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CHAPTER IV. A WONDERFUL NARRATIVE.
Perhaps the most startled member of the party was Wilbur Wade. He rushed to the rail, straining his gaze in the direction of the signal lights.

12“I knew it would come!” he cried, excitedly. “I was sure we had not seen the last of that schooner.”

Certainly some vessel, distant but a few miles, was flying signal lights of distress.

The submarine voyagers would have been inhuman, indeed, not to have responded. The Diver’s prow was turned toward the lights.

Rapidly she drew nearer, and the searchlight was focused upon the vessel. Then there was a cry of recognition.

“I told you so!” cried Wade, eagerly; “it is the schooner!”

Nearer the Diver rapidly drew. When within fifty yards of the disabled schooner there came a loud hail:

“Steam yacht ahoy!”

“Ahoy the schooner!” replied Frank.

“What yacht is that?”

“This is not a yacht.”

“Oh, a torpedo cruiser, eh?”

“No,” replied Frank; “this is the submarine boat, the Sea Diver, Captain Frank Reade, Jr., of Readestown, U. S. A.”

There was a moment’s silence.

Then a surprised voice said:

“A submarine boat? Do you mean that literally?”

“I do,” replied Frank.

“Well, that beats me! Where are you bound?”

“Before I answer any more questions,” shouted Frank, “let me ask you a few.”

“All right.”

“What craft are you?”

“This is the schooner-yacht Meta, of the American Yacht Club, Captain Hardy Poole. We are bound for the Yucatan Channel, but this storm has taken away our foreyard, and we want to strike some vessel which carries a spare one.”

“Are you in distress in any other way?” asked Frank.

“No.”

“Well, then, we cannot help you. We wish you success and good-night.”

“Wait!” shouted the captain of the schooner; “don’t leave us yet. I am interested in your statement about your craft. I will send off a boat to bring you aboard. Perhaps I can tell you something of interest.”

Frank was surprised.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I will explain later. Look for our boat!”

Frank hesitated a moment. Then he turned to Wilbur Wade.

13“What can he desire to see us about?” he asked. “Is it worth while to wait and ascertain?”

“Oh, by all means!” cried Wade. “Don’t you remember what he said? He is also bound for the Yucatan Channel!”

“That is so,” exclaimed Frank, with sudden recollection.

“I tell you, this schooner is in some way bound to become involved in our project. Some strange presentiment has told me that!”

“It is quite a coincidence,” muttered Frank. “Yet I cannot see how his trip to the channel can in any way affect us.”

“We shall see. I would like to go aboard the schooner with you, Frank.”

“Certainly.”

Frank stepped into the pilot-house and gave Barney orders to lie by and wait for their return. Then he put on a light overcoat, as did Wade, and they were ready for the visit.

Very soon a dark object came bounding over the waves toward them. It was the yacht’s boat.

Presently it reached the gangway of the Diver.

“Ahoy!” came the hail; “this is the Meta’s boat waiting for Captain Reade.”

“All right,” cried Frank, as he slid down into the boat. He was followed by Wade.

A moment later four strong oarsmen were rowing them rapidly over to the yacht.

Once alongside it was an easy matter to mount the gangway and meet the captain of the Meta awaiting them at the rail.

He was a tall, powerfully framed man, and in the glare of the lanterns he was seen to be possessed of a dark, stern cast of features. Frank’s first glance was not exactly a favorable one.

He shook hands.

“This is Mr. Reade, I presume?” asked the captain of the yacht.

“It is,” replied Frank. “And this, I presume, is Captain Poole? I have brought my friend, Mr. Wilbur Wade, with me.”

Poole gave Wade a critical glance.

“You are both welcome,” he said. “Come into the cabin.”

Without further ceremony they followed the schooner’s captain. The cabin of the Meta was richly furnished.

But both Frank and Wade noted one curious fact.

Every man of the schooner’s crew, and even Poole himself 14carried arms. They wore belts and revolver pouches.

In these piping times of peace—and certainly in these seas—this could but be regarded as very strange. To the visitors it even had a sinister look.

On their way to the cabin Wade had an opportunity to whisper to Frank:

“Did you note those pistols?”

“Yes,” replied Frank.

“Are they cranks or pirates?”

Frank could hardly restrain a laugh.

“It is very mysterious!” he said. “Keep your eyes open. We will soon find out what it means.”

As they entered the cabin Poole motioned them to seats at a table. He sat opposite.

He was now plainly revealed in the glare of the cabin lamp. As his visitors thus got a good look at him, each experienced a peculiar sensation.

It seemed almost like a chill.

In all his life Frank thought he had never seen a man of such remarkable appearance.

His features were long and almost cadaverous. His eyes dark and piercing and burning with a strange light. He wore a sharp imperial and pointed mustache, with a saturnine smile which gave a truly Mephistophelian appearance.

In plain terms he was out and out the thorough type of the villain. Such both Frank and Wade adjudged him.

For a moment they sat there facing this strange being, who seemed like a portrait from a piratical past. Poole’s shifty gaze roamed over them, and then he spoke:

“I am honored by this visit, Mr. Reade. It is certainly fate which has thrown us together in this way, for I am very sure that we may be of mutual service to each other.”

“Indeed!” said Frank, with a little surprise; “I shall be pleased to know just how.”

“First I must tell you a story,” said Poole, with a crafty smile. “It concerns my mission and the character of my yacht and crew.”

“Really——”

“That is all right. I know that you have not failed to size up our peculiar appearance. Is it not true that we bear the appearance of latter-day pirates?”

“Why—I—I—had not thought much about that,” stammered Frank.

“Ah, yes, you have. It is not usual for people to go armed in these times. The days of Morgan, the rover, and Kidd, the buccaneer, are long past; yet we are seen emulating them.”

Frank and Wade were speechless. They could do nothing but stare at the speaker.

15He smiled in his saturnine way.

“Fear not,” he said, in his cool, almost impudent way. “I have not entrapped you, nor decoyed you on board this yacht for any nefarious purpose. Your statement that you were the possessor of a submarine boat has interested me, and I have a remarkable proposition to make. But first to my story:

“I am a native of Sicily, though an American by extraction, that is, I was born in that island, of Yankee parents. I was some years ago the possessor of a large fortune, but Monte Carlo and a fast life soon dissipated it.

“I had a half-brother, by name Alfonso, my father having married a Spanish lady. We were never good friends. We quarreled at every available opportunity.

“Despite this, Alfonso came to me when we were both penniless and begging for alms in Naples. He was a rogue, was Alfonso, but had no head for scheming. He assured me that he was on the track of a fortune.

“He produced a tin box, containing an ancient chart which had been an heirloom in his mother’s family. It was a map of an isle in the sea and described the location of a buried treasure upon that isle. Millions in Peruvian gold had been buried there by a buccaneering ancestor. But, alas! the latitude and longitude was so obscurely marked that it could not be deciphered.

“If there was any way to make that out, then the location of the treasure might be established and a fortune reaped. Alfonso had great faith in my sagacity, and deemed it possible that I might accomplish what others had failed to do. So he brought the charts to me.

“And he was right. I puzzled over the figures for a long time. Then I experimented with chemicals. I at length found a certain one which, by soaking the vellum, raised the obliterated figures and made them perceptible to the eye. By studying the map I learned that the gold was buried upon the Isle of Mona, in the Channel of Yucatan.

“We were half insane with our discovery. But for a time it seemed as if it would avail us naught.

“To reach the isle we must have a ship, and a crew of sworn and trusted men. For a long time we were in a quandary. But at length we found Signor Barboni, a merchant of Palermo, who lent us his assistance. A small ship was fitted out secretly and we sailed, nine men of us, Alfonso and Barboni.

“In due course we reached Mona. We landed at once and began to search for the treasure. And here was our grand mistake.

“We had traced our way into a rocky cavern. Digging in 16the sand we had, as we believed, almost reached the gold. A bit of earthen pottery was thrown out and a coin found, when a reverse came.

“Suddenly there descended upon us a hundred or more savage Caribs. A terrible battle ensued.

“We were not effectively armed, and the odds were tremendous. My brother Alfonso was brained by one of the savages. Signor Barboni was the next victim. We fought our way to the surf, and only three of us, covered with wounds, reached the ship.

“We spread sails to get away from the accursed place. A calm was on the sea, however, and there we lay until nightfall. Then a terrible thing happened.”
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