The Corner House Girls on a Houseboat
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At the point were a number of stores, and it was there the supplies for the Scotch housekeeper could be purchased. Ruth and Agnes had made their selections and the things were being put on board when a number of men were observed coming down the long dock.
One of them wore a nickel badge on the outside of his coat, and seemed to have an air of authority. Neale, who had been below helping Hank store away some supplies of oil and gasoline that had been purchased, came out on deck, and, with the girls and Mr. Howbridge, watched the approach of the men.
“Looks like a constable or sheriff’s officer with a posse,” commented Ruth. “It reminds me of a scene I saw in the movies.”
“It is an officer – I know him,” said Mr. Howbridge in a low voice. “He once worked on a case for me several years ago. That’s Bob Newcomb – quite a character in his way. I wonder if he remembers me.”
This point was settled a moment later, for the officer – he with the nickel badge of authority – looked up and his face lightened when he saw the lawyer.
“Well, if it ain’t Mr. Howbridge!” exclaimed Mr. Newcomb. “Well now, sufferin’ caterpillers, this is providential! Is that your boat?” he asked, halting his force by a wave of his hand.
“I may say I control it,” was the answer. “Why do you ask?”
“’Cause then there won’t be no unfriendly feelin’ if I act in the performance of my duty,” went on the constable, for such he was. “I’ll have to take possession of your craft in the name of the law.”
“What do you mean?” asked Mr. Howbridge, rather sharply. “Is this craft libeled? All bills are paid, and I am in legal possession. I have a bill of sale and this boat is to be delivered to a client of mine – ”
“There you go! There you go! Ready to fight at the drop of the hat!” chuckled the constable. “Just like you did before when I worked on that timber land case with you. But there’s no occasion to get roiled up, Mr. Howbridge. I only want to take temporary possession of your boat in the name of the law. All I want to have is a ride for me and my posse. We’re on the business of the law, and you, being a lawyer, know what that means. I call on you, as a good citizen, to aid, as I’ve got a right to do.”
“I recognize that,” said the lawyer, now smiling, and glancing at Ruth and the others to show everything was all right. “But what’s the game?”
“Robbery’s the game!” came the stern answer. “We’re going to round up and close in on a band of tramps, robbers and other criminals! They have a camp on an island, and they’ve been robbin’ hen roosts and doin’ other things in this community until this community has got good and sick of it. Then they called in the law – that’s me and my posse,” he added, waving his hand toward the men back of him. “The citizens called in the law, represented by me, and I am going to chase the rascals out!”
“Very good,” assented Mr. Howbridge. “I’m willing to help, as all good citizens should.But what am I to do? Where do I come in?”
“You’re going to lend us that boat,” said Constable Newcomb. “It’s the only large one handy just now, and we don’t want to lose any time. As soon as I saw you put into the dock I made up my mind I’d commandeer the craft. That’s the proper term, ain’t it?” he asked.
“Yes,” assented the lawyer, smiling, “I believe it is. So you want to commandeer the Bluebird.”
“To take me and my posse over to Cedar Island, and there to close in on a bunch of Klondikers!” went on the constable, and Neale, hearing it, gave a startled cry.
“Anybody on board that’s afraid to come may stay at home,” said the constable quickly. “I mean they can get off the boat. But we’ve got to have the craft to get to the island. Now then, Mr. Howbridge, will you help?”
“Certainly. As a matter of law I have to,” answered the lawyer slowly.
“And will you help, and you?” went on the constable, looking in turn at Neale and Hank, who were on deck. “I call upon you in the name of the law.”
“Yes, they’ll help,” said Mr. Howbridge quickly. “Don’t object or say anything,” he added to Neale in a low voice. “Leave everything to me!”
“Fall in! Get on board! We’ll close in on the rascals!” cried the constable, very well pleased that he could issue orders.
Neale’s heart was torn with doubts.
CHAPTER XXV – THE CAPTURE
Constable Newcomb and his posse disposed themselves comfortably aboard the Bluebird, and, at a nod from Mr. Howbridge, Neale rang the bell to tell Hank to throw in the gear clutch and start the boat.
The girls, much to Agnes’ dissatisfaction, had been left ashore, since there was likely to be rough work arresting the “Klondikers,” as the constable called the tramps on Cedar Island. Mrs. MacCall stayed with them.
They had disembarked at the point dock and when the boat pulled off went to the hotel there to await the return of their friends.
“Now, Mr. Newcomb, perhaps you can explain what it’s all about,” suggested the lawyer to the constable, when they sat on deck together, near Neale at the steering wheel. The lawyer made the boy a signal to say nothing, but to listen.
“Well, this is what it’s about,” was the answer. “As I told you, a parcel of tramps – Klondikers they call themselves because, I understand, some of ’em have been in Alaska. Anyhow a parcel of tramps are living on Cedar Island. They’ve been robbing right and left, and the folks around here are tired of it. So a complaint was made and I’ve got a lot of warrants to arrest the men.”
“Do you know any of their names?” asked the lawyer.
“No, all the warrants are made out in the name of John Doe. That’s legal, you know.”
“Yes, I know,” assented Mr. Howbridge. “And how many do you expect to arrest?”
“Oh, about half a dozen. Two of ’em have a motor boat, I understand, but they had an accident in the storm last night and can’t navigate. That’s the reason we’re going over there now – they can’t get away!”
“Good!” exclaimed Mr. Howbridge. “I fancy, Mr. Newcomb, I may be able to add another complaint to the ones you already have, if two of the men turn out to be the characters we suspect.”
“Why, have they been robbing your hen roost, too?” asked the constable.
“No, but two of my wards, Ruth and Agnes Kenway, were robbed of a box of jewelry just before we started on this trip,” said the lawyer. “Two rough men held them up in a hallway on a rainy morning and snatched a jewel box. The men were tramps – and the day before that two men who called themselves Klondikers had looked at vacant rooms in the house where the robbery occurred. Since then the girls think they have seen the same tramps several times. I hope you can round them up.”
“We’ll get ’em if they’re on Cedar Island!” the constable declared. “Got your guns, boys?” he asked the members of his posse.
Each one had, it seemed, and the nervous tension grew as the island was neared. Hank drove the Bluebird at her best speed, which, of course, was not saying much, for she was not a fast craft. But gradually the objective point came into view.
“It’s just as well not to have too fast a boat,” the constable said. “If the Klondikers saw it coming they might jump in the lake and swim away. They won’t be so suspicious of this.”
“Perhaps not,” the lawyer assented. But he could not help thinking how tragic it would be if it should happen that Neale’s father was among those captured. Neale himself guided the houseboat on her way.
“Put her around into that cove,” Constable Newcomb directed the youth at the wheel, when the island was reached.
Silently the Bluebird floated into a little natural harbor and was made fast to the bank.
“All ashore now, and don’t make any noise,” ordered the officer. “They haven’t spotted us yet, I guess. We may surround ’em and capture ’em without any trouble.”
“Let us hope so,” said Mr. Howbridge. “Have they some sort of house or headquarters?”
“They live in a shack or two,” the constable replied. “It’s in the middle of the island. I’d better lead the way,” he went on, and he placed himself at the head of his men.
“Don’t make any outcry or any explanation if your father is among these men,” said Mr. Howbridge to Neale, as the two walked on behind the posse. This was the first direct reference to the matter the lawyer had made.
“I’ll do whatever you say,” assented Neale listlessly.
“It may all be a mistake,” went on the lawyer sympathetically. “We will not jump at conclusions.”
Hank had been sworn in as a special deputy, and was with the other men who pressed on through the woods after Constable Newcomb.
Suddenly the leader halted, and his men did likewise.
“Something’s up!” called Mr. Howbridge to Neale. They went on a little farther and saw, in a clearing, a small cabin. There was no sign of life about it.
“I guess they’re in there,” said the constable in a low tone to his men. “The motor boat’s at the dock, and so is the rowboat, so they’re on the island. Close in, men!” he suddenly cried.
There was a rush toward the cabin, and Mr. Howbridge and Neale followed. The door was burst in and the constable and his posse entered.
Three men were asleep in rude bunks, and they sat up bleary-eyed and bewildered at the unexpected rush.
“Wot’s matter?” asked one, thickly.
“You’re under arrest!” exclaimed the constable. “In the name of the law I arrest you! I’m the law!” he went on, tapping his nickel shield.
One of the men made a dart for a window, as though to get out, but he was knocked back by a deputy, and in a few seconds all three men were secured.
Neale, who had pressed into the cabin as soon as possible, looked with fast-beating heart into the faces of the three tramps. To his great relief none was his father.
“Now, what’s all this about?” growled one of the men. “What’s the game?”
“You’ll find out soon enough,” declared the constable. “Are either of these the men you spoke of?” he asked the lawyer.
“Yes, those two are the ones that several times went off in a hurry in the motor boat,” said Mr. Howbridge. “But I can not identify them as the ones who took the jewelry. Ruth and Agnes Kenway will have to do that.”
As he spoke the two men looked at him. One shook his head and the other exclaimed:
“It’s all up. They got us right!”
“Come on now lively, men!” cried Constable Newcomb. “Search this place, gather up what evidence you can, and we’ll take ’em to jail.”
“Are there any others?” asked Neale, hoping against hope as the men were taken outside the shack and the search was begun.
“I guess we have the main ones, anyhow,” answered Mr. Newcomb. “Oh, look at this bunch of stuff!” he cried, as he threw back the dirty blankets of one of the bunks. “They’ve been robbing right and left.”
It was a heterogeneous collection of articles, and at the sight of one box Mr. Howbridge exclaimed:
“There it is! The jewelry case I gave Miss Ruth! These men were either the thieves or they know something about the robbery. See if anything is left in the box.”
It was quickly opened, and seen to contain a number of rings, pins, and trinkets.
“Well, there’s a good part of it,” the lawyer remarked. “It will need Ruth and Agnes to tell just what is missing.”
Mr. Howbridge and Neale were watching the constable and his men finish the search of the cabin, while others of the posse had taken the prisoners to the boat, when suddenly into the shack came another man, whose well-worn clothing would seem to proclaim him as one of the “Klondikers.”
But at the sight of this man Neale sprang forward, and held out his hands.
“Father!” cried the boy. “Don’t you know me?”
“It’s Neale – my son!” was the gasping exclamation. “How in the world did you get here? I was just about to start for Milton to look you up.”
“Well, I guess, before you do, we’ll look you up a bit, and maybe lock you up, also,” said the constable dryly. “Do you belong to the Klondike bunch?” he asked.
“Well, yes, I might say that I do; or rather that I did.” said Neale’s father, and though the boy gasped in dismay, Mr. O’Neil smiled. “I understand the crowd has been captured,” he added.
“Yes. And you may consider yourself captured also!” snapped out the officer. “Jim, a pair of handcuffs here!”
“One moment!” interposed Mr. Howbridge, with a glance at Neale. “I represent this man, officer. I’ll supply bail for him – ”
Mr. O’Neil laughed.
“Thank you,” he said. “Your offer is kind, and I appreciate it. But I shan’t need bail. I believe you received a letter telling you to make this raid, did you not?” he asked the constable.
“I did,” was the answer. “It was that letter which gave us the clue to the robbers. I’d like to meet the man who wrote it. He said he would give evidence against the rascals.”
“Who signed that letter?” asked Neale’s father.
“I have it here. I can show you,” offered Mr. Newcomb. “It was signed by a man named O’Neil,” he added as he produced the document. “He said he’d meet us here, but – ”
“Well, he has met you. I’m O’Neil,” broke in the other. “And it was I who gave you the information.”
“Oh, Father!” cried Neale, “then you’re not one of the – ”
“I’m not one of the thieves; though I admit my living here among them made it look so,” said Mr. O’Neil. “It is easily explained. One of the men made a fraudulent claim to part of a mine I own in Alaska, and I had to remain in his company until I could disprove his statements. This I have done. The matter is all cleared up, and I concluded it was time to hand the rascals over to the law. So I sent the letter to the authorities, and I’m glad it is all ended.”
“So am I!” cried Neale. “Then you did strike it rich after all?”
“No, not exactly rich, Son. I was pretty lucky, though, and I struck pay dirt in the Klondike. I wrote your Uncle Bill about it, but probably the letters miscarried. I never was much of a letter writer, anyhow. And I never knew until the other day that you were so anxious to find me. I couldn’t have left here anyhow, though, for I had to straighten out my affairs. Now everything is all right. Do you still want to arrest me?” he asked the constable.
“No,” replied Mr. Newcomb. “I reckon you’re a friend of the law and, in consequence, you’re my friend. Now come on, boys, we’ll lock up the other birds.”
Neale walked by the side of his father and it was difficult to say who talked the most. Mr. Howbridge accompanied the constable and from him learned how the raid had been planned through information sent by Mr. O’Neil.
When the party reached the houseboat, whither some of the deputies had preceded with the prisoners, the sight of a figure on the upper deck attracted the attention of Neale and the lawyer.
“Agnes!” gasped her guardian. “How did you get here?”
“On the Bluebird. I just couldn’t bear to be left behind, and so I slipped on board again after you said good-by on the dock. There wasn’t any shooting after all,” she added, as if disappointed.
“No, it was easier than I expected,” admitted the lawyer. “And, while you should not have come, this may interest you!”
“Our jewelry!” cried Agnes as she took the extended box. Quickly she looked over the contents.
“Only two little pins are missing!” she reported. “We shan’t mind the loss of them. Oh, how glad I am to get my things! And mother’s wedding ring, too! How did it happen?”
“I think you have Neale’s father to thank,” answered Mr. Howbridge.
“Oh, I am so glad!” cried Agnes, and she was happy in more ways than one. “What did I tell you, Neale O’Neil?”
The Bluebird made a quick trip back to the point and the rascals were locked up. Two of them proved to be the thieves who had robbed Ruth and Agnes, though their ill-gotten gains did them little good, as they dared not dispose of them. The third prisoner was not involved in that robbery, though he was implicated in others around the lake. Eventually, all three went to prison for long terms.
Neale’s father, of course, was not involved. As he explained, he had located a mine in Alaska and it made him moderately well off. But he had a rascally partner, and it was necessary for Mr. O’Neil to stay with this man until a settlement was made. It was this partner who had dealings with the thieves; and that had made it look bad for Neale’s father. This man was arrested later.
As soon as he saw how matters were on Cedar Island Mr. O’Neil decided to give the evil men over to the law, and he carried out his plan as quickly as possible. The two “Klondikers” who had inquired about rooms from the Stetson family were part of the thieving gang, and they were also later arrested. They were planning a bank robbery in town, and the two men who took the jewelry from Ruth and Agnes were part of the same crowd. The robbery of the girls, of course, was done on the spur of the moment. The two ragged men had merely taken shelter in the doorway, after having called at the Stetson house to get the “lay of the land.” And as such characters are always on the watch to commit some crime they hope may profit them, these two acted on the impulse.
For some reason the bank robbery plans miscarried, and the two jewelry robbers started back for Lake Macopic, where they had left some confederates, including Mr. O’Neil’s partner. The rascals imagined the Corner House girls were following them, hence the several quick departures in the motor boat. Whether one of these men looked in the window of Tess was never learned.
“I’m so glad our suspicions of Hank were unfounded,” said Ruth, when later the events of the day were being talked over in the Bluebird cabin.
“Yes, that ring was his mother’s,” said Neale. “He told me about it after I had hinted that we had been watching him. And, oh, Father, I’m so glad I found you!” he added. “You’re through with the Klondike; aren’t you?”
“Yes, I’m going to sell out my mine and go into some other business.”
“Do you mean back to the circus?” asked Mr. Howbridge.
“No. Though I want to see Bill and the others.”
“Why don’t you stay with us and finish the trip on the houseboat, Mr. O’Neil?” Ruth asked.
“Thank you, I will,” he answered, after the others had added their urgings to Ruth’s invitation.
And so, after the somewhat exciting adventures the trip was resumed, and eventually the craft was delivered to her owner.
Before this, however, happy days were spent cruising about Lake Macopic, the children and Mrs. MacCall enjoying life to the utmost. There were days of fishing and days of bathing and splashing in the limpid waters near sandy beaches. Tess and Dot were taught to swim by Neale, and his father made the children laugh by imitating seals he had seen in Alaska.
Hank, too, seemed to enjoy the vacation days, and he proved a valuable helper, forming a great friendship with Mr. O’Neil. During those days Ruth received two more letters from Luke and one from his sister. Luke was still working hard at the summer hotel, and Cecile reported that the sick aunt was now much better. Luke congratulated Neale on finding his father. And then, as was usual, he added a page or two intended only for Ruth’s eyes, – words that made her eyes shine with rare happiness.
“Oh, we had a lovely time!” said Agnes when they disembarked for the last time. “The nicest summer vacation we ever spent.”
“Indeed it was,” agreed Ruth.
“And when I get home I’m going to send Mr. Henry my doll and a kitten so he won’t be lonesome on that island in winter,” observed Dot.
“And I’m going to send Mr. Tom something,” declared Tess. “He likes me, and maybe when I grow up I’ll marry him!”
“Oh, what a child!” laughed Ruth.
“I’m glad you liked the trip,” said the lawyer. “And I think we can agree that it accomplished something,” he added as he looked at Neale and his father.
“It made my Alice-doll a lot better!” piped up Dot, and they all laughed.
And so, in this jolly mood, we will take leave of the Corner House Girls.
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