This is book three of four in the juvenile fiction series the Radio Detectives, from 1922
THE RADIO DETECTIVES SOUTHWARD BOUND
Digitized by Doug Frizzle (Stillwoods.Blogspot.Com), March 2010.
AUTHOR OF “THE DEEP SEA HUNTERS," "THE RADIO DETECTIVES,"
"THE RADIO DETECTIVES UNDER THE SEA," "THE RADIO DETECTIVES IN THE JUNGLE," ETC.
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1922, By D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STSTES OF AMERICA
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In Quaint St. Thomas
. . . 1
. . . 28
Sam Gives an Exhibition
. . . 45
. . . 64
An Unexpected Visitor
. . . 90
Van Brunt Explains
, . .107
A Terrible Predicament
. . . 127
. . .147
A Mysterious Message
. . .170
In the Cavern
. . .191
. . .210
Sam Makes a Discovery
. . .227
In Quaint St. Thomas
. . .249
THE RADIO DETECTIVES SOUTHWARD BOUND
CHAPTER I IN QUAINT ST. THOMAS
ACROSS the tumbling blue Caribbean Sea a rust-streaked, dingy tramp was rolling on her way. Far astern was Santo Domingo. Hazy as a wisp of cloud, Porto Rico broke the horizon to the South and not another ship nor sail was in sight.
Apparently, the plunging vessel was alone upon a forsaken sea; but if one could have traveled a few miles to the north or could have soared a few hundred feet into the hot tropic air, another ship would have been sighted—a lean, gray, four-funneled craft, speed denoted in her sharp stem, her wide flaring bows, the rake of her masts and in her every line. Now, however, she was loafing along at a bare ten knots, just far enough below the horizon's rim to be invisible to any one on the tramp. No sign of telltale smoke issued from her funnels (her oil burners and smoke consumers attended to that), and steadily, hour after hour, she kept pace with the rusty tramp, as she had done for days, remaining there, just out of sight on the other ship's quarter, like a hound trailing a hare, or perhaps it would be more correct to say, a hound trailing a tortoise.
But if the destroyer (for such she was) was invisible and unsuspected aboard the tramp, the latter was neither unsuspected nor invisible to those on the destroyer. From morning until night, dense clouds of sooty smoke bellowed upward from the tramp's squat stack, with its two bands of blue and a band of yellow, and, carried by the trade wind far across the sea, told of her presence to any one within a radius of thirty miles or more. Only at night, when the tramp's banner of smoke could not be seen and her few lights twinkled mistily across the waters, did the destroyer edge a trifle closer—just near enough to catch the glimmer of the tramp's lights; and before the first faint streaks of dawn broke the dark sky to the east, she slipped back to her accustomed place.
Upon the tramp's decks, a few ill-kempt, slatternly men were to be seen. Upon her bridge lounged an enormously stout Dutchman with a huge blond mustache, and, on comfortable deck chairs, which seemed strangely out of place on the battered old ship, sat two other men. One was heavily built and with the lower half of his face a peculiar pink against the bronze of forehead, nose and cheeks; the other slender, erect, garbed in spotless white silk, with a small, stiffly upturned iron-gray mustache and a monocle which was never removed.
Upon the decks of the other vessel, were the neat, white clad sailors, the immaculately uniformed officers of the United States Navy, and five individuals in civilians' clothes. Two of these were middle-aged men, two were mere boys and the fifth was a young man under thirty. Also, upon the destroyer, but clad in jumper and trousers so like those of the bluejackets that he appeared a member of the crew, was a young Bahaman negro who answered, to the name of Sam.
And now, as the tramp wallows and pitches on her way and the destroyer slips like a gray shadow through the sea, let us leave them for a moment and learn why the naval vessel was dogging a Dutch tramp in time of peace and why the civilians were upon her decks.
A few months before our story opens, the two boys on the destroyer, whom we must introduce as Tom Pauling and his chum Frank, had made some most astonishing discoveries in New York. By pure accident they bad stumbled upon the well-guarded secret of a gang of international criminals—a crime ring which had been flooding the country with contra-brand liquor, smuggled drugs, and "red" Bolshevist propoganda and which had engineered innumerable robberies, holdups and other crimes.
Through these discoveries of the boys, made while they were experimenting with undersea radio with the help of a diver, Rawlins, and his newly invented diving suits, the New York end of the gang had been broken up and several of its members captured. One of these, dying in a hospital, had made a confession which had been verified in part by a confederate, a Russian named Smernoff. From the statements of these two, Mr. Pauling and his associate, Mr. Henderson, who were Secret Service employees, had been confirmed in their suspicions that an arch criminal, a master mind controlling almost unlimited means and resources, was at the bottom of the stupendous plot to create a state of anarchy and lawlessness in the United States and England.
That this man had his headquarters in some secret lair in the West Indies they also knew from the dying man's confession; but before the latter could give the exact location, he breathed his last.
Acting on the slight information they had, Rawlins, who had lived for years in the West Indies, proposed going to the islands in the abandoned submarine which had been used by the conspirators. As the boys' inventions in undersea radio telephony had brought about success so far and as the subsea work was a large part of Rawlins' plans, Tom and Frank had accompanied Mr. Pauling and Mr. Henderson to the Bahamas where they joined Rawlins upon his arrival in the submarine. Much to their astonishment, they found the Russian, Smernoff, on board the submarine and Rawlins told them how he had picked the fellow up from a disabled motor boat far from land. Smernoff, it appeared, had escaped from prison and, learning that the Bolshevists had butchered his family in Russia, he had at once proceeded to exact vengeance. Then, fearing for his life and wishing to reach Russia, he took to sea in a small launch with the hopes of being picked up by some outward bound European ship.
After a series of thrilling adventures and narrowly escaping being blown to bits by the criminal they were trailing, the boys and their companions reached Santo Domingo where Rawlins was convinced the arch criminal was hiding. The most persistent search failed to find him, however, and the boys, going on a day's trip in the mangrove swamps, became lost. While seeking to find their way out, they came unexpectedly upon a hidden submarine which, by her shattered superstructure, they recognized as the one in which the criminals had attempted to destroy them and which had been fired upon and hit by Rawlins.
Fearing discovery, the boys sought to retrace their way, but becoming confused in the swamp, found themselves on a narrow stream. Hearing the sounds of voices they cautiously peered through the brush and saw a group of men. Two were conversing on the shore and these the boys noted particularly. One was a heavily built, red-bearded man and the other a slender, dapper, carefully groomed individual wearing a monocle and with a tiny iron-gray upturned mustache.
Terrified at seeing the men, whom the boys realized were members of the criminal gang, so close at hand, Tom and Frank tried to slip away in silence, but disturbed a flock of ibis. The croaks of the birds warned the men who at once started in pursuit of the boys. Fortunately, the boys’ boat was enabled to pass through a narrow shallow channel where the pursuing boat could not follow and although fired upon, the two frightened lads escaped in safety.
But they were still lost and after hours of wandering through the vast swamp they reached a village of negro Voodoo worshipers and were at once taken prisoners, but, owing to the negroes' superstitious fears of the radio instruments, they were unharmed and a few hours later were rescued by their friends who had learned of the boys' whereabouts by radio.
From the boys' descriptions, Mr. Pauling and Mr. Henderson recognized the monocled man as the leader of the criminals and the red-bearded fellow as his right-hand man. While talking of the matter, the Americans were greatly surprised to learn that the negroes also knew of the "Reds" and had vowed vengeance upon them for wrongs suffered at their hands and a moment later one of the blacks, recognizing Smernoff, killed him.
Finding that the Americans were also intent on capturing the criminals, the chief of the Voodoo dancers agreed to lead his new friends to the hiding place of the gang's leader. This proved to be a huge cavern, with a subterranean entrance, which had been fitted up luxuriously.
But once again the resourceful leader of the criminals slipped away by means of a small submarine which had been kept in readiness in the water-filled portion of the cave. Not only did he escape with his men, but he succeeded in sinking the Americans' submarine and the posse was obliged to seek refuge on a destroyer which, by previous arrangements, was constantly within radio call.
As they were leaving Santo Domingo, they sighted a Dutch tramp steamer, and as she had previously been seen in the same spot a week before, suspicions were aroused. Boarding her, they found nothing that warranted drastic measures, for her papers were apparently in proper form and her fat Dutch captain told a plausible story to account for his hanging about the place. Rawlins, however, had noticed certain matters, such as fresh mud on the anchors and chains and a forged date on the tramp's papers, which convinced him that there was something crooked about her. Although scoffed at by the commander of the destroyer, Rawlins' "hunch" was so strong that, at his request, Mr. Pauling ordered the commander of the war vessel to follow the tramp to St. Thomas.
And thus it came about that under the brilliant tropic sun the lean gray destroyer hung like Nemesis on the trail of the battered and innocent looking tramp bound apparently for St. Thomas.
"I think she's making for St. Thomas as they claimed, Mr. Pauling," declared a stiff, prim, young officer who wore the two wide and one narrow gold bars and the gold-laced cap of a Lieutenant Commander. "There's no other port she can touch at now unless she alters her course."
"In that case, I think it would be a wise plan to get into port before she does," replied the other. "If we arrive after she anchors, her crew may suspect we have followed them. It would be an odd coincidence to have a destroyer board her off Trade Wind Cay and then bob up in
"I advise it also," affirmed the third man. "Got any suggestions, Rawlins?"
"Well, only one," responded the diver. "Those chaps are slippery ducks and we don't know for sure that they don't know we're watching them. They may be suspecting we'll do just as you plan and then when they think we're safely in St. Thomas, they could about ship and swing back to Cuba or Haiti or even head across for Curacao or some other island. I'd say let's hang on until we get pretty close to the island, and then beat it for port. We can make three knots to her one and can be snug and safe there long before she turns up. By that time she'll be in sight of the signal station at Culebra or St. Thomas and if she shifts her helm and tries to clear out we can get after her all right."
"Yes, I agree with you there, Rawlins," declared Mr. Pauling. "Just hang on a bit longer, Disbrow and when St. Thomas looms up, put on speed and make port."
"Very well," replied the Commander. "Of course, I haven't any idea why you are so keen on watching the old Dutchman, but it's none of my business and I'm under your orders."
"Well, you know almost as much as I do," laughed Mr. Pauling. "As I told you before, Rawlins has a hunch and from past experience, I'm willing to back his hunches."
At this moment the wireless operator approached the group.
"She's just sent a radio," he reported. "Here it is, Sir."
Commander Disbrow spread out the sheet, glanced through it and handed it to Mr. Pauling.
"Guess we can get along, eh?" he remarked.
"Hmm," muttered the other. "Yes, I imagine this is bona fide—says to report him to his agents—expects to be in to-morrow morning."
Ten minutes later, the destroyer was fairly tearing through the sea, a mountain of foaming water rising above her bows and speeding astern in a vast ocean of creamy green, while, enraptured with the sight, the two boys stood gazing alternately ahead at a distant smudge of land and astern at the far trailing wake.
"Gosh, but she can go!" cried Tom, as he looked at the rushing water alongside.
"You bet she can," responded Frank, with enthusiasm. "And say, Tom, just notice how steady she is now. Why, a few minutes ago she was pitching and rolling so I could hardly stand and now she's steady as a rock."
"Yes, I noticed that," declared Tom. "I'll bet she's making thirty knots an hour."
"All of that," confirmed his father. "At this rate we'll be in harbor before sundown."
Rapidly the gray-green hillsides of St. Thomas rose above the sea and before the sun sank behind Sail Rock and distant Porto Rico the destroyer was safely moored in the harbor of Charlotte Amalia. To one who did not know, she might have been there for a week or a month. Soon after daybreak the next morning, the signal station on the hill above the town ran up the flags announcing that the tramp was sighted, while the pilot boat went dancing out to sea. The destroyer's rigging was gayly decorated with her crews' washing, men were busily painting her topsides from stagings and floats and the civilians who had been aboard were seated comfortably on the veranda of the hotel opposite the quaint pink fort.
"There she is!" exclaimed Tom, presently.
"I'll say she is," responded Rawlins. "I can almost see old Pot-belly leaning on the bridge rail and flowing over it. By glory, I'd hate to be as fat as he is!"
"Can't you imagine you see any one else you’d rather see?" chuckled Mr. Pauling. "Got any plans in your head, Rawlins?"
"Not yet," admitted the other, "I’ve found the best plans are the ones a fellow makes as conditions arise. But I've got Sam in a shore boat to go off as soon as the tramp drops her mud-hook. He's got about a thousand Panama hats and he'll get aboard and see what be sees. They've never seen him, I'll bet."
Within the hour the old tramp wallowed her way through the narrow entrance to the harbor, the Dutch flag—rather faded and frayed—flying from her taff-rail and an indistinguishable, smoke-blackened house-flag at her masthead.
"If any of our friends are aboard they certainly chose a mighty uninviting looking tub," was Mr. Henderson's comment as with a prodigious roar of chains the tramp's anchor plunged into the water.
"Sure," replied the diver. "But you can bet if they did choose her they're not uncomfortable. A limestone cave's not a mansion in looks, but I'll say theirs was a peach."
"Yes, we cannot go by appearances," remarked Mr. Pauling. "I suppose the only thing to be done is to watch and wait."
"Can't we go out and have a look around?" asked Tom. "It's all new to us, you know, and we want to see everything while we have the chance."
"Of course, you can," assented his father. "No reason why you shouldn't. You can't get lost. That is, unless you climb over the mountain or jump into the bay. If we want you and can't find you, we'll call on the marines. There seem to be plenty of them and to spare here. Don't walk too fast and get overheated, don't eat too much fruit and don't buy every curio you see. Otherwise, amuse yourselves as you see fit."
"Yes, hike up to Blackbeard's Castle while you're at it," suggested Rawlins, "and have a squint over at the bay back of the point there. That used to be a great hang-out for pirates."
"Gee! is that so?" exclaimed Frank. "And did old Blackbeard ever live in that castle up on the hill?"
"Search me!" laughed the diver. "He was before my time. But there's a Bluebeard's castle on the opposite bill, you can take your choice. I guess it's as likely that one lived here as the other."
To the two boys, Charlotte Amalia—the capital and only town on St. Thomas—was a most fascinating and pretty spot. The quaint, narrow streets rising sharply up the hillsides from the waterfront and often turning into flights of steps; the gaudily dressed negro-women; the grinning half-nude children; the multicolored, stuccoed houses; the shops filled with curios, Panama hats and bay rum; the shady market with its familiar bright-colored fish, odd and luscious fruits and chattering colored women were all interesting. They climbed the hill as Rawlins had suggested and viewed the big harp-shaped bay which in years gone by had been a lair of the buccaneers; they spent a long time in the little garden filled with countless figureheads of long lost and wrecked ships; they rambled over the ancient pink Danish fort with its quaint old bronze cannon and they even wandered out into the country and amused themselves chasing the bright-eyed scuttling lizards. Not until a ragged black urchin, however, taught them the trick of snaring the creatures with a noose of grass did they succeed in capturing any of the little creatures. Both grew excited when, to their utter amazement, one of the lizards dropped off his tail by which Tom had grasped him and raced off none the worse while the tail wriggled as if endowed with independent life.
"Gosh, that's too bad!" exclaimed Frank, looking ruefully at the tail. "Poor little chap, he'll die now."
The darky fairly squealed with glee. "No, sir, Master! He no die!" declared the black urchin. "He mek tail right soon an' sma't. Lookee here, Master! See, me mek to catchem nudder. Lookee see, sir, dis one no got tail. He mek los' his an' grow' nudder."
Sure enough, the implike boy held up another squirming lizard. And the boys, examining him, found that he, too, had lost his tail, but that a new one was sprouting from the stump.
"Das de way he mek to scootle free when he get cotched, Master," explained the black boy. "When a chick'n or cat or white man mek to catch he by de tail, he mek it woggle off an' scootle free. Den he wink he eye an' larf like so.” To illustrate his remarks, the urchin winked his big rolling eyes and cocked his head on one side, grinning from ear to ear, until the two American boys doubled up with merriment.
"And I suppose he doesn't drop his tail and scootle off when a black boy 'cotches he,'" laughed Tom.
"No, 'deed, Master," giggled the negro. "Nigger boy too sma't fo' he. He no can drap he haid an' scootle, so wes cotches he by he haid,"
"Oh, I see," said Tom. "Now come on, George, and show us some more funny sights. We need a guide and you're a good one."
While the two boys were absent on their sight-seeing trip, the three men upon the hotel veranda watched every movement upon the tramp. They could plainly see the bright-painted bumboats flocking about the ship offering hats, bay rum and curios for sale and Rawlins soon picked out Sam's boat.
"He's there all right!" he exclaimed. "Bet he gets on board. Yep, there he goes now. Good boy, Sam. But it cost us a bunch of money to buy up all the other fellows' hats so he'd have the only good lot. If it hadn't been for that, there'd have been about fifty niggers aboard the old tub. These Dutchmen are nuts over Panamas."
"He has sharp eyes and knows his business," agreed Mr. Henderson, "but if there is anything wrong on the tramp you can be mighty sure they won't let anything be seen. St. Thomas is American and they're not taking any chances right in the lion's mouth, so to speak."
"Watchful waiting's our only course," commented Mr. Pauling. "Possibly some of them may come ashore. Ah, looks as if they were now."
As he spoke, the crowd of negroes about the gangway moved apart and three men descended the steep ladder towards the crowding shore boats.
"There's old Mynheer!" announced the diver, as he focused his glasses on the group. "Got another fat fellow with him—ruddy faced and no whiskers and another young chap. Don't remember seeing the fat one on board, but the other one looks like the second officer we saw. Yes, here they come."
The boat landing was within a few yards of the hotel and as the boat from the tramp swung into the little concrete dock, the Americans had a good view of its occupants. One, as Rawlins had said, was the ponderous, yellow-mustached Dutch captain, the second was a heavily built man with pink cheeks showing peculiarly prominently against the bronze of his neck and forehead, while the third was the sallow, lanky second officer of the ship.
"Don't see any one that looks like the crowd we want there," declared Mr. Pauling. "Of course, we don't know them all but the boys described those they saw pretty well and they don't fit with these. Sorry Smernoff isn't here."
"I'm mighty glad he's not!" declared Mr. Henderson. "He was a traitor and a rascal to the end and he'd surely betray us now if he could."
"Yes, but I always mistrusted him," agreed Mr. Pauling, "and forewarned is forearmed."
"Well, I'll say I didn't," chimed in Rawlins, "I thought he'd reformed, but I guess a 'red' is always a 'red.' It must be in the blood."
"Tell me, Rawlins," asked Mr. Pauling, "what is your hunch on this tramp anyway? How on earth could those fellows have boarded her without showing their sub to Disbrow, and where could they have been hidden when we were on board? What's the big idea? We can't sit here and twiddle our thumbs indefinitely, you know."
Rawlins grinned good-naturedly. "Honest, Mr. Pauling, I haven't any definite idea," he admitted. "All I know is that that little flivver sub wouldn't dare go far to sea. If there wasn't any other ship handy, where did she go? Then, if the old tramp's on the level why did that blessed Dutchman lie to us? And why the faked date on that
Mr. Pauling suddenly straightened up. "By Jove!" he ejaculated. "That's odd. Just occurred to me. We went over the list of the crew and tallied every one off and I'll swear that man wasn't among them. Henderson, there is something funny here. That man was concealed on board and concealed for some reason. Let's follow him. I'm beginning to think Rawlins is right."
The other laughed. "Pauling," he chuckled, "you're getting excited over nothing. That man may be one of the port officials. There are still a lot of the Danes here and he might well be one. Why, man, if he'd been hidden aboard, do you imagine he'd come ashore in that way in broad daylight? Hello! Rawlins has gone."
"Probably got another hunch," laughed Mr. Pauling. "Yes, I guess you're right, Henderson. However, if he goes back on board, I'm going to search the ship—if I have to summon every marine in Charlotte Amalia to help us."
"Better get permission from Washington first," suggested the other. "If we start searching a foreign ship without due reason we'll get into hot water."
"Piffle!" exclaimed Mr. Pauling, impatiently. "I can say we suspect her of rum running. This is a dry port."
“Yes, but a Dutch ship's a perfect right to have all the liquor she wants on board," Mr. Henderson reminded him.
Without replying, Mr. Pauling busied himself writing on a sheet of paper and presently rose, sauntered off and carried the message to the Government radio station.
"Well, I've sent it," he announced, as he returned and joined Mr. Henderson, "Wonder where the boys went. Guess they found more to see than I thought they would."
In the meantime, the two boys were thoroughly enjoying themselves. Under the guidance of their tiny black imp of a factotum they had wandered along a road into the country and were rapidly learning a great deal about West Indian life, plants and living creatures. The tiny brown ground doves, the saucy flycatchers, the little black and green grass-quits and many other strange birds were pointed out to them. The negro boy took the greatest pride in exhibiting all the wonders of his island and went into long dissertations about every bush, tree, flower or insect they saw. He pointed out the big, dark green tamarind trees, knocked down some of the pleasantly acrid fruits and expatiated upon the manifold advantages of a tamarind switch for, "lashin’ o' nigger boys when he bad."
He tried to explain to the Americans the differences between bananas and plantains, but failed hopelessly in this, and to cover his confusion called their attention to a field of pineapples and the orange fruit of the soap-weed which he said, "nigger lady mek fo' wash he clo's wif."
He cut stalks of sugar cane from a field beside the road and deftly pared away the hard splintery bark and handed it to Tom and Frank ready to chew. As the three sat in the shade of a group of coconut palms munching the sweet pith of the cane, he coyly suggested that a "jelly coc'nut be mighty nice, me t'ink, Master."
"Yes, it would," agreed Tom, glancing up the tall, slender, tapering trunk to where the bunch of big green and golden nuts hung just beneath the immense fronds, "but how are we going to get one?"
"Me mek fo' t'ief he," announced the little rascal in a most matter-of-fact tone. "Me clumber dis pa'm mos' easy."
"Why, do these trees belong to any one?" asked Frank in surprise. "I never thought of that."
"Ah spec’ he de Gov'mint's," replied the boy who had gravely informed them his real name was Samson Armstrong and which Tom had laughingly told him was a powerful name to live up to.
"Well, if they're Government property I guess Uncle Sam can spare us a few," laughed Frank, "but I'll bet you can't climb that tree."
"You look see, Master," was the urchin's only response and to the boys' utter amazement, he commenced walking up the smooth trunk exactly like a monkey.
"Gosh, that does beat anything I've seen yet!" declared Tom. "Just look at Samson go up that tree."
Soon the negro boy gained the coveted nuts and straddling the base of an immense leaf commenced cutting through the tough stems and tossing the big nuts to the ground.
"That's enough!" cried Tom, when half a dozen had been thrown down. "Come on down, Samson."
The boys didn't really know whether they expected to see him come down head first or not. However, they were disappointed, for his descent was far less interesting than his upward progress and with a quick slide he streaked down and landed beside them.
Opening the big green nuts deftly with Tom's knife, the darky handed them to the boys who found the clear, cold water delicious. They had already tasted coconut water in Nassau, but it was never fresh from the tree and cool like this and feeling greatly refreshed they arose and continued on their stroll.
At times they stopped to amuse themselves chasing the big red and purple land crabs which Samson averred were excellent eating. They investigated some bright-hued cactus flowers and succeeded in getting their fingers filled with tiny spines. They sampled cashews, sapodillos and innumerable other fruits and finally, as the shadows began to lengthen, they turned about and began to retrace their steps towards the town.
They were walking slowly along, stopping now and again as some new thing attracted their attention when a motor car was seen approaching. As it whirled by, the three boys stood aside under the trees that bordered the roadway and as they caught sight of its occupants, Tom suddenly grasped Frank's arm.
"Gosh!" he exclaimed. "Did you see that man, Frank? Say, I've seen him somewhere before. Where was it?"
"I can't say," replied Frank. "He looked mighty familiar to me, but I can't place him."
"Dat Master Van Brunt," Samson informed them, "he come here a plenty time. All de time he mek cotch but'fly an' bugs. Me know he, Master."
"Oh, is that so," said Tom, "Then we don't know him. I guess we must have been mistaken."
But despite this, the boys' minds dwelt constantly on the stout, ruddy faced, foreign-looking man who had driven so rapidly past them in the car. Not until they had reached the town and were turning towards the hotel did Tom's memory aid him,
"Frank!" he cried, "I know! Say—" here he lowered his voice to a mere whisper. "He's that fellow we saw over there—the one with the big red beard!"
"Jehoshaphat, no!" exclaimed Frank. "It can't— gee, you're right, it did look like him!"
"And he's shaved off his beard," went on Tom. "Didn't you notice how white his cheeks were?"
Frank let out a long drawn whistle of amazement. "I'll bet that's who 'tis," he declared. "And I'll bet he came from the tramp! Come on, let's hurry and tell the others about it."
CHAPTER II BAFFLING MYSTERIES
THE two men listened with great interest to the boys as they excitedly told of recognizing the man in the motor car.
"By Jove!" exclaimed Mr. Pauling when they had ended, "didn't I tell you there was something wrong about that man, Henderson? I noticed a funny appearance about his face. Of course that was it, his beard recently shaved off. It's a wonder Rawlins didn't notice it too."
Mr. Henderson chuckled. "There you go again, Pauling. Why, you're as easily thrown into offhand suppositions as these boys. That fresh-shaven face is the strongest argument against his being the red-bearded chap the boys saw at Santo Domingo. Why, man, if he had just shaved off a beard how would that pickaninny have recognized him? And he says the fellow has been here before. If he had been here previously with a beard, the little rascal would have mentioned it, even if he recognized him. No, old man, you're off the track again I'm afraid. I guess your friend in the flivver was just a harmless bug hunter as Samson said."
"But he came ashore from the tramp," objected Mr. Pauling. "How do you account for that?"
"Easily enough," rejoined the other. "He may have been on board when we held her up. We didn't search the ship and if he were merely a passenger, his name would not have appeared on the ship's list— you didn't ask the captain if he had passengers. And again, he might have been here and gone off with the doctor, the port officials, or even in a bumboat to see if he could get a passage to some out-of-the-way place. Or he may be a friend of the skipper and went off just to ask him ashore for a visit. He's evidently Dutch, judging by his name. No, no, Pauling, I don't see anything to get worked up over in this."
"What's the new dope?" asked Rawlins who now entered. "Found out anything?"
Again the boys related their story and Mr. Pauling and Mr. Henderson repeated their views.
"No," agreed Rawlins after he had listened attentively to all four. "I think Mr. Henderson's right this time. If Sandow or Samson or whatever his name is hadn't recognized him as a Dutch bug hunter, I'd have stuck with the kids. But we know blamed well that other chap had red whiskers not a week ago. As Mr. Henderson says, how would the nigger have known him if he'd shaved? It's not likely those 'reds' come fooling around over here much for the fun of it. Besides, I can't imagine one of that crowd chasing butterflies!" Rawlins burst into hearty laughter at the vision created in his mind.
"But I've got some news, too," he continued, presently. "I've seen Sam and he's been all over the old tub and there's sure something funny going on aboard her. There's a dead-line there. Sam tried to walk forward on the lower deck and was halted and ordered back by one of the crew. Then he wandered forward on the upper deck, climbed down and started aft in the other alleyway and another Dutchy stopped him and threatened to heave him overboard if he didn't keep out. I'd give a lot to know what they've got that's so mysterious in there."
Mr. Henderson fairly roared. "Oh, Rawlins!" he cried. "You're as bad as Pauling and the boys—or worse. Why, man, you've been to sea and know enough about ships to know that there are always parts of a ship where every Tom, Dick and Harry are not permitted. That part of the ship is probably given over to the officers—engineers very likely. The men no doubt had orders to keep people out so as not to disturb the officers' rest. Or again, the doors to the pantry or storerooms might have been open and as these St. Thomas boys have the reputation of being rather light fingered, the captain probably gave orders to allow none of them between decks. No, Rawlins, it's got to be a better mystery than that to interest me."
"All right," grinned the diver. "I'll give you a better one. Sam says that he got a squint into the saloon and there was white linen on the table, cut glass, silver and flowers and there were places for four! Now, can you imagine that old walrus of a skipper having linen table cloths and cut glass and flowers? And why the places for four? And besides, he saw wicker steamer chairs on the boat deck. Who the dickens could use them on that old hooker?"
"That's a bit more like a mystery," admitted Mr. Henderson, "but it's nothing remarkable after all. There's plenty of old silver and cut glass to be picked up for a song in Holland, Curacao or Paramaribo and I know that some of these Dutchman are very particular about their dining. To be sure, flowers don't seem to go very well with that enormous old skipper, but one never can tell. Besides, if Van Brunt was aboard he might have had the flowers. The chances are he's a bit of a botanist as well as an entomologist. And the four places might have been set for the captain Van Brunt and two friends. Van Brunt probably has friends on the island and very likely was going for them when the boys saw him. As for steamer chairs—they may seem out of place on a tramp, but I've seen Madeira wicker chairs on worse looking old tubs than this one. No, Rawlins, come again."
"I'll say I will!" declared Rawlins. "I was saving the best for the last and now if you can pooh-pooh this aside I give up. You know that ever since Sam saw the way those Voodoo chaps fought shy of the radio he's had an awful bump of curiosity about the things. He used to stand watching 'em on the destroyer by the hour, simply fascinated by seeing the operator send and receive. Well, he noticed the aërial on the tramp and so, curious to see what sort of an outfit they had, he climbed up the ladder to have a squint into the radio room. And he swears the operator was sending—heard him talking some lingo —Dutch perhaps—into the phone. And when the operator caught sight of Sam, be pretty near blew up. Went at him tooth and nail and drove him off the ship."
Mr. Henderson and Mr. Pauling both laughed. "But please, Rawlins, why shouldn't the tramp's operator be sending?" inquired Mr. Pauling. "That's what he's there for, you know."
"Sure I know," assented the diver. "Of course, he could be sending or receiving all he wants to. But if he sends in some way so nobody can hear him it looks crooked. You see after Sam told me I had a hunch so I mosied around to the radio station, got chummy with the boys there and gradually got talking about messages. Well, the upshot of it was I said I'd like to hear a message come in and they said that there was nothing coming in and that not a single radio message had been heard since early this morning! Now how do you account for that?"
"That is interesting!" admitted the skeptical Henderson. "But we mustn't jump at conclusions. Boys, have you got your sets here?"
"They're on the destroyer," replied Tom. "We didn't bring them ashore."
Mr. Henderson turned to Rawlins. "I am half inclined to think there may he something in your hunches, Rawlins," he said. "In fact, to tell the truth, I've merely been jollying you a bit, for all the things you mention are suspicious. But this radio should be investigated. That is, unless Sam was mistaken, and the best way to find out what is going on is to have the boys listen in and see if they can pick up anything. Of course, the fellow may not send again and then again he may be talking any moment. My idea is that—assuming he is doing any secret work—he is using the same very short waves the gang used in New York and which the boys' sets can pick up. I think it would be a wise plan to have Sam go and get those sets. And have him ask Bancroft to come ashore—in civilian clolhes, of course."
"You bet I will!" exclaimed Rawlins. "Sam's where I can get him at any minute."
As Rawlins hurried off, Mr. Pauling turned to his companion. "Well, Henderson," he remarked. "I'm glad to see you're becoming convinced there's something a bit suspicious about that tramp."
"I've always been convinced of that," the other declared, "but a thing may be suspicious and yet not warrant actions on those suspicious circumstances alone. I think we can satisfy ourselves on one point when the boys' outfits arrive."
"What's the idea of having Bancroft?" asked the other.
"Why, I thought it would he a good plan—provided matters seem to point to mysterious messages from the tramp—to have him go off, and, under pretext of seeking a berth as operator, have a look at the instruments."
"Good idea," agreed Mr. Pauling. "And in the meantime, I'd like to know where that Van Brunt fellow went. If he is one of the gang, he may have slipped away."
"Well, we couldn't have held him," Mr. Henderson reminded him.
"No, but we could have kept track of him."
"We still can find out all the information we need—if he really has been here before," said Mr. Henderson. "What do you say to having a talk with the officials while we're waiting for Bancroft?"
"Righto!" agreed Mr. Pauling and telling the boys to wait for Sam and the naval operator, the two left the hotel and walked to the Government buildings. When they returned, Rawlins and Bancroft had arrived and the two boys were busily setting up their instruments in their room.
"Van Brunt's all right," announced Mr. Pauling. "Well known here. Comes about once a year and goes off to the outlying country and near-by islands collecting. Supposed to have been over at Curacao for a time and down to
"How about his whiskers?" asked the diver. Mr. Henderson smiled. "Always comes here clean shaven and always looks the same way," he replied. "After he's here a bit, he grows a scrubby beard, but shaves it off and it's not even red. Pale yellow."
"Well I guess we were barking up the wrong tree there," admitted the diver, "but I don't blame the boys for making a mistake. All these Dutch and Danes and Germans and Square-heads look so blamed much alike."
The boys soon had their instruments in order and were listening attentively. Now and then they would hear the quick dots and dashes of some message flying through space between the island and the far off continent. But each time they tuned in to the extremely short and peculiar wave lengths with which they had carried on their sub-sea work and had first heard the Russians talking, there was nothing but silence.
"I don't believe they're near here—or at least, they're not talking," declared Tom disgustedly. "Say, isn't it about time to eat. I'm—"
His sentence was interrupted by a surprised whistle from Frank. "Gee! did you hear that?" he exclaimed. "That same funny old buzzing sound like a comb with paper on it."
Tom grabbed up his phones and clapped them to his ears. "You're right!" he cried as the familiar, but mysterious sounds came to him. "Perhaps we're going to hear something yet."
Presently the odd musical buzzing stopped and the next instant Tom almost leaped from his chair, for distinctly as ever came the sounds of human voices in the harsh guttural tongue the boys had so often heard.
"It's them," whispered Tom excitedly. "Gosh! we're in luck!"
Slowly swinging their radio compasses, the boys found the general direction from which the sounds came. While Frank remained at the set, Tom hurriedly notified the others and then quickly connected the resonance coil to his set.
"They're talking from that direction," he announced, as the others came hurrying into the room. Rawlins gave a glance about and stepped to a window. "Well, if they are they’re not on the tramp!" he declared. "By glory, this sure gets me."
By this time the divining rodlike coil was ready to use and as Frank moved it about, Tom listened. "There!" he suddenly exclaimed. "Just a bit to the left. No, a little more to the right! That's it."
But as the three men crowded to the window and stared in the direction indicated by the coil, they gazed at one another with puzzled expressions. The tramp was plainly visible in the rapidly falling dusk, but the coil pointed far off to one side, almost directly away from her.
"Why, what's wrong?" asked Tom, as at this moment the voices coming over the instruments ceased.
"I don't know as anything's wrong, Son," replied his father, "but if your instruments have not played you false, those voices are not coming from the tramp. According to your pointer here, they are coming from the other side of the harbor—from the land apparently."
"Well, perhaps they're on shore," suggested Frank.
"Not on that shore at any rate," declared Rawlins. "That's the hospital on the hill and you can bet no one's got a radio set there without the officials knowing it."
"What's beyond there?" asked Mr. Henderson.
"Nothing but sea," replied Rawlins. "Clear water across from that point to the other islands—
"Hmm, perhaps they're over there," remarked the other.
"If they are, they've improved a lot then," declared Rawlins. "I understood the boys to say that these short waves didn't work for more than a few miles and it's a mighty long swim to the nearest part of St. John."
"Looks as if there were nothing more to do but eat," laughed Mr. Pauling. "We're up against another mystery."
Disappointed, the boys commenced to put back their instruments and the others turned from the window. Then, as if by magic, the thin but clear voices again came through the phones.
"By Jove!" cried Mr. Pauling. "How's that? Your set's pointing in the opposite direction now!"
Rawlins sprang back to the window. "I'll say it is!" he cried. "Now we're getting 'em! That thingamabob's pointing straight for the old tramp!"
There was no doubt of it. The words had sprung into being at the very instant that Frank, in moving the coil, had held it towards the steamer at anchor in the harbor. But before he could move it to one side or the other for a test, the words ceased as abruptly as they had begun,
"I don't know what was wrong before," remarked Mr. Pauling, "but the coil certainly indicates the ship now. Could there have been any mistake do you think, Henderson? Do these instruments play tricks?"
"They should not," replied the other, "and I don't think they have. I think they were perfectly right on both occasions. My opinion is that a conversation has been going on between the tramp and some one else and that the boys' coil has located them both. "One is on the tramp and the other over on the point or some boat in the bay in that direction."
"Crickety, that's the idea!" exclaimed Rawlins. "Here, wait till I get Sam!"
Dashing from the room, Rawlins found the Bahaman waiting in the courtyard and in a few words directed him to hurry to his boat, row over towards the point and have a look at every craft in that part of the harbor. "If you see or hear anything on any of 'em sneak around and make sure," was his final admonition.
"That's done," he announced as he rejoined the others. "If there's a boat over there that's got anything suspicious about, Sam'll find out. Say, Mr. Henderson, what about my bunch now? When are we going to get busy and board that old tub?"
"I admit that events appear to bear out your ideas," smiled the Secret Service man, "but I guess we will have to wait a bit before searching the tramp. How about it, Pauling?"
"Yes, confound it!" replied the latter. "Hang the red tape and politics! My orders are to wait until I have conclusive evidence on which to act before taking any drastic steps."
"Well, isn't this evidence?" asked the diver in surprised tones. "If they're talking Russian, or whatever 'tis, over a secret radio, it ought to be evidence."
Mr. Pauling shook his head. "No," he replied. "Anyone has the right to use radio and to talk in any language he pleases. For all we know that was Dutch, I wish we had an interpreter here. If we knew what they were saying, it might be evidence, but the mere sounds of talking are no evidence on which to act."
"However," put in Mr. Henderson. "I think we can get a step further and may secure evidence. We'll let Bancroft go aboard and have a look around as I suggested. If there are any suspicious instruments or men about, he will certainly see them. But let us eat first."
Long before they had finished their meal, Sam had arrived and Rawlins stepped outside to see him.
"Nothing doing over there," he announced, as he returned after several minutes' absence. "The only craft in that part of the bay are a couple of little fishing boats and that Porto Rican towboat. She's a Government ship and the two fishermen are deserted. That's the channel towards the coaling dock there and no boats are allowed to anchor. There's only one boat at the coaling dock and she's a collier discharging. On the beach there are a few shacks and some rowboats drawn up. Beyond, there's only the hill and the road out into the country. If that talk came from there, it sure came from out that country road."
Tom suddenly started and dropped his fork. "Say!" he ejaculated. "I'll bet that's it! That was the road we were on when we saw that man. I'll bet he's over there talking somewheres!"
"Nonsense!" returned his father. "We know that man was Van Brunt and has no connection with those we are after."
Rawlins cocked his head on one side and reflectively rubbed his forehead in the characteristic way he had when he was thinking deeply.
"I don't feel so sure about that," he declared at last, "Maybe old Van Brunt isn't such a harmless duck as we think. How do we know he's not a 'red' too. He may be up to snuff. I'd like to look in upon him and see where he's hanging out. What do you think of the scheme of driving out there with the boys and their sets after we get through eating? If he or any one out that way is talking, we ought to land 'em."
"All right, go ahead," chuckled Mr. Pauling. "Henderson and I have an engagement with the Governor to-night, so do whatever you wish. If you find anything that needs immediate attention, just call me up. In the meantime Bancroft can go out to the tramp looking for a job."
The boys, ever ready for an adventure, welcomed the plan with enthusiasm. As soon as the meal was over, Rawlins went off to secure a car, while Tom and Frank packed up one of their sets in readiness. Bancroft, with Sam as his companion, walked towards the boat landing prepared to follow out his instructions.
CHAPTER III SAM GIVES AN EXHIBITION
RAWLINS had managed to secure a car which he drove himself, for, as be explained to the boys, he had no desire to have any local chauffeurs talking around town about the boys' activities or the object of the drive.
To the boys, the drive was delightful and in their interest at the many strange and novel things they saw, they almost forgot that they were out on business connected with the mysterious signals.
On every side, huge fireflies flashed across the road and through the foliage, and as one bumped against Frank and fell into the car the boys eagerly examined it. Much to their surprise, it was a large, hard-shelled beetle and to their amazement the light, instead of being intermittent as with the tiny "lightning bugs" of the north, shone steadily from two round, eyelike spots on the thorax. The soft greenish glow was so brilliant that it illuminated the air for several inches around the creature and Tom, pulling out his watch, easily read the time by the beetle's light.
"Why, he's a regular walking lantern!" declared Frank. "A fellow would never need a flash light down here. All he'd have to do would be to catch one of these chaps and he could see his way around."
"Yes, in some of the islands the natives use them for lights," said Rawlins. "They put half a dozen in a bottle or glass and it makes enough light to go to bed by. I've seen Spanish women in Costa Rica using 'em for ornaments too. Fasten 'em in their hair and they make a mighty pretty sort of jewel at that."
As the diver was speaking, Frank had placed the firefly on its back on the radio cabinet and the next instant, to the boys' amazement, the little creature gave a sharp click, sprang into the air and the next moment was flying far away.
"Say, did you see him jump!" cried Frank.
"Just like a snapping beetle at home," agreed Tom. "Hello, what sort of bird was that?"
He had seen a big rapidly-flying creature flit through the ray of light from the car's lamps and supposed it was an owl or night bird.
Rawlins laughed. "That wasn't a bird," be replied, "that was a bat."
"Bat!" exclaimed Toni, "why it was as large as a pigeon. What was it, a vampire?"
"No, a fruit bat," Rawlins told him. "Vampires are little chaps and I don't think they have 'em here. Let's try that radio now. We're quite a bit out in the country."
Bringing the car to a standstill beside the road, Rawlins watched expectantly while the two boys adjusted their set.
For some time they listened, but no sounds came in. All about them, insects trilled and hummed in the bushes and grass and the big fireflies flashed back and forth. Now and again one of the giant bats would make the boys dodge quickly as its wings brushed softly past their faces and from far off came the mournful hoot of an owl. Big moths and innumerable strange insects flitted about the lights of the car; a heavy exotic perfume of flowers filled the cool night air and the palm fronds clashed softly and with a swishing sound above their heads, but the radio was silent.
"Guess he's not talking," said Rawlins at last. "We'll go on a bit farther and try again."
For a mile or more they drove on and then stopped once more and listened. But this time they were more successful. Hardly had Tom placed the phones to his ears when he picked up the voices. But to the astonishment of all three the signals came from the direction of the town they had left.
"Well, I'll say that beats me!" was Rawlins' comment as the words ceased. "Either that chap's back on the tramp or in the town or he's squatting out in the cane fields talking."
"Perhaps this is the fellow on the tramp and the other isn't talking," suggested Frank.
But despite every test, the only voice they heard came from the direction of the town and the harbor. "Guess we might as well go back," declared Rawlins, and thoroughly disappointed they made their way back through the tropic night to the little town. Bancroft arrived soon after they reached the hotel and a few minutes later Mr. Pauling and Mr. Henderson came in.
"What luck, boys?" asked the latter, jovially.
"We didn't find out anything," responded Tom. "At least we didn't learn anything more than we already knew. We heard the voices, but out there on the road they seemed to come from back here in the town or harbor. But we had a fine time."
"How about you, Bancroft?" inquired Mr. Pauling. "Find anything interesting on the tramp?"
"Yes and no," replied the operator. "I found the fellow in charge friendly. Said they didn't need an operator, but was glad to have another 'Sparks' to chin with for the evening. We sat in the radio room and I had a good look around. Didn't see anything there unusual except a loop, and a lot of ships carry them. But there were some funny things about the ship. In the first place, I could swear I heard voices—talking in some foreign lingo—where there shouldn't have been any. They seemed to come from around the engine room, but there wasn't a soul in sight. Then again there is a place on the ship where no one is allowed just as Sam described. It's on the lower deck forward of the engine room and there are men stationed in the alleyways to keep everybody out. The operator was showing me about, but when we came there, he turned back, up over the boat-deck and down the other way. It was then I heard those voices. And that man Van Brunt—or at least, a man that fits his description was on the ship. I got a glimpse of him through a skylight talking to a big chap with a beard. I don't know if his beard was red or not as he was back to me and I just got a glimpse of him."
"Well, that's interesting," declared Mr. Pauling. "Of course, if Van Brunt knows the skipper and came over on the ship, there is no reason why he should not be aboard and there might well be a man with a beard. But that section where no one is allowed and those voices are suspicious. Are you sure it was not some of the engineers you heard talking?"
"Yes, Sir," Bancroft assured him. "I got the conversation around to that and the operator said all the engine room crew were ashore."
"Hmm," muttered Mr. Pauling. "And the operator didn't send while you were aboard?"
"Not a word," replied the other.
"Then we may be certain the voices the boys heard did not come from the tramp," said Mr. Pauling.
"Hold on a minute!" interrupted Rawlins. "Did you notice what time it was when you heard those voices, Bancroft?"
"Yes, I happened to look at the clock in the radio room just before I heard them and again when I got back after going about the ship. It was between 8:45 and 9:15."
"That's mighty queer!" announced Rawlins. "It was that same time that we heard the talking over the radio out there on the road. I'll bet they've a radio set hidden somewhere on the old tub that they don't want any one to know about. That's why no one's allowed in that part of the ship. I tell you there's crooked business on the old hooker."
"You may be right," admitted Mr. Pauling. "But even so, it's no crime to have a radio telephone. It may belong to one of the officers or a member of the crew."
"Well, my bet is still that Van Brunt's the key to the whole business," insisted the diver, "and I'm going to keep my eyes on him."
"You'll have to go over to St. John to do it, then," laughed Mr. Henderson. "We learned to-night he's going over there in the morning. Hired a boat to take him. It seems he spends the greater portion of his time there."
"Let's all go over!" suggested Rawlins. "St. John's got this hole beat fifty different ways and we may find out something. How long is the tramp going to he here, Bancroft?"
"Huysen—that's the operator—said they expected to be here at least a week longer. They're waiting for instructions. Seems they have a cargo of miscellaneous stuff and are picking up whatever is offered —sort of trading business they're doing. They go wherever there seems to be the best market, but mainly among the Dutch islands. Huysen doesn't know where their next stop will be."
"Then she won't get away before we can get back," said the diver. "And if she starts to clear, you can arrange to have word sent you, Mr. Pauling. What do you think about it?"
"I suppose it's just as well to be there as here," assented Tom's father. "I've never visited St. John and the boys would enjoy it. We're just marking time here anyway, and as you say, it may be worth while watching Van Brunt for a time. How do we get over there?"
"There's a little packet in the harbor—schooner with a kicker, that I can charter," responded Rawlins. "We can live on her, too. I don't think we'll find many accommodations at St. John."
Enthusiastic over the idea of seeing another island, the boys were in high spirits and were eager to be off. Rawlins, with his usual activity and energetic methods, succeeded in chartering the little schooner and throughout the following day he and Sam were busy loading her with needed supplies, not forgetting the self-contained diving suits with their radio equipment, the submarine detectors and the boys' radio outfits.
"Never can tell what may turn up," he declared, when Mr. Henderson jollied him about taking the outfits along. "And if I were in your place," he added, "I'd have Disbrow ready to rush over with the destroyer in case we need him."
"I've already done that," replied Mr. Pauling quietly. "I have little idea we will need his services, but I always believe in being prepared for every emergency. We have already let these rascals slip through our net by being careless about little matters and if it can be avoided I do not intend to let it happen again. By the way, it may interest you to know that a lot of 'red' literature has recently made it's appearance in the British and French islands and in
"Phew, that is news!" exclaimed the diver. “I’ll say the bunch is hanging around here somewhere. Unless they've got a bigger sub than the one we saw, they must have a supply depot some place. It may be the old tramp supplies them. Perhaps Van Brunt's the go-between, or it may be she just lands her cargo in out-of-the-way spots. Say! I've just got an idea! If that old sub used to pick up cargoes dumped overboard and then got them into the States they may be doing the same stunt down here. What's to prevent the tramp from lowering supplies over the side when she's wallowing along between ports?"
"Nothing in the world, as far as I can see," admitted Mr. Pauling, "but we'll have to catch her at it. Too bad we haven't a sub of our own down here."
"Couldn't you get one?" asked Rawlins.
"Possibly," replied the other, "from over at Coco Solo on the Zone. But if a sub showed up, these rascals would get suspicious at once. I have thought it over and I feel sure our best plan is to keep an eye on the tramp and her people and try to avoid doing anything which might alarm them. That's one reason I fell in with the plan to go to St. John. If those on the tramp are in with the gang, they will feel that we do not suspect them if they know we have left here. Remember what I told you before—the best way to catch a man is to make him feel so confident that he becomes careless."
For the very reason Mr. Pauling had mentioned, the schooner set out in broad daylight, making no secret of her departure. As under her motor she slipped past the big, rust-streaked tramp, the Americans noticed the crew of the steamer gazing at them with the same idle curiosity that they might regard any other passing vessel.
Once outside the harbor, sails were hoisted and with the whipping trade wind heeling her far over, the little schooner tore through the sea towards the soft green bulk of St. John.
To the boys, the richly green hills of this island were a joy after the gray and parched mountains of St. Thomas and as they drew close inshore and slipped into lovely Coral Bay, they thought they had never seen such a delightful spot. To be sure, the town was small and unattractive compared to Charlotte Amalia, but on every side were delightful sandy coves, backed by green-clad hills and lined with coconut palms. The place had an out-of-the-world, seldom-visited appearance that appealed strongly to the boys' imaginations.
Here, they felt, was a spot ripe for adventure. And when Rawlins told them that, in days long past, it was a famous refuge for pirates and that the ruins of buccaneers’ forts and old cannon were scattered about in the brush and that there were tales of buried treasure and sunken wrecks all about the place, they grew wildly excited,
"Wouldn't it be great if we had the old sub and could go down and find a wreck and treasure!" exclaimed Tom.
"Don't need a sub as far as that goes." Rawlins reminded him. "We've got the suits. But first we'd have to find the wreck."
"And don't forget we're here to watch Van Brunt," put in Mr. Pauling,
"And moreover," added Mr. Henderson. "I've been told the place fairly swarms with sharks, so don't take any risks."
"Ugh!" exclaimed Frank. "No diving for me then! That old octopus was bad enough, but I'd hate to be tackled by a shark. Oh, look, isn't that one now?"
"Sure thing!" Rawlins assured him as all glanced in the direction the boy indicated and saw a large triangular fin cutting through the water.
"And there's another!" cried Tom, "and another! Gosh, the place is full of them!"
By now the schooner had come to anchor and all about, ripping through the calm water, now and then poking their shovel-shaped noses through the surface or showing their gray backs, the big sharks swam about the vessel. The boys, fascinated, gazed over the side and through the clear water could see scores of the monsters swimming about like sinister gray shadows.
"What disgusting, horrible-looking beasts!" cried Tom. "If a fellow tumbled overboard here it would he all up with him in a minute."
Sam who had stood near chuckled. "Tha' fellows don' mek trouble," he declared quietly. "He gray sha'k an' don' humbug with folks. White sha'ks is tha fellows mek trouble. This kin' jus' eat fish an' dead things."
"Well, that may be so," replied Frank, "but you bet I'm not taking any chances. They look mighty dangerous to me."
"Oh, they're harmless," declared Rawlins who had drawn near. "You could dive down among 'em and push 'em aside. Of course, they might take a leg or an arm or nip a piece out of you by mistake. You know sharks don't have much sense and they can't see well, but just snap at any old thing they come across that smells like meat. I've seen 'em grab an old boot or a piece of plank. But they're scary beasts and if a man goes for 'em or thrashes about they'll clear out."
Tom laughed. "You are reassuring," he remarked. "I don't see what difference it makes to a fellow whether a shark bites his leg off by mistake or not. No, sireee. No sharks for mine—whether they're gray or white."
While Tom was speaking, Rawlins turned towards Sam and winked knowingly.
At the signal, a broad grin spread over the Bahaman's face and he began stripping off his clothes and a moment later climbed upon the schooner's rail.
"Jehoshaphat!" cried Frank who turned and saw him. "What are you going to do, Sam? Say, you're not going in among those creatures, are you?"
"He's going to show you how easy 'tis to beat a shark in his own element," laughed Rawlins as he handed Sam a long-bladed butcher's knife.
"Here, here!" cried Mr. Pauling who now arrived on the scene. Don't go over there, Sam. Don't you know those sharks will get you?"
The negro's grin widened. "Yaas, sir, Chief," he replied, "Ah knows tha's plenty sha'ks here, but Ah don' reckon he'll get me. Ah's goin' to mek to get he, Chief."
"Don't worry," put in Rawlins. "Sam'll take care of himself."
Gathering himself together and with the big knife in his teeth, Sam poised himself upon the rail, waited a moment until an enormous shark was swimming lazily a few feet beneath the surface and the next instant he plunged into the sea.
A chorus of awe-struck, frightened "Ahs" and "Ohs" arose from the boys and the two men as the Bahaman dove and then, too fascinated and excited to utter a word, they leaned over and gazed with wide eyes at the scene below.
Instantly, at the splash made by the diving man, sharks appeared from every direction, speeding towards the commotion in the sea and for a moment the swarm of shadowy gray bodies, the rippling fins and the thrashing tails completely obscured the diver from view. But finding no hoped-for tidbit upon the surface as they had expected, the creatures sullenly drew off. Far below, the watchers saw Sam swimming swiftly after the huge fish which seemed to realize that be was being chased and swam first one way and then another.
Much to the boys' amazement, the negro seemed able to swim faster than the shark, but presently they saw that this was not the case, but that the man, using his superior intelligence, cut across the shark's course each time the creature turned on his track. Had the brute swum straight away he would easily have left the man behind, but instead he tried to evade him by swimming back and forth in short dashes.
Several times, those on the schooner uttered involuntary cries as the savage creature turned, opened its triangular mouth and seemed about to snap up the daring negro. But each time, Sam dodged and every time the shark turned and lost headway, the negro drew closer.
To the excited, breathlessly watching boys it seemed hours since Sam had plunged into the sea, but it was scarcely a minute in reality before they saw him close to the big gray body. Then to their utter astonishment they saw his left hand shoot out and grasp the huge paddle-shaped fin of the shark. Scarcely believing their eyes, they caught the dull glint of steel as Sam whipped the knife from his teeth with his right hand. They saw the shark thrash furiously with his enormous tail, the livid white of his belly showed greenish through the water with the form of the black man sharply outlined against it; they saw the outstretched arm sweep swiftly down and the next instant man and shark were obliterated in a crimson blurr.
"Hurrah!" fairly shouted Tom. "Hurrah! He stabbed him!"
Hardly were the words out of his mouth when Sam's woolly head bobbed up and seizing a dangling rope he hurriedly drew himself out of the water. Scarcely had he cleared the surface when the sea appeared to seethe and boil as hundreds of the sharks, attracted by the blood of their fellow, came rushing from every direction, throwing themselves half out of the water, lashing with their tails, snapping with their ferocious jaws. Maddened by the blood, biting viciously and blindly they attacked one another until the sea was a deep crimson.
"Ugh, it's horrible!" exclaimed Frank drawing away. "Those beasts have gone perfectly mad."
"I'll say they have!" agreed Rawlins, as he helped Sam over the rail, "That's when they're dangerous. If a chap doesn't get out mighty quick after he's killed his shark, it's good night for him. But by the time they get through, the shark census hereabouts will have to be retaken. They're like the Kilkenny cats once they get started. Got him all right didn't you, Sam?"
"Yaas, Chief," replied the negro calmly. "Ah finish he all right,"
"Sam!" exclaimed Mr. Pauling, gazing upon the dripping black with undisguised admiration. "You're a wonder. It was the most daring and marvelous feat I've ever witnessed. But for Heaven's sake don't do it again. I need you for a while yet."
Sam grinned. "Yas, sir, Chief!" he replied deferentially. "Ah'm pleased to do as you say, Chief."
CHAPTER IV RAWLINS' ADVENTURE
IT did not take long to learn of Van Brunt, once the party was ashore in St. John. The island is so seldom visited by strangers that every one who comes or goes is known. Even without asking a question or evincing the least curiosity, Mr. Pauling and his friends heard of the Dutch naturalist.
He had a place, so they were told, out in the country and he came and went at irregular intervals, and seemed to be liked by the natives, all of which served to allay suspicions. But a little later, when the party returned from a ride into the country, which included a visit to the bay oil distillery, Rawlins pricked up his ears when he overheard a chance bit of conversation.
The others, rather tired with their long trip, had gone aboard the schooner while Rawlins remained ashore to secure some fresh fruits and vegetables. He was seated in a little cafe near the market place sipping an iced pomegranate refresco when two men, very light mulattoes of Danish descent, it seemed, entered and took a table near. At first the diver gave no heed to their gossip but suddenly, at mention of Van Brunt's name, he was all attention.
He had not caught all that was said, but, from the tones of the two, he was sure they were discussing some matter over which they disagreed and the name of the Dutchman was sufficient to arouse him.
"I swear he came alone," declared one in fairly good English. "I saw him in the boat and on shore. And now you say he has companions."
"Yes, two," replied the other. "I saw them with him on the shore talking and they went with him into the bush. It's not the first time I've seen strangers about and it's a mystery to me how they get here,"
"Nonsense!" scoffed the other. "You'd been up to Hansen's place and had been sampling his old rum. It made you see treble."
"Hansen's stuff is all right," grumbled the other. "But it would take more than he has to make me see Van Brunt with red whiskers or with a monocle in his eye."
"Oh, well, have it your way, friend," said the other, good-naturedly. "It's none of our business, how many friends Van Brunt has visiting him or how they get here. It's a free country—or is supposed to be—and no laws to keep people off."
"No, it's none of our business as long as they don't meddle in our business," agreed the other. "But I'm suspicious of strangers. What do they want to come to St. John for? Not for any honest reasons, I'll wager."
The other laughed and winked slyly. "That's good," he chuckled. "Honest business! But you're not afraid of Van Brunt, so why worry over his friends? Perhaps the Dutchman is willing to make a few dollars in our line, too, eh?"
"Maybe," granted the other fellow. "And who are these Americans that came in on the Vigilant?'' Then, noticing Rawlins, he lowered his voice.
"Just knocking about the islands.” Rawlins heard the other one reply in guarded tones. "Got a couple of kids along. They're all right."
What followed was lost, but Rawlins had heard enough. His suspicious of Van Brunt were confirmed, and whatever underhand business the two octoroons might be up to mattered little to him as long as their chance words had proved so valuable to him and his friends. Hurrying to the boat, he soon reached the schooner and beckoned the others to a secluded corner of the deck where he breathlessly related what he had heard.
"By Jove!" exclaimed Mr. Pauling. "It begins to look as if your hunch was putting us on the right trail."
"I don't see how they could be mistaken," agreed Mr. Henderson. "Unless—yes, it is possible that these fellows are members of the same gang and framed up the whole thing just to make us remain here while the gang had a clear chance for a getaway. I think we'd better gather in those two and have a little chat with them."
Mr. Pauling pondered for a moment. "No," he declared at last. "I don't quite agree with you there, Henderson. If they're lawbreakers—and I have no doubt they are smugglers in a small way—probably running rum into St. Thomas or Porto Rico from some hidden still in the bush—they are such petty rascals that they are not worth bothering ourselves with. Later we can report them if necessary. And if we get them merely for the purpose of questioning them, the effect will be exactly the same as if we arrested them for a crime. Every one will know it and if our men are here they'll soon learn of it. Our best chance lies in posing as mere sight-seers. I advise going over in Van Brunt's district and watching. If the others are there they'll probably be visible and if not they may return."
"Yes, I suppose that's so," admitted the other, "but you forget one thing, Pauling. The rascals know us. They saw us at Santo Domingo, and if, as you suspect, they were on the tramp they doubtless were watching you from their hiding place when you boarded her. Moreover, the note you received in the cave shows they are familiar with your name. I'll wager that if they are here or have been near St. Thomas, they have more information about us than we have about them. As likely as not, their spies are watching us now. If we attempt to approach Van Brunt's place, we may be sure that we'll see nothing out of the way. No, we'll have to think of a way to outwit them."
"I'll undertake to spy on the old bug-hunter without his getting wise," announced Rawlins. "I've gone over the top and into a German trench more than once and I'll bet these boys aren't any keener than the Boches. I'll sneak ashore to-night, row up the coast a bit with Sam and leave him off shore waiting till I come back. If I don't get near enough to spy on the old Dutchman, I'll eat my hat."
"You might do it," admitted Mr. Pauling. "At any rate, you are the one best fitted for it. Sam has his limitations, which are Nature's fault and not his, Bancroft is no landsman, Henderson and I are too old and stiff—to say nothing of our girths—to crawl through brush, and the boys, of course, are out of the question. Yes, Rawlins, I think it's worth trying. Go armed though and don't take risks. There's no use delaying. Even now the others may have gone. You'd better go as soon as it's dark."
"But I don't see why you can't go and arrest that Van Brunt fellow," said Tom, "if he was talking with those others we saw at
His father laughed. "As far as I know, it's no crime to talk to anybody a man cares to," he replied. "We have only casual hearsay evidence that he was talking with them. The vague description fits the two rascals, but it might not have been the two we want. The mere fact that Van Brunt was friendly with them—granted they were the two—is no cause for assuming, as far as the law is concerned, that he has any connections with the gang. Finally, don't forget that Van Brunt is a foreign citizen, a citizen of the Netherlands. We'd raise a veritable hornets' nest about our ears and the whole affair would come out if we made a false step and arrested him without absolute evidence. No, Son, haste makes waste in a matter of this sort. We must go very carefully and watch our steps."
"Well, I'll bet 'twas the same two we saw and that Van Brunt's one of the crowd," declared Tom.
"So will I," agreed his father. "But personal convictions and legal proof are two very distinct and different things. When we have the latter we'll act quickly enough, don't fear."
The boys, ever thinking of adventure and having tasted more of it in the past few weeks than usually falls to a man in a lifetime, were thrilled and excited over Rawlins' proposed scouting trip. Indeed, they were far more nervous and excited than the diver, for while Rawlins was in some ways excitable and nervous, yet he was absolutely devoid of fear and looked upon the most perilous undertakings and risks as mere larks. During the war he had been noted for this, and both when in charge of an anti-submarine gun and with the marines in
That there was any danger in his present trip to spy on Van Brunt never occurred to him, and he gave it no more thought than if he were going for a stroll about the town. To be sure, be realized that the "reds" were unprincipled and ruthless; but he had the greatest contempt for them and the utmost confidence in his own ability to keep his presence unknown and to look after his own "hide," as he put it. A diver, of all men, must possess self-confidence and an iron nerve and Rawlins came of generations of deep-sea divers.
So, aside from loading and cleaning his revolver, placing a new battery in a pocket flash light and giving careful instructions to Sam, he made no further preparations for his trip into the black bush and while waiting, he amused the boys with incidents of his diving life and his experiences during the war.
"Sorry I can't take a radio set along so as to let you know how things are going," he remarked as, in the inky blackness a few hours later, he slipped into the small boat bobbing alongside.
"Well, why don't you," replied Tom. "Take a diving suit and you can use the set."
"And go sneaking through the bush in it! By glory, if they saw me then they would think I was a hobgoblin for sure."
"No, I didn't mean that," explained Tom. "I meant you could take the set from the diving suit and strap it on.”
"Well, I'll be sunk!" exclaimed the diver. I am an ass! Why didn't I think of that before. But then," thoughtfully, "I couldn't talk without their hearing me."
"If you need to talk it will probably be because they've already heard you." said Mr. Henderson. "But you could hear us if you needed to."
"No, I guess I'll go light," declared Rawlins after a moment's hesitation. "But speaking of the suit gave me an idea. I think I'll take one along. I may find it useful—might be able to get nearer his place under water or something."
Accordingly, although the boys amused themselves by jollying him about taking a diving suit for a midnight trip in the bush, Rawlins put one of his suits in the boat and with a cheerful "See you later!" was swallowed up in the night.
There was nothing for those left upon the schooner to do but amuse themselves as best they might and wait for Rawlins' return or word from him. For several hours they sat upon the deck enjoying the cool evening air, and in low and guarded tones discussing his venture. The boys and Bancroft took turns at listening at their sets for there was a possibility that they might pick up signals or words from those they sought and, moreover, as Rawlins had the diving suit with his set along he could, if he wished, communicate with them.
"I don't believe he will, though," declared Mr. Pauling, when the boys spoke of this possibility. "It's not like him to take any chances of being overheard by others and he won't call unless it becomes imperative. Do you know, he's really a most remarkable chap—cocksure of himself and with an almost uncanny sixth sense of intuition or something."
"Yes, and an observant fellow too," assented Mr. Henderson. "The way he noticed that mud on the tramp's anchor chains and the engines being cold and that forged date. He might almost have been trained as a detective."
"I suppose that comes to a diver through necessity," said the other. "If a man's life depends upon noting details, he's apt to specialize along such lines. And he's a regular universal genius-—Jack of all trades. We've never found him stumped yet— on land or water—and I'll bet, if occasion arose, we'd find him equally efficient in the air,"
"Yes, he told us he'd flown a bit," put in Frank.
"Didn't I say so?" laughed Mr. Pauling. "I tell you, Henderson, boys nowadays live more in ten years than they did in a lifetime in our days. Take these boys here. Why, they've gone through as much in three months as would fill a dime novel thriller. We old fellows will have to sit back and do nothing pretty soon. Where would we have been now if it hadn't been for the boys and their radio?"
"Back in little old Manhattan at our desks, I suppose," laughed Henderson.
At this moment Tom, who had gone down to see Bancroft, came tearing up the companion way.
“They're talking!" he exclaimed. "We just heard them. And the voices seemed to come from over towards St. Thomas. Once we thought we heard one from the shore, but we couldn't get it again. There must be some one out there in a boat. I'm sure we couldn't get those sounds so loudly and clearly from St. Thomas."
"Maybe they're in a sub!" cried Frank excitedly.
"We can soon find if that's the case," said Mr. Henderson, as he and Mr. Pauling rose and hurried down to the cabin. "Try your submarine detectors, boys."
But to the boys' chagrin and disappointment no sound of a vessel's screw came to them.
"No sub near—that is, none under way," declared Mr. Henderson. "I guess the sounds did come from St. Thomas after all. It may be due to unusual atmospheric conditions—sort of freak message. Not much use listening any more."
Another hour passed by with no sign of Rawlins and they were beginning to fear that something had gone wrong when there was a soft grating sound at the schooner's side and the nest moment the diver appeared.
At sight of him, the others jumped from their seats and with exclamations of alarm hurried to him. He was dripping wet and one side of his face was covered with blood.
"What's happened?" cried Mr. Pauling. "Are you badly hurt?"
Rawlins gave a sickly grin. "No," he answered. "Only a scratch. Don't worry over that—but a darned close call, I'll say."
"Thank heaven!" exclaimed Mr. Henderson. "Why, man, you look as if half your head had been sliced off. Come, get it fixed up and tell us about it, if you're able to."
"Able to!" laughed the diver. "I may look gory but it's only a little cut, thanks to my lucky stars. Here, Sam, bring a basin of water and a piece of rag and fix me up while I talk."
Then, as Sam washed the blood from Rawlins' face and bandaged the deep cut across his forehead, the diver related all that had taken place.
"I'll say the bug-hunter's in with the gang!" he declared in his characteristic way. "And say, did you boys hear any chinning over your radio while I was gone?"
"Yes, we heard talking," replied Tom. "But it seemed to come from over towards St. Thomas, although we did think we heard a few sounds from the direction of shore."
"Dead right both ways," declared Rawlins. "But to begin at the beginning. I rowed up along shore as planned and cut into the bush about where I figured I'd strike the road that leads past Van Brunt's place. It was mighty dark and it took a lot of time, but I finally hit the road. When I got near his place, I went mighty carefully keeping in the shadows and treading softly, but the place was dark. You haven't seen the house, so I'll have to describe it in order for you to get the lay of the land. It's one of the old Danish plantation houses raised up on arches with storerooms and stable underneath and stone steps leading down. It's got a veranda on two sides with jalousies like all the houses and it's stuck up against a hill with a terrace between it and the road. But the road swings around a sharp bend there and right plumb in front of the house is a steepish hill that runs down to a little cove with cliffs on each side.
"Well, I came in beside the road and as I knew I could be seen against the white road or the open hill in front I swung around to the back and sneaked down the hill. The place being dark rather got me, for I couldn't tell whether the old Dutchman was out somewheres or was asleep or if he was just mooning in the dark of his veranda back of the jalousies. After I'd waited for a spell and didn't hear a sound I crept close in. Pretty soon I was near enough to see in his windows—if there'd been a light—but everything was pitch black. I've never burgled a house, but at last I decided there'd got to be a first time and this was the time and that I'd look nice coming back and telling you I didn't know any more than before. So I crept around and up the stairs and listened. But there wasn't a sound so I figured the old duck wasn't at home. You see, I had a hunch that fat Dutchmen must snore and so if there weren't any snores there wasn't any Dutchman. At any rate, he wasn't on the veranda and the door was unlocked so Little Willy walks in."
"You mean to say you actually went in his house, in the dark!" exclaimed Mr. Pauling.
"I'll say I did!" grinned Rawlins. "But after I barked my shins on a chair and made enough racket to wake the dead I used my flash light. And say, what do you think of this?"
As he spoke, Rawlins handed Mr. Pauling a torn piece of paper.
"By Jove!" cried the latter as he glanced over it.
"It's some of that 'red' propaganda!"
"I'll say so!" went on the diver. "Lot of it there at his hang-out. All torn though. He's wrapping his bugs in it. You know how these fellows fold a butterfly in a three-cornered piece of paper. Well, he's using this stuff for the papers—got drawers full of butterflies all done up neat as you please in it.
"That doesn't look as if he were a 'red,'" interrupted Mr. Henderson. "Rather as if he got hold of the stuff and made use of it as he would any other scraps."
"I see it in quite a different light," declared Mr. Pauling. "It's a very clever way to spread the propaganda, I should say. But go on, Rawlins."
"I don't know whether he's spreading it or not, continued Rawlins, "but I do know he's got a radio set there."
"Ah!" exclaimed Mr. Pauling. "What is it like?”
"Can't say," replied the diver. "I didn't see it.”
"Then how on earth do you know he has it?" asked Mr. Henderson puzzled.
"Because I saw a Government Naval code there and there are old batteries. Outside there are lines with pulley-blocks led up to a couple of palms and if they're not for hoisting up an aërial I'm a lobster. Besides I heard him use it. But I'm getting mixed. Aside from what I've told you there wasn't much to see and I didn't dare use much light, and it's blamed lucky I didn't. I was just getting ready to snoop into his bedroom when I heard a noise outside and I snapped off my light and scuttled into a little sort of passageway behind some packing cases like a land crab scooting into his hole. And I'll say it was lucky I'd noticed the place too, because I hadn't any more than got there when in comes a man and switches on the lights, or rather, lights the lamps."
"Ah, Van Brunt on the scene, eh?" put in Mr. Henderson.
"Not on your life!" replied the driver. "A little chap with a perky mustache and a monocle! Now what do you think of that?"
"What!" exploded Mr. Pauling. "Jove, Rawlins! Here you've been beating around the bush for the past ten minutes and then tell us that? I'm surprised at you! He may have got away already. We must act at once!"
"No need to get excited, Mr. Pauling," replied Rawlins. "He left long ago. Do you think I'm such an ass not to hustle back and tell you if he hadn't cleared out. And I suppose you're asking yourself why I didn't get the drop on him, hold him up and grab him, eh? Well, I'll tell you. Just because he had the drop on me!"
"By Jove, he saw you!" cried Mr. Pauling, while tense and with strained faces all leaned closer towards the diver.
"I'll say he did," replied Rawlins. "Or if he didn't he knew mighty well where I was. Just as soon as he turned on the lights he walked over to a drawer, took something out of it and then reached up on a shelf and took down a long stick. I couldn't guess what he was doing. Thought he must be going fishing at first. Then he walked into the next room and I was just about to try to sneak out and shove my gun in his face and say 'hands up' when I got the jolt of my young life, 'Kindly elevate your hands and stand up,' says a nice soft voice and I wheeled round and there he stands beyond a door I hadn't seen with that stick at his mouth and pointing at me. And I'll say I 'elevated' my hands and stood up darned quick. One glance at that fishing rod gadget was enough. It wasn't any fish-rod, I’ll say. It was a South American Indian blowgun and I knew blamed well that in the other end of it, ready to plump into me at a breath, was a little dart that would snuff out my life quicker than a four inch shell and a heap more painfully!"
"Jove!" cried Mr. Pauling. "The devil!"
"Yep, he's that 0. K.," assented Rawlins. "But you know needs must when the devil drives. I was scared—yes, I admit it. Somehow the idea of that Wurali tipped dart—I've seen 'em used in Guiana—just took the life and fight right out of me. Why he didn't kill me right off the bat I couldn't imagine, but I soon found out. He wanted to put me through the third degree. Well, he backed off, keeping the blow-gun aimed at me and then sat down comfortably with the blamed thing resting still steadier across the back of a chair. 'Now my friend,' he said still softly, but never moving his mouth from the gun—and I'll say that made me nervous. Suppose, I kept thinking, he should cough or sneeze or even laugh or forget and speak too close to the mouthpiece. Anyhow I was shaky and he went on.
" 'Now suppose,' he says. 'You explain your presence in my house.' That gave me an idea. 'Your house!' I said, trying to speak steadily and sound surprised. 'Why, I thought this was Mr. Van Brunt's house. I came here to see him and thought you were a burglar.' The fellow laughed and my blood ran cold for fear he'd start that confounded dart. 'That's a very smooth story and I compliment you on your active mentality.' His voice was the most cold-blooded thing I've ever heard. 'But kindly explain,' he went on, 'if it is the custom in
“ 'So I see,' he remarked, 'but permit me to state that you will not walk right out. Also that you are a consummate liar. If I am not seriously in error, you are a member of a party of Americans who are searching for a certain personage whom you have reason to believe has engineered certain events not conducive to the peace and welfare of your accursed country. You are fortunate, friend, for you have been successful in your search and are now looking at the party I refer to. But I should advise you to look well, for it will be the last look you will ever take.'
"That sure sounded as if my goose was cooked, but I remembered your words, Mr. Pauling, that when a fellow feels safest and most cocksure of himself is just the time for him to look out. And if ever a chap felt safe and cocksure of himself it was that devil with the monocle behind that blowgun. All the while he'd been talking, my brain had been working overtime and I saw a chance. You see, a blowgun's a pretty unhandy sort of thing at close quarters. You've got to have the other chap beyond the end of it. I thought, if I can only get two steps nearer he can't hurt me and I'll bet on a Yankee against a Heinie when it comes to a fair scrap. But for a long time I didn't see a way of getting those two steps nearer. Then I tried a mighty old trick—no good crook would fall for it.
"While he was talking, I suddenly swung my eyes towards the window behind him, opened my mouth and stared as if I'd seen a ghost. I'll say he fell for it! Jerked his head about two inches towards the right before he stopped to think, but that two inches was all I wanted—gave me those two steps. Before he could even puff I'd grabbed the gun and rammed it hard as I could against his mouth. I'll bet he'll need a dentist to-morrow all right. Knocked him clean off his chair backwards, chair and all went over and as he went I pulled my gun.
"But the sudden give of the blowgun when he pitched over made me lose my balance. I floundered against the table, the lamp went over with a crash and the next second it was blacker than a pocket. Of course, I knew where he was and I pumped two shots at the place and pulled out my flash light and turned her on. He wasn't there! No, sir, not a sign! The light hadn't more than flashed though, when I heard the sounds of feet running outside and I knew then he'd had others waiting. Maybe I was scared, maybe I was dead sensible for once and maybe I just acted on impulse. I don't know which 'twas but I do know that I didn't stand there waiting. I just beat it for the back, jumped through that window that had saved me and dodged into the hush. Before I'd reached the first tree a pistol flashed somewhere and I felt the bullet snip across my forehead, but it would have taken more than that to stop me."
"Gad, but you are a wonder!" ejaculated Mr. Henderson. "And you came back then I suppose. Got safely through, thank God!"
"Well, I'm here, ain't I," chuckled Kawlins. "But I'll say I didn't come back right after that. No, I had another hunch. I figured if those guys knew we were after them and knew I'd got away they'd be hiking out themselves and I wanted to see, hear and learn everything without their knowing it. As I ran through the bush, I remembered the lay of the land and it struck me that little cove in front of the house was a nice place for landing from a sub. So I beat it for the boat, roused Sam and we pulled like blazes towards that cove. When I got pretty close, I put on the suit and went over. And there was a sub there! Hadn't any more than hit bottom when I heard 'em. Of course, I couldn't understand, but I knew they were talking and two voices at that; one from land and another from under water and I figured the lads ashore were calling the sub to be ready for them. If they once got to that sub I saw where they'd say 'fare ye well' to us, but I couldn't see any way to stop it. Remember, it was black under water and I didn't know how far away the sub was, even if I'd had a way of blowing her up."
"Jove, that's too bad!" lamented Mr. Pauling. "Too bad to let them go again when so near to capture!"
"But they didn't!" replied the diver. "The sub went, but the others didn't, at least not in her. I'll bet they don't see her for some spell yet. As I was saying, I couldn't find the sub and I had no way of disabling her, but I had a crazy notion that might work. Switching on my transmitter I spoke low and as if I didn't want to be overheard. 'They're near here, boys. Easy now and we'll have them. That's it. Plant this one here and another to the right. We'll have them surrounded in a minute.'
"I'll say it worked! Those fellows on the sub must have heard me and swallowed bait, hook, and sinker all at one gulp. Yes, sir, I'd hardly got the words out when I heard a swirling noise and the next minute, if you'll believe me, that sub went by me like a house afire. Mighty near smashed me up with her screws too. She must have been right alongside and when she thought we were there laying for her she just turned tail and took her chances while chances were good. Left the others cold. I'll say I'd hate to be those ducks on the sub if old monocle-eye ever gets his hands on 'em! That's the worst of these Huns, they'll leave a bunkie in a hole anytime to save their own hides. Say, you ought to have heard the talk from shore. I don't savvy Russian or whatever it is, but I'll bet my best boots to a lemon there was some cussing going on."
"Then they're still there?" cried Mr. Pauling jumping up. "Come on. We must get after them! Boys, call the destroyer and tell Disbrow to make his best time getting here. We'll go ashore and round up those men."
"It's all right to tell Disbrow—if you want to," declared Rawlins, "but he won't help you get this bunch by coming here. Why, Mr. Pauling, if there'd been any chance, I'd have told you that first and spun the yarn afterwards. You must think I'm all kinds of a fool to give 'em all that time."
"Then, where are they? Why don't we get them?" demanded Mr. Pauling in impatient, irritated tones.
"They've gone after the sub or to the tramp," announced Rawlins. "Left in a fast power boat. I was under water and heard her but couldn't do anything. But Sam saw the boat go past. Better tell Disbrow to watch the tramp and seize a fast power boat if he sights one."
"Escaped once more!" burst out Mr. Henderson.
"Bancroft, get this to Disbrow," ordered Mr. Pauling scribbling a few lines on a slip of paper and handing it to the operator.
"I think I'll—I'll hit the hay," remarked Rawlins in a dull tone as he started to rise from his seat. "I'm—I'm pretty—" his words ended in a gasp and he lurched forward just as Mr. Pauling leaped up and caught him in his arms.
For the first time in his life, Rawlins had fainted.
CHAPTER V AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR
POOR chap!" murmured Mr. Pauling, sympathetically, as with Mr. Henderson's and Sam's help, he lifted Rawlins and carried him towards the cabin. "He was all in and we were such selfish beasts we kept him talking and never noticed."
"Yes, I was so interested, I didn't realize," agreed Mr. Henderson. "Why, that pistol bullet across his forehead would have done up most men, and in addition, he'd been under a terrific strain and excitement. I can imagine what he must have gone through as he faced that devil with the blow gun,"
"And on top of all that going down with his wound uncared for and driving off that submarine," added Mr. Pauling. "God grant he does not have brain fever or anything serious. Don't you think we'd better leave for St. Thomas with him at once, Henderson?"
"We can't very well, even if we wished," the other reminded him. "Rawlins is the only man aboard who knows anything about navigation. The negro sailors know barely enough to obey orders. And I think he'll be all right after a rest and sleep."
A moment later Rawlins opened his eyes and looked about inquiringly. Then, as his mind cleared and the preceding events came back to him he gave a rather sickly grin. "Went down all standing, didn't I?" he asked in a faint voice. "Guess I was a bit knocked out."
"We never should have let you talk after all you went through," declared Mr. Pauling. "We're awfully sorry, Son!"
"Oh, don't worry," returned the diver. "I'll be all right. Takes more than that to knock me out entirely, but I am tired I'll admit."
"Get a good night's sleep and you'll feel better," advised Mr. Henderson. "Is there anything we can do for you? Want anything to eat or drink?"
"Not a thing," declared Rawlins. "Just sleep I need."
"All right, we'll leave you then," said Mr. Pauling, "but Sam will be on watch here and if you need anything don't hesitate to have him call us."
But Rawlins slept throughout the night and appeared as early as usual the next morning looking much better and, aside from the bandage across his forehead, he showed no signs of his night's adventures.
He declared he felt perfectly fit and thereby greatly relieved the others who had feared the strain on his nerves would lay him up for several days.
While eating breakfast, Bancroft brought in a radio message and handed it to Mr. Pauling. Spreading the slip of paper before him, the latter mentally decoded it and banged his fist on the table.
"Consummate ass!" he exclaimed. "It's from Disbrow, of course. Says 'tramp searched, nothing suspicious found. No launch or submarine seen.' Confound these naval men. Discipline and red tape takes all the initiative out of them! They are so afraid of doing anything without orders from a superior that they fall down half the time. Nothing suspicious! Great Scott! Wasn't it enough that we know Van Brunt's one of the gang and came on the tramp? And now, of course, they know we suspect the tramp. Oh, why don't some men have common sense?"
"Because that's the most uncommon sense!'' laughed
"Hmm, yes!" muttered Mr. Pauling. "But just the same, I still say the man's an ass. Why, even Tom or Frank here would be better."
"Not very complimentary to the kids!" chuckled Rawlins.
Mr. Pauling's anger and vexation gave way instantly and he joined in the general laughter. "I didn't mean it that way," he declared. "No, I suppose Disbrow's all right in his place and I'm expecting too much of him. I think, Rawlins, we'd better go up to Van Brunt's place after breakfast and see if we can find any clues or information there. If they cleared out in such a hurry last night they probably did not disturb anything and a lot of puzzles may be cleared up if we get on the ground before any of the gang remember and sneak back. I forgot to ask you last night whether you saw or recognized Van Brunt among the crowd."
"No, sir," replied the diver, "The only one I saw was that Willy with the monocle and I'll say I hadn't any eyes for anything else while we were chatting. When the others came it was black dark yon know."
"Then there's a possibility that he's still ashore," suggested Mr. Pauling. "If so, he'll be likely to come back to his place and the sooner we get there the better. If we can get our hands on him, it will be some consolation."
Breakfast bad been served on deck and as Mr. Pauling spoke, chairs were pushed back and all started to rise. Rawlins glanced shoreward.
"Hello!" he exclaimed, "looks as if we were to have a visitor. Wonder if the police have heard of the rumpus and are sending off to investigate."
The others glanced towards the town and saw a small boat being rowed towards the schooner with a white clad figure seated in the stern holding an enormous green umbrella over his head. Rawlins seized his glasses and swung them on the approaching boat.
"Great Cassar's ghost!" he cried. "Speak of angels! Now what the blazes does this mean? I'll say this knocks me galley west! That's the old bug-hunter coming right towards us now!"
"What!" fairly roared Mr. Pauling grabbing the glasses from the diver's hand. "You mean it's Van Brunt? Impossible! By Jove, you're right! Coming to give himself up I suppose, but I'd never have believed it possible."
Filled with incredulous amazement, all gathered about the schooner's rails as the boat grated alongside, and carefully folding his sun shade, the stout, ruddy-faced occupant drew himself up and ponderously climbed aboard.
"Ah, good morning!" he cried in excellent English with scarcely a trace of an accent. "Pleased am I to meet you all, gentlemen, Me, to introduce myself, permit me, Van Brunt my name is—Professor Peter Van Brunt of the Royal Museum of Amsterdam, ya!"
No one knew what to make of this totally unexpected visit and the apparent friendliness of the man who, according to all precedent, should be making every effort to keep as far away as possible. They knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he was either an actual member of the gang they were chasing or closely associated with the "reds" and that he must know the object of their presence and yet, with every appearance of confidence, friendliness and innocence, he had rowed to the schooner of his own free will.
It was so amazing, so incredible and so totally contrary to all expectations that neither Mr. Pauling or Mr. Henderson knew exactly how to act or what to say. But it was always their practice to let the other fellow show his cards first and so, acknowledging the man's greeting and replying in kind, they shook hands with him, introduced themselves and their companions and asked their visitor to be seated.
"Ya, and the gentleman in authority, who is?" asked Mr. Van Brunt wiping his perspiring face and settling with a sigh of satisfaction in a chair under the shade of the extemporized awning.
Mr. Pauling assured him that he himself was in charge and asked Van Brunt what he could do for him.
"Ya, for help to you I come, ya!" rumbled the Dutchman. "Americans you I am told are and so to you I come myself, ya. Those in charge here most stupid are and so to you I come. Last night from home I went with a friend to pass the night and this morning when to my house I come, ach! What a sight I find! In my room the lamp broken is and the chairs are and, ach! my beloved blowpipe ruined and a man dead I find!"
"What's that!" exclaimed Mr. Pauling. "You found a dead man? Where was he and what did he look like? What killed him?"
"Ya, most dead surely!" replied Van Brunt. "What killed him I do not know nor what he resembles, ach, no. If murder done was, then to be charged with it I have no wish. Lying in the bushes near my home he is. Ya, to you because of it I come, your advice to ask. What I am to do? Perhaps, I say, if to the police I go, me they will arrest and so to you first I come."
A surprised, puzzled glance passed between Mr. Henderson and Mr. Pauling. Rawlins and the two boys simply looked at the Dutch professor in amazement. Here he was, calmly stating that he had been absent from home the previous evening, that he had returned to find the place upset and a dead man near by. And yet the two men whom Rawlins had overheard had declared Van Brunt was friendly with the "reds." The diver had, with his own eyes, seen evidences of their presence in his house, he had even been threatened by the leader of the gang and had been attacked and fired on. Was it a tremendous piece of bluff on the part of Van Brunt, an attempt to save himself by pretending to be innocent? Was there some ulterior deep laid plot in it all or was he telling the truth and had some enormous mistake been made after all? That there was mystery here of some sort all felt convinced and in each one's brain rapid opinions were formed and discarded and wonder grew.
For a space, Mr. Pauling was silent, thinking deeply, looking searchingly at Van Brunt and putting into play all his years of experience, all his knowledge of human nature, all the incidents of the past weeks and months in his endeavor to form an opinion.
"Mr. Van Brunt!" he said at last, still fixing the florid Dutchman with his penetrating gaze. "You have told a most remarkable tale—far more remarkable in view of certain facts of which we know than you are perhaps aware. Before I give any advice or offer any opinion I want to ask you a few questions and I shall expect you to answer them fully and absolutely truthfully."
"Ya!" ejaculated the other in rather surprised tones. "Ya! answer any question I will with pleasure, ya. I have nothing to hidden keep."
"Very well," continued Mr. Pauling. "I believe you were conversing with two strangers yesterday. Who are they and how do you happen to be friendly with them? Also, why do you happen to own a concealed wireless apparatus in your home and why do these men make use of your house? Finally, what is the meaning of this?"
As he spoke, Mr. Pauling held out the scrap of "red" literature which Rawlins had brought from Van Brunt's house.
Van Brunt glanced at it without the least show of surprise. "Ya!" he said. "In my house I have much like that, ya. To wrap my insects use I make of it. The two men I speak with? Ya, the one who whiskers has and the other who a monocle in his eye wears, I meet them on the ship and scientists they say they are and that experiments with radio they in secret wish to make and so to use my house they my permission have obtained. Much of paper like this they bring, yes—foolishness, ya! But it me serves well so use of it I make. Now no sign of these men I find and my lovely blow-gun broke that so much I prized and a man most dead near my home. Ach! what shall I now do?"
With each word their visitor spoke, the wonder and surprise of his hearers increased. Almost childlike in its simplicity the man's tale carried conviction and if it were true then he had no connection whatever with the activities of the "reds" and had merely allowed them to use his house and had unconsciously been their tool. Mr. Pauling was convinced that Van Brunt was telling the truth and on the instant made one of his quick decisions.
"So then you knew absolutely nothing of those fellows' activities, who they were or anything about them?" he asked.
The perspiring, troubled entomologist shook his big head and, removing his thick-lensed glasses, wiped the moisture from them, as with his blinking, innocent eyes he looked straight into Mr. Pauling's face.
"Nothing, no!" he rumbled in his deep voice. "They tell me scientists they are and for a place seek where in secret their experiments they may make, ya. The large one a Belgian he says he is, and his friend I think English is maybe. But both the English and mine own language they speak, ya. On the steamer I meet them. From Santo Domingo they come aboard in a small boat I think. But I know not. The ship I take at Georgetown because no other I find and Dutch she is and Santo Domingo we reach and something in the engine room it goes wrong and much time I sleep. It is then they aboard come while sleeping I am and the captain they to me introduce. Ach! how should I know more than they tell? Good company I find them, ya." He shrugged his huge shoulders as though there was no more to be said.
"Very well," said Mr. Pauling. "I believe you. But, remember, this is in strict confidence. Those men are outlaws—criminals—wanted by the United States Government. Unknowingly and innocently, you have been the means of aiding and helping them and if your part were to be known you might find yourself in serious trouble. Officials might not believe your story. In fact, heretofore, they have been convinced that you were also a member of the gang, that you were acting with them and if you had not come here this morning, you would probably have been arrested before now."
The other's eyes grew round and a frightened look spread over his broad features. "Ach!" he exclaimed. "So-oo that it is! And now, now am I in what you say—the soup, ya! Ach, ya! With the dead man there! It was killed by them he must be!"
"If you tell all you know and aid us, you need have no fear of the results," Mr. Pauling reassured him. "Now let us go at once to your house and see what has taken place."
Whatever Van Brunt might have been, he was no fool and a look of comprehension came slowly over his features and a twinkle took the place of half-frightened wonder in his eyes.
"Ah!" he exclaimed. "Then the gentleman one of the officials is, ya? Ach, most glad I am that to him I came. But it is to make, the good laugh, ya! To think I—the Professor of Amsterdam most well known, and a Burgomaster, should be a criminal thought! Ya, it is one good joke, gentlemens!" The big fellow shook with silent merriment.
"Not only a criminal but a Bolshevist!" declared Mr. Pauling, who was now thoroughly convinced the other was above all suspicion.
"Ach! me, me the Burgomaster, Peter Van Brunt, me a Bolshevist! Ach, it is to laugh more yet, ya! But to my home let us go by all means. Ya, me I would most happy be to catch those mens, Bolshevicks! Rogues! Rascals! Ach, to break my fine blow pipe! Ya, ya, my friends, with you most gladly will I help. Ach, and if them I catch—" the big man clenched an enormous fist and shook it ferociously as though in his mind, he grasped the neck of one of his erstwhile friends.
"I believe you can help us, too," declared Mr. Henderson as the party prepared to leave the schooner. "It's a lucky thing for all—with the exception of those rascals—that you came to us."
It would have taken less time to have gone to Van Brunt's place by land, but Mr. Pauling had no desire to let the curious, gossiping natives know what they were doing or where they were going and so, in a four oared boat, they pulled along the coast. Gaining a point a few hundred yards from the Van Brunt house, and, with instructions to Sam to keep the negro oars-men in the boat and to anchor a few rods off shore, the party followed a narrow path to the main road and saw the old house a short distance away and exactly as Rawlins had described. Indeed, they had emerged upon the road at almost the same spot where he had gained it the preceding night and he pointed out the various places he had described and the route he had followed up the hill behind the house.
"Guess we'll see your dead man first," said Mr. Pauling, and, Van Brunt assenting, they followed him along the pathway that led from his front steps towards the little cove. It was, as Rawlins had said, an open space covered with rank Bahama grass, weeds and a few small mimosa trees. Approaching one of the latter, Van Brunt indicated a piece of old canvas covering some object half hidden under the low-growing branches.
At the sight, the boys involuntarily shuddered and drew back, scarcely knowing what they expected to see as Mr. Henderson and the others stepped forward, and bending low under the branches, approached that suggestive little mound of dirty cloth.
Without hesitation, Mr. Pauling reached down, seized the edge of the canvas and drew it back to reveal a huddled form with arms sprawled wide apart, lying face downwards among the weeds. Grasping one of the outspread arms, Mr. Pauling jerked the body over and the next instant, straightened up with an ejaculation of amazement.
Staring up at them with unseeing glazed eyes, an expression of awful agony upon his distorted, livid features, was the face of the man who had threatened Rawlins with the poisoned dart! There was no question of his identity. The stiffly upturned iron-gray mustache, the monocle still hanging beside the dead face and the bruised, swollen mouth with two freshly broken teeth were all there.
For an instant the men looked at one another in silence, the same thoughts in the minds of all.
"By Jove!" exclaimed Mr. Henderson at last. "It is he!"
"Unquestionably!" agreed Mr. Pauling. "Rawlins, my boy, you did better than you knew. One of your shots went true!"
"I'll say it did!" exclaimed the diver. "And didn't I say he'd need a dentist this morning! Wonder where I got him." As he spoke, Rawlins bent down, curious to find the wound which had brought the arch fiend, the master mind of the gang to his end. First, his eyes turned to the dead man's mouth, swollen and blue from the impact of the blow gun Rawlins had driven against it. As casually as though examining a dead fish, the diver lifted the upper lip by grasping the little waxed mustache.
With a yell as startled as though the corpse had spoken, Rawlins fairly leaped into the air. At his touch, the mustache had come away in his hand. It was false!
CHAPTER VI VAN BRUNT EXPLAINS
FOR a space there was absolute silence. Rawlins' accidental discovery was so astonishing that all were speechless. Who was the dead man, was the question that flashed through the surprised mind of each with the exception of the phlegmatic Van Brunt, who, merely wondering why the fellow had worn a false mustache, stood looking first at one and then another, awaiting an explanation.
Mr. Henderson and Mr. Pauling exchanged significant glances.
"Then, it's not he!" almost whispered the former.
Mr. Pauling shook his head, "I don't know," he confessed, "If it is, then he shaved off his mustache as a means of disguise and wore the other when he wished to be recognized. If it's not he, then the reverse is the case. It's an infernal mystery, Henderson! Was it this man the boys saw in Santo Domingo or the real leader or is this he and did the boys see a double? Is there one or two? Perhaps we have been following an imposter all along, while the real chief has been in some totally different place or maybe there has been only an imposter. Do you know if he had any special marks—peculiarities which would identify the body beyond doubt?"
"No, that's the worst of it," replied Henderson, "and if we ever come upon him, how will we know whether he is the real or the double? It would be next to impossible to prove identity after this."
"Well, it's one of the gang, anyway," Rawlins reminded them. "That makes one less to look after. I wonder where I got him. Don't see any blood, do you?"
Again the diver stooped above the body and examined it for signs of a bullet wound. But there was not a mark, not a blood stain, not even a bruise with the exception of the injured lips and teeth where Rawlins had forced the mouthpiece of the blow-gun against them.
"That's certainly most remarkable!" declared Mr. Pauling who was also examining the corpse. "I'm beginning to think you frightened him to death, Rawlins."
"I'll say he came near frightening me to death!" replied the diver. "But it would have taken more than fright to have made this duck kick off. By glory, what's this!"
One of the dead man's hands had turned palm up and near the base of the thumb the diver had noticed a small bluish-green spot like a tiny bruise with what looked like a small sliver embedded in the skin.
"Must have grabbed a thorn as he fell," said Mr. Pauling, as he glanced at the congested spot from which a thin reddish line ran up the waxen-white forearm. "It's not a bullet wound and if it were it would not have caused serious injury."
Van Brunt had now drawn near and was staring with his short-sighted eyes at the upturned hand.
"Ach, ya!" he suddenly exclaimed. "That it is! Ya, my friends, that it is killed him! The Wurali, ya! Ach, it served him right for my fine blow-gun breaking!"
"What's that?" cried Mr. Pauling. "Wurali! What do you mean? How could that little scratch kill him?"
"I'll say it did!" shouted Rawlins before the other could reply. "I get you! It was that poisoned arrow! I see it now! When I grabbed the gun, he blew and the dart fell on the floor or somewhere. When he fell in the scuffle his hand landed on it! I didn't bump him off at all—he did it himself!"
"By Jove!" ejaculated Mr. Henderson. "I guess you're right!"
"Ach, ya, there no doubt is," declared Van Brunt. "In the hand the Wurali kills not so quickly. See, here is yet the tip of the dart broken in the wound. Ach! Do not touch it, my friends!"
At his cry of warning Mr. Pauling drew sharply back, as he had been about to take the tiny sliver from the wound.
"For the love of Mike, don't touch it!" Rawlins added to the Dutchman's warning. "If it should prick your finger you'd be a goner too! Say, let's get this fellow under the dirt or something. He got what was coming to him through his own cussedness and I guess we can't find out anything more, at least from him. If we don't say anything the folks in town'll never know and what they don't know won't trouble 'em."
"Yes, we might as well," agreed Mr. Pauling who, with Henderson, had gone through the dead man's pockets. "There's not a thing on his body except this money and his watch—not a scrap of paper or a clue. No use in having to give an explanation of the matter, as Rawlins says."
"Ya!" nodded the entomologist. "But much there is I do not yet understand, my friends. You of a scuffle speak and of shooting at this man talk. Then of him here you knew and of what in my house occurred last night?"
"Yes," replied Mr. Pauling. "I might as well be frank with you, Professor. Mr. Rawlins was up here last night, spying on the men I mentioned. This fellow surprised him, threatening him with your blow-gun, and held him up. Mr. Rawlins overcame him, fired at him and was attacked by the others, but managed to escape. Now let's cover this fellow up again and have a look over your place and then we'll attend to burying him."
With Van Brunt apparently striving hard to piece the meager fragments of information together in his mind, and silently shaking his big head as though still unable to comprehend the swift series of events which had transpired since the foregoing evening, the party walked to the house.
Everything was just as Rawlins had left it after his struggle with the man who was now lying dead under the mimosa and as Van Brunt had found it when he came back to his home that morning. The tables and chairs were still lying upset, books and papers were scattered about, the broken lamp with its shattered chimney and shade was upon the matting rug surrounded by the dark, oily stain of the kerosene. The long, slender blow gun, split and crushed where the struggling men had trampled upon it, was lying on the floor, while beyond, the torn and splintered window screen told of Rawlins' precipitate exit.
"Hmm, looks as if you had some scrap!" remarked Mr. Pauling as he glanced about. "Lucky the lamp didn't set the place afire."
The diver was carefully examining a corner of the room near a pile of boxes filled with the scientist's precious specimens.
"Guess I've spoiled some of your bugs, Professor," he remarked as he rose. "Here's where two of my shots plumped clean through your boxes. Sorry, but I couldn't stop to pick and choose, you know. And here's this. Guess that proves your idea all right."
As Rawlins spoke, he held out a tiny six-inch length of palm wood with one end wrapped with a bit of the fluffy fiber from the silk cotton tree. Neither Mr. Pauling, Mr. Henderson or the two boys had ever seen anything like it. But to Rawlins and Van Brunt it was instantly recognizable as a blowgun dart, the harmless looking missile which, when tipped with the virulent Wurali poison, is the most deadly weapon in the world—a weapon whose slightest scratch means instant death and which is widely used by the wild Indian tribes of northern South America and particularly Guiana.
"Carefully!" cautioned Rawlins, as the others drew close to examine it. "Most of the poisoned tip's broken off in that chap's hand, but there's still enough left to kill a regiment. See, this black pitchlike stuff on the end. Guess we'd better burn the thing before any one else gets hurt."
"Gosh!" exclaimed Tom. "Is it as dangerous as all that?"
"Dangerous!" cried Rawlins. "Why, my boy, the Indians down in Guiana kill jaguars and tapirs with these. If they're hit in a good spot, they'll drop dead before they've run fifty yards and a bird struck with one won't fly twenty feet. Deadly! By glory, I'd rather stand up before a ten-inch gun than in front of one of those blowpipes and Wurali tipped darts."
"Ugh!" shivered Frank. "It makes me nervous to think of it. Do get rid of the thing."
"Now let's see their radio outfit," suggested Mr. Pauling, as Rawlins proceeded to cremate the death-carrying dart, "Do you know where it is?"
"Ya, in here it is kept," replied Van Brunt stepping to a cupboard and throwing open the door.
"Jehoshaphat!" cried Frank, as he caught sight of the instruments. "They've got everything here. A resonance coil and loops, and just look at that battery! Say, didn't they have a peach of an outfit?"
"You bet!" agreed Tom as he enthusiastically examined the instruments. "They've those same bulbs and tuners we found before and all the undersea outfit and a long distance receiver with radio frequency amplifiers and a 100-watt sending outfit. Say, these fellows could talk to Europe with this!"
"I expect that's what they did," observed Mr. Henderson. "I imagine their intention was to install a complete station here and then, in case anything went wrong, let our friend Professor Van Brunt be the goat."
"I wonder if it works now," said Tom. "Say, Frank, let's try it."
Acting impulsively on the suggestion, the two boys ran out of the house carrying the neatly rolled aërial of copper-clad steel wire which they had found, and hooking the insulators to the pulley lines on the lofty trees which Rawlins had described, they hoisted the antenna aloft. A moment later the trailing lead-in wire was connected to the set through an open window, but there seemed no ground connection. In vain the boys sought for a hidden wire, rod, or other metal object in the earth.
"That's funny," declared Tom. "Perhaps they hadn't fixed it up yet."
"I guess this solves the mystery," said Mr. Henderson who had been poking about among the instruments and now appeared with a bundle of wires attached to insulators. "It looks like a counterpoise to me."
"Of course!" cried Tom. "Say, we are stupid! I saw stakes out there by the trees and never thought of it."
With Mr. Henderson's help, for the latter was now almost as much interested as the boys, the big fan-shaped counterpoise was spread between the row of stakes and the house and the set connected.
Scarcely knowing what they expected to hear, but greatly excited, the two boys plugged in the phones, clapped them to their ears and began to turn the adjusting knobs and rheostat.
"Hurrah!" exclaimed Frank presently. "I hear something—dot and dash code. I wonder—"
"Be still, I'm listening!" commanded Tom. Then, after a moment's silence. "Say!" he exclaimed, "there are two men talking and—and—yes! Gosh! It's Bancroft and the destroyer!"
"What!" cried his father. "Can you get the message? What are they saying?"
Tom beckoned for a pencil and paper and began to jot down the signals while the others gathered about watching the rapidly forming words expectantly.
"Great Scott!" cried Mr. Henderson, presently. "It is Bancroft! He's telling Disbrow we're off in the country and can't be reached. Cut in, boys, and see if we can get Disbrow or find out from Bancroft what the message is. If you can't get the destroyer direct, get Bancroft to relay."
Instantly, Tom threw over the switch and began calling the operator on the schooner. For a time there was no reply and then, as Bancroft's attention was attracted, he curtly ordered them to get off.
"Get off yourself!" flashed back Tom. "This is Tom calling. We want to get commander Disbrow's message. What is it?"
But evidently, Bancroft was taking no chances. "Tell that to the marines!" he flashed back. "That's a high-powered outfit you're using and you can't put any thing over on me."
"Bully for old Bancroft!" chuckled Rawlins who saw the message as Tom put it down. "He wasn't born yesterday!"
"No, but it's a nuisance to have him so cautious just now!" declared Mr. Pauling. "Here, Tom, send these words to him!"
Instantly, as Tom's message ceased, the other's reply came back: "Sorry, guess you're O. K. Can you get Disbrow?"
"Hear him all right," replied Tom. "Don't know if we can reach him."
"All right, listen then," came back in the rapid dots and dashes, and presently a jumbled, meaningless series of signals came buzzing to their ears. Then a slight pause and the finish call. Excitedly, Mr. Pauling grabbed up the paper, studied it a moment and then, crushing it in his fist, flung it down.
"I said he was an ass!" he cried. "And he is! The tramp's gone! Cleared out in the night! And he and his blessed tin ship stay there in St. Thomas and want instructions! Tell him my instructions are to go to the devil! No, not just that! He might take it seriously and go—tell Bancroft to give him this."
Again Tom flashed off a code message and the— "message received," came back.
"Ought to find her," commented Mr. Pauling, gruffly. "Told him to keep at it 'til he did. Wonder where the deuce she did go anyway."
"Ach, it most wonderful is, ya!" exclaimed Van Brunt. "You here in my house sit and with your ship and with St. Thomas talk. And the ship it has went, ya? Ach, she to Rotterdam was to go and my collections was to take and now for another boat must I wait."
There was little more to be accomplished at Van Brunt's house. The owner unhesitatingly showed them the "red" propaganda which he had used for holding his insect specimens, and at Mr. Pauling's suggestion, agreed to replace all the wrappers with other papers and to destroy the revolutionary material.
He showed them his collections of Indian curios from Guiana, his boxes of gorgeous tropical butterflies, odd grotesque insects, remarkable beetles and his bird skins. He even insisted on opening some of the packing cases, behind which Rawlins had sought safety, in order to prove to the Americans' satisfaction that they contained nothing but scientific collections and supplies. Then he took them over the house from top to bottom, showed them the room he had set apart for the chance acquaintances he had made on the steamer and did everything in his power to leave no stone unturned and no nook or corner hidden in his efforts to disclose some possible clue or information of value to Mr. Pauling and his friends.
Personally, he seemed far more perturbed over the loss of his prized blowpipe and the fact that he would not be able to ship his cases of specimens to Holland on the tramp than anything else. He dilated upon the importance of getting his cases off, described how he had carried the blowpipe for hundreds of miles through the great South American wilderness from the distant Indian tribe from which he had obtained it and repeatedly expressed his desire to lay his hands on those who had wrought such havoc with his property and plans.
Then, when the house had been thoroughly gone over, he led the party to the beach, pointed out where the launch had been moored and fell to with the others and labored with spade and shovel in digging a grave for the dead "red."
Finally, thanking him for his help and inviting him to visit the schooner, the party bade him good-by and with the negro boatman, whom Rawlins had summoned, carrying the captured radio outfit, they embarked in the boat now lying in the little cove and headed for the schooner in Coral Bay.
"It's funny how circumstances will lead one's judgment astray," remarked Mr. Pauling, after Van Brunt's figure had been lost to view. "I misjudged that man from the first moment I saw him, merely from first impressions. The fact that he arrived at the same time as the tramp and came ashore in the skipper's boat, coupled with his peculiarly pink cheeks as if just shaved and the boys' imagined recognition all made me think him in league with the gang. Then, when those octoroons saw him talking with the two whose appearance tallied with those we were seeking and Rawlins found such evidence in his house, I was convinced he was one of the leaders. And yet, when we know the truth, we find all our suspicions absolutely unfounded and unjustified. He is an eminently respectable college professor; a Burgomaster in his native town and every circumstance which aroused our suspicions is so easily explained by the simplest and most obvious facts that we never thought of them."
Mr. Henderson chuckled. "I insisted from the first he was absolutely what he pretended and nothing more," he declared, "although I admit that after what Rawlins heard and saw I began to think you were right. However, it's quite evident now that we have done him a great injustice. I can't imagine that peace-loving, gentle old Dutchman with his perfect accent and oddly twisted sentences harming any one or doing any plotting. And as for having Bolshevist tendencies! Heavens, to him the propaganda was just so much good material for wrapping his specimens and, as he said, all foolishness.''
"Yes, he's a pretty decent old skate," agreed Rawlins. "Did you get on to the funny way he had of blinking his eyes and wrinkling his forehead when anything puzzled him? Reminded me somehow of a kid about six months old. And all the time talking about his blamed old blowgun being smashed. Why, that meant more to him than the sinking of a ship or the blowing up of the Capitol at Washington!"
"I think he's a fine old man," declared Tom. "He invited Frank and me to go out and spend a day in the woods with him. Said he'd show us lots of interesting things and we'd have a fine time. Can't we go, Dad?
"If we remain here I have no objections," replied Mr. Pauling, "but if we hear from Disbrow we may have to go at any time. I plan to stick here until we get word from him, however. He certainly should be able to locate that tramp. I'll bet the next time he doesn't let her slip out from under his nose. I put it pretty strongly to him in my message."
"Well, we got a fine radio outfit anyway," remarked Frank. "When we get it fixed up I'll bet we can get Europe or the States direct. Say, Mr. Henderson, what was that machine—like a sort of typewriter—for? It didn't look like part of a wireless set.'"
"Oh that's an automatic coding machine," replied Mr. Henderson. "I forgot you didn't know how to use it. I'll show you how it works when we get aboard. The principle is that you write the message as on an ordinary typewriter, but instead of printing letters the keys perforate a strip of tape. Then that is run through a special sending machine— which is probably here though I did not notice it— and contacts made through the perforations send the dots and dashes far more rapidly and accurately than is possible by hand."
"Gee, that will be fun!" declared Frank. "I'm not sorry those rascals set up their station at Mr. Van Brunt's, are you, Tom?"
"You bet I'm not," agreed Tom. "Won't Mr. Bancroft be interested in the things?"
A few moments later the schooner was in view and presently the boat was alongside. As Tom had foreseen, the naval operator was as interested and enthusiastic as the boys over the captured instruments.
"No wonder I couldn't believe it was you talking to-day," he said. "I knew those signals were coming from a powerful set and I thought sure it was some crook butting in and trying to get wise to what Disbrow was saying. Why, you could have got him direct with this."
"Yes, I guess we could," agreed Frank. "But we thought he'd be even more suspicious and Mr. Pauling wanted us to get it through you. I'll bet you were surprised though."
"You're right I was!" laughed Bancroft. "I've been cudgeling my brains ever since, trying to figure out how you could be using that long wave and talking the way you did over those portable sets. I've been half afraid it was a fake after all—secret code words and all. Suffering cats! I was nervous as could be thinking what was coming to me if I'd made a break like that!"
"I'm glad you were cautious, Bancroft!" declared Mr. Pauling who now approached. "I'd rather have you err that way than the other, although it did make me a bit impatient for a moment. Did Commander Disbrow send anything else?"
"No, sir," the operator assured him. "Just the code message I relayed to you."
"I suppose you're very curious to know what we found," said Mr. Pauling with a smile. "Well, there's no reason why it should be a secret from you as far as I know. Boys, you can tell the story. It'll probably be a more interesting and exciting version than I can give."
So, for the next hour, the two boys were busy relating their experiences and the discoveries of the day to Bancroft who listened intently, occasionally uttering an exclamation of surprise or wonder,
"I've heard about the Wurali before," he told them when they had ended. "One of the boys who had been down to South America told me about it, but I never believed half what he said. It's a mighty lucky thing the crooks and 'reds' at home haven't got on to it."
"That's the thing that is troubling me tremendously just now." interrupted Mr. Pauling. "If these villains we are after know the possibilities, as they must —judging by Rawlins' experience—they will not be slow to take advantage of it. Their only trouble will be in securing the poison. It's made by only a few remote tribes, Van Brunt tells me. But with these rascals' organization and resources no one can foresee what they may do. I am more than ever anxious to get them, to round them up before they make their next move and yet we seem to have struck a blind trail, I'm more than sorry now I did not act and seize the tramp in St. Thomas."
"No use crying over spilt milk, Mr. Pauling," laughed Rawlins. "I've a hunch we'll get 'em yet."
"Well, my boy, I’m still backing your hunches," replied the other. "Even if you did go as wrong as myself over Van Brunt."
CHAPTER VII A TERRIBLE PREDICAMENT
ALTHOUGH the boys were deeply interested in their newly acquired instruments and were most anxious to get them installed and in working order, yet they were so afraid that they might be compelled to leave St. John before they had an opportunity to take the trip into the bush with Van Brunt that they decided to take no chances and to go the next day.
As no further word had been received from the destroyer Mr. Pauling made no objection to this plan, merely suggesting that they had better row to the Dutchman's house and be sure he was there and was willing to take them, rather than go overland and perhaps have their tramp for nothing.
With two of the negro boatmen at the oars, the boys set out in high spirits. The day was unusually warm, even for the tropics, the trade wind had died to a mere whisper of a breeze, and the air felt heavy and lifeless, but this had little effect upon the two boys. They were strong, young and full of life. The enervating climate had not begun to exert any effect upon them and they found the temperature no worse than summer in the north and looked forward so eagerly to the novel experience of a day in the woods with the entomologist as a companion that they never gave a thought to the weather.
The negroes, however, cast frequent speculative glances about, conversed in low tones between themselves and seemed rather ill at ease. At first the boys did not notice this, but presently Tom asked one of the men what the trouble was.
"No trouble, Chief," replied the negro. "Leastways dey ain't no trouble now, but Ah was speculatin' 'bout da weather wif mah mates. Don' know fo' sartin', Chief, but it looks laik da's goin' to be a blow 'fore larng, Chief. Dis da hur'cane season yo' knows an' da day feels a mite like as if da's a hur'cane some'eres about."
"Hurricane!" exclaimed Frank. "Say, that would be great. I'd like to see one. Remember the pictures in our geographies in school, Tom, all the houses and trees blowing around and the people running about and the boats wrecked on the shore?"
"Hur'canes doan be no joke, Chief," said the negro seriously and a trifle reprovingly. "Da las' one we expe'enced over to Sain' Thomas surely did play de very debbil, Chief. Dis yere islan's better dan dere an' ain't so much lik'ihood o' da schooner goin' ashore, but Ah tells yo' a hur'cane's a hur'cane an' dere ain't no two ways 'bout it."
"Do you really think we'll have one?" asked Tom. "Cain't say," declared the boatman. "Dey comes an dey goes an' most ways dey come when dey ain't 'spected, like a t'ief in da night, a-seekin' who dey mought devour. But dis is mos' surely hur'cane weather."
"Well, I guess it won't get here right away," said Tom. "We should worry. Anyway Mr. Van Brunt's a scientist and he ought to know about such things. Besides, if Mr. Rawlins had thought there was any danger he wouldn't have let us go."
"Yes, and besides they get weather reports by radio every day," Frank added. "If there'd been any hurricanes we'd have heard of it."
"Yaas, sir," acquiesced the negro, and the boys thought no more of the matter.
They found Van Brunt at home, busily going over his specimens, and, in accordance with Mr. Pauling's suggestion, destroying the three-cornered bits of paper torn from Bolshevist literature and replacing them with pieces cut from innocent St. Thomas newspapers.
He seemed very glad to see the boys; declared that he would he most pleased to go with them into the woods and, hurriedly putting away his insects and ceasing his work, he prepared for the trip. As he fussed about, filling a capacious canvas haversack with cyanide bottles, papers, tin boxes and innumerable other implements of the insect collector, he kept up a steady stream of conversation in his queerly twisted grammar, telling the boys of his experiences, dilating upon the wonders of the tropics, stopping now and then to show them some interesting specimen or curio and laughing and joking like an over-grown boy.
At last he appeared to be ready. He took down a long-handled butterfly net, jammed a battered and ragged felt hat with a wide flopping brim on his bald head, knotted an enormous silk handkerchief about his neck, strapped a machete to his belt, slipped his haversack strap over his shoulder and led the way from the house.
"Don't you lock it up when you leave?" asked Tom, noticing that the scientist had not secured the doors behind them.
"Ach, no!" replied Van Brunt with a shrug of his broad shoulders. "No one is there to come in and nothing have I to steal. The natives mine things won't touch—they I am crazy think—and with that man there dead and buried and the others away gone, to lock mine doors there is no need, ya."
Swinging around the house to the hillside, Van Brunt followed a narrow but well-marked path and in a few moments the three were in the forest. The Dutchman explained that the most interesting things were in the high woods on the mountains and that it was much cooler there and as he led the way, ever climbing steadily upward, he constantly halted and pointed out some strange or interesting object to his companions. There were the dangling lianas which he said contained refreshing cool water, and lopping off sections he invited the wondering boys to drink the clear liquid that flowed from the severed vine. There were trees with great wide-flung, buttressed, roots, like thin slabs, extending in every direction; slender palm trees whose trunks ended several feet above the earth and were supported by wirelike roots slender as knitting needles. There were broad leaved begonias with waxlike flowers and countless other blooms—orchids and arboreal cacti and great air plants like gigantic pineapples perched on the slenderest of vines with their dangling aërial roots.
Now and then the naturalist would catch sight of some rare forest butterfly or day-flying moth and with an agility which astonished the boys he would chase hither and thither among the trees until finally, with a grunt of triumph, he would secure the creature in his net. At other times he would tear apart some rotten tree trunk or fallen log and with his forceps gather up the scorpions, spiders, beetles and bugs that swarmed in the decaying wood. Once or twice, as the clear ringing notes of some bird came to them through the silence of the forest, he would hold up a fat hand for silence and, treading as stealthily as an Indian, would lead the boys to a spot where he could point out the singer, or would call their attention to a tiny humming bird darting like a jeweled insect about some flowering shrub or vine.
"Jiminy, I never knew there were so many creatures all about!" exclaimed Tom. "Why, the place is just full of life."
"Ya, everywhere life is," asserted Van Brunt. "But to see them you must know how, ya."
"Yes, I guess that's right," agreed Frank. "A fellow has to know how to find them the same as everything else."
"Ya, even to find such rogues as the dead man was, one must know how, eh?" chuckled the Dutchman. "Ya, and the insects to find are hard when— how is it—camouflaged they are. But man he is more clever than the insects and better he can himself camouflage, ya. See here, my friends, how is camouflaged this little creature!"
As he spoke, the Dutchman pointed to what the boys would have vowed was an innocent bunch of leaves,
"I don't see any insect there!" declared Tom after carefully looking over the twig with its green foliage.
"Ach, that is but the camouflage!" cried Van Brunt. "See!" Very gently, he touched one of the leaves and instantly it burst into life, a long neck bearing two staring eyes was lifted and a pair of sharp, spine-covered lobsterlike claws were raised menacingly and swung back and forth.
"Say, that's wonderful!" exclaimed Frank. "Gee, it looked harmless and just like leaves and now it's an ugly, ferocious-looking beast. What is it?"
"A mantis, that is," the other informed him. "An insect that on others feeds and to secure them and to within reach of his claws lure them be a bunch of leaves imitates. Ach, ya! A clever rascal the mantis is. Smart almost like a man and an enemy most bad, ya. See, we will in the bottle place him where no more harm he can do. Just so the law in the prison the wicked man places when the law more smart than the man is and sees the leaves a mantis is." Chuckling to himself at his simile, as he dropped the cyanide jar with its dying prisoner in his pocket, the entomologist continued on his way with the boys beside him.
So interested had they been that they had no idea of the direction in which they had come, so intent had they been on the many strange objects Van Brunt had shown them that they had given no heed to time. In fact, they had left themselves entirely in Van Brunt's hands but now they realized that it must be nearly noon and they were beginning to feel hungry.
"Don't you think we ought to stop and have lunch?" asked Tom at last.
"Ya, ya!" replied the scientist. "Just now will we eat. Near a spring where most cool it is will we stop."
A little later their guide turned aside, pushed through the woods for a short distance and the boys found themselves in a small open glade with a crystal spring bubbling from among a drapery of ferns and begonias amid a great pile of rocks.
It was a beautiful spot and, taking off his haversack, unstrapping his machete and placing his net beside these, Van Brunt seated himself. Removing his big hat he wiped his bald head with the handkerchief knotted about his neck. Then, as the boys unwrapped the lunch they had brought, he rummaged in his bag, brought out fruit, sandwiches and tinned things and added them to the boys' store.
It was now very cool, a light breeze whispered in the surrounding tree tops and the three heartily enjoyed their al-fresco meal beside the spring. The boys kept up a steady chatter, Van Brunt chuckled and now and then made some amusing remark or answered a question, and the boys mentally vowed him a most agreeable companion. Presently, however, they noticed that the sky was overcast, that the brilliant sun was no longer casting sharp black shadows beneath the trees and the negroes' fears of a hurricane recurred to them.
"One of our boatmen said he thought there was a hurricane near," said Tom. "Do you think there's any danger of it, Professor?"
Van Brunt leaned back and glanced at the sky. "Ach, perhaps comes a hurricane and perhaps he comes not," he replied. "Many years in the tropics have I lived and never yet came the hurricane when expected it was, and always it comes when no one it expects. But if it comes it comes and I think it comes not this day."
The naturalist had now finished his meal and reaching in one of his capacious pockets he drew out a huge wooden pipe, crammed the bowl full of tobacco and lighting it settled back in perfect contentment, blowing great clouds of smoke into the air.
"By the spring a cave there is, ya!" he remarked presently. "Boys always caves like. Perhaps to see it you might wish. While I smoke you can to it go and explore. Maybe a dragon in it you will find or a treasure. Ya, or maybe a robbers' cave it is or in it pirates dwell!" The old fellow chuckled at his own pleasantries.
"Hurrah, that will be fine!" exclaimed Tom. "Come on, Frank, let's explore the cave."
"Just beyond the spring it is," Van Brunt told them. "Beyond that tree-fern you will the door see." With all their boyish love of adventure aroused, the two hurried across the glade, leaped across the tiny stream flowing from the spring and clambered over the loose, moss-covered bowlders to where the huge feathery leaves of a tree-fern hid the rocky wall. Sure enough, just beyond and partly hidden by the foliage was a large dark opening evidently leading to a cavern.
"Got your flash light with you?" asked Frank as the two peered into the hole.
"No," replied Tom. "I never thought I'd need it in the daytime. But we've got matches back there in our bags. Let's go and get some and perhaps Professor Van Brunt has a flash light."
"I've a box of matches with me," said Frank. "Come on, let's have a look in here first. Then, if we want to go farther we can make a torch or something."
Somewhat hesitatingly, the two boys crouched and stepped through the opening. Then Frank struck a match and in its flare the two glanced about. The cavern was large, they could not see the roof, but here and there great stalactites hung to within a few inches of their heads and post-like stalagmites rose from the floor. Their match cast only a small circle of light and scratching one after another the boys moved cautiously about. Apparently, they were in a large chamber and by the strong draft they knew there must be another opening somewhere.
"Say, if we don't look out we'll be left here without matches and won't be able to find our way out," declared Tom presently. "Ugh! I don't like it somehow. Let's go back and ask the Professor to come with us. I'll bet he's been here and knows all about it and maybe he can make a good torch!"
Turning, the boys carefully guarded their flickering matches and soon saw the dim light which marked the entrance to the cavern.
A moment later they reached it, crawled through, and scrambling down over the rocks, started towards the spot where they had left their companion. They jumped across the brook, ran up the little rise, came to the open space and stopped abruptly, staring about, amazed, utterly unable to believe their senses. Van Brunt was not there!
"Gosh, where's he gone?" exclaimed Tom.
"Oh, I expect he's chasing a butterfly," said Frank, "but I got scared at first when I didn't see him. Say, we are getting silly!"
Laughing at their own temporary fright, they walked forwards a few paces and stopped again, looking first one way then another, searching the glade, with puzzled, half-frightened expressions on their faces. The glade was absolutely bare. Not only had Van Brunt disappeared, but there was no sign of his belongings, no trace of their own bags!
"Gosh, Frank, are we dreaming?" cried Tom at last. "What does this mean? Where are our things and where has the Professor gone?"
"Perhaps he's trying to have some fun with us," suggested Frank. "Let's holler for him."
Together and at the top of their lungs, the two boys called Van Brunt's name, but not a reply, not a sound, came to their anxious ears.
"I don't know what to make of it," declared Tom at last. "If he thinks this is a joke, I don't see it. I wonder—say, what's that?"
Suddenly to their ears had come a roaring, rushing sound like the noise of a turbulent river. With fast-heating hearts, not knowing what to expect, frightened by finding themselves alone here in the depths of the mountain forests, the two boys stood listening, wild-eyed and glancing apprehensively about.
Now, for the first time, they noticed that the sunlight had completely disappeared, that the sky, where visible between the tree tops, was a dull, sickly greenish-gray and that there was a peculiar oppressiveness about the air. The next instant a blinding flash of lightning ripped across the clouds,. There was a deafening peal of thunder and the earth seemed to tremble under the crash. Then, drowning the echoes, came a steady, roaring, awful sound, increasing in volume each second. As the thoroughly terrified boys looked at each other with white faces, leaves, pieces of branches, twigs and torn fronds began dropping about them. Tom glanced up, gave a terrified scream and turning, started pell mell for the cave. Against the threatening lurid sky he had seen the summits of the trees thrashing, bending, being torn to shreds, while above them, the air was dark with flying, wind-driven limbs, leaves and branches.
"It's the hurricane!" he screamed, as Frank raced after him. "The cave's the only safe place!"
Barely had the two boys reached the cave when the hurricane burst upon the island with its full fury. Gasping for breath, they crawled through the narrow entrance. Without, the wind roared with the shriek of a thousand steam sirens, the lightning flashed, the thunder roared, crashed and reverberated continually and trees and branches were dashed to earth, the sound of their fall drowned in the terrific turmoil of the awful storm. Overhead, the sky, when visible through the flying debris, was black as ink. The rain came down in white sheets shutting off the forest as with a solid wall and the tropic afternoon had become as dark as night.
Thoroughly frightened at Van Brunt's mysterious disappearance, realizing they were lost in the forest and now terrified half out of their senses by the appalling hurricane, the incessant thunder, the vivid lightning and the crashing trees, the two boys crouched within the cave, cowering and shaking and with chattering teeth. They were in absolute darkness. Not a glimmer of light entered the cavern and the irregular opening among the rocks was scarcely distinguishable as a lighter shadow. Within their refuge it was chilly and damp, although no rain entered, and the boys shivered with the cold. And to their very real and fully warranted terror was added the mental suffering of knowing how those upon the schooner would worry and the dread that the vessel might be driven ashore or wrecked at her moorings.
What would Mr. Pauling and the others think? Would they be consoled with the thoughts that Van Brunt could look after the boys, that he had foreseen the hurricane and had taken refuge with them in his own home or some safe place, or would they be distracted, driven frantic, with the fear that the two boys and their companion were still in the woods when the tropical cyclone broke? And what had happened to the schooner? Had Rawlins been warned in time? Had they sought safety ashore and left the schooner to her fate or had they all been lost?
Such thoughts which they were powerless to answer rushed through the boys' minds as they clung close to each other and cowered in their refuge in the cave while the hurricane raged and shrieked and howled outside. Each time that a blinding glare of lightning dazzled the boys and the thunder shook the earth and the rocks trembled, the two lads expected to feel the mountain side crumbling upon them, for it seemed impossible that even the solid limestone could withstand the stupendous force, the irresistible might of the elements that appeared to have gone mad.
But as hour after hour passed and nothing happened the boys began to regain confidence. They were safe for the present, their cave was impregnable and after the storm was over— although neither had the least idea whether the hurricane would last for hours or days—they might be able to find their way to the coast or to some settlement or negro hut, and, if not, they felt sure that their friends would start in search of them.
And no doubt Van Brunt would also return. Probably, they thought, he had gathered up their belongings preparatory to leaving, and then, being attracted by some specimen, had gone after it carrying everything with him absent-mindedly and had been prevented by the hurricane from returning. Perhaps, even now, he was near, seeking safety as they had themselves in some cave or crevice among the rocks. As soon as the storm was over, he would come to find them. This thought cheered them and presently Tom spoke.
"Can't we manage to get a light?" he chattered. "It's awfully dark and spooky here. And maybe we could start a fire. There must be bits of dry wood or leaves in here somewhere."
"We can try," replied Frank. "Say, isn't it awful!"
"If we light a match here, it'll blow out," said Tom. "Let's creep over to some corner first."
Accordingly, the two trembling boys carefully felt their way across the floor of the cave until they found the farther wall and presently discovered a smaller cave or pocket among the rocks where they were sheltered from the draught.
Carefully striking a match, Frank shielded it with his hat and the two glanced about. For a moment the flare blinded them, but the next instant, Tom gave a glad cry. Close to where they sat was a little pile of dead and dried leaves that had been driven in through the opening and before the match flickered out the boys had reached it. A moment later, a second match had been lit and touched to the leaves and a bright and cheerful fire was lighting up the cave.
"That won't last long," declared Frank. "We must find more fuel while we have the light. Come on, Tom."
By the dull red glare of the blazing leaves the two hurried about the cave, seeking bits of sticks and dead leaves and presently they had quite a little pile near their tiny fire.
"If we can only get some big sticks, we can keep it going and be warm anyway," said Tom. "I wonder if I can't manage to get some close to the entrance. With all those trees falling, there must be dead limbs all about and some of them may be right close. I'm going to try."
"Don't go outside!" begged Frank. "You'd be blown away or a tree might fall on you."
"I'm not such a fool as that," declared Tom. "I'm just going to see if I can't reach some without going outside the rocks."
Followed by Frank, Tom approached the cavern's mouth. It was now a trifle lighter outside and the boys could distinguish the opening, but it seemed far smaller than before. Then, as they reached it and the truth dawned upon them the two uttered horrified cries and sank limply to the floor. The opening was blocked, an enormous tree had fallen directly across the entrance!
Now indeed their plight was hopeless. They were locked as securely in the cave as though behind doors of steel. No human being unaided could move that mighty tree trunk wedged among the rocks and there was not a space six inches wide on either side of it. They were prisoners, captives in the cave without food or water, without other fuel than the pitifully small accumulation of leaves and twigs. They were doomed to an awful, lingering death by starvation and thirst. The cave which had preserved their lives would be their tomb. Better by far had they been killed mercifully and quickly by a falling tree in the open air.
CHAPTER VIII THE HURRICANE
FOR some time after the two boys had left the schooner those on board sat in the shade of the awning, discussing the events of the past few weeks and trying to formulate some theories and some plans which might lead to the capture or destruction of the criminals they sought.
"Now that Van Brunt's eliminated from our plans we're up against it worse than ever," commented Mr. Henderson. "We've got to start all over again."
"Yes, and there's the added mystery of that dead man," put in Mr. Pauling. "Now we haven't the least idea whether we've been chasing the real chief, the actual ringleader, or his double. For all we know, the one we seek may be hundreds or thousands of miles away. He may have planned the whole thing as a blind—a lure to take us to the West Indies —while he carried out his plans unmolested. I put nothing beyond his devilish ingenuity and yet, somehow, I feel that he is not far away, that there is some other solution of the puzzle."
"Well, if he had a double over to Santo Domingo, all I can say is he gave him a mighty fine hang-out," declared Rawlins. "And I'll say that our finding those divers and the sub in New York wasn't any cooked-up job. That chap who died in the hospital said the old boy had a place in the islands. We know he was right about Trade Wind Cay. The Voodoo niggers knew the Grand Panjandrun's cave and took us to it. And even if all the rest was staged for our benefit, I know blamed well those Voodoo lads weren't in the cast. No, I've a hunch that the boys saw the real dyed-in-the-wool King of the Crooks over there to Cana Honda and that 'twas the same one who gave us the merry ha-ha on that little sub when they went on that joy ride out past us marooned on the beach. This understudy business is a new scheme—just pulled over here for some reason and we nipped it in the bud—or rather the leading man himself did—when he pricked himself with that dart. No, sir, I've a hunch that our bird's not so far away right now. Did you ever hear of him using disguises, Mr. Pauling?"
"No, I can't say I ever did," replied the other. "He's too modern and up to date a rascal for that. It's all right for some inconspicuous or unimportant man to disguise himself now and then. Like Sam for example. Although it's a mighty good disguise that will stand the light of day and a close scrutiny, especially if a man's suspicious and is looking for trickery. But the real big crooks, and the really competent detectives, don't try any such dime novel ideas. They trust to brains and reasoning power, deductions and intuition rather than to false beards, wigs and costumes. No, as long as the Service has had any records, our friend has always appeared in his unmistakable true character. Sort of used it as a challenge in fact—a here-I-am-come-and-get-me-if-you-can attitude. That's one reason why I can't believe the dead man was he. It's inconceivable that he should be masquerading as himself by using a false mustache and a monocle or as some one else with a smooth face. Besides, I'm positive the body was not his. In the first place, his men never would have deserted the corpse if it had been their leader's. They would realize we should find it. Moreover, the real man wears a monocle from necessity not affectation. One eye is abnormally short-sighted owing to some injury, and the monocle on the dead man was plain glass—not a lens."
"Whew!" whistled Rawlins. "That let's him out then. I'd been thinking perhaps after all it might have been the real sure enough Gazabo, but what you've said proves he was just a dummy. Too bad it wasn't the old boy himself."
"If they left in a launch," remarked Mr. Henderson who had been thinking deeply as the others spoke. "They'll have to land somewhere or go aboard some ship. Of course, there are scores of small islands where they might go. Very likely they have hiding places already selected or friends they can depend upon. But even so, a fast speed boat is not so common a thing in out-of-the-way islands that it would excite no comment. It seems to me we should be able to trace their movements. On the other hand, they may have arranged for just such an eventuality as occurred and may have met the tramp outside. Or again, they may have rejoined the submarine at some prearranged spot. There are a thousand possibilities. But in my opinion, we are wasting valuable time when we should be searching for the launch or for some word of her or the submarine. Why in thunder hasn't Disbrow found that tramp? Any one would think she could hide behind a coconut palm. A five thousand ton ship can't vanish into thin air in a few hours."
“I agree with you in many ways, Henderson," said Mr. Pauling. "But I can't say that I feel we are wasting time here. Those rascals know our schooner. They know we are on their trail and if we start sailing about they can always be one jump ahead of us. They can see us long before we can sight them and plan accordingly. I have no doubt they are all on the sub by now. The fellows would have all that prepared for and they could unquestionably communicate by radio. Moreover, if, as I have no doubt, the tramp is mixed up in the game, they could have radioed to her to meet them at any point they wished, or the sub could have run alongside at night and have given instructions to the skipper. The way the tramp sailed suddenly and a week ahead of time points to that.
"Finally, you forget that we have no knowledge that the one we want the most was on the launch or the sub. In fact, I don't believe he was. Had he been he never would have let a substitute act in his place. He's too puffed up with his own self-importance for that. Nothing would have been more suited to his character and his pride than to have held Rawlins under that blowgun himself. No, I think he's merely doing or planning something of far greater importance elsewhere. I should not be in the least surprised if we get word of some astounding coup at any moment. That is one reason I am waiting here. I have found that when you are up a stump it's a mighty wise plan to stay there and wait for the other fellow to make the first move."
"Yes, there's truth in all that," admitted Mr. Henderson. "But I wish we could have selected a cooler spot for waiting. Whew, but it's oppressive!"
"Too hot and calm to be natural," agreed Rawlins. "Jumping Jiminy! Look at those clouds!"
At Rawlins' exclamation the others went to the rail and peered from beneath the canvas awning at the sky. No longer was it the flawless azure flecked with cottony trade clouds. Instead, it had taken on a sullen, sickly, greenish tint and long stringy peculiarly yellowish clouds stretched irregularly from horizon to horizon.
"It is a nasty looking sky," said Mr. Pauling. "Looks as if we might be going to have a storm."
"Storm!" cried Rawlins, who after the first glimpse at the sky had dodged below. "There's a hurricane near! Darn that old-fashioned glass there. You can't depend on it. But I've seen West Indian hurricanes too often to be fooled. We're in for a blow, I'll bet."
"And with the boys ashore!" cried Mr. Pauling. "If anything happens, I'll never forgive myself. We must get ashore and warn them at once."
"Oh, don't worry, Mr. Pauling," said the diver, reassuringly, "Of course hurricanes are uncertain things. But if we had a good glass I could tell you just about where it was, when it would get here, if at all, and the direction and speed in which it's traveling. The glass is low, but that doesn't prove anything. It's the way it rises and falls that tells the tale. But a hurricane usually gives a lot of warning and I don't believe this one is very near. Probably won't break for ten or twelve hours and it may go around. St. John isn't struck by 'em very often. Out of the usual track. Besides, Van Brunt will take care of the boys. He's an old timer in the tropics and knows the signs.
And if we started to find them, we'd probably have a hard job. He's taken them into the bush and we have no idea where. I don't think there's much danger. Anyway they're as safe ashore or safer than here. I'm going to get extra tackle out though and make everything snug. I've been through two of the blamed things and I know what they can do."
For the next hour Rawlins was here, there and everywhere, ordering his negro crew about, working like a demon himself and leaving nothing to chance. The awnings were stripped from the schooner, the sails were furled more closely and were lashed by many turns of line about canvas and spars. Guys were added to the sheets and the boats were doubly secured. An extra anchor with one hundred fathoms of cable was dropped overboard from a boat which carried it far ahead of the schooner. Everything movable on deck was lashed and secured. Even then, Rawlins was not satisfied. He had the topmasts sent down; a third anchor with cable coiled ready for instant use was placed in the vessel's bows and finally a tiny trysail was rigged up on the mainmast.
In the meantime, Mr. Pauling was becoming more and more worried and nervous. If a hurricane was coming why had they received no warning from the meteorological station at St. Thomas and, as this thought crossed his mind, he ordered Bancroft to call the station and ask for information.
As Bancroft went to his instruments, Mr. Pauling paced the deck impatiently, a troubled frown upon his forehead, while he discussed with Mr. Henderson the possible peril of the boys.
Presently the operator reappeared. "Can't get a thing, Mr. Pauling," he announced. "The air's so full of static it's hopeless. There are blue sparks all over the instruments. I guess that's why we haven't heard anything. I even tried the loops and the resonance coils, but all I can get is a noise like popping corn."
Mr. Pauling muttered something that resembled an oath under his breath and bit his lip. "All right, Bancroft!" he exclaimed. "It's not your fault."
Then, addressing no one in particular, he continued. "Confound it all, why did I let those boys go? Somehow every time they go off alone they get into trouble and worry me to death. This is the last time, I swear."
"But they always come through all right," Mr. Henderson reminded him. "And usually with flying colors and important information. Tom's adventure in New York was of incalculable value. When they were lost in Santo Domingo, it led to most important discoveries and perhaps they'll come back from their trip with Van Brunt with most astounding news. Don't worry, Pauling, they're in good hands and what can we do? As Rawlins says, we'd simply be jeopardizing ourselves and hunting for a needle in a haystack. Hurricanes are not as dangerous ashore as on the sea and, personally, I'm rather glad they are ashore. I don't know but what we'd better leave the schooner and go there ourselves."
"I was thinking of that," declared Rawlins who now approached and who had heard Mr. Henderson's last remark. "There's no good in staying aboard. If the old hooker goes down we'll be drowned and if we wait till the blow comes we can't get ashore. Everything's snug and ready and it's up to her to ride it out or go to Davy Jones, I'm for getting on dry land. I may be a sailor and a diver—sort of amphibious I believe you call it, but I'm no fish and between land and sea when things are happening, give me dry land every time. You three go ashore now and I'll wait until the last minute and see how things look. If it comes on much, I'll give her the other hook and clear out quick. I'll have Sam and two men even if I have to light out before your boat gets back."
"Very well," agreed Mr. Pauling. "It's getting thicker and thicker every minute and I don't like this ominous calm and oppressive heat. By Jove! I do hope old Van Brunt sees it and will take care of the boys."
Taking only a few necessities, Mr. Pauling, Mr. Henderson and Bancroft sprang into the boat and were rapidly pulled ashore by the negroes whose frightened faces and rolling eyes plainly told of their dread of the threatened hurricane.
Ashore they found the people all preparing for the storm. The heavy wooden shutters were being closed on houses and stores and secured by the stout iron bars. Everything movable had been taken indoors. Negro women were calling shrilly to their naked brown offspring to come to their houses. The few horses and cattle had instinctively sought shelter and were huddled close to the walls of buildings, while the chickens and fowls were clucking excitedly and were hurrying to their roosts. Over all brooded a strange, weird silence that could almost be felt.
The air seemed heavy and dead; it was an effort to breathe and the sounds of voices, of animals and birds came queerly, sharply and yet subdued as though muffled by an invisible wall. The breeze, which all day had been light, had now ceased entirely; the sparkling blue water of the harbor was now a flat oily sheet of drab; the fronds of the coconut palms hung motionless. As the three Americans walked from the landing place towards the only apology for a hotel, the perspiration poured from them.
Already the half-Danish proprietor of the inn had bolted and secured his windows and, realizing that to stay within the shuttered unventilated rooms would be unbearable, the three remained standing by the half-open door watching the harbor and their schooner and speculating on what was about to occur. Although it was but slightly past noon the appearance was that of twilight and a peculiar bronze-yellow light added to the effect of sunset and gave an unnatural lurid color to everything.
The schooner was the only vessel of any size upon the harbor and all the smaller fishing sloops had been hastily drawn to the beach and pulled far up on the shore while the negro boatmen and sailors had taken masts, rigging and everything movable from them and had stored them under their homes.
Upon the motionless, leaden water the schooner rode spectral and gaunt, her every detail perfectly reproduced in the reflection below, and the hurrying figures of Rawlins and his men could be plainly seen upon her decks.
The three beside the hotel door were thus watching the men upon their vessel when, to their ears, came a faint, far-away roar like the sound of a distant railway train. Instantly, the few people on the streets let out terrified cries and scuttled to their homes and the three Americans saw Rawlins and his men run across the deck leap into the boat and pull for shore.
Louder and louder grew the strange hissing roar; a scorching hot wind swirled the dust in little spirals above the streets; the dark surface of the bay was crinkled and ruffled and yet the three, realizing the hurricane was almost upon them, still stood holding the door open, despite the protestations of the landlord, and waiting for Rawlins. Would he gain the landing before the tempest broke? Had he waited too long? Were they to gaze helpless, unable to offer the slightest aid, while he and his boatmen were blown to sea? Already the roar was deafening— drowning out the lesser sounds of frightened fowls, of crying children, of praying, yelling negroes within the flimsy walls of their shacks. The darkness of night had descended over the town and bay; madly scurrying, low-hung, purplish gray clouds raced across the lowering, sullen sky; the black water of the harbor showed spiteful whitecaps; the schooner rocked and pitched.
But the small boat was close to land. A few more strokes of the oars and she would be safe. It was a race for life, a race against death and destruction and with only a few seconds to spare.
Then a lurid blaze of lightning split the sky and following its blinding flash a peal of terrific thunder seemed to rend the universe. But Rawlins and his party were safe. The glare had illuminated land and sea; for a fraction of a second it had been as light as noonday and the anxious, fascinated watchers saw the diver and his men leap ashore and with bent heads come racing towards them.
Panting they gained the door which they slammed to behind them. And not an instant too soon. Ere the stout greenheart bars could be dropped into their places, the fury of the hurricane was upon them. The building shook and quivered; screeching, shrieking, the wind bellowed and roared; rain came in perfect cataracts pounding like hammers on the walls, shutters, and roof; crash after crash of thunder shook the ground like a barrage of heavy artillery and the eight men strove and fought and struggled with all their might to force the heavy door shut and to place the bars.
At last it was done. Unless the building itself gave way they were safe, and with panting lungs and perspiring faces, breathless with their exertions, they turned from the door towards the dimly lit interior where a lamp glimmered and smoked in the draught that sought out every tiny crack and crevice.
"I'll say that was close!" exclaimed Rawlins when at last he got his breath. "I didn't think we'd make it. Never knew a hurricane to come on so blamed sudden. And there's a ship coming in! Did you see her?"
"What!" ejaculated Mr. Pauling. "A ship coming into port in the face of this! No, we didn't see her, all our attention was on you. What was she? Heaven help the poor chaps on her!"
"Don't know what she was," replied Rawlins. "A steamer. Good-sized one too. I expect she made for Coral Bay as it's the safest harbor down here. Can't get much of a sea on, it's so landlocked. But it's blowing hard enough to take the barnacles off her. If she got to an anchorage and dropped her hooks before it broke loose, she may be all right. Good Lord, hear that wind!"
Mr. Pauling groaned. "And my boys out in it!" he gasped. "God grant they're under shelter. They'll be frightened half to death if nothing else!"
"I'll say they won't!" declared the diver. "Those kids are no Mamma's babies. They'll be scared a bit of course—never having seen a hurricane—but they'll come through all right. Trust them and Van Brunt. His shack's been through many a hurricane and it'll stand many another. I'll bet they're all snug and safe in there now. Hello! There goes something!"
As be spoke there was a ripping, rending crash from outside plainly heard even above the terrific din of the elements and faintly to those in the inn came the shrieks of human beings.
"Some poor fellows gone!" exclaimed Rawlins. "House gone over I expect. Well, thank heaven this old place will stand it."
But even though the building within which they were sheltered was one of the solidly built old Danish edifices of coral rock, yet at times, it seemed as if it would give way before the terrific onslaughts of the hurricane, and Mr. Pauling and Mr. Henderson wondered if any of the flimsier wooden structures would be left standing after the storm was over.
The negro boatmen cowered, wild-eyed, but silent, in corners. Sam seemed too terrified to take any heed of what was going on. The proprietor knelt on the floor muttering incoherent prayers and swearing vociferously by turns, and fairly groveling in abject terror at each clap of crashing, rending thunder.
"Wonder how the schooner's taking it," said Rawlins presently, fairly screaming to make himself heard above the din. "Lucky the blow's off shore. Think I'll take a look and see how she is."
"If you open a door or window the place will be wrecked," yelled Mr. Henderson. "Let the Vigilant take her chances. Even if she is going to pieces, you can't do anything."
"I'll say I won't open a door or window!" shouted back the diver. "But all these places have peep-holes in the shutters so folks can look out and see what's going on during a blow. I'm going upstairs and see if I can find one. If it's on the side towards the bay, the wind won't come in much."
Taking a guttering candle from a table, Rawlins started up the rickety stairs and the others, also curious to know what was going on outside and glad to do anything to occupy their minds, followed.
Below, the noise had been frightful enough, but here on the second floor it was simply indescribable. The building trembled and shook, the gale shrieked like a thousand demons under the eaves and the roof above the men's heads strained and creaked and groaned until they expected each moment to see it lifted and hurled bodily from the walls.
Sheltering the candle with his hand, Rawlins glanced into the various rooms until at last he found what he sought.
"Here 'tis!" he exclaimed. "Just hold the candle a minute, Mr. Pauling and I'll soon see what's going on outside."
In one of the heavy shutters was a smaller opening closed by a small sliding panel, and very cautiously the diver unfastened the catch and slipped the panel back an inch or so. But very little wind came in, for the peep-hole was on the leeward side of the building. Opening it to its full extent, Rawlins peered out.
The day had now lightened considerably and through the slashing torrential downpour the streets and buildings between the hotel and the water front were visible with the foam-covered, tossing, storm-swept harbor beyond. But what a sight it presented! The streets were knee-deep with a turbid yellow flood on which thatched roofs, boxes, chicken coops and furniture were being swept into the bay. Two native huts were tangled sodden masses of crumpled timbers and palm leaf roofs. Along the beach where the row of stately palms had swayed and rustled in the sun, there now stood gaunt, swaying trunks from whose summits the great plumed heads had been torn and twisted by the terrific force of the hurricane. But Rawlins scarcely noticed these details, his eyes went at once to the white-capped harbor and he uttered an exclamation of relief.
Mistily outlined through the driving rain were the two masts of the schooner and by the way in which they swayed and tossed in wide arcs against the background of gray, the diver knew the vessel still rode safely at her moorings.
"She's all right!" he announced after a moment's inspection, "Her trysails's gone but her tackle's holding. And I think the worst of the blow is over. It seems to be letting up a bit. Hello! the steamer's there too."
"That's good!" responded Mr. Pauling. "Can you see what she is?"
"No, I can only just make her out. She's over the other side of the point. I can't see her hull, but I can see her masts and funnel. Good thing she got in here in time. I'll bet St. Thomas got it good and plenty."
"I wonder where Disbrow is," said Mr. Henderson. "If he was out in this, he'll have a mighty tough time of it."
"Oh, he'll be all right," declared Rawlins. "He'd know it was coming by his barometers and would have cleared off out of it's track. He's got speed enough for that. You see, these West Indian hurricanes are pretty well understood nowadays and if a man knows his business and watches his glass, he can pretty near tell where the center is and in which direction it's moving. Then he can about ship and get beyond it."
"Well, let us hope so at any rate," was Mr. Henderson's comment as the three turned from the room and descended the stairs.
"And I hope and pray those boys are safe " exclaimed Mr. Pauling. "It must be terrible out in the bush!"
"May not be as bad as here," said Rawlins. "The hills break the wind and on their leeward sides it's not bad. Besides, these hurricanes are not wide and we may be on one edge of it. There's a chance they may not be able to get back though—after the storm's over. They haven't any boat and most likely the road's blocked by fallen trees. It might take them several days to make it."
"We'll go to them," declared Mr. Pauling. "The instant it lets up enough to be safe I shall start for Van Brunt's. I can't stand this worry and uncertainty. I suppose we can get horses here if we can't go by boat."
"Sure we can, if they're not all drowned," replied the diver. "And if you wait until you can go by boat it will be hours. That sea won't go down in a minute. Besides, you might miss them. They'll start back by road of course."
Chafing at the unavoidable delay, suffering agonies of mind, worried and filled with forebodings, Mr. Pauling paced the floor while the others strove to cheer and reassure him, as for hour after hour the hurricane shrieked and howled, the thunder crashed and the rain beat like buckshot on shutters and walls.
But fortunately, West Indian hurricanes are not of long duration. By nightfall the wind had greatly decreased in its intensity and while a howling gale was still blowing and the rain still poured in torrents, Rawlins declared that the worst was over.
"Shouldn't wonder if it were clear and calm by morning," he announced, after another look from his peep hole. "The sky's getting lighter and the clouds are breaking, but the bay's rougher than ever. While it blew the hardest, it flattened down the waves and the rain helped. But now the rain's letting up and the wind's dropped a bit, the sea's piling up bad. I'll bet the old Caribbean is running mountains high outside and there'll be backwash in here and a nasty cross sea. Hope the Vigilant comes through it all right."
"She will," declared Mr. Henderson, confidently. "If she weathered that blow, she'll ride out anything."
"Yes, if the blamed hurricane don't come back," replied Rawlins. "That's the worst of 'em. They're revolving storms you know—cyclonic—and if we're near the center, she may swing around and hit us another clip within the next twenty-four hours."
"We'll hope it don't and trust to luck and the Lord," said Mr. Henderson.
No one had any appetite, but knowing they must conserve all their strength and energies for their expedition in search of the boys, they managed to eat. But sleep was out of the question. To be sure, they made a pretense of going to bed, flinging themselves down on settees and couches, but they were all far too nervous, worried and wrought up to close their eyes. Throughout the long night they lay awake, listening to the gale and beating rain, wondering how the boys were faring, and praying fervently that the hurricane had not caught them unprepared and unsheltered in the forest.
CHAPTER IX A MYSTERIOUS MESSAGE
WHEN, after a nerve-wracking, sleepless night, the three Americans within the tiny inn peeped forth and saw the faint light of dawn they found that the hurricane was over. The sky had cleared and while ragged patches of clouds still scudded across the heavens, it no longer rained and the gale had fallen to a steady, thrashing wind.
Then the door was thrown wide and the shutters opened and they looked upon a desolated, battered, wrecked world. Not a palm was left with a leaf crowning its summit; shade trees were felled as though by axes; the streets had been transformed into deep, sand-filled galleys and furrows and everywhere the houses had been unroofed, demolished or damaged.
The Moravian mission was scarcely more than a heap of ruins; wrecks of boats and shattered tree trunks were piled along the beach and the negroes wandered, wailing and moaning about, while the Moravian Fathers strove to cheer and encourage them.
In all the little settlement on the shores of Coral Bay, not ten houses were intact and these, like the inn, were the solidly built, centuries old structures of massive hard wood timbers, blocks of coral rock and heavy tiled roofs. But there had been very little loss of life. A few people had been crushed by falling walls; many had been injured by flying debris and scores had been rendered homeless. But in a tropical climate with a bountiful nature this meant merely temporary inconvenience, for within a few days new shacks could be erected and the ground provisions on which the natives depended were uninjured.
To the Americans' delight they saw that the Vigilant still rode to her anchors apparently none the worse for the blow, although she rested heavily and low upon the bay and rolled sluggishly to the waves as though half full of water. All this they saw at a glance and then Rawlins gave a shout of wonder and surprise.
"For the love of Mike!" he cried. "Look who's here! By glory! I'll say it's an ill wind that blows nobody good!"
Instantly all eyes were turned towards the jutting point of land that separated the main harbor from Hurricane Hole. There, plainly visible, were the stocky buff masts and the smoke-grimed funnel of a steamer and upon the funnel were two bands of blue and a band of yellow. It was the Dutch tramp!
"By Jove, it's she!" exclaimed Mr. Henderson. "Driven right into our clutches by the hurricane!"
"Hang the tramp!" exploded Mr. Pauling. "What does she or those on her matter when the boys are out there in the bush? She can wait, Rawlins. Let's see if we can get horses, we must start at once. Heavens only knows what those boys may be suffering—injured or killed perhaps!"
The diver's face fell. "Of course you're right, Mr. Pauling," he agreed. "We must think of the boys first. Perhaps the old tub will stay here till we get back. There must be a holy terror of a sea outside and she'll wait for it to go down most likely."
"We couldn't take her and hold her alone," Mr. Henderson reminded him. "We must call Disbrow. Better let Bancroft go out to the schooner and tell him, Pauling. While you're writing a code message Rawlins and I will go after the ponies."
"Yes, we can do that," assented the other. "But for heaven's sake hurry. Every minute may mean life or death to the boys."
As Rawlins and Mr. Henderson hurried off to search for mounts, Mr. Pauling wrote a long cypher message, handed it to Bancroft and told him to go aboard the schooner and get it off at once.
"Take Sam along, too," he instructed him. "He and the men can attend to anything needed aboard. She's probably half full of water. And if you can see the tramp from the Vigilant keep watch on her and all who may go back or forth between her and the shore. If Disbrow replies, you'll have to use your own judgment and initiative. I've told him the facts and have instructed him to reply to you in regular Naval code which you understand. No doubt those men on the tramp also know it, but that cannot be helped. We must take some risks and I've got to depend on Disbrow showing some sense this time."
Fortunately, the Vigilant's boat had survived the hurricane, as Rawlins and his men had dragged it high and dry and had secured it strongly; but it was some time before Sam and Bancroft could locate all the members of their crew who had scattered among the stricken negroes of the village.
At last all were found, and as the boat shoved off and the men bent to their oars, Rawlins and Mr. Henderson returned from their search.
"We only found one horse so far," announced the diver. "They've all broken loose and have taken to the hills for shelter. But I've sent men to round 'em up and the padres have sent a boy over to East End to see if they can get horses there."
So, despite his impatience and his maddening anxiety, Mr. Pauling was compelled to wait. An hour slipped by and then a boat put off from the schooner. In it was Sam and he brought a note from the operator,
"Can't get a reply from Disbrow," it said. "I've sent the message broadcast so if his set is working, he'll get it. Expect his aërial may have been carried away. Will repeat message every half hour."
"I expect it's just our luck to have Disbrow fail us now!" declared Mr. Pauling bitterly. "But there's nothing more we can do."
"If he's not at the bottom of the sea or piled up on a reef or the shore somewhere, he'll get the message," declared Mr. Henderson. "If his wireless is out of order at present, he's bound to repair it soon. In fact, if his ship is injured, he'll do so all the quicker in order to summon help."
"And I don't believe the tramp will go out for a bit yet," insisted Rawlins. "They're not afraid of us and they probably feel that the destroyer won't show up as long as there's such an almighty sea outside. Even if Commander Disbrow doesn't get here in time to find her, she can't get far away and he can chase her. And seems to me, Mr. Pauling, we've been pretty lucky so far."
"Lucky!" snapped Mr. Pauling. "Lucky! With those boys off no one knows where during the hurricane! And do you call it lucky that we’re sitting here doing nothing—absolutely powerless to aid, just because we can't get horses?"
"Here, here, Pauling!" said Mr. Henderson, soothingly. "You must not assume that the boys are injured or are not safe. Of course, it's a terrible strain—this inactivity—but we must look on the brighter side and make ourselves believe they escaped as well as we did. Come, man, brace up! As Rawlins says, we've played in luck so far—and so have the boys. I feel sure all will come out right in the end."
"Yes, yes!" agreed the other. "Pardon me for speaking so impatiently, but it's killing to feel so helpless."
"Oh, that's all right, Mr. Pauling," replied the diver. "Hello, here comes a couple of ponies."
The "ponies" were sorry-looking beasts, ragged, undersized, and woefully thin and scrawny, but they were the best to be had and the half-naked negro boy who brought them informed the Americans that a third was coming "just now." The "just now" proved to be another half hour, but at last all the mounts were ready and the three men, with saddle bags stuffed with food, a first aid kit, which Bancroft had sent ashore by Sam, and other necessities, prepared to start on their search, Rawlins had had the foresight to secure machetes, for he realized that there would be fallen trees and branches to cut away and he sent Sam post haste to the schooner with orders to bring back pistols and ammunition.
"Don't expect to shoot any one," he explained, "but we can fire 'em as signals. A gun shot can be heard a long ways and if the boys are lost they can find us by the reports."
Mr. Pauling chafed at this further delay, but realizing the importance of the firearms said nothing. At last all was ready and Rawlins gave the Bahaman his final orders.
"Stay aboard the schooner, Sam," he told the negro, "and keep your eyes open. Watch the tramp and also watch the bay, and the shores. There's a chance the boys may try to walk back along the beach if the road is blocked, or they may find a boat at some fishing village and come in that. Remember you're in charge of the ship and we depend on you. So don't fail us. Use your brains and consult with Bancroft if anything comes up."
Sam grinned and replied, "Yaas, sir, Chief!" and a moment later, the three horsemen were picking their way among the wreckage and debris of the settlement towards the outlying country.
The road, little more than a bridle path at best, had been cut and washed into a series of deep holes and gulleys by the torrential rain and the horses could not travel faster than a walk. Near the little Moravian village the pathway was not blocked by fallen trees, however, mainly owing to the fact that there had been no large trees to fall, while the lighter branches and palm tops had been carried away by the flood. But as they moved farther and farther from the settlement and reached the outlying country, they were constantly compelled to take long detours, to force their unwilling mounts over prostrate tree trunks or to dismount and hew a way through branches that barred the road.
As a result, it was very slow and tedious traveling and all foresaw that it would be many hours before they reached Van Brunt's house. But the fact that they were actually doing something, that every moment brought them a trifle nearer to the boys, cheered their minds and spurred them on.
As they reached higher land, where the trail led over a hill, they found the road completely destroyed and were forced to cut a pathway through a lime orchard. At last their tired, panting horses again came out upon the roadway and the men breathed a sigh of relief, as they saw that for some distance ahead it was clear and that good time could be made.
They were now nearing Van Brunt's house and filled with hopes that they might find the boys waiting there, they hurried their stumbling ponies to the utmost. Just beyond was a turn in the road. When that was gained, they would be able to see the building they sought. Spurring his horse to a trot, Mr. Pauling hurried forward while the others rode a few paces in the rear.
He gained the turn and peered forward expectantly, hoping to see the boys and the naturalist. Then, with a gasp of astonishment, he drew his horse up short and sat gazing, benumbed and helpless, utterly crushed. Where Van Brunt's house had stood was only a pile of smoking ruins!
The others pulled up beside him.
"Great Scott!" exclaimed Rawlins. "The place has gone—struck by lightning I expect. Come on!"
"Oh, Lord!" groaned Mr. Pauling. "Perhaps they were there at the time. The boys may be dead!"
Dejected, feeling that his worst fears would be realized and yet hoping against hope, he followed the others as they urged their ponies to the ruins.
Evidently, as Rawlins had suggested, the place had been struck by lightning, for the surrounding trees were not badly injured by the wind and the remains of the house had not been scattered about as though blown down. The buildings and the little cove before it were sheltered by the high hills at the rear and at one side, and, as the diver pointed out, it was about as secure a spot as far as hurricanes were concerned as could be imagined. But this did not serve to allay Mr. Pauling's fears. In fact, it increased his forebodings if anything, for, had the wind demolished the house, the occupants would have had a chance to escape. Whereas, if struck by lightning, they would probably have been killed outright or so numbed or injured that they were helpless.
But as the three searched the ruins, prying away blocks of stone, exerting all their strength in lifting the remains of the roof and chopping through charred timbers and yet finding nothing that hinted of bodies, a hit of hope was revived.
For hours they toiled on, not even stopping to eat, until at last practically every square foot of the debris bad been gone over.
"I'll say they weren't there!" declared Rawlins, wiping the sweat from his grimy face with a blackened hand. "If they were, we would have found some trace—-a boot or bones or something. No, they either were in the bush and took shelter in some charcoal burner's shack or else left here before the place was smashed. They may even be on the way back to the village now. May be following along shore or going over some other trail. There are lots of paths through the hills and I'll bet old Van Brunt knew them. No, Mr. Pauling, you can be easy as far as that's concerned."
“I guess you're right, Rawlins," agreed Mr. Pauling, listlessly. "But they're somewhere and we must find them."
"Yes, well start into the bush, as soon as we've eaten," declared the diver. "Of course, we'll have to go blind and it'll be all chance, but we can fire pistols and yell and we may locate them."
"Eat!" exclaimed Mr. Pauling. "Do you imagine I can think of food while the boys are still missing?"
"Well, you'll never accomplish anything if you don't," the diver insisted. "You didn't eat last night and just had a sip of coffee this morning. You'll need your strength and it's not going to help the boys a bit for you to give out. Come on, take a half hour's rest and eat, Mr. Pauling. You'll feel better for it."
Mr. Henderson also added his arguments to Rawlins' plea and at last, realizing that he mast keep up his strength and that he would be compelled to "wait while the others lunched, Mr. Pauling agreed and succeeded in forcing down an apology for a meal.
As they ate, Rawlins and the others discussed the best plans for searching the hills. The diver pointed out that Van Brunt had probably gone into the bush with the boys by the nearest route, which was up the hill behind the house, so it was agreed that the start would be made there.
The pathway was still distinguishable, for being on the lee side of the slope the hurricane had swept by without doing much damage. Climbing up the hill, now and then firing their revolvers and constantly shouting, the three searchers followed the winding trail. But when at last they had reached the summit of the first ridge, they found their way completely barred. Here the terrific wind had had full sweep and the bush had been leveled as by a titanic scythe. The ridge top was as bare of trees as a wave-washed rock and the tangle of fallen trees and branches was absolutely impenetrable.
"You'd need a gang of men with axes here," announced Rawlins, as the three stood surveying the windfall before them. "We'll have to go round by a gulley. And I'll bet that's why the boys haven't come in! They're probably all right and with old Van Brunt, but are cut off by fallen trees somewhere."
"I agree with you," declared Mr. Henderson. "Now don't be discouraged, Pauling. The boys are probably safe, but have been held up or are going by a roundabout way. If this is a sample of the conditions in the bush, it might be days before they turn up. And don't forget this is not a deserted or uninhabited island. There are negroes' huts all over, villages here and there along shore and many settlements at any one of which the party could have found refuge temporarily."
"And there are heaps of old ruined mills and estates scattered about in the bush," added Rawlins. 'They may have stayed in one of those during the blow."
"Yes, I realize all that," replied Mr. Pauling, "and I appreciate the fact that you are both trying to cheer me and look on the bright side of the matter, but I have a feeling, a premonition which I cannot shake off, that the boys are injured or helpless or that something serious has happened to them."
"And I have a hunch they're all right!" declared Rawlins. "You've always backed my hunches, Mr. Pauling. Won't you just bet on this one now?"
"I'll try to," agreed Tom's father. "But let us try another way into the bush."
Swinging back down the hill, Rawlins cut and hacked a way through the bush until they came to a deep ravine with a roaring brook flowing through it. Here there was no difficulty in traveling and following up the gulley, they succeeded in gaining the summit of the ridge. Trees had fallen, but the narrow ravine was still passable, the big trunks spanning it from side to side and forming a covering which had kept out the smaller stuff. Crawling under the trees, the party followed along the irregular serrated hill top towards the higher mountain beyond.
But although they shouted and fired their pistols and toiled all the afternoon, there were no results. The sun sank in the west and discouraged and dispirited, they turned about and wearily retraced their way towards the ruins of Van Brunt's house.
"We'll have to start fresh to-morrow," declared Mr. Pauling. "Do you not think it might be a good plan to take the boat and go along shore visiting the settlements and asking about the boys?"
"Yes, and we can get the natives to hunt, too," agreed Rawlins. "It'll he a heap better than trying to get through the bush. They're just as likely to have made for one of the villages or some fisherman's hut and may be coming by boat. Or again, the boats may have been smashed and they're waiting for us. Then again, if they struck the coast beyond the bay at one of the settlements, they'd have to wait for the sea to go down before they could sail around. It's a bad coast in heavy weather, but there are lots of good safe harbors all along it, Cruz Bay and Rendezvous Bay and Privateers Bay and a lot of others. If the destroyer turns up before the boys do, we can take her and make a search of the whole coast."
"Yes, we'll do that," asserted Mr. Pauling. "We must find them or at least learn their fate."
By the time the three reached the Van Brunt place, the sun had set and it was rapidly growing dark. Realizing the difficulties in traveling over the washed-out road after nightfall, they made all haste and their horses, after an all-day feed on the grass about the ruins and knowing they were headed for home, cantered along rapidly.
Returning was far easier than the morning's trip had been for the way had been cleared and they knew the detours. They had passed the worst parts of the road when the night came on with tropic suddenness.
But there was a new moon, the stars shone brightly and the native ponies, sure-footed as cats, picked their way along without difficulty. Suddenly Rawlins' horse who was in the lead pricked up his ears and whinnied and from the blackness ahead another whinny answered.
"Some one coming!" exclaimed Rawlins. "Perhaps he has news of the boys!"
The dim outline of an approaching rider could now be seen and Rawlins hailed him. The next instant the diver almost reeled from his saddle with surprise, for out of the shadows had come the words; "Hello! Rawlins? This is Bancroft!"
A moment later, the operator had reached their sides and before a question could be asked, he handed Mr. Pauling a folded paper.
"A nigger brought it off about an hour ago," he explained. "Deaf and dumb chap and as I didn't know but what it was important, I rushed right off with it. It was sealed or I should have taken the chance and opened it."
Seizing the paper, Mr. Pauling broke the seal, spread out the sheet and while Mr. Henderson held a match, he read the few words written upon it. A puzzled look overspread his face and a muttered ejaculation escaped his lips.
"Jove, I don't understand it!" he exclaimed. "Listen, it says: 'Boys on steamer waiting for you.'"
"Hurrah!" cried Rawlins. "Then they're safe!"
"But how—what—I can't believe it. I'm afraid it's a hoax!" stammered Mr. Pauling.
"I think it's genuine and simple," declared Mr. Henderson. "No doubt the boys were picked up in a boat. They probably tried to make the schooner when the blow started and were driven off just in time to be saved by the steamer."
"Then why weren't they brought ashore or to the Vigilant at once when the hurricane was over?" inquired Mr. Pauling. "I'd like to believe it, but it sounds fishy to me. Why shouldn't there be a name signed and why should they be held on the tramp—unless as prisoners?"
"The tramp!" cried Rawlins. "It doesn't say it's the tramp. What makes you think it is?"
"Why, I thought, of course, it—Bancroft, is there another ship in the harbor?"
"No, Sir," replied the operator. "Only the same tramp, Sir."
"By glory, then 'tis the tramp!" exclaimed Rawlins. "What in blazes does it all mean?"
"Hold on, hold on!" cautioned Mr. Henderson. "It may be a ship in another bay. You said there were several. Whoever sent it probably took it for granted we knew they were there and perhaps they did not know there was a ship in Coral Harbor."
"Sure, that's a possibility," admitted Rawlins. "But why in thunder don't they say what steamer or where or anything? And say, why didn't the boys write it? I'll say there's something mysterious about it. But come on, let's hustle and get there. We'll go aboard the tramp and find out mighty quick and if this is a practical joke, the fellow that sent it'll laugh on the other side of his mouth before I'm done with him."
There was nothing to be done but follow Rawlins' suggestion. To remain discussing the note or formulating theories got them nowhere and with all possible speed they hurried on towards the settlement.
"By the way, did you get Disbrow?" Mr. Henderson inquired of Bancroft as they started forward.
"No, Sir," replied the operator. "I've sent Mr. Pauling's message every half hour from the time you left until I got the note and not even a buzz in reply. I think they must have been wrecked or driven far out to sea, Sir. But the tramp is still there. We can't see her deck or hull from the schooner, but she's got steam up. Her safety valve's blown off half a dozen times and I expect she's only waiting for the sea to go down before starting out. I listened at the boys' sets to see if any one on board was talking and once I thought I heard some foreign words but wasn't positive."
Then, once more, the conversation turned to the boys and the mysterious note, but no theory, no explanation any one could propound seemed to fit the case. Impatiently, filled with desire to find out the truth, the four men strove to urge the horses to a faster pace. But the ponies were cautious beasts and despite every effort on the part of their riders, they barely crept along, feeling each step before they took it, eyeing the muddy ruts and holes, and at times balking at the crumbling ridges of the road and insisting upon scrambling up the brush-covered banks and making detours.
But at last, one or two faint, twinkling lights showed ahead. The settlement was close at hand and the horses with glad whinnies started forward on a trot.
CHAPTER X IN THE CAVERN
THE boys' shock, when they realized that their cavern entrance was blocked by the fallen tree, left them speechless, hopeless and benumbed.
Bad as was their plight, their fright at their appalling discovery added even greater terrors to their situation. To be there alone and lost in the forest with a hurricane raging outside was enough to try the stoutest heart, but to find themselves locked in the cave without food or water and with only a few matches left was absolutely prostrating. The boys had no reason to be ashamed of the fact that they threw themselves down and sobbed aloud.
But they were no mollycoddles and presently, their overwrought nerves having been relieved by their uncontrollable outburst, their benumbed brains began to function and Tom spoke.
"There's no use in being ninnies and giving in, Frank," he declared, trying to steady his voice and speaking bravely. "We're in a mighty bad fix, of course, but while there's life there's hope you know. We can get some of those branches by reaching through the space around the tree and we can have a fire. After all this rain there must be water seeping through some crack somewhere and we'll have to find it. We won't starve to death for a day or two anyway, and by then Professor Van Brunt will surely be back. Besides, I know Dad and the others will start out to search for us and if the Professor isn't killed or lost, he'll tell them about the cave. We've got to buck up and show our grit."
"Yes, that's so," agreed Frank, cheered somewhat by the other's words. "And say, there may be another entrance to the cave! If we can make some sort of a torch we might find another way out."
"That's the talk!" declared Tom. "Come on, let's see if we can get some branches and make a fire, first thing."
By reaching through the narrow apertures about the fallen tree, the boys managed to drag in some of the splintered and broken branches.
"Gosh, what makes them so sticky?" exclaimed Tom, rubbing his hands together. "My fingers and hands are covered with gum or something."
"So are mine," replied Frank. "I guess it's the juice of the tree or the sap. Say, don't it have a funny smell?"
"Kind of nice, I think," said Tom sniffing at his hands. "But if the wood will only burn—that's the important thing. I wonder if green branches will light."
"We'll soon find out," declared Frank. "We've got enough to last some time if they do burn. Let's start a fire with the leaves there are left."
Dragging the broken limbs of the tree across the cave, they found the remains of their fire by the few sparks glimmering among the ashes. Piling on more leaves and twigs, they blew it into a blaze and carefully laid one or two of the smaller branches across the fire. Instantly, with a sharp crackle, the green wood burst into bright yellow flames sending up a column of dense black smoke.
"Hurrah!" cried Tom, delightedly. "Don't it burn! Gee, it's just as if it were soaked in kerosene!"
"And just smell it!" exclaimed Frank. "It's like those Japanese incense sticks we have at home. Say, I know what 'tis—it's that gum!"
"You're right!" agreed the other. "See—look there, where it's oozing out and dripping down. Isn't it a jolly old blaze, though?"
Although the boys did not know it at the time, chance or fate or a kind Providence had seen fit to block their cave with a "gomier" or gum Ellemi tree—the tree whose gum is used as the basis of incense in churches and which will blaze even when dripping with water. And just as primitive man, countless ages ago, saw the possibilities in the resinous, inflamable wood, so now, Tom's brain suddenly grasped the fact that nature had given them a material which was adapted to other purposes than building fires.
"Jiminy crickets, Frank!" he cried, leaping up in his excitement. "We're in luck! We can make torches out of that wood! Do you see how slowly the gum burns and yet what a bright light it makes? We can explore the whole cave now! Hurrah!"
There is nothing so depressing as darkness and nothing more cheering than light and warmth, when in such a predicament as were the two boys. Realizing that they could now he assured of both warmth and light as long as the gum tree branches were available, the two danced and yelled about the fire like Indians, quite forgetting for the moment that they were still prisoners, that they had no food and might not find water and that even if their slender hope of finding another entrance to the cave should be fulfilled they were still lost in a forest devastated by a hurricane.
"Well, let's get busy and start," said Tom, when at last their impromptu celebration was over. "We'll leave the fire going well so we can find our way back if we have to and we'll follow along the wall so we can't get lost. Come on, pick up a couple of branches and light one and we'll start."
Carrying spare sticks and holding the spluttering, flaming branches aloft, the two boys picked their way between the stalagmites over the cavern floor. By the gleam of their torches, they could now see the lofty arched roof with its glistening crystalline stalactites and in several places the walls were damp and glistening with moisture.
"We'll find water yet," declared Tom, confidentially. "If it's seeping in here, there must be places where it just runs in and this floor is solid rock and the water can't get away. Oh, Gosh!"
As Tom had spoken, he had turned towards Frank and the next instant had plunged half way to his knees into icy cold water.
"Well, you found it!" laughed Frank, as his chum leaped back to dry rock. "We won't die of thirst anyway."
Kneeling, the boys drank long and deep of the clear cool water and, with the terror of thirst no longer haunting them, continued on their way. Presently, the cavern broadened into a huge chamber in the bowels of the earth and even the brilliant glare of their torches failed to reveal the roof hidden in the dense black shadows far above their heads.
"My, this is spooky!" exclaimed Frank, as the two boys glanced rather nervously about. "Professor Van Brunt said we might find dragons or robbers in here and it's mysterious enough for either. Say, wha-what's that?"
With wide, frightened eyes, the boys stopped in their tracks listening with bated breaths to a soft, whirring, fluttering sound accompanied by peculiar low whisperings like persons talking under their breath.
"Gosh, I don't know!" murmured Tom in a scared whisper. "Maybe something or somebody does live here. Oh! Look out! There 'tis!"
Tom's voice ended in a shriek and without knowing why, Frank screamed in unison with him. Both stood rooted to the spot and gazing horror-stricken at an immense, shapeless, black object that was slowly and stealthily moving across the opposite wall.
For an instant, their hair seemed literally to stand on end. What was this awful thing? Was it some misshapen, terrible denizen of the cave? What could they do?
All the childhood stories of dragons and other monsters flashed through the boys' brains. They remembered dimly a thrilling yarn of a man who had found a still living Pteryodactyl in a cavern and had been attacked by it. Did such things actually exist and were they about to fall victims to some prehistoric beast? Then, so suddenly that Frank screamed again, Tom's hysterical laughter echoed through the cavern. "It's only a bat!" he cried. "We are scare cats!
Look there, Frank. See, he's crawling up that stalactite between our torches and the wall and that monster is only his shadow!"
The reaction, the sudden relief, was so great that at Tom's discovery both boys felt weak and their knees trembled and they had a queer sinking sensation in the pits of their stomachs.
"Whew, I had an awful scare!" stammered Frank at last. "But it did look terrible, didn't it?"
"You bet it did!" agreed Tom heartily. "If I hadn't seen that bat I'd have turned and run and I'd always have thought there was a monster in here."
"Well, it'll teach us a lesson I guess," remarked Frank. "We’ve got to learn to find out what things are before we get scared. I guess imagination's the biggest bugaboo there is."
"That's what Mr. Rawlins says," replied Tom as the two again walked forwards. "He says if a diver has imagination he should never go down under the sea. Do you remember the story he told about the fellow going into that sunken ship and seeing the dead body floating in the saloon and going stark crazy because he thought it was after him?"
"Ugh, yes! But don't talk of creepy things here!" said Frank. "It's bad enough as it is."
"Well, it might be worse," declared Tom. "We might have found the place full of holes and cracks and underground lakes or rivers. Hello, here's another passage!"
For a time the boys hesitated, not knowing which turn to take, for both the galleries leading from the central chamber were of equal size and either might lead them to the outer air.
"I read somewhere that there's always a draught when a cave leads to an opening," said Tom after discussing which way to go for some time. "Let's hold the torches before the openings and then follow the one that has a draught."
This seemed a good plan and the boys tried first one and then the other.
"Don't see much difference," announced Frank. "Let's take the right hand one. If it doesn't get us anywhere, we can come back and try the other."
As there appeared to be no other course, the two entered the right hand opening. It was high but narrow and several times as they passed along, they saw smaller tunnels or apertures piercing the walls. But none showed evidences of a draught and the two boys continued to follow the main gallery.
"Gee, we must have walked miles!" declared Frank at last. "If we ever get out this way, we'll be way over the other side of the island."
"Well, it doesn't make much difference where we come out as long as we come out somewhere," said Tom sagely. "It'll be on St. John and there must be people."
"Yes, but if our folks go to the cave and don't find us they won't know what to make of it and may never find us."
"Nonsense!" replied Tom. "They'll see that tree and they'll go in and find the fire and they'll know we're here somewhere. Professor Van Brunt must know about the cave and they'll follow us. Besides, it must be night or near it, by now and they can't come until daylight and we can go back and wait a while if we find we can't get out this way."
For a few moments more, the boys walked in silence. Then Tom noticed the gallery was sloping away before them.
"Hello, we're going down hill!" he exclaimed. "Say, perhaps this comes out down near the coast and we won't have to tramp through the bush and over the hills."
"It may come out under water," suggested Frank, who was beginning to lose confidence and was very tired. "Lots of caves do, you know."
"Then we'll be sorry we didn't bring diving suits along!" laughed Tom cheerfully.
For some distance the boys picked their way along, for here the cavern floor was littered with masses of rock and fallen stalactites and in places descended in irregular stairlike ledges and the limestone beneath the boys' feet was wet and slippery.
Presently Tom halted. "Don't you feel a difference in the air?" he asked.
"Seems to me I do," replied Frank after a moment's consideration. "It doesn't smell so damp and musty and it's warmer.”
"Hurrah, then we're near another opening!" declared Tom, jubilantly.
"Maybe it's just because we're lower down," suggested Frank. But a few minutes later, Tom's highest hopes seemed about to be fulfilled when, in turning a sharp bend in the tunnel, he saw a glimmer of faint light far ahead.
"There 'tis!" he almost screamed. "There is an opening. See, there's light!"
So elated at their discovery that they forgot all else, the two boys fairly raced towards the distant light, stumbling over rocks, slipping and sliding, but ever with the light growing brighter and brighter. Had they been less jubilant or had their minds been less occupied with the fact that there was another entrance to the tunnel, they might have been puzzled at not seeing any well-defined outline of rock or any distinct light space which might indicate an exit to the cavern. Instead, there was a faint luminous glow on the walls and roofs, a mere glimmer, but plainly visible by contrast to the inky blackness of the caves through which the boys had been wandering for so long.
On they dashed and then, suddenly, Tom sprang back, slipped and fell and Frank, tripping over him, also came to an abrupt stop. And not an instant too soon. Before them the gallery ended in a sheer drop of twenty feet or more and at the foot of the cliff stretched a dark green sheet of water. Shaken, breathless, terrified by their narrow escape from plunging headlong into the subterranean lake, the boys sat panting and trembling.
"Gosh, that was a close shave!" exclaimed Tom at last. "Lucky I saw it just in time! Ugh! Isn't it a shivery looking pool, though?"
Very cautiously and slowly, the two boys drew themselves to the verge of the cliff and peered over. The water, calm as oil, moved slightly up and down as though breathing, and it had a strange, bottomless, uncanny appearance that was enough to give any one the shivers as Tom had said. There was something threatening and sinister about it, as though it held some secret, some mystery, in its green depths. At the farther side a pale greenish blue area showed and the boys realized that there was the submerged opening of the cavern fathoms beneath the surface of the sea. In this lighter area, the black outlines of rocks and corals could be faintly seen and the light, reflected upward through the opening, filled the cavern with a sickly greenish illumination.
"That's where the light comes from!" exclaimed Tom. "Say, it's not night yet. Gosh! I thought we'd been walking for hours. And, Frank! The storm must be over. If it were dark outside, all that light couldn't get in. And if the hurricane were still blowing, the water in here would be all waves."
"Didn't I say it might end under the sea," said Frank pessimistically. "Now we can't get out either way."
"Well, there may be still another entrance up that other gallery," suggested Tom hopefully. "We can go back and see."
"I'm too tired to move," declared Frank. "I'd just as lief wait here to starve to death as anywhere else."
"Oh, nonsense!" scoffed Tom. "You're just disappointed. We'll rest here a moment and then go back. We can walk slowly. We've plenty of torches left—and we can rest whenever we want. Why, maybe Dad and the others are back there looking for us now. I'll bet they started out just as soon as the blow stopped. Come on, Frank, don't be silly."
The boys were still seated close to the edge of the cliff and as Tom spoke, Frank glanced listlessly towards the water. The next instant, he uttered a piercing, frightened scream, his eyes opened wide with terror and with shaking, nerveless hand, he pointed at the pool.
"Look!" he stammered, "Wha-what's that? Oh! oh! Tom! Tom!"
With a horrified, blood curdling yell, he leaped to his feet and dashed madly up the dark passage with Tom at his heels.
Tom's one glance had been enough. Up through the translucent water of the cavern pool, he had seen an enormous, dark form—some huge sea monster, rising slowly from its lair in the awesome depths towards the surface. What it was he did not know— did not care. That it was there was enough. No wonder the underground lake had appeared uncanny and gruesome with such a denizen. His one thought, his one desire was to put as much distance as possible between himself and that sinister pool before the vast creature reached the surface, and, terrified half out of his senses, he raced after Frank. But there is a limit to tired muscles and overtaxed lungs and even deathly fear could not sustain that headlong flight for long when the way was up hill and strewn, with rocks and bowlders. Presently, Frank slowed down, Tom reached his side and, too winded to speak, they toiled on at a walk.
Fortunately, Frank had still grasped his torch and Tom had an extra stick in his hand, so that the two were not in darkness, for had they been, their overwrought brains might actually have given way under this newest strain and terror.
But gradually, as no sound came from the rear the boys began to think calmly, they realized that they were in no danger from the beast, whatever it was; that the very fact the thing had risen from under water proved he could not follow through the cavern and then, as another thought came to Tom he burst out laughing.
"We are boobs!" he cried and his merriment broke the spell. "Even if that beast could move on land, he couldn't ever get through this narrow tunnel! And I don't believe he was anything worse than a whale, anyway."
"Whale nothing!" retorted Frank. "He was bigger than the biggest whale that ever lived and he had enormous eyes and spines or horns or something on his head or back. I'll bet it was one of those old fossil animals. We may have been silly to have been scared at a bat's shadow but that wasn't any shadow, it was real! Gee! I wonder if Professor Van Brunt knew there really was a dragon in here."
"Oh, quit being such a kid!" commanded Tom irritably, and glancing furtively behind him as he spoke. "There aren't such things as dragons and you just imagined you saw horns and big eyes. I didn't see any."
"I did so!" stoutly maintained Frank. "I saw him first and looked longest. You just yelled and ran as soon as you got a glimpse of him. And you know I don't mean real dragons, but some sort of beast. I forget what you call them—like those they have in the American museum. They lived under water and had big spines on their backs."
"Well, have it your own way." replied Tom. "I still think it was a whale, though."
Intent on seeking a way out and more than ever anxious to escape from the cave since their last terrifying adventure, the boys turned up the left hand gallery and kept doggedly on. But all to no purpose. They had walked for nearly an hour and were about discouraged when they suddenly came out into a huge chamber. Holding their torches high, they peered about and Frank uttered a sharp ejaculation of surprise.
"Gee, we're right back in the big cave!" he cried. "Look, there's the pool of water you stepped in and there's one of the burnt out torches we dropped!"
Incredulously, Tom stared about, but it was perfectly true. The gallery had led around in a circle and the boys had returned to the main cave. Their long and weary tramp had been for nothing and tired, discouraged and utterly miserable, they slowly stumbled towards the blocked opening.
Their fire was still burning feebly and piling on a few more sticks, the two exhausted, dispirited and hopeless boys threw themselves on the hard rock beside it.
Outside, the storm still raged, though the wind had fallen to a mere gale and the rain no longer descended in torrents, while the occasional lightning flashes were faint and the rumble of thunder that followed sounded far away. Also, to the boys' surprise, it was still daylight, although evidently nearly sunset, for the light visible through the tiny openings about the fallen tree was faint and had the peculiar quality of twilight.
"Gosh, I wish I'd brought my watch," muttered Tom, after a few minutes of silence. "We haven't any idea what time it is."
"I'll bet we've walked all night and it's morning now," declared Frank. "I'm dead tired out and sleepy, and starving."
"Well, we can sleep even if we can't eat," replied Tom. "I don't feel a bit like it, but maybe we'll feel better if we can sleep some."
For a long time slumber refused to come to the relief of their worn bodies and brains, but nature is merciful and at last the two boys were breathing regularly and for the time all their troubles were at an end.
CHAPTER XI BETRAYED
TOM was the first to awake and for an instant he was at a loss to know where he was. The flickering light upon the rocks seemed strange and out of place. He was cramped and lame and then, like a flash, it all came back to him. With the realization, he knew the fire must need replenishing and turning over, he sat up. Instantly, the blood seemed to cease flowing through his veins, his senses reeled; he was frozen with fear.
Seated beside the fire, a revolver in his hand, was a man!
Terrified, dumbfounded, speechless with fear as Tom was, yet, for a fleeting second he felt he must be dreaming, that it was all part of some awful nightmare. It was too incredible, too impossible to be real, for the figure regarding him with a self-satisfied, grim smile was none other than the red-bearded man the boys had seen at Cana Honda!
At sight of Tom's fear-wide eyes, his gaping mouth and his terrified face, the ruffian burst into a loud roar of laughter. The sound, echoing through the cave aroused Frank, and as he too turned and saw the man he shrieked aloud.
"Go on, yell all ya vanta!" jeered the red-bearded giant. "Lotta good it do ya!"
Then, rising, he strode toward the boys, jerked them to their feet with a huge hand on the collar of each and giving them a rough shove that nearly flung them from their feet, he ordered them to, "March!"
There was nothing to do but obey, for the man was armed and there was no escape from the cavern. Trembling with fear, shaking with thoughts of what might be in store for them, the two boys stumbled down the cavern while behind them strode their captor carrying a flaming torch.
Each time they tripped or hesitated, a rough curse or a cuff urged them on. Tired and faint with hunger and deadly fear as they were, yet the dread of the red-bearded villain in their rear kept them moving.
Over the same route the boys had already followed they went, turning to the right at the two openings of the tunnels. To the boys' terror of the man and their fate was added the fear of what lay ahead—the mysterious, horrible sea-monster they had seen in that dark subterranean pool. But they could not turn back, they could only go on.
Perhaps, Tom thought, their captor intended to cast them into the pool to be seized by that unknown, unspeakable inhabitant of the depths and a cold sweat broke out upon him at the very thought. Why, he wondered, could he not faint, why could he not lose consciousness and end this torture? But though his head was reeling, though the rocks about and even Frank's form seemed indistinct, misty and far away, yet his mind was clear. In his thoughts he suffered a thousand tortures, a score of awful deaths, as with Frank groaning and gasping by his side, he struggled through the cave.
Now the way sloped steeply down; the boys knew they were approaching the pool; and a moment later they saw the light ahead. But even in their terrified, half-crazed state, they noticed that it was not the faint, dim, greenish glow they had seen before. No, now the cave beyond them was brilliantly illuminated with a clear white light seeming to come from the hidden pool below the cliff and vaguely they wondered if they had slept all night, if day had dawned, and if it was sunlight streaming up through the water.
A moment more and they would he at the verge of the cliff. Their hearts and temples seemed about to burst; they shook and their teeth chattered, as they felt convinced that the fiend behind them intended to force them over the edge into the lair of the huge creature below. Now they could see the farther edge of the water and from the boys' parched dry lips burst a cry of mingled surprise, terror and relief.
Resting upon the dark water, black, and sinister, was a small submarine! And at sight of her the boys instantly realized that this was the sea monster they had seen, that they had glimpsed the subsea craft rising from the depths and that, instead of being cast into the pool to be torn to bits as they had thought, they were being taken as prisoners upon the "reds' " submarine.
Despite their terror of the men, despite the fact that their fate might be death or worse, so great was the relief at finding they were not doomed to being thrown in the pool and that only in their imaginations did the monster exist, that they both broke into hysterical laughter.
But their captor gave them scant time to think. The conning tower of the undersea boat was but a few feet below the edge of the cliff. The hatchway was open and from it poured the brilliant rays of an electric light and a small iron ladder led down to it from the floor of the cave. Obeying a curse and a gruff order, the boys backed warily down the ladder and entered the hatch.
As they reached the steel floor of the interior of the boat they glanced nervously about, expecting to see the other "reds" gathered there ready to wreak vengeance.
Then once more the boys' senses seemed leaving them and their throats seemed gripped with clutching stifling hands, for seated upon a cushioned transom and puffing solemnly at a huge pipe was Van Brunt! As the boys gazed at him, transfixed and utterly at a loss, the naturalist nodded his huge head.
"Ach, ya!" he rumbled. "It is I, Professor Peter Van Brunt, you see, my young friends. Ya, no ghost it is. Did I not in the cave tell you maybe lived a dragon or a pirate? Ya, both have you found. Ach, ya, and the dragon has swallowed you and the pirates they you prisoners make. Ya, it is most exciting, no!"
"Oh!" screamed Tom, finding his voice at last.
"Oh, Professor! What does it mean? Is it a joke and have you come to save us?" The Dutchman shook with silent laughter. "Ach, ya, a fine joke it is!" he exclaimed. "Ya, and from dying of starvation I save you, ya. And when you I leave and you find yourself alone in the cave you a joke think it is?"
"Then, then, you left us on purpose!" stammered Tom, the truth beginning to dawn on his mind and anger and resentment driving some of his terror from him. "And you are a friend of these rascals. You were just lying and bluffing!"
Van Brunt's face reddened and his eyes half closed. "Ya, ya, my friend," he replied in the same even tones. "So smart your brain is, ya! You think I get lost in the woods, eh? And you think I take your things a joke to make, no? Ach, it is to laugh! Ya, you remember the mantis, no? How innocent he looks and how to think he was leaves you would and you find he was camouflaged and under the leaves a a long neck and sharp jaws had? Ya, and how in the bottle I place him and say, so the law place the bad man when he not too smart? Ya, my friends, but this time the mantis is too smart for the law! Instead of the man of law in the bottle placing the mantis, the mantis in the bottle places the man, ya. Ach, my young friends, the mantis in his sharp jaws has you got and the mantis never lets go."
"You fiend!" exploded Tom, all his fears having flown from him as if by magic. "You black-hearted, miserable Judas! You coward—you low-down coward! Gosh, even your own men should be ashamed of you! You'd never—"
At last the phlegmatic Van Brunt's thick skin had been pierced and with unexpected agility, he leaped up, glowering over the boys and the two lads shrunk back expecting a blow or worse.
But the next instant, he had controlled his temper and with a muttered curse in Dutch, he seized the boys by their collars and dragging them from the room, threw them roughly into a tiny cupboardlike cell and banged the steel door shut.
"Oh, gee, Tom, now you've made it worse than ever!" bemoaned Frank. "You've made him mad and he'll do terrible things to us."
"For the love of Mike stop sniveling!" ordered Tom, impatiently. "Could you stand there and see that big toad of a Dutchman boasting of how he'd fooled us and Dad and the rest and not say anything?"
"I'm not sniveling, Tom, and you know it!" protested Frank hotly. "I felt as angry as you did and I wanted to jump at him and pound his big, fat, pink face, but what's the use? If we'd kept quiet and not said anything, he might have just taken us off somewhere and turned us loose. Now I'll bet they'll kill us."
"I don't care if they do!" insisted Tom, defiantly. "I'd rather be killed knowing I'd told him what I thought of him than to grovel before him. Besides, I don't believe they'll hurt us—at least, not much. They're too cowardly. They'll probably hold us for a ransom or something."
"And to think he was planning it all along!" groaned Frank. "And deserted us and advised us going into the cave. He knew these men would be there and would capture us."
"Yes, I guess he did," agreed Tom, "but be didn't know the hurricane was coming and we couldn't get out. I don't know how much was plan or how much was just luck. Anyway, I wish they'd give us something to eat, I’m half starved. Hello, we're moving!"
The whir of machinery and the sounds transmitted through the steel hull told the boys, who were familiar with submarines, that the vessel was submerging and a few moments later they knew that she was traveling under water.
How far they went or how long they were moving, the boys could not tell; but it seemed hours, and they were sure they were being carried to some far distant point, when the sounds of the motors ceased. Then they heard the muffled rumble of the pumps and knew the craft was rising to the surface. Presently, there was a slight scraping on the outside of the hull, a little jar, and all sounds ceased.
There was a step outside the door, the sound of bolts being shot back, the steel portal swung open, and two armed men were revealed. Not knowing what to expect, the boys cowered back; but before they could cry out the men had stepped into the room. The boys were quickly seized and bound, their eyes were blindfolded, and helpless, they were dragged forth and marched along a steel-floored corridor and up a ladder.
Then they felt the bonds cut from their wrists, the rags about their eyes were removed and as a door shut they found themselves in a small room. On one side was the steel door which had just been closed, on the other a smaller door with a tiny porthole near its top, and along one side were two bunks. There was a wash basin, chairs and a small table in the place and at their first glance, the boys realized that they were in a cabin on a ship. But what ship? Where had the submarine carried them? Where were they to be taken?
"Gosh, I'd like to know where we are!" exclaimed Tom. "I'm going to look out of that port."
Climbing on a chair, Tom peered out of the port and was more puzzled than ever. He tried looking up, but could see nothing but solid black without sign of stars or moon. He peered down and the same black void was all that met his gaze, while directly in front he saw, or thought he saw, a faint whitish blur like the reflection of a light on a ship's sides.
"I guess that's it," he declared as he jumped off the chair. "The port opens on an alleyway or something. Hello, here comes some one!"
As he spoke, the door opposite the port swung open and a pasty-faced, sallow individual entered, bearing two cups of coffee and a tray of food.
"Thanks awfully!" cried Tom, as he eagerly seized the coffee. "We were just about starved!"
A surly grunt was the reply, and closing the door and bolting it the man disappeared.
At any other time the boys would undoubtedly have turned up their noses at the coarse greasy food, the soggy meat, the heavy potatoes and dumplings and the muddy coffee, but they were too hungry to be particular and gulped down the meal ravenously.
Feeling much better and far more cheerful, they threw themselves on the bunks to rest and prepared to take whatever might be in store as it came.
Presently, Frank sat up and nudged his companion. "Listen, Tom!" he exclaimed. "Do you hear people talking?"
Breathlessly, the two listened and sure enough, from no great distance, came the sound of voices.
"It's from the port!" whispered Tom. "They're outside.
Slipping off his shoes, Tom again placed a chair under the port and, climbing noiselessly upon it, listened at the opening. He was right, the voices were coming through the port and now, with his ear at the opening, he could hear them plainly. Beckoning to Frank, who climbed up beside him, Tom strained every sense in an effort to distinguish what was being said.
For a time, the words were unintelligible, for they were in the rough gutturals the boys had so often heard. The two were about to give up in despair when they were electrified by hearing the well-known sounds of Van Brunt's voice speaking in English.
"Ya, a fine scheme!" came the words. "But the warship you forget, my friend. They will not aboard come alone, no. They will for the destroyer wait and then where will be us? And even, moreover, did we away get, the destroyer will us chase, ya!"
"Chase your grandmother!" replied a rough voice. "Say, you fellows make me tired. Hanged if I see how you ever got on by yourselves without a Yank to use brains. Never seen a Square Head yet that had 'em. Just forget about that 'ere destroyer. She's smashed half to pieces over to St. Kitts. Why, that fool operator on the schooner's been trying to get 'em all day and nary a chirp from her. She might just as well be over to Brooklyn for all the good she'll do 'em. And chase us! Say, I'd just like to see that lame duck try to. They think this old hooker can make 'bout eight knots if she hustles. They'll get the jolt of their lives when she up and streaks off her twenty. Them with their bust up tin teakettle that can't lug off more'n thirty at her best. Why, holy smoke, they couldn't touch eighteen with the damage they've got, even if they get away from St. Kitts for a week!
"Now, you leave this game to me, old sport. I'm the chief for the present, you savvy. I'll write the note and send it ashore by Pete and you get the men hidden and all ready. Be sure steam's up and that'll make 'em think there's no time to lose and we can dust out o' here the minute they're under hatches. You keep your eyes on the kids. Don't let another man near 'em or there'll be some blasted flunk and don't let no one touch that radio. If the sub calls let 'em call. They know blamed well we won't answer and their orders is to wait. Smart gang they are, I don't think! Fell for you easy as pie! Too bad Fritz had to cash in, though. His own blessed fault. Tryin' to show off's what done it. If he'd ha' plugged him right off, 'stead o' chinnin', he'd ha' been healthy yet. Chief'll be hotter'n blazes when he hears of it, but he'll forget it when we hand over this bunch. Now clear out and let me write this 'ere liter'y masterpiece."
"Gosh!" whispered Tom, as the two boys silently descended from the chair and with fast-beating hearts gazed at each other. "Gosh! They're planning something about our folks, I know! And the fellow killed was Fritz and the chief's alive and the destroyer's wrecked! Jiminy, I'd give anything if we could only tell Dad!"
"And get out of here!" added Frank, "Isn't that Van Brunt the most awful underhanded, sneaking rascal though!"
"It's awful this knowing things are going on and you can't do a thing to help!" declared Tom.
Then the boys were compelled to cease as the man returned for the dishes, but as soon as they were alone, they commenced talking and discussing the import of the ominous words they had overheard. But aside from the most salient features of the rascals' plans, they could make nothing of them and gradually, though they tried to fight it off, their eyes closed, they yawned and presently both were dozing.
"Say, this won't do!" exclaimed Tom, suddenly sitting up. "We mustn't go to sleep. Something may happen or we may hear something. We've just got to stay awake."
"Oh, let me sleep," begged Frank. "What if we do hear things, we can't do anything to help."
"How do you know?" demanded Tom. "Something may turn up. We're not dead yet and I'll bet that, back in the cave, you'd have bet we wouldn't be alive an hour after that red-bearded fellow caught us. Come on, get up!"
"Gee, but I am tired and sleepy," yawned Frank, reluctantly sitting up.
"Listen!" Tom exclaimed. "What's that?'
From the direction of the port had come a faint scratching noise and a sound that seemed like a low whistle.
"Gee, I don't know!" murmured Frank. "Let's see!"
Very cautiously approaching the port, they climbed up on the chair and almost tumbled backward at what they heard.
"Tha' you, Chief?" came a cautious whisper. "Don't 'fraid, Sam here, Chief!"
"Sam!" exclaimed Tom under his breath and hardly able to believe his ears.
Then, placing his mouth at the opening, he whispered back. "We're here, Sam. Locked in—prisoners! Where are you? Can you get help?"
Again from the blackness, came the soft whisper of the Bahaman. "Ahm down here, Chief, jus' under tha' port. Arl yo' folks gone a s'archin' in tha' bush fo' yo'. Ah reckon Ah can help yo' jus' tha' same. No time to 'splain, Chief. Jus' hoi' fas' an' Ah'Il be right back. Is tha' door locked inside, Chief?"
"No!" replied Tom, hastily examining the door. "There's no bolt or lock on it in here?"
"Then it arl right!" Sam's whisper assured them. "Ah'm a-goin'!"
The next second the boys heard a faint far away splash and everything was silent. What did it mean? How had Sam found them? Where had he gone? Could he save them?
"I told you something would turn up!" declared Tom, triumphantly.
"Well, don't crow," Frank advised him. "We're not out of here, yet!"
"Wait and see!" flashed back Tom. "I'll bet on Sam!"
CHAPTER XII SAM MAKES A DISCOVERY
FOR several hours after Mr. Pauling, Mr. Henderson and Rawlins started on their search for the missing boys, those upon the schooner were very busy.
Although the vessel had suffered but little from the winds, yet the strain on her cables, the buffeting from the gale and the whipping of her masts had started some of her old seams. Even through the hatches and companionways, the sluicing cataracts of rain had penetrated.
As a result, her hold was deep with water and the men, with Sam in the lead, labored incessantly at the pumps while Bancroft at his radio instruments, alternately sent out Mr. Pauling's message to the destroyer and listened for a response.
Even when the water had at last been pumped out, there was rigging to be overhauled, shrouds to be bowsed taut and sails to be spread and dried. It was late in the afternoon before all was accomplished and the schooner was again shipshape and ready for use.
Sam, as directed by Rawlins, had kept a sharp watch upon the harbor and shores in the hopes that the boys might either follow the coast or approach the vessel by boat, but both shores and bay seemed utterly deserted. Once or twice a floating log or palm top had attracted the Bahaman's attention and caused him to think for a moment that a boat was in sight; but each time he had turned away disappointed when it had proved to be merely wreckage from the hurricane.
The day passed, the sails, now dry, were lowered and furled and the sun dropped in fiery splendor below the western rim of the sea. Yet there was no sign of the boys or of the searchers and no word had come in from Commander Disbrow.
As the wind fell to a mere breath and the black tropic night settled over the island and the pitifully crushed settlement, Sam approached the operator.
"Ah t'rnk Ah'Il take tha' boat an' row 'roun' sho', Sir," he announced. "Maybe tha' young gentlemen may be a wanderin' 'long an' Ah can fin' they."
"All right, Sam," assented Bancroft. “That's a good idea. And say, before you come back just have a look at that tramp. We can't see her decks or hull from here and perhaps you can get close enough to see if anything's going on aboard her. She's had steam up all day and I'd like to know if she's getting ready to sneak out to-night. If they should see you, they'd not suspect anything. In fact, you might even go aboard without any danger. You could tell 'em you were from shore and beg food or something."
"Yaas, Sir," Sam grinned. "Ah'll be please' to do tha', Chief."
Lowering the little skiff, for he planned to go by himself, Sam stepped in, pushed off from the schooner and in a moment had been swallowed up in the night.
Pulling in close to shore, the Bahaman rowed slowly along, stopping now and then to listen or to call and following the irregular coast line along the bay. For several miles he continued and then, deciding that the missing boys were not walking along the shore, he turned and pulled towards the tramp.
Although the night was dark, the sky was brilliant with stars and a new moon rode low in the west.
Sam knew that from the height of the steamer's decks the surface of the water would be fairly light and that a boat would be clearly visible upon it for some distance. Not wishing to be seen if it could be avoided, he headed for a low point near the ship which had been anchored within a few cables lengths of the shore in the protected and secure inner harbor known as Hurricane Hole. Then, keeping in the shadows, Sam rowed silently along until he could make out the huge black bulk of the tramp looming against the sky.
The steamer seemed strangely dark, no lights showed at her ports and there was not even a riding light in her rigging. Had she been absolutely deserted, she could have not been more silent and as Sam approached closer and closer he began to think that she had been abandoned. But the faint hiss of escaping steam from her safety valve exhaust proved that she had steam up and the Bahaman's keen ears caught sounds of subdued human voices and the clank of some object striking metal.
Intent on hearing or seeing everything possible, Sam shipped his oars and stood up. Suddenly, just ahead there was a peculiar rushing, gurgling sound.
He caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a huge comber sweeping towards him and before he could recover from his surprise or grasp his oars, his tiny craft was heaved high. It careened perilously and Sam, losing his balance, plunged overboard.
Instinctively, Sam dove and dove deep, swimming straight down, down until his lungs seemed bursting and then, turning, he shot to the surface like a cork. Shaking his woolly head and blinking his water-filled eyes, he took deep breaths, treading water and looking about for his boat and for the reason for his unexpected plunge. But he could see nothing. He seemed to he shut in by impenetrable blackness on every side. Not a star was to be seen, there was no sign of a moon and for a moment, the negro's superstitious fears swept over him. Then his eyes glimpsed a faint light far above his head, a thin radiance, and instantly he realized that he was close to the tramp's side, that the light above was that from a porthole and that the sky and the stars were shut off by the overhang of the ship's sides.
With relieved mind, he silently struck out with the sweeping powerful side stroke of the West Indian and the next moment bumped head first into some solid object. Stifling an exclamation of surprise and feeling that he had undoubtedly banged into one of the ship's boats, he cautiously felt of the object and a gasp of wonder escaped from his lips. It was no boat—his hand was resting upon metal, his fingers felt a narrow edge or shelf, there were rounded protuberances plain to his touch. There could be no doubt of it—he was resting against the steel plates of a ship's sides.
What did it mean? There, above him, and now plainly visible from his new angle was a porthole with dim light streaming from it. Were there two ships moored side by side? He felt sure that was impossible, but he saw no other way to account for it. Keeping close to the iron plates, he swam slowly and easily along, expecting each moment to reach the end of the ship and open water. And then, once more, he bumped against solid steel. Now half-instinctively, he turned, following the metal wall and continued to swim, but only again to bump into the same rivetted plates. It was utterly incredible, beyond all his reasoning powers, but true. He was shut in, confined, surrounded on all sides by solid steel walls and not a star showed overhead. How had it happened? Where was he? His teeth chattered with superstitious, unreasoning fear, his eyes rolled wildly and then his brain cleared. Whatever the place was, he had come there by diving and undoubtedly by diving, he could escape. Gathering himself together, taking long, deep breaths, he was on the point of plunging down to escape if possible from this weird, black unnatural prison.
The next moment all such thoughts, all fears, were instantly forgotten, for from above, came the sounds of voices. Yes, there could be no doubt, some one was speaking and the words, indistinct and unintelligible, were in English and were coming from the porthole.
Here was his chance, if he could only get near enough to that port to hear the conversation there was much he might learn. Many a time had Sam, when a youngster, climbed up the sheer sides of a ship, clinging with prehensible toes and fingers to the slight projections of plates and rivets, but he doubted if he could do it now. But there was nothing like trying, and noiselessly he swam away from the steel wall to which he had been clinging.
A moment later his fingers touched another steel plate and seeking for a grip, he worked himself along until directly beneath the light. Then, to his utter amazement and delight, his hands felt a ladder, a narrow stairway of steel rungs let into a depression in the metal plates and drawing himself from the water, he crawled silently up. It was not far, scarcely a dozen feet, before he found himself on a narrow ledge or deck of steel with the porthole a foot above his head.
As he drew himself onto the strip of deck and the voices from within came distinctly to his ears, the Bahaman almost toppled from his narrow foothold. The voices were those of Tom and Frank!
Had he been less surprised, it is probable that Sam would have spoken their names, would have called out. But he was so astounded, so stunned at this seemingly impossible discovery that for an instant he was actually speechless. The brief respite was sufficient to enable him to collect his wits. He did not know, could not guess how the two boys, who were supposed to be lost in the bush, came to be upon the tramp. But he realized that no matter how or why it had come about, that they were in peril, that they would not be upon the tramp of their own free will and that to speak aloud or to make his presence known suddenly, might lead to his discovery and might jeopardize the boys still more.
So, listening a moment to be sure no one else was with them, the Bahaman tapped very gently on the steel and to his joy, he heard Tom's: "Listen! What's that?"
Then, knowing his signals were heard, Sam stood on tiptoe, placed his lips as near the port as he could reach, and whispered a reassurance of his name to the wondering boys.
Meanwhile, his brain was actively formulating plans for helping the boys whom he now knew were prisoners. Tom had told him in reply to his query that there was no lock on the inner side of the door and Sam's quick fingers confirmed his suspicions that the bolt on the outer surface was the only means by which the steel portal was secured. But to open the door and release the boys would be to no purpose. There was only the narrow deck on which he stood with the water a dozen feet below and the negro felt sure that neither boy would be capable of diving and swimming to shore or to the boat, even if the latter still floated or could be found in the darkness.
Exactly where he was or what those surrounding walls of steel and the absence of stars portended, Sam did not know nor did he bother his mind trying to solve the riddle. All his thoughts were on getting the two boys to safety and already a wild and daring scheme was forming in his mind. Speed, he felt, was essential and telling the boys he would soon be back, the negro slipped down the ladder, dove noiselessly into the black water and with powerful strokes swam down and forward. When at last he could no longer stand the strain, he shot to the surface and to his unspeakable joy saw the bright stars above and the black bulk of the tramp's hull looming close at hand. Treading water and lifting his head and shoulders as high as possible, he glanced around in search of his boat. A tiny, dark speck was visible shoreward and with rapid strokes he headed for it. A few moments later he was alongside and he knew he had not been mistaken. Dragging himself into the boat, he silently slipped his oars into the rowlocks and pulled with every ounce of his great strength towards the schooner.
Leaping on board he raced to the cabin only to find it empty. Bancroft was nowhere to be seen.
"Where Master Bancroft went?" he demanded of one of the men as he again gained the deck.
"He gawn' 'shore," drawled the negro. "He gawn mek s'arch fo' tha' 'Merican gentlemens. A black boy came offen give he a letter fo' Master Pauling an' Master Bancrof scootled ashore wif it."
Without stopping to reply, Sam again darted below. He had counted on the operator being there to help, but the fact that Bancroft was absent did not cause him to hesitate. He must carry out his scheme alone, for he could not leave the schooner unguarded—only two men were on board,—and moreover, he had little faith in the lazy and inefficient sailors being of any service in a tight place.
Hastily getting out two of the self-contained diving suits, Sam rolled them into as compact bundles as possible; tied them securely with one end of a long, light-heaving line; knotted a life-ring to them; and carrying his burden, he started towards the companionway. Then he stopped, turned back, hesitated an instant, and then boldly entered Rawlins' cabin. Glancing about, he spied the diver's long-bladed shark knife and hastily slipping it into his belt, he again picked up his bundles and his coil of line. There might be sharks and Sam was taking no chances. Hurrying across the deck, the Bahaman tossed the suits and rope into his boat, leaped in and pulled off into the darkness, leaving the two black sailors gazing speculatively after him, in their dull brains vaguely wondering what it was all about.
Rowing towards the point of land near the tramp, Sam pulled his boat carefully upon the shore, slipped off his garments, coiled the line about his shoulder and struck out for the black shape of the steamer, towing the bundled diving suits behind him.
He was a powerful swimmer, a professional diver and as much at home in the water as on land; but several hundreds yards of open water stretched between the nearest outjutting point of land and the tramp, the diving suits floated by the life-ring were heavy and offered a tremendous resistance to the water, and Sam was compelled to exert himself to his utmost to make headway.
Changing his stroke often, panting and straining, the negro swam doggedly on until at last, almost exhausted, every muscle aching, and breathing hard, he saw the wall-like sides of the Dutch steamer towering over him. Half supporting himself with one hand against the tramp's side, Sam regained his breath, cut the life-ring from the suits, carefully uncoiled the line, and knotting the end about his waist filled his great lungs with air and dove straight down.
Once again he bobbed up within the black, steel walled space, and with a thrill of satisfaction, he saw the dim light from the boys' porthole still glimmering above him. In a couple of strokes he had gained the ladder and hooking an arm about one of the rungs, he began hauling in on his line. Slowly and with difficulty it came in, but the suits, relieved of the buoyant life-ring had sunk deep and presently the sodden bundle rose through the water at the Bahaman's feet.
Quickly climbing the ladder to the narrow deck, Sam hauled up the diving suits, knocked gently on the door below the porthole and at Tom's low response the negro cautiously lifted the heavy steel bolt. As he had hoped, the door swung inward at his touch, moving silently on well-oiled hinges, and the naked, dripping negro stood beside the astonished boys.
Quickly and in whispers, Sam outlined his plan. The boys were to don the suits, attach the line to their waists with several fathoms of rope between them, and drop off the ladder into the sea as Sam dove. Then, when they reached bottom, they were to follow along, guided by the line which Sam would drag behind him as he swam slowly towards shore until they gained the beach and the boat.
It was a risky, dangerous scheme but feasible, for Sam knew the water was not too deep—barely six fathoms under the ship—and that the bottom was hard, smooth sand. Instantly, the boys realized that it was the only way out of their difficulties, for Sam had told them in a few rapid words that the others were off on their search and that Bancroft had also gone ashore.
"But the place is full of sharks!" protested Frank in a whisper as the boys hastily donned the suits. "They may go for us!"
"Don' mek no fear of he," replied Sam. "Tha' fellow don' like shallow water when hur'cane blow. He all gone outa sea."
Then, with a last whispered warning and final directions as the boys placed the helmets on their heads, Sam knotted the line about their waists and led them to the door. At that instant there was a sound from the other side of the cabin, a slight creak and Sam wheeled about.
Standing just within the doorway was Van Brunt!
It is a question whether Sam or the Dutchman was the more surprised. Van Brunt had expected to find the two boys alone and to amuse himself by brutally torturing them with jibes and biting sarcasm. Instead, he found himself face to face with a naked black giant, while just beyond stood two weird, grotesque, khaki-colored figures.
Sam, on the other hand, had been more or less prepared for the appearance of some one, but he had never dreamed it would prove to be Van Brunt, for he knew nothing of the boys' experiences and one astounding discovery had followed another so rapidly that the negro's head fairly reeled.
Thus, for the space of a breath, the two stood staring at each other in silence, while the boys, dumb under their helmets, gazed horror-stricken at the apparition of the fiendish traitor who had engineered their capture.
But if Sam was not blessed with all the intellect that nature bestowed on the white man, his primitive savage instincts were far more highly developed and as Van Brunt's hand suddenly flashed towards his hip the negro leaped.
Swift as a leopard's was his spring and silently as a great cat, the shining black body landed on the Dutchman, choking back the half-uttered cry with one huge black hand and bearing him with a heavy thud to the steel floor.
Once, twice, thrice the long sharp knife flashed in the glare of the electric light. Then with a single bound Sam was at the boys' side. Before they could fully realize what had occurred, the door was closed noiselessly behind them and they were standing on the narrow deck in the blackness.
Grasping their arms Sam led them to the ladder and as they quickly descended, spurred on by fear of momentary discovery, the negro followed. Tom reached the foot of the ladder first; he felt the cool water lapping his ankles; with a little gulping gasp of fear, he placed his breathing tube to his lips and let go. There was nothing for Frank to do but follow and scarcely had the boys' helmets disappeared when Sam dove.
Down, down, dropped the boys. They seemed descending for hours; their ears seemed bursting and their heads throbbed. Never had they been so deep before; but they had been through so much, and the terrors of the cave, the dread of Van Brunt and of the other "reds" were so overwhelming that beside them the dangers they were now facing seemed of little account. And, fortunately, they kept their heads. Both realized that their lives depended on keeping cool and that upon them hung the lives and safety of their companions, and as the pressure increased the two boys adjusted their oxygen supply to meet it.
Then, when they felt they would never reach bottom, their feet touched gently, they staggered to maintain their balance and at the same instant they felt a slight tug at the line.
At this their hearts lightened and all doubts and fears left them. They were not alone. Somewhere above them and swimming on his back was Sam, brave, faithful and true. Stumbling, bending far forward, struggling to keep upright they floundered forward across the sandy floor of the harbor.
As they half floated, half walked, their minds were filled with thoughts of the tragedy they had just witnessed. Van Brunt was dead. He had met his deserts, but what would be the result? How long would it be before he was discovered, before those upon the tramp realized that their prisoners had escaped? And at the thought of the mystery which their erstwhile captors would face, Tom chuckled. What would they think when they found the Dutchman's body and no sign of the boys? Where would they think the boys had gone?
Then Tom remembered the conversation he and Frank had overheard. He remembered that it had been planned that Van Brunt should remain to guard the boys, that the others were to be concealed, that the one who spoke English had gone ashore. In that case it might be hours before their escape and Van Brunt's body would be discovered. There might even be time to gain the shore, reach the schooner and surprise or seize the tramp. This thought was encouraging. They might yet turn the tables on the "reds" and, elated at the idea, Tom uttered an involuntary "Gosh!"
The next instant he halted so abruptly that he floundered face down and his feet floated from under him. Clearly as though whispered in his ears had come Frank's "What's the matter?"
So excited had they been, so intent only on their escape that both boys had completely forgotten that the suits were equipped with their under-sea radio and that they could talk to each other. Struggling to his feet, Tom assured his companion that nothing was wrong and still guided by the tugging rope, the two toiled on their way, now chatting back and forth and tremendously encouraged and heartened by their ability to hear each other's voices.
And now they realized that the water was becoming more shoal, that the pressure in their helmets had decreased, that their feet were more secure upon the bottom, that they had less difficulty in keeping right side up. They were nearing the shore and would soon be safe.
Then, breaking in upon them so suddenly that both uttered surprised, half-frightened cries came a sharp buzz, buzz, buzz. Instantly, they knew that signals were reaching them through the water, that some one was calling. Who was it? Was it the submarine, the men upon the tramp, their own friends on the Vigilant or other divers? With trembling fingers, the boys turned the adjustment on their tuning devices. Could they pick up these signals? Could they tune to them and hear what was being said?
For a space there was silence, the sounds had ceased. But the next moment, Tom gave a cry of delight. Faint but clear came the dee-dah-dee of a dot and dash message. Breathlessly, excited, incredulous, the two listened, straining their ears there beneath the water as to them came the familiar signals of the Naval code. At times they were indistinct, fading into a mere hum, the dees and dabs blurred. Again they seemed to hesitate and falter, but the boys had heard enough. They knew what was meant and as the final buzz died down and silence followed, Tom let out a whoop which nearly deafened Frank.
"Hurrah!" he yelled. "It's the destroyer! She's coming! Disabled but on her way! Gosh, but I'm glad her dynamo gave out and she sent on short waves! Hurrah for Captain Disbrow!"
In their excitement, the boys had stopped walking and now the tug upon the line about their waists was insistent. Before they could take a step, they were being hauled bodily through the water, thrashing about, kicking and gasping, striving to regain their feet until they felt as if a tug boat had them in tow or they were fish being hauled in on a line. But their struggles were useless, they were absolutely helpless and before they fully realized what had happened, they found themselves dragged upon a sand beach and Sam stripping off their suits.
"Gosh! Sam, what did you do that for?" gasped Tom as soon as he could speak. "You almost drowned us!"
"Praise tha Lord!" cried Sam. "Ah t'ought yo' was drownded, Chief, an' Ah' jus' drug yo' in mos' precip'tate, Sir!"
"I should say you did!" grunted Frank, struggling to regain his breath. "Where's the boat?"
“Tha' boat clean went!" announced Sam, in lowered tones. "Ah don't know how come, Chief, but it are gone—clean gone. Ah 'spec' we bes' mek to scootle 'long tha' beach."
"You bet we'll scootle!" declared Tom, leaping up. "Come on, hurry! We've got to warn the others! Don't stop to ask questions. We'll tell you everything later!"
Dropping their suits where they were, the two boys and Sam raced along the hard, smooth sand towards the settlement and the landing place. Forgetting their tired limbs, their still straining lungs, their fast-beating hearts, and thinking only that they must reach the schooner to warn their friends of the "reds'" plot, the boys ran as they had never run before; while Sam, still naked as on the day he was born, the long knife in his belt gleaming against his black skin, tore after them like a giant black ogre pursuing the two boys.
Now, ahead, they could see the tiny jetty and the lights in houses. There were only a few rods more and hoping that by good luck, by chance, that they might find a boat, the boys summoned all their remaining strength, all their nearly spent breaths, for a final spurt and dashed across the last stretch of open beach.
CHAPTER XIII THE END OF THE TRAMP
IT was with heartfelt thanks that the three tired men threw themselves from their horses as they reached the settlement after their fruitless search for the missing boys. They had ridden far, they had toiled like demons and their minds had been torn with fears, worries and anxieties. Mentally and physically exhausted, sore, stiff and lame, they slipped off the ponies' saddles turned the animals loose and dragged themselves wearily towards the landing place.
It was midnight, not a sign of life was visible in the half-wrecked village and the men's lowered voices and their footsteps echoed loudly through the silent night. They had almost reached the boat landing and the tiny jetty and Rawlins who had gone ahead, was routing up the drowsing boatmen, when, to Mr. Pauling's ears came the sounds of running feet.
"Hello, some one's in a hurry!" exclaimed Mr. Henderson who had also heard the sounds. "I wonder what the rush is!"
"They're coming along the beach," declared Mr. Pauling.
"And headed this way," added Rawlins who was also listening.
"There they are!" cried Mr. Henderson, pointing to a strip of sand a few yards from the landing, "three of them!"
Indistinctly, and merely as darker silhouettes against the black water, three figures were racing madly towards the Americans. So close were they that there was no time to step aside, no time to cry a warning before the foremost runner, panting and with low-bent head, plunged blindly into Mr. Pauling, almost bowling him over. The second tried to swerve and was deftly seized by Mr. Henderson, while the third checked himself just in time. With a gasp, as the breath was knocked from him by the sudden impact, Mr. Pauling recovered himself and jerked his assailant to his feet.
"Tom!" he shouted. "Tom!"
"Frank!" came Mr. Henderson's echoing cry.
"And Sam, by glory!" yelled Rawlins.
"Oh, Dad!" panted Tom. "It's you! I'm so glad! Gosh! Listen, Dad!"
Then not waiting for explanations, heedless of his father's heartfelt exclamations of joy, of the strong arms clasped about him, Tom in rapid disjointed, breathless sentences poured out his tale.
It was vague, confused, unintelligible in parts, but it served its purpose for the time and the others understood enough. The "red" plot had been nipped in the bud, the decoy note in Mr. Pauling's hand was explained.
"By Jove!" cried Mr. Henderson. "And that dastardly Van Brunt was one of the gang after all. What a deep-laid, villainous plot!"
"I'll say so!" ejaculated Rawlins. "By glory, Mr. Pauling, our hunch on the old bug hunter was right after all! And say, do you get that about the tramp? A mother ship for the sub! I'll tell the world that was some scheme!"
"What do you mean?" queried Mr. Pauling, as he half carried Tom to the boat while Mr. Henderson supported the exhausted Frank.
"Why, don't you understand?" explained the diver. "That place where the boys were locked up and where Sam found 'em. That was a chamber in the bottom of the tramp—a lock where the sub could go—just fitted her hull with her superstructure on a line with that narrow deck. Snug as a bug in a rug there with the old tub steaming along holding the sub under her wing like a hen with a chick. No wonder they didn't want any one in that part of the ship! And that's where the voices came from that Bancroft heard and the radio messages and where the crowd hid out when we boarded the tramp at Trade Wind Cay! It's all clear as a bell now! Great Scott! I hope the destroyer gets here in time. Then we'll nail the whole shooting match."
"It's marvelous, incredible almost!" declared Mr. Pauling. "And to think what you boys have been through. Oh, my poor boy! But you've done nobly Tom, and you too, Frank. As for you, Sam," here Mr. Pauling reached out and patted the negro's brawny back as he would a child's. "I can't find words either to express my gratitude or my appreciation of your courage and brains. Sam, my boy, you'll be one of us for life!"
Sam grinned. "Tha's arl right, Mr. Pauling," he replied. "Ah jus' knowed Ah was called 'pon to do mah bes' an' to prove yo' conf'dence in me, Chief. Ah say to mahself, 'Sam, yo' boun' fo' to mek tha' mos' o' tha chance tha Lord's put in yo' han's an' act like yo' was white fo' once.' An' if Ah mek to do right an' was successful Ah'm well pleased, Chief."
"I'll say you were, you black rascal!" cried Rawlings slapping the Bahaman resoundingly. "And a blamed clever boy you are too! By glory, I'd never have thought of that stunt of the suits, old man! And I'm for you, you amphibious shark-killer, when it comes to doing up that snake, Van Brunt."
A moment later they were alongside the schooner and Bancroft rushed to his instruments.
"He's coming!" he announced, presently reappearing on deck. "He's just outside. Says he'll be in within the next half hour!"
"I'll say we've got 'em!" affirmed Rawlins. "Bottled up in here to the Queen's taste! Hurrah for the radio detectives!"
"I can't understand it," declared Mr. Pauling. "Why haven't they heard Disbrow's messages? Why haven't they found Van Brunt's body? I'm beginning to fear they've discovered they're caught and have deserted the ship."
"Don't you worry about that, Pauling," Mr. Henderson admonished him. "The boys heard the men planning to lie low and wait for us. They have no means of knowing how soon we would get the note and fall for it. They'll stay hidden waiting until they feel sure something has gone wrong. And Tom says the man who called himself a 'Yank' told Van Brunt that the radio was not to he used. In trying to keep us in ignorance, they've defeated their own ends."
"Yes, and don't forget that sub hadn't got back when the boys left," Rawlins reminded them. "Blamed lucky for Sam it hadn't too! It was that sub going off that knocked him overboard, of course. I've a hunch that the English-speaking rascal went in her and is hanging around waiting to see us go off to the tramp before he runs back and sneaks into that nice little nest in the old hooker's bottom."
"By Jove, Rawlins! You're simply a wonder at seeing things clearly. But I suppose that's your sailor's training. All the boys have told me failed to give me the idea of the sub's hiding place. Yes, I think your theory is right and your hunches still seem to come marvelously near the truth."
"Oh, you'd have thought it all out quick enough after you'd got over the surprise and excitement of having the boys butt into us that way," maintained the diver. "Great Scott! They're getting under way!"
Across the dark water from the direction of the tramp came the clank and rattle of a steam winch and the roar of the chain cable being hauled in.
"I'll wager they did get that message!" declared Mr. Henderson. "It'll be nip and tuck with them now, though."
"Get Disbrow, Bancroft," interrupted Mr. Pauling, "and tell him the tramp's getting ready to slip out. Give it to him in straight Naval code and tell him if he sees her to fire on her. I'll take all responsibility."
"That's the stuff!" burst out Rawlins, admiringly. "By Jiminy, I hope they get that message on the old tub! Perhaps, old walrus on the bridge won't sweat blood if they do! I'll—”
Tom's excited yell cut Rawlins' words in two. “Look! Look!" he shouted. "There comes the destroyer!"
Instantly, all eyes were turned to the harbor entrance and there, twinkling like tiny stars, lifting and falling to the heave of the sea outside, were the lights of an incoming ship.
"Hurrah!" yelled Frank. "They'll catch them! Gee, isn't it bully!"
"It's the destroyer all right!" declared Rawlins who had leaped to the companion way and had seized his night glasses. "And coming right along too!"
Then, as the noise of the roaring winch and clanking cables on the tramp ceased, he swung the glasses in her direction.
"She's under way!" be exclaimed, "turning round! By glory, I believe they're going to try to get away after all!"
Now, all on the schooner could plainly hear the thrashing of the tramp's screws, even the sharp orders of her officers were borne to them on the silent air and straining their eyes, they could faintly distinguish the heavy spars, the squat funnel and the dark billows of smoke pouring from it against the starlit sky.
Slowly the big steamer moved backward and a moment later, the black mass of her stem was visible beyond the point. Then, faint but clear, came the jangle of an engine-room bell and the phantomlike spars and funnels swung into line. But now, bright within the narrow harbor mouth, the destroyer's lights gleamed. No longer did they rise and fall and twinkle. She was in the sheltered waters of the bay.
In the schooner's cabin Bancroft was feverishly sending message after message, giving full directions to those upon the warship's bridge while on the destroyer's deck, clustered about her forward guns, stood the waiting blue jackets ready at a word to send the four-inch shells crashing into the tramp.
Never had the two boys been so thrilled, so excited. Here, before their very eyes, was to be enacted a miniature battle; the tramp with her crew of villainous, murderous, unprincipled rogues was trapped at last. She could not escape, and best of all, they themselves had helped to catch her, to bring about the final coup and the downfall of those they had been trailing for so long.
It was now but a question of minutes before the tramp would be headed for sea, before she and the destroyer would come to grips. Would she dare to attempt to escape, to take the chance of being missed in the darkness?
Perhaps, the boys thought, her crew intended to surprise the destroyer by showing the reserve speed the tramp possessed, but if so they were doomed to disappointment, for Bancroft had reported it to Commander Disbrow and his gunners were no amateurs to miss a mark the size of the Dutch ship no matter what her speed.
But if the tramp was not intending to take a chance why was she getting under way? Was it possible that it was merely coincidence, that the men aboard her were not aware that the lights rapidly approaching were those of the destroyer? No, that was impossible, no one could believe that the "reds" had not picked up the radio messages, did not know that they were doomed. Upon the schooner all stood watching, gazing first at the tramp, then at the destroyer, all expectant, all on a nervous tension, all excited.
And then, suddenly, Rawlins' voice rang out, sharp, startled, warningly. "Forward!" he yelled. "Quick, all of you! She's going to ram us! Cut the cables and be ready to jump!"
A single glance and every one instantly, unquestioningly, obeyed the diver's orders. Seemingly close upon them, looming high as a mountain against the blackness, headed straight for the helpless schooner the tramp was bearing down upon the Vigilant!
Before his last word was out of his mouth, Rawlins had leaped below and, while the pounding of feet still sounded on the deck above, he was tugging at the flywheel of the motor. He heard the thud of Sam's ax as he cut the cables, the blow of a sledge as one of the men drove out a shackle bolt in a chain.
Would the motor start? Even if it did would the schooner move in time?
Each second seemed minutes, each moment he expected to feel the crashing blow, to be thrown down, crushed, mangled, carried down with the shattered, sinking hull, ground beneath the ponderous steel prow of the tramp.
And then, with a sudden sputter and chug the motor started, the flywheel spun madly. Hissing and coughing it raced, shaking the schooner from stem to stern. With a bound, Rawlins seized the clutch lever, shoved it over and dashed up the companion-way. The next second he was thrown head over heels upon the deck and the schooner careened until water poured over her port rails. There was a crashing, splintering, rending sound, a dull, deafening, grating. Tearing away the mainsail boom, crushing the dinghy slung over the stern, the vast bulk of the tramp rushed by, leaving the Vigilant tossing and bobbing upon the ship's wake, but slowly moving ahead to the throb of her faithful motor.
It was a close shave, a hair breadth escape. A fraction of a second's delay and the schooner would have been shattered, riven and sunk and those upon her wounded or killed. But once again the scoundrels on the tramp had been foiled and Rawlins' quick eye and quicker wit had saved the day.
It was all over in an instant and the diver, picking himself up, seized the wheel, swung it hard over and leaped down the companionway to shut off the motor.
But he was a moment too late. Before the Vigilant obeyed her rudder, her keel grated on the sand and she was hard and fast aground.
"It's all right!" called Rawlins, reassuringly. "She's on bottom, but safe. By glory, that was nip and go! And they meant to get us too! Great Scott, what are they doing now?"
Forgetting their fright and their narrow escape in their excitement, all hurried aft and gazed at the still visible mass of black that marked the tramp.
"By the great horn spoon, they're going to try for the Gut!" yelled Rawlins. "They'll never make it! Whoop la! That's the boy! Hurrah for Disbrow! Attaboy!"
Rawlins' excitement was contagious; the boys screamed and danced and even Mr. Pauling cheered lustily. Out from the blackness where the twinkling lights marked the destroyer, a flame had sprung, stabbing the night like a sword of fire, and roaring in echoes across the bay had crashed the report of the gun. But the tramp kept on. Once more the tongue of fire leaped forth and from the direction the tramp had gone came a flash and a muffled roar.
"Got 'em, by glory!" screamed the diver. "Give it to 'em, old man!"
At his words, a double flash burst from the destroyer, two more followed in quick succession and ere the quadruple reports reached those upon the stranded schooner a volcano seemed to burst into full eruption close to the farther shores of the bay.
With a blinding glare that dazzled the eyes of the watchers, a mass of flame and fire shot upward to the zenith, outlining the trees and hills, painting the calm waters of the bay with the hue of blood, illuminating the destroyer, reddening the very decks and spars of the schooner itself. The next second it had gone, blackness like a velvet pall hung over sky, sea and land and, with a rumbling roar that seemed to shake the hills and echoed like thunder among the mountains, came the awful sound of the explosion.
For a space all were silent. It was over. The tramp was no more. Those who had been upon her would never plot or violate a law again.
Rawlins was the first to speak. "I'll say they've got blamed good gunners on the destroyer," was his comment. "Well, I guess it's all over but the music!"
"It was an awful fate!" declared Mr. Henderson in a subdued tone. "But I suppose they have only themselves to blame. They might have surrendered!"
"Yes, but I don't know as their fate would have been easier if they had," observed Mr. Pauling. "Most of them would have met death in a worse form if their crimes had been brought home to them."
"Well, I'll say I'm not wasting any sympathy on 'em!" stated Rawlins. "How about our fate if they'd run us down or mine, if that blamed chap had plugged me with his dart?"
The boys, stunned and awe-struck at the terrible end which had been meted out to the tramp and her crew had been silently gazing across the dark sea, but at Rawlins' words a sudden memory came to Tom.
"Oh, Dad! I forgot!" he exclaimed. "That dead man at Van Brunt's wasn't the Chief. I forgot to tell you that. The fellow we heard talking on the tramp said it was 'Fritz' and he spoke of the 'Chief being tickled when they handed us over to him."
"What!" cried Mr. Pauling. "Then we were right. It was his double! By Jove, Henderson, I wonder if he was on that tramp!"
"I'll say he wasn't," put in Rawlins. "If he had been, why should they have talked about handing the boys over to him? No, sir, Mr. Pauling, he was somewhere else. Trust that guy not to risk his own precious neck. He's hiding out somewhere and sent an understudy along for a bluff. And I've a hunch we're going to meet up with the old boy yet!"
"Hmm, perhaps you're right," agreed Mr. Pauling, "Hello, here comes a boat from the destroyer."
A moment later the trim cutter swept alongside and Commander Disbrow himself stepped aboard the schooner as spick and span and spotless as though just from dress inspection.
"Well, Sir, I guess we ended them!" he remarked, as he greeted Mr. Pauling. "Didn't expect to sink the ship, but you ordered us not to let her get by and I took your orders as given, Sir. Hope there are no complications over it."
"Don't worry, Commander," replied Mr. Pauling. "You acted perfectly right. If there is any question raised we have evidence enough to stop any discussion. Even the Netherlands will thank us for this night's work and I very much question if she were actually a Dutch vessel."
Then, for the next half hour, the commander of the destroyer related his experiences, how he had trailed the tramp, had lost track of her near St. Martins and had been compelled to put into St. Kitts in the face of the hurricane.
"Went through it safely," he told them, "but lost a lot of top hamper and our aërial and two funnels as well as two boats. As soon as the gale was over, we rigged up a jury antenna, expecting we might hear from you in trouble or might get orders from St. Thomas or Porto Rico. Then our dynamo gave out and when we got your messages, we could not send replies with the makeshift apparatus we had. Guess the first time you got them was this afternoon, eh?"
"The first signals we had from you were heard by the boys under water," Mr. Pauling informed him.
"What's that?" exclaimed the commander in surprise. "Under water! That's interesting, but I see how it was. We had our submarine outfit, trying all sorts of devices to get in touch with you—same affair we used to talk to our subs with during the war. Had it put on there as an experiment and you must have got the signals through that."
Then it was the boys' turn to tell of their adventure and by the time they had finished and the commander rose to leave, the eastern sky was growing light.
"We'll need your help to pull us off here, Commander," said Rawlins as the officer stepped into his cutter. "I suppose you can send over one of your steam launches in the morning."
"Certainly," assented the Commander. "I don't think we'll have much trouble."
No one thought of sleep upon the Vigilant and the gun fire and explosion of the tramp had aroused every native on shore. Filled with wonder and unreasoning fears, thinking perhaps one of their mountains had suddenly been transformed into a volcano or that an enemy was attacking the place, they flocked along shore, yelling and screaming, running hither and thither with flaring torches, and as distraught and terrorized as though the end of the world had come.
To quiet them Sam was sent ashore with the men of the crew, but even when some measure of peace had been restored, those on the schooner were still far too excited and wrought up with the thrilling events of the night to turn in, tired and exhausted as they were.
All, too, were eager for a first sight of what remained of the tramp, if there were any remains, and as the day dawned and the tranquil surface of the bay showed softly blue and the clouds turned rosy pink with the first rays of the rising sun, all eyes swept the surface of the harbor.
But they had not far to seek. Within half a mile of the narrow entrance known as the Gut a mass of tangled, broken steel and twisted iron broke the smooth surface of the bay. A bent mast leaned drunkenly above the water and bits of wreckage floated near, while over all a flock of sea birds wheeled and screamed.
Nearer the schooner and riding to her anchors was the destroyer, looking almost a wreck herself with but two funnels standing, her mast broken off, a gaping hole in her bulwarks and her hull and two remaining funnels ashy white with their incrustation of salt.
"Guess we'll go over and have a look at the tramp after breakfast, what do you say?" suggested Rawlins. "Maybe we'll find something or some one."
"No, thank you, I don't care to go," stated Tom decisively. "I've seen all the dead men and all the killing I want to."
"And neither do I," chimed in Frank.
"Looks like an unpopular idea," laughed Rawlins.
"I think we'd better, go over, eh, Henderson?" said Mr. Pauling. "I suppose I'll have to, anyway, in order to fill in my report properly."
But there was little to be seen at the wreckage of the tramp. A boat from the destroyer was already there and a dozen native boats from shore were hanging about, waiting their chance to salvage anything of value or utility as soon as the Americans had left.
"I suppose I could go down and have a look around under water," remarked Rawlins. "Might find something down there."
"Not a chance of it," declared Commander Disbrow. "Our shells never caused all this damage. She must have been loaded with dynamite or high explosives. Then our shots just started them going."
"Yes, I imagine that was it," agreed Mr. Pauling. "I thought last night it was a terrific explosion for your shells; but at the time I imagined it was her boilers."
"No, too much flame for that," affirmed the Commander. "Blew her clean in two and with that submarine-lock in her underbody, she would have been completely shattered below the water line."
"I wonder if the sub was there," mused Rawlins.
"If so, it was blown to atoms," replied the officer. "However, I guess we'll never know, but we can be positive that not a soul on board the tramp lived. So there's no hopes of learning anything from them."
"Well, I'm not so sure we'll never know about the sub," asserted Rawlins. "If she got away before the old tub blew up or hadn't gone into her nest we may meet up with her again some day."
"Another hunch, eh?" laughed Mr. Pauling.
"Not exactly," admitted the diver. "But I've a pretty strong notion the sub was somewhere else when this happened. They might be willing to take a risk with the tramp as a last chance, but the sub was too valuable to risk, especially as there was no need of it. She could sneak out without the destroyer seeing her and then wait outside and join the tramp, if she succeeded in getting out too. If she didn't, they could still get to some secret hang-out with the sub. No, Sir, these buckoes aren't taking any more chances than they have to and they're going to be blamed sure of having a get away ready in case of emergency. I'll bet the High Panjandrum with his dinky mustache and his monocle, along with old Red Whiskers, is safe and sound on the sub while we're poking around here expecting to find his remnants."
"There's a lot of good reasoning and common sense in that," declared Mr. Pauling, "but it's strange we haven't found any bodies. It doesn't seem possible they could all have been blown to bits."
"No, but they'd sink and may not come up for days —even if the sharks don't get them," said Rawlins. "I wonder how many there were on board. I'll bet they ran her short-handed."
"That's something we never will know," declared Mr. Henderson positively. "The boys heard only Van Brunt and the other man—the one who called himself a 'Yank'—but the Red Bearded man was either aboard or on the sub. Of course, there must have been the engine room crew and the helmsman, besides her captain and mates. About a dozen I should say."
"Oh, that reminds me—the fat old skipper wasn't aboard," Commander Disbrow informed them. "I forgot to mention it last night. He was taken ill and put ashore over at Statia. I tried to see him but he was too sick to talk."
"Hmm, then I expect the so-called 'Yank' was acting as captain," commented Mr. Pauling. "And possibly, he and Van Brunt were the only two aboard at the time the boys overheard their conversation—that is, aside from the crew."
"You're forgetting old Red Whiskers," Rawlins reminded him. "He was here."
"Or on the sub," added Mr. Henderson. "I imagine he was in command of the submarine. If he's the man I think him to be, he was a German U-Boat commander during the war."
"Well, I suppose we may as well go back," suggested Mr. Pauling. "I presume you're ready to pull the schooner off, Disbrow."
"Certainly, Sir," the officer replied. "I left word for the steam cutter to be ready and I think with her power and your motor we can get the Vigilant off. You say she's not hard aground."
With the schooner's rowboat in tow, the destroyer's cutter started back, when Rawlins' attention was attracted by an unusual noise and he glanced up.
"Great Scott! there's an airplane," he exclaimed.
"Jove, you're right!" assented Mr. Pauling. "Wonder where he came from."
"Government plane from Porto Rico or St. Thomas most likely," suggested the Commander, looking up. "I expect he was sent over to see what the explosion was. I'll wager they heard it clear over there."
"I wonder if he'll come down," said Mr. Pauling, "Looks as if he were volplaning."
"No reason why he shouldn't," affirmed Rawlins. "It's a sea plane; but he seems to be keeping mighty well up."
"Probably not taking any chances," volunteered the officer. "If he sees the destroyer, he'll know it's all right and I shouldn't be surprised if he radios us. May find a message waiting when we get aboard."
For a few minutes the aircraft circled about, remaining several thousand feet above the bay and then, evidently having seen all he desired, the pilot rapidly drove his craft up in a huge spiral until it was a mere speck in the deep blue sky.
The others had ceased to give any further heed to the plane, but Rawlins idly watched it, oddly attracted, although he had seen thousands of airplanes.
"Say!" he suddenly blurted out. "If that chap's from Porto Rico or St. Thomas he's taking a blamed funny way to go home. He's gone almost due south!"
Mr. Pauling and the others laughed.
"Suspicious about him?" queried Mr. Henderson, banteringly.
"Well, I don't know," mused Rawlins. "But what the dickens is he going that way for?"
"You forget that a few score miles are nothing to an airplane," Mr. Pauling reminded him. "By this time he may have swung around and be half way back to St. Thomas. Perhaps he thought he'd take a look at Saba or St. Croix before he went back."
"Well, I'd give a heap to be up where he is," commented Rawlins. "From up there you could see if the sub was hanging around anywhere,"
The cutter now swept alongside the destroyer and as the Commander stepped onto his ship's deck, a petty officer approached.
"Radio message just came in from that seaplane, Sir," he announced, as he handed the Commander a slip. "Addressed to Mr. Pauling, or Mr. Henderson, Sir."
"That's strange," muttered Mr. Pauling, as he took the paper. "Can't imagine why he should have radioed to us or how he knew we're here."
Then, as he glanced at the typed words, an expression of incredulous amazement swept across his face.
"Jove, Henderson, look at this!" he burst out.
" 'He laughs best who laughs last. Remember Garcia!'" read Mr. Henderson.
"By glory! Didn't I tell you I had a hunch," shouted Rawlins, triumphantly.
"Confound him! Escaped us again!" fumed Mr. Pauling.
"First under the sea and now up in the air!" exclaimed Mr. Henderson.
"I'll say he's up in the air!" cried Rawlins. "But we'll get him yet! He's got to come down, and by the Great Horn Spoon, we'll be on hand when he lands!"