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Title: Bill Bolton and Hidden Danger - Bill Bolton Naval Aviation Series #3
Author: Sainsbury, Noel
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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Transcriber’s note:

      Text enclosed by underscores is in italics (_italics_).



BILL BOLTON
AND
HIDDEN DANGER

by

LIEUTENANT NOEL SAINSBURY, JR.

Author of
Bill Bolton and Winged Cartwheels
Bill Bolton, Flying Midshipman
Bill Bolton and the Flying Fish



★



The Goldsmith Publishing Co.
Chicago

Copyright, 1933
The Goldsmith Publishing Company
Made in U. S. A.



  _To_ “Bo” King, christened Eric Ture—who I hope, after reading this
          story, will continue to sing Bill Bolton’s praises.



                                CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
  I Through the Window                                                15
  II The Getaway                                                      29
  III Into the Air                                                    41
  IV Gaining an Ally                                                  53
  V Strange Doings at Turner’s                                        67
  VI Watchers in the Trees                                            81
  VII The Mysterious Trio                                             95
  VIII The Man with the Nervous Affliction                           111
  IX The Offer and the Threat                                        129
  X Another Intruder                                                 143
  XI From Bad to Worse                                               153
  XII On the Way                                                     167
  XIII Pig Island Again                                              179
  XIV Bill Blows Up                                                  193
  XV The Laundry Hamper                                              205
  XVI Through the Skylight                                           219
  XVII Bill’s Way                                                    237



                   Bill Bolton and the Hidden Danger



                               Chapter I
                           THROUGH THE WINDOW


Bang! Bang! Bang!

Bill Bolton, startled from a sound sleep, sat up in bed.

His room was pitch dark. For a moment or two he listened to wind
whistling through trees and the swishing pound of a heavy downpour.
Lightning flashed in the bright flare of a summer electrical storm, and
through open windows he saw rain in steel rods lashing the darker night.

_Crash!_ Bang! Bang!

“Thunder, that’s all,” said young Bolton and lay down again.

Crack!

Bill was out of bed in a jiffy. He heard the unmistakable ping of a
bullet as it struck the rainpipe by his farther window.

Crash! Bang!

This time he dropped to the floor and lay still. The second shot smashed
a pane in the upper window sash and knocked over a copper water jar that
stood on the mantel, sending it rattling to the floor.

“That lad,” said Bill to himself, “is perched in a maple. Wild shooting,
too—even in the dark. I wonder what in blazes he’s aiming at!”

He crept on all fours to the window and knelt before it, bringing his
eyes level with the sill.

Crash! Crack! Bill winced. With the thunderclap came a ball of red fire.
It struck a large northern maple, shot down the trunk and vanished into
the turf below the spreading foliage. For an instant trees, shrubbery
and lawn were illuminated with red light. Bill caught a glimpse of the
flower garden beyond broad lawns, and a group of figures standing on the
drive near the stone wall that separated the Bolton estate from the
highway. He plainly saw a man drop from the big maple to the ground.
Then as he sprang to his feet and leaned out of the window, the glare
was gone and black night shut down on the world again.

“Reach down and give me a hand, Bill!”

The muffled voice came from just below.

“Who is it?” Bill spoke in the same cautious tone.

“It’s me. Charlie Evans. I’m hangin’ on by the ivy and this leader—but I
can’t find anything above me to get a grip on.”

“Okay, boy. Let me get hold of your wrist—that’s it. Mind you don’t
slip! The ivy has been cut away from the windows.”

Bill pulled, caught Charlie beneath his shoulders and lifted him over
the sill.

“Get out of their line of fire,” he ordered.

As quickly as possible he closed both windows and pulled down the green
shades. A moment later he found the wall-switch and flooded the room
with light. Charlie, a round-faced, red-headed boy of twelve, still sat
on the floor. He was soaked to the skin and breathing heavily.

Bill gave him one look and disappeared into the bathroom. When he
returned, he brought a glass of water with him. Charlie grabbed the
tumbler and drained it in a few gulps.

“That’s the berries!” he wheezed. “Got another?”

“Soon—too much in a hurry will make you sick. Are you hurt? I mean, did
those guys wing you? I take it that you were the target they aimed at.”

“I sure was, Bill, but they’re rotten shots. Gee, I’ve had a time of it,
I tell you. Can’t I have another drink now? I’ve been running ever since
they punctured the tires and I’m dry as an empty well.”

“All right, but take your time drinking it.”

Bill followed Charlie into the bathroom. “You may be dry inside, but
those clothes of yours are soaking wet. Get out of them and take a good
rub down. And put on that bathrobe on the door. If I’m not in the
bedroom when you’re through, wait for me there—I’ll be back as soon as
possible.”

He went into the bedroom, and from there into the hall. A night light
was burning at the foot of the staircase. Thunder still rumbled in the
distance but the storm was passing over. Bill ran lightly down to the
lower floor. For a second he hesitated, then went into the library on
his right and shut the door behind him.

This room was on the same side of the house as his bedroom. He went at
once to a side window, and pulling up the shade a couple of inches,
peered into the night. For a time he could see nothing. Then as his eyes
grew accustomed to the darkness, he made out the shadowy forms of six
men in a group on the driveway near the house. While he watched, they
separated, and one walked back to the entrance, the others took up
positions behind the trees that lined the drive.

“Queer,” muttered Bill. “They evidently think he’s coming out again.”

He pulled down the shade and went upstairs. Charlie was curled up in an
armchair, wrapped in the bathrobe, that was at least six sizes too big
for him.

“Well, what’s up?” he asked, as his tall, broad-shouldered young friend
came into the room.

“They’re posted along the drive.”

“Gee, we’ll never get out of here tonight,” grumbled the youngster.

“Suppose,” said Bill, “you start at the beginning and tell me why we
have to leave here tonight. What you’re doing here in Connecticut—all
about it, in fact.”

“Well, let’s see—” Charlie yawned prodigiously. “I don’t know where to
start.”

“You don’t have to start so very far back,” prompted Bill. “We came up
to New York from Washington together a little over two weeks ago.”

“We sure did! After you got that medal pinned on you by the
President—gosh!—I never thought I’d shake hands with the President of
the United States—and have him tell me I was a hero—before all those
people, too! It was swell!”

“Maybe you thought so,” Bill smiled wryly. “I didn’t.”

“Aw!—Say, what’s become of Osceola and the two Heinies?”

“I’ll tell you the dope later. Never mind that now. I want to know how
you happened to land in New Canaan at this time of night—and chased by a
gang of thugs who don’t mind trying to pot you! What’s the big idea?”

“Oh, all right, all right. Keep your shirt on!” Charlie yawned again.
“After the big doings in Washington, Mother and I went up to our summer
place at Marblehead. Dad didn’t come with us. He stayed in Boston. Let’s
see—today is Tuesday—”

“Wednesday morning,” interrupted Bill, with a glance at his wristwatch.
“It’s after two.”

“K-rect. Well, last Friday night Mother got a telegram from Dad, telling
her to send me up to Clayton, Maine.”

“Why, that’s the burg near Twin Heads Harbor where we got the _Flying
Fish_ and the _Amtonia_!” exclaimed Bill in surprise.

“Yep, that’s the dump. Well, Mother didn’t want to let me go alone—but I
went, just the same. Dad said in his wire that nobody should come with
me. Of course, Mother had a fit, but Dad had said it was important.
Anyhow, I got to Clayton Saturday night, and Dad met me with a car at
the station. He told me he had bought a house near the shore, so we
drove over there.”

“Is the house anywhere near Twin Heads?”

“Yes, it stands back from a small cove about a mile south of the Heads.
Baron von Hiemskirk’s old quarters at the other end of Twin Head Harbor
are about three miles away through the woods, I guess. And say, Bill,
that sure is some queer house!”

“Why, what’s wrong with it?”

“Oh, the house is all right—a big barn of a place. But Dad has it locked
up like a prison. There are solid wooden shutters to all the ground
floor windows, and he keeps them barred day and night. We got in through
an underground passage from the garage.”

“That does sound queer. Who else was there?”

“Nobody. Dad’s camping out in that house alone. Naturally, I wanted to
know all about it.”

“What did your father tell you?”

“Not a darn thing! He told me not to ask questions. Said the less I
knew, the better off I’d be. Sunday night somebody tried to break into
the place. Dad fired at him through an upper window, but the man got
away, I think.”

“It looks as if Mr. Evans were hiding from something or somebody,” Bill
said thoughtfully.

“It certainly does,” acquiesced Charlie. “But I couldn’t find out a
thing. He wouldn’t let me go out of the house alone the whole time I was
there.”

“Funny business. When did you leave?”

“Monday night. That noon after lunch, Dad told me to turn in and go to
sleep—said he had a job for me that night. He woke me up for supper, and
afterwards he told me he wanted me to fetch you up there. He said ‘Tell
Bolton I need him—need him badly. Say that I know he will be going back
to Annapolis in about a month, and I hate taking time from his holidays.
But tell him that this job won’t take long and that I believe it will be
even more exciting than that Shell Island business, or the affair of the
_Flying Fish_.’”

Bill slapped his knee. “I’ll go! This is my lucky day.”

“What do you mean, your lucky day?”

“My birthday, kid. That’s what.”

“Many happy returns,” grinned Charlie, and yawned. “How old does that
make you?”

“Seventeen,” replied Bill, and he too, yawned.

“That’s the nerts,” sighed Charlie. “I won’t have one for four years!”

“What? Born on February twenty-ninth?”

“Yep—ain’t it the limit?”

Bill laughed. “Too bad. But did your father say anything else?”

“Heaps. About how I should drive to get here. I was to drive all night,
go to the Copley-Plaza in Boston and sleep there Tuesday. Tuesday
night—that’s tonight, I was to leave there at eight and take the Post
Road to Darien. From there on, he told me exactly how to find your
house. Lucky he did. I’d never have reached here after those bozos held
up the car, otherwise.”

“Where was that?”

“Just inside the New Canaan line, near that flying field. I was makin’
that right turn when a guy jumps into the road and holds up his hand.”

“What did you do?”

“Gave her the gun, of course. But I missed him,” Charlie said ruefully.
“Then two or three more of them started shooting. When the tire burst I
went into the ditch. The car didn’t turn over—so I hopped it. I kept in
the shadows of the trees. It was raining, and black as your hat, anyway.
Soon a car passed me, going slow. Didn’t see hide nor hair of the bunch
again until I climbed your stone wall. Then I ran smack into ’em.”

“You did!”

“Surest thing you know! We played hide and seek round the grounds, then
I saw your open window. The storm broke about that time. Kind of upset
them, maybe. Anyhow, I made for the ivy—and well—you know the rest.”

“Good boy!” Bill smiled and slapped him on the shoulder. “Any further
instructions from your Dad?”

“He said we were to start back at once. Drive to Boston. Sleep there
tomorrow and drive up to Maine tomorrow night. He told me to hurry—said
that every hour counted, and to bring along Osceola if he was here.”

“The Chief and my father went to New York for a few days. They won’t be
home until the end of the week. They may go to Washington, too. Some
business connected with Osceola’s Seminoles. I’m alone here with the
servants. Well, it’s too bad, but we’ll leave a note for him.”

“Gee, I’m sorry. Osceola would be just the guy for a stunt like this.
But how can we make it, Bill? Take one of your old man’s cars? Mine is a
wreck, down by the flying field.”

“We’ll do better than a car,” pronounced his friend. “My Loening is
stabled in the hangar.”

“Gee! The amphibian!”

“That’s right. Now we’ll hunt you up some clothes, get some chow, leave
that note for Osceola—and take off.”

Charlie jumped up from his chair. “But how can we? How about that gang
outside?”

“Ask me something easy,” Bill suggested, and started to dress.



                               Chapter II
                              THE GETAWAY


“Pretty as a picture!” said Bill and laughed.

“A picture no artist could paint,” declared Charlie rather ruefully,
studying his reflection in the mirror.

Arrayed in a jumper and sweater of Bill’s and a pair of linen trousers,
converted into shorts by hacking off the legs above the knees, he made a
comical picture indeed.

“I reckon,” said Bill, surveying him, “that you’ll have to go barefoot.”

“Okay,” returned Charlie. “Let’s eat.”

They went downstairs together and after raiding pantry and icebox, sat
down at the kitchen table to a plentiful meal of bread and butter, cold
ham, milk and cookies.

“There’s no sense waking the maids,” Bill was talking with his mouth
full, “the chauffeur took Dad and Osceola to the city, and those girls
are better off asleep. If there’s a row outside with that bunch when we
go for the plane, they’d probably raise the roof and start phoning for
the cops. And if Mr. Evans had wanted the police to horn in on this
business, he’d have got hold of them long ago.”

Charlie finished his milk and attacked the ham again.

“That’s the way I figure it.”

“I wonder he took the chance of sending you, though,” Bill went on. “Why
couldn’t he have telegraphed me or phoned me? It would have been
quicker.”

“Dunno. There’s too much hush and rush about this whole biznai to suit
me,” grunted young Evans.

“Well, shake a leg,” advised the older lad. “I’m going into the study to
write a note to Osceola, and leave one for Dad and the maids as well.
When I come back, we’ve got to vamoose. It’ll be light soon.”

“Why not wait for sunup? Those lads can’t very well stick around after
daybreak.”

“No, but if they’ve got a plane handy, they can trail us and make it
darned disagreeable at the other end.”

“P’raps they will, anyway.”

“Well, we haven’t taken off yet—much less arrived. Come on, eat. You get
no more food until we reach Clayton, you know.”

Bill faded away toward the front of the house and Charlie started on the
cookies.

Ten minutes later, Bill was back again. On his head was a soft leather
helmet, while strapped to his waist, the butt of an automatic protruded
from its leather holster. He laid another flying helmet, goggles and a
small Winchester repeating rifle on the kitchen table.

“For you! How’s the tummy, full enough?”

“Just about,” grunted Charlie, stuffing the remainder of the cookies
into his trousers pockets. “Lead on, MacDuffer!”

He slapped the helmet and goggles onto his thatch of red hair and picked
up the gun.

“I left lights burning upstairs and in the study,” said Bill. “We’ll
fool those guys yet. It’s the cellar for ours, come along.”

He waited at the foot of the stairs and beckoned to Charlie. “Give me
your paw. We daren’t show a glim down here.”

Young Evans caught his hand in the inky darkness, and presently Bill
stopped again, released his hand and could be heard fumbling with
something above their heads.

“There—she’s open at last.”

Charlie thought he could make out a lightish blur on a level with Bill’s
shoulders.

“Hand over the Winchester,” his friend commanded, “and when you get
through the window, lie flat on the ground behind the rhododendrons, and
I’ll pass it up. Don’t go scouting round by yourself, either. Wait for
me.”

Charlie scrambled through the narrow aperture, caught the rifle as it
was handed up to him, and crawling a foot or two along the side of the
house, lay still. Although it had stopped raining, the ground was
soaking wet. Above him, the thick foliage of the rhododendrons dripped
moisture with every breath of wind.

“I might just as well have kept my own clothes,” he thought, trying to
accustom his eyes to the darkness, but without success. “Hang it all—a
little more crawling, and I’ll be sopping again!”

A whisper in his ear startled him. Bill had reached him without a sound.
“Follow me. Keep on your hands and knees—and don’t breathe so hard. I
could hear you down in the cellar, and I don’t propose to have the show
given away just because you ate too much! Come on, and stay right behind
me.”

Charlie gulped down a retort and followed Bill’s lead along the house
behind the wet shrubbery. They had gone perhaps a hundred yards in this
manner, when Bill turned to the left and crawled away through the
bushes, on an oblique from the house. Without stopping, they crossed the
drive, where the hard gravel left its painful imprints on hands and
knees, and kept on through another belt of shrubbery beyond.

“You can stand up now,” Bill whispered and got to his feet. “We’re in
the back of the house. Those guys are posted in front and along the
sides—No, they aren’t!—not all of them—Down, Charlie! Keep where you are
whatever happens!”

Footsteps crunched along the gravel on the drive. Both lads crouched
low. They saw a dark figure move out of the shadows and come directly
toward them. The man walked slowly, humming a tune. In the hollow of his
arm he carried a rifle.

When he was within a couple of paces of them he turned on his heel and
started back the way he had come. Bill was up on the instant. He took
three crouching steps and even Charlie, who watched with all his eyes
and ears, never heard a sound. Then he sprang on his prey. Up went his
right arm and down. The man dropped like a poleaxed ox. Bill dragged his
body back to the bushes.

“Did you kill him?” Charlie’s voice came in a tense whisper.

Bill snorted. “Nothing like that, kid. I tapped him on the bean with my
automatic. He’s out for half an hour or so—but that’s long enough for
us. You stop here and go through his pockets. Take any letters or papers
he may have about him. I’ll be back in a jiffy.”

“But Bill—I don’t like being left with a dead man! Can’t—”

“Cut it, Charlie! If you don’t obey orders, you can hike back to the
house. What’s the matter with you? This is no time for fussing. I told
you the man’s only stunned.”

“Oh, all right,” grumbled the boy. “I wasn’t afraid of him—honest I
wasn’t, Bill.”

“Good. Carry on, then,” said his friend, as he melted into the bushes.

Charlie bent over the man on the grass and consistently went through his
pockets. “I’ll bet Osceola taught Bill how to move that way,” he
thought, “and if the chief ever gets up to Maine, I’m going to have him
show me how to do it.”

“What are you mumbling about?”

Charlie jumped. “Oh, it’s you, Bill. Gosh, you gave me a scare! What
have you been doing?”

“Setting a trap. Got his papers?”

“Two letters, that’s all.”

“Come along, then. We’ll have to hurry. He’ll be missed soon. Here, I’ll
tote his gun.”

Their course now led them back from the house through a copse of
hemlock. As they came out of the little wood, Charlie saw a blur of
wooden buildings to the left. On their right was a field of tall corn,
and between the two, a broad stretch of greensward.

“Those are the barns and garage,” Bill explained in answer to the boy’s
whispered question. “There’s nobody out here—yet. I reconnoitered while
you were frisking that fellow. But we’d better go through the corn, just
the same.”

“What do you mean, there’s nobody here _yet_?”

“The bus is parked in the hangar. Wait till that nice inverted engine
gets talking!”

“Think there’ll be a fight?” Charlie was running now. It was hard going
in the cornfield between the tall stalks. He stumbled frequently. His
long-legged friend seemed to know by instinct just where to plant his
feet.

“Well, I don’t know—it all depends on how fast they can run, and which
way they come.”

Bill stopped on the edge of the field and waited for Charlie. Before
them now lay a broad meadow. Over to the left the dark shape of a
building was visible.

“Is that the hangar?” puffed the youngster.

“Yep. It used to be a hay barn, but when I got my pilot’s license, Dad
had it fixed up with a concrete floor and a tin roof. The _Loening_ and
the _Ryan_ are both in there. Well, I don’t see anybody around. Let’s
make a dash for it.”

“Gosh, that’s all I’ve been doing lately!”

“That and eating,” chuckled Bill. “On your toes, fat boy!”

He sprinted across the open space and had the hangar doors open when
Charlie arrived, puffing and half-winded by his efforts to make fast
time.

“Slow but sure,” teased Bill. “You’re better at tucking away chow than
you are at track-work, Charles.”

“Aw, cut it out! How do you expect me to keep pace with the Navy’s star
end?”

“Never mind, you did fine. Lend me a hand and we’ll wheel out the
_Loening_.”

Charlie pointed to the monoplane. “Isn’t that a _Ryan_ M-1?”

“Sure is. Come and get busy.”

“But that type is faster that the _Loening_. Why not take her?”

“Because, my boy, she can’t land on water more than once, that’s why. It
may come in mighty handy to have an amphibian up there on the Maine
shore. And don’t think for a minute this biplane can’t travel. Wait till
you ride in her and see.”

When they had wheeled the plane out on the concrete apron, Bill went
back and swung the doors shut and locked them. Charlie was already
seated aft when Bill climbed into the fore cockpit and adjusted his
helmet, goggles and safety belt.

“Okay?” he asked the youngster.

“Okay!”

“Safety belt fastened?”

“You bet.”

“Fine. Keep that rifle handy. If those lads get too close—let ’er go.”

“I will, Bill, you can trust me.”

Bill snapped on the ignition. The propeller swung into motion as the
inertia starter did the trick. The engine sputtered, then roared. He
slipped into a heavy flying jacket as the engine warmed up. Charlie, he
knew, had already donned his in the rear cockpit.

The engine was roaring smoothly as Bill fitted the phones over his
helmet and adjusted the receivers over his earflaps. A mouthpiece hung
on his chest and a wire ran back to the headset that Charlie wore. This
would allow them to talk in the air, even with the coughing bark of the
engine through the exhausts.

Bill stared up at the white fleecy cloud rolling in over the field. Then
he twisted his head in the direction of the house, and cut down the
throttle speed.

“Here they come, Charlie!” he said evenly. “Better get that rifle
ready!”



                              Chapter III
                              INTO THE AIR


The lights of a car swung round the hemlocks, then levelled directly on
the field as the automobile sped down the stretch of lawn between the
stables and the cornfield.

“Better get off, Bill! They’ll get us sure!” Charlie’s treble shrieked
into the receivers clamped to Bill’s ears.

“No, they won’t! And for the love of Mike, Charlie, don’t shout like
that!”

“Well, what’s to stop them?”

“That!” said Bill briefly.

The speeding motor car bucked like a live thing—described a half
circling dive in the air and crashed down sideways to its former course.
The headlights snapped out and both lads felt the tremor of a dull
explosion.

“Jiminy! Somebody got hurt!” cried young Evans.

“Hope so. That, as the story-books say, was my intention.”

“But what—what made it happen?”

“Remember when I left you by the bushes and you went through the
gunman’s pockets?”

“Sure.”

“Well, just about then I was stringing a wire between the old hitching
post and the horse trough. Looks to me as if the wire held. Oh, blazes!”
he broke off—“here comes another car! Hadn’t counted on a fleet of them!
Reckon you were right, Charles. We should have got going sooner.”

While he talked, Bill swung the plane into the wind.

“I thought they might stop at the wreck,” sighed Charlie. “Coldblooded,
I call it. Shall I shoot?”

“Their job’s to stop us. Gosh, no, you’d be wasting ammunition—never hit
within forty feet of them with all this jouncing.”

The amphibian was gathering speed, rolling lightly over the turf, but,
leaping and bouncing, the motor car drew closer. It came alongside the
moving plane, not more than five yards off its starboard wing. Two men
hung to the running board, their guns spurting fire.

“Duck!” yelled Bill.

He deliberately leaned over the cockpit’s side and fired his automatic
at the automobile. He saw the big machine swerve wildly, fall behind and
topple over.

“Tit for tat.” Bill lifted his plane prettily off the ground. “That’s
one for you, Charlie. I caught ’em in the near tire.”

“Two to one, you mean. And their cars are in a lot worse shape than
mine.”

The engine was beating a steady tatoo. Bill opened her up wide and
pulled back on the stick. Almost immediately they were in fog. But he
was no novice at the gentle art of piloting an airplane. He had his air
sense, flying sense, and two instruments on the lighted dial-board to
guide him. The level glasses helped a lot. His eyes went to the
angle-of-climb indicator, the bank indicator. He held the amphibian in a
steady climb for altitude.

The air was rough. White clouds of fog obscured the wing lights at
times. At other times it was thinner. The engine was roaring steadily,
but Bill knew the danger of taking off and climbing directly into a
change of temperature. He sat tight.

For about four minutes they climbed, in a wide circle. And then there
came a break in the fog. A slice of the moon showed to the southward. It
was smothered by another layer of fog almost instantly. The altimeter
showed eighteen hundred feet. Charlie’s voice sounded through the
receivers of the phone-set.

“Are you lost, Bill?” His voice sounded scared.

“Not yet,” reassured his friend. “I’m looking for something—had to gain
altitude to put those guys off our track, if they happened to have an
airbus handy.”

Bill dropped the plane into the heavier fog below. Still flying in wide
spirals, he came out of it with the altimeter needle pointing to four
hundred feet.

“There she is!”

Almost directly below them the bright beam of a flashing light circled
round and round, cutting the night in a broad swath.

“What is it?” asked Charlie.

“The New Canaan airbeacon on Ponus Ridge. We take our bearings from that
light.”

“Where do we go from here?”

“Hartford, Worcester, Lowell, Portland and on up the Maine coast.”

“Any idea of the distance?”

“We’re a couple of hundred miles from Lowell, and Portland is a good
hundred and twenty-five from that place. From there up to Washington
County and Twin Heads Harbor is between a hundred and fifty to a hundred
and seventy-five farther. Say about five hundred miles altogether.
That’s guess-work. It’s probably farther.”

He banked the plane, swung it around in a semi-circle and levelled off,
headed into the northeast.

“How long will it take us?” Bill heard a half-stifled yawn at the end of
Charlie’s question.

“Well, it’s going on for three now. If this breeze on our tail stiffens,
we ought to make your Dad’s house in less than five hours—say somewhere
between seven-thirty and eight o’clock, if we’re lucky.”

“Too bad we have to get there in broad daylight. Dad won’t like that.”

“Maybe not. But he’s lucky we’re getting there at all.”

“I’ll say he is,” yawned Charlie.

“Say, kid, you’d better take a nap. Take down your seat and curl up on
the decking. You’ll find a couple of blankets stowed behind the bulkhead
aft.”

“I guess that’s the best thing to do,” the youngster said sleepily.

“I know it is,” said Bill. “Keep that phone gear on your head, though.
I’ve got to wake you before we get there. You’ll have to point out the
house.”

“Sure. Nighty-night.”

“Good night and sweet dreams.”

Bill nosed up to six hundred feet. Above him, the clouds of swirling fog
seemed less dense. His course led inland on a slant from the shore. New
Canaan lies up in the Ridge Country, five or six miles back from Long
Island Sound. With every mile he put between the plane and that body of
water, the air, both below and above him became clearer and less bumpy.
By the time the amphibian was flying over Hartford, three-quarters of an
hour later, all signs of fog and storm had disappeared. Moonlight
flooded the earth and the visibility was almost as good as on a clear
day.

It was past five o’clock by his wristwatch and broad daylight when the
amphibian, speeding at the same altitude, passed over the city of
Lowell, Massachusetts, and over Lawrence and Haverhill, a few miles
beyond. They were nearing the sea again, and Bill noticed that the
closer they came to the coast, the stronger was the wind from the
southwest behind them. A new thought came into his head. With the quick
decision of the trained heavier-than-air pilot, he acted at once.

Out came his map, which he flattened on his knees. Next, the cockpit
light snapped on. For a moment he studied his position. Then the light
went off and the map into the pocket of his short leather jacket.

The amphibian was a trifle tail-heavy, so dropping the nose to level he
gave her right aileron and simultaneously increased right rudder. Round
to the right swung the nose of the speeding plane. When the desired bank
was reached, he checked the wings with the ailerons and at the same time
eased the pressure on the rudder. Half a moment later he applied left
aileron, and left rudder, resuming straight flight, headed toward the
coast on a course that would take them fifty miles east of Portland.

With wings level once more, he neutralized the ailerons, gave the bus a
normal amount of right rudder and settled back comfortably in his seat.

The little port of Cushing, just beyond where the Merrimac River empties
into the sea, faded away behind them. Below now was the blue Atlantic,
dotted here and there with the patched sails of fishermen, returning
with the night’s catch. Far to the starboard, hugging the horizon, Bill
saw a large single-stacker, a freighter, heading so as to clear Cape Ann
on her way to Boston.

The day had dawned bright and clear. It was perfect flying weather. With
a twenty-mile breeze spanking their tailplane, Bill knew that they must
be doing at least one hundred and fifty-five M.P.H. He felt the
exhilaration of broad spaces and swift flight. The salt tang of the sea
smelled good. He was content.

Half an hour or so went by. A sleepy voice in Bill’s receivers roused
him from revery. “Where under the shining sun are we?”

“Just there—or thereabouts.”

“Gee—are we heading for Europe?”

“Nope. For breakfast, I hope.”

“But what are we doing over the ocean, Bill?”

“Taking a short cut, kid. This course will lop off a good hundred and
fifty miles from the route via Portland and up the coast.”

“I suppose it was the sea fog that made you figure on the other way when
we hopped off?”

Bill laughed, goodnaturedly. “You show almost human intelligence this
morning, Charles. You’ll be telling me next that the sun is shining and
the prop is turning round!”

Charlie snorted. “Aw, cut it out, Bill. Tell me, is there anything I can
eat on board this crate?”

“Not unless you start on a strut. The French have a saying that ‘Who
sleeps, dines.’ If that is so you ought to be filled to the brim.”

“Huh!” was Charlie’s sole comment. Then he asked: “What are those
islands ahead to port?”

“Matinicus Island and Matinicus Rock.”

“How much farther is it to the Heads?”

“About a hundred miles. Our airspeed is 135 M.P.H., and we’re running
before a twenty-knot wind. Figure it out for yourself.”

“D’you want the answer in acres?”

“The answer I want,” said Bill slowly, “is how I am going to land and
park this bus when we get there, if some more of your cut-throat pals
are hanging round the house.”

“I never thought of that,” admitted Charlie.

“I didn’t think you would. Turn your mighty brain on it. If you guess
the right answer I’ll ask Mr. Evans to give you a lollipop.”

Bill paid no attention to the forth-coming torrent of sarcasm from
Charlie. His headphone set lay on the floor of the cockpit.



                               Chapter IV
                            GAINING AN ALLY


“Twin heads, Charlie!” said Bill, resuming his headphones sometime
later. The _Loening_ was flying in from the Atlantic. Bill had thought
it wiser than trailing up the coast for all eyes to see.

“Our house is over there to the left on the other side of those woods,”
returned his companion from the rear cockpit. “Did you find the answer,
old groucho?”

“No, I did not, fat boy. As the poet has it, we’ll be guided by
circumstances as we find them.”

He banked to port and leveling off, sent the amphibian speeding over the
treetops in the direction indicated. He was flying low now, barely a
hundred and fifty feet above the ground. His intention was to make a
quick landing if things looked propitious, rather than to advertise
their presence to these mysterious enemies of Mr. Evans by spiraling
down from a higher altitude.

“There’s the house!” called Charlie.

In a clearing Bill caught sight of a large red brick mansion, with
jutting wings and high gables. All the windows were closely shuttered.
The house stood back, quite close to the woods, amid unkempt lawns and
shrubbery. A broad avenue lined with maples led across the clearing into
the forest. He caught a glimpse as they shot over, of stables and a
smaller building, also of red brick, two or three hundred yards to the
left of the house.

“And there’s Dad—see him?” shouted Charlie.

A man walked from the front of the house across the drive and stood
watching them.

“Yes, I see him,” retorted Bill, “but stop your shouting or I’ll be deaf
for a week. When we come back, strip your headgear and stand up, so he
can recognize you. Hold on tight, though—it will be rough going.”

Pulling back the stick, he climbed to five hundred feet. Then, leveling
off, he made a quick flipper turn over the farther woods and headed back
toward the house, nosing downward, throttle wide open. Just before
reaching the garage, he zoomed, missing the roof by inches. As he banked
again to circle back, Charlie’s excited voice spoke through his
receivers.

“He saw me—he saw me! Look at him now! Has he gone crazy, or what? Did
you ever see anything so silly—waving his arms around his head like a
windmill!”

“Shut up! He’s wigwagging!”

Banked to an angle of 45 degrees, Bill kept the plane describing a tight
circle directly above the garage, spelling out Mr. Evans’ signals the
while. Presently he waved his understanding of the message, leveled his
wings and neutralizing his ailerons, headed the plane out to sea.

“What’s the matter? What did he say?” piped Charlie.

“His exact words,” returned Bill patiently, “were ‘Park plane Clayton.
Walk back after dark. Enter through garage.’”

“Then why on earth are we shooting off in the opposite direction?”

“Because, young Master Mind, it’s a lead-pipe cinch we’re being
watched—from the woods, probably. Maybe they’ll think we’re out for a
transatlantic record—I hope so. The last place we want them to think of
at the present time in connection with this plane is Clayton!”

Bill kept the amphibian headed out to sea for the next half hour.
Convinced at last that they were well beyond the ken of Mr. Evans’
enemies, he banked to starboard and headed his airbus on a course at
right angles to the last leg. He continued to fly in this direction for
some twenty miles, then turned back toward the coast again.

When at last they passed over the shore line once more, it was at a
point thirty miles along the coast from Twin Heads and the Evans house.
Bill steered his craft inland, turned right again and came in sight of
their destination as the hands of his wristwatch marked ten o’clock.

“Clayton has a small airport,” said Charlie tentatively.

“Thanks for that! If you’d told me before, you’d have saved me some
worry. The last thing we want to do is to advertise the _Loening_ in
this neck of the woods. If we’d had to come down in a farmer’s meadow,
it would have been all over town in half an hour.”

They were over the landing field now, and as Bill circled the plane,
preparatory to their descent, he saw that it was little more than a
meadow, a mile out of town, with hangar capable of housing three or four
planes. The flat roof of this building was painted black. Large block
letters in white paint proclaimed the legend

                           PARKER’S AIRDROME
                              CLAYTON ME.

Near the highway that led into the town, and separated from the landing
field by a white picket fence, stood a small farmhouse. As Bill swung
his bus into the wind and nosed over, he saw a man open the gate in the
fence and walk toward the hangar.

The wheels of the _Loening’s_ retractable landing gear touched the
ground. The plane rolled forward, and came to a stop on the concrete
apron of the hangar, before its open doors.

“Very pretty, very pretty indeed!” remarked the individual who had come
through the gate. He was a tall, rangy man of about thirty, wearing
overalls much the worse for grease and hard usage.

Bill and Charlie climbed down and walked over to him. “Good morning, and
thanks,” smiled Bill. “My name is Bolton. Mr. Parker, isn’t it?”

“It pays to advertise,” grinned the lanky individual, and he gripped
Bill’s extended hand with a horny fist. “Parker’s the name. I guess, by
the way you brought that _Loening_ down, it isn’t flight instruction
you’re after!”

“No,” said Bill, “not this time. What I need is gas and oil and a place
to park the bus for a few days. Can you fix me up?”

“Sure can, Mister. Business round here this summer is deader than a
doornail. Specially in my line. Want the bus filled up, looked over and
put shipshape, I take it?”

“That’s it. One of her plugs is carbonized a bit. I’d attend to it
myself, only I’m too sleepy. We’ve been in the air most of the night.
Anywhere we can turn in for a few hours? Our friends don’t expect us
till this evening.”

“Well, I can rent you the spare room over to the house for as long as
you want it. And how about something to eat before you turn in?”

“Lead me to it,” Charlie spoke up for the first time.

“Good enough!” Parker chuckled. “Come on, Mrs. P. will be glad to dish
up something tasty for you fellows.”

The Parker homestead proved to be as neat and clean as a new pin. Mrs.
Parker, a buxom young woman with dimples and a jolly smile, served the
hungry lads with wheatcakes and coffee until they couldn’t eat another
mouthful. Then she led them upstairs to the low-ceiled bedroom, where
two white beds invited them to rest. She promised to call them at seven
that evening and left them. Five minutes later, Bill and Charlie were
sound asleep.

“Seven o’clock—time to get up!” called a cheery voice which Bill
sleepily realized was Mrs. Parker’s.

“All right, thanks,” he called back. “Be down in a jiffy. And would it
be too much trouble to fix us a couple of sandwiches before we start?”

“Ezra and I,” said Mrs. Parker from the other side of the closed door,
“figured as how you’d be wanting something. We’re waitin’ supper for
you. And there’s a showerbath at the end of the hall—plenty of hot water
if you want it.”

“We certainly do,” called Bill, “thanks a lot, Mrs. Parker. We’ll make
it snappy.”

He leaned over and picked up a rubber sneaker. A moment later it bounced
off of Charlie’s red head, effectually bringing that young man back from
dreamland.

Supper with the Parkers was a pleasant affair. When it was over Bill had
some little trouble to make Mrs. Parker accept payment for their
entertainment. He guessed, however, that their financial condition was
none of the best, so when she asked him if a dollar would be too much,
he pressed a five-spot on the astonished young matron and refused to
take change. While he went out to assist Parker in an inspection of the
_Loening_, Charlie, not to be outdone in gallantry, insisted on helping
wash the dishes.

Out in the hangar, Bill came to a decision on a question he had been
considering throughout the meal. Ezra Parker and his pretty wife were an
honest, wholesome pair. He needed someone in Clayton whom he could trust
and so he came at once to the point.

“Mr. Parker, I need a friend,” he said quietly. “I dare say you aren’t
averse to making some extra money?”

Ezra smiled and laid a hand on his shoulder. “I liked you the minute I
set eyes on you this morning, Bill,” he declared. “I guess there need be
no mention of money in our friendship.”

“Perhaps not. But this friendship has a job attached to it, and you told
me when I landed, that business was none too good.”

“Well, that’s a fact, boy. Mrs. P. and I have had a hard time to make
both ends meet this summer. Anything short of robbery or murder with a
dollar or two tacked onto it will be a godsend. Our savings are tied up
in this little property and we hate to give up. But there’s been mighty
little joy-flying or anything else in this line of business since the
depression. It’s beginning to look as if we’d have to let the place go
unless something turns up soon. So I can’t say I’m not anxious to make
some ready money.”

“This job,” said Bill, “is worth five hundred a month, but you’d be
expected to keep a closed head about anything that might come up.”

Ezra stared at him in amazement. “You a millionaire in disguise?”

“No—only a midshipman on summer vacation. But Mr. Evans has plenty, and
he is going to pay your salary.”

“Gosh! you’re the guy that put the lid on von Hiemskirk and his pirates
over to Twin Heads harbor?”

“I helped some,” Bill admitted.

“I’ll say you did! What’s this job—more pirates?”

“No, I don’t think so. To be truthful, the whole thing is much of a
mystery to me so far.”

“Well,” Ezra affirmed, “I never earned five hundred a month in my life.
One month’s work will put Mrs. P. and me on velvet.”

“Then listen!” Bill gave him a sketch of affairs to date.

“I know the place Mr. Evans bought,” said Ezra when he’d finished. “Used
to belong to old Job Turner who died last year. They say there’s secret
rooms, underground passages and all manner of queer things about that
house. I expect it’s all lies—but no telling. Mr. Evans can’t be up
against that Hiemskirk gang. The government cleaned them up good and
plenty.”

“Well, he’s up against somebody equally unpleasant. I’ve had a taste of
them already. Are you really game for the job?”

“I sure am. What do you want me to do first?”

“Take this.”

Ezra took the money, albeit reluctantly. “What’s all this for?” he
asked, counting the bills.

“Oil, gas, your time on the bus and two weeks’ salary.”

“Don’t you think it’s dangerous, carrying a roll that would choke a
horse?”

“I’m not in the habit of it,” laughed Bill. “It was a birthday present
from my father. Don’t worry, Mr. Evans will reimburse me.”

“But maybe,” suggested Ezra doubtfully, “he may not be strong on the
deal.”

“He asked for my help,” returned Bill, “and this is part of it. You’ve
got a car of some sort about the place, I suppose?”

“‘Of some sort’ describes it. Want me to run you over to Turner’s?”

“Yes—but only to where the Turner road branches out of the one to Twin
Heads Harbor.”

“Right, Bill. Before we start, hadn’t you better tell me what you want
me to do?”

“We can talk about that on the way over,” said his young employer.
“While you’re dragging out the fliv. or the Chev. or whatever it is,
I’ll get hold of Charlie and say goodbye to Mrs. Parker.”

Ezra chuckled. “She’ll be some happy girl when I tell her what you’ve
done. The three of us will get kissed good and proper!”

“I don’t mind, if you don’t!” laughed Bill, and went toward the house.



                               Chapter V
                       STRANGE DOINGS AT TURNER’S


The flivver pulled up at the side of the dirt road and stopped. Ezra
Parker, behind the wheel, switched off the motor and likewise the
lights. Patches of moonlight filtered through interlocking branches that
arched the grassgrown highway. These silvery patches seemed but to
deepen the velvety black of the woods. After the noisy chugging of four
ancient cylinders the silence of the forest was oppressive.

“Yonder’s the road to Turner’s,” Ezra volunteered, pointing toward a
narrow track, choked with weeds, which led off to the right. “The house
is two or three miles farther on.”

“I know! I’ve been over it twice in a car—and gee whiz!—it sure is a
tough one to drive,” piped Charlie from the back seat.

“We’ve got to hop it now,” said Bill. “Hand me the extra rifle, and come
on.”

Followed by young Evans, he stepped down to the roadway.

“So long, fellows,” Ezra bade them, “better watch your step when you get
near Turner’s.”

“We will,” returned Bill. “Got the times fixed in your mind, Ezra, and
all the rest of the instructions?”

“You bet. I’ll write them down soon as I get home. Don’t worry, I won’t
let you fellows down.”

He backed the car across the road, swung round his front wheels and
chugged off in the direction of Clayton.

“And that’s that,” said Bill.

“I hope Dad will approve,” said Charlie.

Bill’s face took, on a look of grim determination in the darkness. “It’s
just too bad if he doesn’t. Don’t shoulder that rifle, Charlie. It’s
likely to hit a branch and go off. Hold it in the hollow of your arm,
like I’m carrying mine. Keep three or four paces behind me—and remember,
no more talking until we are inside the garage. If you see me drop
down—flop!”

“O.K.” grunted the youngster. “On your way. If anybody spots us it won’t
be my fault.”

They strode down the road toward Turner’s for a mile or more. Neither
the tall lad nor the short one uttered a word. Bill drank in the crisp,
cool night air, pleasant after the dusty highway. On either hand dense
woods shut out the moonlight. Directly overhead, however, light filtered
between the treetops, flecking the overgrown trail with splotches of
silver.

When they came to an open woodlot, Bill paused.

“Yes, I think from what Ezra said, we go to the left here. We’ll see
where it lands us.”

Shortly after passing round the field, a dense wood of pines showed up
against the moonlight on their right hand. Between them and the pines
was a broad stone fence.

“We’ll hang out here for a few minutes,” Bill remarked. “There’s nothing
like making quite certain. If you hear anyone following, Charlie, it
means we were noticed in the car, and we’re probably in for a rousing
time.”

After an interval he got up and stretched himself, gave a curt order and
plunged abruptly into the heart of the woods. Bill had no idea how far
they penetrated, but they appeared to go forward for a good fifteen
minutes before they struck upon a grassgrown avenue or drive among the
trees, and at the end of it they saw a clearing. Both lads stopped.

A gentle wind stirred in the tree-tops, and above its rustle, they
suddenly heard the soft wash of the sea. Bill turned and Charlie
followed his gaze. Set back, quite close to the woods, amid overgrown
lawns and shrubbery, there glimmered in the pallid moonlight, the
outlines of a house.

“Turner’s!” whispered Bill as Charlie came close. “It looked different
from the air, but I guess it’s the place, all right.”

“Sure—and there’s the garage, see it?”

“Come along.”

Emerging stealthily from the trees, he quickly glanced about, crossed
the path, cut in behind a screen of shrubbery and made his way round the
side of the house to the garage. Without hesitation he went forward,
pulled the right hand door slightly ajar and slipped in, with Charlie at
his heels. The darkness closed in upon them.

“Just a moment, and I’ll be with you,” a cautious voice spoke nearby,
and Bill recognized it as Mr. Evans’. The door behind them shut with a
slight click, and Bill felt one of his hands caught in a firm grasp.

“Charlie, take Bill’s other hand. We won’t show a light just yet. Come
this way.”

They passed on until they came to what Bill decided was a closet in one
corner of the garage. He heard Mr. Evans open a door, and at the same
time he spoke again.

“Shut the door after you, Charlie, and see that the lock snaps. There
are twelve steps down, Bill. Come along—the youngster knows his way from
here.”

Bill, still grasping Mr. Evans’ hand, felt for the first step, found it
and descended after his guide. On level ground once more, he counted
eighty-four paces and two turns in the dark tunnel before he was led up
a flight of twenty-two steps at the farther end.

There came a pause, followed by a click. Then he was pulled gently
forward and his hand released. He waited; then a leaping shaft of light
from a single unshaded lamp disclosed a large and soundly furnished
room, with books lining the walls and deep armchairs grouped about. On a
table in the center were a large plate of sandwiches, some glasses and
several bottles of ginger ale.

“Me for that!” cried Charlie, his face shining in anticipation.

“That boy’s head is in his stomach,” declared Mr. Evans. “But I suppose
at his age I was always hungry too. Well, I’m glad to see both of you. I
need your help, Bill, because I can’t drag in the police on this
matter—at least, not yet. They would spoil everything. Help yourself
from the table, lad, before Charlie gobbles all the sandwiches. Then
tell me about your trip. Something happen to the car? Or did you think
your plane would prove the more useful?”

“Both,” said Bill from the table, where he was pouring himself a glass
of ginger ale. Taking a couple of sandwiches, he went over to an
armchair and sank back in its comfortable depths. “Your friends, or
enemies, or whoever they are,” he went on, munching as he talked, “are
quite active around New Canaan. They made things hum for a while, and
wrecked your car into the bargain. If their shooting hadn’t been putrid,
you’d be minus a son now, Mr. Evans. It’s not my place to criticize, but
don’t you think it was pretty risky, sending a boy his age on such a
dangerous undertaking?”

Mr. Evans started up from his chair in consternation. “You don’t mean
they tried to shoot the boy!”

“I certainly do mean just that.”

The father put an arm about his son’s shoulders and held him close. “The
devils!” he muttered. “I’d no idea they would dare resort to such
methods! If I had, he never would have been sent. And I don’t blame you,
Bill, for thinking me a heartless parent. If anything had happened to
this boy——But there’s no sense in making excuses now. Tell me just what
happened.”

He carted Charlie, sandwiches and ginger ale over to his chair and
deposited them there, seating himself on the broad arm at his son’s
side.

“Well, the first I knew of it,” began Bill, and continued with a
recitation of their adventures since the thunderstorm had awakened him
the night before. When he had finished, he got up to replenish his
glass.

“Splendid! I’m extremely proud of you both. Now tell me of the
arrangements you’ve made with Parker.”

“Starting tomorrow night, he is to fly the _Loening_ over this property.
If he sees a light in the garage he will know that we want him. He will
then continue on his way out to sea for a few miles, come back over Twin
Heads and land in the harbor near the channel that leads out to the
Atlantic. We will get in touch with him there. In any case, unless he is
molested, he is to wait on the water until daylight.”

“And if we do not need him, what then?”

“Why, the garage will be dark, and he’ll go out to sea, swing round and
go back to Clayton.”

“Did you arrange any set time for his flights?”

“Yes. Tomorrow he will be over this house at midnight. The next night at
one o’clock. The night after, at two, and the following one at three.
Then he starts all over again. I arranged his trips in that order, so
that anyone spying would not be able to count on a set time.”

Mr. Evans nodded his approval. “That is very satisfactory, Bill. You
think Parker is to be trusted, of course?”

“I’m sure of it, sir. Hope you don’t think I set his salary at too high
a figure?”

“I’ll double it if he proves useful,” Mr. Evans declared. “Now get off
my knee, Charlie, while I pay Bill back for what he has spent on my
account.”

He dug into a trousers’ pocket, fished out a roll of bills and handed it
to Bill. “That’s what I owe you—and keep the balance for expenses. You
may need it before long.”

“Thanks, sir.” Bill pocketed the money. “Can you tell us something of
what we’re up against, sir?”

Mr. Evans glanced at his watch. “Goodness! It’s time you fellows were in
bed. I’ll go into details, Bill, after breakfast.”

“But, Dad, we slept all day!” Charlie expostulated.

“Never mind, son. You won’t be the worse for a few hours more. We’ll all
need clear wits in the morning.”

Beckoning the lads to follow, he went to the door. Their feet echoed on
the polished tiles of the hall, a vast place which looked like a black
cavern above them, the dim shape of a wide staircase beyond. Following
Mr. Evans’ lead, they mounted the stairs, his flashlight flickering on
the thick carpet and heavy oak banisters. In the corridor above, he
stopped and flung open a door.

They entered a large, square bedroom. Twin beds stood against opposite
walls, and heavy dark hangings concealed the windows. These curtains,
Mr. Evans drew back, and through the shutters there gleamed the faint
gray light of a waning moon. A solitary night-owl made eerie music in
the woods.

“Sleep well,” said Charlie’s father. “I’ll call you two at seven. We’ll
have breakfast and I’ll explain my problem to you. Good night.”

“Good night, Dad.”

“Good night, sir.”

Mr. Evans departed with a wave of his hand. “I forgot to say,” he added,
putting his head inside the door again, “if you wake earlier than seven,
don’t raise a row. No bursting into happy song, Charlie....” He grinned
at his son, nodded, and was gone.

Bill sat down on his bed and took off his shoes. “I wonder why he warned
us about noise,” he remarked as he struggled with a knot.

“Ask me something easy,” yawned Charlie. “You’ll soon find out that
there’s more hush stuff about this house than there is at a funeral.”

“Cheerful simile!” grunted Bill. He dropped a shoe, stripped off his
outer garments, and got into bed wearing his underclothes.

He was dreaming of masked foes, who kept climbing up from airy depths,
to creep on him unawares, when one of these fiends clutched him by the
shoulder. Suddenly he found himself sitting up in bed, shaking with the
terror of nightmare.

“Are you dead—or what?” Charlie stood beside him, and leaned over to
shake him again. Through partly opened shutters daylight streamed into
the room.

“I’m awake,” said Bill with an effort. “What time is it, anyway?”

“Nearly nine o’clock—that’s why I’m worried. I just woke up myself—Dad
hasn’t called us or come near us yet. Do you s’pose something has
happened to him, Bill?”

Bill jumped out of bed. “Wait till I get some clothes on—then we’ll find
out.”



                               Chapter VI
                         WATCHERS IN THE TREES


“Where’s your father’s room?” Bill stepped into the corridor, Charlie at
his heels.

“There—that one opposite—the door’s open. He isn’t there—I looked before
I woke you.”

“The bed hasn’t been slept in either—come along downstairs. He may be
there.”

Bill had had an impression the night before of the solid comfort of the
house. But it was not until they descended the great oak staircase in
the morning that he realized, in spite of dust sheets, how exquisitely
the place was appointed. In true manorial style, armor hung in the hall,
marble busts gleamed against the dark, beautifully carved panelling, and
half a dozen riding crops dangled from a pair of antlers over the low
fireplace.

Here Charlie took the lead. They went first to the library, with its
secret door in the panelling, through which they had entered the house
from the garage. A flashlight lay on the table, amongst the remains of
the sandwiches. Bill appropriated it, and after Charlie had opened the
sliding door by twisting a knob on the fireplace, they investigated the
tunnel and its outlet. But the garage and the underground passage were
empty of any human being.

They returned to the library, and made a round of the rooms on that
floor; a small den, two large living rooms, and a dining room. All the
furniture was shrouded in dust covers. The rooms looked gloomy and
un-lived-in. Scarcely any light came through the closed shutters. Bill’s
feeble flashlight seemed to accentuate the cavernous depths of the huge
apartments.

A back passage led them to the pantry and immense, stone-floored
kitchen. On a table near the sink, an unwashed plate and cup told the
story of eggs and coffee.

Bill turned to the boy. “There! On a bet, he ate and went out.”

“Hadn’t we better go over the rest of the house, though?” There was a
slight tremor in Charlie’s voice. “This place is creepy. It was like
that when I was here before. I never open a door but what I expect a
dead man to walk out on me.”

“That,” laughed Bill, “would take some doing! You’ll be telling me the
house is haunted, next!”

“It is.”

“Oh, go on—there ain’t no such animals as ghosts. You’re losing your
nerve, kid. You probably heard a rat in the walls.”

“Rat, nothing! If it wasn’t a ghost, who was in our room just before
daylight? It wasn’t Dad. I called and the figure just disappeared.”

“Um—that’s funny. Perhaps some friend of your father’s—and they went off
together later.”

Charlie shook his head solemnly. “Dad hasn’t any friends up here, Bill,
or he wouldn’t have had to call on you. But suppose it was a friend he
went away with, why didn’t he let us know? I’ll just bet Dad’s in this
house right now. Down cellar or upstairs, with his throat cut, like as
not!” Charlie was in tears now.

“Here, here, now! Stop it! You certainly are a cheerful kid this
morning—I don’t think!” Bill scoffed, and patted him on the back.
“Detective thrillers and too much food are what ails you. Imagination
plus indigestion will make anybody see or hear a lot of things. How do I
get down to the cellar? If you’re afraid of meeting more spooks, you’d
better stay here.”

“No, no, I’ll go with you,” replied Charlie so hurriedly that Bill burst
out laughing.

“Come on, then, big boy.” Charlie’s mournful face made him feel ashamed
of his mirth. “I don’t like this big lonely house any more than you do,
but we’ll go down into the cellar just the same, although I haven’t the
slightest doubt but that your father left this place hours ago.”

An inspection of the cellars and the two upper stories proved
conclusively to Bill that except for themselves, there was nobody in the
house. However, they found food and plenty of it in the storage rooms. A
whole closet full of canned goods, eggs, bread and a couple of hams and
four or five slabs of bacon.

“Well, old man, let’s have a shower,” suggested Bill, “and then I’ll
rustle some breakfast.”

Charlie smiled and turned on a tap at the kitchen sink. A faint trickle
came from the faucet. “You’ll get no shower, or bath while you’re in
this house,” he announced. “The water comes from a well and there’s
something wrong with the pump. Dad says the water supply is likely to
give out any time.”

Bill made a grimace. “How do you take baths then?”

“When I was here before we went down to the cove—but never until after
dark.”

“Gee whiz! A swim is just what I need. I tell you what, Charlie! We’ll
have something to eat, take a more careful look for any message your
father may have left and then we’ll romp down to that cove of yours.”

“Okay by me, Bill. Let’s get the grub. I could eat a horse!”

“When couldn’t you?” Bill snorted as they started after the food.

When they had eaten and washed up at the kitchen sink, Bill instituted a
thorough search for the message in their bedroom and in the library.

“It’s no use,” he said at last, “there just isn’t any message, and
that’s that. I vote we pop down to the cove and have our dip now. Is it
much of a jaunt?”

“Oh, no.” Charlie turned from peering through the curtains at the
sunshine. “We can get into the shrubbery at the back door and keep under
cover pretty well all the time. We’ll be taking chances, though. Dad
wouldn’t let us go until after dark.”

“Well, he isn’t here,” Bill said casually. “I’m going for a swim. You
can stay here, though, if you want to.”

“Not me,” declared the boy. “I’d rather be shot than stay in this house
alone.”

“Where do we go from the grounds?”

“Right through the trees until we come to a rough sort of lane. It leads
from the main road down to a little bay that’s just the place for a
swim.”

“Fine. Now, listen to me, kid. If we happen to run into anybody and
can’t make a bunk without being seen, we’ll go right up and speak to
them openly. There’s no sense in arousing suspicions—or showing that we
have any! We’ll say we’re on a walking tour along the coast, and saw the
lane leading down to the sea—savez?”

“You betcha! And, oh, Bill, I forgot to say that we can’t swim out far.
Dad told me that the currents round the point are the dickens and all.”

Armed with towels and soap, they let themselves out by the back door and
darted into the bushes. With Charlie in the lead, they pushed through
the trees, keeping a sharp lookout. Presently they reached the lane,
and, without sighting a single creature, they found themselves on the
beach.

The sand shelved down into a little bay which was about a hundred yards
across. Great rocks crowded down into the water on either side. The
place was embowered in trees and bushes. It was an ideal spot for a
quiet dip. Both lads slipped off their clothes and entered the water.

The sea was perfect. Charlie, who wasn’t much on aquatics, paddled about
near shore, but Bill soon found himself at the mouth of the bay.
Swimming strongly, with an easy crawl stroke, he revelled in the
electric chill of the water and the cloudless sky and sunshine. A short
distance ahead of him, a huge brown rock jutted up from the water like a
buoy. He swam to it and clambered up on its groined shoulder, slippery
with endless laving of the sea. Standing upright, he gazed about.

Up and down the beach, the tumbled rocks were belted with trees for some
miles. Beyond the trees, so far as he could see, were the bare, sharp
outlines of tall cliffs overhanging the water. Picturesque enough,
thought Bill, but immeasurably lonesome. Out to sea an island lay off
the coast, a mile, perhaps two miles away. He could not judge
accurately, for it is difficult to decide distance from the level of the
water. He remembered seeing it the day before, from the air. As he
remembered it, it was a small, rocky, barren-looking place, with a
single house on it, though he hadn’t been absolutely certain about the
house. He stared in that direction for a minute or two. As he turned
about, ready to dive in and return to shore, there was a sharp thud on
the rock at his feet.

Bill looked down, but saw nothing—The next moment he heard, or imagined
he heard, something go past his ear with a whistling sound. He gazed
toward the beach, more than a little disturbed. Nothing could be seen
but Charlie sitting naked on the sand. There was no stir of bush, not a
movement of grass. And yet again above his head—and this time
closer—there was a harsh _z-z-z-p_! of a bullet.

Bill heard no sound of an explosion, but suddenly he saw Charlie spring
to his feet, snatch up his clothes and dart into the underbrush. The
only conclusion he could reach, as he stood on the sea-washed rock,
hurriedly collecting his thoughts, was that someone concealed ashore was
shooting at him with a powerful air-gun.

Without a second’s further hesitation, he flopped into the water. He had
intended to swim back to the little bay, but now he hastily changed his
mind. To return in that direction while the bullets were flying was like
asking for a sudden and unpleasant end to his existence. So he struck
out to sea, meaning to make a detour and go ashore at some secluded spot
a little further down the coast.

He was swimming with his head submerged in the water, in order to
conceal his whereabouts if possible from the beach. When he turned on
his back to take his bearings, he remembered Charlie’s warning about the
current. It seemed to him as he glanced back to the rock where he had
stood, that he had covered a great distance in a very short time, even
allowing for the extra speed due to his excitement and wrath over the
unknown marksman’s attempt to drop him in the water with a bullet. He
fixed his eyes on a point on the shore and struck out with all his
might.

At first Bill could not believe that his tremendous efforts were
achieving—nothing. But gradually, after a fierce fight of more than a
quarter of an hour’s duration, the truth broke upon him. His distance
from the beach was not lessening at all, but was swiftly increasing. He
could battle as he liked against it, but the tide was stronger, stronger
than he. There was no shadow of doubt in his mind that he was being
carried out to sea.

It was difficult to meet the situation calmly, but Bill tried to quiet
the surge of pain that was sucking the strength from his limbs. It
looked as though only a miracle would save him now. He turned on his
back, and for a moment a ray of hope sent a warm glow through his veins.
He was being borne out on the tide, toward the island! It might be
possible to force a landing there.

Now that seemed his only prospect of life. With all the vigor he could
summon, Bill struck across the current. But when he paused in exhaustion
to observe his progress, he saw that it was useless. He had already been
swept past the island. It was out of his range.

Wearily, Bill shut his eyes, gasping for breath, and felt the power
melting away from his numbed limbs. Then hazily he noticed that the
island seemed nearer—or was that but a last illusion before the end? No!
The rocks were towering above him. He realized that he had been swept
around on the current to the seaward side, and that the mainland was out
of sight. With his last atom of strength, he tried to strike out toward
that shore, but the place seemed to be slipping away from him again.
There was a throbbing in his ears, growing louder and louder. A vague,
dreamlike impression of touching the gray side of some craft—then his
senses left him.



                              CHAPTER VII
                          THE MYSTERIOUS TRIO


The whitewashed wooden walls of a hut, and a sickly sting of brandy in
his throat, were Bill’s first impressions of life on awakening. An old
brown face with blue eyes and a tuft of white beard below the chin
looked down at him.

“You’re better,” the man said grimly. “But I caught sight of you none
too soon.”

“Where am I?” Bill managed to ask.

“Never mind. Drink this.” As the man lifted a tin of boiling coffee from
a little stove, Bill saw that he was lean and lanky and dressed in a
sailor’s blue jersey and top-boots. “It’s heat you need, not
information.”

Bill sat up. A warm sweater and flannel trousers now covered him, and by
the time he had finished the coffee, he felt more like taking a sane
interest in his surroundings. He was about to try to express his thanks
to the old man when there was a knock on the door. The old fellow opened
the door and stepped outside.

A girl stood in the doorway. She was dressed in a white skirt and
sweater. She had a smooth olive skin and her black hair was cut close to
her head. Bill decided that she was pretty, and that she must be about
sixteen. Her eyes were smiling at him as he got to his feet.

“Please sit down,” she cried, for Bill was gripping a beam at his side
to steady himself. “Why, you must be feeling perfectly dreadful! Aren’t
you hungry? Won’t you let me get you something to eat?”

Bill was sure he detected the faintest shadow of a foreign accent in her
speech. He smiled. “In a little while, perhaps, thank you,” he said. “My
head is a bit on the blink. I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to thank
that old man—”

“Oh, Jim won’t want any thanks. He’ll be offended if you try to thank
him. He saw you from the motor-boat. He’s a gruff old tar, but he’s as
good as gold.”

“It was lucky for me that there was somebody here—I suppose I’m on the
island?”

“You are. There’s the beach where Jim brought you in.” She pointed
through the open door.

“Are you yachting up this way?” ventured Bill.

“Good gracious, no!” cried the girl. “I live here.”

“_Live_ here?” Bill repeated in astonishment. “Why in the world—”

She laughed softly. “Well, I suppose I like it. I have a bungalow back
in the hollow. This is really Jim’s bunk. He sleeps in there. But you
haven’t told me about yourself. Where did you come from?”

The innocent question caught Bill up short. “Oh, I’m on a walking tour,”
he said as steadily as he could, then smiled wanly at his joke. “I—I
went down to the shore for a swim and that confounded current got me. I
thought I was bound for Davy Jones, all right!”

“Where did you go for a bath?” she asked anxiously, it seemed to him.

“Oh, there’s a little bay at the end of a lane off the main road to
Clayton. And the sea looked so tempting I couldn’t resist it.”

“Did you—did you see anybody in the woods as you came along?” She gave
him a quick glance.

“Not a soul. If I’d drowned, my clothes would have lain on the shore for
weeks.”

She nodded. “It’s a lovely old place, Turner’s,” she remarked casually.

“Oh, so that is its name!”

“You’ve seen it then—the house among the trees?”

“Well, I came past it, you know,” he dissembled. “I got only a glimpse
of it....”

The girl looked at him sharply, the carefree expression gone from her
eyes. She stared at him for several minutes.

“How long have you been on your walking tour?” she asked suddenly.

“Oh, about a week,” he answered easily. “I—”

The girl drew herself up. “I want to know the truth!” Her voice sounded
a challenge. “Your name is Harold Johnson, and you flew up here night
before last from Stamford, Connecticut!”

Bill was astounded. Still limp and sick from his exertions in the water,
this declaration—half truth that it was—literally took his breath away.
Of course she was mistaken in the name, but Stamford is only five or six
miles from New Canaan. Did she take him for someone else, or had she
only got the name wrong? In either case, would it be wise to reveal his
real identity? What if she were one of those working against Mr. Evans?

Yet she was but a young girl and these enemies of Charlie’s father had
already proven themselves to be villains of the first water. Weak as he
was, Bill’s brain was unable to cope with the problem. His bewilderment
was evidently clearly written on his face, for he could see a slow smile
appearing in the girl’s eyes as she stood in the doorway and looked down
on him.

“I notice you don’t deny it, Mr. Johnson,” she remarked abruptly.

Bill shook his head. “I don’t see the good of denying it,” he replied
quietly. “You appear to know all about me. But as a point of interest,
I’d be glad to know how you got your information.”

“No doubt it’s a point of great interest to you,” she said with
deliberation. “But you really can’t expect me to answer that question.
To tell the truth, I was a little doubtful about you at first—I only
mentioned your name to make quite certain who you were. But now we know
what to do.”

“And that is?”

“Ah! but you go too fast!” She took a step nearer and her voice
softened. “Mr. Johnson, why did you decide to come to Maine? Do you
really think it is going to bring you luck?”

Bill looked at her closely, unable to decide what was in her mind.
Perhaps her object was to sound him delicately on how much he really
knew. He did not reply.

“Well,” she went on, and her tone was low and serious, “if I were you, I
wouldn’t be too sure about that luck. Some things, you know, are better
left alone.”

“Frankly, I don’t get you,” said Bill.

“And yet my meaning is perfectly plain. If you only knew what you are up
against, you would not complicate your affairs by—well, by taking on
another risk.”

Bill had not the slightest idea what this dark-eyed girl was driving at.
He couldn’t give anything away. Mr. Evans’ plans—the very nature of this
mysterious business he had dropped into with the thunderstorm was still
an unsolved enigma, so far as he was concerned.

This girl, no matter who she was, appeared to be conversant with details
of the situation. If he continued to play Mr. Johnson, in whom she
seemed vastly interested, some real news might pop out unawares.

“Another risk?” he repeated, taking up the threat of her last remark.
“What if I say I don’t mind taking risks?”

“Mr. Johnson, you talk lightly because you do not know. It is one thing
to keep out of the hands of the police, but if you knew the truth about
your new venture—”

Bill began to think that she was older than he first surmised. Her eyes
were half closed, and the curves of her mouth had moulded into a firm
line. It gave him quite a shock of surprise to see that look on her
face—a look of grim defiance, the look of one who would not hesitate to
shoot, and shoot straight, in an extremity.

“You don’t mind risks? Well, Mr. Johnson, you’ll have risks in plenty
before you’re much older!”

Bill smiled. “Maybe. But I’ll never have a closer shave than I had this
morning. You must admit that. If you and old Jim hadn’t been on this
island, I should have gone under for keeps.”

“Don’t speak of it any more,” said the girl. Her expression changed and
a gentler note came into her voice. “Try to get some sleep. That’s what
you need more than anything else at present. In a few hours I’ll bring
you something to eat and you’ll feel better.”

“You’re very kind, and I’ll never be able to thank you properly. But,
really, if you could see your way to help me get back to the mainland
quickly, I’d be more than obliged.”

She shook her head. “I won’t hear of it. You’re not fit for any such
thing. I insist on your having some sleep first. Perhaps you don’t
realize it, but you’re still looking dreadfully white and shaky.”

Bill saw that there was nothing to do but comply with her orders, so he
lay down again on the cot.

“That’s better,” she said. “Now I must go. I’ll be back later on and I
hope you’ll be comfortable in the meantime.”

With that she went out and shut the door. Bill heard a click. She had
turned the key in the lock! He started up at the sound, but dropped
back, a faint smile on his lips. If she wanted to be sure that he kept
to the hut—well, that was her business. He was, to all purposes, a
prisoner anyway, lock or no lock. Unless he could get hold of a boat,
there would be no leaving the island. Swimming was out of the question.
One try at the currents surrounding this rocky shore was quite enough.

But who were this girl and the old man? She said she lived here—but that
could mean anything. Had Charlie been able to get back to the house? The
youngster evidently hated the spooky place. Would he stay there, now
that he was alone? With these thoughts buzzing through his tired brain,
Bill fell into sleep.

He awoke to find the girl at his side, bearing a tray filled with food.
What hour it was he could not tell, and at the moment he did not
inquire. His main obsessions now were a racking thirst and an ardent
hunger for food. He’d had nothing to eat since early morning, and the
chops, fried potatoes and tea, with brown bread and honey, tasted
delicious. While he did justice to the fare, the girl sat on a packing
case in the doorway, chatting inconsequentially.

When the last morsel of his meal had disappeared, Bill thanked her
again. Then he rose to his feet, determined to bring matters to a head.

“I hope it won’t put you to any inconvenience,” he said quietly, “but I
will take it as a favor if you’ll help me get back to the mainland now.
Please don’t think I haven’t appreciated your hospitality. You have been
more than kind to me. But you understand it is vitally important for me
to get back.”

“Ah—your walking tour is so important as all that?” She cast an amused
glance up at him.

“Certainly.” Bill met her look firmly. “If you will be good enough to
give orders for the boat—”

“I’m afraid, Mr. Johnson,” she said slowly, “that that is impossible.”

“Impossible? You mean there’s no way of getting across? I thought you
said something about a motor boat—has anything gone wrong with it?”

“I don’t mean that, Mr. Johnson. I mean that you must remain here. To be
frank—I have my instructions.”

“Instructions! And from whom?” he demanded curtly.

The girl looked at him steadily. “You must not ask. It is too late now
for you to back out. You should have thought of the risks you ran before
you came up here on this errand.”

“I have no wish to back out of anything,” he exclaimed shortly. “And as
for risks, I told you before that I am willing to take them. But my mind
is made up on one thing—I’m going back to the mainland now!”

He made as if to pass her in the doorway.

She stepped aside, her eyes fixed smilingly on his.

“You may go,” she said. “I wish you a pleasant swim.”

“But the motor boat,” Bill cried, exasperated. “I intend to use that
motor boat, though I have to run her myself.”

The girl laughed. “You’ll have your work cut out, Mr. Johnson. The motor
boat has gone!”

Bill stared at her. Then abruptly he turned and walked out of the hut
and up a steep incline that led to the cliffs overlooking the sea.
Twenty-five feet below, deep water swirled about its base where year in
and year out the strong current had eaten into solid rock. He heard a
footstep beside him.

“Of course,” said the girl, her eyes twinkling, “there’s a dinghy locked
in the boat-house! But you can’t break the lock, because I tried one day
when I thought I’d lost the key. I’m sorry, Mr. Johnson, but I’m afraid
you’ll have to put up with my company for a little while longer.”

Bill did not reply. He was listening to the unmistakable sound of a
four-cylinder engine, one of whose cylinders intermittently missed fire.
A motor boat shot round the point to their left and swung in toward the
base of the cliff. It carried a single occupant.

“Here she comes now,” he said.

“That’s not our boat.”

“Whose is it then?”

“I don’t know—but I can guess.”

“That you, Bill?” shouted the man in the motor boat.

Bill, to his certain knowledge, had never laid eyes on him before. “It
sure is,” he shouted back. “Will you take me across?”

The man seemed to hesitate. Then he slowed down his small craft. “You’ll
have to jump, Bill,” was what he said, using his hands as a megaphone.

“But—I say!”

“Jump, you fool—and be quick about it.” There was authority as well as
power in the strident tones.

Bill kicked off the leather moccasins he wore, and stepped back a few
paces.

“You’re not Harold Johnson!” exclaimed the girl.

“Never said I was,” returned Bill. “Sorry to leave so hastily. But
there’s a reason. Thanks for everything—bye-bye!”

“What a perfect idiot I’ve been!” she cried. “You’re Bill Bolton, of
course.”

“Of course!” grinned Bill and sprang toward the edge.

“Don’t go!” she shrieked. “It’s Sanders—he’ll kill you—_don’t_—” She
screamed.

Bill’s body shot through the air, and he cut the water below in a very
pretty dive.



                              Chapter VIII
                  THE MAN WITH THE NERVOUS AFFLICTION


Bill came to the surface a few yards from the motor boat. Three or four
quick strokes brought him to the side, where with the help of an
extended hand, he clambered aboard to face the stranger.

Getting back his wind, Bill took stock of the man. His first impression
had been of his slight build, but on closer scrutiny Bill saw that he
was well-knit, with very broad shoulders. He had a rather sallow,
clean-shaven face, with unexpectedly large and very bright dark eyes.
These eyes never left Bill for a second as he opened the throttle and
sent the boat skimming round the end of the island.

“That was a very nice dive,” the man spoke abruptly, with a quick nod as
if to emphasize the point. “Fond of swimming, aren’t you? Though not as
keen on it as you were this morning, eh?” He grinned at what he
considered a good joke and nodded his head emphatically.

Bill began to realize that this continual nodding must be a form of
nervousness and that probably the man himself was unconscious of it.

“Thanks for the lift, Mr.—er—Sanders?” he said.

“That’s right—Sanders is the name,” the man at the wheel jerked out.
“The young lady recognized me, it seems. Needn’t have been so dramatic
about it, though. I kind of guessed you’d have enough of Pig Island by
this time.”

“What made you think so?”

“Well,” Mr. Sanders nodded, “there’s no reason to keep the thing a
secret. I moseyed over to the island a few hours ago. Tied up down
t’other end from the houses. Happened to overhear Deborah talking to old
Jim. Caught on to the fact they’d taken you for Slim Johnson, and that
they meant to keep you with them a while.”

“And they didn’t know you were spying?” The more Bill saw of his
smiling, nodding rescuer, the less he liked him.

“Oh, it ain’t likely I let ’em catch sight of me! I don’t know about the
girl, but old Jim Hancock is one of those fellers who never misses with
a rifle.”

“So you, I take it, Mr. Sanders, are working for the other side in this
mysterious business?”

“I _am_ the other side, Mr. Midshipman Bolton. What made you think I’d
want to chum up with Evans’ secretary?”

“Evans’ secretary!” Bill repeated in amazement. “You mean—that
girl—Deborah—is his secretary?”

“Surest thing you know, young man. Evans owns Pig Island—didn’t he tell
you that?”

Mr. Sanders laughed sardonically and nodded until Bill thought he would
burst a blood vessel—he hoped he would.

“And so,” said Bill, light dawning at last, “you decided it would be
swell to have me throw myself into your arms, as it were. And before
those people on the island and I woke up to the fact that we were on the
same side of the fence in this mixup!” Mentally he cursed himself for
his impulsiveness.

“Who’d have thought you’d tumble so fast?” sneered Sanders.

Then as Bill made a threatening move toward him, an automatic whipped
into sight from beneath Sanders’ armpit.

“Oh, no you don’t, sonny!” he barked. “It won’t pay you to get nasty
with me. Sit down! It’s time you learned a few things, you young whelp!”

“There’s no doubt about that,” Bill agreed bitterly, looking into the
blue-black muzzle some four feet away. He bent backward as though to sit
down on the thwart, when without warning his right leg shot out and he
planted a smashing blow with his bare foot upon the under side of
Sander’s wrist. The automatic flew harmlessly overside, while the
astounded man found himself seized by his tingling wrist. His arm was
jerked forward with a suddenness that almost wrenched it from the
socket, while Bill’s other arm wrapped tightly about the semi-paralyzed
member. There came another wrench, and dizzying pain, and he went
headfirst out of the boat, after his revolver. When he rose to the
surface, his craft was already some yards away.

“As I said before,” Bill called to him, “there’s no doubt about it. You
should learn _savatte_—the French method of foot-boxing, you know. That
arm-hold I learned among others from a _jiu-jitsu_ professor—a Jap. It
pays to have international tastes. Incidentally I don’t think the
current is bad about here. You’re only about sixty yards from shore.
Cheerio—as they say in Merry England. A pleasant swim, Mister Sanders!”

Sanders said nothing. He felt too sick even to swear. His right arm
pained him so that he turned on his back and headed for shore, using his
left and both legs as a means to propel his aching body.

Bill widened his throttle and sped up the motor boat, keeping the shore
line on his left. A mile farther on he came to the mouth of the cove
where he had bathed with Charlie that morning. He shut off the engine
and took a survey of his surroundings.

The gentle breeze had gone with the morning. Not a branch moved, not a
leaf stirred on the trees above the rocks. Bill guessed it must be close
to seven in the evening, for the sun was barely discernible above the
woods, and long shadows lay upon the quiet water.

Next, he made a thorough inspection of the boat which brought to light
two interesting items. In a locker forward he came upon the clothes he
had left on the beach that morning. Bill was delighted, for this find
provided him with two things he needed badly, shoes and a watch.

Beneath the clothes was a light overcoat of covert cloth, apparently the
property of Sanders. He pulled it out and was about to put it back
again, when a thought struck him. A closer inspection of the coat
brought forth, first, a pair of pigskin gloves, then from the inside
pocket, Bill extracted three envelopes.

All three of these missives bore the Stamford, Connecticut, postmark,
and all three were addressed to

  Zenas Sanders,
      General Delivery,
          Clayton, Maine.

Without the slightest hesitation, Bill took the papers from the slit
envelopes. Two proved to be bills; one for repairs on a car, the other
from a tailor for three suits of clothes. The third letter, however, was
headed “Gring’s Hotel, Stamford, Conn.,” and bore the date of three days
earlier. It ran—

  “Dear Sanders—Just a line to say I have engaged the experts as
  directed. Got them in the big city and they sure do ask a big price.
  But that is your business.

  “Now you have located the exact position, it either means taking the
  Evans’ bunch for a ride or making a snappy job of it. Personally I
  don’t think it can be done in one night.

  “Don’t write any more. Both mails and telegraph are too risky. That
  gink Evans is wide awake. He’s watching this end too—and you know he’s
  intercepted two messages already. I know what to do, but if you must
  send your fool instructions, send them by word of mouth, or better
  still, fly down here and go up with us. Then we could run in nights
  and stand out to sea day times, and you would be on board to direct
  operations. That would stop Evans having you followed up there when
  you join us as you must eventually. Also if we don’t write any more
  there’ll be no chance of his being able to get documentary evidence.
  If you send a man, let him say Zenas and nod like you. Then I’ll know
  he’s Okay.

                                                                 “Yours,
                                                                 “Slim.”

Bill read this over three times. The writer, he guessed, must be Harold
Johnson, the fellow he had been taken for on the island. He recalled
distinctly that Sanders had referred to him as “Slim.” Who or what the
“experts” were he had hired, was beyond Bill. On the other hand it was
obvious that Slim feared Mr. Evans. The scheme, as he saw it, was that
Johnson and his men intended coming by boat to Maine, where Sanders had
been successful in locating something they wanted. And, having arrived
in Maine waters, the boat would put her crew of gangsters ashore at
night and stand off the coast day times. That robbery of some sort was
their objective, Bill had not the slightest doubt.

But what they intended to steal or where it was located, Slim had not
said. Perhaps it was something concealed at Turner’s—hidden in a safe,
possibly—and the “experts” had been hired to get it. Still, if Mr. Evans
was hiding something in a safe at Turner’s, what prevented him from
moving it to the strong room of some metropolitan bank, where it would
be beyond reach of both Sanders and Johnson? Bill discarded the idea of
the safe then and there. The best he could do was to get in touch with
Mr. Evans or his men just as soon as possible.

He slipped the letter back into the overcoat pocket, and folding the
coat, replaced it in the locker. He did not want Sanders to guess that
he had read that letter. Then he thought over a plan of procedure. If he
took the motor boat to Pig Island, he must take the coat with him, and
Sanders’ suspicions would be aroused. If, on the other hand, he beached
the craft and made for Turner’s, Sanders, who was very likely now
footing it for the cove, might think that in his hurry Bill had
overlooked Slim’s letter. Also, he would be more likely to find Mr.
Evans at Turner’s, and then, there was Charlie to be considered. If the
boy had reached the house and his father had not turned up, he would be
forced to stay in that gloomy place himself overnight, a prospect that
not even Bill relished.

As he reached these conclusions, Bill sent the motorboat skimming into
the cove and beached her. Then, slipping into his socks and shoes, he
picked up the remainder of his clothes. It took him but a moment to
cross the sand and climb the rocks. Soon he was jogging along the lane
at a smart trot. He neither met nor saw a single soul. At last he gained
the back door by way of the overgrown shrubbery. He found the key under
the mat where they had left it after breakfast. Bill inserted it in the
lock and walked into the back entry.

Instead of calling Charlie, he walked into the big kitchen and looked
about. Everything seemed exactly as they had left it after washing up
that morning.

“Well, it’s a cinch the kid never got back here,” he said to himself.
“He’d have spent most of the day in here, consuming provisions, and
there’s not a thing been touched. I’d better make sure, though—and if I
can scare up a gun of sorts, all to the good!”

His inspection of the entire house, including the cellar, proved his
surmise to be well founded. He was alone in the place. Charlie, he
figured, had either trudged into Clayton to get in touch with Ezra
Parker, or he had been captured by Sanders and his men.

And then it occurred to Bill that it would be well for him to see Parker
himself, tonight, so he went down the tunnel to the garage and switched
on the lights.

It was dark by the time he got back to the library. He went the rounds
of the ground floor again, turning on electrics as he went. If Bill was
to be caught by anybody around the spooky house, it would not be
unawares, if he could help it.

He got himself some supper and ate it in the kitchen. But somehow, after
going to the trouble of preparing food, he had little appetite. The
possibility that the house might have another hidden entrance of which
he knew nothing made him feel nervous and jumpy, especially since he had
not found anything remotely resembling a firearm of any sort.

After he had washed his plate and cup at the kitchen sink, he went back
to the library, and pulling down a book at random from the shelves, went
out of the room to the hall.

He had decided to wait until eleven, and then make tracks through the
woods to Twin Heads Harbor. Ezra Parker was due to fly over the house at
midnight and the lighted garage would be sure to send him to the harbor
directly afterward.

Bill planned to spend the intervening time in the comfortable alcove
which formed a little lounge below the staircase in the hall. Here he
could at once be aware of the slightest movement from any part of the
house. And with the curtains drawn, he was shut off like a monk in his
cell.

But instead of settling down to his book, he grew restless. Twice he got
up and examined the shutters on that floor to make sure they were
barred. Each time he went back to his curtained retreat, ashamed of
himself. This house was giving him the creeps. For some reason, he could
not tell why, his nerves were on edge.

As ten o’clock chimed faintly from the mantel timepiece, he thought he
heard footsteps. He started up, reviling himself for his folly. The
house was old, and it was only the stairs above him that creaked softly.
With calm deliberation he brushed past the curtain into the hall,
determined to pull himself together.

Standing at the foot of the staircase, a hand on the great oak
balustrade, he could hear the quiet patter of a mouse behind the
panelling. The tick of the little clock in the alcove, and the hiss and
sigh of the wind without, were all that broke the silence of the night.
No human being save himself seemed to be stirring for miles around.

Slowly, in stocking feet, he walked down the kitchen passage, paused,
and slowly returned. Then he mounted the stairs. All was quiet above. An
impulse took him up the narrow stairway to the third story, where he
looked out a window at the end of the corridor. The night was dark and
only a grayish glimmer marked the sea. The island was invisible. Up
there, with the still house below him, he felt like an onlooker in some
mysterious play where life and death were casual matters and any means
were fair if they led to triumph.

But there was nothing to be gained by pursuing such thoughts—and far
from being an onlooker, Bill was very much in the thick of it all. He
descended, made another tour of the ground floor, and returned to the
alcove. Feeling distinctly more cheerful, he ate a couple of cookies,
took up his book and began to read. Perhaps five minutes later, he heard
a gentle tap—

It was not imagination this time. Of that he was quite certain. Bill was
perfectly calm. He had got over his bout of restlessness that had kept
him on the jump. The only disturbing point about the sound was whether
it came from within or without the house.

A leaf blowing against a window, that might have caused it. The creak of
an old beam would have made the same sound. He waited in silence, and
kept a tight grip on himself. No more strung-up nerves, whether this was
a false alarm or not. Perhaps a minute later, he heard the click again.

With an exclamation of annoyance, Bill got to his feet, brushed aside
the curtain, and peered into the hall.

He found himself face to face with Mr. Zenas Sanders.



                               Chapter IX
                        THE OFFER AND THE THREAT


“Good evening, Mr. Bolton,” said the intruder mockingly.

“Good evening,” Bill replied politely. “I don’t suppose it’s of any use
to inquire how you got in?”

The man’s manner rather flabbergasted Bill. If there had been any
suspicion of menace in Sanders’ attitude, Bill would have gone for him
straightway with his fists.

“Not the slightest, Mr. Bolton!” And then with a nod and a smile,
“Excuse me!”

As Bill was still holding the curtain aside, Sanders stepped past him
into the lounge. On the table beside the lamp and book he laid a little
automatic.

“No need for that, I hope,” he remarked pleasantly, and dropped into an
armchair quite within reach of the revolver. He gave Bill that curious,
quick, confidential nod, then took out a gold case and lighted a
cigarette. He blew a thin spiral of smoke into the air with obvious
enjoyment. For cool nerve, the man’s manner took Bill’s breath away.

“Without going into details,” he said offhandedly, “I’ve as much right
here as you, so you’ll pardon me if I make myself at home, won’t you?
Sit down—sit down, Bolton.” He pointed to a small seat at the side of
the hearth.

“Thanks, I’ll stand.”

“But I said, sit down!” Mr. Sanders’ voice was not raised in the least,
but his words came at Bill like an order. A trifle dazed, he sank into
the chair.

There was no reason why he shouldn’t have hurled the lamp in Sanders’
face, and in the darkness, pitched the table on top of him. But instead,
for no reason he could give, Bill obeyed him, and sat waiting for him to
speak. Naturally curious to fathom the reason for this visit, Bill was
astounded by his attitude, considering what had happened in the
motorboat.

“Thought I’d find you here, Bolton, so I’ve dropped in for a chat.”

Bill leaned back, looking at him, but said nothing.

Mr. Sanders raised his eyebrows, but the tone of his voice did not
alter. “I take it that you’re a straightforward sort of fellow, Bolton.
You know where you stand with them. I bear no malice for this
afternoon’s performance—in fact I admire you. At the present moment,
you’re hating me like poison, and the only justification you have is
that I didn’t knock before I entered!”

“You’re so remarkably polite tonight,” murmured Bill, “you might have
carried your politeness a little further.”

Again Sanders gave his quick nod and smiled. “It isn’t always wise to
knock, Bolton. For instance, you might have mistaken my politeness.
Since it’s an informal hour to call, you might not have invited me
in—and I hate talking on doorsteps. I want a serious talk with you,
Bolton.”

Bill made no comment.

“You know, Bolton,” he went on, knocking the ash from his cigarette,
“you’re on a fool’s errand. Quite bluntly, you’re taking part in a
losing game. I’m being plain with you. Your side hasn’t the foggiest
hope of success—for, frankly, I hold all the cards.”

“Well—and so what?”

“Look here!” He punctuated his words with a long forefinger. “Haven’t
you brains enough to see you’re being made a catspaw. You’re the one
that’s to do the dirty work—you are the lad that’s to run the risks and
take all the hard knocks. How do you like the job?”

“I’m not kicking,” said Bill.

Sanders smiled again. “Well, how much are you getting out of it? That’s
the point.... Oh, yes, it’s not my business. I know your
type—stupid—loyal. I admire stupidity and loyalty because they are
generally exerted in a good cause. But when they are wasted
qualities—wasted on one of the worst scoundrels in America, it pains me.
I’m a student of these things, Bolton—it’s part of a lawyer’s job to
weigh motives.”

“A lawyer’s?” Bill looked surprised.

“Certainly,” he returned affably. “It’s an honorable enough profession,
eh? I started to read for the English bar and chucked it. I’m a Londoner
by birth, you see. But I had a knack for the law. In America I’ve
practised ten years as an attorney. However, my energies at present are
devoted to tracking down a scoundrel named Evans. Do you follow me?”

“Go on.”

Mr. Sanders nodded again. “Thank you. I’ll come to the point at once,
but I wanted you to understand the situation. I intend to get this Mr.
Evans, and get him I shall. Soon—very soon. Much sooner than he expects.
There is no way out of it for him. I will get him in the end, and the
end is not far off.” The pleasant look had gone from his eyes, and his
mouth was hard.

“Why do you want him?” Bill blurted out, and a moment later would have
done anything to withdraw his words.

“Ah!” Sanders cried, “I thought so! He has been clever enough to conceal
that. Exactly. So that is part of his game! Well, my young friend, it’s
part of mine, too. It is nobody’s business at present but Mr. Evans’ and
my own. And I tell you, there is no sacrifice I wouldn’t make to meet
that man face to face, alone, for ten minutes. Look here, Bolton, to
come to brass tacks, how much do you want in hard cash to tell me where
Evans is at this moment?”

Sanders leaned forward, his glowering eyes fixed upon Bill’s face.

Bill stared back at him and an angry devil rose within the lad.
Bribery—so that was the object of his visit! And the man certainly
played his cards well. He insinuated that Mr. Evans was a scoundrel,
that Bill himself was being made a tool. That was bad enough, and the
astuteness of his argument was apparent, but the bribery business stung
young Bolton’s pride. He sprang to his feet, determined to lash out at
the white, grinning face.

Sanders held up his hand, reading his purpose. “Bolton, I’m delighted. I
can see you’re a good fellow. You refuse to give away your man. If you
had fallen for that, I wouldn’t have had much respect for you, would I?”

“What the blazes are you getting at now?” demanded Bill.

“Do sit down, my dear chap.” Again came that quick nod. “I’ve no respect
for a fellow who sells his boss—cheaply. I’m not asking you to do that,
Bolton.”

“Then what—?”

“Just this. Why not come over to my side? Why not leave a sinking ship
and come aboard a sound one? Whatever you’re getting out of this game in
hard cash, I’ll double. Row in with me, Bolton. You won’t regret it.”

“Nothing doing.” Bill spoke slowly and emphatically.

“You won’t—change your mind?”

“Not for a million.”

“Oh, I was going to do better than that. In fact, my suggestion is that
you come in partnership with me. I know that your father is a wealthy
man—very wealthy—but millions of dollars are not to be despised by
anyone. There are very big things at stake, Bolton, very big indeed.”

He leaned forward, his eyes fixed on Bill’s, the smoke from his
cigarette curling up between them like a banner. “Well? Don’t
misunderstand me, Bolton. I don’t mean that you’re to leave Mr. Evans.
Oh, not at all. No need for you to have a row with him or anything of
the sort. No, no, you can go on exactly as you are doing. Carry out
whatever he has sent you here to do. Only there will be a little
understanding between us two, Bolton, and no one except ourselves will
know anything about it. To prove I am in earnest, I will give you money
now if you want it. Won’t you shake on it, young man?” He held out his
hand with as friendly a smile as Bill had ever seen. “Well?”

“Well, just this—” Bill said evenly, “I’m not posing as a saint, but I
tell you to your face I think you’re one of the lowest sorts of cads
I’ve ever met. You’re not clever enough to get Mr. Evans yourself, so
you come sneaking along and try to bribe one of his friends. But you’ve
struck the wrong guy. You can keep your filthy money. You can offer a
share of your rotten business, whatever it is, to anybody who is rotten
enough to go in with you. Is that plain English, or do you want me to
make it plainer?”

As if Bill had touched a button, Sanders’ face changed. Gone was his
cordial air, his friendly smile. In its place, an evil look of anger and
wounded pride. He had failed in his mission and he knew he had failed;
but Bill could see that he wasn’t the man to take failure lying down.
With an impatient gesture, Mr. Sanders flung his cigarette into the
fireplace and got to his feet. White spots showed on his nostrils.

“Bolton,” he said in low, suppressed tones, “neither men nor boys trifle
with me—you’ll learn that before you’re much older. I’ve given you your
chance and you’ve refused to take it. Now I shall give you my orders.”

“Orders?” Bill laughed at him.

“I will give you till tomorrow night to obey my orders or the
consequences for young Charlie Evans and some other people will be
sudden and—er—not pleasant. By nine o’clock tomorrow evening as a
deadline you will be in Gring’s Hotel, in Stamford, Connecticut. You
will ask for Mr. Harold Johnson, and you will tell him exactly where Mr.
Evans is to be found. When you meet Johnson, you will nod, as I have a
habit of doing, and you will say ‘Zenas,’ which happens to be my first
name. You will also pass Johnson your word of honor that you will quit
this game for good.”

“Stamford is a long way from here,” temporized Bill.

“But you have an excellent plane at Parker’s, in Clayton.” Sanders
laughed shortly. “This is not a lone hand I’m playing, Bolton. I have an
organization behind me, and it is a thoroughly efficient one. What I
don’t know about you, and particularly your doings since that youngster
Charlie brought you his father’s message, would not be worth writing
home about.”

“And if I refuse?” Bill crossed his legs and looked at him with as much
insolence as he could command.

“If you refuse, Mister Midshipman Bolton, your friend Charlie, who my
men caught up this morning, and the girl, Deborah, will have to take the
consequences of your bullheadedness.”

Slowly Bill got to his feet. “So that’s your filthy threat, is it?” he
cried. “You hold that over my head. Well, Mr. Zenas Sanders, two can
play at your game!” Bill took a step forward, prepared to spring on him.

The man did not move. A smile had come back to his face, and again he
gave a quick little nod.

“Look out, Bolton! Don’t do anything foolish!”

Bill followed the direction of his eyes. In the corner of the alcove,
appearing between the folds of the curtain, was the long, blue-black
barrel of a rifle, and it was pointed at Bill’s breast.

“You see!” sneered Sanders. “It would have paid you to become my friend.
You haven’t the option now. Nine o’clock tomorrow night by the latest,
at Gring’s Hotel, Bolton—or—you know the rest.”

Sanders slipped behind the curtain out of sight. At the same moment the
barrel of the gun disappeared. With a cry, Bill snatched up the
automatic from the table where Sanders had overlooked it, and darted
into the hall.

But the hall was empty. No sound came from any part of the house.



                               Chapter X
                            ANOTHER INTRUDER


For several minutes Bill stood still and listened. Not even a board
creaked. The house was as quiet as a tomb. Of one thing he felt certain:
Mr. Zenas Sanders and his bodyguard had left the place for good. There
would be no more visitors tonight.

He looked at his wristwatch. It was quarter to eleven. Fifteen minutes
more, and he would slip out of the back door and make his way over to
Twin Heads Harbor. More than ever now, he wanted to get in touch with
Ezra Parker. Two heads would be much better than one in this
predicament. He must have advice. Too much hung on the decision he must
make—he dared not rely on his own judgment alone. But there must be some
way out of this mysterious business. Parker, that clear-headed Yankee,
would be able to suggest the proper course to follow, if anybody could.
The last thing to do before leaving, was to make sure that the garage
was still lighted up. Parker must not fail their rendezvous.

And now Bill realized that it was no longer necessary to leave lights
burning all over the house. Pocketing the small automatic which Mr.
Sanders had so thoughtlessly provided, he picked up his flashlight, and
set about switching off electrics in the various rooms.

Working his way through the house, he came to the butler’s pantry. Even
in full sunshine it must have been depressing. With only the narrow beam
of his flash to illumine it, the place was dank enough to plunge the
most cheerful person into a mood of melancholy. Bill gazed at the wall
with its jail-like row of keys, each bearing a small tag with the name
of a room in diminutive handwriting. Above the keys was an ordinary
glass frame which enclosed the indicators of bells from the rooms. It
seemed as if he were watching the still heart of the house, with wires
leading like bloodless arteries to the gaunt and distant chambers.
Suddenly, Bill flashed his torch full upon the wall.

He had thought he saw one of the indicators move. The bell had not
rung—or he had not heard it—but he could have sworn that he had seen one
of the disks tremble. He peered closer. For a full minute he watched the
indicators, but now could discern no movement.

“Nerves!” he muttered angrily. “This darned house is making a woman of
me.”

A glance at his watch showed that it lacked but five minutes to the
hour. He strolled to the end of the kitchen passage, returned, and went
into the hall to get his cap. The wind had risen. He could hear it
swishing through the trees outside, a long, low whine in the
pine-needles, in vivid contrast to the deadly stillness inside the
house. He was returning to the pantry on his way to the back door, when
he felt his heart jump—and then stand still. Clear and unmistakable, the
tinkling of an electric bell.

Bill leapt into the butler’s pantry and his eyes scanned the double row
of indicators on the wall. Not one of them moved by the fraction of an
inch. A soft, faint whir sounded again. In some room of the house a
finger was pressed upon an electric button. Bill went into the passage
and listened. The sound was much clearer now. It seemed to come from
behind the closed door across the corridor.

That door was of heavy oak, and the key was in the lock. Even without
the white tag that hung from it, Bill knew it was a second entrance to
the cellar, or so Charlie had told him. What if the door led to a part
of the cellar that he had not already inspected? A moment’s thought made
it plain that Mr. Evans must have left the key in the door to prevent
the insertion of a duplicate from the cellar side.

The ringing stopped abruptly. Why on earth, Bill wondered, should there
be an electric bell in the cellar? Charlie had mentioned no such thing,
and who could have been ringing it, and why? For a few moments Bill
could not decide whether to investigate or simply to ignore the matter.
There was, however, the possibility that it was meant to be a message or
a warning to him, and he decided to find out its meaning at once.

Extinguishing his flashlight, he gently turned the key in the cellar
door. He pulled the door open and quickly stepped behind it. Nothing
could be heard from the cellar, not a rustle, not a whisper. After
waiting a moment or two, Bill ventured to move into the open doorway. A
musty smell floated up the stairs—a smell of earth and stagnant air.
With his outstretched foot, Bill explored until he found the first step.
Very gingerly he descended into the darkness, his hand touching the
stone wall at his side for guidance. When he reached the bottom, he
paused again to listen. But he could hear nothing save his own
breathing. Then, like a sudden stab through his brain, the bell pealed
again.

This time it was quite close to him. He felt that if he reached out he
could have touched it. The flashlight was still clenched in his hand. He
hesitated, then pressed the button and held the light above his head.
The cellar, vast and irregular, stanchioned by square stone pillars, lay
before him, streaked by the wavering shadows cast by his light.

Bill saw at once that it was not the place he had gone over with
Charlie. Arched wine-bins, mostly empty, made dim hollows along the
walls. But still he could not locate the sound. With a final whir the
ringing stopped, and the conviction swept into his mind that he had been
listening, not to a call-bell, but to a telephone.

Yet he could see nothing that remotely resembled a telephone instrument.
A bare heavy table with a couple of benches beside it stood in the
middle of the floor, and he could see nothing else in the dimness save
the blank, arched walls.

Ready to snap off his light at the first hint of any lurking enemy, Bill
pushed forward and explored two short bays that ran out at right angles
to the main wine cellar, but without result. Why, he deliberated, should
there be a telephone in this underground spot? So far as his observation
had gone, there was no phone upstairs, and a cellar seemed a mighty
queer place to instal one. To conceal the instrument seemed stranger
still. Bill noticed that a passage led off to the left. Avoiding some
tumbled packing-cases on the floor, he went forward to see what he could
find.

After he had gone about ten yards, he was brought up short by a heavy
door. Like the one upstairs, this door also had its key in the lock. It
was a primitive sort of lock and made a loud click as he turned it—too
loud for Bill’s taste in the circumstances. He let a couple of seconds
go by before venturing to proceed. His hand was on the key, ready to
pull the door open, when something happened that made him stop and
listen intently. He snapped off his light. From behind the iron-studded
door he imagined—but was by no means certain—that he had heard a sound.

After a minute or two of silence he concluded that it must have been the
wind stirring in a loose grating in the passage beyond. But presently he
thanked his stars he had switched off the light, for suddenly he heard
quite clearly the sound of footsteps, approaching on the other side of
the unlocked door.

The situation called for swift action. In the blinding darkness, he
quickly estimated whether he could possibly get through the cellar and
up into the house in time to avoid discovery. It was not likely. But
there was a shallow niche in the wall behind the door, and he slipped
into it, praying that he would remain concealed when the door opened.

The footsteps grew louder, then drew to a stop. A pause, and then he
heard the mumble of a voice from behind the door. Somebody was talking
over the telephone in there—of that Bill felt sure. But the voice was
too low for him to distinguish the words. Curiosity impelled Bill to
risk pulling the door open half an inch, and he peered through the crack
into the space beyond.

Instantly the voice ceased. The place was pitch dark, and though Bill
stared till his eye-balls ached, he could see nothing. Then in the inky
blackness he heard a slight rustle. What was the man doing? Even though
Bill had used the utmost care in opening the door, this stranger must
have heard him. Glued to the crack, he closed his eyes and listened.

At first he heard nothing—then it came again—a faint rustle. It was
nearer now—almost at the door. Somebody or something was moving
stealthily toward him.

Bill drew back and none too soon. Bang! A heavy body crashed against the
farther side of the door. It slammed open and back against the cellar
wall with a crash loud enough to wake the dead. Bill had just time to
realize that had he remained at the crack he would have had a nasty
blow, when sinewy arms gripped him and he found himself fighting for his
life.



                               Chapter XI
                           FROM BAD TO WORSE


With unerring skill, the more amazing because of the inky darkness,
Bill’s opponent grasped his right wrist, twisted it and the automatic
dropped to the floor. The flashlight Bill had discarded at the man’s
first spring. In vain he sought to slip his free hand beneath the
other’s armpit to try for a half-Nelson or some other effective hold.
The man was as sinewy and lithe as a snake, and blocked Bill’s every
move. He tried _jiu jitsu_, but here again he was foiled; and only with
the greatest difficulty was he able to keep those tenacious hands from
his throat.

Panting and straining, the two swayed back and forth, crashing into
packing cases, banging into walls, their hot breath on each other’s
faces—twisting, slipping, recovering—and drenched in perspiration from
their terrific exertions.

Then, in one of his lunges, Bill stepped on the electric torch—and
instantly a dim glow spread along the floor and threw their figures and
faces into relief against the gloom.

“Bill Bolton!” gasped the stranger, and released him.

“Osceola!”

Too winded for further speech the friends stared at each other.

“Great snakes!” exclaimed the young Seminole chief at last. “A jolly way
you have of receiving callers!”

“Well, why on earth didn’t you come to the front door and ring the bell
like a Christian?” growled Bill. “What’s the idea? Snooping in through
the wine cellar and scaring me half to death? This confounded house is
creepy enough without you adding to the spooks!”

“The front door,” retorted Osceola, “was out of the question. How did I
know you were in the place? Sanders has his men posted all around here.
He came out of the back door with another guy less than half an hour
ago, and I saw them.”

Bill picked up the torch and the automatic before replying. “You don’t
happen to know how they got in?” he asked. “I locked the back entry from
the inside, so they couldn’t have come that way.”

Osceola shook his head. “No. They got in the same way I did. Their
footprints are all over the place.”

“But which way is that?”

“There’s an old shed in the woods about fifty yards from the house. Mr.
Evans told me about it. Once upon a time it was used for storing
firewood, and it connects with the cellar by a kind of tunnel. They
broke in there, picked the cellar lock, and went on up into the house.”

“But they couldn’t have come through this cellar—I found both doors
locked.”

“They didn’t have to come through here. There’s a circular stair that
leads from where the phone is, up through that wall and out into the
hall above.”

Bill nodded, remembering the speed with which Sanders and his man had
disappeared. “Just where and how does it connect with the hall?”

“There’s a sliding panel in the wall by the fireplace.”

“Humph! You and Sanders,” said Bill, “seem to know a lot more about this
place than I do.”

“Mr. Evans put me hep. How Sanders got his information, I don’t know,
but he’s evidently got it all down pat. That old brick shed out there
takes some finding. It’s all overgrown with vines and bushes—I had a job
finding it myself.”

“But tell me, Osceola—” Bill perched on the edge of the table, “how did
you happen to be telephoning in here—how did you get here? I must get
straightened out on this business before I hike over to see Parker at
Twin Heads Harbor tonight.”

“Parker flew me up to Clayton from New Canaan,” the chief told him.
“Then he drove me over here in his car—or that is, I left him where the
road to Turner’s leaves the Harbor Highway, and came the rest of the way
on foot.”

“Please start at the beginning, won’t you? I’m still all at sea—”

“All right, all right—don’t get all het up now! Well, Deborah Lightfoot,
the girl I’m engaged to—”

“_What!_ Not the girl on the island—Evans’ secretary?”

“She’s the girl—”

“But you never told me you were engaged!”

“Didn’t I? Well, we’re going to get married next year, just as soon as
I’m graduated from Carlisle.”

“Gee, that’s fine,” said Bill. “I certainly congratulate you both. But
say, let’s get on with the business end of this gab. Begin with Mr.
Evans—when you saw him or heard from him first.”

“Have it your own way,” grinned Osceola. “I came out from New York on an
early train to New Canaan yesterday afternoon, after seeing your father
off for Washington. The servants were in a great state about the night
before. It seems that the shooting woke them up after you and Charlie
got out of the house. I read your note and reckoned that since neither
you nor Charles nor the plane were on the premises, you’d managed to get
off all right. You had told me in your note to stay put till I heard
from you, so I stuck round the house all evening, waiting for a wire, or
a phone call. I was especially worried about Deborah. She graduated from
Barnard in June, and shortly after this Flying Fish affair was cleaned
up, I got her the job with Mr. Evans. I knew she was up here in Maine
with him, but from what you wrote, it looked as if old Evans had got
himself mixed up in a thug war or something, and I didn’t want my girl
to be stopping bullets. Mind you, Deb can take care of herself in a
mixup better than most men. She’s a swell shot, and she can throw a
tomahawk as true as any brave in the Seminole Nation.”

“Great guns! I had no idea she was a Seminole!”

“She sure is,” grinned his friend. “Deb is Sachem of the Water Moccasin
Clan in her own right. She’s a sort of ’steenth cousin of mine—and
_brains_—well, she’s two years younger than I am and yet she’s a year
ahead of me in college. She’s—”

“Whoa!” laughed Bill. “I’ll take it for granted and all that, that she’s
the most wonderful girl in the world.... Get back to your story, now.
You were worried because she was up here, you said?”

“Right, I was. But I decided to hang round your place for the night and
wait for your message—which never came. If I didn’t hear by morning, my
plan was to come along up here by train, whether you needed me or not.”

“And then Mr. Evans turned up, eh?”

“He did. The sound of the plane sent me running out to the hangar in the
middle of breakfast. At first when I saw the _Loening_, I thought you
had come back. Then old Evans piled out and introduced Parker, who had
flown him down. I took them into the house and we had breakfast
together.”

“Well, he’s got a nerve! Disappearing on us in the first place, and then
taking my plane to do it in!”

“Yes, he said he hadn’t had a chance to let you know, or to ask your
permission to use the _Loening_. Matters suddenly came to a head and he
had to get to Stamford as soon as possible. It seems that some of
Sanders’ crowd hang out there and they were up to something he couldn’t
get the hang of.”

“Yes, I know—they’re coming up here in a boat of some kind. They’re
after something that belongs to Mr. Evans.”

“That’s what he said. I mean, he described Sanders and told me that his
crowd was trying to steal something from him.”

“Why doesn’t Evans move it to some safe deposit and let us out of all
this hullabaloo!”

“Well, the funny part of it is, that he doesn’t know where it is—and
apparently Sanders and his lads do!”

“That _is_ a funny one,” grunted Bill. “Evans, the owner, doesn’t know
where this valuable something is—and the would-be robbers do!”

“That’s what he told me, all right.”

“Well, _what_ is it that they’re raising such a rumpus about? Does Evans
himself know?” Bill was getting sarcastic over the situation.

“Search me. He didn’t say.”

“Well, I think it’s the limit. Here I get all het up, thinking that at
last I’m going to find out something definite about this mess—and you
tell me you don’t know.”

“Evans thinks, I guess, that it’s less dangerous for us not to know.
He’s a pretty good egg.”

Bill frowned, then began to chuckle. “Sanders offered me a couple of
million or so, if I’d go in with him. Can you beat that? So whatever the
blooming loot is, it’s worth money!”

“Looks like it. But let me finish. I was just starting to talk to Deb
over the private line in the other room, when you came butting in and I
had to ring off. You may not know it, but I’m rather anxious to finish
that conversation.”

“Oh, go to the phone now, if you must,” said Bill resignedly. “I’ll
wait.”

“No, I’ll get this off my chest first. You’re in almost as much of a
sweat as old Evans was at breakfast this morning. He wouldn’t talk while
the waitress was in the room, so things were a bit jerky. But when we’d
finished eating, and one of your cars was waiting to run him down to
Stamford, he told me about Sanders. Then he described this place, told
me how to get into it through the sub-cellar, and where the short-line
phone to the island was hidden. He suggested that Parker take some
sleep, and then fly me up here so I could keep an eye on Deborah. To
finish the story, Parker and I took turns flying the bus, and here I
am.”

“Did Mr. Evans say what I was supposed to be doing?” inquired Bill. “He
left while Charlie and I were asleep. I’ve had no instructions.”

“Yes, he wants you to keep careful watch on the Sanders crowd, so you
can locate what they’re trying to steal.”

“Huh! A nice, soft job that! How am I going to find something when I
don’t know what it is? The man’s got bats in his belfry!”

“Well, I don’t know—but that’s what he said. By the way, where’s
Charlie—upstairs?”

“He is not—and that’s another thing that gets my goat. While his father
flies on without a word—Sanders gets the boy!” Bill went on to tell
Osceola of the day’s happenings. “You see,” he concluded, “I’m between
two fires. It’s the dickens of a mess. If I go to Stamford, and pretend
to play in with that gang, I can’t be watching them up here—and if I
don’t go there’s no telling what Sanders may do with that kid. My plan
before you came along was to meet Ezra Parker at the Harbor, and see
what his advice would be.”

“Good idea,” said Osceola thoughtfully. He had been squatting on his
heels, Indian fashion, and now stood up. “Hello!” he cried. “There goes
that telephone again. I guess Deb got tired of waiting.”

“How did she know you were here? It was that bell jingling that brought
me down here.”

“I called her up when I got in the cellar. Jim answered and said she was
out on the rocks—so she called me back.” He hurried off to the other end
of the cellar with Bill close behind him holding the light.

Osceola fumbled with a brick in the wall, it came away in his hands and
he pushed his arm into the cavity. A panel in the wall swung outward,
revealing the fact that it was not brick at all, but cleverly painted
wood. The ringing of the bell immediately became louder, for in the open
niche stood a telephone.

The chief picked up the receiver. “Hello, hello—” Bill heard him say.
“Yes, this is Osceola. Yes, Deb, I’m all right. Bill is here. We mistook
each other for Sanders’ men in the dark—that’s why I rang off. But
everything is okay now. No, I don’t mean exactly that ... Sanders has
kidnapped Charlie and.... What are you saying? Great guns—is that so?
Yes, I can hear firing. Hang on as long as you can—don’t give up—we’ll
be with you just as soon as possible!”

He hung up, slammed shut the camouflaged panel and turned to Bill.

“The devil to pay! Deb and old Jim are barricaded in the hut on Pig
Island. Sanders’ men have got the place surrounded!”



                              Chapter XII
                               ON THE WAY


“We’re a pretty pair of fools!” cried Bill.

“I agree with you.” Osceola, usually stoical under trying conditions,
was visibly upset. “While we’re scrapping and swapping stories, that
girl of mine is being kidnapped by those ruffians!”

“But they haven’t got into the house yet,” Bill reminded him.

“But what can those two do against so many! After what Sanders said to
you, we should have been prepared for this. For the love of Mike, Bill,
hold that light steady! I can’t find the brick that manipulates the
panel to the woodshed tunnel.—There—that’s better!”

A section of the cellar wall opened and the light from the torch shone
on a flight of stone steps leading into the earth.

“Wait a jiffy, till I pick up my rifle—” The young Seminole disappeared,
then returned with the gun in his hands. “Lucky I decided to tackle you
with my fists rather than shoot in the dark! Got everything you need?”

“Yep.”

“Then turn the light on the wall to your left—third brick from the
bottom—there!”

He pulled it out, fumbled in the aperture for a moment and the cellar
door slid shut.

“Gosh, it’s dark—” Bill went down the steps and along the tunnel,
sending the light beam before him. “How did you manage to navigate
without a flash?”

“My race, as you know, see better in the dark than you pale-faces. But
it wasn’t easy, just the same. Some of the roof is down farther ahead,
and I barked my shin on one of the stone blocks. Rotten air in here too.
Mr. Evans said that Turner was quite a guy at smuggling in his day. He
told me that the house is a regular warren of secret passages. What time
is it, anyway?”

“Just eleven-forty-five. Parker ought to be over the house in fifteen
minutes. That is, if he comes.”

“He will—” declared the Seminole. “He said he would.”

“If he wakes up in time, you mean. After those two long hops, he’ll be a
dead ’un.”

“Oh, not so bad. I flew the plane most of the way up here,” confessed
Osceola. “So Parker caught plenty of sleep on the trip.”

“Good boy! Your instructor is proud of you. Look out—here are those
blocks you tripped over before.”

They scrambled over the debris and a few moments later came to another
flight of stone steps. Osceola manipulated the sliding door at the top
very much in the same manner as he had closed the one to the cellar.
Bill switched off his light and they entered a small, one-roomed
building. Here the Indian led him past a broken doorway and through a
dense thicket of evergreen and brambles. When they reached the more open
woods, Osceola paused.

“I ambled over these woods the day we corralled our friend the Baron,”
he remarked. “And I took a look at the outside of Turner’s then. Keep
the moon on your right and you’re bound to hit the harbor. It’s between
two and a half and three miles over there.”

“And where do you think you’re going?” asked Bill in surprise.

“Over to the cove and out to Pig Island!”

“But you’ve no boat.”

“I’ll swim out.”

“Why, you’re crazy, Osceola! I know you’re a marvel in the water, but
there isn’t a swimmer living who could breast that current. Believe me,
I tried it, and I know.”

“Well, I can make a try at it, too, can’t I?”

“What’s the use? Hike along with me and we’ll be over there with the
_Loening_ in half the time you could swim that distance in easy water.
Anyway, there’s your rifle—you’d have to leave that behind. Don’t be a
sap, old fella. You can’t fight ten or a dozen of the Sanders tribe with
your fists!”

Osceola, who had led his class at Carlisle, and would captain the
football team in the fall, was a young man whose brain worked fast.
Moreover, he was never afraid to admit he might be wrong and to profit
by another’s advice.

“Okay,” he said, after a moment’s hesitation. “I guess I let myself get
carried away a bit. I’ll go with you. Let’s be on our way.”

“Good egg. I know you’re worried half sick about Deborah, and I don’t
blame you. You lead on, old scout. We’ll make it, yet!”

Osceola started off at a sharp dog trot that he could keep up for hours
if need be. Bill ran lightly behind him, glad to be in the open air and
away from that uncanny house at last.

A ten-mile breeze blowing in from the sea rustled the treetops and
shadows cast by a full moon danced over the undergrowth. Clouds were
banking to the eastward, the salt tang of the ocean was in the air. Bill
sensed rain or a storm and was glad that the cloud formation, creeping
upward, would shortly blot out the silvery light. Should they be forced
to land on Pig Island in moonlight nearly as bright as day, the odds
would be all with their enemies.

Osceola, with that natural bump of direction which is inherent in all
races of American Indians, struck an overgrown deer track and followed
it. Bill, running on his second wind, saw the young Chief slacken his
pace for an instant, then dart ahead at a stiffer gait.

“Here he comes!” the Indian called over his shoulder. “If we hustle,
we’ll reach the shore soon after he lands.”

The white lad could hear nothing but the soft thud of his own footsteps
and the gentle swish of the night wind in the treetops. Then, dimly at
first, came the almost imperceptible drone of an engine far away. Within
a very few minutes, the hum grew to a roar and the dark shape and
tail-light of an airplane passed above their heads, flying low in the
same direction they were traveling.

Osceola slowed down to a brisk walk. The ground sloped upward and rocky
outcroppings made running impossible. Then he stopped altogether and
waited for his companion.

“There we are!” He pointed forward and down.

Bill, who was not sorry for the breather, saw that they stood on the
crest of the rise. Straight ahead the ground slanted sharply downward.
Through breaks in the foliage, a wide stretch of moonlit water could be
seen. Floating gently on the rippling cove near the shore lay the
seaplane.

“You’re a wonder, Osceola! How were you able to draw a bead on Parker
like that? I was sure we were in for at least a mile’s tramp along the
shore before we’d get within hailing distance.”

“Nothing mysterious about it. That’s a cove off the main harbor you’re
looking at. Parker told me of his rendezvous with you. I knew about this
cove, and made it a bit more definite, that’s all. I’ll give him the
signal and we’ll go on down.”

Two sharp barks of a fox came from Osceola’s throat. Immediately the
idling hum of the airplane motor increased to a roar, awakening forest
echoes and the amphibian commenced to move through the water toward the
shore. Without a word the two friends scrambled down the rocky incline
to meet it.

“Is that you, chief?” called Ezra Parker’s voice as they neared the
water.

“Sure is. And I’ve got Bill Bolton with me.”

“Good enough,” answered the aviator, as they came onto the narrow beach.
“How be yer, Bill?”

“Rearin’ to go, Ezra—and I reckon that’s what we’ve got to do, pronto!”

“Anything up?”

“Plenty. Sanders has got Charlie, and the gang’s over at Pig Island
right now, trying to capture Deborah and old Jim.”

“Gosh all hemlock!” exploded Ezra. “Things are popping, that’s certain.”

“And that’s not the half of it,” cut in Osceola. “If Bill doesn’t hike
down to Stamford, Connecticut, and prove to members of the Sanders
outfit down there that he is out of this thing for keeps—those devils
threaten to put Charlie out of the way, and Deborah too, if they can get
her!”

“Well, that sure is the limit!” Ezra’s tone was filled with concern.
“Jump aboard, boys, while I run her out in the harbor. There’s no
telling who may be sneakin’ ’round in these woods. No sense takin’ any
more chances than we have to.”

The Chief swung himself on to the amphibian’s deck which ran from
amidships forward to her nose below the two cockpits and inverted motor.
Bill meanwhile quickly doffed his clothes, which together with Sanders’
automatic he flung to the Seminole. He waded into the water, pushed the
plane out until she floated clear, and walked out until he could grasp a
wing tip. After much heaving and hauling, for the water was up to his
armpits, he managed to swing the plane around until her nose was pointed
toward the mouth of the cove.

“Thanks, Bill,” said Ezra, and Osceola gave his pal a hand aboard. “This
place is too narrow for manœuvering. I was wonderin’ how I could get her
out of here.”

“Gimme a towel!” Bill’s teeth were chattering. “There’s one in the
locker in your cockpit, Ezra. Lucky you didn’t try swimming over to the
island tonight, Osceola. If anything is colder than this Maine ocean
when the sun’s off it, I’ve yet to find it.”

With Osceola he piled into the rear cockpit. Then while, Parker taxied
the plane out to mid-harbor, Bill got into his clothes. Parker snapped
off the ignition and twisted around in his seat.

“Now let’s have the lowdown on this, Bill.”

Bill climbed down to the deck and gave him a short outline of the events
of the day and evening. “Kind of between the devil and the deep sea,
aren’t we?” he finished grimly. “Time’s more than money now. So hop in
aft with the chief, and let me in the fore cockpit. I’m going to fly the
bus. There ought to be a couple of repeating rifles and ammunition in
the locker aft. Pass one of them out to me, will you, Osceola? Ezra can
use the other. You two, stick on head-phones. While I’m driving, see if
you can’t come to some decision about this Stamford business.”

As Parker climbed out of the fore cockpit and went aft, Bill hopped into
the vacated pilot’s seat. A rifle and ammunition were passed to him. He
made sure that the magazine was full, then pulled forth a helmet and
goggles from a small locker. These he put on, cast a hurried glance aft
and satisfying himself that his companions were ready for the take-off,
he switched on the ignition.



                              Chapter XIII
                            PIG ISLAND AGAIN


Bill sent the amphibian roaring into the night wind, pulled her off the
rippling waters of the harbor and skimming the twin bluffs at the
entrance, sent his bus speeding seaward. A bank to starboard brought Pig
Island dead ahead and Bill saw that the moon glare, playing on the
islet, threw every detail into bold relief. On the instant he changed
his plan.

Counting on the heavy cloud formation which was slowly spreading upward
from the east, his first idea had been to land near the shore, and after
securing the plane on one of the beaches, to rush the besiegers under
cover of darkness. Now that the moonlight doomed such procedure to
certain failure, he proceeded to climb.

At six hundred feet, he leveled off and sent the _Loening_ speeding in a
circle around the island. The house, a one-story bungalow, built of
native stone with hollow tile roof, stood on a craggy knoll near the
center of the island. Bill saw that this slight eminence held unusual
factors of defense. Not only was it impossible to look down on the house
from any other point on the island, but the rocky ground sloped steeply
on all sides from the top of the knoll. The one bad feature of the place
was the number of large boulders nature had splattered up and down the
incline. Behind twelve or fifteen of these big stones and completely
ringing the little fortress above them, crouched the party of armed men.

As he circled, Bill saw the flashes from the gangster’s rifles and the
answering flashes from the house. He noticed that there was method in
the attack, and one that was likely to succeed in the capture of the
bungalow. There would come a spurt of firing from one section of the
attacking group on the hill, which naturally drew the two in the house
to that side in order to repel a possible assault. Immediately the men
on the farther side, out of range from the house, would dash ahead to
take refuge behind boulders further up the knoll. Once under new cover,
they would start a fusillade which gave the men on the opposite side a
chance to advance. Three of the gang kept together and every time they
moved, they picked up a heavy log and carted it up to the next boulder.
It was evident that once Sanders got his crew well up to the house,
these men, covered by the fire of their companions, would dash forward
and batter in the door with their ram.

Three bodies lying stark on the hillside bespoke the courage and
straight shooting of the besieged, but the rush must come soon, and the
ultimate capture of the place was inevitable. “Unless we get busy—and
get busy pronto!” muttered Bill.

He gave a lightning glance behind him. Ezra Parker and Osceola were
firing from the rear cockpit, but so far without apparent result. To hit
an object on the ground with a rifle bullet from a speeding airplane is
a difficult feat, but Bill knew that the odds were against the
gangsters. For it is even more difficult to hit an airplane in flight,
that is, if she is being driven by an experienced pilot.

Much to the disgust of Osceola, who did not understand the manœuver,
Bill levelled off and headed out to sea. A quarter of a mile from the
island, he turned in his seat, and having attracted Parker’s attention,
mouthed the words—“_Hold fast!_”

The two who were squeezed in the small cockpit aft nodded their
understanding. For an instant or two longer Bill waited, then assured
that they were secure, he sent the plane into a wingover. This manœuver
is essentially a climbing turn followed by a diving turn, the two
aggregating 180 degrees. The engine is kept running and control is
maintained throughout.

A wingover is entered from level flight. At first it is merely a normal
turn in which the nose is gradually raised, and slipping and skidding
are to be avoided as usual. Elevation of the nose may be commenced
simultaneously with the application of the bank. If so, the stick must
be pulled back very slowly at first, as otherwise a stall will result
and the wingover will be unsatisfactory. In flight training, unless the
student’s judgment is particularly accurate, it is advisable for him to
delay elevation of the nose until a bank of 15 to 20 degrees has been
reached.

Bill steadily increased the bank until the amphibian was in a fairly
steep reverse control turn with the nose well above the horizon, and
headed approximately 90 degrees from his original course. He then gave
the plane down rudder.

Inasmuch as a fairly good speed had been obtained, very little rudder
was needed. Had the plane’s speed been close to the stalling point, he
would have used more. At the same time Bill was careful to use the
ailerons firmly to prevent the bank from increasing.

As the nose dropped below the horizon in response to the rudder, the
plane assumed the position of a steep reverse control spiral, except
that the engine was running. He kept it momentarily in this position;
then as it approached a heading of 180 degrees from the entering course,
he recovered as if from a spiral, at the same time raising the plane’s
nose to level.

The entire manœuver of the wingover was executed, of course, in a
fraction of the time it takes to describe it. Bill used it solely
because he wished to bring the amphibian back on a course headed for the
house on the island in the least time possible. He now waved a hand to
his companions to make ready. Then he picked up the rifle he’d been
sitting on, rested its barrel on the cowl of the cockpit and pushed
forward the stick.

Over went the nose and down shot the plane in a breath-catching dive to
be leveled off with a jerk, just beyond the breakers. Then with all
three rifles pouring streams of spitting fire, Bill sent the airplane
hurtling across the knoll at an altitude of less than ten feet above the
heads of the cowering gangsters.

Up zoomed the amphibian on the farther side of the hill, gained altitude
over the water, did another wingover and swept back across the knoll,
but this time behind the house.

Again and again Bill repeated these telling evolutions. First one side,
then the other was raked with fire from the plane. Then he would zoom
the house itself in order to further confuse the besiegers.

On the plane’s eighth trip, Sanders’ forces broke. Flesh and blood could
no longer stand this death-dealing hail of lead from a plane impossible
to hit. Dragging their wounded with them, the routed gangsters dashed
pell mell down to the shore. They piled into two motorboats beached in a
cove and in less than no time, these two crafts were racing toward the
mainland with everything wide open.

Bill let them go. Defense of the old man and the girl in the house on
the hill was one thing: the shooting down of cowed men huddled in a
couple of boats quite another. When he was convinced that the rout was a
permanent fact, he landed the plane on the water, taxied into the same
sandy cove from which the gunmen had departed, and beached her.

Deborah was waiting on the sand for them. Osceola was the first
overboard and a moment later the two were clasped in each other’s arms.

Bill grinned at Ezra. “So far,” he said, “as you and I are concerned,
well, we might be a couple of other rocks for all they mind!”

“That’s all right,” returned the older man as they went about making the
plane secure. “They’re in love. We don’t exist for them just now. Don’t
be so superior—you’ll be that way yourself some day!”

“Not me,” scoffed Bill.

“Oh, you don’t know what you’re talking about. I was like you before the
right girl came along. I don’t suppose you’ve thought any more about the
orders Sanders gave you?”

“You mean, not to interfere any more with his plans and to report to
that guy in Stamford?”

“Yes. And this little adventure has torn the first part of that to
pieces!”

“You mean the consequences to Charlie of course—”

“Just that. Sanders will now take it for granted you’ve decided to stick
to the ship in spite of his threats. There’s no use crying over the milk
we’ve spilt tonight, lad. We had a job to do, and I’m throwin’ no
bouquets when I tell you it was done noble! Too bad we couldn’t have
wiped out the entire crew while we were about it. By the way, I didn’t
spot His Nibs in that gang, did you?”

“No, Sanders wasn’t with his men. Guess distance lends enchantment with
Mr. Sanders when there’s a good chance of stopping lead! That guy hires
men to do his fighting. Take it from me, he is sound asleep in his
little white bed, wherever that may be—and I only wish I knew where!”

“That,” said Ezra with a chuckle, “is a worthy thought—but it doesn’t
get us any forrider with the matter in hand, does it?”

Bill was silent for a moment. Vaguely conscious that the rising cloud
formation had at last obscured the moon, and the darkness after the
brilliant moonlight seemed inky black, he wracked his brain for a means
to outwit their enemy.

Suddenly he laughed. “What a pack of blithering idiots we are!” he
almost shouted. “Look here, Ezra! Sanders doesn’t know I was in the bus.
It’s dollars to a penny postage stamp, he thinks I’m asleep in my own
bed at Turner’s!”

“Maybe. That is, if he doesn’t send someone in there again to-night to
find out.”

“Not Sanders. That guy has a Jehovah complex. He knows he’s a world
beater and doesn’t hide his knowledge under any bushel, either. Why,
he’s so sure he put cold, naked fear into me he’d bet on it!”

“You’re probably right,” agreed Ezra. “He’s been over to my dump a
couple of times. He’s got one of those Buhl-Verville Airsters, with a
man to chauffeur him ’round. Nice little job, too. A three-place
biplane—he can fold the wings back. When they’re folded, the hangar
space required is only 9 feet by 13½ feet by 25!”

“That,” commented Bill, “is very likely the reason he picked on it—handy
bus to hide. But what has a Buhl-Verville CW3 got to do with the price
of spinach?”

“Nothin’, except your high-hat friend had me up to fix one of his shock
absorbers. They’re of the Oleo rubber disc type on those crates. You
see, under loading conditions, these rubber discs are in compression and
an internal perforated plunger piston simultaneously travels into a
loaded oil chamber at the lower end of the strut—”

“And,” interrupted Bill, “this absorbs the impact energy and neutralizes
the effect of the rebound, which is so prevalent with the ordinary
rubber spring shock absorbers. It cushions the landing shocks to the
extent of saving the whole airplane structure from strains which are
occasioned by shocks in bad landings over rough ground!”

“You win,” laughed Parker. “Up here in this out-of-the-way neck of the
woods one forgets that there are other idiots crazy enough to waste time
messing ’round with airbusses.”

“Thanks! But—”

“Oh, nothing. I got off the track, as usual. Just wanted to say that I
got so gol-darned mad at that uppish little groundhog, Sanders, the last
time he came ’round bellyachin’ ’bout the job I done on his shock
absorbers—and all because his chauffeur got his training from a
correspondence course—I told him to get out and stay out. No, he wasn’t
on deck tonight—I’d know him a mile away!”

“Well, you said that before. So we’ll take it for granted that if I hop
down to Stamford tomorrow and give that bozo Johnson an earful, he won’t
start in making it nasty for Charlie in the meantime.”

“I think,” said Ezra, “we can be reasonably sure that he won’t. And now
you and I had better get up the hill and help Jim with the—er—dear
departed.”

“And while we’re about that, I’m going to wake up the lovers. You may
not be hungry, but I can eat a horse. If Deborah is as good at cooking
now that she has her little Indian Chief, as she was before he came to
divert her mind from worthwhile things, maybe we can get her to scare up
a meal.”

“What about Charlie? We’ve got to get that kid away from the gang just
as soon as we can.”

“Of course we must. But I can think better when my stomach isn’t so
doggone empty. Charlie is safe until the deadline that Sanders gave me.
Now for the Seminoles. Lucky they’re not on their natural habitat—you
and I would get a tomahawk between the eyes—eh, Osceola?” he cried.



                              Chapter XIV
                             BILL BLOWS UP


Clocks in New Canaan were striking seven next evening when Bill turned
the switch on the _Loening’s_ instrument board which released the
retractable landing gear of the plane. Five or six seconds later he
spiralled down on the level field back of the Bolton place, and taxied
toward the hangar.

Wheelblocks in hand, he was climbing out of the cockpit when a man ran
up from the direction of the Bolton garage.

“Evening, Master Bill,” he greeted. “Glad to see you back again.”

“Hello, Frank! I’m glad to get home myself, even though I won’t be
staying long. Has my father returned home from Washington?”

“No sir. That is, he ain’t back in New Canaan.”

“After I get something to eat, I’m taking the Buick down to Stamford. It
may be that I’ll come back tonight, but if not, I’ll need the _Loening_
tomorrow.”

“Very well, sir. I’ll fill her and give her a thorough looking over.
Some doin’s there were here the night you left. By the time I waked up
and got the cops on the phone, them guys had beat it. There was a
wrecked car what had run into a rope, stretched out yonder, but they’d
took the license plates with ’em. The cops think they can trace the car,
though.”

“Well, that won’t get them anywhere. I’ll bet a hat the car was stolen.
Anyway, I know who the men were. I’ve got a date with one of them
tonight.”

“Is that so, sir? Better let me go with you, sir!” Frank was all
eagerness. “There’s them what says I ain’t so worse in a scrap.”

Bill laughed and shook his head. “Thanks just the same, Frank. Some
other time maybe. There won’t be any scrapping where I’m going this
evening. This is just going to be a quiet conference.”

Frank looked disappointed. “Well, you never can tell, sir. If it looks
like somethin’ interestin’, I hope you’ll give us a ring, an’ I’ll be
wid yer in three shakes of a lamb’s tail.”

“I’ll remember, but don’t be too hopeful. So long now. I’m off to get a
bite at the house before I start off again.”

“So long, Master Bill. I’ll have the Buick ’round front for you, soon as
I wheel this crate into the hangar.”

“Thanks,” said Bill again, and marched off toward the house.

In the kitchen he encountered the cook. “Well, if it isn’t Master Bill
home agin’,” beamed that buxom female. “Sure as I’m a sinner it’s yer
dinner ye’ll be wantin’—an’ divil a bit av it cooked yet. I give the
help theirn an hour ago!”

“Oh, that’s all right, Annie. But would it be too much trouble to rustle
me a couple of sandwiches—or maybe three?”

Annie, hands on hips and arms akimbo, looked indignant. “It’s no
sandwiches ye’ll be gettin’, Master Bill. In half an hour I’ll have
something hot and tasty dished up. Can’t ye be waitin’ that long?”

“Gee, I sure can, Annie. But don’t bother too much. Anything will do.
I’m hungry enough to eat shoe leather!”

“Now you leave that to me,” he heard her say as he went toward the front
of the house and then up the stairs to his room.

He shut the door and picked up the French phone from a night table by
his bed. As soon as central answered he called a Stamford number.

“Mr. Evans there?” he asked when a man’s voice answered.

“Evans speaking. It sounds like Bill Bolton?”

“Bill Bolton is right, Mr. Evans. I’m home—in New Canaan—just got here
by plane. Deborah gave me your number.”

“Then it must be important. Spill the story, boy. Tell me why you’re not
up in Maine looking after my interests.”

Bill told him, and it took him more than ten minutes to do so. “You
see,” he ended, “while Deborah was giving us a midnight lunch on Pig
Island, the five of us, Deborah, old Jim, Osceola, Ezra and myself, went
into a session of the ways and means committee. After some argument, it
was decided that on Charlie’s account, I must come down here, and at
least pretend to follow Sanders’ orders—to report to Johnson at Gring’s
Hotel, anyway.”

“Yes,” concurred Mr. Evans, “I’m afraid there’s nothing else that you
can do.”

“I thought that perhaps you might have some men about, rush the joint
and capture this Johnson. Kind of tit for tat, you know. We could swap
him back to friend Sanders for Charlie. That would even up things a bit.
Just now it seems to me that they have the bulge on us.”

“There’s no doubt about it, Bill—they have. Your plan’s a good one, but
it is impossible.”

“But why?”

“In the first place, although Slim Johnson is a very young man, he is
one of the cleverest gangsters outside Sing Sing. Secondly, if he didn’t
have an A No. 1 organization of cutthroats and gunmen behind him, I’d
have kidnapped that young gentleman long ago. But tell me,” he went on
anxiously, “what are you fellows up there doing about my boy?”

“Just this: after it was arranged that I should come on here, Osceola
elected himself a committee of one to locate Sanders’ hide-out, and to
get his hands on Charlie. Parker decided to stay on the island to guard
Deborah, for it seems that Jim is away most of the time on special duty
for you, which he wouldn’t divulge.”

“And quite right, too,” murmured Mr. Evans. “Jim’s work is a most
important factor—most important.”

“Well, it’s all Greek to me. And although you’re running this show, sir,
and with all due apology, I must say it’s my opinion that you make a
mistake in not putting more confidence in the people who are helping
you. Look at me: Charlie blows in here and we beat it up to Maine as
fast as my plane and good lead bullets will get us there. All kinds of
hush stuff when we arrive, then you beat it off during the night,
leaving us in a house that’s a warren of secret passages and what
not—and to make it worse, you leave us absolutely no instructions.
Consequently, one of us gets kidnapped, and the other all but loses his
life, first by airgun bullets—and some airgun it must be to shoot that
distance—and later, by drowning. Then I mistake the people on Pig Island
for your enemies, make a fool of myself and darn near get kidnapped into
the bargain. As a direct result, instead of being able to make myself
useful in your interests around Clayton, I have to chase off down here
to placate the chief of your enemies.”

“There’s a lot in what you say,” replied Mr. Evans. “But you must
understand that this is an extremely serious affair—in which an enormous
sum of money is involved.”

“Oh, you make me tired,” snapped Bill. “Why, I’ve had a sweet chance to
sell you out—lock, stock and barrel. Money, money, money—that’s all you
so-called big business men think of—and at that, you’re the guys we have
to thank for the depression. Is any amount of money worth Charlie’s
life?”

“They wouldn’t dare—”

“They dared with poor little Charlie Lindbergh. Are you any better than
our national hero?”

“But I don’t like the way you’re talking—”

“And I don’t care a tinker’s hoop what you like. You’re not paying me
anything. Listen to me—just as soon as we can find Charlie for you, I’m
through! You want those who are helping you to trust you and your
judgment, yet you won’t trust them, and seem to have as little respect
for human life as did the German High Command during the war!”

“Anything else?” inquired an angry voice at the other end of the wire.

“Yes,” said Bill, “there is. A slight error on my part, or what might be
construed as an error. When I inferred that you willingly risked human
life in order to obtain money, I naturally made an exception.”

“And that is?”

“Your own valuable life, Mr. Evans!”

With this Parthian shot, Bill slapped on the receiver and switched off
the telephone extension to his room. “I guess that’ll hold him,” he
muttered. “Gosh, I’m glad I got that off my chest!”

He was under the shower in his bath when there was a knock on the door.

“You’re wanted on the telephone, Master William,” called a maid’s voice.
“It’s a gentleman—wouldn’t give his name.”

“You tell the gentleman,” called back Bill, “that I’m busy. If he is
insistent, say that I suggest he can go where snowballs melt the
fastest.”

He dressed in a leisurely manner and went down to the dining room, where
he found a hot meal awaiting him. He did full justice to it, and about
eight-thirty he went out the front door, climbed in his car and drove
off.

It was a twenty-minute drive down through the ridge country to the city
of Stamford, where he parked his car in a garage off Atlantic Street.
From there he walked down back streets and eventually came to Gring’s
Hotel.

He had passed the place many times, and knew that it held an unsavory
reputation. The building was a five-story frame structure, and back in
the early years of the century, it had been a famous hostelry. The
neighborhood had gradually deteriorated, until now the once-fashionable
tavern reared its ornamental façade amid slums of the worst type. The
police department had raided the place so often that newspapers no
longer regarded that sort of thing as news. The hotel still had a
reputation for excellent food and service, but it drew its patronage
almost entirely from the rough element, sometimes criminal, sometimes
merely tough, with which every New England manufacturing town is more or
less cursed.

Bill ran lightly up the steps to the long veranda, a relic of better
days. Paying no attention to the stares of the loungers in the lobby he
crossed to the desk and caught the clerk’s attention.

“’Phone up to Mr. Harold Johnson,” directed Bill. “Say that Bill Bolton
is down here and would like to see him.”

“One moment, sir,” returned the clerk and spoke a few low words into the
phone at the rear of the desk.

“Mr. Johnson will see you,” he announced a moment later. “Take the
elevator to the fourth floor and turn left. The room number is 49.”



                               Chapter XV
                           THE LAUNDRY HAMPER


Bill stepped out of the elevator and turned left as the clerk had
directed. He passed along the corridor until he came to a door marked
“49.” He stopped and knocked. For a moment he waited, marshalling his
thoughts, then the door swung inwards and he was confronted by a
low-browed gorilla of a man who held an automatic in his hand.

“Is this Mr. Johnson’s room?” Bill inquired.

“Who wants to know?” the man rasped.

“The name is Bolton,” snapped Bill. “I’ve flown down here from Clayton,
Maine, especially to see him if that means anything to you.”

“Let’s hear your business if you’ve got any.” The man continued to point
the revolver at Bill’s chest.

“My business,” he said evenly, “is with Mr. Johnson. If you work for the
man who sent me here I advise you to tell that to Mr. Johnson—and tell
it pronto.”

“Cut the spiel and let him in, Jake!” called a soft voice whose owner
was hidden by the half open door.

Jake muttered a surly curse, but he stepped aside and Bill walked into
the room. The door slammed behind him and he heard the key turn in the
lock.

He was surprised to find himself in a large and handsomely furnished
sitting room. Thick hangings of gold brocade were drawn over the
windows, shutting out the night and with it the air. The room was close
and filled with tobacco smoke. Two massive couches upholstered in
brocade were set back to back in the center of the room. One end of the
sitting room was filled by a huge mahogany sideboard, loaded with
bottles and glasses. At the other end stood a round card table covered
with dark green felt. A number of heavily upholstered arm chairs lined
the walls, and the polished floor was almost completely covered with
handsome Oriental rugs. The walls were hung with a number of really good
hunting prints.

Bill glimpsed a door behind the card table, but almost immediately his
eyes focussed on a young man who sat on the arm of one of the couches.
He was tall and very slender, immaculately dressed in white flannels and
a light blue, double-breasted sports coat with dull gold buttons. Bill
was astonished to see that the highly manicured nails of his white,
tapering fingers were tinted carmine. His soft voice when he spoke
lisped like a girl’s.

“I’m Slim Johnson,” he said languidly. “What did you want to see me
about, buddy?”

Bill imitated Sanders’ quick, nervous nod.

“Zenas!” he said, and waited....

“Okay,” lisped young Johnson. “Bill Bolton, isn’t it?—The guy that
dished von Hiemskirk’s hash?”

“It is,” Bill said shortly. “I had orders to be here at nine tonight.”

Slim Johnson glanced at a diamond-studded wristwatch. “You’re three
minutes late,” he purred, “but I guess that’s near enough. Take one of
those chairs and make yourself comfortable. I’ll talk to you in a few
minutes.” He turned to a man who entered at that moment, a stockily
built bruiser, as rough in his appearance as Jake.

Bill sat down in a chair near the wall. Except for the three men and
himself, there was no one else in the room, though it was apparently
furnished to accommodate a large number.

“Spill the beans, Hank,” Johnson smiled pleasantly on his henchman.
“Make it snappy, though. I don’t want to keep Mr. Bolton waiting too
long.”

“Humph! Ye had me drug up here,” snarled Hank. “I ain’t done nuthin’—I
couldn’t help them guys highjackin’ the truck. If I’d ha’ made a move
they’d have put me on the spot right there.”

“Oh, no,” Johnson smiled, “come now—surely that’s a bit of an
exaggeration?”

The man glared belligerently about him. “If any guy says dat dem guys
didn’t have the drop on me, he’s a liar!”

“I fancy that is the unadulterated truth, my boy, but the trouble is,
you leave out a few things.”

“I ain’t left out nothin’—”

“Oh, yes, you have!” The purring voice directed itself toward Bill. “You
see, Mr. Bolton, the sad story runs this way. Last night, Hank, who
drives one of my trucks, got highjacked with a full load by the Muller
gang up near Ridgefield. What he omits to tell us is that Tubby Muller
passed over half a grand to him for his part of the job.”

Here, at a smothered exclamation from Hank, his inquisitor put up a slim
hand in gentle protest. “Now don’t try to look like the picture of
injured innocence, Hank. What Hank doesn’t know, Mr. Bolton, is that I
have watched him for something like this ever since he and Tubby got
together up at Glendale one night last week. And although they were not
advertising the fact, I heard of it. Last night—and this will also be a
surprise to Hank—I was behind the stone wall at the side of the road
when he turned over the truck, and _I saw Tubby hand him the money_.”

Slim Johnson’s arm shot out like a serpent uncoiling. There came a sharp
click and Hank rolled off the couch on to the floor.

Bill stared at the man’s body in horrified amazement. Then he heard the
smooth voice of Johnson speak again to him. “Airguns,” he said
pleasantly, “certainly have their uses.”

Johnson slipped the revolver up his sleeve again and crooked a finger at
Jake. “Take that stiff out of here,” he ordered in his lisping tones,
“he’s spoiling my rug and I paid five grand for it.”

While Jake dragged the dead man through the doorway beyond the card
table, Slim Johnson drew out a gold case, selected a cigarette which he
lighted, and filled his lungs with smoke.

“No doubt you’re shocked by the summary justice you saw meted out,” he
remarked with a return of his languid air. “Treachery has its own reward
in this business. I’m sorry if it disturbed you, Mr. Bolton.”

Bill did not reply. He was thinking that of all the cold-blooded murders
he had ever heard of, this was certainly the worst. He saw now that the
young man’s languid effeminacy was but a cloak to camouflage a nature
hard as nails and utterly ruthless. Nobody had to tell him that he
himself was in very dangerous waters and that unless he could handle
this lady-like monster with kid gloves, he, too, would be removed from
the Oriental rug as a piece of loathsome débris.

Bill made an effort to be matter-of-fact. “Suppose we come to business,”
he suggested.

“Exactly what I was about to propose, Mr. Bolton, or shall I say
‘Bill’—you don’t mind if I call you Bill, do you? So much more clubby,
you know—”

“Not at all.” Bill felt that anything would be preferable to this silly
chatter. He, therefore, took the plunge. “You want to know where Mr.
Evans may be found?”

“That is so. Where is he?”

“Somewhere in Stamford, I presume. Just where, I can’t say.”

“Oh, come now. How about your phone talk at seven-twenty?”

“What do you know about that?”

Slim Johnson took a sheet of paper from the inside pocket of his coat.
“Just about everything, Bill, old thing,” he smiled. “Everything except
the number you called. Here’s a report of the conversation. Amusing
reading it makes, I must say. I might mention that we have tapped your
home line, but the silly fool who listened in didn’t wake up until you’d
been put through to your friend Evans. Come, let’s have the number!”

“Nothing doing, Johnson,” Bill said steadily, although he fully expected
to see the gangster’s arm shoot forward the next instant, as it had done
when Hank was killed. “You already know what I said to Evans. Well, that
goes with you too, so far as I’m concerned.”

Slim Johnson gave him a quizzical glance. Then he lit another cigarette,
which he smoked in a long gilded holder. For several minutes he stared
at a print above Bill’s head and sent smoke rings toward the ceiling.

“From what I know of your character,” he said at last, and his voice
sounded to Bill for all the world like the purr of a great cat playing
with its prey, “you mean just what you say—at present. By morning, you
may change your mind. Otherwise, I’m afraid we’ll have to use other
methods. Go in to the bedroom now. I’m sorry that you will have to bear
with all that’s left of dear Hank for a while; but we’ll remove the body
later. Good night to you—and sweet dreams!”

Bill saw that Jake stood by the door with the automatic menacing him
once more. Without a word he got to his feet and walked into the
bedroom. Behind him the door closed and he heard a bolt shot home.

In the soft glow from rose-shaded lamps, Bill saw that this room was
also of good size. The place reminded him of those impossible
boudoir-bedrooms one sees portrayed on the screen. The bed was a huge,
canopied affair of gilt and rose, and stood on a dais at one end of the
room. Twenty or thirty small pillows covered with rose-colored silk were
piled at the head on a rose damask coverlet. The walls and ceiling of
the room were of white painted wood with panels of rose silk framed in
gilt. On the hardwood floor, a rose rug, silk-piled, was spread. A
chaise lounge, wicker arm chairs and mirrored tables laden with jars and
bottles all bore out the same color scheme.

Bill thought that all that was needed to complete the screen picture was
a movie actress lying back against the pillows, being served with
breakfast on a tray by a “French” maid—“Gosh! what a dump!” He looked
about him, but saw no sign of Hank.

He investigated the two closed doors at one end of the room, found that
one led into the wardrobe closet, where thirty or forty of Slim’s suits
hung on padded hangers, together with numberless other articles of
wearing apparel on the shelves. The other door opened into a rose tiled
bathroom. Onyx shelves held piles of towels, sponges, soap, bath salts
in glass jars, and in one corner stood a large wicker hamper, painted
rose color.

Bill noticed that the single stained glass window high in the bathroom
wall was barred. That gave him a new slant on the plan. He went into the
bedroom and pulled the curtains back from the two windows there. Both
were crisscrossed with heavy bars of steel.

Slim Johnson’s bedroom was well protected from all intruders, and he,
Bill Bolton, was as effectually a prisoner as though he had been cast
into an underground dungeon.

He stood near the door to the sitting room, and through the panels he
could hear the mumble of voices. Instinctively he moved nearer and
placed his ear against the keyhole.

Slim Johnson was speaking: “Give him an hour. He’ll be in bed and asleep
by that time. Then go in there and remove the—er—laundry. Better take
Alec with you. It will be heavy. Come along with me, now. I’ve got to
see Dago Mike about that shipment he landed tonight. It won’t take long
and then we can come back to this job. If the big boss makes us let that
lad go after we torture him in the morning—what he doesn’t know about
the _laundry_ won’t hurt anybody, eh?”

Bill heard Johnson giggle, and then the door slammed to the corridor. He
straightened himself thoughtfully, stared at the bed and saw that a pair
of silk pajamas, rose-hued, had been laid out on the coverlet. Slowly he
walked into the bathroom again.

The next instant he had the lid of the hamper open, and disclosed to
view a bundle of soiled shirts, crumpled pajamas, collars and
handkerchiefs. Bill scattered these articles to right and left.

Then uncontrollably, he shrank back. Huddled in the basket, doubled
awry, was the body of a man. Only the head and shoulders were visible.
But the head was the head of Hank.



                              Chapter XVI
                          THROUGH THE SKYLIGHT


Bill bent swiftly, caught up some of the dirty linen and flung it into
the hamper. He had to pull himself together. _That_—that was the
explanation, of course, for Slim Johnson’s cryptic remarks about the
laundry. They were coming back in an hour. Would they take the hamper
and all?

“Yes,” he decided. “It would mean just that. Not even a gangster beer
baron, or whatever role Slim Johnson plays in the criminal life of this
state would permit him to carry dead bodies through the public halls of
a hotel without causing comment! And possibly another police raid....
No—Hank was going out in the hamper. How many more,” he wondered, “had
traveled that route before and would travel it again....”

Like a flash the idea came to him. Of course, it would be necessary to
remove the body—

He went back to the bedroom and threw himself down on the chaise longue.
He was tired after his long hop, and felt nauseated from his experience
that evening. A glance at his watch showed that it still lacked a few
minutes to ten o’clock. He had been in Gring’s Hotel only an hour, and
in that short time, murder....

Resolutely he put the thought from him and the thought of what he soon
must do. His eyes closed and gradually he dozed off into light slumber.

It was a quarter to eleven when Bill awoke. Chimes on a church clock
somewhere in the neighborhood were striking the quarter hour. With a cry
of annoyance, he sprang to the locked door and listened.

No sound came from the sitting room. Hastily extinguishing the bedroom
lights, he hurried into the bathroom and switched on a single electric
bulb.

He began to work with feverish haste, lifting the limp body of Hank from
the hamper—_rigor mortis_ had not yet set in. He carried it to the bed,
removed the coat and waistcoat, slipped on the jacket of the pajamas,
turned down the rose-colored sheet and covered the body—all but the head
and one arm, which appeared above the coverlet in a natural position.

Bill was trembling like a leaf when that was accomplished. But the worst
was over. He had now only to switch off the bathroom light and take the
place of Hank in the clothes hamper.

He collected the linen he had scattered on the floor, turned off the
light and got into the hamper with his armful of shirts and pajamas,
arranging himself as comfortably as he could inside. The lid was hinged,
and fell back upon him when he had drawn a few pieces of clothing over
his head and assumed the position formerly occupied by Hank.

He crouched, half-stifled, in the hamper, listening for ages—it seemed.
At last—the bolt of the sitting room door clicked.

From within his hiding place Bill could hear almost clearly what was
happening in the room. There came the faint creak of a boot on the floor
boards.

“Keep to the rug, you fool!” hissed Johnson’s voice. “Do you want to
wake him!”

For several minutes there was no other sound. In his mind’s eye he
pictured the young gangster tiptoeing to the bed and looking down on the
rose-colored pajamas—

Suddenly they were beside him. The hamper was dragged away from the
wall, lifted and let down on the tiles again.

“Holy smoke! what a weight!” a voice whispered hoarsely.

“Shut up and come on!”

Again the hamper was lifted and carried from the room. Outside in the
corridor it was set down for a moment while its bearers locked the door.
Then the angle at which Bill was being carried shifted, the basket
rocked slowly up and down, as he descended the stairs. There were a
great many stairs—they seemed endless. Twice he was set down roughly,
while the men paused for breath.

He had a desperate impulse to thrust open the lid, tear away the
suffocating clothes and strike out for freedom. But the time was not
yet. He must be patient.

The air became cooler and he was able to breathe more freely. He thought
they must be in the open now. The hamper was banged down again.

“Slim,” a voice spoke somewhere above and he recognized it as Jake’s,
“doesn’t want the bulls to get onto this. You remember last time they
dug up Otto and raised an awful stink!”

“Well, what about this stiff?”

“Oh, Hank’s in luck. He gets a Christian burial. There’s one of them
private family cemeteries up Sulvermine way. Hank goes in there. The
tools are in the car.”

“It’s just too bad Slim can’t do his own diggin’,” growled Number Two.

“Not him—he’s got a heavy date. There he is now, watchin’ from the
lobby. When we’re out of sight, he’ll beat it. He ain’t even takin’ a
bodyguard tonight.”

“What is it—a skirt?”

“How should I know? But if we don’t get goin’ he will start raisin’ the
roof. Git hold of this thing again—she’ll go on the back.”

Again Bill was lifted. The basket swung violently, then landed with a
jar that shook his bones. He sensed that rope was being passed around
the hamper to secure it to the back of the car. There came the crisp
slam of a door, a continuous vibration, and a violent jerk. They were
off at last. The car was moving.

Bill waited until he felt the automobile swerve around the corner. Then
he thrust upward with all his might. The flimsy wicker catch snapped,
the lid flew back, and amid a cascade of soiled laundry, he crawled out
and dropped to the roadway. An instant later, he was strolling back
toward the hotel. His late conveyance had already disappeared around the
corner.

Swinging into the street upon which Gring’s Hotel fronted, halfway down
the block, he saw Slim Johnson run down the steps and enter a taxicab.
The car was headed away from him and started off directly. Bill at once
sprinted after it, hoping that the Boston Post Road traffic would hold
it up at the end of the block.

His hope was fulfilled. The cab slowed down, stopped and waited for the
green light. Bill had just time to grasp the spare tire on the rear and
take a precarious seat on the inner rim when it started up again.

Across the Post Road and under the raised tracks of the New York, New
Haven and Hartford it went, then into that network of mean streets
between the railroad and the shore like a frightened cat up a back
alley.

Near the harbor the car slowed down and drew up before an open lot. Bill
dropped off and hid behind a pile of rubbish. Slim Johnson got out, paid
off the driver and started away at a smart pace toward the docks. With
his weather eye open, Bill followed him, running swiftly across the
patches of light from the street lamps and seeking the shadow.

The gangster followed the harbor toward the sea front, wending his way
among the wharves. At length, by the side of a pier, he stopped, and
gave a shrill whistle. Bill stepped behind a small wooden hut and took a
survey.

Lying out among other vessels was the white prow of a large yacht. He
could just discern its lines in the dim moonlight. There was a lantern
at the bows, and a glimmer at one or two of the portholes.

Soon he heard the creak and dip of oars, and could see the silver
sparkle of flashing water. A small boat drew into the pier. Slim made
his way carefully down the steps, disappearing from Bill’s view. There
was the rasp of an oar on stonework as the boat was pushed off. Bill
could distinguish the man’s lisping tones as he talked. Then the boat
melted into the darkness, in the general direction of the yacht.

For a few minutes Bill gazed across the water at its outlines. Suddenly
there was a bright flood of light upon the deck. A door flung open, a
tall figure blocked it, and the light narrowed to a slit and winked out
as the door closed again. While Bill stood watching from the pier, he
would have given anything to know who the others were on board that
vessel. Still hot with anger and horror at being forced to witness the
dastardly crime, and sickened with the part he had had to play later,
Bill was not in the mood to forego an opportunity of evening things up.

It came to his mind that even to approach the yacht in a small boat,
keeping his eyes and ears open, might be of some help in learning who
was aboard her, or perhaps yield him a clue to the truth about Slim
Johnson’s business. But a small boat was not easy to procure at that
time of night, and in any case he did not want any inquisitive soul to
know what he was doing. As he walked slowly along the wharf his foot
struck a rope, and looking down, he saw it held a small dinghy that lay
in the water at the edge of the dock. It probably belonged to a
yachtsman who had come ashore. A find, if ever he needed one. No time
now to have any compunctions about its owner.

Bill looked across at the yacht, with its portholes showing dim glints
of light, and in a trice he was on his knees. He slipped the knot of the
rope and hurried down the wet steps.

The white yacht was farther out than he had thought, and when he reached
it, he was astonished at its size and magnificence. A shaft of light
burst from the door where he had seen the gangster enter. Johnson
appeared on deck, and Bill was actually so near that he could see the
pleased expression on his smiling face. The dinghy drifted under the
yacht’s bows, and he was shut out from view, but he could hear Slim’s
feet passing along the deck and clattering down the companionway. Then
there was the sharp slam of a door.

Softly Bill sculled along at the side of the yacht. Over the portholes
curtains were drawn, so he could see nothing of what was going on
inside. The moon was hidden behind clouds, and it was now so dark that
he nearly ran into a tiny wooden landing stage. As he paused with the
dinghy close under the narrow steps, he could hear the clink of dishes,
as if a late meal was being prepared; and a skylight nearby threw the
sound of excited conversation out on to the deck.

Each moment Bill kept reminding himself that he ought to be getting
back. What if the owner of the dinghy were to appear and send angry
halloos across the water? Still, having got so far, to retire without
finding out what Johnson was up to seemed stupid. He made up his mind he
would take a quick survey of the deck before moving off. He slung the
rope around the bottom rung of the ladder, and cautiously felt his way
upward.

The deck was empty so far as he could make out. If a hand was supposed
to be on watch, Bill could not hear or see any signs of him. The large
skylight came into view on deck, and the shimmer of its thick glass
indicated that the saloon below was lighted up.

Bill crouched at the rail, listening. The snatches of animated talk he
had heard from the water must have come from this saloon, for he could
see that one of the skylight windows was raised a couple of inches. Now
he could distinguish through the opening the clear tones of two voices
in particular.

With the utmost caution, Bill crawled a couple of yards forward and
looked down into the saloon. There was a white damask-covered table,
with shaded lights, at which sat two men, busy with supper and
conversation. He recognized the men at once.

Slim Johnson’s languid gestures emphasized his words, as he directed
them, between sips of coffee, to no less a person than Zenas Sanders
himself.

With a gasp, Bill realized that Sanders had come by plane, and that this
yacht must be the leader’s present headquarters. To go back now was out
of the question. He might be on the brink of a vital discovery. He
glanced up and down the deck. Still it was deserted. Pulling himself
close to the skylight, he lay listening, with every muscle taut.

Slim Johnson was speaking, and at first Bill could not pick up the trend
of his remarks. But when Sanders replied, he realized their talk had
been bearing on himself and the interview at Gring’s Hotel.

“You’re right, Slim,” said Sanders. “Young Bolton has practically broken
with Evans. All he cares about now is getting the kid back. He said so
over the phone.”

“Well, that darned Indian is sure to find your hideaway, Sanders. He’s
got plenty of guts and so has that Parker fellow by all reports. Between
them, they’ll get the boy before this yacht has a chance to reach Twin
Heads Harbor.”

Sanders laughed and shook his head in a nervous negative. “Oh, no, they
won’t,” he chuckled. “The boy isn’t up there. I brought him with me. At
present he’s sound asleep in a cabin not twenty feet from where we’re
sitting!”

“Well, that’s a good one!” Slim laughed. “What’s the orders now?”

“We sail in two hours. I want you to come along. Go back to the hotel
now and use your gentle persuasion on Bill Bolton to find out where
Evans is. We’ll hold them on board until the divers have brought the
stuff up from the bottom of the harbor up there. Then we can either make
all three of them pay heavy ransoms, or if they’re obdurate, tie them up
and drop them overboard.”

“But supposing torture won’t make Bolton tell?” argued Slim. “What shall
I do with him then? You aren’t giving me much time to persuade him, you
know.”

“Oh, use your air gun if you like. It’s all the same to me!”

“And let Old Evans go?”

“That’s right. He’s tired of trying to watch us up there. And that old
diver of his—Jim something-or-other, hasn’t located the stuff yet. Evans
thinks that he has a better bet in watching you. So mind your step when
you come back tonight. The longer Mr. Evans stops in Stamford the better
pleased I’ll be.”

“Okay. It’s a swell break, and the luckiest thing about it is that he
can’t bring in the bulls. He and his bank would pay a pretty fine if the
government found out that he was taking that gold to Europe in his yacht
when von Hiemskirk captured it. Nice of the noble baron to sink it in
Twin Heads Harbor, and then go to Atlanta for thirty or forty years!”

“We may be able to blackmail Evans later, after he’s paid his ransom,
and we’ve got away with the gold.—Listen!” Sanders dropped his voice and
began to whisper across the table.

Bill pressed closer to the skylight, and at the same time a door clicked
somewhere along the deck. In a second he was crouching on hands and
knees, peering into the darkness. The figure of a man swung up the
companionway and paused to light a cigarette. Bill could see his thin,
swarthy face, lined and scarred, as the tiny flame leaped within his
cupped palms. The match spun overboard in a luminous curve, and hissed
into the water. Then the man began to walk slowly along the deck toward
Bill.



                              Chapter XVII
                               BILL’S WAY


The moment that the match struck the water found Bill wriggling across
the deck like a sand-eel. The red tip of the cigarette in the man’s
mouth glowed and waned as he drew in the smoke. A bright point in the
darkness, it moved forward, and in its soft luster Bill could
distinguish the shiny peak and white linen top of the man’s yachting
cap, beneath which his face was a dim brown blur. Everything else was in
black obscurity.

As quickly as a cat, Bill slipped down the ladder and, pressing his body
against the side of the yacht, lay motionless. It was unlikely that the
man would descend, for Bill had seen no boat tethered at the tiny square
stage below. And now he prayed that this yacht’s officer would not
select the spot directly above him to pause for contemplation of the
night sky.

The man drew nearer, hesitated, as if halted by the sound of talk in the
saloon below, then passed on. The slow tread of his rubber soles grew
fainter, and Bill knew that he had strolled to the other side of the
deck. Now was his chance. For an instant he glanced down at the dinghy.
That would be the easier way, but—well, there was no telling what might
happen if he went ashore.

He hastily unlaced his shoes, stuffed them in his coat pocket, and
bending low, ran lightly along the deck toward the door whence the
officer had emerged. Down the companionway he darted and at the bottom
found himself in a narrow passage which bisected this part of the yacht
fore and aft. Being familiar with this type of craft, he guessed that
the passage ran forward from the saloon where Slim and Sanders were
still conferring, to the galley and the crew’s quarters. On either side
were the closed doors of the cabins. He listened for a second at the
door nearest the stairs, turned the knob and pushed it open.

“That you, Petersen?” inquired a sleepy voice from within the dark
cabin.

“The owner wants young Evans in the saloon,” growled Bill, trusting that
his voice sounded not too unlike Petersen’s, who he guessed was
finishing his smoke on deck. He was without weapon of any kind. If the
man in the cabin became suspicious, he must run for it.

He heard a prodigious yawn. “Well, I ain’t that kid’s nurse,” he
grumbled. “You ought to know, he’s in Number 3. The key’s in the door.
Fetch him yourself. High tide’s at two bells and we shove off then. For
the love of Mike, get out of here and let me catch forty winks!”

Bill hurriedly closed the door and looked around for Number 3. There was
a night light burning in the passage and by its dim rays he soon found
the cabin, just forward of the companionway. He unlocked it, slipped
inside and shut the door after him.

“Say!” piped a shrill voice, and one that he recognized this time.
“What’s the big idea? For the twenty-seventh time I’ll tell you I don’t
know where my father is—and I care less. Beat it, and let a feller
sleep!”

“Pipe down, Charlie, it’s Bill!”

“_Bill!_” almost shrieked the boy. “Gee whizz, but I’m glad you’ve come.
It’s so dark in here—I thought—”

“Never mind what you thought. Hustle it up, kid—we’ve got to get out of
here in a hurry.”

“Wait till I get my clothes on—”

Bill felt rather than saw the small figure beside him and caught
Charlie’s arm. “No time for clothes. You’re wearing something—what is
it?”

“One of old Sanders’ nightshirts,” Charlie ruefully returned. “It’s a
million sizes too big—as usual, they chuck anything at a—”

“Who do you think you are—” whispered Bill, “the Prince of Wales?”

He pulled Charlie toward the door, opened it and looked out. Someone was
coming down the companionway, whistling Yankee Doodle and flatting
horribly. Bill jerked back, kept the cabin door on a crack and waited.
Presently a door further down the passage slammed and Yankee Doodle was
suddenly and mercifully cut short.

Bill wasted no time. Into the corridor, followed by Charlie, he sprang.
Number 3 was hurriedly locked and the two ran up the companionway, their
bare feet making no noise on the brass-bound rubber treads. Both lads
leapt across the deck, slithered into the dinghy and pushed off.

The tide was on the flood and made a splashing noise against the hull
sufficient to muffle the click of the oars as Bill dropped them into the
row-locks. Gritting his teeth, he took three or four long strokes and
then sat still. In the swing of the tide the dinghy drifted silently
away from the vessel, and was lost among other crafts at anchor nearby.

They gave the yacht a wide berth, one lad at the oars, the other
crouched in the stern of the rowboat. Bill used its lights, however, to
get his bearings on the pier steps. He half expected some angry
yachtsman to be waiting with threats to wring his neck for such
bare-faced robbery. They were still a couple of hundred yards off the
wharf when a sea-going tug swung round the riding lights of an anchored
sloop. Bill heard the clang of the engine room bell, and almost directly
the powerful craft slowed down, her propeller blades churning the water
to foam. A voice hailed them from the deck forward.

“Dinghy ahoy! Scull over here and let’s see who ye are!”

“Who wants to know?” piped up Charlie.

“The Stamford Harbor Police Patrol wants ter know, sonny—that’s who.
Give us no more of your lip. Come aboard and let’s see what ye got in
that there rowboat!”

“Coming!” said Bill, and pulled toward the tug which was drifting slowly
with the tide.

They were but a few yards off her side when a blinding light struck the
dinghy.

“Why didn’t ye get that dum thing workin’ before, Pat?” growled another
voice above their heads. “Them ain’t the guys we’re lookin’ for. There
ain’t no booze aboard that dinghy—nothin’ but a couple o’ lads. An’ one
of em’s stole his grandmother’s night shirt.”

“Grandmother, your eye!” sang out Charlie, who knew he looked
ridiculous, and was in no mood to appreciate the tug crew’s laughter.

“Shut up, kid,” ordered Bill, and then in a louder voice: “We are
looking for the police. There’s worse than booze-running going on out
here tonight. Any objection to our coming aboard?”

“Come aboard, bub—tell us yer troubles.”

They were helped overside by a man in trousers and a cotton undershirt.
Upon closer inspection he proved to be a short and stubby individual
with very black eyes and hair and a round face badly in need of a shave.

“An’ now what’s the matter?” he asked.

“Are you in command of this craft?”

“I am, young man. Sergeant Duffy’s the name. Now let’s have yer
monikers—an’ all about it.”

“My name is Bolton, I live in New Canaan,” began Bill.

“What? Not the midshipman whose name was in all the papers fer capturin’
that pirate liner!”

“I guess,” said Bill, “I have to plead guilty to the charge.”

Sergeant Duffy shook him warmly by the hand. “I recognize ye now from
the pictures,” he beamed. “I’m glad to meet ye, sor. It’s an honor, it
is.... An’ the young man wid ye—he’ll be Charlie Evans, if I’m not
mistaken? Where in the seven seas did ye locate the lad? His father had
his kidnappin’ broadcasted t’night, but it said them fellies had got him
away down east—Clayton, Maine, was the place.”

“Well, I found him locked up aboard that yacht, the one that’s showing
lights over there.”

“The _Katrina_?”

“I didn’t know her name—”

“The _Katrina’s_ right,” cut in Charlie.

“A feller by the name of Sanders is owner,” offered the Sergeant. “He
lives on Shippan Point.”

“That,” said Bill, “is the guy. Anyway, he’s in cahoots with Slim
Johnson, the gangster whom I saw murder a man called Hank tonight.
They’re both on board the _Katrina_ now, and I have every reason to
believe that Sanders was the brains of von Hiemskirk’s pirate gang. That
yacht, by the way, is shoving off for Maine at the turn of the tide.”

“Oh, no, she ain’t—” declared the policeman. “By gorry, we’ll attend to
the _Katrina_ in a jiffy. I’m sendin’ ye ashore wid Kelly. He’s got to
call up headquarters, and you can ’phone Mr. Evans at the same time.”

“Can’t we go with you and see the fun?” begged Charlie.

“No, ye can’t, young man. Ye’re my responsibility now, and the two of ye
have had enough excitement fer tonight, I’ll be thinkin’.”

“We’re very much obliged to you, Sergeant,” said Bill, shaking hands
again.

Sergeant Duffy shook his bullet head. “It’s me who’s thankin’ you, sor.
This is big business in our line. It’s the chanct I’ve been waitin’ more
than five years for. It will mean my lieutenancy, Mister Bolton. And
just remember, sor, if any o’ thim dumb motorcycle cops hold ye up fer
speedin’ any time, tell ’em you’re a friend o’ Duffy’s! If they don’t
let ye go, I’ll break ’em.”

Bill grinned and nodded and they hurried overside into the dinghy where
a husky policeman was already at the oars.

“Beat it, Kelly,” Duffy flung after them, “and ’phone the chief to break
out a bunch of his flat-feet and get ’em down to the wharf on the run.
Now you men,” they heard him say as they drew away from the patrol boat,
“rip them covers off the guns and git under way. The _Katrina_ over
yonder’s got a bunch o’ murderin’ kidnappers on her, and we’re the lads
what will run ’em in the cells, sure as Saint Patrick run the snakes out
o’ the old country!”

The wharf was deserted. After knotting the dinghy’s painter to an iron
ringbolt, the lads followed Kelly across the rough planking to the small
shack Bill had hidden behind while watching Slim Johnson.

Kelly produced a key and went inside. From the doorway they heard him
call Police Headquarters and pour forth the sergeant’s message into the
’phone.

“Well, Bill,” said Charlie, “you certainly handed Sanders and his bunch
a red hot wallop. What will they do to them, do you think?”

“Murder is a hanging matter in this state, Charlie, and kidnapping means
a long term in state’s prison. When Sanders and Company get through with
that, there will still be a federal charge of piracy against them on the
Flying Fish job that we cleaned up a few weeks ago.” He broke off as
Kelly came out and told him he could use the ’phone. Two minutes later,
he had Mr. Evans on the wire.

“Bill Bolton speaking, sir,” he said. “I’ve found Charlie. He’s safe and
sound and with me now.”

“Thank God!” Bill heard him exclaim, and went on talking.

“I’m sorry I was so rude earlier this evening,” he apologized. “I
misjudged you, sir.”

“I understand how you felt, Bill. But I’d already broadcasted the boy’s
abduction when you called, and—but never mind about that now. Where are
you, and what’s happened?”

Bill gave him a hurried resume of the evening’s adventures.

“Sanders,” said Charlie’s father, “got one thing wrong. I wasn’t
transporting that gold to Europe in the _Merrymaid_. It was bound for
two banks in New Orleans—ten million dollars of it. The reason I didn’t
call in the police was not because I feared Federal censure, but because
I was afraid if Sanders was frightened, he would drop depth bombs on the
place and scatter the gold so that no one could find it. I knew it had
been sunk by von Hiemskirk and his pirates somewhere off Twin Heads, but
had no idea it was in the harbor. Now we’ll get it easily enough. And
that reminds me, Deborah telephoned half an hour ago. Osceola found
Sanders’ headquarters this afternoon. He had an armed camp in the woods
across the harbor from Turner’s. The chief got the State’s police on the
job and tonight they captured the place and every man-jack of them
except Sanders, who you say is aboard his yacht down here—”

“Wait a minute,” interrupted Bill. He listened while Kelly called to him
from the open doorway. “The policeman with us,” he continued, “says the
_Katrina_ has been taken. He can see the prisoners being moved aboard
the patrol boat. He also tells me he will run us up town in his flivver.
Goodbye for the present. I’ll have Charlie with you just as soon as we
can get there.”

Five minutes later, while they were being driven toward the heart of
Stamford in the police car, Charlie turned to his friend.

“Gee whizz, Bill, I clean forgot to thank you for getting me away from
that gang!”

Bill laughed. “Don’t mention it, kid. You’d do the same for me any day,
I know.”

Charlie smiled complacently. “I sure would, Bill,” he declared, “but
take it from me, if you’re going to get kidnapped, bring a pair of
pajamas along—these nightshirts make a monkey out of a man!”

Those who have enjoyed this book and Bill’s previous adventures, _Bill
Bolton—Flying Midshipman_, and _Bill Bolton and The Flying Fish_, will
be sure to find even more to interest them in the next book of this
series,—_Bill Bolton and The Winged Cartwheels_.


                                THE END



                             Books for Boys


                        THE GO AHEAD BOYS SERIES
                             _By_ Ross Kay

“Be sure you’re right, THEN GO AHEAD,” was the advice old Davy Crockett
left for succeeding generations and here is presented a series of
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  On Smuggler’s Island
  The Treasure Cave
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  In the Island Camp
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  Simon’s Mine


                         THE MUSKET BOYS SERIES
                         _By_ George A. Warren

Here is a fine series for every boy who loves his country. These stories
make you feel as if you were living through the strenuous Revolutionary
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victorious conclusion of that historical conflict.

  The Musket Boys at Old Boston
  The Musket Boys Under Washington
  The Musket Boys on the Delaware


                      THE LEND-A-HAND BOYS SERIES
                       _By_ St. George Rathborne
                     COMPANION BOOKS FOR BOY SCOUTS

“The Lend-A-Hand Boys”—a group of boys who stick together through thick
and thin, through high adventure and scrapes. They are always trying to
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Each book is a complete story in itself.

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  Lend-A-Hand Boys as Wild Game Protectors

                      The Goldsmith Publishing Co.
                             CHICAGO, ILL.



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber’s note:

--Silently corrected obvious typographical errors; non-standard (or amusing)
  spellings and dialect lefgt unchanged.





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