Chapter XVIII. The New Deck Hand
 

Having said so much, Peter Slade seemed more inclined to talk, one reason being that he wanted to get at the bottom of the mystery which had brought Tad Sobber and his uncle to that part of the globe. Tad had hinted of great wealth, and of getting the best of the Rovers and some other people, but had not gone into any details.

Peter said he had come to Nassau to join his mother, who was stopping there for her health. His father was coming on later, and then the family was going across the ocean.

"I know there is something up between your crowd and the Merrick crowd," said the youth. "You are both after something, ain't you?"

"Yes," answered Tom.

"What?"

"I can't tell you that, Slade. It's something quite valuable, though."

"Well, I guess Sobber's uncle will get ahead of you."

"Perhaps so. What is the name of the tramp steamer he is looking for?"

"The Josephine."

"Was she to be here?"

"They hoped she would be."

"Were they going to hire her?" asked Sam.

"I suppose so."

"Then Merrick had money."

"Yes, he had some, and that Spaniard had some, too."

A little more conversation followed, and then the Rover boys asked Slade where he was going to stop, and said they might see him later.

"This is mighty interesting," remarked Tom, as he and his brother hurried to their hotel. "We must tell father of this without delay."

But Mr. Rover could not be found until that evening, when the party came back from the visit to the flower gardens. He listened with deep interest to what was said, and then went off on a hunt for Sid Merrick and the tramp steamer Josephine without delay.

Nothing was discovered that night, but a little before noon of the day following they learned that a tramp steamer had appeared in the harbor, taken several persons on board, and then steamed away again.

"Can you tell me the name of that craft?" asked Anderson Rover of the man who gave him this information.

"She was the Josephine, sir, of Charleston, Captain Sackwell."

"Was she loaded?"

"I think not, sir."

"How many persons got aboard?"

"Five or six."

"One of them a young fellow?"

"Yes, sir, and one was a fellow who was very dark."

Mr. Rover knew that Doranez was very dark, and he rightfully surmised that the party had been made up of Merrick, Tad, Doranez, Cuffer and Shelley.

"This is certainly a serious turn of affairs," said he to his sons. "While we have been losing time in Philadelphia and elsewhere, Sid Merrick has gone to work, gotten somebody to let him have this tramp steamer, and now, in company with Doranez, is off to locate Treasure Isle and the treasure. It looks to me as if it might be a race between us after all."

"Yes, and the worst of it is that we are laid up for repairs," said Dick, with almost a groan in his voice.

"How long must we remain here?" asked Sam "Can't they hurry the job somehow?"

"Let us offer 'em more money to hurry," suggested Tom.

The suggestion to offer more money was carried out, and the ship builders promised to have the Rainbow fit for sailing by the following afternoon. The paint on the new work would not be dry, but that would not matter.

On the morning of the day they were to sail a man applied to Captain Barforth for a position. He said he had been a fireman on an ocean liner, but had lost three fingers in some machinery and been discharged.

"I am hard up," he pleaded. "I'll work for almost anything."

The captain was kind hearted, and as the Rainbow could use another deck hand he told the man to bring his luggage aboard, which the fellow did. The newcomer's name was Walt Wingate, and he did his best to make friends with everybody on board. He had a low, musical voice, and was frequently whistling popular airs.

"He's an odd one," said Dick, after noticing the new deck hand several times. "He seems real nice and yet--"

"You don't like him," finished Sam.

"That's it, Sam."

"Neither do I, and I can't tell why."

"Well, he hasn't anything to do with us. If he's a good man I'm glad the captain gave him a job. It's tough luck to lose your fingers, especially if you must work for a living."

By five o'clock the steam yacht had left the harbor of Nassau and was standing out to sea once more. The course was again southward, around the western extremity of Cuba. During the following days they passed numerous islands and keys, as they are called, but generally at such a distance that the shores could be seen but faintly.

To make sure of what he was doing, Anderson Rover held several consultations with Captain Barforth, and Bahama Bill was closely questioned regarding the location of Treasure Isle. The old tar stuck to the story he had told so often, and went over numerous maps with the commander of the steam yacht.

"He has the location pretty well fixed in his head unless the whole thing is a fairy tale," was Captain Barforth's comment.

While one of these talks was going on, Dick, who was on deck, chanced to go below in a hurry. As he passed down the companionway he encountered Walt Wingate, who had been listening at the cabin doorway.

"Hullo, what do you want?" demanded Dick, for the man's face had a guilty look on it.

"Why--er--my handkerchief blew down here and I came down to get it," answered the new deck hand, and pointed to the cloth in question sticking out of his pocket.

"Is that all?"

"That's all, sir," answered Wingate, and touching his cap he slouched off. Then he turned back. "Sorry if I disturbed anybody," he added.

"Oh, I suppose it is all right," returned Dick, but he was by no means satisfied, although he could not tell exactly why. There was something about the new deck hand that did not "ring true." At first he thought to speak to his parent about the occurrence, but then concluded not to worry his father.

Knowing that it was now a race between the Rainbow and the Josephine for Treasure Isle, Captain Barforth crowded on all steam. The course of the steam yacht was fairly well laid out, but it contained many turns and twists, due to the many keys--located in these waters.

"We don't want to run on any hidden reef," said the master of the vessel. "If we do we may go down or be laid up for a long while for repairs. These waters are fairly well charted, but there is still a great deal to be learned about them. From time to time they have had earthquakes down here, and volcano eruptions, and the bottom is constantly shifting."

On the second night out from Nassau, Sam, for some reason, could not sleep. He tumbled and tossed in his berth for two hours, and then, feeling that some fresh air might do him good, dressed in part and went on deck.

It was not a very clear night, and but few stars shone in the firmament. In the darkness the lad walked first to one side of the steam yacht and then to the other. Then he strolled toward the bow, to have a little chat with the lookout.

As he walked along the side of the cabin he became aware of a figure leaning over the rail, gazing far down into the sea. By the man's general form he made the fellow out to be Walt Wingate. The deck hand had hold of something, although what it was Sam could not tell.

At first the youngest Rover was going to call to the man and ask him what he was doing. But he remained silent, and stepped into the shadow of the cabin as Wingate left the rail and crossed to the other side of the yacht. From under some coils of rope the deck hand brought forth something, lifted it over the rail and dropped it gently into the sea. Then he leaned far over the rail as before, and this lasted two or three minutes.

"He is certainly up to something out of the ordinary," thought Sam. "I wonder if he is fishing? If he is, it seems to me it is a queer way to go at it."

As Wingate left the rail he walked directly to where the boy stood. When he discovered Sam he started back as if confronted by a ghost.

"Oh--er--didn't know anybody was up," he stammered.

"It was so hot in my stateroom I couldn't sleep," answered Sam. "I came out to get the air."

"It's almost as hot on deck as it is anywhere," said the deck hand, and his tone had little of cordiality in it.

"I think I'll go forward and try it there."

"Yes, it's a little breezier at the bow, sir. By the way, did you-- er--see me trying to catch some of those firefish just now?"

"I saw you doing something, I didn't see what."

"I thought I might get one, but they are all gone now," answered Wingate, and slouched off, whistling in that peculiar manner of his.

Sam walked slowly to the bow. As he did this, Wingate turned to look at him in a speculative way.

"Wonder if the young fool saw what I was up to?" he muttered. "If he did I'd better go slow. I don't want to get caught. They might treat me pretty roughly."

The watch on deck was changed and Wingate went below. Asa Carey was in command of the yacht and he, too, wanted to know why Sam was up at such a late hour. The boy told him, but said nothing to the mate of Wingate's strange actions.

When Sam turned in, Dick wanted to know if he was sick.

"No, only restless, Dick," he replied. "By the way, I saw something strange," he continued, and he related the occurrence.

"We must look into this, Sam. It may mean nothing and it may mean a great deal," was the eldest Rover boy's comment.

The boys did not go on deck until after breakfast. Then they walked to the starboard rail and stopped at the spot where Sam had first discovered the deck hand.

"I don't see anything," said Dick, gazing over the rail. "Perhaps he was fishing, after all. He may have thought--Hullo!"

"What is it, Dick?"

"Some kind of a line down here--a wire, fastened to a hook!"

"Can you reach it?"

"Hardly. I might if you'll hold my legs, so I don't go overboard."

"Hadn't we better tell Captain Barforth of this first? The wire may belong there."

"I don't know what for. But we can tell the captain. Here he comes now."

"Good morning, boys," said the master of the steam yacht pleasantly. "What can you see over there?"

"Something we think unusual," said Sam "Please take a look and tell us what it is."

Captain Barforth did as requested.

"That wire has no business there," he declared. "I don't know how it came there."

"I can tell you how it got there, and I guess you'll find something like it on the other side," answered Sam, and told what he had seen Wingate do during the night.

"Humph, I'll investigate this," muttered the captain, and went off for a boathook. When he returned he caught the hook into the loop of the wire and tried to bring the end of the strand to the deck. He was unable to do it alone and had to get the boys to aid him. Then all three ran the wire around a brace and gradually hauled it aboard. At the end was an iron chain, fastened into several loops, and also the anchor to one of the rowboats.