Dick Hamilton's Steam Yacht/Chapter 7
Followed by Widdy, the wealthy lad groped his way along a rather dark passage. He expected every minute to be greeted by Mr. Blake, or to hear the lawyer's voice bidding him welcome. Dick was a little surprised that the attorney had not been out on deck, for the atmosphere below was anything but refreshing, indicating that the Princess was none too well ventilated.
"This way, if you please," spoke a voice, and Dick had a glimpse of a big man, attired in a sailor's suit, holding open a cabin door for him. The lad, suspecting nothing, was about to enter, but at that moment there came from Widdy, the old salt who was directly behind him, a snarl not unlike that of the bulldog Grit, at a sight of Uncle Ezra Larabee.
"Oh, ho! It's you, my fine swab, is it?" cried Widdy, pushing his way past Dick, and confronting the big sailor. "It's you, is it, an' up to some of your knavish tricks, I'll be bound! Let me get hold of you, Jake Shrouder, and I'll pay back some of the scores I owe you! Split my lee scuppers! I didn't think to find you here! I made sure you was in jail, if Davy Jones hadn't claimed you! Look out, Mr. Dick!"
"And with that Widdy, stumping forward on his wooden leg, made a dive for the husky sailor, like a man making a tackle on the football field. As for Shrouder, if that was his name, he seemed to turn pale under his bronzed skin.
"Widdy! You here!" he gasped, and leaped back, as if to shut himself in the cabin he had invited Dick to enter.
"Yes, I'm here! What thieving trick are you up to now? Is it to scuttle the ship, or shanghai somebody? Wait until I get hold of you, with a belayin' pin in the other hand, an'——"
But Shrouder gave Widdy no chance to reach him. With a muttered imprecation, he slammed the door shut in the face of the old sailor. Nothing daunted, Widdy threw himself against it, using his artificial leg as a battering ram. There was a splintering of wood, and, as the broken door flew back, Dick saw the large man running through the cabin toward another portal, which he frantically unlocked.
"What's the matter? What's up?" demanded the young millionaire, anxiously. What's wrong, Widdy?"
"Everything, Mr. Dick. Look out for yourself. There's bad business afoot here, or Jake Shrouder would never be on hand. But I'll get him!"
He stumped forward, swinging his powerful arms to and fro, as if eager to clasp his enemy in them, but he stumbled, and would have fallen inside the cabin with the broken door, had not Dick caught him. At the same time the fleeing man called out:
"The jig's up! WiddY's here!"
"Who's Widdy?" asked a man's voice, and it was followed by confused shouts.
"Never mind. The jig's up, I tell you! Better get ashore. Cast off the boat!" yelled the big sailor.
There was the tramp of rapid footsteps on deck. Then came a sound as of something being dragged along—a scraping of wood on wood.
"Quick!" cried the old sailor to Dick. "They're trying to shut the hatches on us. We must get on deck!"
Puzzled and alarmed—not knowing what to make of the strange actions of Widdy, yet vaguely fearing, the lad turned from the cabin, and hastened toward the companionway down which he had come. As he sprang up it he saw the young sailor who had told him to go below shoving the hatch cover over.
"Quit that!" cried Dick. With a quick motion he caught up a coil of rope that had dropped on the steps, and thrust this into the crack as the man pushed the cover forward. This prevented it from being closed.
A moment later Widdy was at Dick's side. The old sailor thrust his gnarled hands into the crack, and, with a wrench, sent the companionway cover sliding back.
"Hop out!" he called to Dick. "I'll follow."
As the lad reached the deck he saw, disappearing over the side, the young sailor, and the big one whom Widdy had called Shrouder. They seemed to be descending into some boat. Dick rushed to the rail. In a small barge were two men, and it needed but a glance to disclose to the young millionaire that they were the same two who had stared at him so persistently the day before, and though Dick did not then know it, they were the same pair who had followed him in the taxicab. Shrouder and the other sailor dropped into the barge with them.
"Grab him, Mr. Dick! Grab him!" cried Widdy, as he saw his old enemy escaping, but Dick did not think it wise to attempt to hold back the desperate men. A few seconds later the four were pulling away from the Princess for dear life.
"Well," remarked Dick, drawing a long breath, as though he had just taken part in a desperate race, "what's this all about, Widdy?""About? It's about villainy, that's what it's about, Mr. Dick! Villainy, and scheming, and black tricks and underhand work and shanghai-games, and looting and scuttling ships and anything else that's bad—that's what it is," growled the old seaman, as he stumped to the side, and
WITH A QUICK MOTION HE CAUGHT UP A COIL OF ROPE, AND THRUST THIS INTO THE CRACK.—Page 67.
Dick Hamilton's Steam Yacht.
shook his fist at the craft containing the four men. Then he filled his pipe, and began to smoke more calmly.
"We could chase them in the motorboat," suggested Dick, hardly yet understanding what it was all about.
"What's the use? Shrouder is as slippery as a greased sheet in a hail storm. Let him go—he won't sleep any the easier to-night from having met me. But I wnsh I could have laid my hooks on him," and Widdy opened and shut his gnarled hands suggestively.
"But I don't understand," said the lad. "Where is Mr. Blake? Why should those fellows disappear so suddenly? I was to meet the lawyer here, and look over this boat——"
"Mr. Blake never came here," said Widdy, bluntly. "It's a plant—a game—to get you on board. I'll wager that note sent to your hotel was forged."
"But why should they want to get me here?"
"To rob you, most likely. They know you're rich."
"Then that must have been why those two men paid such close attention to me," decided Dick.
"Of course," agreed the old sailor. "As soon as I clapped eyes on Jake Shrouder I knew there was something crooked afoot. I've known him for years—sailed all over in ships with him—and I never knew a piece of black business afoot anywhere near him that he didn't have his finger in. I knew there was something wrong as soon as I see him, and that's why I made a jump for him, but he was too quick for me."
"But who does this yacht belong to?" asked Dick. "We seem to be all alone on it."
"I hope we are. I don't want to have anything to do with those fellows. I don't know who owns the craft. Like as not Shrouder has an interest in her. But let's get ashore, and then we'll call on Mr. Blake and let him know what's in the wind. It was all a plant, I tell you, to get you aboard, and then they'd have robbed you."
"But I don't carry much money with me," objected Dick.
"No matter. They'd have found some way to get it out of you, or your father. But, come on, let's leave this bilge-water craft. Phew! It hasn't been swabbed out in a month of Sundays."
Stumping to the opposite side of the deck Widdy signaled to the motor launch at the dock, the owner of it having agreed to come off and take Dick and the sailor whenever they waved a flag. In a few minutes the two were speeding downtown toward the lawyer's office, their questioning of the captain of the launch having resulted in nothing. He had no knowledge concerning the Princess, or the men on her.
As Widdy had surmised, the note purporting to come from Mr. Blake was a bald forgery, but, since Dick had never seen the attorney's writing, it was easy enough to deceive him.
"But what was their object?" asked the young tnilllonaire.
"Robbery," decided Mr. Blake.
"But how did they know of my plans to buy a yacht?'*
"Oh, easily enough. Talk travels quickly in marine circles in New York, and I fancy you are more of a public character than you imagine. At any rate, the men, whoever they are, knew something of your plans, and took advantage of them to lure you to the yacht, which they either hired for the purpose, or perhaps own. It was a clever trick, and it was lucky Widdy recognized that man in time, or you might have been locked in a cabin, and kept there until they had what they wanted out of you."
"I'm glad I took my sailor friend along," said Dick. "But how about the Albatross? Am I likely to get her?"
"I think so. I will have her examined in a few days, and, if she passes inspection, I will complete the purchase, and you can arrange about a captain and crew. Perhaps your old sailor can help you out there."
"That's a good idea. I'll ask him."
It was decided that little good could be accomplished by notifying the police of the attempt to work harm to Dick, and so no report was made of it, for our hero disliked the newspaper sensationalism he knew would follow. Only Mr. Blake warned the young millionaire to be careful of where he went, and in what company he lingered.
A week passed, during which Dick enjoyed himself in New York. The steam yacht proved to be all that was claimed for her, and the purchase was completed.
"You are now the owner of the Albatross," said the lawyer to Dick, one morning, handing him several papers.
"That's great! Now to get a captain, a crew, put coal and provisions aboard, and set sail."
"For what port?"
"Vm going to Cuba, partly on business and partly for pleasure. Some of my school chums are going along, and we'll have a good time. And that reminds me of something. There's a friend of mine in New York, whom I'd like to have go along with me. He's Tim Muldoon, a former newsboy."
"A newsboy?" and Mr. Blake looked surprised.
"Yes, and one of the truest characters who ever sold a paper. I must look him up. He's good fun, and will enjoy the trip."
Two days later, the legal formalities all being completed, Dick engaged the services of Captain Amos Barton, a grizzled veteran of the seas, to command the Albatross, and then the young millionaire returned to Hamilton Corners.
Captain Barton had agreed to select a small, but competent crew, and he would also see to putting the yacht in commission. She would be ready to sail within a week, he stated, and all Dick would have to do would be to name the port for which he wished the graceful prow pointed.
He consulted his father on this point, and Mr. Hamilton on looking over his papers learned that the Valdez family formerly lived in Santiago or Havana, though his lawyers had been unable ta get a trace of them at either place.
"But you might go to Santiago, and then to Havana," suggested Mr. Hamilton. "You'll have to do some detective work, I fancy. But look out for those men who tried to trap you."
"Oh, I'll soon be far enough away from them, dad. I'm not worrying. Besides, they won't try to board us with Widdy on guard. He's a great character!"
"So I imagine. Well, good luck to you. Da your best, and use your own judgment. You'll have to depend on yourself from now on. Have you arranged for your friends to accompany you?"
"Not completely yet, but I will soon."