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CHAPTER I THE PROFESSOR’S LETTER
“I’d like to have a crack at that ball,” said Don Mercer, with a grin.

His brother Jim returned the grin as he said: “Let’s go out on the field and ask the kids to toss us one. They won’t mind giving us one swing at it.” The two Mercer brothers were standing at the edge of a large vacant lot near the center of their home town one morning late in June. They had been home from Woodcrest Military Institute for a week now on their summer vacation, and this particular day, having nothing more exciting to do, they had wandered around the town, coming at length to a familiar field where they had often played baseball. A number of youngsters were on the ground now, tossing and batting a discolored baseball, and the sight of them had caused the sandy haired, slightly freckled Don to express his wish.
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The two boys walked across the field toward the boys and Don said: “Wonder how much further I can hit it now than I could when I played here as a kid?”

“Hard to tell,” returned Jim. “But we certainly got quite a bit of practise this spring at Woodcrest.”

The small boys looked at them as they drew nearer, but as the Mercer boys were well known the boys felt no alarm or resentment at the approach of the larger lads. Don walked over to the boy who held the bat and held out his hand.

“How about giving me one crack at the ball, Charlie?” he asked.

The boy smiled and extended the bat, a bit of embarrassment in his look. “Sure, Don. Take a couple of them,” he invited.

“I guess one will be enough,” remarked Don, as he turned to face a boy who held the ball. “Put a good one over, Tommy, will you?”

The boy addressed as Tommy grinned boyishly and turned to the youngsters who stood far afield, waiting for flies to be batted to them. “Get way out, you fellows,” he cried. “This fellow can hit ’em!”
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The two fielders backed away and Tommy threw a fast ball to Don. The latter easily batted it out and one of the youngsters caught it triumphantly. Don handed the bat to Jim, who in turn cracked the ball out along the ground.

“Just one more, fellows,” begged Don, taking the bat from his brother’s hand. When the ball had been turned over to young Tommy he wound his arm up slowly and then pitched it with considerable force in Don’s direction.

“Hit that!” he cried.

It was traveling on a straight line and Don swung the bat around sharply. There was a singing crack as the wood met the ball, and the muddy spheroid sailed in a mounting curve up into the air. It passed high above the fielder’s head and made its way straight for the side window of a small house that stood on the edge of the field.

“Oh, boy!” shouted Jim. “Right through the window!”

His statement was correct. With a disconcerting crash the ball smashed the window to pieces.

Don dropped the bat and shoved his hands into his pocket. “Well, I’ll be jiggered!” he exclaimed. “How is that for bad luck? Right through Professor Scott’s window!”

“I hope the professor wasn’t at home, and in that room,” said Jim. “Guess we had better go over and see about it.”
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“Right you are,” nodded Don. “Thanks for the hits, kids. Come on, Jim.”

Leaving the boys to gather and talk things over in awed tones the two Mercer brothers made their way across the field in the direction of Professor Scott’s house. The gentleman mentioned had been their history teacher while they were in grammar school, and they knew him quite well, so they had no great fears as to the outcome. No one had appeared at the window or at the doors, and Jim supposed that the professor was not at home.

“I guess not,” Don returned, “or he would surely have appeared by now. But we’ll go over and see, and if he isn’t we’ll leave a note and tell him who did it, and offer to pay for it.”

While the Mercer boys are making their way across the field something may be said as to who they were. Both boys, fine, manly chaps, were the sons of a wealthy lumber man of Bridgewater, Maine. They had lived the life of healthy young men whose interests were centered in worthwhile things. Of late they had had some adventurous events in their lives, some of which were related in the first volume of this series, The Mercer Boys’ Cruise in the Lassie, when they ran down a marine bandit gang, and later when solving a baffling mystery at the military school, details of which were related in the second volume entitled The Mercer Boys at Woodcrest. Together with their comrade, Terry Mackson, they had faced many perils and adventures, and now they were home to spend, as they thought, a comparatively dull vacation. Just how deeply mistaken they were in their thought will be found later.
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They entered the front yard of Professor Scott’s house and walked around to the side, where the broken window faced toward the empty lot. There appeared to be no one at home, but when they came opposite to the window Don raised himself slightly on his toes and looked in. Then he dropped down again and looked at Jim in astonishment.

“The professor is at home,” he said, in a low tone. “He’s sitting there, reading a letter!”

“Reading a letter?” asked Jim, amazed.

“Yes,” answered his brother. “Look in.”

Jim raised himself and looked in the window. A tall man with bushy white hair and a thick iron gray beard was seated at the desk in what appeared to be a study, busily engaged in reading a letter. Near him, almost at his feet, lay the boys’ ball, and fragments of broken glass littered the floor. The professor was apparently deeply absorbed in his letter.

“Well, what do you know about that!” exclaimed Jim, softly. “Doesn’t even seem to know that the window is broken! We always knew that he was somewhat absent-minded, but I thought he was more responsible than that!”
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Before Don could reply there was a stir in the room and the next minute the professor came to the window and looked down at them. He still held what appeared to be a lengthy letter in his hand, and he recognized them.

“Why, Don and Jim Mercer!” he cried, showing strong white teeth in an engaging smile. “I’m glad to see you home again. Did you come to see me?”

“I came to apologize for breaking your window, and to offer to pay for it, Professor Scott,” answered Don. “I was batting out the ball for some boys, and I hit it harder than I expected to. I hope it didn’t startle you very much?”

“I jumped a little bit,” admitted the professor. “I did notice it!”

“Notice it!” exploded Jim. “I should think that you might have! It certainly made enough noise.”

“It did make some. I felt that it was some of the boys playing ball and I was going to throw the ball back to them in a minute.” He picked the ball up and handed it to Don. “Throw it back, and then come inside, won’t you?”

Don threw the ball back to the small boys, who were watching from the field. “Are you sure we won’t be breaking in on you, professor?” he asked.

“Not as much as you did a few minutes ago!” smiled the teacher. “Come around through the back way.”
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When the boys entered the professor’s study he motioned them to chairs and asked them a few questions about their school life and studies. All the time he held the letter in his hand, and when he had finished talking about their school he took the lead in the conversation.

“I guess you boys wonder what is so interesting in this letter that I hardly noticed a ball when it broke through my window,” he began. “Well, I remember how interested you boys were in history while in my classes, and I’m glad you came along when you did. This letter is from my son Ned, who lives in Lower California, and it contains one of the most fascinating stories I ever came across!”

Knowing as they did the professor’s deep interest in historic and scientific studies and discoveries the boys found themselves interested at once. The teacher went on, after a glance at the letter, “Ned owns a small farm or homestead in Lower California near the mines at San Antonio and Triunfo, where he tests the ores and carries on general scientific studies. He tells me that the ores are refractory and not easy to test, but he enjoys the work and is devoting his whole life to it. I don’t think he is quite as much interested in historic things as I am, but knowing how eager I am for relics and information of the past, he has sent me this remarkable piece of news.
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“Some time ago, a steam trawler, while fishing in 130 fathoms of water, hauled up a piece of wreckage in its net. Upon examination it appeared to be the bulwark of an ancient Spanish galleon, with parts of the rigging attached. On the sides, plainly distinguishable, were designs in hand-sewn leather. Some of those big, lumbering ships were decorated quite extensively, you know, and this one was distinguished by its hand-sewn leather covering. It was evident that somewhere in the neighborhood a Spanish galleon had gone to the bottom, and it is always a safe conclusion that where there is galleon there is also a treasure. Those ships carried gold, silver and jewels from Old Mexico and Peru to Spain, and this particular ship may have been going home after a trip up the coast of California. That was the type of ship that the brave English seamen of Queen Elizabeth’s time whipped so soundly at the time of the Spanish Armada, and there were hundreds of them in service along the shores of the Americas and the Islands.
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“The spot was marked in the hope that treasure would be discovered, on the presumption that it was a treasure ship, and shortly afterward active operations were started by a California diving company. But although they searched the shore under water in minute detail they found nothing. The mystery is not that they didn’t find any treasure, but that they didn’t find any more of the ship. You might think that perhaps that particular piece had been washed there from some point further out, and it is possible, but the piece, when netted, had been buried in the mud, and it looks as though it had been there for centuries, though ships haven’t a habit of sinking in sections, one part at one place and another part in a different place. However, they didn’t find a thing, and at last the whole undertaking was given up.”

“That is too bad,” said Jim, who was deeply absorbed in the story. “So it was a false hope from the first.”

“How long ago was that?” asked Don.

“That was a little over a year ago,” answered the professor. “And that leads me to the second part of my story. Ned had given up all interest in it even before the diving and salvage company had, and he thought no more about it. The piece of wreckage is a treasure in itself and was sent up to San Francisco, where it was subsequently placed in a museum. Realizing that I would be interested in it all he first wrote to me at the time it happened, and I read it and wrote for news, but as the thing died down I forgot it, too. I have planned to run out to San Francisco sometime and see the part myself, and I intend doing so soon.
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“Ned told me at the time that there had been some slight changes in the coast line during the last few centuries. A number of creeks that formerly ran into the ocean have closed up and disappeared, some of them filled with shifting sand and soil. I don’t know if you were ever aware of the fact or not, but although Lower California has a dry climate and is mostly barren, there are spots where it is tropical and jungle plants and trees grow there in luxurious profusion. Although they have almost no rain, they do have violent storms, and at such times are treated to regular cloudbursts. At those periods the elements raise the old dickens and it was during these spells that some creeks and small rivers closed up.

“Maybe you wonder why I’m particular to tell you all this. I do so because I believe it has a direct bearing on the most amazing part of Ned’s letter. I believe it explains the disappearance of the Phantom Galleon!”

“The Phantom Galleon!” cried Don, while Jim stirred in eager interest. “What is that, Professor Scott?”


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