Chapter XXI. Scaring Off the Enemy
 

It was easy enough for Dick to say they must follow up their enemies and prevent Sid Merrick and his party from gaining possession of the treasure, but how all this was to be accomplished was another matter.

In the first place, the other party numbered four as against their three. More than this, those from the Josephine were heavily armed, while the Rovers had brought with them nothing but a single pistol. "It's well enough to talk," whispered Sam, after Sid Merrick and his crowd had passed on, "but if we tackle them in the open the chances are we'll get the worst of it."

"We may get a chance at them in some other way," answered Dick. "We have this advantage, we know where they are and they don't know we are on the isle."

With cautious steps they stole after the Merrick party, keeping them in sight by the waving rays of the lamp and lantern ahead, as they danced over the rocks and among the trees and bushes. They kept about a hundred feet to the rear.

"I've got a plan," said Tom, as the party ahead came to a halt to make sure of the trail. "Can't we cut in somewhere and get ahead of them and then scare them back?"

"Let's try it!" exclaimed Sam. "I am sure if we play ghosts, or something like that, we'll scare Tad Sobber out of his wits."

"It's a risky thing to do," mused the eldest Rover. "We might get caught at it."

Nevertheless, he was rather in favor of the plan, and when the Merrick party stopped again, for Cuffer to take a stone out of his shoe, they "cut into" the woods and pushed forward with all speed. It was hard work, but they were in deadly earnest, and did not let the vines and brushwood deter them.

"Now, the question is, How are we to scare them?" said Dick, after they had regained the trail, well in advance of Sid Merrick and his followers.

"Let us play ghosts?" said Sam.

"We might black up and play niggers on the warpath, with big clubs," suggested Tom.

"And get shot down," interrupted Dick. "No, I think the ghosts idea is as good as anything. Quick, take off your coats and tie your handkerchiefs over your faces."

The boys had on light colored outing shirts, and these, with the handkerchiefs over their faces, made them look quite ghostlike in the gloom under the trees.

"Now, when the time comes groan," said Tom "Ghosts always groan, you know."

"And let us order them back," added Sam.

"But be sure to do it in very ghostlike tones," warned Dick. "If our voices sound a bit natural they'll get suspicious at once. If they come for us, or shoot at us, drop behind the rocks and run into the woods."

It must be confessed that the boys were doubtful of the success of their ruse. Yet they felt they must do something to hold the treasure seeking party in check, at least until morning. With the coming of daylight they could signal to the Rainbow and with the aid of those on the steam yacht probably rout the enemy.

The Rover boys advanced along the trail until they reached a spot they deemed favorable for their purpose. Then Dick gave his brothers a few more directions.

Presently they saw the rays of the gas lamp and the lantern in the distance. At once Tom set up a deep groaning and Sam and Dick joined in.

"What's that?" asked Shelley, who was the first to hear the sounds.

"Sounds like somebody in distress," answered Sid Merrick.

"Thought you said there was nobody on this island?" came from Cuffer.

"Didn't think there was. Maybe it's some native who--"

"Look! look!" screamed Tad Sobber and pointed ahead with his hand. "What's that?"

"What's what?" asked the men in concert.

"There--that thing bobbing up and down over the rocks?" And Tad Sobber trembled as he spoke. This lonely walk through the darkness of the forest had somewhat unnerved him.

"That's strange," muttered Merrick. "It's groaning!"

"It's a ghost!" screamed Tad, and shrank back, as did Cuffer and Shelley.

"A ghost?" repeated Sid Merrick. "Nonsense! There are no such things as ghosts."

"It cer-certainly looks like a-a ghost!" faltered Cuffer.

"It is a ghost!" said Tad, his teeth beginning to chatter. "I-I ca-can hear it gro-groan! Come on ba-ba-back!" And he began to retreat.

"Back with you!" came in solemn tones. "Back with you!"

"No white man must come here," said a second voice. "This is sacred ground!"

"He who sets foot here dies!" came from a third voice. "This is the burial place of the great Hupa hupa! Back, if you value your life!" And then followed a jabbering nobody could understand, and white arms were waved wildly in the air.

This warning was too much for Tad Sobber, and without further ado he took to his heels and retreated down the trail whence he had come. Cuffer followed him, and Shelley also retreated several yards.

"Stop, you fools!" cried Sid Merrick. "Those are no ghosts, I tell you. It's a trick of some kind."

"I--I don't know about that," answered Shelley. "Don't you think it would be better to come here in the daylight? We--er--we can't find that cave in the dark anyway."

"Yes, we can--and I am going to do it, too," was Merrick's answer. "That is a trick, I tell you." He raised his voice: "Who are you?" he called out. "Answer me truthfully, or I'll fire on you!"

This threat alarmed the Rover boys, for they saw that Merrick was in earnest.

"I guess our cake is dough," muttered Tom.

"Wait, I think I can scare him back yet," said Dick. "Let me do the talking."

"I say, who are you?" repeated Merrick. "You needn't pretend to be ghosts, for I don't believe in them."

"We are the owners of this isle," answered Dick, in the heaviest tone he could assume. "We are ten strong, and we order you to go back to your ship at once."

"The owners of this isle?"

"Yes."

"I don't believe it."

"You can do as you please about that. But if you come a yard further we'll fire at you."

"Humph! Then you are armed?"

"We are and we know how to shoot, too."

"What brought you here at such a time as this?"

"We have a special reason for being here, as you may learn by to morrow."

"Do you know anything of a treasure on this island?" went on Sid Merrick curiously.

"We know something of it, yes. It belongs to the Stanhope estate, provided it can be found."

"It doesn't belong to the Stanhopes at all--it belongs to me," cried Merrick.

"In a day or two the Stanhopes are coming here to take possession," went on Dick. "They will bring with them a number of their friends and uncover the treasure, which is now hidden in a secret place. As I and my brothers and cousins own this isle we are to have our share of what is uncovered. Now we warn you again to go away. We are ten to your four, and we are all armed with shotguns and pistols, and we have the drop on you."

"Good for you, Dick, pile it on," whispered Tom. Then he pulled Sam by the arm. "Come on, let us appear from behind another rock--they'll think we are two more of the brothers or cousins!"

"You won't dare to shoot us," blustered Merrick, but his voice had a trace of uncertainty in it.

"Won't we?" answered Dick. "There is a warning for you!" And raising the pistol he carried he sent a shot over the heads of the other party.

"They are shooting at us! We'll all be killed!" yelled Tad Sobber, who had come back during the conversation, and again he and Cuffer took to their heels.

"Mind the warning!" called out Dick, and dropped almost out of sight behind a rock. At that same moment Tom and Sam appeared from behind a rock far to the left.

"Mind that warning!" they cried. "Remember, we are ten to four!"

"There are two more of 'em," cried Shelley.

"Confound the luck, what sort of a game is this anyway?" said Sid Merrick, much chagrined.

"Well, it is more than we expected," answered Shelley. "I, for one, don't care to risk being shot down. I reckon they have the bulge on us, if there really are ten of 'em."

"I've seen but five the three ahead and the two over yonder."

"There are two more!" answered Shelley and pointed to another rock, to which Sam and Tom had just crawled. "That makes seven."

"Go back, I tell you," warned Dick. "We'll give you just two minutes in which to make up your mind. If you don't go back we'll start to shoot!"

"Come on back!" cried Tad, from a safe distance. "Don't let them shoot you, Uncle Sid!"

"We'll go back to our ship," called out Sid Merrick. "But remember, this thing isn't settled yet."

"If you have any differences with the Stanbopes you can settle with the folks on the steam yacht which has just arrived," answered Dick, not knowing what else to say.

The party under Sid Merrick began to retreat, and Dick, Tom and Sam watched them with interest, until the lights faded in the distance. Then Tom did a jig in his delight.

"That was easier than I expected," he said.

"Even if we didn't scare them playing ghost," added Sam. "I wonder if they really thought we were ten in number?"

"Well, they thought we were seven anyway!" answered Dick. "It was a clever ruse you two played."

What to do next the Rover boys did not know. It was impossible for any of them to calculate how far they were from the spot where they had landed or to determine the best way of getting back to Foreshow Bay, as they had named the locality.

"If we move around very much in this darkness we may become hopelessly lost in the forest," said Dick.

"Maybe we had better stay right where we are until morning," suggested his youngest brother.

"I'm agreeable to anything," were Tom's words.

"If we stay here we want to remain on guard," said Dick. "Merrick may take it into his head to come back."

An hour later found the three Rover boys encamped in a small opening to one side of the forest trail. They made beds for themselves of some soft brushwood, and it was decided that one should remain on guard while the other two slept.

"Each can take three hours of guard duty," said Dick. "That will see us through the night nicely," and so it was arranged.