Robert L. Drake.

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himself with rage, and dancing with clenched fists toward Hank.

The beach-comber's filthy hand slipped into his rags in a minute, and
the next instant he was squatting back on his haunches in the corner of
the hut, like a wildcat about to spring. In his hand there glistened,
in the yellow rays of the lamp, a blued-steel revolver.

"Don't get angry, captain. It's bad for the digestion," grinned the
castaway. "Now," he went on, "I'm going to tell you flat that if you
say I came to your island to-night, you're dreaming. It must have been
some one else.

"Come on, boys," directed the captain, with an angry shrug. "There's no
use wastin' time on the critter. I'm inclined ter think now that
there's somethin' more than ordinary in the wind," he added, as they
left the hut, with the half-idiotic chuckles of its occupant ringing in
their ears.




CHAPTER VII

SOME STRANGE DOINGS


It was not far from midnight when the boys, sorely perplexed, once more
reached Hampton. The main street had been deserted long since, and
every one in the village had returned to rest.

The boys left the captain by the water-front, while they headed up the
Main Street for their respective homes. Rob remained up, pondering
over the events of the evening for some time, without arriving at any
solution of them. He was just about to extinguish his light when he
was startled by a loud:

"His - s - st!"

The noise came from directly below his open window, which faced onto
the garden.

He put out his head, and saw a dark figure standing in the yard.

"Who is it?" he demanded.

"It's me, the captain, Rob," rejoined the well-known voice. "I
wouldn't have bothered yer but that I saw a light in yer window."

"What's the trouble, captain?" asked the boy, noting a troubled
inflection in the old man's voice.

"My boat's gone!" was the startling reply.

"Gone! Are you sure?"

"No doubt about it. I left her tied ter the L wharf when I come up
from the island, and now there ain't hide nor hair uv her there."

"I'll bet anything that that fellow Curtiss is at the bottom of all
this," cried Rob. "I remember now I heard some time ago that he was
thick with that Hank Handcraft."

"I don't know what ter do about it at this time uv ther night," went on
the distressed captain, "an' I can't go round waking folks up ter get
another boat."

"Of course not," agreed Rob. "There's only one thing for you to do,
captain, and that is to put up here to-night, and in the morning we'll
see what we can do."

"That's mighty fair, square, and above board uv yer, lad," said the
captain gratefully. "Punk me anywhere. I'm an old sailor, and can
aways find the softest plank in the deck."

"You won't have to do that," said Rob, who had slipped downstairs by
this time and opened the door; "we've got a spare room you can bunk in
to-night. I'll explain it all to father in the morning. Perhaps he can
help us out."

"Gee whiz! almost twelve o'clock," exclaimed Hiram Nelson, looking up
at the clock from the dining-room table in Paul Perkins' house. The
chamber was strewn with text books on model aeroplane construction and
littered with figures and plans of the boys' own devising. "How time
flies when you're on a subject that interests you."

"Yes, it's a good thing it's vacation time," agreed Paul. "We wouldn't
be in much shape to work at our books to-morrow, eh?"

"I should say not!" rejoined Hiram with conviction. "Well, so long,
Paul. I guess we've got it all figured out now, and all that is left
to do is to go ahead."

"That's the idea," responded Paul. "We'll get the prize for the glory
of the Eagle Patrol, or - or - "

"Bust!" Hiram finished for him.

Hiram's way home lay past the bank, and as he walked down the moonlit
street he thought for a minute that he perceived a light in the windows
of the armory.

Almost as he fancied he glimpsed it, however, it vanished, and the lad
was convinced that he must have been mistaken, or else seen a
reflection of the moonlight on the windows.

"Queer, though," he mused. "I could almost have sworn it was a light."

Another curious thing presently attracted his attention. As he neared
the bank a dark figure seemed to vanish into the black shadows round
the corner. Something familiar about it struck Hiram, and the next
moment he realized why.

"If that wasn't Bill Bender, I'm a Dutchman," he muttered, his heart
beating a little faster. "But what can he be doing round here at this
time of night?"

As he put the question to himself, Bill Bender, walking rapidly, as if
he had come from some distance, and had not dodged round the corner a
moment before, suddenly appeared from round the angle of the bank
building.

"Good evening, Bill," said Hiram, wondering if his eyes were not
playing him some queer tricks; "wasn't that you just went round the
corner?"

"Who, me?" blustered Bill. "You need to visit an oculist, young man.
I've just come from a visit to my aunt's. It was her birthday, and we
had a bully time. Sat up a little too late, though. Good night."

And with a great assumption of easiness, the crony of Jack Curtiss
walked rapidly off up the street.

"I guess he's right," mused Hiram, as he hurried on home. "But if that
wasn't Bill Bender who walked round that corner it was his ghost, and
all the ghosts I ever read about don't wear squeaky boots."

If Hiram had remained he would have had further cause to be suspicious
and speculative.

The lad's footsteps had hardly died out down the street before Bill
Bender cautiously retraced his way, and, going round to the side
street, upon which the steps leading to the armory opened, gave a
cautious whistle. In reply a sack was lowered from a window to him by
some person invisible above.

Although there was some little light on the Main Street by reason of
the moon and the few scattering lamps along the thoroughfare, the spot
in which Bill now stood was as black as the proverbial pocket.

"Is the coast all clear?" came down a voice from the window above.

"Yes; but if I hadn't spotted young Hiram Nelson coming down the street
and warned you to put out that light, it wouldn't have been," responded
Bill in the same cautious tone.

"Well, we're safe enough now," came back the voice above, which any of
his acquaintances would have recognized as Jack Curtiss'. "I've got the
rest of them in this other sack. Here, take this one when I drop it."

Bill made a bungling effort to catch the heavy receptacle that fell
following Jack's warning, but in the darkness he failed, and it crashed
down with quite a clatter.

"Look out!" warned Jack anxiously, "some one might hear that."

"Not in this peaceful community. You seem to forget that eleven
o'clock is the very latest bedtime in Hampton."

After a brief interval Jack Curtiss himself slipped out of the side
door of the armory and joined his friend on the dark sidewalk.

"Well, what's the next move on the program?" asked Bill.

"We'll sneak down Bailey's Lane - there are no lights there - to Hank's
place. Sam will be waiting off there with the boat," rejoined Jack.

"Yes, if he hasn't lost his nerve," was Bill's rejoinder as they
shouldered their sacks and slipped off into the deep blackness
shrouding the side streets.

"Well, if he has lost it, he'll come near losing his head, too," grated
out Jack, "but don't you fear, he wants that fifty too badly to go back
on us."

Silently as two cats the cronies made their way down the tree-bordered
thoroughfare known as Bailey's Lane and after a few minutes gained the
beach.

"Say, that's an awful hike down to Hank's gilded palace," grumbled
Bill, "why didn't you have Sam wait for us off here?"

"Yes, and have old man Hudgins discover him when he finds his boat is
gone," sneered Jack, "you'd have made a fine botch of this if it hadn't
been for me."

The two exchanged no further words on the weary tramp along the soft
beach. They plodded along steadily with the silence only broken by a
muttered remark emanating from Bill Bender from time to time.

"Thank heaven, there's the place at last," exclaimed Bill, with a sigh
of relief, as they came in sight of the miserable hut, "I began to
think that Hank must have moved."

Jack gave a peculiar whistle and the next instant the same light the
boys had seen earlier in the evening shone through the chinks of the
hovel.

"Well, he's awake, at any rate," remarked Jack with a grin, "now to
find out where the boat is."

As the wretched figure of the beach-comber appeared Jack hailed him
roughly.

"Where's that boat, Hank?"

"Been cruising off and on here since eleven o'clock," rejoined the
other sullenly, "ah! there she is now off to the sou'west."

He pointed and the boys saw a red light flash twice seaward as if some
one had passed their hands across it.

"All right, give him the answer," ordered Jack. "We've got to hurry if
we're to be back before the captain and those brats of boys get after
our trail."

Hank at Jack's order dived into the hut and now reappeared with the
smoky lantern. He waved it four times from side to side like a
brakeman and in a short time a steady "put-put!" told the watchers that
a motor boat was approaching.

"Now for your dinghy, Hank," urged Jack, "hurry up. You move like a
man a hundred and ninety years old, with the rheumatism."

"Well, come on, then," retorted Hank, "here's the boat," pointing to a
cobbled dinghy lying hauled up above the water line, "give me a hand
and we'll shove off."

The united strength of the three soon had the boat in the water and
with Hank at the oars they moved steadily toward the chugging motor
boat.

"Well, Sam, you're on the job, I see," remarked Jack as the two craft
ranged alongside and Sam cut off the engine.

"Oh, I'm on the job all right," rejoined Sam, feeling much braver now
that the other two had arrived, "have you got them all right?"

"Right here in this bag, and some more in this, my bucko," chuckled
Jack as he handed the two sacks over to Sam.

"Ha! ha! ha!" chortled Bill under his breath as he climbed out of the
cobble into the motor boat, "won't there be a fine row in the morning."

"Well, come on; start up, Sam. We've no time to lose," ordered Jack as
he and Bill got aboard, "good night there, Hank."

"Good night," rejoined Hank quietly enough, as the motor boat moved
swiftly off over the moonlit sea. He added to himself, "It won't be a
very 'good night' for you, my lad, if you don't pay me as handsomely as
you promised."

And chuckling to himself till his shoulders shook, Hank resumed his
oars and rowed back to the miserable shanty he called home.




CHAPTER VIII

THE STOLEN UNIFORMS


Rob and his old friend lost no time the next morning in getting down to
the water-front to make inquiries about the captain's missing boat. To
their astonishment, however, almost the first craft that caught their
eyes as they arrived at the L wharf to begin their search was the old
sailor's motor dory, to all appearances in exactly the same position
she had occupied the preceding night when the captain moored her.

"Have I clapped deadlights on my optics, or am I gone plumb locoed?"
bellowed the amazed captain, as he saw the little craft dancing lightly
on the sunny waters.

"You are certainly not mistaken in supposing that is your boat. I'd
know her among a thousand," Rob assured him. "Are you quite certain
that she was not here last night, captain?"

"Just as sure as I am that yer and me is standin' here," rejoined the
bewildered captain. "I've sailed the seven seas in my day, and man and
boy seen many queer things; but if this don't beat cock fightin', I'm
an inky Senegambian!"

The captain's voice had risen to a perfect roar as he uttered the last
words, and a sort of jack-of-all-trades about the wharf, whose name was
Hi Higgins, came shuffling up, asking what was the trouble.

"Trouble," roared the hermit of Topsail Island. "Trouble enough fer
all hands and some left over fer the cat! Say, shipmate, yer hangs
about this here L wharf a lot. Did yer see any piratical humans
monkeyin' around my boat last night?"

"Why, what d'yer mean, cap'n," sniffled Hi Higgins. "I seen yer tie up
here, and there yer boat is now. What d'yer mean by pira-pirawell,
them parties yer mentioned? Yer mean some one took it?"

"Took it - yes, yer hornswoggled longshore lubber!" bellowed the
captain. "I thought yer was hired as a sort uv watchman on this wharf.
A find watchman yer are!"

"Well, yer see, cap'n," returned Hi Higgins, really alarmed at the
captain's truculent tone, "I ain't here much after nine at night or
before five in the morning."

"Well, was my boat here at five this mornin'?" demanded the captain.

"Sure it was," rejoined Hi Higgins, with a sniffle; "the fust boat I
seen."

"Rob, my boy, I'm goin' crazy in my old age!" gasped the captain. "I'm
as certain as I can be that the boat wasn't here when I came down to
the wharf last midnight, but the pre-pon-der-ance of evidence is
against me."

The captain shook his head gravely as he spoke. It was evident that he
was sorely puzzled and half inclined to doubt the evidence of his own
senses.

"Douse my toplights," he kept muttering, "if this don't beat a flying
Dutchman on wheels and with whiskers!"

"I certainly don't believe that your eyes deceived you, captain," put
in Rob, in the midst of the captain's rumbling outbursts. "It looks to
me as if somebody really did borrow your boat last night, and that the
decoy note supposed to be from me had something to do with it."

"By the great horn spoon, yer've got it, my boy!" roared the captain.
"And now yer come ter speak uv it, my mind misgives me that all ain 't
right at the island. I didn't tell yer, but I left a tidy sum uv money
in that old iron safe off the Sarah Jane, the last ship I commanded,
and all this what's puzzled us so may be part uv some thievish scheme.

"I'm going ter hurry over ter the island and make certain sure," he
went on the next minute. "The more I think uv it, the more signs uv
foul weather I see. Good-by, my lad, and good luck. Will yer be out
ter see me soon? The bluefish are running fine."

"We may be out this afternoon, captain," responded Rob. "I am curious
myself to see if any mischief has been done on your island. If there
has been," he added earnestly, "you can count on the Eagle Patrol to
help you out."

"Thanks, my boy!" exclaimed the old man, who was bending over his
gasoline tank. "Hullo!" he shouted suddenly. "I wasn't crazy! This
boat was took out last night. See here!"

He held up the gasoline measuring stick which he had grabbed up and
plunged into the tank. The instrument was almost dry. The receptacle
for fuel was nearly empty.

"And I filled her before I started out!" thundered the captain.
"Whoever took my boat must have run her a long ways."

Fresh fuel was soon obtained, and the captain, after more shouted
farewells, started for the island to try to obtain some clue to the
mysterious happenings of the night.

Rob, after watching him for a few moments, as he sped down the blue
waters of the sunlit inlet, turned away to return to his home, just
recollecting that, in their eagerness to search for the boat, both he
and the captain had entirely forgotten about breakfast. He was in the
middle of the meal, and eagerly explaining to his interested parents
the strange incidents of the missing boat and the decoy note, when
Merritt Crawford burst into the room unannounced.

"Oh, I beg your pardon!" he apologized, abashed. "I didn't know you
were at breakfast. But, Mr. Blake - Rob - something has happened that I
just had to come and tell you about at once."

"Good gracious! More mysteries," Mr. Blake was beginning in a jocular
way, when the serious look on the boy's face checked him. "What is it?
What has happened, Merritt?" he asked soberly, while Rob regarded the
spectacle of his usually placid corporal's excitement with round eyes.

"The uniforms are all gone!" burst out Merritt.

"What uniforms?"

"Ours - the Eagle Patrols'."

"What! Stolen?"

"That's right," hurried on Merritt. "I met old Mrs. Jones in a
terrible state of mind. You know, Mr. Blake, she's the old woman who
scrubs out the place in the morning. I asked what was the matter, and
she told me that when she went to the armory early to-day, she found
the lock forced and all the lockers broken open and the uniforms gone!"

"Have you seen the place?" asked Mr. Blake.

"Yes, I followed her up. The room was turned upside down. The locks
had been ripped right off and the lockers rifled of everything. Who
can have done it?"

"I'll bet anything Jack Curtiss and his gang had something to do with
it, just as I believe they put up some crooked job on the captain!"
burst out Rob, greatly excited and his breakfast entirely forgotten.

"Be careful how you make such a grave accusation," warned his father.

"I know it's a tough thing to say," admitted Rob; "but you don't know
that bunch like we do. They'd - "

He was about to explain more of the characteristics of the bully and
his cronies when a fresh interruption occurred. This time it was Hiram
Nelson. He was almost as abashed as Merritt had been when he found
that his excitement had carried him into what seemed a family
conference.

"It's all right, Hiram. Come right in," said Mr. Blake cheerfully.
"Come on out with your news, for I can see you can hardly keep it to
yourself."

"It's going round the town like wildfire!" responded the panting boy.
The others nodded. "I see you know it already," he went on. "Well, I
think I've got a clue."

"You have! Come on, let's hear it quick," cried Rob.

"Well, I was up late with Paul Perkins last night, talking over the
aeroplane model competition, and didn't start home till about midnight.
As I was approaching the armory I thought I saw a light in one of the
windows. I couldn't be certain, however, and I put it down to a trick
that my eyes had played me."

"Well, that's all right as far as it goes," burst out Rob. "It
probably was a light. I wish you'd investigated."

"Wait a minute, Rob," said his father, noting Hiram's anxious face.
"There's more to come, isn't there, Hiram?"

"You bet! The most exciting part of it - the most important, I mean,"
went on young Hiram, with an important air.

"Oh, well, get down to it," urged the impatient Rob. "What was it?"

"Why, right after I'd seen the light," went on Hiram, "I thought I saw
a dark figure slip around the corner into that dark street."

"A dark figure! Hum! Sounds like one of those old yellow - back
novels," remarked Mr. Blake, with a smile.

"But this was a figure I recognized, sir," exclaimed Hiram. "It was
Bill Bender!"

"Jack Curtiss' chum! They're as thick as two thieves," burst out
Merritt.

"And I believe they are two thieves," solemnly put in Rob.

"Well," went on Hiram, "the next minute Bill Bender came walking round
the corner as fast as if he were coming from somewhere in a great
hurry, and was hastening home. He told me he had been to a birthday
party at his aunt's."

"At his aunt's," echoed Mr. Blake. "Well, that's an important point,
for I happen to know that his aunt, Mrs. Graves, is out of town. She
visited the bank yesterday morning and drew some money for her
traveling expenses. She informed me that she expected to be gone a
week or more."

"I knew it, I knew it!" shouted Rob. "That fellow ought to be in jail.
He'll land there yet."

"Softly, softly, my boy," said Mr. Blake. "This is a grave affair, and
we cannot jump at conclusions."

"I'd jump him," declared Rob, "if I only knew for certain that he was
the thief!"

"I will inform the police myself and have an investigation made," Mr.
Blake promised. "We will leave no stone unturned to find out who has
been guilty of such an outrage."

"And in the meantime the Eagle Patrol will carry on an investigation of
its own," declared Rob sturdily. "What do you say, boys?"

"I'll bet every boy in the corps is with you on that," rejoined Merritt
heartily.

"Same here," chimed in Hiram.

"The first step is to take a run to Topsail Island and see if all the
queer things that happened last night have not some connecting link
between them," suggested Mr. Blake. "I am inclined, after what you
boys have told me, to think that they have."

"I am sure of it," echoed Rob.




CHAPTER IX

THE HYDROPLANE QUEERLY RECOVERED


Seldom had the Flying Fish been urged to greater speed than she was a
short time after the discovery of the looting of the scouts' armory.
She fairly flew across the smooth waters of the inlet and out on to the
Atlantic swells, leaving a clean, sweeping bow-wave as she cut her way
along. Her four young occupants, for Tubby had been called on and
notified of the occurrences of the night, were, however, wrapped in
slickers borrowed from the yacht club, so that the showers of spray
which fell about them had little effect on them.

The run to Topsail Island was made in record time, and as they drew
near the little hummock of tree and shrub-covered land the boys could
perceive that something unusual had happened. A figure which even at a
distance they recognized as that of Captain job Hudgins was down on the
little wharf, and had apparently been on the lookout there for some
time. A closer view revealed the captain waving frantically.

"Something's up, all right," remarked Tubby, above the roar of the
motor-boat's engine.

The others said nothing, but kept their gaze riveted on the captain's
figure. With the skill of a veteran boatman, Rob brought the Flying
Fish round in a graceful curve and ran her cleanly up to the wharf
without the slightest jolt or jar.

"Ahoy, lads, I'm glad yer've come!" exclaimed the captain, as he caught
the painter line thrown out to him by Merritt, and skillfully made the
boat fast.

"Why, what has happened?" demanded Rob, as he sprang on to the wharf,
followed by the others.

"Happened?" repeated the captain. "Well, in a manner of speakin',
about twenty things has happened at once. Lads, my spirits and
emotions are in a fair Chinese tornado - every which way at once. In
the first place, I'm seventy-five dollars poorer than I was last night;
in the second, poor old Skipper's been given some kind av poison that's
made him so sick I doubt he'll get over it."

"You've been robbed?" gasped Merritt.

"That's it, my lad. That's the word. My poor old safe's been scuttled
and her hold overhauled. But I don't mind that so much - it's poor old
Skipper I'm worried about. But come on up ter the house, lads, and see
fer yerselves."

Followed by the sympathetic four, the old man hobbled up from his
little wharf to a small eminence on which stood his neatly whitewashed
hut. He opened the door and invited them in. A first glance
discovered nothing much the matter, but a second look showed the boys
poor old Skipper lying on the floor in front of the open fireplace
which was filled with fresh green boughs - and evidently a very sick dog
indeed. He gave the boys a pathetic glance of recognition as they came
in, and with a feeble wag or two of his tail tried to show them he was
glad to see them; but this done, he seemed to be completely exhausted,
and once more laid his head between his forepaws and seemed to doze.

"Poor old dog," said the captain, shaking his head. "I doubt if he'll
ever get about again."

The safe now engaged the boys' attention. It is true that it was a
rickety old contrivance which might well have been forced open with an
ordinary poker, but to the captain, up to this day, it had been a
repository as safe and secure as a big Wall Street trust company's
vaults.

"Look at that, boys!" cried the captain, with tragic emphasis, pointing
to the door, which had been forced clear off its rusty hinges. "Just
busted open like yer'd taken the crust off'n a pie! Ah, if I could lay
my hands on the fellers that done this, I'd run 'em tip ter the yardarm
afore a foc'sle hand could say 'Hard tack'!"

"Why, we think that - " began Tubby, when Rob checked him. The captain,
who had been bending over his dog, didn't hear the remark, and Rob
hastily whispered to Tubby:

"Don't breathe a word to anyone of our suspicions. Our only chance to
get hold of the real culprits is to not give them any idea that we
suspect them."

After a little more time spent on the island, the boys took their
leave, promising to come back soon again. First, however, Rob and his
corporal made a brief expedition to see if they could make out the


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Online LibraryRobert L. DrakeThe Boy Scouts of the Eagle Patrol → online text (page 4 of 12)