Chapter VIII. On the Lake Again.
 

"Peterson!" cried Tom, in dismay.

"Can he be dead?" came from Sam. Then he bent over the lumberman. "No, he still lives. But he has been treated most shamefully."

"This must be some more of Arnold Baxter's work"

"Or else the work of some footpad."

Both boys knelt over the prostrate form of the lumberman and did what they could to restore him to his senses.

In this they were partly successful.

"Don't hit me again! Please don't hit me!" the man moaned, over and over again.

"You're safe," said Tom. But Peterson paid no attention, and only begged them not to hit him.

"Let us carry him to the Swallow," suggested Sam, and between them they did so.

"Wot's dis?" asked Aleck Pop, in astonishment.

"He is our friend, and has been struck down," answered Tom. "Get some water in a basin, and a little liquor."

When the colored man returned with the articles mentioned both boys washed the wounded man's head and bound it up with a towel. Then Tom administered a few spoonfuls of liquor. This seemed to give Peterson some strength, but he did not fully recover for some hours.

"Follow the Peacock," were his first rational words. "Follow the schooner Peacock."

"The Peacock?" repeated Tom. "Why should we follow her?"

"Your brother is on board." And having spoken thus, the lumberman sank again into semi-unconsciousness.

"Can he be telling the truth, or is he out of his head?" questioned Sam.

"I'm sure I don't know, Sam."

"Perhaps we had better look around for the schooner he mentioned."

"All right, I'll do so. You stay here with Aleck."

"Hadn't I better go with you?"

"No, I'll keep my eyes open," concluded Tom, and hurried away.

It was now dawn, and the early workers were just getting to their employment. Soon Tom met a couple of watchmen and hailed them.

"I am looking for the schooner Peacock," said he. "Do you know anything of the craft?"

"Sure, an' that's Gus Langless' boat," said one of the watchmen. "She's lying at the end of Bassoon's wharf, over yonder."

"Thank you," and Tom started away.

The wharf mentioned was a long one, and it took some time for the youth to reach the outer end. As he ran he saw a boat in the distance, moving away with all sails set. Of course he could not make out her name, but he saw that she was schooner-rigged, and felt certain she must be the craft for which he was searching.

At the end of the pier he met a dock hand, who had been resting in a nearby shed.

"Is that boat the Peacock?" he asked.

"Yes, sir."

"Do you know anything of the people on board?"

"I do not."

"Has she a cargo?"

"I believe not."

"You didn't see anybody going on her?"

"Hold up! Yes, I did; a young fellow and a man."

"Was the young man in a feeble state?"

"He seemed to be."

"Thank you."

Tom turned away with something of a groan. "Dick must be on board of that craft, along with the Baxters. Oh, what luck we are having! Now what ought I to do next?"

His wisest move would have been to have informed the authorities, but Tom was too much upset mentally to think of that. With all speed he returned to the Swallow.

"The Peacock has sailed!" he cried. "We must follow her!"

"You are certain?" queried Sam.

"Yes, I saw her in the distance. Come, let us get after her before it is too late."

As Luke Peterson was now doing fairly well, all of the others ran on deck, and soon the Swallow was in pursuit of the schooner. At first but little could be seen of the Peacock, but when the sun came up they saw her plainly, heading toward the northwest.

"We must keep her in sight," said Tom.

"Yes, but supposing the Baxters are on board, how can we capture them?" came from Sam. "We are but three, or four at the most, counting Peterson, while that craft must carry a crew of five or six."

"We can hail some other boat to help us. The main thing is not to lose track of the rascals."

The breeze was all that could be desired, and once the shore was left behind they kept the Peacock in sight with ease. But, try their best, they gained but little on the larger boat.

As there was now nothing to do but to let the yacht do her best, Tom left Sam at the wheel and turned his attention to Peterson. The lumberman was now able to sit up, although very weak.

"I discovered Arnold Baxter and tracked him to the schooner's dock," he said. "His son came to the dock, and from what they said I am sure your brother is on the craft. Then they discovered me, and the father struck me down with the butt of a pistol he carried. After that all was a blank until I found myself here."

"You can be thankful you weren't killed."

"I suppose so. I shall not rest until that villain is brought to justice. But what are ye up to now, lad?"

"We are in pursuit of the Peacock."

"On the lake or up the river?"

"On the lake."

"Can you keep her in sight?"

"So far we seem to be holding our own."

"Good! I'd go on deck and help ye, but I feel kind o' strange-like in the legs."

"Better keep quiet for the present. We may need you later on."

"Got any firearms on board?"

"Yes, a gun and two pistols."

"Ye may want 'em afore ye git through with that crowd. They are bad ones."

"We know them thoroughly, Mr. Peterson. We have been acquainted with them for years." And then Tom told of how Dan Baxter had been the bully at Putnam Hall, and how he had run away to join his rascally father, and of how Arnold Baxter had been Mr. Rover's enemy since the days of early mining in the West.

"O' course they are carrying off your brother fer a purpose," said the lumberman. "Like as not they'll try to hit your father through him."

"I presume that is the game."

The morning wore away slowly, but as the sun mounted higher the breeze gradually died down.

The Peacock was the first to feel the going down of the wind, and slowly, but surely, the Swallow crept closer to the schooner.

But at last both vessels came to a standstill, about quarter of a mile apart.

"Now what's to do?" questioned Sam dismally.

"I reckon we can whistle for a breeze," returned his brother.

"Whistling won't do us any good. I've been wondering if we could not do some rowing in the small boat."

"Hurrah! just the thing!"

There was a small rowboat stored away on board the Swallow, and this was now brought forth, along with two pairs of oars.

"Gwine ter row ober, eh?" observed Aleck Pop. "Racken you dun bettah been careful wot youse do."

"We shall go armed," answered Tom.

The boys soon had the rowboat floating on the lake, and they leaped in, each with a pair of oars, and with a pistol stowed away in his pocket.

From the start those on board of the Peacock had been afraid that the yacht was following them, and now they were certain of it.

"Two boys putting off in a rowboat," announced Captain Langless.

"They are Tom and Sam Rover," answered Arnold Baxter, after a brief survey through a marine glass.

"How did they get to know enough to follow this craft?"

"I'm sure I don't know. But those Rover boys are slick, and always were."

"What will you do when they come up?"

"Warn them off."

"I've got an idea, dad," came from Dan.

"Well?"

"Why not get out of sight and let Captain Langless invite them on board, to look for Dick. Then we can bag them and put them with Dick."

"By Jove, that is a scheme!" exclaimed the rascally parent. "Langless, will you do it? Of course, we'll have to get out of sight until the proper moment arrives."

"But if you bag 'em, what of those left on the Swallow?" questioned the captain.

"There is only one man, a negro. He doesn't amount to anything."

"There may be more--one or two officers of the law."

Arnold Baxter used his glass again. "I see nobody but the darky. If there were officers at hand, I am sure they would have come along in that rowboat."

"I guess you are right about that."

"If we capture the boys the darky won't dare to follow us alone, and it may be that we can capture him, too," went on Arnold Baxter.

By this time the rowboat was drawing closer, and Arnold Baxter and Dan stepped out of sight behind the forecastle of the schooner.

A few additional words passed between Captain Langless and the Baxters, and then the owner of the Peacock awaited the coming of our friends, who were now almost alongside, never suspecting the trap which was set for them.