Monday, 29 December 2008

The Flying Head


THE FLYING HEAD

by A Hyatt Verrill

First published in June 1939 in the magazine Strange Stories, this comes from the book, The Mummy, stories edited by Peter Haining 1989, with credit to Better Publications Inc for the story. Digitized by Doug Frizzle December 2008.

It was indeed strange, Dr Stokes thought, that his Indian labourers should appear so loath to dig into the mound. They worked half-heartedly, hung back, and appeared nervous and ill at ease. Dr Stokes had excavated hundreds of burial mounds in Peru and had disinterred countless Inca and pre-Inca mummies; yet never before had the Cholos showed the least hesitation in digging into graves of their forefathers and dragging out their dessicated bodies.

When the archaeologist questioned them they merely muttered and mumbled in their native Quichua, saying something unintelligible about supay, or devil; and when at last the posts and adobe bricks marking a grave were exposed, the men demanded their pay and deserted in a body.

'Looks as if we'd have to do the rest of the work ourselves, Tom,' Dr Stokes said to his assistant.

Presently the last of the bricks were removed, and the scientist uttered an exclamation of delight as he saw the contents of the tomb. The mummy-bundle itself was magnificent with silver and gold ornaments, and grouped about it were splendid specimens of pottery.

'By Jove!' he cried as he examined one of the jars. 'An entirely new motif! See here, Tom!'

Painted in black and scarlet upon the cream-coloured surface of the jar was a grotesque, winged figure resembling an owl, with a horribly fiendish expression on its almost-human face. Never before had Dr Stokes seen anything like it, and his enthusiasm increased when he discovered that every piece of pottery in the tomb bore the same strange design.

All impatience to learn the contents of the mummy-bundle, the two men took it from the grave and packed up the pottery. Loading their discoveries into their ramshackle car, they started on the long drive to San Isidro where, in the scientist's temporary laboratory, the mummy could be unwrapped. It was late when they arrived, but so anxious was the archaeologist to learn what might be hidden under the wrappings of the mummy, that he could not wait until morning and Tom's assistance before getting at it.

With notebook at hand he began removing the layers of coarse cotton cloth, and his enthusiasm increased at the splendid robes and ornate decorations revealed beneath. Never had he seen anything to equal it! Carefully removing and labelling each of the many gold and silver ornaments, folding the delicate robes and making copious notes, Dr Stokes chuckled with delight at the chased silver mask covering the face of the false head, and mentally preened himself on the turquoise and lapis lazuli beads.

Then, as he lifted the last of the gorgeous robes, an ejaculation of wonder came from the scientist's lips. Resting between the drawn-up knees of the mummy, and clasped in the shrunken hands, was a human head.

'By Jove!’ Dr Stokes exclaimed. 'A trophy head, and a marvellously fine one at that!'

Triumphant at having made such a remarkable discovery, he stood gazing admiringly at it. The head was perfectly preserved and the eyes, apparently of some dull green, jade-like material, which had been inserted in the sockets, gave a most lifelike effect. On either side of the skull, long black hair hung from beneath a tightly fitting leather cap with long ears or tabs, and this together with the snaky locks and cold, green staring eyes, lent the mummified head a most horrible and fiendish expression. An expression of unspeakable malevolence and cruelty!

'Whoever you were, you were no beauty,' Dr Stokes muttered to himself a little grimly. 'But you're a wonderful specimen, all the same.’

Then, as he carefully moved the mummy's shrivelled hands and lifted the head, preparatory to placing it in a case, the scientist almost dropped the gruesome thing in his sudden astonishment. He stood there staring incredulously, dumbfounded with wonder. Attached to the fearsome head was a tiny, shrivelled body! A body no larger than that of a newly born infant, but unspeakably repulsive with its covering of dark, curly hair.

For a brief instant, his first astonishment over, Dr Stokes thought that the dried body was that of a monkey attached to the trophy head as a decoration; but only a glance was needed to prove this surmise wrong. The body belonged to the head itself. It was the mummy of a strange, horrible freak; a being with the body of a hairy midget, barely a foot in length and with the head of a full-grown man!

Here, indeed, was a momentous discovery. Very carefully placing the unique specimen in a covered tray upon his laboratory table, Dr Stokes switched out the lights and went to his bedroom, highly elated at the results of his latest excavations.

He was not a nervous or excitable man, and through years of disinterring and handling the earthly remains of human beings he had come to regard bones and mummies merely as specimens. He was not addicted to day-dreaming, and there was not a trace of superstition in his makeup. Otherwise his rest might have been disturbed by most unpleasant dreams; but as it was, he slept soundly until suddenly he found himself awake, fully conscious, listening for some sound which he felt sure had awakened him. Then he heard it. A rustling, scratching noise from his laboratory, followed an instant later by a crash.

'Confound those cats!' the scientist exclaimed, leaping from his bed. 'Now one of the beasts has upset something.'

Switching on the lights he glanced about him. Upon the table was the overturned tray, the mummy of the freak beside it, and on the floor was the cover where it had fallen.

'Damn!' Dr Stokes exclaimed aloud. Then, to himself, 'Lucky it wasn't the mummy the beast knocked off. Strange I should have forgotten to close the shutters.'

Replacing the mummy in the tray, he set it upon a shelf; then armed himself with a stout stick and commenced a hunt for the offending feline. But he could find no trace of a trespassing cat. Satisfied that the creature had been frightened by the crash of the falling tray and had dashed out through the barred window, he closed the wooden shutters, switched off the light and again went to bed.

He did not know how long he had slept when he was awakened. For an instant there was no sound, nothing to have disturbed his slumbers. Then from the darkness came a soft, swishing, fluttering noise, and he felt a breath of air against his face as if some moving object had passed swiftly by.

'Bat,' was his mental comment, as he fumbled for his flashlight. As the beam stabbed the darkness he caught a glimpse of a shadowy, indistinct form, two feet or more across the wings, as it flitted through the door leading to the laboratory.

'One of those big fruit-bats,' he decided as he rose. 'Probably that's the nuisance that knocked over the tray. I'll finish him in short order.'

But there was no sign of the bat in the laboratory. Deciding that the creature had found a way out through some aperture under the eaves, Dr Stokes resumed his interrupted slumbers and slept soundly until aroused by Tom's knocking on the outer door.

'I'll bet you sat up all night working on that mummy,' Tom said, as Dr Stokes, in dressing gown and slippers, admitted him. 'Still in bed at this hour and you look all ragged out. Really, you shouldn't—'

'You're wrong, Tom,' the other interrupted. 'I went to bed early enough, but I had a bad night. First a dratted cat came in— I'd forgotten to close the shutters in the laboratory; then one of those big fruit-bats, or maybe it was the bat both times. Anyway, cat or bat, the pest made a racket. Knocked over a tray on my table and —

'Great Scott, I'd forgotten you didn't know. Tom, my boy, that mummy we dug up is a most marvellous discovery! Absolutely unique. Magnificent robes and ornaments — but nothing compared to what was buried with him. Another mummy? Why, the most amazing mummy ever found in Peru! Just wait till you see it.'

Anxious to witness Tom's astonishment and enthusiasm when he saw the dessicated freak, Dr Stokes led the way to the laboratory and reached for the tray in which he had placed the mummified midget during the night. As he was on the point of lifting it down, there was an exclamation of surprise from Tom.

'Oh, I say, that is a find! What a magnificent trophy head!’ Dr Stokes wheeled. 'Trophy head?' he cried. 'What —' His words died on his lips and he stood staring, dumbfounded, incredulous. Resting in the lap of the mummy, just as he had first seen it, was the mummified freak! How had the thing come there? He was positive he had placed it in the tray on the shelf after the trespassing creature of the night had upset it on the table. And he was equally positive he had not replaced it in its original position. Was it possible he had walked in his sleep and, while unconscious, had replaced the shrivelled midget in the mummy's lap? Or had the incidents of the night been merely a dream?

But even so, that would not explain the matter; for he had lifted the supposed trophy head from the mummy's lap and had placed it in the tray on his table before he had retired for the night. Yes, he must have placed it there in his sleep. That was the logical explanation.

All these thoughts flashed through his brain in a fraction of a second. Then, recovering himself with a bit of an effort, he stepped forward with a simulated chuckle.

'Trophy head!' he exclaimed. 'Just lift it carefully, Tom, and for heaven's sake don't drop it in your amazement.'

Somewhat puzzled, his assistant gingerly lifted the gruesome green-eyed thing, and a long whistle of astonishment came from his lips.

'Good Lord!' he cried. 'It's a freak! Ugh!' He shuddered. 'It's a perfect horror! I'd hate like blazes to see or meet such a nightmarish thing alive. But it's a marvellous specimen —nothing like it in the world, I suppose. But what do you make of it, Doctor? Why was the other chap buried with this hobgoblin in his lap?'

'I think the explanation is simple enough,' replied the scientist. 'The other chap, as you term him, was unquestionably a noble of high rank — his robes and wealth of gold prove that; and undoubtedly the malformed midget was his court jester, as you might term him. According to the accounts of Francisco Pizarro, the conqueror of Peru, and his fellows, dwarfs or hunchbacks or human freaks were quite commonly kept by members of the Inca court. But I believe this is the first ever to be disinterred.'

Tom had replaced the repulsive thing and was examining the other objects take from the grave and mummy-bundle.

'Gosh!' he exclaimed. 'Did you notice the resemblance between these figures on the pottery and that — that beastly midget? See, Doctor, the heads are almost identical; green eyes, hair, painting and all. And the hairy body! All that horrible thing needs is a pair of wings to make the design a perfect likeness.'

'Hmm. Yes, there is a striking similarity,' agreed the other. 'Very likely the designs were intended to portray the creature. Somewhat conventionalized, of course. Wings added for symbolism, perhaps; or possibly, in fact I should say probably, the midget was unable to walk — don't see how he could with the immense head and undeveloped legs — and the artist felt he should be given wings to make up for his handicaps. But just look at this robe, Tom, and start cataloguing the items while I get dressed and run over to Joe's for a cup of coffee.'

Throughout the day the two men worked at the specimens, Tom numbering and cataloguing them while Dr Stokes wrote minute descriptions of each. But busily occupied as he was, a corner of his brain was ceaselessly struggling to straighten out the events of the preceding night. He fought to solve the mystery as to why the mummified freak had been in the mummy's lap, in spite of the fact that he distinctly recalled having placed it on the shelf on the other side of the room.

To Dr Stokes the only logical explanation appeared to be that he had walked in his sleep, a thing he had never done in his life before, and with the remarkable midget's mummy on his mind he had placed it where it had been found. Yet this seemingly reasonable solution of the matter did not entirely satisfy him.

As there was no other possible way to account for it he finally dismissed the matter for the time being, while he took time off for a good dinner and a pleasant evening at the home of the alcalde, the local mayor. But when he went to bed his thoughts reverted once more to the events of the previous night. But not for long. He was very sleepy. This time he flattered himself that no cats or bats would disturb him, for he had carefully closed and barred the shutters. Presently he was sleeping soundly.

Dr Stokes awoke from a dreamless slumber to find himself tense, expectant, listening. Something, he couldn't say what, made him feel nervous, apprehensive. Could it be, he wondered, that there had been a slight earthquake shock? Then once again he heard it — the same soft rustling sound of the night before! Something was moving about near him, flitting back and forth in the darkness; and an involuntary shudder passed over the scientist.

But the next instant he was himself again. It was only that confounded fruit-bat, or another one of its tribe. But how the deuce did the thing get in? Probably never went out, Dr Stokes decided. No doubt the beast had its hideout somewhere in the roof and was trying to get out, but found it impossible with the windows shuttered. Well, he would soon put an end to that nuisance.

Rising, Dr Stokes fumbled for a stout stick. Grasping the club he snapped on his flashlight and aimed a vicious blow at a flapping shadow. But the weapon swished harmlessly through the air, and the flitting creature vanished in the darkness of the doorway. Intent on knocking the thing down, the scientist shut the door and, flashing his light about the hallway, entered the laboratory and closed the door behind him.

As he did so there was a swish of air past his head. He involuntarily ducked, and the flying creature swept by within an inch of his face. Wheeling, the scientist struck blindly. There was a soft thud, an agonized cry so filled with mingled pain and anger that Dr Stokes shuddered as he heard the thing striking the floor.

'Got him!' exulted the scientist, and swung the beam of his flashlight in the direction whence had come the sound of the creature's fall. The torch almost dropped from his hand when he staggered back wide-eyed, chills running up and down his spine. On the floor, staring up at him with green eyes ablaze with fiendish fury and hatred, was the horrible mummified freak! The thing was alive!

It was impossible, incredible; and for a brief instant Dr Stokes felt that he must be in the grip of a horrible nightmare. He must break this unholy spell! Controlling his shaken nerves with a tremendous effort, the scientist raised his stick for the fatal blow. Keeping his light focused upon the fearsome thing on the floor, he took a step forward.

A scream of abject terror came from the man's lips. He sprang back, the stick clattering from his hand. Chilled with horror he stood there, powerless to move. The awful head with its diminutive hairy body was advancing! With terror clutching at his heart, icy cold, while beads of cold perspiration oozed from his forehead, he stood transfixed, powerless to move as if hypnotized by the harsh, malignant green eyes in that demoniacal skull. Dr Stokes saw the long tabs of the thing's leather cap tremble and — No, not the flaps of the cap but wings — soft, leathery wings that were attached to the nightmarish head of the apparition!

Yet even in his mad, helpless terror the scientist noticed with vast relief that one of the thing's batlike wings was injured, torn, and useless, where the stick had struck. And so this spawn of hell, this awful being, this mummified freak that by some supernatural means had come to life, could no longer fly. But it was creeping toward its attacker!

Uttering strange, uncanny, gibbering sounds, its lips drawn back above sharp, pointed teeth, its baleful green eyes fixed upon the scientist, the loathsome, hideous monstrosity was dragging its attenuated body across the floor; pushing itself forward by its shrunken legs, balancing its great head by its batlike wings and tiny hands; moving slowly, inch by inch, but steadily toward the spot where Dr Stokes stood back against the wall, gasping, choking, dumb with utter horror.

He strove with all his will power to move, to escape, but not a muscle responded. If only he could recover his stick, could crush this devilish spawn of the nether world to a shapeless pulp! But the scientist's limbs, his arms were nerveless, limp, incapable of control. Within two feet of where he stood, the stick rested where it had fallen from his shaking hand.

At his feet, the torch lay on the floor, its beam still directed at the malignant, awful monstrosity that was moving nearer and nearer. Dr Stokes, however, was paralyzed, frozen into immobility with hypnotic terror. Yet his brain was active, his mind receptive, functioning sanely enough. Or was he sane? he asked himself.

Did the thing actually exist — or was it but the figment of a disordered mind? His common-sense scientific brain told him it could not be real, that a mummy thousands of years old could not be endowed with life, that a semi-human freak could not possess wings and fly. It was too preposterous, too supernatural to be real. Yet Dr Stokes' staring, horror-filled eyes contradicted the arguments in his brain. The awful thing was there, and it was alive, and every moment it was dragging its repulsive, fiendish being nearer; a ghastly, demoniacal thing conjured by some black magic back to life.

Nearer and nearer it crept; in the silence of the room, the scraping, shuffling sounds of the thing's movements seemed loud and distinct. It reached the fallen stick and, in a sudden mad fury seized it in its teeth and shook it as a terrier worries a rat, mouthing and growling, biting splinters from the hard, tough wood. Then, dropping the inanimate club, the ghastly thing gathered itself together, bared its needle-pointed teeth and, with a sudden harsh flap of its wings, leaped at the man!

With a shriek of abject terror the scientist came to life and sprang aside. He stepped upon the torch, reeled backward and fell heavily to the floor as the shattered light plunged the room into inky blackness. As he fell he felt the loathsome, horrible thing strike his leg, and there was a sharp stab of pain as the strong keen teeth of the devilish creature bit into his flesh.

Then he was struggling, fighting madly, clawing and striking with his fists at the misshapen, incredible, indescribably vile semi-human monster that clung to him like a leech. Heedless of the frantic blows rained upon it, the thing was crawling, dragging its way across the scientist's chest, closer and closer to his sweating throat and face.

Dr Stokes' clutching hands grasped a leathery wing, only to release their grip as fanglike teeth bit deeply into his wrists. Screaming with deadly fear, he saw the thing's eyes glowing like green fire in the blackness. In the scientist's nostrils was the musty, fetid odour of ancient, ravaged tombs. His tortured nerves gave way at last. Something seemed to snap within his mind and he sank back limp, inert, unconscious. . .

There was no response to Tom's repeated knocking on the doctor's door. Wondering, thinking it most strange that his employer should be out so early or should be sleeping so soundly, and vaguely troubled, the young assistant walked around the house. The bedroom windows were tightly shuttered, but to Tom's surprise the shutters on the laboratory windows were ajar. Raising himself on tiptoe he peered between the iron bars into the room, only to reel back, feeling faint and nauseated at what he had seen.

Lying upon the laboratory floor in a great pool of blood was the body of the scientist, an expression of unspeakable terror in his dead, glassy eyes, his head twisted horribly to one side, exposing a fearful, ragged gash in his throat.

Trembling in every limb, Tom rushed to the office of the alcalde and in scarcely coherent Spanish babbled that Dr Stokes had been brutally murdered. Battering down the heavy doors, the native police, with the alcalde and Tom, dashed through the short hallway to the laboratory.

'Madre de Dios!’ exclaimed the first man to reach the room, and crossed himself. 'What devil's work is this?'

Steeling himself for the effort, Tom bent over the forlorn body of Dr Stokes.

'Some savage wild beast did this,' he declared, his voice shaky. 'It must have entered by the open window. Perhaps it is still here.'

Whipping out their revolvers the police began searching the room, but no trace of another living thing could be found.

The alcalde shook his head. 'Strange things happen,' he said in lowered tones. 'The Senor Stokes desecrated the tombs of the ancient ones. Perchance’ — he glanced furtively about him - 'perchance it was no beast, no creature of flesh and blood that destroyed him. The Indios tell of unholy things, Senor. They tell of captive devils buried with the ancient dead to protect their bodies and their treasures from being disturbed. Perchance — quien sabe?'

'Nonsense!' exclaimed Tom. 'You may believe in such occult things, but I don't!'

Involuntarily Tom glanced at the mummy as he spoke. A half-suppressed ejaculation came from his lips and a cold chill ran along his spine. Resting between the knees of the mummy was the horrible mummified freak, its jade-green eyes cold and expressionless — yet with its dead, shrunken face and lips smeared with a moist, dull red!

Whether the alcalde or the police had noticed it, Tom could not tell. He hardly thought so. Stepping forward, breathing hard and holding his nerves under iron control, he gently drew a corner of a robe and covered the horrible, gruesome thing.

Doctor Stokes' mutilated body had been removed and was resting in its casket, awaiting the aeroplane which had been summoned to carry it to Lima, when Tom re-entered the laboratory. Clenching his teeth, summoning all his self-control, mentally cursing himself for a credulous fool, he hastily gathered the robes and ornaments taken from the mummy, flung them over the shrivelled, dessicated monstrosity, covered it with a blanket and, trembling despite himself, loaded the unwieldy bundle in the ramshackle car. Several hours later he returned, the car empty, with an indefinable feeling of vast relief.

Far out in the desert, amid the crumbling ruins of the forgotten pre-Inca city, the mummy again rested in its ancient tomb.

The End

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Outboard Boys at Pirate Beach

The Outboard Boys at Pirate Beach
1933

CHAPTER 1 The Red Haired Man

THERE was a chill in the night air, reminiscent of the late but not lamented winter, as three youths strolled out of Struve's Movie Palace and walked down Main Street. One of them, Terry Blondel, a slender, light-haired boy, exclaimed:
"Wow—who said this was the first of June? The weather man must have gotten his dates mixed. This feels more like winter."
"I'll say it does," Martin Hazzard, a dark, very good-looking youth replied. "Bet there's ice on Lake Otter."
The third member of the group, Warren Finn, a stocky, well set up boy, laughed raucously.
"Ice on Lake Otter—what a chance!" he scoffed. "And we're going to take out the Watermar tomorrow!"
"What's that got to do with anything?" Martin demanded.
"Well, we couldn't take the boat out if there was ice on the lake, could we?"
"Course we couldn't! But do you think that just because we've planned to take out the Watermar that the ice would say 'pardon me if I seem to be in the way' and melt?"
"Sure it would."
"Aw, fooie! Anyhow, it is chilly. What say we drop in Lorfer's for a hot chocolate?"
"You buying?" Terry asked.
"No, but I'll match anyone for it."
"Wait 'til we get there. Say, you know I liked that movie we saw. Especially that part about the houseboat on the river. Golly, I'd like to have a houseboat like that."
"Who wouldn't!" Warren cried. "But I think we're pretty lucky to have the Watermar. Not many boats with outboards in 'em that can come up to that. I don't mean in speed, but in utility. When we went after the monster on Shadow Lake last summer the Watermar stood us in good stead. It was practically a houseboat then—we slept on it, ate on it, and it carried us where we wanted to go, didn't it?"
Warren was referring to the adventures the three chums had when they captured a strange monster that lived in a mysterious lake, as related in the book previous to this, called "The Outboard Boys at Shadow Lake."
"Sure it did," Martin agreed. "We've got no kick coming. Except I would like to try a houseboat. Jiminy, think of the fun you could have with one of those!"
"You can take it out in wishing," Terry said. "Remember two summers ago, when we went over to Misty Island? There was a time when a houseboat would have come in handy."
"Oh, I don't know," Martin objected. "The old Watermar certainly got us through to the cove, didn't it? And just in time to rescue Liverright. Boy, what a storm there was that day!"
What happened at Misty Island was related in the first book of this series, called "The Outboard Boys at Mystery Island." Misty Island was a target for storms in that vicinity due to deposits of metallic ore, and for that reason was known to many as "Mystery Island." This fact was taken advantage of by Jake Lawson, a fellow whose enemies the boys were proud to be, in certain operations he undertook.
As Warren, Terry and Martin walked slowly toward Lorfer's, a large "soda parlor," they talked of these adventures with zest. It was fun to remember the thrilling times they had with their boat the Watermar, which now awaited their pleasure at Jim Demerest's boathouse, ready for the first run of the season. Up until now the boys were busy with school examinations—they all attended Stirling High School —but, since the term closed early this year, they were about finished now, and could afford to think of vacation plans.
"You know what I'd like to do this summer?" Terry asked suddenly.
"Join Marlow and Denby's circus, and go in a sideshow with the monster we caught," Martin replied, for they had sold their captive to this organization.
"Stow away in a steamer bound for Africa," Warren suggested.
"Buy the Graf Zeppelin and give it to Louise Thompson for a birthday present," was Martin's next offering.
"Take a trip to—"
"I knew I shouldn't have asked you fellows," Terry said disgustedly. "I might have expected crazy answers like that."
"Well, what would you like to do?" Warren demanded.
"I'd like to go to a high-hat summer resort."
"Oh, you would!" Martin exclaimed. "My, my, my! So you crave social activity, do you? Now isn't that just swell! How are you at the tea table, darling?"
"Oh, jump in the lake," Terry growled. "I mean it. Some place where we could play tennis, and maybe golf, and meet a lot of interesting people."
"Like movie actors and actresses?" Warren asked sarcastically.
"No, not necessarily. You know, I'd like to go to a place where they have outboard motor racing."
"Why, they have that at Centreville, across the lake,” Martin declared. "They have races every month."
"Yeah, but not big races. I mean—"
"Here's Lorfer's," Warren interrupted. "We'll talk it over inside, after you pay for the hot chocolates."
"Me pay for them!" Terry cried. "How do you get that way? Who said I was going to—"
"All right, we'll match. But let's go in anyhow." They turned into the wide door, and took a table at the side. These tables were separated from each other by partitions, giving the effect of cozy nooks. Lorfer's was the most up-to-date soda emporium in Stirling. "Now, get on with your lecture," Warren said, when they had given their order to the waitress. "You were saying—"
"I was saying I'd like to go to a summer resort where they have outboard races. We've got enough money, haven't me, from what we got by selling the monster to Marlow and Denby's circus? Why couldn't we take a little trip somewhere this summer?"
"No reason at all," Martin murmured.
Warren said nothing. He was glancing at a paper, the Stirling Gazette, which someone had left on the seat.
"Well, are you in this conversation, or are you just sitting here?" Terry asked Warren, after a few moments.
"Who—me? Oh. I was just reading the ads. And, sonny, there's something here that might interest you." He passed the folded paper to Terry. "Read that."
Terry glanced at the indicated advertisement, and Martin and Warren saw his eyes begin to shine. Suddenly he slammed the paper upon the table.
"By gosh, that's great!" he almost shouted, causing other patrons across the room to glance his way questioningly. "Listen, you fellows: 'For sale or rent, thirty foot houseboat, ten foot wide, cabin twenty feet long, outboard sixteen-horse-power motor. Built on flat-bottomed square-ended barge. Fine condition. Screened front porch, well-fitted kitchen. Price right. Haste necessary. Harry Stevens, P. O. Box 928, Bursefield.’ Hey, you know where Bursefield is? It's right on Lake Mattatake—and boy, that's some lake! I heard—"
"Hot chocolate?" a voice above him asked.
"Huh? Hot—oh, yes. All around." He waited impatiently until the waitress had served them and left the check. Then he burst out:
"That's what I've been looking for! A houseboat! Fellows—"
"Probably away beyond our means," Warren said.
"How do you know? We can ask, can't we? No harm in finding out, is there? Why can't we—"
"Take it easy," Martin laughed. "Say, I'm sort of interested in that myself. I never knew an outboard motor would drive a houseboat."
"Sure it will! Not very fast, maybe, but it'll get us where we want to go, all right."
"And where's that?" Warren demanded.
"Well, we'll have to decide that. I think the Passloe River comes into Lake Mattatake. We could take a trip up that. It's a long river, too. Goes all the way to Portsmouth. Baby, wouldn't that be swell? A houseboat!"
"What do you think about it, Warren?" Martin questioned.
"Why, I'd like to find out about it," was the slow answer. "It would certainly be something new. But I'm afraid it would cost too much. Those things are expensive."
"I'll bet we could rent it cheaply," Terry exclaimed.
"Maybe. Boy, this chocolate is hot." He sipped the drink, and then reached for the paper. "Let's see that a second."
He read the ad carefully. "Sure looks inviting," he asserted. "We could sort of laze along, staying where we pleased."
"Sure we could!" Terry cried. "We could put a radio in, and have music while we traveled. We could take some books with us—"
"You could bone up on your Latin," Martin suggested slyly.
"Yeah, but I won't. I passed, and that's all I'm interested in. Say, let's write to this fellow tonight."
"We could do that," Warren agreed. "Ask about the price, and if it's low enough we could go over and look at it. How far is Bursefield from here? Anyone know?"
"About forty miles, I think," Terry replied.
"Well, that's not so far. But what would we do with the Watermar"
"We could sell it."
"I'd sort of hate to see it go," Martin said. "We sure had some swell times in it."
"Yes, but think of the times we could have in the houseboat. Boy, I'm glad we found this paper!"
"Maybe the houseboat is already sold," Warren said.
"We'll have to find that out. Maybe we ought to telegraph to this fellow."
"How can you telegraph to a post office box?" Martin questioned.
"I don't know, but—"
From the next table, behind the partition, a voice suddenly exclaimed loudly:
"I don't care what you say, I'm not going to do it! I'm finished with you and your whole gang! Finished, I tell you!"
"Oh, no you're not," another voice said smoothly. "You only think you are. You'll do as I say, or else—"
"I won't! You have no right to force me to do something I don't want to do!"
"Oh, haven't I? And what about that little job—"
"You wouldn't have the nerve! And if you did, I'd spill—"
Smack!
It was the sound of a hand smashed against a face. Terry and the others leaped up, and peered around the partition.

CHAPTER II The Gray Roadster

PRESSED against the back of the seat, his eyes staring wildly at the person opposite him, was a small, slight man with red hair. On one side of his face, etched in crimson, was the imprint of a palm.
The man who had struck him gazed calmly at the three boys. He was at least seventy-five pounds heavier than his companion; had broad, sloping shoulders and eyes which were set too close together.
"Well?" he asked. "What's the idea?"
"You hit him!" Warren exclaimed.
"Sure I hit him! What of it?"
"You think it's all right to sock a man so much smaller than you are?" Terry demanded hotly.
"If I feel like it."
By this time the manager was hurrying over, crying:
"What happened here? What's going on?"
"This fellow hit the little man," Martin exclaimed. "You could hear it across the room."
"I did hear it—ach, that's not the way to do!" Lorfer, a German, was excited. "I won't have such monkey-business in my place—you think this is a prize fight room, nicht?"
"Now, calm down, calm down," the big man said. "We were just fooling. Weren't we just fooling, Midge?"
He looked sternly at his companion.
"Yeah—we were just fooling—"
"It didn't sound like fooling to me," Warren said. He felt anger rising in him against this man who took advantage of his size. Yet the one who was hit did not, apparently, resent it to any great extent. He just sat there, blinking, as though he were looking into a strong light.
The manager and owner, Lorfer, scratched his head.
"Well—" he said, "well—"
"They were arguing, and all of a sudden he hit him," Terry declared.
"My hand slipped," the big man said casually.
"Yeah—his hand slipped," repeated the one called Midge—and the name suited him.
The three boys and Lorfer stood there several moments, rather puzzled at what they could do about it if the man who was struck refused to make any complaint. Finally Lorfer muttered something about "see how my store is getting on," and left.
“Is there anything else you wanted?" the big fellow asked softly.
"No, there isn't," Warren replied briefly. "If he wants to let you knock him around, I suppose it's his affair. Come on, fellows."
They returned to their sEats. Even through the partition they seemed to sense, directed toward them, the eyes of the man with the sloping shoulders.
"A fine pair," Terry said in a low voice.
"I'll say," Martin agreed. He listened, but could hear nothing save a low murmur of voices from the next booth. Then there was a sound of benches being pushed back, and the two men who had caused the disturbance-arose. They passed the table where Terry, Martin and Warren were sitting. The little man did not look at them, but the other stared straight at Terry, who returned the glance steadily. For a moment he thought the man was going to speak, but he did not, proceeding to the cashier's desk where he paid the check. Then they were gone into the night, the door swinging shut behind them.
"A fine pair," Terry said again. “I’ll bet I'll know them if we ever see them again—especially that husky brute."
"Me too," Martin muttered. "He sure socked the little guy. You could see the mark of his hand as plainly as if it was painted there."
"Wonder who they are?" Warren mused. "I'm going to ask Lorfer if he knows them."
"No use in that—I'm sure he doesn't," Martin declared. "They must be just passing through Stirling. I noticed a big gray car parked down the street a way. I'll bet they came in that."
"The little fellow wanted to get out of something," Warren mused. "He was refusing to do something the big guy wanted."
"And he got socked," Terry said grimly. "I'll bet he does it, whatever it is."
They finished their chocolate, matched for the check and Martin lost. As he was paying it, Lorfer strolled up. He knew them, for Stirling was small enough for most of the residents to know one another.
"Mr. Hazzard, do you know who those fellows were?" the manager asked Martin.
"No, we don't. We were going to ask you if you ever saw them before."
"Not me! And if I never see them again it'll be too soon. I shall not let them in my place."
"How long were they here?" Terry asked.
"Almost an hour. They ordered coffee and sandwiches, and sat over them, talking. I didn't like them when they came in."
"Almost an hour, eh?" Warren exclaimed.
"Yes. But they didn't make any disturbance until just now."
"Well, I guess we've seen the last of 'em," Martin declared. "Good-night, Mr. Lorfer."
"Good-night. Say, is that your paper?" He pointed to the one Terry was reading, and had left on the bench.
"No—but we'll take it along. There's something in it we want," Terry replied. He retrieved the paper, and they left.
Martin glanced down the street. "The car I saw is gone," he announced. "It was a big gray one."
"I didn't notice it," Terry asserted, and Warren said the same. "Let's forget the whole business. I'm interested in that houseboat idea. I almost forgot the paper, too. Tell you what; suppose I write when I get home, enclosing a stamped and addressed envelope?"
"Good," Martin approved. "This is Friday night. Ought to get an answer by Monday or Tuesday. Well, here's where I turn off. So long! See you tomorrow?"
"Sure. Let's meet at the boathouse," Warren suggested, "How about eleven o'clock?"
"O. K.," Martin agreed. "We'll try out the Watermar. And you write about the houseboat tonight, Terry."
"I sure will!"
The next day, at Jim Demerest's boathouse—or rather where he was manager, for he didn't own it— the boys slid the Watermar into the lake. This boat was formerly a large dory, and admirably suited for the outboard motor which drove it. The name Watermar was taken from the first few letters of the boys' names— WArren, TERry and MARtin.
"Looks good," Terry exclaimed, leaning over the dock and glancing at the craft.
"Oh, yes, we keep the boats in good shape," Jim declared. He was a good-natured, middle-aged man, with a face that kept its tan from one summer to the next.
His helper, Sylvanius Bogg, popularly called Syl— which, some said, actually was short for Silly—walked out toward the boys. He was a stout youth who was inclined toward humor, or at least what he would call humor.
"Well, what's on the books for this summer?" he called. "You fellows going adventuring again? Where you goin' this time—to the South Sea Isles?" and he snickered.
"No scats left there," Terry said briefly.
"Huh? No seats? No seats where?"
"On the aisles. Only center and side left."
“What ? Seats on the aisles ? I asked you—"
“Never mind," Martin said kindly. "Don't trouble yourself with it, Syl. You'll get it later. Say, we'd better get some gas and oil."
"Sure thing," Jim agreed. "Syl! Get some gas and oil for the boys."
"Seats on the aisle—" Syl was muttering, and walked into the boathouse. In a few moments he returned with the fuel, and the tank of the outboard motor was filled.
"Now we're all set," Martin remarked. "Let's go, bunch—the first ride this year!"
"Can't we come?" called a girlish voice, and looking up they saw Louise and Ruth Thompson walking toward them. These were particular friends of Terry and Warren, and on this score Martin kidded them frequently. But last summer a new girl visited the Thompsons—Dorothy Trent. She took to Martin immediately—and, strange to say, he took to her. Dorothy was with Ruth and Louise now.
"Here's your girl," Terry said to Martin in a low voice. "Too bad we can't ask them to come with us."
"Why can't we ask them to come with us?" Martin flashed, and then blushed as he saw Terry grinning at him.
"Well, well—how old Martin Hazzard has changed!" Warren sighed mockingly. "Why, I remember when he wouldn't so much as look at a girl. Yes sir, it was only a year ago—one short, little year—"
"Pipe down!" Martin exclaimed hoarsely. And then, waving, he called: "Hello, Dorothy! How are you?"
"Fine, Martin! How are you?"
"I'm fine too."
"I guess you're both fine," Warren said, sotto voce.
"Stop teasing Martin," Ruth said. "I brought Dorothy down particularly to see him. She's staying with us for a few days."
"Want a ride?" Terry asked.
"Of course we do—that's why we're here!" Louise replied.
"Then hop in—we're starting!"
The girls took their places, and Martin made ready to spin the motor. The craft was equipped with a remote control device and could be guided from the bow. Terry took the wheel.
"Let's go!" Terry shouted.
The craft moved away from the dock. Dorothy, who was sitting with Martin, exclaimed excitedly:
"This is perfect—I've never been out in one of these before! Oh, I like this!"
"Wait until we get our houseboat," Martin said, and then bit his lip, for this was supposed to be a secret for a while. But evidently Dorothy did not hear him. She was staring at the road which ran past the boathouse.
"Look at that car," she said. "Isn't it a beauty!"
Martin turned and looked. He saw a long, gray roadster. In it were three men.
"By golly, that's the car I saw—" he began, and then stopped.
One of the men in the gray roadster stood up, and pointed toward the Watermar. Just then Terry glanced about.
"Say," he exclaimed, "there's the two men who were in Lorfer's! And the one standing up—it's Jake Lawson! What's he doing with them—and what is he pointing to us for?"

CHAPTER III Headed for Danger

UNCONSCIOUSLY, Terry swung the wheel about, so that he could get a better view of the men in the roadster. This, of course, gave those in the auto a better view of the occupants of the Watermar.
"Do you know those people?" Dorothy asked wonderingly of Martin.
"No—but we saw them before," he replied grimly. "The one standing up is Jake Lawson—we know him all right, and he knows us. The other two we saw last night at Lorfer's." He did not tell of the details of their meeting.
"Lawson seems to be explaining something to his friends," Ruth declared. "Maybe he's planning to make more trouble for you boys!”
"If he's wise, he'll lay off," Warren declared shortly. “The last time he tried to cross us he didn't make out so well."
"You mean he doesn't like you?" Dorothy asked innocently.
"No more than we like him," Terry replied. "Don't you remember, last summer, when that skunk was released from a bag near the Thompson porch—and how Warren, the brave hero, tamed it? Well, Jake was the one who let the skunk out of the bag."
"Yes, I remember now," Dorothy exclaimed, and smiled, for the incident was not without its humor.
"Look—there they go," Martin said, and the gray roadster moved slowly down the road, and out of sight. "Seems as if they came here just to get a look at us."
"Funny the little fellow with the red hair still sticks around the big guy," Terry said, "after the sock he got."
"Did someone get hurt?" Louise asked quickly.
"Oh, not really hurt," Warren assured her, and they told of the incident. "I guess it was a business quarrel —or something."
They were some distance out from shore now, and the boat was running smoothly. The winter rest appeared to have done it good, for the motor sounded perfect.
"Be a shame to get rid of this boat," Warren said, sighing.
"Oh, are you going to sell the Watermar!" Louise questioned. "Why, I don't see how you can, after all the adventures you've had in it!"
"Well, we're planning to get a houseboat," Terry told her. "I answered an ad in the Gazette last night about one. Looks pretty good, too. Cabin twenty feet long and ten feet wide. The cabin is built on a barge, and is run by an outboard motor."
"You mean a little motor like this could move a houseboat?" Ruth demanded incredulously.
"Sure it could. The motor may be larger and more powerful than this, but it's the same type. Why, these outboards will almost drive an ocean liner!"
"Hey, take it easy," Martin laughed. "Don't let your imagination run away with you."
"Well, I was just telling her," Terry muttered.
"I'll say you were! Wait until we see the houseboat before you start bragging about how good it is."
Terry had the bow of the boat pointed directly across Lake Otter, which at this point was quite wide. Now he swung to the left.
"Not going near Misty Island, are you?" Louise asked, smiling.
"No, I don't think so," Terry replied. "We had enough of that place. Of course, if you'd like me to land you there—"
"No, thanks!" Louise answered quickly. "I saw enough of it myself." She recalled the time they had been driven upon the island in a storm, and shuddered. "Let's just ride around for a while," she added. "It's a splendid day."
The weather was, indeed, quite perfect, the chill of last night having been dissipated by the sun. It was a sparkling day, such as comes frequently in early spring or in the fall.
"Where are you going on your houseboat?" Dorothy asked Martin. "Will you take us for a ride on it?"
"Well, it's over at Bursefield, forty miles from here," he replied. "We'll have to go over to see it first. I don't know how we could get it to Lake Otter. There may be a river some place leading from Lake Otter to Lake Mattatake—that's where Bursefield is. We'll have to find that out from a map."
"But where are you planning on going?" Ruth insisted.
"We haven't any plans at all. It's all up in the air yet. But Terry saw the ad for the houseboat in the paper, and we got rather interested. So we're going to have a look."
"Is it a real houseboat, with rooms in it and everything?" Louise asked eagerly.
"Sure it is. Has a screened-in porch."
"Oh, I'd love to take a trip on it," Dorothy exclaimed. "Can't you boys bring it here?"
"We'd have to put wheels on it, I think," Warren laughed. "But we'll sec what can be done. We have to wait until Terry gets a reply to his letter. The price may be away over our heads."
Terry was steering the boat in a wide circle. All about Lake Otter were islands, some small and some quite large, giving the lake an appearance of being sprinkled with land tossed from a giant hand, as a person might distribute bread crumbs in soup. Pointing to one of these islands, a tiny one, Terry asked:
"Want to land there for a while? That's where the Sherman family lives. The two boys were rather sickly, so their father bought that whole island, and they live there the year 'round. The kids are pretty husky now. They've got the whole island to roam around on."
"I never knew that," Louise declared.
"Sure! The kids, in summer, go around in just a pair of shorts. I mean two pairs of shorts," and he grinned. "They look like regular Indians. And in the winter they don't wear much, either. They live in a log cabin."
"I'd like to see them," Dorothy exclaimed enthusiastically.
"O. K., we'll land there then. Mr. and Mrs. Sherman are awfully nice. They'll probably give us something to eat."
"Always thinking about your stomach," Warren muttered.
"Well, an army travels on its stomach, doesn't it?" Terry retorted.
"Yeah, but you're no army."
"How do you know?"
The boat was approaching the island now. Set back from the shore, in sort of a ring of trees open on one side, they saw the cabin. It was sturdily built, but crude.
"The family built its own home," Terry explained.
"Cut the wood and everything."
"It must be great to live like that," Martin commented.
"Yeah—you'd stand it about two weeks," Terry snorted. "Then you'd start looking for excitement."
"Maybe," Martin admitted. "I'd like to try it, anyhow."
Over the noise of their own motor—which wasn't very loud, as its exhaust was under water—they heard a high-pitched, droning sound.
"What's that—an airplane?" Warren asked, looking up.
"Don't think so," Terry replied. "The sound isn't deep enough. It seems more like an angry mosquito."
The noise did, in fact, resemble the shrill buzz of one of these pests. Then it stopped as suddenly as it began.
"Funny," Ruth said. "I wonder where it's coming from?"

"Maybe from the other side of the island," Warren suggested.
They listened again, and in a moment the drone was resumed. It was closer now, and louder. Suddenly Martin snapped his fingers.
"I'll bet I know what that is," he exclaimed.
"What?" Louise demanded.
"It's an outboard racer!"
“You mean one of those tiny bugs that scoot along on top of the water?" Dorothy asked him. "I saw one once. My, they can go fast!"
"I'll say they can," Warren declared. "Fifty miles an hour, some of 'em. I'd sure like to try one!"
"This fellow sounds as if he was burning up the water," Martin remarked. "I wish he'd come out here where we could see him."
As if in answer to his request, the racer suddenly appeared from around a point of the island. It was a strange looking craft, seeming almost broad as it was long. The nose was high out of water, and it bounced over the surface of the lake, for the water was a bit choppy,
"Look at that boy come!" Terry cried. "Baby, he sure is riding!"
"I should think he'd be thrown out!" Louise declared.
"Sometimes they are," Martin assured her. "The pilot has to wear sort of a life preserver around his neck and shoulders. See, he's got one on."
"He looks like a football player," Ruth laughed.
The little craft was coming closer, and Terry throttled down his motor so they could get a good look at it. The pilot had one hand on the front to steady himself, and the other on the tiller of the motor. The boat was small enough for him to reach from the bow to the stern as he sat in his place.
"Watch him turn!" Terry yelled.
The racer heeled a bit, and seemed to skid around. Then it turned again, making a figure S.
"Showing off," Warren commented. "Guess he knows there are girls in this boat."
"Don't be so mean," Ruth chided. "I don't believe he knows we are here at all."
Now the racing craft was headed straight for the Watermar. It was still a fair distance away, but at the rate it was going this interval would be covered in a few seconds.
"Hope he knows how to steer that thing," Warren remarked. "I'd hate to get smacked with it."
"Oh, he'll turn out in time," Martin assured him.
The sound of the racer's power plant was so high and shrill, as it neared them, that they almost had to shout to make themselves heard.
"If I rode in that, I'd have to have cotton in my ears!" Louise exclaimed. "It must be deafening, to be so close to that racket!"
“I wish he'd swerve a little," Dorothy said nervously. "I don't like him to aim straight at us."
"Showing off," Warren said again.
"Whether he is or not, I'm going to get out of his way,” Terry declared, and opening the throttle he started out of the path of the screaming racer. "I don't like to serve as a target, either —even if he does intend to miss."
But now it was doubtful if the pilot actually did intend to miss. The boat swept down upon them, until it was only a few hundred yards away.
"Hey—keep off!" Martin yelled. "Steer away!" Of course it was impossible for the pilot to hear him. Warren leaped to his feet and waved wildly.
"Get out of here!" he shouted. "What's the idea?" Then, for just a moment, he saw the face of the pilot. On it was a frightened look. He appeared to be struggling with something, unsuccessfully.
“He can't get over!" Warren exclaimed. "Something's gone wrong with his boat! He'll run us down!"

CHAPTER IV The Houseboat Owner

THERE was but a moment to realize that Warren's words were true, but to those in the Watermar that moment was so packed with emotion that it seemed much longer. Dorothy screamed, a tiny, ineffectual scream, and Martin automatically threw his arm about her shoulders to protect her.
Terry swung his wheel hard over. He hoped to escape the smash of the oncoming boat, or at least to swerve out of the way sufficiently to avoid being hit amidships. At the speed the racer was traveling it would strike the larger craft a terrific blow.
Had there been time, the occupants of the Watermar might have leaped overboard. But this thought did not come to them quickly enough. They sat there, held motionless by panic, that numbing emotion which comes to nearly all of us when confronted with sudden and unexpected danger.
The frightened face of the racer's pilot seemed to leap at them. Even in this crisis, they were aware of the pleading eyes, the half-opened mouth that appeared unable to shout the warning that must have flashed into the young man's brain. For it was a youth like themselves who sat tensed in the seat of the tiny, rushing craft, his hands working madly in a desperate effort to halt or turn the boat.
There was now but a split second before the darting racer would strike. It came upon them like a torpedo.
Then, when it seemed that the bow of the bullet-like craft already had crushed them, the boat turned, leaped almost completely out of water, and shot past the stern of the Watermar, missing by less than a yard. The motor continued its vicious drone.
Those watching saw the pilot catapulted out of his craft, to land, arms and legs outstretched, flat upon the surface of the lake. The boat gave another leap. It whipped about, like a crazy thing determined to wreak vengeance upon its late master.
The nose buried itself in the water. With a final scream the motor quit.
There was silence, except for the stolid chug-chug of the Watermar, which seemed like an anti-climax to a roaring drama.
"Oh!" said Louise, and it was a shocked sigh. No exclamation or ejaculation could more clearly describe the feelings of those who had just escaped death or serious injury. All of the fierce terror had vanished, and there was nothing in them but a torpid weakness.
But this must be quickly overcome, for the pilot was floating in the water, buoyed up by his life preserver, his head on one side, his eyes closed. Then was the wisdom of this type of preserver apparent. He had been knocked unconscious, either by his head striking something as he was flung out, or the terrific shock of hitting the solid water at forty miles an hour. This was equivalent to leaping into the water from a height of fifty-four feet, and if a diver, springing from this distance, should strike flat, he might easily suffer injury.
Yet with the life-saving device high about his neck, the pilot of the boat that was now settling in the water could scarcely drown, since his head was held above the surface.

"Pull over near him!" Warren yelled to Terry.
The advice was not needed. Terry already was swinging about.
"Is he—is he dead?" Ruth asked in a trembling voice.
"He can't be," Martin replied sharply. "He's just been knocked cold. Now—can you reach him, Wawa? Wait—I'll help you."
Wawa was Warren's nickname, a relic of the days when he could not pronounce Warren.
The two boys leaned far out, as Terry slowed down his motor. Another moment and hands grasped the unconscious youth and had pulled him into the boat.
A tiny trickle of blood ran down his face from his forehead.
"Oh—he's cut!" Ruth exclaimed.
"It's not much," Warren assured her. "He'll be all right." He took a deep breath. "Boy, that was close! I never want to go through a time like that again. Say, Mart, see if you can tie a rope to his boat. It might sink and he'll lose it. Can you pull over there, Terry?"
Terry nodded, and obeyed the suggestion. "Thinking of a boat when the poor boy is unconscious!" Louise cried. "How can you?"
"He'll thank us, later," Warren said grimly. "Here, Louise, take this clean handkerchief and bathe his head."
Louise came forward to where the boy was lying, and took his head in her lap. She tried to loosen the life preserver, but was unable to do this so she wiped the blood from his head and face.
The racing craft was nearly under water when they reached it. Martin took a few turns of the rope about a projection at the bow, and then tied the rope tightly to one of the seats of the Watermar, passing it under and over.
"Now she's all right," he said, and turned his attention to the youth, whose eyes were still closed.
"You're getting blood all over your dress, Louise!" Dorothy cried.
"What of it?" the girl responded. "I've got another dress—this boy only has one head!"
"Good girl," Warren chuckled. "I'll get that bundle off his neck, so he can breathe easier."
He managed to remove the life preserver, and as he did so the boy groaned and opened his eyes.
"He's coming around," Terry said excitedly. He had cut his motor, and they were standing still, anchored by the partially submerged racer.
"If we only had some ammonia," Ruth said.
"We haven't, though," Martin told her. "Louise, hold his head up just a bit more. That's it."
"He must have hit something when he got tossed out," Terry declared. "Maybe the frame of the boat."
The boy's lips were moving, and he gazed from one to the other with a blank stare. Finally, in a weak voice, he asked:
"What—what happened?"
"You happened," Martin replied. "Never mind now. Just rest. Does your head hurt?"
He put his hand to it in a dazed fashion. Suddenly he realized that it was a girl who held him, and he made a furious effort to sit up, his face fiery red.
"Now, don't do that," Louise soothed. "Just lie quietly. I'm not going to bite you."
"I know, but—"
"No buts. Just lie quietly."
He subsided, muttering. Terry bent over him. "We've got your boat tied to us," he told him. "It's safe."
"Boat? What—" Then memory returned, and this time he did sit up, avoiding Louise's restraining hand.
"You people hurt?" he asked wildly. "Did I hit you?"
"No, you didn't hit us," Martin told him. "You came pretty close, but you turned just in time."
"I couldn't stop it, and the tiller jammed. I couldn't steer it."
"We thought something like that was the matter," Terry said. "But we didn't think so quite soon enough. If we had, we could have gotten out of the way. But we figured you were just showing off."
"Showing off!" and he laughed bitterly. "I guess I'll do little showing off, after this. Today was the first day I had the boat."
"It is?" Warren exclaimed. "Where did you learn to run it?"
"I didn't learn to run it!" and he smiled, a bit crookedly. "If I had, this would never have happened. I can't begin to tell you all how sorry I am—"
"Forget it," Martin said kindly. "We weren't hurt. You're the one that suffered."
"The tiller jammed—I couldn't get it around," he muttered. "Then at the last minute I managed to swing it. I thought it was too late. If I had hit you—" and he shuddered.
"But couldn't you cut the motor?" Terry demanded.
"No, I couldn't. I don't know what happened. All I know is I was rushing toward you people, and I yanked on the tiller, and then—I woke up here." He glanced toward Louise and blushed. "I got your dress all soiled," he said in a low voice.
"Don't worry about that," Louise told him brightly. "How do you feel now?"
"Better, thanks—sort of shaky—"
"Naturally you do," Terry said. "Let's see that cut a second."
He looked closely at it, then bound the handkerchief about the youth's head.
"That'll stop it, I think," he declared. "It isn't much, but you better have a doctor fix it. Where are you going?"
"I've been staying with Mr. and Mrs. Sherman, on the island. The boat was delivered there today."
"Well, we'll take you back then."
"I can't thank you enough," he murmured. "And I'm awfully sorry I scared you, and gave you so much trouble."
"Forget it," Warren advised, as Martin had. "It's all over. Now to see if we can tow your boat in."
"I could send out for it—"
"And in the meantime it might be on the bottom of the lake. Wawa, will you start the motor? We'll see if we've got power enough to drag the racer in."
Warren went back and started the engine, for although they had a remote control in the bow, it did not have an electric starter. At first it seemed as though the foundered craft would prove too much of a burden. Then, slowly, the Watermar began to move ahead, towing the racing boat.
"We'll make it," Martin said enthusiastically. "Good old Watermar! I'll sure hate to see her go."
"You going to sell this boat?" the youth whom they had rescued asked.
"Well, we're thinking of It," Martin answered. "We're thinking of getting a houseboat. We saw an ad in the paper, and—"
"Was it in the Stirling Gazette?"
"Yes, it was."
"A post office box in Bursefield?"
"Yep. Why?"
"Because, I'm Harry Stevens. It's my boat. I want to sell or rent it because I've got this racer. But now, maybe I'd better sell the racer and buy your boat!"
"You own the houseboat?" Terry asked eagerly. “Yes. I bought it last year, thinking I'd go on a trip with it. But then I got interested in racing, and decided to sell the houseboat, or at least rent it."
"Golly, that's funny," Martin remarked. "We just wrote to inquire about it. How much do you—"
"Oh, don't talk business now!" Ruth objected. "Can't you see Mr. Stevens is feeling badly?"
In truth, he was quite pale. They hadn't considered his injury dangerous, but perhaps it was more serious than they guessed.
Stevens put his hand to his head. Then he fell forward, limply.

CHAPTER V What Was Harry Afraid Of?

JIMINY," Terry gasped, "there he goes again!"
No one noticed the crudeness of the sentence, for all were shocked at the suddenness of the boy's collapse. Luckily Louise thrust out an arm in time to prevent him from striking the gunwale.
"We've got to get him to shore quick!" Martin declared.
"We're not so far away now—you mean you want to cut his boat loose, and go faster?" Warren inquired.
"Well—”
"We'll be there in five minutes," Terry said. "He'd feel pretty badly if he lost his boat. What do you think, Louise?"
She was the oldest of the three girls, and Warren turned to her naturally.
"I don't care anything about the boat," she declared. I think we ought to get him to shore as quick as we can."
"O. K.!" Martin cried. "I’ll release the rope,"
He leaped back and untied the rope. To his gratification the boat did not sink, but rested, stern down, on the bottom, so close were they to shore.
The throttle of the Watermar was opened wide, and in a few moments the prow grated on the sand. Warren and Terry leaped out, oblivious of wet feet.
"Lift him into our arms," Terry said to Martin. "Easy, now."
They carried the boy toward the cabin. The door opened, and Mrs. Sherman, a pleasant-faced woman whose sparkling eyes told of her energy, stood on the threshold.
"Harry! What happened to him?" she asked quickly.
"He got hurt when his boat tipped," Warren replied. "Have you a place we can lay him?"
"In here," she said, leading the way. She took in the situation at a glance, and wasted no time in useless questions.
Harry Stevens was placed gently upon the bed. Mrs. Sherman busied herself in removing his wet clothing. Then she wrapped him in a warm blanket and hurried into the next room, where the others were waiting.
"There isn't a doctor here," she said rapidly. "Can you go to the mainland and get one?"
"Come on, Terry—you and I'll go," Warren exclaimed. "The others can stay here and help Mrs. Sherman."
They ran to their boat and shoved off. Back in the cabin, Mrs. Sherman was explaining:
"Harry hasn't been well. He came to us last week, we know his father, in Bursefield. I wish he hadn't gotten that awful racing boat."
"I think he'll be all right," Martin said uneasily.
"Is there anything we can do?" Ruth asked.
"No, I don't think so. I'll get some ammonia. We have some in the house," and she left the room.
"He must have gotten quite a sock," Martin declared.
"Poor fellow," Ruth said softly. "I hope he gets along all right."
"So do I," Dorothy added. "Maybe—"
Then Mrs. Sherman was back, holding a glass in her hand.
"Would one of you young ladies—" she started, and Louise, without waiting for her to finish, walked with her into the next room. The others followed to see if they could be of any assistance.
When they entered Stevens had recovered partial consciousness. But his look was wandering and his breathing labored.
"Now if you'll lift him up—" Mrs. Sherman said, and held the glass to the boy's lips as Louise raised his head.
He drank, and they could see the immediate effect. A touch of color came to his cheeks, and his eyes opened wider.
"Thanks," he gasped. “I—must have fainted."
"You did," Mrs. Sherman told him. "The doctor is on his way here—or will be soon."
"Doctor? I don't need a doctor! I'm all right!"
"Yes, but we just want him to look at the cut," Mrs. Sherman said kindly. "Oh—here's Elliot!"
Her husband, a tall, bronzed man with keen gray eyes walked into the room. As he saw the boy on the bed he made a clicking noise with his tongue.
"Too bad," he exclaimed. "I was afraid this would happen."
"I got—sort of smashed up," Harry Stevens muttered.
"Yes, I can see you did." Mr. Sherman looked around at Martin and the three girls. Martin told him and Mrs. Sherman their names, and in as few words as possible explained what had happened.
"It was all my fault," Harry broke in. "I guess I'll never make a racing pilot," and he bit his lip.
"Never mind," Mr. Sherman said soothingly. "We all make mistakes. That was a pretty powerful boat you had."
"Had? Is it gone?" Harry asked excitedly. "No, it isn't," Martin replied. "It's near the shore, on the bottom. We couldn't bring it all the way in."
"Then I can get it," the boy sighed. "I'll sell it, I think. Dad will be sorry to hear I had an accident."
"You'll be all right," Martin said. "You just got a bang on the head. Likely to happen to anyone."
"Yes—I guess so," and Harry sighed again. "But I wanted to go back to Pennock Beach for the races."
"Pennock Beach is near Bursefield," Mrs. Sherman told Martin. "His father owns a lot of land there, and he's depending on the outboard races this summer to create interest in the place."
Harry heard her, and sat up, his face flushed.
"Yes, and it will be a summer resort, too!" he cried. "It'll be the best one around! Even if those two men—"
He stopped, and Martin looked at him in surprise.
"What two men?" he asked.
“The men who are trying—"
At that moment two whoops sounded at the door, and Mr. Sherman stepped quickly out.
"Michael—Phil—be quiet," he ordered. "Harry isn't feeling well."
Two youngsters, about eleven or twelve years old, entered. They were naked from the waist up, and tanned a beautiful brown.
"Hello, fellows," the boy on the bed called. "I had an accident."
"Are you hurt bad?" one of the youngsters asked.
"No, he's not hurt badly," Mrs. Sherman replied, accenting the last word to show her sons the mistake in English. "But he wants to rest for a time. Now you run out and play."
"All right, mom," was the answer, and they were gone.
"My two Indians," Mrs, Sherman smiled. "They're twins, although they don't look exactly alike. Harry, do you feel any better? Can I get you anything?"
"No, thanks," he replied. "I'm much better. It was silly to faint like that. I guess I'm sort of out of condition."
While Mrs. Sherman stayed with him, the others went into the next room to await the arrival of the doctor. Sooner than they expected Terry and Warren returned, and with them was a physician.
He went into Harry's room, and they all waited anxiously his verdict, for they were really worried.
In fifteen minutes or so he came out, shutting his case.
"Is he all right?" Terry inquired eagerly.
"Well, he's not all right, but there's nothing seriously the matter with him," was the reply. The doctor looked keenly at Mr. Sherman. "Has the boy been worried about anything, that you know?"
"Well, yes, he has," the man admitted. "You see he lives in Bursefield, and his father bought up a lot of land there to try to make it a summer resort. Took almost all the money he had, I guess. Then, this Spring, queer things started to happen at Pennock Beach. That's what they call the place. Mr. Stevens's cabin boat was wrecked, with no apparent reason. It just sank at the dock. Then people began complaining that they were bothered at night by queer noises. A lot of them moved out. They began calling it Mystery Beach, because of the things that have happened there. Some folks went a bit further and called it Pirate Beach."
"And the boy is worried about it?" the doctor asked.
"Yes. He wouldn't admit it, to anyone. But his father thought he had better get away for a while. Mr. Stevens and I have been friends for years, and naturally Harry came out here. Then he got this racing boat—I suppose Bob Stevens figured that it might take his boy's mind off his troubles."
"But it doesn't seem likely that a young fellow would worry about—business," the doctor objected. “And he certainly is worrying. I can tell that. His eyes looked positively frightened."
“Well, there was one other thing," Mr. Sherman said slowly. "Last year Harry bought a houseboat. You see his father has quite a bit of money—or did have, before he sunk it in this summer resort thing."
At the word "houseboat," the boys leaned closer.
"Well, I guess a houseboat wouldn't worry him much," the physician said. "That ought to be good for him."
"Yes. One would think so. It's only a small boat, with an outboard motor. Well, Harry and a friend slept aboard several nights, and took some short trips on it. Then his friend had to go away, and Harry went for a trip alone. Not far—just gone a few days. But when he came back he seemed very nervous. He wouldn't tell anyone what happened. And he never slept aboard it again. Now he wants to sell it."
"That's strange," the doctor said slowly. "A houseboat!"
"Yes, it is strange. I know Mr. Stevens has asked Harry about it several times, but all Harry would say was that he didn't want the boat any longer. So he put an ad in the paper, just a short time ago. The boat has been laid up for the winter."
"Wouldn't sleep aboard the houseboat, eh?"
"That's right! And it is a fine boat, from all accounts."
Terry nudged Martin, who was standing near him. Martin nodded slightly. Warren was listening eagerly.
"Well—I have to be going," the doctor said finally. "I left a tonic with Mrs. Sherman for the boy to take. The cut on his head is nothing—didn't even require a stitch. It'll heal up fine. But I'm interested in that young man. I think I'll drop over tomorrow or the next day and see how he's getting along. How are the Indians?"
"Fine!" Mr. Sherman laughed.
"That's good. Well, if the captain will take me back now—" and he looked at the three boys in turn. "Which ever is the captain," he added, smiling.
"We're all captains," Terry told him with a grin. "I guess we all have to leave now. It's long past lunch time."
After saying goodbye to the Shermans—they didn't disturb Harry, for the doctor said it would be better not to—the three girls and their friends boarded the Watermar and started homeward. On the way, the doctor, whose name was Williamson, said:
"It's mighty funny about that houseboat. I'd like to find out about it."
"So would we," Martin said quietly. "Because we're going to buy it."

CHAPTER VI Missing Money

PLANS were made to go to Bursefield Monday to see the houseboat, but one of the Spring storms, for which that section of the country was famous, lashed the land and lake, so the boys put off their trip until Wednesday. They hoped that Harry Stevens would be able to go with them, but he was still confined to bed.
The Sherman place was connected by telephone to the mainland, and Tuesday night Terry called up to hear how Harry was getting along.
"He's better, but he's not well yet," Mr. Sherman replied. "The doctor wants him to remain in bed a few days more."
"Well—could you ask him how much he wants for his houseboat?" Terry questioned.
"You interested in that?" and there was a strange note in the man's voice.
"Yes, we are. We figured on going up tomorrow and have a look at it. We hoped Harry could come with us, but I guess he can't."
"No, he has to stay in bed. But the man at Stevens' dock will show you the boat. Now you want me to ask Harry about the price?"
"If it wouldn't disturb him too much."
"I don't think it will. Just a moment."
He left the 'phone. Terry, who was calling from Martin's house, glanced about.
"Now we get the bad news," he said.
"How is Harry?" Warren asked, for he also was present.
"Getting better, but not out of bed yet. We'll have to go on without him. Wait—here's Mr. Sherman. Hello!"
"Hello. I asked him what he wanted for the boat. He says he'll take $300, unfurnished, and without the outboard motor. Complete, furnished and with the sixteen horse-power motor, it'll be $500."
"You mean—for $500 we can buy the whole boat, and all the furnishings—beds and all—and the motor?"
"Yep! That's what he says. It's pretty cheap, if you ask me."
"Just a minute, please."
Terry turned to the others, his eyes shining.
"Fellows," he exclaimed, "we've got just about $500 between us, from what we got from the circus, and from Mrs. Liverright, that time we recovered the bonds. How about it? We can buy the boat—we won't have to rent it! And we can get something for the Watermar—enough to outfit us for any trip we want to take!"
"Do we have to decide now?" Martin asked cautiously.
"No, I don't suppose we do—but I hate to let the chance slip."
"But we haven't seen the boat yet!" Warren objected.
"Well, we'll see it tomorrow, won't we?"
"Suppose you tell him if we like it we'll take it at that figure," Martin suggested. "Then we won't be tied down."
"All right." He conveyed this information to Mr. Sherman, who promised he would relay it to Harry. Then Terry rang off.
"I wonder what that talk was of Stevens being afraid to sleep on the houseboat alone?" Warren mused.
"Oh, I don't pay any attention to that stuff," Terry scoffed. "If he was nervous, he probably imagined a lot of things. Anyhow, I'll bet that's the reason we're getting the boat so cheap. Completely furnished, too, he said. Boy, I'm anxious to see it!"
"Me, too," Martin agreed. "We can go down tomorrow on the early train. It leaves Stirling for Bursefield at 7:00. I looked it up."
"Pretty early to get up," Warren declared, yawning.
"Listen, you'll get up at six o'clock, and like it," Terry promised. "Tomorrow is going to be a swell day. You'll see!"
He was correct. The morning was splendidly clear, with that clean-swept atmosphere which frequently follows violent storms. The air was like crystal.
Martin's house was nearest the station, and at a quarter to seven the boys met there. All had eaten good breakfasts.
"All set?" Terry asked.
"Yep! So long, folks—we're on our way!" Martin called to his mother and father, who hadn't come downstairs yet. The cook had been prevailed upon to get up early and prepare his breakfast.
"Good-bye, son—don't buy any leaky boats!" Mr. Hazzard called down, and Mrs. Hazzard added: "And be home early tonight!"
They were laughing and joking on their way to the station, as healthy boys will. Warren, whose hobby in life was the collecting of odd pets, promised that he'd have one section of the houseboat devoted to his private zoo.
"Not if I have anything to say about it, you won't," Terry snorted. "You and your pets."
"I suppose you weren't glad when I took charge of the skunk the time that Jake let it loose by the Thompson house that night they gave the party for us when Dorothy Trent was there for the first time?" Warren expostulated, all in one breath.
"Listen," Terry said earnestly. "I'm not exactly rich—in fact I don't think anyone ever would class me among the ten richest persons in this country. But I've got a dollar in my pocket, a single dollar that I don't know what to do with. And I'll give you this dollar, Warren Finn, if you can repeat that sentence again, without taking a breath."
"Aw, fooie," Warren grumbled. "Changing the subject! All right! You'll see. I'm going to have a place where I can keep the animals I catch on our trip."
"You can keep 'em in your clothes closet," Martin told him.
"All right, I will."
"Say, we better step on it, if we want to make that train," Terry suggested suddenly. "It's nearly seven."
They hurried their pace, and soon saw the station loom up before them. The platform was deserted.
"Guess we're the only passengers from Stirling," Warren said.
"What time do we get to Bursefield?" Terry asked Martin.
"At 8:50—or ten minutes to nine, to you."
"No kidding! Thanks for the explanation."
They sat on one of the benches to wait for the train, for they had about four minutes yet. They would have to buy their tickets aboard, for the ticket office wasn't open this early. Neither was the news stand, so they had nothing to read.
"You know how to get to the Stevens' dock?" Warren asked Martin.
"I guess we can find it all right. I don't think Bursefield is so large. I imagine it's about like Stirling."
They waited impatiently, and finally heard the whistle of the approaching train. It rounded a curve and came into sight, and the three boys moved out toward the front of the platform.
"You got the money all right, Mart?" Warren asked him, for the evening before they had elected him treasurer for the trip, each one giving him his share.
"Oh, yes—I got it all right. Come on, let's hop on."
The train came to a halt. Terry was first aboard, then Warren, and last Martin. As he was climbing the steps he felt someone give his coat a tug, and turned in surprise.
Directly back of him was the little red-headed man they had seen in Lorfer's. And on the platform behind him were Jake Lawson and the big man with the sloping shoulders. They had come up in one of the town's taxis at the last minute, and just made the train.
"Excuse me," the little fellow muttered.
Jake, looking at Martin, grinned.
"Hello, sailor," he said. "How's the boat business?" and he snickered.
Martin didn't reply. He was surprised at the sudden appearance of the three, who evidently were intent on getting in the same car.
"Al-l-l-l-l aboard!" the conductor called, and Martin hurried up the steps. Jake and his friends followed.
Warren and Terry had secured seats, and, since the car was practically empty, had turned another so it faced them, for Martin. He slid into it.
"Did you see who got on with us?" Martin demanded.
"I thought we were alone," Terry replied. "I didn't see anyone else at the station."
"Well, take a look behind you."
Their seats were forward in the car. Terry and Warren turned and uttered exclamations. Jake and the other two were sitting in the rear.
"For Pete's sake," Warren said softly. "Jake Lawson!"
"And the two who were in Lorfer's!" Terry added. "Where the mischief are they bound for?"
"On a guess," Martin replied, "they're getting off the same place we are."
"Why do you think that?" Terry asked wonderingly.
"I don't know—it's just a hunch. We'll see."
"Say, here comes Jake," Terry said in a low voice.
Lawson came toward them, holding on to the seats to keep his balance, for the train was going around a curve. He halted in front of them.
"Going on a picnic?" he asked, a smirk on his face.
"Yeah," Warren answered calmly. "Like to join us?"
"We might. I'll ask my friends."
"Don't bother," Terry said. "You and your precious friends can keep to yourselves. There's room enough in this car for all of us."
"Getting a little high-hat, ain't you?" Lawson sneered.
"Maybe we are. Anyhow, we don't want anything to do with you. Beat it."
"Oh, I don't know." He leaned nonchalantly against the back of the seat. "I guess I've got as much right here as you have."
"Go on, beat it!" Warren exclaimed, his anger mounting. He arose to his feet. Warren was a husky lad, and Jake had reason to know that he could take care of himself in a fight. "On your way!"
Jake took one look at Warren's face, and decided it was his cue to move.
"All right, all right," he muttered. "I'm going."
He sauntered back and resumed his place. They could hear him saying something, and the other two laughed.
"The big piece of cheese," Warren snorted, and sat down.
"Funny they should be taking this train," Terry said.
"Oh, trust a bad penny to turn up," Martin exclaimed. "We won't bother with them—if they don't bother us."
They stared out of the window for a time, watching the scenery. Then the conductor came to collect the fares.
"Drag out the money, Mart," Terry said.
Martin put his hand in his pocket. Then he frowned, and tried another pocket. His face grew red. Swiftly he examined all his pockets.
"What's the matter—did you leave it home?" Warren demanded.
Martin shook his head. "I didn't leave it home. I remember perfectly well putting the money in my left trousers pocket."
"Then where is it?" Warren asked.
Martin arose, slowly.
"I've been robbed," he declared. "I felt that redheaded man pull my coat as I got on. He took our money. And by golly, I'm going to get it back!"

CHAPTER VII Grizzly Tondos

THE conductor watched him, open-mouthed, as Martin strode down the aisle of the train toward Jake and the other two. As soon as they could collect themselves, Terry and Warren followed.
"Well?" Jake said, gazing up at Martin. "What's the idea coming down here? Beat it!"
"This fellow you're sitting with," Martin said evenly, pointing at the red-head, "robbed me."
"What!" The big man leaped to his feet. ''Robbed you! Young fellow, you better be careful what you say!"
"I know what I'm saying! I had twenty dollars in my pocket when I got on this train. He was right behind me, and I felt him pull my coat. He's got the money."
"Who, me?" The little man was the picture of wide-eyed innocence. "Me take your money? Why, you're crazy!"
"I'm not crazy! You took that money, and I want it back!"
"Here, here," the conductor was saying. "We can't have this. How do you know he took your money, young man?"
"Yeah, how do you know he took it?" Jake sneered.
"Because I felt him take it!"
"Now, wait a second." The man with the huge shoulders leaned forward. He rested a heavy hand on Martin's arm, and the boy shook it off angrily.
"Let's get closer," Warren said to Terry, softly. If Martin was going to get in a fight, he wouldn't be alone against these three. Terry and Warren edged nearer the big fellow.
"Go on, get out of here!" Jake snarled. "He hasn't got your money.
"He has! I had one ten dollar bill and two fives. Let me search him and see if he hasn't got them on him!"
"What—search me?" the red-head cried. "Not while I'm on my feet!"
"And not while I'm on my feet, either!" The large man's face grew red. "Who do you think you are, anyway? Suppose he has got a ten and two fives on him— what would that prove?"
"It would prove enough to us!" Warren exclaimed.
"Well, it wouldn't to us! Now you snap out of here, before you get hurt! I'm tired of fooling with you! This is the second time you mixed in our affairs. Take my advice, and move along!"
"Well, we're not moving!" Martin declared. "I want that money!"
"Not moving, hey?" He placed a hand on Martin's chest and shoved. Martin toppled back, striking against the edge of a seat.
Warren, his eyes flashing, stepped in and swung. He put all his weight behind the blow, and caught Martin's assailant on the side of the jaw. The man's head jerked back, and he collapsed in his seat.
"Here, here!" the conductor said again. "We can't have this!"
Jake Lawson sprang forward, and aimed a blow at Warren. The boy caught it with an upraised arm. Then he stuck his left out and Jake went to join his companion.
"Now, you, let's have that money!" Terry yelled, grabbing the one called Midge. "Fork it over!"
But the big man was shaking his head now, trying to clear it. Warren's blow had stunned him for a moment and he was coming out of it.
With a roar like a bull he suddenly plunged toward Warren and Terry. Jake, to give him his due, didn't hang back. He, too, lunged forward.
"Watch it!" Martin yelled. "Duck, Wawa!"
Martin was slightly behind one of the seats, and he aimed a blow at the big fellow, but missed. Then the man's hands closed about Warren's throat. Terry caught him a hard blow on the cheek, but he seemed not to feel it in his rage,
"Sock me, will you?" he yelled. "Sock Grizzly Mike Tondos, will you? Why, you little—"
The hands were pressing hard. Tondos held Warren so that he was between him and the other two and they were unable to help him except by climbing over the seats.
"Let him have it, Grizzly!" Midge was shouting.
"Give it to him!"
"Here, here!" the conductor yelped, "Here, stop it!" Terry sought to climb over the back of the seats so he could assist Warren, but Jake yanked him down.
Martin swung on Jake, and sent him reeling down the aisle. Midge seemed content to yell, rather than fight.
Warren couldn't utter a sound. His face was getting blue. He tried to pull away those hands, but it was like trying to loosen a bull-dog's grip.
He knew he had but a moment's more consciousness. There was but one thing to do, and he did it.
With all his strength he sunk a right into Tondos's midriff. The big man went "oof!" and his hands relaxed. In that one split second of release from those choking hands Warren brought his left sharply against the man's jaw, bending sideways as he did so. The fist struck the man in the same spot where he received the first blow.
This time, however, Warren did not content himself with a single punch. He leaned the other way and chopped his right in to the face.
The man's whole body grew limp, and he sank to his knees. At that moment the engineer blew his whistle for a crossing. It was like the signal for the fight to end, for Jake scurried down the aisle and Midge cowed against the back of a seat.
"Grizzly—Mike—Tondos!" Warren panted. "He's not—so grizzly!"
"Are you all right, Wawa?" Martin asked anxiously. "He tried to choke you!"
“I’ll say—he did," Warren replied. He was still unable to get his breath properly. "I almost—heard— the trumpet—that time!"
"This is awful—this is awful!" the conductor was exclaiming. "I can't have this—on my train—"
"You've had it," Terry declared grimly. "It's all over. See what you can do for Grizzly there." He pointed to the man on the floor. "Get him some water."
"Yes, sir," the conductor murmured, and hurried to the end of the car. He returned with a paper cup filled with water. Warren took it and dashed it in the face of the fallen wrestler—for that's what he took him to be.
Tondos groaned, then sat up. One hand was held on his stomach, the other on his jaw. He looked at Warren, glassy-eyed.
"You—you put me out!" he stammered.
"Sure I did."
"You—a kid—put Grizzly Mike Tondos out! I can't understand it—"
"We want our money!" Martin interrupted.
"Money—money—"
"Yes—the twenty dollars this fellow stole from me!"
"I didn't steal nothin’!" Midge protested. "Honest, boss, I didn't take it! Honest!"
"I felt you take it! You reached under my coat and took it!"

"You better come through!" Warren declared hotly. He took a step toward Tondos, who had pulled himself up on a seat.
"Wait—I've had enough—if you hadn't hit me in the stomach then—you hit me low, too! I'll get you for that, some day!"
"I don't care whether I hit you low or not," Warren replied grimly. "You were trying to choke. Is that the way you got your name?"
"Me—Grizzly Tondos! Put out by a kid! I can't get over it!"
"Well, we don't care whether you get over it or not!" Terry burst out. "We want that money back! It's all we've got with us!"
"Say, young fellow—" Tondos gazed at Warren. "How much you weigh?"
"One sixty-five."
"One sixty-five—and me, over two hundred! My, my—"
His chagrin was so comical that Warren had to smile. The big man seemed actually babyish.
Jake, seeing that hostilities were now definitely over, returned. He was holding a handkerchief to his nose, which was bleeding.
"You want—another handkerchief?" the conductor asked timidly.
"Naw!" Jake snarled. "Leave me alone!"
"He doesn't feel well," Terry said sarcastically.
"I'll get even with you fellows—you watch!" Jake roared.
"All right, all right—what we're interested in is getting our money back." Warren felt his neck, which was still red and smarting. His voice was a bit hoarse.
"I ain't got your money!" Midge whined.
"If you have the gentleman's money—" the conductor began, and then stopped as Tondos glared at him. Then the wrestler turned to Midge.
"If you got it, hand it over," he said.
"I ain't got it!"
Tondos reached out and grasped Midge by the collar.
"Hand it over!"
Midge, a frightened look in his eyes, reached in his pocket. He pulled out a roll of bills.
"Here—here's all I got!"
Tondos took it, and peeled two tens off. These he handed to Martin.
"I don't know whether he took your jack or not," he growled, "but here's twenty bucks. Take it and shut up."
Martin seized the money. "I'll take it," he said calmly, "but I won't keep quiet unless I feel like it."
"All right, all right! I'm sick of this squabbling."
"Squabbling! He calls it squabbling, when—" the conductor moaned.
"Come on, fellows, let's go," Terry suggested.
They went back to their seats. Warren got a cup of water, and swallowed slowly. His throat still pained him.
"Gee, you sure had it over that wrestler," Martin said admiringly.
"I was lucky—I just caught him right," Warren said. "Anyhow, he's fat. I'll bet he hasn't wrestled in two or three years."
The train pulled into a station. The conductor moved out of the car, obviously glad to get away from the scene of conflict. When he returned, and Terry noticed his knees were shaking, he collected the fares and gave Martin the change.
"How near are we to Bursefield?" Terry demanded.
"Er—Bursefield—why, quite a ways—quite a ways——" and he left hastily, looking back over his shoulder.
"Poor guy," Terry laughed. "He must think we're a bunch of toughs."
They rode along for some time, Warren tenderly fingering his throat. He wondered if Tondos's stomach hurt him as much.
At last they arrived at Bursefield. They arose, and so did the three in the rear of the car. Martin stuck his hand in his pocket, and uttered a sharp cry.
"What's the matter?" Terry demanded.
"That money—it's in the lining of my pocket! The little fellow didn't take it after all!"
"What!" Warren almost yelled. "You've got it?"
"Yea! It slipped down in the lining! We've got to give the other back—"
"Let's have it," Warren said grimly. "Give me the twenty dollars. I'll return it."
He took the ten and two fives and marched down the aisle. The three men were standing near the door, waiting for the train to stop. Tondos was the last one. Warren touched his arm, and he swung around "Here's your twenty dollars," the boy said briefly. "Sorry to have bothered you. We found the other." And he walked back.
The big man stared at him. Then he shouted:
"All right, young fellow—you wait! You haven't heard the last of this! So it was all a fake, was it! All right! See what happens later!"

CHAPTER VIII A Wonderful Boat

IT WAS a funny thing to do," Terry said, as they walked along the main street of Bursefield toward the lake.
"Gee, I'm awfully sorry," Martin muttered. "I really thought he took it. I didn't know it was in the lining of my pocket."
"It certainly livened up our trip for us," Warren declared, and grinned. "Never a dull moment."
"I guess we've made two more enemies," Martin said. "That fellow Tondos will have no love for us now."
"Well, he didn't before this happened," Terry remarked philosophically. "But now he's got a real reason."
"He left me a little souvenir," Warren said, fingering his throat. "I guess I left him one, too. We'll know each other, the next time we meet."
"It was all my fault," Martin murmured. "I'm sorry as the mischief."
"Aw, let's forget it," Terry suggested. "Say, I wonder what they're doing here? Maybe they—"
"I'm going to ask where Stevens's boathouse is,” Warren broke in, for he was anxious that Martin get his mind off the incident for which he blamed himself so much. "There's a cop. I'll ask him."
The officer, who was directing traffic—his duties were not arduous, for there was no rush of traffic through Bursefield—directed them to Pennock Beach. It was about half a mile away.
"Anyone can tell you where Stevens's place is," he declared. "You fellows thinking of getting a place on the beach?"
"Why, no, not exactly," Terry replied. "Why?"
"I was just wondering. Come on, there!" he called to a driver of a Ford, who seemed inclined to park at the intersection. "I was just wondering," he repeated. "Just thought I'd ask."
"Is there something funny about Pennock Beach?" Martin asked.
"No, I wouldn't say that. Not about the beach. Maybe about some of the people there. Mr. Stevens is all right, though. He's a fine man."
"Where is his house?" Terry questioned.
"Back from the beach a little. You'll see it. Probably he's down to the boathouse now, though."
"Thanks," Martin said, and they started in the direction the officer had indicated.
"There's that talk again about Pennock Beach," Terry exclaimed. "What the thunder is the matter with this place, anyhow?"
Martin shrugged his shoulders. "Search me," he replied. "That must be it right ahead there. Say, it's a nice looking place!"
They saw a wide stretch of white sand, which evidently had been carted there from some other place, for the land bordering Lake Mattatake was of darker soil. This sandy beach was about a mile long. Back of it was a well-paved street, on which were small, attractive houses, all light in color. Other side streets ran at right angles to the main lake road, but most of these were unfinished. Several shops were open, but there were no amusement concessions whatever—no booths where one might play Japanese rolling ball, or stake a dime against a box of candy that a wheel would stop at a certain number. Evidently Stevens intended to make this resort conservative and quiet.
"Some place!" Terry exclaimed. "It must have cost him plenty to fix this up. I suppose he built all those houses, too, and put that sand there. Say, look at the width of this lake!"
It almost seemed like a sea, for the other side could not be seen. True, the day had turned a trifle hazy, and in exceptionally clear weather, such as was the case earlier this morning, the opposite shore would likely be visible. But now the lake had the appearance of a limitless expanse of water.
"Wouldn't be a bit surprised if this acted up in great shape when a heavy storm comes," Warren declared.
"I’ll say," Terry agreed. "Look, there are several boathouses down there. See that large one—near the bathing houses? Probably that's the one Stevens owns. Let's find out. It's plenty big enough to keep several houseboats in."
They strolled along the sidewalk, observing the sights of Pennock Beach. There did not seem to be many people about, but then it was still early in the season.
Martin asked a workman if the big place was Stevens's boathouse, and was told that his surmise was correct. Not, of course, in those words—what the man really said was: "yep—dat bane she."
The boathouse, built at the shore end of a dock, was even larger than they figured, for when they entered they saw several motor launches being repaired, three or four rowboats, and, on one side, the houseboat.
The moment they saw it they knew it was the boat for them. It was painted white, with yellow trimmings, and was clean and neat. Just at the side of the bow was a door, leading to a small screened porch. Back of this was a window, with diamond panes of glass in it. A bit farther to the rear was another window, smaller, evidently for the kitchen, and then there was a second door, just off the stern. A galley smoke stack protruded from the roof. There was enough of a ledge between the house itself and the side of the barge on which it was built to afford walking space, or to permit sun baths to be taken.
"Baby!" Warren gasped. "If that isn't a honey!"
"Certainly is the neatest thing I've ever seen," Terry agreed fervently. "Look, you can see inside— it even has curtains on the windows!"
"I never expected to see a boat like this," Martin admitted. "It's sure got my vote! Think of motoring along in that, with your feet up on the rail, listening to the radio, reading a book and eating candy!"
"What a life!" Terry laughed. "Let's not look at it too much, though. We may not be able to get it. I wonder where Mr. Stevens is?"
"Looking for something, boys?" a man asked him. He was a florid-faced type, with gray eyes, that seemed to be asking a question and smiling over the answer at the same time. His mouth was sensitive, his forehead broad. He was in his shirt-sleeves, and wore a pair of blue and red suspenders.
"Why, we were looking for Mr. Stevens," Terry replied.
"Well, you don't have to look any farther—I'm Mr. Stevens. And am I wrong, or are you the three that pulled my son Harry out of the lake when his boat bucked him out of it?"
"Yes, we are," Warren answered in surprise. "How did you know?"
"Sherman wrote me all about it," the man laughed. "And today he telephoned me that you were coming down. I'm certainly glad to meet you," he said sincerely, "and to have this chance to thank you. I understand Harry's motor went haywire, and he almost rammed you."
"Oh, it wasn't anything," Martin protested. "It wasn't his fault. A motor can go bad anytime."
"Yes, I suppose so—but this was the wrong time for his to go bad," and Stevens smiled again. "But it's all over now—say, have you seen Harry lately? Since the accident?"
"No, we haven't."
"I wanted to go right down, but Sherman 'phoned me not to—said the boy was getting along all right.
He's been sort of worried lately, I guess—" and he frowned, and passed his hand over his forehead.
"About Pennock Beach?" Terry asked quickly.
"Partly, I guess. You know, boys—" then he stopped. "No use bothering you with my troubles," he said ruefully. "You came down to look at the houseboat. Well, there she is. And a fine boat, if I do say it myself. Almost new."
The boys walked across to the craft, eyeing it eagerly.
"Is it open for inspection?" Terry inquired.
"Sure it is! Go right in!"
Terry entered first, by the door nearest the bow. The others crowded in upon him, so anxious were they to get the first glimpse of what they hoped would be their floating home during the summer.
And they were not disappointed.
"Yea bo!" Warren exclaimed. "Look at this!"
The craft merited the ejaculation. In the corner nearest the door was a large studio bed, which would serve as a lounge in the daytime and a bed for two at night. The steering wheel was placed between this and the door, so that the helmsman could sit on the edge of the couch and navigate. The craft, with the sixteen horse-power motor, would make about five or six miles an hour, so there was no need for frantic attention on the part of the pilot.
There was a table against the wall, and above it a book-shelf, containing several volumes.
Back a bit was the dining table, a long affair with ample room to seat four persons. The kitchen proper was divided by a light partition from the rest of the cabin, and contained a small wood and coal burning stove, which would not only serve to cook but also to heat the boat on chilly nights. The pipe they had seen in the roof was connected with this stove.
There was a narrower bed a few feet from the table, against the wall. Then aft of the kitchen stove was a sink, which also could be used as a laundry tub. A small, compact kitchen-cabinet was on the other side of the room, with drawers for food and cooking utensils. Next to this was an ice box. There were chairs and rugs placed about, and the whole made a perfect picture of a home afloat.
"Well, what do you think of it?" Mr. Stevens asked.
"I'd hate to tell you," Terry answered, a bit shakily. "You might raise the price on us."
"No, I wouldn't do that," the man laughed. "Whatever Harry told you is all right with me."
"Where do you carry water and fuel?" Warren asked.
"The water for drinking we carry in these cans," Mr. Stevens said, pointing to a row of eight-gallon milk cans against the wall. "On the porch are tank lockers for gasoline and tools. They're out of the way there, you see. Under that big bed, if you look, you'll see some small army lockers, for extra linen and clothing."
"Golly, there's everything here!" Martin gasped.
"Yes, the boat was well built," Mr. Stevens replied simply.
"Did Harry have it made to his order?" Warren wanted to know.
"Well, no, he didn't," was the slow answer. "It was originally built by a man named Lcwisson. I used to know him pretty well—he wanted to be an inventor. He lived at Seatown, about ten miles from here. But he never actually ran it."
"Why not?" Terry asked him.
"Well, he sort of disappeared."
"Sort of disappeared!" Martin repeated, in amazement.
"Yes. The week after this boat was completed, he took a trip on it, with his dog, a big St. Bernard- He left his dock about five o'clock in the afternoon. They never saw him again, nor his dog, either."
"But what—" Martin began, when Mr. Stevens shrugged his shoulders.
"No one knows just what happened. They found the boat in the morning. It had drifted ashore. Lewisson and his dog were gone. That's about all. His estate offered the boat for sale, and I bought it for Harry. But Harry didn't seem to care for it."
"Why not?" Terry demanded.
"He never told me why," Mr. Stevens told him in a low voice. "I couldn't figure it out. Harry spent a few nights on it, and then said he wanted to sell it. Seemed very anxious to sell it. Just why, I don't know."

CHAPTER IX "Extra! Extra!"

MR. STEVENS'S face was turned from them as he spoke. Suddenly he swung around, and stared at them.
"I want to tell you," he declared tensely, "that if you don't want this boat, don't take it. Maybe you better not."
They looked at him, wonderingly.
"Why do you say that?" Martin asked.
Mr. Stevens made a gesture with his hand. "Because I believe there's something queer about it."
"Something queer about it!" Terry repeated. "What do you mean?"
"I don't exactly know," was the answer. Then he smiled and shook his head. "It seems strange for me, a grown man, to be talking like this," he apologized. "It's because of Harry. I can't understand why he's so anxious to sell the ship. It's a splendid boat, and I thought he'd have all sorts of good times on it. He wasn't a nervous type, when he was a youngster—" and Stevens shook his head again.
"Why, I don't see that there can be anything mysterious about a houseboat," Terry laughed. "And if there is, Mr. Stevens, it would make us want it all the more!"
"Well, I didn't tell you that as a selling point," the man smiled. "I just wanted you to know the whole story. You're friends of Harry's—more than friends. And I didn't want you to go in this thing with your eyes closed, so to speak."
"But it doesn't leak, does it?" Warren asked.
"Oh, no! Nothing like that, except as all boats leak, some. And it's got a fine motor—that is not attached now, of course. No, it's perfectly seaworthy—or lake-worthy."
"That's all we want to know," said Martin decidedly. "If we can come to terms, Mr. Stevens, we'll take the boat. Hey, fellows?"
"You bet!" Terry exclaimed enthusiastically.
"I'll say we will!" came from Warren.
"Well, we can fix up the terms all right. How much did Harry say?"
"Five hundred dollars," Terry answered.
"Then that's the price. You won't have to pay it all now. How about two hundred down, and the rest over a period of three months?"
"We can give it all to you," Warren said proudly. "We've got it in the bank."
"You have! Well, that's splendid!"
"And we earned it ourselves," Terry added.
"No! Now that's what I call fine. But you'll want some money for the upkeep, if you're planning a trip. Why don't you keep, say, two hundred out—or a hundred and fifty?"
"You see, Mr. Stevens," Martin broke in, "we already have a boat. It's a large dory, with a good motor. We thought we could sell that."
"I see. Now, I'll tell you what I'll do. How much do you think your craft is worth, with the motor?"
"About $175," Warren declared. "We put a lot of work on it. It's got a canvas top on it, and can be used in all weather."
"All right. I'll take it at your valuation. You look like responsible fellows, and you're friends of Harry's. I'll take your boat as part payment for this. What's more, I'll send and get it—it won't cost you anything for transportation."
"Gee, Mr. Stevens, that's swell," Martin cried. "That's great!"
"It's only fair, especially after what you did for Harry. What do you say—is it a deal?" and he grinned at them.
"You bet your boots!" Terry almost shouted, and then blushed. "I mean we'd like to do that very much," he muttered.
Mr. Stevens laughed heartily. "Fine!" he said.
"This will be ready in a week. Your boat is at Stirling, I think?"
"Yes."
"I'll send a truck over in a few days. By the way, where are you boys having lunch?"
"We hadn't thought about it," Warren confessed.
"Then you come right up to my house. I'm alone there—Mrs. Stevens died several years ago. Harry and I live alone. Just a second until I get my coat and I'll be with you."
They walked out of the boat, and waited until Mr. Stevens donned his coat.

"He's one fine man," Terry declared.
"He sure is," Martin agreed fervently. "Fellows, it's our boat! Look at it—look at it, and cheer!"
They turned to inspect the craft again. Certainly they could be proud of it. They could scarcely realize that this neat looking houseboat was theirs.
"What'll we call it?" Martin asked.
"Watermar II!" Terry and Warren answered in one breath.
"Sure, that's right," Martin assented. "That's the name, all right. Has it got a name now?" He went closer, and painted on the bow, in small letters, he read:
"The Refuge."
"That's a terrible name," Warren said, grimacing.
"Wonder who called it that? The Refuge! That's awful."
"Looking at the name, boys?" Mr. Stevens called, coming toward them as he struggled into his coat. "That's what Lewisson called it. Harry didn't bother to change it."
"We'll change it, all right," Terry promised. "The Refuge!"
"It is a strange name," Mr. Stevens said thoughtfully. "I often wondered if perhaps Lewisson wasn't afraid—but no matter. Let's go."
He led the way out of the boathouse. There was a car a short distance away, and he waved the boys toward it. In a few moments they were driving along the road toward Stevens's house.
It was almost at the end of the beach, set back some distance from the water. The house was white and fairly large.
"Nice place," Martin commented, as they entered.
"Yes, I like it. Pardon me, I'll tell the cook we have company."
When he returned he showed them through his residence. It was really a gem of a house, containing everything modern. Martin and the others thought that anyone should be comfortable in a place like this.
"You must have worked hard to create Pennock Beach," Terry remarked as he sat down to the table.
"I did," Mr. Stevens said simply. "I put in a great lot of labor, and most of my money. But—"
He hesitated, and they saw a hint of sadness appear in his eyes.
"Isn't it making out so well?" Terry inquired softly.
"No, it isn't. There seems to be a jinx on the place. First a fine cabin boat sank at the dock. No apparent reason—we salvaged her, but it cost me a lot of money. Then some of the people who rented cottages complained about disturbances at night. Then there was a fire, early this spring, that wiped out four of my houses."
"That's mighty funny," Martin declared.
"Yes, it is. Now this season the places aren't renting as they should. We've got everything here—tennis, golf, good boating and swimming, and the prices are reasonable. I just can't understand it."
"Is that why they call this Pirate Beach, or Mystery Beach?" Warren asked, without thinking. He wished he hadn't said it, when he saw Mr. Stevens's face.
"Mystery Beach!" the man exclaimed. "Where did you hear that?"
"I don't know—I think Mr. Sherman mentioned it," Warren replied uneasily. "I don't suppose it means anything."
"Mystery Beach," and Mr. Stevens seemed to ponder over the name. "So they call it that now, do they?
"We just heard it," Terry said quickly.
"Yes. I see. Well, boys, they may not be far wrong," and he frowned. "The things that happened are mysterious enough."
Then he changed the subject, deliberately. During the rest of the meal the talk was of boats and boating,
When the boys left, Mr. Stevens promised to have their boat ready for them in a week's time.
"Well, it looks as if we've bought something," Terry remarked, on the way back in the train. "I feel sort of sorry for Mr. Stevens.'
"So do I," Martin agreed. "He's a fine man, and he's certainly worried about that beach. It's a funny proposition, no matter how you look at it. I'd like to do something to help him, but I don't see what we can do. Maybe later—"
He did not finish his sentence, but they all understood what he meant. There was surely some mystery here, and if they could clear it up—
The next few days they spent in planning their trip on the houseboat. There was much to be done. Wednesday a truck came down from Bursefield and carted the Watermar away. The boys hated to see it go. They watched the truck pull out of the yard back of Jim Demerest's boathouse, with the boat in which they had so many adventures.
"So long," Terry said softly, and there was a certain mistiness in his eyes.
"She was a good boat," Martin said. "I hope they treat her well."
"Golly, you'd think we were selling her down the river," Martin remarked, but his voice was none too steady.
"Well, don't you hate to see the last of the Watermar?" Warren demanded.
"I sure do. As much as either of you. We had some swell times in her."
"And we'll have some swell times in the Watermar II" Terry said. "The only thing is—"
"We know," Martin broke in. The truck was out of sight now, and they turned back to the boathouse. Sylvanius Bogg came toward them.
"Did you kiss her good-bye?" he snickered.
"Never mind," Terry said shortly. "You better get your homework done for tomorrow."
"Homework? Why, school's out!"
"Yeah, but I thought you might brush up on your multiplication table."
"Multiplication table! Say, I know that backward. You trying to kid me, Terry Blondel?"
"Wouldn't think of it," Terry replied.
"Well—"
Someone was yelling in the distance. It was a boy's voice. They couldn't make out the words, but it seemed like an announcement of some kind.
"What is it—circus coming to town?" Terry wondered.
"Listen—it's a newsboy, isn't it?" Martin declared.
Now the voice was closer, and they made out the words:
"Extra—get an extra—all about the kidnapping—"
"Kidnapping!" Warren exclaimed. "What the mischief!"
He ran up the street to where the boy was selling papers, in a few moments he was back again. His face was grave.
"Read that," he said simply.
Terry and Martin stared at the paper he held in his hand. In big type were the words:
"Robert Stevens, Owner and Promotor of Pennock Beach, Kidnapped."

CHAPTER X Puzzled

SO SHOCKED were they by the news that for a moment no one spoke. Then Martin gasped:
"Gosh—that's terrible!"
"Why, it can't be true!" Terry burst out. "It can't be!"
"Kidnapped!" Martin exclaimed. "Let's see what it says, Wawa! Read it!"
Warren read:
"Robert Stevens, of Bursefield, rich summer resort promoter, was taken from his home last night by three men who forced their way in and bound the butler and cook. They were masked, and carried guns.
"They compelled Mr. Stevens to enter a car, and drove rapidly away. No adequate description of the men could be obtained."
"Three men!" Terry said excitedly. "Maybe Jake Lawson—"
"Jake was here last night," Sylvanius Bogg declared. "He was talking to me. He was with another man, a big fellow who looked like a wrestler."
"Go on, read the rest of it!" Martin demanded.
"The kidnapping took place about midnight," Warren continued. "The Stevens's home is at the end of Pennock Beach, back from the road. According to the butler, the men entered through a window, which they broke. Not troubling to proceed noiselessly, they marched directly upstairs to where Mr. Stevens was sleeping. One of the men seized him and tied him up, while the other two guarded the cook and butler, who also were bound.
"They then carried Mr. Stevens to a car. The butler said he could hear it depart. No reason for the kidnapping has yet been discovered."
"What—do—you—know — about — that!" Terry spluttered.
"We've got to call up Mr. Sherman right away," Martin said, quickly. "He can't have heard about it yet. He'll have to tell Harry. Syl, I'm going to use your 'phone!"
Without waiting for permission, he ran into the boathouse. Terry and Warren followed.
Martin was some minutes getting the number, but at last the call was put through. Luckily Mr. Sherman answered.
"Hello," Martin said, "this is Martin Hazzard, Mr. Sherman. You remember—one of the three boys who pulled Harry out of the water."
"Yes, of course I remember. How are you?"
"All right. Listen, Mr. Sherman. I've got something important to tell you. And if Harry is near you, please don't repeat what I say. You'll have to tell him carefully. It's about his father."
"About Bob—yes, go on!"
"The Stirling Gazette just got out an extra. It says Mr. Stevens has been kidnapped."
"What! Say it again. I must have misunderstood you."
"No, you didn't misunderstand me. The paper says that Mr. Stevens has been kidnapped."
"Good Heavens! Hazzard, are you sure of what you're saying?"
"I'm telling you what the paper says. You can call up the police department at Bursefield. It says three men seized Mr. Stevens last night, and forced him into a car and drove away."
"That's terrible! Awful! I'll have to tell Harry— and he isn't very well—Hazzard! Are you there yet?"
"Yes."
"Then give me that telephone number—the one you're calling from."
"Stirling 340."
"Stirling 340. Will you wait there, until I call you back?"
"Yes, I'll wait."
"All right. I'm going to call Bursefield. Good-bye!"
He hung up. Martin turned to the others.
"It's pretty tough on Harry," he said slowly. "Poor kid. Perhaps this is what he was afraid of."
"He couldn't have had any idea this was going to happen," Terry contradicted. "Imagine it—kidnapped!
Why, we were eating with him only a few days ago!"
"You know this man?" Syl asked curiously.
"Yes, we know him! It's the man from whom we were going to buy the houseboat! I guess that's all off,
"Why should it be?" Warren asked sharply. "We can still get the boat—we can pay the man at the boathouse! Surely Mr. Stevens had some sort of a manager! We can get the boat from him!"
"Yes, but—"
"Don't you see? There may be a connection between the things that have been happening at the beach and this kidnapping! Pirate Beach! Fellows, we'll go through with our plans to buy the houseboat—and maybe we can help Mr. Stevens! I don't just know how—"
"By jinks, that's what we'll do!" Terry cried. "We'll investigate this Pirate Beach! And we can't do it in any better way than with the houseboat, because we can travel where we please, and live aboard!"
He was interrupted by the ringing of the 'phone. Martin grabbed the receiver off the hook.
"Hello—yes, this is Martin Hazzard. Yes, Mr. Sherman!"
He listened carefully, and his face reflected the seriousness of what Mr. Sherman was saying. After a few moments he asked:
"How did Harry take it, Mr. Sherman?"
Terry and Warren could see him nod several times. Then he replaced the receiver.
"It's true," he said briefly. "Mr. Sherman called the Bursefield police. The report in the paper is correct. They had to tell Harry, and the shock pretty nearly knocked him out."
"Gee, that's tough!" Warren muttered.
"Mr. Sherman is coming right over here. He's going to take the first train he can get to Bursefield."
"There isn't one until tomorrow," Syl declared. "Last one today has left."
"Then he'll have to stay here tonight. I think he can put up at our house. Jiminy, it sure is bad!"
"You bet it is," Warren murmured. "I can't figure out why they kidnapped him! Did Mr. Sherman say the police have any clue?"
"Not a one. No note left, and the kidnappers haven't tried to communicate with anyone yet."
“Maybe they're going to hold him for ransom," Terry suggested.
"That may be it," Martin agreed. "Mr. Sherman said a lawyer in Bursefield has power of attorney for Stevens, which means he can contract business for him. If we still want to buy the houseboat, I guess we can go to him. He says his name is Leonard Armstrong."
Terry swung on Syl suddenly, and asked him:
"You said Jake Lawson was here last night?"

"Yep! About eight-thirty. He and another man I never saw before. A big man, with big shoulders. Looked like a wrestler. Sort of a tough-looking bozo. They were here for over an hour."
"What did they want?"
"They were asking Jim about hiring a boat."
"What did they want a boat for?"
"Didn't say."
"I guess that eliminates Jake," Terry remarked. "If he was here that long—what time did he leave, Syl?"
"About ten, or nearly. I wanted to get home, that's how I remember, but they kept hanging around."
"They couldn't very well have done it, then," Martin declared. “Unless they drove to Bursefield in a car. Did they have a car, Syl?"
"Didn't see none."
"They could have parked it up the road. Maybe it was that gray roadster we saw before. Sure you didn't see any car, Syl?"
"I didn't see none."
"All right. Come on, fellows, let's go," Martin suggested.
They walked quickly from the boathouse.
"How about Mr. Sherman?" Terry asked. "When did he say he was coming?"
"Said he was starting as soon as he got ready. He'll land at this dock. We can wait here for him. I just didn't want Syl to hear all we were saying."
"Good idea," Warren approved. "He'd have it all over Stirling."
They walked toward the water's edge, and soon saw a boat approaching. Mr. Sherman was in it, being piloted by another man.
"Here he comes," Martin said. "Let's get out on the dock."
When Mr. Sherman landed, his face was drawn, and were it not for his tan it would have been pale.
"Hello, boys," he said in a restrained voice. "All right, Luke, you can go back now. Tell Mrs. Sherman not to worry. I'll call her up tomorrow. And you watch out for Michael and Phil."
"Yes sir, I will. Good-bye, sir."
"Good-bye."
He climbed to the dock. With him he had a small bag.
"Glad to see you again," he said, shaking hands all around. "This looks pretty bad. I called the police again, but they haven't been able to get any place. Is there a train for Bursefield tonight?"
"No, sir," Martin replied. "There's one at 7:09 in the morning. You can stay at our house tonight, Mr. Sherman."
"Well, that's mighty fine of you. I will. Poor Bob!"
"Have you any idea what it's all about?" Terry asked.
Mr. Sherman shook his head. "No, I haven't. It's a mystery to me. Have you got that paper around—the one telling about it?"
Warren handed it to him. He read it in silence. Then he returned it, and his face expressed his sorrow.
"I'd like to call Bob's house, but I don't suppose it would do any good," he muttered. "Likely there's no one there now."
“You know we went up to Bursefield a few days ago," Martin ventured.
"Yes, I know." His face lit up for a moment. "How did Stevens act? Did he seem afraid of anything? Did he say anything to you about getting any warning notes, or anything?"
“No, but he did seem a bit worried," Terry replied.
"We thought it was about the way Pennock Beach was going."
"Yes, he was afraid he was going to lose a lot of money there."
"Then we talked about the houseboat," Warren added.
"Oh, yes—what did you decide?"
"That we were going to buy it."
"I see. Well, if you still want to, Armstrong can fix you up. Are you sure Bob didn't say anything which might indicate he feared—what happened?"
"No, nothing. He told us of a lot of strange things that occurred at the beach, though. Houses burned down."
"Yes, I heard that."
"And we thought we'd get the houseboat anyhow," Terry remarked, "and maybe we could help find Mr. Stevens!"
Mr. Sherman looked at them carefully. His keen gaze seemed to fathom what lay in their minds. Then he said, slowly:
"Why don't you fellows come with me tomorrow— and start out on the houseboat then? We haven't any time to lose—and I'd like your assistance. What do you say, will you come with me?"

CHAPTER XI A Clue

THE night was one of feverish activity. Mr. Sherman, at Martin's house, soon convinced Mr. Hazzard, as well as Mr. Blondel and Mr. Finn, that he really would be grateful if the boys were permitted to go with him and aid him as best they might.
"You see, they know the layout pretty well," Mr. Sherman said. "And with the houseboat I think they can be of incalculable help. If Stevens is secreted along the shore, they may find a clue which will aid us in capturing the kidnappers. The Passloe River flows out of Lake Mattatake, you know, and there is a chance they have hidden Bob thereabouts."
"Well, in that case, of course my son can go," Mr. Hazzard said and the others echoed his sentiments.
Mr. Sherman told them that they could obtain all the provisions they needed at Bursefield, but they had to pack some clothes, for they could not tell how long they would be gone.
They all retired late that night, and slept fitfully, for they were excited over the adventures in store for them. At six o'clock they were ready to leave, with suitcases packed.
Mr. Hazzard drove them all to the train in the family car. He waved good-bye, and yelled "best of luck!" as the train pulled out of the station.
The trip to Bursefield was uneventful, in contrast to what had occurred the last time they went down. They told Mr. Sherman of this. He was exceedingly interested in their story.
"Those fellows got off at Bursefield too, did they?" he asked. "Did you see which way they went then?"
"No, we didn't," Martin confessed. "I was a little ashamed of my carelessness. I didn't even want to look at them."
"It certainly was exciting while it lasted," Terry said. "That big fellow really tried to choke Warren here. He was plenty mad, but Warren's blow took a lot of fight out of him."
"It was the only thing I could do," Warren said modestly.
"This Jake Lawson you speak of—I take it you've had other dealings with him?" Mr. Sherman asked shrewdly.
"Plenty!" Terry burst out. "He's tried to mix in with us more than once," and he told something of what had happened at Misty Island, and on Shadow Lake.
"You boys have evidently learned to take care of yourselves," Mr. Sherman declared admiringly. "I'm glad you're with me."
Arriving at Bursefield, they went immediately to the Stevens's home. It was strange to come into this house, now without its owner, where they had had such a pleasant meal a short time ago.
The butler and cook could tell them little more than was in the newspaper. They were so frightened when the men entered their rooms that they could remember nothing of how they looked. The butler was the cook's husband, and they had connecting rooms on the second floor.
"Sure and they scared the livin' daylights out of me," the butler, Tom O'Brine, asserted. He was distinctly Irish. "There I was, slapin' away, an' I looks up to see the rapscallion at the foot of me bed, pointin' a gun at me. 'Bridget!' I yells, but she couldn't answer, 'cause there was another rascal in her room. Then they ties us up an' goes away with Mr. Stevens, the poor man! Ah, I hope you catch 'em! I sure hope you catch 'em!"
"So do we," Mr. Sherman said grimly. "Boys, I telephoned to Mr. Armstrong, and he'll be over soon. You can talk about the boat to him. There won't be any trouble on that score."
So it proved. Mr. Armstrong was glad to assist any way he could, and at once put the boat at their disposal.
"You can pay me later," he said, waving aside the offer of a check. "This is no time to be thinking of trivial matters."
Later, Mr. Sherman and the three boys visited police headquarters. They learned little there. The police were doing all they could, but had no progress whatever to report.
"We're up against a stone wall," the chief told them. "Haven't even been able to establish a motive. Nothing in the house was touched."
"And the kidnappers haven't made any effort to communicate with you?" Mr. Sherman asked.
"None at all. That's what we've been looking for. It looks bad—pretty bad."
"You mean they might have—done away with Mr. Stevens?" Terry asked, horror in his voice.
"They might have done anything," the chief replied shortly.
"Was Stevens known to have any enemies?" Mr. Sherman inquired.
"Not that we've been able to find out. Of course he was trying hard to make a go of Pennock Beach, you know."
"Yes, I know that. What about all those things that happened—houses being burned, his boat sunk, and all that?"
The chief spread his hands wide. "We investigated every one, but couldn't find out what caused them. I, personally, think someone was after Stevens."
"But why?" Sherman demanded.
The police chief shrugged his shoulders. "That's what we haven't been able to find out. If we could, we might be able to capture the kidnappers."
"Tell him about Jake Lawson, and the other two," Mr. Sherman suggested to the boys, and they informed the chief what had happened in the soda shop, and on the train.
"Say, there might be something there," he exclaimed. "I'll just have this fellow Lawson looked up."
"Call Stirling police—they'll tell you enough about him," Terry said laconically. "He's well known to them."
"I'll do that."
They waited while he put the call through, and when he returned he said to them:
"From what I hear, Lawson is a bad egg. I'd like to find out where he was on the night of the kidnapping."
"He was in Stirling," Warren replied. "At the boathouse, talking about getting a boat. The big man I told you about—Tondos—was with him."
"Just the two, eh? What about the other fellow— the little guy?"
"We don't know anything about him."
"Hum! Where does Lawson hang out?"
"Any place he can," Martin told him. "He's hard to get hold of, when you want him. In fact I think he's wanted by the Stirling police now, but they don't seem to be making any great effort to find him."
"Well, I will!" the chief promised.
They left the station and went back to the Stevens house. Mr. Sherman decided to stay there for a time, and he called his wife and informed her of his decision.
"Harry is a little better," he told the boys. "He's a brave kid, but this thing sure knocked him out. I don't wonder. I told my wife to keep him at our place. He can't do any good here."
The rest of the day the boys devoted to securing food for their trip. The houseboat was in the water now, and the supplies were loaded the next day. Then the three of them, with Mr. Sherman, sat down in the Stevens parlor to decide on the next move.
"What have you in mind, boys?" the man asked.
"Well, we thought we'd travel slowly along the shore of the lake, toward Passloe River," Martin told him. "We can make about twenty or twenty-five miles a day, easily. Then we'll land at different places, and sort of get acquainted. There are lots of small towns along the lake. We can go ashore and talk to the residents. We'll pretend we're just on a pleasure trip—you know, just fishing, and lolling along. In that way we might run across a clue."
"That's a good idea," Mr. Sherman said enthusiastically. "You can keep in touch with me by 'phone here, when you go ashore. I'm going to stick around until Bob is found," and he clenched his hand that rested on the arm of his chair. "Bob and I went to school together. We've been friends all our lives. And believe me, I'm going to do all I can to rescue him!"
"Do you think it would be wise to hire some detectives?" Terry asked.
"I've already telephoned the Governor's office," Mr. Sherman responded. "They promised me they'd do all in their power. The alarm has already been sent over the teletype—that's the system of communication the police use in this state, you know—something like a telegraph."
"Are you going to offer any reward?" Martin inquired.
"Not yet. I'm going to wait a while and see if the kidnappers attempt to communicate with us, or with the police. But I'll spend my last dollar, if necessary, to have Bob safe!" he said forcibly.
Arrangements were made for the boys to board the houseboat the next morning, and start on their expedition. Everything was in readiness. The fuel was now aboard, and also water and provisions.
Late that night the telephone rang. Mr. Sherman answered it.
"Hello! Yes, yes," he said. "What? Say it again."
The message was repeated, and he turned to the boys, who had not yet retired.
"It's the chief of police," he said. "He just got word that a boat went aground at the mouth of the Passloe River—and two fishermen, who helped push it off, said there was a man aboard tied to one of the bunks!"

CHAPTER XII The Man Who Ran

THE news excited Mr. Sherman tremendously. He strode up and down the hall, clenching and unclenching his fists.
"We ought to start for there tonight!" he exclaimed.
"I don't think that would do any good," Martin said. "The boat is probably miles away from there by now. And we're not sure that the man the fisherman saw was Mr. Stevens."
"No—no—I guess you're right," and Mr. Sherman threw himself into a chair. "I'll have to learn to take things a little easier. But it's pretty tough to think of Bob—"
"We know it," Terry agreed. "But certainly the police won't neglect that clue. They'll have men out watching."
"Yes, that's what the chief said," the man admitted.
"We'll start out the first thing in the morning," Warren promised. "We'll go along the shore of the lake toward the Passloe River. Then we can telephone you as soon as we find anything definite."
"Call me anyway," Mr. Sherman suggested. "I may have something to tell you. You can reverse the charges."
They talked for a while longer, then went to bed. The next morning the sun beat them up by only a very few minutes. Mr. Sherman accompanied them down to the Watermar II—for this name had been substituted for The Refuge—and saw that everything was in order.
"Have you a map of the lake?" he asked.
"Yes," Martin replied. "We bought one yesterday. It's in one of the lockers. Now I guess we're all set. All aboard, sailors!"
The boat was tied alongside the dock, its short gangplank fastened to the narrow runway between the cabin and the edge of the boat proper. This gangplank would be useful if they landed at a place where it would not be convenient to bring the boat flush with her moorings.
The motor was fastened firmly to the stern, and could be operated by reaching through a small window cut in the planking of the cabin. This motor had, of course, a remote control similar to the one in the original Watermar, so that the craft could be steered from the bow. The steering wheel was forward in the "parlor," the only really nautical apparatus which destroyed the air of complete domesticity of the room.
The whole boat was in spick and span order. The woodwork was clean, the curtains fresh and the furniture dusted after the long winter of idleness. Two men employed at the boathouse were standing in readiness to answer any questions about the boat and to assist in its departure.
But the boys, by now, were fairly expert outboard motor navigators. They boarded their craft, Terry taking the helm, and the motor was started. Slowly the Watermar II moved away from her dock.
Mr. Sherman watched the boat eagerly. It bore with it his hopes for the safe return of his friend, Bob Stevens.
"Good luck, fellows—good luck!" he called, as the craft made its way out from the shore.
"Thanks—we'll have it!" Martin assured him. "So long, Mr. Sherman—remember us to Harry, and tell him not to worry! We'll find his father!"
The sun was shedding some of its warmth upon the lake as they moved westward. According to the map, their route lay in a westward direction until they reached a place called Randall's Point, where the shore line swung northward. Randall’s Point was about half the distance from Bursefield to the mouth of the Passloe River.
Certainly the morning seemed made for them. Standing on the runway at the side of the boat, Martin and Warren could see Bursefield slipping away behind them.
"How's she steer, Terry?" Warren called through the window to the helmsman.
"Great! I think it would almost steer itself. We haven't got the speed we had on the old Watermar, you know—and even that wasn't anything to brag about."
"Yes, but don't you think we were wise in getting this?" Martin demanded.
"I'll say I do! This is sure some boat!"
Even though they had a serious purpose in this trip, nevertheless the boys could not divorce themselves from the holiday feeling which persisted in surging up in them. They were in their own boat, chugging down the lake toward the Passloe River, and it was a beautiful day. They could not be blamed for forgetting, for the moment, the kidnapped Mr. Stevens.
"By gosh, we didn't get the radio," Warren exclaimed. "I thought we were going to have one put in?"
"Didn't have any time," Martin replied.
"It would be a lot of fun," Terry remarked regretfully.
"Yeah, it would all right. Maybe we can have one put in later."
"Boat off the starboard bow!" Terry sang out suddenly.
Martin and Warren walked around to investigate.
They saw a large cabin motorboat, with flags flying gaily, speeding past them.
"Boy, that's a beauty," Martin exclaimed admiringly.
"Certainly is making knots," Warren commented.
Then he saw the name on the side and added: "Why, it's a police boat!"
"That's a fact," agreed Martin as he saw the name, "Mattatake Lake Police Patrol. Wonder what they're after?"
"They're coming from the direction of Passloe River," Terry called out. "Maybe they were sent to investigate that story of the fisherman seeing a man tied up."
"I'll bet that's where they were," Martin declared. "When we land today at noon—"
"Where do we land first?" Terry demanded. "It'll be just as well if I know where I'm steering for."
"I'll get the map and tack it up by the wheel," Martin suggested.
He secured the chart from the locker, and, spreading it out on the wall near the window through which the helmsman looked, he tacked it up.
"Here's our first stop," he said, pointing to a town on the lake's edge. "Name is Plantagnet." Fancy name," Terry remarked.
"We'll head in there and look it over, after lunch. By the way, who'll be the cook?"
"I'll take that job," Warren said promptly.
"O. K. You can try it for a while anyhow. You know where the provisions are, I suppose?"
"I should say so. I found that out the first thing. It certainly was nice of that lawyer—Mr. Armstrong— to fix things up for us."
During the next hour they passed a small settlement, which, by reference to the map, they discovered to be Allentown. It didn't look very promising. They swung in close, and two youngsters, who were wading, waved to them.
"Populace salutes as the Watermar II flashes by," Warren laughed, for they were making their best speed, about six miles an hour.
"How's everything in Allentown?" Martin called to the youngsters.
"What, mister?" one of them asked stupidly.
"How's everything in Allentown?"
"This ain't Allentown!"
"It isn't? Where is Allentown?"
"Up there by that there railroad station!"
"Oh, I see," Martin replied gravely. "Excuse me."
"All right, mister."
The two boys glanced at the houseboat, then waved again.
"I'm glad to see that Allentown has a railroad station," Warren chuckled.
"Oh, yes, it's quite a place," Terry called. "Hey, somebody else take the wheel for a while. I want to get some sun."
Martin obliged, and by noon they approached a place they took to be Plantagnet. This was somewhat larger than Allentown, but at the same time it certainly was no metropolis.
"Going to land?" Terry asked.
"Might as well, don't you think?"
"Sure. We can tie up to the dock and Warren can cook us a meal."
As they came nearer, four or five persons collected on a dock to watch them. There was another dock, farther on, which seemed out of use, and Martin steered for this. They didn't want to attract a crowd, and for Plantagnet five persons constituted the makings of a mob scene.
Terry leaped to the dock and tied their boat up, but the observers soon were deserting the larger dock and coming toward them.
'Looks like a welcoming committee," Terry chuckled.
"There's another dock, looks like, around that point," Martin said. "We could have gone there, but I—"
"They'd come over just the same," Warren declared. "Say, isn't that man—see him, the tall one— isn't he queer looking?"
They stared at the person Warren indicated. He did seem rather strange. His clothes hung loosely on him, and his eyes had a peculiar glare to them. He moved closer to the boat.
"I think he's not right in his head," Terry said in a low voice. "Watch out that he doesn't try to pull something."
The man gazed at the craft with burning glance. Tentatively he reached out and touched the side. Leaning over he examined the name, and muttered something to himself.
Suddenly there was the sound of a muffled howl, a thin, nerve-tingling wail, which was just loud enough for those close to the craft to hear. It rose to a high pitch, then trembled off into silence.
The man's face blanched. Raising his hands above his head he gave one shriek, turned and bolted up the dock toward the town, running fast.

CHAPTER XIII Strange Wailing

“THERE he goes!" one of the men on the deck shouted.
"Sure was scared this time," another declared, and Warren thought he said it in an amused tone.
"That's the best yell I've heard him give in a long time," a third man asserted. "He must have been practicing.”
"Say, what is this, anyway!" Warren demanded of those on the dock. "What's the idea? Who is that man?"
The one who had spoken first shrugged his shoulders.
"Don't rightly know," he said. "He's been hangin' around here all spring. He ain't all there," and he tapped his head significantly.
"Yellin' is his favorite occupation," was another reply. "Seems like he wants somethin' to start him off, an' then he yells."
"Listen!" Martin burst out. "Did one of you fellows make that noise?"
"Noise? What noise?" someone asked.
"That sort of a wail."
"I didn't hear nothing" the speaker declared.
"Well, I did," Martin said determinedly. "It wasn't very loud—sounded like a—well, I don't know what it sounded like. But evidently that's why the man ran away."
"Sure—he likes to be scared," a fellow in overalls put in. "Why, he goes up to the railroad station, and when a train whistles he yells and runs away. Then he comes back and does it all over again. But he's harmless. Never tries to hurt nobody."

"Jiminy, I can't understand that," Terry muttered. They all were standing on the dock now. "Where does he come from? Who is he?"
"Can't answer either question," the one in overalls said. "He kind of drifted in here 'bout a month and a half ago. People around here give him food—he sleeps any place."
"But didn't you try to find out who he was—haven't you got a police force here?" Martin asked. "Didn't they make any attempt to identify him?"
"Sure—but it didn't do no good. He can't talk very straight. Goes off on the side. Can't get much out of him."
"I should think you'd try to do something for him," Warren declared.
"We do, stranger, we do! We give him food, and he's got a place to sleep in the station house—only be doesn't always sleep there. He kind of wanders around."
"That's all you can expect in a town like this," Terry said in a low voice.
"Yeah, but that noise—"
"We'll find out about that later. Let's get lunch. I suppose these people are going to hang around here and watch us."
"Sure they are. What of it?"
They reentered the houseboat, and Warren set about preparing the meal. It was to be their first on the Watermar II, and he wanted to make it a good one. Besides the small coal and wood burning stove, there was a three burner oil stove, with a flue to carry off the fumes. This he lit, and in fifteen minutes the meal was ready. Soup, frankfurters, boiled potatoes and a lettuce salad was the extent of the menu, together with bread, butter, jam and coffee as side dishes.
"Boy, ain't this something!" Martin exclaimed. "Wawa, accept my congratulations. This meal is a gem —a pip—a honey—a knockout."
"Glad it meets with your approval, sir," Warren said in an affected voice. "We always try to give our customers the best."
They did full justice to the food, and were bothered not at all by the small crowd that congregated on the dock and looked over the houseboat. Evidently they never had seen one before.
When the repast was concluded, Terry suggested:
"How about walking through the village, and inquiring if they've heard or seen anything of Stevens?"
"Might be a good idea," Warren approved. "But someone has to do these dishes. Let's match."
They took out coins, and Terry lost. He sighed in mock despair, and while Martin and Warren walked toward the town he busied himself clearing the table and washing the dishes.
In an hour the two boys returned to the houseboat, to report no progress. They had made several inquiries, but to no avail.
"This is too close to Bursefield—the kidnappers would scarcely come here," Terry said. "We'll have to look farther on."
"But I sure would like to know what that funny sound was," Martin muttered. "Remember the noise we kept hearing up at Shadow Lake? Well, by golly, this didn't seem so different!"
"Go on—it wasn't at all the same," Warren declared. "I heard it, too. It seemed to come from in this houseboat, but of course it couldn't have."
"No, of course it didn't," Martin agreed. "So you didn't think it sounded like the noise we heard at Shadow Lake, hey?"
"Not a bit," Warren said positively. "It was like a squeak—sort of a rasping sound."
"I thought it sounded more like a mechanical noise —you know, sort of like a dynamo makes when it starts."
"Now that you speak of it, somehow it reminded me of that, too," Terry confessed. "That sort of e-e-e-e-e-e-e! away up the scale. If there's a power house around here, it might have been that."
"But it sounded right close to us!" Warren objected. "And the men on the dock, who weren't near the boat, said they didn't hear it!"
"Well, if it happens several times a day, they might be so used to it that they didn't hear it," Martin advanced. "Like a fellow going to the country for the first time. He hears the frogs, crickets, katydids and all those natural things that the farmer never notices—nor hears, either, because he's so near them all the while. But the first time a man from the city comes down he says he can't sleep on account of the noise. And the same thing happens when the country man comes to the city. The city fellow never notices the traffic noise, but it sends the man from the country cuckoo."
"Very fine explanation!" Terry hooted.
"Well, it's a fact!"
"Sure, I know it is. I was just kidding. And that may be the reason those playboys at the dock didn't hear the sounds. That is, if it really was from a dynamo in a powerhouse."
"That crazy man heard it all right," Warren declared.
"I'll say he did," Martin agreed. "He ran like a scared rabbit."
"Did you hear what they said about him?" Warren went on. "That he likes to be scared. That he goes up to the railroad station and waits for a train to whistle, and then runs like the mischief."
"Funny gink, all right," Terry commented. "Say, when do we pull out of here? Come on, let's get going!"
"Suits me," Martin said. "I’ll cast off, and you start the motor. Wawa, you want to take the wheel?"
"Sure."
The Watermar II moved away from the dock, followed by the curious stares of the idlers who seemingly had nothing to do but stand and watch the houseboat.
The boys hadn't been going more than half an hour when Terry, who was stretched out on the couch near the front door, happened to glance down at the floor where the door frame was set in the flooring. Warren, who was standing up near him, steering, heard his chum utter an exclamation.
"What's the matter?" Warren asked.
"I think this boat is leaking!"
"Leaking?"
"Yep! Look—isn't that water, under there?"
Warren abandoning the wheel for a moment—they were well out in the lake, and so slow was the speed of the craft that they would have ample warning if anything loomed up in front of them—stared down where Terry pointed. Through a small opening below the door he saw what appeared to be water sloshing about.
"By golly, you're right!" he cried. "Hey, Mart!"
"Yeah?"
"We've sprung a leak!"
Martin came in quickly. He glanced down at the water and whistled.
"Boy, there's quite a lot of it. We'll have to start the bilge pump."
"Didn't know we had one," Terry said.
"Sure we have! I'll show you. It'll take some time for this water to get out, though. Maybe we better go ashore."
They were passing a section of the shore where trees grew close to the edge, and Warren now turned the wheel so the boat pointed toward a small cove. This they reached in a few moments.
"Now I'll show you where the bilge pump is," Martin stated.
He led the way to the stern, and took up a piece of flooring. A small gasoline pump was installed there, to pump the water out of the bilge, or hold. Martin started the pump, and then, swinging the short gangplank to the edge of the shore—they didn't want to bring the boat too close, for fear of fouling—the three boys moored the craft and got off.
"We might as well sit here and wait," Terry suggested. “This is a swell place. I'd like to go swimming."
Instead, however, they lay on the bank and talked, a short distance from the boat. Martin went aboard, examined the pump frequently, and reported that the water was rapidly decreasing.
"It probably wasn't a leak—it's just that the planks haven't swelled enough yet, after being out of the water all winter," he told them.
They were talking about the possibility of finding Mr. Stevens when suddenly they all jerked upright, and stared at each other with wondering glances.
That strange wail, the sound they had heard on the dock at Plantagnet, shivered through the still air. And this time there was no doubt—it had come from within the houseboat.

CHAPTER XIV Overhauled

HAD the weird sound continued long enough for them to identify its nature, there would not have been that shocked tenseness which all now felt as the wail died away so suddenly. It was the fact that they could neither explain its source nor its nature that caused the thrill of something akin to fear to run through them.
Yet the sense of panicky inaction lasted but a moment. Then Terry leaped to his feet.
"I'm going to find out what that is if I have to rip every plank off that boat!" he exclaimed.
They were all striding toward the craft, which now lay quietly on the lake, innocent of any sound other than the prosaic noise made by the bilge pump.
Yet as they neared the boat the ordinariness of the affair struck them. All they had heard was a noise. Why get so excited about a noise?
"Maybe it was the bilge pump squeaking," Terry remarked, laughing a little as though ashamed of his former emotion.
"The pump wasn't working when we heard it before," Warren reminded him. "Anyhow, why should it give just one squeak?"
Terry shrugged his shoulders. "Search me. But I've decided not to start pulling the boat apart to find out."
"We'd have decided it for you, if you hadn't," Martin declared. "We've plenty of traveling to do yet in this ship."
They stood gazing at the craft, unconsciously straining their ears for a repetition of the sound. But they heard nothing, and a few moments later they went aboard.
"Water's about clear now," Martin announced, and shut off the pump. "I don't think it will leak in so fast the next time. The seams are tighter now. Boy, it's a good thing we had the pump!"
"But what are we going to do about that noise?" Terry demanded.
"What would you suggest?" Martin asked in turn.
"Well, we can look around, can't we?"
"Sure," Warren agreed. "Where shall we look first?"
Without replying, Terry strode to the "parlor," and began investigating under the couch. The other two watched him. Next he looked in the closets—actually lockers—and then started moving chairs around.
Finally he glanced at Warren and Martin in disgust.
"You fellows must think I'm putting on a show for you," he growled. "Why don't you have some looks?"
"Have you examined the stove?" Warren asked innocently.
"All right—I quit! Whatever it is it stays there, for all of me!"
"Now, Terry, don't get obstreperous," Martin chided. "You'll ruin your appetite."
Terry laughed. "O. K.—I hope it wakes you up in the middle of the night," he said. "If it's a ghost, I hope it pulls the covers off you."
"Perhaps it's the spirit of the fellow who owned this houseboat first, and disappeared," Warren said lightly.
"Cut it out," Terry exclaimed. "Don't fool about those things. Even if he—"
"Aw, let's get going," Martin broke in. "We don't want to stay here all day. Who wants to steer?"
"I'll take it," Warren replied. "You can be engineer. Terry can be official observer. Where do we go now?"
"We can't very well make Randall's Point tonight," Martin said, looking at the map. "Let's see. Here's a place—Boonton. Let's stop there tonight. Seems like a fair-sized town."
Once more they headed out into the lake, and moved smoothly along on the placid surface of the water. It was now just past mid afternoon, and the soft air made the boys sleepy. Terry and Martin stretched out on the sunny side of the boat, lying on the ledge that ran around the cabin.
They had been dozing for about an hour when Warren called out to them in a loud voice:
"Hey, wake up, you guys, I think we're going to have visitors."
"What? What's that?" Terry demanded, still in a half daze.
"There's a boat coming our way."
"What boat is it?"
"How do I know?"
Terry and Martin sat up, and went around to the other side. They saw a launch pointing toward them, with a blue-clad figure standing in the bow.
"By gosh, it looks like a police boat," Warren declared.
"It sure does," Martin agreed. "And that looks like a cop standing there. Maybe they've got news for us from Mr. Sherman."
Warren slowed their craft down until it was barely moving, and awaited the arrival of the other boat. It swung along side, and the blue-clad figure hailed them.
"Hey, we want to come aboard!"
"Maybe he's after us for a license," Terry remarked.
"Well, this boat is licensed. I saw to that before we left," Martin asserted. "I have a hunch it's something else he wants."
The man in blue was joined now by another and they stepped from their launch to the Watermar II.
"Hello, fellows," greeted one of the visitors genially enough. "This your boat?"
"Yes. it is," Terry replied. "We bought it a few days ago."
"That so? Where did you buy it?"
"At Bursefield."
"Bursefield, hey? That's interesting. Don't suppose you know a man by the name of Stevens there, do you?"
The boys were aware of a close scrutiny. Martin spoke up:
"Are you from the police?"
"We are the police, my friend."
"I see. Why, sure we know Mr. Stevens. We bought this boat from him. Have you heard from him? Do you know where he is?"
"Not exactly," one of the men said carefully. The three boys were standing close together in the living room. Suddenly the man who had just spoken snapped out:
"Which one of you is Jake Lawson?"
"Jake Lawson!" Terry repeated in astonishment. "Jake Lawson isn't here. We'd like to find him ourselves."
"You would, eh?" He stared at Terry. "What are you so anxious to find him for? Is he a friend of yours?"
"He certainly is not," Martin exclaimed decidedly. "But we're trying—" He stopped. The officer looked at him quizzically.
"Trying to what?"
"Trying to find Mr. Stevens."
"Oh, so you're in on this too, are you? Now listen. We're not saying we don't believe you, but, all the same, we have orders to investigate any strange boats in our territory. Can you give us some proofs of your identities?"
"Golly, I don't see how," Warren said slowly. "We have a license for this boat, if you want to see that."
"A license wouldn't prove anything."
"Well, we have our names stitched in our clothes—"
"Let's see."
They pulled some wearing apparel out of the lockers, and exhibited the names, which, to prevent confusion in laundry, had been sewn in each piece by their mothers,
"Hm—yes, that's a fairly good proof," the man admitted. "Except—who are you? I'll agree that none of you is Jake Lawson. But who are you?"
"We live in Stirling," Terry told him. "You can call up there and find out about us if you want to,"
"Or you can call Bursefield—Mr. Stevens's home," Warren added. "Mr. Sherman, who is staying there, will tell you."
"And in the meantime—where will you be?" the officer demanded.
"Why—"
"We'd better take 'em with us to shore," the other suggested.
"Yeah, I guess that's the best thing. Sorry, boys, but we have no choice. They're pretty well stirred up about this kidnapping around here."
"You mean we're under arrest?" Terry asked blankly.
"No-o-o-o, I wouldn't put it that way. We just want you to come along until we assure ourselves you're O. K.," the man answered.
"All right," Martin said resignedly, "where do you want us to go?"
"We'll show you. Two of you fellows hop on the launch. The other stays here. I'll run this tub. O. K., on your way."
"Who do you want to stay?"
"Doesn't make any difference."
"I'll stay," Warren said quickly. "How far is this place you want us to go to?"
"Not so far. Stan, you take those two on the launch. I'll follow you in this. You'll have to go pretty slowly, I suppose."
Martin and Terry, obeying a wave of the other's hand, stepped from the houseboat to the launch. They were motioned to go into the spacious cabin.
As they went down the three steps which led into the compartment, a man who was sitting in a chair arose. Terry and Martin looked at him, and gasped in amazement.
"Hello, boys," the man said. "How are you today?"
It was the big fellow Warren had fought on the train—Tondos.

CHAPTER XV Captured

THE man who had brought them to the launch was grinning.
"Great gag, these blue suits, boss," he said. "We didn't even have to show our badges. Good thing, too, because we ain't got any."
"You're not police, then?" Terry demanded, his face pale.
"No, sonny, we're not. Quite a surprise, isn't it?"
"All right, Stan, beat it!" Tondos said. "I'll take care of these young gentlemen. Sit down, boys."
The launch was moving now, very slowly. Martin thought of Warren on board the Watermar II. Did he know by this time how they had been fooled?
"Nice weather we're having, isn't it?" Tondos remarked.
"Listen, what's the idea of this?" Terry asked hotly. "Where are you taking us?"
"Just for a little trip," the big man said smoothly. Then he raised his voice. "Hey, Jake! Come out here. Some friends of yours want to see you."
"Jake Lawson! Is he here, too?" Martin exclaimed.
Jake's appearance was an answer to his question. He slid in the cabin and stared from Terry to Warren.
"So they got you, too," he said.
"That'll do!" Tondos said sharply.
It was a strange remark for Lawson to make. Martin expected him to sneer at them. Instead he seemed rather frightened.
"You'll be sorry for this, Lawson," Martin said evenly. "And if you had anything to do with Stevens's kidnapping, you'll be more than sorry."
"I didn't, I tell you! I don't know anything about him. Why, they—"
"That'll be enough from you, Lawson," Tondos said quietly. "Get out!"
Jake bit his lip, took another look at the boys, and edged out of the cabin.
"You can't get away with this, Tondos!" Martin exclaimed.
"No? Did you ever hear the story of the man who said to the cap 'You can't arrest me for this'? Or the one about the man up north who said to his friend, 'We can't starve'? Know what happened to them?"
When Terry and Martin did not answer, he went on:
"Well, the cop did arrest the man, and the other two did starve. So I wouldn't talk too much about what I can and can't do."
"But—"
"Now just take it easy. You won't get hurt."
"But where are you taking us?"
"To a little place you never heard of."
"Why?"
"Because we like your company."
"All right, Tondos," Terry burst out. "You can go just so far, and then you'll find out that—"
"I'll find out what?" The man stood over Terry. "What will I find out, sonny? Let's have it!"
"Don't bother with him, Terry," Martin said sharply, for he knew his friend's impulsiveness, and he was afraid he might get hurt. This was no time to start a fight, with Tondos in command of the whole boat.
Terry subsided, and Tondos, laughing, returned to his seat. He lit a cigar and smoked in silence. Terry and Martin watched him, but said nothing.
Finally a man came into the cabin and handed Tondos a note. He read it, and then told the messenger:
"You wait here. Don't let these fellows out of the cabin. I'll be back in five minutes. Remember, watch 'em!"
The man nodded and sat down. Terry decided to ask him some questions, hoping he might let slip some information which might help them.
"What's the name of this boat?" was the first one.
"The T-T-T-T-T-T-T-T-T-Traveller."
He certainly stuttered enough to discourage any ordinary questioner. But Terry went on:
"Where are we going, do you know?"
"N-n-n-no. I d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d—"
"I guess you don't know," Terry finished for him. "Say, where have they got Stevens?"
"Who? S-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s—"
"Stevens."
"Stevens. Who-o-o-o-o's he?"
"All right. Never mind. Could I have a drink of water?"
"You'll have to wait until the b-b-b-b-boss comes back."
"I see. All right, we’ll wait."
They sat quietly. It was easy to see they could get nothing out of their guard. In a few minutes Tondos returned.
"Having a good time, boys?" he asked sarcastically. "I suppose your other friend decided to stay on the houseboat. Must have had an idea I was here."
"He's not afraid of you," Martin asserted.
"Well, he can scrap, I'll say that for him. We'll take good care that he doesn't get a chance."
"Listen, Tondos—exactly what are you after?" Terry asked, looking him straight in the eyes. "Why did you kidnap Stevens?"
"Kidnap Stevens? Me? You're crazy!"
"All right. Don't admit it if you don't want to. But I didn't think Lawson would get mixed up in a thing like this. He's pretty bad, I know, but kidnapping is a serious offense. You can get twenty years for that."
"Lawson! He's been a bit troublesome. Now don't you boys get the idea that we had anything to do with taking Stevens. Why, on the night it happened, Lawson and I were in Stirling. We were at some boathouse there."
"Yeah, we know all about that," Martin broke in. "Fixing up an alibi. But Stirling isn't so far from Bursefield. How fast will that roadster of yours go?"
"She'll make—what's it to you?"
"I just wondered," Terry said calmly. "According to the two servants, Stevens was taken from his home around midnight. You'd have plenty of time to get to Bursefield before twelve o'clock."
"Wise guys, aren't you?"
"Not so wise. We can't figure out why you kidnapped Stevens, for one thing."
"I didn't kidnap him! Aw, what's the use of arguing with you? You're only a couple of kids."
"Then why keep us here?"
"Told you—we like your company."
Martin glanced up at a clock over the door. It was nearly six. The boat was still moving slowly, but not so slowly as it had been. In fact they could hear the water rushing by the sides. "
The boys looked at each other, knowing what was in the other's mind. The houseboat could not go this fast. What had happened to it?
"Where's our boat?" Martin asked suddenly.
"That's all right."
"What did you do with it? Where's Warren?"
"He's all right too."
The cabin door was closed, and they could not see the stern of the launch. Terry sprang to the door and wrenched it open.
"Hey—get back there!" Tondos snarled. He seized Terry's shoulder and spun him around. At the same moment two men appeared in the doorway. They took several steps forward and were close upon Terry and Martin, so there was nothing to be done.
But Warren's fate flashed through Terry's mind again, and he cried out to Tondos:
"If you've done anything to Warren, because of what he did to you on the train—that was a fair fight—"
"I don't get even that way," Tondos replied rather mildly. "If I'm licked in a scrap I don't go out looking for the man who did it. Your friend isn't hurt. And if you want to know where your houseboat is, I'll tell you. We're towing it. We didn't cut it adrift. But we can pull it faster than it can go under its own power."
Terry and Martin relaxed.
"You don't know everything about this," Tondos went on. "You don't even know why I tricked you on to this boat."
Back of the main cabin were two other rooms. Tondos told the boys to go into the last one. This contained two cots, against the walls. There were portholes in the sides, and through them Terry could see that they were far out on the lake, away from land.
"You stay here," their captor said.
"For how long?" Martin answered him.
"Until I get ready to let you loose."
He went out, closing the door and locking it behind him.
"He's taking no chances," Martin said, not caring whether Tondos heard him or not. "How does he expect us to get away from this boat?"
Terry was looking out through one of the portholes. He saw that Tondos had told the truth. The Watermar II was being towed by the launch.
"Wawa!" Terry yelled suddenly. "Hey, Wawa!"
He saw Warren step out the door to the ledge. Then a hand reached for him and pulled him back in again.

CHAPTER XVI One Swift Blow

WARREN glared at the man who stood facing him in the living room of the houseboat.
"What was the idea of that?" the boy demanded, breathing hard.
"Stay in here."
"I just heard my friend call me."
"All right. Stay in here."
"You haven't got any right to pull me around like that, even if you are a cop."
"Haven't I?"
The man lit a cigarette. Warren watched him. Then, for the first time, he noticed that the man wore no police badge.
"Where's your badge?" he asked him.
"I left it on the launch."
"What town are you from?"
"No town."
"Then where are you stationed—where's your headquarters?"
"Across the lake."
"Is that where you're taking us?"
"Yep!"
"Couldn't you take us some place nearer, and find out that we're telling you the truth—that we really bought this boat from Mr. Stevens—or from his lawyer?"
"How could you buy it from his lawyer?"
"He had power of attorney. He had the right to sell it."
"Hum. You mean this lawyer has control of Stevens's property?"
"Some of it, I guess."
"How about the beach—Pennock Beach?"
"I don't know anything about that."
The man lapsed into silence. Warren stood gazing out of the window by the wheel, but could not, from there, see the part of the cabin where Terry and Martin were imprisoned. A short time before he had assisted in tying the towing rope to the Watermar II. Certainly they moved along faster that way.
"How long does it take to get where we're going?" Warren asked after several minutes.
"Be there by night, I guess."
"You guess!"
"Sure, I guess. It's a good guess, too."
"Thank you," Warren said sarcastically. This man was getting on his nerves. Even if he was an officer, he could be a little human.
"Are you in a hurry to get some place?" the man inquired, flicking the ash from his cigarette.
"No. But I'd like to know where we're going."
The man leaned against the wall and observed Warren. There was no need to steer now, since the boat was being towed, and the outboard motor was stopped.
"Say, what's the name of your chief?" Warren asked suddenly.
The man took a long drag on the cigarette, and answered deliberately:
"Tondos."
"Tondos!"
"Yes, why, ever heard of him?"
Thoughts were racing through Warren's head. It was obvious that the man in uniform had no idea that Warren ever had known Tondos. Too careless to make up a name, he had given the name of his real boss. There was but one conclusion to be drawn: these men were not officers of the law, but were working under Tondos.
If Warren allowed the slightest suspicion to cross his captor's mind that he was aware now of the true state of facts, the man would guard him more closely than ever. But if he pretended to keep on believing they were police officers, the man might relax his vigil and permit some possibility of escape and of aiding Terry and Martin. The reason for that call of Terry's was now all too clear.
"No, I don't know him," Warren said slowly. "We don't have anything to do with cops."
"Neither do—" the man started, then stopped.
"Say, this isn't a bad tub you got here," he finished.
"No, it sure isn't. But I hate to lose all this time. It seems to me that you could have gone to a place nearer by." Warren was determined to give the impression that he still thought they were policemen.
"It's not my say where we go."
"No, I suppose not. Who was that other man, a sergeant?"
"Yeah. A sergeant."
A thin suspicion of a smile came over his mouth. Warren pretended not to notice.
Again there was a period of silence. Warren's thoughts flew. How could he escape?
"Must be nearly six o'clock," he said suddenly. "You hungry?"
"I could eat."
"Me too. We got some cold stuff back there. Shall I get it out?"
"Sure. Why not?"
Warren left the living room and went back into the kitchen. From the small ice box, which was set low in the boat and kept quite cool without ice, be took a tin of canned chicken.
"Like it cold, or hot?" he called.
"What is it?"
"Canned chicken."
"Cold is all right with me."
The boy put some on a dish, and got out some bread and butter.
"All set," he said. "Come and get it."
The man entered and seated himself at the small table. Warren joined him, and noticed that they could not see out of the window from where he sat. Neither could they hear the sound of water rushing past the boat.
"How about a knife, or something?" the man said. "Do we have to eat with our fingers?"
“Oh—excuse me." An idea was formulating in Warren's mind. Here was his chance. He had to take it immediately.
"The knives and forks are up forward. Wait a second."
Before the man could reply, Warren was gone. He fairly ran to the bow. He knew there was a small hatchet on a bench on the front porch, and in a moment he had this in his hand.
The rope which held the Watermar II to the launch was fastened to a ring on the bow. Warren had not thought of this when he seized the hatchet. The rope was taut, and to cut it he would need enough slack to lay upon the deck so the hatchet could bite into it.
Bending low, he crept around the porch toward the rope. He glanced at the launch, and saw that no one was visible on the stern deck. Now he was a few feet from the rope.
It was then he saw that to cut it with the hatchet, while it was taut and held away from the craft, would be almost impossible. There was but one thing to do, and that was to haul on the rope, bringing the two boats nearer each other, and thus obtain some slack. He could, of course, have hacked away at the rope where it was tied around the ring, but this could be heard within the houseboat. What was needed was one clean, sharp blow to sever the strands.
Bracing his feet against the raised portion of the ledge, he began to pull. At first he thought his strength was not equal to the task. Then, gradually, he felt the rope give. A very little at a time, he was hauling in, hauling in.
"Hey!" came the voice of the man in the kitchen.
"What?" Warren tried to speak nonchalantly, but it was a great strain, for he was exerting all his strength.
"Hurry up—what are you doing up there?"
"Trying to find the forks! Be right back there!"
He hoped fervently that the man would not take it into his head to come forward. If he did all was lost.
Now he tugged again, desperately. It was a task that needed ail the energy and strength that he could command. Also, haste was of paramount importance. The man in the kitchen would not sit there much longer.
There was a slight bend in the rope, between his hands and the deck of the houseboat. Fiercely Warren strove to make this bend into a loop. He had to pull in a bit more—a bit more—
There! That did it. A foot of rope lay on the dark wood of the ledge, offering itself to Warren's hatchet.
If he could only hold the rope with his left hand, while he struck with his right!
The sweat was pouring off his brow. Taking a deep breath, he straightened his left arm, gripped the rope with his left hand as firmly as he could, and let go his right hand.
His fingers clutched the hatchet handle. It was raised, and with a powerful swing he brought it down full on the rope.
The loose end whipped out of his hand like a mad serpent. But he had done it—he had done it, and every second the launch was pulling farther and farther away from the drifting Watermar II!

CHAPTER XVII Tondos Argues

IF YOU have any ideas," Terry said to Martin, as they sat in the cabin of the launch, "now is the time to use 'em."
"Ideas—sure! I got an idea we should have found out whether those men really were police officers before we came on this launch like sheep being led to the slaughter."
"I don't mean that kind of idea. I mean about getting out of here."
"I don't see how we can do that. There must be at least seven or eight men on this boat, under Tondos. And Warren is on the houseboat, guarded by another one."
"I guess he knows now that the man with him isn't a cop. I saw him grab Wawa by the shoulder and pull him back inside."
"Yeah. Jiminy! This is a fine mess!"
"You think Tondos really kidnapped Stevens?"
"Sure as I'm sitting here. Or he had one of his men do it. Maybe that little red-haired fellow. By jingoes!"
"What's the matter!"
"Remember when we were in Lorfer's that time, and Tondos hit the little guy? Remember why he hit him?"
"The little fellow wouldn't do something Tondos wanted him to do."
"Exactly. And that something was to kidnap Stevens!"
"Say, you might be right at that. But why—why did they do it? For ransom? They haven't made any demands yet, as far as we know."
"I don't think it's for ransom. I think there's another reason."
"What reason?"
"Don't know. But I have a hunch that we'll find out soon."
They gazed out of the portholes again, but now could not see the houseboat. They concluded that when they had glimpsed it before, the launch was making a turn and therefore the Watermar II had swung out so as to be in their line of vision. Now, they decided, it was directly behind the launch, and therefore invisible.
"Must be nearly seven o'clock—it's getting dark," Martin declared.
"Yeah. Where in thunder is he taking us?"
At that moment the door opened, and Tondos entered.
"Supper's ready," he said, grinning.
"So we really get something to eat?" Terry asked sarcastically.
"Yeah! And don't try to get flip. You're in no position to be funny."
"Don't cross him," Martin said to Terry in a low voice. "That won't do any good."
"Come on, I'm not going to bring it in to you," and the big man led the way out of the door.
A small table had been set up in the other compartment. Evidently Tondos and the others would eat later, for there were two places arranged. As the boys sat down, Tondos leaned against the side of the cabin and watched them eat. Finally he said:
"I guess you wonder why I bothered taking you kids on this launch."
"Why, you—" Terry began, when Martin cut in:
"We are wondering. What was the idea?"
Tondos chuckled. "You'll find out, all in good time. But there's one thing I suppose you might as well know. It's about Stevens."
"You've got him?" Terry asked quickly.
"Yeah, we've got him."
"You've got nerve, too, admitting it to us," Martin exclaimed.
"Oh, you won't do anything about it! You'll be nice and polite. In fact, you're going to help me get what I'm after."
"Like fun we are!"
"It won't be much fun. Yes, I'm glad I thought of you boys. And you sure made it easy for me—you put yourselves right into my hands."
"What do you mean?"
"Why, we've been waiting, trying to figure out a way to get through to Armstrong—he's Stevens's attorney. And we happen to know that he controls most of Stevens's property. Then, to solve our problem, you come along."
"If you think we'll help you get money for returning Stevens, you're crazy!" Terry flashed out.
"Now, take it easy," Tondos chuckled. "I didn't say anything about money. All we want to do is to rent Pennock Beach for a month."
"Rent Pennock Beach!"
"That's it. Just for a month. Not much to ask, is it?"
"But what's the idea?" Terry demanded in amazement.
"You leave that to us."
"But why don't you rent the place in the usual way?" Martin asked. "Unless you haven't got the money—"
"We've got the money, all right. Now don't ask so many questions. I've told you all you need to know, for the time being. We'll soon be at the—"
"Hey, boss!" A man was at the door, his features twisted comically.
"What?"
"The houseboat's broke loose!"
"What—the houseboat broke loose? You're crazy!"
"Maybe I am—but she's broke loose, just the same!"
Tondos sprang for the door. Terry and Martin followed him. As they gained the rear deck they could see in a moment that the houseboat was indeed gone. The rope which bound it to the launch trailed in the water.
"Pull that rope in!" Tondos roared.
One of the crew obeyed him. Tondos stared at the end of the rope, and then yelled:
"Broke loose—that boat didn't break loose! This rope's been cut!"
"Cut, boss?"
"Yes, cut—and don't repeat what I say all the time! How long ago did this happen?"
"How do we know, boss?"
"Well, you—hey! Turn around! What's the matter with you guys, are you all nit-wits? Turn around, and go back! We've got to find that houseboat!"
"All right, boss!" He yelled an order, and the large launch made a wide swing. It was getting dark now, and a mist was rising over the lake.
"Boy—if this fog gets thicker, Warren's got a swell chance to escape!" Martin whispered tensely to Terry.
"I sure hope it does! How the mischief did he ever manage to cut that rope?"
"Search me! But he did all right. He must have done it quite a while ago, because the houseboat is out of sight."
"Yeah, but it wouldn't be, if it weren't for this mist. Sure is lucky no one was on the rear, out here, when Warren cut away."
Tondos was rushing about like a man in a panic.
"How did a thing like this happen?" he was shouting. "Towing a big thing like that houseboat, and you don't even know when it's cut loose! Where's Toff? He was at the engine. Get Toff!"
A man almost as big as Tondos responded. He walked like an ape, with hands swinging loosely at his sides.
"This whole crew looks like a gang of fighters and wrestlers," Terry whispered to Martin. "Look at that guy!"
"What is it, boss?" Toff asked.
"Plenty, that's what it is! Look!"
"Yeah, she's gettin' foggy."
"Naw—never mind that! I mean the houseboat's gone! We had a houseboat on behind, towing it, and now it's gone! Mean to say you couldn't tell when a big thing like that cut loose?"
"I felt somethin', boss—I didn't know what it was."
"Well why didn't you say so at the time?"
"I thought youse guys up here were watchin'."
"Yeah—well, take that down with you!" and Tondos slapped him hard in the face.
The man stepped forward a pace, his eyes narrowing and glittering like the eyes of a beast about to spring. Tondos waited for him, his arms slightly bent, his legs spread wide. Then the man Toff seemed to shrink inside. He put a hand to his face and turned, trudging back to his task in the engine room.
"Now bring me Larkin!" Tondos roared.
This was the helmsman. He was much lighter than Tondos, but walked like a cat. His hips were small and his shoulders broad.
"A prize fighter," Martin concluded. "What a crew!"
Tondos asked him the same questions he had asked Toff. Larkin insisted that he, too, had felt a change in the boat's behavior, but thought the others were watching out for the houseboat.
But Tondos didn't hit him. There was something about Larkin that caused him to hesitate. The man stood up to Tondos, not aggressively, but as though his whole body were saying: "Don't go too far, I can hurt, too."
Tondos just growled at him. Then he told him to take over the wheel again, and find that houseboat if he had to patrol every foot of the lake from here to the shore.
"We've got to get that boat!" Tondos exclaimed. "Even if it gets dark, and the fog gets thicker—we've got to find that boat!"

CHAPTER XVIII Lost in the Fog

TO SIT by idly while the search for the houseboat started was the lot of Terry and Martin. Yet there was nothing they could do about it, except hope that night would come fast, and that the fog would grow thicker.
The two boys were on the rear deck when Tondos was flaying his men for their carelessness in permitting the houseboat to go adrift. Now he turned to the chums and snarled:
"Get below, you two—what do you think this is, a convention?"
Terry's fists clenched, but he forced himself to remain calm, and he and Martin obeyed the command. Once more they were in the cabin from where they had seen Warren being pulled back into the houseboat.
"What's your idea of it?" Terry asked Martin in a low tone.
"Somehow, Wawa succeeded in cutting himself adrift," Martin whispered. "How he did it is too much for me to figure out."
"Do you think he was able to overpower that fellow they left guarding him?" Terry questioned.
"I guess he did. But I'm afraid he'll never make shore before we catch up with him. This launch can make about six or seven times the speed of the houseboat."
"You think they'll get Wawa, then?"
"Afraid so."
Terry glanced out of one of the portholes.
"By jinks, look at that fog rolling up!" he exclaimed.
Martin leaped to his side. "It sure is," he agreed. "Baby, that's our only hope! If it gets good and thick Tondos won't have a Chinaman's chance of finding Warren! Come on, fog!"
They knelt on the seat which jutted out from the wall of the cabin and watched the thick mist roll over the water. Besides this, it was getting dark. And in fifteen minutes they could see nothing but a sort of grayness which seemed to press against the portholes.
"Warren's safe—he's safe!" Terry almost shouted.
"You think so?" a voice behind them said. It was Tondos. He entered the cabin and switched on a light.
"If he makes shore, your goose is about cooked," Terry retorted. "He'll tell the authorities."
"He happens to have Butch Clark with him," Tondos said dryly.
"Who's he?"
"One of the sweetest scrappers you ever saw. Your friend won't get far with him. I'll admit I don't see how he got that houseboat loose—maybe the rope did break, after all."
This thought came as a shock to Terry and Martin, and Tondos could see their faces pale slightly.
"Didn't think about that, did you?" he jeered. "Butch probably has your pal tied up now, and is searching for us as hard as we are looking for him. Oh, we'll pick him up all right."
Suddenly a low moan sounded. It grew in intensity, then died away.
"Butch will hear that fog horn," Tondos said. "He'll find us that way. I guess you guys have got some sort of signal on the houseboat. As soon as he hears our horn, he'll answer, and we'll pick him up."
The logic of this was inescapable, and Martin felt his spirits droop with discouragement. Half an hour ago it seemed as though Tondos were beaten. Now, he was on top of the pile again.
"So we'll just cruise around a while," the big man went on. "Hope you boys enjoyed your meal."
"Where are you taking us?" Martin demanded.
"Well, my plans have been changed a little. I had intended to take you to—never mind. Now we'll have to go right up the river."
"Passloe River?"
"That's the one."
"Is that where you've got Stevens hidden?" Terry asked sharply.
Tondos laughed. "Little boys shouldn't ask questions," he said. "But if it'll do you any good to know, we've got Stevens well placed. It's a cove about ten miles or so up the river, and there's—no—house— within—eight—miles—of—-it!" These last words he accented deliberately and then laughed again. "So, since we'll probably have the pleasure of your company for some time to come, I hardly think you'll make use of your knowledge."
Martin looked at him speculatively. Evidently he was the sort of man who reveled in power, and could not help boasting of how well he had planned this kidnapping.
"But what was the idea of taking Stevens?" Martin asked, thinking that if Tondos told them that much, he might say more.
"Well, he's got something we want."
"Money?"
"Naw. He's not rich, not any more."
"You mean Pennock Beach?"
"That's it."
"What's on Pennock Beach that you want?"
"Clams," Tondos replied with a chuckle.
Martin looked away. Obviously this man would say just so much, and no more.
"Now I'll have this place fixed up for you to sleep in," Tondos declared. "When we pick up your friend, he can sleep on the floor."
"If you find him," Terry corrected. He couldn't help this one remark.
"Don't worry about that! We'll find him all right. Come on deck with me, and I'll show you why."
He waited for the two boys to precede him through the door. On deck they could see just how thick the fog was. The boat was moving slowly, the fog horn blowing at regular intervals. Aside from the possibility of signaling the houseboat, there was real need of this warning. The visibility could not have been more than ten feet.
"Take a look at this," Tondos said, leading them toward the rail. He showed them a huge searchlight. "Soon as this fog lifts, we'll sweep the lake with this light. No use to do it now, though," he admitted. "This mist is like soup. But it'll blow away soon, and then we'll have your friend on board for you to talk to. Nice little launch I picked up, isn't it?"
He focused the light toward the water, and pressed a switch. The beam appeared to be folded back upon itself. Only the surface of the water near the boat could be seen. For the rest, there was simply a curtain of misty light, as impenetrable as the fog and darkness.
"No good now," Tondos asserted, and switched it off.
Terry heard a step behind them, and turned. To his surprise it was the little red-headed man they had seen in Lorfer’s.
"Jake wants to see you, boss," the man said.
"Wants to see me? Where do you get that stuff? Think I'm going to him? If he wants to see me, let him come where I am!"
"That's what I mean. Is it all right to let him come up here?"
"Sure, let him come up here!"
"Get that?" Terry whispered to Martin, who nodded.
Jake came up the companionway and approached them.
"Well?" Tondos boomed.
"Can I see you alone for a second?" Jake asked, casting an uneasy look at Terry and Martin.
"Naw! Spit it out. We haven't any secrets here. What's the use? These boys are all right. They're with us."
"With you!" Jake repeated, his eyes almost popping out of his head.
"Sure! Aren't you with us, fellows? On the Traveler, I mean?"
Terry didn't bother to reply. He was watching Jake.
"Oh, I thought you meant—" Lawson said, and stopped.
Tondos laughed. "Don't be so scared," he exclaimed. "I was afraid you'd be like that. Don't know why I ever took you in with me."
"Well, if I'd known it was kidnapping, I'd never have joined you!"
Tondos snickered. "That's how I figured. No nerve. Well, you're in it now, whether you want to be or not. What do you want to see me about?"
"About that guy Larkin."
"What about him?"
"He orders me around too much. A little while ago he socked me."
"Is that so! Well, that's too bad—too bad! Hey, you!" This to a crew member who was standing nearby. "Get Larkin!"
In a few moments Larkin appeared. He had been relieved at the wheel some time ago.
"Larkin," Tondos said severely, "did you hit Jake?"
"Yeah."
"What for?"
"He was grousin’.”
“What do you mean, grousin'?"
"Oh, harpin' on this an' that, sayin' he didn't want to come with us in the first place, an' sayin' you was nothin' but a pug, so I socked him. I didn't hit him hard. Just a tap."
"Sorry you did it?"
"Sure, boss, I'm cryin' all over the place."
"You see," Tondos said to Jake, "he's sorry he did it." This with a perfectly serious face.
"Sorry! What good does that do me?"
"Why, can't you see—"
" 'Scuse me boss," said a man who came toward them out of the fog. "Mack, at the wheel, says he doesn't know where he's goin'."
"Doesn't know where he's going? What do you mean?"
"I mean he says he's lost. He doesn't know which way is the shore. He's all turned around. An' this fog is gettin' worse than ever. We're lost all right, boss!"

CHAPTER XIX A Collision

IN THE dim light from the cabin, Terry and Martin saw Tondos's face grow red. He seemed to swell, to grow larger.
"You mean to tell me," the man said in a strained voice, "that Mack doesn't know where we are?"
"That's it. We been cruisin' around, tryin' to pick up the houseboat, until he got all mixed up."
For a moment the boys thought that Tondos was going to strike the man. Then he evidently thought better of it, and waved his hand.
"Get out. Get out of here. What a bunch this is! Why, you're like a lot of kids. I thought you guys could run a boat, at least. Now listen. Who's at the engine?"
"Toff."
"Tell him to reduce speed as much as possible. And you, Larkin, come in here. Of all the—"
He disappeared in the cabin, followed by Larkin. Terry and Martin looked at each other.
"Lost," Terry muttered. "What do you know about that!"
"I knew something would happen!” Jake whined. "I wish—"
"You'll wish a lot of things before you get through," Martin said sharply to him. "Getting in with a gang of kidnappers!"
"Listen, Hazzard, it wasn't my fault, I tell you! I didn't know what Tondos was goin' to do! I met him at Stirling. He said he knew of a way we could make a lot of money. I—"
"It's too late now," Terry said grimly. "You're in it, Lawson, and you'll take what the rest of 'em get. Unless—"
"Unless what?" Jake asked eagerly.
"Come back here."
The three went to the stern of the boat, where they could not be overheard by others.
"Unless you agree to help us," Terry finished.
Lawson raised a trembling hand. "I couldn't do that! Tondos would—I don't know what he'd do! He'd kill me!"
"Yeah?" Terry said sarcastically. "Well, suit yourself! But I know one thing—if Warren manages to reach the shore, it's going to be too bad for you! And I don't mean maybe!"
"But it wasn't my fault, I tell you! I didn't know what Tondos was going to do. He fooled me. Then when I said I wasn't going through with it he tied me up and kept me without food for three days."
"Tied you up?" repeated Martin curiously.
"Yes! He tied me up, and then we went aground some place. I don't know where it was. But we got off, finally. These men don't know nothin' about a boat! They're all wrestlers or prize fighters! They all belong to a camp Tondos had on the lake. But they couldn't get fights, so they started this racket."
"Wait a minute," Martin said sharply. "You say you went aground some place, while you were tied up?"
"Yes, we did. And a fisherman helped us get off."
"So that was it," Terry muttered.
"What was it?"
"We had a report, through the police teletype, that a fisherman at the mouth of Passloe River helped get a boat off shore, and that there was a man tied up aboard. We thought it was Stevens."
"Stevens! No, we took him up the river, and—"
Jake stopped and bit his lip. Terry grabbed him by the arm.
"So you were with them when they kidnapped Stevens!"
"No! I wasn't! Only aboard this boat!"

"That's enough to get you twenty years, if you get caught—or rather when you get caught."
Jake was trembling violently. "Listen, fellows," he muttered, "I'll do anything—only don't let me go to jail!"
"What does Tondos want to get hold of Pennock Beach for?"
"He didn't tell me—I don't know! Honest I don't!"
"Where have they got Stevens hidden?"
"Up the river, in a small cove. There's a cabin there —I can't tell you any more! Tondos will kill me!"
"All right," Martin broke in. "Now let me tell you something for your own good, Lawson. You've mixed with us several times before. You know when we say a thing we mean it. And I tell you that if you get caught with this gang of kidnappers, you'll get twenty years in jail! Kidnapping is a pretty serious offense in this state!"
"Twenty years in jail!"
"Yes! Now why does Tondos want Pennock Beach?"
"I don't know, fellows—honest I don't know!"
"Well, we'll believe you. But you find out, and tell us."
"And if I do find out, and tell you?" There was eager appeal in Jake's voice. Plainly he was desperately frightened at the thought of jail.
"We'll do all we can for you, when it comes to a show down."
"You mean you'll try to get me off?"
"We'll tell the police what you told us—and, as a matter of fact, I think you're telling the truth about it. Crooked as you are, you wouldn't go in for kidnapping. You haven't got the nerve, in the first place."
"Then if I find out what you want to know, you'll do all you can to keep me from going to jail?"
"Yes, we will."
"All right then!"
He left them suddenly. Terry whispered to Martin:
"I think he'll come through, too. He's scared to death."
"Sure he is. If he really finds out, it'll help us a lot. Because then we may be able to—"
"Hey, you guys, the boss wants you in his cabin."
It was the small red-headed fellow. He didn't wait for them to reply, but turned on his heel.
"Might as well go down," Martin murmured.
In the cabin Tondos and Larkin were staring at a map. Tondos glanced up as the boys entered.
"Say, what do you know about this lake?" Tondos asked.
"Not much," Terry replied.
"Now look here," Tondos went on. "We're lost in this fog. I suppose you know that. It won't do you any good for us to stay lost. We want to get to a certain place, and we want to get there fast. Now I'll tell you what I'll do: we'll abandon the search for that houseboat, and if your friend gets ashore, all right."
"What about us?" Martin demanded.
"You won't be harmed. I guarantee that. All we wanted you fellows for was to establish contact with Armstrong. We want to take you to where Stevens is, and bring a paper he'll sign to Armstrong, his lawyer."
"What kind of a paper?"
"Just a lease for the whole of Pennock Beach for a month."
"But I don't see—" Terry began, when Tondos cut him short.
"That doesn't make any difference. You're not supposed to see. All we want you to do is to find the mouth of the Passloe River for us—if you can. Then we'll take you to Stevens. He'll give you a paper to take to Armstrong—and he'll sign it, all right. We'll see to that. Then you can go. We'll hold Stevens until the month is up, and then he can go. That's all. Simple, isn't it?"
"What's to prevent us from bringing the police where Stevens is and releasing him, as soon as we get back?" Martin questioned. He wanted to learn as much of their plans as possible.
"Because he won't be there after you leave."
"I see," Martin said slowly. "And you'll keep Stevens hidden until the month is up. But what the mischief do you want Pennock Beach for?"
"That's our business."
"And now you want us to help you find Passloe River."
"That's it."
Terry looked toward Martin, and gave a barely perceptible nod of his head.
"We'll do what we can," Martin said suddenly. "We don't know much about this lake, except what we've seen on a map. But we've done a lot of boating. Let s see the map you have there."
"It's no good," Tondos said disgustedly. "It doesn't tell anything. Here, see if you can make it out."
Martin took one glance at the chart, and smiled.
"Look, Terry," he said. "See what they've got here?"
"Why, it's a map of the air currents!"
"It sure is," Martin chuckled. "Where did you get this?" he asked Tondos. "This won't tell you anything about the lake I"
"It won't? Why, Larkin, you bought that map! What was the idea?"
"I saw it in a store," Larkin answered uneasily. "They told me it was a chart of the region around this lake. And it has a lot of curved lines on it, so I thought—"
"For the love of mud," Tondos groaned. "This certainly is the prize boner. Honestly, when I went into this thing with you bunch of pugs I thought you'd at least have the sense of a kid of five. But I see you haven't. Well——"
"Wait a second," Martin interrupted. "We may be able to figure out something by this. As I remember, there is a small mountain range that starts just about where the Passloe River comes in."
"I think you're right," Terry said. "I saw that on our map, on the houseboat."
"Well, where there are mountains the air sort of flows over a hill—look, like you see here," and he pointed. "I remember reading about that some place. This map is probably put out for aviators by the weather bureau. See these lines, making sort of hills, then coming down in a valley—which probably is the Passloe River—then climbing up again, on the other side?"
"Sure as shooting!" Tondos muttered.
"Well, that's where the river is. I'll take a bet on it. Now to figure out where we are ourselves, so we can get a bearing."
"From the way we've been going, I'd say we were about from five to ten miles past the middle of the lake, toward the east shore," Tondos said. "But the boat is all turned around. Can't tell which way we're pointing."
"You've got a compass, haven't you?" Martin demanded.
"Sure we've got a compass!"
"All right. Now say our position is here," and Martin pointed to the chart. "To reach the Passloe River, we'll have to go about north-west."
"Sure about that?"
"No, I'm not sure about it! But I think so."
"It's all we have to go on, anyhow," Tondos declared. "Larkin, tell that ninny of a helmsman to set his course north-west."
"O.K., boss!"
"I'll keep my word with you," Tondos said, facing the boys. "If we can only get to—"
There was a sudden lurch of the boat. Tondos, Terry and Martin grabbed the table to keep from being thrown off their feet.
"We've hit something!" Tondos yelled. "Not only does he gets us lost, but he plows into something! And we hit hard, too!"

CHAPTER XX The Concert

WARREN was sitting across the table from the man who had been left on the houseboat to guard him. A few moments before he had succeeded in cutting the houseboat loose from the launch that was towing it. The houseboat was still moving, but very slowly— just drifting.
Warren started to whistle loudly. He passed to the man across from him a knife and fork.
"Quite musical, ain't you?" his guard said sarcastically.
Warren nodded, and kept on whistling. He wanted to conceal as long as possible the fact that they were separated from the launch. Therein lay his chance to escape, and to give the alarm.
"Hey, cut it out!" the man snarled. "That's getting on my nerves. What's the idea?"
"Maybe you'd like me to sing," Warren said, and broke into:
"Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer true:
I'm half crazy, all for the love of you—"
His guard stared at him open-mouthed.
"It won't be a stylish marriage," Warren went on as loudly as he could. "I can't afford a carriage—but you'd look sweet—upon the seat—”
"Hey, are you cuckoo?"
"—of a bicycle built for two-o-o-o-o !"
"For the love of Pete! I think you're off your nut!"
"Didn't you like that? How about: East side, west side, all around the town, the girls play ring-around Rosie, London's bridge is falling down—"
"Wait a second, wait a second! That isn't it. You got it wrong. It goes: East side, west side, all around the town, the boys sing Rosie O'Grady, London bridge is falling down—"
"Is that it? Maybe you're right. Say, you've got quite a voice!"
"Sure, I used to sing in a quartette."
"No! Is that so? Say, let's try that song. What do you say?"
"All right. I'll take the bass; let's go: East side, west side—"
And there the two of them sat, singing for all they were worth, and keeping time by hammering on the table with their knives. The humor of the situation flashed over Warren, and he scarcely could control his voice. Here he was, captured by kidnappers, with one of them placed as a guard over him, and they were singing "The Sidewalks of New York!"
If Terry and Martin could only see him now!
They finished on a long chord.
"Boy, that was hot!" Warren exclaimed. "You sure can sing!" If he could keep him interested a little longer, keep him from finding out that they were adrift—
"Here's another," Warren said quickly. "But maybe you don't know this one: In the evening, by the moonlight—"
"Don't know it? Man, I was raised on that! Start again, in a lower key. All right: In the evening, by the moonlight, you can hear those darkies singing—"
And Warren came in: "In the evening, by the moonlight, you can hear those banjos ringing—"
"How the old folks would enjoy it, they would sit all night and listen—"
Then, both together: "As we sang, in the evening, by the mo-o-o-n-light!"
"Swell!" Warren cried. "Wish I had a voice like yours."
"I practice a lot," said his guard modestly.
"You must. Know any more?"
"Sure, plenty. Only it's getting dark in here. Got a light?"
"Yeah, the lamp. I'll light it in a second."
"Why not light it now?"
"Well—"
A look of suspicion passed over the man's face. He half arose from his chair.
"Say, what are you up to?" he demanded.
"Up to? Nothing!"
"You sure are! Say, there's something funny about this! I don't think we're moving! By golly, you got me to sing, and—"
He came toward Warren. The boy was ready for him. He pushed back his chair with a sudden motion, and as the man rushed in, Warren shot out his left. It caught the guard flush on the jaw. Without a sound he crumpled to the floor.
"I hated to do that," Warren muttered. "But it was the only way."
Leaving the man lying on the floor, he ran forward to where the lockers were located, and secured a length of rope. With this he bound the hands of his erstwhile guard. Then he managed to drag him to the living room and got him on the couch, after which he bound his feet.
In a moment or so the man opened his eyes and stared blankly up at Warren. The boy had lit the oil lamp in the room.
"What happened?" the man asked dazedly.
"You ran against something," Warren told him simply.
"Ran against something? Holy smoke, my jaw! Say, my hands are tied! What—" Then the whole thing came to him. He shook his head.
"Kid, you beat me," he muttered. "You certainly pack a sock."
"Sorry I had to do it," Warren said.
"Yeah, I'll bet you are! Listen, get me a drink of water, will you? My head feels woozy."
"Sure."
Warren complied, raising the man's head so that he could drink.
"Thanks," his guard—but no more!—murmured. "This'll teach me never to sing with strange men."
He said it so sincerely that Warren had to laugh. Then he looked out of the window and saw how foggy it was.
"I'm going to start the motor," Warren declared. "I don't know where the launch is. I cut the rope some time ago."
"How in thunderation did you do that?"
"While I was getting the knives and forks. Then I started to sing so you wouldn't notice."
"And I helped you," the man groaned.
"Well, it wasn't your fault," Warren laughed. "But I've got to move out of here as quick as I can. I want to put distance between this boat and your friends."
"I can understand that all right," the man said. "Boy, wait until Tondos gets hold of me! He'll never believe that story. He doesn't like singing. If I told him we were singing The Sidewalks of New York while you were pulling an escape, he'd probably cut my ears off!"
"I don't think you better tell him what you were doing," Warren said smiling. "Anyhow, if I have any luck, he won't be in a position to do anything to you."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm going back to shore and give the alarm—if the crooks on the launch don't catch me first. And with this fog, I don't think they will. It's a big lake."
"So you're going back to shore?" the man repeated.
"Yep."
"I see. There's only one difficulty there."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you can't see five feet ahead of you in this mist! Which way is the shore, buddy?"

CHAPTER XXI Anchored

ACCORDING to an eight-day timepiece that hung on the wall of the houseboat, it was ten o'clock. Outside fog and darkness enveloped the craft. Warren sat in a chair in the living room, staring at the man on the couch.
"Well, how about it?" Butch Clark, the one who was left to guard Warren, asked. "Are we going to drift around all night?"
"Can't say," Warren replied.
"Wish you'd loosen these ropes," Clark grumbled. "They bite."
"I told you if you gave me your word that you wouldn't interfere with me, in any way, I'd release you."
The man thought for a moment. Then he said:
"All right. I'll give you my word. No use me lying here trussed up all night."
"That's what I thought," Warren told him, and set about taking off the rope which bound Clark's hands and feet. He had faith that the man would keep his word, for although he was in a bad business, he certainly was not entirely without honor.
"That's better," Clark muttered, stretching. "You sure had me tied tight. I could hardly move."
"Couldn't help it," Warren told him. "I couldn't take any chances. You're a big man, and I didn't want you breaking loose and retaliating for that poke on the jaw."
"I wouldn't have, anyhow," Clark said. "I mean socked you back. Unless I couldn't have taken you any other way. I been in the ring for eight years, kid, and that was one of the sweetest punches I've ever seen—or felt. With your left, wasn't it?"
"Yeah."
"Good thing you didn't lead with your right, or you'd have been on that couch, instead of me. Well, it's finished, anyhow. What do you plan to do? Anchor here for the night?"
"I suppose that would be the wisest thing."
"Sure it would."
"Except that if the fog lifted during the night, and the launch happened to be in this vicinity, I'd just be out of luck."
"That's for you to figure out."
"Yep—and I've figured it. I'm going to take a chance and run. We've got a bell we can keep ringing, and we can travel slowly. I think the nearest shore is due west."
"You got a compass, then?"
"Sure. Right there, by the wheel. Now listen, Clark, I'm not asking you to do anything to help me get away, or to assist in your own arrest. But one of us has got to ring the bell. Even if wc stayed anchored, we'd have to have some sort of a warning signal to avoid being run down. Our lights won't show fifteen yards in this fog."
"So what?"
"So I want you to ring the bell, while I steer."
"Well—" he scratched his head. "I guess I could do that. If anything smacks us it won't be any fun for me, either."
"Right! Now I'm going to start the motor. You take the wheel for just a second or so."
"Which way will I steer?"
"Straight ahead. I'll set the course when I come back."
Warren disappeared toward the stern, and in a few moments the "chug-chug-chug" of the motor coughed out into the murky air. Then Warren took over the wheel from Clark, looked carefully at the compass, and set his course. He kept a sharp look-out for other boats, while Clark rang the bell every few minutes.
"Sure are moving slow," Clark grumbled.
"We have to. Anyhow, this boat won't make more than five or six miles an hour, at best."
"How far you figure we were towed?"
"Hard to say. If we moved at say twelve miles an hour, which is pretty fast, towing a boat like this—"
"Oh, the Traveler could do it. That's some ship."
"—then we should be a bit more than fifteen miles out in the lake. That is, if we were heading straight across the lake."
"Yeah, if."
"Weren't we?"
"Don't know."
"You mean you won't tell. All right, that's your privilege. I'll take for granted we were."
Except for the ringing of the warning bell, they traveled in silence for some time. Then, just as Warren was about to suggest they get something to eat, a sharp wail froze them into stillness.
Once it sounded, then trailed off into silence. The effect upon Clark was that of a man seeing a ghost. He turned pale, and his eyes protruded from his head.
"What's that!" he gasped, as soon as he could speak. "My gosh, what's that?"
Even to Warren, who had heard the sound before, there was something uncanny, unreal about it. Perhaps it was because of the fog, and the night. When the wail had occurred before, it had been broad daylight.
"I don't know what it is," Warren confessed. "I heard it before, too."
"But, man! It's on this boat!"
"I know it. Have a look, if you think you can find out what it is."
"But it sounded like—like—"
"What?"
"I don't know! You heard it before, you say?"
"Yep. You know, it may be air escaping from some place. I mean if there is an airtight compartment in the hold, maybe the water rising compresses the air, and it makes that wailing sound."
"Didn't sound like that to me," Clark said, shuddering. "Honest, if I was out here alone at night, and heard that, I'd go goofy. Honest!"
"It would be sort of bad," Warren admitted. Then he began to think. Harry Stevens, the son of the kidnapped man. This was once his boat. He spent a night on it, alone. Then he was frightened by something, and said he didn't want the boat any more. Perhaps—
"You mean to say you're going to stand there without finding out what that noise was?" Clark demanded.
"What else can we do? Have a look for it, I told you before!"
"Not me, brother!"
"Well I'm not going to, certainly. I don't think it will be repeated."
"You're a funny guy," Clark said slowly. "Me, now, I couldn't rest until I found out what that was."
"Then you'd have to go without sleep for a long time. I'm not going to rip up all the planks on this boat just to find out what that silly screech is."
"But—coming like that, in the night, with all this fog!"
"Yeah. I know. Where did you think it came from?"
"The stern, I thought."
"So did I. But we can't investigate that now. You better give that bell a couple of rings."
Shaking his head, Clark obeyed the suggestion. Suddenly he started.
"There it is again!" he yelled.
"No it isn't," Warren said sharply. "Listen!"
They heard the long, dismal hoot of a fog-horn, some distance away.
"That's another boat!" Warren exclaimed. "She's headed for shore, sure as shooting! We'll follow that sound!"
He steered in the direction he thought the sound had come from, and put on all power. Five minutes later they heard the moan again.
"It's going away from us," Warren declared. "It's getting fainter."
"Yeah, that's how I figure."
"But we're headed in the right direction, I think. We'll keep on this course."
For a long time they traveled through the fog, until the eyes of both were heavy with lack of sleep. Warren discovered there was a bit of water in the hold, and he started the bilge-pump, which soon cleared it out. Around three o'clock in the morning the fog appeared to thin a bit, and Warren thought he saw a light on the port side.
"That's land," he exclaimed. "The light is too stationary for a boat. We're in."
"You going to try to dock this boat?"
"Well, I don't know. If I do I suppose you'll take the opportunity to skip. And I may crash something, too. No, Clark, I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to get as close to shore as I can, and anchor. Remember, your promise is still in effect."
"Yeah, I know," Clark growled. "Don't rub it in."
"I just wanted to remind you. After I anchor, we can get some sleep. And in the morning—"
"What?"
"We'll go ashore, and have a little talk with the police!"

CHAPTER XXII There and Waiting

WHEN the crash came, Terry and Martin were bending over the map with Tondos in the cabin of the launch. Tondos's cry that they had hit something was superfluous. There could be only one reason for that terrific lurch, the sudden halting of the boat.
"We better get out of here—quick!" Terry exclaimed. "If this goes down, we don't want to be caught in the cabin!"
Tondos already had leaped for the deck, and the two boys followed. The big man was leaning over the rail, peering into the fog.
"What was it?" Martin asked him.
"How the mischief do I know?" he snapped. "Think I can see through this thick stuff?"
"Are we badly damaged?" Terry demanded.
"No. Not at all, as far as I can make out. Larkin!"
"Yes, boss?"
"What's the damage?"
"Nothin' much. We hit head on."
"What did we hit?"
"Don't know. Some other boat. A small one."
"And we're not damaged ? We can proceed?"
"Sure!"
"Then go ahead!"
"Wait!" Martin exclaimed, stepping forward. "Aren't you going to find out if the boat we hit needs assistance?"
Tondos looked at him carefully. His lips curled. "You hear any yelling, kid?"
"No, but—"
"Nevermind the buts. It's their hard luck for getting in our way. Tell him to go ahead, Larkin!"
"O.K., boss!"
"That's murder," Terry muttered. "It might have been a fisherman's boat, and maybe he was knocked unconscious and could be rescued!"
"Maybe."
"And you're not going to do anything about it?"
"Nope!"
"Well, you—"
"Steady, kid," Tondos said softly. "I've been pretty decent to you two so far. But don't force my hand. Take my advice, and pipe down."
"We'll pipe down now," Martin said determinedly, "but when we get loose, it'll be another story."
"All right. Have it your way."
"And if you think we'll help you find Passloe River, after that—"
"You don't need to. I've got the direction."
It was true. They had told him if he went northwest he would probably dock near the mouth of the river.
Turning their backs on Tondos, Terry and Martin descended into the cabin. They were once more under way.
"That's a dirty shame," Martin murmured. "The fellow we hit may be drowning this minute."
"We can't do anything about it," Terry said bitterly. "That guy Tondos is a pretty mean sort, for all his pretended education."
"He does seem a little better educated than the rest of these pugs," Martin declared. "He doesn't drop his 'g’s’ and he uses better English."
"But that doesn't excuse him for not stopping and seeing what we hit."
"No, of course it doesn't. We—"
They were entering the cabin door, and were bending over to avoid the somewhat low frame when Martin, who was in the rear, turned suddenly. Something had hit him in the neck.
"Something hit me. Not hard, like a thrown stick. Help me look around here—it must have fallen just inside the door!"
The two boys examined the floor carefully, and then Terry gave a cry. He held up a short stick. Tied to it was a note.
"Let's see—" Martin began, when Tondos boomed:
"Hey, you guys, what are you doing?"
"Nothing," Terry muttered. "Going to bed."
"That's a good idea. But your quarters are back in the after cabin. Go ahead in there."
They obeyed, and Tondos gazed at them. Terry held his right hand in his pocket. The fingers were clasped about the note.
Suddenly Tondos noticed this. "What you got in there, a gun?" he questioned, half facetiously.
"No," Terry replied, and withdrew his hand. As he did so the tip edge of the paper showed.
But Martin was watching him as carefully as was Tondos. Pretending that the boat was a bit unsteady, he stumbled forward, between Tondos and Terry. In this way he hid the paper from the eyes of the kidnapper.
"What's the matter—you dizzy?" Tondos snapped out.
"A little, I guess—"
"Well, hit the hay. And don't try any funny business, or you'll wish you hadn't. I'm going to lock this door, and there'll be a couple of husky men in the next room. As soon as we reach the place we're aiming for, you'll know it. Goodnight, goofs."
They didn't reply to this, nor was a reply expected. Tondos slammed the door and turned the key in the lock.
"Let's see the note," Martin said eagerly.
Carefully Terry untied it, and opened it. They read:
"I found out exactly where they've got Stevens. It's up the Passloe River, a place called Larsen's Cove. Ten miles from Riverton. Couldn't find out about the beach yet. Tear this note up and throw it through a port hole! Stevens is in a cabin at the cove."
There was no signature, but it was obvious that the note was from Jake.
"He weakened," Terry said, grinning. "I thought he couldn't stand that talk about twenty years in jail."
"He only told us this so we'd help him when they get caught," Martin added. "Much as I know he deserves some time in a cell, I guess we've got to keep our promise. He may find out later why Tondos wants the beach."
"Yep. Well, now we know just where Stevens is hidden! But what good will that do us, unless we can escape?"
"We'll have to figure that out later," Martin replied.
"I suppose it's useless to try to get off this launch?"
"Now it is. Even if we managed to get through one of those port holes, we'd never make shore."
"That's a fact. Wawa might, but we couldn't. I wonder where he is now? Maybe he managed to reach shore!"
"I sure hope so."
The fog horn still sounded its mournful note at regular intervals, and the Traveler moved through the water, over which the fog hung heavily. Terry and Martin had no thoughts of sleep. They were worried about Warren, and sat on the sides of the bunks, talking.
"We sure got into trouble when we let those fake cops on the houseboat," Terry remarked sadly.
"What else could we do? They had us outnumbered four or five to one."
"Yeah, but—"
He shook his head. Things looked pretty bad, at that moment.
The time passed slowly. Once Terry thought he heard a bell ringing, very faintly, and sprang to the port hole.
"Did you hear that?" he asked excitedly.
"What?"
"That bell! We've got a bell on the houseboat! Listen!"
They strained their ears, but heard nothing. Terry was not sure he had heard the bell in the first place, so faint was it.
"Do you suppose it's possible that the houseboat heard our foghorn, and tried to follow us?" Terry asked.
"It's possible. But if Warren is steering, he wouldn't do that. He'd be more likely to go the other way."
"But he wouldn't know it was the horn on this boat."
"That's a fact. Gosh, I don't know what to think! Anyhow, the Watermar II couldn't follow us very long. We're traveling too fast."
Another hour passed, and another. Terry and Martin were getting sleepy, but hesitated to give way to their weariness.
"If our chance comes, we've got to take it fast," Terry murmured, and Martin nodded in agreement.
When Martin looked out of the port hole again, he announced that the fog appeared to be lifting. He watched the water for some minutes, and then cried:
"Say, I see a light!"
Terry looked over his shoulder. "You're right," he declared. "And it looks like a light on shore."
The door opened. Tondos stood before them.
"Out on deck, you two," he ordered shortly.
They followed him. Then they saw that the thin shore line was marked by a few dim lights in the distance.
"We got here," Tondos said grimly. "There's the mouth of the Passloe River. And—by golly—Larkin!
Larkin!"
"What, boss?"
"Look! There's the houseboat, anchored!"
Terry and Martin followed his pointing finger. To their dismay they saw that he was right. The Watermar II, as if awaiting the meeting, lay at anchor ahead of them.

CHAPTER XXIII The Story Tondos Told

THE feelings of Martin and Terry as they saw the Watermar II lying helpless a short distance away were those of a man who sees his last hope vanish. While Warren was out of the hands of Tondos, there was always a chance that he might have reached the shore, and given the alarm. Now this chance disappeared.
"Right here waiting for me," Tondos kept repeating. "What a pal! What a pal!"
Larkin stood at his elbow. To him Tondos muttered a few words, and then went to the searchlight. The next moment a white beam cut through the night and brought out the houseboat as clearly as an image on the silversheet.
The launch moved quickly ahead. Now it was within a few yards of the houseboat. The fog now was no more than a faint suggestion of vapor. The launch slowed, and barely drifted toward the houseboat.
"It looks as though our boat is deserted," Terry said in a low tone.
"Maybe, after all, Warren—" Martin began, when in the white glare of the searchlight Warren stepped out upon the ledge between the outer edge of the boat and the cabin.
"Wawa!" Terry yelled suddenly. "Look out!"
A man seized Terry from behind, and a heavy hand was pressed over his mouth. Martin, in the grasp of another of the crew, was also effectively silenced.
But Terry's cry had reached Warren, and he understood, bewildered as he was by being awakened so suddenly.
"O. K., Terry!" Warren shouted. "O. K.!"
Then he dove overboard.
"Get him, get him!" Tondos roared. "Larkin, get that guy!"
The searchlight played its finger of light upon the water, and picked up the swimming boy. Warren was striking out with strong strokes toward the shore, about a quarter of a mile away.
"After him, Larkin!" Tondos roared again, and the man, kicking off the heavy slippers he wore on the boat and divesting himself of coat and trousers, plunged in. Larkin was a fine swimmer. Terry and Martin were released now, but the men who had grabbed them stood ready to seize them again should they try anything violent. All they could do was to watch Larkin race after Warren, and he seemed to be gaining.
"Follow 'em with the launch!" Tondos yelled.
"What are you doing, standing still here? Go after 'em!"
"It's hopeless," Terry moaned. "If Larkin doesn't catch him, Tondos will. He might as well give up now."
"Warren doesn't give up," Martin said grimly.
It was all too apparent, however, that the race could not last much longer. Larkin, little by little, was creeping up, for he was dressed simply in shorts, and Warren was burdened by sneakers and trousers. Now the launch moved ahead, and almost before Terry and Martin could realize it they were over Warren, who ceased swimming and gazed up at them, panting.
"Might as well take it, Wawa," Terry called. "They're too many for us. Golly, we thought you might have gotten to shore."
"I—should have," Warren panted. "But—"
"Are you going to grab that rope, or will we have to tie it around you?" Tondos shouted to Warren.
Two men were dangling a rope within Warren's reach. Behind the boy Larkin was treading water. Warren realized that if he refused to seize the rope and be pulled up on deck, Tondos could send two more men into the water and they would tie the rope about him. This would be none too pleasant.
"All right—I'll come," Warren replied. He held the rope tightly and was soon on deck. Then Larkin was brought up.
"Are you all right, Wawa?" Martin said anxiously, placing a hand on his shoulder.
"Sure," Warren replied, forcing a grin. "Except that I want the prize I won for being a bonehead. Last night I—”
"Never mind, never mind," Tondos growled. "This isn't a family reunion. Hey, get on over to the houseboat," he ordered, and the launch was swung around. In a few moments Butch Clark stood before Tondos. The big man gazed at him and then began to laugh.
"I'm sorry, boss," Clark said sheepishly. "He fooled me. I was in the back, waiting for him to get the knives and forks. He cut the rope. Then we started to sing—"
Clark clapped a hand over his mouth. He hadn't meant to say that.
"You what?" Tondos demanded.
"Nothing, boss."
"Go on, spit it out! You started to sing! What do you mean?"
"Well," said Clark uneasily, "he came back and began a few songs. I kind of joined in. You know I used to be pretty good, boss. So we sang for a while, and I didn't notice—"
"You mean to stand there and tell me that you and the man you were left to guard sang songs while we were going farther away from the houseboat every minute?"
"Well, you see—"
Tondos stepped close to Clark. Terry thought he was going to hit him. Then, suddenly, he burst into roaring laughter.
"Man, you sure are a pip," he gasped, wiping his eyes. "If I read that some place I wouldn't believe it. I haven't got the heart to sock you. You've given me the first real laugh I've had in a week of Sundays. Get below, Butch, and tie yourself in one of the bunks so you won't fall out! I'll send a nurse down a little later!"
Still laughing, he turned to Warren. The smile disappeared.
"You're pretty clever," he said, and his eyes narrowed. "I still owe you something for what you did to me on the train, but we'll forget that for the time being."
"Can't he get some dry clothes?" Martin demanded.
"Yeah. Might as well. Won't do me any good if you get pneumonia. One of you guys fix him up!" he called to two crew members nearby.
Warren obeyed a gesture of one of the men, and followed him to the cabin. Terry and Martin were close behind.
"Jake Lawson is on board," Terry said in a low voice to Warren.
"He is!" the boy said excitedly. "So he's mixed up in this too!"
"Yep. But he's scared out of his wits, and we got him to tell us where Stevens is hidden!"
"Hey, cut out that whisperin'!" the man ahead of them snapped.
But Warren had heard, and his eyes lit up. He asked no questions until he had gotten into some dry things —the clothes, belonging to one of the heavier crew members, hanging on him grotesquely.
Finally the three of them were left alone. Dawn was breaking in the east. Sitting on the sides of the bunks, Warren exchanged stories with Terry and Martin. When they had finished, Warren shook his head despondently.
"Doesn't look as though it would do us any good to know where Stevens is," he sighed. "Jimmy, when I think of the chance I missed—I could have gotten on shore last night, even if I took a chance of wrecking the houseboat! Now they've got us, and the houseboat too!"
"Well, no use crying over spilled milk," Martin told him. "We'll just have to take it, that's all."
"We haven't moved yet," Terry broke in, looking out of the port hole. "We're still tied up to the houseboat."
"That's funny," Martin said. "I'd have thought Tondos would start right up the river, to where he's got Stevens."
"Anyhow, we better get a little sleep while we can," Martin declared. "I'll stretch out on the floor, on one of these blankets." Before they could object to this procedure, he was wrapped in a heavy blanket-—for it got cold at dawn—and taking a pillow from a bunk he lay on the floor and closed his eyes.
"We might as well take the bunks, then," Terry said.
"Hop in."
In a few minutes all three were asleep. They had had a fatiguing twenty-four hours, both mentally and physically. Now they slept soundly, storing up strength for what was certain to be a definite need.
It was nearly noon when they were awakened by the door opening. Tondos was there, in a blue uniform, and back of him was another man, a heavy-set fellow also in uniform.
"There they are," Tondos said.
The three boys peered at him with eyes heavy from sleep.
"Look pretty young to me," the man back of Tondos said.
"Yeah. But you never can tell. Some of the worst are the youngest."
"Goin' to take 'em away with you?"
"Sure! Unless they escape again. But I don't think they will, this time. We'll take good care of that."
"Say, what's this all about?" Martin asked loudly. He saw a badge shining on the coat of the man with Tondos. "Are you an officer?" He continued. "A real officer?"
"I sure am, buddy," the man replied. "Chief of police of Riverton. And we'll see that you kidnappers don't pull any of your tricks around here, let me tell you!"

CHAPTER XXIV A Bold Plot

LIKE a bucket of cold water thrown over a drowsy man, this declaration flung the three boys into instant wakefulness. They sprang to their feet and Terry cried:
"That man talking to you there—the man on this boat—are kidnappers! They took Mr. Stevens—"
"Pipe down," Tondos growled. He turned to the officer. "I thought they'd try that stunt, chief—they seemed crazy enough to try anything. How do you ever expect to get away with that stuff?" he demanded, swinging about toward Terry.
"Officer, put him under arrest!" Terry exclaimed hotly. "They fooled us into thinking they were policemen, and—"
"Told you they were crazy," Tondos said to the police chief.
"You telephone Mr. Sherman, at Bursefield" Martin burst out. "He’ll tell you who we are!"
"I guess that won't be necessary," the chief drawled. "Lieutenant Tondos told me all about you."
"Lieutenant Tondos!" Warren repeated in amazement.
"Certainly. He came to headquarters early today, to report his capture. But I must say you three look pretty young to try the dangerous game of kidnapping."
"We're not kidnappers!" Terry almost yelled. "Call up Mr. Sherman—call up the Bursefield police! They'll tell you! Ask Tondos for his badge—he hasn't got one!"
"Never knew military authorities had badges," the police chief chuckled. "Now you just keep quiet, young feller, and go back with the lieutenant nicely, and maybe the judge will be easy on you because of your youth. That's the trouble in America today—most of the criminals are mere kids. I'd like our civic board to come here and see you, so they'd realize how necessary it is to give children proper training." He puffed out proudly, like a pouter pigeon. This man considered himself not only a policeman but a psychologist,
"Listen!" Martin said earnestly. "We're telling you the truth, chief. Tondos and his gang of thugs are the real kidnappers. We were out looking for 'em when they fooled us by pretending to be officers of the law. Evidently they're trying to fool you the same way."
"Think I'm easy to fool, do you?" the chief said with a smirk.
"You are if you believe Tondos!" Warren exclaimed.
It was the wrong thing to say. The chief immediately felt that he had been insulted, that his intelligence had been questioned. His face got red and his eyes blazed.
"You're pretty fresh, for a prisoner!" he cried. "If you were my prisoner I'd take a work-out on you! Lieutenant, do you want any of my men to help guard these three?"
"No, I guess we can manage," Tondos replied, casting a triumphant glance toward the boys. "We're going up the river a ways, sometime today, to try to get a fourth member of the gang. Then we'll come back, and bring 'em in. Will it be all right to leave the houseboat here for a while?"
"Sure, as long as you want!"
"Fine! We can pick it up later. Pretty clever dodge for them to get a houseboat, wasn't it?" "Certainly was!"
"Chief," Terry pleaded, "you've got to believe us! They'll take us up the river where they've got Stevens, and bring him and us back—then hide Stevens someplace else, after he signs a paper agreeing to rent them Pennock Beach for a month!"
"Sounds like a good plot for a movie," the police officer said, grinning at Tondos.
"Yeah. They sure can think up the greatest things."
"Well, I'd better get back. I'll send out the word through the teletype that the kidnappers have been captured. I suppose you won't have any trouble finding Stevens?"
"Oh, no, we won't have any trouble. They told us where he was."
"Good. Then I can send out the message that he'll be rescued soon. That'll be good news for his folks."
"You say you'll send it out on the teletype?" Tondos asked curiously.
"That's right. We got the latest system here. You see we're at the mouth of the Passloe River, and in sort of a stra—stra—strategic point, as you might say. So we got a receiving and sending apparatus. It works like a typewriter. All you have to do is to sit down and tap out your message, and it's received immediately at all the stations connected by the system. Wonderful thing."
"Yeah, it is," Tondos said, and there was a note of uneasiness in his voice which did not escape the boys. "But don't you think you'd better wait until we really release Stevens? You know there's another member of the gang we're after. We don't want him to get away."
Although the chief, of course, did not know it, this fourth member was to be Stevens himself. Then, when Tondos came back down the river, he could tell the chief that Stevens was the other kidnapper. If the chief believed the original story, Tondos thought he would have no trouble convincing him of the truth of the additional fabrication.
"Well, just as you say," the chief said smoothly. "If you want me to wait, I will. But I think I ought to send in some sort of a report."
"Do me a favor, and wait until tomorrow," Tondos said. "You see I don't want to have anything go wrong at the last moment. This'll mean a big thing for me— a captaincy, at least."
Warren could contain himself no longer.
"Can't you see he's lying?" he shouted. "He's no officer, either in the army or any place else! He's a kidnapper! Telephone Bursefield—let me put the call through—"
"So-o-o-o, that's your little plan," the chief said cynically. "I thought you'd finally get around to it. Call up one of your pals, and have him arrange for your escape! So that's it! All right, lieutenant, I'll do as you say. I won't send out the message until tomorrow."
"It'll be too late then!" Terry cried. "He'll be gone, and you'll lose the credit for capturing the kidnappers!"
"Sergeant Larkin!" Tondos called suddenly. "Yes, sir." Larkin, to the astonishment of the boys, saluted. Evidently all this was plotted out beforehand. "Guard these prisoners," Tondos said sternly.
"Don't let them leave the cabin. See that they have food and water. I'm holding you responsible."
"Yes, sir," and Larkin saluted again.
"All right, chief, let's go up," Tondos said. "I have something I'd like you to try. A little present from some of the boys."
"Fine!" the chief said, smacking his lips. "Let's go!"
The door clicked shut behind them. Clicked, and was locked. The boys were once more prisoners, this time without even the law to appeal to, for the law believed them to be kidnappers!
Terry looked blankly at the other two. "It doesn't seem possible," he said in a dead voice. "I can't believe it."
"Neither can I—but it's so just the same!" Martin exclaimed. "Tondos has convinced that dumb police chief that we're the kidnappers, and he taking us to jail! It's one of those things that couldn't happen— but did!"
"I can't understand how any police officer, in his right mind, would accept a story like the one Tondos must have told the police chief," Warren declared, shaking his head. "I simply can't understand it. You'd think at least he'd try to verify it!"
"Those things are funny," Martin said. "One of the biggest bank robberies ever pulled was committed by two men who walked into the bank in the uniforms of armored car guards, asked for the money for a certain firm, and were handed it. Then they walked out and drove away. That's what Tondos did, practically. Instead of waiting for a police investigation, he went up to headquarters and told the chief he had captured three of the kidnappers."
"And the chief believed him," Terry said disgustedly.
"Yep! And tomorrow, or maybe tonight, we'll be taken up the river to where Stevens is, brought back again, and released somewhere along the shoreline, while Tondos takes Stevens to a new hiding place!"
"What a fizzle this turned out to be," Warren sighed. "Mr. Sherman trusts us—he has faith in us. And we let ourselves be taken like a bunch of kindergarten kids!"
Martin clenched his fists. "We've got to get out of this somehow," he said. "We've got to."
"How?" Terry demanded.
"I don't know. Tonight, maybe. We've got to get to shore and go to where Stevens is. Only ten miles up the river—"
"It might as well be ten thousand," Terry broke in.
"Maybe. But we've got to get a break sometime— we'll watch every possible chance—and if we can, tonight, when Tondos opens this door, we'll rush him!"
"And have not only the crew of this boat on our necks, but the police as well!" Warren pointed out.
"Yet it may be a chance," Terry said slowly.
"I guess we're all willing to risk it," Martin said grimly. "Tomorrow will be too late. What we do, we've got to do soon!"

CHAPTER XXV Unexpected Help

NINE o'clock. The darkness was now complete, there was no moon. Earlier the boys had received supper, passed to them through the half-opened door of their cabin by a man who had three others at his back. Attempt at escape then would have been worse than useless.
It was quiet on the launch. Most of the men were ashore. But the door of the cabin was heavy, and could not be broken down without great noise, which would arouse not only the one or two men on the launch but probably those on shore as well.
Ten o'clock. Martin was pacing up and down the narrow cabin. The others sat quietly, but within was turmoil. Every hour made their chance for escape that much less.
"I guess it's all up," Martin said finally. "We—"
Outside the door they heard a strange sound. It was like a dull thud, then a soft groan.
"Someone was hit!" Warren gasped.
The knob of the door turned slowly. There was a click as the portal was unlocked, and before them stood the strange, unkempt man they had seen at Plantagnet —the man who had run, screaming, when the weird noise came from the houseboat.
"What—what—" Martin faltered.
The man waved a hand. His eyes seemed perfectly sane, but his mouth worked nervously.
“I'm Lewisson," the man declared. "My name is Lewisson."
He said it in a casual tone, as though he had met them under ordinary circumstances, and was simply introducing himself.
"Lewisson!" Terry repeated. The name was familiar. Lewisson—the man who originally had built the houseboat—then disappeared—
"You want to get out of here, don't you?" Lewisson asked pleasantly.
"Yes—we sure do!" Martin cried.
"Thought so. I get fine ideas at times. Other times I don't get such fine ideas. See, here was one of my ideas."
He stood aside. The boys looked through the open door. On the floor was a man, unconscious.
"I hit him with this," Lewisson said calmly, showing them a short piece of pipe inside a rubber hose. "He's not dead. But he won't bother us."
This thing had happened so suddenly and unexpectedly that the boys could scarcely credit it. They were free to go. Here was their chance!
"Come on!" Terry whispered. "How did you get on board—have you got a boat?"
"I took a rowboat," Lewisson told them in that same flat tone. "That was another good idea. We can go to shore in that. But we won't land right at the dock, do you think?"
Without stopping to answer him, Martin edged carefully out of the cabin. The others followed.
"You needn't be afraid of being heard," Lewisson declared. "There was only that one man on the boat. The rest are in town. They're having a good time."
The rowboat was alongside the launch. Quickly Terry and the others dropped into it.
"I'll row," Lewisson told them, "I like to row. It makes me feel good."
He took the oars and they were moving smoothly toward the shore. In a few moments they reached it.
"I'll leave the boat here, I guess," Lewisson said in a matter of fact voice. "I didn't want to steal it. I just borrowed it."
"How did you know we were on the launch?" Martin asked curiously.
"I saw the houseboat. It was my houseboat. But it scares me, now. If you were on the houseboat I wouldn't have come aboard. I don't like it. It can talk, you know. Yes. It can talk. Sometime you'll find out. But I didn't mind going on the other boat. I'll come with you, where ever you want to go."
"We want to get up to Larsen's Cove, up the river," Terry said. "And we want to go in the houseboat."
"In the houseboat?" Lewisson repeated.
"Yes."
"Well—maybe it won't talk if you're with me. I'll go with you. If you promise not to let the houseboat talk."
"He means that strange noise," Warren said to Martin in a whisper. Terry nodded. They had to treat Lewisson carefully. His mental condition was obvious.
"It won't talk," Terry promised.
"We've got to do something first," Martin said suddenly. "We've got to get word to Mr. Sherman, and to the police at Bursefield."
"How can we do that—by telephone?" Warren asked.
"A better way—by teletype."
"Teletype?"
"Yes. There's one at the police station. If we can get our hands on it we can spread the alarm, in spite of what that silly chief of police believes. Then we can start up the river, and rescue Stevens."
"It's fine up the river," Lewison pronounced. "But there's another way to Larsen's Cove. I've lived there. I know. I've got a cabin there."
"You've got a cabin at Larsen's Cove?" Martin asked in surprise. They were standing on the shore in the darkness, about a quarter of a mile from the main docks.
"Yes, of course I have. That's where I used to get some of my best ideas. You don't know what fine ideas I have there! But I haven't been there in some time. You know why?"
"Why?" Terry questioned, looking at him closely.
"Because someone else is in it. I found that out. There's a man in it, and he's guarded by two other men."
"In your cabin?" Martin persisted.
"Yes. In my cabin. But they don't know anything about that cabin. It's a wonderful place. In a room underground I've got a marvelous invention. It lights up tubes on the roof—red and green and purple lights."
"Don't start him on that," Warren whispered. "His mind is wandering. We've got to see what we can do about getting to the police station and sending out the alarm."
"They won't let us in—they'll capture us, and bring us back to the launch!" Terry objected.
"No they won't—if we have to fight the police, we'll do it! This is no time to respect the law, when the law thinks we're kidnappers and is letting the real kidnappers go free!"
"You mean—" Terry began, and Warren nodded.
"We've got to get to that teletype machine," he insisted, "no matter how we do it! Come on, let's go!"
They started back, and headed toward the town. Lewisson was saying:
"It's a very wonderful cabin. I've got tubes on the roof. I can spell out things—anything I want. I control the lights from the underground room. I can—"
"Yes, yes," Martin said soothingly. "Now you come with us. We're going to send a message. But you'll have to help us, by doing exactly as we say. Will you do that?"
"Of course I will."
They were walking rapidly down the road which led to the town. When they neared it Martin said:
"We'll have to separate a little. If they see us all together they may suspect something. I'll go ahead with Mr. Lewisson. You two follow behind, but not too close."
"How are we going to get in the station house?" Warren asked.
"We'll have to see what it's like first."
They soon saw. It was a small brick structure, fortunately not in the center of the town, but in rather a quiet street. As they came closer they saw that the side windows were open, for the night was warm.
"We'll sneak around this side," Martin suggested, and motioned to Terry and Warren to follow more closely. Lewisson walked along calmly, as though he were out for a stroll.
Gazing through one of the windows, they saw a man at the desk in front. In another room, back of this, three others were playing cards. And in the distant third room, which had been built as an addition to the station, and therefore had a separate entrance, was what they sought—the teletype machines. Only one man sat there, reading a magazine.
"What are we going to do about him?" Terry said in a low voice.
"You don't like that man—you want him not to bother you?" Lewisson demanded suddenly.
"That's right, but—" Martin began, when Lewisson strode deliberately to the door and entered.
"My name is Lewisson," he told the startled operator. The boys were watching through the window. It was too late now to stop Lewisson. "And I want to see the chief of police."
"The chief is out," the man said, lowering his magazine and staring at Lewisson in surprise.
"Out? Then who is that there, behind you?" Lewisson asked.
The officer turned. As he did so Lewisson took the short length of padded pipe out of his pocket and struck. The man fell without a sound, unconscious but not seriously injured. He was knocked out as is a boxer.
"Come in," Lewisson said pleasantly, going to the door. "He won't bother you now. I get fine ideas, all right."
"My golly," Terry gasped. "Did you see that!"
"I hope he isn't hurt badly," Martin said anxiously. He bent over him. "No, he's just stunned," he declared. "He's breathing all right."
"Let's get that message off," Warren suggested. "Someone may come in any minute!"
The two machines, one for sending and the other for receiving, were against the wall. There was no secret about working them. For sending, a small bar, easily located, was depressed, and this notified the other stations on the system that a message was about to come through.
Martin sat down at the machine. It was as simple as working a typewriter.
"This message," he typed out, "Is coming from Hazzard, Finn and Blondel, who left Bursefield in a houseboat. Correspond immediately with Sherman, who is in the Stevens house at Bursefield, for verification.
"We were captured by the kidnappers of Stevens. The police at Riverton do not believe our story. They think we are the kidnappers. Stevens is hidden in a cabin at Larsen's Cove, ten miles up the Passloe River from Riverton. We are going there now. Send aid there immediately. Please acknowledge this message."
Then he said to Terry:
"Watch that other machine for the answer!'
It came almost immediately: "Message received. Do not understand, but will follow instructions. This is state police headquarters at Fardale. Will correspond with Sherman."
"All the other stations with receiving apparatus got our message, but I guess the sending set is only at Fardale," Martin declared excitedly. "Now we can—"
"That man is coming to!" Lewisson interrupted. "Shall I tap him again?"
"No—let's get out of here!" Warren said. "We've sent the message—now we've got to get to Larsen's Cove!"

CHAPTER XXVI Up the Creek

THEY hurried from the small building which housed the teletype machines, and none too soon, for as they turned the corner they saw the man Lewisson had struck stagger to the door and yell for the other officers.
"Boy!" Terry gasped. "That was close! I never expected to have to run from cops!"
"Me either," Warren agreed. "It's funny to have the law on the side of the kidnappers. Now what?"
They slowed down a bit. Some distance from the police station, they found themselves in a deserted part of the town, on a street which evidently led to the shore of the lake.
"We've got to get to Larsen's Cove," Terry declared. "Maybe we can sneak our houseboat away, and get a start on them."
"Beautiful tubes of light on the roof," Lewisson murmured.
"Huh?" Martin grunted, then realized that the man was talking to himself. "Come on, Mr. Lewisson," he said coaxingly, "you can show us the way to that cabin of yours—you know, in Larsen's Cove."
"My cabin—yes, it's a wonderful cabin!"
"Will you go with us, up the river in the houseboat?"
"The houseboat? It will talk to me again!"
"No it won't—not while we're there!"
"You promise?"
"Yes, we promise!"
"Then I'll go. But up the river—yes, the river is nice, but I know a shorter way—it's a shallow stream, very pretty—it has willows on the banks—and the river curves, and twists, and the stream goes right straight to Larsen's Cove—right to my wonderful cabin!"
"A stream!" Martin repeated. "What stream?"
"Why, my stream! I found it. You see, most people go up the river. It runs by my cabin—but not many know my cabin is there. And the other stream, it's a sort of creek, goes by my cabin, too—right back of it!"
"It does?" Terry exclaimed excitedly. "And it's shorter than the river—it won't take so long to get there?"
"Yes, it's very much shorter."
"Then we can go that way! Where does the creek start?"
"A mile below here. Not near the river. That's why people don't go that way. It seems to them that they would be going in the wrong direction, but they wouldn't be."
Lewisson appeared to be quite sane now. Martin and the others thought that, with proper treatment and rest, he could regain his normal mental powers—and they determined, if ever they got out of this, that he would obtain that treatment.
"Then let's see what we can do about getting the houseboat away," Martin said. "It's tied to the launch, but ropes can be cut—as you found out, Wawa. If the men haven't come back to the launch yet—"
"I can fix them, even if they have," Lewisson said casually. He took the padded pipe from his pocket and gazed at it fondly. "My pal," he said.
"I think you had better put that away for a while," Terry said nervously. "You may hurt someone seriously. Come on, let's get going!"
They strode rapidly toward the lake, refraining from running because they did not wish to attract attention. There were very few persons on the streets at this hour, but the boys didn't want to take any chances when success seemed so near.
Now they were at the lake's edge, and one look beyond told them the story of what the kidnappers had done.
The launch was gone. The houseboat, unanchored, was drifting out farther from shore.
"They got away!" Martin cried. "They're on their way up the river now, to the cabin where they've got Stevens! And if they get there before we do, we're finished!"
"The houseboat—we've got to get aboard!" Terry exclaimed. "The rowboat will take us there! Let's run!"
They sped along the beach to where they had left the rowboat. Lewisson, with his long legs, was in the lead.
"This is fun," he panted. "This is a lot of fun!"
But it was more than fun to the three boys. They had a great deal to accomplish, and not much time to accomplish it in.
Lewisson took up the oars once more, and with powerful strokes sent the small craft toward the houseboat. When he pulled alongside he seemed to be trembling a bit.
"Boy, it's good to be back home!" Warren cried, purposely loud, so that Lewisson would be reassured. "Good old Watermar II!"
"Watermar? The Refuge, you mean—The Refuge! I called it that because I hoped it would be my refuge —my refuge from worry, and from ruin! But it wasn't —it—"
"Now, take it easy," Martin soothed. "This is our boat now, and it's called the Watermar II. So you have nothing to worry about. Just come aboard and we'll light the lamps, and then you can show us where the creek is. Then we'll rescue Mr. Stevens. Don't you know Mr. Stevens? He bought this boat from you."
"Mr. Stevens? No—no—I don't think I do—"
"Well, never mind. Come on, get aboard. We'll let the rowboat drift back. They can pick it up tomorrow."
Hesitantly, Lewisson climbed aboard the houseboat. He appeared to be listening for something. But all was quiet, and in a few moments he became calmer and more assured.
Martin started the motor. It took several minutes, for it was cold. Then, following Lewisson's directions, they turned back down the lake in the direction away from the river.
"This doesn't look right to me," Warren whispered to Terry. "But I guess we must trust him. It's the only chance we've got. If the river winds as he says it does, it may take the launch two or three hours to reach the cabin. If we can do it in one, we win!"
"In there—in there!" Lewisson said suddenly, pointing to the right. Terry, who was at the wheel, could see nothing but the indistinct shore line, but he obeyed the gesture. When he came closer he saw that a stream actually did come in at that point. It was fairly wide, too, but looked quite shallow.
"There may be a sand bar—" Lewisson began, then stopped. He listened intently. There was a slight scraping noise, the motor appeared to be churning through something thick—and then they were clear, and moving slowly up the creek, the banks of which were lined with low-bent willow trees.
"Now pretty soon you'll see the cabin—my wonderful cabin!" Lewisson chuckled. "I'll show you tubes of light, and all sorts of marvelous things I've thought of!"
"He's off again," murmured Terry. "Sometimes he seems perfectly sane, and then again he starts that stuff about lights!"
"If only he's right about where this stream goes," Warren replied. "It doesn't seem to go anywhere, in my opinion!"
There was nothing to do but proceed, through the dark path of the creek, through the gloomy lane of the willows. Overhead stars shone, and now the moon was coming up, almost full. In an hour the silvery light would paint the forest and the stream.
Here the creek curved. Slowly, slowly, the houseboat followed the bend. Finally Lewisson grabbed Terry's arm.
"There it is," he said quietly. "There's my cabin."

CHAPTER XXVII Unwelcome Visitors

IMMEDIATELY Terry stopped the motor, and swung the wheel to the right. Silently they floated toward the bank.
Through the trees they could sec a single light. It was a beacon which they must gain.
"My cabin," Lewisson muttered. "They took it from me."
"We'll get it back," Martin promised. "Is it really near the river?"
"Listen!" Lewisson held up his hand. Faintly they could hear the sound of murmuring water. "That's the river. Hear it?"
They were close to the shore now. Martin, painter in hand, leaped to the land.
"Take it easy," Warren cautioned. "They may have a guard around here."
"There are two men," Lewisson told them. "Two men, and a third."
"That's Stevens," Terry said.
Martin tied the rope to a tree, and the others jumped ashore.
"Now!" Warren exclaimed, and took a deep breath. "We've got to work fast. We'll have to liberate Stevens, and get him to the houseboat before the launch reaches here!"
"Unless the launch is already here," Martin said. "Over in the river."
They didn't like to think about that. If Tondos had, after all, beaten them to the cabin, their mission was a failure.
As quietly as they could, they went through the woods toward the cabin. The moon was higher now, and they could see quite clearly. Of a sudden they came in sight of the river, and saw that it was broad and apparently deep. It did not seem to be moving fast— except right at the shoreline. The center appeared to be as still as a lake.
"Walk carefully—avoid stepping on small sticks," Martin advised.
Lewisson was leading the way. Warren, behind him, saw him take the padded pipe from his pocket and hold it in his right hand.
They were within a few rods of the cabin. The light came from a side window, and, cautiously, Warren crept toward the casement and peered in.
"Stevens!" he whispered. "He's there—lying on a couch! The two guards are playing cards!"
"Let me go in," Lewisson was muttering. "Let me go in!"
"Not yet!" Martin told him. "We'll have to surprise them—Terry, you and I can break through this screen and go in the window—Warren, you and Mr. Lewisson can go in the door. Careful, now!"
As Martin moved toward the front door, Terry, who happened to glance through the window before following him, grabbed his shoulder.
"Wait!" he whispered.
One of the men who was playing cards had arisen to his feet, and now walked toward the door. He opened it, and a square of light shot out upon the ground. They heard him say:
"Swell night, Sam. Hey, Stevens!"
"What?"
"Don't you ever look at the moon?"
"No."
"Leave him alone, Packy," Sam advised. "If he wants to sleep, let him sleep. I'm going to hit the hay myself."
"You guys got no appreciation," Packy said disgustedly. "A swell night like this, an’ you sit inside. Well—" He stretched, and re├źntered the cabin. The door closed upon: "I suppose I might as well hit the hay myself. This will probably be the last time—"
The door was shut. Terry released his hold upon Martin's shoulder.
"Think we better wait until they get to sleep?" he whispered.
"We won't have time! The launch may be here any minute!"
"I think I ought to try my lights," Lewisson murmured.
"Not now," Warren told him. The boy was hoping desperately that Lewisson would retain his saneness, at least until they overpowered the guards and rescued Stevens.
"Warren, sneak around to the window—see what they're doing!" Martin suggested.
Warren obeyed. After a moment he reported:
"They're taking off their shoes—Stevens is still on the couch!"
"Listen—what's that?" Terry whispered suddenly.
They listened, but heard nothing.
"Thought it was the launch," Terry said. "Hope I was wrong!"
"I don't hear anything," Martin declared.
"I could tap 'em," Lewisson muttered. "I could tap 'em, gently. Then they'd go to sleep for a while."
"Not yet!" Warren whispered. "Come on, Lewisson —we'll edge up toward the front door! You and Terry are going in through the window, Mart?”
"Yes! We'll all have to break in at once. When we're all set, I'll whistle! You and Lewisson bust right in! We can get through the screen all right—now, go easy! Easy!"
Lewisson and Warren started for the door. In a moment they were around the corner of the house, out of sight of Terry and Martin, who moved toward the window.
This was the critical moment. Everything depended upon the completeness of the surprise. If they failed—
Martin whistled, once. Warren heard the breaking of the screen. He dove for the door, and it opened before his rush.
"Get 'em!" Warren yelled. "Take the guy by the wall. Mart!"
"Hey!" the man called Packy shouted. "What's this! Hey, Sam!"
Warren sprang at Packy, who was sitting on the edge of one of the cots, removing his left shoe. The boy sprang from his feet in a flying tackle and he and Packy rolled over upon the cot.
Martin and Terry ran for Sam, who was reaching up to get something from a shelf. He turned and faced them, crouching.
As they came on he picked up a chair.
"Watch it, Mart!" Terry yelled. "Duck!"
Martin tried to, but was not quick enough. The chair caught him on the shoulder, heavily. He groaned, and staggered back.
Terry was in upon Sam. He swung his left, but missed. Sam hit him in the chest, then grabbed him around the waist.
"Hold him, Terry!" Martin shouted.
Terry was doing his best, but the man was much heavier than he. Martin, with his injured shoulder, was practically useless.
Stevens, by this time, had recovered from his surprise. In a flash he realized that this onslaught was to effect his escape. He jumped for the man Terry was struggling with, and tried to get in a blow that would knock him out, but was not able for the two were locked in a frantic embrace.
Warren and the man he was fighting slipped behind the cot and were under it. Neither said a word. They needed every bit of breath for the struggle. Warren felt the man's hands reaching for his throat, and he brought his elbow sharply into the fellow's stomach.
Fiercely his antagonist pummeled him, with short, choppy blows, the infighting of a pugilist.
Then they rolled out from under the couch, into the center of the room. Warren got one arm free.
Sock!
His fist caught the other on the side of the jaw. The blow was delivered at close quarters, but Warren put in it everything he had.
He felt the man's body relax. The arms released him, and the head fell back. Packy was out.
Swiftly Warren sprang to his feet. Terry and Stevens were still battling Sam, who was using wrestling tactics. He had a scissors around Stevens, and his powerful legs were squeezing the man so that he could scarcely breathe. At the same time he was endeavoring to get a half-nelson on Terry.
Warren reached over and his fingers found the wrestler's Adam's apple. This was no time for observance of rules. Warren knew these men would have killed them if they were able.
He squeezed hard.
The man called Sam gurgled, and Terry slid from his grasp. In a moment he had one of his arms pinioned. Then Stevens, who got out of the scissors when Sam relaxed his legs, grabbed the other arm.
The fight was over.
"Can you two—hold him?" Warren gasped.
"Yes!" Terry replied. "Get some rope!"
Sam struggled, but soon realized he was beaten. He was dazed from being choked, and Warren got to his feet.
"I'll get the rope!" Martin exclaimed. "I can do that, at least!"
"Are you hurt badly, Mart?" Warren asked anxiously.
"No—don't think so! He got me on the shoulder!"
"There's some rope in that corner!" Stevens gasped. "They had it to tie me up with, at night!"
Warren found it, and then he and the others trussed Sam. The man said nothing, nor did he struggle. It was useless, and he knew it.
Then they bound the man whom Warren had knocked out. He was coming to, and shaking his head. They laid him on one of the cots.
"Now, Mr. Stevens!" Martin exclaimed. "We've got to get out of here, quick! Tondos and his gang are on their way here! We—"
"No, my friend," said a voice at the door. "We're not on our way here. We've arrived!"

CHAPTER XXVIII The Guiding Lights

TONDOS! Tondos, holding a revolver in his hand, and behind him other figures!
The boys gazed at him with haggard faces. They were beaten. With success in their grasp, they had failed.
"Stick 'em up!" Tondos ordered sharply. "Don't try anything, or I'll plug you!"
Slowly Terry, Warren and Stevens raised their hands.
"You too!" Tondos barked at Martin.
"I can't, Tondos! My shoulder is hurt! He hit me with a chair!"
"Yeah? I'm glad of it. Too bad he didn't hit you in the head, like you guys did to my guard, and that cop in the police station!"
"We didn't do that—it was—" Terry began, then bit his lip. Lewisson. Where was Lewisson?
"I don't care which one of you did it—I'd like to plug you all! Larkin! Toff! Get in here, and tie these guys up! Release Sam and Packy! So, you knocked out Packy, too!"
"Yeah, boss, they got me," Packy muttered. "The three of 'em hopped on me an'—"
"We did not—Warren fought him alone!" Martin exclaimed.
"Pipe down, you!" Tondos snarled.
Larkin and Toff slid in the room and pulled the ropes from the two men that lay bound. They approached Warren. He could do nothing, facing the gun that Tondos held. Behind Tondos were three others, and these, too, held revolvers.
They made a quick job of trussing up Warren, and Terry was next. Then Stevens. Martin was left until last.
"Take it easy with him—his shoulder may be broken!" Stevens said sharply. "Tondos, don't hurt him! I'll give you that paper if I have to—but don't hurt those boys!"
"So, you're willing to listen to reason now!" Tondos sneered. "All right, we'll be careful of the little darlings. Just tie that fellow's feet, Larkin. Don't bother with his arms. He can't use 'em anyway."

Suddenly Terry caught a glimpse of a man who seemed to be trying to keep out of sight.
"Jake Lawson!" Terry yelled. "I'll get you for this, if it takes me ten years!"
"No you won't," Tondos snapped. "You'll keep quiet, that's what you'll do."
"Honest, Blondell, I—" Jake began, when Tondos, with his left hand, struck him in the mouth.
"Yellow!" he gritted. "I told you not to say anything! I'll bet you told them just where this cabin was! And if you told them why I want Pennock Beach—"
"I didn't! I didn't! Anyhow, I don't know why you want Pennock Beach! I tried to find out, but—"
"Oh, you tried to find out, did you? Well, that's nice. I'm glad to hear that. You're not only yellow, but you're a traitor! I'll settle with you later."
"Tondos, I—"
"Pipe down!"
The big man strode forward, and went to Martin, who was seated on a chair, as were Stevens, Terry and Warren. Martin's hands were free, and the others' were bound.
"Let's see that shoulder," Tondos said.
"Get away," Martin told him. "I don't need your help. Anyone who would crash a boat at night, and then not stop to see if you could do anything to save the people—"
Tondos laughed. "He got to shore all right. We found that out at Riverton. It was only a fisherman who was lost in the fog, anyhow. They came out and got him, after he was in the water a while."
"Yes! After you left him there to drown!" Tondos shrugged his shoulders. "Suit yourself. Now, Stevens, I want to talk to you. Bring him over here, Larkin."
Larkin pulled forward the chair upon which Stevens was sitting.
"Ready to sign that paper, Stevens?" Tondos demanded.
Stevens looked at him. "Will you let these boys go, if I do?"
"Sure I will! Only you can't go for a month yet. We'll take you to—another spot I know—and sort of hold you as hostage. If we're not interfered with in a month, you can go free. If they don't honor the paper that you sign—well—it'll be just too bad for you."
"But what do you want of the beach? I'll lose all my trade. It'll ruin me!"
"That's tough. Will you sign the lease?" At that moment Martin, who could keep his agony to himself no longer, groaned. He clenched his teeth, and rolled sideways from the chair.
"Pick him up!" Tondos ordered. "Lay him on the couch—he fainted!"
"If that boy is badly hurt—" Stevens gritted out.
"Will you sign that paper?"
"Yes, I will! Let these boys go!"
"O. K. I've got it all drawn up. You could have saved a lot of time if you'd signed long ago. We weren't fooling—we mean business. Bring him up to the table, one of you guys. Untie his right hand."
Tondos took a folded paper from his pocket, and spread it out on the table.
"Sign this, first," he said. "Then I've got another, directing your lawyer not to hinder us, no matter what we do to Pennock Beach."
His hand shook as Stevens took up the pen.
"All right, Tondos," he said in a low tone. "I guess you—"
With his hand over the paper, he halted. To all in the room came a drone, a deep hum that quickly grew louder and was soon a roar.
"A plane!" Terry exclaimed. "It's coming closer!"
"The fools!" Tondos shouted. "They'll never find this cabin! Douse that light, someone! Quick!”
Larkin leaped to obey. In a moment the room was in total darkness.
"Now," Tondos snarled, "we'll just have to wait until the pilot decides it's useless and goes back! Then you'll sign that lease, Stevens!"
Warren was close to Terry.
"If there was only some way to signal him!" he whispered. "That plane was sent in response to our message on the teletype! But he'll never see this cabin in the darkness—he can't tell where to land!"
Tondos caught the last part.
"Land!" he sneered. "Are you crazy? How could a plane land in these woods! He’ll go back, all right!"
"If it's an amphibian, he could land on the river!" Terry whispered.
"Could he sight the launch?" Warren whispered back. "Maybe they left some of those lights burning!"
"No, we didn't!" Tondos exclaimed. "I thought something like this might happen—but a lot of good it will do you guys! All we'll do is to wait a while, and then get aboard the Traveler and go down the river!"
The sound of the plane was dying away, and Tondos chuckled again. Then it began to increase in volume, as the pilot turned.
"Having a pile of fun up there," Tondos said sarcastically.
Closer and closer the plane came. Now it seemed right over the cabin. If only they could show a light —signal in some way—
Then it happened. The whole roof of the cabin seemed to light up, with some strange glow— red, and blue, and white. It shone on the trees and almost as far as the river.
"What's that?" Tondos was yelping. "What's that?"
"It's the lights—the tubes of light that Lewisson was talking about!" Warren burst out. "He wasn't crazy after all! They're on the roof—he must have an electrical plant near here! That's where he was— in that secret cellar he was talking about!"
"Find out where that light is coming from!" Tondos roared. "We'll all be taken if you don't!"
"It's on the roof, boss!" Larkin shouted, peering out and upward from an open window.
The plane was circling over the cabin, guided by the lights. Then the motor was cut.
"It's coming down!" Tondos yelled. Jake Lawson screamed: "We've got to get out of here—we'll be caught!"
"No you don't!" shouted Tondos. "Hold him, Larkin! We're not beaten yet! What do we care for a few men in a plane? What can they do? We've got guns! Get outside, some of you, and break those lights! Shoot 'em out! Fast!"
Three men ran to obey his order. The lights were electrical tubes containing some sort of vapor, and were laid flat along the roof of the cabin. They could not, unlit, be seen from the ground.
"We can't shoot 'em out, boss!" a man cried. "We'll have to climb up on the roof!"
"Do it, then! Do it!"
There was a burst of sound from the plane motor as the pilot gave it the gun, just before coming down.
Then they could hear the soft swishing noise as it settled on the water.
"They've landed!" Warren exclaimed. "And it's a big plane, too! It must be an amphibian!"
Two men were climbing on the roof. They hammered the glass tubes with the butts of their guns, and one by one the lights went out.
But this was useless, now. The crew of the plane had spotted the cabin, and those within could hear them running through the woods toward it.

CHAPTER XXIX Surrender

TONDOS!" Warren cried. "If you shoot those men, you'll be up not only for kidnapping but for murder!"
"Do you think we're going to let ourselves be taken like rats in a trap?" Tondos growled. "Larkin! Close that door and see if you can spot how many men are out there!"
Larkin leaped for the door and before he closed it he caught a glimpse of men running across an open space, plainly visible in the bright moonlight.
"I see six—seven—I see eight men, boss!"
"Eight! In one plane! Impossible!"
"Oh, no, it isn't impossible!" Terry exclaimed. "I told you that it was a big amphibian! There may be more than eight men, too!"
Now the attackers deployed among the trees. They were surrounding the cabin. As yet no one had fired a shot.
"Terry!" a voice whispered in his ear. The boy swung around. It was Martin, who had recovered from his faint. "Don't make any noise," he cautioned.
"Get Wawa and Stevens—hang on to my hand—no, the left—they can't see us if we go easy—"
"What's the idea?" Terry breathed. "Lewisson—he's waiting for us! There's a trap door under the couch where I was lying—he came up, and told me to get the others! We can escape that way!"
Cautiously Terry followed Martin. He found Warren and Stevens, and whispered for them to come. Tondos was taken up with arranging his defense. He was stationing men at windows, and two at the door.
"Lawson! Where's Lawson?" he roared once.
"Here he is, boss!" came Larkin's voice.
"I want him with me—we'll protect that right front window! And believe me, Lawson, if either of us gets it, you'll be the first!"
"Listen, Tondos—don't make me do that—don't make me—" Jake was almost sobbing.
"Get over here, yellow!"
"Come on—now's our chance," Martin whispered. "Keep low—we've got to crawl under the couch!"
"Can you manage it—are you all right?" Warren whispered anxiously.
"I can make it," Martin replied shortly, and Warren knew he was gritting his teeth against the pain.
Martin went first, and little gasps testified how much the effort cost him. The trap door, which opened downward, was just under the couch, and was invisible in the room itself, even when all the lights were lit, by reason of a couch cover which reached to the floor.
"Are they all here?” Lewisson asked from his step on the ladder which led down from the trap door into the cellar.
"Yep—all here!" Martin replied. "Let Stevens come next, Wawa!"
Within the room all was now pandemonium. Jake Lawson was still whining fearfully, saying he didn't want to take part in the fight. The members of the gang were piling chairs against the door. Yet, thus far, there had been no gun play.
"They can't fire at us—they might hit one of the boys or Stevens!" Tondos shouted. "The only thing they can do is to rush us—and they won't try that twice! Pull over that table somebody, and get it against the door! Larkin, you take the left window, and I'll take the right. When they rush, let 'em have it! Get over there, Lawson!"
"Please, Tondos—" Jake whimpered.
Warren was the last to go through the trap door. He went down the ladder and Lewisson pushed up the door over his head and locked it.
The secret passageway leading into an underground room was well lighted with electric bulbs.
"Where are we going?" Terry whispered.
"To my power house!" Lewisson chuckled. "Go Straight ahead—there's only one way. To my power house, where I make the electricity for those beautiful tubes of light!"
"Those tubes—they showed the plane where this cabin was!" Stevens exclaimed. "I've been here for a long time, and neither I nor my guards knew they were there! Lucky, too."
"I had them well concealed," Lewisson told him. "Now—turn to the right, and you're out!"
In a moment they were within a small enclosure built underground, with plenty of pipes running up through the roof and out into the air for ventilation.
The room contained Lewisson's electricity-producing apparatus; a combined gasoline engine and dynamo. Wires ran from it to the cabin, concealed under a foot of earth, and thence up to the roof, where they supplied the energy which converted the long tubes containing the gas into ribbons of light. The tubes were broken, now, but they had done their work.
"See here!" Lewisson exclaimed. "Here is my power house! And if I want to I can signal the stars—" he passed a hand over his forehead. Something in his eyes seemed to change. It was as though a veil had been drawn from them.
"The stars?" he said quietly. "Did I just say the stars?"
"Yes, Lewisson," Stevens replied gently.
"That's strange." He shook his head, as a man shaking off an unpleasant sensation. "I can't imagine why that word came to me. You know those tubes I have on the cabin roof?"
"Yes," Stevens answered. He was looking at Lewisson intently.
"I am experimenting with an advertising device. I hope to make much money from it. The stars—why did I say that?"
There was no break in his mental process. He remembered why he was here, in his little room, who these people were—everything. Everything except that, for more than a year, he had been but partly sane. His brain seemed suddenly to click back to entire normalcy. It had failed him from overwork and worry, and the year he had spent in the wilds had been a mental vacation.
"Lewisson," Stevens said kindly, placing a hand on his shoulder. "You're all right?"
"Yes, of course—a little tired. Stevens—I had that houseboat—you remember—"
"Certainly I remember. Now we've got to get out of here, Lewisson. We've got to get out and tell the officers who came in the plane that we're safe."
"Yes! We can go out this way—follow me!"
Terry put his arm about Martin, assisting him. They filed out a narrow door and were under the moon and stars.
"We can go this way," Lewisson said, and just then a voice cried:
"Halt! Put up your hands!"
"It's I—Stevens! We got out of the cabin! We're all here, safe!"
The officer flicked a beam from a flashlight upon them. Then he stepped forward.
"Good! That's great! Men, come over here! They got out of that cabin—Sergeant Moffat, unlimber that machine gun!"
From nearby came a "br-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r!" like a vicious rattlesnake with a thunderous rattle. The bullets dug into the wood of the cabin, punctured the windows.
"Wait—wait!" It was Tondos pleading. "Don't shoot any more! Stop it! We surrender! Stop it!"
"Cease firing!" the officer ordered. Then, louder: "Come out, you guys—one by one, out the door, with your hands up!"
Then the moonlight threw into relief a sorry procession. The kidnappers marched out into the open, hands held high. Tondos first, and Jake Lawson last. Jake was trembling, and weeping.
The state troopers, aviation unit, snapped handcuffs on them all.
"It was nice of you," said the commanding officer to Tondos, "to bring your own launch, so we can take you back in it!"

CHAPTER XXX Buried Treasure

LEWISSON sat quietly in a chair aboard the houseboat. Terry was at the wheel. It was late afternoon, and they were nearing Riverton. Stevens was talking to Martin, whose shoulder was tightly bound with adhesive tape, put on by one of the state troopers who had come in the plane. He was a physician, and was taken on all trips where his services might be needed— an arrangement which might well be copied by all such organizations.
"You were pretty lucky, at that," Stevens was saying to Martin. "The doctor said it was dislocated, not broken."
"It felt as though it were broken when he pulled it into place," the boy replied, making a wry face.
Before Stevens could say more—he had his mouth open, to tell Martin something—a long wail, almost a shriek, came from some part of the houseboat.
Lewisson leaped to his feet.

"That's it—that's it!" he yelled.
"Lewisson!" Stevens snapped. "Lewisson!"
The man stood quietly, and became immediately calmer. The wail died away. Suddenly Lewisson began to laugh—harder and harder, until they thought he was hysterical. But in a few moments he ceased, and then they saw that his mirth was wholesome and normal.
"That noise," he gasped. "I fixed it myself, and that was what scared me off the houseboat!"
"What was it, for Pete's sake!" Terry demanded.
"It's a warning signal, to tell when there's too much water in the hold!" Lewisson chuckled. "Look—I'll show you!"
While the others looked on with eager eyes, he went to the stern and took up a loose plank in the floor. Beneath it was a piece of cork, floating on the water which seeped into the boat. When the cork reached a certain height a wire attached to it made an electrical connection, and an electric siren was set off. But the siren was partly broken, and the weird wail was the result. It only lasted for a moment, because the siren worked only for that length of time.
"A bilge alarm!" Warren exclaimed. "Why, sure! Don't you remember, every time we heard that noise, a short time afterward we had to start the bilge pump? And we never suspected what it was!"
"I'll bet that's what scared Mr. Sherman's son, Harry," Martin declared. "He spent a night on the boat, and then wouldn't go near it for love or money. It scared him off, too!"
"It seems queer," Lewisson said, "that I should be frightened of a device that I rigged up myself. But I had been working hard on my advertising schemes— I must have forgotten about it and—"
"Don't think about it," Stevens said gently. "You're all right now—and I hope your scheme makes lots of money for you."
"I can't get over that," Warren said, shaking his head. "A bilge alarm! The simplest thing in the world —and we couldn't figure it out!"
"That's the way with simple things," Stevens said. "If I could only find out why Tondos wanted Pennock Beach—wanted it so much that he was willing to go to any lengths to get it—"
"There's Riverton, ahead," Terry said quietly.
They tied up at the dock. The chief of police, the one who had thought the boys were the kidnappers, was waiting for them.
"Fellows—" he said brokenly, "fellows—"
"Forget it," Martin laughed. "We all pull boners. How is that officer we—got away from the teletype machine?"
"He's all right. Honest, I oughtn't to be a cop. I ought to be an usher in a kindergarten. How they fooled me!"
'They fooled better men than you," Stevens said quietly.
"Say, chief, can we go to the station and use the telephone?" Warren asked.
"Sure you can! Sure! You can do anything you want to—and if you'd like to tap me on the head, I don't think it would do any harm!"
"We won't do that," Terry laughed.
They went to the police station, and, fortunately, did not see the man Lewisson had hit with the pipe. It had been necessary at the time, but they were grateful for not having to meet the man.
Warren called the Stevens residence, and then Mr. Stevens took the receiver.
"Hello! Hello, Sherman? Fine! I'm fine! Nope, they didn't hurt me at all! How's Harry? Is he? That's splendid! I'll see him very soon. I can't tell you how much—what?"
They saw him listen intently. For several moments he did not speak. Then:
"You—don't—say—so!"
He listened again. His eyes began to sparkle.
"I can't believe it! I just can't believe it! True, is it? You're sure? . . . Then I'm a rich man! I can't talk more now—tell Harry! Tell my son! Thanks— and I'll be down there as quick as I can!"
He hung up the receiver and faced the boys.
"Pennock Beach—I found out why Tondos wanted it! Golly, I can't talk straight—listen, there was treasure under the sand! Sherman told me that they uncovered it just yesterday when they were digging a pipe line—treasure! A long time ago an eccentric man was moving some stuff from his home away up the lake to another place. He wouldn't trust anyone to do it for him. He got a big boat and moved it himself, at night. A storm came up and he was blown on what is now Pennock Beach.
"There he buried the treasure—not gold, but rare coins, little statues of great value, some famous manuscripts wrapped in oiled cloth, and things like that.
"This was years ago. I don't know how Tondos found out about it, but he did. The discovery yesterday was by accident. The workmen found one parcel, and in it was a letter. It told the reason this odd man buried the stuff there. It seems he had a nephew whom he didn't like, and rather than have him get the fortune he buried it when he found himself wrecked so he couldn't hide the stuff as he planned. The date on the letter was 1860."
"What happened to the man?" Warren asked. "They don't know. It was pretty wild country then, and he may have wandered back in the woods and died. But how did Tondos know about the treasure, I wonder?"
"Maybe he was some relation to the man who buried it," the police chief suggested.
"I don't think so," Stevens said musingly. "I—by golly!"
"What?"
"When I had all that sand dumped there! You know, to make the beach! The workmen had to clear a place for it—level off the beach. I'll bet one of the workmen was associated with Tondos—or knew him—and found one of the parcels. Thinking there was more in the vicinity, he told Tondos about it! That's what happened!"
And so it proved. At the state-police headquarters, Tondos admitted this. The old parcel the workman had found contained several gold coins. Surprised, he went to Tondos and together they planned a way to get hold of the beach long enough to dig up the rest of the stuff they suspected to be there. Stevens wouldn't rent to them, of course, and they didn't have enough money to buy the waterfront.
So they tried to scare Stevens away. They set fire to houses, and sank his boat. But Stevens didn't scare easily. Then it was that they decided to kidnap him.
The workman who found the parcel was Larkin.
Later, when the kidnappers were formally charged with their crime, the boys spoke to the judge about Jake. He wasn't really a kidnapper, they told him, although he was bad enough. So Jake was put on probation for three years, to report to the police at Stirling at regular intervals, and to pay fifty cents a week. This probably irked him as much as a jail sentence would.
But it was difficult for Jake to stay out of trouble. The boys hadn't seen the last of him. In the next book of this series to be called: "The Outboard Boys At Shark River, or Solving the Secret of Mystery Tower," some strange adventures await Warren, Terry and. Martin.
"What's on your mind, Terry?" asked Warren as they stood near the door in the police station, waiting to make sure they were not wanted any further.
"I was just thinking," was the answer.
"Make a note of it!" advised Martin, with gentle sarcasm.
“I’ll bite. What about?" asked Warren.
"I was thinking," said Terry, "that in view of what happened, I mean finding the treasure in the sand, that Pennock Beach ought to be renamed Pirate Beach permanently."
"Mystery Beach isn't such a punk name," suggested Warren.
"I vote for Pirate!" declared Martin.
"I'm with you. The ayes have it!" exclaimed Terry.
And so, after the story became known, Pirate Beach it was called and it still bears that name rather than either of the others which were applied to it at different times.
When the boys left the police station at Riverton, accompanied by Stevens and Lewisson, Stevens said to them:
"I know you fellows don't want any reward for what you've done for me. Nevertheless, I'm going to make you take some of the profits of that treasure if I have to have you tied down and stuff it in your pockets."
"No, honestly, Mr. Stevens, we couldn't take it," Warren said earnestly. "It wouldn't be right."
"Right or not, that's what's going to happen!"
"But—" Terry began, when Mr. Stevens said suddenly:
"Hey, have you fellows forgotten that bilge alarm? It went off some time ago! You better get busy, and pump your houseboat out! No, don't say anything more—go on, start working!"
They laughed, and hurried to the Watermar II.
"With your share of that treasure, you can buy lots of presents for your best girls!" Mr. Stevens called after them.
"He means Dorothy, Martin," Warren said slyly. "What are you going to get her?"
Pipe down," Martin growled. If I didn’t have this bad arm—"
But he wasn't alone in thinking of presents to buy, for Terry and Warren were trying to decide what Louise and Ruth would like best.
THE END

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About Me

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.