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The Gold Story

NOW don't get into a fight, Bert!” advised Harry in a low voice. “Not in the street, anyhow,” counseled Dick. “Cut it out, Red!” “I'm not anxious to fight,” answered Bert. “But I'm not going to let these eggs razz old Mr. Palmara.”

“No, we don't want that,” agreed Harry. “But can't you——”

“What's the big idea, anyhow?” demanded Nick, swaggering up beside his crony. “If you fellows think we can't do as we please down here you've got another guess coming! You don't own Key West any more than you did Alaska.”

“I'll show you who owns Key West!” spluttered Bert, whose temper was sometimes of the hair-trigger variety. He stepped closer to Sid, and there might have been a clash had not, at that moment, a new factor entered the problem.

“Hello, boys!” exclaimed a hearty voice, and Bert looked up to answer.

“Oh, hello. Uncle Ade! When'd you get back?”

“Just got off the boat. Finished up my business sooner than I thought I would, so I came on home. How's the rocket yacht, or haven't you had a chance to blow yourselves up yet?” he asked with a laugh.

“The rocket boat runs fine!” said Harry. “We had her out on a trial trip.”

“Glad to hear it! Ah, there's my old friend Senor Palmara across the street. Excuse me while I speak to him,” said Mr. Armitage. “I'll be with you in a moment, and then I want to hear all about the old Sea Horse that I let you monkey with.”

He crossed the thoroughfare to greet the aged Spaniard and soon came back arm in arm with him. At the sight of Mr. Armitage, and hearing him speak of Senor Palmara as his friend, Sid and Nick beat a hasty retreat around a corner.

“What do you know about that?” gasped Dick, evidently referring to the unexpected presence, in Key West, of their former enemies who had tried so much to hamper the testing of the rocket sled over the icy wastes of Alaska.

“I never thought we'd see them here,” said Harry.

“And I'd have been just as pleased if we hadn't,” added Bert. “I wonder what they're doing here?”

“Trailing us—as usual,” said Dick.

“But how did they know we were here?” asked Bert.

“That's easy,” answered the tall lad. “Almost everybody in Ridgewood knew we were coming south to visit your uncle, Bert.”

“Yes, I guess that's right. But what's their game—I mean those two pills?” Bert gave Sid and Nick a variety of not very complimentary titles.

“Their game is something we'll have to figure out later,” Harry said. “Maybe it's just a coincidence that they're here.”

“When those liver lozenges follow us just for a coincidence, apple sauce will come out of oranges,” stated Bert with conviction. “They've got some scheme on, and we've got to watch our steps. I think we'd better go to the dock and make sure our boat's all right.”

“Oh, nonsense!” ejaculated Harry. “I don't believe Sid and Nick even know we have a rocket boat. You're seeing things, Bert.”

“I'm not so sure,” stated Dick. “I don't trust those fellows.”

“Well, we'll be careful, of course,” agreed Harry. “But here comes your uncle with the old Spaniard, Bert. Now maybe we can get to the bottom of that treasure story.”

“That's what I want to hear!” murmured Dick.

“Boys, I want you to meet an old friend of mine,” began Mr. Armitage when he had come to where the three chums waited.

“We have already met him,” Bert said with a smile.

“You have! Where?”

“I am under deep obligations to the young senors,” said the old man, courteously.

“Say, what's been going on while I was away?” asked Bert's uncle. “Let's go to the house and have a talk. Here, taxi!” he called, and the little party was soon sitting in the shady yard, sipping cool drinks and prepared to listen—at least the boys were—to a strange tale of treasure held by the sea.

“So you know my boys and they know you?” questioned Mr. Armitage when they were all comfortable.

“It was a strange manner of getting acquainted,” answered the Spaniard with a smile. He seemed much better than when the boys had last seen him.

“I should say it was,” agreed Harry. “We nearly sent him to the bottom.”

“Where the treasure lies,” said the old man, softly.

Then, after the story of the trial of the Hippocampus had been related to Bert's uncle, Senor Palmara told his tale. Briefly it was this:

Cuba had originally been settled by the. Spaniards, but there grew up a race that, while Spanish in language and customs, was different from the proud Castilians. They were Cubans, and though ruled by Spain they longed to be free. Year after year grew the desire of freedom for the island of Cuba until, in 1869, there started a great revolt of the native Cubans against their Spanish masters across the sea.

The father of Senor Alvez Palmara, who bore the same name as the son, was one of the revolutionists seeking to free Cuba from the Spanish yoke just as, later, the United States stepped in and did.

“My father and his friends determined to devote their lives to the freedom of Cuba,” related Senor Palmara. “I remember, as a small boy, hearing much talk and seeing some action. After a time my father and his friends managed to get together a large store of gold with which they planned to buy arms, ammunition, and supplies, that the battle for freedom might be waged. On a certain night, now many years ago, my father and his friends sailed in a vessel, with the gold, to bring it here to Key West, whence it was to go to the mainland of Florida, there to be used in freedom's cause.

“But there came up a terrible storm. The vessel, sailing from Cuba, was wrecked and sank with the gold on board. My father and several of his friends were saved after days of hardship and peril and returned to Cuba. The revolution failed, as I do not need to tell you, and it was not until many years later that, because of many atrocities on the part of Spain, the United States intervened, declared war on Spain, and Cuba received her freedom eventually. But my father remained a prisoner.”

“A prisoner?” exclaimed Harry.

“All these years?” asked Dick, remembering, as did his chums, the horrors, of the dungeons in Morro Castle.

“Not actually a prisoner in person,” answered Senor Palmara, “but a prisoner in reputation. There were not wanting, in the ranks of those who were working for the freedom of Cuba in 1869, many who hinted that my father and some of his friends had told a tale of the sea in relating their adventures in the great storm.” “What do you mean?” asked Bert. “It was more than hinted, senor,” answered the Spaniard, or, rather, Cuban, as he should be called, for that was his nationality—”it was more than hinted that though the Santa Clara with the gold was wrecked, my father and a selected few managed to get the treasure off before the vessel sank.”

“And he didn't!” said Mr. Armitage, who seemed to have great faith in the boys' new friend.

“Certainly not, senor!” was the quick rejoinder. “Was not my father and the others rescued almost at the point of death? Where was the gold when they were picked up at sea? The accusers were asked that question, but in answer they only laughed. They hinted that the gold had been secreted before the Santa Clara sailed, that the vessel was purposely sunk, and that those in the plot hoped, after the incident had been forgotten, to enjoy their stolen wealth.

“My father's life, after the shipwreck, was proof enough that he had no gold. He lived and died in comparative poverty, seeking to the last to locate the wreck and to prove, by bringing it up, that the gold was still on board.”

“Which he never did,” said Mr. Armitage, softly.

“Which he never did, senor,” softly murmured the old man. “But to me he left the heritage of clearing his name, which I can only do by finding the treasure yreck and so vindicating my father's memory.”

“And that's why, boys,” said Mr. Armitage, taking up the tale, “my friend Palmara is generally to be found cruising about in these waters trying to locate the wreck of the Santa Clara. Up to now he hasn't succeeded, and I, who am his greatest friend and admirer, say to him that he will never succeed—that he is wasting his time, his health, and what little money he has left from his father's estate. But he won't listen to me,” and he smiled at the aged Cuban to soften his words.

“No, Senor Armitage, I shall never listen or give up,” was the firm answer. “It is true I am spending my little substance, but as for my health and strength, that does not matter at all. I only hope it may hold out until I succeed. If it does, I shall be satisfied. And I shall be successful! I am sure I shall. Some day—when, I know not; where, I know not—I shall find the wreck and have the gold brought up.

“Then it will be proved that my father and his friends did not secretly make away with it. My father's honor will be vindicated, and I shall die happy.”

“But even if you find the gold, Mr. Palmara,” said Bert, “which I won't say you can't do, to whom could you give it? The revolutionists are all dead, I suppose.”

“Yes, senor, all dead. But the world shall know that my father was honest, that he tried, to the end, to serve Cuba. As for the gold, it may be given to charity for all I care, though some of it belonged to my father and his friends, for they put all their wealth into the fund to buy arms for the revolutionists. But at least Cuba and the world will know Senor Alvez Palmara was a true man!”

His voice rang out and his eyes lighted up with a strange fire as he said this. Then he seemed to sink back into the decrepitude of an old man. But his tale had moved the boys strangely.

“So,” remarked Harry, “that's what those grappling irons and hooks in your boat were for—to try to locate the wreck, sir?”

“Correct, senor. I go about as best I can in the little motorboat Senor Armitage was kind enough to give me. I drop overboard my hooks and grapples in the hope that, some day, I shall bring up a piece of the old Santa Clara. And when I locate the wreck, divers can go down and bring up the gold. I shall not be able to hire them, but when I tell the story there will not be wanting those who, for the chance of sharing, will finance diving operations. I have no worries on that score. Let me but locate the wreck and all will be well.”

“Have you any clues at all?” asked Dick.

“Some, senor. My father left me a chart with the place of the sinking of the old Santa Clara marked thereon. But my search over that place, so far, has availed nothing. Also I have the stories of those who ailed with my father. They locate the wreck in another place. I have searched in many waters, and I have not given up yet. Only the other day I heard———”

“Hark!” suddenly cautioned Harry, looking toward the gate in the high wall that surrounded the residence of Bert's uncle. “I thought I heard someone in the shrubbery there.” He pointed to a clump of oleander trees.

“I'll take a look!” offered Bert, ruffling his red hair as if in anticipation of a fight.

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