Chapter XI. Gaining a Point.
 

The sudden turn of affairs chagrined the Rover boys greatly, and for the moment none of them knew what to say.

Arnold Baxter and Dan grinned at the trio sarcastically, and the bully was the first to break the silence.

"Didn't get away that time, did you?" he sneered.

"Ha! so they are here!" came from Captain Langless, who had just stepped into the cabin. "And without the handcuffs, too."

"Let us alone," cried Tom hotly. "If you touch me again, I'll shoot somebody." And so speaking, he raised one of the pistols taken from the cabin wall.

His aim was at Dan, and the bully fell back with a cry of terror, for, as old readers know, Dan was a coward at heart.

"Don't--don't shoot!" he faltered. "Don't!"

"My pistols!" burst out the captain of the Peacock, in a rage. "Hand those weapons over to me, do you hear?"

He took several steps forward, when Dick brought him to a halt by raising one of the swords.

It was a dramatic scene, of intense interest to all concerned. Arnold Baxter gazed at the armed youths in alarm, and Captain Langless grated his teeth.

"This is foolishness," said the owner of the schooner, after a painful pause. "If you try to fight you'll only get into worse trouble. We are, all told, ten to three, and the best thing you can do is to throw down those arms and submit."

"We won't submit," came from Sam, with a boldness which was astonishing in one of his years. His stirring adventures in Africa and in the West accounted for much of this valor.

"We are not going to remain on this vessel," said Dick. "And if you try to detain us further somebody will get hurt."

"You scamp!" fumed Arnold Baxter, and looked at the elder Rover as if to annihilate him with a glance. But Dick remained undaunted, and gradually Arnold Baxter fell back a few steps.

It must be confessed that the Rover boys felt far from comfortable. Here were two of the enemy on one side and one on the other, cutting off their escape in both directions. More than this, Captain Langless now raised his voice, and presently several rough-looking sailors came rushing into the cabin.

"Leave the hold," cried the owner of the schooner to the Baxters. "I reckon I know how to manage 'em."

Arnold Baxter understood, and at once took his son by the arm. The pair had come down into the hold by means of a ladder lowered through the forward hatchway. Now they ran for the ladder, mounted, and drew it up after them. Then the hatch was closed down as before.

In the meantime Captain Langless whispered to one of his sailors, and the tar ran to one of the staterooms and returned with an old-fashioned seven-shooter, fully a foot and a half long.

"Now get back there," ordered the owner of the schooner. "I won't have any more fooling."

"If you shoot, so will I," said Tom quickly.

"And so will I," added Sam.

"We had better have no bloodshed," continued the captain, trying to control himself. "Behave yourselves, and you'll be treated all right. Kick up a muss, and it will go hard with you."

"What do you intend to do with us?" questioned Dick curiously.

"You'll have to ask your friend Arnold Baxter about that."

"He is no friend of ours!" cried Tom. "He is our worst enemy--and you know it."

"If you behave yourself I'll see to it that no harm befalls you," continued Captain Langless. "I'm sorry I mixed up in this affair, but now I am in it I'm going to see it through."

"You are carrying us off against our will."

The owner of the Peacock shrugged his shoulders.

"You'll have to talk that over with Baxter and his son."

"You've been starving us."

"We were just going to furnish you with breakfast and a small keg of water."

"We don't want to stay in that foul-smelling hold," put in Sam. "It is enough to make a fellow sick."

"If you'll promise to behave yourselves, we may let you on deck part of the time."

"You'd better," grumbled Tom. He hardly knew what to say, and his brothers were in an equal quandary.

"Come, throw down your arms and we'll give you breakfast here in the cabin," continued Captain Langless. "You won't find me such a bad chap to deal with, when once you know me. You look like decent sort of fellows, and if you do the right thing I'll promise to see to it that the Baxters do the square thing, too. We'll be better off on a friendly footing than otherwise."

The owner of the Peacock spoke earnestly, and it must be admitted that he meant a large part of what he said. The manliness of the Rover boys pleased him, and he could not help but contrast it with the cowardice of the bully, Dan. Perhaps, too, behind it all, he was a bit sick of the job he had undertaken. He knew that he had virtually helped to kidnap the boys, and, if caught, this would mean a long term of imprisonment.

Dick looked at his two brothers, wondering what they would have to say. He realized that, after all, they were in a hopeless minority and were bound to lose in a hand-to-hand struggle.

"We may as well try them," he whispered. "If we fight, one of us may get killed."

They talked among themselves for several minutes, and then Dick turned to the captain.

"We'll submit for the present," he said. "But, mind you, we expect to be treated like gentlemen."

"And you will be treated as such," answered Captain Langless, glad that there would be no struggle. "Come into the cabin and stack those weapons in the corner. They were never meant for anything but wall decorations," and he laughed somewhat nervously.

The three lads entered the cabin and put down the weapons. They kept their eyes on the captain and his men, but there was no move to molest them.

"You can go," said Captain Langless to the sailors. "And, Wilson, send the cook here for orders."

The sailors departed, and with something of a grim smile on his furrowed face the owner of the Peacock dropped into a seat near the companionway door. He had just started to speak again when there was a noise outside and Arnold Baxter appeared.

"Have you subdued the rascals?" he questioned hastily.

"Reckon I have," was the slow answer, "Leas'wise, they have thrown down their weapons."

"Then why don't you handcuff them again, the rats!"

"We are no rats, and I'll trouble you to be civil," returned Dick firmly.

"Ha! I'll show you!" howled Arnold Baxter, and would have rushed at Dick had not the captain interposed.

"Hold on, sir," were the words of the ship's owner. "We have called a truce. They have promised to behave themselves if we treat them squarely, and so there are to be no more back-bitings."

"But--er--" Arnold Baxter was so astonished he could scarcely speak. "You are not going to put them in the hold?"

"Not for the present."

"They will run away."

"How can they, when we are out of sight of land?"

"They ought to be chained down."

"Supposing you let me be the judge of that, Mr. Baxter. I promised to do certain things for you. If I do them, you'll have no cause to complain."

"Have you decided to take these boys' part?" ejaculated Arnold Baxter, turning pale.

"I have made up my mind that treating them like beasts won't do any good."

"They don't deserve it."

"Don't deserve what?"

"To be well treated. They are--are--"

"Young gentlemen," finished Tom. "The captain knows gentlemen when he sees them, even if you don't."

"Don't talk to me, Tom Rover."

"I will talk whenever I please. I am not your slave."

"But you are in my power, don't forget that."

At this moment the cook of the schooner appeared.

"What's wanted?" he asked of the captain.

"Bring some breakfast for these three young gentlemen," said Captain Langless. "Some fresh coffee and bread and some fried eggs and potatoes."

At this order Arnold Baxter stood fairly aghast. "You are going to let them dine here?" he gasped.

"I am."

"But--but you must be crazy. They will--er--think they are running the ship!"

"No, they won't. Leave them to me, and I'm sure we will get along all right. Come, let us go on deck."

"What! and leave them alone?"

"I will send a man down to see that they don't get into mischief."

"But I don't like this turn of affairs," stammered Arnold Baxter. He was half afraid the captain was going back on him.

"It's all right; come," answered the owner of the Peacock; and a moment later both men quitted the cabin.