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Title: Motor Boat Boys' River Chase - or, Six Chums Afloat and Ashore
Author: Arundel, Louis
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: THERE CAME A SHARP REPORT AND A FLASH OF FLAME]



 MOTOR BOAT BOYS’
 RIVER CHASE

 _OR_

 _Six Chums Afloat and Ashore_


 _By_
 LOUIS ARUNDEL


 [Illustration]


 Chicago
 M. A. DONOHUE & COMPANY



 Copyright 1914
 by
 M. A. DONOHUE & CO.
 CHICAGO


 Made in U. S. A.



CONTENTS


 CHAPTER                                         PAGE
      I. READY FOR THE START                        7
     II. THE CRUISE BEGUN                          21
    III. BUSTER CAPTURES A FISH                    33
     IV. A MYSTERY LOOMS UP                        43
      V. THE FIRST CAMP FIRE OF THE TRIP           57
     VI. A STARTLING INTERRUPTION                  69
    VII. THE TREASURE CACHE                        81
   VIII. JACK PLAYS SCOUT                          91
     IX. OPENING THE STRANGE BOX                  103
      X. DISAPPOINTMENT                           112
     XI. BUSTER HAS A SHOCK                       121
    XII. THE MAN WITH THE BLUE MOON SWEATER       131
   XIII. THE RIVER PIRATE                         140
    XIV. READY FOR TROUBLE                        150
     XV. JUST A MINUTE TOO LATE                   160
    XVI. IN HOT PURSUIT                           169
   XVII. THE MOONLIGHT CHASE                      178
  XVIII. OVERHAULED                               187
    XIX. ABOARD THE FLOATING RAFT                 196
     XX. HOLDING THE FORT                         206
    XXI. MAKING THINGS WARM                       211
   XXII. “DROP THAT BAG”                          221
  XXIII. EVERYTHING LOVELY--CONCLUSION            230
   XXIV. CONCLUSION                               237



The Motor Boat Boys’ River Chase

_or_

Six Chums Afloat and Ashore

By Louis Arundel



CHAPTER I

READY FOR THE START


“What are we waiting for, Commodore Jack?”

“Yes, I’m the last one to be in a hurry, boys, but it seems to me we
ought to be getting away. The river ain’t waiting up for us, you
notice.”

“Hold your horses, Buster, and count noses; perhaps you’ll find that
there are only five of us present.”

“Huh! guess you’re right, Josh Purdue; but what’s become of Jimmie. I
never heard a splash, and I don’t see him swimmin’, if he is a regular
water duck. Water’s too cold any way, this fine April day, for goin’
in.”

“Why, Jack sent him back to the post office to see if there was any
mail. He’s thinking of George here, who’s expecting a letter from that
sweet little Southern girl he met last fall, when we were knocking
around the Florida Keys in our motor boats, after coming down the
coast.”

“Rats! speak for yourself, Josh!” exclaimed the fifth member of the
party, whose name seemed to be George, and who was a nervous, active
boy, one of those kind who are always wanting to do things in a hurry;
“didn’t I see you get a lavender colored letter only last week, and
when I walked past him purposely in the post office, fellows, oh! my
goodness! you ought to have sniffed the lovely perfume that oozed out of
that envelope. Did Josh tear the end off? Not that I could notice; but
he took out his knife, and cut it so carefully like, you’d think----”

“Sure we’ve got all the grub aboard, Jack?” asked the said Josh, who
had turned more or less red in the face with confusion at being so
unexpectedly attacked, “because it’d be a mighty tough thing to get
snugly settled in the first camp of the season, and find you’ve gone and
left that elegant home-cured ham to home.”

“Our ham’s safe, all right; I’m looking right at it now!” declared
George, as he stared at the rosy face of Josh, and chuckled aloud.

“I’ve gone over the list, and checked things off, with the help of Herb
here; and so far as we could tell, there’s nothing missing. Things seem
to be in good shape, after lying all winter in the boat-yard. And the
engines work splendidly,” was the report of the boy named Jack, to whom
the others seemed to look as though he might have some right to that
title of “Commodore,” being the chief officer of the motor boat club.

They were standing on the river bank just below a small town that was
situated on the Upper Mississippi; and fastened to the shore by stout
cables were three power boats of vastly different patterns.

One of them, owned by George Rollins, was a speed boat, narrow of beam,
and capable of doing wonderful stunts in the way of annihilating space,
whenever the big powered motor chose to act decently, which happened
more frequently in these days than in the past, when it used to give the
skipper much trouble. This boat was known as a freak, and went under the
name of the Wireless.

The second was a good, roomy craft, which George called a “punkin-seed,”
because it took up so much room. Herbert Dickson was the satisfied owner
of this boat, and as it bore the name of Comfort, it may readily be
understood that the captain was a quiet, unassuming lad, who as a rule
minded his own business, and always wanted comfort before speed. Still,
it had often happened that Herb got to his destination long before
George, who spent so much time tinkering with his balky engine, while
that of the roomy craft had never been known to act sulky, or quit
business, but worked right along like a well-oiled clock.

The third boat was a happy medium between the other two, and went under
the name of the Tramp. Jack Stormways held the wheel of this, and as a
rule the absent member, Jimmie Brannagan, served as the crew. The Tramp
was a reliable article, and probably better fitted for cruising than
either of the others, when one wanted an all-round craft, capable of
speed, and yet not cramped for room, or cranky in action.

These six lads had formed a club, and during the last two years had been
able, by reason of fortunate circumstances whereby they came into a
considerable sum of money, to make several long cruises.

These have been narrated at length in previous volumes of this Series,
and the reader of the present book, who has not had the pleasure of
making the acquaintance of Jack and his chums up to now, and would
know more about them, is referred to the earlier numbers for full
particulars, with the assurance that he will find an abundance of lively
reading there.

Their first cruise had been down the Father of Waters all the way to New
Orleans, where they had a mission to perform. After that they had the
boats shipped to Clayton on the St. Lawrence; and for the better part
of vacation time cruised among the Thousand Islands, and on the Great
Lakes, going up through the wonderful Soo Canal, and seeing everything
that was worth while in that enchanted region.

Then, in the winter, they were given a glorious chance to start down
the Atlantic coast, taking the inside route away from the ocean, and
reaching Florida after some of the most stirring adventures ever told.

And as their time had not been exhausted, they put in some weeks of
pleasure in navigating among the Keys of the Florida peninsula, meeting
with many stirring adventures, all of which have been faithfully
chronicled for the reading of our boys.

And now, here were the Easter holidays come, and a little river
excursion planned, down to a big island that lay some ninety miles or
more below the home town, and which was an object of more or less
curiosity to the passengers on the river steamboats, because of the
strange stories that were told about mysterious lights seen there, and
queer noises that had been heard from time to time.

Fishermen sometimes stopped there, in several little old huts they had
erected; but of late years they seemed to have rather abandoned the
island for other more favored localities; declaring that the fishing was
no longer good there, and all that; but it was secretly passed around
that they had been frightened off through some means; and so the island
had come to have a bad name.

These bold lads liked nothing better than to explore such a place, and
learn for themselves whether there was any truth in the wild stories
going around. There was always a sort of peculiar fascination for them
in exploding silly stories about haunted houses, and mills, and all such
things. On several occasions Jack and his five chums had just looked
into such affairs, and proved how foolish the talk had been. And during
the winter they had often talked about Bedloe’s Island, and what people
were saying about it; until finally some one proposed that when Easter
came along, with more than a week of freedom from school duties, they
take a run down the river, and camp there; fish and loaf, and just have
the best possible time, in spite of all the ghosts that ever rose up
from the grave when the solemn hour of midnight came around.

And here they were, only waiting for the return of Jimmie, when they
meant to go aboard, cast off the lines, float out upon the swirling
waters of the great river, and then starting their engines, go speeding
down the current.

Although George, always in a hurry, might be expected to show impatience,
even stout Buster, who was well named, had confessed to a feeling of
anxiety to get started. They all loved this life on the water so much,
that after being shut up between the walls of the high school building
for some months now, five days in a week, they were just wild to be
afloat.

“What d’ye suppose Clarence Macklin’d say if he saw our bully little
flotilla all ready, with steam up, to start on this new voyage?” Buster
asked, a few minutes afterwards, as they stood there, keeping an anxious
eye toward the border of the near-by town, and along the river road
which Jimmie would have to use to reach them.

This same Clarence had always been a thorn in the flesh of the motor
boat boys ever since the club was started. He had certain habits that
the others did not like, and when he applied for admission, it was no
surprise that he had been black-balled.

After that Clarence, who was of a mean disposition, could never forgive
Jack and his chums; and he had lost no opportunity to annoy them, often
going to extremes in his desire to make them all the trouble that he
could.

During their cruise down the Mississippi, and when upon the St. Lawrence
and the Great Lakes he had bobbed up every little while, with his fast
boat, known under the name of Flash, and there were times when Jack and
his friends just hated the sight of that contemptuous face of Clarence
Macklin.

So when Buster mentioned it now, the boys looked at each other, with a
little anxious expression on their faces.

“Oh! I guess we needn’t look for any more trouble from Clarence,” Jack
remarked. “He’s kept clear of us all winter, you know; and perhaps he’s
let the whole thing drop. I hope so, anyway.”

“Well, I know Clarence better than the rest of you,” said Herb, “because
I used to chum with him before I found better fellows to go with; and
you can take it from me that when he’s quiet, that’s the time he’s to be
feared most of all, for he’s sure to be hatching up mischief. That brain
of his is never still. And ever since we got back from Florida he’s been
listening, second-hand, to the great stories we had to tell, and just
eating his heart out with envy because he couldn’t have been there too.”

“Yes,” put in Josh Purdue, with a frown, for he had had many unpleasant
experiences with the said Clarence, and the mention of that name acted
on him as a red flag would on a bull; “and I happen to know that Bully
Joe, the feller Clarence still hangs on to for his crony, heard me tell
a gentleman about the trip we expected to take during Easter holidays;
and when I saw him running down the street so fast you could a-played
marbles on his coat-tail, I just knew he was in the biggest hurry ever
to tell Clarence all about it.”

“Oh! then that explains why you’ve been keeping an eye out on the river
so much all the time we’ve been standing here,” remarked Jack. “Now, I
thought you were only trying to figure on the strength of the current,
and how long it ought to take us to drop down to Bedloe’s Island.”

“We’ll be there before the sun drops out of sight; that is, wind and
weather, and the engine of the Wireless permitting,” said Josh.

“Now, never you mind about what my motor is going to do,” spoke up
George, who, in spite of all the tricks that had been played on him by
his balky engine, still had an abiding faith in its ability to do
wonders, and was always sure he had solved the combination that had been
bothering him, this time for good. “I’ve been working a whole lot on
that same machine since our last cruise down among the oyster reefs of
Florida, and I’m dead sure I’ve got it fixed now so that she’ll never go
back on me again. P’raps she won’t be quite as swift as before, but then
I’m coming to the conclusion that speed ain’t everything when you’re on
a long trip. You fellows used to take it so comfy, while I was always
fretting, and worrying over my motive power.”

“Hear! hear!” exclaimed Jack, “the old buccaneer has seen a great light,
and is half converted right now. Chances are, Herb, he’ll be offering to
trade with you before long.”

At that George looked daggers at the Comfort, riding like a contented
duck on the water near by.

“Perhaps I may, when I want a tub,” he said, severely; “but I don’t
think that day’ll ever arrive, Jack.”

“All the same,” spoke up Josh, who had often been Herb’s companion on
the beamy boat, and knew the luxury of having plenty of room, without
being told a thousand times to keep still, because he was rocking the
boat; “I can remember the time when you were mighty glad to come aboard
that same tub, and beg a breakfast from the skipper, because your silly
cranky Wireless was out of commission or sunk. Don’t look a gift horse
in the mouth, George. Time may come again when you’ll feel like begging
the pardon of that noble craft. Many’s the happy day I’ve had while
serving my time on her. She’s a dandy, that’s what.”

“Thank you, Josh!” said Herb, quietly; but there was a satisfied gleam in
his eyes that spoke louder than words; for Herb really loved his boat,
and took it to heart more than easy-going, reckless George imagined, when
the scornful member of the club chose to speak slightingly of her.

Possibly George felt twinges of remorse, as his memory carried him back
to certain occasions in the adventurous past; for he tossed his head,
and went on to say:

“Oh! she’s all right, for those who don’t care anything about getting
along in a rush; but you know I never could stand that sort of thing.
I’m too much a bundle of nerves. When I’ve set my mind on doing a thing
I don’t like to be kept waiting. Herb wouldn’t fancy my boat any more’n
I do his; and there you are.”

“Well, we’ll soon be off now,” remarked Buster, joyfully.

“Yes, because there comes Jimmie,” added Jack.

Jimmie Brannagan was an Irish boy, as his name announced. He was a sort
of ward of Jack’s father, who held some little money in trust until the
lad came of age. His parents had been of a good family, and while Jimmie
chose to talk in a species of brogue, that was amusing to his mates, he
could really use as good language as any fellow, if he chose to exert
himself. He lived with the Stormways, and was much in the company of
Jack, being a warm-hearted boy, impulsive, and a friend who would stick
through thick and thin.

He was seen to be half running along the road, as though eager to join
his comrades, and get started on the joyous trip; for Jimmy was as
happy as a bird when aboard a boat. As a rule he acted as Jack’s
team-mate; but there were times when changes in the crews had to be
made, owing to a disinclination on the part of Buster, Jimmy, and Josh
to serve any great length of time aboard the wobbly Wireless; for they
declared that the narrow boat was just about as nervous as its skipper,
and kept the crew on edge all the time.

“What’s he waving that newspaper for, d’ye think?” Buster asked,
presently.

“You might guess a thousand years, and never know,” remarked George,
“but he’ll be along right soon now, and then we’ll find out. Take a
sprint, Jimmie; stretch a single into a two-bagger, and slide for
second! Here you come, old top! Now, what’s all the row about; tell us?”

Jimmie, red-faced, freckled, good-natured Jimmie, grinned, and held out
the open newspaper toward them.

“Sure and they do be havin’ the dickens av a time up beyant us. Look at
the illegant head-lines, would ye? ‘Bowld robbery! Thaves break into the
Bank, and loot the Safe av a Forchune! Lawrence all excited over the
visit av yeggmen! Reward offered for tha apprehension av the Rascals.’
Whoop! now, don’t that sound loike another time when we was sthartin’
down the river. History, begorra, does love to repate itsilf. But for
the love av goodness lit’s get off. I’m that ager to feel the water
gurgling underneath the keel av a boat, I could straddle a log, and take
me chances av a cruise down the ould river. Jack, darlint, give the
worrd!”



CHAPTER II

THE CRUISE BEGUN


“All aboard!” sang out Jack, as he thrust the paper containing such
sensational news into his pocket, to be glanced over at some more
convenient season, and little suspecting how it would enter into the
fortunes of the party of fun-loving boys while on their Easter holidays’
cruise.

Everybody immediately seemed to be in motion, and the way in which the
various crews stood by to cast off hawsers, while the skippers looked to
their engines, was well worth seeing.

“Let go!” called the commodore of the boat club, when he saw that
everything was ready.

The ropes were unfastened, and the three lads sprang aboard, just as
the current began to grip each boat, and cause it to slowly start upon
the new voyage that appeared so mild in the beginning, yet which was
destined to be written down as one of the most adventurous of all those
the six boys had enjoyed.

“Whoop! we’re off!” yelled Buster, as he scrambled on board the Wireless,
in his usual clumsy way, that brought a word of warning from George, and
caused the boat to careen badly.

“You will be off, if you try that sort of racket many times,” declared
the skipper. “What d’ye take this racer for, a canalboat? Be more
careful Buster, how you lounge around. I guess they nicknamed you right
when they called you Hippopotamus, Pudding, and all that sort. Now, sit
down exactly in the middle, and when you do have to move, be careful not
to shift your weight too sudden-like. No boat can do its prettiest when
it isn’t on an even keel.”

“Say, is my hair parted exactly in the middle, George? If it ain’t,
please let me get it straight before you start!” observed the fat boy,
with a touch of satire in his voice, something Buster seldom indulged
in; but he had sailed the stormy seas with George before and could look
back to many a sad time aboard that most uncomfortable Wireless; still
the three fellows had drawn lots to see who would have to stand for the
agony on this new cruise, and it had fallen to poor Buster to play the
part of victim.

George did not reply to this shot. He was busy with his engine, and both
the other boats were already moving off, with the rapid popping of their
exhausts announcing that everything was working in apple-pie order.

“Please don’t tell me that we’re all up the flue, even before we get
started, George?” pleaded Buster, turning pale with apprehension.

“Keep still, won’t you, Buster; you bother me,” replied the other, still
working at his engine. “It’s only a little thing, that don’t matter
much. And you see, it gives us a chance to let the others get a lead.
You know how much I like to come up from behind, and rush ahead? Well,
that’s what we’re going to do now. Be a sport, Buster, and don’t whine
so much. Everything’s going to be lovely, and the goose will hang high,
I can tell you.”

“I guess it will,” sighed the fat boy, with a resigned expression on his
face, as though he realized that he was in for it, and might as well
make the best of a bad bargain.

The boat was floating down the current, as Buster had pushed out from
the shore with a pole, after getting aboard. The other craft had gotten
some little distance away, and doubtless those on board were indulging
in the usual “I told you so’s” that accompanied every mishap on the part
of the Wireless, for both Jimmie and Josh could be seen looking back,
and even waving their hands, as though saying good-bye.

Then all at once there came a quick series of sharp sounds, and George
looked up with a proud expression on his face, as the little power-boat
began to rush through the water at racehorse speed.

“What did I tell you, Buster?” he observed, as he clutched the wheel,
and turned the boat’s head in a direct line with the others of the
little fleet; “and after this, please don’t act so impatient. Leave it
all to me. An engine’s a delicate thing to handle, and as full of whims
as a girl. Even the weather affects them at times; and they just have to
be coaxed, and led along. But I flatter myself I’ve got this thing down
fine, now, and we won’t have any trouble with it on this trip, while I
cut circles around the other fellows.”

That was a pet hobby with George, making speed, and “running rings”
around his comrades. Nothing tickled him more than to be able to do
this, even though it failed to bother Jack or Herb in the least.

“Mebbe you’re right, George,” replied Buster, meekly, “you see, when it
comes to mechanics my education has been sadly neglected, and I couldn’t
run an engine if my very life depended on it. All I’ve noticed is, that
the other motors don’t seem to bother about weather, or any old thing.
They go plodding right along like they had business to do, and didn’t
mean to be halted.”

“That’s just it, Buster,” remarked the other eagerly, “they never have
troubles of their own because they’re slow-pokes, like heavy farm
horses. It’s the highly bred racer that’s all nerves, you know. But look
at us eating up space, will you? Don’t we fly along, though? This is
what I like, Buster. What are you looking at me that way for?”

“I’m afraid I’m going to sneeze, George, and I hope it won’t--ker-chew!
oh! my, it’s coming again, ker-chew! Excuse me, George. I’ll try and not
let that happen often, if I can help it.”

George looked at his companion rather suspiciously. He could not tell
whether Buster really meant what he said, or was speaking in irony. But
the gallant way in which the narrow boat was cutting the water gripped
his attention again, and after that he could not bother himself with
minor things.

They soon overtook the other two boats moving along in company. Jack
could have easily gone ahead of the beamy Comfort had he wished, but he
preferred to stay by Herb, so that the crews could exchange opinions
from time to time. In his mind a large part of the pleasure to be gotten
out of cruising came from this sociability; whereas George would be
rushing off by himself, satisfied if only he could make a mile in a
fraction less time than at any previous time.

In ten minutes George was far ahead, and making the water fly out on
either side as he urged his engine on to do its prettiest.

“Up to his old tricks again,” remarked Josh, as he tidied up a little
aboard the Tramp, secretly delighted that luck had given him a berth
with the commodore, whom he admired greatly.

“Well, what did you expect?” replied Jack, who was taking things easy,
with his engine working like a charm, “what’s bred in the bone can never
be beaten out of the flesh, they say; and George, with his nervous ways,
cares only for racing, whenever he can coax anybody to give him a go.
But mark what I say, Josh, it’s only a question of time before he rubs
up against his old motor troubles again. He’s never satisfied when he’s
got the thing running smoothly, but has to go tinkering at it to see if
he can’t get another fraction of speed out, and then all at once it
balks, and refuses to work at all.”

“Yes,” remarked Josh, with a wide grin, “we may be towing the Wireless
back home yet; and it wouldn’t be the first time, either, Jack.”

“Well, hardly,” mused the skipper, smiling himself as memory carried him
back to other scenes connected with their numerous cruises in these same
boats.

“Does George know that we expect to tie up at noon, and have a bite
ashore; or will he be silly enough to want to rush along that way, and
get to the island long before we think of pulling in there?” Josh went
on to ask.

“He knows our plans all right,” answered the other, “though you can
never tell what George will do, he’s so full of notions. But as stuff to
eat is aboard the roomy Comfort, and we’re carrying the rest, unless he
wants to starve poor old Buster, so as to cut down his weight, and make
less ballast for the speed-boat to carry, I guess he’ll haul in about
eleven and wait for us.”

“Oh! I don’t envy Buster his job of holding down that bucking broncho of
a Wireless,” Josh chuckled. “I c’n see him right now, sitting there,
holding on, and looking like he was tryin’ to accommodate his breathin’
with the panting of the engine, while George he looks daggers every time
Buster gulps in a wad of air at the wrong time.”

“Oh! come now, Josh, it isn’t quite so bad as all that,” declared Jack,
with a shake of his head. “And even George couldn’t keep Buster from
having his own way, once he gets started. It’s good he learned how to
swim long ago, because chances are, he’ll be overboard more than once
before this voyage is done.”

“Mebbe George’ll throw him over, when he gets nervous, and Buster keeps
wobbling around, making the boat roll to beat the band, eh, Jack?”

“Well, you know how that is yourself, because that’s what happened when
you had the job of crew aboard his boat,” the skipper of the Tramp went
on to say; which reminder seemed to afford Josh considerable amusement,
to judge from his laughter.

They went on steadily, putting mile after mile behind them. Now and then
some river craft was encountered, though these were of course not near so
numerous as would have been the case below the confluence of the Missouri
and Ohio with the Father of Waters. Sometimes it was a steamboat that was
breasting the current; or it might be a plodding towboat, with a barge or
two alongside. And then again they overtook a queer looking shantyboat,
which had the appearance, with its cabin, of a cheese box on a raft.

All these familiar sights were eagerly observed by Jack and his
companion, as well as the two upon the other boat, for they recalled
pleasant memories.

George had gone so far ahead that his little boat looked like a dot upon
the water; but possibly he would remember in time that he had no means
of satisfying hunger aboard the Wireless, and might anchor to await
their coming, giving Buster a chance to wet a line, for the fat boy had
taken a great fancy for fishing, and was always complaining that he did
not get half the opportunities to indulge in his favorite sport that he
would like.

Now and then they would pass a town upon either shore of the river,
although as a rule these were not so plentiful in this section, where
the banks were inclined to be marshy.

The morning was gradually wearing away, and everything seemed to be
going smoothly. Josh expressed himself as surprised that hours had
passed, and still the nettlesome speed-boat continued to keep going
along, as though George had indeed finally mastered the secret of its
precious unreliable behavior.

“But when George is around, you c’n expect any old thing to happen,” he
wound up with, “and even when things are working smoothly, he won’t be
satisfied till he upsets the combination again, you see if it ain’t so.”

Jack did not attempt to contradict his prediction, because he also knew
George like a book and thought pretty much the same way.

Just about eleven, Josh declared that they seemed to be gradually
getting nearer the pilot boat of the party, as George liked to have his
craft called; though for that part he would have made a most unreliable
guide, and had the others chosen to follow him, they would have been led
into many more messes than actually fell to their lot.

“That’s because Buster has rebelled,” Jack observed, “there’s been a
mutiny aboard that craft; and George had been told that for one Buster
doesn’t mean to miss his lunch at noon, just because the Wireless is
making a record run.”

“Oh! you mean they’ve thrown the old mud hook over, and are waiting for
us slow-pokes to come along, eh, Jack?”

“Just about that; but we’re getting all the fun we want out of making
slower time; and our engines won’t go back on us either, in spite,”
laughed the other.

“Well, while we’re gliding along in this fine way--I always like to use
that word when speaking of cruising, it sounds so fine--I’ll be getting
up the menu for our first dinner ashore. It makes my mouth water just to
think of a campfire again, after all that time. Brought your little old
Marlin along, didn’t you, Jack? P’raps we might get a few late ducks
while we’re out, if all of ’em ain’t gone north by now. And if Buster
only does his duty, and grabs up a fish now and then, why, it’ll be just
great.”

So Josh, who used to be something of a cook in times past, amused
himself in a way that suited his fancy, while they drew closer and
closer to the place where the speed-boat awaited them.

George was full of boasting as usual, and predicted a record run for his
craft. None of the others disputed his assertions, but they exchanged
looks, for they had heard all this sort of talk before, and then seen
poor disappointed George only too glad to take a tow in the end, with
his engine stubborn, or broken down.

Together they continued on down the river; where they could readily tie
to the bank, and go ashore to cook dinner.

There was a great deal of climbing back and forth, and everybody but
George seemed bustling with business; he sat there, and pottered with
his engine, as though some new idea had seized hold of him, and he
meant to try one of his everlasting experiments that always ended so
disastrously.

Then the voice of Buster was heard in the land, lamenting.

“It was there yesterday, because I put it in away with my own hands; and
George here says he never opened that locker once; but now that I want
to put it on, my new sweater has disappeared the funniest way ever. I
wouldn’t be surprised, fellers, if we found that some thief got aboard
our boats last night, and couldn’t resist taking that bully sweater with
the red moon on the front; and that’s what!”



CHAPTER III

BUSTER CAPTURES A FISH


“Chances are you left it behind in the shed where the boats were kept,”
George remarked, looking up from his work, “but I wish you’d just step
ashore, and let me go on with my little job here, Buster. Excuse me for
saying it, but whenever you swing around it makes the boat rock just
awful.”

“Oh! I’m a-goin’ right away, George, and only too glad for a chance to
set foot again on something solid, that won’t sway every time I breathe
wrong. Wait till I get my fish lines, will you? P’raps if I can’t have
the pleasure of wearing my new sweater, I might manage to pick up a few
small finny denizens of the mighty Mississippi. And when it comes to
_fish_, I know you fellows are fond of most any kind that swims.”

“Except dog-fish; I draw the line there,” objected Josh. “But here’s
some meat to bait your line with, Buster; you see, Jack brought a steak
along, thinking we’d miss it all of a sudden; and we’re going to fry
some onions with that. Makes your mouth water, don’t it?”

“Makes me eyes run a-peelin’ these same onions!” groaned Jimmie;
“somebody please do be koind enough to take out me hanky, and woipe me
tears away. ’Tis remimberin’ me ould grandmither I am at this blissed
minute and that’s what makes me cry.”

Buster kindly performed that brotherly duty, and then busied himself
with his fish lines. Rod or pole he had none, nor did Buster ever bother
with such a thing as a reel. A large hook, with a hunk of meat fastened
to it, and dropped overboard, suited his ideas all right; after which he
trusted to luck to bring him a capture.

The fire was started by Jack, and already Josh could be seen getting
ready to serve as chef. He had fetched along a cute little white cap
without a peak, which he donned whenever he had to serve as the
“dish-slinger and pot wrestler,” as he was fond of calling his
occupation. It was intended to stand for his badge of authority; and
when he had it on, the rest were supposed to be his willing slaves,
ready to jump at his bidding.

There is no part of an outing that suits boys better than preparing
meals, unless it is in disposing of the same after they are cooked.
With appetites whetted to a keen edge by the air, and freedom from
anxiety, they can hardly wait until called to the feast, but wander
around, begging the cook to please hurry, if he does not want to have a
funeral on his hands.

There was always more or less merry talk passing back and forth while
these six comrades tried and true, got dinner ready; for they were
a good-natured lot, and very fond of each other, despite frequent
bickerings, usually between George on the one hand, and some chum on the
other.

Buster had managed to set his two lines, as best the conditions allowed.
Since George was so touchy about his rocking the narrow boat with his
clumsy movements, Buster had gone out to the beamy Comfort, and fastened
one of his stout lines to a cleat he found handy. The other he had
thrown out from the shore above, and tied to a stake driven into the
earth, just as he had seen a snubbing-post used down in Florida, when
sharks were being fished for around the inlets.

Every little while he would glance toward these lines, having arranged
so that if a fish took hold, a little piece of white rag would be
hoisted as a signal; very much on the order of that frequently used by
pickerel fishermen, when watching a dozen or two holes cut through the
ice, each with its separate line.

The cooking progressed slowly. Josh said he was out of practice, but
that when he got his hand in, all would be smooth sailing again.

He had plenty of assistance, for every one but George and Buster hung
around, ready to lend a hand; and after he had fixed his snares with the
baited hooks at the end, even the fat boy was willing to do anything
Josh asked.

Finally the cook announced that everything was ready, and that they
could draw up to the board. Of course this latter was only a figure of
speech, for there was not a sign of a board around; the things were
placed right on the ground, while the diners were expected to get their
supplies on a tin platter, and in a tin cup; after which they were at
liberty to squat like tailors, with their legs drawn up under them; or
else retreat to the boats for more comfortable seats.

“Talk to me about your banquets,” remarked Herb, as he started in on his
rasher of steak and fried onions, “this beats anything that was ever
invented. I wouldn’t change places with a king, right now.”

“Them’s my sintimints!” echoed Jimmie, as well as a fellow could who had
his mouth crammed full at the moment, so that he had to talk from one
side.

“Hurry up, George, or you’ll get left!” called Josh, noticing that the
skipper of the speed boat had not come ashore.

“Oh! I suppose I’ll just have to, but I’d rather be left to work here,”
replied George, nervously, whereat the rest glanced at each other, and
the looks thus exchanged seemed to say as plainly as anything: “Wonder
now if he’s gone and done it, mixed things up with his cranky old
engine, and don’t seem able to get it to working right again; that would
be just like Fussy George!”

It was more than pleasant to sit there, looking out upon the broad river
and enjoying the feast that had been prepared as a starter to their camp
life. The very wind that came sweeping across from the further shore,
cool and delicious, seemed to be of a different brand to any that they
enjoyed at home; so much do surroundings have to do with things.

No one seemed in any particular hurry but George, who bolted his dinner,
and was back again on his boat long before any of the others had
finished.

“Are we nearly half way there, do you think Jack?” asked Herb, who knew
that the skipper of the Tramp kept track of all these things and had
charts as well of the river.

“We’ve come forty-five miles since starting, because, you see, the
current is pretty strong; and for once we haven’t been held up by
George’s cranky boat,” replied Jack, lowering his voice a little when
saying this last, since there was no necessity for offending the chum
whose little oddities gave them more or less fun during a cruise.

“Then that would mean we’ve still got a good fifty to go,” suggested
Buster.

“Somebody get a leather medal for Buster here, our Lightning Calculator.
Now, it would take me ever so long to figure that forty-five from
ninety-five really leaves fifty; but just see how he grabs the answer
right off the reel. It won’t be long before he has a little ‘Professor’
tacked to his name,” and Josh chuckled as though he had really said
something smart.

Buster did not seem to feel hurt; in fact, many of these little shafts
just glanced from him as arrows might from the thick hide of a
rhinoceros; which is not saying that Buster was impervious to ridicule,
for that would be far from the truth, as he could be quite sensitive at
times; but Josh he treated with supreme contempt whenever the latter
tried to be funny at his expense.

All this while Buster had tried to keep one eye on the places where his
fishing lines were out. He fancied several times that he saw a white rag
start to show, but before he could scramble to his feet, which was quite
an effort for him, it was all over, and proved to be only a nibble, so
that on each occasion he had to sink back again, and have patience.

There were good fish in the old Mississippi, and he knew it, so why
should he not have his share of the spoils? In his moments of leisure,
while preparing his hooks and lines, no doubt Buster had pictured
himself as hauling in some monster that would be the envy of all his
camp-mates; and beside which he must have his picture taken, as positive
proof that he was the successful angler.

Jack knew that once they started they would be apt to make their
destination in less than five hours; so that there was no need of haste.
He had seen much of George’s hurrying, and what grievous results it
often brought in its train, that somehow he felt more averse to making
haste than ever.

So he and Herb and Andy sat there, chatting, as they finished their
dinner, with Buster squatting alongside like a great toad, waiting for
that bite which did not seem to materialize very fast, and in a sort of
hazy way listening to what was said by his three chums; Josh being busy
with the cooking utensils, which he liked to keep as clean as sand and
water could scour them, after the most approved camp methods known.

All at once there was a heave on the part of Buster; who seemed to be
actuated by some wild impulse, for he made frantic efforts to get up;
but as he had been sitting on one of his legs, it had gone to “sleep,”
so that even after the fat boy did succeed in gaining an erect position,
he came very near falling over into the fire that was still smouldering.

“Hi! what’s all this mean; got a fit, Pudding?” shouted the alarmed
Josh, as he supported the swaying form of the other for just five
seconds; when Buster broke loose, and went limping toward the river,
uttering all sorts of vaporings, in his excitement.

“Oh! it’s only a fish, after all,” grunted Josh, who had begun to
believe that there was something tremendous the matter.

But at any rate it meant a whole lot for Buster, who, scrambling aboard
the Comfort made a bee line for the spot where he had fastened his
stout cord. Sure enough the piece of white rag was fluttering from the
top of the rudder post, having been pulled up there when the fish had
seized the bait, and started away with it.

Everybody just naturally stopped whatever they were doing at the time,
to watch the fisherman. Even George poked his head up to see what all
the row was about, and for the moment forgot his troubles with that
cranky engine.

Buster was giving little cries of mingled delight and wonder.

“Wow! it’s sure a big one this time, boys! Takes your Uncle Nick to coax
the dandies to take hold. Yes, I spit on my bait every time, and that’s
the trick to fetch ’em. That’ll do, Josh, I’m running this circus, and
I’d thank you not to butt in. Watch me land him now, boys! Say, ain’t
this fun, though? Worth while coming fifty miles to see me do the great
act. Wow!”

“Look out, Bumpus, or he’ll pull you in!” called Jack; but evidently the
warning meant in good earnest, fell on deaf ears. Bumpus was not going
to be denied the pleasure of landing his own capture.

They saw him unfasten the cord with trembling hands, hardly able to
contain himself. Then he threw himself back in a noble attitude that
made Josh compare him with “Ajax defying the lightning,” which every one
has seen in marble.

All at once Herb gave a shout that was echoed by others.

“Whip the cord around the cleat again, Buster, quick!”

Buster attempted to obey, realizing when it was too late that he had cut
off more than he could manage when he tried to land that monster fish;
but unable to do so, and unwilling to let go of the line, for he had a
very stubborn nature, the next thing they knew there was a great splash,
and Buster was wallowing in the yellow waters of the Mississippi.



CHAPTER IV

A MYSTERY LOOMS UP


That was not the first time Buster Longfellow had taken an involuntary
bath in the Father of Waters, as his comrades knew only too well. At the
same time, this fact did not lessen the excitement that followed his
disappearance one little atom.

Such a splashing and grunting and wallowing as there was when the fat
boy took that sudden plunge; why, one could easily imagine a whole troop
of hogs had been coaxed in to being scrubbed, preparatory to an
exhibition at the county fair.

And the way the water flew was a caution. A young whale working its way
up the river from the gulf, or rather a porpoise, since whales are not
to be found often in the Sunny South, could not have created a greater
racket.

Of course every fellow, after that first shock, sprang to his feet, and
made for the shore as fast as his legs could carry him. It might be a
ludicrous sight, all very well, but there was a little element of danger
connected with it; and they were comrades true, who could not stand by,
and see poor Buster dragged out into the middle of the river by a fish.

When the splashing had in a measure subsided, they discovered the stout
figure of Buster. He was standing in the yellow water up to his waist
and tugging with all his might at the fish line, which he seemed to have
wrapped around both hands, as though just determined that his prize
should not get away.

Now the boy would gain a foot, and seem to be dragging his capture
toward land; when there would be a sudden tremendous effort on the part
of the fish to escape, and the first thing Buster knew, he was being
pulled back again, though he fought tooth and nail to hold his own.

Once his feet flew from under him, owing to the slippery condition of
the mud on which he stood. At that a great “Oh!” broke out from the
other five boys; and Jack, who had been hastily removing some of his
outer garments, with the intention of being ready in case his help was
needed, was just on the point of jumping in, when Buster again emerged
from the turmoil, rising up like a Neptune, the water pouring from his
head like a young Niagara.

“Let him go, Buster; he’s too much for you!” shrilled George, who
was leaning over the edge of his boat with a pole in his hand, and
regardless for once that the cranky Wireless careened far down until her
beam end almost took in water.

“I won’t!” snapped back the stubborn Buster, shaking the drops from his
face, as a New Foundland dog might after a bath. “He’s mine, and I’m
going to grab him if it takes all summer, see?”

He had managed to get a good footing once more, and started to tug
manfully with the result that he immediately gained several yards. This
was the best he had done as yet, and in consequence he seemed to receive
inspiration to make a still greater exertion.

After that the victory was as good as won.

Buster marched out on the bank the line over his shoulder; and as soon
as they could do so without wetting themselves Josh and Herb seized hold
of the stout cord.

“Wow! it sure is a whale!” exclaimed George, from his position of
vantage on board his boat, as something that flapped, and made a
tremendous splutter, was dragged out of the river, and up on the shore.

It was a tremendous yellow catfish, one of that species that help to
make the Mississippi famous among market fishermen.

“Whee! must weigh about as much as Buster does, and that’s a fact!”
remarked Josh, as he surveyed the monster.

It was not a lovely spectacle, with its slippery skin, and great gaping
mouth resembling that of a big bulldog.

“What whiskers it’s got, the omadhaun!” Jimmie called out, “and say the
horn on his back, wud yees? Whoo! but ’tis a brave lad ye arre, Buster,
to holdt sich a monster stiddy, and walk ashore wid the same. I take off
me hat till yees, so I do, me laddybuck!”

Buster was panting like anything, and could hardly get his breath; but
Jack believed he had never seen him look quite so happy, as when he
stood over that giant Mississippi cat, and had his picture snapped off
by George, who got his new kodak out especially to preserve the incident
among the annals of the club.

“Get some dry clothes on you in a hurry, Buster,” suggested Jack, after
they had all congratulated the hero of the occasion on his dogged pluck,
“it’s all very well holding on like that, but you ought to know when
it’s time to let go, too. I thought that time had come when it pulled
you under. You had the cord wrapped around both hands, Buster, a very
foolish thing to do, I think. If you hadn’t been able to get your
footing again, and had no friends near by to lend a hand, it was apt to
go hard with you. And let me tell you there have been more fishermen
than a few drowned by just such a foolish trick as that. Hold on as long
as you want, but never put yourself in a position where you can’t let
go.”

Buster smilingly agreed that this was good advice, and promised to
remember. He was feeling so remarkably happy over his great luck that he
could not have taken offense at anything, and would have made the
rashest sort of promises.

And while he rooted out his clothes bag, so as to get some dry togs,
Jack and Andy proceeded to cut up the big fish; because they knew that,
horrible looking though the creature might be to a sportsman, its flesh
is highly esteemed as an article of food along the length of the whole
river.

It was no easy task they had set themselves; and more than once they
wished the slippery catfish had broken loose, and gone off with Buster’s
hook dangling from its jaw like cheap jewelry, with which to dazzle its
fellows. But in the end they managed to secure all the meat they wanted,
and tossed the balance into the river to feed its kind.

“Now, let’s be getting off!” called out Jack, after he had washed up,
and in some measure removed the fishy smell from his hands.

Since the other boys had taken everything aboard, there was really
nothing to detain them; and presently the merry reports from the various
engines told that the three motorboats had again resumed their journey
down the Mississippi in the direction of Bedloe’s Island.

That was an afternoon not soon to be forgotten by any of them, for the
air was just warm enough to make them delight in lying around, and
taking a sun bath. No doubt George was having the time of his life with
Buster, who must be so chock full of his recent triumph that every
little while he would burst out with a new string of questions
concerning his battle, and wishing to know what it looked like from
every angle ashore.

But the time passed, and as George’s engine gave him no new trouble, the
little flotilla made splendid progress while the hours crept on.

At just three-forty-seven Jack gave a blast from his old conch shell
horn which he had brought up from Florida with him--in fact, every boat
was provided with a similar means for exchanging signals, and the boys
had arranged a regular code, so that when separated by a mile or so
they could talk with each other after some sort of fashion.

This single blast just now announced that Jack believed he had sighted
the island that was to be their destination, away down the river.
Judging from their speed, aided by the swift current, they ought to make
it inside of another half hour. This would give them plenty of time to
hunt a good landing place, where they could put up their tent, and make
things at least half way comfortable before night set in.

Although the boys could sleep aboard, and very comfortable too, they
preferred being ashore whenever it was possible, all save George, who
could seldom be coaxed to desert his beloved Wireless craft, even for a
brief time. He acted as though he dreaded lest that engine think up some
new trick if he left it alone; eternal watchfulness was the price of
victory with George; and his chums often declared that when he was on a
cruise George hardly knew what sort of country he passed through, for
keeping his nose down so persistently over that motor of his.

Jack’s prediction came true, and when a quarter after four came around,
they were running along the shore of a wooded island which he announced
was the object of their search.

“Where are we going to land, Jack?” called out Buster, for the three
boats were now very close together, and the crews had been exchanging
comments on the sombre appearance of the lonely island for some time
past.

“I don’t know,” came the answer, “because I’ve never been here before.
We’d better just float along down close to the shore, and keep an eye
out for a suitable landing place. If we don’t find one on this side, by
the time we get to the foot of the island, why, what’s to hinder our
working along up the other shore, and looking for it there?”

“That’s so, Jack!” admitted Buster, who was in one of his finest humors;
though for that matter they seldom knew the fat boy to be anything but
amiable and good-natured, as most of his kind are.

They must have passed almost to the very tail end of the long island
when Josh let out a whoop, and called the attention of his comrades to
what seemed to be a little bay that formed a tiny cove, with a sandy
beach beyond.

“Just the ticket!” agreed Jack, “looks like it had been scooped out for
a landing place.”

“Bet you them fishermen come right in; and we’ll be apt to find some of
their huts around back there,” suggested George, who had possibly heard
more stories about mysterious Bedloe’s Island than any of the others,
for he had been making poor Buster’s flesh run cold during the afternoon
with accounts of strange things people said had occurred to make the
place shunned.

“Then there must be good fishing around here,” remarked Buster, with the
air of one who ought to be consulted whenever such sport were mentioned,
because he had surely won his spurs that day, if any one ever did.

“Listen to him talk,” broke out Josh. “Now he’s got the fishing bee on
his brain and he’ll just as like as not be at it morning, noon and
night, till we get sick of the smell of fish. One good thing about it
that I can see is, after he’s been living on fish food for a whole week
Buster will have brains enough to last him all summer, because they say
it makes ’em, you know. Sometimes I think he’s a little short in his
supply, especially when he wraps a fish line around both hands, when
he’s got a young whale at the other end.”

They had no difficulty in passing into the little “bight,” as Jack
called the miniature cove, for the water was deep enough for even the
Wireless; although Jack said they would have to be sure and constantly
keep tabs on whether the river was rising or falling each day and
night, since it would be mighty unpleasant to awaken some fine morning
to discover that their motor boats were high and dry; as the water had
gone down a foot while they slept.

They secured the craft ashore to trees that chanced to be growing close
by; for floods did not often come to this upper part of the great river
as they did below the confluence with the Ohio and the Missouri.

Then some of the things were taken to land; and the six boys were soon
working like so many beaver, fixing camp.

The tent had to be erected; and after it had been partly placed in
position a better spot was discovered, so that the job had to be all
done over. As the day was growing near its close and darkness might be
expected to fall upon them before another hour, there was no time for
loitering. Why, even George had been made to see the error of his ways,
and forgot all about that everlasting motor of his for a short time,
lending a hand to get things in shape around the camp.

Josh had plenty to do starting the fire, after fashioning a rude but
effective cooking range out of the many stones that could be had along
the shore for the picking up. They carried a little contrivance that
was very effective, being a sort of spider or gridiron patterned after
the shelf in most kitchen ranges. Jack had had it made by the local
blacksmith, and when it was laid across two ridges of rock, between
which the red coals lay, they could place the coffee-pot, a skillet and
even a kettle on the bars at the same time, without the constant danger
of upsetting that always exists where a camper tries to cook with only a
resting place of stones for his various utensils.

The others were busy at various duties when Josh was heard calling out,
with a touch of authority in his voice, as became the chef, now placed
in supreme command by reason of his exalted and important office.

“Whoever took that grub I left over here by the tree, better bring it
back again right away, and quit meddlin’ if he wants me to exert myself
getting supper ready.”

“What’s that, Josh?” asked Jack, looking up from his work of fastening
the lower rim of the tent to the pegs that had been driven securely into
the earth.

“Why, you see, Jack,” explained the other, lowering his aggressive voice
a little when addressing the commodore, “I thought I’d make the fire
over here till I saw you’d changed the position of the tent; and then I
crossed over to where she’s burning cheerfully now. So I laid some
things down that I meant to cook for supper--two slices of that ham I
cut off while afloat; a can of Boston baked beans, and part of the fish
Buster hooked and that nearly got away with him. Now, mind you, I ain’t
mentionin’ any names, but some busybody’s gone and took the entire
outfit, and hid it away. How d’ye think the cook c’n perform his
calling, when they’re playin’ tricks on him like that, tell me?”

There was a dead silence for about half a minute, while the boys looked
at each other questioningly.

Then Buster raised his hand, and said, earnestly:

“Not guilty, Jack, sure I never even saw the old ham; and ketch me
a-playin’ any tricks on the cook, and me that hungry I c’d eat any old
thing.”

One by one of the others, even to George, copied Buster’s example,
and solemnly denied having tried to annoy the hard-working Josh by
purloining the stuff he had laid out for the evening meal.

“Must a mislaid it, that’s what, Josh,” declared Herb, consolingly.
“Sometimes my mind plays hob with me that way. Everybody get a move on
and look for the grub. We just can’t afford to have our goods floating
around every-which-way right in the start. We’ve got to find it, that’s
what.”

“Hold on, before you get to running around wild,” interrupted Jack, and
somehow when he spoke in that way it seemed as if all the other fellows
felt as though Jack had conceived an idea, for he was always quick along
those lines.

“What’s doing, Jack?” inquired Buster.

“I want to ask Josh particularly where it was he laid that stuff out,”
continued the other, impressively.

“Why, just like I said, over ther by that clump of brush,” the cook
explained, as he pointed in the quarter indicated.

“On that flat stone, perhaps?” continued Jack.

“Now, that was just what I did, Jack,” Josh went on to say, “and when
I stepped over just now to get the stuff, why, it wasn’t there. I
scratched my head, and tried to remember moving it, but I’d take my
affidavy that I never came back to get it till just now, after I got my
fire good and ready. That’s the way it was, Jack.”

“Wait a bit,” remarked the other, as he started for the spot in
question.

They all watched him curiously. First he bent down, and sniffed of the
stone.

“He’s smelling to see if the ham ever rested there, that’s what,”
declared Josh.

“And now look at him on his hands and knees, alongside that flat stone,
would you?” remarked Buster, wonderingly. “Whatever do you reckon Jack’s
got in his head, fellers?”

“He’s getting up now, and we’ll know right soon, which is one comfort,”
George observed.

Jack beckoned them over, and as soon as they came running pell-mell, he
wagged his head in a mysterious fashion, and pointed down to a spot near
his feet.

“That stuff didn’t walk off on its own account, boys; if you look sharp
you’ll see what did the little trick!” and as their eyes instantly
turned down toward the ground they saw the plain imprint of a great big
shoe there!



CHAPTER V

THE FIRST CAMP FIRE OF THE TRIP


“Holy smoke! so that’s what the matter, is it?” exclaimed Buster, as he
stared at the telltale track.

“A thief, that’s what!” breathed George, angrily, as he turned to glance
at the neighboring growth of trees, now partly lost in the gloom of
coming night.

“And to think,” remarked Herb, “that anybody could just slip along here
back of these bushes, and grab our grub without one of us seeing him.”

“Oh! we were all too busy doing our regular stunts to think of such a
thing,” explained Jack. “You see, Josh had all he wanted to do with the
fire; some of us were putting up the tent the second time; and George
had his hands full with his pet hobby, bothering over his engine. Why,
it was as easy as falling off a log for him to just crawl up behind
these bushes, reach out a hand, and then good-bye to all the fine stuff
Josh had laid out so nice.”

“Well, if that don’t beat the Dutch!” exclaimed Josh, staring hard at
the stone which bore such an important part in all this discussion, as
though he could hardly believe his eyes.

“Look here,” continued Jack, “and you can see where the ground is all
rubbed up; that’s where his knees scraped on the surface when he dragged
one leg after the other, you know.”

“My! it takes you to get on to these things, Jack!” declared Buster.

Andy had said nothing up to now, but seemed to be just as much puzzled
and disturbed as the rest. He managed to put in his oar at about this
point, however.

“Musha! they do be sayin’ that this same ould island do be ha’nted; and
’tis me own silf that will be belavin’ the same afther this, so I will!”

“Great governor! he means it was a regular ghost, Jack, d’ye hear that?”
cried Buster, throwing up his chubby hands in rank despair.

Everybody seemed interested at once; for, while several of the boys, if
asked to their face might have promptly declared they never believed in
ghosts; still, it was so very queer, finding some unknown party on the
island with the bad name, that they were inclined to listen with
interest when Andy aired his views. Ghosts--of course not,--because they
were all humbug, anyway; but it was mighty strange how that stuff
vanished so mysteriously.

Jack laughed out loud.

He was a level-headed, practical boy, and had not a grain of superstition
in his whole body. Many a time had he and Andy argued and disputed upon
this very score, and the one whose ancestors had come from the island
across the sea had apparently so far as outward appearances went, at
least, been convinced of the error of his ways, only to have the old
belief crop up again unexpectedly on the first occasion. It was in the
blood; and what is there cannot be argued away.

“Stop and think, Buster, and you, Andy,” Jack went on to say,
impressively, “ghosts wouldn’t be apt to wear big boots, would they, and
come creeping along, when they are popularly supposed to have the power
of making themselves invisible?”

“That’s so, Jack, you’re right!” burst out George, enthusiastically.
“Get your gun, and we’ll take a look for the rascal, and make him stand
and deliver.”

But Jack paid no attention to this fiery threat; if they tried to carry
out one-tenth of the things impulsive George suggested, it would surely
keep them busy, well and good.

“And whoever heard of a hungry ghost?” Jack went on to say, so as to rub
it in, good and hard. “This fellow, whoever he could have been, must
have been hungry; for he cribbed our ham and stuff the first shot. Well,
it’s gone; but thank goodness we’ve got plenty more; so I say, don’t
let’s have such a little thing make us feel bad. Get busy, some of you,
and fix the cook up with a second ration. Herb, cut two more slices off
the ham, and Buster, you turn your hand at carving that hunk of fish
we’ve still got. Such a trifle shouldn’t upset fellows who had been
through all we have, you know.”

“No more it hadn’t!” cried Buster.

“Bully for the Commodore; he’s the right stuff!” exclaimed Josh, waving
the stick of wood he happened to be holding in his hand at the time; and
looking very much like a real French chef with his cute little white cap
on his head.

“But hey, let’s first of all get every bit of our stuff in the tent, and
keep a close watch on the same,” observed suspicious George. “First
thing you know we’ll just have to abandon our week of fun down here
because we’re starved out. We didn’t agree to feed all the stray
fishermen, or hoboes in the country, when we laid in our supplies this
time; ain’t that a fact, Jack?”

It was strange how all the other boys almost invariably turned to Jack
when they had advanced a proposition; as though his guarantee was all
that was necessary to stamp the suggestion as a clever idea.

“Yes, you’re right there, George; and while the rest of you are doing
all you can to help Josh out, I’ll be collecting the duffle in the tent,
and fixing the same so it won’t bother us much. If any chap manages to
hook more of our stuff from under our very noses, he’ll deserve it,
that’s all.”

So saying, Jack started to carry things in under the canvas, for the
tent had been about fully erected at the time Josh made his astonishing
statement; and only needed to be fastened down a little more securely at
the base, so as to be ready to stand any sort of a blow, such as might
come along in the spring time here on the upper Mississippi.

The air was getting a little “nippy,” as Buster called it; so that
several of the motorboat boys had donned their sweaters. This made
Buster start to again bemoaning the strange disappearance of his new
one, that had the blue moon on the breast. He never could convince
himself that he had mislaid it in the shed where the boats had been
housed for the winter; and fancied that one of his chums must be hiding
it from him; because every little while he would watch each one in turn,
and with hope struggling afresh upon his rosy, plump face, only to have
it die out again when he realized they were not dragging the familiar
object out of their clothes bags.

Secretly Buster was determined that at the first chance he would rummage
through each one of those bags himself, and make positive that his
missing property was not reposing where it never should be found.

The supper preparations went on apace, and soon the most delightful
odors ever sniffed by hungry cruisers began to permeate the surrounding
atmosphere. Buster went into the tent, calling back over his shoulder:

“Just going to lie down a while on my blanket, to see how she goes,
fellers. Fact is, I’m that cramped after a session aboard the speed boat
that I c’n hardly stretch out. And then, to own up to the real truth,
them smells make me just wild, and I can’t stand it around the fire any
longer. Just call me when everything’s ready, Josh, that’s a good
feller. Oh! my! but that coffee is scrumptious; and the ham, goodness
gracious! whoever smoked that pig knew how to fix things so’s to set a
hungry boy half crazy. Yum! yum! Don’t forget to wake me, now, Josh!”

But of course it was not long before supper was declared ready, and the
boys proceeded to gather around the spot where Josh had set things.
Buster was not called, in fact there was no need, for he burst out of
the tent like a young cyclone just at this time, and hastened to find a
place to deposit his fat form in the circle.

“Hey! thought’d you steal a march on me, didn’t you, fellers?” he
demanded, trying to look very fierce, which was impossible, for he only
screwed up his face and seemed comical at such times; “meant to just eat
up my share, and then tell me you forgot all about giving me the high
sign. But I was on to your little game, let me tell you. Could hear
every word you said, and when Josh here told George to pass out his
pannikin, that gave me my cue. Thank you, Josh, I believe I will dip in
next; and Herb, fill my tin-cup with that coffee, please. Oh! ain’t I
glad we’ve got started at last. That last ten minutes was just awful to
me!”

So Buster rattled on until the others begged him to stop it.

“Let the food close that trap of yours, Buster, please,” said George.
“That’s the way he goes, ding-dong, the whole blessed day, fellows;
until I can hardly think straight, when I’m trying to figure on how to
bridle that high-stepper of a motor of mine.”

They were soon all hard at work, and after the first keen edge of their
appetites had been taken off, it was a merry group that gathered near
the fire, eating, chatting and with a continual flow of wit passing back
and forth.

Nevertheless Jack could not forget about the mysterious disappearance of
the food, and every little while he would get up, to take a stroll
around to the other side of the tent; just as though he half feared that
some daring intruder might try to cut into the back of the canvas, with
the intention of continuing his depredations.

“How about that old paper Andy brought with him?” asked George, after
they had eaten all that was possible; and even Buster was seen to shake
his head when Josh asked if anybody would have any more coffee, baked
beans, crackers, or cheese.

“Say, that’s a fact!” cried Herb, “we went and forgot all about it. You
see, Jack crammed it in a pocket of his old jacket; and all of us were
that anxious to be off we didn’t remember to have the account of the
robbery read out. Got it yet, haven’t you, Jack?”

“Sure I have,” replied the other, “and if you wait a minute I’ll get the
same, so we can enjoy the thrilling story right here and now. Those kind
of yarns always sound better around the blazing camp fire, you know.”

“Kinder go with ghosts, and all that sort of thing, eh?” came from
Buster, who was eyeing the remnant of ham in the fryingpan, and heaving
a sigh, as though it really gave him a pain to think that his capacity
seemed to have been reached before the last bit had been disposed of;
that was next door to a sin with Buster, who would gorge himself rather
than see the least thing wasted, or thrown away.

“Ghosts don’t burgle any that I ever heard of,” observed Josh, calmly
picking up the said skillet, and with a fling sending a small portion of
the fatty end of ham flying into the bushes, at which Buster sank back,
disappointed.

“Arrah, sure they do the quarest things ye iver heard till on,” declared
Andy; and then gave a quick look at Jack, as though half expecting to be
taken to task because of his clinging belief in hobgoblins, and all such
things.

But Jack did not see fit to pay the slightest attention to anything so
trifling just then. He passed into the tent, to where he had hung his
coat; for with his sweater on he had not felt the need of extra
covering. And presently he came out again, carrying the paper in his
hand.

“Now, isn’t that too mean for anything, boys?” he remarked.

“What’s gone wrong now, Jack; I hope more of our provisions haven’t
taken wings, and skipped out?” observed George; while Buster just sat
there, hugging his fat knees and holding his breath while he waited to
hear the worst.

“Oh! no; nothing like that,” came the answer, “but you see I had this
coat on a good part of the morning, and I guess the paper must have got
wet somehow, for there’s only part of the first page left; most of the
account of the robbery is gone. But I’ll read you what there is, if you
want. It’s the tail end, of course. Too bad it had to happen that way.”

“Go on, then, and let’s have what there is, Jack,” urged Josh.

“About where the lines begin to run even it starts in this way,”
remarked Jack. “‘The only clues they have of the robbery consist, first
of all, in several tools which Mr. Hasty, the blacksmith, identified as
part of his machinist’s outfit, showing that they had entered his shop;
and the fact that yesterday a dapper little naphtha launch, painted
white, with a red band around the upper part, was known to be anchored
just above town. Two parties occupied the same, one a well-dressed young
fellow, with a sharp look about him; and the other a heavy man, more
like a mechanic. The police have no doubt that these parties are the
ones who broke into the bank, and cleaned out the vault. The smart
looking young fellow must have planned the scheme. He was seen in the
bank during the day, getting some information, and a big bill changed,
and it is supposed that he took his bearings at that time he was
chatting with the cashier. From the description the latter was able to
give of his visitor it has been learned from St. Paul that the smooth
faced young fellow was positively a well known and skilful crook called
by the name of Slim Jim. The authorities hope to be able to get on to
their track up or down the river shortly.’”

Just as Jack ended this report Buster was heard to give a startled cry.

“What ails him now?” demanded Josh, looking toward the fat boy.

“Just what I thought, he’s gone and overfed, and now he’s feeling a
gripe coming on; he’ll sure burst some fine day,” grumbled George,
groaning to think that all during the trip he must put up with such a
rolypoly of a crew as Buster Longfellow.

“’Tain’t neither,” snapped the other, indignantly. “I c’n breathe as
well as any feller present. I gave that little gasp-like because I was
staggered, when Jack, he read about that trim little boat painted white,
with the red trimmin’ around the gunnel. Want to know why, don’t you?
Well, the fact is, fellers, I set eyes on that pirate craft myself, and
not so very long ago either; fact is, just half an hour before we
struck here. Now, what d’ye think of that, hey?” and Buster expanded
perceptibly, doubtless feeling his own importance as the bearer of
startling news.



CHAPTER VI

A STARTLING INTERRUPTION


“Whee!” exclaimed Josh, hardly able to believe his ears when he heard
the fat boy make this astonishing declaration so positively.

George also expressed more or less surprise, though from the look on
his face it was evident that he was beginning to guess something in
connection with what his “crew” was stating.

Jack immediately took Buster in hand. It was the only way of making him
tell all he knew, without forever “beating about the bush,” and giving
himself lots of airs; for Buster seldom found himself in the center of
the stage; and when such an event did come along he wished to make the
most of it. What boy, wouldn’t, tell me?

“See here,” Jack went on to say, “you want to tell us all about that,
now, Buster; because you’ve just made a startling statement; and we hope
you can back it up. How could you see that boat, and none of the rest of
us notice it; tell us that in the first place.”

“Shucks! that’s easy enough, fellers,” replied the other, bent on
making the most of his advantage. “Tell you how that was. You may
remember that George found himself away ahead, near the close of the
run; and as George, he doesn’t like to hold up even a little bit, what
did he do but spin away over to the other shore, and go down that, say
about five miles above the upper end of this blooming old island.”

“Oh! get a move on, old Ice-Wagon; you’re as slow as molasses in
winter!” groaned impulsive George; whereupon the fat boy turned
deliberately toward him to say:

“Who’s telling this story, me or you, George Rollins? If I am, then you
just keep your hands off, and let me spin the yarn my own way. Don’t
expect me to be a whirlwind like you, for I ain’t built that way; you’re
a match, and I’m a----”

“Tub; but never mind, Buster, please go on!” urged Josh.

“Well, of course George, he had his head stuck down close to his engine,
watching every stroke it made, and couldn’t see anything, only when he
bobbed up every little while to tell me how to steer. And we went in
fairly close to the shore. All at once, in a snug little cove behind a
tongue of high land, I saw the boat. She was anchored there; and first
thing I saw was a young feller, just like that paper tells on, asittin’
on the gunnel, and directin’ a heavy-set chap, who was in jumpers, and
looked like he was the engineer, deck hand and crew all rolled in one;
he seemed to be mendin’ the engine, or doin’ something like that.”

“But how was it you didn’t call the attention of George to the boat?”
asked Jack.

“It was cruelty to animals, that’s what,” echoed Josh, “because, think
how joyful it’d make our chum to know that other people had their engine
troubles as well as him?”

“Oh! he did tell me to look,” admitted George just then, nodding his
head, “but we were going so very fast, you know, that when I did get my
head up it was just too late; I had a glimpse of the tip-end of some
sort of boat in that cove he mentions; and then the bully little
Wireless flipped by like a streak of light. Give you my word for it,
fellows, we must have been flying along at the rate of nearly twenty
miles per just then, current and all.”

“Ah! rats!” ejaculated some one, and George did not know who had spoken,
for the voice seemed to come from anywhere; but he just glared around,
and then, shaking his head menacingly, he muttered:

“Better not be so plain next time, whoever said that; or it might bring
on trouble. I c’n stand nearly anything about myself, but I won’t hear
my pet boat sneered at. Yes, it was all of twenty miles, understand!”
and he again looked at Andy, Buster and Josh, as though daring any one
to express another doubt.

“Well,” said Jack, “here’s some fun for us, now. If that description of
the robber launch holds good; and Buster didn’t see something that
wasn’t there, then it seems that we’ve got the thieves, and all their
plunder, here within five miles of us right now. That’s interesting, if
true, as the papers say.”

George began to grow excited.

“Get that gun of yours ready, Jack, the trusty old Marlin that has stood
between us and trouble many a time!” he exclaimed, jumping to his feet,
as though in a frame of mind to go rushing off, pell-mell, on some
reckless errand.

“What for?” asked the more cautious Herb.

“Why, don’t it look like it’s up to us to surround that pirate craft,
and capture the bold burglars? Remember what we did once before when
cruising down this same old Mississippi! And then again, there was that
stunt we pulled off up among the Thousand Islands later on. Ain’t you
meaning to take a hand in this thing, Jack?”

“Oh! I don’t know,” replied the other, carelessly. “I really don’t see
why we should be called on to take the place of a sheriff’s posse every
little while, and risk our precious lives. None of our folks that I know
of have any interest in that looted bank up at Lawrence. And these kind
of men are a dangerous proposition to handle, let me tell you. It would
be a different matter if they broke in on us, and we got mixed up with
the pair in spite of things. Then we’d just have to do our level best to
capture the lot, and return the plunder to the cheering citizens of
Lawrence.”

“Hear! hear!” exclaimed Josh, pretending to clap his hands.

“But chances are, there’ll be something of a reward offered for the
apprehension of the thieves, and the safe return of the money,”
persisted George, although less strenuously than before.

“Well, what of that?” remarked Herb. “We ain’t officers of the law,
sworn to take all sorts of risks, just because some bad men get away
with the funds of any old country bank, are we? Let ’em lock up things
better, or hire a night watchman as the people in our town do these
days. Guess that goes, eh, Jack?”

“It certainly strikes at the root of the matter, as Professor Mapes
would say, Herb,” replied the other, quietly. “And then again, how do we
know but what circumstances might arise to make us take a hand in the
game? What more likely than that those same fellows would pick on this
island to hide for a while, until the chase for them gets played out.”

“Great brain, Jack!” cried Buster; “that’s as true as smoke. Fellers
like them are dead sure to know that Bedloe’s Island’s got a bad name
among honest folks; and that it’d be the boss hide-out for a couple of
crooks that thought the officers might be rushin’ up and down the river
looking for ’em.”

“Yes,” added Herb, “and if they’re as smart as we think they are,
chances’d be they would have brought some paint along with ’em, too.”

“Paint?” ejaculated Josh, “now, I c’n understand why Mr. Kedge, the
boatbuilder who owns the shed where we kept our craft all winter, has to
have that stuff around because he is in the business of fixing up all
sorts--say, looky here. Herb, d’ye mean they’d want to change their boat
from white to something else; is that your smart idea?”

Herb just nodded his head. He was not much given to talk; but once in a
while could be depended on to break in with a suggestion; and as a rule
what Herb said was worth listening to.

“Fine!” exclaimed George, always ready to admit the fact when one of his
mates really had a good idea.

“That’s where your head is level, Herb, me bye!” declared Andy.

Jack smiled, and nodded, as though he considered it a point well taken.
What more natural than that two smart rogues, trying to escape after
committing such a bold robbery, and traveling in such a conspicuous
boat, should think to prepare themselves with a pot of black or gray
paint, with which to completely alter the appearance of their craft
while hiding in some secluded spot, such as the island in the middle of
the river afforded?

“Well, we can keep that idea in mind,” Jack went on to say, “and for one
night set a watch, so that if they should happen along we’d know it.”

“Huh! that makes me feel bad!” grunted Josh.

“What about?” demanded Buster.

“Here I’ve been counting on having the jolliest old camp fire the first
night out you ever heard tell of. Been dreaming about it for a week
past, and seein’ the flames shootin’ up, with the sparks sailin’ away
out over the river; and here you go and throw cold water on that scheme
right in the start. No camp fire tonight! Why, half of the fun’d be lost
if we had to do the same thing every night, Jack, believe me.”

Josh did not look very happy over the gloomy prospect; so Jack had to
cheer him up the best way possible.

“It would only be for the one night, I reckon, Josh,” he remarked,
consolingly, “and if nothing happens before morning, why, after that you
can make fires to the limit of the wood on the island, if only you don’t
burn us all out.”

“Oh! well,” Josh went on to say, “if all the rest of you look at it that
way, course I’ve got to give in, because majority rules in this club,
always. So let the fire die out if you want; I’m not going to bother
putting another stick on it. Guess, with our sweaters and coats we c’n
be warm enough as we sit here and talk.”

“But all of us ain’t got sweaters,” exclaimed Buster, shiveringly,
“’less somebody happens to have my blue moon one stickin’ at the bottom
of his bag. Now, don’t everybody get mad at what I’m sayin’, and turn
on me savagely. Course I mean that it might a-got in there just by
accident like. And I’d be ever so much obliged if you’d look and see. A
sweater is a mighty fine thing to have sometime, which right now is one
of ’em; and when you don’t find it, you feel as blue as that moon mine
had on the breast.”

Jack obligingly turned out all the contents of his bag, as did Andy and
Herb, but Josh and George disdained to bother, saying they just knew it
was no use, as they had a complete record of every lasting thing that
was in their kits, and what was the need anyway; because a fellow as
careless as Buster chose to leave one of his useful garments hanging
somewhere in that boat builder’s shed, for he was always forgetting to
fasten the lockers of his boat when he left it, and everything like
that; why should they be put to such a nuisance?

But Buster eyed the pair suspiciously, especially Josh. Truth to tell,
it was on this individual that the burden of his belief fell; for was
not the other continually trying to play a trick on him?

“All right, I’ll know before a great while,” Buster was saying to
himself, as he lay back, having wrapped his blanket around his
shoulders, in order to ward off the chill breeze that found its way to
them, in spite of the fact that trees and underbrush lay in dense
masses between the northern end of the island and the spot which they
had chosen for their camp.

They talked for a while, but by degrees it might have been noticed that
for some unknown reason their voices gradually became more and more
subdued; though if asked the cause for this hardly any one could have
ventured an explanation. But possibly the subject they had recently been
discussing, in connection with the chances of the two suspects making
for the island, in order to lie there for some days, while they changed
the color of their boat from white to black, may have had an influence
on them all.

George was of course bothering his head about his one favorite pastime,
and trying to puzzle out just how he could do something to his tricky
engine in order to get more speed out of it, and at the same time stop
its balky ways. Buster, on his part, was perhaps making a mental
calculation concerning the amount of stores they had brought along; for
he had a dim suspicion that before they wished to return home the stock
would fall low, and the whole of them be put on short rations; a thing
that would seem very much like a calamity to Buster.

And each one of the others seemed to have something on his mind; for
presently absolute silence had fallen on the little group. This was a
most unusual occurrence, for as a rule several of the boys dearly loved
to hear themselves speaking, and would air their views at the slightest
excuse for doing so.

Jack, sitting there in what seemed to be a reverie, had his head against
the trunk of a good-sized tree. This may have acted as a conductor of
sound, for he seemed to catch a certain noise before any of the others
did; and none of them could be accused of dull hearing, either.

“Hark, everybody!” he said suddenly, in a low, thrilling tone, that
seemed to startle his companions, for everyone of them sat up straight.

“What did you think you heard, Jack?” whispered Buster, unconsciously
lowering his voice.

“Something that sounded like the gurgling of water against the side of a
boat, and voices in the bargain,” replied the other. “There, if you try,
you can get the same thing yourself. Seems to me there are push poles
being used to turn a boat in against the shore up above here a little
ways.”

All of them strained their ears. A minute, two of them, passed, and they
heard the swishing sounds Jack mentioned, each being followed by a
“plunk,” as of a pole being dropped into the water for another push.

Then a voice, rather soft and melodious, came drifting to their ears.

“That’ll do, Jenks; we can tie up to the shore here, all right, and in
the morning look for a suitable cove to lay the boat in, while we get to
work, and make the changes. Just think of it breaking down above this
island again. Only for the old bunch of ground sticking out here in the
river we’d have had to anchor. And, Jenks, I guess we might as well bury
that box here as tote it any further, you know. I hate to leave a thing
I cared for so much behind, but it can’t be helped.”



CHAPTER VII

THE TREASURE CACHE


“H’st! keep quiet!”

As Jack gave utterance to this whisper he set about gaining his feet
without making any racket. And no sooner had he accomplished this than
he started to stepping on what few red embers of the fire there chanced
to be left; so that almost in a “jiffy,” as Buster would have called it,
the last glow had been effectually smothered, and there was no longer
anything to betray the campers, unless the khaki-colored water-proof
tent happened to show later on, should the moon rise.

They could hear the new arrivals making a landing, and talking about
starting a fire, in order to cook some supper. The one who had the
smooth voice, and whom they could easily believe to be the younger
fellow Buster had mentioned as sitting at his ease, watching the heavier
man work at the engine, George’s style, declared that a meal on shore
would not go bad.

“And,” he added, the words coming plainly to the ears of the listeners
close by, “I don’t believe there’s any danger of our being come up with
yet awhile. We’ve got too good a start on those fellows, to worry. Fact
is, I wouldn’t care if we had to stay here in this snug nook all of
tomorrow, and get things fixed to suit us. Let ’em go on past, and hunt
for us; we could slip by the lot the next dark night, and give ’em the
merry ha! ha! Ain’t that so, Jenks, old man?”

The other evidently said it was. He seemed to be a man of few words,
and was quite satisfied to let his glib-tongued crony do most of the
talking, which the younger man was well able to carry on.

Presently the glimmer of a fire through the brush and trees announced
that they had indeed started a blaze, and were evidently preparing to
cook supper. From certain conversation that followed concerning what
this meal was to consist of Jack and his chums were quickly convinced
that while this young fellow might be a bold and bad bank thief, he must
have been brought up in the lap of luxury, judging from the fact that
Jenks was instructed to have the “porterhouse steak and the mushrooms”
for supper, together with coffee, and several other things that appealed
to the appetites of hungry cruisers, but which did not strike the boys
that way, simply because their stomachs had been satisfied.

“Listen to that, would you?” whispered George in the ear of Jack, whom
he happened to be very near at the time, “he said ‘get it off the ice,
and be careful to shut down the ice-box lid too!’ Think of these bold
buccaneers cruising with such a luxury aboard as an ice-box? Whew!”

“Not so loud, George, or they may hear you,” warned Jack, although he
himself thought that the fact was a remarkable one; but then the young
chap must have been a high-stepper in his palmy days, before he took to
evil ways; and possibly old habits clung to him still; so that, having
the ready cash, he wanted to have all the luxuries going, along with
him. Tenderloin steak and mushrooms sounded like it, that was certain.
Perhaps they would be toasting each other at the end of the supper in
champagne, at five dollars the bottle, Jack thought. When wicked men
break into bank vaults, and make way with all the treasure they find
there, surely they can indulge in any sort of extravagance for a short
time afterwards.

The supper was finally cooked.

During this time the six boys had been slowly and cautiously creeping
up through the brush, and between the trees, it being their intention to
see what the two fugitives, who were fleeing before the officers of the
law looked like.

But they did not dare go very close, and hence most of what passed
between the precious pair at the fire came to them only in a rumble of
voices. But they could at least watch them and it was easy to understand
that they seemed to be debating some point very seriously; for once the
young fellow went aboard the boat, and when he came back he bore a box
under his arm, which he carefully deposited on the ground near by. And
how it thrilled every watcher as he saw this act, for there could be no
doubt in the world but that this same chest was one containing all the
treasure these bad men had taken from that Lawrence bank.

But the younger man, who was smooth-faced and boyish looking in fact,
also took a folded paper from his pocket, which he opened and then both
of them bent low down over the same, occasionally tracing along its
surface, with a finger.

“It must be a chart of the river!” George took occasion to faintly
whisper in Jack’s ear, taking advantage of the murmur of the night wind
among the branches of the trees overhead.

Of course this did not enlighten Jack any, since he had jumped at the
same conclusion long before. But the fact of the others studying a map
of the river’s crooked course was highly significant, he thought. It
told that they realized the danger they stood in of being overtaken, and
that they meant to lay out a plan whereby they could elude pursuit.

Jack was studying the pair as he lay there back of the bushes.

He wondered whether the younger one, who seemed to be at the head of the
dangerous combination, could be acting a part. This idea came to Jack
because, as far as he was able to see, the other looked as though he
hardly possessed brains enough to carry him through any ordinary
trouble; and as to plotting such a bold thing as looting a country bank,
why, Jack found it hard to believe he would be capable of it. But still,
he knew very well that it is not always safe to judge from first
appearances. While the skipper of the white power-boat might seem to be
a bit of a “sissy,” that might all be assumed for a purpose, to allay
suspicion, a part he liked to play; and that should occasion ever call
for a display of force and ugliness, the fellow might throw off that
careless demeanor as one would an old glove, appearing in his real
colors.

And while lying there, watching, and trying to pick up a sentence now
and then, as the pair chanced to speak in a little louder tones, Jack
busied himself in speculating what sort of chances they would have, did
they finally decide to accept of the opportunity to close in on the two
rascals, and bring about their arrest.

It would be taking a certain risk of course, and he did not want to
expose his chums to any unnecessary chances for getting hurt; but all
the same temptation loomed up large before Jack’s eyes.

At any rate, he thought, it would do no harm to try and keep a watchful
eye on the pair, and see what they were up to. Had he not in the
beginning heard the leader say that they might as well bury the treasure
on the island as carry it further with them. Of course they meant
to come back again, and get possession of whatever that small box
contained.

The thought of getting hold of the stolen bank funds and papers gave
Jack a nice warm little thrill. He was only a boy, and yet he knew how
splendid it was to return home, and hear the people cheering him, while
the town band played “Lo, the Conquering Hero Comes.” And once before
had they been instrumental in recovering plunder that had been taken by
wandering yeggmen; which fact had helped swell the contents of the
club’s strong-box, and enabled the members to take several long and
expensive trips.

Now those by the fire seemed to have finished their supper, for they
arose, and the more boyish looking of the pair picked up the box again.
It looked as though they might be about to hunt for some hiding-place,
where it could be placed, and safely kept until it was wanted again.

“Get that sharp-pointed stick, Jenks,” he remarked, pointing as he
spoke, “that might do in place of a spade. You see, we didn’t bring that
sort of tool along, because we never thought we’d need one. But you
ought to be able to scratch out a deep enough hole to cram this in. I
hope nobody disturbs it again, that’s all. I’d hate to know that was so.
Now, come over this way, Jenks. It won’t take any great length of time.”

He spoke with a slight lisp that made him seem much more effeminate than
might otherwise have been the case. And to the alarm of Buster the pair
actually started toward the quarter where the six lads were flattened
out as close as they could get to the ground.

But then the shadows lay thick, and besides, before there was any real
danger of discovery they heard him say again:

“I imagine this ought to do as well as anywhere, Jenks, just behind this
bush, you notice. Now, see how you can root out the earth with that
stick and your hands. I should think that a hole some fifteen or
eighteen inches deep would be enough. There, it seems to work all right,
doesn’t it, Jenks?”

The heavy-set man said that it did, and continued to labor on, throwing
the dirt out of the cavity he was making, by a liberal use of the
sharp-pointed stick, then following it up by scooping with his bent
hands.

But not a thing did the aristocratic partner in the team seem to do in
order to assist. He must be the recognized brains of the crowd, and as
such was entitled to sit by, and give orders in a rather supercilious
way, while the other did all the real hard work.

When Jenks had scooped out a hole that he thought deep enough, he paused
to wipe his brow with a red bandanna handkerchief. Meanwhile the other
carefully laid the box in the cavity.

“It fits first-rate, Jenks,” he announced, “and now you can cover it up
again. Just push the earth in, you know, like that,” and with the toe
of his shoe he managed to cause some of the dirt to fall upon the top of
the box.

When presently Jenks seemed to have patted down the disturbed earth the
other spoke again.

“We want anybody that comes meddling around here to think that some one
has been buried, and then they won’t dare disturb things, you know,
Jenks. So I’ll just fix this stone at the head as though it marked a
grave. There, what do you think of that, Jenks? Takes some brains to get
up a cute little scheme like that, don’t it, eh?”

Jenks apparently was an echo, for when the other took snuff he seemed to
sneeze, as George could have expressed it. He immediately remarked that
he thought it a very smart trick, did credit to the originator; and this
pleased the other for he seemed to chuckle to himself.

Then the pair turned away, and went back to the neighborhood of the
fire, where they settled down to enjoy the warm blaze; for as the night
advanced the air was really becoming more and more keen, especially, as
Buster thought, for any unfortunate fellow who had the bad luck to lose
his warm sweater; for the sight of his comrades enjoying their woolen
protectors only made Buster feel his loss the more.

Jack gave the signal for a retreat. He intimated in a few whispered
words that there was something very important upon which they ought to
have a consultation; and in order to do unheard they would have to go
back to their camp.



CHAPTER VIII

JACK PLAYS SCOUT


“What’s doing, Jack?” asked George, carefully, as soon as the whole six
of them were well away from the vicinity of the other camp, and where
they could safely converse, if only every one spoke in a whisper.

“We ought to talk things over a bit, and arrange what we want to do
about this matter,” Jack went on to say.

“But ain’t we goin’ to jump on that pair of scamps, and make ’em our
prisoners?” complained Buster; and to hear his ferocious way of talking
one might easily imagine that the fat boy was a fighter from the word
go, when as a rule Buster would walk a mile to escape a rumpus, for he
was by nature very peaceable.

“Wait and see what Jack’s got up his sleeve, you fire-eater!” remarked
Josh, scornfully.

“We know where they’ve gone and buried all the loot, anyhow,” remarked
George, as though that fact gave him particular satisfaction.

“And we c’n dig the same up at our convenience,” added Herb.

“That is, if they don’t change their minds before morning comes, and get
that box up again,” observed Jack, dryly.

At that there were several little grunts and exclamations, such as would
indicate that the others did not relish being tantalized in such a
fashion having the treasure-trove under their thumbs, only to see it
snatched away again.

“Say, we oughtn’t to let that chance slip us, Jack!” urged Josh.

“Them’s my sentiments, too!” echoed George.

“Count me in,” Herb remarked, quietly.

“Same here, arrah, by the token!” Andy ventured.

“There, Jack,” spoke up Buster, exultantly, “everybody is of the same
mind, that we just ought to do something or other right away, so’s to
get that stuff in our possession. It wouldn’t matter so much if the
thieves did get away, if only we could go sailing up to Lawrence, call
the broken-hearted directors of the looted bank together, and then say:
‘Here, gentlemen, are your lost securities. Rest in peace! E pluribus
unum!’ Now Jack, don’t say a word against it, but think up some way that
we can get hold of that box.”

“Oh! I’ve got all that figured out already, Buster,” remarked the other,
coolly.

“Then tell us who’s going to creep up and dig for that box while the two
robbers are sitting beside the fire, playing cards, because that’s what
they started to do when they went back.”

“And ‘Old Maid’ it was, as sure as you live,” remarked George, as if
astonished. “Did you ever hear of two ferocious pirates playing such a
harmless game as that before? I never did, for a fact, boys. They keep
me guessing right along. That boy looks too green to be the rascal they
say he is; but I guess he puts it all on to fool respectable folks. It
helps him in gaining their confidence.”

George could figure things out in fine style once he got going. The
others, however, were not in any mood just then to try and decide what
sort of a fellow that rather innocent young chap might turn out to be.
They were more deeply interested in finding out what could be done about
securing that hidden package in the box.

Already, no doubt, Buster, for instance, was seeing pictures of all
manner of treasure snugly reposing in the box; and he could also imagine
how his manly chest would swell with importance when, with his mates, of
course, he entered the stricken town of Lawrence, and astonished the
directors of the bank by returning their lost securities and money.

And the others were possibly in the same boat, for they had active
imaginations, one and all.

Jack had said the matter was already arranged in his mind; and if he
would only hurry up and take them into his confidence, they would feel
greatly obliged.

But then Jack did not mean to hold back just to aggravate his companions;
that would have been too small a thing for him to attempt. He had only
waited to hear what each one thought of the scheme, and then he went on
to say something.

“Now you can see for yourselves,” he began, “that it would be useless
trying to take the whole bunch over there, and scratch that box up. One
can do the business to a dot, and as I’m accustomed to scouting more
than any of the rest, I hope you won’t try to raise any objections if I
say I’ll do the job myself.”

He waited to hear what they thought before making the first move in the
direction of carrying his plan out. But then he might have known that
not one objection would be raised against his scheme, for they had the
fullest confidence in whatever he proposed at any and all times.

The silence that followed was doubtless intended for consent; but Jack
chose to consider it otherwise. He wanted an expression from each of his
chums.

“George, how about it?” he asked.

“Why, I haven’t the slightest objection,” replied that worthy, readily
enough.

“Josh, how about you?”

“Gosh! only too willing,” came the answer.

And Jack put it up to each of the others, until every one had signified
his readiness to accept the conditions.

“All right, then,” said Jack, “that settles it for me. And now, watch me
get busy, fellows.”

He once more started into the brush. All this conversation had been
carried on, of course, in undertones. From time to time they could hear
the voices of the other pair raised above the ordinary not far away; or
it might be a laugh came floating back to where the six boys crouched,
quivering in every nerve with intense excitement.

Why, Jack thought, even the laugh of Slim Jim, the cracksman, was very
deceptive, it sounded so boyish and natural; just as though he did not
have a care or a worry in all the world. He must be a pretty clever
young chap if he could pretend to be such an innocent, when really he
was such a desperate rascal--so that paper had stated.

Having quitted the company of his friends, Jack began to advance in the
direction of the other camp. He needed no better guide than the glow of
the fire they had burning over there on the shore; though very careful
as he crept through the bushes to take a little different track than
before, because he believed it would be apt to bring him closer to the
bush behind which that pretended “grave” that was in reality a cache for
stolen wealth, had been so roughly dug.

Once, as he raised himself to glance around, he found it possible to see
beyond the camp fire, to the edge of the river, something that none of
them had been able to do hitherto; and what should meet his eyes but a
very jaunty gasoline launch, of a type that indicated more or less
speed, since it was of narrow beam, and would doubtless have quite taken
the eye of George Rollins.

Of course Jack chuckled a little when he saw the very significant fact
that the boat was painted snow white, and had a nice red line along the
gunwale that gave the craft a rather distinguished look.

Again into his mind came the description which he had read out aloud
from the fragment of paper, concerning the boat in which it was positive
the robbers of the Lawrence bank had fled down the river. A white
launch, nobby in appearance, and decorated with a red line. Why, what
could be plainer than that? White launches were not so very common on
that part of the Mississippi; and Jack could not remember ever having
set eyes on one before that was marked with red as this one appeared to
be.

He kept creeping along, making no more noise than an Indian warrior
might; or perhaps one might say, a snake that can glide swiftly, yet
with hardly the faintest rustle of the dead leaves.

If he did make an occasional little slip, they were not on the alert, as
red braves might have been. Doubtless they had not the remotest
suspicion that such a thing as peril threatened, or that an enemy was
within miles of the island retreat to which they had come to hide, and
make preparations for deceiving the posse of the sheriff, should they
chance to meet later on the river.

No doubt the other five boys had climbed trees or done something else
so that they would be in a position to see him when he reached that
particular bush, back of which the hole had been dug. They would not be
human if they were going to allow this chance to witness the unearthing
of the treasure pass without an effort to become spectators.

Jack found that the two beside the fire were making merry. He eyed them
closely, and then shook his head, thinking that perhaps they might
appear like desperate rogues to an expert sheriff, accustomed to dealing
with rascals of every kind; but for his part he rather thought the boy
was a spoiled son of a rich man, and Jenks some humble mechanic out
cruising with the other. But of course, not being well posted in
criminal matters, how could he, a mere tyro, be expected to be able to
judge what people were, just because they laughed in such a care-free
way. Slim Jim they said feared nothing on earth; slender and young as he
was, he had laughed more than one sheriff to scorn; and snapped his
fingers when traps were sprung only to find that he was missing.

Now Jack was drawing closer and closer to that bush. He had marked it
well on the previous occasion, so that there could be no such thing as
mistaking it. Yes, he recognized every twig almost, so closely had he
made a mental photograph of the bush when the two were planting their
“swag” back of it, and talking about making it appear as though it were
a grave.

If they just kept up that riotous game of “Old Maid” for ten minutes
longer, Jack felt positive that he could have accomplished his errand,
and left the mound nicely smoothed over as he found it.

Jack guessed that they would hardly feel so merry when they discovered
that the treasure-trove had been opened, while they were not thirty feet
away, and the box containing the stolen securities and the bank bills
carried off; or if they did laugh it would be on the “other side of
their mouths,” as Buster might have expressed it in his humorous way.

Now he was doing even better, for he had to pass a little patch where
the cover was rather slim and in order to successfully negotiate it he
was compelled to flatten himself very much on the order of a flapjack or
a pancake.

But then, they seemed to have no eyes for anything except the cards
they were handling. Two more unsuspicious rascals it would be indeed
difficult to find; at least that was Jack’s idea.

There was a piece of great good luck, for his hand had actually fallen
upon the identical stick with the sharp point which Jenks had used so
successfully when he was digging the hole in which to bury the treasure
box.

Of course Jack picked this up, for he believed he could make good use of
it in his line of business just about that time.

And now he had gained the bush, so that his hand actually rested on the
little mound of fresh earth. It gave Jack something of thrill to realize
that he was so very close to all that amount of loot which these two
scamps had taken from the poor depositors of the Lawrence bank; for if
the institution failed the loss would fall partly on poor people.

But he lost no time in getting to work with that odd spade, fashioned
from a stick. When he found that he had loosened the top earth, he
started to dragging it away with his hands, boy fashion; using the palms
as scoops.

So he quickly got down to where he could touch the flat top of the
little box; and then burrowing alongside, he managed presently to
unheave the same, dragging it out of the cavity.

Then Jack set to work to place several stones that he had noted close
by, in place of the box, so that the mound would still be as high as
ever and look as it though it still contained the chest.

Once in every little while as he did this work, Jack would glance
through the lower part of the bush in order to make sure that the two
card players were still as much interested in their innocent game of
“Old Maid” as before. But really he had little need to do this, because
their loud laughter told the fact as plainly as anything.

Then followed the most difficult task of creeping back over the route he
had taken to reach the place. It had been hard enough when he could
watch those whom he looked on as enemies; but as now he had to go
backwards part of the time, so as to know when to stop moving, and lie
still, when he thought one of them glanced that way, it became doubly
difficult.

But Jack had not been making an idle boast when he claimed to be a much
better scout than any one of his five companions. Circumstances had
allowed him in the past to have a certain amount of experience in this
line, such as none of his boatmates could claim; and that was how Jack
made such a success of his venture.

Now he had passed the crisis in his retreat and was able to move along
faster, even getting to his feet, and in a couching attitude leaving
the hostile camp behind.

When he reached the spot where the dull-colored khaki tent stood under
the tree he found his five chums awaiting him; and every one of them was
bubbling over with both a desire to squeeze Jack’s hand, while telling
him in whispers what he thought of such clever work and at the same time
filled with a burning curiosity to know if the securities and the stolen
money could all be in that humble little box.



CHAPTER IX

OPENING THE STRANGE BOX


“Didn’t you get it, Jack?” asked Josh, carefully, as the Commodore
joined the eager group beside the tent. “We all near broke our necks
a-tryin’ to see; and I say you grabbed the box; but Buster here seems as
set on it that you had to give up the job, because you got back so fast.
Here, what d’ye think of that, Buster? See what he’s a-carryin’ under
his arm, would you? It takes Jack to do things with a rush, and yet
never have a breakdown!”

“Less noise, Josh!” cautioned Jack, “you forget who’s so close by. Even
if the wind does rattle the new leaves on the trees, and the water churn
against the rocks on the shore, they might happen to hear you. Lower
that sharp voice of yours when you say ‘Told you so’!”

All the same every one of his five companions seemed delighted with his
success. Buster had to even put out his hand and touch the box, before
he would actually be convinced. Buster, you see, was something of a
Doubting Thomas; he might take other people’s word on occasion; but he
preferred to actually know that things were so, from his own experience.

“Why, it is a box, sure as you live,” he was heard to mutter, as though
surprised that the whole thing did not turn out to be just a dream; and
that he would soon wake up.

“And is it heavy, Jack?” asked George, anxiously.

“Oh! just so-so,” answered the hero of the raid, as he passed the
article in question around, so that everybody could get the heft of it,
even Buster.

It was laughable to see the way the fat boy took hold of the little
chest; but then each one firmly believed that it contained quite a
little fortune, and consequently there was something of due reverence
for wealth in his way of handling the thing.

“I bet you they’ll be hoppin’ mad when they find out it’s been sneaked
away from them after all their bully trouble in hidin’ the same,”
ventured Buster.

“Yes, and to think of the cuteness of that fellow makin’ out that it was
going to be reckoned just a regular little grave,” said George, with a
chuckle. “Guess he thought that nobody would ever dare dig it up then,
because they say, it’s sure a sign of bad luck to disturb a body.”

“But what are we going to do now?” demanded Josh.

“Jack, darlint, ain’t we a-goin’ to open the box, and say for oursilves
what lies inside?” asked Andy. “Sure, ’tis mesilf that’d loike tell fale
with me own hands all the money it must contain. ’Tis a bank cashier I’m
intindin’ to be some foine day, and I loike nothin’ better than to
handle cash.”

“Me too,” echoed Josh.

In fact, that was just what every fellow must have been thinking about
then; for they were pressing closely around Jack, who had once more
taken the box into his charge.

“But how can we ever see anything when we ain’t got a light, and don’t
dare start one for fear of being discovered?” remarked doubting George,
who as a rule could far excel Buster in this particular of being
skeptical.

“How about the stars; ain’t they enough to let a feller see just a
little?” asked Josh.

“Jack, what do you say?” came from Herb, willing to let the Commodore
decide the question once and for all.

“First, let’s sit down and try to keep quiet for a little while,”
responded the boy who had been appealed to, “because, unless I miss my
guess, we’re going to have all the light we want to right away now.”

As the others followed his example, and dropped upon the ground,
pressing closely together, so that they could get their heads in a small
circle, and be able to do some more talking, Buster was heard to say,
appealingly:

“Now, just what do you mean by that remark, Jack, I’d like to know?
Where would we get so much light? Anybody got a flash torch along? No,
that’s where we made a big mistake, you see, forgettin’ so important a
thing. Speak up, Jack, and let’s know all about it, please.”

“Even if we did forget,” replied Jack, “we’re going to have the biggest
torch you ever heard tell of, pretty soon; and that’ll give us all the
light we want, take it from me, Buster.”

The fat boy moved a little uneasily.

“Whee! I hope now, Jack, it ain’t anything like the woods on fire you
got in mind,” he asked, with a sudden vein of alarm in his voice; for
Buster had once passed through a very unpleasant experience while in a
blazing forest, and often had bad dreams on that account.

Josh made a scornful sound, which was a favorite habit of his whenever
he wished to convey the idea that he looked on some remark of the stout
boy as indicating an unsound mind.

“And us out here on a measly little old island in the middle of the old
Mississippi, at that?” he observed, caustically, and then wound up with
another “Huh!”

Jack at another time would have been amused to hear these two go at it,
hammer and tongs; but the present was hardly an appropriate time for any
sort of a dispute or even discussion.

“Suppose you fellows take a look around,” he remarked, “and perhaps
after that you won’t need to ask me where I’m going to get my torch.”

After all it was sharp-eyed Andy who made the discovery.

“Arrah! and sure ’tis the moon he manes!” exclaimed the Irish lad.

“The moon,” echoed George, “now wherever do you see any signs of that
same thing, I’d like to know?”

“Would you look at George, starin’ as hard as he can right into the
west?” mocked Josh. “Since when has the moon taken to risin’ across the
river, George? Reckon you’re a little mixed in your directions, ain’t
you? Been bobbing over that engine of yours so much you get off your
base. That’s right, turn your head around, and you’ll see what Jack
means.”

There, somewhere not far from in the east the sky was brightening along
the horizon which they could manage to see beyond the tumbling water of
the river. Without a doubt it was the coming moon, sending a few shreds
of her silvery light in advance to paint the way.

“I c’n see the tip of her face right now, apeekin’ above the line of
trees away over there on the shore,” announced Josh, with a slight vein
of exultation in his partly suppressed voice.

“That’s roight!” agreed Andy.

As they stood there and looked sure enough the edge of the moon began to
slowly creep into sight. At first it seemed just for all the world
like a silver pencil marking a bright eyebrow above the horizon; but
gradually this extended, growing more pronounced all the while, until
even a child could tell that it was the moon making her nightly bow to
the darkened world below.

Not another word was said until every part of her now sadly battered
disc had come into view. The moon was not near so beautiful as on the
third night previous, when full; but there was still a deal of light
shining from that yellow glove hung up there in the heavens like a huge
lantern.

“She’ll do the business all right, Jack--!” ventured Buster, just as
though he had been rather uncertain up to then.

“You just bet she will, bully old moon!” declared George, who was
possibly more inclined to be sentimental than any of the six boys.

“Say when, Jack,” urged Josh; meaning by this that he hoped the other
would not think the time had arrived to rip the cover off the little
box, so that they could all have a peep at its glorious contents, before
it was stowed safely away aboard one of the motor boats.

Jack looked a little doubtingly at the moon, just hanging above the
horizon. “Not near as much light as she’ll be giving when she gets
higher,” he said, softly; “but then, I guess we can’t wait for that. You
fellows would just die with anxiety if you couldn’t see pretty soon.”

But while Jack was saying these caustic words, of course he did not mean
anything. Why, he was just about as keen on wanting to see the contents
of the box as any one of his chums. That was only a boy’s way of
expressing himself.

Had there been no need of caution Jack could have knocked the lid off that
box in short order, by taking the camp hatchet, and making use of it.
The job was not apt to prove quite so easy when he found himself
compelled to simply pry with the sharp edge of the said little axe.

He worked busily for several minutes, while the balance of the boys
hovered over him, making various suggestions, and even wanting to show
Jack how it ought to be done; for of course every fellow considered that
he could accomplish the task better than any one else.

But Jack knew what he was about, and so he declined to hand over his job
to the next one. He had managed by dint of pressure to get the edge of
the blade inserted under what seemed to be the lid of the box, and was
now engaged in prying it up, a little at a time.

“Don’t bother Jack so, you fellows,” warned Herb, who was apparently
quite satisfied with the way things were going. “Leave him alone, and
he’ll fix it all right. He always does, you know. There you c’n see the
lid’s coming right along. Another pry like that, and you’ll have her,
Jack. Eureka! there she rises, boys! He’s done it!”

Jack calmly bent the lid fully back, and then pried it loose, so that it
fell over on the ground. Then he took the little box up in his arms and
turned to get the full light of the low moon.

“Jack first, fellers!” cautioned Josh, “don’t you all crowd the mourners
so. Let him take a peek, and then the rest of us c’n feast our eyes on
all that bully money and stuff. Keep back, Buster, you ain’t the first
in line; that’s George, and me, I’m second choice. Look at the stuff
Jack’s a-pullin’ out, would you? Seems like rags or somethin’ like that,
to me. Reckon they just stuffed the top of the box full to keep the
coin from rattling around like. What’s ailing Jack, fellers? See him
a-starin’ in like he seen a ghost. Gee! but it must be a great sight,
all that boodle from the bank, to make our partner stare like that.
George, get a move on you, and step up. You’re next, you know. No
crowdin’, Buster. Keep your place in line, can’t you?”

Jack was indeed standing there, and staring into the opened box as
though he had received something of a shock; but over his face there
began to creep a semblance of a smile, or a grin, or something of that
character, as he held out the box for George to take his turn next.



CHAPTER X

DISAPPOINTMENT


“Oh! my stars!”

That was what George said, in a faint voice, as though he was very
nearly overcome, after taking his look into the box, Jack holding the
same most obligingly all the while.

Of course, even this did not have any effect upon Josh, who was next in
line. In fact, if anything, it served to spur him on to all the sooner
get his peep-in; wondering at the same time what it could be.

Buster heard Josh give a gasp, as he bent his head down. It must be
something wonderfully fetching, to influence all of the boys in that
queer way. And consequently Buster, impatient for his turn, actually put
out his hand and shoved Josh out of the way.

No sooner had he looked than he too gave evidence of being nearly
overcome.

“Great governor! somebody hold me. I’m going to faint!” was what Buster
whispered; and this suspicious remark made Andy want to get out of line,
only that Herb, coming last, would not allow such a thing, but actually
shoved the other up until he just had to do his duty and look.

Andy threw up both hands as he exclaimed, perhaps in a louder voice than
was really discreet:

“Tare and ounds! Be the powers, ’tware a grave afther all, so it was!”

“What’s that?” quivered from the lips of Herb, as he now hesitated in
turn.

“Come on, don’t hang back like that, Herb; you’ve just got to see!”
ventured Josh, laying hold of the other’s sleeve, and commencing to drag
him forward.

It was like the boy who jumps into the pond so early in the spring that
he is nearly frozen stiff; but whoever heard of him confessing to the
fact; while his comrades hesitate on the bank he puts on the most
angelic face possible, and declares that the water is “as warm as
anything;” until he has coaxed them all in; for misery loves company,
they tell us.

So Herb had to do his duty, and look.

“Good gracious, why, it’s only a little puppy dog after all!” broke from
his white lips, as he stood there and stared.

“That’s just what it is,” replied Jack. “And after all, that fellow
spoke what he meant, when we thought he referred to another sort of
treasure. This must have been his pet.”

“But Jack darlint,” broke in Andy, “phat d’ye think he wanted to bury
this ki-yi on the island for at all, at all?”

“What for?” echoed Buster, before Jack could say a word, “why, because
the little beast had gone and kicked the bucket--died on him--you know.”

“Must have been a pet dog,” suggested Josh, “’cause we heard him say he
felt bad at putting the thing underground. Say, Jack, d’ye think now,
the little beast could a got hurt that night when they broke into the
Lawrence bank and looted it? P’raps somebody fired at the thieves and
hit the pup; or it might a got hold of rat poison somehow.”

“Quit your guessing, Josh; what does it matter to us how the poor little
beast came to his end?” demanded George, who had a liking for dogs
himself, and seemed to feel less hilarity than any of the rest, once the
shock of the discovery, and their own disappointment wore away.

Jack was for taking it as a joke at his expense.

“Say, just think of that splendid sneak of mine wasted,” he remarked,
sadly. “And all for this, too. I’ve got half a notion to crawl back
again, and bury the poor little wretch over, just to pay for making such
a mistake.”

“But hold on,” Herb observed, “this doesn’t mean that the two over
yonder ain’t what we took ’em to be, does it? There’s the white boat,
you know, with the red trimming; didn’t Jack tell us he could see it
plain enough anchored close to the shore? Just because they put a little
pet dog underground don’t make ’em better, I reckon, eh, Jack?”

Jack did not reply immediately. The old doubts were commencing to work
double time with him. He was beginning to question the truth of their
solution of the problem. Again he could see the face of the younger
fellow, who had seemed to be hardly more than a boy. Was that affectation
only assumed? Might it not be a part of the nature of the fellow
after all? Was he a desperate crook, who was able to put on an air of
innocence; or could it be possible they had made a tremendous mistake,
and that he was a pampered son of some rich man, cruising in his fine
motorboat, with a mechanic as crew to do the rough work, while he played
his part as skipper of the craft?

Yes, Jack was now in the Doubting Thomas class. He shook his head, and
seemed to be trying to figure things out, as he laid the box on the
ground, and covered it temporarily with the lid which had taken him so
long to pry off.

“And if they are the bank thieves,” Herb went on to say, “what d’ye
suppose they could have done with all that stuff they took away? Think
they buried the same before they got here to this island, Jack, or could
it still be on board the little white boat right now?”

“Oh! yes, that’s the stuff; how about it, Jack?” George went on to add.

“We sure did fall all over ourselves in making this blunder,” admitted
Josh, “and it’s up to us now to get busy and try to make things square.”

“Of course,” said Jack, slowly, as though he might be revolving this
last idea in his mind, “that’s possible. If these are the right men, and
they’ve not got rid of the plunder up to now, why, it stands to reason
it would be somewhere on board, that’s right.”

“But seems to me, Jack,” remarked Herb, suspiciously, “you’re beginning
to hedge a heap. Just a little while ago you were dead sure these
fellows must be the two robbers. Now you say ‘if they are.’ How’s that?
Didn’t you see their boat, and wasn’t it just what that newspaper
account said the suspicious craft looked like.”

“Boys, I admit all that,” the other went on to say, “but if you stop and
think, the article in the paper didn’t say positively that the white
boat belonged to the bold bank thieves--only that it had been seen
hanging around, like it might be in hiding, and they thought it must
have for a crew the two yeggs who broke into the Lawrence bank. There’s
some difference, you’ll admit between making a positive statement, and
just guessing things.”

“Well, for one, I still believe they are the men that are wanted,” said
George, to prove that he had not been convinced otherwise.

“I think so, too,” added Josh.

“And for one now,” added impetuous George, boldly. “I’d like nothing
better than to sneak that boat of theirs away while they sleep. What
d’ye say to that, fellows, ain’t it worth considering?”

For a minute no one replied. The audacity of the proposition staggered
them, it seemed; and yet as is nearly always the case with boys, it
appealed to the love of mischief and the daring that somehow seems to be
a part of their nature.

“Say that would be a great stunt, now,” said Josh.

Buster drew a long breath as he went on to say:

“George, you ain’t so very bad a hand at laying out a game after all.
Whee! just think how they’d rub their eyes, and stare, when they woke up
in the morning, and went to look for the jolly old white boat, which
wouldn’t be there.”

George began to feel his importance. After all, Jack could not have a
monopoly of engineering things; once in a great while some other fellow
was apt to have an inspiration; and it seemed to be his turn just then.

“You seem to think well of my little scheme?” he remarked, proudly.

“Jack, how do you feel about it?” asked cautious Herb, not noticing that
the other had as yet made no comment; which, in some boys might have
signified that they were feeling jealous; but everybody knew Jack
Stormways could not allow such a thought to enter his head.

“Do you want to know my idea, George?” asked Jack, frankly.

“I sure do,” came the reply.

“Well, I’ll tell you,” the other went on to say. “It would be a great
stunt to carry off this white boat, if only we were sure the parties are
the robbers. But stop and think what we’d be up against if they were
innocent parties. Why, they could have us arrested for stealing their
craft; and what excuse would we have to offer? The old gag about not
knowing it was loaded wouldn’t pass in court. We’d get a heavy fine,
even if it wasn’t worse. This is a time when it’ll pay us to be sure
before we go ahead.”

“Huh! p’raps you’re right, Jack,” grunted Josh, already beginning to
weaken before this sort of logic.

George did not open his mouth, but he was always willing to listen to
what Jack had to say; for the other never gloried in showing any of his
comrades up as being in the wrong.

“But the principal thing of all, and which we’d have to find out first,
before thinking of hooking the boat, would be to know whether they
expect to sleep ashore, or aboard,” Jack went on to say.

At that Buster tittered.

“Think what a cheeky thing it’d be,” he remarked, softly, “if we ran
away with the boat, and then found that we’d kidnapped a couple of
innocent ducklings, one of them mamma’s darling boy! Whew! mebbe we
wouldn’t feel cheap though!”

“Oh!” said Jack, “then you’ve been thinking that this terrible Slim
Jim, the dandy hobo, might be somebody else, have you, Buster? Well, I
tell you what we ought to do, boys--hang around, and watch that pair
some more. If they begin to get the camp ready as though they meant to
stay ashore tonight, we can talk it over again, and decide whether we’ll
play George’s trick or not with the boat. How?”

“I say leave it that way,” ventured Josh, now completely won over.

“I’m agreeable,” George hastened to say, for he was not altogether
unreasonable in anything save that troublesome engine aboard his
Wireless; and in that quarter he would never take advice from any one
until in difficulties; he knew it all.

And so it was arranged.

They could creep up, and from their old place of observation keep an eye
on the two who were under suspicion; and in this way something might
arise whereby they would be able to tell definitely whether they would
be justified in going to extremes, or ought to keep their hands off.

Even as they started to once more advance toward the spot where the camp
fire burned, they began to hear a strange clanking sound, as of steel
smiting steel, that gave them new cause for wonder.



CHAPTER XI

BUSTER HAS A SHOCK


“What in the wide world’s that?” asked Buster Longfellow, as they came
to a halt in order to listen.

“Sounds like somebody’s started a blacksmith shop over here on the
island, that’s what!” remarked Josh.

“Mebbe they’re counting over the ducats they’ve stolen,” suggested
George; but the idea of silver dollars making such a loud sound as this
as they jingled in a heap, was really so ridiculous that even Buster
chuckled in derision; whereupon George had to hastily add “joke!”

“Tell you what I think,” observed wise Herb. “You know they were having
some engine trouble a while back; and I reckon that mechanic fellow has
got busy fixing it up. The only thing that surprises me is that George
here didn’t recognize something mighty familiar in the racket. He’s
forever making it himself, so if I didn’t know he was alongside, I’d
take my affidavy that was him right now.”

“Huh! think yourself smart to make fun of my twelve-horse power engine,
don’t you, Herb?” he started to say, and would doubtless have delivered
himself of considerably more along the same lines, only that Jack broke
in by observing:

“All the same, Herb is right, there; for the man is aboard the boat and
working away at the motor. He’s some machinist, believe me, from the way
he goes about things. And there’s the other one going aboard too; wonder
what that means?”

Watching they presently saw the younger fellow come in sight again, and
step to the bank of the island from the power tied-up and anchored boat.

“Got an armful of blankets?” asserted Josh, immediately.

“That settles one thing, then,” came from George.

“Yes, they’re going to make camp ashore, and pass the night on firm
ground,” Jack admitted. “Perhaps they like the change, as we do. Plenty
of times when you just have to sleep aboard the boat, you know.”

“And p’raps,” George went on, “we’ll be trying out my little bit of a
scheme, after all.”

“Nobody knows,” Jack assured them.

They made themselves as easy as possible, and took up their vigil, not
knowing how long it might last.

Back and forth the younger fellow went, until he had carried a great lot
of articles, calculated to induce a comfortable night’s rest ashore.
Then he started in to fix things to suit him, taking a part of the
blankets.

“That settles it,” whispered Jack, to Herb, who was next, “he’s a
greenhorn, as far as camping goes.”

“Yep, guess he is,” assented the other, although, if put to the test,
Herb might have found it difficult to explain on what he founded his
belief.

“See where he’s gone and arranged his blankets,” Jack continued. “There,
he’s trying to see how they feel; and would you look at his head toward
the fire. No experienced camper ever does that, because it’s his feet
that get cold in the night, so he always has them closest to the fire.”

“Sure!” agreed Herb, just as though he had always known that fact, when
in truth it had never occurred to him before.

“He fetched some grub with him the last time he came!” whispered George,
on the other side of Jack, “and if anybody asked me what that stood for
I’d be likely to say it meant they were going to stay on dry land a
little while, till they get that engine working that’s what.”

“Well, that isn’t going to be long,” remarked Josh in turn as there came
a series of explosions from aboard the boat, that sounded as regularly
as clockwork. “He’s got her working now, all right, I guess.”

“Then he must be a crack-a-jack of a mechanic,” observed George,
thoughtfully, as though a vague idea had come into his head that it
might pay him to get such a man to look over his engine, given the
chance.

“But I haven’t seen any paint--yet,” remarked Buster, obstinately.

“Well, what would they want to get busy with that for at night time?”
Josh asked him. “If they put in tomorrow hiding here on the island
you’ll see enough of paint slingin’ to suit you, Buster, believe me.
They’ll want to get the boat partly up out of the water on some skids,
using block and tackle to drag her; and then so change her looks that
nobody’ll recognize her as the same suspicious white boat that took the
bank’s cash away.”

After that they fell silent for some time, meanwhile continuing to watch
the two who were still objects of concern, not to say suspicion. The one
ashore had crawled under his blankets as though bent on getting fixed
cozy for the night. He came out and went back three separate times. Now
it was to arrange his covering a little differently; and again it was to
draw the blankets back and dig out a root that must have started to hurt
his back while lying there, as roots have a failing for doing with
campers, especially the big gnarly ones that have a knob on them--every
boy knows that without being told.

About the time he finally seemed fixed comfortably with the fire burning
low not very far from his head the second one came ashore.

“How is she now, Jenks; I heard you give her a trial spin?” came a voice
from among the collected heap of blankets which the intended sleeper had
drawn over him.

“Workin’ tip-top, sir, right now,” replied the other; and somehow it
seemed to the listening Jack that there was a vein of deference in
his tones such as might hardly be expected to be disclosed when one
cracksman addressed another, no matter if it was a Slim Jim, and a
recognized master of the art of thievery.

“Then we’ve got that thing off our hands, Jenks,” the unseen one went
on, every word reaching the ears of the listening boys, because he
called out loudly, thinking his voice might be muffled by the blankets,
“and we can take it easy tomorrow, with the other job, if we conclude to
hide until darkness comes around again.”

“That’s right, sir, so we can,” assented the other, beginning to shift
his blankets and make up his bed in the regulation way.

There was no more said.

Jack, watching Jenks, immediately decided that the man must have been
in the open more or less, for he seemed to know just how to go about
things; and his head was not toward the fire either, when he lay down.
Still, he did not attempt to arrange the blaze so that it would keep up
for many hours; perhaps he thought that since the other had incautiously
placed his head that way it would be folly to keep the heat going, so as
to roast him out.

And then at last both seemed to have successfully arranged themselves,
for there was no longer any wriggling movements of the blankets that
might stand for uneasiness.

“Think they’re asleep, Jack?” queried Herb, softly, as he touched the
other gently on the arm.

“If they ain’t they’ll soon be,” muttered George, who had overheard the
question and took it upon himself to answer.

“Wonder how much longer this game’s goin’ to keep up?” grumbled Josh;
“my right leg’s nigh paralyzed as it is, and I’m gettin’ a crick in my
back, Jack, what’s the best word?”

For reply he received a low warning hist that somehow thrilled Josh, and
possibly some of the others as well. Immediately every one fastened his
eyes on the two bundles of blankets near the dying fire, as though
expecting to see some upheaval in that quarter; but nothing of the kind
took place.

“What was it, Jack?” whispered Josh, wondering why the other had given
that low warning, when there seemed to be no sign of trouble in the
hostile camp.

“Something moving over yonder in the bushes; watch sharp, to the right,
now!” was what came from the Commodore.

“Gee! mebbe a wild animal goin’ to raid the camp for grub!” Josh
suggested.

“More’n likely the same hungry guy that carried off that ham of ours,
that’s what,” Buster was just heard to say, deep down in his throat.

Then they lapsed into silence again; though all this talking had been
conducted in such low tones, that a short distance away any one would
have taken it for granted that it could only be the night wind
whispering through the branches of the trees overhead, not yet fully
covered with the fresh green leaves that came with the spring.

Yes, there certainly was something moving over there, in the quarter
which Jack had indicated. They could see the bushes beginning to bend
again, but very slowly, as though the intended intruder tried to
exercise great care, not meaning to arouse the sleepers.

Man or animal, they could not say immediately, for even when they first
caught sight of the moving figure it was crouched so low that it could
pass for either one or the other, in that uncertain light.

Every eye was riveted on it, that can be set down as positive. In fact,
just at that minute all of the watchers seemed to be holding their very
breath, such was their natural condition of suspense, as well as deep
interest.

“Is it a panther, Jack; and have you got your Marlin ready?” Josh
whispered in the other’s ear.

The only answer Jack made was to kick Josh on the shins; with that
unknown thing creeping forward it seemed no time to be asking foolish
questions. Josh evidently understood, for he hushed up immediately.

But then that might have been because all of them saw about this time
that it was a man and not an animal, for he had raised his head, in
order to take a sharp look toward the spot where the fire glimmered and
the two figures were huddled in the piles of blankets.

Possibly the low murmur of Josh’s voice had reached the ears of the
intruder, so as to arouse a slight suspicion; but if so, this must have
been lulled to sleep again immediately he found that neither of the
inanimate figures had changed position.

But when the man thus partly arose it disclosed the fact that he was a
heavyset sort of a fellow, wearing a cap and that his face was partly
covered with a beard. It did something more than this. When he stretched
his neck to see the better a portion of his body was exposed to view.

Now, it was nothing strange that this unknown prowler wore a sweater, or
that this was a fine soft gray woolen sweater, of the kind used by
automobile tourists in these days, buttoning down the front; but
it certainly nearly gave Buster Longfellow heart disease when he
discovered on the breast of that same garment the wonderful blue moon
that he had so often described as marking his lost present, which he had
been suspecting poor innocent Josh of having purloined!



CHAPTER XII

THE MAN WITH THE BLUE MOON SWEATER


Now, it happened that Jack had made this astonishing discovery even
before Buster could have done so, for he was so much quicker than the
fat boy to observe things, and never had there been a sweater made just
like that one with the blue moon on its front.

Jack also knew that the chances were Buster would be apt to say
something out loud in his astonishment at seeing his lost property on
the back of a prowler, possibly the very man who had stolen their
intended supper.

And as the leader of the motor boat boys was as quick as a flash to act,
no sooner had this idea entered his brain than he stretched out his arm
actually across Herb, and reaching the fat boy, managed to clasp his
hand squarely over his mouth.

From the fact that Buster’s lips were twitching at that very second, it
seemed evident that he had just been on the point of giving vent to his
feelings by some such blunt expression as:

“Well, would you see the nerve of that, now?”

Instead he was brought to a sense of the necessity for complete silence;
and as Buster was not at all devoid of common sense he managed to bottle
up his excitement somewhat.

But now the man had dropped down on all fours again, and seemed to be
moving along with considerable dispatch. Jack had seen that the fellow
had eyes only for the motionless figures at the fire; and also that
something approaching a grin had broken out on his heavy face when he
saw how inanimate they were.

His movements were certainly suspicious, and those that would indicate
an intention of thievery. Certainly no honest man would come stealing
into a strange camp in this fashion.

What could he want? If this were the same rogue who had made way with
the food Josh placed on that flat stone, perhaps he believed that it
would be just as well to strike while the iron was hot, and there seemed
to be abundant supplies lying around loose. If he were a shiftless
fisherman, such as sometimes used to gather here on this island, Jack
had been told, why, he might believe that all was fish that came to
his net; and seeing the food that had been carried ashore, lying so
temptingly around, canned stuff, and all that abundant means could
supply, he was now bent on making a haul.

That was Jack’s first idea, for the man seemed to be crawling toward the
pile of groceries when discovered. But now he had shifted his course
somewhat, so that it was at a tangent with his first line of advance.
Was he simply trying to avoid contact with the sleepers, or did he have
some other reason for altering the direction of his coming?

Jack’s interest began to increase by leaps and bounds. He realized that
perhaps the intruder might be looking forward to something of far
greater advantage than a mere carrying off of eatables. Yes, he was
heading now toward the shore where the white motor boat was tied up! And
Jack suddenly recollected that one of his companions had suggested that
the robbers kept their treasure-trove aboard the craft. That was after
the discovery of the hoax connected with the buried box.

But then how could this rough fellow have any suspicion concerning the
plunder taken from the bank? He surely could not, and must be intending
to go aboard simply under the belief that fatter pickings were to be
found on the little vessel just then totally unguarded.

Now he was at the river bank, with nothing to interfere with his plan of
boarding the tied-up boat. Of course his progress had been followed by
every one of the six pair of eyes belonging to the boys hiding in the
bushes, and it would be needless to say that by now all of them guessed
what his destination was.

Jack felt a pair of knuckles industriously digging at his side which he
knew must belong to George. The impulsive one was in this mute fashion
voicing his desire to know what Jack meant to do about it; and doubtless
hoping that they would be given permission to make some sort of move
after the thief had fully vanished over the side of the white boat.

But Jack paid no attention to the nudges. He was thinking just then what
a queer old mix-up the whole affair was getting to be; when one robber
attempted to ply his trade upon another of the same sort.

Now they could see the shadowy form passing from the bank on to the
gunwale of the boat. The fact that the side of the craft chanced to be
so very white did much to throw the climbing figure out in relief. Then
he disappeared and everything was as it had been; only they knew an
intruder had boarded the boat, and must be rummaging around in search of
something which doubtless he expected to find there.

Still the two near the dying camp fire had shown no sign of life. They
seemed to be sound asleep, and utterly unconscious of the fact that an
enemy had crept into their midst, bent on pillage.

Jack thought fast, and indeed, there was good reason why he should
do so. Should they attempt to warn the two nestled there amidst the
blankets, and put them wise to the fact that they were in danger of
being robbed? That would only disclose their presence to the fugitives
from justice, as they had been terming the owner of the white boat, and
his companion Jenks. And if they were the men who had looted the bank up
at Lawrence, why try and save their ill-gotten plunder?

Really, it would appear to be just as well that they let this adroit
second thief get the treasure in his possession, and then proceed to
take it from him in turn. Besides, it might be policy to reduce the
number of those against whom the boys would have to pit themselves; and
one must be reckoned just the half of two.

That was the way Jack found himself putting it, as though he had to
reduce the whole thing to argument. And it was surprising how many
different things could force themselves into his mind in just a brief
space of time. He could imagine the last creeper to have come safely off
the white boat, with the treasure in his possession, perhaps even
walking close by where they crouched; then would be given a signal that
must result in his being attacked from every quarter at once; and surely
with six of them to assist, he must be easily pulled down.

But wait, there was no need of getting so far afield, when the man
seemed to be still busying himself aboard the white motor boat some
way or other. While they could not see him, it was noticed that the
narrow-beamed boat was shaking more or less, as though some one were
moving about aboard.

Buster must recognize a very familiar movement in this, because there
was the cranky Wireless, always ready to accommodate itself to the
activities of any one who had the misfortune to pass any length of time
on board, either as passenger, crew or skipper.

Should that heavy-set man, called Jenks by the other, chance to awaken
about this time, perhaps there would be something doing speedily, for he
had all the looks of a stayer in a fight, and once he detected the
presence of the interloper, woe be to him. But there had not been the
slightest movement to either of the sleepers; and if the intended robber
of thieves was to be balked in his designs, it looked as though Jack
and his chums would have to prove themselves equal to the occasion.

And so Jack’s conclusion seemed to be that it might pay them to get
somewhat closer to the river bank, so that should the unknown finish his
work aboard, and start to make his escape, they could head him off the
better.

It was not really necessary for him to communicate all this to each
one of his chums. When they saw him start to make a move they would
understand what was intended, and govern themselves accordingly.

Jack raised himself to his hands and knees. Then he commenced to work
his way along, with the tied-up boat as his ultimate destination.

Just as he had anticipated, every one of the other fellows started in to
imitate his actions. All they wanted was an example, and they were ready
to follow suit. You have seen the whole flock of sheep follow the
bellwether over a low fence; and that was about the same way George and
Josh and the rest did right then and there.

All went smoothly for a certain length of time; perhaps as much as three
or four minutes may have passed along. Then something happened that was
certainly not down on the bills; and coming so unexpectedly must have
given the boys a severe shock.

Without warning there burst upon the night air a loud and sonorous
“ker-chew!” Why, it was deep-toned enough to have awakened the Seven
Sleepers of old; and certainly the precious pair over there by the fire
could not help but be electrified by the explosion.

It was not a thunder clap, though some of the creeping boys might have
so considered, when first it broke upon their startled hearing. No, it
was only Buster Longfellow sneezing.

This was an old weakness of Buster’s. He was wont to sneeze on any and
all occasions, and many times in his past history had he been brought to
a knowledge of the fact that it was a habit calculated to get a fellow
into all sorts of trouble. Remember that time he threatened to upset
George’s boat when one of these fits happened along? Well, there were
now even more dire possibilities in store for the unlucky originator of
that tremendous sneeze, than he cared to look in the face.

In the first place it aroused the two at the fire. They could be seen
suddenly sitting up straight, and looking all around them, as though
half expecting to discover strangers in the camp, who according to their
calculations could have no business there.

Then a head was seen to rise hurriedly above the gunwale of the white
motor boat, showing that the fellow who had gone aboard, had been
disturbed in the midst of whatever he was doing. Of course it was to be
expected that he would spring over the side, and make a streak for it,
intending to find shelter in the covert of nearby bushes.

Nothing of the sort happened.

On the contrary, while he did immediately expose himself in full view it
was to carry out an entirely different line of energy.

Jack was just in the act himself of standing up and directing his
comrades as to what they should do in order to cut off the other’s
escape, when he saw there was going to be nothing doing in that line.

For the man had leaned quickly over the side, and made a sweep with his
hand at the little hawser holding the boat snug against the bank. He
must have had an exceedingly sharp-bladed knife there, for it cut
through that rope as though the cable were made of sand. And at the same
moment the white motor boat started to swing free from the shore of the
island.



CHAPTER XIII

THE RIVER PIRATE


It was all done as quick as a flash, almost.

The unknown man aboard the white motor boat had no sooner sliced the
rope apart, thus allowing the craft to swing free and begin moving with
the current, always pulling steadily at it while lying there, than he
did something more.

“Look at him with the push-pole!” whooped Josh.

“Hey! hold on there! That ain’t your boat. I’ll have the law on you for
stealing!” cried out the dapper young chap, who had thrown his blankets
aside, and was standing there, shaking his fist after the bold
trespasser.

The big man with him, who had done all the work on the engine earlier in
the night, Jenks, started to rush toward the landing, as though he
believed in deeds rather than words. But the fellow who was so coolly
making off with their boat laughed harshly as he plied the push-pole
briskly.

Already had the boat gained a certain momentum, and if allowed to
continue as it was going for another full minute, would be lost to the
owner.

Jack and his five companions had not held back all this time either.
They were at a disadvantage, being much further away from the scene of
action than those who had been sleeping near the remains of the fire.
Consequently there was little chance for them to reach the spot before
the man had accomplished his evil task, and completed the seizure of the
white boat.

Jenks rushed down the shore like a mad bull. From his actions it seemed
as if he contemplated jumping into the river, and forcing his way out to
the stolen boat in spite of everything.

Indeed, he did push into the water, which happened to be rather shallow
at that point, and was making a gallant attempt to board the boat, when
suddenly the man dropped his pole, and held something out toward Jenks
that glistened in the moonlight.

“Keep back or I’ll shoot!” they heard him call out.

Jenks possibly did not believe him, for he kept rushing through the
water still; whereupon there came a sharp report, and a flash of flame.

“Oh!” cried Buster.

Jenks had pulled up short, and seemed to be wavering.

“That was only a warning,” the man aboard went on to say, angrily; “but
try it some more, and I’ll aim for keeps. You get me, don’t you?”

All this was plainly seen because of the bright moon. And while they
stood and stared, they heard the crank of the engine worked, and
immediately the rapid sound of the exhaust told that Jenks had indeed
placed it in splendid order, much to his regret now.

So the white boat began to speed away. Jack noticed that instead of
keeping on down the river, the thief was gradually starting to curve to
the right, as though it was his intention to come around and head up
stream. At the moment he did not realize what this might mean but a
little later it dawned upon him in full force.

Meanwhile there was more or less excitement around that spot.

Jenks came wading ashore again, and holding his left arm in a way that
would indicate that he had received some sort of a wound at the time the
desperate thief fired at him.

The younger stranger was dancing around in a furious fashion, and acting
so like a simpleton in his anger that Jack felt ashamed to remember
that he had once suspected him of being the slick thief whom the paper
called Slim Jim. Why, this chap was an innocent of the innocents, just
the kind of boy his appearance had stamped him--some rich man’s petted
darling, allowed to have a fine boat for a play toy, with a steady man
to run it for him, whom he could boss around.

All this Jack realized in the brief space of time that he stood there,
surveying the scene, and hearing the popping of the motor boat’s exhaust
sounding less and less noisy, as the stolen craft went further and
further away from the island.

And about that time the distracted owner of the boat seemed to realize
that he and Jenks were not alone. He stared at Jack and his companions
as though unable to understand how they came there, or if they were
really flesh and blood.

“They said that this miserable island was haunted,” he exclaimed, “and
I’m beginning to believe it’s so. Who are you, fellows, and where did
you spring from?”

Jack was for taking the bull by the horns. He had seen all his suspicions
concerning these two swept aside, so that they were no longer objects of
concern in his eyes.

“It’s too long a story to tell just now,” he remarked as he approached
the other. “We belong in a town above here, and are having a little
outing on board our three motor boats, which are tied up not far away.
When you landed we wondered who you were, because there has been a
robbery committed in Lawrence up the river, and the two yeggs who broke
into the bank were said to have escaped in a white motor boat with a red
band around the gunnel.”

“What’s that?” gasped the other, as though staggered by such astonishing
information, “took us for burglars, did you? I like that, now. Why, my
name’s Algernon Lorrimer, and my father’s one of the richest men in
Minneapolis. Get that?”

“Yes, and I’ve heard of him, all right,” said Jack. “We’re glad to meet
you, Algernon, even if it is under queer conditions. My name’s Jack
Stormways,” and then he proceeded to string off the names of his five
companions in rapid-fire order, the other boy bowing politely at each in
turn; evidently Algernon had been well brought up, and was accustomed to
the usages of good society, even though he might be only a “stick”
aboard a boat, insofar as being able to help run the same was concerned.

“Glad to make your acquaintance, fellows,” he said, loftily. “I hope
you’ll pardon me if I seem rather out of sorts. Here I am left, high and
dry on this island, with my new boat stolen by that contemptible rascal.
But he’ll be sorry he ever treated me like this. My father will have him
found out and punished. That boat cost two thousand dollars just last
week. We were on our first cruise with it, and playing tag with Chauncey
Gregory and his Firefly. They were to chase us, you know, and the first
one to get to St. Louis without being seen by the other was to win the
race. But we had some trouble with our engine, though we managed to fix
it in great shape. And now my Saunterer is stolen by a vile wretch. How
could he have ever come out here on this lonely island; and what would
he want to take such a fine boat for, when he couldn’t sell it anywhere,
without being arrested?”

Apparently Algernon was “some talker,” as Josh put it. Once he got
started, and he was like a seven-day clock in action. And Jack chuckled
to think that they had been looking upon all this as assumed, and that
the millionaire’s pampered boy had been a desperate thief, playing a
little game. It was one of the most ridiculous happenings that had ever
come to the motor boat chums.

And as Algernon was talking a sudden idea had leaped into Jack’s active
mind. This time it was founded on facts that were absolutely true, and
could be relied upon.

It all hinged on that wonderful sweater belonging to Buster, and which
was so queerly marked with a blue moon.

Now Jack knew positively that the same garment had been in the shed
where the trio of motor boats were lying, awaiting the beginning of the
cruise, on the previous evening, for he had handled it himself. Buster
could not find it when he wanted to wear it later on, and the rest
believed that it had been carelessly left somewhere in the shop or shed,
though as we have seen, the fat boy suspected Josh of playing a sly
trick on him.

Now the fact that this strange man was actually wearing the novel
sweater was positive evidence that he must have been in the shop of the
boat builder on the previous night, for some purpose or other, and
had taken the garment then, perhaps because it looked warm, and he
anticipated a chilly ride down the river.

Yes, Jack had jumped to a conclusion in the matter. Although his first
guess with regard to the identity of Algernon and Jenks had been a bad
one, he believed he could do much better with this other fellow; and
whom he now believed to be one of the desperate scoundrels who had
broken into the bank at Lawrence.

A lot of things went to point that way; and Buster’s sweater was the
only connecting clue, as it were. How the men happened to be on the
island, and why one of them was ready to take chances in stealing some
of their food, of course Jack was hardly in a condition to say just
then. They must have been pretty hungry, which would indicate that they
could not have had any food aboard their boat at the time they fled from
pursuit. Perhaps some accident had happened to the craft in which they
had come down the river. That would account for the fellow stealing the
fine new motor boat belonging to the tenderfoot cruiser, Algernon. It
may have taken his fancy for some reason or other; perhaps because it
happened to resemble their own craft, now disabled.

Strange how things will fly through the mind at times, when there is any
cause for excitement. Jack thought of a score of facts calculated to
back up his theory, even while he was standing there, with the throbbing
of the lost boat still sounding faintly in his ears.

Whatever of mystery there might be about the actions of the man who had
run off with the Saunterer, this was really no time for explanations,
or to try and figure things out. Later on, when it was all over, and
they could sit comfortably beside a camp fire, it would be fun to piece
things together, and find out just what had influenced all these events
to come about.

“Boys,” Jack said, turning to his friends, “I’ve just come to the
conclusion that we’ve run across one of those bank thieves after all.”

“You mean the chap who stole my boat?” ejaculated Algernon, “goodness
gracious! who would have thought now, that I’d come in contact with such
desperate characters in my little run down-river. And he shot my man,
too; see, Jenks is getting one of your friends, to wrap a rag around his
arm. This is thrilling. It makes my blood run cold to think that I was
actually so close to a real burglar. Won’t I have the story to tell
Chauncey, though? But how am I ever to get off this island, and try to
recover my boat?”

“Leave that to us, Algernon,” said Jack, quietly.

“Hurrah! Jack’s taken the job on!” shouted Josh, excitedly, “and when he
says he’ll see it through, you can bet your boots he means business.
What are we going to do about it, Jack?”

All eyes were of course turned upon the Commodore. In this critical time
they seemed to depend on him to lead the way out of the maze. Jack would
know what to do; that was what the rest always said to each other, as
soon as any serious difficulty arose.

And Jack simply raised his hand as if to call for silence, as he said:

“Wait a minute, fellows, I want to listen to what those rapid-fire
explosions aboard the white motor boat are telling me. They’re getting
louder again, you notice, with every minute that passes.”



CHAPTER XIV

READY FOR TROUBLE


“Jack, you’re right,” remarked George, after the whole of them had stood
there, listening eagerly for a minute or so. “That sounds louder all the
time.”

“P’raps the wind’s shifted?” suggested Josh.

“No, I don’t believe it has, even a little bit,” Herb observed, on his
part.

“Then what d’ye think it means?” asked Bumpus, who was just as much
interested as any one of his boat-mates.

“Why, he changed his course, that’s what,” declared Josh.

“Oh! that’s it, eh?” Bumpus went on to say, “and as he was running
up-stream before, why, that means he’s coming down now.”

“Seems like it, Bumpus,” admitted George.

“Why?” the fat boy kept asking; for when anything puzzled him he never
gave his comrades any peace until they had explained the particulars;
for Bumpus could be a standing interrogation point when he chose.

“Now you’ve got me,” admitted Josh, “’cause I don’t know.”

“He ain’t doing that just for fun, you believe, don’t you? He’s got a
card up his sleeve, as they say; and means to play it on us. Started up
the river in the beginning just to use a little time, and pull the wool
over our eyes, fellers. Now he comes a-spinnin’ down again in a little
different direction. Why? Again I wait to hear some wise head say it,”
and Bumpus assumed an expectant attitude as he went on in this manner.

“Jack, c’n you answer him?” Herb questioned; for, as usual they began to
turn toward the Commodore at such a time, just as though he might be an
unabridged dictionary, and able on any and all occasions to supply the
crowd with information.

“Well, if, as we seem to believe, this bold scamp is one of those bank
robbers, there’s only one way open for him to escape from any pursuers,
and that’s down the Mississippi,” Jack started to say; when George
uttered a sudden mild whoop.

“I’ve got it!” he cried, excitedly.

“Bully for you, then, George,” said Buster, eagerly, “and suppose you
tell us before you burst. The cooper that put hoops around your barrel
didn’t fasten ’em any too tight, believe me. Now, all at once, and have
it over with--why should that feller turn around, and start back this
way again, after getting safe off?”

“Why, because he suddenly remembered that he had a chum somewhere on
this same old island,” George announced, triumphantly; “how’s that,
Jack?”

Jack patted him on the back approvingly.

“Looks like you’d guessed it the first crack, George,” he declared.
“Yes, whether he forgot that fact for a few minutes, or has been playing
a little game to make us believe he was aiming to go up-river, there’s
no doubt but what he’s heading back now so’s to pick the other one up.
These sort of fellows stand by each other through thick and thin, you
know; that’s their best quality, always.”

“And Jack,” piped up Buster just then, “don’t you think that there might
be something else adrawin’ him back here--f’r instance, that stuff they
took away from the busted Lawrence bank?”

“Hurray for Buster; he’s all right; and this time he’s struck a
brilliant idea! Great head, old man, better be careful of your brains
after this. You’re waking up at last; ain’t he, Jack?” but Buster did
not deign to pay any attention to all this talk on the part of Josh,
because he knew the other must be secretly envious of him.

“That’s really a bright thought, Buster,” admitted Jack, immediately.
“This fellow might be ready to stick by his crony; but we know he’s
bound not to desert the plunder; and that must still be on the island
here, aboard their boat, wherever they’ve got her hidden. You know,
boys, we kind of thought they’d hide here, and try to paint the boat
some dark color, so it wouldn’t give them away; for every sheriff and
marshal down-river way will be on the watch for a white boat with a red
streak along the gunnel.”

“Mercy me! and think of the warm times I’ll be apt to have after this,
on the way to St. Louis,” remarked Algernon, throwing up his white hands
in dismay.

“That is, if ever you’re lucky enough to get your boat back again,”
reminded Josh, who rather like to “nag” such a dandified fellow as
Algernon and see him squirm.

“All of you noticed the fellow was wearing that sweater with the blue
moon on its front,” Jack continued to say, as he explained matters more
fully, “and we know that belongs to Buster here; also that it was in
that boathouse of the builder where we left our three boats last night,
when we locked up; because I handled it myself. Don’t you see what that
means, boys?”

“That man was in there; is that it, Jack?” George asked.

“He certainly must have been, else how could he get my sweater?”
demanded Buster, swelling with importance, since his name was bound to
be mentioned in connection with this affair every time the story was
told, and all on account of that new and remarkable garment which he had
lost.

“But if they had looted the bank up at Lawrence, tell me why they’d be
foolish enough to land in our town, and start in breaking open stores
and boat building establishments? Seems funny business for a pair of
smart yeggs?” Josh asked.

“Wait,” said Jack, “go back a little. Suppose now, while they were
coming down the river, that idea about the paint just bobbed up in their
heads, and it seemed such a clever scheme that they wanted to kick
themselves because they hadn’t just thought of it before, and had some
of the right kind of stuff on hand. So when they came to our town, this
fellow, who must be a pretty bold sort of chap, we know, made up this
plan to sneak ashore, break into some paint shop, and get away with a
supply.”

“Now I’m on to what you mean, Jack,” George hastened to remark, “and
when he struck the boat-yard of Mr. Kedge, he just up and thought he’d
sure find paint in there, because it’s used on boats. And as Buster had
left his new sweater lying around loose, like he always does with his
things, why, Mr. Burglar, feeling the night air on the river a bit cold,
just swiped the same. That’s as plain as the nose on Josh’s face here.”

“Just you let my nose alone,” muttered Josh, like a flash, “it may be a
little bigger’n yours, but it knows how to keep out of other people’s
business.”

“Then you think, do you, Jack,” George went on, “that something might
have happened to their boat, and crippled the same, so that they put in
here some time yesterday morning, if you can call it that, though this
is still the same day?”

“Yes, it looks as if they needed a new boat to continue their voyage
down the river; and seeing this fine chance, while Algernon and Jenks
were fast asleep, this man started to sneak it away. He might have done
it, and never a thing would they have known until morning, only for the
sneeze that Buster here gave.”

“See that,” cried the fat boy, triumphantly, “you all have poked heaps
of fun at me because I sneeze so much; but here’s a time that it paid
right handsomely.”

“Sure, Buster,” said George, quickly, “when it comes to waking people
up, the flock of geese that once saved Rome from a night attack didn’t
have anything on you, with your fine sneeze. I give you my word, you’d
arouse a whole city, once you let loose.”

“Bah! just jealous, that’s all; but don’t you dare to imitate me,
because I give you warning right now I’m going to get that sneeze
copyrighted, that’s what,” Buster went on to declare emphatically.

“Seems to me,” remarked Herb, “there’s a heap of engines getting into
trouble about now; George has his spell; then Jenks had to work on the
one in their boat; and now we suspect that these runaway robbers had a
breakdown of their own.”

“That shows you that I ain’t the only one that gets into a mess with
motor trouble,” George hastened to tell them.

“But arrah, now, phat arre we goin’ to do about this same broth of a bye
comin’ back till the island for frind?” Andy wanted to know just then.

“Sensible of you to ask that, Andy,” remarked Jack, “because it might
be possible for us to surprise the pair, if only we could guess about
where he meant to land along the shore.”

“Whee! is that what’s on the bill, Jack?” exclaimed Buster, “then how
glad I am that you’ve got that splendid little Marlin gun of yours
handy. If there’s going to be a scrap, every one of us ought to pick up
some sort of club, so’s to make a respectable showing. And right here I
see one I’m going to cabbage on the spot.”

“Which spot?” queried Josh; but no one paid the slightest attention to
jokes at such a critical moment.

“Listen again, boys,” ordered Jack, “and see if you can tell whether
he’s coming down this side of the island, or the other one; because that
would mean a whole lot for us.”

For a minute no one uttered a sound. The quick pulsations of the exhaust
belonging to the stolen motor boat could be plainly heard, for the night
was as still as death, all but that murmur of the breeze among the
treetops on the island, and perhaps the gentle lapping of the river on
the rocks along the shore.

“I think he’s started down the other side, Jack,” said George.

“Same here,” echoed Josh.

“I don’t seem to be able to guess,” complained Buster, “one time I think
it is the other side of the island and then again seems to me he’s
heading right back the way he went.”

“Other side of me,” Herb went on to say, wishing to be counted.

“Sure, that’s me ijee to a dot, so ’tis,” declared the Irish lad,
vehemently.

“Other side have it, five to one,” Jack went on, somehow forgetting that
there were others present, though for that matter Algernon was so
bewildered by all the strange things that were happening, he did not
seem able to gather his wits together, and Jenks was apparently quite
satisfied to leave the whole matter of the attempted recovery of the
motor boat to the charge of these six wide-awake young chaps who had
shown themselves to be so clever; though if it ever came to a crisis,
doubtless the sturdy machinist would be only too willing to throw
himself into the fight, and do his full duty.

“There, it’s stopped now, boys!” cried George suddenly.

“You’re right,” declared Jack, “and as near as I can place it, seems as
if the last sound came from across the island, too, perhaps a little
further up. Come on, everybody, and let’s see if we can push right
through the place. The trees are scattered, and the moon shows bright
enough to give us some light.”

“We’re off!” exclaimed Josh, exultantly, for he liked to be in action.

“Who’s afraid?” demanded Buster, waving the big billet of wood he had
picked up, as though anxious to do some service with the same.

“Keep still, everybody, and look where you’re going,” warned Jack,
leading off.



CHAPTER XV

JUST A MINUTE TOO LATE


“Gee whiz!” exclaimed Buster, presently, and the others heard more or
less of a loud crashing, which would seem to indicate that the fat boy,
who was always rather clumsy in his movements, had stumbled and fallen
amidst the impediments that sprinkled their course.

“Hurt, Buster?” questioned Herb, who was close behind.

“Naw, only knocked a little skin off my knees, I guess. Better luck next
time,” was the cheerful reply, as the unfortunate one scrambled to his
feet, and again resumed his forward progress.

When Jack and his five mates started off, the man Jenks, and his
employer, Algernon Lorrimer, apparently did not mean to be left entirely
in the lurch. They were in the group now pushing through the wooded part
of the island, and trying to surmount the many difficulties that beset
their course.

Algernon had about as much trouble as Buster to navigate safely; now it
was some unnoticed log that threatened to trip him up, and again a
hanging vine tried to choke him outright. Jenks hovered near by, ready
to come to the rescue of his employer should the latter succeed in
getting into a severe pinch. As Josh afterward said in commenting on
this solicitude on the part of the machinist, perhaps Jenks had not been
paid his week’s wages as yet, and wanted to make sure he would have an
employer to whom he could look for the expected cash.

One thing proved of considerable assistance, and this was the moon.
Battered though it might be, and with one side partly gone, still the
faithful old sky lantern was able to give out a considerable amount of
silvery light.

“Lucky we’ve got that moon, let me tell you,” grunted Buster, as he
continued to boom along, making enough noise, so Josh declared, to warn
the whole neighborhood of their coming.

“Some people’d need three moons to get along half way decent,” was what
Josh declared from some point close by.

“Hush!” Jack remarked, and at that they all fell quiet again.

Indeed, it was no child’s play making their way through the dense growth
that covered the main part of the island. Even in the daytime they
would have had more or less trouble in accomplishing such a task; and
when attempting it with only the deceptive moonlight as a source of
illumination, the task became doubly difficult.

Once Jack called a brief halt.

It was his idea to try and ascertain whether there were any sounds
ahead, such as might indicate the presence of busy workers, getting
their belongings from the boat that was about to be abandoned to the one
that had just fallen into their possession, through a stroke of luck,
backed up by daring.

It might be in the shape of voices, a cough, or any sort of sound that
would betray the presence of human beings; why, even a sneeze, such as
that famous one of Buster, would do the business.

But somehow nothing of the sort seemed to come to their strained
hearing; at any rate most of them failed to catch such a welcome sound.
Yet when Jack bade them start on again, lowering his voice to a
thrilling whisper almost, it seemed as if he felt a new confidence,
showing that he believed he had heard something or other.

Instead of getting better the nearer they drew to the other side of the
little island that had such a bad name, it seemed as though conditions
steadily became worse.

Buster and Algernon simply could not hold up to the pace set by such
agile chaps as Jack, George, Andy and Josh, so that they were gradually
but surely falling back, and being put out of the race.

Herb was not much better, for it was never a habit of the easy-going
skipper of the solid old Comfort to hurry more than he could reasonably
help.

But then probably it would not matter so much after all. There were
still five in the front rank, for Jenks had now forged alongside the
others, thinking he might best serve his master by trying to recover the
boat, rather than standing by to pick him up in case he fell. And more
than that, there was Jack handling that reliable Marlin of his in a
fashion that seemed to speak volumes for his intentions, once he sighted
the enemy.

When excitement rules the camp it is wonderful how many things can be
crowded into a small space of time. People seem to pass through a
lifetime in a few minutes, providing events come tumbling over one
another, helter-skelter like.

Now, when they came to figure upon it later on, the motor boat chums
were of the opinion that even under such adverse conditions they could
not have been more than six or seven minutes in passing through the
wooded center of the island. It was only a small affair at best, and by
daylight could have been crossed in much less time. And yet there was
Buster, for instance, who must have been laboring under the impression
that fully half an hour had already passed since they first started to
break into the thick growth, and butt up against all these crazy
obstacles--the logs that would get under a fellow’s feet, the encircling
loops of dangling wild grape-vines; the trees that bobbed up most
unexpectedly, and tried to knock one’s brains out, and a lot of other
things along the same line “too numerous to mention.”

Of course none of them gave much heed to what their conduct would be
when they managed to overtake the enemy.

That would have to be left pretty much to accident. Perhaps some of
the boys, under the belief that they must present quite a hostile
appearance, with all sorts of clubs and cudgels in evidence, not to
speak of that gun Jack carried, fancied that the two burglars would take
to flight at sight of the advancing legion. But Jack, and perhaps Herb
also, did not delude themselves with this expectation; for they could
remember just how that fellow aboard the stolen boat had warned Jenks
off, and even wounded him in the arm when he refused to stop short.

They set him down as a dangerous character, which he undoubtedly must
have been, to have carried out the bold programme connected with the
looting of the up-river bank.

At any rate, they must be getting close to the other side of the island
now, for there was a perceptible slope downward, and this must mean the
crest had been left behind.

Yes, and sure enough, the trees were getting less dense, though the
brush might be as thick as ever. Jack hoped for one thing that luck
would favor them, and allow of their breaking out upon the little beach
at just the exact spot where the two men were working.

At the same time he did not feel any too sanguine of success, for which
there were numerous reasons. Surely the two thieves must be aware of the
fact that the pack was pushing toward them, for there was plenty of
noise accompanying their forward progress.

And knowing this, would it not be the easiest thing for them to gauge
their time of flitting by the closeness of the coming host? Jack thought
so, even while still exerting himself to the uttermost in order to get
to the shore as speedily as possible.

Ah! now he could see more light ahead, which told in so many words that
they must be close to the river again. Their troubles were behind them
now; that is, insofar as they concerned navigating the dense jungle that
covered the island of the bad name.

Those still ahead would be of an entirely different nature, and might
consist of running up against the desperate thieves.

Just then Jack heard a voice, a very gruff voice, which he recognized as
belonging to the man who had run off with the white boat.

“That all, Jim?”

The speaking of that name thrilled Jack, for only too well did he
remember that it was mentioned in the newspaper article describing the
robbery; and if he had had the slightest doubt before as to the identity
of the precious pair, it was now a thing of the past.

If the man addressed made any sort of reply Jack failed to catch it. He
hoped, however, that it would be of a negative character--that they
might still have something more to do; because Jack had located the
voice, and was of the impression that it came from a little further up
the narrow beach. They had come fairly close to the spot where the
transfer of belongings was being made, but did not hit on it exactly.
And it is an old saying that a miss is as good as a mile; at any rate it
would likely prove such in this case.

And so they presently burst out of the cover, and found themselves
looking on the moonlit surface of the flowing Mississippi again.

Jack, Jenks, George and Josh had somehow come out in a clump, with Andy
close at their heels. None of them more than cast a fleeting glance out
on the dancing water, for they could see immediately that there was
nothing calculated to interest them there.

Jack immediately turned up the beach, and started to sprint, for it was
open here, and the absence of obstacles offered them a splendid chance
to do something worth while.

There happened to be a little point setting out just above, on which
grew some stunted trees and considerable brush. This helped to make a
cove, perhaps something like the one which the boys had selected as
their harbor, and in which the three motor boats rested snugly even
then.

And as the two fugitive thieves had chanced to come down that side of
the island they must have picked this out for a stopping-place, where
they could hide their craft.

Rapidly did the running Jack, backed up by his allies, near this point
of land. Once it was reached, and he believed he would be able to see
what lay beyond; though somehow Jack did not appear to entertain any
doubt as to the nature of this discovery.

He had already reached its outer edge, and in another ten seconds must
have been able to push directly through, when, just as he feared, he
heard sounds that announced the finish of that stage of the game.

The loud crackle of a motor’s exhaust broke the silence; and from the
rapidity with which it worked he knew that the engine had been started
at almost full speed.

“Oh! rats!” burst out George, who had been doing his best to get
alongside Jack, and succeeded too, “they’ve got away from us!”

They kept on running, however, and speedily broke through the fringe of
shrubbery that shut off their view. As they did so it was to hear a loud
hoarse laugh, that came rolling in from the water, and to see a white
boat rushing away over the glistening surface of the river.



CHAPTER XVI

IN HOT PURSUIT


“It’s all off!” grunted Josh, evidently vastly disappointed by the
outcome of their adventure.

“Yes, they’ve given us the slip!” declared Jack, who was already trying
to think up some new plan whereby they might further harrass the bold
thieves who had thus far carried things all their own way.

“How’d you come to let ’em go?”

This from the panting Buster, and he really meant it, too, which was the
strangest part of it all; he had come rumbling along like an ice-wagon,
as Josh was accustomed to saying, swinging that long club of his in a
way that was as dangerous to friends as foes.

“Huh! let ’em!” Josh went on to say, mockingly. “I like that, now, sure
I do. As if we had anything to do with their skipping out. They were
ready to flew the coop when they heard us a-comin’, and only had to
start the engine. Jenks, here he got that fixed a little too soon. If
he’d only let her go till morning he’d not be minus a boat now, see?”

All of which was true, but nobody sucked any consolation out of it. When
a horse has been stolen, how little the unlucky owner cares when some
neighbors come along and show him how he might have avoided his loss;
what he thinks of most of all is the matter of getting the lost animal
back again into his barn.

And Jack was built that way. He seldom spent any time mourning over the
milk that was spilt; but immediately proceeded to try and remedy
conditions.

One thing sure, if ever they hoped to give these fellows any further
trouble, it would not be accomplished by sitting down, and trying to
discover why they could not have navigated that little patch of timber
faster; or pushed through at a more direct line, so as to have saved
that fatal angle.

The mill will never again grind with the water that is past--how
frequently Jack could remember hearing his teacher in school say that;
and he had often applied it to his own actions.

No, the robbers were done with that island, and had also abandoned their
own boat, for it could be seen tied up there, just ahead. If they were
to be met again it must be on the river.

That would mean a hot pursuit on the part of the motor boat boys; and
this was what Jack was turning over so quickly in his mind while he
stood there looking out after the disappearing craft.

“Oh! they left it after all!” exclaimed Algernon, as he too came up,
considerably the worse for wear, because of the frequent arguments he
had had with various unseen branches and logs and such things, in his
hasty run.

“He thinks that white boat is his,” exclaimed Josh, pointing as he
spoke, “but that’s all wrong, Algernon, and you’re off your trolley,
sure. They had one of the same color, if not as good a boat as yours;
and they’ve kindly left it for you, with their compliments. That was
about what he meant when he shouted across the water, you know.”

“Jack, what are you thinking about now?” demanded George, who knew from
the signs that the other was turning some sort of idea over in that
active mind of his.

“I was wondering whether we wanted to take another turn with these
fellows, that’s all,” replied Jack, immediately.

“But--they’ve cleared out, you know!” said Buster, blankly, as he looked
over the bright surface of the river, as though wondering however a
fellow was going to walk on the water.

“Well, haven’t we got boats to follow them with?” demanded Josh, who
was quicker-witted than his stout chum.

“And one of ’em a crack-a-jack for speed,” added George, proudly.

“When it’s going, you mean, George,” corrected Josh; at which sly thrust
the party indicated simply curled his lip, and disdained to reply.

“Well, whatever we decide to do, the sooner we settle the matter the
better,” remarked Jack, impatiently, something rather uncommon with him.

“Sure thing, because they’re putting up a hefty run of it right now, and
can do it right along with that boat,” added Josh.

“What speed can she make, Algernon?” queried George.

“Fifteen miles an hour when she’s run by one that knows how to handle
her; but by myself I could never beat eleven at the best,” came the
frank admission, which told just why he had hired the mechanician to
accompany him in his run down river in competition with another
“chappie” who also owned an expensive boat.

“Huh! I have had eighteen, and I think nearly twenty out of mine,” said
George, trying to seem as though he were not boasting, but simply
telling the plain truth, “and I think she could do that last, with the
current to help out. So you see we’d be apt to come up on those fellows
hand over fist. All of you could pile aboard the Wireless with me, and
given an hour or so, I reckon we’d bring up alongside your stolen
property, Algernon.”

At that there was a scornful outbreak from Buster.

“Glory, don’t I see this whole bunch aboard your Wireless, though? It’d
be a sight to make a feller weep, the way they’d have to sit in the
middle, and never so much as wink an eye for fear they’d turn the speed
boat upside-down. Excuse me from being in the party, George. I like your
boat all right--from a distance. If I had company I’d rather stay on
this blessed old island than get on the Wireless with such a crowd as
this. Please let me go with you, Herb, if I have to be taken along.”

“Sure we will,” said George, cheerfully, “and only too glad of the
chance. But if we’re going to do any chasing after that runaway it’s
time we made a start.”

“Then come on, everybody!” cried Jack, once more starting away on a run,
and this time following the beach down toward the lower end of the
island.

The whole eight of them were immediately in motion. As before, Buster
and Algernon quickly fell behind, though they persisted manfully, and
meant to come up before the boats could be poled out of the cove and the
start made.

Jack was even then and there fixing things in his mind, so that there
would be no confusion once they started. He decided that as Herb would
be hopelessly distanced by the other two boats, and could not be
depended on to assist in any way, if he started at all he should take
aboard as his crew Buster and Algernon; for they could not be expected
to prove of any great assistance, should matters come to a conflict of
any kind. In fact, Jack would feel more comfortable with the fat boy
missing, for Buster so often upset all calculations by some ill-advised
if well-meant play.

The others could be apportioned to the Tramp and the Wireless; with
three of them keeping Jack company, Jenks one of the number, as he
promised to be a valuable ally when the finish came around.

Running along the open beach was not anything so difficult as trying to
make progress through all that wild jungle; and in an exceedingly brief
space of time the familiar cove loomed up, with its attendant boats,
all tied up snugly to convenient trees, and in deep water at that, which
prevented any possibility of their getting aground by a sudden fall of
the river during the night, as sometimes happened.

Each skipper made directly for his own boat the moment he reached the
scene. It was no time to think of taking down the beloved khaki-colored
tent; if Herb did think it worth while to tag after the others, then
things on the island would have to look after themselves until such time
as the boys could return. And just when this would be, not even Jack
could so much as guess at this early stage in the expected chase.

Although doubtless more or less excited, neither George nor Jack seemed
apt to make a serious blunder in the start. They clambered aboard their
respective boats and meanwhile Jack was shouting directions:

“Andy, you go with George, while Josh and Jenks will come aboard here.
And be quick to cast off, and get the push poles handy, so we won’t be
wasting time. George, for once you’ve got to promise me on your honor
not to run ahead. There are only five of us, and we’ll need every hand
against such hard cases. Remember now, I’m expecting you to keep
alongside. The Tramp can overtake that boat all right, never fear.”

George said he would try and do just as the Commodore said. At the same
time they knew how great a disappointment it must be to the reckless
chap to have to give such a promise; for George was no coward, whatever
other shortcomings might be placed against him; and given half a chance
he would have readily hurled himself at the two fugitive burglars with
any sort of backing.

Everybody worked with the utmost haste.

Why, it seemed as though they had hardly gained a footing on the boats
before both hawsers were cast loose, and the push poles could be heard
splashing in the water.

The sound thrilled every one of them; for there may be times when even
such a simple thing as water splashing seems to give warning of serious
times coming. And with such desperate men as the two bank thieves to
overhaul and perhaps capture, surely Jack and his chums had a “a hard
nut to crack,” as Josh expressed it.

As soon as the first boat, which happened to be the Tramp, was well out
of the sheltered nook, Jack gave the crank a turn, and with a whirr the
engine started to working. He immediately took charge, for no one knew
so well as he how to get the best that was in that motor in action.

Jack was a bit nervous concerning the other boat. It was a toss-up as to
whether the machinery of the “freaky” Wireless could be made to start,
just when it was of the utmost importance, for George never knew a thing
about it, and always approached the subject with his heart in his mouth,
so to speak.

So all of them held their breath when they saw him get ready to give the
crank its customary whirl.

Then all at once there broke out the welcome sound of the explosions
that told them the story. Wireless stock went up fifty per cent just
then; Wireless was going to be good, and behave!

And so the two motor boats carrying the determined little band of
intended pursuers swung out upon the broad and heaving bosom of the
mighty Mississippi, and headed south.



CHAPTER XVII

THE MOONLIGHT CHASE


Doubtless those boys would never be apt to forget that chase on the
river, even though in times to come they might have a part in many other
exciting scenes.

The moon was very bright at this hour, not a cloud dimming its lustre;
and upon the water objects could be seen for quite some distance away.
Although these might not be as distinct as in the daytime; still, if it
was a moving boat, any one could recognize familiar features about it.
And should it happen to be a peculiar boat, or one that was painted snow
white, surely they could tell it, once they chanced to come within a
certain radius.

George was of course fidgety.

That old spirit of wanting to let loose, and shoot away at the very top
of speed of which his high-powered motor was capable, must be gripping
the boy, for it is hard to make one of his impulsive temperament act in
reason.

But Jack was bound that both boats must keep in touch all the time, and
that George should hold his “bucking broncho” engine, as Buster called
it, in sufficiently to avoid leaving the Tramp behind.

There were lots of good reasons for this, too.

In the first place Jack knew only too well that on most occasions when
George had had trouble with his engine, it was when he was playing all
sorts of pranks with it, taking chances, in the hope of causing his boat
to make a record for the class to which it belonged. And if he were
compelled to moderate his speed just a little, there would be a far
better opportunity for him to keep right along to the finish.

Then again, this was no good-natured race intended to test the racing
abilities of the two rival boats. Jack had always admitted frankly
enough that if the Wireless only behaved herself, she was in a class by
herself, insofar as the other boats of the fleet were concerned. The
only trouble was, that six times out of seven she insisted on “cutting
up” just when George was congratulating himself that he had finally
conquered that turbulent spirit.

They would, provided they caught up with the stolen Saunterer, find
themselves pitted against a couple of bad men, who would not hesitate at
anything in order to escape with their stolen plunder.

And that was the main reason why Jack had insisted upon George binding
himself to an agreement to stay by the others, come what would. Why, he
was that reckless, that, should he overtake the fugitive thieves, with
only Andy back of him, chances were he would dash at them, and somebody
was bound to get hurt, probably George himself.

Everything seemed to be going along nicely, after they had gotten well
away from the island. Jack wondered whether Herb would insist on
following after them in his slow boat, or stay by the camp. Perhaps
finding that Buster and Algernon were both eager to get on the move, no
matter if they could not hope to arrive in time to lend a helping hand,
Herb might make the start.

“Josh, can you see the island still?” the skipper of the Tramp called
out, for he was himself too busy watching how his machine worked to take
his eyes off it; and then, again, what was the use, when he could get
the information second-hand just as well.

“Yep, though it’s getting kind of faint now, Jack,” came the reply. “You
see, this here moonlight ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’ve proved
it, too. ’Nother feller’d me we made a wager that we could tell anybody
half a mile away; then we went outside to prove it! My conscience!
there was a black thing in the country road just about sixty yards away;
he said it looked like a bear, and I was just dead certain ’twas a cow
a-lyin’ down. Well, we walked up to it, and what d’ye think, it was only
an old stump after all.”

“Look as close as you can, and tell me if you see anything of another
boat coming out,” Jack went on, as soon as he could work a few words in;
for when Josh felt the inclination to tell one of his little stories,
nothing in all creation could stop him, unless some one threw a lump of
mud squarely into his open mouth, as once happened when he was in
swimming; and even then, as soon as he had managed to get rid of it, he
had gone on deliberately, “As I was a-sayin’----” and so on.

“Why,” he went on to remark, dubiously, “I c’n see somethin’ a-movin’
over there, somethin’ dark, too, and just in the same place we came
out of; but whether it’s a boat, say, Jack, don’t ask me to take my
affidavy, for I won’t, that’s all.”

“I won’t ask you, because I’m sure now it must be a boat, and of course
Comfort, with the rest of the crowd aboard,” remarked Jack.

“But shucks! everything’ll be over, even the shouting, when that tub
comes along. What’s the use in Herb startin’ at all, Jack?”

“He had that privilege,” returned the skipper. “I didn’t just want to
tell him he had ought to stay by the camp, to look after things. And
besides, there’s our new friend, Algernon, of course he’ll be just as
anxious as anything to know as soon as he can whether we’ve recovered
his Saunterer or not. But I guess you don’t see anything of that moving
thing, now, eh, Josh?”

“That’s right, she’s blotted out; and I could crack my eyes lookin’
without getting a peep,” replied Josh, immediately he had looked again.

“All right, let’s forget all about Herb, and the rest from now on,
because there’s little chance that they’ll have anything to do with the
finish of the race. George is holding in pretty well, you see, Josh. He
can put a crimp in that speed mania, when he wants to.”

“But gee! listen to him growling, would you?” remarked the other, with a
dry chuckle, for he dearly loved to see George held under Jack’s thumb,
for the skipper of the Wireless was so boastful most of the time. “I
pity poor old Andy havin’ to play crew for such a bear with a sore head.
Wouldn’t surprise me a whit, Jack, if the Wireless man just found he
couldn’t stand bein’ held in, and let go for all he’s worth, shootin’
up ahead like fun.”

“No, you’re way off there, Josh; you heard George give me his word; and
no matter what other faults George may have, he never goes back on his
promises. That’s his best point. I’d as soon take his word as lots of
fellows’ binding written agreement.”

“Well, I guess that’s so, Jack,” said Josh, slowly, for he wanted to be
fair toward his impulsive chum; and in spite of his many faults, these
comrades, tried and true, loved George Rollins; strange, but impulsive,
hot-tempered people always make more and warmer friends than cold,
calculating ones, no matter how much these latter show themselves to be
honest and true.

For some little time they continued to shove along down the river, with
both boats doing splendidly. Just how many miles an hour they were
making Jack could not say positively; but he thought it must be in the
neighborhood of fifteen.

George called out a number of times, and begged the other skipper to do
something more than just crawl. It seemed to be a painful experience to
the captain of the Wireless, and yet when he was taken to task later on
for his impatience, and made to see how well his engine had behaved
when not constantly meddled with, and pushed to its utmost limit, George
candidly admitted that Jack’s plan was by long odds the best for all
concerned, indeed, the only one they could have followed, under the
circumstances.

They were certainly putting the miles behind them as they kept on flying
down with the current. Jack had to figure it out, so as to see about
what sort of a lead the fugitive white boat had on them.

He could give something of a guess as to about how many minutes had
elapsed between the time the other craft had started past the lower end
of the island, and that marking their own departure. That was not over
ten minutes all told, he believed, though had any of the others been
asked they would have said twice that because they were excited at the
time, and seconds were drawn out doubly long.

Well, saying that it was ten minutes, and the boat was going at the rate
of twelve miles an hour that would mean the stolen craft had a lead of
about two miles all told. Jack knew that they should cut this down
before an hour had crept by, unless something happened to hold them up,
an accident to the Wireless, or to his own motor.

So when something like half an hour had gone, he began to exhibit more
or less anxiety as to whether any signs of the white boat could be seen
down-stream. In order to find this out at the earliest opportunity Jack
had stationed his “crew” up forward in the bow, where he could have
nothing in the way; and as the moon was about in the east he was not
compelled to stare into its bright shaft of silvery light.

Every once in a while Jack would call out to ask whether there had
anything appeared in sight. Josh answered him three separate times, and
then laughingly said:

“Say, d’ye know what you make me think of, Jack? Remember in the old
nursery tale of Bluebeard, where the poor wife, whose head is going to
be cut off by the bad man keeps calling up to her sister, who is
watching the road for the coming of their brothers: ‘Sister Ann, Sister
Ann, is there anything coming?’ Well, just now, Jack, I can’t even say I
see a cloud of dust in the distance, as Sister Ann--hold on there, Josh,
don’t be in such a big hurry. Is that a moving object, or are you seeing
things that hadn’t ought to be there?”

He bent forward the better to look. Just then from the other boat the
voice of Andy was heard to call out eagerly:

“Sure, ’tis something I say beyant there; and to me way of thinkin’ it
looks as much loike a white boat as two peas resimble aich ither!”

That started Josh, who did not exactly relish the idea of having to play
what he called “second fiddle.”

“Right you are, Andy, though a bit late, because I was just telling Jack
here that our intended prey was in sight. But I’m real glad to hear you
say you can see it too, better two heads than one, even if--well, I
won’t finish that sentence, because you might think I was comparing your
coco to a mere vegetable. There, Jack, look for yourself and see,” he
went on, as the skipper managed to leave his engine long enough to push
forward a little.

So Jack did take a good look, and when he had done so, he added his
opinion to that of the other two boys.

“Guess there isn’t a shadow of doubt about that, fellows; because I can
see the thing moving right along; yes, that’s the runaway motor boat,
and we’re going to catch up with the same inside of twenty minutes,
unless something that isn’t down on the bills comes to pass.”



CHAPTER XVIII

OVERHAULED


“Well, I like that!” George was heard to exclaim; and it was noticed
that he seemed to be greatly amused over something or other.

“What d’ye mean, George?” asked Josh; for the two boats were so close
together all this while that those aboard could exchange comments
without great difficulty; although they had to raise their voices
considerably, because of the furious rattling of the exhausts.

“It must be a joke, be the powers;” broke in Andy, “because he’s been
laughin’ that quiet loike till himsilf this long toime.”

“That’s what it is, a joke!” declared George; “and by that, I mean the
wonderful Saunterer. Our new friend, Algernon, didn’t you hear him call
his expensive craft a speed boat? Say, it’s a wonder, that’s what! The
only thing I’m surprised at is his giving her such a gentle name. He
ought to have called her Chain-Lightning, Blue Streak, or something like
that. Why? Because she goes like a shot--nit. A speed boat, that thing?
Well, and her doing about twelve miles an hour at her best too! I could
cut circles all around her, if only you’d let me go, Jack. And look at
the Tramp walking up on her; yet when did you call your craft a speed
boat, I’d like to know?”

“Oh! that’s what’s so funny to you, is it?” Jack went on to say. “But
you must remember who owns the Saunterer, George. Perhaps, when she’s
doing her best she seems to be flying through the water like mad to
Algernon. Everybody doesn’t happen to be built the same as you, George.”

“Well, I should say not,” declared the other, immediately.

“And there are a whole lot of people who are mighty glad of it,” put in
Josh.

“Arrah! that’s thrue, ivery word av it,” echoed Andy. “Sure the world’d
be turned upside-down in a hurry, av there were many Georges runnin’
around loose, thryin’ to bate ivery other George. I do be sayin’ ’em wid
their tongues hangin’ out av their mouths and, always lookin’ for a
race. Now, belave me the ould Comfort is a hape more to me likin’ than a
boat that cuts through the wather loike a knife; and kapes ye thinkin’
ye are sittin’ on the sharp edge all the while.”

“Oh! well, there have to be different kinds of people in this old
world,” sang out the undaunted George, “and we happen to be built on
different models, that’s all. You never saw a race horse, one of the
thoroughbred type, but what he was nervous, and finely strung. I suppose
that’s the way I am constructed. Can’t help it, to save me. I’m really
unhappy to be going slow at any time.”

And that was really a fact, for George ate his meals in a hurry, studied
his lessons with a rush; and when he played football was always a terror
upon the lines, carrying things with him; though apt to prove a weak
defense in the end from over-exertion.

While this little heart-to-heart talk was going on, they kept drawing
steadily closer to the white boat.

Jack had begun to speculate on what was apt to happen when finally the
pursuers were able to overtake the fugitive craft. He knew that the
desperate men who were aboard would not be apt to think of surrendering
easily, and especially when they knew or suspected that their foes
consisted for the most part simply of half-grown boys.

They were armed, too, which was a fact calculated to make Jack act
cautiously. True, he carried his reliable Marlin along with him, and at
close range a shotgun is a serious weapon to consider, especially one of
hard-shooting, modern kind, but Jack did not much fancy having to use
this, except as the very last resort.

One thing surprised him not a little; he wondered why the escaping bank
thieves had not thought to run their boat ashore, and escape to dry
land. Surely they must have realized before now that the motor boats
were in pursuit of them, and bound to overtake them at that, before
long.

Perhaps they were still a little in doubt. Then, again, it might be they
scorned to show the white feather in connection with a pursuit conducted
by mere striplings. But Jack secretly believed there must be another and
more likely reason for their sticking to the boat. If they landed, they
were going to have a hard time of it avoiding the many officers who,
spurred on by the reward that had likely been offered for their
apprehension, and the return of the stolen plunder, would be on the
lookout at every cross road in the country south.

Now, if only they could get a chance to change the color of their craft
they might keep right on moving down the great river, and snap their
fingers at every inquisitive person; for it would be a white boat that
these watchers would be looking for.

Yes, these things must weigh heavily with the two men, and make them
want to stick by the stolen motor boat as long as possible. They may
have laid out their plans, and hated to alter them; and these had to do
with a voyage on the river, running by night, until they reached a
certain place of refuge; it might be down at St. Louis, for all Jack
knew.

No matter what the reason, there was the white boat, still keeping to
the middle of the wide river, and apparently doing her best to outrun
the two pursuing craft.

When ten minutes had passed they had cut down that lead to less than
half; and it really looked as if Jack’s prediction was about to come
true.

“What can that dark thing away ahead be, I wonder?” Jack heard Josh
saying about this time.

As it was of the utmost importance that he keep in close touch with
everything that went on, no matter how trivial it seemed, the skipper
immediately raised his head, and asked:

“Where-abouts, Josh?”

“Why, look beyond the white boat, and you’ll see something low down on
the water, Jack. Yes, and there’s a dark spot in the middle of it, too,
just like a cheese box on a raft. Can that be another island, d’ye
reckon; and are they meanin’ to go ashore there, and hold us off?”

“Oh! I guess not,” remarked Jack, after taking a good look, “what you
see, Josh, is what you’d call a raft of logs floating down the river.
We’ve seen such pass up our way many a time. And generally the two men
aboard will have a little cabin, where they take turns sleeping, when
voyaging at night, which they don’t often do, I reckon. Yes, I believe
I can see signs of a couple of lighted lanterns. They’re to tell
steamboats to sheer off; and they always do, because a collision with
all those big logs would go hard with any boat.”

“Guess you’re right, Jack,” admitted the other, yielding readily to the
argument which he realized was convincing. “But say, d’ye think our men
see that same old raft? Could they be making for it, now, meanin’ to
board the same, and keep us off?”

That idea had flashed into Jack’s mind, but as yet he could not say; for
he was unable to see just what advantage such a course would be to the
fugitives. True, the pursuers had been overhauling them so fast of late
that it began to appear as though they were having trouble with the
engine Jenks had fixed. If that proved to be the case, then they might
have been seized with a fear that they were going to be overhauled; and
as it was too late now to reach land, the next best thing would be to
make a floating battery of the raft, and keep their persistent enemies
off, until they could steer the clumsy float nearer the shore.

“What’s the programme, Jack?” called George, who was doubtless fairly
quivering with excitement, and eager for hostilities to begin.

“You come up on the left, while we take the right,” replied the other,
just as though he had figured all this out, as he undoubtedly had.

“Do we board the pirate boat?” George went on.

“We’ll have to, if we expect to retake it for Algernon,” Jack answered.

“They’ll put up a stiff fight, Jack, don’t forget that,” the skipper of
the Wireless went on to say.

“Well, if only they’d get cold feet it’d make it all the easier for us,”
Josh broke in with, just then. “And don’t I wish every fellow had a gun
like Jack, here. Then we’d have ’em dead to rights, and they’d soon
throw up the sponge, when we started in to bombard the lot with shot.
Say, Jack, you expect to use that same little Marlin, I hope; for what’s
the good of a gun when you won’t make it squeal?”

“I’ll use it to let them know we’re armed, first of all,” Jack
explained, “and that might go a good ways toward making them surrender.”

“But hold on, Jack, don’t do that if the two shells are all you’ve got.
A nice sort of thing that’d be, to scare the game, and not have anything
to pink ’em with afterwards,” Josh went on to say, in alarm.

“Oh! I’ve got a few more in my pocket,” returned the other. “I was wise
enough to slip some shells in my coat before we left camp the first
time. Don’t worry about that, Josh. There! wasn’t that a man’s head
bobbing up above the stern of the other boat just then?”

It certainly must have been, for immediately there came a hoarse hail
across the intervening water.

“Hello! there, you in the motor boats!”

“Hello! yourself! what d’ye want?” demanded George; before Jack could
say a word; for George did everything so quickly it was hard to get
ahead of him.

“We want you to sheer off, and mind your own business, hear that?”
replied the party aboard the white boat belonging to Algernon.

“That’s just what we are doing,” Jack called out. “You’ve made a mistake
and gone off with the wrong boat. Yours is up above, on the island; and
that one belongs to a friend of ours. We want it; and what’s more, we’re
going to take it back. Do you get that?”

The two men could be heard talking hurriedly together. Possibly they
were trying to figure out just what the boy meant and if it could be
that their real identity were as yet unsuspected. If the boys simply
looked on them as boat thieves, perhaps they might manage to deceive
them in some way. But when the man spoke once more it was evident that
they could not wholly reconcile themselves to this idea.

“We want to warn you to keep off, or you’re apt to get hurt right bad.
We’re heavily armed, and will shoot straight, take that from me.”

“Oh! say you so?” called out George, mockingly, “well, perhaps there are
two who can play at that game, mister. Guess we’ve got firearms along,
too; and can pepper your hides with Number Seven shot till you’ll look
like a Christmas plum pudding. Jack, shall we give ’em a volley right
now?”



CHAPTER XIX

ABOARD THE FLOATING RAFT


Now, of course George must be only saying this for effect. He was aware
of the fact that they had only one gun among them; and also that Jack
would hardly be the person to use that recklessly.

“Listen to George talkin’ through his hat,” whispered Josh, to the
skipper of the Tramp, as they continued to draw closer and closer to the
white boat.

Again they could hear the two men exchanging hurried words. It looked
as if the situation was none of their choosing, and that they did not
particularly fancy it.

“If you won’t keep back, then take that!” suddenly shouted the
heavy-voiced man; and immediately following his words there came a
bright flash, and the report of a pistol.

“Oh!” exclaimed some one aboard the Wireless; and Jack had a shock.

“Anybody hurt over there?” he sang out, as he snatched up his shotgun,
and made ready to use it; if the answer was to the effect that damage
had been done, Jack might turn the weapon directly on the fleeing craft,
and scatter the contents of a shell in that quarter.

“Er, no, guess not,” replied George, “but say, that bullet hummed right
past my head, and I nearly broke my neck trying to dodge it. Jack, give
’em a return shot, please do!”

“Bang!” went a second discharge.

This time the man in the fugitive motor boat had evidently turned his
attention toward the Tramp, for Jack and those with him plainly heard
the peculiar whistle of the passing lead.

It was too much. Jack could stand for a good deal, but this thing of
being made a target to suit the whim of a rascally thief galled him.
There was one way in which it might be stopped; and this was to let them
understand that when George said they were armed it was no idle boast,
although they might not be bristling with weapons, as he would have had
the others believe.

And so Jack let fly with one barrel of his Marlin, aiming to one side of
the white boat, now close at hand.

The charge of shot ploughed up the water. It also caused the head to
vanish from the stern of the boat. Evidently that shot created something
like a little panic aboard the Saunterer. How were those two men to
know but what every fellow pitted against them gripped some sort of
dangerous firearm, and with boyish abandon was ready to make use of it?

They did not shoot again, and from this circumstance Jack believed that
they were ready to change their plans. If the pursuers could not be
frightened off by threats, perhaps they might be content to withdraw, if
they could only recover the stolen boat again.

“They’re going to pass the raft by, Jack!” ventured Josh, just then.

“Think so?” the other went on to remark, “well, I’m just guessing
otherwise, and that they mean to run alongside. Look sharp, Josh, and
you’ll see how they keep on edging that way.”

“What if they leave the motor boat and make a run for the log cabin on
the raft--will you crack away at ’em, Jack, and try to hit the fellers
in the legs?” was what the excited Josh wanted to know.

Jack had to laugh softly at that.

“You talk as if any one could put a load of shot just where he wanted
it, without doing any serious damage,” he remarked. “If that was easy,
I’d like to tickle those chaps; but there’s too serious a chance of
crippling them for life, or even worse than that. We’re so close now
that a load of Sevens would go just like a great big bullet. I’m not
ready for that and won’t be unless they hurt one of our crowd. If that
happens, they’ll have to look out.”

“There they go, heading in to the logs, just like you said, Jack!” cried
Josh, more worked up than ever. “Oh! please give ’em another shot if
they jump on the raft. P’raps it might scare the pair so much they’d
just throw up their hands, and surrender.”

“Do you see the men who are running the logs down-stream?” demanded
Jack.

“Of course I do, two of ’em, and they look like they hardly knew what
all this racket means,” Josh continued. “Now, wouldn’t it be just great
if they jumped our birds, and got ’em. All we’d have to do then would be
to take charge of the scamps, hand over a little reward to the raftsmen,
and start back. Look! Jack, there, they are going to strike the logs
now. They’ve shut off the motor, you see, and that tells the story. Take
it from me we’ve got the fellers bad scared right now. Whoop! George,
knock ’em both over with your elephant gun! Quick! soak it to ’em,
fellers!”

Of course Josh was only shouting this last in order to further alarm
the two fugitives. For some reason or other the men had determined to
abandon their boat. Perhaps they found it was commencing to balk, and
could not be depended on. Then again, as the others had overtaken them,
it was plain that they must open up some other means for escaping.

Jack still clung to his former idea that the men hoped the boys would be
satisfied with recovering the stolen Saunterer; and finding that they
were ready to defend themselves would withdraw. Then they could force
the raftsmen to steer the clumsy craft over to whichever shore they
thought safer, and in this way they might escape with their booty.

The white boat came alongside the raft, and bumped heavily.

Two flying figures were seen to leave the boat, and find a footing on
the slippery logs. Immediately they did so they started headlong toward
the center where the little log-cabin shelter stood; just as though
their plans had all been arranged beforehand.

Whether that shout from Josh calling on George to blaze away gave them
additional cause for excitement, or the fact of the logs being wet and
slippery made them lose their footing more than a few times, the fact
was that they took a number of headers, and found the passage a rocky
one.

George was still shouting at the top of his voice, and the others joined
in, so that the clamor was quite deafening. No wonder the loggers stood
there unable to understand what it was all about, and why those two had
abandoned the fine white boat that was now drifting alongside the raft.

“Too bad, Jack!” Josh was saying, when the two fugitives, after making
their way along the logs finally vanished inside the door of the rude
little cabin shelter.

“What is it?” asked the skipper, who had also shut off power, and was
bent on bringing the Tramp alongside the raft just below the Saunterer;
so that the white boat could be caught and secured, which would be one
part of their plans brought to a successful completion.

“He’s got the boodle, Jack, plague take the luck!”

“Yes, I saw that the small man was carrying a bag with him, and of
course that holds the stolen bank papers and cash,” Jack went on to say,
as the Tramp’s nose came with a gentle bump against the outside log.

“Tell me what to do, Jack!” Josh demanded, knowing that the other must
have a plan of some sort in view in making this landing, if their
hugging the raft could come under that name.

“Just jump off and take the hawser with you,” said the skipper, quickly.

“Then you mean to tie up here?” asked Josh, as he started to obey
directions.

“Yes.”

“Say, Jack, shall I get a grip on the painter of that other boat while
I’m on the raft and make her fast?” continued Josh.

“Try and see if you can, because we want to take her back with us, even
if we fail to capture the men,” Jack replied.

No doubt George was bringing his Wireless alongside the raft on the
other side, for he could see across, and note what the crew of the Tramp
seemed to be doing.

Josh was quite active, when spurred on by excitement. When he had made a
three-base hit in a game of baseball, he could stretch it to a home run
better than any other fellow in town, with the shouts of the crowds to
inspire him.

He began to hunt around for some place to fasten the rope, as soon as he
had jumped on to the raft. This was so difficult a task, because there
were many pegs showing, where the logs were held together. And besides,
here and there was a heavy rope passed along, to keep the waves made by
steamboats from scattering the logs, which might have been of especial
value.

Josh had just managed to accomplish this, and was turning to try and get
hold of the bow of the white boat, which was still bumping against the
side of the raft, when a terrific splash was heard from across on the
opposite edge of the logs.

“George is overboard!” whooped Josh, thinking that the impulsive one
must have been in such a big hurry to gain a footing, afraid lest a chum
would be ahead of him, that he had miscalculated.

“You’re wrong, it’s Andy; and he’s all to the good; climbing on the logs
right now,” came in the well-known tones of the Wireless skipper, and
with a touch of sarcasm connected with the words, as though George
wanted them to know that he was not the only fellow who could, in his
haste, make blunders.

“Sure I am!” echoed Andy, “and the wather ’tis foine, I’m tilling ye, me
laddybucks. Now, George, me darlint, whereabouts shall I tie up at?”

“Anywhere, so long as we hold fast,” came the order.

Well, here was a strange condition of affairs, to be sure, Jack thought.
He was a little puzzled to know what they ought to do next. The two
desperate men had retreated within the shanty on the raft, which they
undoubtedly meant to hold, after the manner of a fort, having abandoned
Algernon’s motor boat. The pursuers already had this in their possession,
so if nothing more were accomplished, they could feel fairly well
satisfied with their night’s work.

But Jack felt that George, and for that matter the other two chums,
would not wish to drop out of the game then and there. Knowing that the
men in the shanty were the robbers, whose apprehension would bring great
joy to the bereaved depositors in that robbed Lawrence bank, it would be
just like them to want to keep going until they had either accomplished
that end, or else found that they were not equal to the task.

Yes, and deep down in his own heart Jack was thinking along pretty much
the same lines. He knew what it was to be greeted with cheers; and the
desire to accomplish things worth while had a lodgment in Jack’s heart.

They had the two rascals bottled up, as it were; and surely some way
could be found whereby they might force their surrender.

But it was not going to be an easy task. Those men knew what they must
accept once they were taken into custody; and doubtless they would fight
to the last gasp before showing the white flag.



CHAPTER XX

HOLDING THE FORT


All was silent over yonder where the makeshift little cabin shelter
stood about the middle of the raft. The men had vanished inside, and
were no doubt waiting to see what their enemies attempted next. Perhaps
they indulged in the hope that the troublesome boys, assisted by Jenks,
would draw off, and leave them to play their game to a finish in their
own way.

At the same time they must be ready to defend their new place of refuge
bitterly. Jack knew the folly of trying to carry a fort by assault, and
he was not silly enough to think that with only George, Josh, Andy and
Jenks back of him such a desperate undertaking could be carried out.
Even if they received reinforcements in the shape of the two husky
loggers, that would not mean the thing would be a walk-over.

Jack was himself on the logs by this time, and Jenks followed him. He
hoped the men at bay would not start shooting toward them, for they were
more or less exposed to any fire unless they managed to drop down
behind a stray log that had at some time gotten loose, and was hauled on
top of the raft by the men in charge, rather than have it lost.

“Keep by your boat, George!” was the first thing Jack called out, “or
better still, if you can work it around to where the Tramp lies. Perhaps
we’d be wise to keep in a bunch, you know.”

“A good idea, Jack,” came the reply. “Andy, do you dare walk across,
while I get a move on, and swim around?”

“Me, is it ye arre afther askin’ that? Well, till me what’s to hinder me
from doin’ the same?” and with the words the dripping Andy started to
clamber along the slippery logs with utter abandon; he had been in the
river once, and was just as wet as he could be, so why should he care if
he went overboard again?

George started up and was seen to leave the float.

“Good-bye, and good riddance to you!” the big man shouted, as he thrust
his head out of the opening in front of the cabin on the raft; from
which remark it might be set down that he had not heard what Jack said,
and really believed the motor boat was about to pull out for good.

“All right,” replied the other, for it was not difficult to please Josh
under most circumstances.

George had gone around the raft, passing below, so that he was now
coming up the river, and it was easy for him to bring his boat alongside
the raft without any bumping worth mentioning.

He quickly leaped on to the logs, rope in hand, and found a place to
fasten his hawser without much trouble.

“Where are they, fellows?” he asked, breathlessly, as he joined the
group.

“Still in the shack, but we’re going to try and get them out,” Jack
answered.

“That’s right,” Josh broke in just then; “you see, Jack’s going to try a
scheme of mine, and offer the men a chance to get off, on condition that
they hand over that bag they got. We don’t want to bother with persons,
if only we c’n trap that little bag, and take it back with us.”

“Rats!” said George, immediately, for he never had the least bit of
faith in any idea which Josh might originate; it would have put a
different face on it if Jack had advanced the scheme; but with the other
as its sponsor, the thing was impossible in the start and condemned
before he heard the particulars.

“Well, you never know,” Josh went on to say, as if he felt hurt at
George being so positive before the proposition had even been tried,
“they might be that bad scared they’d agree to anything that left ’em
their liberty. Anyhow, guess there ain’t any harm in doin’ it, is
there?”

“Wait and see!”

And with that Jack turned toward the center of the raft, where the
little refuge lay, which the two loggers made use of as sleeping
quarters, and to keep themselves dry during a downpour of rain.

“Hello! you in the cabin?” he called out.

“Well, what d’ye want?” came the answer, and as before, it was evidently
the big man who did all the talking, for as yet they had not once heard
the voice of Slim Jim raised above a low murmur, when he was arguing
with his companion.

“We’ve got an offer to make you,” continued Jack.

“Oh! have yuh? Then spit her out, and be quick about it,” came from
inside.

“We’ll agree to let you both go, if you hand over that bag, and all
that’s in it,” Jack continued. “We’ve got you caged, anyway, and it’s
only a question of going for the officers in one of our boats, when we
come to a large town; and you’ll be taken, bag and all. Better think it
over. And we don’t mean to let you work the sweep of this raft, so you
can’t ferry it to the shore. What do you say?”

He was answered with a mocking laugh, and some hard words.

“What d’ye take us for, younker, a pair of fools? Think we went to all
that trouble and risk to turn the proceeds over to a passel o’ kids so
easy? Don’t you worry ’bout us, now. We got the guns to hold the fort;
and when we get good and ready p’raps we’ll skip out. There’s more ways
to skin a cat than one. Get that, now?”

“I thought so,” said George, with one of his irritating little laughs.
“Now just get busy, Josh, and think up some more fool plays, won’t you?
Or else leave the job to your betters, Jack’n me, we’ll play the game
for keeps, eh, Jack?”



CHAPTER XXI

MAKING THINGS WARM


“Well, what are we going to do next, Jack?” asked Josh, pretending
not to hear those irritating words spoken by George; and evidently
determined to keep himself “in the swim” if anything was going on.

“The question is whether we’d better try to force their hand now, or
wait a while,” the one spoken to remarked.

“Why should we wait?” queried George, impatiently.

“First of all, there’s some sort of chance that Herb may be along pretty
soon, with his Comfort, and that would give us three more fellows,” Jack
observed.

“Huh! such as they are, yes,” the skipper of the speed-boat admitted.

“Three would make good showing, anyhow,” Josh broke in to say, seeing
his opportunity to agree with Jack, and in this way put George on the
other side. “And how’d they know, tell me, that Buster, Herb and our
new friend, Algernon, ain’t much on the scrap? Numbers look big,
sometimes.”

“Then again,” Jack continued, “as we float down the river we’re apt to
sight the lights of some town or city. And then George could go ashore
to tell the police what a great chance was passing their doors. I’m not
greedy about it, and willing enough to let the proper authorities do the
fighting, and get what there is in the game. And yet, it kind of goes
against my grain to just lie around here, doing nothing all the time.”

“Yes,” said George, eagerly, “and just think if we happen to drift
anywhere near the bank these fellows are apt to give us the laugh and
jump overboard, to swim ashore. Before we could get a boat started to
chase after ’em they’d land, and snap their fingers at the lot. I say
get a move on, and find some way to make ’em surrender. Let’s scare the
pair half to death. We c’n do it by setting the cabin on fire, and
paying for the damage done!”

“Whew! that’s just like George!” Josh was heard to say, breathlessly.

Jack glanced toward the two loggers.

“Is that sort of a thing possible; could the shanty be burned if we
tried?” he asked them.

“Don’t think it kin, son,” came the reply. “Course we never seen it
tried; but them logs are kinder green yet, and the spray’s jumped up
over the cabin sometimes when we had a headwind. They ain’t no winder in
the shack, jest a openin’ like round on the back. I cud crawl up and try
the fire game, if so yuh stand ready tuh pony up fur any damage tuh the
logs.”

Jack was thinking again.

“Well, it might pay us to make the try,” he said, presently.

“No harm done,” said George, giving Josh a triumphant look, as though he
would have him take notice that when really smart fellows started to do
things, they meant business every time.

Josh shrugged his shoulders, as much as to say that he was ready to be
convinced. Meanwhile Jack was talking with the two loggers, trying to
find out what their ideas might be with regard to getting a supply of
kindling ready. One of them strode off, and presently returned with an
ax. The other had picked up several strips of wood that seemed to be
fairly dry; and as soon as the sharp-edged tool came he started to cut
this into long splinters.

“By the way,” said George, “I’ve got some cotton waste aboard my boat
that’s just soaked with oil, and would burn like fun. I’ll get it.”

“And if you go aboard my boat, too, you’ll find a lot more close by the
engine, that I was going to throw overboard, because it was getting so
sticky,” Jack went on to tell the other, as he was hurrying off.

It really began to look like business, at any rate. Josh found himself
interested in spite of himself. No matter whose plan it might be, if it
won out he must show a spirit of fairness, and render all the aid he
could. Josh was not a small minded fellow, though he did love to tease
poor Buster on occasion; and often went out of his way to get a sly dig
at the good-natured fat boy.

The strips of wood having been reduced to kindling, and George coming
back with the cotton waste, saturated with oil that would burn, even if
it was not explosive, it began to look as though the thing was now up to
the logger who had offered to make the attempt.

“Here’s a little bottle, and it’s full of gasoline too,” remarked
George, as he handed the article over. “When you’re ready to set fire to
the pile, just scatter that stuff over it, and take care of your
eyebrows, for she goes off with a whoop.”

“Say, they’re on to us,” announced Josh just then.

Looking toward the cabin, Jack could detect a head thrust around the
corner; and from this he knew that one of the men had issued forth,
wishing to learn what the forces arrayed against himself and his partner
might be doing all this while.

So Jack made suggestive motions with his gun, as though tempted to
shoot; and the head was withdrawn immediately.

“Is there any opening on the back of the shack?” he asked the men.

“Nope, not that yuh cud notice, son,” came the reply.

“Course, they might dodge out and run around to blaze away at our fire
kindler, and then get back under cover again,” suggested George.

“I was thinking if I could work it so as to keep them quiet,” said Jack.
“Let’s all move around so as to cover the side where the open door is.
Then they’ll be liable to think we’re all there in a bunch. And if we
see either man trying to sneak out, I’ll give him a scare, all right.”

To do this they had to go some little distance from the three tied-up
motor boats; but Jack knew they could reach them long before the
fugitives might, should they conceive the wild idea of making a dash
that way. Besides, as a last resort, did he not have his gun, and were
there not two trusty shells in its barrels?

Having taken up their position they gave the man who had remained behind
the signal that he should get busy. And he started to advance toward the
rear of the cabin on the raft.

When he had gone perhaps half way, a figure was seen to push out of the
opening. Jack immediately called out:

“Get back there, or I’ll fill you full of shot!” at the same time
brandishing his gun in a very threatening manner; which warning appeared
to have an influence upon the fellow, since he slipped back again.

But no doubt he had discovered the logger who was advancing toward the
rear of the shack, his arms filled with fuel; and it would have to be a
very dull person who could not guess what his object must be.

Then there sounded a sudden report. One of the men in the shack had
found some small chink between the logs, through which he was firing his
revolver. Perhaps he had shot at the logger; and then again it might
have been done just to alarm him, and thus cause the scheme for firing
the cabin to be given up.

When the man seemed to drop, Jack’s heart was in his throat, for he
thought he was looking on a tragedy; but the other logger chuckled, as
he remarked:

“Don’t be skeered ’bout Fritz; he ain’t teched a whiff; but jest drapped
so’s to crawl out’n range. See him gittin’ over ground right smart now,
and notice thet he ain’t let go any o’ the stuff, be he?”

“You’re right, Hanky,” said Josh, promptly enough.

“Bully for Fritz!” burst out the gratified George, whose heart had no
doubt taken just as quick a jump as had Jack’s, when that report sounded
in a half muffled way, from being inside the cabin.

Another shot followed. But the marksman was evidently shooting at
random, and without having a target. At any rate, the logger kept right
on creeping toward the shack, and it began to look as though he were
bound to get there, too.

But would he be successful in getting the logs to burn?

Jack was rather inclined to doubt it, though of course much depended on
whether they were fairly dry, or wet with the spray that may have
dashed up over the raft when the wind, being up-river, had made a choppy
sea.

“What if the whole blooming raft goes up in smoke?” was the awful
suggestion which Josh put forward.

George laughed out loud, it seemed to strike him as so absurd.

“Yes, and worse still, Josh, whatever will we do if we set the river on
fire? They’ll certainly have it in for us, believe me. But one thing
sure, no danger of you ever setting the river afire with any scheme you
think up.”

“Shucks! I don’t believe it’ll work a cent,” remarked Josh. “’Cording to
my calculations it’d take more’n that kindlin’ to set logs a-goin’.”

“Don’t forget the oiled rags, Josh,” said George, tauntingly; “yes, and
the little bottle of gasolene I let our friend have. Seems to me all
that’s going to build up some fire. And as for the rest we’ll have to
trust to luck. Perhaps it’ll catch fire, and again she may kick and
balk.”

“Like some engines we know about, f’r instance,” Josh wound up with.

“You never saw a motor do better than mine did coming down river, and
you know it. I have had a lot of trouble with the thing in the past;
but that’s all over now; and I’m on Easy Street with my dandy Wireless.
Oh! you can laugh all you want to, Josh, but wait and see.”

“Proof of the puddin’ lies in the eatin’ of the same, George,” said
Josh, “and I know you too well to believe you’ll ever be satisfied to
run along like Jack and Herb do. But see there, our fire kindler’s got
up to the shack, all serene. And now he’s bending down to fix his
kindlin’ right. We’ll soon know, George, and if she goes, since it’s
your scheme, I’m willing to say you done it with your little hatch-it.”

Just as Josh said, the logger had managed to gain the shelter of the
back wall of the shack. Now, in order to keep out the rain without
bothering with a door, the cabin had been made with its only opening on
the side up-river; so that what the boys had been calling its back was
really the front side.

And with the movement of the raft always down-stream; and the night air
being from the south just then, if the fire were ever properly started,
it would be fanned constantly, and helped along by this process.

Jack kept watch on the dark opening that stood for the entrance, and
means of exit. He meant to shoot, if any figure was seen to appear
outside this; not with the idea of doing bodily injury, but in the
expectation of frightening the man back, before he could make use of his
weapon upon the fire-kindler.

So the seconds crept along, until several minutes had passed.

“Gee! why don’t he get a move on?” remarked George, to whom the time
hung as if it were weighed down with lead.

“Let him be,” said the other logger, named Hanky. “Fritz is sum slow,
but then he gits there in the end. Watch his smoke, son, an’ see!”



CHAPTER XXII

“DROP THAT BAG”


They kept waiting, but George was very nervous because nothing seemed to
happen. He growled to himself more than a few times; but none of the
other boys paid any attention to that; because they knew George pretty
well, and had run up against his little failings many a time.

George had no use for “slow-pokes.” He expected to see Rome built in a
day, and strange to say, while he met with lots of trouble on account of
this very desire for haste, it did not seem to effect any permanent cure
in his disposition; for as soon as the unpleasant result had worn off,
he was the same old George again,--Hurricane George, they used to call
him at home.

“There, looks like he’s about got it fixed now,” announced Josh,
presently.

“Oh! thank goodness!” said the skipper of the Wireless with a sigh of
gratification that welled up from his very heart. “Now perhaps there’ll
be something doing.”

“He’s getting out a match,” Josh went on.

“You mean he’s hunting all through his pockets for one,” corrected Jack.

That gave George another spell of the blues.

“Chances are he won’t have a blessed match about him,” he observed,
despairingly. “And I’ve got half a notion right now to crawl out there,
and do the business for Fritz.”

“No need,” remarked Josh, “he’s found one!”

Then they watched again, while the logger went through with a lot of
what seemed to George utterly useless actions, fixing the kindling up a
little better. And finally he started to strike the match.

The boys held their breath as they saw it flame up.

“Now, look out, Fritz, or you’ll lose your eyebrows!” George was heard
to mutter; as the logger leaned over to apply the little flame, which he
had been shielding with both hands, after the manner of an old smoker.

“Wow!”

Josh did not mean to call out, but the cry was almost forced from his
lips as he saw a vivid flash of fire, that seemed to jump as high as the
roof of the little log shack.

“That was the gasolene!” remarked George, coolly.

“Fritz got stung, I guess, because he tumbled over backwards,” Josh
ventured, as his opinion; but although Jack had imagined that something
along those lines might have happened, he did not see the man show any
signs of suffering, as he started to crawl away from the spot, glancing
over his shoulder now and then, as if to reassure himself that
everything was going well.

“Naw, he’s all right; Fritz kin be quick when he wants to get out o’ the
way o’ things that hurts,” the fellow logger advanced.

“Wonder if she’s going to take hold?” Josh ventured, as he watched the
fire eat into the kindling merrily.

“Wouldn’t be s’prised if she did, now?” Hank remarked, as though he had
experienced a change of heart since the match had been applied. “Looky
thar at the way it’s eatin’ up the logs. Gosh! that makes a hot fire,
boys, with them oil rags to keep her a-goin’. And sure as yuh live I c’n
see it getting a grip o’ the logs right now. Guess we won’t hev airy
shanty, come morning. But who keers. A little saw-buck o’ a ten dollar
bill wud make that squar.”

Jack looked around.

If the cabin really caught fire, and began to burn furiously, it would
not be long before those within would have to vacate. He wanted to get
a good idea as to what their next move would be; and for that reason he
took this observation, so as to be posted.

And the first thing he saw was that the current of the river had swung
the log raft in to the western shore during the last ten minutes or so.
Why, it was not more than a hundred yards away; and as the moon hung in
the east, the whole shore line was brightly illuminated.

Would not that prove an irresistible attraction to the pair of hunted
thieves, provided they could swim? As a last resort might they not think
to make a run for the edge of the raft, and spring overboard?

That was all right, provided they left the little bag behind. If on the
other hand they tried to carry it off, Jack must know what to do about
it. He feared that sooner than give up their plunder the scoundrels
would deliberately throw it into the river, and thus defraud the
depositors and stockholders of the Lawrence bank out of their valuable
property, as well as sink the evidence that might be used to incriminate
them as the looters of the institution.

How to prevent this was the question that was bothering Jack.

Would he be justified in trying to cripple one of the robbers in case
they attempted to carry out such a bold scheme?

He decided this quickly, when he remembered what misery would likely
follow the loss of the bag, with its contents. Yes, what was one
wretch’s suffering when compared with that which would follow the
closing of the bank’s doors, and a sign on the outside telling that it
would never be able to open again, because of the loss of the entire
funds, and negotiable papers, as the paper had said.

Well, there did not seem to be any more doubt about the success of the
fire, at any rate; for already were the flames beginning to creep up the
wall of the cabin, licking greedily at the wood. They had gained such a
good start that unless some fire-fighter got busy in a hurry, that shack
was doomed, for the breeze fanned the flames wonderfully.

“They’re coming out!” snapped George.

“Get ready, Jack, to drop ’em!” shouted Josh.

“There’s the old Comfort drawing alongside the raft by our boats!” Jack
sent back at them just then.

Perhaps those in the cabin had already discovered the other boat coming
down with the current, for the opening was toward the up-river end of
the float, it may be remembered.

If so, it must have surely added to their uneasiness. They could see a
number of persons aboard, and in the deceptive moonlight how were they
to know that these passengers on the big launch were hardly to be
classed with fighters, at least not very ferocious ones?

Imagine the astonishment of Herb and Buster, not to speak of Algernon,
when, on nearing the dark object they had discovered ahead, it was to
suddenly discover a blaze shooting up; and then on looking further to
see Jack, George, Josh, Andy and the man Jenks, as well as two strange
raftsmen ranged, about on a raft of logs, watching the burning cabin, as
though it contained something they were greatly interested in.

And then to find the stolen white launch tied up to the raft--that must
have given them a clue so they could figure things out fairly well.

The men had thrust their heads out at the time George and Josh seemed so
positive they were coming. They could not have fancied the situation
much; but then the sight of land so near by may have put some heart into
them.

As the fire got hotter their condition must be growing more and more
unpleasant. Jack knew that it was only a question of minutes, or more
properly, seconds, before they would be forced to expose themselves, and
he was nerving himself for that crisis.

He saw Jenks and one of the loggers start to move to the other side of
the raft, as though they would anticipate the possible coming of the men
in that direction and be on hand to meet them.

“Keep clear, so that I can fire!” he called to them, making his voice as
vociferous as possible, in order that the hiding men might catch every
word, and be more or less affected by the startling intelligence.

“Oh! why didn’t I bring my gun along?” groaned George, who was suffering
agonies because he just had to stand there, and watch some one else run
things; whereas, did he happen to have a weapon in his hands, he might
have taken a much more prominent part in the proceedings.

One good thing about George was that he always wanted to be on the
firing line; for he did not have a drop of craven blood in his veins. In
baseball, football, hockey, it was all the same; George could be found
wherever the play was fiercest, taking and giving knocks without a
murmur, if only there was action, action, and then more action.

Jack heard his lament, and was secretly just as well satisfied to have
things as they were. George was so impulsive that he might do things to
be regretted in calmer moments. Such a hot-headed fellow was dangerous
with firearms, especially when there seemed some little excuse for
making a use of the same against a law-breaking pair like the bank
robbers.

For a couple of minutes nothing happened; but the fire was burning
fiercely and crackling at a great rate. Josh looked rather serious as he
contemplated the conflagration; perhaps he was remembering George’s
absurd threat with regard to setting the river on fire; and thinking
that they would surely have to get away before such a catastrophe came
to pass.

Then, just what Jack had been expecting came about.

“There! there! Jack, look! knock ’em over!” shrieked George, as two
figures started out of the burning shack on the raft, and began to
hasten across the slippery logs as fast as they could go.

One of them, the larger, carried the hand bag; and from his determined
manner it looked as though he meant to cling to that through thick and
thin. Jenks and the two loggers were already trying to cut the fugitives
off, and as though they began to fear lest that should really happen
the robbers changed their course a little, though still heading for the
side of the raft that lay nearest the western bank of the river, so
close at hand.

Jack fired one barrel of his gun, but he did not try to hit the fleeing
men. It was just intended to let them know he had their range, for chips
and water flew close beside the one who carried the bag.

“Drop that bag, or the next shot will lame you for life, do you hear?”
shouted the boy, now fully resolved that he would have to shoot to
wound, in justice to all those poor depositors up in Lawrence, for whom
he felt so sorry.

Perhaps it was on account of the threat contained in his words; although
the nearness of Jenks, and the other two husky men, may have had more or
less to do with it; but the escaping burglar realized that it was a case
of either letting his plunder go, or else being badly wounded, and then
sent to the penitentiary for a term of years. And so, he relaxed his
firm clutch, allowing the bag with the stolen funds of the bank to fall
upon the logs of the raft.



CHAPTER XXIII

EVERYTHING LOVELY--CONCLUSION


“Hurrah!”

That shout of triumph seemed to break forth from several pair of lips at
once, when the taller one of the two thieves dropped the bag he had been
carrying, as Jack so plainly threatened to fire upon him at close range.

He was not so much of a fool after all, it seemed. If there was going to
be a chance for escaping minus the plunder, why, it would have to go,
that was all.

Somehow Jack was reminded of incidents in his own boyish career. He
could see himself madly tearing across a field, with a whole bevy of
angry bumble-bees chasing after him, and surging about his unprotected
ears; and when they started to get busy with their hot little probes,
what did he do but dash his hat off, and then his coat in quick
succession. This was to attract the attention of the bees to other
things, and let him escape. And the manoeuvre was usually successful,
too.

Well, this smart rascal, finding himself threatened with trouble, had
just done the same sort of trick practiced by the bumble-bee fighters
from away back in our great-grandfathers’ days, throw something down to
attract the attention of the hunters and hold their attention while he
escaped.

It succeeded in the work it was intended to do.

Jack did not shoot again, and the others all seemed to think that, since
the bag had been recovered, there was no especial need of almost killing
themselves closing with the desperate burglars.

They knew that the men were armed, anyway, and would doubtless use their
guns recklessly if cornered. Better to let them go, and call it a good
riddance of bad rubbish; that was a boy’s idea of the fitness of things.
What was the use of being greedy; they did not aspire to be known as
thief-takers; and besides, they owed it to those at home to have some
respect for their own safety.

And so the two alarmed rascals, rushing to the side of the raft, sprang
hurriedly straight into the river, striking out for the shore with all
the haste they were capable of. Indeed, to see the way they fought the
water, one would imagine that they fully anticipated having the whole
bevy of motor boats in swift pursuit, and that every second they could
gain in the start was going to count in their favor.

But who cared?

Certainly not Jack, who, pouncing upon the precious hand bag, opened it
just far enough to see that it was crammed with money and papers, just
as they had been hastily pushed into it at the time of the raid on the
Lawrence bank.

Some of the others came crowding around, anxious for a look; but Jack,
with a wisdom that did him credit, remembering that there were a couple
of big rough lumbermen present, whom he knew nothing about, not to
mention Jenks, was smart enough to close the bag quickly.

“Is it all right, Jack; everything there?” asked George, eagerly; and
then, as he caught the low word of warning which the other muttered he
understood; for as quick as that he went on to say: “All our stuff
recovered in fine style, eh, fellows? Let the scamps go; we ought to be
only too glad to wash our hands of them.”

“Hurrah for us!” shrilled Josh, brimming over with excitement.

All at once Buster, who had gained a footing on the logs when Herb
brought his big Comfort to an anchorage there, alongside the raft, was
seen to be wildly rushing toward the edge, and waving his arms. Then he
started to shouting after the pair of precious scoundrels who were
battling with the waves of the river, and by this time almost half way
to the nearer bank.

“Hey, bring back that sweater, you! That’s my blue moon sweater you’re
wearing, and I want it, I tell you! I’ll have the law on you for
stealing, d’ye hear that, you sneak? Jack, why don’t we start right out,
and chase ’em with the Tramp or the Wireless? Seems like none of you
fellers care a whit whether I ever get my bully old sweater back again.
How’d you feel if it was yours, now, and a birthday present at that?”

But Buster’s wild grief was suddenly turned into great joy; for Andy
came running out of the shack, into which he had darted despite the fact
of its being on fire, and he was waving something over his head as he
advanced.

“Troth, phat do ye call this same, Buster? ’Tis a sweater, and sure
there’s a blue moon on the front, in the bargain. Don’t ye say, the
omadhaun sthripped it off so that he could swim better.”

Buster clasped it to his heart, and actually kissed the precious
garment, which doubtless he had come to value more than ever, since he
lost it, for we “never miss the water till the well runs dry.”

And so, after all, the wonderful sweater came back to its own. Buster
had it on right away, and seemed to feel that luck had marked him for
its especial favors.

“Here, let’s get busy!” cried George, “perhaps we can save the best part
of this cabin after all. I see an old tin bucket that’ll do to scoop up
water with. Everybody work to put out the fire, fellows!”

That was just like George, who could be the most generous chap any one
ever met. Those two loggers had been of considerable assistance to the
boys in baffling the burglars and forcing them to give up their
ill-gotten gains; so that it would be only right in their trying to
remedy things as much as possible.

Well, the fire was soon gotten under control.

Meanwhile Jack had gone aboard the Tramp, where, unobserved, he could
again open the hand bag, and extract some of the money; for he did not
happen to have twenty dollars about him at the time, since they had not
expected finding any use for so much cash on their simple little Easter
cruise.

This he handed over to the two loggers, calling upon the others to
witness the transaction, for he might want to prove it later on.

After that the boys began to think of returning up the river, and
reaching their camp on Bedloe’s Island. Algernon concluded that, since
his boat was in fair running order, and he had the chance to elude the
other “chappie,” with whom he was playing a game of hide-and-seek while
on the way to St. Louis, he had better take advantage of the
opportunity, and keep right on down-stream.

Jack and his chums promised to care for what Algernon had left behind;
and on the way up later he would drop in at the island to recover the
same. If the motor boat boys were not in camp, having departed for home,
he promised to see them there.

And so Jenks having gone aboard and started the engine, the Saunterer
glided off down the Mississippi, Algernon shaking hands with each of the
others in turn, and declaring that it had all been the greatest bit of
excitement he had ever experienced; a remark, which caused Jack’s crowd
to grin, for, as we happen to know, the boys had been through some
remarkable events in their time.

The three boats were soon on their way up river; and reached the island
before dawn. It was a pretty tired lot that crept into the tent, and
slept for several hours. And later in the day Jack told them that in
consideration of the forlorn condition which he knew the good people of
Lawrence must be in, he would have to take a run over to a town which
lay about eight miles above. Here he could send the precious bag and its
contents, securely wrapped and sealed, by express; and at the same time
dispatch a long message at night rates that would tell the directors of
the stricken bank how all their valuable papers as well as the money
that had been taken were on the way to them, particularly later when the
motor boat boys got back from their little cruise down the Mississippi.

To this message Jack signed the names of the whole six chums, his own
last of all. Then he and Josh managed to get back to the island before
evening set in; and a great load had been taken from Jack’s mind, when
he no longer had to worry about that bag containing nearly all of the
visible assets of the plundered Lawrence bank.



CHAPTER XXIV

CONCLUSION


“What’s all this fuss going on out here?” demanded Josh Purdue, as he
came crawling from under the folds of the tent.

It must have been well on to high noon at the time. The tired boys had
been sleeping pretty much the whole morning away.

No wonder the thin member of the squad was surprised, for there was
Buster Longfellow hurrying around as though the house had been afire.
Nick could never accomplish anything worth while without a tremendous
amount of spluttering; as all his mates knew only too well.

Wonderful to relate there was a pretty healthy odor of cooking in the
air, that made Josh sniff approvingly; for of late his once poor
appetite had grown to respectable proportions; and the thin boy could
demolish his share of “grub” with the best of them.

Buster glanced around, and grinned.

“Oh! say, but I’m glad somebody else has had the good sense to wake up,
and come out,” he began to say.

“Looks like you might be doing the breakfast stunt all by your lonely,”
remarked Josh, coolly, as he started toward the edge of the water, no
doubt intending to dash some of the same in his face, and thus refresh
himself.

“I seemed to have had all the sleep I wanted,” continued Buster; “and
after I waked up I lay there for a long time, wondering if anybody had
started in to get breakfast; but I couldn’t get the first whiff of
coffee.”

“That’s right, and an old habit of yours, I guess, Buster; always laying
around waiting for the birds to come and put something in your mouth,”
Josh flung over his shoulder, with all the scorn he could summon.

“Well, p’raps it is one of my faults,” admitted the fat boy, humbly
enough; “we’ve all got our weaknesses, you know, Jack says, and you
ain’t any exception, Josh. But I felt as empty as an old tomato can, and
just couldn’t stand it any longer; so I crawled out, and I’m doin’ the
best I know how to get breakfast. But of course it ain’t goin’ to equal
what you’d be givin’ us, if you had hold here. Cookin’ is one of your
best stunts, Josh; fact is, I never knew any feller that could come near
you.”

When Buster wanted he could “soft soap” equal to the best of them; and
while Josh understood full well that this was a plain invitation for
him to shoulder some of the responsibility for that coming meal, he
found it impossible to resist the bland smile of the stout chum.

“Rats! you just spread that honey on thick so as to drag me in; but I’m
on to your curves, Buster. All the same, hold the fort while I throw
some of the Mississippi into my face, and I’ll relieve you,” he called
out as he walked away.

“You’re all right, Josh, and I don’t care who hears me say so,” cried
Buster, who never could do the cooking act without getting so much
pungent smoke in his poor eyes that he appeared to be weeping.

Possibly Josh found himself on edge for some refreshment, and that might
account for his unusual kindness; for he speedily did show up, and took
entire charge of the business.

About this time others began to crawl out of their blankets; and even
George poked his head over the side of the Wireless; for, as was his
usual custom, he could not feel perfectly happy away from his beloved if
troublesome boat, even for a single night, and had slept aboard.

“Pretty late for breakfast, ain’t it?” demanded Herb as they began to
gather around while Josh started to divide the contents of the two
fryingpans between them all.

“Oh! call it a warm lunch if you like,” sang out Buster, who was feeling
fine; “I began to think when nobody seemed to stir, that our next meal
would be supper. So, as that was too much, I just determined I’d show
you all that I could be progressive for once, and I started this bully
meal agoing, didn’t I, Josh?”

“That’s right, Buster, so you did,” nodded the one addressed, who was
also in an unusually good humor, after the lively events of the
preceding night. “But what are you alookin’ at me like that for, Jack?”

“I was wondering if you felt like taking a little run with me, that’s
all,” came the reply from the Commodore.

“In the Tramp, d’ye mean?” queried Josh, eagerly, for it struck him that
Jack had honored him highly in thus deliberately picking him out when
there four other fellows present.

“Yes. We may be gone the balance of the afternoon, but will surely get
back before night sets in,” the other went on to say.

“What’s all this mystery mean, I want to know?” demanded George,
pretending to look hurt; though he would not have cared to be a
passenger on any other craft besides his precious if tricky Wireless.

“Yes,” Jimmy broke in, “tell us about it, that’s a good boy, Jack!”

“Well, listen and I will,” the other started in to say; “you must
remember that we’ve got a pretty hefty bunch of money along with us
right now; and for one I won’t feel easy so long as it’s in our charge.”

“Whew! that’s a fact!” ejaculated Buster.

“P’raps there’s all the stuff they hooked from that bank in the bag you
tied up with that heavy cord, Jack,” suggested Herb.

“No doubt of it,” agreed the Commodore, “all but the twenty I took out
to hand over to those two loggers to pay for their burnt cabin, and the
help they gave us. But just stop and think what a terrible condition all
the good people of Lawrence must be in right now, will you? I reckon
half those in the town will feel the pinch of the broken bank, one way
or another.”

“Correct you are, Jack; because in all these towns the bank is supported
by business men, widows with money to invest, and even laboring men
deposit their little savings. You ought to know, Jack, because banking
runs in your family,” and George nodded, as though he wanted every one
to see that he was in full agreement with the other in all he said.

“Well, to relieve their minds, and give them the first decent night’s
sleep they’ve had up to now since the bank was broken open,” continued
Jack, “I want to take Josh here, and run down river a ways to that town
we noticed the light of when we were shooting past in the night.”

“Oh! I see,” remarked Buster, with what was a wonderfully quick
perception, for him, “mebbe now you mean to wire on about it all, Jack.”

“I expect to send a dispatch, telling them that the plunder has been
recovered, and is coming back by express as fast as we can get it there;
the full particulars will have to keep until the Motor Boat Boys get
back from their little cruise down the Mississippi.”

“And of course the news will float over to our little borough, in the
natural course of events,” suggested George, proudly.

“I c’n just see the good people waitin’ to receive us with the brass
band, and all the town run wild over the doings of the wonderful heroes
of the old Mississippi!” cried Buster, waving his fork above his head
excitedly, as he pictured the stirring scene in his mind’s eye.

“Well, hardly that,” said Jack, quietly, for he disliked all such
exhibitions exceedingly; “because we won’t let anybody know just when we
expect to strike town again. In fact, if I can fix it up that way we’ll
be apt to arrive after sunset.”

“You mean sneak in like a dog with his tail between his legs?” complained
George. “That’s too bad, Jack. If we’d done anything we ought to be
ashamed of it might go; but when a bunch of valiant lads carry on like we
have, and not only chases the bank thieves to a successful finish, but
manages to recover the stolen stuff, seems to me we’d only be getting our
due if we let our admiring fellow townsmen make a little ado over us.
You’re too modest, Jack, and that’s a fact.”

“Well, we can settle all that later on,” laughed the other, as he arose;
“if you’ve had all you want to eat, Josh, suppose we get ready to take
our little run.”

“Weather looks O. K. out there, for one thing,” observed Buster, as he
scanned the serene surface of the mighty river, which of course was not
to be compared with what the boys had seen hundreds of miles further
down on their trip to New Orleans, though wide enough even at that.

“Little that would matter to a couple of well seasoned old tars like
me’n Jack!” declared Josh grandly.

Going into the tent Jack speedily reappeared bearing the wonderful
little bag which they had so cleverly forced the thieves to drop on the
preceding night, when that lively fracas occurred on the floating raft
out upon the river.

Josh was already aboard the Tramp, and grinning for all he was worth,
such was his satisfaction over having been chosen by the Commodore as
his companion in this very important mission.

“Do we take the Marlin along with us, Jack?” he demanded.

“What for? Better leave it here for the boys to use if anything comes
along,” was the reply he received, as Jack clambered aboard.

“Oh! just as you say,” remarked Josh, half reluctantly, as he handed the
gun over to Andy. “Only I thought, you see, that we might happen to run
across them precious rascals again, and if they tried to board us, we’d
want something along to stand ’em off with.”

George laughed mockingly.

“Listen to Josh, would you?” he cried. “He’s sure going to dream of
those two bad men for a whole month of Sundays. Why, they turned out to
be kind of chicken-hearted after all. They gave up the bag as easy as
you please, when Jack told ’em he’d send the second charge around their
legs.”

“And swim!” echoed Andy. “I niver saw annything to equal the loikes in
all me loife. They was crazy to ra’ch the shore, so they was.”

“Yes, but for all that they hated to lose the plunder after the trouble
they’d been put to,” continued Josh, not wholly convinced; “and if the
chance came along to make another try for that bag, believe me, they’d
grab on to it. But just as Jack says, it goes; and I reckon the little
Tramp can show ’em a clean pair of heels if it comes to a run?”

“Why, man alive, they wouldn’t have any boat, because you remember they
abandoned the one they had, and we’ve fetched it along with us, to
discover who owns the same, because we believe it must have been
stolen,” Herb ventured to say.

There were few preparations to look after, for Jack always made it a
point to have his boat in good running order, so that none of the boys
could really remember when it had ever gone back on its owner.

Of course he first of all made sure that there was plenty of “juice” in
his tank; each of the boats carried an additional supply of gasoline
aboard, in case of necessity, for they had figured out the trip
systematically, and knew to a fraction of a gallon what quantity they
would need, so that it had been easy to prepare for extra occasions by
making a very generous allowance.

“Goodbye, and good luck!” called Buster, as he waved his hand after the
starting Tramp.

“Somebody look out for supper, because you just can’t depend on me
always!” Josh sent back.

“Oh! that’s all right, Josh,” replied the fat chum, contentedly; “there
are three other fellers in this crowd, and I reckon I’ve done my part of
the cooking stunt for one day.”

The gallant little motor boat was soon moving along with the current of
the river, and keeping rather in toward the west shore; because it had
been in that quarter Jack remembered seeing the lights of some sort of
town while chasing after the bank thieves on the preceding night.

“How long ought it to take us to get there, d’ye think?” asked Josh, as
he made himself quite comfortable.

“It might be an hour and a half, and again we may be all of two hours
making port,” answered the skipper of the Tramp, as he busied himself
with the reliable little motor that as yet had never failed him in an
emergency.

“If the river was straight we might even now glimpse the town with our
glasses,” suggested Josh.

As the minutes flew past the two chums enjoyed themselves as boys
naturally would under similar circumstances; especially after having
passed through such a series of exciting happenings as Jack and his
comrades had.

They reviewed the entire programme, and Josh declared that he would
never forget the sight of that ramshackle cabin on the raft of logs,
burning so furiously, while he and the rest were almost holding their
breath with impatience, as they waited for the two yeggmen to dash out
after the heat inside had become unbearable.

“There’s the place we’re making for!” cried out Josh, suddenly, as they
began to pass a point of land that jutted far out into the river.

“Just about where I reckoned it was,” returned Jack; “and we’ll make a
landing in about half an hour at most.”

He proved to be a true prophet, for in less time than that the bustling
little motor boat drew in toward the shore, because they were now
opposite the town.

A heavy freight train was rumbling along in plain sight, headed north,
Jack happened to notice; and slowing up while passing through the small
river town.

“I’m glad that the railroad runs past here,” he told Josh, as they
headed for a little landing belonging to what seemed to be a
boat-builder’s establishment, for some such place is to be found at
nearly every town bordering the big rivers of the West.

“What for?” asked the other, preparing to fend off, so that they would
not strike too hard.

“Why, don’t you know, we want to make use of the express company and the
telegraph line the worst kind just now; and the railroad tells us we’re
going to find both here waiting for us.”

“That’s a fact,” muttered Josh, wondering how it was Jack always thought
of everything.

The owner of the river boatyard now approached, and Jack soon made
arrangements with him to leave the Tramp in his charge while they were
gone.

Buster had found out that the provisions were already running low in
several particulars, perhaps on account of the savage appetites several
members of the party had shown, who in times past had not been heavy
eaters.

And to please the fat voyager the Commodore had promised to pick up a
few tasty things. As their little Easter cruise had turned out to be
such a “howling success” as George called it, they could afford to
celebrate with a feast or two. Buster was great on suggesting reasons
for indulging in some unusual spread; but in this instance everybody had
agreed with him that they really had a good reason for doing the same.

Picking up the little bag, which the river man glanced at casually,
never dreaming that it held thousands and thousands of dollars in bills
and specie, Jack started up the bank.

He had already asked a few questions of the man, and had his bearings
all right. There was an express and telegraph office all in one, and
once they reached this, at the railroad station, their troubles would be
over.

Jack expected to take ample precautions so as to make sure that the bag
would get to its destination without being tampered with. He had figured
all this out in that active mind of his, and even explained the
particulars to his companion, who pronounced the scheme first-class.

Josh was plodding along ahead of his mate when all of a sudden he felt
Jack pluck him by the sleeve.

“Wait up a minute, Josh, can’t you?” declared the other; “I’m carrying
something of a load, you must remember, and this is a pretty steep grade
up to the railroad tracks.”

“Oh! excuse me, Jack,” said Josh, falling in step with the other.

“Listen!” he heard Jack say in a low, tense tone; “perhaps we’re going
to have some more trouble about this bag after all!”

“Oh! thunder! what do you mean now?” demanded Josh, astounded.

“Here, none of that!” said Jack. “Don’t look so startled, but laugh,
just as if I might be telling you a good joke. There, that’s more like
it, though I reckon your laugh was half frozen before it got out. Now,
pay attention to me!”

“Sure I am, Jack; go right along and tell me what’s up.”

“There are two men watching us come up this bank right now,” Jack went
on to say. “We’ve made a turn so it wouldn’t be easy for us to chase
back to the boat again. I’ve got a notion, Josh, they’re the very
rascals we made give up this bag of boodle last night!”

“What’s that, Jack? However could they get up here; because it was far
down the river we left that pair swimming like ducks?”

“Well, I half remember seeing somebody drop off that same slow freight
as it ran through; and yeggs like to travel like tramps, you know,” and
Jack pointed out upon the river, as though he might be explaining
something to his friend.

“Oh! mebbe they were just stealing a ride on the bumpers, and happened
to see us acomin’ in to the shore,” suggested Josh. “Yes, of course
they’d be apt to guess what fetched us here, and when they glimpsed that
precious bag in your hand they knew. But Jack, what can we do? Oh! why
didn’t you let me carry our Marlin with us? You see what a valuable
thing it’d be right here and now?”

“Yes, it would have been better,” admitted the other; “but no use crying
over spilt milk, Josh. We must figure out how we can give them the slip;
and I think I see a good chance right now.”

“Then tell me, because I want to know,” pleaded the other, eagerly.

“They’re hiding behind that pile of old ties,” said Jack; “and if we
kept straight on as we expected to do we’d strike the railroad track
just about there.”

“But now you won’t, will you, Jack?”

“We’ll walk on a few steps, as though we hadn’t changed our minds a
bit,” Jack told him. “But as soon as we strike where the bank hides us
from their eyes we’ll turn sharply to the right, and scuttle along as
fast as we can make it. By the time we have to show up again we’ll have
put some little distance between the men and ourselves; and then we’ll
make a push for it as fast as our legs will carry us.”

“Bully idea, Jack; and it’s just bound to work too; only I do wish you’d
gone and let me lug that gun along. Oh! what wouldn’t I give right now
for a chance to fill the legs of the slick yeggs full of bird shot!”

Josh was hurrying after his chum while talking in this strain. Upon
arriving at the spot where, as Jack had said, they would no longer have
the friendly shelter of the bank, the two lads suddenly started off on a
full run, heading direct for the town close at hand; indeed, already
they were among the scattering outlying houses of the same.

A loud series of hoarse shouts from down the track told that the pair of
yeggmen had caught sight of them.

Josh, casting one fearful glance over his shoulder, discovered them in
full pursuit.

He even bent down and snatched up an occasional piece of rock or scrap
iron, as though determined to fight to the last in case of being
overtaken.

But Josh was a fast runner, and Jack himself had few equals in his home
school. They certainly had plenty of reasons for doing their level best
when they found themselves pursued so hotly by that pair of lawless
tramp burglars.

As usual Jack had his eyes about him, and was noting the lay of the
land. When any one makes good use of all his faculties, as this boy
generally did, he is apt to take advantage of openings that would never
occur to most fellows.

“This way, Josh!” Jack flung over his shoulder, for he was still doing
the leading, though the long-legged one might easily have gone ahead had
he wished, weighted down as Jack was by the heavy bag.

With every jump they made they were pushing further and further into the
centre of the little river town.

Women came to the doors to see them running, attracted by the angry
shouts of the men; who, having succeeded in coming up closer to those
they chased were hoping to frighten them with threats, so that they
would drop the bag.

Children, too, scattered like chickens at the swoop of a plunging
motorcycle; and huddled at the sides of the street, gazing wide-eyed at
the running boys and pursuing men.

“Bang!”

Apparently one of the desperate yeggs had managed to keep his revolver
in serviceable condition, in spite of his submersion in the chilly
waters of the Mississippi.

“Not hurt, I hope, Josh?” cried Jack, over his shoulder, as he still
kept running wildly.

“Nixey, not!” gasped the other; “but I’m adoin’ all I can to shield you,
Jack!”

Which he really was; and in that moment Jack saw further into the
generous soul of the tall comrade than fortune had ever allowed him to
do before.

“It’s going to be all right, because there’s a policeman running out of
that house ahead. It must be police headquarters, because I see another
coming. Keep going just a minute more, Josh!”

“Whoo! good for a whole hour yet!” exploded the other, defiantly.

Before half the minute was up Jack gave an exclamation of satisfaction;
at the same time he slackened his pace.

Encouraged by this to take a backward peep, Josh discovered that the two
yeggs had not only stopped their hot pursuit, but were actually running
the other way. Men of their stripe never do like the sight of blue
uniforms and brass buttons.

Of course Jack had a surprising story to tell the two policemen. He did
not take the time to explain everything, save that he and his friend
had been fortunate enough to recover some valuables taken from the bank
of an up-river town, and that there would surely be a nice fat reward
offered for the apprehension of the precious pair who were even then in
plain sight, making off.

This was enough to excite everybody; and presently the policemen, as
well as a posse of eager private citizens had started on the run after
the fleeing pair.

Josh gripped the hand of his chum.

“Another close call, Jack, let me tell you; but the same old Stormways
luck held good, and we came out of the big end of the horn. And now I
reckon it’s us to the station to get this stuff off our hands, and a
receipt for the same; as well as to send that cheering message to
Lawrence.”

They soon made all arrangements. The agent at the station proved to be a
middle-aged and sensible man, who was deeply interested in as much of
their story as the boys chose to tell him. He did the bag up good and
strong, and sealed the same, so that it could not be tampered with
except at the company’s risk.

Then, after sending a message, “collect,” which bore the good news to
the mayor of Lawrence, and to which he signed all six names, his own
last of all, Jack was ready to do his little marketing, and start back
to the island; which, in due time, they reached in good shape.

Of course the boys had a glorious time of it during the balance of the
week. Buster, happy in the recovery of his sweater, was the life of the
crowd, and caught many a fine fish, for he was at it early and late.

They figured that it must have been that the two thieves, remembering
they had secured no paint with which to change their white boat to one
of darker hue, had stopped off at the next town, and entered the boat
builder’s place in order to pick up the necessary material; and seeing
the sweater, as the night air was chilly, the big man had put it on. The
other white boat was claimed by a party thirty miles above Lawrence, who
proved that it had been stolen three days before the robbery of the
bank.

Jack, on running across the little mound where the box planted by
Algernon still lay, for the boys had insisted on burying it again, asked
Herb about it, and from him learned that the small dog had been a pet of
the Saunterer’s skipper, that had taken a fit, and died on the trip,
which accounted for the strange burial.

And when finally their outing came to an end, and the motor boat boys
reached home, they found that once again they were being spoken of as
heroes. Why, all Lawrence united to do them honor; and besides a fine
reward that it was insisted they should accept for their gallant deed,
there was a document worthy of being framed, and hung in the club room,
signed by the president and directors of the bank, thanking them most
heartily in the names of all the depositors and officers of the
institution, many of whom would have lost their all had the valuables
not been recovered.

And after that all banks around that section of the Mississippi Valley
began to take notice, and make preparations against raids by gangs of
daring yeggmen; so that the lesson was going to prove of great value to
the community.

Of course we shall hope and expect to meet Jack, George, Josh, Andy,
Herb, and last but far from least, genial Buster, again before a great
while; when possibly they will be starting out once more on some
adventurous trip that would deserve being written up. Until that time
let it be only goodnight, and not good-bye.

The End.



The Aeroplane Series

By JOHN LUTHER LANGWORTHY

    1. The Aeroplane Boys; or, The Young Pilots First Air Voyage

    2. The Aeroplane Boys on the Wing; or, Aeroplane Chums in the
         Tropics

    3. The Aeroplane Boys Among the Clouds; or, Young Aviators in a
         Wreck

    4. The Aeroplane Boys’ Flights; or A Hydroplane Round-up

    5. The Aeroplane Boys on a Cattle Ranch


The Girl Aviator Series

By MARGARET BURNHAM

Just the type of books that delight and fascinate the wide awake Girls
of the present day who are between the ages of eight and fourteen years.
The great author of these books regards them as the best products of her
pen. Printed from large clear type on a superior quality of paper;
attractive multi-color jacket wrapper around each book. Bound in cloth.

    1. The Girl Aviators and the Phantom Airship

    2. The Girl Aviators on Golden Wings

    3. The Girl Aviators’ Sky Cruise

    4. The Girl Aviators’ Motor Butterfly.

_For sale by all booksellers or sent postpaid on receipt of 75c._

 M. A. DONOHUE & COMPANY
 701-733 S. DEARBORN STREET   ::   CHICAGO



 Transcriber’s Notes:

 --Text in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).

 --Punctuation and spelling inaccuracies were silently corrected.

 --Archaic and variable spelling has been preserved.

 --Variations in hyphenation and compound words have been preserved.

 --The name of the Irish lad, known alternatively as Jimmie, Jimmy,
   and Andy, has been retained as in the original.

 --The name of the fat lad, known alternatively as Nick/Buster, and
   Bumpus, has been retained as in the original.





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