Chapter V. Wig-Wagging a Warning
 

Tom and Harry quickly followed their chum to the cabin, where their eyes were greeted by the sight of water rising above the floor of the forward compartment.

"She's started a butt!" declared Tom with a tremor in his usually cheery voice. "She's started a butt and we'll have to beach her or she'll sink right out here in the Gulf of Mexico!"

"No, she won't!" snapped Harry. "Get the hand bilge pump going and I'll start the power pump with the electric light engine!"

Quickly the directions were followed. Tom and Arnold speedily assailed the rising water with the hand pump, while Harry started the gasoline engine that operated their dynamo, connecting it to the power pump. Together the two agencies gained on the rising flood that threatened to swamp the sturdy Fortuna. Eagerly the boys plied the handle of the pump, keeping an eye upon the bilge.

Harry went about lifting floor boards and peering here and there in an effort to discover the source of the great leak.

"Ha!" he shouted from the after cabin. "Here's the trouble! Come here, you fellows, and bear a hand. Get something to plug this hole in the Fortuna's side. This is sheer murder!"

Trusting the power pump to keep abreast of the incoming water, Tom and Arnold deserted their post at the hand pump and sprang to assist their chum whose cries told them that something had been found.

The sight that met their eyes was a startling one.

Harry had removed the floor boards from the center of the cabin and was reaching down to the bilge. A spray of water squirted up into his face drenching him thoroughly.

"Get something to plug this hole!" he gasped. "I'm drowning!"

Looking about hastily for means to plug the hole, Tom offered a jacket he had picked up from the locker. Arnold seized a fid from another locker. Harry shut his eyes, turned his head side-wise and gasped for breath. Reaching out for the jacket he took it from the hand of his friend and tried to push it into the hole through which the water was pouring steadily. His efforts were fruitless.

"Here, take this," urged Arnold. "This fid will plug a big hole and jam it tight, too. Is it a butt started?"

Harry took the fid from his chum. Quickly he inserted the pointed end into the hole he had been trying to cover with his hand.

"Give me a hammer or something to knock with and I'll try to drive this into the hole. It's not a butt, it's an auger hole!"

"An auger hole?" both boys gasped in horror.

"An auger hole!" repeated Harry, his lips set and white. "Just a little more and we'd have been beyond all help. I think this idea of helping unfortunate castaways is getting to be a good thing."

"Why, who on earth could have been so cold-blooded as to have bored a hole in our vessel?" cried Arnold. "Surely it wasn't the man whose life we just saved a short time ago!"

"I came into this cabin," asserted Harry "and could hear the rush of water. I thought the leak must be here. Of course, I thought at first that we had started a butt in the rolling a while back, when our friend Carlos Sneakodorus Madero boarded us and left us."

"But that seems impossible," incredulously offered Tom. "The Fortuna was built at Manitowoc where they have a reputation of doing first class work and she hasn't had rough handling at all."

"It was impossible!" cried Harry. "Just as I knelt to raise the floor board I saw that auger lying there. Then as I raised the board, I saw a handful of white chips float up through the hole."

"And then you saw the stream of water?" queried Arnold.

"That's all there is to it, except the fact that the life-belts are pulled from their places on the ceiling," answered Harry.

"Sure enough, they're down in a heap," declared Arnold.

"And if you count them," Harry continued, "I'll wager my next meal that you'll find one missing. I can also guess who is wearing it at this moment if he hasn't thrown it away!"

"Do you mean the man we picked up--the man who was knocked off the schooner?" breathlessly queried the younger boy.

"That's the man we want!" announced Harry. "And maybe I won't do a thing to him when I lay hands on him. Boy Scout or not, I'll put a dent in his dome that'll hold coffee like a saucer!"

"Will that fid hold?" questioned Tom examining the spot.

"No, I don't think it will," was Harry's reply. "We'd better get a plug of that soft pine in the lazarette, then when it gets soaked it'll swell and hold tight. This fid's made of hard wood. It may hold all right for a while, but it'll work loose just when it should hold. If you'll get the pine, Arnold, I'll make a plug."

Arnold hastened to bring the wood while Tom looked to the pumps and examined the cabin for further damage.

"He got an automatic or two from the locker in the kitchenette," he announced returning to the after cabin after his search.

"If he took those two lying on the lower shelf," announced Harry, "he got only one automatic! That's a joke on him."

"What do you mean by that?" Arnold asked returning with the desired piece of wood. "If the man took two, he took only one!"

"Because" explained Harry fitting the plug into place, "the other is a flashlight made in the shape of an automatic."

Laughing over the joke unconsciously played upon himself by their late visitor, the boys repaired to the pilot house where the gravity of the situation was repeated to Jack, who had been at the wheel controlling the movements of the Fortuna and keeping a lookout.

"I was examining the coast a moment ago with the glasses and saw what I took to be a man wading ashore back of our present position," explained Jack. "He looked as if he had on a life belt, but I couldn't be sure because I couldn't hold the glasses steady and handle the boat, too. Suppose one of you take the glasses and see what you can make out along the shore line in both directions."

Tom took the binoculars, mounted to the cabin roof, and swept diligently the shore line in both directions.

"What can you make out?" inquired Jack from the pilot house.

"I see a fellow just as you described, only he's not wearing a life belt. He seems to be crossing the strip of beach sand to the fringe of pines a short distance inland. I don't see any automatic flashlight in his hand, though!" whimsically announced the watching lad. "Then on the other hand, I can see two smokes that look like a Boy Scout call for help and between the two fires I can see a Boy Scout running back and forth and waving his hat."

"How do you know he's a Boy Scout?" challenged Harry.

"Well, if he started Boy Scout signals, he'd be a Boy Scout, wouldn't he?" replied Tom. Besides, he's red headed like Arnold and homely like Harry and kind hearted like Jack and good like Tom. That's enough for me."

"You're just right, that's enough for you!" declared Harry. "You may throw on your shovel--you've got a load."

"Honest, now, Tom," put in Jack, "what's the straight of this? Quit your nonsense! We must be serious."

"All right," agreed Tom. "What I said is all so except the foolishness. I can't see what the boy looks like. I can just make out a figure between the two fires. It looks slight like a boy. That's all I can make out. There are some trees over there just this side of the fires, and it looks as if we could make a landing close up to the fires. There seems to be a little bay there."

"Thank you," said Jack in a tone of relief. "We'll run close in and try to find out what's the matter. Maybe the stranger can help us get our bearings. Lucky the fog lifted when it did or we would have piled up high and dry on this beach!"

As the Fortuna approached the little bight indicated by Tom, they discovered that there would be plenty of water to enable the Fortuna to run close inshore and permit of their landing easily. Tom and Harry busied themselves with clearing away one of the metal boats carried on the cabin roof and preparing to lower it when the Fortuna should come to rest. Upon completing their task, Tom stood up for another view of the beach which they were approaching.

"Look, Jack!" he cried. "Can you see the boy over there wig-wagging at us? Isn't that the Boy Scout wig-wag?"

"Sure enough, it is!" declared Jack excitedly. "Take this flag and answer him. You're in a good place up there."

He passed the flag up to Tom as he spoke. All four lads watched with intentness the figure on the beach, while Tom prepared to reply to his further signals with his flag grasped in both hands.

"He's got two flags, I believe," announced Tom.

"He's going to use the Semaphore code, then!" declared Jack.

"There it comes!" cried Harry. "He's calling us! Answer him."

"All right, Scout!" assented Tom. "Here comes the message!"

"Right arm at head, left arm down in front--that's 'D,'" announced Harry who was watching with the glasses. "Then right and left both down and diagonal to the right--that's 'A.' Next both arms diagonally down away from the body--that's 'N.' Oh, he's telling us his name--Dan! Hurray! He's introducing himself!"

"Here comes the rest," cried Harry excitedly, "both arms diagonally downward and to the left--that's 'G.' Now the right down in front and left diagonally up and out from the shoulder--that's 'E.' Next both arms out horizontally from the body--that's 'R.' Why, that spells 'DANGER!' What does that mean?"

"Search me!" declared Tom. "I'm not a bit surprised, though for we've been in danger ever since we left Mobile. Anything goes here. I'd thank him to tell us some news, though."

"Well, here comes some more!" announced Jack who had shut off the power, permitting the Fortuna to ride the smooth waters of the little bight without headway.

"Here's some more!" cried Arnold, who has again taken the glasses. "Left arm over head, right arm diagonally down--that's 'K.' I learned that code last fall. Here's another. Left arm up from the shoulder diagonally and right down in front--that's 'E,'and he repeats it. Then right out horizontally and left straight up from head--that's 'P.' Next, right out horizontally and left diagonally up and across the breast--that's 'O.' Now the left is out horizontally, and the right down in front--that's 'F.' He repeats it. Why, that says 'DANGER, KEEP OFF'! What does he mean?"

"Maybe he means what he says," suggested Jack. "Answer him, Tom, and tell him we're coming ashore. Arnold and Harry, will you get the boat overboard and we'll go ashore to see what's up. Better take your automatics and see that the boat is properly equipped."

"Right-o, Captain!" cried Tom. "I'll do my best."

The boat was quickly brought around and Arnold, Harry and Jack prepared to go ashore. As they pulled away from the Fortuna, Harry cautioned Tom to watch the plug in the after cabin and keep dry.

As the boat approached the shore the stranger on the beach frantically made signals indicating that he wished them to return to the Fortuna at once. Putting his fingers to his lips he glanced about as if in alarm and then put out his hand in a gesture of caution.

"I'll bet there's some monkey business going on somewhere!" ventured Harry. "Why should he send up smoke signals for help and then tell us to keep away because of danger. He's kidding us!"

"I think I can see someone running toward us through those trees and bushes over there!" announced Arnold standing and pointing.

A figure broke from the cover of the bushes indicated just as Arnold spoke. It was the figure of a man. He stopped a moment.

Tom from the Fortuna gave a wild cry and waved his arms.

A shot rang out and the strange boy on the beach fell forward.