Chapter XXIII. At the Spanish Fort

There is no doubt that Charley's bravery and quick action saved the Fortuna and her crew. With a mighty effort he flung the package far from him. It fell into the waters of the bay with a splash. The next moment a muffled roar was heard and a vast column of water was flung skyward. The Fortuna rocked in the waves.

"Man overboard!" cried Tom, who had been nearer Charley than any other member of the crew. "Throw me a ring buoy!"

He was over the side in a flying leap. He had paused but an instant to gauge the spot where he believed he would find the other lad. Charley's effort to throw the dynamite as far as possible had resulted in his losing his own balance. The severe motion of the Fortuna had completely upset him and he had fallen overboard.

Instantly all was activity and bustle. Ring buoys hung in beckets at either side of the pilot house. A long line was attached to each. Jack tore one of these free preparing to throw it to his chum when he should rise to the surface.

"Can he swim?" queried Harrison anxiously coming up the companion-way. "If he can't, he'll be in a bad way in this mess!"

"They both are Boy Scouts with medals showing proficiency in the art!" declared Harry. "We can all swim," he continued.

"Hurrah, then it won't be so bad! I'm hoping the explosion hasn't stunned the boys," cried Harrison hopefully.

"There they are," shouted Frank. "Can you see them?"

"I see them," Jack answered, throwing the ring buoy with true aim. "Stand by to help them aboard. Charley needs help!"

Dashing the water from his face, Tom seized the ring buoy and with its assistance supported Charley's face free of the surface until drawn to the side of the Fortuna and relieved of his burden.

First aid methods were speedily applied. Charley was placed face down upon the deck, where the boys took turns applying the means of resuscitation known as the Shaefer method. Harrison stood by in wonder observing every move. At length he became discouraged.

"I'm afraid, boys, it's no go," he said. "He doesn't seem to be coming around at all. The explosion must have hit him hard."

"He may be a long time coming, but we're going to keep at it in relays until we're all exhausted. He gave himself for us and we're prepared to do the same for him. He's done his good turn today."

"You're right, boys; he certainly has," declared Harrison. "Now, I'm bigger than you lads and if you'll show me how to do the work, I'll help. Maybe I could squeeze more water out of him than you."

Under Harrison's manipulations directed by the boys, Charley presently showed the flicker of an eye. They worked faithfully over him for a considerable time and were at last rewarded by having him on the road to recovery from his enforced bath and attendant experience. He had fallen into the water just as the explosion came.

"Well, Wyckoff won't plant any more dynamite here this evening I hope," declared Frank. "That's the second attempt on the Fortuna tonight and I'm going to take the first watch. We'll see if he does any more while I'm on guard. I'm tired of this."

"It must be getting on into the shank of the evening--I see the moon. What is the hour?" asked Jack from the forward deck.

As if in answer to his query the marine clock chimed two bells.

"Two bells," called Harry. "Nine o'clock for landsmen."

"We'd better be getting over to the fort if we're going," urged Arnold. "We should not wait around here all night."

"Wait a minute," advised Jack. "I think we'd better deliver to Mr. Harrison the bundle of dynamite we found aboard the Fortuna at Pascagoula. We don't want it aboard here and we have no safe place to put it. He'll know what to do with it, won't you, Mr. Harrison? You understand these things better than we."

"If I had my way, I'd touch it off in the bay here so it would be out of harm's way," declared Harrison stoutly.

"But we have no fuse," objected Jack. "If we just drop it overboard the stuff may cause damage later on. I don't know what to do."

"Let's get a fuse and cap somewhere and take the stuff over to the fort," suggested Harry. "We can find this place shown on the map where the treasure lies and dig a ways into the sand, plant the 'soup' and blow a hole big enough to take out a wagon load of treasure. That's the best way to get rid of it."

"Let's put it to a vote," suggested Jack. "All in favor say--"

A chorus of "ayes" carried the point. The boys were in favor of anything that savored of excitement. Their experience with the outlaws for the past few days had so nerved them up that any adventure would have been welcomed. The prospect of finding the treasure lent added zeal to the proposed journey across the bay.

"We'll need a shovel or two anyway," said Frank as the boys hastened to make ready for the trip. "Where can we get the tools?"

"Sure enough," cried Tom. "I hadn't thought of that before. I would have been just foolish enough to go on over there and not take a shovel with me at all. There's an exhibition of brains for you."

"I guess you were no worse off than any of the others," Harry declared. "We were all in a hurry to get started."

"Will Doright and Carlos go with us?" inquired Tom.

"We may need them," Jack replied. "Do you want to go, Carlos?"

"Maybe I wouldn't be of any help," Carlos ventured hesitatingly. It was evident that he felt timid about joining with the others.

"You'd be the best kind of help," stoutly asserted Arnold, pushing Rowdy towards the negro. "Take him, Rowdy," he added with a laugh.

"Ah is not in trouble wid mah feet," protested Doright. "If youall wants valuable help, jes' call on me. Mah name's Doright."

"And we'll leave Rowdy here to guard the boat so Wyckoff and his gang don't get aboard," suggested Harry, drawing on his jacket.

"You will not," cried Arnold. "Rowdy goes with the crowd."

"We can't all get into the boat," protested Jack. "How shall we manage that? Counting Mr. Harrison and Rowdy and Doright and Carlos and Charley and Frank and Arnold and Tom and Harry and myself, there's ten of us. That's four more than the boat will carry."

"I think I can fix you out in good shape," suggested Harrison, now becoming thoroughly interested. "I saw several of those big flat bottomed oyster boats a ways back as I came to your vessel some time ago. I believe with a little persuasion I could get one."

"Will it take us all?" inquired Harry anxiously.

"I believe it will and more, too, if necessary."

"Then let's get it and be away. I'm getting nervous about the delay. I can understand why Wyckoff gets excited at strangers."

Accordingly Harrison departed in quest of the large boat he had seen. In a short time the boys heard the sound of oars and discovered him rowing the skiff towards the Fortuna.

"I have the boat all right," he cried as he approached the vessel, "but there is no painter. We haven't a thing to make fast with."

"We've got plenty of line," asserted Jack. "Tom, suppose you hand up a length of that half inch stuff in the lazarette."

"Here's a long piece coiled up. Will that do?" asked Tom.

"Sure," asserted Harrison. "Anything that's long enough. If it's too long we'll let the end drag," he added with a laugh.

"Now the shovels and we'll be all right," cried Arnold.

"The man who had charge of the boats has gone after a couple of shovels," replied Harrison. "By the time we're aboard, he should be here. He hasn't far to go. Are all of you ready?"

"All ready," declared Jack. "The doors are locked, the kitten out, the clock wound and everything is snug and comfy."

"He knows how to close up shop," asserted Harry. "Go a voyage with him and see if I'm not right! I've sailed with him."

"And the cap and fuse for the dynamite?" asked Frank.

"Here in my pocket," replied Harrison. "I got it from the watchman. He wasn't inclined to let me have it as first, though."

"Gee," said Harry. "I'd like to be a United States Marshal."

"It is not altogether a pleasant business," smiled Harrison. "There are times when we have disagreeable tasks like the one I had this evening. Then there are other tasks that are pleasant like another one I anticipate I may have later on this evening."

"Are you after someone else, too?" queried Arnold.

"Well, yes," admitted Harrison. "But I don't know whether or not I will be able to locate them. That will, of course, be seen."

"If we can be of any help to you, just let us know and we'll be ready to render any assistance possible," offered Jack.

"Thank you, boys; I appreciate your kind offer, and you may be able to help me if my suspicions are correct."

"Why, what has Wyckoff been doing?" inquired Tom.

"Who said it was Wyckoff?" laughingly replied Harrison.

"Well, it seems to be mighty plain that it is he."

"Possibly it is he," admitted the Marshal. "There have been some shady deals carried through down here lately. Some smuggling and a bad wreck and one or two other things that the United States Government feels should be explained. Someone must explain."

"Well, we'll help you all we can when the time comes," cried Tom heartily. "I'm sure we'll do that."

"Here comes somebody on the wharf," declared Arnold with a hand on Rowdy's collar. "Wonder who it is now?"

"That's the watchman," said Harrison. "He's got the shovels."

As the watchman delivered the implements to the Marshal he was requested to keep an eye on the Fortuna. This he promised to do.

"I have an idea," explained Harrison in parting, "that the parties I am expecting to call will be across the bay, but in case they should come, hold them even if you have to resort to violence."

"A few more and we'd have a load," remarked Jack as the skiff with its unusual cargo pulled away from the Fortuna. I'm glad there are enough boys to go around so we can have one to each oar."

"We have got a crowd, sure enough," admitted Frank. "Did you bring a gun with you in case something might turn up?"

"Indeed I have," replied Jack. "I am pretty sure the others have theirs, too," he added. A vote of the crowd showed he was right. Every member of the Fortuna's regular crew had an automatic.

A short time only was required for the passage across the bay, between the supports of the railroad bridge and around the point to a spot as near the fort as Harrison deemed best to approach.

"Hello," cried Tom shaking out the line he had brought for a painter, "there are two pieces here. One is short and the other a long one. I may as well use only the short one."

"Better take the other with you," suggested Jack. "Someone may pass while we're away and think they could use it."

"Good idea," assented Tom. "I'll keep it with me."

Not far from where the boys landed they discovered the time-worn earthworks of what had once been the old fort. Trees nearly a foot in diameter were seen growing on the former breastworks. Everywhere one could see that the fort had been long unoccupied.

Harry immediately proceeded to search for the trees that had been used as ranges when the map had been made. He was not long in finding what he sought. His feet were almost in the waters of the rising tide when the spot where the treasure was supposed to be was located. All were visibly excited. The prospect was alluring.

"Shall we start to dig a hole here?" asked Tom, shovel in hand.

"Make a little hole and we'll touch off the dynamite."

A short time sufficed to bury the explosive in a good location.

"Let's all stand back now and see what happens," cried Tom.

"Mr. Harrison, show Harry how to light it," requested Jack.

"Stand back; here come Wyckoff and Lopez."