Chapter XI. An Elusive Bob White
 

"Hey," cried Jack grasping Arnold roughly by the shoulder, "Where is your prisoner? You're a pretty guard, you are."

Sheepishly Arnold glanced around, now thoroughly awake.

"Has he gone?" he asked in a wondering tone. "Where is he?"

"Yes, indeed, he went hours ago," asserted Frank. "He was lying here sleeping and a big side wheel boat pulled up with a band playing. They tied up to the Fortuna, fired a salute of twenty-one guns in honor of royalty and then the band filed through the cabin, one at a time, playing their instruments as hard as they could blow. The invalid got up and walked away with them and after another salute of twenty-one guns, the steamer pulled away upstream."

"They did not," protested Arnold stretching himself.

"Well, if they had, it wouldn't have affected you in the least," declared Jack. "We were all tired out and none of us heard him get away. Even Rowdy didn't say anything against it and when Rowdy keeps quiet things are pretty still. He's a light sleeper."

"How about it, Rowdy?" inquired Arnold caressing the bulldog. "You'll stick up for me, won't you, old pal?"

Rowdy's stumpy tail wagged ecstatically as Arnold lavished affection upon him. He endeavored to "kiss" all hands, but this was discouraged. The boys dearly loved their pet but objected to "kisses."

"Anyhow," decided Arnold, "Rowdy never would have let the chap get away if he had thought he was here for harm. So that means the boy is all right! He may have come here a bad boy, but he went away a good one or Rowdy never would have let him go. So there!"

"There might be something in that, too," admitted Jack.

"All hands on deck for a bath," sang out Tom. "I feel dirty!"

"Let's run out of the harbor and get some clean water," Harry proposed. "This river looks pretty thick to me."

All the boys thought the idea a good one and accordingly the anchor was lifted and the Fortuna put out to sea a short distance.

The morning was a glorious one. Old Sol cast his rays upon the sea which gave them back broken and shattered into a thousand shafts of shimmering light. The air was cool and clear. Here and there in the distance a white sail like a fleeting gull marked the position of a sailing vessel, while a smudge of smoke from a steamer far away to the west lent a touch of color.

No time was lost by the boys in starting the pump. Soon a stream of water from the hose was playing on the deck. All hands seized brushes and scrubbed the decks industriously until they shone in spotlessness. Then the hose was turned on the crew, each boy in turn enjoying hugely a shower bath of sea-water. After splashing about to their hearts' content someone mentioned breakfast.

"Let's run out a ways and see what we can catch," cried Arnold. "I'd like a broiled fish for breakfast."

Accordingly the lines were made ready and in a short time Tom announced a bite. His catch proved to be a Spanish mackerel of good size. No time was lost in cleaning the prize.

"Now, while the cook prepares breakfast," Jack said, "I think we'd better get back into harbor. I'm dubious about that plug in the Fortune's side and think we'd better have her out on the ways for a new plank if necessary. Let's get back."

"Right you are, Captain," declared Harry. "I'm cook this morning, while Jack must wash dishes! He said lots of slang yesterday."

"Now you mention it, I'll plead guilty," laughed Jack.

With laughter and gay spirits the boys could scarcely wait for breakfast. Harry was an adept at the kitchen as his friends all were willing to testify. He threw his whole soul into the task as he did with everything he undertook. Today was no exception.

"My only regret," stated Frank as they were seated about the breakfast table at last, "is that I didn't find you fellows sooner."

"The pleasure is mutual, I assure you--we assure you," stated Tom. "We've enjoyed your society immensely and hope we'll find your chum shortly. He can't be far away."

"Wyckoff wouldn't be so desperate as to do him harm, would he?" queried Harry. "I can't believe he would make way with him."

"I don't know," replied Frank in a dubious tone. "Wyckoff has given evidence that he's a mighty mean sort of a chap."

"Speaking of Wyckoff," put in Jack, "I believe that's the schooner that chased us away from Petit Bois yesterday. Look there."

All hands looked in the direction indicated by Jack and saw a schooner just putting out of the harbor. On her decks stood several roughly dressed men lounging about in attitudes that bespoke anything but the smart sailor. They were unkempt and untidy in appearance and were generally a pretty undesirable looking group.

"If that's the same vessel," Frank declared, "I'm glad she didn't catch us! They're a hard looking collection of desperadoes."

"She's tacking so as to come close aboard of us," declared Tom. "Shall I shift the course, Jack?" he inquired.

"I don't think so," answered Jack. "Of course under the pilot rules of the United States, a power boat under way must keep clear of a sailing vessel. She has the right of way and seems to be taking it. But we can easily dodge her with our powerful engines."

Closer and closer came the schooner until it seemed that she would surely collide with the motor-boat. When scarcely more than a length Away from the Fortuna, the schooner was brought sharply about on the other tack. As she came about a clear cut whistle sounded shrilly in the morning air:

"Bob White! Bob, Bob White!"

"Gracious!" cried Frank springing to his feet. "The Bob White."

Instantly he was on deck sending ringing across the water his answer to the challenge of his Patrol:

"Bob White! Bob, Bob White!"

The men on the schooner laughed coarsely as the boy waited for an answer to his challenge. The two vessels were drawing farther apart now. Their voices were indistinguishable, but once more came the call:

"Bob White! Bob, Bob--"

Suddenly the call stopped as if a hand had been placed over the face of the one making the cry. The crew of the Fortuna stared at one another in wide eyed wonderment. They all were thinking rapidly and each seemed to have formed the same conclusion.

"Shall I follow them, Captain?" asked Tom addressing Jack.

"I'd like to," Jack replied, "but I don't think it wise. It may be that Charley Burnett is aboard that, schooner and that the schooner is the one that chased and fired at us yesterday. We are not sure of either supposition. If he's aboard, he's still alive. If he was not on board and one of the crew did the whistling, we would have our trouble for our pains and be laughed at and perhaps insulted into the bargain. We'd better wait a while, I think."

"But maybe he is there and wants to get off," declared Arnold.

"Possibly," agreed Jack. "But in that case if we were to attempt to rescue him by force, that crew is too powerful for us to overcome unless we run alongside and shoot them down mercilessly. We are not prepared to do that just yet, I hope. What's your idea concerning, this, Frank?" he continued addressing his friend.

"It's pretty hard to say it, but I really believe you're right, Jack," answered Frank holding out his hand. "'You are right."

"Thank you," said Jack. "I believe this thing will come out all right without any serious harm to your chum or to us."

If Jack could only have looked into the future he might not have spoken so confidently nor have believed his own words so much.

The run back to the harbor occupied but little time. Arrived there Jack at once went ashore to arrange for hauling out and repairing the Fortuna. He found the marine railway without difficulty but was unable to secure accommodations for his motor boat at once. Every berth was full but one would be empty later in the day.

When Jack reported again aboard the Fortuna the boys agreed that the best thing to do would be to wait for their chance at the ways.

All felt that it would be far safer to replace the plank through which Wyckoff had put the auger hole in his dastardly attempt to turn the boys from their course.

"It will give us a chance to examine her bottom," Jack argued, "and we can see how the barnacles like her. I believe that I'll get some copper paint and give the hull a coat while she's out."

"Hurray," joyfully cried Arnold. "Then I can say truthfully that I'm a marine painter! Won't that be fine."

"There are many things you might say truthfully," agreed Harry in a tantalizing tone. "Of course I emphasize 'might.'"

"Boys, boys," cautioned Jack. "Have a joke, but don't let it go too far. We must constantly remember our motto and no one can 'Be Prepared' to resist the many temptations of life unless he is constantly in training. Sunshine and pleasant skies are best."

"I think those chaps are like a lot of young animals," Frank observed. "They must have a certain amount of tussle and wrestle in order to develop their muscle. They'll need a lot of it later on."

"No doubt you're right," Jack laughed. "Maybe I'm a little too severe. I hope not. I love the boys and want them to be men in every sense of the word. They're good boys all of them."

"When will we get off the ways again, Captain Jack?" asked Harry, after surveying the town and shipping through the glasses.

"We can't get on until late this afternoon, so that means we won't get the carpenter work done until tomorrow some time," Jack replied. "Possibly we'll be able to put her into the water again tomorrow night, if everything goes along well. After the carpenters replace the plank, I want the caulkers to search the seams for soft places in the oakum and after that we'll paint her."

"Well, then, if it's agreeable to you, Harry and I want to go up the river for a fishing trip. We haven't had a chance to catch fish for a long while and that mackerel this morning gave us the fever. We can't be of any use here today so let us go."

"I can't see any objection to that at all," replied Jack. "I should be real glad to have a mess of fresh fish and if you'll promise to return before dark you may go for the day."

"Captain, we'll vote you a leather medal," declared Arnold.

"Yes," agreed Harry, "and not only that, but we'll fetch him back a mess of fish that'll keep the crew busy for a week."

"Let's go over and see the ship carpenter. He can tell us where the good fishing spots are and what bait to use," Harry suggested.

"While they are over there getting information, let us put up a lunch for them," Tom said. "I'll pack a lot of sandwiches and put in a can of coffee and some pickles. That ought to last them."

In a short time the boys returned and taking tackle and lunch set off up the river in the boat found on Petit Bois Island. Gaily they waved their hands at their comrades as they rounded a bend.

During the remainder of the day Jack, Tom and Frank were about the shipyard watching the carpenters at work on various vessels of small tonnage drawn up for repairs. After dinner they went uptown to purchase the necessary paint and to arrange for an additional supply of canned goods with which to stock their larder.

"Let's get some vegetables for supper," Tom said as they visited one of the stores. "It will surprise the boys when they get back all tired and hungry. They'll like that."

Well loaded the lads returned to the shipyard. As they neared the place where their vessel was now lying on the ways, Jack stopped short in his tracks. He turned a startled glance toward his companions. Alarmed, they eagerly crowded closer.

"What's the matter, now?" inquired Tom in a whisper.

"I just saw Wyckoff sneaking behind that shed," Jack replied.