Chapter XXIV. The Unexpected
 

"I heard a boat," Cora whispered to Jack, as on the following morning, he rubbed his eyes endeavoring to put sight into them.

"Well, what of it?" he asked.

"It seemed to stop at this landing," replied the sister.

"The girls most likely," and he got to his feet. "How is the old gentleman?"

"Much stronger, and his mind, Laurel thinks, is clearing."

"I think so too. It is an outrage that he has been allowed to suffer here without help. That scoundrel Jones must have fixed this up."

"Did you sleep any, Jack dear?" Cora asked. "I'm afraid you had a lonely vigil."

"Oh, I got a wink or two, and my patient was no trouble. Is that Laurel talking to him?"

"Yes, she seems overjoyed that he can talk rationally to her. But listen Jack! There are voices."

Brother and sister hurried to the door. Strangers were approaching--two men.

"Is--er--Miss Cora Kimball here?" asked one of them, in rather a hesitating voice.

"Yes, what is it?" asked Jack, suspiciously for somehow he did not like the appearance of the strangers.

"We'll do business with her," put in the taller of the two men.

Cora gave a gasp. Somehow she felt as if something unpleasant was about to happen.

"No, you won't do any business with her!" exclaimed Jack, "that is, not until you tell me first. What is it? Out with it!"

"Say, you're quite high and mighty for a young fellow," sneered the short man. "Who be you, anyhow, a lawyer? Because if you are you ought to have sense enough to know that we're detectives, after information, and if we can't get it peaceable we'll get it otherwise. How about that?"

"It doesn't worry me a particle," declared Jack easily. "Now, Cora, leave this to me," for he saw that his sister was much affected. "I'm her brother," he went on, turning to the men, "and not a lawyer, but I guess I can do just as well in this case. Now, what do you want?"

"Well, it's this way," began the tall one. "We heard that Miss Kimball might know something about the quarrel between Peters and Tony, or whatever his name was, and she might be able to put us on his track. Peters is hurt worse than we thought he was at first, and we want Tony. Does she know where he is?"

"No, she doesn't!" exclaimed Jack, before his sister could speak.

"Well, we have a tip about her and another girl being in a hut on Fern Island and being scared by a man," persisted the tall man. "No offense you know, only we thought she could help us out. The man who scared her and her friend may have been Tony."

"I--I didn't see any one--it was dark," explained Cora, before Jack could speak. "Some one approached, fell down and went away again."

"That may have been Tom!" excitedly said the short detective.

"'No, it was--" began Cora.

"Wait a minute," cried Jack. "Before she answers I want to know if you really have a right to the information. How do I know but you may be some one seeking to get evidence for a civil suit for Peters or Tony, and will drag us in as witnesses?"

"Oh, we're not," said the tall man hastily.

"Here's my court-house badge," and he displayed it. "This has nothing to do with a lawsuit. We just want to find Tony. If that wasn't him on the island who scared the girls, who was it? Surely she can't object to telling; it can't hurt her. Who was it?"

Before Cora could answer there was a sound at the door of the hut and a voice exclaimed:

"It was my father!"

There stood Laurel, and the officers shifted their gaze from Cora to her. They started eagerly forward, hoping to get the information they sought from the new witness.

"Tell us about it," urged the short man.

"No, let me, Laurel dear," interrupted Cora. "I can explain, Jack, and have it all over with. Really it's very simple."

Then, without at all going into the details of the mystery of the hermit, which information Cora felt the detectives had no right to possess, she told how she and Laurel had been in the hut and how the unknown man who so frightened, them had turned out to be Laurel's father, and that even now he was under care because of the injury he received.

"And he lived on Fern Island all this while?" asked one of the officers. "Why did he do that?"

"For his health I guess," said Jack sharply. "That doesn't concern your case against Tony, or whatever his name was, and this Peters. You've found out that my sister doesn't know anything to help you in your hunt, and you might as well skip out. This is private ground, you know."

"That doesn't make any difference to the law," growled the short man.

"Oh, yes it does," said Jack sweetly. "You're trespassers as much as any one else if you haven't a warrant, and I don't believe you have."

"No, I guess you're right," admitted the tall man, with as good grace as possible. "Come on," this to his companion, "we can't learn anything here. Let's go see old Ben."

Cora and Laurel had gone into the house. Jack did not want them annoyed again, and he wondered how the men had come to think that Cora might know something of the quarrel between Peters and Tony.

"It was probably just a guess," decided Jack. "There is certainly something like a mystery about the hermit, and--"

He interrupted his thoughts as he saw one of the men coming back.

"Hang it all! I wonder what he wants now?" thought Jack. The man soon informed him.

"I say, do you think the hermit, as you call him, would be well enough to testify in court about this case?" the detective asked.

"What case?" inquired Jack, wondering if the man suspected the reason for the hermit's exile.

"The Peters case."

"No, I don't think he would," was the young man's answer, and once more the man went to his boat.

As he and his companion started off, Jack saw the Petrel containing Bess, Hazel, Walter and Ed swinging up to the small dock. The young, folks looked closely at the two detectives.

"He may have to testify whether he wants to or not!" called the short officer back to Jack who was still watching them. "The law gets what it wants you know. This isn't the only case against Tony. He is an old offender."

"All right, have your own way about it," responded Jack easily, and he noted that the occupants of the Petrel seemed rather alarmed. Then they hastened to disembark as the police boat chugged away, and Jack ran down to meet them.