Chapter XXVII. A Bold Resolve
 

Seeing their precious papers, or the receptacle that was said to contain them, in the hands of the detective, Cora and Laurel both drew back. They could not now demand them, was the thought that flashed to the mind of each, and yet to leave them in possession of the officers, was the very worst thing that could have happened, for there was always the danger of the old story coming up and then the risk to Mr. Starr, after all his years of evading the law!

"They have no right to them," Jack said under his breath.

"Hush!" Cora whispered, "they are going the other way!"

The two men were talking. Suddenly one of them said loudly enough for the listeners to hear:

"It might be dynamite. Not for me! Here goes!" and he carefully set the can down under a bush.

"Yes," said the other man. "You are right. Those two fellows were up to most anything. We will get Mulligan. He could smell dynamite," and with that they turned, took a new path toward the shore, and were soon sailing off in their boat.

For a few moments neither of the three, who were standing there watching, spoke. Then Cora's face brightened.

"They are ours, Laurel's," she said, "and we have a right to take them."

"But the law is queer on such points," Jack argued. "I have known men to be put in jail for what they call interfering with an officer when the officer could not do just what he wanted to with some spunky citizen. I should not like to touch the can of red paint."

"But my father," said Laurel, in the most pleading of tones. "Think what it means! How we have suffered; and now, when this is at our very hands!"

"But suppose it were something other than the papers," cautioned Jack. "Those men had a pretty bad reputation."

"I will take all the risks," declared Cora, and before Jack could detain her she ran to the bush, pushed it aside, and grasped the can.

Jack hurried to take it from her. "Let me have it, Cora; if there is a risk it must be mine."

"All right, Jack dear," she replied, "I am sure there is nothing in it heavier than papers. Wouldn't you think those men could have guessed that?"

"Perhaps they did not want to," said Jack. "You can never tell what they want or mean. They have a system even the country fellows, and it covers a multitude of failures." He shook the can, put it to his ear, rolled it a few feet, picked it up again and laughed. "Mr. Mulligan won't find this can," he said, "Somehow it is attractive, and I am anxious as you girls to see what is in it. If we get in trouble for taking it--well, we'll see," and he led the way down to the Petrel.

On the water they passed the police boat, but the can of "red paint," was snugly resting under Laurel's skirts in the bottom of the boat.

"Will you tell your father at once, Laurel?" Cora asked.

"If he is well enough. Oh, I can scarcely wait. Coral, what wonderful good luck you brought to us," and she reached out her hand to press Cora's.

"Don't be too sure," cautioned the other, "it is not all cleared up yet."

"But I feel sure," she insisted. "Brentano was too clever to do anything half way."

"He certainly was a star," Jack admitted. "But I hope he will not insist upon keeping up the correspondence with Cora. He might give us the hoo-doo."

They were soon at their dock. The Peter Pan was tied, there, and that meant that Paul Hastings was at the bungalow. Jack thought instantly of Paul's employer, the banker, whose name Mr. Starr had mentioned. It did seem now that things were shaping themselves to tell all the story.

"Who is the stranger?" Cora asked, noticing a man in a dressing robe sitting on the little rustic porch.

"I--wonder--" Jack said.

"It's father," almost screamed Laurel, "and he has had his hair cut and his beard taken off! Doesn't he look lovely!"

"It can't be," Cora said hesitatingly. "That man is so young!"

"He's my dear father, just the same," declared the delighted girl, hurrying from the boat up to the bungalow.

The man did not turn his head to greet her, but she was not to be deceived by his little ruse. "What a surprise!" she exclaimed. "I scarcely knew you."

"But you did know me," he replied, with a happy smile. "I feel years and years younger, my dear."

"Indeed you look it," Cora said. "I wonder how you ever hid such good looks."

The nurse was fetching the beef tea, Paul took the cup from her hand. Jack made a wry face at Laurel, indicating that they would have to watch Paul and the pretty new nurse. Then he took the chair nearest Mr. Starr. The can of "red paint" had been safely hidden in a locker of the Petrel.

"Your friend has been telling me the wonders of his fast boat," began Mr. Starr to Jack, speaking of Paul.

"Yes. This is the young man who is employed by Brendon Breslin," Jack replied.

"Employed by Brendon Breslin!" exclaimed Mr. Starr. "Is Mr. Breslin around here?"

"Gone to the city to-day," replied Paul, "but I take him home every night in the Peter Pan. That's what he wants the best boat on the lake for."

"He always believed me, and never wanted me to go away," Mr. Starr said. "And now if I could see him--"

"I don't see why you cannot," put in Jack. "He often rides by here, doesn't he Paul?"

"He thinks this the prettiest end of the lake," Paul replied. "But if you ever knew him and he was your friend I am sure he would be only too glad to make a special trip to see you, for he boasts he never forgets an old friend," Paul said.

"That's him--that's Brendon," exclaimed Mr. Starr, moving uneasily in his chair. "I feel I must be dreaming."

There was a general pause--for realization. Everyone felt indeed it was like a dream, and almost beyond human power to grasp. Mr. Starr swept his hand over his forehead.

"Laurel," he called, "I wonder if I couldn't take a ride in the Peter Pan. Ask the nurse, please--?"

"Oh, no," objected that young lady. "It would not be wise for you to take another boat ride to-day. We will ask the doctor about it tomorrow."

"Don't be impatient, father," pleaded Laurel. "You must not forget how weak your head has been."

"All right, child. But I want it cleared up," he murmured. "I feel there is no safety for me until I'm vindicated."

"Come on, Jack," whispered Cora. "We must open that can."

Paul was leaving. Cora and Jack walked to the dock with him. He assured them both that Mr. Breslin would call very soon, and also promised to be on hand on the following Wednesday evening when the girls and boys were planning to have a celebration.

"They will never know but that it is really paint," Cora remarked, as she and Jack walked boldly up the path with the precious tin can. "Just take it around to the back, and be careful opening it."

"Dynamite?" asked Jack with a smile.

"No, but you might damage something," she replied.

"No worry about damaging myself?" he persisted. "Well, Cora, I hope it contains--some jewels. Wouldn't that be nice?"

There was no chance for further conversation. Cora went to the porch while her brother carried out her instructions. Presently she made some excuse, and left Laurel alone, talking with her father.

She found Jack sitting on the wash bench with the can opened and in his hands.

"Didn't go off?" she asked, peering into the tin.

"Not a go," replied Jack, "but look! What did I tell you! There's an envelope marked for Laurel, and feel! Are they not stones? Diamonds or pearls?"

"You romancer!" exclaimed Cora, as she felt the bulky envelope. "I admit they do feel like stones, but they may be merely corals. But oh, Jack! Do let me see!"

"Lets call Laurel," he suggested. "We cannot read any of those papers. They are for her, or her father, to open."

"Oh, of course," and Cora looked rebuked. "I had no idea of reading anything, but I thought we should make sure of what was in the can before we got Laurel excited over it," and she slipped around the side of the bungalow to beckon to Laurel.

The girl's face turned white when she saw why she was wanted. "I am so afraid of disappointment," she murmured with a sigh.

"Well, there's something in here," Jack told her. "Look at this," and he handed her the heavy envelope.

She read her name--then she tore open the paper. A necklace fell out on her lap!

"Mother's!" she exclaimed, pressing the golden chain to her lips reverently. "Darling mother's!"

"And the stones are amethysts!" Cora exclaimed as Laurel held up the gems.

"Yes, it was father's wedding present to mother," Laurel told them. "Oh, I scarcely know how to tell him all this."

"Tony was a pretty decent robber after all," remarked Jack. "He kept them for you, at any rate."

"Yes, poor man. Perhaps, as he said, his one temptation was to do clever things with a pen. Let us look over the papers."

"Perhaps your father had best see you do that," Jack suggested.

"Oh no. I think I had better know first," Laurel insisted. "Let me open this," and she carefully broke a large red seal on a packet of documents yellow with age.

Paper after paper she took out. Finally what she was looking for she found. It was a check that had been cashed and cancelled! It bore the marks also of "forgery!"

"That's it," she exclaimed. "That is the ten thousand dollar check!"