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´╗┐Title: Motor Boat Boys Mississippi Cruise - or, The Dash for Dixie
Author: Arundel, Louis
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Motor Boat Boys Mississippi Cruise - or, The Dash for Dixie" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

CRUISE***


MOTOR BOAT BOYS

MISSISSIPPI CRUISE

Or

The Dash For Dixie

by

LOUIS ARUNDEL



[Frontispiece: Jack was keeping his hand on the alert, ready to reverse
his engine at even a second's warning.]



Chicago
M. A. Donohue & Co.
Copyright 1914
by
M. A. Donohue & Co.
Chicago



CONTENTS


     I.  ALL ABOARD FOR DIXIELAND!
    II.  THE START
   III.  A HANDICAP AT THE FIRST STATION
    IV.  THE SUDDEN PERIL
     V.  AROUSED AT MIDNIGHT
    VI.  STARTLING NEWS FROM NEAR HOME
   VII.  QUITE A SURPRISE PASTY
  VIII.  LEFT IN THE LURCH
    IX.  THE SWIFT RUN OF THE "TRAMP"
     X.  IN A KENTUCKY COVE
    XI.  TURNING THE TABLES ON THE BANK ROBBERS
   XII.  "LUCKY JACK!"
  XIII.  THE "WIRELESS" IN TOW
   XIV.  SIGNS OF THE SUNNY SOUTH
    XV.  BUSTER TAKES HOPE
   XVI.  ERASTUS, THE HOUSEBURNER
  XVII.  THE SHERIFF'S POSSE
 XVIII.  AT THE MOUTH OF THE SUNFLOWER
   XIX.  IN THE LAND OF COTTON
    XX.  THE CASTAWAYS OF THE SWAMP
   XXI.  BUSTER FACES STARVATION
  XXII.  THE DISCOVERY
 XXIII.  THE WINNER OF THE CUP--CONCLUSION



[Transcriber's note: The following two short stories were in the
original book, but are not related to the above story.  No author was
given for them.]

An Awakening at Alvin

Caught with a Scrap of Paper



THE MOTOR BOAT BOYS' MISSISSIPPI CRUISE;

or

A Dash for the Dixie Cup


CHAPTER I.

ALL ABOARD FOR DIXIELAND!

"Aw, quit your kidding, now, George.  You know I said I'd stick by you
to the bitter end; and nobody ever knew Nick Longfellow to back water,
did they?"

"I guess you're right about that, Pudding.  Your word is your strongest
hold--next to eating.  I depend on you to be my boat-mate on that long
cruise, if so be we make a go of the race."

"Huh! even if Herb Dickson and Josh Purdue can't get a chance to enter
this old tub of theirs which they call the _Comfort_, what's to hinder
us from starting when Jack heads his dandy _Tramp_ south; tell me that?"

"Nothing, Nick; only three boats would be better than two, and add to
the fun of the race for the silver cup;" and the speaker, George
Rollins, bent affectionately over the smart, bright engine of a new and
exceedingly narrow motor boat undoubtedly built for speed alone, and
carrying the significant name of _Wireless_.

"I'm told by Jack that the cup his father is having made is a jim dandy
one, and has the word 'Dixie' engraved on it," the fat boy remarked.
"He says it will be here by tomorrow.  Perhaps when the other fellows
show it to their folks, they'll get the word they're waiting for."

"Well, for one I'm not worrying about their not going along," remarked
George, as he rubbed away with a bit of waste.  "Why, you know there'll
not be any school till away after Christmas this year, because the
Dunker boys came down with smallpox, and the health board ordered the
building closed.  That gives us a hunky-dory vacation.  It was what
made me think of going along with Jack in the first place."

"Yes," Nick went on; "he just has to be in New Orleans on the first of
December, because that will of his daffy old uncle is to be read then;
and the lawyer sent word that Jack Stormways was a big thing in the
money that's left.  And everybody that's mentioned has to be present
when the will's read, or lose their share.  That's a punk sort of a
job, ain't it now, George?"

"Let up about that queer old uncle," remarked the other, in a low tone.
"For there's Jack coming right now, with Jimmy Brannagan dangling at
his heels.  I guess Jimmy would go through fire and water for Jack, if
he could only do him a good turn."

"Well," observed the fat lad, shaking his head in a positive way he
had, "why shouldn't he when Jack has done so much for him?  Ever since
Jimmy's mother died he's lived at Jack's house, and had a chance to
attend school; though for that matter I don't think he'll ever set the
world on fire with his knowledge of books."

"All the same the Irish boy is a shrewd fellow, and you've got to get
up mighty early in the morning to beat him out in an argument," grinned
George, who could look back to numerous occasions when he had confessed
himself a poor second under such conditions.

"Say, look at the big bundle Jack's carrying, would you?" exclaimed
Nick, taking a sudden new interest in matters, and getting to his feet;
for he had been lazily stretched out, watching his comrade work at the
engine of the speed boat, which was like a big cigar in shape, somewhat
near twenty-seven feet in length, by only four and a half beam.

"I honestly believe that's the bully old silver cup Jack's bringing
over to let us see," declared George, also aroused, so that his black
eyes flashed.

"And it's going to be our silver cup some day before long; because,
just as you say, this fine little beauty can cut circles around both
the other motor boats," and the fat boy patted the varnished frame of
the _Wireless_ as he spoke.

"Sure thing," replied George, with a grin; "but don't discourage the
rest by rubbing it in that we've got such a soft snap."

Two other fellows bustled into the big boathouse, where several
launches were resting on the floor on either side of the basin, at the
further end of which the water door was situated.

Jack Stormways was an active lad of about seventeen.  His figure was as
straight as that of an Indian, and his face one in which a steady
purpose seemed to abide.  Usually of a sunny, cheerful disposition, he
knew how to arouse all dormant faculties in the members of a baseball
or football team of which he might chance to be captain.

Nearly everybody liked Jack Stormways; and even such enemies as he
naturally made during his career in school admitted that they admired
his clean methods of doing things.

His companion, Jimmie Brannagan, was a short-bodied Irish lad, with red
hair and a freckled face; but possessing a sturdy frame, as well as a
ready wit.

"Open it up, and let us have a peep, Jack!" exclaimed George, as the
newcomer placed his package on a bench near by.

"No use asking such sharp chaps as you to guess," observed the other,
laughingly, as he started to follow instructions by unwinding the many
papers that covered the mysterious bulky object.  "You see everything,
know everything.  Well, what d'ye think of that for a beauty, George
and Buster?"

Poor Nick had about as many names as a prince of the royal blood.  His
companions seemed to think that every title signifying something
bouncing should be applied to him at odd times.  And so he answered to
anything that came along.

"My gracious! but ain't she a corker, though?" Nick now gasped, as his
eyes seemed to be trying to pop out of his head with admiration.

"Finest ever," observed George, a little envy in his black eyes; for
there were certain weak spots in his disposition that he had to fight
continually, sometimes winning out, and again giving in to the
temptation.

It was certainly a handsome specimen of the Winona silversmith's
cunning, standing almost a foot and a half high, and being decorated
with a magnificent mimic representation of a little motor boat resting
under a live oak tree that overhung the water of a bayou; and which, of
course, represented Dixieland, as could be easily seen from the long
streamers of Spanish moss dangling from the limbs.

Both boys handled the trophy with eager hands.

"Say, that's worth going after," said Nick, finally.  "And I'd like to
wager that when Herb and Josh show it to their folks they'll easily get
permission to join us in the long dash to New Orleans."

"And what great times we've already had, laying out the program,"
remarked Jack.  "That was worth something, alone.  The journey's
divided up in about two hundred mile divisions.  No boat can leave a
division point until every contestant is there to make an even start.
Only the time _consumed between actual stations_ to be counted in the
final summing up."

"And that other provision about the running time being exactly between
eight in the morning and four in the afternoon is a mighty wise thing,"
remarked George.

"Yes," said Nick, "but what worries the crew of the _Wireless_ is what
they're going to do with all the time on their hands.  We've planned to
take a gun along, so we can do some shooting as we wait; and then the
fishing ought to be worth while.  If necessary, I'll go overboard, and
try those new White Wings I bought.  I'm going to have a whole lot of
fun with those contraptions; besides learn how to swim like a duck."

"Oh! bother those old junk things; will we ever hear the last of the
wonderful stunts Pudding expects to do with 'em'?" groaned George.

"Sure I saw him sthandin' in two fate of water one day, and flappin'
his wings like a burrd, so I did," declared Jimmie, seriously.  "I
wanted him to walk out to dape water, but he said he didn't wish to get
the blissed things wet too suddent like."

"Say, just change the subject, won't you?" begged Nick, turning as red
in the face as a turkey cock.  "My time will come, and I'm going to
astonish you fellows.  Why, I can float right now, though perhaps you
won't believe it."

"On the contrary, I never believed you could sink," declared George,
derisively, as he surveyed the swelling proportions of his boat mate.
"Talk about needing artificial support to keep you on top; I bet you'd
float like a cork, or a lump of grease, if you only wasn't afraid to
make the try."

"What are we waiting for now?" asked Nick, appealing to Jack, because
that comrade never nagged him.

"Only to find out if the other fellows are going along," was Jack's
reply.

"Well, we've just got to know pretty quick," grumbled Nick.  "I've been
kept waiting so long I'm wasting away to a mere shadow.  If it holds up
much more, why I'll not have the appetite of a poor little dicky bird."

Of course there was a shout at that, for truth to tell Nick seemed
never to get enough to eat.  He couldn't cook worth while, and yet was
always first and last at the feast.  On the other hand, there was the
long-bodied and lanky Josh Purdue who was a splendid hand at getting up
a camp dinner, yet seldom cared to partake of his tasty dishes, and was
also, they whispered, addicted to dyspepsia tablets!

Between these two there was an almost constant warfare of humorous
badinage in connection with their several weaknesses.  Josh would twit
the fat boy on his enormous capacity for stowing "grub" away; and on
the other hand, Nick generally came back with sarcastic remarks about
"shadows," and "living skeletons," and such unpleasant things.

"I've got a pretty good hunch that the thing will be all settled before
another day," remarked Jack, nodding.  "And if so, we can get away on
next Monday morning."

"Hurrah!" shouted Nick, waving his arms above his head.  "Just imagine
what a bully good time we've got ahead of us, cruising down that creek
yonder," and he pointed to where they could see the waters of the
Mississippi flowing past the boathouse.

"I've already made most of the arrangements," announced Jack, "and only
want to know whether there are going to be six of us, or only four,
before ordering the provisions for the start."

"Oh, how happy I am!" gurgled Nick, trying to dance in the confined
space alongside the motor boats, and almost falling into the well.

"He always acts that way at the mere mention of the word grub,"
declared George.

"Now you wrong me, partner," remonstrated the injured one.  "I'm only
anticipating what ge-lorious times you and I will have waiting for the
others to come along--you shooting a cargo of ducks and geese on the
sandbars, and little me sportin' in the tide with my jolly old wings
buoying me up.  How can I stand another three days of this agony?
Somebody put me to sleep, and don't let me wake up till the horn blows
for the race to start Monday A. M."

"Sure, I like to oblige," observed Jimmie, rolling up his sleeves to
the elbows of his muscular arms.  "If so be you wouldn't moind tilling
me av ye'd prefer the jolt on the ind of the chin, or under the lift
ear.  I'm not at all particular mesilf, only I like to plase as good
natured a chap as Puddin' Longfellow."

"Well, forget it, won't you, Jimmie?  I guess I'll stay awake, after
all; there's so much to see and hear, yes, and eat, too.  But seems to
me I just noticed a couple of fellows making this way from the road;
and sure as you live it's Herb and Josh.  Look at the big grins they're
carrying, would you?  Say, what d'ye think, they've gone and done
it--got permission to take part in the race for the cup.  Wow! ain't
that all to the mustard, though?"

The door was darkened by a couple of hurrying figures, as the pair
pushed into the boat house, almost out of breath from hard running, yet
with faces that fairly shone with eagerness to tell the news.

"Hurrah for us, fellows!" shouted the leading boy, as he waved his cap
violently above his head; "we're going along, all right.  Dad gave in
at last after ma put it up to him.  Count the _Comfort_ in that race;
and she's going to give you all the time of your lives, too.  Oh, my!
is that the silver cup trophy?  Josh, take a look, will you?  Won't it
just fit in my den, though?  and I can see where they left space for
our illustrious names.  Boys, three cheers and a tiger for the
Mississippi cruise!"



CHAPTER II.

THE START.

The volume of shouts that went up was so tremendous that several other
fellows who happened to be passing the boathouse came rushing in to
find out what had happened.

They found the six intended Mississippi cruisers shaking hands wildly,
and congratulating each other on their good fortune.

There would be some envious fellows in town from that time on, when the
news that the great race had been finally arranged went abroad; for
hardly a boy but who would wish with all his heart and soul that he had
been lucky enough to be in the game.

"Now, let's see that list of yours, Jack!" said Nick, after the
excitement had in a measure subsided, and they could talk coherently
again.

"Yes," observed Josh quickly, "you don't suppose Buster would be able
to sleep a wink unless he knew there was going to be heaps of eatin'
stuff along.  For goodness sake, get out your list at the grocer's,
Jack, and let him run it over.  If Buster keeps on losing flesh, what
in the world d'ye suppose the blessed old _Comfort's_ going to do for
_ballast_?"

"There you go," declared Nick, reproachfully, "hitting me below the
belt as usual.  Ain't I only thinking of the rest of you when I bother
myself about such a thing as grub?  Some people have to be tempted with
dainties, to take their daily rations.  As for me a cup of coffee, huh,
give me some bread or crackers, a rasher of bacon with eggs, a potato
baked in the ashes of a camp fire--and I'm as happy as a king."

"Oh, yes," Josh went on, persistently, "I admit all that, provided the
_quantity_ is there.  Quality seldom enters into your calculations,
Buster.  But say, Jack, let's get busy.  We've only got one more day,
then comes Sunday, and the morning after----"

"We're off!" cried George, as he cast a fond look toward his swift
speed boat; and then glanced around in a way that told how much he
pitied these poor "chumps" who actually imagined they had a ghost of a
chance to win the long race.

So for an hour and more they put their wise heads together, and conned
the lists Jack produced.  Many changes were suggested, some of which
were made, after they had been discussed _pro_ and _con_; for Jack was
open to conviction, though as a rule there was little that he had
forgotten, or that could be bettered in the program.

Then each couple started to examine the boat in which they purposed
taking that long dash toward Dixieland.  It was of great importance
that as few accidents as possible occur while on the way south.  For,
although an accident in itself would not penalize the contestant, if it
happened to occur during the eight working hours there must be a loss
of time that would lessen the chances for winning out.

"There's only one thing I wish," remarked Herb, as they talked over
these matters, and jotted down a few ideas connected with the race.

"What might that be?" asked Nick, eagerly, for he was taking note of
everything that occurred, and casting envious glances toward the fine
trophy on the box.

"Of course," the other went on, "I hope the reliable old _Comfort_
won't break down once on the trip; and I give you my word I don't
believe she will.  But if that _has_ got to happen, I'm wishing it will
be just around four in the afternoon.  See the point, fellows?"

"Sure," replied Jimmie, with a grin.  "That gives ye the hull night to
be makin' repairs, and without losin' a blissed minute of time.  A wise
guy ye are, so I'm thinkin', Herbie."

A close inspection failed to disclose any structural weakness about any
one of the three boats, or their motive power.  Of course, each pilot
was convinced in his own mind that he had the best chance to win.
George relied mainly on speed; Herb placed his dependence on the well
known ability of his broad-beamed boat to stand up before heavy seas,
and always get there safely in the end; while with Jack there was a
combination of these several points of excellence.

"Well," the last named remarked, as they prepared to go home, and the
boathouse was being locked up for the night; "I can see where we're
going to have a warm time of it in the last half of the race."

"How's that?" burst forth the eager Nick.  "Tell us, Jack; it ain't
fair to keep anything back.  Will they arrest us for breaking the speed
laws down south?"

"See!" cried Herb, instantly, "that's where a guilty conscience works
overtime.  It's just what he gets for risking his life in that floating
coffin," and he jerked his thumb disdainfully toward the building they
were leaving.

At that the proud owner of the cigar-shaped craft laughed aloud.

"Green with envy already, Herb!" he exclaimed.  "Don't you pay any
attention to what he says, Pudding.  We're just going to lick the whole
bunch to a frazzle, and that's easy.  Now, Jack, suppose you tell us
what's on your mind?  How are we going to have lots of trouble in the
last half, more than in the beginning?"

"When you fellows begin to study those maps of the Mississippi I
brought you, it will open your eyes," Jack went on.  "Why, the upper
stretches of this river are as straight as a yard stick compared with
what lies below Memphis.  If ever you saw a snake turning and twisting
after you've hit him with a stone you've got an idea of what the big
river is down there in Dixie.  It forms loops and bends galore.  It
turns back north, runs east, then west and for a short time south.  For
ten miles southing you make you have to go thirty."

"Well, I understood that was the way; but why should that bother us?"
demanded George.  "What's fair for one is fair for all.  We'll hug the
easterly shore all we can, and save many a mile."

"Perhaps you will," smiled Jack, "and then again the current races
faster out in the middle, so the boat that ventures may profit by that.
But what I had in mind was the innumerable cut-offs we're apt to
strike."

"Cut-offs!" exclaimed Nick, turning a trifle pale, as though he thought
this had something to do with the favorite southern lynching bee.

"Oh!  I know about those things," declared Herb, carelessly.
"Sometimes a native can save twenty miles by shooting through where a
passage runs across a neck of wooded land.  But I guess the good old
_Comfort_ will stick to the main stream.  I may be the tortoise in this
race, but there's lots of chances the hares will lie down for a little
nap in the way, and let me go past."

"But it's fair to take advantage of a cut-off, ain't it?" asked George.

"Of course it is, if you want to take the chance of getting twisted,
and losing oodles of hours wandering around in some old swamp," Jack
answered.

"Well, they ought to have those cut-offs marked with buoys, or sign
posts," grumbled George.

"Too many changes taking place all the time," Jack replied, showing how
earnestly he had been studying the field.  "They just couldn't do it.
But of all three craft, yours ought to be the last one to want to steal
a march on the rest, George."

"Oh, well, I don't expect to be compelled to; but then you never know
what's going to happen.  Suppose we had a breakdown, and lost many
hours--it might be up to the _Wireless_ to get busy, and wipe out some
of that slack.  But I'm going to study that lower river part till I get
it by heart, bet your boots on that, fellows."

"And me ditto," said Nick, quickly.  "None of that lost in the swamp
for me.  Just think how awful it would be, boys, wandering around day
after day with snakes and alligators waiting to snap you up!  Ugh!"

"That isn't the worst of it, Buster; just imagine the food giving out!
Whatever in the wide world would you do?" asked Jack, with a chuckle.

Nick gave a wild look, and then groaned dismally.

"If it came to a case of drawing lots I just know George would pick out
the lucky number, because he often looks at me now as if he'd like to
eat me," he mumbled, no doubt falling to the joke, but nevertheless
with a vein of seriousness in his voice.

On the following day the six boys haunted the boathouse most of the
time.  If anything was forgotten it could not have been for lack of
consultations, since they were constantly putting their heads together,
advising, making little changes in the packing and stowing of things,
and running errands back to their homes and the stores.

When they left at eventime they knew of nothing that could be done to
better conditions.  Each boat was in prime condition for the southern
dash of many hundreds of miles, possibly over stormy waters, where
perils of various kinds awaited them.

And doubtless never in the history of those several families were such
restless boys known as during the Sunday that followed.  The minutes
seemed to drag as if weighted down with stones.

But the longest day has its end, and finally night came.

Alarm clocks had been set for dawn, but in few cases were they needed,
since the boys were up and doing before the gray had actually crept
into the eastern heavens.

At seven o'clock a crowd began to assemble in the vicinity of the
boathouse from which the start was to be made; for the race was the
event of the season.  Every boy in town was on the spot, and the
constables had to keep the crowd from actually swarming over and
swamping the busy contestants and their families.

The three motor boats were ready in the water, with burgees flying and
looking as spic and span as human energy could make them.  The silver
trophy was in the possession of Jack's father, and had been admired by
hundreds.

As the time set for the start approached, the six boys manifested
considerable nervousness.  But this might be expected even of old
campaigners, not to speak of young lads who, up to now, had possibly
never been more than one or two hundred miles away from home.

Jack was really in command, since he had been elected commodore of the
club by unanimous vote.  He seemed capable of keeping his head in a
time of excitement, and that meant a great deal.

Everything had been attended to so far as he knew, and they were now
only waiting for the town clock to boom out the hour of eight, when the
starting toot of his conch shell horn would announce that the race was
on.

It was a foregone conclusion that the speed boat would easily take the
lead, for almost everything had been sacrificed in her construction to
the one prime necessity for reeling off the miles.  Nick was quivering
all over with anxiety.  He might have backed out only that he chanced
to have a stubborn streak in his make-up, and his word had been given.
But he certainly looked far from happy as he faced the gloomy prospect
of days and days cooped up in that cranky craft, where the least
movement abroad [Transcriber's note: aboard?] set up a dizzy wabbling.

"Got your hair parted exactly in the middle, Buster?" shouted a comrade
from the crowd, noting how the fat boy gripped the sides of the boat
every time the pilot made a sudden little movement that caused the
touchy _Wireless_ to bob or roll.

"Better take a teenty more breath in that right lung, Hippo!" called
another, with cruel intent; but Nick only grinned, and waved his hand,
as though utterly indifferent to their jibes.

Jack looked at his little dollar nickel watch for the last time.

"Five minutes more only, fellows!" he announced.  "Get aboard, all!"

Presently they were settled in their places, and the engines had been
started to make sure everything was right for the word "go!"

Then the plain sound of the clock in the town hall came to their ears,
as it started to strike the hour.

"Let loose!" called Jack; and immediately gave several sharp toots on
his shell signal horn.

A storm of wild cheers broke out when the trio of handsome boats shot
off as soon as those on the dock had eased the detaining cables.

"Look at the _Wireless_, will you?  Talk about your speed, ain't she
got it to burn, though?" shouted one enthusiast, as the long,
cigar-shaped boat shot ahead, and rapidly opened a gap between herself
and the other contestants.

And minutes before the _Tramp_ and the _Comfort_, she passed out of
sight around the bend in the river, a mile below the town.

As long as the pilots of the other two craft could see the faintest
sign of the home town they were leaving on this long and doubtless
perilous voyage over unknown waters, they could hear the whoops of the
excited people, as they waved the adventurous cruisers and racers an
adieu, with good wishes for a safe journey.



CHAPTER III.

A HANDICAP AT THE FIRST STATION.

"We've got to pull up here, Jimmie!"

"Sure; and what time have ye, Jack?"

"Just eleven.  We've been booming along for three hours today, besides
the whole eight yesterday, and without a single breakdown, too," and
Jack looked proudly at the little motor which he was bending over and
petting.

"Thims the houses of Clinton we say away ahead there, thin?" asked
Jimmie, as he shaded his eyes with a palm, and stared toward the south.

"Yes, on the Illinois shore; and across the way lies Clinton in Iowa.
I used the marine glass which every boat carries, and there isn't a
sign of either the _Wireless_ or the _Comfort_ ahead.  That means,
Jimmie, we're the first to arrive at the initial bag or station."

The Irish boy grinned as though tickled.  "Sure I can understand why
Herb and Josh are held back by a slow boat; but by the powers where can
that speed boy be?  By the way he wint off he might be bringing up in
New Orleans just now," he remarked, humorously.

"If I gave a guess I'd say he was up in some creek, tinkering at that
twenty horsepower engine of his that shakes the whole frame of his boat
whenever he opens the throttle wide," Jack replied.

"Right ye are," declared Jimmie, nodding his head.  "And by the toime
we get to the journey's ind I belave on me sowl George and Buster will
know the location of ivery creek along the river."

"Well," remarked the pilot of the boat, as he turned shoreward, "if a
fellow is daft enough to sacrifice everything else for speed, on a long
cruise like this, he must expect to put up with all sorts of trouble.
But I'm sorry for Buster, though."

"Sure he can afford to lose twinty pounds, and not fale it," declared
the Irish boy, sagely.  "And so long as the provisions howld out,
Buster won't kick too harrd."

When they had arrived at a certain point not far from the shore the
engine was shut off.

"Now!" sang out Jack, "drop it!  Quick, Jimmie!"

With a splash the anchor fell into the water, and presently the jaunty
little motor boat was riding restlessly at the end of her cable; while
the two boys started to get something ready to eat.

Jimmie was to act as cook most of the time, since the other inmate of
the _Tramp_ had plenty of things to hold his attention in managing the
engine, and figuring out the course.

First of all Jimmie placed on a firm foundation a neat little
contraption made of brass, and which seemed to be a kerosene stove,
capable of manufacturing gas.  It was the pet of the skipper, and had
served him many a time under conditions when a camp fire was out of the
question, on account of pouring rain, or from some other reason.

This Juwel kerosene-burning stove was of German origin.  It was primed
with a little alcohol, and when the heat had thus been applied to the
plate a few pumps started the oil to moving, and it was turned into
blue flame gas, very powerful in its capacity for boiling water
speedily.

When the stove was going it made a little crackling, hissing noise, but
nothing to cause annoyance.  And its convenience on a cruise of this
sort outweighed any minor faults.

The other boats were equipped with other cooking appliances, the
_Wireless_ having a battery of three lamps, and the _Comfort_ a genuine
gasoline affair, of course of generous proportions as became so big a
craft, on which a dinner for the crowd might have been prepared if
necessary.

Jimmie heated some Boston baked beans left over from the preceding
night's supper, and made a pot of coffee.  A loaf of bread and some
cheese afforded ample substantial, as Jimmie declared when he could eat
no more.

Still there were no signs of either of the other boats above.  They
could see various river craft moving about, but though Jack used his
glasses diligently up to two o'clock he had discovered nothing of the
others.

"Say, this looks bad for a beginning," he observed, as three o'clock
came, and he took the glasses again to sweep the upper river.  "Already
we have a start of four hours on both our rivals.  Perhaps after all
George may have to explore some of those cut-offs Nick dreads so much,
in order to make up for time lost while tinkering with that blessed old
engine of his, that breaks down once in so often."

He had hardly applied the glasses to his eyes than he gave an
exclamation.

"I wager now that's the bully ould _Comfort_ splashing along in the
middle of the river!" cried Jimmie, who had good eyes of his own and
had been using them to some advantage meanwhile.

"Go up head, Jimmie," said Jack; "for that's just what it is.  And as
sure as you live I think I sight the rushing _Wireless_ away back
there, booming along, and cutting through the water like a knife, while
the broad bow of Herb's boat throws the spray flying with every dip!
It's a race for second honors, that's what it is, Jimmie!"

"Whirra! and we're the spectators, so we are!" cried the delighted
Irish lad, as he eagerly reached for the glasses and clapped them to
his eyes.  "Yis, ye're right, Jack, it's the speed boat all the same;
and my sowl, how she's rushing things!  By the powers, don't I hope the
ould _Comfort_ draws in here ahead.  Won't it make George feel down in
the mouth to be last at the stake?"

"Oh! this is only a beginning," remarked Jack.  "Nobody can tell what
is going to happen before we bring up at New Orleans.  Depend on it,
Jimmie, all of us will know a heap more by then than we do now."

"Herb sees us," observed Jimmie.  "Josh is wavin' a flag.  And the boat
heads this way, too, makin' better time than I iver saw her do.  Hurrah
for thim!  Look at the coffin nail gainin'; but I do believe the tub
will win out afther all, I do that."

And so it proved; for, although George evidently risked considerable,
and shoved on every horsepower his engine was rated at, he could not
quite overtake the big clumsy craft he had affected to despise; so that
the _Comfort_ was alongside before the speed boat was more than within
hailing distance.

Jack himself timed the coming of each craft, as was the duty of the one
first at a station.  Thus he knew just what a handicap the other boats
labored under as the result of the initial run.

It was already late in the day, and as they were prohibited from
running after the hour of four, a start was out of the question until
another morning.

Accordingly the three craft made preparations for stopping over another
night.  A place was found where they could go ashore and camp, though
meaning to sleep aboard their several boats; a necessity that caused
poor Nick many a groan.

"Why, fellows," he grunted, rubbing himself in various places, "I'm
just covered with bruises after one night of it.  No room to turn
without the bally old boat heaving and rolling.  I give you my word
there were lots of times I really made up my mind the blessed thing
wanted to turn us both out into the creek.  And would you believe it, I
haven't yet been able to find those bully water wings anywhere.  Seen
anything of 'em, boys?  Oh!  I hope you have, because half the fun will
be lost to me if I've gone and left my wings behind."

But no one remembered seeing the articles in question after the last
time the owner had been holding them up for admiration, and which was
on the Saturday before the start.

"So, you did pass the night in a creek, then?" asked Jack.

"That's what we did," admitted George, with a shrug of his shoulders.
"Engine began to give trouble before two o'clock, and as we were near
the shore we found a convenient creek, where we pushed in; and I've
been working on that motor pretty much all the time since."

"We saw you both go past this morning," remarked Nick.  "But George
wouldn't let me give a toot on my horn.  All I did was to cook while he
worked."

"And eat.  Don't forget to mention that, please," grumbled the
aforesaid George.  "Why, fellows, if he keeps on the way he's started,
I sure don't know how we'll ever get enough grub aboard to keep going.
And besides, such cooking you never saw."

"Here, no complaining," declared Jack.  "You knew what you were up
against before you started.  And Buster is a willing chap, even if he
has his faults.  I've got a man aboard who's in training to equal
Buster's record before this trip ends," and he nodded his head toward
Jimmie, who grinned and answered:

"Indade an' I begin to belave that same mesilf, fellers.  I'm hungry
all the time, so I be.  It must be in the air.  Jack himself is no
slouch whin it comes to stowing away things."

"That's all right," laughed Josh, seeing a chance to get in one of his
favorite digs at Nick; "but I can feel for poor old George.  He's
tucked in with a cemetery, that devours everything, and keeps yawning
for more."

And so they talked as they made a fire and prepared supper for the
crowd just as the sun hovered over the distant shore to the west.  No
one came to bother them, for the place was isolated.  A railroad ran
near by, and during the night they heard numerous trains passing along.
But snugly tucked away in their respective boats--much too snugly, Nick
believed--they found little cause for complaint.

Another dawn found them facing a proposition that offered new
possibilities.

"Hey! it's raining!" shouted Josh, he being the first one in the little
fleet to get outside that morning.

But Jack had known this for some time, since he had been awake and
heard the patter of the falling drops on the taut canvas awning that
covered the main part of the _Tramp_.

After a while the boats were allowed to come closer together, while the
pilots conferred as to the program for the day.

There were one or two feeble protests against starting in the wet; but
on putting it to a vote the decision was reached that they must go on.

"We're not made of sugar or salt," declared Jack; "and besides, haven't
we anticipated just such weather by providing waterproof garments.
Everybody get into their oilskins right away, and slap a real old
sou'wester on their heads.  We can afford to laugh at this poor little
storm.  Wait till we strike something worth while later on, and then
duck."

"Yes," put in George, a little maliciously; "we've just got to be
moving right along, fellows.  Satan always finds mischief for idle
hands to do.  Buster is supposed to be the deck hand aboard this boat,
and when he hasn't anything else to do his mind keeps wandering in the
line of eating.  Suppose we did get really cleaned out some fine day,
am I bound to begin on him for chops?"

All this while they were busy dressing, and Nick made the narrow speed
boat wabble fearfully with his movements as he drew on his oilskins.

"Oh!  I tell you I'm just going to be a complete nervous wreck before
we get done with this fool race," he complained when he had finally
succeeded in donning the wide trousers, the legs of which persisted in
sticking together.

"Get out and walk then," said George, promptly.

"I would if the walking was good," replied Nick; "but it's wet both
above and below; and besides I want to give another look around for my
precious white wings."

At eight o'clock another start was made.  As before, the fleet boat
shot ahead, with the _Tramp_ a good second, and the wallowing _Comfort_
in the rear, Herb and Josh in no way disconcerted because of the poor
beginning.  History had a way of repeating itself; and they believed
that the accident to George's cranky engine was only a specimen of many
other troubles and tribulations that would be apt to befall the
ambitious pilot during the progress of the race.

But hardly had the _Wireless_ gone two hundred yards before there was a
tremendous splash heard.

"Arrah now!" burst out Jimmie, who had happened to be looking at the
time, "it's happened just as I knowed it would!"

"What is it?" asked Jack, bobbing up from the engine, which had been
taking all of his attention.

"He falled overboard, so he did, just like a sack of corn!" continued
Jimmie.

"Who did----oh! look at all the splashing back of the _Wireless_!  Why
it's Buster and he's holding on to a rope or something!  Stop the boat,
George; stop her!"



CHAPTER IV.

THE SUDDEN PERIL.

Even while Jack Stormways was giving vent to that shout he saw that
George had shut off power, for the swift speed boat no longer rushed
through the water like a thing of life.

Meanwhile both the other launches were bearing down upon the scene,
with their occupants only too anxious to lend a helping hand.

George had seized hold of the other end of the rope to which the
unfortunate Nick clung so desperately, and was dragging the floundering
fat boy in, hand over hand.

"Hold on, George--not so fast I tell you!  I'm full up now with this
nasty yellow water, and can't stand any more.  Easy, George!  Oh, if I
only had my wings on right now, what a chance to try 'em out!"

In this ridiculous fashion the flapping boy-fish gave vent to his
mingled feelings of reproach and regret as he found himself hauled
close in to the side of the drifting _Wireless_, until the skipper
managed to get his fingers twisted in the abundant scalplock of his
boat-mate.

"Why, he's got a life preserver on!  He couldn't have drowned if he
tried!" exclaimed Josh, as he leaned over the side of the big roomy
_Comfort_; an act that did not seem to disturb her stability one bit.

"Course I have!" spluttered the dangling Nick, ever ready to take up
cudgels with this adversary, no matter what his condition.  "Course I
have," he repeated.  "Think me crazy to sail in this cranky message
boat without insurance against a spill?  I guess not.  And you see what
a wise head Nick has, fellows!  Why, hang it, I'd just about been
drowned this time if it hadn't been for this hunky-dory life preserver!"

"That's so," said Jack, warmly.  "And you're a wise boy, all right,
Buster.  Just as long as you ride in that speed machine you keep close
to that cork affair.  You never know when you'll need it."

"That's so," grunted Nick, as he ejected a quart or so of water which
had gotten into his mouth and stomach.  "Ugh! get me aboard, please.  I
feel wet!"

"Glory! hear that, would ye?" roared Jimmie.  "Sure he looks it, too,
by the same token.  But it will nade the hull caboodle of us to lift
Buster aboard, for what wid all the wather he's gulped down he must
weigh a ton, so he do."

"Say, he certainly changed his mind, and concluded that the walking was
good, after all!" exclaimed Herb, as he lent a hand toward raising the
young elephant.

"Yes," remarked George, who had really been badly frightened, but now
tried to hide his feelings by a little joshing, "and I don't think it's
a bit fair for your own crew to mutiny that way, and turn against the
skipper."

"What's that?" gasped Nick, half way over the side; "who mutinied?"

"Why, the evidence is all against you, Hippo," returned his boatmate.
"Didn't you see him, boys, holding on to a rope, and trying his level
best to keep the dandy little _Wireless_ from getting too great a
start?  I'm going to offer that as a protest if I miss getting the
silver Dixie cup."

"Huh!"

That was all Nick could get out, for just then with a grand heave all
around his comrades managed to raise him over the gunwale of the speed
launch, so that he came down on the after deck with a squash, streams
of water running off his saturated garments.

"There's only one thing to do," remarked Jack, "and that's to make a
fresh start when Buster gets into some dry clothes.  So hurry up, old
fellow."

"However did you come to do it, Pudding?" demanded Herb, as the three
boats kept company drifting on the current of the river.

"Well, I hardly know," grinned the other, as he started to leisurely
undress.  "I saw a coil of rope slipping overboard, and remember
bending down to grab it.  Guess the frisky little craft must have given
a kick just about then.  Next thing I knew I was in the drink, and
swallowing more water than was good for me."

"But you grabbed the rope all right, it seems!" remarked Josh,
sarcastically.

"Looks like it," admitted the other readily; "and I held on, too.  My
dad always did say I was a great fellow to keep my grip once I got it.
There's only one thing I'm sorry about."

"Now just quit that right where you are," remarked George.  "What do
you take me for, a phonograph with a blank record?  Forget about those
silly wings that were going to make a swimmer out of you.  A few more
duckings like this at the end of a rope and you'll be a boss paddler."

"Oh! do you think so, George!  Perhaps, then, once in a while you
wouldn't mind tying a rope under my arms and letting me drop,
easy-like, off the stern here, to learn the strokes.  I wouldn't care
very much, if I always had this good old cork thing on."

"You get out!" snorted George, who never knew when his companion was
serious or joking, since his pudgy face was always set in a broad
smile.  "What d'ye take me for, hey?  Think this is an excursion to
teach fellows who won't try it on at home, how to swim?  You've got
another think coming then.  Hurry up and get into some dry clothes now.
We want to be off."

"Oh! start just when you feel like it; I'm going to take my time.  Now
quit joshing me.  I'm too full for utterance," and to prove the truth
of his assertion Nick bent over the side to eject another quart of
water he had been forced to swallow, much against his will.

So presently Jack gave the word and again the three boats made a fresh
start, in the same general alignment as before, with the _Wireless_
ahead, and the big _Comfort_ bringing up the rear.

Half an hour later and Jack, looking around, found that he could no
longer see either of his competitors, the rain and mist utterly
shutting them from view.

For some time, however, the heavy "pant" of the _Comfort's_ exhaust
came booming from the rear, though by slow degrees it grew fainter,
until finally even this sign of her presence failed.

"I hope George will be cautious in this half fog and rain," Jack could
not help remarking, as they continued to run along, and he kept Jimmie
constantly in the bow to report what the prospect ahead might be.

"Sure, I was just thinkin' that same," admitted the Irish lad, turning
his head for a minute while speaking.  "It's so thick beyant that I do
belave a stameboat might crape up on us unawares, and we not know a
thing about it till we kim slap bang against its bow."

"That's one thing I'm afraid of," remarked Jack.  "You notice that I
manage to keep fairly close to the shore, don't you, Jimmie?  Once in a
while I glimpse the Illinois bank when the breeze lifts the fog a bit.
I wouldn't like to run out in the middle of the river in this muss.
The only thing I'm wondering is what boats coming up-stream do in a
mess like this?  Do they creep along closer to the shore than usual; or
stick to the middle, and whistle from time to time?"

But Jimmie shook his head.

"Blest if I know a thing about it, Jack," he admitted.  "All the same,
it's me opinion that ye're doin' the right thing.  Sure, ye always do,
by the same token," for Jimmie was a great admirer of Jack Stormways,
and ready to stick to him through thick and thin.

"What a lucky thing it was Buster thought to tie that life preserver
on.  Only for that he might have been drowned before any of us could
get to him," Jack remarked a short time later.

"Oh! after all, he's the wise guy, an' don't ye forget it, Jack.  Only
I'm sorry for poor Buster, becase, ye say, he really don't hanker
afther goin' on the thrip at all, it sames.  And sure, it must be
pretty tough balancing in that cranky ould boat all the time."

"Don't waste too much pity on Buster, Jimmie," laughed Jack.  "When you
come to know him as well as I do you'll understand that a heap of his
agony is put on.  To tell the truth, I've often suspected him of being
even a bigger joker than Josh.  Besides, he ought to put up with a heap
from George; just think how the skipper has got to eat Buster's cooking
for a couple of weeks, maybe.  I wonder if he'll ever live through it.
But perhaps Buster may improve, now that he just has to eat his own
messes."

"Sure, he's got his mamy's blissed cook book along," observed the
other, with one of his broad grins.  "Didn't I say him studying it like
a gossoon?"

"Poor George!  I wouldn't be in his shoes for a cooky.  But turn around
again, Jimmie.  I don't feel easy about this sort of cruising.  That's
why I've cut off some of our speed, you notice.  Safety is my play
first, and progress afterward."

"And a bully good motto, Jack, that always gets ye through all sorts of
scrapes, right side up wid care.  Ugh! did ye say that floater we
passed?  Sure it was a big tree, so it was.  And av we'd slapped bang
agin the roots, what a juicy hole they'd have knocked in our shiny
side.  Ye swerved just in the nick of time, Jacky, bye."

"Keep watching, and sing out if you see or hear anything."

Jack was keeping his hand on the alert, ready to reverse his engine at
even a second's warning.  Then he could swerve, if it became necessary
to avoid some peril that suddenly loomed up ahead.

A train was moving slowly along ashore, and apparently groping its way,
if one could judge from the many signal whistles heard.  This rumbling
sound was magnified in the fog until it seemed almost deafening at
times.  It annoyed Jack, for he was straining his heading to catch
anything that came up the river.

Still, he had adopted all precautions that might occur to a careful
cruiser, and under the circumstances it seemed a bit silly to think of
halting in his progress down the stream.

Several hours passed thus, with both boys laboring under a constant
strain.

"Would ye moind tilling me the time, Jack, darlint?" asked the Irish
lad, still crouched in the bow as a lookout.

"Just twelve," replied the engineer, straightening up for a change, and
as customary, casting a glance ahead as well as on either side; for if
anything the atmosphere was just as thick as ever--indeed, Jimmie had
more than once referred to it contemptuously as "pea soup!"

"Arrah! would ye moind now if I got a bite of grub?  I'm that impty I
suspect me stomach is glued till me backbone."

Jack laughingly gave his consent.

"I'll keep on double duty while you're about it," he remarked; "and
play the part of engineer and pilot.  At the same time here goes to
reduce speed another notch, to be on the safe side."

Of course it was useless thinking of having anything hot while going
along at even half speed, much as they would have enjoyed a cup of
coffee to warm them up, for the rain and fog made the air seem chilly.

"But in a race every minute ought to count," remarked Jack, when Jimmie
suggested this thing of stopping half an hour.  "This is our running
time, you know.  After four o'clock we can hold up all we want.  In
fact we have to, as nothing gained by keeping on then counts."

And so they ate a cold "snack," as Jack called it, while pursuing their
course down the river.  Jimmie was again perched in the bow, talking
when his jaws were not otherwise taken up in masticating his sandwich.

"Seems to me the fog is lifting just a little," suggested Jack.

"I don't belave it," objected the other.  "Me eyes is clane tired
tryin' to say into the mess beyant.  Sometimes I do be thinkin' I
glimpse a big stameboat comin' straight for us; and just whin I'm
shoutin' to ye to back wather, I discover that it do be a fraud.  Right
now the same delusion sames to strike me, an' sure am I dramin', or is
that something like a house below?  Jack, darlint, it moves, sure it
do!  The wolf is comin' at last!  Back her, Jack, back her, me bye!
It's a stameboat this time right enough, and bearin' dead for us, by
the same token!"

And the boy at the motor knew the emergency which he had been
anticipating for the last three hours had suddenly come upon them, for
a packet was pushing up the river just ahead, and aiming direct for the
little launch!



CHAPTER V.

AROUSED AT MIDNIGHT.

"Hold tight, Jimmie!" cried Jack.

"I am that!" shrilled the Irish lad, crouched in the bow, with his eyes
staring wildly at the dreadful shape that was swiftly drawing closer to
them, as though bent on running the motor boat down.

Jack had changed his plan at the critical instant.  He had a peculiar
faculty for grasping a situation, and solving a problem.  Although he
had made up his mind to reverse in a case like this, it flashed over
him that such a course just then would have but one result--the
collision might be deferred for a few seconds; but if the approaching
steamboat continued to advance, it must take place after all.

Better to throw on full power, and try to slide off to one side, thus
giving the big craft the right of way.

It was done in a twinkling.  The _Tramp_ shot forward with a jerk; and
had Jimmie not been forewarned he might have found himself thrown
sideways into the river, for the little craft careened badly in making
the swerve.

But she answered gallantly to the call, and glided out of the way just
is the broad bow of the sternwheel steamboat came along, raising a
white, foam-crested wave as she breasted the swift current.

Jack fancied he heard a startled exclamation from up in the pilothouse
of the big craft; but not a word was flung at them.  That the man at
the wheel realized how remiss he had been in not signaling oftener, was
made evident, for immediately a long and hoarse whistle broke loose,
even as the steamboat was passing the boys.

"Wow!" gasped Jimmie, as he turned a white face toward his mate; "that
was about as clost a call as I iver want to mate up wid.  And sure,
only for your wonderful prisence of moind we might have been run down.
The same 'twas criminal carelessness, so it was.  And I'd like to give
the bog-trotter a bit of me moind."

Jack himself had gone through a thrilling experience, which he would
hardly care to have duplicated.  He was trembling some too, now that
the necessity for prompt action and quick thought was gone.

"But didn't she respond to the wheel fine though, Jimmie?" he asked:
just as if the boat deserved all the credit.  "If it had been the
clumsy old _Comfort_ now, nothing would have saved her, she's so slow
to mind her helm."

Jimmie had ideas of his own about the matter.  What they were he did
not choose to put into words just then; but the way his kindling eyes
surveyed his friend made it easy to guess.

"An' did ye notice how soon the pilot blowed his whistle?" he remarked,
as they resumed their course.  "Small use that same would have been to
us afther a smash.  Sure, I'd taken it for Gabriel's trump calling us
to the resurrection, I would."

"Well, let's forget it if we can, and talk of something more pleasant,"
observed Jack, who was now urging the little boat nearer the shore than
ever, since it appeared they had been in the path of up-river craft,
hugging the Illinois bank.

Of course he had again reduced the engine to half speed; and his
vigilance was not in the least relaxed.

"Give me warning if you ever even _think_ you see anything ahead,
Jimmie," he remarked a little later.  "Then we can get ready to head
in, while we're trying to make out what it is.  But I'll be glad when
this beastly day is over, that's what."

"Amen!" said Jimmie, with due reverence; for that expressed his own
feeling to a dot.

The time crept on slowly.  They had passed under the great railroad
bridge at Rock Island, and even navigated the river at this dangerous
point, where craft were moving in many directions.  And as the
afternoon wore away, with mile after mile left behind, Jack, who had
taken occasional furtive looks at his maps, concluded from certain
signs that they were within ten miles of Burlington.

"It's nearly four, Jimmie, and we'd better be hunting a place to put in
for the night, I don't just fancy anchoring here on the open water in
this fog.  And as to going on, what's the use, when a big city looms up
a few miles ahead?  We couldn't get past it without cribbing on the
time that doesn't count.  So keep your eyes on the watch for anything
that looks like a creek."

They often saw the gaping mouths of these little tributaries that
emptied their flow of water into the Mississippi; and Jack hoped such
would be the case now, when they were in sore need of a harbor.

When therefore Jimmie presently announced that he believed the signs
were favorable ahead the skipper of the _Tramp_ rejoiced.

"I only hope it's a decent creek, and has some bully good places for
keeping out of sight," Jack declared, as he headed for the opening near
by.

Jimmie knew what was on his mind, for they had talked this matter over
with the other fellows more than once.  Jack had read lots about the
great Father of Waters, and knew what a highway it has been for scores
of years to a class of criminals who are fleeing from justice.

Of course there are many honest men on the numerous shanty boats that
float down the river, tying up from time to time at some landing, or
hunting a friendly creek mouth in which to pass the night.  At the same
time thousands use the water highway as a means for eluding pursuit.
It offers such an easy method of fleeing, after committing a robbery,
or breaking the law in some other way, that the honest traveler must
needs keep his eyes about him constantly while floating on the bosom of
the mighty Mississippi.

The creek proved to be everything Jack could wish.

"This is all right," he said, after they had moved up its tortuous
channel for a little distance, until, coming to a promising spot where
trees and bushes chanced to screen them, the boat was stopped.  "We'll
call this our camp for the night, Jimmie, and proceed to make ourselves
as comfortable as the law allows."

"No going ashore to cook dinner this night," remarked Jimmie, as he
surveyed the dripping trees close by.

"Well," said Jack, "let's be thankful that we've got such a bully old
tarpaulin to keep the wet off.  Suppose we get busy right away with it?
The sooner it's up the quicker we can shake these nasty oilskins;
though I hadn't ought to run them down, because they've served us well
today, and kept us dry as toast.  I don't believe you could get wet if
you tried, in these Fish suits."

"Aw!  Buster did!" observed the other, with a droll chuckle.

"You're right, he certainly did.  But then I didn't mean if you took a
header overboard.  Now, up with your end, Jimmie, and fasten it snug.
I've got mine ready; and in a few shakes of a lamb's tail we'll be able
to laugh at the weather."

"And, worse luck, now that we've stopped runnin' it looks like it's
goin' to clear up, so it do," grumbled the other.

"All right," laughed the skipper, "we can stand it.  So much the
better, because we've got a big run ahead tomorrow, to make up for the
time lost today.  I'd give a cooky to know just where the other boats
are right now.  I only hope nothing has happened to either--at least
nothing serious; because there's just bound to be something going amiss
with that engine on the _Wireless_ nearly every day she runs."

Presently the cover was in place, and tautly secured.  Under its
shelter both boys doffed their waterproofs and made things look more
shipshape.  Jimmie, as usual, was more than ready to get to work with
that dandy little Juwel kerosene gas contraption; and its cheery
humming soon told that supper was under way.

Jack meanwhile found plenty to do in rearranging things in the boat;
for during a day such as they had just endured makeshifts are in order.

Under Jack's schooling Jimmie was beginning to improve in his cooking;
and as he took more or less pride in the results, there was some hope
for him; whereas with Buster it was a thankless task.

They had a few eggs left, and these were made into quite a tasty
omelette.  Then a can of corn was opened, to be heated in a saucepan.
This, with a pannikin of tea, and some baker's cakes, constituted their
meal.  And as both boys were quite hungry they enjoyed every particle
of the same.

"While they were eating Jack had heard sounds that annoyed him.

"I'm afraid we're pretty close to a road, Jimmie," he had remarked.
"And I only hope no curious party spies the light of our lantern inside
the tent here.  I'm not at all anxious to pick up acquaintances."

"So say we all of us, Jack, me bye," the other had replied promptly.

As the sounds of vehicles passing were heard at frequent intervals the
boys determined not to keep the lantern lighted very long after they
had prepared their beds for the night.  Sometimes it was their habit to
sit up, and read or talk; but this seemed to be an occasion when it
would be better to crawl in under their blankets and get all the sleep
they could, looking forward to a busy day on the morrow.

"It's eight o'clock!" announced Jack, finally, with a yawn; and as that
had been the time set for retiring, he prepared to "douse the glim" as
he termed it, in sailor's parlance.

"Let her go!" remarked his boatmate, as he snuggled down in his place.

They were of course confined to rather scant space; and many persons
might have found it hard to sleep soundly when in such close quarters.
But healthy boys can stand for almost anything, and think it fun.

So Jack, having arranged his own bed, crawled in, after which he
reached out his hand to extinguish the lantern.  One last look he took
at the Marlin shotgun that he had brought along, in the hope and
expectation that he might find use for it during the long cruise.  It
was hanging from a couple of pegs just under the coaming of the deck,
and by simply raising his hand he could touch it.

Somehow the very presence of that reliable little shooter seemed to
give Jack a sense of security when they found themselves marooned in an
exceedingly lonely place, with the darkness shutting them in as with a
curtain, and unknown perils impending.

Once the light went out the boys lay there and talked in low tones for
perhaps a full hour.  They had much to confer about, with the uncertain
future beckoning them on; and the main history of the cruise yet to be
written.

The last thing Jack remembered hearing as he passed into the land of
sleep was a vehicle rumbling over the bridge that evidently spanned the
creek some little distance above.

Then he knew no more for some time.

The little launch floated on the bosom of the creek, fastened to the
shore.  At times she heaved gently, as some wave of larger proportions
than usual came in from the river, possibly caused by a passing
steamboat's suction.  But by this time the boys were getting accustomed
to this sort of thing.  One night afloat had taken off the newness for
them, and they could sleep now through any ordinary motion.

Something digging him in the ribs aroused Jack.  Then a voice whispered
in his ear, and he knew that it was Jimmie.

"Jack, wake up!  I hear voices beyand, and I do belave the thaves of
the worrld are comin' to clane us out, so I do!"

"'Sh!" was all Jack made reply; but at the same instant his hand groped
for the reliable gun so close at hand.

Once this was in his possession he gently lifted the flap of the
waterproof tent that covered the boat; for he knew just where to find
this loose portion, left so for an emergency of this sort.

The storm had departed, and the sky was now clear.  While it was far
from light without, still to Jack's eyes things looked fairly plain.
And the first thing he saw seemed to be moving figures, two of them,
that were creeping toward the tied-up motor boat.

Now and then they would pause, and then low and significant whispers
would follow.  Jack felt a thrill pass over his frame as he began to
quietly thrust the muzzle of the shotgun through the opening of the
tent.  He did not intend to aim at the prowlers of course, but hoped
the sudden shot might give them a good fright.

Jimmie was creeping toward the bow, as if desirous of seeing all that
went on; when Jack, feeling that he was certainly privileged to defend
his property against pirates, pulled the trigger which his trembling
finger had been pressing; and a sudden roar awoke the echoes of the
night.



CHAPTER VI.

STARTLING NEWS FROM NEAR HOME.

"Run, ye spalpeens, run wid ye!" whooped Jimmie, as he thrust his
tousled red head through the opening at the bow.

Jack was prepared to repeat the shooting part of the business if there
seemed any necessity; and perhaps the next time he would not be so
particular about aiming so as to miss the prowlers.

But he immediately saw that there would be no need, for already the
pair of would-be thieves could be heard crashing madly through the
undergrowth, in the endeavor to make a safe getaway.

Jimmie continued to send derisive shouts after them until Jack advised
that he had better bottle up the balance of his enthusiasm.

"But did ye say how they tumbled over wan another whin ye let go?"
demanded the Irish lad, gleefully.

"Well," remarked the skipper, dryly, "I noticed that they never waited
to leave us a visiting card.  And Jimmie, this proves how wise I was to
fetch my gun along.  I'd advise every fellow who intends to knock about
along this river to have some way of defending himself in case of need."

With which remark Jack slipped a new shell into the chamber of his
double barrel shotgun.

"Did ye pepper thim good and hot?" asked Jimmie, presently.

"Oh! no, I didn't want to do that," said Jack, quickly.  "We really had
no business to shoot straight at them unless they were coming aboard.
I just aimed close enough to give them a good scare.  And I think I did
the right thing, too."

"By the powers, I bet ye they're runnin' yit!" ventured his boatmate,
confidently.

"They must have hit the road by this time.  I only hope they won't
think to come back for another turn," Jack observed, thoughtfully.

"No fear of that, I wager," laughed the Irish lad.  "Sure, thim
gossoons know whin the stick is loaded, and they'll niver return to say
what it was wint off.  Make your moind aisy about that, Jackey, me bye."

The boys lay down again, but Jack could not sleep.

"I don't like this thing," he said, finally, sitting up.  "And it would
be better for us to take turns watching.  In that way we'll have some
sleep; and as it is, I don't feel as if I could get a wink.  The idea
of waking up to find a couple of greasy hoboes in possession of our
boat gives me a chill."

Jimmie announced himself as favoring the plan, and declared that he was
ready to stand his watch either then or later, just as Jack decided.

And so it was arranged.  The balance of the night was divided into two
equal parts, and in this way both of the cruisers managed to obtain a
few hours sleep.

Nothing happened after all, and Jimmie must have been right when he
declared that the pair of thieves had been so badly frightened when the
gun went off so unexpectedly that nothing could induce them to return
to the attack.

All the same Jack was glad to see that it was broad daylight when he
awoke.  He found, just as he might have expected, Jimmie at work
getting breakfast.  Indeed, it may have been the delightful aroma of
coffee and bacon that helped awaken him, for the interior of the tent
was fragrant with the combination.

Eight o'clock came, and they started from the creek, passing the city
shortly afterward.  If their visitors of the preceding night saw them
come out they were sensible enough not to disclose their identity;
though Jimmie did declare he saw two men who might be tramps watching
them from behind the trees below the mouth of the friendly creek.

There were numerous boats upon the river, but although Jack used his
glasses to advantage he could pick up no clue to either the _Wireless_
or the _Comfort_.

The day was nice and clear after the fog and rain.

"Here's where we hit it up to make time, and pay for the slow traveling
yesterday," the pilot announced, when he coaxed the steady going little
motor to do its prettiest.

At noon they had reeled off something like sixty-odd miles, the current
having assisted very much in advancing the boat.

Keokuk had been passed, and they were now aiming to reach Quincy by the
middle of the afternoon.  Just below this place the second station had
been marked; and if, as was to be expected, George and Buster had
arrived ahead of them, they might anticipate being signaled to draw in.

"It's right funny we don't say anything of the other byes at all,"
remarked Jimmie, while they were pushing steadily along, the engine
working with clock-like fidelity, and never missing a stroke.

"Oh!  I don't look at it that way.  Unless some accident happens to
George there's never the least chance that we can look in on him in
that racer.  And the same applies to the _Comfort_--if we go on as we
have, they can never hope to catch up with us.  And there you are," and
Jack laughed as he spoke.

"Ye mane that we're betwixt the divel and the dape say," observed
Jimmie, with one of his chuckles.

"Oh! now that's going it pretty steep," Jack protested.  "The _Comfort_
might come under the head of deep sea, or anything else that's big and
slow and reliable; but it's pretty hard calling George's boat by that
other name.  But there's another railroad bridge across the river far
below, unless the glass fools me.  And if so, this must be Quincy just
beyond."

"Hurrah! thin, we've arrived at the ind of the sicond stage of the
journey, and right side up wid care.  If ye choose to hand me the
glass, Jack, I'll be afther lookin' for signs of the sassy little
_Wireless_."

But it was some time after they had passed under the bridge spanning
the Mississippi that Jimmie was able to announce that he believed he
had discovered the object of his search.

"Let me have a look," remarked Jack; and a minute later he went on:
"There's a boat of some sort anchored close to the shore down there,
and the sun shines on her just as it does on the varnished deck of the
_Wireless_.  Yes, I do believe that's our peerless leader, as George is
so fond of saying.  I'm glad to know they've got here all safe and
sound."

Shortly afterward they heard the sound of a horn, and Jimmie answered
with a few vigorous blasts on the conch shell, which had its apex sawed
off to admit of a certain amount of air; though some practice was
necessary before one could produce a far reaching note.

"Thought you'd never get here," said George, as the _Tramp_ swung in
alongside so that the rival crews could shake hands, which they did
heartily.

It turned out that luck had highly favored the leading boat.  They had
escaped any catastrophe on the river, even though making fast, and
possibly reckless time.  And wonderful to relate, not once had the
engine broken down since last the boats separated.

"That's good news!" exclaimed Jack, when he heard this; and there was
not a trace of envy or malice in his hearty tone.  "That would be fine,
if only it kept up all the rest of the trip, eh, Buster?"

"It would be just heavenly," sighed the fat boy; "but I don't expect
it.  I know that measly old engine all right; and I just bet you she's
holding in so as to get a good whack at us when she does let go.  My!
all I hope is, that the blamed thing don't go up the flue, and scatter
us around.  I seriously object to getting wet as a regular diet."

"I wonder if the other boat will get here by four?" George ventured;
but none of them pretended to be a prophet, and so his question
remained unanswered.

When the time arrived there was still no sign of the _Comfort_.
Another hour passed, two of them, and the boys were growing anxious,
with many looks cast up the river.

It had been arranged that if one of the boats had to run "after hours"
in order to join the others at a station, the time stolen should be
charged against that craft's record.  And this was how it came that
they were hoping the third boat might yet appear.

But the darkness gathered around them, and they had to give it up for
that day, since they had all promised their folks at home never to run
at night except under an actual necessity.

There being no creek handy the two motor boats remained where they
were, with their mudhooks holding them steady against the never ceasing
flow of the current.

They were close enough to shake hands, though when it came time for
sleep the one nearer the shore hauled off fifty feet or more, so that
there might be smaller chances of a collision.

Nothing occurred during that night to alarm them, though Nick professed
to feel nervous, after having heard of the adventure which Jack and
Jimmie had met with on the other occasion.

In the morning they did not hurry, for they could not leave that
station until the arrival of the third craft, no matter if it meant
several days' delay, such being the conditions of the Dixie cup race.

"There they come!" whooped Nick, after they had finished breakfast; he
had been looking through the glasses which George owned, and of course
his thrilling words quite electrified the others.

"You're right, Buster; that's the steady old _Comfort_, all the same,"
said Jack, as he too leveled his marine glasses up-river way.

"She rides like a big goose," laughed George.

"But mighty comfortable, all the same," sighed Nick, mechanically
rubbing his fat haunches as though they still felt sore from contact
with the sides of the narrow boat, while trying to sleep.

When the steady-going launch brought up alongside, many inquiries were
made as to what had detained them so long.

"Lots of trouble," Herb replied, readily enough; "not with the engine,
for she never missed a note; but Josh here got cold feet after a
steamboat shaved us, and made me cut down speed, so we hardly did more
than crawl with the current for hours.  Yesterday we boomed along,
trying to make the riffle in time; but finding we couldn't, we just
stopped about ten miles above for the night."

"And then as we came into Quincy I went ashore to see if there was any
mail.  A letter for each of us, Nick, and only a paper for Jack," with
which Josh handed over the articles in question.

As the two boys had not eaten any breakfast, it was decided to wait for
them.  Jack after a bit picked up the home paper, and idly started to
open it.

The others immediately heard him utter an exclamation, and looking up,
saw that he seemed to be eagerly reading something he had discovered.

"Well, I declare, if that just don't beat the Dutch!" he remarked.

"What does?" cried Nick, all excitement.  "Has John Guthrie got new
shingles on his barn; or was old Weatherby seen at church for the first
time in ten years?"

"Yes," added Josh, "don't keep us waiting so long, Jack.  Go on and
tell us what excites you so.  Nobody ain't got twins, have they?"

"Say, fellows, it's happened at last.  You know the bank over at
Waverly?  Well, it's been robbed--cleaned out, the paper says, and
thousands taken.  May bust the bank up, if they don't get the thieves.
And what do you think, they say they believe the two men who did the
job have gone down river _in a motor boat_!"

"A motor boat!" shouted the rest in unison.

"Listen while I read about it, and then tell me what you think about
this description of a suspicious craft that was seen leaving the river
front between midnight and Tuesday morning," saying which he went on to
read the account, while all the others sat there in suspense, drinking
in the news, since they knew that bank in the thriving town mentioned
very well.

"Hear what that reporter says about the suspicious motor boat," said
Jack, in conclusion.  "Now, fellows, what craft does that make you
think of?"

"The _Tramp_!" sang out Nick, immediately.

"Yes, Jack," said George, soberly.  "It sure hits your boat to a T.  I
only hope it don't get you fellows into a peck of trouble, that's all!"

But it did, all the same.



CHAPTER VII.

QUITE A SURPRISE PARTY.

"I say, George, remember me telling you about that suspicious boat I
saw across near the other shore just after we got settled last night?"
said Josh.

"Hold on," returned George, quickly.  "You don't mean it that way,
Josh.  To hear you talk the fellows might think we were running after
hours.  Fact is, we reached our stopping place at just ten minutes of
four.  How was that for a swift run on a foggy day, one hundred and
thirty miles?  And it was just before dusk when the rain let up, that
Josh said he glimpsed a boat that looked like the _Tramp_, sneaking
along down close by the Missouri bank."

"Yes, sneaking, that's the word I used," declared Josh, positively;
"because, you see, there was something about the way it went on that
made me think the crew didn't want to attract attention.  Of course I
knew right away it wasn't our crowd.  But after hearing what Jack read
I'd just like to bet that was the thief boat."

"Oh! well, there are heaps of motor boats on the old Mississippi,"
laughed Jack, "and I guess the same company that made mine have sold a
dozen of the same model in Illinois and Missouri.  Still, it might be
as you say, Josh.  And perhaps it will pay all of us to keep an eye out
for these slippery customers."

"What would you do if you happened to come on the boat like yours?"
asked Nick.

"That depends," replied Jack, seriously.  "If I felt positive the men
aboard were the chaps who broke open the Waverly bank I'd try to let
the authorities know.  But they must be pretty hard cases, and I'd go
mighty slow about trying to grab such customers myself.  I'm not hired
to play the part of detective or sheriff.  All that stuff I leave to
the proper officials."

"How do we stand on this second leg, Jack?" asked George.

"I've just been figuring it up," replied the other, referring to his
notebook.  "It seems that the speed boat made the run in just ten hours
of actual work.  We did the same in fourteen hours, twelve minutes; and
the steady old _Comfort_ in eighteen hours, seven minutes.  That's as
near correct as it could be figured."

George beamed with gratification.

"Shake, partner," he said, thrusting out a hand to Nick, who looked at
him suspiciously, then examined his hand, and finally gingerly allowed
the other to take hold of a couple of his pudgy fingers.

"You see, we've more than wiped out our first day's loss, and have a
nice little balance in the bargain," George went on.

"Yes," laughed Jack, "and a balance is a handy thing to have, whether
in a bank or in a record of days' runs during a long race.  I
congratulate you, fellows, and hope you may duplicate the performance."

Herb and Josh seemed in no wise cast down over the poor showing their
boat had made up to date.

"Just you wait," observed the former, positively.  "Perhaps we've got a
card or two up our sleeves.  We don't tell _everything_ we know, do we,
Josh?  And long ago I learned that the race is not always to the swift."

"Yes," added his comrade in misfortune, "and it's a long lane that has
no turning.  Anyhow, we didn't make any big brag about what we were
goin' to do when we set out; so you see nobody's going to be
disappointed even if we get left.  I'm enjoyin' every minute of the
time; and that's more'n some fellers could say," with a meaning look in
the direction of poor fat Nick, who winced, and shook his fist at the
speaker.

It was all of nine o'clock when Jack got the three boats in line, and
had Jimmie toot his conch shell horn as a starting signal.

History repeated itself again that day.

The speed boat shot off like a greyhound released from bonds, the
_Comfort_ wheezed along amiably in the rear, and Jack's craft took up a
midway course.  Thus for two hours and more the crew of the _Tramp_
could watch both competing craft.  Then the narrow beamed _Wireless_
seemed to melt out of sight in the dim distance, nor could Jimmie pick
her up again, though several times he thought he glimpsed her.

Half an hour later, and the other boat had also passed from their ken,
swallowed up in the little wavelets that covered the surface of the
rapidly growing river; for they were now approaching the spot where the
mighty flood of the Missouri joined forces with the swollen current of
the Mississippi, to boom along toward the sunny land of Dixie.

Then they came to where the great city of St. Louis stood.  It required
considerable and careful maneuvering to pass safely among the various
river craft they found moving about on the Mississippi at this
important port; but Jack was a keen-eyed pilot, and knew just how to
handle his boat, so that they managed to get by without any serious
trouble, though whistled at by tugs and ferryboats as they bravely cut
along.

The running time was pretty well up when they saw the last of the
metropolis of the Middle West.

"One hour only, and then we must pull up, Jimmie," remarked the skipper.

"'Tis mesilf that's glad to hear the same," replied the other, with a
wry look on his freckled face, and one hand pressing against his
stomach, as if to call attention to its flat condition; for they had
only eaten sparingly at noon.

"You might be keeping a lookout for a harbor," remarked Jack; but not
with any great amount of animation.

Truth to tell, he was wondering whether after all it paid to leave the
river and hide up one of those gloomy looking creeks, where all sorts
of dangers might be lying in wait.

"I hope as how we don't have the same luck we had before," grumbled
Jimmie, who apparently had not forgotten the experience either.

After that he was constantly on the job of looking ahead for signs of a
creek.

"If we don't find the same, thin what?" he asked, when half an hour had
passed without any favorable result from his critical survey of the
nearby shore; creeks he could see in plenty; but none that seemed
navigable for a boat drawing as much water as their craft; and Jack
meant to take no chances of being held fast in the mud on a falling
river.

"Why, we'll just have to stick it out, and anchor.  But there's a point
below us that looks favorable, Jimmie, where the brush is heaped up on
a sandbar.  Unless I'm greatly mistaken the signs point to a fair-sized
opening there."

And just as Jack said it proved to be just what they were looking for.

"This looks better to me," remarked the skipper as they turned in.
"Plenty of elbow room here.  We can go up a little ways, and then
anchor right in the middle of the stream.  We'll be free from the wash
of the big New Orleans and St. Louis packets, that nearly upsets our
little boat."

"Yis," added Jimmie, "and just be afther sayin' how dape the water is,
Jack, me bye.  'Twould take a hobo with mighty long legs to wade out
here, and crawl aboord our boat."

"All the same," replied the skipper with grim determination, "it's
another case of four watches during the night, of two hours at a
stretch."

The mudhook was soon down, and good holding ground found.  While Jack
busied himself rubbing up the faithful little engine that was serving
them so well, and afterwards poring over the maps of the river he had
secured for each pilot in the long race to New Orleans, the cook
wrestled with supper.

It was a congenial task for Jimmie, and he often sang as he worked.
Jack liked to hear Jimmie warble, for he had a voice like a bird, clear
and sweet, though wholly untrained.

"Another good day takes us below Cairo, and the mouth of the big Ohio,"
Jack announced after a while; to which the cook added his blessings,
and hoped everything would run to their liking.

It was five o'clock when they sat down to supper.  Jimmie had spread
himself to some purpose on this occasion; that is to say, he had made a
fine stew out of some corned beef taken from a tin, the balance of the
corn, left from a previous meal, but removed from the can after
opening, in order to avoid danger of ptomaine poisoning, and a couple
of cold potatoes cut up into small pieces.

Then he had also opened a can of peaches, to top off with; and they
also devoured the last piece of homemade gingerbread, carried from the
start.

"This is simply great," observed Jack, as he sighed while looking at
his share of the dessert, as though doubtful regarding his capacity.

But no such fears ever assailed Jimmie, who could run even Buster a
race when it came to doing "stunts" along the line of eating.

"I wonder if there could be any other boat above us?" Jack ventured
after a little while spent in chatting, as night set in.

"Sure, now, ye must have seen the same thing I did," declared the
other, quickly.

"Do you mean to say you noticed that small piece of cotton waste
floating on a bit of board just at dusk?" demanded Jack, curiously.

"I did that, and have been badgerin' me moind about the same iver
since.  Truth to till, I was jist about mentionin' it to ye whin ye
spoke," Jimmie declared.

"H'm.  Well, I've been figuring it out this way.  There's a distinct
current setting out of this big creek.  You can see that by the way our
boat hangs with her bow upstream.  All right.  Then it stands to reason
that that piece of waste was thrown over at some point _above_.  And
then again, it looks as if the other craft might be a motor boat, for
some one has been wiping the engine off.  There was fresh oil on that
waste.  I could see it passing off on the surface of the water."

Jimmie fairly gasped in his great surprise.

"Did I iver hear the loike?" he said.  "Next ye'll be tillin' me the
kind of boat it is, I'm thinkin'.  Looky here, Jack, ye don't guess now
that it could be that same dhirty craft that was spoken of in the
newspaper--the one as looked like the dear ould _Tramp_?"

"Oh! there would hardly be one chance in twenty of that happening,"
laughed the other.  "Just think of both boats picking out this very
creek, of the scores there may be south of St. Louis?  Oh! that would
be too funny for anything.  It's just a plain motor boat, I reckon; and
those aboard don't want to make our acquaintance any more than we do
theirs.  So there you are."

Jack pretended to dismiss the idea lightly; but nevertheless it
remained with him during the balance of that evening, to give him more
or less cause for speculation and anxiety.

At nine he bade Jimmie go to sleep, as he would sit up until eleven,
when he promised to awaken the other.  So the Irish lad, confident that
no evil would befall them while Jack stood watch, curled up in his
blanket, and presently his heavy breathing announced that he had found
solace in slumber.

Promptly at eleven Jack aroused him, and handing over the gun, with
positive directions that he was to be called if anything suspicious
arose, he in turn took to his blanket on the bottom of the cockpit of
the boat.

Why, it seemed that he had hardly lost his senses when he felt Jimmie
shaking him.  Just as before the Irish boy was whispering in his ear.

"Wake up, Jack; there's a boat comin' this way!" was what he heard.

"Why," replied the skipper, as he bounced up, "it sounds as if it might
be coming in from the river!  I can hear the stroke of oars, a lot of
them, too."

As the two boys poked their heads out of the canvas cover that served
as a tent over the open boat, they could easily see the advancing boat.

"Glory be!" murmured the amazed Jimmie, "we're in a nice pickle, now,
Jack.  Sure there's half a dozen of the gossoons, if there's one.  And
by the powers, look at 'em heading this way, too!  What will we do,
Jack?  Lit me have the gun, if so be ye don't want to shoot!"

"Wait!" replied Jack, sternly.  "We'll see if we can hold them back
first.  Perhaps, when they see that we mean business and are armed,
they may haul off."

Nearer came the boat.  It could now be seen that those who handled the
oars were trying to make less noise, as though desirous of not arousing
the sleepers they expected to take by surprise.

Suddenly Jack called out as sternly as he could:

"Stop there! or it will be the worse for you!"

He also waved the gun that the starlight might glint from its barrel,
and show the men in the boat they were not unarmed.

A man stood up in the bow of the advancing craft, and a heavy voice
shouted:

"It's all up with you, men.  You are known, and we demand you to
surrender in the name of the law!"



CHAPTER VIII.

LEFT IN THE LURCH.

The two young cruisers in the motor boat
could not say a single word when these
astounding words reached their ears.

Meanwhile the other craft had drawn
quickly nearer, and Jack could even make out
the fact that the men crowded in her seemed to
be in some sort of uniform, for he certainly
discovered brass buttons.

Then it was not a joke, nor yet some sort of
trick being played by cunning river vagrants
in order to catch the boys off their guard.

Jimmie was rubbing his eyes, and muttering
to himself, as though he began to believe he
might be dreaming.

"Don't think of offering any resistance,
you rascals!" continued the gruff voice in the
nearby boat; "because we're ready to give you
a volley.  Take hold there, Grogan.  Now
aboard with you!"

A couple of burly men came sliding into the
natty little motor boat.  Then lights flashed in
the faces of the two astonished occupants.

"Say, they're a couple of boys, Cap!"
exclaimed the man who had grasped hold of Jack,
as the glow of his lantern illuminated the face
of the skipper of the _Tramp_.

"Guess you've made a little mistake,
mister," remarked the boy, as calmly as he could,
for he was naturally more or less excited.

"Hold on there!" bellowed the leader of the
expedition, as he started to clamber aboard;
"don't let up on 'em a minute, men!  Just
remember the account said something about the
thieves being young chaps, with smooth faces.
This is the boat to a dot; and I reckon we've
got our men!"

But even he was more or less shaken when he
came to look into the smiling countenance of
Jack Stormways.

"Take a look around," he said, presently.
"Perhaps you may find the evidence we want,
and the plunder.  These are the days of the
young men.  I've known mere kids to
undertake jobs that long ago would have staggered
old professionals."

While two of the men were upsetting things
in their eager search, the man who had been
called "Captain" once more turned to Jack.

"Who are you fellows, where'd you come
from, and what are you doing here up this
creek?" he demanded, harshly, as though expecting
to scare the other into a confession of guilt.

"My name is Jack Stormways, and his is
Jimmie Brannagan.  We are on our way south
on a little race to New Orleans.  There are two
other motor boats in the match, and a prize of
the Dixie silver cup falls to the winner."

"Well, you've got that down fine, anyhow,"
remarked the big officer, with what sounded
like a sneer.  "Perhaps it's the truth, and again
it may be all hatched up to pull the wool over
the eyes of honest officers.  What would you
think if I told you there was a thousand
dollars reward out for each of you if taken; and
five times that if the swag is found intact?"

"I'd think some one was valuing me pretty
high, considering that I've never as yet done
anything to make it worth while capturing
me," replied Jack, pleasantly.

His manner was apparently having an effect
on the burly officer, who again surveyed the
face of the boy by the aid of his own dark
lantern.  The two men were all this while making
a sad mess of things in the boat, turning
waterproof clothes bags inside out, upsetting the
stores so neatly packed away in order to give
all the room possible, and making things look
"sick" as Jimmie afterwards observed.

"What's that you've got, Grogan?" suddenly
demanded the captain, as he saw one of
the others looking closely at something he had
picked up.

"A newspaper with something marked by a
blue pencil, Cap," replied the other.  "And by
the powers, if it ain' an account of that
Waverly robbery, too!"

Immediately the captain became severe
again, and shot a triumphant look at the boy,
even as he let a heavy hand fall on Jack's shoulder.

"Say you so, Grogan?" he exclaimed.
"Hold it out here, so I can see.  Well, now,
that looks like a find worth while.  A paper
with a marked account of the bank robbery,
and in the possession of these innocent boys.
How would you account for such a thing, my
fine fellow?"

"Nothing easier, Captain," replied Jack,
readily.  "You never heard that we belong in
that little town where the paper is published.
I've been in that bank more than a few times
when over in Waverly on business."

"Sure you have; ain't that just what we're
saying?" declared the man named Grogan.

"Keep still, Grogan, and let me do the talking.
Go on, young fellow; tell how the paper
chances to come in your possession, and who
marked it?" the one in authority continued.

"I suppose my father marked that with a
blue pencil, because he knew all of us would be
deeply interested.  Besides, when we read the
description of the mysterious motor boat we
recognized that it was a ringer for my own
little _Tramp_ here."

Grogan was apparently inclined to be
incredulous.  While he dared not break in again
with any remark of his own, he took occasion
to sniff as loudly as he could, and in this
manner show his utter disbelief in the story given
out by the skipper of the craft they had boarded.

"Then the paper came by mail?" continued
the captain, as he examined it again.

"Surely," replied Jack.  "One of my companions
got it at Quincy, where others received
letters; but this was the only thing for me.
You can see the creases plain enough, where it
was folded several times."

"Yes," the other went on, cautiously; "it
has that appearance, though any smart chap
could do the same thing if he had his wits
about him.  But I suppose you boys can easily
prove you are what you claim?"

"Sure we kin!" spoke up Jimmie just then.
"Give me the chanct, and I'll show ye lots of
things to prove I niver had but the one name,
and that was Jimmie Brannagan."

"There's another thing I just thought of,
Captain," Jack broke in with.

"Well, let's have it then.  For unless you
satisfy me that you're the parties you say I
shall consider it my duty to take this boat back
with me, and both of you boys in the bargain."

"Let me have the paper, please," said Jack.
"Officer Grogan didn't look inside, or he might
have seen another article, marked with a blue
pencil too."

"Look out, Cap," warned the suspicious
one; "mebbe he just wants to tear it into
finders [Transcriber's note: flinders?],
and destroy incriminating evidence."

"Give him the paper, Grogan; I'll be responsible
for its safety," returned the captain, who
seemed to be drawn more and more toward a
belief in Jack's innocence; for there was
something in the clear gray eyes that met his gaze to
convince him that this lad could never be a
desperate criminal.

So Jack turned the local sheet inside out.

"There it is, Captain; please read it, and see
if you can believe what I told you to be the
truth," and Jack thrust the paper into the
other's grasp.

"What's this?" exclaimed the burly officer,
as he read, "an account of a race to the
Crescent City, in which six young fellows, well
known to most of the readers of this paper,
have entered, the prize to be a magnificent
silver cup donated by Mr. Stormways, the father
of the skipper of the _Tramp_!"

Grogan uttered a disgusted grunt, as if
keenly disappointed because apparently he had
made a dismal failure in trying to fasten the
robbery upon these two lads.  Doubtless he had
been figuring on what he would do with his
share of the prize money, and hated to see his
rosy visions fade away so soon.

"And this is that same little _Tramp_, sir,"
continued Jack, pleasantly; "as you can see for
yourself if you take a look at the stern, where
the name is painted in gold letters.  We are
unfortunate enough in having a boat that seems
to resemble the one supposed to have been used
in their flight down the river by the robbers.
But if you care to wait long enough for me to
get out some letters I have, I am sure you will
be convinced of our entire innocence."

"Say no more, Jack," declared the captain,
heartily.  "I'm satisfied right now that we've
been misinformed when told that a boat
answering the description of the one in which
those two yeggmen fled, was seen to enter here
this afternoon; and that two young men were
aboard her."

"What time in the afternoon, Captain?"
asked Jack, quietly, though with a purpose in
the question.

"The man who talked to me over the phone,
said he had arrived in the suburb where he
lived at four o'clock.  He had been out in his
motor, and was crossing a bridge here when the
boat passed under, going up.  He could not be
sure to the minute, but reckoned that was
somewhere around two p. m."

Jack turned to Jimmie.  His face shone with
eagerness, for a faint suspicion that had been
creeping into his head was now rapidly
becoming a certainty.

"Tell the captain, Jimmie, when we came in
this creek," he said, quietly.

"Twelve minutes till four, it was, sir,"
replied Jimmie, promptly.

"Oh! what made you take such exact notice
of the time, may I ask?" the officer went on,
curiously, though plainly interested.

"We are compelled to make a memorandum
of our stoppings.  The conditions of the race
forbid any boat to be moving south before
eight in the morning, or after four in the
afternoon.  So I can show you in my notebook how
an exact record is kept of such things.  It will
be figured on when the race is decided.  We are
going by stations you see, Captain, that are
about two hundred miles apart.  At each
station we wait for the slowest boat, and then
make a new start."

"It was about four-twenty when the gentleman
called me up," observed the police officer;
"and he had a long way around to go after
leaving here.  He could never have made it if
it was your boat he saw."

"There's another thing, Captain," said
Jack, smiling.

"Please let me hear what it is, my boy,"
returned the other, eagerly now, for he was
beginning to comprehend that this was no
ordinary young chap with whom an error of
judgment had thrown him in contact.

"Did the gentleman in the auto say that the
motor boat went _under_ the bridge at the time
he saw it?" Jack pursued.

"That's just what he did say," replied the
captain.  "Of course he only had one quick
look as his machine traveled over the bridge
crossing the creek; but even then it seemed to
him the boat had a familiar look.  And then,
later on it suddenly dawned on him that it just
fitted a description he had been reading in a
St. Louis paper about the mysterious motor
boat of the bank thieves."

"All right, Captain.  We have not been up
as far as the bridge, as we anchored right here
when we came in.  But, Captain," Jack
continued, earnestly, "both of us believed at the
time that there must be some sort of a motor
boat up yonder, for we saw a piece of oiled
waste floating down on a chip of wood, as if
some one had been wiping an engine, and
thrown it aside."

"Well, what do you think of that?" exclaimed
one of the listening officers.  "It beats
anything our best detectives could have done.
But say, Cap, I hear something moving close
by.  There it is again!  There's a boat coming
down, and being poled, too."

"Turn your lights around that way, quick!"
cried the police captain, as though he grasped
the true significance of the sound.

As the men did so the dim outlines of a motor
launch were discovered not far away, with one
man using a pole at the stern to hasten its departure.

Jack understood what it meant, even as must
the officers; for as seen in the faint light from
the dark lanterns the strange boat was an exact
duplicate of his own little _Tramp_!

"There they go, Cap!  Sure it's the rascals
all right!" shouted Grogan, forgetting how he
had been so sure that Jack and Jimmie were
the guilty parties.

Immediately the second man aboard the
other boat must have turned the engine over,
for there sounded a quick popping, and the
launch began to glide through the still waters
of the wide creek with increasing velocity.

"Stop!  Hold up, there!  You are under
arrest!" bawled the captain, as he started to fire
a pistol he had snatched from his pocket.

The man aboard the fugitive boat ducked;
and as the craft faded away in the darkness of
the night a derisive laugh came floating back to
the ears of the officers.



CHAPTER IX.

THE SWIFT RUN OF THE TRAMP.

"I reckon you pinked that feller, Cap!" cried one of the officers.

"Not much," returned the disgusted leader of the expedition.  "He only
dropped to avoid getting in the way of flying lead.  They're gone, and
left us holding the bag."

"If it hadn't been for these boys we'd a gone further up the creek, and
sure nabbed 'em," grumbled Grogan, sourly.

"That isn't the fault of these boys," replied the captain, quickly.
"They had a right to stay here if they wanted.  It's just our tough
luck to hit on the wrong boat.  They must have heard something of the
rumpus, and thought it a mighty good time to clear out."

"And all that long row back to town for nothin'," Grogan complained.

"If I only had a fast boat I'd feel like following the rascals.  Say,
boys, what's to hinder you taking us down river.  Perhaps your little
_Tramp_ might overhaul the other craft, or keep them going till
daylight, when we could corner the yeggs?" and the captain turned upon
Jack with renewed interest.

But the boy was not at all inclined to favor him.  In the first place
it would break up the race, since the strict conditions must be
shattered.  Then again their promise not to travel after dark except in
case of dire necessity stood in the way.  And last but not least, Jack
did not much fancy having that disagreeable officer Grogan as a
passenger for hours at a time; nor did he care to be compelled to
remain awake.

"Sorry, Captain," he remarked, pleasantly, "but the fact is I was
working at my engine when night came on, and it's not in condition for
immediate service.  I expected to finish the job while my friend cooked
breakfast.  So you see, long before I could get it to working that
sound would be lost, and we'd never raise it again."

"Oh! well, if that's the case," said the other, with a quick look
toward the motor of the boat, which even his inexperienced eye could
see was in some measure taken apart, "I reckon we'll just have to call
it off, and make the best of a bad job.  But you've interested me a
whole lot, Jack, and I hope you will win your race, my lad."

"I'm not thinking much about that," replied the boy, "since the cup was
given by my own dad, you see.  But I was wondering whether we might not
get in more trouble below because our boat happens to look like that
other one."

"That's a fact, to be sure.  Here," said the captain, as if struck by
an idea, "perhaps I might be of some assistance to you."

He drew out a pencil and paper, and wrote a few lines, signing his name.

"If any police officials bother you, just show them that, and tell them
if they want to call me up on the long distance phone I'll stand
sponsor for you."

"Thank you, Captain, I will," and Jack gladly put the little document
away, hoping at the same time that it would never have to be shown.

And so the disappointed officers clambered back again into their
rowboat, and started on the tiresome journey against the current of the
river.  The last the boys heard of them was the grumbling sound of
Grogan's complaining voice.

"Well, that was an experience, sure enough!" exclaimed Jack, as he
looked around at the confusion which abounded aboard the motor boat.

Jimmie, who had lighted their own lantern when the police boat pulled
out, was already trying to get things in some sort of order, though
most of the work would have to be left until they had daylight to
assist them.

"And would ye belave it, that sassy little boat was a lyin' beyant the
bridge all the toime we were here, an' us not suspectin' the same!"
Jimmie remarked.

"But how slick they got away," observed Jack.  "That chap with the pole
was bent on pushing her past without being discovered, while the other
had his hand on the engine, ready to start things with a rush.  It was
a bold venture; and between you and me and the lamp post, Jimmie, I
rather guess the nervy chaps deserved to get off that time."

"Bad luck till 'em," grumbled the other, "jumpin' aboord a gentleman's
boat like that, and turnin' iverything topsy-turvy, so that ye don't
know where ye kin foind a place to slape at all."

"Oh! anything will do for the rest of the night.  But you lie down,
Jimmie.  It was just about time to call me anyhow, and I'll take my
turn on duty," saying which Jack started to arrange his blanket half
way decently, so that later on he could crawl under it again.

The balance of the night passed without further alarm.  With the coming
of the morning both boys were astir.  Jack anxious to complete his
little job at the engine, and Jimmie, of course, just as desirous of
attending to the vigorous demands of the inner man.

Promptly at eight the start was made, for they were to have a great
trip that day, unless some unexpected trouble arose to alter their
plans.

The current of the river was now very manifest.  Jack even ventured out
further upon the vast flood than at any previous time, wishing to get
all the advantage possible, so as to make Cairo before the hour came to
haul in.  Both of them noticed a vast difference in their progress.
Even if the current were only a mile an hour faster there than close to
the shore, that must count considerably in their favor during the day.

"It's moighty foine ridin' out here this way, I'm thinkin'," remarked
Jimmie, after they had been booming along for several hours on the
swift tide, with the little engine doing its prettiest all the while.

"You're right," replied Jack, "though I'd just hate to have any
accident happen while it lasts.  We're a long ways from shore, Jimmie,
remember."

"But the swimmin's foine, by the same token," was the immediate
response of the ready-witted Irish lad, who never took trouble by the
forelock, believing there was always time enough for worrying after
things had happened.

As had become their habit, they ate a cold lunch at noon, though Jimmie
hinted broadly that it might pay them to pull in closer to the shore,
and anchor, while he made a pot of coffee.

The afternoon began to wane as they came in sight of Cairo on its low
point of land at the junction of the two great streams.

"My sowl, whativer becomes of all the wather?" exclaimed Jimmie, as
they passed the mouth of the Ohio, and could see the great flood of
turgid water that was pouring into the Mississippi, there having
evidently been something of a rain to the eastward recently.

"Oh! this is only a swallow to the ocean, Jimmie," laughed his comrade.
"Just wait until we get our first peep at that, and then talk."

"Sure we same just loike a teenty chip on it all, and I'm growing
nervous, so I am," remarked the Irish boy, looking from side to side at
the heaving flood that was bearing the motor boat so swiftly on her way.

"Well," returned Jack, soothingly, "if you observe you'll see that I've
already headed her in toward the shore on the left.  That would be
Kentucky now; and somewhere between the junction and the ten mile mark,
as we can guess it, is our next station.  I wonder if the _Wireless_ is
there, and has George grown sick waiting."

The boat rolled considerably when Jack steered her slanting with the
current; but there was never a time when the young pilot did not have
her under complete control; and if a wave that was larger than ordinary
swooped down toward them he instantly changed the course so that it
followed behind, and would not strike the _Tramp_ on the counter, and
splash water aboard.

In this fashion, then, they drew nearer the shore.  Both boys were on
the lookout, for many crafts had been moving about on the water at the
confluence of the two rivers, though by degrees they left these behind
as they made progress down stream.

"It's afther getting near our toime, I'm thinkin'," remarked Jimmie,
with a shrewd squint up at the sun, pretty well along down the western
heavens.

"Yes, we have just enough to find some sort of a refuge for the night,"
replied Jack.  "You see the current is getting so swift now that it's
dangerous for a small boat like ours to anchor near the shore.  When
one of those big packets goes past it draws the water off, and then
lets it come back with a rush.  We might be upset, or thrown on the
rocks, and get smashed."

"Thin it's us till a nate little cove, or a swate creek!" exclaimed
Jimmie.  "Only I do be hopin' that this toime we run aginst no polace
officers or thaves.  It do distarb me more nor I care to be waked up so
suddint loike, and arristed for something I niver did."

On this occasion they were compelled to go a mile or so after the time
had expired, before finding what they sought.  But it was worth the
penalty, both thought, as they pushed into the little opening, where
they could rest in peace, without the fear of an upset on account of
the "wash" from passing steamboats.

They remained near the mouth of the creek as long as daylight lasted,
so that a watch could be kept, in order to signal either of the other
boats, should one of them heave in sight.

But there was no such luck.  Apparently neither had reached the third
station, for Jack had scanned the shore line for miles just before they
came in, without seeing any sign.

That night passed without any incident of note; although Jimmie
insisted upon having an entry made in the log to the effect that his
first effort at flapjack making proved an elegant success, since not
one of the mess was left.  But if the truth were told it would be found
that the cook himself accounted for something like three-fourths of the
number.  And then he had the nerve to declare that he had made only one
mistake, which was in limiting the amount of flour used.

"Looks like we might have a nice loafing spell over Sunday for a change
now," remarked Jack on the following morning when, having partaken of
breakfast, they moved down to a position nearer the river, where they
could use the glass to advantage.

"Thin ye don't be sayin' annything of thim whativer?" asked Jimmie, who
was still wrestling with the various kettles and dishes used in
preparing and eating the meal, while his comrade swept the watery waste
with the marine glasses.

"Nothing doing, as yet," replied Jack.  "But perhaps in an hour or so
we may pick one of them up.  Of course it stands to reason the
_Comfort_ is away up there somewhere.  I only hope George didn't go on
down past here.  After a while perhaps we'd better show ourselves
outside, and anchor there.  If he is below he'll see us through his
glasses, and make signs."

It was a long morning to the boys.  By turns they went ashore to
stretch their legs, which were beginning to feel very much cramped on
account of the length of time they had been in the confined space of
the small boat.

About two o'clock Jack sighted something that looked promising.

"It's either a big alligator acomin' surgin' and heavin' down the
river, tryin' to drink up all the wather; or ilse it's that bully old
_Comfort_ swimmin' along, wid a bone in her teeth," declared Jimmie,
after he had had a turn with the glasses.

Of course it proved to be the motor boat; and half an hour later they
caught the attention of those aboard, so that a reunion was speedily
accomplished.

"But where's George, and poor old Nick?" asked Herb, as he shook hands
with the skipper and crew of the _Tramp_, while Josh got the mudhook
overboard.

"That's what is beginning to worry me," admitted Jack.  "I knew you
couldn't outrun us here; but they had a great send-off.  Of course
something happened.  It always will with that cranky speed boat and the
big horsepower motor it carries."

"I warned George that sooner or later it would shake the plagued boat
to pieces," declared Herb.  "Hope that didn't happen when they were
away out on that rearing, tearing flood, though.  My gracious, how it
does rip along!  Guess we could have made six or eight miles an hour
without using our engine."

It was then after three.  Another hour passed and not a sign of the
absent boat could they discover.  Several false alarms caused a thrill
to pass over the four boys; but night finally drew near without the
hoped-for arrival of the _Wireless_ manifesting itself.

And although they found a snug harbor in the mouth of the creek that
had proved so secure a refuge to the _Tramp_ on the preceding night,
none of the boys rested as well as they might.  They were worried over
the strange absence of their two chums, and imagined all sorts of evils
as having overtaken the crew of the _Wireless_.



CHAPTER X.

IN A KENTUCKY COVE.

"Turn out, you sleepy heads!  The sun's coming up!"

"That's Jack, of course," grumbled Josh, thrusting his tousled head out
from the curtains of the big launch, and digging his knuckles into his
eyes.  "Say, have you been awake all night?  Don't you ever sleep,
Jack?"

All were soon astir, and preparations made for a meal.  Jimmie, of
course, was keenly awake to the fact that he could pick up a few points
by watching the boss cook of the entire outfit; and hence he turned his
eyes toward the _Comfort_ many times while busy with his own duties.

Jack and Herb took things easy, sitting in the bow of their respective
boats and swapping experiences.  Of course both the others had been
deeply interested in the story about the descent of the police and the
daring escape of the mysterious boat manned by the two robbers.  And
Herb never wearied asking questions concerning the thrilling events of
that night.

When breakfast was finally a thing of the past, both boats were started
out of the creek.  Finding a good anchorage not far distant, they
settled down for a wait, the length of which no one could prophesy.

But Jack, after making preparations for an indefinite stay, electrified
the rest when he declared that he believed he had sighted the missing
launch far up the river and coming like a streak of light.

It was no mistake, as the rest declared once they had taken an
observation.  And when the lost boat drew near, such a dreadful clamor
as broke forth, both Jimmie and Josh blowing conch shell and tin horn
for all they were worth; while Nick did his best to drown them out with
his own battered musical instrument.

"Same old story," laughed George, as they came alongside.  "Don't rub
it in too hard, fellows.  Breakdown right when we were doing the best
stunt of the trip.  Only for that it would have been a record breaker
of a run between second and third stations for the _Wireless_.  Gee!
but she can fly when she takes the bit between her teeth."

"And gee!  but she can bite though," grunted Nick, as usual rubbing his
haunches and putting on a most forlorn expression.

"Well, what's the use of staying here?" remarked Herb.  "It's now past
eight, and time we were on the move.  It's just a picnic for Josh and
me.  We sail along like a big house, and nothing disturbs us.  Josh
cooks to beat the band; only I don't believe he eats more'n a bite each
meal himself."

"That's where you're away off, commodore," asserted the other.  "Why,
I'm feeling ever so much better since I started.  If it keeps on I'll
soon be able to get away with my full share of the prog, as well as the
rest of you--all but Buster.  I never want to run a race with that----"

"Don't you dare call me a hog," cried the fat boy, pretending to get
ready to hurl a big spoon, which he was wiping, at the cook of the
other boat.

"I didn't, leave it to the rest if I did.  You're the only one who
mentioned the name at all," grinned Josh, ready to dodge behind his
skipper if necessary.

It being decided to get away without further delay, the start was soon
made, and once more the three boats began their progress toward the
Land of Dixie.

For a change George did not rush off immediately; nor did Jack put on
speed so as to leave the _Comfort_ behind.  Truth to tell, they wanted
to chat some more; and talk of future plans when they should get
farther along in the journey.  For by now it had been impressed upon
the minds of them all that "the worst was yet to come," as Jack put it.

An hour later and George believed he had loitered long enough.

"My boat is just itching to get a move on, fellows," he called out, as
he started to leave the others.  "So by-by until we meet up again at
Station Four."

"Good luck to you!" cried Jack, waving his hand after the speed boys,
one of whom looked anything but happy as he sat there with the life
preserver belted on, and his fat hand clutching the brass after rail.

Presently Jack also considered that the pace was altogether too slow
for him, much as it pleased Josh and Herb.  Far ahead they could see
the _Wireless_ looking like a speck on the tumbling waters.

"Good-bye, fellows!" Jack called out as he too increased his speed, and
began to draw ahead of the big launch.

"Off, too, are you?" laughed the easy going Herb.  "Well, wait up for
us below.  And I say, Jack, if you get the chance, you might grab that
nice fat reward that's out for the apprehension of the robbers.  Five
thousand ain't to be picked up every day, I'm telling you.  And what
with your great luck I believe it wouldn't be hard for the two of you
to do it.  Good-bye!  Good luck!"

An hour later and those aboard the _Tramp_ could just barely make out
the last boat in the race.  The _Wireless_ had long since vanished from
view in the hazy distance down-river way.

"What are you thinking about, Jimmie?" asked Jack, as he saw his
boatmate sitting there with a queer look on his freckled face.

Jimmie grinned, as though tickled with what was passing through his
mind.

"Sure, I do be pityin' that poor Buster," he observed.  "Did ye not
hear him tellin' how he longed so much to be havin' thim ilegant wings
of his durin' the six hours George was tinkerin' wid the ingine?  It
was the chanct of his loife, so it was; and he says he would have been
sportin' in the wather all the toime, learnin' to shwim loike a duck,
by the same token.  I've been wonderin' what he did wid the same, and
I've come to the conclusion that he swallowed thim wings!"

"Oh! that's too much for me to believe, Jimmie," laughed his companion.
"Whatever put such an idea into your head?"

"Becase he ates iverything he says.  Josh is right whin he calls him a
human billy goat, so he is.  I wouldn't put it past him, now," and
Jimmie shook his head in an obstinate manlier, as if to show he could
not be persuaded differently; so Jack did not waste time trying.

As before, the day wore on, and with the coming of the hour which was
to mark the close of the run they began to carefully watch the bank as
they flew along, in the hope of discovering a friendly haven of refuge.

These things may seem a bit wearisome, but they became an important
part of the daily program with the venturesome small boat cruisers, and
as necessary as partaking of their meals.

Once more luck seemed to favor them, for after a long search Jimmie
discovered what seemed to be a series of little coves, in one of which
they could doubtless find water enough to float the _Tramp_.

It was almost dusk by now, and they would have to deduct considerable
time from their balance sheet in making up the record for the day's
run, according to the conditions set for the participants in the race.

"Think we can get in?" asked Jack of his mate; for Jimmie was in the
bow, using a pole to test the depth of the water.

"Aisy it is, wid plenty of wather, and to spare," came the reassuring
reply.

So, urging the boat gently on, Jack sent her over the bar and into what
proved to be a splendid little cove, apparently just made for a haven
of refuge to small craft, risking the dangers of the vast river flood.

"Snug as a bug in a rug!" declared Jack, joyfully, as they came to a
stop in the cove, being able to run alongside the bank, which fact
would allow of their going ashore if they chose.

Jimmie looked about him a bit nervously.

"Sure it's mesilf is wonderin' if we'll have the luck to run slap up
against that other motor boat agin," he called out, as Jack happened to
be bending over the engine at the moment.

The skipper made no response, as his attention happened to be taken up
just then with something that required a little work.  But the words
had been spoken loud enough to have been heard twenty yards away in
that quiet nook.

"I wouldn't shout so, if I were you, Jimmie," remarked Jack a little
later, as he came back to where the other was getting the tent ready
for erecting over the boat.

"Why, who's agoin' to hear me, sure?" demanded Jimmie, at the same time
casting a nervous glance around at the heavy growth of bushes and trees
that bordered their little cove.

"Oh!  I don't suppose there's a human being within a mile of us right
now," admitted Jack, laughingly; "but all the same it isn't good policy
to tell all you know.  Nobody can be sure there isn't some tramp lying
hidden in these woods.  And we don't want company, you see."

Frequently after that Jimmie would turn to glance around him, even
while he was building the fire ashore and cooking the supper over it
for a change.  He could not get the warning of his boatmate out of his
head, and Jack noticed that for a wonder the usually merry and
light-hearted Irish lad made no attempt to carol any of his favorite
school songs that evening.

They sat there by the fire a long while after eating.  The night air
had grown a bit cool, for it was October, when the early frosts nip.
vegetation in the north; and even this far south the coming of night
brings a change from the warm day.

And about nine o'clock Jack, feeling his eyes growing heavy, wondered
whether it would not be wise for them to turn in.  They had concluded,
since everything seemed so safe, to try sleeping ashore for a change
from the narrow quarters aboard the little motor boat; and the blankets
were already lying in a heap; in fact, one served Jack as a means of
keeping him from coming in contact with the bare ground as he sat there
writing in his log book and figuring out the respective positions of
the participants in the race, up to that time.

"I say, Jimmie," he began, when, looking around, he discovered that he
was alone, the other having crept away at some time while Jack was
busily employed.

"Now, where under the sun did that boy go to?" Jack said to himself, as
he turned his head this way and that in the endeavor to see some sign
of the missing one.

Presently he made another strange discovery.

"Well, I declare, if he didn't take my little Marlin gun along with
him," he muttered, failing to find the weapon where he felt sure he had
laid it down.

This gave him food for more serious thought.  He remembered now how
Jimmie had been impressed with that chance remark of his about the
possibility of danger in the shape of concealed hoboes.  Evidently,
unable to resist the temptation, Jimmie had silently picked up the gun
and crept away to make the rounds of their immediate neighborhood, his
design being to learn whether there could be any hobo camp near by.

"Oh! well, I suppose I'll just have to sit here and wait for him to
come back, after he's had his little turn.  A queer boy Jimmie is, and
inclined to be superstitious.  Perhaps he's looking for a ghost right
now, or one of those banshee's the Irish people believe in.  Hello!  I
believe I hear something moving over there!  Wonder if that's Jimmie
now?"

Jack had arisen to his feet as he watched to discover what came in
sight.  Although he might not have confessed to the fact that he was
excited, still his hand was trembling a little as he held back the
branch of the tree to see better.

"Of course it's Jimmie.  But what does he act that way for?  Why is he
beckoning to me and holding a finger on his lips, just as if he'd taken
a turn to tell me not to call out.  What has the boy discovered now, I
wonder?"

Jack awaited the coming of his comrade, who was crawling along, looking
back every little while as though fearful lest he had been followed.

"What under the sun ails you, Jimmie?" asked Jack, in a low tone, as
the other reached his side.  "Have you gone clean daffy, and are you
seeing things that no decent, self-respecting boy ought to see?"

"H'sh!" whispered the other mysteriously; and then after another quick
look in the direction from whence he had just come, he went on
hurriedly: "They're roight over there, Jack, me bye, both of 'em as big
as loife, wid the sassy little motor boat alongside in another cove;
and Jack, they belaves us to be officers of the law, come to take thim
till the bar of justice.  I know it, becase I heard 'em talk!"



CHAPTER XI.

TURNING THE TABLES ON THE BANK ROBBERS.

"Whew! that's stunning news you bring, Jimmie!" said Jack, looking
keenly at his companion, as if suspecting that possibly the other might
be imagining things.

"I give ye my worrd of honor it's the truth, the whole truth, an'
nothin' but the truth," affirmed the other, raising his right hand in
the most positive manner.

"You saw the men, then?" demanded Jack.

"I was that clost till 'em I could have coughed in their ears, on'y I
didn't, d'ye moind," replied the returned scout, in that convincing
whisper of his.

"And the boat--it looks like ours, does it?" continued the skipper of
the _Tramp_.

"Two peas in the pod couldn't be more aloike.  And sure, didn't I hear
the gossoons talkin' an' whisperin' atween thimsilves about us two."

"You did?" exclaimed Jack, more astonished than ever at the sudden
daring exhibited by the Irish lad.  "What were they saying, Jimmie?"

"Jist as ye warrned me, thim smarties they do be hearin' what I called
out till yees about the other boat," replied Jimmie.  "And that makes
'em decide we're in the employ of the polace, wid the intintion of
running thim to a finish.  Glory be, but they're mad clane through,
becase a couple of boys dast chase 'em."

"Mad, are they, and at us?" repeated Jack, as he began to gasp the
situation.  "And do you happen to know if they mean to slip away again,
like they did a couple of nights ago?"

Jimmie shrugged his shoulders in his knowing fashion.  Probably he also
winked, though Jack failed to catch this part of the performance.

"Wan of thim do be for slippin' off, and showin' a clane pair of heels;
but the other sames to be a wicked sort.  He swipes his fist jist so,"
making a furious gesture as he spoke, "and will be hanged if he goes
till he taches thim silly fools a lesson."

"Meaning us, I suppose?" Jack asked, softly.

"Nothin' else, me laddybuck.  I heerd him say as how burnin' our boat
wouldn't be too harrd a job; or tyin' the both of us till the trees
here, and lavin' us to shout till we got black in the face.  Ugh! he's
sure a divvle, all right, is that smooth-faced young thafe of the
worrld.  And I'd loike nothin' betther than to be turnin' the tables on
him, so I would."

"Well," said Jack, quietly, "perhaps you may, Jimmie."

Jack Stormways was ordinarily a peaceful lad.  All his schoolmates were
agreed on that score.  And yet once he felt that he had been unjustly
treated he would fight at the drop of the hat.

They had done nothing to injure these two young rascals; and if let
alone the chances were Jack would never have gone out of his way to
inform the public officials as to what he knew about the robbers of the
Waverly bank.

But when he heard that they were planning to do him and his comrade an
ugly turn, something within seemed to rise up in rebellion.  If they
wanted war to the knife they could have it.

"Whirra, now, an' do ye mean that, Jack, darlint?" demanded Jimmie.

"Of course we could escape by going out of this in the night.  But I
object to running a dangerous river in the dark; and I also don't like
the idea of being chased out of a comfortable berth.  So I'm going to
stick here a while longer; and try to give the other side a little
surprise, if so be they come across lots to bother us."

"That's the kind of talk, Jack," Jimmie whispered, excitedly.
"Americans should niver turn their backs on the foe.  I'm riddy to back
ye up in annything ye say.  Do ye want me to lade the way to where they
sit clost by the wather where the other boat swims?"

"Not at all," replied Jack.  "If there's any aggressive movement made,
it's got to come from their side, not ours.  Millions for defense, not
one cent for tribute, you know, Jimmie.  Now watch me get busy."

The Irish boy was filled with the most intense curiosity.  For the life
of him he could not give the faintest guess as to what his companion
had in his mind.  And consequently he watched every movement Jack made
as though eager to solve the puzzle.

He saw Jack go aboard the boat, and when he came back again he seemed
to be carrying some extra clothes.

"Fill up those trousers with dead leaves, trash, anything, so long as
you make them bag out and look like they do when on you.  Then button
up the coat, and do the same with that.  Do you catch on yet, Jimmie?"

"'Tis dummies ye are afther makin', be me sowl!" gasped the other, as
he hastened to follow out the directions given him; and the grin on his
face told better than words could have done how splendid the idea
seemed to him.

"I've done it when I went to boarding school," said Jack, softly, while
he worked, "and left it for the sophs to grab when they came to haze
me; but I never dreamed then I'd live to see the time I'd try the same
old trick on a couple of bank robbers!"

It did not take them long to finish that part of the job.

"Now," said Jack, "let's try and fix the dinky things under the
blankets so they'll look like a couple of greenies sleeping sweetly,
and dreaming of home."

Again his genius for arranging little details came into play.  Jimmie
was only too glad to turn over his dummy to the care of Jack; and it
was not long before it looked as though both boys were lying there,
lost to the world, with the fire burning cheerily close by.

"Nixt!" chirped Jimmie, filled with the excitement of the thing.

"We're going to hide, and wait for them to come.  You hunt up a nice
fat shillalah that you can use on the head of one of our visitors when
they get here.  Yes, that looks like the billy for you.  And remember,
not a peep until I say the word: 'Go!'"

"Yis, and thin?" demanded the eager one.

"Tap the nearest fellow on the head, just hard enough to daze him,
mind.  I'll be looking out for the other meanwhile, with the gun.  And
I really hope he surrenders peaceably, because I'd hate to fill his
legs full of birdshot, you know."

"Oh! what luck we do be havin', Jack, bye.  Sure, iverything is comin'
our way, an' the others ain't in the swim at all; excipt that Buster
made wan plunge, and hild on till the rope.  Where do we hide?  Show me
the place, me laddybuck.  Five thousand dollars the captain, he said,
Jack."

"Hush!  I'm not doing this for the coin, remember.  These fellows have
nothing to fear from me unless they come hunting trouble.  Then they'll
find it.  People always do, Jimmie," Jack said, as he looked around to
locate the best place where they could hide, and still be within reach
of the spot.

"Right ye are," chuckled the other; "and especially whin they run
aginst Jack Stormways."

"Listen, Jimmie," the other went on.  "I've just thought of something.
Look up, and you'll see that the tree is thick just above the place
where the two babes in the wood are sleeping so sweetly.  Now, if one
of us chanced to be hiding up there, it would be the easiest thing in
the world to drop down on the back of the chap as he threw himself on
the dummy.  How does that strike you?"

Jimmie shrugged his shoulders.

"If ye say the worrd, it's me that will climb up the tree, and lie low.
And sure they used to say Jimmie Brannagan was a born monkey all but
the tail, so they did."

"Then climb now," said Jack, "and keep as quiet as a mouse there, or
sharp eyes might spy you.  Remember, when I shout the word, drop like a
brick on the nearest fellow, and be sure you flatten him out, even if
you have to use the stick!"

He watched the Irish boy mount the body of the tree and clamber out
along the limb that hung some ten feet from the ground, until he was
directly over the spot where the two motionless figures lay under the
blankets.

"That will do, Jimmie.  You are well hidden there.  Quiet now, and
wait!" and with this whisper Jack left the open spot.

In seeking a hiding place he had two things in mind besides
concealment.  One was to keep close to the place where the fire burned
lower and lower, so that when the proper time came he could be there to
do his part in the program.  The other lay in the line of keeping the
boat under observation, for fear lest the enemy creep aboard and cause
an explosion of some sort that would simply ruin them.

The minutes passed slowly.  Jack had to guess at the flight of time;
but it certainly seemed to have wings of lead.  Still, an hour had
surely gone, and as yet all was still.

He wondered whether Jimmie could have been mistaken about seeing and
hearing the two bank thieves?  Jimmie had something of a vivid
imagination; but then Jack had never known him to make a blunder of
this sort.

Ah! was that really a rustle he had heard just then?  To tell the truth
it did seem to spring from the quarter where he expected danger to
appear.  Jack raised his eyes for one last look at the hiding place of
his confederate.  All seemed as peaceful as a dream in that direction;
and no one could possibly suspect that in the midst of that bunch of
foliage a brawny lad was crouched, ready to drop like a plummet when
given the word.

Yes, the sound was repeated, and as near as Jack could make out it
seemed just what might be expected were an inexperienced person trying
to creep through a thick covert.  These two fugitives from justice
might be exceedingly clever in their own field; doubtless they knew
everything pertaining to the art of blowing open safes in country
banks; but as woodsmen they had much to learn, ere they could crawl
through brambles without making a swishing noise.

Jack held himself sternly in.  When he found that his hand was
quivering more than he thought necessary, he mentally took himself
sternly to task and put a stop to such silliness, as he termed it.

The wonderful command which he had always possessed over himself had
been the secret of much of his great success on the baseball field,
when the whole game hinged on a single ball which he had to deliver to
a heavy batter.  And that batter usually struck out when the pinch
came, for he proved to have less stamina than the opposing pitcher.

Now Jack could see the bushes moving, and knew that something was going
to happen in short order.  He hoped Jimmie would be able to master his
end of the job without a blunder; for sometimes the Irish boy, no
matter how willing, had a peculiar faculty for doing the wrong thing.

Jack had both the hammers of his gun drawn back, ready for business.
He remained as motionless as a stone when he saw moving objects creep
into the little opening alongside the cove in which the motor boat lay
moored to a couple of trees.

Of course they were the two desperate rascals come to carry out their
design of injuring the boat of the lads they believed to be in league
with their pursuers, and possibly even harming Jack and his mate in
person.

Several times they raised their heads to look around.  Jack could see
their faces at such times, for the fire was not yet dead; and somehow
he fancied that the two were hard looking fellows, just of the stripe
one would expect to find ready to attempt some daring, lawless deed.

Now they were crawling eagerly toward the spot where the blankets
covered the two forms.  Then it must be their intention to first secure
the owners of the boat before attempting its destruction.

Jack steeled his heart against anything in the shape of mercy: These
fellows were making the game, and they must take what was coming to
them without whining.

No doubt of it but if the truth were told it would be found that Jack
was pretty white in the face about that time; but his teeth were
pressed hard together, and his heart knew no fear.

Now they were close upon the dummy figures, and Jack got ready to give
the signal that would cause a movement above.  But he expected to first
see the leap made, so that Jimmie would have a better chance to drop on
the back of his man.

It was at this most intense moment, when Jack's nerves were all on
edge, that a sudden sound burst forth.

"Ker-choo!"

Jimmie had been almost choked from time to time with the smoke from the
fire, and as luck would have it he broke out in a loud sneeze just as
the two men jumped forward.



CHAPTER XII.

"LUCKY JACK!"

"Go!" cried Jack.

And Jimmie went.

Jack had seen the two men spring upon the blanket-covered dummies, and
knew the cheat would be instantly discovered.  A delay of three seconds
just then would mean trouble all around.

Had that unfortunate break on Jimmie's part come about earlier, it must
have played havoc with all Jack's cleverly arranged plans.  But the men
were even in the act of jumping and could not stop to investigate just
then.

Before one of them, who was wrestling with the blanket and trying to
sprawl all over the unresisting form beneath it, could grasp the
situation, bang! came a heavy body down between his shoulders, with a
force that made him grunt and flatten out like a pancake.

"Hands up!  You are under arrest!" shouted Jack, as he brought his
shotgun on a level with the head of the second man, just as the other
tried to scramble to his knees after learning of the cheat under the
blanket he had assaulted.

Jack was taking a leaf from the police book, and applying it to
advantage.  He knew just how thrilling those words had sounded in the
ears of himself and Jimmie and believed in passing them along.

Jimmie, by the way, was engaged in rapping the back of his captive's
head with the stout little cudgel he had picked up.  At the same time
he kept threatening to add to the force of the taps if the other showed
any inclination to resist.

"Do you surrender?" demanded the boy who held the gun.

"I guess we do.  There don't seem to be anything else for us, the worse
luck!" growled the fellow who crouched there on his knees and stared
into the twin tubes of the threatening Marlin double barrel.

"Then lie down on your face, quick now!" commanded Jack, who had been
thinking over what ought to be done in case they safely reached this
point; and had made up his mind.

The desperate young bank robber hesitated.  No doubt he was considering
whether he might not take Jack off his guard by a sudden shout and a
quick movement.  And Jack guessed exactly what was passing through his
mind.

"It wouldn't be safe for you to try it, let me tell you," he remarked,
assuming as much fierceness as he could.  "I've got my finger on both
triggers, and this gun goes off mighty easy.  You know what would
happen to you then.  Roll over on your face, and don't stop to think
twice about it, either!"

As usual Jack had his way.  There was something convincing about his
method of argument that even this young desperado could not combat.
And so with muttered angry words the fellow dropped flat on his face.

"Now, stay that way, if you know what's good for you," Jack went on.
"Jimmie!"

"Yep!  Sure I'm here, roight side up wid care, Jack, darlint," chirped
the other, temporarily ceasing his tattoo upon the head of his alarmed
victim.

"Get out your cord," continued the leader, steadily.  "Make him cross
his wrists behind his back.  Then tie them hard together.  If he tries
any funny business you know what to do; and do it so that he'll
understand what hits him, too."

"Indade I will that.  D'ye hear the captain, mister?  Give us your
other paw, and do ye moind, I've me club handy to clip yees acrost the
cranium if so be ye show anny disrespict till the law.  Now, aisy
loike, and the job's done.  There ye are, and riddy for the nixt
prisoner!"

Jack meanwhile kept the second fellow under his eye.  Whenever the
rascal made the least movement, as though tempted to rebel against the
hard fate that had come upon him, a stern word from his captor was
enough to make him cringe again.

So presently Jimmie mounted his back and treated him exactly as he had
done the first victim.  When Jack saw the job completed he drew a long
breath of relief.  The beads of perspiration stood out on his brow,
such had been the terrible strain under which he had labored while all
this action was taking place.

"Thank goodness, it's done with!" he exclaimed, as he allowed the gun
to drop, and his muscles to relax.

"And now what are we to do wid these beauties, Jack?" asked Jimmie, as
he also arose and stretched himself; for his long vigil among the
branches of that tree had, as he declared, "tied him all up in a knot."

"Take them along with us and hand them over to the authorities at
Memphis, if we get no chance nearer.  Suppose you stay here with them
just now, Jimmie."

"While you drop over to the other cove and see what they do be havin'
in that motor boat of theirs," observed the Irish boy, cheerfully.
"Just as ye say, Jack.  Ye know bist, and I'm riddy to folly orders.
But don't be too long, if ye plaise.  It moight be lonely for me, I'm
thinkin'."

Jack came back inside of fifteen minutes, during which time Jimmie had
sat there by the resurrected fire, holding the precious Martin, and
keeping a close watch over the two bound robbers.

"Ye found it, all roight, I say, Jack?" announced the guardian of the
camp, as he noticed that his chum was "toting" a fair-sized satchel.

"Yes," the other answered, "this holds the stuff they carried off, and
which Mr. Gregory, the president of that Waverly bank, will be mightily
glad to get hold of again.  But I know now just why they were so
anxious to capture us."

"They did be thinkin' we was sint afther thim, so I belaved," Jimmie
observed.

"That may be so," said Jack; "but there was another reason.  They had
need of our boat."

"But, by the powers, they had wan jist as good; how could they use
both, Jack?"

"Theirs has got a big hole punched in the bow, and must have hit a rock
just when they started to come into the cove.  They had tried to mend
it, but I guess that's a job for a practical boatbuilder and not for
amateurs.  We'll have to let it stay here, and take our prisoners along
in the _Tramp_."

"So, that's the way the land lies, do it?" remarked Jimmie.  "And whin
they saw us come in this same night, to be sure they made up their
moinds it was the finest bit of luck iver happened, changin' ould lamps
for new."

Jack was not satisfied until he had examined the bonds of the two men
and made them additionally secure.  He also tied their ankles together,
avoiding hurting them all he could, yet taking no chances, for he knew
he was dealing with desperate characters.

The fellow whom Jimmie had flattened out like a pancake had nothing to
say, and seemed a gloomy customer.  On the other hand, the second
prisoner made out to be a nervy, reckless, happy-go-lucky sort of a
fellow.  He joked with the Irish lad, and pretended to be utterly
indifferent as to his fate.

Still Jack distrusted him and meant to keep an eye on him pretty much
all the time, until an opportunity came to hand them over to the
authorities.

It was now about midnight.  Both boys were tired, but too excited to
think of doing much in the way of sleeping.  So Jack laid out the
balance of the night in watches, and during the six hours remaining he
and Jimmie managed to pick up a little rest; though when morning came
both of them were feeling, as Josh Purdue would have said, "pretty
punk."

They managed to get breakfast, and both of the men were fed after a
fashion, although the cautious Jack would take few chances of allowing
them to have their hands free.

At eight o'clock the little _Tramp_ put out of the cove, and once more
breasted the brawling Mississippi flood that moved ceaselessly
southward.

Jack kept near the Tennessee shore for many reasons.  He wished to get
rid of the two prisoners as soon as he could, and meant to go ashore
when he came to the first good-sized town, where he had reason to
believe the captured robbers would be properly taken care of, and the
recovered valuables placed safely, awaiting the claim of the bank
authorities.

On the afternoon of the preceding day they had heard many faint reports
as of guns.  Jack had looked the matter up, and was inclined to believe
that these must be caused by duck hunters in the sloughs around
Reelfoot Lake.  Occasionally they saw flocks of water fowl on the sand
bars; and Jimmie was wild for a chance to secure one for a meal.

"All in good time," laughed Jack, as the other kept asking why he did
not try to pot some of the game.  "We've got our hands full, as it is,
Jimmie.  Just wait until we lighten our load, and then you'll find me
ready for sport."

Truth to tell, Jack had too great a load on his mind to think of
pleasure.  Until he had handed the prisoners and the plunder over to
the authorities he felt in no humor for fun.  Nor might it be a wise
thing to have an empty gun along, even for a brief period of time.  The
ugly way one of the men looked at him every little while kept Jack
constantly on the anxious seat; and he feared lest there might be some
unpleasant surprise sprung on himself and Jimmie.

But noon came without their having made up their minds what to do.

"We're getting close to Covington," Jack remarked, after a bit, when
Jimmie proposed that they have a cold snack.  "And perhaps we can
lighten ship there.  Anyhow, I've about made up my mind to land and
find out."

"And perhaps we may be saved all the trouble, Jack, darlint," remarked
Jimmie, with one of his quizzical chuckles.

This, of course, caused the skipper to lift his head and look down the
river.

"Oh! you mean that that launch is heading for us; is that it, Jimmie?"
he asked.

"Here, take the glasses, and ye'll see the glint of brass buttons
aboard the same," remarked the crew of the motor boat, holding out the
magnifiers as he spoke.

Jack whistled, and then laughed.

"Well," he said, "that's good news you are telling me, Jimmie,--for us,
I mean.  Nothing could please me better than to be met half way by a
posse of police just now.  We've got a little surprise in store for
them, I guess.  But I'll have to go ashore after all, for I don't mean
to let that bag go out of my possession without getting a receipt in
full for all it holds."

The launch was coming full-tilt for them.  Soon it was so close that
they could see the several police officers who manned it, although they
were apparently trying to keep under cover as much as possible.

Jack kept straight on for the other boat.  He even tooted his whistle
several times as though in greeting.  And presently the larger launch
came alongside.

"Looks like the boat all right, boys," observed the man who was in the
bow, handling the wheel.

"Yes, and the description hits these two young scamps to a dot!" echoed
another, as he laid hold of the _Tramp_ and started to clamber over the
side; when he suddenly paused, and stared at something he had
discovered in the bottom of the boat.  "Hi! what d'ye think?" he cried.
"They've got a couple of fellers tied up here, neck and crop.  Pirates,
all right, you better believe.  And here's a bag that's got the loot in
it, I wager.  Keep 'em covered, will you, till I slip the bracelets on."

"Hold on, if you please, officer!" called a voice, as a gentleman in
civilian dress suddenly appeared at the side of the police boat.  "I'm
afraid there's a little mistake here, after all.  We've had a false
clew.  I know these boys, and they're not the ones we're after."

Jack stared, as well he might.

"Why, hello!  Mr. Gregory!" he cried, perhaps with hardly the reverence
he ought to show toward a bank president; but the astonishment of
seeing the gentleman away down here, so many hundred miles from home,
rather disconcerted him.

"Yes, it's no other, Jack," replied the other, smiling.  "They wired me
that perhaps if I hurried down I might be able to recognize the
valuable bonds that were stolen from our bank, in case they turned up.
We were told that a boat answering the description of the mysterious
one in which the robbers took flight had been sighted on the river; and
for two days now we've been watching.  But it must have been your
little boat they meant."

"Perhaps not, sir," said Jack, quietly.  "There was another just like
mine, and we have run across it several times.  In fact, the two
fellows who operated it are lying here right now; and that satchel
contains all the stuff they stole from your bank, Mr. Gregory."



CHAPTER XIII.

THE "WIRELESS" IN TOW.

"What's that?" exclaimed Mr. Gregory, hardly able to grasp the
astounding news that Jack Stormways so modestly launched at him.

"Why, you see, we camped in a little cove last night," continued the
boy; "and as luck would have it, these fellows had entered another one
close by.  Seems that an accident had happened to their boat, so that,
with a hole stove in her bow, they could not go any farther.  So they
figured on stealing our dandy little _Tramp_, you know, and leaving us
to hold the bag."

The police officers looked at each other and nodded their heads, as if
to say they knew a smart young fellow when they saw one.

"Yes, and naturally you objected to such a bold procedure, Jack, and
determined to turn the tables on them; was that it?" asked the bank
president, smiling broadly, as though he might be the happiest man in
the country just then.

"Yes, sir," Jack made answer.  "We set a little trap, and they tumbled
into it.  So we tied them up, as you see, though we tried not to treat
the poor chaps too roughly while doing it, and have fed them as well as
we could.  I found that bag, and we expected to go ashore at Covington
to turn the men and the property over to the right authorities.  And
seeing that it's yours, sir, will you please take it off my hands?  I
hope it's all there."

While the boats drifted down-stream Mr. Gregory, with trembling hands,
opened the bag, and proceeded to hastily look over the papers.  There
were some thousands of dollars in bank notes tied up in packages; but
he hardly gave these any attention, for the bonds represented the
solvency of his bank.

"Good!" he presently cried, aloud; "I believe they're here, every one.
I'm the happiest man going right now.  And, Jack, shake hands with me,
my boy.  Your father will have cause to feel proud of you when I tell
him how you've acquitted yourself."

"Don't forget Jimmie Brannagan, Mr. Gregory," said Jack.  "He had as
much to do with it as I did.  Now, don't you say a single word against
that, Jimmie, do you hear?  And, Mr. Gregory, since you've got back
everything, please go as easy as you can with these fellows.  They're
hardly more than boys, you see, and perhaps one more chance might be
the making of either of them."

"That speaks well for your heart, Jack, although I'm afraid you're
mistaken in the matter.  But I promise you to get as light a sentence
as I can for them.  I ought to feel in a forgiving mood, for a terrible
load has been taken off my mind this day, thanks to you boys."

"And how about that same reward we do be hearin' talk of, sir?" asked
Jimmie.

"Jimmie!" exclaimed Jack, frowning; but Mr. Gregory only laughed.

"He's quite correct, Jack," he said promptly.  "Jimmie knows his
rights, and isn't afraid to press them.  There was a reward offered for
the capture of the thieves, and a larger one for the recovery of the
stolen property.  After you come back from this little excursion I want
both of you to drop over and call on me.  I'll have something for you
worth while.  Perhaps it may be an engrossed resolution of thanks from
the directors of my bank; and possibly it may be something more."

So, after all, Jack did not set foot ashore at Covington when they
arrived opposite the place.  The two prisoners had been transferred to
the police launch, with something more substantial in place of the
cords that Jimmie had wound around their wrists; and after each of the
officers had warmly shaken hands with the boys, Mr. Gregory gave them a
last grip, when the larger boat was turned in toward the bank.

"Well, that was an adventure worth while!" remarked Jack, as he settled
down to look after his engine and hit up a livelier pace; for Memphis
was a long ways off, and that had been settled on as their next station.

"I do be having to laugh whin I think of poor Buster," observed Jimmie,
with a broad grin on his good-natured countenance.

"Why about the Hippopotamus?" queried the skipper, without looking up.

"What d'ye suppose he will be afther saying now, whin he hears what
happened till us again?  Didn't ye listen whin he said, 'Oh, splash!
nothin' iver happens till the wan of us save Jack and Jimmie!'  And by
the token it do same to be thrue.  We're the broth of boys that git in
the ruction ivery toime."

"I wonder if Buster has been overboard again?" mused Jack, smiling at
the recollection of the tremendous splash the fat boy had made the time
he dropped into the Mississippi, and held on by the trailing rope.

"I do be thinkin' ivery toime a big wave comes along; 'there's Buster
takin' wan of his headers again, and makin' the river quake!'" chuckled
Jimmie.

So they beguiled the minutes while lunch was being prepared; which,
since it was only a cold one, did not take much time.  Then they sat
and enjoyed themselves, while the _Tramp_ bustled merrily on her way,
and the speeding shore panorama interested them constantly, on account
of the changes taking place.

Occasionally Jack consulted his maps, in order to find out what the
name of some town they were passing might be, and in this way locate
their position.

"Will we make it, do yees think?" asked Jimmie, after one of these
periods of study on the part of the skipper.

"I think so; I hope so," replied the other.  "Because, you see, we
ought to pull up there and get ready for a fresh start.  So far we've
done just elegant work; but there's no telling what trouble is waiting
for us below.  The river gets bigger all the time, until there are
places where you can hardly see across to the low shore on the other
side.  And those false cut-off channels will give us the time of our
lives, maybe."

"Of course, ye ixpect that George will be waitin' for us all the while
at Memphis?" remarked Jimmie a little later, as he swept the watery
horizon to the south, and the shore line closer by with the fine
glasses.

"Well, I suppose so," replied Jack.  "That is, if he's managed to pull
through without another blowout or breakdown."

"Sure, ye have another guess coming Jack, me bye, and that's no lie,"
remarked Jimmie, a smile beginning to creep over his wide face.

"Then you've seen something," declared the other.  "Here, take hold of
this wheel and give me the glasses."

He swept the shore line with a careful scrutiny.

"I see him," he remarked presently.  "And it's just as you said,
Jimmie; George is in a peck of trouble again with that cranky
high-power engine.  They've tied up to the shore and have got the red
flag flying that was to be our signal of distress.  Poor Nick; I can
just picture him right now, grunting over all the misfortunes that
haunt them, while the rest of us have had so little trouble.  I'm
afraid he'll waste away to mere skin and bones yet."

The _Tramp_ was soon headed for the spot where they could see their
comrades waving their arms wildly as if afraid the second boat in the
race might pass them by.

"Same old story?" asked Jack, as he brought alongside and gripped the
hands of the forlorn shipwrecked travelers.

"Rotten luck!" groaned Nick, shaking his head dolefully.  "I'm pining
away, fellows, inch by inch.  Why, my clothes are ready to drop off me,
I'm getting so like a scarecrow.  Mebbe you don't believe me, but it's
a fact.  And I'm that nervous I keep quivering all the time like
a--a----"

"A bowl full of jelly;" burst out Jimmie.  "Sure, I do belave ye,
Buster.  And as Jack and me sail along so cheerful loike, me thoughts
often fly till ye, and I fale that only for that stubborn will ye'd
have gone and given up long ago."

"What's wrong this time, George?" asked Jack.

"Oh! everything now," replied the disgusted skipper of the _Wireless_.
"No use in my trying to tinker with the job.  It will take a practical
machinist to overhaul the plagued contraption.  I guess you'll have to
give us a tow to Memphis, where I can put a man to work getting this
engine in some sort of shape."

"All right!" Jack exclaimed.  "And the sooner we start the better, if
we want to make it before dark.  Get a line out, and we'll fasten to
this cleat at our stern.  Then we can talk as we move along; because
Jimmie and myself have got a lovely little fairy story to tell you, to
pass away the time."

Nick looked at the others suspiciously.

"Now, what's been coming your way, I'd just like to know?" he grumbled.
"Never saw such luck as you have in all my life.  'Tain't fair, that's
what.  Here I have all the tortures, the scares and the duckings, too,
when I've lost my swimming wings; and you fellows gobble everything
that comes along in the way of fun."

"Sorry," laughed Jack; "but they will keep piling these things upon us.
We have nothing to do with it at all, Buster.  Only when it happens, we
just have to get out of the hole the best way we can, you know."

"I just bet, now, you've met up with them old bank smashers again.
Look at 'em grin would you, George.  Ten to one they grabbed the
fellers and recovered all that fine boodle we read about!  It would be
just like Jack's luck!"

"We did that same, thank ye, Buster," said Jimmie, assuming a proud
attitude, with a hand thrust into the bosom of his coat, and his chest
thrown out.

"They did!" shrieked Buster, falling back.  "Do you hear that, George?
Ah, me! why was I born under an unlucky star?  Get busy now, Jack, and
tell us all about it.  Next to being a hero myself I like to hear about
you doing big things.  Reel off the yarn now, and don't you dare hold
back a single thrill."

Of course the other boys were deeply interested in what Jack had to
tell.  They stopped him many times to ask questions, under the belief
that he was not going deeply enough into details.  But finally the
story was told.

Toward four in the afternoon they began to realize that they were
drawing near a large and busy city on the eastern shore.  Boats could
be seen upon the river, and cotton began to be in evidence everywhere.

"This is Memphis, all right," said Jack, as he looked through the
glasses at the buildings on the high bank of the river.

"How long will we stay here?" asked Nick, who had some idea on his
mind, as the others readily understood from his abstracted manner.

"A day or two," replied Jack.  "All depends on how long it will take to
have the _Wireless_ engine overhauled thoroughly; and then you know, we
have to wait until the other boys drop along.  They may get here
tomorrow.  But what do you ask for, Buster?"

"Why, I was thinking that perhaps I might be able to find a pair at
some store here.  They would be apt to keep such splendid life saving
things, I guess," replied Nick, anxiously.

"A pair of socks?" asked Jack, pretending not to understand.

"Sure, 'tis a pair of oilskin pants he manes," cried Jimmie.  "Didn't
ye say how the wans he had on filled out wid air the toime he wint
overboard.  'Tis ilegant loife presarvers they make whin naded!"

"Oh! quit your kidding, fellows!" said Nick, in disgust.  "You know
what I've been shy on all this blessed trip.  A pair of wings; not
angel wings, but canvas ones, to keep a new beginner swimmer from
sinking.  I tell you I'd never lost all this flesh with worry on this
cranky, wobbly boat if I'd known I had those jolly things along.  I do
hope I'll find them in Memphis."

"You just bet I do," declared George, with a sigh.  "Because I've heard
nothing else all the journey but your whines about those pesky missing
silly wings.  Get a whole dozen sets if you can, Pudding, and it'll
make you any happier.  I'll stand the bill, for the sake of the peace
of mind it brings."

"That's just the way he goes on, fellows," said Nick, pretending to
look deeply injured, but slyly winking at Jack.  "I never can make a
peep but what George comes down on me.  I'm afraid he's getting
dyspepsia.  What do you think, why he even began to complain of my
cooking."

George made no verbal reply, only pressed both hands across his
stomach, and looked forlornly at the skipper and crew of the _Tramp_,
who shouted with laughter.

And in this fashion, with the derelict _Wireless_ bobbing behind, they
finally drew up at the wharf in front of the Memphis levee, where a
score or two of black roustabouts and loungers flocked around them to
look with evident delight upon the two neat little cruisers from the
north.



CHAPTER XIV.

SIGNS OF THE SUNNY SOUTH.

"Me for a good juicy beefsteak for supper tonight!" exclaimed Nick,
after they had found a boatbuilder's establishment, in the enclosed
yard of which they could spend the night, their two crafts safely tied
to spiles alongside a little wharf.  It had been an understood thing
that, as a condition of the race, no participant must be guilty of
spending a single night under any but a canvas roof.  Thus unless in
case of sickness, they must not take shelter in a house of any type.

Consequently each night must be spent either aboard their respective
motor boats, or on shore, with the canopy of heaven for a roof.

"Well, for once I'm with you, old chap," grinned George; "and since
you're such a good judge of prime steak, I appoint you a committee of
one to go forth and forage.  But remember that it ought to be an inch
thick, and a yard or two long!  That's the way I feel right now about
it."

"Count us in on that deal, too," remarked Jack, looking toward Jimmie,
and receiving a quick affirmative nod.  "Duplicate the order.  And
while you're about it, Buster, bring a couple of quarts of nice white
onions along."

"Oh! my, you're just making my mouth water!" cried the deputy, working
his jaws in an energetic fashion.  "Why, I've been half starved on this
trip, up to now, and something desperate's got to be done soon, if you
want my folks to recognize me when I get back home."

"All right," said George promptly.  "Just you drop that plagued cook
book overboard the first chance you get, and take a few lessons from
Josh.  Then we'll have something that's fit to eat.  Just make up your
mind that I'm going to stand over you when this royal steak goes into
the pan, and see that it's done right."

Accordingly Buster was dispatched to market for the party.  He made a
fairly decent job of it too; at least they certainly did seem to enjoy
the steak and onions amazingly; and George even condescended to admit
that, under the lash of his reproaches Nick was improving in his
cookery.

"I begin to have hopes of you, Buster," he said, as he lay back after
disposing of his fourth helping, unable to accept the last bite offered
him by the fat boy, who was himself stranded.

"Thanks.  I believe myself I am beginning to pick up some.  Seems to me
I weigh a pound or so more than an hour ago," grinned Nick, sighing as
he contemplated the small remains of their feast, "though I do hate to
see things go to waste."

"You may say that," remarked George when Buster made such a remark;
"but I don't believe it, judging from the smug way your belt hugs you
just now.  I rather think you are fond of seeing things go to waist."

So they sat around and joked as the evening advanced.  And the night
passed without any disturbance; although it was a little odd for them
to be so close to a city, and hear the various sounds that floated down
to them in their enclosure below the bluff.

With the coming of morning they were up betimes.  Breakfast taken care
of in a little more elaborate manner than customary, on account of
having more time, they considered what they should do waiting for the
coming of the _Comfort_.

George set out to interview the boat builder, and have a mechanic get
to work on his engine without delay.  Nick on his part declared he had
business in town, and would ask for any mail that might be waiting for
the party at the general delivery.

They could give a pretty good guess that the fat boy still had the idea
of hunting up another set of those swimming bags, which he hoped to
fasten to his shoulders in times of need.

He came back when it was toward noon.  One look at his despondent face
told Jack the stout lad had met with a grievous disappointment.

"Nothing dong, eh, Nick?" he asked.

"A rotten old town, that's what," grumbled the other, as he disgorged
what mail he had fetched with him.  "Been to every sporting-goods
establishment in the whole of bally old Memphis.  What d'ye think, most
of 'em didn't know what I meant when I asked for swimming wings?  They
looked like they thought me loony.  One place they used to keep 'em;
but the man said that the boys along the river learned how to swim when
they was kids a year old, and nobody had any use for such silly things;
so he dumped the last pair he had in the ash bin.  Just think what
measly luck!  That was only two days ago.  See what I missed by your
old machine breaking down on us, George.  I might have had that bully
pair."

"I was thinking," said Jack, with a smile at the forlorn expression on
his fat chum's face, "why you didn't depend on that cork life
preserver.  You couldn't sink, and if you flapped pretty hard I think
you could learn to paddle after a bit."

"Oh! do you really think so, Jack?" cried the sad one, his face
lighting up with a new hope.  "It's awful good of you to crack your
brain thinking up such a bully idea for me.  And how silly that I never
once jumped on that plan.  I'm going to try it the very next time our
engine kicks up a shindy, and holds us up."

"Well, you've got another think coming then," burst out George.  "For
this machinist assures me that after he's through with the engine it
will run as smooth and regular as--well, that Old Reliable in the
_Comfort_.

"What's the matter wid ours?" burst out Jimmie, his fighting blood up
at once.  "Sure, we've niver had wan bit of throuble up till now."

"Oh! all right.  Consider yourself kicked then, ditto, Jimmie," laughed
George.

At three p. m. the _Comfort_ was sighted, sailing along on the current
"like a big ship," as Nick declared.  The conch shell lured the third
crew ashore, and once more the party found itself intact.

Herb and Josh had no thrilling adventure to relate.  Their voyage up to
date had been a most uneventful one.  And how they did listen with wide
open eyes when Jack modestly narrated the astounding event that had
overtaken himself and the crew of the _Tramp_ since last seeing the
others.

"It beats the Dutch," complained Josh, as the story was completed, "how
some fellers are lucky.  Why, we've got all our lightning rods out, but
never a thing happened.  We go sailing along like a duck in a mill
pond; and it's nothing but cook and stuff with Herb here.  I'm sick of
the sight of grub, that's what."

"That will do for you," spoke up his skipper.  "You know you've begun
to feel like a fighting cock, so you said.  And Josh, you ate twice as
much the last supper we had as I ever knew you to before.  I wager that
before this trip is over you'll be rid of that feeling of indigestion
that's been troubling you so long."

"That's right," declared Jack, cheerfully.  "Nothing like a life in the
open to tone a chap up, give him a sharp appetite, and make his food
agree with him.  Why, Josh, the fact is you look a hundred per cent
better right now, don't he boys?"'

"Sure he do that," said Jimmie, readily.  "Look at the color in his
cheeks.  And, by the powers, his eye shines like it niver did before.
Josh, ye're going to be a well man in a few days more, and kin ate a
house widout falin' it, so you kin."

The machinist, under the spur of double pay from the impatient George,
made it a one day job.  True, he had to stay after dark to finish; but
the boys gave him his supper; and before bedtime came he pronounced the
engine of the speed boat as in "apple-pie" shape.

So after all they had not lost much time.  Indeed, as it would have
been out of the question to have started at the hour the _Comfort_
arrived, Jack declared that they had no reason for complaint.

Promptly at eight on the following morning they set out.  It was
cloudy, and looked as though it might rain before the day was done.

George, anxious to test his rejuvenated engine, shot away at full
speed, and as usual they lost him in the distance.  Still, Jack had a
suspicion that the skipper of the _Wireless_ would not be apt to try
for a distance record on this day, as he had done in the past.

They had talked with many negroes and whites while stopping at Memphis.
The machinist had taken a keen interest in their race; and tried to
give them all the information in his power about the lower Mississippi,
between Memphis and Vicksburg.  As he was something of a duck hunter he
knew considerable about the flooded sloughs skirting the wide river.

He had also hinted about a disturbed condition among the planters.
They were having an unusually great amount of trouble with vicious
characters, mostly blacks; and several lynching bees had taken place
within the preceding fortnight.

George had listened to these stories, and made no remark; but somehow
Jack had a little suspicion that from now on the skipper of the speed
boat would try to make it convenient to halt sooner, so as to allow the
_Tramp_ a chance to overtake them.  Company under such conditions was a
big part of the enjoyment; and George was, to tell the truth, a trifle
timid when it came to trouble from human sources, though reckless in
other regards.

Several times during the day Jack took occasion to land on various
pleas; so as to have a few words with people they saw gazing at them
with open mouths.  He even asked questions too, and learned that a
reign of terror did actually exist through the country to the south,
bordering the big river.

And hence, it caused Jack to smile when just about half-past three he
and Jimmie heard the well known signal blast upon a horn, and looking
ahead saw Nick standing on a point of land, beckoning wildly.

"Just what I expected," said Jack quietly; but he did not take the
pains to explain what he meant to his boatmate.

So the _Tramp_ headed in, to find that there was indeed a creek back of
the jutting point, and that the _Wireless_ was snugly moored to the
shore there.



CHAPTER XV.

BUSTER TAKES HOPE.

"Hello!" called Jack, as he discovered George standing ashore near his
speed boat, waving a hand at him.  "What's all this mean?  Had another
breakdown already, after that dandy job done to your motor?"

"Shucks!  No.  Engine seems to be working to beat the band.  But the
fact is, Jack, I'm getting tired of camping with only a cemetery for
company.  Nick can't think of anything but eating; and those plagued
old wings he misplaced somewhere just before we started on this run.
So I made up my mind I'd hold up at this fine camping site, and spend a
night with you fellows."

"Yes," cried Nick, as he came bustling along, "and you'll be glad we
held up, too, when you set eyes on the bully little smoked ham I bought
from a coon this afternoon.  I told George it was a shame some of the
others couldn't be along to enjoy a slice; and do you know, he took me
up like a flash, saying he'd been thinking the same thing.  So when we
ran across this place we drew in."

"What time was that, Nick?" asked Jack, smiling.

"I asked George, and he said half-past one," replied the fat boy,
hastening to get out his prize smoked pork and exhibit the same to the
admiration of Jimmie.

"That so?  Well, you did make fast time of it," remarked the skipper of
the _Tramp_.  "No use talking, George, that engine of yours does the
trick; if you can only depend on it from now on, the cup is going to be
yours for a dead certainty."

"Barring some accident, such as being upset in the big waves from
steamboats," remarked Nick, shaking his head dubiously at several
recollections that did not seem to give him much happiness.  "My! you
don't know just how we wallow, and nearly flop over on our beam ends at
such times.  I think I lose six ounces of flesh every narrow escape we
have from swamping; and I keep wishing I had----"

"Stop right there!" shouted George.  "Didn't I say I'd jump you if you
ever gave another peep about those blessed things.  Use the wings
nature gave you the right way, and you'll swim like a goose.  Why, you
just _couldn't_ go under.  You'd be like an empty bottle with a cork in
the neck, floating around."

Jack and Jimmie were laughing heartily at this little passage between
the nervous skipper of the speed boat and his plump crew.  But Nick
made no answer, only looked reproachfully at George, as though
wondering to what lengths his ingratitude would take him.

A short time later the others were astonished to see Nick come forth
from the interior of the _Wireless_, upon which the tent had been
erected, disrobed, but still wearing the cork life preserver about his
body.

The air was none too warm, for it was now about the start of November;
but evidently Nick had made up his mind to put into practice the idea
Jack had advanced, and over which he had evidently been brooding the
live-long day.

He stepped into the water, drew his foot up as if its coldness chilled
him; then with a firm look on his fat face, pushed on until he was
waist deep.  Then he turned an appealing look toward Jack, which the
other could not find it in his heart to resist.

"All right, Buster," he called out, waving his hand encouragingly.
"Just wait five minutes, and I'll be with you.  Perhaps a little
ducking may be a good tonic, and make us enjoy that fine home-smoked
ham you grabbed."

Jimmie was ready to follow suit, but George declared he did not feel
any too warm as it was, and for one, hardly cared to take a bath.  So
he busied himself in getting various things ready against supper time.

Jack was an obliging fellow at all times.  He realized that this notion
of learning how to swim had become the one dominant idea in the
obstinate mind of the fat boy; and that the sooner he started to take
lessons the quicker they would have peace.

Besides, now that the motor boat boys had organized a regular club, and
expected to take numerous excursions on the water, it was only right
that every member of the organization should know how to save himself
in case of a spill.

And so he willingly started to show Nick how easy it was to float in
the still waters of the lagoon; also what little effort it required to
kick his feet and swing his arms in a way to make forward progress.

George occasionally stepped to the bank to watch operations, and call
out various things, sometimes sarcastic and again complimentary.

"Bully boy!" he yelled after seeing Nick actually keep himself afloat a
whole minute amid the greatest splashing ever known.  "You're getting
it down fine, old chap!  Keep going next time.  Never mind if you use
up all the water in the lagoon.  Plenty more in the river, you know!"

Nick felt much encouraged, and that was half the battle.

"I'm going to keep at it every chance I get, till I've mastered all the
kinks," he declared enthusiastically a short time later, as he came out
and began to rub himself industriously with a towel.  "Yes, siree,
before this cruise is over I'll know how to swim even if I did lose
them----"

"Beware!" thundered George.  "It's as much as your life is worth to
breathe that name again.  From this time on you talk about cork aids to
swimming.  And I reckon that I'm just going to be pestered to death
after this with whines, because I won't stop the boat every few miles
to let this elephant disport himself in the water.  Next trip we take,
my man, it's you to the _Comfort_, hear?"

"Oh!  I'd made up my mind to that long ago," replied Nick, coolly;
"that is, if Herb will take me, and Josh wants to try balancing himself
on an apple seed.  Somehow I just don't seem to fit aboard a speed
boat.  I need elbow room."

The night coming on, they started supper.  Of course, it was to be
cooked ashore, for even the ardent lover of the narrow-beam boat
admitted that cooking was a most serious problem aboard such a cranky
craft, and he would be only too glad to make use of the camp fire that
had been kindled.

Jimmie and Nick busied themselves, as they were supposed to be the
cooks of the two racing craft; but the others were not averse to
lending a hand at times.  In this manner then, the meal was made ready;
and had a hungry wanderer come within fifty yards of that spot just
then he must have sniffed the fragrant odors of frying ham and boiling
Java coffee until he would be almost distracted.

The four lads sat around the fire while eating, and laughed as they
spoke of the many things connected with the cruise thus far.

"Wish the others could only happen along just now," remarked Jack.

"That would be nice," admitted George.

"Why, yes," came from Nick, always thinking of his pet subject; "it
wouldn't be very much trouble to cut a couple more slices off that ham,
and slap it in the frying pan.  Kind of wish now, myself, I'd cooked a
teenty bit more.  Just feel as if a few more mouthfuls would finish me."

The others looked at each other and roared; for certainly Nick had
devoured as much as any two of them; and seeing that Jimmie was a good
feeder that was surely "going some," as George put it.

It felt so "comfy," Nick remarked, sitting there by the fire, that none
of them seemed very anxious to go aboard and seek their beds.  The sky
was still clouded over, and the moon, now in its first quarter, hidden
from view; which prospect of rain kept them from thinking of passing
the night ashore, as they might have done had the heavens been clear.

Finally, however, Nick himself began to yawn in a manner that told how
heavy his eyes were getting in the heat of the fire.

"I just hate to crawl in there, fellows," he grunted, as he slowly
arose to his knees, for it was always an effort for the fat boy to get
up, after sitting.  "Makes me feel just like I'm in a coffin, to lie in
such narrow quarters.  Why, I tell you, the skin's clean off my hips
and shoulders with rubbing against the sides of the boat.  I'm going to
be a physical wreck yet, that's what."

"Well, if you get used to it now, you needn't worry when the time comes
to leave this old world," was all the satisfaction George gave him.

Jack lay there smiling, as he watched the fat boy heave, and finally
plant one foot on the ground preparatory to getting up.  He was never
tired studying Nick, for he had an idea the other was not altogether so
stupid as he seemed; but that he carried on at times just to tease
George.

And as Jack continued to watch, he saw Nick give a sudden start, while
his hands shut in a nervous way.  At the time he was apparently looking
beyond the fire, and toward the neighboring woods; for they were
camping in what seemed to be a lonely place, possibly miles from any
human habitation.

Apparently Nick had seen something, or he would not have given that
start.  Jack immediately sat up and took notice.

"What's the matter, Buster?" as asked, quickly; and both the others,
hearing what he said, also started up.

The fat boy turned his head around.  Signs of great excitement could be
seen in the working of his facial muscles, as well as in his staring
eyes.

"Good gracious!" he exclaimed, "it's a bear, fellows, as sure as you
live!"

"What?" ejaculated Jack, as he made a dive for the Marlin, which he
had, of course, taken ashore with him; while George also looked hastily
around to see where he had laid his rifle.

"Where did you see it?" demanded Jack, gaining his feet.

"It's right inside that big live oak yonder!" cried Nick, pointing a
trembling finger as he spoke.  "It must be hollow, because I saw the
beast poke his old head out.  He ducked back again like fun when he saw
me looking.  A bear, fellows!  Just think how many steaks he'd give us,
if we bagged him!"



CHAPTER XVI.

ERASTUS, THE HOUSEBURNER.

"Hold on, George," said Jack, as he saw the impetuous one start toward
the big tree that had such a profusion of low branches that it was hard
to see distinctly under its canopy.  "Go slow now.  A bear may turn out
to be a dangerous article if you only wound him."

"But we ought to get him!" declared the other, handling his repeating
rifle eagerly.

"That's right," cried Nick, from the rear, where he had picked up a
billet of wood and was making several vigorous passes through the air,
as if getting his muscles in trim for the combat.  "It would be a shame
to lose the opportunity for unlimited bear steaks.  I've always wanted
to taste one; and you know we may not get another such chance.  Why, he
just wants to get in our frying pan; that's why he's come so close to
our fire, fellows."

"Keep still," ordered Jack; and when he spoke in that way Nick knew
better than to disobey.

The fact of the matter was, Jack had a strong suspicion that while the
fat boy may have seen _something_ at the time he did, it could hardly
have been a bear.  He did not believe such a wary animal would have
remained so long close to where a bunch of noisy boys had camped.  And
if he had been sleeping in the hollow of that big live oak he must have
been scared away long since.

"Jimmie, throw a lot of fine stuff on the fire," said Jack.  "We want
more light here.  That's the ticket," as the flames shot up, and the
whole vicinity was illuminated.  "Now, George, you keep close to me,
and we'll advance until we can see if there's anything doing."

Jimmie snatched up a burning brand from the fire, and waving this above
his head, he kept behind the two who had guns.

"That's a clever stunt, Jimmie," remarked Jack; and the others noticed
that his voice did not seem to tremble a single bit, so well did he
have his nerves under control right then.

"Guess it's all a fizzle," grunted George presently.  "I can see behind
the tree, and there's no bear there.  Buster, you're a fraud."

"No, no, I'm dead sure I saw something that looked like a bear's head,"
said the other, vehemently.  "Perhaps he's hiding inside the tree,
fellows?"

At that George laughed harshly.  He was still trembling from excitement.

"Well," he observed, "there's is a hollow in the tree all right; but
the opening ain't over a foot across; and it would have to be a mighty
thin bear that could push in or out of that."

"Wait," said Jack, quietly.  "There may be a way to prove whether
Buster has been fooled, or if he did see something."

He took the torch from Jimmie, and immediately pushed right on under
the drooping limbs of the wide spreading oak.

"Oh! he's going to look for the tracks!" cried Nick, still hugging the
neighborhood of the fire.  "That's a bright idea, Jack.  You're the
swift thing, all right.  But take care he don't jump out on you.  I
thought I saw something move right then.  And if we don't get them bear
steaks I'm going to be mighty sorry, that's what."

Jack paid no attention to what the other said.  Already he was stooping
down, and examining the earth, as he held the blazing torch close.

"Any bear sign?" asked George, who stood guard over him, rifle in hand,
and dividing his attention between what Jack was doing and the
surrounding gloomy woods.

"Not a bit," came back the ready answer; "and as I've seen the tracks
of a bear more than once I think I'd know such a thing."

"Told you so," declared George, in a disgusted voice.  "Another one of
Buster's false alarms.  That's the way he's been doing all along;
seeing snags ahead when there wasn't one, and making me check up in a
hurry, and that was hard on my engine."

"Go slow," observed the boy who was on his knees.  "I said there wasn't
any bear tracks, didn't I?  But that doesn't mean Buster didn't see
something."

"Goodness gracious! it wasn't a panther, was it?" gasped George.

"Oh! no, only a man," replied the other.  "Look here, and you'll see
the plain print of his foot and toes in the dirt; and an unusually big
foot, too."

"Barefooted!" exclaimed George, bending eagerly over.

"That's so; but haven't we seen scores of negroes barefooted all
along?" Jack said, positively.

"Then it was a coon.  Say, why did he run away, then?  Jack, you
remember all they told us above about the troubles down here in the
region around Coahoma county?  Don't you believe that this fellow may
have been a desperate negro, hunted by the Regulators, who want to
string him up?"

Jack pretended to laugh, though George detected a vein of uneasiness in
his comrade's manner.

"Oh! well," he went on, "I hardly think it's quite as bad as that,
George.  But still, he certainly did run away when he found he had been
seen; and that looks bad."

"But what d'ye think brought him here in the first place?" George
pursued.

"Huh!" grunted Nick, breathing in, "that ought to be easy to guess.
Picture yourself hungry as all get-out, and wandering through these
woods, when you suddenly get a sniff of the most delicious odors in the
wide world.  Wouldn't you make a bee line for that grub factory, and
see if you couldn't sneak a share off?  Huh! some people don't ever
seem to understand the common failing of human nature."

"Is that it, Jack?" asked George.

"I think Buster hit the nail on the head that time," returned the
other.  "This man must have been drawn by the smell of our cooking.
He's been watching us from behind this tree.  Then when he saw that he
had been discovered he got cold feet, and vamoosed."

"Then we'd better keep watch and watch tonight," said George.

"I meant to suggest that idea anyway," Jack answered.

"Gee!  I feel sorry for that poor wretch!" Nick remarked.  "Just think
of having a chance to smell all the nice odors and get nothing.  It's a
shame, that's what!"

George laughed derisively.

"Listen to him, would you?" he cried.  "He's so fond of stuffing
himself, that he feels for a poor skunk that didn't know enough to keep
out of trouble."

"Shame on you, George," Jack burst out with.  "I think it does Buster
credit.  And I'm going to tie that half loaf of bread to the tree here,
so if our timid black friend comes back, he can get something to keep
him from starving."

"Better go slow," remarked George.  "You may get in a peck of trouble
that way, if this fellow happens to be that Erastus we heard about, who
burned the house up in Tunica county here, and is being hunted far and
near.  Dangerous business, Jack."

"We don't know anything about it, only that there may be a poor chap
nearly starved nearby.  What do you say, Jimmie?  I'd like to feel that
I have backing enough," and Jack turned toward the Irish lad.

"Pshaw! no use asking _him_," snorted George.  "Jimmie would give away
the coat on his back, or his last copper.  Make it unanimous, then, if
you want, Jack," for already the impetuous skipper of the _Wireless_
was growing sorry because of his stand.

And so Jack did fasten the partly eaten loaf of bread to the tree in
such a fashion that it could readily be seen should a hungry man come
prowling around again during the night.

Then they went to the boats and sought rest, Jack dividing the night
into two hour watches, during which one of the boys would be on guard.

But nothing came to pass that was out of the way during the period
lasting up to the arrival of dawn.  It did not even rain, for the
clouds passed off, and the sun rose as if in for a good day.

Jack upon arising walked to the tree.

"Looks like it's gone!" called out Nick, who was poking his head out
from the curtains of the boat tent.  "Hope some wildcat didn't hook it,
though."

"No fear of that," laughed Jack, "for bobcats don't leave a polite note
of thanks behind when they steal a supper.  Look here what I found,
stuck to the bark of the tree with a splinter of wood."

He had a very much soiled scrap of paper, upon which someone had
scrawled a few crooked lines.  With considerable patience Jack finally
read these words:

"Neber burnd no hows.  My cozin Peck he doned it suah.  But dey hangs a
culld mans fust down disaways an den tries him fo de crim.  Is
innersent, I swars hit.  I gotter de bred.  I et it, case I mity ni
starve.  But I's innersent.  Rastus."

"Well, what d'ye think of that?" shouted George, who had also appeared,
fully dressed by now.  "Better keep that letter of thanks, Jack.  We'll
have it framed, and hung in our clubhouse some day."

The others soon appeared, and preparations went on for breakfast, the
fire being revived for the occasion.

Nick kept his eyes on the alert during the entire progress of the meal.
Perhaps he was thinking of the poor, wretched fellow who was being
hunted like a wild animal, and who knew not where his next meal might
come from.

They had just about finished, with considerable to spare in the frying
pan, when Jack held up his hand suddenly, exclaiming:

"Listen, fellows!"

But the sound was so close by that every one of them had heard it as
distinctly as Jack himself; for the baying of a pack of hounds had been
carried on the wings of the early morning wind from a point just to the
north.



CHAPTER XVII.

THE SHERIFF'S POSSE.

The sound undoubtedly gave each member of the quartette a strange
thrill.  It was one thing to simply hear the bark of an honest watch
dog belonging to some farm in the country; and another to listen to
those significant baying sounds which surely meant that the sheriff and
his posse of man-hunters must be on the trail of some wretch, perhaps
the same Erastus whom they had fed on the preceding night.

"Great governor! they're going to pay us a visit!" exclaimed Nick,
jumping up.

"All right," remarked Jack, composedly.  "I don't see any reason for
being bothered by that.  Let 'em come.  For one, I'll rather enjoy
seeing a Southern lynching bunch.  I've read about 'em lots of times.
And we've sure done nothing to make 'em want to swing us up.  If there
ain't too many, perhaps we can let 'em have some good coffee and a bite
of fried ham."

"But--Erastus----," began George.

"We're not supposed to know a blessed thing about the fellow they
accuse of burning a house," said Jack, sternly.  "Just act as if you
knew nothing--I mean you, Buster, for if anybody gives the secret away,
it will be you.  Mum's the word, now.  There, you can tell from that
they're heading down the river bank, and will be here right soon."

Jimmie started to brew a new pot of coffee immediately, taking his cue
from Jack's suggestion.  Jimmie had great faith in the soothing effect
of a cup of that same prime Java, and believed that their expected
visitors would feel better disposed toward them if offered the olive
branch.

Presently there was a great stir close by, short barks from a couple of
dogs, and the gruff voices of several men.  Then through the
low-hanging foliage the posse broke upon the boys' vision.

There were just three men, one of whom was a sheriff, if the star on
his coat denoted anything.  He was a fierce looking-fellow, yet with a
twinkle in his eye as he sniffed the delightful aroma of the coffee.

"Why, it's a passel o' boyees jest," he declared, as though somewhat
surprised and disappointed because he had been hoping to come upon some
fugitives who were being rounded up.  "And look at the boats, will ye,
fellers?  Some tone to them craft, hey?  Howd'ye, boyees!  Room thar
alongside yer fire fur three tired and mighty thirsty and hungry coon
hunters?"

"Sure," replied Jack, pleasantly.  "We heard your dogs, and guessed who
you must be; for they told us up above that the sheriff was hunting
with dogs down this way.  So we put on a new pot of coffee, sheriff;
and there's enough of this ham left to give you all a few bites, I
guess."

At that the sheriff thrust out a long, brown and sinewy hand.

"That's white of ye, my lad," he said.  "We appreciate such neighborly
kindness, don't we, men?" and he turned to his companions, both of whom
were lean looking, dark-faced fellows, heavily armed, and each holding
one of the hounds by a strong leather leash.

"Yuh bet we does, Sheriff.  I'm nigh tuckered out with hunger.  And
thet thar coffee, my! but she do smell orful fine," with which remark
he proceeded to fasten the end of the leather thong to a sapling close
by.

Jack noticed immediately that both dogs seemed uneasy.  They would
sniff the air and whine and pull at their collars, always in the
direction of the big live oak.  He really believed that they had caught
the scent of the negro, who had been close by during the night.  But
the men were not smart enough to understand this, and imagined that the
animals were only acting strangely because they scented something to
eat.

"I hope they don't get a chance to wander over to that tree," was what
Jack had passing through his mind about that time.  "Because if they do
they'll soon give tongue, and the men will know they've struck a fresh
trail."

He devoted himself to entertaining the sheriff and his posse with
accounts of the various adventures that had fallen to the lot of
himself and comrades during their race for the Dixie cup.

"It's a great little job, this heah race of youahs, boyees," the
sheriff remarked, after he had heard about the contest; "but you-all
was saying somethin' 'bout a brace of bank robbers that bothered you.
What happened to the same, if you are in a position to say?  As an
officer of the law I'm interested in all such doings, you understand,
suh."

So Jack told of that night when the two escaping thieves, having their
own motor boat smashed by a collision on the rocks, attempted to take
possession of the little _Tramp_.  He had the three men listening
breathlessly until he announced the delivery of the two rascals into
the safe keeping of the officers who came out to meet the boat from
Covington.

"Shake again, young feller," the sheriff said, as he held out that lean
hand.

"I will, if you'll promise not to squeeze quite so hard.  You see I've
got lots of use for that hand before this trip's done," laughed Jack.

Then he showed the few lines which had been given by the officer, in
case the boys had any need to prove their honesty further down the
river.

The ham now being ready, the trio of hunters started in.  By the time
they had satisfied their hunger the stock of provisions connected with
the expedition had visibly decreased.  But every one was satisfied.
Even Nick glowed with ardor, for he was never happier than when
watching someone "filling up"--next to eating himself, he liked to see
others so employed.

Of course the three men were in a very happy mood when the breakfast
had been concluded.  They had not dreamed of such a feast half an hour
before.

"Nevah will forget this, boyees, nevah," declared the sheriff, as he
arose, and allowed his belt to loosen a bit.  "It was clever of ye to
treat us white.  If so be the chance ever comes when we kin return the
favor, call on us; eh, fellers?"

Both the others added their rude but well meant thanks.  The delight of
that coffee would doubtless remain a pleasant memory with them for a
long time to come.

"Now we must git along," remarked the sheriff, as he picked up his
rifle.  "You see, we're after a passel o' convicts that broke loose
from a camp back country a bit, where they was farmed out to a planter.
We larnd they hit foh the river, like every rascal down hyah does as
soon as he runs; and we 'spect to cornah the same with these fine dawgs
this mawnin'.  So long, boyees, and thank ye again foh the feed."

Jack waited to see if the discovery he feared would come.  The two men
unfastened the tied dogs, and when the animals tried to pull toward the
oak they jerked the other way.

"Cum along thisaways, yuh fool dawgs!" one of them shouted angrily, as
he again jerked savagely at the leather thong.  "Down the river's the
way we'uns mean tuh travel, d'ye heah?  Nothin' doin' thatways; and the
scrub's too thick.  Git a move on yuh, Kaiser.  We 'spect tuh raise a
hot trail 'tween hyah an' Trotter's Point."

And so they moved off, the sheriff turning ere they vanished from view
down the bank of the river, to wave his hand in farewell; to which the
boys of course made a similar reply.

Then, when the posse had faded from view, the four turned and looked at
each other.

"That's the time we were in the swim, Buster," said George, nodding, as
if more than pleased.  "You see it pays to stick close to these lucky
fellows.  If we'd gone on ahead now we'd have missed all this circus.

"Ain't I just glad we didn't though," declared the fat boy.  "Don't
care if they did clean up the last of my nice little ham; plenty more
where that came from, so long as we've got the spuds in our jeans
pockets.  My! ain't I glad they don't happen to be chasing after me,
that's all.  Did you see the teeth of those hounds, fellows?  I bet you
they'd make short work of a poor escaping convict, unless he took to a
tree like a squirrel, and waited to be pulled in."

"That's the way we all feel, I think," remarked Jack, as they stood
there listening to the baying of the hounds, gradually becoming less
distinct as the posse pushed further along the bank of the river.
"They weren't just hunting for Erastus, it seems; but given half a
chance and they'd have pulled him in.  On the whole I'm not sorry we
did what we did."

"I say the same," declared Nick, positively.

"Count me in, by the powers," remarked Jimmie.  "Sure I know what it
manes till be hungry; and I can understand in me moind how it fales
till be hunted wid such savage beasts.  Yis, I'm glad we gave the poor
divile a chanct."

"Oh! well, I guess I feel that way too," observed George.  "Only, you
know, my dad happens to be a lawyer, and he's always taught me to be
mighty shy about assisting a fugitive from justice, or as he calls it,
compounding a felony.  But in this case we believe Erastus to be
innocent.  That's right, boys, ain't it?"

"It just is," remarked Jack.  "And if I thought the fellow would ever
have the nerve to come back here to this spot, I'd be tempted to leave
something for him--a dollar perhaps, to keep him from starving while he
was getting out of the country."

"Well, time is getting along, and perhaps we'd better be packing up so
as to be ready to start at eight sharp.  Tonight we ought to make that
place at the mouth of the Sunflower river, opposite the island in the
big water, which is marked down as Station Number Five in the race."

George, as he spoke, whirled around on his heel.  As he did so, the
others heard him ewe utterance to a cry of astonishment.

"Look there, fellows, at what is in my boat!" he cried, pointing.

And the others, upon following the direction of his extended finger,
could only stare at what they saw.  Seated in the body of the
_Wireless_ and holding George's rifle, which had been incautiously left
aboard while they ate breakfast, was a big coal-black negro, whom they
could easily guess must be the accused house burner, Erastus!



CHAPTER XVIII.

AT THE MOUTH OF THE SUNFLOWER.

No one moved immediately.

Nick was gasping for breath; and the sound was not unlike that made by
a porpoise in swishing through the water while rolling.  Jack happened
to have his gun in his hand, having just picked it up.  But somehow he
hesitated to raise it against a human being.  And presently he was glad
the idea had not taken possession of him.

The man in the boat waved his hand toward them, beckoning, Jack
believed.

"Cum long ober hyah, sah.  I'se done wanter say sumpin tuh youse all."

He called this out, with one quick glance toward the section of woods
where the sheriff and his posse had last been seen.

Well, that did not seem very hostile, at any rate.  Jack started toward
the two boats, and seeing him carrying his Marlin, the negro
immediately elevated both of his arms as high as he could.

"Dat means I ain't agwine tuh do yuh no dirt, sah."  He hastened to
call out, "I cud a stole dis yeah leetle boat, if I wanted tuh.  Boss,
dar's yuh gun.  I might er held yuh off till I got clar; but I didn't
wanter, sah.  'Case I done heerd all dat was sed, an' I knows as how
yuh ain't gwine tuh gib a pore innercent niggah over tuh be hung foh
sumpin' he nebber did do."

They reached his side, and Jack was more than impressed with the truth
written on the fugitive's black face.  Frightened Erastus certainly
was, and with good reason; but he did not look like a bad man, Jack
felt.

"Where were you all the time the sheriff and his men were here?" asked
Jack, as a sudden suspicion flashed through his mind, remembering the
frantic actions of the two dogs to get over to the big live oak tree.

The negro grinned until he showed two rows of snowy ivories.

"Right up dar in dat tree, boss," he admitted, "shiverin' all de time,
'case I 'spected dem dawgs'd break loose, and begin yelpin' at de foot
ob de same.  If dat had happened it'd be de end ob pore old 'Rastus,
shore."

"Well, now, if that don't beat the Dutch," said Nick.  "Say, Jack,
there's some ham left in the pan, and some more coffee in the
pot--shall I give the poor fellow the lot?  Might as well be hung for a
sheep as a lamb, you know."

"Go ahead," was the reply.  "Do you really mean what you tried to tell
us in that little note, Erastus, and are you innocent of house burning?"

The negro assumed a very serious look.

"Mars," he said, half raising his hand as though upon the witness
stand, and about to take the oath to tell the entire truth, "I reckons
I's done stoled some chickens in mah time; an' p'haps done udder tings
along dem lines, as I reckons I ortenter; but, boss, clar tuh goodness
if ever I sot fire tuh a house, or eben a pigpen in all my life.  Cross
my heart if I done it."

"You said a cousin was guilty--was that right?" asked Jack.

"He done tole me he done it, boss.  Dat's all I knows.  But dey got
arter me, an' w'en dat happens down heah, a pore nigger he better say
hes prayers, 'case he's as good as daid.  If I cud on'y git tuh nigh
Friar's Point, mars, I'se gut frien's dat'd see me acrost tuh Arkansaw,
whar I'd be safe.  But dat sheriff, he between, an' dem dawgs, dey'd
smell me right quick.  If I on'y had a boat I cud do it, boss."

"All right, Erastus.  Sit down, and eat what there is here.  I'm going
to talk it over with my friends.  Perhaps we can think up some way to
help you along.  Because I'm of the opinion that a live Erastus over in
Arkansaw would be better than a dead one in Mississippi."

So the negro set to work like a starved dog, waited on by Nick, who
watched every mouthful taken, as though filled with envy and awe at the
array of shining teeth and the capacity shown for cutting off a large
wedge of bread and butter.

"Now, what sort of harum-scarum trick have you got up your sleeve,
Jack?" questioned George, uneasily, as the three gathered in a group.

"I'll tell you," replied the other, positively.  "I believe this poor
fellow is innocent of any serious wrong-doing, but the fact that he's a
cousin of the guilty party will get him in trouble if he's caught.
Perhaps they'll string him up to save the expense of a trial."

"Well, that is a fact," admitted George, "because I've heard my father
telling about it.  As a lawyer he doesn't believe in such things, you
know.  But I can see you're thinking of assisting this coon down to the
place he wants to reach.  Sure you ain't going too strong when you do
that, Jack?"

"I've thought it over," came the steady reply.  "And I've made up my
mind that in doing it I'd only be acting in the interest of humanity.
The poor fellow is being hunted like a dog.  If he could have a square
show when caught I'd never interfere a bit; but you and I know he would
never get it.  As he says, once let a negro get the name down here, no
matter how wrongly, and the game is sure to follow."

"And you propose taking him in your boat, to put him ashore above
Friar's Point--is that it, Jack?" continued the other.

"Just what I do," came the reply.

"All right," remarked George at once.  "If my boat was larger I'd say
put him in the _Wireless_.  I don't altogether approve of this
compounding a felony business; but I'm dead sure my dad would tell me
it was better to take the chances that way that have the nasty feeling
that by your actions you've helped hang an innocent person."

"Shake, George!" exclaimed Jack, pleased at this sudden change of mind
on the part of his careful chum, son of a lawyer as he was.

It was so arranged; and when the fugitive was through eating he heard
the decision of the boys with tears streaming down his ebony cheeks.

"Clar tuh goodness I never done no house burnin' in all my life, boss.
An' if I'se kin on'y git clar ob dis kentry I nebber kim back no moah,
nebber.  I'se gut a brudder out nigh Little Rock, an' he owns a farm.
I'll stay dar, an' wuk foh him till I kin send foh my fambly," he said,
brokenly, as he kissed the hands of each one of the boys.

So Jack had him lie down in the bottom of the boat, where he could be
hidden under some loose stuff.  After that the start was made at
exactly eight; and when they sped down the river at a rapid pace the
negro from time to time poked his head out from his coverings to look
in amazement at the buzzing little motor; and once even ventured to
raise it until he could see how swiftly they were spinning along.

A short time after starting they had heard shouts and had seen their
friends of the sheriff's posse waving from the bank.  Jack had spoken
to the concealed black; and for fully fifteen minutes the alarmed
Erastus never so much as moved a finger, lest he in some way betray his
hiding place to keen eyes on the bank.

Before noon came George, who had been in the van, fell back to say that
from the indications he believed they were now not more than five miles
above Friar's Point and that Erastus ought to be put ashore at the
first available chance.

About a mile further on Jack discovered what seemed to be a secluded
cove, and thinking that this might afford a fine chance for the hidden
fugitive to go ashore unseen, the two boats steered for it.

Before having the black man leave, Jack thrust some money in his hand.

"There's an address on a slip of paper--no name, but just the number of
the house in a certain town up north," he said.  "And Erastus, if after
you get settled, you care to write and let us know how you're coming
on, we'd be glad to have you.  We have taken big chances in helping
you, and it would please us to find out that it wasn't a mistake."

Then Erastus gravely shook hands all around, after which he faded from
their sight in the heavy timber.

"Wonder if we ever will hear from him again?" speculated George.

"If he gets safely across the river I believe we will," replied Jack,
with a positive ring to his voice.  "For he looks honest to me, though
perhaps I've had only a small chance to know the Southern black.  But
we took the chance, fellows, and something tells me we won't be sorry."

They ate lunch ashore, seeing that they were together, and wanted to
have some apparent excuse for landing.  But no one disturbed them, and
a little later the interrupted voyage was resumed again.

George stuck close to the _Tramp_ all the balance of that day.

"Don't seem to pay to run ahead all the time," he remarked when Jack
joked him on this score.  "And, besides, it does seem as though you
fellows have a monopoly of all the adventure.  Hang the cup, anyway.
It will remain a trophy for the club, no matter who wins.  For all of
me the blooming old _Comfort_ may come in ahead yet, because, you know,
we agreed on her having a big handicap on account of her well known
slowness.  I'm going to hang by you much of the rest of the trip,
fellows."

"Well," remarked Jack, when the hour for the close of the day's run
drew near; "I can see something away below there that looks like the
mouth of the Sunflower river.  We're getting in the neighborhood of
that place, anyhow.  Take a look yourself, Skipper George, and say
what's what."

Upon doing so the other pilot agreed with him.

"There's the big island ahead, you see, and, according to my map, the
river empties into the Mississippi exactly opposite that.  Then, right
along here is where we expect to make Station Number Five; and wait up
for the rest."

As customary they now drew in closer to the shore, and looked for some
favorable nook in which the boats could have a secure harbor during
their stay, be it long or short.

And once that was found, not far from the junction of the two rivers,
Jack made for a point where he set the red flag that, if seen by the
pilot of the _Comfort_, would inform him that he had arrived at a
stopping place, and that his comrades of the Dixie cup race were nearby.

Having attended to that duty Jack proceeded to take things easy; while
the two rival cooks started to wrestle with the problem of what to have
for the next meal; always a matter of more or less consideration among
campers.



CHAPTER XIX.

IN THE LAND OF COTTON.

"Another day to be spent in idleness," remarked George the next
morning, after the four campers had passed a comfortable night.

"Well, that was a part of the figuring when we started on this race,"
observed Jack.  "We knew Herb and his jolly old _Comfort_ would always
be tagging behind.  Besides, there's no particular hurry, since I only
have to be in New Orleans by the beginning of December.  To tell the
truth, I'll be sorry that the long cruise must soon come to an end."

"Yes, that's a fact," admitted the other.  "It has been a great thing
for us all.  I'm learning new things every day; and as for you fellows
it's been a picnic.  Perhaps there may be something stirring for Nick
and myself before the end comes."

There was, plenty of it, as will be presently mentioned.

At ten o'clock the cry arose that the _Comfort_ was in sight.

"What's that?" cried George, who was fishing around a corner, and had
no opportunity to look up-stream.  "You must be mistaken, Jimmie; or
else Herb has taken to running out of hours.  Why, that would throw him
only a couple of hours behind our run of the two days."

"Well," laughed Jack, "if you could see how the big boat is booming
along out there near the middle of the river on the swift current,
you'd understand it all.  Why, he's got on to it that he can add many
miles a day to his run by avoiding the slower water near the shore."

"I remember they tell us that fools and babes venture where even angels
fear to tread," remarked George.

"I wouldn't apply that remark to Herb and Josh," said Jack, seriously.
"On the contrary I think it shows wisdom.  Their big and safe boat can
run out there in perfect safety; but for you to do much of it, would be
inviting trouble and a spill.  But we must attract them in here, or
they may go whirling past on the other side of the island."

So Jack fired his gun twice, while Jimmie and Nick set up a most
dreadful squawking with the several horns possessed by the campers.

"They see us," announced Jack, immediately.  "I caught something
waving.  And listen to Josh almost bursting his lungs to blow that
battered old horn."

"And they've headed in, too," declared George, who by this time had his
own marine glasses in use.

The skipper and crew of the _Comfort_ arrived in fairly good humor.

"We're already picking up on you fellows," declared Herb, as he stepped
ashore to stretch his stiffened limbs a short time.  "From this on look
out; I give you all fair warning.  The _Comfort_ is hot on your trail,
and you've got to hump yourselves to keep on even terms with us.  As
the current grows fiercer so our chances improve.  Once more allow me
to state that the race is not always to the swift."

"Glad to find you so cheerful, Herb," laughed Jack.  "As for George
here, he's already arrived at the sensible conclusion that, no matter
who wins the cup, it's going to remain club property, and will likely
be kept at the club house, when we get one."

"Say, has Buster been able to swim across the river yet?" asked Josh,
who never allowed a chance to get in a sly dig at the fat boy to pass
him.

"Well, I was thinking about doing that job," returned the fat boy,
calmly, but with a knowing wink at his companions; "but George here
wouldn't hold up long enough for me to try it.  When I want to paddle
around, he says I've just got to have a rope tied under my arms so he
can yank me back if I get too venturesome."

"That accounts for it, fellows," cried Josh.  "I just had a suspicion
that Pudding might be to blame for all the trouble that old chap told
me about when I went ashore at noon today."

"Me to blame for what?" demanded the other, pretending to be annoyed.

"Why, you see," Josh went on blandly, "he says to me that when he was
settin' there on the bank try in' to pull in a few buffalo fish for his
dinner, along came a tremendous wave.  He vowed that it nigh washed him
away, and called it a cloudburst or something like that; but now I
understand just what it was."

"Sho! you don't say," Nick remarked scornfully; "then suppose you tell
the rest of us about this bright idea that came to you, the only one
you ever had, I guess."

"Why, you see, that wave was started when you stepped into the river
for your little sportive paddle.  It kept growing bigger all the time
as it rolled down the stream, till it nigh swamped the old fisherman.
I'm almost afraid to hear what calamity may have happened to some of
the lower parishes," grinned Josh.

"But what's this, Jack, you're saying about Erastus?" asked Herb.  "Do
you mean to say you chaps have run up against another adventure, while
we were just sailing down on the breast of the bully old river?"

So after that the story had to be told, and Josh listened with open
mouth as he heard about the sheriff and his posse, not to mention the
dogs.

"Oh! what we do miss, Herb," he lamented.  "That all comes of being on
a slow coach boat.  Next time I'm going to try my luck with one of the
others, and let Buster have this soft snap."

"Hurray!" cried the fat boy.  "If it wasn't for breaking up the race
I'd go you right now.  My! but wouldn't I have room to turn around in
when aboard the _Comfort_?  It's a case of a round man in a square hole
right now, fellows.  But he ain't going to stay round much longer,
because, you see, he's getting all the fat rubbed off and will soon be
a living skeleton.  I'm going to look out for a job in some freak
museum after this trip."

"If you do then, it'll be as a champion eater or the fat boy," laughed
George.  "Your appetite keeps on growing frightfully, and I'd like to
bet you weigh ten pounds more now than when you left home.  I can tell
it by the way my boat groans whenever you step aboard.  And she sinks
below the line I marked when we started, in spite of the half ton of
grub we've devoured."

"Oh!  George, you frighten me," declared Nick, in mock alarm.

"Well, what's the programme for today, fellows?" asked Josh.

"It's Saturday," said Jack.

"Yes, and we agreed not to run on Sunday if we could avoid it by being
together," George added.

"This is a fine camp," Jack continued.  "And we're only a few miles
below Friar's Point, in case we need a few supplies in the way of eggs,
butter and such things," Josh cut in.

"What say, fellows, shall we camp right here until we are ready for a
fresh start on Monday morning?  Buster, are you willing to remain?"
Jack went on, as the president of the motor boat club.

"Me?  Oh!  I could squat here for a week, provided of course that there
was always plenty of provisions to keep us alive," came the immediate
reply.

"George, what do you say?"

"Stay."

"And Josh, Herb, Jimmie, are you willing to make it unanimous?" Jack
went on.

"Sure I am," replied Josh; "and both Herb and Jimmie are nodding their
heads.  So that settles it.  Hurrah for Sunflower Camp, and a good
rest."

They always looked back on that camp as one of the peaceful ones of the
trip.  Nothing out of the way happened to disturb them.  Jack and
George took a run up to Friar's Point to pick up a few needed things;
but in reality to learn in a quiet way if anything had been heard of
Erastus, the fugitive whom they had assisted because of their tender
hearts.

Finding the friend whose name Erastus had given them, they made
cautious inquiries and were pleased to learn that he had just returned
from a visit across the big river in a dilapidated sailboat he owned,
and which neither of the white boys would have ever dared navigate out
upon the broad bosom of the Mississippi.  That was as much as Henry
would say, but they could read between the lines that the fugitive was
safe over in Arkansas, where his life would not be in danger.

While here in this camp of course Nick insisted on having some more
swimming lessons.  He was the happiest fellow in the wide world when he
actually found that he was able to make progress, still aided by Jack
and the cork life preserver.  By degrees, however, his teacher meant to
insist upon his depending entirely on his own powers; and it would not
be long before the cork would be discarded and Nick a full-fledged
swimmer.

Monday came, and with it a cold storm.  But they had made up their
minds, and were not to be kept back by such a little thing.  So at
eight a start was made, all of them donning their oilskins, and Nick
also wearing a most expansive grin.  Josh was forever calling it the
"smile that won't come off," and everyone knew that it was the pride of
being able to keep himself afloat that made Buster so happy.

George was tempted to speed ahead, forgetting his resolve.  So
presently each of the three boats moved along in lonely state, miles
separating them by the time afternoon arrived.

Jack and Jimmie found shelter in one of the false channels or cut-offs
that had now begun to be frequent sights along the way.  It was a very
wild night they put in, and more than a few times Jack wondered how
their comrades might be faring, only hoping that they were as
comfortable as himself and Jimmie.

All night long the heavy seas banged up against the shore, driven by a
strong northwest wind that reached the proportions of a gale at times.
The boys were more than thankful that they were not exposed to the fury
of the storm, but had a snug harbor where they could ride it out in
safety.



CHAPTER XX.

THE CASTAWAYS OF THE SWAMP.

"Looks like we made a big mistake in trying to navigate that short cut
the planter told us about, Jimmie!"

"How long we been in this scrape, I'd loike to know, Jack?"

"Well, this is the third day now we've been pushing and poling around,
sometimes thinking we must be getting back to the river again, and then
finding ourselves deeper and deeper in the slough.  The worst of it is
our grub heap looks mighty low, Jimmie," and Jack glanced seriously at
his companion.

They had been tempted to take the advice of a friendly planter on the
day after the big storm.  In fact, to tell the truth, it was Jimmie's
urging that had influenced the skipper of the _Tramp_ to enter the
opening that yawned before them, and allow the current to swing them
along at a swift pace.

But by degrees, after twisting and turning until they lost all trace of
their bearings, that treacherous current had died away until they found
themselves in a lagoon that seemed as still as death.

They had tried to navigate by means of their propeller.  Then, fearful
that the supply of gasolene might become exhausted they had resorted to
the pole.  Two days had passed and so far as they could see they were
worse off than ever.

Now and then they came to dry ground on which they set foot with
renewed hopes that were soon dashed again.  Jack managed to pot a few
gray squirrels, and they cooked them by a fire made in a hickory ridge.
If it came to the worst Jack said they could catch fish, or shoot some
of the numerous raccoons that eyed them inquisitively.

"Then there are plenty of muskrats in sight," he had added; at which
Jimmie held up his hands in horror, until Jack explained that if
properly cooked the "musquash" of the Indian was considered very good
food and eaten by many French Canadian trappers in the Northwest and
Canada.

"Of course," Jack went on, when Jimmie became curious as to how they
had lost the right channel, "it's of much more importance how we're
ever going to get out of this network of watercourses than how we came
here.  But, honestly, I'm afraid we made a mistake in the beginning."

"Took the wrong cut-off, do ye mane?" asked the other.

"That's just what struck me, Jimmie.  And now, here's the third night
ahead of us and we no nearer escape than in the beginning."

"Sure I do be thinkin' they ought to be happy," remarked the Irish lad,
after they had gone on pushing for another half hour.

"Who do you mean?" asked Jack.

"Herbie and Josh.  Don't ye say, Jack, all this time we're flounderin'
around in this place the _Comfort_ is gaining eight hours ivery day."

"That's so, on us," Jack went on, thoughtfully.  "But then there's
George to contend with.  I suppose they're all waiting at the next
station and wondering what under the sun has happened to the
steadygoing _Tramp_.  The only thing I'm bothering about is the chance
of our being stuck in here for weeks.  That would keep me from being
present when that plagued will is read, and I'd lose my share of
uncle's money."

"Oh! don't worry about that, me bye," returned the cheery Irish lad.
"Sure, we're bound to run acrost some native cracker sooner or later,
who will be moighty glad for a few dollars to guide us out of this
nasty place.  But howld on, Jack, me arrms are that tired wid pushing
through the mud they fale riddy to drop off."

"And as night is coming along I suppose we'd better try and find some
patch of land on which to camp.  A fire would cheer us up.  How many
matches have we got with us, Jimmie?"

"Och! that's the silly thing for me, Jack.  I meant till till yees whin
ye wint shoppin' in that little place of Friar's Point till lay in
another stock; and sure it shlipped me moind intoirely.  The supply is
bastely low, so it is.  I don't think we've got more'n a dozen or so
lift roight now."

"That's bad," remarked Jack; and immediately added, seeing the gloom on
Jimmie's freckled face, because it had been his fault: "But we won't
worry about it.  If it comes to it I believe I know how to make a fire
without matches.  I've seen an Indian do it, and even succeeded myself
once with a bow, a pointed stick and some tinder to ignite.  Besides,
long before a dozen days we expect to be out of here."

"If we only had Buster along I wouldn't moind so much," remarked
Jimmie, with one of his old time flashes of humor.  "For do ye say,
he'd last a week or more in a pinch."

When they finally discovered a dry piece of ground the night was almost
upon them.  The moon, more than half full, hung up in the heavens; but
on account of the thick growth of cypress and other trees they could
not expect much light from that source.

"Looks more like a real swamp than anything we've struck yet," declared
Jack, as he looked around at their ghostly surroundings, with the
trailing Spanish moss festooning many of the trees.

"Wow! what's that?" shouted Jimmie, as something went into the dark
water with a tremendous splash.

"I didn't see exactly," replied Jack, immediately; "but honestly I
believe that must have been our first alligator taking a plunge."

"An alligator, was it?" echoed the other, nervously.  "But why did he
want till make all that splash, Jack, darlint?"

"Why, we scared him when he was snooping on the bank, and he thought
the safest thing to do was to dive.  Right now perhaps he's floating on
the surface of that black looking lagoon yonder, watching us.  He never
saw a motor boat before, and perhaps we're the first whites that have
invaded his home here.  But jump ashore and take this line, Jimmie."

"Sure, do ye be thinkin' there moight be another of the same waitin'
till grab me by the lig?  I'm towld they loike an Irish lad betther
than anything, save a black wan."

"Oh, rats!  Here, wait for me," and with the words Jack was on the
shore, ready to make the hawser fast to a convenient tree.

Then Jimmie, shamed by the boldness of his boatmate, consented to join
him.  A fire soon flashed up, fed with some of the handy fuel.

"Things don't look quite so bad with a cheery blaze, eh, Jimmie?" asked
the skipper of the marooned _Tramp_, as he glanced around at the weird
picture that met his eyes in every direction.

"Troth, they moight be worse, I suppose," the other admitted
grudgingly; for already they were on short rations, and it may be
remembered that Jimmie was blessed with an appetite second only to the
wonderful capacity of Nick.

"Tomorrow, remember," Jack went on, as he busied himself in various
ways, "I'm going to begin to hunt in earnest all the while we're
looking for an outlet.  We may even find a fat wild turkey on one of
these same hard timber ridges.  I understand they're known to frequent
such places."

"What if we happen till run acrost a bear?" suggested Jimmie, anxiously.

"Well, the chances are the bear would be ten times more scared than
either of us, and put for the canebrake at top speed.  Even if he tried
to attack us, you must remember that a charge of shot delivered at
close quarters can penetrate almost as well as a bullet.  And I should
aim for his eyes, or back of his fore leg."

Jimmie sighed heavily.

"Sure, I'd loike a bear steak just as much as Buster said he would; but
p'raps, Jack, darlint, we'd better be contint wid 'possum, 'coon or
muskrats."

"Oh! just as you say, Jimmie.  But we haven't run across our bear yet,
so we can't tell just what we'd do.  In cases like that, you know, a
fellow has to be governed by circumstances.  Suppose the beast was mad,
and insisted on coming at us on his hind legs, ready to squeeze us like
they often do?  I would have to shoot then, wouldn't I?"

The supper was soon in progress.  Jimmie begrudged everything that they
were compelled to cook.  He would remark that the coffee was only going
to last for five more meals; that the rice seemed low, and as for
sugar, he doubted whether it would hold out much longer.

But Jack was not to be disheartened, and had a laughing answer for each
one of these dismal prophecies.

"I do belave that the less ye have to ate the better it tastes,"
declared Jimmie, as he sat there polishing his pannikin, in which he
had just had a third helping of rice, eaten without either milk or
sugar this time.

"That's right," laughed Jack.  "And the smaller the amount of grub, the
more you think you feel the gnawings of hunger.  Suppose, now, we were
cruising on a salt lagoon and our drinking water ran low--why, your
throat would feel parched all the time, just from imagination."

"Well," grinned the other, as he glanced around, "shmall danger of that
botherin' us here, Jack, darlint.  We do same till have plinty of
wather.  And there do be fish in it, for I seen 'em jump."

"Oh! we'll not starve, make up your mind to that.  There are wild ducks
in places, too, and lots of squirrels on the hamaks, after the nuts.
We could live here two months, Jimmie, and thrive.  I know a few things
that would come in useful; just put that in your pipe and smoke it."

"Well, I fale better, now that I've had me fill," declared Jimmie,
getting to his feet to step over to the boat; but he had not gone five
paces than Jack heard him give a shrill yell, as though he had stepped
on a rattlesnake or been jumped on by some hungry wildcat that had been
concealed among the dense branches of the live oak tree under which the
camp fire burned.

And as Jack sprang hurriedly to his feet, snatching up the handy Marlin
gun, he saw Jimmie leaping toward him, wildly waving his arms like
flails.



CHAPTER XXI.

BUSTER FACES STARVATION.

"Look out, Jack!  They's wan acomin' for us roight now!  And he's a big
wan, I'm tillin' yees!" cried Jimmie, gasping for breath.

"One what?" demanded Jack, failing to see any dreadful dragon in sight,
either on the land or the near-by water of the black lagoon.

"An alligator, it is, and sure the granddaddy of the tribe.  I jist had
a squint of the baste sneakin' along through the wather.  He manes till
surprise us, and it's a foine supper he'll be afther havin' I'm
thinkin'," Jimmie went on, hurriedly.

"Where was this?" Jack asked, wondering whether the Irish boy could be
joking, or if he had really seen something to excite him.

"Look beyant the stump on the idge of the wather, over yander.  There,
did ye be savin' that now?  Don't till me I'm blind agin, Jack.  It's
movin' this way; sure it do be comin' right along.  Och I wirra, listen
till that, would yees?"

No wonder Jimmie fell back in dismay, for a most outrageous noise
suddenly broke forth, such as certainly could never have been heard in
that swamp before.  But Jack immediately recognized it as the attempt
of Nick to blow the old tin horn that was carried aboard the _Wireless_.

He shouted at the top of his sturdy voice in reply, and saw the shadowy
moving object head straight for the fire.

"Here's a couple of poor chaps lost in the wilderness," laughed Jack as
the other boat came closer.

"Oh! we've only come to find you," retorted Herb.

"Have you finished supper, fellows?" bellowed the fat boy.

Jimmie had by now recovered from his fright.  He even pretended that it
had all been assumed, and that he knew from the start the nature of the
suspicious black object which he had discovered creeping toward the
fire.

"Listen till him, would ye, Jack?" he exclaimed, coming forward to
where the speed boat meant to land.  "Did ye iver know such a gossoon
in all your loife?  Is it supper ye're afther wantin?  Sure, ye'll not
foind anny too much grub aboard the _Tramp_ roight now.  But such as it
is, ye're as wilcome to as the flowers in May."

Whereupon he started in at once to cook another supply.

"It's lucky ye kim, me byes," he remarked presently, while the others
were sitting about, warming their hands at the fire, and waiting for
supper.  "Now, by the same token, we'll not be facin' starvation so
soon."

"Don't count too much on that, Jimmie," observed George, making a face.
"I guess you forget who was with me these three days, and how he can
stow away stuff?  Why, we're cleaned out of everything.  I was even
talking of cooking our moccasins for soup a while back.  For, you see,
my gun's a rifle, and somehow I haven't been able to knock over much
with bullets.  We hoped to see a deer or a bear; but nixey up to now."

"Glory be!" exclaimed the sorely dismayed cook of the _Tramp_, as he
considered what an enormous amount it took to keep Nick going, and he
remembered the scanty stores still remaining in the larder.

"What brought you in this out-of-the-way place, George?" asked Jack.
"Now, don't go to joshing and pretending you knew we were here, because
you didn't.  Ten to one you met that planter, too."

"Meaning Mr. Tweed, the gentleman with the crooked nose, and the long,
thin mustache?" George went on.

"That's the man," laughed Jack.  "You quizzed him, too, about a
short-cut, and he posted you.  Then, just as we did a little later, you
made a blunder and ran into the wrong channel.  Confess now."

"That's just what we did," grinned George.  "And ever since I've been
listening to the complainings of Buster.  Oh! he's starved to death
twenty times, in imagination of course, since we blundered into that
false cut-off.  I had to finally threaten to tie him up and gag him if
he didn't stop.  And after that he watched me like a hawk.  I guess he
thought I meant to eat him up."

"Well, it was very suspicious," admitted Nick, soberly, "because, you
see, he even pinched me several times; and I got a horrible notion in
my head that he was trying to see how fat I was."

Then the others burst into a roar, in which Nick himself finally
joined, unable to keep a straight face longer.

They sat up long that night, trying to lay plans that gave some promise
of fulfillment, and take them out of the labyrinth of channels.

"If we stay here much longer Herb is going to have a walkover about
winning the silver cup," George remarked, half complainingly.

"Sure, perhaps he do be matin' up wid the same smooth spoken Mr.
Twade," observed Jimmie, with a broad grin.

His suggestion brought out another round of laughter.

"Then be on the lookout tonight, Jimmie," warned George.  "And if you
see anything that looks like a big alligator swimming toward us, don't
pour in a broadside too soon, for it may be the old _Comfort_.  Misery
likes company, they say.  And just to think of us running across you
fellows here, when our last grain of grub had gone."

"Not much danger of them striking the planter, for they keep to the
middle of the river, while we hugged the shore," Jack observed.  "But
when morning comes, I'm going to try the plan I spoke of last."

"I think it a bully one, Jack," affirmed Nick, always full of
confidence in the leader of the expedition.  "And if anybody can pull
us out of here it's going to be you.  The worst of it is I dasen't go
swimming in this black water.  It's just cram full of snakes."

"Well," remarked Jack, seriously, "I wouldn't advise you to try it.
Those snakes with the mottled yellow and brown backs are water
moccasins.  They are a nasty lot, and can strike to beat the band.
They say that they poison a fellow so that he may never get over having
a running sore.  I hit every one I see on the head with my setting
pole."

"And I will, after this," declared Nick.

"Well, if you know what's good for you, I just guess you'll be
satisfied to sit quiet, and let me do the pushing," remarked George,
meaningly.  "For every time I gave you the job we came near having a
turn over.  Excuse me from a swim in this horrible looking water."

During the night there were several alarms.  Once an alligator did
actually try to invade the camp, doubtless under the impression that it
might secure something worth while devouring.  It happened, too, that
Jimmie was on guard at the time.  His yells, accompanied by the double
discharge of the shotgun, brought the others to their feet in wild
dismay.

They were loth to accept the word of the sentinel that he had actually
shot at a scaly invader until he pointed out the spot.  Then Jack, with
a brand from the fire, made a hasty examination.

"Jimmie, you're a truthful boy," he declared, "for I can see where a
lot of the shot ploughed up the ground; and here's where claws dug into
it.  Yes, and as sure as anything, you hit him, too, for here's a trail
of blood leading to the water's edge.  I thought I heard a splash as I
jumped up."

And Jimmie, with this complete vindication, drew himself up proudly, as
if to dare any one to doubt his veracity after that.

"But if you see another alligator," Jack went on, "please don't shoot
at him, when a shout or a firebrand will chase him back to the water
just as well.  Because, you see, we may need every shell I have along,
in order to keep the wolf from our door.  They count for just so many
'possums, 'coons or muskrats."

That worried Jimmie very much, and he looked sad.  For to shorten their
chances of securing game would mean a scanty supply in the larder; and
Jimmie's appetite persisted in calling out at least three times a day
for attention.

Morning found them in a more cheerful frame of mind.  Breakfast was
eaten, and now that four had to be fed from the scanty stock of
provisions--George declared that Jimmie and Buster made it equal to six
at the very least--the hole made was shocking.

"I move we don't have another meal today," was the startling
announcement from Nick, as he finished the last morsel left in the
kettle.

"Well," said George, "you'll find the rest of us willing enough.  But
let's get a move on.  We must find a way out of this today sure."

They started out, filled with confidence.  Jack's plan was tried in
several different places; but without any success.

"Say, there don't seem to be any current at all," remarked Nick, as he
watched the dead leaf that had been thrown on the water, and which
failed to move save as the faint breeze dictated.

"But we're going to keep on trying all the same," declared George,
firmly.  "Sooner or later we'll strike a place where it does show life.
Then we'll just follow after it, and in that way discover an opening
where this water joins the river again."

"That's the talk," said Nick.  "I like to hear that kind of stuff.  It
shows that George is there with the goods.  Just see how he uses that
pole.  I tell him he'd make a bully old gondolier over in Venice."

"Oh! yes, you're a regular old jollier, Buster," scoffed George, who
had seen the fat boy wink slyly toward Jack.  "You just think to keep
me in a good humor while I slave away, and you sit there like a king,
giving orders."

"Well, you won't let me stand up and push," complained the other.

"Not unless I'm hankering for a spill.  Lead the way, Jack.  You know
more about these things than the rest of the bunch.  It's up to you to
be our Moses and get us out of the bullrushes."



CHAPTER XXII.

THE DISCOVERY.

"Oh, joy! she moves!"

It was late in the afternoon when Nick gave utterance to this shout.
For the twentieth time the test had been made, and they could see the
leaf traveling away from the side of the _Tramp_.

Evidently there was a gentle but decided movement to the water, and
this could not be caused by the breeze, because that had long since
died away.

So, with hope once more stirred into life, they started to follow the
drifting messenger.  Its speed gradually increased.  In half an hour
there did not seem to any longer be the slightest doubt but that it was
in a genuine current.

When the night began to settle in they were so eager that Jack lighted
one of his acetylene lamps, and kept the now quickly moving leaf under
observation.

"Listen!" exclaimed George, suddenly.

"It's the music of the river, that's what!" cried Nick.

And that turned out to be the truth.  None of them had ever believed
they would welcome the sight of that vast billowy flood with one-half
the joy that possessed them as they broke through the overhanging
branches and saw the moonlight falling on the mighty Mississippi.

So they pulled back a bit, and made themselves just as comfortable as
the conditions allowed.  There was now no longer any fear of a great
famine in the land.  In their pockets they had money; and somewhere not
a great distance below they would strike Greenville, where, doubtless,
supplies could be purchased in any quantity.

So the little Juwel gas stove, and the battery of lamps on board the
_Wireless_ were put to splendid service in getting up a supper to
celebrate this rediscovery of the Mississippi.

"I don't believe De Soto ever felt one-half the happiness that we
experience," Jack remarked, as they sat in their respective boats,
fastened side by side, and discussed the meal.

"That's right," declared Nick, between mouthfuls.  "Because, you know,
he wasn't used to much, and in no danger of having his supplies cut
off.  It comes harder on a fellow of today to starve than it used to.
That is, it seems so to me."

Nobody objected to his way of putting it; for truth to tell every one
of the quartette felt delighted with the final outcome of their
adventure.

They made an early start, for after all there was hardly enough food
left to provide for a scanty breakfast--at least Nick called it that,
though the others felt that they had had quite enough.

Arriving at Greenville, a committee was appointed, consisting of Jack
and Nick, to go ashore and lay in some fresh supplies as well as have
gasolene ordered brought down to the boats.  Jack also made inquiries,
and learned that a boat answering to the description of the _Comfort_
had been noticed passing down in the middle of the river several days
back.

"The tortoise has gotten ahead, fellows," he reported, when he once
more joined his chums, laden down with supplies, as was also the
willing Buster.

Nobody cared much now.  Somehow the fever of the race had departed from
George's veins.  He even declared that from now on he meant to stick
with Jack and enjoy the pleasure of some company besides that of a
fellow whose one thought was cramming.

"But you see that I'm not infallible as a guide," laughed Jack.  "Don't
I strike the wrong channel as well as you?"

"That's so," returned George; and then he added gallantly: "But you got
us all out of the blessed hole neatly, Jack.  Goodness knows what would
have become of Buster and me if we hadn't struck you."

"Now, I know what you're thinking about when you look sideways at me,"
declared Nick, pretending to show alarm.  "And after this I ain't never
going to allow myself to get alone with George Rollins.  I tell you,
fellows, he's got cannibal blood in his veins.  He scares me, the way
he acts."

It was not a great ways after noon when they saw a red flag waving at a
point ashore.  Then came a blast from the fog horn owned by Josh.  He
and Herb played it for all they were worth, because this was the very
first chance they had had on the entire trip to welcome their comrades
to a camping site.

Great was the joshing that followed the landing of the two missing
boats.  And the skipper of the staunch _Comfort_, as well as the crew
thereof, laughed as though they would take a fit when they heard what a
mess of it the others had made in trying the cut-off so warmly
recommended by the planter, Mr. Tweed, who meant well, of course, but
came near wrecking the whole expedition.

Their next stop would be in Vicksburg; and when the start was made in
the morning George never got out of hailing distance of the _Tramp_.
Sometimes he would be ahead; but if so, he would slow down and allow
the other to overtake him.

Another strange thing occurred on this day's run.  At no time was the
big _Comfort_ hull down in the distance.  It seemed that, by taking
advantage of the swift water away out there in the middle of the river,
Herb's craft could overcome the difference in speed between the _Tramp_
and herself.

And when at about half-past three the leaders found a place to draw in
for the night, reliable old _Comfort_ came booming along not fifteen
minutes later.

Apparently, then, there was now no reason for their separating.  This
idea pleased them all, for they liked the social life of the camp,
where they could exchange yarns, compare notes, josh each other as the
whim seized them, and lay plans for future cruises of the motor boat
club.

Vicksburg was reached without mishap on the next leg of the journey,
although on account of staying in camp over Sunday, it was Monday
afternoon when they looked upon the city made famous during the Civil
War by Grant's persistence and strategy.

At the mouth of the big Yazoo George came near having a serious time of
it; for his cranky little speed boat was caught in a swirl of mingling
waters, and came within an ace of swamping.  Only for the action of the
frightened Nick in throwing his great bulk the other way, just by
instinct, the _Wireless_ would have gone completely over.

And Nick was always proud of what he was pleased to term his quick wit
in an emergency.  It took the place of those wonderful "wings" in his
conversation; and often George had to threaten dire things unless he
called a halt in his boasting.

On Tuesday they put out together, and that night lay over about half
way down to what had been marked as Station Number Eight.  Here a storm
kept them shut up a full day, so that it was Thursday again before they
proceeded.

On Saturday afternoon Jack announced the glad tidings that he believed
they had crossed the border of Louisiana.  The others celebrated that
night with an extra grand feed, since Nick had managed to purchase a
couple of chickens from a man he met when George was tinkering with his
engine, and the crew had gone ashore to stretch his dumpy legs.

Now that George did not try to push his speed boat to its limit he
seemed to be having an easy time with the engine.  Either that, or else
the machinist up at Memphis had done a "corking good job," as the
master often declared.  And on the whole George was coming to realize
that there could be much more pleasure and satisfaction in taking
things moderately, than in being in a constant rush and nervous turmoil.

Nick was in an especially fine humor that evening.  Jack had been in
the water with him after they arrived at the camping place, and, to the
great delight of the fat boy, he had discovered that he could actually
swim about as he pleased, and without wearing that cork contraption at
that.  He was fairly hilarious with joy.

George had been noticing him, with something like a smile on his face.
Whatever was on his mind, he did not say anything until supper had been
dispatched, and they were grouped around the fire, chatting as usual.

Then George gave Jack a nudge on the sly.

"Watch me," he whispered.

A minute later he called out to Nick, who had just climbed to his feet
to go after his blanket, as he said the ground seemed cold.

"Wait a minute, Buster," he said; "if you're going aboard, just get
that book of funny jokes for me, will you?  I think it's in the
cubbyhole where we keep our oilskins, you know.  And if you don't feel
it at first, hunt around, even if you have to pull everything there is
in there out."

Just three minutes afterward there was a whoop, and an excited fat boy
came skipping off the deck of the speed boat, waving something wildly
above his head.

"I've found 'em!  Just to think of me putting the blessed wings so
carefully away in that same cubbyhole, and then forgetting all about
it?  But you knew they were there all the time, I'm dead sure you did,
George!  And how cruel of you to let me waste away to skin and bone,
mourning for them!"

"Well, you never asked me if I knew where you stuck 'em," retorted the
skipper, with a big grin.  "And, after all, I rather liked to hear you
grunt about losing 'em."

"Yes, a whole lot you did, when you threatened to eat me, or throw me
to the alligators if I kept it up.  But I guess you were only bluffing,
George.  I don't think you could be quite that barbarous," said Nick,
reproachfully.

"Well, what are you going to do with them now?" demanded the other.
"You know how to swim the best ever; and sure you wouldn't be guilty of
wearing those silly wings.  And I refuse to carry the cargo any
further.  How about it, Buster?"

"Yes; we want to know," added Jack.

"They'll do for babies, but not fellows who have mastered the noble art
of swimming, so make up your mind," said Josh, grandly.

Nick took one last look at the affairs he had once deemed so essential
to his happiness.  Then he calmly strode over, and amid the shouts of
the rest, dropped the swimming wings upon the fire, where they were
speedily reduced to ashes.

"You're right," he observed, moving his arms like a swimmer; "a fellow
who has graduated has no need for artificial fins.  I'm in your class
now!"



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE WINNER OF THE CUP--CONCLUSION.

"Can anybody tell me what day of the month this is?" asked Nick, who
was making up some sort of private log, which would possibly afford his
companions more or less merriment in future days.

"Why, that's easy," smiled Jack, who had been keeping the official log
of the progress of events, partly because he was at the head of the
club; and then again because he had a right good cause to know how time
flew, since he was due in the Crescent City by December first.  "This
is Saturday, and we stay here until Monday, which will mark the
twenty-first of November."

"That gives you another ten days to make the balance of the journey,
and land a winner?" observed George.

"Yes," said Jack, "we'll take our time this week, moving along, and
seeing all the queer sights of the levees that have been built to keep
out the river when it is on the flood stage.  Since we may never have
the chance to get down here again we ought to learn all we can about
things."

"And then pull into New Orleans next Saturday; is that the official
program?" asked Herb, from across the fire.

They soon started talking of other things; and so the time flew until
George finally discovered that Nick had actually gone to sleep resting
on one of the skipper's feet.

"I wondered what ailed me," complained poor George, "and began to think
I was getting paralyzed.  Won't somebody please give this elephant a
punch, and wake him up?  He's got me pinned down so I'm just helpless."

Buster was finally aroused, and convinced that there were softer spots
in which to take his nap than resting on somebody's feet.  Then by
degrees the camp became silent, save for the heavy breathing of Nick,
who, whenever he lay on his back, was in the habit of producing the
strangest noises ever heard, and which would have actually frightened
almost any one, unless they knew the cause.

Sunday was always a quiet day with the boys.  They just lounged around
and rested up for the morrow.  With Nick and Jimmie it meant a glorious
opportunity to try new dishes; or to partake of something which Josh,
the best cook in the whole outfit, got together.

Promptly on Monday they again started south.

There was no haste now.  Dixieland had been reached, the air seemed
balmy; and with the time allowance that had been given to the _Comfort_
it was already an assured fact that Herb would carry off the prize.

Jack was secretly pleased.  As his father had given the silver cup, he
felt that he could not well carry it off with a clear conscience.  And
George really did not deserve it, after all the mishaps that had come
about as a result of his lack of wisdom.  On the whole, Herb had played
the most consistent game, and done the best with the material he had in
hand.

He often tried to get Jack to acknowledge that he had purposely lost
himself in that false cut-off, just so as to eliminate himself from the
race.  On such occasions Jack would drag Jimmie forward to prove that
they had discussed the chances of making a miss, and concluded to take
the risk.

For several days they just moved along almost with the current, going
ashore as the whim urged them, to see how cotton was grown and
harvested, make the acquaintance of the Louisiana darkies, a different
breed from any they had known on their long trip, and in the case of
Nick, to pick up a few chickens, or buy some roasting ears that had
survived the touch of frost.

It was thus on Saturday that the little flotilla came to New Orleans,
and the race for the Dixie cup was officially declared to have ended,
with Herb the winner in his steady, reliable big boat, the _Comfort_.

Monday, the twenty-ninth, Jack hunted up the lawyer with whom he had
been in correspondence, and made his presence in the city legally
known.  At the proper time he wended his way with the judge to a quaint
old house, where a few persons had gathered to hear the last will and
testament of the singular gentleman who happened to be Jack's mother's
brother, read.

Well, no matter what Jack came in for, it was a handsome sum, and many
times what he had ever anticipated.  Certainly, as the lawyer said,
while warmly congratulating the boy from the north, it was worth coming
after.

Considering what a glorious time he had had cruising down the Father of
Waters, Jack believed that he would have been well paid to have even
his expenses of the trip settled; but to get a fortune was a streak of
great luck.

The six boys did not mean to cruise back again.  The current of that
mighty river was too sturdy to buck against in a little
twenty-three-foot motor boat.  When they had exhausted the pleasures of
the famous Crescent City they made an arrangement whereby the three
boats would be freighted back home.

That left them free to go where they pleased; and hence, after some
wiring back home to get permission, they took a little run down through
Forida [Transcriber's note: Florida?] as the guests of the fortunate
heir to the fortune.

School would open after New Years, so they had to count on getting back
before then.  The sight of the beautiful Indian river inspired them
with a desire to some day come again to the sunny south, and spend a
month or more nosing about on the shallow waters of that remarkable
series of lagoons stretching along the entire east coast.

But meanwhile they had other plans in view for the coming summer, when,
free from the trammels of school, they would be able to once more take
their several boats, starting out on a delightful cruise in quest of
adventure, and perhaps in the line of exploration.

To the delight of Jack, later on that winter he received a long letter
from Erastus, written by his daughter, who, it seemed, had had
considerable schooling, and was intending to be a teacher in the negro
college at Tuskegee.

Erastus had his family with him, and was prospering finely.  He
declared he would never forget what the boys had done for him, and his
entire family signed their names to the communication, which the boys
put in the frame that held the other letter from the fugitive black,
found pinned to the live oak after they had left food for him during
the night he was being hunted.

By the time the participants of the race reached the home town again,
they found that every boy within five miles was eager to hear of what
strange things had befallen them during the long journey.

Not one had ever been further down the Mississippi than St. Louis, and
then on a steamboat; so that the mystery of living close to the waters
was unknown to the entire bunch.  During the whole of that winter Nick
was kept busy retailing the amazing things he claimed to have seen and
done; until finally the rest of the club had to pass a resolution
declaring that unless he brought this yarn-spinning to a stop he would
surely be drafted to be George's partner again the next summer in the
speed boat.  And really Buster had such a horror of such a dreadful
thing happening that from then on no one could get him to open his lips
with regard to the Mississippi cruise.

"It's too much of a temptation for George," he used to say, after
getting as far away from the skipper of the _Wireless_ as he could, in
the club room.  "You see, he just can't help having that cannibal blood
in him, for he was born so.  But it's wicked in our tempting the poor
chap so.  Now, if he has a thin, scrawny fellow, say, like Josh here,
along, he'll gradually overcome this savage appetite.  Me for the bully
old _Comfort_ the next time this motor boat club goes on its vacation.
You hear me say it, all.  Herb and I have got that settled, haven't we,
Herb?"

And the placid skipper of the big launch would laugh as he replied:

"Well, you did say that you admired my boat, because there was so much
room to stow things away, particularly lockers for grub galore.  But I
guess you'll fit better in with me than in either of the other boats;
so let's call it a go.  Though I'll miss the fine cooking of Josh, I
tell you."

"Oh! next time we'll probably cruise and camp together, and then we all
can enjoy some of his wonderful cooking," Nick hastened to add, feeling
that it might pay to flatter his old enemy a little, if he expected to
profit by it in the future.

And here for the present we must take leave of our motor boat chums, in
the belief that the record of their adventurous dash for the Dixie cup
may have proved pleasant reading to our boys, who will be only too glad
to meet them once again in the succeeding volume of this series, now
published under the name of "The Motor Boat Boys on the St. Lawrence;
or, Solving a Mystery of the Thousand Islands."

Shortly after the return of the club from their Mississippi cruise Jack
and Jimmie had the pleasure of being invited over to take dinner with
Mr. Gregory, the president of the Waverly bank.  He gave them a copy of
a resolution of thanks passed by the board of directors after his
return with all the missing funds and securities that had been stolen.

There were also two checks, each of twenty-five hundred dollars, for
the boys, Jack having insisted that it must be share and share alike
between himself and Jimmie.

The boys deposited their money in a savings bank, where it would lie at
compound interest, and be handy in case they were in need of funds at
any future time.



THE END.



AN AWAKENING AT ALVIN.

Alvin is a small town in eastern Illinois, a short distance north of
Danville, and is a junction of a branch of the Wabash system with the
Chicago & Eastern Illinois railroad.  The place is large enough to
stand the racket of a small brass band, but not of sufficient
consequence to support a hotel or bakery.  It was evident that either
the postal clerk running on the Wabash branch or some person in the
Alvin post-office was stealing ordinary letters and rifling registers.

After a two-hours' consultation on the case by a committee of three,
Henshaw, "Judge" Bedell, and myself, it was unanimously decided that
the work was not being done by the postal clerk.  It was too well
performed.  No living being on a railroad train, by any known or
unknown art, could cut and reseal a registered package envelope as
artistically as these had been cut and resealed.  There was no record
of any work of the kind that approached it.

Could it be the postmaster at Alvin?  It certainly had that appearance,
but he was a man who seemed as far above a crime of this kind as
conception could conceive.  He had not been disturbed.  No one had
written to him and nobody had called.  His suspicions, if he had any,
had never been aroused.  But there was certain information about the
office we must possess, and we must know more about him and his
methods.  Yet, it would not answer for an Inspector to call on him on
any pretense whatever.  What should be done?

The postmaster was a druggist, and sold cigars; so we decided to fit
out Bedell as a cigar agent and let him call in the regular course of
business and do a little drumming and pumping.  A fancy case was
borrowed of a regular Chicago dealer, into which was neatly packed a
sample box each of McConnel's Perfectos, Con. Mehoney's Shamrocks, Mrs.
Kelly's Pappooses, Carter Harrison's Best, Fred Hill's Favorites, and
Tol. Lawrence's Prides.  A team was procured two stations north of
Alvin, and down into the sleepy hamlet Mr. Brooks, the agent of
Chesterfield, Schoolcraft & Browning, quietly wended his way and
presented his card at the Alvin drug store and post-office.

It was harvest time and mid-day trade was quiet, so of course Mr.
Brooks found abundant opportunity to do business without being jostled
about by applicants for tobacco and tanglefoot for medical purposes.
His prices were the most reasonable of any agent who had called since
the war; but that was explained by the fact that this house always
surprised its customers with good goods and low prices, and this was
Mr. Brook's first trip through that section, and his first visit to
Alvin.  As a result he remained three hours, sold two dozen boxes of
Perfectos, four dozen Pappooses, a whole case of Lawrence's Prides, and
went to dinner with the postmaster.

When he reached Danville about four o'clock that afternoon, where he
was to report to Henshaw and myself, he was radiant with the enthusiasm
of well earned success.  He had studied the Alvin postmaster as
thoroughly as he did the ten commandments when a child; was present
when the Wabash mail arrived and saw the postmaster distribute it alone
for the Eastern Illinois going north; sold him a fine bill of goods,
which was not to be delivered on account of the pressing business of
the house for two weeks; saw the postmaster lock up the office and went
to dinner with him, after which he returned to the office and saw the
postmaster endorse the registers and lock out the mail for the Eastern
Illinois, north; and everything had been done by the postmaster exactly
as a thoroughly honest, upright, conscientious postmaster would do it.

There had not been the first false motion, word or suspicious
circumstance, and he would wager his entire lot of samples that the
postmaster was one of God's noblest works--an honest man.

He admitted, however, that the facts of the losses were stubborn and
that the circumstances were peculiar, and, having now a good knowledge
of all the conditions he thought the tests should be applied.  It was
accordingly arranged to remove from the Wabash mail every day for a
week every registered letter of natural origin that would pass through
the Alvin office, and substitute decoy or test letters.

These would remain in the Alvin office about two hours, when they would
be placed in the postal car going north on the Eastern Illinois, where
they could be hastily examined.  It was more of a difficult task than
the reader can imagine.  The work of preparing the test letters, so
that they would appear exactly like genuine ones that had been mailed
at the various offices along the line of the road, occupied several
days, but by the end of the week we were ready to begin on the
following Monday.

Two lists of the letters to be sent through each day for six days, and
a minute description of the contents of each letter, were prepared.
Henshaw, who was to go along the Wabash and attend to the delicate task
of removing the genuine and substituting the false ones, took one of
the lists, and the other was retained by Bedell and myself, who were to
examine the letters when they came from the office and were placed in
the north bound car.  It would necessarily become our duty also, in
case anything was wrong, to strike while the iron was hot and secure
the transgressor.

On Monday the letters came through in good condition.  Tuesday and
Wednesday brought no good results.  By making haste we could usually
get them out of the pouch and have them examined before the train left
the Alvin station.  By so doing it would give us an opportunity to step
off the train, and thereby save time, if the examination proved that
the letters had been meddled with.

On Thursday, while the train was still standing at the depot, we found
our letters, examined them, and, as usual, pronounced them correct.
The train pulled out and had proceeded probably a mile before we had
opened the letters to examine the contents, when, to our surprise, we
discovered that two of the eight had been rifled and the money was
missing.

Quick as lightning the bell cord was pulled, and long before the
engineer had come to a full stop, Bedell and myself could be seen
walking hurriedly down the track toward the station.  We entered the
post-office as coolly as though we had called for a prescription
instead of a thief, and found the postmaster handing out the mail that
had just been assorted.  Bedell did not look as Brooks did and so he
was not recognized.

We waited patiently, listening to the torturing discords of the Alvin
Silver Cornet Band that was practicing in the room above the store,
till finally the patrons had departed, when I approached the postmaster
and informed him of my unpleasant mission, which, was, in effect, that
some person in the Alvin postoffice had, within the last three hours,
abstracted $67 from the two registered letters that I held in my hand,
and that my friend and myself had called to recover the money.

"Merciful God," said the postmaster, "it is impossible.  No person
handled those letters but myself; there is my endorsement; so help me,
I did not open them, and I swear with uplifted hand before my Maker
that this is the truth."  As I turned to Bedell, as much as to ask if
he ever heard such a falsehood, the gentle summer breeze wafted in
something that admonished us that the silver cornets were trying to
catch the air of "Dan Tucker."  Bedell, feeling sorry for the
postmaster, the band, and me, turned to find relief by reading the
labels on the bottles.

I told the postmaster that while I did not charge him with the crime I
would like to have him satisfy, if he could, that the money taken from
the letters was not then in his possession.  To this he most cheerfully
assented, and search was made not only through his clothes, but through
every conceivable place about the office and store where it could
possibly have been secreted.

At length we became satisfied the money was not there, but, of course,
not satisfied that the postmaster had not taken it.  I asked him if any
person other than himself ever assisted in handling the mails, and he
answered: "No one."  "Does not some person other than yourself have a
key that will unlock either of your store doors?"  "Yes."  "Who is that
person?"  "It is George Havens, the leader of the band."  Turning
quickly to Bedell, I said: "The leader of the band has a key to the
rear door, and he steals in while the postmaster is at dinner."

Five minutes later the horn that once through Alvin's hall the soul of
discord shed, now hung as mute on the band-room wall, as though that
soul had fled, and George Havens had been called to account for
appropriating to himself certain funds that had not been contributed
for the purpose of buying instruments, music, and flashy uniforms.  But
George had been around the world some himself, and had learned a few
airs and quicksteps not mentioned in the books.  He was a hard nut to
crack.

We labored incessantly with him till sundown, and had taken the horns
and band-room apart, had been through his residence, with his wife's
permission, from the bottom of the well to the top of the lightning
rod; had torn up the floors of several neighboring buildings; had been
through the brick-yard and the burying ground, and, in brief, had
completely upset everything in Alvin looking for the $67 which we did
not find.

There could be but one conclusion.  Either the leader of the band or
the postmaster had the money, and we were agreed that it was not the
latter.  As a last resort we decided to take Havens to Chicago, and,
possibly on the trip up, or during the night in Chicago, we might get
something from him that would clear away the mists.

We reached the city at ten o'clock, without obtaining anything except
the ride, and by 10:30 we had reached the office, where Stuart, whom we
had informed of our coming by wire, was anxiously waiting to relieve us
and spend the night with Havens.  About four o'clock in the morning,
Stuart's burning eloquence began to be felt, and, by sunrise, Havens in
tears had confessed everything he had been charged with, and told how
he stealthily entered the rear door of the office and committed the
depredations while the postmaster was at dinner.

Stuart and Havens left for Alvin on an early tram to secure the money;
and as they were digging it up in a grove a few rods back of the Alvin
post-office, the friends of Havens, who up to this time insisted that
he was innocent, concluded, from the appearance of the valuable
articles that were unearthed, that the treasures of Captain Kyd had at
last been found.

The postmaster, who was one of the finest gentlemen I ever met, was so
effected by this terrible affair that soon afterward he sold his
business and moved away.  Brooks gave his remaining samples to Stuart,
while poor Havens went to play B flat in prison.



CAUGHT WITH A SCRAP OF PAPER.

The post-office at Attica, Indiana, had been robbed.  Unknown persons
had entered it through a rear window sometime during Sunday night, and
on Monday morning when the mailing clerk arrived, the stove was
scattered in fragments around the floor, the letter boxes had been
emptied, the safe blown open, its entire contents missing, and the room
still retained a strong odor of powder.

It was a genuine robbery, and, for a place of the breadth and thickness
of Attica, it was something much more than an ordinary, every-day
affair.  The postmaster had barely enough money left to wire for help.

When I arrived on Wednesday he informed me that no strange persons were
seen in town prior to the robbery, but that on Monday morning about six
o'clock, two young men called at the residence of Mr. James Beasley, a
farmer residing about six miles eastward, and wanted to engage him to
take them to Thorntown, a distance of about twenty miles as an Indiana
crow flies.  Beasley was a busy farmer, and, not being in the livery
business, declined.

They than asked the distance to the nearest station on the Wabash
railroad, and when Beasely informed them, they told him if he would
hitch up and take them over they would give him a dollar and a half for
his trouble.

Beasley said he would do it, just to be accommodating, and by so doing
made a blunder.  If he had told them he would do it for two dollars and
a half he would have been engaged just the same, and Beasley saw his
mistake, as a great many others do, when it was too late.

The only vehicle handy that morning was a small buggy containing one
seat, and into this the three men placed themselves, Beasley in the
middle, and proceeded to ride to the railroad.  While Beasley was
hitching up it occurred to him that it was very singular that two
fine-looking, well-dressed gentlemen should call at his house so early
in the morning and want to hire him to take them to Thorntown, and
finally be satisfied with a mile and a half ride for dollar and a half,
which was a dollar a mile, to another place.

His curiosity was thoroughly aroused, and when he got into the buggy
with them he intended to look them over very closely indeed, and give
them a few questions to crack.

Scarcely had they started before he asked them how it happened that
they came along so early.  "Have not been walking all night, have you?"
he asked with a laugh.

The larger one of the two then told Beasley about his lovely home in
Kansas; about his poor mother dying in Ohio; about being on the way to
her funeral; about meeting Mr. Cushman, the other gentleman, on the
train; about Mr. Cushman being on his way to Cornell University, and
last, though not least, about the wreck on the I. B. & W., which
compelled them to leave the train and get across the country to the Big
Four or the Wabash.  The reason he mentioned Thorntown particularly was
because he had a wealthy aunt residing there, and he was thinking some
of stopping to make her a short visit.

"But what do you carry in that roll, wrapped in light paper, sticking
up through your inside coat pocket?" asked Beasley.

"A present for my aunt," was the laconic reply.

Turning to Mr. Cushman, the quiet gentleman who was on his way to
college, Beasley asked: "What are you carrying those iron articles for
in your overcoat pocket, that I'm sitting on; you are not going to open
a hardware store in connection with the school, are you?"

Just then they came to a bend in the highway and the depot was visible
only a short distance ahead, and just at that instant, without stopping
to answer the question, Mr. Cushman and the big fellow jumped out, and
the big fellow said they guessed they would walk the remainder of the
way.

"All right," said Beasley, who stopped his horse and commenced to look
for a good place to turn around.  On his way back he said to himself:
"they are a queer pair."  They were soon out of his mind however, and
in a few minutes more he was home attending to his chores, just as
though he had not received one-fifty for almost nothing.

Tuesday morning the weather was a little lowering, so he concluded to
drive into town and learn how many were killed in the I. B. & W. wreck.
When he learned that there had been no wreck on the I. B. & W. or on
any other railroad, he said to Mrs. Beasley: "How could those fellows,
whom I carried yesterday morning, have had the audacity to tell me such
a cold-blooded falsehood?"

A few minutes later when Mrs. Beasley had heard of the robbery, she
answered the question.

In my interview with Beasley, he informed me that he looked the young
men over very closely, and so firmly were their features impressed upon
his mind that he could pick them out of ten or fifteen thousand.  I had
never met a more sanguine man.  I arranged with him to take a few days'
vacation, and, in less than an hour and a half after my arrival in
Attica, I was waiting at the railroad station with Beasley for a train
to take us to Indianapolis.

Thorntown, from Beasley's house was directly on a line toward
Indianapolis, and, while there were many other stations nearer to
Beasley's, Thorntown was the only one between LaFayette and
Indianapolis, where every train that passed over the road was sure to
stop.  Here was a water tank whose supply was never exhausted, and this
fact we assumed the robbers knew, as well as some others.  They knew if
they could reach Thorntown by Monday night they would be able to catch
a south-bound freight that would land them in Indianapolis, and no one
would be the wiser.

All day Thursday, we looked for the mysterious strangers in
Indianapolis.  We went everywhere where such persons would likely be.
A thousand men I saw who looked something like them, but every time I
called Beasley's attention to them, he would say, "No."  To the
captains of the police Beasley described the men minutely.  They could
think of none who answered the descriptions in every particular.
Beasley examined the pictures in the rogue's gallery and in every other
gallery, and all without success.

The captains said they would wager their lives that the men did not
belong to Indianapolis.  If they were looking for them they should go
straightway to Dayton, Ohio, "where," said they, "more thieves hang out
than in any place in North America, with the possible exception of
Windsor, Canada."  It is true if these men belonged to Dayton, they
would have taken exactly the same course to reach home that they would
have taken to reach Indianapolis.

Friday morning bright and early found us in Dayton, waiting for an
interview with the Chief.  Presently he came, and to him and two of his
assistants I told the story and Beasley described the men.  They had a
man there who answered the description of Cushman, the quiet gentleman,
and they also knew one who answered for the large one, but they had not
heard that he was out of prison yet.

Handing Beasley an album, containing the pictures of a few of the
well-known notables, the chief asked him to see if he could recognize
any of them.  Scarcely had Beasley commenced to turn the leaves of the
book before his eye caught a familiar face, and, jumping from his seat,
he said: "That's the big fellow."

"This was Tettman," they said, "one of the most accomplished safe
workers in the State, and the little red-headed fellow, whom you
describe, is Reddy Jackson, a quiet hard-working robber, though not as
renowned as the former."

The officers assured us that it these men were in Dayton, they would be
only too happy to find and deliver them to us, and with this end in
view every policeman in Dayton was notified to search for them, and to
run them in if possible, while Beasley in high glee took a position on
a prominent corner to scan the passing throngs.

About seven o'clock that evening word came over the wire to
head-quarters that Tettman and Jackson had been safely landed in one of
the station houses.  It was quickly arranged to remove them to the
county jail, a more secure place, and it was desired to have Beasley
stand just outside the door of the station house, so that when the
prisoners were marched out to enter the patrol wagon, he might get a
good look at them under an electric light, and thereby make sure that
they were the ones we wanted.

When they passed him he turned to the crowd, and with much complacency
said: "Them's the fellows."

Afterward, while interviewing one of the officers who made the arrest,
as the men were coming out of a notorious saloon, he told us that when
he told Tettman that he wanted him, Tettman instantly put a piece of
paper in his mouth and commenced to chew it.  The officer did not like
the looks of the operation and he grabbed the man by the throat and
ordered him not to attempt to swallow what he was chewing.

After considerable of a struggle he secured a portion of the piece of
paper, which he handed to me saying: "I don't know as it amounts to
anything, but I was afraid it might, and so took the precaution to
prevent its destruction; sorry I was not quick enough to get it all."
The little scrap of paper contained the following memoranda:

  12,427 at 2c.  248.54
   3,240 "  4c.  129.
     747 "  5c.   3
     892 " 10c.
     165 speci
     400 du

On the preliminary examination before the commissioner in Dayton they
fought bravely.  Their case was managed by the best counsel that could
be obtained, who attempted to prove that Tettman and Jackson were in
Dayton the day before the robbery in Attica, the day of the robbery, as
well as the day after.

In fact there was very little proof necessary for their side that they
did not produce, but the quality, unfortunately for them, did not equal
the quantity.

Beasley's straightforward story was accepted by everybody, and when we
proved by the postmaster from Attica that the number and the
denomination of the stamps stolen from his safe corresponded precisely
with the number and the denomination as noted by Tettman on the little
slip of paper, which he attempted to swallow, the case was closed and
the prisoners were sent to Indianapolis for trial.

On the trial the same character of evidence was introduced by the
defendants.  Ours was also similar, though in addition to that
introduced in Dayton, we proved that a novel and ingenious brace found
on Tettman's premises in Dayton, which contained irregular and
unnatural features, and which left the same impressions on the safe,
was the only brace in existence that could have performed the work
which the Chief of Police in Attica pronounced "exquisite."

The jury was out just five minutes, and two hours later the two
distinguished travelers, who mistook Beasley for a chump, were enjoying
a free ride to Michigan City, where they are still industriously
working for the State, cracking pig iron instead of safes.





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