The Boy Chums in the Gulf of Mexico / or, On a Dangerous Cruise with the Greek Spongers

The Boy Chums in the Gulf of Mexico / or, On a Dangerous Cruise with the Greek Spongers

Author:
Wilmer M. Ely
Author:
Wilmer M. Ely
Format:
epub
language:
English

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Author: Ely, Wilmer M. (Wilmer Mateo)
Sponge fisheries — Florida — Juvenile fiction
Tarpon Springs (Fla.) — Juvenile fiction
The Boy Chums in the Gulf of Mexico
or, On a Dangerous Cruise with the Greek Spongers


“Charley leveled his gun and sent sixteen shrieking bullets just above the wheelman’s head.”


The Boy Chums
In the Gulf of Mexico

OR

On a Dangerous Cruise with the Greek
Spongers

By WILMER M. ELY
Author of “The Boy Chums on Indian River,” “The Boy
Chums on Haunted Island,” “The Boy Chums in
the Forest,” “The Boy Chums’ Perilous Cruise.”

A. L. BURT COMPANY
NEW YORK


Copyright 1913
By A. L. Burt Company

THE BOY CHUMS IN THE GULF OF MEXICO


CONTENTS

I.   3
II. MR. DRIVER. 11
III. PREPARATIONS 19
IV. THE START 27
V. THE START 36
VI. FIRST TROUBLE 45
VII. SPONGING 53
VIII. TROUBLE 61
IX. MANUEL’S RELEASE 68
X. A RASH RESOLVE 76
XI. A MYSTERY 84
XII. IN A DIVING SUIT 94
XIII. A CLOSE CALL 100
XIV. THE DISCUSSION 107
XV. A DESPERATE PLAN 115
XVI. TOO LATE 122
XVII. OUTWITTED 129
XVIII. IMPRISONED 136
XIX. WRECKED 144
XX. HUNTING HELP 152
XXI. THE CASTAWAYS 159
XXII. ANOTHER DANGER 167
XXIII. THE RELAPSE 175
XXIV. THE FLOOD 182
XXV. THE FLOATING HATCH 189
XXVI. WITH THE BOYS 197
XXVII. THE JOURNEY 205
XXVIII. JUDSON 212
XXIX. THE FEUD 219
XXX. BESIEGED 225
XXXI. THE ENEMIES 233
XXXII. THE CASTAWAYS AGAIN 240
XXXIII. THE RESCUE 247
XXXIV. CONCLUSION 255

THE BOY CHUMS
IN THE GULF OF MEXICO


CHAPTER I.

It’s just like stepping suddenly into a strange country. I am glad we came even if we decide not to go into the business.”
The speaker, a sturdy, manly-looking boy of eighteen, was one of a party of four persons who were strolling along a street in the Greek section of Tarpon Springs, a small Florida town, located on the Anclote River, a few miles from the Gulf of Mexico. His companions were a boy about his own age but of less robust appearance, a little negro lad with a good-humored intelligent face, and a middle-aged, heavily-bearded, blue-eyed man whose tattooed arms and rolling gait told of a life spent on tossing seas and whose confident bearing and air of authority stamped him as one above the rank of a common sailor.
Those who have followed The Boy Chums through their many adventures will recognize in the little party their old friends Charley West, Walter Hazard, Captain Westfield and the Bahama lad, Chris, who lately returned from a perilous trip along the Atlantic beach searching for wreckage, and now seeking some promising venture in which to invest the Fifteen Hundred Dollars they earned on that voyage.
“You’re right, Charley,” agreed the other boy. “I didn’t know before that there was a sight like this in Florida. Here’s a bench. Let’s set down and rest a bit. I am tired from walking.”
“Golly, I reckon dis nigger’s tired some too,” chimed in the little darkey, “I’se dun had de toothache in mah legs for most an hour, but I’se had to keep up wid you-alls. Don’t dare let you white chillen prognostracate ’round a queer place like dis alone.”
The seat selected was a long bench standing on the edge of the sidewalk, its back to the sandy street. The four seated themselves at one end and gazed around with eager interest at the strange scene, unconscious of the curious glances bestowed upon them by a large, deeply-tanned man, who, seated on the other end of the bench, was languidly whittling on a piece of white pine with a large sheaf knife.
The scene was one to arouse more than passing interest. Up and down the sidewalk hurried swarthy-faced, powerfully-built men of all ages and appearances, but all possessed of the same clear-cut features and straight noses. Singly and in groups of two and three, they hurried past, picturesque in their bright-colored clothing with gaudy sashes knotted about their waists. About all clustered an air of energy and bustle uncommon to sleepy Florida towns.
Built up close to the inner edge of the sidewalk was a row of large buildings startling in their coats of bright yellow, red, blue, and green paint. Stretching away, close together in the distance, they gave one the impression of a gigantic rainbow. Through their wide-open doors and windows the interested onlookers could gain a plain view of the interiors, from which came the confused jangle of foreign tongues. To the right of where the little party sat was a busy grocery store, its windows filled with strings of dried garlic, strange-looking cheeses, queer nuts and fruits and a multitude of eatables strange to American eyes. To the left of them was a tobacco factory, the whirling machines shredding up the huge brown leaves into hair-like fibers and binding them up into pound packages. Directly before them was a great hall filled with little tables around which were seated groups of the regular-featured men, playing cards, eating, or puffing at strange pipes, with a small hose for a stem, the smoke passing through great glass vessels partly filled with rose water before it reached the smoker’s lips.
“That’s the fifteenth place of that kind I’ve counted to-day,” remarked Charley West. “From their numbers, one would imagine that these people did nothing but eat and play cards.”
“I’d like to try one of them pipes,” said Captain Westfield, wistfully. “I’ll bet they give a good, cool smoke.”
“Let’s go in and get dinner,” Walter suggested. “I am hungry as a wolf and that food smells mighty good. You can try a pipe after we eat, Captain.”
The man at the end of the bench shifted his position closer to them.
“Strangers here?” he enquired.
“Just came in this morning. We’re looking into the sponge business a bit,” replied the Captain.
Charley eyed the tanned man closely. There was a sinister expression to the fellow’s face, and his eyes shifted uneasily away from the lad’s level glance. The keen-witted boy was not favorably impressed with the stranger’s appearance, but the man’s cordiality drove away his faint feeling of distrust.
“I’ll go in with you then,” he offered. “Those fellows don’t speak much English and you would have a hard job making them understand what you wanted. I know a little Greek and may be able to help you out a bit.”
“Much obliged to you,” said the Captain, gratefully. “We don’t understand a word of their lingo. I’ll stand treat to the dinner if you’ll eat with us.”
“It’s a go,” agreed the stranger, quickly. “Come on. My name’s Robert, Captain Roberts,” he volunteered when the little party were seated around one of the tables, “I’m a retired ship’s master.”
Captain Westfield introduced himself and his companions. “As I said, we are lookin’ into this sponge business a bit, but it’s hard to pick out the proper course from these twisted-tongued furriners,” he said. “Do you happen to know anything about it?”
“I used to be in the business myself,” Captain Roberts replied promptly. “I made enough money in it to quit the sea for good.”
“Then I reckon you’re the very man to give us a few pointers. Is there as much money in it as one hears tell of?”
“More,” declared the other. “These Greeks are getting rich off sponging. It is not anything unusual for a schooner’s crew to clear up three or four thousand dollars from a single trip. It takes quite a bit of money to make a start, though.”
“We have got a little change in our clothes,” said the Captain, modestly. “Do you reckon a person could get started good on a Thousand dollars?”
“That would do nicely,” declared Captain Roberts, “and I can tell you just how to lay it out to the best advantage, but let’s order dinner first. We can talk while we are eating.”
He beckoned to a dark-skinned, ill-favored waiter and gave an order in low-pitched fluent Greek.
The waiter was back almost instantly with a tray-load of steaming dishes which he placed upon the table. The boys could not determine the exact nature of the strange viands, but they were too hungry to be critical, and attacked the food with hearty appetites.
“This mutton stew is delicious,” Charley declared as he took another helping. “I don’t know as I ever tasted anything better.”
Captain Roberts grinned. “You don’t want to make any guesses about Greek food,” he declared. “That isn’t mutton, but just tough old Billy-goat, fattened on a diet of tin cans. These fellows have the knack of fixing up such things so they can’t recognize them themselves. Just wait till the coffee is served. You’ll say you never drank any better. But let’s get back to that sponging business now, Captain.”
He and Captain Westfield were soon plunged in a tangled maze of talk about schooners, diving boats, sponges, and divers.

The boys gave but little heed to the discussion for their attention was partly diverted by the unusual scene around them.
“It’s just like being in another country,” Walter whispered to his chum.
“Yes, but I don’t like the attention we seem to receive,” Charley replied. “Those fellows are staring at us as though there was something wrong in our being here.”
The Greeks gathered around the other tables indeed seemed more than casually interested in the little party. They stared frequently at them and their new acquaintance, and exchanged significant glances and low words with each other.
“I guess we appear as odd to them as they do to us,” Walter said, carelessly. “There is a man who is not a Greek. That fellow leaning against the end of the counter in the corner.”
The man indicated was unmistakably an American. He was short, heavily-built and had a determined, aggressive face. He was engaged in a heated discussion with the proprietor of the cafe and his heavy face was flushed with anger. As the boys gazed curiously, he brought down his clenched fist on the counter with a force that shattered some of the dishes piled upon it.
“You needn’t smirk, grin, and make excuses,” he thundered at the suave, smiling Greek. “You’ve got to pay me that bill you owe me. It’s been standing for months and I happen to know that you are making money all the time, hand over fist. It’s no use pretending you don’t understand me,” he shouted, as the smiling Greek shrugged his shoulders. “You know what I say. If you don’t come up with the money by to-morrow night I’ll close up this place and have you prosecuted for obtaining goods under false pretences. And it will not be any use for you to try your nice little Greek trick of a knife in my back in the dark. I go heeled and I don’t go to sleep when I walk this street. The fellow who tries that trick on me will stop enough lead to start a cartridge factory.”
He turned and was walking towards the door when his glance rested for a moment on the boys and their companions. His glance swept swiftly over each member of the little party. He paused, hesitated a moment, then turning, walked swiftly towards their table.
Captain Roberts rose hastily at his approach. “There’s a friend of mine over there,” he said hurriedly, “who I want to speak to. I’ll be back in a minute.”
The approaching stranger noted his departure with a grim smile. He stopped beside the Captain and stood gazing down for one brief minute.
“Are you fools or strangers?” he demanded, crisply.


CHAPTER II.
MR. DRIVER.

The stranger’s smile robbed his words of their hardness.
“Strangers, yes,” Charley replied, “Fools, no.”
“No offense intended,” said the man, quickly. “Strangers will sometimes take advice but fools will not. My advice to you strangers is to keep out of places like this and not to make friends with other strangers. I don’t suppose you know who that man is who just left you.”
“He’s a retired sea captain,” said Captain Westfield. “He was giving us some pointers about the sponge business. Mighty pleasant an’ obligin’ fellow. Mighty fair-spoken.”
“Bless your simple little souls,” exclaimed the stranger. “He’s no captain, active or retired. He’s the runner for this place. Lucky you haven’t any of you drank your coffee yet. You’d be waking up in some alley bye-and-bye with your heads aching from knock-out drops and your pockets turned inside out. My, but you were easy.”

“I don’t reckon any one would dare do such a thing in broad daylight,” Captain Westfield declared.
“It’s been done in this place a dozen times. And the victim’s kicks never did any good after it happened, for there was always a dozen Greeks ready to go on the stand and swear that it was only a case of drunkenness on the victim’s part. Better get out of here.”
The humbled little party arose and followed their conductor out to the sidewalk. As they passed through the crowd they could not help but notice the wrathful glances the sitters bestowed upon the one who had cheated them of their victims.
“I guess we have acted pretty green,” Charley admitted, as they passed outside, “but we were so eager to learn about the sponge business that we forgot caution. Besides, one does not look for such tricks in a little town like this. It’s not like a big city where one has to be always on his guard against strangers.”
The stranger favored the members of the little party with a closer scrutiny than he had yet bestowed upon them.
“So you are figuring on going into the sponge business, eh?” he asked.
“We may try it a bit if we find out that it pays as well as we have heard tell of,” answered Captain Westfield, cautiously, “but it’s mighty hard to find out anything definite about it from these Greeks.”
“Oh, there’s big money in it all right,” said their new friend. “You might make a go of it. You are a pretty husky, determined-looking lot and would soon get on to the Greekish tricks. It’s a risky business, though. I don’t advise anyone to take it up.”
“We’ve encountered a few risks in other lines,” said Charlie, modestly. “We are willing to take a few chances if there’s money enough in it to tempt us.”
The stranger pulled out his watch and looked at the time. “My name is Driver,” he remarked. “I own a store over on the next street in the American section. Business is slack at this time of day and I will show you around a bit, if you wish. My clerks can look out for the trade for an hour or two.”
“No need of thanks,” he said as the Captain accepted his offer gratefully. “If you decide to go into the sponge business, you will need lots of provisions and I hope to sell them to you. We Americans do not get any of the Greek trade and we are always glad to secure a new customer. Now I suppose you want to know about the profit side of the business first. Well, I can not give you exact figures but I know that all engaged in the business are making big money. All these big buildings you see have been built out of sponging, and they do not represent a hundredth part of the money made out of the business. There is an enormous amount sent back to Greece every month through the post-office and bank here. I know Greeks who landed here only a few years ago with nothing but the clothes on their backs—and those were mighty poor—that are wealthy men now and they made their fortunes out of sponges. Oh, there’s big money in it all right. But you can look into that part of the business closer later on. Now, I want to show you something of the sponges themselves. We will go down to the harbor first.”
The interested little party followed him as he led the way along a soft sand road flanked by scrub palmettos.
Their guide paused beside one of the several large buildings standing close to the road. “This is a clipping shed,” he said.
The building was open on one side and was filled with a crowd of old men, women and young boys, all Greeks. Before each was a pile of rough sponges from which they were clipping the spoilt parts with great shearing shears. In one corner, a man worked over a big screw-press, pressing the severed fragments of sponges into huge compact bales.
“That part isn’t important enough to waste much time looking at,” Mr. Driver said, as he turned away. “Come on and I’ll show you something worth seeing.”

As they followed along behind their guide, the boys became sensible of a strong, pleasant, appetizing odor in the air, an odor which grew stronger as they advanced. A turn in the road brought them suddenly upon the source of the odor. On the shore of a quiet little land-locked harbor, blazed dozens of small camp-fires over which sat great iron kettles. On pieces of canvas laid upon the ground were piles of fresh beef and mutton. Over each pile worked several Greeks cutting the meat with the sheaf knives into tiny squares about an inch in size. Other Greeks were dumping the little square pieces into the kettles, while still others kept the contents stirred and the fires under the kettles burning briskly.
“They are putting down the meat for their next voyage,” explained Mr. Driver. “They roast it in its own fat, put it into stone jars, and pour the fat over it. As soon as the fat cools and congeals it forms an air-tight covering which keeps the meat from spoiling.”
“If it tastes half as good as it smells, it must be delicious,” Charley remarked.
Chris viewed the cooking operation with professional jealousy. “Golly, I bet dey can’t cook like

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