Chapter XXIII. The Baxters are Followed.
 

"Well, I never!"

Dick gazed at the silver, the map, the daggers and the skull with mingled surprise and horror.

How had those things come there, and what was the mystery concerning them?

Coming closer, he picked up several of the dollars and examined them. All were dated thirty to forty years back.

Then he picked up the dagger, a beautiful affair of polished steel with a curiously wrought handle of buckhorn.

The skull he left untouched.

The map was covered with dust, some of which he endeavored to blow away. Beneath he saw that there were odd tracings of many kinds, and lettering's in a language which was strange to him. Then his light began to go out and he shouted for Peterson to join him.

The sound echoed and re-echoed throughout the cavern, showing that the place was even more roomy than he had anticipated. He waited several minutes, then saw Peterson's light.

"What's up?" demanded the lumberman as he approached. "Find anything important?"

"I should say so," answered Dick. "Look there."

Peterson did so, then gave a cry of astonishment.

"Silver, lad, silver! And a skull!"

"There is some story hidden in this affair," said Dick soberly. "Can you explain it?"

"I cannot." Peterson picked up the dagger. "That's a French weapon."

"But the dollars are U. S. money."

"Right. It is a mystery and no error. How much money is there here?"

The two counted the pile and found it footed up to two hundred and forty dollars.

"Not a fortune, but still a tidy sum," said Peterson. To a man in his standing two hundred and forty dollars was quite an amount.

"A fair share of it is yours," said Dick. "Let us investigate some more."

The lumberman was willing, and lighting a fresh torch, they moved around the circular chamber. At one point they saw an opening leading into a second chamber. Here were a number of boxes and casks, all covered with dust and dirt, the accumulation of years. Prying open one of the boxes which was handy, they discovered that it contained canned vegetables. A second box contained dress goods, and a third some candles. A cask close at hand was marked "Cognac."

"This was a regular smugglers' hangout," said Peterson. "Those boxes must contain stuff of some value. Rover, we have made a haul by coming here."

"Yes, but I am forgetting all about my brothers," added Dick hastily. "Let us leave this alone for the present. I guess it is safe enough."

"No doubt, since it has rested undisturbed so many years."

They left the storeroom, as it may properly be termed, and returned to the circular chamber.

At first they could find no further opening, but then Dick saw a thin shaft of light coming from a corner. Here there was a flat rock which was easily pulled aside. A broad opening led upward to the outer world.

"Safe, so far as getting out is concerned," remarked Peterson. "All told, I reckon we had quite a lucky tumble, after all."

"If Larry's ankle isn't too bad."

They hurried back to where Larry had been left, and found him still nursing his ankle, which had swollen to the size of his knee. He tried to stand upon it, but the pain was so great he was glad enough to sit down again.

He listened in open-mouthed wonder to what Dick had to tell. "A treasure cave!" he cried. "Who would have dreamed of such a thing on Lake Huron!"

Now that Larry could not move, the others were in a quandary as to what to do. Dick was impatient to be after the Peacock.

"The folks on the schooner may take it into their heads to sail away, if they caught sight of the steam tug," he said. "And if they give us the slip I won't know where to look for them."

"I guess I'll be safe if left alone," said Larry. "I have water and the fire, and my pistol. You go ahead, and come back for me when it is convenient. Only don't leave the island without me."

"Leave without you? Not much!" answered Dick.

"You forget the treasure," put in Peterson, with a laugh. "We are not going to let that slip."

"That's so," said Larry. "All right; I'll remain as the guardian of the treasure." And so it was arranged.

It was no easy matter to gain the outer air once more, for the passageway was choked with dirt and brushwood which the wind had blown in. When they came into the open they found themselves close to the lake shore at a spot surrounded thickly with trees.

"A fine cove for a smuggler to hide in," observed Peterson. "No wonder they made this cave their rendezvous."

"Where is the bay in which the Peacock disappeared?"

"To the westward, Rover. Come, I'll show the way."

"Be careful that we don't get into another trap."

"I've got my eyes open," responded the lumberman.

On they went once more, over the rocks and through a tangle of brushwood. It was now almost dark, and Dick was beginning to think they would lose their way when Peterson called a sudden halt.

"Here we are," he whispered and pointed ahead. There, through the trees, could be seen the waters of the tiny bay, and there lay the Peacock at anchor.

Only one man was on deck, a sailor Dick had seen several times. Otherwise the craft appeared deserted.

"Do you suppose the Baxters and the others have gone ashore?" asked Dick.

"No telling yet, lad. Let us watch out for a while."

They sat down and watched until the darkness of night began to hide the Peacock from view.

At last they saw Arnold Baxter come on deck, followed by Dan.

The two entered a rowboat and a sailor took them ashore. They had scarcely landed when Captain Langless appeared, coming along a pathway but a few yards from where Dick and the lumberman were in hiding.

At once a wordy war ensued between the Baxters and the owner of the schooner. What it was about Dick and Peterson could not make out, although they realized that it concerned Tom and Sam.

"Your men are a set of doughheads," cried Arnold Baxter. "They are to be trusted with nothing."

"Never mind, we'll come out ahead anyway," retorted Captain Langless. "I reckon you've been tripped up yourself before this."

"I warned you to be careful."

"It wasn't my fault."

"What's to do now?" put in Dan Baxter. "Shall we stay on the island, dad?"

"Certainly," grumbled Arnold Baxter. "But I don't know exactly what to do," and the man scratched his head in perplexity.

"Let us go up to the cave."

"That won't do you any good," growled Captain Langless. "I know what I am going to do."

"What?"

"I'm going to sail around the island and find out if any other boat is near. I don't want those boys to signal another boat."

"A good idea," said Arnold Baxter. "But Dan and I can remain on shore anyway."

"Just as you please," and Captain Langless shrugged his shoulders.

The rowboat was still at the shore, and the captain returned to the Peacock with the member of his crew, leaving the Baxters to themselves.

Dick nudged Peterson in the side.

"Can it be possible that Tom and Sam have escaped?" he whispered.

"It looks that way," answered the lumberman. "Anyway, something is very much wrong or these rascals wouldn't fall out with each other."

"Hadn't we better watch the Baxters?"

"I think so. The Peacock will not go far, I'm pretty sure of that."

The Baxters now passed along the footpath leading to the cave in which Tom and Sam had been placed.

Noiselessly Dick and Peterson followed. As Dick advanced he drew his pistol.

Quarter of a mile was covered and they were close to the cave, when Arnold Baxter suddenly halted.

"Dan, supposing Captain Langless doesn't come back," he exclaimed, loud enough for Dick and his companion to hear.

"Doesn't come back!" ejaculated the bully. "Why, he's got to come back."

"No, he hasn't."

"But I don't understand----"

"You know well enough that the Rovers tried to bribe the captain."

"Yes, but they ran away----"

"Perhaps it's only a bluff, Dan. The boys may have been taken to another part of the island, from which Langless can transfer them to the schooner later."

"What, and desert us!" groaned the bully.

"Yes, and desert us. I think we were foolish to leave the Peacock without taking the captain or Cadmus along. I won't trust any of them any longer."

"Well, what shall we do, dad; go back?"

"It's too late now. The Peacock has gotten under way long ago."

"Well, let us try to get on the track of the two boys. Perhaps we can follow them up from the cave. If all of the footsteps point this way we'll know the captain has been deceiving us."

Again the Baxters moved on, and so did Dick and Peterson. The way was rough and made Dan grumble a good deal.

"We ought to have kept this game all in our own hands from the start," said the former bully of Putnam Hall. "We made a rank mistake to take Captain Langless into our confidence."

"I won't care if only we make Anderson Rover pony up that money," answered the father. "I'm afraid the mine scheme will have to fall through."

"What did you strike him for in cash?"

"Ten thousand dollars."

"You ought to have made it fifty."

"I wanted to get ten first and double that afterward. If I struck him too high first I was afraid he wouldn't try to meet me, but put the detectives on the track without delay."