Chapter VI. A Marooned Boy Scout
 

Rushing ashore in the small boat, the boys paused scarcely long enough to draw their craft to a safe position on the beach before they raced to the spot where the stranger had fallen.

They were abreast as they approached his prostrate form lying face down in the sand. With one accord they stooped to examine him. Jack rolled the body over tenderly searching for the mark of the villain's bullet but found none.

Slowly the prostrate boy opened his eyes staring about in amazement. Jack supported his head while the two chums stood by anxious to be of assistance in rendering aid to the fallen lad.

"Where are you hurt?" questioned Jack tenderly.

"Nowhere!" replied the lad. "I heard a shot just as I tripped over something in the sand and then the next thing I knew you had me. What happened, anyway? Who shot and at what?"

"I don't know the fellow's name, but he was at one time a passenger on our boat, I believe. He is a villain if ever there was one!" replied Jack with some warmth.

"Maybe it's the same fellow I know!" declared the stranger. "But may I ask to whom I am indebted for the pleasure of this call?"

Jack introduced himself, and then his two chums. In turn the stranger gave his name as Frank Evans of the Bob White patrol of St. Louis. The boys now started toward the rowboat, keeping a glance around for foes as they walked.

"Hadn't we better get your things from on shore if you go with us?" asked Arnold, as the boys approached the boat.

"I haven't a thing of my own here!" declared Frank. "If we except, of course, my fire stick and the remains of a flounder."

"A fire stick and flounder!" cried Arnold. "Where are they?"

"Up there by that old bit of wreckage," replied Frank. "You see, I had nothing but my pocket knife when I landed here, and haven't had much chance to import goods since my arrival."

"How long have you been here?" queried Harry. "We thought you must be in desperate need from the looks of the fires."

"I think this is the third day," replied Frank. "Yesterday I slept most of the time while the schooner was standing off and on, and the day before that was the day they put me ashore. I've had a rush with the pirates that infest these waters under the guise of honest working fishermen. They're a bad lot, too," he added.

"Pirates?" gasped the three members of the Fortuna's crew.

"That's what I'd call them," replied Frank. "You see, my chum and myself came down the Mississippi River in a gasoline launch. She was a beauty--a thirty-footer. She had a trunk cabin over three-quarters of her, and an open cockpit aft. We had her fitted up in pretty good shape, too. We wanted a little pleasure trip, so we made up our minds we'd bring the launch down here and if we got a good chance we'd sell her. My Chum, Charley Burnett, and I are the same age--seventeen last October--and we built the boat last winter. When we got through the Lake Borgne Ship Canal below New Orleans, we ran against a lot of rough fellows who tried to steal our boat. We held them at the point of a gun and ran away from their tubby old boats. Then when we got a little farther along the coast--to Bay St. Louis--we were warned to turn back.

"Warned to turn back?" repeated the boys in chorus. "By whom?"

"A black browed chap who gave the name of Wyckoff, and who said that he wouldn't have anyone fooling around the Spanish Chest but those who rightfully should share the treasure. We didn't know what he meant, and told him so, but he wouldn't believe us."

"The Spanish Treasure Chest!" gasped Jack. "What about it?"

"I don't know anything about it!" stoutly asserted Frank.

"We've heard a little about it," volunteered Jack, "but nothing definite. We would like to know more and to know why these fellows should oppose your coming to this vicinity."

"I've told you all I know about that part of the story," declared Frank. "Now you know as much as I do in that line."

"What did this Wyckoff look like?" asked Harry eagerly.

"He's black--I don't mean that he's a negro,--but he's one of these fellows with a blue-black beard that never can be shaved clean because it shows black under the skin. Then he's got a shifty eye and a sneaky look about him. Then, too," he added with a smile, "he's got a smashed nose where my fist landed when he put me ashore here. I certainly handed him a beauty that time!"

"Good for you," cried Harry, clapping Frank on the shoulder.

"What was the cause of that?" asked Jack, "did he hit you?"

"Well, to make a long story short," Frank continued, "he and his gang kidnapped Charley and me from the 'Spray' two nights ago. Where they've got Charley I don't know. They put me ashore here without a thing to eat or drink and with nothing to make a fire with. As I was shoved ashore and before the boat got away, I ran up and landed on him. They were on a schooner of which Wyckoff seemed to be captain. I hope they haven't made away with Charley."

"If Charley is as resourceful as you, he's all right," consoled Jack. "I admire your grit and ability. How did you get a fire?"

"I made a fire stick as all Boy Scouts can and took a shoe lace for a bow string. I had hard work getting the first tiny blaze, but after that I've kept a bed of coals covered with sand as a reserve. I found a piece of wreckage and used part of it for a shelter. One part had a long spike in it and that I sharpened by scraping it on some of the shells. Then I got a piece of fat pine that had washed ashore and made me a torch. With this sharp spike and the torch I went fishing at night and got three dandy big flounders."

"What's a flounder?" asked Arnold intensely interested.

"Well," explained Frank, "a flounder is a queer sort of a flat fish. He's dark on top and white on the bottom. He swims on his side and has his two eyes on the one side of his head unlike any other fish. When the tide comes in he comes close inshore and burrows down into the sand to wait till a minnow floats by. He reaches up and snaps Mr. Minnow and then goes on to another good spot. If you take a bright light you can walk right up to the flounder without alarming him. Then before he knows what is coming, you thrust a spear down through his head and you have him."

"Did you get yours that way?" eagerly asked Arnold.

"Not the first one," replied Frank with a laugh. "I just scared the first one. And I'm afraid I forgot for a minute that I was a Boy Scout. I was mighty hungry and that fellow looked so nice and fat I just felt as if I simply had to have him."

Jack's arm stole inside Frank's and a pressure of sympathy told the Bob White that a Beaver understood his former trouble.

"I move we go and get Frank's fire stick and bow," Harry suggested, "and then put out the signal fires and hit the trail for the mainland. It is getting along in the afternoon and I'm hungry and if we make Pascagoula tonight, we'll have to go some."

"Second the motion," declared Arnold. "But where does Pascagoula lie from here? Where is this place, anyway?"

"We're on Petit Bois Island, I think," replied Frank. "At least, one of the men suggested that I be put ashore on Petit Bois and the rest agreed, arguing that I would stay here only a short time before some fishermen would visit the island and find me."

"Then in that case," Jack stated, "Pascagoula lies just about northwest of us. If our compass hadn't been disarranged by the horseshoe, we'd have been in the harbor by this time," he added.

"Your compass disarranged by a horseshoe?" queried Frank.

"Yes," was Jack's laughing rejoinder. "Did you ever hear such a tale? And it was lucky for you it happened. There's a case of a horseshoe being lucky for you when you've never seen it yet!"

After Jack had related the tale of the horseshoe and its relation to their present situation, Arnold suggested that they visit Frank's camp and then go aboard the Fortuna. This met the approval of all the boys. A trip to the wreckage disclosed the fact that Frank had made his bed on the hard, smooth sand with a fire in front of him for protection from the chill winds of the night.

"Here's the fire stick," exultantly cried Arnold. "Gee, won't I have a great story written about this adventure when I get back to little old Chi. Sherman Street won't know me when I arrive."

"Hurray," cried Harry who had wandered a short distance from the others. "Hurray, I've found the horse that belongs to the horseshoe! Here he is buried upside down in the sand."

Hastening to the spot indicated the boys saw what looked to be a horse's foot upside down in the sand. So startling was the resemblance that Jack and Arnold were completely deceived for a moment, but Frank's laugh soon indicated that they had been mistaken.

"What is it?" asked Arnold eagerly. "Gee, but I see so many new things here I don't know which to write a story about first."

"Better not write any story about this," admonished Frank. "The wonderful phenomenon you see before you, my friend, is not a horse at all. It is merely a crab shell from which the crab has gone."

"A crab shell?" repeated Arnold in wonderment. "A real crab?"

"Sure enough," declared Frank. "The underside of the shell has exactly the same outlines as the under side of a horse's foot. This fellow has projecting from the heel a spikey tail that is hard and sharp at the end. The whole thing, as you see, is dried and hardened by exposure to the weather. The crab has been gone a long time."

"I'm going to take it along," asserted Arnold. "I'll put it in my locker and make a collection of things I pick up. I'd like to see a flounder now so as to recognize one the next time I see it."

"I have a fine big fellow at the place I had my fires," Frank answered. "We'll go over there and see how he's getting on. I got him last night. I think he must weigh as much as three or four pounds."

"Tell me some more about this Spanish Treasure Chest," Jack said as the boys turned toward the site of Frank's camp. "I'm anxious to know everything you overheard anywhere that would have a bearing on the matter from any viewpoint. It's interesting."

"I can't tell you any more than I have. I know these fellows objected to our visiting this locality because they seemed to believe that we were trying to get something that belonged to them and they were ready to employ force if necessary to keep us out," Frank said.

"We know they are a desperate gang," Jack admitted. "Our own experiences show that. They also believe we are here on the same mission and already they have attempted to disable and sink our boat."

Frank stopped in alarm. Glancing hurriedly about he grasped Jack's arm and in a trembling tone entreated him to leave the vicinity at his earliest opportunity. Jack's answer was a negative shake of his head. His companions also indicated their disapproval of the course.

"Well, here's the flounder," announced Frank at last picking up a fine specimen of that denizen of the Gulf waters. "He's a beauty."

The boys gathered about the fish admiring and investigating the peculiarities already mentioned by Frank. At last Harry spoke:

"But he wouldn't be good raw and you had to have a fire. I'm always interested in seeing fire produced from a stick."

"Oh, that's not so difficult," Frank answered; "watch me."

Kneeling on the sand he grasped his fire stick in his left hand after placing the bowstring in position. With a shell over the upper end of the stick, he sawed away busily for a moment. A tiny wreath of smoke eddied away from the lower end of the stick.

"Hurray," cried Harry, "You're fetching it. I can see it coming around the bend. Just look at that, boys. I can see it coming."

"Put up your hands," came a coarse voice from the rear.

Startled, the lads with one accord jumped to their feet to see their guest of a short time previous pointing an automatic at them.

"Drop that gun," came an order in Tom's ringing voice.