Chapter XX. The Island Adventure
 

Next morning the scouts met at the Anchorage to find out how much money they had made. Great was their delight to learn that they had taken in fifty dollars and seventy cents. It seemed too good to be true, and the only way they could account for the large sum was the money contributed by several men who had come in autos. They had paid a dollar apiece for their tickets, and had spent money liberally upon ice-cream, cake, and candy. No refreshments were left over, and but for the timely assistance of Miss Arabella there would not have been enough.

It was in Whyn's room where this meeting took place. Captain Josh said very little at first, for he was satisfied to let the rest do the talking. He was happy at the way the affair had turned out, and he wished to do something to celebrate the occasion.

"Boys," he at last began, after they had thoroughly discussed the entertainment and the singer, "we've had a great success, more than we ever expected, I feel now like doin' something desperate jist to relieve my feelings. Suppose we make a trip to the island, and camp there all night. We've been talkin' about this fer some time, and as I have to go over to look after some nets I left there, it might as well be now as at any time. You boys have never spent a night in the open, and it'll do yez good to learn how to camp and cook. All scouts must know something about sich things."

"Shall we go to-day?" Rod eagerly enquired. The big island had always been a fascinating place to him, and he longed to go there. He had heard many stories about it, and how much treasure had been buried there long ago by Captain Kidd.

"Yes, this afternoon," the captain replied. "We'll go in the Roarin' Bess, and tow the tender to take us ashore. You boys had better hustle away home now, and find out if yer parents will let yez go. Ye must bring along a blanket or two each, and enough grub to last yez fer supper and breakfast. I'll look out fer the tea, milk, and the cookin' utensils. The ones who are goin' must be here by three o'clock sharp."

Rod hurried home and found Parson Dan reading the morning paper which had just arrived.

"Look here, Rodney," and the clergyman pointed to the headlines of an article a column long. "See what the newspaper says about Miss Royanna, and how she came all the way to Hillcrest to sing for the scouts."

"What, is it all there, grandad?" and the boy eagerly scanned the page. "Read it, please," and he perched himself upon a chair nearby.

To him it was wonderful that the paper should make so much of what the singer had done. It told about the scouts, their entertainment, and how two of the boys had gone all the way to the city to ask Miss Royanna to go to Hillcrest.

"Isn't it great!" and Rod gave a deep sigh when the clergyman had finished. "How I wish Miss Royanna could live here all the time."

"She took a great fancy to you, Rodney," and the parson smiled upon the boy.

"I like her," was the brief comment.

During dinner Rod asked permission to go to the island with Captain Josh and the rest of the scouts. After some discussion he was told that he could go, and when the meal was over Mrs. Royal began to prepare some food for him to take with him.

"It will do the boy good," the parson told her. "The captain is most trustworthy, and camping out in the open for one night will do the boy no harm."

Parson Dan had thought much about Anna Royanna's visit to Hillcrest. He and Mrs. Royal had talked long and earnestly about the whole affair the night before. They tried to discover some reason why she should come all the way from the city to sing for a few country people, when she was in such great demand elsewhere. That it was for Whyn's sake did not altogether satisfy them. They recalled the special interest she had taken in Rod, and they felt proud that their boy should have received so much attention from such a woman.

While driving along the road that afternoon, a new idea suddenly flashed into the parson's mind. "Can it be possible?" he asked himself. So foolish did the notion seem that he tried to banish it from his thoughts. But this he found to be most difficult. Why should she come all the way to Hillcrest? And what about her great interest in Rod, and that closing piece which she had sung in such a pathetic manner? Stranger things had happened before, he mused. But they generally occurred in stories, and not in real life. Anyway, it was interesting, though he decided to keep the idea to himself for awhile, to see if anything else would take place.

Captain Josh and the boys had a great time that afternoon. The island was about one hundred acres in size, and for the most part wooded. They tramped all over it, and their excitement was intense when they saw the holes which had been dug there by gold-seekers. The boys longed for picks and shovels, that they, too, might dig. But the captain laughed at them.

"There's no gold here, lads," he told them, "and ye'd be only fooled like others."

"But did anybody ever find gold here, captain?" Rod enquired.

"Not that I know of. But there have been some good jokes played upon people here, though," and the captain chuckled as some funny incident came into his mind.

After supper was over that night, the scouts gathered around the bright camp-fire, and asked Captain Josh to tell them a story about gold-seeking on the island. The boys were stretched upon the ground, watching the fiery-tongued flames and the countless sparks as they soared up into the darkness. This was a new experience for them, and they were delighted.

"What kind of a story d'yez want?" the captain asked.

"A funny one," was the reply from all.

"A funny one, eh?" and the old man scratched his head.

"Yes, the one which made you chuckle this afternoon," Rod suggested.

"Oh, that one, ha, ha! Sure I know all about it, fer I was there myself. I was younger then than I am now, and fond of an occasional joke. I heard that two men were goin' to hunt fer gold right over there by the shore near that big rock I showed yez to-day. They had been stuffed about buried gold, and so they were goin' to hunt fer it. I saw Jim Gibson, and asked him to join me in a little fun. We came over ahead, got things fixed up, and then waited jist behind that rock. It was dark as pitch when the men came, and from where we were hidden we could see them with their lanterns diggin' fer all they were worth right near that rock. We let them work away fer a spell, as we didn't want to spoil their fun too soon. But at last we began to groan and make queer noises. Say, ye should have seen them men. They were almost scared out of their boots, fer they thought sure that ghosts were around. Then, when they were shakin' all over, I pulled a string, and off came a black cloth we had put over a word which we had printed on the face of that rock."

"What was the word?" Rod eagerly enquired, as the captain paused for an instant.

"It was the word 'Death,' in big letters. I tell yez it must have glared out pretty ghastly in the night, fer the way them men yelled, and made fer their boat was something wonderful. Ho, ho' I kin never think of them fellers, and the scare they got, without havin' a good laugh."

"Did they ever find out who did the trick?" Phil asked.

"Not that I know of. But, somehow, word got around, and the lives of them men were made miserable by the questions they were asked about the gold on the island, and when they intended to go over and dig fer it."

For some time the captain told other stories to the boys. Most of these were about his experiences at sea, the gales he had encountered, and his numerous narrow escapes from death. It was a novel experience for the scouts to be lying there listening to these yarns, with the stars twinkling overhead. At last, however, their eyes became heavy and, wrapped in their blankets, they were soon sound asleep upon the hard ground. The captain sat for awhile before the dying embers, smoking his clay pipe. At length, knocking the ashes out of the bowl, he, too, stretched himself out full length near the scouts.

Rod was the last of the boys to go to sleep. His mind was busy with the joke the captain had told, and his experiences at sea. He thought, too, of the sweet singer, and wondered if he should ever see her again. When he did go to sleep he had a dream of a great crowd of men landing on the island, attacking the scouts, and carrying off a large chest of gold.

From this dream he woke with a start, and sat up. For a moment he was dazed, and could not imagine where he was. Then he remembered, and he was about to lie down again when the sound of a motor-boat fell upon his ears. He listened intently, wondering what people could be doing on the water at that time of the night. He could hear the regular breathing of his companions, and as his eyes became accustomed to the darkness, he could make out the form of the captain lying not far off.

The sound of the boat was more distinct now, and it appeared to be approaching the island. Was his dream really coming true? Rising, he groped his way to the captain's side, and touched his arm. Light though it was, the captain suddenly woke, and asked who was there. In a few whispered words Rod told him what he had heard. At this, the captain sat up, and listened.

"Sure enough," he remarked. "Somebody's astir at a queer hour. Guess we might as well look into this. Come on, let's go and find out. But we must be very careful, and not talk out loud."

Together they made their way cautiously along the shore, keeping as close as possible to the edge of the forest. They had not gone far, however, before the motor-boat drew into the island on their right. Then the engine slowed down and at last stopped, showing that those on board were about to land.

"Quick, let's get behind this rock," Captain Josh whispered. "They must not know that anybody is here."

Thus safely concealed, the two watchers waited and listened to find out what would take place. They soon heard the boat grate upon the gravel, then a lantern flashed, and two men were seen walking up the beach.

"We might as well stay here," one of them said. "I'm dead beat. Let's build a fire and get warm."

"Where's the stuff?" the other asked. "That'll warm ye better'n anything else. We can't afford to light a fire. It will be seen from the mainland, and we can't tell who might be prowlin' around."

With an oath, the first speaker brought forth a bottle, and took a long deep drink, and then handed it to his companion. After this, they both went to the boat, got several blankets, carried them a short distance from the water, and spread them out upon the sand.

"My, this is a better place than we spent last night," one of the men remarked.

"Should say so," replied the other. "But didn't we give the cops a slip, though? I thought fer sure they had us one time, when they were pokin' around that old ware-house. Lucky fer us we were able to swipe that boat. Suppose we divvy up now. You've got all the swag."

With the lantern between them, the two men bent their heads, while one of them brought forth a pocket-book, and began to count out a number of bills. His voice was so low that the concealed watchers could not hear the amount.

"There, that's better," the other at length ejaculated, thrusting the money into his pocket. "Didn't we do that chap up fine? He put up quite a fight, though. But we landed him and his wad all right. I'd like to have got a rap at them kids at the same time. They nearly queered our job. Now fer another drink, and then fer a good sleep. We must be out of this before daylight."

For a few moments there was silence, as each man took his turn at the bottle. When they again spoke their voices were thick, which plainly told that the whiskey was having its effect. It was impossible to understand what they were saying. For awhile they conversed in a maudlin, complaining manner, and then knocked over their lantern, which went out.

Waiting for awhile, to be sure that the men were asleep, Captain Josh and Rod slipped quietly away, and went back to their companions. It was with considerable difficulty that the boys were aroused and ordered not to make the least noise. Captain Josh explained what had taken place, and the conversation of the two men.

"I believe they are the very ones who knocked that man down in the city, and stole his money," he said in a low voice. "Now, they must not leave this island until the police take them away, and it's up to us to keep them here."

"But what are we to do?" Phil Dexter enquired, his teeth chattering with fear.

"Leave that to me, lads," was the reply. "All I want yez to do is to get on board the Roarin' Bess as quickly as possible. There mustn't be any talkin' or noise if we're goin' to carry this thing through, see?"