Back | Next


The Treasure Hunter

FROM the forward deck of their staunch craft the rocket rider boys looked toward the little motorboat they had so nearly sent to the bottom through no fault of their own. For no signal had warned them of the nearness of the other craft, and it was so low in the water that Bert had not been able to see it.

“Hello there!” called Harry to an elderly man who seemed to be the sole occupant of the Santa Clara, which, the boys noted, was the name on the other craft. “I hope we didn't do you any damage.”

“None at all, senor,” was the answer, and in a moment it was known that the man was a Spaniard, or at least of that race. His accent denoted it, though his English was good. “It was much my own fault, for I should have signaled you when I saw you approaching. But I thought I could get out of your course in time. You came on very fast, so rapidly that I had no time.”

“Yes, we were speeding a bit,” Harry admitted. “Trying out a new boat, or, rather, a new engine.”

“And it's lucky Dick happened to see you,” added Bert.

“Are you sure we haven't damaged you?” went on Harry, anxiously. “I know we rammed you and———”

“It was but a glancing blow, senor. We both turned aside just in time. I have suffered no hurt.”

“Well, perhaps we'd better stand by for a while until you make sure,” suggested Dick. “You might spring a leak, and it wouldn't take much to sink you. Besides, you're rather far out from land.”

So were the rocket riders, for that matter, as they noted when they looked back toward Key West. They had come farther out than they realized, so fast was the Hippocampus and so interested were they in testing the rocket motor.

“My boat is not very sturdy,” said the Spaniard with a smile. “But it is the best I can secure for my quest. I hoped to get a better, but I have been disappointed. I assure you I am all right, that you have not damaged me, and I can continue. I have been farther away from the mainland than I am now,” he added with not a little pride.

His hair and beard were gray, and the boys judged him to be about seventy years old. He seemed firm and vigorous, and it spoke well for his navigating abilities that he should be so far out in such a little power craft. With appraising eyes the boys noted that the gasoline motor was of an old style, though it seemed to be running well. There was a clutch arrangement on the propeller shaft so that now the motor was idling and the screw was not turning. Both boats floated side by side.

“What sort of rigging has he in there?” asked Dick In a low voice of Harry as he nudged his chum. “Looks like some sort of a dredge.”

The tall lad observed a tangle of ropes on the small after deck of the Santa Clara, and to some of the ropes were attached pronged hooks, while other cables seemed to be fastened to what looked like ice tongs.

“It does seem as if he were trying to get something from the bottom of the sea,” admitted Harry. “Maybe he's a sponge fisher. There are plenty hereabouts; at least they start out from around here, though I don't know that we are over the sponge beds.”

“The best sponges are pulled loose from the rocks by divers,” Dick stated. “To rip them off with grappling irons would be to tear them to pieces. No, he isn't a sponge fisher.”

“Then he's after something below the surface.”

“I admit that,” Dick said. “He's a queer old chap; nice, though.”

The Spaniard did not seem to be aware of the close scrutiny the boys gave his craft. He looked over both sides as if to make sure his hull was not damaged, and then he shut off his motor. Looking up at the rocket craft, he said with a smile:

“You have a fine boat there.”

“We're beginning to think so,” answered Harry.

“We'd have felt bad if we had run you down, though,” stated Bert.

“Have no regrets, senor. What has happened is past and gone. Ah, but you have damaged yourselves!” he exclaimed, quickly. “I regret to inform you that your propeller is gone!”

He seemed overwhelmed at the seeming accident, which he noted as his boat drifted around to the stern of the rocket craft.

“It is you who are in trouble, not me,” he added. “I wonder if I can tow you. I have not much power———”

“Don't worry, sir,” said Harry. “We haven't lost our propeller, for we never had one.”

“Never had one, senor! Then how———”

“This is a rocket motor boat,” Harry interrupted, and he quickly explained the method of operation.

The old man shook his head.

“I don't understand much about it,” he said. “It seems impossible to run a boat with a skyrocket, but I know you can run, for I saw you speeding toward me. It is wonderful!”

As has been stated, the Hippocampus did not operate by the setting off of a battery of skyrockets, though persons seeing her for the first time, and hearing of the method of propulsion, imagined this was the case.

A skyrocket, as you doubtless know, is a hollow cylinder, or tube, of heavy pasteboard, containing powder and a fuse. The upper end of the rocket is sealed and is generally pointed to reduce air resistance. The stick is attached to insure a straight flight, as do the feathers on an arrow.

When the fuse is lighted it starts the powder burning. This creates a gas which, since it cannot escape at the top, blows itself out at the bottom of the rocket. The pressure of this burning gas against the air pushes the rocket upward at a very fast rate of speed, which continues until the powder is all burned.

If you will lean with your outstretched hands against the wall of your room and push yourself away you will have an exact illustration of how a rocket operates, your hands taking the place of the burning gas and the wall of the resisting air.

In the early days of rocket vehicles, such as sleds, boats, and airplanes, steel tubes, corresponding to the pasteboard tubes of skyrockets, really burned powder, and there was much flame and smoke as well as terrifying noises.

But Alex Sarnof and several German scientists have greatly improved the first crude rocket motor apparatus. Mr. Sarnof used a combination of chemicals to produce a gas without fire, and some Germans use a liquid fuel which does the same thing. The resulting gas, in any case, is fired by an electric spark, as is the gas mixture of air and gasoline in an automobile.

The boy rocket riders did not, at this time, explain all this detail to the occupant of the Santa Clara, though, later, he had full opportunity to discover for himself the workings of the Hippocampus.

“So you see,” concluded Harry after his brief explanation, “we don't need a propeller.”

“It is marvelous, senors! Marvelous! I thank you!”

But now I must be on my way. My quest takes me into many waters. Some day I may be successful and then———”

The old man seemed suddenly weakened, perhaps from the after effects of the excitement of the encounter in which he might have been sunk. He sat down near his now silent motor and appeared so weary that Harry and his companions felt sorry for him.

“I wonder if we oughtn't to help him in some way,” said Harry in a low voice.

“He looks all in,” observed Dick.

“It doesn't seem safe to let him go navigating around in that little boat after we may have nearly scared him to death by almost running him down,” added Bert. “Let's ask him if he doesn't want a tow.”

“That's right,” Harry agreed. Then he called:

“Won't you come on board, sir, and let us tow your boat to where you are going? We'd be glad to, and we could show you how a rocket motor works.”

“I don't know, senors—I am not sure—I am headed for no particular place,” was the faltering answer. “I must search———”

Suddenly the old Spaniard seemed to collapse. He slumped on the seat, and his eyes closed.

“He's hurt!” cried Dick.

“We must have rammed him after all!” gasped Bert.

“No, I think not,” stated Harry. “He didn't seem to have been hit, and his boat is hardly scratched. We couldn't have done it. I think the excitement has been too much for him.”

“Anyhow he needs help,” declared Dick. “Sure!” agreed Bert. “We'd better take him on board here, tow his boat, and go back to Key West. He'd better have a doctor.”

“I guess that's the best thing to do,” agreed Harry.

“But can we get him on board? He seems to have fainted.”

“Dick and I can get down in his boat and lift him up over the low stern of ours, I think,” said Bert. “You can give us a hand when we lift him up to you.”

“Yes,” said the tall lad. “Well, go to it. We don't want to stay out too long. It looks like a storm coming, and we haven't much food or water. We didn't start out for a cruise.”

“It looks as if he had, though,” observed Dick, indicating several water containers and some boxes, evidently of food, in the small boat.

“I wonder what he's cruising around for?” murmured Harry. “He spoke of a quest, rather mysterious, and he sure has been dredging on the ocean bottom. Look!” He pointed to several pieces of what looked to be water-logged wood torn off wrecks from the bottom of the sea.

Wonderingly Dick and Bert looked. By this time the old man had stirred and seemed to be reviving, though he was weak and, apparently, ill. Dick jumped down to the forward deck of the Santa Clara, made her fast to the rocket boat with a rope, and then was followed by Bert.

“Yes, I shall be glad to come aboard your craft for a little rest,” said the old man when that plan had been spoken of. “But you do not need to lift me on board. I think I can manage it,” he added with rather a wan smile. “I have been out longer than usual this time, and I am not as young as I once was.” His voice showed his weariness. Undoubtedly the shock of the near-accident had unnerved him.

The boys curiously observed his queer dredging gear as they assisted him over the stern of the Hippocampus, but refrained from asking questions for the time being.

The old Spaniard was assisted into the cabin, and Harry and Bert laid him down on the cushioned locker seats, with a pillow for his head. Dick made the Santa Clara fast at the stern of the rocket boat and joined his chums.

“Is there any particular place we can take you?” asked Harry as he gave the old man a drink of water.

“Key West is my home,” was the rather faint reply. “If you are going there I shall be under obligations if you will take me. I am weaker than I thought. I have been seeking the treasure so long— it has been many years. And the treasure—the treasure———”

His head fell back on the cushion, and his voice trailed off into nothingness.

Back | Next