TO THE RESCUE


The _Escambia_ met the waves like a stubborn bull dog. As each new one
broke over her, the laboring oarsmen were deluged. Bob and Jerry took
the bow seat and caught up the idle oars. Both were soaked to the skin.

His teeth set, his arms straining at his heavy oar and his body
chilled, Bob’s only thought was: could he hold out? He was already
trembling from exhaustion but he gave no sign of it. He was no longer
a half invalid seeking rest――he was one of six persons exerting every
ounce of energy to save human lives.

In the wind swept black night, rearing skyward one moment and dropping
as in a canyon the next, twisting and turning beneath the crushing
combers and dropping their heads to lessen the smother of the sea, the
four young oarsmen pulled desperately. With eyes closed, Bob’s oar rose
and fell to the loud sea chant of the steersman. Now and then all could
feel the heavy plunge of Captain Joe’s guiding oar. And, even against
the storm, the boys knew that the chugging engine was helping.

In time, Bob’s fear of being swamped grew less. The _Escambia_, almost
beneath the boil of water at times, would struggle to the surface
again, shaking her rounded sides. Not a boy spoke, and not a boy
wavered in his stroke. But the struggle was telling on Bob. How long
they had labored, he did not know. He knew he had nearly reached the
limit of his efforts but he hung over his oar, his teeth tight to hold
in his exhausted breath and his muscles quivering.

At last there was a new lunge to the boat. It rose on a wave, dipped
almost to capsizing, and then, suddenly, the smothering spray rolled
over the stern. Bob somehow understood that Captain Joe’s sharp command
was permission to cease work. As his closed eyes opened, he was
conscious that Mac or Captain Joe was waving the ship’s lantern.

With an effort, Bob forced his head up. The other boys were shipping
oars, and Mac and Captain Joe were calling above the roar of water.
Then the engine ceased and, with the lantern in his arms, Mac stumbled
forward between the panting boys.

“Ship ahoy!” Mac was yelling frantically. “Give us a line. Board the
boat!” he shouted, clinging to the bow and waving his lantern.

The _Escambia_ had passed to the windward of the craft in distress and
was now plunging swiftly toward the distress signal. Suddenly, out of
the black night, a blacker hulk shaped itself and then the blazing
signal seemed almost directly above the lunging life boat. There were
no cries for help; no sound but the boom of the gale. The next instant,
the _Escambia_ swept under the black, low stern of a vessel.

“Fall to,” came Captain Joe’s quick command. Doggedly the four spent
boys dug their oars into the water once more, as they felt the strong
armed Romano sweep the life boat about. The sombre hulk faded from
sight. Bob knew that the _Escambia_, having missed the wreck, was now
working up into the lee of the vessel. In its lee, the tumbling waves
slid into a whirl of angry water, and the _Escambia_ shot forward with
new life.

“Bring her under the bow,” yelled Mac, braced forward. “Here, Jerry,
bear a hand.”

As the three remaining boys laid to the oars, Jerry and Mac freed the
life line that had been made fast for Bob’s and Jerry’s security.

“Must be abandoned,” spluttered Mac, as he followed the line aft. Then,
at the stern, he panted, “Get her under bow chains, Captain Joe, an’
I’ll git a hitch on ’em. Must be a pack o’ dead ones――not ready with no
line――after we showed ’em our light.”

At the instant, the distress signal blazed up anew like a rocket. As
the unexpected light lit up the scene, the boys dropped their stroke.
Even Captain Joe paused to make a quick survey. What they had taken to
be a schooner was a small steamer, wallowing in the trough of the sea.
There were neither side, port nor spar lights. But, just forward of the
aft deck cabins, a bedraggled man, on his knees, was dipping oil or
pitch into a blazing barrel.

“Fall to!” shouted Captain Joe sharply again. As the three oarsmen
swung their long sweeps once more in the quieter waters in the
steamer’s lee, the _Escambia_ crawled under the foundering steamer’s
cut water. There was a crash. Believing that the vessel in distress was
a sailing craft, Captain Joe and Mac had planned to make fast to her
bowsprit stays. Too late to alter the _Escambia’s_ course, the life
boat plunged alongside the rolling steamer’s smooth bow.

But the gritty Mac was not to be thwarted. As the lifeboat rose on the
roll of water the “expelled” member of the boat club hurled himself
forward in the darkness. There was another smash against the steamer’s
side but Bob’s bullying enemy held fast and, one arm about a still
standing deck rail stanchion, as the life boat fell off once more in
the rush of the storm, there was a thick shout of, “All right here,”
and those in the boat knew that Mac had found lodgment on the steamer.

Once again the almost exhausted boys bent to their oars and Captain Joe
swung the _Escambia_ back in the lee of the steamer. Jerry was braced
in the bow, and at the first call from Mac he cast the line. It fell
short, and again he tried. This time there was a pause and then another
panting cry, “All fast here――haul away.”

“Gimme a hand, youse kids,” was Jerry’s peremptory orders. Three spent
oarsmen tumbled forward into the bow.

“Haul away and pass up the light,” sang out Mac again. Four pairs of
strong young arms drew the _Escambia_ slowly toward the steamer and, as
the life boat bumped against the steamer’s hull once more, Captain Joe,
pushing the straining boys aside, grasped the line, and with a turn
made the rope fast about the bow post. Jerry already had the light high
above his head. Mac, with a turn of the rope about the top of a fender
was holding on desperately.

[Illustration: JERRY ALREADY HAD THE LIGHT HIGH ABOVE HIS HEAD.]

The _Escambia_ rolled and plunged but it was fast to its quest. Tom
was already bracing himself to swing aboard the wreck when Captain Joe
shouted:

“Stow dem oars make ’em safe.”

Hal and Bob crawled back into the rocking boat and did so, and then
Captain Joe standing in the bow with one arm about the taut straining
line tossed the lantern to Mac. It was ticklish work, boarding the
steamer, but, with Mac’s assistance, one after another of the lifeboat
crew scrambled on to the vessel. For a moment, each boy was glad to
throw himself on the deck. And, as they did so, it could be seen that
the man at the fire barrel had not even noticed their presence. In the
howl of the wind and crashing of the waves, he had heard nothing.

Captain Joe’s first work was to make a survey shoreward. All was black
except in one place. To the starboard and slightly abaft the drifting
steamer, a flickering light could be seen. It was the still burning
campfire on the lee of the sand spit. Even the inexperienced Bob saw at
once that the _Escambia_ had followed the steamer some distance east of
the pass. He also realized that, dead ahead, the beach confronted the
unfortunate steamer. Before he had time to speculate on what was to be
done, Captain Joe caught up the lantern.

The steamer was not a large one, and its iron deck forward and amidship
was clear of cargo. Grasping the rail, the rescuers crept toward the
solitary man crouched forward of the deck house.

“Ahoy there!” called Captain Joe. As the boys all joined in the cry,
the man arose, shaded his eyes from the brilliant glow of his signal,
and with a moan sank on the deck.

“Ye the skipper?” shouted Romano, springing to the man’s side.

With a fear-stricken look, the man, who did not seem to be a sailor,
struggled to his feet.

“We’re on the breakers,” he gasped. “You the life boat?” he added
wildly.

“What’s the matter with your engines?” shouted Mac. “An’ where’s the
crew? What’s doin’?”

“Gone,” moaned the man. “I couldn’t stop ’em――in the boats.”

“The skipper?” added Captain Joe with scorn. “He gone?”

The agitated man pointed toward the cabins beyond him.

“Fever,” he mumbled thickly, making an effort to compose himself.
“Fever and whisky――drunk.”

Captain Joe started forward, as if to discover the officer who should
have been in charge.

“No use,” cried out the man. “He hasn’t known anything all day. I’m
done. We’re in the breakers. We’re lost,” he shouted again. “And not a
man to help me.”

“The engine?” repeated Tom, crowding forward. “What’s the matter?”

The man seemed, suddenly, to lose his head completely. With a wild
stare at the light glimmering on the shore, he rushed toward the rail.

“Save me,” he shouted. “Not a man among ’em all! Cowards!” he yelled,
and shook his fist toward the black swirl of water. Captain Joe caught
the bewildered man by the shoulder and whirled him about.

“Your anchors?” he demanded. “Where’s your anchors?”

The lone man threw his hands to his face.

“I couldn’t do it――I didn’t know how.”

“But your engine?” exclaimed Mac again.

“The shaft broke yesterday,” answered the man at last. “We’ve been
driftin’――we’re on the breakers, I tell you,” he shouted again. “Can’t
you save her?” he wailed.

The storm had not abated. The low lying steamer rose and fell
sluggishly but with each roll, it drifted closer to a certain doom on
the wave pounded beach. The crew of the _Escambia_ huddled about the
bewildered man. Captain Romano grasped the lantern again, and lowered
it over the steamer’s rail.

“She’s opened her plates, or she’s been a shippin’ sea all even’in’,”
he commented. “Struck anything?” he asked abruptly, addressing the
bewildered passenger again.

The man shook his head helplessly.

“You’re founderin’,” added Romano. Then he drew himself up as if ready
to act. “De boat’s a West Indian, boys, an’ she mus’ had nigger crew.
Dey ain’t scuttle her, but all de hatch an’ port is wide open. What’s
de cargo?” he asked, turning again toward the man.

“Timber.”

“What kin’ timber?”

“Hard wood――mahogany from San Domingo――twenty thousand dollars worth of
it,” wailed the man. “And every dollar of it mine. I’m ruined.”

“Maybe so,” answered Captain Joe. “When yo’ tradin’ on de sea, yo’
mus’ ship white men. Go git some blanket on yo’ an’ bring two blanket
fo’ dese wet kids. Boys,” he exclaimed sharply, “heave dat bon fire
overboard. Den we see ef we kin keep her offen de beach.”

Instead of following instructions, the nearly demented mahogany trader
began again to bemoan his loss, and then fell to cursing the cowardly
crew.

“I don’t want a blanket,” exclaimed Bob. The excitement, and his
constant activity had long since set up a reaction against the chill
caused by his immersion on the beach. “I can’t work in a blanket.”

There was too much to do to argue the matter.

“Shall we let go the anchors, sir?” asked Mac, when the boys had hurled
the grease and oil laden barrel into the sea.

The experienced old sailor quickly explained his plan. The almost
water-logged steamer was too far into shallow water to be anchored with
safety. If the storm increased, there was danger of her pounding. Well
forward, there was a single, small mast――more for signal lights than
for sailing purposes――but it carried two jibs. If these could be set,
with them and the wheel, some slight control might be secured of the
drifting craft.

Mac, Jerry and Tom were as well qualified to tackle this bit of work
as the oldest sea dog. They sprang forward instantly, and when Captain
Joe, the other boys and the distracted owner of the cargo reached the
bow with the lantern, the amateur salts were already hauling on the
slatting jibs. With Captain Joe’s assistance, the canvas was got under
control.

“Now, lads,” said Captain Joe, “she’ll never come with them alone――but
they’ll help. Look lively an’ pick up a good bit o’ cable.”

After a search, about six fathoms of two inch rope was discovered, one
end of which the old fisherman made fast to the anchor ring on the
starboard bow.

“Bring de _Escambia_ forward,” he ordered, “and make de other end o’
de cable fas’ to de stern post. I’m goin’ to de wheel. Maybe de canvas
will help. We got to bring dis boat in de pass, or she good as los’. Ef
de jibs done do it, yo’ mus’ swing her over on de starboard tack. Yo’
got to pull an’ pull hard an’ make dat engine raise a rumpus. Ef she
came ’bout, I head her in de pass, an’ Mr. Man save his logs. An’ ef
she done come ’bout, I wave de lantern. Den stan’ by in de boat to take
us off fo’ she’s in de breakers.”

It was all plain enough. If there was power enough in four pairs of
willing arms and the _Escambia’s_ engine to help the steamer’s jibs
throw the craft on a starboard tack, Captain Joe’s skill at the wheel
might bring the steamer safely into the pass, and the protection of
Perdido Bay.

“Tumble overboard,” shouted Tom, and, fearless alike of the still
raging storm and the renewed exertion, one after another, the five
irrepressible youngsters dropped into the two or three inches of water
on the _Escambia’s_ bottom. While Jerry and Tom made fast the heavy
cable to the stern post, Mac was busy with the engine and Bob and Hal
got the oars ready.

“He’ll never start that engine with all that water about her,” said Hal
to Bob. But he had forgotten that that was one thing Mac understood.
And he had also forgotten that Mac never got so excited that he
neglected to care for his engine. It required the use of Captain
Joe’s lantern, several primings of gasoline and as many turns of the
flywheel, but, to Hal’s surprise, the engine did start and keep going.

Tossing the lantern back on to the deck, Mac caught up the steering
oar, and, as Captain Joe hauled in on the cable, the bow of the life
boat swept away from the steamer. The rush of the waves made taut the
cable, and as Mac gave the word to the eager oarsmen to “fall to,”
Captain Joe could be seen hastening aft to take the wheel. At his heels
followed the distraught cargo owner, still pleading for the rescue of
his property.



CHAPTER IX

A FEAT OF SEAMANSHIP


“Ease her up a bit, boys,” Mac shouted. “Steady an’ strong, an’ take
yer time.”

Then the steersman and engineer began a “Yeo ho.” And it was well he
did. The tired lads were in no condition to duplicate their sprint
seaward. But, taking up the slow, long stroke, they began to get their
second wind. There were no means of knowing whether the _Escambia_ was
having any effect on the steamer. But the hawser was taut, the oars
rose and fell to Mac’s chanty of the sea, and the busy little engine
kept the propeller churning ceaselessly.

“Mac,” called Tom Allen, at last, “is she comin’?”

“How kin I tell,” shouted Mac. “But Captain Joe sure ain’t waved any
light fur us to stand by. Steady, boys, take yer time.”

Perhaps a quarter of an hour went by. With the lessening of their
speed, the four oarsmen had fallen into a swinging sweep that permitted
talk. It was agreed that it must be after eleven o’clock.

“We’ll save her or lose her by midnight,” suggested Tom. “An’, whatever
happens, I ain’t a goin’ to shut an eye till I’ve had a hot suppah an’
get dried out befoah a rousin’ fiah.”

“Bet yer life,” exclaimed Hal. “If I ever get warm again, don’t bother
about callin’ me in the mornin’.”

“Ah reckon you all’s gwine be busy ’nough in de mornin’,” interrupted
Jerry. “Allowin’ ef we git dis steamer in de bay who gwine to boss
gittin’ her out agin?”

“And the sick captain?” suggested Bob. “Looks to me as if we won’t have
much chance to get up to camp――”

“She’s a comin’ boys,” exclaimed Mac suddenly. “She’s sure a comin’.
We’re a gettin’ out o’ the lee of her. Yeo ho, yeo ho.”

If that was an indication, the work of the _Escambia_ was telling. So
far, the steamer had been drifting in the trough of the waves parallel
with the beach. The life boat, working to starboard, had been more or
less protected by the steamer from the sweep of wind and water. As Mac
could not hold the life boat in one position, it was impossible to tell
from the fire ashore or Captain Joe’s lantern whether the steamer was
altering her position. But, when Mac discovered that the _Escambia_
was no longer in the lee of the helpless vessel, it was an indication
that her bow was at last coming about shoreward.

“Hit her up, Kids,” whispered Hal. “Let’s show what we kin do.”

“Hey there, none o’ that,” yelled Mac. “Yer doin’ good ’nough. Stick to
the stroke. Yeo ho, yeo ho.”

As the boys fell back into their stride, the _Escambia_ came further
out from the steamer’s protection, and once more the life boat was
climbing the waves.

“Dat’s it,” yelled Jerry. “We sho’ got ’er. We’s got her a comin’.
She’s nigh head on now. Mac,” he called anxiously, “who gwine bring dem
jibs about?”

It was certain that the _Escambia_ could not force the drifting hulk up
into the gale. If the headway so far obtained was sufficient to bring
the vessel on to a starboard tack, the jibs would have to come over.

“He wants us,” replied Mac. “Captain Joe’s a callin’. Ship them oars,
Kids, an’ give us a hand on this line.”

Any change was welcome. A few minutes later, the _Escambia_ had been
drawn up to the steamer’s side, and, although the little boat pounded
against the iron plates with terrorizing crashes, Jerry and Mac
clambered up the cable like monkeys.

“Cast off!” yelled Mac in the darkness. “Keep the engine goin’ Tom and
youse other kids do what ye kin at the oars.”

Both Jerry and Mac were right. Captain Joe was hanging on to the wheel,
which was hard over. The cargo owner was crouched beneath the rail,
wrapped in a blanket.

“Free dem jib sheets, but don’t haul in on ’em till ye git de word,”
commanded Captain Joe at once, but offering no explanations. “Take the
light,” he added.

The nimble Mac and Jerry were off on a bound and a few moments later
the slapping sails were free in the wind. For five minutes or more the
two boys stood waiting the word to haul in, the jib sheets in hand.
Below them, the _Escambia_, feebly but ceaselessly, pulled at the
straining cable, and far astern Captain Joe, with adroit use of the
wheel, coaxed the drifting steamer little by little into the wind.

At last came the long-waited-for order. The two boys fell to their task
like storm scarred sea dogs. One sheet at a time, they hauled in,
against the gale.

“He’ll make it,” panted Mac, as he saw the great triangular canvas fill
out over the port bow. As he and Jerry made fast the second sheet they
could almost feel the steamer respond. “Captain Joe’ll put her there
now, if any one could. But it’s goin’ to be close work,” added Mac.
“Hear them breakers, Jerry?”

“He’s sho’ haidin’ her up,” answered Jerry.

After another trip to Captain Joe, the boys were ordered into the
_Escambia_ again. The instructions were to give every aid to the
unwieldly steamer; if she fell off before the storm again, to use the
engine and oars to the best advantage, and, if she made the bay, to
hasten aboard to let go the anchor. Neither Mac nor Jerry took the
trouble to haul in on the _Escambia’s_ hawser. Throwing their arms and
legs about the stiff cable, they shot downward into the life boat’s
stern.

Mac now told his oarsmen off in relays, and to Bob the relief came none
too soon. Braced in the bow, he took his rest and found time to look
about. The campfire on the shore was wholly dead.

“How’ll Captain Joe make the pass now?” he yelled to the other boys.
“The fire’s out.” Jerry was by his side baling the boat with his hat.

“Yo’ all don’ know Captain Joe, Ah reckon,” he answered. “He jes’ knows
de place; he ain’t gwine to have to see it.”

In about a quarter of an hour, Mac burst out in a new exclamation.

“He’s fetched her,” the boy shouted. “Captain Joe’s headin’ in.”

“Headin’ in!” exclaimed Bob. “Into what?”

“Into de pass,” volunteered Jerry. “He shorely is.”

“I can’t see anything,” added Bob, straining his eyes shoreward.

“He ain’t seein’”, repeated Jerry enthusiastically. “But don’ you be
afeared. Whar de steamer’s pintin’ now, dat’s de pass.”

For the first time, the movement of the black hulk behind the
_Escambia_ became apparent. Captain Joe, even with his imperceptible
headway, had at last permitted the steamer to pay off before the wind,
and it was now drifting straight shoreward――bow on. Mac’s orders came
at once. All four boys fell to the oars, the steering sweep brought the
straining life boat about on to the new course and then the _Escambia_
pointed ahead at last fairly before the gale.

If there were any doubt as to the accuracy of old Romano’s instinct
it was soon settled. The monotonous sound of the wash of the water on
the beach rose louder but the sucking roar of the breakers was now no
longer in front. The sounds that had chilled the amateur life savers
all evening came from the right and left.

“We’re in the channel,” shouted Hal.

Mac soon confirmed the belief of the other boys. Bow on, the steamer
crept slowly forward. The _Escambia_, little as it may have helped,
stuck to her work, straining at its cable like a river tug snorting at
a liner’s nose.

“We’re off the point,” explained Mac some minutes later, and then the
low sky line of the black sand spit rose above the yeasty water.

“There she goes!” yelled Mac suddenly as the two jibs filled with an
explosive bang. “Can’t do any more with this boat.” As he spoke he shut
off the engine. “Ship them oars and git busy. Everybody on the steamer
to bear a hand. We got to get an anchor out now or drift on to the mud.”

A half hour previously, a few stars had attempted to show themselves,
but they had been blotted out again, and for the last ten minutes, a
drizzle of rain had been falling. As the jibs banged, the long laboring
steamer thrust her bow behind the sheltering point of the peninsula,
and the dying waves rushing up the pass fell away into swirling angry
currents.

“Up ye go,” shouted Mac, and the benumbed and stiff oarsmen hauled the
life boat alongside the just moving iron hulk. Mac and Jerry led the
way, and their tireless hands were waiting to give help to their less
seasoned companions.

The steamer was not wholly within the protection of the point, but
the scanty sails and the _Escambia_ could do no more. Again nearly
broadside on to the still driving wind, the hulk was already drifting
toward the marsh-lined shore of the bay behind the sand spit. Captain
Joe met the boys, lantern in hand. He seemed in no way elated over his
feat.

“De port anchor,” were his only words, and Mac, Jerry and Tom hastened
to their new task. Captain Joe thrust the lantern upon Bob, and gave a
hand himself. Bob, excited as he was, glanced at his watch. It was a
quarter of one o’clock. Then, with a sudden crash, the port anchor shot
into the sea, and the four hours battle was at an end.

Captain Joe, Tom and Mac visited the captain’s cabin at once, and
found that seaman unconscious from either fever or drink, or both. The
shivering owner of the mahogany cargo was maudlinly grateful, but still
so disturbed mentally that he was conducted to his cabin and ordered to
bed.

All idea of going aboard the cabinless _Three Sisters_, or of
attempting to set up the shore tent in the rain and wind had been
abandoned. Captain Joe led his bedraggled, sore and shivering party to
the fo’castle. In a moment, he had the big swinging lantern ablaze.

“Now, Kids,” exclaimed Mac, “git busy. Dig into them slop chests and
git some rags to warm ye up an’ sleep in. An’ Jerry,” he added, “if yer
ever goin’ to make good as a cook, ye got the chanst to-night. They’s a
cook’s galley aboard, I reckon, an’ the least we’re a goin’ to have is
coffee.”

“An’ don’t stop at that if there’s anything you can fry,” added Hal.
“We might as well make a night of it.”

After the long, wearying hours in the _Escambia_, the crew’s quarters
of the steamer seemed like the welcome glow of a big fireplace. It was
like the preparation for a masquerade. In the midst of the jovial
melee, Captain Joe disappeared. But while the boys, white and black
alike, were getting out of their own soaked clothes and trading or
stealing each other’s finds, the slow speaking Romano reappeared. Under
his arm he carried a small leather case. The boys crowded forward.

“The boss’ medicine box,” explained Captain Joe.

Jerry fell back at once. While the others laughed the old seaman opened
the little case and after long examination extracted a bottle labeled:
“Quinine――5 grains.” Four other youngsters immediately joined Jerry.
But without explanation or argument Captain Joe poured a generous dose
into his brawny hand and then motioned the boys to him.

“I want some water,” began Hal with a wry face.

For answer the old skipper caught the boy by the shoulder, shoved the
quinine into his mouth, clapped his hand over it and the deed was done.
Plainly, there was no escape. In turn, the other boys marched up,
opened their mouths and took their medicine. Jerry was last.

“Captain Joe,” he pleaded, “dat shorely make me sick. Mah mammy done
put mah powdahs in sugah. Ah――”

Before he could say more, the thoughtful Romano had the frightened
Jerry in his arms and was forcing the tonic through his tightly closed
lips. The colored boy fought valiantly, but an instant later, the four
white boys, roaring with laughter, had the squirming Jerry on the floor
where the medicine was forced down his unwilling throat.

With rub downs, dry garments of one kind and another, the increasing
warmth of the fo’castle and the endless pranks that followed, the storm
soaked youngsters were soon aglow with new life and vigor. Then came
the raid on the cook’s galley. Jerry was not entrusted with the work of
preparing the refreshment. Tom and Mac did that, and they went at the
task as if time were no object.

Under Captain Joe’s direction, the other boys returned to the
fo’castle, bundled up all the wet clothes and carried them to the
engine room below deck. Hanging them on hastily strung lines, Captain
Romano opened the ash pit doors below one of the boilers to provide a
draft, and then boldly started a fire of wood on the iron floor of the
room.

At two o’clock, each member of the party filed into the cook’s galley,
and was handed his supper, a tin plate piled high with hot pork and
beans, a thick section of canned corn beef――cold――two bananas, a half
dozen freshly warmed ship’s biscuits and a big tin cup of sweetened
coffee.

When the noisy feast was at an end, there was one more visit to the
deck. The gale still held, but the rain had ceased, and the wind was
going down. A few stars had reappeared, and the tossing shape of the
_Three Sisters_ could be made out in the distance. But it had grown
decidedly cool, the biting spray of the still angry sea filled the air,
and there was a moan on both sea and land.

“All snug,” was Captain Joe’s only comment. As he disappeared below to
replenish his clothes-drying fire on the engine room floor, the weary
boys made their way back to the fo’castle. Bob had selected an upper
bunk well in the bow, and Mac was just beneath him. The moment the two
boys were alone, Mac said, in a low voice:

“Say, Balfour, are you holdin’ anything agin me?”

“Are you still sore at me?” asked Bob in turn, with a smile.

Mac reached out his hand and Bob grasped it. After a moment’s silent
embarrassment, Mac said:

“I reckon the storm’ll blow itself out by mornin’.”



CHAPTER X

A LITTLE LUNCHEON ON THE _ELIAS WARD_


One could almost hear the creaking of knee and elbow joints when the
five boys turned out the next morning. Despite Hal’s prediction, this
was at an early hour. For, while the sea was yet running before the
remnant of the wind, the sun came up on a cloudless sky. Captain Joe’s
clothes dryer had worked splendidly, and by seven thirty o’clock, the
rescuing crew was itself again――refreshed and reclothed.

Before breakfast, Captain Joe and Tom visited both the captain and
the owner of the steamer’s cargo. They reported these facts: The
vessel was the _Elias Ward_, of Charleston, South Carolina――800 tons
gross, and commanded by Captain Martin Hobson, of St. Augustine. It
had been chartered by W. L. Hawkins, a lumber dealer from Michigan,
for a trading cruise in the West Indies, mainly to secure San Domingo
mahogany in Hayti. In this, it had been wholly successful.

“Captain Hobson,” explained Tom, “don’t know what’s happened――he’s
wanderin’ in his head. We gave him some water, but we don’t know
whether he ought to be fed. Mr. Hawkins can’t get out o’ his bunk. But
he’s takin’ medicine.”

“Well,” asked Mac, “since we’ve got two sick ones aboard, what’s next?
Are you kids goin’ on to the Anclote Club house?”

The other boys looked about with puzzled expressions. Captain Joe
answered by shaking his head.

“Not dis week,” he announced positively. “We make breakfast, then work.
There is plenty coal. Get up steam, and start de pumps. In half hour,
in the _Three Sisters_, I go to Pensacola. To-night, I return with tug.
We tow de steamer to Pensacola.”

“We all got to go back?” began Hal, with a half wail.

“Certain’,” went on Captain Joe. “We not leave the steamer now.”

“Why not?” began Bob. “That is, as soon as Mr. Hawkins is well enough
to take charge. She’s all right here. We can telephone for a tug from
Mill View.”

Tom’s face showed a strange smile. He looked at Captain Joe, and the
smile broadened into a grin. Then he beckoned the other boys closer.

“Why not?” he repeated. “For one reason, she’s too valuable.”

Mac suddenly slapped his knee and let out a yell.

“By cracky,” he shouted. “I hadn’t thought of that. What’s she worth,
Captain Joe?”

Captain Joe was smiling too, but he only answered:

“She good money.”

Hal and Bob were still puzzled.

“Don’t you understand?” exclaimed Tom. “We’ve saved this craft. We’re
going to land her safely in port, and then――”

“The court’ll give us a good part of her value as salvage,” concluded
Mac. “We’ve earned it, and we’re all a goin’ to be rich.”

The opening of the club house would have to be postponed a week.
Breakfast was cooked, the captain and the cargo owner made as
comfortable as possible――the latter also being notified of the program
of his rescuers――fire was started to provide steam for the pump, and
then an examination was made of the cargo.

The boys did not ask Mr. Hawkins the value of his freight, and he
volunteered no information. But, whatever its value, the entire hold
was packed with squared mahogany logs. There were also a few other logs
of lesser size.

“This stuff is worth a good deal, isn’t it?” asked Bob, as the boys
surveyed the heavy, curiously marked logs.

“That depends,” answered Mac――wise in all things pertaining to shipping
or the sea trade of Pensacola. “If these sticks came from Central
America, they ain’t so much. I’ve seen mahogany ’at didn’t bring more’n
ten dollars a log. Wa’n’t wuth much more’n cedar. But,” and he closed
an eye, “ef they’s San Domingo logs, an’ the geezer ’at owns ’em says
they is, I seen one o’ that kind sell right on the dock in Pensacola
fur a thousan’ bones. Them thousand dollar boys is what they shave up
fur veneer――all curly and wriggly.”

“A thousand dollars apiece?” exclaimed Hal.

“I ain’t sayin’ that,” explained the knowing Mac, “but even ef they’s
one ur two o’ that sort in the bunch, we ain’t been workin’ fur
nothin’.”

“Do you mean to say,” broke in Bob, “that whoever owns this boat and
the man ’at owns these logs has to pay us the price o’ them for savin’
’em?”

“No,” explained Tom, breaking in; “but they pay part of the value of
both――depends on the risk the rescuers took, and whethah the wreck
would have been a loss without theah assistance. Sometimes, it’s
half――sometimes less――an’ sometimes more.”

“Does I git any sheer ef yo’ all gits paid?” broke in Jerry Blossom
suddenly.

“My own judgment,” Tom answered, “is that every one ought to share
alike. That means Captain Joe, Jerry and all the rest. I don’t know by
rights if we ought really to set up any claims――but if we do, let’s all
share alike.”

“Not set up any claims!” exclaimed Mac belligerently. “An’ why not?
They wouldn’t been a stick o’ this timber saved, ef it hadn’t been
for the old _Escambia_. An’ the steamer ’at carried it would ’a been
suckin’ sand on the bar afore this.”

“Yas, sah,” spoke up Jerry. “Ah’s done heered ’bout dat what yo’ call
’em. De law makes yo’ take him――yo’ all ain’t got no choice.”

“What do _you_ say, Captain Joe?” asked Tom.

“De man you wuk fo’ gets de money. ’Tain’t none mine.”

“I vote we put in a claim,” spoke up Hal, “and that we divide whatever
we get into six piles――”

“I shorely done take a big risk,” broke in Jerry. “We all boun’ to git
big pay. I kin use de money. Dese clothes――”

“Say, Kids,” interrupted Hal, his face lighting up with enthusiasm,
“we’ll put our money together, and buy a good cruising yacht, and then
we can surely go to Anclote Island――”

“Ah’s gwine to need all my sheer,” objected Jerry, in some alarm.

“I meant the Anclote Club members, Jerry,” explained Hal, laughing.

But instantly his laugh died out. As he realized what he had said, Mac,
the “expelled” member, shifted uneasily. The latter said nothing, but
the boys looked with embarrassment at each other. There was a quick
whispered conversation and then Tom said:

“Mac, after last night, we think everybody ought to kind o’ forget our
row. I reckon you’d vote for Bob now, an’ he ain’t nothin’ against you.
We’ve taken back what we did, and you all are a membah again――if you
want to be.”

Mac’s years of “toughness” and his bullying life had hardened him until
he had no way of showing what was in his heart. But the other boys
understood. Bob, especially, knew that Mac was genuinely sorry.

“Sure we will,” was Mac’s only response, “an’ we’ll git a bird. The
stuff under our feet ain’t worth a cent less’n twenty thousand dollars
to say nothin’ o’ the vessel itself. They can’t offer us less’n half.
How much is that apiece?” he added, anxious to show no weakness over
his reelection.

“A sixth of ten thousand dollars,” replied Hal promptly, “is one
thousand six hundred and sixty-six dollars. Leavin’ Jerry and Captain
Joe out, we’ll have six thousand six hundred and sixty-four dollars.”

Bob touched Hal on the shoulder, and the two boys stepped aside for a
few moments. When they returned, Bob said smiling:

“Look here, boys, what’s the use o’ mincin’ words. We don’t want to
hurt anybody’s feelin’s, but Hal and I are goin’ to speak right out.”
Captain Joe and Jerry had withdrawn to attend the newly-made fires in
the engine room. “It ain’t because we ever did anything to deserve it,
but our fathers are what you call rich men. And you fellows haven’t
any fathers. If this thing figures out as big as we’re calculatin’, Hal
and I want to buy the yacht――we’ll have enough.”

Mac said nothing, but Tom began shaking his head.

“Then we won’t go in it,” added Bob stoutly. “If we can’t do it all, we
won’t do anything.”

“Let’s see how things turn out,” suggested Mac as a compromise.

With this, the other boys had to be satisfied. As soon as the pumps
were working, Jerry taking the first turn at stoking, Mac and the other
boys took Captain Joe to the _Three Sisters_ in the _Escambia_. The
camp equipment, the provisions and the tent outfit on the beach were
then conveyed to the steamer, hauled on deck and, a little after eight
o’clock, Captain Joe and Hal were tacking out of the tortuous Perdido
Channel on their way to Pensacola.

There was a fresh breeze, and in an hour, the schooner was only a speck
in the east. The boys left aboard the _Elias Ward_ had enough to do.
Spreading and drying the camp equipment took some time. Then there
were visits to the helpless captain and Mr. Hawkins, and Jerry had
to be relieved. At the first opportunity, Jerry and Mac boarded the
_Escambia_, and in an hour, they returned with a half dozen red fish, a
pail of crabs and a basket of oysters.

This made luncheon an event. Jerry’s assistance in the galley did not
extend to the cooking, but he cleaned the fish and searched through
the captain’s cabin until he had collected dishes, knives and forks
sufficient for the noonday meal. Mac was the cook, and there was no
question about his success. The day turned out fair. Toward noon, the
wind died away, and the sun shone with springtime warmth.

Bob was a little stiff, but he carried no other evidences of his
vigorous participation in the strenuous rescue. Just before noon, Mr.
Hawkins appeared on deck. He showed the effects of the strain under
which he had labored, but he was wonderfully improved. Until luncheon,
he gave his time to Captain Hobson. Both Bob and Tom insisted on
interfering with Chef Mac, but the only substantial contribution they
made to the approaching meal was a dessert of fresh pineapples, of
which they found an ample quantity aboard.

Captain Hobson’s dining room was just forward of the wheel. A skylight
gave it ample sunshine and air. Here Jerry arranged the table, and
luncheon was served. Bob and Tom protested over Mac’s long delay, but
at last, about one o’clock, Mr. Hawkins was summoned, and with Jerry
acting as waiter, the three boys and their guest sat down to a meal
that was compensation for the long wait.

In the center of the table was a pyramid of luscious sugar pines,
ripened in the tropics and not in shipping crates. Piled among the
green waxen tops of these, were little “lady finger” bananas, such as
cannot be shipped to the north, and oranges whose fragrance filled the
saloon. In front of this “set piece” was a big glass bowl of shredded
pineapple, swimming in its own piquant juice, unprofaned with sugar. At
the other end of the table was a pitcher of iceless but none the less
palatable lemonade――Bob’s work.

“More like a fruit salad,” remarked Mr. Hawkins, as he examined the
contents of the pitcher and made out the flavoring slices of oranges
and pineapples. “Funny the cook of the steamer couldn’t think of
something like this.”

Jerry then served the following menu:

                    Oysters on the shell with lemon
                              Oyster Stew
                Boiled Hard Shell Crabs with Red Pepper
                            Fried Red Fish
                            Hot Baked Beans
                              Stewed Corn
                            Ship’s Biscuits
                          Shredded Pineapple
                             Black Coffee

“Boys,” said the Michigan lumber dealer an hour later, as he left the
table, “I never had a meal like that in Chicago. Do you cook like that
in the camp you’ve been telling about?”

Mac laughed. “You bet your life,” he answered. “Why not? That’s why we
hang out around here. And if we were in camp a month, I reckon we could
have a different sort of fish every day.”

About three-thirty o’clock, a cloud of black smoke out in the gulf
told that Captain Joe and Hal had lost no time, and at four-fifteen,
the ocean tug _Sea Fox_ made fast to the anchored steamer. Captain Joe
had made his bargain at the tug office, and there was nothing to cause
delay. Had there been a supply of gasoline, Mac would have remained
behind and gone on the _Escambia_ to the club house. But, after a
filial conference, the life boat was made fast to the steamer, and the
tug crew clambered aboard and raised the _Ward’s_ anchor.

Hawsers were passed aboard, and Captain Joe, who had left the _Three
Sisters_ in Pensacola and returned with Hal on the tug, took the wheel.
The stout little tug then fell to her work, and with straining cables,
sharp commands back and forth between Captain Joe and the skipper of
the _Sea Fox_, the rescued steamer was got slowly about and headed out
the pass. A quarter of an hour later, the smoke hidden sea tug, with
its deep laden tow far astern was well on her way to Pensacola Bay.

When the _Elias Ward’s_ “mud hook” dropped again, it was nearly
midnight. One man was watching and waiting on the Long Wharf in
Pensacola, for the incoming steamer, and, while the _Sea Fox_ was yet
casting off her hawsers, the skiff of a vigilant reporter hurried
alongside.

“Captain Joe,” shouted the enterprising young journalist, as he
scrambled up the steamer’s ladder, “get a move on――it’s nearly
midnight, and them dead ones over at the tug office don’t know a thing.
Gimme the story in rag time.”

And, before the boys could work out any plans for the remainder of
the night, the members of the Anclote Boat Club had to tell, for the
Pensacola _Journal_, the full story of the _Elias Ward’s_ rescue.

“Are you goin’ to print all that?” asked Bob innocently, at last.

“Am I?” laughed the reporter, hurrying over the side. “Just you read
the _Journal_ in the morning, and see. Sorry it’s too dark for snaps.
Good night, kids. See you to-morrow.”



CHAPTER XI

BOB BALFOUR UPSETS PLANS


Tom, Hal and Bob went ashore with the journalist, promising that they
would return immediately after breakfast in the morning. Bob reached
his boarding house just before one o’clock. In southern style, the
hall door was open, and the boy hurried to his mother’s room. After
considerable parley and some alarm, Bob was admitted.

He had his story ready, just as it had been told to the reporter.
But it wasn’t told as quickly. There were a hundred interruptions,
protests and motherly solicitations. Of course, it all led to one
conclusion――Bob could not return to the camp again.

“Never again shall you take such a risk,” Mrs. Balfour asserted. “I
haven’t the least doubt but that you will all be sick.”

Then Bob told of Captain Joe’s quinine. To his regret, Mrs. Balfour
immediately ran to her medicine box and repeated the dose. Finally,
after submitting to all sorts of tests, including the taking of his
temperature, Mrs. Balfour had to concede that Bob “seemed” all right.

“‘Seem’?” repeated the boy. “Why mother, I haven’t felt as fine in
six months. And it’s years since I’ve eaten as much as I did to-day.
You let me go to camp, if Mac is there to cook, and I’ll go back home
stronger than a prize fighter.”

“Mac?” exclaimed Mrs. Balfour, springing up in her bed. “Not Mac
Gregory?”

“Yes, I told you,” stammered Bob apprehensively. “It was Mac who had
the _Escambia_ there.”

“I didn’t understand,” said his mother, with her lips set.

Then the story of Mac’s regeneration had to come out. It was told most
adroitly, and in two chapters. At the end of the first chapter, Mrs.
Balfour simply announced that, no matter how manfully the Gregory boy
had acted, he and Bob could not belong to the same club. Then came
Chapter Number Two――the pathetic appeal. At the end of this one, there
was hesitation, doubt, and then a little concession: “I’ll see what
Mrs. Allen thinks about it.”

The next day was Sunday. Bob did not awaken until nine o’clock. But,
when he turned over in bed at last, his eyes fell on a newspaper,
folded and standing against the back of a chair in front of the bed.
Then his eyes caught a heavy, black headline. He read:

                             NARROW ESCAPE

                      Steamer Elias Ward Helpless
                           Off Alabama Point

                    Mahogany Laden Craft Is Rescued
                             By Boy Heroes

                Members Anclote Club Bring Vessel Into
                           Port at Midnight.

Catching up the paper, Bob read a column story that made his cheeks
burn. When he saw that the steamer carried a $75,000 cargo, “most
of which will undoubtedly be awarded as salvage to the six heroic
rescuers,” he rushed into his mother’s room.

“I’ve read it,” she said, her face sobering. “You told me you didn’t
do much. I suppose you see that ‘Robert Balfour, the son of a Chicago
millionaire, led in the four hours’ battle with the gale.’”

The boy, his eyes snapping, shook the paper.

“It ain’t true,” he began. “I’ll make that reporter take it back――”

His mother walked to Bob and put her arms about the excited boy.

“Look here, Bob,” she said, laughing, “I was bothered a good deal
last night. But I’ve thought it all out. I want you to be like other
boys.” Then her face grew sober. “You are old enough now to know what
is right and what is wrong. Your father and I have coddled you until
we’ve made you, almost, an invalid. We wouldn’t have let you do what
you did in that storm for worlds. But I’m glad you did――I’m even proud
of you. I’ve made up my mind it’s what you need to make a man of you.
You can go back to camp. From now on, I’m goin’ to let you take care of
yourself.”

Tears came into Bob’s eyes, but he caught his mother in his arms and
gave her a kiss she never forgot.

“As for Mac Gregory,” continued Mrs. Balfour, “I can’t believe that any
one who did what he did is really bad. I believe the impulse that made
you boys take him back into your club was a good one. And I believe
Mrs. Allen will think so, too.”

That meant another kiss. When Bob walked into the breakfast room,
he had already forgotten that he was a hero. But many good-natured
greetings at once recalled the newspaper story. It was Bob’s baptism of
notoriety. With boyish awkwardness, all he would say was: “Well, we
did get pretty wet.”

The moment breakfast was over he rushed his mother to the gallery.

“For goodness sake, mother,” he whispered, “get your hat and let’s get
out of this.”

With a smile Mrs. Balfour did so, and she and Bob were just leaving
the house when a messenger came up the steps with a telegram. It was
addressed to Mrs. Balfour. She opened it and read:

    “Notified by reporters Robert in wreck. Consult best
    physicians. If able, bring home. Shall I come?

                                          “Henry Balfour.”

Mrs. Balfour laughed, and wrote the following reply:

    “Absolutely uninjured. No physician necessary. Bob in my
    charge. Don’t miss your golf game.

                                           “Helen Balfour.”

Bob’s idea was to take his mother out to inspect the steamer. But the
story in the _Journal_ had already brought thousands to the Long Wharf,
and he and his mother turned back and walked to Mrs. Allen’s home.
Of course, Tom was not there. But they found that Mrs. Allen had also
relented as to Mac Gregory.

Bob and his mother then returned to their boarding house, dressed and
went to church. When they returned, they found Tom Allen and a strange
man awaiting them on the gallery. The man was Mr. Beverly Rowe, a
lawyer, and a friend of Tom’s dead father. At Captain Joe’s suggestion,
the two boys had called on Attorney Rowe to consult with him concerning
the claim for salvage.

The lawyer said at once that the practice was so general that he was
certain Mr. Hawkins would expect nothing less. “And the claim is so
clean cut,” he added, “that I doubt if the owners of the vessel and of
the cargo will be inclined to contest it.”

He then explained what the legal steps would be. If those concerned
agreed, and desired him to act for them, he would appear before the
United States District Court in the morning and libel the vessel in
admiralty proceedings. “That is the same thing,” he explained, “as
asking the court to take it in charge pending the examination of your
claim. When this is done, the United States Marshal will issue a
‘monition’ and take possession of the libeled property. The marshal
will then post a ten days’ notice, warning any other claimants to
appear. At the end of that time, the matter will come up before the
court, and evidence will be heard. The court will then fix the amount
to which you are entitled.”

“But the steamer belongs to a widow in Charleston,” said Tom. “We’ve
found that out. We don’t want to force her to pay anything.”

“Very good,” said Mr. Rowe. “Just as you like.”

“And we don’t much like the idea of making all that trouble for Mr.
Hawkins,” continued Tom.

“Although we’ve agreed he ought to pay something. The tug men say he’s
a rich man,” added Hal.

“I don’t believe a libel will be necessary,” said Mr. Rowe. “Leave that
to me. I’ll see Mr. Hawkins. If he’s fair, we’ll settle the matter out
of court. I’ll take a timber expert out to the steamer and look over
the cargo. Meanwhile,” and he said this impressively, “you must remain
in charge of the steamer――do not turn it over to Mr. Hawkins until I
have reached an agreement with him.”

“That’s what Mac said,” exclaimed Bob. “He and Captain Joe and Jerry
are on board. They sent Captain Hobson to the hospital this morning,
and Mr. Hawkins went to the hotel.”

Somewhat to Attorney Rowe’s surprise when he called upon Mr. Hawkins,
that gentleman showed a decided inclination to split hairs in the
matter of an agreement as to salvage. The owner was also evasive as
to the value of his cargo, and the lawyer at once made an appointment
for a second interview. In the middle of the afternoon, he visited the
schooner. When he and an expert had finished an examination of the hold
of the _Elias Ward_, orders were repeated to Captain Joe to refuse Mr.
Hawkins permission to board the vessel should he return.

That evening, in response to a telephone message, Tom, Hal and Bob
called at Attorney Rowe’s home.

“We’ll libel the vessel in the morning,” the lawyer announced. “On Mr.
Hawkins’ own statement of the value of his timber, I agreed to accept
seven thousand dollars. He offered three thousand dollars. We find that
the cargo is worth more than he says――not less than thirty thousand
dollars. Since he has shown a disposition to be ungrateful, we’ll force
him to do the fair thing. I’ll attend to the matter for you.”

Captain Joe, Mac and Jerry stuck to the steamer. Tuesday evening, by
invitation of Mac, there was a “spread” aboard, at which Mrs. Balfour,
Mrs. Allen and Attorney Rowe were guests. It followed an all afternoon
fishing trip made by Bob and Jerry out to Santa Rosa Sound and, in the
main, was a duplicate of Mac’s celebrated Perdido Bay luncheon.

Thursday evening came the incident that prolonged the usual evening
visit into a session lasting until midnight. Without the slightest
warning, Bob submitted a startling suggestion. When the shock of it had
passed into a frenzied conclave and that into a heated debate, the club
went into regular session and, by formal action, the great decision was
reached.

By a unanimous vote, and after mature consideration, the Anclote Boat
Club abandoned the idea of buying a yacht, and decided to spend three
thousand dollars, if it won its suit, in the purchase of an _aeroplane_.

Bob Balfour knew little about boats; he had done no fishing, and his
knowledge of the sea was small. But he had a theoretical knowledge of
aeroplanes that almost paralyzed the other boys. He had been made fun
of so long on account of his enthusiasm that, when he went south, he
determined to forget his hobby. But, in the idle time on his hands,
while the other boys were in school, he fell from grace. He had
purposely left every aviation book and pamphlet he possessed at home.
But, like an old toper, visiting again the book shop where he had
bought his charts, he was tempted and fell. When he left the place, he
had under his arm a new book――“_Vehicles of the Air_.” That night he
was again intoxicated with the newest ideas in airships, balloons and
the latest motive apparatus.

He fought the idea as long as he could, and then, Thursday morning
come a letter from his father. In a spirit of jest, it enclosed a
circular that had been mailed to Bob (for the boy was on the mailing
list of every balloon maker and every engine builder and aeronautical
publication in the country). Jokingly his father had written: “This
seems a bargain. I thought you might want to buy one to use in rescuing
steamers.”

Bob looked at the circular a long time. Then he suddenly thought of
the great fortune he and his friends were already counting.

“It’s nice of father to suggest it,” said Bob soberly to his mother.
“And I like the idea so well that I’m going to ask the boys to do it.”

“Buy an aeroplane?” gasped Mrs. Balfour.

“‘From now on, I’m going to let you take care of yourself,’” said Bob
laughing, as he repeated what his mother had said Sunday morning.

“I――” began his mother. Then, holding up her hands as if in despair,
she too laughed. “I guess you’ve got me, Bob,” was all she could say.
“But I hope you boys lose your case in court.”

The circular that caused the revolution in the Anclote Boat Club was as
follows:

                      AMERICAN AEROPLANE COMPANY

           FACTORY                             OFFICES
  Newark, New Jersey. U. S. A.      New York, London, Paris, Chicago

                   MR. ROBERT T. ATKINSON, President
                       Capital Stock, $1,000,000


                 Tested Aeroplanes Ready for Delivery

    The flying machine is here to stay, and any one who can afford
    the luxury of a ride in the air should investigate. The
    aeroplane is no longer a novelty or a wonder. The American
    Aeroplane Company, organized with a paid-up capital stock
    of $1,000,000, is now ready to deliver reliable and tested
    aeroplanes, standardized in make-up, and ready to fly. We offer
    F. O. B., Newark, New Jersey, complete cars for $3,000, and
    upward. They comprehend every development up to date. The frame
    is of Oregon spruce and bamboo; the planes of rubberized silk
    balloon cloth. The power plant is a four-cylinder, gasoline,
    water-cooled motorcycle engine, 25-horsepower cylinders,
    3¾ by 4. The control is extremely simple. The elevation is
    regulated by a steering lever, the balancing planes are
    specially designed devices controlled by the movement of the
    feet. The machine starts from the ground without track or
    outside help, and it can be taken apart in two hours.



CHAPTER XII

THE COMMITTEE BUYS AN AEROPLANE


So intense was the interest in the new plan to purchase an aeroplane
that, when Friday came around, the opening of the camp on Perdido Bay
was again postponed. The United States marshal, having taken charge of
the libeled steamer, after Thursday the nightly meetings of the boys
were held in Mrs. Allen’s dining room. Boating, fishing, and hunting
were forgotten. At each meeting, Bob had new flying machine literature
and new suggestions.

Mr. Hawkins would have done well to have accepted Mr. Rowe’s offer.
March fourth, the libel case was heard, and the court promptly entered
judgment for ten thousand dollars against the lumber dealer. Two days
later, Mr. Hawkins, eager to get possession of the steamer to begin
repairs, satisfied the claim. Mr. Rowe finally consented to accept a
fee of two hundred and fifty dollars, and the remainder of the amount
was paid over directly to the parties concerned, the boys, Jerry and
Captain Joe Romano; each receiving a check for one thousand six hundred
and twenty-five dollars.

The following morning, the Pensacola _Journal_ contained this story:

                        THE BOY AVIATORS’ CLUB

                Six Pensacola Lads To Buy an Aeroplane

                     Result of Recent Salvage Case

    It became known yesterday that the six members of the Anclote
    Boat Club, who were recently awarded ten thousand dollars
    salvage in the _Elias Ward_ rescue, have determined to put a
    part of their treasure trove into an up-to-date aeroplane.
    Thomas Allen and Robert Balfour, the nineteen and eighteen year
    old president and secretary of the club, have been delegated to
    go to New York to select the airship.

    It also became known at the same time that there is decided
    objection to this on the part of the parents of more than one
    boy. But the youngsters seem determined, and there is a strong
    probability that parental objections will be defied.

    Tom Allen, president of the club, said yesterday: “You bet we
    are going to do it. Every one of the six members of the club
    risked his life to earn that money, and why shouldn’t we spend
    it as we like? We are going to use three thousand dollars to
    buy an aeroplane, one thousand to repair our club house over on
    Perdido Bay, and divide the remainder. The court awarded us the
    money, and we’re going to beat the men of Pensacola by bringing
    an aeroplane down here before they wake up.”

Then followed a column story reviewing the rescue, the trial, and the
history of the club.

“It’s all right,” exclaimed Tom when he read the story, “except that
it’s about three-fourths wrong. There aren’t six members in the club.
I didn’t say anything about risking our lives or that we were going to
spend one thousand dollars on the club house.”

Bob was tempted to send a copy of the newspaper to his father, but he
was afraid the joke would be on him. It was victory enough to get his
mother’s consent to the plan. He was sure his father would object.
The printed story was true as to Tom and Bob going north to buy the
airship, but the announcement was premature. It required nearly two
days of pleading before Mrs. Balfour and Mrs. Allen agreed to this.
But, at last, Mrs. Balfour began to take a pride in Bob’s businesslike
program, and she consented――although it was with many misgivings.

“I thought I took you out of school and brought you down here to rest
and get strong,” said Mrs. Balfour to her son.

“Well,” answered Bob, “do I look as if I’m losing any weight?”

“Perhaps you’re right,” exclaimed his mother laughing. “But you’ll have
to back me up when your father finds out about it.”

“Why he practically told me to buy an aeroplane,” answered Bob
soberly. “He really put the idea into my head.”

Hal could not accompany the purchasing committee. His positive orders
were not to miss a day’s schooling. And he wouldn’t write home and ask
permission because he didn’t want to say anything about his suddenly
acquired fortune. He and Bob bought a draft for three thousand, two
hundred and fifty dollars with their checks, and Tom and Mac each
contributed one hundred dollars out of their portions to cover the
traveling expenses of the committee.

The almost continuous meetings of the boys had finally resulted in the
following program: Hal attended a private preparing school that granted
a vacation of a week at Easter. Tom obtained his mother’s consent to
absent himself from school during the same week, and all had planned to
secure the aeroplane at once and ship it directly to Tampa, just south
of the Mecca of all their outing dreams――Anclote Island――three hundred
miles distant from Pensacola.

To this much-talked-of island, Captain Joe was to carry the club
members in the _Three Sisters_. The aeroplane was then to be put
together in Tampa, conveyed through the air to the uninhabited island,
and for four or five glorious days at least, there was to be a carnival
of aerial exploration by land and sea.

The original attraction at Anclote Island had been the unsurpassed
tarpon fishing to be found there. In the three years that the club had
been in existence, the one big dream of each of its members had been
the long cruise that they were some day to make to this place. Now,
tarpon fishing became a secondary matter. But Anclote Island was still
the center of their dreams.

The acquisition of the aeroplane gave the island new possibilities.
It was on the edge of the Florida Everglades――the great, mysterious,
impenetrable swamp whose unexplored depths suddenly became a new lode
stone.

The plans discussed seemed endless: A temporary camp on the island,
excursions to the semi-tropic shore, fishing trips on the sound and
gulf, and, above all, daring forays to the interior of the state
in quest of adventures in the Everglade swamp and among the hidden
Seminole Indians.

Finally, on a Saturday evening, a cavalcade including Mrs. Balfour,
Mrs. Allen, Hal and Mac accompanied Bob and Tom to the train, and the
aeroplane committee was off for New York. Mrs. Allen brought with her a
little basket containing a luncheon. Tom had never made a long railroad
journey before, but he knew that in these days of the sumptuous dining
cars travelers no longer carried food. And, since he and Bob had ample
means to do as other travelers, before the boys turned in that night,
every scrap of fried chicken, jelly, cake and pickles had been eaten.

Just before noon on Monday, the two boys reached the president’s office
in the shops of the American Aeroplane Company’s works in the outskirts
of Newark, New Jersey. President Atkinson heard what the two lads had
to say in open astonishment. He cross-examined them, smiled, laughed,
inspected their draft and then grew serious. Finally, he called in his
engineering expert, Mr. Osborne, and this man heard Bob’s story.

“But you don’t know how to operate an aeroplane,” was the president’s
comment at last. “It’s most unusual.” Then he laughed again. “We can’t
afford to have you youngsters break your necks just for the purpose of
selling a machine.”

“We’re going to stay here until you teach us how,” said Bob promptly.

“Oh, I see,” said the engineer, also smiling and stroking his chin.

“Ain’t that a paht of the business?” inquired Tom. “Just like showing a
customah how to run an automobile?”

“We’ll pay for the lessons,” added Bob.

“Osborne,” said the president of the company, at last, “show the young
men the two machines we are making; make an engagement with them to
see both in flight, and then see if either of them has any of the
requirements of an aviator. If you conclude they can learn to operate a
car with safety, I’ll talk to them again.”

The American Aeroplane Company was at that time making but two forms
of aeroplanes. Since then, the company, which has absorbed so many
smaller concerns that it is now the well known “flying machine trust,”
has purchased and at present controls nearly every important idea in
aeroplane construction. The types of machines shown to Bob and Tom were
No. 1, an adaptation of the Wright and Curtiss single-motor biplanes,
and No. 2, Engineer Osborne’s elaboration of the glider principle made
famous by the Californian, Montgomery. The latter machine was the more
expensive and more elaborate.

The novel feature of Type No. 1 was its simplicity and strength. To the
eye it differed little from the car used by the Wright brothers. But
examination showed that the framework was heavier, the fore and aft
rudder guides stronger and the seating arrangement for a passenger, in
addition to the operator, much more carefully wrought out. This car,
with a 25-horsepower motor had a spread of 39 feet, and was guaranteed
to show forty miles an hour under right conditions. Allowing three
hundred pounds for the weight of an operator and one passenger, this
machine was calculated to carry enough gasoline for an operating radius
of one hundred and fifteen miles, or a straightaway flight of two
hundred and thirty miles.

“The other machine,” explained Mr. Osborne, as he drew the wide-eyed
and enthused lads to that type of air craft, “will give you more
speed, but a shorter radius of action. This is because it carries two
motors――one for each propeller. It eats up the gas,” he said proudly,
“but it gets results.”

No. 2, a much more expensive aeroplane, was a combination of
Montgomery’s bird wing, curved planes, set tandem, and the Wright
brothers steering rudders. The large fan-tail rudder used on the
Montgomery glider had been discarded in favor of the more recent fore
and aft rudders used by the Wrights and Curtiss. Instead of the usual
single motor, this machine carried two gyroscopic motors, one for each
propeller.

Tom, whose real knowledge of aeroplanes extended but little beyond
what the exuberant Bob had told him in the last few days, after a long
examination of this car, looked at Bob with inquiring eyes. But Bob
shook his head.

“We’d better stick to the simpler machine,” said Bob, although it was
plain that he had reached the conclusion regretfully.

“I have some notion about the control of a simple engine. And I know
something about manipulating parallel planes. Besides, it’s cheaper,
and it’ll go fast enough for us.”

The next afternoon, Mr. Osborne, the engineer, reported back to his
superior. He sat down with a sigh, shaking his head:

“I don’t know what we’re comin’ to, in this country,” he said, wiping
his greasy face.

“Boys a frost?” commented President Atkinson.

“Frost?” exclaimed the expert. “That boy Balfour is a natural born
mechanic. And he has a book knowledge of aeroplanes that includes
nearly everything I can tell him. And that southern kid――what the other
one may lack in nerve, he has. The Balfour boy made a flight alone
yesterday, and this morning, he took the other kid up.”

The president thought a moment, and then summoned the two boys who were
waiting in the outer office.

“I don’t much like to do it,” he began, “but I suppose if air
navigation is to become general, we’ll have to trust the youngsters.
You’ve selected the right machine for a beginner――the simplest and
cheapest. The price of it is twenty-two hundred and fifty dollars. You
may have it, crated on the cars here, at two thousand dollars.”

While the negotiations concerning the aeroplane had been going on, Bob
and Tom had remained in Newark. Now, with the purchase completed and
all arrangements made for shipping their precious machine, the two boys
hastily packed their suit cases and returned to New York. It was a
great evening for the southern boy. Bob boldly piloted his companion to
a nationally known and luxurious hotel, ordered a double room with two
beds, and then, before night fell, he took Tom in a taxicab for a long
ride through the park and along the drive up the river.

“Why not?” laughed Bob. “You may not be in New York again for some
time. So far, we have traveled on the club’s expense. This evening,
you’re my guest, Tom. We’re going to celebrate, and I’m going to stand
the expense.”

In fact, this suggestion had been made by Mrs. Balfour, who had had no
opportunity, she said, to repay the kindness shown her and Bob by Mrs.
Allen.

Therefore, when Tom saw Bob pay six dollars for their dinner in the
brilliantly lighted café and later buy theatre tickets at two dollars
and a half apiece, he nearly lost his breath. They left for the south
at two o’clock the next afternoon. All morning, they were too busy to
think of cab or street car. When they sank down on their Pullman seats,
Tom announced that the thousand things he had seen in the all too short
morning were well worth his blistered feet and aching back. A heap of
bundles alongside the two happy boys were other tangible evidences of
their morning activity.

It gave Tom a thrill of real pleasure to stow away his own parcels,
for, carried away by the easy way in which money is spent in New York,
he had purchased gifts for his mother and grandmother. There were a
silk shirt waist and a gossamer-like parasol for his mother, for which
he paid forty dollars, and a silver bound handbag for his grandmother,
costing fifteen dollars. Bob had engineered this shopping. In turn,
Bob had laid in heavy boxes of the highest priced confections for his
mother and Mrs. Allen; a big volume on aeroplanes and aviation for Tom;
an outing raincoat for Mac; an imported outing cap for Hal; a combined
barometer and thermometer for Captain Joe Romano, and an elaborate,
many-bladed knife for Jerry Blossom.

Just before leaving, Bob sent telegrams to his mother and Mrs. Allen
that the expedition would reach Pensacola Saturday evening. To the
surprise and pleasure of the boys, they found, when they reached the
southern city the next evening about eight o’clock, that Mrs. Allen
had invited Mrs. Balfour, Bob and Hal Burton to a late supper at her
home, and the returned travelers had the pleasure of gift distribution
over a meal that Bob announced was far better than anything they had in
New York.

The evening of gayety that followed was punctuated with Bob and Tom’s
wonderful tales of what they had seen and done. On the blossom scented
gallery of the little house, the boys vied with each other in recalling
the details of their daring adventures. On their way home at a late
hour, Mrs. Balfour said to her son:

“Bob, do you feel any better than you did when we started south?”

“Better?” exclaimed Bob. “Mother, I feel so good that I’ve forgotten I
ever felt any other way. I tell you there’s a good deal of difference
between reading how some one does things and gettin’ out and doin’ ’em
yourself. Me for doin’ things now――not dreamin’ about ’em. That’s the
way to be happy.”



CHAPTER XIII

A MIDNIGHT COMPACT CONCERNING THE BLACK PIRATE


It was about two weeks before the Easter vacation would come on, and
Hal and Tom would be free to start for Anclote Island in the _Three
Sisters_. But the services of Captain Joe having been retained, the
preparations for stocking the schooner with provisions and camp
equipage went on from day to day. So interested did the boys become in
this that the excursion to Perdido was abandoned. A week from the day
Bob and Tom returned from Newark, Bob was to go to Tampa by rail. His
mother was arranging to go with him.

Jerry Blossom’s acquisition of a fortune had turned the colored boy’s
head. But, before he could make any great inroads on his share of the
ten thousand dollars, his mother managed to secure it. Thereafter, the
improvident Jerry was furnished only such sums as his frugal parent
thought he needed. His preliminary inroad on his funds, however, had
resulted in an outfit of gorgeous clothing and a gold plated watch,
which, with one evening’s “crap” shooting, had deprived fat Mrs.
Blossom of sixty-five dollars.

When Jerry settled down to a realization that his great fortune was
beyond his control and had lost his new watch in gambling, it was
nearly time for Bob and Mrs. Balfour to start for Tampa. In the two
weeks since the colored boy had come into funds, he had thought little
about Anclote Island. Suddenly he realized that it would be better to
reengage with the club and get the benefit of “board and keep” at small
pay than to remain in town with his mother’s hand fast about the purse
strings of his fortune.

For reasons which he did not quite understand, Bob had somehow come to
be looked on as the real leader of the club. The evening before Bob
left for Tampa, the doleful-faced colored boy waited for him after the
usual meeting broke up.

“Mistah Bob,” began Jerry, diplomatically doffing his hat, “Ah done
reckon Ah bettah seek out some employment, even if Ah is a rich man.”

“Aren’t you going with the boys on the schooner?” asked Bob.

“Ah ain’t been ’proached ’bout no contrac’,” replied Jerry. “Ah reckon
mah ole frien’s done calklate Ah’s too rich to wuk.”

“Oh, I guess not, Jerry,” said Bob, laughing. “But I’ll speak to the
boys.”

Jerry did not seem wholly reassured. He shambled along hesitatingly a
little way, and then went on:

“Ah am ’bliged to you all, Mistah Bob, but dat ain’t prezackly all Ah
wants to say. Dis money Ah got done been havin’ a pow’ful ’fluence on
me. Ah’s been havin’ big dreams ’bout money fo’ three nights. Yas, sah!”

“Dreams about money?” asked Bob, laughing again. “I guess we’ve all had
dreams of that kind.”

“Ain’t no one had no dreams like Ah been havin’,” explained Jerry
soberly, shaking his head. “Ah been havin’ dreams ’at’s visions. Ah
been seein’ things.”

“What have you been seein’?” asked Bob, slowing up his steps.

Jerry took the white boy by the arm, and, although it was late and the
streets were practically deserted, he whispered:

“Three nights, Mistah Bob, a ole pirate man wif a long sword and two
big pistols done walk straight through de wall o’ mah room an’ say――”

Bob laughed and started ahead.

“Hol’ on, Mistah Bob,” exclaimed Jerry earnestly. “Dis ole pirate wif
de long sword, he’s a colored pirate. Yas, sah, black as mah ole mammy.”

“Well,” said Bob, scenting at once some new fabrication of Jerry’s
fertile brain, “what _did_ the colored pirate say?”

“He say,” went on Jerry solemnly, “he say: ‘Black boy, Ah been watchin’
yo’.’ Yas, sah,” explained Jerry hastily. “Dem ole spooks kin shorely
watch yo’ thouten yo’ seein’ ’em. De ole pirate he say: ‘Black boy, Ah
been watchin’ yo’. Ah done selec’ yo’ fo’ to tell yo’ whar Ah buried
mah gold’.”

“And did he?” interrupted Bob, with a smile.

The sharp-eyed Jerry saw he had made his point. In his ignorant way, he
realized that the romantically inclined Bob liked nothing better than
these stories of buried treasure and pirates.

“Did he?” repeated Jerry significantly. “Dat ole pirate Ah reckon was
de onliest colored pirate in de worl’. He say: ‘Black boy, yo’ ain’t
gwine to know how come it so, but yo’ alls is related to we alls. Yo’
is my heir’.”

“So you are descended from a cut-throat villain?” exclaimed Bob, with
mock seriousness. “Heir of a bloody pirate?”

“Ah cain’t hep dat,” urged Jerry. “But dem’s his words. An’ he say:
‘Black boy, dar’s gold and jewels waitin’ fo’ yo’; dar’s a big box o’
buried treasure waitn’ fo’ yo’――’”

“Where, Jerry, where?” exclaimed Bob, with well assumed impetuousness.

But Jerry shook his head.

“Mah relation pirate he done make me swear on his razor sword Ah ain’t
gwine to tell no one ’bout dat place ’till Ah gets mah hands on de box.
No, sah, no one. Ah done sweared it on de sword. If Ah breave it, dat
ole pirate man say he gwine come an’ cut off mah haid wif de sword.”

“Oh, I see,” said Bob. “Well, I wish you luck, Jerry.”

For a moment, Jerry was silent. Then, scratching his woolly head, he
said:

“Mistah Bob, Ah cain’t tell ’bout de big trees whar dat box is buried.
But Ah ain’t gwine dig up dat box when de moon’s full――like Ah’s
instructed――all by mahsef. Ah’s got de directions all wrote down, jes’
lak de ole pirate done told ’em to me, whisperin’ an’ a shakin’ his
big sword ’at’s got blood on it. Ah wants a partner――mebbe two or three
so we don’t take no resk.”

The diplomatic Jerry paused, while Bob could hardly conceal his
amusement. At last, Bob said, half regretfully:

“I’m sorry, Jerry, that the treasure isn’t over on Anclote Island or
near by. Then we could all be partners――”

“Das whar it is,” broke in Jerry. “Ah reckon Ah done got to pay my way
over dar on de railroad cahs.”

Without laughing, Bob said:

“Jerry, if you won’t take any one else as a partner, I’ll see that you
are hired to go to Anclote Island on the _Three Sisters_. Then you and
I will sneak out some night and dig up the Black Pirate’s treasure.”

Jerry’s relief and satisfaction were as apparent as his white teeth.

“Ah reckon dat’s a faih bargain, Mistah Bob. Leastways, Ah am
agreeable. On’y,” and his face sobered again, “de ole man wif de sword
he says: ‘Black boy, de mostest o’ dat gold is yo’s.’ Ah reckon he
calklate Ah ain’t gwine to squandah it. But Ah’ll be faih. Ah’ll gib
you some of it. But Ah cain’t give no half of it.”

“How much will I get?” asked Bob, with apparent eagerness.

“Oh, ’bout ten or twenty thousand dollahs,” answered Jerry
indifferently.

“That’s fair enough,” concluded Bob. “It’s a go. But don’t tell Tom or
the other boys. I’ll see that you go along. You can count on that. But
you’ll have to pretend to be working for us.”

Bob and Jerry had now reached the former’s boarding house.

The colored boy hesitated, ran his hands in his pockets, and then said:

“Shorely, Mistah Bob, dat’ll be agreeable.” Then he lowered his voice:
“Yo’ ain’t got no change ’bout yo’, is yo’, Mistah Bob? Ah done fergit
to go to de bank to-day, an’ Ah needs a couple o’ dollahs.”

Without even a smile, Bob searched his pockets and found a single
dollar.

“You can pay me back, Jerry,” he said soberly, “when we open the Black
Pirate’s box. Good night, and don’t tell our secret.”

A few minutes later, Bob was dreaming of big oak trees, moonlight
shadows beneath them, kinky haired African outlaws and Spanish
pieces-of-eight. At the same time, his new partner was down behind
the Creole Coffee House playing “craps” with a half dozen colored
stevedores, who relieved the Munchausen-like Jerry of his borrowed
dollar with all the celerity of the most skilled pirate of the deep.

The next day was a busy one. And, at the last moment, many of the
plans were changed. As the result of long and urgent petitions, Tom
and Hal secured vacations of ten days. But even those, as the time for
setting out approached, were found to be far too short to permit the
execution of all that the boys hoped to do. The distance from Pensacola
to Anclote Keys was at least two hundred and seventy miles. Even with
a fair wind, the _Three Sisters_ could not be expected to cover the
distance in less than two days. Two days for a return trip left less
than a week on the island.

“It ain’t worth the money and trouble, just for that,” growled Hal.

Bob finally suggested that Tom and Hal follow him by rail, and that
Mac, Jerry Blossom and Captain Romano set out in the _Three Sisters_
at once. The schooner would then have a week to reach the islands,
set up a camp, and, leaving either Mac or Jerry in charge, sail the
sixty-five miles to Tampa City, and report to Bob. When Tom and Hal
reached Tampa, they would help start Bob or Tom or both on the flight
of the aeroplane to the island, and the one left behind could return to
the island on the schooner.

This idea met universal approval. Mac and Jerry could leave at any
time. That afternoon, every member of the club worked valiantly in
shipping the last of the _Three Sisters’_ cargo――which was by no means
a light one――and when Bob left the wharf at four o’clock to prepare for
his railroad journey, Captain Romano said he was ready to sail. The
hour of his departure was set at five o’clock the next morning.

Mrs. Balfour was almost as keen for the trip to Tampa as Bob, and, when
the St. Augustine night express drew out of the station at six o’clock,
she fluttered her handkerchief as vigorously as Bob waved his cap at
the boys left on the depot platform. At five o’clock the next morning,
Sunday, Tom and Hal gave the same farewells to the _Three Sisters_ as
she fell away from the wharf before the fresh new day breeze. Then the
two doleful boys left behind began to count the minutes until the next
Friday evening when the third section of the momentous excursion would
be off.

Before noon of Sunday, Bob and his mother were comfortably installed
in apartments in one of the great Tampa Bay resort hotels. Bob figured
that Captain Joe and the _Three Sisters_ would probably reach Tampa Bay
Thursday evening or Friday morning. The Captain was to report to Bob at
his hotel at once. Tom and Hal would arrive at noon on Saturday. The
aeroplane must be ready at that time. With five days in which to set
up the airship, Bob started out Monday morning to locate his precious
crates and bundles and to select a suitable aerodrome.

The aeroplane consignment was found in the freight depot. The securing
of a secluded place, protected and large enough to permit the putting
together of his thirty-nine-foot wide air craft was not so easy. After
several hours of fruitless search, Bob made his way to a machine shop,
had a conference with the superintendent, and for five dollars a day,
employed a bright young mechanic to “assist him in setting up a motor”.

With Gabe Rice’s help――after Bob had confided to Gabe his real object
under a pledge of secrecy――the two boys found a place fairly well
suited to their needs. Just north of the city, on the Hillsborough
River, they came across an abandoned, half demolished cigar factory.
In the rear, an unfenced open ground ran down to the river. Within the
building, with double doors opening on the cleared space, was a room
that had been used for the storage of tobacco.

The room would afford sufficient shelter for the unpacked boxes and
crates and when Gabe volunteered to spend the nights there, Bob
decided the place would do. Bob found the owner the next morning. This
gentleman refused to rent the place until he too was imparted the
secret. Then, in a burst of enthusiasm, he told Bob to use the place
free of charge. But Bob knew that the pay would come in more than one
visit from the gratified owner.

That evening, Bob and Gabe worked until the sun was low, clearing out
the storeroom and leveling all the inequalities on the slope toward the
river, for the aeroplane used no starting weights, requiring a smooth,
level bit of ground of from seventy-five to one hundred yards to get
under way.

Thursday morning, a dray was secured and after two trips the
dismembered car, its carefully protected adjuncts and its oiled
tarpaulin-covered motor crate were safely stowed in the storeroom. Gabe
remaining in charge, Bob made another trip with the dray and purchased
enough gasoline for a week’s flying. Two tanks of this, with a supply
of engine oil, were intended for the scene of his coming work, while
the remainder was set aside to be conveyed to Anclote Island on the
_Three Sisters_. When the dray returned to the yards again, it also
carried a cot for Gabe’s use and a hastily secured luncheon.

This disposed of, the great task was before the two boys. With screw
driver, wrench and hammer, the crates were attacked.

Type No. 1 of the American Aeroplane Company’s air vehicle represented
all the tested and approved heavier-than-air flying machine ideas.
Nothing in it but what, in some form of aeroplane, had been
successfully used.

“That’s why we selected the No. 1,” explained Bob to Gabe. “We’re all
amateurs. When we’ve exhausted the possibilities of this machine, it
will be time for us to take chances with the advanced types.”

“How fast’ll she go?” asked Gabe.

“’Bout forty miles in a pinch,” answered Bob.

“In a day?” continued Gabe.

“In an hour,” laughed Bob. “Maybe faster.”

“That ain’t any part o’ my job, is it?” gasped the astonished young
mechanic.

“Not till you see her,” answered Bob laughing. “And then you’ll be
beggin’ for a ride.”



CHAPTER XIV

THE _ANCLOTE_ MAKES A FLIGHT


Even now the _Anclote_, as the Boy Aeronauts’ Club aeroplane soon came
to be known, may be considered old-fashioned. But when Bob Balfour and
Tom Allen bought her and shipped her to the scene of her first flight
over the orange groves, palm trees and limitless swamps of mid-Florida,
the _Anclote_ represented the best ideas of not less than three of the
most practical and scientific of the first aviators. These, of course,
were the Wright Brothers, Curtiss and Farman.

The motor was a Curtiss 25-horsepower, with 1400 revolutions per
minute, while the propellers were exact copies of Farman’s, with
a spread of 7½ feet. The guiding rudders were patterned after the
well-tested form used by the Wrights――the forward or vertical one 15½
feet long by 3 feet wide, while the two horizontal guides in the rear
were 5½ feet high by 1 foot wide. The entire length of the planes was
38 feet 4 inches, while the sections connecting the two planes were 6
feet deep and 5 feet high.

The rubber-faced silk plane surfaces were attached in the manner of
the Curtiss machine, stretched over laminated spruce ribs, at intervals
of a little over a foot and then wrapped around the front cross bars of
the wing frames and kept taut at the rear by wire edgings drawn tight
over each rib end.

Instead of landing and starting skids as used on the Wright machine,
Type No. 1 carried a running gear of four light pneumatic tired wheels
mounted in ordinary bicycle forks. A spoon brake applied by a bamboo
plunger to the tire of the front wheels permitted quick stopping after
alighting and held the machine for the start.

Thursday evening, Bob worked until a late hour, sending Gabe home for
his supper, and awaiting his return. When the tired boy reached the
hotel, he found a message that at once dispelled his fatigue――Captain
Joe had reached port with the _Three Sisters_, and he had left word
where he could be found.

When Bob left the hotel, he found Jerry Blossom anxiously pacing before
the entrance awaiting him. The colored boy was so full of remarkable
incidents and marvelous adventures that it was with difficulty that the
white boy calmed him into a clear account of the cruise.

The _Three Sisters_ had made a safe voyage to the island, which it
reached early Tuesday morning. After a half day’s reconnoitering, it
had found a sheltered bay on the land side of the north key, and there,
in a grove of cabbage palmettoes, a landing had been made and a camp
located.

The camp was immediately marked by stripping a tall palmetto and
attaching to its barren summit, the schooner’s flag. The camp outfit
having been disembarked, all had worked on the camp site during the
day, and, leaving Mac in command, Captain Joe and Jerry had sailed for
Tampa the next morning. On their way to the wharf and the schooner,
Bob, in the midst of Jerry’s grandiloquent account of the beauties of
Anclote Island, said to the colored boy:

“Well, Jerry, did you find it? Locate your buried treasure trees yet?”

“Look hyah, Mistah Bob,” answered Jerry, with sudden alarm, “yo’ know
what Ah done gone an’ done? Ah’s had a piece o’ mighty bad luck. Ah
cain’t fine mah papah no mo’.”

“You don’t mean to say you’ve lost the directions for finding ole
Black Pirate’s treasure box?” asked Bob in pretended alarm.

“No, sah, Mistah Bob. Ah ain’t los’ it. Ah’s too keerful o’ dat writin’
to los’ it. No, sah, not me. Somepin done come in de night an’ tooken
dat paper. Yas, sah. I ain’t los’ it.”

“Can’t you remember what you wrote?” asked Bob threateningly.

“Sure, I kin, mostly. But not prezactly. Pears to me now like it didn’t
say no island at all. Mebbe if Ah has time to recomembah, Ah kin――”

“Look here, Jerry,” exclaimed Bob vigorously. “If you don’t recall
those directions and take me where old Black Pirate told you he buried
all his gold and silver and diamonds, you’re goin’ to walk back
home――or swim. You’re lyin’ to me, Jerry.”

“Mistah, Bob,” cried Jerry in a sudden panic, “Ah cross mah heart Ah
ain’t tell no story. Mah ma she don’t ’low me to tell no lies.”

“You wrote old Black Pirate’s directions on a piece of paper?”

“Yas, sah, Mistah Bob.”

“What kind of paper?”

“Jes’ reg’lah papah.”

Without relaxing his face in the least, Bob said:

“Jerry, I’ll give you till Saturday night to remember the directions or
find the paper. If you can’t do either, we’ll leave you on the island
when we go home.”

“Mistah Bob,” wailed Jerry, “yo’ don’ know how sorry Ah is ’bout dat
papah. Mebbe de ole pirate wif de sword done change his min’ an’ sneak
up on me and taken back what he tole.”

“Saturday night,” said Bob, sternly.

The two boys walked on in silence a moment. Finally the solemn Jerry,
screwing his face into a look of pain, said:

“Mistah Bob, Ah’s feelin’ purty porely this evenin’. Ah got a kind o’
misery in mah back. Ah reckon Ah bes’ go git some med’cine.”

“Well?” said Bob, still keeping a straight face.

“Ah ain’t got no change. A reckon yo’ all couldn’t lend me fo’ bits
till Ah gits to mah bank?”

“I reckon you’re right, Jerry. I could, but I won’t. You come on
down to the schooner, and turn in, and your misery will be all right
to-morrow.”

Bob found the taciturn Captain Joe enjoying his pipe in the cockpit
of the schooner, and silently watching an odorous coffee pot simmering
on the charcoal brazier. With the weather beaten seaman, he enjoyed an
hour’s talk, and after a cup or two of Romano’s black beverage, gave
directions for the next day, and returned to his hotel.

That day and the day before, the merchant from whom Bob had rented the
old factory had visited the scene of the setting up. It was probably
from this source that news of the aeroplane leaked out. Anyway,
when Bob returned to the hotel, he found a reporter awaiting him.
Remembering the exaggeration of the Pensacola reporter, Bob resolved to
give no excuse for guesswork, and told briefly what the club meant to
do.

To Bob’s relief, the reporter told the truth in his next morning’s
story. Like as not the mere fact that a real aeroplane was ready for
flight in Tampa was enough of a sensation for the young journalist. It
certainly brought a mob to the factory that day. When Bob arrived, Gabe
was struggling valiantly to control the good-natured sight-seers. And
the crush grew worse as the day advanced. Gabe was finally sent for
police assistance, and by noon, the immediate vicinity of the delicate
airship was cleared.

Tom and Hal were due to arrive on the noon train that day. A little
before that hour, Bob sent his few camp belongings down to the _Three
Sisters_. Then, his mother accompanying him to the station in a
carriage, the pretty well exhausted youngster awaited his fellow club
members.

When the dust covered train drew into the station, a half hour late,
Bob, worn out with the exertions and strain of the past five days, was
sound asleep, his head on his mother’s shoulder. Jerry Blossom met Tom
and Hal and piloted them through the hot sun to the carriage. Mrs.
Balfour’s smile and raised finger suppressed the chatter of the newly
arrived boys, and, with many whispers and chuckles, piling their suit
cases alongside the driver and mounting Jerry on top of the bags, the
other boys quietly took seats in front of the unconscious Bob and his
mother.

But the creaky old carriage had not progressed over a block when Bob
roused himself with a snort. Then, even in the excitement of the
greeting, the alert eyed Bob noticed that the carriage was bound
cityward.

“We ought to be on the way to the cigar factory. Where are we going?”
he exclaimed anxiously. “It’s nearly one o’clock.”

“To luncheon, of course,” answered his mother. “You boys haven’t eaten,
have you?”

They had not. Neither did they seem anxious to do so.

“Luncheon, your granny,” protested Bob. “Those who go on the aeroplane
can eat with Mac in the camp at two o’clock. The fellow that stays is
going to have crab gumbo with Captain Joe――that’s all figured out.”

“Who is to go?” asked Mrs. Balfour laughing. “I suppose _you’ll_ insist
on going,” she added, turning to her son.

“Oh, that’s all arranged,” interrupted Hal Burton. “My turn’ll come
later. Bob’s the real works, and Tom is the understudy.”

“Yo’ ain’t objectin’ are you, Madam?” broke in Tom quickly.

“I gave up long ago,” answered Mrs. Balfour, with a half sigh and a
half laugh. “But Bob had better hurry before the story printed this
morning reaches Chicago. They always put in names, you know, and the
newspapers up there are sure to call up Mr. Balfour and ask if Bob is
his son. You know what that will mean?”

“Turn around there,” ordered Bob, hanging out of the carriage and
calling to the driver. “It’ll mean a telegram knocking everything into
a cocked hat. That’s what comes of telling folks things.”

The appearance of the carriage at the old factory seemed instantly to
augment the number of those lounging there. Mrs. Balfour and Tom and
Hal were escorted to the waiting aeroplane for their first view of the
marvelous machine. And Bob was certainly proud of his work.

Temporarily braced on planks, the wide, fragile planes of the _Anclote_
shimmered beneath the direct sun like the glisten of some great
golden-brown beetle. Its aluminum painted, spruce section uprights
flashed in the sunlight, while the varnished, polished blades of
the propellers reached out like golden arms. For the benefit of his
visitors, Bob nodded to Gabe, and the engine was set in motion. Its
unconnected mechanism moved as if in a bath of oil. Even the powerful
propellers were turned a few times, slowly. Then Mrs. Balfour was even
persuaded to mount the aviator’s chair for a moment.

“Take Mother back to the hotel, Hal,” exclaimed Bob, as he helped his
parent to alight, “and then you and Jerry get busy. It’s moonlight
to-night. You ought to get to the island by one o’clock. We’ll be
waitin’ for you. You can go now, Mother,” added Bob, kissing her good
bye. “I’ll see you in a week.”

“I’ll wait,” answered Mrs. Balfour with a half nervous smile. “I’ll see
it through since I’ve let it go this far.”

With that, the three long restrained boys forgot the crowd. For ten
minutes, Bob and Gabe rushed back and forth between the storeroom and
the car. The gasoline reservoir was charged to the limit, and the
extra tank made fast in the middle of the engine section. The engine
was newly oiled, the magnetos tested, the rudder rods examined for
the last time, and then Tom received his final instructions. At that,
the supporting planks were withdrawn and the _Anclote_, poised on her
starting wheels, was ready for its flight.

If those waiting with open mouths to see the ascent expected a
ceremony, they were disappointed. The beginning of the flight was as
simple as it was successful. As Bob set the motor in motion, he clamped
the spoon brake on the starting wheels. Then, as the clutch caught the
big propellers and their arms began to revolve, he gave a last glance
at his mother, Hal and Jerry.

The propeller blades moved faster and faster. Even as Bob raised his
cap, they seemed to spring to terrific speed. Pushing against the
set starting wheels, the light framework suddenly shook and creaked,
and, almost before Bob could realize it, the great planes twisted and
fluttered as if striving to drag the car forward. Bob’s cap dropped
from his hand, and, grasping the rudder levers, he shot his foot
against the brake release.

Like a quail beating its wings against the ground as it rushes to its
scared flight, the trembling aeroplane darted forward. The forward
rudder was already set for the coming rise. As Bob threw this up, the
skimming car seemed to slacken speed. If it really did so, it was
but for a second. With a keener note in the whirr of the now almost
invisible propeller, there was a farewell bump of the wheels on the
slope, and then, like a flat skimming stone ducking over the water, the
_Anclote_ left the ground.

Once only did Bob falter. In his inexperience, he had set the forward
rudder too high. Like a bird not yet under full momentum, the
aeroplane shook herself and stuck her nose skyward. As the nervous
young aviator threw his rudder down, he did not check himself in time.
There was one sickening dart toward the water of the Hillsborough
River, the starting wheels spun backward with a splash of mist, the
feet of both boys made one angry splash in the water, and then the
worst was over. Gripping his levers and clenching his teeth, Bob
righted the rudder, and, by the roar of cheers that rose behind him, he
knew that he was ascending again, even before his increasing altitude
showed it.

Until the fading aeroplane was only a speck in the northwest, Mrs.
Balfour, Hal and Jerry stood, watching it in silence. At last, it was
no longer visible, and Mrs. Balfour turned to leave.

“Mrs. Balfah,” said Jerry Blossom in a business-like voice, “Ah comed
away in sich a hurry Ah done forgit to bring any change. Kin yo’ borrow
me fo’ bits till Ah sees mah bankah?”



CHAPTER XV

ONE USE FOR AN AEROPLANE


Hal accepted Mrs. Balfour’s invitation to luncheon, and Jerry hastened
away to eat at a restaurant. But, his weakness getting the better of
him, the colored boy reached the schooner at three o’clock, foodless
and moneyless, glad enough to stay himself with a hunk of Captain Joe’s
bread and a piece of cold fish. While he ate this, the _Three Sisters_,
with a supply of gasoline, a big box of fresh fruit presented by Mrs.
Balfour, and the baggage of the aviators, was throwing the spray on her
return trip out of the bay.

Bob and Tom, after the _Anclote_ left the river and settled into an
even glide, did not relax. It was impossible for either boy to enjoy
his first real dash in an airship, and each, hardly breathing, sat
tense and with hands gripped. At each small rise, drop or slightest
dart, the hearts of the two boys seemed to stop. Then, with each
steadier glide, there would come the sighs of breathing anew. For
perhaps five minutes neither boy spoke.

The aeroplane was perhaps two hundred feet in the air, and almost over
the white shell road leading from Tampa to Tarpon Springs. As the
highway, like a dirty white ribbon, flew to the rear, both boys sat
with eyes fixed straight ahead. A little settlement popped into the
air, rushed toward the speeding machine with a buzz of calls and yells,
and disappeared behind. It seemed to give Bob new courage.

“How fast?” he asked, in a nervous voice and between his set teeth.

“Twenty-five miles,” gasped Tom, with a quick glance at the anemometer.
“Hadn’t you better――?” But the sentence was not finished. Reaching
ahead, to throw the forward rudder up for a still higher flight,
preliminary to putting on more speed, Bob’s straining ear had caught
the lessened beat that denoted a dead cylinder. He acted on impulse,
and swiftly. As the forward rudder came to a level and the guiding
planes in the rear shifted to stay the upward flight and bring the
machine over the roadway to the left, Bob’s left hand shut off the
engine.

Tom asked no questions, but he knew something had happened. The
aeroplane, hurtling along under its own momentum, settled swiftly
toward the earth. Up went the forward rudders again, and the quick
descent was checked.

Then, released once more, the semi-buoyant machine fell on another
slant, and, the cold perspiration of intense excitement on both boys’
faces, the landing wheels struck squarely on the smooth road――ran
forward swiftly in lessening bounds until, with a clamp of his foot on
the spoon brake, Bob brought the car to a full stop.

Tom’s hands were so tensely gripped about the section uprights that he
could scarcely release them. Bob’s knees were shaking.

“Wha――what’s the matter?” mumbled Tom.

“A cylinder stopped,” answered Bob in the tone he might have used to
say one of his parents had died.

“Can you――you fix it?”

Bob was already partly recovered. But there was no color in his face.

“I reckon so,” he answered, none too confidently. “I’ve fixed them on
automobiles.”

“Were you scared?” asked Tom, as he unbent his limbs.

“Do you want me to tell the truth?” answered his companion, trying to
laugh. “Well, when I first got on that seat, I didn’t have _cold_ feet.
They were _frozen_.”

Tom laughed feebly, and shook his head.

“I didn’t weaken till we hit the water.”

“I was over the worst of it as soon as we got goin’,” went on Bob. “But
talk about jumpin’ into a cold bath! For awhile, I wished we’d never
thought of the thing.”

“How about it now?” went on Tom.

“Now? Oh, it’s all over now. I’ve been baptized. You feel all right,
don’t you?”

“I’ve felt better――in a sail boat,” laughed Tom, “but I’m game. Fix her
up. We’re losin’ time.”

The trouble was only a loose wire and a deficient spark. It was
adjusted in a moment. Bob looked at his watch.

“Five minutes after two,” he said, “and I suppose we’re about twenty
miles from the island. All aboard for Anclote――due there at two
thirty-four.”

The hard roadway gave the _Anclote_ an easier start than the softer
ground in the factory yard. With hardly a wobble, the aeroplane took
to the air again. Fragrant fruit orchards and picturesque stretches of
hummock land rolled along beneath the flying car. Before half past two,
thickening dwellings indicated a new town, and, with the white-topped
breakers of the distant ocean in sight to the west, the swiftly flying
machine passed over the city of Tarpon Springs. Instantly, Bob brought
the airship on a new course to the west and pointed for the red flash
light on Greater Anclote.

When the lighthouse fell beneath the young aviators, there was another
turn to the north. The blue waters of the gulf on the left and the
gray-brown shimmer of the shoals between the keys and the distant beach
on the right were ample guarantees of happy vacation days at hand.

“There she is,” exclaimed Tom, at last, as Mac’s flag came suddenly
into sight. At the extreme northern end of the group, Captain Joe’s
selection had been reached. With a long, curving sweep to the right,
Bob dropped lower and lower over the water, and, at two forty-five
P. M., the aeroplane entered into a little bay, shaped its course
parallel with the flat, hard beach and sank on its landing wheels as if
alighting on a mattress.

When Bob drew his benumbed limbs from the landed car, he threw himself
flat on the warm beach and closed his eyes with a tired but happy
smile.

“Well, we did it, Tom,” he said slowly. “Are you satisfied?”

“Satisfied?” repeated Tom. “Wait till I get my chance――I’ll show you.”

“You can try any time you like,” laughed Bob. “The machine belongs to
all of us. I’ve had my fling. You can take Hal up and show him the way
to do it, and then he can take Mac.”

“How about Jerry Blossom?” said Tom grinning.

“I’ll attend to Jerry. Leave him to me,” answered Bob. “But when every
one has had his turn, you and I will make the real flight. We’ll try to
see just what the deepest recesses of the big swamp are like.”

“You mean the hidden home of the last of the Seminoles?” suggested Tom
eagerly.

“Sure,” exclaimed Bob. “If white men can’t get there by swimmin’ or by
boat or on foot, it’s our duty to go. You know, Tom, I think you’re cut
out for a writer――a sort of literary fellow――if you tried. Your mother
showed me the stories you’ve written. And if we really find those old
Indians who have an altar decorated with Spanish armor, and that’s
what they say, you know――and who say their prayers to a big, sacred
alligator, why you can write a piece about them, and, maybe, get it
printed.”

“Do you think so?” asked Tom eagerly.

“I know it. And I’ll take photographs of the whole shootin’-match.”

“If I could do that,” exclaimed Tom, in an earnest voice, “I’d be
happy. I’ll try.”

How Tom succeeded, any one can learn who will turn to the files of
the Pensacola _Sunday Journal_ for the following September where were
published the articles on the “Secret City of the Seminoles” that
eventually started the southern lad on his reportorial career.

North Key of the Anclote group of islands was not much over a thousand
feet in width, but its sinuous length formed a crescent curve of nearly
a mile. In formation, it was soft coral stone covered with wind blown
sand, and a backbone of thin soil in which grew a ridge of scanty
vegetation, a barrier of fan palmetto and sea grass, which protected
the inner slope of the crescent. Captain Joe’s camp site was at the
head of a little bay cutting into the island almost as far as the green
topped ridge.

Here, the smooth shores of the beach changed to an abrupt bank some
five or six feet high on the side of which, overhung by a group of
three tall cabbage palmettoes, stood the new khaki tent. This the two
boys easily made out, the little flag fluttering stiffly in the sea
breeze, but there was no sign of the camp sentinel. Wondering where Mac
might be, Bob and Tom ran forward.

Before they could scale the little slope, there was a cry from the
other side of the converging beach, and Mac was made out, a tin bucket
in one hand and a long bamboo rod in the other――barefooted and his
trousers rolled to his knees――racing at top speed to meet them.

The three boys met at the camp.

“Lemme see her,” panted Mac, dropping his bucket. “I seen her comin’.
Gimme a ride. Gee, but it’s lonesome here. Say,” he added before the
amused boys could either make answer or get a look at the camp, “have
you fellows got any matches?”

“Matches?” exclaimed both Bob and Tom, running their hands into their
pockets.

“Yes, matches. I ain’t had a fire since Captain Joe left. This is a
fine camp,” sneered Mac indignantly. “When them fellows sailed away,
they didn’t leave me a single match. As I ain’t no Indian I ain’t had
no fire, and nothin’ to eat that had to be cooked.”

Bob and Tom looked at each other blankly.

“You don’t mean to tell me you fellows hain’t got no matches?”
exclaimed Mac, with increased contempt. “Look at them,” he said,
bitterly pointing to his bucket, “as fine a mess o’ pan red fish as
ever made a skillet smoke. Well, by golly,” and he threw his pole on
the sand, “if that ain’t the limit. When’s that schooner goin’ to git
back?”

“To-morrow morning,” answered Bob, with a smile.

“Laugh,” roared Mac, “it’s awful funny――specially if you had a good hot
breakfast in some swell café. Mebbe by to-morrow, you won’t feel so
funny.”

“We haven’t eaten since mahnin’,” interposed Tom. “We sort a reckoned
you’d have a hot dinnah a waitin’ fo’ us.”

“Dinner?” retorted Mac. “I’ll get your dinner――just what I had for
three days.”

He dashed into the little square supply tent and a moment later
returned with a big slice of cheese and a handful of crackers.

“If you want it hot,” he snapped, “put it out in the sun.”

Still laughing, Bob had a hasty look at the camp. Mac’s indignation
certainly had not interfered with his camp housekeeping. And what Bob
saw was ample compensation for the absence of such trifles as a few
matches. The camp site was on a level bit of sand ending in the always
picturesque saw palmettoes. Protected in the rear by this hedge of
green, the site faced the wide bay and white-capped sound, beyond which
could be made out the white sand of the mainland beach.

The sleeping tent was as fresh, clean and airy as the quarters of a
West Point cadet. Next to it was the supply tent and quarters for
Jerry. Here were the unopened supplies――canvas encased smoked meats,
tins of preserved meats, vegetables and fruits, rods and fish-boxes,
the shot gun and shells, candles, rain coats, cooking utensils and
table dishes――in short, to the eye at least, enough provender to supply
a half dozen men a month or more.

On a box in the center of the tent, a new towel covered something. Bob
raised it. Beneath, was a half a link of bologna sausage, a piece of
yellow cheese and the fragments of some crackers. The boy broke out
into a peal of laughter.

“Why didn’t you try some baked beans or potted tongue or some preserved
peaches?” he asked as the disgruntled Mac followed him into the tent.

“Preserves and cold beans?” sneered Mac. “With them buster crabs and
sweet red fish a curlin’ up in the sun just for the lack o’ a match? I
want meat. An’ I didn’t come all the way over here to eat peaches outen
a can.”

Bob stepped to Tom’s side and spoke in a low voice. Tom’s eyes bulged.
Then he too smiled.

“Go on,” added Bob aloud. “It isn’t over five miles. You can be back in
twenty minutes or so.”

Tom seemed to hesitate.

“Do you think I could?” he suddenly asked with a strange enthusiasm.

“Could what?” broke in Mac.

“Only a little errand,” explained Bob pretending to yawn. “We are out
of matches and we want those fish for dinner. We can’t have a fire
without matches. Since we haven’t any, we’ve got to go and get some.”

“That’s it,” said Mac, shaking his head as he bit out the words. “Go
and get some! This is a fine campin’ expedition. Why we ain’t even got
a boat. Mebbe, you’re goin’ to swim.”

“Come with us,” said Bob, still laughing. Puzzled and growling, Mac
followed Tom and Bob around the little cove to the bay beach where the
aeroplane rested on the sand. As they approached the beautiful airship,
Mac forgot his grouch and darted ahead.

“Don’t be in such a hurry,” called out Tom. “You’ll have plenty of time
to see it. You’re goin’ with me.”

“With you?” exclaimed Mac.

“Yes. You and I are goin’ to fly over to Tarpon Springs for a box of
matches.”



CHAPTER XVI

IN CAMP ON ANCLOTE KEY


To the surprise of the other boys, Mac’s frightened demur lasted only
a few seconds. Then, as if steeling himself to mount the gallows, the
barefooted, bewildered boy exclaimed:

“I call you――you’re on. I’m game.”

As a matter of fact, Tom was perhaps more apprehensive than Mac. But,
one thing reassured him. The start would be over shoal water, in which,
if they got a ducking, they would not dash out their brains. The spot
where the aeroplane landed was comparatively soft. After a little
search around the point, the beach was found to be harder, more like
a cement floor, and considerably wider. To this point, the three boys
trundled the airship like pushing a Gargantuan baby cab.

As Mac climbed aboard, he handed eight dollars to Bob.

“It’s all I have,” he said, without smiling――although, to tell the
truth, neither was he nervous――“give it to my father if we don’t get
back.”

“Not on your life,” exclaimed Tom. “That’s a Jonah sign――bad luck. Put
that money back in your pocket.”

Bob was a little concerned over Tom’s initiation. But the moment, he
saw the southern boy prime the cylinder cocks and grasp the levers, he
knew that Tom had let nothing go unobserved. Again the engine started,
the propeller began to hum and Tom sat with the wheels braked, waiting
for sufficient momentum. Then the car wobbled, and Bob saw it was time
to free the starting wheels.

“Let ’em go,” he yelled. And, as Tom released the brake, Bob, grasping
the rear vertical rudder, gave the _Anclote_ a “boost” that sent her
skimming along the beach. With the first bound into the air, Mac
twisted his body about. He was actually grinning.

“Purty soft,” he shouted, “if I don’t git sky sick.”

St. Joseph Bay, seven miles wide, stretched between the Keys and the
mainland. On its far side, rising from the white strip of narrow beach,
a green band of scrub pines and palmettoes was broken in one place by a
gap through which the Anclote River entered the sound.

Up this winding watercourse, small boats made their way to Tarpon
Springs, three miles inland. Over this stretch of water and land, Tom
and Mac were now shooting at top speed on their most important errand,
the securing of a box of matches.

Bob rushed back to the camp, mounted to the backbone of the Key for
one last look at the diminishing aeroplane and a glimpse at the deep
blue gulf beyond, and then made ready to prepare the long delayed meal.
There was a temptation to extend his inspection of the little island,
for he had already noticed a most unusual feature of the sand covered
Key. At the far northern end of the narrow strip, stood two large
trees――oaks he afterwards found――unique both in size and location. He
wondered why Captain Joe had not made camp there, but that was soon
explained――there was no landing.

With the determination to make Oak Tree Point the object of his first
excursion, the boy clambered down to Joe’s inlet, and the camp, and
fell to work. Perhaps it wasn’t a joy to overhaul and begin the
arrangement of their stores. Tom had already located a place for a camp
fire, and collected a pile of palmetto roots.

In a quarter of an hour, Bob had emptied most of the boxes and
improvised a pantry. On two of the cases, moved out under a palmetto
tree, he laid a cloth and distributed plates, cups, knives, forks and
spoons. Then followed bread, preserved butter, marmalade, condensed
cream, a can of baked beans and another of tomato soup ready for
heating, a few potatoes for frying and the skillets and pots for the
cooking.

As Mac’s fish were to be the feature of the “spread,” Bob now began
looking for a suitable knife with which to clean them. He knew he had
one in his fish box. As he prepared to unlock the latter, his face
flushed. Then he broke into a laugh. Snapping open the lid, he reached
into the lower compartment and withdrew, not only his fish knife, but
two boxes of wind-proof matches.

“Never mind,” he chuckled, “it’s all for the best. Ain’t no use havin’
an airship standin’ ’round eatin’ its head off an’ doin’ nothin’.
Besides, Mac had to begin sometime.”

Starting a fire of dead roots, Bob, still shaking with amusement, put
on a pot of water to heat the beans and soup, and filling the coffee
pot from the fresh water keg, he took Mac’s bucket of fish down to
the shore of the inlet to dress them. He was about half done when,
straightening up to ease his aching back, he found Mac and Tom silently
watching him.

“If that’s a joke,” exclaimed Mac, pointing to the roaring fire, “do
it again. I’m satisfied. We was in town twelve minutes, and it was
forty-two minutes from the time we left till we got back. An’ I’ll bet
you she kin――”

Bob held up his hands in protest, while he broke in with an explanation
of how and where he had found his matches, at the end of which he told
Mac they would talk “aeroplane” later. Tom exhibited three boxes of
matches rather contemptuously, and then, Mac being a more experienced
cook, Bob and Tom turned over the culinary affairs to him, while they
visited the aeroplane to prepare it for the night.

The rubber-silk plane coverings were so attached that they could be
rolled up and buttoned like a buggy curtain, thus decreasing the wind
surface and liability of damage from the elements. Both top and bottom
silk coverings (except in the engine section below) were kept taut
and in place on their rear by wire edgings drawn over each slightly
projecting rib end.

When these wires were removed, the silk surfaces were easily rolled
up and reefed along the forward edge of the car to which they were
permanently attached. This done, the delicate starting wheel frame was
quickly unbolted and removed, the bare framework set flat on the ground
and anchored with four shoulder pins. Then, covering the engine with a
waterproof jacket, the aeroplane was safe enough from ordinary storm or
wind.

When Tom and Bob rejoined the perspiring Mac, they encountered a smell
from the fish skillet that set Bob to rubbing his stomach.

“Wait till I get a mess of pompano,” remarked Mac squatted over the
fire. “Red fish are good――mighty good――but pompano――!” Words failed
him. About half past four, the meal was ready. At five o’clock, it was
at an end, and three rotund youngsters were lying on the warm sand,
content with themselves and the world.

“I could lie here forever,” mumbled happy Bob.

“Which means about five minutes,” drawled Tom.

“That reminds me,” exclaimed Bob, springing up, “I’m goin’ to explore
the island.”

“I reckoned as much,” continued Tom. “I nevah knew you all to keep
still moah than ten minutes if theah was anything you could do. Come
on.”

“Here,” protested Mac. “I don’t mind cookin’; but that don’t mean dish
washin’. Get busy.”

It wasn’t much dishwashing that was done, but Bob did recall that
the dish rag had to be washed and hung out to dry. When that had
been stretched over a palmetto the three members of the club set out
on their tour. Mac was leader. His main discovery had been a little
projecting arm of the island on the gulf side on which the wash of
the sea fell. It was literally a mine of small shells. They were not
mixed with sand or gravel, but lay, many feet deep, a solid bank of sea
shells.

Bob was anxious to reach Oak Tree Point, and, at first, he was somewhat
indifferent to sea beans, shark’s tears, conchs, wave-worn sponges,
sugary-like corals of endless forms and the broken fragments of yellow
and blue and purple fans from the distant Indies. But, once started
on the quest, in a few moments, he and his companions forgot their
excursion and the fleeting hours.

After seven o’clock, the three boys, with cramped backs, ceased their
search.

“Ain’t you goin’ to the end of the island?” exclaimed Bob, as Tom and
Mac started toward camp again. Mac shook his head and Tom sighed.

“All right,” laughed Bob, “I’ll see you later.” And while his
companions made their weary way back to Joe’s Inlet, the indefatigable
Bob set out in search of still further adventures.

It was the hour of twilight――later there would be a moon, but, instead
of dimming the view, the fading day only seemed to lend sharper details
to the lonesome Key. As Bob followed the beach toward the far end of
the island, stopping now and then to impale on a long stick the body of
a dead jelly fish and hurl it splashing back into the sea, the boy at
last came to the point of the trees.

That such ancient and sturdy woodland monarchs should be growing on
the stony island was inexplicable. Some act of nature had parted the
coral foundation of the Key and made a little inlet――in form something
like the one terminating the bay where the camp was located. Into this
fissure, the light waves rushed, welling up at the apex of the cleft
like a fountain and then rushing out again like the exhaust of a pump.
At the very mouth of this, stood a smaller tree, its gnarled roots
reaching down through fissures and entwining great blocks of the broken
coral stone. At the far end of the fissure――as if stopping further
inroads of the rupture――rose the larger tree.

As Bob, after a circuit of the trees, threw himself on the soft sand
and settled himself to enjoy the darkening blue of land and sky, far to
the east over the black of the mainland pines rose the silver rim of
the full moon.

It was the time for dreaming. His head on his hand, Bob drifted far
from the reality of day. Anclote Key drifted with him into the shadowy
world of romance. The Spaniards of old were again sailing the seas
before him and where he now lay, the red men, who had been dazed by the
sheen of knightly De Soto’s armor, might have met to stay the approach
of the invaders of the new world.

Then later days came――days of West Indian marauding at sea, wherein
turbanned cut-throats ravaged the Spanish Main for slaves and colonial
merchandize and killed men too for the pleasure of killing. In such
times, Jerry Blossom’s mythical outlaw might have lived, some West
Indian of color――even with Jerry’s big sword. Such had sailed and slain
and robbed in plenty, but they had passed like many of Bob’s loved
romances, leaving behind them only tales of blood letting and buried
treasure.

“Buried treasure!” As Bob’s wandering thoughts came upon those magic
words, he thought of Jerry. In such a spot as this, the fabricating
Jerry might well have located his invented tale of the Black Pirate and
his treasure. Bob arose, and, in the new moonlight, again examined the
shadowed trees, the rocky inlet at their feet and the drifting sand
behind them.

If there was ever a spot made to lure on the treasure seeking negroes
of the gulf coast, this was one. “Perhaps,” thought Bob. Then he
stopped and scratched his head. A swell of the sea rushed into the
inlet and broke with a swish, like harsh whispers. Bob’s face lit up
with a sudden idea. Despite the lonesome surroundings, he even smiled.
For a few moments, he paced the ground between the trees and round
about and then, as if moved by an eager impulse, he set off on a run
for the camp.

Tom and Mac were debating whether they should prepare another meal
when Bob, full of his new idea, burst upon them. So keen was Bob’s
interest in his project that eating talk was put aside. Then, to the
great amusement of the other boys, Bob related how Jerry had paid for
his passage to the island with a fabricated story of hidden treasure.
Also, he told how Jerry had weakened in his story, and sought to escape
his recent compact with Bob by explaining that he had lost the record
written on the orders of the “Ole Black Pirate wif de big sword.”

Bob’s project was to turn the tables on Jerry, have some innocent fun
at the colored boy’s expense, and, in a measure at least, lessen his
proclivity for telling falsehoods. As he explained his plans, Tom and
Mac chuckled with laughter. Mac in turn added some ideas that pleased
the other boys. Withdrawing into the tent, with the aid of a candle,
the first step in the conspiracy was taken.

When the plan had been well worked out, the boys took a long stroll on
the moonlit shore, had a lively contest as to who could find and dump
into the sea the most jelly fish, and finally, the air growing a little
cool, they found it ten o’clock and that each was hungry.

“It’s no use to wait for Captain Joe,” explained Mac. “They may be here
at one o’clock and they may not get in before daylight. Besides, they
have plenty to eat and a brazier to cook it on. We’ll eat something and
turn in.”

Hauling the prearranged signal lights up on the palmetto that Mac had
stripped, the cook fire was replenished and Mac tried his skill on some
refreshments. To the surprise of the other boys, Mac climbed down the
little ravine slope and returned, dragging a coffee sack that had been
buried in the sand. Bob and Tom saw a heap of fine fat oysters gathered
by Mac in his idle hours from a bank just off Great Oak Point.

When Mac announced supper, the main dish was the bivalves. He roasted
them in the coals, then cracking open three dozen of them, dropped a
bit of butter and a little lemon juice in each.

“Oysters à la Anclote,” laughed Mac, “but wait till we get that
pompano, broiled――”

Then, dishwashing postponed till morning, the boys rolled themselves
in their blankets to dream of the next night, Jerry, and “the hidden
treasure of the Black Pirate.”



CHAPTER XVII

TOM LANDS A TARPON AND BOB A TARTAR


Just before dawn, the mournful sound of a conch shell, blown by the
capacious lunged Jerry, aroused Bob, Tom and Mac, and the camp boys
tumbled out just in time to give a welcome to the _Three Sisters_
pushing the spray aside and headed for the cove.

When the schooner’s freight had been “toted” ashore, a rousing fire
was made to limber up the stiffened cruisers, and then, the dew
still sparkling on the waxen palmetto scrub, all hands turned in to
prepare breakfast. This over, and it was yet hardly full sun up, hasty
preparations were made for the first day’s program――an excursion out on
the gulf for deep sea fish――tarpon, if luck ran with them.

Hal alone remained behind. With a box of food and a pot of cold
coffee, the remainder of the party was off for the home of the _grande
écaille_, or the silver king of all game fishes.

As a result of their recent good fortune, each boy had new and
special tackle, split bamboo rods about eight feet long, with large
multiplying click reels that would hold two hundred yards of stout
linen line. For a half hour before starting, Jerry had been busy
catching mullet with a hand line, and his efforts gave the fishermen a
bucket of bait.

Sailing southward to the “wash” between Greater Anclote and its Keys,
Captain Joe headed for the outer Keys. Just beyond these, in anchorage,
the sails were dropped, and, the _Three Sisters_ sleepily riding the
gentle gulf swell, the eager fishermen began operations.

Baiting their hooks with mullets, Mac on one side of the boat and
Tom on the other, the young sportsmen cast their bait as far out as
possible, let it sink to the bottom, and then began the long wait.

“I reckon they bite accordin’ to their size,” remarked Bob, after a
quarter of an hour’s unfruitful interval.

“Never you mind,” retorted Tom. “Real Tarpon fishermen wait a week
sometimes.”

“An’ then don’t get nothin’,” added Mac.

“I could get a bucket of perch up on Lake Michigan in this time,”
yawned Bob.

The two fishermen sneered in disdain.

“Just you wait,” exclaimed Tom. “If we do have any luck, this old
boat’ll be the busiest place you evah saw fo’ a few hours.”

“A few hours?” shouted Bob. “And we’ve got to sit here suckin’ our
thumbs all that time? Not on your life. I’ll take a snooze.”

Jerry followed his example. Twice, while the two idle boys slept,
curled up in the vacant cockpit with a loose sail stretched to ward off
the sun, Captain Joe hoisted anchor, and, with the jib, changed the
position of the schooner searching for a possible school. Suddenly,
about eleven o’clock, Tom had a strike.

For an instant, he was in doubt. Then the unmistakable leap, with its
shower of silvery spray, left no question. As his line disappeared and
Tom’s reel began to hum, there was swift action on deck. Captain Joe
sprang to the main sail and yelled for Jerry. Mac reeled in his line
with speed and then tumbled aft to the wheel.

In the excitement, Bob and Jerry appeared. All sail was made, and the
chase of the silver king was on.

“Haul in on him――haul in,” shouted Bob.

“Go suck your thumb,” said Tom.

“Shoot him,” yelled Bob. “He’ll jump off the hook. Lemme help.”

“Go on, finish your snooze,” laughed Tom. “Keep away. This is my fish.”

“They’re bitin’, Mac,” continued Bob, growing more and more excited.
“Where’s your pole? Lemme have it? I can get one, I’ll bet.”

Mac, laughing, explained that the etiquette of tarpon fishing demanded
that when a fish is hooked, boats and other fishermen near by shall up
anchor and keep out of the way. Bob, charged with excitement, forgot
all about “sucking his thumb” or snoozing. As Captain Joe and Mac
manoeuvred the boat in pursuit of the darting, struggling fish, and
Jerry stood near the perspiring Tom with a gaff handy, Bob hung over
the rail or ran back and forth, eager to assist and finding nothing to
do. It was Tom’s first “silver scale,” but all his angling skill on
Perdido waters led up to this supreme combat. Despite his thumb stall,
the sizzling wet line soon wore through the skin of his thumb, but he
gave no heed. At one point, after a moment’s quiet, the desperate fish
made a sudden dash and leap. Tom’s reel went off like an explosion. The
handle caught the boy’s thumb with a glancing blow, and, like a knife,
snipped the skin off his knuckle.

Instantly, the blood welled out over his hand, mixed with the salt
water running down his bared arm and then reddened his shirt.

Bob sprang forward with his handkerchief.

“Keep away from me,” shouted Tom. “This is my fish, and I’m goin’ to
land him.”

“Yo’ all’s bleedin’ to def,” panted Jerry. Mac and Captain Joe smiled.
They knew that only death itself could come between a real tarpon
fisher and his prize.

“Keep those kids off me, Mac,” savagely exclaimed Tom. “Put ’em in the
hold.”

At a quarter to one o’clock, the battle was over. The sails were
dropped again, and Captain Joe, not Jerry, sank the gaff into the
conquered fish. As Tom’s rod and reel dropped on the deck and the
exhausted boy fell backwards, four willing pairs of arms pulled his
victim into the boat. It was six feet, seven inches long, and weighed
one hundred and fifty-three pounds.

A shot in the spinal column, and the monster fish was dead. With its
last flop, the panting Tom crawled to its side and pulled off one of
its largest and most brilliant scales.

“Help yourselves, boys,” he said, his face aglow with the pride of
conquest. “Get a few souvenirs, and then throw him overboard.”

“Not much,” protested Mac. “That fish is goin’ in to Tarpon Springs to
be weighed and registered. He’s a record fish.”

“Throw him overboard?” almost shrieked Bob. “What do you mean? Aren’t
we goin’ to keep him?”

“Why keep him?” laughed Tom. “He ain’t fit to eat. Take a couple of
scales. That’s all you can do with a tarpon, except to lick him.”

But Mac’s proposal was carried out. The schooner was headed shoreward.
The chase had carried the boat five or six miles seaward, and the Keys
were just in sight.

Hal, in the camp, had a long day of it. Awake by midday, he immediately
began the work assigned him in carrying out the brilliant idea
conceived by Bob the evening before, one of the reasons he had remained
ashore. Securing a piece of light colored wrapping paper, he charred
the edges of it until it was about a foot square. Then, after prolonged
search, he found a red pasteboard box which he soaked in water until he
had some carmine fluid. With this and a stick, he laboriously inscribed
something on the charred sheet.

This done, he took a small wooden box, placed a lemon in it, and then
carried the box to Oak Tree Point. Here, he stepped off a certain
number of paces in line with the trees and digging a hole in the sand
about three feet deep, deposited in it the box and the lemon.

It was six o’clock when the _Three Sisters_ reached the cove again. The
tale of the battle with the tarpon came first, and then the evening
meal. It was well after eight o’clock when Bob, lighting a candle,
asked Jerry to follow him into the tent.

“Jerry,” began Bob, solemnly, “I suppose you know the time’s up.”

“Yo’ mean dat ole colored pirate’s papah?” asked Jerry, nervously.

“I certainly do,” said Bob positively. “But I know you didn’t find it.
Jerry, you lied to me. You told me you wrote what the Black Pirate said
on regular paper. You didn’t!”

“No, sah. Ah tole de truff. It was reg’lah papah――writin’ papah.”

“And you lost it?”

“Mistah Bob, Ah been sarchin’ ever’whar. Ah cain’t fin’ hide nur hair
o’ dat writin’.”

“We’ll take you over to the mainland in the morning and leave you,”
said Bob decisively. “You’ll have to get home the best way you
can――walk, I reckon.”

Jerry’s mouth curved, and he began to whimper.

“That is,” went on Bob, “unless you confess you were telling a story.”

“No, sah, Mistah Bob, no sah. Dat ole colored pirate he shore ’peared
to me prezackly like I tole you. Ah ain’t tell no lie.”

“Well,” announced Bob, “we won’t believe it unless you show the paper.
Off you go in the morning――no airship for you, and no more camp.”

Jerry’s whimper turned into a sob. But at that moment, Tom and Hal, who
had been listening, rushed into the tent.

“What’s this mean?” began Hal holding out the charred paper. “Here’s a
paper with something on it in blood.” Jerry’s sobs stopped short, and
his eyes began to grow big. “Captain Joe says he found it under Jerry’s
blanket in the schooner.” The colored boy’s eyes popped open until the
whites looked like little moons.

“Ah ain’t――” he began, but Bob stopped him and grasped the red smeared
sheet. “Jerry,” he exclaimed in an alarmed voice, “is this yours? Why
it’s signed ‘Black Pirate’. Is this the paper you had?”

“Ah――” he began, and then stopped open mouthed.

The three boys crowded over the mysterious looking sheet, and appeared
to be puzzling out its contents.

“That’s what it is all right,” commented Tom in a low voice.

“Certainly tells all about it,” added Hal.

“But that isn’t ‘reg’lar paper’,” said Bob.

“Mebbe――” began Jerry, making a bold front.

“Maybe what?” snapped Bob.

“Mebbe,” said Jerry with dry lips, “mebbe dat ole sword man done change
dat papah on me. What’s de writin’ writ dar? Dat papah ain’t familiar
to me, but Ah knows what de writin’ was.”

Bob handed the trembling colored boy the blood written sheet, and held
the candle aloft. Jerry, his hands shaking and his lips trembling,
managed to read:

    “Anclote Key. Oak Tree Point. Fifty paces in line of trees
    east. Treasure. Dig, alone, at midnight.

                                                 “Black Pirate.”

As Jerry finished, he looked up and began to blubber. With him, it was
any port in a storm. Never in his life had he acknowledged to telling a
lie. With a gulp and clearing his throat, he said:

“Dar’s a hoodoo on dat papah, but dem’s de words prezackly ’at Ah done
took down. Yas, sah, Mistah Bob, dat’s what he said.”

“I guess he must be tellin’ the truth boys,” announced Bob at once.
“There’s something strange here, but I reckon Jerry’s all right. Jerry,
I apologize for thinkin’ you were telling a lie.”

“Oh, dat’s all right, Mistah Bob. We all gwine make mistakes. Ah cain’t
hardly blame yo’ all. But Ah reckon yo’ done belieb me now.”

“We certainly do,” said Hal. “But I wish I had your luck.”

“Mah luck?” repeated Jerry, puzzled.

“Yes,” added Mac. “A chance at the treasure you are going to find at
midnight.”

“Treasuah? Me? Midnight?” cried the colored boy, in sudden alarm.

“Certainly,” exclaimed Bob, in apparent surprise. “You don’t mean you
aren’t goin’ to dig it up?”

“All alone?” wailed Jerry, who, like all colored folks when they seek
buried treasure, preferred to be fortified with rabbit’s feet, dried
frog skins or the powdered bones of an owl. “Ah done gib yo’ all a
chanst to go wif me.”

“It reads ‘alone’,” explained Bob, with a straight face. “You ain’t
scared, are you?”

“Who? Me scairt? Ah ain’t scairt, but Ah reckon dey is ’nuff gold fo’
all of us.”

“We wouldn’t think of it,” explained Hal. “This is a message to you
from your relative. If he can change that paper, he could strike us
dead. I wouldn’t go near it.”

Jerry shifted his feet nervously. “Mebbe dat ole pirate lyin’ to me,”
he ventured, with new nervousness.

“Well, you can’t lose,” argued Bob. “If you do as he says and don’t
find anything, that’s his fault――not yours. Anyway, you’ve convinced us
that you’re tellin’ the truth.”

“Yas, sah,” spoke up Jerry, with sudden determination to carry his
bluff to the end. “Whar’s de shubble?”

After three hours of tedious waiting, in which time Jerry’s companions
sat about the flickering campfire and discussed grewsome and ghastly
tales of bewitched pirate gold, the boys announced the hour of the
search. The colored boy, trembling and speechless, was given the
lantern and dispatched on his quest.

No sooner had he taken the path along the west shore of the island than
the three jokers, carrying a white sheet, a freshly loaded revolver and
Captain Joe’s conch shell, lit out with racehorse speed along the east
beach for the ridge slope opposite the big oaks. Captain Joe followed
in the rear, but even he was concealed behind the rise of ground when
the faltering Jerry could be made out gingerly approaching the little
wave swept inlet at the foot of the oaks.

“Don’t spoil everything now by making a noise until he finds it,”
suggested Tom. “And then give him time to see what he has. Then I guess
we’ll cure him of pirates and treasure and lying.”

Then something happened. By the time the colored boy reached the trees,
he had forgotten how his own fabrication had started the search. The
paper in his pocket began to have a real significance, and, when he
arrived at the scene of his search, his simple reason deserted him. He
was on an actual, real quest for buried pirate gold. The Black Pirate
had suddenly become real.

Jerry’s plan of action had been suggested by the boys. To get his fifty
paces in line with the two trees, he stationed his lantern behind the
trees and then, his shovel held like a weapon, he was seen to emerge
from the shadows of the oaks. In the full moonlight, he was coming
forward, with long, precise strides, glancing backwards from time
to time to see that he kept the lantern out of his line of vision,
by which he knew that his progress was straight to the east. He had
advanced but a dozen or so full strides when Hal whispered excitedly:

“He’s steppin’ twice as far as I did. He’ll pass the box!”

What was to be done? Nothing――unless the boys revealed their presence.

“If he misses it, we’ll send him out again,” whispered Tom.

“Let him dig awhile, anyway,” suggested Bob, in a low voice. “Then
we’ll give him a scare, if part of the joke is on us.”

“I should say not,” hastily added Hal. “He’s got to find that lemon,
or――”

But he had to stop. The long-strided Jerry was too close for further
talking.

“Fo’ty-eight, fo’ty-nine, fifty,” the intent Jerry called. As he
finished, he thrust his shovel into the sand, and the boys could see
him fumbling in his pockets. In a moment, he produced and lit a candle.
Sticking it in the sand, he carefully expectorated on his hands, and
the first shovelful of sand flew over his head.

Tom, shaking with laughter, glued his mouth to Bob’s ear and whispered:
“Why not let him have it now? He ain’t goin’ to find the box.”

“Let him get up a perspiration,” whispered Bob. “It’ll do him good.”

In all his life, the shiftless Jerry had probably never done as
energetic work as followed in the next five minutes. The loose sand
seemed to fly through the air as if coming from a spout. The colored
boy was soon knee deep in a hole, mumbling a negro chant. Then his
knees disappeared.

“It’s a shame,” said Hal, in the faintest whisper, as he crawled in
between the other boys, who were rolling on the sand, holding their
hands over their mouths.

“Ssh!” came almost inaudibly from the prostrate Captain Joe.

[Illustration: THE COLORED BOY WAS SOON KNEE DEEP IN A HOLE.]

Three heads popped above the ridge. Jerry was almost out of sight
in his excavation. As the boys held their laughter, the form of the
treasure seeker suddenly hurled his shovel from the hole. Then the
active Jerry sprang out, caught up his candle and rolled into the
excavation again.

“Somethin’ doin’,” remarked Captain Joe, in a little bolder voice, as
Bob, Tom and Hal eagerly rose to their knees.

“He’s tired,” exclaimed Bob, in an excited whisper. “Get ready.”

Quickly drawing his revolver, Tom caught up his sheet and Hal thrust
the conch shell to his lips. As the pandemonium rang out, and Tom
sprang up with his ghostly sheet, Jerry rolled out of the hole. A
piercing cry of alarm rose from the colored boy, and with one wild look
behind, he fled toward the beach. Again a pistol shot rang out, and Hal
sounded a wail on the conch. “I’m Black Pirate’s ghost,” yelled Tom,
starting forward.

“Let him go,” shouted Bob, laughing, “he’s got enough.”

“He got something,” broke in Captain Joe. “He fine something.”

“Got something?” repeated Bob.

“He got something he found,” added Captain Joe. “Ain’t no lemon,
neither,” he concluded, dryly.

There was a moment’s silence, and then Hal, lowering his conch shell,
said in a peculiar voice:

“Do you reckon we’ve been horned?”

They had.



CHAPTER XVIII

MARIE DUCROIX’ SEA CHEST


When the disappointed jokers reached the camp, Jerry was found in the
big tent, his head covered with a blanket, moaning and beseeching mercy
from the spirit of the incensed Black Pirate. Deciding that their joke
had gone far enough, the boys persuaded the colored lad to withdraw his
head and cease his lamentations. Then Bob explained how the paper had
been manufactured and how Jerry had been sent on his wild goose chase
as an object lesson on the evils of telling falsehoods.

“Dar wa’n’t no ghoses?” exclaimed the agitated lad. “An’ dar wa’n’t no
blood writin’?”

He was reassured that there was no reality to the alleged directions,
that all would be forgiven, and that he would be allowed to remain in
camp on his promise to abstain from romancing in the future. The boy
promised, even crossing his heart. Then, as if ashamed to speak of it
before, Bob said:

“You didn’t find anything, did you, Jerry?”

The colored boy, considerably bolder by this time, scratched his head
and looked at the tent opening.

“Don’t be afraid to tell,” added Bob, laughing. “I was your partner,
but I didn’t go with you. Anything you found is yours.”

“Ah done did fine a li’l box,” answered Jerry, hesitatingly, “but Ah
reckon ’tain’t no gold in it. An’ wen dat ghos’ come at me, Ah frowed
it――” At that point, Jerry paused, while the other boys looked at
each other curiously. The colored boy remembered his vow to tell the
truth. “Ah frowed it hyah,” added Jerry. Signing his companions to
follow him, he passed out of the tent, advanced with a candle into
the scrub palmetto behind the camp and reappeared with a small black
box resembling a glove case. The hearts of the four boys thumped with
astonishment. One glance told that the box was old and protected with
metal strips. A wave of chagrin swept over Jerry’s tormentors.

“But dat ain’t all,” volunteered the bolder growing Jerry. “De lid o’
de big box done cave in, an’ Ah grabbed de li’l box. Dar’s a _big_ box!”

“Probably some fisherman’s lost kit,” suggested Hal.

But, when Bob took the little box from Jerry’s hands, heard the sound
of metal within it, pointed to the hard black wood and the oxydized
metal keyhole, bands and corners, all the boys knew it was no common
find. With a sigh, the romantic-minded Bob handed the box to its
discoverer, and the confused colored boy began the task of opening it.

Now the opening of what may be a real treasure box is no common
incident. The keyhole was filled with rust, and while Mac brought the
hatchet, a blanket was spread on the ground and extra candles lit. The
metal ornamentation did not restrain the colored boy. Before the other
boys could stop him, he had smashed the top of the box. As its contents
tumbled out on the blanket, there was a groan of disappointment from
Jerry. Instead of a shower of money――golden doubloons and silver
pieces-of-eight, there was but a confused heap of odds and ends.

“Some woman’s truck,” exclaimed Hal. It was. But when, ten minutes
later, the “truck” had been laid out in order, even imaginative Bob was
trembling with astonishment. From one of the first articles examined,
a little oblong silver card case, it was easily understood that the
box was no pirate loot. The case was inscribed: “Marie Ducroix, New
Orleans, 1807.”

With trembling fingers, and bulging eyes, the articles in the case,
mildewed and discolored but not the less valuable on that account, were
examined in turn with feverish eagerness. The next morning, a list was
made including these items:

1. Card case and chain, silver, marked: “Marie Ducroix, New Orleans,
1807.” Eight indecipherable cards in the case.

2. Plain gold ring, inscribed within: “J. D. to M. D.”

3. Unset cameo, 1½ inches by 1 inch; figure, girl with vase.

4. Miniature portrait, 2 inches by 1½ inches; head of man with
pompadour hair, smooth face, high collar and frilled shirt; set in a
gold frame with rim of diamond brilliants.

5. Child’s gold ring with garnet set.

6. Woman’s gold ring with 3-carat diamond setting.

7. Woman’s gold ring, small diamond surrounded by six rubies.

8. Gold five-franc piece, worn smooth and with hole in edge.

9. Six gold waistcoat buttons.

10. Two slipper buckles, gold.

11. Woman’s brooch in a circle of pearls.

12. Tiara, small but elaborate pattern of gold, with central figure of
bird outlined with small diamonds and rubies.

13. Belt buckle containing six half-carat diamonds.

While the boys knelt, their eyes reveling in the glint of the jewels,
Mac sprang up.

“You don’t mean that this coon gets all that stuff?”

Jerry, never opposing Mac very strongly on any proposition, shrank back.

“That’s my idea,” remarked Bob. The other boys nodded their heads
approvingly.

“Ah ain’t reckon dat’s all mine,” ventured Jerry, in turn. “Ef Ah kin
hab de gold crown fo’ mah ole mammy, yo’ all kin hab dem rings an’
sich.”

This was manifestly unfair. For a long time, the question was debated.
The colored boy insisted that the little box was only a part of the
treasure――that a larger box remained untouched. What might be in
this box was unknown, but if it was of considerable value, there was
a feeling that the other members of the expedition had some sort of
a claim on it. Finally, and partly at Captain Joe’s suggestion, it
was agreed by all that, of the treasure already found and yet to be
examined, Jerry would be liberally compensated with a share equal to
one-third.

This decision reached, Captain Joe called attention to the fact that
it was half past one o’clock. But the hour meant nothing to the gold
frenzied lads. With extra candles, an impetuous cavalcade made its way
at once toward Oak Tree Point, Captain Joe protesting but following.
Securing Jerry’s abandoned lantern, there was a rush over the smooth
sand to the colored boy’s excavation.

The moon was low, a stiff breeze was blowing in from the sea and
sweaters were not out of place. Jerry was not mistaken. There was a
larger box or chest, part of which had been uncovered. No attempt was
made to free the box, but Mac, with the shovel, soon removed the top.

The jeweled contents of “Marie Ducroix’ glove case” were for a time
forgotten as the articles in the old chest were lifted out and laid
on the white sand. Above all, was the unmistakable odor of mildewed
and decayed clothing. In a few moments, the sand was littered with an
assortment of things such as no pirate ever dreamed of concealing.

“It’s certainly a woman’s trunk,” exclaimed Tom, “a big cypress chest.”

“Must have belonged to this same Madame Ducroix,” suggested Hal.

“Then, it wasn’t buried intentionally,” declared Bob. “I’ll bet there
was a shipwreck. Like as not Marie Ducroix was on her way to Europe
from New Orleans. This box must have been washed up here by the sea.
The ship may be out yonder beyond the Keys.”

The possessions of Marie Ducroix came to light in two layers. The
bottom of the box was filled with discolored and rotted garments,
not one of which was worth preservation, although all gave signs of
one-time richness. These included silk dresses, gossamer shawls and
veils, silk slippers and hose, dainty handkerchiefs (all enclosed in
what had been tissue paper until the dampness had resolved it into a
gray coating) and a package of laces, a few inches of which now and
then showed the pattern.

On top of these, were other articles, each covered with a thin shell of
dissolved paper:

A hand beaten silver sugar urn and a tall hot-milk pitcher of the same
material; a silver coffee pot with a rotted ebony handle; a long
handled silver dipper (the handle eighteen inches long); two dozen each
of small silver coffee and dessert spoons; one dozen each of silver
fruit knives with ivory handles and forks. Each of these pieces was
marked with an engraved “D”.

Packed carefully in what had been a pasteboard box, were thirty crystal
pendants, and in fairly well preserved linen cloth, a crystal and
silver epergne and a crystal compote or fruit dish. The latter was
broken. Alongside these articles was a thin Malacca cane with a gold
head, marked “J. D”.

But beneath these articles, came the prize that set each youngster on
edge――gold money――the only real valuable that a boy wants to dig out of
the sand. Secreted in a corner of the chest, was a small leather bag,
heavy as lead and intact.

“Here she is!” yelled Mac, as his greedy fingers fell on this article.
“If it ain’t gold, I’m a goat.”

With one stroke of a knife, the leather thong tied about the mouth of
the sack was cut away and out on the sand, rolled the jingling climax
of the great discovery――nearly a thousand dollars in yellow gold coins.
Silks and laces might crumble into dust; silver might coat itself with
a leaden pall, but the royal metal had held its sunny sheen through its
long entombment. Not until Pensacola was reached again, did the club
members know just what they had found, but in time the values were set
down as:

    Eleven English sovereigns          $ 53.35
    Two Peruvian piastres                  .96
    Three louis-d’or                     25.00
    Twenty-three U. S. gold eagles      230.00
    450 French five-franc pieces        450.00
                                       ―――――――
                                       $759.31

Even Captain Joe forgot the waning hours. Even to the last scrap of
silk and crumbled lace, the full contents of the cypress chest was
carried to the camp. Hal was inclined to think that some one should
stand guard, but Captain Joe ridiculed the idea. Faint traces of dawn
were already in the east when, piling the new found treasure in the
middle of the tent and covering it with a blanket, the first full day
in camp came to a glorious end.

The boys had planned a week of lazy fishing, daily flights in the
aeroplane and “slathers of sleep” as Mac put it. But the camp the
next morning was more like the office of some hotel. It did not seem
possible to crowd in even the necessary things. There was to have been
an early morning excursion in the _Anclote_; then a noon rest and a
long afternoon of tarpon fishing.

These plans were upset. Tom, Hal, Jerry and Captain Joe decided to sail
to Tarpon Springs with the valuables; to pack them securely and forward
them by express to Pensacola in care of Mrs. Allen. A strong new trunk
was to be bought for this purpose, and Mrs. Allen notified by special
letter to look out for the coming fortune.

The following week, when the grand appraisement and division took place
in Mrs. Allen’s little parlor, a jeweler estimated the value of the
silver and jewelry――attaching no value to the thirty crystal pendants,
which had undoubtedly once ornamented a chandelier in some spacious
plantation home――at two thousand and sixty-two dollars. Jerry’s share
of that and one-third of the money was nine hundred and forty dollars.
The colored boy still stuck to the tiara, valued at five hundred
dollars, but his more practical mother dismissed Jerry’s fancy and
voted for money――as far as that would go.

Mrs. Blossom and her son were, therefore, given seven hundred and
fifty-nine dollars in gold; the two dozen dessert spoons, estimated at
thirty dollars; the crystal and silver epergne and the crystal compote
dish at forty dollars; the pearl brooch, said to be worth one hundred
dollars for Mrs. Blossom and the gold waistcoat buttons for Jerry at
twenty dollars. The crystal pendants were thrown in for good measure
for Mrs. Blossom, and the cane was voted to Jerry.

Of that which remained, Captain Joe was persuaded to accept the silver
fruit knives and forks, worth forty dollars, and then the four members
of the club divided the balance, estimated to be worth eighteen hundred
and forty-one dollars, in four portions. The chief prize, of course,
was the diamond and ruby tiara for the hair, put down by the appraiser
as worth five hundred dollars. When there was some hesitation about who
should take this, Mrs. Balfour offered to accept it as Bob’s share,
which was four hundred and sixty dollars, and to pay the difference.

Mac came out of the division with the three-carat diamond ring, Hal drew
the belt buckle with the six diamonds and Tom’s prize was the ring with
the single diamond and six rubies, the three boys dividing between them,
the various small articles remaining. Mrs. Allen was given the scraps of
lace and other relics.

But all this came later. No sooner had the “treasure fleet” departed
on its way to the mainland than Bob and Mac hurried to the long idle
aeroplane. Readjusting the plane coverings and cleaning and oiling
the engine, the two boys prepared for an excursion. When the light
framework had been lifted on the starting wheels once more, Mac began
to rub his chin.

“I kin shin up a mast all right,” he said, a little doubtfully, “but I
ain’t never been much of a hand fur steeples an’ sich like.”

Bob looked at him and laughed.

“We’re only goin’ a little ways――just over to Tampa for the papers and
mail――only twenty-five miles or so. We can be back in about an hour, if
you like,” explained Bob. “I thought you might want to drop a postal to
your folks.”

“Well, what do you think o’ that?” exclaimed Mac. “Fifty miles or
more to spend a cent. Say, Bob,” he asked suddenly, “do you reckon
everybody is a goin’ to have one o’ them things after while――jes’ like
automobiles?”

“Unless they have something better,” answered Bob. “They are pretty
crude now.”

In three quarters of an hour, the _Anclote_ had landed in the rear of
the cigar factory in Tampa; Mac had gone into the city and bought the
morning papers――even mailing a postcard to make Bob’s joke good――and
sometime before eleven o’clock, the airship was on the island beach
again.

“Ain’t you goin’ to the hotel to see your mother?” asked Mac, when Bob
prepared to set out on the return. Bob winked his eye.

“Not while the telegraph is working between here and Chicago,” he
laughed. “My father has funny ideas sometimes.”

This was Monday. That afternoon, there was a fishing cruise, the _Three
Sisters_ having returned, and Mac remained behind to keep camp and
prepare supper. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday passed in a series of
new delights. Aeroplane flights were made seaward and landward――with
Bob or Tom in charge, for the other boys never quite reached the point
of attempting to direct the airship, and between these there were
excursions by schooner to the other islands, the mainland far to sea.

Friday was the momentous day. On that day, Bob and Tom were to attempt
the crowning event of the week’s outing――the flight by aeroplane over
the Everglades. The eventful morning broke with signs of a perfect day.



CHAPTER XIX

THE SECRET CITY OF THE SEMINOLES


The flight in the _Anclote_ to the swamp land for a glimpse of the
famed Everglades and a possible sight of the Secret City of the
Seminoles (an excursion which nearly ended with a fatality) began at
seven o’clock in the morning. The only clue to the location of the
mythical town was a vague reference to it in a little paper bound book,
written by an old alligator and egret hunter, entitled “Thirty Years
in the Everglades.” In this, the writer did not claim to have seen
the fabled town, but he quoted old Billy Bowlegs――a well known modern
Seminole――as authority for the statement that such a place existed.

According to the veteran hunter, the city should be due east of present
St. Petersburgh, a town on the southern tip of Tampa Peninsula, and
north of Lake Istokpoga; “two days’ travel,” as described by the
Indian. This, in the swamps, meant about ten miles. Mapped on their
charts, the two boys laid out a course east-south-east of their camp on
the Key, and estimated the distance at ninety-five miles.

With gasoline sufficient for a two hundred and fifty-mile flight, the
aeroplane was over Tarpon Springs in fifteen minutes, and then, rising
to nearly 1,000 feet, began its cross country flight. For nearly a half
hour, fruit orchards and truck farms indicated civilization, and then
the rough palmetto scrub and sparse pine lands began to tell of the
wilderness. Already deer were plentiful. An hour after the start, the
airship still high and the engine working perfectly, the myriad small
lakes and creeks began to disappear in a lower swamp land.

In this, the dark green of cabbage and fan palmettoes and stunted
pines, suddenly changed to a darker expanse of vegetation. Out of a
prairie of tall swamp grass, rose oaks and taller pines draped with
fantastic garlands of waving Spanish moss. Then this changed to a new
and dense wilderness of tangled oaks, palmettoes and pines seemingly
bound together with interminable bands of the melancholy moss.

Out of this silent chaos, reaching eastward as far as the eye could
see, rose the tall, black spars of blasted oaks with eagles’ nests here
and there, and always the ghostly moss.

“It’s as bad as flying at sea,” remarked Bob. “You might come up out
of the water, but a punch from one of those old snags, and it’s all
off.”

At times, as the _Anclote_ held her course east-south-east, the trees
thinned and a glimpse of the morass beneath met the eye. Some of these
openings revealed ponds and even lakes. But the water was no longer
blue or silvery. It lay glistening black like broken coal. Sighting one
of these buried lakes, Bob swept the machine lower to have a closer
view. As the whirr of the propellers came echoing back with a hollow,
drum-like sound, a flock of snow white herons rose from an island of
rotting logs.

“See him?” exclaimed Tom.

“’Bout fifteen feet long,” answered Bob.

The shrill cries of the startled birds had aroused a monster alligator,
sunning himself high on the logs. With hardly a sound, he slid
backwards into the ebony-colored pool.

The herons, their crane-like legs trailing behind them, flapped their
way eastward. Some miles ahead, Bob slowing up on another spiral mount,
the snow white birds disappeared.

“Somethin’ theah,” suggested Tom. “Let’s have a look.”

The aeroplane had been in the air nearly two hours. The retreat of the
herons was something――the first sight of it was even startling. Here
was another lake, but it was much larger――even a mile in diameter, and,
by some strange freak of nature, of crystal clearness. A creek emptied
into its sparkling waters and another led away southward through the
wall of tangled, moss-draped palmettoes, grass and dead pines. About
the little lake, there was an open shore of sand, so light in color as
to be almost white, apparently packed into a firm grassless beach by
the rising and falling lake.

“That’s something,” exclaimed Bob, attempting to relax his straining
muscles. “We could land on that if it was restin’ time.”

But they had not yet covered their ninety-five miles. Tom carefully
keeping note of the flying minutes and the anemometer for the speed,
had just calculated that they advanced in one hour and fifty-five
minutes nearly seventy-six miles, for, part of the time, the more and
more confident Bob had speeded up to the limit, once reaching a rate of
forty-three miles an hour.

“We’ll go ahead twenty miles,” suggested Bob. “If nothing turns up,
we’ll come back this far, stop for a few hours’ rest and lunch, and
then call it quits, and hike home.”

“What we’ve seen already is worth the trip,” added Tom enthusiastically.

Old Billy Bowlegs must have had a poor sense of location. Twelve
minutes later, the _Anclote_, soaring not over three hundred feet above
the gray and black swamp, passed, without a sign to indicate it, a
deep, clean-cut opening in the trees. It was almost like a well. At the
bottom of it, on a treeless island, seven or eight ruined sheds caught
the quick eyes of the young aviators. There was only time to note this,
to detect human beings here and there, and to see that a wide, black
canal surrounded the habited retreat, and the darting aeroplane closed
the view.

“There――” began Tom, striving to turn for another look.

“Here――” exclaimed Bob, in turn.

Within a half mile of the tree encircled swamp island, rose a treeless
mound. Bob intuitively slowed down the airship with a circling swing.
As the peculiar elevation swept under the machine, it could be seen
that the top of it was green with corn and beds of vegetables.

“That’s their garden,” shouted Tom. “There must be a way to get to it.
There is――see the canal?”

Both boys instantly made out two Indians just landing from a canoe
or pirogue in the swamp at the foot of the hill. Behind them, a dark
colored creek or canal disappeared within the mossy oaks. The tilted
aeroplane had come about in her course and was circling over the
flat-topped hill like a lazy bird.

“We can’t land there,” announced Bob. “The ground is too soft to give
us a starting run.”

“We’ve got to,” replied Tom, with determination. “It’s no good just
seen’ it. I want to know. _I’ve got to know_,” he added, “if I’m goin’
to write about it.”

Bob knit his brows. “We can’t stop,” he repeated. Then he hesitated.
“Are you afraid to meet those people alone?”

“I don’t know why I should be,” answered Tom. “They look like farmahs.
Scalpin’ days are ovah, anyway, I reckon.”

“Then,” added Bob quickly, “take the camera――you’ve got the
revolver――and I’ll make a sweep down near the ground. Drop off. In an
hour, I’ll come back and pick you up――the same way.”

“It’ll be all right, will it?” exclaimed Tom. “I mean, it won’t hurt
the machine?”

“I’ll have something to help you when I come back,” answered Bob. “Just
use your nerve. It’ll be all right. It’s _your_ ‘Secret City,’ or I’d
do it. We can’t both do it.”

“Come back?” exclaimed Tom. “Where are you goin’?”

“Back to Sand Beach Lake,” announced Bob. “It’ll give me a rest, and
give you time to investigate. But be ready――in an hour.”

“Drop her down,” said Tom curtly looking at his watch. “It’s twenty-six
minutes after nine o’clock.”

In another moment, Tom Allen, his camera still oscillating from his
drop from the aeroplane as it darted low over the Indian cornfield, was
watching the _Anclote’s_ swift rise and flight over the trees to the
northwest.

Bob reached the lake, selected the widest and best beach and made an
easy landing. For a few minutes, he exercised his benumbed limbs with a
stroll on the hard sand, then refilled his supply tank, looked over the
engine, oiled it, and at last, began work on the “something to help”
Tom, the marooned aviator.

This was nothing less than a single rung swinging ladder, the
advantage of which, in picking up his companion, was apparent. It
required but a few minutes’ work. The cords were extra strength,
flexible, rewound bracing wire from the supply kit and the rung was a
strong, round piece of pine from a live tree, which was laboriously
hacked out with his pocket knife, thoroughly tested and then scraped
smooth.

Timing himself carefully, Bob was in the air again twelve minutes
before the hour expired. With eyes alert, he fixed his gaze on the
big clearing of the garden mound and made ready for the ordeal of
recovering his companion. With his thoughts on the crucial experiment,
Bob gave little heed to anything else. He was just about to swerve on a
long curve to pick up the waiting Tom on a return slant when a distant
explosion startled him. It was from the vicinity of the concealed
settlement. One glance threw the already nervous Bob almost into chill.
Clinging to the broken forks of a dead oak, just on the edge of the
“well,” was some one waving his arms. At the same moment, the startled
Bob heard a desperate yell. It could be no one but his companion. But
why had he failed to return to the open field?

In a flash, Bob understood. The shot, the waving arm, the call meant
only one thing――danger and the need of rescue. Perched on the blackened
forks stood the yelling figure. With the wild possibility of a mid-air
rescue gripping his brain, the cool-headed aviator pulled his levers
and, cold with apprehension, curved the aeroplane toward the towering
tree. He could do no more. There was but one way he could help the boy
perched on the dead branches.

To bring the swinging ladder squarely within reach was Bob’s task. Tom
must do the rest. If he missed the ladder, it would undoubtedly mean
death in the pathless swamp, from which not even his body might be
recovered. With his eyes on the now unmoving figure, the boy on the
tree became to the tense Bob no more than the bull’s eye of a target.
Just over it, he aimed his craft, his lips set and his grip fixed like
steel upon the levers.

Larger and larger grew the figure――one glance only, and the unmoving
operator saw Tom, white of face and poised, his body rising upright as
if ready to hurl itself far from its support. Then Bob’s every thought
flew to his levers and his steadying grip. He could not look. Had he
missed his human target? His head hit his chest with a sudden shock.
As if in ruinous collision, the framework of the aeroplane groaned,
creaked and shook. The car, lunging downward, careened and then righted.

Bob felt a second shock and the explosive groan of supreme effort. A
swinging leg swept into view in front of the car――another panting groan
and then, venturing his first glance, the desperate operator made out
the white-faced Tom, with one leg over the rung of the hanging ladder,
just pulling himself up to safety on the rung.

“Stay where you are,” whispered Bob hoarsely. “Don’t try to get up
here. I’ll land at the lake.”

The _Anclote_ was already on her way to the landing beach. For several
minutes no sound came from below except the labored breathing of the
rescued boy. Bob looked again. Tom, seated on the ladder cross bar,
with his hands gripped on the light wires, had his eyes closed. His
face was blue-white and he was trembling in all his limbs. His cap,
coat, camera, revolver and shoes were gone.

“A few minutes more, old boy,” called out Bob, “and we’ll be on the
ground.”

“I’m――all right――” came back slowly.

“Sure you are!” exclaimed Bob. “We’re nearly there. Hold on.”

Tom may have been all right, but how he held on, neither he nor Bob
could ever tell. The moment, the aeroplane lit on the white border of
Crystal Lake, the boy on the ladder toppled from his nerve racking
perch and for a quarter of an hour, knew nothing.

But, about eleven o’clock, the hatless, shoeless Tom began to be
himself again. By noon, luncheon disposed of, his spirits were nearly
normal. What had happened to him he told in these words:

“In the first place, the two Indians we saw gettin’ out of the boat
jumped in it right away and disappeared in the trees――up the canal. I
was stumped. But when I got down to the bottom of the mound, I found
anothah boat――cut out of a log and half full of watah. I pulled her
out, baled her, and with a pole that was lyin’ in her started up the
creek or canal.

“It was as dismal a lane as you evah traveled. Nothin’ but tangled
marsh and walls o’ moss on both sides, and so chuck full o’ little
’gatahs an’ cotton mouth snakes I was sort afraid they’d push a hole in
the bottom o’ the boat. But it wasn’t far, not ovah a half a mile, an’
I came to light again――the island an’ the shacks.

“The canal, which is theah road, ran ’round the whole place an’ then
ran away on the othah side into the swamp again. I was tired o’ lookin’
at them glassy-eyed cotton mouth reptiles, and, pushin’ the canoe up to
a sort of a landin’ where I saw the boat the two Indians had used, I
jumped out.

“I was sort o’ scared, too, but I just had a hunch to go ahead. For
a minute, I saw people rushin’ ’round among the shacks on the high
ground, and then, when I got to the top, they’d all disappeared. There
was a noise on the othah side o’ the slope. When I got so I could look
down theah, three canoe loads of Indians were just disappearin’ in the
canal that ran off in that direction into the swamp.

“That seemed pretty good. At least, it saved me the trouble o’ fussin’
with ’em if they didn’t like me. An’ I felt like laughin’. I sta’ted
back to the sheds and then, all of a sudden, I had an idea. I turned
around and had anothah look. I guessed right. They hadn’t left a single
boat. ‘That’s all right,’ I said to myself, ‘I’ll go back the way I
came.’ And then, with no one to disturb me, I set about seein’ what a
‘Secret City o’ the Seminoles’ was like.

“It won’t take long to tell. It wasn’t much. The shacks were of pine
trees, split, and you can bet I didn’t bother the insides o’ them. They
were the filthiest holes I evah looked into. Some of ’em had grass
hammocks an’ that was about all except piles o’ deer skins, gourds,
a few tools o’ bone and wood, some old bows and long wicked lookin’
arrows. The cookin’ places were outside the houses, but theah weren’t
any iron pots or pans. Theah was one oven made out of a kind of ground
shell an’ a big wooden trough, an’ a club to mash co’n.

“But it’s a cinch they didn’t come theah yesterday. The top o’ that
island was packed as ha’d as a street. An’ all ’round the edge o’ the
ha’d paht there were places wheah othah shacks had stood. Between these
and the canal――talk about your dirty alleys! Down neah the watah, you
could walk on bones――mostly they seemed alligatah bones. Ain’t no
doubt,” continued Tom in a pitying voice, “that tribe or paht of a
tribe, lives on alligatahs.”

“Maybe snakes,” suggested Bob.

“Don’t you believe they eat snakes,” exclaimed Tom. “Wait till I tell
you. Anyway, it was the dirtiest, creepiest, darkest, lonesomest
place, I was evah in. What began to give me the real shivahs was what I
saw mongst those ’gatah skeletons. If I saw one, I saw a hundred great
big, fat rattlahs, and every one a diamond back. Well, they wasn’t
botherin’ me, so I began takin’ pictahs. I took ’em in all directions.
Then I went back up into the ‘city.’ Theah I come on what started old
‘Billy Bowlegs’ story――the ‘Sacred Alligatah.’”



CHAPTER XX

TOM’S STORY AND THE END


“Theah was a pen on one side of the island that I hadn’t looked in
because I thought it meant pigs. When I got to thinkin’, I knew
it wasn’t pigs. So I went to have a look. Did you evah heah of an
alligatah twenty feet long?” asked Tom.

“I don’t know anything about ’em,” responded Bob. “But I thought
fourteen feet was pretty fair for size.”

Tom shook his head, and went on.

“That pen was round an’ about fo’ty feet across. Before I got to it, I
smelt musk, an’ I knew that meant alligatah. The pen was made o’ big
pine posts set in the ground, and I could just peek ovah it. At first,
I didn’t see anything in it, but foah posts right in the middle about
six feet high, I reckon. On these posts, was a kind o’ little house
like a dove cote――without sides to it――and a roof o’ palmetto leaves.
That’s wheah it was.”

“Where what was?” broke in the spellbound Bob.

“That Spanish helmet,” answered Tom proudly. “O’ course, I couldn’t
see very well, but I’ve seen pictuahs o’ them, and you can’t mistake
’em――round like a boilin’ pot with holes fo’ the eyes and a thing that
drops down ovah the mouth.”

“Didn’t you examine it?” interrupted romantic Bob. “That very bit of
armor may have been worn by one of De Soto’s soldiers. Some gallant
knight――”

“Did I examine it?” repeated Tom. “Listen. The bottom o’ that pen was
smooth and hard as a floor. Opposite wheah I stood theah was a runway,
just like the big pen, extendin’ right down to the canal. ‘That’s the
royal entrance fo’ the king o’ the alligatahs, the God o’ the Secret
City o’ the Seminoles,’ I said to myself. ‘He must be on a vacation
to-day,’ I says. So I began makin’ snap shots o’ his temple or palace.
Then I had a sudden, creepy feelin’. An’ at the same time, I knew the
musk I had been smellin’ seemed mighty close. I had a kind o’ hunch to
look ovah the fence. Before I finished that look, I was back up among
the shacks with my hair a rattlin’. That old booger was a layin’ just
undah the fence, two feet o’ where I stood.”

Bob shivered and looked around. They were yet in alligator land.

“I began to think I’d leave,” went on Tom, attempting to smile. “I
couldn’t get the helmet, an’ theah wasn’t a thing on the shacks worth
carryin’ away. So I took a few moah pictuahs an’ one bow and a bundle
o’ arrows an’ stahted fo’ my boat. Well,” and he looked up as if Bob
had guessed, “it was gone. Theah I was. Somehow I didn’t just realize
what it all meant, at first. I kind o’ thought theah was some way out.
But in five minutes, I found I was as completely stranded as if I had
been on a real island miles at sea.

“You’d come back, o’ course. But yo’ couldn’t get down in that ‘well’
with the _Anclote_ if yo’ knew wheah I was. I had twenty minutes left
before yo’ were due at the garden hill. I want to say I did some tall
thinkin’. If I could cross the canal, but what then? Theah wasn’t
a foot o’ solid land this side o’ wheah you were to pick me up. I
couldn’t wade the canal. I found that out polein’ up. Besides, theah
were too many things in the watah to make it worth while.

“Ten minutes went by.” Bob sighed sympathetically. “Then I saw that
tree. I don’t know how I came to think of it. But the minute I did, I
realized it was the only thing I could do. I didn’t know whethah I had
the nerve, but I decided I’d go ahead ’til I weakened. So I took out
my films, rolled ’em tight in my handkerchief and stuck ’em inside my
shirt. Then I made a present o’ the camera and my coat, revolver and
shoes to the runaway citizens, an’――”

“So you could climb?” suggested Bob.

“So I could swim,” explained Tom.

“Swim?” exclaimed Bob. “In that whirl pool o’ alligators and snakes?”

Tom shrugged his shoulders. “What else could I do? Theah was no bridge
and the tree was ovah in the swamp.”

“I’d have died first,” said Bob stoutly.

“You would not. You’d a done just what I did. Anyway, I picked up all
the loose bits o’ wood and small objects I could find and rushed at it.
I had to rush. I knew you were gettin’ mighty close. I yelled, threw
chunks an’ things in the watah ’til I hoped my wriggly friends would
have somethin’ else to think about. Then I took a runnin’ dive, an’
splashin’ an’ yellin’ like mad, I got theah.”

Bob’s sigh was almost a groan.

“After that,” concluded Tom, “it was easy enough. That is, after I got
to the tree. I was in marsh water nearly to my ahms, but when I got
hold o’ the hangin’ limbs and got a start on the tree, I felt so good
that climbin’ wasn’t much. I stahted on a small tree leanin’ against
the big one, an’ when I got where I could shin, I went up like a
monkey. You know the rest, as well as I do. An’ now,” said the somewhat
wobbly southern boy, “I’ve had enough o’ this part o’ the Everglades.
When yo’ all is ready, I am. The camp on Anclote Island and the old
_Three Sistahs_ are good enough fo’ me.”

“But you’re goin’ to write about it, just the same,” announced the
proud Bob.

“Yes,” said Tom slowly, “but you can bet I wouldn’t go it again, even
if I knew it would make me a real authah.”

It was nearly two o’clock when the _Anclote_ went skimming along
Crystal Lake and once more took to the air on its homeward flight. With
no further incentive to speed, the two boys took a leisurely flight,
and it was half past five o’clock when Mac’s welcome flag marking the
camp fluttered beneath the descending airship.

Early the next morning, the “_Anclote_” was dismantled, stowed away
in the hold of Captain Joe’s _Three Sisters_, and camp was struck.
All the members of the club had determined to return to Pensacola with
Captain Joe, except Bob. He was carried across to the mainland to make
the train from Tarpon Springs to Tampa, where he would rejoin his
mother.

After a lingering farewell, he sprang from the schooner.

“Boys,” he called back, “we’ve had a crackin’ fine time since I knew
you, and I hope you’re not sorry you elected me a member of the club.”

“You’re the next president, if you come south next year,” answered Tom
promptly.

Bob shook his head, but he flushed with pleasure as he did it.

“I ain’t got nothin’ to say, Bob,” spoke up Mac. “You’ve had your
revenge on me good and plenty.”

“An’ I done fo’give yo’ dat Black Pirate business,” added Jerry
Blossom, his white teeth showing.

“I didn’t mean that,” exclaimed Bob. “I only wanted to say that, in
spite of the salvage we got and Jerry’s treasure box, I found something
I needed more.”

His companions looked at him wonderingly.

“I came here coughing blood and I’m goin’ home a new boy. I’ve found
health, and you fellows helped me find it.”

As the schooner fell off and started on her long cruise across the
gulf, Bob picked up his suitcase and started for the town.

“I wonder,” he thought to himself, “what Father would have said if he
had seen Tom Allen balanced on that rotten tree top.”


                   *       *       *       *       *


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       *       *       *       *       *


 Transcriber’s Notes:

 ――Text in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_); text in
   bold by “equal” signs (=bold=).

 ――Punctuation and spelling inaccuracies were silently corrected.

 ――Archaic and variable spelling has been preserved.

 ――Variations in hyphenation and compound words have been preserved.





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