The Boy Scouts of the Air at Cape Peril/Chapter 16



The mysterious prowler would be out of the firelight in a few moments more. Where was he going? That was the question that puzzled the lad. In the man's crippled condition, climbing the sand dunes would be an impossibility. Then Cat recalled that the path the man was following ended a short distance beyond at its point of intersection with an inland road that led to the county turnpike some three miles away from the ocean. Unless insane, the man had some objective in view, so what could it be but the road? And, up this road, there was no single habitation for half a mile's distance. It would take several hours to reach that at his present rate of progress.

"Must be somebody waiting for him at the road," the boy concluded. "I'll beat on up the beach ahead of him and lie hidden near the head of the road. The way he's going now, it'll take him fifteen minutes to get there."

There was no danger of pursuit by a lame man, and that any damage could be done by a bullet fired in the dark seemed equally unreasonable. Ambush seemed a safe proposition.

So the boy slipped softly down to the beach and, by the dim starlight, kept well up out of the way of the rolling surf. Once the thought came to him, "How 'bout it if there's a gang of crooks waiting there?"

Then he said to himself after a moment:

"I'm on my way and I'll keep on my way; that's Cat Miller."

Presently he had reached a point recognizable by landmarks as just opposite the meeting place of the inland extending road and the path that skirted the coast. Climbing up the bank, the boy stretched himself out and lay with head cautiously raised and ears alert. In case of any alarm, he knew he could slip down the bank and make off without difficulty in the darkness. The wind, sweeping over him, had little chill to it. He could stand that indefinitely.

He looked back in the direction of the slowly dying glow and listened. For ten minutes, perhaps, he heard nothing. Then suddenly, borne on the sweeping wind, a sound, very, very faint—the sound of sand crunched under a boot. With head raised higher, he waited expectantly until he was sure he detected a dark shadow moving along the lighter background. All of a sudden the sound of footfalls ceased and a groan came in its place.

"Gee! he must be hurt bad," thought the lad. "Can't help it. I'll watch on."

Once more the sound of grating sand was heard; the stranger was moving. Very slowly he dragged along till he had reached a point just in front of his watcher; then, after a short pause and another groan, his footsteps seemed to be slowly retreating. Cat ducked as a searchlight flashed and he fidgeted in spite of himself. The man was evidently just getting his bearings.

In the lad's excitement, he kept crawling nearer and nearer the road head, worming along on his stomach as soldiers do in battle under shell fire. His curiosity was overpowering his discretion.

A few feet from the road the boy stopped, raised himself on his hands, and looked. The man, flashing his light at intervals, was still moving away from him. Then the light was flashed straight ahead and the rear of a motor car was clearly in view.

"I see," said the boy, almost disappointed. "That's his game, is it? Wonder how many crooks there are in it."

But no sound of voices reached him.

"Must be whispering," he conjectured.

Presently the watcher started, with throbbing heart, as another sound, the faint put-put of a distant motor, reached his ears.

Meanwhile, the man, who was examining his machine, had caught the sound also. He turned his head as if to listen and Cat was able to get a brief glimpse of two horror-stricken eyes in a haggard face. It was a flash-light picture of agony.

The noise of the oncoming motor increased. Over a sandhill glowed the headlight of the approaching car. The man, apparently despairing of getting his engine started in time, had scurried off the road. Cat heard a vague sound as of a body rolling down a slope.

The boy fixed his eyes on the glow of the moving car, coming at a moderate speed around the point where the road curved to avoid a sand mound. Suddenly he heard a crash, a sound of shattered glass, followed by noisy exclamations and then complete darkness. The chauffeur, not seeing the stationary car in time, had gone full tilt into one corner of it. A moment later a search-light flashed.

"What the mischief is this?" he heard the voice of the man who had jumped from the car say. Then were was a hum of voices.

"Lucky we had the heavier car, light as it is," another voice remarked.

"Wonder who in the mischief left a car standing out here without the sign of a light. Smashed the dickens out of his windshield and twisted his axle and fender, I see. We got off pretty easy."

"Suppose it could be the detective's car?" asked the man who had first spoken.

Cat, in a flutter of excitement, had been trying to catch every word of the dialogue. At the last speech, he gave a start; he had recognized the voice.

"Sure you didn't get any glass back there?" he heard the same voice remark.

"No, you bet I'm all right," came back in a youthful tone.

"Don't see anybody hanging around?" said the familiar man's voice.

"Not a soul," was the answer. "Keep your hand on your gun."

Cat, eager to call, lay still for fear of getting a bullet before he was recognized.

"Say, you'll camp by the machine, won't you, while I take this boy up to the house?"

Cat glided back rapidly and slipped down the bank until he felt himself protected from a hasty bullet. Then he yelled: "Hardy! Hardy! It's Cat. It's Cat Miller, don't shoot!"

He had recognized two of the three voices as those of Hardy and Legs Hatton.