Harry's Island/Chapter 14

CHAPTER XIV
VOICES IN THE NIGHT

THE next morning when they awoke they found that it was still raining, although not so heavily. At half-past ten Roy and Chub went over to the Cottage and found Harry and brought her back with them. It very nearly ceased raining after dinner and they all went around to Billy Noon’s camp to pay him a visit. But both he and the Minerva were absent. After supper, however, he showed up and there was another evening of stories and tricks, Harry demanding them since she had not been in the audience the evening before. Even Chub took part in the general hilarity to-night. He still had his suspicions of Billy Noon, but it was very hard to remember them when that gentleman was so frank and friendly and entertaining. To the amusement of the others, Chub kept his hands in the pockets of his jacket all the time Billy was doing his sleight-of-hand tricks; no more toads for him, he asserted. So the toad this evening was a pine-cone, and Harry found it in the pocket of her rain-coat and was terribly disturbed until she discovered that it wasn’t nearly as dangerous as it felt.

The party broke up early, however, in spite of the jolly time they were having, for Harry was nervous about going home because of an attempted burglary the night before at Farmer Mercer’s house about a half mile away. So at half-past eight Roy and Chub paddled her across to the landing and only left her when the gate in the hedge was reached.

“There,” said Chub, “burglars can’t steal you now, Harry.”

“No,” answered Harry, “good night!” And she dashed across the campus. Roy and Chub stumbled back down the path. It was very dark there in the grove, for there was neither moonlight nor starlight, and so it wasn’t altogether awkwardness that sent Chub sprawling over a root.

“Hello!” cried Roy. “Are you hurt?”

“No,” Chub answered, picking himself up from the ground. “At least, not much. I’ve gone and wrenched that old tendon again, the one I hurt last year. Gee! Give me an arm down to the landing, Roy.”

“That’s too bad,” said Roy as they went on, Chub supporting himself on the other’s shoulder. “It’s the tendon at the back of the ankle, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but it will be all right to-morrow if I don’t use it. My, isn’t it dark! and warm, too! Where’s the canoe? All right, I can get in.”

Back in camp Roy turned himself into a doctor and treated Chub’s bruised ankle with cold water. Then he gave it a good rubbing and finally did it up in wet bandages. It had swollen up considerably and hurt half-way up the back of Chub’s leg. But it was nothing serious, and he knew it, and so composed himself to sleep when Dick blew out the light. But slumber didn’t come easily to him. His foot and leg pained him considerably, and, besides, it was a warm, muggy night with almost no air stirring and the interior of the tent was stifling. So Chub lay awake, staring into the darkness, listening enviously to the measured breathing of Dick and Roy, and all the time trying to discover a comfortable position for the injured foot. The night was very still save for the soft lapping of the water and the incessant voices of the insects. To make matters worse the mosquitos were having a gala night of it; the weather was just the sort they liked best. Usually Chub wouldn’t have stayed awake for all the mosquitos in the world, but to-night their buzzing got on his nerves badly. He stuck it out for nearly two hours. Then he sat up in bed irritably, muttered uncomplimentary remarks in the direction of Roy, who was snoring softly, and suddenly felt as wide awake as he had ever felt in his life!

It was absurd to stay here in bed and suffer from the heat when it was, of course, much cooler outside. So he swung his injured foot carefully to the floor, arose and hobbled out of the tent. It wasn’t very cool out there, but the air was fresher and the odor of the damp woods and pine trees was soothing. So he hopped across to the nearest bench and made himself comfortable with his feet off the ground and his back against the trunk of a tree. It was a relief to get out of that hot, stuffy tent, he told himself. It wasn’t long before the mosquitos found him, but he didn’t mind them greatly; some people experience very little distress from mosquito bites and Chub was one of them. Presently, too, the rough bark of the tree began to make itself felt through his pajamas, while his aching leg protested against the cramped position it held. But in spite of all this Chub was actually nodding, nearly asleep, when voices, seemingly almost beside him, drove all thought of slumber from his mind. Startled, he raised his head and peered about into the darkness. He couldn’t see a yard away from him, but the voices—and now he realized that, although distinct, they came from some little distance—reached him again.

“I don’t like the idea of waiting,” said one speaker. “They may move the stuff.”

“Not if they don’t suspect,” said a second voice. “And it’s better to get them all while we’re at it. Once let them know we’re after them and they’ll scatter, destroy the stuff, and hide the plates!”

“Yes,” said the first voice, “I guess that’s so. He’s due back on Thursday, Whipple says. Then Thursday night—?”

“Thursday night, unless something happens meanwhile. Only thing I’m afraid of is that the local police will blunder on to a clue and spoil the whole job.”

“Not them! I know ’em all and—”

The voices suddenly died away to a faint murmur, and while Chub was trying to explain this the creak of boom came to him. That was it! The two men had been in a sail-boat on their way either up or down the river in the main channel and very near the island. There was almost no wind where Chub was, but there was probably enough on the water to keep a boat moving. But the odd part of it all was the fact that Chub was almost certain that he had heard both voices before, although, try as he might, he couldn’t place them. If the voices were familiar it disposed of the theory that the men were merely traveling the river. Perhaps they were going to land on the island! Perhaps—! Chub started, forgot his injured ankle and sank back on the bench with a groan. Supposing one of the men was—he uttered a sudden exclamation.

“Billy Noon!” he whispered. He knew the voice of the second speaker now; there was no doubt about it. And yet Billy had left them at half-past eight in the direction of his boat, declaring that he was going to turn in. Still, that didn’t signify anything. The voice was Billy Noon’s voice without a doubt, and very probably the boat was his as well. At that moment, from below the island, came again the creak of a boom. Then they were bound down-stream, thought Chub. In that case—but it was all an unfathomable mystery, and although Chub sat there for the better part of the next hour and tried to explain it he was at last forced to give it up. By this time he was very sleepy, and so, hobbling back to the tent, he threw himself down on his bed and dropped off to slumber on the instant.

When he awoke Roy and Dick had finished breakfast and it was nearly nine o’clock! Roy explained that they thought maybe he hadn’t slept very well, and so they didn’t awaken him. The ankle was almost well, and after giving it another sousing with cold water Chub ate the breakfast which they had left on the stove for him with hearty relish. Dick was out in the launch bailing the water out with a saucepan. The sun was shining brightly and almost every cloud had been swept aside by the westerly breeze that rumpled the surface of the river.

“Say, this is Sunday, isn’t it?” Chub asked. And Roy replied that it was. Chub groaned.

“That means letters to write,” he sighed.

“How did you sleep?” asked Roy.

“Pretty well,” answered Chub thoughtfully. “I was awake until long after midnight, though.” He was trying to decide whether to mention the men in the sail-boat. Viewed by the sane light of morning the incident seemed to mean very little. And while he was still hesitating there came the sound of a merry whistle and Billy Noon appeared around the point. Chub looked at him attentively. He didn’t look at all like a person who had been up half the night. Perhaps, after all, Chub thought, he had been mistaken in the voice; lots of voices sounded alike, especially in the dark. So he kept his own counsel for the present.

“Well, what’s the program for to-day?” asked Billy merrily.

“Write letters,” said Chub dismally.

“Go to church,” said Roy. “We didn’t go last Sunday and so Dick and I are going to-day. You coming, Chub?”

“With this ankle?” asked Chub in surprise.

“You said it was about well,” Roy answered. Chub sighed.

“I know,” he said, “but I wouldn’t want to have a relapse.”

Billy asked about the injury and by the time Chub had finished telling him Dick came back with the saucepan.

“She’s all ready,” he announced, greeting Billy. “We’re going to sail down to the Cove and go to church,” he explained. “Want to come along?”

“I don’t know but I might,” was the reply after a moment’s thought. “I’ll have to spruce up a little first, though. Can you wait a few minutes?”

“Easy! We don’t need to start for an hour yet, I guess. You going along, Chub?”

“Sure,” replied Chub cheerfully. “Church for mine!”

“Thought you said your foot was too bad,” observed Roy suspiciously.

“Well, you didn’t tell me you were going in the launch, did you? Sea-trips are beneficial to invalids.”

Billy was back shortly and a little before ten they started off. The Pup ran splendidly and they reached the cove long before church-time. As they passed up the street they encountered the freight-handler who had helped them get the launch into the water. They didn’t recognize him until he spoke to them, for he had his Sunday clothes on and was quite a respectable looking citizen. As he passed Chub turned to have a further view of him. The freight-handler had also turned his head and as their glances met, the latter nodded and:

“A fine morning after the rain,” he called cheerily.

But Chub made no answer. He went on silently for the next block, stumbling over two curbstones and thinking busily. Even if he had made a mistake in thinking that he had heard Billy Noon’s voice last night, he was positive that he was making no mistake now. One of the men in the boat was the freight-handler! Chub was stumbling over his third curb when Billy, who was walking beside him, put out a hand quickly and steadied him.

“Here,” he said, “that isn’t good for your ankle. Maybe we’re walking too fast for you?”

“Not a bit of it,” murmured Chub.

I’m afraid he didn’t hear very much of the sermon, for his thoughts were busy with the problem of the man in the boat. He wished that he had looked at Billy as they had passed the freight-handler and seen whether the two had recognized each other. He might ask Billy, but there was no reason to suppose that the latter would confess to an acquaintance with the freight-handler unless he chose to. No, he would just keep things to himself and watch. Whatever was to happen would not occur until Thursday, and that was four days distant. Perhaps before that he could find a solution of the mystery.

Letter-writing and reading consumed most of the afternoon. At about four Billy passed down the river in his boat, hailing them as he sped briskly along. Chub watched him as long as he was in sight and then returned with a sigh to his letter. Later they went into the woods in search of fuel and at six sat down to supper. Harry was spending the day with a girl friend at the Cove and so there were only three at table this evening.

But Harry was on hand bright and early next morning with Snip and a basket of fresh, still warm doughnuts.

“I’ve been up ever since a quarter of six,” she explained proudly, “and I had these all made by half-past seven.”

“I’ll bet they’re good, too,” said Chub as he stole one and put his teeth into it. “Yum, yum! No almond flavoring this time, fellows!”

After breakfast they went fishing about two miles up the river and had fairly good luck. Chub had wanted to go in the launch, but Dick had declared that he wasn’t going to have the Pup all messed up with bait and fish-scales. So they took the canoe and the rowboat, and by the time they were back in camp and the fish were sizzling in the pan they were four of the hungriest persons extant. The boys did full justice to the doughnuts and praised Harry’s cooking ability until she blushed with pleasure.

“Oh, these are dead easy to make,” she said. “I only wish I could make cake, though.”

“I’ll show you any time you like,” said Chub kindly. “I’ve taken prizes for my cake.”

“I guess you mean for eating it,” laughed Harry. “Oh, but just you all wait! On my birthday I’m going to have the biggest cake you ever saw! It’s going to be fourteen inches across on top and it’s going to have pink and white icing all over it and sixteen candles!”

“By jove!” cried Roy. “I’d forgotten about your birthday. Is it this week, Harry?”

“Yes, Thursday, and I shall be—”

Thursday!” exclaimed Chub sharply. The others stared at him in surprise.

“Why, yes,” said Harry.

“Do you object to Thursday?” asked Roy sarcastically. “Because if you do Harry can change it.”

“No,” muttered Chub, “but I didn’t know it was so soon.”

“He’s worried because he’s forgotten to buy you that diamond necklace,” explained Dick. “How old will you be, Harry? Not sixteen?”

“Sixteen!” declared Harry proudly. “Isn’t that lovely? And I’m going to have a birthday party at the Cottage. And you are all invited.”

“Hum,” said Roy suspiciously, “who else is coming?”

“Oh, just some of the girls I know,” answered Harry carelessly. But she looked at the boys anxiously. Roy shook his head.

“I guess that lets us out, Harry,” he said. “I wouldn’t dare take Chub into society. He’d probably eat the candles off the cake or drink out of his finger-bowl.”

“Oh, I think that’s mean!” Harry cried disappointedly. “I wanted you to come!”

“Too many girls,” grunted Dick. “Can’t stand them in bunches like that. I get nervous for fear I’ll tread on one of ’em.”

“I tell you what we will do, though,” said Roy. “We’ll give you another birthday party here in camp in the evening, and it’ll be a dandy, too! What do you say to that?”

“Oh, that would be nice!” said Harry rapturously. Then her face fell again. “But I did so want you to come to the Cottage, Roy!”

“Much obliged,” murmured Dick.

“Oh, I meant all of you,” declared Harry, “and you know very well I did.”

“I’m not afraid of a few girls,” said Chub. “I’ll go, Harry.”

“You’ll stay right here,” answered Roy. “I’d just like to see you at a girl’s party!”

“I’ve been to lots of them,” said Chub loftily. “I’m a great success at functions of that sort. At home they can’t do without me.”

“Well, they can do without you here, all right,” responded Roy cruelly. “And they’re going to. Harry’s going to have her girls’ party in the afternoon and then she’s coming over here and we’re going to give her another. We will employ that celebrated caterer, Mr. Richard Somes, to prepare the repast.”

“And we’ll invite the Poet!” cried Harry.

“Of course,” said Dick. “We’ll have him write an ‘Ode to Harriet on her Sixteenth Birthday.’”

It was settled so, and Harry regained her good spirits and fed doughnuts to Snip until the boys made her desist, not, as Chub explained, because they had any fears for the dog’s health, but for the reason that it was a shame to waste good doughnuts on an unappreciative nature. Harry declared that Snip had a very appreciative nature, but was at a loss when Chub demanded proof. Snip, finding the harvest at an end, jogged off to investigate things in the woods, and while the dinner things were being cleared up he made day hideous with his incessant barking. Finally Chub went off to investigate.

“I’ll bet he’s treed another bear,” he said. “You dig your revolver out of your bag, Dick, and stand ready to come when I yell.”

But Chub didn’t yell. Instead he was back in a minute with news written all over his face.

“What do you think?” he cried.

“A racoon!” guessed Roy.

“A skunk!” cried Dick.

“No, a house-boat,” answered Chub with a grin.

“A what? A house-boat?” exclaimed Roy. “What are you talking about? Snip caught a house-boat! Say, you’re too funny for anything, Chub, you are, I don’t think!”

“I didn’t say he’d caught it,” answered Chub, “but he discovered it. It’s lying against the shore near Round Head. Come and see for yourselves!”