Chapter VIII. Jack Stricken by a Bullet
 

"What's up now?" cried Jack from the rowboat.

"That villain has shot Tom and is running away across the island!" cried Arnold from his position. "Tom's lying on the sand!"

"Great Double-Barreled Wiggle-Headed Pollywogs!" ejaculated Harry. "Excuse my French, but this is too much. If he's killed Tom, I'll resign from the Boy Scouts for a few minutes. I will so!"

"Pull for the shore, boys!" urged Jack. "Get into your clothes, Frank!" And then, before either of his orders could be obeyed, he seized the oars and pulled the boat with lusty strokes toward the beach, intent on capturing the outlaw if possible. Great sobs escaped him as he worked manfully at the oars.

Each boy at that moment was mentally blaming himself for the tragedy he was sure would await their arrival at the scene of the campfire. Each one felt that he should have remained to guard the captive outlaw who was so evidently desperate because of his situation.

But Jack's exertions were unnecessary. Before the rowboat reached the sand, a flash of white had appeared over the bows of the Fortuna, a great splash of water gave evidence of a heavy body launched from the deck, and a commotion betokened a swimmer in action.

"Good old boy!" cried Frank with a sob in his throat.

"That never was Arnold!" cried Harry aghast at the thought of his chum venturing into the water alone on such a quest.

"Not on your life!" Jack protested. "That was our one and only. Old Rowdy is on the job with both feet. He's going ashore for business, too. I believe that dog actually knows things!"

"Heaven help that poor wretch if Rowdy gets to him first!" cried Harry. "Rowdy has more enthusiasm than caution, and he's apt to get rough. I wouldn't be surprised to find Wyckoff all strung around the island in small pieces when we get there."

In a short time the nose of the rowboat grounded on the beach.

The three boys leaped out and raced quickly to their fallen chum. Tom was struggling to rise from his prone position. Far across the sands the fleeing figure of the outlaw was being rapidly overtaken by the enraged bulldog, who sensed the situation and who apparently was determined to overtake and punish the escaped prisoner.

"Are you hurt, Tom?" queried Jack in a shaking tone.

"I guess so," Tom replied in a dazed manner. "No, I don't think I am," he corrected himself. "That is," he continued, "I don't know just what happened. I heard you cry out, and as I turned to look, the explosion took place. What happened, anyway?"

"From the look of your jaw, Wyckoff must have landed a sweeping kick just where the knockout nerve is located," explained Frank.

"Try to shut your teeth," suggested Harry. "If you can shut your teeth all right, nothing serious is to be feared."

Tom made the effort, but winced with pain. A grimace stole over his countenance and his hand went up to the injured jaw.

"That hurts, doesn't it?" solicitously inquired Jack.

"Not much," bravely protested Tom. "The most trouble is that I can shut the front teeth, but the back ones don't seem to meet by half an inch or more. The jaw must be dislocated."

In spite of their sympathy the boys could not restrain a laugh.

"I guess that if your front teeth come together your back ones meet," Jack assured the injured boy. "Let's look for Wyckoff."

"You mean let's look for Wyckoff's remains!" Harry tried to put in, but he was stopped by a gesture from Frank.

"Let's not make it any more horrible than it is. That man is desperate and I'm afraid of him," he whispered as they helped Tom to his feet and started away in the direction taken by the outlaw.

"I can't see him anywhere," Harry asserted. "I'll bet Rowdy has eaten him up body, boots and breeches. Serve him right, too!"

"We're the bloodthirsty bunch!" declared Jack. "It must be some quality in the atmosphere down here. This is the old region infested by Captain Kidd and his buccaneers. They must have left something in the way of a piratical germ in the atmosphere."

"Maybe so, but I'd like to find that dog just now," stoutly declared Harry. "He's had one big meal even if the quality was poor."

"Follow his tracks," suggested Frank. "That's easy in this sand. See, here they go. My word, but he was taking long jumps."

"He left in such a hurry that he didn't take my automatic," declared Tom. "I guess when he hit me or kicked me I must have closed on the trigger and started the thing going. He left without waiting to take the gun away from me. I'm glad of that, too."

"I see him!" joyfully shouted Frank, who was slightly in the lead. "Here he is, and Rowdy is mounting guard. Good old dog."

It was even as Frank had said. Rowdy had overtaken the fleeing villain and brought him to earth. Now he was walking about the prostrate form, occasionally stepping in and taking a nip at an arm or a leg. Wyckoff, thoroughly cowed, was begging and whining at a great rate. At the approach of the boys he begged piteously.

"Let him get up, Rowdy!" commanded Jack. "Now, Wyckoff," he ordered when the dog had permitted that worthy to regain his feet, "You 'bout face and back to the campfire on the double quick. It's getting toward evening and we can't lay around here all night waiting on you. We want you for a little while yet."

Wyckoff's appeals for mercy were piteous. All the way to the campfire he begged that the boys would show him mercy, but no response was made. Rowdy trotted along beside the outlaw with a satisfied air. Now and again he would look up at Wyckoff's face and then make as if to take a bite of the man's leg. At such times Wyckoff would involuntarily quicken his gait until cautioned by Jack to go more steadily. This was very hard for him to do, for he was frightened.

"Frank," Tom asked when the little party arrived at the fire, "did you see anything of a boat on shore here during your visit?"

"Come to think of it, I certainly did," replied Frank. "It is a dandy, too. I had made up my mind to try to drag it to the water and row to the mainland if no one came soon, but your arrival drove all thoughts of it from me. It is back here just a short distance."

"Wyckoff was telling me that boats were sometimes washed ashore on these islands. That reminded me of it. I wonder if it wouldn't be a good idea to ask Mr. Wyckoff to drag the boat to the water for us. He's been very obliging and I don't want to overwork him without paying him for his trouble," Tom added sarcastically.

"Hurray!" shouted Jack. "The very thing! And that may replace the one we brought from Mobile and gave to that other fellow,--what was his name? I never was much of a hand to remember names."

"I know--Carlos de Sneakodorus Madero!" announced Harry.

"Well, he got a boat from us, and it's only right we get one from his boss," asserted Tom. "Did you know your hired man stole our boat?" he inquired, turning to Wyckoff, who looked very humble.

"No, sir," replied that worthy. "I know the young fellow, but he is not hired by me. I don't know what you mean about his stealing your boat. I never told him to do such a thing!"

"All right; you've got a story coming, then. You just ask him when you see him again. He'll tell you," was Tom's information.

"Lead us to the boat, Frank," requested Jack. "Mr. Wyckoff seems to be just crazy to help us launch the rowboat."

Frank led the way to where a pile of great timbers and plank had been cast up by the angry waters during a recent storm. There, resting on top of the heap of lumber and timbers, was a fine skiff apparently sound and whole. By some curious freak of the storm it had been gently deposited there and left to rest while great ships had been sorely wrenched and even wrecked. The boys lost no time in removing the skiff with Wyckoff's help. To drag it along the yielding sand was a harder task. All were thoroughly winded when at last the skiff floated in the waters of the bight where lay the yacht.

"Whew!" panted Frank. "That's a big job for five. I'm glad I didn't tackle it alone. I certainly would have been tired."

"Let's leave Rowdy to guard Wyckoff while we get things in good shape on board and then we'll leave Wyckoff here!" suggested Tom in an aside to Jack. "I think we'd better leave him some grub, too. It wouldn't be right to just turn him adrift here alone."

"What, after he kicked you like that?" inquired Jack.

"Yes," Tom replied. "A Boy Scout never holds a grudge."

"Good for you, Tom!" cried Jack, extending his hand to meet Tom's in a hearty grip. "Those sentiments make me glad that you are a member of the Beaver Patrol. I wish they were all like that!"

No time was lost in preparing the boats for the proposed trip to the mainland. The afternoon was well spent and the boys were tired and hungry. Their day had been a most strenuous one.

Arnold was already preparing coffee and pancakes in the kitchenette when the boys arrived with the newly discovered skiff.

"We'd better get the anchor aboard," suggested Harry, "and then hoist the steel rowboat into her chocks and lash her fast. The skiff we can tow behind us as we did the other if it's agreeable."

"Right-o!" sung out Tom, who had nearly forgotten his swollen jaw under the excitement of the moment. "I see the oar we tied onto the line that Frank fastened to the cable. It's right over there."

In a short time the anchor was brought aboard and lashed fast. The rowboat was slung into place and made secure, and nothing remained but the disposing of Wyckoff to occupy the boys at the island.

"How about it, Wyckoff?" called Harry from the deck of the Fortuna; "do you want some grub, or can you rustle for yourself?"

A torrent of abuse was the outlaw's reply.

"Watch out or I'll sic my little dog onto you!" warned Harry.

"Let's not aggravate him any more than we have to," cautioned Jack. "Take him some grub and throw it onto the beach. Then be quick about getting back, for it's getting late. It's three bells now!"

Harry rowed ashore with some canned beans, meats and blueberries.

Keeping at a respectful distance from the shore he tossed the cans to a position where they could easily be recovered by the outlaw. He whistled to Rowdy, who came aboard the skiff with a rush, and then pulled for the Fortuna with a lusty stroke.

Scarcely was he well aboard before Jack at the switchboard had started the engines and the Fortuna pointed her nose away from Petit Bois Island and headed for the mainland.

Frank was lost in wonder and admiration as the boys showed him about the Fortuna. He exclaimed over the conveniences and went into raptures over the kitchenette and washroom.

"We cooked on a furnace on the Spray," he said regretfully. "Here you've the gasoline and electric coils. Electric lights and electric stoves and electric starter on the engines. It is fine!"

"What's a furnace?" inquired Arnold eagerly.

"It's a sort of a bucket made of fire clay," answered Frank. "It has a division about half way down. Charcoal is put in on top and lighted and the draft comes up through a hole in the side. The natives and negroes down here use them quite extensively. They don't like iron stoves and ranges because they don't know how to use them."

"Let's see if Wyckoff is keeping up his campfire," suggested Harry. "I'll wager he's too excited to even think about supper."

When the boys reached the deck they saw Wyckoff capering and dancing about on the beach wildly. He was waving his arms in an evident effort to attract attention. A schooner was approaching from the west.

"Yacht aho-o-oy!" came a faint hail across the water.

Jack at the wheel held a steady course and reached a hand toward the switchboard. His lips were tightly closed. Again the hail came across the tumbling waters, but no reply was made.

A shot rang out from the schooner. The boys could see the bullet ricochet from wave to wave and pass in front of the Fortuna.

Another shot was fired. Glass tinkled. Jack fell to the floor.