Chapter IV. Getting Back
 

A few minutes later the rowboat of Jim Peters came out from Far Island, and in it were the boys!

"If we have to bale her out all the way" Ed was saying, "I can't see why we should pay you a quarter a piece. Seems to me we are earning our fare."

They were now almost alongside the drifting motor boat.

"Jack! Jack," called Cora. "We are here, waiting for you. What ever happened to you?"

"Well," exclaimed the boys in great surprise. "Glad to see you girls--never gladder to see anyone in my life. Can you take us on?"

"Of course we can," replied Cora. "My! We thought you were lost."

"Not us, but our boat," answered Walter. "Some one stole our canoe and left us on the island, high and dry."

"There," said Ben, "didn't I tell you?"

"Well, you fellows owe me just the same as if you went all the way," growled Jim Peters. "I've lost my night hire waitin' fer you."

"How'd you know about them, Jim?" asked Ben, in a joking sort of tone. "Wasn't it luck you happened up this way to-night?"

The other man did not reply. Cora had stepped down to the seat in front of the engine where Ben sat.

"Do you think that man stole their canoe?" she asked.

"Hush! 'Taint no use to fight with Jim. He'd get the best of you sure, and besides, then he would be your enemy. Just make a joke of it, and I'll tell you more later," and Ben prepared to start as soon as the boys, who were climbing into the motor boat, were ready.

"I'll pay you when we get to land," said Jack to the boatman, "I have no money in my bathing suit."

"Well, see that you do," said the man in a rough voice. "I'm not goin' to leave my work to tow a couple of sports just for the fun of it."

"Oh you'll get paid all right," Jack assured him, "and so will the fellow who stole our boat--when we catch him."

"I'll chip in for that," said Walter. "Never saw such a trick. Hello Bess, also howdy Belle. My, isn't it fine to be rescued from a desert island by three pretty girls?"

"Wallie! Wallie. There's a stranger aboard," warned Cora.

"Oh yes, this is Ben--Ben--"

"Just Ben," interrupted the man at the wheel, with a chuckle.

"But he has been so kind," added Cora. "Only for him we should never have found out where you were."

"If you hadn't taken us off that old sieve," put in Ed, "I think we would soon have had to swim back to the island. We never could have made the shore in that thing, neither could we swim that distance."

"S'long Jim!" called Ben, as the old rowboat was sent off in the darkness.

"See, he isn't balin' her now," he told the boys.

"How's that?" all asked in chorus.

"Oh, that's a great boat--leaks to order," replied Ben, as he turned over the fly wheel and Cora's craft shot swiftly away from the island.

The boys were too busy talking to the girls, and the latter were too busy asking questions, to go further into the matter of the leaking boat, but Cora did not fail to notice that the craft must have "leaked to order." "What could that man have intended doing? Did he want to sink the boat?" she was wondering.

"Well, if we haven't had a pretty time of it," said Ed. "First, we had to go up trees to get out of the way of something--we are not yet sure whether it was man or beast. Then when we crawled down, and made for the shore the canoe was gone clear out of sight."

"Haven't you any idea who took it?" Cora asked.

"Wish we had--I'll wager he would have to sleep out of doors to-night," threatened Jack. "It was the meanest trick."

Cora gave Bess the signal to keep still about having seen a canoe at the back of Jim Peter's rowboat that afternoon. Cora was convinced that Ben knew what he was talking about when he warned her to be careful of Jim Peters.

"But why did you go back to the island?" asked Cora. "I thought you were going to spend the afternoon with us girls?"

"We were, then again we couldn't," answered her brother. "We had a very important appointment at Far Island."

"Ben, don't you want one of us to run her?" asked Ed. "We were to have had a try--"

"Nope. This here is the best fun I can have, and this boat is a beauty," replied the old man. "If I had one that could go like this and carry so many passengers I'd give up the dock."

"Yes, a boat like this would earn its own living," agreed Jack. "Run her as long as you like to, Ben. It gives us a chance--ahem--"

"To sit nearer your sisters," finished Ben, with a sly laugh.

"All's well that ends well," quoted Belle to Ed, for she was scarcely able yet to draw a free breath--her anxiety had been too keen. "I cannot believe that we are all here together again."

"Just pinch me," said Ed laughing, "and if I don't give our war whoop you may be sure this is not me--I am still on the Robinson ranch--there, that was an unpremeditated pun; I mean the old Robinson Crusoe and I forgot that he was great-grandfather to the present Robinson twins."

"Say, Ed," put in Walter, "what do you say if we buy a houseboat? This has the camp beaten to a frazzle."

"It's all right on such a night," replied Ed, "but houseboats, I believe, cost money, and our camp is rented to us for the season. Oh fickle Wallie! To fall in love with a motor boat, just because her name is Pet."

Walter was talking to Cora before Ed had finished speaking to him. That was Walter's irresistible way with the girls.

"No use talking, sis," said Jack, "this sail was worth being stranded for. If you are in no hurry, Ben, suppose we prolong it. Take us some place where we haven't been. You know the rounds of Cedar Lake."

This plan was agreed to, and, though the boys were not dressed as they would wish to have been, it was evening on the water, and their jersey suits were not altogether out of place.

"But what I would like to get at," began Ed, not being able to dismiss the subject, "is who stole our boat?"

"It may have drifted away," suggested Cora wisely. "There was a great fleet on the lake to-day, and any small boy might have let your boat go."

"Well, if I should lay hold of such a chap," declared Jack grimly, "he will grow up quickly. He will never be a small boy again."

"Now I'll tell you," offered Ben obligingly. "There's a lot of strange things likely to happen to you young 'uns while you're at this here lake. So take my advice an' go slow. Every one here goes slow, and it's the best way. If you suspicion a feller don't go at him. Just wait and he will walk right into your hands," and Ben sounded a warning whistle as he turned a point.

"He'll eat out of my hands if I get training him," prophesied Jack. "But all the same, Ben, I think that's first-rate advice. It saves us much trouble and that's the most important consideration. It takes time even to polish off such a specimen."

"And when you're done, you've got dirty hands," went on Ben in rough philosophy. "All the same, there is them that can't be otherwise dealt with, and when the time's ripe I'd--help myself. I know a man or two I'd like first-rate to get at, and stay at till I'd finished."

"Then, Ben," spoke Cora, "when you get your man we'll all help you, and when we get ours you can return the compliment."

Cora had a way of joking that invariably turned out prophetic--and this case was no exception.

"Well, if there ain't Dan sailin' around!" ex, claimed Ben suddenly. "He's lookin' fer me. Hey there, Dan! What's up?" he cried as he faced the boat with the brilliant lamp at the stern.

"Everything!" yelled back Dan. "Come up to the dock! There's trouble!"

Ben swung around the timer to gain more speed in a spurt of the motor.

"It's that Jim Peters, I'll bet," he declared, as they headed for Center Landing. "He's there ahead of us. He cut through the shallow channel."

Whether Jim Peters had taken leave of his senses or was simply unreasonably angry, folks were never able to say with certainty. At any rate, now, on this evening, the man seemed furious about something. No sooner had the motor boat come up to the dock to allow Ben to land, than Peters turned upon the young fellows he had been arguing with at the island, and in unmeasured terms spoke against all gasoline water craft. He said he couldn't see why the law allowed them to use the lake, for they made such a racket, filled the air with vile odors, and scared all the fish.

"You all ought to be arrested and deported!" he stormed. "The idea of peaceful folks being bothered with such nuisances! I'm not going to stand it if there's a law in the land! Why the idea! It's not right! I'll--" He stopped for breath.

"Now look here, Jim, you just quit!" said Ben quietly, as the fellow started off on another tirade, using still stronger language, and almost boiling over with rage. "Go easy," advised Ben. "There's that friend of yours, Tony Jones, comin'. Take a jab at him for a change."

As Ben got out, Jones sauntered along, and it was easy to see that, personally, he was quite a contrast to Jim. The situation seemed somewhat relieved.

"It's all right now," spoke Cora in a low voice, and with an easier air. "Let's go." With pleasant words for Ben and Dan she and her friends prepared to start off again. Walter gave the flywheel a few vigorous turns, but there was only a sort of apologetic sigh from the motor.

"Prime it a bit," suggested Ed.

With gasoline from a small oil can, Walter injected some of the fluid into the cylinder through the pet cock.

"Now for it!" he exclaimed. "Cross your fingers everybody," and once more he did the street-piano act, as Ed termed it. The engine only sighed gently.

Walter gave a quick glance over his shoulder toward the bow.

"Is that forward switch in?" he asked a bit sharply.

"Oh!" exclaimed Cora, "I accidentally pulled it out when I removed the bulkhead to look at the battery connections. There," she added after a quick motion, "it's in, Walter."

"Now for it! Hold your breaths," ordered the engineer. There was a sudden motion to the wheel, a whizzing buzz, a churning of the water under the stern and the boat moved away.

"We'll have to have a regular schedule--gasoline, switch, ground-wire, pet-cocks primed--oil cups up, and all that sort of thing," murmured Cora as they glided swiftly onward. "I'll print it on a card and hang it near the engine."

"Thanks," whispered Walter, as he took the wheel. "Where to?" he asked.

"The bath house," suggested Ed. "Our togs are there."

Gracefully the craft approached the group of bath houses, whence the boys had started in their canoe that afternoon. But no lights gleamed out to welcome the returning ones.

"My word!" exclaimed Walter a bit dubiously, "our togs are likely locked up in the safe, and here we are, forty miles from the pile of ready-to wear habiliments that hide behind Jack's trunk! Eh, what?"

"Sure thing!" agreed Ed with a sigh.

"Oh, never mind," consoled Cora. "Come over with us for a while, anyhow, if only to report progress."