THE HILLTOP BOYS ON THE RIVER
by Cyril Burleigh
CHAPTERS I. Getting a Motor-Boat II. Trying Out the New Boat III. Evil Intentions Thwarted IV. The Boat Affair Unsettled V. An Alarm in the Night VI. The Mystery of the Gold Watch VII. More Mystery about the Watch VIII. What Jack and Dick Overheard IX. Another Claimant for the Watch X. Disappointments XI. The Cat Out of the Bag XII. The Owner of the Watch Found XIII. The Prize Poem XIV. Billy's Nocturnal Adventure XV. Fun on the River XVI. The Prizes Awarding XVII. A Puzzling Matter Settled XVIII. The Departure of the Bullies XIX. The Troubles of the Surveying Party XX. Getting at the Bottom of Things XXI. What Appearing on Billy's Plates XXII. Everything is Settled
GETTING A MOTOR BOAT
"If you are going with the boys on the river, Jack, you will have to get a motor-boat. Won't you let me buy you one?"
"No, not a bit of it, Dick."
"But you want one?"
"Certainly, and I am going to have one."
"But motor-boats cost money, Jack. Why, mine cost me——-"
"Never mind what it cost, Dick. You spend a lot more money than I can afford to spend, and you have a gilt-edged affair, of course. I want a boat to use as well as to look at."
"But you want a serviceable boat, Jack?"
"I am going to have it, and it will not cost me anything like what your boat cost. Just let me look around a bit, Dick."
"All right, I'll let you do all the looking you want, but I'd like to buy you a boat just the same."
"No doubt you would, and so would Jesse W. and Harry and Arthur and a dozen other boys, but I am going to get one myself, and it will not cost me much either, and will give me all the service I want. We don't go into camp under a week, and that will give me all the time I want to build—-"
"You are not going to build you a motor-boat, are you, Jack Sheldon?" asked Dick Percival in the greatest surprise.
"Well, not altogether build it, Dick. Put it together, I may say. I did not mean to let the cat out of the bag, but now that she is out you need not scare her all over the neighborhood so that everybody will know that she is out. Let Pussy stay hidden for a time yet."
"Yes, but Jack, how are you going to——-"
"No, no, Dick," laughed Jack, "you have seen the cat's whiskers, but you haven't seen her tail yet, and you won't until I get ready. I have told you more now than I meant to, and you must be satisfied with that. I'll have the boat, don't you be afraid."
The two boys were two of what were called the Hilltop boys, being students at an Academy situated in the highlands of the Hudson on top of a hill about five miles back from the river, as the crow flies, but considerably more than that by the road.
Jack Sheldon was a universal favorite in the school, and although he had been obliged to work to pay for his schooling at the start he was not thought any the less of on that account.
Two or three strokes of fortune had given him sufficient money to more than pay for his education, and to provide his widowed mother with many extra comforts in addition, so that now he could give his time to study and not be distracted by work.
He had long known the value of money, having learned it by experience, and he was now averse to spending more than was necessary on things that gave pleasure rather more than profit.
He would not let Dick Percival, who was the son of rich parents, and had more money to spend than was really good for him, buy him a motor-boat, nor would he spend too much money on one himself when he would use it only for the smallest part of the year.
The school term was over, but Dr. Theopilus Wise, the principal of the Academy, had arranged to continue it for a portion of the summer, not in the Academy, but in a camp on the river where the boys would have plenty of open air, exercise, relaxation, and all the fun they wanted, besides doing a certain amount of school work to keep them from getting rusty as they expressed it.
The summer school was to begin its session in a short time, and, meanwhile, Jack remained at the Academy instead of going home, some distance away in another county, giving his attention to certain matters in which he was interested.
He had done work for the editor of a weekly paper of a town on the river, the nearest large town to the Academy and was well known in the place besides, having many acquaintances there among business people.
Being fond of the water, and knowing that many of the boys would have boats of one kind or another, but mostly motors, Jack had already looked about him, and had already not only formed his plans, but had put some of them in operation.
Leaving Percival, who was his principal chum among the Hilltop boys, Jack went on his wheel to Riverton, the town nearest to the Academy, and called in at the office of the News where he found the editor, Mr. Brooke, pecking away at a typewriter in his sanctum, using two fat fingers only in doing his writing rather than all of them as an expert would do.
Brooke had learned to use the machine in that way, however, and would adopt no other, although he had been shown by Jack, who was a rapid writer on a machine, and could compose on it, that he could do much faster work by the other method.
"How do you do, Sheldon?" said Brooke, looking up. "Got any news?"
"What are you going to do with that little gasolene engine that you used to run your little presses with?" asked Jack.
"I don't know, sell it, I guess. It isn't good for much except junk."
"How much do you want for it?"
"Oh, you can have it if you think you can do anything with it," said the editor carelessly.
"No, I don't want it for nothing. I'll pay you for it."
"What are you going to do with it? It's too little to run any but the small presses. Ain't going to start a paper, are you?"
"No. I can fix it up so as to make it do good work. I want to put it in a motor-boat."
"It might do for that, and if you can fix it up you're welcome to it. You have a mechanical bent, I know, and I guess if any one can fix it up, you can. Well, say ten dollars."
"All right. It will cost me another ten to put it in shape, but after that it will do all right. Will you deliver it to a man that I send after it? I'll take it down to the Riverton shops and work on it. They let me tinker things there whenever I want to."
"Certainly. Send an order, and I'll let the man have it."
"Very good. That's all for the present," and Jack went out.
His next call was at the machine shop he had spoken of, and going on their wharf he looked around, saw an old rowboat lying on the ground, took a good look at it, and then went to the foreman and said:
"What do you want for that rowboat lying on the wharf? I'd like to buy it. It will just suit me."
"It is not worth much, Mr. Sheldon," said the foreman. "You can have it if you want it."
"No, I want to buy it."
"Oh, well, say a dollar, but you'll be a dollar out if you buy it."
"I don't think so," said Jack, who knew what the boat was worth, and that a little money expended on it would not be wasted. "May I have a bench for a few days?"
"Yes, for as long as you like."
Jack hired a man to take the boat to the shop, bought some paint and brushes and some narrow boards used for flooring, and then sent for the engine, which he placed near the boat.
He was of a mechanical turn of mind, as Brooke had said, and knew a good deal about engines, and by the purchase of a few necessary articles, and by working himself he managed in the course of a day or so to put his engine into a condition that thoroughly satisfied him.
Then he bought a propeller, lamps and other necessaries, had the engine fitted into his boat, and then proceeded to deck it over forward, having already remedied any defects that it had, and making it perfectly watertight, and like a new boat with a fresh coat of paint and varnish.
He was a week on the work, but at last his boat was ready and was put in the water with the aid of two or three men from the shop.
He took a run of a mile or so up the river, and then back to the shop, greatly satisfied with the result, having fitted up a boat for less than half what a craft of the cheapest kind would have cost him had he bought it at retail.
He tied his boat up, covered it over and told the foreman that he intended to leave it there for a day or so, and would then call for it.
"Looks to me as if you had a pretty good boat, Mr. Sheldon," said the foreman. "I saw you going up the river. You made a good ten-mile gait, I shouldn't wonder."
"Yes, and I can do better yet," said Jack, smiling. "I was just warming her up a bit. She'll do better when she gets seasoned."
All this time Jack had said nothing to Percival about his boat, which certainly did not look like a made-over affair now that she was painted and decked over, had her lights and all her appurtenances, an engine in her hold and a flagstaff at her bow, meaning to give his friend a surprise.
The day before they were to leave the Academy and go into camp on the river Percival asked Jack if he had secured his boat yet, and added:
"I have mine, and she is a beauty, cost me three hundred dollars, but it's worth all that."
"Mine did not cost me a hundred," said Jack, "and she is sixteen feet long, and makes good speed. I'll have her down to-morrow when we go to camp. She is in a machine shop in Riverton, and it will be easy enough to take her down to our quarters."
"So you have one, eh?" exclaimed Dick. "Where did you buy it? You've been very quiet about it. Did you send to the city for it?"
"No, I got everything around here, as I said I would, fixed it up myself from one thing or another, but I don't think you'd know it, for she is like a new boat."
"And you did all the work on her yourself?"
"Certainly," laughed Jack. "It is nothing new for me to wear overalls and a jumper, and get my hands greasy. I can wash them."
"The first time I saw you it was in overalls. Dress doesn't make a boy. I believe you'd look all right in anything. But I'd like to see the boat now, Jack, and not wait till to-morrow."
"Well, I don't mind showing her to you, Dick, so if you will get out your runabout we'll go down and I'll give you a trip on the river."
"To be sure I will," replied Percival eagerly. "Come along."
TRYING OUT THE NEW BOAT
In half an hour the two boys were at the wharf of the machine shop, and Jack was showing his new acquisition to Percival, whose delight could hardly be expressed in words.
"Why, I say, Jack, she looks as if she had just been turned out of the shops. Why, she's a beauty and no mistake. And you did all the work on her yourself?"
"I did not build the boat, Dick, but I fixed her up, caulked, painted, and decked her over forward, put the rail around the standing room, and put in the seats, installed the engine, set the propeller, and got her in the shape you see her now. She's all right?"
"All right? Well, I should say she was. I'd never believe that you hadn't just got her brand new from the shop. No wonder you get along, Jack. A fellow who shows a knack for doing things that you do and goes ahead in spite of all obstacles is bound to get on. Come on, let me see how she can go. My boat is a lot fancier than yours, but I doubt if she can make the same speed or last as long. Come ahead, get aboard!"
The boys got on board, and Jack took his seat, started his engine, took the tiller and glided out upon the river, and then down toward the railroad station, Percival noting the speed, the smoothness with which everything worked, and the apparent ease with which Jack managed it all, as though he had always been used to such things.
"You're doing fine, Jack," he chuckled. "I suppose you can go faster if you like. Will you let her out a bit?"
"Wait till I get away from the railroad station and the docks, Dick. I'll have a clear way before me in a little while, and then I can show off, but just now I'd rather take it easier."
"H'm! you take it easy enough as it is. Why, one would think that you had been used to motorboats all your life."
"Not quite as long as that, Dick," with a smile. As they were passing the railroad station they saw two big boys with not very prepossessing faces standing on the wharf near a motor-boat moored alongside, one of them, the biggest and most disagreeable looking, saying in a loud voice and with a sneer which seemed habitual with him, as in fact it was, his conversation being directed at the boys in the boat:
"Huh! Percival has hired Sheldon to run his boat for him. It's all he's good for, and Dick don't know any more about boats than a cat."
"Gets him to run his auto, too," said the other. "He'd drive Dick's carriage if he had one. Blacks his boots and brushes his clothes, too, I'll bet. He's nothing but a valet anyhow."
Percival flushed crimson at these insults to Jack, the boys being two of the most disliked in the Academy, and said hotly:
"I'll come and throw you two brutes in the river if you say any more. Because Jack Sheldon had to work you think he is no good, but he has you fellows skinned, in studies and in everything else. You never did any work in your lives, you're too——-"
"Don't answer them, Dick," said Jack quietly, heading for the middle of the river. "It won't do any good, and they'll talk all the more. I don't mind it, and neither should you."
"Come and chuck us in the river, why don't you?" jeered the first of the boys on shore, Peter Herring by name, and the chief bully of the school. "You daren't! You're afraid of wetting your pretty clothes. Yah! what an old tub! You'll never get back with that scow!"
"I'd like to thrash them!" sputtered Percival, who was of an impulsive disposition. "I'm sorry that they are going to be with us this summer, but I guess their fathers think they are better off with the doctor to keep them in check than they would be sporting away their money at fashionable summer resorts."
"We do not have to be with them any more than we can help, Dick," said Jack quietly, managing his boat in the deeper water and in a stronger current as well as he did nearer shore. "They like to stir you up, and you only please them the more when you answer them."
"If Pete Herring and Ernest Merritt think they can shut me up they are mistaken," growled Percival. "They are getting ready for a good thrashing and they'll get it. I am not the only Hilltop boy who is ready to give it to them. Here comes a steamer, Jack."
"Yes, I see her," said the other quietly. "I will look out for her."
One of the big river steamers was coming up, but Jack kept far enough away from her and managed his head so that her wash did not affect him, and the boat passed without causing him any trouble.
"That was well done, Jack," said Percival when the boat was well up the river, and Jack went in nearer shore. "I would not be afraid to trust myself in any boat with you. Run 'em before, have you?"
"Not this sort, Dick, but a boat is a boat whether you run her by gas or pull the oars or have sails. You must look out for yourself."
"And that's just what you do. I suppose that was their boat that they were looking at? Must have cost something."
"Yes, it looked like it," carelessly. "You don't have to spend a lot of money to get fun out of a boat, however. Some fellows' boats cost them about fifty cents a mile, but this won't."
"H'm! I must look out that mine does not," laughed Dick. "I am a great fellow for spending money. Guess if I had to earn it I'd be more careful of it. That's what the governor is always saying, but I get it just the same."
When the boys were on their way back to the wharf they met Herring and Merritt in the motorboat they had seen, Herring shouting out with his usual sneer and a contemptuous look:
"We'll race you for ten dollars, Percival, if you think you can trust your helper. Two to one we'll beat you hands down."
"This happens not to be my boat," said Percival, "and I would not race with you if it was."
"Ah, go on! You can't make us believe that Sheldon can earn money to buy a motor-boat by picking fruit!"
Jack did not say anything, and the others turned and came after them so as to force them into a race.
"You could beat them, couldn't you, Jack?" asked Percival in a low tone, so as not to be heard by the others.
"Yes, but I am not going to race with them."
"They will try to beat you. Don't let them do it."
"I shall pay no attention to them, Dick," quietly.
"Yes, but Jack, I should hate to have them pass us. They'd never grow tired of telling it all over the Academy."
"Let them," said Jack, keeping on at the same steady speed, and making for the wharf.
Herring, who evidently owned the boat, put her to her speed so as to pass Jack, and Merritt shouted derisively as they drew nearer:
"We'll give you a tow, you fellows!"
The ferry boat running from Riverton to the town on the other side of the river had just put out, and was coming on at a good gait, blowing her whistle to warn the smaller boats to keep out of the way.
Jack went on across her bow with plenty of room to spare, but Herring slowed up and caught her wash, his boat dancing and rocking in the liveliest fashion, taking in water and causing both him and Merritt to shout and go into a panic.
They turned and took in more water, and Merritt, jumping up excitedly, waving his arms and scolding both Herring and the steamer captain, suddenly lost his balance and fell into the river.
"He can swim, can't he?" asked Jack, seeing the accident.
"Yes, and there are other boats on the river. Let them pick the fellow up. Serves him right, anyhow. He ought to keep still in a boat."
Merritt speedily came up, swam to the boat and tried to clamber aboard, Herring shouting at him and warning him off.
"Get out, you'll upset me!" he shouted. "Why didn't you keep still? You're as clumsy as a cow in a boat, you are. Get out of here, or I'll hit you! Keep away, I tell you!"
"There is a rowboat coming," said Percival, turning his head. "He will be all right, but he'll have to go back to the Academy in wet clothes. No danger of catching cold now, but he'll be a sight all the same, and serves him just right."
Herring kept on, but made for the railroad wharf, while the rowboat that Dick had seen took in Merritt, and shortly landed him at one of the docks along the river.
By this time the boys had reached the dock of the machine shops and Jack tied up, covered his engine and walked up to the street with Percival, the latter saying:
"It will be like those fellows to say that we were the cause of Merritt's going overboard. They did not pass us at any rate."
"Let them talk," laughed Jack. "Talk costs nothing, and won't hurt us."
The boys went to the office of the News where Jack gave the editor a few little items, writing them out on the typewriter, Percival looking on in great admiration, although he had seen Jack write before.
"One would think you had been born at a typewriter, Jack," he said. "Now I could not do that. The very noise of the thing would bother me and then, having that bell ring every few seconds would get on my nerves."
"Don't listen to it, Dick. You don't mind the chug of an auto or of a motor-boat, do you? This is not nearly as bad."
"Well, no, I suppose not, but I don't see how you can think with that thing making such a clatter. It would drive all the thoughts out of my head in a minute. None too many there, to start with!"
Leaving the office at length they came upon Herring on the main street, his late companion not being with him.
"You fouled us!" growled the bully. "I'd have passed you in another second. You'll have to pay for Erne's clothes and his doctor's bills, too. He's taken an awful cold. It'll cost you something, let me tell you."
Just then Merritt himself, in a ready made suit of clothes came out of a hotel on the corner, the boys seeing him before he saw them or Herring got sight of him.
"He does not seem to have suffered any," said Percival in a whisper.
"No, he has bought another suit of clothes, and does not appear to suffer from colds or influenza or any of those things," laughed Jack.
"Hello, Pete, why didn't you wait?" Merritt called out, and then Herring saw him and he saw the boys.
"Huh! you made me fall into the river!" Merritt snorted, "and I had to buy a suit of clothes. You'll have to pay for them."
"And for the doctor's prescription?" said Percival pointedly, for the bully's breath smelled of something stronger than milk or lemonade. "Spirits may be good to prevent a chill, Merritt, but you want to be careful how you use them."
"Come on, Pete," snarled Merritt, turning red. "They aren't worth wasting time on," and the bullies went one way while Jack and Dick went another.
"There won't be any trouble, Dick," said Jack.
"No, I don't think there will"
EVIL INTENTIONS THWARTED
The Hilltop boys marched down to their camp the next day, and after they were settled Jack went with Percival to get his boat, Dick's having been sent down to the camp in the morning.
The camp was on the river away from the railroad in a pleasant bit of woods a mile or so below the town so that they had all the charms of country life about them with the town near enough at hand in case they wanted to get anything.
There were tents to sleep in, a dining tent and one for the kitchen, and a big pavilion where the boys could do what little work they were expected to do during their stay on the river.
A very black, very jolly looking negro, who rejoiced in the name of Bucephalus, and who was the coachman and head waiter at the Academy, now had the position of head cook and general handy man, and the boys knew that they would be well looked after, Bucephalus being a general favorite.
Besides the professors there was the military instructor and drillmaster, Colonel Bull, a fat little man with a great deal of self-importance, who looked after the physical side of the boys' instruction, while the professors attended to the mental side.
There were a number of motor-boats, several of the boys going partners in these, and there were also rowboats and canoes, a considerable number of the Hilltop boys being accustomed to the water, and spending a good deal of their time on it.
Harry Dickson and Arthur Warren, chums of Jack and Dick, had a boat together, as did Herring and Merritt, and there were several boys who had boats alone, like Percival and Jack, one of these being a little fellow, the smallest boy in the Academy, who had his full name, Jesse W. Smith, painted on the stern of his boat, which he managed alone with considerable dexterity.
Percival's boat was a costly affair, and was fitted with cushions and an awning, had silver trimmings and was lined inside with mahogany and other costly woods, being a very handsome affair, but no better as a boat, as its owner himself remarked, than Jack's made-over craft.
"That's the way I do things, Jack," he said when the boys were out on the river in his boat after bringing Jack's down to the camp. "I can't begin to make the speed with this boat that you can with yours, but I have a regular floating palace, as you might say. Why, the Hudson River boats are not any better fitted up than this, size considered, but I can't get any speed out of it. Maybe you can."
"I'll try, at any rate," returned Jack, as he did, making better time than Percival had done, and handling the boat with greater dexterity.
"H'm! I believe you could get speed out of a canal-boat," said Dick, as they sped along. "There's a nasty looking cloud coming down from Thunder Mountain, Jack. Are you afraid of it?"
"No, not much, although I wouldn't like to see some of those boys too far out if it cuts up rough on the river. There's young Smith out in his boat, by the way. I think we had better warn him."
At that moment Herring and Merritt came along in their boat, and Herring said in a tone of disdain:
"That boat of yours is pretty enough to look at, Percival, but she's of no more use than a society girl in the kitchen. Want a tow?"
Jack passed the other boat with ease, although they were doing their best, and called out to young Smith:
"Come in, Jesse W., there will be trouble on the river in a few minutes, and you will be better off on shore."
"Oh, he will depend on the name of his boat, which is bigger than the boat," said Billy Manners, one of the chief funmakers of the Hilltop boys, who was coming along with another boy in a motor-boat. "Young J.W. is full of pluck."
The smaller boy was taking Jack's advice by this time, and there was need of it, for there was a squall coming and all the boys were making for the shore.
"Huh! you fellows are all afraid!" shouted Herring. "What's a little blow to fellows like us? Go on shore, you weaklings."
"There is danger, isn't there, Jack?" asked Percival, as Jack was running for shore, having seen that young Smith was safe.
"Yes, there is," shortly, "and those fellows will find it out before long. They should be told of it."
"Yes, and get abuse for our trouble," snapped Dick. "I won't do it for one."
"Better come in!" shouted Jack, all except the two bullies being now close to shore, and getting ready to make a landing.
"Mind your business!" shouted Herring. "We know how to look out for ourselves if you don't!"
"I don't like to say 'I told you so,' Jack, but I did," said Percival. "If anything happens, the fault will be all theirs."
At that moment Colonel Bull, on the bank, blew a tremendous blast on a bugle to call the boats in, and Herring obeyed, knowing that he would be cut short of many of his privileges if he did not.
As it was the two boys narrowly escaped an upset, and Merritt was deathly pale and shaking like a man with the ague when at last they got ashore, none too soon.
The river was white with foam, and it was no place for a small boat with the wind blowing sharply down from the mountains.
"You should have come in with the others," said the colonel sharply when the two bullies landed. "If you take another such risk you will be prohibited from going on the river at all. As it is, you will not go out again to-day."
Herring knew that there was no appeal from this decision, as the colonel was the physical instructor as well as drillmaster, and the doctor never disputed his word in cases which were so palpably just as in this instance.
"Pete wanted to show off," chuckled Billy Manners, "and got come up with. He can't bully the colonel if he can bully the small boys."
"He can't bully all of them either," said Harry, "for some of them won't take it from him even if they can't fight him."
As it happened to be pleasant in the afternoon, and many of the boys were out on the river in boats, Herring felt the effect of his foolish boasting, and was greatly chagrined that he was cut off from a very enjoyable sport.
Jack took Percival's boat out and made very good speed with it so that Dick said with a grin:
"Well, the boat is all right, I see, and I am the fellow that needs to take a lesson, not the boat. As I said before I believe you could get speed out of a canal-boat."
"You can get speed out of this one if you will study it a bit, and not think only of using up gasolene. Besides, there is fun to be had out of the boat, even if you do not go like the wind all the time."
"Yes, I suppose there is, but I like to go fast, and I guess every boy does. If one does not there is generally something the matter with him."
Herring was not only smarting under not being allowed to go out with the rest, but also from the knowledge that Jack was a better boatman than he was, and that the boat which he had made himself, for this was known to all the boys now, could make better time than the expensive one his father had bought him and he said to Merritt, who had no one to go out with him, and was not allowed to run Herring's boat:
"I'd like to fix that boat of Sheldon's so that he couldn't run it. He'll be crowing over me all the time, and that is something I won't stand. It'll be an easy thing to get at it at night."
"Of course," agreed Merritt. "Make a hole in his tank, do something to the engine or cut a hole in the bottom. Anything will do. Then we can say that the boat was no good in the first place, and every one will believe you. That's easy."
"I won't say anything about it. Wouldn't he suspect something if I was to speak about it? You don't show any sense!"
"I show as much as you do, staying out there on the river when there was a squall coming down from the mountain," sulked Merritt. "Don't you talk. That was the biggest fool thing I ever saw any one do."
"Shut up!" snarled Herring. "What we want to do is to fix the boat so that it won't run. Sheldon can't afford to buy another, and we will have all the fun, while he has to stay on shore."
All right. To-night will be a good time. How are you going to manage it? He may be watching."
"Why should he? He won't suspect anything. After all the boys have gone to sleep we can steal down to the shore and fix it all right. All we have to do is to see where he puts it."
It was a lovely night with a moon and stars, and a number of the boys were out on the river with their boats, skimming over the water like fireflies, and sending paths of colored light in every direction from their side lamps or with their pocket flashlights.
Herring was prohibited from going out as the day was not yet over, and he fretted at the prohibition, although it gave him a chance to watch Jack when he came in and see where he tied up.
"That's all right," he whispered to Merritt. "It's in a line with the tent where he and Percival sleep and right on the beach. We'll be able to find that all right."
"Yes, and when Sheldon goes out in his boat to-morrow we'll be able to walk right away from him. It's a pity you can't get him to bet on it, but he won't bet on anything."
"No, but Percival might. He likes to spend money. I'll get him to bet and win a lot from him."
The boys went to bed at the usual time, and before long all the tent lights were out, only a few of the camp lights being seen, as the moon was still up and there was light enough for all ordinary purposes.
There was a deep shadow on the bank of the river, however, on account of the trees and the mountains behind them, and when all was still Herring and Merritt stole from their tent and hurried toward the shore.
They wore soft shoes, so as not to betray themselves, and were dressed in dark clothes so as not to be seen readily, having prepared themselves for any possible emergency.
They had agreed between them that the safest thing to do was to bore a hole in the bottom of the boat so as to cause it to leak, and they had provided themselves with augers for the purpose.
Stealing down to the river noiselessly they easily found Jack's boat, as they thought, and were preparing to bore the hole when suddenly a voice piped up out of the darkness and from the boat itself:
"Hi! what are you going to do with this boat?"
The voice was that of young Smith who at the next moment stood up and turned the light of a pocket flash upon them as they hastily beat a retreat to the tents.
THE BOAT AFFAIR UNSETTLED
The conspirators had not mistaken the boat, and got hold of young J.W.'s by mischance, but had really begun operations on Jack's boat when surprised by the boy who they supposed to be fast asleep.
It had happened that the little fellow had wanted to know some particular point about the engine, and had asked Jack's permission to look at his, which was simple and easily understood.
Jack had told him he could do what he liked, and the boy was under the cover with his electric light turned on the engine when the evildoers came up and got to work. The first turn of the auger startled him, and he called out sharply wanting to know what they were doing.
Then he suspected mischief, and immediately threw aside the cover, and turned his light upon the fleeing rascals.
He was unable to identify them, because there were several of the boys of the same build, but he was satisfied that they would not return.
That was not enough, however, and he raised an alarm and brought out Bucephalus and a number of the servants, and said:
"Somebody's been trying to monkey with Jack Sheldon's boat. There ought to be a watch kept. Other camps have sentinels, and this should have one. Stay on watch to-night, boys, and I'll give you a dollar apiece."
"A'right, sah," said Bucephalus with a broad grin. "So dey tried to hu't Mistah Jack's boat, did dey? Wha' yo' doin' in it you'se'f, sah? Was yo' goin' to sleep in it?"
"Me?" exclaimed the little fellow indignantly. "No indeed. I was looking over the engine to get the hang of it. Jack told me I might. Go to sleep nothing! If I had been asleep I would not have caught these rascals at their dirty work."
"But yo' didn' cotch dem, sah, dey done runned away."
By this time Jack, Percival, Harry and Arthur, and a number of the boys, aroused by the noise, had come down to see what was the matter.
Young Smith turned his light on the bottom of the boat, it having been drawn up on the beach, and saw the mark of the auger quite plainly.
It had not gone in deep enough to do any harm, and what, hole there was could be caulked with very little trouble.
The rascals had dropped their tools in their hurry, and Jack picked these up and examined them carefully.
"I can't tell where these were bought," he said to Dick, "and many of the boys have tools just like them. I will keep them for further use."
"Wait till some one wants to borrow something like this," said Percival, "and then we may find out something. It was a dirty trick, whoever did it, and I wish that Jesse W. had seen them plainer."
"They were big fellows," said young Smith quietly to Jack and Percival, "but there are a good many big fellows among the boys, and that does not tell us much. I only wish I could have seen their faces."
"Well, I am glad you drove them away," said Jack. "They might have done considerable damage. Still, it is likely that I would have seen the hole when I went to put the boat in the water unless they plugged it up with sand, which they might have done."
"If any of our boys are doing things like this, which I would be very sorry to know," added Percival, "we are in a pretty bad way. If it was done by strangers we shall have to set a guard at night."
"H'm! standing guard duty is not very pleasant," said Billy Manners dolefully. "I am too fond of sleeping to do that."
"Nobody will like it," rejoined Dick, "but we shall have to do it if this sort of thing continues. I hate to think that any of our fellows are mean enough to do it."
There were many of the boys who thought that there were some of their number who were just mean enough, but no one was accused, the matter being too serious an affair for one to make charges unless they could be proved conclusively.
"Did you see which way the rascals went, J.W.?" asked Percival when the three were quite alone. "That might tell us something."
"Well, you know that it is dark along shore, Dick," returned young Smith, "and they made very little noise. They started to run the minute I spoke, and when I turned the light on them they were going pretty fast. All I could tell was that they were big boys, but I could not say now just which way they went, it was so dark."
"Well, they won't try it again, that is certain, but it may come to having a regular guard at night, and none of the boys will like that."
"I told Buck and the others that I would give them a dollar apiece to keep watch to-night, Dick."
Both Jack and Dick laughed at the young fellow's earnestness, and Jack said pleasantly:
"That was kind of you, J.W., but I don't think it will be necessary to-night. Besides, if any one pays the men to keep watch it should be myself, and not you, old chap."
"Imagine Pete Herring and fellows like that offering to pay men for watching another boy's boat!" sputtered Percival "I see them doing it!"
"Well, no harm has been done, fortunately, Dick, and with you I do not think it will be repeated. Come, let's go back to bed."
There was no further disturbance during the night, and in the morning nothing was found to be the matter with Jack's boat beyond what had been done before, and this could be easily remedied.
Percival watched Herring and others very closely to see if he could detect anything suspicious in their looks, speech or actions, but they were evidently prepared and on guard, for he could see nothing which would warrant his bringing an accusation against them.
He did not tell Jack that he suspected them, but, nevertheless, determined to watch them closely to see if there were any ground for his suspicions other than they had bad reputations and did not like Jack.
Matters went on as usual in the camp during the day, the boys dividing their time between study and recreation, with a little drill and some gymnasium practice, considerable apparatus having been erected at one side of the camp for that purpose.
Jack had a friendly race with Percival, first in his own boat and then in his friend's, and beat him in both, but nothing could induce him to race with Herring, and no one could say that he was afraid of his boat, for it was clear that he could do marvels with it.
He was willing to race with Harry and Arthur, with Billy Manners and Jasper Seymour, and even with young Smith, to whom he allowed odds, but he declined all offers to compete with Herring or any of his kind, much to their chagrin and anger.
"You're afraid!" growled Herring with his customary sneer, but Jack did not pay the slightest attention to the charge, and the other boys laughed, this making the bully more angry than ever.
Nothing was said about patrolling the camp at night, and the boys had an idea that the doctor did not know what had happened the night before, and would, therefore, take no precautions.
They were considerably surprised, therefore, when they discovered that Buck, as the cook was often called, was corporal of the guard, and had the house servants for his assistants.
They kept watch at turns during the night, but nothing unusual occurred, and Percival said to Jack with a laugh:
"Our pickets did good service last night, but I wonder if they will be on to-night?"
"We can't tell. The doctor has said nothing, and we don't know if he has done this on his own initiative or because of what he may have heard."
"Well, it is evident that we boys won't be called on to act as guards, and I am glad of it, for if there is anything I do not like it is having to parade up and down in the cold and dark for nothing when I might better be in my bed."
"I can sympathize with you," said Jack.
During the morning Percival saw Bucephalus alone, and said to him, holding one hand behind his back:
"Was it your idea to keep guard last night, Buck?"
"No, sah, Ah was ready to do it, 'cause young Mistah Smith done offah me a dollah fo' de service, but de doctah done intimate dat he t'ought it would be judicious."
"How did the doctor know that we needed a picket?"
"Ah donno, sah, Ah reckon he thought it was acco'din to military etiquette, sah. It am de custom in military camps to set a picket an' all presume he argued from dose premises, sah."
"Then you did not tell him of what occurred the other night?"
"No, sah, Ah didn't communicate nothing, sah. Mebbe it was one of de odah fellahs."
"You are sure that you said nothing?"
"Yas'r, Ah is suttinly shuah dat Ah made no communication whatsoeber regardin' de events of de perceedin' night, sah. Ah was suttin dat young Mistah Smith would keep his wo'd abo 't de extra remuneration, sah, an' Ah didn't wanter prejudice de situation, sah."
"Oh, I see," laughed Dick. "Then Dr. Wise acted on his own initiative from information received elsewhere, is that it?"
Bucephalus scratched his woolly head, and answered:
"Ah donno abo't de inflammation an' de oder misery, sah. Am it so bad as all dat, sah?"
"I mean that he did it on his own account, and not because of anything that you may have told him."
"All reckon so, sah," said Bucephalus, greatly relieved. "Ah done told him nothin', an' Ah don' guess nobody else told him."
Percival went away laughing, but tossed the coin he held in his hand to Bucephalus, who caught it deftly and grinned.
"The doctor either found it out himself or some one has told him," he said to himself, "but it is clear that he knows about it. He would not set a guard on the camp unless he had a good reason, for strangers do not visit us, and the Riverton police probably have orders to keep their eyes on the place."
Seeing Jack shortly afterward, Dick told his friend what he had learned and added:
"The Riverton police would simply keep a watch against strangers, but the doctor evidently thinks that some of our own Hilltoppers need watching, and he has, therefore, taken this means of doing it.
"I am sorry that he has had to," said Jack, "but after all the doctor appears to be living up to his name. We must find out who the fellows were, Dick, for the sake of the decent boys of the Academy, not that I care so much about my boat."
"We will do it, Jack," said Percival shortly.
AN ALARM IN THE NIGHT
The day passed as usual, Percival saying no more about trying to discover the miscreants who had sought to injure Jack's boat, and Jack being too busy to think of it.
That evening they had visitors from a fine house in the neighborhood, the owner of which, quite a wealthy man, complimented Dr. Wise on the good character of the boys, adding in rather a pompous manner:
"I must say, Doctor, that since you have been encamped on the river I have had nothing to complain of on account of your boys. Most boarding school boys are inclined to be mischievous, and to cause a good deal of annoyance to persons living in the neighborhood, but I must say——-"
"The Academy is not an ordinary boarding school, Mr. Vanderdonk, and the character of the young gentlemen in my charge——-"
"I beg your pardon, sir, but your pronunciation of my name shows that you do not quite understand the way it is divided. It is Van der Donk, with an equal emphasis upon each syllable, not Vanderdonk, with the accent on the first. I am most particular about the pronunciation of the name, which is that of one of the earliest settlers of the Hudson valley, and a very distinguished one, I may say. I am exceedingly proud of my origin, pardonably so, perhaps, but still most proud."
"Dr. Wise does not care anything about genealogy, Father," spoke up Miss Margaret, daughter of the proud descendant of the Van der Donks, "and you should not have spoken of the Academy boys as boarding school boys. They attend a military Academy, the fame of which is as great as that of your ancestors. Everybody along the Hudson valley knows the Hilltop boys and any young gentleman might be proud to be one of them."
Miss Margaret was a very pretty girl, a bit spoiled, perhaps, but the idol of her father and the puzzle of her mother, who wished her to be a young lady of society, and was greatly grieved because she preferred doing something by which she could earn her living if necessary.
"Far from saying anything against the character of the Hilltop boys, my dear," said the father, "I must say that I find them a very fine set of young gentlemen. Why, we have not had our lawn tramped over by them, nor our fruit trees pilfered, nor have we suffered from any annoyances which boarding school boys are prone to commit upon neighbors. I am really——-"
"Why, Father, you speak as if the boys were from a primary school, and had not learned the first rules of manners," laughed Margaret gaily. What do you expect, Father dear? That the boys shall be young ruffians?"
"Well, perhaps not that, my dear," replied Van der Donk loftily, "but the city boys who come out here——-"
"The poor fellows never saw a tree before in their lives, and they just wanted to make love to them," interrupted Margaret, again laughing in the gayest fashion. "Could you blame the poor unfortunates for wanting to shin up them and pick peaches and apples and everything else? The only fruit they had ever seen was stale and on city stands, and when they saw the real article it was no wonder that they wanted it. You could not blame them."
Then Miss Margaret admired the boats, and accepted Jack's invitation to take her out on the river, her father and mother accompanying her, of course, and Percival going along to talk to the old folks and give Jack a chance to devote himself to the young lady.
Jack was quite taken with the girl whom he considered very natural and a good deal better company than her father who was forever trying to impress everybody with the renown of the Van der Donks, past and present, and after the company had gone Dick said to him:
"Very pretty girl, Miss Margaret, and has lots of sense, but what a tiresome old bore that father of hers is."
"Yes, indeed," laughed Jack, "but there and many persons who parade their blue blood and fine ancestry before the world just as much as he does. What is he, pork merchant or something like that?"
"Pretty good, Jack," said Percival with a grin. "He was a butcher at one time, but don't mention it if you don't want to earn his everlasting scorn. It is never spoken of. He is one of the wealthiest men along the river, and employs a man to do nothing but cut off his stock coupons. They may invite us to the house, although they are a very exclusive sort and are supposed to associate only with millionaires, and the descendants of the oldest and best families."
"The girl does not seem to have any of that nonsense," said Jack, "and she is really very pleasant company. By the way," with a smile, "she did invite me to the house, but I guess you did not hear it."
"Well, well, you are coming on, Jack!" exclaimed Dick. "Of course she would invite you. Why not?"
"And she asked me to bring you, Dick," with another chuckle. "That is all right, too, isn't it?"
"Why, of course!" and Dick grinned again. "We will go as soon as we can, Jack."
The visit to the fine house back of the river was made sooner than the boys anticipated, and in a most unexpected and unusual fashion.
It was about twelve o'clock at night, and everything was quiet in and about the camp when all at once there was a wild alarm, a sudden ringing of bells and shouting of voices, and Bucephalus tore through the camp shouting at each tent:
"Wake up, sah, dere am a big fiah, wake up!"
Jack and Percival were the first to be aroused, and to run out of their tent at the sudden alarm.
"There is a fire somewhere!" exclaimed Jack, smelling smoke and seeing a light in the sky.
"It is up at Van der Donk's," cried Percival. "That is the direction, I am sure. Hurry and get dressed, Jack. We may be needed."
Other boys were now coming out, asking questions, staring this way and that, rubbing their eyes or standing in a bewildered fashion, and wondering what all the commotion was about.
A messenger came running into the camp from the big house asking for help to put out the fire, which had just been discovered, and which had already gained considerable headway.
The fire was, indeed, at Mr. Van der Donk's, and it was feared that the fine mansion with its costly furnishings would have to go, as there was no fire engine company within a mile or more, and it would be hard to get word to them at this time.
"Stir yourselves, boys!" cried the little colonel, bustling about half dressed. "We can at least form a bucket brigade. Form the lines quickly, Percival, and get the boys to moving."
Jack, Dick and others quickly got the boys out, and, not more than half dressed, most of them, they quickly formed in good order, and went on the double quick out of the camp and toward the big house.
Every boy had a bucket to draw water from the river for washing purposes, and now they each seized one and went on the run toward the house.
It was a matter of a few minutes only to reach it, and once there Jack and Dick formed them into a double line reaching from the house to the well, and to an artificial pond on the grounds.
Once the line of buckets got started the boys went into the house, on the balconies and everywhere convenient, and the work went on rapidly.
Bucket after bucket was passed to the boys at the end of the lines, and passed back empty after their contents had been dashed upon the flames, the work going on rapidly.
The boys had been at work nearly ten minutes and had done much to stay the progress of the flames if not to subdue them when a fire company from Riverton arrived, and with a lot of noise and bustle, but with very little system, got to work to put out the fire.
Then their engine would not work, orders were misunderstood or not obeyed, and there was a great deal of confusion, during which the Hilltop boys worked steadily on and soon began to show the effects of their efforts, the flames being under control in many places and entirely out in a few.
Jack was hard at work taking bucket after bucket, and throwing water on the flames that poured from a corner of the piazza roof when Margaret ran up to him, almost fainted in his arms, and gasped:
"My baby brother! He is in the room up there in the extension. No one has thought of him. Save him, Jack!"
"Yes, just as soon as—-here, Billy, Arthur, take my place. I must go up to the extension."
One of the boys quickly took his place at the head of the bucket line, and he ran inside and up the stairs to the room indicated by Margaret, covering his mouth with his hand to keep from breathing smoke.
He found the door, burst it open, and saw a bed in a corner with a small child asleep.
Seizing the infant he wrapped it in the blankets, pressed it close to him, and rushed out and down stairs to the open air.
"Here you are!" he cried, and a nurse ran up to him, and took the baby from his arms.
"Oh, thank you, thank you a thousand times!" she cried hysterically. "I do not know what I would do if the baby was lost. I shall lose my place."
"H'm! thinking more of herself than of the baby!" sputtered Percival, who had run to support Jack. "Are you all right, old man?"
"Yes, but it was a close shave. Look! the place is all in flames now. It was lucky I went up there when I did."
"You are very brave," said Margaret, running up to him and seizing his hand. "I do not know how to thank you."
"Never mind trying, Miss Margaret," said Jack simply. "I am glad that I was able to do something. How was the child overlooked?"
"Every one supposed that the nurse had attended to him. She is always with him at night. I suppose she was frightened and left him, and then at the last moment thought of him."
The girl nearly fainted again in her excitement, and fell against Jack's shoulder, Percival raising her and saying:
"There, there, brace up. It is all right, and Jack Sheldon has shown himself a hero as he has done many times before."
"I shall never forget him!" exclaimed Margaret, and then her father and mother took her away, and the boys continued their work.
The fire company was getting down to business by this time, but if the Hilltop boys had not made a good beginning for them they could have done nothing.
The fire was, before long, under control, and, although considerable damage had been done, the house was saved.
The boys were presently marched back to the camp, and Jack and Percival sought their tent, tired out and excited.
"Hello! what is this?" exclaimed Jack, as he was undressing, seeing something drop out of his trousers pocket.
It was a lady's gold watch.
THE MYSTERY OF A GOLD WATCH
"What have you got there, Jack?" asked Percival, seeing Jack stoop and pick up something.
"A gold watch, a lady's watch, apparently. How did it get in my pocket? I don't remember picking it up. It is a very handsome one, and quite expensive I should judge, although I never bought a gold watch."
"And it dropped out of your pocket?"
"Yes, that is the strangest thing about it. How did it get there? I did not put it there, I am certain."
Percival examined the watch, which Jack handed to him, and said:
"Yes, it is a very expensive gold watch, aside from the case, which is set with diamonds. The watch itself is one of the best foreign makes, and probably cost anywhere from one to two hundred dollars for the works alone. Then add the price of the case, and you have a nice little sum to pay for a little watch such as a lady carries."
"But how did I get hold of it, Dick? Could I have picked it up at the fire, and not known anything about it? We were all pretty well excited, and this might have happened."
"I am sure I don't know, Jack. I did not see you pick it up. You don't remember anything about it?"
"No, not the first thing, Dick. Well, I shall give it to the doctor in the morning, and ask him to make enquiries about it. If I picked it up anywhere it must have been at the fire."
"Yes, I don't know where else you could have done it."
The boys were not required to get up as early as usual the next morning on account of having been deprived of two or three hours' sleep to go to the fire, but as soon as they were through breakfast and drill Jack took the watch he had so singularly found to the doctor, telling him how he had found it, and asking him to seek an owner for it.
"H'm, ha, well, I declare!" said the doctor, turning the watch over and over, and examining it closely. "Quite a valuable article, Sheldon. And you don't know how it came in your pocket?"
"No, sir, I have not the slightest idea."
"H'm, ha, very singular!" and the doctor looked the watch over again. "If you did not have a very good reputation, Sheldon, I should say that there was something very suspicious about this, but I am as much puzzled to get at the solution of this mystery as you are. Well, well, I will take charge of it, and if no one speaks of it will advertise it in the local paper."
"That is a good idea, sir. I can get Mr. Brooke to advertise it. His paper is taken very extensively in this section."
"Could the young lady have dropped it when you met her at the fire?" asked Dr. Wise. "She nearly fainted in your arms, I understand."
"Possibly, sir," said Jack. "Perhaps it will be well to ask Mr. Van der Donk if he has missed the watch. There are no initials on it to show the owner, but it is likely that it belongs to Miss Margaret, being a lady's watch. Will you enquire?"
"Certainly. It is likely that some one from the house will be at the camp this morning in any event."
An hour later Mr. Van der Donk called with his daughter to compliment the boys on their services of the night before, and to thank them personally for what they had done.
The doctor asked him if he had missed a valuable watch, and showed him the one which Jack had found.
"It does not belong to any of us," said the gentleman.
"I would very much like to have one like it," said Margaret, "but it does not belong to me. You say it was found last night at our house?"
"The young gentleman found it in his pocket, but, of course, it got there by accident. It is very singular."
"We have missed nothing, which is rather singular, seeing that there were so many strangers at the house. Of course, I do not include the boys. We would hardly call them strangers, being such near neighbors, and having the reputation they have, besides doing such a great service to."
"And the watch does not belong to you?" asked Dr. Wise, who was growing rather tired of the fulsome praise of the descendant of one of the oldest and best families in the Hudson valley.
"No, it does not," said Margaret.
"Then I shall have to advertise it. It is very singular. I thought it might be yours, but this makes it all the more mysterious."
The boys were obliged to listen to a long speech of thanks from Mr. Van der Donk, at the end of which they were presented with an engrossed set of resolutions drawn up by the donor, which he had had copied that very morning, the language being as full of flourishes as the penmanship.
"Some one must respond to the speech, and thank the gentleman for his very complimentary gift," suggested the doctor, and with almost one accord the Hilltop boys selected Jack Sheldon as their spokesman.
In a well chosen speech of five minutes, expressing more in that time than the descendant of an old family had expressed in his hour, Jack thanked him on behalf of the boys, stopping when he had finished and not repeating himself, as too many impromptu speakers do.
Then Mr. Van der Donk replied, and said all that he had said before, prating on till the boys began to yawn and to shift their feet from one side to the other, for they had been standing all this time, and were very tired.
When the gentleman had gone, the boys were dismissed, and some of them went to their tents, others going out on the river.
"Old Van is a tiresome old bore, Jack," said Percival when the two boys were out on the river, gliding along side by side. "I would not like to have to listen to him all day as his family must."
Jack smiled, but did not express any opinion regarding the gentleman in question, making it a rule never to give an adverse opinion of any one if he could not praise.
"I suppose if there is no owner found for the watch it will go to you, Jack?" Dick continued.
"I am sure I don't want it, Dick. It is not a boy's watch, and it is altogether too expensive a thing for me to carry. The rest of my things don't match it at all."
"You could sell it, I suppose? Or you might make a present of it to Miss Margaret. You said she was greatly taken with it."
"Yes, she was, but what business have I got making costly presents to a girl that I never saw before last night? Be sensible, Jack."
"But I'm sure you are as good as she is, Jack."
"Maybe, but look at the difference in fortune. And, as I said before, what business have I making presents, costly or otherwise, to people I have just met? It would be a piece of impertinence."
"You must not take me too seriously, Jack," laughed Dick.
That afternoon the boys went up the river in Jack's boat, and Jack inserted an advertisement in the News, which appeared the next morning.
The advertisement was simply to the effect that a watch had been found, and could be had upon proving property, and paying for the advertisement, no description being given.
About the middle of the forenoon the next day a crafty-looking man came to the camp, and asked to see Jack.
"Did you find a watch?" he asked when the boy came up.
"Yes," said Jack simply.
"What sort of watch was it? Maybe it was mine you found. I have lost one."
"What sort did you lose?" asked Jack. "Describe your watch, and I will tell you if it is the one I found."
"Well, what sort of watch did you find?" snapped the other. "If I say it was an open face watch you will say it wasn't. Tell me the kind of watch you found, and I'll tell you if it is mine or not."
"You may say it was yours in any event," said Jack quietly.
"Do you mean to say I would lie for the sake of a watch?" the man snapped, flushing deeply, and it was plain to see that this was just what he would do.
"Describe your watch to the doctor," said Jack. "He knows what sort of a watch I found, and he will tell you if it is the one you lost."
"You are a lot of swindlers and don't mean to give it up," the man stormed, getting redder in the face, and quite breathless from excitement. "I'll see if I am going to be robbed like this. You will hear from me again, young fellow!"
"He won't come back," laughed Percival, who was with Jack at the time.
He was quite correct, for nothing more was seen of the indignant fellow, and the boys made up their minds that he was only a swindler who had imagined that as he had only boys to deal with he would obtain a watch at very little cost.
"I wonder if we will have any more claimants?" said Jack when an hour or more had passed, and no one else had called.
"If you had said more in your advertisement you might," said Dick. "But you were very wise not to do so."
"I always try not to say too much," said Jack.
MORE MYSTERY ABOUT THE WATCH
Shortly before noon a showily dressed woman came to the camp and asked to see the doctor, saying excitedly:
"I understand that one of your boys found a watch, Dr. Wise. May I see it? I lost mine the other day and—-"
"This one was found last night, Ma'am," said the doctor shortly.
"Why, yes, I suppose so, but I could have lost it before then, of course. What sort of watch was it? May I see it?"
"Where did you lose it, Ma'am?"
"Why, I am not certain about that. You see I go about a good deal, and it may have been in one place or maybe in another. I could not tell just where I lost it or I would not have lost it."
"It was lost somewhere in town, I suppose?"
"Why, yes, I suppose it was."
"This watch was not found in town, Ma'am."
"Oh, well, I do go out of town occasionally," said the woman quickly. "Why, yes, now I remember, I was down this way yesterday afternoon, looking at the camp and enjoying the view. I would know the watch in a moment. May I see it, Doctor?"
"It was a gentleman's watch, was it? Probably a keepsake? Your husband's or son's, perhaps, and you don't like to——-"
"Yes, it was my father's, and I value it very highly. Let me see it——-"
"This is not the watch you lost, Ma'am, this is a lady's watch," said Dr. Wise tersely, being convinced that the woman was an imposter, and that she had not lost a watch of any sort.
"You might at least let me see it," said the woman persuasively. "Some of my friends may have lost a watch, and I could take it back to them. I know them all."
"If your friends have lost their watches, Ma'am, let them come after them," said the doctor shortly. "Good morning, Ma'am."
"H'm! I don't think you have any manners to boast of!" snapped the woman as she went away.
She had not been gone more than ten minutes before another woman came to the camp, and asked to see the boy who had found a watch the night before.
She was sent to the doctor and said to him, evidently disappointed at not seeing the boy himself:
"Ah, good morning, I understand that one of your young gentlemen found a lady's watch last night. Ah, I have lost mine, and would like to look at it to see if——-"
"How did you know it was a lady's watch?" asked the doctor. "The advertisement merely mentioned a watch. What sort of watch was yours, domestic or foreign, stemwinder or keyed, open face or hunting case, gold, silver, or nickel case? If the watch is as you describe it, it is yours. Otherwise I shall have to hold it."
"Really now, I could not describe it so accurately as all that. Ah, do you mind showing it to me? I am very what you may call hazy on descriptions. I could not really say if it was large or small, those terms being relative, you know. Yes, it is in a gold case and is a stemwinder, that much I remember. It is an American, of course, but whether Elgin, Waltham, Howard, Thomas or—-or any other make I really could not tell you."
"You are sure it is American make?"
"Oh, yes, positively, and in a gold case, and about half this size," closing her thumb and first finger to form a circle.
"Well, I am very sorry, Ma'am, but this is not an American watch. I trust that you will find yours, but this is not it. I wish you good morning, Ma'am," and Bucephalus showed the lady out evidently greatly disappointed.
Half an hour later a self-satisfied looking man came into the camp and asked to see the boy who had found a watch, and had advertised the same in the Riverton paper.
Billy Manners happened to see him first, and, seeing Jack at a little distance with Percival, called out:
"Hello, Jack, come here, somebody wants you!"
Jack came up with Percival in a few moments, and the self-satisfied man, eyeing him fiercely, said:
"You are the boy who found a watch, I believe. Describe it to me."
"Excuse me," laughed Jack, "I have not lost a watch. I have found one. If you have lost one describe it, and we will see if it is the same as the one I have found."
"I have not lost a watch," snapped the other. "I am in the detective service, and if I have the description of the article I can enquire who has lost one like it, don't you understand?"
"And you wish to be a sort of middle man between me and the owner?" and Jack laughed again. "I advertised for the owner of the watch, not for an agent who would help me find the owner. I cannot see that we need spend any more time on the affair."
"How do I know that you have not stolen the——-"
It was very fortunate for the man that Jack was nearer to him than Percival, who suddenly aimed a swinging blow at him.
Jack threw up Dick's arm, and said quickly:
"Dick! What are you about?"
"It is lucky for you, sir," said Dick hotly, "that my friend stopped me. Is it a part of your business to insult people without provocation?"
"Sir," said the other, "I come in contact with very many persons of a suspicious character and——-"
"Yes, I should suppose you might," said Dick significantly. "We do not, and it is not at all necessary that you should consider this boy one of that sort. Let him talk to the doctor, Jack."
The boys were walking away when the man interrupted them hastily with:
"I am in search of a watch which has been stolen. It is a lady's watch, heavy gold case, about an inch and a quarter diameter, hunting case, set with five or six small diamonds, made in Switzerland, Jurgensen movement, worth from three hundred to five hundred dollars. There are no initials nor monograms, but the number is—-"
"That describes the watch the doctor has," said Jack. "We will see what the number is, and if it is the same as what you mention there is no doubt that this is the watch. We will go and see him."
"Where did you find this watch?" asked the other, as he hurried after the two boys.
"Excuse me, but that has nothing to do with it," said Jack. "I found a watch, and your description tallies with it all but the number, which I do not know. That we will ascertain."
The boys led the way to the cottage, which the doctor occupied, and went to his study where they found him.
"Write the number of the watch you are in search of on a piece of paper, and let the doctor see the number of the watch," said Jack to the detective, after telling the doctor why they had come. Then we will see if this is the one or not.
The man wrote a number on a card, and handed it to the doctor, who took the watch from a pigeon hole in his desk and opened it.
"The number is identical," he said, and handed the watch and the card with the number on it to Jack that he might compare them.
"Yes, so they are," the boy said, showing them to Dick. "This is certainly the watch you are in search of."
"May I ask you where and how you found it?" asked the detective, still with the accusing air that both Dick and Jack himself resented.
"I found it in my pocket after coming from the fire at Mr. Van der Donk's house last night or this morning," he replied.
"In your pocket? Was not that a singular place to find it? How did it get in your pocket?"
"You know as much about that as I do," said the boy quietly.
"Are you sure you did not put it there yourself?" asked the man in an insinuating manner, which Jack resented.
"Dr. Wise," he said, flushing, "will you tell this person what I told you when I gave you the watch this morning? I am afraid I cannot keep my temper if I talk with him any longer."
"And I know I shall not!" sputtered Percival.
"The young gentleman did gallant work at the fire last night, and came home very much fatigued," said the doctor. "While undressing with his companion who is here, this watch dropped from his trousers pocket. Percival will doubtless tell you the same. This is what he told me when he handed me the watch this morning. If you suspect him you do him an act of the rankest injustice."
"This watch has been stolen," said the other. "The thief was traced to Riverton. He went to the fire last night with a number of suspicious characters who generally congregate at such places in the hope of gain. The watch was doubtless passed from one person to another, for it was not in the possession of the suspected man who denies all knowledge of it. Now I want to know how this boy got hold of it."
"He does not know any more than you do, and I have told you just what he told me, and which I believe."
"It sounds very queer," said the detective. "I shall have to hold him for the Grand—-"
"I beg your pardon, you will do nothing of the sort, in fact, you cannot," said the doctor.
"Just let the Hilltoppers hear him, and see what they will have to say about it!" sputtered Percival under his breath.
WHAT JACK AND DICK OVERHEARD
"I beg your pardon, Mr.—-, I did not catch your name," continued Dr. Wise, "but you have no authority in this case. You are not a civil magistrate, not even a police court judge, and you cannot hold this boy for any jury, grand or little. You can make a charge against him, it is true, and then if the local magistrate considers the evidence good he will be held for the Grand Jury. You are doubtless unaware, being a stranger to the section, that I am a magistrate myself, although seldom called upon to adjudge cases."
"I was not aware of it, sir," said the other, a little shamefaced. "I may have been hasty, but my association with suspicious characters——-"
"Has made him one himself," muttered Percival, whereat Jack could not help smiling.
"Has made me suspect persons unjustly, perhaps," the detective went on. "Still you must admit yourself that the finding of the watch, as related by you, is, to say the least, singular."
"Singular, yes; suspicious, not necessarily. You say yourself that the watch was supposedly passed from one person to another. Why could not one of the suspected men have slipped it in Sheldon's pocket, either designedly or by mistake? It is certainly possible."
"I wish you'd let me go out and tell the Hilltop boys that this man has more than intimated that Jack Sheldon is a thief, Doctor," said Percival "I can imagine what they will have to say about it, and what they will do to him. The river is very convenient!"
"Restrain yourself, Percival," said the doctor.
"If I have given the young gentleman an unenviable reputation," the detective rejoined, his face red, "it is on account of the reports I have heard of him from——-" and he stopped short.
"Who told you this?" demanded the doctor. "There is not a more exemplary boy in the whole Academy than John Sheldon. Ask any one of the instructors, ask the boys themselves, ask the editors of the Riverton papers, ask the heads of the business houses, the superintendent of the Machine Works, the Chief of Police himself, and they will all tell you the same. Who was your informant to the contrary?"
"I am not at liberty to reveal the name of my informant," said the detective, a little abashed, "but I had it from more than one source."
"Then let me tell you that you were maliciously misinformed, for there is not a boy in the Academy who bears a better character than John Sheldon. I will retain this watch until I have a better authority to deliver it than yours. I wish you a very good morning."
Just then the bugle blew to call the boys to dinner, and as they always formed in regular order to march into the dining tent there was not the opportunity, which Percival so much desired, of pitching the detective into the river or at least giving him a sound hissing.
"As you please, sir," the man said, as he bowed himself out. "You cannot expect me to believe all that this young gentleman says after what I have heard of him from——-"
"You could have consulted me, at any rate," said the doctor. "I think I am best competent to judge of the characters of the boys put in my charge. Good morning, sir. Boys, the bugle has sounded."
The detective went away in a hurry, looking a good deal crestfallen, the boys getting into line with the rest, this operation preventing Percival from giving the man the send off that he had meant to give him.
"I'd like to know where that fellow got his information about you, Jack," he said to his friend when they were seated at table.
"I don't care to know, Dick, so long as the doctor speaks well of me," Jack returned.
"Well, I'd like to know just the same. There are some boys here who would say all they could against you, and the man may have seen them before he saw the doctor, and heard what they had to say. You could see that he was prejudiced from the start."
"Yes, he presupposed my guilt before giving me a chance to speak for myself, Dick. However, it is fortunate that I have a good reputation."
"Which is what some of the Hilltop boys have not. I am not mentioning any names," and Percival began eating his soup with a good appetite.
An hour or two after dinner Jack asked Percival to go up the river in his boat, having one or two errands in town to do, and wanting company.
Dick was glad to go in Jack's boat, as the boy managed it so well, and he would have very little to do himself.
Finishing his errands in town Jack was proceeding down the river when, with a sudden impulse, which he could not explain, he said to Dick:
"Suppose we go up the creek a bit. The tide is that way now, and we shall have water enough, and it will not be against us."
"You don't want to go to the Academy, do you, Jack?" asked Percival. "You can run in as far as the ravine. You came down that way once."
There was quite a deep ravine on the bill where the Academy was located, from which a turbulent creek or kill ran to the river, and Jack had once had a tumble into this, and had made his way to the little station at the foot of the hill along its banks, and, incidentally, had discovered a considerable sum of money stolen from a bank in Riverton and hidden there.
"No, I don't want to go all the way, Dick," answered Jack with a smile, "but we might go a short way up."
They put into the little kill, and went beyond the business part of the town, finally getting into the woods and finding banks of some height on either side.
The kill was full, and the current set their way, so that they had no trouble and kept on for a mile beyond the town, finding themselves in a most wild and picturesque spot, most of the time in deep shadow, and hearing no sounds except those of the woods, now and then seeing a drowsy bird on a bough or hearing the low hum of insects as they flew past.
"You'll get to the station before long, Jack," said Percival at length. "I think the tide is beginning to turn. We get considerable of it even here. Do you think——-"
Jack raised his hand as a sign for his friend to be quiet, and at that moment somewhere on the bank above them they heard a querulous voice:
"Why do you give me it if it is worth so moche, and there is alarm about it?" they heard in a high-keyed, querulous voice, evidently that of a woman, and Jack started involuntarily.
He had heard that voice before, but at the moment he could not tell where, or when it was.
"What have you done with it?" asked a man in a low tone, which Jack caught, nevertheless, all being silent in the place.
"How I know where I have lose it?" answered the woman. "I have be in a many exciting time. If there was suspicion you should not give it. I do not know, and maybe I show it to some friend to make her jealous."
"Did you?" growled the man. "You should have more sense."
"But you do not tell me. Now it is lose. I do not know where. I am glad. You should not have give me it."
Jack now recognized the voice as that of the nurse who had taken the Van der Donk child from him the night before, but he was still at a loss to know what she was talking about.
"I gave it to you to keep safe for me until I could dispose of it," the man answered. "The detectives were after me. Luckily I got rid of it in good time, but now that they have nothing against me I can dispose of it to advantage. And you have lost it?"
"I have tell you that I have," the woman answered in her high voice, with a strong foreign accent, Jack now remembering that she had seemed to be French or Italian, although he had met her but a few moments. "I have lose it, and I am glad. Why shall I get into prison for you? You shall keep your gold and diamond watches for yourself, and not give them to me."
"Sh! not so loud!" cautioned the man. "Somebody may hear you."
It was the watch he had found in his pocket that the woman was talking about, and Jack had some trouble in restraining his surprise.
"But how did you lose it?" the man continued. "Did you carry it with you? You don't go to throwing such things about, do you?"
"I don't know. There is much excitement at the house, there is the big fire, there is the boy of the Academy coming to put it out, there is the man from Riverton, and there is the baby, which I forget, and the boy go up in all the smoke and bring him down. I shall lose my place if the baby is lose. How can I remember a watch, which I cannot carry, for fear some one say I steal? Ah! you should not give!"
"And now you have lost it!" growled the man. "Haven't you any idea? Couldn't you have mislaid it? You are not lying to me, you have really lost it, Gabrielle?"
"Yes, I tell you I have lose it, and I am glad!" cried the woman in a higher key than before, and with great excitement.
The tide now began to take the boys back down the hill, and Jack quickly steered so that he would go down with it, being speedily out of sound of voices.
"What do you think of that, Jack?" whispered Percival.
"That the mystery of the watch seems to be as deep as ever."
ANOTHER CLAIMANT FOR THE WATCH
The boys made their way down to the mouth of the kill, and out upon the river, no more being said concerning what they had heard until they were on the river gliding down stream.
"That must have been the nurse you saw last night," said Dick.
"Yes, but I don't know the man. He must be a bad character."
"Decidedly. There is one thing I cannot make out, though. How did that watch get in your pocket?"
"I don't know myself unless the girl slipped it in during the short time I saw her. It was evidently not passed from hand to hand as we thought. The girl had it, but I cannot see that any one else did. I am as much in the dark as ever."
"And we still have to learn who it was who gave you a bad reputation to the detective. He won't tell."
"He may not know," rejoined Jack musingly. "I don't care very much. My reputation does not depend upon what he says nor upon what some of the boys here may say. I have enough friends among the boys of Hilltop, and the faculty, not to mind the rest."
"True enough, Jack. Hello! there are some of those fellows now looking for a race if not trouble."
Herring and Merritt just now appeared in their boat off the railroad dock, and waited till Jack and Percival came up when Herring shouted:
"Come on if you want to race. We'll meet you on the way back."
"Race 'em, Jack, just to show them you can beat 'em!" whispered Dick hoarsely.
"No, Dick, I won't," said Jack with emphasis. "I'll race any one else for the fun of it, but I will not race with those fellows."
Herring started off at a good pace, expecting that Jack would follow, and when they had a good lead, Jack having turned and gone up the river, Billy Manners and young Smith in the latter's boat set off after them.
"We'll give you a race, Pete!" shouted Billy. "Whoop her up, J.W., and see how we'll leave 'em behind!"
Young Smith was managing the boat and doing it well, and now, anxious to show off, he shot ahead, and soon began to gain on the other boat.
"You can watch the fun even if you don't race, Jack," chuckled Percival. "Turn around, old man, and follow."
"I don't mind that," said Jack, "and if anything should happen to either Billy or to J.W., we will be on hand to help them."
Young Smith was putting his boat to its paces, and as Jack turned to follow had nearly reached the leading boat.
"Go ahead if you are going!" shouted Billy Manners with a laugh, greatly enjoying the excitement. "Chuck us a line and we'll tow you."
"Huh! you can't beat anything!" shouted Merritt.
"Let's see you beat us!" snarled Herring, forging ahead.
Young Smith put on a spurt and came on behind at a swift pace, shortly being even with Herring.
"Watch 'em, Jack!" exclaimed Dick excitedly. "I'd give a dollar to see young Jesse W. beat those fellows, yes, five. I hope he'll keep it up."
The boy did keep it up, for in a few minutes he passed Herring and Merritt, and gained a good lead on them, much to Billy's delight.
The joker laughed and shouted, and seemed greatly to enjoy the fun, while the younger boy kept up his speed and increased the lead, Jack following till a bend in the river hid the two boys in the first boat from sight.
He would not pass Herring and Merritt, but went across the river where he could get sight of young Smith, who was going on at a good rate, Herring trying his best to reach him, but in vain.
"That's the best yet," laughed Percival uproariously. "Beaten by little Jesse W. Smith, and those fellows claim to have the fastest boat on the river. I think they will have less to say now."
"Probably Herring will say that there was something the matter with his boat, and yet he was ready to race with us just a moment before. He'll get out of it somehow, you'll see. It's just like him."
Herring did not overtake the other boys, and they were ashore some little time ahead of him, Jack coming along leisurely and letting Herring land first.
"Did you see that?" asked Billy in great glee when Jack came ashore. "We won't hear any more boasting from that quarter I guess."
"We didn't have enough gasolene to go fast," growled Herring, who came up at that moment. "We got out without knowing it. We'll race you for ten dollars to-morrow."
"Oh, we are satisfied," chuckled Billy, while Percival looked significantly at Jack, and said:
"What did I tell you, Jack? A poor excuse is better than none."
Jack said nothing, and he and Percival went off into the woods.
Within a short time of the supper hour when the boys returned they were told by Bucephalus that the doctor wished to see them, and they went at once to the cottage where they found a well-dressed stranger talking with the principal.
"This is the young gentleman who found the watch," said Dr. Wise. "Will you describe it to him?"
"It is a lady's watch," said the other slowly, and in well modulated tones. "It was a present to my wife, and, of course, I am sorry to lose it, and will give a good reward for its return. It was stolen from the house where I live a few weeks ago, and I have been trying to find it ever since. I did succeed in tracing the man whom I suspected of stealing it, but when he was arrested the watch was not in his possession. I saw an advertisement in the paper only this afternoon, which made me think that perhaps this might be the watch I am in search of."
Jack looked closely at the man who did not have the marks of a bad character anywhere, being well dressed, well spoken, and evidently a man of easy means and considerable culture.
There was something about him, nevertheless, that made Jack think he was not what he seemed, and he tried to think what it was and to place him in his mind.
"Will you describe the watch, please?"
"Certainly, with the greatest of pleasure," and the man proceeded to give an accurate description of the watch, not omitting the slightest detail, giving the name of the maker, the size, the number of diamonds on the case, and, in fact, everything about it.
"Number, please?" said Jack, still looking fixedly at the man. "You will know the number of the watch, of course? Persons who own valuable watches always make a record of the number."
"The number?" said the other. "Oh, yes, to be sure. I have it in my pocket-book. The rest of the description is accurate, is it?"
"Let me hear the number," said Jack quietly. "Two watches may be exactly alike, but have different numbers. I have not said that your description is correct. You have the number?"
"Why, of course!" said the other somewhat impatiently, and all at once a light broke in upon Jack.
The man was the one he had heard, but had not seen, talking with the foreign nurse maid on the bank of the kill earlier in the afternoon.
He had tried to place the man's voice, but while he talked in low, pleasant tones, with a good inflection, he was puzzled, knowing and yet not knowing it.
The instant that the man spoke in impatient, angry tones, such as he had used on the bank of the kill, Jack recognized him, and he wondered that he had not done so before.
The man took a slip of paper from his pocketbook, and read out a number written in pencil, the exact number of the watch which Jack had found.
"Is that correct?" he asked Jack with a certain tone of triumph.
"Perfectly so," the boy answered.
"And the description is correct also?"
"Ah, I am glad of that. I mentioned a reward a few minutes ago, and I am perfectly willing to pay it. Will a hundred dollars be sufficient?"
"It would be more than ample in the event of my having the actual owner of the watch to deal with," in a quiet tone.
The man flushed, glared angrily at the boy, and cried excitedly:
"What do you mean by that, you young scoundrel? Do you dare to say that I am not—-" and then he stopped short, laughed, and said in his former pleasant tones: "but this is a joke, of course."
"No, it is not, it is the truth," said the boy. "Dr. Wise, don't give it to him. He is not the real owner of the watch. Have you forgotten your conversation with Gabrielle this afternoon?" to the man himself. "Well, I have not, nor has my friend, and we both heard it. It was on the banks of a little kill that runs into the Hudson a few miles from here, and about a mile up from the river."
Before the boy had finished the man uttered an inarticulate mutter, and flushed deeply, dashing out of the room as the sentence was completed.
"Come On, Dick, the man must not escape!" cried Jack excitedly. "Excuse us, Doctor, we've got to watch him. Come ahead, Dick!"
Both boys left the cottage in haste, seeing the man running toward the river when they reached the outside.
"Hello! stop that man!" shouted Dick.
"Catch him!" echoed Jack.
Jack's boat was at the shore, not hauled up on the bank as usual, and now this man made directly for it, sprang in, started the engine in a few moments, and was out on the river as the two boys and some others came running down.
"I am going to take your boat, J.W., if it's ready!" shouted Jack to young Smith whom he saw approaching. "I must catch that fellow!"
"All right, Jack!" cried the boy. "Do what you like with it."
Jack sprang into the smaller boy's boat, started the engine and set off after the runaway at a good speed.
The man was going up the river, and already had a good lead, but Jack did not hesitate, relying on getting help to stop him before he had gone much farther, or, at any rate, when he reached town, where he was evidently making his way.
The fugitive kept as close in to shore as possible, and made the highest speed he could; Jack realized that his boat was a good one, and would have some trouble to keep it in sight, although young Smith's boat was capable of making good time.
"I am glad I know what young J.W.'s boat can do," he said to himself, "and if that fellow had not had a lead on me I would have been up to him by this time. I think I can beat him in the long run, as he does not know my boat as well as I do, and I know this one now."
Jack hoped that by the time he reached town he might get aid to stop the man even if he had not overhauled him, and he kept on at a good rate.
"That fellow must know something about motor-boats," he thought, "for he is managing mine in good shape. I could do better with her, but he is doing very well. I only wish some one would come along so as to head him off. I don't like to lose him."
When they neared the mouth of the kill Jack shot a hasty glance ahead to see if there was any one coming to whom he could shout, and saw a little tug put out from the railroad dock.
He was about to shout to them when to his great annoyance he saw the man in his boat shoot into the kill and disappear.
"H'm! I don't know where he will go now!" he muttered in disappointment, hurrying after the fugitive.
He was not far behind as it was, and as he entered the creek, having put on extra speed, he saw the man only a short distance ahead.
Not far away there was a turn in the creek, and the runaway presently disappeared around it, Jack following and gaining ground.
In a short time he came in sight not of the man, but of his boat, tied up at the bank, the man having disappeared.
"Well, I have my boat at any rate," laughed Jack rather ruefully, "and that is something I suppose. I wanted the man, but I shall have to be satisfied with what I can get."
He got into his own boat, and towed the other out of the creek and down the river, disappointed, of course, but, on the whole, glad that it was no worse, and that he had not lost his boat.
He met Percival and some of the boys on his way back, the boys questioning him excitedly as they came up.
"Did you get him, Jack?"
"You have got your own boat back anyhow. Did you catch him?"
"How did he get away, Jack?" asked Percival. "Did he put up a fight?"
"No, he ran into the kill, and as soon as he got out of sight around a bend tied up my boat and skipped out," said Jack in a tone of disgust.
"That's too bad. I hoped that you would catch him"
"Young J.W. will think all the more of his boat after this," said Billy Manners. "You made it go, Jack."
"Haven't I told him that he could get speed out of a canal-boat?" Percival retorted with a laugh.
"No one will want to race with Jesse W. after this," remarked Arthur. "They won't make fun of his boat now, nor of him either."
"Well, he got away from me," said Jack, as the boys turned and went back with him, "and now I suppose he will be harder than ever to find. He has not got the watch anyhow."
When the boys reached camp supper had already started, but Bucephalus looked after them, and the doctor readily excused them on account of the importance of their errand.
"He got away from me, Doctor," said Jack, "but I recovered my boat and that is something."
"Percival told me of the conversation you heard this afternoon, and so I readily, understood why you were so anxious to apprehend the man. I was prepared to turn the watch over to him, being convinced that he was the owner, and your accusation came as a great surprise, therefore."
After supper Jack suggested to Percival that they go up to the Van der Donk house and see the nurse, as they might learn more about the man who had claimed the watch.
"It is a good idea, Jack," said Dick, "but I guess you will need to be careful how you proceed with that excitable creature, who is ready to go up in the air at the slightest notice."
"Yes, it will be necessary to observe caution if we wish to learn anything. These foreigners are very excitable, especially the women, and one has to be cautious in dealing with them."
Early in the evening the two boys went up to the Van der Donk house, being met by Margaret, who seemed very glad to see them, and said:
"We have been busy putting things to rights, and if it does not look very tidy here you must excuse it. Gabrielle has gone away, no one knows why or where."
Jack glanced significantly at Percival, and said carelessly:
"Gabrielle? She was the nurse?"
"Yes, and I have been obliged to look after the baby, to help the maids with the cleaning and dusting, to assist the cook, to look after things generally and to keep father and mother from getting into the dumps."
"Did Gabrielle do all these things?"
"Oh, no, but when one maid goes the others want to, and it has been a difficult matter to keep them all contented and busy. Gabrielle was a good nurse, but a bit flighty and quite excitable."
"But you don't know that she has gone for good?"
"She took her boxes, and went away very unexpectedly. It may have been on account of the fire, but we don't know. She has never gone away like this before, but I suppose an excitable person, such as she was, is liable to do strange things at any time."
"It must be very awkward to be without help at such a time, and if we are any trouble—-"
"Oh, no, don't think of going," said Margaret hurriedly. "By the way, did you find an owner for the watch?"
"We have had several claimants, but no real owner," said Jack. "It is a very handsome one, and almost anybody might be excused for wanting it."
"Yes, indeed. I would like very much to have it myself. How could it have been here when it does not belong to any one in our family?"
"There were strangers here last night, and we think that the man who stole it put it in Jack's pocket by mistake when he saw that the police were watching him."
"But we did not miss anything ourselves. One would think that if thieves were about they would try to pick up something when there was so much excitement. It seems very mysterious to me."
"Yes, and to every one," said Percival. Mr. and Mrs. Van der Donk came in shortly, and for a time there was a very pleasant conversation, but at last the old gentleman got upon the subject of his family, and before long the boys were yawning, and the old lady fast asleep.
"You will have to excuse us," said Percival, getting up, "but we boys had very little sleep last night, and we have to be back at nine o'clock in any event."
The boys took their leave, and when once clear of the house Percival said with a grin:
"I could not stand the old man and his genealogy, although we could have stayed an hour longer easily."
"I saw that you were beginning to yawn, and I must confess that I felt a bit drowsy myself."
"We won't find out anything about the watch through that girl, Jack," said Percival a little later. "Our plans of being cautious and all that did not amount to anything."
"No, and we are as much in the dark as before regarding the real owner. We may never know who he is, Dick."
"It looks like that," said Dick.
THE CAT OUT OF THE BAG
As the boys were nearing the camp on their way back they suddenly heard the sound of angry voices, and Percival whispered:
"Wait a minute, Jack. Some of the boys are having a quarrel, and I believe I know who they are."
"I told you to let my boat alone, you idiot!" the boys heard Herring say just ahead of them.
They were in the woods adjoining the camp, and the two quarreling boys were very close to them.
"Well, I didn't hurt it!" they heard Merritt say angrily. "You are making a lot of fuss over an old tub that isn't any good anyhow. Look how little Smith beat us this afternoon, and he the smallest boy in the Academy. I didn't hurt your boat."
"I say you did, and I told you not to go out with it. You've busted the engine."
"No, I didn't. It wasn't any good anyhow. You tried to put Sheldon's boat out of business, but you couldn't."
"You had as much to do with that as I did!" sputtered Herring.
"Well, you started it, same as you started telling that detective that Sheldon had a bad name in the Academy, and—-"
"Shut up! Somebody will hear you. You had as much to do with that as——-"
Percival suddenly let out a great bellow, such as a calf in search of its mother might make.
"Gracious! what's that?" cried Herring in alarm, making a dash for the camp, the lights of which could be plainly seen.
Merritt followed in hot haste, frightened out of his wits, and Percival broke into a hearty laugh, not caring if the two conspirators heard him or not, and greatly enjoying their terror.
They may have done so, but they did not pause until they reached the camp, and were challenged by the sentry.
"That's good!" laughed Dick. "And we have found out something as well. Now we know who it was who tried to put your boat out of commission. I have always suspected those rascals of having had something to do with it, and now I am certain."
"Yes, but that was not as bad as——-"
"As trying to make you out a bad character. No, it is not. I had my suspicions on that score, too. If you had asked me to name the fellows who were most likely to do a thing of that sort I would have named them in a moment. They are just mean enough."
"Well, it does not matter," said Jack. "No one would believe them who knows me. It is not worth thinking about."
"But I think it is!" said Percival hotly. "You don't know how far a thing of that sort might go. Suppose the detective had arrested you before he saw the doctor or you had a chance to explain? It would have taken a long time to explain things away."
"I do not think so," Jack replied. "I have friends enough in town to say nothing of the Academy. Besides, who is going to arrest me in any such peremptory fashion as all that? Do you suppose I would submit to it?"
"No, I guess not!" and Percival laughed again. "You are a quiet sort of fellow, Jack, but when it comes to a thing of that sort you can be as lively as any one, myself for instance. I remember the time you knocked this same Herring bully down for insulting you. It was a surprise to him, and to all of us, for we all thought you were a quiet chap who would stand most anything for the sake of peace."
"Well, I don't seek quarrels," Jack replied, "but being in one——-"
"As Shakespeare says you stick it out," and Percival laughed again. "I think it ought to be known that Herring and Merritt tried to give you a black eye, Jack. It is no more than right."
"But they did not give it to me, Dick, and there is no use in stirring up trouble. Let it go. Both Herring and Merritt must know by this time that the Hilltop boys in general will not believe their lies."
"Well, if they do not they must be very stupid," grunted Percival, and by this time the boys were in the camp.
"Pete Herring and Erne Merritt saw a ghost!" laughed Billy Manners, as the boys came in. "They were frightened to bits. I believe myself that it was nothing but a white calf."
"You were frightened by a calf yourself once, Billy," chuckled Dick, "and declared that it was a roaring bull."
"Did I?" asked Billy innocently. "When was that?"
"You know well enough," said Percival, "so you need not be so innocent. However, I know what frightened Herring and Merritt."
"What was it?" asked Billy, and a number of others.
"Guilty consciences!" said Dick shortly, and with some emphasis, and then he and Jack went on to their tent.