Chapter XIII. Prisoners Three.
 

It was easy to see that Captain Langless was "feeling his way," as the saying is, and Dick felt that he must go slow or he might spoil everything. Criminals are of all shades and degrees, and look at affairs in a different light from honest men. It is said that some would rather be dishonest than honest, and Dick did not yet know how the owner of the Peacock stood on that point.

"Perhaps you had better tell us first what Arnold Baxter has offered you," said the elder Rover, as he looked the owner of the schooner squarely in the eyes.

"Well, he has offered considerable, if his schemes go through."

"And if they fail you get nothing."

"I am a good loser--so I shan't complain."

"Supposing I was to offer you several hundred dollars if you saw us safe on shore."

"How can you offer any money? You haven't got it with you, have you?"

"No. But I could get the money, and what I promised to pay I would pay."

"But several hundred dollars wouldn't be enough."

"If you helped to bring the Baxters to justice we might make it a thousand dollars," put in Tom, who was now as anxious as Dick to bring the captain to terms.

At the mention of a thousand dollars the eyes of Captain Langless glistened. The sum was not large, but it was sufficient to interest him. He had already received three hundred dollars from Arnold Baxter, as a guarantee of good faith, so to speak, but there was no telling how much more he could expect from that individual. If he could obtain thirteen hundred dollars all told, and get out of the affair on the safe side, he might be doing well.

"How would you pay this thousand dollars?" he asked.

"Our father would pay it. He is a fairly rich man, and anxious to see Arnold Baxter returned to prison."

"To get the man out of his path?"

"Partly that, and partly to see justice done. Come, what do you say?"

Before the captain could answer there came a call down the companion way.

"Two vessels in sight--a schooner and a steam tug," announced a sailor.

"Coming this way?" asked the master of the schooner.

"Aye, sir."

Captain Langless arose at once.

"I will have to ask you to step into the hold again," he said politely, but firmly. "I will talk over what you have offered later."

He motioned to the passageway leading to the hold. Sam was on the point of objecting, but Dick silenced him with a look.

"All right, we'll go," grumbled Tom. "But I'm going to take the dessert with me," and he took up a bowl of rice pudding and a spoon. Dick followed with a pitcher of water and a glass, at which the captain had to grin. As soon as they were in the hold the owner of the schooner bolted the door and fixed it so that it might not again be opened from the inside.

"Two ships in sight!" cried Sam, when they were alone. "We ought to have made a dash for liberty."

"It wouldn't have helped us," answered his oldest brother. "Those vessels must be some distance away, and before they came up we would be down here, handcuffed, and in disgrace with the captain. If we treat him right, we may win him over and finish the Baxters' game."

Sitting in the darkness they took their time about eating the rice pudding, and Dick placed the water where it could be found when wanted. Then they listened for the approach of the two vessels which the lookout had sighted.

Yet hour after hour went by and nothing of importance reached their ears. The vessels came up and passed them, and then the Peacock turned in for the mouth of the Detroit River. Soon the boys knew, by the steam whistles and other sounds, that the schooner was approaching some sort of harbor.

A dreary evening and night followed. The Peacock came to a standstill, and they heard the sails come down and the anchors dropped. But nobody came to them, and they had to sink to rest supperless. They remained awake until after midnight, then dozed off one after another.

When they awoke a surprise awaited them. The hold was lit up by the rays of a bright lantern hung on a hook near the door leading to the cabin passageway. Below the lantern stood a tray filled with eatables, and near at hand was a bucket of fresh water and half a dozen newspapers and magazines.

"By Jinks, this is not so bad!" observed Tom. "We are to have breakfast, that's certain."

"And reading to occupy our spare time," added Sam.

Dick, however, looked at the layout with a fallen face. "I don't like it," he said. "This looks too much as if the captain and the others meant to keep us here for some time."

"I suppose that's so," came from Tom, and then he, too, looked crestfallen.

"Well, let us make the best of it," said Sam, and began to eat, and the others did the same. Since time seemed no object they ate slowly, in the meantime reviewing the situation from every possible standpoint, but without arriving at any satisfactory conclusion.

They had allowed their watches to run down, so there was no telling what time it was. But at last a faint streak of sunshine, coming through a seam in the deck, told that it must be near noon. Yet no one came near them, and all was as silent, close at hand, as a tomb, although in the distance they heard an occasional steam whistle or other sound common to a great city.

There was nothing in the hold by which to reach the hatchway, but, growing weary of waiting, Tom dragged a box hither and asked Dick and Sam to stand upon it. Then he climbed on their shoulders, to find his head directly against the beams of the deck. He pushed with all of his strength on the hatch, to find it battened down on the outside.

"Stumped!" he cried laconically, and leaped to the floor of the hold. "We are prisoners and no mistake."

After this they went back to the door leading to the cabin. But this likewise could not be moved, and in the end they sat down a good deal discouraged.

It was well toward night when they heard a noise at the door. As they leaped up, expecting to see the Baxters or Captain Langless, the barrier opened and the cook of the schooner appeared, backed up by two of the sailors. The cook had another trayful of food, which he passed to Dick in silence, taking the other tray in exchange.

"Where is Captain Langless?" asked Tom.

"Can't come now," answered the cook.

"Then send the Baxters here."

"They can't come either."

"Have they gone ashore?" questioned Dick.

"I can't answer any questions," and the cook started to back out.

"Who is in charge? We must see somebody."

"I am in charge," said a rough voice, and now the mate of the schooner thrust himself forward. "You had better be quiet until the cap'n gits back."

"Then he has gone ashore?"

"Yes, if you must know."

"And the Baxters with him."

"Yes, but all hands will be back soon."

"Are we in Detroit harbor?"

"Yes."

"Then I'm for escaping!" shouted Tom, and taking up the water pitcher he aimed it at the mate's head. The blow struck fairly, and the sailor went down, partly stunned. Seeing the success of his move Tom leaped for the passageway, and Dick and Sam followed their brother.