The Speedwell Boys and Their Ice Racer: or, Lost in the Great Blizzardñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“And Dan,” whispered Billy, eagerly, “wouldn’t he have his woodpile pretty near to the door of the cave? What do you think?”
“I think you’ve got a good head on you,” returned Dan, promptly. “Let’s go careful here.”
Right at hand was a thick, low clump of bushes. The snow was heaped upon and into this brush, until it was waist high, only the tops of the bushes sticking out.
And, strangely enough, there seemed to be a narrow path, crooked as a ram’s horn, but quite plain – through the midst of this brush-clump.
“Look, there!” exclaimed the watchful Dan. “Leads right to the steep side of that rock. Come on.”
“But there’s no way of getting through that big boulder!” gasped Billy.
“Under it, perhaps,” ventured Dan.
He stooped as he spoke and tossed the snow aside. He got below the interlocked branches of the bushes, and knelt upon the stony ground. There was a sort of a tunnel under the brush. The ground was packed hard.
“By the paws of some wild animal that must have used this runway once,” whispered Dan. “It leads to his den.”
“I hope it isn’t at home,” chattered Billy.
“But there will be somebody else at home – sure! Come on – softly.”
In half a minute the two boys, Dan ahead, and both on hands and knees, had crept to the foot of the huge rock that seemed so impassable from a little distance.
Underneath the foot of the boulder, however, was a narrow passage entering the hillside. Without doubt it had once been the lair of a wild animal.
But Dan and Billy did not apprehend the appearance of any such tenant of the hollow in the hillside. It was long since any dangerous animal had been seen in the woods about Riverdale.
And it was man that had built the fire. The two boys crept a little way into the passage and listened. In a moment they heard a high pitched voice – a voice shrieking, it seemed, in pain and fright. But the words – if words the person uttered – were quite unintelligible.
“What d’ye know about that?” whispered Billy, forgetting at once his own misfortunes. “There’s trouble up there – ”
Again and again the shrieks echoed down the passage. Then followed the rough tones of a deeper voice. The man spoke in anger – there was no doubt of that – and instantly the shriller voice cried out again.
IN THE DEN
“It’s the dummy!” Dan exclaimed, in an awed voice.
“He’s in trouble,” agreed the trembling Billy. “Whatever will we do? There! hear him?”
“I wish we had a gun,” muttered his brother.
“We’re going to get into a fight in about half a minute,” Dan declared. “That is – if we stay here.”
“Let’s get out then,” said Billy. “Whatever it is – ”
Again the piercing cries of the unfortunate dummy broke out.
“My goodness! I can’t stand that,” gasped Dan.
“Can we help him – do you think we can?” demanded Billy. “But let’s not get into trouble ourselves – ”
Again the shrieks.
Dan scrambled forward up the passage, with Billy right after him. The boys could not remain quiet when a helpless human being was being tortured.
In a few moments they came out into a roomy cavity. The roof was high and dome-shaped. At the far side was a huge fireplace of rock and mortar, with a forge set into one side of it. There was a fire of charcoal in the forge as well as a heap of burning cordwood on the wide hearth.
At a glance the boys saw the whole picture. There were three rough looking men. Both Dan and Billy believed they were those who had robbed them of the Follow Me and had so ill-treated old John Bromley. But they were not masked now.
Two were holding the wildly shrieking lad the Speedwells knew as Dummy. The noise the unfortunate boy made drowned that made by the Speedwells in getting into the cave.
The back of the third man was toward the entrance. He was in command. “Give him another taste of it!” he ordered, just as Dan and Billy scrambled to their feet.
At once the other two swung the screaming boy up, and held the calves of his legs over the glowing coal on the forge.
The sight was too much for Dan Speedwell. He let out a yell, picked up a heavy stick of wood and charged the men. One he brought down at his first blow.
They dropped the dummy, who fell partly in the fire, screaming and struggling. He overturned the forge as he fell. The two other men sprang at Dan.
Billy had found a shovel. He used this with good effect upon one of the men; but the other got Dan down and was choking him on the floor of the smoke-filled cavern.
“Come on, Dummy! Help us!” shouted Billy, whanging away with his shovel.
But either the scorched boy was too hurt, or too frightened, to assist those who had come to his rescue. Dan and Billy had all the fighting to do themselves.
And they had a very poor chance when the three men recovered from their surprise. The one first knocked down rose, kicked the weeping dummy out of the way, and dived for Billy with a roar of rage.
He tore the shovel out of the boy’s hands and hit poor Billy just once across the shoulders. It nearly knocked the wind out of the lad and he staggered across the cave and fell against the wall.
Dan was by this time overpowered. The fight was over almost as soon as it had begun.
“What d’ye know about these kids buttin’ in this way?” demanded one of the roughs. “Ought to give ’em both a taste of the fire, too.”
“No! go easy!” advised the man who seemed to be the leader, in a cautious tone. “There must be somebody else near.”
“These kids wouldn’t have been ’way out here alone. Maybe we’re in bad, boys – ”
But a cry from the third man stopped the other’s mouth. The excited individual was hauling away the broken forge.
“Here we were trying to find out from Dummy where the box was hid, an’ here she be! Look a’ here, boys! What d’ye know about this?”
The others left Dan and Billy where they lay and rushed to the fireplace. Under the legs of the forge had been a loose stone in the hearth. One of the fellows pried it up. A cavity was revealed.
“We’ve got it! we’ve got it!” yelled one of the men.
“Shut up, I tell you!” exclaimed the leader of the three. “I tell you there must be somebody on this island besides these kids.”
“Aw, don’t be so scared, Tom. The kids just butted in. Friends of Dummy, proberly. Didn’t know no better.”
“They’ll know better now,” grumbled the cautious one. “We gotter beat it.”
“You bet,” agreed one of his fellows.
Meanwhile two of the men were lifting out what the hollow under the hearthstone contained. This was a heavy box, some two feet square, bound with iron bands, and padlocked.
“Knock off the lock and let’s see ’em!” exclaimed the more excitable fellow.
“No, we won’t,” declared the leader. “We gotter beat it.”
“How’ll we get away in this storm?”
“The wind’s all right. We can get away just the way we come – sure.”
“And these kids?” growled the other, eyeing the panting and bruised Speedwell boys with much disfavor.
“Leave ’em here with Dummy.”
“They’ll set the officers after us in short order.”
“Not if these two lads were foolish enough to come here to the island alone,” growled the first speaker.
“Huh! Going to tie ’em up – eh?”
“You bet. And Dummy, too. They can stop here a while and be company for each other,” and the fellow laughed in anything but a comforting way.
Dan and Billy were badly frightened, whether the dummy was, or not. The latter nursed his scorched legs in one corner. The Speedwell boys lay side by side in another. There wasn’t the first chance for them to escape, and the brothers knew it.
“We butted in where we had no call to, this time,” muttered Billy, in despair.
They had not long to wait. The three robbers had come to the island for just one thing, and they had found it. Whatever was in the padlocked box, they seemed delighted to have it.
Dan had joked about there being treasure buried on the island; but that is exactly what there was – so Billy thought. Dummy had been left to guard it, and was to show the hidden box to somebody. But these three ruffians were not the people who had any right to it.
This was easy to understand. And Dummy, although he had screamed and would not put up a fight, was brave in his way. He had suffered torture rather than show these men where the box had lain.
Now two of the fellows seized him once more, and the poor chap screamed again. They only bound him, however – but they bound him so tightly that he had good reason to cry out.
It was so with Dan and Billy, in turn, as well. At wrists and ankles the three boys were lashed with strong fishline, that cut into the flesh. It was impossible to stretch their bonds at all without lacerating their wrists and ankles.
Dan and Billy were thankful the scoundrels did not gag them as they had John Bromley earlier in the evening. Yet, who would hear them shout down here in the bowels of the island?
They saw the three men leave the cave, dragging the heavy box with them. One of them came back after a moment, made sure for the last time that the bonds of the trio of captives were all right, and then he, too, disappeared.
The boys were alone in the cavern.
AN EVENING DRIVE
Although the weather had been threatening all day, Mildred Kent went over to Lettie Parker’s house after supper, as she had promised. There had been no school for several days, but the girls were just as busy as Dan and Billy Speedwell. They were hard at work finishing certain Christmas presents.
To tell the truth, Lettie’s present was for Billy Speedwell, and was a handsome silk scarf – thick and warm – that the bronze-haired girl had been at work on for several days. Now her nimble fingers flew as she sat and gossiped with the doctor’s daughter. Meanwhile the latter was completing the initials “D. S.” she was embroidering in the corners of six very handsome handkerchiefs.
“And there’s another thing, Milly,” Lettie was saying, “that I want to see Billy about. There’s something going on up at Island Number One, and they say Dan and Billy know about it.”
“What do you mean?” asked Mildred, calmly.
“Something queer. You know what the boys said about that fellow they call ‘Dummy’?”
“Well, Sheriff Kimball told my father that the Speedwells are at the island a good deal, and that the dumb boy is a member of a gang of outlaws. Now, what do you think of that?”
“What nonsense!” exclaimed Mildred, her eyes very big and round.
“It’s not nonsense at all. I’m telling you the truth,” said the bronze-haired young lady, sharply.
“Of course. I don’t mean that you are not telling the truth. But this sheriff must be crazy to believe that Dan and Billy would know any outlaws. What kind of outlaws?”
“I’m sure I don’t know. But Sheriff Kimball has been twice to see father about it. Dan and Billy are bound to get into trouble if they don’t look out.”
“How ridiculous. I don’t believe there is anybody on the island.”
“We saw that dummy ourselves,” declared Lettie, her lips pursed.
“But you went all over the island with Billy afterward. You didn’t find any hiding place.”
“The sheriff says it’s there. He has reason to know, he states. There was some man – so he says – who broke with the outlaws and ‘turned State’s evidence,’ he calls it. Sheriff Kimball says he has been waiting for two months for this boy who can’t talk very well to come and see him. The man who confessed said he would send all the evidence by this dummy. And you know he was at Billy’s house and the boys never told the sheriff – ”
“Why should they?” demanded Mildred, startled.
“Well, you know what the boys said about finding a slip of paper after the dummy went away, and what was written on the paper? It said: ‘Buried on the island. Dummy will show you the spot.’ Sheriff Kimball says that doubtless referred to the evidence Harry Biggin meant him to have.”
“That’s the name of the man who broke with the outlaws and is helping the officers get the crowd.”
“He’s an informer,” asserted Mildred, with scorn.
“But that doesn’t help the matter any. If Dan and Billy have foolishly got themselves mixed up in it – ”
“Mixed up in what?” demanded Mildred, with some heat. To Mildred Kent’s mind it was impossible that Dan Speedwell could ever be in any real trouble – that is, trouble that came about through his not being “perfectly straight.” Billy, perhaps, might be foolish; but never Dan!
Just as she spoke there was a jingling of sleigh bells at the door of the Parker house. There had been little sleighing this winter, save on the river; but a couple of days before, a trifle of snow had fallen – enough to crust the Riverdale streets and the drives in and out of the town.
“Here’s Mr. Kimball now – I do believe!” cried Lettie, jumping up and running to a front window. “Yes! he said he was going up the river to the Biggin place, and he’d stop for father – ”
“This Harry Biggin,” said Mildred, suddenly. “Is he one of those farmers on the other side of the river?”
“Yes. They own that big place near Meadville, only on the other bank.”
“And he says Dan and Billy are connected with robbers – or outlaws – or something – ”
“I never said so!”
“I’m going to ask Mr. Kimball what he means, then,” said Mildred, firmly, and putting aside her work she arose and went quickly to the hall door.
Mr. Parker was welcoming the sheriff at the door. The latter was a tall, thin and wiry man, dressed in a long gray ulster belted at the waist. If old John Bromley could have seen him he would have immediately recognized the man he had driven away from his dock while the Speedwells were trying out their new motor-iceboat.
“Hullo!” said the jolly county clerk. “It’s only my girl and her chum. How are you, Milly?” and he pinched the cheek of the doctor’s daughter.
But Mildred was too anxious to be anything but direct. “Oh! I beg your pardon, sir,” she said, to the man in the ulster. “But are you the sheriff?”
“Of course he is!” chuckled Mr. Parker. “Have you some mysterious evidence you want to put before him – ”
“That’s just what she’s got, Dad!” cried Lettie, giggling.
“I’ll be glad to take up any case Miss Mildred has to offer,” said the county official, his eyes twinkling.
“It isn’t that. I want to know about Dan and Billy Speedwell. They can’t have done anything wrong – ”
“There it is again, Kimball,” exclaimed the county clerk, slapping the sheriff on the shoulder. “You start anything about Dan and Billy in this neighborhood, and even the girls will be after you.”
“But what’s their game up there at the island?”
“They have no game there,” said Mildred, with a very determined look.
“And at that old fellow’s wharf up the river. I’m not known much around that section. I’m from the other end of the county, and having only been in office six months, everybody doesn’t know I’m sheriff,” and Mr. Kimball laughed.
“To-day I was watching Island Number One for – well, for a reason. I saw those two boys racing over there in a most marvelous iceboat run by a motor – ”
“Oh, jolly!” exclaimed Lettie, breaking in. “They’ve built the new boat, then.”
“Wait, Kimball,” interposed Mr. Parker. “Tell the girls something more. I can see Mildred is interested.”
“She is if you are going to arrest Billy and Dan Speedwell,” laughed Lettie, who was just as full of fun as her father, and was not above teasing her chum on occasion.
“Well, I tell you!” exclaimed the sheriff, smiling. “I’m in a hurry. The Biggins, like all farmer folk, go to bed early, and I hear that Harry has dared creep home again and may be there to-night. I’m in a hurry, as I say; but I’ve got a two-seated sleigh here, and plenty of robes, and about the fastest pair of horses in this county – raised ’em myself. What say if we all – you, too, Parker – drive up the river, and on the way I’ll explain how the Speedwells seem to be mixed up with the Steinforth counterfeiting gang.”
“The Steinforth counterfeiters?” gasped Mr. Parker. “That’s more than you’ve told me before, Kimball.”
“Yes. But it seems we have about got things to a head now. Something is going to break soon, and I’ll risk talking a little. Want to go, Parker?”
“We’ll go,” said Mr. Parker, looking at the girls. “Just ’phone your mother, Milly, that you are going sleighing with me.”
“That’s all right,” said the sheriff, with a boyish laugh, and he ran out to spread the robes for the girls in the rear seat. Not a flake of snow had fallen yet, but the night was starless, and the wind cut sharply.
They got under way in ten minutes. The black horses were young and they had been standing in the stable behind Appleyard’s all day, and were very restive. The girls squealed a little as they clipped the corners going down to the open ice.
From River Street a path had been made down to the shore. It was an easy slant and the runners of the sleigh fairly pushed the horses on their haunches.
“Easy, boys! now we have it!” cried the sheriff, coaxingly. He handled the colts as though he loved them, and they tossed their heads, and pricked their ears forward, and seemed to know that he would let them out in a minute and give them a chance to show their mettle.
Their shoes had just been sharpened, and when they clattered out upon the clear ice they left little marks every time their dancing hoofs landed.
That did not seem to be often, at the pace they took when first Mr. Kimball let them out. They whipped the sleigh behind them as though it was of a feather’s weight. The two little lamps – one set at each side of the dash – sent twinkling, narrow rays of yellow light along the ice, glistening on each little imperfection. It seemed as though where the light fell a trail of stardust had been laid.
But there were no other lights upon the ice. With the keen wind blowing stronger, none of the boats were out from the Boat Club cove where all but the Speedwells’ craft were kept. And there were few skaters out on the river to-night.
For several miles – until they had swung past the lower end of Island Number One, indeed – Mr. Kimball had no chance for much talk. The girls were delighted with the drive now.
“It’s almost as good as being on the boys’ ice yacht,” declared Lettie.
“And now, what about the Speedwells and this Steinforth counterfeiting gang, Kimball?” demanded Mr. Parker, laying a hand upon the sheriff’s arm.
LOST IN THE BLIZZARD
“I’ve got nothing against the lads,” explained the sheriff, sitting sideways on the front seat after bringing the horses down to a more quiet pace, and speaking so the girls on the back seat could hear him. “But some things I have heard make me suspicious.”
“They seem to have had something to do with a boy called ‘the Dummy’ – he’s been to their house, you know. You told me so yourself, Parker.”
Mildred flashed Lettie a sharp glance and the red-haired girl had the grace to blush. So it had been her chattering to her father of what the Speedwell boys had told them about the island, and Dummy, that had set the sheriff to looking up Dan and Billy.
“This dummy seems to be the important link in our case against Steinforth and his co-operators. Most of the gang were arrested months ago by the Federal officers. But the engraving plates they worked from and a lot of finished notes, as well as a coiner’s outfit, were cached by the outlaws before their arrest.”
“Now, this Biggin, and the dummy, who is his nephew – ”
“Oh! is he really dumb?” cried Lettie, curiously.
“No. Dreadfully tongue-tied, I believe. A good person to trust a secret to, for he couldn’t tell it easily,” and the sheriff laughed.
“But is the poor boy really a criminal?” asked Mildred, faintly.
“Why – as to that – No! I fancy he is attached to Biggin. And Biggin was never really a member of Steinforth’s gang. Biggin drinks – that’s his failing. He used to go off into the woods on lonesome sprees. That’s how he fell in with the counterfeiting gang, he told me.
“Well, when the Federal officers got close on the trail of the outlaws they hid the plates and other things I mentioned, and sort of left Biggin in charge of the camp. But at once all the sheriffs in the State got busy. There’s a good, big reward offered for the discovery of the evidence the authorities need to convict the gang.
“After Biggin talked with me, he got scared. He wrote me he’d send the dummy to lead me to the place where the plates, and so forth, were cached. But he never came to me – the dummy didn’t, I mean.
“Now, what you tell me, Parker, about the Speedwells meeting and being friendly with Biggin’s nephew, has made me suspicious – ”
“I’m sorry if it made you suspicious of Dan and Billy,” said the county clerk. “No need.”
“That may be. But they go out to that island – and I believe the dummy is on the island part of the time. It may be, from what you tell me about the paper the Speedwells say he dropped, that the engraving plates and the other stuff is hidden on that Island Number One.”
“You haven’t any reason to suspect Dan and Billy, just the same,” declared Mildred, promptly.
Both the sheriff and Mr. Parker laughed. “Now, don’t you put me in your bad books, Miss Milly,” begged Sheriff Kimball. “I don’t mean to cause the boys any trouble. I am hoping to-night to catch Harry Biggin and make him talk plainly. That’s the object of this trip – although it is a pleasure to take you young ladies for a drive,” and he laughed again.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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