Chapter XXI. A Friend and an Enemy
 

"Yes, you know all about this business," scorned Arnold. "I'll wager you were there when the stuff was buried."

"No I wasn't there, but I know where to dig just the same. I can tell you within two feet of where the chest was planted."

"Harry," Jack said soberly, "this is getting to be almost too serious a matter to joke about. If you have any information that would be of help to us, let's have it, but don't joke us."

"I'm not joking," bridled Harry. "I've got some information that I believe to be pretty near the exact thing we're looking for. I got it from a man who wouldn't have parted with it for his right hand if he'd known about it, so I think it is all right."

"Where did you get it and what does it look like?"

"I got it in the cabin in the woods that was burned down. When Lopez left us that time to go for Wyckoff in order to have his captives appraised and disposed of, I remembered that I had seen him just before supper step over to a chest in the corner of the room. He unlocked the chest, took an envelope from his pocket, put it in the chest and dropped the lid. It was a spring lock for he didn't lock it again, but tried it to see if it was fast."

"So, of course, you picked the lock and stole his time card."

"Wait, Tom," cautioned Jack. "Let Harry finish his story."

"So, of course," went on Harry, "when we were getting loose I forgot all about the paper until the place was afire. Arnold went out of the cabin and I was at his heels, but remembered the envelope. I wanted that badly just then, so I snatched up a great piece of firewood and with a few blows shattered the top of the chest. It had a tray that was nearly empty except for the thing I sought. There it lay, ready for me to take. So, of course, I took it. I stuffed it inside my jacket while we climbed out and then in the darkness I put it into an inside pocket where it has been ever since. Lopez forgot to search us very diligently or he would surely have discovered it."

"What does it look like and do you think it has any information we could use?" inquired Jack, intensely interested.

"I don't know what the thing inside is made of," answered Harry producing the article. "It looks like leather of a peculiar kind and on it are black marks. If it were not for one thing, I'd have passed it up entirely. Over in the corner are the words--'Biloxi Bayou.' Then the rest was as clear as mud."

"Let's take a look at it," requested Arnold. "We all want to see what it's like. If it was left by a Spaniard, it's no use to us, for we can't read Spanish and when Harry says he read it, I can't believe he knows what he's talking about. He can't read Spanish."

"I can read this all right," protested Harry, "and so can you. It's very simple. Here's a mark and there's a mark and that's all."

He now spread the chart open above the binnacle so that the boys all might look at it. As he had said, it was a piece of soft Spanish leather left white by the dyer but now yellowed and darkened somewhat with age. In rather uneven lines were traced roughly the location of certain objects intended obviously to be trees. Certain of these were ranged in line like the range lights used by mariners when entering or leaving a harbor. At a spot where two lines of ranges crossed, which was evidently near the water's edge, was a rough sketch of a box. Evidently no words were needed.

"I see it all as plain as day," declared Arnold. "This old chap selected a spot at the intersection of two ranges using big trees--maybe live oaks--then he dug a hole and buried the chest. It is right where the tide comes up so no one would think of looking there for it! He was a wise old chap."

"Then we'll have to go there when the tide's out."

"No, I don't think so. I have another idea," Jack put in, "but it's so foolish that we better forget it. Anyhow, I believe the fellow tried to say that the box was buried just at the high water mark."

"All right, let it go at that," returned Harry. "If the box is there and the trees are there, that's all we want. We can get it."

"If Wyckoff and his gang don't get there first."

"What I want to know," Charley spoke up, "is what makes this line and the others, too, so uneven. They are soaked right into the leather and looks as if the ink hadn't run evenly."

"Frank," queried Jack, "what do you make of it?"

"I'd hate to say right out," Frank answered, "but it looks to me like the old Don had run out of ink and used a little red ink from the arm of one of his trusty followers. A little hot water would set it and turn it black so it would never fade."

"That's horrible," shuddered Tom. "I don't like to think of such a thing. It makes me shivery all over just to think of it."

"Well, we'll get over to Biloxi as soon as we can and look over the ground. When we think we've located the treasure, we'll just shove a spade into the sand and up'll come the dollars."

"Sure, Tom, you've got it all doped out to a dot."

"Where are we now? Seems we ought to be nearly to Biloxi by this time. We've been hitting up a pretty good pace."

"We've got a long ways to go yet. There's Pascagoula over there on the starboard side now. We ran some little distance to the east."

"Sail ho," sung out Charley who was keeping a lookout from the top of the pilot house. "I see a man in a row boat."

"Where away?" asked Jack.

"Almost dead ahead! He's not rowing very hard."

"How shall I head to pick him up?" Jack questioned.

"Just a trifle to starboard. There. Steady as she goes."

In a short time the Fortuna driven by her powerful engines came up to the rowboat. As the boys approached the lone occupant of the skiff all were eager to see who it might be.

"Some early morning fisherman," ventured Arnold.

"He isn't fishing," declared Harry. "He's resting on his oars."

Harry now mounted to the pilot house roof and took the glasses.

"I know that chap," he cried. "Better starboard your helm and go to port of him. We don't want to get any closer to that chap."

"Who is it, Harry?" asked Jack.

"Little Simple Simon Sorefooted Carlos Madero at your service."

"He got run over once by getting in the way of this vessel. I wonder if he's trying it again," mused Jack, holding the Fortuna on her course. "We've got crew enough now so that we can mount guard over him day and night if we want to. Let's pick him up and see what he knows. We can easily tow his skiff along."

"Sure! Let's pick up a shark or two! Let's explode some dynamite in the cabin. Let's drill holes in the ship. Let's anything."

"Now don't get sarcastic, if you please. Madero didn't do all those things. He tried something once and didn't make it work."

"Yes, and he got a sore foot, too! He's out here for more."

Answering the hail from the Fortuna, Madero, for it was he, asked to be taken aboard. He seemed weak and unable to help himself. When his condition became apparent the boys were all sympathy. They quickly helped him over the rail and then took his boat in tow.

"What's on your mind, Madero?" laughed Jack. "How are you?"

"I want first of all to tell you fellows how sorry I am I ever did anything to harm you. I believed that you were some terrible creatures come down here to rob and pillage and torture the natives. I had been told by Wyckoff that if you caught me alone you would not hesitate to kill me. He made me believe I was doing something creditable when I attempted to destroy your boat."

"Well, that's all right, Madero. We forgive you."

"And I want to say that I came aboard your boat the other night to finish what Wyckoff and I both had failed to do earlier. When you boys were so kind to me after my accident I hadn't the heart to hurt you. I returned to Wyckoff and refused to do any more. He then had me taken back into the country and put into the chain gang where the negro criminals are worked on the public highways."

"The brute," exclaimed the boys almost in chorus.

"And when I made a trifling mistake," went on Carlos, "the foreman had me stretched over a log and whipped like an animal. My back has been bleeding badly and I hoped I might find you to help me again if you can bring yourselves to do it. I don't deserve it."

"Sure, we'll help you if we can," stoutly maintained Harry.

"How did you happen to be away out here?" asked Jack.

"When I got away from the chain gang, I went to the shipyard and asked for you. The foreman is furious. He says you jumped your bill. I found out that you had headed to the eastward and I at once concluded you had pursued the schooner. Then I thought you'd be coming back, headed for Biloxi. So I waited."

The boys now tenderly removed the clothing from Madero's bruised and bleeding back. Cruelly had the lash torn the flesh. Their first aid chest was speedily opened and soothing lotions and ointments applied. Their work was skillfully and quickly done.

Madero's gratitude knew no bounds. He could scarcely restrain the tears as he tried to thank the boys for their kindness.

"Do you happen to know anything about what the gang did with our launch, the 'Spray'?" inquired Frank. "I hope she's not lost."

"I think you'll find her at Biloxi," answered Carlos. "They were going to take here there and hide her until this matter had blown over. They might have repainted her and sold her under some other name after a while, but at present she's there, I believe."

"That's good news," declared Charley. "I like that boat."

"And you want to watch out," Carlos added, "for a shrimping schooner of those fellows. They have left Pascagoula already this morning and are headed for Biloxi Bay. They are determined that you shall not, under any circumstances, beat them to the treasure."

"So there is a treasure?" asked Jack. "Do you think there is really a treasure hidden there, or is it all talk?"

"I don't know," replied Carlos. "They believe the story."

A berth was now turned over to Madero and he was urged to lie down and take what rest he could. As he curled up in the berth, Rowdy came in, jumped up on the berth and curled up beside the newcomer. Not a sign of antagonism did the bulldog exhibit.

"Well, you're all right now," declared Harry. "That bulldog's our acid test. When he thinks a fellow is all right, that settles it."

"That is very comforting," declared Carlos. "I hope Rowdy and I become great friends. He's a nice dog."

"How's the foot?" inquired Harry. "I forgot to ask before."

"Great," declared Madero. "You boys are fine doctors."

Just at dusk the Fortuna drew into Biloxi bay. The boys had decided that a few fish would be required for supper and had run out some distance from shore where they threw over their lines with good success. Several Spanish Mackerel graced the bag as a result of their efforts. They were justly proud of their catch.

Charley and Frank were elected cooks for the evening. With Doright's assistance they soon had a fine supper prepared. Fresh mackerel with a package of Saratoga chips was the piece de resistance, but the table did not lack for comforts. It was noticeable that their appetites were increasing. All were feeling in prime condition.

Just before supper was served the Fortuna was tied up alongside the wharf of the shrimping factory where the fishing vessels landed their cargoes. The electric lights were turned on, presenting a cheerful scene as one viewed the craft from shore. Night was falling rapidly and the boys were glad they had reached port.

Rowdy interrupted the peaceful scene by growling and moving about uneasily. He ran whining from one door to the other.

Madero, who was sitting at the end of the table, glanced up from his plate to peer out of a window. With a gasp he fell back.

"There's Lopez!" he cried, pointing through the window.