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G. Harvey Ralphson.

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can accommodate twelve people easily. It makes a fine home, all right."

"Can I go to sleep?" inquired Carlos. "I'm right tired."

"Sure you may," declared Arnold. "Take the after cabin and make yourself
comfortable. I'll go up forward and let you sleep."

So saying he joined his companions in the pilot house and reported to
them the result of his effort to placate their visitor.

For half an hour the Fortuna breasted the waves plunging through the
thick fog. Anxiously the boys peered ahead ever alert.

Directly the vibrations of the motors grew fainter. The boys glanced at
each other wonderingly. Rowdy tugged at the rope that confined him and
growled savagely. Jack's face went white as he reached for the switch.
He looked at the other boys in wonder.

The Fortuna's engines came to a dead stop!






CHAPTER III

A MYSTERIOUS MESSAGE


"Pull off the hood over the engines," cried Jack to Harry who was
quickly down the companion-way, "and see if the wires from the magneto
are disconnected. I made a new clip while we were at Mobile and maybe it
has broken and cut off the current."

"Phew!" ejaculated Tom who was preparing to follow Harry below. "I'll
bet something's broke loose all right. Smell it?"

"Sure enough I smell gasoline strong!" declared Jack.

"Some odoriferous, whatever that means!" cried Arnold. "Smells like the
gas house up near Goose Island in the North Branch of the Chicago
River," he added holding his nose.

"Switch on the electric lights and see where the gasoline pipe has
broken loose," suggested Jack. "It seems to me the feed pipe must have
become broken. That's an awful smell!"

"I'll venture there are gallons of gasoline in the bilge right now!"
averred Harry. "Better open the windows a bit and let it air out in
here. Suppose you get the bilge pump to work, Tom, and I'll try to find
the leak."

"Sure, I'll pump the bilge," assented Tom. "Just look here at the stuff
slopping up through the floor boards," he continued. "It surely looks as
if we'd lost some fuel."

"That's funny," declared Jack. "I wonder how it could have happened. The
pipes were all right when we fitted out and nothing we have done since
could have injured them."

A shout from Harry announced a discovery. He was backing out of the
compartment under the pilot house floor and just forward of the engines.
As he appeared his face was the picture of rage.

"What's it?" queried Tom. "Don't hold your breath that way, you're apt
to choke if you do," he laughed.

"Where is the fellow that opened that drain cock?" shouted Harry shaking
his fist in the air. "Someone deliberately drained our gasoline into the
bilge. I found the drain cock wide open!"

"Nobody opened it," asserted Jack. "We were all in the pilot house since
dinner watching the fog and we couldn't reach the pipe."

"I hate to say it, Jack, but we were not all in the pilot house,"
answered Tom. "Maybe it isn't fair to the chap, but that fellow we
nearly run over doesn't look good to me. I rather suspect him."

"Hush, my lad," Jack warned. "A good Boy Scout doesn't accuse anyone
until he has proof, and we have no proof yet of his guilt."

"All right, Jack," unwillingly replied Tom, "but I can't help feel the
way I feel, can I? He didn't impress me very favorably."

"And then, look at Rowdy!" put in Harry. "He spotted the fellow when he
was still hanging on the cable and he tried to get back into the cabin
all the time to eat up his visitor."

"Well, let's go back and wake him up and see what he knows," suggested
Jack. "Maybe he can put up a good story that will satisfy even you
chaps. I can hardly believe anyone would do a thing like that. He has no
motive for attempting to cripple us like this."

The boys moved with one accord toward the after cabin. The Fortuna
rolled viciously in the trough of the choppy sea, making their footing
extremely unsteady. Jack swung open the door.

Starting back in amazement he bumped into Tom who was following closely.
Harry was at their heels peering over their shoulders.

"Where is he?" gasped Jack wonderingly. "Where did he go?"

"The bird has flown!" declared Tom in a tragic tone.

"Bag and baggage!" asserted Harry.

True enough, not a sign of the stranger remained except the pile of
water soaked garments in which he had been clothed when first brought
into the cabin. These lay in a heap on the floor.

"Maybe he's out on the after deck," ventured Jack still hopeful.

"Let's see," answered Tom. "If he is there, I'll cook and wash dishes
and scrub decks for a week on end!"

The after deck was empty. The visitor was nowhere in sight.

"Well, it looks as if he had come up out of the sea like a modern
Neptune and like Old Neptune has gone back into it again," Jack said,
his voice shaking. You don't suppose the fright he had turned his head
and made him commit suicide, do you?"

"Suicide your tintype!" stoutly scorned Tom. "Do you think that fellow
would commit suicide in a rowboat?"

"What do you mean?" questioned Jack wonderingly.

"I mean that our young pirate friend got one perfectly good square meal
of food, one entire new outfit of clothes and one rowboat from this
bunch of kindergartners. Then he opened the drip cock in our fuel tank
and sneaked out the back door and is gone."

"Good night," vociferated Harry. "It's as clear as mud! Look at what
that young villain has done! Why, he's a thief!"

"Easy now," admonished Jack. "We mustn't call him names. Maybe things
look black for him, but it may come out all right."

"Yea-ah!" scorned Tom. "When I can see the back of my neck it will. That
guy's crooked! That's what I believe."

"Me, too!" declared Harry. "I vote with Rowdy. He's usually pretty near
right when it comes to reading character!"

"Well, anyhow, this won't get us anywhere, and the Fortuna is rolling
like a loon. Let's see if Arnold can find bottom in the bilges yet and
then we'll connect up the spare tank and start out."

"Second the motion," declared Tom. "We ought to get going."

Suiting the action to the word the boys returned to the cabin to find
Arnold replacing the pump. The air was still heavy with the odor of
gasoline but Jack deemed it safe to operate the engine, since the
windows were to be left open giving a plentiful supply of air, thus
preventing danger of an explosion.

Tom was about to replace the hood over the engines after they had been
started when his eye caught sight of a piece of paper lying on the
floor. Hastily he kicked it aside and was about to pass to the pilot
house when Harry called his attention to the paper.

"Nice housekeeper you'd make," he taunted, "kick the dirt back under the
couch and let the sweepers get it! Why don't you pick it up?"

"Guess I will," replied Tom shamefacedly. "I was in a hurry."

"What is it?" asked Harry. "Let me see it."

"Sure, read it," Tom answered. "Read it aloud and we'll all hear."

"What's this?" gasped Harry. "Listen, you fellows! Here's the secret of
the whole thing! Hear this!"

"Well, read it," impatiently cried Arnold. "I'm dying to hear."

"Get the Fortuna and crew!" read Harry. "They know about the Spanish
Chest. They're after it. Sink them if you have to."

As he finished reading he glanced at each of his chums in amazement.
Their faces were pictures of dismay and amazement.

"What does that mean?" Arnold cried in tones of wonder. "What does it
mean when it says, 'Get the Fortuna and crew?'"

"The last part explains that," answered Jack. "It means that some one or
more people are after us and will sink the Fortuna if they have to in
order to 'get' us. It listens like desperate characters were following
us all right. We must remember our motto, boys, and 'Be Prepared.' We
know they're after us."

"Yes, 'Be Prepared' for what?" questioned Tom. "Who're after us and why?
What does that mean about the Spanish Chest?"

"I see it's time to let you fellows in on the whole thing," declared
Jack. "I had hoped it would not be necessary to say anything for a long
while yet for the moon isn't full until nearly a week from now, but this
has precipitated matters. Now, listen!

"You all know Lawyer Geyer of Chicago. His offices are in the Masonic
Temple. He and my father are very close friends - in fact they were
schoolmates. Lawyer Geyer offered me a commission for him and fitted out
this vessel and is paying our expenses. He also offered us half the
reward if we were successful."

"What reward?" interrupted Arnold. "Why don't you hurry?"

"Keep still, rattle-head!" admonished Tom. "He's hurrying."

"Well," continued Jack, "it is said that years and years ago the
Spaniards had a fortress built on what is known as Biloxi Bay. It seems
they wanted to fortify this section of country and built a fine place
there. As time went on and the country became settled, this fort was
quite a refuge for settlers in times of trouble. It is said that once a
commander of the fort was wicked enough to turn against his own people
and that he incited the Indians to rise against the settlers. After they
had taken refuge in the fort he got them to put all their gold and
jewelry into his strong box which was a stout oak chest, and then he
planned to get away with it."

"The piker!" cried Tom. "I think he should have been shot."

"He was," continued Jack, "or so the story goes. Some say he was shot by
his own people who discovered his treachery and some say he fell
defending the fort and incidentally the gold against an attack by
Indians. But whichever way it happened, report says that the gold was
buried in the fort by the survivors and has never been unearthed since.
Many people have tried to get it, but it is reported that a curse hangs
over this wealth and that no human being will be permitted to recover
it, unless related to the officer."

"Is that why Lawyer Geyer sent us after it?" asked Harry.

"I don't quite get your meaning," Jack said.

"Well, you said no human being would be permitted to get the coin and
then you said Lawyer Geyer sent us after it and - "

"I move we throw him overboard - he's a scoffer!" declared Tom.

"Second the motion," replied Jack laughing. "Sit still a while and
listen to me. The worst is yet to come."

"Go on, Jack!" breathlessly urged Arnold. "Tell the rest."

"Well here's the curious part of the story," Jack continued. "It is said
that only at certain stages of the moon and tide can one hope to find
this chest of treasure. Also it is reported that only one who is of
Spanish descent can hope to find it."

"Well, that lets us in," stoutly averred Harry. "Tom, here, is Spanish
and so am I. How about you, Rowdy?" he went on addressing the white
bulldog to whom he gave a friendly slap.

Rowdy responded with an affectionate attempt to "kiss" Harry's face and
then endeavored to distribute his favors to the others.

"Seriously," Jack continued, "I have little faith in the project. Lawyer
Geyer seems to half believe the story, however. He was down in this
country a while ago on some real estate business and while here got the
tale from some source that he considered fairly reliable. So he fitted
out the expedition and is willing to take half the proceeds, whatever it
may be, for his share."

"But it looks as if we are being opposed from the very start," objected
Tom. "Look at this visitor and the note he left. That must indicate that
there is a gang working against us. I'm a peaceful, orderly citizen and
not at all inclined to start anything."

"Yes, he is!" laughed Arnold. "Look at the way he put the rollers under
the gang of thugs at our camp at Mackinac Island!"

"Now, boys," continued Jack, beckoning Arnold to silence, "if any one of
you wants to go back, he can have the chance. We're going to Pascagoula
and also to Biloxi. At either place one can get the Louisville &
Nashville railroad for home. Think it over. If you want to try for the
Spanish Treasure Chest, stick. If not, you are at liberty to go home at
any time we make a port."

At that instant the lads were startled to hear the hail:

"Launch ahoy! Keep off!"

"Port your helm," commanded Jack to Arnold who was at the wheel.

Dimly the boys made out the bulk of a schooner on their port bow, her
sails slatting and rigging flying as she came up into the wind. As the
Fortuna fell off they looked at the schooner and saw the main boom
swinging across the deck, strike a man standing near the rail.

"Man overboard. Give me a line," cried Arnold, springing over the rail
without stopping to divest himself of his clothing.






CHAPTER IV

THE HOLE IN THE BOAT


Harry dashed to the rail and seized the ring life preserver from its
beckets. As Arnold rose to the surface and reached out for the
unfortunate man from the schooner, Harry flung the ring-buoy with
unerring aim. It fell true, and within Arnold's reach.

Gradually pulling in the line, Harry and Tom drew their chum to the side
of the Fortuna. The figure in his arms appeared perfectly lifeless.
Quickly they prepared to take both on board.

"Make a bowline in a bight in that line," directed Harry. "Pass it down
to Arnold and let him send us up the man first."

"Right-o," responded Tom, quickly preparing the line.

It was but the work of a moment to securely fasten the line about the
man's limp form and in another moment he was safely on deck. Arnold
followed, coming over the rail like a monkey.

First aid to the drowned was administered rapidly by the boys who prided
themselves upon their proficiency in this art.

"Looks like a nasty bump he got on the coco, too," commented Tom. "How'd
they happen to sneak upon us so close?" he added.

"Humph!" grunted Harry. "We all forgot to keep the Klaxon going while we
listened to that fairy tale about the Spanish Treasure Chest. Maybe they
forgot to blow their fog horn also, and there you are. Natural result of
neglect. That's easy."

"Where are they now?" queried Arnold peering about in the fog.

"I believe that as soon as they saw we were picking up this chap," Jack
replied, "they filled their sails and away they went. Certainly they are
not here now."

"Hush, boys, he's coming to," declared Tom, watching the newcomer
anxiously for signs of returning consciousness.

"Sure enough," assented Harry. "I tell you that little trick of pulling
a fellow's tongue out isn't near as good as turning him face down. Look
how easily this chap came around."

"We'd better get him in and get him to bed as soon as we can, boys,"
admonished Jack. "He needs a warming up."

"I'll start the electric heater and percolate some coffee for both of we
rescued persons," declared Arnold. "Lucky I hadn't put on my oilskins
after getting dinner," he added.

Quickly the boys carried the stranger to the cabin and put him into one
of the berths. There every care was bestowed to make him comfortable and
easy, while Arnold prepared the coffee.

"Lay right there and don't try to talk," advised Arnold. "I'll stay with
you and see that you don't want for anything."

"That's kind of you," replied the stranger. "What vessel is this, if I
may ask before you make me keep quiet?"

"This is a gasoline pleasure launch," replied Arnold.

"Oh, thanks," replied the stranger. "Now, I'll rest a while."

In the pilot house the boys discussed the incident that had so nearly
resulted in a collision. They were all excited and beginning to feel the
strain upon their nerves.

"This is getting to be one of our usual strenuous trips," announced
Jack. "I declare we never go anywhere, it seems, but we dash head
foremost into excitement and trouble. The only thing we need now to
start us right is to discover a Boy Scout or two out here and we'll be
prepared to go ahead and have some adventure."

"Never mind, Captain, we'll find the Boy Scouts, all right. Don't think
our luck will turn yet. Just remember the horseshoe I picked up on the
street in Mobile," urged Tom.

"Yes," Jack assented, "that's a fact. And, by the way, where did you put
that horseshoe? I haven't seen it since."

"I hung it up on the switchboard lamp bracket," said Tom.

"Well, it isn't there now," declared Jack.

"What's that isn't there now?" asked Arnold at that moment climbing the
companion-way from the cabin.

"Tom's horseshoe," Jack replied. "He says he hung it on the lamp over
the switchboard and now it's gone."

"Oh, that," scorned Arnold. "That was just a little bit of a mule shoe.
That wasn't a real full-sized horse shoe."

"All right, Smarty," bridled Tom. "Just tell us where you threw it
overboard and we'll make you go dive for it."

"It was swinging around and making so much noise I took it down and hung
it on the bracket there by the compass," replied Arnold pointing to the
missing article hung over the place indicated.

"Good night," cried Jack. "Here we've been trying to steer a compass
course in a thick fog all the way from Mobile with that thing there! No
wonder we've been hoodooed."

"Why, what's the matter?" innocently inquired Arnold.

Jack's answer was to take the horseshoe from its resting place and make
as if to fling it overboard. He restrained himself, however, and turning
to Arnold said quietly:

"Look here, young man, you evidently do not know how sensitive a thing
the compass is. But if you had done a thing like that on some vessels
they would have thrown you overboard. You have rendered the compass
useless and we have been steering by a crazy instrument. Your horseshoe
hanging there has deflected the needle to such an extent that we cannot
even guess where we have been going."

"I'm sorry," contritely answered Arnold, "but I didn't understand it
that way. I won't do that again, that's sure."

"Thanks, awfully," scornfully answered Tom. "Maybe now you'll agree that
the thing is bigger than you imagined at first."

"You're right," was Arnold's reply. "A little thing can be mighty big in
some cases. I'll remember this for a long time."

"Boys, I believe the fog is thinning out somewhat," announced Harry.
"Maybe the old horseshoe is bringing us luck after all."

"I believe you're more than half right," responded Jack.

"We'd better be on the lookout for breakers and things inside as well as
outside," declared Tom. "Remember what that Carlos de Sneakodorus Madero
did to us when our backs were turned."

"Sure enough, we ought to set a guard on this fellow," agreed Harry.
"I'll volunteer to go and 'red up' the cabin as the Dutchman says, and
incidentally keep an eye on his royal joblots."

The boy descended to the cabin and in furtherance of his design walked
to a locker and extracted an automatic pistol which he placed in a
convenient pocket. He then busied himself about the place in small tasks
that always kept him within sight of the rescued man.

No effort was made by the stranger to engage the boy in conversation,
however, and he worked away undisturbed. Occasionally the bulldog would
enter and after sniffing suspiciously at the prostrate figure of the
rescued man would emit a low growl of disapproval and retreat. He was
not disposed to be friendly.

On one of his trips to the forward cabin Harry noticed the clothes
belonging to the newcomer lying on the floor where they had been dropped
when he had been put into the berth. Thinking to care for them by
straightening and drying them, the boy picked up the first garment in
the pile. It was a vest and as he raised it a collection of small
articles fell from the pocket to the floor.

Among the contents was a metal match box which fell and slid across the
floor, striking, on the locker as it dropped.

"Well, that's too bad. The gentleman will have wet matches, I guess,"
thought the boy. "I'd better empty those wet ones out and give him some
dry ones against his waking and needing some."

What was his amazement, however, upon opening the box to find instead of
matches, a clipping from a newspaper. Harry was about to thrust it back
into the box again when a printed word caught his attention and held him
for a moment motionless. The word was the name of their vessel, the
"Fortuna."

Hastily glancing through the headlines, Harry uttered a quick cry and
dashed forward to the pilot house.

"Boys! Jack, Tom, Arnold," he cried excitedly. "What do you think of
this? Here's some more of this mystery for us."

"What do you mean, mystery?" queried Tom, scoffingly.

"Just listen to this! Here's a newspaper clipping evidently from a
Chicago paper which tells about our fitting out the Fortuna for the
cruise to the Gulf of Mexico and also hazards the guess that we are
young and adventurous spirits evidently seeking the buried treasure on
the Gulf Coast."

"Does it say that we are after the Spanish Treasure Chest at the old
Fort on Biloxi Bay, that must be dug up in the full of the moon on a
rising tide with not a word said?" asked Tom.

"It does say that our destination is Biloxi and that we are known to be
daring lads," replied Harry. "But that is not all."

"Let's have it, Harry," cried Jack. "I'm anxious to hear all."

"There's a pencil notation across the paper that says: 'Get these
fellows at any cost.' That's mighty encouraging."

"Say, fellows, this is getting uncomfortably tight! I don't like it a
little bit," declared Tom. "Here we are peaceable Boy Scouts out for a
little pleasure trip and all at once it begins to rain adventurous
spirits from any old place and each of them is posted to make away with
us and all seem to be protecting this old Spanish strong box. I wish
they'd go away and let us pursue the even tenor of our way unmolested."

"So do I," Jack replied. "But they seem to feel otherwise and so we'll
have to take them as they come. We'll remember our motto and 'be
prepared' to accept whatever they may have to offer."

"Is this fellow going to open the drip cock on our spare gasoline tank?"
asked Arnold. "If he is, I'm going down to mount guard over him right
now! Once is enough and too much is plenty."

"I don't believe he knows what vessel he's on yet," declared Harry. "He
asked me and I gave him an evasive reply."

"Fog's lifting, Captain," announced Tom who was at the wheel.

"Sure enough, it is," joyfully cried Jack. "Now maybe we can get a
bearing and know where we are. Do you see land anywhere?"

"I see smoke," declared Harry. "What does a sailor say when he sees a
smoke? Should he say 'smoke ho,' or 'sail ho,' or what?"

"I don't know, I'm sure," Jack answered with a laugh.

"And now I see two 'smoke ho's,'" cried Tom. "That means that some Boy
Scout is in trouble and wants help."

"Maybe it means that a steamer is over there and the 'ash cats' are busy
while the firemen are putting in more coal."

"I don't believe it!" declared Tom. "See that fringe of pines along
there and see the smoke rising from the sand beyond them. It surely
looks like two signal smokes to me! How about it?"

"Let's put on some more steam and run over in that direction to discover
who may be making the smokes," suggested Jack.

It was voted a good idea and accordingly the Fortuna was headed in the
direction of the smokes with increased speed of the motors. Every moment
now the fog was lifting and objects could be more clearly distinguished
on the land which lay not a great way off.

"We can't get in very much closer here," declared Tom, "I see bottom
now, I believe. We'd better slip along shore until we're about opposite
the smokes and land in a small boat."

"All right," agreed Jack. "What do you say, boys?"

"Good idea, I say," offered Harry. "Who do you suppose it is making the
smoke? Wish it were someone from Chicago."

"Maybe it would be a good idea to see how our passenger is getting on,"
suggested Arnold. "I believe I'll slip down and see."

He stepped down the companion way and in a moment the boys heard him
shout excitedly back:

"Somebody come here, quickly. The Fortuna's taking in water fast. It's
up over the floor boards now and the engine is throwing it around in
great shape. Our passenger's gone!"






CHAPTER V

WIG-WAGGING A WARNING


Tom and Harry quickly followed their chum to the cabin, where their eyes
were greeted by the sight of water rising above the floor of the forward
compartment.

"She's started a butt!" declared Tom with a tremor in his usually cheery
voice. "She's started a butt and we'll have to beach her or she'll sink
right out here in the Gulf of Mexico!"

"No, she won't!" snapped Harry. "Get the hand bilge pump going and I'll
start the power pump with the electric light engine!"

Quickly the directions were followed. Tom and Arnold speedily assailed
the rising water with the hand pump, while Harry started the gasoline


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