Chapter XIV. Dick Makes His Escape.
 

There are times when a movement made on the spur of the moment is more successful than one which is premeditated. The enemy is taken completely off guard and does not realize what is happening until it is over.

It was so in the present instance. The mate of the Peacock was a tough customer and a heavy-built man, and the men behind him were also large, and none of the three had imagined that the boys would really undertake to combat them.

As the mate went down Tom leaped directly on top of him, thus holding him to the floor for the moment, and then struck out for the nearest man, hitting him in the chin. Then Dick came to his brother's aid with a blow that reached the sailor's ear, and he too fell back.

But the third man had a second to think, and he retaliated by a blow which nearly lifted poor Tom off his feet. But before he could strike out a second time, Sam, with the nimbleness of a monkey, darted in and caught him by one leg. Dick saw the movement, gave the sailor a shove, and the tar pitched headlong in the passageway.

The opening was now tolerably clear, and away went the three boys for the cabin, gaining the compartment before any of the men could follow. The door to the companion way was open, and up the steps they flew with all the speed at their command. They heard the sailors yell at them and use language unfit to print, but paid no heed. Their one thought was to put distance between themselves and those who wished to keep them prisoners.

"Stop! stop!" roared the mate. "Stop, or it will be the worse for you!"

"I guess we know what we are doing!" panted Tom. "Come on!" And he caught Sam by the arm.

The deck gained, they gave a hasty look around. The schooner was lying at anchor about a hundred yards from shore, at a short distance above the busy portion of the city.

"There ought to be a small boat handy," said Dick, leading the way to the stern.

"We can't wait for a boat," answered Sam. "Let us swim for it. Perhaps somebody will come and pick us up." And without further ado he leaped overboard. Seeing this, his brothers did likewise, and all three struck out boldly for the nearest dock.

It was a risky thing to do, with all their clothing on, but each was a good swimmer and the weather had made the water very warm. On they went, keeping as closely together as possible.

"Are you coming back?" furiously yelled the mate, as he reached the rail and shook his fist at them.

To this none of the boys made reply.

"If you don't come back I'll shoot at you," went on the man.

"Do you think he will shoot?" asked Sam, in alarm.

"No," answered Dick. "We are too close to the city, and there are too many people who would hear the shot."

"A boat is putting off from the shore," said Tom, a second later. "It contains three persons."

"Captain Langless and the Baxters!" burst out Dick. "Dive, and swim as hard as you can down the stream."

All promptly dove, and the weight of their clothing kept them under as long as they pleased to remain. When they came up they heard the mate yelling frantically to those in the boat, who did not at once comprehend the turn affairs had taken.

But when they saw the boys they began to row toward them with all swiftness.

"We must recapture them," cried Arnold Baxter. "If they get away, our cake will be dough."

"Then row as hard as you can," replied Captain Langless. He was at one pair of oars while Arnold Baxter was at another. Dan sat in the bow.

Slowly, but surely, the craft drew closer to the Rover boys, until it was less than a hundred feet off. Then it was seen that the lads had separated and were moving in three directions. Dick had ordered this.

"If we separate, they won't catch all of us," were his words. "And whoever escapes can inform the authorities."

On pushed the boys, striving as never before to gain the shore before the rowboat should come up to them.

The small craft headed first for Tom, and presently it glided close to him. He promptly dove, but when he came up Captain Langless caught him by the hair.

"It's no use, lad," said the captain firmly, and despite his struggles hauled him on board.

"Let me go!" roared Tom and kicked out lively. But the captain continued to hold him down, while Arnold Baxter now headed the boat toward Sam.

Sam was almost exhausted, for the weight of his wet garments was beginning to tell upon him. As the rowboat came closer he also thought to dive, but the effort almost cost him his life. He came up half unconscious, and only realized in a dim, uncertain way what was happening.

But the capture of Tom and his younger brother had taken time, and now those in the rowboat saw that Dick was almost to shore. To take him, therefore, was out of the question.

"We'll have to let him go," said Captain Langless. "The quicker the Peacock gets out of this the better."

"Yes, but if he gets away he'll make the ship no end of trouble," returned Arnold Baxter. "I've half a mind to fire at him," and he drew a pistol.

"No! no! I won't have it," cried the captain sternly. "To the schooner, and the quicker the better."

Holding Tom, he made the Baxters turn the boat about and row to the Peacock. The mate was waiting for him, and it did not take long to get on board. The mate wished to explain matters, but Captain Lawless would not listen.

"Another time, Cadmus," he said sharply. "Into the hold with them, and see they don't get away again. We must up sail and anchor without the loss of a minute. That boy who got away is going to make trouble for us."

"Aye, aye, sir!" said Cadmus, and dragged the unfortunates away to the hatch. He dropped both down without ceremony, and then saw to it that hatch and door were tightly closed and made fast.

In a few minutes the anchors were up and the sails hoisted, and the Peacock was steering straight up Lake St. Clair toward the St. Clair River. To reach Lake Huron the schooner would have to cover a distance of seventy-five to eighty miles, and the captain wondered if this could be done ere the authorities got on their track.

"Once on Lake Huron we will be safe enough," he observed to Arnold Baxter. "I know the lake well, and know of half a dozen islands near the Canadian shore where we will be safe in hiding."

"But that boy may telegraph to St. Clair or Port Huron, or some other point, and have the Peacock held up," answered Arnold Baxter.

"We've got to run that risk," was the grim reply. "If we get caught, I'll have an account to settle with Cadmus."

A while later the mate and the sailors who had been with him were called into the cabin, so that Captain Langless might hear what they had to say. The mate told a long story of how the boys had broken open the door leading to the cabin, with a crowbar, obtained from he knew not where, and had fought them with the bar and with a club and a pistol. There had been a fierce struggle, but the lads had slipped away like eels. The sailors corroborated the mate's tale, and added that the boys had fought like demons.

"I'll fix them for that," said Arnold Baxter, when he heard the account. "They'll find out who is master before I get through with them."

But this did not suit Captain Langless, who had not forgotten his talk with the Rovers at the dinner table. If it looked as if he was going to be cornered, he thought that a compromise with Tom and Sam would come in very handy.

"You mustn't mistreat the boys," he said, when Cadmus and the other sailors were gone. "It won't help your plot any, and it will only cause more trouble."

"You seem to be taking the affair out of my hands," growled Arnold Baxter.

"I know I am running a larger risk than you," answered the captain. "I own this craft, and if she is confiscated I'll be the loser."

"But see what I have offered you."

"Yes, if we win out, as the saying goes. But things won't be so nice if we lose, will they?"

"I don't intend to lose. I have a scheme on hand for getting to Lake Huron before to-morrow morning."

"By what means?"

"Hire a large and swift tug to haul the Peacock. We can make splendid time, considering that the schooner is without a cargo."

"Who is going to pay the towing bill?"

"How much will it be?"

"The kind of tug you want will cost about fifty dollars."

"All right then, I'll pay the bill."

The idea pleased the captain, and the bargain was struck then and there.

Half an hour later a tug was sighted and hailed, and the captain told a story of a "rush job" waiting for him at Port Huron. A bargain was struck for the towing, and soon a hawser was cast over to the schooner and the race for Lake Huron began.