Chapter XII. A Dinner of Importance.
 

"The captain isn't such a bad fellow, after all," observed Sam, when the three Rovers were left to themselves.

"He certainly isn't a brute," answered Dick. "But about being bad, that's another story."

"He's got an awfully shrewd face," put in Tom. "But I'm mighty glad he turned old Baxter down. That villain would ride over us roughshod."

"I think, all told, we have gained a point," continued Dick. "It's something to be treated decently, even if you are a prisoner. The question is, how long will we be caged up on board of the schooner?"

"I would like to know if the Swallow is in sight," said Tom. "Wonder if I can't slip up the companion way and find out?"

He arose from the seat into which he had dropped, but before he could gain the doorway a sailor appeared and waved him back. Then the sailor took the seat the captain had occupied by the door.

"Are you sent to spy on us?" demanded Tom,

"I was sent to see that you didn't cut up any tricks," answered the tar. He was terribly crosseyed, but appeared to be rather good-natured. "You mustn't go on deck without the captain's permission."

"Can't we have any fresh air?"

"You'll have to ask the captain about that He said I was to watch you while you had breakfast, and keep you and those other folks from quarreling."

"What other folks, the Baxters?"

"Yes."

No more was said, and soon the cook appeared with a pot full of newly made coffee and a trayful of other things. The hasty lunch had been a scanty one, and it did not interfere with the boys' appetites for what was now set before them.

"This is all right," observed Sam, when he had almost finished eating. "We couldn't have a better meal on the Swallow." He turned to the sailor. "Is the yacht still in sight?"

He spoke carelessly, but the tar knew how much he was interested and smiled suggestively.

"No sail of any kind in sight."

"Where are we bound?"

"You'll have to ask the captain about that"

"Do you mean to say you don't know?"

The sailor nodded. "We follow orders, we do, and that's all," he observed, and then they could get nothing more out of him.

The boys took their time, yet the meal was finished inside of half an hour. They were just getting up from the table when Captain Langless reappeared.

"Well, how did the breakfast suit?" he asked.

"First-rate," returned Dick. "Now, if you don't mind, we would like to go on deck."

"You may do so under one condition."

"And that is----?"

"That you will go below again when ordered by me."

At this both Tom and Sam cut wry faces.

"You are rather hard on us," said Dick slowly.

"On the contrary, I think I am treating you generously. The Baxters wish to handcuff you and put you back into the hold."

There was a pause, and then the boys agreed, if allowed to go on deck, to go below again whenever the captain wished.

"But, remember, we are going to get away if we can," added Dick.

"All right, get away--if you can," rejoined Captain Langless. "If you go overboard you'll be in for a long swim, I can tell you that."

It felt good to get into the bright sunshine once more, and the boys tumbled up to the deck without ceremony. As soon as they had quitted the cabin the captain put away the weapons at hand, locking them in a closet.

As the sailor had said, no other craft was in sight, and on every hand stretched the calm waters of Lake Erie as far as eye could reach. The course was northwest, and Dick rightfully guessed that they were heading for the Detroit River. There was a stiff breeze blowing and, with every sail set, the Peacock was making rapid headway.

It was not long before Dan Baxter came up to them. The bully's face was dark and threatening, yet he did not dare say much, for Captain Langless had given him warning that the prisoners must not be molested.

"I suppose you think it a fine thing to be up here," he began.

"It will be if we don't get too much of you." replied Tom bluntly. "I suppose you would give a good deal to be on land."

"Not particularly. We enjoy sailing. If not, we wouldn't have been out in our yacht/'

"Where were you bound?"

"That was our business, Baxter."

"Oh, if you don't want to tell me, you needn't," growled the bully, and walked away.

"I'll wager he and his father have had a row with Captain Langless," observed Dick. "Otherwise he wouldn't be half so meek."

"I wish we could win Captain Langless over to our side," put in Sam suddenly, struck by the idea. "Do you suppose it could be done if we paid him well?"

"I'd hate to buy him off," said Tom.

"But it might be best," said Dick slowly. "We don't know what the Baxters may have in store for us."

"It's pretty plain to me what they want to do. They are going to hold us prisoners until father signs off his rights to that mining claim."

"And if father won't sign off?"

"Then they'll treat us pretty badly."

"Perhaps they'll kill us."

"We can sound Captain Langless--it won't do any harm."

"But you mustn't let the Baxters get an inkling of what is up."

For the present the captain was not in sight, having retired to the stern to consult Arnold Baxter upon several points. They remained on deck until noon, when the cook called them to dinner in the cabin. They found they were to dine with Captain Langless.

"I asked the Baxters to join us, but they declined," he observed, as they sat down. "Now I am not so high-toned."

"You mean you are not such a fool," returned Dick. "For myself, I am glad they are staying away. My meal would be spoiled if I had to eat with them."

"They are very bitter against you, that's certain," went on the owner of the schooner smoothly. "They want me to do all sorts of mean things. But I have declined. I am playing a game with them, but I want to do it as be comes a man."

Dick looked around, to see that no outsider was within earshot. "Why do you play the game with them, Captain Langless?" he whispered.

The owner of the schooner frowned.

"Well, one must make a living, if you want an answer," he returned shortly.

"True, but you might make a living more honestly."

"By helping us, for instance," added Tom.

"By helping you?"

"Yes, by helping us," resumed Dick.

"I must say, lads, I don't quite understand you." The captain looked at them sharply, as if anxious for either to proceed.

"Let us review the situation," continued the eldest of the Rovers. "In the first place, we take it that you have been hired by the Baxters to do a certain thing."

"Granted."

"The Baxters have promised to pay you for your work and for the use of your vessel."

"Granted again."

"You are running on dangerous ground, and if you get tripped up it means a long term of imprisonment."

"You are a clever fellow, Rover, and your school training does you credit. However, I don't know as any of us expect to get tripped up."

"No criminal does until he is caught."

"There may be something in that. But I am willing to take my chances. As the old saying goes: 'Nothing ventured, nothing gained.'"

"But wouldn't you rather venture on the right side?"

"You want me to come to terms; is that it?"

"We do. We can make it worth your while, if you will help us and help bring the Baxters to justice. Do you know that Arnold Baxter is an escaped convict, who got out of a New York prison on a forged pardon?"

"No, I know very little of the man."

"He is a bad one, and his son is little better. Standing in with them is a serious business. I don't know much about you, but you don't look like a man who is bad by choice."

At this the captain of the Peacock let out a light laugh. "You talk as if you were a man of deep experience instead of a mere boy."

"I have had some experience, especially with bad folks--not only in this country, but in Africa, so that gives me an age not counted by years. To my mind it seems that a man ought to be more willing to make money honestly than dishonestly."

A long silence followed this speech.

"Tell me what you have to offer," said the captain, and leaned back in his chair to listen.