Mr. Bowditch came forward with majestic tread. He thrust his right hand into the lapel of his coat, and commenced, in the deep booming tones of a bass-drum.
"My friends," he said, "I shall detain you here for just one moment."
"The poet Byron," he continued, "has written in words which must be forever immortal, of the deep and dark blue ocean. He said,—"
Mr. Bowditch talked for three quarters of an hour. That was his idea of "just one moment." Several people went sound asleep, one man pitched forward out of his chair while asleep, and some of those in the back began to get up and tip-toe away. At last Mr. Snider got him to stop—by pulling at his coat-tails—and they began to hand around the gold specimens.
That woke them up! Deacon Chick came down from the stand with a neat little box, and walked around among the people, showing off the gold. There were six nice, fat little nuggets—smooth, and yellow,—and delightful to handle. Each was about as big as a postage-stamp, and about half an inch thick. This was the gold which the Professor and Mr. Snider had extracted from the water, right there at Rogers's Island, by their secret, chemical process. It had been in tiny particles then, like dust, but they had sent it somewhere, and had it made into these nuggets,—plump and pleasing! They had a letter from someone in the Treasury to prove that it was solid and pure, and of the very best quality. No one needed the letter. The nuggets spoke for themselves,—they were so heavy! I held two of them, one in each hand, and weighed them. We all held one or two of them, and felt of them, and got a great deal of pleasure out of them.
The people from Lanesport gathered around Deacon Chick, the men looked at the gold nuggets, weighed them, and smiled at each other.
"Looks like the real stuff,—hey?"
"Looks like it to ME, all right!"
Everybody was interested, brightened up, happy and good-natured. They smiled and joked over the gold. Only one man seemed at all troubled in his mind.
"There's jus' one thing," I heard him say to two other men, "there's jus' one thing that kinder worries me. If we go ahead and perdoose gold at this rate, we're goin' to flood the market! Yessir! Gold will get so common that the price of everything will go sky-high, an' that'll raise old Ned!"
The other two looked pretty serious at this, and they started to discuss it. One of them thought they had better hold back most of the gold, "and only spring it on people a little at a tune."
Suddenly Mr. Snider shouted: "Now, friends, if you please, we will go down to the wharf for the demonstration!"
It was hard to get them started—they were clustered so thick around the Deacon and his little box, all talking and laughing and discussing. Everyone was awake now, and animated,—if those six little yellow lumps of gold had appeared sooner, even the Hon. J. Harvey Bowditch couldn't have put the people to sleep.
By sending the Deacon and the gold nuggets ahead, the procession was formed again for the wharf. The band stayed in the yard, playing tune after tune, and enjoying themselves immensely.
The "May Queen" was lying at one side of the wharf, so Mr. Snider, the Deacon, and Mr. Bowditch went to the end, while the people gathered around them in a semi-circle. Mr. Snider had a small tin box, which might once have held a pound of crackers. It was punched full of tiny holes. Two wires were soldered on one side of the box, and he connected these by long coils of fine wire with the jars of an electric battery. A little tin tube had been fastened to the bottom of the box so that it stood upright. Into this Mr. Snider poured some powder which he took from two little vials,—first he put in some white powder, and then some of a dark blue color. He sealed up the top of the tube with beeswax and then let everyone look into the box and see that, except for the little sealed tube, it was absolutely empty.
Then he put on the cover, wound a cord completely around it, got the wires clear, and with the greatest care lowered the box over the end of the wharf. He kept on lowering until the box must have been eight or nine feet below the surface. Then he stood waiting, with the most solemn expression upon his face. Mr. Bowditch stood beside him, holding a watch, and counting the minutes. Every now and then he would say, like the tolling of a great bell: "One minute gone! ... Two minutes gone! ... Three minutes gone! ..."
The people had watched the preparations with the utmost attention. Not a movement made by Mr. Snider escaped them. Now they all stood in profound silence. Some of the men had taken out their watches and were keeping count of the time. After "Eight minutes gone!" had tolled forth from the big man, he began counting the seconds: "And ten seconds! ... Fifteen! Twenty! ... Thirty! ... Thirty- five! ... Six! Seven! Eight!"
At eight minutes and thirty-eight seconds Mr. Snider began to pull up the box. The excitement was intense. Men from the "May Queen" had joined the group,—everyone was leaning forward to watch, with faces set and eager. You could hear the people breathe,—a sort of miracle was being performed, gold was being made right before their eyes!
The box came to the top and Mr. Snider had it at last in his hands. He disconnected the wires of the battery, unwound the cord which tied the box, and lifted the cover. One woman drew in her breath so quickly that she almost sobbed, and then choked, and had to be slapped on the back. Everybody crowded around, even closer than before, as Mr. Snider exhibited the box. There was a little mud and gravel inside and this they rinsed away very carefully with a cup and basin of water. Sticking to the tin tube were two or three dozen glittering golden grains! The box was passed about, and everyone looked at the gold in silence.
"Well, I snum! Yer've done it! I didn't believe yer could, but yer've done it!"
This remark, from a man in front, made most of the people laugh. One very serious old man kept the box in his hands. He had neither laughed nor smiled when the man in front spoke, but he looked earnestly at Mr. Snider.
"Just let me test them little bits of dust, will yer, Mister?"
"Test them? Oh, yes,—certainly, certainly. By all means."
"That's right," said two or three, "let Melvin test 'em."
After giving the box to someone else to hold, Melvin fished out of his pocket a little china dish and a bottle of some liquid. They scraped off some of the gilt particles with a pocket knife, and put them in the dish. Melvin had his bottle poised above them.
"If it aint genyewine," said he, solemnly, "it'll fizzle when I pour this acid onto it, but if it is genyewine, it won't fizzle."
Then he poured the acid into the dish. There was a pause.
"It don't fizzle," said he.
"Three cheers for Brother Snider!" bellowed the Hon. J. Harvey Bowditch.
The old man who had made the test advanced toward Mr. Snider. He had a roll of money in his hand, and I saw a hundred dollar bill on top.
"I'll take a hundred of them shares, Mister," said he.
"I come first here," said another man, "I've had this fixed up with Harvey Bowditch ever since we come. Gimme fifty shares."
"I'll take fifty of 'em," said another man.
"Here's twenty-five dollars," said another, "that's good for five shares, aint it?"
"Just one moment, friends," said Mr. Snider, "just one moment."
They got a stool from the "May Queen," and a little table. Mr. Snider sat down at the table, with Mr. Bowditch and Deacon Chick hovering near. They produced a bundle of certificates, all printed in bright purple ink, with a picture of Washington, and a big eagle, and a flag at the top. At the bottom was a great gold seal, with two red ribbons fluttering from it. Mr. Snider filled in the names with a fountain pen, and the number of shares that each man purchased.
He sat there and simply raked in money. I counted three thousand dollars before I got tired counting. But they got more than that, for the black-eyed man—the man who groaned during the speech- making—told me that old Melvin Eaton, who had tested the gold, walked away for a while and thought it over, and then came back and bought four hundred more shares, giving Mr. Snider five hundred dollars in cash and a check for fifteen hundred. This had such an effect on the others—for Melvin had a reputation for being "closer'n the bark of a tree"—that several of them doubled their previous purchases. One man had already bought a hundred shares, and now he counted ten more fifty dollar bills into Mr. Snider's hand. The money went into a black bag, and Mr. Snider raised the number of shares on his certificate to two hundred.
"No need to waste another certificate," said he.
The black-eyed man pulled me by the sleeve, and led me up the wharf, away from the crowd.
"You didn't come on the boat with us," he said, "perhaps you're part of the Company?"
"I am not!" I said, "I came here last night to look for a boat I had been cruising in. They made me stay here over night,—Mr. Snider and the Professor did, but I'm going back on the steamer with you."
"How do they work this fake anyhow?"
I stared at him.
"Oh, come! You know it's a fake as well as I do. I knew it was one before I came,—anything that Bowditch is in is always a fake. I'm sort of sorry, you know, to see these old roosters getting skinned so badly. It'll do some of them good, for believing in Bowditch,—he never had to do with anything straight yet."
"Why do they believe in him now?"
"Oh, it's Chick. Chick is an innocent old Betty, he's as much fooled as the others. He told me that he had put a thousand into this a week ago, and I don't doubt he has. Bowditch would have got a few of them,—there are always some who believe in a wind-bag, no matter how many bunco games he has been in, but Chick got most of them. Who knows anything about Snider? Now I've seen him, I wouldn't let him hold my coat while I ran across the street and back,—not if there was two cents in the coat that I ever wanted to see again. But they swallow him because Chick does, I guess. And Chick does because Bowditch does. And there you are... Where's this Professor? Everything Chick and Bowditch told us while they were rounding us up for this trip was about the Professor. It was Professor this and Professor that,—and now we get here, and he isn't to be seen. What's happened to him?"
"He went to Lanesport just before the steamer came."
"Did you see him go?"
"Did you really see him set out on the road and depart?"
"Well, no...I don't know that I did. He went around one corner of the house, as I went around the other with Snider... Why? What do you mean?"
"He aint down under the wharf salting these gold-boxes or doing some other kind of monkey business with 'em? Hey?"
"Why, no," I persisted, weakly, "he's gone to Lanesport, I tell you."
But the idea struck me for the first time,—"down under the wharf,"—that was where I had seen them both yesterday.
"Gone to Lanesport?" he continued, "but you say yourself that you have only his word for it. Why should he go there today? That looked fishy to me, right on the start. Now the easiest way to account for that trick Snider did out there on the wharf is that there's someone down there hitching on another box or stuffing in that gold. It was a pretty good trick, and you saw how it took with them."
"But they say that was real gold, and that those nuggets are real."
"Of course they're real. What of it? They could buy that amount of gold ten times over—twenty times over—with what they've taken in this morning. And they expect another boat-load of suckers this afternoon. And this is only the beginning,—Snider's been rustling around amongst a lot of women and old people over in Lanesport, and they're about ready to make over their bank- accounts to him. They LIKE him, you know,—a lot of folks DO like just that kind of slippery snake. It's funny,—you'd think anyone with ordinary common-sense would grab hold of his watch and his small change, and hang on to it—hard, as soon as Br'er Snider hove in sight. But no,—they try to crowd their money onto him... Real gold! Of course it was real,—that's what fetched 'em. They don't stop to think that there's no connection proved between the gold and the sea-water. What got 'em interested at first was old man Chick's reputation for honesty. He is honest,—no doubt about that, honest as the day is long. Only he's been fooled like the rest of 'em,—he was over here two weeks ago, and they did their trick for him then, with the tin box and the battery, and the blue and white powders, and all the rest of it. They gave him some of the gold they made then, and he carried it up to the city and had it analyzed. But they could make gold in J. Harvey Bowditch's tall hat just as well as in that old tin box."
I had been thinking all the time he was speaking.
"Look here," I said, "I saw them down under the wharf, yesterday afternoon."
"You did? Where?"
I told him all about it,—how I had seen them both on the platform above the water, what they were doing, and how guilty they had acted.
"There's a trap-door, then? Do you suppose you can point it out to me? Let's stroll down there now. Pretend to be talking about something else, and just cough when we are on the trap."
It was not very easy to do. There were about thirty people standing on that little wharf, and they had left baskets, coats and shawls here and there, so that the standing room was pretty well covered. Besides, when I came to look for the trap-door I found I could hardly pick it out, it had been so skilfully made. At last I thought we were on it, so I coughed, and the black-eyed man halted. He had been telling me some story all the time, and now he turned toward me and held out both his hands as if he were measuring the size of a fish or something. Then he pointed out into the bay, threw back his head and laughed. Finally he glanced down at the trap-door, looked up again quickly, and went on with his story. Then he moved off the door, looked down at it again, pinched my arm, and whispered: "Say, I think I'll come back here this afternoon, and have another look at this."
My back had been turned toward Mr. Snider all the time. He was still at the little table, folding up his certificates. Now I turned and glanced toward him, and found that he was watching us very intently. I turned again, and walked toward the end of the wharf. As I did so, the whistle of the steam-boat blew a loud toot, and the people began to crowd on board. I walked on with the rest, getting separated, for the moment, from my friend the black- eyed man. I saw him talking with two other men, and a little later saw Mr. Snider and Mr. Bowditch whispering together and glancing in my direction.
Well, I thought I was departing from Rogers's Island, and from Snider, for good and all. You would hardly believe how I got left behind. I heard someone say, "Oh, here's the boy who is going to find my shawl for me!" and I looked around and saw a nice, smiling old lady.
"Mr. Bowditch says he won't let the steamer go, if you'll run up to the house and see if you can find my grey shawl,—I must have dropped it in the grass there, where we set down."
I wouldn't have done it for Snider,—I would have suspected some kind of a trick. But I think the lady was sincere, and moreover you don't suspect an old person in a black silk dress, with gold spectacles, of laying plots and playing tricks. Her request was genuine enough,—Snider simply took advantage of it to let the steam-boat go without me.
I was less than five minutes in running up to the house, hunting in the grass until I felt sure the shawl was not there, and starting back to the wharf again. But while I had been out of sight of the "May Queen" they had cast off the lines and steamed away. There she was, going merrily, her stern pointed toward the island, a trail of thick smoke floating back, the band playing "After the Ball," and no one paying the slightest attention to me!
Yes, there was though,—just one! The old lady in the black silk dress was standing near the stern waving her hands. I held up mine,—empty—to show that I had not found the shawl, and ran down the wharf shouting: "Wait! Stop! Come back!"
It was a silly performance. No one heard me, and I do not suppose it would have made the slightest difference if they had. They would not turn the boat around and come back for someone who had no business on board anyway.
Mr. Snider was not in sight. Had he gone on the steam-boat? Or crawled through his trap-door underneath the wharf? I did not know, but I was angry with him. I felt sure that he had purposely let the boat go without me,—it was part of their scheme to keep me there, until the people had gone in the afternoon.
Now I should have to go that roundabout way by the road, and get to Lanesport two or three hours late. There was nothing else to be done, however, so I went up the wharf once more, and started along the road. At the turn, just beyond the house, I found Mr. Snider, walking up and down with his hands behind his back. His face was rather red, and he did not attempt to smile.
"Why, James," he said, "so you lost the boat! Well, you can take the one this afternoon."
"I'm going now," said I, "I'm going to walk."
And I tried to pass him. He stepped in front of me.
"Just one moment!" said he, "I would rather you stayed until this afternoon, and then—"
"Let me go," I answered, "you promised me I could go on the steam- boat, and then you let it sail without me."
"James, I am sorry to hear you accuse me—"
I tried again to dodge by him, but he reached out one of his long arms and grabbed me by the coat-sleeve. I jerked it out of his grasp however, and jumped to the side of the road and tried to pass him in the gutter. He headed me off with two strides,—he couldn't dodge as quick as I, but his long legs gave him an advantage. Then I lost my head and threatened him.
"You'd better let me pass," I said, "I know all about your game here,—and your trap-door in the wharf!"
His face became pale again in an instant, not white,—lead color.
"You little brat!" he squeaked, "I'll wring your neck for you!"
And he made another grab at me. I dodged again, and a third time, and as I did so caught one foot in the grass, stumbled and fell. He had me by the coat collar hi a second, and in another second I was out of the coat and running back toward the house. I did not wish to go there, but I didn't have time to choose. The thing to do then was to get away from Mr. Snider. He dropped the coat and came after me on the run.
He was a good runner, was Mr. Snider, but I knew I could beat him if I had any sort of a start. His stride was longer, but he couldn't move as quick. Besides, he was out of practice. When I dashed in at the front door he was just coming up the path. I slammed the door and tried to lock it. But the bolt was rusty and it stuck. I gave that up and ran upstairs, two steps at a time. When I reached the landing I ran along the passage toward the rear in order to get to the stairs to the third storey. Just as I started up them I heard Mr. Snider burst in at the front door. On the third storey I had to hunt about a little for the stairs to the attic. I found them in a moment or two, and ran up into the attic, and hid behind a trunk in a dark corner.
That had been my idea,—to hide in the attic. And a very foolish idea it was,—I can see that now. It is quite easy—sitting here and writing about it—to think of three or four better plans. I ought to have kept outdoors, and then I could have run around the house, dodged Mr. Snider, and got a clear start again for the road across the marsh. He could not have caught me then. The hero of "The Rifle Rangers," for instance, would have planned all that out while he was running up the road with Mr. Snider ten feet behind. But I hadn't planned it. My one idea was to get away from Mr. Snider. He looked as if he would murder me,—or, at any rate, half-murder me, and I did not wish to be murdered, nor even half- murdered. I had rushed into the house without thinking what I was doing, and now here I was, caught like a rat in a trap, in this hot, dark, and dusty attic.
For I very soon saw that if Mr. Snider came up into the attic there was no place to retreat. I could hear him now, hunting through all the rooms and closets down below. As soon as he found I was in none of them, up the attic stair he would come. And then he would simply poke about among the boxes and trunks until he found me. I had run up one flight after another until I had reached the top, and now I could go no higher.
No higher? How about the roof? There must be a ladder and a scuttle in the roof. If I could get up there and close the scuttle again perhaps I would be safe. Mr. Snider might stop at the attic. I jumped up from behind the trunk and hunted about in the semi- darkness. There were other trunks and boxes, old shoes and old umbrellas on the floor, and I stumbled and bumped against all of them. Two or three coats or suits of clothes were swinging from hooks, dangling unpleasantly, like hanging men. But I found the ladder at last. There was a faint rim of light above, at the edge of the scuttle. It was high time I found it, for I could hear Mr. Snider in the room below now, and I felt sure he would come upstairs in a minute.
The ladder was rickety, but it held, and I got to the top, and began to fumble for the hasp or lock of the scuttle. It was thick with cob-webs and dust, and for a while it refused to move. While I was working at it I heard Mr. Snider open the door at the foot of the attic stairs.
I stood perfectly still on the ladder. In books they tell how, when you are frightened, your heart comes into your mouth. It isn't at all what happens. Your heart stays right where it always is, but it thumps so loud that you feel as if it could be heard in the next room. And your throat becomes horribly dry, all of a sudden, and seems to be closing up. It gets so narrow that you can scarcely breathe.
Mr. Snider paused for a moment and seemed to listen. Then he closed the door again and tip-toed away. I went to work at the hasp again, and finally I had it open. I raised the scuttle, as quietly as I could, and stepped out on the roof.
The glare of the sun almost blinded me at first. Then I saw that I was on a flat part of the roof,—the highest point in the house. The roof sloped on either side toward an enormous chimney. The shingles were old and rotten.
Looking off, I could see a great distance in almost every direction. Across the bay, so far that I could hardly see the steam-boat herself, was a trail of black smoke from the "May Queen." The water on the other side of the house was hidden by the trees.
I turned again to make sure that I had replaced the scuttle. As I did so I heard Mr. Snider's footsteps in the attic beneath. My first thought was to sit on the scuttle hoping to keep it closed. But I knew that I was not heavy enough to hold it down. Would he think of the roof? If he did, and if he came up the ladder, of course he would find the scuttle unlocked, and he would know that I was on the roof. The thing to do was to wait there until he raised the scuttle and then bat him over the head. But unfortunately, I had nothing to bat him with.
Sure enough, here he came up the ladder! I retreated down the slope of the roof,—it was a ticklish job, but again my rubber- soled shoes stood me in good stead—and crawled around to the other side of the broad chimney, and hid behind it.
I had not been there more than a second before he raised the scuttle. I could hear him puffing. Once more my heart began to thump and my throat to contract. He stepped out upon the roof and I suppose he decided immediately that I was behind one of the chimneys. At any rate he started down the roof in my direction. The instant that he did so he slipped and came down on the roof with a crash. Several shingles must have come out, and he clawed and scraped at a great rate. I thought—and hoped—that he was going to slide right off the roof, but he managed to save himself. His slide was checked somehow, and he commenced to crawl back toward the scuttle. As he did so he uttered a string of curses that would have horrified his friends in Lanesport very much.
I heard him descend the ladder. It struck me that he was going down to the side of the house, to look up to the roof and see if I were really behind the chimney. I hurried out from my hiding-place and crawled on my hands and knees up the slope of the roof. But when I reached the scuttle I found it closed and locked. I could not raise it. He had caught me now,—I might stay on that roof forever, for all that I could do.
Unless—and I already had my jack-knife out—unless I could cut through the scuttle and get at the hasp. The wood was old, frail, and half rotten,—in three minutes I had the point of the blade through. In five, I had cut a hole large enough to admit two fingers. I knew that I was safe from being seen,—anyone on that part of the roof would not be visible from the ground near the house. After cutting for a little while longer I put enough of my hand through the hole to unfasten the hasp. Then I raised the scuttle, with the pleasant sensation that this was quite in line with our escape from the jail at Bailey's Harbor. Even better than that,—I was alone here, and cutting my way out,—or rather down, with a jack-knife. It gave me a thrill like some of the adventures in "The Rifle Rangers," and various other story-books.
No more of the roof, no more of the attic for me! I was tired of being chased about like an animal in a cage,—I was going to get down stairs and outdoors if I possibly could. I preferred to take a chance with Mr. Snider in the open.
So I went down the ladder very cautiously and listened in the attic. Then came the attic stairs, at the foot of which there was a door to open. I got it open, and stepped into the passage-way. I could hear nothing. Mr. Snider thought I was safely locked up there on the roof. Little by little and pausing for two or three minutes on each landing, I crept quietly down stairs.
When I reached the lower hall I was in doubt whether to go out the front or the back door. But the back door was open, and so I chose that. I walked quietly out, crossed the back yard, and nearly ran into Mr. Snider's arms, as he came out of the woodshed with an ugly looking club in his hand!
He was more surprised than I, and that gave me the start I needed. He was after me in a second, but I ran around the corner of the house and headed for the front yard. Coming through the driveway was the Professor! I suppose that he had just come up from his hiding-place beneath the wharf, for his arms were full of his boxes. As soon as I saw him I turned sharply to the right, ran through the side-yard by the speakers' stand, and climbed a rail fence on the far side of the garden.
Then I ran down a little slope toward a clump of trees. As I did so, I looked back and saw Mr. Snider crawling through the fence.
The trees stood on a little hummock,—there were about a dozen of them, with some undergrowth. I ran through this, and came out on a rough ledge of rocks, which ended in a little beach. I had come to the shore on the other side of the island. Here was a small bay, not more than a hundred yards in width.
Sailing slowly out of this bay was a cat-boat, with a skull and cross-bones pirate-flag at the mast-head. It was the "Hoppergrass"!
PIRATES IN TROUBLE
"Hi! Captain Bannister!" I shouted, "hi!"
Someone—not the Captain, but a boy in a blue shirt—looked up from the wheel. Then I heard Mr. Snider come crashing and floundering through the underbrush, so I waded into the water until I was waist-deep and then struck out to swim. Before I had made a dozen strokes Mr. Snider emerged, and ran down to the water's edge.
But I had no idea he would follow me now. He didn't look like a person who could swim,—nor even like one who enjoyed cold water much. I glanced back at him over my shoulder,—he was simply standing there, gazing after me, and rubbing his hands together excitedly, clasping and unclasping them.
"Captain Bannister!" I called out again, "the Hoppergrass! Wait!"
The boy who was steering put the helm over a trifle, altering the course of the boat a little more in my direction. Another boy came up from below, and stood there staring at me. In three minutes I was alongside, and reaching out for the tender.
"Let me come aboard!" I gasped,—"that man—"
But I was too much winded to say anything more. With some difficulty—for I had been swimming harder than was necessary—I crawled into the tender, and sat down to get my breath. As I sat there, one of the boys said:
"Why, that's Mr. Snider!"
Then he pulled the tender alongside, and I stepped on board the "Hoppergrass."
"Now, I know why you were running," said he,—"anyone would run to get away from Snider. Has he been advising you to be good?"
"He's been trying to—I don't know what. Kill me, I guess. Do you know him?"
"Don't we!" they both exclaimed together.
And then the one at the wheel said: "Has he g-got his g-gold machine here?"
"Yes," I said, "he and another man. They're a couple of crooks, and they're cheating people out of stacks of money. How did you know him?"
"Oh, he's b-been at the house. But after the first t-time we always s-skun out, over the back f-fence when we heard he was coming. Mr. Chick brought him,—to talk b-business with F- Father."
The "Hoppergrass," still sailing slowly, had drawn near the point of land at the entrance of the little bay. Mr. Snider, who had walked a few steps along the shore, stood near this point,— watching us. We passed so near him that I could easily have hit him with a base-ball, if I had had one, and felt so inclined. It was curious to be so near a man who, five minutes earlier, had been chasing me with a club. He was still clasping and unclasping his hands nervously, but he said nothing, and neither did we. After about half a minute he turned, and hurried through the trees in the direction of the house.
"I think I'll get some dry clothes," said I, starting toward the cabin. Then I stopped,—it occurred to me that there were some questions to be asked. Up to this moment I had been so glad to get away from Mr. Snider, and to find the boat again, that I had thought of nothing else.
"Say—look here—you know,—how do you happen to be on this boat, anyhow? Where's Captain Bannister?"
Both the boys turned red, and looked silly. They were twins evidently,—exactly the same size, and almost precisely alike in the face. Each of them had bright red hair, a great many freckles, and a snub nose.
"Are you one of the fellows that was on this boat?" asked one of them.
"Yes," said I. And I told them my name. "That's my shirt you've got on, by the way."
"T-t-tell him about it, S-S-Spike," said the one at the wheel.
"Tell him yourself!" growled the other.
"W-Well," said the steersman, giving the wheel a twist, "you s- see... you s-see... oh! I can't t-tell him,—it makes me s- stutter so d-darned much!"
"Go ahead!" returned Spike.
"Well," he began again, "you s-see, we were all going to B-Big D- Duck for a month, an' F-Father said—oh! our name is K-K-Kidd, you know,—the K-Kidd kids,—th-there! everybody has to spring that old chestnut about us, because they think it's f-funny. It's so old it's m-m-mouldy, but we might as well s-say it and g-g-get it over with! W-Well, we were all going to Big D-D-Duck, s-s-same's we do every s-summer. B-But F-Father got awful cranky 'cause we f- fell behind at s-school last year, and he m-mapped out a p-p- programme of entertainments f-for us this s-summer that didn't strike us as—as—as exactly oh! as exactly b-b-bully, you know... In f-fact, it was b-b-bum! S-Studying about all s-summer... S-Say, w-won't you f-freeze?"
I thought I might do so, myself, so I took off my wet clothes, and spread them out in the sun. Then I went below, found my bag, brought it up on deck, and began to dress again. He went on, in the meantime, with his story.
"Well, F-Father didn't c-c-confess his f-foul p-plot till the very d-day we were going to Big D-Duck. That was—it was—oh, when was it, S-S-Spike?"
"It was—er—I'm all mixed up about time," said Spike.
"S-Same here," replied the other.
"It was day before yesterday,—Tuesday," Spike finally remarked.
"T-Tuesday. That's right. W-Well, F-Father g-gave us this awful j-j-jolt at l-l-luncheon. Th-That was F-Father's idea of m-making m- m-merry. It didn't t-t-tickle us m-most to d-death, s-s-somehow. We t-talked it over that afternoon, out in the b-barn, and we decided to k-k-k-k-quit. We'd t-take the b-boat ourselves, and—"
"We were all going to sail over to Big Duck in a cat-boat, you know. Father hires a boat every summer."
"S-Say, S-S-Spike, g-go ahead, if you want to."
"I don't. You go on,—you're getting there all right. You'll come to the point in an hour or two."
"W-Well, I aint c-c-crazy about it, you know... W-Well, we were all going, the whole f-family, in a new cat-boat that belongs to C-Captain B-Bill P-P-P-Prendergast. We hadn't seen her, 'cause he's had her over at P-Porpoise Island all s-summer, taking out s-sailing p-parties. F-Father said she was d-down at W-W-Woodwell's Wharf—C-C-Captain B-Bill had brought her over in the morning, and then he'd gone back to P-Porpoise Island. He was engaged to c-c- cook c-c-clam chowders at the American House. W-We were going to sail her over to Big D-Duck—S-S-Spike and I—w-w-while F-Father m-messed around and th-thought he was running the whole s-s-show. That was his p-p-p-plan. B-B-But we decided to nip his g-g-game in the b-b-b-bud, b-b-b-b-(oh! hang it!) b-b-by sneakin' down ahead of the f-family, and just sailing away on that b-boat, and embarking on a c-c-career of pup-pup-pup-piracy!"
"You see," said Spike, "we got so sick of all this Kidd talk that we thought we might as well get something out of it."
"B-Besides," said the other, "w-we were d-d-d-desperate. W-We g- got this f-f-flag—s-skull and cross-bones, you know that we had on our b-boat, the 'J-J-Jolly Roger,' last summer, and we l-l-lit out for W-W-Woodwell's Wharf to f-f-f-f-fool F-Father. It was p- pretty f-f-foggy when we got to the wharf, and we s-saw it wouldn't be s-safe for F-Father and M-M-Mother and B-Betty and Alice and the b-b-baby to go sailing, anyhow. But there wasn't any b-boat at W-Woodwells,—she was over at M-M-Mulliken's Wharf. So w-we s-skun around, and g-got aboard, hoisted the s-sail, and s-started down the river. W-We were nearly out into the b-bay before it struck us that we weren't on the right b-boat."
"I went down into the cabin," said Spike, "and it was all full of bags and things. Our stuff had gone over—some of it—to Big Duck that morning, by the steamer. And the rest, Father was going to bring down to the wharf in the carriage. But these bags were marked a lot of strange names,—Toppan, and Edwards, and so on."
"T-Tell him about the n-name, S-S-Spike."
"Oh, yes. There was a strip of canvas hitched over the stern,—it had something painted on it in black letters. I hung over the stern, but I couldn't make it out,—because it looked upside down, of course. So I got out in the tender and read it, and it was 'Hannah J. Pettingell.' Then there was another name under that,—in gilt letters, in the regular way. That seemed kind of funny, and when I got back on the boat we unhitched the cords and pulled up the canvas sign. I tried again, hanging over the stern, and spelled out the gilt letters, one at a time. The name was 'Hoppergrass.' We thought there must be some funny business,—a boat with two names, like that."
"That's why the Captain had the crier call it the Hannah Pettingell," I reflected.
"Well, we knew we were on the wrong boat," said Spike, "because Captain Bill Prendergast's is the 'Clara'."
"B-B-But what could we d-d-d-do? We didn't d-dare to go b-back. If F-Father didn't l-l-l-lambaste the l-l-l-life out of us, the o-owner of this b-boat would. We had s-started out to be pup-pup- pirates, and we had m-made a b-b-bully g-g-good beginning, b-by g-g-gum!"
"Say, you don't own this boat, do you?" asked Spike, suddenly.
"Oh, th-that's too bad! J-Just think. If you d-did, n-now we've s-s-s-saved you from S-Snider you'd be in a f-friendly f-f-frame of mind, and we could t-turn the b-boat over to you, everything f-forgiven, and no k-k-k-questions asked."
"It belongs to Captain Bannister, and I wish you'd tell me where he is," I answered.
"D-D-Do you think you can s-s-square us with B-B-B-Baluster?"
"Ye-es,—I guess so."
I did not want to be dismal about it, but my own opinion was that the Captain would be furious. His boat had been missing now for two days.
"W-Well, if he thinks we've been having a p-p-p-picnic, that's where he's off. We s-sailed over to S-S-Squid C-Cove that night, and went ashore in the t-t-tender. It was d-d-dark as a p-p- pocket, and this ch-ch-chump here, S-Spike, didn't make the t-tender f-fast to the s-slip, and she f-floated off. The f-fog was so thick that we couldn't s-see the yacht, and we didn't dare t-try to s-swim for her, b-because if we got wet and c-couldn't f-find her, and had to l-l-loaf around all night on s-shore, s-s- soppin' wet, why, that would be r-r-rotten, you see. S-Spike s-s- stripped and s-swum out into the f-fog, but he couldn't f-f-find her, and we thought the b-b-blooming yacht had g-gone adrift, t-too! And so we s-stayed on sh-shore, and slept in a p-p-potato- patch, and all we had to eat was some r-r-radishes. I ate f-f- fiiteen of 'em, and they g-g-gave me the p-p-p-p-pip... And when we woke up in the m-morning, there was the t-tender, on sh-shore, about t-twenty yards away,-she had f-floated b-back again, you see."
We were getting out into the Bay, and I asked them where they were going.
"G-G-G-G-Give it up; there's no p-place that's s-safe for us, now. Everyone's hand is against us."
I asked them to head for Lanesport, and told them that I expected to meet the rest of the "Hoppergrass's" crew there.
"L-L-L-L-L-Lanesport!" exclaimed the boy at the wheel, "it w-would be sailing into the j-j-jaws of d-d-d-death! W-Why, d-don't you s-see when we s-stole this b-boat w-we c-committed pup-pup-piracy on the high s-s-seas! They'd s-s-s-string us right up at the y-y- yard-arm!"
"Oh, no, they wouldn't. I'll fix it up with Captain Bannister."
"That's all right," said Spike, "but piracy isn't the only thing they've got against us."
"Not by a long shot."
"Why, what else have you done?"
"B-B-Burglary, b-b-by g-g-gum! S-S-Say, what were you f-fellows doing? This b-boat is said to be owned by n-notorious b-b-b-b- burglars and thieves!"
I put my head down on the cabin, and laughed until I thought I should choke.
"You can laugh, but it didn't look like a joke to us."
"You b-bet it didn't."
"Where did you go from Squid Cove?"
"We stayed right there most of the morning,—eating breakfast, and getting some sleep, and—"
"R-R-Recoverin' from the p-p-p-p-potato-patch."
"Then we sailed around the Bay, and just fooled about until the last part of the afternoon. All the time we were wondering who this boat belonged to, and what they were doing about it. Once we started to abandon her at Squid Cove, and write a 'nonymous letter to the owner at Lanesport. Then Spook here, the big galoot, thought it would be a good idea to sail over to Bailey's Harbor and find out what had happened, and if there was any news of Father and—"
"Th-That's where I w-was f-f-f-foxy!"
"Yes! So foxy that you nearly got us jugged. You would have, if we had gone up the inlet. 'Twas just luck that we didn't. We anchored quite a way down, and thought we'd have supper first and then go ashore after dark. Say, those mince turnovers were great! There was a dory came along with a couple of little boys, about nine or ten years old. We noticed that they stopped and looked at the boat, but we didn't think anything of that until half an hour later. We were eating supper, down in the cabin, and Spook looked out one of the cabin windows and saw another boat, with two men in it. One of them was armed—"
"W-With a pup-pup-pitchfork!"
"They squinted round for a few minutes, and then THEY went up the inlet again. 'Bout twenty minutes later, just as we were hauling up the anchor and going to sail up to the village, Spook sung out that there were three dories coming down, all full of men with pitchforks—"
"He said, 'They're onto us,—they've heard about our stealing this boat!' I put her about quick, and it was mighty lucky there was a breeze. Ten minutes before, it was almost a dead calm. As soon as we swung around they began to yell—"
"L-L-Like b-b-blue b-b-blazes! Th-There was one g-great b-b-big d-d-d-d-d-duffer, about t-t-ten f-feet t-t-tall! He w-was the one I s-saw in the b-boat w-while we were eating s-supper, w-with the pup-pup-pitchfork..."
"That was Eb," I remarked,—"it's lucky he didn't catch you!"
"Yes. He's the constable. Savagest man I ever saw. He arrests people for almost anything,—for playing banjos."
"W-Well, we d-didn't p-p-play any b-b-b-banjos then, b-by g-g- gum! I thought it w-was all up with us, and that we'd b-be d-d-d- dangling on the g-g-g-gallows b-b-before l-l-long! You s-see, they g-g-gained on us, at f-first. They r-rowed l-l-like fuf-fuf- fiends! B-But we b-began to d-draw ahead, and then the d-d-d-d- duffer with the pup-pitchfork—he was in the b-bow of the f-first b-boat—b-began to yell and b-b-bellow. He s-said that if we d-didn't s-stop he'd f-fill us f-full of b-b-b-b-b-bullets! S-Someone p-passed him up a g-g-gun, and when we saw that, I t-tell you, we d-dropped d-down in the b-bottom of the b-boat. S-Spike c-c-clung on to the wheel, and held her on her c-course, and we c-crouched down there, waiting for the old b-brute to b-b-blaze away. But he c-couldn't s-see us, and so there wasn't anyone for him to f-fire at. M-M-Maybe it was all b-b-bluff, b-but we didn't intend to s-stand up and t-try it, I t-tell you' After about t-ten minutes we p-p-peeked over the rail, and they were w-way b-back. They had g-given it up, and s-s-stopped r-rowing. P-Pretty s-soon, they t-turned around and went b-back. B-But we thought B-B- Bailey's Harbor was a p-pretty healthy p-place to k-k-k-keep away from!"
"And we didn't find out until this morning," said Spike, "why they were after us. It wasn't for taking this boat at all. We sailed around on the Bay all night,—we didn't dare land. We stood watch- and-watch,—I'd sleep while Spook took the wheel, and then I sailed her while he had a nap. This morning we were off this island about seven o'clock and we met a lobsterman in his boat. We bought some lobsters of him and he gave us this paper."
Spike pulled it out from under a seat and handed it to me. I still have that paper. It was the "Lanesport Herald" of the evening before,—Wednesday evening. There was an article on the front page headed "Capture Marauders!" Underneath, it went on: "Good Detective Work—Flanders Holds Crooks—Daring Escape." Then I read the article aloud:
"A clever piece of detective work on the part of Constable Eben Flanders of Bailey's Harbor resulted in landing in jail the gang of miscreants who have been making a series of breaks on Little Duck Island and vicinity and terrorizing the neighborhood Tuesday night. The miscreants who are believed to be well-known crooks and are the same who perpetrated the breaks at the residence of Mrs. Sarah B. Ellis last Saturday night and at the residence of Dr. Horace Bigelow the well-known physician Monday night were apprehended in the act of pillaging the summer residence of T. Parker Littlefield, the prominent attorney of Boston.
"Constable Flanders was notified by Moses Silloway of Bailey's Harbor that he had observed some parties acting suspiciously in the vicinity of his residence and that these parties were walking stealthily in the direction of the Littlefield residence. With his usual promptness Constable Flanders gathered a posse and seized the miscreants in the act. In a very short time the miscreants were all lodged in the new jail at Bailey's Harbor to await the action of the Court in the morning when they would have an opportunity of explaining their actions to His Honor Judge Treddick but when Deputy Constable Justin Coker opened the jail this morning he found that the parties had all vanished and that they could not be found. Considerable mystery surrounds the escape of the miscreants and it is believed that they received assistance from outside and that some dastard or dastards gaining access to the jail liberated the parties.
"An important clue is held by Constable Flanders as it is known that the parties came to Bailey's Harbor in a yacht named Hoppergrass and a search is being made for that yacht, Constable Flanders promising the yacht a warm reception if he finds her in the vicinity of Bailey's Harbor with the miscreants on board."
"W-Well, he k-k-k-kept that p-p-p-promise, all r-right!" remarked Spook.
"Only you see," said Spike, "the miscreants weren't on board."
"That wouldn't have made any difference to Eb," I told him, "he'd have run you in just as quick."
"Now you s-see why we're a l-l-little sh-shy of going anywhere! W- With F-Father at B-Big D-Duck, p-p-p-probably, n-n-n-gnashing his t-t-teeth, w-we have only g-got the ch-choice b-between being s-s- strung up for pup-pup-pirates at L-L-Lanesport or j-j-jugged f-for b-b-b-burglars at B-B-Bailey's Harbor."
"But you haven't told us yet what you had done," Spike remarked, "did YOU break into Littlefield's house?"
So I gave them the whole story, beginning with Tuesday afternoon, when we left Captain Bannister on the "Hoppergrass" at Bailey's Harbor. I told them how we came back there and found our boat gone, how we blundered into Littlefield's house in the fog, how we were caught, how we escaped from jail, and all the rest of it. Then I told about my trip to Rogers's Island, how I saw the Professor and Mr. Snider under the wharf, and how they suspected me of spying on them, and tried to keep me on the Island.
"It was about the first lucky thing that has happened," I said, "when I found you. Snider could run pretty well, and the Professor was there, too, to head me off,—and I couldn't keep running around that island forever."
"S-Say," said Spook, "l-l-let's have some g-g-grub. T-Take the wheel, will you, S-Spike?"
He and I went below, and brought up some things to eat. We were well out in the Bay now,—Rogers's Island was only a dim blue spot astern. We ate luncheon, and discussed where we should go. I was trying to make them see that it would be safe enough to sail over to Lanesport, when Spook paused, with a banana raised toward his mouth.
"W-W-What's that b-boat?" he asked.
He was looking straight ahead. Both Spike and I looked under the boom and saw the sail of a yacht about a mile away. She was headed directly for us.
"Oh, some boat,—or other," said Spike, nibbling at a jam-covered cracker, which Spook had fixed for him.
"L-L-Let's ch-change our c-course a b-bit,—she m-may be f-full of p-p-persons with pup-pup-pitchforks."
"Rats!" remarked Spike.
But he shifted the course, just the same. We drew away from the strange yacht for about three minutes, and then,—
"Sh-She's c-coming about!" shouted Spook.
She certainly was coming about. In a few seconds she was headed for us once again.
"I d-don't know about you f-fellows, b-but I'll never b-be t-taken alive. It's those d-d-d-duffers from B-Bailey's Harbor again,— they've p-probably got c-c-cannon on b-board this t-time!"
Spike sat in silence, looking back at the stranger now and then. After about five minutes he said:
"They're not gaining on us much."
It was hard to tell whether they gained or not. As far as I could see there had not been any change in the distance between us since the other boat came about. There was a good breeze and both boats were now running before it.
"L-Let's c-clear away this g-g-grub,—we want r-room to r-repel b-b-boarders."
"We won't have to repel them," said I, "they can't catch us."
"If they do," replied Spike, "they'll only get aboard this boat through a perfectly murderous fire of raspberry jam."
"R-Raspberry j-j-jam d-doesn't r-repel b-b-boarders," said Spook, hustling the dishes below, "h-h-half as m-m-much as s-s-stewed p-p-prunes." He stopped, with his head out of the cabin door.
"S-S-Say!" he exclaimed, pointing, "isn't th-that another b-boat?"
There was another boat, certainly,—a sail had appeared some distance behind the yacht we had first sighted.
"They're not chasing us," remarked Spike; "somebody's chasing them!"
"What makes you think anybody is chasing anybody?" I asked. "They may be just out for a sail. Anyone would think there was a war going on here in Broad Bay."
"Th-There's b-b-battle, m-murder, and s-s-sudden d-death g-g- going on for us,—at B-Bailey's Harbor. And l-l-look! B-By J-J-J- Jiminy Kuk-Kuk-Crickets! There's another b-boat!"
"Oh, they're all probably pleasure boats, like this one."
"D-D-Do you c-c-call this a p-p-pleasure b-boat? S-Seems to m-me the 'H-Hoppergrass' is b-becoming a b-b-burden, like the one in the B-Bible."
"Just the same," said Spike, looking back uneasily, "this last one has come from Rogers's Island, I should think. Do you suppose it is Snider and the other man? Did they have a boat?"
"I didn't see any," I replied.
"They'd be sure to have one, though."
Spook went down into the cabin again, to get Captain Bannister's spy-glass. While he was down there, hunting for it, his brother and I watched the yacht and the two smaller sailboats behind us. The yacht and the boat which came from the direction of Rogers's Island were so situated that a line drawn between them would have formed the base of a triangle at the apex of which was the "Hoppergrass." The other small boat was half a mile or more behind the yacht. As we watched the three of them, the wind dropped a little, and there came a hot puff from the land.
"Hullo!" said Spike, "there won't be any chasing if the wind goes down much more."
Spook came on deck with the spy-glass and spent some time in trying to make out who was on the three boats. Beyond thinking that he saw pitchforks on all of them, however, he did not give us much information. The wind continued to fail, and it got hotter and hotter. In ten minutes we were sailing at a very slow rate,— hardly more than moving. The yacht was becalmed, its sail flapping. The little boat from Rogers's Island, however, still had a breeze; it was about half a mile distant and drawing up on us.
The behavior of the wind was explained by a mass of white clouds, dark underneath, which had been piling up in the west. For an hour they had been gathering, and now we saw that they were thunder- heads. They promised all the wind we needed, before long.
Presently the small boat ran into the calm streak, and her sail, too, hung loose. She was near enough now for us to see that she was merely a large sailing dory. There were two men on board her, but whether they were Mr. Snider and the Professor I could not tell. I reached for the spy-glass, when Spike said:
"They're going to row."
One of the men had lowered the sail, and the other was getting out a long pair of oars.
"W-Well, what's the matter with our d-d-doing that, too?"
"We can't row this boat, you chump!"
"N-No, b-but one of us c-c-can t-take a line in the t-t-tender, and t-tow her."
"They'll go three feet to our one."
"That's all right," I said, "it's worth trying. We can keep away from them for a while. There's a breeze coming out of those clouds in a few minutes, and then we can sail around them in circles."
I was anxious to get away. I had had a glimpse through the spy- glass, and thought I recognized Mr. Snider. We hauled the tender alongside, and Spook got in it to begin the towing. Just as he did so, and as I was standing outside the cock-pit, there came a sound above my head as if the air had been split open.
The sail of the "Hoppergrass" shivered and the halliards rattled. Almost at the same instant there was a sharp "Crack!" from the dory behind us.
"The blooming sons-of-guns!" exclaimed Spike; "they're firing at us!"
"Yes; a rifle. Look there!"
There was a puff of smoke floating away from the dory.
"And see that little hole in the sail. That's where the bullet went through."
Spike and I dropped into the cock-pit, and crouched below the seats. Spike hurriedly told his brother to do the same.
"N-N-No, I g-g-guess I'm better off right here. He'll have to d-d- drill through b-both s-sides of the 'G-G-Grasshopper',—I m-mean the 'H-Hoppergrass' before he can hit m-me. I'm afraid B-B-Brother S-S-Snider is f-f-forgetting to be g-g-good!"
And then we could hear him quoting Mr. Snider.
"'It's the w-way to b-b-be h-happy, F-F-Frederick, and s-s- successful, and R-RICH. D-D-Did you ever hear of Abraham P. F-F- F-Fillmore, F-F-Frederick?'"
There was an interval—not a very pleasant one—while we waited for Mr. Snider to try another shot at us.
"Here's the wind!" said Spike, suddenly; "climb aboard!"
Spook crawled into the "Hoppergrass" just as we felt the first cool gust against our faces. A cloud blew across the sun for an instant. The boom swung out with a rattle and a bump, the sail filled, and the "Hoppergrass" heeled over to the breeze. It was only a light puff, and it did not last long, but it was enough to get us under way once more. Spike and I took a peek toward Mr. Snider's boat. They were getting up their sail, so Spike jumped up on the seat again. He was in danger there, if they should fire again, but as he said, he could not sail the boat while he was crouched on deck.
The dory's sail went up in a jiffy, and again the wind seemed to favor them, for they pulled up on us rapidly. We were sailing, but by no means as well as at first. The Professor was steering their boat, I thought, but it was impossible to be sure. Both men kept almost entirely out of sight.
Then we caught the breeze again. It was puffy and uncertain,—the forerunner of a squall.
"We'll say good-bye to 'em now," exclaimed Spike, gleefully.
"B-But we won't sh-shake that yacht s-s-so easy,—l-look at 'em! H-Hoisting a j-j-jib, d-d-d-dod r-rabbit 'em!"
We had forgotten the other boats, in our excitement over the dory. Spike looked back over his shoulder.
"This seems like persecution to me," he remarked. "One trouble after another. No chance to put any more sail on this boat," he added.
"And no sail to put," said I.
"Look! They're setting a spinnaker, too! Now they'll come!"
We saw the long boom run out, waver, and settle into place. Then there bulged out upon it a great mass of canvas that made the jib look like a handkerchief. The yacht simply tore through the water. Any hope of keeping ahead of her for ten minutes was absurd. She was really trying to catch us now, and she was doing it. She grew in size every second, an overwhelming cloud of canvas,—a fine sight on the darkening water.
"T-T-Tack!" exclaimed Spook, "she c-can't s-sail into the wind with that s-spinnaker!"
"What's the good?" growled Spike, "she can sail all round this boat, just with her mainsail and jib."
Now the yacht bore down on us with a rush, cutting through the water and sending spray flying on either side of the bow. The dory was forgotten as we watched this new enemy. There was no one to be seen on board,—the spread of her canvas hid everything.
Just as her bow-sprit pushed by the stern of the "Hoppergrass" something white stirred near the mast. Then two wings flapped, and there was a sound of "Quack! Quack! Quaa-a-a-a-ck!"
THE VOYAGE BEGINS AGAIN
At the same moment Captain Bannister poked his head under the sail and looked at us. His face was grim—as it might have been that time he was chased by pirates in the China Sea—and he had a double-barreled shot-gun in his hand.
When he saw me his mouth opened, and he stared helplessly. I caught sight of Mr. Daddles standing near the Captain, Sprague at the wheel, and Jimmy Toppan and some others busy with the sails. Then I fully realized what had first dawned on me when I heard the quacking of Simon the duck. This was Sprague's boat, of course. It was not strange that I hadn't recognized her. Coming up as she did, bow on, there was very little to distinguish her from any other yacht. And I was never familiar with her appearance.
(By the way, I have forgotten to tell the name of the yacht. It was the "White Rabbit,"—named, said Sprague, after his favorite character in a book. And as the boat was painted black, it pleased him especially to call her this, in order to annoy the matter-of- fact Chief.)
Spook crawled under a seat as soon as he saw Captain Bannister.
"G-G-Guns again!" said he; "I t-told you s-so!"
"Come out!" I said, "come out quick! It's all right,—these are my friends. That is Captain Bannister."
"The one wh-who owns this b-boat?"
"D-Do you c-call th-that all r-right?"
"Yes; we can explain, and fix it up. Come out of there,—we have got to tell them about Snider, and get them to help us drive him off."
The "White Rabbit" passed us as if we were standing still. One by one all those on board turned and waved their hands at me,—all except Jimmy Toppan, who was having too good a time with the sails to care for any person on earth. Presently they took in the spinnaker and came about.
I persuaded Spike to believe that these people were neither police nor crooks, nor anything else dangerous. I got him to come about, while I dropped the peak of the sail. We made no more attempt to escape, and in a few minutes the "White Rabbit" was alongside.
Then there had to be explanations. Everybody asked questions at once.
"What are you doing here, Sam?"
"Where'd you find the 'Hoppergrass'?"
"Why aren't you at Rogers's Island?"
"Why didn't you come back to Lanesport?"
"Why did you try to run away from us?"
"Who are those fellows in the dory?"
The last question struck me as the one to be answered. But we had to keep an eye on the weather,—the worst of the squall was passing off to the north-east, and going out to sea, but it was still breezy, and rather ticklish work for two boats so close together. We dropped our sail, while the "White Rabbit" took in everything but the jib.
When we were near enough to talk comfortably, I pointed to the dory, which was only a stone's throw distant.
"Those are the men—the Gold Company people—from Rogers's Island. They've been shooting at us with a rifle!"
"Shooting? What for?"
"Is there a feller named Caleb Snider there?" asked the Captain, reaching again for his shot-gun.
But Mr. Snider arose in the dory to speak for himself. He had on his black "swallow-tail" still, and his "Bless you!" manner. His rifle did not appear.
"James!" he called to me, "James! You have treated us badly. Theft, James, theft—"
But Captain Bannister cut in with a scream.
"Theft! you old sarpent, you! THEFT! I like to hear YOU talk about it! You don't know me, but I know you! Where's that three hundred dollars I put into your Monte Cristo mine in '78? You old buzzard! I heard tell there was a feller of your name runnin' some gold- brick scheme at Rogerses', an' I cal'lated I'd come over an' see you. Why,—"
The Professor evidently thought that they would do well to leave these troubled waters. He jammed the tiller down, and tried to sheer away. It was the most unfortunate moment possible.
"Look out!" shouted Sprague; "look out! You're going—"
A gust of wind caught their sail, the boom jibed, nearly knocking Mr. Snider overboard, the little mast snapped like a match, and the sail went into the water, leaving their boat helpless.
The same gust so nearly brought our boat into collision with the "White Rabbit" that we were getting out oars, to try to fend off, while those on board the yacht hastily took in their last sail. A few drops of rain fell at the same moment, but we hardly noticed them. In the midst of the confusion another voice arose on the other side of the yacht.
"Yer're all under arrest,—all on ye!"
It was Eb and his merry men, who had come up in the second small boat. He still had the pitchfork, which had made such an impression on Spook.
But his voice merely aroused Captain Bannister the more. He was as full of rage as a turkey-cock,—his face purple, and his short figure shaking with anger. He stood on a seat in the yacht, and dominated the whole fleet. He turned on the constable of Bailey's Harbor as if he had expected his arrival.
"You go plumb to blazes, Eb Flanders! Go on! Git outer here! You a kunsterble! You aint fit to ketch muck-worms! Arrestin' boys for burglary, when the worst land-shark in the country is runnin' a bunco-game right under yer face an' eyes! Go over an' arrest them fellers,—arrest that there Snider!"
The voice of Snider was now heard, imploring aid.
"Is that Constable Flanders? Mr. Flanders, come to our assistance! Our mast is broken. Professor Von Bieberstein and I are here."
"Jus' the same," said Eb, "I've got to arrest that feller!" He pointed at Daddles. "I ketched him burglarisin' Littlefield's house. You'll lay yourself open to a charge of resistin' a officer, if yer interfere, Lem!"
"You'll lay YOURSELF open to a charge of buckshot!" roared the Captain, "if you try to come on this boat! That's my boat over there—the 'Hoppergrass'—an' I come into Bailey's with her last Toosday afternoon, an' this feller was with me, an' the three boys you arrested. An' what they told you was true,—they thought they was in his uncle's house,—an' anybody would have knowed it, but a puddin'-headed son of a sea-cook, like you!"
"Mr. Flanders! Mr. Flanders!" called Snider, again, "you must come and help us. There is water in this boat,—we are in danger of sinking!"
"Yes, go an' help him," shouted the Captain, "an' take that crowd of numbskulls with you."
Eb's boat—the only one of the four under sail—had drawn well ahead of us. His "crowd of numbskulls" consisted of three men, among whom was Justin of the fan-like ears. They crossed our bows, and came back to the assistance of Mr. Snider. The two gold makers were transferred to the constable's boat, where they seemed to be treated with great awe and respect. A light rain was falling now, and the wind had moderated. Sprague ran up his jib, and maneuvered his boat alongside the "Hoppergrass" again,—this time with a view to letting the Captain, Ed, and Jimmy come aboard. Out of regard for the paint, however, they finally came in the tender. About the same time we saw Eb's boat, towing the disabled dory, set out in the direction of Rogers's Island.
"There goes the crooks," remarked Captain Bannister, "safe in the protection of the kunsterble."
"Yes," said I, "they'll have to hurry back, and get the Professor down under the wharf before the 'May Queen' arrives. She's due about three o'clock, with a lot more money on board for 'em."
I was anxious to get the Captain in the right frame of mind toward the twins. There was no need to worry, however. His anger vanished when Snider and Eb departed. Besides, it appeared that he knew how they happened to be on board the "Hoppergrass." As soon as he had looked his boat over, he turned to Spook.
"Your father said we'd find you when we found this boat! But I wasn't so sure. I heard about these here burglars, so I thought it couldn't do any harm to have a gun ready."
"F-Father! How'd he know?"
"Well, he could put two and two together when he heard I'd lost her from Mulliken's Wharf. Besides he's seen a feller that saw you off Squid Cove yesterday."
"C-Captain B-B-Baluster, I wouldn't s-steal your b-boat again f- for a th-th-th-m-million dollars. It's been a t-time of a-a- absolute m-m-misery!"
Then we said good-bye to Sprague, Pete, the Chief, and Simon the duck. The "White Rabbit" was going to Porpoise Island, and we set out again to Lanesport.
"Mr. Daddles—" I began,—but he interrupted me.
"I've demonstrated to the satisfaction of everyone on board the 'White Rabbit' that that nickname is grossly unjust. It was given me by someone who thought I walked like a duck. Simon and I went through our paces—side by side, and it was voted that there was not the slightest resemblance. My name is Hendricks,—Richard Hendricks when I'm up before Eb. Though—"
He hesitated an instant and stammered.
"You need not be excessively formal. My first name IS Richard, but my middle name is William, and, as the poet says, the fellers call me Bill."
Spike—who was looking after the "White Rabbit"—turned his head with a snap.
"Even so!" And Mr. Daddles laughed.
There was a pause, and then Spook said:
"B-But it said in the p-papers that you were c-coming East in the fall t-t-to take a p-p-post-g-graduate c-course at—"
"That's so. But I wanted to earn a little money too, so I promised Mr. Kidd to come to Big Duck Island and tutor his sons for a month, in Latin and English. And when I saw him yesterday, he told me I must catch the sons. This is the first time I have ever tooted."
Spook fell back on the cabin and kicked.
"And w-we've b-been t-trying to g-give you the s-slip!" he moaned.
It took us nearly all the afternoon to reach Lanesport. When the rain stopped, the wind fell, and we were almost becalmed. We knocked about on the Bay till a little before five o'clock.
Ed and Jimmy told me how they had found the Captain at Big Duck Island, and how he had spent the night with them all on the "White Rabbit." In the morning the whereabouts of the "Hoppergrass" was still a mystery, although the Captain had been told that the Kidds had probably taken her. Everyone was too impatient, however, to stay at Big Duck until noon, so they set out for Lanesport. Of course they did not find me at the Eagle House, so they decided to make for Rogers's Island. They were on their way when they sighted us. It was our action, in altering our course, that made them think there might be something in the theory that the "Hoppergrass" had been stolen by the burglars.
Then I told them about my adventures with the gold makers, and Spook—to the Captain's great delight—related the troubles of the Kidd brothers on board the "Hoppergrass." Toward five o'clock we got a breeze, and half an hour later sailed up the river again, to Lanesport.
"We won't land at Mulliken's Wharf," said Captain Bannister, "I'm kinder superstitious 'bout that."
"Why did you come over here that afternoon?" I asked him.
"To see if I could get some letters to put on the stern of this boat. I'd rigged up a sign on canvas 'fore I left the Harbor, 'but it didn't look quite fust class. I'd no manner of notion but what I'd get back 'fore you boys did from Fishback."
At the wharf next the one where we landed the "May Queen" was lying, still covered with flags and bunting. She was empty, however, except for a man washing down the deck. The band had gone and her glory had departed. There was a boy in a small boat rowing around the steamer, and staring at her. I seemed to remember his round, red face and when he put down an oar, and waved his hand, grinning and showing where his front teeth ought to have been, I recollected him instantly. He was the boy who had driven the horse-car from Squid Cove yesterday afternoon. Now, he let his boat float down alongside the "Hoppergrass."
"Have you heard about the Comp'ny?" said he.
"No,—what about it?"
"Gee! Bust up! Yes,—the excursion went over again this afternoon, on the 'May Queen' here, an'—an' Gran'father went too, an' while Mr. Snider was doin' the 'speriment Orlando Noyes an' two other fellers pried up a place on the wharf with a crow-bar, an' they found the P'fessor down there,—he was up to some monkey business, an' they say the whole thing is a fake! Gee! An' that aint all, neither. They've arrested Mr. Snider an' the P'fessor,—they're the burglars that have been burglin' houses over on Little Duck. One of the fellers with Orlando was a special perlice an' they went through the house an' found a whole lot of spoons an' things that they stole outer Mis' Ellis' house. They say the P'fessor aint a p'fessor at all,—he just got outer State's Prison 'bout a month ago!"
No one on the "Hoppergrass" was as much interested in this as the Captain and I. So while we talked with the boy, Ed Mason and Jimmy Toppan walked up town to get some supplies, while Mr. Daddles—or Billy Hendricks, rather—and the two Kidds went to see Mr. Kidd at his office. We had invited all three of them to come with us and finish the week on the "Hoppergrass." We felt that they belonged on the boat now, and that the voyage was really just beginning.
In an hour they were all back once more. The Kidds had been to their house for some clothes. They were allowed to go with us on condition that we sail over to Big Duck Island as soon as we could, to prove to the others of their family that they were still alive and above water.
"And that'll be all right," said the Captain, "for we were bound for Big Duck in the fust place... Cast off the line, Ed, and Jimmy, I guess you can take her now. It's half-past six and I'm going below, and see if I've forgotten how to cook flap-jacks."
Fifteen minutes later we were out of the river and crossing the Bay once more,—this time toward Big Duck Island. A pleasing smell of flap-jacks began to come up from below.
"There has been more doing in these three days," said Ed Mason, "than usually happens in a month,"
"But the voyage has been tame and uneventful," said Mr. Daddles, "compared with one my uncle made in these very parts, three years ago."
"What happened to him?"
"Why, he was one of the sixty-seven sole survivors of the famous wreck of the 'Hot Cross Bun'."
"Where was she wrecked?" asked Jimmy.
"On Pelican Point."
"How many were drowned?"
"No one was drowned. That was the trouble."
"Yes. They all got to hating each other so, and the food worried 'em so much, that they used to wade out in batches every morning and TRY to drown themselves. It was the food mostly. You see the 'Hot Cross Bun' was an excursion steamer,—like that one we just saw at the wharf. She wasn't on an excursion this time, however,— she was making a regular trip between one of the islands in this Bay and the mainland. That's the charm of Broad Bay,—there are so many islands and towns that almost anything can happen.
"Well, this steamboat had on board a miscellaneous lot of passengers, including a bird-study club, a fife and drum corps, and two scissors-grinders. It wasn't until the boat was wrecked in a thick fog, and they tried to exist on Pelican Point for four days,—foggy all the time—that they found out what it was going to be like. The Point is cut off from the mainland in bad weather, you know. Well, they examined the food supply of the 'Hot Cross Bun' and they found that it consisted of thirty-seven dozen sticks of pineapple chewing gum, four quarts of peanuts, (these went the very first day), eight pounds of half-petrified Turkish Delight, six boxes of all-day-suckers, and about thirty thousand chocolate mice.
"Now, all these things are very delightful when you're on dry land, and can have them now and then, so to speak. But Pelican Point wasn't dry, and the food got awfully tiresome! Why, my uncle,—he's a bishop, and very regular in his habits—told me he got so that he almost thought he wouldn't mind if he never saw a chocolate mouse again as long as he lived!
"On the third day came the mutiny. The bird-study club had been complaining—"
Mr. Daddles paused.
"Are you waiting for us, Captain?"
"The flap-jacks are ready," said Captain Bannister, from below.
"Why did they mutiny?" asked Spike.
"After supper," said Mr. Daddles, gravely, "I will conclude my account of the wreck of the 'Hot Cross Bun'."