THE MOTOR BOYS ON THE PACIFIC
The Young Derelict Hunters
by CLARENCE YOUNG
I believe it is not necessary to introduce the Motor Boys to most of my readers, as they have made their acquaintance in the previous books of this series. To those, however, who take up this volume without having previously read the ones that go before, I take pleasure in presenting my friends, Jerry, Ned and Bob.
They are booked for quite a long trip, this time; across the continent to the Pacific coast, where they are destined to have some stirring adventures, searching for a mysterious derelict.
Those of you who know the Motor Boys from their past performances know that they will meet emergencies in the right spirit, and that they will do their level best to accomplish what they set out to do. Whether they did so in this case I leave it for you to determine by reading the book.
Though their own motor boat, the Dartaway, was destroyed in a train wreck, they managed to get the use of a powerful craft, in which they made a cruise on the Pacific ocean. Their old friend, Professor Snodgrass was with them, and, if you care to learn of his search for a horned toad, you will find the details set down here.
Yours very truly,
SOME BAD NEWS
"WELL, she is smashed this time, sure!" exclaimed Jerry Hopkins, to his chums, Ned Slade and Bob Baker.
"What's smashed?" asked Ned. "Who's the letter from'?" for Jerry had a slip of paper in his hand.
"It isn't a letter. It's a telegram."
"A telegram!" exclaimed Bob. "What's up, Jerry?"
"She's smashed, I tell you. Busted, wrecked, demolished, destroyed, slivered to pieces, all gone!"
"Our motor boat, the Dartaway!"
"Not the Dartaway!" and Ned and Bob crowded closer to Jerry.
"That's what she is. There's no mistake about it this time, I'm afraid. You know we thought once before she had gone to flinders, but it wasn't so. This time it is."
"How did it happen?" asked Ned.
"Yes, tell us, can't you?" cried Bob. "What are you so slow about?"
"Say, Chunky," remarked Jerry, looking at his fat chum, "if you'll give me a chance I'll tell you all I know. I just got this telegram from the Florida Coast Railway Company. It says:
"'Jerry Hopkins. Motor boat Dartaway, shipped by you from. St. Augustine in freight wreck just outside Jacksonville. Boat total loss, buried under several freight cars. Will write further particulars. J. H. Maxon, General Freight Agent."
"That's all there is to it," added Jerry, folding up the telegram.
"All there is to it! I guess not much!" exclaimed Bob. "Aren't you going to sue 'em for damages, Jerry?"
"Well, there's no use being in such a rush," observed Jerry. "Maybe they'll pay the claim without a suit. I'll have to make some inquiries."
"Let's go down to the freight once here and see Mr. Hitter," suggested Ned. "He can tell us what to do. The poor Dartaway! Smashed!"
"And in a land wreck, too!" put in Jerry. "It wouldn't be so bad if she had gone down on the Atlantic, chasing after a whale, or in pursuit of a shark—"
"Or with the flag flying, out in a storm, with Salt Water Sam," interrupted Ned. "But to think of her being buried under a lot of freight cars! It's tough, that's what it is!"
"That's right," agreed Bob. "Just think of it! No more rides in her! Say, we ought to get heavy damages! She was a fine boat!"
"Come on then," cried Ned. "Don't let's stand here chinning all day. Let's go see Mr. Hitter. He has charge of all the freight that comes to Cresville, and he can tell us how to proceed to collect damages."
"Yes, I guess that's all that's left for us to do," decided Jerry, and the three lads started for the railroad depot.
They lived in the town of Cresville, Mass., a thriving community, and had been chums and inseparable companions ever since they could remember. Bob Baker was the son of a wealthy banker, while Jerry Hopkins's mother was a widow, who had been left considerable property, and Ned Slade's father owned a large department store.
You boys who have read the previous volumes of this "Motor Boys Series" do not need to be reminded of the adventures the three chums had together. To those of you who read this book first, I will say that, in the first volume, called "The Motor Boys," there was related a series of happenings that followed the winning of a certain bicycle race in Cresville. After their victory in this contest the boys got motorcycles, and, by winning a race on them, won a touring car.
In this automobile they had many adventures, and several narrow escapes. They incurred the enmity of Noddy Nixon, a town bully, and his crony, Bill Berry. The three chums then took a long trip overland in their automobile, as related in the second book of this series and, incidentally, managed to locate a rich mine belonging to a prospector, who, to reward them, gave them a number of shares. While out west the boys met a very learned gentleman, Professor Uriah Snodgrass, who was traveling in the interests of science. He persuaded the boys to go with him in their automobile to search for a certain ancient, buried city, and this they found in Mexico, where they had a number of surprising adventures.
Returning from that journey, they made a trip across the plains, on which they discovered the hermit of Lost Lake. Arriving home they decided, some time later, to get a motor boat, and, in the fifth volume of the series, entitled, "The Motor Boys Afloat," there was set down what happened to them on their first cruise on the river, during which they solved a robbery mystery. Finding they were well able to manage the boat they took a trip on the Atlantic ocean, and, after weathering some heavy storms they reached home, only to start out again on a longer voyage, this time to strange waters amid the everglades of Florida.
They had recently returned from that queer region, and, as they had done on their journey to that locality, they shipped their boat by rail from St. Augustine to Cresville. Or, rather, they saw it safely boxed at the freight station in St. Augustine, and came on up north, trusting that the Dartaway would arrive in due season, and in good condition.
They had been home a week now, and as there was no news of their boat, Jerry had become rather anxious and had written to the railroad officials in St. Augustine. In response he got the telegram which brought consternation to the hearts of the motor boys.
"It doesn't seem possible," remarked Bob, as the three lads hurried on toward the freight office.
"I guess it's good-bye to the Dartaway this trip," said Jerry. "Too bad! she was a fine boat."
"Well, we'll make the railroad pay for it, and we'll get a better boat," spoke up Bob.
"We couldn't get any better boat than the Dartaway, Chunky," said Ned. "We might get a larger one, and a more powerful one, but never a better one, She served us well. To think of her being crushed under a lot of freight cars! It makes me mad!"
"No use feeling that way," suggested Jerry. "Just think of the good times we had in her, not only on this last trip, but on the previous cruises."
"This last was the best," remarked Bob, with something like a sigh. "It was lovely down there in Florida."
"I guess he's thinking of the Seabury girls," put in Ned, with a wink at Jerry.
"No more than you are!" exclaimed Bob. "I guess you were rather sweet on Olivia, yourself."
"Or was it Rose or Nellie?" asked Jerry with a laugh. "They were all three nice— very nice."
"That's right," said Ned, fervently.
The three young ladies the boys referred to were daughters of a Mr. Nathan Seabury, whom the boys met while cruising about the everglades and adjacent rivers and lakes. He was in his houseboat Wanderer, traveling for his health. Mr. Seabury owned a large hotel in Florida and his meeting with the boys, especially with Jerry, was a source of profit to Mrs. Hopkins.
She owned some land in Florida; but did not consider it of any value. It developed that it adjoined Mr. Seabury's hotel property and, as he wished it to enlarge his building, he purchased the lot for a goodly sum.
The three boys, after the return of the Dartaway and Wanderer from the strange waters, had stopped for a week at Mr. Seabury's hotel, before journeying north.
"I'd like to see them again," said Bob, after a pause, during which the boys turned into the street leading to the depot.
"Who?" asked Ned.
"The Seabury family."
"Mr. Seabury— or— er— the girls?" asked Jerry.
"All of 'em," replied Bob quickly.
"I had a letter the other day," remarked Jerry quietly.
"You did!" exclaimed Ned.
"From them?" asked Bob eagerly.
"Well, it wasn't exactly a family letter," answered Jerry, with just the suspicion of a blush. "It was from Nellie, and she said she, her sisters and father were going to lower California."
"To California?" exclaimed Bob and Ned.
"Yes; for Mr. Seabury's health. You know they said they expected to when we parted from them. The climate of Florida did not do him any good, and they are going to try what California will do. She asked us to call and see them, if we were ever in that neighborhood."
"I guess our chances of going to California are pretty slim," remarked Bob. "Our motor boat's gone now, and we can't make any more cruises."
"I don't see what that's got to do with it," declared Ned. "We couldn't very well cross the continent in her, even if we had the Dartaway, and she was rather too small to make the trip by water, even if the Panama Canal was finished."
"Oh, well, you know what I mean," retorted Bob, who did not exactly know himself. "We can't go anywhere right away. School opens soon, and it's buckle down and study all winter I suppose. But—"
Bob's remarks were interrupted by the arrival of the Boston Express, which rumbled into the Cresville station, where the boys now were and, after a momentary stop, steamed on again. A man leaped from the steps of a parlor car and ran into the freight office, first, however, looking up and down the length of the train to see if any other passengers got off.
"He seems in a hurry," observed Ned.
"Yes, and he must have some pull with the railroad, for the Boston Express never stops here," said Jerry. "Maybe he's the president of the road."
The boys kept on to the freight office. When they reached it they found the stranger in conversation with Mr. Hitter, the agent. The chums could not help overhearing the talk.
"Have you several packages here, addressed to X. Y. Z., to he held until called for?" the stranger asked.
"There they be," replied the agent, pointing to several small boxes, piled near the door.
"That's good," and the man seemed much relieved. "Now I want them shipped by fast freight to San Francisco, and I want to prepay them so there will be no delay. How much is it?" and he pulled out a pocketbook, disclosing a roll of bills. As he did so he hurried to the door and looked up and down the depot platform, as if afraid of being observed. He saw the three boys, and, for a moment, seemed as if he was about to hurry away. Then, with an obvious effort, he remained, but turned into the freight office and shut the door.
"He acts as if he was afraid we would steal something from him," said Bob.
"Or as if he didn't want us to hear any more about those boxes," supplemented Jerry. "He's a queer customer, he is."
"Well, it's none of our affair," remarked Ned, but neither he nor his chums realized how, a little later, they were to take part in an adventure in which the mysterious man and the queer boxes were to figure importantly.
In a short time the man came out of the freight office. He did not look at the boys, but hurried off down the street, putting some papers into his pocket book, which, the boys could not help noticing as he passed them, was not so full of money as it had been.
"Let's go in and ask Mr. Hitter what to do about our boat," suggested Ned.
They found the agent counting over a roll of bills.
"Been robbing a bank?" asked Bob cheerfully. "Guess I'd better tell dad to look out for his money."
"That was paid by the man who was just in in here," replied the agent. "Queer chap. Seemed as if he didn't want to be found out. First he was going to ship his stuff by fast freight, and then he concluded it would be better by express, though it cost a lot more. But he had plenty of money."
"Who was he?" asked Jerry.
"That's another funny part of it. He didn't tell me his name, though I hinted I'd have to have it to give him a receipt. He said to make it out X. Y. Z., and I done it. That's the way them boxes come, several days ago, from Boston. They arrived by express, consigned to X. Y. Z., and was to be called for. I thought of everybody in town, but there ain't nobody with them initials. I was just wondering what to do with 'em when in be comes an' claims 'em."
"What's in em?" asked Jerry.
"Blessed if I know," responded Mr. Hitter. "I couldn't git that out of him, either, though I hinted that I ought to know if it was dynamite, or anything dangerous."
"What did he say?" inquired Ned.
"He said it wasn't dynamite, but that's all he would say, an' I didn't have no right to open 'em. He paid me the expressage, and seemed quite anxious to know just when I could ship the boxes, and when they'd arrive in San Francisco. I could tell him the first, but not the last, for there's no tellin' what delays there'll be on the road.
"He was a queer man— a very queer man. I couldn't make him out. An' he went off in a hurry, as if he was afraid some one would see him. An' he shut the door, jest as if you boys would bother him,— Well, it takes all sorts of people to make a world. I don't s'pose you or I will ever meet him again."
Mr. Hitter was not destined to, but the boys had not seen the last of the strangely acting man, who soon afterward played a strange part in their lives.
"What you chaps after, anyhow?" went on the freight agent, when he had put the money in the safe.
"Our motor boat's smashed!" exclaimed Bob. "We want damages for her! How are we going to get 'em?"
"Not guilty, boys!" exclaimed the agent holding up his hands, as if he thought wild-west robbers were confronting him. "You can search me. Nary a boat have I got, an' you can turn my pockets inside out!" and he turned slowly around, like an exhibition figure in a store show window.
A DESPERATE RACE
"WELL," remarked Mr. Hitter, after a pause, during which the boys, rather surprised at his conduct, stood staring at him, "well, why don't you look in my hip pocket. Maybe I've got a boat concealed there."
"I didn't mean to go at you with such a rush," apologized Jerry. "But you see—"
"That's all right," interrupted the freight agent. "Can I put my hands down now? The blood's all runnin' out of 'em, an' they feel as if they was goin' to sleep. That'll never do, as I've got a lot of way-bills to make out," and he lowered his arms.
"Do you know anything about this?" asked Jerry, handing Mr. Hitter the telegram.
"What's that? The Dartaway smashed!" the agent exclaimed, reading the message. "Come now, that's too bad! How did it happen?"
The boys explained how they had shipped the craft north.
"Of course the accident didn't happen on the line of railroad I am agent for," said Mr. Hitter, after reading the telegram again. "If it had, we'd be responsible."
"What can we do?" asked Bob. "We want to get damages."
"An' I guess you're entitled to 'em," replied the agent. "Come on inside, and I'll tell you what to do. You'll have to make a claim, submit affidavits, go before a notary public and a whole lot of rig-ma-role, but I guess, in the end you'll get damages. They can't blame you because the boat was smashed. It's too bad! I feel like I'd lost an old friend."
Mr. Hitter had had several rides in the Dartaway for he had done the boys many favors and they wished to return them, so he was given a chance to get intimately acquainted with the speedy craft.
Taking the boys into his office, Mr. Hitter instructed them how to write a letter to the claim department of the Florida Coast Railway, demanding damages for the smashing of the boat.
"Be respectful, but put it good and strong," he said. "I'll write on my own account to the general freight agent. He's a friend of mine, and we have business dealings together— that is his road and my road," and Mr. Hitter spoke as though he owned the line of which he was the Cresville agent.
"That'll be good," said Bob. "Maybe it will hurry matters up. We're much obliged to you, Mr. Hitter."
"That's what we are," chimed in Jerry and Ned.
The boys lost no time in sending in their claim. Then there was nothing to do but to wait. They knew it would take some days, and they did not expect an answer in less than a week, while Mr. Hitter told them that if they got money in payment for the destroyed boat within three months they would be lucky.
"Well, since the Dartaway's gone, I guess we'll have to go back to the automobile for a change," suggested Jerry one afternoon, early in September, about a week before school was to open. "Let's take a little jaunt out in the country, stay a couple of days, and come back, all ready to pitch in and study."
"Fine!" cried Bob. "We'll stay at a hotel where they have good dinners—"
"Of course!" retorted Ned. "That's Chunky's first idea— something to eat. I've been waiting for him to say something like that."
The boys were at Jerry's house, talking over various matters. The auto was kept in an unused barn back of his home, but, since the advent of the motor boat, had not seen much service, though occasionally the boys went out in it. Now, it was likely to come into active use again.
"Let's look the machine over," proposed Jerry. "It may need some repairs. It got pretty hard usage, especially in our trips to Mexico and across the plains."
The boys soon found that, beyond two tires which needed repairs, and some minor adjustments to the engine, the car was in good shape. It was in running order and, at Bob's suggestion, they got in it and made a trip to the town garage, where they intended to leave it to be overhauled.
As they were turning a corner, near the automobile shop, they heard a sudden "Honk-honk!" that startled them. Jerry, who was at the steering wheel, shut off the power and applied the emergency brake.
And it was only just in time for, a moment later, from a cross street, there shot out a big green touring car, very powerful, as they could tell by the throbbing of the engine. It almost grazed the mudguards of the machine in which the three boys were, and, skidded dangerously. Then, with what seemed an impudent, warning toot of the horn, it swung around and sped off down the road.
"That was a close shave!" remarked Jerry, as he released the brake.
"I should say yes," agreed Bob. "That was a six-cylinder car. Bur-r-r-r! If she'd hit us—" He did not finish, but the boys knew what he meant.
They proceeded to the garage, leaving their machine to be repaired. It would be ready for them the next day, the man said, and they arranged to call for it, and go for a trip in the country.
"Let's go to Riverton," suggested Bob, naming a summer resort about a hundred miles away. "The season is just about to close there, and, as it isn't crowded, we can get better attention and—"
"Better meals, he means," finished Ned. "All right, Chunky, we'll go."
"It wouldn't be a bad idea," agreed Jerry. "We could make it in one day easily, and wouldn't have to hurry. We could stay there a couple of days, making little side strips, and come back Saturday. That would put us in good shape for Monday, when school opens."
There was no dissension from this plan, and, having secured the consent of their parents, the boys, early the next day, started off on their journey. It was a short one, compared to those they had been in the habit of taking, but they did not have time for a longer jaunt.
They arrived at Riverton in the afternoon, having stopped on the road for dinner. They found the place rather livelier than they expected, for there had been an automobile meet the day previous, including a big race, and several lovers of the sport still remained, for the weather was very pleasant. The sheds about the hotel were filled with all sorts of cars, so that the boys had hardly room to store their machine.
"This is a little more exciting than we counted on," remarked Jerry, as he and his chums entered the hotel to register. "I'm afraid we'll not get such good attention as Bob thought."
"Oh, it's all the better," was the answer of the stout youth. "They'll have all the more to eat, with this crowd here."
"Chunky can argue it any way he likes," declared Ned. "No use trying to corner him, Jerry."
"No, I guess not. But I'm hungry enough to eat almost anything."
As they were turning away from the clerk's desk, having been assigned to rooms, the boys saw a youth, about their own age, standing near a bulletin board fastened on the side wall. The youth was tacking up a notice and, as he turned, having finished, Jerry exclaimed in a whisper:
"Noddy Nixon! What's he doing here?"
At the same moment, Noddy, the long-time enemy of the motor boys, saw them. His face got red, and he swung quickly aside to avoid speaking to the three chums.
The last they had seen of the bully was when he started to accompany them back to Cresville, after his disastrous attempt to make money from a Florida cocoanut grove. Noddy was wanted as a witness by the government authorities, in connection with the attempted wreck of a vessel, in which Bill Berry was concerned; but, after the motor boys had rescued Noddy from an unpleasant position in Florida, and he had agreed to return to Cresville, he suddenly disappeared in the night. This was the first they had seen of him since. They had learned that the government no longer desired his testimony.
"Let's see what notice he put up," suggested Ned. "Maybe he has lost something."
They walked over to the bulletin board. There, in Noddy's rather poor handwriting, was a challenge. It was to the effect that he would race, on the track near the hotel, any automobilist who would choose to compete with him, for money, up to five hundred dollars, or merely for fun.
"Noddy must have a new car," remarked Ned. "His old one couldn't go for a cent. We beat it several times."
"What's the matter with trying again?" asked Jerry, a light of excitement coming into his eyes. "I'd like to have a race. Maybe several cars will enter, and we can have some fun out of it. Our machine has a lot of 'go' left in it yet."
"That's the stuff!" exclaimed Bob. "I'm with you. But let's get supper first, maybe—"
"I guess he's afraid there won't be any left," remarked Jerry. "But come on, I can eat a bit myself."
As the boys left the office of the hotel, they saw several men reading the notice Noddy had tacked up.
"A race on this circular track here!" exclaimed one man to a friend as the boys passed him. "It's very risky! The turns are not banked enough. I wouldn't do it, but I suppose some will take the chance."
"Yes, it will be a dangerous race," responded the other. "Who is this Noddy Nixon?"
"A son of that rich Nixon over in Cresville, I believe. His father made a lot of money in stocks lately, and, I guess the son is helping spend it. He has a powerful car."
The motor boys did not stay to hear more, but went to their rooms to change their clothes, and were soon eating supper. There was talk of nothing but automobile topics in the hotel corridors and office that evening. Many motorists were planning to leave the next day, but some said they would stay and see if the Nixon race would amount to anything.
"Let's accept the challenge," suggested Jerry.
"I don't want to have anything to do with Noddy," objected Ned.
"We don't have to," replied Bob, "I was talking to the clerk about it. All we have to do is register our names, and the name of the car. It's an informal affair, only for fun. They won't race for money. Come on, let's go in it."
Hearing this, Ned agreed, and the boys put their names down. As Noddy had stipulated there must be four passengers in each car it would necessitate the motor boys getting some one else to ride with them. This the clerk agreed to arrange.
There were six entries in the race, which was to take place the next day. Early in the morning, before breakfast, Ned, Jerry and Bob went out in their car to try the course. When they were half way around it they heard a car coming behind them. In a moment it had passed them, and they recognized it as the same machine that had nearly collided with them in Cresville.
"Look who's in it!" cried Bob.
"Who?" asked Ned.
"Noddy Nixon. If that's his car, we haven't any show."
"Humph! I'm afraid not," answered Jerry rather ruefully. "Still, I'm not going to give up now. He's got a new car, but maybe we can beat him. He's a poor driver."
Several other autos soon appeared on the track to have a "tryout," and, though none of them seemed as speedy as Noddy's new machine, there was no talk of dropping out on the part of those who had entered. That gave the boys more courage, and they decided to stick, even though their chances were not good.
Noddy did not speak to them, though he passed them several times. Nor did he appear very popular with the other autoists. He had several young men with him, and they made things rather lively about the hotel, occasionally giving what seemed to be college yells.
"They're regular 'rah-rah' boys," said Bob, in contempt.
Early that afternoon just before the race Bob, Jerry and Ned spent an hour in going over their car, making some adjustments, and seeing that the tires were in good shape. Almost at the last minute Jerry decided to put the non-skidding chains on the rear wheels.
"Those turns, which are not banked much, are dangerous," he said, "I'm not going to take any chances. We don't want to turn turtle."
There was much activity about the hotel as the hour for the contest arrived. Noddy's car seemed the finest of the six that lined up at the starting tape. The motor boys had drawn a position next to the bully and his cronies.
Noddy glanced contemptuously at them.
"You must think it's winter, putting chains on," he remarked to Jerry, who had been chosen to steer.
"It may be a cold day for somebody before we get through," was all Jerry replied.
"You haven't the ghost of a show," called one of Noddy's companions. "You'll think you're standing still when we start."
The others laughed at this joke, and Noddy seemed pleased. There was a short consultation among the judges and other officials, and, a moment later, a white puff of smoke was seen hovering above the uplifted revolver of the starter. Then came a sharp crack, and the panting machines, the engines of which had been put in motion some time previous, started off together, as the drivers threw in the high speed gears.
The race, which was truly a dangerous contest, was on, and, with eager eyes the motor boys looked ahead on the course.
NEWS FROM THE WEST
THE track was a half-mile one, and, as the length of the race was five miles it would be necessary to make ten laps or circuits. The course was in the shape of an ellipse, with rather sharp turns at either end, where the contestants, if they did not want a spill, or a bad skid, must slacken their pace. It was on the two straight stretches that speed could be made.
At the report of the pistol Noddy's car shot off as an arrow from a bow, the explosions of the cylinders sounding like a small battery of quick-firing guns in action. But the others were after him, the five cars bunched together, that of the motor boys a little behind the other four.
"We've got to catch him, Jerry," whispered Bob.
"Easier said than done," replied Jerry, as he shoved the gasolene lever over a trifle, and advanced the spark, thereby increasing the speed of the car. "Noddy's got a powerful machine."
"They should have had a handicap on this race," said Tom Jennings, the young man whom the hotel clerk had asked to be a fourth passenger in the motor boys' car, so that the conditions of the contest would be met. "It's not fair to have a high power auto race one of two cylinders."
"Ours has four," spoke Ned. "Of course its not as up-to-date as Noddy's is, but—"
"We'll beat him!" exclaimed Bob. "We've done it before and we can do it again."
"I'm afraid not," went on Tom. "That big green car of his will go ahead of anything on this track."
And so it seemed, for Noddy was spinning around the course at fearful speed, his car looking like a green streak.
"Let's see how he takes the turn," suggested Bob. "He'll have to slow up if he doesn't want a spill."
Noddy was wise enough to do this, though even at the reduced speed at which he went around the bank, his rear wheels skidded rather alarmingly.
But Jerry was not idle during this time. As he found his car responding to the increase of gasolene and the advanced spark, he shoved the levers still further over. The auto shot forward, distancing the yellow car immediately in front of it, passing one with an aluminum body and closely approaching a purple auto which was behind Noddy.
Suddenly a loud explosion sounded back of the motor boys.
"There goes a tire!" exclaimed Bob.
"Hope it isn't one of yours," said Tom.
"If it was you'd be sliding along the track on your face instead of sitting here," responded Bob. "No, it's one on the aluminum car. She's out of the race," he added as he gave a quick glance back. A few minutes later there was another noise— a crashing sound— and the motor boys, by a quick glance, saw that the rearmost car in the race had, by injudicious steering, been sent through a frail fence which surrounded the track. The radiator was broken and, though no one was hurt the car was put out of business. That left but four cars— Noddy's green one, the yellow, the red one of the motor boys', and a purple affair. They were speeding along in that order, and, a few seconds later something went wrong with one of the cylinders of the purple machine, leaving but three contestants. Then the yellow car shot ahead of the red one containing the motor boys.
By this time one circuit of the track had been completed, and a start made on the second lap.
"Think we're catching up?" asked Bob, as Jerry cautiously fed the engine a little more gasolene.
"Well, we're holding our own," was the answer of the steersman, "and I think we're catching up to the yellow car again. If we pass that I'm not so sure but what we can come in a close second to Noddy."
"I don't want to come in second," spoke up Ned. "I want to beat him."
"So do I," replied Jerry, "but it's not going to be so easy. Our car's doing well, but we can't expect wonders of it."
"The race isn't over until you're at the finish tape," said Tom Jennings. "Keep on, boys, I'd like to see that Nixon chap beaten. He thinks he owns the earth."
For two miles there was no change in the position of the cars. Then slowly, very slowly, Jerry saw that his red machine was overtaking the yellow car. Inch by inch it crept up, the steersman of the rival car doing his best but failing to get more speed out of the engine.
"Too bad we have to pass you!" cried Jerry, as he careened past the yellow machine.
"That's all right," sung out the steersman good-naturedly. "Beat that other one, if you can."
"We're going to try!" yelled Ned, above the noise of the exploding cylinders.
They were on a straight stretch then and, as Noddy looked back and saw the red car closer to him than it had been before, he put on more speed. His green auto shot forward but Jerry still had something in reserve, and he let his machine out another notch.
"He's got to slow up for the turn!" cried Ned. "Maybe we can pass him!"
"Yes, but we've got to slacken up too, if we don't want a spill," replied Bob.
"That's so," admitted Ned.
Noddy did slow up, but not much, and his car skidded worse than at any time yet. It looked as if it was going over, and a cry from the spectators showed that they, too, anticipated this disaster. But, with a sharp wrench of the steering wheel, Noddy brought the car back toward the center of the track.
Jerry swung around the turn at reduced speed, and, because of the chains, his machine did not skid more than a few inches.
"Good thing you have those chains on," commented Tom. "They may come in handy at the finish."
"That's what I put them there for," answered Jerry.
For another mile there was little change in the relative position of the cars of Noddy and the motor boys. Jerry thought he had cut the bully's lead somewhat, but he still felt that he was far from having a good chance to win the race. Still, he was not going to give up.
"Two laps more and it's all over," said Bob, as they began on the final mile. "Can't you hit it up a bit more, Jerry?"
Just a degree faster came the explosions of the cylinders of the red car. But also, still faster, came the reports from Noddy's auto. He was not going to be beaten if he could help it.
Around the two machines swung, the yellow car having given up and dropped out. There was a confused shouting from the spectators, and Bob could distinguish cheers for the red auto.
"We've just got to win!" he cried. "Win, Jerry! Win!"
Try as he did, by "nursing" the engine, Jerry could not gain an inch on Noddy's car. The red machine was fifty feet behind the green one, both going at top speed. Only an accident, it seemed, could make the motor boys win.
As they swung into the last lap Ned cried:
"Noddy isn't going to slow down for the turn!"
"Neither are we!" cried Jerry fiercely. "Quick boys! All of you get out on the inside step! Crouch down! That will help hold us as we go around the bank, or, otherwise, we'll go over."
They all knew what he meant. By hanging out on the runboard or step, nearest the inside of the track, more weight would be added to that side of the car. It was what automobilists call "shifting the center of gravity," and aids in preventing spills.
Giving one glance to see that the boys were in their places, Jerry grasped the steering wheel firmly, and sent the car at the dangerous turn at full speed. Noddy was doing the same, but he had not thought of having any of his passengers hang out on the step.
"Look out now, boys!" called Jerry, as they took the turn.
"Swing out as far as you can, boys, but hang down low!" called Tom Jennings, who had been in races before.
Even with this precaution, and aided as they were by the chains on the rear wheels, the red car skidded or slewed so that Jerry thought it was going over. But it did not. By the narrowest margin it kept on the bank.
Not so, however, with Noddy's green dragon. As soon as his car struck the turn it began to skid. He would not shut off his power, but kept on the high gear, and with the engine going at top speed.
There was a cry of alarm, and then the green car left the track, mounted the bank, slid over the top, and came to a halt in a pool of mud and water on the other side of the field. It went fifty yards before Noddy could stop it.
"Go on! Go on!" yelled Ned. "We win! We win!"
Jerry had all he could do to hold the steering wheel of his slewing car, but, by gripping it desperately, he swung it into place, and the red machine started up the home stretch, crossing the tape a winner, for it was the only car left on the track.
A burst of cheers greeted it, and men crowded up to shake hands with the plucky boys.
"Glad you beat the 'mud lark,'" said the owner of the yellow machine, thus giving Noddy's car a name that stuck to it for some time. "That Nixon chap thought he was going to walk over every one. You taught him a much-needed lesson."
Nothing was talked of in the hotel that night but the race, and the motor boys were the heroes of the occasion. Noddy did not appear, and it was learned that he had to hire men and teams to get his car out of the mud.
The motor boys started for home the next day, and thought they were going to make it in good time, but they had a tire accident on the road, when about twenty-five miles away, and decided to stay in the nearest village over night, as they had no spare shoe for the wheel.
As they left their car by the roadside, and tramped into the town, to send word to the nearest garage, they saw a cloud of dust approaching.
"Here comes a car," said Bob. "Maybe we can get help."
As the machine drew nearer they saw that it was painted green, and, a moment later, Noddy Nixon had brought his auto to a stop, and was grinning at them.
"Had a break-down, eh?" he asked. "That's a fine car you have, ain't it?"
"We can beat you!" exclaimed Ned.
"Yes you can! Not in a thousand years if I hadn't gone off the track! Want any help? Well, you'll not get it, see? Bye-bye! I'll tell 'em you're coming," and, with an ugly leer, the bully started off.
"I wouldn't take help from him if I had to walk ten miles without my supper," said Bob firmly, and that was a strong saying for the stout youth.
The motor boys found a good hotel in the village, and the next day, when their car had been repaired, they resumed their journey, arriving at home about noon.
"There's some mail for you, Jerry," said Mrs. Hopkins, as her son came in, after putting the auto in the barn. "It's from California. I didn't know you knew any one out there."
"Neither did I, mother. We'll see who it's from."
He tore open the letter, read it hurriedly, and gave a cry of mingled delight and surprise.
"It's from Nellie Seabury!" he said. "She says they are in lower California, traveling about, looking for a good place to stay at for a few months for their father's health. When they locate she wants— that is Mr. Seabury— wants us to come out and see them. Oh, I wish I could go— I wish we could all go!"
"Perhaps you can," suggested his mother with a smile. "California is not so far away. But I suppose you'll have to wait until next vacation."
"Yes, I suppose so," admitted Jerry. "And that's a long ways off— a long ways."
"The time will soon pass," said his mother. "But tell me about your auto trip. Did you have a good time?"
"Fine, and we beat Noddy Nixon in a great race."
"I wish you wouldn't have anything to do with that young man," said Mrs. Hopkins. "You have nothing but trouble when you do."
"I guess he'll not want much more to do with us," returned Jerry. "We manage to beat him every time. But I must go find the boys. This will be great news for them— this letter from the Seabury family."
"I thought it was from— Nelly."
"So it is— but it's all the same," answered Jerry with a blush.
JERRY found Ned, his nearest chum, at home, and told him of the news from the west.
"That's fine!" cried Ned. "Come on and tell Bob."
"Don't have to," said Jerry. "Here he comes now."
The stout youth was, at that moment, walking along the street toward Ned's house.
"Come on in!" cried Ned, as he opened the door while his chum was still on the steps.
"That's what I was going to do," responded Chunky. "Did you think I was going to sit out here? Of course I'm coming in. What's the matter?" for he saw by Ned's face that something unusual had occurred.
"Jerry's got a letter from Nellie Seabury— they're in lower California— we're going— I mean they want us to come and pay them a visit— I mean—"
"Say, for mercy sakes stop!" cried Bob, holding both hands over his ears.
"I guess Ned's a little excited," suggested Jerry.
"You guess so— well, I know so," responded Bob. "Are you all done?" and he cautiously removed his hands from his ears.
"Tell him about it, Jerry," said Ned, and Jerry told the news.
"It would be fine to go out there," said Bob, reflectively. "But there's school. We can't get out of that."
They all agreed they could not, and decided the only thing to do was to wait until the following summer.
"Too bad," remarked Bob with a sigh. "Winter is the best time of the year out there, too."
In spite of the fact that they knew, under the present circumstances, they could not go for several months, the boys spent an hour or more discussing what they would do if they could go to California.
"Oh, what's the use!" exclaimed Ned, when Jerry had spoken of how fine it would be to hire a motor boat and cruise along the Pacific coast. "Don't get us all worked up that way, Jerry. Have some regard for our feelings!"
"Well, let's talk about school. It opens Monday."
"Don't mention it!" cried Ned. "I say— hello, there's the postman's whistle. He's coming here."
He went to the door, and returned carrying a letter, the envelope of which he was closely examining.
"You can find out from who it is by opening it," suggested Jerry.
"Here's a funny thing," spoke Ned. "This letter is addressed to my father, but, down in one corner it says, 'May be opened by Ned, in case of necessity.'"
"Well, then, open it," suggested Bob. "This is a case of necessity. Where's it from?"
"Boston, but I don't recognize the writing."
"Open it," called Jerry.
Ned did so, and, as he read, he uttered a cry of astonishment.
"Well if this isn't a queer thing," he said. "Did you ever see such a coincidence? This letter is from Professor Uriah Snodgrass, and listen to what he says: 'Dear Mr. Slade, or Ned. I write thus as I want one of you to read it in a hurry, and one of you may be away from home. You remember the last I saw of you and your chums (this part is for Ned) was in Florida. There I secured the rare butterfly I was looking for, and, through that success I was able to obtain a position with a Boston museum, to travel all over the world for them, collecting valuable specimens. I have been here for only a few weeks, but I already have a commission. I am soon to start for California, in search of a Cornu batrachian.'"
"A 'Cornu batrachian'!" exclaimed Bob. "For the love of tripe, what's that?"
"California!" murmured Jerry. "I guess the fates want to pile it up on us."
"Say, is that 'Cornu batrachian' anything like a mountain lion?" asked Bob.
"Wait," counseled Ned. "He explains. 'The Cornu batrachian,' he says, 'is what is commonly called a horned toad. I must get several fine specimens, and I thought you boys might be making another trip, and could go with me. I would be very glad of your company. Please let me hear from you. My regards to Mrs. Slade.'"
"Well, wouldn't that tickle your teeth!" exclaimed Bob, more forcibly than elegantly. "And we can't go!" he added with a groan.
"Think of the fun we'll miss by not being with Professor Snodgrass," went on Ned.
"And with the Seabury family," chimed in Jerry.
"It's tough!" exclaimed Ned. "And school opens Monday!"
At that moment there was a whistle out in the street and a ring at the door bell.
"The postman again," said Ned. "I wonder what he wants?"
He went to the door.
"Here's a letter I forgot to give you," said the mailcarrier. "It got out of place in my bundle, and I didn't discover it until I was quite a way up the street."
"That's all right," answered Ned good-naturedly. "From the Board of Education," he murmured, as he looked at the printing in the upper left hand corner. "I wonder what they are writing to me about?"
He opened it and drew out a printed circular. As he re-entered the room where his chums were he gave a cry of delight.
"Listen to this!" he called, and he read:
"'To the pupils of the Cresville Academy. It has been discovered, at the last moment, that a new heating boiler will be needed in the school. The tubes of the old one are broken. It has been decided to replace it at once, and, as it will be necessary to do considerable work about the building, thereby interfering with the proper conducting of studies, the school will not open for another month, or six weeks, depending on the length of time required to install a new boiler.
"'Therefore pupils will kindly not report on Monday morning, as originally intended, but will hold themselves in readiness to begin their school work shortly after the receipt of another circular, which will be sent out as soon as the building is in proper shape. The faculty earnestly recommends that all pupils apply themselves diligently to their studies during this unlooked-for, unfortunate, but wholly necessary lengthening of the vacation season. By applying to their respective teachers pupils will learn what studies to continue.'"
"Whoop!" yelled Bob.
"O-la-la!" cried Ned after the fashion of some Eastern dervish.
"Say! That's great!" exclaimed Jerry. "A month more of vacation!"
"Now we can go to California with Professor Snodgrass, and help him catch horned toads!" added Ned.
"And visit the Seabury family," supplemented Jerry. "Oh, boys, this is simply immense! Things are coming our way after all!"
PROFESSOR URIAH SNODGRASS
THE sudden and unexpected news that they need not begin their school studies on Monday morning fairly startled the boys, at first. They read the circular over again, to make sure they were not mistaken.
"Why didn't I get one?" asked Bob, rather suspiciously.
"Probably it's at your home now," suggested Ned.
"And I ought to have one, too," said Jerry.
"You came away before the letter carrier arrived," went on Ned. "Maybe you'd better go see. It might— it might be a mistake— or a joke."
"Don't say that!" exclaimed Bob. "I'm going to see if I have a letter like yours."
"So am I," decided Jerry. "It might, as you say, Ned, be a joke, though it looks genuine."
To make sure, Jerry and Bob hurried to their homes. There they found awaiting them circulars, similar to the one Ned had. To further convince them, as Jerry and Bob were returning to Ned's house, they met Andy Rush, a small chap, but as full of life as an electric battery.
"Hello!" he exclaimed— "Great news— no school— boiler busted— thousands of teachers killed— great calamity— fine— horrible— terrible— don't have to study— longer vacation— steam pipes blown out— clouds of steam— no heat— freeze up— burn to death— great— Whoope-e-e!"
"Did you ever take anything for that?" asked Jerry calmly, when Andy had finished.
"Dasn't! if I did I'd blow up! But say— it's great, isn't it? Did you get a circular too?" and Andy showed one. "It's fearful— terrible— no school—"
"Come on," urged Jerry to Bob. "He'll give us nervous prostration if we listen to him any longer," but they need not have hurried, for Andy, so full of news that he could not keep still, had rushed off down the street, hopping, skipping and jumping, to spread the tidings, which nearly every Academy pupil in Cresville knew by that time.
Now the motor boys could discuss a Californian trip in earnest, for they knew their parents would let them go, especially after Mr. Seabury's invitation, and the letter from Professor Snodgrass. In the course of a few days Jerry received another missive from Nellie Seabury.
This letter informed Jerry, and, incidentally, his two chums, that she, with her sisters and father, had settled in a small town near the coast, not far from Santa Barbara, and on a little ocean bay, which, Nellie said, was a much nicer place than any they had visited in Florida.
"Father likes it very much here," she wrote, "and he declares he feels better already, though we have been here only a week. He says he knows it would do him good to see you boys, and he wishes— in fact we all wish— you three chums could come out here for a long visit, though I suppose you cannot on account of school opening. But, perhaps, we shall see you during the next vacation."
"She's going to see us sooner than that," announced Bob, when Jerry had read the letter to him and Ned.
"Did you write and tell her we were coming?" asked Ned, his two friends having called at his house to talk over their prospective trip.
"No, I thought we'd wait and see what Professor Snodgrass had planned. Perhaps he isn't going to that part of California."
"That's so," admitted Bob. "Guess we'll have to wait and find out. I wish he'd call or write. Have you heard anything more about damages for our smashed boat, Jerry?"
"No, I saw Mr. Hitter the other day, and he advised me to wait a while before writing again. Something queer happened while I was in his office, too."
"What was it'?"
"Well, you remember the man who got off the Boston express that day, and acted so strange about his boxes of stuff he wanted shipped to the Pacific coast?"
"Sure," replied Ned and Bob at once.
"Well, through some mistake one of the boxes was left behind. Mr. Hitter, had it in his office, intending to ship it back to the man, for it wasn't worth while to send one box away out west, but it fell and burst partly open. The box was in one corner of the room, and, while I was there Mr. Hitter's dog went up to it and began sniffing at it. All at once the dog fell over, just as if he'd been shot. He stiffened out, and we thought he was dead, from having eaten something poisoned he found on the floor."
"No, after a while he seemed to come to, and was all right, but he looked sick. Mr. Hitter said there must be something queer in that box, to make the dog act that way, and he and I smelled of it, taking care not to get too close."
"What was in it?" asked Ned.
"I don't know. It was something that smelled rather sweet, and somewhat sickish. Mr. Hitter said it might be some queer kind of poison that acted on animals, but not on human beings, and he put the box up on a high shelf where his dog couldn't get at it. But I thought it was rather queer stuff for a man to be sending away out to the coast."
"It certainly was," agreed Bob. "That man acted in a strange manner, too, as if he was afraid some one would see him. I wonder if there is any mystery connected with him?"
There came a time when the boys had good reason to remember this incident of the box filled with a strange substance, for they were in great danger from it.
"Well, I don't know that it concerns us," mused Ned. "I guess we'll not get any damages from the railroad company in time to use the money on our California trip, so we might as well take some cash out of our saving fund. I do wish we'd hear from the professor. It's several days since I wrote to him, saying we would go with him."
"I suppose he is so busy catching a new kind of flea, or a rare specimen of mud turtle, that he has forgotten all about writing," suggested Bob. "If he doesn't—"
What Bob intended saying was interrupted by a commotion at the front door. The bell had rung a few seconds before, and the servant maid had answered it. Now the boys heard her voice raised in protest:
"Stop! Stop!" she cried. "Don't do that! You are a crazy man! I'll call the police!"
And, in reply came these words:
"Calm yourself, calm yourself, my dear young lady. All I desire is to capture that spider crawling on your left arm. It is a very valuable variety of the red spotted species, and I must have it for my collection. Now just stand still a moment—"
"Professor Snodgrass has arrived!" cried Ned, as he made a rush for the door.
A STRANGE CONVERSATION
WHAT the boys saw made them stop short in amazement, and they had hard work not to burst into laughter at the sight of the professor, but they knew he would be offended if they made fun of him.
Professor Uriah Snodgrass had dropped his valise on the doorstep, and the impact had caused it to open, thereby liberating a number of toads and lizards which were crawling about the steps. In his hand the scientist held a large magnifying glass, through which he was staring at something on the arm of the servant. She had her sleeves rolled up to her elbows, for she had been busy sweeping when she answered the door bell.
"Let me go!" cried the young woman. "You are crazy! I'll call the police!"
"One moment! One moment!" pleaded the professor eagerly. "I must have that spider. There!" and with a sudden motion he captured the small insect and transferred it to a tiny glass box. "I have it! Oh, this is a most fortunate day for me. The museum will be very glad to get this. It is a perfect specimen," and he peered at it through his magnifying glass, as it crawled around, a captive in the box.
"Hello, Professor!" greeted Ned. "Glad to see you."
"Oh, Ned, how are you?" asked the scientist, without glancing up from his inspection of the spider. "Luck seems to be with me as soon as I arrive at your house. I have a spider—"
"Yes, but you'll not have any of those other specimens long, if you don't get busy," put in Bob. "They're all hopping or crawling away!"
"Oh, my goodness!" cried Professor Snodgrass, as he glanced down at the liberated toads and lizards. "Oh, my goodness! That is too bad. I brought them with me to compare with the horned toads and web-footed lizards I hope to secure. Now they are getting away. Please, my dear young lady, help me to save them!"
But the servant maid had fled into the house as soon as the scientist released her arm. She was convinced that she had just escaped the clutches of a madman.
"Come on, boys!" called Ned. "Help the professor!"
"Here are some small butterfly nets," the scientist said, producing them from his pocket. "Don't injure the toads or lizards."
The boys were glad enough of these aids in catching the professor's specimens, that were rapidly seeking hiding places about the stoop and sidewalk. Though they had acquired a certain familiarity with strange insects and reptiles, from seeing the museum collector handle them, they did not fancy picking up a toad or lizard bare-handed. With the nets, however, they managed, with the assistance of the scientist, to capture most of the specimens, returning them to their cases in the valise.
"There!" exclaimed Mr. Snodgrass, when, after a close scrutiny of the porch he could see no more of the creatures, "I think we have them all. Now boys, permit me to ask how you are. I am sorry my visit was attended with such excitement, but I could not miss the chance of getting that spider. That young woman may consider herself in the light of having advanced science several degrees. There are very few persons a red spider of that variety will get on."
"For which we ought all to be very thankful," announced Jerry. "I beg to be excused from helping the cause of science in that way. But, Professor, we're glad to see you. Are you all ready for your trip to California?"
"I could start to-night," was the answer. "I suppose you have matters all arranged?"
"Nearly so," returned Ned. "We thought of starting at the end of this week," and he explained how they hoped the destination of the scientist would be such that they might visit the Seaburys.
"That locality suits me all right," declared Mr. Snodgrass. "I am not particular where I go, as long as I can get a specimen of a horned toad, and some web-footed lizards. I understand there are some to be had in the southern part of California, and so I will go there. I see no reason why you boys can not go with me, and also visit your friends. Only I should like to start as soon as possible. The toads may disappear."
"Hope not," said Bob, "for your sake. I haven't any use for them, myself."
"Oh, my dear young friend!" exclaimed the professor. "Some day you will see the real beauty of a horned toad. It is a most wonderful creature!"
"I'll take your word for it," murmured Bob. "But now come in and let's see about our arrangements."
The professor, who had been invited to be a guest at Ned's house, pending the start for the west, entered, placing his valise of specimens in a safe place in the hall. Then he and the boys discussed matters. Mr. Slade came in, soon after the arrival of the scientist, and announced that he had, in accordance with a previous arrangement, purchased the boys' tickets.
"All you've got to do is to pack up and start," said Mr. Slade. "I'm not going to give you any advice, for you ought to be able to take care of yourselves by this time. I know you will be safe as long as you are with the professor."
"Thank you," said the scientist with a bow.
The professor's arrangements for the western trip were complete and it did not take the boys long to get ready. By the end of the week the last valise had been packed, trunks were checked on ahead and, one morning, the boys started.
They were to proceed to Los Angeles, and from there were to go down the coast by land to the small town of San Felicity, where Mr. Seabury and his daughters had rented a bungalow.
"Now for a good time!" exclaimed Ned, as the train pulled out of the Cresville depot. "I've always wanted to visit California, and now I'm going to."
"We certainly ought to enjoy ourselves," agreed Jerry.
The travelers made good time to Chicago, little of incident occurring on the trip. When they got to the Windy City, they found they would have to wait several hours for a connecting train, and they put in the time seeing the sights.
When they returned to the depot they found the professor busy over some scientific book, sitting as undisturbed in the station, filled as it was with shifting crowds, as if he was in his quiet study at the museum.
"The train will be here in about fifteen minutes," he informed the boys. "Better sit down and wait."
The three chums were rather tired, and were glad enough to take their places on the comfortable benches.
"Chicago is a great place," announced Bob. "That restaurant, where we had dinner—"
"Can't you say something that hasn't got any eating in it?" asked Ned. "You're the limit, you are."
"Well," said Bob, "they certainly had fine pie in that place. I wish—"
He stopped suddenly, as Jerry help up his hand to indicate silence.
"What's the matter?" asked Ned in a whisper, as he leaned forward. "See some new kind of a bug for the professor?"
"I overheard that man back of us speaking," replied Jerry in a low tone, nodding his head to indicate where he meant. The benches were arranged so that travelers occupying them sat back to back. "His voice sounded like one I've heard before, but I can't place it. I thought maybe you'd remember. We may have met him on our travels. I can't see his face until he turns around."
As he finished speaking, the man to whom he referred said something to his companion beside him. There came a momentary lull in the noises of the depot, and the boys heard him remark in low, but clear tones:
"We can make everything look regular. Derelicts are not uncommon, and I think we'll be able to fool him so that the cargo—"
"Hush!" cautioned the other man. "Not so loud!"
The noise in the station again drowned what the two men were saying, but the boys had heard enough. All three of them knew at once that the man who had spoken was the stranger who had acted so queerly in the Cresville freight office. If they had any doubts of it they were dispelled a moment later when the doorman called out:
"All aboard for the western express!"
As the man and his companion arose, the boys saw he was the same individual who had been so particular about the boxes of stuff he shipped to San Francisco.
Before the three chums could make any comment the man and his companion were lost in the crowd that thronged to the door.
"Come, boys," said the professor, closing his book. "That's our train."
A BAD BREAK
"THAT was queer, wasn't it?" said Jerry to his chums when they were seated in the train, moving swiftly toward the great west. "I wonder what he meant, and what he was doing out here?"
"And I guess you can keep on wondering, for all the good it will do," commented Bob. "I couldn't make anything out of what they said, except that some ship might be lost. That's common enough."
"I wonder what that stuff was that he shipped from the freight office?" mused Jerry.
"Rat poison, maybe," replied Ned with a laugh. "I've heard there are lots of rats on ships, and maybe he has a patent stuff for getting rid of 'em."
"It might be," agreed Jerry. "Well, as Bob says, there's no use wondering. Say, but this is pretty nice scenery," and he pointed to the view from the window, as they were passing along the shores of a lake.
"Fine!" exclaimed Ned. "It ought to have some mountains around it, and it would look just like Lost Lake, where we found the hermit, that time."
"Seems as if that was a good while ago," commented Bob, "but it wasn't so very."
For several hours the boys discussed their past adventures, some of which were brought to their minds by views of the western country through which they were passing. Professor Snodgrass took no interest in anything except a big book which he was studying carefully, at times making notes on slips of paper, which had a tendency to drop into the aisle, or under the seat when he was not looking. In consequence the car, in the vicinity of where the professor sat, looked as though a theatrical snow-storm had taken place.
One morning the boys awakened to find the train making fast time over a level stretch of country, with rolling hills here and there, covered with tall grass. Occasionally glimpses could be had of herds of cattle.
"We're on the prairies!" exclaimed Bob, as he went to the lavatory to get ready for breakfast. "Say, now we're in the wild and woolly west, all right."
"Well, it's not the first time," replied Jerry. "Still it does look good to see it again. It's a little different, traveling this way, than it was scooting along in our auto."
"Yes, and I think I prefer the auto to this," spoke up Ned, yawning and stretching. "This is too lazy a way of journeying. I'd like to rough it a bit."
"Rough it!" exclaimed Bob. "Wait until we get out in California, and we can sleep out doors, while the folks back home are tending the furnace fire."
The three boys were just about to enter the lavatory when the train gave a sudden lurch, and then it began bumping along over the ties, swaying from side to side. Every window in the car rattled as if it would break, and the boys were so shaken up, that, to steady themselves, they had to grasp whatever was nearest.
"We're off the track!" cried Ned.
"This— is— roughing— it— all right!" said Jerry, the words coming out in jerks. "There's— been— an— accident!"
"A— whole— lot— of— 'em— by— the— way— it— feels to— me," declared Jerry. "I— wonder—"
Just then the train came to a stop, the car the boys were in being tilted at quite an angle.
"Let's see what happened," suggested Bob, going to the door. His companions followed him, and, from various berths the passengers began emerging, in different stages of undress. They looked frightened.
"Well, at any rate, none of us are killed," said Professor Snodgrass, as he came down the aisle, fully dressed, for he had arisen early to continue his reading about horned toads. "What is the matter, boys?"
"We're just going to find out," said Jerry, as he went down the steps and walked along the track toward the engine, about which a crowd of passengers and train men were gathered.
"What's the trouble?" asked Bob of a brakeman who was running toward the rear end of the train with a red flag.
"I don't know exactly. Something wrong with the engine; I guess. I heard the conductor say it was a bad break."
"Come on," said Jerry to his chums. "There doesn't seem to be anybody hurt, but it looks as if we were in for a long wait," and he pointed to several cars that were off the track, the wheels resting on the wooden ties.
THE boys found a group of worried trainmen gathered about the engine, and it needed but a glance to show what the trouble was. The piston rod had broken while the ponderous engine was going at full speed, and the driving rods, which had broken off from where they were fastened to the wheels, had been driven deep into the ground. This had served to fairly lift the engine from the rails, and, in its mad journey it had pulled several cars with it.
The piston rod, threshing about with nothing to hold it, had broken several parts of the engine, and some pieces of the driving rods had been hurled up into the cab, narrowly missing the engineer.
"It sure is a bad break," said the fireman as he got down from the cab, after opening the door of the fire box, so that the engine would cool down. "Never saw a worse."
"Me either," fairly growled the conductor.
"Why couldn't it have held off a couple of hours more and we'd been near some place where we could telegraph for help."
"You don't mean to say we are away out on the prairies not near a telegraph station, do you?" asked an excited man.
"That's just what I do mean to say," replied the conductor. "I've got to send a brakeman on foot eight miles to wire the news of this accident."
"You ought to have a telegraph instrument on the train," said the excited man. "This delay is a bad thing for me. If I don't arrive on time I'll sue the road. Why don't you have a telegraph instrument on the train?"
"I don't know," replied the conductor wearily, for he realized he was now in for a cross-fire of all sorts of questions.
"How long will we have to wait here?" asked another man.
"It's hard to say. The brakeman will go as fast as he can, but it will take some time to get the wrecking crew here with a new engine, and then it will take some time to get all the cars back on the track."
"Railroads oughtn't to have such accidents!" declared the excitable man. "I'll sue 'em, that's what I'll do. What made the piston rod break, conductor?"
"Oh— I guess it got tired of going in and out of the cylinder," retorted the conductor, starting towards the baggage car.
"Humph! I'll report you for impertinence!" declared the now angry passenger, taking out his notebook and making a memorandum lest he forget the conductor's retort. "It's a disgrace the way this road is managed," he went on to the crowd of passengers that had gathered. "I'm going to write to the newspapers about it. They're always having accidents. Why, only last week, they run over a steer, somewhere in this locality, the engine was derailed, two cars smashed, the road bed torn up, baggage and express stuff scattered all over, everything upside down, topsy-turvy and—"
"Was the steer killed?" asked a little boy, who was listening with opened mouth and eyes to the story the excited passenger was telling.
"What!" fairly roared the man, and then, as he saw who had asked the question, he turned away, and there was a general laugh.
"Do you think we'll be here long?" asked Bob of the colored porter of the sleeping car they had occupied.
"Oh, yes, indeedy!" exclaimed the attendant, "If we gits on de move befo' night we'll be mighty lucky."
"Then we've got to stay out here on the prairie all day," exclaimed Jerry.
"Dat's what," spoke the negro as cheerfully as though that was the regular program.
The other passengers were returning to their berths to finish dressing, and soon the excitement that followed the accident had almost disappeared. Breakfast was served, and there was nothing to do but to wait for the arrival of the wrecking crew.
"What's the matter with taking a stroll across the prairie?" suggested Jerry, when the boys and the professor had finished their morning meal. "There's no fun sitting here in the car all day."
"Good idea!" exclaimed Ned. "I'm with you. Maybe Chunky will be afraid to come, for fear train robbers will carry off the dining car while he's gone."
"Oh, you let up!" retorted Bob. "You like to eat as much as I do."
"Not quite as much, Chunky, but I admit I like my three square meals a day."
"Where are you going, boys?" asked the professor, looking up from his book, as he saw the three chums leaving the car.
"Out for a walk across the prairie," replied Ned.
"Wait, and I'll go with you. I might get some new specimens. I must never waste an opportunity," and, placing in his pockets several small boxes to hold any possible captives he might get in his butterfly net, the scientist was ready.
It was pleasant on the vast plain that stretched away in every direction from the derailed train. The sun was shining brightly, but not too warm, and there was a gentle breeze.
"This is fine!" exclaimed Jerry.
The boys and the professor strolled on for several miles, the three chums enjoying the walk very much, while Mr. Snodgrass was continually finding some new insect, or a flower, until his specimen boxes were full.
"Well, we've come quite a distance," said Ned, as they got on top of a small hill and looked about. "We can't see the train anywhere. I guess we'd better be thinking of starting back."
"Maybe we had," agreed Jerry. "But what's that dark line out there?" and he pointed to the horizon.
"A cloud isn't it?" asked Bob.
"It's too low, and it doesn't move like a cloud," objected Jerry.
They watched it for some time, as it got larger and larger.
"Why it's all around us!" suddenly exclaimed Bob.
And so it was. The travelers were hemmed in by a peculiar, moving ring, that seemed to get smaller and smaller.
"What do you think it is, Professor?" asked Ned.
"That? Why— er that is— um— curious, I can't just say what it is," replied Mr. Snodgrass.
"I have a small telescope," said Ned, producing it from his pocket, "We'll take a look through it," and he adjusted it, focusing it on the dark ring, that was, every moment, growing closer and closer to the little group on the hill.
A LUCKY ESCAPE
"WHAT do you make it to be?" asked Jerry, as Ned was staring through the glass.
"Yes, steers. Thousands of 'em. And they seem to be headed this way."
"Let me take a look," said Jerry. "You're right," he added, after an inspection. "They seem to be coming on rather fast, too. I guess we'd better get out of here. Cattle on the prairies don't like to see persons who are not on horseback. They are not used to a man unless he's mounted, and I've read that a man on foot may cause a stampede."
"I hope they don't run in this direction," remarked Bob. "It's going to be unpleasant for us if they do."
"We'd better get out of here," advised Ned. "Come on, fellows."
"That's easier said than done," retorted Jerry.
"The cattle are all around us. I don't see how we're going to get through them. If we go too close we may stampede 'em at once, whereas, if we stay here, they may pass by us, or change their direction."
"What's the matter with the cowboys?" asked Rob. "Why don't they head the animals the other way when they see we're right in the path?"
"Probably the cattlemen are on the outer edges of the herd," said Jerry. "The cowboys can't see us, and they're simply driving the steers on."
"But what makes them go in a circle?" asked Bob.
"Probably the men are driving them all in to a central point to take account of stock, or something like that," was Jerry's answer. "But, instead of standing here talking of it we'd better be doing something. What do you advise, Professor?"
Uriah Snodgrass, who had discovered some queer kind of a jumping bug in the grass, had lost all interest in the approaching steers, but, at this question, he looked up.
"What did you ask?" he said, making a grab for the bug, and catching it.
"What do you think we'd better do?" asked Ned. "This is getting serious."
"What is? Oh, the steers. Why, they are getting a little too close, aren't they?"
They were, for a fact, and the animals in the foremost ranks, catching sight of the little party on the hill, broke into awkward gallop. As far as the boys could see, they beheld nothing but waving tails, heaving heads, armed with long sharp horns, and the movement of brown bodies, as the thousands of steers came on with a rush.
"We'd better—" began the professor, who was walking slowly along, his eyes fixed on the ground, in search for another of the queer bugs. "Look out!" he suddenly cried. "Stand back boys!"
Hardly had he spoken than there sounded, high and shrill above the dull rumble of the oncoming cattle, a queer, buzzing noise.
"Rattlesna " exclaimed Ned.
"Yes, a whole nest of them, in a prairie dog's hole," added the professor. "I nearly stepped into them. There must be thirty or forty."
The boys looked to where he pointed. There, in a sort of depression, near a little hollow, on the edge of what is called a prairie dog village, they saw an ugly wiggling mass, which, as their eyes became more used to the colorings, was seen to be a number of the deadly rattlesnakes.
Several were coiled to strike, and had, in accordance with their habit, sounded their rattles. This had aroused the whole den, many snakes appearing from under ground, or crawling from beneath stones.
"Come on! They'll chase us!" cried Bob.
"Nonsense," replied the professor. "Rattlesnakes never attack man unless they are first disturbed. It wouldn't be advisable to go too close, but, as long as we don't molest them, we have nothing to fear from the snakes. I'd like to get a few specimens if I had the proper appliances for extracting their fangs. But I never saw so many in one place, before. It is quite interesting to watch—"
The professor broke off suddenly, for the thunderous noise of the approaching steers was now louder.
"They're coming right at us!" exclaimed Jerry.
"Yes, and they've stampeded!" cried Ned. "We're in for it now!"
The situation of the boys and the professor was extremely perilous. They were right in the path of the now frightened steers. The circle had been broken, by many animals, which had been approaching from the rear of the travelers, joining the beasts on either side, so that now a compact, dark mass of cattle, nearly a quarter of a mile wide, was surging ahead with great speed.
"Run!" called Ned. "There's an opening at our backs now!"
"You couldn't go a hundred feet before they'd overtake you!" shouted Jerry. "Let's see if we can't frighten 'em. Take off your hats, jump up and down, and yell like mad. If we can force 'em to separate and go on either side of us, we'll be all right!"
He started to swing his hat in the air, and prepared to let out a series of yells in imitation of an Indian war-whoop.
"Don't!" cried the professor quickly.
"Why not?" asked Jerry. "It's the only way to stop 'em."
"I know a better, and a surer way," replied the scientist. "Get the rattlesnakes between ourselves and the cattle! Those steers will never go near a rattlesnake den, no matter how frightened they are, nor how badly stampeded! Quick! Here they come!"
The cattle were scarcely two hundred feet away, and were maddened by the sight of unmounted persons, something to which they were unaccustomed, and which thoroughly frightened them. The ground was trembling with their hoof-beats, and the rattle of the horns, as they clashed together, was like the murmur of cannibal tom-toms.
The professor grabbed Bob, who was nearest him, and swung the boy around, so as to get the nest of rattlesnakes between them and the steers. Ned and Jerry followed. The snakes, now all aroused, were rattling away like half a hundred electric batteries working at once.
Would the professor's ruse succeed? Would the steers be afraid to come over the deadly reptiles, to trample down the little group, which the animals probably took for some new species of enemy? These were questions which the boys waited anxiously to have answered. Nor did they have to wait long.
The foremost of the steers came within a few feet of the rattlers. Then something seemed to stiffen the cattle. They tried to stop short, but the press of the beasts behind them would not permit of this. For a few seconds it looked as if the impetus of the cattle in the rear would shove the others on, in spite of their desire to stop.
But now more of the foremost steers became aware of the den of snakes. Their instinct, their sense of smell, and, above all, hearing the rattling, told them the terrible danger that was in their path. More of the animals braced their forelegs to bring themselves to a stop, and all bellowed in terror. Then, almost as though an order had been given by some one in command, the ranks of steers parted, right at the point where the snakes were reared ready to strike.
To right and left the cattle passed, increasing their speed as they became aware of the danger they were escaping. The boys and the professor stood on the little eminence of land, as if they were on an island in a sea of cattle. The angry snakes hissed and rattled, but did not glide away, or what had proved a source of safety for the travelers, might have been instrumental in their death.
Right past them rushed the cattle, raising a dust that was choking. The four were enveloped in a yellow haze, as they stood huddled together. Then, the last of the steers galloped past, with a band of excited cowboys in the rear, vainly endeavoring to understand the cause of the stampede, and halt it. As they rode on like the wind, they waved their hands to the boys and Mr. Snodgrass.
"Well, I guess we can move on now," said Jerry, as the last of the steers and cowboys was lost in a cloud of dust that accompanied them. "I've seen all the beef I want to for a long time."
"That's the first time I ever knew rattlesnakes were good for anything," remarked Ned, as he backed away, with his eyes on the den of reptiles, as if afraid they would spring at him.
"They are more feared by animals than any other snake in this country, I believe," said the professor. "Luck was certainly with us to-day."
The professor successfully resisted a desire to capture some of the snakes for specimens, and soon, with the three boys, he was on his way back to the stalled train, though he did not make very fast progress for he was continually stopping to gather in some strange insect.
It was long past dinner-time when the travelers got back, but they found they were not the only ones in this predicament, for a number of the passengers had beguiled the tediousness of the wait by going off across the prairie.
"Let's get the porter to get us some sandwiches, and then we'll watch 'em get the train back on the track," suggested Jerry.
AT THE SEABURYS'
THE wrecking crew had arrived shortly before the boys and the professor got back, and there was a big crowd of passengers and train men around the laborers.
"Never mind eating," called Ned. "Come on, watch 'em. We can get a bite afterward."
"Not for mine," sung out Bob, as he made a dive for the dining car. "I'll be with you pretty soon."
"There he goes again," remarked Ned with a sigh. "I couldn't eat when there's any excitement going on. I want to see how they get the cars on the track."
"So do I." said Jerry.
They pressed on to where, by means of powerful hydraulic jacks, men were busy raising up the engine, which, because of its weight, had sunk quite deeply into the ground. The jacks were small, but one man worked the handle, which pumped water from one part of it to another, and elevated a piston, that, in turn was forced up with terrible pressure, thus raising one end of the ponderous locomotive.
When the wheels were clear of the earth other men slipped under them some peculiar shaped pieces of iron, so arranged that when the locomotive was pulled or pushed ahead by another engine, the wheels would slip upon the rails.
In turn each of the wheels of the engine and tender were so fixed. Then word was given the engineer of the relief train to back down and haul the derailed locomotive back on to the track.
"All ready?" called the foreman of the wrecking crew.
"All ready," replied the engineer.
Jerry and Ned, in common with scores of others, were straining forward to watch every detail of the task. They wanted to see whether the locomotive would take to the rails, or slip off the inclined irons, and again settle down upon the ground.
"Let her go, Bill," called the foreman to the engineer of the wrecking crew.
There was a warning whistle, a straining of heavy chains, creakings and groanings from the derailed engine as if it objected to being pulled and hauled about, then the ponderous driving wheels began to turn slowly.
"Stand clear, everybody!" cried the foreman.
At that moment Bob came running up, using the back of his hand as a napkin for his lips.
"There she goes!" was the loud cry.
As the crowd looked, they saw the derailed and helpless engine give a sort of shudder and shake, mount the inclined pieces of iron, and then slide upon the rails, settling down where it belonged.
"Hurrah!" cried the passengers, in recognition of a hard task well accomplished.
"Well, I'm glad that's over," announced the foreman. "Now boys, hustle, and we'll get the cars on, and the line will be clear."
It did not take long to get the cars on the rails, as they were lighter. The damaged engine was switched off to one side, some rails, which had been displaced when the train bumped off, were spiked down, and the wreck was a thing of the past.
"All aboard!" called the conductor. "All aboard! Step lively now!"
The relief engine was not a fast one, being built more for power than speed, and the train had to proceed along rather slowly. But the boys did not mind this, as they had plenty to talk about, and they were interested in the country through which they were traveling.
They arrived at Los Angeles somewhat behind their schedule, and did not leave there as soon as they expected to, as Professor Snodgrass wanted to call on a scientific friend, to learn something about the best place to hunt for horned toads.
"It's all right, boys," he announced, when he returned to the Los Angeles hotel, where the three chums had put up. "My friend says the vicinity of San Felicity, where you are going to call on the Seaburys, is a grand place for horned toads. Come, we will start at once."
They found, however, that they would have to wait until the next day for a train. They started early the following morning, traveling through a stretch of country where it seemed as if it was always summer. Back home there had already been evidences of fall, before they left, but here there seemed to be no hint of approaching winter.
"Oh, isn't this fine!" exclaimed Ned, breathing in the sweetly-scented air, as he stuck his head from the car window. "It's like reading about some fairy story!"
"It's better than reading it," said Jerry. "It's the real thing."
They arrived at San Felicity, shortly before noon. It was a very hot day, though the morning had been cool, and the boys began to appreciate the fact that they had come to a southern climate. There seemed to be no one at the little railroad station, at which they were the only passengers to leave the train. The train baggage man piled their trunks and valises in a heap on the platform, the engine gave a farewell toot, and the travelers were thus left alone, in what appeared a deserted locality.
"There doesn't seem to be much doing," observed Jerry. "Let's see now, Nellie wrote that we were to take a stage to get to their house, but I don't see any stage. Wonder where the station agent is?"
"Hark!" said the professor, raising his hand for silence. "What noise is that? It sounds as if it might be a horned toad grunting. They make a noise just like that."
"I would say it sounded more like some one snoring," ventured Ned.
"It is!" exclaimed Bob. "Here's the station agent asleep in the ticket office," and he looked in an open window, on the shady side of the platform. From the interior came the sounds which indicated a person in deep slumber.
"Bless my soul!" exclaimed the professor. "I took him for a horned toad! I hope he didn't hear me."
"No danger," remarked Jerry. "He's sound asleep. Even the train didn't wake him up."
The four gazed in on the slumbering agent. Perhaps there was some mysterious influence in the four pairs of eyes, for the man suddenly awakened with a start, stared for a moment at the travelers gazing in on him, and then sat up.
"Good day, seors!" he exclaimed, and they saw that he was a Mexican. "Do you wish tickets? If you do, I regret to inform you that the only train for the day has gone. There will be none until to-morrow," and he prepared to go to sleep again.
"Here!" cried Jerry. "We don't want any, tickets! We want to find the way to Mr. Nathan Seabury's house, and to learn if there's a stage which goes there."
"There is, seor," replied the agent, yawning, "but I doubt if the driver is here. He seldom comes to meet the train, as there are very few travelers. Will it not do to go to Seor Seabury's to-morrow, or next day, or the day after?"
"Hardly," replied Jerry, who, as did the other boys, began to appreciate the Mexican habit of saying "mananna" which means "to-morrow," for the Mexicans have a lazy habit of putting off until to-morrow whatever they have to do to-day. "We want to go to-day, right away, at once, now!"
"Ah, the seors are Americanos— always in a hurry," answered the agent, but in no unfriendly manner. "Very well, I will see if Hop Sing has his stage here."
"Hop Sing?" questioned Ned.
"Yes, seor, he is a Chinaman. You will find him a very slow and careful driver."
"Slow? I guess everything's slow down here," said Ned in a low voice.
The agent came leisurely from his office, walked to the end of the platform, and, pointing toward a low shed, remarked:
"That is where the stage is kept. I will call, and see if Hop Sing is there."
Then he called, but in such a low tone, as if he was afraid he might strain his voice, that it did not seem as if he could be heard ten feet away. Jerry stood it as long as he could and then said:
"I guess Hop Sing must be taking his noon nap. I'll go over and wake him up."
"Ah, the seor is in a hurry," and the Mexican agent smiled as though that was a strange thing. "If he would wait an hour, or perhaps two, Hop Sing might awaken. Besides, to-morrow—"
"Not for ours," said Ned. "We've got to go to-day."
The agent shrugged his shoulders, and went back into his little office to resume his nap. Jerry walked over to the shed.
"Hey! Hop Sing!" he called, as he approached. "Where's the stage?"
"Want stage? Take lide? All lite! Me come! Chop-chop! Give number one, top-slide lide!" exclaimed a voice, and a small Chinaman jumped down from the stage seat, where, under the shade of the shed he had been sleeping, and began to untie the halters of the mules that were attached to the ram-shackle old vehicle.
"Be lite out!" Hop Sing went on. "Me glive you click lide. Me go fast! You see! Chop-chop!"
"All right, if the old shebang doesn't fall apart on the way," said Jerry with a laugh, as he saw the stage which the Celestial backed out of the shed. Certainly it looked as if it could not go many miles.
"Come on!" called Jerry to Ned, Bob and the professor, who had remained on the platform. "I guess it's safe. The mules don't look as if they would run away."
They piled into the aged vehicle, and Hop Sing, with a quickness that was in surprising contrast to the indolence of the Mexican agent, put their trunks and valises on top.
"Now we glow click, you sabe?" he said, smiling from ear to ear. "Me know Mlister Seablury. Him number one man, top-slide," which was Hop Sing's way of saying that anything was the very best possible.
The boys soon found that while Hop Sing might be a slow and careful driver, it was due more to the characters of the mules, than to anything else. The Chinese yelled at them in a queer mixture of his own language, Mexican and American. He belabored them with a whip, and yanked on the reins, but the animals only ambled slowly along the sunny road, as if they had a certain time schedule, and were determined to stick to it.
"Can't they go any faster?" asked Ned.
"Flaster?" asked Hop, innocently. "They Mlexican mules. No go flast. Me go flast, mules not," and he began jumping up and down in his seat, as if that would help matters any. He redoubled his yells and shouts, and made the whip crack like a pistol, but the mules only wagged their ears and crawled along.
"I guess you'll have to let matters take their course while you're here," suggested the professor. "You can't change the habits of the people, or the animals."
They did manage, after strenuous efforts on Hop's part, to get to the Seabury bungalow. It was in the midst of a beautiful garden, and a long walk led up to the house, around which was an adobe wall, with a red gate. Over the gate was a roof, making a pleasant shade, and there were seats, where one might rest.
In fact some one was resting there as the stage drove up. He was a colored man, stretched out on his back, sound asleep.
"Well, I wonder if they do anything else in this country but sleep?" asked Jerry.
"Why— that's Ponto, Mr. Seabury's negro helper," said Ned. "Hello, Ponto. All aboard the Wanderer!"
"What's dat? Who done call me?" and the colored man sat up suddenly, rubbing his eyes. "Who says Wanderer? Why dat boat—"
Then he caught sight of the travelers.
"Why, I 'clar' t' gracious!" he exclaimed. "Ef it ain't dem motor boys an' Perfesser Snowgrass!"
"How are you, Ponto?" sang out Bob.
"Fine, sah! Dat's what I is! Fine. I 'clar' t' gracious I'se glad t' see yo'! Git down offen dat stage! It'll fall apart in anoder minute! Go long outer heah, yo' yellow trash!" and Ponto shook his fist at Hop Sing. "Wha' fo' yo' stan' 'round heah, listen' t' what yo' betters sayin'."
"I guess I'd better pay him," said Jerry, and settled with the Celestial, who drove slowly off.
"Now come right in!" exclaimed Ponto. "I were— I were jest thinkin' out dar on dat bench— yais, sah, I were thinkin', an' fust thing I knowed I was 'sleep. It's a turrible sleepy country, dat's what 'tis, fer a fact. I'se gittin' in turrible lazy habits sence I come heah. But come on in. Massa Seabury, he'll be powerful glad t' see yo'. So'll th' young ladies. Dey was sayin' only las' night, dat it seemed laik dem boys nevah goin' t' come. But heah yo' be! Yais, sah, I were jest thinkin' out on dat bench—"
But Panto's rambling talk was suddenly interrupted by a glad cry from the shrubbery. Then there came a rush of skirts, and the boys saw three girls running toward them.
"Here they are, dad!" called Nellie. "Here are the boys and Professor Snodgrass! Oh, we're so glad you came! Welcome to 'The Next Day'! That's what we've christened our bungalow, in honor of this lazy country. Come on in," and she ran up to Jerry, holding out her hands.
AFTER HORNED TOADS
OLIVIA and Rose, as had Nellie, warmly welcomed the boys and Professor Snodgrass, and, Mr. Seabury coming up a moment later, from his usual stroll about the garden, added his greetings.
"We're very glad to see you," said the gentleman. "Come right in and make yourselves comfortable. We have more room than we had on the houseboat Wanderer. I'll have your baggage— where is that black rascal, Ponto?— Ponto!"
"Yais, sah, I'se coming," called a voice, and Ponto who had gone back to the gate appeared, rubbing his eyes.
"Ponto, take these— why, you— you've been asleep again, I do believe— Ponto—"
"I— I done gone an' jest dozed off fo' a minute, Massa Seabury," said Ponto. "I 'clar' t' goodness, dis am de most sleepiest climate I eber see. Peers laik I cain't do nuffin, but shet mah eyes an'—"
"Well if you don't do something mighty quick with this baggage I'll find some way of keeping you awake," spoke Mr. Seabury, but he was laughing in spite of himself.
"Yais, sah, I'se goin' t' take keer of it immejeet, sah," and the colored man went off in search of a wheelbarrow, on which to bring the trunks and valises up to the house from where they had been put off the stage.
"I never saw such a chap," said Mr. Seabury. "Before we came down here he was as spry as I could wish, but now he does just as the Mexicans do. He sleeps every chance he gets. But come on in. I know you must be tired and hungry."
"Bob is," said Jerry. "I heard him say a while ago—"
"No, you didn't hear me say anything," exclaimed Bob quickly, fearful lest he might be put to shame before the girls. "I'm not a bit hungry."
"Fibber!" whispered Ned, though not so low but what they all heard, and the girls burst into laughter.
"Never mind," spoke Olivia. "Come on, Bob. I'll take care of you. The cook and I are great friends," and the girl and Bob walked on ahead.
"I suppose you came out here to study some new kind of plant or flowers, didn't you?" asked Mr. Seabury, of the professor.
"Not exactly," replied the scientist, "though I shall examine them with much interest. What I came down for was to secure some specimens of horned toads for the museum. I—"
"Horned toads!" exclaimed Nellie, who was walking with Jerry, while Rose had volunteered to show Ned the beauties of the Mexican garden. "Horned toads! Ugh! The horrible things. I hope you don't bring them around where I am, Professor. Horned toads! Why don't you search after something beautiful, like the wonderful butterfly you found in Florida?"
"A horned toad is just as beautiful as a butterfly," said Mr. Snodgrass gravely. "The only difference is, people don't appreciate the toad. I do, and, some day, I hope to write a history of that creature. I have my notes ready for the first volume, which will be a sort of introduction."
"How many volumes do you expect to write?" asked Mr. Seabury, curiously.
"Twelve," replied the scientist calmly. "Even then I will have to omit much that is of interest. But I hope, in twelve, large books, to be able to convey some idea of horned toads, as well as some information about the other species."
"Twelve volumes! I should hope so!" murmured Mr. Seabury.
By this time the travelers were at the bungalow. It was a well-arranged affair, quite large, and set in the midst of a beautiful garden, with rambling paths, and shady bowers, while the whole place was enclosed by a mud or adobe wall. All around the bungalow was a wide veranda, and in the center courtyard was a small fountain, with a jet of water spurting up from the middle of a large shell.
"Isn't this fine!" exclaimed Jerry, and the other boys agreed it was.
"Yes, we like 'The Next Day' very much," said Nellie. "It was my idea to call it that. From the very moment we arrived, and wanted something done, about the only answer we could get was 'to-morrow,' 'Mananna' or 'the next day,' so I decided that would be a good name for the bungalow."
"Indeed it is," declared the professor. "But you have a most delightful place, and I should like to spend many 'next days' here. I hope your health is better, Mr. Seabury?"
"Considerably so, sir. I find the air here agrees with my nerves and rheumatism much better than in Florida. I have hopes of entirely recovering. But let us go inside, I think luncheon is ready."
It was and, in the cool dining-room, within sound of the tinkling fountain, they ate a hearty meal, Bob demonstrating in his usual fashion that he was quite hungry.
The girls took turns in explaining their experiences since coming to California. The bungalow, which they rented, was on the outskirts of the village of San Felicity, which was part of what had once been an old Mexican town. It was located on the shores of a secluded bay, and the bungalow was about ten minutes' walk from the water.
"Do you think there are any horned toads around here?" asked the professor, when the meal was finished, and they had gone out on the veranda.
"I don't know, I'm sure," replied Mr. Seabury. "I'll ask Ponto, he knows everything there is to be known about this place. Ponto! I say, Ponto!"