Harold Bindloss.

The Boy Ranchers of Puget Sound



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Harry was edging in toward the low black ridge of the island, and there was a higher mass on the opposite side crested with what appeared to be rows of pines, with a dark gap between them. They could now hear the surf on the weather side of the island, which told them that they were already behind it. Four or five minutes later the channel twisted, and as they swept around a black rock two or three lights blinked out ahead, with a low red blaze behind them, apparently on the opposite beach.

"There she is; ready to clear at the shortest notice," said Harry, stretching out a pointing hand. "They've kept the boom-foresail and most of the mainsail on her, though I guess the anchor's down. We'll get the centerboard up."

They were drawing nearer the lights rapidly, but it was two or three minutes before Frank, who heaved the board up into its case, could make out a black mass of fluttering canvas against the sky. Then Harry spoke again:

"There's a shingle bank runs out not far ahead and there can't be much water over it now the tide's nearly run out. I'm afraid I'll have to pass on the other hand of the schooner."

Frank could understand why he did not want to do this, since the channel was narrow and they must pass between the lights of the vessel and the fire upon the beach. It seemed to him that it would be singularly awkward if they met a boat coming from or going to the latter, which, however, was precisely what befell them.

Harry ran the sloop off as far as he dared, and Frank was watching the schooner's black hull rise higher when he made out a dim shape that moved between her and the beach.

"A boat, sure!" cried Harry. "Get the mainsheet in. We'll have to take our chances of the shoal."

He helped Frank with one hand, but the task was almost beyond their strength, and while they dragged at the rope the half-seen boat and the schooner seemed to be flying toward them. Then as they made the rope fast and the sloop headed in toward the island a pale gleam from a light on the vessel fell upon her. It seemed impossible to Frank that they should not be seen, but nobody hailed them, and while he listened, expecting every moment to hear a shout, a clatter of blocks broke through the splash of approaching oars. Even behind the island, the water was rather broken and the men seemed to be pulling hard.

A moment later the light faded off the sloop, though Frank could see the schooner comparatively plainly. Her tall, shadowy canvas was fluttering athwart the light, and beneath it a cluster of indistinct figures rose and fell as they heaved up something with a tackle. He could hear their voices clearly, and he was glad to remember that the dusky ridge of the island rose behind the sloop, though he wished his companion would run closer in with it. He had seen all he wanted and only desired to get away as soon as possible.

It became evident by and by that Harry had run in closer than was advisable, for there was a crash and the sloop suddenly stopped.

Almost immediately afterward she lay over with her boom and most of her deck on one side in the water, while the tide, twisting her bows around, threatened to pour into her over the depressed coaming. As she had come up nearly head to wind, her mainsail thrashed furiously, jerking the boom up out of the sea every now and then and letting it splash in again, while the flapping jib seemed likely to snap off the head of her rattling mast. Loose ropes appeared to be flying everywhere and Frank clung stupidly to the coaming, uncertain what to do. They were aground unfortunately close to the schooner, and, he feared, within sight of the men on board her. Harry's voice, however, roused him to make an effort.

"Jump forward with the big oar! We must get her off," he said. "The tide's still falling."

Frank trod upon and fell over the dog, who fortunately was unable to see anything over the coaming. He scarcely heard it yelping as he scrambled along the steeply slanted deck dragging the heavy oar. They got it over and thrust upon it in desperate haste in an attempt to cant her bow off, but as the tide swung her farther around her side came up against the oar, threatening to break it or pitch the boys over the rail, and for a while they strained every muscle in vain. Then she suddenly swung back in the midst of a furious swirl, and Frank fell down on something that seemed unpleasantly hard. Harry, flinging the oar upon the deck, dropped close by, feeling for a rope.

"Get up and get hold!" he cried breathlessly. "We must box her round with the jib. You can lie down afterward."

Frank scrambled up and pulled in a frenzy, and the boat swung farther around. Then the mainsail ceased fluttering, and jumping aft they fell into the well, where Frank fancied that he trod upon the dog again. Harry immediately seized the tiller, thrusting it to weather, and the sloop commenced to move slowly through the water, though there was a harsh grinding beneath her. By and by she suddenly shot forward again.

"She's off!" exclaimed Harry. "Give her sheet!"

Frank let the mainsheet run and afterward leaned breathlessly upon the coaming with a thrill of relief as they drove out into the deeper water; but it appeared that his companion was not satisfied yet.

"She should run over to the opposite side without bringing the boom across," he said. "There seems to be a big rock yonder and we could heave her to in the gloom of it. If I remember, it's good water."

"What for?" asked Frank, who was anxious to get out of the channel.

"Well," said Harry, "we've seen the schooner, a boat, and a fire upon the beach, but, after all, that's not a great deal to go upon. We want to make sure what she's putting ashore."

The boom lifted ominously as he ran her off and Frank fancied that somebody would certainly hear the crash if he jibed it over. She stretched across, however, and, rounding her up close beneath a dark rock, they hauled the jib to windward and waited. Though they were in deep shadow, a stream of flickering radiance fell upon the water not far away and lighted up a narrow strip of beach. A few minutes passed and then Harry touched his companion, who saw several men cross the shingle with loads upon their shoulders. Their figures showed black against the light, and Frank fancied that they were carrying square wooden cases. After them came several more figures, but these carried nothing and were dressed differently. They looked like Chinamen and they had evidently just got out of an unseen boat.

"Now," said Harry, "I guess that will do. If you'll trim the jib over I'll get way on her."

Frank was glad to do it. He felt that he had seen quite enough and it would be wiser to get away before any misadventure befell them. They ran out of the channel and were thrashing close-hauled into a rather steep head sea when Harry spoke again.

"There were four cases in the last lot, and another boat went ashore," he observed. "It looks as if they would swamp the market. Dope's dear, and a little of it goes a mighty long way."

"Perhaps there was something else in some of the cases," suggested Frank.

"It's possible, though from the little I know of the tariff I haven't an idea of what it could be. Anyway, that's a proposition we can leave to Barclay. They were certainly Chinamen and passengers who landed."

"How do you know they were passengers?" Frank inquired.

Harry laughed. "If they'd been anything else they'd have had to carry those boxes. As a general thing, an American doesn't work while a Chinaman watches him."

Nothing more was said, and half an hour later when pale moonlight once more streamed down upon the water the schooner swept out of the gloom astern of them. After that they went about and clung to the shadow along the land until they lost sight of her shortly before they ran into the cove.

It was very late when they reached the ranch, but they merely informed Miss Oliver that they had had some trouble through the canoe going adrift and had been compelled to beat back against a strong head wind.

CHAPTER XIX
THE CACHE

Mr. Oliver came home soon after the boys' visit to the island, and when he had heard Harry's narration of their adventures he made him tell it over again in the presence of Mr. Barclay, whom he had brought back with him. They were sitting in the log-walled kitchen in the evening with their chairs drawn up about the stove, and Mr. Barclay, holding his pipe in his hand, listened gravely.

"Well," he said, when Harry had finished, "you seem to be considerably more fortunate in these matters than I am. You have seen the schooner several times, and other interesting things, while I haven't even had a glimpse of the man with the high shoulder yet. I suppose I'll have to admit at last that I've been upon his trail for some time and have made some progress."

"You might as well have admitted it in the beginning," retorted Harry. "Some folks progress slow."

Mr. Barclay's eyes twinkled. "As a rule, it's difficult to hustle the Government of the United States, and I'm inclined to think the same thing applies to that of other countries. However, as I said, we have got ahead a little at the other end. For example, we have a tolerably accurate notion where the dope goes."

"Then why don't you corral everybody who has anything to do with it?"

Mr. Barclay's gesture seemed to beg the boy's forbearance.

"It's a sensible question. For one thing, strictly speaking, it's not my particular business which is really to sit in an office and dictate instructions most of the time. To some extent, these jaunts I've had with your father have been undertaken by way of innocent relaxation, although they may prove useful in case certain gentlemen send me along a list of peremptory questions on which they want reports. They do things of that kind now and then."

"I didn't think it was your business to take a smuggler by the neck and haul him along to the sheriff," said Harry with a reproachful air. "Still, you could call out your subordinates and send them off to round up the dope crowd, couldn't you? There must be some official machinery for doing that kind of thing."

"There is," assented Mr. Barclay, refilling his pipe. "The trouble is that it makes a certain amount of commotion, and when silence is important you have to be careful how you set it to work. As a rule, it's wiser to have everything ready first. The most careful plans fail sometimes if your assistants are more keen than judicious. That" – and he smiled at the boys – "is why I was dubious about taking you into my confidence before."

"Thank you, sir," said Harry with ironical courtesy. "Do you mind making what you mean to do a little plainer?"

"I'll try. In the first place, smuggling doesn't seem to be considered a crime unless you're caught at it. In fact, a Government of any kind is generally looked upon as fair game, and few people think much the worse of a man who succeeds in doing it out of part of its revenue. How far that idea's right or wrong doesn't concern me. What I must do is to prevent it from being acted on too often, and, taking the notion for granted; we don't want to put the laugh upon ourselves if it can be avoided."

Harry made a sign of comprehension. "Still, if you sent your people down here they should be able to corral part of the gang."

"I agree with you," Barclay answered dryly. "It's possible, anyway – but what would the result be? Three or four persons of no importance might be seized, the rest would get away with a warning, and our plans would all be sprung." Then the stout, good-humored man seemed to change, for his expression suddenly hardened and a look which the boys had never noticed there before crept into his eyes. "No, sir. We want them all, and when we move we expect to gather in the whole rascally combination."

"How can we butt in?"

"With your father's permission, you might, in the first place, invite me to an evening's flight shooting."

"Wouldn't it be better to go across the island in the daytime with the dog and Jake and a couple of spades?"

"No," replied Mr. Barclay. "If my opinion's of any value, I don't think it would be wise. Besides, I understand that the best time for getting a shot at flighting ducks is in the twilight."

Miss Oliver laughed softly. "Enterprise is a good thing, and so is self-confidence," she broke in. "On the other hand, I fancy that one can have too much of them, and a headstrong impatience is one of the faults of the young West."

Mr. Oliver looked at Harry, who grew a trifle red.

"There's truth in that," he remarked. "On the whole it might be better to leave all arrangements to the man in charge and just do what he suggests."

"Sure," assented Harry, and as he offered no more suggestions the matter was decided with a few more words.

Late in the next afternoon the boys set out with Mr. Barclay in the sloop, and as what wind there was blew off the land they crept along close in with the beach, which was high and rocky and shrouded with thick timber. When they drew abreast of the island the tide was higher than it had been on the last occasion, but Mr. Barclay said that they had better leave the sloop in the little bay in front of them and cross the channel in the canoe. He was a heavy man, and when he cautiously dropped into the craft her stern sank ominously near the water.

"You'll have to get farther forward and sit quite still," said Harry in a tone of authority, but with an amused look.

He took his place astern with Frank, who picked up the other paddle, in the bow, and a stroke or two drove them out into the rippling tide. It was growing dark, though the sky overhead was softly blue and there was a glimmer of pale saffron around part of the horizon. To the eastward the moon was just appearing above a bank of cloud. The wind, which had freshened, blew very cold, and Frank shivered until the paddling warmed him and he found that he could spare no thought for anything else. The tide was running over the shallows with a ripple that splashed perilously high about the side of the deeply loaded canoe, and now and then whirling eddies drove them off their course. Once, too, they ran aground, and Harry had to get in knee-deep to shove the craft off, while when they approached the end of the island they had to struggle hard for several minutes against the stream which broke into little frothing waves, during which the canoe got very wet. They came through, however, and reaching smoother water ran the canoe in and pulled her out, after which Frank was about to walk off up the beach when Harry stopped him.

"One learns by experience, and I don't feel like swimming," he observed. "We'll carry her right up and hide her in the bushes."

They did so with some difficulty and Harry afterward waited until Mr. Barclay spoke.

"We came out shooting," said the latter. "I don't see any reason why we shouldn't get a duck."

He turned to Harry, as if to ascertain whether he objected to this, but the boy laughed.

"If you don't know of any, I needn't bother about the thing," he answered. "There's a moderate breeze right off the beach and the guns couldn't be heard far to windward."

"I'm not sure I'd mind them being heard if anybody chanced to be about. It might save the inquisitive stranger from wondering what we were doing here, and the excuse strikes me as a nicer one than going swimming late at night in front of a Siwash rancherie."

Harry chuckled. "Wait until you fall over your boot tops into a pool, or follow a crippled duck through the water."

"I shall endeavor to avoid the first thing," said Mr. Barclay. "There's a remedy for the other, so long as I've two assistants."

They went back to the beach and waited there some time until Frank heard a regular beat of wings, and a drawn-out wedge of dusky bodies appeared above the trees dotted upon the sky. He was farthest from them and he watched Mr. Barclay, who had brought a gun with him, standing, an indistinct, half-seen figure thirty or forty yards away. At last the man threw up his arms, there was a quick yellow flash, a crash, and then a second streak of flame leaping from the smoke. After that there followed two distinct and unmistakable thuds, and Frank pitched up his gun as Harry fired. He heard two jarring reports and running forward saw Mr. Barclay pick up a bird that had fallen almost at his feet.

"There's another over yonder," the latter remarked.

Harry found it in a minute or two and handed it to him.

"One with each barrel!" he said, and added with a rueful laugh, "I don't see any more about."

"Then I think we'll take a look around the island," Mr. Barclay answered.

He left the beach with the boys, but they dropped behind him and let him take the lead when they reached the scrubby firs which were scattered more or less thickly about the rocky ground. Frank fancied that Harry had some reason for doing this and the supposition was confirmed when Mr. Barclay stopped a moment beside a brake of withered fern and then, after stooping down, carefully skirted it as he went on again. The sky was clear, and though the moon was in its first quarter it shed a faint elusive light.

"That man can shoot, and it looks as if he was quite as smart at picking up a trail," said Harry in a low tone. "Anyway, if I'd been looking for a stranger's tracks I'd have tried yonder fern and I'd have been as particular not to smash any of it down as he was. I've an idea he must have chuckled sometimes when I got guying him." He paused and added thoughtfully, "It's the kind of fool thing you're apt to do unless you're careful."

After this they spent a considerable time wandering up and down a portion of the island, though Frank fancied that Mr. Barclay, who asked Harry a question now and then, had some purpose that guided him. The moonlight was too dim and the shadows among the trees too dense for him to follow a trail steadily, but he seemed to be prospecting for likely places where footprints or broken-down undergrowth might be found. At length they reached a little stony hollow, with a rock that rose some six or seven feet on one side and dark firs clustering close about it. Here Mr. Barclay stopped and looked about him before he turned to Harry.

"Now," he said, "this is a spot that could be easily described and located by anybody who happened to be told about it. That rock would make a first-class mark. If you had anything to bury for somebody else to dig up, where would you put it?"

Harry walked about the place, stepping carefully upon the stones and avoiding the scattered underbrush, until he reached a clump of withered fern.

"Right here," he replied, and kneeling down pulled some of the yellow fronds about. Then he looked up sharply. "This stuff's very dead and it's lying flat," he exclaimed. "Farther on the stems aren't broken and some of them don't seem quite dried up yet."

Frank acknowledged that these were things he would not have noticed, but Mr. Barclay nodded.

"Somebody else may have fixed on the same spot as you have done," he said. "It's possible, though I don't think it's more than that. There might be half a dozen similar places on the island, but if you'll handle the fern carefully it wouldn't do any harm to make a hole."

They had brought a light spade with them, and after Harry had cleared the ground Frank set to work with it. He had taken out only a few shovelfuls of soil and shingle when he gave a cry of surprise as he struck something that seemed more solid.

Harry and Mr. Barclay stooped down beside him. The latter struck a match and lighted a piece of paper he took from his pocket, and before it went out Frank had cleared the soil away from the top of a small wooden case.

"It's rather more than I could have reasonably expected," said Mr. Barclay, "but when you haven't much to act upon it's wise to make the most of what you've got and leave the rest to chance. Now you may as well shovel that dirt back."

"Aren't you going to take the thing out?" Frank asked in astonishment.

"No," replied Mr. Barclay, "I don't think it's necessary. It wouldn't be the first time I'd seen opium and we don't want to leave too plain a trail behind us. As we have spent some time on the island already, hadn't you better get to work?"

Frank flung back the soil and when he had finished Harry replaced the loose fern which he had carefully laid aside. He did not, however, seem satisfied with the way he had arranged it and when he looked up at Mr. Barclay his manner was diffident.

"I'm afraid I can't do any better in the dark," he said.

"It will probably be dark when the next man comes along," Mr. Barclay answered. "Anyway, the first breeze of wind or heavy rain will straighten things up. In the meanwhile we'll get back to the sloop."

They turned away, but they had scarcely gone a hundred yards when Mr. Barclay put his hand into his pocket and stopped.

"I've dropped my pipe," he said. "It was rather a good one."

"Then I know where it is," Frank broke in. "You must have pulled it out with the paper. I heard something fall, but I was too interested to bother about it. If you'll wait, I'll go back and get it."



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