Chapter XVIII. A Demand of Importance
 

Dick could scarcely believe the evidence of his own eyesight as he gazed at the former bully of Putnam Hall and the Frenchman who stood beside him.

"Baxter! Is it possible!" he gasped. "What brought you here?"

"Are you a prisoner, too?" put in Randolph Rover.

"A prisoner!" laughed Baxter. "Well, that's a good one, I must say. No, I am not a prisoner."

"And what brought you here?" went on Mr. Rover.

"Can't you imagine?"

"He is in with these rascals who have captured us," came quickly from Dick. "This is how you repay our kindness, Baxter?"

"Your kindness? Bah! I want none of it. Didn't I refuse your offer, made just before you went away?"

"But you didn't refuse the first money we gave you, Baxter."

At this the bully bit his lip. "We won't talk about that, Dick Rover. Do you realize that you are absolutely in my power? How do you like it?"

"It was not you who captured us, Baxter."

"Well, it amounts to the same thing, eh, Capitan Villaire?" and the big boy turned to the French brigand, who nodded. "We collared you nicely."

"What of Sam and Tom?" asked Randolph Rover anxiously.

"Ve will not speak of zem udders," broke in Captain Villaire. "Ve vill speak apout you."

"Did Baxter put up this plot against us? queried Dick.

"To be sure I did," answered Baxter, who loved to brag just as much as ever.

"And before I let you go I'm going to make you pay up dearly for all that I have suffered. Captain Villaire, have you had them searched?" he asked, turning again to his companion.

"Yees, Baxter, but za had not mooch monish wid zem."

"How much?"

"Only about a hundred pounds."

"Then they left it behind at Binoto's place," was the quick answer. "Now if those others aren't captured --"

"Hush, ve vill not speak of zat," put in the brigand hastily. "Tell zeni what I haf tole you."

"All right, I will." Dan Baxter turned once more to the prisoners. "Do you know why you were brought here?"

"To be robbed, I presume," answered Randolph Rover.

"Or that and worse," said Dick significantly,

"I reckon I have a right to all of your money, Dick Rover."

"I don't see how you make that out, Baxter."

"Years ago your father robbed mine out of the rights to a rich gold mine in the United States."

"That's your side of the story. I claim, and so did my father, that the mine was ours."

"It's a falsehood. The mine was discovered by my fattier, and if everything had gone right he would have had the income from it."

"This is ancient history, Baxter. Come to business. What do you intend to do with us?"

"We intend to make money out of you," was the answer, given with a rude laugh.

"In what manner?"

"First you will have to answer a few questions."

"Zat ees it," put in Captain Villaire. "How mooch morlish you bring wid you from America?"

"We didn't bring much," answered Randolph Rover, who began to smell a mouse.

"How mooch?"

"About two hundred pounds."

"Humph, a thousand dollars!" sneered Baxter. "That won't do at all."

"You must haf brought more!" cried the French brigand angrily.

"Not much more."

"You leave zat in Boma, wid ze bankers, eh?"

"Yes."

"But you haf von big lettair of credit, not so?"

"Yes, we have a letter of credit," answered Randolph Rover. "But that won't do you any good, nor the money at the banker's neither."

"Ve see about zat, monsieur. Proceed," and Captain Villaire waved his hand toward Dan Baxter.

"This is the situation in a nutshell, to come right down to business," said the former bully of Putnam Hall coolly. "You are our prisoners, and you can't get away, no matter how hard you try. Captain Villaire and his men, as well as myself, are in this affair to make money. The question is, what is your liberty worth to you?"

"So you intend to work such a game?" demanded Dick.

"That's the game, yes."

"Well, I shan't pay you a cent."

"Don't be a fool, Dick Rover. We are not to be trifled with."

"Well, I haven't any money, and that ends it. You already have all I had."

"Then you will have to foot the bill," continued Dan Baxter, turning to Randolph Rover.

"If you value your liberty you will pay us what we demand."

"And what do you demand?" questioned Mr. Rover.

"We demand twenty thousand dollars -- ten thousand for the liberty of each."

This demand nearly took away Randolph Rover's breath.

"Twenty thousand dollars!" he gasped. "It is -- is preposterous!"

"Is it? You are worth a good deal more than that, Mr. Rover. And I am demanding only what is fair."

"You shall never get the money."

"Won't we?"

"Never!"

"Perhaps you'll sing a different tune in a few, days -- after your stomachs get empty," responded Dan Baxter, with a malicious gleam in his fishy eyes. "So you mean to starve us into acceding to your demands," said Dick. "Baxter, I always did put you down as a first-class rascal. If you keep, on, you'll be more of a one than your father."

In high rage the former bully of Putnam Hall strode forward and without warning struck the defenseless Dick a heavy blow on the cheek.

"That, for your impudence," he snarled. "You keep a civil tongue in your head. If you don't --" He finished with a shake of his fist.

"You had bettair make up your mind to pay ze monish," said Captain Villaire, after a painful pause. "It will be ze easiest way out of ze situation for you."

"Don't you pay a cent, Uncle Randolph," interrupted Dick quickly. Then Baxter hit him again, such a stinging blow that he almost lost consciousness.

"For shame!" ejaculated Mr. Rover. "He is tied up, otherwise you would never have the courage to attack him. Baxter, have you no spirit of fairness at all in your composition?"

"Don't preach -- I won't listen to it!" fumed the bully. "You have got to pay that money. If you don't -- well, I don't believe you'll ever reach America alive, that's all."

With these words Dan Baxter withdrew, followed by Captain Villaire.

"You think za will pay?" queried the French brigand anxiously.

"To be sure they will pay. They value their lives too much to refuse. Just wait until they have suffered the pangs of hunger and thirst, and you'll see how they change their tune."

"You are certain za have ze monish?"

"Yes; they are rich. It will only be a question of waiting for the money after they send for it."

"I vill not mind zat."

"Neither will I -- if we are safe here. You don't think anybody will follow us?"

"Not unless za find ze way up from ze rivair. Za cannot come here by land, because of ze swamps," answered the Frenchman. "And ze way from ze rivair shall be well guarded from now on," he added.