Chapter XIX. An Astonishing Discovery.
 

"Are you willing to help us to get away?" cried Sam.

"Under certain circumstances I am," replied the mate of the schooner. "Captain Langless didn't treat me square after you got away from me, and Andy Cadmus aint the tar to forget such a thing in a hurry."

"What are your conditions?" asked Tom.

"The conditions are two in number. In the first place, if I help you, will you promise, in case the plan falls through, that you will not tell Captain Langless what I did, but let him believe that you got away on your own hook?"

"We'll promise that readily enough," answered Tom, and Sam nodded.

"In the second place, if I get you away from them and see you to a place of safety, will you promise to help clear me in case those others are brought to trial?"

"We will," came from both.

"Is that all you want?" continued Tom.

"Almost. But there is one other condition I forgot to mention."

"I know what that is," said Sam. "It's money."

"Correct, lad. It's money. I'm a poor man, and what little I have is on board the Peacock. Your father is rich. If I help you, it ought to be worth something to him."

"How much?" asked Tom cautiously.

"Well, say a couple of hundred dollars. I won't ask for too much."

"You shall have the money," answered Tom quickly, "on condition you will aid us in bringing the Baxters to justice."

"Then it's a bargain," and Andy Cadmus drew another long breath. "Now for the details of our plan."

The mate sat down on a stone at the mouth of the cave and filled a pipe with tobacco, lit it, and fell to smoking thoughtfully.

"The details ought to be simple enough," said Tom. "When you go back to the Peacock you can take one of the small boats, stock her with provisions, and then go off in her. Then we can join you."

"It won't work, unless you have a fight with whoever happens to be on guard here--and that may mean trouble for you. I have a better scheme."

"What's that?"

"To-night, when I'm on watch, I'll stock one of the small boats and take her to shore and hide her in the bushes. Then, when I'm on guard again here, we can all cut sticks and take to the little boat."

"Will you carry out the plan to-night?" asked Sam.

"If I can."

So it was arranged, and then the three talked over the details. Cadmus said it was a good tern miles to the nearest point of the mainland, but that he was certain he could steer almost a straight course thither.

A couple of hours later one of the sailors from the Peacock came up, all out of breath, and told the mate to return to the schooner with all speed.

"The cap'n wants ye," he said, but would not explain why.

"What's the trouble?" asked Tom, when the sailor was on guard, but the newcomer refused to talk about the affair further than to say that he guessed Cadmus would not be back to do additional sentinel duty.

"If that's the case, our plan to escape is knocked in the head," whispered Sam, as he and Tom withdrew to the fire. "Was ever there luck before!"

"I move we try to escape without further delay," returned Tom. He was in a reckless mood.

"Shall we tackle the guard?"

"Let us try a bit of strategy," and then the pair held a whispered consultation lasting several minutes.

Returning to the mouth of the cave Tom took up his position at one side and Sam on the other. Talking of things in general at first, they gradually put the sailor in good humor, and then turned on the subject of snakes.

"That was a bad snake we killed," said Tom. "I sincerely hope there are no more around the cave."

"Snakes are ugly things," said the sailor, shaking his head vigorously.

"Ever see a sea serpent?" questioned Sam.

"No. I reckon there aint none on the lakes, like there are in the ocean. I've got a cousin sails the Pacific. He's seen serpents lots o' times--on the shores of them far-off islands."

"I don't believe a sea serpent is half as bad as a land snake," continued Sam. "Why, that snake was enough to give a fellow the jim- jams, he was so long and slimy, and had such a bad look in his blazing eyes. He wound right around my leg and was just going to strike, when-- My gracious! look at that snake behind you!"

Worked up over what Sam was relating, and totally unconscious of the trick being played upon him, the sailor leaped up and turned around. As he did this, Tom came up behind him swiftly and pinioned his arms to his side. Then Sam rushed in and caught hold of the gun.

"Hi, stop!" roared the sailor. "Let go! This aint fair nohow!"

"Keep still, if you don't want to be shot," answered Tom. And he continued to hold the fellow, while Sam gave the gun a dexterous twist and got it loose. Then the youngest Rover aimed the weapon at the sailor's head.

"Up with your hands," he said, as coolly as he could, although his heart was pumping like mad.

Tom released his hold, and fearful of being shot, the sailor raised his hands as commanded. Then Tom picked up the ropes still lying near and proceeded to bind the sailor's legs together.

The fellow wished to yell for help, but Tom's stern glance kept him silent.

"Now what shall we do with him?" asked Sam.

"Carry him into the cave," replied his brother. "Somebody else from the schooner is bound to come, sooner or later, and release him."

"I don't want to go in with them snakes," said the tar. "Leave me out here."

"There are no more snakes in there," said Tom. "We'll place you close to the fire, so you'll be comfortable and in no danger of either snakes or wild beasts."

With this the boys lugged the sailor into the cave. They wasted no time, for there was no telling when some others of their enemies might put in an appearance.

"Now which way?" asked Sam, when the pair were again outside. "I wonder how big this island is?"

"Big enough for us to hide on, I imagine, Sam. Let us go in the opposite direction to which we came."

They skirted the cliff and then plunged into the woods beyond. As they progressed Tom cautioned his brother to keep to the rocks as much as possible, in order that the trail might be hidden.

It was still hot, and before long the exertion of climbing the rocks and picking their way through the dense underbrush told upon them. Coming to the top of a small hill, they halted.

"Let us climb into yonder tree and rest," said Sam. "Perhaps we can see the Peacock from that point."

This seemed a good idea, and they moved to the very top of the tallest tree to be found.

A grand view lay spread before their gaze. Close upon every side was the thickly wooded island, sloping gradually down to the lake, and beyond, as far as eye could reach, was the rolling water, sparkling brightly in the sunlight. To the northward Tom discovered a bit of greenery, which he rightly took for another island.

But what interested them most was the appearance of a ship riding at anchor to the westward, in one of the several bays previously mentioned. It was a sailing vessel of fair size, carrying a single mast.

"That's not the Peacock!" ejaculated Sam.

"You're right!" cried Tom. "She's a stranger. Hurrah! Perhaps Dick has followed us up, after all!"

"Anyway, we ought to find friends on that ship, Tom. Let us get to her as soon as possible."

"I'm willing. But I must rest a bit, I'm so dead tired."

"I wish we could get those on the strange ship to make the Baxters and Captain Langless prisoners."

"Perhaps we can. But it will be a good deal to get out of the clutches of the enemy, even if we can't do any more."

Feeling much elated over the discovery of the strange vessel, the boys rested for quarter of an hour, and then, descending to the ground, struck out rapidly once more through the woods and underbrush. As they proceeded Tom carried his pistol in his hand, in case some wild animal might start up in their path, but nothing of the sort came to view.

As they came closer to the shore they found that the ground was wet and boggy, and they had to pick their way with care. Once Sam went into the soil up to his ankles, and dragged himself out only with great difficulty. Then they made a detour, coming out on the beach some distance below where the strange ship was anchored.

Halting behind a convenient bush, they surveyed the ship with interest. On the deck they discovered a man and a lady. The lady was sitting in an easy-chair, and the man stood by, leaning on a railing. Both were talking earnestly.

"Well I never!" came from Tom. "Sam, do you recognize those two people?"

"I do," was the answer. "Josiah Crabtree and Mrs. Stanhope! How in the world did they get here?"