Chapter XVIII. On Board the Houseboat
 

After questioning Captain Starr as closely as possible all three of the Rover boys came to the conclusion that it must have been Dan Baxter who had visited the Dora on the sly.

"I don't like this at all," said Sam. "He is going to make trouble for us--no two ways about that."

"The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to get away without delay," said Tom. "He won't find it so easy to follow us then."

"I'm going to throw him off the scent," said Dick.

"How?"

"By pretending to go to one place, while we can really go to another."

"That's a scheme."

A small tug had been chartered to tow the houseboat, and the captain of this was ordered to be ready for moving at eleven o'clock.

"We shall go to Camdale first," said Dick, naming a place about forty miles away.

"All right, sir--wherever you say," said the tug commander.

Returning to the hotel, the boys found the others finishing breakfast and sat down to their own. They said the Dora was in perfect trim and that the trip down the Ohio was to begin without delay.

"Well, I am sure I am ready," said Nellie. "I am just dying to see the houseboat."

Aleck hurried around to buy the necessary stores, which were taken to the Dora in a wagon, Then two carriages brought down the ladies and the boys and a truck brought along the baggage.

"What a beautiful boat!" cried Dora after going on board. "And how tidy everything is!"

"Then you are not ashamed to have her called the Dora?" said Dick, well satisfied.

"Ashamed? Oh, Dick, I am delighted!"

"This boat is a gem," was Songbird Powell's comment. "Say, folks on the Ohio will take us, to be millionaires."

"Dis ship is besser dan a ferrypoat," was Hans' comment.

"A ferryboat!" shrieked Grace. "Oh, Hans!"

"I mean von of dem double-decker ferrypoats vot runs from New York to Chersey City--dem kind vot has got blate-glass vinders und looking-glasses der sthairs on," explained the German cadet. "Da vos peauties, too."

"If we don't enjoy this trip it will be our fault," said Fred.

The lines were cast off, the steam tug puffed, and in a moment more the houseboat had left the dock and the voyage down the Ohio was begun.

"I'll not be sorry to leave Pittsburg behind," said Nellie. "There is so much smoke."

"Well, they have to have smoke--in such a hive of industry," answered Dick.

By noon Pittsburg and Allegheny were left behind and once more the sky was clear and blue above them. The sun shone brightly and there was just enough breeze to keep the air cool and delicious. All sat on the forward deck, under a wide-spread awning, watching the scenery as they floated onward.

After a consultation it was decided that the first stop should be made at a small village on the river called Pleasant Hills. Mrs. Laning had a friend there whom she had not seen for years, and she said she would be pleased to make a call.

"All right," said Dick, "Pleasant Hills it is." And he called to the tug captain and gave the necessary directions.

"That will throw Dan Baxter off the track a little," whispered Sam.

Aleck Pop was highly pleased with the cooking arrangements. There was a first-class gasolene stove, and the kitchen was fitted with all sorts of appliances for rendering cooking easy.

"I'se gwine to do my best fo' you," said the colored man, and dinner, which was served at one o'clock, proved to be little short of a genuine feast, with oxtail soup, breast of lamb, mashed potatoes, green peas, lettuce, coffee, pudding and cheese.

"Why, Aleck, this is a surprise," said Dora. "Some day they will want you to become the chef in a big hotel." And this compliment tickled the colored man greatly.

"T'ank yo' Miss Dora," he answered. "But I don't want to be no chef in a hotel. All I wants to do is to stay wid de Rober boys so long as I lib."

During the afternoon the boys tried their hands at fishing and caught quite a mess. By four o'clock Pleasant Hills was reached and they tied up in a convenient spot. All of the girls and Mrs. Stanhope went ashore with Mrs. Laning, to visit the friend that had been mentioned.

"Bring them down to the houseboat to-night, if they care to come," said Dick.

"Thank you, Dick, perhaps we will," answered Mrs. Laning.

"Let us take a swim while they are gone," suggested Tom. "That water is too inviting to resist."

"Agreed!" shouted the others, and ran to their rooms, to get out their bathing suits. Soon Tom was ready, and leaping to the end of the houseboat, took a straight dive into the river. Sam followed and Fred came next, and then Dick, Songbird, and Hans came down in a bunch. The water was just cold enough to be pleasant, and they splashed around in great sport.

"This is what I call living!" yelled Tom and diving under, he caught Hans by the big toe.

"Hi, hi! let go mine does!" shrieked the German lad. "Somedings has me py der does cotched!"

"Maybe it's a shark," suggested Fred.

"A shark! Vos der sharks py der Ohio River?"

"Tons of them," came from Sam. "Look out, Hansy, or they'll swallow you."

"Du meine Zeit!" gasped the German cadet. "Vy didn't you tole me dot pefore, hey? I guess I don't schwim no more." And he started to climb up a rope ladder leading to the deck of the houseboat.

"Don't go, Hans!" sang out Songbird. "They are fooling you."

"Dere ton't been no sharks in der river?"

"No, nothing but sawfish and whales."

"A vale! Dot's chust so bad like a shark."

"No, not at all. A shark bites. A whale simply swallows you alive," put in Sam, with a grin.

"Swallows me alife, hey? Not on your life he ton't!" returned Hans, and started again for the rope ladder. But Sam pulled him back and ducked him, and was in turn ducked by Fred, who went under by a shove from Dick; and then followed a regular mix-up, the water flying in all directions.

"By golly, dat's great!" cried Aleck, from the deck. "I dun' t'ink a lot ob eels was dancin' a jig down dar!"

"Come down here, Aleck, and get some of the black washed off!" shouted Tom, gleefully.

"Not fo' a dollah, Massah Tom--leasewise, not while yo' is around."

"What are you afraid of?" asked Tom, innocently.

"Yo' is too full ob tricks fo' dis chile. When I wants a baf I'se gwine to take dat baf in a tub, an' when yo' ain't around," answered Aleck. "Yo' am--Oh--wough!" And then the colored man retreated in great haste, for Tom had sent up a shower of water all over him.

"Here comes a big river boat!" cried Songbird, presently. "Let us go out and catch the rollers!" And out they swam and waited until the swells, several feet high, came rolling in. It was immense fun bobbing up and down like so many corks.

"Wish the steamers would continue to come past," said Fred. "This suits me to death."

"Here comes another pretty big boat," answered Tom. "And she is closer to shore than that other craft, so we'll get the rollers at their best."

"Don't get too close," cried Songbird. "I knew a fellow who did that once and got sucked under."

On came the river boat and was soon opposite to where the houseboat lay. She carried only a few passengers, but a very large quantity of freight.

"Here she comes!" cried Fred. "Now for some more fun."

"Don't get too close!" repeated Songbird, but Tom did not heed him and went within fifty feet of the steamboat's side. The rollers here were certainly large, but all of a sudden Tom appeared to lose interest in the sport.

"Hullo, Tom! What are you so quiet about?" sang out Dick in alarm.

"Perhaps he has a cramp," put in Sam. "Tom, are you all right?" he cried.

"Yes, I'm all right," was the answer, and then Tom swam to his brothers with all speed. The steamboat was now well on its way down the Ohio.

"What is it?" asked Dick, feeling that something was wrong. "If you have had even a touch of a cramp you had better get out, Tom."

"I haven't any cramp. Did you see them?"

"Them? Who?"

"The two fellows at the stern of that boat?"

"No. What of them?"

"One was Dan Baxter and the other was Lew Flapp."