THE BOY SCOUTS ON PICKET DUTY
by Scout Master Robert Shaler
I. The Mysterious Steamer
II. A Contraband Cargo
III. On a Lone Scout
IV. The Hut on the Beach
V. Kidnapped by Smugglers
VI. The Flight of the "Arrow"
VII. A Gathering of the Clan
VIII. The Blazing Beacon
IX. Deeds in the Darkness
X. The End of the Raid
XI. Aboard the "Arrow"
XII. A Surprising Adventure
THE MYSTERIOUS STEAMER
In the wake of an easterly squall the sloop Arrow, Lemuel Vinton
master and owner, was making her way along the low coast, southward,
from Snipe Point, one of the islands in Florida Bay about twelve
miles northeast of Key West.
With every sail closehauled and drawing until the bolt ropes creaked
under the strain, the Arrow laid a fairly straight course toward
Key West. She bore a startling message, the nature of which her
captain had considered of sufficient importance for him to prolong
a cruise he had undertaken and to hasten back to the port whence
he had sailed, twenty-four hours previously, to inform the authorities.
The sloop had not sped far from the Point, and the receding shore
line had scarcely grown dimly blue on the horizon under a peculiar
yellow-gray sunrise, when Captain Vinton's crew began to make
their appearance on deck. The crew consisted of five Boy Scouts,
an older companion who was in charge of them, and a Seminole Indian
guide, called Dave, who had been hired to conduct the boys on
a brief exploration of the Everglades. Four of the boys belonged
to a troop of scouts who had their summer headquarters at Pioneer
Camp, far away among the New England hills. They had, however,
formed a resolution to spend the present summer not at Pioneer
Camp, where most of their younger comrades would be, but in seeing
some new sections of their native land. To this end, three of
them—-Hugh Hardin, his chum Billy Worth, and Chester Brownell—-had
gladly accepted an invitation from the fourth, Alec Sands, to
spend a month at Palmdune, the Florida residence of Alec's father,
who had sent them on this cruise. With them Mr. Sands had sent
his secretary, a young man named Roy Norton, who had left them
temporarily at Key West while he attended to business in Havana.
When he had returned from Havana, he had found a new member of
the party—-Mark Anderson, the son of the captain of Red Key
The Arrow had been anchored off Snipe Point during the previous
night, where Captain Vinton had gained the information which made
him decide to return to Key West. This knowledge, which he had
already imparted to the boys, was to the effect that throughout
the night before, while he and Dave alternately watched, he had
seen a gray steamer or perhaps a gunboat cruising among the islands
off the Point, occasionally coming close enough to the beach to
be made out distinctly, but showing no lights and making no signals.
Immediately his suspicions had been aroused by this mysterious
action. His impression was that the vessel belonged to a country
which was then hostile to the United States. In that case she
was either grappling for the cable between Key West and the mainland
terminus at Punta Rossa, which lay close inshore at Snipe Point,
or was trying to make connection with some other vessel carrying
supplies or ammunition from some West Indian port, perhaps intending
to run the blockade.
Why she should attempt to tamper with the cable, he could not
understand, knowing the superior efficiency of the wireless system;
but he thought she might be one of the elusive filibustering vessels
reported to have been seen in the Gulf of Mexico several days before
Stories about these mysterious vessels had caused official orders
to be sent to Tampa and to Galveston, Texas, concerning the departure
of several transports with American troops. And Captain Vinton
himself had almost encountered a notorious filibuster named Juan
Bego, one night during the earlier part of this pleasure cruise;
that is, he had sighted a vessel which he felt sure was the Esperanza
of Captain Bego, in waters which were supposed to be debarred to the
enemy. All this had tended to make him more alert and wary than
ever, even suspicious; and he had resolved to lose no time in
reporting his most recent discovery.
"You boys might as well heave them old tarpon poles overboard now,"
he said seriously, as he shifted the helm. "That there craft I seen
las' night ain't Yankee built, I'll swear; and if she should take a
notion to foller us, we want to be light and shipshape, without no
signs o' lubberliness that the squall may have brought to the surface.
How's everything in the cabin, Dave? Tight and neat?"
The Seminole grunted, nodding his head in affirmation. Apparently
he was too disturbed in mind to reply verbally; besides, like most of
his kind, he was a poor sailor, and he did not enjoy the speed at
which the Arrow was now sailing. It upset his mental balance as
well as his bodily equilibrium.
Obeying the captain's instructions, the boys tossed overboard their
heavy poles, saving only the lines and reels.
"When we get back to Key West, what's the first thing to do, Captain?"
"Report seeing that steamer to the naval authorities," was Vinton's
"I didn't know there were any——-"
"There's likely to be some there now, waiting for orders."
"And will they search for the strange vessel?"
"You bet they will! We ain't goin' to let no sneakin' furrin tub
show us her heels,—-are we, lads?"
"Not if we can help it!" exclaimed Hugh. "I guess one of Uncle Sam's
revenue cutters will give chase to that steamer, or gunboat, or
whatever she may be."
"Not if she's a gunboat, I reckon!" quoth Vinton with a chuckle.
"Cripes! that vessel was certainly a clipper for goin'! Her cap'n
was wise enough to keep to wind'ard, for he seemed to know where the
rough water begins to rise and how to make the most o' them keys.
Never mind; off Nor'west Cape he'll have to come out like a seaman
and take his duckin'! H'ist that there jib, Billy, and make Dave
move his carcass where it'll do some good."
But Dave did not want to bestir himself from his position on the
weather gunwale, where he crouched dejectedly, letting the stiff
breeze dry his spray-soaked garments. He groaned, protested, grunted,
and finally swore volubly as Alec prodded him, while Billy hoisted
the flying jib.
"What for so much hurry?" he grumbled. "Get to Key West by afternoon,
anyhow. Dave want plenty sleep."
"You slept like a top for six hours last night!" declared Alec.
"No-o; Dave watch, saw steamer,—-no more sleep, no forty winks."
"Oh, come!" laughed Billy. "I heard you snoring, Dave; you woke me
up! I thought it was thunder!"
"Nothing less than thunder or a cannon firecracker would wake you up,
Billy,—-as a general rule," said Hugh, flinging one arm over his
chum's shoulders and giving him a vigorous hug.
"Look yonder, boys!" shouted Captain Vinton at the helm. He pointed
aft, and the four lads sprang to their feet and hurried toward him,
alert and eager for a new surprise.
Some distance behind them, toward the mainland, a thin trail of
smoke which had not been seen for two or three hours was now visible
inside the keys. Could there be any reason for the reappearance
of that smoky blur against the sky? Was it made by the mysterious
steamer? If so, was she following the Arrow?
"By the shades o' shad, I orter know that boat!" exclaimed Vinton in
puzzled chagrin. "See? She's coaled up, goin' for all she's worth.
Alec, git out my glass from the cabin, take a look, and see if there's
many men aboard."
Alec ran to do the captain's bidding. Descending into the cabin, he
took from a locker an old-style marine telescope with which he
hurriedly returned to the deck. After some focusing he managed to
catch a glimpse of the steamcraft, just before she partially
disappeared from sight behind one of the sandy reefs that fence off
"The crew of the steamer seem to be quite excited," Alec said, as he
trained the telescope upon them. "I can see sailors running across
her deck, and two of them have just hoisted an American flag. Some
others are waving signals and—-"
"What?" shouted the captain. "American flag, did you say?"
"Yes. What do you think of that?"
"Reckon she wants to speak us."
"Why?" asked Chester.
"Looks like this is the first time she's seen us," said Vinton, taking
the marine glass from Alec. "But it can't be the same craft we
sighted back yonder, last night. Anyhow, if they're wavin' signal
flags,—-and they are, sure enough!—-they must want to speak the
Arrow. That's plain. I'm goin' to ease in more and see who's
aboard. Look! the dinged old boat is comin' out from behind the
Pondering some contingency which he did not explain to the boys,
Vinton shifted the helm; and his sloop, hitherto heading in a
southwesterly direction, now began to edge closer to the line
of keys. Had Vinton not known his course so thoroughly from long
experience in sailing these channels, inlets, and lagoons, it
would have been dangerous; but he dexterously eluded the various
reefs and oyster bars and brought the Arrow safely into smoother
water. Meanwhile, the boys noticed that the wind, which had blown
so strongly, was beginning to slacken, thus allowing the steamer
to gain on the Arrow quite perceptibly. They saw then that she
was a small steamer, like a steam yacht, and light gray in
color,—-perhaps one of the United States revenue cutters.
Captain Vinton was astonished. He had already begun to have serious
doubts that this could be the same mysterious vessel he had seen
cruising about the islands the night before. All at once, unexpectedly,
his doubts were resolved into a certainty that it was not the same,
for even while he was wondering, a strange thing happened:
A long, low, gray shape, something like a built-for-speed tug-boat
with a short funnel, darted into view from between two keys, and,
crossing the wake of the revenue cutter, glided swiftly along the
very course the Arrow had taken, heading back toward Snipe Point.
Before the sloop and the steamer had come within hailing distance of
each other, the strange craft, not depending on the dying easterly
wind, was well along the course, sending back—-toward a trail of
A CONTRABAND CARGO
"Well, what d'you know about that?" queried Billy, easily relapsing
into slang when the first few minutes' surprise had worn off.
"Dunno much about it," Captain Vinton answered in a somewhat gruff
tone, "but it looks to me mighty like a filibuster's craft, or p'rhaps
At the word "filibuster," the boys—-figuratively speaking—-pricked
up their ears.
"What on earth can they be trying to smuggle?" was Hugh's eager
question, to which the captain replied promptly:
"Arms,—-leastways, cartridges or gunpowder. They ain't tryin' to
smuggle 'em into Fluridy, but out of it," he explained. "Some
gang of raskils is buyin' small quantities of war goods up state—-or
else from Cuby—-totin' 'em down the coast an' through th' Everglades,
and gettin' 'em aboard some steamboat like that one, and so away where
they'll do the most harm. Get me?"
"Yes," replied Alec, "but I never would have thought such tricks were
possible in these days."
"Boy, you can't never tell what's just possible or what ain't, in
these days," gravely asserted Captain Vinton. "All sorts o' things
is like to happen, and sometimes it's durned hard to know just what's
goin' on. But if that's any filibustin' outfit, they'd better make
tracks out o' these waters as fast as they can lay beam to wind'ard."
So saying, he shifted the helm again and bore away at an angle that
would enable them to come close to the revenue cutter, now scarcely
a quarter of a mile astern. Lighter and lighter came the wind,
slower glided the Arrow over the long heavy swells, nearer and
nearer came the cutter, going at a steady, rapid rate. Soon the two
vessels were within hailing distance, and a megaphone call came
across the water, clear and distinct:
"Sloop, ahoy! Can you understand?"
"Aye, aye!" called Vinton.
The five boys gathered around him, eager to hear the interchange of
calls. Even Dave rose and shambled over to the little group at the
tiller. On the other vessel they could now see a number of men in
blue uniforms and one in a civilian's suit of gray tweeds.
"Who've you got aboard?" came the next question from the captain of
Vinton briefly stated his passenger list and explained the purpose of
"Bound for Key West now?" shouted the Petrel's captain, whom
Vinton, studying him through the marine glass, recognized as James
Kelsey. "Trying to dodge that craft that just passed us, or trying
to catch her?"
"We were goin' to report as how we seen her las' night off Snipe
Point," bawled Vinton, speaking through a megaphone which Dave had
handed to him. "Thought you fellows were at Key West."
"We were until this morning," came the answer. "We've been chasing
that boat. She's the Esperanza, a smuggler. Have you seen her
throwing anything overboard, or picking up stuff—-like boxes or
Then a light of understanding broke upon Vinton's mind. So that was
what the smuggler had been doing all night! Not grappling for the
cable, but stealthily picking up a contraband cargo of munitions of
war, small stores such as could be cast adrift along the coast in
some prearranged method and gathered in by those who had been
instructed to recognize the floating objects! What were they?
Water-tight kegs of dynamite, submerged, but buoyed up by thrice
their weight of corks? Boxes of rifle bullets? Or merely harmless
glass bottles containing, perhaps, written descriptions of the country
to be invaded, photographs of fortifications, details of naval or
The answer was not long forthcoming.
"Ain't seen her pick up anything," shouted Vinton, "but reckon that's
her lay. What's she after?"
"By thunder!" ejaculated the captain in a low tone of awe.
"Yes, that's just what they'll do, if they can," Billy commented with
one of his irrepressible grins. "They'll buy thunder. You've said
it, Cap! But what'll they use it for?"
Vinton paid not the slightest heed to Billy's poor pun. Instead,
while Alec gave Billy a dig in the ribs, the captain put the same
question to Kelsey.
"Oh, you know they've started another one of those dinky revolutions
in Panama, two generals fighting for the presidency," explained
Kelsey. He no longer was obliged to shout curtailed messages
through his megaphone, but spoke through it in a tone only a few
degrees louder than ordinarily; for the sloop and the steamer
were now almost alongside. "Well, the U.S. and Cuba want to stay
entirely out of the little war game; but one side of the revolution,
the Visteros, are sore at Uncle Sam and trying to make him take
a hand. They've got agents in all the Gulf states, in Cuba and
Hayti, and they're trying to stir up trouble."
What kind o trouble?
"Any old kind. They're not particular as to the brand. It's war
stores they want, and discontented loafers for soldiers of fortune.
And the Visteros are stealing dynamite to threaten the Canal."
"Bosh!" roared Vinton in a loud guffaw. "They couldn't do it! Let
"Yes,—-let 'em! But meanwhile, we're out to put the kibosh on this
smuggling. By the way, Vinton, now that you've made your report, you
can turn around again when you've got the wind, and go back up along
the coast. No need to go to Key West now."
"Hum-mp!" grunted Dave. "Waste time, get sick—-all for nuthin'!"
"Shut up, you greasy Seminole!" muttered Vinton, and he turned away
scornfully. "All right, we will," he called to the Petrel. "What
you goin' to do?"
"First find out if that craft hid anything over there behind that key
where she was lying, and then follow her."
More confabbing of an unimportant and general nature followed
between Vinton and Kelsey and the man in tweeds, who was evidently
the special correspondent of some newspaper. At the end of the
conference, Kelsey called out:
"Well, I guess we'll mosey on, Lem. Goodby and good luck to you.
If you meet any smugglers in the upper 'glades or along the coast,
send word to Tampa; they'll rush a cutter with some of the Gulf police
to the spot. Keep a sharp eye on strange-looking craft, will you?"
"Aye, aye!" responded the Arrow's captain, little knowing into what
adventures this pursuit of smugglers would lead him and his crew.
In a few minutes the Petrel had swung about and was heading in the
direction from which the Esperanza had appeared. The Arrow was
left becalmed and drifting on the heavy swells of the Gulf; but her
crew, excited by the prospect of encountering freebooters of the main,
forgot to be seasick, even if they had been so inclined, and fell to
preparing their noonday meal.
Vinton tilted his cap over his left eye and surveyed the trim Arrow
with frank satisfaction, at the conclusion of their repast.
"All shipshape, boys? Good! Reckon I'll let one of you steer awhile,
and hit my bunk for an hour or two. There'll be wind out'n the
sou'east, later on; and then I'll take charge again. All you've got
to do now is to turn her around, with her nose pointin' yonder,"—-he
waved a hand toward the distant Sanibel Islands that stretch along
the coast south of Charlotte Harbor,—-"and take 'vantage of every
puff of wind that you can use for tackin'. Understand?"
They signified their readiness to manage the sloop, once she had gone
well beyond any reefs or bars, and they drew lots to see who should
be first to take the captain's place while he rested. The draw,
fell to Chester and he took charge of the helm. Alec came next,
then Billy took his turn, and finally Hugh. While one steered, the
others kept a look-out for the erratic Esperanza, thinking it
might again appear from some unexpected quarter. Mark and Roy
Norton lounged in the bow and lazily swapped fishing stories, not at
all averse to leaving the work to the rest.
With the departure of the Petrel on her return to the waters near
Snipe Point, and with a barely-perceptible rise of wind, the sloop
Arrow laid a zigzag course toward the Ten Thousand Islands and
came abreast of them about five o'clock. Beyond a broad inlet that
led into the bay, a white sand beach, sparsely overgrown with
crabgrass and waving palmettos, indicated to Dave that they were
near one of his old camping places. He called Captain Vinton's
attention to it, hinting that it would be a good place to spend
"Why not aboard the sloop?" queried Vinton, though he knew perfectly
well that Dave would seek any excuse to stretch his unseaworthy limbs
on terra firma in preference to tossing on the bosom of old ocean.
"Bad weather comin',—-windy to-night," said the Seminole prophet,
pointing to a bank of jagged slaty-gray clouds that was rising in the
west over the gulf.
"Reckon you're right, Dave. If that brings half the wind its looks
promise, I'd ruther have these keys between it and us—-eh? There's
anuther squall brewin' out yonder. Come on, let's go ashore, lads."
Making in shoreward, the Arrow presently cast anchor off a shallow
cove "inside" the nearest bar. All five boys got into the sloop's
dory, and after landing the others on the beach, Hugh rowed back to
the sloop to bring the captain, Norton and the guide ashore. When
they landed, they discovered Billy and Alec, Chester and Mark
engaged in examining a big battered tin box, locked, with its cover
sealed up with black sealing wax, which they had found half buried
in the sand.
"What is it? What have you got there?" Hugh asked quickly, running
"It looks like part of Captain Kidd's buried treasure!" said Billy,
whose eyes were sparkling with anticipation.
"Nothing of the sort!" declared matter-of-fact Chester. "It's
probably a lot of old maps and charts."
"Let's open it and see," was Alec's advice.
But the captain interposed.
"Let it alone, boys," he said. "It's marked with a small initial 'B.'
That may stand for Bego or—-bait."
ON A LONE SCOUT
The captain's oracular advice mystified the boys until, seated by
their evening camp fire of driftwood, he explained to them that the
mysterious box might be filled with articles such as Juan Bego and
his men were both hiding and collecting.
"I dunno as he's been as far up the coast as this," Vinton added,
"but 'twouldn't be hard for a sly old sea-dog like him to creep
along these keys at night time 'most any distance."
"Are we far from the Everglades?" asked Billy, cautiously stirring
the fire; for, in spite of the spring warmth, there was a decided
chill in the air so close to the ocean.
"Well, the 'Glades are a good stiff hike from here," replied the
captain. "Eh, Dave; how about it?"
The guide made no answer. Wearied with doing nothing all day, save
lying around on the deck of the Arrow a prey to seasickness, he had
fallen asleep. Above the splash of the surf and the rustle of the
wind in the palmettos, his snores could be heard distinctly, making
night hideous. Alec was on the point of waking him with a nudge
in the ribs, when Hugh restrained him.
"Let him sleep, Alec," he whispered. "Poor old Injun, he's comfortable
"So am I," added Chester, stretching himself out on the warm sand.
"This is better than those stuffy little bunks in the cabin, isn't it?"
The next minute he regretted those words, for Captain Vinton looked
at him with an aggrieved expression, as if peeved to hear any
disparagement of the Arrow. The good captain was inordinately
proud of his sloop, which he preferred to all other craft; indeed,
had he been offered the command of one of the gigantic Atlantic
liners, it is likely that he would have declined the honor.
Presently Vinton rose and, beginning to stroll up and down the beach,
looked all around him and up at the sky in the scrutinizing way which
seafaring men have when they retire for the night or turn out in the
morning, to ascertain what sort of weather they may expect.
Overhead, he saw large masses of clouds scudding across the starry
heavens, driven by the wind which bid fair to continue all night and
all the next day. Off on the lagoon loomed the dark hulk and slender
mast of the sloop, rising and falling on the choppy waves, her bow
light gleaming across the water like a watchful eye. At his feet
lay the dory, drawn up on the sand and moored by a line fastened
to a palmetto, well out of reach of the rising tide.
Behind him sparkled the ruddy camp fire with the recumbent figures
of the five scouts, Norton and the Indian grouped around it, and
nearby lay the neat little pile of provisions and utensils covered
with a tarpaulin. What matter if rain should chance to fall during
the night? They had brought light blankets and rubber ponchos from
the sloop, so they would be well protected.
Everything was safe and in order; he was satisfied and at peace with
all mankind,—-even with the smugglers who had roused his righteous
wrath,—-and his youthful companions were happy, enjoying the cruise
and their adventures.
So unpromising did the weather beyond the keys look, and so congenial
seemed the lagoon and this sheltered islet, the captain came to
the conclusion that it would not be amiss if they should linger there
a day or two longer than they had planned. After all, Alec's father
had set no time limit for the cruise and the boys were in no hurry to
return to Santario.
Thinking thus, he rejoined his crew around the fire and heard
them discussing a plan to take the dory and row out on the lagoon
in the morning, if it were not too rough, in the hope of catching
some fresh fish for breakfast. He assented to this plan, for
he himself intended to go aboard the Arrow the first thing on
the morrow to look her over and see how she had weathered the
night. Wrapping himself in a blanket and bidding the boys follow
his example, he lay down beside the embers and was soon asleep.
Hugh and Billy, lovers of surf-bathing, would fain have taken a dip
into the breakers before going to sleep; but Alec sensibly counseled
them against this.
"Wait till daylight If you shed your clothes now and go in, the
mosquitoes will eat you alive before you're dry again," he warned
them. "Besides, it's dangerous to go in around these shores in
the darkness. You might stumble into a hole or a sea-puss and
be carried out to sea before you knew what had happened. And
Dave told me there are sharks that——-"
"Oh, forget it!" laughed Billy. "We have no intention of furnishing
supper to a shark. Anyway, real, live, man-eating sharks are as
scarce as hens' teeth—-almost."
Nevertheless, being overruled by Hugh, who saw the wisdom of Alec's
advice, he promptly abandoned the desire for a plunge; and, as he
soon learned, they did well to seek the protection of their smoke
smudge, for the mosquitoes were truly formidable. Even under the
canopy of smoke, these noxious insects darted viciously to bite and
torment the campers. Time and time again, the boys were awakened
from sleep by the attacks of these buzzing pests; but at last they
grew more accustomed to such onslaughts, and pulling nets closely
around their limbs and faces, they sank into deeper slumber.
* * * * * *
"The evening red, the morning gray
Sets the traveler on his way.
The evening gray, the morning red
Brings showers down upon his head."
Hugh whispered these words softly to himself when he awoke in the
dim twilight hour just before dawn. It was still too dark for him
to distinguish objects clearly, and for a moment he felt that queer
sensation of being lost, of not knowing just where he was—-that
feeling which sometimes comes to one even in the most familiar
surroundings. At once, however, it left him, and the little rhyme
crept into his mind instead.
"Wonder why I waked up so suddenly?" was his silent query as he
lay there blinking up at the sky, watching the few visible stars
grow pale and paler. "Thought I heard some noise like distant
thunder, very far away, and then it changed into the sound of
muffled oars, or the tchug-chug-tchug of a motor boat. Then a
voice said softly, 'It's a fine morn—-' Oh, pshaw! Must have
been dreaming. Is anybody else awake?"
He sat up and peered through the dusk. No, his companions were
still asleep, prone on the sand. The breeze had lessened and
the nocturnal insects had begun to take flight into the shadowy
undergrowth, retreating before the advance of day. Across the
dark stretch of water between this island and the mainland a flock
of waterfowl flew noiselessly and vanished over the dunes. The
surf broke with monotonous, soothing rhythm, stirring the silence
with little waves of sound.
"It must have been the surf I heard," Hugh thought, still trying
to decide what had roused him from sleep.
Quietly rising, so as not to disturb his friends, he stole down
to the beach and stood gazing at the sloop, which now rode calmly
at anchor, her bow light still shining.
"And yet it did sound like a motor boat," he said aloud.
The sound of his own voice, breaking the stillness, almost startled
him. With a short, low laugh at his habit of talking aloud when
alone, he turned his back on camp and walked on for some little
distance up the beach, until he rounded a curve of the shore and
saw before him a narrow channel separating the island on which he
stood from another, slightly larger. Clumps of young palms grew on
that other island, taller and greener than those around the camping
place. Hugh had been told that a palmetto bud cut out of a young,
fresh, green palm would be fine with a piece of fat pork in making
a stew; so he felt tempted to swim across the estuary and gather a
The fact is, this desire was chiefly an excuse for a bit of exploration.
Hugh loved to prowl around in unfamiliar places even if he were
alone, though he naturally preferred to share a quest of discoveries
with some comrade. So now, shedding his coat, outer shirt, and shoes,
but retaining his other garments for protection against mosquitoes,
he dived into the inlet and swam across it easily.
Continuing his tramp, he presently found himself on the slope of a
sandy mound which formed the northeastern extremity of the small
island. From the top of this he could obtain a good view of the
surrounding islands and the mainland. He sat down to rest on the
mound and to enjoy the outlook.
By this time the eastern sky was beginning to show a pale rosy glow,
and soon the first rays of the rising sun turned the edges of clouds
into flame. Across this glowing expanse the mainland stretched as
far as the eye could see, a dark, low-lying, emerald-hued mass,
varied and mysterious.
As Hugh gazed, the sun rose into view, flooding earth and sky and sea
with glorious light. The boy drew a deep breath of wonder and turned
to look around him on all sides. As he did so, his eyes rested on
something which changed his breath of admiration into a gasp of
At the base of the mound on which he sat, partly hidden by clumps
of stunted cypress and palms, was a small hut built of bamboo
and thatched with palm leaves. It was built in the form of a
lean-to against the slope of a sand dune near the shore, and at
first glance it seemed to be part of the island itself. Indeed,
it was so well concealed that Hugh might never have noticed it
at all, save for the fact that he caught sight of a canoe with three
men in it approaching the hut, from behind still another island.
Some instinct warned him not to let himself be seen, and he slid
down from the top of the mound and lay flat, watching the canoe.
He felt like a scout in the enemy's territory, or a sentry on duty,
stationed there to observe the actions of unknown foes.
To his surprise, the canoe came to land directly in front of the
hut, and the three men sprang out into the shallow water and drew
it up on the beach. From the bottom of the canoe they lifted a long
object rolled in canvas. Suspending this from their shoulders, they
disappeared into the hut.
THE HUT ON THE BEACH
Hugh was agog with curiosity. He felt that he must find out who were
those three stealthy strangers and what they were doing there.
"Perhaps they're smugglers," was his first thought. "If they are,
I'd be doing a real service to Uncle Sam if I could report their
whereabouts to the Petrel when she comes back this way. Gee! it's
worth the risk! Here goes!"
Without stopping to think much more about it, Hugh began to creep
forward on hands and knees down the mound and quite close to the
bamboo lean-to. Though usually unwilling to play the part of an
eavesdropper, he felt justified in his present impulsive venture
by the actions of the three men, for they seemed to be engaged
in some underhand work which would not stand the light of day.
So hiding himself behind a cypress stump, Hugh listened eagerly,
straining his ears to catch every word.
The men spoke in low voices so he could not hear everything, but
he heard enough to convince him that they were indeed smugglers.
They were arranging to convey a cargo of dynamite from a point near
the mouth of the little stream Sandgate on the peninsula (Florida)
over to this retreat on the island. This was to be done on the
first night when there was no moon and the wind was blowing off shore.
"There's a guy named Durgan lives over yonder in a little clearing
'bout a hundred yards up from the mouth of the creek," said one
of the men. "Lives there all year 'round alone, fishin' an' raisin'
turtles fer market. Queer ol' cuss, kind-a looney,—-but he's
friendly to us and willin' to oblige us by showin' a light in his
cabin winder when the coast is clear."
"You theenk dat will be next——-"
The rest of that question was lost to Hugh, because the man who had
first spoken muttered a warning of silence, then added something in
a still lower tone. In vain Hugh tried to catch the words. Then
the man whose accent indicated that he was either a Creole or a
Haytian spoke again.
"Eet is not alway so easy to tell when dere will be no moon," he said.
"And der wind, eet blow effery way—-in one day."
"Never mind,—-just wait," came the answer. "One o' these nights,
perhaps to-morrow, we'll——-"
Again the sentence was lost. Hugh frowned impatiently. However,
as they went on talking he heard some more of their designs—-in
particular, the fact that the dynamite was to be used for blowing
up a railroad bridge.
Thinking that he had heard enough by this time and knowing that if
they discovered him he would be captured as a spy, Hugh began to
wonder how and when he should leave his hiding place and crawl back
to camp with the least risk of being observed. At any moment the
men might emerge from the hut or others of their gang might join
them. Yet he did so want to learn where they had come from, and
whether their vessel was lying at anchor somewhere among these
many islands! So he lay there, flat on the sand, scarcely daring
to breathe lest he should be heard, heartily wishing the men would
give some more definite hint of their purposes, and devoutly hoping
that none of his friends, missing him from camp, would come in
search of him with shouts and calls!
"That would be fierce!" he whispered inaudibly. "That would give
me away and scare off these jail birds mighty quick!"
Suddenly the distant tchug-tchug of a gasoline motor boat came to
his ears. Raising himself on his elbows, he peered over the stump,
out across the glittering blue water, and saw a good-sized dory,
manned by a solitary individual who wore light oilskins, coming
swiftly toward the hut on the beach.
"That must be the motor boat that passed our camp last night,"
thought Hugh. "I feel sure now, surer than ever, that I heard it go
by in the darkness. But it's coming over from the mainland now.
Wonder who's that man at the tiller?"
Down he sank again and waited.
Presently the motor-dory drew up alongside the strip of beach in
front of the bamboo hut and came to a standstill. The man in
oilskins called out:
"Hey! You-all in thar!"
Instantly one of the three rascals came forth from the hut.
"Hello, Durgan!" he called, not at all loudly, through his cupped
hands. "What's the news?"
"Beat it!" was Durgan's warning answer. "Thar's a campin' party on
th' island below here—-I seen 'em 'bout ten minutes ago—-old Cap'n
Lem Vinton, an Injun, an' four or five boys."
"Lem Vinton, eh? All right, Joe, we're going. Can you tow us
around Spider Key?"
"Nope. I'm goin' home now," Joe Durgan replied tersely, with the
abruptness of one who has done an irksome duty and would avoid further
responsibility for the present.
Suiting actions to words, he quickened his engine and made off toward
the Florida shore.
His boat had scarcely become a speck on the water, when Hugh began
to crawl back to the other side of the mound. Joe Durgan, who was
evidently not nearly so "looney" as represented, had warned the
smugglers of the presence of the Arrow near their retreat, and
Hugh realized that no time should be lost if Vinton were to spread
sail and go in pursuit of them or of the Petrel.
"Now's the time for me to beat it, too," he resolved. "While
they're talking they won't hear me or see me, and I can hurry back
to the place where I left my coat and shoes."
When he had gone some little distance without being discovered,
he fancied he was safe and rose to his feet, intending to run
as fast as his legs could carry him—-which was no snail's pace,
indeed! Scarcely had he begun to move forward, however, when he
heard a shout, followed by the sound of hurried footsteps.
Being fleet of foot and having no desire to be caught and treated
as a spy, he set off running at full speed. The ground was quite
rough and he had to turn aside to avoid bushes and hollows, yet he
had no difficulty in keeping ahead of his pursuers. The very
impediments in his way served to retard pursuit, and he did not
despair of escaping. He had to cross over a ridge, at the top of
which he was exposed to view. He had just reached it, when he
heard some one shout:
"Stop! Come down,—-or I'll fire!"
"Fire away!" thought Hugh, knowing how unlikely it was that any one
would be so desperate as to shoot at him. "You can't stop me with
that foolish bluff!"
Ignoring the threat, he rushed down the little hill, hoping soon
to find some spot where he could turn off to one side or the other,
hide in shelter, and thus evade the rascals. He was surprised to
find that he had gone so far in his wanderings, that the smugglers'
island was so much larger than it had seemed. For a moment he felt
a vague fear that he had lost his bearings and was running in the
To ascertain how near his pursuers were, he threw a glance over
his shoulder. This proved fatal to his hopes, for his foot caught
in a tangle of crab-grass and down he came headlong. Over and
over he rolled; and then for some seconds he lay still, a little
dazed by his fall, unable to move. The next minute he found himself
in the grasp of two men.
"Hullo, youngster! What made you try to git away from us?" asked
one of them in an angry tone. He was a short, thick-set, burly man,
with black eyes that seemed to glitter like a serpent's. His huge
hands fastened upon Hugh's arm in a grip of steel.
Hugh replied truthfully but not very wisely: "I'm on my way to camp,
and I want to get there as soon as possible."
"Camp, eh? Who are you?"
"I don't see what that has to do with my being in a hurry to get
"Maybe not, but we want to know where you was hidin' before you hit
the trail," said the other man, a dark-visaged fellow with a
sinister cast in one eye. "Come on now! Spit it out!"
"I was just exploring this island for fun," replied Hugh. "I was
"You were hiding!" vehemently declared the black-eyed man.
"On the ground, of course; there are no trees to climb around here."
"None o' yer guff!" The swarthy captor dealt Hugh a hard thwack on
the side of his head. "What's yer business here, anyhow? Where's
"By gad, I'll make ye open up!" cried the cross-eyed knave, losing
his temper. He was about to strike Hugh again, when the other man,
still holding the lad in a steel-trap grip, pushed him aside with
"Hold off, Harry," he commanded gruffly. "I know where his camp
is. He's one of Lem Vinton's crew. That's the Arrow over yonder,
but he ain't going back to it yet awhile."
"Let me go!" shouted Hugh, struggling to free himself from the grasp
of those sinewy hands. "Let me go, I say! What—-what do you want
with me? I tell you—-help! Hel——-"
The frantic shout was checked by another blow from the angry ruffian's
fist, and Hugh measured his length upon the sand.
"Shut up, will ye?" snarled the man, thrusting a bunch of sharp-edged
grass into Hugh's mouth. "Look here, Branks," he added, "we can't
let this kid blow the gaff on us to Lem Vinton. Why, the cap'n
wouldn't wait ten minutes before he'd sail out to find that blamed
cutter ag'in; and then we'd have him and the Petrel on our trail."
"Harry, you're right—-dead right. The boy has got to come with
"Sure! Here, lend a hand. Tie his arms."
With their leather belts they bound the lad's hands securely, despite
his struggles. Once, by a manful effort, he managed to break away
and run forward a few yards. But they were after him instantly,
before he could get the gag out of his mouth. In the tussle that
followed, he kicked and writhed so vigorously that the cross-eyed
captor howled with pain. Then, beside himself with rage, he felled
Hugh by a blow on the head.
Myriads of stars reeled in the sunlight before Hugh's eyes, then the
light of day changed to pitch darkness, and Hugh sank down on the
sand—-a limp heap, unconscious.
KIDNAPPED BY SMUGGLERS
When Hugh regained his senses, about half an hour later, he found
himself lying on the bottom of a canoe, bound and gagged, staring up
at the sky. The sun beat down upon him, full in his face, causing
him to close his eyes until he could just see through the
lashes,—-a trick he had learned in many games played in the
woodlands. In the present instance it served him well, for the
three men who were paddling the canoe swiftly toward the mainland
believed that he had not yet recovered fully from the punishing they
had given him; so, after their first glance, they paid little
attention to the captive.
Though the threatened storm which Captain Vinton and Dave had looked
for on the previous evening had given way to a mild and sunny day,
the breeze was still brisk and the sea was choppy. The canoe bobbed
up and down on the short waves, and Hugh was rolled from one side to
the other or bounced roughly with every motion of the light craft.
He felt sick and sore, his head ached miserably, and though he had
had no breakfast, the very thought of food was repugnant to him.
On the island, he mused, his friends would have discovered his
discarded garments by this time, and would be calling and hallooing
to him—-in vain. What would they think of his prolonged absence?
That he had been drowned, or attacked by sharks, or lost in a
quicksand?—-what on earth would they imagine had happened to him?
And Billy? Poor Billy, he would be quite frantic over the strange
disappearance of his chum! The actual state of affairs would be
about the last guess to enter their minds.
Well, it could not be helped now. He would have to bide his time and
await developments, trusting that his friends would not delay their
coming to the rescue. Meanwhile, where were these three villains
taking him against his will?
After dodging from one island or key to another, slipping along the
shady shores, the canoe suddenly struck out across the wider stretch
of water, beyond which lay the mainland. Presently it thrust its
nose into the soft bank of a stream, or, rather, a sluggish
water-course which made a clear channel in an ocean of waving
saw-grass. The men shipped their paddles, stepped out, and lifted
Hugh to his feet; then they dragged him ashore.
He was able now to look about him, to see where they had landed.
A desolate spot it was, being merely an indentation in the swampy
coast, a deep cove formed by two projecting arms of land which
boasted of no vegetation except the tall grass and a group of
stunted palmettos. Into this cove flowed a stream, and at a little
distance from the mouth of the stream stood three log cabins,
thatched with bundles of grass. They were all that remained of
a little camp of fishermen and beach-combers, which had once shown
promise of becoming a village before it had been finally abandoned
to the wilderness.
From the stove-pipe chimney of one of these cabins, the largest, a
thin spiral of blue smoke rose and drifted away on the breeze. This
was the only sign of human occupancy. The other two dilapidated
buildings might readily be imagined to shelter only spiders and
snakes. Toward this habitation the smugglers now led their young
captive, having first removed the gag from his mouth.
"Now you can shout an' yell all you've a mind to," said Branks, his
black eyes twinkling with grim mirth. "Raise the roof, if you want;
there won't be anybody for miles around to hear you."
Hugh made no reply, though his quick temper was at the boiling point.
He did not believe a word of the taunt; indeed, on the way over
from the island, listening to the men's talk, he had formed the
opinion that they were trying to "bluff" him, trying to impress
him with the idea that he was helpless and far away from his friends.
The chief thing which puzzled him was:
Why had not the Arrow given chase to the canoe if his friends had
caught sight of it, as they must have done? It seemed very unlikely
that no one of his party had seen the canoe stealing out across the
water. Hugh did not know that Vinton, as soon as the canoe had been
sighted, had given orders to go aboard the sloop at once, and that the
Arrow had promptly gone in pursuit, but such was the case. Only, by
some accident, the sloop had struck shoal water and was now stuck fast
on a sandbar, waiting for the tide to lift her afloat.
Meanwhile, approaching the hut, Branks strode forward, paused, and
gave a weird, low whistle. He was answered by a similar one, and then
the cabin door was opened by a man dressed in a brown flannel
hunting-shirt, corduroy trousers, and hip boots rolled down to the
knees. He stood shading his eyes with both hands, as if blinded by
the sunlight on emerging from the windowless cabin.
"That you, Harry?" he inquired.
"No, it's me—-Branks," replied the other man. "Confound your
eyesight, Joe! can't you tell an honest poor cuss from a crook?"
He laughed at this merry sally, and Joe Durgan responded with a snort.
"Who you-all got thar?" was his next question, as the others came
up. "A kid, eh? What you-all doin' with him?" He blinked at Hugh,
much as a sleepy owl blinks at a hunter who has discovered its nest.
Then a thought crossed his mind: "O-ho! you're one o' the crowd
campin' o'er yonder!"
"Right you are, Mr. Durgan!" declared Hugh with calm politeness. "But
why I've been captured and brought here, I don't quite see. I wasn't
doing any harm that I know of just prowling around the islands for
the fun of it,—-nothing more."
"Whar your frien's?"
"Don't know, I'm sure. They'll be over here looking for me in a
short while, I guess."
"They will, eh? Don't say so? Well, come in and make yourself to
There was something so sinister in this invitation and in the leer
which accompanied it, that Hugh felt a qualm of misgiving. He hung
back, uncertain what to say next, until cross-eyed Harry gave him a
push that sent him staggering through the doorway. The four men
then entered the cabin after him, closing the door cautiously.
Inside the hut they were in comparative darkness, the only light
coming in between the chinks in the log walls. An opening which
had once served as a window was now boarded across, for some unknown
reason. The only furniture in the dwelling consisted of a fine
old mahogany table—-sadly out of place—-three cheap wooden chairs,
a cupboard against one wall, and a rude bunk beside it covered
with deer-skins. From the cupboard Durgan brought forth a tallow
candle set upright on a broken saucer. Lighting this, he placed
it on the table.
"Sit o'er thar," he said to Hugh, pointing to the bunk.
Hugh obeyed in silence; and the men then gathered around the table,
speaking in tones so low that he could scarcely distinguish the words.
"A strange scene!" he thought, surveying the dingy interior.
"Outside, broad daylight; in here, four scoundrels in candle-council,
planning deeds of darkness; and I, trussed up like a calf, watching
them because there doesn't seem to be anything else I can do. At
least, not just now."
He lay down on the bunk, heaving a sigh of weariness.
Hearing the sigh, Joe Durgan glanced up. "If you'll behave like
a good lad an' not try to run away," he said, grinning, "I'll
untie your hands, and you kin be more comf'table-like. What say?"
"Thanks!" said Hugh; and when Durgan, assuming the word to be a
promise of good behavior, unbound the prisoner, Hugh lay down again
and feigned sleep. In his heart he was grateful to Durgan for the
kindness, but he was no less resolved to take every opportunity for
escaping that might arise.
The men continued to speak in low voices, but he heard enough of
their discussion to convince him once more that they were arranging
to meet at a spot where some sort of a cargo was to be run, the first
night when there would be no moon and an off-shore wind. As far as
he could learn from the snatches of talk which reached his ears, the
spot was to be close to this deserted settlement; before them was a
little sandy bay where boats could come ashore, even should there be
a heavy sea running outside.
It was further decided that Joe Durgan would show a light in a window
of one of the smaller cabins if the coast was clear.
In order to draw off the revenue cutter men from the spot, they
proposed also to set afire two small hay ricks which stood near.
By so doing, they hoped that the crew of the Petrel would try to
extinguish the flames, so as to prevent the fire spreading inland to
an extensive grove of valuable cypress trees. As this was sure to be
no easy work, the smugglers calculated to run the cargo and carry the
goods into the cellar of the cabin.
"Didn't know this hang-out had a cellar," said Branks. "Why don't
"Shut up!" interrupted the cross-eyed man, holding up a grimy finger
which he pointed at Hugh. "Did you say cigar, Branks?" he added
craftily in a louder tone, so that Hugh might hear.
"No, I said cel——-"
"I won't sell one, but I'll give you one," again interposed the other.
"Here, take it!" And he added under his breath with an ugly oath,
"You double-dyed fool!"
Hugh lay still, breathing deeply and heartily wishing the men would
go away. He began to fear they would spend the day there in hiding.
Presently, however, they rose from the table and went out, closing
and locking the door behind them. He was a prisoner! He sprang up
and rushed over to the door.
"Let me out!" he cried, beating on it with clenched fists. "You
crooks'll have to pay for this when you're caught!"
A loud laugh was the only answer.
THE PLIGHT OF THE "ARROW"
Hours later, when the Arrow was finally clear of the bar, she
veered around and made down the coast, passing the little bay where
the canoe had landed. So occupied with the distressing problem of
Hugh's disappearance had her crew been,—-for not one of the party
could believe him drowned,—-and so busy in trying to keep the sloop
from being pounded to pieces by the waves while stranded, that no one
aboard had noticed the canoe on its return trip across the strait.
When sailing order had been restored and Captain Vinton had ceased
to rage and swear at the mischance, his one idea was to return to
the waters where he knew the Petrel was cruising. Strange to say,
he was the only one who guessed that Hugh had fallen into the hands
of "coast-prowlers" as he called them,—-with adjectives too lurid to
mention!—-and was, being held captive lest he betray their plans.
With this idea in mind, he was determined to bring the revenue cutter
to Hugh's rescue; he knew the Petrel could cope with the situation.
By an unlooked-for stroke of fortune, he had not gone very far down
the coast before he sighted the cutter, and soon he brought the
Arrow within hailing distance. He communicated the news to the
officers on board, and a sort of council of war took place
immediately. Together, they were not long in forming a plan of
It was decided that they should proceed forthwith to a small fortress
a few miles southward, where a squad of regulars was stationed. The
place was called Fort Leigh, but it scarcely deserved the name, being
in reality only a temporary camp located on the site of an old
fortification which had been a military headquarters during the
Seminole wars. Its nearness to the vicinity in which, according to
the Petrel's reliable information, the smugglers were operating was
the reason why all decided to go there for assistance.
Lieutenant Driscoll was in command at the fort and he could be counted
on to bring the smugglers to terms.
"Why, it's the most high-handed piece of knavery I've heard of for
many a long day!" he exclaimed when the information formation was
brought to him by Vinton and the others. "Those scoundrels must have
their nerve, all right, to kidnap a young fellow merely because they
didn't want him to tell tales!"
"It's an outrage!" agreed Norton emphatically. "But we've got to get
busy right away, Lieutenant. What are we going to do about it?"
"You're right. We must lose no time," replied Driscoll directly.
"We'll set out this very hour and invade the haunts of gang. They're
not many miles from here, I'm told, hiding in the Everglades. Come
with me; I'll have my men ready in half an hour.
"You boys'll go along, of course," he added. "If we have to pitch
camp for a night or two, while we're hunting them, we'll need you
for signalers or scouts, or for picket duty."
"Picket duty?" echoed Chester.
"Yes, both in camp and along the line of march. I presume you all
are willing to serve?"
"Yes, sir; we certainly are!" came the eager chorus. Then, abashed
at their lack of military formality, the speakers saluted in more
soldierly fashion and stood at attention, awaiting orders.
These were soon given, and after a hurried preparation the whole
party—-with the exception of three privates who remained at the
fort—-sallied forth against "Bego's gang." It was decided not to go
on board the Petrel for the few miles' trip back along the coast,
but to use the Arrow, instead; for the latter would not be so
easily recognized by the smugglers.
"No doubt they'll have pickets posted at different points near
Durgan's settlement, if, as we suspect, they have a rendezvous
there," said Lieutenant Driscoll. "But we'll camp tonight on
Palmetto Key, cross over to the shore the first thing to-morrow
"Of course; and then we'll land on 'em, hot-and-heavy. I count on
their trying to ship a cargo to-morrow night, when there'll be no
"I understand," said Norton. "Will you permit me to make a suggestion,
"By all means, my dear sir. What is it?"
"Well, the fact that you mentioned their pickets gave me an idea that
it would be well if you sent some of us,—-say these scouts and myself,
for instance,—-over to the mainland to-night to act as pickets for
you fellows encamped on Palmetto Key."
"An excellent idea! But how do you propose to communicate with us,
in case there should be anything doing to-night?"
"By means of bonfires on the shore, or by wig-wagging with torches."
"I thought you would say that!" exclaimed the lieutenant heartily.
"You mean—-you don't approve of that part of the plan?"
Lieutenant Driscoll laughed.
"Oh, not at all! That is, I meant only that I was pleased to discover
a civilian who knows anything about signaling."
Amused at the lieutenant's patronizing comment, Norton merely smiled
in his good-natured way, though he would fain have answered more
sharply. Alec and Billy glanced at him and then at each other, and
"I guess the lieutenant doesn't know that Boy Scouts are expected to
be pretty efficient signalers, does he, Bill?"
To which Billy responded with a snort:
"What he doesn't know would fill a book!"
Fortunately these remarks were not heard by anyone but Dave, for the
lieutenant and Norton were arranging a system of signals to be used
in case of necessity. Meanwhile, with Vinton at the helm, and the
men of Driscoll's company crowded on the deck of the sloop talking
with the other scouts, the trim little Arrow was making good speed
over the blue water. Billy and Alec walked restlessly up and down
the deck, their minds busy with thoughts of Hugh, for whom they felt
no little anxiety.
"Wonder what he's doing now?" said Alec.
"I'd give anything to know for sure that he's alive and safe!" was
Billy's rueful rejoinder. "I've heard all sorts of stories about
what rough-necks like those smugglers do to any one that butts in on
"You don't believe they'd kill him?"
"No-o, hardly that. But they might——"
"The worst of it is," interrupted Alec, "we don't even know that he's
alive. He might have been drowned or——-"
"I won't believe that, Alec! I can't believe it!"
"But you said just now——-"
"I don't know what I said or what I meant!"
"Calm down, Billy, old scout! You're all upset."
"Who wouldn't be, I'd like to know?"
"I don't blame you," said Alec in genuine sympathy. "We all are, you
know; but we've got to keep our heads, and we mustn't despair."
"Yes, you're right, Alec."
There was a brief silence, while the two friends stood by the rail
watching the low-lying shore slip past them as the Arrow flew
onward. Then Billy spoke again, and his voice was steadier.
"We're going to find Hugh and get him out of danger," he said quietly,
"so let's get ready to do our level best."
"I'm with you, Bill! That's the stuff. That's the way to feel! Why,
it helps a lot not to lose hope at the start! Come on, let's find out
what we're going to do first."
Mark Anderson came over to them just then, tugging at his cap to keep
it from being blown away.
"We're almost at Palmetto Key now," he said. "Whew! I'll be glad when
we're off this boat on dry land,—-and doing something! This
cruising-around-while-you-wait gets my nerve! I've had about enough
of the salt water, anyway. When we get Hugh back, me for the choo-choo
cars home to Santario!"
It was a natural impatience, and some of the boys shared it for the
time being. They might change their minds later, they agreed, but at
present most of them were of Dave's opinion of the cruise—-"Heap
much trouble, not much fun." However, the prospect of excitement and
a possible encounter with smugglers on the outskirts of the Everglades,
cheered them considerably.
Gliding through the channels between islands and keys, and keeping
out of sight of watchers on the mainland as far as possible, the
Arrow finally cast anchor off Palmetto Key nearly opposite Durgan's
cove, and the boat made two trips ashore with Norton and the boys.
Dave went with them, of course, for he was thoroughly familiar with
that section of the coast. Each was armed with a revolver and a belt
of cartridges, but orders were given that there should be no shooting
except in self-defense or as a last desperate resort to make "the gang"
deliver up their prisoner.
They landed on a little grass-covered peninsula about a hundred yards
from the cove, and immediately began to look around them for good
station points to observe the movements of "the enemy." The ground in
that locality was somewhat higher than the surrounding expanses, and
therefore less swampy; but there were numerous little zigzag ditches or
watercourses in which the tide rose until it overflowed the banks.
"We'd better not linger here," said Norton.
"When the tide comes in, this little point of land will be under water."
"No, no," said Dave, shaking his head. "Safe here—-see!" He pointed
to the dry grass blades on which were no traces of brine. "You stay
here. Me and Billy go get canoe."
"Canoe? Where can you get one?"
Again Dave pointed, this time to a group of three ramshackle cabins
just visible through the bushes. In one of those cabins Hugh was
even then a prisoner. Had Dave or Billy known this, they would not
have hesitated to swim to the place, if need be to say nothing of the
difficulty of going there and "borrowing" a canoe, in which they all
could approach the smugglers' headquarters.
Dave explained that the cabins on the cove were called "Durgan's
settlement," and that the place bore a bad reputation. He added that
to his certain knowledge the revenue men had intended for some time
past to raid the place, and that they had waited only for more proof
that the smugglers foregathered there.
Having assured the others that he and Billy would soon return with
some kind of a canoe or boat, Dave set forth, accompanied by Hugh's
chum. The others, separating, took up their positions where they
were concealed by the long grass, but where they had a good view of
the islands and straits, the cove, and the three cabins.
They were now pickets on duty.
A GATHERING OF THE CLAN
"If there are any of the gang around here, where on earth are they?"
The question came in a whisper from Billy, as he and the Seminole
pursued their way cautiously along the edge of a watercourse, in the
direction of the cabins. Bending forward, sometimes crawling on
hands and knees, they advanced—-an inch at every step, it seemed to
"Do you think they're hiding near here?" he asked, and Dave shook his
"Gone 'way," was his answer. "Boat come back to-night, mebbe so."
"Boat? What boat?"
"Oh! Then you think they'll try to leave this part of the coast soon?"
"Dunno. Wait. We see, we tell Petrel."
There was nothing else to do, so Billy curbed his eagerness to learn
the present whereabouts of the smugglers and crawled forward in
silence. Once he drew back with a gasp of horror as a large moccasin
snake darted across his path; but seeing the loathsome creature glide
away to a safe distance, he went on, following the guide.
Nevertheless, a chill ran down his spine when he thought how narrowly
he had escaped stumbling full tilt upon the reptile, which, unlike the
rattlesnake, never gives warning of its presence.
When they had traversed the stretch of marsh between the peninsula
and the cove, alternately walking on soft springy ground above a bed
of coralline limestone and wading knee-deep along the watercourse,
they emerged upon the left bank of the cove. The two smaller cabins
were not more than twenty paces distant, and between them was a plank
bridge rudely built in the form of a trestle. Dave and Billy
approached this bridge.
Suddenly they stopped short and crouched in the high grass. Plainly
to their ears came the shrill barking of a dog.
Dave expressed his feelings in one round oath, which, being uttered
in his native dialect, sounded to Billy "Like gargling the throat."
It needed no expletives to inform Billy that the dog's appearance on
the scene of action was certain to cause trouble.
"Ketch um dog, choke um!" said Dave, looking about him to see if the
barking had brought anyone to the place.
"Where is the cur?" Billy asked.
"Don't see um," replied the Seminole. He straightened up until his
head was above the top of the grass. "A-ah!" he exclaimed in a
guttural tone. "Man in sailboat yonder."
Impulsively Billy scrambled to a kneeling position, and his gaze
followed Dave's. The two spies then beheld the figure of a man
seated in the stern of a dug-out canoe that carried a mast and
sail and was coming around the bend of a stream.
"If he sees us——-" began Billy.
"S-s-sh!" Dave interrupted warningly. "Wait, see where he go."
"Is the dog barking at us or at him? What d'you think, Dave?"
"At us," was the answer. "Man come, let dog loose,—-we better
go back! Incah!"
"No," said Billy firmly. "Dog or no dog, I'm not going back till
I've found out where they've hidden Hugh!"
If Billy had only known that Hugh was locked in that further cabin!
If Hugh had only been able to communicate with his friends on
picket duty! How much trouble would have been avoided,—-yet what
an adventure they would have missed!
Dave now explained to Billy that his purpose had been to purloin
the sailing canoe, so that the smugglers on shore would be dependent
on a boat from the Esperanza to take them and their goods away.
This would enable the crew of the Petrel to intercept the smugglers
as soon as they landed. But now, with the appearance of this man in
the canoe, Dave's plan seemed about to be thwarted.
* * * * * *
Meanwhile, what of the others who remained on the peninsula?
More than an hour passed before any one saw a suspicious figure on
the landscape. Then Alec, whose post was farthest removed from the
landing place, suddenly caught sight of two men walking along the
shore. They were carrying the same battered tin box which he and
Billy had found half buried in the sand, many hours ago. Evidently
the box was heavy, for they appeared to stagger with its weight.
Alec raised his voice in the weird, low call of the otter. As his
patrol was named after that animal, he knew that Chester, also of
the Otter patrol, would recognize the signal. In this case it meant
"Danger. Look around you."
From a distance, hidden behind a clump of palmettos, Chet responded
with the same call twice, in quick succession.
But the men carrying the box heard the calls. They knew it was still
too early in the afternoon for otters to be hunting so noisily, and
they were surprised, startled, suspicious. To Alec's dismay, they
dropped the box, stood still, and stared all around them. Alec lay
flat on the ground, trusting that his khaki suit and brown flannel
shirt would help him to escape observation. At the same time he
dread lest one of the other pickets would be seen too soon.
The two men, after gazing out to sea as if expecting to sight a
vessel on the horizon, picked up the box and came on again. Every
step brought them nearer Alec, who of course had been told to allow
all strangers to pass unchallenged—-until to-morrow.
"Hark!" said one of the men, listening. "That's Rover barking!"
"He barks at nothing!" declared the other. "Eet is a fool dawg, zat
Rover! I know heem, yes."
"You haven't as much sense as that 'fool dawg,' Max!" retorted the
first speaker, who was none other than the swarthy ruffian, Harry
Mole. "Somethin's going on over there at the settlement or the dog
wouldn't bark. Come on, hurry; Branks may need us."
So saying, he and his companion passed by, and Alec, who had heard
every word, breathed a sigh of relief. He wished the two men were
not going in the same direction Dave and Billy had taken; but he
felt sure that the latter could give a good account of themselves
if discovered in hiding.
"But that would upset the whole scheme," he reflected. "Perhaps I'd
better sneak around, ahead of those two rascals, and warn Dave and
Billy to lie low? Or shall I—-no, I've been stationed here, and
it's up to me to stick to this post."
As he watched the two men stumbling on over the uneven ground, he
wondered with a little thrill of apprehension whether they would run
across any of the other pickets, or even meet Billy and Dave returning
from their quest.
However, no such undesired event came to pass, and the two smugglers
finally disappeared behind a row of trees covered with vines.
After that, the watchful young pickets waited in silence, with only a
low-spoken word now and then as they paced back and forth under cover
to emphasize the stillness. An hour passed,—-another hour,—-the sun
began its slow descent into the broad bosom of the ocean. Long before
this, the Arrow had slipped away a little farther up along the coast,
so that she would be out of sight behind one of the numerous islands
in case the Esperanza drew near Durgan's cove.
Once the dog's barking sounded louder, and nearer, but after a minute
or two it ceased, and silence reigned over all.
"What's become of Dave and Billy?" wondered Chester.
The same question was troubling the minds of Roy Norton and Mark
Anderson, in their respective station-points; but there seemed to be
no answer to it at present.
Twilight crept upon them apace, then deepened into the shadows of
night. As they had arranged, they left their posts and assembled at
the place chosen for their landing. After hours of more-or-less
solitary watching, it seemed good to be together in council, to eat
their simple supper, and to compare notes.
In the midst of their evening meal, the faint purring of a motorboat's
engine reached their ears, and after a few minutes a boat with two
figures in it was seen approaching them, gliding almost noiselessly
along one of the waterways. The occupants of the boat were Billy
Worth and Dave. Reaching the place, they stopped the engine, ran the
boat's nose into the soft bank, and sprang ashore.
"Where—-how——did you get it?" asked Norton in surprise.
"The boat? Oh, we just borrowed it from Joe Durgan and his friends!"
Billy declared. "We saw the boat tied to a little trestle over there
at the deserted settlement, and when we saw Durgan and two other men
go into one of the cabins, we sneaked up quickly and took the boat
from them without asking permission and got away with it!"
"Didn't they see you, or hear the engine?"
"No," answered Billy.
"That's strange! Are you sure?"
"There were no windows in the cabin, that we could see," explained
Billy, "and when they got inside, they made a lot of noise."
"Gee! won't they be wild when they find their boat gone!" said Mark.
"They may think it slipped its moorings and drifted away on the tide.
At least, that's what Dave says."
The Seminole grinned. "Anyhow, they look for boat soon," he said.
"Something doin' tonight, you bet!"
Alec had risen and was standing erect, his face turned toward the ocean.
"What are you staring at?" queried chester. "See any stars?"
"There's just one," replied young Sands, pointing southwest. "Mighty
low down—-there! Now it's out."
"No, it isn't. I see it!"
"So do I!" exclaimed Billy and Norton.
"There it is again!"
"What a queer star!"
"Perhaps it's a lighthouse. Captain Vinton said that there is one
somewhere near this locality."
The sky was cloudy; there was no moon. Overhead, a few large stars
glittered brilliantly, but the seeming star at which they were gazing
was unlike any of those celestial lights. It steadily grew larger,
yellower. Finally two lower gleams appeared, and then all three
vanished, as if they had been snuffed out.
"What is it?" asked Norton, turning to Dave.
But the Seminole guide apparently did not hear the question. He was
staring in the direction of the three cabins, whence arose in the
murky darkness a shower of sparks, then one—-two——three shooting
"Look!" he exclaimed hoarsely.
"By Jove! a Roman candle!" ejaculated Norton. "It's a signal!"
"No star out to sea," Dave said. "No star, but um boat."
"Boat? You mean——-"
"Esperanza! She come here to-night."
THE BLAZING BEACON
Had it been daylight, the boy scouts on picket duty would have seen
the same long, low, gray craft something like a built-for-speed tug
boat, which had surprised Captain Vinton when it first appeared among
the Keys, now coming to anchor outside Durgan's Cove, in the darkness.
As it was, however, they could see nothing after the Esperanza's
lights went out; but, waiting impatiently, they presently heard the
dip of oars, the faint rattle and squeaking of row-locks, and then
a low whistle which seemed to come out of the quiet that brooded over
"It's a boat from the Esperanza!" muttered Norton. "One of us had
better steal back to the camp, and see what our friends are doing.
"Oh, let me go!" interposed Alec. "I can run the motor boat over
to our camp and bring the soldiers here in about twenty minutes—-or
"My dear boy, those fellows out there who are coming ashore would
be sure to hear a motor boat," declared Norton. "Even with a
muffler on, the sound would reach them."
"But it's the only boat we have, .sir," said Mark, "and, when
all's said, that's why Billy and Dave took it—-to bring the men
over sooner than they could tramp across these flats."
"You're right, Mark; but——-"
Again he was interrupted by one of his eager young friends—-Chester,
"Perhaps Dave could pole the motor boat over," he suggested.
"Could you, Dave? It's not a large boat by any means."
"Uh-huh, sure!" assented the guide. "But slow work—-lose heap
"No matter. Anyway, we've got to give those fellows time to land and
to get to the cabins before we surround them. Go ahead, Dave; and
Alec, you go with him to run the boat back. I guess you know more
about a gasoline engine than any of us. Hurry now—-and good luck!"
The intrepid young scout needed no urging. Before Dave had found a
suitable pole, Alec had taken his place at the stern and was pointing
her in the direction of the peninsula on which Lieutenant Driscoll
and his men were waiting.
In a few minutes Dave was pushing the light but substantial launch
along the waterway, and almost immediately it disappeared from sight,
swallowed up in the darkness.
It returned in about half an hour, crowded to the gunwales, carrying
the dozen men. In the meantime, a rather startling incident had
Dave and Alec had been gone only ten minutes or so, when the assembled
pickets observed a bright light burst forth from the surrounding
gloom and rapidly increase until it assumed the proportions of a
The outlaws were carrying out the first part of their plan, which was
to attract the revenue men away from the vicinity of the cabins while
they effected a loading of their munitions or other contraband goods
upon the Esperanza's boat. They counted on the probability that the
revenue men would hasten to put out the fire on the coast—-which was
quite a little distance from the cabins—-and would be unaware of
other operations at the same time.
But in this scheme they reckoned without their pursuers; for the crew
of the Petrel—-even now hurrying to the scene of action—-had
received information of this very ruse, and had decided to ignore it
and to make directly for Durgan's Cove.
Not knowing that the Arrow was lying near, or that the dozen men
from the fort, with the scout pickets, were already on the scene,
those energetic seamen of the Petrel were bending every effort to
reach the smugglers' headquarters on time.
Captain Bego, of the Esperanza, however, knew that the Petrel
was on his trail, and he was all the more anxious to make "a getaway
with the goods."
The bonfire, instead of dying down at last, seemed to rise higher
and higher, casting a lurid glow over the marshes and streams, and
even upon the dark waters of the ocean. Made of driftwood, bundles
of dried saw-grass and withered cypress boughs—-industriously piled
on by Max, the half-breed, who had been sent there for that very
purpose—-it blazed merrily, and a shower of sparks swirled around it,
veering toward the cabins. To all appearances, the three cabins
seemed doomed to take fire; in which case nothing could save them or
The soldiers from the fort and Dave had disappeared into the darkness
of the deeper shadows.
Eager to see the fire and to find out what was going on in that
vicinity, Billy, Alec, and Roy Norton crept forth from their hiding
place and approached the glowing beacon.
For the most part, they followed the bank of a creek or inlet which,
like all its fellows, wound and zig-zagged through the springy turf
of the marsh. This particular waterway reflected the glow of the
bonfire more brightly than the others, from which fact they deduced
that it would be the most direct path.
On getting nearer, the hum of human voices showed them that a number
of men had assembled, some of whom were engaged in throwing water
over the blaze, others in patrolling the beach. Evidently the
bonfire was burning too high and casting too much light to suit their
"Who are they?" queried Alec in a whisper.
"I don't know," answered Norton as quietly.
"Look!" Billy exclaimed softly. "There are three mulattoes in that
bunch over by the dune. And see that tall, skinny, dark man with
the oilskin coat over his left arm? That must be Captain Bego."
"He certainly looks like Vinton's descriptions," Norton observed.
"And he's giving orders as if he——-"
"Hark! What's that noise?"
Breathlessly they waited and listened.
After another full minute they again heard the sound—-a low rumbling,
like distant thunder.
"Gee! it sounds dangerous," said Billy.
"I wish we knew what it was."
"I can make a pretty good guess," Norton added, still whispering.
In the middle of his sentence he was interrupted by a shout from one
of the mulattos.
"Boat! Boat comin'!" cried the man, running toward the others, who by
this time had almost extinguished the bonfire. His announcement was
distinctly heard by the three hidden scouts.
"Wonder if he has seen our captured launch or a boat out at sea?"
"Boys, he means—-the Petrel!"
"Oh!" the other two exclaimed dubiously.
"How do you know?" demanded Billy. "How can you tell?"
"It's just a guess on my part," Norton admitted readily; "but before
we came ashore today, Vinton told me that he wouldn't be at all
surprised if the Petrel came cruising back this way by evening;
and so, when that fellow came running up with the news, my first
thought was that the Petrel was not far off."
"But where are the soldiers all this while?" asked Alec. "Why haven't
they followed us here?"
"They may have gone to the cabins, instead," replied Norton.
"Perhaps Dave has guided them to the bonfire by another way, and
they're just waiting to make an attack when that fire-raising gang
start toward the cabins."
"I guess you're right, Billy. Come on, let's get nearer."
With one accord, the three moved forward.
DEEDS OF DARKNESS
As yet, neither the soldiers nor the revenue men had appeared on the
scene. In spite of his shrewd guess, Norton began to believe that
the smugglers, having come to the conclusion that their bonfire was
not necessary, after all—-because they fondly imagined the Petrel
was far away down the coast—-would waste no more time trying to
attract the cutter to that spot, but would proceed boldly, under
cover of darkness, to run their goods from the cabins to the Esperanza.
Such seemed to be Bego's decision, also; for as Roy, Billy, and
Alec drew nearer, they heard the swarthy leader directing most
of his men to "shoulder arms and march over to Durgan's headquarters."
Presently the group near the bonfire was diminished by the departure
of eight or nine men, who picked their way gingerly over the uneven
ground, muttering directions to one another as they went Billy could
hardly restrain his impulse to follow them.
At one time they passed so close to the ambushed pickets that the
latter could distinguish the words "after midnight" and "set the
"They're talking about Hugh," said Billy to himself, and his heart
beat fast with excitement. The words gave him assurance that his
chum was alive, which was some comfort.
"I think I'll just have to follow them," he mused a few moments
later; and telling Norton and Alec that he would be back very soon,
he slipped away, trailing Bego's men, before Norton could prevent
him from going.
It would have been better for Billy had he remained in hiding; but he
was eager to know how Durgan and his confederates would manage to run
their cargo on board the Esperanza, having no motor boat to use;
and he was even more eager to find out what had become of Hugh.
Without stopping longer, therefore, in the neighborhood of the
bonfire, he hurried away toward the spot at which he had heard the
men propose to run the cargo.
He must have crept onward for ten minutes or so, when he head a
The shot was followed by two or three others in quick succession.
This made him more than ever eager to find out what was happening.
He doubled his speed. Fortunately, by mere chance, he had stumbled
upon the very stretch of ground which he and Dave had traversed
earlier in the day; the trail was fairly good, and he knew just how
All this while he had not seen a single person, and he had not been
seen by any of the smugglers.
After a few minutes he heard more shots sounding much nearer, then
shouts and hoarse yells, mingled with the sharp staccato of pistols
and rifles. He felt sure that by this time the soldiers under
Lieutenant Driscoll had come up and were having a lively fight with
the outlaws, the latter trying to defend their property, and the
former to confiscate it.
At any moment he expected to find that the men whom he was following
were returning to the beach to join their comrades; but evidently
they had received strict orders to go straight to the cabins, for
they went on, and he followed them. Now he availed himself of all
the knowledge of stalking and trailing which he had gained in
scoutcraft games at Pioneer Camp.
Which party, the soldiers or the smugglers, would succeed in their
object seemed doubtful. The darkness was intense, and though Billy
pictured the whole scene, as yet he could not see anything except an
occasional spurt of flame as a revolver or rifle spat viciously.
Even the forms of the men he was following had disappeared from view.
This did not discourage him, for he was used to following a trail in
Still he stumbled onward, forgetting that bullets flying about were
no respecters of persons.
At last he reached the top of a low mound whence he could see dimly
a number of dark figures scurrying hither and thither. From their
actions and from the babel of shouts, commands, oaths and shooting
that came from the little clearing around the huts, he judged that
they were engaged in a determined struggle.
That the soldiers were having the best of it, he had no doubt. It
appeared to him that they had captured not only part of the intended
cargo but also some of Bego's men; while others, bolder villains,
seemed to be trying to rescue their comrades.
In his rejoicing over this turn of affairs, he gave a yell of
triumph—-and just at that moment a bullet whizzed over his shoulder,
almost searing his neck! The yell quavered on his lips, and he
dropped down on his knees, which were trembling and knocking together.
"Whew! that came pretty close to yours truly!" said Billy, speaking
aloud as if he expected some one to hear him. "That's what might be
called being 'under fire,' and I don't like the sensation—-not by a
Even in moments of danger or of distress, Billy managed to see the
funny side of circumstances. He grinned now at his little joke, but
all the while he was intently scanning the scene before him and
wondering if he would be drawn into taking part in it. Also, he was
anxious to know where his friends were at that moment. Would they
join in the fray?
Suddenly his eager gaze was shifted to a new quarter. He stared,
wide-eyed and breathless.
Out of the night, running like mad along the shore and across the
acres of sand and clay and mud, came a body of men armed with rifles.
They were making directly toward the scene of conflict as fast as
they could find their difficult way.
"Who are they? Where have they come from?" Billy wondered.
And then, like a flash, he understood. "Oh!" he gasped. "Oh, I know,
I know now! They're the men from the Petrel! Marines, I
guess—-if that's what you call 'em."
It was true; the new arrivals were the Revenue Service men, and as
it chanced, they had come just in the nick of time. For Joe Durgan,
Branks, Harry Mole, Max, the villainous half-breed, and others at the
huts, were being reinforced by Bego's followers who had hurried up
from the bonfire; and they were beating back the soldiers, whom they
Suddenly Billy heard another yell, a wild, eerie, shrill call, and
Dave, leading Norton and the Boy Scouts, sprang from their boat
which had crept up to the farther side of the clearing, and dashed
forward to meet the crew of the Petrel.
Recognizing them even in the darkness—-which now began to be relieved
by stray gleams of moonlight struggling out of the clouds—-the
revenue men turned to the left under Dave's guidance, and took a
short-cut, coming up in the rear of the battle.
Alone on the little mound, Billy realized that he was separated from
his reunited scout friends and their allies by a small mob of
desperately fighting men. He was cut off from the rest by reason
of Dave's having steered the boat along a watercourse of which he,
Billy, knew nothing; in fact, he had lost his bearings and knew not
in which direction the improvised camp lay.
However, the conflict before him absorbed his thoughts and left him
no time to worry about his own predicament. He was still wondering
how the revenue men had happened to arrive at a critical time.
The explanation was as follows:
Unknown to Billy or to any of his friends, the Petrel had steamed
full speed to Palmetto Key; and Captain Vinton, sighting the cutter
from the deck of the concealed Arrow, had signaled to her captain,
telling him just where to land his men. This accounted for their
unexpected arrival, which soon turned the tide of battle in their
Creeping forward, Billy saw the smugglers fleeing in all directions,
after setting fire to the two smaller cabins. As they ran, they
exchanged shots with the soldiers and the revenue men; but, owing
to the gloom, these shots failed to take much effect, beyond slightly
wounding their captors. Fired on in turn, they ran toward the beach,
past their smouldering bonfire, near which their boat was drawn up
on the sands waiting to take them back to the Esperanza.
The light of the blazing huts now illumined the scene, and in the
glow, Norton caught sight of Billy running toward them. He hailed
the lad with a shout:
"Hi! Hurry up, Billy! Where have you been all this time?"
"Watching the fight!" shouted Billy, whose voice sounded doleful.
"Wishing I could butt into it earlier! Come on, come on! We're
"Hold on!" Norton exclaimed loudly. "We've had about enough of this.
Here we'll stay, my boy, and let our better-armed friends capture
the gang. When they get to their boat it will be a case of 'first
come, first served' to get away. Most of them'll be caught and
captured. Meanwhile, it's up to us to find Hugh. He must be in
that largest shanty there, unless——-"
"Come on!" yelled Billy, seeing his brother scouts already commencing
He dashed over to the remaining shanty and flung himself against
"Hugh, Hugh!" he called. "Are you in there?"
No answer—-only the roaring and crackling of the flames as they
devoured the old walls and crumbling roof of the nearby abandoned
"Hugh!" shouted Alec and Chester, banging on the door, while Mark
ran around the cabin, looking in vain for a window or other means
The door gave way and the three scouts rushed in, followed by Norton.
Dave stood in the doorway, his lanky form with the red glare of the
fire behind it casting a grotesque shadow on the interior wall of
the cabin. He remained there on guard, lest any of the smugglers
Alec struck a match. Its sputtering flame lighted the single room,
dispelling the shadows for a brief moment. Anxiously they all
peered around the dingy shanty.
"Hugh, where are you?" said Billy in a hoarse whisper. "Are you
here? Can't you speak?"
Still no answer.
Then Alec's match went out.
"Have you another match?" asked Norton.
Like Billy's, his voice was husky. A vague dread seemed to seize
him, weighing down upon him like a tangible thing.
"Yes," said Alec. "Here's one more—-the last."
Again he struck a light and a hasty search was made. Every moment
In vain. The cabin was empty.
THE END OF THE RAID
At the beginning of the fight, Hugh wakened from a troubled sleep into
which he had fallen, wearied with fruitless efforts to break the lock
of the door. One thought was ever in his mind, even in his dream:
to escape. For this purpose he had clawed away a wide chink in the
log walls, he had even dug under the threshold—-without avail.
Nevertheless, he was glad to be active and thankful that he had been
unbound before his captors went away, leaving him a prisoner in the
shanty until they were ready to release him. Joe Durgan had even
been considerate enough to leave a half loaf of bread and a glass
of beer on the table; but Hugh declined these delicacies.
All during the fight he crouched by the locked door, listening in
alternate hope and dread of the outcome, now and then raising his
voice amid the din and confusion outside. It was perhaps not
strange that none of his friends heard him, for his shouts only
mingled with those of the smugglers and were lost in the general
But they were heard by one man, who, though not exactly a friend,
was yet an amiable enemy.
In the midst of the conflict, when the Revenue Service men had
arrived to turn the tide of fortune, the door was quickly opened
and shut, and a man stood in the room, panting hard.
Hugh sprang to his feet, ready for any new emergency.
"What are you-all doin' thar, youngster?" said a voice in the
darkness, a deep voice which Hugh recognized as Durgan's.
"Trying to get out, of course," he replied defiantly, every nerve
in his young body tingling with excitement. "What did you expect
me to do, Durgan?"
"Eh? Oh, nothin'. Thought you might ha' gone to sleep like a good
The man's harsh laugh sounded hollow and unpleasant. Hugh shuddered.
"I was asleep," he said, "but when——"
"Real unkind o' your friends to wake you up, eh?" interrupted Durgan.
His hand stole behind him. With a quick turn he opened the door,
and admitted some one. "Come in, Harry," he said. "The kid's here,
all right. What did I tell you?"
"That so?" growled Harry Mole. "Well, we know who he is now.
Somebody tipped off the officers about the run we was goin' to
make to-night; and since it wasn't this kid, it must-a been one of
his bunch. Shall we heave him into the stream, Joe, or leave
"Not on your life!" Durgan replied promptly. "He's caught on to too
much about us while he's been here, and he can tell those ginks a
lot that we don't want 'em to know. So's long as we kin get out o'
here alive, we'd better take him along."
"He spoiled our plans to-night. He deserves to be knocked on the
head an' thrown out to the 'gators!"
"Spoilt our plans, you bet! But he'll get his, by-and-by. Come,
take him and hustle away. Cripes! hear them bullets smashin' into
"Remember, kid," said Mole, "if you shout or let out a word, we'll
stick a knife between yer slats."
From the fierce way in which Mole uttered this threat, Hugh did not
doubt he would do as he said. However, he did not yield without
a silent struggle, though he was soon overpowered by the two burly
ruffians. Each taking him by an arm, they led him outside and
dragged him over a stretch of bumpy ground, stumbling along in the
Scarcely five minutes after they left the hut and the two burning
shanties behind them, Hugh's friends burst into the empty cabin—-too
late to rescue him.
But these young, well-trained scouts lost no time in searching the
place. Separating into pairs—-Norton and Mark, Alec and Chester,
with Billy and Dave in advance, following Durgan's and Mole's
trail—-they formed a line of communication between the cabin and
the site of the bonfire, hoping that by thus keeping a picket line
they might catch sight of Hugh or his captors beating a hasty
retreat toward the shore.
Meanwhile, Durgan and Mole with Hugh between them walked very fast
indeed. Had they not supported Hugh, he should have fallen several
times; for, young and strong as he was, he was almost worn out with
the rough treatment he had undergone. Every minute he thought they
would stop, and, making an end of their senseless threats, release
him and run. But they evidently had no intention of doing so.
Hugh tried to ascertain in what direction they were leading him,
but he soon gave this up as useless. He was on the verge of despair,
when suddenly out of the gloom came a startlingly familiar call—-the
call of the Wolf patrol.
It sounded not far away, on his left, and the lad's heart bounded
with joy. He knew that that call could come from none other than
Billy Worth, and Billy must therefore be near at hand, ready to lead
his comrades to Hugh's rescue.
For one wild moment he was tempted to answer the call—-then discretion
prevailed, and he kept silence.
Naturally, the two men also were startled at the sound. Mole gave
Hugh a prod in the shoulder with the point of a knife and Durgan
"None o' that thar, Harry!" he warned. "Don't hurt the kid. If you
"Aw, shut up!" retorted the other, and they hurried on.
By great effort Hugh said nothing, asked no questions, did not even
answer the wolf-call. Instinct told him it would be better to do as
his captors had ordered, and now he pretended to feel resigned to his
fate—-knowing that help was forthcoming.
As they went on, sounds of a lively scuffle reached his ears, and he
could also hear the dull booming of surf, by which he knew that he
could be at no great distance from the shore. Behind him, evidently
following, again sounded the wolf-call, giving him courage and renewed
Durgan turned to him angrily.
"What made you jump when you heard that thar howl?" he demanded.
"Nothing. Where—-where are we going?" Hugh ventured to ask, at
length, forgetting that he was not to utter a word of protest. "I'm
dog-tired, and my knee aches—-a sprain, I guess."
"You lie!" retorted Mole fiercely, and he struck Hugh across the
"You'll soon have time enough to rest yourself, youngster," added
Durgan in a kinder tone. "You're in luck that things ain't no worse
But Hugh scarcely heard; at any rate, he paid no heed. Boiling
with rage at the insult, he gave one shout: "Billy! This way,
scouts!" and struggling desperately, he managed to slip from his
In another minute he had whirled around and was running as fast as
he could put foot to the ground.
To his surprise, Mole and Durgan did not chase him. When he paused
for an instant to rub his bruised knee and to look around, he dimly
saw them in the distance running to a spot where a crowd of men
were pushing and struggling to get into a boat.
Presently he discerned a larger body of men hastening to the place,
and in the dim light of the moon he saw that they were soldiers and
While he stood lost in wonderment, Uncertain where to go, he heard
footsteps and familiar voices near. He gave the call of his old
patrol, and Billy answered it immediately.
The next minute, Billy rushed into view, and the two chums were
reunited in a vigorous bear-hug of sheer, silent rejoicing. They
found words at last.
"Billy, old scout, I was beginning to think I might never see you
"You were? Why, Hugh, I'd have looked for you from here to Yucatan
and back again, twenty times over, by sea and land, before I'd give
up!" cried Billy, forgetting in his enthusiasm how near he had come
to the verge of despair.
"I'm dying to know whatever happened to you," he added. "But here
come the rest of the bunch; so you'll have to tell all of us your
"It's soon told," said Hugh; and after joyful greetings had been
exchanged, he told them all that had happened to him since his
unlucky morning stroll to the hut on the far-away beach.
In their turn, they related the events of their search for him, and
described the fight around the cabin in which he had so lately been a
"And there's the end of the fight now," said Norton, pointing to
the group of combatants and to a boat manned by five oarsmen who
were putting out to sea. "Look! There they go!—-all of them
who managed to escape No! By Jove, the boat's coming back to
shore! I suppose Uncle Sam's men threatened to shoot the rascals
if they didn't come back."
"Serves 'em right!" said Chester.
"Let's go over there and watch proceedings," urged Alec.
"I second the motion!" Hugh declared, eager to see the latest
So without further discussion, they hurried over to the place, and
were in time to witness the capture of Bego and his gang.
* * * * * * *
By morning, a sullen company of prisoners was put aboard the Petrel
and conveyed southward to Key West for trial.
The interval between their capture and the departure of the revenue
cutter was spent in putting out the fire near Durgan's cove, all
that remained of the three adjoining shanties being a heap of
charred logs and wind-swept ashes. Durgan's motor boat was fastened
by means of a long cable to the aft rail of the Arrow, which
was commissioned to tow it to a wharf at Charlotte Harbor, where
it would be delivered to a brother of the smuggler. This brother,
a thoroughly honest fisherman, was well known to Captain Vinton.
Bego's ship, the Esperanza, remained at anchor off the cove.
Arrangements were made for its safe delivery at Charlotte Harbor,
as soon as a suitable crew could be sent to convey it to that haven.
Hoping that his presence might not be required at the trial, though
fully resigned to the probability of having to attend it, Hugh wrote
out and signed a full statement of his experiences with the outlaws.
This paper was also signed by Norton, Captain Vinton, and Lieutenant
Driscoll, as testifying their belief in its veracity. The captain
of the Petrel undertook to deliver it to the proper authorities,
and it was eventually accepted in lieu of Hugh's personal testimony.
Having attended to these matters, the crew of the Arrow went
aboard about noon. The day was perfect for the return voyage, a fair
breeze blew against her weather-stained sails, and the ocean was as
blue as sapphire.
The entire party was glad to be on the sloop's clean decks once more;
even Dave seemed happy and relieved when Durgan's Cove and its
outlying shores faded into a velvety green blur along the horizon.
So they left the scene of their adventures, and glided swiftly away
"on the home stretch," as Chester called it, under cloudless skies.
ABOARD THE "ARROW"
It was not until the second day of the voyage back toward Santario
that Hugh felt quite himself again. The nervous strain of his
experiences as a captive would have been enough to exhaust him,
and in addition he had suffered real buffeting and hardship at
the hands of his captors.
Dave stretched a hammock for him on deck at the captain's orders, and
there Hugh spent nearly the entire first day of the homeward trip.
The other boys and Norton diverted his few waking hours with stories
and riddles and simple games, and Captain Vinton, himself, contributed
more than one tale from his store of recollections.
"Tell you what, boys," the old captain said as he concluded one of
his yarns, "we fellers these days meet with a few excitin'
experiences now and then, but to get some idea of what lively times
on the water may be, go back to John Paul Jones and his day, or even
to the sea fights of '62."
"Have you read much of the history of those days, captain?" inquired
Roy Norton interestedly, while the boys leaned forward to hear the
"Son," said Captain Vinton in answer, turning to Alec Sands, his
blue eyes alight with a keen expression, "Son, go to my cabin
and bring me an old, worn book from the shelf there: 'Famous American
Naval Commanders,' it is called."
Until Alec's return, the captain looked out over the water with
far-seeing eyes, and the others, watching him, wondered what stirring
scenes his imagination was picturing to him just then.
He glanced up as Alec handed him the volume of naval history and
grasped it with the firm gentleness of a true book lover. He turned
it over thoughtfully, straightened its sagging covers, opened and
closed it several times, and finally spoke:
"Thar's the answer to yer question, Norton," he said. "And that's
only one of about a dozen hist'ries I've got on my old shelf.
When times is dull or I'm waitin' fer a party who've gone into
the Everglades, or when the Arrow is lyin' off shore in a dead
calm, then I start in at the first page of the book that happens
ter be on the end of the shelf, and I live over the old days of
the privateers, when it meant somethin' to sail the seas."
"Who is your biggest hero?" asked Mark as the captain paused.
The old man smiled humorously before he answered.
"Wal', my biggest hero," he said, "is the littlest hero on record
as a sea-fighter, I guess. Like Napoleon Bonaparte, his bigness was
not in his body but in his mind. And that's Paul Jones of the
As the captain pronounced the name of his hero, he struck his worn
book a resounding slap, and his jaws clicked in emphasis of his
"Can't you tell us something about him?" asked Chester, fascinated
by the old captain's earnestness.
"That's the ticket—-I mean, please do," endorsed Billy heartily.
"No, I can't do that," was the deliberate reply, as the captain rose
to relieve Dave at the tiller, "but you can all borry the book and
read the historian's account of the battle between the Serapis
and the Bonhomme Richard. I git so excited when I read that,
I hey ter go put my head in a pail o' water to cool it off! Fact!
You know that's whar the cap'n of the Serapis calls out: 'Hev
ye struck?' And John Paul Jones shouts back: 'Struck! I am just
beginnin' ter fight!'"
As Captain Vinton straightened his rounded shoulders and delivered
this emphatic quotation, he shook his fist at an imaginary enemy
and then brought it down hard on the railing. Then he grinned
"You see how 'tis," he said, laughing at himself as he moved away.
"Guess I'll hev ter stop talkin' or go fer that pail o' water!"
The boys, left to themselves, discussed the theme that the captain's
words had suggested, and were rather ashamed to see how vague their
knowledge of the famous battle was. So, at Alec's suggestion,
Norton agreed to read the account of the fight as given in the
captain's book; and grouped about Hugh's hammock, the boys listened
"That makes our experiences on picket duty seem tame in comparison,"
said Alec, commenting on the story when Norton had closed the book.
"We were not all on the firing line," replied the young man, smiling.
"I'll venture to say that Hugh did not find his share at all tame."
Hugh smiled and nodded ruefully as his mind flew back to his dangerous
situation as a captive of the desperate filibusters, and he felt that
he could understand a little of what it meant to be in the thick of
"Me, too," exclaimed Billy, shuddering at a sudden recollection.
"I haven't told you fellows that I came near having my ear shot
off, that time the other night when I was separated from the rest
of you for a while. Excuse me from anything nearer real battle fire
Just at that moment, a soft, regular thump-thump-thump from the deck
behind Hugh's hammock made all the boys turn quickly.
There stood Dave, skillfully flinging gayly colored hoops over a post
at some distance from him.
"Oh, ho! A game of ring-toss, is it?" cried Chester, rising eagerly.
"Say, boys, let's form rival teams and have a tournament."
"Good!" echoed Billy. "The Pickets versus the Pirates!"
"That sounds exciting!" called Hugh, sitting up in the hammock. "Count
me in on that, boys. Guess I can get up long enough to take my turn
now and then."
"Let Dave and Mr. Norton choose sides," suggested Alec, "Dave for
the Pirates and Mr. Norton for the Pickets."
"Hurrah!" cried Mark. "On with the game!"
In less time than it takes to tell it, Dave, grinning broadly at his
prominence, and Norton, entering into the contest with his usual
spirit of enthusiasm, had chosen sides and a list was hastily
written and posted on the cabin wall as follows:
Pirates vs Pickets
Mark Captain Vinton
"Oh, but I can't play!" protested the captain. "I've got my hands
full with the Arrow!"
"We'll take turns and spell you at the helm," returned Norton.
"All hands on board are enlisted in this fight."
Pleased at his insistence, the old captain yielded the wheel whenever
it came his turn to toss, and he proved to be an adept at the game,
to everybody's delight.
Norton and Dave had agreed that the contest should consist of five
complete rounds, giving just twenty opportunities to each side.
Only the total successful tosses would determine the winning score,
but the best individual records would decide who should be the
team captains in subsequent games.
The fun of the thing entered into every one of the contestants, yet
not one of them failed to put his best efforts into the game.
"Now we'll see some accurate shooting," called Billy as Hugh took
the rings for his fourth turn.
"No fair trying to rattle me," returned Hugh, laughing good-naturedly.
"I'm still the interesting invalid."
"Hush!" whispered the irrepressible Billy quite audibly. "Don't say
a word, boys! It might shake his nerve, you know, and he might
suffer a relapse!"
"You teaser!" commented Hugh, beginning his play.
One after another, Hugh steadily tossed the rings over the post.
"Pshaw! You can't disturb him," ejaculated Alec. "He is as calm
as the sea is just now."
"Five!" counted Chester softly. "Six! You put every one over this
time, Hugh. Billy's jollying just inspired you!"
"And now it is his turn," said Hugh, returning to his hammock. "Now
we shall see something!"
Billy flushed a little, grinned, set his teeth, poised his body
firmly, and then swung into the position of the famous "disk thrower."
Thump! The first ring struck the deck a good foot beyond the post,
rebounded, and rolled rapidly toward the railing.
Roy Norton stopped it with his foot and called, "Steady, Billy!
Take your time."
Thump! The second ring, tossed more cautiously, dropped at least
six inches in front of the goal.
Thump! Thump! Thump! Three more landed in quick succession, draping
themselves gracefully against the standard that upheld the post.
"One more, Billy. Make this one count," coached his captain urgently.
By this time, Billy's face was scarlet and his hand shaking. He took
a long breath, fixed his eye on the top of the slender post, and
tossed the ring desperately. It fell well to the right of the goal
and rolled up against Dave's feet.
Dave quickly stooped to pick it up, trying to hide the wide smile
that parted his lips.
Billy's scout friends made no attempt to be so polite. Pickets and
Pirates alike, they burst into a roar of laughter.
Captain Vinton, his weather-beaten face wrinkled into a dozen
humorous lines, called out:
"Billy, words is sometimes like a boomerang—-they fly back and ketch
ye, ef ye don't watch out!"
And so the contest progressed; now luck favored the Pirates, and again
Captain Vinton's skill brought up the uncertain score of the Pickets.
At the end of the final round, however, Dave's team had a clean
balance of ten counts over the combined records of the Pickets, the
winners showing a total of ninety-five successful throws out of a
possible one hundred and twenty.
Captain Vinton had the best individual score, securing twenty-six
out of a possible thirty points, while Hugh, thanks perhaps to
Billy's inspiring comments, stood next with a record of twenty-four.
The sun was setting redly over an almost calm sea as the games
were finished. Dave, beaming at the success of his team, vanished
without urging and soon the welcome odors of supper cooking were
wafted to the eager nostrils of the hungry boys.
That evening they all gathered around the old captain as he sat at
the helm and guided the lazily-moving craft, begging him for another
tale from his own reminiscences or from his favorite history.
"Wal', boys," agreed the captain at length, "I'll tell you about
one sea fight that I almost witnessed myself. Fact is, I was a
little too young to be thar, but my father was mighty nigh bein' in
the thick of it, and I've heard him tell the tale a hundred times ef
I hev once.
"It was in March, '62," the captain resumed after a little pause.
"The North was consid'rably stirred up over rumors of how the
Confederates hed raised the Merrimac and made out of her a terrible
ironclad vessel, warranted to resist all ord'nary attacks. Then
these rumors were followed by news of the destruction of two sailin'
frigates, the Cumberland and the Congress.
"The Union forces were pretty uneasy when they heard what hed
happened off Hampton Roads, but they were all pinnin' their faith
to a little new ironclad just built on Long Island and already
speedin' south ter meet the Merrimac. My old dad, servin' on
the Roanoke, was lucky enough to see both them craft:—-the
big, clumsy Merrimac, all covered with railroad iron and smeared
with grease, and the nifty little Monitor, that they said looked
like 'a cheese box on a raft'!
"Wal', 'course you boys hev all read about what happened when the
little fellow steamed out ter meet the big fellow, the day after the
frigates were destroyed.
"Fer four hours, Dad said, the two ironclads jest pestered each other
with hot fire, but the shot and shell slid off them like water from a
duck's back. The little Monitor darted around the big Merrimac
like a bee buzzin' round a boy that had plagued it.
"Thar wa'n't no great harm done—-except that Lieutenant Worden, who
was in command of the Monitor, got hurt by the bits of a shell that
drove into his face—-but the little ironclad hed proved two things.
Fust, that she could hold her own; and next that the day of wooden
vessels in naval warfare was over.
"As you boys know, warships now-a-days are all ironclad. Folks hey
called 'em 'indestructible,' but I guess thar ain't no sech word
allowable any more. Between the new explosives and the airships—-wal',
they say we ain't heard the last word yet, by a long shot!"
The old captain rose as he spoke, shaking his head thoughtfully and
gazing out over the sea and into the sky.
"Wal', boys, off to yer bunks now! We'll hev a fairly calm night, but
thar'll be wet decks to-morrow!"
A SURPRISING ADVENTURE
The captain's prophecy was literally fulfilled, and the boys had no
opportunity for fairweather games the next day. Instead, clad in
oilskins, they lounged about the wet decks, watching the captain's
skillful handling of the boat, ringing the big fog bell when the
atmosphere grew thick, and clinging to the railing when the sloop
pitched and tossed restlessly on the heaving sea.
Dave retired as usual in rough weather into sullen silence, coming
on deck most reluctantly only when his services were demanded by
Late in the day, the storm increased to a gale of some little
violence, and the captain decided to make for the nearest harbor.
He had hoped to reach the home haven that night, but his policy
was to meet disappointment rather than to run risks.
"Mebbe I hev a surprise up my sleeve fer you boys," Captain Lem said,
his eyes twinkling as he saw their long faces on hearing the news
of delay. "Wouldn't mind addin' a little excitement ter the end of
the trip, would ye?"
"We're aching for it," returned Billy promptly. "This has been an
awfully long day, you know, captain."
"Wal', ef I've got my bearin's all right, we'll spend the evenin' in
a right cheerful place. That's all I kin say now, but you boys go
collect your belongin's, so's we kin land fer the night ef my
calc'lations hold good."
Just as the early darkness of the rainy night shut down over the
rolling sea, the boys discovered a gleaming light, high and steady,
not far off toward the Florida coast.
"Jimmy!" cried Billy excitedly. "Bet the captain is going to take us
to a lighthouse for the night!"
"Can't be your uncle's light, Mark, where we saw the spongers on the
way down," commented Chester thoughtfully. "We're too near home for
"I have an idea—-" began Hugh slowly.
"And so have I!" interrupted Alec, glancing at Mark.
At that moment, Roy Norton began to ring the fog bell under the
"Ding! Ding! Ding, ding, ding!" resounded the heavy iron tongue.
There was a pause, and then the signal was repeated. A longer
silence followed and again the slow, clear signal was twice repeated.
By this time, the captain had guided his dauntless little vessel
into slightly quieter waters, although she still pitched and tossed
in a way that would have alarmed a "landlubber."
Then came a new sound, louder than the noise of the pounding waves,
deeper than the clang of the iron bell.
"Boom! Boom! Boom, boom, boom!" An answering signal had broken the
silence where the steady light shone.
Mark started, as though recognizing the sound.
"Why, that——-" he began bewilderedly, "that is the signal gun at
Red Key! Captain, are you signaling to my father?"
"Jest so," Captain Vinton replied. "Keeper Anderson knows my knock
on his door!"
"How shall we land?" asked Chester excitedly, as he saw Dave making
ready to drop anchor.
At that moment a rocket went streaking up toward heaven and a second
later a slender rope fell writhing across the deck, where Roy stood
swinging a torch.
"Hurray!" called Hugh, seizing the rope just as Norton, at the
captain's orders, also grasped it. "Hurray! It's the breeches
It will be recalled by those who followed the adventures of "The
Boy Scouts of the Life Saving Crew," that Hugh and Billy, Chester
and Alec had been at the Red Key Station on the night of a thrilling
rescue. They had accompanied and in a slight way assisted the
life-savers on their patrols, at the launching of the life boat,
and in the final use of the breeches buoy.
It was most exciting to return to the scene of their memorable
experience in this unexpected fashion.
The boys hauled willingly on the rope and soon it was taut, the odd
conveyance swinging by the deck railing.
"You go first, Mark. While yer father knows my knock and realizes
that I didn't give my danger signal, still he may be a mite anxious
to see you, knowin' you was comin' home with me on the Arrow."
Obeying the captain's directions and grasping his waterproof bundle
of clothes, Mark thrust his legs into the breeches buoy, the signal
was given, and the trip through the waves began.
Soon the strange vehicle was back again, and this time Chester,
buttoning his oilskins about him closely, was ordered ashore.
In a brief time Hugh, and then Billy, Alec, and Norton had followed
Meanwhile, Captain Vinton, with Dave's help, had made everything
shipshape on board the Arrow. Then, sending Dave shoreward in
the breeches buoy, the captain himself, true to tradition, waited to
be the last to leave his ship.
Although they had not encountered a moment of real danger, the boys
had been given an experience of actual rescue. When Captain Vinton
joined them on shore, they greeted him enthusiastically and then
stood back to watch his meeting with Keeper Anderson.
The latter grasped the captain's hand in a hearty grip.
"Good for you, Lem, you old sea-dog!" cried the keeper. "You didn't
scare us any and it was great fun for my boy and his friends. Mark
has gone in to see his mother—-she'll be some surprised—-and to
tell her to fix up some hot coffee and things for you 'survivors.'"
"Haw! haw! haw!" laughed the old captain. "This was the easiest
shipwreck I ever managed to survive! He! he! he!"
In great good nature the two men walked toward the keeper's house,
while the boys followed, eagerly renewing their acquaintance with
the stalwart men of the life-saving crew.
Roy Norton was an interested observer, and when he, too, had met Mrs.
Anderson and Ruth, and heard the story of their first exciting
encounter, he no longer wondered at the boys' enthusiasm.
That night the crowd slept, as four of them had before, in hastily
arranged shakedowns; and when morning dawned, they looked out upon a
sea so blue and sparkling they could scarcely realize that it was
the gray, angry, heaving expanse of the night before.
The Arrow dipped and rose jauntily on the sapphire water, giving
no sign that she, too, had spent a restless night pulling and tugging
at her deeply embedded anchor.
After an early breakfast, the four boys said their farewells to Mark
and Ruth and their parents, and, with the captain and Norton, went
out to the Arrow in boats manned by members of the life-saving crew.
Not many hours later, they reached Alec's home in Santario, and
there they found Mr. Sands, waiting a little anxiously for their
safe return. He had learned from the morning papers that the
previous night's storm had been severe at sea, and he had not
known how or where the Arrow might have weathered the gale.
When he had been told of the "rescue" off Red Key Life Saving
Station, he exclaimed impatiently, "Why in the name of sense, didn't
you telephone me from Red Key? Here I have spent many hours in
The boys looked at one another in silence.
"It simply never occurred to us that we were back within communicating
distance," replied Alec at last. "We haven't seen or heard a
telephone since we left home."
"And really, Mr. Sands," said Roy Norton quickly, "when you hear
what strange, unusual experiences the boys have had, you will not
wonder at their forgetting the convenience of a little, every-day
matter like the telephone. For myself, I offer no excuse. I
should have been more thoughtful. But I, too, have dropped the
customs and responsibilities of home life about as thoroughly as
have the boys, I am afraid."
"That is all right, Norton," said Mr. Sands. "I spoke hastily,
for my nerves were a little frazzled.
"Now, boys, make yourselves comfortable and clean, and then come out
on the veranda and tell me the tale of the exciting trip."
It was an eager quartette of boys who responded to this invitation;
and when they finally started to relate their experiences, Mr. Sands
found it necessary to hear them in turn in order to get any clear
idea of connecting events.
At length, however, he had followed them on their trip south, in
imagination; had seen the panting tarpon on the deck of the Arrow;
had taken the winding waterways into the Everglades; had encountered
the revenue cutter and the filibuster; had watched through a night
of adventure with the scouts on picket duty; and had finally swung
safely through the dashing waves to the Life Saving Station.
"Well, boys, I little thought when I put you aboard Captain Lem's
sloop for a little cruise south that you would see so much variety
and excitement. But if you are not sorry, I am not. You are all
home again, safe and sound, and none the worse for your experiences.
Take it easy, now, for the rest of your stay here and have the best
time you can."
This advice the boys were not at all reluctant to follow. For a day
or two they lounged about the broad piazzas in hammocks and easy
chairs, reading books from Mr. Sands' well stocked library or from
Alec's own bookshelf.
On the second evening of this quiet home life, however, Billy's
uneasy spirit led him to say:
"Fellow scouts, I move you, sirs, that we take to the road. My hiking
muscles are aching for use. We have sailed and paddled and motored.
Now I propose, sirs, that we tramp."
"Second the motion!" echoed Chester.
"What do you think of the idea, Alec?" asked Hugh, turning to their
young host. "Will your father think we are ungrateful guests if we
go off for a day or two so soon after the cruise?"
"We'll plan a trip," replied Alec readily, "and submit the scheme
to him to-night. If he has no objections, we will telephone Mark
and ask him to join us, and perhaps Norton can go along, too."
Alec's suggestion was carried out, and Mr. Sands not only approved
the plan but added interest to it by producing some excellent road
maps and proposing a tour of adventure.
"Suppose," said he, "instead of traveling as one company, you divide
your forces, three of you taking one route and three another to
your night's camping place. Here is a good spot to camp,"
indicating it on the map, "and I will send the machine there with
the essential supplies so that you can 'hike' without being heavily
burdened. How does that strike you?"
"As being far better than our first plan," applauded Billy.
The other boys agreed enthusiastically, and the details were promptly
Early the next morning, as the arching sky and gray waters began to
take on a rosy glow from the approaching sunrise, the automobile shot
out of the driveway between the palms and down the shell road in the
direction of Red Key, carrying Alec and Chester to meet Mark Anderson.
The whir of the motor drowned the twitterings of the awakening birds,
but could not dull the fresh odor of the jasmine, nor the beauty of
the flowering vines and dew-wet hedges.
Even Chester was stirred by the "newness" of the whole world.
"Cripes, Alec, as Captain Vinton would say, this morning air and the
view are worth crawling out at an unearthly hour to enjoy!" he
exclaimed. "That ocean looks about a million miles wide, too; you
can't even tell where the sky begins."
"There is Mark!" was Chester's next comment as the machine swung
around a curve that had hidden an intersecting road.
"'Morning, Mark," called Alec in greeting as the two boys jumped out
of the car to join the waiting lad. "Now we're off!"
He turned to the chauffeur, assuring himself that the man understood
the directions for reaching their camp with supplies late that
afternoon, and then fell into step with the other scouts for their
all-day hike. Beneath their feet the broken shells of the road
crackled, overhead the towering palms waved, near the roadside the
stiff grass bent noisily in the breeze, and around them momentarily
day grew clearer and brighter.
As the morning advanced and the boys strode on nearing the pine woods,
robins and bluebirds, shrikes and chewinks greeted them; and as they
stopped for luncheon near a broad, open trail in the barren woodland
a buzzard sailed above the tree-tops and peered at them curiously.
In the meantime Norton, Hugh and Billy had started promptly twenty
minutes after the departure of the machine. Billy was in high
spirits and declared that he scented adventure in the air. For
an hour, however, nothing occurred to disturb the peaceful sway
of Nature, and Billy was about to abandon his attitude of expectation.
Suddenly the stillness was broken by the uneven rattle of rapidly
moving wheels over the shell road. Then the clatter of pounding hoofs
further shattered the silence.
"It comes!" shouted Billy dramatically. Around a bend in the road
came a galloping white horse, old and lean, dragging at its heels a
reeling hurdy-gurdy cart.
Billy sprang for the horse's head. Almost at his touch the old
creature stopped submissively.
"The poor old nag is all in," said Billy sympathetically, patting
her quivering neck.
Meanwhile Hugh and Roy Norton had righted the music cart, and Hugh
impulsively seized the handle of the machine and turned it to test
A dark-skinned foreigner came into sight, running toward them down
He frowned at them darkly and dashed up to the old horse, swinging
a short whip threateningly. Before the lash could fall on the
still trembling beast, however, Hugh and Billy had sprung simultaneously
upon the man.
"None of that!" cried Hugh, wresting the whip from the man's grasp.
The infuriated foreigner turned upon him with an avalanche of rapid
words, struggling to break away from his captors.
At that Norton stepped into view before him. With a few gestures,
a few faltering Italian and French words, and with great calmness
and good nature, he managed to tell the man that his wagon was safe,
and that the boys were willing to let him go if he would not beat
the poor, tired, old horse.
Norton's manner, more than anything else, impressed the angry man.
His scowls gave way to a pleasant expression and he nodded
smilingly. The boys stepped back and the hurdy-gurdy driver busied
himself at once, testing the harness and wheels and even patting
the thin old nag.
Then he climbed upon his seat and gathered up the reins. Hugh
picked up the fallen whip and handed it to him. The dark foreigner
smiled suddenly and, reaching over, put the whip into its socket.
Then, clucking to his horse, he moved slowly down the road.
"Well, what do you think of that?" cried Billy, puzzled at the
"That?" returned Norton. "That is a bit of southern Europe—-tempest
and sunshine, rage and child-like faith combined."
"Like a small boy, he needed to be managed," said Hugh, "and you
knew how to do it."
With a new respect for Roy Norton, the two scouts joined him again
on their inland hike. But they did not forget the incident, nor did
they fail to relate it that evening to the other three boys, whom
they found already established at camp around a blazing fire.
The next morning the returning parties exchanged routes for the
homeward trip, but nothing more exciting was encountered than
glimpses of orange groves, of pine barrens, of cypress swamps,
and of numberless birds.
But their "hiking muscles" had been well exercised and they felt
nearer to the heart of Florida because of their long tramp.
There were a number of letters waiting for the boys, some from their
home people and others from the scouts who were enjoying the
"Geological Survey" at Pioneer Camp. These the boys shared, eagerly
discussing the news and wondering what plans would be made for the
fall and winter.
Some of the things that actually did happen the following fall are
related in "The Boy Scouts of the Flying Squadron."