Chapter XXIX. Dora Stanhope Appears.
 

"So you have been shipwrecked?" said the master of the sloop, a young man of apparently twenty-five, whose name was Fairwell.

"Yes," answered Baxter senior.

"Your own boat, or some large vessel?"

"Our own boat. We were out on a little cruise when we struck something in the dark and our craft went down almost immediately. Fortunately we were not far from this shore, or we would have been drowned. Where are you bound?"

"Nowhere in particular. How long have you been on the island?"

"Since night before last?"

"All alone?"

"Yes."

"Had anything to eat?"

"Well--er--not much," stammered Arnold Baxter. "We found some wreckage with some bread and a few cans of sardines, but that is all."

"Then I reckon you won't go back on a square meal?" laughed Fairwell.

"Indeed I won't!" put in Dan, bound to say something.

"We would like to get back to the mainland as soon as possible," went on Arnold Baxter. "I am from Chicago, and must attend to some banking matters. My name is Larson--Henry Larson of State Street."

"Well, Mr. Larson, we'll get you to the main shore as soon as we can; that is, providing the lady who has hired this sloop is willing to go on without stopping here. I reckon this young man is your friend?"

"He is my son. And you are--?"

"Randy Fairwell, at your service, sir. It's too bad you were wrecked, but you can be thankful your life was spared. Seen anybody around here since you've been ashore?"

"Not a soul."

"Nor any sail?"

"Nothing. It has been very, very lonesome," and Arnold Baxter shook his head hypocritically.

Tom and Sam listened to this talk with keen interest. Tom now nudged his brother.

"This has gone far enough," he whispered. "Those men seem all right and I'm sure will prove our friends. I'm going to show myself."

"Wait till the Baxters go on board," replied Sam. "Otherwise they may take it into their heads to run away again."

A few words more followed between those on the sloop and the Baxters, and then the latter ran on the deck of the sloop by means of a plank thrown out for that purpose.

Then Tom came forward, stick in hand, and Sam followed.

"Hold those men!" he cried. "Don't let them get away from you!"

Of course the men on the sloop were much astonished, both by the boys' sudden appearance and by the words which were spoken.

"What's that?" called out Randy Fairwell.

"Those Rover boys!" ejaculated Arnold Baxter, and his face turned white.

"I said, Hold those men!" repeated Tom. "Don't let them get away from you."

"What for? Who are you?"

"Those fellows are rascals, and the father is an escaped prison-bird," put in Sam. "Hold them or they will run, sure."

"It's false," burst out Dan Baxter. "That fellow is crazy. I never saw him before."

"I guess they are both crazy," put in Arnold Baxter, taking the cue from his son. "Certainly I never set eyes on them before."

"Do not believe one word of what he says," said Tom. "His name is not what he said, but Arnold Baxter, and he is the man who got out of a New York prison by means of a forged pardon. You must have read of that case in the newspapers last summer?"

"I did read of it," answered Randy Fairwell. "But--but--" He was too bewildered to go on. "Where did you young men come from?"

"We were carried off in a schooner hired by these rascals and put in a cave on this island. We escaped only after a hard fight."

"But why were you carried off?" asked one of the other men on board of the sloop.

"These Baxters wanted to get our father to pay them money for our safe return."

"A kidnapping, eh?"

"It's a--a fairy story, and these fellows must be stark mad!" cried Arnold Baxter. "I give you my word, gentlemen, I never set eyes on the chaps before. Either they are escaped lunatics or else their lonely life here has turned their brains."

For a moment there was a pause; Sam and Tom standing at the end of the plank, clubs in hand, and the Baxters on the deck of the sloop, surrounded by the three men who had been sailing the craft. Those of the sloop looked from one party to the other in bewilderment.

"Well, I must say I don't know whom to believe," said Randy Fairwell slowly. He turned to the boys. "Who are you?"

"Tom Rover, and this is my brother Sam," answered the elder of the pair.

"I never heard the name before," said Arnold Baxter loftily.

"They don't appear to be very crazy," put in one of the men, whose name was Ruff.

"That's true, but they must be crazy or they wouldn't address my father and me in this fashion," said Dan Baxter.

"They can talk all they please," retorted Sam. "But if you let them escape, you will make a great mistake."

"Here is a fair suggestion," said Tom. "Take us all to the mainland and to the nearest police station. The authorities will soon straighten out this tangle."

"That certainly seems fair," muttered Randy Fairwell.

"I say these boys must be crazy," blustered Arnold Baxter. "If you take them on board, the chances are they'll try to murder us."

"I don't want to sail with a couple of crazy fellows," put in Dan, scowling darkly at the Rovers.

"We might keep a close watch on them," suggested Ruff.

"And keep a close watch on the Baxters," added Tom.

At this moment the door of the tiny cabin of the sloop opened, and a girl came out, rubbing her eyes as if she had been taking a nap, which was a fact.

She stared at the Baxters like one in a dream, and then gave a sudden cry of alarm.

"Is it you!"

"Dora Stanhope!" ejaculated Tom and Sam in a breath.

Then the girl started and turned her eyes ashore. "Tom Rover! And Sam! Where in the wide world did you come from?"

The Baxters fell back, almost overcome, and the father clutched the arm of his son savagely.

"We've put our foot into it here," he muttered.

"Who would have supposed that she was on this boat?" came from the son.

"Do you know these folks, Miss Stanhope?" questioned Randy Fairwell.

"Yes, I know all of them." answered the girl, when she had somewhat recovered from her surprise.

"Of course she knows us," put in Tom, "and she knows those rascals, too; don't you, Dora?"

"Yes, Tom. But how did you come here?"

"It's a long tale, Dora. But just now I want you to help me bring the Baxters to justice. They are trying to make out that they are all right and that we are crazy."

"Crazy! The idea! Indeed, Mr. Fairwell, these boys are not crazy. They are my best friends. They are Tom and Sam Rover, and they are brothers to the Dick Rover I told you about."

"And what of these fellows?" questioned the master of the sloop.

"This man is an escaped prisoner, and this is his son, who is also wanted by the authorities, I believe."

"Trash and nonsense!" stormed Arnold Baxter, hardly knowing what to say. "This is simply a plot against us." He caught his son by the arm. "Come, we had better be going, since we are not wanted here."

He leaped upon the plank and Dan came after him.

"Get back there!" roared Tom, standing at the outer end of the plank. "Another step and I'll crack your head open, Arnold Baxter!"

And he swung his club in the air defiantly.

"Out of my way, or I will fire on you!" answered Arnold Baxter, and started to draw his pistol.

"Oh, don't!" screamed Dora, and covered her face with her hands.

"We want no shooting here--" began Randy Fairwell, and then stopped short in wonder.

For reaching down, Tom had suddenly given the end of the plank a wobble. Before they could save themselves, the Baxters, father and son, pitched with a loud splash into the lake.

"Good for you!" cried Sam. "If only they don't try to shoot when they come up."

There was a commotion in the water and mud lining the shore, and slowly the Baxters appeared to view, covered with slime and weeds, and both empty-handed, for Dan had not had time to draw his weapon, and that of the father lay somewhere on the bottom.

"Now do you surrender, or shall I do a little shooting?" said Tom sternly, although he had no weapon.

"Don't shoot me, please don't!" howled Dan, his last bit of courage deserting him.

The father said nothing, but looked as if he would like to annihilate both of the Rovers.

Randy Fairwell turned quickly to Dora Stanhope.

"You are certain these people are bad?" he said.

"Yes, yes; very bad!" answered Dora, and continued: "You can believe all the Rovers tell you concerning them."

One end of the plank still rested on the sloop, and Fairwell quickly placed the board in position again.

By this time the Baxters were crawling out of the lake. Sam caught hold of Dan while Tom tackled the father.

With a heavy boathook in his hand Randy Fairwell now ran ashore, followed by Ruff.

"You had better give up the fight," said Fairwell to Arnold Baxter. "If you are in the right, you shall have justice done to you."

"I will never give in!" growled Arnold Baxter savagely, and did his best to get away. Seeing this, Sam let Dan go and started in to help Tom. The struggle lasted several minutes, but Fairwell put an end to it by catching Arnold Baxter from behind and holding him in a grasp of iron, and then the rascal was made a close prisoner by being bound with a rope.

"Now for Dan!" cried Tom, and turned around, to find that Dan Baxter had taken time by the forelock and disappeared. It was destined to be many a day before any of the Rovers set eyes on him again.