Chapter XXIII. The Man's Story.
 

There was a great splash, and the man disappeared under the water. It all occurred suddenly, and the man must have made up his mind quickly that he had not a chance to stay on the trestle when the train passed over it.

"He'll be killed!" cried Mollie. "Oh, Betty, what can we do?"

"Nothing, if he really is killed," answered the practical Little Captain. "But he jumped like a man who knew how to do it, and how to dive. The water is deep there."

"Come on!" cried Amy, for once taking the initiative, and she darted toward the bank of the stream.

"There he is!" cried Betty. "He's come up!"

As she spoke, the man's head bobbed into view, and, giving himself a shake to rid his eyes of water, he struck out for the shore.

"Oh, he's swimming! He's swimming!" Mollie exclaimed. "We must get him a rope--a plank--anything! We'll help you!" she called, and she ran about almost hysterically.

The man was now swimming with long, even strokes. He seemed at home in the water, even with his clothes on, and the long jump had evidently not injured him in the least.

He reached the bank, climbed up, and stood dripping before the four young travelers.

"Whew!" he gasped, taking off his coat and wringing some water from it. "That was some jump! I had to do it, though!"

"Indeed you were fortunate," said Betty. "Are you hurt?"

"Not a bit--a little shaken up, that's all. I should not have been on that bridge, as a section hand warned me a train was due, and the trestle is very narrow. But I was taking a short cut. Railroads seem to bring me bad luck. This is the second time, in a little while, that I've had trouble on this same line."

Grace was rummaging about in the valise she carried.

"Where's our alcohol stove?" she demanded, of Mollie.

"Why? What do you want of it?"

"I'm going to make him a cup of hot chocolate. He must need it; poor fellow!"

"I'll help you," said Mollie, and the two set up the little heating apparatus in the lee of a big rock.

"Are you sure you're not hurt?" asked Betty, anxiously.

"Oh, I'm all right," the man assured the girls. "I wish I had some dry clothes. This is about the only suit I have. However, the sun will soon dry them, but they'll need pressing."

"We're making you some chocolate," spoke Grace. "It will be ready soon, and keep you from getting cold."

The man--he was young and good-looking--smiled, showing his even, white teeth.

"You seemed prepared for emergencies," he said to Betty. "Are you professional travelers?"

"Just on a walking tour. We're from Deepdale. We're going home to-morrow, after stopping over night in Judgeville. We were just going to get our noon-day lunch when we saw you jump."

"Indeed," remarked the young man, who was now wringing out his vest. "From Deepdale; eh? I've been through there on the train. This line runs there; doesn't it?" and he motioned to the one he had so hastily left.

"Yes," answered Betty. "But we never walk the track--though we did once for a short distance."

"And we found a broken rail, and told a flagman and he said the train might have been wrecked," remarked Amy.

It was the first she had spoken in some time. The young man looked at her sharply--rather too long a look, Betty thought; but there was nothing impertinent in it.

"Railroads--or, rather, this one--have been the cause of two unpleasant experiences to me," the young man went on. "I was nearly injured just now, and not long ago I lost quite a sum of money on this line."

At the mention of money Betty started. The others looked at her.

"How did it happen?" asked Betty, and then of a sudden she stared at the young man. "Excuse me, but, but--haven't we met before?" she stammered.

"Sure!" he answered, readily. "You young ladies were kind enough to share your lunch with me one day."

"Oh!" cried Mollie. "But you--you looked different then!"

"You had a mustache and long hair," murmured Amy.

"That's right, so I did. But I had my hair cut day before yesterday and the mustache taken off. Changes me quite a lot; doesn't it?"

"Yes," replied Betty. "But you were saying something about losing money on this line," she added, quickly.

"Well, I was on my way to New York, expecting to complete a business deal. I fell asleep in the car, for I was quite tired, and I guess I had been thinking pretty hard on that business matter. You see a fellow offered me an option on a small, but good, concern, for four hundred dollars. I knew if I could clinch the deal, and get the option, that some friends of mine would invest in it, and I'd have a good thing for myself.

"Well, as I say, I fell asleep. Then I dreamed someone was trying to get my pocketbook. It was a sort of nightmare, and I guess I struggled with the dream-robber. Then, all of a sudden, I woke up, and--"

"Was your pocketbook gone?" asked Mollie.

"No, but my money was. And that was the funny part of it. How anyone could get the money without taking the pocketbook I couldn't see. And there wasn't anyone in the car with me but a boy--a peddler, I think he was."

The girls looked at each other. Matters were beginning to fit together most strangely.

"I didn't know what to do," the young man went on. "I didn't want to say anything that would seem as if I accused the boy, and I felt the same about the trainmen. I knew if I said the money had been taken and the pocketbook left they would only laugh at me. I was all knocked out, and hardly knew what I was doing. I jumped off the train, and went back over the line, thinking the bill might have blown out of the window. But--"

"That is just what did happen!" cried Betty.

"What's that?" the man exclaimed, excitedly.

"I say that is exactly what happened!" went on the Little Captain. "At least, that is how I account for it."

"What sort of a bill did you lose?" asked Mollie, trying not to get excited.

"It was one of five hundred dollars, and--"

"Did it have a--anything pinned to it?" exclaimed Betty.

"It did--a note. Wait, I can tell you what it said on it." He hesitated a moment and then repeated word for word the writing on the note pinned to the bill the girls had picked up. "But I don't see how you know this!" he added, wonderingly.

"We know--because we found your five hundred dollar bill!" exclaimed Betty.