Harold Bindloss.

The Boy Ranchers of Puget Sound



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Once more the horror of the thing was almost too much for Frank, but just then a furious thrashing of loose canvas and clatter of blocks broke out above them and relieved the tension.

"She's luffing with the sea on her quarter," said Harry. "I must get back to the helm, but we'll wait a moment and look around first. Lower your lantern. There's something on the floor – no, I don't mean the pistol, though you can pick that up."

He stooped down beside Frank, who held the lantern close to the wet planking, and saw for the first time a broad wet stain upon it leading toward the steps. That was enough for both of them, and saying nothing further they scrambled toward the door. They did not stop until they reached the wheel, and then Harry spent a few moments getting the vessel before the wind again.

"We're no wiser about the water yet," he said at length with a strained laugh.

"No," said Frank. "I didn't think about it – I only wanted to get out as quick as I could." He broke off, and then added, "What do you make of it?"

Harry stretched out one hand for the pistol, opened it, and held it up in the moonlight.

"There's a shell still in," he said. "The man it belonged to must have dropped it in a mighty hurry. It's clear that there was a row on board her either before or after she lost her mast. That Chinaman had a bullet through his head and somebody else was hurt, though he got out of the house – the stains showed that. I wonder" – and he dropped his voice – "if we ought to search the forecastle."

"I'm not going down," Frank answered decisively.

"Well," said Harry, "I don't feel like it either. That's the simple fact."

Again there was silence for a while and both were glad that the solid end of the house stood between them and what lay in the cabin. Then Frank roused himself.

"We've forgotten about the water, but the hatch is smashed," he said. "I expect they dropped the boat upon it in heaving her out. I might get down that way."

"You had better try," said Harry, glancing around and pointing to the sloop, which was now nearer them. "Jake must have edged her in when he saw the schooner come up with no one at the helm," he added. "It's nice to feel that he's about."

Frank agreed with him. Once more he found the sight of the sloop curiously reassuring, but he scrambled forward, and, wriggling through a hole in the broken hatch, clambered partly down a beam. There was water below him, but there was less than he expected, and he could not hear any more pouring in, though he recognized that this would have been difficult on account of the gurgling and splashing that was going on. After listening for a minute or two he went back to Harry.

"There's a good deal of water in her," he said. "Hadn't we better heave some of it out?"

"I don't think it would be worth while," was Harry's answer. "You could hardly work the pump alone, and if I left the helm she'd keep running up into the wind and yawing about.

I'd rather shove her along steadily toward the land."

"Then can't we get the foresail properly set and drive her a little faster?" Frank inquired. "She ought to bear it now the wind's dropping."

It was not only the leak that troubled him. He wanted to escape as soon as possible from the horror that seemed to pervade the vessel, and his companion eagerly seized upon the suggestion.

"Why, of course!" replied Harry. "I might have thought of it, but I've been kind of dazed since we got out of the cabin."

They went forward and led the halliards to the winch, but they would have had trouble in setting the partly lowered sail if the schooner had not come up into the wind and relieved the strain on it. By degrees they heaved up the gaff and peaked it, after which they went aft, as the vessel plowed faster over the falling sea.

"Now," said Frank, "the question is, where are we heading for?"

"I've been worrying over that while we set the sail," Harry responded. "If we hauled her up right now we might, perhaps, fetch the inlet where we arranged to join Barclay, but we'd have to jibe the foresail over, and as I would have to keep the helm while I brought her round and you wouldn't be able to check the sheet alone, it's very likely that something would smash when the boom came across. Besides that, we'd have a strip of rocky coast to lee of us presently, and we mightn't be able to keep her off it with only the foresail set. On the other hand, so far as I can recollect from looking at the chart, the islands are dead to leeward and we'd only have to keep her running to reach them. There's a sound where we'd find smooth water once we sailed her in. That would be the wiser plan."

Frank, concurring in this, sat down near the helm. He felt that he would not like to go far away, and he remembered that night watch long afterward.

The moon crept on to the westward, getting lower, and now and then flying clouds obscured the silvery light. The combers still came surging after them crested with glittering froth, though they no longer broke about the rail, and there was a constant gurgling and splashing of water inside the lurching vessel. At last Jake jibed the sloop's mainsail over and stood away from them. The moon was very low now and Frank grew somewhat uneasy as he watched the boat's canvas fade into the creeping gloom. Shortly afterward the moon dipped altogether and it was very dark.

"We can't be far off the land," said Harry. "I don't want to come up with it before daylight, but with no after canvas on her I don't suppose we could round her up and wait. If we did, I'm not sure we could get her to fall off again – one of the jibs is torn to ribands and the other's split. We'll have to keep her running."

They drove on and presently a faint gray light crept across the water to the east. A little later, when all the sky was flushed with red and saffron, a long black smear cut sharply across the glow.

"The first of the islands," announced Harry. "It's right abeam. We must get some foresail sheet in."

They had difficulty in doing so, though they led the sheet to the winch, but the schooner came up closer afterward, and when the sun had climbed above a bank of cloud the end of the island was rising before them and a strip of water opening up beyond it. Half an hour later they ran in with the foresail peak lowered down, and Frank gazed anxiously ahead as they drove on more slowly up a broad channel. On one hand there were rocks and scrubby pines, with larger trees behind, but he wondered what the result would be if a reef or a jutting point lay in front of them. The vessel's speed, however, grew slower still, the water became smoother, and at last Harry looked around at him.

"If you'll unhook the tackle and cut the lashing you ought to get the anchor over," he remarked. "I'll luff her as far as possible and you'll heave the thing off when I drop the foresail."

There followed a clatter of blocks, and a furious rattle of running chain, which presently stopped. Then as the swinging vessel drew her cable out they toiled desperately at the windlass to heave up more of it from below. The task was almost beyond their strength, but somehow they managed it and Harry clapped on a chain stopper.

"That should hold her," he said. "There's not much wind now. I'd be glad to leave her if I could get ashore."

This, however, was out of the question, since the canoe had gone, and very much against their will they waited on board for several hours until at length a trail of smoke arose above the pines. Then a little steamer with foam about her bows appeared from behind a point and the hoot of her whistle rang sharply across the water.

"Barclay, sure!" said Harry. "I'm certainly glad to see him."

A few minutes later Mr. Barclay climbed on board and went down into the cabin and all over the vessel with them before he made any remarks. At length he turned to the boys as they stood by the rail.

"You have done a very smart thing and I don't think you'll have any reason for regretting it," he said pointedly. "This is a good set-off against the failure at the other end. Jake got in with the message and we started as soon as I'd had a talk with him. Fortunately, we were able to creep along through the sounds and it's scarcely likely that any of the smugglers can have seen us."

"But what has become of this vessel's crew?" Frank asked.

"I don't know," replied Mr. Barclay. "We'll probably ascertain something about them later."

"Do you expect to corral the rest of them to-night?" Harry broke in.

"It's possible," said Mr. Barclay with a trace of dryness. "The first thing, however, is to beach this vessel, and then you and Jake must get off in the sloop. There's a good deal to be done, and I want to run the steamer back out of sight up the inlet as soon as it can be managed."

He called some of his companions on board, and when Frank and Harry sat down to an excellent meal in the steamer's cabin they heard the men heaving the schooner's anchor.

CHAPTER XXIX
THE RAID

Daylight was breaking when the boys ran into the cove near the ranch after a quick passage and saw Mr. Oliver standing on the beach.

"I've been looking out for you rather anxiously," he said when he had shaken hands with them. "Has Barclay been successful?"

"No," said Harry, "not altogether. Some of the dope men got away at the first place where they landed."

Mr. Oliver looked rather grave at this. "How many of them escaped?"

"I don't know exactly. The messenger said several. Besides, the crew of the schooner abandoned her, and it seems likely that they got ashore. That would make two parties who may have joined each other."

"Ah!" said Mr. Oliver; "it's a pity in various ways! How did Barclay get on at the other end?"

"I can't tell you. He didn't expect to make the seizure until night when the dope men's friends would be waiting for the schooner to run in, and he sent us off in the afternoon."

"It was wise of him," Mr. Oliver answered. "In the meanwhile your aunt hasn't cleared breakfast away, and as I expect you're ready for it we'll go in at once."

During the meal they gave him an outline of their adventures, to which he listened thoughtfully. Then he said:

"You had better lie down and get a sleep. We'll have another talk about it later on."

"I think I'd rather work," said Frank. "We got some sleep in turns last night, and I don't feel like lying down. The fact is," he added hesitatingly, "we've been doing something or other so hard since we went away that I don't think I could leave off all at once. I feel strung up yet and I'd rather keep busy."

Mr. Oliver smiled understandingly. "That's sensible. There's nothing as good as your regular work for cooling you off and helping you to get calm again; but if you like you can take a note over to Webster and you needn't hurry back if he asks you to have dinner with him. Then there are two or three stumps you may as well grub out."

They set out soon afterward and Frank, for one, was glad of the walk. He had been cramped on board the sloop, and the excitement of the last few days had told on him. He was nervously restless and felt that it would be useless to lie down until he was physically worn out. When he mentioned it to Harry the latter confessed to a similar sensation, and added that they had not yet finished with the dope men.

Mr. Webster was at work in his clearing when they reached it, but he walked with them to his house, dropping Mr. Oliver's note into the stove as soon as he read it.

"You'll have dinner before you go back and tell your father I'll come along," he said. "Would you like to take that single gun with you, Frank? Harry still has the other one."

Frank said that he would be very glad, but his companion broke in:

"What did dad ask you to come over for?"

"He wasn't very precise," answered Mr. Webster evasively. "He'll probably tell me more when I'm at the ranch."

As it was evident that he did not mean to be communicative, they ate their dinner without asking any further questions, but when they were walking home through the bush Harry smiled at his companion significantly.

"What do you make of the whole thing?" he asked.

"I don't know," said Frank. "Your father looked troubled when he heard the dope men had got away."

"He did," assented Harry. "Then he sent over for Webster, who wouldn't tell us what he was wanted for, though he made you take that gun along."

Frank knitted his brows.

"Well," he said thoughtfully, "it's only an idea of mine, but it's possible that the fellows who escaped might make an attack upon the ranch out of revenge. Now if we allow that the schooner had been driving along before the wind for some time after she was abandoned – and several things pointed to it – one would fancy that the men who left her must have landed not very far from the spot where Barclay's men tried to seize them. It seems to me the first thing they'd do would be to attempt to join the rest so as to be strong enough to resist a posse sent out to hunt them down. It would be clear that somebody had given them away and they'd no doubt blame your father. Of course they suspected him already."

"You've hit it," said Harry, whose face grew stern. "If they come along there'll be trouble, but we'll make some of it. I don't feel kind to the dope men after that sight in the schooner's cabin."

Frank thought that his companion wore very much the same look as his father had done on the morning when he stood beside the fallen horse with the smoking pistol in his hand.

"I expect they'll be desperate now," he said, but Harry did not answer, and they walked on a little faster.

On arriving at the ranch they set about grubbing up the stumps and managed to get one big one out during the few hours' daylight that remained, but neither of them were sorry when Miss Oliver called them in to supper. Frank, however, stood still a moment or two, glancing about him and leaning upon his grubhoe. There was not a breath of wind stirring, and the firs rose in dense shadowy masses against a soft gray sky. The light was fading off the clearing, the rows of stumps had grown blurred and dim, and it was impressively still. The whole surroundings looked very peaceful; one could imagine them steeped in continual tranquillity, but Frank remembered the broken mower and became vaguely uneasy. Besides, he could not get the scene in the schooner's cabin, where the dead man lay fallen forward across the table, out of his mind. Then Miss Oliver called him again, and making an effort to throw off this exceedingly unpleasant train of thought he strode quickly toward the house.

They sat about the stove after supper, and Frank fancied that Mr. Oliver was listening for something now and then, but for a while no sound rose from the clearing. He made the boys give him a few more particulars about their adventures.

"What do you suppose Barclay meant when he said that we would not be sorry we had brought the schooner in?" asked Harry.

"Well," his father replied, when he had considered a moment, "the vessel was abandoned when you fell in with her. If she had been employed in a legitimate trade you could have enforced a claim for your services and you would have had no difficulty in getting a large share of her value. The affair, however, is complicated by the fact that she was engaged in smuggling, because, while I don't know much about these matters, I'm inclined to believe that would warrant the revenue authorities in either seizing her altogether or holding her as security for a heavy fine. Still, even in this case, you should have a claim and I've no doubt that Barclay will look after your interests."

"Have you any idea what our share would be?" Frank asked eagerly.

"I could only make a guess. As she seems to be a comparatively new vessel and is probably in good repair except for the damage she received on the night in question I think you could hold out for two thousand dollars. It's quite possible that she only started a plank or two, and a new mainmast wouldn't cost a great deal."

"Two thousand dollars!" and Frank gasped with astonishment.

"I believe the award depends upon the value of the services rendered and the hazard incurred," Mr. Oliver answered with a smile. "There seems very little doubt that the vessel would have gone to the bottom if you hadn't fallen in with her, and I expect any arbitrator would admit that in running alongside and getting on board her in a heavy sea you did a dangerous thing. Jake, of course, would take a share, though his would be a smaller one than yours; but Barclay will be able to tell you more about it than I can. We must get his advice as soon as possible."

Shortly afterward Mr. Webster arrived carrying a rifle, and Frank observed that Mr. Oliver was glad to see him. They, however, only discussed fruit growing and the price of stock, and when by and by the boys became drowsy Mr. Oliver told them that they had better go to bed.

The boys were about to withdraw to their room, when Harry had a sudden thought.

"Where's the dog?" he asked.

"In the stable," said Mr. Oliver dryly. "We have kept him there the last few nights."

It occurred to Frank that this had been done as a precaution, since the stable and barn stood close together at some little distance from the house, but Harry made some careless answer and they turned away toward their room. When they reached it Harry sat down on his bed and his face looked grave in the lamplight.

"Dad's expecting trouble," he said. "You noticed that all the guns were laid handy and there was a lot of shot as well as rifle shells spread out loose on the shelf."

"Do you think the dope men will come to-night?"

"I can't say. I wouldn't be astonished if they did. Anyhow, I'm dead played out and we can go to sleep, because dad and Webster mean to sit up all night. I don't know whether you noticed that the coffee pot was on the stove and dad had his cigar box out."

Frank had not noticed it, but he had already discovered that in some matters his companion's eyes were sharper than his own. He, however, made no comment, for a heavy weariness had seized him at last and he was glad to get his clothes off and go to bed. He was soon asleep and some hours had passed when he felt Harry's hand upon his shoulder. Raising himself suddenly, he looked around. The room was very dark, and he could hear nothing until a door latch clicked below and he fancied that he heard stealthy footsteps outside the building.

"You had better get up and dress as quick as you can," said Harry. "That's Webster crossing the clearing. Dad slipped out a minute or two before him."

Frank scrambled into his clothes and followed Harry to the window, where they leaned upon the ledge. There was no doubt that somebody was moving away from the house, because they could hear the withered grass rustle and now and then the faint crackle of a twig, but they could see nothing except the leafless fruit trees and the black wall of bush shutting in the clearing.

Then a savage growl that sounded dulled and muffled broke out from the stable, and Frank felt a little quiver run through him. The sound died away and he found the heavy silence that followed it hard to bear, but a few moments later the dog growled again and then broke into a series of short, snapping barks.

"If he gets loose somebody's going to be sorry," said Harry with a harsh, strained laugh. Then he gripped Frank's arm hard. "Look yonder!"

A yellow blaze suddenly leaped up beside the barn and grew brighter rapidly, until Frank made out a man's black figure outlined against it. He seemed to be throwing an armful of brush or withered twigs upon the spreading fire, and Frank swung around toward his companion.

"Hadn't we better shout or run down?" he asked.

"Wait," said Harry shortly. "Dad's already on that fellow's trail."

He was right, for while the figure bent over the fire a thin streak of red sparks flashed out from among the fruit trees and the crash of a rifle filled the clearing. The man leaped back from the fire, ran a few paces at headlong speed, and vanished suddenly into the shadow.

"He's not hurt," Frank said hoarsely.

"Then it's because dad didn't mean to hit him," Harry answered. "That was a warning."

"He doesn't seem to be going to put out the fire."

"No," said Harry with the same strained laugh, "dad knows too much for that. Those logs are thick, they won't light easy, and it's only a little pile of small stuff that's burning. Dad has no use for standing out where those fellows can see him unless it's necessary. In the meanwhile the dope men don't know where he is and that's going to worry them."

Frank could understand this. It seemed very likely that the small fire would burn out before the logs caught, and it was clear that the men who had made it could not run back into the light to throw on more brushwood without incurring the hazard of being shot. On the other hand, Mr. Oliver would have to face the same peril if he approached to put it out. From this it seemed very probable that both he and the dope men would wait to see what the result would be.



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