At its conclusion Judson came over to Jack.
"Well, Ready," he said, "you've caused us a lot of trouble, but still I might come to terms with you."
"Are you ready to release me?" demanded Jack.
"Yes, under certain conditions. First, you must tell us all you know about that naval code of Captain Simms."
"And the truth, too," snarled Jarrow. "We'll find out quick enough if you're lying, and we'll make it hot for you."
"You bet we will," chimed in Donald.
"Donald, be quiet a minute," ordered his father. "Well, Ready, what have you to say?"
"Suppose I tell you I know nothing about the naval code?" said Jack quietly.
"Then I should say you were not telling the truth."
"Nevertheless I am."
"What, you know nothing about the code?"
"Nothing except that Captain Simms was ordered to get up something of the sort."
"You don't know if it's finished or not?"
"I have no idea."
"Is your life worth anything to you?" struck in Jarrow.
"What do you mean?" asked Jack.
"Just what I say. If it is, you had better make terms to save it."
"Impossible. You are fooling with me, Jarrow. Even a man as base as you wouldn't dare——"
"I wouldn't, eh? Well, you'll find out before long if I'm in earnest or not."
Jack was a brave lad, as we know, and carried himself well through many dangerous situations. But he was not the dauntless hero of a nickel novel whom nothing could scare. He knew Jarrow for a desperado and, although he could not bring himself to believe the man would actually carry out any such threat as he had made, still he realized to the full the peril of his situation.
"Well, what do you say?" demanded Jarrow, after a pause.
"I don't know just what to say," said Jack. "My head is all in a whirl. Give me time to think the thing over. I can hardly collect my thoughts at present."
The men made some further attempts to get something out of him, but, finding him obdurate, they ordered Bill to see that his bonds were tight and then to put him in the "inner room" he had spoken of. Bill gave the ropes a savage yank, found they were tight and then led Jack to a green door at the farther end of the large room. Jack had a glimpse of a square room with a broad fireplace at one end and a small window. It appeared to be used as a storehouse of some kind, for it was half filled with bags, apparently containing potatoes. In one corner stood a grindstone operated by a treadle. Then the door was shut with a bang, and he was left to his own, none-too-pleasant reflections. Outside he could hear the buzz of voices. But he couldn't catch much of what was being said. Once he heard Jarrow say:
"You're too soft with the boy. A good lashing with a black-snake would bring him to his senses quick enough."
"I'd like to lay it on," he heard Donald chime in.
At last they appeared to grow sleepy. Jack heard a key turned in the lock of the inner room that he occupied and not long thereafter came the sound of snores. Evidently nobody was on guard, the men who had captured him thinking that there was no chance of the boy's escape.
"Now's my chance," thought Jack. "If only I could get my hands free, I might be able to do something. But, as it is, I'm helpless."
His heart sank once more, as he thought bitterly of the predicament into which his own foolhardiness had drawn him.
BILLY TAKES THE TRAIL.
"What's the matter?"
Just as Jack stole out of the house Billy Raynor sat bolt upright in bed and asked himself that question. He was on the other side of the cottage, and, like Jack a few minutes before, he too heard the cautious footsteps of the marauders, as they crept round the cottage, reconnoitering.
"Somebody's up to mischief," thought the boy. "It may only be common thieves, or it may be that rascally outfit. I'll go and rouse Jack. Perhaps we can get after them."
He tiptoed across the main room of the cottage to Jack's door. Inside the room he struck a match. He almost cried out aloud when he saw that the bed was empty and that there was no sign of his chum.
"Where can he be?" thought the lad. "Surely he has not gone after that gang single-handed."
Raynor hastened to his own room, slipped on some clothes, and went to the door. Far up on the hillside a lantern was twinkling like some fallen star.
"That's mighty odd," reflected the lad. "I guess I'll take a look up there and see what's coming off."
He picked his way cautiously up the rough hillside. But the lantern retreated as he went forward. As we know, Judson and his gang, led by Bill, were carrying off Jack. Without realizing how far he had gone, Raynor kept on and on. Some instinct told him that the dodging will-o'-the-wisp of light ahead of him had something to do with Jack, and he wanted to find out what that something was.
But, not knowing the trail Bill was following, and having no light but the spark ahead of him, Raynor found it pretty hard traveling. At last he was so tired that he sat down to snatch a moment's rest, leaning his back against a bush.
As his weight came against the bush, however, a strange thing happened. The shrub gave way altogether under the pressure. Raynor struggled for an instant to save himself, and then felt himself tumbling backward down an unknown height. He gave a shout of alarm, but his progress down what appeared to be a steep wall of rock, was over almost as soon as it had begun.
"What happened?" gasped the lad, as, shaken by his adventure, he picked himself up and tried to collect his wits. "Oh, yes, I know, that bush gave way and I toppled over backward. I must be in some sort of hole in the ground. Well, the first thing to do is to get a light."
Luckily Raynor's pockets held several matches, and he struck one of them and looked about him.
His eyes fell on the bush which lay at his feet.
"No wonder it gave way," he muttered. "The thing is dead and withered. But"—as a sudden thought struck him—"it will make a dandy torch and help save matches."
He lit the dead bush, which blazed up bravely, illumining his surroundings with a ruddy glow. Above him was a dark hole, presumably the one through which he had fallen. But there was no way of escape in that direction. He turned his gaze another way. The cave appeared to recede beyond the light of the blazing branch.
Looking down, he saw that the floor of the cave was thickly littered with leaves and small branches. This encouraged him a good deal.
"They couldn't have been blown in by the hole I fell through," he mused, "for the dead bush covered that. Their being here must mean that there is another entrance to this place."
Carrying his torch aloft, he struck off into the cave. Its floor sloped gently upward as he progressed and the walls began to grow narrower. The air, too, rapidly lost its musty odor, and blew fresh and sweet on his perspiring head.
"This will be quite an adventure to tell about if I ever get out of here," muttered Raynor, and the thought of Jack, whom he had almost forgotten in his fright at his fall into the cave, occurred to him.
What could have happened to his chum? Surely he had not been foolhardy enough to face the marauders alone? Raynor did not know what to make of it.
"Somehow," he pondered, "I am sure that lantern had something to do with Jack. I wonder if they would have dared to carry him off? I wish to goodness I'd kept on, instead of leaning against that bush. Even if I do get out of here, the light must be far out of sight by this time, and I'll have to wait till daylight, anyhow, for I must have walked almost a mile from the other entrance to the cave by this time."
His thoughts ran along in this strain as he walked. The thought of Captain Simms' alarm, too, when he found both boys missing, gave him a good deal of worry.
He was thinking over this phase of the situation when he was startled by a low growl, coming from a pile of rocks just ahead of him. What could it be? Holding his breath painfully, while a cold chill ran down his spine, Raynor came to a dead pause and listened. His improvised torch had almost burned out and it was appalling to think that he faced the possibility of being in darkness ere long, with a wild beast close at hand.
Again came the growl. It echoed and re-echoed hollowly in the cave till the frightened lad appeared to be menaced from all directions.
"It must be a bear, or some wild beast just as bad," thought Raynor.
The growling was repeated, but now it appeared to be retreating from him. Plucking up courage, after a while, Raynor, waving his torch, pushed forward again. He came to a place where it was necessary to scramble up to a sort of platform considerably higher than the path he had been traversing.
As he gained this, he saw several tiny bright lights in front of him.
"Hurrah! It's the stars!" he cried aloud.
"The—s-t-a-r-s!" the echoes boomed back.
At almost the same instant Raynor saw, in front of him, what looked like two balls of livid green flame.
But the boy knew that they were the eyes of whatever beast it was that had sent its growls echoing fearfully through the cave.
A "GHOSTESS" ABROAD.
Suddenly, like an inspiration, Jack thought of a way in which he might free his captive hands. Naturally quick-witted, the emergency he found himself facing had made his mind more active than usual.
"That grindstone," he thought. "I can work the treadle with my foot, while I stand backward to it. If I hold the rope against the sharp edge of the stone it ought to cut through in a very short time."
It was quite a task to locate the grindstone in the darkness without making a noise. But at last Jack, by dint of feeling softly along the walls, located it. Then he turned his back to the machine and put his foot on the treadle. As the wheel began to turn he pressed the rope that bound his hands against the rough stone. In ten minutes he was free.
"Now for the next move," counseled the boy. "I've got to do whatever I decide upon quickly. If I don't escape, and that gang finds how I've freed my wrists, they'll shackle me hand and foot, and I'll not get another chance to get away. If it was only daylight I'd stand a much better opportunity of getting out."
There was the door, but to try that was out of the question. Jack had heard it locked and the key turned. The window? It was too small for a big, well-grown boy like Jack to creep through. He had noted that during the time the door was open and his prison was lighted by the rays of the lantern.
"There's that fireplace," thought the boy, "that's about the last resort. I wonder——"
He located the big, old-fashioned chimney, built of rough stones and full of nooks and crannies, without trouble. Getting inside it on the hearthstone he looked upward; it was open to the sky and at the top he could see a faint glow.
"It's getting daylight," he exclaimed to himself.
The next moment he noticed that right across the top of the chimney was the stout branch of a tree.
"If I could get up the chimney that branch would afford me a way of getting to the ground," he thought.
"By Jove! I believe I could do it," he muttered, as the light grew stronger and he saw how roughly the interior of the chimney was built. "It's not very high, and those rough stones make a regular ladder."
As time was pressing, Jack began the ascent at once. For a lad as active as he was, it proved even more easy than he had anticipated. But long before he reached the top he was covered from head to foot with soot, although, oddly enough, that thought never occurred to him. At length, black as a negro in mourning, he reached the top of the chimney and grasped the tree branch he had noticed from below.
He swung into it and made his way to the main trunk of the tree, an ancient elm. It was no trick at all then for him to slide to the ground. Then, silently as a cat, he tiptoed his way from the old stone house, with its occupants sleeping and snoring, blissfully unaware that Jack had stolen a march on them.
"Well, things have gone finely so far," he mused. "Now, what shall be the next step?"
He looked about him. The country was a wild one. There was no sign of a house, and, as far as he could see, there was nothing but an expanse of timber and rocks.
"This is a tough problem," thought the boy. "I've no idea where I am, or the points of the compass. If I go one way, I might come out all right, but then again I might find myself lost in the forest. Hanged if I know what to do."
But, realizing that it would not do to waste any time around the old house, Jack at length struck off down what appeared to have been, in bygone days, some sort of a wood road. It wound for quite a distance among the trees, but suddenly, to his huge delight, the boy beheld in front of him the broad white ribbon of a dusty highway.
Suddenly, too, he heard the sound of wheels and the rattle of a horse's hoofs coming along at a smart rate.
"Good; now I can soon find out where I am," thought the boy, and he hurried forward to meet the approaching vehicle. It contained a pretty young woman, wearing a sunbonnet.
Jack had no hat to lift, but he made his best bow as the fair driver came abreast of him.
"I beg your pardon," he began, "but could you tell me——"
The young woman gave one piercing scream.
"Oh-h-h-h-h-h!" she cried, and gave her horse a lash with the whip that made it leap forward like an arrow. In a flash she was out of sight in a cloud of dust.
"Well, what do you know about that?" exclaimed Jack. "She must be crazy, or something, or else she's the most bashful girl I ever saw."
He sat down on a rock at the side of the road to rest and waited for another rig or a foot passenger to come by. Before long he heard a sprightly whistle, and a barefooted boy, carrying a tin pail, and with a fish pole over his shoulder, appeared round a curve in the road.
"Now, I'll get sailing directions," said Jack to himself, and then, as the boy drew near:
"Hullo, sonny! Can you tell me——"
The boy gave one look and then, dropping his can of bait, and his pole, fled with a howl of dismay.
"Hi! Stop, can't you? What's the matter with you?" shouted Jack. He ran after the boy at top speed. But the faster he ran the faster the youngster sped along the road.
"Oh-h-h-h-h! Help! Mum-muh!" he yelled, as he ran, in terrified tones.
At length Jack gave up the chase. He leaned against a fence and gave way to his indignation.
"Bother it all," he said. "What can be the matter with these people? Everyone I speak to runs away from me, as if I had the plague or something. Anyhow, that youngster can't be very far down this road. I guess I'll keep right on after him, and then I'm bound to come to some place where there are some sensible folks."
As he assumed, it was not long before he came in sight of a neat little farm-house, standing back from the road in a grove of fine trees. He made his way toward it. In the front yard an old man was trimming rose-bushes.
"Can you tell me——" began Jack.
The old man looked up. Then uttering an appalling screech, he ran for his life into the house. "Mandy! Mandy! Thar be a ghostess in the yard!" he yelled, as he ran.
Jack looked after him blankly. What could be the matter?
ONE MYSTERY SOLVED.
"Well, I'll be jiggered!" exclaimed Jack. "What can be the matter? It beats me. I——"
"Hey you, git out of thar. I don't know what of critter ye be, but you scared my old man nigh ter death. Scat now, er I'll shoot!"
Jack looked up toward an upper window of the farm-house, from which the voice, a high-pitched, feminine one, had proceeded. An old lady, with a determined face, stood framed in the embrasure. In her hands, and pointed straight at the mystified Jack, she held an ancient but murderous looking blunderbuss.
"It's loaded with slugs an' screws, an' brass tacks," pleasantly observed the old lady. "Jerushiah!" this to someone within the room, "stop that whimperin'. I'm goin' ter send it on its way, ghost or no ghost."
"But, madam——" stammered Jack.
"Don't madam me," was the angry reply. "Git now, and git quick!"
"This is like a bad dream," murmured Jack, but there was no choice for him but to turn and go; "maybe it is a dream. If it is I wish I could wake up."
He turned into the hot, dusty road once more. He felt faint and hungry. His mouth was dry, and he suffered from thirst, too. Before long he found a chance to slake this latter. A cool, clear stream, spanned by a rustic bridge, appeared as he trudged round a bend in the road.
"Ah, that looks good to me," thought Jack, and he hurried down the bank as fast as he could.
He bent over the stream at a place where an eddy made an almost still pool, as clear as crystal. But no sooner did his face approach the water than he gave a violent start. A hideous black countenance gazed up at him. Then, suddenly, Jack broke into a roar of laughter.
"Jerusalem! No wonder everybody was scared at me when I scare myself!" he exclaimed. "It's the soot from that chimney. Just think, it never occurred to me why they were all so alarmed at my appearance. Why, I'd make a locomotive shy off the track if it saw me coming along."
It did not take Jack long to clean up, and, while his face was still grimy when he had finished, it was not, at least, such a startling looking countenance as he had presented to those from whom he sought to find his way back to Musky Bay.
"Now that I look more presentable I guess I'll try and get some breakfast," thought the boy as, his thirst appeased, he scrambled up the bank again.
About half a mile farther along the road was the queerest-looking house Jack had ever seen. It was circular in form, and looked like three giant cheese-boxes, perched one on the top of the other, with the smallest at the top.
"Well, whoever lives there must be a crank," thought Jack; "but still, since I've money to pay for my breakfast, even a crank won't drive me away, I guess."
A man was sawing wood in the back yard and to him Jack addressed himself.
"I'd like to know if I can buy a meal here?" he said.
"No, you can't fry no eel here," said the man, and went on sawing.
"I didn't say anything about frying eels. I said 'Can I get a meal?'" shouted Jack, who now saw that the man was somewhat deaf.
"Don't see it makes no difference to you how I feel," rejoined the man.
"I'm hungry. I want to eat. I can pay," bellowed Jack.
"What's that about yer feet?" asked the deaf man.
"Not feet—eat—E-A-T. I want to eat," fairly yelled Jack.
"What do you mean by calling me a beat?" angrily rejoined the deaf man.
"I didn't. Oh, Great Scott, everything is going wrong to-day," cried Jack. Then he cupped his hands and fairly screeched in the man's ear.
"Can I buy a meal here?"
A light of understanding broke over the other's face.
"Surely you can," he said. "Araminta—that's my wife—'ull fix up a bite fer yer. Why didn't you say what you wanted in the fust place?"
"I did," howled Jack, crimson in the face by this time; "but you didn't hear me. You are deaf."
"Wa'al, I may be a little hard o' hearing, young feller," admitted the man, "but I hain't deef by a dum sight."
Jack didn't argue the point, but followed him to the house, where a pleasant-faced woman soon prepared a piping hot breakfast. As he ate and drank, Jack inquired the way to Musky Bay.
"It ain't far," the woman told him, "five miles or so."
"Can I get anyone to drive me back there?" asked Jack, who was pretty well tired out by this time.
"Oh, yes; Abner will drive you over fer a couple of dollars."
She hurried out to tell her husband to hitch up. Jack could hear her shouting her directions in the yard.
"All right. No need uv speaking so loud. I kin hear ye," Jack could hear the deaf man shouting back. "I kin hear ye."
"Just think," said the woman when she came back into the kitchen, where Jack had eaten, "Abner won't admit he's deef one bit. At church on Sundays he listens to the sermon just as if he understood it. If anyone asks him what it was about, he'll tell 'um that he doesn't care to discuss the new minister, but he's not such a powerful exhorter as the old one. He's mighty artful, is Abner."
The rig was soon ready and Jack was on his homeward way. To his annoyance, Abner proved very talkative and required answers to all his remarks.
"Gracious, I'll have no lungs left if I have to shout this way all the way home," thought Jack. "It'll be Husky Bay. If ever I drive with Abner again, I'll bring along some cough lozenges."
"Must be pretty tough to be really, down-right deef," remarked Abner, after Jack had roared out answers to him for a mile and a half.
"It must be," yelled Jack.
"Yes, sir-ee," rejoined Abner, wagging his head. "I'm just a trifle that er-way, and it bothers me quite a bit sometimes, 'specially in damp weather. Gid-ap!"
BILL SNIGGERS DECIDES.
We left Billy Raynor in a most unpleasant position. With escape from the cave within his grasp the way was blocked, it will be recalled, by some wild beast, the nature of which Billy did not know. His torch, made from the withered bush that was responsible for his dilemma, was burning low. Just in front of him glowed two luminous green eyes.
While Billy stood there hesitating, the creature gave another of its alarming growls. Hardly thinking what he was doing, Billy, startled by a shrill caterwaul, which followed the growl, flung his lighted torch full at the eyes, and heard a screech that sounded as if his blazing missile had struck its mark.
There was a swift patter of feet and the eyes vanished.
"Great Christmas, I've scared the creature off," said Billy to himself, with a sigh of relief; "a lucky thing I had that torch."
He walked forward more boldly. The evident alarm of the animal that had scared him, when the torch struck, convinced the boy that there was no more danger to be feared from it. In a few seconds more he was out in the open air and on a hillside.
It was still pitch dark, but the stars seemed to be growing fainter. Billy drew out his watch and, striking a match, looked at it. The hands pointed to three-thirty.
"It will be daylight before long," thought Billy. "If I start walking now I will only lose myself. I'll wait till it gets light and then try to get my bearings."
Never had dawn come so slowly as did that one, in the opinion of the tired and impatient lad. But at last the eastern sky grew faintly gray and then flushed red, and another day was born. In the growing light, Billy stood up and looked about him. The bay or any familiar landmarks were not in sight. Billy was in a quandary. But before long he came to a decision.
"I'll strike out for a main road," he decided; "if I can find one, that will bring me to where I can get some information, at any rate."
With this end in view, he scrambled down the hillside and found himself in some fields. After a half-hour's walk across these, he saw, with delight, that he had not miscalculated his direction. A road lay just beyond a brush hedge.
Billy made his way through a gap and struck off, in what he was tolerably sure was the way to Musky Bay. If he had but known it, however, he was proceeding in an exactly opposite direction. He had walked about a mile when another foot passenger hove in sight.
The lad was glad of this at first, for, although he had walked some distance, he had not passed a house, nor had any vehicles come by. But a second glance at the man who was coming toward him made him by no means so pleased at his appearance. The other foot passenger was a heavily built man with a lowering brow. He wore clothes that savored of a nautical character.
"Hullo, there, young feller," he said, as he halted to allow Billy to come up to him.
"Good morning," said Billy. "I am trying to find my way to Musky Bay. Can you direct me?"
The other looked at the boy with a glance of quick suspicion. "Livin' there?" he asked.
"Yes, that is to say, I'm staying there with friends."
"Umph! I know a crowd of folks there. Who you stopping with?"
Before Billy realized what he was saying he had made a fatal slip.
"With Captain Simms—that is," he hurried on, in an effort to correct his blunder, "I——"
"Know a kid named Ready—Jack Ready?"
"Why, yes, he's my best friend. He—here, what's the matter?"
The other had suddenly drawn a pistol and held it pointed unwaveringly at Billy.
"Jerk up yer hands, boy, and get 'em up quick!" he snarled.
Billy had no recourse but to obey. The man facing him was a hard-looking enough character to commit any crime. With a sudden pang Billy recalled that he was wearing the handsome watch—one of which had been given both to Jack and himself for services they had performed for a high official in Holland, when they rescued the latter's wife and daughter from robbers who had held up the ladies' automobile.
He saw the man's eyes fixed on the chain with a greedy glare. "Hand over that watch," he ordered.
Billy did as he was told. Then came another order while the pistol was pointed unwaveringly at him.
"Now come across with your cash."
Billy handed over what money he possessed—about fifteen dollars. The rest was in a New York bank, and some in a safe at the hotel.
The man looked at the inscription on the watch.
"William Raynor, eh? Your friend was talking about you just before we had to——"
All his fear was forgotten as the man spoke. His tones were sinister. Billy realized, like a flash, that this man was an ally of the Judsons, and must have had a hand in Jack's disappearance.
"Had to what?" Billy demanded. "You don't mean that you committed any act of violence?"
"Well, I'm not sayin' as to that," rejoined the other, who, as our readers will have guessed, was Bill Sniggers, "you'll find out soon enough."
The man was deliberately torturing Billy.
Soon after Jack's escape, Judson had awakened, and had been the first to discover that the boy had got away. A hasty and angry consultation followed, and it had been decided to send Bill, who was not known by sight in the vicinity, out to scout and see if the hunt for the missing boy was up. His astonishment at running into Billy was great. At first, till the boy spoke of Musky Bay, Bill, who was an all-around scoundrel, merely regarded him as a favorable object of robbery when he spied his gold watch chain. Now, however, the boy was a source of danger.
"Come over here, and I'll tell you all about it," said Bill. "Oh, you needn't be scared. I won't hurt you. I got all I wanted off of you. You see your friend got a little uppish after we carried him off, and so we had—to hit him this way!"
The last words were spoken quickly and were accompanied by a terrific blow aimed at Billy's chin. The boy sank in the roadway without a moan. He lay white and apparently lifeless, while Bill, with a satirical grin on his face, regarded him.
"Well, you won't come to life this little while, young feller," he muttered. "I'll just put you over this hedge for safekeeping, so as you won't attract undue attention, and then be on my way."
He picked the unconscious boy up as if he had been a feather and placed him behind the hedge. Then, with unconcern written on his brutal face, the rascal walked on. He was bound for a neighboring village to get provisions; for, till they knew how the land lay, none of the Judson gang dared to leave the deserted house. Bill, in his rough clothes, would attract little or no attention. But the others were smartly dressed and wore jewelry, and Donald had on yachting clothes. Had they been seen they could not have failed to be noticed in that simple community.
"This must be my lucky day," muttered Bill, as he walked along. "I got my pay for that job last night, and now I've got a gold watch and chain and fifteen dollars beside. Tell you what, Bill, old-timer, I won't go back to that old house again. I'll just leave that bunch up there, and beat it out of these parts in my motor-boat. That's what I'll do—go, while the goin's good, because I kin smell trouble coming sure as next election."
WHAT A "HAYSEED" DID.
Billy opened his eyes. His head swam dizzily, and he felt sick and faint. The hot sun was beating down on him, but at first he thought he was at home and in bed. Then he began to remember. He sat up, and then, not without an effort, rose to his feet dizzily.
"Where on earth am I?" he thought. "And what happened? Let's see what time it is."
But his watch pocket was empty, and then full recollection of what had occurred came back to him. He was still rather painfully trying to regain the road when he heard the sound of a voice. It was a very loud voice, even though the owner of it was not yet in sight.
"Looks like we might have rain. I said it looks like we might have a shower."
Then another voice—a boyish one—shouted back:
"Gid-ap," came in the first voice, and then came hoof-beats and the rumble of wheels. The next minute a ramshackle, two-seated rig, with a man and a boy on the front seat, came into sight. Billy gave one long stare, as one who doubted the evidence of his own eyes. Then he broke into a glad shout:
"Billy, old fellow, what in the world? Why, you're white as a sheet."
With alarm on his face, Jack sprang out, as Abner stopped the rig, and rushed toward Billy.
"How did you get here? What has happened?" demanded Jack.
Billy told his story in as few words as possible.
"Oh, the rascal," broke out Jack, when Billy described the hold-up. "That was Bill Sniggers. He's the man who led the way to the stone house—but get in and I'll tell you my story as we go along."
"Where are you going?"
"Back to Musky Bay; but a few hours ago I didn't think I'd ever see it again."
Jack had to shout both his story and Billy's for Abner's benefit. But he gave them in highly condensed versions, as his sorely taxed vocal organs had almost reached the limit of their strength. He had just reached the conclusion, having been interrupted several times by Abner's exclamations, when, ahead of them, on the road, they spied a figure shuffling along in the dust. The two boys were on the rear seat of the rig, so that the man, when he saw the rig approaching, having turned his head at the sound of hoofs, did not see the boys.
"Reckon that feller means ter ask fer a ride," remarked Abner, as a bend in the road ahead screened the man from view for a few minutes.
A sudden idea had come into Jack's head.
"Let him have it," he said; "and then drive to the nearest village and up to the police station. I'll pay you well for it."
"But—but—who is he?" demanded Abner, stopping his horse.
"Bill Sniggers, the rascal who is in league with Judson."
"Great hemlock! You bet I'll pick him up right smart. But he'll see you boys and scare."
"No, we'll hide in here," and Jack raised a leather flap that hung from the back seat. "It will be a tight fit, but there'll be room."
"Wa'al, if that don't beat all," said Abner. "Git in thar, then, and then the show kin go on."
As Jack had said, it was a "tight fit" in the recess under the seat, but, as Abner's rig had been made to take produce to market, there was a sort of extension at the back, which gave far more room than would ordinarily have been the case. Pretty soon the boys, in their hiding-place, felt the rig come to a stop. Then came a voice both recognized as Bill's.
"Say, gimme a ride, will yer?"
"Did ye say my harness was untied?"
"No, I said gimme a ride," roared Bill, at the top of his powerful lungs.
"Oh, all right. Git in. Whoa thar', consarn yer (this to the horse). Whar yer goin'?"
"Nearest village. I'm campin' up the bay. I want to get some grub," shouted Bill.
"Yer a long ways frum ther river," remarked Abner.
"Maybe; but I reckon that ain't your business," growled Bill.
"Not ef you don't want ter tell it, 'tain't," said Abner apologetically. He had heard enough of Bill's character not to argue with him.
"That's a nice-looking watch you've got there," the boys heard Abner say pleasantly.
There was a pause and then Bill roared out:
"What's that to you if it is?"
"Oh, nothing, only I jest saw that printing on it, and calkilated it might have bin a present to yer."
Jack could almost see Bill hurriedly thrusting the watch back into his pocket. Then, after a little while, he spoke again.
"Didn't see nothing of a kid back there in the road, did yer?"
"He means you, Billy," whispered Jack.
"No, I didn't see nothing of nobody," was Abner's comprehensive rejoinder.
There was a long silence, during which the boys sweltered in their close confinement. But they would have gone through more than that for the sake of what they hoped to bring about—the apprehension of at least one of Judson's aides.
"Getting near a village?" asked Bill presently.
"Yep; 'bout half a mile more," rejoined Abner.
In a short time the rig began to slacken its pace. Then it stopped.
"Here, what's this?" the boys heard Bill exclaim. "You're stopping in front of a police station."
"Sure. The chief is Araminta's—that's my wife—cousin. I'm goin' in ter see him a minit. Hold the horse, will yer, he's a bit skittish."
The boys heard Abner get out, and then an eternity seemed to elapse. Then a door banged and a sharp voice snapped out:
"Throw up your hands, gol ding yer. I'm the chief uv perlice, an' I arrest ye fer ther robbery of one gold watch and assault and batt'ry."
"Confound it, the old hayseed led me into a trap!" exclaimed Bill.
He threw himself out of the rig and started to run. But, as he did so, Jack and Billy, who had crawled out from the back, suddenly appeared. Bill gave a wild shout, and the next instant he was sprawling headlong in the dusty street, while a crowd came rushing from all directions.
Jack had tripped him by an old football trick. With an oath the desperado reached for his revolver. But, before he could reach it, he was pinioned by a dozen pairs of hands, and marched, struggling and swearing, into the police station.
He was searched, and Billy's watch found on him, as well as the money. Then he was locked up. He refused to give any information about the Judsons, in which he showed his astuteness, for, if they had been caught, his plight would have been worse than it was, for they would have been certain to implicate him deeply. So he contented himself by saying that he knew nothing about them. They had hired him to help the elder Judson recover his nephew from another uncle, who had treated him badly. He knew nothing more about the case, he declared, except that, after Jack's escape, the Judsons had left for New York. (It may be said here that he was eventually found guilty of the theft and the assault and received a jail sentence.)
Abner was well rewarded for the clever way he had brought about Bill's capture; and, well pleased with the way everything had come out, the boys resumed their journey.
"I hope Abner will invest part of what I gave him in an ear-trumpet," said Jack, as they entered Musky Bay.
"I hope so," laughed Billy. He was going to add something, but a shout stopped him.
"There's Captain Simms and Noddy," shouted Jack, as the two came running toward the vehicle. There is no need to go into the details of the reunion, or to relate what anxious hours the captain and Noddy had gone through after their discovery that the boys had vanished. If they had not reappeared when they did, Captain Simms was preparing to organize posses and make a wide search for them, as well as enlisting the aid of the authorities. In the vague hope that the Judsons and Jarrow might have remained in the stone house, waiting Bill's return, a party searched it next day, under the guidance of a native who knew the trail to it. But it was empty. A search for the black motor boat, too, resulted in nothing being found of her.
As a matter of fact, not many minutes after Bill, from whom they wished to be separated, had left the house, the Judsons—father and son—and Jarrow, had made all speed to the point where the motor craft had been left and had hastily made off in her. They knew that the search for Jack would be hot and wished to get as far away from Bill as he treacherously wished to get from them. In their case there was certainly none of the proverbial honor among thieves.
The black motor boat was left at Clayton and afterward claimed by a relative of Bill, who, by reason of "circumstances over which he had no control," was unable to claim her himself. As for the Judsons, they vanished, leaving no trace behind them. The same was the case with Jarrow.
A message had been sent to Uncle Toby, telling him of the reason for the boys' delay at Musky Bay, via a small mail steamer that plied those waters. His reply was characteristic:
"Them buoys is as hard to hurt as gotes, and as tuff as ship's biskit on a Cape Horner. Best wishes to awl. Awl well here at eight bells.
"Cap'n Toby Ready,
"Inventor and Patentee of the Universal Herb Medicine, Guaranteed to Cure All Ills, Both of Man and Quadruped."
THE "CURLEW" IN TROUBLE.
"Looks as if we might have a blow, Jack."
The Curlew was lazily moving along, with all sail set, carrying the boys back to Pine Island from their adventurous visit to Musky Bay. But, although every bit of canvas was stretched on her spars, she hardly moved. Her form was reflected in the smooth water with almost mirror-like accuracy.
"A blow? Pshaw," scoffed Noddy, "there isn't a breath of wind. I wish we could get a blow and cool off."
"Well, your wish is likely to come true before very long," said Jack, who was at the tiller.
"See that cloud bank over yonder, that ragged one?"
"Yes, what's that got to do with it?"
"Well, that's as full of wind as an auto tire," said Jack. "I've been watching it for some time. It'll be a nasty storm when it hits us."
"Hadn't we better run in for shelter somewhere?" asked Billy.
"There's so little wind now that I doubt if we could get inshore before the squall hits us," replied Jack. "I'll try to, though."
He headed for the distant shore, where the outlines of some sort of a wooden structure could be seen.
"If it gets very bad we can take refuge there," he said.
"That's so. I've no great fancy for getting wet," said Billy.
"Nor have I. We've had enough experiences of late to last us a long time," laughed Jack.
"And I was left out of every one of them," grumbled Noddy.
"For which you ought to be duly thankful," said Billy.
"Yes, I didn't enjoy that stone house much, or the soot," declared Jack.
"That cave didn't make much of a hit with me, either," said Billy. "My, those green eyes gave me a scare. I thought it was a bear or a mountain lion, sure; but they say there aren't any such animals in this part of the country."
"Abner said it must have been a lynx," said Jack.
"That being the case, you should have cuffed it," chuckled Noddy.
For the time being he escaped punishment for perpetrating this alleged pun, for the wind began to freshen and the Curlew slid through the water like a thing of life. The shore drew rapidly nearer.
But the cloud curtain spread with astonishing rapidity, till the whole sky was covered. The water turned from green to a dull leaden hue. Puffs of wind came with great velocity, heeling over the Curlew till the foam creamed in her lee scuppers.
The wind moaned in a queer, eerie sort of way, that bespoke the coming of a storm of more than ordinary severity. Jack was a prey to some anxiety as he held the Curlew on her course. If they could not make the dock he was aiming for before the storm struck, there might be serious consequences.
But, to his great relief, they reached the wharf, a tumble-down affair, before the tempest broke. The Curlew was made "snug," and this had hardly been done before a mighty gust of wind, followed by a blanket of rain, tore through the air.
"Just in time, boys," said Jack, as they set out on the run for the structure which they had observed from the water. On closer view it turned out to be nothing more than a barn, not in any too good repair, but still it offered a shelter.
The boys reached it just as a terrific blast of wind swept across the bay, roughening it with multitudinous whitecaps. A torrent of rain blotted out distances at the same time and turned all the world in their vicinity into a driving white cloud.
The barn proved to be even more rickety than its outside had indicated. The door was gone and its windows were broken out. But at least it was pleasanter under a roof than it would have been out in the open. The rain, driven by the furious wind, penetrated the rotten, sun-dried shingles and pattered on the earthen floor, but the boys found a dry place in one corner, where there was a pile of hay.
As the storm increased in fury the clouds began to blot out the daylight. It grew as dark as night almost. The roar of the rain was like the voice of a giant cataract.
"We may have to stay here all night," said Billy, after a long silence.
"That's true," rejoined Jack. "It would be foolhardy to take a boat like the Curlew out in such a storm."
Suddenly there came a terrific flash of lightning, followed by a sharp clap of thunder. It was succeeded by flash after flash, in blinding succession.
"My, this is certainly a snorter," exclaimed Billy, and the others agreed with him.
"We won't forget it in a hurry," said Jack. "I can't recall when I've heard the wind make such a noise."
To add to their alarm, as the fury of the wind increased, the old barn visibly quavered. It seemed to rock back and forth on its foundations. The noise of the wind grew so loud that conversation was presently impossible.
Suddenly there came a fiercer blast than any that had gone before. There was a ripping and rending sound.
"Great Scott! Boys, run for your lives, the old shack is tumbling down," cried Jack.
He had scarcely spoken when what he had anticipated happened. Beams, boards and shingles flew in every direction. There was no time even to think. Acting instinctively, each boy threw himself flat upon the pile of moldy hay.
Noddy, in his terror, burrowed deep into it. The noise that accompanied the dissolution of the old barn was terrific. Each boy felt as if at any moment a huge beam might fall on him and crush his life out. Above it all the wind howled with a note of triumph at its work of destruction.
The boys felt as if the end of the world had come.
THE END OF JACK'S HOLIDAY.
Fortunately, otherwise this story might have had a different ending, the barn was lifted almost entirely from its foundations and hurled over on its side. The roof was ripped off like an old hat and hurtled through the tempest to the water's edge.
None of the wreckage and debris struck the crouching boys. But the mere sound was terrifying enough. Even Jack was cowed by the tremendous force of the elements. Each lad felt as if the next moment would be his last.
But at last Jack mustered up courage and looked up. The beating rain, which had already soaked them all through, stung his face like hailstones.
"Hullo, fellows," he exclaimed, "is—is anybody hurt?"
"All right here," rejoined Billy. "But say, wasn't that the limit?"
"It sure was," agreed Jack. "At one time I thought we were goners, and——"
"Goo-oof-g-r-r-r-r-r!" An extraordinary sound, which can only be typographically rendered in this manner, suddenly interrupted him.
"Heavens, what's that?" gasped Billy, looking about him in a rather alarmed manner.
"It's Noddy!" cried Jack.
"Gracious, he must be dying," gasped Billy.
In his eagerness to escape the full fury of the storm and the flying wreckage of the barn, Noddy had plunged into the hay with his mouth open, and now his throat was full of the dry stuff. He was almost choked.
"Pull him out," directed Jack, and he and Billy laid hold of Noddy's heels and dragged him out of the hay-pile. The lad was almost black in the face.
"Ug-gug-groo-o-o-o-o-o!" he mumbled, making frantic gestures with his arms.
"Goodness, this is as bad as the time he was almost drowned," cried Jack. "Clap him on the back good and hard. That's it."
There were several gulps and struggles, and then Noddy began to cough. But all danger from strangulation had passed, thanks to the heroic efforts of Jack and Billy.
"Phew! I thought I was choked," sputtered Noddy, as soon as he found his voice. "I'd hate to be a horse and have to eat that stuff."
"You are a kind of a horse," said Billy slyly.
"How do you make that out?" demanded Noddy, falling into the trap.
"A donkey," laughed Billy teasingly, but poor Noddy felt too badly after his experience in the hay to retaliate in kind.
After the restoration of Noddy, they began to survey the situation. All were soaked through, and the rain beat about them unmercifully. But they were thankful to have escaped with their lives. Through the white curtain of rain they could make out the outlines of the Curlew, riding at the dock.
"I'm glad to see that," observed Jack. "I was half afraid that she might have broken away."
"Then we would have been in a fine fix," said Billy.
"What will we do next?" asked Noddy, removing some fragments of hay from his ears.
"Wait till the clouds roll by," laughed Billy. "I guess that's about the program, isn't it, Jack?"
"Seems to be about all that there is to do," replied Jack; "but it seems to me that the storm is beginning to let up even now. Look in the northwest—it's beginning to get lighter."
"So it is," agreed Billy. "Let's get under that clump of trees yonder till it blows over altogether."
"Say, fellows, if we had a fire now, it would feel pretty good," observed Noddy.
"Well, what's the matter with having one?" asked Jack. "We can get some of those old shingles and tarred posts. They're pretty wet, but we can start the blaze going with dried hay from the bottom of the pile."
"Good for you. Volunteer firemen, get to work," cried Billy.
Soon the boys were carrying the dry hay and such wood as seemed suitable for their purpose to the clump of trees. Jack took some matches from his safe and struck a lucifer after the wood had been properly piled.
It blazed up cheerily. Each lad stripped to his underclothes and their drenched garments were hung in front of the hot fire. The dripping clothes sent up clouds of steam, but it was not long before they were dry enough to put on. By the time this was done the storm had abated. Presently the rain, which did not bother the boys under the thick clump of trees, ceased altogether. Only in the distance a dull muttering of thunder still went on. A rainbow appeared, delighting them with its brilliant colors.
"Well, that's over," observed Jack, as he dressed. "Now we'll go down and pump out the Curlew. I'll bet she's half full of water."
His conjecture proved correct. On their return to their trim little craft they found a foot or more of water in her hull. But this was soon disposed of and, with a brisk breeze favoring them, they set out once more for Pine Island. On their return they found Captain Toby, who had spied them from a distance, awaiting them on the dock.
In his hand he held a yellow envelope. It was a telegram for Jack. The boy eagerly tore it open, and for a moment, as he scanned its contents, his face fell. But almost instantly he brightened.
"Well, what's the news?" demanded his uncle.
"Good and bad," rejoined Jack. "I guess our holiday is over. Billy and I are ordered to join the Columbia as soon as we can."
"Hurrah! I was beginning to long for the sea again," declared Billy Raynor.
"I must confess I was, too," said Jack.
"It's a great life for lads—makes men out of them," said Captain Toby. "I must see if I've got two bottles of the Universal Remedy for you boys to take to sea with you," and he hurried off.
Noddy looked rather blue.
"You are lucky fellows—off for more adventures and fun," he said, "while I just stick around."
"Nonsense, you've got your business in New York to attend to, and, as for adventures, I've had plenty of them for a time, haven't you, Billy?"
"A jugful," declared Raynor. "Enough to last me for the rest of my life-time, and, anyhow, life at sea is mostly hard work."
"That's what makes it worth living," said Jack. "I'll be glad to get down to work again after our long holiday."
"And I really believe I will, too," said Billy; "and on a crack liner like the Columbia we may be able to make our marks."
"I hope we will. I mean to work mighty hard, anyhow," said the young wireless man, "but hark, there goes the bell for supper. Hurry up, fellows, I'll race you to the house."
The next day was devoted to saying good-by to the scenes and the people who had helped make up a happy vacation for the lads. Noddy, it was decided, would stay on with Captain Toby for the present, as his presence was not required in New York.
Of course the lads visited Captain Simms. He told them that his holiday also was almost over. The naval code was nearly completed, and he must get back to Washington within a week or so.
"Well, here's to our next meeting," he said, as he heartily clasped the hands of both lads in farewell.
Under what circumstances that meeting was to occur none of them just then guessed.
"THE GEM OF THE OCEAN."
The Columbia, a magnificent and imposing vessel of more than 20,000 tons burden, lay at her New York dock two weeks later. Within her steel sides, besides the usual cabin accommodations, she had swimming pools, Roman courts, palm gardens and even a theater. Elevators conveyed her passengers from deck to deck. The new vessel of the Jukes shipping interests was the last word in shipbuilding, and from her stern flew the Stars and Stripes.
It was sailing day. From the three immense black funnels smoke was rolling. Steam issued, roaring from the escape pipes. The dock buzzed and fermented with a great crowd assembled to see their friends off on the first voyage of the great ship. Wagons, taxicabs and autos blocked the street in front of the docks. Photographers and reporters swarmed everywhere. The confusion was tremendous, yet, promptly at the hour set for sailing, the booming siren began to sound, last farewells were shouted, and the invariable late stayer on board made his wild leap for the gang-plank before it was drawn in.
A perceptible vibration ran through the monster ship. Her propellers began to churn the water white. A small fleet of tugs helped to swing her against the tide as she slowly backed into the stream. Majestically her monster bulk swung round, her bow pointing seaward. Her maiden voyage had begun.
It is doubtful if among her delighted passengers and proud officers, however, there were any more enthusiastic about the great vessel than two lads who were seated in the wireless operators' cabin on the topmost deck.
"Well, Billy, this is different from the old Ajax, eh?"
"Is it? Well, I should say so," responded Billy. "You ought to see the engine-room. You could have put the Ajax in it, almost."
"We ought to be proud of our jobs," continued Jack.
"I know I am. It's a great thing to be part of the human machinery of a huge vessel like this, and the best part of it is that she flies the American flag," added Billy enthusiastically.
"I heard that the Gigantia, of the London Line, sails to-day, too. By Jove, there she comes now."
He pointed out of the open door back up the river. The great British steamer, till then the biggest thing on the ocean, was backing out. Her four red-and-black funnels loomed up imposingly above her black hull.
"Then we'll have a race for certain," said Billy, his eyes dilating with excitement; "good for us, but my money goes on the Columbia."
"That Britisher can travel, though," said Jack.
"Oh, we won't have an easy time of it, but I'll bet my shirt we'll win the blue ribbon of the ocean."
"I hope so," rejoined Jack with a smile at the other's enthusiasm. "But what do you think of my quarters, Billy?"
"Why, they're fit for a king or a millionaire," laughed Raynor. "I'll bet you never thought, when you were in that little rabbit hutch of a wireless room on the old Ajax, that some day you'd be traveling in such style?"
Raynor's eyes wandered to the instrument table, with its array of the most up-to-date wireless apparatus.
"Hullo! What's that thing?" he asked suddenly, pointing to a device that looked unfamiliar. It was a box-shaped arrangement, metal, with complicated wires strung to it and had a "telephone" receiver attached to it with a band to hold it securely to the operator's head.
"Oh, that's an invention of my own that I'm trying out," said Jack. "I don't just know what success I'll have with it. I haven't really put it to the test yet."
"What do you call it?"
"The Universal Detector," replied Jack.
"Just what is that?"
"Well, at present you know a ship can only receive wireless messages from a ship that is 'in tune' with her own radio apparatus. The Universal Detector should make it possible to catch every wireless sound. I am very anxious, if I perfect it, to get it adopted in the navy. It would be of great value in time of war, for by its use every message sent by an enemy, even if they were purposely put 'out of tune,' could be caught."
"By the way, speaking of the navy, did you hear from Captain Simms?"
"Yes; he is still up at Musky Bay. Some difficulties in the code have arisen, and he will not be through with his work for two weeks or more yet, he says."
"No more attempts to steal his work, or to spy on him?"
"He doesn't mention any. I guess we're through with the Judson crowd."
"Looks that way. What a gang of thorough-paced rascals they were."
"I guess Judson's business must be in a bad way to make him take such desperate chances to recoup by landing that contract."
"I suppose that's it."
Raynor lifted his eyes to the ship's clock above Jack's operating instruments.
"By Jove, almost eight bells! I've got to go on watch. This is my first job as second engineer, and I mean to keep things on the jump. Well, so long, old fellow."
"See you this evening," said Jack, as Raynor hurried off.
Jack soon became very busy. The air was full of all sorts of messages. Besides that, his cabin was crowded with men and women who wished to file last messages to those they left behind them. He worked steadily through the afternoon, catching meteorological radios as well as information from other steamers scattered along the Atlantic lane.
He knew that he might expect hard work and plenty of it all that day. There would be no chance for him to experiment with his Universal Detector. About dusk, Harvey Thurman, his assistant, came into the wireless room to relieve him while he went to dinner.
Thurman was a short, thick-set young man, with a flabby, pallid face and shifty eyes. He had got his job on the new liner through a "pull" that he possessed through a distant relationship with Mr. Jukes. Jack had not met him before, and, since they had been on board, they had exchanged only a few words, but he instinctively felt that he and Thurman were not going to make very good shipmates.
As Jack relinquished the head-receivers and the key to his "relief," Thurman's gaze rested on the Universal Detector.
"What's that?" he demanded.
"Oh, just a little idea I'm working on," said Jack, "a new invention. If I can perfect it, it may be valuable."
"Yes, but what is it? What's it for?" persisted Thurman.
Jack explained what he hoped to accomplish with the instrument, and an instant later was sorry he had done so, for he noticed an expression of cupidity creep into Thurman's eyes. The youth persisted in asking a host of questions, and Jack, having started to explain, could not very well refuse to answer. Besides, inventors are notoriously garrulous about their brain children, and Jack, even though he did not like Thurman, soon found himself talking away at a great rate.
"Huh, I don't think the idea's worth a cent," sniffed Thurman contemptuously, when Jack had finished.
"I guess that's where you and I differ," said Jack, controlling his temper with some difficulty, for the sneer in Thurman's voice had been marked. "I'm going to make it a success, and then we shall see."
He left the wireless room, and the instant he was gone Thurman, with a crafty look on his flabby face, eagerly began examining the detector. As he was doing so Jack, who had forgotten his cap, suddenly reentered the wireless room. Thurman had been so intent on his scrutiny of the detector that he did not hear him.
"You appear to be taking great interest in that useless invention," said Jack in a quiet voice.
Thurman started and spun round. His face turned red and he had an almost guilty look.
"I didn't think you were coming creeping back like that," he exclaimed, "a fellow would almost think you were spying on him."
"Have you any reason to fear being spied upon?" asked Jack.
"Me? No, not the least. That's a funny question."
"I want to tell you, Thurman, that my invention is not yet completed and therefore, of course, is not patented. I was pretty free with you in describing it, and I shall trust to your honor not to talk about it to anyone."
"Certainly not," blustered Thurman. "I'm not that sort of a chap."
But, after Jack had gone out, he resumed his study of the detector a second time, desisting every time he heard a step outside.
"So it's not patented, eh?" he muttered to himself. "That will help. It's an idea there that ought to be worth a pot of money."
JACK'S BIG SECRET.
The next day Jack found an opportunity to sandwich in some work on his invention between his regular work. The thing fascinated him, and he tried and tested it in a hundred different combinations. Suddenly, just after he had altered two important units of the device, a new note came to his ears through the "watch-case" receivers that were clamped to his head.
"It's code—somebody sending code!" exclaimed Jack, and then the next instant, "it's some ship of the navy! Hurrah! The detector is working, for they use different wave lengths from the commercial workers, and, if it hadn't been for the Universal Detector, I'd never have been able to listen in at their little talk-fest."
He waited till the code message, a long one from Washington to the Idaho, of the North Atlantic fleet at Guantanamo, Cuba, was finished, and then he could not refrain from "butting in."
"Hello, navy," he chattered with the wireless key, "that was a nice little message you had. How's the weather up your way?"
"Who is this?" demanded the navy wireless in imperious tones.
"Oh, just a fellow who was listening," responded Jack.
"Butting in, you mean. But say, how did you ever get on to our sending? We were using eccentric wave-lengths to keep our talk a secret."
"I'll have to keep how I caught your talk a secret, too, for the present, old man."
"Great Scott! It isn't possible that you've solved the problem of a universal detector. Why, that's a thing the navy sharps have been working on for years."
"I can't say how I caught your message," shot back Jack's radio through space.
"You'll have to tell if the government gets after you," was the reply. "Uncle Sam isn't going to have a fellow running round loose with anything like that."
"What do you mean?"
"That you will be forbidden to use it."
"Is that so?"
"Yes, that's so. I'm going to make out a report for my superiors about it right now. You're pretty fresh."
"Put that in the report, too," chuckled the Columbia's wireless disdainfully.
"You'll find it's no joke to monkey with the government," snapped back the naval man.
Jack didn't answer. A message from the Taurus, of the Bull Line, was coming in. She had sighted an iceberg, something very unusual at that time of year. Jack hurried the message, which gave latitude and longitude of the menace, to Captain Turner.
"Well, that won't bother us," said that dignitary. "We're far to the south of that. Those Bull fellows run to Quebec. Send a radio to Captain Spencer, of the Taurus, thanking him for his information."
The great man, the captain of a liner, who has literally more power than a king, lit a cigar, and bent his head once more over the problem in navigation he was wrestling with. Jack saluted and hurried back to his quarters.
He was highly elated over the success of his Universal Detector. The threats of the government man did not alarm him, for he did not propose to place his invention on the general market, but to sell it outright to the government, whose secret it would then remain.
He resolved to test it again. A moment after he had put the receivers to his ears, a broad grin came over his face. The air was literally vibrant with the calls of the navy men, flinging their high-powered currents through space.
"... he's a cheeky beggar, whoever he is, but he's got the goods," was the first he heard.
"Hum, that's Mr. Washington," thought Jack. Then, from some other point came another message.
"Great Scott! Uncle Sam won't let him get away with anything like that."
"I should say not. The Secret Service department is already at work trying to find out who the dickens he is."
"That will be a sweet job," came the naval station at Point Judith.
"Talk about a needle in a haystack," sputtered the U. S. S. Alabama.
"Not a patch on it," agreed the great dreadnought Florida.
Then came Washington again.
"I'll tell you it's stirred up a fuss here," he said. "I wonder who it can be."
"Maybe that Italian fellow who invented the sliding sounder," suggested the Florida.
"Or Pederson, out in Chicago," came from a land station. All the navy men appeared to be joining in the confab.
"Gracious, what a fuss I've stirred up," thought Jack, with a quiet smile. "They'd never guess in a million years that it's a kid of an operator who's causing all the trouble."
"No; both the men you mentioned are in Europe," declared Washington. "The department's been trailing them since they got my news."
"Well, the wireless men are going to be a happy hunting ground for the Secret Service fellows for this one little while," chuckled the Florida.
"Wonder if he's listening now?" struck in the North Dakota, which had not yet talked.
"Shouldn't wonder," remarked the Idaho.
Jack pressed down his key and the spark began to flash and crackle.
"You fellows are having a grand old pow-wow," he said. "Sorry I can't give you any information. I know you're dying of curiosity."
"You've got your nerve, I must say," sputtered Washington indignantly. "Have you been listening right along?"
"Yes; that Secret Service hunt is going to be very interesting."
"It won't be very interesting for you, whoever you are, when they get you," thundered the mighty Florida. "It's bad business monkeying with Uncle Sam."
"Maybe they won't get me," suggested Jack's spark.
"Oh, yes, they will," came from Washington, "and you'll find it doesn't pay to be as sassy as you've been."
"M-M-M," sent out Jack mischievously.
The three letters mean, in telegraphers' and wireless men's language, "laughter."
Washington's dignity took fire at this gross insult. They must have sizzled as from the national capital an angry message shot out to the other ships to talk in code. Jack's fun was over, but he had thoroughly enjoyed all the excitement he had stirred up. As he laid down the receivers Raynor came in.
"You look tickled to death over something," he exclaimed. "What's up?"
Jack sprang to his feet. His eyes were shining. He clasped Raynor's hand and wrung it pump-handle fashion. Raynor looked at the usually quiet, rather self-contained lad, in blank astonishment.
"What's happened—somebody wirelessed you that you're heir to a million?" he demanded.
"No, better than that, Billy."
"Great Scott! Tell me."
"Billy, old boy, it works. It works like a charm. I've got half the navy all snarled up about it now. By to-morrow they'll be after me with Secret Service men."
"Gee whillakers. You've done the trick! Good for you, old boy."
A sudden shadow in the open door made them both look round. Thurman stood in the embrasure.
"May I add my congratulations?" he said, holding out his hand.
THE NAVY DEPARTMENT "SITS UP."
Jack could not refuse the proffered hand. But he took it with an uneasy air. There was something not quite "straight" about Thurman, it seemed to Jack, but as the former offered his congratulations he appeared sincere enough.
"After all, it may be just his misfortune that he can't look you in the eyes," Jack told himself.
But if he had been in the wireless room that night he would have deemed his suspicions only too well founded. Thurman busied himself with routine matters till he was sure Jack was asleep. Then he began calling Washington with monotonous regularity.
An irritable operator answered him. By the wave length the Washington man knew that it was not a naval station or vessel calling.
"Yes—yes—what—is—it?" he snapped.
"I know the fellow who has that Universal Detector."
"What!" The other man, hundreds of miles away, almost fell out of his chair. Recovering himself, he shot out another message:
"Who is this?"
"Never mind that, just for the present."
"Say, you're not that fresh fellow himself talking just to kid us, are you?"
"No, I'm far from joking. I expect to make some money out of this."
"That's the idea."
"Well, there's no doubt but you would get it if you really have the information. The department's been all up in the air ever since that fellow butted in."
"Are you going to report this conversation?"
"Don't forget that I demand a substantial reward for the information."
"I won't. When will you call me again?"
"About this time to-morrow night."
"All right, then. Good-by."
Thurman took the receiver from his head with a slow smile of satisfaction.
"I guess that will cook that fresh kid's goose," he said. "It's a mean thing to do, maybe, but I need the money, and I'm glad to get a chance to set him down a peg or two."
Thurman could hardly wait for the next night to come. During the day Jack had been having some more fun with the navy men, driving them almost wild. When Thurman finally got Washington, therefore, everything in the government's big wireless station was at fever heat. A high official of the navy sat by the operator, waiting for Thurman's promised call to come out of space.
Men of the Secret Service were scattered about the room as well as department officials. The air was tense with expectancy. At last Thurman's message came.
His first question was about the reward.
"Tell him he will be liberally rewarded," ordered the naval official. "Tell him to give us the information at once. That fellow has been playing with us all day, and we've been powerless to outwit the Universal Detector, or whatever device it is he uses. The man must be a wizard to have solved a problem that has baffled the keenest minds in the Navy Bureau."
"Reward is assured you," flashed back the naval operator. "Now give us your information. Time is precious."
But Thurman's answer proved disappointing to those in the room.
"Impossible to do so now. Inventor is on the high seas. Will wireless you later when he will return."
"Confound it," grumbled the naval official. "I thought we would have had our hands on the fellow before daylight. Now it seems we shall have to play a waiting game."
"If the man is on the high seas, it is not unlikely that he is the wireless man on one of the liners," put in Burns, a spare, grizzled man and Chief of the Secret Service.
"That's probable, Burns," rejoined the navy official.
"More than likely, I think," put in another member of the group, "but it's impossible to find out which one."
"Yes, we are at the mercy of our unknown informant," said Burns. "Why the deuce was he so mysterious about it?" He tugged at his gray mustache as a sudden thought struck him.
"Jove!" he exclaimed. "You don't think it's a put-up job to get money out of the government? Put up, I mean, by an agent of the inventor himself."
"I don't know, Burns," was the official's reply. "It's all mighty mysterious. I confess I can't hazard a guess as to the man's identity. We've looked up all the most prominent wireless sharps all over the country. I am satisfied this fellow is not one of their number."
"Some obscure fellow, I guess," said a Secret Service man.
"Well, he won't remain obscure long," remarked Burns, "if he has brains enough to turn the navy department topsy-turvy for forty-eight hours."
A MYSTERY ON BOARD.
Two days later the monotony of the voyage, which was broken only by the radiograms which were posted daily concerning the race between the American and British liners—the Columbia being in the lead—was rudely shattered by an incident in which Jack was destined to play an important part. Jack had been on a visit to Raynor during the young engineer's night watch in the engine-room. They had stayed chatting and talking over old times till Jack suddenly realized that it was long after midnight and time for him to be in his bunk.
Hastily saying good-night, he made his way through the deserted corridors of the great ship, which stretched empty and dimly lit before him. As he traversed them the young wireless man could not but think of the contrast to the busy life of the day when stewards swarmed and passengers hurried to and fro. Now everything was silent and deserted, except for the still figures up on the bridge and below in the engine and fire rooms, guiding and powering the great vessel onward through the night at a twenty-four-knot clip.
The lad had just reached the end of one corridor, and was about to turn into another which led to a companionway, which would bring him to his own domain, when he stopped short, startled by the sound of a single sharp outcry. It came from the corridor he was about to turn into. Jack darted round the corner and almost instantly stumbled over the huddled body of a man lying outside one of the cabin doors.
A dark stain was under his head, and Jack saw at once that the man had been the victim of an attack. At almost the same moment, by the dim light, he recognized the unconscious form as being that of Joseph Rosenstein, a diamond merchant, so wealthy and famous that he had been pointed out to Jack by the purser as a celebrity.
"Queer fellow," the purser had said. "Won't put his jewels in the safe, although I understand he is carrying three magnificent diamonds with him. Likely to get into trouble if anyone on board knows about it."
"He's taking big chances," agreed Jack, and now here was the proof of his words lying at the boy's feet. Suddenly he recalled having received a message a few days before from New York for the injured man.
"Be very careful. F. is on board," it had read, and Jack interpreted this to be meant as a warning to the diamond merchant. But he did not devote much attention to it just then, except to rouse the sleepy stewards. Within a few minutes the captain and the doctor were on the scene.
"A nasty cut, done with a blackjack or a club," opined Dr. Browning, as he raised the man.
"Is it a mortal wound?" asked the captain. "This is a terrible thing to have happen on my ship."
"I think he'll pull through if no complications set in," said the doctor, and ordered the man removed to his cabin. Suddenly Jack recollected what the purser had said about the diamonds.
"I beg your pardon, sir," said he to the captain, "but I heard that this man carried about valuable diamonds with him. He was probably attacked for purposes of robbery."
"That's right," answered the captain, with a quick look of approval at Jack. "Browning, we'd better examine the contents of his pockets." They did so, but no traces of precious stones could be found.
"Whoever did this, robbed him," declared the captain, with a somber brow, "and the deuce of it is that, unless we can detect him, he will walk ashore at Southampton or Cherbourg a free man."
The door of the stateroom opposite to which the injured man lay opened suddenly, and a little, wizen-faced man, wearing spectacles, looked out. He appeared startled and shocked as he saw the limp form.
"Good gracious! This is terrible, terrible, captain," he sputtered. "Is—is the man dead?"
"No, Professor Dusenberry, although that does not appear to be the fault of whoever attacked him," was the rejoinder.
"He was attacked, then, for purposes of robbery, do you think?"
"I suspect so."
"Oh, dear, this has so upset me that I shan't sleep the rest of the night," protested the little man, and withdrew into his stateroom.
The next day, naturally, the whole ship buzzed with the news of the night's happenings, and speculation ran rife as to who could have attacked the diamond merchant, who had recovered consciousness and was able to talk. He himself had not the slightest idea of his assailant. He had sat up till late in the smoking saloon, he said, and was coming along the corridor to his stateroom when he was struck down from behind. A black leather wallet, containing three diamonds, which were destined to be sold to the scion of a European royal house, was missing from his pocket, and the loss nearly drove the unfortunate diamond man frantic. He valued the stones at $150,000, so that perhaps his frenzy at losing them was not unnatural.
In the afternoon, Professor Dusenberry, dressed in a frock coat and top hat, although he was at sea and the weather was warm, came into the wireless room. He wanted to send a message, he said, a wireless to London. He was very cautious about inquiring the price and all the details before he sat down to write out his dispatch. When it was completed he handed it to Jack with his thin fingers, and asked that it be dispatched at once. Then he retreated, or rather faded, from the wireless room. Jack scanned the message with thoughtful eyes. It seemed an odd radiogram for a college professor, such as he had heard Prof. Dusenberry was, to be sending. It read as follows:
"Meet me at three on the granite paving-stones. The weather is fine, but got no specimens. There is no suspicion as you have directed, but I'm afraid wrong."
"Well, that's a fine muddle for somebody to make out when they get it," mused Jack, as he sent out a call for the Fowey Station.
"Must be some sort of a cipher the old fellow is using. He's a dry sort of old stick. Goodness! How scared he was when he saw that man lying outside his door. I thought he was going to faint or something."
"Wonder what sort of a cipher that is," mused Jack, as he waited for an answer to his call. "Looks to me as if it's one of those numerical ciphers where every second or third or fourth or fifth word is taken from the context and composes a message. Guess I'll try and work it out some time. It'll be something to do. And, hullo, he signs himself 'F'."
Jack looked up at the printed passenger-list that hung before him. "Professor F. Dusenberry" was the last of the "D's"
"His initial," thought Jack, "but it's a funny coincidence that it should be the same as that of the man the diamond merchant was warned to watch out for, and that it should have been the professor's door outside of which he was struck down."
A "FLASH" OF DISTRESS.
Having dispatched the message, Jack sat back in his chair and mused over the future of the Universal Detector. It was a fascinating subject to day-dream over, but his reverie was rudely interrupted by a sharp summons from space.
"Yes—yes—yes," he shot back, "who—is—it?"
"This is the Oriana," came back the reply, "Hamburg for New York. We are in distress."
"What's the trouble?"
The spark crackled and writhed, as Jack's rapid fingers spelled out the message.
"We struck a half submerged derelict and our bow is stove in. We believe we are sinking. This is an S. O. S."
Then followed the position of the craft and another earnest appeal to rush to her aid. Jack roughly figured out the distances that separated the two ships.
"Will be there in about two hours," he flashed, and then hurried to Captain Turner's cabin with his message.
The captain scanned the message with contracted brow.
"The Oriana," he muttered, "I know her well. Rotten old tramp. We must have full speed ahead. Stand by your wireless, Ready, and tell them we are rushing at top speed to their aid. Confound it, though," he went on, half to himself, "this will lose us the race with the Britisher, but still if we can save the lives of those poor devils I shall be just as well satisfied."
The captain hastened to the bridge to issue his orders and change the big ship's course. Jack went quickly back to his cabin and began flashing out messages of good cheer. About half an hour later Captain Turner came along.
"Any more news, Ready?" he asked.
"No, sir. Their current is getting weak. The last time I had them the operator said that the ship was slowly settling, but that they had the steam pumps going and would keep them working till the water reached the fires. The officers were keeping the firemen at their work with revolvers."
"I've been through such scenes," remarked the captain. "It's part of a seaman's life, but it's an inferno while it lasts."
"Notify me if you hear anything further," said Captain Turner a few moments later.
"Yes, sir. Hullo, here's something coming now. It's the Borovian, of the Black Star line. She got that S. O. S. too, and is hurrying to the rescue. But she's far to the south of us."
"Yes, we shall reach the Oriana long before she does," said the captain. "By the way, Ready, I've heard that you have quite a reputation for loving adventure."
Jack colored. He did not quite make out what the captain was "driving at," as the saying is.
"I do like action, yes, sir," he replied.
"Well, then," said Captain Turner, "you've got a little excitement due to you for your prompt action last night in the case of the assault on that diamond merchant. If you want to go on the boats to the Oriana, you may do so. Get Thurman to stand by the wireless while you're gone. You can make the time up to him on some other occasion."
Jack's eyes danced. He could hardly express his thanks at the opportunity for a break in the rather monotonous life on shipboard. But the captain had turned on his heel as he finished his speech and left the grateful lad alone.
Thurman was sleeping when Jack roused him. When he learned that Jack was to make one of the boat parties and that he (Thurman) was to remain on duty, the second wireless man's temper flared up.
"That's a fine thing, I must say," he growled. "You're to go on a junket while I do your work. I won't stand for it."
"Pshaw, Thurman," said Jack pacifically. "I'll do the same for you at any time you say. Besides, I heard you say once you wouldn't like to go in the small boats."
"Think I'm afraid, eh?"
"I said no such thing," retorted Jack, "I——"
"I don't care, you thought it. I'll complain to Captain Turner."
"I would not advise you to."
"Keep your advice to yourself. I've got pull enough to have you fired."
"This line treats its employees too fairly for any such claim as a 'pull' to be advanced."
"You think so, eh? Well, I'll show you. You've been acting like a swelled head all the way over, Ready," said Thurman, forgetting all bounds in his anger. "I'll find a way to fix you——"
"Say, you talk like an angry kid who's been put out of a ball game," said Jack. "I hope you get over it by the time you come on duty."
An angry snarl was Thurman's only rejoinder as Jack left the wireless operator's sleeping quarters. But the next instant all thought of Thurman was put out of his mind. The lookout had reported from the crow's-nest. On the far horizon a mighty cloud of dark smoke was rising and spreading.
Before many moments had passed it was known that fire—that greatest of sea perils—had been added to the sinking Oriana's troubles.
As the news spread through the ship the passengers thronged to the rails. Suppressed excitement ran wild among them. Even Jack found himself unable to stay still as he thought of the lives in peril under that far-off smoke pall. All communication with the stricken ship had ceased, and Jack knew that things must have reached a crisis for her crew.
Then came an order to cast loose four boats, two on the port and two on the starboard side. Officers and men obeyed with a will. By the time they were ready to be dropped overside, the outlines of the burning steamer were plainly visible. She looked very low in the water. From her midships section smoke, in immense black clouds, was pouring.
But to Jack's surprise no boats surrounded her, as he had expected would be the case. Instead, on her stern, an old-fashioned, high-raised one, he could make out, through his glasses, a huddled mass of human figures. Suddenly one figure detached itself from the rest and Jack saw a pistol raised and aimed at the lower deck. Spurts of smoke from the weapon followed. Thrilled, Jack was about to report what he had seen to the bridge when the third officer, a young man named Billings, came up to him.
"You're in my boat," he said. "Cut along."
A STRANGE WRECK.
"Well, boys, we got here just in time," observed Mr. Billings, as the boat cut through the water.
"I'm not so sure that we have arrived in time to avert a tragedy," said Jack, and he told of the shooting that he had witnessed.
"Probably a mutiny," said Mr. Billings, with the voice of experience. "The crews on those old tramps are the riff-raff of a hundred ports. Bad men to handle in an emergency."
He had hardly finished speaking when, borne toward them on the wind, which was setting from the burning, sinking ship, came a most appalling uproar. It sounded like the shrieks of hundreds of passing souls mingled with deep roars and screeches.
Even Mr. Billings turned a shade paler under his tan.
"In the name of heaven what was that?" he exclaimed.
As he spoke a huge tawny form was seen to climb upon the rail of the rusty old steamer and then launch itself into the sea with a mighty roar.
"A lion!" exclaimed Jack, "by all that's wonderful, a lion."
"That explains the mystery of those noises and the predicament of those poor fellows crowded on the stern away from the boats," said Mr. Billings, who had quite regained his self-possession.
"But—but I don't understand," said Jack.
"That ship has a cargo of wild animals on board," explained Mr. Billings. "Such shipments are regularly made from Hamburg, her hailing port, to America. Most probably she had lions, tigers, leopards, great serpents and other animals on board. When her bow was stove in a number of cages were smashed and the wild beasts escaped."
"That accounts for the shooting I saw, then," exclaimed Jack; "they must have been firing from the raised stern at the animals which menaced them on the main deck."
"Unquestionably. I am glad I brought my own shooting iron," said Mr. Billings. "I packed it along in case we had trouble with a mutinous crew."
They were now close to the blazing ship. The heat and odor of the flames were clearly felt.
"We'll have to pull around on the weather side," decided Mr. Brown. "If we come up under the wind, we'd all be scorched before we could effect any rescues.
"Pull round the stern, my lads," he ordered.
"Aye, aye, sir," came in a deep-throated chorus from the crew.
As the four boats made under the stern, white, anxious faces looked down on them.
"Thank heaven you've come!" exclaimed the captain, whose haggard countenance showed all that he had been through. "We're just about at our last ditch. The animals we were taking from Jamrachs, in Hamburg, for an American circus, broke loose after the collision with the derelict. They've killed two of my men and maimed another."
"All right, my hearties, just hold on a minute and we'll have you out of that," exclaimed Mr. Billings cheerfully.
More roars and screeches from the loosened animals checked him. Then came more shots, telling of an attack on the stern, the only cool part of the ship left, which had been repulsed. The flames shot up, seeming to reach to the sky, and the smoke blotted out the sun, enveloping everything in the burning ship's vicinity in a sort of twilight.
"Do you think we'll be able to get all of them off?" asked Jack eagerly.
"I'm in hopes that we will," said Mr. Billings, "if nothing untoward happens."
There was, Jack noticed, a shade of anxiety in the young officer's tone. There was, then, some peril, of which he knew nothing as yet, attached to the enterprise, thought Jack. But of the nature of the danger he had no guess till later.
As the first boat, Mr. Billings' craft, drew alongside the blistering side of the burning ship, a Jacob's ladder came snaking down from the stern. At almost the same moment Jack, who had been looking upward, uttered a shout of alarm.
The fierce face of a wild beast had suddenly appeared above the rail of the blazing Oriana. The next instant a great lithe, striped body streaked through the air straight for the boat. Instinctively Jack, who saw the huge form of the tiger, for that was the desperate flame-maddened creature that had made the jump, sprang for the side of the boat and dived overboard.
He was not a second too soon. The tiger struck the side of the boat in the stern just where Jack had been sitting a fragment of a minute before. The boat heeled over as the great beast, mad with terror, clawed at its sides with its fore-paws and endeavored to climb in. Mr. Billings, pale but firm, whipped out his revolver with an untrembling hand while the men, utterly unnerved, dropped their oars and shouted with alarm.
Bang! The tiger gave a struggle that almost capsized the boat. Then, suddenly, its claws relaxed their hold and it slid into the water, limp and lifeless, shot between the eyes. But where was Jack? The question just occurred to Mr. Billings when, looking up suddenly, he saw something that made him yell a swift order at the top of his lungs.