Chapter X. The Escape from the Hold.
 

"Sam, is that you?"

"Yes."

"We are trapped!"

"It looks like it--or rather feels like it. I can't see a thing."

"Nor I. Did you find out anything about Dick?"

"No."

A groan came from the opposite end of the hold.

"Here I am. How in the world did you get here?"

"Dick, after all!" ejaculated Tom, and there was a slight trace of joy in his tone. "Are you O. K., old man?"

"Hardly. They dosed me with drugs until my mind is topsy-turvy."

"I'm glad you are alive," came from Sam. "Where are you?"

"Here, lying on a couple of boxes. Look out how you move about, or you may hurt yourselves."

Handcuffed as they were, Tom and Sam felt their way along through the dark hold until they reached their elder brother's side. They grasped his hands warmly.

"I'm glad we are together again, even if we are prisoners," remarked Tom, and this was his younger brother's sentiment, too.

"How did you get here?" asked Dick, and each told his story from beginning to end, and then the elder Rover had to relate his own adventures.

"I knew that old doctor wasn't telling the truth," burst out Tom. "Oh, but won't we have an account to settle with all of those chaps, if ever we get out of this scrape."

"Don't let us hurrah until we are out of the woods," added Dick soberly. "We are in the hands of a desperate gang, to my way of reasoning."

"The Baxters are certainly bad enough."

"And any boat captain who would go into this game with them is probably just as bad. Whom did you leave on the yacht?"

"Aleck, and the lumberman who was on the raft with you."

"I wonder if they will follow this schooner?"

No one could answer this question, and for several minutes there was a silence. During that time they heard heavy footsteps cross and recross the deck, but that was all. Presently the schooner began to rock slightly.

"The wind is coming up," said Tom. "We are moving ahead again."

"That's bad for us--if the schooner manages to run away from the yacht," rejoined Dick.

Soon the motion of the Peacock showed that the schooner was bowling along rapidly. They heard the creaking of tackle as additional sails were hoisted, and felt certain that the craft was making the best run at her command.

The hold had not been opened up for a long time, consequently the air was foul as well as stifling from the heat.

"I'd give something for some fresh air," said Sam. "How is it with you, Dick?"

"I want fresh air and a drink of water. I am as dry as a bale of cotton."

"Haven't they given you anything since you came on board?" asked Tom.

"Not a thing."

"The inhuman wretches! Oh, I wish I had Dan Baxter here--I'd punch his head good for him."

"Ditto the head of his rascally father," returned Dick. "I would like to know just where they intend to take me--or rather all of us, now. They certainly can't expect to keep us on board this craft."

"Perhaps they'll ship us to Canada."

"Hardly, since they couldn't land on the Canadian shore without an inspection of the vessel."

"They have some plan up their sleeve, that's certain."

Slowly the hours wore away, until all sounds on deck ceased, and they knew it must be well along in the night. Still the schooner kept on her course.

All of the boys had been working at their bonds, but without success. They wished they had a light, but neither Sam nor Tom had a match, and Dick's pockets were entirely bare. Tom and Sam were likewise minus their pistols, Arnold Baxter having taken the weapons away before placing them in the hold.

The night proved to be a truly horrible one for the boys, for the hold was overrun with rats, who became altogether too familiar. At first one of the pests ran over Tom's legs.

"A rat!" he cried. "Hi, scat!" And the frisky rodent scampered off, but speedily returned, followed by several others. After that they had a lively time of it for half an hour, when the rats left them as suddenly as they had appeared.

The storm, and their various adventures, had tired the boys out, and soon, in spite of the surroundings, one after another fell into a light doze. The sleep did all of them good, especially Dick, who declared on awakening that he felt almost as well as ever.

"Only I'm as hungry as a bear," he added.

"Ditto myself," came from Tom. "I move we try to break out of this dingy hole."

"All right; but where shall we break to?" put in Sam. "I can't see much more than I could last night."

The matter was talked over, and presently they scattered, to feel along the ribbed walls of the hold.

For a long time nobody felt anything of importance, but at last Sam let out a soft cry:

"I've found something of a door!"

"Good for you," answered Tom. "Can you open it?"

"No, there seems to be a bar or something on the other side."

The others rejoined the youngest Rover, and made out the door quite plainly, for there was a broad crack at the top and at the side opposite the hinges. There was a bar, true enough.

"If we had something that we could slip into that crack, we might move the bar," observed Dick.

"I slipped on a sheet of tin a while ago," said Tom. "Perhaps I can find that."

His hunt was successful, and soon they had the tin in the crack under the bar. The latter gave way with ease, and then they pulled the door open. Beyond was the passageway leading to the cabin.

"Now what's the next movement?" whispered Sam.

"Let us try to arm ourselves first of all," answered Dick. "Then, if we are cornered again, we may be able to make some kind of favorable terms."

He tiptoed his way into the cabin and found it deserted. On the table rested the remains of a breakfast served to several people, and he picked up half a loaf of bread and put it in the pocket of his jacket. Several boiled eggs followed.

On one of the walls of the cabin hung two old-fashioned swords and a brace of pistols. Without hesitation he took all of the weapons and returned with them to his brothers.

"Here are pistols and swords, and something to eat," he said. "There seems to be nobody around, so you can come into the cabin, if you wish."

All entered the compartment. Both water and a little coffee were handy, and they made a hasty repast. While eating, Tom hunted around the room and also looked into an adjoining stateroom. In the latter place he found a bunch of keys on a nail.

"If only one of 'em fits these handcuffs," he murmured, and they tried the keys without delay. One did fit, and in a few seconds they were free of their fetters.

"Now 'lay on, MacDuff!'" quoted Tom, as he swung aloft one of the swords. "We'll give them a warm reception, eh?"

"We'll do nothing of the kind," replied Dick hastily. "In this case silence is the better part of valor. We'll lay low until the time comes to make a move."

"What, do you mean to go back to the hold?" asked Sam.

"We may as well, for the present. It is broad daylight now. Perhaps we can escape at night."

"Do you suppose they took our rowboat along?" came from Tom.

"I shouldn't wonder. We can---- Hist! somebody is coming!"

Dick was right; Captain Langless was descending the companion way. On tiptoes the three boys hurried to the door leading to the hold. As they flung it back they found themselves confronted by Arnold Baxter and Dan.