Chapter XXIX. Jake Shaggam, of Shaggam Creek
 

"They will watch us more closely than ever now," said Dora, after she and her cousin were left to themselves in the stateroom on board of the houseboat.

"I presume that is true," answered Nellie, gloomily.

"They expect to make money by carrying us off, Nellie."

"I don't see how they can do it. Papa hasn't much money to pay over to them, and won't have, unless he sells the farm."

"Mamma has quite some money of mine," went on Dora. "Perhaps they will make her pay over that. And then they are going to try to get something out of the Rovers too."

"It's a shame!"

"They ought not to have a cent!"

The girls sat down and talked the matter over until daylight. At about nine o'clock Lew Flapp approached the stateroom door.

"Don't you want something to eat?" he asked, civilly.

"I want a drink," answered Nellie, promptly, for she was exceedingly thirsty.

"I've got a pitcher of ice water for you and some breakfast, too. You might as well eat it as not. There's no sense in starving yourselves."

"I suppose that is true," whispered Nellie to her cousin. She was hungry as well as thirsty, having had no supper the night before.

The door was opened and Lew Flapp passed the food and drink into them. Then he stood in the doorway eyeing them curiously.

"It's too bad you won't be friends with us," said he, with a grin. "It would be much pleasanter to be friends."

"Thank you, but I don't want you for a friend, Mr. Flapp," said Dora, frigidly.

"I ain't so bad as you think I am."

"You are bad enough."

"I ain't bad at all. Dick Rover got me in a scrape at school, and ever since that time he's been spreading evil reports about me."

"You robbed that jewelry store."

"No, I didn't, and I can prove it. The Rovers were the real thieves."

"You cannot make us believe such .a tale. We know the Rovers too well," said Dora, warmly.

"They are as honest as any boys can be," added Nellie.

"Bah! You do not know what you are talking about. They are crafty, that is all,--and half the cadets at Putnam Hall know it."

To this neither of the girls would reply. They wished to close the stateroom door, but Lew Flapp held it open.

"I think you might give me a kiss for bringing you the eating," he said, with another grin.

"I'll give you--this!" answered Dora, and pushed the door shut in his face. There happened to be a bolt on the inside and she quickly shoved it into place.

"Just you wait--I'll get square on you!" growled Lew Flapp, from the outside, and then they heard him stamp off, very much out of sorts.

Fortunately for the girls, the breakfast brought to them was quite fair and there was plenty of it. They ate sparingly, resolved to save what was left until later in the day.

"He may not bring us anything more," said Dora. "Perhaps I did wrong to shut the door on his nose."

"You did just right, Dora," answered her cousin, promptly. "I think he and Baxter are horrid!"

"But they have us in their power, and have some men to aid them, too!"

"I wonder who those men can be?"

"I do not know, but they are very rough. I suppose they would do almost anything for money. They smell strongly of liquor."

Slowly the time went by. They tried to look out of the stateroom window, but Dan Baxter had placed a bit of canvas outside in such a position that they could see nothing.

"They do not want us to find out where they are taking us," said Dora, and her surmise was correct.

Night was coming on once more when they felt a sudden jar of the houseboat, followed by several other jars. Then they heard a scraping and a scratching.

"We have struck the bottom and are scraping along some trees and bushes," said Nellie. "Where can we be?"

"Here is a fine shelter!" they heard Pick Loring exclaim. "They'll never spot the houseboat in such a cove as this."

"I believe you," answered Dan Baxter. "It is certainly a dandy hiding place."

"Those girls can't very well get ashore neither," said Hamp Gouch. "If they tried it they would get into mud up to their waists."

"Is this Shaggam Creek--the place you spoke about?" asked Lew Flapp.

"Yes."

"You said there was an old man around here named Jake Shaggam."

"Yes, he lives in that tumble-down shanty over the hill. I don't think he will bother us."

"Does he live there alone?"

"Yes. He is a bachelor and don't like to go down to the village."

The girls heard this talk quite plainly, but presently Baxter, Flapp, and the two horse thieves withdrew to another part of the houseboat and they heard no more.

"We are at a place called Shaggam Creek," said Dora. "That is worth remembering."

"If only we could get some sort of a message to the Rover boys and the others," sighed Nellie. "Dora, can't we manage it somehow?"

"Perhaps we can--anyway, it won't do any harm to write out a message or two, so as to have them ready to send off if the opportunity shows itself."

Paper and pencils were handy, and the cousins set to work to write out half a dozen messages.

"We can set them floating on the river if nothing more," said Nellie. "Somebody might pick one up and act on it."

The hours slipped by, and from the quietness on board the girls guessed that some of their abductors had left the houseboat.

This was true. Baxter and Flapp had gone off, in company with Pick Loring, to send a message to Mrs. Stanhope and to Mrs. Laning, stating that Dora and Nellie were well and that they would be returned unharmed to their parents providing the sum of sixty thousand dollars be forwarded to a certain small place in the mountain inside of ten days.

"If you do not send the money the girls will suffer," the message concluded. "Beware of false dealings, or it may cost them their lives!"

"That ought to fetch the money," said Dan Baxter, after the business was concluded.

"If they can raise that amount," answered Loring. "Of course you know more about how they are fixed than I do."

"They can raise it--if they get the Rovers to aid them."

The prospects looked bright to the two horse thieves, and as soon as Loring returned to the houseboat he and Hamp Gouch applied themselves arduously to the liquor taken from Captain Starr's private locker.

"Those fellows mean to get drunk," whispered Lew FIapp, in alarm.

"I'm afraid so," answered Baxter. "But it can't be helped."

Late in the evening, much to their surprise, an old man in a dilapidated rowboat came up to the houseboat. It was Jake Shaggam, the hermit, who had been out fishing.

"How are ye, Shaggam!" shouted Pick Loring, who, on account of the liquor taken, felt extra sociable. "Come on board, old feller!"

Against the wishes of Baxter and Flapp, Jake Shaggam was allowed on board the houseboat and taken to the living room. Here he was given something to eat and drink and some tobacco.

"You're a good fellow, Jake," said Hamp Gouch. "Mighty good fellow. Show you something," and he took the old man to where the girls were locked in.

"Better stop this," said Flapp, in increased alarm.

"Oh, it's all right, you can trust Jake Shaggam," replied Gouch, with a swagger. Liquor had deprived him of all his natural shrewdness.

He insisted upon talking about the girls and tried to open the door. Failing in this he took the hermit around to the window.

"Nice old chap this is, gals," he said. "Finest old chap in old Kentucky. Think a sight o' him, I do. Shake hands with him."

"What are these yere gals doin' here?" asked Shaggam, with interest.

"Got 'em prisoners. Tell ye all 'bout it ter-morrow," answered Gouch, thickly. "Big deal on--better'n stealin' hosses.''

"They seem to be very nice girls," answered Jake Shaggam. He was a harmless kind of an individual with a face that was far from repugnant.

Watching her chance Dora drew close to the old man.

"Take this, please do!" she whispered, and gave him one of the notes, folded in a dollar bill.

"Thank you," answered Jake Shaggam.

"Say nothing,--look at it as soon as you get away," added Dora.

The old hermit nodded, and in a few minutes more he followed Gouch to another part of the boat.

"Do you think he will deliver that message?" asked Nellie.

"Let us pray Heaven that he does," answered her cousin.