"Whee-e-e—yar-r-r-r—yaw-w-w—yop, yop, yop," he would go. And then he would begin it again, and go through it once more.
We looked at this spectacle for about twenty seconds. Then we all turned around, and tip-toed back, through the hall, and into the dining-room.
"Somehow," said Mr. Daddles, "I think we'd better get out of this house."
"So do I," came from all the rest of us, like a chorus.
There was no dispute about it at all. Mr. Daddles and Ed Mason started for the pantry without delay.
"P'r'aps we'd better put back these dishes," whispered Jimmy; "they might find 'em, and that would start 'em after us."
But neither Mr. Daddles nor Ed heard him at all. The latter merely said "Hurry up!" and then disappeared toward the kitchen. It struck me that Jimmy was right, and although I was anxious to get out of the house as quick as possible, it did not seem likely that anything would wake up those policemen for hours to come. So we put the dishes back into the butler's pantry, set back the chairs, and fixed the room, as well as we could, in the way that we had found it. Just as I put out the gas Jimmy slipped the pound-cake into his pocket.
"We might as well have this," he said.
Then we hurried through the kitchen, and into the pantry. The others had left the window open. Jimmy went through it first, and I followed. As I stepped out into the moonlight I felt someone grab my arm. I looked up, expecting to see Mr. Daddles. But it was not he. Instead, I looked into the face of a big man, with a long beard. He had a pitchfork in his other hand. Two other men had Mr. Daddles by the arms, and some others were holding Ed and Jimmy. There seemed to be quite a big crowd of people on that veranda.
WE ARE OFFERED LODGINGS
The man with the pitchfork bent down and squinted in at the window, still holding me tight by the arm.
"Any more on ye comin' out?" he inquired.
"No, there aren't any more of us," said Mr. Daddles, "you've got the whole gang now."
"Better wait a second, Eb," said one of the men who was holding Mr. Daddles. He was a fat man, with ears that stuck out the way an elephant's do, when he waves them. "Better wait a second,—yer can't tell."
"You'll waste your time," said Mr. Daddles, "there's no one left in there but the policemen,—and you can't wake them up from here."
"P'licemen?" queried the fat man.
"Whatcher talkin' about?" asked the man with the pitchfork.
"I'm talking about the two policemen who are getting their eight hours in the library," Mr. Daddles replied, "Poor things! I hope we didn't disturb them."
"Don't yer believe him, Eb," said another man, "it's some gum game."
"Look here," I said, "this is all a mistake. We're not burglars. This house—"
"Yes, we know all about that," said a man, "we've heard this feller tell all about his Uncle Alfred Peabody's house. It's a fust-rate story,—only Uncle Alfred's is next door. This is T. Parker Littlefield's, an' you know it, too."
"I'm afraid we did strike the wrong house, Sam," said Mr. Daddles, "you see—"
"You betcher struck the wrong house,—you're right there, fast enough," said a little man, who was hopping up and down in his excitement. He was the only one of them who was not holding one of us. He had short, paint-brush whiskers, and I remembered him as the man in the shanty,—the one whom Mr. Daddles called "black- hearted Gregory the Gauger."
"You ought to be ashamed of yerself," said he, "leadin' boys into crime!"
"Do you mean me?" asked Mr. Daddles.
"Yas—I mean you,—in the white pants," he replied, looking with great scorn at Mr. Daddles's duck trousers, "I've heard how you perfessional crooks git boys to climb up on water spouts an' let yer in. I seen yer jest after yer passed my place, an' I knowed what yer was up to."
"Well, you are quite wrong,—you're way off," said Mr. Daddles, very seriously. "I don't suppose it will do any good, but it will save you people from making yourselves ridiculous. It's all true, —what I told you. I thought we were getting into Mr. Peabody's house, and he IS my uncle. See here,—do you think we LOOK like burglars?"
"Can't tell what yer look like," said a man, "'we caught yer in—"
"In partiseps criminy," said Gregory the Gauger, "that's what it was. An' whatever you look like, you'll look different tomorrer mornin'. I don't cal'late you know anything about breakin' an' enterin' Dr. Bigelow's last night?"
"No, we don't. We weren't here last night."
"Course not, course not. Nor about bustin' into the Ellis place last Sat'day night?"
"No, nor about that either."
The men who were holding Ed Mason had been seized with the idea of searching him. So they made Ed turn out his pockets in the hope of finding some stolen goods. They examined the jack-knife, cork- stopper with three fish-hooks in it, and lead sinker which they found, and argued whether this was plunder from the house or not. Then they started to search the rest of us, and we all had to empty our pockets. Not until they came to the pound-cake, in Jimmy Toppan's pocket, did they find anything of consequence, and as he admitted that he had taken that from the house, they felt that they had made a real discovery. They handed it over to the pitchfork man.
"Here, Eb," said Gregory the Gauger, "yer want to keep this—it's everdence."
At this moment one of the policemen put his head out the window, and Eb promptly dropped the cake, and grabbed the policeman by the shoulder, remarking: "I thought there was another one on ye!"
Then he tried to drag the policeman out of the window by force. The policeman planted his feet firmly, and, as he weighed about three hundred pounds, he successfully resisted all efforts to drag him.
"What in thunder you tryin' to do?" he asked in a high, squeaky voice.
"TRYIN' TO DO? I'll show ye,—resistin' a officer! Here, Justin, give us a hand here, won't ye?"
In the meantime the policeman was blowing a whistle to summon his mate. Eb stooped down again, and he and the policeman looked in each other's faces,—their noses only half an inch apart. Eb had seen the brass buttons.
"Be you a officer?"
"You'll find out whether I am or not!" said the furious policeman, standing up and blowing his whistle again.
"Then watcher doin' here?"
"I'm here mindin' my own business,—I was sent here to look after this house—orders of the Chief. Who in thunder are you?"
"This here's the Kunsterble," said Gregory the Gauger, nodding his head toward Eb, "an' we've ketched the burglars. Here they be!"
The policeman blinked at us, and once more blew his whistle. At last the other policeman came, looking about half awake. He was the one who had been snoring so loud.
"What's all this ruction about?" he asked in a very cross tone. The big policeman said something to him in a low voice, and they both stepped out on the veranda. The first thing that the sleepy policeman started to do was to cuff all of us boys. But Mr. Daddles spoke up sharply, threatening to get him into trouble for it, and even Eb protected us.
"No call to do that, Mister," he said, "we'll see to gettin' these young fellers put where they belong for tonight. Tomorrer we'll hold Court, an' find out what's what."
Everyone began to talk at once. It came out that the policemen had been sent there from the town on the mainland, at the request of Mr. Littlefield, who owned the house. He had gone away the day before, and as there had been two burglaries in Bailey's Harbor, or its vicinity, he did not like to leave his place unprotected. Eb and Gregory the Gauger wished to enter the house, "an' go over it to see if it's all right." The policemen refused to allow them to enter,—probably because they did not wish it to be seen how they had been keeping watch.
This made Eb very angry. He seemed to feel that the dignity of his office, "Kunsterble of this here island," was not getting its proper respect. But I think that the uniforms and brass buttons of the policemen rather frightened him. The only sign of his high station was a badge, pinned to his suspenders. The two policemen ended the discussion by going inside the house once more,—"to make up their lost sleep" suggested Mr. Daddles. They retired within and shut the window.
Then Eb and the rest of them started to march us back to the village. The news of our capture had spread and there must have been twenty or thirty men and boys waiting for us at the front gate. Some of them had lanterns, and two or three had shot-guns or rifles.
"We left Bailey's Harbor very modestly," Mr. Daddles remarked, "but our return is certainly impressive."
"You better keep your mouth shut, young feller," said one of the men, "committin' burglary aint no joke."
"That's right, that's right," said Gregory the Gauger, who was flitting about from one to the other of us, "an' whatever may be said against yer, may be used in yer favor, too,—better remember that."
The constable was still more indignant because the crowd nocked around us.
"Clear outer here! Clear outer here!" he shouted two or three times. But they only laughed at him. Then we set out over the dusty road. First came Eb, with two other men leading Mr. Daddles, then Jimmy and Ed Mason, each securely held, while I was at the end of the procession, gripped by the arm and collar by a tall man, who never uttered a word. At our heels and doing their best to step on MY heels whenever they could, came a mob of boys and men.
When we got back to the Harbor, it had quite changed its appearance. From being a dark and deserted place it was now rather lively. There were lights in most of the houses and people waiting in the street.
On our way out of the village, an hour or two before, we had noticed a tent at the edge of the inlet, just above Gregory's hut. The people in the tent had turned out now,—they were three young men, who seemed to have been camping there. They had hung a lighted Japanese lantern over the door of the tent, and one of the campers was playing on a banjo.
The constable halted the whole procession, and ordered one of his assistants to put the banjo-player under arrest.
"I won't have it!" he shouted, "he's disturbin' the peace!"
Everyone laughed at this,—there was so much noise in the street that the banjo could hardly be heard. But a man went across the road, took the player by the arm, and told him that he must come along. The banjo-player seemed to be perfectly dumb-founded; his friends gathered round, argued, threatened, and finally laughed, and tried to treat the whole thing as a joke. Eb was stubborn, and the man joined our parade, with his banjo under his arm.
The police-station and jail were both in a new building half way up the hill. Into this we were hurried, and the doors were shut.
"Keep 'em all out!" shouted the constable, "keep 'em all out, except members of the possy!"
The "possy" seemed to consist of Eb himself, the men who were guarding us,—five or six of them—and Gregory the Gauger. I never found out just what office he held, but he was clearly the most important man of the lot,—except Eb. The constable leaned his pitchfork against the wall, lighted one or two lamps, sat down behind a desk and put on a pair of spectacles. Then he jerked his head, as if to beckon, toward the banjo-player.
"Name?" said he, picking up a pen.
"My name is Warren Sprague," said the man.
"I suppose you would call me a student."
"Don't yer know that yer was disturbin' the peace—"
"Contrary to statoot," put in Gregory the Gauger.
"Shut up, Mose!" said the constable.
"I thought that the peace was pretty well disturbed already," said the banjo-player,-"there was so much noise in the street that it woke us all up. I couldn't sleep,—none of us could sleep, and I didn't see any harm in playing a tune. Whose peace could I disturb?"
"Looky here, young feller, it won't do yer any good to get flip!"
"I'm not going to get flip."
"Don't yer know that it's agin the law to play on a moosical instrument after eleven P. M.?"
"No, sir, I didn't know it. Are you going to have me executed for it? Because if you are, I hope that you'll let me consult a spiritual adviser, first."
"You're too fresh, young feller. I might have let yer off—"
"With a reppermand," put in Gregory.
"Mose, you shut your head!" said the constable.
Then he turned again to the prisoner.
"I mighta let yer off, but now I'm goin' to keep yer right here in the lockup, an' consider the case tomorrer mornin'. Take him below, Justin." Justin was the fat man, with the fan-like ears. He stepped forward.
"Number six?" he asked the constable.
"Yup. Put him in number six."
Justin took the prisoner by the arm, took the banjo in his other hand, and together they started down stairs. They passed in front of us to reach the stairs, and as they did so, the young man turned to Mr. Daddles with a smile:
"If you ever get out alive, remember me to my friends, out there. Tell 'em I passed away, thinking of them."
"Silence in the Court!" cried Gregory.
The constable was now in a fury.
"If he locks up a man for banjo-playing—" murmured Mr. Daddles,—
"He'll have us burned at the stake," suggested Jimmy Toppan.
I had been feeling very unhappy ever since we arrived in the police-station. It looked to me as if we were in a pretty bad fix. The constable was so savage toward everybody it didn't seem possible that he would believe that we had broken into the house by mistake. Also, I was so tired that I was ready to drop. We had been up since four o'clock that morning, and it was now after midnight. It seemed to be years since we had left the "Hoppergrass," and during the last few hours we had walked over a dozen miles.
"Now," said the constable, "we'll make short work of you. Names?"
He really seemed to be less indignant with us, than with the banjo-player. Burglary was a smaller offence in his eyes than "disturbin' the peace,"—with a banjo.
He soon had the names of Edward Mason, James Rogers Toppan, and Samuel Edwards added to his list.
"Name?" he snapped to Mr. Daddles.
"Why!" exclaimed Ed Mason, "I thought your name was Daddles!"
"Hear that? hear that?" put in Gregory the Gauger, "that's his Elias!"
"No, it's not an alias,—in the sense that you mean. It's a nickname. There is no use in going through this again. What I told you in the first place is all true,—and we'll prove it to you in the morning. I know, or used to know, a number of people here. I know Mr. Littlefield, my uncle's neighbor, but if he's gone away, that won't do any good. But I know an old lady down the street here, who lets rooms, and sells sweet-peas, and painted shells, and things. Isn't there such a woman?"
"What's her name? S'pose there is,—what of it?"
"I can't recall her name now. She could tell you who I am. But if you're determined to lock us up until the morning you might as well do it. We're all tired out, and we've got to sleep somewhere. I warn you that you're making a mistake and that we're not the burglars you are looking for. We came in here this afternoon in a boat, as I told you."
"I told you they come in a boat," said a man.
"What was the name of the boat?" asked the constable.
"I never heard of no such boat."
Mr. Daddles was silent.
"Where's the boat, now?"
"I don't know,—she sailed away."
The constable laughed.
"You needn't think you can play it over me, with any such story as that, young feller."
Justin had now returned from down stairs, and the constable ordered him and another man to conduct us all below.
"Put 'em in number four an' five."
"Number four an' five it is!"
So we descended the stairs. Below, there was a brick-lined corridor, with three cells on each side. At the end a kerosene lamp hung in a bracket on the wall. This was the only light.
"Hullo!" said a cheerful voice, "how long did you get? Life- sentence?"
It was the man who called himself Sprague. His banjo stood against the wall just outside his cell, and under the lamp.
"No," said Mr. Daddles, "we're awaiting our trial in the morning, the same as you."
"What was your crime, anyway? Whistling?"
Justin shook his head at the man in the cell.
"You fellers better look out,—all on ye," said he. "Eb's pretty mad. An' he's got a bad temper when he gets riled, I tell you. An' folks are all stirred up about this burglin' business."
He looked at us doubtfully, and shook his head again. The other man—he was the tall, silent one, who had led me along the road- opened the last cell on the right and told Ed Mason and me to go in. Mr. Daddles and Jimmy were put in a cell across the corridor. The tall man vanished upstairs, leaving us all locked in. Justin was turning down the light.
"Look here, old sport," said the banjo-player, "just let me have that, will you?"
He pointed toward the banjo. Justin's jaw dropped, and he raised his hands in horror.
"Let yer have that? Holy Cats! Why, Eb would skin me alive—an' you too—if you was to play on that thing down here!"
"I don't want to play on it," replied the man, "but the strings will get damp, and break, out there. Just let me have it in here, —that's a good fellow. I can let the strings down a bit. No good spoiling 'em. I won't play a note on it. Honest Injun!"
"Sure about it?" asked Justin.
"Sure. Honest, I won't."
"Well, all right, then. Mind what yer promised, now!"
He took a key down from a hook under the lamp, unlocked the cell door, and passed in the banjo. After locking the door with great care, and replacing the key on its hook, he bade us all good night, and went upstairs.
"Burglary? Is that what the Czar has run you in for?" This from the stranger with the banjo.
"That is the crime with which we are charged."
"Well, I must say you disappoint me. I had always hoped for something better in the way of burglars. I hope you won't be offended but really, you know, you don't look DESPERATE enough."
"It's our first offence," said Mr. Daddles.
"That's what I thought," said the stranger heartily, "but I didn't like to say so,—for fear of hurting your feelings. Cheer up,— you'll improve as time goes on."
"Have you been here long?" I asked.
"Came in yesterday,—or day before yesterday, rather. We were in that black sloop,—perhaps you noticed her? You were in the white cat-boat, weren't you? We saw you when you came in."
"Did you see her go out?"
We all asked this eagerly.
"No,—has she gone out? We were on board our boat all the afternoon,—down in the cabin, I guess. Wish I'd stayed there. But we had the tent,—one of the fellows likes to sleep on shore, and so we all stayed. Say, this is a little bit of Russia, isn't it? Eb could give the Czar points. This is a new police-station, and he thought it ought not get rusty."
"Find your quarters comfortable over there?" asked Mr. Daddles across the corridor.
"Great!" said Ed Mason. He had already taken off his coat, rolled it up for a pillow, and lain down on one of the wooden benches in our cell. I was preparing to do the same. Upstairs we heard the front door slam, as Justin, and the last of the "possy," left the police-station.
This came from the banjo-player's cell.
"Watch this, boys!"
I looked out the barred door of our cell, and so did Mr. Daddles and Jimmy from theirs, on the other side of the corridor. The banjo-player, holding his instrument by the head, was poking the neck of it through his door. Very carefully he managed it, and I soon saw what he was after. The big key, hanging on the wall under the lamp, was just within his reach. With the utmost care he inserted one of the keys of the banjo in the ring of the cell key, and drew it off the hook. Then holding the banjo very delicately he pulled it slowly inside the cell, until he had the key in his hands. Then he grinned out at us.
"Talk about Baron Trenck and Monte Cristo!" he said.
In a second more he had put one hand through the bars of his cell, put the key into the lock and let himself out.
"What's the matter with this,—hey, what? Another chapter in Celebrated Escapes!"
Then he tip-toed back into his cell, and shut the door again.
"It won't do to go upstairs too soon. I'll give 'em time to get home. Then I'll get the keys to your cells,—never shall it be said of Despard D'Auvigny that he deserted his friends in misfortune! A regular jail-delivery,—what? The destruction of the Bastille was nothing to this! And we'll carry Eb's head on a pike."
"What!" exclaimed Mr. Daddles, "I never thought of that! Do you suppose the keys to our cells are upstairs? I thought you were the only one to get anything by this,—I was resolving always to carry a banjo with me."
"Why, I guess they'll be upstairs,—I can't for the life of me see why this was left down here. But I don't care,—I've no fault to find with the arrangement. Now, we'll have to wait awhile."
We all sat down and waited for about ten minutes. Then the banjo- man, saying "the hour has came!" opened his door again, and stole softly upstairs. Half way up he turned and came back for a match. Mr. Daddles gave him one, and he vanished with it. He was gone a long while, and we began to be in despair, thinking that he couldn't find the keys, or perhaps that he had gone away without troubling himself any more about us.
At last however, we heard him once more on the stairs. He came down, on tip-toe, holding up two keys. He was smiling gleefully.
"They were in Eb's desk and all tagged and numbered."
In a moment or two we were all out in the corridor. Our new friend locked all the cell doors, and hung up his key on its hook.
"It shall be an unsolved mystery to them all. They shall puzzle themselves bald-headed over it," he whispered.
Upstairs we stopped long enough to return the keys to Eb's desk. Our friend still had his precious banjo under his arm. We had to go cautiously in the dark, as we dared to light only one match, and that we kept covered as well as we could. There was a window at the rear of the building, and unlike the window in the corridor below, it was not barred.
Mr. Daddles and I looked out. There were no lights to be seen, and no people about. We raised the window very cautiously, an inch at a time.
"Country police have their disadvantages," whispered Mr. Daddles, "but they have this virtue: they go home at night, and let the jail take care of itself. In the city, we should have had to pick our way through the slumbering forms of innumerable cops."
We listened at the window. Bailey's Harbor, after its great excitement over the captured burglars, had gone home, and gone to sleep. Everything was quiet as a graveyard. We could hear the slapping of the water against the timbers of the wharf, and somewhere, a rooster, disturbed by the moonlight, crowed once. It was a dim and sleepy sound, and it was not repeated. The fog had nearly gone; the moon shone clear.
One by one, and as quiet as mice, we crawled through the window, and dropped to the earth below.
BUT WE DECIDE TO GO
Mr. Daddles stood on a ledge of the building a moment, and quietly pulled down the window.
"It wasn't locked," he muttered, "so there'll be nothing to show how we got out."
We were in a little yard at the rear of the jail. There was a large empty building,—a barn, or a boat-builder's work-shop, on the next lot. It cast a deep shadow over one side of the yard, and we kept in this shadow, as we stole toward the fence. A short alley ran down the hill on the other side of this fence. In a moment or two we were tip-toeing through the alley. It seemed to me that I had been going on tip-toe for hours,—I wondered if I would forget how to walk in the usual way.
Everything was quiet; we met no one, and heard nothing. Turning up the street we kept on, silently, until we reached the open space near the water. There was the tent, white and still in the moonlight. We looked in at the flap of the tent,—two dim forms lay wrapped in blankets, breathing heavily, and both sound asleep.
"Look at 'em!" said the banjo-man, in a low tone, "sleeping like babes, while I was languishing in jail."
"Wake up!" he said, in a slightly louder voice, prodding the nearest one with his banjo.
"Ub-ber-ubber-er-bubber-yah!" remarked the man, sitting bolt upright, and looking about him, as if he had been attacked by wild animals.
"That's all right," said Sprague, "it's only me. Don't get excited. Keep quiet,—don't bubber any more. We're hunted criminals, with a price upon our heads. Prices, I should say."
The other man stirred slightly, and rolled over.
"Hullo! That you? Rescued from a county jail?"
"Rescued nothing!" replied Sprague, "I might have died in jail of old age before you would have done anything. Got out by our own valor and ingenuity. Tunneled through fifteen feet of living rock. Now, get up, and be quiet about it,—the hounds of the law are on our trail, and we must leave these shores quick."
The second man arose swiftly, and began folding his blankets. The other one, however,—the one who had wakened uttering gibberish— crossed his hands over his knees, and said: "I don't know about this!"
"No," said Sprague, "of course you don't. We'll discuss it on the boat,—you shall argue it out to your heart's content. Come out of the tent, now'. We're going to get under way, and quit this place just as soon as we can,—and that's in about two shakes."
The second man had come out of the tent, bringing his blankets with him. Mr. Daddles and all the rest of us set to work pulling up the tent stakes. But the other man sat there, shaking his head.
"I think you're making a mistake," said he; "of course that constable was very arbitrary in his manner, but he IS the constable, just the same. I inquired and found that he is. The arrest was perfectly legal. You had much better stay in jail until morning, and submit to a fine which would probably be merely nominal. As it is, you are becoming a fugitive from justice—"
"That's right, and I'm going to fuge just as quick as I can. Come out from under the tent, Lord Chief Justice, or you'll get a blow on the cocoanut that will damage that legal mind of yours. These are my friends and fellow-criminals, the alleged burglars. ... All right there? Everything clear? ... I fear they are innocent, however, just as I am guilty,—of banjo-playing."
"No, but listen a minute—"
At this moment the other man snatched down the tent pole and the whole thing fell on the "Lord Chief Justice," leaving him floundering under waves of canvas, and tangles of rope. "Never mind him," said Sprague, "two of you hustle down and push off the boat,—it will take us three trips to get the tent and everything on board."
Jimmy Toppan and one of the other men (the second one to wake up, —they called him "Pete") hurried down to the water's edge. The "Lord Chief Justice" (whom they called "Chief," for short) crawled out from under the canvas, and we began to fold up the tent. It was a small one, and they had nothing in it except their blankets and some cushions and pillows from the yacht.
The Chief, still muttering and complaining, was sent out on the first trip, with Jimmy Toppan and Ed Mason. He and Jimmy were commanded to get up the sails, while Ed brought back the boat. This time he carried the tent, and then came back for the pillows, blankets and cushions. All this took more or less time,—fifteen or twenty minutes, perhaps. Mr. Daddles and Sprague kept their eyes on the little street nearby, to make sure that we were not observed.
Just as Mr. Daddles and I were getting into the boat, someone spoke from the shadow of a building.
"Aha!" said a voice.
Then a man stepped out into the moonlight, and advanced a little toward us.
"Leavin' kinder sudden, aint yer?"
It was Gregory the Gauger. He walked still nearer. Then he recognized Mr. Daddles and me.
"What's this? What's this?" he snapped, "got out, didger? Thought yer was escapin', didger? Consider yerselves under arrest. I apprehend yer in the name of the Commonwealth. Stay right where yer be. I'll go an' get Eb."
"No, you won't, either," said Mr. Daddles.
He and Sprague darted forward at the same moment. They grabbed the little man, each by an arm, and commenced walking him rapidly toward the boat.
"Here, here! Whatcher doin'? Lemme be! Lemme be! This is assault! Lemme be, I tell yer!"
They led him, still chattering and protesting, right to the boat.
"We don't want you with us,—not a little bit. But you'll have to come, if you don't keep quiet. Then you'll have a beautiful case against us."
"Help! Help!" he squealed.
Mr. Daddles clapped a hand over his mouth, and they lifted him off his feet into the boat. Pete jumped in beside him, and smothered his cries with a pillow. Ed and I pushed off, and climbed in over the bows. In a minute we were alongside the yacht. Mr. Daddles and Sprague jumped on board, and Pete handed Gregory the Gauger up to them. He had to drop the pillow to do this, and as soon as the little man's mouth was uncovered he began his protests right where he had left off.
"Help!" he squeaked, "help! Lemme be! Put me back on shore, I tell yer! I'll have every last one of yer in State's Prison for this. It's abducshun,—that's what it is,—d' yer hear? It's abducshun!"
"Yes, and you've already got assault and battery against us, and smothering-with-a-pillow, to say nothing of burglary, breaking and entering, and banjo-playing after 10 P. M. We won't any of us live long enough to serve out our sentences, not even if we get old enough to make Methuselah look like a spring-chicken."
"And if you go on with that yelping, my friend," added Sprague, "we'll add piracy on the high seas, keel-hauling, drowning in a sack, and hanging at the yard-arm to our list of accomplishments. I would have you know that we are desperate men. This person"— pointing to the Chief, "is the only law-abiding one amongst us. If you'll be good and quiet, and sit down and behave until we are well away, you will come to no harm."
"And we'll let you exchange legal chit-chat with the Chief Justice, here," added Pete.
But nothing could quiet the captive. He broke away from them, ran up to the bow, and began once more to call for help. At this, Pete and Sprague seized him and gently led him down into the cabin. They closed the cabin doors and left him there. Instantly he began to pound and thump on the deck.
"Let him thump," said Sprague, "it's time we departed."
"Yes," said Ed Mason, "any moment I expect to see Eb coming down to the shore."
"With his pitchfork," added Mr. Daddles.
We got the anchor up, and the boat began to move out of the inlet. The breeze was light, but two short tacks took us into the bay.
"Where do you want to go?" inquired the Chief, gravely. He was sailing the boat.
"'Somewheres east of Suez,'" said Sprague. "I don't care. I should like to go to sleep. And I should think you burglars would be about ready for a nap."
"We are!" we all groaned.
"The Chief and I will stand watch," said Pete, "I'm not sleepy. By George! It's a great night."
He yawned, stretched both arms in the air, and gazed up toward the moon. Suddenly he brought both arms down at his sides.
"Great Scott!" he cried, "we've forgotten Simon!"
The Chief gave a snort of disgust.
"If you're going—" he began.
"That's so! that's so!" shouted Sprague, "put about, Chief!"
The Chief groaned. "Positively," he said, "you make me sick!"
"Then you're in no state to sail the boat," replied Pete, "here, get away from the wheel!"
He pushed the indignant Chief away, and taking the wheel himself, began to put the boat about.
"Who's Simon?" asked Mr. Daddles.
Nobody paid any attention to his question.
"To think of forgetting him!" exclaimed Pete, "can you see anything of him, Warren?"
Sprague had run up forward, and was peering ahead as we entered the inlet.
"Here he comes!" he cried, "by Jingo, here he comes! Well, what do you think of that? Isn't he a brick, Pete?"
I tried to see what all this was about. The moon was bright on the water, and at last I could make out some white thing, like a sea gull, moving toward us. We were running before the wind and soon were near enough to get a good view. It was a bird of some kind. We were in no doubt about the kind when it raised itself upon the water, flapped its wings and uttered a loud "Quack! qu-a-a-a-ck!"
"It's a duck!" said Ed Mason.
"Of course it's a duck," replied Pete, "we got him at Duck Island, too. It's Simon. Can you reach him, Warren?"
"I think so," answered Sprague, "easy now!"
Pete brought the yacht carefully alongside the duck, Sprague twined one foot around the bob-stay, reached over and lifted the bird into the boat. As soon as it was set on deck the duck shook its feathers, gave one defiant waggle of the tail, and paddled aft, remarking: "Quack! quack! qua-a-a-ck!"
"Well! Simon, old man!" said the delighted Pete, "did you think we had left you behind? You didn't think that of us, did you? But you had started out to overtake us, hadn't you? That shows what a good old sport you are. The Chief might have left you in the lurch, but your Uncle Warren and I wouldn't."
Simon waddled about a little, and finally settled down in the center of a coil of rope. Once more we turned and started again on our flight from Bailey's Harbor.
It was a beautiful night. The moonlight sparkled on the water, and shone clear and soft on the sails of the boat. The breeze was cool and delicious. Gregory the Gauger had stopped thumping and everything was very pleasant and restful after the jail, and the other exciting events of the night. Except for the sound of the water at the bow, we sailed for five or ten minutes in perfect silence. My eyes half closed and my head fell forward as I sat in the cockpit.
"Well, I'd go below, and turn in," said Mr. Daddles, "but I don't know about facing that sabre-toothed tiger down there. We made a great mistake, boys, in not slitting his weasand the first time we saw him. Somehow, I think I'm going through life with him in close pursuit."
"Let's see what he's up to now," said Sprague.
"He's probably scuttling the ship," suggested Jimmy Toppan.
Sprague opened the cabin doors, and pushed back the hatchway. Gregory had lighted the lamp and was calmly engaged in examining the clock. To our surprise the wrath seemed to have gone out of the man.
"Where didger git that air clock?" he asked, peering up at Sprague.
"In Boston," Sprague answered him, "what do you think of it?"
"Pretty fair, pretty fair. What does a clock like that cost?"
They entered into a conversation about the clock, and some of the other furnishings of the cabin. Sprague asked him if he wanted to come on deck. He accepted the invitation and came up.
"You'd better look out for him," Mr. Daddles whispered to Pete, "this may be guile."
Then all of us, except Pete, the Chief, and our prisoner, went below, and prepared to turn in. Jimmy Toppan stretched himself out on a bunk and went to sleep in no time at all. Ed Mason and I picked out places for ourselves, while Mr. Daddles made himself comfortable with a couple of pillows under his head.
"Today," I heard him murmur, "I've lost my steamboat, been wrecked on a desert island, been rescued, fallen overboard, rescued again, lost my money hunting buried treasure, was deserted by the boat that rescued me, and left stranded in Bailey's Harbor, been scared pink by an old cow, committed burglary, scared again by a snoring policeman, got arrested by the High Sheriff and his posse, confined in dungeons, escaped from jail, committed abduction, Gregory-snatching, and muffling-with-a-pillow. I wonder—"
Here his voice trailed off into a whisper.
I had expected to go to sleep as soon as I lay down, but I found the cabin rather close and stuffy. Sprague and Ed Mason didn't seem to mind it,—they lay still, and were evidently asleep. I hitched about for a while, and finally decided to go up on deck. It struck me that I could sleep better there.
So I took a pillow and went up. Gregory was sitting in the cock- pit, contentedly smoking a clay pipe and watching the sails with the air of an owner. Pete and the Chief were both sitting quietly in the stern. The Chief was again at the wheel. I found some canvas, part of a sail-cover, and stretched myself out on a seat, with the canvas over me to keep off the dampness. In a minute or two I was asleep,—the best and most refreshing sleep I ever remember. All through the rest of the night I was dimly aware of the sound of the water about the bows, and the cool breeze on my face.
When I woke it was broad daylight. The boat had come to a stop, the mainsail was down, and they were taking in the jib. I heard the anchor go over with a splash, and then Pete came running aft.
"Hullo! Awake? How are you?"
"All right. Where are we?"
"I don't know. Unknown island."
I sat up and looked over the starboard side of the boat. We were in a little bay, and there was land about a hundred yards distant, —a rocky island with pine trees, and two or three small cottages set amongst the trees. I heard someone talking on the other side of the boat, and I looked up forward to see Sprague, in a bathing suit, and Gregory the Gauger. Sprague was entertaining the Gauger with a poem which he had been reciting at intervals ever since we met him.
"'She'd git her little banjo an' she'd sing Kulla-lo-lo!'—but not in Bailey's Harbor,—hey, what? She wouldn't get her little banjo there, or you'd run her in, wouldn't you, Squire? You and the Constable!"
"Where did you get that poem?" asked Pete, who was furling the sail.
"I read it in a paper last week. Isn't it great? It's by a man with a funny name,—I wish I could remember it! 'An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!' That's the way the dawn does come up over there, isn't it? Ever been in China, Squire?"
"No, I haint," said Gregory. "Where be you fellers goin' to put me ashore? That's what I want to know."
"All in good time, Squire, all in good time. Watch this,—I bet you can't do it!"
And Sprague made a clean dive and scoot under the water, came up thirty feet away, and commenced to float, facing the boat, and waggling one big toe at Gregory the Gauger.
It did not take me two seconds to know what I wanted to do, nor two minutes to get overboard. The water was cold, but I swam around the yacht, before I climbed out again. One by one the others came up from below, and they all jumped over for a swim, except Gregory and the Chief. The latter went poking about, in his silent, methodical way, paying no attention to the orders which Sprague fired at him.
"Food! food!" called the banjo-player, climbing aboard; "my wasted frame cries aloud for food. Get out the frying-pan, Chief, and the coffee-pot! Move about more briskly,—remember that I have been many days on bread and water in a dungeon ... Oh, hang it!"
He floundered about in his shirt, which he had put on wrong side foremost in his hurry.
"Fish out those eggs, and see if there are any rolls left,—I'll match you for yours, Squire. You won't be hungry, you haven't been in swimming."
"Ketch me goin' into that water!" returned Gregory, "I'll make my abbalootions right here."
And he proceeded to wash his face and hands over the stern of the boat. We were all very much awake now, very hungry, and no longer tired. The swim had opened our eyes. The drowsy moonlight world had gone and given place to one of sunshine. A breeze rattled the halliards against the mast, and ruffled the blue water of the bay in little patches. We hurried into our clothes, while the Chief warned us to keep out of the cockpit, and not get everything wet. Sprague struggled with his shirt, and declaimed his favorite poem in a muffled tone.
"'And the flyin' fishes play,'—And speaking of flying-fishes, where is Simon? Has he had his morning swim? ... Oh, there he is, —paddling about like a good one! Swims like a duck, doesn't he, Squire?"
"There's nothing for breakfast except bacon and eggs," said the Chief.
"And coffee and rolls," added Pete, "what more do you want, you old lemon?"
"No, there are only three rolls. Some of us will have to eat crackers."
"I will eat marline-spikes," said Mr. Daddles, "if you've got any of them on board. I've never seen one,—though I've heard of them a great deal."
"I'll eat crackers," declared Jimmy Toppan.
"So will I," said Sprague, "and glad to get 'em. I might be gnawing a bone in jail, now, instead."
"And there's no milk," said the Chief, "we were going to get some, and some bread, this morning in Bailey's Harbor."
"If you had endured the sufferings that I have in Bailey's Harbor—" began Sprague.
"There are three dozen eggs," said Pete, "and that's more than four apiece, and there is plenty of bacon,—stop talking and get busy."
In ten minutes we were eating breakfast. They had trouble to keep us all supplied with fried eggs, until two skillets were put into commission. Then there was silence for a time.
"There's an apple pie down there," remarked Sprague, as he helped himself to another cup of coffee.
Mr. Daddles hurried below, and soon came up with the pie.
"I hope some of you will," said he, "you do, in this region, don't you?"
"In obscure parts of the ulterior," said Pete, "I have heard that the habit lingers of eating pie for breakfast. It's merely a tradition in my family, I regret to say."
"The old, robust stock is dying out," said Sprague, mournfully, "but my father has told me that in his youth he often saw his father do it. We are over civilized, but if there should be any great national crisis,—a war, or anything like that,—I have no doubt that New England would rally once again, and—"
"I am so much disappointed," said Daddles, turning slowly about, with the pie in one hand, "my poor grandmother has often told me about it, and I did hope to see the weird, old custom practised on its native heath—won't you? Or you?"
He turned to one after the other of us.
"Yer can give me a mejum piece," observed Gregory the Gauger, looking up from his fifth fried egg.
Mr. Daddles cut a large slice in evident delight. Gregory ate it, slowly and thoughtfully.
"Have some more?"
The Gauger held out his plate.
"Jes' mejum," said he.
After breakfast, we of the "Hoppergrass" held a council.
"The Captain will come back to Bailey's Harbor," said Jimmy Toppan, "but we can't go there at all. We'll have to go somewhere else, and send a message to him."
"We might go to that place—what's its name? Squid Cove," Ed Mason suggested.
"And send a message to him by the car-driver," I added.
"We'll have to write it in cipher," said Mr. Daddles, "for it would never do to have it fall into the hands of Eb."
"How do you know that he will come back there?" I asked.
"I don't," said Jimmy, "but it's the most likely thing to happen, isn't it?"
"The most likely thing doesn't seem to happen on this trip," remarked Ed Mason, who was feeding Simon, the duck, with cracker crumbs.
Sprague broke in on our conversation.
"This charming little island," said he, pointing over his shoulder, toward the land, "is not an island, at all, it seems. It is a cape, or promontory, or perhaps more properly a peninsula. Its name, so the Squire tells us, is Briggs's Nose. Probably the man who gave it that name perished long ago,—slain, no doubt, by the residents. At any rate, it is so far from the nearest town on the mainland that we believe it will be safe to land the Squire there. He can take the steamer this afternoon and get home before dusk. All who wish to kiss the Squire good-bye should therefore get ready. The line forms on the left."
Gregory the Gauger was disposed to grumble at being set ashore.
"Fear not, Squire," said Sprague, "crowns for convoy shall be put into your purse. Many a ship's crew would have marooned you on a desert island, or set you adrift."
"With some ship's bread and a beaker of water," added Mr. Daddles.
"Quite so," said Sprague, "only we couldn't find a beaker on board,—and wouldn't have known one if we HAD found it."
Pete and the silent Chief prepared to row Gregory ashore. Just before they left Sprague gave the prisoner some money for steamboat fare, and Mr. Daddles presented him with the remains of the apple pie, begging him to keep some of it for breakfast next day.
Twenty minutes later our friends were on board again, and we were getting up the anchor. Jimmy Toppan, the Chief, and Sprague went below to consult a chart, while the rest of us got the yacht under way. When they came back on deck the Chief took the wheel, announcing:
"Lanesport it is."
"Why Lanesport?" asked Pete.
"It's the nearest town on the mainland to Bailey's Harbor," said Jimmy Toppan.
"Then I should think you'd better steer clear of it."
"Oh, they won't have heard anything yet," answered Sprague, lying down on a seat, with his banjo. And he added: "Assisted by Simon, I will now give you a little song."
"Do you think we'll find the 'Hoppergrass' at Lanesport?" inquired Ed Mason.
"We can but try. We'll do a little sleuth-work there, anyhow."
"Who will you inquire from?"
"Oh, anybody. Do not interrupt me again, or I will sing 'Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep.' Honest, I will."
A little before noon, we sailed up the river to Lanesport. The old town lay very still in the baking sun. There were schooners in the stream, and one or two at the wharves. A few sloop-yachts and cat- boats were at anchor in the river, but none of them was the "Hoppergrass." Old and dilapidated wharves ran down to the river, some of them deserted, and covered with grass. There were tumble- down buildings at the water's edge, and they were mostly black with age. The town looked as if it had been sound asleep for a hundred years.
The Chief skilfully sailed our boat up to a wharf, where there was a landing-stage, and all of us, except our skipper, went ashore. Half way up the wharf we found a man, painting a row-boat. He knew nothing about the "Hoppergrass" and said he had never heard of it.
"We'll walk up into the town," remarked Pete, "we've got to get some grub, anyway."
We strolled up the wharf, and along a quaint and crooked street. The sidewalk was so narrow that we had to walk in single file, and the curb-stone, as Mr. Daddles put it, was made of wood. There were a few shops, but as most of them sold ships' supplies, we did not go in any of them. A pleasant smell of tar came from each door.
Presently we reached a square or market place. Here were more shops, a butcher's, a grocery, and one that announced "Ice Cream." A peanut-stand, sheltered by an umbrella, stood in the middle of the square, and toward this we made our way. An aged Italian sat behind it, reading a newspaper. He sold us peanuts, and exchanged facetious remarks with Mr. Daddles. As we left the peanut man, we heard a far-off shouting. Down the street came a tall, thin man, ringing a great dinner-bell. He was very lame and made slow progress. Now and then he would halt, and shout something at the top of his voice.
"What's the matter?" Sprague asked a man, who stood in the door of a cigar-shop, "is there a fire?"
The man grinned.
"That's the town-crier," said he.
"Town-crier!" exclaimed Mr. Daddles, "I didn't know there were any of 'em left."
"There aint," said the man, "except this one. He's the last one of 'em."
The crier limped slowly down the street toward us. We all halted to hear his next announcement. Stopping in the middle of the street he solemnly rang his bell two or three times. Then he threw back his head, and bellowed in a tremendous voice:
"Hear—what—I—have—to—say! Stolen! the cat-boat—Hannah—J.— Pettingell—from—Mulliken's Wharf—yesterday—afternoon! Reward —will—be—paid—for information!—Apply—to—the—owner—at— the Eagle—House!"
HUNTING THE HOPPERGRASS
"Did you ever hear the like of that?" said Mr. Daddles, in a kind of awed whisper; "don't move,—he's going to do it again!"
But Ed Mason, Jimmy Toppan, and I were not be to restrained.
"That's the 'Hoppergrass'!" we all burst out, at the same instant.
"What's the 'Hopper'—?" began Mr. Daddles, but his voice was drowned out by the crier. Beginning with his "Hear what I have to say!" he repeated the announcement word for word as he had given it the first time. Then he rang his bell with four, slow, deliberate motions, and started to hobble away.
We were after him in a second.
"Where is it?"
"When was it stolen?"
"Where's Captain Bannister?"
The crier looked down at us with some air of indignation, and shifted his quid of tobacco.
"Apply at the Eagle House," said he, pointing his thumb over his shoulder.
"Come on! come on!" we begged the other three, "let's go to the Eagle House!"
"Why? What for?"
"That's the 'Hoppergrass' he said was stolen. Captain Bannister is here,—at the Eagle House!"
"But he didn't say the 'Hoppergrass';—he said the Hannah Billingsgate."
"Pettingell. That's the other name of the 'Hoppergrass'."
"The other name? Does she travel under an Elias, as Gregory the Gauger calls it?"
"No, no! The captain doesn't like 'Hoppergrass' and he said he had thought of changing the name. Come on,—let's go to the Eagle House."
We made them understand at last, and then we started up the street in the direction that the crier had pointed. On the way, Jimmy Toppan was struck by doubts.
"I don't see how the Captain COULD change the name like this. You have to register a new name for a boat, I think."
"You said that he was thinking of calling her the Hannah J. what —is—it? Didn't you?"
"Well, then, it must be the same boat. There wouldn't be two knocking about, with a name like that."
We found the hotel presently. There were two elderly men sitting on the little piazza, and they hitched their chairs around and watched us through the window as soon as we entered the office. This room was empty, but after we had stamped and coughed a good deal, a small man in shirt-sleeves came from some room in the back.
"Is Captain Bannister here?"
"Bannister? Oh, no, Bannister aint here!"
This in a tone which was as much as to say: "I wouldn't have a man like that on the premises."
"Well, he WAS here, wasn't he?"
"Was here? Oh, yes, he WAS here,—last night."
(As if to say: "He was here until we got on to him.")
"Has he gone away?"
"Gone away? Oh, yes, he's gone away."
This seemed to strike the two men on the piazza—whose ears were almost stretching through the window—as a joke. They both laughed uproariously. The hotel man was evidently unwilling to give up any information until it was wrenched out of him, bit by bit. Mr. Daddles continued the cross-examination.
"Do you know where he's gone?"
"Oh, he went away before six o'clock."
"Well, do you know WHERE he went?"
"Where? Oh, he told me—Joe, where'd he say he was goin'?"
One of the men on the piazza answered:
"Big Duck Island?"
The other man broke in. "He says to me that he was goin' to Rogerses'."
"Rogerses'? Where's that?"
"Rogerses' Island," said the hotel man, "'bout three miles t'other side of Bailey's Harbor."
One of the men now came in from the piazza, and after much questioning we found out all they knew. Captain Bannister had arrived in Lanesport sometime the latter part of the afternoon. He left the "Hoppergrass" at the wharf, and came up into the town. When he returned, an hour later, his boat had disappeared. One or two men had seen it sail down the river, but in the fog had not noticed who was on board. The Captain "flew round like a coot shot in the head," declared our informant. He went from one wharf to another, started to hire a yacht and go in pursuit, but gave up the plan. Then he went to the police-station.
"The police reckoned it was some of them burglars had took it. The fellers that have been breakin' into houses on Little Duck."
"They've ketched them fellers," said the hotel man.
"Yes. Got 'em last night, breakin' into a house in Bailey's Harbor. Bert Janvrin was in here not more'n ten minutes ago, and he heard 'bout it from a feller that was off Bailey's this mornin', haulin' lobster-pots. They got the whole gang, and put 'em in jail, an' they all got out again, somehow, an' got away on a boat, an' there's a man missin',—Mose Silloway,—you know Mose, Joe—an' they think likely he's been murdered by 'em."
Mr. Daddles looked at me very gravely, and rubbed his upper lip, hard.
"Dear me!" he said, "why, that's terrible! I hope it will turn out all right. Well, we want to find Captain Bannister and his boat. How do you get to Rogers's Island?"
"Jes' go over to Bailey's Harbor, an' keep on to the far end of the island,—you can row across to Rogerses' from there."
"I don't think he has gone to Rogerses', young feller," said one of the men, "I heard him say he was goin' to try Big Duck, fust."
"I guess we'll have to try them both,—thank you, all."
We said good-bye, and left the hotel. As we walked down the street again Sprague said that we would do well to get away from Lanesport, soon.
"If any more of these Bill Janvrins, or whatever his name was, come here with news about the burglars, we may find the constable after us again."
"It seems to me," said Pete, "that you fellows are getting in deeper all the time. When you had lost your boat and your Captain it was bad enough. But now the Captain has lost the boat, and one is in one place, and the other in another."
"Some of us will have to go to Big Duck Island, and some of us to Rogers's," said Ed Mason.
"By way of Bailey's Harbor?" asked Pete, with a sarcastic smile.
"We won't have to go there," said Jimmy; "at least, I don't think so. I noticed Rogers's Island on the chart. I don't believe we'd have to land on Little Duck at all."
We talked it over on our way back to the boat. In one or two shops, where Sprague bought some food, we found out that the horse-cars would take us to Squid Cove. Beyond that ran the car on which we had travelled yesterday. Then there was a walk of less than two miles to a point on the shore from which a row-boat could take us to Rogers's Island. It was a long way to go, but it was necessary in order to avoid Bailey's Harbor. Moreover, since Sprague and Pete decided to take their boat to Big Duck Island, the trip to Rogers's must be made by land.
"It will be safer for just one of us to go to Rogers's Island," said Mr. Daddles, "and he can look around after the Captain and the 'Hoppergrass.' If he finds them, they can all sail over to Big Duck Island tonight or to-morrow morning and join us there. If he doesn't see anything of them, he can come back here to Lanesport, and spend the night in the Eagle House. Then the rest of us will join him tomorrow afternoon, with or without Captain Bannister, as the case may be. But we'll wait at Big Duck till noon."
When we got back to the yacht, there was the Chief, peacefully reading a last year's magazine. We routed him up, and cooked the dinner. While we were eating, the question arose: who was to go to Rogers's Island?
"We'll draw lots," said someone. We did so,—with slips of paper, and I was more than pleased when I saw that I had,—well, I was going to say: won. I thought I had won at the time, and I was tickled at the idea of going on this expedition by myself.
As we were separated from our boat, clothes, and all our belongings, Sprague fitted me out with some money, and I left Lanesport on the horse-car. At Squid Cove I looked anxiously to see if the car-driver would remember me, and I was glad to see a boy, about my own age, driving the old horse.
"Gran'father's gone over to Bailey's Harbor," said he, "to see if the burglars have come back. Gee! I'd like to see a burglar, wouldn't you? Gee! they say these had black masks, an' six- shooters, an' bottles of chloro-chlory—of that stuff they put folks to sleep with. An' brass knuckles. Say, did you ever see any brass knuckles? I did. I know a feller that has got a pair. He keeps 'em in the hay in the barn, so's his father won't get onto him. Gee! They put the burglars into the new jail, but they all got out, an' no one knows how they did it. Nate Bradley come back on his milk-cart from Bailey's and he says he went into the jail, an' the cells was all locked up, so they must have clumb out through the bars somehow. Gee! No one can find old Mose Silloway, an' they think the burglars drownded him, outer revenge. Giddap!"
He leaned over the front of the car and hit the horse a loud slap, with the ends of his reins.
"Gee! You bet Eb Flanders is madder than a settin' hen!"
"Who is he?" said I. Which was guile on my part.
"He's constable. He caught the burglars, y'know, right in the face 'n eyes of two policemen from Lanesport. An' when they got away, Eb pretty near bust his biler. He got his possy together again, an' he says he'll have 'em back if it takes a leg, an' when he gets 'em he'll set over 'em night an' day, with a shot-gun. Gee!"
He hit the horse another slap with the reins, and then turned to grin at me through a gap where four front teeth were missing. He was a jolly looking boy, with a round, red face like the rising moon.
"I wouldn't like to be them burglars, when Eb ketches hold of 'em again," he continued. "No, sir. Why, Eb arrested two fellers last summer for haulin' Levi Sanborn's lobster-pots,—he took an' tied 'em back to back an' carried 'em over to Lanesport in his boat, an' turned 'em over to the police. One feller got six months in the House of C'rrection. Gee! You're goin' to Bailey's, aint yer?"
"No, I'm going to Rogers's Island."
"You be? Why, the excursion aint till tomorrow!"
I said "What excursion?" before I thought.
"Why, the Comp'ny. Aint you heard 'bout the Comp'ny? Gran'father's goin'. Everbody's goin'. Don't you live in Lanesport?"
"No, I don't know anything about it. What is it,—a picnic? How many people live there,—on Rogers's Island?"
"Didn't no one live there—till 'bout a month ago. Then those two gen'lemen came,—the P'fessor an' Mr. Snider. The house had been empty for a year an' a half,—ever since old man Rogers died. He was the last of the fam'ly, an' his folks have owned the island an' lived in the house ever since the first one of 'em come over in the 'Mayflower' or with Christopher C'lumbus, or somebody. When Gran'father was a boy there was twenty-seven of 'em livin' there, an' nineteen of 'em was children. Gee! there must have been a mob,—all in one house! But they've been dyin' off, or movin' away or somethin', an' when old man Rogers died there wasn't no one for him to leave the prop'ty to but a hospittle or somethin'. An' the hospittle aint never come to live there, or nothin', an' it's stayed empty. I went over there once last summer, an' peeked into the winders. ... But Mr. Snider an' the P'fessor are there now,— they hired the whole island to 'stablish the Comp'ny on."
He stopped the car for some passengers,—two women and two little girls who had been picking flowers beside the road. One of the women commenced to ask questions and I did not get much chance to talk with him again until we came to the end of the line, at the causeway leading to Bailey's Harbor.
I decided not to linger at this point, but merely stopped to ask the boy if I would be able to get a boat to row to Rogers's Island.
"You won't want one," said he, "there's a bridge. You'll find it all dry walkin'."
I learned what this meant, when, after about half an hour's walk, I came to a turn in the road, and a post with a metal sign: "Rogers's I.—1/2m." Here was another causeway across a marsh, not as well kept, nor as much used, as that from Bailey's Harbor, but quite passable. The island was in plain sight at the end of the road,—a rocky hummock of land, with two patches of trees. At the edge of one of these groups of trees I could see a chimney and one corner of a house. A big, pink poster, stuck up on the sign-post, had caught my eye. It was like several others which I remembered having seen on trees and fences as I came along the road. Now, for the first time, I stopped to read one of them. This is what it said:
GOLD FROM THE VASTY DEEP OLD OCEAN GIVES UP HIS WEALTH AT LAST SUCCUMBS TO THE MODERN WIZARD EASE AND COMFORT PLACED WITHIN THE REACH OF ALL BY THE METROPOLITAN MARINE GOLD COMPANY COME TO THE GRAND DEMONSTRATIONS AT THE COMPANY'S PLANT, ROGERS'S ISLAND TWO EXCURSIONS—MORNING & AFTERNOON
I read that poster, and wondered what it was all about. July 30th,—that was to-morrow. Then I remembered what the boy on the horse-car had said about "the Company" and the excursion. This was the thing he had meant. Well, it was nothing to me,—I had only to find out if Captain Bannister and the "Hoppergrass" were there, and if not, to go back to Lanesport. "Gold from the vasty deep,"— I wondered what that was. The buried treasure on Fishback Island, —had it anything to do with that?
Half way across the causeway was a wooden bridge, painted white. It spanned a narrow stream, not much more than a creek, running through the marsh. This was the only water which divided Rogers's Island from the mainland.
On the railing of the bridge was tacked another pink poster. This one said:
RICHES FROM NEPTUNE'S HOARD TREASURE FROM THE BOUNDLESS MAIN WHY TOIL AND SLAVE ALL YOUR LIVES WITH THE MEANS FOR LUXURY AT YOUR DOORS? GRAND EXCURSIONS TO ROGERS'S ISLAND, JULY 30. STEAMER "MAY QUEEN" LEAVES LANESPORT AT 8.30 A. M., AND 2 P. M. THE METROPOLITAN MARINE GOLD COMPANY IS ENDORSED BY THE LEADING FINANCIERS AND SCIENTISTS OF THE WORLD AND BY HON. J. HARVEY BOWDITCH & DEACON ENOCH CHICK LANESPORT
There were some hand-bills blowing around on the bridge, and I picked up one or two of them. They were like the posters,—about the Metropolitan Marine Gold Company, and the excursions to Rogers's Island. At the end of the causeway, where the road went up a little grade, there was a big sign, painted on white cloth, and fixed to some boards:
THE METROPOLITAN MARINE GOLD COMPANY (Limited)
The road wound up the slope, and I followed it and turned the corner. There was a great house, three stories high and as square as a child's block. If it had ever been painted, the paint had worn off, and the wood was almost black. For a hundred years or more the wind and rain and snow had beaten against it,—storms from the ocean, storms from the land, winds from all quarters, for except at one corner it was unprotected by trees. It stood on high ground, and faced the open water of the bay. Grass had grown rank all around, and there was no sign of anybody either indoors or out. There was an enormous barn behind the house, as well as woodsheds, and hen-houses.
I stood still for a few moments, and then walked up the weed-grown path, and hammered on the front door with the brass knocker. The knocking echoed all over the house, and the door swung slowly open. It was my knocks which had opened it, however,—there was no one inside, so far as I could see. I looked into an empty hall, dusty and neglected. A broad staircase led upstairs, but the only thing in the hall was a pile of pink hand-bills lying on the floor. I thumped again with my knuckles on one of the panels of the door, and called out: "Anybody here?" There was no answer, and after hesitating a moment I decided to try the rear of the house.
The driveway at the side was in the same neglected condition as the front path. The only thing about the place which looked at all new was a sort of wooden stand, built out of boards and packing boxes. This was decorated with flags and colored bunting, as if for a band-concert. It stood at one side of the driveway in what had once been a little garden. The barn and other buildings at the rear were shabby and ill-kept.
I pounded at a side-door, and at a door in the back, but there was no answer at either. Then I began to wonder what to do. Evidently Captain Bannister was not here, but why had he said he was coming to such a place? What had made him think he would find the "Hoppergrass" here? Where were the men about whom the boy on the horse-car had told me?
I strolled to the front of the house again, crossed the road, and looked down the hill toward the bay. There was a little wharf at the foot of the hill, and at the end of it was another of the white cloth signs. It faced out over the water, so I could not read what it said. Some planks, boards, and shavings lay about, as if someone had been working there recently. I thought I would go down and investigate.
As I still had on rubber-soled shoes, I suppose I walked noiselessly. I had not stepped upon the woodwork before I noticed a trap-door near the end of the wharf. I walked over to it and looked down.
It was rather dark below, but I could make out a platform about a foot above the water. Kneeling on this were two men, with a lantern beside them. They were both in their shirt-sleeves, and they seemed to be working over a little, square box. Four or five other boxes like it were lying on the platform in front of them.
I did not know exactly how to begin, but at last I gave a kind of cough, and said: "Can you tell me—"
But I got no farther than that. Both men looked up as if their heads had been pulled back on wires. One of them sprang to the ladder and came up it like a flash.
"Hullo!" he said, as soon as he reached the top; "who are you, and what do you want?"
He was a small man, with a clean-shaven face,—a very pale face it was, too. His hat was off, and I noticed that his hair was rather short. As for his age, I could not have told about that,—it might have been twenty-five or fifty, or any age between. He was quick in his movements, but his manner of speaking was pleasant enough.
"I'm looking for a boat," I said; "someone told me that it was here,—this is Rogers's Island, isn't it?"
"This is Rogers's Island, all right," he answered,—"what kind of a boat is it you are looking for?"
"She's a white cat-boat,—the 'Hoppergrass',—or the 'Hannah J. Pettingell',—it's more likely that's her name."
He looked at me inquiringly with his quick little eyes. The other man came up through the trap-door. He had put on his coat,—a long, black, "swallow-tail" coat. He was tall and thin, and dressed all in black, with a white neck-tie. His hair was sandy, and he had reddish side-whiskers,—the kind called "side-boards." I never saw a man with such a solemn face,—nor one with so long a nose. But he smiled as he walked over to me, a kind of painful smile as if he had the face-ache. He leaned over, took one of my hands, and held it in his damp grasp, while he patted me on the shoulder with his other hand.
"Well, my little man," he said, "what is your name, and what can I do for you?"
I did not like being called "my little man," and I tried to drop his clammy hand. But he held mine still, and smiled his tooth-achy smile.
"What is it we can do for you?" he repeated. He had a smooth voice that somehow made me feel as if I was having warm butter poured over me.
"I'm looking for a boat," I said, trying again to snatch away my hand.
"A boat?" he queried, in mild surprise, "and what is your name,— my little man?"
I started to tell him, and then it struck me, that we had given our real names to the constable at Bailey's Harbor, and that I might get into trouble if I told mine again, here. I tried to think of another name to give, but as I hadn't made up one in advance, it seemed to stick. Of course, I had often read of various kinds of criminals and desperadoes who went under false names, and also of people who were no more criminals than we, who had to give names other than their own. There were spies in war- time, for instance. These people in books all seemed to do it easily enough, and so I could have done, if I had had one ready. As it was I stammered over it.
"Sam-er-er-Jim-er-James B-B-Brown," I said at last.
"Sam Jim James Brown!" he said, in his buttery tones, "well, Sam Jim James Brown, what is it you want here?"
I told him again about the boat, and how they told us at Lanesport that Captain Bannister was coming to Rogers's Island to look for her.
"What kind of a boat is it?" said the other man. I had succeeded at last in getting the tall man to let go of my hand, and I backed a little away from him. I described the "Hoppergrass" as well as I could, and told about the Captain's notion for changing the name.
"A white cat-boat, hey?" said the little man, "and Captain Bannister,—oh, yes! of Lanesport? Captain Bannister of Lanesport?"
"No, he comes—"
"No? Are you sure? He's been in Lanesport lately, hasn't he?"
"Oh, yes. That's where he lost the 'Hoppergrass.'"
"That's the man!" said he, "that's the man. Now, I tell you what. He isn't here now, but I expect he will be here tomorrow. You've heard about the excursion, of course?"
"Yes,—I read the hand-bills."
"Well, I understand he is coming here tomorrow. Now, have you got to go back to Lanesport tonight?"
"Just a second,—excuse me just a second, Professor," put in the tall man, "I'd like a word with you just for a second. You'll excuse me, young man, if I confer with the Professor for a second. An important matter of business, you know."
He drew the Professor, as he called him, some little distance up the wharf, where they whispered together for three or four minutes. The tall man kept his hand on the Professor's shoulder and seemed very earnest in what he was saying.
Then they came back to me.
"Were you going back to Lanesport tonight?" asked the Professor.
"Yes," I replied, "if I didn't find Captain Bannister."
"I don't believe you can now," said he, looking at his watch. "It's half past four, and the last car leaves the Cove at four. Besides, your surest way to find this Captain Bannister is to stay right here. He'll be here tomorrow, sure. Then you can go back on the steamboat at noon, if you want to. We'll fix you up for tonight, and make you comfortable. What do you say?"
There didn't seem to be any way out of it. If it had been the tall man alone I would have walked all the way back to Lanesport rather than stay. I never saw anyone whom I disliked so much, from the very first instant. But the Professor seemed perfectly straightforward. The cars had stopped, and I was left here on Rogers's Island, and might as well make the best of it. Besides if Captain Bannister were coming in the morning it was foolish to lose this chance of finding him.
I decided to stay, and told them that I would do so.
THE GOLD COMPANY
Two minutes later I had begun to regret my decision, and to wonder if it was a mistake to stay on the island. I reflected that I was alone, with two strangers. Yet they were posting advertisements, and asking everybody in Lanesport to come to the island tomorrow. They would hardly do that if there was anything shady about them. From the very first, I had no fault to find with the Professor. The trouble with the other man was that he seemed to be so very, very GOOD.
"Now, James," said he, "we'll leave the Professor to finish some work here, while you and I go up to the house. ... Wonderful man, the Professor!" he continued, after the latter had vanished down the trap-door, and we had started up the hill,—"wonderful man! How future generations will bless his name! That is it,—that is all that induced me to become connected with this great enterprise,—the blessedness of it! I would never have anything to do with any work unless it was for the good of my fellowman. I asked the Professor if his work was going to be for the benefit of ALL mankind. He told me that it was. Then I consented to come in with him. He has a marvellous brain."
"What is he professor of?"
"Transcendental chemistry ... He has studied in all the leading universities of Europe. ALL of them. The name of Von Bieberstein will be blessed by generations yet unborn. And how devoutly happy am I that the name of Snider will come in for some of those blessings! It will be associated with his in this great work,— this GOOD work!"
"Is that his name?"
"Professor Von Bieberstein. Yes. And mine is Snider. ... James, I hope you are a good boy."
I said nothing, but if to be a good boy would turn me into anything like Mr. Snider when I grew up, I hoped I was the worst kind of boy.
"You don't use tobacco, I hope, James?"
"Don't ever do it. It leads to lying. And drinking. I have known the greatest criminals and blacklegs in the city of New York, murderers, and thieves, and men like that,—and they all became what they were through using tobacco. All of them."
We had arrived at the house, and Mr. Snider led the way around to the side-door.
"Here is the platform, you see, James," said he, pointing to the band-stand, "all ready for the gathering tomorrow. Yes. It will be a great occasion. Historic. Nothing that this ancient house has ever seen could match it. And yet I suppose that many of the world's great discoveries were made in places humble and obscure like this. ... Suppose we split a little wood, James, and bring some water from the well. Then we can have supper ready, when the Professor comes back from his work. He is very absent-minded. Very. His mind is engaged on these problems all day. He would not remember to eat unless I reminded him of it. I have to take care of him,—his life is very precious to the world, James!"
We went to a shed where there was a little kindling wood in one corner. Mr. Snider handed me a hatchet, and I split some wood, while he stood near and talked to me about the importance of being good and virtuous.
"It's the way to be happy, James, and successful, and RICH. Did you ever hear of Abraham P. Fillmore, James?"
"Oh, yes. Lots of times." "Worth ninety million dollars, James! Think of it! Ninety million dollars!" Mr. Snider licked his lips. "The richest man in the world, today. Some say that John Sanderson is richer,—but it isn't true. No; it isn't true. The last time I saw A. P. Fillmore, I said to him: 'Brother Fillmore,' I said, 'how do you account for it? How did you do it? How did you GET it?' And he said: 'Caleb,' he said, 'I'll tell you. It was by following the Golden Rule.' That's all there is to it, James,— just by being GOOD. Isn't that simple, James? Oh! why can't we all do that!"
I looked at Mr. Snider in astonishment. Here was a man who knew the famous millionaire, A. P. Fillmore, well enough to call him "Brother Fillmore," and to be called "Caleb" in return by him. I had seen pictures of Fillmore in the newspapers ever since I could remember,—people were always talking about him. "You must think I am as rich as A. P. Fillmore!"—how many times I had heard people say that! And Mr. Snider, who was on such friendly terms with him, was standing here in a woodshed, talking with me! I wondered why I had never heard of Mr. Snider before.
Presently we went in the house, after we had the wood and a pail of water. The house was almost empty of furniture, and it was pretty dismal. The kitchen was the only room they used downstairs,—it contained a cook-stove, two tables, a couple of broken-down chairs, and some boxes set on end, for seats. An old- fashioned kitchen clock, its hands broken off, stood on a shelf, silent. But a handsome little glass and gold clock was ticking away in front of it.
The Professor joined us while we were kindling a fire in the stove. He did not seem at all neglectful of his food, he inquired how soon supper would be ready, and suggested that we have some sausages in addition to what Mr. Snider was preparing to cook. They sent me out to the shed for some more wood, and again to the well for another pail of water, so that we could wash our hands and faces at the sink.
We ate our supper in the kitchen, and as soon as the Professor finished eating he lighted a long cigar. Mr. Snider did not seem to notice this, though it made me wonder why he did not tell his friend how many scoundrels he had known who had come to their downfall through using tobacco. When the cigar was nearly gone, the Professor said he would wash the dishes, if I would help him wipe them. I agreed, and we began the work. Mr. Snider presently started to talk to me once more about being good. He did not get very far, however, before the Professor turned to him and said:
"Oh, shut up!"
Mr. Snider raised his eyebrows, smiled his hideous smile, and relapsed into silence. After a minute or two he went outside, and walked slowly up and down the driveway, with his hands behind his back. When the dishes were finished, the Professor lighted another cigar, sat down at a table, and began to write and figure on a piece of paper.
This wasn't very amusing to me, so I looked about to see if I could find something to do. In a passage leading from the kitchen to another room, I found a shelf which held some empty medicine bottles, and four or five dusty books. I took the books down, one after the other. There was "The Life of Rev. Thomas Miltimore,"—I put that back on the shelf. There was "Leading Men of Rockingham County,"—I put that back. Then there was a book of hymns, and Foxe's "Book of Martyrs." I was about to take the latter to the kitchen with me, and curdle my blood again with its ghastly pictures, when I found another book under an old, yellow newspaper. It was "The Rifle Rangers; or Adventures in Southern Mexico by Captain Mayne Reid." The frontispiece, which was protected by a torn and stained leaf of tissue paper, showed a soldier in a tropical forest, being startled by a skeleton which had apparently risen out of the ground. On the title-page someone had written in pencil "A mity Good Book." Underneath, in another handwriting, were the words, "you Bett!" This seemed well recommended,—even if the name of the author hadn't been a strong recommendation in itself. A faded legend on a fly-leaf showed that the book had been "Presented to Edward Rogers, on his Fourteenth Birthday, Jan'y 21st, 1852, By his Uncle Daniel."
I took that book back to the kitchen. The Professor had a lamp burning on the table beside him, and I sat down in its light. In a few seconds I was following the adventures of the hero,—a hero whose foot, it seemed "had pressed the summits of the Andes, and climbed the Cordilleras of the Sierra Madre." He had "steamed it down the Mississippi, and sculled it up the Orinoco."
The Orinoco! That magic river with the musical name! I knew it too, and could see it in my mind's eye as I read. The branches of the trees met across the stream,—parrots screamed, monkeys chattered, and scampered from one tree to another. The kitchen, the Professor, vanished from my sight. I was unconscious of the hard, uncomfortable chair in which I sat, and of the dim, sputtering light of the badly trimmed lamp.
What else had he done? He told you about his past adventures, before he began upon the new one. "I had hunted buffaloes with the Pawnees of the Platte, and ostriches upon the Pampas of the Plata; I had eaten raw meat with the trappers of the Rocky Mountains, and roast monkey among the Mosquito Indians." Now, it seemed, he was off for the war in Mexico,—and I could come along with him, if I liked.
I did like, and it was two hours later when I suddenly heard an oily voice saying: "Why, it's half past nine,—James, you're not going to read all night, are you?" Then I came back to Rogers's Island with a bump, and saw the obnoxious face of Mr. Snider looking down at me. The Professor had left the room, though I had not noticed when he went.
"What is that book, James? Something improving, I trust?"
"It's a fine book," said I.
He took it and looked it over, making a clicking sound of disapproval with his tongue.
"How much better it would be," he observed, "to read some book of useful information, or something with a MORAL! Such a book as this TEACHES you nothing. Couldn't you find anything better?"
I was sorry that the Professor wasn't there, to tell him to shut up. I had no patience to stay and hear a book of brave adventure decried by this sanctimonious looking hum-bug,—whose mouth watered when he talked about old Fillmore and his ninety million dollars. Fillmore, so everybody said, was so stingy that he cut his own hair, and went around looking like a fright, rather than pay a barber. Worse than that, he was hated like fury by all the people who worked for him because he screwed their wages down to the lowest possible figure. But Mr. Snider thought him a great man, and boasted to me of knowing him within ten minutes of the time we met.
I told Mr. Snider that I was ready to go to bed, if he would show me where I was to sleep. He led me upstairs, past two or three rooms, to one in the rear. The floors were all bare, but the rooms had some furniture,—four-post beds, wash-stands, and one or two hair-cloth chairs. The bed in my room had a mattress and blankets, but no other bed-clothes. Mr. Snider bade me good-night, tried to shake hands with me—an attempt in which I foiled him—and softly departed down stairs.
After I was in bed I could hear the murmur of his voice below, as he talked with the Professor. Just as I was dropping off to sleep the voices grew suddenly louder for a moment or two, as if a door had opened somewhere.
"Maybe," I heard the Professor say, "but they'd never send a kid like that."
Mr. Snider answered something,—I could not distinguish the words.
"Oh, rats!" said the Professor, "what could he have seen?"
Again Mr. Snider murmured.
"Oh, sure, sure," the Professor's voice came again, "I was for keeping him, from the first. But just to be perfectly safe. We want to keep him till the first crowd has gone, anyway,—and till the second one has gone, if you say so. I don't care."
Another mutter from Snider; the Professor laughed and spoke again:
"It won't make a bit of difference. Bowditch has got all those hayseeds hypnotised. That's where you come in,—with your pink whiskers. ... Say, that door's open!"
There was a sound of footsteps, and the soft closing of a door. Presently another door closed, outside, and I heard the two men come upstairs. I jumped out of bed, and locked the door of my room. It was fairly plain to me that I was in the house with a couple of swindlers, of some kind or other, and though I didn't believe they would harm me, there was no need to take unnecessary chances.
They went into one of the front rooms. I heard four thumps, one after the other, as they took off their shoes, and threw them on the floor, so I judged they were going to bed. As I lay there, listening for them to begin to snore, I fell asleep myself.
I waked, a little at a time, in a room which was in broad daylight, with the sun shining through one window. For a moment I could not remember where I was,—at home, on the "Hoppergrass," in the jail at Bailey's Harbor, or on the other yacht. Then I recalled Rogers's Island, Mr. Snider and the Professor. I got up and listened for them, and looked out of the window, but I neither heard nor saw anybody. I dressed, unlocked the door, and tried to open it. But I could not do so,—a bolt had been shot, or a button turned, and the door was locked outside. While I was rattling and shaking at it I heard Mr. Snider in the passage.
"Dear me!" he said, "what's the matter? Is that you, James? Just wait a moment."
I heard a fumbling, and my door came open.
"Dear me!" said he again, "this bolt had slipped over, and locked the door. It does that sometimes. An old house, you know, all out of repair. You must have thought we were trying to keep you inside. It DID look that way."
What a clumsy liar he was! I said nothing at all to him, but hurried down stairs as fast as I could without running. I felt much safer with the Professor,—perhaps he was as big a rascal as the other,—but he wasn't as slimy in his manner.
It was half past seven, and they had eaten their breakfast. They had saved some for me, and I ate it, keeping an eye out for Snider. He did not reappear, however, and after I had finished eating, I got "The Rifle Rangers" and went outside with it to read, and wait for the people who were coming on the steamboat. I felt more comfortable outdoors than in. With Mr. Snider creeping from one room to another I never knew what might happen, nor how he might try to cage me up. Outside, he wouldn't be able to touch me, if I had any kind of a start.
I had thought it over while I was eating breakfast. There was some sort of hocus-pocus going on, connected with this excursion and the gold company. Anybody could see that. Whether they really expected Captain Bannister to come on the steamboat, or whether that was all a lie to make me stay, I could not tell. Captain Bannister had said, according to the men at the Eagle House, that he was coming to Rogers's Island, so it might be that the Professor's story was true. On the other hand, it might have been made up out of whole cloth in order to keep me there over night. But why should they want to do that? They thought I had seen something,—the Professor had asked: "What could he have seen?" I hadn't seen anything,—except that they were working over some boxes on the platform beneath the wharf. They had both acted like boys caught in the jam closet.
I sat on the front porch, and thought it over, and read, and then thought it over again, until the smoke of the steamboat was in sight. This must have been about half past nine. The Professor and Mr. Snider had been out in the barn most of the time, or bringing chairs and putting them up on the platform in the side yard. When the smoke of the steamboat appeared they both came around to the front of the house. The Professor shook hands with me, and said goodbye. He had to go to Lanesport, he said, on important business, and he must start now. He was going by the road.
"Of course," said he, "I wish I could stay for the excursion, but Mr. Snider will have to receive them, and explain the works."
"And James," added Snider, "will come around to the side and help me with the chairs,—won't you, James? It will only take a moment."
The Professor vanished around the corner of the house, as we turned into the drive.
"I hope you understand, James," said Mr. Snider, "that any—er— precautions we have taken since you came amongst us, were only such as were perfectly necessary under the circumstances. We are guarding here, of course, a valuable scientific discovery,—a VERY valuable discovery. There are people who would give thousands of dollars, and go to ANY lengths to get our secret away from us. Any lengths. We are determined that these men—these wicked men, I regret to say—shall not steal from the Professor the fruit of his brain. The workings of this—er—this precious secret will be displayed today, when the good folk arrive from Lanesport. We have the recommendation, as you must have seen, of two of the most respectable men in the town,—their names alone are proof of the high moral plane on which our Company is conducted. I say this to you because you do not know me, nor the Professor, and you are young, and thoughtless, and might jump to wrong conclusions. That would pain me very much, James. Very much. You will see, after the good folk arrive, and after you have heard Mr. Bowditch and Deacon Chick, that everything is as open as the day."
In spite of Mr. Snider's manner, in spite of his oily voice, I was nearer believing in him then, than at any time while I was on the island. After all, I had heard of inventions which must be kept secret. Moreover, there may have seemed something suspicious about the way in which I had come. I had bungled in giving that false name, and made them think that I was simply prying into their affairs. All that I wished now was to see if Captain Bannister were on the steamboat, or if I could get news of him or the "Hoppergrass," and I told this to Mr. Snider.
"Very well, then," said he, "it will be all right, now we have a clear understanding. And I would like you to keep near me while the people are here. You may be able to help, and thereby you can work off some of your debt to us for the two meals you have had at our expense. Though we would not charge you much for them,—about fifty cents for the supper, and thirty-five—or forty—for the breakfast, I think. Now, we will go down to the wharf."
The steamboat was less than quarter of a mile distant. It gave three long, shrill toots of its whistle, and came straight for us. It was a small boat, covered with flags and streamers. A brass band, in red coats, sat in the bow playing "Sweet Marie." As the boat came nearer I was surprised to see how few people, aside from the band, were on it. I had expected to see a big crowd,—a picnic gathering. Instead, there were only about two dozen people. Most of them were men, but a few had brought their wives—nice looking old ladies—with them.
Mr. Snider stood up on a high place, took off his black felt hat, with a great flourish, and put on his ghastly smile. "Welcome!" he shouted, "welcome to Rogers's Island!"
There was a big man with a frock coat and top hat standing near the band. He must have weighed two hundred and fifty pounds, and all his movements were slow and majestic. He took off his hat, faced toward the people who were sitting about the deck on camp- stools, and shouted in a deep but tremendous voice:
"Three cheers for Brother Snider!"
Then, counting "One, two, three!" and waving his tall hat in slow circles, he gave the three cheers all by himself. No one else opened his mouth.
The steamboat came alongside the wharf, was made fast, and a gang- plank run out. The big man came ashore, together with another who had a gray beard,—Deacon Chick, as I found out later. They shook hands with Mr. Snider very warmly, and introduced him to some of the other people as they stepped off the gang-plank.
"The Professor not here!" I heard the big man say; "that's a great disappointment!"
Then they all started up the wharf toward the house. The men of the band had scrambled ashore, and they headed the procession,— still playing "Sweet Marie" with loud blasts. Then came Mr. Snider, accompanied by the big man (he was the Hon. J. Harvey Bowditch) and by Deacon Chick. Behind him were the people from Lanesport, two by two, some of them carrying baskets, and most of them in their Sunday clothes. At the end were some men from the steamboat with armfuls of camp-stools.
Captain Bannister was not there. I had watched all the men as they came ashore, and I asked one of the crew of the "May Queen" about him. He had never heard of such a man, he said. So I decided to go up to the house, hear what was going to happen, and then go back to Lanesport on the steamboat. It would leave, so the man told me, at twelve o'clock sharp, and get to Lanesport about one. I would be in time to meet Ed and Jimmy, Mr. Daddles and the rest, and find out if they had had better luck at Big Duck Island.
Mr. Snider had a great amount of trouble in getting the people placed as he wished them. The band was in one corner of the garden playing "Razzle Dazzle" in very lively fashion. This helped make the occasion gay, but it also made it hard for anyone to hear what was being said. Mr. Snider's smooth remarks, as he teetered about, the Hon. J. Harvey Bowditch's stentorian bellowings, and Deacon Chick's confidential whispers were all drowned out by the music. Some of the men wanted to inspect the barn, and the premises generally, and one or two of the women had shown a desire to look into the kitchen. They had to be headed off by Mr. Snider, who gave them all a smile, a clammy hand-shake, and a patting on the shoulder, as he rounded them up on the camp-stools near the platform. Then he and Mr. Bowditch and the Deacon mounted the stand. There was a table with a pitcher of water and a glass, and Mr. Snider took his place behind it.
But when he smiled, and opened his mouth to speak, the band seized upon that moment to burst into music again. Their choice this tune was "Daisy Bell,"—
"Daisy! Daisy! Give me my answer true!"
they blared forth, with their full strength. Mr. Snider turned toward them and tried to maintain his smile, while the Hon. Mr. Bowditch, and Deacon Chick waved their hands furiously at the leader.
The leader, however, was quite unconscious of their efforts, as his back was turned toward them. He was a short, very stout man, stuffed into a scarlet coat. He stood up to lead, and instead of waving a wand, played a cornet. This he moved about in the air, swaying his head and the upper part of his body in time with the music. His face was deep red, and it seemed as if he might burst if it were not for blowing into the cornet. The tune went on, defiantly, in spite of all the hand-wavings from Bowditch and Chick.
Finally, a trombone player caught sight of their gestures, and he attracted the leader's attention to the fact that something was wrong by giving him a prod in the stomach with the slide of his trombone. The leader hesitated, stopped, and then faced about to the speakers' stand. Some of the band paused, while others kept right on with "Daisy Bell."
Mr. Snider smiled, bowed, and I suppose, with a desire to make himself agreeable, thrust out his hands and applauded. At any rate, the band-master mistook the meaning of it, for he silenced those who were still playing, leaned forward to say something to them all, waved his cornet, and started them once more on "Razzle Dazzle." He had thought that Mr. Snider preferred that to "Daisy Bell," and wanted it repeated. Then they had to begin the hand- wavings and gesticulations all over again. Nothing could stop them this time until Deacon Chick descended from the stand, went over to the band-master, tapped him on the shoulder, and whispered excitedly in his ear. At last they got them all quieted down, except one tremendous man who sat on two stools, playing an enormous bass-horn. For quite two minutes after the others had ceased he went on with his: "Um-pah! Um-pah! Um-pah!"
"The boys don't get a chance like this more'n once a year," said a man who was standing beside me, "and you bet they are going to give J. Harvey his money's worth!"
He was a sharp-faced man, a farmer evidently, not more than thirty-five years old. He had bright black eyes, which he kept fixed constantly on Mr. Bowditch and Mr. Snider.
Finally, Mr. Snider got his chance to speak. He said he would call them all "Friends" as that suited them better than "Ladies and Gentlemen." He told how sorry he was because the Professor had been called away by the illness of a relative. Then he told what a great inventor the Professor was, and how he was even more remarkable for doing good. For this invention was one which would do good to so many people.
This led Mr. Snider up to his favorite subject, and he began to speak on doing good and being good. The black-eyed man beside me began to utter little groans.
"I knew I was in for J. Harvey Bowditch," he said under his breath, "and I thought that was enough punishment for one day."
At last Mr. Snider got back to the gold company. "From the earliest times, my friends, scientists have known of the existence of gold in sea-water. Together with other metals,—silver, platinum, and so on, there is a great amount of gold in sea-water. It is in tiny particles, not so big as the point of a needle. There it is,—but how shall it be got together? How shall it be extracted from the water? Aristotle tried to discover a method. He failed. Diogenes Laertius tried. He failed. Sir Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin,—they tried. And THEY failed. Professor Von Bieberstein has succeeded. And YOU are to see this method demonstrated today, and YOU, my friends, are to benefit by this discovery."
Then he talked at some length about the big "plant" which they expected to build, and how they would "treat" seventy millions (or billions, I forget which) of gallons of water daily. In one year from that date, he predicted, IF the plan received support, the gold taken every month from Broad Bay would be worth three hundred thousand dollars. Mr. Snider licked his lips. "Think of that, friends,—three hundred thousand dollars a month!" Shares in this Company were on sale for five dollars each. They would be placed on sale after the demonstration. He now had the pleasure and the honor to introduce to them one who needed no introduction to an audience from Lanesport,—the Hon. J. Harvey Bowditch.