Chapter XXI. The Rounding Up
 

Quietly and as speedily as possible the scouts boarded the tender, and soon reached the Roaring Bess. They shivered as they stood upon the yacht, and longed to be home in their own warm beds. A heavy fog was drifting up the river, which made the air very chilly. To most of the boys this meant greater discomfort, but to the captain it brought considerable satisfaction. It was just what he needed to aid him in his undertaking. In a few low words he outlined his plan to the scouts, and told those who remained behind to be perfectly still. There were several blankets he had stored away in a locker, which they could use to make them comfortable.

Taking with him only Rod and Phil, as they were the oldest boys, the captain entered the tender, seized the oars, and began to pull away straight for the motor-boat. The fact that this latter had been run ashore made him certain that it was a small boat, and could, therefore, be easily drawn off the beach. The tide had risen somewhat since the robbers had landed, which would make the task much easier.

The fog was now thicker than ever, which made it necessary to advance very cautiously. Rod crouched in the bow, with his eyes fixed intently ahead. For a time he could see nothing, as everything was blotted out by the fog. The heavy moisture dampened his clothes, and drifted into his face. Phil was seated astern, shivering with cold and fear. He had no liking for this adventure, and would rather be back on the yacht.

Presently Rod caught sight of the motor-boat, and whispered to the captain to go slow. Soon they were near the shore, and as they drew up close to the strange craft they found that she was floating on the rising tide, and was almost adrift. With difficulty the captain suppressed a chuckle of satisfaction, as he quickly made a rope fast to the motor-boat, gave it to Rod, seized once more his oars, and swung the tender about, and drew away from the shore. When at a safe distance from land he fastened the rope to the bow of the motor-boat, tied it to the seat of the tender, and then with a sigh of relief settled down to long steady strokes. Not a word was spoken now, but the three night adventurers thrilled with excitement. The boys felt no longer cold, as they were so excited over what they had accomplished.

After some hard pulling, the captain drew up alongside of the yacht. The rest of the scouts were eagerly awaiting his return.

"There's no wind," the captain remarked, "so that thing's got to tow us out of this. I guess I know enough about an engine to handle that one all right. Rod, you steer the yacht, while I manage that old tub."

Though the fog was still thick, the light of early morn was making itself felt which was of much assistance as the captain scrambled on board the motor-boat. It took him but a few moments to examine the engine, start it, and head the boat out into the middle of the river, with the Roaring Bess and tender trailing behind. When everything was going to his complete satisfaction, he leaned back and fairly shook with suppressed laughter. He knew now that he had those rascals prisoners for a few hours at least, and in that time much could be done.

The engine was of six horse-power, and the craft an ordinary rafting-boat, built especially for towing. It accordingly made good progress up the river, and in about an hour's time the captain was able to pull up at Hillcrest wharf. He came here instead of going to his own shore on purpose to send a telephone message to the city. He had thought all this out, and knew that there was no time to be lost.

Near the wharf lived the storekeeper, who had charge of the telephone, and with some difficulty he was awakened by heavy thumps upon the door of his house. He was astonished to see Captain Josh standing outside, and it was several minutes before he realised what was wanted.

"Want to telephone, eh?" he at last queried.

"Sure. Haven't I been tryin' to tell ye that fer the last five minutes?"

"Very important?"

"Should say so. D'ye s'pose I'd be prowlin' around at this time of the mornin' if it wasn't?"

It took the storekeeper some time to get Central in the city, and to become connected with the Police Station. Then the captain stepped to the 'phone and gave his message. "They're on the island now," he said in conclusion, "and I'll keep a good watch out. Ye'd better send some men up at once.

"They're a stupid lot of blockheads down there," he growled, as he hung up the receiver. "They didn't know where Kidd's Island is--jist think of that. And they wanted to know how long it would take a motor-boat to reach the place."

"I guess they'll get a hustle on, though," the storekeeper replied. "I see there's a reward of one hundred dollars offered for the capture of those robbers."

"There is!" the captain exclaimed. "How did ye hear that?"

"Why, it was in yesterday morning's paper. Here it is; you can read it for yourself."

"Well, I declare!" and the captain scratched his head. "I didn't see that. H'm, 'for the capture of the men who assaulted and robbed an unknown man at Sheer's Alley,'" he read. "Guess we'll come in fer that money, or I'm much mistaken."

"But you haven't captured them yet," the store-keeper reminded him.

"We've got them over there, though," the captain retorted.

"But they're not captured yet, remember. You haven't got your hands on them. I don't believe you can claim that money unless you give those chaps up to the police."

The captain went back to the boat in a very thoughtful mood. The offer of the reward placed the whole affair in a new light now. One hundred dollars! It was just what the scouts needed to help them, and it would be money well earned, at that. What a pity to let others win the reward after what he and the boys had done.

All the scouts except Rod had gone home, and this was for the best. The captain did not want too many around lest they should spoil the plan he had in his mind. Making the Roaring Bess fast to the wharf, he and Rod boarded the motorboat and started for home. It took them only a few minutes to reach the shore, and they surprised Mrs. Britt as she was lighting the kitchen fire.

"Stay and have breakfast with us, Rodney," was her friendly invitation, after the captain had briefly related their experience on the island. "You must be hungry after such an adventure."

Rod was only too willing to remain, and during the meal they discussed all that had taken place during the night.

"We must take those rascals ourselves," the captain remarked. "It would never do to allow the police to come here and land them after we have done the rounding up."

"But how will we do it?" Rod enquired. "Maybe they carry revolvers. Won't they shoot us down if we go near them?"

"Leave that to me, lad," and the captain smiled as his eyes roved to a rifle standing in a corner of the room. "But come, we haven't any time to lose. I imagine the police are on their way now. It will take them from one and a half to two hours to run up from the city. It all depends upon what kind of a boat they've got. I expect it will be a fast one, though, fer they can't afford to dilly-dally."

With nothing to tow now, it did not take them long to reach the island. They landed near where the scouts had camped during the night, and pulling the boat well up on the shore, they made their way to the place where they had left the robbers. The captain went ahead, while Rod followed close at his heels. The boy's heart was beating fast now, for he knew that a great adventure was soon to take place. He felt proud that the captain had chosen him for this important undertaking, and he was determined not to show the least sign of fear no matter what happened.

As they approached the place they advanced most cautiously, bending low, and stepping softly so as not to make the slightest noise. Reaching the big rock, they crouched behind it for a few seconds, and listened. Hearing nothing, the captain peered carefully over the edge. Drawing quickly back, he motioned to Rod not to make the least sound.

"They're jist wakin' up," he whispered, "and there's bound to be trouble when they find their boat gone."

This was exactly what happened. Soon the voices of the men were heard in an excited conversation. The captain again looked upon them from his concealed position and saw them straining their eyes in an effort to locate their boat.

"She's gone adrift," one of them exclaimed. "Why didn't ye tie her?" and he turned angrily upon his companion.

"It was as much your business as mine," was the retort. "Ye always blame me fer everything. But it's no use wranglin' over it now. We've overslept ourselves, and a pretty mess we're in. If we don't get that boat we're stuck on this island."

"Maybe she's drifted along the shore somewhere," the other suggested. "There's been no wind, so she can't be far away."

"There's a tide, though, which is just as bad. This is a mess, sure."

"Well, talkin' won't do any good," his companion replied. "I'm goin' to hunt along the shore."

He had taken but a step when a deep voice from above startled him, causing him to pause and look quickly up. As he did so, his face underwent a marvellous change of fear and rage, for there was the captain, looking calmly along the barrel of his rifle.

"Stay jist where ye are," was the imperative order. "If one of yez move, I'll shoot quicker'n blazes. Yer boat's all right, so don't worry about her."

A stream of angry oaths now leaped from the robbers' lips, as they realised the helplessness of their position. They did not dare to move, as they were too close to the frowning muzzle of the over-shadowing rifle.

"It's no use to talk that way," the captain warned, "so jist shet yer dirty mouths. I've heard sich gab before, and it doesn't jar me in the least."

"Who are you, anyway?" one of the men demanded, "and how dare ye hold us up? Ye'll pay dear fer this."

"Is that so? It doesn't matter who I am; ye'll find that out soon enough."

"What d'ye mean?" was the reply.

"Never mind. I'm not here to argue with the like of you. There'll be others who kin do that better. All that I want yez to do now is to behave yerselves, and do as I order."

"Well, what d'ye want us to do? Spit it out, and don't be long about it either."

"Don't git on yer high-horse," the captain warned. "I'm not used to be talked to in that manner. I never allowed it when I was aboard the Flyin' Queen, and I guess I'm too old to change now. What I want yez to do is to strip off yer duds, that is, yer pants and jackets."

"Do what?"

"Didn't ye hear me? Git out of yer duds, but keep yer faces this way. Don't lower yer eyes, or I'll shoot."

At this strange order the foiled men stared in amazement, and for once their tongues were silent.

"D'ye hear me?" the captain roared. "Strip at once, or I'll blow yer measly carcasses to pieces. Never mind the reason; I'll keep that to myself."

Seeing that their captor was not to be fooled with any longer, the prisoners did as they were commanded, and soon they were standing in nothing but their underclothes. They suspected now the purpose of this move, and their hearts filled with rage.

"There, that's better," the captain commented. "I'm glad to see that ye're so obedient. It has saved yez from a great deal of trouble at present. But before we go on with our interestin' proceedin's, I want yez to go down there by the water. Git along with yez," he continued, as the men hesitated. "Don't worry about yer clothes; they'll be all right. My, yez do look fine. Too bad there isn't a picnic of some kind here this mornin'. But, then, I guess that'll come later."

When the men had obeyed his orders, and were standing close to the edge of the water, the captain moved about the edge of the rock, closely followed by Rod. He kept his eyes fixed upon the robbers, and then ordered the boy to gather up the clothes and carry them up among the trees. Seeing what was being done, the cornered men once more gave vent to their feelings.

"Talk all yez like now," the captain remarked, as he sat down upon a drift-log. "It'd be a pity to spoil yer enjoyment, seein' that soon ye won't be able to talk so free."

By this time Rod had placed the clothes in a safe place and, coming back, sat down by the captain's side.

"Did ye bring the guns with ye?" the latter asked.

"Yes, here they are," and Rod held up two revolvers. "I found them in the pockets, and thought it best to bring them with me."

"Ye did right, lad," and the captain took one in his hand. "Fine weapon, that, and loaded up to the muzzle. Wouldn't yez like to have it, eh?" and he held it out to the captives. "Too bad, isn't it, that I've got to keep it? But this toy isn't safe fer every one to handle, so I'll look after both myself."

By this time the fog had begun to lift from the face of the water, and in the distance the outline of the shore of the mainland could be faintly discerned. Then houses and hills came into view. The sun had already started forth on its daily course, and was now swinging over the tops of the pointed pines which lined the upper end of the island. The fog gradually disappeared, fading away in soft filmy wreaths. Not a breath of wind stirred the surface of the water. The captain often turned his eyes down stream for some sign of the boat from the city. Why were the police so long in coming? he asked himself. He had expected them at the island in two hours at the most, and still they were nowhere in sight. He was getting very impatient sitting there, keeping the captives under such strict guard. He determined to have something to say later about the slowness of the police. He would write an article for the paper, that was what he would do. If that was the way they always acted, was it any wonder that crimes were so frequent?

Another hour passed, and when the captain's patience was strained to the utmost, a large motor-boat suddenly rounded the lower end of the island, and slowed up right in front of where the capture had taken place. A number of men were on board, who looked curiously upon the strange scene before them.

An officer, with several of his men, came ashore, when the two robbers were at once hand-cuffed, and hustled on board the boat. Rod now brought down their clothes, which were thoroughly searched, and everything taken from the pockets.

"It took yez a mighty long time to come from the city," Captain Josh at length blurted out.

"It was the fog which delayed us," the officer explained. "We couldn't see a foot ahead of us."

"H'm, so that was the trouble," and the captain gave a grunt of disgust. "Why didn't ye bring some one along who knows the river? I've been holdin' them chaps down fer three solid hours. I guess the lad here and me have earned our money this time all right."

"What money?" the officer sharply asked.

"The reward, of course; the hundred dollars offered fer the capture of them chaps."

"Oh, we'll look after that," was the nettled reply.

"Ye will, will ye? I guess ye'll git up earlier than ye did this mornin' if ye do. I'll stand by my scouts, and don't let me catch ye tryin' any tricks on me. There, ye'd better git off now, fer I want to go home. Take good care that them chaps don't git away. Come, Rod, let's be off."