Chapter XXII. The Law and the Lights
 

"I want to find her this time," insisted Jack. "Cora, please let me? I promise not to frighten her, and not even to speak to her if you object, but I do so want to find her."

"Seems to me you found her last time," objected Walter who was looking particularly well to-night, for his suit of Khaki and his brown skin seemed all of a piece. "You nearly knocked me down in your haste to find the hut first."

"But," Cora said seriously, "Laurel may not want you boys to find her. She may not even want me to do so. I am just taking chances. Suppose you allow Bess and me or Hazel or any two of us to go up to the hut first? Please do be reasonable, and not silly," Cora finished in a voice she seldom assumed.

"You may come along as dose as you like, until we are just up to the hut," Bess consented, with marked good sense, "as the woods are so thick and black, but when we get to the hut--"

"We can 'hut' it I suppose," snapped Jack. "All right, girls; all I can say is I hope a couple of Brownies, or a mountain lion pay their respects to you both for being so daring."

The boat was running beautifully. The cleaning out that Cora gave the base, and the regulating of the oil cups together with adjusting the wires, helped to make the mechanism run more smoothly, and she glided along without "missing," which means, of course that every explosion was in perfect rhythm to every other explosion. There was a "hot fat" spark as Cora explained.

"There's a big steamer," remarked Hazel, as a large boat glided along.

Cora swung so that the red light of the Petrel showed she was going to the right. The steamer gave two whistles indicating a left course. Cora answered with one blast which meant right. The steamer insisted on left and gave one more signal.

"What's the matter with them?" Jack demanded, taking the steering wheel from Cora. "They seem to own the lake."

No sooner had he said this than the big boat came so close to the smaller craft that a huge wave swept over the small forward deck and instantly the colored lights went out, being drenched. For a moment every one seemed stunned! The shock to the Petrel was as if she had been suddenly dipped into the depths of the lake. But as quickly as it happened just as quickly was it righted, and the offending boat steamed off majestically, as if it had merely bowed to an old acquaintance.

"What do you think of that!" exclaimed Walter, indignantly.

"I think a lot of it," replied Ed, "but the captain of that steamer would not likely want to see my thoughts."

"Small trick," declared Jack, "Even if he had the right to pass us so close, common lake manners obliged him to give in to the smaller boat."

"The lights are both out," Cora said anxiously.

"Well, we are almost to shore," Jack replied, "and it won't be worth while to stop here. We can light up again when we get in."

This seemed reasonable enough and so they sailed along.

"Hello!" exclaimed Walter, "is this another boat trying the same trick?"

A launch was steering very dose to the Petrel. The lights were conspicuously bright, and the engine ran almost noiselessly.

"What is it?" asked Jack, seeing that the captain wanted to speak with some one.

"I want you," replied a voice of authority. "You have no lights."

"Oh, you're the inspector," said Jack candidly. "Well, that steamer that just passed doused our lights, and we are going to land here to relight."

"Sorry, but that's against the law," replied the officer. "You fellows always have an excuse ready, and I can't accept it. You will have to come along with me."

"Arrested!" exclaimed Belle aghast.

"That's about what it amounts to," replied the man coolly. "Can you get in here?"

"Who?" asked Jack.

"The captain," replied the officer grimly.

"Where does he go?" Jack further questioned.

"See here, young man," spoke the inspector rather sharply. "Do you think I've got all night to bother with you?"

"I don't know as I do," replied Jack in the same voice, "but if you will just explain what you want us to do we will give you no further trouble." Jack knew one thing--to refuse to comply with the request of an officer is about the last thing to do if one values either money or liberty.

"That's the way to talk," replied the inspector. "So just suppose you take this rope and I'll tow, you along. I fancy the party would, rather come than let one go alone."

"Of course we would," declared Cora. "In fact I am the captain of this boat."

Jack gave her a meaning bump on the arm--it meant, "let me do the talking," and Cora understood perfectly.

"But where are we going?" wailed Belle, as the man threw the towline to Ed.

"Not far," answered the man. "I just have to take you in, and then you have to do the rest."

"What's the rest?" inquired Walter.

"Oh, pay a fine," said the man carelessly.

"How much?" inquired Ed.

"From five to twenty-five; as the judge sees fit. There, are you fast?"

"Guess so," growled Jack, to whom the arrest seemed like a case of "Captain Kidding."

"And we can't go to Laurel?" Hazel inquired with a sigh.

"Shame," commented Walter under his breath, "but Jack knows the best thing to do with the law is to jolly it."

"Law nothing," muttered Ed, as he took the steering wheel, Jack being busy with the towing line.

"Never mind," Cora suggested. "It will give us a new experience. I had the fool-hardiness to wish for some real excitement this very afternoon."

"But to be arrested!" gasped Bess with a frightened look.

"A distinctly new sensation," said Hazel with an attempt to laugh. "Just think of going before a real, live judge!"

But evidently the other girls did not want to think of it. They would rather have thought of anything else just then.

"Which way are you going?" Jack asked the man in the official boat. "I thought your judge lived on the East side?"

"He does, but we may take some other fellows in yet to-night. This is only one catch," and the inspector laughed unpleasantly.

"They are actually going to tour the lake with us," declared Ed. "If that isn't nerve!"

"Don't complain," cautioned Cora, "perhaps the longer the run the lighter the fine. And we are just waiting for our next allowance."

"And, being a pretty motor-boat, they will make it a pretty fine," mused Walter. "I would like to dip that fellow."

"Yes, they are going to let us tour the lake hitched on to the police boat! The situation is most unpleasant. But there is no way out of it," said Ed, sullenly.

"Suppose they won't take a fine, and want to lock us up?" asked Belle.

"If it were only one night in jail, I'd take it just to fool the man who wants the money, but I am afraid it might be ten days and that would be inconvenient," Jack remarked, as the police boat steamed off with the Petrel trailing. "They call this law. It may be the law but not its intention. We were almost landed, and just about to light up. I tell you they just need the money."

When they reached the bungalow, where judge Brown held his court, the three young men entered with the inspector, and when the judge had satisfied himself that he could not ask more than five dollars and costs for this "first offence" the fine was paid and the matter settled. Belle and Bess were greatly relieved when the culprits came back to the Petrel. They had a hidden fear that something else disgraceful might happen; perhaps the judge would detain the boys, or perhaps the girls would have to go in to testify. Cora's mind was pre-occupied however, and when the Petrel started off, and Jack asked her where to, she said back to Fern Island.