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Some twenty minutes later they were headed in a big seven-seating automobile toward the scene of the boys' early morning adventure. On the front seat with the chauffeur sat Chief Carey and in the tonneau were Clint and Amy and two policemen, one of them the officer who had taken them to the station. At their feet were two brand-new spades.
It was a fine, clear morning and promised to be quite warm by noon. But Clint and Amy snuggled down into the seat and presented as small a portion of their anatomies as was possible to the fresh morning breeze that rushed by them. They passed the first sign-post and the second and the first farm they had seen, but after that the road was quite unfamiliar since they had travelled over it in the dark. The car whisked along at an even thirty-mile speed until, shortly after the farm-house was passed, Clint suggested that as neither he nor Amy were certain as to the location of the hut the car proceed more slowly. After that a careful look-out was kept. No one in the car could recall a hut of any sort along the road, and, when they had travelled at least eight miles from Wharton without finding it, Chief Carey showed signs of impatience. The car was stopped and a consultation was held. The boys reiterated their statement that the hut, to the best of their knowledge, was between four and six miles from Wharton. Finally it was decided that they should turn around and go back slowly in order that the boys could identify the spot where the automobile had met its mishap the afternoon before. Clint was not at all certain that he would know the place when he saw it again, but Amy stoutly asserted that he would recognise it at once. And he did.
There, finally, was the quick turn in the road and beyond, still plainly visible, the tracks of the auto in the looser soil and turf of the bank and meadow.
"There's the tree we ran into," pointed out Amy, "and there's the field we went across. Now let's see. We found a stream there; you can see it, can't you? Then we followed along this side of it and up that sort of hill--"
But beyond that he couldn't trace their wanderings. Woods and pastures ran into each other confusingly. One thing was explained, however, or, rather, two things; why they didn't find the trolley line and why they didn't succeed in reaching the road again. The trolley line, the chauffeur explained, was more than a mile distant, and the road ahead of them turned widely to the left just beyond. They had, consequently, roamed over a stretch of country at least two miles broad between dirt road and railroad. When they went on, which they did very slowly, all hands peered intently along the right side of the highway. They had proceeded possibly three-quarters of a mile when one of the officers called out and the car stopped.
"I think I saw it," he said. "Anyway, there's something there. Back up a little, Tom." The chauffeur obeyed and the quest was at an end. There was the hut, but so hidden by young oak trees with russet leaves still hanging that only from one point was it noticeable. Out they all piled.
"Now," said the Chief, "you boys get in there and stand just where you did last night and then come out and indicate about where those fellows dug--if they did dig."
Clint and Amy obeyed and the others followed slowly across the intervening space. The hut stood further from the road than it had seemed to in the night. A good thirty yards separated the two, and the yellowing turf of long meadow grass was interspersed here and there with clumps of goldenrod and asters and wild shrubs and with small second-growth trees. At the side of the doorway was the tree which they had collided with, a twenty-foot white birch. The hut was even more dilapidated than they had supposed. It looked as if a good wind would send its twisted, sun-split grey boards into a heap. Inside, however, with the sunlight streaming through doorway, window and cracks, it looked more inviting than it had at night. Weeds were growing between the rotting boards and in one corner a hornets' nest as big as their heads hung from a sagging rafter.
"Gee," muttered Amy, "I'm glad we didn't accidentally disturb that, Clint!"
In the doorway they stood and tried to re-enact the happenings of the night. It wasn't easy to decide on the spot where the men had stood, however, but finally they agreed as to its probable location and walked toward the road, keeping a little to the left, for some fifteen yards. That brought them close to a six-foot bush which, they decided, was the one Clint had walked into. The Chief and the others joined them.
"About here, you think?" asked the Chief.
"Yes, sir, as near as we can tell," replied Clint, none too confidently. They viewed the place carefully, but, save that the grass seemed a trifle more trampled than elsewhere, there was nothing to indicate that the soil had been disturbed. Nothing, at least, until one of the officers picked up a torn and twisted oak-seedling some sixteen inches long which lay a few feet away. It's brown roots were broken as if it had been pulled up by force and tossed aside. The Chief nodded and went minutely over the turf for a space several yards in extent, finally giving a grunt of satisfaction.
"Here you are," he said, straightening his body and pointing the toe of one broad shoe at the ground. "They lifted the turf off and put it back again. A pretty good job to do in the dark, I say. Bring your shovels, men."
It was easy enough to see the spot now that the Chief had found it. The turf had been cut through with a shovel or spade and rolled or lifted back. Close looking showed the incision and there still remained some loose soil about the roots of the grass at one side, although the men had evidently striven carefully to hide all traces of their undertaking. In a moment the turf was once more up and the spades were plunging into the loosened soil beneath. Clint and Amy watched excitedly. Presently one of the officers stopped digging, since there was now only room for one spade in the excavation. Once there was an expectant pause while the digger reached in with his hands and grubbed in the moist red gravel. But it was only a stone he pulled out.
The hole was down almost two feet now and the Chief was beginning to frown anxiously. "They made a good job of it," he growled. "I guess--"
But he forgot to say what he guessed, for just at that moment there was an exclamation from the officer who was wielding the spade and all bent forward as he dropped his implement and reached down into the hole. When he straightened up again he brought a small bundle wrapped in a piece of black rubber sheeting. The Chief seized it and unwrapped the sheeting, laying bare a small pasteboard box tied with a piece of pink string. With the string undone and the lid off one glance was enough to show that they had found the stolen jewelry.
"That's the stuff, all right," said the Chief with satisfaction. "And I guess it's all here, from the looks. You'd better dig down and make sure, though."
The officer obeyed, while the others crowded around the Chief. The stolen things had been tossed carelessly into the box, a few still wrapped in squares of tissue paper but the most rattling together indiscriminately. There were watches and scarfpins and brooches and studs and watch charms and several bracelets and one platinum and gold chain. The robbers had selected carefully, for every article was valuable, although it still seemed possible that the Chief's estimate of seven hundred dollars was generous enough.
"They'll be some surprised if they ever come back for it, won't they?" asked the chauffeur with a chuckle. "Say, Chief, why don't you set a man to watch for 'em?"
"I would if I knew when they were coming," replied the official drily. "But they may not come back here for a month. Maybe they won't then. They won't if we can get our hands on them," he added grimly.
The officer who had been probing the hole further reported nothing more there, and, well satisfied, they returned to the car.
"I'll check this up when we get back to the station," said the Chief, tossing the box carelessly to the seat. "Black and Wiggin are mighty lucky to get it back. They wouldn't have if it hadn't been for these chaps. Say, boys, you tell Wiggin he ought to give you something for this. You certainly deserve it." And the officers agreed.
"Oh, if there isn't any reward offered," said Amy, "we don't want anything."
"Well, he ought to be willing to give you something. How much time is there before that train goes? Most an hour? That's all right then. We'll go back to the station and I'll 'phone Wiggin to come around."
The return trip was made in quick time and almost before they knew it the boys were back in the Chief's office at the station house. The Chief wouldn't consent to their leaving until Mr. Wiggin had arrived, although they both declared that the jeweller didn't owe them anything and that they mustn't on any account lose their train.
"You won't," replied the Chief. "You can walk to the station in three minutes and you've still got forty. Sit down there while I check this stuff up."
They obeyed and looked on while he dumped the things from the box to the top of the desk and pulled his memorandum toward him. One by one he pushed the articles aside and checked the list with a pencil. Finally he chuckled. "Wiggin didn't know much more'n half the stuff he lost," he said. "There's nine watches here instead of seven and a lot more other things than he's got down here on his list. Here he is now, I guess."
Mr. Wiggin was a bewhiskered, nervous-mannered little man and he hurried into the Chief's office as though he had run all the way from his house or store.
"Well, well, Chief!" he exclaimed breathlessly. "So you've found it, eh? I want to know! I want to know! Got the thieves too, eh?" He scowled darkly at Clint and Amy, and Amy was heard to assert under his breath that he hoped Mr. Wiggin would choke. The Chief laughed.
"No, we haven't got the thieves, Mr. Wiggin. These boys gave us the clue that led to the stuff. Shake hands, boys, with Mr. Wiggin. That's Byrd and that's Thayer. They're Brimfield Academy fellows, Mr. Wiggin, and they happened to see the thieves burying the things about five miles out of town toward Thacher." Whereupon the Chief told the story to the jeweller and the latter, recovering from his embarrassment, insisted on shaking hands again.
"I want to know!" he ejaculated, beaming at them like a pleased sparrow. "I want to know! Smart lads, eh, Chief? Now--now--" He hesitated, his eyes darting from Clint to Amy and from Amy to the Chief. Then he cleared his throat nervously, slapped his hands together gently and continued. "There--hem--there was no reward offered, boys, but--"
"That's all right," replied Amy briskly. "We don't want anything, Mr. Wiggin."
"No, no, of course not, of course not! Only--hem--I was thinking that--possibly, say, fifty dollars between you, or--"
"No, thanks," interrupted Clint. "We're glad we were able to help you recover the things, sir. And now I reckon we'll have to be getting to the station."
But Mr. Wiggin was the sort who becomes more insistent against opposition. Really, the boys must take something! Really they must! He appealed to Chief Carey, and the Chief agreed. "Now--now--" continued the jeweller, "say a watch apiece, if they didn't like to take money. Just a gold watch. Here were two nice ones!"
In the end his insistence won, the boys becoming at last too embarrassed and too fearful of losing their train to refuse longer. A handsome gold watch, not much thicker than a book-cover, was attached to Amy's chain, while Clint, having a perfectly good watch already, was invited to select something else from the array on the desk and finally allowed himself to become possessed of a diamond and ruby scarfpin which was much the finest thing he had ever owned. And then, with ten minutes to reach the station in, they shook hands with the jeweller and Chief Carey and relievedly hurried out, the Chief's hearty invitation to come and see him again pursuing them into the corridor.
A very few minutes afterwards they were seated in the train and speeding toward Brimfield.
"And now," said Amy brightly, "all we've got to do is to give our little song and dance to Josh!"
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