Chapter XVIII. Shanghaied!
 

"We ought to answer that signal," declared Harry. "Maybe there's a Boy Scout needs help in the next room."

"Remember your motto," cautioned Arnold. "Be Prepared for trouble and for enemies as well as to help someone."

"We haven't had much chance to help anyone so far today," asserted Harry. "This may be just the chance to take the knot out of our neckties, so I'm going to take a chance. We can't afford to be too careful. If we were in trouble, we'd want help."

"That's so," admitted Arnold. "Go to it, then. I'm with you."

"Let me roll over and get on my feet and I'll slap, slap, slap on the floor with my foot," declared Harry. "That'll be easy."

"Why don't you whistle 'Bob White,' at him?" queried the other.

"Because we're not allowed to use the call of another Patrol. If he's a Bob White, he can't in reason howl like a wolf or bark like a dog or slap, slap like a beaver. You understand that."

"Sure I do," admitted Arnold, "but I overlook things sometimes."

Harry now succeeded in rolling over onto his face and from that uncomfortable position rose to his feet. He balanced himself against the wall while he raised one foot and gave three distinct slaps on the floor with the sole of his shoe. Both listened sharply.

"Bob, Bob White," came the answering call through the partition.

"Who's there?" called Harry in a voice trembling with excitement.

"Bob White, St. Louis," came the muffled reply.

"Good gracious," was Harry's startled comment. "Bob White, St. Louis. Then they've got Jack and Tom and Frank cooped up here."

"That's awful," groaned Arnold. "What shall we do?"

"If it is really a Boy Scout, we'd better try to help him."

"If we only were not tied. How can we get loose?"

"There's only one way that I can see," stated Harry. "If you will rise to your feet so that I can get at your hands with my teeth, I'll try to untie that rope that holds you. Then you can untie me."

"But that isn't a rope," protested Arnold. "That's a snake skin and it's off the snake that nearly struck you. You wouldn't think of biting on that. You just couldn't do it. I couldn't."

"That's what I thought, so I suggested that I do it."

"What do you mean?" flashed Arnold. "I guess I can do anything you can. I've never been stumped yet and I shall not begin now."

"Never mind the argument, let me get at your bonds."

"Not yet. I'll untie yours, but you're not going to untie mine with your teeth. Tom got kicked in the jaw, Jack got shot and you got your wrists cruelly burned on this trip. It's no more than fair that I should have some of the discomforts of this experience."

"Well, then, hurry up. That fellow may be in trouble."

But a few minutes were required for the boy with his strong, white teeth to so loosen the knot hastily tied by Lopez as to render possible the free movement of Harry's arms. After swinging his hands vigorously a few moments to restore circulation, Harry then performed a similar office for his chum, but not, however, with his teeth. The experience was almost too much for Arnold, who for a time threatened to be ill from the suggestion of biting the thongs.

When both were freed they next gave their attention to the lad on the opposite side of the partition. Their signals had been constantly answered with the plaintive, "Bob, Bob White." "This door's locked on the other side," declared Harry, after trying the latch. "I'll bet it's got a bar across."

"Then the only thing to do is to batter down the partitions," declared Arnold. "Is it lath and plaster, or just boards?"

"They don't need to use plaster in this warm country."

"Well, then," Arnold continued, "We'll have to knock a hole in the boards. What can we get for a battering ram?"

"Here's this bench. It's heavy and solid. Let's try it."

Not many blows of the bench swung in the strong arms were required to batter loose enough of the partition to permit the boys to crawl through into the next compartment. There they found a boy of about their own age. He was dressed in a khaki uniform and medals and badges on his jacket proclaimed him a Boy Scout. Prominently displayed were merit badges proclaiming that he had attained proficiency and qualified for the honors of Signaling, Seamanship, Camping and Stalking.

"Hello, here. What's this?" cried Harry, who was first through the opening. "Why, this poor Bob White is tied hard and fast."

"Sure enough," was Arnold's comment. He followed fast on Harry's heels and was at the prostrate boy in a moment. It was a short task to free the lad of his uncomfortable fetters and help him to his feet. "Sure enough," repeated Arnold. "Poor Bob White."

Their ready sympathy proved almost too much for the stranger.

"Won't you come over and visit us?" was their invitation.

"Thanks, I'll be glad to do so," was the reply.

"I was just a bit lonesome in there, to tell the truth. I'm better now."

"What shall we call you other than Bob White?" asked Harry.

"My name is Charley Burnett," answered their new friend. "I belong to the Bob White patrol of Boy Scouts in St. Louis."

"And you came down the Mississippi in a launch called the 'Spray,' and were set upon by a gang of thugs and pirates!" cried Arnold. "How am I for a mind reader or clairvoyant?"

"You're just fine," declared Charley following the lads into the front room. "I wish I were half as good. I certainly do."

"What would you do if you were?" inquired Harry.

"I'd go into a trance and see if I could locate my chum."

"You don't have to do that," declared Arnold. "Just cross my palm with a piece of silver and I'll locate him for you," he added with a laugh. Then pretending to take an imaginary piece of money from Charley, he went on, "Your chum is on a boat called the 'Fortuna.' He is in the hands of friends who wish him well. He has been seeking diligently for you but cannot find you. Where have you been?"

"Well," laughed Charley, amused at the joke, "I've been sailing around and around and around. Most of the time I have been on a shrimping schooner on the Gulf. This morning the men aboard of her said that I was dangerous, so they were going to put me out of the way. They brought me here and tied me up. That's all."

"Didn't you whistle 'Bob White,' at us when we were coming into the harbor here?" inquired Harry breathlessly. "I know you did."

"Maybe I did," admitted Charley. "I whistled 'Bob White,' at all possible and impossible times until they threatened to kill me."

"The brutes. I almost believe they'd dare do anything."

The tender sympathy that was evident in the tones of his new found friends proved almost too much for the fortitude of the late captive. It was only with a great effort that he restrained the tears.

"Well," at length Harry decided, "if you lads are rested, I move that we get busy, break out of here and go back to the--"

A heavy footstep sounded on the gallery outside the door. Lopez and Doright entered through the door. Doright carried a tin pail. He was followed by Lopez with one of the boys' automatics in his hand. His face darkened instantly when he saw the lads.

"You sure are tough customers," declared he. "I guess, Doright, youall better go get them old slave chains. They won't break them."

"Yaas, Sir, Boss," replied the negro hastening away.

"If you're hungry, better get at that grub while you got the chance," offered Lopez. "In a minute that nigger'll be back with the irons, and then you won't be runnin' around loose."

Urged on by their hunger the boys lost no time in attacking the tin pail. It contained but "grits," a small hominy, cooked with a piece of bacon, yet never it seemed to the lads had they tasted better food. Only the merest crumbs remained when Doright entered bearing an armful of clanking chains. These he threw on the floor.

"Make 'em fast," ordered Lopez, keeping the muzzle of his automatic pistol ever trained on the group before him. "Put them leg irons on good and tight. Make sure of your work this time."

Obediently the negro clamped the irons tightly about their ankles. Then drawing a longer chain through the leg irons he lifted a board from the floor to pass the long chain under a heavy hewn joist.

A padlock securely fastened the ends of this longer chain and thus the boys were shackled beyond hope of releasing themselves.

"Now, just to make sure, we'll leave Doright on guard and he'll have a gun in his hand. He likes to shoot, too. And he knows how."

Never had the voice of the outlaw sounded so coarse and disagreeable as now when hope seemed gone. His villainous face lighted with evil triumph as he surveyed the plight of his captives.

"Looks like old times," he gloated, "only now you boys are wearing irons that have graced the leg of many a slave. And there's a black boy guarding the white boys now. That's funny."

Throwing back his head he gave vent to peal after peal of laughter.

"What are you expecting to do with us?" inquired Arnold, who was longing to get at the throat of his jailor.

"Well, Wyckoff hasn't decided yet," replied Lopez. "He has found out that it's a mighty uncomfortable job keeping prisoners and feeding them. He couldn't keep this other boy on the schooner for it was too public. When you came chasing into port, he got scared. I was uncomfortable, too. If you had hailed me then, I guess I'd have let you take the boy off the schooner. When we got Wyckoff, though, he said it wouldn't do. Youall will never have a chance at the Treasure."

"No? Just wait and see what happens," taunted Arnold. "They say there's many a slip between the cup and the saucer. Watch us."

"You are right, I'll watch you," declared the outlaw. "When we let you go this time, you'll say Good Bye for keeps."

"You can't let things come any too swift for us," boasted Harry. "We are from Chicago, and if you've ever been on a Halsted street trolley at six o'clock of an evening, you'll know what we live on. Send along your hard times. We eat those things."

"Maybe," gritted Lopez. "You boys better sharpen your teeth."

With this he left the cabin with instructions to Doright to watch the boys and not permit any talking or communication.

Doright was at least faithful to his trust. After one or two attempts the boys gave over trying to engage the negro in conversation. Becoming cramped in their sitting positions, they shortly stretched themselves on the floor and presently were fast asleep. Awakened later by a rough hand on their shoulders, they sat up in bewilderment. The chains on their legs soon apprised them of their location and surroundings. Lopez stood over them.

"Unlock 'em, Doright," he commanded. "Get the hand irons on 'em first and watch out, for they're tricky. They may get you."

The boys were marched out of the little cabin and down to the river, where they boarded a boat under the direction of Lopez.

Doright at the oars had plenty of work to pull the craft with its heavy load. At last they approached a vessel lying at anchor in the stream. Lopez's hail brought an answer immediately.

"Up you go," commanded the outlaw to the boys, as Doright loosened the shackles. "Over the rail with you now and no monkey work."

So deeply loaded was the schooner--a large three-masted vessel--that the boys had little difficulty in reaching her rail and vaulting it. Arriving on deck they found an officer and two or three members of the crew standing ready to receive them.

"Well, here are the three men you wanted," stated Lopez to the officer. "I had hard work gettin' them, but they wanted a vessel bad so I signed 'em on. Now to settle up if you please."

"Take these men forward, Johnson, and break 'em in," commanded the mate, passing some money over to Lopez. "Get a jump on 'em."

A tug took the schooner in tow. As she passed the shipyard Charley whistled, "Bob White." The mate's fist descended on his head.