Chapter XX. Rescued at Sea
 

"Bob, Bob White," replied Frank from the Fortuna. "Oh, there you are, Charley. Thank God. Oh, come down and come aboard."

"Yes, he'll come aboard," vociferated the mate in a coarse voice. He was a brutal looking fellow, to whom the boys instantly took a violent dislike. "He'll stay where he is and so will you."

With these words he drew from the pocket of his trousers a revolver of old style, but of aspect fully as vicious as its owner. It was of large calibre, and from the way in which the mate handled it he was evidently familiar with its use.

But Jack was not to be daunted so easily. Stretching the truth a bit, perhaps, he replied to the threat of the mate:

"Oh, well, if you feel like bucking the government, go ahead. I can't sink you with this craft, or you'd be at the bottom in a jiffy. But you know what it means to disobey orders of an officer."

At this the fellow perceptibly weakened. But because the members of the crew had overheard his threats and feeling like so many cowardly bullies do that he must make good his word, even though in the wrong, he again shook the menacing revolver and shouted:

"You fellows keep off or I'll shoot. You can't steal my crew. I'm a bucko mate, I am. You better sheer off."

"Drop that gun, you villain!" cried Charley Burnett, high up in the schooner's rigging. At his words the mate turned.

Instantly a ringing voice from the Fortuna called out:

"Now I've got the drop on you! Let that gun go and tell the captain I want to talk to him or I'll have to shoot."

Tom was perched on top of the Fortuna's pilot house with a rifle in his hands, the muzzle pointed straight at the mate.

When the coward saw that he was indeed covered by a weapon in the hands of a determined person, his grasp on his own means of offense loosened, permitting the revolver to drop to the deck.

Seeing that he was for the time worsted he tried to cover his confusion with a grin that was more of a snarl.

"Better send for your captain and be quick about it," cried Jack impatiently. "We can't afford to burn up good gasolene chasing you. Move quickly and it will be better for you."

Ungraciously the mate dispatched one of the hands to call the captain who appeared on deck directly in a not very good humor.

When he saw the boys in their neat uniforms, however, and observed the trim appearance of the craft alongside his own vessel, his manner changed. He approached the rail and hailed:

"Launch, Ahoy! What can I do for you?"

"I must speak with you on important business, Captain."

"All right, sir. If you'll bear off a little, I'll heave to and you may come aboard. I'm heavily laden and on short time, but I'll spare you a few moments if you can be brief."

In a short time the schooner lay quietly upon the water, with the Fortuna ranged alongside. Fenders had been put overboard by the Fortuna's crew in order to protect the paint on the launch.

Jack was received by the captain, who met him with a smile and hearty handshake of welcome. The situation was soon explained by Jack, who won the captain's heart by his straightforward, manly appearance and by his directness of speech.

"So we've got some of your chums who have been shanghaied?" queried the captain, when Jack had finished his recital.

"It looks that way, Captain," Jack announced.

"Well, what are you going to do about it?" inquired the master of the sailing vessel in a tone intended to be severe.

Jack was watching his new acquaintance closely and thought he detected just the suspicion of a twinkle in the captain's eye.

"He's playing for time to try me out," thought the lad rapidly. "He wants to see what I'll do in case of refusal."

Outwardly he gave no indication of what was in his mind, but appeared to be pondering the situation deeply. At length he said:

"Captain, I'll have to leave it up to you. We want our chums who are aboard your vessel. I don't know what the marine law is nor whether we'd have a right to seize them by force if we were able. So I think I'd better leave it to you. What shall we do, Captain?"

"Well, when you put it that way," replied the Captain, reaching for Jack's hand and seizing it in a hearty grasp, "I think you'd better take the lads and with them my apology. Will that do?"

"Captain, you're a brick," shouted Jack, forgetting for a moment in his enthusiasm the difference in their rank. The next moment he was all confusion over his breach of etiquette.

Laughing, the captain preceded him up the companion-way and called to the mate. He then ordered the boys who had been shipped aboard the "Quickstep," released and turned over to the captain of the Fortuna. This was done much to the mate's disgust.

There need be no doubt as to the heartiness of the greetings that passed between the separated members of the Beaver and Bob White Patrols once they were united again. Introductions followed hastily.

As the "Quickstep" sailed away on her course again, the crew of the Fortuna gathered on top of the cabin and waved a farewell, cheering until they were hoarse. At length Jack called them below.

"How about some eats?" queried Tom. "I'm so empty I'd make a first rate drum. I declare I haven't had anything to eat in weeks."

"Rubber," shouted Harry. "Stretch it. You mustn't fib."

"Well, I mean it seems that long," declared Tom. "Who'll be the cook? Shall we run slowly until breakfast is ready?"

"That's a good idea," Jack answered. "Let's run under a check until breakfast is over, then we'll make good time straight for Biloxi."

"Hurray, we're homeward bound," shouted Tom. "Hurray again!"

"Shower bath first," cried Arnold, dragging out the hose.

What a glorious morning that was. Doright laughed until he could laugh no more to see the antics of the boys who took turns holding the hose on each other. The sun was just up clear of the horizon ushering in a day that promised to be beautiful. Only a slight swell was running on the Gulf giving the boys an excellent opportunity for a shower bath on deck. They availed themselves of the opportunity and frolicked about to their heart's content.

At length the boys produced the brushes and proceeded to scrub the Fortuna until she shone--as Tom put it--"like a new bottle."

Jack volunteered to act as cook, drafting Arnold to assist because of the extra number of mouths to be fed. Doright stayed about the kitchenette, taking in every detail of the splendidly equipped boat. To his eyes, unaccustomed to anything of the sort, the vessel was splendid beyond compare. He was charmed.

Presently breakfast was served. All did ample justice to the shrimps, sweet potatoes and chicken gumbo that Jack had prepared. The excellence of the coffee was remarked by all.

At length the boys, having eaten their fill, spread the remains of the breakfast for Doright. He had been serving as the boys ate.

"If there isn't enough breakfast for you. Doright, we'll make some pancakes for you," Jack offered in a friendly tone.

"Thankee, Boss. Ah guess there's more'n Ah kin eat," protested Doright. "Ah haint no heavy eater, nohow. Ah just lunches."

Leaving the negro to satisfy his appetite and wash the dishes, the boys repaired to the pilot house for a conference. There detailed explanations of all that had happened since Harry and Arnold left for a fishing trip were made, while Frank Evans and Charley Burnett told their story of the incidents in which they had been concerned.

"I'm puzzled over two things," stated Jack at length.

"What are they?" queried Arnold. "Ask me, I can tell you."

"First, I'm puzzled over the sudden turn of front in Doright."

"That's a fact," was Tom's rejoinder. "He has turned his coat mighty sudden. I wonder what caused him to do it. Let's ask him."

This was no sooner proposed than it met with instant favor. Doright was called from his labor to join the meeting.

"Doright," Jack began in a kindly tone. "We have had reason to believe that you were opposed to us in times past. We knew that you were working against us and that you helped make prisoners of these lads here. Now what we want to know is, why should you turn about and tell us when they were just being put out of the way?"

Breathlessly the boys all leaned forward to catch the story.

"Well, sir, Boss, hit's jess like this here," began Doright. "Mah name's Doright Abraham Jefferson Davis Canaan. Ah fergit the rest. Ever sense Ah was little Ah been told by mah mammy to do right--Doright! Dat's mah name and Ah tries to do right."

"Thanks," smiled Jack. "Now tell me why you changed so."

"Well, sir, Boss, Ah jest seen that these yere boys wuzn't no men. Ah wuz willin' to let Lopez take the boys and shet 'em up an' all that. But when hit come to puttin' of 'em aboard a bucko schooner, Ah says to mahse'f, Ah says: 'Doright, dat haint right.'"

"Yes, and what then? Why didn't you take them off the ship?"

"She done gone. So Ah jest says to Mister Pete--dat's Lopez--Ah says, 'Mr. Pete,' Ah says, 'youall better git them boys back,' an' Mr. Pete he done fotch me a clip over the haid with his'n gun an' Ah specs Ah got a bump right there now. 'Course Ah done hit Mr. Pete then and so Ah come on down to see youall. Mr. Pete he won't come to for a long time. Don't no-body come to for for a long time when Ah hits 'em. Ah don't know mah own strength dey tells me."

"So, that was it, eh?" observed Frank. "Conscience got to hurting a little and we owe the presence of this united band of Boy Scouts to our friend Doright. Boys, I move three cheers for Doright! Give them real heartily now, as if you meant it."

The ringing cheers went echoing across the waters of the Gulf, bringing a grin to Doright's black face. He scarcely caught the entire meaning of this tribute, but he sensed the import of it.

"I think we'd better give Doright a little souvenir," Frank suggested. "Doright, what would you like to have best of all?"

Doright considered deeply, scratching his head meanwhile. At length he looked up with a smile spreading across his face.

"Ah reckon I'd like best to jes' cook an' clean upon this here boat. She sure am a fine boat and Ah wouldn't be in the way a littlest bit. Ah could sleep down in here by the engines or on deck."

"All right, Doright," answered Jack. "We'll have to consider the matter a while. We'll let you know later. You may go now."

After the negro's disappearance toward the cabin, the boys again gathered about Jack, eager for the next development.

"After Doright's lucid explanation, I think we have reduced our troubles to just one," he announced in a tone of finality.

"Just one trouble on earth," shouted Harry. "Oh my!"

"And what, pray, might that be?" queried Frank.

"That is just the question of whether or not there really is a treasure and if there is whether or not it is getatable, and whether Wyckoff and Lopez and their gang of rascals will make us the trouble they have been trying to make if we endeavor to get the chest."

"Well," speculated Charley, "if there isn't a treasure, there might just as well be one for Wyckoff and Lopez and their gang believe there is one, and they're ready to fight to the last breath to get it."

"They're surely scrappers," Arnold announced. "We know that."

"Yes," agreed Harry, "they're scrappers from the very word."

"Look at what we've had to contend with before we fairly start."

"What I'm worried about," Jack announced, "is that although Lawyer Geyer gives minute instructions about everything else he doesn't give any information as to the site of the chest. The fort must have been an acre or so in extent, yet he doesn't say whether it was buried in this corner or that, or out near the wood shed or what."

"We'll have to dig it all up," laughingly declared Frank.

"I can fix that," boasted Harry. "I know exactly the spot where we should turn the first shovelful of earth."