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´╗┐Title: The Auto Boys' Vacation
Author: Braden, James A. (James Andrew), 1872-1955
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Auto Boys' Vacation" ***

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



[Illustration: "RAH! RAH! RAH! RAH!" SCREAMED PAUL JONES IN THE MOST
EXTRAVAGANT DELIGHT IMAGINABLE.]

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

  THE AUTO BOYS' VACATION

  By James A. Braden

  AUTHOR OF
  "THE AUTO BOYS," "THE AUTO BOYS' OUTING,"
  "THE AUTO BOYS' QUEST," "FAR PAST THE FRONTIER,"
  "CONNECTICUT BOYS IN THE WESTERN RESERVE," ETC.

  ILLUSTRATED BY
  E. A. FURMAN

  THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY
  CHICAGO--AKRON, OHIO--NEW YORK

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

  COPYRIGHT, 1913,
  BY
  THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY

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

                                CONTENTS

   CHAPTER                                            PAGE
         I  Again the Lonely South Fork Road             1
        II  The Search  Is  Continued                   13
       III  Mr. Billy Worth Does Some Thinking          27
        IV  Detective Bob Rack Has Something to Say     43
         V  A Bit of Advice From a Stranger             59
        VI  A Little Kindness and What Came of It       71
       VII  A Swift Ride Through the Darkness           85
      VIII  In Most Excellent Good Season              103
        IX  The Detective's Strange Story              111
         X  Eastward  Ho!                              127
        XI  Passing the Load of Hay                    143
       XII  Nan and the Jersey Bull                    163
      XIII  The Kidnapers                              183
       XIV  Under the Car                              199
        XV  At the Old Tavern                          219
       XVI  Conclusion                                 239

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

THE AUTO BOYS' VACATION



CHAPTER I

AGAIN THE LONELY SOUTH FORK ROAD


"You can't hide anything from the chief," observed Willie Creek, when
Chief Fobes had left his garage, the scene of the mystery related in
_The Auto Boys' Big Six_.

"Well, he didn't seem to be a whole lot interested to find out who broke
in here--who killed our dog," replied Billy Worth, severely.

"You don't _know_ him," returned Mr. Creek. "You just show him the
fellow that done the deed and he'll arrest him mighty quick."

"Maybe if we'd see a man robbing a bank here, then called Fobes so he
could see, too, that the man _was_ robbing the bank, he'd do something,"
remarked Billy, as the lads returned to the hotel.

"I'll tell you what _he'd_ do," growled Paul Jones. "He'd say--'now from
the standpoint of the law, maybe that man is going to commit a crime.
From the standpoint of the law, he better go a little careful or I'll
tell his mother on him.'"

All of which might be taken to indicate that Chief Fobes was not as
great a man in the minds of the four boys as he was in his own. Still,
something might be said on both sides of this subject, quite as Phil Way
now remarked, but the conversation was abruptly dropped.

"No news yet?" asked Mr. Wagg. The lads had just reached the hotel
again.

"None of the car, but--" and then they told the landlord of the killing
of Scottie. Confidentially they intimated their belief that John Smith
or "Pickem" might know something of the affair.

"Very strange," mused Mr. Wagg. "He checked out--paid his bill and
left--last night. He said he was leaving on the ten o'clock train east.
Seemed put out because the party he had been expecting in to see him had
not come. But he left no word--no address for mail, or anything."

The hotel proprietor was not at all pleased with the indifference of
Chief Fobes. The boys had told him of all that took place at the garage.
"Yet of course," said he, "it might make a difference if you lived here.
There'd be quite a little expense to find out who killed the dog and,
besides, the thieves, if it was thieves who did it, didn't get anything.
It doesn't seem to me, now really, that this new trouble has anything to
do with your lost automobile, and I take it that that's the main thing,
after all."

To this the boys agreed and, eager to put into execution Phil's plan to
telephone to all the larger cities east and west, to get some trace of
the Big Six, if possible, they started for the telephone office.

"But we can't all telephone," said Phil. "Who will look after burying
Scottie? And who will go to Ferndale in the Torpedo and take back the
pick and shovel to the blacksmith? Even if he did say we might have them
as long as we liked, they should be toted home to-day."

Billy and Paul volunteered for the work mentioned. With the cold, stiff
body of poor Scottie covered over with muslin in the tonneau, they
started the stray automobile again toward the lonely South Fork and
Ferndale. Where the dog's burial place should be had been a problem.
Willie Creek suggested a wooded knoll where some evergreens grew, not
far beyond the branching of the road. This place the two boys reached in
due time. It seemed to be quite what they sought.

Overhead the always green branches would sing a gentle requiem in the
breeze the whole year through. The thick, emerald foliage would protect
the little grave below, both from the violence of winter's storms and
the heat of the summer sun.

The solemn task was not a pleasant one. They wrapped the clean, new
muslin around the body that in life had been so lithe, so strong, so
active and so handsome, and gently placed it in the soft, cool ground.
After the beautiful custom of the Grand Army of the Republic they put
bits of evergreen in the grave, in token of unceasing remembrance of
their dead comrade. Slowly they filled in the earth.

"We'll come back some day--some day when we've at last got out of this
awful ocean of bad luck we seem to be in, and we'll put up a little
stone to mark the grave," said Billy. "If ever a dog deserved it,
Scottie does. I only wish we knew to whom he rightly belonged before Mr.
Knight ever saw him. They'd like to hear, I think, that he was a hero,
whether they cast him off or not, or even if he was a runaway."

Going on toward Ferndale, the little town two or three miles beyond
where the Big Six was ditched, Billy and Paul again deeply felt the
lonely influence of the unfrequented road. Even in the bright sunshine
the old mill-pond, the mill, the big, empty icehouse, the weeping
willows near them--all seemed to tell of that dreadful tragedy of many
years ago. The boys both noticed as they passed how the road's bank
sloped down, and their active imaginations plainly pictured the
frightened horses, the overturned carriage and the flood of the great,
dark pond closing over the young man and his mother, whose sad story
Willie Creek had told them.

Farther on, at the spot where all their own troubles had had their
beginning, the two lads stopped. Filled with vain regrets they looked
again all about the place where the Six went down. But if they expected
to make any new discovery, they were disappointed. The road was dry now.
The broken fence rails still lay at the foot of the embankment. The
trampled grass and weeds still told of what had happened, but no one had
been near; no human creature, it was to be believed, had visited the
scene since the boys last saw it.

Returning to their car, the friends soon reached the house where they
had stopped to make inquiry that first day of their trouble--the house
where lived the lonely, old man, all his thoughts in the days of long
ago. They now knew the story of the faded dwelling, the crumbling
condition of every structure. Curiously they glanced about, thinking
they might see the lonely, old gentleman and give him a friendly
salute--just a hand thrown up for an instant--as they passed.

Ah, there he was! Seated in the kitchen doorway, he saw the machine even
before Paul and Billy saw him. Their wave of a hand seemed to please
him, and he waved a beckoning signal in return. Billy jumped down and
walked up to see if something was wanted.

"No, no!" the old man replied, far more pleasantly than at that former
time. He meant only to acknowledge their greeting, he said. Then he
asked if the owner of the runaway car had been found.

This led Billy to tell all about the misfortune that had followed the
picking up of the strange automobile. The farmer ruefully shook his
head. There were many days together that no vehicle went along this
road, in these latter years, he said. He could hardly understand how so
strange a thing should happen almost at his door. And he had been
disturbed in other ways. Only last night, as he sat in the kitchen door,
he had seen a crouching figure in the moonlight slip from one tree to
another. It was after midnight. Visitors he little expected to have at
any time, much less at such an hour. So he called out, "Hello, there!"
The figure hastened away and he saw it no more.

"It fretted me some," said the old gentleman slowly, "but I didn't see
anything more, clean to daylight."

Somehow the picture of the aged, unhappy man sitting all night in the
kitchen door, as his imagination presented it, touched Billy's
sympathies deeply. He asked if Mr. Peek would not like to take a little
ride in the car to Ferndale. They were coming back at once. It would
take but a little while, he urged.

With something more like a smile than had been seen on his face for many
a year, the old man said he never had ridden in an automobile, and would
be glad to go. He climbed up to the front seat beside Paul. Billy told
him it was the more comfortable place to ride. And plainly Mr. Peek
enjoyed the trip. He was quite silent but his deep, pain-marked eyes
lighted up noticeably.

"It's a grand thing to be young," said he, at last.

Neither blacksmith nor storekeeper at Ferndale had heard the slightest
inquiry for the runaway automobile, which was not a runaway at all at
the time it passed through that village the previous Friday. Nor had
they heard anything which might cast light upon the theft of the Big
Six.

"You'll find that whoever had this Torpedo car is the same party that
hooked your machine," said the blacksmith. "Stands to reason. Wherever
could he have disappeared to, if it ain't so?"

"I'm afraid you're on the wrong track," smiled Billy, a little sadly.
"Chief Fobes, at Griffin, says positively that the two things--this lost
machine on the one hand, and the stealing of our car on the other--have
no connection with each other."

"Matter of opinion!" spoke the blacksmith warmly. And then as if he
scarcely endorsed Willie Creek's high opinion of Mr. Fobes' ability, he
added: "And I'll put my judgment against his'n any day."

Arranging with their friends to telephone them at the American House
immediately should there be any development at Ferndale concerning
either car, the two boys turned toward Griffin. They stopped at his
lonely, cheerless home to leave Mr. Peek. His thankful appreciation of
the ride made them glad of the little kindness they had been able to
show him. Neither lad thought to attach importance to the old man's
account of his being disturbed by prowlers. It was Phil who saw
significance in this story as, at dinner, Billy and Paul told all that
had taken place with them.

"It's a mighty mysterious business," declared Way. "Don't you see it?
Here's an automobile,--quite likely a stolen automobile, at
that--abandoned and left to run itself on a lonely road. No one can
discover what became of the driver of that car. He was certainly driving
when the machine left Ferndale. Three miles further on, and near the old
Peek place, he is missing. Now isn't it likely that the same man is
still sneaking around in that neighborhood?"

"Well, anyhow, we're getting off the main track again," Billy returned.
"We'd like to know where the Torpedo belongs, but it's a heap more
important that we keep on the trail of our own machine."

"Yes, that's so," Phil soberly assented. "It's certainly strange that
all my telephoning went for nothing. The police and all the big garages
from Albany to Buffalo, I should say, have a description of our car, and
yet not a sign of her has been discovered any place."

"There's a long distance telephone call for Mr. Way," announced the
voice of Mr. Wagg, the landlord.



CHAPTER II

THE SEARCH IS CONTINUED


It is much to be feared that three certain young gentlemen finished
their dinner with unbecoming haste in order to join more quickly the
fourth young gentleman summoned to the long distance telephone.

"Why, it was dad! Called up clear from Lannington!" announced Phil,
coming from the telephone booth, perspiring but pleased. "They all got
our letters, just a little while ago, and there must have been a general
powwow all about us and the car right away. They fixed it up that dad
should call us. And they're mighty interested. Think we haven't acted
fast enough, and all that. Want us to offer a reward--get busy--travel
around--not lose so much time just staying here. And if we can't get
some news by Wednesday, they'll either come on here or send a detective
from Chicago or somewhere."

"It'll cost a raft of money," murmured MacLester.

"But we've been too afraid of spending a little," Billy answered.

"Over four dollars' worth of telephoning in one morning!" ejaculated
Paul, forcibly. He did not like criticism.

"Just the same, it feels good to know there's somebody back of us. Of
course we knew there was, anyway, but to have them get together and then
telephone clear here--it's mighty encouraging," spoke Phil. "Now we
can't let them think we aren't capable of getting out of this pickle by
ourselves, and we don't want them to hold a convention here. The answer
is, get busy! So what are we going to do?"

"Well, what _are_ we going to do?" This from Paul, as if he would say
that everything possible to do had been done.

"Why, there's one thing that seemed like a good suggestion," said Phil,
"and that is that we look in other places--get on the train, get in
touch with the police and the auto clubs and garages in different likely
places, personally."

"It's reasonable, and the thing to do," declared Worth with emphasis.
"Phil, why can't you and Dave go to Albany or Rochester this very day?
Stop off at Syracuse. Go up to Pittsfield, too? Paul and I can watch and
hunt around here and follow up what poor little clues we've got."

"Clues? _We_ have no clues!" spoke MacLester, moodily, "unless Hipp and
Earnest are the ones. I've come to the conclusion that those fellows
lied about seeing a man in a raincoat. Who else saw him? Don't we know
that young Earnest can lie like a beggar? Is Hipp any better?"

"But there's the raincoat! Saw it ourselves!" Billy argued.

"Oh, that might belong to anybody! Plenty of old raincoats lying
around," persisted David.

"I'm afraid you're on the wrong track, Mack," Phil Way urged quietly.
Then immediately he added: "We must look up trains at once. Billy's plan
may not be very promising but, goodness, we can't sit around and wait
for the car to come to us!"

So the agreement was made, quite as Worth proposed. Dave and Phil had
just time to catch the 1:24 train--one of the few fast trains that
stopped at Griffin--and they promised to telegraph from Albany the same
night, if they found anything worth reporting.

"I am glad we are making a start toward something, anyway," Worth
remarked, when he and Paul had waved good-bye to the two on the train,
and turned toward the hotel again.

"Tell you what, though, Bill! Let's just keep right on the job every
minute, ourselves, and maybe we can surprise the fellows--get hold of
something awfully important." Paul was pretty serious.

"Sure!" said Billy.

Then came the stumbling block. It was all very well to say "keep on the
job," but just what to do that might be worth while was another problem.

"Funny we never heard a word from that 'A. W. Kull, Harkville, New
York,' if our telegram was ever delivered there," said Worth, thinking
aloud, somewhat later. "Let's ask the office here to find out what
became of our message. It won't cost anything."

"Oh, gravy! That has nothing to do with us! It's the Six we're after,
Bill!" But notwithstanding this objection, the Griffin telegraph office
was asked for the information.

The operator kindly offered to send a service message, as it is called,
desiring the Harkville office to report on the matter. Harkville replied
in due time. The message to "A. W. Kull" was delivered at his residence.
Why it was not answered the telegraph people did not know, of course.

During the afternoon the boys also met Chief Fobes. With his stick under
his arm, he leaned against a railing at the Bank building, eating
peanuts.

"Nothin' doin'," was his reply to their inquiry. "Ain't likely to be,"
he added, discouragingly. "It ain't our luck, somehow. It may be here or
any place around here that something will happen, but of course the
gentry don't stay in these smaller places, and it's always in the bigger
towns that they're nabbed if they don't get away altogether."

"Oh, yes, I see," said Billy Worth, but when he and Paul had walked on,
he remarked: "No, it is not Mr. Fobes' luck to catch anything. I reckon
he banks more on luck than he does on work, though."

"'From the standpoint of the law,'" grinned Jones. But then lest he and
Worth should fall into the same error, he said briskly, "But come on,
Bill, we'll have to hustle if we're going to find anything."

Meanwhile Dave and Phil were approaching Albany. On the train they
mapped out their general plan of work. Phil was to interview the police
officials while Dave made inquiries at the headquarters of the
automobile club. Then, together, they would visit the central garages.
The outlying establishments they would call up by telephone, they
decided. Surely, every automobile, stolen or otherwise, must have
gasoline. Somewhere, then, it might be reasonably expected, trace of the
Big Six would surely be discovered.

It seems likely, and probably is true, that the boys failed to
appreciate the great number of cars constantly going and coming through
all such large cities as Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland and the like. Living
in a much smaller place, where tourists from a distance, especially
those with licenses from other states, were quickly noticed, they did
not understand that machines from far and near are so numerous upon the
great motor thoroughfares that they attract scarcely passing notice.

Disappointment followed disappointment as Phil and Dave pursued their
task. The fact that the police department had a perfect description of
their car and the assurance of the lieutenant, with whom Phil talked,
that every patrolman had the number of the stolen machine, were the only
bits of encouragement they found.

"Didn't ye have insurance against theft?" asked a pleasant young fellow
at a new garage not far from the capitol. "Ought to have a fire and
theft insurance policy," he declared, "then you let someone else do the
worrying."

"Too late to think of it now, I'm afraid," said Phil with a forlorn
smile.

"That's true enough," said the other, "but I was just thinking how lucky
a fellow considers himself when he does have insurance in a case of this
kind. There was an illustration of it up state just this spring. Man had
a new car. Used it just a little, over winter. In April it was stolen
and it never was found. He got a check for pretty nearly all he paid for
it because he had insurance. He didn't have to lose any sleep, you see."

"Also, you may be able to sell him another car, because he has the money
to pay for one," suggested Dave, his eyes twinkling.

"Now you're trying to jolly me," returned the young man good-humoredly.
"But I didn't mean it that way. Fact is, the man was away up at
Harkville--'way out of our territory for Torpedoes."

"Hello, now!" exclaimed Way, eagerly. "Was there a Torpedo stolen in
Harkville, recently?"

"Not lately. Two months ago," the other answered.

"Who lost it?" And again Way glanced sharply at Dave. The latter was
listening to every word but taking care to betray no unusual interest.

"H--m--m--Hull, Kull--why, that's it! Kull was his name. But _your_ car
was not a Torpedo, was it?"

If the young man thought that in this question he guessed the reason for
Phil's wish to know more of the incident mentioned, he guessed wrong, of
course. But unwilling to tell just why he was interested, until he
should have had time to think, Phil gave him no enlightenment.

"No," answered Way, "the Torpedo people don't build a six-cylinder car,
do they?"

"That's right, yours was a six," said the other. "Makes you so much the
greater loser, with no insurance."

"What luck did the Harkville man have finding his car? Someone must have
looked for it even if he did have insurance."

"Guess they _did_ look for it," said the garage man forcibly. "First
Kull and the police, then the insurance people and detectives, and
believe _me_, insurance companies don't care how much it costs to find a
stolen car if they've had to pay for it. They do get stung though, and
last I heard, Kull had his money, for his car was never found, high or
low. Strange case! Never a clue to go by. A padlock pried off Kull's
little garage and the machine gone and--there you are."

"Strange!" muttered Phil, but he was thinking too, that, though this was
exceedingly interesting information, he must not allow it to take his
thoughts from the loss that meant so much more to himself and friends,
personally. So, thanking the young man, he and Dave left the garage.

"Why didn't you tell him about the Torpedo? She's the Harkville car as
sure as you're born!" spoke MacLester, immediately the two were beyond
hearing.

"It might have done no harm, and again--there's the trouble! I wanted to
talk it over with you. It seems small and mean, but still we didn't pay
out railroad fare and all that to help find the owner of that Torpedo.
We wired Kull and did our part. He may be in Griffin right now to claim
the property."

"More likely he doesn't care. He got insurance money, so why bother any
more about it? That would explain the whole thing--the whole reason why
our telegram was never answered," Dave reasoned.

"It looks that way," Phil replied. "And our chasing the Torpedo is
chasing right away from the car we want to find. Blame it all! We don't
seem to get anywhere. Here we go stumbling into things about the Torpedo
but no clues at all to the Six!" All of which, and the disgruntled tone,
were both unusual words and manner in young Mr. Way.

The day had long since closed. The boys found a comfortable hotel and
went to bed, leaving a call for half-past five as the train for
Pittsfield left Albany at six-thirty. The distance was not great and as
several important automobile routes branched out from the Massachusetts
town, it was considered a likely source of information.

Tired as they were, Phil and Dave must and did discuss at length the
day's developments before they fell asleep. A sense of duty that they
should report at once the apparent fact that they had found the stolen
Harkville car, weighed somewhat upon their minds.

"But what if we do? What happens?" they reasoned. "We are put out just
that much in hunting for the Six. We lose time being called as
witnesses, and a lot of botheration, just when we need every minute, and
nothing much is gained. A few days will make no difference with regard
to the Torpedo, long ago given up as beyond recovery."

And so resolving to stick to the more important business first, but to
report the finding of the stolen Harkville car just so soon as details
of identification and the law's red tape would not be so inconvenient,
they put the subject aside.

Thanks to Chief Fobes, in part, and also thanks to their own error, in
part, the boys were making a costly mistake by believing the trail of
the Torpedo had no connection with the theft of their own car. Or so it
would seem, would it not? And yet, even if the thieves who first stole
the Harkville car were the same who, later on, made off with the Big
Six, what could be gained by going back along the route to deliver the
one recovered machine instead of pursuing diligently the more recently
stolen property?

"We'll never see our car again; that I know," said Dave MacLester, glum
and despondent. He pulled on his shoes in the stuffy little hotel room
next morning, as if life were to him a barren, barren waste.

"It's mostly the time of day, Mack," said Way good-humoredly. "Half-past
five has a mighty blue appearance after you've been eating strange grub,
and staying up till midnight the day before. You'll brighten up like the
shining sun if we can only get out where there is such a thing--that and
get hold of a little news to-day."

"We haven't got hold of any _yet_," asserted MacLester, not a bit more
cheerfully.

And his words were the truth, cold and harsh, as the truth may sometimes
be, beyond a doubt.



CHAPTER III

MR. BILLY WORTH DOES SOME THINKING


"Hello! What's all the feverish bustle about? Good news, I hope!"

This from Mr. Wagg as Billy and Paul, very warm and very red, hustled
into that gentleman's hotel and suddenly stopped, as if they had at that
moment forgotten what they came for.

"No,--not exactly," said Billy. "Fact is, we have no news at all and it
just makes us feel that we've got to get busy; and that's what we've
been doing--hustling up here as hard as ever we could."

"What for? What scent are you on now?" asked the landlord, peering over
his glasses as he leaned upon the register counter. There was a trace of
amusement in his voice.

"That's just it," put in Paul. "We don't know just what scent we _are_
on but, by thunder! we've _got_ to get some news of that car!"

"Well, I suppose that nothing succeeds like determination," observed Mr.
Wagg kindly. "Still, there's a lot o' misdirected energy in the world."
With a sigh he sat down and resumed the afternoon nap which the swift
entrance of the boys had broken in upon.

A large part of Griffin seemed to be occupied quite as was Landlord
Wagg. How very quiet the little town was this tranquil June afternoon!

"Ginger! I'd just like to take a nap myself; but we've got to keep
busy," mused Billy. The two were seated in big armchairs of the hotel
office.

"Our basket, Willie Creek's lamp and that old raincoat are in our room.
Mr. Hipp brought them and the porter carried them up. Told me so just
after dinner," suggested Paul. "We might tote Willie's lamp over to the
garage."

Straightway up the stairs dashed the two boys. Yes, there at the foot of
the bed the articles in question were deposited. Again the boys examined
the lunch hamper inside and out. Again they searched pockets, lining,
every shred of the muddy, dirty, wrinkled coat.

How freshly the garment, splashed with the rain and the thick pools of
the road, brought back to Billy's mind the dismal afternoon when first
they ventured upon the lonely South Fork! Again, in mental vision, he
saw the Torpedo come over the hill, saw the impossibility of passing the
machine if it did not quickly turn out! Then he recalled--how
vividly!--the dreadful scene, the Big Six ditched, the rain, the heavy,
mist-laden air, the gloom, of approaching darkness.

And in the same train of thought, as he went forward, he seemed to see
the man Hipp and Earnest had told of seeing, marching stolidly along the
wet road, carrying the basket stolen from the Six, wearing this very
raincoat and on his head a low, soft cap, his top boots or leggins
splashed with mud, the rain pelting him till he stumbled as he walked.
How easily the lad's imagination drew for him the picture Alfred Earnest
and his friend Hipp described! Then suddenly----

"For the love of cats, Paul Jones, I am one large punkin head! And so
are _you!_ And so are _all_ of us!"

Quite naturally young Mr. Jones looked up suddenly, startled not a
little by the extraordinary accusation.

"Wh----"

Paul's intended response was violently interrupted. Knocking his own
head with one pair of knuckles, Billy brought those of his other hand
down forcibly on his friend's tawny hair, at the same time and not once,
but repeatedly.

Not until Jones escaped beyond reach, which he did by tumbling
ungracefully backward over a chair, as he retreated from the mysterious
attack, did Worth explain himself.

"That man--the drunken fellow we saw Fobes arrest on Saturday night--you
remember? He's the fellow who wore this raincoat, stole our basket
and--who knows?--maybe the car! Plain as daylight! Why didn't we see it
before? The cap, the leather leggins all caked with mud--I couldn't see
it all plainer if he stood in this very room!"

For a few seconds Paul was lost in a confusion of thoughts, but he
extricated himself at last, saying:

"Thunder! I do remember that that fellow Fobes got wore leggins--yes,
and the cap! But--why, a lot of people wear 'em for fishing trips
and----"

"Yes, and chauffeurs wear 'em," put in Billy, heatedly. "I say, come on!
We'll have a look and we'll get something out of this, you bet!"

Whether Paul would or would not wager, however, he did not say. What he
did reply was: "Honest, Bill, I hope there's something to it,
but--anyhow, let's not be too sure!"

Chief Fobes, dozing the early afternoon away in his dingy office,
sleepily called to the boys, "Come in!"

They entered. Needless to say, also, the haste and earnestness in
Billy's manner fully awakened the officer of the law rather more
abruptly than often happened.

"We want to find out about a fellow you arrested Saturday evening. Wore
a cap and high boots or leggins," spoke young Mr. Worth in a single
breath.

"Soaked for ten days in the cooler," said Mr. Fobes, indifferently. By
which it will be understood that the village magistrate had imposed upon
the man a fine of ten days in jail.

"Well, who is he? Can we see him?" Worth continued rapidly.

"He's just a bum, I guess. I don't know him and--well, you can ask
Willie Creek whether I know everybody around here or whether I don't. He
was hanging around all Saturday afternoon and drinking. By night I had
to pinch him."

With a show of real interest Chief Fobes now heard the story Billy told
and the belief that the man in the lockup could throw light on the
disappearance of the Big Six. Slowly, very slowly, nevertheless, the
officer rose, yawned and led the way to the corridor below, so
conducting the boys to a group of steel cells in a basement at the rear
of the building. The man they sought was lying on an iron bunk. He
stepped forward when Mr. Fobes called sharply, "Here, you! Step up!"
quite as if the unfortunate were a refractory horse.

"Might I ask you a question?" began Billy. He and Paul were both keeping
pretty close to Mr. Fobes as the prisoner, still in the mud-stained
boots and garments, approached the bars.

"I'll do the talkin'," put in the officer bluntly. Then to the man who
peered out from the gloomy cell, "What was you doing on the South Fork
road last--last Friday?"

"I don't know anything about any South Fork road. What ye givin' us? I
come in here from Rochester, hittin' the road an' lookin' fer a job in
the country, an' I told the judge the same thing, didn't I?"

"It don't go, Billy. You can't throw any bluff here," said Fobes with an
air of familiarity, but shaking his head coldly, too. "You was seen on
the South Fork road an' there's an automobile man lookin' for you. Guess
he wants to give you a raincoat you lost somewhere."

This, of course, was just the kind of talk that Mr. Fobes himself had
termed a "bluff" and, in the vernacular, nothing else. Whether the
prisoner thought so or otherwise, for a few seconds he made no reply.
Then as if feeling his way carefully, he said: "Somebody lookin' for me,
eh? Tell 'im where I am. Or mebbe he knows it."

"It ain't no go, I tell you," said Fobes sharply. "There's a little
matter of a patent dinner basket on you straight. Swipin' grub from
boys, too! Ain't you ashamed of yourself? You don't happen to remember
what you left in the raincoat, do ye?"

Billy and Paul were far from approving this kind of questioning. Yet
they could see the object of Chief Fobes, which was to frighten and
confuse the prisoner by making him believe a great deal was known about
him, thereby leading him into admissions that would pave the way toward
gaining a complete confession from him.

"I don't know nothin' about a coat, boss; but who's lookin' fer me?"
called the one behind the bars as the officer and the boys started to
move away.

"You'll find that out quick enough," said Fobes with a harsh laugh. But
he did not pause and led the way to his own office again.

"Now," said he, "you have seen how we go about it. We've set the yeast
to workin'. He'll be more ready to let out a little by the time I take
his supper in to him."

Chief Fobes was evidently much pleased with himself but he was not
prepared for the rather unusual incident that followed.

"Where's the kid that said might he ask me a question?" inquired the
prisoner when the officer visited his cell again. "I want to see 'im if
I can, boss!"

Billy was called only after Mr. Fobes had failed to extract from the man
any information whatever. Cautioning the lad to tell the prisoner little
or nothing, the policeman, who was also turnkey, it will have been
noticed, took Worth into the lockup and left him.

"What was yer question, bub! Mebbe I might answer it," said the fellow.
He held a bar of the cell in each hand and leaned forward on his elbows.
His face, pressed between the steel rods, had a really hideous look.

"Where's the Big Six automobile that dinner basket came from? Now you
tell me that and you'll make a friend. You seem to need one all right."

Billy was surprised by his own boldness in this speech. The fact was the
man's manner had quite startled him.

The prisoner laughed in a coarse guffaw. Abruptly checking himself, he
said in a whisper: "You get me out o' here. Swipe the keys--any old way!
Pass me in a saw--just so's I get out to-night, an' I'll show you where
you can find that automobile, good as ever she was. And--" the fellow
swore venomously and wickedly--"you blab this an' I'll get ye fer it if
I go to the chair!"

"Might as well be reasonable," spoke the boy, frightened by the very
nature of the proposal, but scarcely showing it. "I'll help you get out
if it means just paying a fine for you, if you can do all you say,
but----"

"Do all I _say?_ Don't you think I couldn't?"

Billy hardly knew what to say. For a few seconds he made no answer.

"Aw, I was just a kiddin' ye," the fellow said with a coarse laugh
again, as if he had quite suddenly changed his mind.

"Oh! All right!" the boy replied indifferently. And then, moved by a
sudden impulse, whose origin he could never have explained, he stepped
close to the cell, "Mr. Smith, of Buffalo, has been staying at our
hotel. Maybe you'd like to see _him_," he said in a low tone. "He was
looking for someone and I shouldn't be surprised from what I saw of him
that you are the man."

In general it was a chance shot--a random word without particular aim,
such as Fobes had used in his questioning, but Billy fully believed that
the remark struck home.

"Say, kid, say, on the level is he the party His Nibbs was talkin'
about? Look 'e here, bub, you play fair with the old man that's down an'
out. You won't lose nothin' by it. They's none of 'em plays fair any
more or I wouldn't be here. You slip them very words to Smith fer me,
and don't ye breathe it to His Nibbs."

"Where's our machine?" persisted Worth soberly.

Again a vile oath came from the dirty lips pressed between the bars. The
prisoner's pleading manner had changed to anger. "Jest like 'em all,
ain't ye?" he said with a vicious sneer in his tone. Then he walked
away. Nothing Billy could say served to draw another word from him and
that young gentleman could only take his leave. This he did with the
words: "We are over at the American hotel. You may want to send for us
when you get a little sense."

"How was I to know what to say to him? Wish Phil had been there," said
Billy earnestly, telling Paul all about the interview later.

"Gee whizz! We're getting warm, though, I'll bet!" cried Jones with
enthusiasm.

"If it wasn't just guesswork that Pickem or Smith--whatever his real
name is--knows something about this man in the lockup, who in turn knows
something about our car! Pickem certainly does know something about the
Torpedo, but he's gone. Even if he might help us, it's too late."

The boys spent the evening trying to realize, with Willie Creek's help,
some value from the day's developments. They were late getting to bed
and still sleeping soundly when Phil and Dave, the following morning,
were well on the road to Pittsfield. And now to return to the latter
pair of eager searchers, it may be briefly stated that their day's work
was without results. Except that they had made the theft of the Big Six
the more widely known, they felt their efforts in Pittsfield to have
been a total failure. At nine o'clock on Tuesday night they were on a
Pullman, their tickets reading "Syracuse."

There is in the city named, as everyone knows, an automobile club of
more than usual excellence. Whether it be in helping a pair of boys
toward the recovery of a lost car, or the more general work of erecting
road signs, mapping off the best detours around road construction work
and informing the public of the same, nothing is too small or too large
a task to receive intelligent attention. And it was a fortunate chance,
therefore, that Phil and Dave chose Syracuse to be the scene of their
next endeavors.

Very early Wednesday morning the two boys began their inquiries--began a
day of work and developments, following rapidly one upon another, and
more startling at their close than the strangest dreams may often be.



CHAPTER IV

DETECTIVE BOB RACK HAS SOMETHING TO SAY


To the police officials of Syracuse, Phil and Dave first directed their
steps in that city. The result was as usual. The department had a report
that such-and-such a car was stolen. The officers would be pretty likely
to discover it if the machine should appear in the town.

"But you better see the Automobile club. They are a big help in
everything where autos are concerned," advised the police captain.

At a centrally located garage the boys stopped to repeat the same
questions they had asked so many times before. The man in charge had
heard the story of a car mysteriously disappearing from the South Fork
road beyond Port Greeley, but that was all. "You can't do better than
see the Automobile club," he added, however. "They are the ones to get
you the right dope if there's any way to get it."

Although it was still too early to expect to find a secretary or other
officer present, the boys decided to visit the club headquarters at
once. A pleasant-faced man was reading a motor journal as they entered.
To him they stated the purpose of their call.

"By George, that's interesting!" said the stranger thoughtfully. "Wait a
minute!" Reaching for a desk phone, the pleasant-faced man was soon in
touch with the person he desired. Briefly he told of the two young
callers and their errand. "All right, that's the ticket!" he said, after
some conversation over the wire, and hung up the receiver.

Asking the boys to accompany him, the agreeable stranger piloted them to
an office in a large brick building where he introduced them to a
gentleman who seemed hardly more than a boy in appearance, though his
age was probably twenty-five. His name was Freeland Cape. ("A regular
Cape of Good Hope to us," Phil said afterward.)

"Sit down," said Mr. Cape to the young strangers, as their escort left
them. Thanking him, Phil and Dave accepted the proffered chairs. Without
ado Mr. Cape was informed of the loss of the Six and the search thus far
so unsuccessful.

"Queerest affair I ever heard of," was the young man's comment. "But
tell me more of this Torpedo car. There was a Torpedo stolen in
Harkville--(Phil and Dave exchanged glances)--an extraordinary case. And
of course it is evident that the parties who, for some reason, abandoned
the machine you found, grabbed your car directly afterward."

"It would seem so, but it is hardly the case," put in Phil quickly. "We
have had that notion pretty well pounded out of us by different people,
especially by Mr. Fobes, the policeman at Griffin. 'Two separate
transactions,' were his words and he made it pretty plain. And of course
we were, and are, more anxious to locate our own car than anything else.
So all along, 'two separate transactions' we have had right in mind."

Young Mr. Cape scratched the crown of his head with one forefinger while
he thought for a few seconds. "There never is a theory so exclusively
inclusive but some other theory can be suggested," said he. "I may be
wrong. Without knowing anything about the Torpedo you found, I'd say the
two separate facts constitute a plausible supposition. But I _do_ know
and _you_ know now, that the machine you found was probably the one
stolen from Harkville. Who stole it? We do not know, but it is pretty
plain that no one other than the original thieves had the car on that
South Fork road, wherever they may have been with it since first it
disappeared. Now that lands in the very vicinity of your car, at the
time of your loss, the fellows who stole one automobile. And, having
stolen one, no doubt they would just as lief take another and better
one. The man who was seen with your basket may have been only a tramp.
If your suitcases were left behind, the basket was thrown out, as well,
at the same place or near by."

"Any way you put it, though," suggested MacLester, his brow puckered in
thought, "we are left right in the middle of it all, again. Go one way,
and we might find who owned the Torpedo. Go the other way--and we stand
a better chance, I should think, of finding our own Six and the thieves.
Whether they stole both cars, or simply ours, isn't a question in the
case at all just yet."

"Yes," assented Mr. Cape, "but you must go back along the road, or
wherever you may have to go, for the things you need to aid your search.
You can't unsnarl a fish line, or anything else, without you have one
free end with which to make a start."

Phil became nervous and uneasy as so much time was being consumed in
discussion, interesting to him though the talk was. "Tell us just what
_you'd_ do, Mr. Cape," he said earnestly.

"Advice is dangerous in a case like this. You may do as I would do and
lose by it. Still, I'll venture a suggestion. You have gotten together,
bit by bit, a lot of valuable facts. Right here in this building is a
detective. He works for big people. Why not talk with him? If that
Torpedo is the stolen Harkville machine you will win the help of one of
the largest insurance companies in the job of capturing the thieves and
at the same time, it is quite certain, recovering your own car."

"That's the plan!" exclaimed Phil eagerly.

"The very thing!" said Dave.

In a moment Mr. Cape had the telephone in his hand. Within five minutes
the boys were in the office of Detective Robert Rack, or plain "Bob"
Rack, as his name so often appears in the newspapers.

Mr. Rack was a ready listener to the whole story in detail as the boys
told it. Quietly he referred to a card index a stenographer brought him.
"I don't think this work need cost you young men a copper," said he. His
voice was soft as a June zephyr. His neat business suit, calm, gray eyes
and hair just tinged with gray, made him appear a great deal more like a
successful salesman of some kind than a detective--than such ideas of
detectives as the boys had hitherto had, at least.

"Not a copper cent," said Bob Rack, looking up from the card index. "And
how would you like to be reimbursed for your trouble and expense?"

These were quite the most pleasant words that had fallen upon David's or
Philip's ears for some time. In substance they said as much.

"I do not doubt the Torpedo you picked up is one we have long wanted to
get trace of. The insurance people offer four hundred dollars for the
recovery of the car. For the arrest and conviction of the thieves they
will give five hundred dollars more. So then, if your party--four of you
in all, are there?--wish simply to turn over the Torpedo you may do so.
I'll tell you who is to be notified. There's one hundred dollars each
for you. Or if you'd like my office to help you, both with the Torpedo
and your own car, I'll make this proposition: to go myself, or send a
good man with you on this case, and whatever the expenses and whatever
the receipts may amount to they all shall be shared equally."

"Bob, you're a brick!" cried Mr. Cape, who had been an interested
listener. Then he said good-bye, assuring the boys that their problem
was in the best of hands. Heartily they thanked him.

"But there's some doubt about that car in Griffin being the one stolen
at Harkville, isn't there?" reasoned Phil Way as the facts in hand were
further discussed with Mr. Rack. "Why did that man Kull never answer our
telegram?"

"Ah, that is a thing to remember! I asked myself the same question the
moment you said the telegram was not answered, a little time ago,"
smiled the detective. "It would be a dreadful thing, I am sure, for a
man to show no interest in the recovery of his stolen car, simply
because he had received the price of it in insurance." The boys could
see Mr. Rack meant something more than he said. They thought they knew
the thought he entertained. But he went on at once, more seriously:
"There is a great deal more to this matter than simply getting your
machine for you or restoring the Torpedo, or I am badly mistaken."

Phil's eyes glistened. Davy sat very still and I am afraid his mouth was
open without reason other than for his wonder and interest.

"So," concluded Mr. Robert Rack, very calmly and gently, as he had
spoken all along, "suppose you leave the whole matter with me for the
present. You better stay in town until to-night or maybe to-morrow, in
case I should want you. Just now I wish you to do only one other thing,
but that is very important. Telegraph or telephone your friends in
Griffin to hold the Torpedo. Don't let it get out of their hands under
any circumstances. If they ride out in it, they should not leave the car
unattended anywhere for one moment."

As if treading on air, such was their elation, the two boys were leaving
the office. "Oh, just a moment!" called Mr. Rack quietly. "Was the name
'Fielderson Brothers' on the cans of paint found in the car you picked
up, do you remember?"

"Yes, but they are the manufacturers. Their paint can be bought
anywhere," Phil replied.

"Yes," the detective answered, apparently the least bit amused.

With eager interest and pleasure Phil and Dave composed a telegram to
Billy and Paul. After many efforts the following is the message they
completed and sent:

    "Don't let Torpedo leave Creek's garage for any purpose. Expect
    to find Six soon. Must stay here until to-morrow. Wire care of
    Auto club."

With the telegram safely dispatched, the boys found a pleasant,
inexpensive hotel where they engaged a room. They went to a restaurant
for dinner, then resolved to write some letters, first to the folks at
home, assuring them of the hopeful outlook, then to Billy and Paul who
would be keen to learn all that had taken place. A letter would reach
them the following morning.

"I would rather have telephoned," said Phil. "They'll be wild for more
news after getting our telegram, but we've spent so much money on long
distance calls and railroad fare, to boot, the last two days!"

And in addition to Phil's remark I am able to state, in confidence, that
the funds of the Auto Boys would soon need replenishing if many more
railroad tickets must be bought or other considerable bills paid.

For it will be remembered there were four lusty appetites to be provided
for, to say nothing of the extra expenses they were meeting. The
possessors of two of the "vast voids" (one of Paul's names for the four
appetites) found meal-time less pleasant now, however, than when Phil
and Dave were with them. Indeed, Paul accused Worth of being absolutely
"grumpy," whatever that may be, as they sat at breakfast in the American
House on Tuesday morning.

This was the day Phil and Dave were in Pittsfield, it will be recalled.
"And I'll bet we've done more than they have," said Paul, referring to
the absent ones. He was thinking of the man in the town jail and of
Billy's talk with that untractable person.

"I did think we had made quite a start," said Billy, droopingly. "But
what's come of it? Nothing!"

"Cheer up, cheer up!" chirped Jones blithely. "We'll get busy again
to-day. Hurry up, too! These pancakes are made out of old burlap. I know
they are! I used to think it was perfectly grand to eat in hotels and so
forth but, golly! wouldn't some fodder from home taste good right now?
Honestly, I'm getting tired of burlap pancakes, puree of shavin' soap,
pincushions a la hay, fried towels and all the other strange things you
get under strange names in these places. I----"

But Billy said, "If we're going to get busy, let's do it," and promptly
he led the way out to the office. "Better see Mr. Fobes, hadn't we?" he
suggested.

Just why Worth wanted to see the police officer he possibly did not
know, beyond the slight chance that the man in the lockup may have had
something to say to him. Yet it did happen that while the two sought
Chief Fobes, the latter was seeking them. They met in front of the bank.

"Our fellow in the cooler has been asking for you. He may let go of
something yet if you go at him easy." These words, addressed
particularly to Billy, took the pair to the jail quite bubbling with
expectancy. They fully believed the prisoner knew something of their
car--believed it regardless of Willie Creek's mild protest that the man
was fooling them.

Again Chief Fobes escorted Worth through the dim corridor to the
somewhat lighter basement cells. A window in the rear of the building
was open, looking out upon a yard with trees and shrubbery. The prisoner
was apparently enjoying the breeze that drifted in.

"Can't I talk to the kid a second, boss?"

The one behind the bars having spoken thus, though he still turned his
face toward the corridor window, Chief Fobes motioned Billy forward
while he stepped back a few paces.

"Say, bub, did ye see that guy? Did ye tell 'im?"

For a fraction of time Worth did not understand. Then recalling more
clearly the chance remark about "Smith" at the hotel, he answered, "No."

"Didn't, eh? Why didn't ye?"

"You got mad yesterday and wouldn't talk sense or anything else. Why
should I pay any more attention to you? Tell me what you know about the
car you took that motor basket from and I'll do anything you ask that's
reasonable."

"Ye was just lyin' to me about that man Smith, now wasn't ye?" the man
returned in a low, earnest voice, ignoring Billy's request. And then he
added as the boy hesitated, and swearing as he had done the previous
day, "Aw, I was just a-kiddin' ye--just a-kiddin' ye to pass the time
away."



CHAPTER V

A BIT OF ADVICE FROM A STRANGER


"Is there no way you can _make_ that man talk?" Billy Worth asked Chief
Fobes. The boys and the officer were again in the latter's office.

"I suppose I can if you leave it to me, but I can't if you don't," Mr.
Fobes answered. "Look 'e here now. That fellow's in here for ten days.
Plenty of time yet to make him loosen up, but it ain't goin' to do no
good. What could he have had to do with swipin' your car? Nothin',
that's all. Might as well think he picked it up and shoved it in his
pocket! There's nothin' to it. He's a bum, that's all, an' is havin'
some fun tryin' to make us believe he does know something about your
automobile."

The two boys looked downcast. "Says his name is Coster," the officer
went on. "Belongs nowhere in particular. So much he told me when he
first was in here. Yer basket he picked up in the road, he now says, an'
he don't deny eatin' yer lunch an' sleepin' in the preacher's barn. An'
that's all he does know about your automobile. What's more, it stands to
reason, too. From any standpoint of the law ye can pick or choose, if he
took your auto, what could he have did with it?"

"Why has he been so interested, part of the time, anyway, in finding out
if there's a man named Smith, or anybody, looking for him?" Billy asked.

"They all act that way, pretty much. It's only once in a while that they
give up anything by makin' 'em believe as there's a party lookin' for
'em; and of course every tramp knows other tramps."

"Maybe so," replied Worth, thoughtfully, "but I do believe your Mr.
Coster is not what exactly you call a 'bum.' Even if he doesn't know
anything about our car, there's some other matter on his mind and he is
a lot more worried about it than he wants us to guess. What he has been
trying to do was to pump me, without saying anything that would give me
his reasons for doing it, and without telling me anything of any
consequence. Why, he's an _awful liar!_"

Billy's show of wrath in his closing sentence made Chief Fobes laugh
boisterously. "Liar?" said he when he could catch his breath. "Did you
expect he'd be anything else? I tell ye both," and his eye took in both
Billy and Paul, "you might just as well forget this man. We'll have most
ten days yet to make a charge of larceny against him for stealin' the
basket. If there's anything to be had out of him we'll get it. All's you
can do is have them East Side fellers (Hipp and Earnest) come around
here sometime and see if they can identify this Coster as the man they
seen on the South Fork."

"We might run out and see him right now," Paul suggested.

Billy agreed and the two were soon at Creek's garage. It was a
delightful day for driving. The car's motion was cool and pleasant
though the sun beat down with unusual warmth even for June.

At the home of Alexander Hipp it was learned that he and Alfred Earnest
were picking cherries at a farm three miles beyond the Forks, on the
main road. Without trouble Billy and Paul found them. The work with the
cherries was nearly over for the day and the Auto Boys gave a hand that
it might be finished quickly. Glad of a chance for an automobile ride,
Hipp and Earnest had readily agreed to visit the Griffin lockup.

Alfred had the seat beside Billy, who was driving. "My brother," said
he, "thought you fellows made a mistake when two of you went away to
Albany to look for your machine. I told him about your plan, last night.
He wished he had seen you to talk it over because he figures you ought
to have gone toward Buffalo."

"That so? Why?" Billy asked.

"Because he says it's fairly certain the people who had this Torpedo
just switched to your car. They came from the east and was headed west
to begin with. Naturally they wouldn't go back the way they had just
come from."

"We thought of that, but our car didn't go through Griffin," Billy
answered. "Willie Creek is sure of that. It must have turned back east
again at the Forks."

Earnest argued to the contrary but, seeing there was nothing to be
gained by the discussion, Worth simply let him talk. It was strange how
many people had advanced theories regarding the car's disappearance.
Indeed so much discussion and gossip had come to the ears of the boys,
and so little real help had been given them, save by Mr. Creek, that it
is little wonder mere talk was becoming annoying.

Coster, the only occupant of the village prison, was not a little
surprised when he once more answered Chief Fobes' "Here, you! Step up!"
upon seeing four boys confronting him. He leaned with hands upon the
steel bars as he had done the day before.

"Good, honest automobile grease on your hands, mister," remarked Billy
Worth, noticing the fellow's fingers and especially his black nails.

Coster quickly put his hands down but volunteered no remark. Then, as if
he feared being suspected of a desire to conceal something, he seized
the bars again as before.

"He's the man we saw," said Alex Hipp, when with Chief Fobes they all
had reached the refreshing outer air. "At least I think so."

"Thinkin' don't go much from the standpoint of the law," the officer
answered. Neither Hipp nor Alfred Earnest could state positively that
Coster was the person they had seen on the lonely road that rainy
afternoon. Billy and Paul drove them to their respective homes in the
Torpedo.

"So we are knocked out of all we thought we had found yesterday,"
observed Jones, droopingly, on the homeward way.

"Maybe not," Worth returned, deep in thought. "Do you see how the clutch
pedal of the car has pressed against the side of the sole on my shoe
till the leather is curved in half an inch or more?"

Paul said he did. Looking at Worth's shoes, then his own, he added:
"That's nothing new. Mine is the same way."

"I know it is," said Billy. "And the sole of Coster's left boot is
marked in the same way, too."

Paul saw at once the significance of this fact, the evidence that Chief
Fobes' prisoner was an automobile man. "Billy," he said earnestly, "we
are gettin' some warm!"

Try as they would to "get busy," Worth and Jones found themselves
accomplishing nothing as the afternoon wore away. Mr. Fobes was becoming
quite impatient over their inquiries and they thought best not to visit
him. Willie Creek was busy with some urgent repair work. There appeared
no course to pursue--nothing to do--but wait. Impatient for word from
Phil or Dave, restless in their inactivity, the two boys sat for a long
time at the large open window of the hotel. A stranger entered.

As the young man--he seemed to be twenty-one or two, perhaps--sat down
near the boys, he remarked that he was waiting while his car was
undergoing some repairs at the garage. A conversation concerning
automobiles was the most natural result imaginable. Put two or more
motor enthusiasts together and invariably they will soon be talking.

The newcomer was from Texas, he said, touring through to New York. His
brother was with him but had remained at the garage. The substance of
the Auto Boys' story was told the stranger as the conversation
progressed.

"Look here," said the young man in his flippant, breezy fashion, "you
fellows are too easy by half. You've let that garage keeper and his
friend, the town policeman, pull you all around. The garage man--Creek,
you call him--sends you on a wild goose chase here and there. The
village cop steers you off with no help worth speaking of. Seems mighty
suspicious, don't it? I just might mention that there was a garage in a
town near us that made a business of changing over stolen cars. Would
switch 'em all around, in an old barn behind their shop, change wheel
sizes, change engines, fix 'em up so no man could tell his own car if he
saw it. Then they slipped 'em off to the big cities and sold 'em. Now,
right there, you've got a real tip, you take it from me!"

It is the meanest kind of wickedness to direct suspicion against any
person without good cause. Also it is criminal. Paul Jones and Billy
Worth realized this. Yet was it not true, as the stranger said, that
Willie Creek and Chief Fobes were great friends? And had not Mr. Creek
more than once suggested that it would be much cheaper for the boys to
take a train home and conduct their search from there, paying no hotel
bills while awaiting developments?

"I've always thought Willie was our friend," muttered Worth when he and
Paul were alone again, "and I shall think so; but one thing is sure,
we've got to keep our eyes open."

Mr. P. Jones, Esquire, as Paul sometimes referred to himself, was of the
same opinion. Also he added: "It looked mighty funny to me the way old
Fobes paid so little attention when Scottie was shot. Willie Creek
didn't seem to mind it, either, so much as I'd think he would."

Oh, it is a sad, bad business to sow seeds of suspicion! It is but all
too likely they will grow! Always there is something which seems to
confirm the suspicious thought. And yet, on the other hand, it must be
admitted that dishonesty and falsehood are not infrequently concealed by
an appearance of friendliness on part of those who practice them.

And now, whether Willie Creek was a true friend or a false friend, we
soon shall see for another night has passed and another day has come--a
day to test the endurance and the courage of the Auto Boys almost to the
breaking point. And even while Phil and Dave were making themselves
known in the Automobile club of Syracuse, Billy and Paul were planning a
careful inspection of Mr. Creek's garage and its surroundings, as they
sat at breakfast.



CHAPTER VI

A LITTLE KINDNESS AND WHAT CAME OF IT


Paul and Billy received letters from home in the morning mail. They were
glad to have them,--would have been sorry indeed had their respective
households neglected for one day to send solicitous inquiries--but they
were so very "busy," they assured themselves, that--well, if they could
just get the time, they'd write in return that afternoon. Whereupon they
set forth for Willie Creek's establishment.

Mr. Creek was looking over a newspaper. He said he was waiting for a
possible customer for a car whom he was to take out for a demonstration.

The boys said they were going to take the Torpedo out for a little good
fresh air. Mr. Creek said, "Sure! She's your car, so far as I can see,
though you are out some on the trade you made." This with a friendly
smile.

"We'll just drive back when Willie has had time to get away and we will
look his place over. Not that I think we will find anything, but--"
Billy paused.

"Dandy good scheme," Paul assented. "That boy of his--we don't need mind
him at all."

"Better not go far. Let's just wait at the hotel," Worth suggested. They
halted the Torpedo in front of the American House accordingly.

From their favorite chairs at the large, screened windows the two lads
watched the occasional passerby, also the clock.

"He'll be miles away by this time. We better hike over to the garage,"
proposed Paul when half an hour had passed.

"Well, _sir!_" exclaimed Billy, at the same moment. "There's Mr. Peek.
Let's say how do you do!"

Even as he was speaking, Worth hastened out to the sidewalk. The old
gentleman, the tragic story of whose life was written in his stooping
figure and melancholy face, recognized the boy at once. He was pleased
to be so cordially greeted.

"It's the first time I've been to town for 'most a year," said he, as he
also shook hands with Paul. "I don't seem to know any of the young
folks, any more, and not many of the older ones I meet."

As Mr. Peek said he was just starting for home and that he was on foot,
Billy spoke up: "Our car's right here. We will take you home, Mr. Peek."

"We have something on hand, you know. Shall we let it go?" Paul
whispered.

Worth nodded and the visible pleasure of the aged farmer as he climbed
awkwardly up to a front seat could not but give his young friends
pleasure also.

"You must have been up pretty early if you walked to town this morning,"
observed Worth to the old gentleman at his side.

"Y-a-a-a-s," Mr. Peek replied, drawing the word out to great length, as
if he were really thinking of something else. And after a long pause he
said, "Did I tell you t'other day about someone bein' around my house in
the night?"

Yes, he had told them, the boys answered, and he went on: "It has
fretted me every day. An' last evenin' I got to feelin' so down in the
mouth and glum I just concluded I'd get some cartridges for my old
rifle. It'd make me feel safer to know I had a loaded gun right handy.
So I went to town first thing this mornin'. I might 'a' drove, but my
old horse is 'bout the same as I be,--almost ready to say good-bye."

Mr. Peek was lost for a time in his own meditations. The Torpedo whirred
along at an easy speed and he seemed to enjoy greatly the pleasant
motion of the car and gentle sweep of the wind. "'Tain't much like water
power, is it?" he remarked, as if he had been contrasting in his mind
the machinery and appliances of _his_ young manhood with the automobiles
and electric motors of the present day. "I suspect you boys never saw a
water wheel," he said musingly.

No, they had not, said Billy, and in answer to a question whether they
would like to see one, both he and Paul were quite sure they would.

The car was rumbling along the lonely South Fork now. The old mill, the
gray, old house of the miller, empty and cheerless, the pond and the
icehouse were but a little way forward.

"If you'd like to stop at the mill, I'll show you a water wheel," said
Mr. Peek. "And it'd have been runnin' yet, but--" Not finishing this
sentence, the possible conclusion of which the boys could easily guess,
the old gentleman after a little hesitation continued: "I can't get
around like I used to and not as much as I ought to. I ain't been in the
mill for nigh onto two years."

Billy halted the car before the weather-worn buildings. He glanced
toward Paul as if he felt some misgiving in entering the ruins of the
once busy place in company with the ruin of him whose wrecked hopes were
responsible for all the gloom and decay in this otherwise charming
valley.

But if Jones was in any degree apprehensive, he did not show it. Truly,
too, it was interesting and surely there was nothing to fear, unless it
were from loose or rotting boards beneath their feet. Mr. Peek explained
briefly the operation of the long-silent water wheel. There was a choke
in his voice, and in one way the lads felt relief when they all were in
the outer air again.

"It wa'n't a right convenient place to have a mill, but we had to take
our work to where our power was. Couldn't hitch power up an' make it
carry us anywhere, in my time, as you do with your automobile," observed
Mr. Peek.

Paul said he would like to take a walk around the old pond. Billy said,
"Yes, let's do it, if Mr. Peek doesn't care."

"Just do whatever pleases ye," said the old gentleman kindly. "I'll sit
here on the old platform a spell." So he seated himself at the entrance
where, in the long ago, grain for the mill was unloaded and the two boys
sauntered along the one-time race.

They strolled partly around the pond, speaking of the chances of good
fishing and the probable depth of the water, and wondering that the
ancient dam had not given way long ago. They drew near and walked
alongside of the icehouse between the building and the water.

They saw the black, decaying sawdust oozing from cracks where the siding
had decayed. They passed around to the east side where were the great
doors, still hanging loosely on rusty hinges. The lowest one was but a
few feet above the ground. It was unlatched and stood ajar an inch or
two.

"Let's look in," Billy suggested.

A runway of heavy planks, seamy and gray, built wide enough to have
driven a team of horses upon, led up to the lowest door. The two boys
walked easily up the incline. They drew the great door open a foot or
two. The place seemed very dark after the bright sunlight without. The
dead, heavy odor of the sawdust slowly being consumed by damp rot below
and by dry rot higher up, was strong to their nostrils.

"If there's such a thing as spooks, they'd like to live here, I'll bet,"
said Paul Jones.

The dense gloom within was slowly giving way to a heavy, blue-black
light as the boys' eyes became accustomed to the dark interior. They saw
that the sawdust filled the lower part of the building up to within a
few inches of the incline they stood upon, so they stepped down upon it,
and to give more light as they casually looked about, Paul pushed the
great door wide open.

And there before the astonished eyes of the two young gentlemen stood an
automobile--the Big Six of the Auto Boys, apparently sound and whole.

"Rah! Rah! Rah! Rah!" screamed Paul Jones in the most extravagant
delight imaginable. "What d'ye _know_ about it? What d'ye know about it?
What d'ye KNOW about it?" he cried, adding emphasis each time.

But if Mr. Billy Worth was answering the question, his manner of
imparting information was somewhat strange, to say the least. For after
his first astonished, "What in the world!" he simply seized a rear
fender, as if the car might take fright and escape immediately, and
there he stood, saying: "Oh, my! I'm so glad! Oh, I am thankful for this
day!" For while Paul's emotion found vent in an ecstacy of joy Billy,
really more deeply moved, scarcely knew what he did or said. The prayer
of thanksgiving in his heart was very earnest and sincere--so much of
both that words entirely failed to give his feelings expression.

The first sharp edge of their surprise, excitement and delight was gone
in a minute or two and the boys began a rapid inspection of the Six and
its contents. Even as they did so Mr. Peek, attracted by Paul's
delighted yells, came slowly up the incline. His surprise was very
manifest, though of a decidedly less demonstrative character than
Paul's, for instance.

While Worth and Jones inspected the car, Mr. Peek was making a study of
the manner in which the machine had been gotten down from the road and
into the icehouse.

"Except for being so muddy inside as well as outside, she's just as we
left her," announced Billy Worth presently. At the same instant Paul,
who had been looking at the engine, switched on the spark, touched the
starter, and lo! the motor hummed as sweetly and powerfully as anyone
could possibly desire.

"But how in time did they put it in here and who in thunder done
it?"--Jones was apt to lose accuracy and gain a certain inelegance in
his speech as his force of expression increased.

As if answering Paul's question, Mr. Peek called from outside: "Sure
enough, they knew the place!" And he pointed out to the two boys as they
ran out to him how the automobile had been brought down the steep bank
from the road above by means of heavy planks. There were four of the
thick, unplaned boards.

"How'd they ever get here, do you suppose?" asked Mr. Peek. "For more'n
twenty year, I tell ye, them plank has laid in a pile way over on yon
side of the hill. Somebody must 'a' knowed where to lay hands on 'em."

"Do you mean that somebody must have expected to steal our car and
brought the boards to be ready?" asked Billy.

"Not exactly that," said Mr. Peek, "but them plank was carried way down
here for the purpose. No stranger would 'a' known where to look for
'em."

Instantly Billy remembered that Alfred Earnest and Alex Hipp were
familiar with all this neighborhood. He started to speak but a quick
second thought bade him refrain.

"Gosh! We've got the car and we're mighty glad of the planks to help her
up to the road again!" cried Paul. He did not grasp the significance of
Mr. Peek's words as Billy did. "We're going to take her right to
Griffin, ain't we? We'll telegraph Phil and Dave in a hurry if we can
only find where they're at."

It was agreed that the Big Six should be gotten out of the old icehouse
and in readiness to go to Griffin, even before Mr. Peek had been taken
home. The old gentleman was eager to help, but his services were hardly
needed. With the same heavy boards the thieves had used, a runway was
made out from the sawdust to the outside incline. Carefully the machine
was backed up. All went well and in three minutes the mud-stained but
still handsome automobile stood in the sunshine again.

By a similar process the planks bridged the way up the steep embankment
of the road, running directly over the low rail fence. The ascent was
steep but with a quick start Billy made the upward run nicely. The
machine's long body swung prettily around at the top, once more on the
open highway.

Finding his services were of no value in the moving of the car, Mr. Peek
had been making further search inside and outside the icehouse. Now
Billy and Paul joined him. But all their eager scrutiny was without
reward. No sign was discovered which might show who had stolen the Big
Six or what the purpose of the thieves may have been in concealing the
car where it was found.

"This little trip has done me a world of good. I do believe I could be
right spry again if I had some spry young fellows to help me get
started, as you have done," said Mr. Peek. The boys were just leaving
him at his home. "It's a pretty mysterious business about them planks,"
he remarked a moment later. "Don't you let that automobile out o' your
hands again."

There was little danger that the boys would do so, it is needless to
say. Paul had driven the large car right behind Billy and Mr. Peek in
the Torpedo, and similarly, each driving a machine, they returned
triumphantly to Griffin and to Willie Creek's garage.

To say that Mr. Creek was surprised would be but a part of the truth. He
was literally dumfounded. The story of where and how the stolen car was
found seemed to surprise him still more.

"Better hike over to the American pretty quick," said he a little later.
"There's a telegram for you."

So did Billy and Paul receive the message from Phil and Dave.

"Who cares for that Torpedo thing? We've got the _Six_," said Jones,
reading the telegram over Worth's shoulder.

"We'll wire 'em! Wow! but won't they be some surprised?" Billy returned.
And forthwith the two rushed to the telegraph office.

    "We have found her. Pretty muddy inside but not hurt."

And such was the message received by Way and MacLester in Syracuse.



CHAPTER VII

A SWIFT RIDE THROUGH THE DARKNESS


With what glorious good feeling Paul and Billy sat down to their late
dinner at the American House! Paul was a little ashamed of the slighting
remarks he had lately made about the hotel fare. He said as much.

"Gee! I should think you would be, to see you diving into it all right
now!" Billy laughed. Ah, what a difference in _his_ spirits, also, the
recovery of the car had made!

It seems strange to me that, considering the imperative nature of the
telegram from Phil and Dave, Worth and Jones were not more deeply
impressed by it. No doubt the finding of their own car had made them
quite indifferent to all else. At any rate, they hardly more than
mentioned the message from Syracuse, when they met Mr. Creek at his
garage in the afternoon. Thither they had gone, eager to give the Six
such a gentle but thorough washing and oiling, and the brass such a
complete polishing, as they felt no one else to be capable of doing.

The work progressed most favorably. By supper time the beloved machine
stood dry, clean and shining. A truly beautiful car, it never looked
more lovely to Paul and to Billy than at this moment, with the sinking
sun lighting up its radiance through the big front window of Creek's
garage. The Torpedo, though a first-class car, appeared dingy and
commonplace beside it.

After bathing and dressing in clean, dry clothes, following their
labors, the two boys were passing through the hotel office toward the
dining-room. Mr. Wagg stopped them.

"'Nother telegram," said he, peering over his glasses, as usual. "You
two are getting to be about the most important citizens of this
village."

Eagerly the yellow envelope was opened. "Yours received. Hurrah. Meet us
with car eleven o'clock train. Phil."

"Hully gee! I'll bet _they're_ glad!" chirped Paul. But had he known all
that Dave and Phil now knew, he would have been even more elated and
excited than he was.

After supper the boys stepped around to the garage. Willie Creek had
just left in his own car for Port Greeley, said his boy of all work,
half asleep on the cot in the office. "Somebody telephoned him he could
sell a car, if he could get over there and give a demonstration right
off," the lad explained. "He won't be home till toward mornin', maybe."

"We were only going for a ride, anyway," said Billy.

The facts were that he and Paul had decided to drive out to see Alfred
Earnest and his friend Hipp. They believed they could tell from the
manner of these young gentlemen whether they had not known all along
where the Six was hidden.

"For an entire stranger would never have found those planks _away over
beyond that hill_," declared Worth with confident emphasis.

If Earnest or Hipp had had any knowledge of the stealing of the Auto
Boys' car, however, they concealed the fact amazingly well. They
appeared most hearty in their congratulations upon the machine's
recovery, as Billy and Paul told the story to them and to Rev. and Mrs.
Earnest at the latter's home. Later the cordial young minister and his
wife were taken for a ten-mile spin. Then Mrs. Earnest insisted that all
the boys come in for a little lunch. Worth and Jones had abundant time
at their disposal as they must remain up to meet Phil and Dave, and
cordially accepted the invitation. It was just after ten o'clock when
they at last drove back to Griffin and to the American House, there to
wait until train time.

"Hello, here! Fobes has been looking for you boys high and low!" said
Mr. Wagg, severely, hastening out to meet them. "That man he has had in
the lockup has escaped. Sawed the bars of a cell and went out through a
corridor window. It is bad luck, I'm afraid. Fobes says the man made an
offer to tell you where your car was if you'd pass some saws in to him."

"But I never _did_ it!" cried Billy Worth, indignantly. Quickly he had
seen the likelihood that suspicion might point toward him in the
remarkable coincidence that, directly the stolen car was found, Coster
had been enabled to break jail.

The hotel telephone rang long and loudly. The very tone of haste and
impatience was in its harsh clang and clamor.

"Well!" shouted Mr. Wagg, answering, and his voice was neither soft nor
pleasant. Then in milder tones, "You're wanted, Worth."

Billy stepped to the phone. "No, certainly not," Paul heard him say. And
then, "It can't be!" A pause, then further, "Oh, that's awful! We'll be
over there right off!"

With frightened, staring eyes Worth turned to Paul. "The Torpedo is
gone," he said.

Grievous anxiety and alarm filled the hearts of the two boys. Quickly
they drove the Six to Creek's garage. Chief Fobes and the youth who
assisted in the establishment both ran out as the car stopped at the
door.

It had been long since anyone had seen Mr. Fobes so wide awake, and so
keen to do his duty as he was now. He was frightened, too, lest his
prisoner's escape might cost him his position. And he was so perplexed
and so confused by his excitement that, as he mentioned suspiciously the
circumstance that Coster "got his saws and you fellows got your car,"
Worth really feared the officer would be for clapping him into jail
immediately.

The Torpedo was as completely missing as if it had never been. Creek's
boy had not the shadow of an idea concerning the machine. He knew only
that he fell asleep in the office and was awakened by someone who wanted
gasoline. Not until this customer was gone did he discover the absence
of the Torpedo. He at once telephoned to the hotel, thinking Worth or
Jones had taken the car out, perhaps.

"Don't let Torpedo leave Creek's garage for any purpose." This sentence
in Phil's telegram rang in Billy's ears. What did it all mean? He looked
at his watch. Ten-forty. Way and MacLester would arrive at eleven, he
thought. Then, "Have you telephoned Port Greeley and other places to be
on the lookout for Coster and the car?" The question was addressed to
Fobes, pacing excitedly about, accomplishing nothing.

No, he had had no time, the policeman answered. Coster's escape was not
discovered until long after nine. There had been scarcely a chance to
turn around before the theft of the Torpedo was also reported.

"You better be telephoning, perhaps," Worth suggested. "We will meet
that eleven o'clock train and, with the car to go in, maybe we can all
help you some."

                   *       *       *       *       *

Phil Way's eyes glistened and he smiled with a delight so inexpressible
he made no effort to put his thoughts into words. He had just read the
telegram from Billy and Paul, handed him at the Syracuse Automobile
club's downtown quarters.

"Can it be true?" asked Dave in wonder. "Why don't they--where was the
car and--"

"Course it's true!" cried Phil joyously. "But I do think they might have
spent four or six cents more to tell us something about it. They kept
right down to ten words all right!"

MacLester was for starting to Griffin at once. "But we can't," Way
remonstrated. "We've got to stay by Mr. Rack and don't you
remember--half that reward?"

However, the two boys did hurry away immediately to Mr. Bob Rack's
office. He was out. The stenographer said he would return soon and the
lads waited.

Detective Rack appeared greatly pleased with the telegram from Billy and
Paul. "A little more information might have helped us; still, perhaps,
we do not need it," said he. "We will all go to Griffin this evening.
Would you wire your friends there to meet us at--" he paused and glanced
into a book of time-tables--"to meet us at the train due there at eleven
o'clock?"

With so much to occupy their thoughts and tongues, Dave and Phil found
train time and their meeting with the detective at the station at hand
without one dull minute having passed. And though they had discussed the
evident ability and the possible plans of Robert Rack from all angles,
they were no nearer a conclusion as to what he meant to do than they
were to guessing how Jones and Worth had recovered the Big Six--a
question they were pleasantly impatient to have answered.

Not by word or look did Bob Rack reveal one whit of what he had found
during the day to the pair of his youthful admirers, who had a seat
opposite him, while the train bore rapidly on toward Griffin. When he
talked about the case at all it was only to ask a few questions--some of
them far removed from the problem in hand, the boys thought. For
instance when he desired to know whether there was plenty of lighting
gas in the tank of the Torpedo, both were puzzled, though they answered
that there was.

"We were extremely fortunate in getting away to-night. Every hour counts
now," said Mr. Rack, "but as I have some papers to look over I'll get at
them."

Swiftly through the summer night the train sped on. The detective seemed
to be occupied with nothing more important than some road maps, but his
companions did not venture to interrupt him and in their own
conversation spoke in low tones. The distance seemed very great,
somehow, to the impatient boys. But at last----

"Here we are!" said Robert Rack, even before Phil or Dave were aware of
it, and a moment later the lights of Griffin came into view.

I shall not undertake to tell in detail of the conflicting emotions with
which Billy and Paul greeted their friends and with which they all, Mr.
Rack included, gathered beside the Big Six while Worth quickly told of
the escape of Coster and the Torpedo's disappearance.

"A little faster than I expected," mused the detective, in that same
easy, gentle tone. Apparently _he_ was no more disturbed than if Billy
had said it looked like rain, which, in fact, was the case.

"But this man in jail--_we_ didn't tell you anything about him, Mr.
Rack. We didn't know it ourselves," Phil spoke up anxiously. For it will
be remembered that Chief Fobes' prisoner had not appeared in the
situation at all at the time Way and MacLester left Griffin. "Or did you
know without our _telling_ you?" Phil added, his own mind in a whirl of
confused thoughts.

"Oh, I have not been idle to-day," smiled Detective Bob. Then more
seriously, but still in his affable, pleasing way, quite as though he
were planning a little outing, he continued, "Now I'll need some help.
The best driver take the wheel. I'll sit beside him. The rest of you
ride behind and if I may ask so much, no one will leave the car except
as I may request it."

Immediately Phil nodded to Dave to take the driver's place. In an
instant Bob Rack was in the seat beside him, the others in the tonneau.

"Just as fast as is consistent with a reasonable degree of safety now,"
Mr. Rack said, placidly. "First, to Creek's garage."

The Big Six moved swiftly away, throwing always a flood of light ahead,
its gleaming oil lamps seeming to be but a streak of white to those who
watched it pass.

In a minute's time the detective apparently had seen all he wished to
see at the small garage. While he looked the place over Way, at his
request, was locating Chief Fobes by phone. The policeman came from the
hotel on the run when told that Mr. Bob Rack wanted him. For perhaps
five minutes he and the detective talked in Willie Creek's office.

"That fellow Coster got out about nine o'clock. He must have got off
with the Torpedo about half-past nine. About a two hours' start of us,"
said Billy Worth to his friends in the tonneau. There was no doubt in
his mind, whatever, that the jail-bird had flown in the stolen machine.

"Funny that the only thing Mr. Rack 'specially noticed in all we could
tell him, Bill, was about the planks that had been carried from over the
hill to run the Six down the bank on," observed Paul Jones,
thoughtfully.

"Looks a lot like Hipp and Earnest, so far as the hiding of our car
goes, Mack," Billy added to Paul's idea, for Dave was an interested
listener.

"In with you! Speed now, David, if there's such a thing!" This from
Detective Bob, the first words to Phil standing beside the car, the
second order to MacLester at the wheel. And as the Six instantly
responded,--"Out to the right-hand fork, and not a minute to lose!" he
said.

There was unmistakable authority and command in his manner. One could
have thought of nothing but instant obedience. Yet from his smile and
gentle tone it seemed that he might have said, "I declare, it's a very
pleasant evening."

Their hearts beating hard with the excitement of adventure and the rapid
ride, the Auto Boys vainly speculated, each in his own thoughts, upon
the unknown plans and intentions of the detective.

"Turn right! We're doing famously, but--" Without a sign of question, or
any movement save a quick, short nod to say that he heard, MacLester
obeyed Bob Rack's order. Like a flying specter, the Big Six shot down
the little grade where the lonely Right Fork branched off, and on and
on.

Not a word was spoken. Scurrying masses of cloud swept the sky above and
only at intervals did rifts appear where the moon shone through,
relieving for the moment the heavy darkness. Over to the south and back
to the west the inky clouds were rolling up like wind-tossed mountains.
Flashes of lightning came more and more often, and after each the
thunder crashed or rumbled in the distance. The lonely woodlands, and
the wildness of the unused, brush-grown fields were almost terrifying as
each sharp and sudden glare fell for an instant on them.

All within a second the flying car drew near and passed the darker
shadows that marked the miller's grim old house, the mill, the pond, the
icehouse. Over the bridge and up the grade--a stretch of level road,
then down the slope to the swampy spot where the Six was ditched that
other time, then up again and on!

"Stop here, David." Always that same easy, gentle tone, but Mack obeyed
the order instantly.

"You know this road. Could you go forward without lights?" And without
waiting for an answer, "Will you put them out, Way?"

Every light was extinguished. The car stood in total darkness, but stood
for a second only. "Just as quietly as you can," requested Mr. Rack, as
MacLester slipped the clutch to place again.

"Now," said the detective, "I am going to tell you that this may be a
wild goose chase, though I think not. I don't believe any of you will
need leave the car, but, Phil, you take this revolver. If you hear me
shout, 'close in,' come to me instantly. The rest of you stand ready for
any instructions that may be necessary."

Almost noiselessly the big machine purred forward, more slowly now but
still at good speed. In wonder and excitement the Auto Boys sat silent
as the darkness round them. And while _they_ were at tension that
strained every nerve, the calm tranquillity of Mr. Bob Rack was, by
contrast, the more amazing.

"I suppose," said he, softly, quite as if he might have been gently
musing before a pleasant fireplace in the quiet of home, "I suppose the
truest words ever put in verse are those which say----

    "'Truth crushed to earth will rise again.
    "But error, wounded, writhes in pain
    "And dies amidst her worshipers.'

"And there," he said as if he were but speaking to himself, "there is
the whole ground work, the unfailing foundation that we must work upon,
whether we are detectives or doctors or anything else. There is no such
thing as successful deception. This case is an excellent illustration,
and I must tell you about it later. It is an old, old error, a monstrous
lie that has reached its end to-night, I firmly believe."



CHAPTER VIII

IN MOST EXCELLENT GOOD SEASON


Almost as he ceased speaking the detective, peering forward, as if not
quite certain of the road, it was so dark, placed a detaining hand on
Davy's arm. "Right to one side here and stop," he said.

Without jar or sound, save the slight squeak of a brake, the Big Six
came to a halt. The wonder of the Auto Boys was doubled, if such a thing
were possible. Another hundred yards would have placed them directly in
front of the dwelling of Mr. Peek.

"_He_ had nothing to do with stealing that car, or ours," Paul Jones
could not refrain from whispering to Billy, at his side.

Lost in his own questioning thoughts, Worth did not answer.

"Keep right behind me, Philip, the gun in your right hand and pointed to
the ground." Mr. Rack was out of the car now, and taking Phil by the
sleeve as he spoke, that young gentleman also stepped softly down. "If
you boys are as quiet as mice," said the detective to the others, "you
will hear me call instructions, should I do so. We may be gone for some
time."

In silent wonder the three in the car obeyed the order so gently given,
but so imperatively attuned. Without misgiving, but trembling from the
multitude of questions rushing to his mind, Way followed Mr. Rack.
Walking upright, but without noise, the two approached the dark and
lonely farmhouse.

Stationing Way behind the trunk of an old apple tree, Mr. Rack left him.
For a quarter of an hour he was absent. Vastly to Phil's surprise he
came creeping on hands and knees and was fairly beside the boy ere the
latter discovered him.

"We are too late, or too early. It will take some time----"

A terrific scream burst suddenly on the air. Coming in unexpected
violence, and from within the old house, the sound was terrifying beyond
description.

"Don't forget the signal!" said Robert Rack calmly.

"Close in," Phil whispered, to show he remembered, but the detective was
gone.

The seconds seemed like hours to Philip Way and no less so to the three
in the car who had heard the frightful scream.

Suddenly there came a wild cry, like violent, threatening anger, like
the howl of a wolf at bay. And then----

"Close in!" It was the voice of Bob Rack, and what a contrast with the
other! It might have been a father calling a son to breakfast, so cool,
collected, calm it was.

Instantly Way rushed forward through the dark. _Close in!_ Yes, but
where? How? Soon he found himself groping for the door at the side
porch. A feeble light shone from the kitchen. With a crash the door was
suddenly flung open. A heavy figure leaped forth. Phil threw himself
forward, arms outstretched, just as many a time he had tackled on the
gridiron, and the heavy body went tumbling to the ground beside the
doorstep, Way with it, but keeping the uppermost position.

"Nicely done, Philip, nicely!" No disturbed note, no ruffled sound, no
excitement whatever,--just Bob Rack saying a word or two in his calm and
tranquil way, both then and an instant later: "Sit up, Adam! Let him
rise, Phil. I think we were here just in good season. You see how Mr.
Peek is, Phil,--back there in the front room. You'll find another lamp
in the kitchen, no doubt."

Nothing surprised Phil more, perhaps, than the effect of the detective's
low and even tones upon himself. Though panting for breath, after the
recent struggle and his exertion, he noticed that he experienced no
sense of fear or apprehension. He found a lamp on a low mantel and
lighted it. As he went toward the room adjoining, he heard Mr. Rack call
cheerily, "Light up the car, boys! Drive up to the yard here, if you
will."

The scene Phil discovered in the front room would have been horrifying
but for the calm upon him, to which allusion has just been made. Mr.
Peek, dressed as if for work, sat on the edge of the bed, his face
covered by his hands while blood stained his fingers and dripped, like
the dropping of water, upon the oil-cloth covering the floor.

Hastily Way helped the old man to rise. He wanted the outer air he
said--his chair near the kitchen door. The lad led him as he wished,
then brought water and a towel. Helping himself, then, Mr. Peek bathed
an ugly wound above and to the left of his left eyebrow. A revolver in
his hand, Mr. Rack sat on the lower steps of the porch. His prisoner sat
on the ground before him and the detective had taken the precaution of
slipping handcuffs upon him.

Billy, Paul and Dave had now arrived upon the scene, but not one
ventured a word.

"Are you able to ride to town, Mr. Peek?" asked Mr. Rack. "You'll be so
much better there than here."

But no, the old gentleman would not go. He was not much hurt, he said,
and would feel perfectly safe to remain alone. "Safer than I have really
been for many a day, I don't doubt," he added. "But if he had struck the
temple, as he surely tried to, he would have killed me," shuddered the
aged farmer. "Lord, I have suffered as I have deserved!"

The latter words were low, as if spoken in prayer. Then quite aloud
again, "Take him with you. You might drop in to-morrow. Maybe my boys
will be out this way." The latter words were accompanied by a smile.
"You and your automobile did good work to-night, boys! However you
happened along, I can't think! And this gentleman with you?"

"It's quite a story, Mr. Peek. I'll tell you all about it when you've
rested some," said Way, holding a lamp, while Billy tied a soft, clean
handkerchief over the wound. Worth was gentle and clever as a woman at
such things.

"Thunder and lightning! It's _Pickem!_ I thought----"

Paul's violent exclamation caused all the boys to look at once to the
man on the ground. The dull glow of the lamp had suddenly fallen upon
the fellow's face.

"So did I! I thought----"

"That it was Coster," broke in Bob Rack gently. "But it is neither he
nor any other than Mr. Adam W. Kull, of Harkville, New York."

"By thunder! _We_ called him Pickem!" cried Paul, in amazement. "How did
_he_ get here?"

"I think he ran out in his Torpedo. The car stands by the roadside, just
above," said Mr. Rack, pleasantly.



CHAPTER IX

THE DETECTIVE'S STRANGE STORY


Detective Bob Rack and his prisoner, with Phil to drive, went to Griffin
in the Torpedo while Paul, Billy, Dave and Mr. Peek rode in the Six. For
Mr. Rack would hardly consent to the old gentleman spending the
remainder of the night alone. So, in due time, was he given a room at
the American House. Mr. Pickem, otherwise Smith, otherwise Kull, was
assigned to very narrow and also strong, quarters in the village prison
with Chief Fobes personally mounting guard over both him and Coster. Two
big revolvers the officer had and there was no sign of sleep in his
usually languid eyes.

The capture of the chief's prisoner was, vastly to his satisfaction,
effected by himself and the village night watchman. On the advice of Bob
Rack they had watched the railroad yards closely. Coster was seized just
as he darted from some hiding-place and tried to board an out-bound
freight.

Deeply interested in the exciting occurrences of the evening, Landlord
Wagg had not gone to bed, as proved quite fortunate for the Auto Boys
and the detective. When Mr. Peek had been given every attention, he
announced that a little supper for five was ready to serve whenever
wanted.

"I rarely venture an opinion without having facts to support it," said
Mr. Rack, smiling, "but on this occasion I will say that I think all of
us are ready to show our appreciation of such an invitation in a very
thorough manner, provided you will join us, Mr. Wagg. Also I've promised
the boys a little history of the case that brought us together. Perhaps
you may be interested."

A large part of the story told by Mr. Bob Rack as the party sat long
over a supper of cold meats, bread and butter, coffee and fruit, is
familiar to the reader. Without quoting his language then,--and the
pleasing modulations of his voice could not be shown in print, in any
event,--the narrative was substantially as follows:

When the theft of Adam Kull's car, at Harkville, was reported to the
authorities two months earlier, Mr. Rack had been asked by the insurance
company, in which a policy covering theft was held, to assist in the
search.

Not a trace of the car was found. There seemed to be no clue to go upon.
An odd circumstance which, though it apparently had no connection with
the case, yet which Mr. Rack was unwilling to dismiss wholly from his
mind, was the fact that a few days earlier Mr. Kull had purchased from a
neighbor and shipped to a middle western city a fine Scotch collie. The
dog was greatly attached to the automobile, and had sometimes been
allowed to ride. This simple fact in itself was not important; but the
purchase of the dog, apparently for the mere purpose of giving the
animal away, was not in keeping with Mr. Kull's usual disposition.

From so trifling a cause for suspicion the detective was unwilling to
make even a hint as to what was in his mind. All he could do, and the
thing he did do, was to place a watch upon Adam Kull while secretly he
made a thorough search of the man's record.

Among other things it was found that, as a young man, Kull had been a
party to a transaction by which he and his mother obtained a strange
hold upon a wealthy farmer near Griffin, Henry Peek by name. The woman
married Mr. Peek but they soon separated. To be free of the woman and
her son, Mr. Peek had entered into a written contract involving the
payment of a large sum of money at once, and the further stipulation
that, should the wife survive the husband, she should receive the entire
Peek estate. If, on the other hand, Mr. Peek survived his one-time wife,
the estate should ultimately go to his heirs alone, and no heir of hers
should be considered as having any claim whatever upon the property. The
bargain seemed a very good one for the woman as she was much younger
than Mr. Peek.

Years passed. Mrs. Peek, who had resumed her former name, Kull, lived
with her only son and they had eventually settled in Harkville. Here the
man was engaged in real estate, a number of shady deals being credited
to him in that connection.

Within a few months of the present time, the mother, though but little
past middle age, had been stricken by an incurable disease. The son
could not have failed to remember that, unless she survived his former
step-father, the rich Peek estate would not descend to him.

Matters were at this pass when Detective Rack obtained his first
extended knowledge of Kull, following his investigation of the
disappearance of the automobile the latter had owned. Several weeks
slipped by and, as the man under scrutiny had made no movement which
would in any way strengthen suspicion against him, the watching of his
going and his coming was relaxed.

One day, nearly two months after the theft of Kull's car, a strange man
called on the real estate dealer, later left his office, and was not
seen afterward. Mr. Rack's men discovered the fellow to be a worthless,
discharged employe of a motor concern in Rochester. His name was Coster.

It was but a day or two later that Kull suddenly left home. Later it was
learned he was in Griffin, registered at the American hotel under an
assumed name.

"And it was at that time, undoubtedly," said Mr. Rack, "that, having
taken the Torpedo from wherever it was concealed, Coster was on the way
west with it. Kull was in Griffin to meet him. He visited the old farm
where he had once lived for a short time. He carried the planks over the
hill to the icehouse, that his friend might readily run the Torpedo down
the embankment and so into that building. There are some links missing
as to this assertion but it will be found substantially correct when the
details are known. For it was certainly the intention that the Torpedo
should be placed in this new and more distant hiding-place. Kull had
purchased a supply of Fielderson's automobile and carriage paint. He
mentioned to a clerk in the store that he was going to use the material
on an old surrey he had. He owned no such vehicle. Hence my conclusion,
at this time, that the paint was to be used in a further concealment of
the identity of the Torpedo.

"Again I heard from Harkville that Kull, after a brief stay at home,
following his having been in Griffin, was once more out of town. I was
busy with other matters and did not immediately take up the threads of
the case again. I was about to do so yesterday," and here Mr. Rack
smiled toward Mr. Wagg, who sat with eyes and mouth open, his glasses
perched on the very top of his bald head,--"when Mr. Phil and Mr. David,
here, came in upon me, introduced by one of our best young lawyers. They
were in possession of so much information that, dovetailing their
statements with my own previous knowledge, I had a fairly perfect fabric
of fact. From this it was simply a little study to deduce practically
certain probabilities. However, I spent a few hours piecing out and
verifying my threads of information. I found that Kull's poor mother
could probably live but a few days or weeks, at most. I found a man
named Coster had been locked up for intoxication here in Griffin, that
he was first seen in town on Saturday and his clothing was splashed with
mud. Friday was a rainy day, you will remember. By the merest chance my
Harkville representative also learned yesterday that Kull had purchased
some saws for cutting steel before leaving town on Tuesday. He had
bought a ticket for Batavia, but that was no certain sign that he would
not stop off in Griffin.

"To see through the man's entire plan now is, of course, like reading it
in print. All that we do not know is just how Coster happened to lose
the Torpedo, then pick up the car of our friends here, which certainly
he did. That we will learn later. The point I would bring to your notice
now is that Kull, whatever his first plan may have been, changed
somewhat his course of action as he found circumstances favoring him. He
had learned of Coster reaching Griffin in an intoxicated condition and
being locked up. He enabled him to escape by passing saws in to him by
means of a long stick put between the bars of the rear corridor window,
which was open. This he did last night, Mr. Fobes believes, and he
probably is correct.

"It is an interesting fact, but not a strange one, for usually it is the
small thing that trips the criminal up,--an interesting fact, observe,
that the dog Kull had been at such pains to be rid of in Harkville, lest
it innocently betray the spot where his car had been concealed, had
appeared here in Griffin to trouble him. To regain possession of the
Torpedo (after having failed to get it placed in a barn where he could
more easily get at it) Kull found it necessary to kill the Scotch
collie. This he did on Sunday night. It was also desirable that Mr.
Creek be placed beyond power to hinder. An anonymous telephone call from
Port Greeley, summoning him there, did the work nicely.

"Now we come to the circumstance that Kull believed so especially
favored him--Coster breaking jail, the Torpedo disappearing, poor old
Mr. Peek assaulted and killed--all this in one night. Where would
suspicion naturally point? To Coster, certainly."

Mr. Rack smiled and paused.

"Wonderful!" exclaimed Mr. Wagg.

"Not at all. The boys deserve more credit than I. And we found so much
additional information the moment we reached Griffin to-night, that the
veriest novice could hardly go wrong. Billy had Coster's measure from
boots up. Fobes knew nothing except that he was able to tell me that
Creek telephoned to him from Port Greeley, stating that there was
deception in his being summoned to that town, and asking him to watch
the garage, which, by the way, he did not do. The time was short and the
only particle of credit we deserve is for having moved at once and
quickly.

"The time was short for Kull to act if he was to take advantage of
favoring circumstances,--that is apparent now and it was before. It
required no great mental power to see that at a glance. Where Kull would
be found was thus easily determined. And, fortunately, we arrived in
time. On my first survey of the Peek place I found nothing but the
Torpedo, partially concealed behind some trees by the roadside and every
light extinguished. Kull could not be far away but I hesitated lest it
should prove that, having not yet entered the house, he should discover
that he was watched. The facts were, he was in the house when we reached
the place. He was waiting to be sure his victim slept. I flashed a light
upon him as he was in the act of striking his first blow and possibly
that was why he struck to one side of the temple and only a flesh wound
resulted. I seized his arms but he escaped me. I fear I might have been
obliged to shoot to frighten him, if nothing more, but for Phil's very
able and timely help."

"But what is _your_ idea as to the reason this fellow Coster left one
car in the road and hid another in the icehouse in place of it?" Mr.
Wagg inquired.

"One of two things--Coster left the car to look about the Peek place,
either knowing or suspecting Kull's ultimate plan of making away with
the old gentleman, and in his absence the machine was in some manner
started forward. Or, and I think more probably, Coster was drunk and
fell from the Torpedo as he saw another car approaching on that
unfrequented road where he did not expect to see, and had no wish to
see, any other traveler. And now, perhaps, we would better bid one
another goodnight," Mr. Rack concluded.

"Might as well make it good-morning," grinned Paul Jones, stepping to a
window, "it's nearly daylight."

The following day Coster made a complete confession to Mr. Rack. The
latter's idea of the entire plans of Kull were substantially correct.
About the abandonment of the Torpedo, Coster said he had been drinking a
great deal and, contrary to his usual experience, the more he drank the
more he feared for his own safety in the car he knew police and
detectives had made prolonged search to find. Seeing a large,
six-cylinder machine come rapidly over a hill toward him, and on that
lonely road where he had been assured he would see no one whomsoever, he
suddenly lost his head. He leaped headlong from the Torpedo into the
bushes at the roadside. Later he had crept forward and, from the
hillside, watched all that the Auto Boys did until they went away in the
empty car. Then he put their machine in the icehouse, guided no doubt by
the drunken notion that he was very considerably the gainer. But instead
of sobering up and meeting Kull at the American House, as had been
agreed he should do, he spent the night in a barn and proceeded to get
drunk again the moment he reached the town in the morning.

"It appears," said Bob Rack, telling the boys, Chief Fobes (who was
still in a perfect fever of wonder and excitement) and Willie Creek the
substance of Coster's confession, the day following Kull's capture,--"It
appears that our Harkville friend concealed his car several days before
he pried the padlock off his garage and reported the machine to have
been stolen. He had hidden the machine in an unused garage attached to a
summer hotel a few miles from the town. Coster obtained it there.
Knowing the case as I do now, I would venture to believe that it was the
apparent success of his first crime, in defrauding the insurance people,
that nerved Kull to carry out his plan further, and so led to the
attempt on the life of old Mr. Peek. His plans were clever, after a
crude fashion, but he made the mistake every criminal makes sooner or
later, in the belief he apparently entertained that deception could be
covered up. In the long run there is no such thing. Even Coster may be
truthful when he declares he did not know Kull had defrauded the
insurance company."



CHAPTER X

EASTWARD HO!


After all this had come to pass, the Auto Boys found that if they so
desired there was nothing to hinder carrying out in full all that they
had purposed to do when the original plan of their eastern vacation tour
had been so amply discussed by the snug fire in Dr. Way's library.

"I propose that we go ahead with the old program," said P. Jones, Esq.,
as he occasionally dubbed himself. "We've got back our Big Six. She's
all right. Nearly all our luggage and other outfitting stuff is all
right. As for gasoline, grub and so on--what's the odds? We're not broke
yet."

"Guess you're right, Jonesy," put in Worth. "For once in your life,
you've about stated the case correctly."

"If the luck keeps up, all right." This from Dave, who could not let go
all his mental bearings without some pessimistic afterthoughts. "But
who's to say it will hold out? One thing I rather insist on, Phil, since
you make a sort of bluff at being our leader. Let's stick to the guide
book route, whether we go through Albany to Boston or whether we
short-cut through the Catskills and down the Hudson to New York. That's
my opinion."

They argued it out that last night at Griffin, which they were to leave
in the morning for the east.

"Somehow I'd like to see New York more'n Boston, I think," remarked Way.
"It would shorten the time of our vacation, and give us more time for
side trips, say to Niagara Falls or, if we went down the Hudson, to West
Point."

"Geewhillikins! Stop it, Phil!" cried Paul, making a grimace. "I tell
you what, boys! After all our troubles we're going to take in the real
country from here on. If I don't see the Falls, 'twill be because you
vote against the Big Six going there."

"And West Point!" This from MacLester, no longer gloomy-viewed. "I've
wanted to see that place ever so long."

"Tell you what we can do," chimed in Billy, who had been listening
intently. "Let's have a sort of elastic program, a go-as-you-please
route, governed each day by taking a vote as to how we'll go from then
on, subject always to approval of a majority of the voters."

"Will that do?" queried Phil humorously. "There are only four votes.
Suppose it's a tie, what then?"

"Aw, Phil!" from the irrepressible Paul. "If it comes to a tie, we'll
keep talking and voting until it's unanimous or three to one. I guess
we've all got some horse sense!"

Without too much stickling for unanimity, it was finally agreed that
while the general plan of the eastern trip should remain the same,
whenever advisable there would also be discussions of the next move
which would require at least a three-to-one vote in order to decide.

"We may all be fools some of the time," voiced Dave sagely, paraphrasing
Lincoln's noteworthy pronouncement, "but we won't all of us be fools all
the time." This while shaking his head dubiously at Jones, Esq., who
sniffed scornfully.

Accordingly, the following morning when the Big Six left Griffin its
course was eastward over the big highway prescribed in the guide book.

Phil, Dave and Paul took turns at the wheel, and when night was again
upon them they were nearing a small town where, according to the guide
book, one might turn to the left and before the day was over be fairly
within an hour or so of Niagara Falls. They put up at a modest hotel,
stored the auto in a convenient garage, took supper and, after a short
stroll along an uninteresting main street, retired for the night to a
large bedroom with two double beds.

Some debate ensued as to whether they should turn off and visit the big
falls, during which Worth dropped off asleep while MacLester nearly
jerked his head loose as he nodded from the depths of an ancient
armchair.

"Aw, what's the use?" grumbled Paul. "_They_ don't care _where_ we go!"
He pointed at Billy snug in bed, while Dave nodded the sleeper's
approval of whatever course might be taken on the morrow. "They don't
care, I say."

"Well, what do you say, Paul?" Phil regarded the boy quizzically. "Have
you ever seen the Falls?"

"No, nor I don't care if I _never_ see 'em. Nothing but a roar of water
and a cloud of wet spray if you go near 'em below." Paul's grammar was
humorously absurd at times.

"How do you know, if you've never been there?"

"Haven't I read and heard about 'em ever since I was knee high to a
duck?"

"Well then, let's vote. You wake Billy up."

While Paul was shaking and struggling with Worth, now angry over being
thus disturbed, Phil gently tweaked Dave's nose until he staggered to
his feet, making half-blind passes at his disturber as he mumbled:

"G'way, you! I--I'll punch your head, you--you--you--" And that was as
far as he ever got.

"We're voting to know if we go to the Falls or keep straight on," urged
Phil loudly. "What is it to be?"

Paul just then relinquishing his clutch on Billy's nightshirt, the
latter flopped back on his pillow, jerked the quilt over his head and
was buried to the outer world. Phil pinched Dave's ear until the nodding
one hauled back and struck out feebly, hitting nothing and throwing
himself back into the big chair's embracing arms.

This being the dumb reply of both, Phil grinned at Paul as he half
whispered:

"What do you vote, Paul? Is it straight on, leaving the Falls for
another time?"

"Bet your life--that's me! Say, Phil, I'll tell you what I'd really like
to do." As he said this Paul drew from his pocket a crumpled, soiled bit
of paper. "Here's something I got hold of at Griffin."

"Right here's where we turn off to the right, according to this paper.
Got it from Fobes. The Chief said he took it from Coster, who was
tearing mad because Fobes got it away from him. Somewhere beyond
here--don't say where--there's a one-horse tavern--old place, pretty
well off the main track. But it's mighty nigh one of the main railroad
lines."

While Paul was talking Phil was examining the paper, growing more
interested as he went on. Now he looked up, saying:

"It looks like a queer game. It may be worth a gambling chance."

"Think of the boodle! That express car was looted near there some years
ago. Another tramp was riding the brake beams and saw the robbers make
off in the nearby woods with their boodle. Papers were full of the
amount taken." Paul smacked his lips as if he tasted in anticipation
what the money would do. "Then this tramp jumped off and followed them.
See? It says so here." Paul pointed to a paragraph in the ragged
clipping. Phil, having already deciphered this, was reading further.
Then he said:

"That tramp was blind in one eye. Do you reckon he could tell and mark
what those robbers did with their boodle?"

"Sure, if he says so. I can see most as well with my hand over one eye
as with my two eyes." Paul in pantomime covered one eye and winked at
Phil, who was obliged to laugh. "Well, what does this tramp do? Why, he
waits round in hiding until them galoots go off after burying their
loot. Then he, like a fool, goes off to sleep. When he woke up his good
eye pained him so that he only marked the spot as best he could and
struck for the nearest house, which happened to be this old tavern."

"I see," remarked Phil ruminatively. "From this it appears he got better
and stayed, making himself so useful, choring about, that they kept him
on. Of course it was the boodle that kept him at work, doubtless meaning
to leave when he got better. Once he sneaked over to this big hemlock
and tried to dig for the money, but owing to the great rock they had
piled over it, and being weak from his sickness, he had to let it go,
meaning, of course, to come back when he was strong again. But he didn't
get strong. His other eye became more affected and in time he went
blind. After that the tavern folks sent him to the county almshouse, and
there he finally died."

"Right-o, Phil!" exclaimed Paul, unable longer to keep silence. "Just
before he pegged out, along came this same Coster's brother, also a
tramp. Tramp number one wouldn't tell the tavern folks because they put
him in the almshouse; but he did tell tramp number two, Coster's
brother, just because he was a tramp like himself, I guess. Coster's
brother belonged somewhere around here and loafed his time away, always
intending to visit the spot. But he, too, got sick and before he died
passed the secret along to Coster. The original thieves never came back
because they were later arrested for another crime, that of killing one
of themselves in a row, and the survivor or survivors were sent up for
life or hanged, I reckon. Anyway, they never bothered any one any more."

"But this old printed paper doesn't tell exactly where the boodle was
hid, except that it was close to a big hemlock and under a big rock."
Phil was shaking his head doubtfully. "Where would that hemlock be?
There are hemlocks scattered in the woods all around here."

"Here's something that Coster gave me while he was in jail, towards the
last. You see, I'd been sort of kind to him, or he took it that way. I
carried him some tobacco. When he found that he was in for a serious
time, he handed out to me not only this paper but a scrawl he'd made on
the back of an old envelope with a bit of pencil I'd given him some days
before. At the time I couldn't make much of what he was up to. But I
guess his bad luck in general was too much for him. After Rack landed
him he seemed to give up. Anyway he gave me both these," meaning the
printed bit of crumpled paper and the old envelope which Paul now passed
to Phil.

"Why didn't you tell us before, eh?" asked Phil sharply. "Aren't we all
comrades together?"

"Yep! But I knew you'd laugh at me for being so simple as to believe
anything Coster said. But since we've reached this place where we are
now, the thing came back to me so strong that I fished out these papers
and looked 'em over again. By jimmineddy! I can't help but think there's
something in all this rigmarole after all."

Phil, after some cogitation, gave back the papers to Paul, saying:

"Let's sleep on it, Paul. You can't get anything out of them now. In the
morning we will go into it again."

In the early morning Billy, who had some advantage over the rest in
point of sleep, was up first, and was presently whanging the others with
his pillow in a way that bade little for further slumbers on their part.

"G'way! get out!" cried Paul, feeling less interest just then in
treasure hunting than in securing a few more winks before the inevitable
bell for breakfast rang forth. "Remember how you acted last night when
we wanted you to sit up and talk!"

As for Dave, the last to be thus treated by the now wakeful Worth, he
grunted, groaned, finally heaving his own pillow at Billy who, dodging
the same, renewed his offensive tactics to such effect that MacLester
presently sprang forth from beside the now dozing Paul and grumblingly
proceeded to dress.

"Dave," began Phil, "I got something to tell you and Billy that I want
you to listen to until you get the thing firmly inside your thinkers.
Then, if you are interested, we'll wake up Paul for good and you can
look at what he's got to show you. He showed it to me last night, after
we tried to get you two to wake up enough to get the facts fairly
through your noddles."

"'Things' and 'noddles'!" This from Billy, tossing his much abused
pillow on the bed. "Why don't you get busy and talk sense? What you got
to show us anyhow? As for Paul, he--he's a--"

"He is, is he?" Paul, thus exclaiming, suddenly sat up and discharged
his own pillow at Billy, but only managed to hit Phil. "I didn't mean
you, Phil. I've been awake for about half a minute, and I know what
you're up to, Phil. Go for 'em, while I dig up the documents."

While Phil was relating the substance of what Paul told him and what the
two papers revealed, MacLester sniffed suspiciously and gradually
assumed his customary expression when doubtful opinions were being
aired, apparently for his own benefit. While Phil was talking, Paul had
extracted the crumpled printed scrap, evidently clipped from some long
forgotten town weekly, and the mysterious pencillings on the mussed
envelope.

One after the other Dave and Billy examined both the printed clipping
and the soiled, misused envelope on which were sundry drawings in
pencil. Finally Dave sniffed suspiciously.

"S'pose we _do_ turn off here and do as Paul wants us to? S'pose we
spend a day or two enlarging our hotel bill, and don't find anything
after all? Besides, who would believe anything Coster says?
Nobody"--here a skeptical look at P. Jones, Esq., now dressing in some
haste--"nobody, I say, but him." Dave jerked a finger at Paul, who was
pulling his shirt on over his head.

"I hear you," came Paul's voice, half smothered as he struggled up
through the shirt and, his head popping into view, he eyed MacLester in
disdain.

"Oh, I don't know!" remarked Worth, nodding at Phil. "What do you think
of it, boss?" meaning Way.

"I think just what I said to Paul last night. It's a gambling chance.
Shall we take it? Is it up to a vote?"

"You bet!" shouted Paul, greatly enthused. "In the first place it will
be lots of fun. No one seems to know anything about this secret place of
hiding or what may possibly be hidden there but us. Do they now?"

"N-no." This from Worth, who was evidently much impressed. "We may be
fooled, but who shall say that Coster wasn't acting on the square? I saw
Paul going out of his way to make Coster a mite more comfortable,
especially after he was caught with the goods on him, so to speak. Bad
as he is, he may have had some notion of doing Paul the only good turn
he alone could do, by putting him wise to this thing. Anyhow, it's fun
and fun is one thing we're after."

"Well, then," remarked Phil, "shall we put it to a vote?"

"Yep--let's vot'er now, right off the bat." So added Jones, by now
fairly in his trousers and reaching for his footgear. "I vote yes--yes,
siree!"

"So do I," said Billy, glancing quizzically at Dave. "Me for treasure
hunting! Gee! Wouldn't I like to feel my shovel scrape something hard,
and see my hand pull out a wad of bank notes all caked with woods dirt?"

"What do you say, Mac?" Phil was looking at MacLester, who colored
slightly.

"I--I'll vote last. You say what you'll do, Phil."

"Oh, well, if you want my decision, I'll say yes." Phil here grinned
openly at Paul. "I'm fond of our youngest comrade and I want to please
him whether we find anything or not."

All looked at Dave, who at first looked foolish, but straightway an open
smile wreathed his ruddy Scotch face as he said:

"I'm with you, Phil! Paul sometimes acts the fool, but he means well all
the same. Here's for the treasure! If we don't get it, maybe we'll have
some fun out of it after all."



CHAPTER XI

PASSING THE LOAD OF HAY


Later that morning the Big Six was spinning over the road eastward from
the small village where the preceding debate had occurred. Before
starting Phil had asked their host if he knew of an old inn some miles
ahead that had formerly been prosperous during the old stage-coaching
days, before the advent of the railroads. The tavern keeper scratched
his head as he reflected. Finally he said:

"Can't think of nary place onless it's what they used to call the Ghost
Tavern, but--law me! That place must 'a' rotted down before now."

Phil intimated that this might be what he was after, asking how far the
inn with the foreboding name might be.

"Might be thirty mile or it might be fifty or more, I can't say. You
might pass it not knowing where it is, and yet be within a few rods of
where it is--or was. It's a woodsy neighborhood, and seems to me that I
heard it had burned down but I won't be sure. Anyhow, that's the only
place I've learned of beyond here, eastward, that in the least is like
what you been asking about. What might you kids be wanting such a place
for? Looks like I'd ruther pass it not knowing there was such a thing
near as a ghost tavern."

Phil replied evasively, for it was decided to say nothing at present as
to what the boys were up to. At least to say nothing that might make
others think that anything out of the common was embodied in their
present purposes.

Before the car started, however, the innkeeper, still scratching his
grizzled head, looked up again, saying:

"Seems like I heard 'way back yonder that there was a tavern near where
a big railroad robbery took place. But I ain't sure. Old folks like me
find that we forgit easier than we remember. However, I wish ye all good
luck. Keep your eyes open, boys, and don't go it blind--at least no
blinder 'n you can help. So long!"

All this strengthened their confidence in the sincerity of Coster's last
bequest to P. Jones, Esq., who plumed himself accordingly, after his
customary manner. He pinched Dave's arm as he said:

"Bet your life, Dave, there was more in what Coster gave me than you
thought! You're driving. You watch the road. Me and Phil and Billy will
keep up a lookout that will not miss that old tavern, ghost or no
ghost."

"S'pose the old rookery has been burned or made way with?" Dave
propounded this while curving his course round a steep embankment that
made the roadway barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass. Before
Paul had time to retort a rumble ahead broke in on their ears. Dave
instantly turned towards the bluff on his right, for the shelving
embankment sloped steeply to the left.

"That's right, Mac!" interposed Paul, his attention being thus diverted
from a witticism at MacLester's expense. "Jam her close to the bluff and
let the other fellow do the worrying."

Just then, round the further end of the curve came a farm wagon loaded
with hay, one man driving as he sat cramped against the dashboard, while
on the load behind was a boy and a girl, both somewhere along their
teens in age. When the farm team saw the purring car they balked, tried
to shy dangerously towards the slope, but the man behind reined them up
so sharply that they were halted midway of the road and about twenty
feet from the car. Dave at once shut off the power and the purring
ceased.

"Say, mister!" called the man anxiously. "How we goin' to pass ye?"

"We've tried to give you all the room we could, don't you see?" This
from MacLester as he leaned coolly back in his seat. "You'll have to
slow up, then go at a walk to the right, won't you?"

"My team's sorter skeery along here. They ain't used to you autermobile
fellers. Whoa thar! What ye up to now?"

The team was trying to shy again as they eyed the strange monster just
ahead that was as terrifying to them as when some unsuspecting hunter
suddenly sees just ahead of him a dangerous beast of prey. Meantime
Phil, noting the alarm of the girl on the hay and similar symptoms in
the younger boy, was taking in the possibilities of the situation. He
signalled to the others to keep silent, then sprang out of the tonneau
and made cautiously towards the team, speaking soothingly the while as
the man held them in tightly.

"Let me get hold of their headstalls," he called, raising his voice
slightly. "I think we can manage it. We'll pass each other all right."

By cautious management, speaking calmly to the horses, Phil managed at
last to seize first one bridle, then the other, rubbing his hand
propitiatingly over their noses, while securing a good grip on the
startled animals, and began leading them to the left, towards the bluff.
At the same time he called to Dave, in a low but distinct tone:

"Loose the brake! Get out, two of you, and back the car gently. Keep her
headed towards the middle of the road. Don't release your clutch, Dave."

With some difficulty Phil's directions were implicitly followed by the
boys, all of whom had learned in the past to defer to Phil's judgment
when sudden decisions were required. When the Big Six was squarely
midway of the road and pointed slightly outward towards the dangerous
slope, the car was halted, and Paul and Billy clambered back into the
machine.

"Now, my friend," said Phil, "if I lead them, can you turn in close to
the bluff, right where we were when we first saw you?"

"I'll try mighty hard. Whoa, Jack! Easy now, Jill!"

With Way still at their heads, the wagon and its cumbrous load were
safely jammed against the side of the bluff.

"Perhaps the young lady and the boy better get off on the upper side.
We'll try to pass you, but your team may not like the situation." Phil
smiled. "It may cause trouble, but we will be as careful as we can."

"Well, boss," said the man, "you sure are good boys. My team--well, I
don't know what they might have done if I'd tried to pass you on the
outside."

He turned back to the couple on the hay. "Say, Danny, you slide off and
then help Nan down. Be keerful! Remember she's your sister, and if she
gets a fall you'll have to settle with me later."

Danny, a straw-hatted, barefooted lad with a freckled face and dangling
legs, managed to slide himself down against the bluff and also managed
to assist the girl in following him to a spot where they could uneasily
await further developments.

"Better not start your car until I git by," remarked the farmer, while
Phil, still holding the bridles, aided the loaded wagon to slip by the
red monster, now quiet enough on the dangerous side of the road. Once
their backs were towards the machine the team quieted down quickly
enough.

"Let me help you down, miss," said Phil, who never forgot his manners,
springing back towards the young couple climbing down to the roadway.

Danny, like many brothers, having scrambled down unaided, went to his
father's aid, though aid was now unnecessary. Phil soon helped Nan down,
the weight of her plump young body convincing him that she must be
several years older than Dan.

"I'm mightily obliged, sir," she lisped, with an upward glance at the
boy as he landed her squarely on her feet, not bare like her brother's
but clad in fairly dainty footwear. "I don't know what we'd 'a' done but
for you."

"Pshaw, that's nothing! I'm sure glad we were on hand, Miss--" He
hesitated. "Is there anything more we can do?"

Nothing, apparently; but before starting the car again, Paul called out:

"Say, Mister! How far is it to the nearest town on this road?"

"Ten mile, I reckon. We live three miles beyond."

As the car started Phil waved a hand from the auto, whereat a white
handkerchief fluttered back an answering signal.

Dave turned back to Way, saying:

"Blame if I don't believe you've made a regular mash on that girl--hey,
Paul?" Paul, now at the wheel, was too busy to reply.

"Wonder what they were doing so far from home with a load of hay?" said
Dave.

"It's past haying time now," was Worth's comment. "Must be taking it off
somewhere to sell. If so, that explains why the girl was dressed so
nicely."

"How about the man and boy?" asked Paul. "They looked like real
hayseeds."

"How'd you want 'em to look?" This from Dave. "When you're selling hay
you can't load or unload in your Sunday go-to-meeting clothes."

"Well," remarked Phil, "whoever and whatever they are, we tried to be
decent to them. I reckon they're all right."

"Especially the girl, eh?" laughed Paul. "Oh, you Nan! Wasn't that her
name, Phil? You ought to know."

Phil passed this by without reply, as he talked about other matters.
Little did any of them then think that they had not seen the last of
those three whom they had saved from possible accident and bodily danger
by giving them the safest side of the road.

From then on for half an hour the car glided smoothly through a rich
farming section where the houses and barns looked prosperous and the
numerous stacks of grain and hay and the sleek herds of cattle betokened
that the owners or tenants were by no means on the wrong side of
prosperity. Then the timbered tracts increased, and a series of low,
rugged hillsides opened up until at a sudden bend they saw the town
whose smoke had been for some time indicative of this break in the
hitherto uninterrupted rural expanse of their morning's ride.

It was not a big town, being off the railroad lines, which were a mile
or so to one side, but it looked prosperous and was doubtless the center
of the rural trade activities for some miles around. It being now about
the noon hour, the car stopped before a modest hotel for a noonday
lunch. There were two larger hostelries on the main street, but from
motives of prudent economy the boys preferred the less expensive
taverns.

"Yes, we will have dinner ready in a few minutes," remarked a
comfortable looking woman who seemed to be in charge of the tiny office.
"Make yourselves at home. Why, are you lads from Lannington?" This after
reading the register.

"That is our home town, madam," replied Phil. "Do you know the place?"

"Well, I should say I did!" The woman smiled. "I was raised there. Been
off here ever since I married."

"Lannington is where we live," remarked Worth, after inscribing his name
on the register with a flourish. "We're on a vacation trip, ma'am."

"It might be that you knew our folks when you lived there," was Dave's
contributing remark, for he saw that she was reading their names and
smiling more broadly than before.

"Why, yes, I do know some of them. I knew Dr. Way, and there was his
friend Lawyer Dilworth, and the MacLesters. I feel as if I knew you all
right now."

And she offered her plump hand, which was cordially shaken as the boys
explained more about their folks, then added:

"My name now is Ewing. I'm known as the Widow Ewing round here. My
husband has been dead three years or so. Before that, in Lannington, I
was a McKnight. One of my brothers runs a garage there. Know him?"

"Well, rather! Hey, Phil? We got this car mainly through his aid.
McKnight & Wilder--they're some punkins when it comes to automobiles!"

After this all was plain sailing for the boys. Mrs. Ewing insisted that
they should remain until the morrow.

"Won't cost you much. We'll cut the regular bill in half, for you're
home folks, aren't you?"

And it may be said that she had her way. The Big Six was put in the
hotel garage and the boys were made comfortable in two adjoining rooms;
and in the morning even Phil was astonished at the exceedingly small
bill which they had to pay. He could only thank the comely widow, who
laughed it off with:

"If you boys are simply on a vacation trip, you're bound to spend more
than you think you will. I'd gladly keep you for nothing, but times are
hard and I have to make some charge."

Cautious inquiries by Phil resulted in learning that there had been, and
still might be further on an old inn of the pre-railroad days. But it
was off the main road, in the roughest, heaviest wooded section,
somewhere about eight or ten miles off to the east. That region, it
appeared, was poor, swampy, and so inferior to other land lying all
about that hardly anyone lived there, even though in the midst of a
thickly settled country.

In the privacy of their rooms the four lads concluded that they would
say nothing directly referring to the railroad robbery or the hiding of
supposed treasure. They were so near the scene that any revival of that
now old-time tragedy might cause annoying inquisitiveness even if
nothing more resulted.

After breakfast, while the boys were making a few purchases and taking
on a generous supply of gasoline, they learned from Mrs. Ewing that "Dan
and Nan, with their Daddy, old Pat Feeney," had just gone by.

"And who are they?" queried Phil carelessly, though with a shrewd
suspicion in his mind at the time.

"Oh, he's an Irishman and lives three or four miles from here on the
edge of some marshland where he pretends to farm. But I guess the most
of his farming consists in cutting the marsh-grass during the summer and
selling it for hay to those who don't know what good hay really is."

"I guess we must have met him some ten or twelve miles back. We had
quite a time passing him, for it was where the road runs along a side
hill, with the bluff on one side and a steep embankment on the other. We
stopped our car for his team was scared and after some delay they
passed. They seemed to appreciate what we did, instead of rushing by and
probably scaring the whole outfit into the ditch. The girl was rather
pretty."

"Ah, you boys!" The widow smiled shrewdly. "Always an eye out for the
girls! But don't you allow yourselves to think that what a girl looks,
so she always is underneath the surface."

"Are you coming back this way?" the widow finally asked, as the car was
about to start. "If you don't stop, I--I will feel hurt. I'm homesick at
times for the town where I was raised."

"Tell you what," said Billy after the car had left the small but busy
town a mile or two in their rear, "Mrs. Ewing treated us bang up, but
she's a keen one, after all. I'm glad we saw her. It will be something
to tell McKnight when we get home. Do you reckon those Feeneys are the
ones we passed?"

"What if they are or if they ain't?" demanded Paul. "We won't be likely
to meet 'em again, will we?"

"Oh, you shut up, Jonesy. There's no one interested in 'em but Phil, and
the best way to define that is by a lesson in spelling." Here Billy made
a comical face as he began: "N-a-n, Nan. That, translated into plain
lingo, means pretty girl--ouch! Quit, Phil!" For Phil, seated in the
tonneau with Worth, had administered a decided pinch.

On sped the Big Six, easily showing what she could do along an
increasingly rough road that might once have been a much traveled
highway but now showed ample signs of the neglect of later years. The
wooded tracts increased, growing larger in area; the half cultivated
fields evinced even more of the neglect and shagginess that wait on
lands wholly or in part abandoned by man. Sundry denizens of the woods
such as rabbits, squirrels, even a stray fox, together with many birds,
and upflying broods of quail, also indicated that nature was gradually
replacing human inactivity in her own way.

"By the way," remarked Worth, "didn't that man with the hay say he lived
some three miles from that town we stopped in--what's the confounded
name?"

"Midlandville, stupid!" This from P. Jones, Esq., with a superior air.
"That was one of the first things I heard."

"Coster's paper didn't mention that burg, did it?" asked Dave.

"Reckon not. But on this envelope," here Phil took out the pencilled
scrap, "there's a dot with the word 'town' beside it that I take to mean
the same thing. Here runs the railroad, going east and west. Look at
this line running due southeast. Somewhere along that line I figure
there ought to be signs of the old tavern. I guess we've left that town
at least six or eight miles behind."

Where they were now much of the timber appeared to be second growth, and
such hemlocks as they saw were small.

In a shaded spot to the right of the ill-kept highway they stopped at a
small rivulet for the noonday lunch. This was eaten rather silently. In
fact, so gloomy were their surroundings that after eating Phil Way
proposed that they should divide themselves, two in each party, and
explore to the north and south of the highway for a mile or so, making a
detour into the forest as they went.

"I'm with you," said Paul briskly. "I'm getting tired of all this
guessing. Let's start from here, Phil, and take a half circle northwest,
then west, then south, crossing the highway. After another mile, we'll
turn east, then northeast, then north until we strike the road again.
Dave, you and Billy do the same thing, only turn northeast, east, then
south and so on so as to bring you back to the road not far from where
we all are now."

But before any comment could be made on this plan there came a sudden
interruption.



CHAPTER XII

NAN AND THE JERSEY BULL


There came a soft clatter of feet on the shaded greensward, and into
view came the flying form of a girl, barefooted, sunbonneted, with a
cheap calico gown showing a pair of graceful ankles, her touzled but
abundant hair hardly half held by the pins. A second glance assured the
boys that they knew that reddish coiffure, though now in disarray, and
that supple form. It was undoubtedly the girl of the hay wagon, her
finery laid away, and now chastely clad in the dangerously skimpy home
attire, wherever that still mysterious home of hers might be.

Seeing the boys, their car, and the remains of the noonday meal, she
paused, hesitated, then burst forward, exclaiming:

"Oh, oh! It's you, is it?" She gave a frightened glance behind her, and
at the same time the boys thought they detected a low but growing rumble
indicative of a coming bellow. "I'm so glad--ah-h! Listen at him!"

"What is it, Miss Nan?" queried Phil, at once alert.

"It's Dad's Jersey bull," she said. "He's got loose somehow."

Just then the rumble rose into an unmistakable bellow, and a yellowish,
bovine form hove into sight from the timber, halted and stared wildly
about. First he saw the boys and the barefooted girl. Then, lashing his
tail, he came on at a galloping run, uttering angry snorts at every
step.

Realizing before the others that here might be actual danger, Phil again
rose to the emergency. He pulled out a flaming scarlet bandana
handkerchief, which Paul had more than once made fun of, and which Phil
seldom was caught using. Happening to have it with him now, Phil pointed
at the Big Six standing near, bright colored and easily attractive to a
mad bull.

He darted toward the oncoming Jersey, crying:

"All of you get in the car--quick! I'll draw the bull! When he takes
after me start her up! Then I'll take a chance and jump in, if you'll
swing round near me. Hump yourselves!"

Dave at once saw what Phil was up to. He wanted to save the car from the
bull's attack, for the animal was in a mood to attack anything bright
enough, gay enough. Before Phil had finished, Dave sprang into the
driver's seat, while Paul and Billy, both assisting the girl, jumped
into the tonneau. Dave released the clutch and off they went, the bull
missing the rear end by hardly a yard.

Daunted by the fierce snorts emitted by the car the bull halted,
roaring. Then his eye caught the flare of a brilliant red something that
Phil was waving to and fro under his inflamed nostrils. The sight of
scarlet always went to his bullish head, and now made him more mad. With
another louder roar his bullship turned furiously on this new tormentor.

For several moments it was nip and tuck between the Jersey and his foe,
who always was just behind that flaring expanse of scarlet. Only a brief
spell of such hairbreadth maneuvering was sufficient to produce
shortness of breath on Phil's part, at least.

Would that car never wheel in his direction? Fearing exhaustion, but
flirting the bandana behind him, Phil made straight for the shady copse
under which they had dined. Then he vanished so quickly that Mr. Bull,
scenting mystery, halted and lashed his flanks with his tail. Dave saw
the trick Phil was playing. His car veered round the other side of the
copse, whirling up to within ten feet of where Phil stood panting, while
the Jersey plunged round the far side. Paul flung open the door of the
tonneau.

"In with you, Phil! Lively now!" came the command.

Phil made the first leap, then the second. His face was red with
exertion, his legs wabbly under the strain they had been under, and at
the third and final plunge they threatened to give way under him. With a
half cry, half scream, Nan pushed herself through the door Paul was
holding wide open, as the car veered close under Dave's dexterous hand.

"Ketch my hand, mister!" she cried and managed to clutch Phil's fingers
in a grip surprisingly strong for a girl. With his free hand Paul
clutched Phil's other hand and the two managed to half drag, half pull
Phil inside, where he fell panting to the floor of the tonneau.

Meantime Dave, far from idle, saw that Phil was making the connection.
He also saw that Mr. Bull was dangerously near making another kind of
connection with the near wheel's guard with one of those sharp pointed
horns.

"Here we go!" he shouted, and the Big Six made a powerful spring
forward, beyond the reach of this four-footed terror that bawled, glared
and snorted in a now vain pursuit.

Both Paul and Nan helped Phil up and, with a gasp or two he sank back on
the seat, still flourishing the kerchief.

"Well, what d'you think of that!" cried Paul, after assuring himself
that Phil was all right. "Did you ever see a madder bull?"

Meanwhile Dave, taking to the road again, soon placed distance and some
timber growth between themselves in the Big Six and the bull.

"Well, Miss Nan," said Phil, who had recovered, "that was what you were
scared at and I don't wonder. Does he often do that way?"

"Not often." The girl was trying to hide her feet, somehow feeling that
she was now where clothes assume greater importance than they do at home
on the farm. "I was out after blueberries. Sam--that's what we call
him--had got out of the pasture, and when he saw me I think a bee or
something had stung him. Anyway, he blamed it on me. He took after me
full tilt and I had to run. I don't know what I'd done but for you all."

"I'm sure we were glad to be where we could help," encouraged Phil,
"though I feel sure I don't long for another such narrow escape. I must
thank you, too, Miss Nan, for helping Paul drag me aboard, for I was
about all in."

"Don't you worry, Nan," broke in Paul, who had been taking in the girl's
embarrassment. "I lived on a farm when I was smaller, and we didn't
bother much about how we dressed. I'm sure you look well, no matter what
clothes you wear."

Nan blushed while Paul, feeling that he had done well, turned to Dave.

"Where you going now, Mac?"

"Just jogging along. But perhaps we better stop and find out what we're
going to do next. What you think, Phil?"

"Oh, there's my berry pail!" said the girl, pointing at an overturned
tin bucket near the roadside. "If you will let me out I'll be going on."

"Do you live near? But of course you do, or you wouldn't have run across
your bull. Could we take you home?" This from Phil.

"I--I wouldn't mind," she rather hesitatingly said. "But I must get the
pail." And out she jumped, running to the overturned bucket, scooping up
most of the berries that had been spilled, then hurrying back, saying as
she got in:

"I wouldn't bother you but there's an old tumble-down house that folks
say has a ghost or something near here. It used to be a tavern 'way back
years ago. Somehow I always dread to go near it alone, and I always go
round it when I'm out after blueberries, but this road goes right near
it."

"Why, I don't see any sign of a house round here," remarked Dave. "I've
stuck to this old road because I supposed it would lead somewhere."

"I know," she returned. "The woods, so plentiful about here, are
thicker'n ever where the ruins be. We're about two miles from my house.
It's more open there; fields and so on. Sam must 'a' strayed a good
bit."

"We'll take you home, Nan," quoth Paul, and Billy nodded in assent. "But
maybe you could tell us more about that house. When we get close, you
know."

Here Phil gave both the other boys a warning look as he inquired if they
must turn round in order to go where her home lay. Nan nodded, pointing
eastward as she replied:

"Just follow the road the way I'm pointing now. I'll tell you when we
get nearest to that old place. It's about two miles to our house from
there."

Congratulating himself that they were so easily put in the way of
finding what they had come so far to see, Phil passed the signal round
for the others to keep still and let him do the talking.

By this time Nan was much more at her ease with the boys. She told them
of the extent of the woods and how she lived on a small farm at one edge
of the great second-growth timber which was the predominating feature of
this half swampy section. Moreover Phil, too, noted that here and there
were larger hemlock trees, though none of very great size or ancient
appearance.

"Has anyone seen the ghost lately?" queried Phil. "Is it a real ghost,
or merely the echo of tales that have been current around here for
years?"

"I'm sure I don't know," said Nan. "Once, not long ago, father and I
were riding by after dark. I'm sure I saw a kind of brightness in the
thick woods where we knew that old tavern was. It was brighter, yet
somehow pale; made me think of ghosts right away."

"What did your father think of it?"

"He never said, but when I spoke of it he drove along faster; but all
he'd say was, 'Shucks!' I guess he don't more'n half believe in them
ghosts nohow."

They laughed at this, but they noted that the timber grew thicker as the
car glided at slow speed along the little used road. Finally Nan began
pointing in a certain direction as the road curved, and a thicker growth
of cedar, pine and other evergreens began not far away.

"It's somewhere in there," she said. "We'll glimpse some of the roof and
walls presently."

Sure enough, as the car hummed along, through the thick foliage they
glimpsed weather beaten walls and parts of a roof covered by roughly
rived boards, with gaps here and there, and all brown with age. It
looked as if it might be eighty to a hundred yards back from the mere
wagon trail the road had now become.

"Shall we stop and take a look?" asked MacLester, gradually slowing up.
"It's bright, noonday sunshine and if there are any haants about, I
reckon now's the time of day when they take a rest."

But as the car slowed down Nan's alarm began to increase. Phil watched
her curiously. She did not look like a girl unduly afraid of ghosts, at
midday especially. Yet it was plain enough to see that she was vaguely
uneasy. After all, why stop now? They knew where the old tavern was and
could begin their investigations later. Besides, they did not want
outside witnesses.

"Better drive on, Davy," said Phil. "We must take Miss Nan home."

The girl's relief was evident at once when Dave increased the speed. In
another minute or so the house was no longer visible. Paul, looking
back, said half to himself:

"It's a cinch, Phil! By Ned! I'm going to see more of it before night,
or bust a trace!"

"Ugh!" shuddered Nan. "You can't mean that you want to go back there, do
you?"

"Why not? We're strangers round here and when we find something curious
yet unknown, that scares off the folks that have lived by it for years,
it's only natural to get our curiosity up to a point that we've just
_got_ to do something."

The car sped on through the woods, then past open fields and soon they
came up to a rather battered farmhouse with sundry outbuildings near it
and stacks of hay which had been cut evidently from the neighboring
marshes that jutted in and out of the timbered lands. At the gate Nan
sprang down, and at the same time out came the farmer, followed by the
same boy they had before seen on the hay-load.

Being invited inside, the boys entered the sitting-room, where two other
men, garbed more like town dwellers, were seated. The farmer greeted the
boys warmly, recalling to them their kindly behavior along the side-hill
road a day or so before. At the same time the two men got up to leave,
giving the farmer a modest price for their dinners and remarking that
they might be back again shortly.

"Keep a bright lookout, Mr. Feeney. No knowing what you might run up
against," one said and they were gone. After this the boys had a
sociable chat with Feeney, who pressed them to stay all night.

"Shan't cost you a cent, boys, for you were good to us when Jack and
Jill might have balked and dumped us over that bluff."

"Well, it is possible we may come back. But in the meantime we want to
have a look round at the timber."

"Int'rested in timber, are ye? How'd ye come to meet up with Nan?"

The incidents connected with the Jersey bull were briefly related, Nan
emphasizing how Phil had risked himself in her behalf and that they had
kindly brought her home. This too pleased Feeney, who insisted more than
before that they should stop with him while they were in the
neighborhood.

"This is, in the main, a thick settled country, lads," said Feeney. "But
right about here for a few miles there's hardly anybody but us really
livin' here."

"It may be that we will take up your offer," remarked Phil. "But you
must not let us stop here unless we pay you a fair price. If those men
come back you'll hardly have room for more."

"Don't worry about that. We'll make room. Them men, I don't know what
they be up to. They won't be back from Midlandville for a day or two, I
guess."

With no definite promise to return the boys left, going along the road
they had come with Nan, and on the way Phil busied himself in studying
the pencilled map on the old envelope which had been given to Paul by
Coster.

There was a square in the center marked "Tavern," doubtless the place
the boys had seen that day through the thick timber growth. A straight
line ran off in one direction to a point marked on the border of the map
"south," followed by the note: "From Tavern half a mile." Close to this
was a rude skeleton, with a black spot close by marked "treasure rock."
The skeleton of a tree had a huge split through the trunk, in which were
the words "big split hemlock."

On the opposite edge of the map marked "north" was added "to railroad,
half-mile." East and west through the center, lengthwise of the
envelope, ran an irregular line close by the tavern, which was indicated
by the word "highway."

The whole thing was simple and seemingly plain, and all they apparently
had to do was to take a due south course from this building shown as the
ghost tavern, for half a mile. Right near where they had paused when Nan
was showing glimpses of the old building, they turned the car into a
grove of young second-growth spruces and halted. They were now hidden
from view from the road, that was clear.

"Can we leave this car here safely?" queried Billy dubiously.

"I doubt if it is safe," replied Dave, naturally cautious where the Big
Six was concerned. "Billy, let's you and me flip a nickel to see who
stays with the car. I ain't anxious to go that half mile; I _am_ anxious
to know the car'll be here when we come back."

After some discussion there was a toss up and Dave won. Billy looked
vexed.

"Aw, what's the use of anyone staying?" he growled. "The car's safe
enough."

"What is the use of running risks?" rebuked Phil. "After what we went
through back at Griffin we must take no more chances."

Worth resigned himself to the inevitable, but it was evident that he
would much rather have gone with the others.

As the three boys disappeared Billy blinked a while, finally stretching
out in the tonneau, pulling over himself Paul's big rug and--though he
did not mean to--he soon fell asleep. The woods were unusually quiet; no
wind, much shade, with a soothing buzz and hum of insects that was in
itself conducive to drowsiness.

The other three, not deeming it necessary to actually visit the old
tavern just then, took the compass with which Paul had provided himself
and struck out due south.

"How will we know when we have gone half a mile?" suddenly questioned
Paul. "It's too thick with underbrush to pace off so many yards. Say,
how many yards in half a mile? Anyone know?"

"Seventeen-sixty in a mile," said Dave, drawing from his pocket one of
those circular shielded tape measures. "Figure it out for yourselves."

"Eight hundred and eighty, you gander!" This from Paul, looking after
Phil, who had gone on ahead with the compass. "Gimme hold of one end!
How long is the thing, anyhow?"

Stretched out, it seemed that the tape was ten yards long. With Paul
linking a finger in the ring and Dave holding the circular shield, the
boys began their march after Phil. Paul, breaking a twig when he came to
a stopping place, would forge on again with Dave carefully following,
keeping the line taut until Paul, stumbling, jerked the reel from Dave's
hand and thereby created some confusion. Both had been keeping count of
each ten yards, but there was a difference of one length of the tape
between.

"Aw--why didn't you hold to your end? I tell you my count is right!"

"No, it ain't," was MacLester's reply. "What I know, I _know!_"

This difficulty finally adjusted, the pair resumed their march in Phil's
wake, who had taken particular pains to leave a trail of broken branches
so that the rest could follow. Going thus, they diligently but slowly
kept on until Dave suddenly looked up, shouting:

"Eighty-eight lengths! We're there--eight hundred and eighty yards.
Hullo! What's become of Phil?"

No Phil was in sight.



CHAPTER XIII

THE KIDNAPERS


Phil, it appeared, was the only one to think out two reasons why there
was little necessity for being exact about measurements. Coster had
drawn his rough diagram on the envelope probably from memory. It was,
according to Coster, somewhere near a half mile from the tavern to the
split hemlock. The main thing was to keep the proper direction, if
anything like strict obedience was due to the pencilled chart. Therefore
he took upon himself the sole task of going south, and when he had
convinced himself that he was somewhere in the neighborhood of that half
mile, he began to look about for the big split hemlock.

None could he then see. There were other hemlocks, but all of a younger,
second-growth variety. So he ranged to and fro, but no such tree could
he find. The undergrowth was not thick, yet it prevented clear vision of
anything more than a few yards away. He was about to give up, feeling a
first sense of coming despair, when he caught sight of a high bulge
upward through the tops of some clumps of bushes. He sprang on a nearby
log and his pulse thrilled a bit when he saw that what was in view was
the rounded top of a big rock.

Impetuously he leaped on through the bushes, but when nearly there he
stumbled and fell over a tree root. Following the fallen trunk he noted
an enormous split, extending from where the trunk divided halfway down
towards the upturned root.

"By hokey! Can this be it?"

Plunging through the thick bushes, he reached the place where the
branches spread out over the ground, first noticing that the withered
leaves, like needles, still sharp and pointed, were undoubtedly of the
hemlock variety. Moreover, the big rock which had first caught his
attention seemed to be about the proper distance from where the roots
showed the hemlock must have stood before the storm, or whatever caused
it to fall, had done its work.

About this time he heard calls from his partners, for Phil was yet
hidden from them by intervening bushes. Moreover, he was some distance
away, which confirmed one of two facts. Either the two lads had measured
or counted wrong in their advance with the tapeline or, as Phil
concluded, the distance was only approximate. A prisoner, trusting
largely to memory, Coster could not be exact, unless by sheer accident.

"Hullo! Here I am, boys! Come this way!"

They came, Phil assisting their progress by calling out now and then.
When they arrived, no hemlock being in sight, the boys stared first at
Phil seated on the trunk of an upturned tree, then at the boulder close
by.

"How'd you get way out here?" demanded Paul.

"Followed my nose! How would you think?" Phil looked amused. "What's
that you got--a tapeline?"

"Yep," replied Dave. "Wanted to be exact as possible."

Phil laughed. Said he:

"Do you reckon Coster was very exact when he drew that map--from
memory?"

"Oh--stuff! I don't see any big split hemlock."

"You're looking at it, stupid! I'm sitting on the butt of it, and right
there is the rock, I think."

At first inclined to scoff, both lads now saw Phil's side of it at once.
Dave looked about again.

"It's a thick place here," he ventured. "You were lucky to stumble on it
this way, Phil."

"Didn't stumble on it. I was particular about keeping my compass right.
When I got where I thought I might have gone half a mile or so I began
to look round a bit. I couldn't see any big split hemlock, but I did
manage to find this big rock. After that it was easy to find the tree,
even though it had been blown down."

After some further talk it was agreed that the first step would be to
return to the car. Then they would decide upon what to do next.

"I think we should visit that old tavern while we are here," remarked
Paul. "No knowing what we might find there. If there's an old shovel or
anything, we might come back and dig under that rock for a starter."

Phil and Dave also had their theories as to what should next be in
order, but nothing conclusive was determined on. Meanwhile the three,
threading the trail Phil had first followed and which Dave and Paul had
made more distinct, they finally reached the clump of shade trees where
they had left Billy on guard over the Big Six.

But in the place of the glistening car with Billy Worth still on guard
there was only a vacant place. No glimpse of either was anywhere to be
seen.

"Look here--on the ground," exclaimed Paul, pointing here and there.
"Somebody else has been here! Looks as if there had been a scuffle!"

Where Paul was pointing there were signs of many footsteps, inextricably
intermingled, with sundry deep gouges in the loose soil as if those who
made them were in a struggle of some kind.

"Look here, boys!" Dave was holding up a soiled handkerchief that he had
found underneath a jumble of twigs and leaves evidently kicked together
by those engaged in the scuffling, signs of which were more than
plentiful. "By jimminy! That's Billy's handkerchief or I'm blind!"

Sure enough, it was Billy's, for in one corner were his initials which
the boys had often seen on many of his belongings.

Phil meanwhile had been taking a comprehensive survey of the whole
scene. Presently he noted that while the struggles had gone on mostly in
one spot, there were, at one side, clear markings of the car wheels as
it was steered in a semicircle towards the very road along which the
boys had traveled not more than an hour or so before.

"Boys," said he, "I hate to acknowledge it, but Billy must have been
surprised by somebody. Probably outnumbered, too. These tracks show that
Billy must have put up a good fight; but they were too many for him,
whoever they were. Come on! We've no time to lose!" And straightway he
began following the tracks through the straggly undergrowth until he
reached the road.

The others, catching the significance of Phil's suspicions, plodded
after, taking in as they went where the car, avoiding the more open
spaces, had plunged through the thicker growth. Evidently those on board
were bent on gaining the road by the nearest route, and at a point
somewhat beyond where the car had turned off when the boys first reached
that place.

To the right was the old tavern, and at one spot the car had stopped
where there were signs that a path had been crushed out in traveling
through the brush towards the tavern.

"Look here," said Phil. "What does this mean?"

The signs were plain that something or someone had been half dragged or
carried along towards the old Ghost Tavern.

"What had we better do?" exclaimed Dave. "Follow the car or take a look
into that old ramshackle building?"

"Gee! Why, Billy may have been carried there--hark!"

At this from Paul all listened intently. There were certainly queer
sounds to be heard somewhere ahead. Phil dashed boldly forward, calling:

"Dave, you go back and see which way that car went! Then come back to
Paul and me. Get a hustle on now!"

Paul, dashing on after Phil, heard Dave grunt a dubious acquiescence as
he turned back towards the road. They could trust Dave. He was often
doubtful, even dubious, but he had sharp eyes and good judgment in the
main.

A minute or so later Phil, followed closely by Jones, reached a more
open space, though overgrown with straggly weeds and grass.

"This must be the yard of the old inn," remarked Phil. "Look, Paul!"

He was pointing where the woods trail on entering the yard showed
distinct signs where some hard objects had been half dragged. It was as
if boot-heels had dented the soft places in a steady imprint.

Just then came sounds from inside the house that might have been grunts
or groans of pain. Without a halt Phil dashed over the porch, where
heavier weights had partially crushed the rotten flooring. Avoiding
these places, the two boys--Phil still in the lead--entered a short
hallway, where was a doorless opening that led into what once had
doubtless been the tavern office.

On the floor of the porch and hallway were fresh tracks, with the trail
of shoe or boot-heels dragging along. The office room looked dark
inside, though a couple of sashless windows let in some light which was,
however, little more than shadowy gloom from the overhanging branches of
the trees without. While they stared, listening, something stirred and
scraped the dusty floor in a far corner, where a short counter toppled
outward as if in danger of falling over.

"What's that?" echoed Phil. "Is it anybody?"

Muffled, jerky noises issued from the recess under the half tumbling
counter. With an exclamation Paul darted forward, reached under the
counter and felt an object that at once electrified the boy.

"Let's pull it out, Phil!" he urged. "It may be--"

Aided by Phil, Paul dragged forth a bound form, tied hand and foot with
improvised shreds of cloth, the mouth tightly gagged with a couple of
kerchiefs--in a word, Billy!

"Why, Billy, you poor boy!" exclaimed Phil, whipping out his knife and
in another minute releasing the cords that bound him and cutting loose
the cruel gag that had been so tightly forced into the lad's mouth that
the corners of his lips were bleeding.

They bore him out of the porch to a grassy place, where with a sudden
wriggle Billy sat upright, twisted his neck about, gulped a time or two,
then stared at his comrades as if astonished.

"D-didn't you hear me holler?" he asked. "But of course you didn't.
Before I was half awake they had me down out of that car trying to gag
and bind me."

"Who, Billy? Just what do you mean?"

"I mean those two chaps that caught me fast asleep under Paul's rug on
the back seat, taking forty winks when I ought to have kept wide awake."

"Two men?" Instantly Phil's thoughts ran back to the two strangers they
had seen at Feeney's who seemed so anxious to get away as soon as the
boys arrived with Nan.

"Would you know them if you saw them? Were they the two strangers we saw
at Feeney's? Think hard, Billy!"

"Confound 'em--they had on handkerchiefs that covered their faces, so I
could hardly tell. I didn't get more'n a glimpse or two along at first.
Then they pulled something over my head after gagging me so tight it
hurt. My mouth is sore now." Billy dubiously fingered the corners of his
mouth. "One thing I'm sure of. One of the men we saw at Feeney's had on
a visored gray cap and gray clothes. The other wore something darker. I
feel sure the gray-clad man was one of 'em. Of course I never got half a
glimpse of their faces."

"Recognize these handkerchiefs?" asked Phil, showing the ones used in
binding and gagging. "Two of 'em are bandanas: the others of a soiled,
nondescript variety that might have belonged to tramps of any sort."

By this time Billy was more himself, being pretty well recovered from
his recent manhandling. He was the first to think again of the Big Six.

"I'm all right now, fellows. Let's see what went with the car. They
stopped with me some distance from this old rookery. Gosh! If it wasn't
for the car, I'd like to take a look around!"

But, like Worth, whom they were most glad to have with them again, all
hated to feel that the pride of their hearts, their new car, was gone.
But where?

At this juncture they were joined by MacLester, who after greeting Billy
very effusively for one who had seen him just two hours before, turned
to the others, interrupting Worth's brief recital of what had happened
to him.

"Boys," Dave began, "I followed those tracks about thirty yards or so;
then they turned towards the railroad; right through the woods, too.
Rough going for a car like ours. I bet she's all scratched up by now, if
nothing worse happens to her."

"Did you go any further, Dave?" This from Paul eagerly.

"Why, yes! Presently the car struck another old trail that led towards
the road, and I picked up this."

Mac held out the visored cap Worth had mentioned to Paul and Phil. At
sight of it Billy grabbed it and turned it over in his hands as he said:

"That's the one the chap in gray wore, I'm sure."

"Must 'a' got knocked off going through the woods," said Dave. "I think
they were in a hurry or they'd never have plunged along the way they did
over such rough places."

"Well, if we're through here, let's get on." Thus spoke Phil, ever
mindful of the lost car. "I took a look into a back room of the old
tavern, and I saw a queer outfit--looked as if they'd been camping and
working there. Saw tools, and what looked like a sort of forge or
fireplace. But we've no time now for anything but to look after the car.
Come on!"

Rapidly now the four lads pushed through the woods along the old road,
then into the woods again along the open trail that led recklessly over
rocks, through thick undergrowth and over fallen saplings, with here and
there uneven rifts and rises, showing that nothing but superior motor
power could have propelled the machine thus far.

"Bust their dirty hides!" said Paul wrathfully. "Those two ain't fit to
drive cattle to water! Hello! What's that?"

Jones, being in the lead, was pointing at a tumbled mass of their own
outfit that had been dumped overboard during a rapid downward course,
the end of which was not in sight owing to the thicker screen of bushes
beyond, which the partially denuded car somehow had crashed through.

Paul and Billy paused to gather up the suitcases, bags of bedding, and
the wicker hamper containing their present supply of food, while Dave
and Phil hurried ahead, their route roughly descending now until,
reaching the thick screen where the car had crashed through, they came
unexpectedly to a low embankment. At the bottom was the dry bed of a
small brooklet, with a further shore that sloped gradually up into
second-growth timber again.

But this was not all. Right below the two boys was the Big Six; not
upright, but lying on its side, two wheels in the air, yet apparently
uninjured. Uttering a shout of joy at sight of the beloved car, Dave
jumped down the declivity, the irregular projections of which had
doubtless caused the Six to turn over under the reckless driving it had
been subjected to ever since it had been seized.



CHAPTER XIV

UNDER THE CAR


Reassured as to the fate of the car, Phil was about to turn back to
where Paul and Billy were still picking up the things, when Dave's voice
was heard:

"Oh, Phil! Here's trouble! Come on down here--quick!"

Shouting back to the two lads behind that the car was found, Phil jumped
down and ran round to where Dave was staring at something on the ground.
Meantime catching the meaning of Phil's words, Paul and Billy hurried
forward with the loads they already had.

"Geemineddy!" This was of course by Paul, always emphatic and
exclamatory. "If I ever get my hands on that old Six again, I bet she
don't go out of my reckoning soon!"

"I know just how you feel, Paul. I was to blame, but--oh, don't I wish
we had the chaps that did it!"

The two, their hands filled with sundry belongings, were hastening after
Phil who had vanished from their view. Down the slope, over the jagged
embankment they hurried, giving a yell as they saw the Big Six upturned,
but apparently safe. The tops of Dave's and Phil's heads bobbed up and
down on the further side of the car.

Reaching the spot, what was their surprise to see the body of a man
lying prone on the ground, his legs and part of his body fairly under
the car. Billy, after one look, gave a gasp of amazement. The man was
bareheaded, his face half turned under and pressed against the ground.

"Here, boys," began Phil. "Drop everything and let's turn the car off
his body!"

By the united efforts of all the Big Six was lifted at the forward end
so that the weight of the car no longer rested on the dead or insensible
man.

"Boys," said Billy, "that's the man in gray who wore the visored cap we
found back yonder. I'll swear to that. Is he dead?"

Phil and Dave, stooping closely, examined the man, and in so doing
turned his head to one side. There, near the temple, was a purplish
blot, from which a few drops of blood were trickling. At the same time
certain movements, not unlike muscular tremors, were evident in body and
limbs.

"Why, he's alive!" said Paul. "Let's get him more comfortably placed."

While this was being done Worth picked up a tin cup, ran to a rocky
puddle in the dried brooklet where some water was left, and returning
with the filled cup bathed the fellow's face and head, very gently now
that they knew life was not extinct.

This, aided by the more comfortable position in which he had been
placed, had such effect that the man's eyes soon opened. He groaned as
he breathed, while with one hand he attempted to feel his head near what
was now seen to be a bullet wound. Paul, wiping his head, felt a
protuberance under his hair, and directly thereafter drew forth a small
pointed bullet, such as is much used with pocket pistols of the Smith &
Wesson type.

"Well, well!" exclaimed that lively youth. "If here ain't a regular
twenty-two pistol ball. It must have glanced along under the skin near
the temple and come out again. Who could have done it?"

When the man felt Paul's hand extracting the ball from his mass of
touzled hair, he clutched at the place, saying:

"I always--told--Dippy--that gun--was no--good--" A scuffling sigh, and
the fellow was again in a swoon.

What had they better do now? Here was their car, all right except for
some scars and bruises incurred during the last flight after Billy was
captured and stowed away in the old tavern. Where was the other man? As
usual in such stress, Phil again took command of the situation.

"This man's not dead. He may recover. He's either been shot by someone
or he's shot himself, which isn't likely."

Here the man struggled into a half sitting position, as he murmured:

"Didn't sh-shoot myself! Dippy shot--me! Dippy always--poor--shot--"

Then with a groan he fell back again into a state of coma. Phil, looking
hastily over the car, now said:

"Help right the car, boys."

This was accomplished almost as soon as said, by simply easing the upper
side down so that the Six again stood on "all-fours," as Paul expressed
it. It stood squarely across the brook-bed, headed towards the railroad
which here was not more than an eighth of a mile distant.

"Now, Paul," resumed Phil, "you hike across through the brush to the
railroad, if necessary. It may be the real highway lays over there
somewhere. Pick out the easiest way to get our car there. We can hardly
go back the way we came, can we?" The others shook their heads at this.
"When you're through, come back. Mebbe we'll meet you on the way."

Without a word Paul vanished in the thick undergrowth beyond the
brooklet. Meanwhile Dave was examining the car, which he pronounced
uninjured by the rough usage to which it had been subjected with the
exception of sundry scars and a slight twist in one of the minor
connecting rods, easy to readjust. Both he and Phil were kept busy
restoring the things that had been dumped out by the fleeing couple
during the last stages of that hurried flight to--where? Probably where
they thought the nearest open road would be; or perhaps it was the
railroad and the nearest station they sought.

When Paul came back, he said that they were only a short distance to the
new highway and the railroad. The guide book told them that they were
within a very few miles of a small station east, while Midlandville, the
nearest town west, was not more than two hours away, with a good road.

"Better put that chap in the tonneau, hadn't we?" suggested Worth.

"Aw, where'll we take him?" This from Dave who now was in the driver's
seat.

"Looks like we had enough trouble long of him and his mate as it is."

"Put him in back, of course," corrected Phil. "If these two are in bad
about something, it is our duty to keep track of this one, for the
present at least. Who knows? He may give us a pointer yet as to what
they were up to."

So the wounded man, despite his querulous complaints, was put in the
tonneau with Billy and Paul to assist him and do whatever was necessary
to make him as comfortable as conditions would permit.

Then the Big Six was started. As has been stated, the incline being
gradual, the big car, carefully steered, had less trouble in making the
remainder of the trip to the new highway than the boys anticipated.
True, with the injured man and the equipment of the lads the car was
rather crowded, but the motor did its duty, the purring sounds being as
even as could be wished. Paul, on his return, had broken down a sort of
trail which it was not difficult to follow.

Arrived at the roadway it had been already determined that, as the day
was already well spent, they would return to Feeney's for the night,
then make for Midlandville in the morning.

"Won't old Feeney open his eyes when we tell him what those two
strangers were up to to-day?" remarked Paul who, tired of fanning the
wounded man, had managed to exchange with Dave.

Not far from where they turned into the highway, it veered southward,
leaving the railroad to the right, and a mile further crossed the old
road along which the boys had motored that morning on their way to the
old tavern.

To say that they were cordially received by Mr. Feeney would be only the
truth. At sight of the bareheaded man in gray, his visored cap somewhere
among the things in the car, Pat eyed him perplexedly, saying:

"Holy Moses! Little did I think to see the likes of you back again!"

The wounded man opened his eyes slowly and blinked the lids when he saw
they were carrying him to the house from the car.

"Dippy done it--yes--Dippy--he done it." Then he fainted away again.

After the wounded man was placed on a cot in a small shed room attached
to Feeney's not very commodious house, Pat took Phil and Worth aside,
while Dave and Paul remained with the stranger. It was felt intuitively
that the man should be closely watched. Why none of them knew exactly,
except that their methods with Billy and the taking of the car indicated
that something was wrong, somewhere. What it might be, of course none of
them as yet had any distinct idea. Feeney scratched his head
meditatively, as he said to Phil:

"Them two fellers come here about night, afore you boys appeared. They
wanted to stay all night and after breakfast they had my wife put up
some grub; quite a lot of it. But when you came in, all at once they
took a notion to leave, sudden-like. After they was gone my woman found
the stuff we'd packed up, which they seemed to have forgotten. That's
all we seen of 'em until you came in here with that one in the fix he's
in now."

"It all does look mysterious," remarked Phil. "From a hasty look we took
in the old tavern we saw what looked like a forge and some tools. I
thought I glimpsed some dies but I might have been mistaken."

"Wait a minute," broke in Pat, going to the door of the kitchen. "Ma,"
he called out, "any sign of Nan and Dan yet?"

A broad-bosomed, red-faced woman appeared for a minute at the open
doorway, as she replied:

"No, Pat, I ain't seen nothin'. I went to the bend of the road, too.
It's time they was here onless something's bothered them."

Coming back to the two boys, Feeney explained:

"Last night, ruther late, Bill Spivee, our nearest neighbor to the west,
came over. He's got a telephone and he says that the Midlandville
op'rator asked him if any strangers had been round lately. Bill told 'em
he hadn't seen any, but that two fellers had stopped here, for I'd told
him that when we met up after puttin' up some marsh hay yon way,"
jerking a thumb southward. "We often puts up wild grass together.

"Well, later they 'phones ag'in. Asks Bill to see me right away and find
out all he could 'bout them strangers. If it was what they thought, them
fellers was wanted right away."

Feeney pointed towards the shed-room, as he continued: "We mustn't let
go of that chap, whatever happens, until we knows more."

"I should say not," put in Worth, who quickly related what these
strangers had done to him. Then Phil briefly described the subsequent
proceedings, including their finding the man senseless under the
overturned car, and with the pistol wound, finally showing the bullet
that had been found in his hair, which had glanced from the skull, as we
have described. Feeney looked at the bullet.

"Smith & Wesson pistol sure!" He thought a moment. "I think I saw that
pistol when the man that is missing changed some of his things, as I was
passing their door. After thinking it all over, I sent Dan and Nan on
horseback, soon after you all left, but I didn't say nothing, for I
didn't really know nothing. We needed more coffee, and that was a good
excuse. But I told the kids to be sure and see the operator of the
telephone booth and try to find out what was the matter. I reckon we'll
know if they ever get back."

Mrs. Feeney now appeared in the doorway and excitedly pointed westward.

"Nan and Dan's a-comin'. I can see 'em out at the kitchen back door.
There's nobody with 'em as I can see."

Just then Paul came in to say:

"That chap's come to again. Looks like he's worrying some. What ought
Dave and I to do? He seems to want Dippy, as he calls that mate of his."

Phil accompanied Paul back, while Worth remained with Pat to wait for
the arrival of the girl and boy. Their horses seemed tired, and stood
with drooping heads while they dismounted, delivered the coffee to their
mother and glanced shyly at Billy as the father explained briefly what
had happened.

The children brought news that as soon as a telegram could reach
Midlandville, two officers would start at once for Feeney's place. Might
get there some time in the night.

"Well, here's a pretty to-do!" exclaimed Mrs. Feeney. "How am I goin' to
feed so many strangers? You know, Pat, we're pretty near out of flour."

"Shucks, mother! We got plenty of meal and hog meat, and there's
vegetables. We'll not starve. Besides," here he whispered in Mrs.
Feeney's ear, "you'll get some money from 'em, eh? I knows you--"

"Pat, you know you're not going to charge them four boys, if they stay a
week. I've heard ye say so."

"Now, Mrs. Feeney," put in Billy, "don't you worry! We boys are not
going to cost you a dollar more than we'll pay back. We like you folks."
Here Billy winked boldly at Nan who laughed as she slightly blushed.
"Anything will do us."

"You sure are good boys," nodded Mrs. Feeney. "You were nice to my folks
on the way from the hay market. Pat and me are glad to have ye. But
these others--real strangers, that might be different."

"Oh, Billy," called Paul from the shed doorway, "please come here!"

Thus summoned, the two at once followed Paul into where the sick man was
picking at his wounded head and moaning:

"Dippy--done--it. What'd you do it for, Dippy?" A series of feeble
coughings ensued, and the man again seemed to swoon away.

"That's the way he keeps going on," remarked Worth, regarding Phil
attentively. "Reckon he ought to have a--a doctor?"

After another short consultation Dan, who meanwhile had eaten and felt
refreshed and rested, set out on another horse for the nearest
physician.

"Tell Doc the whole story, Dan," urged the father. "If we get any sense
outen him, mebbe it will help undo this mystery that surrounds the whole
business. Tell him I won't pay his bill, but the county probably will.
Thurfore he can stick it up to a pretty stiff figure."

Meanwhile Phil had been conferring with his three chums apart.

"I've made up my mind that some of us ought to visit that old tavern
again. There's something up down there or I'm a fool in judging by
appearances. How do we know that this Dippy, as that chap calls his
mate, may not slip in, having, as he may think, killed his partner, and
destroy what I saw when we went in after Billy? We've got time now. We
can take the car--Worth and me."

"That sounds bully," exclaimed Worth. "I'm with you. They kidnaped me; I
want to get even."

The only trouble now was that both Dave and Paul wanted to be "on," in
this adventure; but they yielded when Phil made it plain that part of
them must remain at Feeney's to make sure that the one they had captured
was in safe keeping. They all felt that if anything serious were in all
this, it was incumbent on all of them to be where things would go
smoothly.

"Well then," remarked Phil in low tones, "when Billy and I are gone, it
falls on you, (meaning Dave and Paul) to help Feeney when anything
happens."

Just then the wounded man suddenly sat up in bed, clapped a hand upon
his forehead and began to mumble to himself.

"No--good--" he began. "Metal--dies--all there. Then--Dippy--tries to
kill--me--"

"Who are you anyway?" suddenly demanded Phil, spurred by a sudden hope
that in his delirium the wounded man might let out something as his now
disordered brain appeared to connect the present with what he remembered
of the past.

"Me?" The man stared vacantly past Phil at the wall. "I--I'm
Jimmy--Horr. I'm--I'm--" His voice trailed off into a mumble.

Phil bent forward close as he demanded:

"If you are Jimmy Horr, who is Dippy? You've been calling him often
enough. We want to find him."

"D-Dippy--he--he's my partner. He's--he's Dippy Quinn--he--" Again he
stared, straight now at Phil. "Wh--who be you?"

Still staring, he fell back, trembling as if in pain, muttering:

"My head--my--he--head!" Then his eyes closed and he was off in another
apparent swoon.

"Come on, Billy," said Phil. "Let us be off! Are the things out of the
car?"

"Most of them," replied Dave. "I put 'em in the porch. Don't be gone
longer than you can help."

In they jumped, Phil at the wheel, and the car purred softly down the
old woods road towards the Ghost Tavern. Whether either of them knew
their departure was observed by the Feeneys was not important, and gave
them no concern. Both now felt that no time should be lost in finding
out if the partner of Horr was yet in that vicinity. Despite the
improbability, Phil could not help feeling that if those two had been
doing wrong in the old inn, it might be that the survivor, as he
probably deemed himself, might wish to pay a final visit there before
taking his stealthy departure.

In fact, so mysterious was the whole series of adventures which the boys
had gone through that almost anything might happen. In due time the Big
Six drew up near the old tavern, and the boys cunningly hid the car
behind a screen of shrubbery, where it would hardly be seen if any one
should pass by. Still Phil, in view of what had happened to the car,
made a suggestion.

"You stay here, Billy; at least until I call you or you see something is
happening. If I find anyone or anything that's dangerous, I'll let you
know."

"Will you--sure?" queried Worth anxiously.

Before Phil, now out of the car and heading for the porch could answer,
there came the muffled sound of something inside the inn being moved. At
the sound Billy seized a heavy walking stick from the driver's seat,
which no one ever used, but which was carried simply because it might
some time come handy. Giving this to Phil, he himself took a short thick
rubber tube used at times when gasoline was transferred from a tank to
the machine reservoir.

"I'm going with you, Phil," he whispered. "No use to say no!"



CHAPTER XV

AT THE OLD TAVERN


Phil offered no objection, but took the walking stick and at once
entered the porch, making as little noise as possible. Billy came close
behind, feeling the rubber tube to make sure that it could stun, if not
kill, when handled with due precision and force.

As has been stated before, portions of the porch floor had been
previously broken in, where the elements had too heavily tested the
wood. Phil finally passed into the office without making any noise but
Billy was not so lucky. Despite his care, he misjudged where he trod
when he was near the doorway, when there was an ominous crackling sound
under his last footstep.

"Cr-r-r-r--a-c-c-k!" Down went his leg, clear above his knee. In the
effort to rise, down went the other leg with a similar crunching
crumble, and there was Billy submerged, so to speak, to the waist. Nor
did it stop there, for under the porch was a cellar that extended pretty
well under the fore part of the ancient building.

For half a moment Billy's form remained waist deep under the porch, when
from below there came another crackling, crunching sound, and Billy
began to descend at first slowly, as the rafters over the cellar began
to collapse. Then down he went amid a cloud of dust from the rotting
woodwork, as with a feverish exclamation he vanished from sight. Just at
this instant Phil wheeled, startled by the noise Worth was making and
started to whisper a cautionary "Silence!"

At this juncture Billy vanished from sight, though Phil heard him, as he
struck the earth of the partially filled cellar, give voice as follows:

"Hullo, Phil! I'm gone!" And that was all Phil then heard from Billy.

Just then there came a scuffling noise from the interior, where a door,
partially open, led from the old office to the rear room. Knowing that
someone must be inside, for the noise was not from where Billy had gone
down, Phil grasped his cane harder and dashed through the open door into
the back room where he had before seen the forge and the tools, which he
had not been able to understand at the time.

Right in front of him was another open door, beyond the hastily
constructed forge; and down what seemed to be a cellar stairway he could
see the head and shoulders of a man. The stranger was struggling upward,
impeded by some burden he was carrying with difficulty.

It was difficult in the half light that filtered through the overhanging
shade trees without to distinguish anything distinctly. All Phil could
see was that the man wore a slouch hat, combed with cobwebs from the
cellar region below. All at once came the conviction to the lad:

"This must be Dippy, whom the other was calling for so often."

With this came Phil's resolve to boldly move up and prevent this
mysterious fellow's escape. He dashed forward, calling out:

"Halt, you! Give an account of yourself! I--"

Here the stranger, dropping the bundle he was carrying, attempted to
spring up the last two steps, at the same time reaching behind and
pulling forth something small that glittered in the semi-twilight. What
could it be--a pistol? At the mere thought, Phil leaped nearer, struck
at the glittering toy, while the descending blow knocked the fellow's
hat off and, partially stunning him, sent him back down the gloomy
stairway. The lower end of this was shrouded in deeper gloom, though
some light from a cellar window shed a little pale glow from the outside
daylight.

Following closely, Phil began to stumble down the stairway, when he
heard another's unmistakable advance below. For Billy, still armed with
the rubber tube, had heard the mix-up going on above, together with
Phil's loud tones and the succeeding fracas; and he saw dimly the
tumbling of some bulky weight, followed by the heavier fall of a man's
body.

"Great goodness!" thought Worth. "Can that be Phil?"

With the thought he scrambled forward over heaps of loose earth to the
firmer floor of the main part of the cellar, until he stood over a
figure trying to rise. At the same time down stumbled his comrade,
saying:

"I'll get you yet--mind that!"

Satisfied now that it was not Phil at his feet, Billy brought down his
heavy rubber tube over the man's head, who sank back uttering a groan of
pain. At the same time Phil, reaching the bottom of the stairway, saw
something twinkle in the dirt at his feet. He picked it up.

"Here is the pistol he was trying to shoot me with, Billy. Don't let him
up while I feel for some cord I brought along."

Billy, standing astride the prostrate man, took the pistol, a small
affair. As the stranger groaned and moved Billy gave him another sharp
tap with the tubing that seemed to settle his hash, as the boys later
expressed it.

Fingering the weapon, Billy found that it was loaded, all except one
chamber. He looked up, saying:

"I bet a nickel against a cent that this is the same pistol that
shot--what's his name?--Horr."

Meantime Phil, having produced several cords that he had taken from the
tool box of the Six, proceeded to bind the stranger's wrists together
behind his back as he lay half stunned by Billy's attack. While so
doing, he stumbled against a heavy object that proved to be a cheap
suitcase, filled by something that rattled metallically as it was moved.
Having tied the man's wrists, they half carried him up the stairway,
through the back room and into the old office. Here Billy stood guard
armed with the tube and the pistol. This last they discovered was enough
like the one Billy had at home to be its mate. Also one chamber being
empty, Phil at once felt sure--with Worth--that they now held the very
weapon that had been fired at Horr, the supposed comrade of the man now
recovering his senses at their feet.

"Watch him close, Billy," cautioned Phil, "while I go below and get that
suitcase, and look around a little before we go back to Feeney's."

"Don't be uneasy, Phil. I'll watch him all right. Ain't I just getting
even for the way those two did me when they ran away with our car?"

While Phil was gone below the stranger, recovering his senses, and
seeing only a boy standing over him, looked up with cunning, yet
imploring eyes.

"Say, kid," he weakly began, "that was a bad blow you hit me. My head's
about to bust. You've tied my arms too tight. Please loose me. I won't
do anything."

"No, you won't! Not while I'm in sight! Remember how you and your pal,
who's been calling on you constantly, did for me when you caught me fast
asleep? Not much will you get away! Just bank on that, will you?"

"I mean all right, boy. 'Deed I do! Just came back here for a few things
that belong to us. Be a good boy. Turn me loose. I'll go with you all
right."

"No, you won't! We don't trust you. Besides that, your pal's begging us
hard to fetch 'Dippy' back. Wants to see you and ask you why you shot
him after stealing our car. Do you catch on?"

At this the man, whose head and shoulder was bruised and aching from the
effect of Billy's rubber tube, seemed to give up. But Worth had one more
arrow. He produced the pistol, showed the man the one empty chamber, and
said:

"Look here, Quinn. That's your name or the one you go by, for Horr said
it was. See that empty cartridge? I know these Smith & Wesson
twenty-twos, for I've got one at home myself. We got the bullet, too. It
glanced off and came out. You might as well own up now and thank your
stars you didn't kill your pal, or you would be in for murder as well as
these other jobs."

But before the man could make any rejoinder back came Phil with the
suitcase which seemed quite heavy. In the other hand he carried the
stranger's black felt hat, from which Phil had brushed most of the dust
and cobwebs and placed it on the man's head as he now sat leaning
against the edge of the tottering counter behind which the boys had
found Billy after his capture by the two who attempted to escape with
the Six.

"Can you stand and walk?" queried Phil. "We've got to put you in our
car; the one you and Horr tried to steal."

The man, now sullen enough, made no reply. Without more ado they helped
him up and started with him towards the porch. Though his hands were
tied, he went grudgingly until he saw the big, yawning open space made
by Worth when the boy fell through both porch floor and the cellar
roofing below. The sight seemed to nerve the man to a final effort.

As they stood at the outer office entrance he suddenly pushed against
Phil on one side and at the same time butted his head into Worth as
forcibly as possible. Worth fell down while Phil, overborne by the
weight of the suitcase, seemed in danger of stepping into the hole in
front. The man, seeing a wild chance, drew back his foot, and was about
to kick at the suitcase as if to send it through the hole in front.

"You would, would you?" grunted Billy, recovering in time to put his
back against the door-facing and administer a push with his foot to the
man, still standing on one leg in the act of kicking at the suitcase.

Down he went, the intended kick going wild. At the same moment Phil,
having dropped the suitcase, sprang upon the man and with Billy's ready
aid, managed to bind both legs fast together, so that he lay helpless.
After that the boys dragged their prisoner across the porch, then they
carried him to where the car stood amid the shrubbery and placed him in
the tonneau.

"Now, Billy," said Phil, "you watch him close. I'll go back, get that
bag of his, shut the doors and come back. Don't take your eyes off him.
He's tricky!"

And Phil again went back while Worth stood over the man watchful and
wary.

He was a sullen looking chap, like and yet unlike the stranger whom,
with his partner, Billy had briefly seen that day at Feeney's. His eyes,
roving about, avoided Billy, while he apparently looked for some further
loop-hole that might offer another chance to resist or afford a possible
escape.

"No good, old man," remarked Worth, standing over him with the tube in
hand, ready for any move the bound man might make. "You've got to go
with us."

"Look here!" suddenly said the fellow. "We've got money--me and my
partner. Why not turn us loose on the quiet? We'll make it all
right--sure."

"How do we know you'll make it all right? Didn't you shoot your own
partner? He says you did. He calls you Dippy Quinn. That your name?"

"Oh, that's nothing! I was reloading the pistol. It went off 'fore I
knew a thing. That's the real goods, boy! As I said, he and me have the
dough. Two hundred of it's yours, provided you'll turn us loose--on the
quiet."

"You're talking to no good, Quinn. I wouldn't be party to turning either
you or Horr loose, not if you placed twice that amount in my hands right
now."

About this time Phil was seen coming, lugging what appeared to be a very
heavy suitcase, evidently packed full of something that weighed about as
much as Phil could carry. At sight of this the man seemed beside himself
with anger. He almost spat in Billy's face as he declared:

"You're both a dirty set of rogues! Yes, both of you! That," pointing at
the packed bag, "is mine--mine and my partner's. We wasn't bothering
you--"

"Oh, no!" laughed Billy. "Come, that's good! All you did was to gag and
tie me and try to steal our car. That's a mere nothing, of course."

Phil, by this time arriving, seated himself at the wheel, putting the
bag beside him. Then he looked warningly at Worth, saying:

"Keep a sharp eye out, Billy. If he gets too obstreperous, just use the
tube. If that don't quiet him, try his pistol."

Then he started the car, steering carefully until they had turned round
and were headed up the old road leading through the timber towards
Feeney's. As the car bumped along over the rough places, Quinn seemed to
be suffering greatly, his tightly bound ankles being the cause of his
present misery.

"Honest, boy," he began, "at least loose my legs! I sprained my ankle
somehow in our scrap back yonder. Besides, there's a boil on my leg.
Just loosen it up a bit--that's a good kid!"

One would have supposed that with the previous experience they had had
with this man, Billy would have given no heed. But Billy, naturally
soft-hearted, saw real tears in the man's eyes. His looks and manner now
were in such sharp contrast to that exhibited when he felt himself on
the verge of an escape that even Worth felt a certain compunction. Could
the man be shamming all the time, first in one way, then in another?

With a side look at Phil, who was watching the road as he steered, he
bent forward as he said:

"Does the cord hurt you like that? Will you promise to be quiet if I
loosen up those leg cords a bit? But mind you, none of your shenanigan,
if I do!"

"No--no--no--course not!" Thus the man mumbled, his breath coming and
going tremulously, but his wet eyes, resting on Billy appealingly,
suddenly changed their expression as Billy's head bent down over the
cord, and a swift, crafty gleam shot from under his treacherous brows,
while Worth was bending over the confined legs. Meantime Phil, trusting
to Billy's watchfulness, was fully occupied with the wheel and the
brakes, for right here was a bad bit of going.

In manipulating the cord so as to loosen it a little--not too much--and
while, in order to deceive Billy, the fellow kept up his groaning,
Billy's fingers were all needed. He hastily tucked under his arm the
tube for a moment, as he contended with a stubborn portion of the knot.

Watching both the condition of the loosening knot and noting that no one
else seemed to be regarding them, the man shoved his legs apart. At the
same time he seized the tube with both hands, jerking it from the arms
of Worth. Then, springing to his feet, he raised the tube upward--all in
the twinkling of an eye, so to speak.

With one shoulder he pushed Billy heavily, so that the boy dropped back
into his seat just as Quinn levelled a quick blow across the tonneau at
Phil, still busy at the wheel. The blow came as a complete surprise to
the latter, still fully occupied with the wheel and the brakes.
Fortunately Phil happened to bend forward in shifting gears, and the
blow aimed for Phil's head fell glancingly along his shoulder. Even then
the force was temporarily paralyzing.

The boy shrunk still further forward under the blow, the movement
causing him to press his foot on the brake. Hence they began to slow
towards a stop. With his faculties still shaken, he mechanically threw
on the halting gear, thus bringing the car to a gradual stop.

Meanwhile Billy, seeing at once how he had been duped, raised up so
forcibly that he bumped against the prisoner, who was trying to throw
himself from the tonneau to the ground, his legs now being practically
loose.

"Ha, you will, eh?" gasped Worth. "I'll show you!"

Reaching forth he grabbed a leg of the leaping fugitive, holding on for
dear life, so that instead of alighting on his feet, the fellow actually
fell forward over the tonneau with his head and arms dragging along with
the car. Reaching the earth, the man managed to wrench free from Billy's
clutch and finally kick himself loose, though with his arms still bound.

Meantime Phil, having recovered, was already climbing from the car, and
as the man scrambled to his feet he started in pursuit.

"After him, Phil!" shouted Worth, bursting through the tonneau door. "He
fooled me! Don't give up! I'm behind you!"

From then on it became a sharp though short race. First the fugitive,
his hands tied behind, bareheaded, straining every nerve. Just in his
rear came Phil, with every muscle doing double duty, reaching forward to
grab him who fled. A yard or two behind was Billy, doing a stunt in
rapid running that might have surprised him a few minutes before.

The man was agile enough, though doubtless tired. Besides this his arms,
inconveniently bound behind his back, doubtless interfered with his
running. One result was that after several futile grasps, Phil was at
last able to fasten his grip on the man's tied arms. From that to
passing an arm round his neck and hanging grimly on was but momentary.

Then in came Billy, fairly frothing over the manner in which he had been
tricked by the captive just when he was trying to make the stranger less
uncomfortable. Between them they soon had him down on the ground where
he writhed, kicked and twisted about in a climax of sheer desperation.

Doubly exasperated, Billy managed to get hold of a stout, short bit of a
club from amid the fallen litter of the woods, and brought it down
smartly on the man's head. It raised a welt, but he continued to
struggle, though with decreasing force. Evidently he was becoming
exhausted. Suddenly Worth jerked out his handkerchief, saying at the
same time:

"Gimme yours, Phil--quick!"

Phil not only complied, but resumed holding down the stranger so
effectively that in another minute Worth soon had his legs bound fast
again.

"Now let's drag him back to the car and be off," remarked Phil. "Really
the way that chap acts causes me to feel sure we've made a haul that the
law will more than sanction. Yet I won't feel safe until we have him
back at Feeney's."

The prisoner was lifted in the car where Billy stood over him, with
pistol and the tube club ready for instant use if necessary. Without
further trouble the Big Six sped along the rough roads until at length
Feeney's house was reached. What was their surprise to see another car
drawn up before the yard gate, while two strange men were coming out of
the house, evidently in a great hurry, preparatory to entering their own
machine.



CHAPTER XVI

CONCLUSION


At sight of the Big Six they halted, while in their rear came MacLester
and Paul, with Mr. Feeney looking over their shoulders in sheer
amazement at what his eyes beheld. Noting Worth's and Phil's disordered
attire and the bound, somewhat bruised captive inside the tonneau, the
foremost man came forward, saying to the two lads:

"Well, well! I guess you have saved us some trouble, you boys!" He waved
a hand at his partner. "Permit me to introduce self and partner. We're
from Buffalo, plain clothes detectives, secret service. McPherson is my
name; Westcott that of my partner. We already know yours through Mr.
Rack, of Syracuse. Guess you know him. This man," pointing at Quinn,
"and the other chap inside have been wanted some time for illegal
coinage. After putting them under guard we will visit that old Tavern
for further proofs. What's this?"

"It's what that man Quinn was trying to lug off when we took him. Before
that they had stolen our car--" This from Billy.

"I know, I know! And you got this, did you? Pretty good!" McPherson had
opened the valise, disclosing tools, dies, bars of metal and numerous
coins. "We were at Midlandville. Heard of you there. Also got wind of
these chaps and the old Tavern, and, prompted by Rack, we hurried along,
fearing you lads might alarm them, inadvertently of course. But you have
done well, remarkably well! There's a thousand reward out for them and
it looks as if you four boys will have decidedly the best claim."

Meantime Westcott, assisted by Feeney, who greeted the two lads
effusively, carried in Quinn to join his comrade under strict guard.

"Are you not entitled to that reward, Mr. McPherson?" asked Phil at
length.

"No, sir. Not if anyone else does more than we in apprehending them. It
looks now as if you four and perhaps Feeney and his folks will be
entitled to all there is in it."

It may be said here that after all was over, the boys insisted that the
Feeneys should share proportionately in the reward. It did Phil good to
see the delight which these humble, hard working folks felt in what the
third of that reward might do for them. They needed it and were glad to
get it besides being grateful to our boys for being so generous.

Three days later the Big Six rolled smoothly into Lannington once more.
Glad indeed were the Auto Boys to see again the dear home faces and
receive the sweet home greetings. "And also, and likewise," said Mr.
Paul Jones, "home cooking beats the world!"

A number of weeks later the boys read of Adam W. Kull being sentenced to
serve seven years in prison, while Grant Coster received a sentence of
two years. Thus vividly reminded of their adventures, the friends
renewed a former effort to learn how Scottie had happened to appear in
Lannington, their own home city. They could not, though it was evident
that the dog, always even humanly fond of automobiles, had followed some
car there.

Phil and Billy were now preparing to enter college. Dave was already
occupying a steady position in his father's shop and Paul was about to
take up engineering in a school near home. Slowly but surely the almost
unbroken companionship of years' duration was encroached upon by the
demands the days were bringing. The boys were growing older. But I know
there were still no pleasanter hours for any of them than when, on
holidays and of an evening, they sometimes met again at the little green
and yellow garage under the whispering elms.

THE END

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not to keep it. If you want to be a Rider Agent or if you want a good
bicycle at a low price, write us to-day for the big free Ranger Catalog,
wholesale prices, terms and full particulars.

Parts For All Bicycles

In the Ranger catalog you will find illustrated bicycle cranks, cups,
cones, sprockets and a complete Universal Repair Hanger and Repair Front
Forks designed to fit any and every bicycle ever manufactured in
America. Complete instructions are given so that any boy can
intelligently order the parts wanted. You will also find repair parts
for all the standard makes of hubs and coaster-brakes and all the latest
equipment and novelties.

Tires at Factory Prices Share with us our savings in Trainload Tire
Contracts and in the Samson, Record and Hedgethorn Tires get the best
Tire values in America at Wholesale Factory Prices.

Send No Money But write us TO-DAY for the Big Ranger Book and
particulars of our 30 Day Free Trial Plan, wholesale prices and terms.

MEAD CYCLE COMPANY

Dept. H 211 CHICAGO, U.S.A.

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

SUMMER SNOW AND OTHER FAIRY PLAYS
By GRACE RICHARDSON

Finding there is a wide demand for plays which commend themselves to
amateurs and to casts comprised largely of children. Miss Richardson,
already well and widely known, has here given four plays which, are
unusually clever and fill this need. They call for but little stage
setting, and that of the simplest kind, are suited to presentation the
year around, and can be effectively produced by amateurs without
difficulty.

CLOTH BINDING . . . $1.00

PUCK: IN PETTICOATS
By GRACE RICHARDSON

Five plays about children, for children to play--Hansel and Gretel, The
Wishing Well, The Ring of Salt, The Moon Dream, and Puck in Petticoats.
Each is accompanied by stage directions, property plots and other
helpful suggestions for acting. Some of the plays take but twenty
minutes, others as long as an hour to produce, and every one of the five
are clever.

CLOTH BINDING . . . $1.00

HANDY BOOK OF PLAYS FOR GIRLS
By DOROTHY CLEATHER

Not one of the six sparkling plays between these covers calls for a male
character, being designed for the use of casts of girls only. They are
easily, effectively staged--just the sort that girls like to play and
that enthusiastic audiences heartily enjoy.

CLOTH BINDING . . . $0.50





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