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Title: The Launch Boys' Adventures in Northern Waters
Author: Ellis, Edward Sylvester, 1840-1916
Language: English
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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 "The Launch Boys' Adventures in Northern Waters" ***

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THE LAUNCH BOYS SERIES

THE LAUNCH BOYS ADVENTURES
IN NORTHERN WATERS

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

THE LAUNCH BOYS SERIES

Timely and fascinating stories of adventure on
the water, accurate in detail and intensely
interesting in narration.

By
EDWARD S. ELLIS

First Volume
THE LAUNCH BOYS' CRUISE IN THE DEERFOOT

Second Volume
THE LAUNCH BOYS' ADVENTURES IN NORTHERN WATERS

The Launch Boys series is bound in uniform
style of cloth with side and back stamped with
new and appropriate design in colors. Illustrated
by Burton Donnel Hughes.

Price, single volume                                $0.60
Price, per set of two volumes, in attractive box    $1.20

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: NONE SUSPECTED THE MEANING OF WHAT THEY SAW]

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

THE LAUNCH BOYS SERIES

THE LAUNCH BOYS' ADVENTURES IN NORTHERN WATERS

By
EDWARD S. ELLIS

Author of "The Flying Boys Series,"
"Deerfoot Series," etc., etc.

Illustrated by
BURTON DONNEL HUGHES

The John C. Winston Company
Philadelphia

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Copyright, 1912, by
The John C. Winston Company

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

CONTENTS

CHAPTER                                          PAGE
     I.  A Proposal and an Acceptance               9
    II.  The Scout of the Kennebec                 19
   III.  At the Inlet                              29
    IV.  A STRANGE RACE                            40
     V.  The Loser of the Race                     51
    VI.  A Warm Reception                          62
   VII.  Science versus Strength                   72
  VIII.  The Lone Guest                            83
    IX.  A Break Down                              93
     X.  At Beartown                              104
    XI.  At the Post Office in Beartown           115
   XII.  Hostesses and Guests                     126
  XIII.  An Incident on Shipboard                 137
   XIV.  "The Night Shall be Filled with Music"   147
    XV.  A Knock at the Door                      155
   XVI.  Visitors of the Night                    166
  XVII.  "Tall Oaks from Little Acorns Grow"      177
 XVIII.  A Clever Trick                           188
   XIX.  In the Nick of Time                      198
    XX.  "I Piped and Ye Danced"                  208
   XXI.  How It Was Done                          219
  XXII.  A Startling Discovery                    230
 XXIII.  Through the Fog                          242
  XXIV.  Bad for Mike Murphy                      252
   XXV.  What Saved Mike                          263
  XXVI.  The Good Samaritans                      273
 XXVII.  An Unwelcome Caller                      284
XXVIII.  Plucking a Brand From the Burning        296
  XXIX.  "The Beautiful Isle of Somewhere"        307
   XXX.  A Through Ticket to Home                 318
  XXXI.  Gathering Up the Ravelled Threads        329

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

                                                       PAGE
NONE SUSPECTED THE MEANING OF WHAT THEY SAW    Frontispiece
LIKE A SWALLOW SKIMMING CLOSE TO THE SURFACE.           233
"GIVE ME YOUR HAND ON THAT."                            292

-------------------------------------------------------------------------



THE LAUNCH BOYS' ADVENTURES IN NORTHERN WATERS

CHAPTER I

A PROPOSAL AND AN ACCEPTANCE


Alvin Landon and Chester Haynes were having a merry time in the home of
Mike Murphy, when a servant knocked and made known that a caller was
awaiting Alvin in the handsome bungalow belonging to his father. I have
told you how the boys hurried thither, wondering who he could be, and how
they were astonished to find him the "man in gray," who had become
strangely mixed up in their affairs during the preceding few days.

But Alvin was a young gentleman, and asked the stranger to resume his
seat, as he and Chester set the example. They noticed that the visitor
was without the handbag which had hitherto seemed a part of his
personality. Self-possessed and vaguely smiling, he spoke in an easy,
pleasant voice:

"Of course you are surprised to receive a call from me." He addressed
Alvin, who replied:

"I don't deny it. Heretofore you have seemed more anxious to keep out of
our way than to meet us."

"I admit that it did have that look, but the cause exists no longer."

This remark did not enlighten the youths. Chester for a time took no part
in the conversation. He listened and studied the man while awaiting an
explanation of what certainly had the appearance of a curious proceeding.

"I don't understand what could have been the cause in the first place,"
said Alvin, "nor why my friend and myself should have been of any
interest at all to you."

The other laughed lightly, as if the curt remark pleased him.

"I have no wish to play the mysterious; my name is Stockham Calvert."

It was Alvin's turn to smile, while Chester said meaningly:

"That tells us mighty little."

"I am one of Pinkerton's detectives."

The listeners started. They had never dreamed of anything of this nature,
and remained silent until he should say more.

"You are aware," continued the mild spoken caller, "that there have been
a number of post office robberies in the southern part of Maine during
the last six months and even longer ago than that."

The boys nodded.

"A professional detective doesn't know his business when he proclaims his
purpose to the world. He does so in the story books, but would be a fool
to be so imprudent in actual life. Consequently you will think it strange
for me to take you into my confidence."

"I don't doubt you have an explanation to give," suggested Alvin.

"I have and it is this. Without any purpose or thought on your part you
have become mixed up in the business. The other night you gave me great
help, though the fact never entered your minds at the time. You located
their boat in a small inlet at the southern extremity of Barter Island."

At this point Chester Haynes asked his first question:

"How do you know we did?"

Mr. Stockham Calvert indulged in a low laugh.

"Surely I did not follow you thither without learning all you did. Your
conversation on the steamer gave me the information I wished. I did not
expect you to succeed as well as you did."

"Why did you avoid us? Why didn't you take us into your confidence from
the first?" asked Chester.

"I had several reasons, but I see now it would have been as well had I
done so. However, let that go. My errand here to-night is to ask you
whether you will not assist me in running down these criminals."

The abrupt proposition caused a start on the part of the youths, who
looked wonderingly into each other's face. It was Alvin who replied:

"Assist you! What help can _we_ give?"

"You have the fleetest motor boat on the Maine coast. It must be capable
of twenty miles an hour."

"It is guaranteed to make twenty-four."

"Better yet. These men have a boat which closely resembles yours."

"And its name is the _Water Witch_," said Chester. "I wish Captain Landon
could run a race with it."

"He can have the chance if he will agree."

"I fail to see how. Those men after committing their crimes are not going
to spend their time in running up and down the Sheepscot or Kennebec."

"Not wholly, but I don't see any particular risk they incur in doing so.
If they are pressed hard they can put into some bay or branch or inlet
and take to the woods."

"Still I do not understand how we can help you, Mr. Calvert," said Alvin.

"It is possible you cannot, but more probably you can. While cruising in
these waters, we may catch sight of their boat, and you can see the
advantage of being able to outspeed it. But do not think I am looking for
a battle between you and me on the one hand, and the criminals on the
other. I wish to employ the _Deerfoot_ as a scout. I can't express myself
better than by that word."

Whatever the right name of the caller might be, he was a good judge of
human nature. He saw the sparkle in the eyes before him. While the lads
would not have been averse to a scrimmage, neither dared incur such risk
without the consent of his father, and you do not need to be told that
such consent was out of the question.

"As I understand it, then, our boat promises to be useful to you solely
on account of its speed?" said Alvin inquiringly asked the detective.

"Precisely. What is your answer?"

The young Captain looked at his second mate.

"How does it strike you, Chester?"

"I'm with you if you wish to make the experiment. If things don't turn
out as we wish we can withdraw at any time."

"Of course I shall expect to pay you for your services----"

"Then you will be disappointed," interrupted Alvin crisply. "The
_Deerfoot_ isn't for hire, and if we go into this it will be for the fun
we hope to get out of it."

"I think I can guarantee you some entertainment. I presume you two will
be the only ones on the boat beside myself."

"You mustn't overlook my first mate, Mike Murphy. It would break his
heart if we should go on a cruise and leave him behind."

"I am afraid he is too impetuous and too fond of a fight."

"He may have a weakness in those directions, but his good nature, pluck
and devotion to my friend and me more than make up."

"It strikes me----"

"I can't help how it strikes you," broke in Alvin, who did not intend to
accept any commands at this stage of the game. "Mike goes with us
wherever we go."

"I feel the same way," added Chester. "The _Deerfoot_ can never brave the
perils of the deep short-handed. The first mate is indispensable."

"As you please then. When will you be ready to start?"

"When do you wish us to start?"

"Say to-morrow morning?"

"This is so sudden," said Alvin, whose spirits rose at the prospect of
the lively times ahead. "We ought to have a little while to think it
over. However, if my second mate, who generally has views of his own,
will agree, we'll get under way to-morrow after breakfast."

"I'm wid ye, as Mike would say."

"Suppose, Mr. Calvert, we leave it this way: if we decide to go into this
business, we'll make the venture to-morrow morning."

"I shall stay at the Squirrel Inn to-night and be on the wharf a little
before nine, on the lookout for you. If you do not show up then or soon
after I shall not expect you. Your boat will be in plain view all the
time, so I shall see you when you start."

"Why not stay with us over night? We shall be glad to have you do so,"
was the hospitable invitation of Alvin Landon.

"Thank you very much," replied Stockham Calvert, rising to his feet; "but
I came over in a rowboat which is waiting to take me back. I engaged my
room at the inn this afternoon."

He bade them good night and walked briskly down the slope. The boys stood
in front of the bungalow until they heard the sound of the oars and saw
the dim outlines of the boat and its occupants heading eastward toward
the twinkling lights from the inn and cottages on Squirrel Island.

"What do you make of it all?" asked Alvin of his chum, when after some
minutes they returned to the big sitting room.

"I don't know how to answer you," replied Chester. "It looks to me as if
we are bound to have lively times before we get through with the
business. But, Alvin, all the time that man was talking I felt a curious
distrust of him. He said he is a detective, but I'm not sure of it."

"Suppose he belongs to the gang that is playing the mischief with Uncle
Sam's post offices in this part of the Union?"

"If that were so, what in the world can he want of you and your boat?"

"Because of its fleetness it may serve him when he needs it. However, I
don't see that any harm can come to it or to us. He can't pick up the
launch and run away with it and he would find it hard to do so with us."

"Not forgetting Mike Murphy."

"Then you accept his proposal?"

"Not I, but we together."

"All right; it's a go."



CHAPTER II

THE SCOUT OF THE KENNEBEC


AT nine o'clock on a bright sunshiny morning in August the usual group
were gathered on the dock at Squirrel Island. Some were watching the
arrival and departure of the different steamers, not forgetting the
little _Nellie G._, plying between that summer resort and Boothbay
Harbor, some three miles distant, with calls at other islands as the
passengers wished. Sailboats were getting ready to take parties out, some
to fish, while others sought only the pleasure of the cruise itself.
Small launches came up to the low-lying float for men and women to get on
board, while others were rowed out in small boats to the anchored craft.

By and by the attention of most of the spectators was fixed upon the
beautiful _Deerfoot_, which, putting out from the lower end of Southport
Island opposite, was heading toward Squirrel. The picture had become
familiar to all and they admired the grace and symmetry of the launch
which had won the reputation of being the swiftest of its kind in those
waters. It was known that she was owned by Alvin Landon, the son of a
millionaire who had built a handsome bungalow on Southport, where he was
expected to spend his vacation days, though, as we know, he passed
precious few of them there. Alvin was holding the wheel of his boat,
while directly behind him sat his chum, Chester Haynes, calmly watching
their approach to the floating dock.

The third member of the crew was our old friend Mike Murphy, whose
official rank was first mate. Instead of sitting among his companions,
the Irish lad had gone to the stern, where he sat with his legs curled up
under him tailor fashion. He could not get much farther in that direction
without slipping overboard. The figure of Mike was so striking that he
drew more attention than did his comrades or the boat itself. His
yachting cap was cocked at a saucy angle, revealing his fiery red hair,
while underneath it was his broad, crimson face, sprinkled with freckles,
and his vast grin revealed his big white teeth. It will be remembered
that the remainder of his costume was his ordinary civilian attire,
though Captain Alvin Landon had promised him a fine suit for the
following season. The time was too short to secure one for the present
occasion.

Mike's good-natured grin awoke more than one responsive smile among the
crowd on the dock. The universal opinion was that the youth from the
Emerald Isle was so homely of countenance that he couldn't be any
homelier, but at the same time none could be more popular. He knew that
the eyes of nearly every one were fixed upon him and he in turn scanned
the different faces, all of which were strange to him.

Alvin Landon slowed down as he approached and guided his boat among the
others with the skill of a professional chauffeur weaving in and out of a
procession of carriages. He gave his whole attention to this task,
Chester watching the performance with the admiration he had felt many
times before. But it was the people who interested Mike. Before the boat
rounded to, Stockham Calvert, the detective, accompanied by Lawyer
Westerfield, of New York, walked down the inclined steps to the float.
Westerfield was a gentleman of culture, an authority on many questions
and one of the greatest baseball fans in the country. Having secured a
liberal money contribution from Calvert the night before at the Inn, he
invited him to stay and witness the great struggle between the Boothbay
nine and the Squirrel Islanders. Westerfield was to act as umpire, his
impartiality and quickness of perception having won the confidence of all
parties; but of course Calvert had to decline under the pressure of a
previous engagement.

"It does a fellow good to look at that broth of a boy squatting on the
stern," remarked Westerfield, while the _Deerfoot_ was still a short
distance away.

"His name is Mike and he is a great favorite with every one. As yet I
have not met him, but he has all the wit and humor of his people. Suppose
you test him."

Nothing loath, Westerfield, who was a bit of a wag himself, called so
that all heard him:

"You don't need to show a red signal light, my friend; you ought to wait
until night."

Cocking his head a little more to one side, and with a slight extent of
increase in the width of his grin--admitting that to be possible--Mike
called back:

"Thin why have ye the _graan_ light standing there on the wharf?"

Westerfield joined in the general laugh, but came back:

"That face of yours will keep off all danger by daylight."

"And it's yer own phiz that will sarve the same purpose at night."

The laughter was louder than ever, and the pleased Calvert said to the
lawyer:

"Better let him alone; he will down you every time."

But Westerfield could not refuse to make another venture. Stepping back
as if in alarm from the launch, which was now within arm's reach, he
feigned to be scared.

"Please don't bite me with those dreadful teeth."

Mike, who was now close to the wharf, leaped lightly upon it.

"Have no fear; the sight of yersilf has made a Joo of me."

Then as if afraid that the listeners would not catch the force of his
words, he added:

"A Joo, as ye may know, doesn't ate pork."

Detective Calvert slapped the lawyer on the shoulder.

"Try him again."

"No; I have had enough." Then raising his hat and bowing in salutation,
Westerfield offered his hand to the lad, who shook it warmly.

"You're too much for me, Mike. I'm proud to take off my hat to you."

"And it's me dooty to be equally respictful, as me dad said whin the bull
pitched him over the fence and stood scraping one hoof and bowing from
t'other side."

While still in the boat, Alvin and Chester had returned the salutation of
Calvert. The Captain remained seated at the wheel, but the second mate
stepped out on the float and a general introduction followed. The
detective and he went aboard and sat down on one of the seats. Mike kept
them company, and throwing in the clutch, Alvin guided the launch into
the spacious waters outside, all three waving a salute to Westerfield,
who stood on the float and watched them for some minutes.

Detective Calvert had the good sense fully to admit Mike Murphy to his
confidence, though he had hoped at first he would not be a member of the
party. Alvin Landon gave the man to understand that he was not hiring out
his boat, but was conferring a favor upon the officer, who had the choice
of rejecting or accepting it on the terms offered. While Calvert could
not doubt the loyalty of the young Hibernian, he distrusted his
impulsiveness. But as I have said, having decided upon his line of
conduct, he did not allow himself to show the slightest degree of
distrust.

Mike on his part was tactful enough to act as listener while the man made
clear his plans. He did not ask a question or speak until addressed. The
launch moved so quietly that Alvin, with his hands upon the wheel and
scanning the water in front, heard all that was said by the others, and
when he thought it fitting took part in the conversation.

Instead of returning to Southport, the Deerfoot circled Cape Newagen,
which you know is the southern extremity of that island, and entering the
broad bay, headed up the Sheepscot River, over the same course it had
followed before.

"Mike was not with you," said Detective Calvert, "when you traced the
other launch into that little inlet at the lower end of Barter Island.
That boat stayed there overnight and may still be there, but probably is
not."

"Suppose it isn't there?" said Chester.

"We must find out where she is. That is the chief reason for my presuming
upon the kindness of the Captain to lend me the help of his launch. In
other words, it is my wish that the _Deerfoot_ shall serve as the Scout
of the Kennebec."

"A romantic title," remarked Alvin, over his shoulder, "though we are not
cruising on the Kennebec, but up the Sheepscot."

"No doubt we shall have to visit the larger river. And then, you know,"
added Calvert, with a smile, "the name I suggest sounds better than the
other."

The launch required no special attention just then, and, with one hand on
the steering wheel, Captain Alvin looked around:

"Mike, what do you think of it?"

"Arrah, now, what's the difference what ye call the boat? At home, I was
sometimes referred to as the Queen of the May, and again as the big toad
that St. Patrick forgot to drive out of Ireland, but all agraad that I
was as swate under one title as the ither."

"Suppose the _Water Witch_ happens to be where Chester and I saw her at
night?" asked Alvin of their director.

"We shall have to decide our course of action by what develops."

Neither of the youths was fully satisfied with this reply. They could not
believe that a professional detective would come this far upon so
peculiar an enterprise without having a pretty clear line laid out to
follow. It may have been as he said, however, and he was not questioned
further.

The day could not have been finer. The threatening skies of a short time
before had cleared and the sun was not obscured by a single cloud. Though
warm, the motion of the launch made the situation of all pleasant. Since
there was no call for haste, Calvert suggested to the Captain that he
should not strain the engine, and Alvin was quite willing to spare it.
The time might soon come when it would be necessary to call upon the boat
to do her best, and he meant she should be ready to respond.

Past the Cat Ledges, Jo and Cedarbrush Islands moved the _Deerfoot_ like
a swan skimming over the placid waters. Then came Hendrick Light, Dog
Fish Head, Green Islands and Boston Island. Powderhorn was passed, and
then they glided by Isle of Springs, which brought them in sight of
Sawyer. A little beyond was the inlet where they had seen the _Water
Witch_ reposing in the darkness of night.



CHAPTER III

AT THE INLET


"SLOW down," said Detective Calvert as the launch drew near the southern
end of Barter Island. Captain Alvin did as requested and all eyes were
fixed upon the inlet.

"If that boat should happen to come out while we are in sight," added
Calvert, "pass up the river, as if you had no interest in it."

"But if it should happen to be there?" said Alvin, repeating the question
he had asked before.

"We can't know until we have turned in, and then it would not do to
withdraw, for that would be the most suspicious course of all. You have
as much right to go thither as anyone. Act as if you were merely looking
in out of curiosity; make a circuit of the islet and then come back and
go on up the Sheepscot toward Wiscasset."

It was at this moment that Mike Murphy asked a question whose point the
others were quick to perceive.

"If the spalpeens are there, will ye let 'em have a sight of yersilf?"

"No; I shall drop down and hide, for if they noted that you had me for a
passenger they might smell a rat, but would think nothing of seeing you
three, for they know you travel together."

As the launch drew near the opening, Alvin slackened her speed still more
until she was not going faster than five or six miles an hour. There was
an abundance of sea room and he curved into the passage with his usual
skill. The four peered intently forward and had to wait only a minute or
two when the boat had progressed far enough to give them a full view of
the crescent-like cove, which extended backward for several hundred yards
and had an expansion of perhaps four hundred feet. In the very middle was
the islet, in the form of an irregular oval, containing altogether barely
an acre. As has been said, it was made up of clay and sand with not a
tree or shrub growing, and only a few scattered leaves of grass, but
there was no sign of life on or about it.

Alvin sheered the boat close to the shore, and continued slowly moving. A
glance downward into the crystal current showed that the depth was fully
twenty feet, so that it was safe for the largest craft to moor against
the bank.

"Here's where the _Water Witch_ lay," said Alvin. "Do you wish to land,
Mr. Calvert?"

He was standing up and scrutinizing the little plot as they glided along
the shore, but discovered nothing of interest.

"No; there's no call to stop; we may as well go back."

"Do ye obsarve that six-masted schooner wid its nose poked under the
bushes in the hope of escaping notice?"

As Mike Murphy asked the question he pointed to the southern shore of the
inlet, where all saw the little rowboat in which Detective Calvert had
visited the spot and which had been used later for a similar purpose by
Alvin and Chester. It was drawn up so far under the overhanging limbs
that only the stern was in sight. It seemed to be exactly where it had
been placed by the boys after they were through with it.

It was on the tip of Alvin's tongue to refer to the incident and to ask
something in the way of explanation from their companion. Instead of
doing so, the latter surprised both by saying:

"That must belong to somebody who lives in the neighborhood."

The remark sounded strange to our young friends and both remained silent
waiting for him to say more, but he did not. He sat down again, facing
the Sheepscot, and lighted one of his big black cigars. He crossed his
legs like a man of leisure who was not concerned by what had occurred or
was likely to occur.

The incident impressed Alvin and Chester unfavorably. Mike, not having
been with them at the time, knew nothing of it. To each of the former
youths came the disquieting questions:

"Does he believe we did not know him that night? Does he think neither of
us suspected what he did? _Is he what he pretends to be?_"

These queries opened a field of speculation that was endless, and the
farther they plunged into it the more mystified they became. Alvin would
never stoop to ask favors of this man. He was trying to aid him in
carrying out a good purpose, and he must "be on the level," or the
Captain would have nothing to do with him or his plans.

"The first proof I get that he is playing double," muttered Alvin, "I'll
order him off the boat and never let him set foot on it again, and, if he
belongs to that gang of post office robbers, I'll do everything I can to
have him punished."

One of the most discomforting frames of mind into which any person can
fall is to see things which make him distrust the loyalty of one upon
whom he has depended. It might be Alvin Landon was mistaken and Stockham
Calvert was in reality a Pinkerton detective whose sole aim was to bring
these criminals to justice; but, as I have shown, the full truth was
still to be learned.

And Chester Haynes' feelings were the same as those of his chum. He
glanced at the man who was puffing his perfecto, and wondered who he
really was and what was to be the end of this curious adventure upon
which he and Alvin had entered.

It was a brief run out to the Sheepscot, and the _Deerfoot_ headed up the
river again toward Wiscasset. A steam launch was seen off to the left and
a catboat skimmed in the same direction with our friends. Both were well
over toward Westport, the left-hand bank, and slight attention was given
them.

The _Deerfoot_ had not reached the upper end of Barter Island when Alvin
from his place as steerer called out:

"That looks like the boat we are hunting for."

Running closer in to the right shore than the _Deerfoot_, a second boat
was visible whose similarity of appearance caused astonishment. The bows
of the two being pointed toward each other, the view was incomplete at
first, but since the speed of each was all of ten miles an hour, they
rapidly came opposite. Alvin sheered to the left, so as to make an
interval of a hundred yards between them. Chester had caught up the
binoculars and kept watch upon the launch, his companions doing what they
could without the aid of any instrument.

"It's the _Water Witch_!" said Chester excitedly.

A minute before he did so, Detective Calvert quietly slipped from his
seat to the floor, removed his hat and cautiously peered over the
taffrail. But he did not cease smoking his huge cigar, and it struck
Alvin when he looked around that his head was high enough to be in plain
sight of anyone watching from the other craft.

Mike Murphy caught the stir of the moment.

"How many passengers do ye obsarve on the same frigate? It seems to me
there be only two."

"That is all that are visible," replied Chester, holding the glass still
leveled.

"Thin they must be them two that we had the shindy wid the ither night!"

"Undoubtedly; in fact I recognize the one you pointed out at Boothbay."

"And the ither must be the ither one."

"There is every reason to believe so."

"Thin----I say, Captain," said the agitated Mike, turning to Alvin,
"would ye be kind enough to run up alongside that ship?"

"Why do you wish me to do that?"

"I wish--that is--I wud like to shake hands wid that gintleman and ask
him how his folks was whin he last heerd from them. Just a wee bit of
friendly converse betwaan two gintlemen--that's all. Come now, Cap, be
obliging," continued Mike, in a wheedling tone which did not deceive his
superior officer.

"I faal a sort of liking for the young gintleman and should be much
pleased if ye would give me a chance to have a few frindly words wid
him--I say, Cap, ye're losing vallyble time, fur we're passing each ither
fast."

"No, Mike--not to-day; I have no objection to your having a little
'conversation' with Mr. Noxon or his companion, but this isn't the right
way to go about it."

"I hope ye didn't suspict that I had any intintion of saying harsh
wurruds to them, Cap!" protested the Irish youth, in grieved tones.

"Not words particularly, but there would be enough rough acts to make
things lively. Chester, let me have the glasses, while you take the wheel
for a few minutes."

They hastily exchanged places, and steadying his position, Alvin pointed
the instrument at the receding launch. Detective Calvert still knelt on
the floor and peeped over the side of the boat. He did not ask for the
binoculars nor did the owner offer them to him.

Suddenly Alvin slipped down beside his friend in front and passed him the
instrument, as he resumed the wheel. While doing so, he whispered in a
voice so low that no one else could hear what he said:

"Look just behind the fellow who is steering. He's Noxon, I'm sure! Study
closely and let me know whether you see anything suspicious."

Wondering to what he referred, Chester complied. While doing his best to
learn what his friend meant the latter whispered again:

"If you see anything, be careful to let no one besides me know what it
is."

Chester nodded, with the glasses to his eyes. The opportunity for
scrutiny was rapidly diminishing. Chester held the binoculars level but a
minute when he lowered them again. The commonest courtesy compelled him
to offer them to the detective.

"Maybe you can discover something," remarked the youth as he passed them
over. The posture of the man gave him the best chance he could ask, and
he carefully studied the receding boat until it was so far off that it
was useless to continue.

"Did you notice anything special?" asked Chester.

"I saw nothing but those two young men, with whom as I learn from the
Captain he had an affray some nights ago."

Chester leaned over and whispered to Alvin:

"I saw it plainly."

"What?"

"A man crouching down among the seats as Calvert did and peering over
like him."



CHAPTER IV

A STRANGE RACE


Suddenly the _Water Witch's_ whistle sent out a series of piping toots.

"What's the meaning of that?" asked Chester of Detective Calvert, who had
quietly resumed his seat in one of the wicker chairs in front of the
youth.

"It's a challenge to a race."

"I accept it," said Alvin, with a flash of his eyes. At the same moment
he swung the wheel over and began circling out to the left, so as to turn
in the shortest possible space. "If that boat can outrun me I want to
know it."

"Be keerful ye don't run over him," cautioned Mike, catching the
excitement, "as Tam McMurray said whin he started to overtake a
locomotive."

Alvin quickly hit up the pace of the launch, which sped down the
Sheepscot with so sudden a burst of speed that all felt the impulse. The
sharp bow cut the current like a knife, the water curving over in a
beautiful arch on each side and foaming away from the churning screw.
Even with the wind-shield they caught the impact of the breeze, caused by
their swiftness, and each was thrilled by the battle for mastery.

"Are you doing your best?" asked Calvert, watching the actions of the
youthful Captain.

"No; I am making about two-thirds of the other's speed."

"Then don't do any better, is my advice," said the detective.

Alvin glanced over his shoulder.

"Why not?"

"It may be wise at this stage of the game not to let them know that you
can surpass them. Wait till the necessity arises."

"I agree with Mr. Calvert," added Chester, and the Captain was impressed
by the logic of the counsel. He was on the point of increasing the pace,
but refrained. In truth he was already wondering what they would do if
they overtook the other and what could be gained by passing the boat.

Again the whistle piped several times and it was evident that the
fugitive, as it may be called, had "put on more steam."

"Do you wish me to let her get away from us?" asked Alvin.

"Not for the present, but that may be the best course. Hold your own for
awhile and then gradually fall back."

When the race opened, less than an eighth of a mile separated the
contestants. The abrupt burst lessened this slightly and then it appeared
to be stationary as the two glided down the river.

Such were the relative positions when the _Water Witch_ shot past Ram
Island, holding the middle of the stream, and a few minutes later came
abreast of Isle of Springs.

"Those two young fellows have a man with them," remarked Calvert. "He
tried to keep out of sight when we first met, but now he doesn't seem to
care. You can see him plainly without the help of the glasses."

Such was the fact, and Chester said:

"They must know that we also have a friend with us."

"I don't see that it matters either way. I think you are gaining."

"But not half fast enough," added Mike, who was standing and impatient to
beat their opponent. "We must come up wid the spalpeens before they git
to Boothbay."

"They are not heading for Boothbay," observed Calvert, whose keen eyes
had detected the change in the line of flight. His companions saw he was
right. The front boat had made so abrupt a change of course that it was
almost at right angles to that of the pursuer. The side of the launch was
exposed, showing the two youths, one of whom held the wheel, while the
man with a mustache sat directly beside the other. It might be said of
the two craft and their crews that they were twins, so marked was their
resemblance.

Naturally Alvin shifted his line of pursuit. You may recall that,
opposite the Isle of Springs, Goose Rock Passage connects Sheepscot River
with Knubble Bay, which leads into Montsweag Bay, reaching northward on
the western side of the long island of Westport. In their first trip
northward our young friends had gone to the eastward of Westport, as they
had been doing during this race. Montsweag Bay takes the name of Back
River at the northern end of the island and that and the Sheepscot unite
above before reaching Wiscasset.

The _Water Witch_ dived into Goose Neck Passage past Newdick Point, where
it turned northward into Knubble Bay. This is the path taken by the
steamers from Bath and other places on the Kennebec when going to
Boothbay Harbor, Squirrel Island and other points. To the westward of
these bodies of water sweeps the noble Kennebec to the sea.

Just ahead was discerned a swiftly approaching mass of tumbling water,
above which the deck, pilot house and puffing smokestack of a little
steamer showed. This was the "pony of the Kennebec"--the _Gardiner_,
plowing ahead in such desperate haste that one might well believe the
fate of a score of persons depended upon its not losing a half minute.
Alvin took good care to give her plenty of room and saluted with several
whistle toots. There was no reply. The captain merely glanced at the two
craft and sped onward like an arrow from the bow of the hunter.

The _Deerfoot_ rocked and plunged in the swell made by the steamer,
which, spreading out like a fan from its bow, ran tumbling and foaming
along the rocky shores, keeping pace with the headlong charge of the
boat, and trying to engulf everything in its path. One small catboat that
was tied to a rickety, home-made landing, after a couple of dives
capsized, as if it were a giant flapjack under which a housewife had slid
her turning iron.

"They're gaining!" exclaimed Chester, who was closely watching the
progress of the racers. "Do you mean to let them get away, Alvin?"

"Mr. Calvert will answer that question."

"I do so by advising that you neither gain nor lose for the present."

The Captain gave the launch a little more power, and it became clear to
all that the pursuer was picking up the ground, or rather water, that she
had lost. Then for several minutes no difference in speed was
perceptible. A space of a furlong separated the two when they shot past
the point of land bearing the odd name of Thomas Great Toe, which is on
the western side of the lower part of Westport, some two miles above
Goose Neck Passage. Here the water is a mile in width, and is filled with
islands of varying sizes, until the large bay to the northward is
reached.

The _Water Witch_ persisted in hugging the eastern shore, while her
pursuer kept well out, as if to make sure of having plenty of room in
which to pass her, when the chance came. But all the same the chance did
not come. It was soon seen that the fugitive was drawing away from her
pursuer. Mike Murphy fumed, but held his peace.

"It's mesilf that hasn't any inflooence here," he reflected, "as I
obsarved to mysilf whin dad and mither agreed that a thundering big
licking was due me."

"Can you overhaul her?" asked Detective Calvert.

"Easiest thing in the world; I can shoot past her as if she were lying
still."

"Well, don't do it."

Mike could remain silent no longer.

"That's a dooce of a way to run a race! Whin ye find ye can bate the
ither out of sight ye fall back and let her doot. That's the style I used
to run races wid the ither boys at school, but the raison was I couldn't
help it. If ye'll allow me to utter a few words of wisdom I'll do the
same."

Alvin nodded his head.

"It is that ye signal to that pirut ahead to wait and give us a tow,
being that's the only way we can howld our own wid 'em."

Now while it was trying to Alvin and Chester to engage in a race of the
nature described and voluntarily allow the contestant to beat them, when
they knew they had the power of winning, yet they believed it was the
true policy, since Detective Calvert had said so. They understood the
disgust of Mike and could not forbear having a little fun at his expense.

"You see," said Chester gravely, "those two young men who gave you and
Alvin such a warm time the other night are on the other boat, and if we
should come to close quarters with them they would be pretty sure to even
up matters with you."

Mike glared at the speaker, as if doubting the evidence of his ears.

"Phwat is that ye're saying?" he demanded. "Isn't that the dearest object
of yer heart? I shall niver die contint till I squar' matters wid 'em,
and ye knows the same."

"You forget," added Calvert, with the same seriousness, "that they have a
full-grown man to help them out."

"And haven't we a full-grown man wid us, as me dad said whin he
inthrodooced me to his friends at Donnybrook, I being 'liven years old?
Begorra, I'm thinking we haven't any such person on boord."

It was a pretty sharp retort, but the officer could not repress his
amusement at the angry words. Alvin looked over his shoulder and winked
at Calvert and Chester, making sure that Mike did not observe the signal.
In his impatience, he had turned his back upon them and was looking
gloomily over the stern at the foaming wake.

"I wonder if there isn't some tub along the shore that'll put out and run
us down. I hope, Captain, that whin we git back home ye'll kaap this a
secret from dad."

"And why?"

"He'll sure give me the greatest walloping of me life."

"For what reason?"

"For consoorting wid a party that run away from the finest chance in the
wurrld for a shindy. It's a sin that can be wiped out in no ither way."

"I'll explain to him," said Calvert, "that you couldn't help yourself."

"And it's mighty little difference that will make, as Terry McCarthy said
when he had the ch'ice of foighting two Tipperary byes or three
Corkonians."

"Wouldn't your father prefer to have us bring you home safe and unhurt
rather than to have your beauty battered out of you?" inquired the
detective, with a solemn visage.

Mike, who had risen to his feet and was still staring over the stern,
slowly turned and faced the questioner. Then, with an expression of
contempt, he said:

"Ye haven't the honor of an acquaintance wid me dad."



CHAPTER V

THE LOSER OF THE RACE


A long, low bridge connects the western projection of Westport with
Woolwich on the opposite bank, beyond which spreads Montsweag Bay,
narrowing to Back River, which, as has been explained, joins the
Sheepscot.

The draw had just been swung open when our friends came in sight of the
bridge, and saw the _Water Witch_ passing through. The bridge tender
immediately began turning his lever with which he closed the draw. Alvin
whistled to signify that he wished to follow the other, but seemingly the
man did not hear him. His back steadily rose and fell, as he worked the
handle of his contrivance, and the movable section of the structure
slowly swung back in response.

"Isn't that lucky now!" was the sarcastic exclamation of Mike.

"Why?" asked Chester.

"He wants to hilp ye fall back further behind the ither boat."

"There may be something in that," the Captain replied.

None the less, Alvin continued his tooting, without abating his speed.
The tender, however, did not mean to tantalize them, and all quickly saw
the cause of his action. A heavily loaded wagon had come upon the bridge
from the Woolwich side, and waited while the draw was held open. The
driver must have had a "pull" with the attendant, who immediately closed
the draw so he could cross before the second boat passed through.

At this juncture fate showed how perverse she can be when in the mood.
Directly over the draw, something connected with the wagon or the harness
of the team got askew and the driver paused to set it right. Possibly it
was pretence on his part, for many men will do such things, but, all the
same, he took ten minutes before he climbed back on his seat and started
his horses forward again. Alvin reversed the screw, so that the launch
became motionless when a few yards from the bridge.

I am afraid the driver purposely delayed the _Deerfoot_, for when Mike
shouted an angry reproach, he looked around, put his thumb to his nose,
twiddled his fingers, and then moved slowly over the rattling planks
toward Westport.

"I suggist that ye turn about, Captain, and scoot for home," was the
ironical advice of the Irish youth.

"For what reason?"

"I'm afeard that man is real mad and he might take it into his head to
git down off his wagon and saize aich of us by the nape of the neck as
the boat goes through, and slam us down so hard he'd jar us."

"Better wait, Captain, till he's a little farther off," advised Calvert;
"there may be something in what Michael says."

As for Mike, feeling he could not do justice to the subject, he held his
peace for the moment.

Gliding through the draw and entering Montsweag Bay, the occupants of the
_Deerfoot_ were surprised to see nothing of the other launch. She was as
invisible as if she had been scuttled and sunk in fifty feet of water.

The right shore above the structure, belonging to Westport, slopes to the
right, and something like a half mile above, this course is at right
angles to the stream. It is really a peninsula, there being an inlet more
than a mile long which divides it from the rest of Westport. This little
bay is spanned by a bridge which forms a part of the highway that passes
over the longer structure already referred to.

When Mike found the _Water Witch_ had vanished, he pretended to be vastly
relieved. He had dropped into his chair and now straightened up.

"But ain't we lucky?"

"Why so?" asked Calvert.

"If we hadn't been stopped at the bridge the ither boat might have broke
down and we'd come up wid the same, and those chaps would have give us
all a good spanking."

"I am glad you are becoming so prudent," said Calvert, with an approving
nod. "We must take Michael with us whenever we are likely to run into
danger. Captain, if you don't mind, you might tune up your boat a bit."

"Better wait," suggested Mike, "fur ye might gain on t'other one."

Alvin now put on the highest speed of which the _Deerfoot_ was capable.
The bow rose, the stern settled down in the water, and the spray was
flung high and splashed against the wind-shield. The exhaust deepened to
a steady roar, and the broadening wake was churned into a mass of
tumbling soapy foam. The whole boat shivered with the vibration of the
powerful engine. She was going more than twenty miles an hour--in fact,
must have approached her limit, which was four miles faster. Alvin had
attained such a tremendous pace only a few times in his practice and did
not like it. Though his instructor had assured him that the launch was
capable of holding it indefinitely without injury, he feared a breakdown
or the unnecessary wear upon many parts of the engine.

He kept up the furious speed until they curved around the upper part of
the peninsula and saw the expansion above, all the way to Long Ledge,
where Back River begins. He had been confident of catching sight of the
_Water Witch_, but she was nowhere in sight.

The natural conclusion was that the launch had taken on a higher burst of
speed--probably the limit--and gone so far that by still keeping near the
shore she had placed several miles behind her--enough to carry her out of
the field of vision.

"Keep it up till we catch sight of her again," suggested Calvert. "I
believe there are no more bridges between us and Wiscasset."

Some three or four miles were passed at high speed, when they reached a
portion of the river which opened a view of still greater extent. They
saw two small sailboats at a distance, and a little steamer puffing
northward, but nothing of the _Water Witch_.

"You may as well slow down," remarked the detective, who, guarding a
match with his hands behind the wind-shield, proceeded to light another
cigar.

"What do you make of it?" asked Alvin, turning his head, as the pace
became slower than before.

"We have passed the other boat; she is behind us instead of in front."

"What shall we do?"

"For hiven's sake don't go back," protested Mike. "Ye might find her--and
then what would become of ye?"

The detective now gave his view of the situation.

"If we should turn round and find that boat, those on board would know we
were looking for them. We don't wish to give that impression, at least
for some time to come. While we were going in one direction and they in
another, they challenged us to a race. Any two boats might have done the
same in the circumstances. We have to accept defeat and that's all there
is to it."

Calvert looked at his watch.

"It is near noon; if you all feel as I do you would welcome a good
dinner."

"That's the most sensible sense that I've heerd since we started,"
remarked Mike, who was as hungry as his companions.

"It is not a long run to Wiscasset," said Alvin; "and there's more than
one good hotel there."

"I'm thinking that at the speed ye're going, we'll hardly arrive in time
for supper. There must be some place betwixt here and the town where we
can git enough to stay the pangs of starvation till we raich Wiscasset."

"We shall pass several landings, and there are farmhouses along shore
where I'm sure the folks will be glad to accommodate us."

The others were not much impressed with Mike's plan, but since there was
plenty of time at their command, they fell in with it. Alvin suggested
that all should keep a lookout for an inviting dwelling, when, if a good
landing could be made, they would stop and investigate.

Chester offered to relieve his chum at the wheel, and Alvin was quite
willing to exchange places with him. The occurrences of the last hour or
more, together with what was said by Detective Calvert, had increased the
confidence of the youths in him. True, they could not understand the full
object of this cruise up the river, after gaining sight of the launch and
the occupants for whom he had been searching. They were content to await
explanation on that point, but Alvin determined that one or two things
which puzzled him and Chester should be cleared up.

"Accepting what you said last night at my home, Mr. Calvert, I must say
for myself and friend that we do not understand some of your actions.
Perhaps you won't mind explaining them."

"I shall be glad to do so, if it is prudent at this time."

"You will pardon me for saying that in our opinion you acted foolishly
when you followed us off the steamer the other day at Sawyer Island,
pretended you had made a mistake in landing there, and then dogged us to
that little inlet. We saw you several times, but you either wished or
pretended you wished to keep out of our sight, as, for instance, after
crossing that long bridge from Hodgdon to Barter Island. You followed us,
but when we stopped at the side of the road to wait for you, you slipped
among the trees and made a circuit round the spot. Why did you do that?"

The detective smiled, and smoked a minute or two before replying.

"Perhaps it was undignified, though a man in my profession has to do a
good many things in which he casts dignity to the winds. The truth is, I
formed the intention of getting off at Sawyer as soon as I heard your
friend Mr. Richards say he thought he had caught sight of your launch in
that cove. I was trying to get track of the same parties, but prudence
whispered to me that the time had not yet come in which you and I should
hitch up together. I suspected it might soon be advisable, but not just
then. My pretence of having left at the wrong landing was a piece of
foolishness meant only to afford you and the agent a little amusement,
but I feared you would run into trouble with those criminals and I
decided to keep you under my eye. Until I concluded to trust you, it was
just as well that you should distrust me. For several reasons, which I
won't explain at this point, I came to the belief last night that it was
time we made common cause."



CHAPTER VI

A WARM RECEPTION


"I have me eye on the right place, as Father Mickle said whin he wint
into the saloon to pull out Jim Gerrigan by the nape of his neck."

Mike Murphy pointed to a small, faded yellow house which stood at the top
of a gentle slope on their right. It was a hundred yards from the river
and a faintly marked, winding path led from it down to the bank. The
surrounding land showed meagre cultivation, and the looks were anything
but inviting.

On the little porch sat a big man with grizzled whiskers, smoking a
brier-wood pipe, his beamlike legs crossed and his arms folded as he
moodily watched the launch.

"It strikes me as a poor promise," remarked Alvin, who, nevertheless,
asked Chester to steer to the shore to see whether a landing could be
readily made. The prospect was good, as a shaky framework had evidently
been placed there for use, though no small boat was near.

Chester brought the _Deerfoot_ alongside with the skill that the owner of
the launch would have shown. Alvin sprang lightly upon the structure,
which sagged under his weight, caught the rope tossed to him by Chester,
and fastened it around one of the rickety supports. The boat was made
fast.

"I'll walk up to the house and have a talk with the gintleman," said
Mike, stepping carefully out upon the boards. "Do I look hungry?" he
asked of Alvin, who replied:

"You always have that expression."

"I'm glad to hear it, fur I wish to impriss the gintleman that that's my
condition. I'll assoom a weak, hisitating walk. Do ye abide here aginst
me return and repoort."

Detective Calvert retained his seat and lighted another cigar. Chester
sat with his hand idly resting on the wheel. Alvin kept his place on the
tiny dock, and all three watched Mike Murphy. They smiled, for the
stooping shoulders of the Irish youth and his feeble gait were those of a
man of four-score. The huge stranger sat like a statue, slowly puffing
his pipe, his glowering eyes fixed on the approaching lad.

With each advancing step, Mike's doubts increased. The nearer he came to
the stranger, the more forbidding he appeared. Had the lad followed his
inclination he would have turned back, but he knew his friends were
watching him. Besides which, he was really hungry.

He had passed half the distance between the boat and the house,
scrutinizing the scowling fellow all the time, when the latter made his
first movement. He uncrossed his huge legs, took the pipe from between
his lips and emitted a low whistle.

"He must be so cheered at sight of me that he is obleeged to give
exprission to his feelings--Begorra!"

Around the end of the house dashed a mongrel dog, and halting abruptly
with pricked ears, glanced at his master to hear his command. The canine
was of moderate size, black and white in color, one eye wrapped about by
an inky splash of hair that made him look as if the organ was in
mourning.

Holding the pipe away from his lips, the man pointed the stem toward
Mike, who had paused, and said to his dog:

"Sick him, Nick! Sick him!"

And the dog proceeded to "go for" the caller. Had the latter run away,
the brute would have been at his heels, nipping and biting at each step.
But Mike had no thought of retreating. He was filled with anger at his
inhospitable reception and gave his whole attention to the animal, which
with a muttered growl charged full speed at him.

Mike noticed that a collar with projecting spikes encircled the stumpy
neck, and never was one of his breed more eager to bury his teeth in a
victim's anatomy.

"This is going to be a shindy sure, as Micky Rooney said when he tackled
five p'licemen--and I haven't even a shillaleh in hand."

Mike coolly braced himself for the shock, not yielding an inch nor
turning his gaze from his foe. It was no longer a doddering old man who
faced the stranger, but a sturdy youth, muscular, brave and always eager
for the fray.

Nothing could surpass the skill with which the first assault was
repelled. At the exact moment Mike launched his shoe, the toe of which
caught Nick under the jaw and caused him to turn a backward somersault.
He uttered several yelps, but the blow added if possible to his rage.

The dog was so bewildered for the moment that he lost his sense of
direction, and made a dash toward the porch where his master was watching
proceedings.

"Sick him, Nick! Sick him!" he called, pointing his finger at the lad.

Nick impetuously obeyed orders, and at the critical moment Mike launched
a second kick, which, however, was not delivered with the mathematical
exactness of the first. It landed in the canine's neck and drove him back
several paces, but he kept his balance, and came on again with the same
headlong fierceness as before.

It was at this juncture that Stockham Calvert flung away his cigar,
sprang from his chair and with one bound landed beside Alvin Landon.

"I don't intend that Mike shall get into trouble."

As he spoke, he laid his hand on his hip pocket where reposed his
revolver.

"It looks as if it's the dog that is in trouble," replied Alvin, his
cheek tingling with pride at sight of the bravery of his comrade.

"If he had to fight only one brute I shouldn't fear, but there are two
against him. When Mike is through with the dog he will have to face his
master. I shall be ready to give him help."

"You don't mean to shoot the fellow?" said the alarmed Captain.

"It won't be necessary," was the quiet response.

The next exploit of Mike was brilliant. He did not kick at the dog, for
that only deferred the decisive assault, but as the mongrel rose in air,
he side-stepped with admirable quickness, gripped him by the baggy skin
at the back of his neck, and, slipping his hand under the spiky collar,
held him fast. The brute snarled, writhed, snapped his jaws and strove
desperately to insert his teeth into some part of his captor, who held
him off so firmly that he could do no harm.

Mike now turned and began walking hurriedly toward the launch, with the
squirming captive still in his iron grip.

The infuriated owner sprang from his seat and leaped down the steps.

"Drop that dog!" he shouted, striding after Mike, who called back:

"I'll drop him as soon as I raich the river."

Afraid of being checked, the youth broke into a trot, and an instant
later was at the landing, the yelping mongrel still firmly gripped. Back
and forth Mike swung him as if he were the huge bob of a pendulum, and
then let go. He curved over the launch, like an elongated doughnut, and
dropped into the current with a splash. But all quadrupeds swim the first
time they enter the water. In an instant, the brute came to the surface,
and working all his legs vigorously, came smoothly around the stern of
the launch, and headed for Mike with the purpose of renewing the attack.

The man, who had dropped his pipe and strode down the walk, was over six
feet in height, of large frame, and manifestly the possessor of great
muscular strength. Although he knew his dog had suffered no harm and was
safe, he was enraged over his maltreatment and resolute to wreak
vengeance upon the author of the insult.

Mike read his purpose, poised himself and put up his fists.

"Now for the next dog and it's mesilf that is ready fur him."

It would give me pleasure to tell how Mike Murphy vanquished the giant
who attacked him, but such a statement would be as untrue as absurd. You
have read of the dude who daintily slipped off his kid gloves, adjusted
his eyeglasses, and proceeded to chastise an obstreperous cowboy; but
take it from me that no such thing ever occurred, except in stories.
Nature governs through rigid laws, and two and two will always make four.
It might have been creditable to the courage of the Irish youth thus to
engage in a bout with a man who would have quickly beaten him to the
earth, but it would have shown very poor judgment. Had they clashed there
could have been only one end to the encounter.

But they did not clash. Several paces separated the two, when Stockham
Calvert, his thin gray coat buttoned around his trim form, stepped
quickly between them, and, looking sharply into the face of the savage
stranger, said in a voice that showed not the least agitation:

"Stop! he's my friend!"

He raised one hand, palm outward by way of emphasis of his warning words.

"Who are you?" demanded the other, stopping short, his eyes flaming above
his shaggy beard and under his straw hat, like an animal glaring through
a thicket.

"Come on and you'll learn!" was the reply in the same even tones, as
Calvert assumed the posture of a trained pugilist.

Now it is proper to say of this man that he had been the champion boxer
in college, and in his New York club he was easily the master of every
one with whom he had donned the gloves. Though of only average size and
stature and inclined to thinness, his muscles were of steel, he had the
quickness of a cat, and had been told more than once, that if he would
enter the "magic circle" he would hold his own with the best in the
profession. But, like all gentlemen who are masters of the manly art, he
disliked personal encounters, and many a time had submitted to insulting
words and even the accusation of timidity, rather than to call his iron
fists and superb skill into play. You might have been in his company for
months without suspecting his attainments in that respect. His business
required that he should always carry a revolver, and when he placed his
hand on his hip at sight of Mike Murphy's personal danger, the action was
instinctive, but he instantly gave up all thought of using so deadly a
weapon. He was certain there was no necessity for it; he had no more
doubt of his mastery of the bulky brute, who was equally confident, than
he had of his ability to handle any one of the three lads who were his
companions.



CHAPTER VII

SCIENCE VERSUS STRENGTH


Had the large man undergone the scientific training of the smaller one,
he might have overcome him, for, as has been said, he was immensely
powerful and must have been a third heavier than Stockham Calvert. But he
was out of condition, and, worse than all for him, had not the slightest
knowledge of the "manly art." When he doubled his huge hairy fists, he
charged upon the detective like a roaring bull, expecting to beat down
his smaller antagonist as if he were pulp.

The pose of the defendant was perfect. Resting easily on his right foot,
the left advanced and gently touching the ground, he could leap forward,
backward or to one side with the agility of a panther. The left fist was
held something more than a foot beyond the chest, the elbow slightly
crooked, while the right forearm crossed the breast diagonally at a
distance of a few inches. This is the true position, and the combatant
who knows his business always looks straight into the eyes of his
opponent. The arms and body are thus in his field of vision, whereas if
he once glances elsewhere he lays himself open to a sudden blow.

With that alertness which becomes second nature to a pugilist, Calvert
saw before the first demonstration that his foe had no knowledge whatever
of defending himself. He allowed him to make a single rush, his big fists
and arms sawing space like a windmill. He struck twice, swishing the air
in front of Calvert's face, and gathered himself to strike again,
when----

Not one of the three spectators could ever describe how it was done, for
the action was too quick for the eye to follow. But, all the same, that
metal-like left fist shot forward with the speed of lightning, and
landing on the point of the chin, the recipient went down like an ox
stricken by the axe of a butcher. Rather curiously, he did not fall
backward, but lurched forward and lay senseless, knocked out in the first
round.

"You have killed him!" whispered the scared Captain.

"Not a bit of it, but he will be dead to the world for ten or fifteen
minutes. We may as well let him rest in peace. What's become of that
dog?" asked the officer, glancing inquiringly around.

Chester pointed toward the house. The brute, with his two inches of tail
aimed skyward, was scooting around the corner of the building as fast as
his bowed legs could carry him. He would not have done so had he been of
true bulldog breed, but being a mongrel, there was a big streak of yellow
in his make-up.

"He's come to the belief that it's a good time to adjourn, as me cousin
said whin someone blowed up the stump on which he was risting his weary
body."

"I think we have had enough foraging along the river," remarked Captain
Alvin, who re-entered the boat and resumed his place at the wheel. "We
dine at Wiscasset."

"I'm not partic'lar as to the place," said Mike, "if only we dine."

Chester flung the loop of rope off the support, and he and the others
stepped aboard the launch, which moved up the river. Standing in front of
the detective, Mike, with his genial grin, offered his hand:

"I asks the privilege of a shake of yours. I apologize for thinking ye
didn't like a shindy as well as the rest of us. I'm sorry for me mistake,
as me uncle said, whin he inthroodoced dad to a party of leddies as a
gintleman. I couldn't have done better mesilf."

The smiling officer cordially accepted the proffer.

"No one can doubt your pluck, Mike, but, to quote your favorite method of
expressing yourself, you showed mighty poor judgment, as the owner of the
bull said when the animal tried to butt a locomotive off the track. That
man would have eaten you up."

"P-raps, but he would have found me hard to digist. Do ye obsarve?"

He pointed to the little landing which they were leaving behind them. All
looked and saw the burly brute of a man slowly rise to a sitting posture,
with his hat off and his frowsy hair in his eyes, as he stared confusedly
after the launch speeding up the river.

"He is recovering quicker than I expected," was the only remark Calvert
made, as he turned his back upon the fellow and gave his attention to
lighting another cigar.

"He has the look of a fellow mixed and confused like, similar to Pat
McGuigan, whin he dived off the dock and his head and shoulders wint
through a lobster pot that he didn't obsarve in time to avoid the same."

"He's coming round all right," said Calvert, referring to the man they
had left behind, though he did not glance at him. "He may not be very
pretty, but he knows more than he did a little while ago. Which reminds
me to say something that ought to have been said at our first interview."

The three listened to the words of Calvert, who clearly was in earnest.

"Each of you knows that I am a professional detective who has been sent
into Maine to do all I can to capture the gang that is robbing the post
offices in this section. I told you that much, but I wish to ask you to
be very, very careful not to say this to any person whom you may meet,
until you have my permission to do so. Some would insist that it was
unprofessional on my part to say what I did, but I had good reason for
it, as will appear before I am through with the business."

"It was not necessary to tell Chester and me that, but I suppose you wish
to run no risk that can be avoided."

"That's it; I did not doubt your loyalty, but you know we can't be too
careful."

Mike was leaning back in his chair deeply thinking.

"There's one waak p'int in the plan suggisted."

Inasmuch as no one had submitted a plan the three wondered.

"Me friend doesn't wish us to tell anyone that he's the best detictive
and scrapper outside of our family in Ireland, but when folks priss their
questions, some answer must be given or 'spicions will be stirred."

"The point is well taken. I don't wish you to tell an untruth----"

"I'm sure the task is not difficult fur the Captain and second mate,"
interrupted Mike, "though it's beyond me."

"But you can evade a direct reply."

"May I vinture upon another suggistion?" asked Mike.

"We shall all be glad to hear it, I'm sure."

"Without waiting for questions to be asked, I'll step up to ivery one
that I obsarve casting an inquiring eye over ye and say ye're my older
brither, that took a hand in the Phoenix Park murders, but broke out of
Dublin jail and thus escaped hanging, and yer kaaping dark in Ameriky
till the little matter blows over."

"A brilliant idea!" laughed the officer. "All I ask is that you give no
truthful information about me."

"Ye doesn't objict to my telling folks how ye laid out that Goliah a bit
ago?"

"I prefer you should not mention it."

Mike sighed.

"Ah, have ye no pride of family, as Tam O'Toole used to say whin
mintioning the fact that all his five brithers were in jail, where Tarn
himsilf ought to have been?"

"I may add," continued the man, "that it is quite likely we shall soon
part company."

Mike affected to be surprised.

"Doesn't the Captain pay ye 'nough wages?"

"I have no fault to find on that score."

"I'm glad to larn that. If he requires ye to do too much dooty, I'll hilp
ye out, the bist I can."

"I promise to call upon you if necessary, Mike, but I hope I shall not be
obliged to do so."

"I have been wondering since we started," said Alvin over his shoulder,
"whether by any possibility the _Water Witch_ kept on up the river ahead
of us instead of running into some bay or inlet to the south."

"It is possible, but not probable. You know we had an extended view of
this stream, or rather of Montsweag Bay, and she could not have gone far
enough in the short time to pass out of sight."

"Ye forgits how anxious the Captain was not to overtake her," reminded
Mike. "I once read of a farmer who chased a big black bear that had been
staaling his sheep fur two days and nights and then quit. Can ye guess
why?"

"I should say that after so long a chase he would have given up
disgusted," replied the detective.

"It was not that; it was 'cause he found the tracks were becooming too
fresh."

"I don't think, Mike, that you are in danger of being accused of that,"
ventured Chester, "because you are always fresh--you are never _becoming_
so."

"But the same is becooming to me, as Jim Flannery said whin he walked
into church wid two black eyes and his head bent out of shape from the
shindy he had with his twin brither over the quistion of aiting maat on
Friday."

"You seem quite sure that these three whom we saw in the launch are mixed
up in these post office robberies?" asked Alvin.

"It has that look. No matter how certain I may feel, nothing can be
accomplished until legal proof is obtained. You know the rule that every
man must be presumed to be innocent until proved guilty."

"It shtrikes me that the most important quistion of all has been
sittled."

"What's that?"

"These two young gintlemen are the spalpeens that tried to hold ye up,
Captain, the ither night on yer way home. That fur outweighs the taking
of a few postage stamps from some country offices."

"The puzzling feature of that business," said Alvin, "is that when you
meet those two fellows again, you will not have Mr. Calvert along to
protect you."

Mike stared as if he failed to catch the meaning of this astounding
remark.

"Plaise say that agin, Captain, and say it slow like."

Alvin's face being turned away, he was not forced to maintain his gravity
while he repeated in his most serious tones the remark quoted.

"All I have to say to that is not to say anything, as Teddy Geoghan
observed whin they found a stolen pig in the bag he was carrying over his
shoulder which the same he insisted was filled with clothes for Widow
Mulligan."



CHAPTER VIII

THE LONE GUEST


The _Deerfoot_ glided through the smooth waters, and while the afternoon
was still young rounded to at the wharf, below the long wooden bridge
which spans the stream at Wiscasset, and made fast where a score of other
boats of all sizes and models were moored. Several large vessels were
anchored farther out and Captain Alvin Landon had to slow down to thread
his way among them. There was plenty of room, and the launch was tied up
opposite a small excursion steamer which was to start southward an hour
later. A tip to the old man who was looking after a number of yachts
assured the safety of the last arrival from molestation.

The possibility that the _Water Witch_ had preceded them to Wiscasset
caused a scrutiny of the various craft in sight by the Captain and his
crew, including Detective Calvert, but nothing was seen of the boat.

"She is miles off down stream," was the remark of the officer, "and for
the present is out of the running."

The four walked up the easy slope to the main street, along which they
passed to the leading hotel for dinner. They were a little late and when
they went into the spacious dining room found a table by themselves. The
only other occupant was a tall, angular man of about the same age as
Calvert, similarly attired and apparently giving his sole attention to
the meal before him. He nodded to the group in a neighborly way, but did
not speak.

When the four took their places at the small table, Calvert faced this
person a short distance away; Chester Haynes sat with his back to him,
thus confronting the detective, while Mike and Alvin occupied the
respective ends of the board. These details sound trifling, but they had
a meaning. Calvert thus distributed his companions apparently off-hand,
but the seating of himself as mentioned was done with a purpose. Chester
then, from the position he occupied, was the only one of the other three
who observed anything significant in that action and in what followed.

In the first place, the officer raised his glass of water, and while
slowly drinking looked over the top at the lone guest. Chester noticed
that he sipped the fluid longer than common, gazed at the stranger and
deliberately winked one eye. What response the other made of course could
not be seen by Chester.

"The two are acquaintances," was the conclusion of the lad, "and they
don't wish anyone else to know it."

He was curious to know whether Alvin and Mike had noticed anything of the
by-play. The Irish lad for the time devoted himself to satisfying his
vigorous hunger and cared for naught else. The same was to be said of the
Captain. Chester remained on the alert.

Several trifling incidents that occurred during the meal, which was
enlivened by the wit of the Irish lad, confirmed Chester in his first
suspicion. Calvert tried to divert possible suspicion by cheery remarks
and pleasant conversation as the meal proceeded.

"I am sure, Mike, you never had any such feasts in the old country."

Having said this, the detective coughed several times and held his napkin
to his mouth, but Chester knew the outburst was forced, and was meant to
carry to the other man, who rather curiously coughed the same number of
times immediately afterward.

"A message and its reply," was the thought of Chester, "but I have no
idea of what they mean. Mr. Calvert doesn't wish me to see anything and I
won't let him know I do."

Meanwhile, Mike made his response to the inquiring remark of Calvert:

"Ye're right, me frind, as Hank McCarthy said whin dining on one pratie
and a bit of black bread, calling to mind his former feasting in his own
home. Which reminds me, Mr. Calvert, to ask, did ye iver see the heart of
an Irishman?"

"I'm not quite sure I grasp your meaning, Mike," was the reply, while
Alvin and Chester looked up.

"I can bist explain by a dimonstration, as the tacher said whin I asked
him what was meant by the chastisement of a school lad. Now, give heed,
all of ye, and I'll show ye what I meant by the sinsible inquiry."

Among the different articles of food on the table was a dish of "murphy"
potatoes with their "jackets" on. That is, they had not been mashed or
peeled, though a strip was shaved off of each end. They were mealy and
white, and Mike had already placed several where they were sure to do the
most good. The tubers in boiling had swollen so much that most of the
skins had popped open in spots from the richness within.

Mike reached over and carefully selected a big murphy, which he held with
the thumb of his left hand and fingers circling about it. The upper end
projected slightly above the thumb and forefinger, as if peeping out to
watch proceedings. The three stopped eating for the moment and watched
the youth. While doing this, Chester glanced for an instant at the face
of the officer, and saw him look quickly across the room and telegraph
another wink.

Like a professional magician, Mike was very deliberate in order to be
more impressive. The true artist does not overlook the minutest point,
and he daintily adjusted the potato, shifting it about until it was
poised exactly right. Then he slowly raised his open right hand, with the
palm downward, until it was above his head. Like a flash he brought it
down upon the upper end of the tuber, which shot through the loose
encircling grasp as if fired from an air gun. The skin remained, but the
potato itself whisked down upon the table with such force that it popped
open, and lo!

"There's the heart of an Irishman--Begoora! but I'm mistook!" exclaimed
Mike in dismay, for when the tuber burst open the interior was black with
decay!

Calvert threw back his head and roared, and Alvin and Chester came near
falling from their chairs. Even the man at the other table joined in the
boisterous merriment, which was increased by the comical expression of
Mike. With open mouth and staring eyes he sat dumfounded. For once in his
life he was caught so fairly that he was speechless.

The deft little trick he had performed many times, but never before had
he been victimized by what seemed to be a rich, mealy potato. He couldn't
understand it.

Oddly enough the stranger was the first to recover his speech. He must
have had little liking for Hibernians, since he called:

"You're right, young man! You showed us the heart of a real Irishman!"

With lower jaw still drooping, Mike turned his head and stared at the
speaker. He yearned to crush him with a suitable reply, but all his wit
had been knocked out of him by the cruel blow of fate. However, it could
not long remain so. He picked up the fragments of the potato, fumbled
them reprovingly and gravely laid them on the tablecloth beside his
plate. Then the old grin bisected his homely face, and addressing the
three, he said:

"I made a slight mistake, as Jerry Sullivan said whin he stepped out of
the third story windy thinking it was the top of the stairs. If it's all
the same to yees, we'll now give our attintion to disposing of the
remaining stuff on the boord."

Out of curiosity, the four cut in two each of the potatoes left in the
dish. Every one was as sound as a dollar, whereat all laughed again, Mike
as heartily as any.

"It'll be a sorry day whin I can't take a joke, as Jim Doolin said
smiling whin his frinds pushed his cabin over on top of him as he lay
sleeping behind it, but I was niver sarved such a trick before."

Chester thought the unanimous merriment caused by Mike's mishap would
open an acquaintance between the lone guest and the others, but nothing
more was said by the respective parties, nor did the watchfulness of the
youth detect any further signals while at the table. Evidently an
understanding had been brought about, and nothing else was required.

The meal finished, the four rose to leave the dining room. While there
may have been nothing meant by Calvert's action in dropping to the rear,
Chester was alert and glanced back as they walked into the hall outside.
He was rewarded by seeing the officer turn his head for an instant and
give a slight nod. No doubt it was meant for the guest left behind, whose
response was invisible to all except him for whom it was intended. The
individual must have been blessed with a good appetite, or he followed
the sensible policy of lingering long over his meals, since he began
eating before the little party and continued after their departure.

Reaching the pleasant, shady avenue, the four strolled through the town
and when tired came back to the hotel and sat down. Chester was on the
lookout for the stranger, but nothing was seen of him. What did it all
mean and what was the cause of the secrecy between him and Stockham
Calvert?

"If he chooses to explain I must wait until he is ready," was the
decision of Chester.

The afternoon was well forward, when they walked down the slope to the
wharf, where the _Deerfoot_ awaited them. Alvin made a hasty inspection
of it and found everything seemingly all right. As they were about to
step aboard, the officer said:

"I shall have to bid you good-by for awhile."

"Why is that?" asked the Captain, in surprise.

"You remember I told you it was likely, but I hope soon to meet you all
again."

Nothing could be said by way of objection, and he stood on the wharf as
Alvin seated himself after adjusting the plug and swinging over the
fly-wheel. The boat circled out into the broad stream, and all waved
their hands to the officer, who responded similarly. Then he turned about
and went slowly up the slope, probably to the hotel where they had dined.

When everything was moving easily, and the boat was gliding down stream,
Chester sitting directly beside his chum told him all that he had
observed in the dining room. Mike had gone to the stern of the launch and
sat down in his favorite position, with his feet curled up under him.



CHAPTER IX

A BREAK DOWN


Captain Alvin was keenly interested in the story of Chester Haynes. He
admitted that he had noticed nothing peculiar, and it was evident that
Mike had been equally blind to the events passing under their eyes.

"It is plain," said Alvin, "that although Calvert told us a good many
things about himself, there is a good deal more he didn't tell."

"What do you make of it all?"

"That man who was in the dining room with us may have been another
detective or----"

"Or what?" asked Chester, observing the hesitation.

"I hate to say what comes into my mind, but every now and then a queer
suspicion steals over me that Calvert is deceiving us and is not what he
claims to be."

"In other words, he is a member of the gang whom he pretends to be
hunting down."

"I am ashamed to confess it, but such has been my fear at times. And
yet," the Captain hastened to add, as if regretting his unworthy
thoughts, "it seems impossible, when we call to mind all he did and how
he has acted from the first of our acquaintance with him."

Chester was thoughtful for a moment or two.

"I made up my mind after that rumpus down stream when he saved Mike from
a bad beating, that he was just what he said, though I won't deny that
more than one thing he has done--such as following us from Sawyer Island
to the inlet where the _Water Witch_ lay, and his behavior on the
road--had a queer look. But what's the use of speculating about it?
Sooner or later we shall know the truth, and, if we don't, I can't say I
much care. Which course will you take in going home?"

"I haven't any choice; have you?"

"Suppose then you follow Back River, and around Cape Newagen home. That's
a pretty good run, and at the rate we are going we sha'n't get there
before dark."

"Have you any reason for the choice?"

"Only that we may catch sight of the _Water Witch_, from which we parted
in those waters. If we do, we shall have to hold Mike in leash."

So it came about that the _Deerfoot_ turned into the headwaters of Back
River, passing Cushman Point through the Cowseagan Narrows, and into the
more open waters below. Three or four miles farther would take them to
Montsweag Bay, of which mention has been made, that body of water being
twice or thrice as wide as the river.

Suddenly Chester asked an odd question:

"Do you think the launch was injured by that spurt this forenoon?"

"She ought not to have been, for she has gone through the strain more
than once and for a longer time. Why do you ask?"

"Somehow or other, it seems to me she isn't running exactly right."

"What is wrong?"

"I can't put my finger on it; I may say I _feel_ it--that's all."

"Well, you are right, for I have had the same misgiving ever since we
left Wiscasset. I have tried to figure it out, but can't and am waiting
for it to develop, hoping all the time it won't--hello! there it comes!"

While the speed of the boat was not affected, the engine began hissing
with vicious persistency.

"Take the wheel, Chester, while I look around."

He first examined the spark plugs, knowing that if one was broken the
result would be what had just taken place, but all were intact. He had
turned the switch, stopping the motor, and next inspected the valve caps
where a fracture or loosening would have caused the hissing. They were
sound and tight and the gaskets where the exhaust and intake pipes
connected with the cylinders were tight.

"I've found it!" he called to Chester. "It's an open compression cup,
which is easily fixed; I am glad it is nothing worse."

Remembering the lessons he had been taught, the young Captain soon
corrected the fault and resumed progress. The launch, however, was held
down to a comparatively slow pace, for the slight slip naturally caused
misgiving. Several minutes passed with all going well.

"It seems to me safe to give her more speed," said Chester. "At this rate
we sha'n't reach home until late at night."

"All right; turn on more power--no, don't! _Ouch!_"

Alvin snapped his fingers, as one does when they are burned. He had
placed them upon the exhaust pipe, which was growing red hot.

"Shut her off! The mischief is to pay."

Knowing from the gesture of the Captain what was the matter, Chester
asked, as he obeyed the request:

"What causes that?"

"There is either something wrong with the water pump, the spark is
retarded, or a lack of sufficient lubrication, causing the motor to heat.
It will take some time to find out and we shall have to drift for
awhile."

"Why not run to land and tie up? We may get in the way of some of the
boats steaming up or down the river if we stay out here."

Alvin scrutinized the eastern bank, which is the upper portion of
Westport, and much nearer than Wiscasset township opposite.

"The water is so deep that I suppose we can touch the bank anywhere
without risk to the hull. All right; feel your way in."

The turning of the boat naturally stirred Mike's curiosity and he came
back to learn the cause, which was soon explained to him.

"Ye have me consint, since I obsarve there's a bit of a town not far off
where we can git enough food to keep off starvation."

Fir, spruce and pines line the shore of this part of Westport, the ground
rising moderately inland. A half mile, more or less, from the river, runs
the public highway from Clough Point, the northern extremity of Westport,
almost to Brooks Point at the extreme southern end, the distance being
something like fifteen miles, the entire length of the island.

The village to which Mike Murphy alluded stands alongside this road, a
half mile from the shore of Back River. There was enough rise to the
ground to show the church steeple and the roofs of the higher buildings.
Perhaps it will be well to give it the name of Beartown, and to say that
it numbered some five hundred inhabitants. Although its main interest was
with the highway alluded to, yet it had considerable trade with the
river, up and down which boats of different tonnage steamed, sailed or
rowed during the day, and occasionally at night. A well-marked road led
from a wharf to the village. Over this freight was drawn to and fro in
wagons, and some of the less important steamers halted for passengers who
liked that way of going up or down stream.

Alvin and Chester thought it better not to stop at the public wharf,
where they were likely to be in the way of larger craft and might draw
unpleasant attention to themselves, while engaged in repairing the
launch. Accordingly, the latter timidly approached the land, several
hundred yards below the wharf. The water possessed that wonderful
clearness which is one of its beautiful peculiarities in Maine. The boat
was far out when the change was made in her course, but she had not gone
far when, looking over the side, the dark, rocky bottom was plainly seen
fully thirty feet below. There was slight decrease in this depth until
the boat was within a few yards of land. Even then, it must have been
twenty feet at least, the bottom sloping as abruptly from the shore as
the roof of a house. Consequently the approach was safe and easy.

In such favorable conditions there was no difficulty in laying the launch
near the bank, where, as in former instances, she was made fast by the
bow line looped around a sturdy spruce more than six inches in diameter,
and the anchor out over the stern. Chester tied the knot securely, and
stepped back to give what help he could to Alvin, who was busy with the
engine. Mike looked on and remarked that, although he knew nothing at all
about the various contraptions, he held himself ready to give valuable
advice whenever it was needed.

"Being as mesilf ain't indispinsable just now, 'spose I strolls up to the
city nixt door and make a few more new acquaintances."

"There is no objection to that," replied the Captain, "but be sure to
come back before dark."

Mike sprang lightly to land and set off on his journey of discovery. It
will be recalled that our friends were some distance from the highway
connecting the wharf and town and therefore he had to thread his way
among the trees to reach the direct route to the village. There was no
trouble in doing this: the trouble came afterward.

Alvin and Chester gave the lad no thought, for he surely was old enough
to take care of himself, and there was nothing in the situation to cause
any misgiving. Their ambition was to get the engine of the launch in
shape. With painstaking care and the expenditure of more time than was
expected, Alvin finally discovered that the heat of the exhaust pipe was
due to the clogging of the pump with weeds, and not to the lack of
lubrication or the retarding of the spark.

To the disgust of both, when a test was made with the launch still held
immovable, and the heating was overcome, explosions in the muffler
developed.

"Now we must find whether that is caused by a cylinder missing fire and
pumping the gas into the muffler."

"How will that do it?" asked Chester, who, while a good motor boat pilot,
possessed less practical knowledge than his chum.

"The charges which I spoke of are ignited from the heat of the next
exhausted charge. It may be the exhaust valve is stuck or does not seat
properly, or the gas mixture is too weak to fire in the cylinder, or the
spark may be insufficient or over-retarded. It is a job to get that
straightened out, and when that is done, perhaps something else will turn
up, but we may as well tackle it at once."

It was fully dark before the difficulty was remedied by a careful
readjustment of the carburettor. Repeated tests were made, and everything
found to be right.

"At last!" said Alvin, with a sigh of relief. "And now we are ready to go
home. But where is Mike?"



CHAPTER X

AT BEARTOWN


Alvin Landon had been toiling so long, often in a stooping posture, that
he was tired. He sat down on one of the seats and his chum placed himself
opposite.

"I'm mighty glad," said the Captain, "for a fellow can't do much of this
in the dark, and I was bothered a good deal as it was."

"It strikes me that you will be running into danger by going down the
river to-night."

"How?"

"There is no moon until late. Suppose the launch should break down when
we were well out in Sheepscot Bay, wouldn't we be in a fix?"

"Yes, but I hope she is through breaking down for some time to come."

"So do I, but why take the risk, when there's no necessity for it?"

"We aren't fixed to sleep on board, though we could do it in a pinch, for
the weather is mild."

"Let's go up to this village or town near by. I am sure we shall get
accommodations for the night. Truth to tell, Alvin, I'm as hungry as I
was at dinner to-day in Wiscasset."

"The plan is a good one, though I don't like to leave the boat by itself
till morning. You know what happened the other night."

"That won't occur again in a thousand years. Put the flags and other
stuff in the cockpit, lock the engine cover, take the switch plug with
you, and the boat will be as safe as if she had a regiment of men on
guard."

"Mike ought to have been back before this," said the Captain, with a
touch of impatience. "Unless he has a good excuse I shall demote him, by
making you first mate."

"It is a dazzling promise you hold before me, but it won't be fair to
condemn Mike unheard. Give him a chance."

After some hesitation, Alvin acted upon the advice of his comrade. The
launch was made as secure as possible, and they sprang ashore, where the
gloom among the trees reminded them of that other tramp after taking
supper with Uncle Ben Trotwood. There was no reason for going astray and
they followed a direct course until they reached the roadway between the
wharf and the village of Beartown, alongside the main road running the
length of the island of Westport.

The moon had not yet risen; in fact it would not be up for several hours,
but the sky was clear and studded with stars which shone with dazzling
brilliancy. They could plainly see the broad trail into which they turned
and walked toward the village.

Less than a score of paces were passed when the two caught sight of a
figure approaching through the obscurity. The person kept in the middle
of the road, and an instant later both recognized him as their comrade.

"Hands up!" called the Captain, in his most startling voice.

Mike stopped short, but made no motion to obey.

"Didn't you hear me?" demanded Alvin fiercely, as he strode forward with
the grinning Chester at his elbow.

"If ye'll be kind enough to spell out the words I'll think 'em over and
let ye know me decision to-morrer," replied the Irish youth, who knew the
voice, though the speaker screened himself as much as he could in the
shadow at the side of the highway. The parties met and shook hands.

"What kept you so long?" asked Chester.

"I spint the time in making acquaintances, and before I knowed it, night
had descinded. I 'spose there's about two thousand folks in Beartown as
they call it, and I know 'em all excipt two or three, the same being out
of town."

"It is so late," said the Captain, "that we have decided to stay here
overnight--that is, if we can get lodgings."

"Arrah, now, that's a sinsible remark which I ixpicted ye to make, as
Arty Devitt said whin he admitted he was the biggest fool in Cork. But
there ain't a hotel in Beartown."

"Then we shall have to go back to the boat and either start down the
river or bunk in as best we can."

"Nothing of the kind; supper is waiting and ye're expicted. The house has
only one bed, which av coorse is fur me, while ye two will have to make
shift in the adj'ining woodshed. Come on and I'll show ye."

"Be sensible for once in your life," said Alvin, "and explain matters."

"Isn't that what I'm doing?" asked Mike, as he turned about and the three
walked toward the sleepy little town.

"I've made frinds wid the postmaster, which is a fine old lady with a
swaat darter. She has spread supper for us three, and whin I told her
we'd honor her by staying overnight, she was that pleased she danced the
Highland Fling and kicked over a barrel of apples. And what do ye think,
byes, after we'd talked awhile, we found we was relatives. What have ye
to say to that?"

"It is impossible. What's her name?"

"Mrs. Friestone and her daughter is Nora. It was that name that set me
wits to work. Ye see the leddy thinks--that is, after I suggisted the
same--that one of her ancistors about the time St. Patrick was driving
the snakes out of Ireland was living there, and immigrated to this
country and he come over wid the ither sarpints."

"St. Patrick died fifteen hundred years ago," said Chester.

"Thin I 'spose he must be purty dead by this time, but that isn't aginst
the fact of the father of Mrs. Friestone, two or three thousand
ginerations back, paddling across the Atlantic and sittling in this part
of Maine. I have raison to belave that one of me own ancisters was a
second cousin to the owld gintleman and came wid him on the v'yage. The
owld lady doesn't dispoot me, but is inclined to belave the same."

"But where do we come in?" asked Alvin.

"That was me chaif trouble in gitting ye folks straightened out. Av
coorse, I made it clear to them that I owned a launch, which the same is
called the _Deerfut_, and I had took ye out fur a sail--that I had left
ye to thry to run the boat, in order to taich ye the same, and ye had
broke down. I said ye were half dacent chaps, and if she would bear in
mind that ye hadn't been under me training long, she would be able to git
along wid ye. Nora said I must bring ye to the house, and ye should have
slaaping accommodations and as much as folks of yer kind oughter ate. I
reminded them that I had provided ye with plinty of pocket money and
insthructed ye niver to accept favors widout paying for 'em. Thus the way
has been opened for ye."

"So it would seem, if a tenth part of what you say is true," was the
comment of Alvin.

The village, which I have thought best to call Beartown, straggles along
both sides of the highway which runs the length of Westport island. It
has a neat wooden church, a faded school house, which had been closed
several weeks, it being vacation time, two stores, a blacksmith and a
carpenter shop, but lacks a hotel, no one being enterprising enough to
build such a structure with the meagre prospects he would have to face.
If now and then some visitor wished to stay overnight in the place it
depended upon his success in finding lodgings with one of the citizens.
This could not always be done, but it is safe to say that Mike Murphy won
the favor of so many with whom he came in contact that a half dozen homes
would have been glad to take him in indefinitely. Strolling along the
highway, his attention was caught by sight of a modest frame building,
standing near the middle of the village with the sign in small letters
"Post Office" over the front porch, which was crowded with samples of
what were for sale at the store.

Entering the open door, he asked in his most suave manner if there was a
letter for "Michael Murphy, lately from Tipperary." The thin old lady in
spectacles behind the counter, at the front, pulled the half dozen
missives from the pigeon hole over which the letter "M" showed and slowly
inspected each. She gently shook her head:

"It doesn't seem to have arrived; probably it will come in the next
mail."

Mike's genial face became the picture of disappointment.

"That's mighty qu'ar. The Duke promised he would write me two waaks ago
from his castle and return the five pounds I loaned him. Ye can't thrust
the nobility."

"I am sorry," said the sympathetic postmistress, "but I don't see how I
can help you. Have patience and all will come right."

"Don't think it's yersilf I'm blaming, though onraisoning folks are
inclined that way. The matter of a little money doesn't consarn me, but
it's the aboose of me confidence."

Just then a man came in to inquire for a letter, and the sweet looking
old lady was obliged to withdraw her attention from the freckled face
before her.

During this brief interview a girl not yet out of short dresses stood
behind the counter, measuring out some calico for a woman in a scoop
shovel-bonnet. The girl's face was as mirthful as Mike's, and her black
eyes twinkled with mischief. She heard all that was said, and read the
youth like a book. He looked more at her than at her mother, and could
not help being pleased with the lively young lady. Never at loss for an
excuse in such circumstances, he waited at the front of the store,
sighing as if greatly depressed, until the woman customer paid her bill,
accepted the roll and walked out. Then Mike, blushing so far as it was
possible to do so, moved respectfully toward the smiling attraction.

"I lost me wheelbarrer in coming up from me launch; have ye anything of
the kind ye would be willing to sell to a poor orphan?"

"Will one be all you want?" asked the miss. "We can furnish you with a
dozen as well as a single barrow. How much would you like to pay?"

Mike was caught. He had taken a comprehensive survey of the display
outside the store before entering, and was sure that only the simplest
agricultural implements were on sale. Furthermore, he had less than a
silver dollar in his pockets.

"I'll have to wait to consoolt me partners," he replied, while nature did
her best to deepen the blush on his broad countenance. "Ye see it's them
that has to do the work fur me, and it's only fair on me side to let them
have something to say about the ch'ice of tools. What do ye think
yersilf?"

"I think you haven't any wish to buy a wheelbarrow, that you haven't the
money to pay for it, and I know we haven't one in the store--so I think
further that there won't be any sale so far as wheelbarrows are
concerned."



CHAPTER XI

AT THE POST OFFICE IN BEARTOWN


Although Mike Murphy rarely got the worst of it in a bout at repartee, he
had the true sporting instinct and liked the winner because of his
victory. It took a bright person to beat him, but it did happen now and
then, and he enjoyed a clash of wits with one who proved his master,
though in the long run the youth generally came out ahead.

When, therefore, the girl in the post office at Beartown snapped out the
remark just printed, he was roused to admiration. He threw back his head
and the store rang with his infectious laughter.

"Begorra! ye were too much for me that time. If ye'll not think me
impudent, I beg the privilege of shaking hands wid ye."

The merry sprite, laughing almost as heartily as he, though with less
noise, reached a dainty hand across the counter and he grasped it. From
behind the rack at the front of the store, the gentle mother beamed with
a smile. She had heard and understood it all.

"I am afraid, Nora, you were rude to the gentleman," she said in her
silvery voice.

"Not a bit!" was the hearty response of Mike. "I got it that time where
the chicken got the axe--which the same is in the neck. It was a fair hit
and I desarved more, though no one could give it to me."

It may be said that this little incident fixed Mike in the favor of
mother and daughter. It was hard to resist the rollicking good nature of
the Irish youth, who was equally impressed by the gentle goodness of the
mother and the sprightly wit of the daughter. He now called a halt with
his nonsense and gave a true account of the situation. His two companions
were the sons of wealthy parents and one of them owned a beautiful motor
launch which broke down while descending the river from Wiscasset. He had
left the two trying to tinker it in shape, but had doubts of their
success. In case they failed, it would be very pleasing to them if they
could get supper and lodging in Beartown. Would the good woman advise
them where to apply?

She replied that she would be glad to meet their wants, though they would
be disappointed with the poor meals and lodging, for she knew they must
be accustomed to much better. This was the invitation for which Mike was
angling and he promptly accepted, assuring the woman that it was a fine
piece of good fortune which more than repaid them for the disabling of
their engine.

"They may repair it and go home," suggested Nora.

"That will make no difference, for I sha'n't return to them till night
comes and then they'll have no ch'ice."

"They may not wait for you," said Nora.

"Little fear of their laving widout me, so nothing will be done till I
arrive, as Brian O'Lynn said when he was walking forth to be hanged."

With no other purpose in mind than to force his friends to stay over
night in the village, Mike Murphy loitered. When the mother and daughter
were not engaged with customers he entertained them by his quaint
remarks, which kept the smile on their faces. He had seated himself, on
the invitation of Nora, in a chair at the rear of the store, where he was
in no one's way and where he could make use of his eyes. Thus it came
about that he observed several interesting facts.

Mrs. Friestone and Nora made up the whole force of the store, which did a
considerable trade in groceries and articles such as a village community
needs. Furthermore, the abundant and excellent stock showed that the
owner was not only enterprising but understood her business. The other
store in Beartown hardly rose to the dignity of a rival.

It may as well be said at this point that her husband, who had been dead
six years, went through the whole war for the Union and was badly wounded
several times. President Grant personally complimented Captain Friestone
for his bravery in battle, and when he became President appointed him as
postmaster at Beartown. He suffered so grievously from his old wounds
that the small post office and his pension were all that saved him and
his young wife from actual want. He took up storekeeping in a small way,
gradually branching out until he had established a flourishing business,
whereupon he did an almost unheard of thing. As soon as he knew his
future was secure, he notified the government that he would no longer
accept a pension and he stuck to the resolution.

The veteran was retained in office by the successors of President Grant
until his death, when the appointment was given to his widow, not a
member of the community asking for a change. The income was meagre, but
the widow had become accustomed to the duties, having performed them
during the last years of her husband's life, and she liked the work. The
store paid so well that it more than met the wants of the two.

When the cheering thousands welcomed the soldiers returning from the war,
a proud father held his little girl on his shoulder and she waved her
hand joyously to the bronzed heroes some of whom were still little more
than boys. One laughing soldier snatched away the child and kissed her.
He was Captain Friestone and the girl was Bessie Elton. The acquaintance
thus begun ripened until the time arrived for her to put on long dresses,
and by and by she became the happy bride of the officer, and never a
shadow darkened their hearthstone until Death called and took away the
brave husband and father.

Mike noticed that a massive safe stood behind the counter in a corner at
the rear of the store. The ponderous door was open, for mother and
daughter had frequent cause to use the repository. Within the steel
structure all the stamps, government funds and daily cash receipts were
deposited at the close of the day's business. The value of these was
slight, but the safe contained a great deal more. While Nora was lighting
the five kerosene lamps, suspended on brackets at favorable points in the
store, a middle aged and somewhat corpulent man bustled in, nodded to the
widow and handed her a large sealed envelope. Mike heard him say,
"Twenty-five hundred," and she replied "Very well." It was evident that
he had brought in that amount of money and left if for security with her.
On the back of the envelope--though of course the youth did not see
this--was written in a large, round hand, "C. Jasper, $2500."

The widow walked to the rear of the store, drew out one of the small
central drawers of the safe and placed the big envelope in it, still
leaving the heavy door open, though the little drawer was locked with a
tiny key.

Five minutes later, a second man, thin, nervous and alert, stepped
through the door, glanced sharply around and passed a similar envelope to
the woman. On the back of it was written, "G. H. Kupfer--$1250."

"You will please give me a receipt," he said in his brisk fashion. The
reply was gentle:

"I cannot do that."

"Why not? It's simple business."

"Mr. Kupfer, because you have more faith in my safe than in your small
one, you bring your money to me. I have not asked it; I should rather not
have it, and I do it only to accommodate you, besides which I charge you
nothing. If burglars should break in and steal your money, I cannot be
responsible. Do I make that clear to you?"

"Why, Mrs. Friestone, I have no fear of that sort; I only ask that you
give me a receipt merely as a matter of record and to save you possible
annoyance. Suppose anything should happen to me--such as my death--my
folks would be put to great trouble to get this money."

"That cannot possibly occur, for your name and the amount are written on
the sealed envelope; I know every member of your family, and in the event
you speak of I should hand it personally to some one of them. On no other
condition will I take your money for safe keeping. Follow your own
pleasure."

"Oh, well," replied the caller, with a nervous laugh, "have it as you
please. I have left money with you before and haven't suffered. But
say----"

As the keen eyes flitted around the store, he saw Mike Murphy sitting
under one of the lamps and looking as if he was not listening to their
conversation. Mr. Kupfer leaned over the counter and lowered his voice:

"Who is he?"

"A young gentleman."

"I don't like his looks."

"Then I advise you not to look at him," was the reply.

"How long is he going to hang round the store?"

"Just so long as it suits his pleasure to do so. He and two of his
friends are going to take supper and stay overnight with us."

"Do you know anything about the two?"

"I have never seen them, and I never saw this young gentleman till this
afternoon."

The caller turned his face and scanned Mike more closely. The youth, who
was boiling with anger, tried to look as if unaware of the insulting
action.

"Please hand that package back," said Mr. Kupfer, with a compression of
his thin lips.

Without a word, the widow passed the envelope to the man, who whisked
through the open door, fairly leaping off the porch to the dusty path.

Who shall describe the emotions of Mike Murphy during these exasperating
moments? He recalled the experience of Alvin and Chester, as they related
it to him, when they were arrested as post office robbers some days
before, and now something similar in essence had come to him. But what
could he do? He would have liked to pummel the one who had insulted him,
but that was impracticable, inasmuch as he had not addressed any words to
the youth.

While he was fuming and glaring at the door through which the man had
disappeared, Mike heard a soft chuckle behind him. He whisked his head
around and saw Nora standing beside the safe just back of him, stuffing
her handkerchief in her mouth and with her face almost as crimson as his
own.

"If I may be so bowld I should like to know what ye are laughing at,"
said Mike, who could feel no resentment toward the merry young miss.

"We both heard what he said," she replied as soon as she could command
her voice.

"Being I faal like a firecracker that has jest been teched off, I suspict
I caught his loving remarks consarning mesilf."

"Will you tell me something truly--upon your word of honor--take your
dying oath?"

"That I will, ye may depind upon the same."

"Are you a real post office robber?"



CHAPTER XII

HOSTESSES AND GUESTS


Mike affected to be greatly embarrassed by the question of Nora
Friestone. He swallowed what seemed to be a lump rising in his throat,
grinned in a sickly way and then asked as if much distressed:

"Do ye insist on me answering yer quistion?"

"I do," she replied, with an expression of tremendous solemnity.

"Then I'll hev to own that I'm the champion post office robber in Maine.
It was mesilf that plundered three offices, each a hundred miles from the
ither, on the same night and burned up an old man, his wife and siven
children that vintured to dispoot me will. I've been in the bus'ness iver
since the year one and me home is Murthersville at the head of
Murthersville Creek in Murthersville County."

Rising from his chair, Mike bowed low.

"I thrust I have answered yer quistions satisfactorily, Miss."

"You couldn't have done better--hello, Jim!"

This salutation was to a big gawky boy, who slouched through the door,
with the announcement:

"Wal, I'm ready: what shall I do?"

"Who's yer frind?" asked Mike of Nora.

"He comes round each morning to take out and place the things on the
porch in front and brings them in again each evening"

"Jim," said Mike, addressing the gaping youngster, "ye're discharged fur
to-night. I'm doing yer job for the avening, but you git your wages just
the same."

With which Mike thrust his hand into his trousers pocket and drew out one
of the three silver quarters there, handing it to the boy, who was too
mystified to understand what it meant.

"Yaws," he said, with a silly grin, looking at the coin and then clasping
it tight; "what do yuh warnt me to dew?"

"Go right home to yer mommy and give her that quarter to save up fur ye.
Don't git gay on the road and buy a horse and wagon."

"Yaws, but--uh--I don't understand what yuh am drivin' at."

"Ye don't understand anything in this wurruld and by yer looks niver
will."

"He means, Jim," interposed Nora, "that he will bring in the things
to-night for us, but you must come round in the morning and set them out
again. That's plain enough, isn't it?"

"Yaws--but what did he give me so much money fur? I hain't done nothin'
to earn it; I don't understand it."

"We all know that. Come wid me, James."

As Mike spoke, he slipped his arm under that of Jim and walked to the
door, not pausing until they stood on the porch.

"Now, James, tell me where ye live."

"Yaws, what fur?"

"'Cause I asked ye; out wid it!"

The lad pointed a crooked finger down the street to the left.

"Now, see how quick ye can git thar. Don't look back, and whin ye tumbles
over the doorsill, tell yer mither ye won't have any wurruk to do here
until to-morrer mornin'."

"Oh, yaws, I understand--why didn't ye say so afore?"

"'Cause ye wouldn't have understood if I did. Off wid ye!"

And to make sure of being obeyed, Mike gave him a push which caused his
dilapidated straw hat to fall off. He snatched it up and broke into a
lope, as if afraid of harm if he lingered longer in the neighborhood of
such strange doings.

"Now, Miss Nora, if ye'll tell me where ye want these things placed, I
shall be honored by carrying 'em in fur ye."

Mike stood in the front door and looked down the big store to Nora, at
the rear, who called:

"Set them in the back part of the room right here where I'm standing."

"How can I put 'em there, if ye stand there?" asked Mike.

"I expect to get out of your way."

"Oh, yaws," remarked the youth, mimicking Jim, who had shown so much
mental bewilderment.

The task was easy. There were picks, shovels, rakes, hoes, spades, pails,
ice cream freezers, toy wagons with gilt letters, coils of rope and the
various articles displayed by most village or country stores to attract
custom. These were carried in by the lusty Mike, a half dozen at a time,
and set down somewhat loosely at the rear, Nora making a few suggestions
that were hardly needed.

While this was going on, the mother employed herself in locking the safe
for the night. It will be remembered that in addition to the stamps and
money belonging to the government and to herself, a liberal amount was
already there, the property of one of the leading citizens of Beartown,
who was glad to entrust it to the keeping of the honest widow.

"I think," said the daughter when Mike had completed his work, which took
only a few minutes, "you have earned your supper."

"Ah, now what reward can equal the light of yer blue eyes and the swate
smile that shows the purtiest teeth in the State of Maine?" was the
instant inquiry in return.

The mother had just finished locking the safe, and, standing up, she
laughed in her gentle way and said:

"Surely you have kissed the blarney stone, Mike."

"I would have done the same had the chance been mine, which it wasn't. Is
there any more play that ye call wurruk which I can do fur the likes of
ye?"

"Nothing more, thank you. Nora and I will now close the store and attend
to preparing supper."

"And I'll bring me frinds to enj'y the same."

So Mike bade them good night for a brief while, and strode down the road
to find Alvin and Chester, whom, as you know, he met on their way to look
for him. The three lingered and chatted, with the view of giving mother
and daughter time in which to make ready the evening meal.

Following a common fashion of the times, the veteran Carter Friestone, in
building his store and home, made the second story the living room of the
family. It could be reached by the stairs at the back of the regular
entrance, being through a narrow hall where visitors rang a bell when
they called.

The upper front apartment served for parlor and sitting room, and was
neatly furnished, one of the principal articles being a piano. This was a
birthday present to Nora, who was gifted with a naturally sweet voice and
received instruction from the schoolmistress of Beartown. At the rear was
the kitchen and dining room, with two bedrooms between that and the
parlor, facing each other across the hall.

Nora answered the tinkle of the bell, and Alvin and Chester were
introduced to her under the light of the hanging lamp overhead. The
little party found the mother awaiting them at the head of the stairs.

"Supper will be ready in a few minutes," she said. "Nora will entertain
you in the parlor until I call you."

The girl escorted them to the front room, where all sat down and chatted
with the cheery good nature proper in such a party of young folks. Mike
was at his best, and kept all laughing by his drollery. Nora's merriment
filled the room with music. Michael had given his name soon after his
entrance into the store, but insisted that the way to pronounce it was
"Mike," not "Michael."

"I never knew such a funny person," said Nora, after one of his quaint
remarks. "Mother and I took to him from the first."

"I find it's a common wakeness whereiver I go," said Mike gravely.

"We find him fairly good company," said Alvin. "He seems to have been
born that way and we can hardly blame him."

"He tries our patience very much," added Chester, "but we have learned to
bear the affliction."

"I wish you all lived in Beartown," said Nora impulsively, "and that Mike
would call to see us every day."

"Whisht, now," said he, lowering his voice. "Whin I strolled through the
town on me arrival, I was so chaarmed I began hunting fur a house and
property to buy fur me home. I sthruck the right spot and made an offer
to the owner of the same. I think we'll come to tarms, being there's only
a difference of a thrifle of five or six thousand dollars in the price."

Mrs. Friestone now appeared with word that supper was waiting, and all
passed into the kitchen and dining room. Of course she presided, Nora
acting as waitress whenever necessary. Alvin and Chester complimented
their hostess on the excellence of the meal, while Mike was so
extravagant in his praise that they protested. Alvin told the particulars
of their trip in the launch from home to Wiscasset and return, omitting
of course all reference to Stockham Calvert that would give a hint of his
profession and his purpose in making what looked like an aimless ramble
through this portion of Maine. The Captain was assured that his boat
would not be disturbed where it lay moored under the bank, and he and
Chester gave no further thought to it.

The group lingered long at the table, and at the close of the meal Nora
preceded them to the parlor, were she excused herself in order to help
her mother in washing the dishes and clearing away things. The work was
finished sooner than the friends expected, and the happy party gathered
in the parlor.

The presence of the musical instrument made its own suggestion, and the
lads insisted that Nora should favor them with a song or two. She had the
good taste to comply after a modest protest, and gave them a treat. Her
voice, as I have said, was of fine quality though rather weak, and she
sang several of the popular songs of the day with exquisite expression.
She was so warmly applauded that she blushed and sang again until it was
evident to all she was tired.

"Now," said she as she rose from the stool and looked at Mike, "you must
sing for us, for I know you can."

"Certainly, Mike, show them what you can do in that line," joined Alvin,
and Chester was equally urgent.

He objected and held back, but when Mrs. Friestone joined in the request
he rose reluctantly and went to the instrument.

And straightway came the surprise of the evening.



CHAPTER XIII

AN INCIDENT ON SHIPBOARD


Among the passengers on one of the most magnificent of ocean steamers
that crossed the Atlantic during the summer of which I have made mention,
was a famous prima donna coming to the United States to fulfil a contract
which would net her many thousand dollars. This notable artist who
possessed a most winning personality as well as great beauty was easily
the most popular passenger aboard the steamer on that memorable trip
across the ocean.

One evening this lady was strolling over the promenade deck under the
escort of her brother. The night was unusually calm, with a bright moon
in the sky. The mighty throbbing structure glided over the sleeping
billows as across a millpond, and all were in fine spirits, for they were
nearing home, and that dreadful affliction _mal de mer_ had troubled only
the abnormally sensitive. Neither the brother nor the prima donna had
felt the slightest effects.

The two were chatting of many things, but nothing of any importance, when
she suddenly stopped with an exclamation of surprise.

"Listen!" she added when they had stood motionless for a few seconds; "do
you hear that?"

"I do; it is wonderful."

It was the voice of some one singing "Mavourneen," that sweet Irish
melody which has charmed and will always charm thousands. It came from
the second class section, which was separated from the first by two
gates. These marked the "impassable chasm," so far as the less favored
were concerned, though of course the first class passengers were free to
wander whither they chose.

The lady and gentleman walked to the barrier and looked across.

"There he is!" said the man, in a low tone.

"Where?" asked his companion, with eager curiosity.

"To the right, in front of that group which has gathered round him."

"I see him now. Why, he is only a boy."

"A pretty big one. But hark!"

They ceased talking that they might not lose any of the marvellous music.
Others gathered near until more than a score were listening near the
bridge. Many more paused in different parts of the deck, and even the
grim captain high up on the bridge expressed the opinion that the
singer's voice was "infernally good."

The singer was modest, for when he discovered the number of listeners he
abruptly ceased nor could any coaxing induce him to resume the treat.

"Louis," said the prima donna, after the silence had lasted some minutes
and the various groups began dissolving, "I want you to bring that boy to
me."

"Why, my dear, he is a second class passenger."

"What of that? He has a divine gift in his voice. I must meet him."

Louis shrugged his shoulders, but he was used to the whims of his
brilliant sister. He strolled through one of the gates while she awaited
his return. He soon appeared, walking slowly, in order to keep pace with
a big boy behind him, who, it was evident, moved with deep reluctance.
Louis led him straight to the lady, who advanced a step to meet him.

"I wish to shake hands with you," she said in her frank, winning manner,
"and to tell you how much we all enjoyed your singing of 'Mavourneen.'"

The confused lad doffed his cap and bowed with awkward grace.

"It was mesilf that feared I was disturbing yer slumbers, which if it be
the fact I beg yer pardon fur the same."

"Disturbing our slumbers! Did you hear that, Louis?"

And the artist's musical laughter rang out. More soberly she asked:

"Will you tell me your name?"

"Mike Murphy--not Michael as some ignorant persons call it--and I'm from
Tipperary, in the County of Tipperary, and the town is a hundred miles
from Dublin--thank ye kindly, leddy."

"Are you alone?"

Mike was standing with his cap in hand where the moonlight revealed his
homely face and his shock of red hair. His self-possession had quickly
come back to him and his waggishness could not be repressed. He glanced
into the beautiful face before him and made answer:

"How can I be alone, whin I'm standing in the prisence of the swatest
lady on boord the steamer, wid her father at her elbow?"

How the prima donna laughed!

"Louis, he thinks you are my father, when you are my twin brother! It's
delicious."

"It may be for you, but not for me," he grimly answered, though scarcely
less pleased than she over the pointed compliment to her.

Addressing Mike, the lady said:

"You have a wonderfully fine tenor voice: do you know that, Mike?"

"I do _now_, since yersilf has told me, though ye make me blush."

"Are you travelling alone?"

"Yes, Miss; I'm on me way to jine me dad and mither, which the same live
in the State of Maine, of which I suppose yersilf has heerd."

"Have you had any instruction in music or the cultivation of your voice?"

"The only insthrumint on which I can play is the jewsharp, and folks that
hear me always kindly requists me to have done as soon as I begin. As to
me v'ice, the cultivation I've resaved has been in shouting at the cows
when they wint astray or at the pigs whin they broke out of the stye."

"How would you like to become an opera singer, Mike?"

He recoiled, and, though he knew the meaning of the question, he asked:

"And phwat does ye mane by 'opera'?"

"Ah, you know, you sly boy. I am sure that after a few years of training
you can make your fortune on the operatic stage."

The assurance did not appeal to Mike. He must find some excuse for
declining an offer which would have turned the heads of most persons.

"It is very kind of you, leddy, and I'm sorry I can't accipt, as Terence
Gallagher said whin the mob invited him out to be hanged."

"And why not?"

"Ye see, me dad, if he lives long enough will be eighty-odd years owld,
and me mither is alriddy that feeble she can hardly walk across the floor
of our cabin, and I am naaded at home to take care of the two."

"Well, let that go for the present. I wish you to come and see me
to-morrow at ten o'clock. Will you do so?"

"How can I refoos?" asked Mike, who would have been glad to back out.
"Who is it that I shall ask fur whin I vinture on this part of the boat?"

She gave him her name, thanked him for the meeting and bade him good
night. Mike donned his cap and returned to his acquaintances, to whom he
told a portion of what had taken place.

Dressed in his best, his obdurate hair smoothed down by dousing it in
water and threading a brush many times through it, and spotlessly clean,
Mike with many misgivings crossed the bridge the next morning into the
more favored section of the steamer. He did not have to make inquiries
for the lady, for she stood smilingly at the end of the first class
promenade awaiting him. She extended her dainty gloved hand, and the lad,
who had braced himself for the ordeal, had shed most of his awkwardness.
The brother kept in the background, having been ordered to do so, but he
amusedly watched the two from a distance, as did a good many others.

The prima donna conducted Mike straight to the grand saloon and sat down
before the superb piano. Others sauntered into the room to listen and
look and enjoy.

The frightened Mike hung back.

"Stand right here beside me," she said with pleasant imperiousness. "I
will play the accompaniment while you sing 'Mavourneen.'"

"I'm that scared, me leddy, that I couldn't sing a word."

"Tut, tut--none of that. Come, try!" and she struck several notes on the
instrument.

Mike's voice was a trifle uncertain at first, but she knew how to
encourage him, and soon the tones rang out with the exquisite sweetness
that had charmed the listeners the evening before. When with many doubts
he finished, he was startled by a vigorous handclapping that caused him
to look round. Fully fifty men and women had gathered without his
suspecting it. He bowed and was turning to walk to a chair, when the lady
stopped him.

"You are not through yet; I must test your voice further. Can you sing
any other songs?"

"I have thried a few."

"Name them."

"I can't ricollect them at this moment, but there's 'Oft in the Stilly
Night' and----"

"That will do; it is one of Tom Moore's prettiest. Are you ready?"

And the fast increasing audience applauded to the echo. Other pieces
followed until the prima donna allowed him to rest. Then sitting down
beside him, she said:

"As I told you last night, you have a fortune in your voice. If you can
arrange to leave your feeble parents to the care of others, you can soon
earn enough to keep them in comfort all their lives. If you can come to
Boston or New York when I sing there, you must not fail to call on me and
to attend the concert. Here is my card."

She had already written a few lines upon the pasteboard which made it an
open sesame to the possessor to any and all of her concerts. Mike thanked
her gratefully, and had to promise to come to see her again before the
steamer reached New York, and to think over her proposal. He kept his
promise so far as calling on her again, not once but several times before
she bade him good-by on the pier.

But, as I have said, there was nothing in her plan that appealed to the
Irish youth. The modest fellow never told of the occurrence to anyone,
nor did he give it more than a passing thought in the weeks and months
that followed. The brother of the prima donna imparted the particulars to
his intimate friend Gideon Landon, the wealthy banker, and in this way I
am able to relate the incident on shipboard.



CHAPTER XIV

"THE NIGHT SHALL BE FILLED WITH MUSIC"


The prima donna who grew so fond of Mike discovered several interesting
facts about him, aside from his marvellous tenor voice. He had the talent
of improvisation. When they became well enough acquainted for him to feel
at ease in her presence, he sang bits of melody that were his own
composition. She was delighted and encouraged him to cultivate the gift.
Of course he knew nothing about playing any instrument, but under her
instruction he quickly picked up the art of accompanying himself on the
piano. The music which he sang was of the simplest nature and the chords
suggested themselves to his ear.

Another peculiarity of the lad was that, despite his exuberant,
rollicking nature, he had no taste for humorous music. When she asked him
to sing a lively song, he shook his head. He not only knew none, but had
no wish to learn any. His liking was for sentiment and tenderness of
feeling. Moore's melodies were his favorites and he knew few others. At
the last meeting of Mike and the lady she gave him a fragment of verse
which she had cut from a paper and asked him to compose a melody for it.
He promised to try.

With this rather lengthy explanation, and the fact that neither Alvin
Landon nor Chester Haynes had ever heard him sing, though both had
noticed that his voice was peculiarly clear, you will understand the
surprise that awaited them when he walked to the piano and reluctantly
sat down. The hoarseness which followed his shouting when marooned on
White Islands was gone and his notes were as clear as a bell.

Every one expected a mirth-provoking song when he placed his foot on the
pedal and his fingers touched the keys. Even Widow Friestone smiled in
anticipation, while Alvin and Chester feared that in his ignorance of
true singing his attempts would become comical to the last degree. The
listeners glanced significantly to one another, while he was bringing out
a few preliminary notes.

Suddenly into the room burst the most ravishing music from the sweetest
voice they had ever heard.

               "The harp that once through Tara's halls
                 The soul of music shed,
               Now hangs as mute on Tara's walls
                 As if that soul were fled.
               So sleeps the pride of former days,
                 So glory's thrill is o'er,
               And hearts that once beat high for praise,
                 Now feel that pulse no more."

With the same bewitching sweetness he sang the remaining stanza, and then
paused with his fingers idly rambling over the keys, as if in doubt what
next to do.

There was no applause. Not a person moved or seemed to breathe. Then
Alvin and Chester looked wonderingly at each other, as if doubting their
own senses. Whoever imagined that Mike Murphy was gifted with so
wonderful a voice? It seemed as if they were dreaming and were waiting
for the spell to lift.

It would have been affectation on the part of Mike to pretend he was
ignorant of the effect he had produced. He had seen it too often in the
past, and he knew the great songstress on the steamer would not have said
what she did had there not been good basis therefor. So, without seeming
to notice the hush--the most sincere tribute possible--he sang the old
favorite "Mavourneen," and at its conclusion "Annie Laurie," with a
liquidity of tone that was never surpassed by throat of nightingale.

At its conclusion he swung round on the stool, sprang up and dropped into
the nearest chair, looking about as if doubtful of the reception that was
to attend his efforts.

Nora was the first to rally. She uttered one ecstatic "Oh!" bounded
across the floor, threw her dimpled arms about his neck and kissed him on
the cheek.

"You darling! You sing like an angel!"

"Nothing could be sweeter," added the smiling mother. Mike gently kissed
the girl on her forehead, and did not release her until she drew away.

"Ye're very kind. It's mesilf is glad me efforts seemed to plaise ye,
though I'm in doubt as to the Captain and second mate."

Alvin walked silently across the floor and reached out his hand.

"Glad to know ye," replied Mike, with a grin, looking up in the face that
had actually turned slightly pale. "What is yer name, plaise?"

Chester joined his chum.

"Mike, Alvin and I were silent, for we didn't know what to say. You have
given us the surprise of our lives. I am no singer and never can be, but
I would give a hundred thousand dollars, if I had it, for your voice.
Alvin makes some pretensions. He is the leader of his school quartette,
but he can't equal you."

"Equal him!" sniffed the Captain. "If Mike ever shows himself where our
quartette is trying to sing, I shall make every one shut up to save
ourselves from disgrace. As for Mike, we'll give him the choice to sing
for us or to be killed."

Chester asked reprovingly:

"Why didn't you let us know about this before?"

"Ye didn't ask me, and what could be the difference if ye didn't find it
out? Ye wouldn't have larned the same if Nora and her mither hadn't
insisted that I should entertain them, as I tried to do."

"You are a queer make-up," replied Alvin, with a laugh.

"Since ye are the leader, Captain, of yer quartette at school, it's up to
ye to obleege the company wid something in their line."

Nora added her entreaties.

"We know you can do very well, Alvin, though of course not half so well
as Mike, for _nobody_ can do that," was the naïve argument of the miss.

"No, sir," said Alvin emphatically, and, assuming deep solemnity, he
raised his hand. "I vow that I will never, never sing in Mike's presence.
I can stand a joke as well as most persons, but that is the limit. Here's
Chester, however. He will be glad to give Mike a few lessons."

The fun of it was that Chester could not sing the chromatic scale
correctly if his life were at stake. He was not rattled by the request.

"Mike, can you play the accompaniment to 'Greenville'?" he asked.

"How does it go? Hum the same fur me so I can catch it."

Chester stood up and "hummed," but without the slightest resemblance to
any tune that the others had ever heard.

"That gits me," commented Mike, "as Teddy O'Rourke said whin the
p'liceman grabbed him. If ye'll sthrike in I'll do my best to keep wid
ye."

"No, sir; I decline to play second fiddle to anyone," and Chester resumed
his seat as if in high dudgeon.

At this moment Nora asked of Mike:

"Did you ever make up music for yourself?"

"I have tried once or twice, but didn't do much."

"Oh, please sing us something of your own."

"A leddy on the steamer that brought me over give me some printed words
one day wid the requist that I should try to put some music to 'em. I
furgot the same till after she had gone, but I'll make the effort if ye
all won't be too hard on me."

(This was the only reference that Mike was ever heard to make to the
incidents recorded in the previous chapter.)

And then the Irish lad sang "The Sweet Long Ago."



CHAPTER XV

A KNOCK AT THE DOOR


Alvin easily caught the swing of the bass and sang when the chorus was
reached. Mike barely touched the keys, bringing out a few faint chords
that could not add to the sweetness of his voice. Mrs. Friestone sat
motionless, looking intently at him until he came to the last words. Then
she abruptly took off her glasses and put her handkerchief to her eyes.

The sweet long ago! Again she saw the handsome, sturdy youth when he
returned from the war for the defence of his country, as brave, as
resolute, as aflame with patriotism as in his earlier years, but with
frame wrenched by painful wounds. Their lives were inexpressibly happy
from the time she became a bride, and their maturer age was blessed by
the gift of darling Nora. Existence became one grand sweet dream--more
happy, more radiant and more a foretaste of what awaited them all in the
great beyond. That loved form had vanished in the sweet long ago, but the
memory could never fade or grow dim.

It was the song that brought back the picture with a vividness it had not
worn for many a year. The tears would come, and Nora, glancing at her
mother, buried her face in her own handkerchief and sobbed. Alvin and
Chester sat silent, and Mike, turning gently on the stool, looked
sympathetically at mother and daughter.

"Thank you, Mike," came a soft, choking voice from behind the snowy bit
of linen, and the brave lad winked rapidly and fought back the tears that
crowded into his honest eyes.

It was not strange that the effect of Mike Murphy's beautiful singing of
the touching songs brooded like a benison throughout the evening. Even
Nora, when asked to favor them again, shook her head.

"Not after Mike," she replied, her eyes gleaming more brightly through
the moisture not yet dried.

It was impossible for the Irish lad to restrain his humor, and soon he
had them all smiling, but there was no loud laughter such as greeted his
first sallies, and the conversation as a whole was soberer and more
thoughtful. Alvin and Chester told of their school experiences, and
finally Mike related his adventure when marooned on the lonely island
well out toward the Atlantic and his friends found him after they had
given him up as drowned.

So the evening wore away until, at a seasonable hour, the head of the
household said that when they wished to retire she would show them to
their room. Just then Mike had his hand over his mouth in the effort to
repress a yawn. Nora laughingly pointed at him.

"In a few minutes he'll be asleep and will tumble off his chair."

"I'm afeard ye're right, as I replied to me tacher whin he obsarved that
I was the biggest numskull in Tipperary County. Come, Captain and sicond
mate--ye won't forgit, Miss Nora, that I'm _first_ mate of the battleship
_Deerfut_."

The girl went to the kitchen from which she speedily returned, carrying a
hand lamp, which she gave to her mother. She nodded to the lads, who
followed her to the door of the apartment assigned them for the night.
They entered behind her as she set the light on the stand and turned
about.

"I think you will find everything as you wish."

"It couldn't be itherwise, whin it's yersilf that has provided the same.
Be that token, we're getting more than we desarve."

"Nothing could be finer," added Alvin, glancing round the lighted room.
"It's as neat as a pin and we shall sleep the sleep of the just."

The three had noticed when in the parlor the portrait suspended in the
place of honor. The blue uniform, the military cap resting on one knee,
and the strong, expressive face told their own story. It was the picture
of Captain Carter Friestone, taken many a year before, when in the flush
of his patriotic young manhood. A smaller picture was on the wall of the
bedroom of mother and daughter.

The chamber which the lads entered was graced with two small, inexpensive
pictures of a religious character, a pretty rug covered most of the
floor, the walls were tastefully papered and there were several chairs,
to say nothing of the mirror, stand and other conveniences.

Not only was the broad bed with its snowy counterpane and downy pillows
roomy enough for two, but a wide cot had been placed on the other side of
the neat little room for whoever chose to sleep upon it.

That which caught the eye of the three was a musket leaning in the far
corner. Chester stepped across, and asking permission of Mrs. Friestone,
picked it up and brought it over to where the light was stronger. He saw
it was a Springfield rifle, but the lock and base of the barrel were torn
into gaping rents.

"I suppose this belonged to the captain," said Chester inquiringly. The
widow nodded her head.

"And it did good service--that is certain," added Chester, with his
companions beside him scrutinizing the weapon. "But it seems to have been
injured."

She smiled faintly.

"Carter brought it home from the war, declaring it was better than when
new. He put a double charge in one Fourth of July morning, forgetting
that the weapon was much worn from many previous firings. It exploded at
the lock and came very near killing him. But," she added, with a sigh,
"it is very precious to me."

"I am sure of that," said Chester as he reverently carried the gun back
to the corner.

The good woman kissed each lad on the forehead. When she thus saluted
Mike, who was the last, she placed her thin hand on his head, and said
with infinite tenderness:

"I thank you for what you did to-night."

"I beg ye don't mintion it----"

Mike stopped abruptly, and pretending to see something interesting in the
old rifle, hurried across the room to examine it more closely.

"Good night and pleasant dreams," called the lady as she passed out,
noiselessly closing the door behind her.

It having been agreed that Mike should use the cot, the three prepared
for retiring, the mind of each full of the experience of the evening.
Both Alvin and Chester wished to speak of the extraordinary voice of
Mike, but neither did, for they knew he would prefer they should not. He
could not help knowing how greatly he had been favored by nature, and
disliked any reminder.

The wick of the lamp was turned down and blown out by Alvin, after
glancing around and noting that his companions were ready. Through the
raised window, opening over a broad alley, the cool wind stole. It so
came about that for several days and nights, including the one of which I
am now speaking, the leading cities of the country, embracing even
Boston, were suffering from one of the most intense heat waves that ever
swept like a furnace blast over most of the States in the Union. But in
favored southern Maine it was ideally cool. You could stand a thin
covering at night, or you could cast it aside. You were equally
comfortable in either situation.

Our young friends ought to have sunk into a sound sleep within a few
minutes after lying down, but they did not. Something was on their minds,
and the singular fact of it was that the thoughts of each were
identically the same, though as yet not a hint had been dropped by
anyone.

It was Mike who abruptly spoke:

"I say, Captain, are ye aslaap?"

"I ought to be, but I was never wider awake."

"How about the second mate?"

"The same here," was the reply from that individual.

"I wish to obsarve that I'm engaged just now in thinking, byes."

"Thinking of what?" asked Alvin.

"'Spose them post office robbers should pay this place a visit."

"What in the world put that in your head?"

"Didn't the same thought come to ye, Captain?"

"I must admit it did."

"And how is it with the second mate?"

"It has troubled me, too, Mike."

"But I can see no real cause for misgiving," added Alvin.

"We know the _Water Witch_ is somewhere in the neighborhood," remarked
Chester, to which his chum replied:

"What could attract them to a small office like this? They hunt for
bigger game."

"There's a good lot of money in the safe downstairs," said Mike. "'Twas
mesilf that obsarved one of the leddy's callers gave her twinty-five
hundred dollars, which she put away. Where could the spalpeens make a
bigger haul?"

"But how should they know about it? They didn't see it done," said Alvin.

"Hist, now! From what me eyes told me, the same being anither chap called
and would have lift more, had he not been afeard of me eagle eye that was
on him."

"What of that?"

"Doesn't it show that it's the practice in Beartown wid some of them as
has lots of money to lave the same wid the leddy? Thim chaps are prying
round and it would be aisy fur 'em to larn the fact."

"We should have seen something of them if they were in this village."

Alvin felt the weakness of this statement, for such unwelcome visitors
would be too shrewd to expose themselves to discovery when it was
possible to avoid it. All three might have been in Beartown for hours
without drawing attention to themselves and without giving Mike, during
his earlier visit, a glimpse of them.

Speculating in this manner, Alvin and Mike came to the belief, or rather
hope, that their good friend was in no danger of a burglarious visit.
Chester would not be convinced, but expressed the hope that they were
right.

"I shall make bold to remind Mrs. Friestone in the morning of the risk
she runs and advise her to cease accepting any outside deposits."

Chester was the last to fall asleep. It was a long time before he sank
into slumber, but by and by he glided into the realm of dreams. He had no
means of knowing how long he lay unconscious, when he gradually became
aware of a peculiar tapping somewhere near. A moment's listening told him
that someone was knocking on the door.



CHAPTER XVI

VISITORS OF THE NIGHT


Chester bounded out of bed and hunted to the door, which he unlocked and
opened for a few inches. He could see nothing in the gloom, and asked in
a whisper:

"Who is it?"

"It is I--Nora. Mamma and I are awfully scared."

"What's the matter?"

"Somebody is in the store downstairs."

"How do you know that?"

"Mamma heard the window raised and woke me. She asked me to call you
boys."

"Wait a moment and we'll be with you."

It showed how lightly Alvin and Mike were sleeping when they were
instantly roused by the slight noise made in opening the door. Each sat
on the side of his couch and listened. In the deep silence they heard the
snatch of conversation and hurriedly began putting on their clothes. They
wrought silently and without lighting the lamp.

"I expected it," remarked Chester, imitating them.

Mrs. Friestone joined her daughter in the dark hall, she being too wise
to use a light. A moment later the whole party stood together in the
gloom, where neither could see the face of the others.

"Hark!" whispered the mother.

The five stood for a minute without stirring or speaking and hardly
breathing. Not the slightest sound reached their ears. Then Chester asked
in a guarded undertone:

"Are you sure you were not mistaken, Mrs. Friestone?"

"I could not have been; the sound of the raising of the window was too
distinct for me to be deceived--hark!" she warned again.

This time all heard something. It was a faint, rasping noise such as
might have been caused by the cautious pushing of a box or large smooth
object over the floor. If this were so, the article could not have been
moved more than a few inches, for the sound ceased immediately.

"You are right," said Alvin; "you have visitors. About what time do you
suppose it is?"

"The clock struck twelve quite awhile ago. There! it is now one," she
added as a silvery tinkle came from the parlor.

"What shall we do?" asked Nora, echoing the question that was in the mind
of every one.

And then a strange council was held in a place so dark that all who took
part were mutually invisible.

It would seem that the common sense course was to make a noise that would
be heard by the burglars and would scare them off. That is to say that
theoretically this would occur, but it might not. Knowing how much loot
was within their reach, if not already in hand, one or two of them were
likely to hurry upstairs and compel those that were there to hold their
peace, hesitating at no violence to enforce their orders.

While the boys were eager to take the risk, the mother would not agree
and the plan had to be abandoned.

The next proposal was for each to thrust his or her head out of a window
and call for help. The cry would rouse the village and it would not take
long for many citizens to rush thither. Beartown had no police force, the
only officer of the peace being a constable who was lame and cross-eyed
and lived at the farthest end of the village. No dependence could be
placed on him, but there were plenty of others who would gladly hasten to
the help of mother and daughter.

This was the only thing to do, and it would have been done but for the
hysterical opposition of Nora Friestone. She declared that the dreadful
robbers--she was sure of it--would hurry upstairs the instant the first
scream was made and kill every one before any help could arrive! It might
not take more than five or ten minutes for friends to run to the spot,
but that would be enough for the burglars to complete their awful work.

Possibly the girl might have been argued out of her absurd fear had she
not won her mother to her side. She took the same view.

"What then is to be done?" asked Chester a trifle impatiently.

"Nothing; they can't get the safe open, if they work till daylight."

"They can do it in a few minutes if they use dynamite, and at the same
time blow out the whole end of your house."

To this terrifying declaration the lady could make no reply except to
say:

"We may as well go back to our rooms."

It was on the point of Chester's tongue to ask in view of this conclusion
why Nora had knocked on their door, but he thought best to refrain.

"Whisht!" whispered Mike; "let's go to the parlor, where we have the
moonlight to help us."

Walking on tiptoe and as silent as so many cats, the party moved through
the hall to the front room. The straining ears heard nothing more from
below stairs, though there could be no doubt that their visitors were
still there.

As Mike had intimated, the round, clear moon was in the sky, and looking
from the windows it seemed almost as bright as day. The party stood just
far enough back to be invisible to anyone in the street below. A row of
elms lined each side of the highway, being mutually separated by a dozen
yards or so. They were small, having been set out only a few years
before, but were in full foliage and the most remote ones cast a shadow
into the highway. On the same side of what was the main street, each
frame house that served for a dwelling had a yard, shrubbery and flowers
in front. Farther to the left was the small grocery store, while to the
right on the same side as the post office was the pert little village
church to which reference has already been made.

At this hour all Beartown seemed to be sunk in slumber, as was quite
proper should be the case. From not a single window twinkled a light nor
was man, woman or boy seen on the street. A solitary dog, with nose down
and travelling diagonally as canines sometimes do, trotted to the front
gate of the house opposite the post office, jumped over and passed from
view to the rear.

"I wonder what that man is waiting there for."

It was Nora who whispered this question, which instantly put the others
on the _qui vive_.

"I don't see any man; where is he?" asked Chester.

"Under that tree opposite; he's in plain sight."

Such was the fact now that she had directed attention to him. The elm was
directly across the street, and had a trunk not more than six or eight
inches in diameter. A man was standing motionless under the dense foliage
several feet above his head, doing nothing except simply to stand there.

"He is the lookout," said Chester.

"What's a lookout?" asked the nervous Nora.

"He is there to watch for danger that may threaten the others who are
inside and working at your mother's safe. If he sees anything wrong he
will give a signal, probably by means of a whistle, and the fellows below
will run."

"Why couldn't you give the signal?"

"I could if I knew what it is, but I don't."

"Look! he is coming over here!" exclaimed the affrighted Nora, as the man
stepped from the shadow, walked half way across the street, and then
halted as if in doubt whether to advance farther.

"No fear of his visiting us," Alvin assured her; "but it is best to keep
out of sight."

All shrank still farther back, when there was no possibility of being
seen in the first place. The man did not look up, but kept his slouch hat
pulled so far down that nothing of his face was visible. He held his
position for perhaps five minutes, when he turned about and went back to
his post. There could be no doubt that he was the lookout of the gang, as
Chester had said when he was first noticed. Not once did he look up
before reaching his place, so that none of our friends caught a glimpse
of his features.

What a unique situation! One or more burglars were at work on the safe
below stairs, and there were five persons on the floor above who knew it,
but did not raise voice or a hand to interfere with them. It has been
explained why, though it should be added that in the way of firearms
there was only the single worthless Springfield rifle in the house. It
was mother and daughter who held the three lads supine. Had they been
left free they would have acted immediately on first learning of the
presence of the criminals.

Chester had spoken the word "dynamite," and it was that terrific
explosive which he and his companions dreaded unspeakably. If the charge
were fired, it would not only blow the massive safe apart, but was likely
to wreck the building itself and probably inflict death to more than one
in the dwelling.

Mike Murphy chafed more than his comrades. Reflecting on the exasperating
state of affairs, he determined to do something despite the opposition of
the mother and daughter. A few minutes' thought suggested a plan. He
would have revealed it to Alvin and Chester, but feared they would
prevent action or that his whispering in the darkness of the room would
awaken the suspicion of the other two.

Only when near the front windows could the members of the party dimly see
one another. They had withdrawn so far at sight of the approach of the
man on guard that the light ill served them. Mike stealthily retreated to
the open door leading into the hall. Neither of his comrades heard him,
and he groped along the passage, with hands outstretched on each side to
guide him. The feet were lifted and set down without noise, and by and by
he came to the opening leading to the bedroom. Across this he made his
way with the same noiseless stealth, until the groping hand touched the
battered rifle, which he lifted from its resting place. Back into the
hall again, and then through the dining room, inch by inch, to where he
remembered seeing the head of the stairs, though he knew nothing beyond
that. He would have struck a match but for fear of attracting the notice
of those below.

"I've only to feel each step," he reflected, "and I'll soon arrive, and
then won't fur of the spalpeens fly?"

His unfamiliarity with the stairs made him think they were not so nearly
perpendicular as was the fact. While the thought was in his mind, he made
a misstep and, unable to check himself, went bumping all the way to the
bottom.



CHAPTER XVII

"TALL OAKS FROM LITTLE ACORNS GROW"


If you wish an illustration of how great events often flow from trifling
causes read what follows. It is one of the many events which prove that
"tall oaks from little acorns grow."

You have not forgotten Jim, the gawky, overgrown boy who had a verbal
contract with Mrs. Friestone which bound him to go to the store each
weekday morning and set out on the front porch the score or more samples
of the goods that were on sale within. The same agreement required him to
come around at dusk each evening and carry them inside, his weekly wage
for such duty being twenty-five cents. When, therefore, Mike Murphy
handed him a silver quarter and assumed the job for that single night,
Jim received a whole week's pay for turning it over to the Irish lad. It
is not so strange that the youngster was confused at first over his bit
of luck, which he did not fully understand until he reached home and had
eaten his supper.

Now by one of those curious coincidences which occur oftener in this life
than most people think, that day was the anniversary of Jim's birth.
Being a good boy, as such things go, his father presented him with a fine
pocketknife, than which nothing could have pleased his son better. It was
really an excellent article, having four blades, one of which was a file,
two of small size, and one quite large, the three being almost as
keen-edged as a razor. Straightway the happy lad selected his right hand
trousers pocket as the home of the knife when not in use. The
miscellaneous articles, such as a jewsharp, a piece of twine, a key,
three coppers, a piece of resin, several marbles, two ten-penny nails, a
stub of a lead pencil and a few other things were shifted to the left
side repository, where also he deposited the shining silver coin, after
showing it to his parents and telling them how he fell heir to it.

The chat of the family shut out reference to the knife for most of the
evening. Both parents were inclined to be gossipy, and they indulged in
many guesses as to the identity of the donor and what caused him to be so
liberal. The mother's first thought was that the red-haired,
freckle-faced youth was a newcomer to Beartown, and had secured Jim's
job, but that fear was removed by Jim's declaration that the stranger
distinctly said he intended to do the work only for that evening.

It was not very late when Jim went to his bedroom on the second floor to
retire for the night. When ready to disrobe, he took out the wealth of
treasures in his left pocket, including the bright quarter, and shoved
his hand into the other for the prize that outweighed them all. Then he
emitted a gasp of dismay: the pocket was empty!

For a few moments he could not believe the truth. He frantically searched
his clothing over and over again, but in vain. The explanation was as
clear as noonday. In the bottom of his right-hand pocket was a gaping
rent, through which he pushed two fingers and disgustedly spread them
apart like a fan. He turned the cloth wrong side out and the dreadful
yawn seemed to grin at him.

Weak and faint he sat down on the edge of his trundle bed.

"What made that blamed hole? It wasn't there a little while ago. It must
have wored the hole while I was walking. I wouldn't lose that knife for
ten million dollars. It _can't_ be lost!"

And then he repeated the search, as almost anyone will do in similar
circumstances. He even looked under the jewsharp and among the marbles on
the stand, where a mosquito could not have hidden itself.

"Oh, what's the use!" he exclaimed, dropping down again despairingly on
the bed. "It's lost! Where did I lose it?"

Pulling himself together, he recalled the experiences of the day, from
the time he received the present directly after breakfast. He had tested
the implement many times in the course of the forenoon and afternoon, and
by and by remembered snapping the big blade shut and slipping it into his
pocket as he was going out of the house to the post office to perform his
daily task. He reasoned well.

"I lost it somewhere atween here and the store. I can't see how it
slipped down my trousers leg without me feeling it, but that's what it
done. It's a-laying on the ground atween here and there, onless," he
added, with a catch of his breath, "that ugly looking willain seen me
drop it inside the store. I wonder if he give me that quarter so as to
hurry me out that he might git my knife!"

He shivered at the probability, but rather singularly the dread was
dissipated by a few minutes more of thought.

"If he'd seen it, so would Nora and she'd told me. It's somewhere along
the street."

Such being his conclusion, the all-important question was what should he
do to retrieve his crushing loss. His first inclination was to tell his
parents and then hurry back over the route to look for the treasure. But
it was night. There was no such thing as a lantern in the house, he could
not carry an ordinary light in the breeze, and the search would be
hopeless.

"I'll get up as soon as it is light," he said, "and hunt till I find it."

Trying to gain hope from this decision, he knelt at the side of his bed
to say his prayers, which he never omitted. His petition was longer than
usual and I need not tell you what its chief if not its whole burden was.

Despite the depressing weight upon his spirits, Jim fell asleep and
remained so for several hours, though his slumber was tortured by dreams
of his knife. Sometimes it was tiny as a pin and then bigger than
himself, but it always slipped from his grasp when he reached out to
seize it.

Suddenly he awoke. It took a minute or two to recall his situation, but
soon the startling truth came back to him. He had lost his knife, and,
remembering his resolve before going to sleep, he bounded out of bed,
certain that day not only had dawned but that it had been light for some
time. He soon discovered, however, that what he took for the glow of the
rising sun came from the moon, whose vivid illumination made the mistake
natural.

"I never seen it so bright," he said, stepping to the window and peering
out.

And then as if by inspiration he whispered:

"It's the right time to hunt for my knife."

He did not know what time it was nor did he care to know. There was so
much moongleam in his room that he easily dressed without any artificial
light. Then, too, the night was mild and his covering scanty. Shirt and
trousers were his only garments. He left his straw hat where he had
"hung" it on the floor in one corner beside his shoes and stockings. The
chief cause for now going barefoot was that his steps would be lighter,
though as a rule he saved his shoes for Sunday and his trips to and from
the store.

He knew his father was a light sleeper, and if awakened would probably
forbid him to go out before morning. So Jim opened his bedroom door so
softly that not the slightest noise was caused. He went down the stairs
as if he were a real burglar in rubber shoes. He stopped several times
with a faster beating heart, for although he had never known the steps to
squeak before they now did so with such loudness that he was sure his
father heard him. But the snoring continued unbroken and Jim reached the
door, where he stealthily slid back the bolt and reversed the key,
without causing any betraying sound.

This side of the house was in shadow, and he stood for a minute or two on
the small, covered porch looking out upon the highway or main street. Not
a soul was in sight, nor did he see a twinkle of light from any of the
windows. It cannot be said that Jim felt any fear, nor did he reflect
upon the risk caused by leaving the door unlocked behind him. He was
thinking only of that loved knife.

He had walked to and from the store so many times that he knew every step
taken earlier in the evening. It was impossible to go wrong, and he was
quite confident of finding the knife unless the brilliant moonlight had
disclosed it to some late passerby.

Jim always crossed the street at a certain point, the post office being
on the other side, so he trod in his own footsteps, which would have worn
a path long before but for those of others, including horses and wagons.
He walked slowly, scanning every inch of the ground and clay pavement in
front of him, but when he drew near the well-remembered building he had
not caught sight of the prize. He was within a few paces of the steps of
the porch of the store, when he was suddenly startled by a gruff voice:

"Hello, there! Where you going?"

He turned his head as a man stepped from under the small elm behind him.
Both being on the same level the slouch hat only partially hid the grim
face and big mustache. Jim would have been more scared had he not caught
sight an instant before of his knife lying at the foot of the steps of
the porch. He sprang forward, caught it up and then faced the stranger,
who had stepped into the street.

"I'm looking fur my knife that I dropped and I've found it too!" he
replied gleefully, holding up the cool, shiny implement. "Gee! aint I
lucky?"

"Well, you get out of here as quick as you can. Go back home and stay
there till morning. Do ye hear me?"

"Yaws; I'm going."

A strange discovery had come to Jim the instant before. As he stooped to
seize his property, his eyes were at the same height as the bottom of the
door leading into the store. It was only for a second or two, but in that
brief space he saw a faint glimmer through the crevice, which he knew was
caused by a light within. With a shrewdness that no one would have
expected from him he said nothing of his discovery to the man who had
accosted him.

"Mind what I told you!" added the stranger, "and don't show your nose
outside your house before morning. Understand?"

"Yaws; I don't want to, 'cause I've got my knife. Hooray!"

"Shut up! Off with you!"

"Yaws;" and Jim broke into a trot which he kept up until he reached his
own porch. In his exuberance of spirits, he was careless and awoke his
father. He came into the hall and roared out a demand for an explanation,
which his son gave in a few hurried words.

"Hooh!" exclaimed his parent; "there's robbers in the post office and I
think I'll take a hand as soon as I can get hold of my shotgun."

Which may serve to explain how it was that Gerald Buxton became involved
in the incidents that speedily followed.



CHAPTER XVIII

A CLEVER TRICK


At the foot of the rear stairs in the home of Widow Friestone was an
ordinary door latched at night, but without any lock. When Mike Murphy
was groping about in the blank darkness, where nothing was familiar, he
did not know, as has been said, of the steepness of the steps. Thus he
placed his shoe upon vacancy, and, unable to check himself, bumped to the
bottom, striking every step on the route, and banging against the door
with such force that the latch gave away, it flew open, and he sprawled
on his hands and knees, still grasping the rifle with which he had set
out to hunt for burglars. He was not hurt, and bounded like a rubber ball
to his feet.

An amazing scene confronted him. A young man, his face covered with a
mask, had just drawn back the ponderous door of the safe, and by the
light of a small dark lantern in his left hand was trying to unlock one
of the inner compartments, with a bunch of small keys held in his right.
It was at this instant that the racket followed by the crash which burst
open the door paralyzed him for the moment. He straightened up and stared
through the holes of his mask at the apparition that had descended upon
him like a thunderbolt, in helpless amazement.

If he was terrified, Mike Murphy was not. Forgetful of his shillaleh in
the shape of the Springfield, he made a leap at the fellow.

"S'render, ye spalpeen!" he shouted. The criminal answered by viciously
hurling the lantern into the face of his assailant, and in the act, the
mask somehow or other was disarranged and slipped from its place. It was
only a passing glimpse that Mike caught of him, but it identified him as
one of the young men who had attacked Alvin Landon some nights before
while passing through the stretch of woods near his home.

The throwing of the lamp was the best thing the burglar could have done,
for it caught the Irish youth fairly between the eyes and dazed him for
an invaluable second or two. Instant to seize his advantage, the criminal
made a leap through the rear window, which he had left open for that
purpose, and sped like a deer across the back yard of the premises. Mike
was at his heels and shouted:

"Stop! stop! or I'll blow ye into smithereens! I've got a double barreled
cannon wid me, and if ye want to save yer life, s'render before I touch
her off!"

Perhaps if the fugitive had not been in so wild a panic he would have
given himself up, for no man willingly invites the discharge of a deadly
weapon a few paces behind him. But the youth was bent on escape if the
feat were possible and ran with the vigor of desperation.

Less than a hundred yards over the garden beds and grass took the fellow
to the paling boundary over which he leaped like a greyhound. Mike would
have done the same, but feared it was too much for him. Moreover, his
short legs could not carry him as fast as those of the fleeing one. The
pursuer rested a hand on the palings and went over without trouble. By
that time the fugitive was a goodly distance off in the act of clearing a
second fence. In dread lest he should get away, Mike called:

"Have sinse, ye lunkhead! I don't want to kill ye, but hanged if I don't,
if ye fail to lay down yer arms."

The appeal like all that had preceded it was unheeded. The burglar must
have taken heart from the fact that his pursuer had already held his fire
so long. Running with unusual speed, he took advantage of the shadow
offered by several back buildings and continued steadily to gain. When he
made a quick turn and whisked out of sight, the exasperated Mike dropped
to a rapid walk.

"Arrah, now, if this owld gun was only in shape! there wouldn't be any
sich race as this, as Brian O'Donovan said--phwat's that?"

When within twenty feet of a small barn, a burly man stepped out of the
gloom and with a large gun levelled gruffly commanded:

"Throw up your arms or I'll let moonlight through you!"

"I don't see any room for argyment, as Jed Mitchell said whin----"

"Up with your hands! and drop that gun!" thundered the other, and Mike
let the old rifle fall to his feet and reached up as if trying to hold
the moon in place. Which incident requires an explanation.

Gerald Buxton, the father of Jim, had no sooner heard the story of his
boy than he decided, as had been related, that something was wrong at the
post office. He had read of the many robberies in southern Maine during
the preceding summer, else he might not have been so quick to reach a
conclusion. He woke his wife, told her his belief and then took down his
shotgun from over the deer's antlers in the kitchen. Both barrels were
always loaded, but to make sure of no lack of ammunition, he put a number
of extra shells loaded with heavy shot into his pockets.

"Remember," he said impressively to his son, "to stay home and not show
your nose outside the door while I'm gone."

"Yaws, sir," meekly replied Jim, who three minutes later, unseen by his
mother, sneaked out of the back door and reached the battlefield directly
behind his parent.

Mr. Buxton had never had any experience with house breakers, and did some
quick thinking from the moment he left his front gate until he arrived on
the scene. Nothing seemed more natural than that the ruffians would not
approach the house from the front, but by the rear. The light which Jim
saw must have come from the back part of the store. For the gang to make
their entrance from the main street would have been far more dangerous.

Because of this theory, Mr. Buxton crossed the road directly before his
own house, passed through the alley of a neighbor, and followed a
circuitous course which compelled him to climb several back fences. But
he knew all the people, and in case he was questioned could readily
explain matters.

So in due time he came to the barn of one of his friends, and had turned
to pass around it when to his astonishment a man dashed toward him on a
dead run. Buxton was alert, and pointing his weapon, crisply commanded:

"Stop or I'll fire!"

The panting fellow obeyed with the exclamation:

"I'm so glad!"

"Glad of what?"

"That you came as you did. There are burglars in the post office!"

"That's what I thought, but wasn't sure. Who are you and why are you in
such an all-fired hurry?"

"One of them is chasing me. I tried to wake the postmistress, when he
heard me and I had to run for my life. How thankful I am that you
appeared just in time!"

"Where is the scandalous villain?" demanded Mr. Buxton, glancing on all
sides.

"He will be here in a minute."

"I shan't wait for him; tell me where he is."

The fugitive, who was momentarily expecting the appearance of his
pursuer, pointed to the barn around which he had just dashed.

"He is coming from there. Look out, or he'll shoot you!"

"I'm ready for him," exclaimed the angered citizen as he hurriedly
trotted off and confronted Mike Murphy a few seconds later.

We have learned of the pointed conversation which passed between them.
Mike's first thought was that it was one of the robbers who had held him
up, but there was no gainsaying the argument brought to bear against him.
He remained with hands uplifted, awaiting the will of his captor.

"So you're one of those post office robbers," said Mr. Buxton, partly
lowering his weapon.

"Not that I know of," replied Mike, beginning to scent the truth.

"Have you a pistol?"

"The only deadly wippon I have is me pocketknife, with its two blades
broke and the handle being lost some time since."

"Where is the rest of your gang?" demanded the man, stepping closer to
the youth.

"The two frinds that I have are wid the widder Mrs. Friestone, doing
their best to entertain the leddy and her daughter, while I started out
to chase one of the spalpeens that run too fast for me to catch."

Mr. Buxton stepped still nearer. He was becoming doubtful.

"Who the mischief are you, anyway?"

"Mike Murphy, born in Tipperary, in the County of Tipperary, Ireland, and
lately, arrove in Ameriky."

"What are you doing here?"

"Standing still for the time, as Pat Mulrooney said whin the byes tied
him to the gate post and wint off and left him."

"Ain't you one of those post office robbers?"

The question told Mike the whole truth. It was a clever trick that had
been played upon him, and his musical laugh rang out on the still night.

"What made ye have that opinion?"

"I just met a young chap the other side of this barn, and when I stopped
him he said he was running away from an enemy."

"Which the same was the thruth."

"And that one of the gang was chasing him, meaning to shoot him."

"It's mesilf that would have shot if I'd had a gun wid a conscience, fur
I catched the spalpeen when he was opening the safe of Widder Friestone,
and I made after him; but most persons can run faster than mesilf, owing
to me short legs, and he was laving me behind, whin ye interfared."

"Do you mean to tell me that first fellow was one of the burglars?" asked
the astounded Mr. Buxton.

"As sure as ye are standing there admiring me looks."

"Confound the rapscallion! I'll get him yet!" and the irate citizen
dashed off with the resolution, to put it mildly, of correcting the error
he had made.



CHAPTER XIX

IN THE NICK OF TIME


Standing in the darkness of the upper front room, stealthily watching the
mysterious stranger on the other side of the street in the shadow of the
elm, and knowing that burglars were at work below stairs--the nerves of
mother and daughter and of Alvin Landon and Chester Haynes were on edge.
Had they peered out of the window less than half an hour earlier they
would have seen the meeting between the lookout and young Jim Buxton.

Mike Murphy had slipped so silently from among them that no one was aware
of his absence when the bumping and crash at the rear were followed by
exclamations and words that were not intelligible. Mrs. Friestone uttered
a faint cry and sank back on her chair. Nora screamed and threw her arms
about her mother's neck.

"They will kill us! What shall we do?" she wailed.

For the moment Alvin and Chester, startled almost as much as their
friends, were mystified. When Chester said:

"That sounds like Mike's voice. Hello, Mike, are you here with us?"

The failure to receive a reply proved that Chester was right. Their
comrade had stolen off and was already in a "shindy" at the rear of the
store.

"He may need our help!" called Alvin, starting for the stairs, with his
chum at his heels. But Nora, who had heard the unguarded words, called in
wild distress:

"Don't leave us! Don't leave us!"

They stopped irresolute. They could not abandon the two, and yet Mike's
life might be in peril.

"Go back to them," whispered Chester. "There's no call for both of us to
stay."

"Better not go down yourself; you know you have no weapon. Let's take a
look."

First of all it was necessary to quiet the daughter and mother, for one
was as much terrified as the other. Alvin hastened into the room.

"We will not leave you," he said, "but we wish to see what we can from
the kitchen window."

"Oh, you may fall out," moaned Nora, scarcely responsible for what she
said. Even in the crisis of a tragedy a vein of comedy will sometimes
intrude itself.

"Have no fear of that," replied Alvin. "I will hold Chester from tumbling
out and he will do the same for me. Pray, compose yourselves."

During this brief absence Chester had threaded his way past the furniture
in the darkness to the window, out of which he was gazing on a most
interesting moving picture which had vanished when Alvin appeared at his
elbow.

"It made my blood tingle," said Chester. "I was just in time to see a
man, who must have leaped out, running for life with Mike in pursuit. He
had that old gun in one hand--as if it could prove of any earthly use to
him."

"Where are they now?"

"The fellow, after leaping the fence, turned to the right and disappeared
among the shadows."

"With Mike still chasing him?"

"As hard as he could run, but you know he hasn't much speed."

"I wonder," whispered Alvin, "whether there are any more of them
downstairs."

They stepped noiselessly to the head of the steps and listened.
Everything was so quiet that they heard the ticking of the clock on the
wall of the store.

"I don't believe anyone is there. Let's take a closer look."

Alvin struck a match from his safe and led the way, thus saving the two
from the mishap that had overtaken their friend. They were a trifle
nervous when they stepped upon the lower floor, Alvin maintaining the
illumination by burning more matches. He climbed upon the counter, and
lighted the large oil lamp suspended there for such purpose. Adjusting
the wick to the highest point it would stand without smoking, the two
looked around.

What they saw completed the story that had already taken shape in their
own minds. The unbroken dark lantern lay on the floor where it had
fallen, the light having been extinguished. The raised window showed by
what avenue the burglar and Mike had left the building, but what amazed
the youths more than anything else was the wide open door of the safe.
Not a burglar's tool or device was in sight, and the appearance of the
lock and door without a scratch showing proved that no part of the
structure had been tampered with. It was just as if Mrs. Friestone had
manipulated it--as she had done times without number.

"Whoever opened it must have known the combination. And how did he learn
it?"

Chester shook his head.

"Perhaps Mrs. Friestone can guess. I'll ask her."

Going to the foot of the stairs, the young man called to the woman just
loudly enough for her to hear. He said the visitors had left, but the
door of the safe was open and it was advisable for her to come down and
take a look at things.

She timidly came down the steps, with Nora tremblingly clinging to her
skirts, ready to scream and dash back to the front of the house on the
first appearance of danger. But nothing occurred to cause new alarm, and
mother and daughter stared wonderingly at the safe with its wide open
door.

"Who did that?" asked the woman, in a faint voice.

"One of the burglars," replied Chester.

"How did he learn the combination?"

"That's the mystery; Alvin and I cannot guess. Was it known to anyone
besides yourself?"

"No; I changed it two days ago and did not even tell Nora. Not another
soul knew it--and look!"

She pointed to a bunch of keys, one of which was inserted in the lock of
the middle small drawer, with a half dozen others dangling from the metal
ring. It will be understood that while the door of the safe was opened by
means of a usual combination of numbers, the interior was guarded by only
a tiny lock and key. This was more convenient, for, when the massive door
was drawn back, the little wooden drawers, even with a combination, would
not avail long against a burglar.

"They have taken the money!" gasped the widow.

"Let us see."

As Alvin spoke, he turned the key. The lock clicked and he drew out the
drawer. There lay the big sealed envelope with the two thousand five
hundred dollars intact within, while the stamps and cash receipts of the
day were neatly piled on the shelf beneath.

The astonishing truth was that the criminal had been interrupted at the
critical moment when he had succeeded in fitting a key to the lock. Had
Mike Murphy been the fraction of a minute later in bursting upon the
scene, he would have been too late. The robber would have carried off
nearly three thousand dollars.

"That's what I call the greatest luck that ever happened," said Chester.

The discovery was as cheering as amazing. The large amount of money had
been saved by a hair's breadth. The woman clasped her hands in
thankfulness. Chester slowly shoved the steel door shut.

"Now try the combination," he said to Mrs. Friestone. "Chester and I will
turn our backs while you do so."

"And why will you do that?"

"So that we shall not learn the secret. If anything like this happens
again, you cannot say we did it."

She saw the smile on his face and knew he spoke in jest.

"It may be the lock was broken in some way," suggested Chester.

But it worked perfectly. The knob was turned forward till the finger
pointed to a number, then back and then forward again to another numeral.
It moved as smoothly as if the delicate mechanism was oiled.

"Now open it," she said to the lads, her spirits rallying over her good
fortune. They shook their heads and Chester said:

"We might succeed, and that would be suspicious."

"Whether you noticed the combination or not, you surely did not know what
it was a little while ago. I acquit you of having any understanding with
the burglars."

"What's become of Mike?" asked Nora plaintively, speaking for the first
time. "I'm afraid something dreadful has happened to him."

"He is probably still chasing the bad man," said Chester.

As if in answer to her wail a hasty tread was heard at that moment and a
bushy red head without a cap appeared at the window, as if flung thither
by the hand of a giant. The bright light within the door told him the
story.

"The top of the morning to ye all, for I jedge it's near morning, as Tim
Mulligan said after he had been slaaping fur two days and nights. I hope
ye are all well."

He began climbing through and was half inside when Nora dashed forward
and caught hold of his arm. It so disarranged his balance that he tumbled
on the floor, the rifle falling from his grasp.

"I'm so glad to see you, Mike! I was afraid those awful people had killed
you," said the happy girl. "Are you hurt?"

"Not worth speaking of; I think my neck is broke and me lift leg
fractured in two places, but niver mind."

Then the exuberant youth told his story, to which his friends listened
with breathless interest.

"Then you didn't catch the villain?" said Chester inquiringly.

"No, but I made it hot fur him, as me cousin said after chasing the
expriss train a couple of miles. He has longer legs than mesilf. The next
time I engage in a chase wid him I'll make sure his legs is sawed off at
the knees, so as to give me a chance. If I had thought to have that done
I'd brought the spalpeen back to ye."

"Well, you drove him off in the nick of time. He didn't get away with a
penny," said Alvin.

"But what was the maans he used to open that door? That's what gits
me--whisht!"

The report of a gun rang out on the stillness, and the friends stared at
one another. Before anyone could venture an explanation, the sound of
hurried footsteps told that someone was approaching.



CHAPTER XX

"I PIPED AND YE DANCED"


Gerald Buxton was boiling over with indignation when he parted company
with Mike Murphy and realized how he had been tricked. He had allowed the
real burglar to get away while he held up his innocent pursuer.

"All I ask is one sight of that villain!" he muttered, striking into a
lope which carried him rapidly over the ground. Since the fugitive had
disappeared several minutes before and there was no telling what course
he had taken, it would seem there was not one chance in a hundred of
Buxton ever seeing him again.

But, although the citizen had been cleverly hoodwinked, he used
shrewdness in wrestling with the problem. As he viewed it, the fellow was
likely to make for the stretch of woods between Beartown and the river,
that he might screen himself as quickly as possible. He would lose no
time in getting away from the village as soon as he could. It was quite
probable that he and his gang had come up or down the river and had a
launch awaiting them. To avoid going astray, he would use the highway
which joined Beartown and the landing.

Mr. Buxton had to climb three fences before he reached an open field of
slight extent, beyond which lay the woods. He knew the chances of
overtaking the criminal were meagre, but with a thrill of delight he
caught sight of his man only a little way in front and walking in the
same direction with himself. He seemed to have sprung from the ground,
and it was clear that he had no thought of further pursuit. His follower
tried to get nearer to him before he reached the woods, but the fellow
heard him and glancing over his shoulder broke into a run.

"Stop or I'll fire!" shouted Buxton.

After the young man's experience with his first pursuer and his
Springfield, he could not be blamed for refusing to heed the command. He
ran the faster and the next minute would have whisked beyond reach, had
not Buxton come to an abrupt halt, and taking a quick aim, fired.

He got his man too. With a cry of pain he leaped several feet in the air
and fell. Terrified by what he had done, Buxton ran forward, gun in hand,
and called out while several paces distant:

"Are you hurt bad?"

"I'm done for," was the reply as the wounded fellow laboriously climbed
to his feet.

With anger turned into sympathy, the captor asked:

"Where did I hit you?"

"You shattered my right leg," was the reply, accompanied by groans as the
fellow with excruciating effort tried to support himself on the other
limb.

Buxton laid down his weapon and knelt to examine the wound. He saw now
that the lower part of the trousers leg was shredded by the charge of
shot and that, doubtless, the hurt was a very grievous one.

"I'm sorry I gave it to you so bad, but you can't deny you desarved it.
If you're able to walk back to my house, with my help, I'll get a doctor
and we'll soon----"

At that instant the young man sprang back a couple of paces, and the
startled Buxton looking up saw that he stood firmly on both feet, with
the shotgun pointed at him. He had snatched up the weapon while the owner
was stooping over to inspect the wound.

"Now it's _my_ turn!" he said, with a chuckle. "It isn't your fault that
you didn't kill me, and it will be my fault if I don't even matters up
with you!"

Poor Buxton slowly came to the upright position, with jaws dropping and
eyes staring. He could only mumble:

"W-w-what's the matter?"

"Nothing with me; it's _you_ that's in a hole."

Believing it was all up with him, the terrified victim stood mute.

"I ought to shoot you down and I'll do so if you don't obey me."

"W-w-what do you want?" Buxton managed to stammer out.

"Dance!" was the crisp command.

The citizen stared, not comprehending the order.

"We cowboys in the West when we want a little fun make a tenderfoot dance
while we fire our revolvers at his feet. BEGIN!"

The victim lowered the point of the gun so as to point it at the shoes of
Mr. Buxton.

"I--I--can't dance; never done it in my life," he stuttered.

"Can't begin earlier. Start up!"

Knowing what was ordered, the victim obeyed. He leaped up and down,
shuffled his feet and made such comical antics that the gun wabbled in
the hands of the laughing master of the situation.

"I have one loaded barrel left and I'm aching to let you have it! Keep it
up!"

Now that he had started, Mr. Buxton threw more vigor into his steps. He
bounded in the air, side-stepped, kicked out his feet, tried a number of
fancy movements of which he knew nothing, and acted like an energetic
youth taking his first lessons in that branch of the terpsichorean art
called buck dancing.

"Turn your back toward me and dance all the way home! If you let up for
one minute or look around I'll blaze away, and you won't get the charge
in your _feet_! Remember that!"

Mr. Buxton reflected that having left home so jauntily with loaded weapon
over his shoulder, it would be anything but a dignified return to dance
back again without it. If he jig-stepped down the main street some
neighbor was likely to see him and make remarks. A waltz through the
gate, up the steps of the porch and into the hall, by which time it would
probably be safe for him to cease his exhausting performance, would
undoubtedly cause annoying inquiries on the part of his wife and family.

But there was hope. He might gain a start that would make it safe to
resume his natural gait. He did his best. Facing the boundary fence less
than two hundred yards away he kicked up his heels, swung his arms in
unison, and steadily drew away from that fearful form standing with gun
levelled at him. He yearned to break into a run, but dared not. He
believed his tormentor was following so as to keep him in range.

It was hardly to be expected that he should go over the fence with a
dance step, but he reflected that he could resume his labors immediately
he dropped to the ground on the other side and faithfully maintain it to
the next boundary. But there was risk and he was afraid to incur it.
While still shifting his feet with an energy that caused him to breathe
fast, he approached the obstruction. Partly turning his head while
toiling as hard as ever, he called:

"I'll have to stop a minute till I climb over, but I'll resoom dancing as
soon as I hit the ground on the other side agin. Is that all right?"

There was no reply and he repeated the question in a louder voice. Still
hearing nothing, he ventured to look back. The young man was nowhere in
sight. Truth to tell, no sooner had Mr. Buxton begun his humorous
exhibition than the youth, vainly trying to suppress his mirth, flung
down the gun, turned about and entered the wood toward which he was
running when so abruptly checked by his pursuer.

"Wal, I'll be hanged!" was the disgusted exclamation of the panting
Buxton. "That's the meanest trick I ever had played on me. The scand'lous
villain oughter be hung. What a sight I made! I'm mighty glad no one seen
me."

In his relief, he did not notice a vague form which flitted along the
edge of the wood, so close to the trees that the shadow screened it from
clear view. Had Mr. Buxton noted it he might not have felt certain that
no one witnessed his unrivalled performance.

He was so tired out from his tremendous efforts that he stood awhile
mopping his moist forehead with his handkerchief while he regained his
wind.

"It's lucky he didn't foller and make me dance all the way home. Never
could have done it. Would have dropped dead, I am that blamed tired."

He leaned against the fence while recovering from his unwonted exercise.
Naturally he believed the young man who had used him so ill had carried
away his weapon beyond possibility of recovery.

"And I paid twenty-five dollars for it in Portland," he bitterly mused.
"It looks to me that as a hunter of post office robbers I ain't of much
account."

He resumed his walk homeward, going slowly, carefully climbing the
obstructions in his path and studying what explanation to make to his
friends for the loss of his valuable piece. He might manage it with all
except his wife and son. It would not do to tell them he had dropped it
somewhere along the road without noticing the accident. A boy might lose
his pocketknife (I know of a youngster who lost a wheelbarrow and never
found it again), but a double barreled shotgun manifestly could not
disappear in that fashion so much out of the ordinary way of things.

"I think I'll have a look at the post office and larn what mischief the
villain done there."

He veered in his course and came to the back window, where a light showed
that some persons were gathered. He found mother, daughter and the three
boys, who gave him warm greeting.

"Was that your gun we heard a little while ago?" asked the woman.

"I reckon it must have been," replied Mr. Buxton, who declined the
invitation to enter and remained standing outside the window.

"Did you hit the burglar?" asked Alvin.

"Young man," said Mr. Buxton loftily, "when I fire at anything I _always_
hit it."

"You didn't kill him, Gerald!" exclaimed the horrified mother.

"No; I just winged him so he won't forget it if he lives a thousand
years; don't like to kill a scamp even if he is a burglar."

"Where's your gun?" continued Alvin.

The man glanced around as if it were hidden somewhere about his garments.

"Now isn't that a fine go?" he exclaimed disgustedly. "I set it down
while I went forward to see how bad that feller was hit, and plumb
forgot."

"O dad, here's your gun!"

It was the son Jim who called this greeting as he straddled forward with
the heavy piece resting on his shoulder. All stared in amazement, and the
father in his confusion was imprudent enough to ask:

"Where did you get it?"

"I seen that feller that took it away from you and made you dance all the
way across the field. He throwed it down and went into the woods. When I
seen you hopping and dancing and kicking up your heels I nearly died
a-larfing. But I didn't forgit the gun, and run along the edge of the
woods and picked it up. Gee! it's heavy! But, dad, I didn't know you
could dance like that. Say----"

"You young rascal, didn't I tell you to stay home? I'll larn you!"

The parent made a dive at his son, who, with the gun still over his
shoulder, scooted across the yard and over the fence, with his irate
father in fierce pursuit.



CHAPTER XXI

HOW IT WAS DONE


The attempt to rob the safe in the Beartown post office was accompanied
by more than one unique incident. Chief among these was the cowardice
exhibited by two of the three members who composed the little band of
lawbreakers.

It has been shown that the full-grown man with a big mustache acted as a
lookout at the front, which is perhaps the safest post for a criminal in
such circumstances, since he has a good chance to get away on the first
approach of danger. A second lookout was placed at the rear.
After-developments showed that the trio was headed by Kit Woodford, the
adult member, who had led a life of crime since boyhood and had served a
term in prison. He would have been more successful as a criminal except
for his rank cowardice which caused him to be despised and cast out by
several gangs with which he sought to connect himself.

The other two burglars were Orestes Noxon and Graff Miller, neither of
whom had reached his majority by more than two years. It was Miller who
took his station at the rear, where on the first sign of something amiss
he sneaked off without giving the signal which would have warned Noxon in
time to flee unharmed. In his way, he was as lacking in personal courage
as Kit Woodford. The latter held his place until the racket caused by
Mike Murphy's tumble downstairs apprised him that things were not going
right. He ventured upon a single timid whistle, which no one else heard,
and then slunk down the road, hugging the shadows and intent only on
saving his own bacon.

How was it that young Noxon was assigned the most perilous task of all,
when in reality he was the youngest of the three? It was due to a
peculiar skill which neither of the others possessed. He proved more than
once that he could take position in front of an ordinary safe--not the
most modern kind--and by a wonderfully deft manipulation of the knob
which governed the combination tell by the fall of the tumblers just when
the index struck the right numerals. He demonstrated this power many
times when all others who made the trial failed. He asked simply to be
left undisturbed with his ear against the steel door as he turned the
knob with infinite delicacy. He was proud of his ability in this respect,
and when Kit Woodford gave him the post of peril he accepted it as a
compliment and eagerly essayed the task.

Although there is no evidence on the point, it is quite sure that Kit
Woodford, whose chief business was to spy out the land, knew that several
wealthy citizens of Beartown made a practice of leaving large deposits
with Mrs. Friestone overnight or for several nights and days. It is not
to be supposed that Woodford would rob so insignificant a post office for
the small booty that belonged to the government. Quite likely he was
aware of the large sum left with her on the afternoon before.

But Mike Murphy's original style of descending the back stairs brought
the schemes of the criminals to naught, and saved the safe from
spoliation. I have told how the three criminals scattered to as many
different points of the compass. They could not have come together again
had not previous provision been made for such emergencies. The leader,
having shaken himself clear of the village, turned into the wood and
picked his way toward the river. He was to the north, however, while the
other lookout, Miller, was to the south, and neither knew how far apart
they were.

There seemed little risk in signalling, and after Woodford had gone half
way to the river he paused among the shadows and listened. He had been
startled by the report of the gun, but everything was now still. Placing
his thumb and forefinger between his lips, he emitted a sharp, tremulous
whistle, which was instantly answered by a similar call from some point
not far off. A few minutes later he and Miller, after a few precautions,
came together among the shadows.

"I knew you would be somewhere in the neighborhood," was the young man's
explanation, "and I was listening for your signal."

"Well," growled the elder, "Noxon made a mess of it to-night."

"It looks that way."

"Do you know what happened? Did you see anything?"

"I saw him dash out from the rear of that store with someone chasing him
with a loaded gun."

"That must have been what we heard a little while ago. Looks as if they
got Nox."

"Shouldn't be surprised," remarked the other indifferently.

"He oughter managed things better. How was it you didn't warn him?"

"I did; I whistled twice the instant I saw his danger, and ran the risk
of getting it in the neck myself," was the unblushing response of the
youth.

"I don't see that there's anything we can do for him. He got himself in a
hole through his own foolishness and must pull himself out. My motto when
a gang gets into trouble is that every one must look out for himself and
the devil take the hindmost."

"I say, Kit," said Miller, lowering his voice as if fearful of being
overheard, "do you think they'll get Nox?"

"Haven't a doubt of it."

"I say, do you think there's any danger of his squealing, that is, if he
hasn't been killed?"

"Naw," was the disgusted reply. "Nox is game--true blue; you can bet on
him till the cows come home."

Which was more than Nox could say about his two pals.

Kit Woodford may have spoken with confidence, but he was not as free from
misgivings as he would have it appear. He could not feel sure of their
missing companion. If the report which they had heard did not mean that
he had been slain, his capture looked certain, and there was no saying
what he might do to secure leniency. Kit knew what _he_ would do in a
similar situation.

"Well, come on," he growled. "We're in tough luck to-night."

And the two pushed their way among the trees in the direction of the
river.

Meantime, matters remained interesting at the home of Widow Friestone.
The words of young Jim Buxton told a graphic story which made even Nora
laugh and forget for the time the frightful excitement they had passed
through. When the merriment had partly subsided, Mike drew one of his
remaining two quarters from his pocket and handed it to Nora.

"Will ye do me the kindness to presint that to Jim when he comes to the
store in the morning to set the table on the front porch?"

"What's that for?" asked the puzzled girl.

"For the gayety he imparted to this gloomy avening. I don't know as ye
need say that to him, for he wouldn't understand what ye meant until
after three or four years of hard thought. But he's airned it, and ye'll
not forgit."

She laid the coin aside and assured the donor that his wishes should be
carried out.

Chester spoke:

"It seems to me we are throwing away time. It is past midnight and here
we sit talking, and doing nothing because there seems nothing to do. What
do you think, Alvin?"

"You are right. This business doesn't seem to have stirred up the town. I
don't suppose anyone knows what has happened except Mr. Buxton and his
family, and I don't think he will tell the particulars himself."

"That can be lift to Jim," said Mike, "onless his dad imprisses upon him
that it won't be healthy for him to talk too freely wid his mouth
regarding the sarcus he obsarved this avening."

"The lookout in front ran off at the first sign of danger, and if there
was a second one he ran too. It will be a long time before any member of
that party pays Beartown a second visit."

Alvin now made known the fear in his mind--a fear that was shared by
Chester. The _Deerfoot_ was lying against the bank in Back River exposed
to any injury which these criminals might choose to inflict by way of
revenge. He proposed that the mother and daughter, after refastening the
window and locking up, should retire to their beds, while the boys
returned to the launch to make sure no harm befell it.

This course was only the commonest prudence, but the hostess and her
daughter were clearly so nervous over being left alone for the remainder
of the night that Alvin regretted his proposal. Nora especially did not
try to hide her distress.

"Never mind," Alvin made haste to say, "we will wait till morning. You
have been so kind that we cannot willingly cause you a moment's pain."

"May I make a suggistion?" asked Mike, speaking so seriously that all
knew he was about to say something worth while.

"I know he's going to tell us the right thing," said Nora.

"How could I do itherwise wid yer bright eyes cheering me?" he asked,
with his expansive grin. "The same is this: Do ye two spalpeens go down
to the launch and stay there till morning while I remain behind wid the
misthress and sweet Nora, and keep off the burglars wid that same gun
that sarved me so well."

Only Alvin and Chester knew the chivalry of this proposal. Mike regretted
keenly the separation from them, even though it promised to be for only a
few hours.

"That is asking too much," said the widow, though her countenance
brightened with pleasure.

"How can the same be asking too much whin ye haven't asked it?"

Nora clapped her hands.

"I can't hilp it if she looks upon mesilf as worth the two of ye," said
Mike, with an assumption of dignity that deceived no one.

"It is good on your part, Mike," said Alvin. "I feel as if we ought to
give attention to the boat, and you may as well stay here. We'll wait for
you in the morning."

"Don't feel obleeged to do the same. Something may turn up that may cause
ye to hurry off. If it be so, don't tarry a minute for me."

"Possibly you may prove right, but we shall hate to leave you behind."

"Ye may do so foriver, so long as I have such quarters as these."

With this understanding, the friends parted, no one dreaming of what was
to befall them before all met again.



CHAPTER XXII

A STARTLING DISCOVERY


Nothing was more natural than that Alvin Landon and Chester Haynes should
be concerned for the safety of the motor launch _Deerfoot_. It had been
stolen from them once in simple wantonness by two young men who had
nothing to do with the post office robberies. The motive for a similar
theft was now much stronger. It was evident that the criminals had come
to Beartown, or as near to it as they could come, by water, and their
boat was somewhere in the neighborhood. They were likely to discover the
_Deerfoot_, if they had not already done so, and knowing its superior
speed, would either make use of or disable it so it could not be employed
for pursuit.

Alvin and Chester kept to the road which connected the landing with the
village, for it was much easier thus to advance than to pick their way
through the pines and firs. They did not meet a solitary person, for the
night was well along and daybreak near. When the rickety frame work
loomed up in the moonlight, they turned off into the shadow of the wood
and moved with the utmost care. All the time they kept within sight of
the gleam of water. Alvin was in advance, with his comrade close upon his
heels.

"Hello! here she is!" was the pleased exclamation of the Captain a few
minutes later.

"Has she had any visitors while we were away?" asked Chester, as the two
stepped down to the margin of the river.

"I see no signs of it, but we shall have to examine further."

The launch lay as close to shore as it had been possible to bring her--so
close indeed that the two stepped aboard without use of a plank. The
position of the moon in the sky was such that the shadow of the trees was
cast several feet beyond the boat, which, as a consequence, was wrapped
in obscurity. Peering here and there, the youths began a visual search
for the evidence they did not wish to find. Alvin tried the covering,
which had been drawn over the cockpit, preliminary to taking the bunch of
keys from his pocket. It slid back easily.

"I thought I locked that," he said in surprise.

"I remember you went through the motions, but you must have missed it."

"So it seems."

He stepped over, seated himself and grasped the steering wheel.

"Nothing is wrong here----"

"Hark!" whispered Chester.

The two listened and heard the muffled exhaust of a launch not far off.

"It comes from down stream," said Chester.

"It's their boat!" exclaimed the excited Alvin. "They are hurrying off."

"Let's chase them!" added Chester, catching the glow of his chum.

"All right! Light up and cast off."

[Illustration: LIKE A SWALLOW SKIMMING CLOSE TO THE SURFACE.]

Chester quickly fixed the lights, sprang from the taffrail to shore,
untied the loop of rope, flung it on deck and leaped after it. Alvin had
opened the forward deck, which covered the engine, climbed down and
around to the front and started it. Then throwing in the clutch the boat
quickly caught the impulse, and the Captain steered away from shore.
While lying against the bank the nose of the launch was pointed up the
river, and since the noise showed that the other boat was speeding down
stream, it was necessary to head in that direction. The sweeping circle
carried the craft far out into the moon glow and the Captain turned on
full power, sending the boat southward like a swallow skimming close to
the surface.

"They got the idea yesterday that the _Water Witch_ is faster than the
_Deerfoot_. That was a cute idea of Calvert, but they will soon learn
their mistake. Do you see anything of her lights?"

Chester stood beside him in the cockpit, with one hand grasping the top
of the wind-shield, while he peered into the sea of illumination through
which they were plunging.

"Not yet," he answered "but we must be gaining fast."

The water curled over in a graceful half circle as it was split apart by
the sharp prow. Some of the spray was scattered over him, though
otherwise the river was as calm as a millpond. The tide was at its turn,
so there was no current. Alvin held to the middle of the river, where he
knew it was very deep, and he would have timely notice of every
obstruction that could appear.

Now that the two were fairly started upon the singular chase, they had
time to speculate as to its probable result. They had not a firearm on
the boat nor had they ever had one aboard. They were chasing a party of
criminals who were sure to be well armed. Suppose our young friends
overtook them, what could they do?

Alvin had a dim idea that having drawn near enough to discover the _Water
Witch_, he would keep in sight until others could intervene. His boat
would follow whereever the fugitive dare lead, and would never give up.
If our young friends could not attack, they could point out the way for
others. Should the criminals run into shore, where there was a chance of
landing without being observed, the pursuers could be at their heels, and
through the nearest telegraph station raise the hue and cry that would
quickly end in their overthrow.

"It is strange," reflected Alvin, "that while we have not meant to have
anything to do with those scamps we are continually running into them,
while Detective Calvert, who is in this part of the world for that
purpose, can't put his hand on them. If he and his friend, whom we saw at
Wiscasset, and who is an officer of the law also, were here, we should be
sure of doing the right thing. As it is, it's all guesswork."

"Light ahead!" suddenly called Chester beside him.

"Where away?"

"Right ahead, but closer in shore on the left."

Alvin leaned forward and gazed intently.

"You are right," he added as he saw a white light low down on the water.
"Now we'll show those fellows what the _Deerfoot_ can do when she tries."

He flirted over the little lever controlling the power, and instantly the
engine responded so fiercely that the launch shivered from stem to stern.
It bounded forward like a hound freed from the leash, the bow rising from
the impulse, as if it would leap clear of the water, and seemingly
shooting over it, like an iceboat driven in a hurricane.

But the launch in front was no laggard. Whether she increased her speed
at sight of the light which was seemingly hustling down the river after
her, or whether she simply held her former rate, she was going at a
tremendous pace. Soon leaving Long Ledge on their right, the pursuer shot
into the broader waters of Montsweag Bay, only to find the white light
seemingly as far off as ever. Possibly the pursuers had gained something,
but not enough to be perceptible.

"They have seen us," said Chester, from his station at the front, "and
are putting in their best licks. We must be going the limit."

"That is twenty-four miles, but we're not making it, Chester."

The second mate pulled down his cap more snugly, for the motionless air
was turned into a gale, and looked back.

"What do you mean? The _Deerfoot_ is eating up water."

"That may be, but she isn't getting there as she ought to," insisted
Alvin, who, of course, was more familiar with his boat. "Something is the
matter with her. She seems to be doing her best, and yet she lags."

"Do you think it because of her trouble yesterday?"

"It must be, but I was sure she was shipshape when we left her last
night. See whether we are gaining."

Chester spent several minutes in studying the position and progress of
that white light, which was gliding with swift smoothness over the water,
and hugging the bank all the while. When he spoke it was doubtfully.

"Perhaps we have gained a little, say about six inches."

Alvin groped about him for the binoculars, which he had left on the seat
at his side. By turning the glass over when in use, one could avail
himself of the night lens, which was helpful in the gloom. But he did not
find it.

"That's queer," he muttered; "I am sure I laid it there. I wonder if
anyone visited the boat while we were away."

"By gracious!" called Chester from his station; "I believe she has
stopped!"

"Make sure of it. I should think they would put out their stern light if
they wanted to elude us."

"Likely they don't care. Yes; she has run into shore, where there seems
to be some sort of landing."

Alvin swung over the wheel so as to approach directly from the rear.
Since the other boat had become motionless, he slackened speed to save
the strain upon his own.

Everything was now in the vivid moonlight. The launch drew steadily up to
the landing where the other boat had halted. Two men were observed moving
about as if making ready to tie up for the remainder of the night. They
showed no interest in their pursuers, and Alvin sheered off slightly so
as to pass at a distance of several rods, and while doing so he made an
exasperating discovery.

The craft which he had been pursuing with so much zest was not the _Water
Witch_, but a small runabout capable of high speed. The couple on board
gave no attention to the larger craft, and the chagrined Alvin turned
farther out into the bay and gradually headed up stream again. Chester
came back from the front and chuckled:

"What a wild goose chase! The next thing to do is to make after the
_Nahanada_ or the _Gardiner_. There will be as much sense in the one as
the other."

Observing the change of course, Chester inquired:

"Where to now?"

"We may as well go back and pick up Mike. It seems to be growing light in
the east."

"So it is; a memorable night in our experience is drawing to a close."

"I say, Chester," called the Captain, "I am sure someone was on this boat
while we were away at Beartown."

A sudden suspicion took form in his mind.

"Is there enough light for you to see the name on the bow?"

"Of course."

"Take a look and tell me what it is."

Chester carefully leaned over and studied the gilt letters painted on the
right of the prow corresponding to those on the left. Then he
straightened up with a gasp:

"As sure as I'm a living sinner it's the _Water Witch_!"



CHAPTER XXIII

THROUGH THE FOG


It was an astounding discovery.

With never a thought of the grotesque mistake, both youths had boarded
the launch believing it to be the _Deerfoot_; they had pursued the
imaginary fugitive only to awaken to the fact that she was not a
fugitive, and that they had unconsciously stolen the property of the
burglars, which must have been lying so near their own craft that the
slight difference of location was not noticed.

Chester stepped down and seated himself at the elbow of his chum.

"Here are only four seats instead of six. Why didn't we notice it
before?"

"Because we were too much occupied with other things, or rather were both
struck with blindness just then. As Mike would say, I'm completely
flabbergasted."

"And I'm with you. What's to be done now?"

"Tell me where the _Deerfoot_ is."

"Ask me something easier. She may be lying where we left her, or twenty
miles away."

"We should have heard her if she came down stream."

"She may have gone up the river and around into the Sheepscot."

"And back to the former hiding place of this boat or to a different
one--the 'Beautiful Isle of Somewhere,'" said Alvin grimly.

"One place will serve as well as another. I wonder whether there was ever
so wonderful a mix-up of launches since such craft were known."

Alvin shut off power and the two listened. From some point miles away
came the hoarse growl of a steam whistle, but all else was still. He had
hoped that they would hear the _Deerfoot's_ exhaust, but nothing of the
kind came to their ears. He flirted the switch around and resumed the
speed which was not above half a dozen miles an hour.

One of the plagues of the Maine coast is the dense fogs which sometimes
creep far up the rivers. Such an obscurity now began settling over
Montsweag Bay and Back River, shutting out the moonlight as well as the
rays of the rising sun. Before Alvin was aware, he could not see either
shore until he had run far over to the right and caught a shadowy sight
of the pines, spruce and firs which lined the bank. The air dripped
moisture and, though it was summer, it grew chilly.

While gliding slowly forward they heard a steamer's bell, accompanied by
occasional blasts from her whistle. She was feeling her way down stream
and sounding warnings to other craft. By and by the beat of her screw and
the ripple of the water from her bow sounded so near that Alvin edged
closer to land. In the heavy mist loomed a minute later a bulky steamer,
surging southward at sluggish speed, the crew, as seen for an instant,
looking like saturated ghosts.

The boat was quickly swallowed up, her bell still tolling, with blasts
from her whistle at short intervals.

Seated as described, the two youths discussed what was the best thing to
do. It seemed advisable to return to the point from which they started,
that is, near Beartown landing. There was not one chance in a hundred
that they would find the _Deerfoot_ there, but such a thing was not
impossible. That which made this policy seem wise was the likelihood of
again meeting Detective Calvert. The news of the attempted robbery of the
Beartown post office would be telegraphed far and wide, and he would be
sure to hear of it at Wiscasset. It would not take him and his brother
officer long to reach the village, where the lads could hope to see him.

It was certainly a singular coincidence that the launch should be twice
stolen in so brief a time, and the owner grimly asked himself whether
fate had not ordained that he was to lose it after all.

There was no light in the maze of conjecture that opened before them.
Chester suggested an alarming complication.

"The _Deerfoot_ can outspeed any craft in the Maine waters. These
burglars must have a hiding place, and we know there is no end to them
among the bays, inlets, coves and islands that stud the rivers. Suppose
they board the launch and speed away till all pursuit is thrown off the
scent--something they can easily do--and then abandon the boat."

"We shall find her sooner or later, and Calvert will perhaps in this way
get on their track."

"They can avert such danger by sinking her in deep water, where she may
not be found for years."

"I have not thought of that. It looks as if they had the whip-hand. These
fellows may have blundered last night, but it was solely through the
sudden appearance of Mike on the spot, for they are no fools. If we try
to get the best of them we shall get the worst, unless we have the help
of Mr. Calvert."

"And the only way to gain that is to go back to Beartown."

"So it seems to me. What do you think?" asked the Captain.

"I know of nothing better. Wouldn't it be well to hit up the pace a
little?"

"If this fog would only lift! But it seems to be growing thicker. We must
feel our way."

While the Captain was doing this, his second mate looked over the _Water
Witch_. Its resemblance to the _Deerfoot_ was remarkable. It was probably
two or three feet shorter, but that was the only noticeable difference.
The model was the same, even to the color of the paint used. As has
already been said, however, there were only four seats while the
_Deerfoot_ had six. The similarity of the craft was proved by the fact
that Alvin Landon boarded and ran it for quite a number of miles before
even the slightest suspicion entered his mind.

All landmarks were shut from view until, as may be said, the launch ran
against them. The boys had little or no acquaintance with the river they
were ascending, and only here and there were they able to identify
certain landings or towns from their previous study of the map. Alvin
knew he was creeping northward, and sooner or later must reach the point
which he left during the latter part of the night. Even the landing would
not be recognized without close study, and possibly not even then.

Had not the noise made by the progress of the launch shut out a certain
sound and had not the dense fog hidden something from sight, the two
would have made a startling discovery within the hour which followed
their turning back. But no knowledge of that nature came to them.

The boys agreed that they would not reach their destination until long
after their change of course. Neither noted when this was done, but
Chester now looked at his watch and found it showed a few minutes to
seven.

"A good hour for breakfast," he remarked, "and my appetite is with me, as
I am sure yours is with you."

Alvin nodded and kept his eye on the receding shore and the water ahead.

"Mike is to be envied, for the good woman and especially the daughter
will give him the best their house can afford. These boats don't carry a
large stock of provisions--who knows but there's something of the kind on
board?"

He asked the Captain to rise while he lifted the cushioned lid of the
locker upon which he had been sitting. The next moment Chester uttered a
joyous cry.

"Hurrah! we're in luck!"

He held up a large paper bag into which he had peeped. It contained half
a dozen plump ham sandwiches.

"While we are about it suppose we see what other treasures are in the
ship's chest."

They found a most interesting stock indeed. Five black pieces of muslin,
each with two peep-holes, several sets of false whiskers, two pairs of
brass knuckles, three metal rings from each of which dangled more than a
dozen keys of varying sizes, a box of revolver cartridges, a formidable
knife, some twine and a number of articles of no importance.

"They tell their story," said Chester, holding them up one after another
for his chum's inspection. "If the officers of the law arrest us, we
shall have to depend upon our friends to prove an alibi."

"Meanwhile there is no need to keep those sandwiches waiting."

"Wonder if they are poisoned," laughed Chester, as he passed one to his
chum, and sank his teeth in another. "Anyhow, I'm going to take chances."

"So am I. They don't seem to have any cooking utensils on board, so
coffee and warm food are to be denied us."

The Captain ate with one hand on the steering wheel, and frequent glances
ahead. Now and then they would find themselves approaching a sharp
projection of land, around which the launch was steered, and then perhaps
would glide past a cunning looking cove, too narrow to admit a boat of
large size. Once, while doubling a cape, they came within a hair of
running down a small rowboat propelled by a single occupant. He shouted
angrily for the steersman to keep a better lookout.

"I'm sorry!" called back Alvin; "but the fog bothers us. Will you please
tell me how far it is to Beartown landing?"

"'Bout half a mile, mebbe a little more. Who are you?"

Alvin gave his right name and thanked the man for his information.

"I thought that was about the distance," said Chester, as he resumed the
duty of sentinel. "I can't recognize any landmark, and couldn't if there
was no fog to play the mischief with our sight."

Alvin stopped the engine two or three times while approaching the spot,
in order to listen for sounds of the other boat. They heard nothing, but
had they not waited too long to make the experiment, they would have
picked up some exceedingly interesting information.

"Here's the spot!" called Chester a few minutes later, as he identified
the spiderlike landing from which a road led to Beartown.

"Then we have passed the place where the launch lay up last night. We may
as well go beyond and be out of the way of folks."

A hundred yards north of the wharf, too far to see it when they looked
back, the _Water Witch_ came gently to rest, the waiting Chester sprang
ashore with a line in hand and made fast.



CHAPTER XXIV

BAD FOR MIKE MURPHY


When Gerald Buxton's shotgun was fired by him, and the report rang out in
the still night, it awoke several persons, who wondered what it meant. No
one gave the matter further thought, however, until an old lady, facing
the main street, looked through her bedroom window and saw the citizen
chasing his boy, who toted a gun over his shoulder. At the first
streakings of daylight she hurried to the Buxton home for the
explanation. Within the following half hour the majority of the
population of Beartown knew that an attempt had been made to rob the post
office during the night. Then followed a hurrying thither, for no one
could be satisfied until he had viewed the scene and talked with the
postmistress herself.

It was the confusion and hurly-burly below stairs that awoke Mike Murphy
early. He would have left at once to join Alvin and Chester if Nora had
not forced him to eat breakfast before bidding them good-by. It must be
said that the Irish youth did not require much urging to detain him that
long.

He found he was attracting unpleasant attention. It was Nora who took
pains to let it be known that but for him all the money in the safe would
have been stolen. Mr. Jasper, the owner of the large sum, scrambled
through the crowd, snatched up his big envelope and hurried off without
so much as thanking Mike, who cared naught.

"You needn't tell me," said the keeper of the other grocery store to the
husband of the town milliner. "That redheaded Irish chap is one of the
gang."

"How do you account for his preventing the other robber from carrying
away the money in the safe?" asked his neighbor.

"Plain enough; they'd had a quarrel. He wanted it all for himself."

"Why didn't he take it then?"

"The widder and others bounced down on him afore he had the chance."

"I don't see why if the other villain run away this one didn't do
likewise."

"He'll do it quick enough, never you fear."

"Why is he hanging round after they've gone?"

"To git the money. Seems to me, Rufe, you're blamed stupid this morning.
Why, you've only to take one look at that young ruffian's face to see the
wickedness wrote there. He oughter be in prison this very minute, and
he'll soon be there--take my word for it!"

"Where is he?"

"Sneaked off while he had the chance--wal, I'll be gul darned!"

The grinning Mike Murphy was standing at his elbow, where he had heard
every word of the pointed conversation. The gossip was so taken aback
that he began stammering:

"I had--that is, I was thinking of the other robber."

"I was told," said Mike, "that there was a man hereabouts that looked so
much like me he must be my lost brither that was let out of jail in
Boston a fortnight since. I've found him and begs the privilege of
shaking his hand."

And he caught the limp fingers of the gaping fellow and squeezed them
hard, while he continued to gape and say nothing.

Since this unpleasant person bore not the slightest resemblance to the
youth, being pale and effeminate looking, those who stood near broke into
laughter. Mike turned about, and having bidden good-by to mother and
daughter, passed into the street and turned down the road leading to the
landing.

The hour was early and the fog of which I have spoken was beginning to
creep over the village and through the woods. He kept his bearings, and
when near the river plunged in among the trees to find the _Deerfoot_,
remembering where she was moored the night before.

Some hours earlier Alvin Landon and Chester Haynes had boarded the _Water
Witch_, never doubting that it was the _Deerfoot_, and started down the
river. Consequently Mike could not make the same mistake, and came
straight to the launch with which he was familiar. Standing for a brief
period on the bank he looked admiringly at it.

"Where are the byes?" was the first question he asked himself, as a
glance told him he had arrived ahead of them. "I wonder now if they have
strayed off in the woods, where they may wander about like the two lost
babes and be niver heerd of agin."

Not doubting that they would soon show up, he sat down on the velvety
ground to await them. By and by he became drowsy. The previous night had
been so broken that he had not gained half the sleep he needed. It was
natural, therefore, after his generous breakfast, that he should be
inclined to slumber. Rousing up, he reflected:

"If I fall asleep here, the byes may not obsarve me and sail away and
leave me behind. I shouldn't mind that so much wid only a quarter of a
dollar in me pocket, fur I could go back to Nora and her mother and spind
the rest of me days. But the Captain and second mate would graive
themselves to death, and that would make me feel bad."

Throwing off his drowsiness, he rose to his feet, reached out one hand
and sprang lightly aboard the boat. Seats, cushions, flags, everything
was as they had left it the night before. He sat down on one seat, rested
his feet upon another and settled himself for a good nap, indifferent as
to how long it should last.

"When they come they will obsarve that I'm sweetly draaming, and will
respict me enough to refrain from disturbing me, as Bobbie Burns used to
say whin he lay down beside the road late at night on his way home."

His posture was so comfortable that his head soon bowed and he drifted
into the land of dreams. His first essay was not so successful as he
hoped it would be, for by and by the nodding head tipped too far forward,
and he sprawled on his face. His first confused fancy was that he had
been lying in his trundle bed at Tipperary with his cousin Garry Murphy.

"Arrah, now, what do ye maan by kicking me out on the floor, ye spalpeen?
Whin I git me eyes open I'll taich ye better manners," he called,
climbing carefully to his feet. After a brief spell he recalled the
situation. His first fear was that the Captain and second mate had
returned and witnessed his tumble, but looking around, he saw nothing of
them. The mooring line lay looped around the base of the spruce and the
launch was motionless.

Soon after, two persons came stealing their way among the trees, feeling
each step like a couple of Indian scouts entering a hostile camp. They
were Kit Woodford, leader of the post office burglars, and his young
companion Graff Miller. You remember they acted as lookouts, while the
third was busy inside. They had fled like the cowards they were on the
first sign of danger, had managed to find each other and then set out to
flee in their launch. What had become of "Nox" they did not know or care.
He must do as they had done--save himself or go unsaved.

A shock of astonishment came to the miscreants when they reached the
place where the _Water Witch_ was moored the night before, only to
discover that it had vanished. To the alarmed ruffians there was but the
one explanation: the men who had interfered with the work at the post
office had learned of the launch and run off with it.

"This is a rum go!" was the disgusted exclamation of Woodford. "I thought
we should have an easy thing of it, but we've got to turn back inland. We
shouldn't have any trouble, though it looks to me as if we shall have to
part company."

The younger man was not favorably impressed at first, but a moment's
reflection convinced him that this was one of the situations in which the
proverb, "In union there is strength," did not hold good. Two persons
trying together to make their way out of the neighborhood without drawing
suspicion would be in more danger than one. So he said:

"All right; I will go down stream."

He moved away from his companion, who held his place for a brief while,
still reflecting whether his plan was the better one after all. He was
turning over the problem in his mind, when he caught the sound of a
guarded whistle. It was a familiar call from his companion and he did not
hesitate to follow it. Only a little way off he paused with an
exclamation of astonishment.

There was the swift launch _Deerfoot_ moored against the bank so near the
place where the _Water Witch_ had been left that it is no wonder that
Alvin Landon and Chester Haynes failed to notice the difference of
location. Not only that, but one of the youths belonging to the boat was
seated near the stern with head bowed as if asleep.

What could the amazing fact mean? Woodford's first thought was that a
trap had been set for them. More than likely the seeming slumber on the
part of the motionless figure was a pretence, and meant to tempt them to
come out into the open.

"What do you make of it?" whispered Graff Miller.

"Some deviltry you may be sure; the others are near by."

They stealthily withdrew deeper into the wood and watched and listened,
but nothing occurred to cause alarm. Then a sudden resolution came to the
elder.

"So long as there's only one, let's make him prisoner."

"I'm willing," assented the other.

As silently as two shadows, they stole to the edge of the water. Woodford
deftly cast off the bow line and, leaning over, gently laid it on the
deck. Then they stepped aboard and Miller took up the boathook, pressed
it against the bank and the launch began moving away. When the boathook
could be used no longer, it was softly laid down and the younger man took
his place at the wheel. He understood the running of the launch better
than his companions and generally acted as pilot.

"Shall I start?" he asked, in a guarded voice.

The other nodded. Miller slipped the switch plug in place, started the
motor and put on the power, with just enough force to set the screw
slowly revolving. He headed out in the river, where, because of the fog,
he could barely see the flagstaff at the bow, and began a wide sweeping
circle with the intention of descending the stream.

And still Mike Murphy dreamed on.

Now that the boat was under way with the screw revolving faster, Kit
Woodford stepped closer to the sleeping youth and looked at his face.
When he recognized him as the belligerent Irish lad, his feelings
underwent a sudden change. He knew something of the sleeper and decided
on the instant that he was _persona non grata_. While one of the other
boys might have been held with some vague idea of being used as a
hostage, this one would make more trouble aboard than on land.

Without a word as to his purpose to his companion, Kit Woodford stooped
over, and with the great strength he possessed, easily lifted the
sleeping boy clear of the deck. Then he cautiously moved to the taffrail,
and with a single toss flung Mike Murphy clear of the launch. And the
water was fifty feet deep, and Mike had never swum a stroke, and there
was no one to go to his help.



CHAPTER XXV

WHAT SAVED MIKE


Let us be just to all. I therefore make haste to say that when Kit
Woodford thus threw Mike Murphy into the Back River he did not doubt for
an instant that he was a swimmer, for whoever heard of a lusty youth
seventeen years old who could not take care of himself in water? Of
course there are such, but they are so few that they are a negligible
number.

Graff Miller was startled when he heard the splash, and turning his head
saw the lad disappear, but his belief was the same as his companion's,
and turning on more power, he shot beyond sight before the lad could come
to the surface.

Now I wish to say further that it is a fact within the knowledge of more
than one that a person who did not know how to swim has, upon being
precipitated into deep water, struck out like a master of the natatorial
art. A father standing on the shore of a lake in northern England saw a
boat upset when a hundred yards off and his little boy flung clear of the
support. The lad had never even tried to swim, but as he was going down
the parent shouted to him:

"If you don't come right to land, I'll whip you within an inch of your
life!"

And the little fellow swam to where the frantic parent awaited him.

Moreover, I once witnessed the same strange occurrence. I was not six
years old when I was waiting at the side of a deep pond, and watching my
brother, four years older, construct a raft, with which he had promised
to come over and take me a-sailing. He put a number of boards loosely
together, and using a shingle for a paddle, worked out from shore and
began making his way toward me, who was in high spirits over the promised
treat.

In the very middle of the pond, where the water was fully twenty feet
deep, the primitive raft began disintegrating. The boards slipped apart,
so that those upon which my brother stood sank under his weight. Had he
been older and more sensible, he would have known that this need not mean
danger to him, for the smallest board was buoyant enough to hold his head
above water, and he could have worked his way to land with such support.
But the sight of the structure breaking apart threw him into a panic. He
made a frenzied leap as far out as he could, came up instantly, blew the
water from his mouth and swam so easily to where I was standing that I
never dreamed he was in peril. I should have said that never before had
he tried to swim.

The explanation of what seems unaccountable is simple. Now and then it
happens that when a sudden demand is made upon a person to save his life
by swimming he instinctively does the right thing. He adjusts his body
correctly, and uses his legs and arms properly--his action being exactly
like those of a bullfrog when he starts on a voyage to the other side of
the spring where he makes his home.

This thing does not often occur, but, as I have said, it does now and
then. Let me beg you never to make the experiment unless it is forced
upon you, for I dread what the result would be.

You have already guessed that this is what took place with Mike Murphy. I
cannot think of a more startling awaking than that of a sleeping person
who is flung into a deep stream of very cold water. Mike's momentum took
him several feet below the surface, but he quickly rose again, shook the
water from his eyes, blew it out of his mouth, and then swam straight for
land with the skill that you would show in a similar situation. Even in
taking the right direction he was providentially guided, for at first the
dense fog shut everything from sight, but after a few strokes, he saw the
dim outlines of the trees, and never stopped the vigorous swimming until
he reached up, grasped an overhanging limb of a near-by tree and felt his
feet touch bottom.

And then he was so overcome by what had taken place and it was so beyond
his comprehension that he believed it was a miracle. Standing on the bank
in his dripping clothing, he was mute for a full minute. Then he sank on
his knees and looking reverently upward said:

"I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, for saving me life when I didn't
desarve it. Why Ye took the trouble is beyond me, but I niver can thank
Thee enough. I'm going to try me bist to be more desarving of Yer
kindness, and now if it's all the same to Yer blissed silf, plaise give
me a chance at that spalpeen that treated me as he did."

From down the river came the sound of the _Deerfoot's_ exhaust, growing
fainter as the boat sped on its way. The hoarse blast of a steamer's
whistle shuddered through the mist, but the lad saw nothing of either
craft. It was fog, fog on every hand.

He could not straighten out in his mind all that had taken place. More
than one phase of the occurrences was beyond explanation. Overcoming in a
degree the awe he felt for what had occurred in his own person, he
thought:

"If the Captain and second mate didn't know I couldn't swim, I'd belave
it was them that dropped me overboard by way of a joke, as the Barry
brithers explained to the Judge was their raison for hanging Black Mike.
It was thim spalpeens that wint fur the Captain whin he was journeying
through the woods. Begorra! but they are piling up a big debt fur me to
pay! But I'll sittle the same wid int'rist at siven thousand per cent.

"Where's Alvin and Chester all this time? Why didn't they git to the
_Deerfut_ before me instead of laving it fur them chaps? What does it all
maan, anyway?"

One of the singular coincidences of this series of adventures was that
the _Deerfoot_ in going down the Back River passed within a few rods of
the _Water Witch_ coming up. The noise of the respective engines
prevented either party hearing the other, and the fog would have veiled
them had the space between been considerably less.

Not knowing that the launch of their enemies had been moored anywhere
near, Mike did not look for it. Ignorant also of how far he had been
carried while asleep, he could not guess the distance to Beartown
landing. It might be half a mile or ten times as much. In truth, the
former distance was about right.

The pressing question was as to what he should do. His clothing even to
his cap was saturated. The morning was chilly, and he shivered. He must
find a place where he could obtain warmth until his garments dried. When
that was done he would decide upon the next step to take.

Had he suspected that he was so close to the landing, he would have
picked his way thither and then followed the road to the home of Mrs.
Friestone. It seemed to him that there must be a good many scattered
houses, any one of which would give him welcome. He remembered that a
broad highway runs the whole length of big Westport Island. Necessarily
this was parallel with the course of Back River. If he therefore turned
away from the latter and held a direct course, he must sooner or later
reach the road named, where he would be sure soon to receive hospitality.

No doubt you know from experience how hard it is to hold a straight
course when going through a wilderness, without landmarks to guide you
and ignorant also of the "signs" which are as plain as print to the
veteran hunter. The fog inclosed Mike on every hand, but his activity
imparted a pleasant warmth to his frame, which otherwise would not have
been felt, even though it was summer time.

He zigzagged sometimes to the right and sometimes to the left, but, on
the whole, held substantially to the right direction and gradually drew
near the dusty avenue which, once reached, would bring the end of his
discomforts. Good fortune stayed with him, for when he was beginning to
feel somewhat discouraged with his failure to free himself from the
dripping woods, he abruptly came upon a clearing, in the midst of which
stood a small house, surrounded by a well-tilled garden and several
smaller buildings. Chickens were scratching and picking at the earth, and
a big dog, fortunately restrained by a chain, scrambled out of his kennel
at sight of the stranger and barked and tugged to get at him.

Between him and Mike stretched a clothesline supported at intervals by
leaning props, and despite the fact that the humidity in the air must
have been close to ninety-nine degrees, a corpulent woman was hanging out
clothes. Two or three wooden pins were in her mouth, and every now and
then she reached up with one hand and squeezed the little conveniences
over the cord which supported the flapping clothes. She wore no bonnet or
hat, and the untied shoes evidently were an old pair belonging to her
husband.

Hearing the dog bark, she looked around to learn the cause. She saw a
freckle-faced youth in the act of doffing his cap and bowing.

"The top of the morning to yer ladyship, and would ye be willing to hang
me across yer line till me clothes be dried?"

The woman snatched the pins from between her teeth and stared at him. Her
face was broad, homely and good-natured.

"G'way now," she answered; "I don't hang up any clothes till the same is
_claan_. It will take a waak's washing to rinder ye fit. If I straddle ye
over the line wid yer faat and rid head hanging down and bumping
togither, ye'll cut a purty figger a-flapping in the wind."

Mike's laughter rang out. She was Irish like him and his heart warmed to
her.

"Begorra! I've met a leddy after me own heart. She's from the 'owld sod'
and it's not mesilf that is going to have me own way in gay conversation
wid the charming beauty."

True enough, the woman was his match and Mike was glad to learn it.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE GOOD SAMARITANS


She looked sharply at him through her bright blue eyes.

"Are ye saaking to make me belave ye are from Ireland?"

"Sartinly--Mike Murphy, from the town of Tipperary, County of Tipperary,
at your sarvice," and he bowed again.

"Arrah, poor Ireland, how many wrongs are heaped upon ye! I was sure from
yer accint that ye were a Dutchman or Frinch."

"May I ask yer name, me leddy?"

"Mrs. Maggie McCaffry, and me husband is Tam that is working for Mr.
Burns at Beartown."

Mike clasped his hands and with a glowing expression stepped forward.

"I knowed it! I knowed it!" he exclaimed, as if overrunning with joy.

"Knowed phwat?"

"That ye were my mither's fourth cousin that lift Tipperary fur Noo York
six years ago, but by some mistake landed in Dublin jail--bad cess to
them as made the same mistake!"

"It's bad enough fur ye to be born in the same counthry wid mesilf, but I
war-r-n ye to make no claim to relationship. There's some things a
respictable leddy can't stand."

"Did ye not almost break me heart by thinking I was a Dutchman?" asked
Mike reprovingly.

"I'll make the same roight by axing the pardon of ivery Dutchman I maats
for the rist of me born days. 'Twas har-r-d on the poor haythen."

"Aunt Maggie, I'll give ye all me wealth if ye'll consint to let me dry
mesilf in front of yer fire."

"Arrah, now, what are ye saying? Five cints is no object to me----"

Just then, in spite of an effort to prevent it, Mike's teeth chattered.
Now that he had ceased walking he quickly became chilled. The woman
noticed it and her warm sympathy instantly welled up.

"'Tis a shame that I kipt ye talking nonsense wid me while ye was
shivering. Do ye walk straight into the house and war-r-m yersilf till I
come, which will be in a jiffy whin I have the rest of me clothes hung
out. And if ye're hungry ye shall have food."

"I thank ye, aunty, but I am not in need of that."

Two small wooden steps were in front of the only door on that side of the
neat little cottage. He pressed his thumb on the latch, pushed open the
door and the next instant faced one of the greatest surprises of his
life.

The lower floor consisted of two rooms, a kitchen and a general living
room. The fire in the former would have been enough for the interior, but
for the fact that a visitor had preceded Mike, and because of his
presence a roaring fire was burning on the hearth. In front of this sat a
young man leaning back in a rocking chair, with a bandaged leg resting on
a pillow laid upon a second chair in front of him. He was smoking a
cigarette, and despite the fact that something ailed him, looked quite
comfortable.

As the door opened, his eyes met those of Mike Murphy, who halted with
one foot over the threshold, started and exclaimed:

"Can I belave what me eyes tell me! Is it _yersilf_?"

The young man sitting before him, smoking and nursing his injured limb,
was Orestes Noxon, whom Mike chased away from the Beartown post office
the night before, and who received a part of the charge from the shotgun
of Gerald Buxton.

The face of the injured youth flushed and he laughed nervously, but with
amazing coolness answered:

"I guess you don't need spectacles. You've got the best of me; I'm down
and you're up."

"There's an old account to be squared atween us, but that can rist till
ye become yersilf. Be the same token, are ye much hurt?"

Mike's Irish sympathy immediately went out to the fellow, who certainly
was at his mercy.

"I can't say I am. But your clothing is wet. I heard a part of your talk
with Mrs. McCaffry--God bless her splendid soul!--so suppose you come
closer where you will be in front of the fire and can dry yourself, and
we'll get on better."

It was good advice and Mike acted upon it. Standing with his back to the
blaze, he looked down in the face of the criminal whose self-possession
he could not help admiring.

"You remember our little foot race from the back of the Beartown post
office?" said Noxon, as if referring to an incident in which he felt no
particular interest.

"I do, but I niver won a prize at running and ye give me the slip."

"Only to get in front of that beefeater with a shotgun. Why didn't you
fire when you were chasing and threatening me?"

"I couldn't have touched off that busted gun any more than I could have
fired a broom handle."

"I made the mistake of thinking the other fellow would be equally
forbearing and kept on running, till all at once, bang! he let drive. I
caught a good part of the charge in that leg below the knee. It didn't
hurt much at first, and after managing to get hold of his gun I made him
dance for me. It would have killed you to see him," and at the
recollection the young man laughed hard.

"His boy Jim obsarved it all and told us and we laughed," said Mike, with
a grin. "The sight must have been very insthructive."

"It was, to that old codger, who won't get over his lesson for a month.
Well, as the gun wasn't of any use to me I threw it away and started to
find my friends and the boat we came on. By and by my leg began to hurt,
I suppose from walking so much and a tumble I got by catching my foot in
the root of a tree. I sat down to rest awhile and when I got up it hurt
so badly that I thought it was all up with me. You know it was night, and
somehow I had gone astray in the infernal pine woods. The wound was
bleeding, and I sat down again intending to wait till morning. By and by
I heard a dog bark so near that I climbed to my feet again and made by
way to this house. McCaffry and his wife were asleep and it took a good
deal of banging and shouting for me to wake them. But when they found out
what was the matter they took me in, and my own father and mother could
not have been kinder."

"What did they do fur yer fut?"

"The good woman not only washed the wound, but, by the light of the lamp
which her husband held, picked out every one of the shot that had been
buried there and were making the trouble. Then she bathed the hurt again
and wrapped it about with the clean linen, as you see for yourself. All
that remains is for me to keep quiet for a few days and nature will do
the rest."

"Wouldn't it be well if I got a docther fur ye?"

Noxon looked up in the face of the Irish youth, who tried to keep a grave
countenance.

"I think not," replied the sufferer.

There was a world of significance in the words, and both understood.

Strange that these two who had never met before except as the bitterest
of enemies should talk now as comrades. Mike kept pinching his clothing
and turning every side to the blaze, thus drying the garments quite
rapidly. He was so interested in the story of Noxon that he grew
careless.

"I think I see smoke coming from behind you," finally said the sitter.

Mike reached back to investigate and with a gasp snatched back his
fingers.

"I'm afire! Is there a well outside that I can dive into the same?"

"Turn around; I can help you," said Noxon, laughing, dropping his foot
and sitting forward.

Together they quenched the twist of blaze which if left alone would have
played the mischief with Mike's garments.

"I'm thinking this is a little different, Mr. Noxon, from last night."

"It is, and I hope it will always stay that way."

Mike was astonished and looked questioningly at the fellow.

"Phwat might ye be maaning?" he asked, lowering his voice.

Noxon tried to speak, but his voice broke. He snatched out his
handkerchief from the side pocket of his coat and pressed it to his eyes.
Then his breast heaved and he broke into sobbing.

The heart of Mike melted at the sight. He had never dreamed of anything
like this. Enmity and resentment gave way to an anguish of sympathy for
the fellow. He longed to say something comforting, but could not think of
a word, and remained mute. Very soon the youth regained his self-control.
Dropping his handkerchief in his lap, and with eyes streaming, he
exclaimed from the very depths of his despair:

"Oh, why didn't that man aim better and kill me! I'm not fit to live! I'm
the worst villain unhanged! I am lost--damned, and a curse to those who
love me!"

Mike pulled himself together sufficiently to reply:

"I don't think ye're quite all them things. Cheer up! cheer up, old
fellow!"

Noxon did not speak, but slowly swayed his head from side to side, like
one from whom all hope had departed. Mike drew a chair beside him, and as
tenderly as a mother lifted the white hand from where it lay on the
handkerchief, and held it in his own warm grasp.

"Noxy, me bye, Mike Murphy is yer frind through thick and thin--don't ye
forget _that_--and I'm going to see ye through this if I have to break a
thrace in trying."

"_You!_" repeated the despairing one, looking up in Mike's honest blue
eyes. "No one can save a wretch like me. I'm not worth saving!"

"Ye forget there's One to whom the same is aisy, me bye. Ye feel down in
the mouth jest now, as Jonah did respicting the whale, but bimeby this
fog will clear away and the sun will shine forth again. I've been in some
purty bad scrapes mesilf and He niver desarted me. Why, it ain't two
hours, since He raiched out His hand, grabbed me by the neck and saved me
from drowning. I tell ye, Noxy, that He won't fail ye."

"But you never did what I have done."

The Irish youth bent his head as if recalling his past life.

"I can't say that I did, but I'm the meanest scamp that iver
lived--barring yersilf," he added, with the old twinkle in his eyes.
"Come, now, be a man and we'll have ye out of this scrape as quick as I
jumped awhile ago whin I awoke to the fact that me trousers was afire."

Noxon actually smiled at the recollection.

"You call yourself a scamp. Why, you are an angel compared with me--so is
everybody! Kit Woodford and Graff Miller are a thousand times better than
I."



CHAPTER XXVII

AN UNWELCOME CALLER


With rare wisdom Mike now gave an abrupt turn to the conversation.
Lowering his voice to a confidential tone, he asked:

"Does Mrs. McCaffry know anything of this?"

"If so, she hasn't given me any reason to suspect it," replied Noxon,
brightening up and seizing the straw held out to him. "I told her I had
met with an accident, and neither she nor her husband asked a question.
Their big hearts had no room for any feeling other than of pity for the
one who is not deserving of a particle of it."

"She told me her husband works in Beartown. He wint there airly this
morning; he'll hear of the throuble at the post office and the beefeater,
as ye call him, will let everybody know he winged the robber as he was
running off. Did ye spake any caution to the man before he lift this
morning?"

"By good luck I thought of that. I asked him to make no mention of my
being at his house and he promised me he would not."

"Arrah, now, but that's good, as me dad says whin he tips up the jug. All
that ye have to do is to sit here and let Mrs. McCaffry nurse that game
leg till ye're able to thravel."

"Ah, if that was _all_! But I have a father and mother whose hearts I am
breaking. I have two younger brothers and a sweet sister. What of
_them_!" demanded Noxon almost fiercely.

"Ye have read the blissed story of the Prodigal Son, haven't ye?"

"I am a thousandfold worse than that poor devil, who was simply foolish."

"Do yer dad and mither know where ye are?"

"No; the one decent thing I did when I turned rascal was to change my
name. Orestes Noxon is a _nom de plume_."

"I don't know the fellow, but that shows, me bye, ye ain't such a big
fool as ye look. I'm beginning to have hope for ye."

A strange impulse came to Mike. It was to sing in a low, inexpressibly
sweet voice a single stanza of a familiar hymn, just loud enough for the
one auditor to hear. But he restrained himself, fearing the effect upon
him. The "fountains of the deep" were already broken up, and the result
might be regrettable. At that moment a heavy tread sounded on the little
steps outside, the door was pushed inward, and the bulky form of the
red-faced Mrs. McCaffry filled the whole space. She now stepped awkwardly
and ponderously within.

"I begs that ye'll oxcoose me for not coming in wid this blarney and
inthrodoocing ye to aich ither. Have ye becoom acquainted?"

"It was an oversight which no Irish leddy should be guilty of," gravely
replied Mike, "espicially whin the same is the fourth cousin of me own
mither. But ye have been away from the owld counthry so long that ye have
forgot a good deal, Aunt Maggie."

"I haven't furgot to resint the insult of being accused of relationship
wid the family of a spalpeen that is proud of the belaif. Whin Tam coomes
home to-night I'll explain the insult to him and lave ye two to sittle
the same."

"I'm thankful ye give me due notice, Aunt Maggie, so that I'll have time
to slip outside and climb a tree. Which reminds me to ask how fur it is
to Beartown."

"It's a good half mile from our home, and nigh about the same distance
back. Ye can figger out the rist for yersilf. Now, me darlint," said she,
coming to Noxon's chair and bending over with her broad face radiating
sympathy, "it's toime I had a look at that leg, which would be a big
ornamint if bestowed on the spalpeen wid the freckles and rid hair."

"I don't think it can need any attention," said Noxon, pleased to listen
to the sparring of the two; "but you are the doctor."

Her hands were big and red, but no professional nurse could have handled
a patient with more gentle deftness. The linen was unwound, and Mike for
the first time inspected the wound inflicted by Gerald Buxton with his
shotgun. Little as the lad knew of such things, he saw the hurt was not
serious. With the removal of the leaden pellets went the cause of
irritation. The stumble in the woods had aggravated the wound
temporarily, but a rest for even a day would render it safe for the young
man to use the leg.

When the bandage had been repinned in place, Noxon felt that he was being
coddled more than was necessary. Dropping his foot to the floor, he asked
impatiently:

"What's the sense of my playing baby? I can walk as well as ever. All I
need is an ordinary cane. I think I'll stay with you till after dinner,
Aunt Maggie--I suppose I may call you that--and then I'll vamose the
ranch."

The woman stared wonderingly at Mike.

"Do ye know what he maanes by thim words? His mind I fear is afther
wandering."

"He wishes to say that ye and Tam have used him so well that he will take
delight in spinding siveral days wid ye."

"Ah, now his mind isn't afther wandering when he do spake that way. All
roight, me cherub, ye'll stay where you be till I give you liberty to
lave. Do ye mind that?"

And she shook her stubby finger in his face.

"Ah, what a tyrant you are, Aunt Maggie!"

"Phwat's that?" she demanded, straightening up. "Are ye calling me out of
me name?"

"You are the sweetest, kindest, most motherly woman and best wife in the
State of Maine."

She sprang to her feet and lumbered to the door.

"I haven't finished hanging me duds; whin I have I'll come back and wipe
out the insoolt ye have put upon me."

Noxon looked at Mike, who for the first time heard him laugh with real
jollity in his voice.

"What a big heart! How unutterably ashamed she makes me feel! What can I
weigh in the balance against her? She is pure gold and I am base dross."

"Don't forgit to include mesilf wid the dross, me bye. Ye won't be able
to get away from this here place for a few days, I guess."

"Glad should I be if I could believe it safe to stay here."

"And why not?"

"Her husband has already heard all about last night's business."

"He promised ye to say nothing."

"When he did that, he had no suspicion of who I am. He will know that I
was one of the gang and his disposition will be far different when he
comes home to-night. In fact, he is likely to feel freed of any promise
he made me."

"Ye don't know a real Irishman. I can't say how he will be disposed, but
I know he'll kaap that pledge. Have no fear of that."

Noxon sitting back in his chair and apparently without any thought of his
injured leg, pondered earnestly over the situation.

"I am disposed to believe as you do, but that isn't my only danger."

"Phwat have ye in mind now?"

"There will be lots of people scouring the country for the three persons
who were in this business. We are so near Beartown that some of them are
likely to call here before the day is over."

"This house stands well back from the road wid only a path betwaan the
two. Why should anyone sarch here fur ye?"

"And why should they not? I shouldn't dare to stay here while this is
going on. However, you have shown such goodwill toward me, I am willing
to compromise. I'll stay till to-night and then must make a change of
base."

"Whither will ye go?"

"I haven't thought of that. My aim will be simply to get out of the zone
of danger, and what follows must depend upon circumstances."

"Noxy, will ye answer me one question?"

"I will."

[Illustration: "GIVE ME YOUR HAND ON THAT."]

"When ye lave here will ye be going back to Kit Woodford and Graff
Miller?"

The eyes of the young man flashed and, with an earnestness that seemed
deadly in its intensity, he said hoarsely:

"No! never! I'll die first!"

"Give me yer hand on that!"

It seemed as if the grip would crush the clasping fingers. The pressure
continued for nearly a minute, while the two looked fixedly into each
other's eyes. The pledge had been made and into each heart stole the
warm, irradiating glow that God gives to all the children of men when
they break loose from evil and cling to that which is good.

And then the young man gave Mike his confidence. Aunt Maggie, with a tact
that was creditable to her, left them together most of the forenoon and
their talk was comparatively free from interruption.

As Noxon had hinted, he was the eldest son of parents who were in
prosperous circumstances. He did not give their name nor place of
residence, for it was unnecessary, but he admitted he had been wayward
from early boyhood. He longed for wild adventure, and caused his family
grief and anguish by his persistent wrongdoing. Finally, when he had
matriculated at Yale, he ran away from home, taking what funds he could
steal and fully resolved upon a life of sin.

"If there were pirates to-day, as there used to be, I should have striven
to become the chief of a crew that flew the black flag, but I had to give
that up. Some humorist has said that when a man starts to go to the devil
he finds everything greased. So it proved with me. I fell in with Graff
Miller, who, though he is about my age, has been a burglar for several
years. I never suspected it until he found I was hunting for such a
companion, when he told me of his partnership with Kit Woodford. In my
vanity, I had shown how easy it was for me to open one of the
old-fashioned combination safes, by detecting the working of the
mechanism inside. This made me invaluable to them, and they proposed that
I should become the third member of the gang. I jumped at the chance.
Since Miller told me they used aliases instead of their right names, I
took the one by which you know me.

"Their plan was to visit different points in the south of Maine, where
there had been a number of post office robberies, and use me to open the
safes. I was delighted with the scheme, and we started in a few weeks
ago. The Beartown post office was the third visited----"

Just then a knock sounded on the door. Both were startled and Mike
called:

"Come in!"

The door was pushed inward and Stockham Calvert entered the room.

"Holy smoke!" exclaimed Mike, "as Father Malone said when he saw his
church burning."



CHAPTER XXVIII

PLUCKING A BRAND FROM THE BURNING


"Good day, my friends!" was the greeting of the detective as he closed
the door behind him, strode forward and saluted Mike, who, after his
exclamation, rose from his chair and, open mouth and staring eyes, limply
clasped the hand that was offered him.

"I wasn't looking for you, Mike, but I was searching for Hor--I beg
pardon, Orestes Noxon. I hope I see you well, barring the slight injury
to the leg inflicted by Mr. Gerald Buxton last night."

And what did the officer do but shake hands with Noxon, who kept his seat
as if in a daze? Mike, who was watching the couple, instantly noted a
significant fact. Beyond question the two were acquaintances. The face of
the young man flushed scarlet and he said faintly:

"Well, Mr. Calvert, you have got me at last."

"Yes; and a right merry chase you have led me. You won't get away this
time."

"I suppose not."

"Sit down, Mike," said the caller, drawing up a chair for himself. "I
have something I would like very much to say to thee, Orestes."

At this moment Aunt Maggie swung through the door again. She had seen the
man enter and wished to know what it meant. Calvert sprang to his feet
and bowed.

"I have found a couple of good friends of mine, who I am sure are greatly
indebted to you for your hospitality. One cannot fail to tell by your
looks that you have a wonderfully kind heart----"

"Arrah, now," replied Mrs. McCaffry, pushing away the hair in front of
her face with her fat hand, "but ye are the worst blarney of thim all.
I'll have nothing to do wid ye till dinner time, whin I'll stuff ye all
so full of roast pig and praties that ye'll be obleeged to kaap quiet
regarding dacent folks."

She knew the three wished to talk over private matters, and made sure
they were left alone for the next hour or two.

"Mr. Calvert," said Noxon, "Mike here has proved himself a true friend to
me--so you may talk freely before him. He doesn't know my right name and
says he doesn't care to know. So we will let that pass. What caused you
to look here for me?"

"Warner Hagan met me in Wiscasset yesterday to give what help he could in
running Kit Woodford and his gang to earth. Early this morning we heard
of the attempted robbery of the Beartown post office. We hired a launch
and got there as soon as we could. Nobody in Beartown suspects our
business. It did not take us long to pick up all that was known. We
learned that one of the three got peppered with bird shot, and managed to
limp off in the woods. Of course I recognized the three young gentlemen
who were accepting the hospitality of Mrs. Friestone, the postmistress.
They required no immediate attention and were sure to turn up all right
in the end.

"I left Hagan in Beartown to look into matters further while I set out to
hunt for the fellow who had limped off in the woods, after turning the
tables so cleverly on Mr. Buxton. Without any reason that I could explain
I formed the suspicion that this member of the gang was you, Noxon (I
believe that is your travelling name). It was represented that he was
hurt much worse than I am glad to say was the fact. I inquired at each
house along the road between here and Beartown and hit it at last.

"Now," added the visitor as if seated with his intimate friends, "since
you tell me to talk freely in Mike's presence, I shall do so. Are you
ready, Noxon, to go to your home with me?"

"Begging yer pardin, Mr. Calvert, I beg to say that has been sittled. The
dearest hope of Noxy's heart is to return to his parents."

"Is that so?" asked the detective of the young man.

"I would give my right hand," he solemnly replied, holding it up, "if I
could go back three months in my life and have things as they were."

"You can't do that as regards time, but it will bring sunshine and
happiness to your loved ones when the wandering boy comes to their
waiting arms. All being true, we have got to travel the 'rocky road to
Dublin.' You have committed a serious crime against the United States
laws, and if convicted nothing can save you from a long term in prison."

"Then what hope is there for me?"

"You haven't been convicted yet, but I won't deny that you are in serious
danger of it."

"How shall I escape?"

"I thought that over while on the road from Beartown. This, I believe, is
your third essay as a burglar. Am I right?"

Noxon nodded.

"Once would be enough to send you to Atlanta, but let that go for the
present. Are you willing to turn state's evidence?"

Noxon moved uneasily in his seat. The proposition was distasteful.

"You needn't feel any compunctions. Kit Woodford and that cub who calls
himself Graff Miller have handed out the double cross many a time, and
stand ready to do it again if it promises the slightest advantage to
them. They have run off in the hope of taking care of their own hides,
without caring the snap of a finger what became of you."

"There is no mistake about _that_, Mr. Calvert?"

"I wouldn't deceive you for an instant. Their own actions prove it. They
have done the same thing before, and to-day they did not give you a
thought, when danger threatened them."

"I shall do whatever you wish."

"Good! You may not know that, although I am a Pinkerton detective, I am
under promise to my lifelong friend to do all I can to save you from
yourself."

"Does father know I am in this business, Mr. Calvert?"

"He doesn't dream of such a thing. The shock would kill him. Therefore, I
shall strain every nerve to keep him from ever learning the truth. I have
a plan in mind, but before trying it you must answer a few questions."

"I am ready."

"In the first place, where do this gang with whom you have been
associated have their headquarters?"

"I can guide you to the exact spot."

"It is not that little patch of ground in the cove at the southern end of
Barter Island?"

"No; the character of the islet forbids. Miller ran the launch in there
one night when he thought some one was watching, to throw him off the
scent. Have you a pencil and bit of paper anywhere about you?"

Calvert produced the articles from an inner coat pocket and handed them
to Noxon. Placing the paper on the table in the middle of the room, he
spent several minutes in drawing a diagram. He was apt at the work and
did it with no little skill. By and by he handed paper and pencil to the
owner with the remark:

"That will answer your question."

"It is a production of art," said the detective admiringly. "No
professional artist could beat it."

Noxon had not only drawn a perfect representation of the neighborhood
which he had in mind, but lettered it so that no mistake was possible. It
pictured a part of the eastern shore of Westport Island, opposite Barter,
and only a short distance north of the inlet where the _Water Witch_ had
been visited some nights before. Noxon leaned forward and placed the tip
of his finger on the different points.

"Right there is one of a hundred similar coves among the waters of
southern Maine. It is smaller than the others, and a little way back is
an island, which resembles except in size those that you see in every
part of these waters. You know they rise above the surface like vast
bouquets, with trees growing down to the edge of the river or sea. It is
not so with that bit of earth you first asked about, but it is so with
the islet in that cove which I show on that piece of paper."

"What about this one?"

"It is what you may call the headquarters of the Woodford gang of post
office robbers. And, yet, it seems hardly right to call it that, for it
is sort of hiding place to which they flee when things begin to grow
warm."

"You have been there?"

"Several times. I will go again with you."

"No need; I can't go wrong with such directions. Why, Mike himself can
understand it."

He gravely held up the drawing before the Irish youth, who squinted one
eye and carefully scrutinized it.

"I must say I don't make sure whither it's a picter of yersilf, Mr.
Calvert, or a view of an automobile trying to climb a tree."

"What did I tell you, Orestes? Isn't he bright?"

"An unnicessary question," said Mike loftily; "as Auntie McCaffry would
answer if ye asked her which was the handsomest and cutest and smartest
one among her three guests."

"Noxon," said Calvert, with a smile over the repartee of the Irish lad,
"do either Kit Woodford or Graff Miller know your right name?"

"They never asked me and it was never given in their presence."

"You said as much before. Do they know where you came from?"

"They haven't the slightest knowledge. I am as unknown to them as regards
my real identity as if I never existed."

"That will help my plan, which, I may say to you and Mike, is simply
this: get you out of this neighborhood to your home. There, of course,
you will assume your true identity and no one need ever be the wiser."

"What of the testimony of Woodford and Miller when they are released from
jail?"

"You and they will be so much older that neither will recognize the
other. Have no fear on that score. The thing is to run you out of the
State of Maine. The hunt for these post office robbers has become so hot
that it isn't going to be an easy job, but I believe I can work it.
There's some sort of a mix-up of motor boats, which as yet I can't get
the hang of, but when I do I shall try my plan. Mike, how was it you were
here with Noxon when I called? Can you tell me anything about your launch
or the _Water Witch_?"

Thereupon the Irish youth related his story, and when it was finished the
detective smiled.

"If I'm not mistaken that is going to help us a big lot."



CHAPTER XXIX

"THE BEAUTIFUL ISLE OF SOMEWHERE"


Detective Stockham Calvert was quick to make deductions and as quick in
adapting himself to circumstances. He had said he did not expect to have
the help of Orestes Noxon--as we must continue to call him--in capturing
the two criminals, but ten minutes later he made a radical change of
plans. He meant to make use of the young man, in his pursuit of the post
office robbers.

"We must leave here at once," he announced in his crisp manner.
"Searching parties are out and some of them are likely to call here at
any time. Since Noxon worked with his face masked, except when the slip
occurred last night, it is not likely, he would be recognized by any of
those who are looking for him. But there is a risk which we must avoid."

Mrs. McCaffry made strong objection to their leaving before the dinner
hour, but the officer assured her it could not be helped. He and Noxon
compelled her to accept liberal tips, but she refused to take the last
remaining quarter of Mike.

"The same would bring me bad luck," she said, with a shake of her head.

"How could it do that whin it brought me the bist of luck, being I came
to your door?" asked the youth, trying to press it upon her; but she
would not consent.

"Ah," he said, "it's mesilf that's of no more account than a naught wid
no circle round it."

Instead of following the path that led to the highway and so on to
Beartown, Calvert turned into the woods through which his companions had
made their way to the humble but hospitable home.

"We'll keep clear of the village," he explained, "for every one there is
in a fever of excitement, and although I can do my part in the way of
prevarication, I don't wish to be driven to the limit, when it might not,
after all, avert trouble."

The fogs which often plague the coast of Maine and vicinity have a habit
of sometimes leaving as suddenly as they come. It was a great relief to
the party when they dived in among the pines and firs to find that the
gloomy dampness had lifted and the sun was again shining from a clear
sky. It impressed all as a good omen.

Noxon's rest and care for his injured leg had been of great benefit. The
rising inflammation had gone and the pain was trifling. If they did not
walk fast, he was sure it would give him no anxiety.

Calvert took the lead, with Noxon next and Mike Murphy at the rear. The
last was highly pleased to see his young friend walk without a
perceptible limp.

The leader kept his bearings so well that when within an hour he reached
the shore of the Back River, it was at the spot he had in mind. There was
the runabout in which he and Warner Hagan had come from Wiscasset, and
the owner was calmly smoking his brier wood pipe, content to wait
indefinitely when he was well paid for so doing. He lay a few rods south
of the landing, and just below him was the _Water Witch_, with Alvin
Landon and Chester Haynes on board, wondering what in the world had
become of Mike Murphy. The youths had tried to open communication with
the master of the runabout, but he had been warned by his two passengers
to tell nothing to anyone, and he glumly refused to talk. Chester had set
out in quest of the missing Mike, going as far as the village. All he
could learn there was that his friend had left a good while before and no
one knew anything of him. The second mate went back to his Captain, and
the two were so impatient that they were half inclined to leave without
him, when lo! he appeared with Calvert and Noxon, coming from among the
trees as if he had been absent only a few minutes.

Then followed full explanations, and you can imagine the astonishment of
Alvin and Chester. They were sure of the identity of Noxon when he first
appeared, but were considerate and said never a word that could hurt his
feelings.

"You ran away with their launch," added Calvert. "They ran away with
yours, and you and they met as you were coming back. But for the fog you
would have seen each other, for you must have passed quite close. The
beauty of it is," said the officer, with a flash of his keen eyes, "that
while they have gone far away we know exactly where. My friend Hagan and
I, with Noxon as our guide, are going to scoop them in."

He thought it best not to affect too much mystery.

"They passed down Montsweag Bay clear to Knubble, through Goose Rock
Passage into the Sheepscot, and up that to the Beautiful Isle of
Somewhere. Most folks don't know the exact location of that sweet spot,
but we know--thanks to Noxon--the latitude and longitude of ours, which
the same is the port we are heading for."

The plan was simple. Noxon, who was familiar with the running of the
_Water Witch_, was to act as engineer and steersman. Calvert and Hagan
would be the only passengers, and the prize would be Kit Woodford and
Graff Miller.

"And phwat's to become of us?" asked Mike.

"That depends upon how you behave yourself. If you grow tired of waiting,
take a walk up to Beartown, have dinner with Mrs. Friestone and then come
back and wait for a few days and nights till you see us again."

"That's aisy, as I told me taicher whin she asked me how much two and two
made and I informed her the same was five."

"But Mr. Hagan isn't here," reminded Chester.

"He will be very soon. Meanwhile, I'll say a word to my man."

He walked to the runabout, where he told its owner he might return to
Wiscasset as he was not needed further. He added a dollar to the price
agreed upon and the man bade him good-by. Hagan, who had gone off on what
might be called a reconnaissance, justified the faith of his partner, for
he came forward, and thus the party was complete.

The distance was shorter by way of the Narrows and down the Sheepscot
than by the route just named. Accordingly, the _Water Witch_ headed
north, while the _Deerfoot_ it will be remembered went south. The
difference was not much, the real reason why the course was taken being
of another nature. If the _Water Witch_ had set out to search for the
other boat, with no knowledge of its destination, it would have prowled
to the southward, inspecting all likely hiding places on the way, with a
strong chance that she herself would be detected and her purpose read
before she discovered the fugitive. By taking the northern route this
handicap would be avoided. They could make much better progress and not
be seen until it was too late for the criminals to escape.

Thus Alvin Landon, Chester Haynes and Mike Murphy were left on the shore
of the Back River, near Beartown landing, without any launch and
compelled to pass the time as best they could. They decided to spend a
few hours in the village.

They appreciated the reason why Calvert would not have their company. He
was plunging into a venture where deadly weapons were likely to be used,
and their lives would be endangered. The affair was really none of
theirs. Besides, their presence would be a serious handicap and might
prove fatal to success.

The _Water Witch_ soon shot past Cushman Point, passing the runabout so
close that the officers exchanged salutations with the man who had
brought them from Wiscasset. Calvert and Hagan sat side by side, both
puffing heavy black cigars, the smoke of which as it streamed astern
might have suggested that the launch was impelled by steam instead of
gasoline. She ran smoothly, and Noxon, with a pale face, his hands
grasping the wheel, steered as skilfully as Alvin Landon had directed the
swifter _Deerfoot_. He had done it many times and had no fear. The young
man had come to the parting of the ways, and nothing could turn him back.
His resolution was due to the wound, which had distressed him so much
when he hobbled to the home of Mrs. McCaffry that he believed for a time
he was near the end of life, and when one reaches _that_ point he is sure
to do some serious thinking.

Just above Clough Point, marking the northern extremity of the large
island of Westport, the _Water Witch_ turned eastward through the Narrows
and headed straight south down the Sheepscot River to its destination
some ten miles away. Noxon seated with his hands upon the wheel remained
silent. The officers spoke to each other now and then in low tones, but
most of the time left him to his meditations. He held the boat to
moderate speed, for there was no call for haste. She was running easily,
but a glance by the young man into the gasoline tank showed the supply
was low, and he wished to avoid stopping at any of the landings to renew
it. Besides, high speed is always a strain upon an engine, and he was
nervously anxious to prevent a breakdown at a critical point in the
enterprise. His familiarity with the launch made him cautious.

While Calvert and Hagan were following a clearly defined plan, they knew
"there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip." They had high hopes of
finding the other boat at the spot which Calvert had facetiously named
the Beautiful Isle of Somewhere, but it might well happen that they would
be disappointed. At the first sign of danger the _Deerfoot_ would run
away and her superior fleetness would leave her pursuers hopelessly
behind. Above all, it was important that the criminals should not
discover their peril in time to get away.

"Noxon," said Calvert, leaning forward, "let us know when we are near the
cove."

"We are within less than a mile of it now. It is just ahead on the
right."

Each officer flung his stump of a cigar overboard and slipped from his
chair to the bottom of the boat. Inasmuch as their interest was centred
on one side of the boat, they crowded each other a little. They removed
their headgear and permitted only their crowns to show a few inches above
the rail as they peered over. They held themselves ready at the same time
to duck into complete invisibility.

"The cove is in sight," announced Noxon, slightly turning his head.
"Better keep down."

A few minutes later they felt the change in the course of the launch.
They were entering the inlet and the officers raised their heads barely
enough to peer alongside of the steersman, over the front and beyond the
flagstaff with its fluttering bunting.

"There it is!" whispered Calvert to his friend.

"I see it," said the other, "the Beautiful Isle of Somewhere; we are
closer to it than I supposed."



CHAPTER XXX

A THROUGH TICKET TO HOME


There it was in plain sight, rising like a giant nosegay of emerald from
the crystalline water. It was barely two acres in extent, and, like
nearly all islands great and small in southern Maine, the firs, pines and
spruce grew to the very edge of the water. It reminded one of the patches
of green earth in Europe where the frugal owners do not allow a square
inch to go to waste.

"I don't see anything of the _Deerfoot_," said Calvert in a guarded voice
to Noxon.

"We always lay to on the other side. Keep down!"

It was wise advice, though not needed. The two crouched so low in their
crowded quarters that a person a hundred feet away would not have seen
them. Each instinctively felt of his hip pocket. The little weapon was
there.

The officers had now to depend upon Noxon, who for the time was director
of the enterprise. He could make himself heard over his shoulder without
drawing attention to himself, provided he was under the eye of his old
associates. He was never more alert.

Veering to the right, where there was a hundred yards of clear water
between the islet and the mainland, he slowed down and began gradually
circling the exuberant patch of earth. It will be remembered that he had
been there before and knew the habits of Woodford and Miller. By and by,
he had glided far enough to bring the western shore into his field of
vision. Before that moment he had discerned the stern and flagstaff of a
launch. A second glance told him the truth, which he cautiously made
known to the crouching forms behind him:

"The _Deerfoot_ is there! Don't stir till I give the word!"

Neither of the criminals was in sight, but it was evident they were near,
else the launch would not be lying where it was. Noxon gave a series of
toots with his whistle, though the noise of the exhaust must have been
noted before. In response, Kit Woodford and Graff Miller came out from
among the trees, halted at the side of the launch and stared at the
_Water Witch_ and its single occupant.

Could they believe their eyes? They saw before them their own boat and
the young man whom they had cowardly deserted in his extremity. What was
the explanation to be?

By this time the parties were so near that they could talk with only a
slight raise in their voices. Kit Woodford was the first to open his
mouth. With a profane expletive expressing his surprise, he demanded:

"Where did you come from?"

It was on the tongue of Noxon to make a biting reply, but he did not
forget the part he had to play.

"I found this boat at the wharf at Beartown and thought I'd hunt you up.
How came you to have _that_ launch?"

"Some one had run off with ours and left that. So we made a trade and I
rather think we got the best of the bargain. I don't understand how ours
was found by you."

"Maybe the owners of that wanted to trade back. I say, Kit, I would like
to know something--why did you and Graff run off and leave me behind?"

"We didn't!" replied Woodford, with virtuous indignation. "Me and Graff
hunted high and low for you and made up our minds you had run off
yourself with the swag."

"A fine lot of swag I had, when I had to scoot just after I got the safe
open."

While this snatch of conversation was going on, Noxon, who had cut off
the power, was edging nearer. Calvert and Hagan squeezed each other so
hard that it looked as if they would push themselves through the hull of
the launch.

Graff Miller now put in his oar:

"If we didn't get a haul out of the measly post office we've scooped a
mighty fine motor boat. We can sell it and gather in enough to last us
till we crack another place."

"That won't be as easy as it looks to you. The whole neighborhood is up
in arms and we shall have to lie low for awhile."

"Well, we've got enough to keep us a week or so----_Nox, there's somebody
in the boat with you_!" exclaimed Miller, who that instant caught sight
of the head of one of the crouching men. The craft was now so close that
concealment was impossible. In fact, in the same moment that the _Water
Witch_ gently bumped against the other boat, Stockham Calvert and Warner
Hagan straightened up and bounded across upon the _Deerfoot_. Each
grasped a revolver, and Calvert shouted:

"Hands up, or I'll let daylight through you."

The terrified Woodford turned to run, but a bullet whistled past his ear.
Perhaps too he realized in that frightful instant that no place of refuge
awaited him. The island was too small to allow him to hide himself. He
abruptly halted on the edge of the wood, and facing about sullenly raised
his hands.

As for Graff Miller he did not attempt to get away. Accepting the order
addressed to his leader as applying to himself, he stood stock still and
seemed to be doing the best he could to keep the sky from falling on him.

Knowing that Hagan would look after him, Calvert gave his whole attention
to Woodford. Keeping his revolver presented, he crossed the narrow deck
of the _Deerfoot_ and dropped lightly to the ground. A few steps took him
to the cowardly ruffian. Never lowering his weapon, he ran the other hand
over the outside of the man's clothing and twitched a revolver from his
hip pocket.

"That will do, Christopher; if you now feel an inclination to lower your
dirty hands, you have my permission to do so. Perhaps it will not tire
you quite so much."

Hardly had he complied when a sharp click sounded. So quickly that it
looked like a piece of magic a pair of handcuffs were snapped upon the
miscreant, and Hagan was only a few seconds later in doing the same with
his prisoner.

The capture of the two was so easy that it suggested a farce.

"If you had only put up a fight, Kit, it would have been a good deal more
interesting," said Calvert, "but you always were one of the biggest
cowards that ever made a bluff at being a bad man. Get a move on you!"

As meekly as a lamb the prisoner stepped upon the nearest launch, and, as
ordered, seated himself on one of the seats at the stern.

"Do you want me to go there too?" humbly asked Graff Miller.

"Of course; step lively."

Calvert explained what was to be done. The handcuffed prisoners were to
be taken to Wiscasset on the _Deerfoot_, their captors bearing them
company. In that city they would be locked up, and every step that
followed would be strictly in accordance with law.

Noxon was to trail after the launch in the _Water Witch_. There was more
than one reason for this arrangement. Since both boats were capable of
making good speed, it was better than to have one tow the other. If the
_Water Witch's_ gasoline gave out, the _Deerfoot_ could take it in tow,
but this would not be done unless the necessity arose.

The separation of Noxon from his former associates would prevent an
unpleasant scene. Kit Woodford and Graff Miller could not fail to see
that Noxon had given them into the hands of the officers. While they were
powerless to harm the young man, they could make it uncomfortable for him
despite the restraining presence of Calvert and Hogan.

It is safe to say that none of the steamers and other boats encountered
on that memorable voyage up stream suspected the meaning of what they
saw. One launch was gliding evenly up the river with a second closely
resembling it a hundred yards or more to the rear. In the latter sat a
young man. In the former were four persons, two of whom had been engaged
for weeks in robbing post offices in the State of Maine. No one observed
that they wore handcuffs, or dreamed that the man handling the wheel was
a famous detective. In this case he was Calvert, who had a fair knowledge
of running a motor boat.

The prisoners were sullen and silent for most of the way. Hagan, seated
behind Calvert, could protect him from any treacherous attack with the
handcuffs. The detective was too wise to invite an assault of that
nature.

When a turn in the course brought the long Wiscasset bridge in sight with
the pretty town on the left, Kit Woodford turned his head and looked back
at the young man who was guiding the other launch.

"What are you going to do with _him_?" he asked, with a black scowl.

"Nothing," replied Hagan.

"Why haven't you got the bracelets on him?"

"He has done us too valuable service. That isn't the way we reward our
friends."

Calvert, who had overheard the words, looked round.

"We may need his evidence to land you and Graff in Atlanta."

The remark was so illuminating that the prisoner said never a word. The
occasion was one of those in which language falls short of doing justice
to the emotions of the persons chiefly involved. It was Graff Miller who
snarled with a smothered rage which it is hard to picture:

"I'll get even with him if I have to wait ten years."

"You'll have to wait all of that and probably longer," said Calvert, "and
by that time I don't think Orestes Noxon will care much what you try to
do."

The detective pronounced the name with emphasis, to learn whether it
attracted any notice. It did not so far as he could judge, whereat he was
glad.

The criminals were put behind bars, and the young man strolled through
the street to the railway station. On the way, the elder said:

"It looks to me as if you have a clear title to the _Water Witch_. What
do you wish to do with it?"

"Sell it to someone so I shall never see it again."

"If you will turn the boat over to me I think I can dispose of it for
you. Have you any price in mind?"

"Sell the launch for whatever you can get, if it isn't more than
twenty-three cents."

"All right; I'll fix it. Here is the railway office. You have enough
funds?"

"Plenty. I shall a buy a through ticket to--_home_."

"Of course. I shall call upon you this autumn. Good-by, Horace."

"Good-by to one of the best friends I ever had. God bless you!"



CHAPTER XXXI

GATHERING UP THE RAVELLED THREADS


The records show that not long ago there were a number of post office
robberies among the towns and villages in that section of Maine to which
some attention has been given in the preceding pages. Not all the guilty
parties were captured, but we know of two, or rather three, who were
caught in the toils. Two of them, Kit Woodford and Graff Miller, were
convicted in the United States Court at Portland, for, to use a common
expression, they were caught with the goods on them, and sentenced to
long terms in the Atlanta penitentiary. There they are sure to stay for
an indefinite time to come, provided they are not soon released on
parole, or pardoned on the ground of poor health. Let us hope for better
things.

During the trial of the criminals inquiries were heard for the third
member of the gang, but he seemed to have vanished as completely as if
the earth had opened and swallowed him. Possibly the Judge learned all
the facts from Detective Calvert and saw that justice would be best
served by winking at the youth's offence. Moreover, an officer of the law
cannot be punished for the escape of a prisoner unless gross carelessness
or collusion is proved, which was not easy in the case named. Be that as
it may, Orestes Noxon no longer exists. In his place rises another young
man, "redeemed and disenthralled"--a brand plucked from the burning. The
grandest work of our penal institution is that of reforming instead of
wreaking revenge upon the erring ones. It certainly proved so in the
instance named. The parents of the youth knew he had strayed from the
narrow path, but it will be a long time before they learn how far his
wayward footsteps led him. There is no need of their ever knowing the
painful truth. Detective Calvert simply told the grateful father that his
boy had gotten into bad company, but the error could never be repeated,
nor can I believe it ever will be.

One day Gideon Landon, the wealthy banker and capitalist of New York,
received a characteristic letter from his son Alvin. He said his motor
boat _Deerfoot_ had been housed for the winter, there to remain until
next summer, and he and Chester Haynes had had the time of their lives,
for which they could never thank the kind parent enough. The son meant to
prove his gratitude by acts instead of words, for he intended to buckle
down to hard work and not rest until he was through West Point and had
become General of the United States Army. He added:

  "And now, my dear father, I want you to do a favor or two for me,
  Chester and Mike Murphy, who is one of the best fellows that ever
  lived. Some time I shall tell you all our experience after you left
  the bungalow on Southport Island. I know you will agree with what I
  say.

  "Please send to 'Uncle Ben Trotwood,' Trevett, on Hodgdon Island,
  Boothbay Township, Maine, a big lot of fine smoking tobacco. While
  you are about it you may as well make it half a ton, more or less.
  In his old age, he doesn't do much else but smoke, eat, sleep, and
  talk bass, but he was very kind to Chester and me. He kept us
  overnight and fed us, and was insulted when we wished to pay him."
  (No reference was made to Uncle Ben's frugal wife.)

The genial old man would never have solved the mystery of the arrival of
the big consignment of the weed had it not been accompanied by a letter
from the two boys in which all was made clear.

(Another paragraph from Alvin's communication to his father.)

  "In the little town or village of Beartown live the sweetest mother
  and daughter in the State of Maine. Anyhow, there is none kinder and
  more loving. The name of the daughter, who isn't out of short dresses
  yet, is Nora Friestone. Send her a fine first class piano--no
  second-hand one--with about a bushel of music. Select any stuff you
  choose, not forgetting a copy of 'The Sweet Long Ago,' published by
  C. W. Thompson, Boston. I wish you could have heard Mike Murphy sing
  that for them. He has one of the finest voices in the world. If he
  would only study and cultivate it, he would be a second Caruso. I
  will send an explanatory letter to Mrs. Friestone, so you needn't
  bother to write her."

And the Steinway duly reached its destination. Mother and daughter were
overwhelmed. They would have insisted that a tremendous mistake had been
made had not a letter reached them at the same time from the bungalow.
This was signed by Chester Haynes, Mike Murphy and Alvin Landon. It
begged Miss Nora to accept the present as a token of their appreciation
of the hospitality received by them, and in memory of an interesting
night they had spent in the Friestone home not long before. Nora wrote
one of the most delightful replies that goodness and innocence could pen,
and assured the donors that the prayers of her mother and herself would
follow the three as long as mother and daughter lived.

(Another paragraph from Alvin's communication to his father.)

  "You must understand that the expense of these presents, including
  that which follows, is borne by you and Mr. Haynes. He knew all
  about them and is as ardent as we. He says he is sure you will be
  as glad as he to help in so good a cause.

  "One more trifling gift and I shall be through. About a half mile
  from Beartown lives a poor Irish day laborer known to every one as
  Tam McCaffry. Chester and I did not have the pleasure of meeting
  him, but Mike spent some time at his home, where his big, jolly
  wife proved herself the soul of hospitality. She is Irish through
  and through. Mr. Calvert saw her and says the great attraction of
  the woman, aside from her natural goodness, is that she is the only
  person he has yet met who in the way of repartee and wit could give
  Mike as good as he sent. It was a treat to hear the two spar, and
  Mike admitted that he had met his match.

  "Send her a pianola. Her hands are too big and untrained to master
  the keys of a piano, but there is nothing the matter with her feet,
  which is all she needs to work one of those contrivances. Don't
  forget to include a whole lot of music, which should be of the
  Irish vintage, such as Moore's melodies, 'Sweet Mavoureen,' 'The
  Rocky Road to Dublin,' 'St. Patrick's Day in the Morning,' 'Rory
  O'Moore,' and so on. Be sure that the expense is prepaid all the
  way to the McCaffry door. Mike is specially interested in this
  present and contributes more than both of us, for he gives his all,
  the same being twenty-five cents, and to him we have assigned the
  duty of explaining things to the good woman."

Alvin had his father well trained, and he cheerfully granted every
request of his son. He smiled and remarked to his wife after reading the
letter to her:

"Alvin has never caused us an hour of anxiety. He would not ask these
things without good reason. I shall give orders when I go to the office
that everything he wishes shall be done."

"That was rather nice on the part of Mr. Haynes to say what he did of
you, Gideon."

"Yes, Franklin hasn't anything mean in his nature."

"Don't you think it a pity that while his boy and ours are so fond of
each other their fathers are not on speaking terms?"

"Perhaps so, but there must always be two persons to a quarrel."

"And you are one of them in this case. I mean to call on Sophia this very
day."

"Haynes flew up before he had time to understand all the facts in that
little affair of ours. If he had waited he would have found that he had
no cause for grievance."

"Suppose you call on him."

The banker shook his head.

"That is asking too much; it would be humiliating."

Now when a sensible wife makes up her mind that her husband shall do a
certain thing, and when that husband wishes to do it, but allows a false
pride to hold him back, you may make up your mind that the aforesaid
thing will be done with no unnecessary delay.

So it was that Gideon Landon went to Franklin Haynes and they had not
talked ten minutes when the cloud between them vanished. Friendship and
full trust were restored and can never be broken again. It was another
illustration of the good that often flows from small deeds and even
smaller words.

(Mike Murphy's letter to Mrs. McCaffry.)

  "MY DEAR AUNT MAGGIE:

  "I'm thinking that about the time this luv letter raiches ye, an
  insthrumint will do the same, which the name is peeanoler, or
  something like that. I beg ye to accipt the thrifle as a prisent
  from Captain Landon, Second Mate Haynes and First Mate mesilf. I
  know Misther Noxon would crack his heels togither fur the chance of
  j'ining wid us, but he forgot to lave his card and I suspict he's
  sailed for Europe not to be back fur fifteen or twinty years, as
  was the case wid me great uncle whin he sailed for Botny Bay.

  "The peagnoluh--I'm thrying all ways of spelling the name of the
  blamed thing so as to get the same right wunst any way--is played
  wid the feet. You slide the sheet wid the holes punched into 'em
  into the wrack over the keeze and then wurrk the feet up and down
  like yer husband Tana used to do at home in the treadmill.

  "Don't try to sing along wid the music for somebody might hear ye.
  Me worry is that yer teeny Sinderilla feet won't be able to wurruk
  the peddles, and if ye put on the shoes ye wore whin hanging out
  the clothes, there wont be room in the house for the peanholler, so
  ye might try the same widout yer shoes and stockings.

  "Wid regards to Tam and much love to yersilf I am ever

                                       "Yer devoted,
                                                      "Mike Murphy."

(Mrs. McCaffry's reply to the foregoing.)

  "My darlint broth of a boy:

  "It tuk me and Tam 2 nights and 3 days to understand the maaning of
  the action of Jim Doogan the carter in drawing up his taam to our
  risidence and tumbling out a big shiny box wid the remark that
  there wasn't a cint to pay. Tam hadn't got home and Jim carried the
  purty thing into the parler and leaned it aginst the flure. He had
  obsarved something of the kind in his travels and he showed me how
  to wurruk it wid me faat. Whin he slipped in one of the shaats of
  paper, wid hundreds of little kriss-kross holes through it, sot
  down on the stule and wobbled his butes, and 'Killarney' filled the
  room, I let out a hoop, kicked off me satan slippers, danced a jig
  and shouted, 'For the love of Mike!' which the same is thrue, that
  being yer name.

  "My number 10 shoes fit the peddlers as yer snub nose fits yer
  freckled face. Tam and me spind the time whin we aint slaaping or
  eating or working in playing the thing and thinking of yersilf and
  the byes you spake of.

  "Me darling Mike, may the birds wake ye aich morning wid their
  swaat songs of praise and soothe ye to slaap in the avening; may
  the sun shine fur ye ivery day through; may yer draams be of angels
  and no man or woman spake anything but wurruds of love to ye; and
  whin old age bows yer head and the time comes to lave us all, may
  ye be welcomed to heaven wid the blessed graating: 'Well done, good
  and faithful servant!'

  "Do you and the other byes come soon and see what a happy home ye
  have made for Tam and me.

                                          "Lovingly,
                                                      "Aunt Maggie."

THE END





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