Chapter XXIV. An Encounter in the Dark.
 

A little while later the Baxters reached the cave where Tom and Sam had been held prisoners.

The sailor who had been left bound had long since been released, so the place was deserted.

"Look out for snakes," said Dan. "We had better light torches."

This was done, for it was now dark under the trees.

Hiding in a thicket, Dick and Peterson saw the Baxters enter the cave. The pair remained inside for fully quarter of an hour, and came out looking much disappointed.

With torches close to the ground they searched for Sam and Tom's trail.

"Here are footprints!" exclaimed Arnold Baxter, at last. "They are not made by men, either."

"They must be the boys'," answered Dan. "Come on, let us follow."

"It is very dark, Dan. I'm afraid we'll have to wait until morning."

Nevertheless, the pair passed on, and again Dick and Peterson came behind.

Hardly three rods had been passed when Dan Baxter let out a cry as some small wild animal dashed across the trail. The bully turned to run, and discovered Dick ere the latter could hide.

"Dick Rover!" he gasped.

"Rover!" cried Arnold Baxter. "What are you talking about, Dan?"

"Here is Dick Rover! And that lumber fellow is with him."

"Impossible! Why, Rover, where did you come from?" And Arnold Baxter came up, hardly believing his eyes.

"We were following you, Arnold Baxter," answered Dick quietly.

"For what?"

"To see what you were going to do next?"

"Have you found Sam and Tom?" questioned Dan quickly.

"Dan, be still!" thundered his father. "You are always putting your foot into it."

"I reckon you chaps are fairly caught," put in Luke Peterson.

"Caught?" came from both, in a breath.

"Yes, caught," said Dick. "We did not follow you for nothing."

"Perhaps you are the ones who are caught," said Arnold Baxter, with a sickly smile.

"Hardly," and Dick showed his pistol. "We are well armed, Arnold Baxter, and will stand no fooling."

"We are armed, too--" began Dan, but his parent stopped him.

"Of course you came to this island on a boat of some sort," went on the elder Baxter.

"How else could we come? The mainland is miles away."

"Where is your boat?"

"Not far off, and well manned, too," added Dick. "We came not alone to capture you, but also the Peacock and all on board."

At this announcement the faces of the Baxters fell, and Dan actually trembled.

"Where is your boat?" repeated Arnold Baxter.

"As I just told you, not far off. The question is, will you submit quietly, or must I summon help?"

"Submit to what?"

"Submit to being taken to our boat."

"You have no right to make me go to your boat."

"I'll be hanged if I'll go," growled Dan.

"And you may be shot if you don't go," answered Dick significantly. "I know you well, and I shall take no further chances with you. Now will you go or not?"

"I suppose, if we don't go, you'll bring some officers here to compel us to do as you wish."

"Exactly."

"You may as well give in," said Peterson. "This island is not large, and even if you try to run away you'll be found, sooner or later. The Peacock is probably already captured, and those on our boat will see that no other boat comes near here until we have you safe on board. The jig is up."

"I won't give in!" cried Arnold Baxter. "Come, Dan!" He caught his son by the arm, and both turned and sped into the nearest brush.

It was dark, the torches having died low, and before Dick could shoot, even if he wished to do so, the pair of rascals were out of sight.

"Stop!" said Dick to Peterson, who was for following them up. "We can do nothing in the darkness. Let them go. To-morrow is another day. Let us return to the Rocket and take steps to capture the Peacock."

"Yes, and we must get back to Larry," said the lumberman.

It was no easy matter to find their way back to the treasure cave, and they missed the direction half a dozen times. When they did get back it was so gloomy in the bushes that they had to call out to Larry, in order to locate him.

"Gracious! I was afraid you would never come back," said the youth.

"We've had quite an adventure," replied Dick, and related the particulars.

Larry's ankle was somewhat better, and by leaning on both Dick and Peterson he managed to hobble along to where the Rocket's small boat had landed them.

The steam tug was close at hand, and they were soon on board.

"Is the screw repaired?" was Dick's first question.

"Not quite, but it will be inside of half an hour," answered Jack Parsons.

"Have you seen anything of the Peacock? She is sailing around the island."

"No, haven't seen any sail since you left. We--"

A cry from the lookout interrupted the captain.

"Here comes the Peacock!"

The report was true, and all crowded forward to catch sight of the schooner in the darkness.

The stars made it fairly light on the water and, as the schooner came up close to the steam tug, Dick made out several figures on board.

"Ahoy, what tug is that?" came from the schooner.

"The Rocket" answered Parsons. "What schooner is that?"

To this there was no answer.

"What are you doing here?" asked Captain Langless instead.

"We are in trouble," returned Parsons, after whispering with Dick.

"What's up?"

"We've had a breakdown."

"Seen anybody from the island?"

"Why, we thought this island was deserted."

"So it is."

"Come up closer and give us a lift."

"Can't, we are behind time now."

Then, without warning, a Bengal light was lit on board of the schooner. A large reflector was placed behind the light, which was thus cast on the deck of the Rocket. At once Dick, Peterson, and the others were exposed to the gaze of Captain Langless.

"Ha! I suspected as much!" roared the master of the schooner. "Sheer off, Wimble, or the game is up!"

The helm of the Peacock was at once thrown over, and she began to move off. A stiff breeze caused her to make rapid progress.

"Stop!" cried Dick. "Stop, or we will fire on you!"

He had scarcely spoken when the report of a pistol rang out and a bullet cut through the air over his head.

"Let that be a warning to you to leave us alone!" cried Captain Langless.

Then the schooner increased her speed, the flare from the Bengal light died out, and soon the Peacock was lost to view in the darkness.