Chapter IX. Caught in a Trap.




"Do you see anything of the Baxters?" asked Sam, when the rowboat was within a hundred feet of the schooner.

"I thought I did before, but I don't see them now," answered Tom.

"Rowboat, ahoy!" shouted Captain Langless. "What brings you?"

"I reckon you know well enough," Tom shouted back. "We are after Dick Rover."

"Dick Rover? Who is he?"

"Your prisoner."

"Our prisoner?" The owner of the Peacock put on a look of surprise. "Really, you are talking in riddles."

"I don't think so. Where are Arnold Baxter and his son Dan?"

"Don't know anybody by that name."

"They went on board of your boat," put in Sam.

"You must be mistaken." Captain Langless turned to his mate. "Find any stowaways on board?"

"Nary a one," was the mate's answer. "And just came up from the hold, too."

This talk perplexed Tom and Sam not a little.

Was it possible Luke Peterson had made some mistake?

"We have it on pretty good authority that the Baxters are on board of your boat, and that Dick Rover is aboard, too," said Sam.

"It's all a riddle to me," answered Captain Langless. "We are not in the business of carrying prisoners. We are bound for Sandusky for a cargo of flour."

This talk completely nonplused the boys, and they held a whispered consultation.

"I don't believe him," said Sam.

"No more do I. But what shall we do about it?"

"I'm sure I don't know."

"You can come on board and look around, if you wish," called out the owner of the schooner. "I want you to satisfy yourself that you are mistaken."

"Shall we go?" whispered Tom. "It may be a trap?"

"He seems honest enough."

"Supposing I go and you stay in the rowboat? Then, if anything happens, you can call on Aleck and Peterson for help."

So it was arranged, and in a minute more Tom was climbing up the ladder which had been thrown over the Peacock's side.

"Is the other young fellow coming?" asked the captain, who did not fancy this move.

"No."

The captain scowled, but said no more.

Once on deck Tom looked around him curiously, and then moved toward the companion way leading to the cabin. He felt instinctively that he was in a dangerous position. As he crossed the deck several ill-appearing sailors gazed at him curiously, but said nothing--being under strict orders from the captain to remain silent in the presence of the stranger.

The cabin of the Peacock was a small affair, considering the general size of the schooner, and contained but little in the shape of furniture.

Dick had been removed long before, so the apartment was empty of human occupants when Tom entered.

"Nobody here," he murmured, as he gazed around. "What foolishness to come, anyway! The Baxters could easily hide on me, if they wanted to."

He was about to leave the cabin when a form darkened the companion way, and Arnold Baxter appeared.

"Silence!" commanded the man, and pointed a pistol at Tom's head.

The sight of the rascal startled the youth and the look on Baxter's face caused him to shiver.

"So you are here, after all," he managed to say.

"Silence!" repeated Arnold Baxter, "unless you want to be shot."

"Where is my brother Dick?"

Before Arnold Baxter could reply Dan put in an appearance, carrying a pair of handcuffs.

"Now, we'll get square with you, Tom Rover," said the bully harshly.

"What do you intend to do?"

"Make you a prisoner. Hold out your hands."

"And if I refuse?"

"You won't refuse," put in Arnold Baxter, and, lowering his pistol, he leaped behind Tom and caught him by the arms. At the same time Dan attacked the lad in front and poor Tom was soon handcuffed. Then he was led out of the cabin by a rear way, a door was opened, and he was thrust into the blackness of the hold. But ere this was accomplished he let out one long, loud cry for help which reached Sam's ears quite plainly.

"Hi! what are you doing to my brother?" ejaculated the younger Rover. He had brought the rowboat close up alongside the schooner.

"I don't know what's up," answered the mate of the Peacock. "Better come aboard and see."

"He has fallen down the hatchway!" cried Captain Langless. "Poor chap! he's hurt himself quite badly." And he disappeared, as if going to Tom's assistance.

If Sam had been in a quandary before, he was doubly so now. Had Tom really fallen, or had he been attacked?

"I can't leave him alone," he thought, and without further hesitation leaped up the side of the schooner with the agility of a cat.

It was a fatal movement, for scarcely had he reached the deck when he was pounced upon by Captain Langless and held fast until Arnold Baxter appeared.

"Let me go!" cried Sam, but his protest proved of no avail. A lively scuffle followed, but the lad was no match for the men, and in the end he found himself handcuffed and thrown into the hold beside Tom.

"Tie the rowboat fast to the stern," ordered Arnold Baxter, and this was done.

The going down of the wind was only temporary, and now a slight breeze sprang up.

"We are in luck!" said the captain of the schooner.

"We must keep away from the yacht," returned Arnold Baxter.

Soon the schooner's sails were filling and she continued on her course, dragging the small boat behind her. Aleck Pop saw the movement and grew much perplexed.

"Dat don't look right to me, nohow!" he muttered. "'Pears lak da was bein' tuk along sumway!"

Aleck was not much of a sailor, but he had been out enough to know how to handle the yacht under ordinary circumstances, and now he did his best to follow the Peacock.

With the glass he watched eagerly for the reappearance of Sam and Tom, and his face became a study when fully half an hour passed and they failed to show themselves.

"Da is in trouble, suah!" he told himself. "Now wot's dis yeah niggah to do?"

He lashed the wheel fast and sought advice from Luke Peterson, who was feeling stronger every minute. The burly lumberman shook his head dubiously.

"In trouble for certain," was his comment. "Didn't hear any pistol shots, did ye?"

"Didn't heah nuffin, sah."

"They wouldn't remain on board of that craft of their own free will."

"Don't specs da would, sah. De question is, sah: wot's to do?" And Aleck scratched his woolly head thoughtfully.

"I don't know, excepting to keep the schooner in sight, if possible, and see if something doesn't turn up. If you sight a steamer or a steam tug let me know, and I'll try to get help."

So it was arranged, and Aleck returned to the wheel. The Swallow was going along smoothly, and he did what he could to make the sails draw as much as possible. Peterson now discovered the medicine chest of the yacht, and from this got another dose of liquor, which afforded him the temporary strength of which he was in so much need.

The coming of night found the two vessels far out upon the waters of Lake Erie and nearly half a mile apart. Peterson now came on deck, to keep an eye on things while Aleck prepared supper. It promised to remain clear, but, as there would be no moon, Peterson was afraid that they would lose sight of the Peacock in the gathering darkness.

Supper was soon served, the lumberman eating first, and then Aleck cleared away the few dishes and tidied up generally. The colored man was much downcast.

"Fust it was Dick, an' now it am de whole t'ree of 'em," he remarked. "I'se afraid dar is gwine ter be a bad endin' to dis yeah trip."

"We will have to take what comes," answered Peterson. "But I have taken a fancy to those boys, and I'll stick by you to the end."

Slowly the darkness of night settled over the waters of the lake, and with the going down of the sun the stars came forth, one after another. During the last few hours several sail had been seen at a distance, but none had come close enough to be hailed.

"We are going to lose her in the darkness, after all," announced the lumberman, at about eight o'clock. "It's hard for me to see her, even now."

Half an hour later the Peacock disappeared in the gloom, and the chase, for the time being, came to an end.



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