Chapter X. First Aid and an Escape
 

"Oh! Oh! Oh!" came the cries of pain. "Oh! Oh! Oh!"

Quickly Jack's hand stole toward the switch that controlled the overhead lights. Instantly the cabin was a blaze of light.

"What's the matter?" cried the boy looking toward the source of the disturbance. "What's going on here, anyway?"

Rowdy bounded off his bed and dashed toward the forward cabin with a vim and energy that bespoke ill for someone.

"Here, Rowdy," commanded Arnold, "come here, sir."

Slowly the dog returned to his master's side. The hair on his shoulders was standing straight on end while hoarse growls issued in thunderous tones from his throat around which the muscles tightened in anticipation of a desperate struggle with an enemy.

"There's someone in there," declared Harry in a tone of discovery. "Somebody came aboard while we were asleep."

"Sure enough," scorned Tom rumpling Harry's usually smooth hair. "What did you suppose was making all that noise, friend?"

"Well, there is someone in there," stoutly maintained Harry.

"Hush, boys," commanded Jack. "Let's see who it is."

Automatics were produced from under pillows and the boys moved forward to investigate. The cries still came loudly.

"Who are you and what do you want?" questioned Jack.

"Oh, help me, help me," groaned the figure lying at the foot of the companion-way. "Help me, I'm hurt badly."

"Where are you hurt?" inquired Jack solicitously bending over the prostrate form curled in a heap. "I'll help you if I can."

"My foot, oh, my foot," wailed the stranger. "It's cut off."

"Look at the blood," declared Frank. "Good gracious, that's a bad wound. Wonder how he got it. How did he get aboard?"

"There's something sticking into his foot," cried Harry. "Look at that thing projecting from his foot. No wonder it bleeds."

Frank and Jack exchanged glances and then at the whispered command of Frank, Jack quickly sat on the head of their visitor while Tom and Harry threw themselves upon his leg. Frank stooped, grasped the foot with one hand and with the other wrenched quickly at the thing that was protruding through the foot of the boy.

A shriek of agony told of the pain he had caused. Frank shook his head in pity at the suffering he had brought about. He glanced at the object he held in his hand, then sat down upon a locker and gave vent to shout after shout of laughter. The boys gazed in open mouthed wonder at the spectacle. Frank's laugh was hearty.

"Frank," cried Jack wonderingly, "what's the matter? Have you gone plumb crazy or are you enjoying this boy's suffering?"

"Neither," asserted Frank. "I think we'll give a little first aid and then thank Arnold here for catching the thief."

"Thank me?" queried Arnold. "I didn't catch him."

"Yes, you did," declared Frank. "But now to help him a bit."

"How shall we treat the foot?" asked Tom gazing ruefully at the deck, now becoming crimson under the stain of blood.

"Get a basin and then some hot water," directed Frank. "I think we'd better wash this out first and then put in some disinfectant. Have you got something to cleanse the wound?"

"Surely have," was Tom's confident answer. "Got a whole chest full of dope here. Help yourself to anything you want!"

"Let's put in a lot of turpentine," suggested Harry. "That's good for snake-bite and other things. We've got plenty of it, too."

Frank took charge of the injured lad, bathing and cleansing the wounded foot. He prepared to bandage the member after giving it a liberal application of turpentine. As he was about to put the bandage in place Harry offered another suggestion.

"Let's put on some of that fat salt pork. I got a rusty nail in my foot once and that's what they put on me."

"Did it work?" asked Tom. "I mean the pork, of course."

"Of course it worked," stoutly maintained Harry.

"All right, then, put on a slice of pork. It surely can't do any harm and may draw out the poison from the foot."

"What poison?" queried Arnold. "What did he step on?"

"I told you," stated Frank in a positive tone, "that Arnold captured this fellow. When you know the facts, you'll agree."

"Let me mop up this smear on the floor," suggested Tom, bringing hot water, "and then we'll all listen. Who's the Sherlock?"

"Take cold water, Tom, for that spot on the floor," was Frank's suggestion. "If you don't the place will be discolored."

"Sure enough, I guess I'm getting old and forgetful," laughed Tom. "We've had enough excitement today to make me forget most everything, I guess. Tell you what, I'm sleepy, too."

"Now tell us how you happened to say that Arnold caught this chap," Jack demanded of Frank when the stranger had been placed in a comfortable position and the boys had gathered in the after cabin. "I thought Arnold was in the bunk when it happened."

"Well, boys," began Frank producing the object he had taken from the visitor's foot, "Arnold discovered the horse buried upside down in the sand on Petit Bois and he insisted on bringing the shell."

"All as plain as mud," shouted Arnold. "I left the horseshoe crab shell in the forward cabin. It must have got kicked about during the evening and left with the tail sticking straight up. When this fellow came down the steps, he landed on it kerplunk."

"Right-O!" declared Frank. "At least," he continued, "that's my deduction. If anyone has a better explanation, let him give it."

None was offered, however, the boys seeming to agree that Arnold's explanation had been correct. They all waited to hear further from Frank. He noticed their hesitation and continued:

"I think it would be a good idea to go and interview this lad. He looks to me like a tough customer here for no good."

This suggestion met with instant approval. The boys crowded forward eagerly. One or two automatics were displayed.

"Hello, what's this," questioned Harry, picking up an object from the bunk beside the visitor who was lying on his side.

"Why, it's a piece of raw meat," he exclaimed. "Where did that come from? We haven't any beef aboard, have we?"

"Not that I know of," answered Arnold. "It's only a small piece. Give it to Rowdy. He needs a lunch."

"Stop," shouted Jack. "Don't give that to Rowdy."

"Why not?" Arnold questioned in a surprised tone.

"Maybe this chap brought it aboard for that very purpose!"

"What a numbskull I am," scolded Arnold. "Here I might have killed our best friend. I must get the habit of thinking."

"How about it, friend?" queried Jack shaking the stranger by the shoulder. "What have you got on the meat?"

"Nothing," stoutly declared the newcomer, keeping his face turned toward the bulkhead. "I have nothing on it."

"I see," scorned Jack. "You intended to bring the meat aboard to use for a sandwich for yourself. You were about to use our kitchenette for a while, then you would have gone on peaceably."

No answer was vouchsafed to this sally and Jack continued:

"You might as well make a clean breast of the whole matter. We know you. You were aboard our boat once before. We are several gallons of gasoline short because of your kindness. 'Fess up, now."

"I guess I know a way to make him talk," declared Frank. "Come here until I suggest a method that I hope will be effective."

Frank and Jack withdrew a little from the group about the berth holding the stranger. After a moment's consultation they returned and Jack again addressed the injured boy in a friendly tone:

"Come, now, Carlos Madero, or whatever your name may be, we want to treat you right, but we're going to have some information if we have to wring your neck to get it. We don't care about doing you any harm, especially since you're already wounded, but you will have to explain your presence here at this hour of the night. Why did you come aboard barefooted and unannounced?"

"I am not afraid of your threats. You can't do anything to me. Besides, you're Boy Scouts and you wouldn't harm me."

"Never mind about that just now," interrupted Jack. "We can protect ourselves even if we are Boy Scouts. You'll learn that."

"Sure he'll learn it," chimed in Tom. "He'd better not monkey too far with this crowd. We'll make him eat that meat."

"God idea," declared Jack. "Arnold, please start the coils and fry this chunk of meat for out friend. He's hungry."

With these words, Jack drew an automatic and displayed it for the benefit of the visitor. He had no intention of using the weapon, but felt it might have a salutary effect. In this he was right.

"I can't eat it," cried the boy. "It's poisoned."

"Ah, ha," gloated Jack. "I thought so."

"Oh, please let me go away," begged the lad. "I'll promise not to do anything against you again. I'll never bother you at all."

"We don't want to do anything rash," Frank suggested. "We won't harm you if you'll agree not to injure us, but we must know why you came aboard tonight as you did and what your purpose was."

"Wyckoff made me," groaned the boy covering his face with his hands. "There," he cried sitting up in bed, "now I've told, he'll kill me sure. Oh, I'm in trouble now."

"Not so you could notice it," gritted Jack, taking a firmer hold on his automatic. "If Wyckoff tries any of his dirty tricks around here, we'll fill him so full of holes he'll leak straw."

"You don't know him," shuddered the boy. "He's a desperate man. He shot a nigger once just because the fellow disputed Wyckoff about a match. He's a bad, bad man. I know him."

"And still he had the nerve to tell us on Petit Bois that his hands were clean," scornfully declared Jack. "He makes me sick."

"Oh, have you seen him?" questioned Carlos.

"He didn't tell me that! He just told me what I must do."

"What did he tell you to do?" inquired Frank not unkindly.

"He said that in the after cabin of this boat under the floor boards I would find a plug driven into the skin of the boat to fill an auger hole.

"He directed me to remove that plug carefully and swim ashore. I was not to awaken you but to get away quietly."

"Well, you surely were the pussy-footed little sleuth," declared Harry. "It would have been impossible to hear you more than forty or fifty miles away. There's nothing the matter with that voice of yours. I know an auctioneer who could use that noise."

"Don't rub it in, Harry," advised Tom. "The poor lad is having troubles of his own right now as it is. He's all in."

"He brought it on himself," maintained Harry. "He wasn't invited aboard. If he'd stayed away, this never would have happened."

"I know," soothed Tom, "and you'll find that most of the troubles we get into are caused by our own acts. I'm sleepy. Move we postpone this third degree business until morning."

"Second the motion," declared Harry. "Let's set a guard over the prisoner and go back to sleep. I'm all in, myself."

The suggestion met with the approval of all the boys. They were tired after their long and strenuous day and needed rest badly.

Arnold, feeling elated because his crab shell had been the means of trapping the midnight visitor, volunteered to act as guard during the first watch. He stoutly maintained that he was not sleepy and would be only too glad of the chance to watch.

The poisoned meat was thrown overboard and quiet reigned again.

Frank awoke and stretched himself. Then he reached across to the bunk occupied by Jack and shook that worthy by the arm.

"Let's get up and visit the hospital," he suggested, springing up.

Arnold sat sleeping on the bunk. The prisoner was gone!