Chapter VII. Their Pirate Prisoner
 

With an exclamation of surprise and alarm all eyes were turned in Tom's direction. With a steady hand he was leveling an automatic pistol at the head of the outlaw who now dropped his pistol hand to his side without, however, relinquishing his hold upon the weapon. His shifty eyes were closely watching the boy.

"I'll not tell you again!" warned Tom. "Once is plenty."

"Yes, I heard you the first time!" gritted the outlaw, opening his hand and permitting the weapon to drop to the sand. "You wait! You Yankees can't come down here and have your own way always."

"We won't argue that point just now," was Tom's rejoinder. "Right now, you'll please put your hands up over your head." Then as the outlaw obeyed, Tom added--"Way up with 'em. Pick me a star or two out of the sky. Keep 'em up there and watch a comet while one of my friends goes through you for souvenirs of the occasion."

As Jack stepped forward to search the captive, Frank took a closer look at the dark face and bruised nose, then cried out:

"Why, Wyckoff, how did you get back here?"

"Is this your friend Wyckoff?" questioned Jack, turning to Frank before continuing his task of searching their involuntary guest.

"This is the man who warned me back and who marooned me on this lonely island!" declared Frank with some heat. "I know him!"

"That settles it!" stated Jack in a determined tone. "He's going to get all that's coming to him if I have a vote here!"

"Here, too!" chorused the others. "Here's where he gets his."

"Remember, boys, we're Boy Scouts!" cautioned Jack. "No harsh measures will be permitted. Justice may be necessary--no more."

A murmur of approval that ran around the little group showed that the boys heartily favored Jack's sentiment in the matter.

Under cover of Tom's leveled automatic Wyckoff, for it was he, remained passive while Jack searched his pockets, producing therefrom the missing flashlight made to imitate an automatic pistol, a watch, a purse with some coins inside, a vile smelling pipe with a pouch of tobacco, a stubby lead pencil and a note book partly filled with figures and memoranda. Apparently there was nothing of value.

"Aside from the flashlight and the real automatic pistol, I can't find that he's taken anything of our property," Jack said when the search was completed. "I guess we'd better return his own property to him. We don't want his money and wouldn't use his pipe."

"Now let's tie him up!" Arnold suggested. "I think it would be wise to sew him down to the sand. He's a slippery fellow."

"Good idea!" laughed Frank. "But tying is better all round."

"What shall we tie him with?" asked Tom. "I have nothing."

"Why, come to think of it," Harry put in, "how did you get ashore, anyway? Last we knew of you, you were guarding the Fortuna."

"While you lads were up the beach after that horseshoe crab," explained Tom, "I sat on the roof of the cabin with the glasses. I thought I saw a figure stealing along in the shelter of those pines to the eastward of this spot and after a while I made him out. The glasses showed that it was our last visitor on board the Fortuna. So I knew he'd bear watching, as they say, and I went below to get a gun for emergency. When I came out again, he was real close, and I saw what he intended to do. I simply started the engines, slipped the cable and ran the Fortuna high and dry on shore, tumbled over the bow and arrived in time to checkmate his little game. I'm glad, too!"

"So are we!" heartily agreed the boys with one accord.

"But what are we to do with this chap?" queried Jack. "It rather worries me. He's apt to be a white elephant on our hands."

"It would serve him good and right," began Arnold, "and be only justice, too, if we marooned him on this very island where he left Frank. I think that's the best way out of the whole thing."

"Let's set the chap down by the fire," Tom suggested, "while we argue it out. There's still a little raw edge on the wind."

Tom was right, and although the fog of the morning had gone, the air was still damp and the wind from the Gulf was heavy with moisture that chilled the boys when not in motion. Accordingly, following the lad's suggestion, they directed their steps toward one of the fires kindled earlier by Frank. There they seated themselves while Tom with one automatic and Jack with another watched Wyckoff.

"Perhaps the prisoner at the bar may have a suggestion in the premises," ventured Frank. "We want to be square with you, Wyckoff, even if you have treated us exceedingly unkind."

"I want you fellows to take your gear and go back north!" shouted Wyckoff in an angry tone. "I'll fix you yet for this!"

"We have a right to be here," Jack put in, "so long as we don't harm anyone. We are merely tourists out for a pleasure trip."

"You lie!" almost screamed Wyckoff. "You're after the Spanish Chest, but you shall never have it! It belongs to me!"

In his excitement the prisoner almost forgot himself and shook his fist at Jack threateningly, rising to his feet meanwhile.

"Sit down!" Tom's voice, although calm, carried a world of meaning to the excited man whose glance toward Tom took in the unwavering blue muzzle of the Weapon in his captor's hand.

"Suppose for the sake of argument that we were after this mythical chest of treasure whose value has been without doubt multiplied many times in the retailing of its story," Jack argued, "does that imply that we are committing a crime against you? Have you any more claim on the chest that you mention than we have?"

"Yes!" shouted the angry Wyckoff. "I am a lineal descendant from the Spaniards who buried it. It is mine because it is in the family. I don't know what word you educated Yankees would use, but it is mine because it belonged to my father's father's father."

"I know," spoke up Arnold; "you mean you have inherited it?"

"Yes, that's it," agreed Wyckoff. "Besides that, you will never be able to get the treasure. It is cursed to anyone but a person of Spanish blood. I am part Spaniard and it is mine."

"Well, we might consider going back in the face of such argument," said Frank, appearing to agree with Wyckoff, "but what did you do with my chum? I won't go away and leave him, you know."

"Your partner and your boat are both safe," declared Wyckoff. "When we know that you are ready to leave, we'll bring you all together again, but not before. You'll never see him again otherwise."

"Why, what would happen to him?" questioned Frank in amazement.

Wyckoff drew his thumb across his throat with a suggestive move.

The boys shuddered as they grasped the significance of his meaning. Their glances, met and instinctively they shrank away from the prisoner, who seemed to enjoy their discomfiture immensely.

"I've heard great tales about this treasure chest since I came down here," stated Frank at last. "What is this I hear about the one who discovers the chest having to keep very quiet while he's digging? Is there anything at all in that story or not?"

"It is said," stated Wyckoff, "that the one for whom the treasure is destined must not utter a word while digging for it. Also, he must come with clean hands. You understand what I mean? That is why you boys are yet alive. My hands have not yet been--"

"Well, if they have not," interrupted Tom indignantly, "it is no fault of your own, old chap. You surely tried your level best to put the Fortuna and her crew under the water. Take it from me!"

"And yet he raves about his clean hands, the dirty scoundrel!" cried Harry. "Why, if we were only afloat, we'd make him walk a plank!"

"That reminds me," Tom put in. "The Fortuna lies on the beach unless she's worked herself loose, and it may be some job to get her off."

"Suppose you stay here and mount guard over the prisoner," suggested Jack, "while we go back and look after the vessel. We'll return when we've gotten everything ship shape and Bristol fashion."

"Suits me fine!" declared Tom. "And I hope this angelic prisoner tries to escape while you're gone! That would be fine!"

"Tom, you're bloodthirsty, I believe!" laughed Jack indulgently. "I know the provocation is severe, but remember that you're a Boy Scout."

"You wouldn't leave me on this island, would you?" inquired Wyckoff when the boys had departed for the boat. "That would be cruel."

"But you marooned Frank here, didn't you?" asked Tom angrily. "Why would it be any worse for you than for him? Tell me that."

"I told the men to leave him provisions and matches. I have no matches nor provisions. I cannot make a fire with sticks, as he did," replied the prisoner in an humble and whining tone intended to placate.

"Well," Tom considered, "we might leave you some matches and some grub. You could find plenty of wood hereabouts, couldn't you?"

"There's plenty of wood here if one could work it up," replied Wyckoff. "The storms have washed ashore thousands of pieces of planks and timbers of all sorts. Why, once I came out to one of the islands and found a fine boat washed ashore by a storm. It was perfectly sound and tight, too. There's plenty of timber here to make one rich if he could only salvage it and get it to market."

"Then if we leave you a box of matches and some canned goods," Tom argued, "you'd be a lot better off than Frank was."

A shout from the direction of the Fortuna indicated that something was taking place there. Wyckoff glanced hastily in that direction. Tom's first impulse was to look that way, also, but his training stood him in good stead. By a magnificent effort of will he kept his eyes fastened on the prisoner, who stared intently toward the Fortuna as if fascinated by what he saw. Thus they sat for a moment or two. Then Tom regained his composure. Wyckoff glanced out of the corner of his eye narrowly at his guard. Tom laughed.

"You didn't want the provisions badly enough to wait for them, did you, you old fox?" he taunted. "You wanted me to look away for a minute and then you'd have gone looking for provisions alone."

"You do me an injustice, lad," replied Wyckoff meekly.

"All right; I apologize; but the gun is in working order just the same, and don't you forget it. It's still on the job."

Wyckoff's glance was baleful and full of venom as he controlled himself with a visible effort. Hatred seemed to ooze from him as he sat quiet very much against his will.

Another shout from the boat gave with its note of triumph a message that the boys were meeting success in their efforts to get the Fortuna off the beach. Wyckoff looked intently that way.

"Ha!" he ejaculated. "They're fetching it! Good boys!"

In spite of his resolve to keep his eyes on the prisoner, Tom's gaze wandered for an instant to the sight viewed by Wyckoff.

That instant seemed to be the object of the outlaw's vigil.

The boys on the Fortuna had, by dint of great exertion, managed to work the yacht from her resting place on the beach where Tom had driven her in his mad race to rescue them a short time previously. Because of the short distance traveled, the momentum of the boat had not been sufficient to drive her far up on the beach, so it was not a difficult matter to get her afloat again. The powerful motors tugged and pulled and at last they were again afloat, but minus their anchor.

Frank offered to dive for it, and, divesting himself of his clothing, went overboard in the clear water of the little bight where the anchor and cable could be seen lying on the bottom.

The shout of triumph voiced by the boys when the Fortuna floated free was echoed when Frank came to the surface after having bent on the line he carried to the end of the chain cable. He was nearly breathless when he reached the surface, but willing hands pulled him over the stern of the rowboat in which the boys had searched for the lost anchor. Soon he recovered his wind.

Peace seemed never to reign for long in the Fortuna. Scarcely had the boys shouted in victory over the recovery of the anchor than they heard a shot from the shore. Harry, from his position on the pilot house, gesticulated and pointed inland in a frenzy.