Chapter XVII. A Queer Captain
 

"You saw Dan Baxter, here in Pittsburg?" ejaculated Dick.

"Dat's it."

"You are sure you were not mistaken, Aleck? I thought that rascal was miles and miles away."

"Dat's jess wot I dun been thinkin' too. But it was Dan Baxter, suah. I knows him too well to make any mistake about his ugly face."

"Where was he?"

"Dat's de alarmin' part ob it, Massah Dick. Yo' know yo' tole me to find de houseboat."

"Yes."

"Well, I found de boat wid dat dar Cap'n Starr on board, an' we made all dem 'rangements wot you spoke about. Den I started to leave de boat. Dar was an eleckric light on de dock an' a man standing near it, a-watchin' de houseboat. I almost run into him, an' den I discobered it was dat good-fo'-nuffin Dan Baxter."

"He was watching the houseboat?"

"Dat's it."

"Did he recognize you, Aleck?"

"Not till I spoke to him. I said, `Wot yo' doin' heah, Dan Baxter?' When he heard dat he 'most jumped a foot. Den he mutters sumthing wot I couldn't make out an' runs away."

"Did you go after him?"

"Yes, but I couldn't cotch him nohow. Dar was big piles ob boxes an' barrels on de dock and he got away befo' I know wot I was at. I hunted an' hunted, but I couldn't git on his track."

"This is certainly unpleasant, to say the least," mused Dick, biting his lip. "If he is watching us he is doing it for no good purpose."

"Dat's de way. I reasoned. But I didn't want de ladies to heah. Mrs. Stanhope am a powerfully narvous woman."

"Yes, Aleck, you were wise in keeping them in ignorance. But I'll have to tell Tom and Sam and the other fellows, and we'll have to keep our eyes open."

"Is you' goin' to report dis to de police?"

"I may. I'll think it over first. Now, how about the houseboat? Has Captain Starr done as directed?"

"Yes, sah."

"What kind of a man does he seem to he?"

"All right, Massah Dick, only--"

"Only what?" asked the eldest Rover, as he saw the colored servant hesitate.

"Well, to tell de truf, he seems kind of funny to me."

"How funny?"

"Here," and Aleck tapped his forehead.

"Do you mean that he is crazy?"

"Not dat persackly, Massah Dick, but he said sum mighty funny t'ings when we was talkin' acted like he was t'inkin' ob sumt'ing else."

"Humph! Well, if he isn't the sort of fellow we want we'll have to let him go and get another captain."

Dick returned to the apartment he had left and told the others that Aleck had made the necessary arrangements. Then he gave Tom and Sam a wink which meant a good deal. Soon after this the party broke up, and the boys retired to the connecting rooms they had engaged for the night.

"So Aleck saw Dan Baxter!" cried Tom, when told of the news. "That must mean the rascal is on our trail."

"Just what I am thinking, Tom," returned Dick.

"We ought to have the authorities arrest him," put in Sam.

"Perhaps, but we've got to locate him first. Now that he has been discovered he will do his best to keep shady. Maybe he has already left the city."

They talked the matter over for an hour, but could reach no satisfactory conclusion.

"Better take matters as they come," said Powell. "He won't dare to molest you openly."

"No, but he will molest us in secret, which will be worse," replied Sam.

"None of the ladies or the girls must hear of this," said Tom. "It would spoil their whole trip, even if Baxter didn't show himself again."

"I ton't oben mine mouds apout noddings," declared Hans. "I vos so quiet like an ellerfaunt in a church!"

Bright and early the boys were astir on the following morning, and Dick, Tom, and Sam went off to interview Captain Starr before breakfast. They found the captain a thick-set fellow, with a heavy mustache and big, bushy whiskers. He had eyes of the dreamy sort, which generally looked away when speaking to anybody.

"This is Captain Starr?" said Dick, addressing him.

"I'm your man."

"I am Dick Rover, and these are my brothers, Tom and Sam."

Dick put out his hand, but the captain merely nodded.

"Is everything ready for the trip, captain?" asked Tom.

"Yes, sir."

"You had the boat cleaned up?" said Sam.

"Yes, sir."

"We'll look her over," said Dick.

"Yes, sir."

They walked over the houseboat from end to end. The craft was certainly a beauty and as clean as a whistle. There was a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, and eight sleeping rooms--four of the latter downstairs and four upstairs. Each sleeping room contained two berths. There was also a bunk room below, for the help, and a small room for the captain. In the living room, was the piano and also a bookcase containing half a hundred choice novels.

"This is certainly great," said Tom.

"Better than I thought it would be," answered Sam. "It's a perfect palace."

"And see how the brasswork shines," went on Tom. "The captain certainly had things cleaned up.

"But he is a queer stick, if ever there was one." came from Dick, in a whisper. "I must say, I don't half like him."

"He acts as if he was asleep," was Tom's comment.

"Or else as if he had something on his mind."

"Anyway, he comes highly recommended," said Sam.

When they came out on the deck they found Captain Starr sitting on a bench smoking a corncob pipe.

"She is in fine shape and I congratulate you, captain," said Dick, pleasantly.

"Thank you," was the short answer.

"You will be ready to have us taken down the river as soon as we get our things on board?"

"Yes, sir."

"Confound him," thought Dick. "Why doesn't he say something else? He is a regular automaton."

"By the way, captain," put in Tom, "have you noticed a stranger watching the Dora the last night or two?"

At this question Captain Starr leaped to his feet, allowing his corncob pipe to fall to the ground.

"What made you ask that question?" he demanded.

"We have an enemy, named Dan Baxter. We suspect he is following us and is spying on us."

"Yes, I have seen a young fellow around half a dozen times. In fact, I caught him on the houseboat once."

"You did!" cried Dick. "What was he doing?"

"Going through the stuff in the living room."

"What did you do to him?"

"I yelled at him, demanding to know what he wanted. As soon as he heard me he ran ashore and disappeared."

"Did you try to find him?"

"No, because I didn't want to leave the houseboat alone."

"Did you see him last night--while our colored man was here?"

"I saw somebody, but it was too dark to make out exactly who it was."