Chapter VI. The Story of a Treasure
 

It was a disheartening discovery, but the three Rover boys did not stop to think it over. Throwing open the bolted door, Tom and Dick joined Sam, and in the darkness made their way to the rear of the room in which they had held Cuffer and Shelley prisoners. In a minute more they were outside, under the trees at the rear of the old mill.

"Which way did they go?"

Tom asked the question, but nobody could answer it. The moon had now gone under some clouds and it was so dark they could scarcely see ten feet in any direction.

"Perhaps they took to the river again," suggested Sam.

"It is not likely," answered his big brother. "But we can take a look."

They ran around to where the men had landed. Their boat was still in its place, tied to a tree.

"Listen!" cried Sam "Somebody's shouting, and there is a light."

"It is Jack Ness," said Tom.

The boys set up an answering shout, and soon a boat came up to the shore. It contained the hired man and the two Ditwolds. They had a lantern with them and also an old fashioned single barrel shotgun.

The situation was quickly explained, and then the party of six began a systematic search of the woods and the various roads in the vicinity of Henderson's mill. This search lasted until morning, but nothing came of it.

"We may as well give up," said Dick, at last. "They have gotten away and that is all there is to it."

The boys were completely tired out when they got home. Their uncle and aunt were much worried over their prolonged absence and overjoyed to see them return unharmed.

"I was so afraid one of you might get shot or something," said Mrs. Rover. "Some of those, chickens thieves are desperate characters."

"Those men were more than chicken thieves," answered Dick. And he told his uncle and aunt of the conversation overheard at the old mill.

"It is a great pity that they got away," said Randolph Rover.

"What do you imagine they are after, Uncle Randolph?" questioned Sam.

"I do not know, excepting it may be some mining stocks or a deed to some property. Perhaps your father will be able to explain it when he gets back."

The authorities were notified, but they failed to apprehend the men. It was learned that the boat they had used had been stolen from, a point near Oak Run, and the craft was returned to its owner. That they had used the old mill for a stopping place was evidenced by the remains of numerous meals found there. The boys made a careful search of the premises, but brought nothing to light which was of use to them.

"I wish father was home--or we knew how to reach him by telephone, or with a telegram," remarked Dick.

"Well, we can't reach him, so we'll have to be patient until he returns," answered Sam. "By the way, I wonder if his going away had anything to do with what those men were up to?"

"It might be so," returned Dick, slowly. "Both happenings are queer, to say the least."

"I wish I knew what father has in mind to do," came from Tom. "I hope we take some kind of a trip. I don't want to stick on the farm all summer."

With nothing to do, the next two days passed slowly. The boys went fishing and swimming, and they also did some shooting at a target which they set up behind the barn, and whiled away, some time at boxing and in gymnastic exercises. Dick also spent an hour in penning a long letter to Dora Stanhope, who, as my old readers are well aware, was his dearest girl friend. Dora and her mother lived not far from Putnam Hall, and Dick and his brothers had become acquainted with her and her two cousins, Nellie and Grace Laning, when they had first gone to school. The Rover boys had on several occasions saved Mrs. Stanhope from serious trouble, and for this the widow was very grateful. She and her daughter had gone with them on the houseboat trip down the Ohio and the Mississippi, and Mrs. Laning and Nellie and Grace had likewise accompanied the party. It may be added here that Tom and Sam thought Nellie and Grace two of the nicest girls in the whole world, which indeed they were.

On Saturday morning the boys were contemplating a bicycle ride when Sam, who chanced to look toward the road, set up a shout:

"Here comes father!"

All gazed in the direction and saw Mr. Rover coming toward them in a rig he had hired at the depot. They ran to meet their parent and were soon shaking him by the hand. They saw that he looked travel worn and tired.

"I have been on the go ever since I left Putnam Hall," said Anderson Rover. "It was a most unexpected trip. I will tell you all about it as soon as I have rested a bit and had something to eat."

"We have something to tell, too," answered Dick. "But that can keep until later."

Inside of an hour Mr. Rover had been served with a good, hot breakfast and then he declared that he felt like a new man. He invited the whole family into the sitting room for a conference of importance.

"I told you lads I had something on my mind," he said. "I did not want to speak of it while at the graduation exercises at the school because there was too much going on. Now I am going to tell you everything and also tell you what I propose to do. But first, I want to listen to what you have to tell me."

It did not take the three boys long to relate the particulars of the pursuit of Cuffer and Shelley, and of what they had overheard at the old mill. Anderson Rover listened with close attention and did not seem surprised when they mentioned Sid Merrick's name.

"That fits in, to a certain degree, with what I have to tell you." he said, when they had finished.

"It is a strange story, and the only way for me to do, so that it will be perfectly clear to you, is to tell it from the beginning."

"Well, we're willing enough to listen," said Dick, with a smile.

"We've been on pins and needles ever since you said you had something important to tell," added Tom, grinning.

"Well, to start, this concerns Mrs. Stanhope more than it concerns ourselves," began the father.

"What!" ejaculated Dick. He had not expected anything of this sort.

"I knew you would be surprised, Dick, and you'll be more surprised when I get through."

"Are the Lanings in this?" questioned Sam, thinking of Grace.

"They are in a certain sense--or will be if everything turns out successfully. When Mr. Stanhope died he left most of his property to Mrs. Stanhope and Dora--the majority to Dora--but a small share was left to the Lanings, they being so closely related and such good friends."

"But what is it all about?" asked Tom, impatiently.

"As I said before, I must start at the beginning, or perhaps you won't understand at all. As you know, Mr. Stanhope died some years ago. He was interested in various business enterprises, including a number of vessels which carried freight between the United States and the West Indies. One of his partners in the freight carrying business was a man named Robertson and another was a Silas Merrick."

"Merrick!" cried Sam.

"Yes, and this Silas Merrick was an older brother to Sid Merrick, the rascal who stole the bonds, and whom you heard mentioned by Cuffer and Shelley. Let me say here that Silas Merrick is dead, and when he died he left all his property to his brother Sidney and his sister. The sister is dead, too, and her property, so I understand, went to her son Tad Sobber."

"This is getting deep," said Tom, his sunny face growing wrinkled.

"It will soon get deeper, Tom. During the time that the firm of Stanhope, Robertson & Merrick were carrying freight from the West Indies there was a fierce revolution in Central America. Some families of high rank were forced to flee, among them a nobleman named Parmonelli, who left home carrying with him gold and diamonds worth many thousands of dollars. He managed to get on board one of the vessels owned by Mr. Stanhope's firm, and Mr. Stanhope was on the ship at the same time. The vessel was followed by revolutionists who were no better than pirates, and after a fierce fight the revolutionists shot Parmonelli and carried off his fortune."

"This is certainly getting deep," murmured Sam.

"Parmonelli was not killed at once, but died two days after being shot down. He was very bitter against the revolutionists, and said they had no right to take his fortune from him--that it was his and did not belong to the state. As Mr. Stanhope had befriended him to the last he made a will, leaving the fortune to Mr. Stanhope if the same could be recovered."

"And how much was it?" questioned Dick.

"I cannot say exactly the will mentions six bags of gold and one bag of precious stones, all packed in several chests."

"It's queer I never heard of this from Dora," said Dick. "She told me about the other money her father left."

"Mr. Stanhope kept the matter to himself, and at his death told only Mr. Laning, for--as you know--Mrs. Stanhope was then in delicate health and it was deemed very unwise to excite her."

"But what about the fortune--was it recovered?" asked Tom.

"No."

"Then the money has long since been spent," cried Sam in dismay.

"No, Sam, the money and the jewels, to the best of my belief, have never been touched. When the revolutionists carried them off they said they were going straight back to Central America with them. Instead, however, they landed on an island of the West Indies and there started to divide the fortune. This caused a bitter fight, in which several of the party were killed and wounded. Then it was decided to hide the money and jewels in a cave on the island and make a division later. A place was selected and the gold and jewels placed under heavy rocks in a small cave. After that the party sailed away. When they got home, much to their surprise and dismay, they found their country in the hands once more of the government. They were captured and all but two were sentenced to be shot as traitors. The two were sent to prison and they were released less than a year ago. One was a Spaniard named Doranez and the other a Spanish American sailor named Camel, but usually called Bahama Jack, because he has spent nearly all his life among the Bahama Islands."

"Did those two men go after the treasure when they got out of prison?" asked Sam.

"They wanted to, but were poor and had forgotten the exact location of the island where the treasure was hidden. Bahama Jack was a happy go lucky sort of a sailor and he came to this country and worked for a while on a lumber schooner running from Florida to Boston. Doranez also came to this country, but where he kept himself at first I do not know."

"Go on, Dad, this is getting exciting," broke in Tom, as his parent paused in his recital.

"Not long ago Mrs. Stanhope came to me for advice concerning this matter. Mr. Laning had told her everything, and she wanted to know if it would be worth while to organize an expedition to hunt for the treasure. I said I would look into the matter and ask her to give me what papers Mr. Stanhope had left in reference to the affair. I started to hunt up Bahama Jack and Doranez. After a good deal of work I found the former and had several long talks with him."

"Did you get any news from him?" asked Dick.

"A little. He does not remember exactly where the island was located, but told much about its general appearance and what other islands were in that vicinity. But he also told me something else, which worried me a good deal. It was that Sid Merrick, as the heir of Silas Merrick, was also after the treasure."