Chapter XV. What the Lame Man Knew.
 

Dick was not aware that his brothers had been captured until some hours after the sailing of the schooner. He headed for a part of the river where several small craft were moving about, and was just about to climb up the spiling of one of the docks when a lighter hit him and knocked him senseless.

"We've struck a boy!" shouted a man on the lighter, and then rushed forward with a boathook. As soon as he caught sight of Dick he fished the youth from the water and hurried ashore with him.

The shock had not been a heavy one, but the lad was weak from swimming with his clothes on, and he lay like a log on the flooring of the dock. This alarmed the men from the lighter, and they hastily carried him to a nearby drug store and summoned a doctor. From the drug store he was removed to the hospital.

When he was strong enough to go about his business he found it was night Yet he lost no time in making his way to the docks, on a search for his brothers.

The search was, of course, useless, and much depressed in spirits he found himself, at sunrise, on the waterfront, seated on the stringpiece of one of the long piers.

"They must have either been captured or drowned," he mused dismally. "And the Peacock is gone, too. What shall I do next?"

It was far from an easy question to answer, and he sat motionless for the best part of half an hour, reviewing the situation. Then he leaped up.

"I must get the authorities to aid me," he thought. "I should have done this before."

He walked along the docks until he came to a street leading to the nearest police station. He now realized that he was hungry, but resolved to postpone eating until he had put the authorities on the track of the evildoers.

As he was turning a corner he almost ran into a colored man going in the opposite direction. The colored man stared at him, then let out a wild cry of delight.

"Massah Dick, or is I dreamin'?"

"Aleck, by all that's wonderful! Where did you come from?"

"From de yacht, ob course, Massah Dick. But--but--dis knocks dis niggah, suah! I dun fink yo' was on dat udder ship."

"I was on it, but I escaped yesterday, while the schooner lay in the river yonder."

"An' where am Tom and Sam, sah?"

"That I don't know. They left the vessel with me, but we became separated in the water."

"Perhaps da dun been cotched ag'in," and Pop's face took on a sober look.

"That is what I am afraid of."

"Didn't see nuffin ob 'em nowhere?"

"No. I was hit by a lighter and knocked senseless."

"Whar's dat dar Peacock?"

"Gone, too."

"Wot you spects to do?"

"I was going to inform the authorities. We must find Tom and Sam."

"Dat's right, sah."

"Where is the Swallow?"

"Tied up jest below heah, sah. Dat dar Luke Peterson is a-sailin' ob her wid me."

"Good. Perhaps he can help us in the search. He knows these waters well, so he told me."

Together the pair made their way to the police station, where they told their stories to the officer in charge.

An alarm was at once sent out, and the river police were set to work to learn what had become of the Peacock and her crew.

But all this took time, and it was past noon when word came in that the schooner had been seen moving up Lake St. Clair on the afternoon of the day before.

Then word was telegraphed to Port Huron to stop the craft, and on his own responsibility Dick offered a reward of one hundred dollars for the capture of ship and master.

But all this came too late. Losing no time, Captain Langless had had his craft towed to a point fifteen miles beyond Port Huron, and had then let the tug go, and steered a course known only to those on board.

The tug did not return to Port Huron until the next day, and its captain did not know how much the Peacock was wanted until twenty-four hours later. Thus the schooner obtained a free and clear start of thirty-six hours over those who were in pursuit.

"We are stumped," groaned Dick, when word came back from Port Huron that the Peacock had passed that point long before. "That schooner now has the whole of Lake Huron before her, and there is no telling where she will go. Perhaps the Baxters will land in Canada."

"I don't think so," answered Luke Peterson. "American vessels coming in-shore are closely watched, you know, on account of the smuggling that is carried on."

"Then the smugglers between the United States and Canada are still at work."

"Indeed they are, more so than the average American has any idea of. I used to be in the customs service, and I know."

"Where do you suppose Captain Langless will go to?"

"Ah, that's a question, Rover. The lake is over two hundred miles long, and I've heard tell that there are over twenty-five hundred islands, large and small. That's a pretty good place for a ship to hide in, eh?"

"And you reckon the Peacock will go into hiding?"

"More than likely, while these Baxters carry out their little game-- that is, providing your brothers are on board--and I fancy they are. I can tell ye, I fancy they are a tough crowd all around."

"Well, one comfort, the Peacock won't get very far anywhere along shore without being spotted, for the police have sent the news to all principal places."

"Well, that's a good plan. Now if we could only follow that schooner up--"

"Will you go with me in a hunt? I will willingly pay you for your services."

"I will. But we ought to have a steam tug instead of a yacht."

"I will charter one. I have already telegraphed to my father for the necessary funds," returned Dick, and he told the truth. The long telegram had gone an hour before. He had also sent word to Larry Colby, telling of the turn of affairs.

The telegram to Mr. Rover brought a characteristic reply, running as follows:

"I send you the money you want. Be careful and keep out of danger. Will come on by the first train."

The message to Larry Colby brought that student up to Detroit on the first train from Sandusky.

"I know just the steam tug you want," said Larry, when the situation was explained. "It is rum by old Jack Parsons, who knows my father well. I know he will do all he can for you, if he is paid for his time."

Larry Colby undertook to hunt up the tug, which was named the Rocket, and found her tied up at one of the city docks. He introduced Dick, and before the hour was out a bargain was struck with Jack Parsons which was satisfactory all around. Parsons knew Luke Peterson, and said he would be glad to have the lumberman along on the hunt.

"He knows this lake as well as I do, and between us we ought to find the Peacock, sooner or later," said Parsons. He had heard about the raft disaster on Lake Erie, and was pleased to be able to inform Peterson that his friend Bragin was safe. The tug, however, which had been towing the raft, was laid up in Buffalo for repairs.

At first Dick thought to remain in Detroit until his father's arrival, but then he realized that it would be best for one of them to remain on shore while the other went on the hunt on the lake.

"We will sail at once," he said to his companions, but this could not be, since Aleck had not yet provided all of the necessary provisions for the trip.

While the colored man was completing his arrangements a newsboy came to Dick with a note, running as follows:

"If you want news of the Peacock, and will promise not to harm me, come with the boy to the old grain elevator. The boy knows the place."

Dick read the note with interest, and then showed it to Peterson.

"Perhaps it's a trap," said the lumberman. "I wouldn't go alone, if I were you."

"I will go," answered Dick, "but I wish you would follow me up on the quiet," and so it was arranged.

When Dick reached the place mentioned he found it practically deserted.

"Who gave you that note?" he asked of the newsboy.

"A man. Here he comes, now."

The newcomer proved to be a lame man, who had in former years been a sailor. He lived in a shanty behind the grain elevator, and he came to Dick with difficulty.

"Come into my shanty and I'll tell you what I know," said the lame man. "I'll not hurt you, so don't be afraid," and he hobbled off again.

Waving his hand to Peterson, who was in the distance, Dick followed the lame man and sat down on a bench in front of the shanty, the odd individual seating himself on a stool opposite.

"Want to find Captain Gus Langless, eh?" said the lame man, closing one eye suggestively.

"Yes."

"I read of the case in the papers. He's a bad un, eh?"

"What do you know of the case?" demanded Dick impatiently. He realized that he had a decidedly queer individual with whom to deal.

"Know everything; yes, sir, everything. Jock Pelly don't keep his ears open for nothing, not me. An' I said to myself when I read the papers, 'Jock, you've learned something of value--you must sell the news,' says I to myself."

"But what do you know?"

"Gettin' to that, sir; gettin' there fast, too. Did you offer a reward of a hundred dollars?"

"Yes."

"Who's going to pay that amount? It's a pile of money, a hundred dollars is."

"It will be paid, you can be easy on that point."

"Well, supposin' a man is lame and can't go after those rascals? What does he git for puttin' somebody on the track?"

"If you put me on the right track, I'll give you fifty dollars."

"Dead certain?"

"Yes. Now where has the Peacock gone to?"

"Needle Point Island," was the abrupt answer. "Go there, an' you'll find the Peacock and her crew, sure."