"We are going to lose her in the darkness, after all," announced the lumberman, at about eight o'clock. "It's hard for me to see her, even now."
Half an hour later the Peacock disappeared in the gloom, and the chase, for the time being, came to an end.
THE ESCAPE FROM THE HOLD.
"Sam, is that you?"
"We are trapped!"
"It looks like it—or rather feels like it. I can't see a thing."
"Nor I. Did you find out anything about Dick?"
A groan came from the opposite end of the hold.
"Here I am. How in the world did you get here?"
"Dick, after all!" ejaculated Tom, and there was a slight trace of joy in his tone. "Are you O. K., old man?"
"Hardly. They dosed me with drugs until my mind is topsy-turvy."
"I'm glad you are alive," came from Sam. "Where are you?"
"Here, lying on a couple of boxes. Look out how you move about, or you may hurt yourselves."
Handcuffed as they were, Tom and Sam felt their way along through the dark hold until they reached their elder brother's side. They grasped his hands warmly.
"I'm glad we are together again, even if we are prisoners," remarked Tom, and this was his younger brother's sentiment, too.
"How did you get here?" asked Dick, and each told his story from beginning to end, and then the elder Rover had to relate his own adventures.
"I knew that old doctor wasn't telling the truth," burst out Tom. "Oh, but won't we have an account to settle with all of those chaps, if ever we get out of this scrape."
"Don't let us hurrah until we are out of the woods," added Dick soberly. "We are in the hands of a desperate gang, to my way of reasoning."
"The Baxters are certainly bad enough."
"And any boat captain who would go into this game with them is probably just as bad. Whom did you leave on the yacht?"
"Aleck, and the lumberman who was on the raft with you."
"I wonder if they will follow this schooner?"
No one could answer this question, and for several minutes there was a silence. During that time they heard heavy footsteps cross and recross the deck, but that was all. Presently the schooner began to rock slightly.
"The wind is coming up," said Tom. "We are moving ahead again."
"That's bad for us—if the schooner manages to run away from the yacht," rejoined Dick.
Soon the motion of the Peacock showed that the schooner was bowling along rapidly. They heard the creaking of tackle as additional sails were hoisted, and felt certain that the craft was making the best run at her command.
The hold had not been opened up for a long time, consequently the air was foul as well as stifling from the heat.
"I'd give something for some fresh air," said Sam. "How is it with you, Dick?"
"I want fresh air and a drink of water. I am as dry as a bale of cotton."
"Haven't they given you anything since you came on board?" asked Tom.
"Not a thing."
"The inhuman wretches! Oh, I wish I had Dan Baxter here—I'd punch his head good for him."
"Ditto the head of his rascally father," returned Dick. "I would like to know just where they intend to take me—or rather all of us, now. They certainly can't expect to keep us on board this craft."
"Perhaps they'll ship us to Canada."
"Hardly, since they couldn't land on the Canadian shore without an inspection of the vessel."
"They have some plan up their sleeve, that's certain."
Slowly the hours wore away, until all sounds on deck ceased, and they knew it must be well along in the night. Still the schooner kept on her course.
All of the boys had been working at their bonds, but without success. They wished they had a light, but neither Sam nor Tom had a match, and Dick's pockets were entirely bare. Tom and Sam were likewise minus their pistols, Arnold Baxter having taken the weapons away before placing them in the hold.
The night proved to be a truly horrible one for the boys, for the hold was overrun with rats, who became altogether too familiar. At first one of the pests ran over Tom's legs.
"A rat!" he cried. "Hi, scat!" And the frisky rodent scampered off, but speedily returned, followed by several others. After that they had a lively time of it for half an hour, when the rats left them as suddenly as they had appeared.
The storm, and their various adventures, had tired the boys out, and soon, in spite of the surroundings, one after another fell into a light doze. The sleep did all of them good, especially Dick, who declared on awakening that he felt almost as well as ever.
"Only I'm as hungry as a bear," he added.
"Ditto myself," came from Tom. "I move we try to break out of this dingy hole."
"All right; but where shall we break to?" put in Sam. "I can't see much more than I could last night."
The matter was talked over, and presently they scattered, to feel along the ribbed walls of the hold.
For a long time nobody felt anything of importance, but at last Sam let out a soft cry:
"I've found something of a door!"
"Good for you," answered Tom. "Can you open it?"
"No, there seems to be a bar or something on the other side."
The others rejoined the youngest Rover, and made out the door quite plainly, for there was a broad crack at the top and at the side opposite the hinges. There was a bar, true enough.
"If we had something that we could slip into that crack, we might move the bar," observed Dick.
"I slipped on a sheet of tin a while ago," said Tom. "Perhaps I can find that."
His hunt was successful, and soon they had the tin in the crack under the bar. The latter gave way with ease, and then they pulled the door open. Beyond was the passageway leading to the cabin.
"Now what's the next movement?" whispered Sam.
"Let us try to arm ourselves first of all," answered Dick. "Then, if we are cornered again, we may be able to make some kind of favorable terms."
He tiptoed his way into the cabin and found it deserted. On the table rested the remains of a breakfast served to several people, and he picked up half a loaf of bread and put it in the pocket of his jacket. Several boiled eggs followed.
On one of the walls of the cabin hung two old-fashioned swords and a brace of pistols. Without hesitation he took all of the weapons and returned with them to his brothers.
"Here are pistols and swords, and something to eat," he said. "There seems to be nobody around, so you can come into the cabin, if you wish."
All entered the compartment. Both water and a little coffee were handy, and they made a hasty repast. While eating, Tom hunted around the room and also looked into an adjoining stateroom. In the latter place he found a bunch of keys on a nail.
"If only one of 'em fits these handcuffs," he murmured, and they tried the keys without delay. One did fit, and in a few seconds they were free of their fetters.
"Now 'lay on, MacDuff!'" quoted Tom, as he swung aloft one of the swords. "We'll give them a warm reception, eh?"
"We'll do nothing of the kind," replied Dick hastily. "In this case silence is the better part of valor. We'll lay low until the time comes to make a move."
"What, do you mean to go back to the hold?" asked Sam.
"We may as well, for the present. It is broad daylight now. Perhaps we can escape at night."
"Do you suppose they took our rowboat along?" came from Tom.
"I shouldn't wonder. We can—— Hist! somebody is coming!"
Dick was right; Captain Langless was descending the companion way. On tiptoes the three boys hurried to the door leading to the hold. As they flung it back they found themselves confronted by Arnold Baxter and Dan.
GAINING A POINT.
The sudden turn of affairs chagrined the Rover boys greatly, and for the moment none of them knew what to say.
Arnold Baxter and Dan grinned at the trio sarcastically, and the bully was the first to break the silence.
"Didn't get away that time, did you?" he sneered.
"Ha! so they are here!" came from Captain Langless, who had just stepped into the cabin. "And without the handcuffs, too."
"Let us alone," cried Tom hotly. "If you touch me again, I'll shoot somebody." And so speaking, he raised one of the pistols taken from the cabin wall.
His aim was at Dan, and the bully fell back with a cry of terror, for, as old readers know, Dan was a coward at heart.
"Don't—don't shoot!" he faltered. "Don't!"
"My pistols!" burst out the captain of the Peacock, in a rage. "Hand those weapons over to me, do you hear?"
He took several steps forward, when Dick brought him to a halt by raising one of the swords.
It was a dramatic scene, of intense interest to all concerned. Arnold Baxter gazed at the armed youths in alarm, and Captain Langless grated his teeth.
"This is foolishness," said the owner of the schooner, after a painful pause. "If you try to fight you'll only get into worse trouble. We are, all told, ten to three, and the best thing you can do is to throw down those arms and submit."
"We won't submit," came from Sam, with a boldness which was astonishing in one of his years. His stirring adventures in Africa and in the West accounted for much of this valor.
"We are not going to remain on this vessel," said Dick. "And if you try to detain us further somebody will get hurt."
"You scamp!" fumed Arnold Baxter, and looked at the elder Rover as if to annihilate him with a glance. But Dick remained undaunted, and gradually Arnold Baxter fell back a few steps.
It must be confessed that the Rover boys felt far from comfortable. Here were two of the enemy on one side and one on the other, cutting off their escape in both directions. More than this, Captain Langless now raised his voice, and presently several rough-looking sailors came rushing into the cabin.
"Leave the hold," cried the owner of the schooner to the Baxters. "I reckon I know how to manage 'em."
Arnold Baxter understood, and at once took his son by the arm. The pair had come down into the hold by means of a ladder lowered through the forward hatchway. Now they ran for the ladder, mounted, and drew it up after them. Then the hatch was closed down as before.
In the meantime Captain Langless whispered to one of his sailors, and the tar ran to one of the staterooms and returned with an old-fashioned seven-shooter, fully a foot and a half long.
"Now get back there," ordered the owner of the schooner. "I won't have any more fooling."
"If you shoot, so will I," said Tom quickly.
"And so will I," added Sam.
"We had better have no bloodshed," continued the captain, trying to control himself. "Behave yourselves, and you'll be treated all right. Kick up a muss, and it will go hard with you."
"What do you intend to do with us?" questioned Dick curiously.
"You'll have to ask your friend Arnold Baxter about that."
"He is no friend of ours!" cried Tom. "He is our worst enemy—and you know it."
"If you behave yourself I'll see to it that no harm befalls you," continued Captain Langless. "I'm sorry I mixed up in this affair, but now I am in it I'm going to see it through."
"You are carrying us off against our will."
The owner of the Peacock shrugged his shoulders.
"You'll have to talk that over with Baxter and his son."
"You've been starving us."
"We were just going to furnish you with breakfast and a small keg of water."
"We don't want to stay in that foul-smelling hold," put in Sam. "It is enough to make a fellow sick."
"If you'll promise to behave yourselves, we may let you on deck part of the time."
"You'd better," grumbled Tom. He hardly knew what to say, and his brothers were in an equal quandary.
"Come, throw down your arms and we'll give you breakfast here in the cabin," continued Captain Langless. "You won't find me such a bad chap to deal with, when once you know me. You look like decent sort of fellows, and if you do the right thing I'll promise to see to it that the Baxters do the square thing, too. We'll be better off on a friendly footing than otherwise."
The owner of the Peacock spoke earnestly, and it must be admitted that he meant a large part of what he said. The manliness of the Rover boys pleased him, and he could not help but contrast it with the cowardice of the bully, Dan. Perhaps, too, behind it all, he was a bit sick of the job he had undertaken. He knew that he had virtually helped to kidnap the boys, and, if caught, this would mean a long term of imprisonment.
Dick looked at his two brothers, wondering what they would have to say. He realized that, after all, they were in a hopeless minority and were bound to lose in a hand-to-hand struggle.
"We may as well try them," he whispered. "If we fight, one of us may get killed."
They talked among themselves for several minutes, and then Dick turned to the captain.
"We'll submit for the present," he said. "But, mind you, we expect to be treated like gentlemen."
"And you will be treated as such," answered Captain Langless, glad that there would be no struggle. "Come into the cabin and stack those weapons in the corner. They were never meant for anything but wall decorations," and he laughed somewhat nervously.
The three lads entered the cabin and put down the weapons. They kept their eyes on the captain and his men, but there was no move to molest them.
"You can go," said Captain Langless to the sailors. "And, Wilson, send the cook here for orders."
The sailors departed, and with something of a grim smile on his furrowed face the owner of the Peacock dropped into a seat near the companionway door. He had just started to speak again when there was a noise outside and Arnold Baxter appeared.
"Have you subdued the rascals?" he questioned hastily.
"Reckon I have," was the slow answer, "Leas'wise, they have thrown down their weapons."
"Then why don't you handcuff them again, the rats!"
"We are no rats, and I'll trouble you to be civil," returned Dick firmly.
"Ha! I'll show you!" howled Arnold Baxter, and would have rushed at Dick had not the captain interposed.
"Hold on, sir," were the words of the ship's owner. "We have called a truce. They have promised to behave themselves if we treat them squarely, and so there are to be no more back-bitings."
"But—er—" Arnold Baxter was so astonished he could scarcely speak. "You are not going to put them in the hold?"
"Not for the present."
"They will run away."
"How can they, when we are out of sight of land?"
"They ought to be chained down."
"Supposing you let me be the judge of that, Mr. Baxter. I promised to do certain things for you. If I do them, you'll have no cause to complain."
"Have you decided to take these boys' part?" ejaculated Arnold Baxter, turning pale.
"I have made up my mind that treating them like beasts won't do any good."
"They don't deserve it."
"Don't deserve what?"
"To be well treated. They are—are—"
"Young gentlemen," finished Tom. "The captain knows gentlemen when he sees them, even if you don't."
"Don't talk to me, Tom Rover."
"I will talk whenever I please. I am not your slave."
"But you are in my power, don't forget that."
At this moment the cook of the schooner appeared.
"What's wanted?" he asked of the captain.
"Bring some breakfast for these three young gentlemen," said Captain Langless. "Some fresh coffee and bread and some fried eggs and potatoes."
At this order Arnold Baxter stood fairly aghast. "You are going to let them dine here?" he gasped.
"But—but you must be crazy. They will—er—think they are running the ship!"
"No, they won't. Leave them to me, and I'm sure we will get along all right. Come, let us go on deck."
"What! and leave them alone?"
"I will send a man down to see that they don't get into mischief."
"But I don't like this turn of affairs," stammered Arnold Baxter. He was half afraid the captain was going back on him.
"It's all right; come," answered the owner of the Peacock; and a moment later both men quitted the cabin.
A DINNER OF IMPORTANCE.
"The captain isn't such a bad fellow, after all," observed Sam, when the three Rovers were left to themselves.
"He certainly isn't a brute," answered Dick. "But about being bad, that's another story."
"He's got an awfully shrewd face," put in Tom. "But I'm mighty glad he turned old Baxter down. That villain would ride over us roughshod."
"I think, all told, we have gained a point," continued Dick. "It's something to be treated decently, even if you are a prisoner. The question is, how long will we be caged up on board of the schooner?"
"I would like to know if the Swallow is in sight," said Tom. "Wonder if I can't slip up the companion way and find out?"
He arose from the seat into which he had dropped, but before he could gain the doorway a sailor appeared and waved him back. Then the sailor took the seat the captain had occupied by the door.
"Are you sent to spy on us?" demanded Tom,
"I was sent to see that you didn't cut up any tricks," answered the tar. He was terribly crosseyed, but appeared to be rather good-natured. "You mustn't go on deck without the captain's permission."
"Can't we have any fresh air?"
"You'll have to ask the captain about that He said I was to watch you while you had breakfast, and keep you and those other folks from quarreling."
"What other folks, the Baxters?"
No more was said, and soon the cook appeared with a pot full of newly made coffee and a trayful of other things. The hasty lunch had been a scanty one, and it did not interfere with the boys' appetites for what was now set before them.
"This is all right," observed Sam, when he had almost finished eating. "We couldn't have a better meal on the Swallow." He turned to the sailor. "Is the yacht still in sight?"
He spoke carelessly, but the tar knew how much he was interested and smiled suggestively.
"No sail of any kind in sight."
"Where are we bound?"
"You'll have to ask the captain about that"
"Do you mean to say you don't know?"
The sailor nodded. "We follow orders, we do, and that's all," he observed, and then they could get nothing more out of him.
The boys took their time, yet the meal was finished inside of half an hour. They were just getting up from the table when Captain Langless reappeared.
"Well, how did the breakfast suit?" he asked.
"First-rate," returned Dick. "Now, if you don't mind, we would like to go on deck."
"You may do so under one condition."
"And that is——?"
"That you will go below again when ordered by me."
At this both Tom and Sam cut wry faces.
"You are rather hard on us," said Dick slowly.
"On the contrary, I think I am treating you generously. The Baxters wish to handcuff you and put you back into the hold."
There was a pause, and then the boys agreed, if allowed to go on deck, to go below again whenever the captain wished.
"But, remember, we are going to get away if we can," added Dick.
"All right, get away—if you can," rejoined Captain Langless. "If you go overboard you'll be in for a long swim, I can tell you that."
It felt good to get into the bright sunshine once more, and the boys tumbled up to the deck without ceremony. As soon as they had quitted the cabin the captain put away the weapons at hand, locking them in a closet.
As the sailor had said, no other craft was in sight, and on every hand stretched the calm waters of Lake Erie as far as eye could reach. The course was northwest, and Dick rightfully guessed that they were heading for the Detroit River. There was a stiff breeze blowing and, with every sail set, the Peacock was making rapid headway.
It was not long before Dan Baxter came up to them. The bully's face was dark and threatening, yet he did not dare say much, for Captain Langless had given him warning that the prisoners must not be molested.
"I suppose you think it a fine thing to be up here," he began.
"It will be if we don't get too much of you." replied Tom bluntly. "I suppose you would give a good deal to be on land."
"Not particularly. We enjoy sailing. If not, we wouldn't have been out in our yacht/'
"Where were you bound?"
"That was our business, Baxter."
"Oh, if you don't want to tell me, you needn't," growled the bully, and walked away.
"I'll wager he and his father have had a row with Captain Langless," observed Dick. "Otherwise he wouldn't be half so meek."
"I wish we could win Captain Langless over to our side," put in Sam suddenly, struck by the idea. "Do you suppose it could be done if we paid him well?"
"I'd hate to buy him off," said Tom.
"But it might be best," said Dick slowly. "We don't know what the Baxters may have in store for us."
"It's pretty plain to me what they want to do. They are going to hold us prisoners until father signs off his rights to that mining claim."
"And if father won't sign off?"
"Then they'll treat us pretty badly."
"Perhaps they'll kill us."
"We can sound Captain Langless—it won't do any harm."
"But you mustn't let the Baxters get an inkling of what is up."
For the present the captain was not in sight, having retired to the stern to consult Arnold Baxter upon several points. They remained on deck until noon, when the cook called them to dinner in the cabin. They found they were to dine with Captain Langless.
"I asked the Baxters to join us, but they declined," he observed, as they sat down. "Now I am not so high-toned."
"You mean you are not such a fool," returned Dick. "For myself, I am glad they are staying away. My meal would be spoiled if I had to eat with them."
"They are very bitter against you, that's certain," went on the owner of the schooner smoothly. "They want me to do all sorts of mean things. But I have declined. I am playing a game with them, but I want to do it as be comes a man."
Dick looked around, to see that no outsider was within earshot. "Why do you play the game with them, Captain Langless?" he whispered.
The owner of the schooner frowned.
"Well, one must make a living, if you want an answer," he returned shortly.
"True, but you might make a living more honestly."
"By helping us, for instance," added Tom.
"By helping you?"
"Yes, by helping us," resumed Dick.
"I must say, lads, I don't quite understand you." The captain looked at them sharply, as if anxious for either to proceed.
"Let us review the situation," continued the eldest of the Rovers. "In the first place, we take it that you have been hired by the Baxters to do a certain thing."
"The Baxters have promised to pay you for your work and for the use of your vessel."
"You are running on dangerous ground, and if you get tripped up it means a long term of imprisonment."
"You are a clever fellow, Rover, and your school training does you credit. However, I don't know as any of us expect to get tripped up."
"No criminal does until he is caught."
"There may be something in that. But I am willing to take my chances. As the old saying goes: 'Nothing ventured, nothing gained.'"
"But wouldn't you rather venture on the right side?"
"You want me to come to terms; is that it?"
"We do. We can make it worth your while, if you will help us and help bring the Baxters to justice. Do you know that Arnold Baxter is an escaped convict, who got out of a New York prison on a forged pardon?"
"No, I know very little of the man."
"He is a bad one, and his son is little better. Standing in with them is a serious business. I don't know much about you, but you don't look like a man who is bad by choice."
At this the captain of the Peacock let out a light laugh. "You talk as if you were a man of deep experience instead of a mere boy."
"I have had some experience, especially with bad folks—not only in this country, but in Africa, so that gives me an age not counted by years. To my mind it seems that a man ought to be more willing to make money honestly than dishonestly."
A long silence followed this speech.
"Tell me what you have to offer," said the captain, and leaned back in his chair to listen.
It was easy to see that Captain Langless was "feeling his way," as the saying is, and Dick felt that he must go slow or he might spoil everything. Criminals are of all shades and degrees, and look at affairs in a different light from honest men. It is said that some would rather be dishonest than honest, and Dick did not yet know how the owner of the Peacock stood on that point.
"Perhaps you had better tell us first what Arnold Baxter has offered you," said the elder Rover, as he looked the owner of the schooner squarely in the eyes.
"Well, he has offered considerable, if his schemes go through."
"And if they fail you get nothing."
"I am a good loser—so I shan't complain."
"Supposing I was to offer you several hundred dollars if you saw us safe on shore."
"How can you offer any money? You haven't got it with you, have you?"
"No. But I could get the money, and what I promised to pay I would pay."
"But several hundred dollars wouldn't be enough."
"If you helped to bring the Baxters to justice we might make it a thousand dollars," put in Tom, who was now as anxious as Dick to bring the captain to terms.
At the mention of a thousand dollars the eyes of Captain Langless glistened. The sum was not large, but it was sufficient to interest him. He had already received three hundred dollars from Arnold Baxter, as a guarantee of good faith, so to speak, but there was no telling how much more he could expect from that individual. If he could obtain thirteen hundred dollars all told, and get out of the affair on the safe side, he might be doing well.
"How would you pay this thousand dollars?" he asked.
"Our father would pay it. He is a fairly rich man, and anxious to see Arnold Baxter returned to prison."
"To get the man out of his path?"
"Partly that, and partly to see justice done. Come, what do you say?"
Before the captain could answer there came a call down the companion way.
"Two vessels in sight—a schooner and a steam tug," announced a sailor.
"Coming this way?" asked the master of the schooner.
Captain Langless arose at once.
"I will have to ask you to step into the hold again," he said politely, but firmly. "I will talk over what you have offered later."
He motioned to the passageway leading to the hold. Sam was on the point of objecting, but Dick silenced him with a look.
"All right, we'll go," grumbled Tom. "But I'm going to take the dessert with me," and he took up a bowl of rice pudding and a spoon. Dick followed with a pitcher of water and a glass, at which the captain had to grin. As soon as they were in the hold the owner of the schooner bolted the door and fixed it so that it might not again be opened from the inside.
"Two ships in sight!" cried Sam, when they were alone. "We ought to have made a dash for liberty."
"It wouldn't have helped us," answered his oldest brother. "Those vessels must be some distance away, and before they came up we would be down here, handcuffed, and in disgrace with the captain. If we treat him right, we may win him over and finish the Baxters' game."
Sitting in the darkness they took their time about eating the rice pudding, and Dick placed the water where it could be found when wanted. Then they listened for the approach of the two vessels which the lookout had sighted.
Yet hour after hour went by and nothing of importance reached their ears. The vessels came up and passed them, and then the Peacock turned in for the mouth of the Detroit River. Soon the boys knew, by the steam whistles and other sounds, that the schooner was approaching some sort of harbor.
A dreary evening and night followed. The Peacock came to a standstill, and they heard the sails come down and the anchors dropped. But nobody came to them, and they had to sink to rest supperless. They remained awake until after midnight, then dozed off one after another.
When they awoke a surprise awaited them. The hold was lit up by the rays of a bright lantern hung on a hook near the door leading to the cabin passageway. Below the lantern stood a tray filled with eatables, and near at hand was a bucket of fresh water and half a dozen newspapers and magazines.
"By Jinks, this is not so bad!" observed Tom. "We are to have breakfast, that's certain."
"And reading to occupy our spare time," added Sam.
Dick, however, looked at the layout with a fallen face. "I don't like it," he said. "This looks too much as if the captain and the others meant to keep us here for some time."
"I suppose that's so," came from Tom, and then he, too, looked crestfallen.
"Well, let us make the best of it," said Sam, and began to eat, and the others did the same. Since time seemed no object they ate slowly, in the meantime reviewing the situation from every possible standpoint, but without arriving at any satisfactory conclusion.
They had allowed their watches to run down, so there was no telling what time it was. But at last a faint streak of sunshine, coming through a seam in the deck, told that it must be near noon. Yet no one came near them, and all was as silent, close at hand, as a tomb, although in the distance they heard an occasional steam whistle or other sound common to a great city.
There was nothing in the hold by which to reach the hatchway, but, growing weary of waiting, Tom dragged a box hither and asked Dick and Sam to stand upon it. Then he climbed on their shoulders, to find his head directly against the beams of the deck. He pushed with all of his strength on the hatch, to find it battened down on the outside.
"Stumped!" he cried laconically, and leaped to the floor of the hold. "We are prisoners and no mistake."
After this they went back to the door leading to the cabin. But this likewise could not be moved, and in the end they sat down a good deal discouraged.
It was well toward night when they heard a noise at the door. As they leaped up, expecting to see the Baxters or Captain Langless, the barrier opened and the cook of the schooner appeared, backed up by two of the sailors. The cook had another trayful of food, which he passed to Dick in silence, taking the other tray in exchange.
"Where is Captain Langless?" asked Tom.
"Can't come now," answered the cook.
"Then send the Baxters here."
"They can't come either."
"Have they gone ashore?" questioned Dick.
"I can't answer any questions," and the cook started to back out.
"Who is in charge? We must see somebody."
"I am in charge," said a rough voice, and now the mate of the schooner thrust himself forward. "You had better be quiet until the cap'n gits back."
"Then he has gone ashore?"
"Yes, if you must know."
"And the Baxters with him."
"Yes, but all hands will be back soon."
"Are we in Detroit harbor?"
"Then I'm for escaping!" shouted Tom, and taking up the water pitcher he aimed it at the mate's head. The blow struck fairly, and the sailor went down, partly stunned. Seeing the success of his move Tom leaped for the passageway, and Dick and Sam followed their brother.
DICK MAKES HIS ESCAPE.
There are times when a movement made on the spur of the moment is more successful than one which is premeditated. The enemy is taken completely off guard and does not realize what is happening until it is over.
It was so in the present instance. The mate of the Peacock was a tough customer and a heavy-built man, and the men behind him were also large, and none of the three had imagined that the boys would really undertake to combat them.
As the mate went down Tom leaped directly on top of him, thus holding him to the floor for the moment, and then struck out for the nearest man, hitting him in the chin. Then Dick came to his brother's aid with a blow that reached the sailor's ear, and he too fell back.
But the third man had a second to think, and he retaliated by a blow which nearly lifted poor Tom off his feet. But before he could strike out a second time, Sam, with the nimbleness of a monkey, darted in and caught him by one leg. Dick saw the movement, gave the sailor a shove, and the tar pitched headlong in the passageway.
The opening was now tolerably clear, and away went the three boys for the cabin, gaining the compartment before any of the men could follow. The door to the companion way was open, and up the steps they flew with all the speed at their command. They heard the sailors yell at them and use language unfit to print, but paid no heed. Their one thought was to put distance between themselves and those who wished to keep them prisoners.
"Stop! stop!" roared the mate. "Stop, or it will be the worse for you!"
"I guess we know what we are doing!" panted Tom. "Come on!" And he caught Sam by the arm.
The deck gained, they gave a hasty look around. The schooner was lying at anchor about a hundred yards from shore, at a short distance above the busy portion of the city.
"There ought to be a small boat handy," said Dick, leading the way to the stern.
"We can't wait for a boat," answered Sam. "Let us swim for it. Perhaps somebody will come and pick us up." And without further ado he leaped overboard. Seeing this, his brothers did likewise, and all three struck out boldly for the nearest dock.
It was a risky thing to do, with all their clothing on, but each was a good swimmer and the weather had made the water very warm. On they went, keeping as closely together as possible.
"Are you coming back?" furiously yelled the mate, as he reached the rail and shook his fist at them.
To this none of the boys made reply.
"If you don't come back I'll shoot at you," went on the man.
"Do you think he will shoot?" asked Sam, in alarm.
"No," answered Dick. "We are too close to the city, and there are too many people who would hear the shot."
"A boat is putting off from the shore," said Tom, a second later. "It contains three persons."
"Captain Langless and the Baxters!" burst out Dick. "Dive, and swim as hard as you can down the stream."
All promptly dove, and the weight of their clothing kept them under as long as they pleased to remain. When they came up they heard the mate yelling frantically to those in the boat, who did not at once comprehend the turn affairs had taken.
But when they saw the boys they began to row toward them with all swiftness.
"We must recapture them," cried Arnold Baxter. "If they get away, our cake will be dough."
"Then row as hard as you can," replied Captain Langless. He was at one pair of oars while Arnold Baxter was at another. Dan sat in the bow.
Slowly, but surely, the craft drew closer to the Rover boys, until it was less than a hundred feet off. Then it was seen that the lads had separated and were moving in three directions. Dick had ordered this.
"If we separate, they won't catch all of us," were his words. "And whoever escapes can inform the authorities."
On pushed the boys, striving as never before to gain the shore before the rowboat should come up to them.
The small craft headed first for Tom, and presently it glided close to him. He promptly dove, but when he came up Captain Langless caught him by the hair.
"It's no use, lad," said the captain firmly, and despite his struggles hauled him on board.
"Let me go!" roared Tom and kicked out lively. But the captain continued to hold him down, while Arnold Baxter now headed the boat toward Sam.
Sam was almost exhausted, for the weight of his wet garments was beginning to tell upon him. As the rowboat came closer he also thought to dive, but the effort almost cost him his life. He came up half unconscious, and only realized in a dim, uncertain way what was happening.
But the capture of Tom and his younger brother had taken time, and now those in the rowboat saw that Dick was almost to shore. To take him, therefore, was out of the question.
"We'll have to let him go," said Captain Langless. "The quicker the Peacock gets out of this the better."
"Yes, but if he gets away he'll make the ship no end of trouble," returned Arnold Baxter. "I've half a mind to fire at him," and he drew a pistol.
"No! no! I won't have it," cried the captain sternly. "To the schooner, and the quicker the better."
Holding Tom, he made the Baxters turn the boat about and row to the Peacock. The mate was waiting for him, and it did not take long to get on board. The mate wished to explain matters, but Captain Lawless would not listen.
"Another time, Cadmus," he said sharply. "Into the hold with them, and see they don't get away again. We must up sail and anchor without the loss of a minute. That boy who got away is going to make trouble for us."
"Aye, aye, sir!" said Cadmus, and dragged the unfortunates away to the hatch. He dropped both down without ceremony, and then saw to it that hatch and door were tightly closed and made fast.
In a few minutes the anchors were up and the sails hoisted, and the Peacock was steering straight up Lake St. Clair toward the St. Clair River. To reach Lake Huron the schooner would have to cover a distance of seventy-five to eighty miles, and the captain wondered if this could be done ere the authorities got on their track.
"Once on Lake Huron we will be safe enough," he observed to Arnold Baxter. "I know the lake well, and know of half a dozen islands near the Canadian shore where we will be safe in hiding."
"But that boy may telegraph to St. Clair or Port Huron, or some other point, and have the Peacock held up," answered Arnold Baxter.
"We've got to run that risk," was the grim reply. "If we get caught, I'll have an account to settle with Cadmus."
A while later the mate and the sailors who had been with him were called into the cabin, so that Captain Langless might hear what they had to say. The mate told a long story of how the boys had broken open the door leading to the cabin, with a crowbar, obtained from he knew not where, and had fought them with the bar and with a club and a pistol. There had been a fierce struggle, but the lads had slipped away like eels. The sailors corroborated the mate's tale, and added that the boys had fought like demons.
"I'll fix them for that," said Arnold Baxter, when he heard the account. "They'll find out who is master before I get through with them."
But this did not suit Captain Langless, who had not forgotten his talk with the Rovers at the dinner table. If it looked as if he was going to be cornered, he thought that a compromise with Tom and Sam would come in very handy.
"You mustn't mistreat the boys," he said, when Cadmus and the other sailors were gone. "It won't help your plot any, and it will only cause more trouble."
"You seem to be taking the affair out of my hands," growled Arnold Baxter.
"I know I am running a larger risk than you," answered the captain. "I own this craft, and if she is confiscated I'll be the loser."
"But see what I have offered you."
"Yes, if we win out, as the saying goes. But things won't be so nice if we lose, will they?"
"I don't intend to lose. I have a scheme on hand for getting to Lake Huron before to-morrow morning."
"By what means?"
"Hire a large and swift tug to haul the Peacock. We can make splendid time, considering that the schooner is without a cargo."
"Who is going to pay the towing bill?"
"How much will it be?"
"The kind of tug you want will cost about fifty dollars."
"All right then, I'll pay the bill."
The idea pleased the captain, and the bargain was struck then and there.
Half an hour later a tug was sighted and hailed, and the captain told a story of a "rush job" waiting for him at Port Huron. A bargain was struck for the towing, and soon a hawser was cast over to the schooner and the race for Lake Huron began.
WHAT THE LAME MAN KNEW.
Dick was not aware that his brothers had been captured until some hours after the sailing of the schooner. He headed for a part of the river where several small craft were moving about, and was just about to climb up the spiling of one of the docks when a lighter hit him and knocked him senseless.
"We've struck a boy!" shouted a man on the lighter, and then rushed forward with a boathook. As soon as he caught sight of Dick he fished the youth from the water and hurried ashore with him.
The shock had not been a heavy one, but the lad was weak from swimming with his clothes on, and he lay like a log on the flooring of the dock. This alarmed the men from the lighter, and they hastily carried him to a nearby drug store and summoned a doctor. From the drug store he was removed to the hospital.
When he was strong enough to go about his business he found it was night Yet he lost no time in making his way to the docks, on a search for his brothers.
The search was, of course, useless, and much depressed in spirits he found himself, at sunrise, on the waterfront, seated on the stringpiece of one of the long piers.
"They must have either been captured or drowned," he mused dismally. "And the Peacock is gone, too. What shall I do next?"
It was far from an easy question to answer, and he sat motionless for the best part of half an hour, reviewing the situation. Then he leaped up.
"I must get the authorities to aid me," he thought. "I should have done this before."
He walked along the docks until he came to a street leading to the nearest police station. He now realized that he was hungry, but resolved to postpone eating until he had put the authorities on the track of the evildoers.
As he was turning a corner he almost ran into a colored man going in the opposite direction. The colored man stared at him, then let out a wild cry of delight.
"Massah Dick, or is I dreamin'?"
"Aleck, by all that's wonderful! Where did you come from?"
"From de yacht, ob course, Massah Dick. But—but—dis knocks dis niggah, suah! I dun fink yo' was on dat udder ship."
"I was on it, but I escaped yesterday, while the schooner lay in the river yonder."
"An' where am Tom and Sam, sah?"
"That I don't know. They left the vessel with me, but we became separated in the water."
"Perhaps da dun been cotched ag'in," and Pop's face took on a sober look.
"That is what I am afraid of."
"Didn't see nuffin ob 'em nowhere?"
"No. I was hit by a lighter and knocked senseless."
"Whar's dat dar Peacock?"
"Wot you spects to do?"
"I was going to inform the authorities. We must find Tom and Sam."
"Dat's right, sah."
"Where is the Swallow?"
"Tied up jest below heah, sah. Dat dar Luke Peterson is a-sailin' ob her wid me."
"Good. Perhaps he can help us in the search. He knows these waters well, so he told me."
Together the pair made their way to the police station, where they told their stories to the officer in charge.
An alarm was at once sent out, and the river police were set to work to learn what had become of the Peacock and her crew.
But all this took time, and it was past noon when word came in that the schooner had been seen moving up Lake St. Clair on the afternoon of the day before.
Then word was telegraphed to Port Huron to stop the craft, and on his own responsibility Dick offered a reward of one hundred dollars for the capture of ship and master.
But all this came too late. Losing no time, Captain Langless had had his craft towed to a point fifteen miles beyond Port Huron, and had then let the tug go, and steered a course known only to those on board.
The tug did not return to Port Huron until the next day, and its captain did not know how much the Peacock was wanted until twenty-four hours later. Thus the schooner obtained a free and clear start of thirty-six hours over those who were in pursuit.
"We are stumped," groaned Dick, when word came back from Port Huron that the Peacock had passed that point long before. "That schooner now has the whole of Lake Huron before her, and there is no telling where she will go. Perhaps the Baxters will land in Canada."
"I don't think so," answered Luke Peterson. "American vessels coming in-shore are closely watched, you know, on account of the smuggling that is carried on."
"Then the smugglers between the United States and Canada are still at work."
"Indeed they are, more so than the average American has any idea of. I used to be in the customs service, and I know."
"Where do you suppose Captain Langless will go to?"
"Ah, that's a question, Rover. The lake is over two hundred miles long, and I've heard tell that there are over twenty-five hundred islands, large and small. That's a pretty good place for a ship to hide in, eh?"
"And you reckon the Peacock will go into hiding?"
"More than likely, while these Baxters carry out their little game— that is, providing your brothers are on board—and I fancy they are. I can tell ye, I fancy they are a tough crowd all around."
"Well, one comfort, the Peacock won't get very far anywhere along shore without being spotted, for the police have sent the news to all principal places."
"Well, that's a good plan. Now if we could only follow that schooner up—"
"Will you go with me in a hunt? I will willingly pay you for your services."
"I will. But we ought to have a steam tug instead of a yacht."
"I will charter one. I have already telegraphed to my father for the necessary funds," returned Dick, and he told the truth. The long telegram had gone an hour before. He had also sent word to Larry Colby, telling of the turn of affairs.
The telegram to Mr. Rover brought a characteristic reply, running as follows:
"I send you the money you want. Be careful and keep out of danger. Will come on by the first train."
The message to Larry Colby brought that student up to Detroit on the first train from Sandusky.
"I know just the steam tug you want," said Larry, when the situation was explained. "It is rum by old Jack Parsons, who knows my father well. I know he will do all he can for you, if he is paid for his time."
Larry Colby undertook to hunt up the tug, which was named the Rocket, and found her tied up at one of the city docks. He introduced Dick, and before the hour was out a bargain was struck with Jack Parsons which was satisfactory all around. Parsons knew Luke Peterson, and said he would be glad to have the lumberman along on the hunt.
"He knows this lake as well as I do, and between us we ought to find the Peacock, sooner or later," said Parsons. He had heard about the raft disaster on Lake Erie, and was pleased to be able to inform Peterson that his friend Bragin was safe. The tug, however, which had been towing the raft, was laid up in Buffalo for repairs.
At first Dick thought to remain in Detroit until his father's arrival, but then he realized that it would be best for one of them to remain on shore while the other went on the hunt on the lake.
"We will sail at once," he said to his companions, but this could not be, since Aleck had not yet provided all of the necessary provisions for the trip.
While the colored man was completing his arrangements a newsboy came to Dick with a note, running as follows:
"If you want news of the Peacock, and will promise not to harm me, come with the boy to the old grain elevator. The boy knows the place."
Dick read the note with interest, and then showed it to Peterson.
"Perhaps it's a trap," said the lumberman. "I wouldn't go alone, if I were you."
"I will go," answered Dick, "but I wish you would follow me up on the quiet," and so it was arranged.
When Dick reached the place mentioned he found it practically deserted.
"Who gave you that note?" he asked of the newsboy.
"A man. Here he comes, now."
The newcomer proved to be a lame man, who had in former years been a sailor. He lived in a shanty behind the grain elevator, and he came to Dick with difficulty.
"Come into my shanty and I'll tell you what I know," said the lame man. "I'll not hurt you, so don't be afraid," and he hobbled off again.
Waving his hand to Peterson, who was in the distance, Dick followed the lame man and sat down on a bench in front of the shanty, the odd individual seating himself on a stool opposite.
"Want to find Captain Gus Langless, eh?" said the lame man, closing one eye suggestively.
"I read of the case in the papers. He's a bad un, eh?"
"What do you know of the case?" demanded Dick impatiently. He realized that he had a decidedly queer individual with whom to deal.
"Know everything; yes, sir, everything. Jock Pelly don't keep his ears open for nothing, not me. An' I said to myself when I read the papers, 'Jock, you've learned something of value—you must sell the news,' says I to myself."
"But what do you know?"
"Gettin' to that, sir; gettin' there fast, too. Did you offer a reward of a hundred dollars?"
"Who's going to pay that amount? It's a pile of money, a hundred dollars is."
"It will be paid, you can be easy on that point."
"Well, supposin' a man is lame and can't go after those rascals? What does he git for puttin' somebody on the track?"
"If you put me on the right track, I'll give you fifty dollars."
"Yes. Now where has the Peacock gone to?"
"Needle Point Island," was the abrupt answer. "Go there, an' you'll find the Peacock and her crew, sure."
OFF FOR NEEDLE POINT ISLAND.
"Needle Point Island?" repeated Dick.
"Exactly, sir—Needle Point Island. Most of the lake pilots know it."
"How far is it from here?"
"About sixty miles."
"And how do you know the Peacock has gone there?"
"Overheard Captain Langless talking about it, yes, sir—overheard him talking to a man named Baxter and a man named Grimsby—he as used to be a smuggler. Langless used to be in with Grimsby, although few know o' that. They talked a lot, but that wouldn't interest you. But the fact that they are goin' to Needle Point Island interests you, eh?"
"When did you hear this talk?"
"The morning you escaped from the schooner, accordin' to the newspaper."
"Where did you hear it?"
"Up on the other side of the elevator. The men came out of one o' the saloons to talk it over."
A long conversation followed, and Dick became more than half convinced that what Jock Pelly had to relate was true.
The man described the Baxters clearly, showing that he had really seen the pair, and also described Captain Langless' appearance on the morning in question.
"I will follow up this clew," Dick said, when ready to depart.
Jock Pelly caught the youth by the arm.
"What do you want now?"
"My reward. Don't I get that fifty dollars?"
"You do, if I catch the captain and his schooner."
"That aint fair—I ought to have the money now."
"I must prove what you have told me first You may be all wrong in your suppositions."
Jock Pelly's face fell.
"'Taint fair—I ought to have the money now. Maybe you won't ever come back."
"Don't alarm yourself, my man. If the information is of real value, you'll get paid for it. Here is something on account."
Dick slipped a five-dollar bill into the old man's hand, at which Jock Pelly's face relaxed. A few minutes later the elder Rover had joined Luke Peterson and was telling the lumberman what he had heard.
"Needle Point Island!" exclaimed Peterson. "Yes, I know the spot Years ago it was a great hanging-out place for smugglers. But our government cleaned out the nest."
"Then it is likely that this man told the truth?"
"I don't know as Captain Langless could find a better hiding place. The island is in the shape of a five-leaf clover, and the bays are all surrounded with tall trees and bushes, so that a vessel could be hidden there without half trying. Besides that, the island is a rough one, full of caves and openings, and that would just suit a crowd holding those boys prisoners."
When the pair reached the Rocket a consultation was held, and it was decided to start for Needle Point Island on the following morning. Jack Parsons said it would take from five to six hours to reach the locality.
Now that Dick had received what he thought was definite information, he was anxious to go to the island that had been mentioned, consequently the night proved a long and sleepless one to him. He awaited further news from his father, but none came.
But information did come which disturbed him not a little. He was speaking to Larry before retiring, and from one thing to another the conversation drifted around to Mrs. Stanhope, the widow who lived near Putnam Hall, and her pretty daughter Dora. As old readers know Dick was tremendously interested in pretty Dora, and had done much to keep her from harm.
"Before I came on, I heard that the Stanhopes had started on a trip for the lakes," said Larry. "They left Cedarville secretly, and I got the news quite by accident from Frank Harrington, who happened to see them off."
"I knew they were going, sooner or later," replied Dick. "Mrs. Stanhope was rather ill, as you know, and needed a change of some sort."
"I was wondering if she didn't want to get out of the way of Josiah Crabtree, who is just out of prison," continued Larry. "Oh, but wasn't he a slick one for getting around the widow—when he learned she was holding all that money in trust for Dora."
"He's something of a hypnotist, Larry—that is why Dora fears him. She is afraid he will hypnotize her mother into doing something she will be sorry for afterward."
"Do you really suppose he has so much influence as that?"
"He has when Mrs. Stanhope is not feeling well. The stronger she is, the less he seems to affect her. By the way, have you heard from old Crabtree since he was let out of jail?"
"Yes; some of us boys met him at Ithaca one Saturday. We started to have a little fun with him, asking him why he didn't come back to the Hall and ask Captain Putnam for another position, and how he liked live crabs in his bed. But he flew in a rage and threatened to have us all arrested if we didn't clear out, so we had to drop it. But I'll tell you one thing, Dick; I'll wager Crabtree's up to no good."
"Oh! he might possibly turn over a new leaf."
"Not he; it isn't in him. He was always a sneak, like Baxter, only a bit more high-toned, outwardly."
"I am anxious to know if he is aware where the Stanhopes have gone to?"
"I think he could find out if he tried hard. They made a mistake that they didn't go traveling before he got out of jail."
"They couldn't go, on account of Mrs. Stanhope's health. She had a relapse just about the time Crabtree's term was up. But he had better not bother them again, or—"
"Or what, Dick? Will you get after him again?"
"I will if I can, and I'll send him to jail for the rest of his life."
The Rocket was to sail at six in the morning, and long before that time Dick and Larry, with the others, were on board. Jack Parsons reached the tug at the last moment, having had some private business which required his attention.
The day was fair, with a stiff breeze blowing, which was good for the Peacock, as Dick observed, if she was still sailing the waters of the lake.
Jack Parsons knew Needle Point Island as well as did Luke Peterson, and the former said he had stopped at the place only a few months before.
"I thought it was deserted," he said. "The old cave the smugglers used to use was tumbled in and overgrown with brush."
The run to Port Huron occurred without incident, and a little while later the Rocket was steaming merrily over the clear waters of Lake Huron.
Had it not been for his anxiety concerning his two brothers, Dick would have enjoyed the scene very much. The Rocket was a fine tug, and cut the water like a thing of life. She carried a crew of five, all young and active fellows. This made the party eight, all told, and as Dick and his friends were armed and the tug boasted of several pistols, a gun, and a small cannon, those on board felt themselves able to cope with the enemy, no matter what occurred.
"We can't get there any too soon for me," said Dick to Luke Peterson. "There is no telling how cruelly Sam and Tom are being treated, now that they made the attempt to run away."
"I hope your father doesn't give the rascals any money before we have a chance to catch them," returned the lumberman.
"I think he will wait to hear from me, after he reads the letter I left for him at Detroit. He is as down on the Baxters as I am,"
"When we come in sight of the island we'll have to move with caution," went on the lumberman. "If we don't, Captain Langless may lay low and give us the slip in the dark."
"Are there any other islands close to Needle Point?"
"A dozen of them, and some with just as good hiding places, too. That's why the smugglers used to hang out in that locality. They are ideal places for smugglers' caves and the like, I can tell ye that," and Luke Peterson nodded his head sagaciously.
At noon Parsons announced that they were within three miles of Needle Point Island. Dinner was ready, but it must be confessed that Dick was almost too excited to eat. Half a dozen vessels had thus far been sighted, but not one which looked like the Peacock.
He was finishing up a hasty repast when a cry came from the deck.
"Needle Point Island is in sight!" announced the lookout, and a moment later he added: "A schooner bearing away to the bay on the east end!"
"It must be the Peacock!" ejaculated Dick, and rushed to the deck to learn the truth.
A CAVE AND A SNAKE.
"Now we are in for it, Sam. They won't give us a second chance to escape."
A groan was the answer, coming from out of the darkness of the hold of the Peacock. Sam was too much stunned and bruised to reply to the words from his brother.
The two boys had been hustled on board of the schooner with scant ceremony, and now they found themselves bound and handcuffed, so that it was next to impossible for either of them to move. Hour after hour had passed, yet nobody had come near them.
"I reckon they are going to starve us to death for what we did," went on Tom, after a long pause.
"If only I had a drink of water," came at last from his younger brother. "My mouth is as dry as a chip, and I seem to have a regular fever."
"Make the best of it, Sam," returned Tom soothingly. "This state of things can't last forever. If they—Oh!"
The schooner had suddenly tacked in the strong wind, and the bowling over of the empty craft had caused Tom to take a long roll. He struck up against his brother, and the pair went sliding to the end of the hold, to hit a jug of water which had been left there in the darkness.
"Hurrah, some water!" cried Tom, as some of the fluid splashed over his hand. But, alas! how were they to get at what was left of the contents of the jug, with their hands tied behind them?
But time was no object, and at last they solved the problem. At first Tom backed up to the jug and held it, though clumsily, for Sam to drink, and then the youngest Rover did the same for his brother. The water was warm and somewhat stale, yet both could remember nothing which had ever tasted sweeter to them. They drank about half of what the jug contained, then set the rest carefully away for future use.
The Peacock was bowling along at a speed of seven or eight knots an hour, and the creaking of the blocks attested the fact that Captain Langless was making every effort to reach his destination as soon as possible.
Once the boys heard somebody at the forward hatchway, and presently the hatch was lifted for a few inches.
"Hope you are enjoying yourselves down there," came in the sarcastic tones of Dan Baxter. To this they made no answer, and the hatch was closed as quickly as it had been opened.
"The brute," muttered Tom. "I'd give a good deal to be able to punch his nose!"
"He evidently thinks himself on top to stay," came from Sam, who had propped himself up against an empty cask. "Oh, if only we knew what had become of Dick!" he went on.
"Dick must have escaped. I don't see how it could be otherwise."
"But if he did, why didn't he notify the authorities?"
"The Peacock must have given the river police the slip; that's the only answer I can make, Sam."
"But they could have telegraphed to different points."
"Well, I can't make it out, and we'll have to take what comes."
"Where do you suppose we are bound?"
"I haven't the least idea."
Hour after hour went by, and still nobody came to them. It did, indeed, look as if they were to be starved to death. But just as Sam was almost fainting for the want of food, the door to the cabin passageway was flung open, and Captain Langless appeared with a lantern, followed by Arnold Baxter, who carried a tray containing a plate of bread and two bowls of beef stew.
"Hungry, I'll wager," said the captain laconically. All the pleasantness he had previously exhibited had vanished.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourselves to let us starve so long," replied Tom, who never hesitated to speak his mind.
"Hi! don't talk that way, or you shall have nothing," cried Arnold Baxter. "We are masters, and you must understand it so."
The captain set down the lantern and released the right hand of each of the prisoners. Then the tray was set upon an upturned box, and they were told to eat what they wanted, the captain and Arnold Baxter sitting down to watch them.
There was no use to "stand upon then dignity," as Tom afterward expressed it, so they fell to without protest, and it must be confessed that the stew was just what their stomachs, in that weakened state, needed. It did not take long to get away with the larger portion of the bread and all of what the bowls contained.
"You can thank your stars that you got meal," said Arnold Baxter. "You don't deserve it."
"According to you, I suppose we don't deserve anything but abuse," replied Tom. "But, never mind, Arnold Baxter; remember the old saying, 'He laughs best who laughs last.'"
"I'm not here to listen to your back talk," growled Arnold Baxter. "Come, captain, let us be going," and he arose.
"You've brought this treatment on yourselves," said the captain, with a shrewd look into the boys' faces. "I was of a mind to treat you kindly before. You know that."
"Come," insisted Arnold Baxter, and caught the captain by the arm. "Don't waste words on them. There will be time enough to talk when we reach the island." And then the two walked off, closing and locking the passageway door after them.
"The island?" repeated Sam. "Then they intend to take us to some lonely island, Tom!"
"I wouldn't be surprised. I've noticed by the shafts of light coming through the cracks overhead that we are sailing northward. We must be in Lake Huron by this time."
"One satisfaction, they left our right hands free," continued the youngest Rover. "And I must say that stew just touched the spot."
Again the hours drifted slowly by. The boys had really lost all track of time. They dozed off and did not awaken until some time later. Whether they had slept through a night or not they did not know.
Presently they heard the sails being lowered and an anchor go overboard. Then a boat put off from the Peacock, and for a while all became silent.
"We must be close to some landing," was Tom's comment. "Perhaps it's the island old Baxter mentioned."
Another half hour slipped by. Then the door to the cabin was opened, and both Baxters, Captain Langless, and the mate of the schooner appeared.
"Get up," ordered the captain, and when they arose he saw to it that their lower limbs were released, but that their hands were bound more tightly behind them than ever.
"We are going ashore," said Arnold Baxter, "Remember we want no treachery nor any attempt to run away. If you try either, somebody will get shot."
With this caution they were marched into the cabin and then on deck. At first the strong light blinded them, but soon they became accustomed to this, and made out a small bay just ahead, surrounded by cedar trees and various bushes. Back of the trees was a hill, and off to the southward a rocky elevation ending in a needle-like point. It was this elevation which gave to the island the name of Needle Point. By the Indians of days gone by the island was called Arrow Head.
A rowboat was in waiting beside the Peacock, and into this the prisoners were placed. The captain of the schooner and the Baxters also went along, and soon the rowboat had passed over the waters of the little bay and grounded on a bit of shelving beach.
"Now we'll go ashore," said Captain Langless, and glad enough for the change, Tom and Sam leaped upon the beach. The others followed, and tying up the boat, the master of the Peacock led the way through the trees and brush to the hill previously mentioned. Here there was a slight path, winding in and out among a series of rocks.
"Where are you going to take us?" said Tom.
"You'll find out soon enough," returned Arnold Baxter. "March."
"Supposing I refuse?"
"We'll knock you down and drag you along," put in Dan Baxter, anxious to say something.
"You had better come along quietly," said Captain Langless. "To kick will only make you worse off."
The march was resumed, and now they dove straight into the interior of the island, which was about a mile and a half long and half as wide. At some points the path was choked with weeds and trailing vines, and they progressed with difficulty.
It must be admitted that Tom and Sam were very uneasy. They had felt that the authorities might follow the Peacock, but how would anybody ever discover them in such a lonely place as this? But there was no help for it, and on they went until Captain Langless called a sudden halt.
They had gained a cliff running out from one end of the hill. The rocks arose in a sheer wall, thirty or more feet in height. At the base were a spring and a small pool of water. To the left of the spring was a cave-like opening, partly choked with brushwood.
"Here we are," said the captain. "Watch them."
He moved toward the opening and soon had a portion of the brushwood torn aside. Then he lit a lantern he had brought along and disappeared into the opening.
He had scarcely passed from view when he let out a yell of fright.
"A snake! Look out for him!"
The words just reached the ears of Sam and Tom when the reptile appeared. He was all of five feet long and as thick as a man's wrist.
"A snake!" screamed Dan Baxter, and took to his heels without waiting to see what the creature might do.
Arnold Baxter was less frightened, and snatching a pistol from his pocket, he took hasty aim and fired. But his aim was poor, and the bullet flew wide of its mark.
The snake was a dangerous one, and very much shot, and came straight for Tom and Sam. An instant later the savage reptile was coiling itself around the youngest Rover's left leg!
COFFEE FOR THREE.
The situation was one which demanded instant action.
The snake was a dangerous one, and very much aroused, and it might at any instant do Sam great harm.
The poor boy was speechless and motionless, for the reptile had caught his eye and held him as by a spell.
It was Tom who acted. Heedless of the danger, he leaped forward and aimed a kick at the snake's head.
The reptile was caught fairly and squarely, and the head went down with an angry hiss. Then Tom stepped upon it, but the snake squirmed loose and uttered another hiss, louder than before.
"Take him off! Take him off!" screamed Sam, now recovering his voice. "Don't let him bite me."
He would have caught the snake himself, and so would Tom, but the hands of both were still tied behind them.
By this time Captain Langless emerged from the cave, pulling out a pistol as he did so.
Arnold Baxter had not offered to fire a second shot. Now, he was out of danger himself, he did not seem to care what became of the Rovers.
Crack! crack! It was the captain's weapon which spoke up, and the two shots, fired in rapid succession, did their work thoroughly. The first took the snake in the neck and the second in the head, and in a twinkle the long, slippery body unwound itself from Sam's leg and began to turn and twist on the ground.
"Good for you!" gasped Sam, when able to speak again. "Ugh! what an ugly thing!" And he retreated to the opposite side of the pool, along with Tom.
"He was a nasty one," replied Captain Langless, as he coolly proceeded to reload his pistol. "I might have killed him in the cave, only the light was bad."
"Is he—he dead?" came from behind some rocks, and Dan showed a white face and trembling form.
"Yes, he's dead," answered Arnold Baxter. "I came pretty close to hitting him," he went on, bound to say something for himself.
"I—I thought there was a whole nest of them," continued Dan. "If I had known there was only one, I would have stood my ground."
"Of course—you always were brave," answered Tom sarcastically.
"See here, Tom Rover, I don't want any of your back talk," howled the bully, his face turning red.
"Come, don't quarrel now," said Captain Langless, so sternly that Dan subsided on the instant. "The question is, are there any more snakes in that cave?"
"Send Dan in to investigate," suggested Sam, with just the faintest touch of his old-time light-heartedness.
"Me?" ejaculated the individual mentioned. "Not me! I wouldn't go in there for a million dollars!"
"Perhaps we had better find some other cave," said Arnold Baxter. "You said there were several around here."
"This is as good as any," answered Captain Langless. "If you are afraid, I'll go in myself," and turning, he disappeared once more into the opening, lantern in one hand and pistol in the other.
He was gone the best part of quarter of an hour, and came back covered with dust and dirt.
"The old spot is pretty well choked up with rubbish," he said. "But there isn't a sign of another snake around, nor of any wild beasts. Come," and he motioned Sam and Tom to follow him.
"I don't think it fair that you should leave us helpless," said Tom. "At least untie our hands and let us each get a good stick."
"So you can fight us, eh?" cried Arnold Baxter. "We are not such fools."
"You have your pistols," put in Sam. "And what could we do on a lonely island and without a boat?"
"The lads are right—it's not fair to leave them helpless when there may be other danger at hand," interposed the captain. "If I unloosen you, will you promise not to run away?"
"The promise would not amount to anything!" sniffed Dan.
"We won't run away for the present," said Tom honestly. "But you can't expect me to remain a prisoner here—not if I can help myself."
The candor of the youth compelled Captain Langless to laugh, and, taking out a knife, he cut the ropes which bound the lads' hands.
"You won't need sticks, I am sure of it," he said. "Come, I will lead, and you"—nodding to the Baxters—"can bring up the rear."
No more was said, and in a minute more all were inside of the cave, which proved to be fifteen feet wide, about as high, and at least two hundred feet long. At the lower end were a turn and a narrow passageway leading to the darkness beyond. The ceiling was rough, and the lantern cast long, dancing shadows over it as they advanced. Sam could not help but shiver, and Tom looked unusually sober.
That the cave had once been used as a rendezvous of some sort was plainly evident. At the back was a rude fireplace, with a narrow slit in the rocks overhead, through which the smoke might ascend. Here were several half-burned logs of wood, and two tumble-down boxes which had evidently done duty as benches. On a stick stuck in a crack of the wall hung an old overcoat, now ready to fall apart from decay.
"Rather unwholesome, I admit," said the captain, with a glance at the others. "But a roaring fire in yonder chimney-place will soon alter things. And when I've had one of the men bring some blankets and stores from the Peacock, it will be fairly comfortable."
"Do you mean to keep us here?" demanded Tom.
"We do," answered Arnold Baxter. "And you can thank your stars that you have not been taken to a worse place."
"It's a jolly shame. Why don't you kill us off at once, and be done with it?"
"Because you are worth more to us alive than dead."
"We won't live long if you keep us here," put in Sam. "It's enough to give a fellow the ague."
"We will start a fire without delay," said the captain, and then, turning to Arnold Baxter, he continued: "Can you find the way back to the ship?"
"I think I can," returned the other. "Years ago I was used to tramping the gold regions of the West."
"Then you had better go and tell the mate to bring along that stuff I mentioned before I left. You can easily carry the stuff between you. I'll build the fire and, with the aid of your son, watch the two prisoners."
So it was arranged, although Arnold Baxter did not fancy the task of carrying stuff to be used for the Rovers' comfort. He left his pistol with Dan, who kept it in his hand, ready to shoot should Sam or Tom make the slightest movement toward getting away.
As Captain Langless had said, the fire made the cave far more comfortable, taking away the feeling of dampness and lighting up all the nooks and corners. From a distance the boys heard a faint falling of water, and were told that it came from a spring hidden at the rear passageway.
It was a good hour before Arnold Baxter returned, lugging a fair-sized bundle, and followed by the mate of the Peacock with an even greater load. They had several blankets and a basket of provisions, and likewise a few cooking utensils.
"Evidently out for a stay," muttered Tom, as he looked at the things.
"They are for your use," was Captain Langless' grim reply. "After this I reckon you'll cook for yourselves."
"Do you expect us to remain in this cave night and day?"
"You'll remain whenever things look suspicious outside."
"Then you'll let us go out otherwise?"
"If you behave yourselves."
It was not long before Tom and Sam were left in the cave alone. The mate of the schooner was placed at the entrance on guard, armed with the captain's own pistol. Then Captain Langless and the Baxters withdrew, talking earnestly. Tom and Sam could not catch the drift of the conversation, although they heard the words "by mail" and "we must get the cash" used several times.
"They are bound to make money out of this affair, if they can," remarked Tom, when he and Sam were alone once more.
"I've a good mind to knock that mate down and take the pistol from him," said Sam.
"And get shot for your pains? Besides, if we took away the pistol and put him out of the fight, what next? We haven't any boat to get away in."
"Yes, but I don't intend to remain here a prisoner forever."
"No more do I, but we can do nothing just now. Let us see what kind of a meal we can make out of the provisions brought to us."
The prospect of a meal brightened up both lads, and they set to work with a will, and soon had coffee made. There were bread and butter and some canned beef and beans, and they ate heartily.
The mate sniffed the coffee, and remarked that it seemed good.
"Have a cup," said Tom cheerily.
"No funny work, boy," and Cadmus looked at the boys suspiciously. "No break like that you tried on me before."
"No, I won't run, honor bright," answered Tom, and then the mate took the coffee and drank it with much satisfaction.
As he set down the cup he gazed fixedly at both Tom and Sam for several seconds. Then he drew himself up as if he had come to some mental decision.
"I've got a plan to propose," he said slowly. "Do you want to listen or not?"
"What sort of a plan?" asked both.
"A plan to get you out of the clutches of Captain Langless and those Baxters," was the answer, which filled Tom and Sam with deep and sudden interest.
AN ASTONISHING DISCOVERY.
"Are you willing to help us to get away?" cried Sam.
"Under certain circumstances I am," replied the mate of the schooner. "Captain Langless didn't treat me square after you got away from me, and Andy Cadmus aint the tar to forget such a thing in a hurry."
"What are your conditions?" asked Tom.
"The conditions are two in number. In the first place, if I help you, will you promise, in case the plan falls through, that you will not tell Captain Langless what I did, but let him believe that you got away on your own hook?"
"We'll promise that readily enough," answered Tom, and Sam nodded.
"In the second place, if I get you away from them and see you to a place of safety, will you promise to help clear me in case those others are brought to trial?"
"We will," came from both.
"Is that all you want?" continued Tom.
"Almost. But there is one other condition I forgot to mention."
"I know what that is," said Sam. "It's money."
"Correct, lad. It's money. I'm a poor man, and what little I have is on board the Peacock. Your father is rich. If I help you, it ought to be worth something to him."
"How much?" asked Tom cautiously.
"Well, say a couple of hundred dollars. I won't ask for too much."
"You shall have the money," answered Tom quickly, "on condition you will aid us in bringing the Baxters to justice."
"Then it's a bargain," and Andy Cadmus drew another long breath. "Now for the details of our plan."
The mate sat down on a stone at the mouth of the cave and filled a pipe with tobacco, lit it, and fell to smoking thoughtfully.
"The details ought to be simple enough," said Tom. "When you go back to the Peacock you can take one of the small boats, stock her with provisions, and then go off in her. Then we can join you."
"It won't work, unless you have a fight with whoever happens to be on guard here—and that may mean trouble for you. I have a better scheme."
"To-night, when I'm on watch, I'll stock one of the small boats and take her to shore and hide her in the bushes. Then, when I'm on guard again here, we can all cut sticks and take to the little boat."
"Will you carry out the plan to-night?" asked Sam.
"If I can."
So it was arranged, and then the three talked over the details. Cadmus said it was a good tern miles to the nearest point of the mainland, but that he was certain he could steer almost a straight course thither.
A couple of hours later one of the sailors from the Peacock came up, all out of breath, and told the mate to return to the schooner with all speed.
"The cap'n wants ye," he said, but would not explain why.
"What's the trouble?" asked Tom, when the sailor was on guard, but the newcomer refused to talk about the affair further than to say that he guessed Cadmus would not be back to do additional sentinel duty.
"If that's the case, our plan to escape is knocked in the head," whispered Sam, as he and Tom withdrew to the fire. "Was ever there luck before!"
"I move we try to escape without further delay," returned Tom. He was in a reckless mood.
"Shall we tackle the guard?"
"Let us try a bit of strategy," and then the pair held a whispered consultation lasting several minutes.
Returning to the mouth of the cave Tom took up his position at one side and Sam on the other. Talking of things in general at first, they gradually put the sailor in good humor, and then turned on the subject of snakes.
"That was a bad snake we killed," said Tom. "I sincerely hope there are no more around the cave."
"Snakes are ugly things," said the sailor, shaking his head vigorously.
"Ever see a sea serpent?" questioned Sam.
"No. I reckon there aint none on the lakes, like there are in the ocean. I've got a cousin sails the Pacific. He's seen serpents lots o' times—on the shores of them far-off islands."
"I don't believe a sea serpent is half as bad as a land snake," continued Sam. "Why, that snake was enough to give a fellow the jim- jams, he was so long and slimy, and had such a bad look in his blazing eyes. He wound right around my leg and was just going to strike, when— My gracious! look at that snake behind you!"
Worked up over what Sam was relating, and totally unconscious of the trick being played upon him, the sailor leaped up and turned around. As he did this, Tom came up behind him swiftly and pinioned his arms to his side. Then Sam rushed in and caught hold of the gun.
"Hi, stop!" roared the sailor. "Let go! This aint fair nohow!"
"Keep still, if you don't want to be shot," answered Tom. And he continued to hold the fellow, while Sam gave the gun a dexterous twist and got it loose. Then the youngest Rover aimed the weapon at the sailor's head.
"Up with your hands," he said, as coolly as he could, although his heart was pumping like mad.
Tom released his hold, and fearful of being shot, the sailor raised his hands as commanded. Then Tom picked up the ropes still lying near and proceeded to bind the sailor's legs together.
The fellow wished to yell for help, but Tom's stern glance kept him silent.
"Now what shall we do with him?" asked Sam.
"Carry him into the cave," replied his brother. "Somebody else from the schooner is bound to come, sooner or later, and release him."
"I don't want to go in with them snakes," said the tar. "Leave me out here."
"There are no more snakes in there," said Tom. "We'll place you close to the fire, so you'll be comfortable and in no danger of either snakes or wild beasts."
With this the boys lugged the sailor into the cave. They wasted no time, for there was no telling when some others of their enemies might put in an appearance.
"Now which way?" asked Sam, when the pair were again outside. "I wonder how big this island is?"
"Big enough for us to hide on, I imagine, Sam. Let us go in the opposite direction to which we came."
They skirted the cliff and then plunged into the woods beyond. As they progressed Tom cautioned his brother to keep to the rocks as much as possible, in order that the trail might be hidden.
It was still hot, and before long the exertion of climbing the rocks and picking their way through the dense underbrush told upon them. Coming to the top of a small hill, they halted.
"Let us climb into yonder tree and rest," said Sam. "Perhaps we can see the Peacock from that point."
This seemed a good idea, and they moved to the very top of the tallest tree to be found.
A grand view lay spread before their gaze. Close upon every side was the thickly wooded island, sloping gradually down to the lake, and beyond, as far as eye could reach, was the rolling water, sparkling brightly in the sunlight. To the northward Tom discovered a bit of greenery, which he rightly took for another island.
But what interested them most was the appearance of a ship riding at anchor to the westward, in one of the several bays previously mentioned. It was a sailing vessel of fair size, carrying a single mast.
"That's not the Peacock!" ejaculated Sam.
"You're right!" cried Tom. "She's a stranger. Hurrah! Perhaps Dick has followed us up, after all!"
"Anyway, we ought to find friends on that ship, Tom. Let us get to her as soon as possible."
"I'm willing. But I must rest a bit, I'm so dead tired."
"I wish we could get those on the strange ship to make the Baxters and Captain Langless prisoners."
"Perhaps we can. But it will be a good deal to get out of the clutches of the enemy, even if we can't do any more."
Feeling much elated over the discovery of the strange vessel, the boys rested for quarter of an hour, and then, descending to the ground, struck out rapidly once more through the woods and underbrush. As they proceeded Tom carried his pistol in his hand, in case some wild animal might start up in their path, but nothing of the sort came to view.
As they came closer to the shore they found that the ground was wet and boggy, and they had to pick their way with care. Once Sam went into the soil up to his ankles, and dragged himself out only with great difficulty. Then they made a detour, coming out on the beach some distance below where the strange ship was anchored.
Halting behind a convenient bush, they surveyed the ship with interest. On the deck they discovered a man and a lady. The lady was sitting in an easy-chair, and the man stood by, leaning on a railing. Both were talking earnestly.
"Well I never!" came from Tom. "Sam, do you recognize those two people?"
"I do," was the answer. "Josiah Crabtree and Mrs. Stanhope! How in the world did they get here?"
JOSIAH CRABTREE'S GAME.
For the moment the boys were practically dumfounded. Josiah Crabtree and Mrs. Stanhope in this out-of-the-way place? What could it mean?
"They are arguing about something," said Tom, after a long pause. "Hear how earnestly old Crabtree is talking to her?"
"I wonder if Dora is with them."
"I don't see anything of her."
"What shall we do?"
"I don't know—excepting to remain hidden until we learn how the land lays."
The boys considered the situation for a while, and then, by turning back into the woods, managed to come up at a point still closer to the ship, which rested at anchor close to the trunk of a fallen tree.