Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Administered by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.


THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS T.C. BRIDGES)

THE SECRET OF SEVENSTONES KEY

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover


Ex Libris

Published by F. Warne & Co., London & New York, 1928

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-11-01
Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

Click here for more books by this author



Illustration

"The Secret of Sevenstones Key,"
F. Warne & Co., London & New York, 1928



Illustration

"The Secret of Sevenstones Key," Title Page



What was the secret of Sevenstones Key? Sandy Linton and his sister, Tess, lived on the island off the coast of Florida and were more curious than frightened when a very unpleasant gang did everything in their power to obtain possession of the island and banish the Linton family to the mainland. The story of the Lintons' adventures in their efforts to outwit the gang makes thrilling reading.



TABLE OF CONTENTS



I. — DRIVEN OUT TO SEA

THE cat boat had been running steadily across the blue swells of the Gulf, when suddenly the wind failed and the heavily laden craft lay wallowing, with her one big sail flapping and the boom swinging from side to side. The red-headed boy, who was steering, glanced round with a rather uneasy expression on his keen brown face.

"What's up, Rastus?" he asked.

Rastus, the elderly, coal-black negro who was the only other occupant of the battered craft, took a careful survey of the horizon. "Ah doan't like it, Marse Sandy," he said slowly. "I'm skeered we's gwine to git a Norther."

"You mean a storm?"

"I suah do. Yo see dat misty look ober de land. Dat's a bad sign."

"What's to be done?" asked Sandy Linton.

Rastus shrugged his bony shoulders. "Dere ain't nothing us can do, Marse Sandy, 'cept reef down de sail. Dere ain't no wind to take us into shore and when de wind does come it's a-going to be off of de land."

"Sounds cheerful," said Sandy, "but never mind. Give us a hand to reef down."

While they tied the reef points the haze over the mainland of Florida thickened rapidly. Suddenly a sharp shower fell, the big drops beating up in spray from the smooth sea. But still there was no wind, and the cat boat rolled slowly in the swells. Sandy got into his slicker (oilskin) and Rastus pulled an old sack over his shoulders.

The rainstorm passed, but now the sky was all grey and dull over the land, and presently a puff of wind ruffled the glassy swells.

"It's a Norther, sure 'nuff," said Rastus gravely. "Yo' feel how cold dat wind strikes, Marse Sandy?"

"You bet I do," said Sandy shivering. Then as the reefed sail filled he took hold of the tiller again. "We'd better beat up for land, Rastus," he said.

Rastus looked at the low coast with its fringe of white sand beach backed by heavy swamp growth, and shook his head. "Dere ain't no place to make for," he answered. "Dere ain't no creek nor nothing, an' all dat water am terrible shallow. I reckon we better try to git home agin."

"Turn back home?" cried Sandy in dismay. "Why it's nearly as far back as it is to Key West."

"We won't nebber make Key West dis day," said Rastus doggedly. "Soon as we git's round Cape Floridy we'll git a sea as dis old boat won't lib in. Dar's only one chance, Marse Sandy, an' dat's to git back."

Sandy was dreadfully upset. The big load of cut logs which he and Rastus were taking to Key West would sell, he reckoned, for about twenty dollars, and his father had told him to spend every penny of the money on groceries, and bring them back as quickly as possible. Mr. Linton and his family had settled on the Gulf coast of Florida, at Chokoloskee Bay, a year earlier. Like so many Englishmen who settled in Florida, he had been done down by an unscrupulous land shark. The soil was poor, there was no market anywhere near for fruit and vegetables, and the year had been one long struggle against bad weather, worse insects, and coons and wild cats, which destroyed Mr. Linton's poultry. At last things had got so bad that they had been forced to cut firewood for a living, taking the logs nearly fifty miles by sea to the island city of Key West.

Sandy knew how badly his people needed these groceries. The idea of sailing back home and telling his father that the weather had been too bad to get to Key West did not appeal to him at all.

"We're nearer Key West than home, Rastus," he said. "Are you sure we can't make it?"

"Plumb suah certain," replied Rastus firmly. "I ain't fibbed in Floridy all mah fifty years widout knowin' mighty well what kind ob sea we gits wid a Norther. Why eben de rum-runners rim for shelter in wedder like dis."

That settled it. If the powerful launches used by the rum-runners were unable to stand up to a Norther it was quite certain that the poor old, overladen cat boat, with her ragged sail and leaky seams, could not do so, and without another word Sandy put her head round and started beating back in a nor'-westerly direction. Although it was only a few minutes since the first puff of wind had struck them it was already blowing hard, and had a steady weight in it that Sandy did not like.

The cat boat with her heavy load of firewood made bad weather of it. The spray flew over her in clouds, and since she was only decked for about a quarter of her length a lot of water was soon washing about in the bottom. Rastus took a tin and set to baling, while Sandy steered.

The wind continued to increase, and in half an hour was a full gale. The cat boat laboured terribly and the tops of the short waves began to break over her badly. In spite of the fact that she was reefed down, the weight of wind was too much for her. She lay over until her lee gunwale was almost under water and steering became more and more difficult. For another thing the haze was thickening so that Sandy could no longer see the land. He felt pretty sure that they were making a lot of lee way, but since he had no compass he could not be sure. All he could do was to keep her as close as possible to the wind and trust to coming near enough to the land to get his bearings.

Rastus looked up from his baling. "She's a straining bad," he told Sandy. "We got to dump some of this hyah wood."

"What—throw the wood overboard! And after all the work we had to cut and load it."

"Won't do us no good ef we're drownded," was Rastus' answer, as he began heaving the beautifully sawn blocks of yellow pine overboard.

After jettisoning about a quarter of a ton the boat rode more easily, but the weather showed no sign of improvement, and by this time Sandy had not the faintest notion where they were. There was nothing to break the roaring waste of mountainous seas.

A gust harder than any yet bore down upon them, cutting the hissing spray from the wave heads. Sandy tried to put her head into it, but was a little late. There was a sharp crack, and the sail, rotten with age, split right across. The cat boat's head fell off, a wave head lumped over her side, then she went round stern to wind, drifting helplessly before it.

"We's done now," said Rastus solemnly.

"Not yet," replied Sandy sharply. "Get out the sweeps and shove her head round to it, while I make some sort of sea anchor."

Some of the wood was in sacks, and working desperately, Sandy fastened two sacks together, got a rope on to them and flung them over. The wood was so heavy it only just floated, and as soon as the rope tightened the bow of the boat came round to the wind. Then the two cleared away the wreck of the sail, baled out the water, and dropped down quite exhausted in the stern.

"Dat was mighty clebber, Marse Sandy," said Rastus.

"It was the only thing to do, Rastus; but what's going to happen? Where are we going?"

Rastus glanced round. He shook his head. "P'raps we come to a Key," he suggested.

"Let's hope so," said Sandy. "If we don't—" he did not finish the sentence. There was no need to, for both knew what would happen. Either they would go to the bottom or drift helplessly out to sea, beyond all hope of rescue.

In spite of his oilskin Sandy shivered till his teeth chattered. It is surprising how cold a Norther can blow, even in the Gulf of Mexico. As for poor Rastus, his black face went grey and Sandy saw he was suffering badly. But he could do nothing.

The light began to dim. It was getting near to sunset, and though Sandy had as much pluck as any boy, the thought of a night at sea in this storm daunted him.

Presently Rastus began to bale again, but in spite of his efforts some inches of water slopped up and down in the bottom of the boat. Sandy took a hand, but could not get it under. "She's leaking badly," he said at last.

"She suah is," agreed Rastus. "I done told you she'd strained herself."

"Rastus," said Sandy presently, "how long do these Northers last?"

"I reckon she'll blow a long while yet," Rastus answered.

"Then our chances are pretty slim, Rastus."

"Dat's a fact," allowed Rastus, and then he leaped up with a shout. "A ship, sah!" and Sandy, looking in the direction in which the other was pointing, saw a smart craft of perhaps two hundred tons a couple of miles away to the north-west. She appeared to be a motor-driven yacht, and was making good speed with the wind behind her.

Sandy jumped to his feet and waved frantically. He even shouted, though, of course, that was no good at such a distance.

"Will they see us?" he asked hoarsely.

"Ah reckon dey ought to, Marse Sandy. De course dey's taking, dey'll come 'bout a mile ob us presently."

"We must hoist a signal," said Sandy sharply. He raked an old flag out of the locker, bent it and ran it up half-mast, where it streamed forlornly in the wind.

But in this bad light and heavy sea it was not by any means certain that her people would see them.

As she came towards the nearest point, Sandy sprang up again, and holding to the mast so as to steady himself against the fearful pitching, waved his hat desperately. "There's a look-out on her deck," he told Rastus; "I can see him plainly."

"But he doan't see us," said Rastus sadly. "Dey's jest a going straight on."

Sure enough, the yacht carried straight on. Sandy yelled till his voice cracked, but it was no use. At last he flung himself down with a groan of despair. "The brutes!" he cried; "the heartless brutes!"

"Most like dey's rum-runners, Marse Sandy," said Rastus quietly. "Dem folk, dey doan't stop for nobody."


II. — THE STRANGE SKIPPER

SANDY hardly heard what Rastus was saying. For once all his pluck was gone, and he had given way to utter despair. He was roused by Rastus grasping him by the arm. "Wake up, Marse Sandy. Dey's seed us arter all. Dey's coming round with de wind."

Sandy shot up like a flash. He could hardly believe his eyes when he saw that Rastus was right, and that the yacht had come about and was ploughing back towards them straight in the teeth of the wind.

In a very few minutes the yacht was alongside. A coil of rope came hissing aboard the cat boat and a harsh voice shouted, "Jump for it, and watch out for our paint."

"Can you tow us?" cried Sandy.

"Tow you! Are you plumb crazy?" came the same voice, and a thick-chested, hard-eyed man looked over the rail. "Come aboard if you want to save your lives, and be sharp about it."

Seeing there was no help for it, Sandy went clawing up the rope and was followed by Rastus. The moment they were aboard the rope was cast loose, the yacht's head was put round, and she went driving away at full speed on her former course.

Sandy's eyes were full of tears as he watched the poor old cat boat vanish in the smother.

"Hard luck!" came a voice in his ear, and looking round he saw a boy about his own age, wearing oilies and a sou'-wester. "But I guess it's better to lose a boat than your life."

"You're right," said Sandy, "and we are very grateful to you."

"It was sure luck I saw you," said the boy. "Cap'n Dade didn't notice you—said he didn't, anyway," he added in a lower voice. "Say, my name is Winthrop, Randolph Winthrop, and this yacht is my dad's."

"I'm Alexander Linton," Sandy answered, "and this is our man, Erastus. The best negro that ever lived," he added.

Randolph nodded and shook hands with Rastus who beamed with pleasure. "Guess you better go into the fo'c'sle," Randolph told Rastus. "And you come below, Linton, and I'll fix you some dry things."

Randolph had a tiny cabin to himself, and as Sandy changed Randolph asked him all sorts of questions and got his whole story. Randolph, a thoroughly nice youngster, was full of sympathy. "It's real bad luck for you, losing your boat," he said. "But don't worry your head. I'll get Dad to fix you up with some sort of boat."

Sandy began to protest, but Randolph only laughed. "Dad's rich," he said. "It won't hurt him to buy a boat. Say, if this new oil deal of his comes off I reckon he'll have money to burn."

Sandy was puzzled. "What sort of oil deal can you do out here in the middle of the Gulf?" he ventured to ask.

Randolph laughed. "This trip ain't got anything to do with the deal. Dad's had a real hard time fixing the deal, and the doc. said he had to take a rest, so we're going over to a Key he owns for a few days' fishing until Dad hears how things go. Sevenstones Key we call it, and I tell you it's a dandy place."

Sandy frowned. "I don't understand a bit," he said. "How can your father do oil deals when he's away from everything like this?"

"Simple as pie," was the answer. "We've got a brass-pounder aboard."

"What's a brass-pounder?" Sandy questioned.

"Radio operator, stupid," grinned Randolph. "Chap called Snipe Stapleton. A dandy he is. But come along into the cabin and meet Dad."

Mr. Winthrop was a middle-aged man with a thin, tired face, but kindly eyes. He was very much interested in Sandy's story. "I guess your folk will be mighty uneasy," he said, "but I'll get Stapleton to send a message to Chokoloskee. Randolph, you ask Snipe to come right down."

Snipe came down in a hurry. He was a slim, long-legged youngster with very bright eyes.

Snipe gave Sandy's hand a hearty grip, and the two smiled at one another. Sandy liked Snipe from the first minute. Mr. Winthrop explained about the message and Snipe hurried off to send it.

A steward came in to lay the table for supper. It was still blowing hard, but the weather was moderating a little.

In spite of the weather a capital supper was served. Dade, the skipper, stayed on deck to handle the Magnolia, but the second officer, whose name was Redstall, came down to the cabin. He was a sallow-faced, rusty haired person to whom Sandy took an instant dislike. Just as supper was over they felt the violent motion of the yacht ceasing and Redstall got up quickly. "I guess we're at the Key," he remarked in a voice that reminded Sandy of the grating of a saw. "I'd better relieve the Cap'n."

Randolph turned to Sandy. "And I guess we'd better relieve Snipe so he can get some grub. Come on up to the wireless room, Sandy."

By this time it was quite dark, but the Magnolia was lying in some sort of harbour and Sandy saw the loom of land close by.

"Real nice to be still again after all that pitching," said Snipe as the boys came into his little deck room. "And it's white of you to relieve me. Now you jest sit and watch this here needle, and if she begins to tick come right down and call me."

Snipe hurried off to supper and the two boys sat and chatted.

"We're going ashore in the morning," Randolph told Sandy, "and I guess Dad will take you, too. We've got a right nice bungalow on the place and the fishing is fine. Say, do you know how to catch pompano?"

Sandy did and was telling all about it when Snipe came back. Randolph went down to talk to his father, but Sandy stayed talking to Snipe for an hour. The two got on finely together. When Sandy at last left he almost ran into a heavily built man who was pacing the deck. The latter stopped.

"Air you Linton?" he demanded harshly.

"Yes," said Sandy in some surprise.

"Say 'Sir' when you speak to me," snapped the other.

"Yes, sir," said Sandy readily.

"What were you a-doing in that wireless room?" questioned Dade.

"Talking to Mr. Stapleton, sir."

"Wal, you ain't got no business there," growled the other; "so you keep away. You hear me?"

"Yes, sir," replied Sandy quietly. "Good-night, sir."

Leaving the big bully too surprised to speak, he went below.

Randolph told him he could bunk on a sofa in the main cabin and found him some pyjamas. Sandy told him of his odd encounter with Dade.

"Oh, he's a hog," said Randolph scornfully, "and the mate's no better. They don't really belong to the ship but dad got 'em at Tampa because they know these seas. Now I guess I'll turn in. I reckon you won't be sorry for a snooze."

Sandy was tired all over and when the lights were put out was soon asleep. He woke with a start and became conscious of a voice that seemed almost in his ears. A voice which he recognized at once as Captain Dade's. At first he could not imagine where it came from, but after a moment or two realized that the skipper was just overhead and that the reason he could hear so clearly was that the skylight just above was open.

"That you, Stapleton?" were the first words he heard.

"Yes, sir," came Snipe's voice. "I'm just going down for a drink of water."

"You going to stay up all night?" Sandy noticed that the brute skipper's voice was less gruff than he had heard it.

"Got to, sir. The boss is expecting an important message."

Dade grunted. "Pretty rough on you, son. What about having Redstall relieve you? He can take, if he can't send."

"Very kind of you, sir," replied Snipe, "but I promised the boss I'd be on all night. I can doze a bit with the 'phones on."

"Jest as you likes. Then you ain't got this message yet?"

"No, sir."

"Something about a big oil deal, ain't it?"

"I reckon so," replied Snipe quietly.

Dade paused and Sandy below sat up, straining his ears. When Dade spoke again his voice was little more than a whisper.

"See here, Stapleton, you wants to make money, like the rest of us, don't ye?"

"I reckon," agreed Snipe.

"Then see here, what's the matter with letting me in on this deal? If you'll let me know which way the cat jumps I'd like to hump my savings on the winner, and I'll see that you ain't forgotten, my lad."

Snipe hesitated, and Sandy knew instinctively that he was afraid to refuse right out.

"Do you reckon that would be fair, Captain?" asked Snipe.

"All's fair in war and business," grinned the skipper. "It'll be worth a thousand dollars to you, my lad."

"You'll have to let me think about it, sir," said Snipe, doubtfully.

"Wal, don't think too long," replied the skipper.

Steps moved away across the deck, and Sandy lay back. But not to sleep. He remained quiet, thinking hard until a faint grey light showed that dawn was coming, then got up, stole down the passage, and, without knocking, slipped silently into Randolph's cabin.

"What's the matter?" asked Randolph drowsily, as Sandy shook him, but when he had heard Sandy's story he was wide enough awake. "Gosh, I knew Dade was a bad 'un, but I didn't reckon he was up to a game like this. See here, Sandy," he went on shrewdly, "I reckon he and Redstall have been paid to queer Dad's pitch."

"Won't you tell your father?"

"Plenty of time for that after he wakes. We don't want to let Dade get suspicious."

"What are we going to do?"

"Not a thing till breakfast time. You get back and lie down and if anyone comes in pretend to be asleep."

But Sandy had his own ideas on this subject, and instead of going back to bed paid a secret visit to Snipe in the wireless room. He did not see Randolph until breakfast time, then his first whispered question was: "Have you told your father?"

"No. Didn't want to worry him, but it will be all right."

Sandy had his doubts, but he did not let them interfere with a good breakfast. When he went on deck afterwards he found the yacht lying in a calm little harbour. The Key (island) was higher than most of the Gulf Keys and seemed about a mile long. It was well wooded, and a little way up from the sea was a bungalow surrounded by orange trees.

"Right nice, ain't it?" said Randolph, coming up; then, while he pretended to be pointing out the various beauties of the island, he told Sandy: "Dad and I are going ashore. Snipe stays to wait for the message, and Dad wants you to stay too. If the message comes you and Rastus can bring Snipe ashore in the dinghy. Do you dare risk it, Sandy?"

"I'll do it all right," promised Sandy, with a grin.

"What are you up to, Sandy?" asked Randolph, puzzled at the smile.

"I'll tell you when I come ashore," promised Sandy. "Redstall's watching us from the bridge, and I don't want him to get suspicious."

In spite of his pretended confidence, Sandy was anything but happy as he watched Randolph and his father being ferried ashore. He didn't like the look of the crew, and it seemed a big risk to let those two go ashore alone.

Presently Snipe came out of the wireless room, and walked across.

"You going to row me ashore, Linton?" he asked.

"I'm ready," said Sandy. "Come on, Rastus."

Dade was not on deck and Redstall paid no special attention as the three climbed over the side into the dinghy.

"Have you got the message?" whispered Sandy as they pulled away.

"You bet," replied the other.

"I wonder they let us go," said Sandy.

"Why shouldn't they?" replied Snipe. "They're mighty glad to get rid of us, if you ask me."

The Winthrops had seen them coming and were waiting at the landing, and Snipe handed a paper to Mr. Winthrop who took a book out of his pocket and began to translate the written words.

"In code," Snipe whispered to Sandy. "Now you see why it wasn't no use to Dade."

Mr. Winthrop looked up. "Randolph," he said quickly, "I have to go right back to New York."

"Things wrong, Dad?"

"I wouldn't say that, but they haven't panned out just the way I'd hoped. I'll have to get back right away so as to put the business straight. I'm mighty sorry to disappoint you, boy."

"That's all right. Dad. Then I guess we'd better get right aboard."

"No hurry, son. If we leave to-night it will be all right. You can have one day's fishing."

"I don't reckon we'd better wait," said Randolph, "or maybe Dade'll be leaving without us."

Mr. Winthrop's eyes widened. "What are you talking about, Randolph?"

"Tell him, Sandy," said Randolph; and Sandy told what he had heard.

Mr. Winthrop pursed his lips. "That don't signify," he said. "Dade only wants to get in on the deal at bottom price."

"I guess there's more in it than that, boss," said Snipe.

"What makes you think so?"

"Well, watch 'em," drawled Snipe. "They're getting up the anchor right now."

With a cry of alarm, Mr. Winthrop started for the boat, but Snipe stopped him. "Don't you worry, boss. They won't get far."

"What do you mean?"

"Wal, boss, for one thing the engine ain't working exactly right, and for another they ain't got a drop o' drinking water aboard."

Snipe laughed at the astonished look on his employer's face. "It's all right, boss. Thanks to the advice of Sandy here, I fixed these two little jobs about four o'clock this morning. It'll take 'em all day to put the engine right, and as I bored a hole in the bottom of the water tank they'll be kind of thirsty before the day's out. There, watch 'em. They can't get started. They're anchoring again."

"But what is going to happen?" asked Mr. Winthrop in distress. "Your precautions were excellent so far as they went, Stapleton, but they won't help me if I am hung up here. If I am not in New York in a week, it will mean absolute ruin."

"They'll have to come ashore for water, sir," said Sandy. "I thought we could deal with them then."

The millionaire shook his head. "There are seven of them," he said gloomily. "And all armed, and we have nothing but one shotgun."

"I think we can manage all the same, sir," replied Sandy modestly. "Let's go to the house, and I'll tell you my plan."

Though the house was nicely furnished and they had plenty to eat and cool water from a well behind the building, the day dragged sadly. Mr. Winthrop was desperately nervous and so—to say truth—was Sandy himself. Yet all the others had agreed that his was the best—in fact the only plan which gave them a hope of success.

They did not try to fish but stayed in or about the house, keeping an eye on the yacht which lay quietly at anchor and busy with certain preparations.

Quite early in the afternoon Sandy and Randolph finished their job and just before dark they had supper. As soon as it was quite dark, Sandy and Randolph crept down through the orange trees and hid themselves behind a clump of saw-palmetto close by the landing stage, where they lay and waited.

Luckily there were no mosquitoes on the Key, and since the night was warm, they were comfortable enough. But time dragged on and nothing happened. Randolph looked round at the house. "I guess Dade's waiting for the lights to go out," he said.

"No," said Sandy. "Dade knows jolly well that we are on to his game. He would smell a rat if the lights were out. They'll come soon."

The words were hardly out of his mouth when there was a sound from the sea, the faint creaking of oars. Though there was no moon, the stars gave light enough to see a boat slip up to the landing-stage.

"Five, six, seven," whispered Randolph. "Gosh, Sandy, they're all here."

The men got out and Sandy saw that Dade was leading them, and there was even light enough to see the big pistol in his hand. He spoke to one of his men.

"Abe, you're kind of cat-footed. Go on up to the house and peek through the window and see if they're all there. There's a light in the room, so you'll be able to see easy."

Abe obeyed, vanishing silently among the trees. The others waited quietly. Five minutes passed, then Abe returned.

"It's all right, Cap'n," he whispered hoarsely. "They're a setting in the front room. All five of 'em, incloodin' the negro."

"That's fine," Dade answered. "Ike, you kin stay here and watch the boat. Redstall, you and me goes to the house, one front, one back. The rest of you is to fill the barrel from the spring. Get to it now."

"Ain't you going to shoot up the house, Cap'n?" growled one hulking ruffian.

"No I ain't," retorted the other. "What's the use? There don't no one come here once a year, and before they does the hull lot'll be starved and dead. Now move and be sharp. I'm reckoning to sail in an hour."

Randolph pinched Sandy's arm. "Fine!" he whispered.

"Don't crow before we're out of the wood," returned Sandy. "There's lots of things may go wrong yet."

"Don't croak!" retorted Randolph.

"Just what I'm going to do," said Sandy, and next moment a perfect imitation of the faint bleat of a tree frog cut the silence.

The man Ike paid no attention. He was sitting in the boat, busy cutting himself a chew of tobacco. He never noticed the barrel of a gun being pushed over the edge of the landing and the first he knew of it was when Snipe's voice said in a sharp whisper, "Put 'em up?"

The surprise was complete, and with a gasp Ike stuck up both hands. In an instant Snipe and Rastus were on him and he was gagged and tied and laid in the bottom of the boat.

The two boys crept out of their hiding place and at the same moment Mr. Winthrop slung something heavy into the boat and got in after it.

"What did I tell you?" said Randolph triumphantly, as he grabbed an oar and shoved off. "I knew—" The sharp crack of a pistol shot cut him short.

"By gum, they're on to it," cried Snipe. "Pull, fellers. Get to it."

The boat fairly hissed through the water, but steps were already pounding down towards the landing, and they heard Dade's hoarse shout, "Stop, or I'll plug ye."

Bright flashes lit the gloom and bullets splashed into the water on either side of the boat. One hit Rastus' oar, knocking it right out of his hand.

Sandy snatched up the gun and blazed away with both barrels in the direction of the flashes. A hideous yell woke the echoes and the firing stopped.

"Only bird-shot, but I bet it stung," chuckled Randolph, as the boat swung round into safety on the far side of the Magnolia.

"Get the water aboard first," said Mr. Winthrop. "It isn't much, but it will see us through till we reach Key West."

They slung the five-gallon keg of water and their prisoner aboard, followed it in a hurry, then Snipe and Randolph dived down to the engine room while the others knocked the pin out of the anchor shackle.

Bullets were whizzing overhead but the yacht was almost out of pistol range, and presently the welcome chug of the engine reached the ears of those on deck, and Mr. Winthrop, taking the tiller, steered very cautiously out through the narrow channel into the open Gulf.

Randolph came up. "Engine's all right, Dad. If you and Snipe can navigate her we ought to be at Key West by midday to-morrow."

Mr. Winthrop wiped the perspiration from his forehead and drew a long breath of deep relief. "I can handle her all right, son, and I'll tell you right now I never felt happier in my life. That was surely a terrible fix we were in."

"Well, you know who got you out of it, Dad," said Randolph.

"I guess I do. Snipe and Sandy Linton."

"Sandy was the main guy. Dad. It was his notion to fix the engine and the water butt. And it was he had the notion of fixing those dummies in the house which diddled Dade.

"A right good lad. I reckon he's saved me a million, Randolph."

"And he and his family are mighty near starving. They're down to cutting wood for a living, and now they've lost their boat they can't even do that."

"I guess they won't have to do that any more, son. You leave it to me. I'll fix it."

Next day, just after twelve, the Magnolia ran safely into Tampa. Making enquiries, Mr. Winthrop found that the express for the north did not leave until six. He spoke to Randolph. "You stay aboard with Sandy. I want Snipe along with me."

At five he was back in a fine new cat boat.

"Sandy," he said, "I guess this'll take you and Rastus home. It's a little present from me and Randolph. And see here, take this envelope and give it to your dad, and tell him it's from me and that next time I'm down this way I reckon to meet him and congratulate him on having such a smart son. No, I don't want thanks, my lad. It's little enough after what you've done for me." And with a quick shake of Sandy's hand he was gone.

Sandy and Rastus arrived home twenty-four hours later, and proceeded to unload a cargo which made the delighted family stare in amazement. There were groceries for six months and every kind of tinned delicacy.

"Oh, I almost forgot this," said Sandy, as he drew out the big envelope and handed it to his father.

Mr. Linton opened it, read the letter which accompanied it, and sat down heavily on the nearest chair.

"What's up, Dad?" cried Sandy, quite alarmed.

"It—it's too much," gasped his father. "This is the title deed to Sevenstones Key. I can't take such a present."

"Well, if you can't I will," said Sandy, his eyes shining.


III. — THE SEA DEVIL

RASTUS came hurrying into the boathouse where Sandy Linton and his sister, Tess, were busy getting fishing tackle into order. "Marse Sandy," he said eagerly. "Dere's a little ship off de island. She's anchored off de Point."

Sandy sprang up, sending a whole hank of fine flying. "A ship!" he exclaimed. "A trading steamer do you mean, Rastus?"

"Dis aren't no tradin' ship," Rastus declared. "She's jest a-winkin' wid bright brass and varnish."

"A yacht," put in Tess, with an eager expression in her big brown eyes. "It's some rich Northerner's yacht."

"But what would a yacht be doing at Sevenstones Key?" asked Sandy doubtfully. "If it were a fruit schooner I could understand, but a yacht. There's nothing to bring a yacht over here."

"She's come across from Tampa or Key West, I expect," said Tess. "Some millionaire cruising, as Rastus says. But let's go out and look at her. Loose the painter, Rastus. I'll get the oars."

The boat was a flat-bottomed, home-made affair, rough, but very strong and sturdy, as was needed for fishing among the coral reefs which surrounded Sevenstones Key. They all three got in, and with Rastus and Sandy pulling and Tess steering, drove quickly out into the little land-locked bay. Though it was still quite early in the morning, the sun blazed down on the intensely blue sea, and the heat was great. The water was like green glass and, looking down, one could see the brilliant colours of the coral at the bottom and shoals of rainbow-hued fish swimming among them. Tess and Sandy had seen it every day of their lives during the four years since their father had been settled on Sevenstones Key, and to them the newly-arrived yacht was the centre of interest.

"There she is!" exclaimed Tess, as the boat shot around the low headland. "I see her! And Rastus is right. She is a yacht. Oh, look how bright and smart she is!"

The others stopped pulling and the boat drifted idly as they all three stared at the newly-arrived vessel. She was not large, being perhaps forty tons burden, but neither Tess nor Sandy had ever seen anything to match her for smartness. As Rastus had said, she fairly winked with the reflections from her bright new paint and varnish and her highly polished brass.

"Yawl-rigged," said Sandy. "And a jolly fine motor engine, by the look of her. But what is she doing out there? Why don't she come into the Bay?"

"I guess dey's afraid ob de reefs," replied Rastus. "Dere ain't no charts ob dese here waters. Anyways, she's safe 'nuff whar she be so long as it don't come to blow from de north."

"There's no wind coming to-day," said Sandy, confidently.

Tess broke in. "They're launching a boat. Oh, I believe they are coming ashore. What fun!"

"Yes, they're coming ashore, all right," agreed Sandy. "I'm glad. Mum and Dad will be frightfully pleased to see some decent white people."

"I wonder if there are any girls aboard," exclaimed Tess. "Do you know, Sandy, I haven't seen a girl since two years ago, when Dad took us on that trip to Key West."

"I can't see any," said Sandy soberly. "There are three men in that boat. Two look like yacht hands and the third—I expect he's the owner, for he's dressed in white ducks and sitting in the stern."

"Yes, that must be the owner," agreed Tess. "Oh, isn't he smart? White ducks and a Panama hat. Makes me feel like a rag bag," she added, with a rueful glance at her short, stained, khaki skirt, bare brown legs and sand shoes.

Rastus was silent for a few moments, while they watched the moving boat, then he spoke. "Say, what makes dem go dat way?" he asked uneasily. "Why don't dey pull straight in?"

"They don't know the channel," said Sandy quickly. "They are going by the colour of the water. I say—if they keep on the way they're going they'll run straight into the Coral Pit."

"And dat's jest exactly what dey's gwine to do," said Rastus sharply.

The words were hardly out of his mouth before Sandy was dipping his oar blades. "Pull, Rastus!" he cried. "Pull like blazes. Great goodness, but that boat won't last long if the Sea Devil tackles her."

Tess went rather white. "You think he's still there, Sandy?" she asked.

"I don't think, Tess—I know. Rastus and I saw him last night. Heard him, too, didn't we, Rastus?"

"We sure did," answered the negro. "And looking bigger and more debbelish dan ebber, Missie."

"And will he attack?" demanded Tess nervously.

"Suah ting he will, Missie. Old debbil, he don't like nuffin' passing over de Coral Pit. I guess he thinks he owns dat great deep hole."

"Then pull—pull quickly," cried Tess, "for if he does attack, I don't see how we can help them."

Sandy and Rastus pulled as hard as they could but the tide was against them and their boat heavy and clumsy. Tess got up and shouted at the top of her voice, but the roar of the swell breaking on the coral drowned her voice, and the people in the yacht's boat did not hear.

The mistake made by the yacht's boat was quite a natural one. There were two channels which appeared to lead into the well-sheltered harbour of Sevenstones, but the right one, though deep, was narrow; the other was at first much wider, but led not into the harbour itself, but into a curious deep pit, a sort of quarry in the sea bed. This hole, called the Coral Pit, was almost completely surrounded by reefs and was the home of the hideous brute which Rastus had called the Sea Devil. There are few fish that will attack a swimming man, and fewer still that will tackle a boat. Among these few exceptions is the great sting ray.

Imagine a creature the size of a drawing-room carpet, a foot or so thick and weighing a ton or more. Put a head at one corner and a tail at the other. Arm the head with a mouth big enough to hold a fourteen-year-old boy, and the whip-like tail, with a barb-like sting soaked in deadly poison. Endue this brute with the appetite of a wolf and the cunning of a fox. Then you will get some notion, but only a faint one, of this terror of the tropical seas.

"Pull!" cried Tess. "Oh, pull! They're almost over the pit." Sandy and Rastus pulled till their muscles cracked and the sweat poured down their faces, and Tess, standing up in the stern sheets, shrieked at the top of her voice. The smartly-dressed man, who was steering the smart dinghy, saw her and waved in return. But to Tess's horror and dismay, he still kept on his course.

"Don't yo' worry, Missie," said old Rastus hoarsely. "Dat debbil beast he's likely asleep at de bottom. Den he won't hurt dem folk." The words were hardly out of his mouth before the smooth water broke near the dinghy and a great dark shape showed black against the sun-lit blue. Next moment the dinghy stopped short as though she had hit a reef, and her head slewed round.

"He's underneath. He'll have her over." screamed Tess. She cupped her hands to her mouth. "Get to the reef!" she shrieked. "It's your only chance."

They heard her, and as the dinghy righted, her crew swung her round and pulled desperately towards a mushroom-shaped coral head which lay to the left of the channel and was still a couple of feet above the slowly rising tide. Balked in his first rush, the Sea Devil had gone below again. At any rate, he was out of sight for the moment. Before he reappeared the dinghy had gained the coral head.

"Get behind it!" cried Tess, at the pitch of her voice. "He's coming again."

As the dinghy shot in behind the rock the monster showed again, flinging his hideous head, with its great prominent eyes, quite clear of the water. But the rock was now between him and the dinghy. He could not see his prey, so dived again.

"Get on to the rock," urged Tess. She was close enough now to be easily heard, and the smart steersman nodded.

"Thank you, little lady," he said, then spoke to his men. "Jake, you and Abe get on the rock quick." They sprang out in a hurry and he followed them. They were barely safe before the water boiled again, a great shape rose bird-like out of the sea, and fell upon the dinghy with a splintering crash. The boat, driven down under the monstrous weight, vanished in an instant. "Gee! but that's some fish!" exclaimed the yachtsman. "Watch out, you folk! He'll tackle you next thing."

"Ah got some medicine fo' him next time he comes," answered Rastus, as he drew a six-foot lance from its rests under the thwarts. Sandy coolly followed his example and stood up, armed with a second lance.

"But the lady!" cried the yachtsman anxiously. "Can't you put her on the rock first?"

"She's as safe in the boat," Sandy told him. "You'd better keep your eyes open in case the devil takes it into his head to jump you."

"Gosh! he wouldn't do that!" gasped the yachtsman. Before Sandy could answer, the great ray that had been worrying the remains of the dinghy under water came up again.

"Watch out, Marse Sandy!" shouted Rastus, and drove the iron with all his force at the vast black shadow rising beneath the boat. The keen steel bit deep into the monster's back, and all that had gone before was play to what happened now. In an instant the harpoon was wrenched out of Rastus's hands and the brute, raising himself clear of the water, drove at Rastus with its great mouth agape. But Sandy was ready, and the bright head of the harpoon flashed in the sun as he drove it home between the ray's bulging eyes. This saved Rastus, but the beast's head struck the boat as it fell back, and tilted it so that it was within an ace of upsetting. As it was, there were six inches of water surging in the bottom. The ray slid back under water, and as Sandy managed to draw his lance clear a flood of crimson dyed the clear sea. Without a word Tess set to baling out the boat.

"Gee, but that was fine," cried the yachtsman. "I guess that finished him all right."

"Don't flatter yourself," said Sandy briefly. "Takes more than that to kill a Sea Devil. And you watch out. He's probably cross now, and just as likely to tackle you as us."

"I sees him," suddenly cried the yacht hand named Jake, and as he spoke the creature rose again and made a furious rush at the Lintons' boat. He went for the stern, and seizing the gunwale in his mouth, tried to drag the craft down. The timber crunched under his great teeth.

Tess was in Sandy's way, and before he could pass her the boat was almost under water. Sandy, still perfectly cool, took deliberate aim and drove his lance clean between the creature's jaws and deep into his throat. The brute's jaws closed, snapping the stout hickory shaft like a carrot, and leaving Sandy weaponless.

But now the stranger took a hand, and pulling out a pistol, set to firing rapidly. At such close range, each bullet tore right through the ray's gristly body, but still he clung on, and the boat was sinking. Rastus snatched up the boat hook and struck with all his force at the ray's head. But it was not until he had knocked out both its eyes that the hideous thing let go. The boat was nearly full, but the man Jake managed to get hold of her bow, then he and the two others dragged her up to the rock. Sandy swung Tess out and leaped after her. The ray, blinded and bleeding, sank to the bottom.

"The warmest five minutes I ever knew," said the stranger. "Say, is that a sample of the pet fish you keep around here?"

"No," said Sandy. "There's only one like that. We were trying to warn you not to poach on his preserves. Now, we'd best get back, for the devil isn't dead yet, and if he can't see he can hear. Bale the boat quick as you can and let's get back in the channel."

Between them they very quickly cleared the boat of water and all got in. Tess steered them right over the coral, and it was lucky for all that she took the chances, for they were barely fifty yards from the rock when the ray rose again. He broached clear of the sea, rising like a leaping tarpon, then fell again with a crash like a cannon shot. As they all watched in awe, he started swimming round and round on the surface at a prodigious pace, while at the same time his long tail, armed with its fearful barbed spine, lashed from side to side.

"Ah guess he's in his death flurry," said Rastus, but the yachtsman shuddered.

"I'm mighty glad I'm not in the way of it," he remarked. "I'd sooner tackle a man-eating tiger than a thing like that any day." He paused. "He's down," he added. "I reckon that's the end of him. And I'd like to say right now that I'm real obliged to you folk for taking the chances you did in coming to our help."

Sandy looked at the stranger. It was the first time he had had a chance to size him up. The latter was rather a small man, but well put together. He had a swarthy skin, crisp black hair, good features, and as keen a pair of gray-green eyes as ever were seen in a man's head. Over the left eye was a small mole, bright red in colour. He was very well dressed, his manners were good and though he spoke with a strong American accent, was evidently well educated.

"I'm glad we were in sight of you," said Sandy quietly, and Tess laughed. "We were coming out to have a look at you," she added frankly.

"I'm flattered," said the stranger. "But I guess you don't see a lot of folk around these islands. Say, I'd better introduce myself. My name is Godfrey Gilson, and I'm owner of the Moonbeam there. I'm just cruising round, having a bit of a holiday after a long spell of hard work."

Sandy bowed. "Our name is Linton," he answered. "I'm Sandy and this is my sister, Theresa, generally known as Tess. My father will be glad to see you, and I hope you'll come to breakfast."

"I guess I'll be real glad of some breakfast," smiled Gilson. "Fighting sea devils is a mighty good way of getting an appetite."

Breakfast was served on the verandah of the pretty little frame house which the Lintons had built, and Gilson was full of praise for the grilled pompano, the home-made marmalade and the delicious oranges, grapefruit and custard apples, which were piled in great dishes in the centre of the table. "You sure grow fine fruit, Mr. Linton," he said. "Where do you market it?"

"That's our trouble," replied Mr. Linton. "I mean getting our fruit to market. We have nothing but a cat boat to take it across to Key West, and the fruit steamers don't call here. Half my fruit spoils, taking it over in the sail-boat, and sometimes the weather stops us from sending any at all."

Gilson nodded. "What you want is a motor craft."

"That's it," said Mr. Linton, eagerly. "Unfortunately, I can't afford it."

"Too bad," said Gilson, with sympathy, and began to talk of something else.

After breakfast the two sailors pulled back to the yacht to fetch their second dinghy, and Sandy and Tess went with them. But Gilson stayed ashore talking to Mr. Linton and did not go back to the Moonbeam until quite late in the day. Sandy and Tess noticed that their father was oddly excited, and after supper they found out the truth from their mother.

"Mr. Gilson has offered to lend your father money to buy a first-class motor schooner," she told them. "And he has accepted, and your father is going off with him to-morrow to Key West to get the new boat."


IV. — THE COMING OF CRAB

MR. LINTON had been gone quite ten days when Sandy and Tess, digging clams on a beach at the back of the island one morning, again saw a boat anchored close to the shore. But this was a very different craft from Gilson's smart Moonbeam. She was a rough old cat boat, with ragged-looking rigging and hardly a lick of paint left on her.

Sandy pulled Tess down behind a rock. "Don't let them see us," he said quickly. "There's something fishy about this."

Tess lay still a while, gazing at the new arrival. The crew of the cat boat appeared to consist of two men only, both quite young. They were dressed in faded dungaree trousers and singlets. Their arms and faces were burned almost black, and they certainly looked pretty rough customers. Presently they got into their boat, which was towing astern, and one, the taller, took the oars and began to row. They pulled in and out among the reefs which on this side of the key were thick and dangerous. After a bit they stopped and the one in the stern took up a thing like the section of a barrel or a shallow tub, and putting it over the side, pressed it against the surface of the sea.

"It's a water glass," said Sandy quickly to Tess; "they're looking for something."

"Then I know what it is," Tess answered quickly. "Tell you what, Sandy, it's the galleon."

Sandy whistled softly. "I expect you're right, Tess. But how in the name of goodness do they know anything about it? Dad heard about it ages ago from old Captain Crowther."

"And very likely they heard from him too. He's a regular old gossip," returned Tess.

"Well, they won't find it there," said Sandy decidedly, "for we've hunted every reef around this side of the island."

Tess did not answer at once. She was watching the men. "The one holding the oars is an Englishman," she said at last.

"How do you know?"

"Oh, just by the look of him. And I'm nearly sure the other's an American."

"We'd better slip back," said Sandy, "and tell Dad." He pulled up short. "Oh, I forgot. He's away."

Tess smiled. "If anyone talks to them we've got to do it," she said. "I think we had better call to them, and tell them they are only wasting their time."

Sandy grunted. "Best leave them alone, I think."

"They are all right, Sandy," said Tess. "I rather like the look of the Englishman."

Sandy seemed doubtful, but he had long ago learned to trust his sister's judgment. "All right," he said. "You stay here and I'll hail them." As he ran down to the water's edge the men in the boat saw him and began to pull straight in.

"Hulloa!" shouted the bigger man cheerily, and the moment Tess heard his voice she felt he was all right, and jumping up, ran after her brother. With powerful strokes, the big man drove the boat ashore. "Why, you're English!" he exclaimed.

"Yes, we're English," said Sandy. "My father owns this island. Our name is Linton."

"I'm jolly glad to meet you," said the other, as he jumped out and grasped Sandy's hand. "My name is Cubbage. Crab Cubbage they call me, and this is my partner, Bud Mazell."

Sandy gasped. Cubbage's grip was like iron, and the man matched the hand. He was one mass of muscle and would have made two of Mazell, who, himself, was a compact, well-built young fellow.

Tess spoke. "You are after the San Pedro," she said quietly.

Crab's eyes widened. "Why—why—so we are, but how do you know?"

"We've been looking for it for years," smiled Tess.

Crab's face fell. "Then it's not much use our trying," he answered.

"I don't know. You might find it," said Tess. "There are simply miles of reefs. We haven't searched them all."

"Then we won't give up just yet," said Crab. "See here. Bud and I will make a bargain. You show us where you've searched, then we'll try the other places. And if we find anything, we'll go halves. What do you say, young lady?"

"I think that is very fair," replied Tess gravely. "Don't you think so, Sandy?"

"Quite fair," agreed Sandy. "And we'll help you all we can. But Mother ought to know about it. Will you come up the house with us, Mr. Cubbage?"

Crab looked down at his clothes, and Bud Mazell laughed. "I guess we're not fit for ladies' society," he said.

"Mum won't mind," said Tess.

"Then we'll come," agreed Crab, "and glad to. But first we'll go back and have a shave and a wash. Will you wait for us?"

"We'll wait," said Sandy, and the others hurried back to their boat.

They hadn't long to wait, and presently the four, now the best of friends, reached the house, where Sandy and Tess introduced the newcomers to their mother. Mrs. Linton was one of those kind, motherly women that all men like, and Crab and Bud and she were soon talking like old friends. She told them about the difficulty in getting their fruit to market and how Mr. Gilson had lent the money to buy a launch, and what great things they hoped for from the new venture.

"It sounds fine," said Crab, "but who is this Mr. Gilson?"

"A rich Northerner here on a yachting trip. He has a beautiful motor yacht, the Moonbeam."

"The Moonbeam," repeated Bud Mazell sharply. "Was she a yawl, about forty feet, and very smart?"

"Yes, do you know her?" said Mrs. Linton in some surprise.

"I guess I do," replied Bud. "And Gilson. Is he a dark chap, slim, rather good looking, with gray-green eyes and a little red mole over the left eye?"

"You have described him exactly," Mrs. Linton replied. "You know him, then?"

Bud hesitated and suddenly looked uncomfortable. "Yes, Mrs. Linton," he said at last. "I've met him. And—and—"

"You don't like him?" put in Mrs. Linton.

"I guess I have good reason not to like him," said Bud. "Last time we met he did me out of a lot of money."

Crab cut in. "You don't mean Slim Worden?" he exclaimed.

"I guess I do," Bud answered. "There don't seem any doubt about it."

"But what does it all mean?" asked Mrs. Linton in dismay.

"It means, ma'am," replied Bud, "that this fellow who calls himself Gilson is really Slim Worden, one of a gang of confidence men who work South in winter." He paused. "Say, Mr. Linton didn't give him any papers in exchange for the loan, did he?"

"Why, yes," Mrs. Linton answered. "My husband gave him a mortgage on the island in return for the loan."

Bud glanced at Crab and there was a dismayed expression on both their faces.

"Do you mean that you believe my husband has been swindled?" questioned Mrs. Linton.

Bud looked very grave. "Knowing Slim as I do, I am afraid there's no doubt about it," he said.

Mrs. Linton wrung her hands. "I have been half afraid of something of the sort. My husband ought to have been home by now. Oh, Mr. Cubbage, what can we do?"

"I will do anything I can, Mrs. Linton," replied Crab quickly. "If you like, Mazell and I will go across to Key West and find out what we can."

At this moment Rastus burst into the room. He was so excited that he forgot even to knock. "Missus, dere's a fine new launch a-coming, and I'm mighty nigh sure it's Massa Linton."

"Dere she be, and ef dat ain't de boss a steering I'll be spiflicated."

"Yes, it's Dad!" exclaimed Sandy gleefully. "I say, Mr. Mazell, you were wrong, for that's Mr. Gilson with Father on the deck." Bud was gazing hard at the launch. There was an odd expression on his weather-beaten face, but he did not speak.

"Come on, Sandy and Tess," said Mrs. Linton, joyfully. "Let us go down to the wharf and meet your father." They reached the landing, just as the launch came alongside. Sandy caught the rope that Gilson flung to him and made fast, and a moment later he had spring aboard.

"Here we are!" cried his father, who was looking very happy. "Had a fine passage, Sandy. Isn't she a beauty, Mother?" he added, as he kissed his wife.

"She looks a fine boat," agreed Mrs. Linton.

"I've kept my promise," said Gilson, and Sandy thought he spoke rather boastfully. "There isn't a finer launch among the Keys than the Tern."

"I am sure we are very much obliged to you, Mr. Gilson," said Mrs. Linton, and turned to her husband. "Did you pay a very big price for her, John?"

"You don't get a launch like this for nothing, Mary," replied her husband. "Still I don't think three thousand dollars was too much, and we shall soon get the money back by the sale of our own fruit. Why I ought to have the whole debt paid off in a year."

"Don't you worry about the debt, Mr. Linton," said Gilson genially. "You pay me the interest and don't worry about the principal. I guess I got a first class gilt-edged investment when I advanced you those few dollars."

"Few dollars you call it!" exclaimed Mr. Linton. "You are too modest, Mr. Gilson. You have put me in the way of making a small fortune, and I am deeply grateful."

"Don't say another word," begged Gilson. He looked up towards the house. "Mrs. Linton, didn't I see two men up on the verandah as we came in, or were my eyes deceiving me?"

"No, Mr. Gilson, you were quite right. They were two young fellows who came here in a cat boat. They are treasure-hunting."

"Who are they?" asked Gilson so sharply that Mrs. Linton looked surprised.

"One is a Mr. Cubbage, an Englishman," she told him; "the other is an American, Mr. Mazell. They are both quite young, and seem nice inoffensive boys."

Gilson frowned. "I hope they are—for your sake. Are they staying with you?"

"No, they are living on their boat, which is on the other side of the island. I see they have gone back to her."

Gilson nodded. "Then I reckon I shan't meet them. My little ship's coming right along to fetch me. I got to be back at Key West to-morrow. My business partner from New York is coming down."

"Oh, but surely you will stay the night with us," exclaimed Mrs. Linton.

"Can't be done, Ma'am," smiled Gilson. "I'd like to, mighty well, but business is business. I'll just come up and have a bite with you, then I guess I'll be moving."

Sandy and Tess had heard nothing of this talk, for they were busy examining the launch. "She's a topper, Tess," said Sandy. "Heaps of room for cargo. Jolly fine engine and stout build; so she'll stand lots of weather. If you ask me, Dad's made a good buy. Come on and we shall hear all about it."

They heard a good deal, for Gilson talked of nothing but the launch and how it was going to pay. "You'll load up at once, I suppose, Linton?" he said.

"Yes, I shall be off as soon as ever I can get a cargo packed," replied Mr. Linton.

"How long will that take you?" asked Gilson.

"Three or four days. All hands will help. I wish you were going to stay to see it."

"I wish I could," said Gilson, "but I sure like this island of yours, and I'd ask nothing better than to put in a week and give you a hand, but business is business, and my holiday is at an end. The Moonbeam ought to be here mighty soon, then I must get off at once."

Sandy pointed through the window. "Here she is now!" he exclaimed. "Just coming into the harbour."

Gilson got up. "Then I guess I'll be moving," he said. "Good-bye, Mrs. Linton, I hope I'll meet you again some time."

They all went down to see him off, and a few minutes later the yawl was moving swiftly out of the harbour. Mr. Linton turned to his wife.

"And now we've got to get to work, Mary," he said. "There are tons of fruit ripe and ready. I want to get a cargo off at once, and I only wish I had a couple of good hands to help us."

Sandy spoke up. "Crab and Bud will help, if we asked them."

Mr. Linton frowned. "You mean those two ruffians who have been running down Gilson?"

"They're not ruffians, Father," returned Sandy, indignantly. "They're awfully nice chaps."

"They are very pleasant young men, John," Mrs. Linton assured her husband. "They have been most kind and helpful."

"That was just in order to throw dust in your eyes, Mary," said Mr. Linton curtly. "I have heard how they slandered poor Gilson, calling him a confidence man."

"It was all a mistake," said Mrs. Linton quickly. "It was only that the description we gave of him corresponded with that of a man who had swindled Mr. Mazell. They had not seen him then."

Mr. Linton still frowned. "We don't want to have anything to do with them," he declared. "I shall tell them to go."

"Oh, you can't do that, Dad," cried Tess. "They are after the treasure of the San Pedro, and they promised to go halves with us if they find it."

"Bah, that silly old legend!" said her father, scornfully. "It's all an excuse. I shall see them later and order them off."

Sandy and Tess were left gazing at one another in dismay. "Dad means it," said Tess shakily. "He is going to order them off."

"I'm afraid he is," agreed Sandy, looking very upset. "And the worst of it is I don't see what we can do about it."

"We can warn them," said Tess, quickly.

"What's the good of that?" demanded Sandy. "That won't stop Dad from telling them to go."

"No, but it gives them a chance to explain," said Tess. "Don't you see, Sandy, that if Dad goes to them in a rage and orders them off they will both be very angry, and then there is sure to be a row. But if they are warned, and made to understand what sort of bee Dad has in his bonnet, why then they may explain quietly and it will be all right."

Sandy nodded. "It's not half a bad idea, Tess. Anyhow it's worth trying. Come on, then."

"Wait a minute, Sandy. We don't know where they are, and we don't want to row miles through the reefs, looking for them. Hadn't we better go up the Mound. We ought to be able to see them from the top."

"All right," said Sandy. "I'll race you to the top."

Barring the rocks which gave the island its name, the Mound was the only bit of rising ground on Sevenstones Key. Even so it was only about twenty feet high, a long narrow eminence covered thickly with brush. Mr. Linton had the idea that it was the grave of some old Indian chief, and Sandy and Tess had meant to dig and see what was inside. But the saw palmetto roots that covered it were so thick and tough that it would almost have taken dynamite to break them loose.

Sandy and Tess were both dripping by the time they reached the top, for the heat was simply terrific. Tess was the first to spot the cat boat.

"There she is," she exclaimed. "Not far out, either. See—just the other side of Tiger Reef."

"I see," said Sandy. "All the same, we'd better hurry. Looks as if a storm was brewing. Still, I think we can reach them before it breaks."


V. — THE WATER SPOUT

THE heat was simply stifling as the brother and sister got into their boat and started pulling. Not a breath of air moved and the sea was like dull glass. The only thing that moved was the cloud. Thunder clouds in the tropics are usually blue-black with a white edge, but this cloud had a nasty yellowish hue. It was also a very queer shape, for one end of it hung down towards the sea as if it was loose. The oddest thing about it was that there was neither lightning nor thunder.

But Sandy and Tess were not watching the cloud, for since they were pulling towards it they had their backs to it. And as they were in a hurry they did not look round. They were about half-way to Tiger Reef when a strange roaring sound made Sandy glance round over his shoulder, and what he saw startled him, so that he stopped rowing.

"What's the matter?" demanded Tess.

"Matter! It's a water spout, I believe," gasped Sandy. "And—and it's coming straight for the island."

Tess stopped rowing and looked at the cloud. It was a horrible sight. The hanging end had now joined up with the sea, and the sea was rising to meet the cloud. The result was something that looked like a monstrous hour-glass, broad at the top and bottom, narrow in the middle. It seemed to be a mile high, and round the foot of it the sea boiled horribly, making the roaring noise that had attracted Sandy's attention.

"You are right, Sandy," said Tess, in a terrified voice. "It is coming straight for the island. Oh, what shall we do?"

Before Sandy could answer there came a shout from somewhere near by.

"Get back to the island. Sandy—Tess—get back as quick as you can." The voice was that of Crab Cubbage, and looking round they saw him and Bud coming up for all they were worth in their dinghy. Without a word Sandy pulled the bow of the boat round and he and Tess rowed hard for the shore. But Crab and Bud still pulled seawards.

"What are they doing?" gasped Sandy. "They must be crazy. Crab," he shouted, "come back!"

"It's all right," answered Crab. "We know what we are about. You and Tess get to the shore as quick as you can."

"They're crazy," groaned Sandy, as he gazed with horrified eyes at the water spout. Anything more terrible, yet at the same time more majestic, could hardly be imagined. It was like a whirlwind made of water, which reached from the sea to the sky, and spinning like a vast wheel bore down upon the island with a dreadful roaring. Around its head lightning flickered, and at its foot the sea foamed white as snow.

In spite of Crab's orders, Sandy stopped rowing and sat staring at the horror. "They're crazy, Tess," he repeated, in utter distress. "They'll both be killed. Oh, what are they doing?"

"I can't imagine," Tess answered. She had to shout to make herself heard. "But Crab knows what he is about. He must have some plan in his head. Yes, look! He's stopping by the reef."

Sure enough, Crab and Bud had pulled alongside a great bar of spiky coral rock which rose above the surface, and Crab had jumped out. He turned to Sandy and made a trumpet of his hands.

"Get to the beach, Sandy!" he bellowed, his voice rising even above the thunder of the great spout. "Get to the beach, you idiot, or I'll hammer the stuffing out of you."

Sandy took to the oars again, and a few strokes brought them to the beach. He and Tess jumped out and pulled the boat up. There they stood, side by side, their eyes fixed upon the awful cloud which came steadily towards the island.

"Sandy," said Tess, "if it hits the island it will flood the whole place."

"It'll do more than that," said Sandy grimly. "It will wash the house and everything else into the sea. But it will hit Crab and Bud first."

"If it reaches them," replied Tess quickly.

"It's bound to reach them. It's making straight for them," Sandy said despairingly. "Are they quite mad, Tess?"

"They're not mad at all," replied Tess, her bright little face lighting up suddenly. "I see now what they are doing."

"More than I do," muttered Sandy.

"They're trying to smash it," exclaimed Tess. "That's dynamite they're setting. Yes, that's it. I'm almost sure."

"Dynamite," repeated Sandy dully. Then all of a sudden a look of understanding flashed into his eyes. "Yes, I see. A stick of dynamite and a slow match. That's the notion. They're trying to break the spout with the explosion. But will it work?"

Tess did not answer, for her whole attention was fixed upon Crab, who was now scrambling rapidly back into the boat. The moment he was in Bud pushed off and both set to pulling furiously for the shore. It was time, too, for the spout was terribly near. So close was it that the boat tossed in the short steep waves around its great base, and Sandy and Tess held their breath in sheer terror of the disaster which seemed certain to overwhelm their friends.

In hands less capable than those of Crab and Bud their boat could never have lived, for she was tossed like a bubble in the seething foam. But Crab pulled with the strength of a giant, and he and Bud between them held her straight for the shore. Now the vast spout was almost touching the reef, and next instant the low-lying rock vanished in the dark whirl of roaring waters.

Crab and Bud were pulling fiercely towards the beach, but the spout had now covered the reef and was steadily pursuing them. Like some vast, remorseless spectre it drove straight towards the island, and Sandy felt certain that it was only a matter of a few moments before he and Tess and everything on the beautiful little Key would be smashed under thousands of tons of water falling like a cataract from the sky.

Then came Crab's huge voice again. "Sandy, get back up the beach. Tess, run for your life." Next instant he and Bud had driven their boat ashore and the two rushed together at the youngsters and seizing them dragged them roughly up across the sand. They had gone but a few yards before the roar of the spout was cut by a splitting crack. Then all that had gone before was child's play to what followed. For the giant spout, broken by the explosion of the dynamite, came crashing downwards, thousands of tons of water falling in a solid mass into the sea.

A huge wave came rolling inwards. It caught the fugitives and flung them forwards. Alone Sandy and Tess would have been helpless, but Crab held Tess, and Bud kept a powerful hold on Sandy. For the next few moments it was one desperate struggle for life in a thunder of seething, salt foam. First they were rushed up to the very upper edge of the beach and beyond it, then came the back wash, dragging them out again to sea.

"Dig your fingers in. Hold on!" Sandy heard Bud mutter hoarsely in his ear. He obeyed, driving his fingers and toes into the sand with all his strength, while the water rushed back, tearing at them both with fearful force. He was dazed, bewildered and half drowned, when at last he was left high and dry and heard Bud say, "It's all right, Sandy. Get up if you can."

He struggled up. "Where's Tess?" were his first words. A drenched little figure rose before him.

"I'm all right, Sandy," answered his sister, "but if it hadn't been for Crab I should have been drowned for a certainty."

Just then his father came running up. He was fairly shaking and his face white as a sheet. "I saw it all," he said hoarsely. "Mr. Cubbage, I can't thank you enough for saving my little girl."

"He didn't only save us, Dad. He and Bud saved the whole island," put in Sandy quickly. "They burst the spout with dynamite and jolly nearly got finished themselves in doing it."

Tess cut in. "Dad, you'll let them stay now, won't you?" she begged.

"I shall be proud to have them on the island for so long as they care to stay," said Mr. Linton. "And if they will have supper with us this evening we may get better acquainted."

Crab smiled, and for a rather ugly young man Crab Cubbage had the pleasantest smile imaginable. "We shall be very glad to come, sir," he said.

They came and Mr. Linton and they got on amazingly. Before the evening was over he had told them of all his hopes for getting his first crop marketed and Crab and Bud had promised to give a hand with the picking and packing.

Work began early the following morning and went on at a wonderful pace. Bud knew quite a lot about the job, having worked in a fruit packing house at Tampa, while Crab's great strength made him an ideal hand for moving the packed cases down to the launch.

"Say!" said Bud as he looked at shelves stacked with golden oranges. "I don't reckon I ever saw the beat of these. You ought to make good money out of them, Mr. Linton."

"I certainly ought to," said Mr. Linton, with a happy smile. "There's a thousand dollars' worth packed all ready, and I'm hoping to get two loads more before the season is over. I'll pay for the launch this season, and next year it will be all clear profit. Beats that treasure of yours, boys," he added with a chuckle. "You'd better give over the search and settle down here to help me with the grove."

"I guess you're pretty near right, sir," answered Bud, grinning. "All the same Crab and I will do a bit of treasure hunting in our spare time. We know the old galleon was wrecked somewhere round this island."

One day more saw the packing finished and the launch loaded. Next morning Mr. Linton and Rastus were to start for Key West. That night they had an early supper and went to bed in good time, for the start was to be made soon after dawn.

Sandy had pounded a finger in nailing up a case, and though the injury was not serious it was painful. His mother put a poultice on it, and Sandy managed to get to sleep, but after a couple of hours, when the poultice had cooled off, the finger began to throb again, and the pain woke Sandy up. He lay tossing for some time, then feeling feverish and thirsty, got out of bed and went down stairs to get a drink of water from the cooler which hung under the verandah. The night was fine, but there was no moon. Still it was not quite dark, for down here on the edge of the tropics the stars give more light than they ever do in England.

Sandy stood sipping the clear, cold water, when a slight sound attracted his attention. It came from the direction of the landing and it seemed to him that it was something more than the faint splash of the waves on the beach. He stood listening keenly, and presently became convinced that he was right and that the sound was caused by something quite unusual. Forgetting all about his aching hand, he laid down his glass and, barefooted as he was, ran down between the double row of lime trees towards the beach.

The distance from the house to the landing was no more than three hundred yards, but it was not until Sandy got clear of the fruit trees growing in front of the house that he could get a sight of the little wharf. Then he pulled up short, staring, hardly able to believe his eyes. For the launch was no longer where they had left her, safely fastened to the wharf. She was moving slowly and noiselessly out to sea and was already a couple of hundred yards from the shore.

Sandy spun round, and ran frantically back to the house.

"Dad!" he shouted. "Dad! Come quick. Some one is stealing the launch."


VI. — THE CHASE

"HULLOA!" came a big voice. "That you, Sandy? What's the matter?"

"The launch," panted Sandy. "The launch. Some one has stolen her."

"Stolen her! You mean she's gone adrift?" Crab answered sharply.

"Adrift," repeated Sandy. "Not much! Anyhow, the engine is going."

"The Dickens it is! All right. I'll be down in a shake. You wake Bud, then follow me to the landing. Don't worry your father. He's dead tired and sound asleep."

"All right, but do be quick," begged Sandy. "We shall never catch her if we aren't quick."

Sandy was already running for the packing house. Crab had a room in the house, but Bud was sleeping over the packing house. Bud had heard Sandy shouting, and was already out of bed.

"Bagged the launch," he repeated. "That's Gilson for a dollar. Right you are, Sandy, I'll be along in two twos. Go aboard the cat boat and start getting sail up."

Sandy rushed off. Quick as he was, Crab and Bud were as quick, for he had hardly reached the landing before they were with him.

"They didn't take the cat boat, Bud," said Crab. "That's one good job, anyhow."

"Guess they didn't think it was worth while," replied Bud. "Anyway I don't quite see where we come in. No engines and next to no wind."

"There's not a lot of wind," agreed Crab briefly, as he climbed aboard. "But I think there'll be more soon. Up with that sail!"

"Hulloa, what's the matter? Where's the launch?" came a shout from the landing.

"Stolen, Mr. Linton," replied Crab briefly; "but don't worry. Bud and I will get her back."

"Wait, let me come with you," cried Sandy's father. "Better not," said Crab. "Three's enough. Any way there's no time to waste if we want to catch them. Expect us when you see us," he added, as he took the tiller.

What little breeze there was came off the land, but it was very light, barely enough to give the cat boat steerage way. And the launch was already a mere black blot in the distance, under the stars.

"We shall never catch her," groaned Sandy. "And Dad will be simply out of his mind."

"Sit tight, young 'un," advised Crab kindly. "I'll allow it's a bad business, but I'm fairly sure we'll get more wind soon. Look at that haze to westward. And if we do get a bit of a breeze we'll soon overhaul the launch."

"But they'll run up into it," objected Sandy. "Then where shall we be?"

"It all depends on how hard it blows," replied Crab. He turned to Bud. "I say, Bud, do you suppose this is Gilson's doing?"

"I'll lay my last dollar it is," Bud answered. "What riles me is to think I never foresaw what he would do."

"But I don't understand," said Sandy. "After all, we saved his life from that Sea Devil."

Bud's lip curled. "I know you did. But if you think that would cut any ice with a swab like that, you're clean off it, Sandy. Slim Worden and his crowd are out for dollars, and a little thing like saving his life don't mean a thing to him. Gee, I wish you and Tess had left him to the sea beast. We'd have all been a sight better off."

Sandy shook his head. "Even now I don't get the hang of it," he said. "Why did this chap take all the trouble to buy the launch for Dad if he was just going to steal it away! I shouldn't have thought one load of fruit would have been enough to pay him for all that bother."

Crab nodded. "You've hit it in once, Sandy. Yes, there's something else behind it all."

"You bet there is," said Bud. "I'll lay anything that when we come up with the launch we won't find Slim aboard her."

"Why not?" asked Crab bluntly.

"Plain enough, I guess. It's the money that Mr. Linton borrowed to buy the launch that Slim is after. He'll swear black and blue that he never had a thing to do with running off with the launch."

Crab whistled softly as he took a haul on the sheet. "You've hit it, Bud. That's the little game. He sells the launch, steals it back, then asks for the money."

"But Dad can't pay," exclaimed Sandy.

"Not in cash," allowed Crab.

"Then how?"

"Don't forget he owns Sevenstones," said Crab slowly.

Sandy looked horrified. "You mean that if Dad can't pay cash this pig of a fellow will take the island?"

"That's about the size of it," replied Crab. "Your notion, too, isn't it, Bud?"

"It sure is," said Bud. "But don't get the wind up, Sandy. I guess Slim ain't out of the wood just yet. The breeze is freshening, just as Crab said it would."

The breeze was freshening. As they left the lee of the island a good puff filled the big mainsail of the cat boat, she lay over and began to move through the water in splendid fashion.

"We're gaining," cried Sandy in sudden excitement.

"Yes, a bit," agreed Crab, as he stared at the dark blob which was the launch. "I say, they're changing course aren't they?"

"About time, too, from their point of view," Bud answered. "We're picking 'em up hand over fist."

"Not so dusty," said Bud. "With all that fruit aboard the launch is a bit loggy. She won't make more than four or five knots, heading into the wind."

Crab grunted. "Wonder how many they've got aboard?" he said slowly.

"Give me the night glasses, Sandy," said Bud; and when he had them he focused them carefully. "Only two on deck, so far as I can see," he answered presently.

"And possibly a couple more below," remarked Crab thoughtfully.

"I guess so," agreed Bud. "And thugs, every one of 'em."

"Armed, I take it?" said Crab.

"You bet your sweet life they're armed. Slim's crowd are queer men."

"Got your shooter?" asked Crab.

Bud nodded and produced a .32 Smith and Wesson, with a five inch barrel. "Mighty good little gun," he said.

"For those that can use it," replied Crab. "But give me a spanner or a stick."

A gust, harder than any yet, came hissing across the sea and Crab, who was steering, was forced to throw the cat boat up into it. "Time to reef," he said briefly. "Take the tiller, Sandy."

The speed with which he and Bud put in the reef was wonderful, and in a very short time the cat boat was again racing after the launch. The people in the launch were driving her dead into the eye of the wind, but as it was now blowing really stiffly her progress was slow. Even so she kept her lead, for the cat boat had to tack constantly, and handy as she was, she lost a bit at every turn.

"Looks to me like an all-night job, Bud," said Crab after a time. "Have we got any food or water aboard?"

"We've got water, but precious little to eat," Bud answered. "Never mind, though. There'll be plenty in the launch. We put the stores aboard her last night."

Crab nodded. "That's the way to talk," he said briefly, and for a while no one spoke.

It was Sandy who broke the silence. "Something up with the launch," he said sharply, as he pointed. Crab leaned forward, staring across at the launch. He nodded.

"You're right. She's stopped, or nearly stopped. Some engine trouble, I suppose. Looks like this was our chance, Bud."

"I don't reckon we'll get a better one," replied Bud dryly, as he took his pistol from his pocket and opening the breech began to push cartridges into the cylinder.

Crab nodded. "Take the tiller, Sandy," he said. "Run us right alongside, but if any shooting starts duck right down. You get me?"

"Yes," said Sandy simply, as he slipped into Crab's place. Crab stooped, picked up a knob-headed club, and next moment the cat boat's bow thumped against the side of the launch. Not a word came from the two men in the launch's cockpit, and next instant Crab and Bud had leaped across and were upon them.

Then—it all happened in a flash—the deck of the launch was alive with men. Sandy saw no fewer than seven, five of whom seemed to appear by magic. They were big, burly fellows and in an instant they had closed around Crab and Bud. Bud, struck over the head with something that looked like a sandbag, went down at once, but Crab turned and fought like a fury. Two of his assailants went spinning, but two more clung to him so closely that he could not hit them.

For a moment Sandy sat still, paralysed by the unexpected suddenness of the attack, then forgetting everything else in his anxiety to help Crab, he snatched up a stretcher and made a flying leap out of the cat boat on to the launch.

For a youngster Sandy was no chicken, and his muscles were tough with days of hard rowing and outdoor work. Down came his stretcher on the head of the nearest pirate with such a hearty crack that the gentleman dropped like a stone. Then he sprang at one of the two who were trying to drag down Crab.

"Watch out, Ike!" he heard one of the others shout, and the man turned in the nick of time. Sandy hit out with all his might but the fellow ducked and the stretcher glanced off his shoulder instead of getting him on the head.

"Ye would, would yer?" snarled the man, and before Sandy could get clear, a blow sent him reeling, nearly knocking him overboard.

But this gave Crab a chance, and turning on the second man who held him he caught him by the throat, tore him loose and flung him against the deck house with a force that stunned him; then swung up his stick and tackled a third who came at him, head down. If Crab's blow had got home this fellow would have been down and out, and the whole course of events might have been altered. But by this time the launch, with no one at the helm, had fallen off into the trough of the waves and was rolling horribly. The swing of her upset Crab's balance and his stick, instead of hitting the man, struck the coaming of the cockpit. Crab had put all his strength into the blow and the force of it on unyielding wood jarred his arm so badly that for the moment it was useless. His assailant locked his arms round Crab's waist, and at the same moment another fellow caught him about the knees from behind with the result that Crab went over backwards. His whole weight came on the man behind, and flattened him out, but the other came on top of him. Crab jabbed him in the face with his left fist, but the fellow hung on, yelling for help, and before Crab could hit him again two more were on top of him.

Even then, with the odds three to one, they could hardly hold him. Sandy, still half dazed, saw the tremendous struggle going on, and struggled to his feet; he meant to have a second try to help out his pal, but his stretcher had vanished and he knew he could do no good without a weapon of some sort. He saw it lying in the stern and made for it, but before he could reach it the end came. Three of the launch's crew had been knocked out, three were struggling with Crab, but there was still a seventh, a mean-looking half-breed, with a fierce yellow face. All this time he had been dodging round in the background, taking no part in the struggle. But now he saw his chance. Picking up the sandbag, the same with which Bud had been outed, he slipped round behind the others and, seizing his chance, brought the ugly weapon down on Crab's head. Crab's great body straightened out and went limp, and the yellow-faced man chuckled with ugly glee.

It was the last sound he made for some time, for Sandy, boiling with fury, reached him and down came the stretcher with a crack that sounded like the splitting of a log. The yellow man dropped like one dead, and Sandy flung himself desperately at the next. It was no good. A swinging kick knocked his legs from under him and he went down stunned and helpless into the bottom of the cockpit.


VII. — MAROONED

IT was a groan that roused Sandy from a sort of sleep, but for the moment he could not think where he was or what had happened. All he was conscious of was that his head ached horribly, while his throat and mouth were dry as old leather. As his senses came back to him he began to hear the steady chug of an engine, while he was conscious of a regular lift and swing; also that in his nostrils was the strong smell of oranges and other fruit. Then he heard the groan again, and realized that it came from quite close beside him.

He opened his eyes. His eyelids felt like lead and he blinked stupidly before he got the hang of his surroundings. He was in a low arched space, lying on bare boards, with cases of fruit stacked all round. A little light came in through a scuttle fixed in the deck overhead. Next, and almost touching him, lay Bud, and it was Bud who was making the groaning sound. Bud's face was a queer grayish colour, and the look of him frightened Sandy.

He gazed round and there was Crab—Crab with his face streaked with dried blood, but breathing regularly and evidently asleep. Sandy nudged him and his eyes opened. He looked up at Sandy.

"Hulloa, old chap," he said in a hoarse whisper. "Afraid we rather mucked up the show, didn't we?"

Sandy flushed. "It was rotten, but I say, Crab, Bud's pretty bad, I'm afraid."

Crab sat up. The effort made him bite his lips, and Sandy saw that he was bruised all over.

"Yes, he looks bad, Sandy," he agreed. He paused. "Lucky they haven't tied us up," he added quietly. "Wait a jiffy. I think I can do something for him."

Quietly as a cat, in spite of his great bulk, Crab got up on his knees and began searching among the fruit cases.

"Here it is," he said presently, as he drew a small hatchet from among the cases. "I left it here yesterday evening. Bit of luck."

Sandy's eyes brightened. "You mean you can open a case?" he asked.

"Precisely, my son. But it'll have to be a quiet job, for if those swine hear us they'll be down in a jiffy." He set to work and Sandy watched admiringly as Crab drew the nails from a case of oranges. He took one of the fruit, cut it open and carefully squeezed a little of the juice between Bud's lips. At first Bud did not seem able to swallow, but Crab lifted his head and rubbed his throat and at last got it down, and after a while poor Bud began to revive. But his head was badly damaged and he groaned again with pain as he tried to move.

"Keep still, old man," Crab advised him. "We'll give you all the juice you want. Sandy, you'd better tuck in while you can."

It was frightfully hot and close down in the hold and the cool orange juice seemed to Sandy the best thing he had ever tasted. He sucked three oranges, one after another, and felt no end better. Crab, too, sucked several, then got hold of some lemons and soaking a handkerchief in the juice laid it on Bud's head. After a while Bud seemed easier and sank into a kind of sleep. Crab sat awhile, listening carefully to the sounds above. The launch's engines were running steadily and by the feel of the craft she was making pretty good speed.

"About nine in the morning, I should say," said Crab at last. "I wish I knew where we were going."

"They'll take her to some Florida port, won't they?" asked Sandy.

Crab shook his head.

"Not with us aboard, Sandy. They'd find us a bit awkward to explain away."

"Then what will they do with us?" insisted Sandy.

"I wish I knew," said Crab.

"Make us walk the plank, I suppose," suggested Sandy grimly.

"If they'd been going to do that they would have chucked us overboard last night when they'd knocked us out."

Sandy nodded, "I hadn't thought of that. Then perhaps they've got some island of their own where they'll keep us."

"That sounds possible," agreed Crab; "though I don't know what good we shall be to them." His lips tightened. "What an ass I was! I never dreamed there'd be more than four aboard at the outside."

"Even as it was, you jolly nearly finished them," said Sandy with kindling eyes. "If only I'd managed to hit that little yellow beast just one moment earlier."

There was silence for a time, then Crab spoke. "Better snooze a bit if you can, Sandy," he advised. He did not explain why he gave this advice, but Sandy felt it was good. He sucked another orange, then laid down and in spite of the heat dozed off.

It was a thump and a blaze of light in his eyes that woke him, and looking up he saw that the hatch was open and two men looking down at him. One was tall and powerfully built, the other short and squat, but both had the hard faces and cold, expressionless eyes of American gangsters. Each carried a revolver.

The tall man spoke. "Looks like they'd had enough," he said with a sneer. "Say, you big stiff, you coming quiet or do you need any more handling?"

Crab looked up. "That depends entirely on what you want us for," he answered quietly.

The man gave a bark of a laugh. "Oh, you needn't be skeered. You ain't going to have to walk the plank. We're jest a-going to set ye ashore and be quit of you."

"And where are you going to put us ashore?" asked Crab.

"That 'ud be telling," grinned the other. Then suddenly he scowled. "You ain't in any place to bargain," he said harshly. "Jest remember that. But ef you'll give your word to go quiet we'll set ye ashore on a island, and thet's all there is to it."

Crab shrugged his shoulders. "I suppose you mean to maroon us," he answered. "Very well. So long as you don't treat us with unnecessary violence we will go quietly."

The big man stood aside. "Come right along then," he invited.

"I must lift my friend up first," said Crab. "I doubt if he can walk."

He picked up Bud as if he had been a child and lifted him through the hatch. Then he and Sandy followed.

The first thing Sandy saw was that the launch was anchored a few hundred yards from a small sandy island covered with coarse grass and low bushes. It had a most desolate appearance.

There were four men besides the big fellow, and every one armed. It would have been suicide to make any objection, and without a word Crab lifted Bud into the boat and Sandy followed. Two of the launch's crew got in. One rowed, the other, the man with the bandaged head, sat in the stern, holding a revolver.

"I wouldn't start nothing if I was you," he remarked to Crab. "If I say it myself, I'm a right good shot, and after what happened last night I wouldn't ask nothing better than a chance to perforate you."

"You won't get it this time," replied Crab dryly. "Perhaps, later, I can accommodate you."

"I'll watch it," sneered the fellow, and after that nothing was said until the boat grounded on the hard sand.

"Out ye get," said the man with the gun, and Crab got out. Bud was pulling round and was able to walk with help from Crab. Their escort watched them ashore. "So long," he said with an ugly sneer. "Here's to our next merry meeting."

Crab led the way straight up into the scrub, picked a place where the bushes were highest, and set Sandy to work to pull grass to make a roof. Sandy had barely got an armful before there came a sound like the whirring of a grass-hopper, only much louder, and a dry rustling coil straightened and flashed at him. He leaped back just in time to escape.

"A rattler!" he gasped.

Crab smote at it with a piece of driftwood and crushed the evil head. "A diamond back," he said. "We'll have to watch out, Sandy. Wait till I've beaten the grass a bit."

Two more snakes were seen almost at once, one a ground rattler, the other a moccasin. Crab looked grave. "The place is alive with them," he said, "but this will be enough grass to give us shelter. As soon as those swine have gone we'll start and look for water."

"And if there isn't any?" asked Sandy.

"Then we shall dig," replied Crab briefly. "Here, help me to fix the roof."

Even under the shade of the grass roof the heat was terrific. The three sat together and watched the launch which soon vanished round the south end of the island.

"Where are we, I wonder?" said Sandy.

"I wish I knew," Crab answered. "But sit tight, young 'un. We'll find a way out."

An hour passed, the breeze blew stronger and kept the heat down a little. Suddenly Crab began to sniff. "Smell anything?" he asked Sandy.

"Yes, smoke."

Crab jumped up and looked out. Sandy followed. The coils of grey smoke were driving down wind from the far side of the island.

"The scrub's afire," announced Crab. "Those beauties have landed the far side and lit it. I had a notion the swine had something up their sleeves."

Sandy stared a moment at the drifting smoke. "But what for?" he asked. "What good do these beggars expect to do by firing the scrub?"

Crab shrugged his huge shoulders. "You'll see soon enough," he said. "Slim's crowd don't mean us to leave this alive."

He stopped and began rolling the grass, which they had collected, into a bundle.

"We must get some of this down to the water's edge. You and I can stick the sun, but I doubt if Bud can."

"We'll have to be quick," said Sandy sharply. "The fire's coming like fury."

Sandy was right. Fanned by the strong sea breeze which sweeps all day across the Gulf, the flames were rocketing through the thick scrub and bone-dry grass, and the crackling was like machine-gun fire.

Crab and Sandy worked like mad, collecting grass.

Bud remonstrated. "Don't worry about me," he said. As he spoke he got to his feet, but he moved slowly like an old man, and Crab, dropping the grass, caught hold of him.

"You are not quite the thing yet, old chap," he said. "You must let me help you."

"Look out," screamed Sandy suddenly. "Watch out for snakes."

Snakes! There were hundreds of them. The whole grass was alive with their rustling coils. Driven by the fire, they came pouring out of the scrub in a living torrent. There were big rattlers and little ground rattlers, moccasins, black snakes, coach whips, and horrible little spreading adders with flat, venomous heads.

Dropping his load of grass, Crab swung Bud to his shoulder and, carrying him, ran down the beach towards the sea. Sandy followed.

Crab didn't stop until he was knee deep in the warm, salt water. His face was white under its tan, and he looked more scared than Sandy had ever seen him.

"Sandy," he said quietly, "I know where we are now. This is Mocassin Key."

In spite of the blazing heat Sandy shivered, for he, like everyone else living on the Keys, had heard of this horrible island, with its teeming population of venomous reptiles.

"Mocassin Key," he repeated. "Oh! My goodness, Crab; to think any men could be such brutes."

Crab looked back at the swarming coils which almost covered the sand behind them. Under the drifting smoke wreaths these hosts of reptiles had a most horrible and unearthly appearance. Many were badly scorched and, in their agony, struck savagely at their fellows. The air was full of the rank cucumber-like smell given out by the rattlesnake. It seemed impossible to believe that so many snakes could exist on one small island.

"No, they can't get at us here," replied Crab. "But after all it is only prolonging the agony. How long do you think we can last out here in this sun without water or grub?"

Sandy had never heard Crab talk like this, and a feeling of despair crept over him.

"But can't we swim round?" he suggested. "There won't be snakes on the other side of the island."

Crab pointed out to sea. Barely a hundred yards away a black triangular fin showed above the blue water. Further out were two more. They were tiger sharks gathering to the feast.

Sandy shivered again, but he still refused to give up hope. "Then let us wade," he suggested. "The smoke will hide us from the launch crowd, and there might be a bit of brush still unburnt somewhere round the other side, and that would give us shelter from the sun, and time to look around."

Crab's eyes left the snakes and rested on Sandy. "Sandy you're the goods," he exclaimed. "You make me ashamed to have given up so easily. We'll darned well try it any way."

Bud spoke. "Crab, you quit carrying me," he said. "Set me down, I can walk. I sure mean it," he added. "I'm feeling heaps better."

"You're not fit to walk," remonstrated Crab. But Bud insisted, and in the end Crab lowered him gently to his feet.

The fire was now reaching all across the island. Huge crimson flames flashed high above the drifting smoke, the roar was almost deafening, the heat was intolerable and the smoke nearly suffocated them.

It was impossible to go back to the beach, for by this time many of the snakes had reached the edge of the water, but they didn't come further, for no land snake can live in salt water.

Keeping at a distance of a few yards from the edge of the creaming waves, the three waded slowly onwards. Bud made no complaint, and with Crab's help, kept on steadily.

Sandy, still leading, suddenly felt himself sinking. "Watch out," he yelled. "Quicksands!"

Crab reached forward and plucked him backwards. Sandy's face whitened under its tan, and he quivered slightly.

"That's why I told you to go slow," said Crab. "I'd heard there were quicksands along this beach."

"But what shall we do now?" questioned Sandy shakily. "How shall we get on?"

"Try a bit closer to the shore," advised Crab. "But be careful, Sandy. If you get in deep no one can help you."

Sandy backed a little and went as close as he dared to the beach.

The worst of it was that the smoke was so thick that they could see nothing beyond a radius of a few yards. It was like being in a heavy fog.

He tried again, but only to feel once more the treacherous surface quivering and his feet sinking. He sprang back. "It's no good," he said despairingly. "You were right, Crab, we shall never get out of this."

Crab laughed gruffly. "Don't you go following my bad example, young fellow. We're not going to give up yet. We must just wait until the smoke clears a bit. Anyhow, it keeps the sun off us to some extent."

He turned to Bud. "Sit down, old chap," he said. "Sit right down in the water. It's cooler than the air."

All three sat themselves down in the shallow water and waited. There was nothing else to do.

Half an hour passed, then Sandy spoke: "The smoke's clearing, Crab."

Crab nodded. "Yes, I don't suppose there's much left to burn." He paused, "I wish I knew where the launch was."

"Miles away by this time, I guess," said Bud.

"I hope so," said Crab grimly. "But I have my doubts. I kind of reckon that Slim gave pretty direct instructions to his gang to make sure that we should never trouble him again."

Bud sat frowning, evidently thinking hard. "See here," he said at last. "I guess it is up to us to move while the smoke still gives us cover. What's the matter with going back the way we came and trying round the other end of the island? I don't reckon we'll run into two lots of quicksands."

"It is as good a plan as any," said Crab; "and if you feel fit, Bud, we'll try it."


VIII. — THE SHIP ON THE HORIZON

THE smoke was lifting a little as they waded back in the other direction, but the snakes were as thick as ever along the broad white beach.

It was hard work wading knee deep in the water and Bud, who was still very shaky from the effects of the blow on his head, could only go slowly.

Quite suddenly they came to the edge of the smoke cloud and Crab stopped short. "Steady on," he said. "This is the end of the island. We mustn't risk those beggars spotting us."

"But surely the launch has gone long ago," said Sandy.

"I would not bet on that," replied Crab grimly. "As I told you, Slim Worden is taking no chances."

"Then I guess we'd better sit down and wait," remarked Bud.

"But we can't stop here in the sea all day," Sandy objected.

"I don't see we've got any choice, young fellow," said Crab dryly. "And if I was you I'd follow Bud's example and sit down, for here's the launch." He pointed, as he spoke, and sure enough there was the launch just moving out from under the far end of the island, about a couple of miles away.

Sandy ducked down like a shot. "They're bound to see us," he exclaimed in dismay. "Hadn't we better get back into the smoke?"

Bud looked round. "I don't guess there'll be much smoke left to hide us in a few minutes' time. Every last bit of brush is burnt off the island."

Bud was right. The smoke was thinning away so that it was no longer more than a thin mist, and since the breeze was strong, it was clear that even this would be blown out to sea. Then, if the launch came their way, its crew were bound to spot the three black heads sticking out above the blue water. For a moment or two they watched the launch with something like despair, and their hearts sank lower when they saw that she was undoubtedly heading in their direction. As Bud had said, Slim's gang meant to make quite sure before they left.

Suddenly Sandy pointed. "That mound of sand, Crab, quickly. There, up on the beach. It looks like an old wreck. It would hide us if we could reach it."

"It would hide us all right," said Bud quietly. "But how do you propose to reach it? The beach is still stiff with snakes, and of the two I believe I prefer to drown."

But Sandy was not discouraged. "We can get to it, Crab," he insisted. "Look, there's a sort of channel all the way from the wreck to the water and the tide is just beginning to fill it. If we keep in the middle of the channel the snakes can't touch us."

Crab raised himself a little. "Jove, I believe you're right, Sandy," he said quickly. "At any rate it's worth trying. Come on, you chaps. But we shall have to crawl on hands and knees. If we stand up the launch crowd are bound to spot us."

The rising tide was just beginning to fill the shallow channel. Near the mound the water was only a few inches deep. It was nervous work. Ugly cotton mouths and evil looking rattlers were coiled in numbers on either side. Some were so close that they seemed to be within striking distance, but luckily their dread of salt water saved the boys from their deadly fangs.

"Probably the wreck's full of the brutes," said Crab, as they neared it, but Sandy did not lose courage.

"There's a hollow all round it," he said, "and that will fill very soon."

"Yes, but what are we to do meantime?" growled Crab.

"Dig ourselves in," replied Sandy. "If we pile the wet sand up all round us I don't believe they will see us from the launch."

Luckily the sand was soft enough for them to be able to scoop it up with their hands and, working like fury, they dug themselves in until they lay with their faces just clear of the slowly rising water.

None of the three are ever likely to forget the next ten minutes. Not daring to look round, they could not tell where the launch was, or which way she was going.

At last Crab whispered, "I see her."

They all saw her moving slowly past, about half a mile out to sea. She seemed to crawl like a snail. The suspense was horrible. Each moment they expected to see her stop and to hear the crackle of rifle firing. But she did not stop and, keeping steadily on her course, passed out of their sight.

"She's gone at last," said Sandy, with a sigh of relief.

Crab stretched out a great arm and caught hold of Sandy. "Don't you dare stand up yet," he warned the boy. "We're not out of range of their glasses."

"I wasn't going to," said Sandy, indignantly. "I'm not such a fool as that. But I've got to sit up or the water will be over my head."

For nearly half an hour the three sat in the warm, clear water. The smoke was all gone now and the sun beat down fiercely on their heads. Crab and Sandy stood it all right, but Bud was looking dreadfully pale and shaky.

"Sandy," whispered Crab, "I've got to get Bud under some sort of cover."

"We can do that all right," replied Sandy in an equally low voice. "Look at the timbers sticking out from under the sand. I'm sure we can make some kind of dug-out in the old wreck."

"But what price the snakes?" questioned Crab.

"The water is all round the wreck now," replied Sandy. "If there are any snakes in the wreck we can kill them, then we shall be all right. Come on, Crab, let's get to work."

By this time the launch was a mere dot in the distance, and even Crab felt sure that there was no longer any danger to be expected from that quarter. The question now was to make themselves safe from snakes.

Hunting round, Crab found a piece of wreckage and, breaking it in two, made a couple of rough clubs, one of which he kept himself and the other he handed to Sandy. So armed the two began to explore the mound.

As Sandy had said, the mound was made by sand blown over the remains of a good sized schooner, which some great storm had cast high up on the beach. Oddly enough there were very few snakes on the mound, and of these they soon made short work. The hollow around the mound being now filled with salt water, there was no danger of any further invasion.

As Crab struck at the last of the snakes, a thick sluggish moccasin, smashing its ugly head with the force of his blow, his club went right through a sort of shell of sand, and this, breaking away, showed a dark cave-like space beneath.

"This is luck," he exclaimed. "Here's the very place for poor old Bud."

"Topping," exclaimed Sandy gleefully. "There's plenty of wood, too, for making a fire, and I say, Crab, there's enough to build a raft."

"Steady on, youngster. You're going a bit too quick for me. Let's get Bud out of the sun, then we can make plans for the future."

The wreck lay upon her side and the stout timbers of which she had been built were most of them still sound. A good deal of sand had sifted in through cracks made by sun and wind, but not enough to fill her, so that once Crab had found the opening there was room inside to shelter not merely three but a score of people.

The hollow was nearly dark, and, by contrast with the terrible sun glare outside, almost cool. Not only Bud, but Crab and Sandy, too, felt the relief of getting out of the blazing mid-day heat.

"If we had some water and some grub we should be absolutely all right," said Sandy cheerfully.

"They are two pretty big 'ifs,'" Crab answered gravely.

"But there is water, Crab," said Sandy. "You got some this morning. When the snakes have quieted down a bit we can fetch some more, and as for grub there ought to be clams on this beach. I expect we can stick it out for a day or two until we get taken off."

All three were pretty well done after their experiences of the past few hours, and in a very short time were sound asleep. To Sandy it seemed as if only a few minutes had passed before Crab was shaking him awake.

"It's nearly five, young fellow," he said. "I'm going off to get water and you might try for those clams you talked about."

Sandy jumped up in a hurry and the first thing he saw was half-a-dozen rusty, but still useful old meat tins.

"I've just dug these out of the sand," explained Crab. "They'll do to hold water and cook in."

"Splendid," exclaimed Sandy. "This is a regular Robinson Crusoe stunt. I'll take a couple of them and go to dig clams."

"Say, can't I help?" broke in Bud, who had wakened up and had been listening.

"You can sit tight, old chap," said Crab. "What you have got to do is to get fit again."

"I guess I'm fit enough to build a fire, anyway," declared Bud. "I'll have one ready to cook those clams when you come back with them, Sandy."

The sun was low as Crab and Sandy set out, and the air was comparatively cool.

Sandy was surprised to see how few snakes there were on the beach, and most of those left were either dead or dying. Near the water's edge there were none at all, for the tide, now falling, had driven them inland.

Using his piece of timber as a spade, he began to dig and was rewarded by finding plenty of the small clams which are common on all these beaches. In less than half an hour he had both his tins full, and as he carried them back to the wreck he saw Crab coming from the other direction with his tins of water.

Bud had been as good as his word and had got a nice fire burning. Sandy took on the job of cook and, boiling the clams in fresh water, made a couple of tins of very decent soup. The three finished every drop of it and felt better.

That night they slept quietly and next morning Bud was much better.

"Say, Crab," remarked Bud, as he finished his breakfast of clam soup, "do you reckon there's any chance of getting taken off this sand bank?"

"To be quite honest," said Crab, "there's not one chance in a thousand. This Key is all of twenty miles from the next nearest; there's nothing to bring any one to it, not even turtles; and the place has such a poisonous reputation that the fishing craft shun it like a plague."

Bud nodded. "That's straight goods," he said, "and just what I expected. Then it's up to us to get away on our own unless we mean to live on clam soup to the end of our days."

"There's plenty of timber," broke in Sandy. "Can't we build a raft?"

Crab whistled softly. "It will be a pretty tough job," he remarked. "These old timbers are as hard as iron and we haven't a hammer, saw, or a tool or any kind."

"We've got knives," insisted Sandy, "and there are lots of old nails. I believe we can manage something that will float."

"I'm game to try," said Crab, "but frankly, I don't see much hope of making anything fit to float us across twenty miles of sea."

As Crab had said, the job was a tough one, but all three worked with a will and during the next two days they managed to build a raft capable of carrying the three of them. That is, it would carry them ill calm water, but it was quite evident that if any sea got up the clumsy business would break to bits in no time. Still, it was the best they could do and Sandy, at least, was quite pleased with the result.

It was nearly dusk on the third day when they finished the job. "Now we'll get supper," said Sandy, "and to-morrow we'll start out."

Sandy took his cans and started after clams, but next moment he came tearing back. "A ship!" he shouted, "a ship in sight!"

The others ran out and sure enough there was a vessel, dim in the evening haze, about three miles out.

"Get the raft afloat," cried Sandy in wild excitement.

Crab looked at the heavy thing. He shook his head. "My dear lad," he said, "it'll take half an hour to put her afloat, and be pitch dark by that time. The ship will be miles away before we can reach her."


IX. — OUT IN THE NIGHT

"YOU mean we can't reach her, Crab?" Sandy exclaimed, despairingly.

"I'm afraid there isn't a ghost of a chance," Crab answered gravely.

Sandy stood silent; it was Bud who spoke. "I guess we're going to try it, anyway," he remarked. "Me, I'm fed up with clam soup and boiled rattlesnake. Let's get right to it."

Crab shrugged his broad shoulders. "It's a crazy business," he said, "but if you two are so keen, I'm game to come along. Get hold of her," he continued.

The raft lay in the channel. The tide was running out fast, but it had only turned about an hour, and there was still water in the channel. Not enough to float the raft, but enough to help them in the task of dragging the heavy mass of timber down to the sea.

Even so, it was a tough job, and before they had covered half the distance, they were forced to stop to get their breath.

"I can still see the ship," exclaimed Sandy, gazing out into the gathering gloom. "She doesn't seem to be moving very fast."

Crab took a long look. "You're right," he replied in a puzzled tone. "One might almost think she was lying to."

"She hasn't got a bit of sail as far as I can make out," said Sandy. "What is she, Crab—a motor boat?"

Crab shook his head. "That's more than I can say. There's not light enough to see. Well, we can only trust that she'll stay where she is, for that's our only chance of reaching her."

It was quite dark by the time they got the raft afloat—that is, dark as it ever is on a clear night in the Gulf of Mexico. Luckily for the three there was no wind, and the sea was almost flat calm. Even so, the raft was so desperately heavy and clumsy, that it was very difficult to get her along. Crab had made two rough paddles, and it was with these that they worked her. They had, of course, no compass and as it was now too dark to see anything at a distance of more than a couple of hundred yards, their navigation was more or less guesswork.

For a long time no one spoke, and the only sound was the splash of the paddles as they dipped and rose. Moccasin Key faded out of sight and they were all alone on the glassy surface of the gently heaving swells.

Bud took the paddle from Sandy and they pushed on again as hard as they could drive. But Crab knew that they were not making much more than a mile an hour, and that they were at the mercy of the tide. On and on they went. At least two hours had passed since leaving Moccasin Key. They had lost all sense of direction, and of the ship there was no sign whatever. They were all alone in the great silence of the quiet night.

Suddenly this silence was broken by a deep booming crash. Bud stopped paddling. "Say, isn't that a gun?" he exclaimed. "Maybe they've seen us."

"No such luck," said Sandy. "That's nothing but a whip ray."

"A ray! What do you mean, Sandy? How could a ray make a noise like that?"

"Jumping!" explained Sandy. "Ah! there it is again. There's a school of them somewhere out there."

"Then we're in deep water," said Crab. "Rays don't jump in the shallows."

A third time came the echoing crash, it was nearer this time. A few minutes later the water broke within a few yards of the raft and a vast object, looking as big as a drawing room carpet, rose to a height of eight or ten feet above the sea and remained poised for a second or two, winnowing the air with enormous fins. Then it dropped back with a deafening crash, sending the spray all over the raft.

"Is that a ray?" gasped Bud.

"That's a ray," Sandy answered. "I only hope the next one won't take it into his head to jump on top of us."

For a few minutes the shoal of giant fish were all around the raft, leaping and playing like salmon. Then they passed, and the sound of their tremendous gambols died in the distance.

Bud sighed with relief. "I'm sure glad we've seen the last of them."

"I'm not so sure we have," said Crab sharply.

"What's that over there?" He pointed as he spoke to a dark object which loomed indistinct against the stars.

For a few moments all three stared at it, then Sandy gave a yell. "It's the ship—the ship. Shout, you fellows, shout!"

Shout they did, and it is safe to say that three people never made more noise. But there was no answer, no response of any sort from the vessel, if vessel it was that lay dark and silent on the quiet water.

"They're all asleep," said Sandy, "but paddle, paddle." As he spoke he seized the paddle from Bud, and he and Crab set furiously to work.

"There's something wrong," said Bud in a low voice. "That craft is anchored and she hasn't even got a riding light." But the others did not hear him. They were too busy paddling.

Slowly the black blot resolved itself into the shape of a long, low hull, above which was visible a tall mast. But the mast showed no spars, nor was there any sound of engines working. Either the ship was anchored as Bud had suggested, and that seemed impossible on account of the depth of water, or else she was idly drifting.

"We're catching her," Sandy panted triumphantly. "I can see her quite plainly."

Crab did not answer, only dipped his paddle more deeply, using all his giant strength in each stroke. Another five minutes and they were alongside. As the raft bumped against the timbers Sandy made a flying jump, caught the rail, and swung himself aboard.

"Hi, rouse out some of you. Where's everybody?" they heard him shout.

Sandy came back to the rail dragging a rope, one end of which he flung to Crab.

"I say, you chaps," he said in a puzzled voice, "there's no one aboard."

"I didn't suppose there was," Crab replied quietly. "She's nothing but a derelict, Sandy. But never mind," he added as he heard Sandy's gasp of disappointment, "she's a jolly sight better than this raft. If we can find any grub aboard her we can stick to her until she drifts ashore somewhere, or until we're picked up." As he spoke he made the raft fast alongside, and he and Bud scrambled aboard.

It was too dark to see much of their find, but they were able to make out that she was a schooner of about a hundred and fifty tons and that she was loaded with yellow pine lumber. "It's only that which has kept her afloat," said Crab. "She's been in some precious bad weather and had the very mischief of a knocking about."

"I guess you're right," said Bud. "Her decks have been swept almost clear. One mast is gone close to the deck, and by the feel of her, her hold is full of water."

"Let's go below and explore," suggested Sandy eagerly.

The deck house was gone, but the main hatch was still in position. They prised it off and looked down into a great space of ill-smelling blackness, from which, as the schooner rolled in the gentle swell, came a gurgle of water.

"Just as I told you," said Bud. "She's plumb water-logged. I reckon we'd better camp on deck for the night and continue our investigations when dawn comes."

"That's good sense," agreed Crab. "Come on up in the bow, it'll be drier there than anywhere else."

Hard as the planks were the three were tired enough to sleep anywhere, and five minutes later nothing was to be heard except the deep breathing of three very sound sleepers.

It was not until the first yellow rays of the rising sun struck slanting across the sea that any of them moved. Sandy was the first to sit up. He rubbed his eyes and gazed round, then shook the others into wakefulness.

Crab yawned. "Say, young fellow, what have you got for breakfast?" he demanded.

"I brought some clams along," Sandy told him.

"I'm sure fed-up with clams," remarked Bud. "Maybe there's something better aboard this old hooker. Let's go and see anyway."

He walked to the edge of the hatch and the others followed.

"Can't say it looks exactly encouraging," remarked Crab dryly, as he peered down once. "The water's within four feet of the hatch and if there's anything there we've got to dive for it. Well, here goes," he added, and rapidly stripping he swung himself down and dropped into the black, scummy water that washed to and fro within the broken ship.

"It's all right," he said. "I've found the floor."

The others, watching, saw him wading forward, chest deep, into what had evidently been the main cabin of the schooner. He passed out of sight, but they could still hear him splashing down there in the darkness. After a time they heard a crashing, splintering sound.

"He's found a cupboard," exclaimed Sandy.

"Gee, but I hope there's something in it," said Bud. "I'm hungry enough to eat rattlesnake."

"I'm more thirsty than hungry," said Sandy. "I do hope there's some water aboard."

Before Bud could answer there came a shout from below. "I've found something, you chaps. Tins, by the feel of them."

"Bring them along," begged Bud. "The very thought of a tin makes my mouth water."

Crab brought them along. He came up dripping, carrying half a dozen tins. The labels had been washed off but by the shape of them they looked as if they held bully beef. Bud seized one and set to work on it with his sheath knife. "Beef it is," he yelled exultantly, "and good as the day it was tinned. Say, but this is luck." He hacked the contents into three portions and divided them.

"Prime," declared Crab, munching vigorously. "Gosh, I never knew bully beef was half so good."

After their three days' diet of clams and snakes, corned beef was a delightful change, and they finished two tins in very short order. But the salt stuff made them all thirsty.

"What are we going to do about water, Crab?" demanded Sandy.

Crab considered. "There may be a tank somewhere below. Anyhow we've got to find out. I'll go down again."

Stripping again, Crab dropped into the dark hole. For a long time the others heard him splashing in the black water. At last he came back towards the hatch.

"It's no use, you chaps," he said unhappily. "There's no water here. The only thing I can find is tins. There are lots of them."

"I don't reckon tins are a lot of use, Crab," said Bud sadly. "Still, you may as well pass them up."

Crab sent up an armful, then scrambled up himself. By this time the sun was high. The air was still and very sultry, and already the decks were almost too hot to touch.

"We must rig up a shelter of some kind," said Crab. "There may be some old sails in the locker aft."

Sandy went off to investigate and came back dragging a mass of mouldy canvas. With the aid of an old spar and some rope they rigged a kind of awning and gratefully lay down under its shelter. But though it was a great relief to be under some sort of shade, the heat was still intense, and their mouths and throats were as dry as dust.

Crab whispered to Sandy, "Sandy, old chap, we're in a very tight place. You and I might be able to stick it out till night, but I doubt if Bud can. He's looking rotten."

Sandy looked round desperately! He pointed to some dark clouds rising in the north-west. "There's rain over there," he said.

"It's a long way off," replied Crab, "and all the chances are against its reaching us."

There was silence awhile. Sandy was racking his brains over a way out of this horrible fix. Suddenly his eyes fell upon the pile of tins which Crab had brought up from below. Some were square beef tins, but there were two round ones. He picked one of these up and shook it.

The yell he gave startled the others badly. "What the mischief—" began Crab angrily. But Sandy was already hacking at the top of the tin with his knife.

"Tomatoes!" he gasped hoarsely. "These are tomato tins." As he spoke his knife went through the tin and a squirt of luscious red liquid followed as he withdrew it. Another minute and all three were drinking the refreshing juice.

"Sandy," said Bud solemnly as he laid down his tin, "you've sure saved our lives."

Sandy reddened with pleasure. "It was just chance that I happened to shake that tin," he said modestly. "I wonder if there are any more below?"

"Heaps," declared Crab. "I'll go and get another bunch."

There were heaps, and not only tomatoes, but also tinned peaches. The three feasted luxuriously.

"Gee," exclaimed Bud. "I feel fit to tackle Slim Worden and his whole bunch, single-handed."

"Well, that's what we've got to do sooner or later," said Crab; "and it's about time we made some plans. So far as I can make out we're drifting in an easterly direction, and sooner or later we shall land up on the Florida coast."

"There's the coast right now," remarked Bud, pointing to a dim blue line on the eastern horizon.

"See here, Crab," he continued, "this pine lumber is worth something, isn't it?"

"Quite a bit," agreed Crab, "if we could get it to market. The only trouble is that we don't own it."

"But I guess we can get something for the salvage," said Bud.

"Yes, if we can get it into port anywhere. But we should need a tow, and where are we to get one?"

It was Sandy who again came to the rescue. He pointed to a small boat in the distance. "There's a chap who might help us out," he said.


X. — THE LITTLE ENGLISHMAN

ALL three jumped to their feet and went forward. The boat, which appeared to be a very small launch with only one person in it, was about a mile away.

"What the mischief is the fellow doing?" demanded Crab in a puzzled tone.

"Fishing," exclaimed Sandy, eagerly. "He's fast in a big one. I bet it's a tarpon. Yes, watch it jump."

As he spoke they all saw a flash of silver, which leaped high from the sea at a distance of about a hundred yards from the boat.

They waved, they shouted, but the man in the boat was far too busy with his fish to take the slightest notice.

"Watch," cried Sandy sharply. "The fish is heading our way, it's towing him towards us."

Once more Sandy was right. The great fish which the man in the boat had hooked, was coming round in a wide circle and heading in the direction of the helpless derelict. In the course of the next twenty minutes the little launch had come within hailing distance.

"Hi!" roared Crab at the top of his great voice. The fisherman looked round. He was a small man, very neat and dapper. He wore a suit of tropical tweed and a big sun helmet. Small as his launch was, it and everything about him seemed very new and very expensive.

"What's the matter?" he demanded snappishly. "Can't you see I'm busy."

"The matter," shouted back Crab. "The matter is we're shipwrecked and starving."

"I'm sorry," replied the angler, "but you'll have to go on starving until I've got this fish. He's all of two hundred pounds and I would not lose him for the whole State of Florida."

"Well, of all the blamed little busters," grumbled Bud.

But Sandy only laughed. "I'd do just the same if I was in his shoes," he chuckled.

The three stood watching the fight. The great tarpon was beginning to tire and the little man's reel clicked as he wound in the line. He was now so close that they could see the perspiration streaming from his face, he looked to be nearly worn out, but he still kept the point of his rod up and fought his huge capture desperately.

The huge tarpon was coming nearer and nearer to the boat. Its great scales gleamed like molten silver as it flashed to and fro on the surface of the clear blue water. The tarpon's struggles had nearly ceased. The little man was reeling in fast, and the tarpon was within a score of yards of his boat, when all of a sudden a dark shadow rose out of the glimmering depths.

"Look out, look out!" shrieked Sandy, "a shark!"

The warning was useless, for the next instant the monstrous tiger shark, which looked to be nearly twenty feet long, darted upon the tarpon, its vast jaws closed on the fish, there was one great swirl, then shark and tarpon vanished together. As the fisherman's line came dangling back broken, its owner stared at it for a moment, then, laying his rod down, dropped back on the thwart, and covered his face with his hands.

"What rotten luck," said Bud. "I'll be darned if I'm not sorry for him."

"He will be sorrier still if he doesn't wake up," said Sandy. "That storm's coming. Give him a shout, Crab."

"Hi!" roared Crab. "Come out of your trance it's going to blow like blazes."

The little man looked round, and what he saw was enough to frighten any one. The sky was like ink, the livid flashes of fire leaping into the heart of the blackness. Across the sky to windward was rushing a curling fringe of foam.

He jumped to his engine and got busy with the controls. Nothing happened. He looked round. "It won't work," he said, piteously.

Crab did not hesitate a moment. Without waiting to take off his shoes he ran to the side and leaped overboard.

"He's plumb crazy," groaned Bud. "The shark'll have him sure!"

But Crab never gave the shark a chance. Almost before the words were out of Bud's mouth, he was alongside the launch, and hauling himself over the side. What Crab didn't know about engines was not worth knowing, and in less than half a minute he had it working. Then turning the launch he ran her round under the weather side of the derelict.

Sandy flung him a rope and Crab and the little man between them made her fast, bow and stern, then, just as the first gust came howling upon them, the two scrambled aboard.

"Sit tight!" shouted Crab. "Hang on, all of you." He flung himself flat as he spoke, and the others followed his example. For the next few minutes the roar of wind and thunder combined made speech impossible. Spray and rain together lashed across the bare decks, the sea got up and the derelict rolled heavily.

Luckily the storms of the Caribbean are usually short as they are sharp, and very soon the worst was over and it began to grow lighter. The little man who had been hanging on with the rest began to crawl back to loo'ard.

"Watch out!" warned Bud. "What are you after?"

"I want to see if my boat's safe," answered the other as he peered over the side. "If she swamps we'll be in a pretty fine mess. She's all right," he added, in a tone of relief, as he crept back to the others. He spoke to Crab. "I am every so much obliged to you, sir," he said. "If you had not managed to start up the engine the launch and I would both have been at the bottom by now. May I ask to whom I am indebted for this kind help?"

"Cubbage is my name," replied Crab. "Ex-R.A.F., and now darned nearly as derelict as the old tub. This is Bud Mazell, American, but none the worst for that; and number three is Sandy Linton, whose Dad owns a Key and a fruit farm."

The little man shook hands with each in turn. "I'm Jack Cornish," he said. "London born. I came out to Florida for a trip and with some idea of buying land. I'm staying at the Seminole Hotel at Punta Garda." He looked round. "But look here," he went on, "you said you were shipwrecked and starving. I've got food in the launch. What about getting some out? The breeze is dying down."

Crab laughed. "We're shipwrecked right enough, but it's hardly true that we're starving. There's still some grub aboard the old hooker." He pointed to the empty tins. "But it's a week since any of us tasted bread."

Cornish's eyes widened. "A week since you've eaten bread!" He sprang up as he spoke, ran to the side, swung down into the launch and was back in a minute with his arms full. "Here's a tin of biscuits, and a whole parcel of sandwiches and cakes."

"Cakes!" cried Sandy, as he snatched the package. He passed them round rapidly, then seized a large section of chocolate sandwich and bit into it. "My word!" he exclaimed, with his mouth full. "I wouldn't have believed anything could taste so good."

Cornish grinned in friendly fashion. "I'm jolly glad I brought the stuff along."

"One apiece," said Crab. "Not a bite more for the present. We're still a long way off the land."

"Yes, but I can soon fetch help," said Cornish. He looked at Crab. "This ship, the Oneida, is she yours?" he asked.

"Only by right of finding," Crab answered. "I'll spin you the yarn, if you like."

"I'm fearfully keen to hear it," said Cornish.

Crab had the gift of telling a long story in a few words, and Cornish listened breathlessly to the account of the adventures of the three since leaving Sevenstones Key. When Crab had finished he drew a long breath.

"My word!" he exclaimed. "I've heard of rum-runners and rowdies of that sort, but I never knew there were people like this Slim Worden and Big Barchard."

"I guess you'll know a whole lot if you stay here long enough," said Bud. "There's sure a queer crowd around these Keys. But we're wasting time, gassing, and I reckon we'd best put our heads together and see how we can best get out of this mess."

"I'll go back to the mainland and fetch a tug," said Cornish.

Bud shook his head. "Nothing doing, Cornish. We've got no money to pay for a tug."

Cornish stared. "But man alive, there's several thousand dollars' worth of lumber aboard the vessel. And you can claim salvage."

Bud laughed. "I guess we never thought of that. But, say, if a tug comes, won't her folk claim the salvage?"

"No, for I'll fix it up with them. You'll let me act as your bankers till you get your share of the salvage."

"That's mighty good of you," said Bud, gratefully. "Then I guess you'd better get right along."

"Sure you wouldn't like me to take you back with me?" asked Cornish. "Of course some one must stay aboard so as to claim the salvage, but I could take Sandy with me."

"No," said Sandy quietly. "I stick by the ship. Bud's the one who ought to go. He hasn't yet got over the awful smack on the head he had from that fellow on the launch."

"I guess you'd catch me backing down," said Bud.

Crab spoke. "You'd better go, Bud," he said gravely. "It would be a big relief to Sandy and me to know you were safe."

A few minutes later Crab and Sandy sat alone on the deck, watching the launch chugging away across the heaving waters. Sandy was the first to speak.

"Was Cornish right? Is there money in the timber, Crab?"

Crab smiled. "Don't worry about that. Whatever there is in it, we'll share. And, Sandy, we must try and let your people know as soon as possible that you're safe. They'll be in an awful way about you."

"I've been thinking about that," said Sandy gravely. "But, Crab, I don't want to go back until we've found that fellow Slim and got our launch out of him."

Crab's jaw tightened. "I'm with you there, Sandy," he said; and Sandy, glancing at him, thought that he would rather be in anybody's shoes than those of Slim Worden's when he and Crab next met.


XI. — THE LAND SHARK

IT was nearly dusk when the tug at last hove in sight, and when they got her tow rope aboard the poor old Oneida was so deep in the water that the tug could not move her at more than three knots. So it was past midnight when at last they reached Punta Garda and tied up alongside the steamboat wharf. Late as it was, Cornish was waiting. The good fellow took them up to the hotel, where he had got rooms for them, and Sandy never forgot the joy of a warm bath with scented soap, and a complete change of clothes.

Then they had supper—a real meal, with cold chicken and salad and fruit, and pretty china and glass, and after that they went to sleep in real beds with spring mattresses and clean sheets.

It was nearly three the next afternoon before Sandy woke. He dressed quickly and went across to Crab's room. Crab was awake and eating oranges. He vowed he was not coming down till supper. Sandy went down to look for Jack Cornish. As he reached the door he heard Cornish's voice outside. He looked round and there was Jack seated in a canvas chair on the verandah deep in talk with another man.

Sandy stared. He could hardly believe his eyes. For this second man, beautifully got up in white flannels and wearing an expensive Panama hat and the finest of buckskin shoes, was none other than Slim Worden himself. Sandy stared a moment, then drew quickly back. Next moment he was rushing upstairs to Crab's room. Crab heard the news in silence. He nodded.

"Glad you had the sense not to show yourself, Sandy. I'll dress, and meantime you go down and watch, but whatever you do, don't let Slim spot you."

"Rather not!" agreed Sandy, and was gone.

Slim and Jack were still talking, but presently Slim got up, shook hands with Cornish and walked away. Sandy waited till he was quite out of sight, then hurried out to Jack.

"I say, do you know who that was?" he asked.

"A man called Rutherford," replied Jack. "He's the estate agent who wants to sell me some land."

"Rutherford's his name now," said Sandy. "The last time we met he was Godfrey Gilson, but he's really Slim Worden."

Jack gave a long low whistle. "Well, I'm jiggered," he said at last. "And to think I never had the least notion of it!"

"Is he staying here?" asked Sandy.

"Not at this hotel. He's at the Magnolia."

"Good. I say, you didn't mention us?"

"No—thank goodness. He was gassing so much about this land. I half promised to go and see it."

"You can bet it's no good, or that there's some swindle behind it."

"Must be, but I'd like to know what. I may be green to Florida, but I'm not quite a fool in business matters."

"Here's Crab," said Sandy, as the big ex-flying man came striding along the verandah. "It's all right, Crab," said Sandy. "Slim's gone and I've been telling Jack."

"He's told me all right," said Cornish. "And now I'm keen as mustard to get a bit of our own back. There's nothing I hate worse than being 'played for a sucker,' as they say in this country."

"Wouldn't it be splendid if we could play Slim?" suggested Sandy, with a grin.

"A bit difficult," remarked Crab, dryly.

"I don't know," said Jack thoughtfully. "It mightn't be so hard as you think. I've got a notion for a start."

"What?" asked Sandy eagerly.

"Well, suppose I pretend to swallow the bait—let Slim think I'm really keen on this land he's been cracking up so much. I'll tell him I'd like to go and see it, only I'm busy. I've got the derelict salvage matter on hand." He paused. "Do you get me?"

"Not quite," said Crab, frowning a little.

Jack smiled. "Why, don't you see, I'll get him to find a customer for the timber."

Sandy's eyes widened. "Do you think he would?"

"Why of course he would," put in Crab quickly. "He's just the man to do it. And then, Jack, you mean to go with him to look at the land."

"You've got it in once," smiled Cornish. "I go and look at the land and you come along after us without his knowing anything about it. But I'm not quite clear what happens then. Do you feed him to the alligators, or merely lose him in a swamp?"

Crab's face went grim. "I don't know what we do except that we make him own up about the launch. We've got to get her back for Sandy's people."

"We'll arrange some plan," said Cornish. "The great thing is for you fellows to lie low."

"We'll lie low," promised Crab. "Where are you going to see Slim again?"

"I'm having supper with him at his hotel. You keep around here and when I come back I'll tell you what I've fixed up."

Crab and Sandy were quite glad to keep around as Jack had suggested, for they were stiff and sore from the experience of the past week. They loafed in long chairs until supper, then ate an enormous meal, and went back to their chairs to wait for Jack. He came in after nine and his round face was one grin.

"I've spoofed him," he said. "He knows who owns the Oneida. It's a firm called Ward and Chub with offices at Pensacola. He has been on the 'phone to them and they're going to pay us two thousand dollars salvage."

"It's a good egg," said Crab heartily. "A thousand dollars will fix up Bud and me with a new boat, and the other thousand will come in mighty handy for Sandy and his folk. You've done well, Jack." He paused. "What about the land?" he asked. "Where is it?"

"Near Kaliga, about twenty miles from here. I'm going over with him to-morrow. We can take a car part way and then we get a boat across Lake Kaliga. Slim swears it's the best uncleared land in the State and has showed me photographs. It doesn't look too bad."

"It must look all right," said Crab, "but you can bet your boots there's something wrong about it. What's he asking?"

"Twenty-five dollars an acre."

"Hm, that's a fair price for uncleared land if it's fit for fruit growing," allowed Crab. "Myself, I don't know the part and I don't know a lot about land. But Bud's an expert. We'd better follow you, and when Bud sees it he'll be able to tell you if it's worth anything."

"That's a bet," agreed Jack. "I'll fix up a car for you and you come on after mine. We're starting at eight."

Next morning, after a good night's sleep and an excellent breakfast, Crab, Bud and Sandy found a car waiting for them and started off. Bud carried a bag. "Grub for us all," he explained.

Half an hour's run through the pine forest brought them to the edge of a big lake and here they found a boat and a man who helped them pull across. This boatman, a big negro, landed them on the far side and pointed to a path through the woods.

"Dat's whar de oder gents went," he said. "De English gent said you all is to wait by de big burnt pine."

The big burnt pine stood on the edge of the large clearing where the trees had been used years before for turpentine making. There they stood, dead white skeletons, ruined and killed by the greed of the turpentine farmers. Many of them had fallen and the sandy soil was littered with decaying logs. It was a wild, desolate looking tract.

"This is the land," said Crab. "What do you make of it, Bud?"

Bud shook his head. "Can't tell yet, but I'll lay there's something wrong with it or Slim wouldn't be selling it. I suspect hard pan."

"What's hard pan?"

"A layer of rock close under the surface. Hard pan land gets water-logged in wet weather and you can't grow anything on it."

"We ought to have brought a spade," said Sandy.

"I've got something better than a spade," grinned Bud touching his bag.

Crab laughed. "Trust you for being ready, Bud. But hulloa, there they are!" As he spoke Jack Cornish and Slim Worden came in sight, walking together across a hollow at a little distance. Slim was talking hard, Jack simply listening. In the hot stillness the listeners could hear every word said.

"Sure! grow anything you like. Fine land for peaches or grapes or pineapples. And dirt cheap at what we're asking."

"Title good?" asked Jack.

"Open to any investigation," replied Slim. "There's a fine lake frontage and a good road opposite. If you take the whole thousand acres you can have it at twenty dollars the acre."

Jack glanced round. "I'm not an expert in land," he said, "so I asked a friend to come out and have a look. He ought to be here now."

"He's here," called Bud and walked out, bag in hand. Crab signed to Sandy to keep hidden and the two watched Bud, but more particularly Slim.

"Good morning, Mr. Worden," said Bud quietly. "Say, I didn't reckon to meet you again so soon."

Slim started sharply, but quickly recovered, and forced a laugh. "And I didn't reckon you were a land expert, Mr. Mazell," he said.

"I guess I know as much about it as you anyway," replied Bud dryly.

"Well," drawled Slim, "you'll sure have your work cut out to crab this here tract of country. This is good goods I'm selling." He picked Up a handful of the soil and passed it through his fingers. "Real good stuff," he said.

"Soil's all right," replied Bud. "Question is, what's below it?"

"If we'd got a spade and a few hours to spare maybe you could dig a hole and find out," sneered Slim.

"I guess I got something better than a spade," Bud said, opening his bag. "Here's a stick of dynamite. I was reckoning to put that in and see what she turns up."

Slim scowled but recovered quickly. "Sure, try it if you've a mind to," he said.

Bud meantime was busy. He took a trowel from his bag and digging a small hole, put the dynamite into it and fixed and cut the fuse.

"Guess you better get off a piece," said Bud to Slim, but Slim sneered again.

"I guess I know just how much a stick of dynamite will do," he said.

"He's looking round," said Sandy to Crab. "What's he after?"

"Just what I've been wondering," replied Crab. "By gum, I've got it," he whispered sharply. "He's got some of his own crowd hanging about. Watch those two beggars dodging up through the trees."

"I see," said Sandy quickly. "Tough looking fellows—they might have come right off the launch."

"That's where they do come from," growled Crab. "One of them is the chap you knocked out with the stretcher."

The two ruffians were creeping up behind Bud and Jack. Bud, who had his back to them and had not seen them, was meantime lighting the fuse.

"You're too close," he said to Slim, but Slim merely grinned in an unpleasant way and stepped behind a dead tree. His men came stealthily closer, and Crab whispered again to Sandy.

"It's my belief they mean to kidnap Bud and Jack," he said.

"What for?"

"They'll hold Jack for ransom. They know he's got money."

Sandy took a step forward, but Crab caught him by the arm. "Wait till the dynamite goes off. Then we can run up under cover of the dust." As he spoke he picked up a heavy pine knot, a terrible weapon in his powerful hand. "You'll have to look out," whispered Sandy, "Slim will have a pistol."

Crab nodded, but before he could speak Slim's two men had made a rush, each drawing a pistol as he came. At that instant the dynamite went off. The hot, still air shook with the heavy report and the ground quivered. A great cloud of dust rose, hiding everything from view.

"Come on!" cried Crab, but as he and Sandy ran forward a second boom followed the first and the ground rocked so violently that Crab stumbled and fell. "What the mischief is up!" he exclaimed as he scrambled to his feet. "It feels like an earthquake."

"It is an earthquake," cried Sandy. "Oh, my goodness, the whole place is falling in." He was right. With a roar like thunder the whole surface of the hollow was breaking away and caving inwards and the dead trunks were falling like sticks into the black pit which showed in the centre.


XII. — SLIM HAS TO SWIM

THE noise was so frightful, and the whole business so like a particularly unpleasant nightmare that for some moments the two stood where they were, too stunned and amazed to move. Crab was the first to recover.

"Come on!" he cried hoarsely. "We've got to get Bud out of this." He plunged forward into the great smoke-like cloud of dust and Sandy followed hard at his heels.

"Bud!" shouted Sandy, but there was no reply. No wonder, for the roaring and crashing went on and with it heavy sullen splashes, while the ground still quivered and quaked exactly as if an earthquake was going on.

Suddenly Sandy found himself right on the edge of a perpendicular bank which fell straight down into what appeared to be a pool of seething water.

"Get back!" cried Crab, and seizing him by the arm, jerked him back. Only just in time, for at that instant the ground on which he had been standing just one instant before, broke away and went down into the black water with a sullen plunge.

"Is—is Bud in there?" gasped Sandy.

"How do I know?" growled Crab. "Bud!" he shouted at the pitch of his great voice. "Bud!" He was more upset than Sandy had ever seen him. "Bud!" he roared again.

"All right, old scout, I'm still above ground," came Bud's voice from behind them. "But, say, you keep back. There's no saying how much of Florida is going to fall into the pit."

"You dog-gone idiot!" grumbled Crab. "You scared the stuffing out of me. I thought you were down there."

"Not me. I saw right enough what was happening, and the instant it started I lugged old Jack out. It was the dust hid us from you."

"Saw what was happening?" repeated Crab. "Perhaps you'll be good enough to tell us what the Dickens has happened."

"A sinkhole, old man; the dynamite busted the limestone crust over this pit and once it started all the rest fell in. I knew the ground was hollow hereabouts."

"It put the wind up me properly," replied Crab. "What's happened to Slim and those two bullies of his?"

"Down there, I guess," replied Bud, pointing into the depths of the pit.

"Which is about where they belong," remarked Crab, and even as he spoke there came up from below a stifled shriek.

"Sounds mighty like Slim," remarked Bud.

The dust was clearing and the ground seemed to have ceased its shuddering and trembling. Pieces of rock still fell from the edges of the big hole, striking the water with heavy splashes, but on the whole the commotion had nearly ceased. The four peered through the thinning dust and it was Sandy's sharp eyes that first caught sight of a figure straggling feebly on the surface of the great black pool. This pool was some fifty yards across, and water filled it to within about twenty feet of the ground level. Its sides were of raw limestone full of deep cavities. The water, which was dark and discoloured, was covered with scum, and in it a number of logs and stumps of trees floated. Clinging to one of these was a drenched, white-faced man.

"It's Slim all right," said Sandy coolly, "but I don't see anything of the others."

"You won't," replied Bud quietly. "They were caught in the very first of it, and there's fifty or maybe a hundred feet of water in that pit."

Sandy shivered a little with the horror of it and then Slim saw them and cried again for help.

Bud looked down at him. "Why should I help you?" he asked. "It would save a heap of trouble to leave you right where you are."

"You can't do it," Slim answered hoarsely. "It would be murder."

"Murder," repeated Bud, and for once there was none of his usual fun and lightness in his voice. "What about marooning us on Snake Island? Wasn't that murder? And drowning's a heap better death than snake bite." Slim began to protest, but Bud cut him short. "It's not a mite of use your lying," he said curtly. "We know all about it, and even if you weren't there in the launch, they were your men and Barchard's. Where's our launch?"

"I don't know any more than you do. So help me. I don't. Barchard and I had a row and parted company and I don't know where he's got her." His voice was very weak and hoarse. "If I was dying I couldn't tell you more," he finished.

"We've got to have her back," said Crab grimly, but Slim did not answer.

"He's fainted," cried Sandy. "See! His eyes are closed."

Crab scowled. "For once I believe he's not shamming," he grumbled. "I suppose we've got to get him out. Sandy, you cut back to the boat and get the rope out of her. I'll go in and hold him up." Before the others could protest he had flung off his coat and boots and taken a clean dive into the pit. Sandy only waited to see that he was safe in the water then ran like a rabbit across the clearing towards the lake. As he came back with the rope he caught up with a grey-bearded old chap in a ragged snuff-coloured suit, who was hurrying towards the scene. He saw Sandy and stopped.

"Say, young feller," he said in a high, squeaky voice. "What in turnation hez been a happening? Sure as my name's Clem Jordan, the noise scared me plumb out o' my senses."

"We dynamited a stump and the earth gave way, and a big sink hole formed," Sandy told him. "There's a chap in the water and I'm bringing the rope to get him out. Come on and I'll show you where it is." So Jordan came with him and proved himself very useful in helping to get Slim and Crab up out of the pit.

Crab shook himself like a great dog, but Slim lay very white and still. Jordan examined him. "Guess he ain't much hurt," he remarked. "Ain't no bones broke anyways. You reckoning to take him back to Punta Garda?"

"It's a longish trip," said Bud thoughtfully, "and the sun's mighty hot. Say, Mr. Jordan, where do you live?"

"My shack's down in the woods nigh the lake. He kin stay there ef you've a mind to leave him."

"It wouldn't be a bad idea to leave him there," said Jack Cornish aside to Bud. "We don't want him at Punta Garda."

"Sure!" agreed Bud. He turned to the old cracker. "I guess we'll leave him with you for the night, anyway, Mr. Jordan. We'll pay you to look after him, and will send for him in a couple of days when he's better."

Jack Cornish forked out a five dollar bill and old Jordan's pale eyes glistened as he pocketed it. It was probably more money than he had seen for a year.

"You kin trust him to me, gents," he promised. "I'll fix him up all right if you'll help me to carry him down thar to my place." They got him to Jordan's shack, laid him on a rough cot, and left him to the old man's tender mercies. Then they walked back to the boat.

Jack had been very silent since the smash up. Now he spoke. "You chaps have pulled me out of an awful mess," he said. "You've saved me from being done out of a lot of money, and from worse things as well, for I see now that this beauty, Slim, meant to kidnap me and hold me for ransom. Now I want you to come back and stay with me as long as you can. You want a good time after all you've been through, and a week or two at the hotel will set you all up."

"That sure sounds good to me, Jack," grinned Bud, "but it's Sandy here we have to think of, or rather his people. They'll all be thinking he's dead, and it isn't as if we could send them a letter or a wire. I guess that just as soon as we can raise that cash for the Oneida we'll get a boat and skip along to Sevenstones."

Jack nodded. "I guess you're right," he said gravely. "See here, I'll advance you the cash. Oh, don't you worry," he added as Sandy began to protest. "I'll get it back all right, if I have to make Slim cough it up. But until you do get a boat you three are my guests. You quite get that, I hope."

Bud chuckled. "Well, seeing we haven't got a cent between us, I guess we do," he answered. "All the same, Crab and I must start to find that boat to-morrow, Jack."

"All right, and I'll help," Jack answered.

He was as good as his word and next day Crab sat at the tiller while Bud, lying at full length in the bottom of the boat, looked round with an air of extreme content. "Say, but old Jack certainly did keep his word," he remarked.

"He jolly well did," agreed Crab. "This is a darn sight better boat than the old one. She's not only bigger, but quite a bit faster."

"She's a beauty," declared Sandy, "and it was awfully smart of Jack to find her for us. What did you pay for her, Crab?"

"Eight hundred as she stands with all her sails and fittings."

"A right good buy," declared Bud. "What have you done with the balance, Crab?"

"Spent it," replied Crab.

Bud glanced at certain cases stowed forward and covered with tarpaulin, and Crab nodded. "Yes, on those," he said briefly. "Grub, mostly. I know Mrs. Linton was short of tea and coffee and groceries, so I've got a good stock, and that second case is full of tinned stuff."

"What about that long one?" questioned Bud. "Have you been buying guns?"

"Rifles," said Crab. "I've got two good 'uns, and five hundred rounds of ammunition."

Bud's eyes widened a little. "Expecting trouble?" he asked.

"Slim isn't dead that I've heard of," said Crab drily.

Sandy was hardly listening. He was straining his eyes across the shining blue waves as if expecting every minute to see Sevenstones Key rise above the horizon. "I say, Crab, when shall we get in?" he asked eagerly.

Crab considered a moment. "If this breeze holds we ought to sight Sevenstones before dark," he answered.

"Let's have some grub," suggested Bud genially. "It will help to pass the time. Come on, Sandy, light the oil stove and make some coffee."

All the afternoon the breeze held nobly and the stout little cat boat, lying over so that her boom dipped in each wave top, went slashing along at a fine rate of speed.

At last Sandy, who had been sitting as quiet and still as a stone image, jumped up.

"Land!" he shouted. "On the port bow. Crab, it's Sevenstones, isn't it?"

"It's Sevenstones all right," agreed Crab. "With any luck we'll be in by eight o'clock."

It was long after dark when at last the Buster, as Crab had named his new boat, came quietly into the harbour.

"There's a light," said Sandy. "That's the house. Thank goodness, they're all right."

"They'll be jolly glad to see you, old chap," said Crab, in a voice that was not so gruff as usual. "Here we are. Drop the mainsail, Bud, and you, Sandy, be ready to take a rope ashore." Another moment, the cat boat bumped gently against the rough wooden landing stage, and Sandy leaped ashore.

"Who's dar?" came a voice out of the gloom. "Yo' stand still or I'll sure shoot."

"You're not going to shoot me, Rastus," said Sandy.

Rastus dropped his old blunderbuss with a clatter on the planking. He gave a queer sort of shout and flung his skinny arms round Sandy. "It's Marse Sandy!" he cried. "Oh, golly, it's Marse Sandy."

"It's Sandy all right," Sandy answered, in a voice that was not as steady as he would have liked it to be. "Let me go, Rastus, I want to go up to the house." He pulled himself gently away from old Rastus, but before he could start for the house Crab's big hand fell on his shoulder.

"Steady, old man, better let me go first."

"Why?"

"It'll be a bit of a shock for your mother, Sandy. I might sort of break it to her."

"All right," said Sandy. "But—but I hope you won't be long."

"I'll have to be jolly quick if I want to beat Rastus," said Crab, and was off as fast as his long legs would carry him. Next moment Tess arrived, racing down the dark path with her hair flying behind her.

"Oh, Sandy—Sandy!" she cried, as she flung herself into her brother's arms. "We—we thought you were dead. Oh, I am so glad you've come back."

She began to cry, but Sandy knew it was just excitement and hugged her hard and said nothing. They went up to the house together, and his mother hugged Sandy as if she could never let him go, and his father shook his hand so hard that it hurt and tried to say something, but his voice was so hoarse and queer that no one could tell what he did say.

When at last the excitement had quieted a little they all sat down to supper, and talked hard the whole time. First Sandy had to tell of all their adventures. His mother and Tess held their breath when he spoke of the fight aboard the launch and of the fire on Snake Island. Sandy told his story well, and was so enthusiastic about Crab's share in the doings that the big ex-airman got quite red and embarrassed.

"I can never tell you how grateful I am to you for bringing Sandy back to us," said Mr. Linton, heartily.

"But we've lost the launch, Mr. Linton," said Crab, gravely. "And now you have all that debt to pay and no money to do it."

"I have the thousand dollars which you have brought me," replied the elder man. "That will pay the interest for two years or more, and give us time to look round. We may be better off before that time. Tess here has made a discovery which may prove useful."

Sandy turned to his sister. "What have you found, Tess?" he asked eagerly. "Not the wreck?"

"I've found a wreck," replied Tess, modestly.

"The dickens you have?" said Crab sharply. "Where, Tess?"

"I'll show you to-morrow. It's right outside the reef and in rather deep water. I should never have seen it only that one day the sea happened to be dead calm and the boat drifted right over it."

"You're a dandy, Tess," declared Bud. "If this is the galleon it'll sure put us all in Easy Street."

Crab got up. "I'm going right to bed," he announced. "It's light at five and that's the calmest hour of the twenty-four."

"All right," said Tess. "I'll be ready at half-past four."

"Me too," agreed Bud. "Good-night, folk. I'm sure going to sleep as long as Crab will let me."

"I'm coming, too," declared Sandy, and Bud winked.

"If you're awake," he said, and went off.

But Sandy stayed talking to his father and mother until nearly midnight, with the result that when he woke next morning in his comfortable bed, he found that it was nearer seven o'clock than six. He tumbled out and ran straight down to the sea to take his dip, and was hardly in the water before the boat came round the little headland into the bay.

"What luck?" he yelled, as he swam out.

"It's a wreck all right," shouted back Crab, "but it's in five fathoms of water and we can't tell anything about it until we get a diving suit."

Sandy swam up to the boat and hung on. "Do you think it's the galleon?" he asked keenly.

"Can't tell a bit, old chap," replied Crab. "It's a biggish ship and she's been there a long time, for she's simply crusted with coral. Anyhow it's worth investigating, and Bud and I will start off at once back to Punta Garda and see if we can raise a diving suit. We'll go after breakfast and, with luck, be back the day after to-morrow."


XIII. — AN UGLY VISITOR

"I THOUGHT that Bud and Crab would have been back by now," said Tess in a rather injured tone.

It was the third evening after Bud and Crab had gone off in search of the diving suit, and Sandy and Tess were out trying to get some fish for supper.

"No good getting impatient, old thing," replied Sandy. "It's quite likely there was no diving suit to be had at Punta Garda. They may have to go up as far as Tampa, and in that case they won't be back for a week. They—," he stopped short. "Well, I'm blessed!" he exclaimed. "There they are!" He pointed, as he spoke, to a tiny dot on the sea, which stood out dark against the red glow of the sunset. "At least it's a boat of some sort," he added, "though it's a bit too far off to tell what she is."

"She must be the cat boat. Nothing else ever comes here," said Tess, as she gazed out across the sea, shading her eyes with her hand from the reflected glow.

"They won't be here for another hour, anyhow," said Sandy. "The breeze is so light. Hulloa," he exclaimed, as his line gave a jerk, "I've got a fish." He pulled up, hand over hand, and a fine mullet, weighing a couple of pounds, came splashing to the surface. Sandy pulled it in, killed it adroitly, and dropped it in the bottom of the boat. Then Tess got one, they began to bite fast, and the pile of silvery beauties rapidly increased. Presently Sandy spoke up again. "She's coming in jolly fast, Tess." He paused. "She's not the cat boat," he said sharply. "She's a launch."

Tess turned and looked hard at the approaching vessel, which was now within about three miles. "You are right, Sandy. It is a launch. Do you think that Crab can have got hold of one somehow?"

Sandy shook his head. "I don't see how. It costs a lot even to hire a launch, and Crab hadn't the money. Goodness, Tess, I hope it isn't Slim again."

"We had better get back and tell Dad," said Tess, as she quickly coiled up her line. Sandy nodded, and getting out the sculls, pulled rapidly back to the landing place. They tied up the boat and ran to the house, where they met their father just coming in from the garden.

"A launch," he said uneasily. "If it's that unpleasant person Slim we had better be ready for him. Slip into the house, Sandy, and load those two rifles, but don't show them unless I give the word."

The sun went down and it was rapidly getting dark, but the launch was now so close they could see her plainly. She was a fair-sized craft, and by the pace she came in towards the harbour pretty powerfully engined.

Mr. Linton looked uneasy. "I wish I knew who it was," he said, in a low voice to Sandy.

"You'll know soon enough, Dad," said Sandy. "Tell you what. You wait here and meet them, and Rastus and I will lie low in the kitchen. We'll have the rifles ready and if there's any trouble we can wade in."

Mr. Linton looked at his son with a rather startled air. He had not yet realized what a lot Sandy had learnt while he had been away.

His father had not long to wait, for in a very few minutes the launch was at the landing, and presently a man came up the path. As he came into the circle of light, thrown by the big lamp in the parlour, he stopped.

"Hulloa," he said in a deep, harsh voice. "I guess you're Linton, aren't you?"

"That is my name," replied Mr. Linton.

"I'm Barchard," said the other briefly.

Mr. Linton looked at the new-comer. He saw a large, heavily-built man, with a head that matched his size. He had a big, hooked nose, a large thin-lipped mouth and pale blue eyes, the coldest, cruellest eyes that Mr. Linton had ever seen in a human face.

"I have not the pleasure of your acquaintance, Mr. Barchard," said Sandy's father. "May I ask what is your business with me?"

"Oh, stow that gab," retorted Barchard coarsely. "I've come about the payment for that there launch as you bought off of Gilson."

"May I ask what business that is of yours?" returned Mr. Linton, with such icy politeness that Sandy, listening at the window, wanted to clap.

"If it ain't my business I don't know whose it is?" retorted Barchard. "I've bought the mortgage and the money's due to me. I've come to collect it."

"Absurd!" replied Mr. Linton curtly. "Why the first interest payment is not due yet."

Barchard laughed harshly. "I'm not asking for interest. It's the capital I want. Seven thousand dollars."

"But the money is on mortgage. It is not due to be paid for three years."

Barchard laughed again, an unpleasant sound. "I dunno whether yo're trying to kid me or yourself. The money's due any time it's asked for, and I'm asking for it right now. If ye don't believe me, look at your agreement. You'll find it there in black and white." The man spoke with a sort of scornful certainty which made Mr. Linton's heart sink. But he still kept a bold face turned to the intruder.

"The agreement is in my desk. If you will be good enough to step into the house I will get it out."

Through the open window of the kitchen Sandy and Rastus could hear every word that was being said. Mrs. Linton and Tess had been in the kitchen when Barchard first arrived, but Sandy had persuaded them to go into the bedroom beyond, so he and the coloured man were alone in the kitchen.

"Dar's suah trouble comin'," whispered Rastus in Sandy's ear.

"It looks like it," agreed Sandy, "but sit tight, Rastus; we've got these rifles and that gives us a big pull."

But confidently as he spoke, Sandy was not happy. He knew quite well that Barchard must have a number of men with him on the launch, and that they were probably all as big blackguards as Barchard himself. It was the worst of luck that they should have arrived just when Crab and Bud were away.

"Dey's comin' in," whispered Rastus, as Mr. Linton and Barchard entered the sitting room.

"It's all right," replied Sandy. "The door's not quite shut and we can hear quite easily. Listen! Dad's getting out the agreement."

There was silence for a minute or two, broken only by the rustling of papers. Then Mr. Linton spoke.

"I don't see anything about payment being made on demand, Mr. Barchard. The agreement simply says that interest at eight per cent, is to be paid on the principal. As for repayment, all it says is that at any time after five years the principal may be demanded by the mortgagee."

"But it don't say anything against payment being demanded before the five years is up, does it?" returned Barchard, in his harsh, sneering voice.

"No, but the effect of the agreement is as I have said."

"Effect be darned! You ask any lawyer and he'll tell you I'm right."

"We don't keep a lawyer on Sevenstones Key," replied Sandy's father. "But you may be very sure I shall consult one as soon as I can get across to the mainland."

"No need for that. I'm lawyer enough to tell you that I'm right, and you're wrong. I've come all the way across from Florida to get my money, and you'll either pay right away or quit the island."

"I haven't the money," began Mr. Linton, and before he could say more the other broke in.

"Then out you go. You can take your clothes along, but everything else is mine."

Mr. Linton flushed. "Don't be a fool," he said curtly. "I have no intention—"

"Don't you dare call me a fool," growled Barchard, threateningly. "I don't take that from no man, let alone a darned Britisher. Be you going, or do I have to put you off the island?"

Mr. Linton faced the bully bravely. "Most certainly I am not going."

Barchard's answer was to double his great fists and hit out, and Mr. Linton, taken unawares by the cowardly blow, staggered back across the room, crashed against the wall, and fell in a heap to the floor.

"That'll learn ye," said Barchard, viciously.

The kitchen door burst open with a crash, and the next thing of which Barchard was aware was a rifle barrel pointing straight at his head, and behind it a boy with flashing blue eyes and fiery red hair.

"You filthy bully!" snapped Sandy. "Put your hands up or I'll blow your head off." Barchard's answer was to make a grab at his pistol pocket. Before he could reach it, Sandy's rifle crashed, the report shaking the whole house, and Barchard's hat, which he had failed to remove when he entered the house, flew from his head. He staggered back with a yell of dismay.

"It might just as well have been your head," said Sandy coolly. "Now perhaps you'll put your hands up."

Up went Barchard's hands in a hurry. "Put that there gun down," he cried out. "Put it down, I say."

"I am going to put it down," said Sandy. "But there is another ready behind to shoot you if you play any tricks. Rastus, you cover him while I take his pistol."

"Ah wish yo'd let me shoot him, Marse Sandy," said Rastus, as he stepped out of the kitchen. "It would suah save us a heap o' trouble."

"I expect it would," agreed Sandy, "but don't pull the trigger till I tell you, Rastus." As he spoke he stepped up to Barchard and quickly relieved him of his pistol. By this time Mr. Linton had got up again. His lips were bleeding, but he was quite himself again.

"Thank you, Sandy," he said. "You can give me that pistol."

Sandy handed it over, and Mr. Linton swung round on the discomfited Barchard.

"Get out of this," he ordered. "And get off the island. You see that we are well armed. If you or your men venture to set foot on it again we shall not hesitate to shoot. When your interest is due you will get it—that is if you can satisfy me that you really own the mortgage."

"Of course I own the mortgage," growled Barchard. "I got the papers in the launch. You can see 'em if you've a mind to."

"I have no mind to at present," replied Mr. Linton curtly. "All I want is to see you off my property. Clear out."

"I'll go," said Barchard hastily, and made for the door. In a moment he was outside, but those inside had hardly lost sight of him in the gloom of the cloudy night, before they heard a shrill whistle.

"What's that?" demanded Mr. Linton.

"It's Barchard calling his men. Dad," replied Sandy. "I could have told you what would happen. Now we shall have the whole crowd of them on top of us."

Sandy swung round. "Quick, Rastus," he said. "We've got to get Barchard before he reaches the launch." He darted out and Rastus followed him with a quickness wonderful in so old a man.


XIV. — THE STORM BREAKS

OUTSIDE it was black as a hat. The storm, which had been working up all the evening, was now getting closer, and the air was thick and heavy, while the sky was completely covered with a dense pall of cloud. Not a breath of wind stirred, but already flashes of distant lightning were winking along the north-western horizon.

Rifle in hand, Sandy ran quickly down the path, and on the soft sandy soil his rubber shod feet made no sound. He was soon well ahead of Rastus, but he could see no sign of Barchard. There was a hedge of Spanish bayonets between the garden and the beach. He had just reached this when, all of a sudden, a faint flash of lightning lit the velvet gloom and Sandy caught a momentary glimpse of a hulking figure, which had been hiding among the spike-like bushes, wheeling upon him, and a great hard hand outstretched to seize him. With a desperate effort he twisted aside and heard a gasp of pain and a savage oath as the hand struck one of the keen spikes of a bayonet. Before Barchard could recover himself Sandy had jammed his rifle against the man's side.

"Turn round," he ordered fiercely. He heard steps crunching across the sand below. "Round with you!" he hissed. "If you don't I'll shoot. I give you my word I will."

Barchard hit off an oath, but obeyed. Then Rastus came up, panting.

"You got him, Marse Sandy?" he asked hoarsely.

"Yes, but watch out," whispered back Sandy. "His men are coming up from the launch."

Barchard had heard them, and dark as it was, Sandy felt, rather than saw, that he was minded to give them a shout.

"Make a sound, and it will be the last you ever make," he said in a voice so fierce that he almost frightened himself. At any rate Barchard seemed convinced that Sandy meant what he said, for the man went straight back towards the house without another word.

Sandy walked behind him, Rastus on one side, and Sandy kept the muzzle of his rifle hard against the big man's back. They were quite close to the house when the first real flash of the coming storm ripped across the sky, flinging out everything, for an instant, in brilliant relief. With the mutter of thunder which followed, came a hoarse, angry shouting.

"Dey's seed us," said Rastus, hoarsely.

"I know," replied Sandy, "but they can't catch us before we get to the house, and they daren't shoot for fear of hitting Barchard. Get on quickly." Another few moments and they were in the circle of light thrown out by the big lamp in the sitting room, and again Barchard's followers out in the dark shouted angrily.

"You have got him?" exclaimed Sandy's father. "That is capital. We had better lock him up."

"No, Dad. Keep him right here on the verandah. That's the only way to protect ourselves against his men riddling the house with bullets."

"Yes, yes, I suppose you are right," replied Mr. Linton quickly, and almost before he had finished speaking, five men came rushing up.

"Stop right there!" said Sandy, but there was no need for his order, for seeing three well-armed people awaiting them, Barchard's men pulled up on the outer edge of the circle of light.

The crew of Slim's launch had been about as tough as they make them, but these fellows were a full degree worse. With their dirty, unshaven faces, and hard, cruel eyes, they looked like human wolves. But if there was one thing Sandy had learnt during his recent travels, it was to put a bold face on danger, whatever it was, and now he spoke up crisply.

"We've got your boss, and we mean to hold him. If you start anything we shall take it out of him, so if you know what's good for you and him, you'd best go back to your launch."

The men looked at one another, then spoke in low, growling voices, and Sandy saw that they were planning to make a rush. He flung up his rifle.

"Try it!" he snapped. "You may get us, but we shall get most of you first."

There was silence, broken only by a distant mutter of thunder. The lightning blinked again, showing up those five evil faces in its pale glare. One of the men stepped forward. Never a beauty, his looks were not improved by a blue scar the size of the top of a teacup on his left cheek.

"Say, kid, you give up the boss," he said hoarsely, "and we'll go back to our boat all right."

Sandy's lip curled. "What sort of fool do you take me for? You forget I've met some of your crowd before. I wouldn't take your oath, let alone your word. Barchard stops right here with us until morning. Then we'll take him down to the boat and see you and him together off the island."

"You crow mighty loud, my lad," said the man who had spoken before. "We're going now, but I guess maybe you'll see us again."

Then the five faces faded away, and as a fresh flash lit the gloom, those on the verandah saw them walking away in the direction of the beach.

"They'll come back all right," said Barchard, in his deep, harsh voice. "You'd have done better to let me go along with them."

"That's your notion, not ours, Mr. Barchard," returned Sandy curtly. "Dad, we've got to tie him up. You and Rastus do it while I hold the gun."

They tied him securely and left him in the kitchen, with Rastus to guard him, then Sandy and his father went back into the sitting room, where the first thing Sandy did was to lower the lamp and pull the curtains over the window.

"What will they do, Sandy?" asked his father.

"My guess is, Dad, that they'll wait till the storm is over and perhaps a bit longer. Then some time between midnight and dawn they'll attack."

"But will they dare, seeing we have their leader?"

"That won't save us, Dad. The only thing is that it may prevent them from firing into the house. What I think they will do is to seize the packing shed. If they get that they can hold us up properly, for we shouldn't be able to leave the house."

"It is a bad business," said Mr. Linton, in a troubled voice. "If only Cubbage and Mazell were not away!"

"But they are, Dad, and it's no use expecting them before to-morrow evening. We have to hold out somehow until then. The best thing will be for you and Rastus to keep guard here in the house and let me go over to the packing house."

"It's dreadfully dangerous, Sandy."

"Everything is dangerous, Dad, so long as those brutes are on the island. But luck's been with us so far. Having Barchard will save the house from being shot at, and we've got two jolly good rifles, besides your shot-gun and Barchard's pistol. You had best load the gun with buck shot. It's a fine thing up to about fifty or sixty yards. You might get two at once with it."

Mr. Linton looked at his son. He was a man who had never done any fighting, and, though no coward, the events of the evening had shaken him badly. He was dreadfully worried about his wife and Tess, and could not understand Sandy taking it all so calmly. Still, the fact that the boy did so was some sort of comfort, and he felt that he had better let Sandy take charge.

Sandy was filling his pockets with cartridges. "I'll go across at once," he said. "It's begun to rain and, even if they're looking out, they can't see me. You sit tight. Dad, and tell mother and Tess there's nothing to worry about. You'll hear me shoot if they do tackle the packing house."

By this time the storm had broken in earnest, and the roar of the rain on the roof was so loud it almost drowned the bellow of the thunder. Lightning flashed every second but, even so, the glare of it could not penetrate the rain. The electric blaze merely turned the rain into a haze of blue fog. Sandy slipped on his slicker, a long yellow oilskin, then, picking up a lantern, nodded to his father and was out of the door and away.

Sandy flung the door of the packing shed open, and hurried in out of the rain. The first thing he did was to lay down his lantern and his rifle. Then he began to look for matches to light his lantern. He got out the box, but before he could strike a match a pair of great arms seized him from behind, and pinned him helplessly.

"Not so clever as ye thought ye were," came a hoarse voice in his ear. "I reckoned this was what ye would do, and was jest awaiting for ye."

Sandy knew the voice at once as that of the blue-checked gentleman. He did not struggle, for he felt perfectly certain that he could do no good against the other's massive strength.

"You were smarter than I thought," he answered, quite quietly, "and now what are you going to do about it?"

"Gol-darned if you ain't a cool one!" remarked the other, with a sort of reluctant admiration. "Wal, I don't mind telling ye that I'm a-going to hold ye against Barchard. I'm reckoning to swop ye off for him with yore Dad."

"That sounds reasonable," said Sandy, "and when you get him back, what then?"

"That's for the boss to say," replied Blue-face, with an ugly chuckle.

"Suppose Dad refuses to trade?" suggested Sandy mildly.

"Thar's ways of making him," replied the other, and this time his chuckle made Sandy's blood run cold. No explanation was necessary, for he knew quite well what the fellow meant. Meantime he stood perfectly quiet, for he was hoping desperately that, if he made no resistance, the man might slacken his hold and give him a chance to either bolt for it or get hold of his rifle.

But Blue-face had more sense than that. "I'm a-going to tie ye up," he said, "and no tricks, mind ye. If you makes a move I'm a-going to hurt ye."

"Don't worry," replied Sandy, coolly. "I know when I'm licked."

The other chuckled once more. "For a kid, you got sense," he remarked.

The worst of the storm had passed, but the lightning, if not so vivid as before, was still flashing every few seconds. But now there was a steadier light in the packing house, for Blue-face had taken a small electric torch from his pocket and switched it on, and laid it on a shelf. Holding Sandy with one hand, with the other he got out a coil of fine, strong cord. Sandy's heart sank at sight of it, for once tied he was helpless, and there would be only his father and Rastus left to hold the house. And Sandy knew that though both of them would fight well at a pinch, they were only too likely to be caught napping by this gang of professional toughs. From where he stood he could see out through the window, and the lightning flashes showed up the front of the house, but there was no sign of any movement on the verandah, and no chance of any rescue from that direction.

"Put yore hands together behind yore back," ordered Blue-face, and now his voice was harsh and menacing.

Sandy obeyed. There was nothing else for it so far as he could see. He felt the cord bite roughly around his wrists, then before Blue-face could tighten the knot a strange sound came from somewhere close at hand. It was a deep, hollow groan. Blue-face gave a great start.

"Bli'me!" he gasped. "What was that?"

The groan came again, and there at the far end of the shed stood a tall white figure. It had neither head nor arms, yet it moved slowly towards them, and as it moved it glowed and glimmered with a faint bluish light.

Blue-face stiffened. "What is it? Who are you?" he demanded with an oath. Then as the cord slackened on Sandy's wrists, Sandy saw his chance and took it. With a sweep of his arm he sent the torch flying, and at the same time leaped for the spot where he had left his rifle.

Roaring with rage, Blue-face flung himself after him, but before he caught him Sandy had the rifle. There was no time to put it to his shoulder. Instead, he swung it by the barrel and struck with all his force at his big opponent. It was too dark to see where he was hitting, but the shock of the blow told him that the butt had gone home on some part of the other's anatomy, and the agonized yell that followed was proof of real damage.

"I'll kill you for that!" roared Blue-face. A flash of lightning lit the dark interior of the shed and showed the man in the act of dragging a pistol from his pocket. But he was doing this with his left hand, for his right arm hung limp and useless.

"Look out, Sandy!" came a shrill cry from the far end of the room, and Sandy's heart gave a great jump as he realized the voice was that of Tess. As the darkness shut down like a lid he ducked, at the same time jumping sideways. The pistol roared, the explosion sounding like that of a cannon in the narrow space. Before Blue-face could pull the trigger a second time Sandy had swung his rifle again. This time the butt caught Blue-face scythe-like across the shins, and he and his pistol together crashed to the floor with a force that shook the whole building.

"A light, a light, Tess!" shouted Sandy, and as he spoke he jammed the muzzle of his rifle hard against Blue-face's neck. "Move an inch and I'll blow your head off," he said in a voice which he hardly recognized as his own.

Tess struck a match, and the faint glimmer showed her Blue-face flat on the floor and Sandy standing over him.

"You've got him, Sandy. Oh, how splendid!" she cried.

"Yes, thanks to you, old thing," Sandy answered. "There's a torch on the shelf. Switch it on. Then, if you feel up to it, I wish you'd tie his legs together. His arms are not much good to him, for one's broken, I think."

Tess had flung down the sheet in which she had disguised herself and, taking Blue-face's own cord, set to tying the man's ankles together. He lay still enough, only groaning now and then.

"There, he can't move now," said Tess, "but, Sandy, we can't leave him like that. His arm is broken."

Sandy considered a moment. "Mother could set it. Run back to the house, Tess, and fetch her. I don't think there's any risk of the rest attacking until after midnight." He paused. "Or I'll go if you'd like better to stay here."

"No," said Tess hastily. "I'll fetch Mum." She darted off and Sandy was left with the helpless Blue-face. The latter, who had been stunned by his fall, was coming round. He grunted, groaned, then opened his eyes.

"Say, what's happened?" he asked hoarsely. "Where am I at?"

"You're where you thought I should be," answered Sandy, rather grimly. "Tied up in our packing house."

"Gee, but I kind a remember. And a kid like you got me down." He tried to move and groaned with pain. Then he swore feebly.

"Keep quiet, you idiot," said Sandy. "Your arm's broken, but I've sent for my mother to set it for you."

Blue-face twisted his head round and looked up at Sandy. "You better tell her to stay right in the house," he said hoarsely. "The rest o' the boys'll be along in about two ticks. There'll be trouble popping around here afore you know it."


XV. — SANDY BLUNDERS

SANDY felt as if a whole bucket of ice water had been emptied over him. The idea that his mother and Tess might be caught by them was simply horrible, and Sandy's first impulse was to stop them at any price from leaving the comparative safety of the house.

Leaving Blue-face lying where he was on the floor of the packing house, he made a dash for the door. He was too late, for Tess was already in the house, and he knew that the moment she and her mother had collected the first-aid outfit they would be coming back to the shed.

He started for the house, then stopped short. Like a flash it came to him that once Barchard's men got into the packing house they had won the day, for from it they commanded the house itself, and even if they did not start shooting, no one could go in or out. They had nothing to do but sit tight and starve out the garrison. This would be easy because the well was outside, and you cannot live long on the Keys without water. At any cost he must keep them out of the shed, and his brain worked double tides as he tried to think how he might manage it.

Suddenly he swung round, dashed back into the packing house and snatched up his rifle. "It's no use, kid," remarked Blue-face. "You can't stop 'em. You'd better stay right here, and I'll see they don't hurt you."

Sandy did not even wait to answer, but rifle in hand, shot out of the door again and ran like the wind down the garden in the direction of the sea. Reaching the spot where the path cut through the belt of Spanish bayonets, he dropped behind a thick guava bush and lay waiting. The path was narrow, the men would come up it in single file, and the last thing they would expect would be that any one was waiting for them there. He believed that he could hold them up at rifle point and force them to turn back.

The storm was over now and the stars were bright, while a faint glow on the eastern horizon showed that the moon would soon be up. The air was warm and very still, and the only sound the drip of moisture from the leaves, and the faint rasp of the small waves on the beach below.

Several minutes passed, yet nothing happened, and Sandy got more and more uneasy. At last he could stand the suspense no longer, rising to his feet, he peered through the hedge of bayonets in the direction of the beach. There was light enough for him to see the launch lying by the rough little wharf, but not enough to see whether any one was on her deck, for she showed only as a mere blob of darkness. Yet certainly there was no one between her and Sandy, so turning back he crept towards the house, being very careful to keep as much as possible under shelter of the bushes.

Looking towards the packing house, he got a fresh shock, for he saw that the light coming from the windows was stronger than it had been. It was certainly more than could be caused by the one little electric torch which he had left there. He quickened his pace and, reaching the packing house, peered carefully through the nearest window.

What he saw inside nearly paralysed him. A lamp was set on the top of a pile of packing cases, and by its light there was his mother busy over Blue-face. She had placed splints around the man's arm and was in the act of lacing a bandage around the splints. Tess stood by her, holding a tray with scissors, bandages, and sponge. And round the two and their patient stood Barchard's other men, all four of them, watching silently, yet quite plainly holding Mrs. Linton and Tess as their prisoners.

In a flash Sandy saw what must have happened. The four, instead of going back to their launch, must have slipped away to the back of the house, unseen in the downpour of rain, and waited there. Then, of course, when they had seen Tess and her mother enter the shed, they had followed. So now they had two prisoners to hold against Barchard.

For a second time within a few minutes Sandy felt himself absolutely up against it. It was true that he had his rifle and that, if he stuck the muzzle through the window, he might be able to hold up these men. But if he did try this the men had nothing to do but to dodge behind his mother and Tess and then he was helpless.

No, that would never do, and yet there did not seem anything else to be done. And while he stood watching in an agony of indecision his mother finished rolling the bandage and said quite calmly, "That will do. Now if you are careful to keep that arm in this sling it will be quite well in about a month."

"Much obliged, lady," said Blue-face gruffly. "You've sure done a mighty nice job." He stood up and looked at Mrs. Linton in an odd sort of way. Then one of the others, a long fellow with a gaunt parchment-like face, spoke.

"Now you're fixed, Bates," he said to Blue-face, "I guess we'll take these two right down to the launch." Mrs. Linton turned and looked questioningly at Blue-face, and to Sandy's amazement that gentleman actually blushed.

"We got to do it," he said gruffly. "But see here, Mandel," he added, speaking to the long man, "there ain't no need to take 'em down to the launch. We can keep 'em right here till we've settled up about Barchard. An' don't you dare to say nothing uncivil to 'em either," he added.

"Maybe you've forgot that there red-headed kid with his rifle," said Mandel sourly, "and the negro and the old man. They all got guns. I don't aim to be filled with lead, a walking up that verandah in the night time."

"If you're scared, I'll go myself," sneered Blue-face. "You kin stay here and watch the prisoners."

"I'll go along with you," said one of the other men.

Blue-face nodded. "Yes, you can come along, Gaul, and you too Pete and Luke. You can leave your rifles, but keep your guns in your pockets." As he spoke he walked towards the door and the others followed him. The man called Mandel was left alone with Mrs. Linton and Tess.

Mandel scowled as he watched the others leaving the shed. He was evidently in a filthy temper and only too anxious to take it out of somebody. He swung round on Tess.

"Get right over thar," he snarled. "I ain't going to have you trying any tricks like you and that there brat of a brother has been doing. Whar's he gone to anyways?"

"I have not an idea," replied Tess, "and if I had," she added scornfully, "I certainly should not tell you."

Mandel took a step towards her. "Don't you dare talk to me like that or I'll hurt you," he snapped.

Tess's lip curled. "It's the sort of thing you would do. You'd be afraid if I was a man and able to hit back."

"Tess! Tess!" exclaimed her mother, but the mischief was done. Mandel's ugly temper flared up, his long arm shot out, and he seized Tess so roughly as to make her gasp. Quick as a flash, and quiet as a shadow, Sandy was in through the window, and the next thing Mandel knew was the muzzle of Sandy's rifle jammed into the back of his neck with a force that brought a cry of pain from his lips.

"Put your hands up, you dirty bully!" ordered Sandy. "Put 'em up, and quick about it. My finger's on the trigger and I'm just longing for a chance to blow your beastly head off."

Mandel's hands shot up and his yellowish face went a dirty grey.

"Tie and gag him and quick about it, Tess. Take some of those bandages, they'll do fine." He spoke to Mandel. "You make a sound and it'll be your last," he added, in a voice which, though low in tone, was full of deadly purpose.

Tess made an excellent job with the bandages, and by the time she had finished Mandel was helpless as a log, and as silent.

"Good business," said her brother. "Now, Tess, you and Mother must get out of this at once. Go out the back way, please, and then round to the back of the house. You can get in by the back door and I want you to stay there, please."

"But you, Sandy, what are you going to do?" asked his mother, anxiously.

Sandy grinned. "I'm going down to the beach to collar the launch," he answered. He was watching Mandel as he spoke, and saw the horrified look that crossed the man's face. "It's quite a good launch," he added, "and it will make up for the one that Slim and Barchard stole from us."

"You will be careful, Sandy?" begged his mother.

"I'm always careful, mother dear," replied Sandy smiling. "Now, please, hurry, because I want you to be out of here before those others come back."

"Come on, Mum," said Tess, and taking her mother's arm, hurried her out of the packing shed. Sandy watched them go, then he himself followed, and, slipping cautiously round the back of the packing shed, crept to the end of the verandah. The moon was now up, and he was able to see Blue-face and his companions standing opposite the front door and to hear their voices as they talked to Mr. Linton.

Blue-face was speaking. "I'm willing to quit," he said in his roughs growling voice, "but you got to remember I ain't the boss. Barchard's boss, and we got to do as he says. But you let him loose and you can have your wife and the little gal."

"I understand," Sandy heard his father answer curtly, "but you will have to wait while I talk to Barchard. He's got to agree to clear off this island altogether."

"That's the way to talk to them," said Sandy to himself, then he waited no longer, but crept away among the bushes; and as soon as he had got a safe distance from the house, he rose to his feet and ran down towards the wharf. As he got near the water he went more cautiously, for it was on the cards that a man had been left to guard the launch. But he could not see or hear anything aboard her and, keeping his rifle ready, he stepped aboard. There was no one in her, and the first thing he did was to make a hurried search. He found one extra rifle, and quite a lot of cartridges, and wasted no time in getting these ashore and hiding them among the palmetto scrub. Then he jumped aboard again and proceeded to start the engine. Since it was still warm there was no trouble in this, and in a moment or two it was running briskly, the purring sounding curiously loud in the stillness of the night.

"That'll fetch 'em if anything does," he chuckled, then instead of casting off, he came ashore again like a flash, and turning away to the left ran up alongside the garden fence. Before he was half way up he heard a pounding of feet, and here came Blue-face and his pals running full pelt down through the garden.

"That's done the trick," said Sandy joyfully, and as soon as ever they were past he ran as hard as they, only in the opposite direction.

Reaching the house, he met Rastus just coming out. "What's bit dem fellers?" demanded the old negro. "What's de matter dat dey ain't waited for Barchard?"

"They think I've gone off with the launch," panted Sandy. "Get your gun, Rastus, and call Dad. Our job now is to collar them while they're not expecting us."

At that moment Mr. Linton followed Rastus out on to the verandah. "Where are those men?" he began, but Sandy cut in:

"You haven't let Barchard loose, Dad?"

"No; why should I? Your mother and Tess are safe in the house."

"Good business! Bring your gun, Dad, and come with Rastus and me. No time to explain now."

Mr. Linton snatched up his double barrel and all three went back down to the wharf as hard as they could leg it. Sandy got there first and was just in time to hear Blue-face speak.

"Guess it's a false alarm, boys. It's that there brat of a boy a-playing his tricks again."

"And he holds the ace," cried Sandy, levelling his rifle on the men in the launch. "We've got you to rights this time, Bates. Three guns are covering you, and if any of you start shooting we shall finish the lot of you. Come ashore, one by one, with your hands over your heads, and don't try anything or you'll be sorry. You first, Bates, then the others."

Bates uttered a startled oath, but the three barrels gleaming in the moonlight were a convincing argument and he did as Sandy ordered. The other three followed, one by one, and as they stepped on to the wharf Rastus relieved them of their pistols. Then, unarmed and helpless, they were marched up to the packing house, where they were tied up as securely as Mandel.


XVI. — THE RETURN OF THE CAT BOAT

"AND that's that," said Sandy, drawing a deep breath of relief. "Dad, we've got the whole bunch."

"And what do you reckon to do with us?" questioned Blue-face, with a half sneer. "Be you going to shoot us or hang us?"

"We shan't shoot you, anyhow, Bates," replied Sandy with a grin.

"Ah, tell ye what to do, boss," said Rastus. "Take dem all out in de launch, den bore a hole in her, and sink her. Dat's de best medicine for dese sort of folk."

"I've no doubt you're right, Rastus," replied Sandy. "Specially with Barchard and Mandel. But you know jolly well we can't do that sort of thing. It seems to me the best plan will be to take them across to Florida and hand them over to the nearest Sheriff."

"What do you reckon to charge us with?" questioned Blue-face. "We ain't stole nothing."

"You tried to steal our island," replied Sandy, indignantly; "and Barchard assaulted my father, then you had a shot at kidnapping my mother and sister."

"We didn't hurt them any," replied Blue-face. "And anyways Barchard holds the mortgage on this here place."

"Is that true?" demanded Sandy.

"True as I'm alive, for I've seed the papers. It won't do you a bit o' good to charge us with anything," he went on; "and it'll cost you a pile of dollars a-waiting for court to sit. You take my tip, Mister, and let us go. I, for one, ain't coming back here in a hurry."

"Nor me, either," growled the man called Gaul. "I've sure had enough of this here place."

Mr. Linton drew Sandy aside. "I think we had better let them go," he said. "Without their weapons, they can do us no harm."

"They'll come back," Sandy prophesied.

"What else can we do?" demanded his father, impatiently. "We can't keep all these men as prisoners, and I certainly cannot afford to go over to the mainland and stay there for weeks perhaps, while the case is being tried."

"I'm willing to do anything you think best, Dad," said Sandy quietly.

"Then I say let them go," replied his father. "We have their rifles, and even if Barchard does come back we shall be ready for him."

"All right," said Sandy; "but there's just one thing I'd suggest—that we wait till morning before we turn them loose. We want to be quite sure that they do clear out, and not come sneaking round and land at the back of the island."

Mr. Linton nodded. "That's sensible," he said. "All right then, but we must watch them. You go and get some sleep, Sandy, and Rastus and I will keep guard over them."

It was past midnight and Sandy was pretty weary. So off he went for a few hours' sleep, then Rastus roused him and he kept guard till six in the morning. The sun was just rising as Rastus brought Sandy a cup of coffee.

"Marse Linton's just a-coming," he said. "Den we'll get rid ob dese no-count fellows. But yo' mark my words, Marse Sandy," he added, in a lower voice, "some day we all will be sorry we let dem go."

Sandy shrugged. "I told Dad that I thought they'd come back, but if they do they'll get a warm reception," he said. And just then Mr. Linton, himself, came into the packing house. He had Barchard with him—Barchard with his hands tied, and looking as savage and sullen as a newly caged bear.

"Untie their legs, Sandy," ordered Mr. Linton. "Then we'll march them down to the launch."

Sandy and Rastus cut the cords, and Barchard and his men were marched down to the wharf, and put aboard the launch. Blue-face, with his broken arm, was the only one who was not tied in any way, but as he was helpless Sandy released the man called Gaul.

"You can start the engine," he said. "Then when you are well out you can loose the rest."

"And don't try to come back, any of you," added Mr. Linton sternly. "If you do I give you my word you won't get off so easily as you have this time."

The engine began to stutter, and the launch, with her sullen crew, moved out from the wharf and headed towards the open sea. Mr. Linton heaved a sigh of relief.

"I think they have had their lesson," he said. "At any rate they are harmless without their rifles, and when Cubbage and Mazell return we shall feel quite safe."

Suddenly Sandy pointed. "There they are this minute!" he exclaimed. "There's the cat boat."

With her big white sail shining in the slanting sun rays, the cat boat had just shot into sight around the point of land to the south of the little harbour, and Sandy waved and shouted a greeting.

Rastus grabbed his arm. "Don't say nothing, Marse Sandy. Don't let dem fellows in de launch know who's a-coming."

"What do you mean?" began Sandy, and then all of a sudden he saw that the launch had turned and, quickening her speed, was rushing straight at the cat boat.

"Now does yo' understand?" asked Rastus. "Ah tell yo, dem bad folk is gwine to sink de cat boat."

There was no doubt whatever in Sandy's mind that Rastus was right. The launch was headed straight for the cat boat with the evident intention of ramming her, and once she hit her it would be all up with the lighter craft, for the launch would simply cut right through her and drive her down. For the moment there did not seem to be one chance in a million of saving Crab and Bud, and Sandy was too horrified to do anything but stand and watch.

"Cain't we shoot dem?" cried old Rastus, picking up the rifle which Sandy had taken out of the launch. But Sandy grabbed him by the arm.

"No, you idiot, you'll only shoot Crab or Bud," he cried. "They're turning," exclaimed Mr. Linton. "But good heavens, why are they going that way? Why don't they make for the land?"

Bud and Crab had, of course, realized their danger the moment they set eyes upon the launch and its villainous crew but, instead of making towards the land, they had ported their helm and turned northwards out into the middle of the bay. It looked a crazy performance, for the launch was travelling at twice the speed of the cat boat, and was bound to catch them long before the sailing craft could gain the shallows on the north side of the harbour.

But Sandy understood. "The reef, Dad! They're trying to get the reef between them and the launch."

"Yes, that's it," answered his father; "but they'll never do it," he groaned. As he spoke a fresh puff of wind filled the big sail of the cat boat, heeling her over till the water creamed along her gunwale. She shot away rapidly towards the north. But Barchard, who was steering the launch, instantly put up his helm, aiming the launch so as to cut off the cat boat.

Sandy and the others stood breathless with anxiety. From the shore they could not tell exactly where the big reef lay, or whether the cat boat was near enough to it to get behind its hidden point. In a moment or two the launch was right on the cat boat and Sandy held his breath, expecting every instant to hear the crash as the iron-shod bow drove deep into the timbers of the small boat.

Just then came a yell from one of Barchard's gang who was standing in the bow of the launch.

"Rocks ahead! Rocks! Port your helm." Sandy could see Barchard furiously spinning the wheel, while the launch, responding, turned sharply to port. But as she turned Sandy distinctly saw her check slightly and quiver. There came a startled yell from one of the crew, echoed by a shout of delight from Sandy.

"They've hit, they've hit the reef!" he shrieked.

"I guess she jist touched it and no more," growled Rastus. "She's a-gwine on all right again."

The old fellow was right, and Sandy's spirits sank again as he watched the launch dart ahead at increased speed. He did not speak, but his eyes were glued upon the flying craft, each instant expecting to see her swing round and charge the cat boat from the other side. Mr. Linton was equally surprised.

"What's the matter with her?" he demanded. "Has Barchard given it up as a bad job? Perhaps he thinks that if he turns again we shall shoot."

Suddenly Sandy yelled again. "No, it's not that. They can't turn, Dad. They can't turn!" His sharp eyes had seen something which had escaped the notice of the others, namely, a small floating object bobbing in the launch's foaming wake. "They can't turn," he repeated. "They've smashed their rudder."

"Dat's it," chuckled Rastus. "Dey cain't steer her at all now. She's sure running wild."

Sandy laughed outright. "What a joke! How perfectly splendid! I say, Dad, where on earth will they land up without a rudder? They'll probably pile up somewhere."

Mr. Linton shook his head. "They'll manage to repair the damage," he answered. "There's no wind to speak of, and they'll fix up some sort of steering gear. But what brutes they are, Sandy!"

Another couple of minutes and the cat boat came gliding up to the landing.

"Nice brand of callers you keep!" was Crab's greeting as he stepped ashore.

"Jolly smart of you to dodge them like that!" declared Sandy. "I say, they'll have a lively time with a busted rudder. The glass is simply slumping, and there's all sorts of weather coming."

"I know it," said Crab briefly. "That's why Bud and I started overnight. But what's been happening! How in the name of sense did you manage to get rid of that crowd, and what became of their guns? Bud and I fully expected to get shot to bits when they messed up running us down."

"It was all Sandy's work," declared his father proudly. "Come up to the house and I'll tell you all about it while we breakfast."

A few minutes later the party were gathered at breakfast, and as they ate Mr. Linton told the story of the doings of the previous night. Crab and Bud listened in silence until he had finished, then Crab gave Sandy a pat on the back with his great hand, which nearly knocked the breath out of him.

"You're a credit to your teachers, my lad," he said so heartily that Sandy's face went as red as his hair.

"Tell me, Mr. Cubbage, do you think that dreadful man will come back here?" asked Mrs. Linton.

Crab looked her straight in the face. "He certainly will, Mrs. Linton. I don't think there's any doubt but that he actually holds the mortgage on the island, and I know he's mad to own the place."

"But why?" demanded Mr. Linton. "Does he know the secret of the galleon treasure?"

"That's not what he's after," replied Crab. "His bunch are bootleggers. They may have a few side lines, but running contraband liquor is their big stunt, and they need this island as a depot for their stuff."

"But why? Surely there are plenty of other islands," said Mr. Linton.

"Plenty of islands," agreed Crab, "but not with harbours. Sevenstones has a good harbour and is just the right distance from the coast."

Mr. Linton's face set like stone. "They shall never have it," he declared.

"Did you get the diving kit?" questioned Sandy.

"We got that all right," Crab told him. "And since it looks as if the weather is going to be bad, we'd best get it ashore right away."


XVII. — THE HURRICANE

AFTER they had landed the diving suit and pump, they took the cat boat into the little inner harbour and snugged her down. Then Crab stood looking out to sea through his glasses.

"The launch is still in sight," he said. "She's too far off to make out exactly what they are doing, but I believe they are tinkering with the rudder."

"They'd better hurry," said Sandy. "The bottom's falling out of the barometer."

Crab nodded. "There's some nasty weather working up," he agreed. "It's a nuisance, too, for I didn't want to lose a day in getting to work on the wreck."

"What's the hurry?" asked Sandy.

"What's the hurry?" repeated Crab. "Surely you can see for yourself, Sandy, that we've got to have money to fight these swine. What we need now is seven thousand dollars to pay off the mortgage and save Sevenstones."

"And you think we'll get that much out of the wreck?"

"If she's the San Pedro we may get ten times, or a hundred times as much," replied Crab. "But as I say, we want it soon. Seven thousand now will be worth seventy thousand a month hence."

Sandy nodded. "I see. But we shall have to wait till the storm blows over."

"It isn't only the storm," grumbled Crab. "That might blow over in a few hours. The worst of it is, it will leave a big sea running for a couple of days afterwards. Also it will stir up the sea bottom so that the water will be too thick to see what we are about."

"It'll do something else," said Sandy. "It'll keep Barchard from coming back till it's over."

"I hope it will," replied Crab. He raised his glasses again and gazed out to sea. "They're shifting at last," he said. Then he grinned. "Me for dry land," he said. "If it comes on to blow before night, Barchard and his crowd are in for a perfectly putrid time."

"What price dossing down for an hour or so, Crab?" Sandy suggested. "I don't suppose you had any more sleep than we did last night."

"We didn't," agreed Crab. "And it's quite a sound idea. We'll snooze till dinner-time, then get to work to oil and clean up the diving gear."

Sandy had hardly stretched himself on his cot before his eyes closed. He was fagged out and asleep in a minute. He dreamed that there was an earthquake, and woke to realize that the house was actually rocking. He sprang up and, as he did so, Bud came into the room.

"Some storm!" he remarked. "Guess it's a hurricane, Sandy. You'd better come down. I wouldn't say the roof will stay on much longer."

Sandy followed Bud down into the big living room. One window had already been blown in and Crab and Rastus were nailing boards across it. Outside the scene was terrific. The trees seemed to be lying almost flat, while the air was full of dust and leaves mixed with salt spray from the waves, which were leaping in great hills of water upon the beach. The noise of the wind was one great never-ceasing roar.

Every minute it seemed as if the whole house must be swept away, and if the house had been built of brick it probably would have gone. But a wooden house is to some extent elastic, and though it swayed and groaned terribly, it held together. Hour followed hour, and then at last Sandy went over to his father.

"The glass is rising," he said. "It won't last much longer."

"But the damage is done," replied his father grimly. "Except in the very centre of the grove there can hardly be an orange left, and the older trees must be broken to pieces."

"Never mind, Dad," said Sandy. "We'll get the galleon treasure and that will keep us going till we raise a fresh crop."

Mr. Linton's lip curled. He had no belief in the galleon, but he would not discourage Sandy by saying so. The wind howled as savagely as ever, but presently it began to rain, beating against the windows as if a hose had been turned on them. It grew lighter and then the setting sun blazed out, its crimson rays glaring out through the blue-black clouds like the sudden opening of a furnace door.

Mr. Linton went to the door. "We'll see how much is left," he said in a curiously flat voice.

When they came back again even the usually cheerful Bud had not a word of comfort to offer. Not only was most of the ripe fruit gone, but the greater part of the trees themselves were so torn and broken that it must be at least two years before another crop could be hoped for.

"Mother," said Mr. Linton to his wife. "I'm afraid we must give up Sevenstones."

Mrs. Linton, who was busy at the stove, turned to her husband. "Not until we are turned off," she said quietly.

Sandy clapped his hands. "That's the way to talk, Mum." He spoke to his father. "Dad, you're forgetting the galleon."

Next day the sea was still too rough to go out to the wreck, so they spent the morning in repairing the cat boat which, though it had luckily escaped serious injury, had been somewhat damaged in the gale. In the afternoon Sandy and Tess went to fish off one of the reefs on the sheltered side of the island, for since the garden, as well as the orchard, had been ruined by the storm, it was most necessary to get all the fish they could so as to save their tinned provisions.

But the fish, usually so plentiful, seemed to have left the shallow waters. On the beach there were sea-shells, lumps of coral and rubbish of every description. In one place they came across a number of turtle eggs, round white objects with tough leathery shells, which had been washed out of the sand by the storm. Sandy cut one open and found it fresh.

"Good business, Tess!" he said. "These will make up for the fish we couldn't catch. They'll do first class for an omelette."

Tess did not answer, and looking round, Sandy saw her digging in a heap of sea-weed. "What's up?" he asked.

"Look!" said Tess in a strangled voice, and held up a piece of broken plank. It was of polished mahogany and on it was painted, in gold, two letters SE—. "Seal, that was the name of Barchard's launch," she said.

Sandy gasped. For the moment he found it difficult to speak. "Then—then she was wrecked," he said at last. "And—and Barchard won't trouble us any more."

Tess nodded gravely. "It's too dreadful to think of the men being all drowned. And Blue-face—Bates—he wasn't all bad."

"No, he was not as bad as the others," agreed Sandy, "and I'm sorry if he's gone. But, Tess, just think what it means to Dad if Barchard isn't alive to worry him any more."

"I know—I know," wailed Tess, "but I'm not thinking of him. I'm thinking of Bates."

Sandy did not try to argue. He just got her home, and leaving her with his mother, went back to tell the others.

"Barchard drowned!" exclaimed Crab. "My word, Sandy, that's the best news ever."

"It sure is," agreed Bud, and even Mr. Linton began to rouse from the trance of misery which he had been in ever since the storm.

Next day was brilliantly fine and comparatively cool, and Crab announced that the sea had gone down enough to make it possible to visit the wreck. Crab, Bud and Sandy took out the cat boat and sailed round to the spot where Tess had discovered the wreck.

"Here we are," said Sandy, as he peered down over the side. "I can see the wreck all right."

"The water's a sight clearer than I could have hoped," said Crab. "Get the anchor over, Bud."

Anchoring took some little time, for they had to get the cat boat right over the wreck. Then Crab got into the diving suit. Luckily a modern diving suit is made to fit any sized man, so even Crab's giant frame got inside the thick rubber. He put on the great lead-soled boots, adjusted the weights over his shoulders, and stood while Bud lifted up the great copper helmet with its glass front.

Sandy looked on with intense interest. "Sure you'll be all right, Crab?" he asked, anxiously.

Crab smiled. "It isn't the first time I've been down," he said. "Shove on the helmet, Bud."

Bud adjusted the helmet and gave it the half turn which locked it in position. He signed to Sandy to start the air pump, then helped Crab over the side. The great weight made the cat boat heel, but Crab got over safely, and as he dropped into the blue depths a fountain of air bubbles came sparkling up through the escape valve. Bud watched him down while Sandy steadily turned the wheel of the pump.

"He's on the bottom all right," said Bud, presently, "and there are no sharks about. That's one comfort." Some ten minutes passed, then came three tugs on the signal cord. "He's ready to come up," said Bud. "Keep pumping, I'll haul." The depth was only about five fathoms, so Crab was able to come up pretty quickly, and presently the shiny copper helmet appeared above the surface, and Crab was helped aboard. Bud quickly took off the helmet. "Well?" he said, anxiously.

"Nothing well about it," growled Crab. "The darned old wreck is one mass of coral. She's cased in it, and it'll take dynamite to bust her. Get a stick ready for me, Bud, while I get my breath."

"Is it the galleon?" demanded Sandy eagerly.

"I don't know what she is, kid. She don't look to me like the pictures in the story books, but she's been down there a mighty long time."

"But she's got treasure," insisted Sandy.

"We shan't know till I've put that to her," replied Crab, pointing to the stick of explosive to which Bud's nimble fingers were attaching a detonator and a wire. Soon it was ready and Crab, heaving himself up, got into the helmet again and went down for a second time. On this occasion it was only about five minutes before he was ready to come up again.

"Do you reckon we'd better shift the boat?" asked Bud.

"No need to," Crab answered. "Dynamite is not like T.N.T. It strikes down. She's all ready. Touch her off."

The end of the wire was attached to a small battery, and Bud, stooping, pushed the switch over. Instantly came a heavy thud and jar. The cat boat seemed to jump upwards, while all around her the water seethed and boiled. As the disturbance died away Crab looked over. He shook his head.

"Thick as soup," he said. "We'll have to wait quite a bit before it'll be worth while going down again. I'm not sorry, either, for it's so long since I've been in a suit that my head rings from the pressure."

"Can't I go?" begged Sandy, and Crab laughed.

"No, my son, you can't. Sit tight. We'll know all about it in less than half an hour."


XVIII. — A CONSOLATION PRIZE

IT was the longest half-hour that Sandy had ever known, but at last Bud declared that the water had cleared and the mud subsided, and Crab made ready to go down again. He disappeared slowly into the depths, and while Bud worked the pump, Sandy, with his head over the side, stared down through the clear blue water, trying hard to see what was happening below.

"You'll fall over if you ain't careful," said Bud warningly.

"I wish to goodness I could go down," said Sandy. "I wonder what Crab will find."

"Like as not he won't find anything," Bud answered coolly. "You got to remember he don't think it's the galleon. But it's no use getting all heated up, Sandy."

"I can't help it," said Sandy. "It means so much to us all. You know Dad said he would leave the island if we didn't find anything."

"I guess Crab and I would have something to say about that," Bud answered.

"You'd stay here?" cried Sandy.

"Sure, we'd stay here if your Dad gives us leave."

Sandy looked a little happier. "Then I'll stay, too, if Dad will let me. I'm sure we can get the grove round, and there's always plenty of fish for us to live on."

Bud did not answer, and there was silence while Sandy again gazed down into the depths. "Isn't he ever coming up?" he said after a while.

"He's only been down about fifteen minutes," Bud told him. "It'll take him twice that long to make any sort of a search. You got to remember that even if the dynamite has bust a good hole in her it's no easy job for a diver to work inside a ship. If you hurry you're mighty apt to get your air tube tangled up."

The minutes dragged on, but nearly three quarters of an hour passed before at last Crab signalled that he was coming up.

Bud unscrewed the helmet.

"Gosh, old chap, you're looking a bit peaked," he said uneasily.

"I am rather done," replied Crab hoarsely. "It was tough work scrambling about in the innards of that old barky."

"But is she the galleon?" begged Sandy.

Crab shook his head. "No, Sandy, she never was a galleon—just an old merchant ship. Eighteenth century I should reckon, and not more than two hundred tons."

Sandy's face fell. "And all that trouble for nothing," he said sadly.

"Well, I wouldn't say it was for nothing," replied Crab, "I got a sort of consolation prize." Unbuckling his belt, he took a bag from it and turned it upside down. From its mouth there clattered on the boarding about three hundred discs of metal of various sizes, but all pretty nearly black. Sandy's lip curled.

"A pound's worth of coppers," he said in disgust.

Crab picked up one of the coins and, taking his knife, nicked the edge. A yellow gleam was flung back by the strong sunlight. "Mighty good specimen of copper," he remarked dryly. Sandy fairly grabbed the coin.

"Why, it's gold!" he yelled. "It—it's a sovereign, isn't it?"

"It's a guinea, old son, a spade guinea. Worth about a couple of pounds of modern money—perhaps a bit more."

Bud picked up another of the coins, a bigger one, and examined it. "And I reckon this is an old Spanish doubloon," he said. "Crab, you've got enough stuff there to stock a curiosity shop."

Crab nodded. "All of that. I found 'em in a box in the Captain's cabin. I shouldn't wonder if they'd fetch a tidy bit if we can find a museum to sell them to. But I haven't a notion what they're worth."

"No more have I," answered Bud, "but I'd reckon a thousand dollars. We must clean 'em up and take stock."

"First clear me out of this diving kit. I feel as if I was in a coffin," said Crab. They helped him out of the suit and sailed back to the landing where Tess met them. She was as excited as Sandy when she saw the spoil. "It's yours by rights, Tess," said Crab. "You found the wreck."

"I'm going to have one guinea for a lucky piece," announced Tess. "The rest we must use to help Dad and Mum."

"Then we shan't have to leave the island!" cried Sandy gleefully.

"Not if these fetch as much as I quite hope they will," said Crab. "We could buy stores to keep us a year or more, and all sorts of things may happen before a year is up."

Mr. Linton's expression, when he saw the find, was one of utter astonishment. He examined the coins carefully.

"There are seventy-two guineas," he said, "and several Spanish gold coins. The rest appear to be silver. Yes, I should say you will get about a hundred pounds for them, and our share will come in very useful to help us settle on the mainland."

Sandy cried out in dismay, but Crab checked him.

"See here, Mr. Linton," he said, "you can have the lot if you'll stay here on the island. My notion is to sink the whole sum in stores which ought to carry us on for quite a year. I believe that next year you will get a crop, if only a small one, and that after that you will make a fortune out of your fruit. Bud and I are ready to stay and run the place on shares if you agree."

At first Mr. Linton would have none of it, but when he found that his own family, and even old Rastus, were against him, he began to yield. Before they went to bed that night the whole thing was settled. Crab and Bud were to have a one-third share in the island in return for their help, and they and Sandy were to go across to the mainland next day—sell the coins and bring back a full load of stores.

They sailed away at dawn next morning across the gently rippling waters of the Gulf. The breeze, light at first, freshened and they made a rapid passage. By three in the afternoon land was visible, and the sun had not yet set when they ran into the harbour at Punta Garda.

"Cornish will get a bit of a shock at seeing us again so soon," said Crab, as they tied up and made all shipshape before going ashore.

"He would have if he hadn't spotted you a quarter of an hour ago," came a voice from above, and there was Jack Cornish himself, spick and span as usual, waiting for them. "I spotted the cat boat as I came up from bathing," he continued. "Jove, I'm jolly glad to see you chaps," he went on as he shook hands vigorously all round. "Come along up to the hotel. I'll hear all your news over supper."

Jack was tremendously interested in the story of the attack on the island. Sandy told him of the finding of the wreckage. "We're jolly well hoping we've seen the last of Big Barchard," he said. "I suppose you haven't heard anything, Jack?"

"Not a word," replied Cornish, "but the storm was nearly as bad here as it was with you. I thought the whole hotel was going to be blown away. There were quite a lot of wrecks, and I don't see how a launch with a busted rudder could possibly have got through. No, I fancy Barchard has ceased from troubling, and a good job, too! Now what about these coins of yours?"

"I haven't brought them into the dining room," said Crab. "They're locked up in my room upstairs. If you chaps have finished we'll go up and you can have a squint at them, Jack."

They went up and Jack inspected the coins. "They'd be worth more to a museum than anywhere else," he said. "In New York or London one would get a good price for them. But I suppose it's hardly worth while to send them up."

"No, sir," said Bud. "We want cash right away so as to buy a good stock of food and get back to Sevenstones. Do you know of any one who'd buy them?"

Jack thought a moment. "There's an old chap called Hyman, who's got a business here and who knows something about curios and antiques. We might show them to him."

"Will he give us anything like their value?" asked Crab doubtfully.

"He'll drive a stiff bargain, but he's perfectly straight," said Jack. "He's not half a bad old boy."

"Right. Could we see him to-night? We want to get back as soon as ever we can."

"We'll try, anyhow," said Jack. "He lives over his shop. Put the stuff back in the bag and we'll push along."

They found the old man sitting on his upper verandah facing the sea. Hyman greeted Jack with old-fashioned courtesy, and Jack introduced the others and mentioned their business. Hyman turned the coins out on a table under a large lamp and examined them in silence for some minutes.

"They are interesting," he said slowly. "Some are museum pieces. You should take them to Washington, Mr. Cornish."

"We have no time for that," said Crab. "It's a case of a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush. We were going to ask you if you would make an offer for them."

The old man stirred the coins with his long fingers, and Sandy watched and waited breathlessly. If only he would give the hundred pounds they wanted so badly. At last Hyman spoke.

"It is not my business to buy things of this sort, and truthfully, I do not know for certain what they are worth. But I am willing to make you an offer. I will give you seven hundred and fifty dollars for the whole collection."

Seven hundred and fifty dollars—two hundred and fifty pounds! Sandy jumped with excitement.

"Of course," said Hyman, "I shall expect to make my profit on them, but that will mean a visit to the North."

"What do you think, Bud?" asked Crab quietly.

"I guess it's fair," replied Bud.

"And you, Sandy?" asked Crab.

"I agree with Bud," Sandy answered promptly.

"All right then, Mr. Hyman," said Crab. "We accept your offer. The only stipulation is that we have cash, for we want to get back to our island as quickly as we can."

"You shall have the money as soon as the bank opens to-morrow morning," Hyman told him. "You can meet me there and deliver the coins."

"We'll leave them with you, Mr. Hyman," said Crab, and the old man smiled.

"I am glad that you trust me," he said gently. "If I can be of any use to you, pray let me know."

"You can help them no end," struck in Jack. "They want to buy a lot of stores to take back to their Key where the place has been almost ruined by the storm. You can probably put them in the way of buying much more cheaply than otherwise."

"That is possible," agreed the old man. "I will endeavour to arrange it when we meet in the morning."

The four went back to the hotel in high spirits. "That extra fifty quid will come in precious handy," said Crab. "We can get a real good lot of stuff—more than we can carry in one load."

"You bet you will," agreed Jack, "especially as the old chap will probably be able to buy twenty per cent. cheaper than you can. You'll have nearly double as much as you expected. What a pity you haven't got the launch those swine stole from you!"

"I've half a mind to hire one for the trip," said Crab thoughtfully.

"A jolly good notion," vowed Sandy. "I say, while you and Bud are doing the business to-morrow, Jack and I might go round and see what we could raise. I don't suppose they'd charge more than fifty dollars, and we'd get all the stuff out in one trip. Safer, too, than risking it in the cat boat, for if we had bad weather we couldn't keep the flour and things dry."

"Get to it, son," said Crab briefly.

Sandy was up bright and early next morning, and started off alone on his search for a launch—alone, because Jack was not yet out of bed. But there was no launch for hire in the harbour and he came back to breakfast feeling rather discouraged. The meal, a large and excellent one, was barely over when a waiter told Sandy a man wanted to see him. Going out, Sandy found a mulatto waiting on the verandah. He was a skinny, hungry looking, yellow-faced person, with a rather hang-dog expression.

"Was you the gent as was looking for a launch?" he asked.

"Yes," Sandy told him. "Do you know of one?"

"I do, sir. There's one lying up in White-oak Creek as might suit you."

"Whose is she?"

"Used to belong to a gent called Rodgers," replied the man. "Ef she suits you I thought maybe you'd give me a dollar or two."

"Yes, you shall have two dollars," Sandy promised. "Come up at dinner-time, and if she suits us you shall have the money."

"I'm sure obliged, boss," said the man. "I'll be here." He went off and Sandy fled back to the others with the news. It was arranged that he and Jack should go off at once to look at the craft.

"It's only a mile," Jack said. "We'll walk."

White-oak Creek ran curving up to the north of the harbour, and as they reached it Jack stopped and looked round.

"Nothing but a lot of old derelicts," he said disgustedly.

"They do look like wrecks," agreed Sandy, "but let's go up a bit farther." As they walked up the path leading alongside the Creek, they came to a smaller creek which ran out of the main one. And there, half hidden under the trees, a launch lay, moored bow and stern. Sandy pulled up short and stared at it with the oddest expression on his brown face. "What's bitten you, Sandy?" asked Jack.

Sandy gave a sort of howl. "It's the Tern, Jack. It's the launch Dad bought from that swindler, Slim."


XIX. — IN THE NAME OF THE LAW

"ARE you quite sure?" demanded Jack.

"Sure! I could swear to her in any court," vowed Sandy. "Why I know every line of her. Come on and let's look her over." He ran ahead and, flinging off his clothes, next minute was wading out to the launch. The water was quite shallow and he got to her without swimming, and scrambled aboard.

"Well?" cried Jack.

"You bet it's well," cried Sandy in high delight. "She's the Tern. In jolly good order, too. Why I could start her engine and go right away with her."

Jack considered a moment. "Best leave her where she is for the present, and go and tell Crab. He'll know what to do."

Sandy was very unwilling, but Jack insisted and finally he yielded, and came ashore again and dressed. Then the two hurried back into the town, and after some searching found Crab and Bud in a wholesale grocery store, buying provisions by the case. Sandy drew Crab aside and told him of his discovery. Crab was almost as excited as Sandy.

"Don't say a word to any one," he ordered. "Get back to the hotel and wait for us."

Sandy obeyed orders and went back to the hotel, but he was too excited to settle to anything, and could only wait till Crab returned.

"We've got the stuff, Sandy," were Crab's first words as he came into the room.

"We've sure got it," added Bud cheerfully. "Old Hyman's a peach, and there's grub to load the cat boat three times over."

"But we shall put it in the launch," declared Sandy. "We'll put it in the launch all right," agreed Crab, "but see here, Sandy, we've got to keep mighty dark about it. You can bet your last dollar that some of those bootleggers have hidden the launch where she is, and we've got to sneak her out quietly if we don't want a shooting match. My notion is that we wait till dark, then slip down and get her away. I'm arranging to have the stores brought down to the wharf in a small lorry. Jack will see to that. There's a quiet spot at the south end of the wharf where we can load up and after that we'll get away as quick as we can."

The afternoon dragged slowly away, but Crab insisted on Sandy eating a good supper before they left the hotel. Then, while Jack went down to look after the lorry, the other three walked quickly away to the creek.

Frogs were croaking and bleating and the crickets making a deafening noise, while, in the distance, the whip-poor-wills were sounding their melancholy cries. But people were as scarce as insects were plentiful, and the three did not meet a soul along the creek bank. They were wearing their oldest clothes, and the night was so warm that they agreed to wade straight out to the launch. On the bank Crab stopped and they stood still for some moments listening hard. But there was not a sign of any one being about.

"I guess it's all right," whispered Bud. "Let's get to it." They waded out and got alongside. Crab helped Sandy over the side, then Bud climbed in and last of all Crab himself.

"She seems all right," said Crab, "but look down below you fellows. We don't want to get caught out in the same way we were the last time we boarded her." He ducked down through the hatch as he spoke, and the others followed. Crab flashed an electric torch, by the light of which it seemed that everything was fairly ship-shape, if a bit dirty.

"Here's petrol and oil. She's all ready to start," said Sandy. "Let's get off, Crab.

"We may as well. Let's see if she'll start up." He cranked the engine and after two or three attempts it broke into sudden life.

"Guess she works well enough," said Bud, "but gee, what a noise she makes!" The row was indeed startling, for the echoes picked it up till, in the silence of the quiet creek, it sounded almost as loud as machine gun fire. "We ought to have fixed to tow her out," Bud added. "If there's any bootleggers within a mile, they'll sure be on to us."

"Don't waste time talking. Get the anchor up," growled Crab. "Sandy, see how much petrol there is in the tank. I'll help Bud unmoor."

They set to work and inside five minutes the screw was turning and the Tern moved steadily down the creek. Knowing nothing of the depth, they had to go slow. They had just reached the end of the little side creek where it entered the larger, when the launch checked.

"Look out!" said Sandy sharply. "She's on the ground."

"That's not the ground," replied Crab as he cut out the engine. "She didn't bump or grind. It seems to me more like a boom." As he spoke he came forward, and taking a boat-hook, began poking it down into the water. "A rope—a rope right across the creek mouth," he said in a low voice, and the words were hardly out of his mouth before a blaze of white light struck full in his eyes and those of Sandy, almost blinding them.

"Hands up!" came a gruff voice, as a large row-boat shot out across the launch's bows. It was full of men, one of whom stood in the bow, pointing a pistol straight at Crab's head. And to Sandy's utter amazement this man wore the blue uniform of a city marshal.

"What's the matter?" demanded Crab, recovering himself. "This is our own launch."

"I didn't say it wasn't," retorted the marshal curtly. "We reckoned you'd come after her sooner or later. Are you coming quiet or do we have to take you?"

"Who are you?" asked Crab.

"Marshal James Ward, acting under orders of Sheriff Anderson."

"And what do you accuse us of?"

"Rum-running—among other things," replied the other, "but you'll see the whole indictment when you come before Judge Harris to-morrow morning."

Crab shrugged his great shoulders. "It's a mistake, as you'll find out pretty soon," he said. "We've never had anything to do with rum-running, though I wouldn't say the launch hasn't been used for it since she was stolen from us."

Ward laughed. "You're smart, you are, young fellow. But I guess that yarn won't wash. Come right down into our boat and if you think of getting gay just remember I've got a gun and know how to use it."

"It's a plant," said Sandy bitterly. "I'll bet those bootleggers are at the bottom of it."

"It's a plant all right," agreed Crab, "but it's no use kicking against the law. We'll just go with them, and I dare say it will only mean twenty-four hours' delay. After all, Jack can identify us." As he spoke he stepped down into the row-boat and the others followed.

"Set right here," said Ward. "Ef you'll give me your word not to start anything, I won't put the bracelets on you."

"You have our word," said Crab, in a tone of such quiet dignity that the policeman stared.

"British, ain't you?" he asked.

"I am English," replied Crab briefly. "So is Mr. Linton. Mr. Mazell here is an American citizen."

"Gosh, but these bootleggers beat all. Fancy roping in a crowd like you!"

"They roped us in all right," said Bud rather bitterly. "Stole our launch, and I suppose used it for running contraband."

Ward stared, then grinned. "So you stick to that wheeze. Well, I guess it's as good as any other." As he spoke the boat reached a landing where a car was waiting.

"Get right in," he ordered, and they did so and were driven away to the town, where they pulled up in front of the gaol. Here they got out and Ward conducted them into a room where a large and grim-looking official was seated at a desk. He had a big, bald head, a large, tawny moustache, and hard grey-blue eyes.

"Here they be, Mr. Anderson," said Ward, with a triumphant air. "It worked jest as I said it would. They were trying to get the launch out of the creek, and ran right into the rope. They didn't make no trouble."

"Just as well for them, I reckon," remarked the Sheriff sternly. "Who's this kid?"

Sandy spoke up for himself. "I am Alexander Linton. My father lives at Sevenstones Key and is owner of the Tern. He bought her from a man who called himself Gilson, but his real name is Worden. The launch was stolen from the island, and we have never seen her again until to-day."

Anderson stared—glared would be a better word. "You reckon I'll swallow a tale like that?" he sneered.

Crab cut in. "It happens to be perfectly true. If you will kindly send for Mr. Jack Cornish, who has been living at the Magnolia Hotel for some months, he can substantiate it."

"Time for that in the morning," growled Anderson. "You'll stay right here in the calaboose to-night and come up before Judge Harris in the morning."

"I should recommend you to make enquiries to-night," said Crab curtly. "We are perfectly innocent, and you will render yourself liable to an action for false imprisonment."

"I guess I'll chance that," retorted Anderson, scowling. "Take 'em away, and lock 'em up good and tight."

Crab shrugged. "I have warned you," he said, fixing his eyes on the Sheriff. "On your own head be it!"

"Bah, you can't bluff me, you big stiff," snarled Anderson. "Take 'em away."

The three were put together in a good-sized cell, where there were four bunks, two on each side. Ward, who seemed to be rather more decent than Anderson, offered them supper, but Bud told him civilly that they had already fed, and all they wanted was some drinking water. So Ward brought them a jug of water and left them, locking the heavy door behind them.

"Say, this is a deuce of a mess!" remarked Bud disgustedly. "I guess it's a plant, Crab."

"Quite likely," agreed Crab, "though I don't quite see who is at the bottom of it."

"Slim," declared Sandy explosively. "It's Slim every time. Come to think of it, that yellow chap, who told me of the launch, never came back for his two dollars. I'll lay he was a spy of Slim's."

"I wouldn't wonder if you were right," agreed Bud.

"But what good will it do him?" asked Crab, frowning. "Of course it's pretty annoying to be locked up like this for the night, but after all, they can't keep us. Jack will be able to swear to our identity and they're bound to let us out in the morning."

"Unless they've faked some evidence against us," said Bud, uneasily. "You never know what they'll do down here. And there's another thing. Jack can swear to our identity, but he can't swear to our owning the Tern. He's never seen her, remember."

Crab whistled softly. "You're right, Bud, and the only person who can put things right for us is Sandy's father."

Sandy looked dreadfully dismayed. "How are we to get word to him?" he asked.

"We shall have to trust to Jack," said Crab, "but in any case it means a long delay. I don't like the look of things."

"Same here," said Bud. "Say, I wish we could get out." He went to the window and tested the bars, but they were firmly screwed into the woodwork outside the window. "Nothing doing," he said sorrowfully, then just as he turned away some small object shot through the bars and fell with a clatter on the plank floor of the cell. Bud stooped and picked it up, and found it to be a small piece of iron with a paper tied round it. "A letter," he said. "Now who the mischief is this from?"

"Don't stand looking at it," growled Crab. "Open it and see." Bud unfolded the crumpled sheet and smoothed it out, and as he read it his face changed—changed so that Sandy, watching, felt frightened.

"What is it?" he asked sharply. "What's the matter, Bud?"

"It's—it's—listen," said Bud hoarsely. "I'll read it. This is how it goes: 'I reckoned you'd call for the launch, and now I've got you where I want you. I'm starting to-night for Sevenstones, and expect to reach there by morning. No need for you to follow, even when you do get loose, for you won't be allowed to land.'" Bud stopped with a sort of choke. "And it's signed 'James Barchard,'" he ended.

For perhaps half a minute the silence of the cell was broken only by the sounds of traffic from the street outside. Sandy was the first to speak.

"Tess—Tess and Mum—what will happen to them?" he asked, in a queer harsh whisper. He turned to Crab. "Crab, what shall we do?" he begged, piteously.

Crab put his great right hand on Sandy's shoulder. "Sit tight, old chap," he said gently. "We shall need all our wits to get out of this. Let's think a minute." Bud got up and went swiftly to the window. He took out his knife and began probing the woodwork. Crab came across to him. "Any chance of cutting out a bar?"

"Not a dog's," replied Bud bitterly. "It's yellow pine and harder than oak. It would take a week."

Crab took hold of the lower bar with both hands and, getting his knees against the sill, started to pull. Sandy watched with staring eyes as the stout bar began to bend. Crab slowly increased the strain. His great muscles cracked with his enormous effort and slowly, very slowly, the curve of the bar increased. When at last he dropped back with the sweat running down his face, the centre of the bar was fully two inches out of the horizontal.

"Some pull," said Bud, "but what's the great idea?"

"To get Sandy through," replied Crab briefly.

"Gee, but I never though of that. Here, let me tail on."

"Get the blanket and make a rope of it," said Crab. "If we can shift that bar another two inches, Sandy ought to be able to wriggle through."

"We'll have to watch out for Ward," said Bud.

"I don't fancy he'll come back to-night. If he does—" Crab left the sentence unfinished, but there was no doubt as to what he meant. Bud got the blanket, ripped it, and with quick, clever fingers, plaited it into a rope. He fastened it to the bar, and all three tailed on. But the bar refused to bend farther.

"One more pull!" panted Crab, as he laid his great weight back. There was a sharp crack and all came down heavily on the floor.

"The bar's gone!" said Sandy, as he sprang up. "It's broken away altogether, and we can all get out."

"If only they haven't heard the noise," said Crab hoarsely. "But we must take our chances of that. You first, Bud."

The window opened on a sort of unpaved and unlighted lane, and Bud lost not a moment in sliding out and getting away. He was hardly out before the others heard steps in the passage outside. Crab pushed Sandy behind him and, with a gesture, warned him to silence. Next moment a key turned in the lock, and Ward stepped in.

"What's the trouble?" he began. Before he knew what was happening Crab had him by the throat.

"Make a sound and it'll be your last," he hissed in the man's ear, and Ward, paralysed by the tremendous grasp, collapsed like a pole-axed ox. In a flash Crab had flung him on the bed and was gagging him, while Sandy quickly closed the door.

"Sorry, Ward," said Crab, as he finished tying the man, "but it's a matter of life or death for us to get away, and I'll see you come to no harm over this business if we get out of it alive. Come on, Sandy," he said, "you first, then I'll follow."

Sandy was through like a shot, but Crab had a job to squeeze his great frame through the narrow opening. But he managed it, and the three stood together in the darkness of the lane.

"I guess it's the wharf we make for," said Bud, in a quick whisper.

"That's it," replied Crab. "We've got to find Jack. But we can't risk the main street."

"No need," said Sandy. "I know a back way. Come on." He led them down the lane and out through the negro quarter. There was no sign of pursuit, and inside ten minutes they were on the wharf. As they hurried towards the south end a lorry, heavily laden, came towards them. Sandy sprang in front of it and waved his arms, and the lorry stopped.

"That you, Sandy?" came the voice of Jack Cornish. "Confound it all, what have you been about? I've been waiting here nearly two hours." Breathlessly Sandy explained. "Great Christopher!" gasped Jack. "You don't mean to tell me you have been in quod?"

"We're out now, anyhow," said Crab crisply, "but they may be after us any minute. See here, Jack, Barchard is on his way this minute to Sevenstones, and if he gets there before us, there's no saying what may happen. Somehow, somewhere, we've got to find a craft that will beat him to it."

Jack shook his head. "It's not to be done. There's nothing in the harbour except a couple of sponging schooners and an old tug. Even if you had the money to buy a craft you couldn't get anything here in Punta Garda." To Sandy these words were like a knell of doom. But Crab stood up to the shock.

"What about the tug?" he asked.

"She's old and slow, and I don't think she has any coal in her bunkers, certainly not enough for a fifty mile run under forced draught."

Bud spoke. "I guess we got to have the Tern," he said, in a tone that none of them had ever heard him use before. "Got any guns, Jack? We may have to fight for her?"


XX. — INVASION

TESS was never happy when Sandy was away, but since this time she could expect him back in three days, she made the best of it. Anyhow, she and her mother were very busy preserving all the fruit that had been blown off by the storm, while her father and Rastus worked hard among the trees. Broken branches had to be trimmed and pruned, and young trees replanted or staked. They were all pretty tired when night came.

Mr. Linton was more cheerful than he had been since the storm. "I shouldn't wonder if Cubbage was right," he said at supper. "The young trees are not so badly damaged as I thought and the rain has done good. I begin to believe that we may pull through after all."

"Of course we shall pull through, Dad," declared Tess. "I believe that Crab will get his hundred pounds and bring back a fine lot of supplies. And perhaps we shall find the real galleon after all."

"Crab's your hero," laughed her father. "Well, I don't blame you. He's a fine fellow, and we are all deeply in his debt." He got up. "I am tired out," he said. "I think I shall go straight to bed. We have some hard days before us in the grove."

An hour later they were all in bed. Tess slept like a top, but woke rather earlier than usual. Remembering that there was a big copper full of jam to be put into pots, it occurred to Tess that she would get up at once and surprise her mother by doing it before breakfast. The sun was not yet up when she reached the kitchen, and the first thing she did was to light the fire. Then she went out for fresh water to fill the kettle. The well was just round the end of the house, and as Tess reached it she glanced in the direction of the sea. In a flash she had stiffened and was staring at a large launch which lay at the landing. For a moment she had the thought that Crab had hired a launch and that this was it, but next instant she caught sight of a figure which certainly was not that of Crab or Bud. In a flash she was flying into the house.

"Dad!" she screamed. "Rastus!"

Mr. Linton came rushing out of his room in his pyjamas. "What's the matter, Tess?"

"Barchard is back," Tess told him. "Barchard and a whole crew with him."

"Impossible!"

"Look for yourself! They are landing. Get a rifle. Oh, be quick!" She, herself, took one of the rifles from the rack, and Mr. Linton, convinced by her white face that she was right in what she had told him, did the same. Next moment Rastus came hurrying in from his outside room. The negro's face was grey with terror.

"It's dat Barchard," he said hoarsely. "And der's six men wid him. Oh, boss, what will we do?"

"Do," snapped Mr. Linton. "Fight for our lives. Here's a rifle, Rastus. Take that window and I'll take the other. Tess, get your mother down into the kitchen. Thanks to you, we can give those fellows something to think about before they get to the house."

Tess flew to obey. As she reached her mother's room she saw through the window Barchard and four of his men advancing up the path through the garden. Her heart sank at the sight of the savage, ugly faces of the bootlegger's gang. Next instant came her father's voice from below.

"Stop, or I fire."

If the situation had not been so serious, Tess could have smiled to see the suddenness with which the gang halted. They had evidently been certain that no one was up, and had counted on surprising their victims in bed. But Barchard had his wits about him.

"Down—down, all of you!" he ordered harshly, and the men at once flung themselves on their faces and crawled into cover among the bushes. Barchard, dropping his rifle, stood where he was. He seemed to know that Mr. Linton would not shoot an unarmed man.

"It's no use trying to fight us, Linton," he shouted in his loud, harsh voice. "There's seven of us and only two of you. Come out quiet and I'll give you my word you shan't be hurt. I'll do more'n that. You can take your clothes and I'll send you all safe across to the mainland."

"And you will stay here and steal my island," retorted Mr. Linton. "No indeed. Even if there are only two of us, we are well armed, and we shall not hesitate to shoot. Go back to your launch and leave us alone."

A very evil expression came upon Barchard's face. "Ef you want trouble," he said with an oath, "by gum you can have it." As he spoke he dropped behind a bush and they heard him give an order to his men. Next instant a volley rang out and bullets crashed through the windows. But Mr. Linton had been quick enough to realize what would happen, and was already down beneath the sill, while Rastus followed his example. Broken glass showered upon them, but they were both unhurt. Almost before the echoes of the volley died away Tess saw her father raise his rifle over the window ledge and fire three shots in rapid succession. They were followed by a loud shriek, and Rastus called out: "You got one, Sah."

"Rastus," said his master. "We're not safe here. Those high-powered rifles will send a bullet clean through the planking. Get some mattresses." While Rastus hurried to obey, Mr. Linton spoke to Tess. "Tess, you and your mother take some food and a can of water and go out by the back. Go to the mound and hide among the bushes. If things get too hot here, Rastus and I will join you. We must hang on somehow until Crab and the others get back."

Tess realized the wisdom of his orders and hurried to obey. There was no more shooting for the moment from the invaders, for they were busy getting their wounded comrade back to the launch.

Tess and her mother hastily collected some food and water. They slipped out at the back. The orange trees were thick and gave plenty of shelter, and in a moment the two had vanished among them.

Inside the house Rastus and his master were preparing their defences. Mattresses and grain bags were piled under the windows and formed a breastwork that no bullet could penetrate. "It's a mighty good ting dey ain't started shooting again," muttered Rastus.

"I don't like it," replied his master. "That fellow Barchard is up to some treachery. I only wish I knew what. Can you see any one moving, Rastus?"

"No, boss, dere ain't nothing moving nowhere."

Barchard and his men seemed to have disappeared entirely. The launch, lying by the landing and just visible through the hedge of Spanish bayonets, was the only sign of their presence.

"Mebbe dey's gwine to wait till night, boss," said Rastus. "Dey don't aim to throw away dur lives by daylight."

"No such luck, Rastus. What I'm afraid of is that they are crawling up through the trees to our right. They could get near enough to the house from that side to rush it."

"We'd suah shoot a few first," declared Rastus.

The minutes dragged on, and Mr. Linton became more and more anxious. Then at last Rastus began to sniff. "Ah can smell smoke, boss," he said.

"And I can see it, Rastus," answered Mr. Linton. "It's coming from the right."

"Dat's it, boss. Ah guess dey's lit a fire down among de orange trees." Another minute and the suspicion was a certainty, for a heavy cloud of smoke came drifting up wind. The fire was visible among the trees, but had been so cleverly placed that the smoke struck the front of the house, making a complete screen behind which an army could have attacked without exposing themselves.

"This is the finish," groaned Mr. Linton. "Rastus, we must get out of this and run for the mound. It's our only chance for our lives. We'll go out the front way. The smoke will hide us."

Mr. Linton cautiously opened the front door. The smoke was chokingly thick, and hidden by it the two slipped round the end of the packing house and gained the trees beyond.

"Ef we was to hide here ah reckon we could shoot one or two ob dem," suggested Rastus.

Mr. Linton hesitated. The idea appealed to him strongly, for, inwardly, he was raging against this gang of scoundrels who were driving him from the home. But he shook his head.

"No, Rastus. As you say, we might get a couple of them, but the rest would most certainly get us, and we have to think of Mrs. Linton and my daughter. If we were killed they would have no one to help them. Our only chance is to go straight off and join them."

"Yas, boss," replied Rastus, sadly. "Yo're suah right," and the two together slipped away among the trees.

Mrs. Linton and Tess were glad to see them. "I'm making a fort, Dad," Tess announced, and showed how she was digging out the earth with an old shovel she had found on the mound.

"A very good idea," her father told her. "Rastus, you've got your axe, we must make a shelter from the sun." Rastus nodded, and they all set to work. No one came near them, and by mid-day they had made a rainproof shelter on the top of the mound, and a sort of dug-out with a breastwork of earth and palmetto logs.

"We ought to be able to hold this until the boys come back," said Tess, cheerily.

"I hope they come soon," said her father aloud.

An answer came from among the trees below, and the voice was Barchard's. "You needn't to count on any one a-coming," he said, with a sneer. "When I left they was all three shut up in the calaboose, locked there good and tight." He laughed cruelly. "You can stay where you be. We ain't a-going to interfere. Stay till ye starve."


XXI. — THE TAKING OF THE TERN

"I HAVE a pistol at the hotel, shall I cut up there and get it?" suggested Jack, but Bud shook his head.

"There's no time for that," he answered. "If Anderson finds out that we've broken gaol he'll raise the town to catch us."

"It won't be long before he does find out," put in Crab, "for he's bound to miss Ward. Bud's right and we've got to get hold of the Tern as quick as ever we can." He paused an instant and glanced at Jack Cornish. "Jack, you'd best keep out of this," he said quickly. "This time we're up against the law and you're liable to get into serious trouble if you go any farther with us."

Jack stiffened. "What are you talking about?" he exclaimed hotly. "Are you trying to insult me, Cubbage?"

"Not a bit, but I want you to understand that you're liable to land up in quod," said Crab gruffly.

"Then I'll go to quod in good company," snapped Jack. "And now if you've quite finished arguing, let's get ahead." He did not wait for an answer, but hurried forward and Crab followed in silence. It was getting so late that very few people were about, and once they were beyond the wharf they did not see a soul.

"What about the lorry?" Sandy asked Jack as they hurried along side by side.

"Someone will look after that," responded Jack briefly. "No need to worry."

"Only thing I'm worrying about is getting the Tern," replied Sandy, and after that nothing was said until they were in the bushes beside the creek. Although there was no moon, the brilliant stars gave light enough for them to see the launch lying at anchor. The tide was turning and she was swinging with her stern within a few yards of the shore.

"There's some one aboard her," announced Jack in a whisper.

Sandy spoke. "Crab, let me creep forward a bit and scout. I might be able to find out how many they've left aboard her."

"All right, but be careful, Sandy," replied Crab.

Sandy slipped away like an eel through the low growing palmetto scrub. Luckily for him the bushes ran close down to the shore and he was able to get within less than twenty paces of the launch. Crouching, he stared out into the gloom, and presently voices reached his ears.

"Say, these mosquitoes bite like fire," growled a man. "They don't give a feller a chance to sleep."

"Guess you better light your pipe," was the reply, and Sandy started sharply as he recognized the voice for that of Blue-face, the man called Bates whose arm his mother had set on the island a few days earlier. There was the scratch of a match, and by its light Sandy caught sight of the face of the first man, and spotted him at once as one of Barchard's rascally crew.

"Guess Barchard's left by now," said the fellow after he had lighted his pipe.

"Left," repeated Bates. "I guess he went two hours ago and more. Say, Abe, but it's a dirty trick he's playing on them folk at Sevenstones."

Abe laughed harshly. "Gee, but you're soft, Bates."

"If my arm wasn't broke you'd soon find out how soft I was, Abe Hunter," growled Bates.

"Don't be so touchy. I didn't mean no harm," apologized Abe, "but I guess it's all in the day's work. We got to have the Key for a depot. It's the only place near the coast with a decent harbour."

"What's the matter with Punta Garda?" grumbled Bates. "Barchard's got the Sheriff in his pocket."

"Anderson ain't going to last very long," said Abe significantly. "I reckon Uncle Sam's woke up to things. The Government has started an air patrol down to Sandy Pass."

"I'm all against the Government," allowed Bates, "but I don't hold with turning decent white folk off their own property."

Sandy, having heard enough, crept back to where the others were waiting.

"Only two," said Bud after he had heard Sandy's news, "and one of them Blue-face. Sounds mighty good to me. Trouble is that this chap, Abe, has most likely got a gun, and we don't want any shooting. I guess a shot would be heard about two miles on a night like this."

"Don't worry," said Crab, "there won't be any shooting. I'll attend to that. You people stay here. I'm going to handle this job." He pushed off through the scrub, and it was wonderful how quietly his great frame moved. Sandy could not hear even a rustle. Crawling, snake-wise, across the narrow strip of beach, he vanished into the water. Presently a dark figure rose soundlessly under her side, blending so closely with the dark paint that it was no more than a shadow. There it stayed, motionless. The seconds dragged by, each as long as a minute.

Blue-face and Abe were still talking but in such low voices that Sandy could not tell what they were saying. At last one of them rose to his feet and came to the side. Sandy saw him lean over. In a flash up shot a great arm, and next instant there was a splash as the man's body struck the water.

"What the blazes are you doing?" cried Bates jumping up.

"Keep quite still and put your hands up, Bates," came Crab's deep voice. "You are covered from the shore and with your damaged arm you stand no show."

Bates swore fiercely, but he had too much sense to resist and up went his undamaged arm.

"Come along the rest of you," Crab called out, and in a flash the other three obeyed.

"Dog-gone if it ain't the kid!" exclaimed Bates in great amazement, as Sandy came scrambling aboard. "Say, kid, didn't they put you in the calaboose after all?"

"They put us in all right," answered Sandy, "but we got out. We had to because Barchard left word he was going to Sevenstones. And I heard you say he's gone."

"He's gone, sure thing," replied Bates. "Say, Mister, you ain't going to drown Abe, be you?"

"No," said Crab, "though I've no doubt he deserves it. But he'll have to come with us, for I daren't turn him loose. You, too, Bates, I'm afraid."

Bates gave a bark of a laugh. "Guess I know when I'm beat," he answered. "Carry on, Mister. I shan't interfere. Come to think of it, don't know as I'm sorry. I'd hate for the ladies to get into the hands of Barchard. He's bad medicine when he's on the job."

As he spoke Crab and Jack were tying up Abe, while Sandy and Bud got the anchor up. Inside three minutes the Tern was under way and chugging down the creek towards the sea.

"Good and dark, that's one big blessing," said Bud. "I reckon, once we're outside, they'll never know where to look for us."

"Don't flatter yourself," replied Crab grimly. "Anderson knows the whole business, and the very first thing he'll do when he finds we've broken gaol, will be to look for the Tern. When he sees she's gone he'll be after us in anything that'll float."

"But there's nothing except that old tug," said Jack Cornish. "And we needn't worry much about her."

Bates struck in. "It ain't the tug you got to be thinking about, Mister. Anderson's got his own police launch. A right handy little craft she is, too. Got the legs of this one, I reckon."

"Then," said Crab grimly, "all we can hope for is that it will be a long time before he finds that we've skipped." He turned to Bud. "Whack her up, Bud. We're far enough out now to let her rip. They won't hear the engine very easily."

Bud opened the throttle and the launch responded. "She's got a right good turn of speed," he said as he watched the bow wave rise. "Take her a minute, Crab."

"What are you going to do?" asked Crab.

"Sound the tank. I haven't a notion whether she's got juice enough for the trip."

Bud tried the tank. In the glimmer of the binnacle lamp the others saw how grave his face was as he came back.

"Less than four gallons," he said, "and no spare cans. Crab, this is the very mischief. We haven't enough for the trip."

"You can't go back to Punta Garda—that's one thing sure," said Bates.

Crab shook his head impatiently. "Of course not. But there must be some other place that we can reach. Do you know of one, Bates?"

"There's Port Jasmine," said Bates. "Twenty miles south of here. You'd get juice there all right."

"Then that's where we go," said Crab with decision.

"But we shall lose hours," groaned Sandy. "Barchard will be at the Key long before we can get there."

"It's real bad luck, Sandy," said Bud, "but it sure can't be helped. The only thing is to hurry all we can." As he spoke he had turned the bow of the Tern to the southward.

They had almost reached the buoy which marked the southern entrance to the harbour when they heard something in the distance.

"A launch!" said Sandy sharply, as he stared in the direction of the sound. "Yes, it's a launch coming up along the channel behind us. It must be Anderson. Shove her along, Bud. For any sake, drive her."

Bud did drive her, but before the Tern quite cleared the southern end of the harbour a hoarse shout rang out behind them.

"Hulloa, the launch. Stop there. We want to board you."

"Anderson," said Crab between his teeth. "You were right, Sandy. Duck down, all of you. He'll probably start shooting."

Anderson hailed them again, but there was no shooting. Probably the Sheriff thought it was useless in so poor a light, and Bud, driving the Tern at the top of her speed, cleared the point and turned due south. For about five minutes no one spoke, then Sandy broke the silence. "She's after us," he said.

"Can she catch us? That's the question," said Jack Cornish, but there was no answer. No one could answer, for it was impossible to tell whether the police launch was or was not gaining.

At the end of two miles Bud spoke. "Say, Crab, we can't carry on much longer. At this pace I reckon the tank will be empty in another ten minutes."

Crab turned to Blue-face. "Any place we can land, Bates?" he asked quietly.

"I guess so. There's a creek about two miles further. If you can reach it ahead of Anderson it would be a mighty good place to hide up."

"Try it, Bud," said Crab briefly. "You'll show us, Bates?"

"I'll show you all right. I don't hanker for Anderson to find me in this company," said Blue-face with a queer grin. The Tern tore on at full speed and Bates, standing beside Bud, conned her in. He seemed to know the channel, and it needed knowing, for it was narrow and winding and the water uncomfortably shallow.

"Anderson's following," announced Jack.

"Oh, he'll follow all right," said Bates. "I guess he's got chaps aboard as know the place as well as I do."

The shore showed white in the gloom, but now they could all see the creek mouth, and in a few moments they were driving up it, flinging a wave high among the mangroves on either bank. The trees closed in overhead and the air became thick, heavy and full of the sour smell of decay-rotting things. Still Bud carried on, the growth grew lighter and the banks higher, and the stars peeped through. And just then the engine gave a gasp and stopped.

"That's put the lid on," said Crab grimly. "Come on ashore. You coming with us, Bates?"

"I reckon," said Bates briefly. "But you'll sure have to leave Abe."

"He can't tell 'em anything they don't know already," said Bud leaping ashore. As the others followed the stuttering cough of the pursuing launch came echoing up the tunnel-like creek.

"Where do you reckon to go?" asked Bates.

"Anywhere so we don't meet up with Anderson," replied Bud briefly.

"Don't blame ye," said Bates. "Guess there's a sort o' track along here. Looks like there'd been a shingle cutter's camp somewheres near."

Cut stumps of giant cypress trees were proof of his words, and hurrying along the path they presently came to an opening in the dense growth with a ruined building in the middle.

"Gosh, and a bridge across the creek," said Bates. He turned to Crab. "See here, boss, this gives us a chance. Abe'll tell Anderson we've took to the woods and I reckon he and his crowd'll follow afoot. What's the matter with crossing over by that log bridge and fixing it so as the next that comes over is a-going into the water?"

"A very sound notion," agreed Crab. "You're the cripple, you go first."

The bridge was the roughest thing, just a big log flattened at the top with an adze and spanning the creek from bank to bank. They hurried over, Crab last. Then he, Bud, Sandy, and Jack all got hold of the log and, between them, shifted the end of it so that it was just balanced on the near bank.

"Guess that'll do the trick," panted Bud.

"Best get right away," said Bates. "I hear 'em coming. Lie right down in the bushes and keep mighty still."

Bud dropped beside Crab. "Do you reckon Bates is all right?" he whispered in Crab's ear.

"You mean will he give the show away? I don't think so. He's chucked in his lot with us."

"Hope you're right," Said Bud rather uneasily. Then—lower still—"Here they come."

There was a crashing of heavy footsteps as six men came running across the clearing. The light was enough to see that the great burly man who led them was Anderson.

A flashlight lit the gloom. Anderson was examining the ground.

"They've crossed the creek," he announced to the others. "Not a mite of doubt about it. Here's their marks. Come on, fellows, and keep your eyes skinned. If there's any trouble you got my orders to shoot."

"The dirty dog!" growled Bud. "I hope he drowns." Even as he spoke Anderson was on the log and striding across. There was a crunch, a yell, followed by a tremendous splash, and the log, Anderson, and two of his men following him, all plunged together into the deep, black, oily water of the creek.

Crab caught Bud by the arm. "Shift!" he said briefly, and creeping away through the bushes the little party pushed rapidly through the wood.

Presently the ground rose, the trees opened out and in a few minutes they were among pines with dry sand beneath their feet.

"This is a heap better," said Bud. "And, say, here's a fence. Must be a house close by. I reckon I could do with a little food and drink, to say nothing of a rest."

The fence was a big one, six feet high, and with eight strands of barbed wire. Since they could not climb it, they walked along it, looking for a way through. They had not gone far before Bud stopped.

"Here's a gate," he said, "but it's locked."

"Halt! who goes there?" came a sudden hail, and two men in uniform, carrying rifles, stepped out.

"Gee!" gasped Bud. "Looks like the American Army. Guess we've crawled out of the frying-pan into the fire."

"We was lookin' for you," said one of the sentries dryly, "but we didn't reckon you'd walk right into us. Don't make no trouble, but go straight in. The boss is waiting for ye."


XXII. — SHOOTING

OLD Rastus was fingering the trigger of his rifle. "Boss," he said imploringly to Mr. Linton, "Ah wish yo'd let me shoot him."

But Mr. Linton shook his head. "I cannot do that, Rastus," he answered. "While I have no doubt that he richly deserves death, one cannot shoot a man in the back."

"And he knows it and trades upon it," said Tess bitterly.

Barchard disappeared among the trees and the Lintons were left to themselves. The sun was now high and the heat so great that they all grew very thirsty. Tess and her mother had carried a good deal of food with them but only one gallon jug of water, which meant but a quart apiece for the four of them.

The long hot day dragged on. There was nothing to do but sit and wait and hope that Crab and Bud would come. Yet even if they did it was difficult to see what they could do against so strong a force as Barchard had with him. Barchard's men were sure to see the boat coming and they had nothing to do but hide in the bushes on the shore and keep Crab and Bud off by shooting at them.

From the top of the mound the Lintons could see the roof of their house and of the packing shed, but the trees hid the movements of Barchard and his men, and they could not tell what they were doing. About three in the afternoon the sky clouded over and they watched longingly for a storm to break. A storm did work up, but as so often happened, it did not reach the island. They could see the rain falling in torrents a couple of miles away, but never a drop reached the island and presently the sun blazed out hotter than ever.

Tess grew desperate. "Dad," she said, "let me go down and get a few oranges. There are trees quite close, and Barchard's men haven't come over this side at all, so there won't be any danger."

"No, Tess, the risk is too great. We must wait until night."

"What is the use of that?" asked Tess. "We can't see to pick oranges in the dark."

But Tess had a way with her, and at last she persuaded her father to let her go.

The nearest orange trees were only a couple of hundred yards away, and she very soon reached them. She had brought a bag with her and wasted no time in starting to fill it. Although most of the ripe fruit had been destroyed in the hurricane, there were still green oranges in plenty, full of refreshing juice. And while she hastily picked the fruit she kept a sharp look out for Barchard or his men. When the bag was nearly full, Tess dropped down out of the tree and started back to the mound. She had not gone twenty steps before she heard a thudding of feet on the sandy soil and, glancing back over her shoulder, caught a glimpse of a man running hard after her. The mere look of him sent a shiver through her.

"No, ye don't!" roared the fellow with an oath. "No oranges for you, my gal, and don't you think it. Drop 'em right now or by gum I'll shoot ye!"

Tess only ran the faster. She could run nearly as fast as Sandy, and ordinarily speaking could have beaten a full-grown man over a short distance. But she would not drop her oranges and the weight told so that the big fellow who was chasing her gained rapidly. She did not believe that the man could be brute enough to actually fire at her.

She was mistaken, for next moment a pistol cracked and she heard the vicious ping of the bullet close above her head. Next instant there came sharp cracks from the mound as her father and Rastus opened fire. She heard a queer groaning sound behind her and turning, was just in time to see her pursuer fling up his arms and fall flat on his back. One glance was enough, then she was running faster than ever, and next minute was back on the mound, panting and sobbing, but with her bag of oranges safe.

"Oh, you killed him," she gasped.

"And a mighty good job, too," growled Rastus.

"He deserved it for shooting at you, Tess," said her father, whose face was set in grim lines. "But the others must have heard the shooting, and I fear there will be serious trouble when they find he is dead."

"Here's Barchard hisself!" exclaimed Rastus, and as he spoke the great hulking form of the leader of the gang appeared from among the trees.

Barchard's heavy face was dark with fury.

"So you've started it," he roared, shaking his huge fist. "That's finished it as far as you're concerned. I'll have ye out of that, Linton, and hang ye before the sun sets."


XXIII. — CRAB MEETS A PAL

BEYOND the wire fence was a big space of open ground, and in the distance lights twinkled. "A camp of some sort," said Crab in a whisper to Bud.

"They're American Army all right," replied Bud, "but that don't help us any. I reckon they'll hand us over to Anderson."

Crab grunted. "You may be right. But anyhow I'd sooner get into the hands of Army officers than those of a sweep like Anderson." He turned to one of the guards. "Are those your barracks over there?"

"You bet, mister," said the man. "But I ain't here to answer questions. You'll know all 'bout it when you meets up with Major Austin."

The lights grew brighter, and they were able to see a range of plain but substantial looking frame buildings. They were marched straight to the door of one of the largest, where another sentry stood.

"Got 'em, Buck," said their captor. "Ask the Major if I'm to bring 'em right in."

The sentry went in and was back almost at once.

"The Major'll see 'em right now," he announced.

The board floor of a bare passage echoed under their feet, then a door opened and they were marched into a large, office-like room, where the electric light was so bright it almost dazzled them. Seated behind a flat-topped desk opposite the door was a man in the undress uniform of an American Army officer. A man with good features, but with the jutting chin and hard grey eyes of a martinet. He looked at the prisoners a moment in silence.

"Where did you find them, Conroy?" he asked.

"They walked right up to the gate, Major," replied Conroy.

"Walked up to the gate?" repeated the officer, in surprise.

"Yes, Sir, I reckon they was plumb lost," said the guard.

"H'm, I can hardly understand bootleggers losing themselves in such fashion," said the Major frowning. "And who is the boy?"

Sandy spoke up quickly. "We are not bootleggers, Sir. We are English. At least Mr. Cubbage and I are English, and Mr. Mazell is an American. My name is Alexander Linton and my father owns Sevenstones Key."

Major Austin's brows drew together. "That man," pointing to Bates, "do you deny that he belongs to Barchard's gang of bootleggers?"

"No," replied Crab grimly. "He does, or rather did, belong to them, but he has left them and thrown in his lot with us."

Major Austin shook his head. "I am afraid such a story is a little beyond my powers of belief," he said coldly. "But it will be investigated in due course, and you will be able to testify on oath at your examination. In the meantime I shall detain you in custody."

Bud spoke up. "I'm an American citizen, Sir, and I want to ask you one question. Are you acting for Sheriff Anderson, of Punta Garda?"

"Acting for Sheriff Anderson! What do you mean?" demanded the Major, curtly. "I am not working with Sheriff Anderson. My men have had orders to keep watch for the rum-runners who were using the creek, and that is why you have been arrested."

"One moment. Major," said Bud quickly. "The real rum-runners, under Barchard himself, have started for Sevenstones in order to take it away from the Lintons. If you feel you have to keep us here, why you must, but for any sake send a launch over to the Key to save the Lintons."

Major Austin frowned again, and tapped impatiently with his fingers on his desk.

"I have no launch to send, and in any case I have no authority for any such proceedings. To be frank with you, Mr. Mazell, your story sounds to me incredible."

Bates spoke up suddenly. "It's truth, Mister. What the gent says is true as I live. And like as not Barchard'll murder every soul on the Key. And if he does the blame'll be yours."

Two spots of red showed on Austin's cheeks, and his eyes glittered angrily.

"You are insolent, my man. Conroy, take them away."

Crab's big fists clenched, and he looked so dangerous that Conroy drew his side-arm.

"You come along quiet, or it'll be the worse for you," he threatened. What would have happened is hard to say, but at this very moment the door opened and a very tall, pleasant faced, young officer came in quickly and saluted.

"Major, there's a man who says he's Sheriff Anderson from Punta Garda outside. He thinks you've got some prisoners of his." As the newcomer spoke Crab turned sharply and stared at him.

"Tiny!" he cried suddenly. "Tiny Melville—"

The tall man swung round and a look of absolute amazement crossed his face.

"Crab—Crab Cubbage!" he almost shouted, and striding forward seized both Crab's hands and shook them violently. "My dear old chap!" he cried. "I never was more pleased to see any one in all my life."

Major Austin cut in. "What does this mean, Lieutenant Melville?" he demanded. "Do you mean to say that you know the prisoner?"

"Know him, Sir. Well I ought to. I wouldn't be here to-night but for him. You've heard me tell of the English airman who came down with his 'plane behind the German lines and picked me up after I'd crashed there. That was Cubbage here, and he was only seventeen years old when he did that stunt."

Major Austin looked thunderstruck, but recovered himself quickly. "It seems that I must offer you my apologies, Mr. Cubbage. And now that I have proof of your identity, perhaps you will tell me your whole story."

Crab wasted no time in doing so, and it was odd to watch Major Austin's face as he listened. If a martinet, he was at any rate a gentleman, and Sandy saw the stern, harsh expression fade to interest, wonder, and finally change to anxiety. Crab wasted no words, and the story did not take long in the telling. When he had finished, Major Austin spoke to the sentry.

"Conroy, you will tell Sheriff Anderson that we have his prisoners, but that they have established their identity and that he need trouble about them no further." There was a twinkle in Conroy's eyes as he saluted and obeyed, then as he left the room the Major turned to Crab.

"This launch of yours. It is in the creek, you say?"

"That's where we left it, Major."

"We can supply you with petrol," said the Major. Melville interrupted. "I don't see the launch will be much use to them, Major," he said. "If they go back to it this Sheriff fellow will get them."

Major Austin looked uncomfortable. "Very likely you are right," he said, "but what else can we do?"

"Whatever we do we've got to be quick, Sir," said Crab. "Barchard left for the Key at dusk and would be there by dawn. Mazell and I are quite willing to take the chances of getting hold of our launch if we may have some petrol."

"Cubbage will take all the chances that ever were," grinned Melville. "But why bother about the launch, Major? A plane's a heap quicker."

Crab fairly jumped. "You've got planes?" he exclaimed.

"We've got to have them, Crab," said Melville. "We wouldn't stand much show against the bootleggers without them."

"You mean, then, you would take us across to the Key, Tiny?" said Crab.

"If the Major will allow it," Melville answered.

"I am quite willing, Melville," said Major Austin. "It would be a right good thing if we could catch this fellow Barchard, for he's said to be head of the whole gang of rum-runners along the Gulf Coast. But you're forgetting one thing. The Avenger is the only one big enough for the job, and the mechanics had her engine down to-day."

"I know that, Sir," replied Melville, "but I guess we can fix her up again pretty quick. With any luck we'll be able to leave by mid-day to-morrow, and even if we had the launch right here, we couldn't do it any quicker. What do you say, Crab?"

"I say the plane every time," said Crab, with emphasis. "And if you'll let me take a hand with the mechanics I'll help all I can."

"You had better get some sleep first, Mr. Cubbage," said Major Austin kindly. "I reckon you will have a busy day to-morrow."

Tiny Melville was overjoyed to see Crab again, and he could not do too much for him or his friends. They made a late, but excellent supper, then went to bed, and, in spite of his worries, Sandy slept well until six, when the light woke him.

Crab was already up and out, and Sandy found him in the hangar working with the mechanics on the engine of a plane. The men themselves, who had heard Crab's story, were keen as mustard to get the job finished. Bud and Sandy had breakfast, then Sandy went back to see how the plane was getting on. He met Conroy, who told him that Anderson was "hopping mad."

"But he knows when he's beat," grinned Conroy. "He don't dare run up against the American Army."

The morning dragged terribly and it was past four in the afternoon before the plane was at last ready to fly.

"Yes, she'll carry four right enough," said Tiny. "Specially as one's a little one. You and me, Crab, and Mazell and Sandy. Got the bombs in?" he asked the mechanic.

"Yes, Sir, and belts for the machine gun and two days' provisions. Good luck, Sir!"

The machine was wheeled down to the water, and the four got aboard. Tiny took the pilot's seat, the engine began to roar, the floats ploughed the calm sea, then before Sandy realized it, she had lifted and was hurtling skywards. At two thousand feet Tiny steadied her, and at a hundred and fifty miles an hour she went hurtling westward. It was Sandy's first flight, and to him the speed was incredible. When at the end of only twenty minutes Crab pointed to a dark blob on the horizon, Sandy could not believe that it was Sevenstones. Yet in another two minutes he could see the island quite plainly.

"The house is all right," said Bud in his ear.

"But Barchard's there. Look at his launch," replied Sandy anxiously.

Crab was speaking to Tiny, but Sandy could not hear what they said. The plane dropped lower and Sandy's eyes searched anxiously for any sign of his people. Bud pointed.

"There are Barchard's chaps!" he exclaimed. "See—back of the house. And, by gum, there's Barchard himself over by the mound."

"Dad's on the mound," cried Sandy. "Yes, and Mum and Tess and Rastus. And—and Barchard's attacking them. See—he's shooting from the trees. Crab—Crab—," he caught Crab by the sleeve—"do something quickly."

"Don't worry," answered Crab, swiftly. "Tiny sees—"

"And so does Barchard," said Bud fiercely. He was right, for Barchard, hearing the roar of the plane, had turned and was looking up. The air was so clear that Sandy plainly saw the look of fury on his face. Barchard raised his rifle and fired straight at the plane, and Sandy heard the clang of a bullet striking some part of the fuselage.

"Let him have it!" shouted Tiny, as he brought the plane right down and circled in a quick curve over the very heads of the bootleggers. Crab had a little bomb in each hand. They were hardly bigger than oranges. He pitched them, and Sandy breathlessly watched them streak through the air. The first fell wide; but the second struck the ground quite close to Barchard. The explosion seemed trifling, and Barchard began to run.

"It's missed fire!" groaned Sandy, but next moment Barchard threw up his hands and fell flat on his face. Round and round went the plane. Barchard's men ran like rabbits, trying to shelter among the trees. But the trees were small and from the plane the men were plainly visible, and Crab pelted them remorselessly. Three shared Barchard's fate, and the rest ran like mad for their launch.

"That's about settled it," said Tiny, laughing.

"But the launch," cried Crab. "That won't get far," replied Tiny, as he turned again and, cutting out the engine, sent the big machine gliding towards the water. Three of Barchard's men had reached the launch just as the plane passed over her. They cut the painter, started the engine and were driving wildly away across the bay, when the plane alighted easily as a great gull upon the gentle swells, some half a mile away. While one of the bootleggers steered, the other two began to fire, but the bullets, badly aimed, spattered the sea at some distance from the plane. In a flash Crab got into action and the machine gun crackled, sending a hail of nickel-tipped bullets upon the launch. One man went overboard instantly, the other ducked down into the cockpit. Next moment the steersman's arm went up, waving a white handkerchief.

The launch's engine had been shut off, and she floated idly on the water as the plane taxied up to her. "Keep your gun on her, Crab," said Tiny. "You never can trust these gents."

"You bet," Crab answered, but when they reached the launch there was no sign of resistance. The steersman was the only unwounded survivor and he was scared stiff. Bud and Sandy got aboard, they tied him up, then they put a rough bandage on the wounded man, who had two bullets through his right arm and shoulder, after which they turned the launch and took her ashore. The plane came in after them, and in a very few moments she and the launch were made fast and they were all hurrying towards the mound.

"I suppose Barchard is dead?" panted Sandy as he ran beside Crab.

"Not if I know it. Those were gas bombs, Sandy, not explosive. He'll wake with a nasty head and live to take his trial. He'll go before a U.S. Court, and if he gets less than ten years, I blunder badly. Hulloa!" he cried, as they came into the open. "Your people are on the job. They've tied him up already."

Sandy hardly heard. He had seen Tess and was racing towards her. Brother and sister hugged one another, regardless of spectators.

"I knew you'd come," cried Tess in triumph. "I told them that you and Crab and Bud would save us."


XXIV. — THE MOUND

THE bootleggers had hardly had time to do much harm, and they were lying tied up in the packing house, and Rastus was guarding them. Crab was taking no chances of their getting loose to do further damage, and it was arranged that there should be some one to keep an eye on them the whole time until they were taken back to the mainland.

"And even then," said Tiny, "I reckon to take Barchard with me in the plane, so there won't be any rescue business or anything of that sort."

"Could I come with you in the plane?" begged Tess, as they sat at supper. "I've never been in one, and I so want to go up."

"I'll tell you what," said Tiny. "To-morrow morning, before I start back, you shall have a little joyride." Tess clapped her hands with delight, and was so excited at the prospect that she lay awake half the night.

It was arranged that Crab and Bud should take the prisoners back in their own launch, hand them over to Major Austin, then collect the Tern, load her up with the stores, and return in her to the Key, and that Tiny should start a little later, bringing Barchard.

The launch got under way at dawn, and a little later Tess, fairly quivering with eagerness, found herself aboard the big plane. Sandy came too, and they sat just behind Tiny in the cockpit. The sea was like blue glass, and the big plane rose off the water like a great gull, and went roaring up into the clear heights above.

Then Tiny pulled her round and she swung in a great circle around the Key.

At first Tess could hardly breathe for sheer excitement, but presently she got over that and leaned out, watching everything below.

"It—it's too wonderful, Sandy," she said in her brother's ear. "Oh, I'd like to fly all day. But how small the Key looks, and the house is like a toy, and—and, why I can see every reef and quite down to the bottom of the sea. Oh, Sandy, this is the way to find the wreck."

"You bet it is," said Sandy. "I'll ask Melville to circle all round and see if we can spot her." He did so, and twice they circled the whole island, but though Sandy and Tess had their eyes glued upon the clear water, never a sign did they see of any wreck, except the one they had already examined.

"It's no use," said Sandy at last, in a very discouraged voice. "There isn't any galleon. The whole thing is a frost."

Tess was not listening, but still hung over the edge gazing downwards as the plane came back across the Key towards the harbour. Suddenly she turned to Sandy and her blue eyes were shining.

"The mound, Sandy!" she exclaimed. "Look at the mound."

"What about it?" asked Sandy in surprise.

"Don't you see? It's just the shape of a ship?"

Sandy looked. "Blessed if you aren't right! But—but it couldn't be a ship up on dry land?"

"Why not. A hurricane wave might have swept her right up there. It's not far from the sea."

"You might be right. By Jove, we'll see. We'll start digging there before we're an hour older."

The minute they came down the two were off like red-shanks, and without a word to any one except Tiny, got a spade and a pick-axe and started.

Then Tiny pulled her round and she swung in a great circle around the Key.

At first Tess could hardly breathe for sheer excitement, but presently she got over that and leaned out, watching everything below.

"It—it's too wonderful, Sandy," she said in her brother's ear. "Oh, I'd like to fly all day. But how small the Key looks, and the house is like a toy, and—and, why I can see every reef and quite down to the bottom of the sea. Oh, Sandy, this is the way to find the wreck."

"You bet it is," said Sandy. "I'll ask Melville to circle all round and see if we can spot her." He did so, and twice they circled the whole island, but though Sandy and Tess had their eyes glued upon the clear water, never a sign did they see of any wreck, except the one they had already examined.

"It's no use," said Sandy at last, in a very discouraged voice. "There isn't any galleon. The whole thing is a frost."

Tess was not listening, but still hung over the edge gazing downwards as the plane came back across the Key towards the harbour. Suddenly she turned to Sandy and her blue eyes were shining.

"The mound, Sandy!" she exclaimed. "Look at the mound."

"What about it?" asked Sandy in surprise.

"Don't you see? It's just the shape of a ship?"

Sandy looked. "Blessed if you aren't right! But—but it couldn't be a ship up on dry land?"

"Why not. A hurricane wave might have swept her right up there. It's not far from the sea."

"You might be right. By Jove, we'll see. We'll start digging there before we're an hour older."

The minute they came down the two were off like red-shanks, and without a word to any one except Tiny, got a spade and a pick-axe and started.

Tiny, who had been bound to secrecy, went off with his prisoner, and Mr. and Mrs. Linton, thinking the children had gone fishing, went on with their usual tasks. Dinnertime came but no sign of Sandy or Tess. Then about four in the afternoon, Mrs. Linton, resting on the verandah, was startled by a wild yell, and along raced Sandy and Tess, dripping with perspiration and black to the eyes with peaty soil.

"We've got it," shrieked Tess. "Mum, we've got it!"

"Got what? Dear me, Tess, you terrify me."

"This," cried Sandy, and as he spoke he upended a sack he was dragging, and before his mother's amazed eyes a cataract of gold and silver coins poured clanking out on to the boarded floor.

Mr. Linton came hurrying out, Rastus ran up. His eyes nearly fell out of his head. "Jimmy!" he gasped. "You been robbin' a bank, chillern?"

"Our bank," declared Sandy, triumphantly. "It's the galleon. We've found it at last and there's heaps more where this comes from."

Forty-eight hours later, when Crab and Bud arrived in the Tern, which Major Austin had secured for them, Sandy led them to the packing house, where they saw a long shelf completely covered with bags of coins, ingots of silver, and such a quantity of lovely old Spanish plate as would have sent a collector clean out of his mind.

"Dad says it's worth fifty thousand pounds," said Sandy, "and Tess found it."

"And half of it is Bud's and Crab's," said Tess firmly.

Bud lifted Tess off her feet, kissed and set her down again. "This beats bootlegging all to bits," he said. "Say, Crab, what are we going to do about it?"

"Do," replied Crab, gruffly. "Stay right here, make Sevenstones the finest island in the Gulf, and live happily ever after."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Administered by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.