THE BOY SCOUTS OF THE EAGLE PATROL
Lieut. Howard Payson
I SCOUTS ON THE TRAIL II A CRUISE TO THE ISLAND III BOY SCOUTS TO THE RESCUE IV SAM IN DIRE STRAITS V THE BULLY SPRINGS A SURPRISE VI AN ISLAND MYSTERY VII SOME STRANGE DOINGS VIII THE STOLEN UNIFORMS IX THE HYDROPLANE QUEERLY RECOVERED X WINNING THE CONTEST XI A FORTUNATE DISCOVERY XII JACK FORMS A PLOT XIII THE "FLYING FISH" ON HER METTLE XIV THE EAGLES IN CAMP XV THE CHUMS IN PERIL XVI LOST IN THE STORM XVII ALMOST RUN DOWN XVIII JOE DIGBY MISSING XIX SAM REBELS XX THE HUNT FOR TENDERFOOT JOE XXI SAVED BY "SMOKE MORSE" XXII THE ESCAPE OF THE BULLY XXIII SCOUTS IN NEED ARE FRIENDS INDEED XXIV A MEETING IN THE FOG—CONCLUSION
SCOUTS ON THE TRAIL
The dark growth of scrub oak and pine parted suddenly and the lithe figure of a boy of about seventeen emerged suddenly into the little clearing. The lad who had so abruptly materialized from the close-growing vegetation peculiar to the region about the little town of Hampton, on the south shore of Long Island, wore a well-fitting uniform of brown khaki, canvas leggings of the same hue and a soft hat of the campaign variety, turned up at one side. To the front of his headpiece was fastened a metal badge, resembling the three-pointed arrow head utilized on old maps to indicate the north. On a metal scroll beneath it were embossed the words: "Be Prepared."
The manner of the badge's attachment would have indicated at once, to any one familiar with the organization, that the lad wearing it was the patrol leader of the local band of Boy Scouts.
Gazing keenly about him on all sides of the little clearing in the midst of which he stood, the boy's eyes lighted with a gleam of satisfaction on a largish rock. He lifted this up, adjusted it to his satisfaction and then picked up a smaller stone. This he placed on the top of the first and then listened intently. After a moment of this he then placed beneath the large underlying rock and at its left side a small stone.
Suddenly he started and gazed back. From the distance, borne faintly to his ears, came far off boyish shouts and cries.
They rose like the baying of a pack in full cry. Now high, now low on the hush of the midsummer afternoon.
"They picked the trail all right," he remarked to himself, with a smile, "maybe I'd better leave another sign."
Stooping he snapped off a small low-growing branch and broke it near the end so that its top hung limply down.
"Two signs now that this is the trail," he resumed as he stuck it in the ground beside the stone sign. "Now I'd better be off, for they are picking my tracks up, fast."
He darted off into the undergrowth on the opposite side of the clearing, vanishing as suddenly and noiselessly as he had appeared.
A few seconds later the deserted clearing was invaded by a scouting party of ten lads ranging in years from twelve to sixteen. They were all attired in similar uniforms to the leader, whom they were tracing, with but one exception they wore their "Be Prepared" badges on the left arm above the elbow. Some of them were only entitled to affix the motto part of the badge the scroll inscribed with the motto. These latter were the second-class scouts of the Eagle Patrol. The exception to the badge-bearers was a tall, well-knit lad with a sunny face and wavy, brown hair. His badge was worn on the left arm, as were the others, but it had a strip of white braid sewn beneath it. This indicated that the bearer was the corporal of the patrol.
As the group of flushed, panting lads emerged into the sandy space the corporal looked sharply about him. Almost at once his eye encountered the "spoor" left by the preceding lad.
"Here's the trail, boys," he shouted, "and to judge by the fresh look of the break in this branch it can't have been placed here very long. The small stone by the large one means to the left. We'll run Rob Blake down before long for all his skill if we have good luck."
"Say, Corporal Merritt," exclaimed a perspiring lad, whose "too, too solid flesh" seemed to be melting and running off his face in the form of streaming moisture, "don't we get a rest?"
A general laugh greeted poor Bob or Tubby Hopkins' remark.
"I always told you, Tubby, you were too fat to make a good scout," laughed Corporal Merritt Crawford, "this is the sort of thing that will make you want to take some of that tubbiness off you."
"Say, Tubby, you look like a roll of butter at an August picnic," laughed Simon Jeffords, one of the second-class scouts.
"All right, Sim," testily rejoined the aggrieved fat one, "I notice at that, though, that I am a regular scout while you are only a rookie."
"Come on, cut out the conversation," exclaimed Corporal Crawford hastily, "while we are fussing about here, Rob Blake must be halfway home."
With a groan of comical despair from poor Tubby, the Boy Scouts darted forward once more. On and on they pushed across country, skillfully tracking their leader by the various signs they had been taught to know and of which the present scouting expedition was a test.
Their young leader evidently intended them to use their eyes to the utmost for, beside the stone signs, he used blaze-marks, cut on the trees with his hunting knife. For instance, at one place they would find a square bit of bark removed, with a long slice to the left of it. This indicated that their quarry had doubled to the left. The slice to the right of the square blaze indicated the reverse.
Suddenly Corporal Crawford held up his hand as a signal for silence. The scouts came to an abrupt stop.
From what seemed to be only a short distance in front of them they could hear a voice upraised apparently in anger. Replying to it were the tones of their leader.
"Seems to be trouble ahead of some kind," exclaimed Crawford. "Come on, boys."
They all advanced close on his heels—guided by the sound of the angry voice, which did not diminish in tone but apparently waxed more and more furious as they drew nearer. Presently the woodland thinned and the ground became dotted with stumps of felled timber and in a few paces more they emerged on a small peach orchard at the edge of which stood Rob Blake and a larger and older boy. As Crawford and his followers came upon the scene the elder lad, who seemed beside himself with rage, picked up a large rock and was about to hurl it with all his might at Rob when the young corporal dashed forward and held his hand up to stay him.
"Here, what's all this trouble?" he demanded.
"You just keep out of it, Merritt Crawford," said the elder lad, a hulking, thick-set youth with a mean look on his heavy features. "I'm just reading this kid here a lesson. This orchard is my father's and mine and you'll keep out of it in future or suffer the consequences, understand?"
"Why, we aren't doing any harm," protested Rob Blake heatedly.
"I don't care what you are doing or not doing," retorted the other, "this is my father's orchard and you'll keep off it. You and the rest of you tin soldiers. I don't want you stealing our peaches."
"I guess you are sore, Jack Curtiss, because you couldn't get a boy scout patrol of your own! I guess that's what the trouble is," remarked Tubby Hopkins softly, but with a meaning look at the big lad.
"You impudent little whipper-snapper," roared Jack Curtiss, "if you weren't such a shrimp I'd lick you for that remark, but you're all beneath my notice. All I want to say to you is keep away from my orchard or I'll give you a trimming."
"Suppose you start now," said Rob Blake quietly, "if you are so anxious to show what a scrapper you are."
"Bah, I don't want anything to do with you, I tell you," rejoined Curtiss, turning away, with a rather troubled expression, however, for while he was a bully the big lad had no particular liking for a fight unless he was pretty sure that all the advantage lay on his side.
"It was too bad you didn't get that patrol of yours, Jack," called the irrepressible Tubby after him as the big youth strode off across the orchard toward the old-fashioned farmhouse in which he lived with his father, a well-to-do farmer. "Never mind; better luck next time," he went on, "or maybe we'll let you into ours some time."
"You just wait," roared the retreating bully, shaking his fist at the lads, "I'll make trouble for you yet."
"Well," remarked Rob Blake, as Jack Curtiss strode off, "I guess the run is over for to-day. Too bad we should have come out on his land. Of course he feels sore at us; and I shouldn't wonder but he will really try to do us some mischief if he gets a chance."
As it was growing late and there did not seem much chance of restarting the "Follow the Trail" practice, that day at least, the boys strolled back through the woodland and soon emerged on a country road about three miles from Hampton Inlet, where they lived.
While they are covering the distance perhaps the reader may care to know something about the cause of the enmity which Jack Curtiss entertained toward the lads of the Eagle Patrol. It had its beginning several months before when the boys of Hampton Inlet began to discuss forming a patrol of boy scouts. They all attended the Hampton Academy, and naturally the news that Rob Blake was going to try to organize a patrol soon spread through the school.
Jack Curtiss, as soon as he heard what Rob—whom he considered more or less a rival of his—intended doing he also forwarded an application to the headquarters of the organization in New York. As Rob Blake's had been received first, however, and on investigation he was shown to be a likely lad for the leader, he was appointed and at once began the enrollment of his scouts.
The bully was furious when he realized that he would be unable to secure an authorized patrol, and he and his cronies, two lads about his own age named Bill Bender and Sam Redding, had been busy ever since devising schemes to "get even" as they called it. None of these, however, had been effective and the encounter of that day was the first chance Jack had had to work off any of his rancor on Rob Blake's patrol.
Young Blake was the only son of Mr. Albert Blake, the president of the local bank. His corporal, Merritt Crawford, was the eldest of the numerous family of Jared Crawford, the blacksmith and wheelwright of the little town, and Tubby Hopkins was the offspring of Mrs. Hopkins—a widow in comfortable circumstances. The other lads of the Patrol whom we shall meet as the story of their doings and adventures progresses were all natives of the town, which was situated on the south shore of Long Island—as has been said—and on an inlet which led out to the Atlantic itself.
The scouts trudged back into Hampton just at twilight and made their way at once to their armory—as they called it—which was situated In a large room above the bank of which Rob's father was president. At one side of it was a row of lockers and each lad—after changing his uniform for street clothes—placed his "regimentals" in these receptacles.
This done the lads broke up and started for their various homes. Rob and his young corporal left the armory together, after locking the door and descending the stairs which led onto a side street.
"I wonder if that fellow Curtiss means to carry out his threat of getting even?" said Crawford as they made their way down the street arm in arm, for their homes were not far apart and both on Main Street.
"He's mean enough to attempt anything," rejoined Rob, "but I don't think he's got nerve enough to carry out any of his schemes. Hullo!" he broke off suddenly, "there he is now across the street by the post office, talking to Bill Bender and Sam Redding. I'll bet they are hatching up some sort of mischief. Just look at them looking at us. I'll bet a doughnut they were talking about us."
"Shouldn't wonder," agreed his companion. "By the way, I've got to go and see if there is any mail. Come on over."
The two lads crossed the street and as they entered the post office, although neither of them had much use for either of the bullies' two chums, they nodded to them pleasantly.
"You kids think you're pretty fine with your Eagle Patrol or whatever you call it, don't you," sneered Bill Bender, as they walked by. "I'll bet the smell of a little real powder would make your whole regiment run to cover."
"Don't pay any attention to him," whispered the young corporal to Rob, who doubled up his fists and flushed angrily at the sneering tone Jack Curtiss' friend had adopted.
Rob restrained his anger with an effort, and by the time they emerged from the post office the trio of worthies—who, as Rob had rightly guessed, had been discussing them—had moved on up the street.
"I had trouble with those kids myself this afternoon," remarked Jack Curtiss with a scowl, as they wended their way toward a shed in the rear of Bill Bender's home, which had been fitted tip as a sort of clubroom.
"What did they do to you?" incautiously inquired Sam Redding, a youth as big as the other two, but not so powerful. In fact he was used more or less as a tool by them.
"Do to me," roared the bully, "what did I do to them, you mean."
"Well what did you do to them then?" asked Bill Bender, as they entered the clubroom before referred to and he produced some cigarettes, which all three had been strictly forbidden to smoke.
"Chased them off my land," rejoined the other, lighting a paper roll and blowing out a cloud of smoke, "you should have seen them run. If they want to play their fool games they've got to do it on the property of folks who'll let them. They can't come on my land."
"You mean your father's, don't you?" put in the unlucky Sam Redding.
"Sam, you've got a head like a billiard ball," retorted the bully, turning on the other, "it'll be mine some day, won't it? Therefore it's as good as mine now."
Although he didn't quite see the logic of the foregoing, Sam Redding gave a sage nod and agreed that his leader was right.
"Yes, those kids need a good lesson from somebody," chimed in Bill Bender.
"I think we had better be the 'somebodies' to give it to them," rejoined Jack Curtiss. "They are getting insufferable. They actually twitted me this afternoon with being sore at them because I didn't get my patrol—as if I really wanted one. That Blake kid is the worst of the bunch. Just because his father has a little money he gives himself all kinds of airs. My father is as rich as his, even if he isn't a banker."
"I've been thinking of a good trick we can put up on them, but it will take some nerve to carry it out," announced Bill Bender, after some more discussion of the lads of the Eagle Patrol.
"Out with it, then," urged the bully, "what is it?"
In a lowered tone Bill Bender sketched out his scheme in detail, while Jack and Sam nodded their approval. At length he ceased talking and the other two broke out into a delighted laugh, in which malice as much as merriment prevailed.
"It's the very thing," exclaimed Jack. "Bill, you're a genius. We'll do it as soon as possible. If that doesn't take some starch out of those tin soldiers nothing will."
Half an hour later the three cronies parted for the night. Sam went to his home near the waterfront, for his father was a boat builder, and Jack started to walk the three miles to his father's farm in the moonlight. His way took him by the bank. As he passed it he gazed up at the windows of the armory on which was lettered in gilt: "Eagle Patrol of the Boy Scouts of America."
"That's a slick idea of Bill's," said the bully to himself, "I can hardly wait till we get a chance to carry it out."
A CRUISE TO THE ISLAND
"Whatever are you doing, Rob?"
It was the morning after the consultation of Jack Curtiss and his cronies, and Corporal Crawford was looking over the fence into his leader's yard.
Rob was bending over a curious-looking apparatus, consisting of a bent stick held in a bow-shape by a taut leather thong. The appliance was twisted about an upright piece of wood sharpened at one end—which was rotated as the lad ran the bow back and forth across it.
Presently smoke began to rise from the flat piece of timber into which the point of the upright stick had been boring and depositing sawdust, and Rob, by industriously blowing at the accumulation, presently caused it to burst into flame.
"There I've done it," he exclaimed triumphantly, arising with a flushed face from his labors.
"Done what?" inquired young Crawford interestedly.
"Made fire in the Indian way," replied Rob triumphantly.
"I thought they made it by rubbing two sticks together."
"Only book Indians do that," replied Rob, "I'll tell you it took me a time to get the hang of it, but I've got it now."
"It's quite a stunt, all right," commented the corporal admiringly.
"You bet, and it's useful, too," replied Rob. "I'll put the bow and drill in my pocket, and then any time we get stuck for matches we'll have no trouble in making a signal smoke or lighting cooking fires."
"Say, I've got some news for you," went on young Crawford, "did you know that Sam Redding has entered that freak motor boat he's been building in the yacht club regatta? He's out for the club trophy."
"No, is he, though?" exclaimed Rob, keenly interested. "Then the crew and skipper of the Flying Fish will have to look alive. I know that Sam's father helped him out with that boat and put a lot of new wrinkles in it. I didn't think, though, he'd have it ready in time for the races."
The boys referred to the coming motor-boat races which were to take place shortly on the inlet at Hampton. Like most of the other lads in the seashore town, Merritt and Rob had a lot of experience on the water and some time before had built a speedy motor boat from knock-down frames. The Flying Fish, as they called her, was entered for the main event referred to, the prize for which was a silver cup, donated by the merchants of the town. There were several other entries in the race, but Rob and his crew, consisting of Merritt and Tubby Hopkins, confidently expected the Flying Fish to easily lead them all.
"I wonder if the Sam Redding can show her stern to the Flying Fish?" mused Rob. "I'd like to lake a good look at her."
"Let's go down to Redding's boat yard," suggested Merritt; "she's lying there on the ways. I don't suppose any one would object to our sizing her up."
Rob hailed the suggestion as a good one.
"We can call in for Tubby on the way," he said, as he darted into the house after his hat.
The boys dropped in at Tubby's house on their way to the water-front, and received from the stout youth some additional details regarding Sam's boat.
"She's a hydroplane," volunteered Tubby, "and Tom Jennings, down at the yard, says she's as fast as a race horse."
"A hydroplane?—that's one of those craft that cut along the top of the water like a skimming dish, isn't it?" asked Merritt.
"That's the idea," responded Rob. "They're supposed to be as speedy as anything afloat in smooth water."
Thus conversing they reached the boat-building yard of Sam Redding's father and were greeted by Tom Jennings, a big good-natured ship carpenter. "Hullo, Tom! Can we see that new boat of Sam's?" inquired Rob.
"Sure, I guess there's no objection," grinned Tom, "come right this way. There she is, over there by that big winch."
Report had not erred apparently as to the novel qualities of Sam Redding's speed craft. She was about twenty-five feet long, narrow and painted black. She was perfectly flat-bottomed, her underside being deeply notched at frequent intervals. On the edge of those notches she was supposed to glide over the water when driven at top speed.
"She certainly looks like a winner," commented Rob, as he gazed at her clean, slender lines and sharp bow.
"She's got wonderful speed," Tom Jennings confided. "We tried her out the other night when no one was around. But I don't think that in rough water she'll be much good."
"No, I'd prefer the Flying Fish for the waters hereabouts," agreed Rob, "it's liable to come on rough in a hurry and then a chap who was out in a dry-goods box, like that thing, would be in trouble."
"What are you calling a dry-goods box?" demanded an indignant voice behind them, and turning, the lads saw Sam Redding with a menacing look on his face. A little way behind him stood Bill Bender and Jack Curtiss.
"Oh, I beg your pardon, Sam," said Rob. "I really admire your hydroplane very much, and I think it will give us a tussle for the trophy, all right; but I don't think she'd be much good in any kind of a sea-way."
"That's my business, you interfering little runt," snapped Sam, who, with Bill Bender and Jack Curtiss to back him, felt very brave; though ordinarily he would have avoided trouble with the young scouts. "What are you doing spying around the yard here, anyhow?" he went on insolently.
"We are not spying," indignantly burst out Merritt. "We asked Tom Jennings if we couldn't look at your hydroplane, as we were naturally interested in her, and he gave us permission."
"Well, he had no business to," growled Sam; "he ought to be attending to his work instead of showing a lot of nosy young cubs my new boat."
"They are capable of stealing your ideas," chimed in Jack Curtiss, "and putting them on their own boat."
"That's ridiculous," laughed Rob, "as I said I wouldn't want to have anything to do with such a contrivance except on a lake or a river."
"Well, you keep your advice and your ideas to yourself, and get out of this yard!" roared Sam, waxing bolder and bolder, and mistaking Rob's conciliatory manner for cowardice. "I've a good mind to punch your head."
"Better come on and try it," retorted Rob, preparing for the immediate onslaught which it seemed reasonable from Sam's manner to expect.
But it didn't come.
Muttering something about "young cubs," and "keeping the boat-yard gate locked," Sam turned to his chums and invited them to come and try out his new motor in the shop.
As the three chums had no desire to "mix it up with Sam on his own place," as Tubby put it, they left the yard promptly, and walked on down the water-front to the wharf at which lay the Flying Fish, the fastest craft in the Hampton Motor Boat Club. Rob's boat was, to tell the truth, rather broad of beam for a racer and drew quite a little water. She had a powerful motor and clean lines, however, and while not primarily designed solely for "mug-hunting," had beaten everything she had raced with during the few months since the boys had completed her. The money for her motor had been given to Rob by his father, who was quite indulgent to Rob in money matters, having noticed that the lad always expended the sums given him wisely.
"Let's take a spin," suddenly suggested Tubby.
"Nothing to prevent us," answered Rob; "we've got plenty of time before dinner. Come on, boys."
The lads were soon on board and examining the gasoline tank, to see how much fuel they had on hand, and oiling up the engine. The fuel receptacle proved to be almost full, so after filling the lubricant cups and attending to the batteries, they started up the engine—a powerful, three cylindered, twelve-horse affair capable of driving the twenty-two foot Flying Fish through the water at twelve miles an hour or better.
Just as Rob was casting off the head-line there came a hail from the wharf above them.
"Ahoy, there, shipmates! Where are yer bound fer this fine, sunny day?"
The lads looked up to see the weather-beaten countenance of Captain Job Hudgins, one of the characters of the vicinity. He was a former whaler, and lived on a small island some distance from Hampton. On his little territory he fished and grew a few vegetables, "trading in" his produce at the Hampton grocery stores for his simple wants. He, however, had a pension, and was supposed to have a "snug little fortune" laid by. His only companion in his island solitude was it big Newfoundland dog named "Skipper."
The animal stood beside its master on the dock and wagged its tail at the sight of the boys, whom it knew quite well from their frequent visits to the captain's little island.
"Hullo, captain!" shouted Rob, as the veteran saluted his three young friends. "Where's your boat?"
"Oh, her engine went—busted, and I had to leave her at the yard below fer repairs," explained the captain. "I wonder if yer boys can give me a lift back if yer goin' near Topsail Island?"
"Surest thing you know," rejoined Rob hastily. "Come right aboard. But how are you going to get off your island again if your motor is laid up here to be fixed?"
"Oh, I'll use my rowboat," responded the old mariner, clambering down into the Flying Fish. "Say, this is quite a right smart contraption, ain't she?"
"We think she is a pretty good little boat," modestly replied Rob, taking his place at the wheel. "Now, then, Merritt, start up that engine."
"Hold on a minute!" shouted Tubby. "We forgot the dog."
Sure enough, Skipper was dashing up and down the wharf in great distress at the prospect of being deserted.
"Put yer boat alongside that landin' stage at the end of the wharf," suggested his master. "Skipper can get aboard from there, I reckon."
Rob steered the Flying Fish round to the floating landing, to which an inclined runway led from the wharf. Skipper dashed down it as soon as he saw what was happening, and was waiting, ready to embark, when the Flying Fish came alongside.
"Poor old Skipper, I reckon yer thought we was goin' ter maroon yer," said Captain Job, as the animal jumped on board with a bark of "thanks" for his rescue. "I tell yer, boys, I wouldn't lose that dog fer all the money in Rob's father's bank. He keeps good watch out an the Island, I'll tell yer."
"I didn't think any one much came there, except us," said Rob, as the Flying Fish headed away from the wharf and began to cut through the waters of the inlet.
"Oh, yes; there's others," responded the old man. "That Jack Curtiss lad and his two chums are out there quite often."
"Bill Bender and Sam Redding, I suppose you mean," said Tubby.
"Those their names?" asked the captain. "Well, I don't know any good uv any uv 'em. Old Skipper here chased 'em away from my melon patch the other day. I reckon they thought Old Scratch was after them, the way they run; but they got away with some melons, just the same."
The old man laughed aloud at the recollection of the marauders' precipitous flight.
That Jack Curtiss and his two cronies had made a rendezvous of the island was news to the boys, and not agreeable news, either. They had been planning a patrol camp there later on in the summer, and the bully and his two chums were not regarded by them as desirable neighbors. However, they said nothing, as they could not claim sole right to use the island, which was property that had been so long in litigation that It had come to be known as "No Man's Land" as well as by its proper name. The captain was only a squatter there, but no one cared to disturb him, and he had led the existence of a semi-hermit there for many years.
The Flying Fish rapidly covered the calm waters of the inlet and was soon dancing over the swells outside.
"I'm going to let her out a bit," said Rob suddenly; "look out for spray."
"Spray don't bother a brine-pickled old salt like me," laughed the captain. "Let her go."
The Flying Fish seemed fairly to leap forward as Merritt gave her the full power of her engine. As Rob had said, it did indeed behoove her occupants to look out for spray. The sparkling spume came flying back in sheets as she cut through the waves, but the boys didn't mind that any more than did their weather-beaten companion. As for Skipper, he barked aloud in sheer joy as the Flying Fish slid along as if she were trying to live up to her name to her utmost ability.
"This is a good little sea boat," remarked the captain, as they plunged onward. "She's as seaworthy as she is speedy, I guess."
"She'll stand a lot of knocking about, and that's a fact," agreed Rob.
"Well," remarked the old man, gazing about him, "it's a good thing that she is, fer, if I'm not mistaken—and I'm not often off as regards the weather—we are goin' ter have quite a little blow before yer boys get back home."
"A storm?" asked Tubby, somewhat alarmed.
"Oh, no; not what yer might call a storm," laughed the captain; "but just what we used to term a 'capful uv wind.'"
"Well, so long as it isn't a really bad blow, it won't trouble the Flying Fish," Rob assured him.
"Hullo!" exclaimed the old man suddenly. "What queer kind uv craft is that?"
He pointed back to the mouth of the now distant inlet, from which a curious-looking black craft was emerging at what seemed to be great speed.
"It's that hydroplane of Sam Redding's, for a bet!" cried Rob. "Here, Tubby, take the wheel a minute, while I put the glasses on her."
The lad stood up in the heaving motor craft, steadying himself against the bulwarks by his knees, and peered through his marine-glasses.
"It's the hydroplane, sure enough," he said. "By ginger, but she can go, all right! Sam and Jack and Bill are all in her. They seem to be heading right out to sea, too."
"Say!" exclaimed Tubby suddenly, "if it comes on to blow, as the captain said it would, they'll be in a bad fix, won't they?"
"In that ther shoe-box thing," scornfully exclaimed the old captain, who had also been looking through the glasses, "why, I wouldn't give a confederate dollar bill with a hole in it fer their lives."
BOY SCOUTS TO THE RESCUE
"Hadn't we better put back and warn them?" suggested Merritt rather anxiously, for he was alarmed by the confident manner in which the old seaman prophesied certain disaster to the hydroplane if the weather freshened.
"No; see, she's heading toward us. I guess they want a race," cried Rob. "We'll slow down a bit and let them catch up."
In a few moments the hydroplane was alongside. The yellow hood over her powerful engines glistened with the wet of the great bow-wave her speed had occasioned, and her powerful motor was exhausting with a roar like a battery of machine guns.
Crouched aft of the engine hood was Sam Redding, who held the wheel. Jack Curtiss and Bill Bender were in the stern. They sat tandem-wise in the narrow racing shell.
"Want a tow rope for that old stone dray of yours?" jeered Jack Curtiss, as the speedy little racer ranged alongside.
He did not know that the Flying Fish was slowed down, and that although the hydroplane appeared to be capable of tremendous speed, she was not actually so very much faster than Rob's boat.
"Say, you fellows," warned Rob, making a trumpet of his hands, "the captain says it's coming on to blow before long. You'd better get back into the inlet with that craft of yours."
"Save your breath to cool your coffee," shouted Sam Redding back at him, across the fifty feet or so of water that lay between the two boats. "We know what we are about."
"But you're risking your lives," shouted Merritt. "That thing wouldn't live ten minutes in any kind of a sea."
"Well, we're not such a bunch of old women as to be scared of a little wetting," jeered Jack Curtiss. "So long! We've got no time to wait for that old tub of yours."
Before the boys could voice any more warnings, the hydroplane, which had been slowed down, dashed off once more.
"I don't know what we are to do," spoke up Merritt. "We can't compel them to go in, and, after all, the captain may be mistaken."
"No, I'm not, my son," rejoined the veteran. "I can smell wind—and see them 'mare's tails' in the sky over yonder. They're as fall uv wind as a preacher is uv texts."
"Well, we've done our best to warn them," concluded Rob. "If they are so foolhardy as to keep on, we can't help it."
In half an hour more the boys had landed the captain at the little pier he had built on his island, and to which his rowboat was attached, and were ready to start back, good-bys having been said.
"Hark!" exclaimed the captain, as Rob prepared to give the order to "Go ahead."
The boys listened, and heard a low, distant moaning sound, something like the deepest rumbling notes of a church organ.
"That's the wind comin'," warned the captain. "Yer'd better be hurryin' back."
With more hasty good-bys, the lads got under way at once. As they emerged from the lee of the island they could see that seaward the ocean was being rapidly lashed into choppy, white-crested waves by the advancing storm, and that the wind was freshening into a really stiff breeze.
"Those fellows must be wishing they took our advice now if they are fools enough to have kept out," said Merritt, as he slowed down the engine so as to permit the Flying Fish to ride the rising seas more easily.
"Yes, I guess they're doing some tall thinking," agreed Tubby, as a wave caught the little Flying Fish "quartering" on her port bow, and sent a white smother of spray swirling back over her occupants.
"That's the time we got it," laughed Rob, from the wheel, peering straight ahead. Suddenly he uttered a shout and pointed seaward.
"Look there!" he shouted at the top of his voice. "There are those three fellows, and they're in trouble, from the looks of it."
The others looked, and beheld, half a mile or so away, on the roughening waters, the hull of the hydroplane. She was tossing up and down like a cork, and apparently was drifting helplessly, with her motor broken down, in the heavy sea. Her occupants seemed to be bailing her; but as they caught sight of the Flying Fish they stood up and waved frantically.
"Yes, they're in trouble, all right," agreed Tubby. "And I suppose we've got to go and get them out of it."
Rob had already put the Flying Fish about and headed her for the distressed craft. As they drew near, Sam Redding began shouting:
"Help, help! We're sinking, we're sinking!"
Jack Curtiss and Bill Bender, drenched to the skin with spray and white with fright, said nothing, but a look of great relief came over their faces as the chums' boat ranged alongside.
"I don't want to risk ramming my boat by coming right alongside," shouted Rob. "You'll have to jump for it. Don't be scared. We'll pull you aboard."
The three youths on the water-logged hydroplane looked somewhat alarmed at the prospect, but Rob knew that Jack and Bill could swim. He was not sure of Sam, but assumed, from the fact that he had lived by the sea all his life, that he was equally at home in the water.
The hesitation of Jack Curtiss and his chum was over in a minute, as the hydroplane gave a plunge that seemed as if it would be her last. Lightly dressed as they were, in canvas trousers, sleeveless jerseys and yachting shoes, it was no trick at all for them to swim the few feet to the Flying Fish. As they leaped overboard, Sam lingered.
"Come on, Sam," shouted Jack, as the boys lugged the two dripping, sputtering castaways on board.
"I—I can't swim. You'll have to come alongside for me," stuttered the badly-scared Sam.
"All right. Hold on, and we'll do what we can," hailed Rob, starting to carry out the risky maneuver of getting alongside the plunging hydroplane in the heavy sea.
In some never-to-be-explained manner, however, the frightened Sam suddenly lost his balance in the tossing racing boat, and, clawing desperately at her bulwarks to save himself, shot over the side.
"He'll drown!" shouted Jack Curtiss. "He can't swim, and he'll drown."
"If you knew that, why didn't you stand by him?" truculently growled Tubby.
Without an instant's hesitation, Merritt threw off the jacket he had put on when it started to blow, and slipped off his shoes. He was overboard and striking out for the drowning boy before those in the Flying Fish even realized his purpose.
With swift, powerful strokes he got alongside Sam just as the owner of the hydroplane was going down for the third time.
As the brave boy seized the struggling, frightened youth he felt himself gripped by the panic-stricken Sam in a frenzied hold of desperate intensity. His arms were pinioned by the drowning wretch, and they both vanished beneath the waves.
As they went under, however, Merritt managed to get one hand free, and recalling what he had read of what to do under such conditions, struck the other boy a terrific blow between the eyes. It stunned Sam completely, and, to his great relief, Merritt felt the imprisoning grip relax. He could then handle Sam easily, and as they shot to the surface he saw the Flying Fish bearing down on them, with four white, strained faces searching the tumbling waters.
In a few moments the unconscious lad and his rescuer were hauled on board, and Rob, after congratulations, headed the Flying Fish for the mouth of the inlet, which was still some distance off.
Tubby and Bill Bender laid Sam on his stomach, across a thwart, and started to try to get some of the salt water, of which he had swallowed great quantities, out of him. He soon gave signs of returning consciousness, and opened his eyes just as Jack Curtiss was demanding to know if the Boy Scouts weren't going to take the hydroplane in tow.
"Not much we're not," responded Rob. "I'm sorry to have to leave her; but this sea is getting up nastier every minute, and there's no way of getting a line to her without running more risk than I want to take. We've had one near-drowning and we don't want another."
"If this was my boat, I'd pick Sam's boat up," sullenly replied the bully.
"You ought to be mighty glad we came along when we did," indignantly spoke up Tubby. "You'd have been in a bad fix if we hadn't. Instead of being thankful for it, all you can do is to kick about leaving the hydroplane."
An angry reply was on the other's lips, but Bill Bender checked it by looking up and saying: "I guess the kid's right, Jack. Let it go at that."
The bully glowered. He felt his pride much wounded at having been compelled to seek the aid of the boys whom he despised and hated.
"I suppose you'll go and blab it all over town about how you saved us," he sneered, as the Flying Fish threaded her way through the tumbling waters at the mouth of the inlet and began making her way up it.
"I don't think we shall," replied Rob quietly. "I mean to recommend Merritt, though, to headquarters for his Red Honor."
"Oh, you mean that cheap, bronze medal thing on a bit of red ribbon!" sneered Jack. "Why, that isn't worth much. You couldn't sell it for anything but old junk. Why don't they make them of gold?"
"That 'bronze medal thing,' as you call it, is worth a whole lot to a Boy Scout," rejoined Rob in the same even tone. "More than you can understand."
On their arrival at the yacht-club pier the boys were overwhelmed with questions, and a doctor was summoned for Sam, who, as soon as he found himself safe, began to groan and show most alarming symptoms of being seriously affected by his immersion.
The boys were not able to conceal the fact that they had accomplished a brave rescue, and were overwhelmed with congratulations. Merritt especially came in for warm praise and commendation.
"You will certainly be granted your Red Honor," declared Mr. Wingate, who, besides being commodore of the Yacht Club, was one of the gentlemen whom Rob had persuaded to act as Scout Master for the new patrol.
Merritt escaped from the crowd of admiring motor-boat men and boys as soon as he could, and hastened home for a change of clothes. On the arrival of Dr. Telfair, the village physician, he pronounced that there was nothing whatever the matter with Sam but a bad fright, and prescribed dry garments and hot lemonade.
"Don't I need any medicine?" groaned Sam, determined to make the most out of his temporary notoriety.
"No, you don't," growled the doctor; "unless," he added to himself, "they put up 'courage' in bottles."
"I suppose those boys will be more stuck up than ever now," said Jack to Bill Bender, as, having perfunctorily thanked their rescuers, they started for home with the almost weeping Sam.
"Sure to be," rejoined Bill. "It's all your fault, Sam, for taking us out in that fool hydroplane."
"My fault! Well, I like that," stuttered out Sam. "You asked me to come, and you know I wanted to come back when the boys told us it might come on to blow; but you called me a 'sissy,' and said I was too timid to own a boat."
"Um—er—well," rejoined Bill, somewhat confused, "that's so. But anyhow, to return to what we were talking about, it's given those kids a great chance to set up as heroes."
"Well, we can work that scheme we were talking about last night on them just as soon as you're ready," suddenly remarked Jack. "That will give them something else to think about."
"Oh, say, Jack, cut it out, won't you?" pleaded Sam. "I don't like the kids any better than you do, but one of them saved my life to-day, and I'm not going into anything that will harm them."
"Hear him rave!" sneered Jack. "Why last night, when we talked it over, you thought it would be a prime joke. It isn't as if it would hurt them. It'll just give them something to study up, that's all. They think they're such fine trailers and tracers that it would be a shame not to give them a chance to show what they can do."
"That's right, Sam," cut in Bill; "it's more of a joke than anything else."
"Well," agreed Sam weakly, "if you put it in that way, I suppose it's all right; but I tell you I don't like it."
"Why, you'll have the laugh of your young life after we've pulled the stunt off," remarked Bill. "When will we do it, Jack?"
"Not to-night, that's certain," responded the other. "I've had enough excitement for one day."
"What's the matter with to-morrow night, then?"
"I'm agreeable. How about you, Sam?"
"I wish you fellows would leave me out of it," rejoined the bully's timid chum.
"Like they left you out of their patrol, eh?" sneered Bill, knowing that he was touching the other on a tender spot.
"All right, to-morrow night suits me," snapped Sam, flushing angrily at Bill's remark—as that worthy had intended he should. "Here's my house. We'll meet at Bill's 'boudoir."'
"Right you are," chuckled Jack. "Oh, say, it's going to be the joke of the century!"
SAM IN DIRE STRAITS
Merritt paused the next morning in front of Tubby's home, and gave the "call" of the Eagle Patrol with a not uncreditable resemblance to the scream of a real eagle.
The cry was instantly echoed—though in a rather thicker way—from inside the house, and in a minute Tubby, who knew that some one of the patrol must have uttered the call, appeared at his door, munching a large slice of bread and jam, although it was not more than an hour since breakfast.
"Say, you, did you ever hear an eagle scream with his mouth full of bread and jam?" demanded Merritt, as the stout youth appeared.
"Eagles don't eat bread and jam," rejoined Tubby, defending his position. "Have some?"
"Having had breakfast not more than an hour ago, I'm not hungry yet, thank you," politely rejoined the corporal; "besides, I'm afraid I'd get fat."
Dodging the stout youth's blow, the corporal went on:
"Heard the news?"
"No—what news?" eagerly demanded the other, finishing his light repast.
"Why, the Dolphin—you know, that fishing boat—picked up Sam's hydroplane at sea and towed it in. It's in pretty good shape, I hear, although the engine is out of commission and it was half full of water."
"He's a lucky fellow to get it back."
"I should say so," replied Merritt; "but it will cost him a whole lot to reclaim it. The captain of the Dolphin says he wants fifty dollars for it as salvage."
"Gee! Do you think Sam's father will give him that much?" said Tubby, with round eyes.
"I don't know. He can afford it all right. He's made a lot of money out of that boat-building shop, my father says; but he's so stingy that I doubt very much if he will give Sam such a sum."
"Why, here's Sam coming down the street now," exclaimed the good-natured Tubby. "I wonder if he's heard about it. Hullo, Sam! Get all the water out of your system?"
"I'm all right this morning, if that is what you mean," rejoined the other, with dignity.
"Heard the news about your boat?" asked Merritt suddenly.
"No; what about her? Is she safe? Who picked her up?"
"Wait a minute. One question at a time," laughed Merritt. "She's safe, all right. The Dolphin picked her up at sea. But it will cost you fifty dollars to get her."
"Fifty dollars!" gasped Sam, turning pale.
"That's what the skipper of the Dolphin says. He had a lot of trouble getting a line fast to her, he says, and he means to have the money or keep the boat."
"Oh, well, I'll get it from my father easily enough," said Sam confidently, preparing to swagger off down the street. "I've got to get my boat back and beat Rob's Flying Fish, and that hydroplane can do it."
"Can you match that?" exclaimed Merritt to the fat youth, as Sam strolled away. "Here he was saved from drowning by the Flying Fish only yesterday, and all he can think of this morning is to promise to beat her. What makes him so mean, I wonder?"
"Just born that way, I guess," rejoined the stout youth; "and as for the Flying Fish saving him, if it hadn't been for a certain Corporal Crawford, he—"
"Here, stow that," protested Merritt, coloring up. "I heard enough of that yesterday afternoon."
As the boys had surmised, Sam's father was not at all pleased when he learned that his son wanted fifty dollars. In fact, he refused point blank to let him have it at all.
"That boat of yours has cost enough already, and I'm not going to spend any more on it," he said angrily, as he turned to his work.
"But I can't get the hydroplane back if I don't pay it," urged Sam. "I've seen the captain of the Dolphin, and he refuses absolutely to let me have her unless I pay him for his trouble in towing her in."
"I can't help that," snapped the elder Redding. "What have I got to do with your boat? Look here!" he exclaimed, turning angrily and producing a small memorandum book from his pocket and rapidly turning the leaves. "Do you know how much I've given you in the last two months?"
"N-n-no," stammered Sam, looking very much embarrassed, and shuffling about from one foot to the other.
"Then I'll tell you, young man; it's exactly—let me see—ten, twenty, five, three, fifteen and eight. That's just sixty-one dollars. Do you think that money grows on gooseberry bushes? Then there'll be your college expenses to pay. No, I can't let you have a cent."
"That means that I will lose my boat and the chance of winning the race at the regatta!" urged Sam gloomily.
"Well, you should have had more sense than to take that fool hydroplane out into a rough sea. I told you she wouldn't stand it. There, go on about your own affairs. I'm far too busy to loaf about, arguing with you."
And with this the hard-featured old boat builder—who had made his money literally by the sweat of his brow—turned once more to his task of figuring out the blue prints of a racing sloop.
Sam saw that it was no use to argue further with his father, and left the shop with no very pleasant expression on his countenance.
"I'll have to see if I can't borrow it somewhere," he mused. "If only I was on better terms with Rob Blake, I could get it from him, I guess. His father is a banker and he must have plenty. I wonder—I wonder if Mr. Blake himself wouldn't lend it to me. I could give him a note for it, and in three months' time I'd be sure to be able to take it up."
With this end in view, the lad started for the Hampton Bank. It required some courage for a youth of his disposition to make up his mind to beard the lion in his den—or, in other words, to approach Mr. Blake in his office. For Sam, while bold enough when his two hulking cronies were about, had no real backbone of his own.
After making two or three turns in front of the bank, he finally screwed his courage to the sticking point, and timidly asked an attendant if he could see the banker.
"I think so. I'll see," was the reply.
In a few seconds the man reappeared, and said that Mr. Blake could spare a few minutes. Hat in hand, Sam entered the ground-glass door which bore on it in imposing gilt letters the word "President."
The interview was brief, and to Sam most unsatisfactory. The banker pointed out to him that he was a minor, and as such that his note would be no good; and also that, without the permission of his father, he would not think of lending the youth such a sum. Much crestfallen, Sam shuffled his way out toward the main door of the bank, when suddenly a voice he recognized caused him to look up.
"A hundred and twenty-five dollars. That's right, all shipshape and above board!"
It was the old captain of Topsail Island, counting over in his gnarled paw one hundred and twenty-five dollars in crisp bills which he had just received from the paying teller.
"You must be going to be married, captain," Sam heard the teller remark jocularly.
"Not yet a while," the captain laughed back. "That ther motor uv mine that I left ter be fixed up is goin' ter cost me fifty dollars, and the other seventy-five I'm calculating ter keep on hand in my safe fer a while. I'm kind uv figgerin' on gettin' a new dinghy—my old one is just plum full uv holes. I rowed over frum the island this mornin', and I declar' ter goodness, once or twice I thought I'd swamp."
Sam slipped out of the bank without speaking to the captain, whom, indeed, since the episode of the melon patch, he had no great desire to encounter.
As he made his way toward his home in no very amiable mood, he was hailed from the opposite side of the street by Jack Curtiss and Bill Bender.
"Any news of the boat?" demanded Jack, as he and Bill crossed over and slapped their crony on the back with great assumed heartiness.
"Yes, and mighty bad news, too, in one way. She's safe enough. The Dolphin—that fishing boat—found her and towed her in. But—here's the tough part of it—it's going to cost fifty dollars for salvage to get her from the Dolphin's captain, the old shark!"
"Phew!" whistled Jack Curtiss. "Pretty steep. But I suppose your old man will fork over, eh?"
"That's just it," grumbled Sam; "he won't come across with a cent. I suppose, if I don't pay for the hydroplane's recovery pretty soon, she will be sold at auction."
"That's the usual process," observed Bill.
"Isn't there any way you can raise the wind?"
"No, I've tried every one I can think of. I don't suppose either of you fellows could—"
"Nothing doing here," hastily cried Jack, not giving the other time to finish.
"I'm cleaned out, too," Bill also hurriedly assured the unfortunate Sam.
"It looks like everybody but us has coin," complained that worthy bitterly. "While I was in the bank trying to get old man Blake to take up a note of mine for the sum I need, who should I see in there but that old fossil of a captain from Topsail Island."
"Who grows such fine, juicy melons and keeps such a nice, amiable pet dog," laughed Jack, roaring at the recollection of the piratical expedition of which the island dweller had told the boys.
"Ha, ha, ha!" shouted Bill in chorus. "We'll have to give him another visit soon."
"But what about the old land crab, Sam?" demanded Jack the next minute. "What was he doing in the bank?"
"Why, drawing one hundred and twenty-five dollars. Just think of it, and we always figured it out that he was poor."
"A hundred and twenty-five dollars! I wonder what he's going to do with it?" wondered Jack, with whom money and its spending was always an absorbing topic.
"Why, I overheard that, too, as I passed by," rejoined Sam. "He's going to spend some of it for the repairing of his motor, which broke down yesterday, and the rest he's going to keep by him."
"Keep it on the island, you mean?" demanded Jack, becoming suddenly much interested.
"That's what he said—keep it in his safe," replied Sam. "But what good does that do us?"
"A whole lot, maybe," was the enigmatic reply. "See here, Sam, you can win that race if you get your hydroplane?"
"I'm sure of it."
"You are going to bet on yourself, of course."
"Sure. I've got to raise some money somehow."
"Well, I've thought of a way you can borrow the money to get your boat back, and when you win the race you can return it. Come on, lees go to Bill's den, and we'll have a smoke and talk it over."
THE BULLY SPRINGS A SURPRISE
That afternoon, in reply to a notice sent round by a runner, the lads of the Eagle Patrol assembled at their armory, and on Leader Rob's orders "fell in" to hear the official announcement of the coming camping trip. As a matter of fact, they had discussed little else for several days, but the first "regimental" notification, as it were, was to be made now.
The first duty to be performed was the calling of the roll after "assembly" had been sounded—somewhat quaveringly—by little Andy Bowles, the company bugler.
Beside Rob Merritt, Tubby and Andy, there were Hiram Nelson, a tall, lanky youth, whose hands were stained with much fussing with chemicals, for he was a wireless experimenter; Ernest Thompson, a big-eyed, serious-looking lad, whose specialty in the little regiment was that of bicycle scout, as the spoked wheel on his arm denoted; Simon Jeffords, a second-class scout, but who, under Rob's tutelage, was becoming the expert "wig-wagger" of the organization; Paul Perkins, another second-class boy, but a hard worker and a devotee of aeronautics; Martin Green, one of the smallest of the Eagle Patrol, a tenderfoot; Walter Lonsdale, also a recruit, and Joe Digby, who, as the last to join the Patrol, was the tenderest of the tenderfeet.
Rob's announcement of the program for the eight days they were to spend on the island was greeted with cheers. The news that turns were to be taken by two scouts daily at washing dishes and cooking did not awaken quite so much enthusiasm. Everybody cheered up again, however, when Rob announced that the Flying Fish would be at the disposal of the boys of the patrol.
Corporal Merritt took Rob's place as orator then, and announced that each boy would be assessed one dollar for the expenses of the camp, the remainder of the money necessary for the providing of tents and the provisioning of the camp having been donated by Rob's father, Mr. Wingate, of the yacht club, and the other representative citizens of Hampton who composed the local scout council.
Further excitement was caused by the announcement that following the camp the local committee would pass upon the applications for promotions and honors for the lads of the Patrol, and that it was likely that another patrol would be formed in the village, as several boys had expressed themselves as anxious to form one. The gentlemen having charge of the local scout movement, however, had decided that it would be wiser to wait and see the result of one patrol's training before forming a second one.
"I'm going to try for an aviator's badge," announced Paul Perkins, as Rob declared the official business at an end.
"Say, Rob, what's the matter with our fixing up a wireless in the camp? I'm pretty sure I can make one that will catch anything in a hundred-mile radius."
"That's a good idea," assented Rob; "if you can do it we can get a lot of good out of it, I don't doubt."
"What's the good of wireless when we've got wig-wagging and the semaphore code," spoke up Simon Jeffords, who was inclined to doubt the use of any other form of telegraphy but that in which he had perfected himself.
As for Martin Green, Walter Lonsdale and Joe Digby, they contented themselves with hoping that they might receive their badges as second-class scouts when the camp was over.
"I can take the whole tests except cooking the meat and potatoes in the 'Billy,'" bemoaned young Green, a small chap of about thirteen. "Somehow, they always seem to burn, or else they don't cook at all."
"Well, cheer up, Martin," laughed Rob. "You'll learn to do it in camp. We'll make you cook for the whole time we're out there, if you like—that will give you plenty of practice."
"No, thank you," chimed in Andy Bowles. "I've seen some of Mart's cooking, and I think the farther you keep him from the cook fire, the better for the general health of the Eagle Patrol."
At this moment there came a rap on the door.
"Come in!" shouted Rob.
In reply to this invitation, the door opened and a lad of about fifteen entered. His face was flushed and he bore in his hand a long sheet of green paper.
"Hello, Frank Farnham," exclaimed Rob glancing at the boy's flushed, excited face. "What's troubling you?"
"Oh, hello, Rob. Excuse me for butting in on your ceremonies, but I was told Paul Perkins was here."
"Sure he is, Frank," exclaimed Paul, coming forward. "What's the matter? It's much too warm to be flying around the way you seem to have been. Come in under this fan."
He indicated an electrically driven ventilator that was whirring in a corner of the room.
"Quit your fooling, Paul," remonstrated Frank, "and read this circular. Here."
He thrust the green "dodger" he carried into the other's hand.
"What do you think of that, eh?" demanded Frank, as Paul skimmed it with delighted eyes.
The circular contained the announcement of a lecture on aeronautics by a well-known authority on the subject who had once been a resident of Hampton. To stimulate interest in the subject, the paper stated that a first prize of fifty dollars, a second prize of twenty-five, and a third prize of ten dollars would be given to the three lads of the town making and flying the most successful models of aeroplanes in a public competition. To win the first prize it would be necessary for the model to fly more than two hundred feet, and not lower, except at the start and end of the flight, than fifty feet above the ground. The second prize was for the next best flight, and the third for the model approaching the nearest to the winner of the second money.
"Now, Paul, you are an aeronautic fiend," went on Frank, "So am I, and Hiram has the fever in a mild way. What's the matter with you two fellows forming a team to represent the Boy Scouts, and I'll get up a team of village boys, to compete for the prizes."
"That's a good idea," assented Hiram Nelson. "I've got a model almost completed. It only needs the rubber bands and a little testing and it will be O.K., or at least I hope so. How about you, Paul?"
"Oh, I've got two models that I have got good results from," replied the boy addressed. "One is a biplane. She's not so speedy, but very steady; and then I have a model of a Bleriot. I'm willing to enter either of them or both."
"And I've got a model of an Antoinette, and one of a design of my own. I don't know just how well it will work," concluded Frank modestly, "but I have great hopes of carrying off that prize."
"Let's see who else there is," pondered Hiram.
"There's Tom Maloney. He'll go in, I know; and Ed Rivers and two or three others, and then, by the way, I almost forgot it, I met Sam Redding, Jack Curtiss and Bill Bender, reading a notice of the competition, just before I came up. Of course, as there is a chance of winning fifty dollars, Jack is going to enter one, and Bill Bender said he would put one in, too."
"What do they know about aeroplanes?" demanded Paul.
"Not a whole lot, I guess; but Jack said he was going to get a book that tells how to make one, and Bill said he'd do the same."
"How about Sam?" inquired Rob.
"Oh, I guess he's got troubles enough with his hydroplane," responded Rob, whose father had told him at dinner that day of Sam's vain visit to the bank.
"It would be just like those fellows to put up something crooked on us," remarked Paul, who had had much the same experiences with the bully and his chums as his schoolmates generally.
"Oh, there'll be no chance of that," Frank assured him. "A local committee of business men is to be appointed to see fair play, and I don't fancy that even Jack or Bill will be slick enough to get away with any crooked work."
"How long have we got to get ready?" asked Hiram suddenly.
"Just a week."
"Wow! that isn't much time."
"No; my father told me that Professor Charlton, whom he knows, would have given a longer time for preparation but that he has to attend a flying meet in Europe, and only decided to lecture at his native town at the last moment. Lucky thing that most of us have got our models almost ready."
"Yes, especially as this notice says," added Paul, who had been reading it, "that all models must be the sole work of the contestants."
"If it wasn't for that it would be easy," remarked Hiram. "You can buy dandy models in New York. I've seen them advertised in the papers."
"Well, come on over now and put your name down, as a contestant. The blanks are in the office of the Hampton News," urged Frank.
"I guess we're all through up here, Rob, aren't we?" asked Hiram.
"Yes," rejoined the young leader; "but you study up on your woodcraft, Hiram, and devote more time to your signaling. You are such a bug on wireless that you forget the rest of the stuff."
"All right, Rob," promised Hiram contritely. "By the time we go camping I'll know a cat track from a squirrel's, or never put a detector on my head again."
Piloted by Frank, the two young scouts made their way to the office of the local paper, which had already placed a large bulletin announcing the aeroplane model competition in its window. Quite a crowd was gathered, reading the details, as the three boys entered.
They applied for their application blanks and walked over to a desk to fill them out. As they were hard at work at this, Jack Curtiss and his two chums entered the office.
"You going into this, too?" asked the proprietor of the paper, Ephraim Parkhurst, as Jack loudly demanded two blanks.
"Sure," responded Jack confidently, "and we are going to win it, too. Hullo," he exclaimed, as his eyes fell on the younger lads, "those kids are after the prize, too. Why, what would they do with fifty dollars if they had it? However, there's not much chance of your winning anything," he added, coming up close to the boys, with a sneer on his face. "I think that I've got it cinched."
"I didn't know that you knew anything about aeroplanes," responded Paul quietly. "Have you got a model built yet?"
"I know about a whole lot of things I don't go blabbing round to everybody about," responded the elder lad, with a sneer, "and as for having a model built, I'm going to get right to work on one at once. It'll be a model of a Bleriot monoplane, and a large one, too. I notice that there is nothing said in the rules about the size of the machines."
Soon after this the three chums left the newspaper office together.
"Say," remarked Paul, in a rather worried tone, "I don't believe that there is anything said about the size of the models. Bill may build a great big one and beat us all out."
"I suppose that the big machines would be handicapped according to their power and speed," rejoined Frank. "However, don't you worry about that. I don't believe that Jack Curtiss knows enough about the subject to build an aeroplane in a week, and anyhow, I think it's all empty bluff on his part."
"I hope so," replied Paul, as they reached his front gate. "Will you be over to-night, Hiram, to talk things over? Bring your models with you, too, will you?"
"Sure," replied Hiram; "but I've got to do a few things at home after supper. I'll be over about eight o'clock or half-past."
"All right. I'll be ready for you," responded Paul, as the lads said good-by.
A few minutes later Jack Curtiss and his chums emerged from the newspaper office, the former and Bill Bender having made out their applications. Sam seemed more dejected than ever, but there was a grin of satisfaction on Jack Curtiss' face.
"Well, we sent the note, all right," he laughed under his breath, to his two chums. "He'll have got it by this time, and will be in town by dark. You know your part of the program, Sam. Don't fail to carry it out, or I'll see that you get into trouble."
"There's no need to worry about me, Jack," rejoined Sam, with an angry flush. "I'll get the boat as soon as he lands, and keep it out of sight till you've done the trick.
"Nothing like killing two birds with one stone," grinned Bill Bender. "My! what a time there'll be in the morning, when they find out that there's been a regular double cross."
"Hush! Here come those three kids now," warned Sam, as Rob, Merritt and Tubby came down the street. After what had passed they did not feel called upon to give the bully and his companions more than a cold nod.
"Well, be as stuck up as you like to this after-noon!" sneered Jack, after they had gone by, taking good care, however, that his voice would not carry. "I guess the laugh will be on you and your old friend of the island to-morrow."
AN ISLAND MYSTERY
"Hullo, Hiram; where are you bound for?"
It was Rob who spoke, as Hiram hastened by his house in the early darkness.
"Oh, hullo, Rob," responded the other. "I was wondering who that was hanging over the gate. Why, I'm going to Paul's house. I'm going to talk over that aeroplane model contest with him. I think that we stand a chance to win if Jack Curtiss doesn't make good his boast."
"What was that?" inquired Rob.
"Oh, he says that he is going to build an aeroplane that will beat us all."
"And have it ready in a week?" was Rob's astonished query.
"That's what he says," responded Hiram. "It all looks kind of suspicious to me. Fifty dollars is a large enough sum to tempt Jack to do almost anything. Well, so long. I've got to hurry along. I'm late now."
And the lad hastened away to keep his appointment.
Rob was about to go into the house and get a book, when his attention was arrested by a figure coming up the street at a smart pace whose outlines somehow seemed familiar to him. The next minute his guess was confirmed, when a hearty voice hailed him:
"Waal, here I am, lad—all shipshape and in first-class trim. Now, what is it? What do yer want? Yer didn't explain in the note, but old Captain job Hudgins'll always stand by a shipmate in distress."
"Why, whatever do you mean, captain?" exclaimed Rob, amazed, and thinking that the captain must have taken leave of his wits. "Who do you mean is in distress?"
"Mean?" echoed the captain, in his turn, it seemed, surprised. "Why, that note yer sent me. Here it is—all written on one uv them new-fangled machines."
Rob took the crumpled paper the old seaman drew out of his coat and scanned it hastily by the light of the street lamp. The following note met his puzzled gaze.
"DEAR CAPTAIN: Please come over and see me at once. Something serious has happened at the bank. I need your aid and advice.
"Hum! The signature is typewritten, too," mused Rob. "What kind of a joke is this? I don't know, but I'll bet anything that Jack Curtiss is at the bottom of it."
"Well," demanded the captain, "what is it, a bit of gammon? I'll keel-haul the man as did it if I can find him."
"It looks like a hoax of some sort," admitted Rob, sorely puzzled; "but I can't for the life of me see the object of it. Come into the house a minute, captain, and we'll try to figure it out."
Seated beneath the lamp in the library of his home, Rob scrutinized the letter closely, but could find absolutely no indication about it to betray who could have typewritten it.
"How did you come to receive it?" he asked suddenly.
"Why, old Hank Handcraft come out in that crazy launch uv his and guv it ter me," rejoined the captain. "I ought ter hev told yer that in the first place, but I was all took aback and canvas a-shiver when yer tole me yer never wrote it."
"Hank Handcraft," repeated Rob. "He's that queer old fellow that lives in a hut away down the beach?"
"Yes, and a bad character, too," replied the captain. "He used ter be a smuggler, and done a term in jail fer it."
"Well, it's pretty certain that he didn't write this," said Rob. "He couldn't get hold of a typewriter, even if he could use one. What did he tell you about it? Did he say who gave it to, him?"
"No, he just handed it ter me, and says: 'A young party in Hampton says ter give yer this and hurry.' I was just gettin' my supper when I heard his hail of 'Island, ahoy!' I hurried out, and there he was in that old teakettle uv his, at the end uv my wharf."
"And he left before you read the note?"
"I should say. He hurried right off ag'in."
"Well, I don't see any way to get at the bottom of this mystery but to go and see old Hank himself," mused Rob, after a period of thought. "What do you think, captain?"
"That's the tack ter go about on, youngster," agreed the man of Topsail Island; "but if yer are goin' down ter his place at this hour uv night, we'd better take somebody else along. He's a bad character, and I'm only a feeble old man and yer are a lad."
"I'll go round by Merritt Crawford's house," proposed Rob; "then we'll pick up Tubby Hopkins. I guess we can handle any trouble that Hank wants to make, with that force on hand."
"I guess so," agreed the old man. "I must say I'd like ter get ter the bottom uv this here mystery. 'All fair and above board' is my motto. I don't like these secret craft."
The two young scouts were both at home, and after brief explanations the four started off at a lively pace for Hank Handcraft's hut, which was situated about two miles along the beach. As they hastened along, Rob explained to the others in more detail the nature of their mission, but though they were as much mystified by the sudden summons of Captain Hudgins as Rob and the captain himself, they could hit upon no plausible explanation for it.
It was a little over half an hour before they reached the dilapidated hut where old Handcraft, a beach-comber, made his dwelling place. A short distance off the shore they could see by the moon, which had now risen, that his crazy old motor boat lay at anchor. This was a sign that Hank was at home. Lest it be wondered that such a character could have owned a motor boat, it may be explained here that the engine of Hank's old oyster skiff had been given him by a summer resident who despaired of making it work. Hank, however, who was quite handy with tools, had fixed it up and managed to make it drive his patched old craft at quite a fair speed—sometimes. When it broke down, as it frequently did, Hank, who was a philosopher in his way, simply got out his oars and rowed his heavy craft.
As an additional indication that the hut was occupied, light shone through several of its numerous chinks and crannies, and a knock at the door brought forth a low growl of: "Who's there?"
"We want to see you," said Rob.
"This is no time of night to call on a gentleman; come to-morrow and leave your cards," rumbled the gruff voice from inside the hut.
"This is serious business," urged Rob. "Come on, open that door, Hank. This is Rob Blake, the banker's son."
"Oh, it is, is it?" grumbled the voice, as the clank of the door-chains being taken off was heard from within. "Well, I ain't had much business deals with your father lately, my private fortune being somewhat shrunk."
With a muffled chuckle from the speaker, the door slowly opened, and Hank, a ragged figure, with an immense matted beard, long tangled hair and dim blue eyes, that blinked like a rat's, stood revealed.
"Come in, come in, gentlemen," he bowed, with mock politeness. "I'm glad to see such a numerous and representative party. Now, what kin I do you for?"
He chuckled once more at his little jest, and the boys involuntarily shrank from him.
There was nothing to do, however, but enter the hut, and Hank accommodated his guests with a cracker box apiece as chairs. On a table, roughly built out of similar boxes, a battered old stable lamp smoked and flared. A more miserable human habitation could not be imagined.
"Hank," began the captain, "speak me fair and above board, mate—who give yer that letter ter bring ter me ter-night?"
"What letter?" blankly responded Hank, a look of vacancy in his shifty eyes.
"Oh, yer know well enough; that letter yer give me at supper time."
"Captain, I'll give you my davy I don't know what you're talking about," returned the beachcomber.
"What!" roared the captain: rising to his feet and advancing threateningly. "Yer mean ter tell me, yer rapscallion, that yer don't recall landin' at Topsail Island earlier ter-night and givin' me a note which says ter come urgent and immediate ter see young Rob Blake here?"
"Why, captain," calmly returned Hank, with an indulgent grin, "I really think you must be gettin' childish in your old age. You must be seeing things. I hope you ain't drinking."
"You—you scoundrel, you!" roared the old captain, almost beside 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.
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:
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.
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."