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G. Harvey Ralphson.

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"Well, we'll help you all we can when the time comes," cried Tom
heartily. "I'm sure we'll do that."

"Here comes somebody on the wharf," declared Arnold with a hand on
Rowdy's collar. "Wonder who it is now?"

"That's the watchman," said Harrison. "He's got the shovels."

As the watchman delivered the implements to the Marshal he was requested
to keep an eye on the Fortuna. This he promised to do.

"I have an idea," explained Harrison in parting, "that the parties I am
expecting to call will be across the bay, but in case they should come,
hold them even if you have to resort to violence."

"A few more and we'd have a load," remarked Jack as the skiff with its
unusual cargo pulled away from the Fortuna. I'm glad there are enough
boys to go around so we can have one to each oar."

"We have got a crowd, sure enough," admitted Frank. "Did you bring a gun
with you in case something might turn up?"

"Indeed I have," replied Jack. "I am pretty sure the others have theirs,
too," he added. A vote of the crowd showed he was right. Every member of
the Fortuna's regular crew had an automatic.

A short time only was required for the passage across the bay, between
the supports of the railroad bridge and around the point to a spot as
near the fort as Harrison deemed best to approach.

"Hello," cried Tom shaking out the line he had brought for a painter,
"there are two pieces here. One is short and the other a long one. I may
as well use only the short one."

"Better take the other with you," suggested Jack. "Someone may pass
while we're away and think they could use it."

"Good idea," assented Tom. "I'll keep it with me."

Not far from where the boys landed they discovered the time-worn
earthworks of what had once been the old fort. Trees nearly a foot in
diameter were seen growing on the former breastworks. Everywhere one
could see that the fort had been long unoccupied.

Harry immediately proceeded to search for the trees that had been used
as ranges when the map had been made. He was not long in finding what he
sought. His feet were almost in the waters of the rising tide when the
spot where the treasure was supposed to be was located. All were visibly
excited. The prospect was alluring.

"Shall we start to dig a hole here?" asked Tom, shovel in hand.

"Make a little hole and we'll touch off the dynamite."

A short time sufficed to bury the explosive in a good location.

"Let's all stand back now and see what happens," cried Tom.

"Mr. Harrison, show Harry how to light it," requested Jack.

"Stand back; here come Wyckoff and Lopez."






CHAPTER XXIV

DEFEATED BY GREED


Loaded with men, a boat was approaching from the westward. Standing in
the bow were Wyckoff and Lopez, the two principals in the efforts to
drive our friends from that neighborhood.

Although the moonlight rendered outlines indistinct to the extent that
it was impossible to see the exact expressions on their faces, the boys
could all determine from their tense attitudes that they were intensely
wrought up by their mission there.

A warning hand was extended by Wyckoff toward the rowers. One of the
negroes had been clumsy with his oar. The noise of the splash evidently
grated on Wyckoff's nerves. His very attitude bespoke a nervous energy
pent up and on the point of bursting forth.

By his side stood Lopez, his trusty rifle in hand. As they saw the
weapon, the boys who had seen him use it in times past knew that his
skill with the firearm was marvelous indeed. They knew it would fare ill
with anyone upon whom he trained it.

"Wonder why they've brought their gang," cautiously whispered Harry into
Jack's ear. "They've been mighty exclusive until now."

"Hush," cautioned Jack in a very low voice. "These others are simply
negroes they have picked up somewhere to do the digging. These are not
men who might thwart the Wyckoff and Lopez purpose."

"Better be careful about your talking," cautioned Harrison. "If all the
story is true it will be necessary to dig the treasure in silence if it
is to be recovered at all. Any noise breaks the spell if it occurs
before the chest is fully out of its cache."

"We won't make any noise, you can be sure of that," declared Harry.
"We've seen that man Lopez shoot. We know how he does it."

Evidently the men approaching the shore had been fully cautioned in
regard to the necessity for quiet. The crew sprang out and dragged the
craft high and dry on the sands, then removed the shovels.

"They mean business all right," declared Arnold in Harry's ear. "See how
Lopez herds those field hands along with that rifle."

"He just poked one fellow in the back with it," answered Harry. "The lad
just stumbled a little and Lopez jabbed him in the back. I'll bet that
fellow's too scared to dig much."

"Look at the fellow," excitedly whispered Jack. "He's going right to the
spot where we located the treasure. He's got the map in his head, all
right. He knows just where to dig."

"Gee," shivered Tom, "I'm mighty glad this clump of palmettos here is
between us and them. With the bright moonlight they'd see us a mile
away. Wouldn't Lopez have a fit if he saw us?"

Luckily Lopez and Wyckoff were too much occupied with their own affairs
to investigate the neighborhood for possible spectators. They
immediately put the men shoveling sand at a great pace.

"I hope they don't dig it up all at once," declared Tom. "Look at the
way they go at it," he cried. "See them spear their shovels into the
ground without using their foot at all."

"Hark your loud noise," hoarsely whispered Jack in a warning tone.
"You'll have the whole gang down on us if you're not careful."

"I forgot," explained the humbled Tom. "But that's a funny way to dig.
Don't you think so, Mr. Harrison?"

"That's the way they dig down in this country of pure sand."

"Well, all I've got to say is that when I dig - "

What Tom said might have been interesting if it had been heard. But just
at that instant a shot rang out from the group of workers. The boys
stared in amazement horrified at the thought of what might have
happened. In an instant their worst fears were confirmed.

Their startled eyes beheld the negroes dragging one of their number from
the excavation under the watchful eye and threatening muzzle of Lopez's
deadly rifle. One of the unfortunate negroes had thoughtlessly broken
his resolve and had spoken. He had paid dearly for his mistake. Under
the stern command of the rifle muzzle the others renewed their task,
glancing apprehensively at the man behind the grim weapon whose
messengers were all messengers of swift and certain death. They were
visibly affected.

Instinctively the boys drew their automatics while Harrison possessed
himself of his revolver and made ready to use it if necessary in self
defense. No one could guess the result should Lopez discover their
whereabouts. Their position was now seen to be a most dangerous one, for
they lay but a few yards beyond the rim of the excavation in which the
men were working. Lopez was opposite.

"If that man ever sees us here," whispered Harry, "we're gone."

"You're right, we're gone," declared Arnold. "That man don't think any
more of shooting a man than he did of shooting that big snake. He's
absolutely bloodless, I believe."

"Look at Wyckoff down in the excavation walking back and forth and
around," Tom said pointing to the figure mentioned.

"He surely isn't going to let anything get past him," agreed Jack. "He
walks round and round and round as the men dig."

"And they are digging at a rapid pace, too," Frank put in. "At that rate
they ought to get the treasure before long."

"I'm a little afraid," Harrison dissented. "It looks bad."

"What looks bad? The two men may quarrel."

"There's always a possibility of that," agreed Harrison, "but I wasn't
thinking of that. It looks to me that the sand will probably be softened
by the rising tide. If so, they can't remain in the excavation to dig
for the treasure at all. They must quit."

"If that happens, I can see some more dead niggers," Tom asserted. "That
man Lopez seems to be itching to shoot someone. If he is foiled in his
last desperate attempt to get that treasure, I can see trouble ahead for
someone who is near him when it happens."

Wyckoff now came out of the hole to join Lopez on the rim of the crater
made by the toiling negroes. Without saying a word he evidently asked
Lopez for something to drink, for he made a motion as if drinking from a
cup, Lopez without taking his eyes off the workers jerked his head in
the direction of the boat.

"Now what?" asked Frank in wonderment. "Is he thirsty?"

"I don't think so," replied Arnold. "I believe he's going after
something to stimulate the shovelers. They look as if they were getting
a little winded. See them slacken down."

Wyckoff returned shortly carrying a jug. This he passed down to the men
in the pit. Eagerly they reached for the jug, draining great draughts of
its contents as they paused briefly.

With renewed vigor the work was again taken up.

"If this keeps up," declared Arnold fretfully, "those fellows will have
all the coin in a minute and not leave any for us."

"Keep your temper," Jack cautioned. "Something may happen - "

The lad was interrupted by a blinding flash, followed by a roar as if
one of the old Spanish cannons had exploded beside them.

A shower of sand fell over the boys concealed behind the clump of
palmettos. Instinctively they all drew closer their fellows.

The ground shook beneath them while all around it seemed to be raining
sand. As they looked at the spot again they could make out but two
figures standing. Wyckoff and Lopez were on opposite sides of the pit.
The negroes were nowhere to be seen.

Wyckoff's face was cut and bleeding while Lopez seemed to have had his
clothing bodily torn from the upper part of his body.

"What do you know about that?" queried Jack. "What was it?"

"An earthquake," suggested Charley, "or a volcano."

"Volcano nothing," stoutly corrected Arnold. "That was the dynamite that
Wyckoff planted on the Fortuna in Pascagoula and Jack stumbled over it
and brought it here and we planted it a moment ago."

"I shouldn't wonder if you're right," agreed Harrison. "It must be that
one of the negroes struck it just right with his shovel."

"But where are the negroes?" asked Frank.

"I can't see a one. How many were there in the first place?"

"Six," answered Tom. "I counted 'em. One was put out of the way by the
villain Lopez. That left five in the pit."

"I wonder where they are now," speculated Harry. "They have gone out of
sight anyhow. Maybe they're all killed."

"If they are, I wonder just how much we'll be at fault," Jack mused
soberly. "I think we should have warned them that we had put the
dynamite there," he added thoughtfully.

His words had a depressing effect upon the whole party. They felt keenly
the possible responsibility for the death of the five men who had been
striving to earn an honest dollar by hard work. Seeing the effect his
expression was having upon his comrades, Jack endeavored to correct it,
but the boys were all very sober.

Rowdy, who had been trying to make himself very small indeed, now
emerged from his hiding place again to join the watchers.

"I wonder if the explosion has enlarged the hole any," Tom ventured. "If
it has it may make the work lots easier for us."

"You speak as if we were going to be next on the program," Arnold
laughed quietly. "Don't be too sure. Things may slip."

"Well," disputed Arnold, "suppose that Wyckoff doesn't do as Lopez wants
him to do, what then? What's to hinder Lopez shooting Wyckoff and
getting the treasure chest himself? Tell me that."

"How does that let us in?" queried Frank.

"Well, if they are down and out, don't we get busy?"

"I suppose so, but I believe this treasure has had enough blood spilled
over it now. I'm getting rather scared about it."

"Look there," cried Jack in a tone that was almost audible to the two
men at the pit. "It looks as if Wyckoff were going to dig. He's a plucky
chap all right. We must give him credit for that."

Wyckoff had searched the vicinity and found a shovel. This he was now
preparing to put to use. He was in the pit in another moment and began
throwing the sand out. Then he paused!

"That sand's wet," declared Arnold, who had observed closely.

"Tide's away up and probably has seeped through the little sand
intervening," declared Harrison. "I expected it."

"Why, look at him," hoarsely urged Frank. "He seems to be floundering
about. Can it be he's in trouble?"

"It would look that way," declared Tom. "I wonder why Lopez don't come
to his rescue instead of standing there with his rifle."

"He isn't in any danger," declared Arnold. "He's just wading around in
the soft sand that was loosened by the explosion."

"Don't you believe it," urged Tom rising to his feet. "I believe the
man's in serious trouble. It looks like quicksand."

"If Lopez would let us, I'd be in favor of helping him."

"I'll tell you what I'll do," volunteered Tom. "I'll make a running
noose in this line I brought along. You boys cover Lopez with your guns
and I'll go as close as I can and lasso Wyckoff. We can all get hold of
the line then and maybe we'll be able to pull him out. It wouldn't be
right to leave him there to go down."

At that moment Wyckoff seemed to realize his danger. He was, indeed,
caught in the treacherous quicksand. No doubt the sand had been loosened
by the explosion to such an extent that although quiet heretofore, it
was now "quick," and was working to draw into its depths any object
unfortunate enough to be in its grasp.

Like a thing of life the sand sucked and pulled at Wyckoff's feet. He
felt himself being drawn into the terrible danger.

"Help. Help," he cried, flinging his arms toward the firmer ground.
"Pete, give me a hand! I'm going down."

For answer Lopez flung his rifle up. A spurt of flame was his answer.
Horrified, the boys expected to see Wyckoff drop. To their amazement
Lopez had missed. Then they saw Wyckoff throw his knife straight at
Lopez. It struck the man in the forehead.






CHAPTER XXV

THE TREASURE


Lopez staggered back a pace. His rifle fell from his grasp as he
tottered backward and lay prostrate beside the spot where also lay the
negro that had earlier suffered at his hands.

Wyckoff's desperate aim had been true. The knife had sped straight to
its mark and buried its point in Lopez's brain. He was beyond all help.
But Wyckoff still struggled frantically.

Tom had been busy meanwhile with the length of line brought from the
boat. It had not been intended for such a purpose, but now the boys were
glad they had brought it with them.

All with one consent dashed from their position and ran toward the
unfortunate outlaw, now nearly frantic. As they approached he looked up
at them. Seized with a fit of coughing, he fell partly forward. Then the
boys knew from the blood that gushed from his mouth that Lopez's last
bullet had found its mark.

Tom, undaunted, prepared to throw his lasso. As he did so Wyckoff again
straightened in a mad effort to tear himself from the terrible sands.
Then the boys witnessed a curious sight.

It seemed that the depression into which they looked formed a sort of
bowl partly full, like a bowl of porridge, with Wyckoff struggling in it
at the side nearest their position. As they looked, the contents of the
bowl seemed to heave and boil, then turn over and over. Wyckoff started
down more rapidly while the boiling sands at the other side seemed to
rise.

Tom quickly flung his noose. His aim was distracted, no doubt, by the
excitement through which he had just passed. Instead of encircling the
unfortunate wretch below, he threw the noose beyond. It fell spread
widely on the boiling sands. It was in such a position that Wyckoff
could not reach it. He made a despairing effort to grasp the rope and
then, as the sands about him were boiling and seething, he sank lower
and lower. At last with a shriek he disappeared and the boys saw him no
more.

Tom groaned. His effort to save the man who had done so much to bring
disaster upon himself and his chums was now beyond his reach. Although
Tom had been doing all that he possibly could to help Wyckoff, he still
felt keenly the humiliation of his defeat.

Jack, who stood near, laid a consoling hand upon Tom's shoulder. His
emotion was equal to that of his comrade. All were awed.

It was Carlos who brought them to attention again.

"Look there," he cried. "Look at that chest."

The boys stared in spellbound amazement at the curious sight.

Exactly in the center of the noose of rope lying now half buried in the
boiling sands rose the end of a box or chest. It plainly showed evidence
of age. A gasp of astonishment went around.

"Pull in on the line," urged Carlos. "There's your treasure."

Like one in a trance, Tom obediently pulled on the line. The noose
tightened about the chest. Tom dragged with all his might but was unable
to move the object. He glanced at the others. They seemed unable to
move, but gazed with staring eyes at the sight.

"Tail on here, my hearties," cried Tom. "Give us a hand."

Almost instantly the others awoke to the situation and now every hand
was grasping the line and all were pulling manfully.

Inch by inch they gained. The chest was dragged slowly through the
boiling sands to the pitside, where it was necessary to raise it to
firmer ground. The boys dared not go close to the edge for fear of
starting the sand caving. Their backs were straining under the burden.
Their hands were burning from their grasp on the line.

"Pull!" gasped Tom, throwing every ounce of his weight into the work.
"Pull," he gasped again.

The games in which his comrades had indulged hardening their muscles
were now becoming of benefit to them. The tugs-of-war were showing their
practical value. No similar number of boys of equal weight could have
exerted the power that this group did with their trained ability to pull
all together and keep pulling all the time.

But even as they pulled and felt victory nearly within their grasp they
realized that the sand was mightier than they. Their strength could last
but a little while, whereas that of the quicksand was constant. The
strain was telling on them. It seemed as if only a few more pounds on
the rope would swing the balance in their favor. And that help was near.

Dashing from the clump of palmettos where he had remained, Rowdy came
bounding over the intervening space. His fear was now gone and when he
saw the boys at the pit he seemed to overcome his terror that had been
so apparent at the time of the explosion.

To his canine mind the boys were playing a game that he liked. A tug of
war was his pet diversion. Losing no time, Rowdy dashed for his favorite
position at the end of the rope.

Seizing the line in his strong teeth he settled back on his haunches and
pulled and growled in an ecstasy of glee. His aid was of no small
measure. A great mass of active muscle, he lent much to the effort that
was being applied to the line.

"Hurrah," cried Tom scarcely above a whisper. "It's coming. Just a
little more now and we'll have it. Pull, boys, pull."

The lads needed no urging. Every one was doing his best. And they were
rewarded by seeing the end of the chest appear above the rim of the pit.
It slid over the mound of sand and settled on a firm spot. Rowdy capered
and leaped among the boys who had flung themselves prostrate on the
sand. His joy was unlimited.

"Let's get at it, boys," cried Tom. "Bring me an axe and I'll knock it
open. I'm the original safe cracker."

"What if we put it into the boat and take it aboard the Fortuna before
we meddle with it," suggested Jack. "We can't get anything more out of
the pit tonight and I feel like getting away from this place. It seems
as if I can feel the ghosts of all the departed Spanish and Indians and
others who passed away at this spot during the last seven hundred years.
I move we go back."

"Second the motion. It's carried," cried Tom. "Back we go."

The boys lost no time in securing their own skiff and felt no
compunction against using the boat brought by Wyckoff and Lopez.

Into the larger of these the chest was loaded. The boys of the Fortuna
went along as personal bodyguard with Rowdy to share the honors.
Harrison and Carlos with Doright took the smaller boat. In a short time
they were again on the west side of the bay and had the lights aboard
the Fortuna glowing.

"I guess, Mr. Harrison, we've been rather fortunate after all," began
Jack. "It has seemed sometimes as if we were not going to get out of
some of our troubles, but they all manage to end somehow. How can we get
rid of that libel?"

"I think I can fix that for you," replied Harrison. "I haven't served
the papers yet, you know, so if you get the money to the shipyard people
early in the morning, I'll hold off a while."

"Thank you," heartily responded the lad. "When we get this cover pried
off, we'll hand you a bucket or so of gold for the bill."

As the lads were prying off the cover of the wonderful chest a hail came
from the wharf.

"Launch, Ahoy."

"Now what?" petulantly cried Harry. "Always some interruption."

"I think I know that voice," cried Jack. "Ahoy there, Dad."

"Hello, Jack. Have you got anything to eat?"

A hearty laugh followed the question. Jack's father, for it was indeed
he, knew the appetites of the Fortuna's crew.

"Sure we have," cried the delighted Jack. "When did you arrive?"

"Just now," declared his father. "Mr. Geyer and I came down to see if
you needed any help and have just walked down from the railroad. Your
'bus line," he added with a wink, "is not running."

"Oh, I'm so glad you got here," Jack replied.

"Are we in time?" queried Mr. Stanley.

"No, not in time to be of help when we needed you most," Jack answered;
"but Rowdy took your place. Now we're just getting ready to count the
money. Want to help?"

"What?" questioned Mr. Stanley. "Surely there was nothing to that story
about the buried treasure. Geyer," to his companion, "look at what these
boys have unearthed. Isn't that astounding?"

Introductions all round were followed by a hearty lunch of fish, sweet
potatoes, canned fruit, corn pone and coffee prepared by Doright, who
had been at once assigned to the task upon the return of the treasure
hunters.

Upon opening the chest it was found to contain a quantity of gold and
other coins, as well as a number of jewels in settings. Mr. Geyer, the
attorney, who was versed in those matters, informed the boys that the
coins were of great value because of their age and excellent condition.
Collectors, he said, would be glad to pay far in excess of their
original face or intrinsic value.

The gems were beyond his ability to estimate, although he felt sure they
would return a handsome sum.

"How much do you think we ought to get out of it?" Jack asked.

"Well, after I get my share for outfitting the venture," replied Mr.
Geyer, "I think there ought to be as much as fifty or sixty thousand
dollars - perhaps more."

"Hurrah!" shouted Tom. "That's pretty near ten thousand apiece. That's
quite a bit of money."

"You mean fifteen thousand apiece," corrected Charley.

"I mean what I said - ten thousand," declared Tom. "If this crew of
pirates lets you and Frank get away without sharing the spoils, I'll
never sail with them again; so there!"

"Nor I," declared Jack.

"Nor I," stoutly agreed Harry.

"Nor I," chimed in Arnold. "Rowdy isn't saying a word."

So, laughing and at times half crying, the boys talked over the matter
while they did ample justice to the meal Doright had prepared. Jack's
father and Mr. Geyer offered to take charge of the recovered treasure,
and with Mr. Harrison for a guard they felt safe in taking it to a place
of security after daylight.

With the treasure off their minds, and with the outlaws who had
attempted their lives out of the way, the boys tumbled into their bunks
on the Fortuna and slept the clock around. Their nerves had been at high
tension for some days and they welcomed the opportunity to rest and
recuperate from the strain.

Carlos was helped to a good position with a lumber company in which Mr.
Stanley was interested, while the boys voted to buy Doright a cabin and
piece of land whenever he was ready to settle down.

There followed a couple of weeks of uninterrupted pleasure fishing and
exploring the islands in the Gulf of Mexico. At length the boys started


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