“He’s laying down a bundle,” whispered Charley. “It’s only a small package. I wonder what he’s going to do.”
For answer, Wyckoff, for it was none other, deposited the small package described by the boy on the bow of the Fortuna. He knelt on the wharf a moment leaning over toward the boat. The boys were unable to see him well because of the curving lines of the vessel.
“Good heavens!” exclaimed Charley, starting from his post toward the bows. “He lit a fuse and has started away!”
“Come back from there,” cried Jack in a tone of authority. “Come back from there! Do you want to get blown into bits?”
The boys rushed forward to seize their chum and drag him to a place of safety. He kept on undaunted. Harrison gazed in open mouthed terror from one to the other. All seemed horror stricken at the situation. Rowdy tugged fiercely at his leash.
All could now see clearly the sputtering fuse attached to the package lying on the forward deck. From the gentle manner in which Wyckoff had handled it they guessed its contents. None knew better than the intrepid lad approaching the parcel what the result would be were he a second too late. Even as he hurried forward a chill seemed to run through his veins with the thought of what might happen were he not able to reach the package in time.
Harrison often declares that never to his dying day will he forget the coolness and excellent nerve displayed by Charley as he approached the sputtering fuse on the other end of which lay lurking probable death for the whole party. He says that out of all his varied experiences none stands forth with more distinctness than does the one through which he passed that night on the Fortuna.
Doright was paralyzed with terror and sank limply to the floor, resting his head on a bunk and praying as he never had prayed before for deliverance. His voice was gone, but his lips worked convulsively while his face took on a drawn and haggard expression seeming to visibly shrink together, leaving great pouches beneath his eyes and lines through his cheeks. He gasped for breath.
In his haste Charley stumbled over the free end of the bow line, made fast to the deck cleat. It had been coiled loosely, leaving the free end trailing across the deck. Quickly he was up.
Lunging forward again, his arm outstretched, the boy tried to grasp the package that was still just out of reach. He made a last fierce lunge and grasped the thing. He stood upright. A shower of sparks flew from the end of the shortening fuse.
AT THE SPANISH FORT
There is no doubt that Charley’s bravery and quick action saved the Fortuna and her crew. With a mighty effort he flung the package far from him. It fell into the waters of the bay with a splash. The next moment a muffled roar was heard and a vast column of water was flung skyward. The Fortuna rocked in the waves.