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The Boat Club - or, The Bunkers of Rippleton
by Oliver Optic
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"But the island?" said Charles.

"Paul Spencer pulls the third oar; we will call it Spencer Island."

The position of the boat was a favorable one for observing the conformation of the country, and Mrs. Sedley improved the opportunity to point out the various divisions of the land.

Half-way between Centre Island and the north shore was another island; and after coasting along by the banks of the lake, applying names to miniature sounds, bays, gulfs, and seas, the Zephyr arrived at its southerly side.

"Here is a channel," said Frank; "a passage of water wider than a strait."

"Fred's turn; we must call it Harper Channel," replied Tony.

"And the island?—we are out of names," continued Frank.

"We will call it Mary's Island, after Mary Weston."

"Agreed!" cried a dozen boys at once.

"I thank you for the compliment," said Mary, blushing.

The excursion was continued, the boys rowing leisurely, and pausing frequently to listen to the music of the band, and discuss the geographical formation of the lake and its shores. They passed entirely round the lake, and had given so many names to the various divisions of land and water, that it seemed improbable they could ever remember them.

As they came round to the boat-house, Mrs. Sedley was landed, and the club rowed up to Weston Bay, to leave the widow and her daughter. Both the passengers were delighted with their excursion, and were profuse of their thanks to Frank and his companions for their kindness and consideration.

"What shall we do now?" said Charles, as they pushed off.

"Hadn't we better give up for to-day?" suggested Frank.

"Let us go down to Rippleton for your father," added Fred.

"I will do that," answered Frank; and the Zephyr dashed away towards the village.

They had scarcely passed the boat-house before they discovered the Thunderbolt, directly ahead of them. Uncle Ben had landed the band at Rippleton, and had housed the Sylph, so that the Bunkers would no longer be restrained by his presence and that of Mrs. Sedley. But there was no way to avoid them, and Frank continued his course with some misgivings as to the consequences.

"Bunkers ahead!" said he.

"Never mind them, Frank," added Fred Harper. "We won't say anything to them."

"Tim will get his revenge upon us for this morning if he can," suggested the coxswain.

"We can keep out of his way, though I don't like the idea of running away from them," replied Fred.

"I like it better than I do the idea of fighting with them. But the lake is narrow near the village," said Frank.

"We can row two rods to their one."

"They have improved a great deal by their day's practice. They are resting on their oars, waiting for us."

"Let them wait; we will mind nothing about them."

The Zephyr continued on her course. It was necessary for her to pass within a short distance of the Thunderbolt, and Frank feared they would retaliate upon them for their discomfiture in the forenoon.

"Let every member of the club mind his oar," said he, as the boat approached the vicinity of the Bunkers; "I will watch them; I want you to mind what I say, and work quick when I speak."

"We will," answered the boys.

"I suspect, if they mean anything, that they intend to rush upon us when we pass them. Yes, there is Tim bringing her head round so that she lies broadside to us, and every one of them has his oar ready to pull," Frank explained.

"Can't you cut across the lake, and avoid them?" asked Tony.

"We must pass them somewhere; and they can cut us off, whatever course we take."

"Smash them if they come too near," said Fred.

"No, no, Fred; that wouldn't do. When I tell you to stop and back her, do it promptly, and we can easily get away from them. Pull steady."

The boys rowed leisurely, and the Zephyr in a short time reached a position which was exposed to the assault of the Thunderbolt.

"Pull," cried Tim Bunker, with energy.

Her course was at right angles with that of the Zephyr. Tim had apparently made a nice calculation in regard to his intended movements. He had started so as to come up with his rival when she reached the point in her course directly ahead of him.

The Bunkers pulled with all their might, and the two boats were rapidly nearing each other. Tim's plan had been well conceived, and the collision seemed inevitable. Frank saw that he had rightly interpreted the intentions of the Bunkers, but he still continued his course.

Suddenly, as the Thunderbolt was on the point of pouncing upon her prey, Frank, with startling energy, gave the command,—

"Way enough! Hold water! Stern all!"

Every boy, expecting the orders, was ready to execute them. The oars bent under the violent exertion they made to check the farther progress of the boat.

When the collision seemed unavoidable, Tim abandoned the helm, and leaped forward into the bow of the boat. He had a large stick in his hand; and it was evidently his intention to use it upon poor Tony, for his glance was fixed upon him with savage ferocity.

Frank's plan worked well. He had withheld the order to stop and back her till the last moment, so that Tim should have no time to change the course of the Thunderbolt, and thus derange his plan. As it was, it was a very narrow escape, and nothing but the promptness with which the order was executed averted the impending catastrophe.

The Thunderbolt passed across the course of the Zephyr, not three feet from her bow. Tim saw that he was foiled; and enraged at his disappointment, he aimed a blow at Tony with the long stick, as his boat shot past.

Tony was beyond his reach; he leaned over the gunwale of the boat in a vain attempt to accomplish his malignant purpose. But in doing so, he lost his foothold, and was precipitated head foremost into the lake!

He disappeared beneath the dark surface of the deep water, and his boat passed over the spot. The Zephyr, impelled backward by the vigorous strokes of her crew, was several rods from the place before the club fully realized the nature of the unfortunate occurrence.

The Thunderbolt was much nearer the place where Tim had disappeared than the Zephyr; but her crew seemed to be utterly paralyzed by the event, and unable to render the slightest assistance. One of the Bunkers took the helm, and endeavored to rally his companions; but in their confusion they were incapable of handling their oars; some pulled one way, and some another, and instead of urging the boat ahead, they only turned it round in a circle.

"Way enough!" shouted Frank, as soon as he discovered the accident. "Give way! Tim Bunker has fallen overboard!"

The crew, though affected to some extent as the Bunkers were, used their oars with skill and energy. The presence of mind which Frank displayed inspired them with courage, and the Zephyr darted forward towards the spot where Tim had gone down.

"There he is ahead!" exclaimed Frank, with frantic earnestness; "pull with all your might!"

"Help! Save me!" cried Tim, as he rose to the surface.

The boats were both several rods distant from him. He did not swim, but seemed to struggle with all his strength, apparently with a spasmodic effort, as though he had entirely lost his self-control.

"Tony, stand by with your boat-hook," shouted Frank.

But Tim struggled only for an instant on the surface, and then went down again.

"Way enough!" said Frank, as the Zephyr approached the spot. "Hold water! Oars!"

The boat, under the skilful management of the resolute young coxswain, lost her headway, and lay motionless on the water near the spot where Tim had last appeared.

"Do you see him, Tony?"

"No."

"Fred, forward with your boat-hook," continued Frank.

Fred took the boat-hook, and went forward to the bow of the Zephyr.

"There he is!" exclaimed Tony, as he caught a sight of the drowning boy beneath the surface.

Fred dropped his boat-hook into the water intending to fasten it into Tim's clothes.

"He sinks again!" cried Tony, throwing off his jacket and shoes.

Before any of the crew could fully understand his purpose, so quick were his movements, he dived from the bow of the boat deep down into the water.

The boys held their breath in the intensity of their feelings. One or two of them had dropped their oars, and were leaving their places.

"Keep your places, and hold on to your oars!" said Frank sternly. "Ned Graham, take the other boat-hook."

"Back her a little—one stroke," said Fred Harper. "We are passing over the spot."

Frank ordered the boat back, as desired.

"Here they rise! Tony has him!" exclaimed Fred, as he hooked into Tim's clothes. "Grasp the other boat-hook, Tony."

Tim was drawn into the boat, apparently dead.

Tony was so exhausted that he could not speak, and sank into the bottom of the boat.

"Give way!" said Frank, heading the Zephyr towards Rippleton.

The sad event had been observed from the shore, and before the arrival of the club boat quite a number of persons had collected. Scarcely a minute elapsed before the Zephyr touched the bank, and the lifeless body of Tim Bunker was taken out, and conveyed to the nearest house.

"How do you feel, Tony?" asked Frank, lifting the noble little fellow from his position.

"Badly, Frank; I want to go home," replied he faintly.

Among other persons who had gathered on the shore of the lake was one of the physicians of Rippleton. He followed the party that conveyed Tim into the house, and applied himself vigorously to the means of restoring him. It was a long time before there were any signs of life, and the people in the meantime believed him dead.

While Dr. Allen was at work over Tim, Fred Harper came to request his assistance for Tony. Fortunately Dr. Davis, another physician, arrived at this moment, and accompanied him to the boat.

"What ails him, Dr. Davis?" asked Frank.

"Exhaustion and excitement have overcome him."

"Is it anything serious?"

"I think not. We must get his wet clothes off, and put him to bed."

"Will you go home with him? We will row you up and back again."

The physician was very willing to go, and the boat put off. The club pulled with all their strength, and the distance to Tony's house was accomplished in a very few moments. Mrs. Weston was greatly alarmed when Tony was brought in, but the doctor assured her it was nothing serious. He was put to bed, the doctor prescribed for him, and when the boys were ready to leave, they had the satisfaction of knowing the patient was much better.

When they reached Rippleton, they found that Tim had been restored, and conveyed to his father's house. Captain Sedley came in the last train, and the boys rowed him home.



CHAPTER XVIII

TIM BUNKER

Captain Sedley was much disturbed by the painful event which had occurred; and though the club were entirely free from blame, he could not but question the expediency of continuing the organization. The malicious spirit of Tim Bunker had been the cause of his misfortune. People thought he was lucky to escape with his life, and that it would be a lesson he would remember a great many years.

Tony's praises were upon everybody's lips. He had saved the life of his enemy, had plunged in at the risk of his own, to rescue one who had been intent upon his injury. It was a noble and a Christian deed, so the good men and women said, while others declared, if they had been in Tony's place, they would have let him drown.

The noble deed was appreciated; and the day after the event, a subscription paper was opened at the Rippleton Bank for Tony's benefit. Before night over a hundred dollars was collected, which the cashier presented to him, as he lay upon his bed, sick from the effects of his exertions.

The crew of the boat club were very highly commended for their efficient labors on the occasion. If Frank had displayed less courage and address, or the discipline of the club had been less perfect, Tim must certainly have been drowned. This fact was rendered the more apparent by the contrast between the conduct of the crew of the Zephyr and that of the Thunderbolt. With all their exertion, on account of their want of discipline, the latter had been unable even to reach the spot until the former had received Tim on board.

All the sympathies of the people were with the boat club. Nobody pitied Tim; for he was a quarrelsome, disagreeable boy, and had nearly lost his life in his attempt to gratify his malicious spite against his noble and generous deliverer.

In a few days Tony, who had suffered more from the shock than Tim, was able to go out again. He was everywhere received with enthusiasm; and the first time the Zephyr visited Rippleton after the accident, people seemed determined to make a little lion of him.

Captain Sedley's attention was now directed to the trial of Tony, which would take place in a few days, and he was exceedingly desirous of ascertaining how Tim was affected towards him since the rescue. But the Thunderbolt had been laid up at Joe Braman's landing, and the Bunkers appeared to be dispersed and separated since the accident. Captain Sedley did not find their leader for several days, but at last he made a visit to his father's house before Tim got up.

The young ruffian was very desirous of avoiding him; and when his mother went up-stairs and told him who had come, he put on his clothes, and slipped out of the house by the back door. Captain Sedley happened to see him, however, as he was skulking off through the garden.

"Tim," said he, running after him.

The leader of the Bunkers did not dare to run away from such an influential person as Captain Sedley; and, turning, he doggedly approached him.

"Tim, I want to see you about the trial, which, you know, takes place in a few days."

"I don't know nothin' about it."

"You don't?" said Captain Sedley.

"No, I don't;" and Tim, fixing his eyes upon the ground, amused himself by kicking a hole in the soil with his foot.

"Don't you know anything about the wallet, or the money that was in it?"

"No, I don't."

"Just think a moment."

"Don't want to think; I don't know nothin' about it," replied Tim sulkily.

"Tony is accused of the crime, and you know what a terrible thing it would be to have an innocent person suffer."

"I s'pose it would."

"You know Tony saved your life."

"So I needn't be evidence against him," growled Tim.

Captain Sedley was astonished at his want of even the commonest feeling of gratitude.

"If that had been his motive, he would have let you drown."

"I wonder he didn't."

"Tim, you are utterly hardened in iniquity."

"No, I ain't."

"You have no gratitude towards your deliverer."

"Yes, I have; I am much obliged to him for what he done, and when I see him, I'll tell him so."

"You do not seem in the least obliged to him."

"I am; and besides, the folks gave him over a hundred dollars for what he done. I should like to jump in after a dozen on the same terms."

"You have nothing to say about the trial then, have you, Tim?"

"Don't know nothin' about it. All I can say is, I saw him stickin' somethin' into his pocket."

"You bought the boat in which you have been sailing on the lake."

"No, I didn't; it is Joe Braman's," replied Tim stoutly.

"Didn't you tell the boys that you gave him ten dollars for it?"

"No, I didn't."

"And that you paid five dollars for having it fitted up?"

"I was only joking—tryin' to sell 'em," answered Tim, attempting to smile and look funny.

"That was it, was it?"

"That's all."

"And you have not paid Joe Braman any money?"

"Not a cent."

"Tim," said Captain Sedley sternly, "people think that you stole the wallet."

"Me! I hope to die if I did!"

"That you took some of the money out, and then put the wallet into Tony's pocket, so as to fasten the guilt on him."

"No such thing!"

"Just consider, Tim. If you did, you had better confess it."

"I didn't."

"Only think that Tony saved your life."

"I've nothin' against him."

"But you ought to be for him. If you have injured him in this matter, people will think a great deal better of you, if you confess it, and ask his forgiveness, whatever the consequences may be to yourself."

"I hain't hurt him."

"If you are the guilty one, it will certainly come out at the trial."

"I ain't; I don't know nothin' about the wallet. I'm sure I didn't take it—I hope to die if I did!"

"Very well, Tim; if you have made up your mind not to confess it, I have nothing more to say."

"I ain't a going to confess it when I didn't do it," said Tim stoutly.

"But you did do it, Tim."

"No, I didn't nuther."

"I am surprised at your hardihood. Tony saved your life at the peril of his own, and yet you are willing to see him convicted of a crime which you committed yourself."

"Who says I did?" said Tim, not a little confused by the directness with which Captain Sedley spoke to him.

"I say it, Tim. Once more, will you free Tony from the charge by telling the truth?"

"I have told the truth."

"No, you haven't, Tim. Will you confess the crime, and save Tony?"

"No, I won't; I didn't do it."

"Very well," replied Captain Sedley, as he left the young reprobate.

Tim did not know what to make of it. Why Captain Sedley should lay it to him, he could not tell, unless it was on account of what he had said to Fred Harper about buying the Thunderbolt. He was uneasy, and spent the forenoon in wandering about the woods back of his father's house. He felt as though something was going to happen, though he could not tell precisely what.

He had eaten no breakfast, and at noon he was driven home by hunger. But he had scarcely seated himself at the dinner-table before a knock was heard at the door.

"Go to the door, Tim," said his father.

"I don't want to go," answered Tim, with a whine.

A kind of dread had taken possession of him since his interview with Captain Sedley in the morning, and every noise he heard seemed to foretell that something was about to occur.

"Go, this minute!" said his father sternly.

"Don't want to."

"But you shall."

Tim, finding there was no escape, rose, and went to the door. To his consternation he beheld Mr. Headley, the constable! He felt as though he should drop through the floor. His heart beat so violently that he could hardly stand up.

"I want you, Tim," said Mr. Headley.

"Me!" gasped Tim.

"Get your cap, and come along."

"What for?"

"I'll tell you when you get to the jail."

Tim drew a long breath, and went back for his cap.

"Who is it, Tim?" asked his father.

But Tim made no reply, and instead of returning to the front door, he took his cap and sneaked out through the back room. The woods were close by, and the hope of escaping inspired him with new courage. Throwing open the back door, he rushed out.

"So, so! my fine fellow!" exclaimed the constable, who stood before the door, and into whose arms he had thrown himself as he leaped down the doorsteps. "This is your plan, is it? We'll give you the ruffles, then."

So saying, Mr. Headley took a pair of handcuffs from his pocket, and fastened them upon Tim's wrists.

"I didn't steal the wallet," cried Tim lustily, as he struggled to get away.

"You must come with me," replied the constable, holding him fast.



Tim's father and mother came to the door, as Mr. Headley marched him off. They asked the officer what he was doing with their son. Without stopping to give any details, he told them the boy was wanted for stealing Farmer Whipple's wallet.



CHAPTER XIX

THE TRIAL OF TONY

Joe Braman was arrested on the same day, and committed to the Rippleton jail. It was understood that suspicions were fastened upon him, though the precise nature of the testimony against him had not yet been made public. His examination, as well as that of Tim Bunker, was postponed until after the trial of Tony, which had been appointed, in consideration of the circumstances, for the following day.

Captain Sedley had been very active in obtaining evidence, but he was so cautious that the people of Rippleton did not ascertain what he was doing.

The morning of the trial came. The members of the boat club were all anxious to attend; and Captain Sedley had consented that they should go to the village in the Zephyr, taking Uncle Ben with them as boat-keeper.

At nine o'clock the club had all assembled in the boat-house, and had put on their uniform.

"Keep your spirits up, Tony," said Fred. "It will all come out right."

"I hope so," replied Tony rather sadly. "I am innocent, and all I ask is justice."

"My father is very sure you will be cleared," added Frank; "but whether you are or not, we are all very certain of your innocence."

"Thank you; you have been very kind to me and my mother," answered Tony, the tears gathering in his eyes as he spoke. "I heard last evening what you did the night before the Fourth of July."

"Never mind that, Tony; we all like you. You are a noble fellow;" and Frank grasped the hand of his friend.

"I don't know as I ought to wear this uniform to-day," continued Tony, trying to smile through his tears.

"Why not, Tony?"

"I don't want to disgrace the club."

"Disgrace us, Tony! I am sure there is not a fellow in the club that does not feel honored by having you belong."

"Think of your uniform on the back of a felon. If found guilty, I shall be sent to the House of Correction."

"But you won't be, Tony. Tim and Joe Braman have been arrested, and you may be sure there has been some evidence found to fasten it upon them."

"Perhaps so; at least, I am innocent, and I shall be just as innocent in the House of Correction as in the open air. But I don't want to disgrace the club."

"I talked with father about the uniform last night. He thought we had better not wear it, because it would look so odd in the court-house; but I told him we wanted to wear it, so as to show that you were one of us."

"You are very kind, Frank," replied Tony, grasping his hand.

"Time you were off, boys," said Uncle Ben.

"Take your places," continued Frank.

The members of the club seemed to feel that they were not going on a pleasure excursion, and there was hardly a smile to be seen on their faces. They were quiet, and very orderly, and moved slowly and with a good deal of dignity into the boat.

The Zephyr backed out of her berth, and the oars fell into the water.

"Give way," said Frank, as he laid the course of the boat towards Rippleton. "We will not hoist our flags going down."

The crew pulled steadily, and not a word was spoken on the way. Every member was thinking of poor Tony, and every one was hoping and believing he would be acquitted.

On their arrival at Rippleton, Frank formed them in procession, two by two, and marched up to the court-house. More than once, as they passed through the streets, the people, recognizing Tony, lustily cheered him. Since the rescue of Tim Bunker, he had been a hero in the village. His misfortunes, added to his noble, generous character, excited all the sympathies of the people.

When they reached the court-house, the sheriff, as a special mark of consideration, conducted them to seats where they could see and hear all that was done and said.

Squire Benson was at the table, and the jury were in their seats, but the court had not yet come in. Captain Sedley and Mrs. Weston had chairs by the side of Tony's counsel, and they were engaged in an earnest conversation with him.

"Where shall I stay?" asked Tony of the sheriff.

"I suppose you must take your place in the dock," replied the official.

"I am ready."

There was a sudden silence in the room, as the sheriff conducted the little prisoner to the box appropriated to criminals. The audience felt deeply for him, and his poor mother burst into tears.

The judge took his seat on the bench, and the crier opened the court. The indictment was read; and Tony, in a firm, and even cheerful tone, pleaded "not guilty."

The county attorney made his opening address, and the witnesses for the prosecution were sworn. These consisted of Farmer Whipple, Mr. Headley, Charles Hardy, Frank Sedley, and Tim Bunker, the latter of whom was brought into court by a constable.

The testimony was substantially the same as at the examination. It was proved that Tony was in the wood-house, had seen the wallet, and left his companions to find Farmer Whipple; that he had been seen to put something into his pocket, and finally that the lost wallet, with a portion of the money, had been found in his pocket.

It was a clear case, and when the evidence was concluded Mrs. Weston sobbed bitterly.

"Be comforted, madam, your son shall be proved innocent in a few moments," said Squire Benson.

The cross examination of Tim Bunker was very long and very severe; and though he still adhered to the story he had told at the examination, he was confused, stammered a great deal, and tried to be saucy to the lawyer. His statements were so contradictory at times, that a general disposition to laugh pervaded the minds of the audience. At these times, when he so grossly crossed himself, Squire Benson looked significantly at the jury, as though to invite their special attention to the discrepancies.

Tony's counsel then opened the case for the defence. His address was very short, but very pointed and forcible.

The first witness was Mr. Doolittle, the store-keeper, who testified to the facts concerning the twenty dollar bill.

"Is that the bill you marked?" asked the lawyer, handing him a bank-note.

"It is," replied the witness, after examining it.

"You are willing to swear that is the bill?"

"I am."

"Please state to the court and jury the means by which you identify it."

The witness exhibited his shop-card upon the back of it, and pointed out several other peculiarities which he had observed while stamping it.

"Mr. Stevens," said the lawyer. "That will do, Mr. Doolittle."

The person called took the stand. He was a stranger in Rippleton, and the audience wondered what he could possibly know about it.

"Your business, Mr. Stevens?" continued the lawyer, scratching furiously with his pen.

"I keep a hardware store in Boston."

"Did you ever see this bill?" and Squire Benson handed him the bank-note.

"I have."

"State, if you please, what you know about it."

"It was given to me in payment for a fowling-piece."

"When?"

The witness gave the date.

"Can you swear to the bill?"

"I can; I wrote my name and the day of the month on it at the time; here they are."

"Indeed! how happened you to do that?"

"I did it at the request of the gentleman who sits by your side;" and the witness pointed to Captain Sedley.

"Who was the person that gave you the bill?"

"I do not know his name."

"Could you identify him?"

"I could."

Squire Benson requested the court to have Joe Braman summoned as a witness in the case; and after a short delay, he was brought in by an officer.

"Was that the person?"

"It was."

"You are sure?"

"I noticed the scar on his cheek," replied the witness, "and I should not be likely to mistake such a person as that for another."

The audience smiled at this sally. Joe Braman was in truth an oddity in his personal appearance, and the remark of the witness seemed to have a peculiar force.

"That is all, Mr. Stevens; the witness is yours, Mr. Prescott," said Squire Benson, turning to the county attorney.

But Mr. Prescott asked him no questions.

"Joseph Braman, take the stand," continued Tony's lawyer.

Joe seemed bewildered by the circumstances that surrounded him, and gazed vacantly at the judge and jury. He was a dull, stupid fellow, and did not readily comprehend his position.

He was sworn; and after the judge had reminded him that he need not criminate himself, Squire Benson proceeded with the examination.

"You bought a gun of the last witness, did you not?" asked he.

"Yes, sir," replied Joe, scarcely knowing whether he was on trial himself or not.

"You gave him a twenty dollar bill, did you not?"

"You are suggesting his answers," interposed the county attorney.

"What did you give him in payment?"

"I gin him a twenty dollar bill," replied Joe promptly.

"This was the bill, wasn't it?"

"I pray your honor's judgment," said the county attorney with a smile. "My learned brother answers the question, and then puts it."

"Put the question fairly, Mr. Benson," added the judge.

"Was this the bill?" said the lawyer, handing the witness the twenty dollar note.

"I rather guess it was."

"You guess! Don't you know?" said Mr. Benson, with severity in his tone and manner.

"Yes, sir, it was," answered Joe, startled by the questioner's sharp words.

"How do you know?"

"I see'd this 'ere mark on't," replied the witness, pointing to Mr. Doolittle's shop-card.

"Now, Mr. Braman," continued Squire Benson, suddenly softening his tone, and assuming a pleasant smile, "Where did you get this bill?"

"Tim Bunker gin it to me."

The reply of Joe produced a great sensation in the court-room.

"I told you so!" whispered Charles Hardy to Frank.

There was a smile of triumph on the face of Tony, and all eyes were turned to him.

"It's a lie!" groaned Tim, his face as white as a sheet.

"Did he tell you where he got it?" continued Mr. Benson, in an apparently indifferent tone.

"You need not criminate yourself," interposed the judge.

"He told me all about it," replied Joe, suddenly brushing up his wits.

"You needn't wink at me, Tim; I'm goin' to blow the whole thing," continued he, shaking his head at the crestfallen Bunker. "You was fool enough to tell on't yourself."

"He told you that he stole it?" asked Squire Benson.

"No; he said he found it;" and the witness proceeded to relate all the particulars of the affair.

It appeared from his story that Tim had taken the wallet, abstracted thirty dollars of the money, and then, when school was about to be dismissed, had thrust the wallet into the prisoner's pocket.

Tony had not discovered the wallet. He had eaten his dinner and gone immediately into the garden, where he had pulled off his coat, and commenced picking the currants. Tim's plan had worked better than he expected it would; for he supposed that Tony would find it in his pocket, and be accused of abstracting the thirty dollars.

The jury gave in their verdict of not guilty, without leaving their seats. As they did so, a gentleman, with a very long beard and mustache, rose, and clapped his hands with great violence. His example was followed by a large portion of the audience, and the sheriff had much trouble in restoring order.



CHAPTER XX

THE STRANGER

The officer immediately released the prisoner from his confinement, and Tony sprang into the waiting arms of his mother.

"Bless you, my boy!" she exclaimed, as the tears rolled down her cheeks. "I knew you were innocent!"

"My carriage waits for you, Mrs. Weston," said Captain Sedley, after he had cordially shaken the hand of Squire Benson.

The widow thanked the lawyer for his good service, and the party withdrew from the court-room. In the street, amid the cheers of the multitude, the boat club formed their column, and marched down to the lake.

When they reached the Zephyr, they found her in charge of one of the men who worked on the farm of Captain Sedley.

"Where is Uncle Ben?" asked Frank.

"Gone home," replied the man.

"What for?"

"I don't know."

"Call the numbers, Tony," said Frank.

Just as the oars were dipping, they were hailed from the shore.

"Boat ahoy," said a stranger on the bank.

Frank looked, and discovered the gentleman who had begun the applause in the court-room. He was well dressed, wore a massive gold chain, and appeared to be in affluent circumstances, if one might judge from appearances. His face—that portion of it which was not covered by his long black beard—was very dark, and apparently he had just returned from a tropical climate.

The coxswain backed the boat to the shore.

"Can you tell me how I shall get to the house of John Weston, up the lake?" inquired the stranger.

"John Weston is not living," replied Frank.

"Not living!" replied the stranger, with a sudden start. "Is Mrs. Weston living?"

"She is."

"She is my mother," added Tony.

"We are going up there now; and if you choose we will row you up," added the coxswain.

"Thank you," replied the stranger, as he seated himself by Frank's side.

Tony gazed at him with intense earnestness. The face looked natural to him, but he could not think where he had seen it before.

"Give way," said Frank.

"You have a beautiful boat," added the stranger.

"She is a very fine boat. I saw you at the trial, did I not?" asked Frank, looking with interest at his companion.

"I was there; it ended very happily."

"Just as we knew it would end," added Charles Hardy.

"It was a villanous conspiracy; and I should like the pleasure of thrashing that Tim Bunker," continued the stranger, with a great deal of feeling.

"You seemed to be much interested in the trial."

"More deeply than any other could be."

"Except his mother," said Frank.

"You are right, except his mother;" and the gentleman looked very sad, and wiped a tear from his eye.

The boat was now approaching the vicinity of Centre Island.

"This is Captain Sedley's place," said the stranger.

"Yes, sir."

"There comes the Sylph, Frank," shouted Fred Harper.

"Uncle Ben is up to something, I suspect."

"What do you suppose it is?"

Before Frank could venture an opinion, a mass of smoke rose from the bows of the Sylph, and the mimic roar of a little cannon was heard.

"Hurrah! Tony, he is firing a salute in honor of the verdict," cried Charles.

"Three cheers for Tony Weston," shouted Frank. "One!"

"Hurrah!"

"Two!"

"Hurrah!"

"Three!"

"Hurrah!"

The stranger joined lustily in the cheers; and when they had finished, Uncle Ben fired again. When the Zephyr came alongside the Sylph, the veteran congratulated the little hero of the day on his escape from the snares of his foes.

"You are a good boy, and I wish I had a bigger gun. You desarve a salute from a forty-two pounder," said Uncle Ben, as he rammed down the charge for another gun.

"Thank you, Uncle Ben, that gun is big enough for so small a boy as I am."

The Zephyr continued on her course to the widow Weston's, followed by the Sylph, the old sailor saluting all the way.

The party landed, and marched up to the house, followed by the stranger. Tony embraced his sister and his little brother, and with tears of joy told them that he was acquitted. Mrs. Weston and Captain Sedley had not yet arrived.

In half an hour they came. Mrs. Weston welcomed her guests, and among them the stranger.

"I don't know you, sir, but you are welcome to my poor cottage," said she, with a courtesy.

"Thank you, ma'am. I have just come from California. I believe you had a son who went out there."

"I did. Poor George! I suppose he is dead," answered the widow, wiping a tear from her eye.

"I come to tell you about him, ma'am."

"Then he is dead!"

"No; he is alive and well."

"Heaven bless you for the news!" ejaculated the poor woman.

It was indeed a day of gladness to her.

"He is coming home soon."

"I am glad to hear it. Where has he been?"

"He has been at the mines."

"I haven't heard a word from him since he first reached San Francisco."

"He has written several times; but the means of communication with San Francisco and the diggings were very uncertain. I suppose his letters miscarried."

"But tell me about him. Has his health been good?"

"Very good; and he has been remarkably lucky. Folks say he has made over a hundred thousand dollars digging and trading."

"Indeed! I am so glad!"

"I suppose you don't remember me, do you?" asked the stranger.

The widow looked at him sharply.

"You have got such a sight of hair on your face, that I declare I do not," said the widow, laughing.

"You don't?"

The gentleman spoke these words in a different tone of voice—so different that the widow started back in astonishment.

"Have I altered so much, mother?"

"George! O George!" exclaimed the widow, as she folded her lost son in her arms.

They both wept in each other's embrace.

"Heaven be praised, you have returned!" cried the widow.

"And my father is dead?" said George Weston sadly.

"Yes, George, you have no father now."

The young man trembled with emotion.

"I had hoped to smooth the last years of his life; but God's will be done."

"Amen!" said the widow solemnly, as she wiped her eyes.

"Tony, my brother, come here," said George, as he shook the hand of the little hero. "You cannot think how badly I felt this morning, when, on my arrival at Rippleton, I heard that you were to be tried for stealing. If it had not been for our mother, I think I should have fled from the place without making myself known."

"But, George, I was innocent."

"I know it, Tony; and I was the happiest man in the court-house when I heard that Joe Braman confess the truth."

"And, George," interrupted Mrs. Weston, "you must join with me in thanking Captain Sedley here for all he has done for poor Tony. I am sure, if it had not been for him, he would have been found guilty."

George Weston took the hand of Captain Sedley, and in fit terms expressed his gratitude.

"And we have to thank him for a thousand other favors since your poor father's death. I don't know what would have become of us without him."

George renewed his thanks, and called down the blessing of Heaven on the benefactor of his mother.

"Come, boys, we had better go," said Captain Sedley.

The boat club withdrew, with the exception of Tony.

"Mrs. Weston, I shall be happy to see you and all your family at my house at tea this evening," continued Captain Sedley.

"Thank you, sir; we shall certainly come," replied the widow.

"And, Captain Sedley, my mother shall soon have a house to which she can invite her friends," said George Weston, with a smile.

The little front room of the widow Weston's cottage was the scene of a joyful reunion on that eventful day. George related his adventures to his mother, and shed many a tear when he heard her tell of the trials through which she had passed during his absence. The future was still open to him, and he determined to fill it with joys for her which should in some measure compensate her for the sorrow and suffering of the past; for George regarded poverty and want as misery, and did not see how his mother could have been contented, as she professed to have been.

After dinner the site for a new house was selected, plans were matured for sending Mary to the Rippleton Academy, and Tony was to be kept at the grammar school till he was qualified for the high school.

About four o'clock, when all these things had been fully discussed, George and Tony walked down to the banks of the lake.

"There comes the Zephyr," said the latter. "We have fine times in her, George, I can tell you."

"Whose boat is she?"

"Frank Sedley's; his father gave it to him."

"You must have one, Tony."

"Me!"

"Yes; I am able to give you one, and when I go to the city I will order one built."

"How liberal you are, George!"

"You are a good boy, Tony; and a good boy deserves everything it is proper for him to have."

"But we don't need another. We have just as good times in the Zephyr as though each owned a share in her. There is nothing mean about Frank Sedley, I can tell you!" said Tony, with enthusiasm.

"He seems to be a very fine little fellow," added George.

"That he is; why, only last Fourth of July he gave mother all the money he had saved for the occasion, instead of spending it. What do you say to that?"

"That was noble. My poor mother! Was she indeed reduced to such extremity as that?"

"She didn't want it; but he would give it to her, and she bought new dresses for herself and Mary with it."

"It was very generous, and he shall lose nothing by it."

"Charley Hardy did the same, and both of them stayed at home on the Fourth."

"They shall be rewarded. But the new boat, Tony?"

"I don't think we need another."

"If you had another, you could race a little, and manoeuvre together."

"That would be nice, wouldn't it?"

"I will speak with Captain Sedley about it. Here comes the boat," added George Weston.

"We have come to row you up to my father's," said the coxswain.

"Thank you, Frank," replied George. "We shall be very happy to accompany you."

Mrs. Weston and Mary were all ready, and the party seated themselves in the stern-sheets of the Zephyr. On their way down the lake, the scheme of having another club-boat was discussed and fully matured.

"What will you call her, Tony?" asked Charles.

"I don't know," said Tony, musing. "What do you think of the Butterfly?"

"Capital!" exclaimed George.

The matter was all arranged; and the party soon reached the boat-house, and spent a pleasant evening in the hospitable mansion of Captain Sedley.



CHAPTER XXI

THE CONCLUSION

The first two weeks of the organization of the boat club passed away, and the members were assembled in Zephyr Hall to elect a coxswain. According to the constitution, Frank's term of office had expired.

"Whom do you intend to vote for, Fred?" asked Charles Hardy, who appeared to be very anxious about the election.

"I don't know; I haven't decided yet," replied Fred Harper. "You know what Captain Sedley said the other day about it."

"Yes; but if I have got to vote, I want to get my mind made up. I don't see what harm there can be in talking about it a little."

"He said he did not want any electioneering about the officers—'log-rolling,' my father calls it."

"Of course not," replied Charles demurely.

"The best fellow ought to get the office," said Fred slyly.

"Of course, but who is the best fellow? That's the question. We ought to talk it over among ourselves a little," added Charles.

"What good would that do?"

"Each fellow would know whom the others were going to vote for."

"That would not help him to ascertain who would make the best coxswain," Fred insisted.

"But it would help towards making a choice."

"There will be a choice fast enough."

"I don't believe it. If there is no nomination, and no understanding about the matter beforehand, every fellow will vote for a different person. You see if there are not a dozen different ones voted for," protested Charles.

"We can try it over again, then," said Fred.

"I shall vote for you, and perhaps you will vote for me."

"Perhaps I shall."

"And that is the way it will be all through the club."

"Charley, what do you say to giving Frank a re-election?" said Fred, with sudden energy, while the mischief seemed to beam from his eyes.

"Well, I don't know," replied Charles, looking intently at the floor.

"Frank has made a good coxswain; there is no rubbing that out."

"Very good," said Charles feebly.

"If it hadn't been for him, Tim Bunker would have been drowned that time."

"Couldn't another fellow have done the same that he did?"

"Yes, if he had had the presence of mind and the energy of character which Frank has."

"You could have done it, Fred," said Charles.

"I don't know about that," replied Fred modestly.

"You hauled him in with the boat-hook."

"Yes, but I only did what Frank told me to do. Look at the Bunkers; they didn't even reach the spot till we had got him on board the Zephyr."

"I should not have been afraid but that I could have managed the boat as well as Frank did," replied Charles, more boldly.

"I don't know but you could, Charley," answered Fred; "but I doubt it."

"I am pretty sure I could."

"Perhaps you will be elected the next coxswain, Charley," continued Fred; and there was a slight twinkle in his mischievous eye.

"No! Oh, no! I'm sure I don't want to be coxswain."

"You don't!"

"No; I never thought of such a thing."

"Didn't?"

"I'm sure I never did."

"Then I will tell the fellows, so that they needn't throw their votes away upon you," said Fred roguishly.

"Well, as to that, of course I should serve if chosen. I want to do just what the fellows want to have me do."

"They don't want you to be coxswain if you don't wish to be, because there are enough of them who do desire the office."

"Well, I don't exactly want it, but——"

Charles suddenly paused.

"But what, Charley?"

"I want the club should have the best officer we can get."

Fred laughed heartily.

"I want the office, Charley; I should like it first-rate," continued he; "but I don't expect to get it, and am perfectly willing to abide the decision of the club. Majority rules."

"Order," said Frank, rapping on the table.

The boys all took their chairs; and Frank stated the business of the meeting, which was to elect a coxswain for the next two weeks.

"Our Director will be with us in a moment," continued he, "and has something to say before we proceed with the election."

"Here he comes," said Fred.

"Mr. Chairman, and members of the Zephyr Boat Club," began Captain Sedley, with a smile on his benevolent features, "you remember I cautioned you a week ago not to talk about this election. I presume you have observed my request. I had strong reasons for doing so. In the first place, I do not wish to have any unpleasant feelings excited by these elections; and, in the second place, I wish you to learn the first duty of a republican citizen—to cast an independent vote. Among boys, as among men, there is often one who wields an influence over others—an influence which is not always directed by truth and justice. One, by his mental power or social position, controls others. They follow his example without always inquiring whether it is good or bad. I want you to think for yourselves; to make up your minds, without any assistance from others, in regard to the fitness of the person for whom you vote. I desire each of you to deposit his ballot in the box, without communication with others—without telling them, or letting them know by any means, for whom you vote. Now the box is ready, and you may separate to prepare your votes. The poll shall be kept open ten minutes."

Some of the boys went out into the boat-room, and others out of doors. They were all very particular to comply to the letter with Captain Sedley's request. The ballot-box was kept closed, so that no one could read the names on the votes, and only opened enough to admit the slip of paper.

Before ten minutes had expired the members were all in their seats. There was a great deal of interest manifested in the result; and not a little anxiety was visible in the expression of several faces—that of Charles Hardy in particular.

"Have you all voted?" said Frank. "I declare the poll closed."

"I will count the votes," interposed Captain Sedley, "so as to give you all the benefit of the excitement."

Taking the box in his hand, he went out into the boat-room.

"Who do you think has got it?" whispered Charles to Fred Harper.

"I have no idea; I only know whom I voted for."

"Whom?" asked Charles.

"What would you give to know?"

"Yourself?"

"Indeed I did not!" replied Fred indignantly.

"There would be no harm in it if you did, would there?" inquired Charles.

"No harm? It would only amount to saying, 'I am the best fellow in the club.'"

"No, not that; it would only be saying that you wanted the office."

"Rather more than that."

"But you said you did want it."

"I didn't vote for myself, anyhow. But here comes Captain Sedley. Hush!"

"Here is the result, Frank," said the Director, handing him the ballots and a little slip of paper on which he had written the names and number of votes. "Read it."

There was a breathless silence when Frank rose, and every member exhibited the deepest interest in the proceedings.

"Whole number of votes, thirteen," the coxswain read from the paper. "Necessary for a choice, seven. Charles Hardy has one; Frederic Harper has one; and Anthony Weston has eleven, and is elected coxswain of the club for the ensuing two weeks."

"Three cheers for Tony Weston!" shouted Fred Harper, rising. "One."

The cheers were given with hearty good-will and emphasis.

"Mr. Chairman," said Charles, "I move we make the vote unanimous."

Charles had been reading the proceedings of a political nominating convention, where they make the nomination unanimous so as to show the unity of the party; and his ideas were rather confused.

"Those in favor of Anthony Weston for coxswain the next two weeks say 'Ay,'" continued Frank.

"Ay!"

"It is a unanimous vote. Tony, I am happy to vacate my chair for you, and I feel that it could not be filled by a more worthy member," said Frank, leaving his armchair.

"But, Mr. Chairman, I am clerk. I am very much obliged to the club for the honor," said Tony, blushing up to the eyes.

"You are coxswain, Tony, and the clerkship is vacant," added Captain Sedley. "The members of the club, without consultation with each other, have elected you—the most convincing evidence they could possibly give of the high esteem in which they hold you."

After some persuasion, Tony took the chair, and Fred Harper was elected clerk. Frank took Tony's number, and the bow oar was appropriated to him.

The business being finished, the club proceeded to the boat-room, to prepare for their first excursion under the new coxswain. After the meeting adjourned, there was considerable inquiry for the member who had voted for Charles Hardy; but he could not be found. Tony had voted for Fred Harper, and the conclusion that Charles had voted for himself was irresistible.

But Charles, in spite of his hypocritical character, was a well-meaning boy. His desire to appear well, and to be "first and foremost," sometimes led him astray; and the discipline of the club finally worked a "great improvement in him." He was not elected coxswain that year; for, on the first of November, the Zephyr was laid up for the winter. Fred Harper was elected after Tony, who served his term with credit to himself and to the discipline of the club.

The Butterfly was not completed in season to be launched that year; but the following spring a second club was formed, and Tony was the first coxswain. During the winter the Zephyrs met regularly at their hall for mutual improvement. At the suggestion of Fred Harper, a debating society was formed; and the members derived a great deal of pleasure, and obtained an excellent mental discipline, from their discussions.

To add to the interest of their meetings, George Weston gave them a number of familiar lectures on "California;" Captain Sedley on "Life on the Ocean;" and Mr. Hyde, the schoolmaster, on "Natural Philosophy and Chemistry." The boys declared they never enjoyed a winter so much; and certainly they derived a great deal of useful information from these pleasant meetings.

Tim Bunker and Joe Braman were tried at the next session of the court,—the former for stealing, and the latter for receiving stolen property,—and sentenced to the House of Correction.

George Weston's new house was completed before winter, and the family were nicely settled before the first snow came. The widow Weston was happy all day long in the presence of her children, and never ceased to thank God for all the blessings with which her life had been crowned,—the blessings of adversity as well as those of prosperity.

The following spring the Butterfly was launched, the new club organized, and the sports of the season opened with a grand May-day picnic and dance on Centre Island. But I have not space to tell my young readers how Mary Weston was made Queen of May, how the Zephyr and the Butterfly raced up and down the lake, and how the latter got beaten on account of the inexperience of her crew. I have told my story; and I leave the boat club, and all the characters, contented and happy in the enjoyment of the many blessings that were showered upon them.

What occurred the next season, when the Butterfly took part in the sports on Wood Lake, is fully related in the sequel to "The Boat Club," called "ALL ABOARD; OR, LIFE ON THE LAKE."



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