Chapter XXI. Captain Rodney's Testimony
 

It was raining steadily when the three Rover boys reached the Blue Horseshoe Tavern, an ancient hostelry standing at the junction of two main roads. In the rear was a barn, and a big carriage shed which had been converted into a garage. The youths headed for the latter place and entered quickly, to get out of the downpour.

A colored man came forward to see what they wanted.

"Can we hire a car here, and at once?" questioned Dick.

"Sorry, boss, but we ain't got no car in jest now," answered the colored man. "I expect one back in about an hour."

"The car that just went out?" demanded Tom.

"Yes, sah."

"Can't you get us any sort of a car?" pleaded Sam.

"Ain't got nuffin' in 'ceptin' a roadster, an' that won't run-- sumthin' the matter with the carburetor."

"Are you sure that other car will be back in an hour?" demanded Dick.

"I think so. The gents as took it said they didn't want to go more than ten miles."

"All right, we'll wait till the car gets back," answered Dick, struck with a sudden idea.

"But, Dick, we'll lose valuable time," whispered Sam.

"Perhaps not, Sam. If we got a car now we wouldn't know where to go. If that driver comes back and takes us----"

"Oh, I see."

"Fine!" murmured Tom.

"You call us as soon as that car shows itself," said Dick, to the colored man. "We'll be in the tavern."

"Yes, sah," was the reply, and the man readily pocketed the quarter that the oldest Rover tossed to him.

The boys ran to the tavern by a side entrance which was not far from the shed. They walked along a porch until they came to some windows opening from a dining room.

"Look in there!" cried Tom, coming to a halt.

The others did as directed and saw, at one of the tables, the man they had seen on the deck of the Ellen Rodney. "It's Captain Rodney," went on Tom, who had learned the name from the schooner's mate.

"And he is alone, which proves that the others were in that auto with dad," returned Sam.

"I'm going to interview him!" cried Dick. "And maybe I'll have him arrested."

All three boys walked into the dining room of the tavern and took seats at the same table with the master of the schooner. He started, and was about to spring to his feet, when Dick stopped him.

"Sit where you are," said the oldest Rover boy, sternly. "If you attempt to leave I'll call the police."

"What do you-- er-- mean?" stammered the man, and he looked decidedly uncomfortable.

"I reckon you know who we are, Captain Rodney," said Tom.

"I don't."

"We are Anderson Rover's sons," said Sam.

"Never heard of that man," faltered the captain.

"You had him a prisoner only a short while ago."

"Oh, you mean that crazy man who was aboard my schooner? I thought his name was Brown."

"See here, Captain Rodney, you can't fool us, so you had better not try," said Dick, sternly. "You know the game those men are trying to play. They are going to prison for it,-- and you'll go, too, if you are not careful."

"What! you threaten me!" roared the man, growing red in the face.

"I do."

"I can have the law on you for it."

"Go ahead, the sooner the better," responded Dick, coolly. "Those men are rascals and you know it. Now, I am going to give you one chance-- just one," went on Dick, looking the master of the Ellen Rodney squarely in the eyes.

"What do you mean?"

"As I said before, those men are rascals. They abducted my father, and you aided them. I can prove it. As soon as we rescue my father we are going to prosecute those rascals. If you want to save your own skin you had better help us all you can."

At these plain words the face of Captain Rodney became a study.

"They told me he was a crazy man-- a brother to one of the others-- and they wanted to get him to some sanitarium."

"If that was so, why did they run away?"

"I didn't know they ran away-- until just now."

"You started to go down the river," said Tom.

"Why did you change your mind and come here?"

"They chartered the schooner for a week-- I was under their orders."

"Where were they going at first?"

"Down the Jersey coast and back. They said they thought a little ocean air would do the crazy man good before they put him in the sanitarium. I own up that I was suspicious, but they claimed everything was straight."

"They were going to take my father down the coast for several days so that he could not sign important papers," returned Dick. "It is a well-laid plot to do our family out of a great deal of money and dishonor my father."

"Well, I ain't in it, I give you my word. I chartered my vessel to 'em, that's all."

"We will take you at your word, then. But you must tell all you know about them and their plans," said Dick, after a pause.

"And if I do that, will you-- er-- drop the charge against me?" questioned the master of the Ellen Rodney, eagerly.

"If you don't, we are going to have you

placed under arrest as soon as we can get an officer."

"Don't do that! I never had any trouble before and I don't want it now. I'll help you all I can-- if what you say its true, and that man is your father."

After that the captain was quite willing to talk, and he told how Crabtree and Japson had come to him and questioned him about the schooner, and finally chartered the craft for a week. They had at first wanted to pay him at the end of the time, but he had insisted upon receiving his money in advance and it was then paid over. He had been told that the strange man was Crabtree's brother, who had gone crazy because of the loss of his money in a Western irrigation scheme.

"They said they would take him down the coast for three or four days, to brace him up a bit. Then we were to run in at Absecon, near Atlantic City, and land all hands. They said they would go from Atlantic City to Lakewood, where the sanitarium was located."

"Probably they intended to let him go at Absecon and then deny that they had ever touched him," said Dick.

"Maybe-- I don't know anything about that," replied the captain.

"But how did you come to change your plans?" asked Tom.

"When you came out in that rowboat and the crazy man-- excuse me, I mean your father-- cut up so, they hustled him back to one of the state-rooms," went on Captain Rodney. "Then they had a long talk. I think they were afraid you would go down the river by train and try to head them off "Which we did," murmured Sam.

"After a while Pelter and Japson came to me and said they must come up the river-- that a sister of the crazy man lived up here, and they must visit her before they went down the coast. I was suspicious, but what could I do? I had chartered my vessel and I had my money, so I obeyed orders. Then we came up here as fast as we could. The steam tug was dismissed, and we came ashore to this place. Then they hired an auto and went off-- and that's all I know about it."

"You don't know where they went?" cried Dick.

"No more than what they said-- that they were going to the crazy man's sister."

"Which was false," muttered Tom.

"What were you to do?" asked Dick.

"They told me I might sail up the river to Newburgh and wait there for a telegram."

After that the captain talked freely. But what he had to say shed but little more light on the subject. The boys came to the conclusion that he had been dragged into the plot without knowing what it was, but that he had been willing to lend his help, provided he was well paid for it.

"When the proper time comes I shall want your testimony," said Dick, at the conclusion of the interview. "In the meantime I advise you to have no more to do with those fellows."

"They shan't come near the schooner, even if they did charter her," growled Captain Rodney.