The Boy Scouts of the Air at Cape Peril/Chapter 15
CAT FINDS A KEY
When Cat looked out after Turner and Jimmy disappearing in the darkness, he had to swallow a pretty bitter pill.
"Tough when a fellow's got the pep, not to have a chance to show it," he grumbled to himself.
Then, like the good loser he had always been, he began to soothe his feelings with commonsense reflections. Turner, it was clear, had some reason for wanting the smaller lad, and an addition to the party might be a drawback. It's pretty hard luck, however, to be left in a lonesome house when your chum is out running his nose into all sorts of exciting adventure.
"Well, I can eat anyhow," he consoled himself, and taking advantage of Hardy's invitation to the guests to forage in the pantry whenever appetite moved them, he managed to find and stow away a choice assortment of cake, pickles and crab-apples.
Thus bucked up with nourishment, he went upstairs and gazed out of the window in the direction of the lighthouse. In a few minutes, the expected light shone from the window, a mere ghost of a glimmer, but it told its tale.
"Gee!" thought the watcher, with a relieved sigh. "They're there, and I reckon everything's all right, except maybe old Buffum's sick or—dead. But dang it all, I do wish I could have had a night ride in the seaplane! That shark stuff wouldn't be in it."
Satisfied in his mind that his friends had safely reached their objective, the lad ran to the other end of the passage to take a look northward. In the distance a bright glow still illuminated the darkness, but it was evident that the roof of the ruin had already collapsed and that the blaze was slowly sinking to the smouldering embers.
Next he hurried down to the porch to scan the sea for rockets. No spark of signal fire was to be seen; but from the lighthouse still shone the feeble light.
"B'lieve I'll read till they come," he said, turning indoors again.
The Indian book, left on the table by Turner, attracted his attention. He settled himself in a chair by the light and, turning the pages at random, came to a passage that engaged his interest. He started reading aloud to break the monotony:
"'Arrows are the principal weapons that they use in war and in hunting. These arrows are barbed at the tip with a stone, sharpened and cut in the shape of a serpent's tongue; if knives are lacking, they use arrows also for flaying the animals which they kill. They are so adroit in bending the bow that they scarcely ever miss their aim; and they do this with such quickness that they will have discharged a hundred arrows sooner than another person can reload his gun. They take little trouble to make nets suitable for catching fish in the rivers, because the abundance of all kinds of animals which they find for their food renders them somewhat indifferent to fish.
"'However, when they take a fancy to have some, they enter a canoe with their bow and arrows; they stand up that they may better discover the fish; and, as soon as they see one, they pierce it with an arrow.'
"Gee!" the reader paused to remark, "I didn't know that, but, by golly! they haven't got much on our shark hunt with that stunt we pulled off this morning."
Turning to another page, he read on:
"'When they have escaped any great danger by sea or land, or have returned from war, in token of joy they make a great fire about which the men and women sit together, holding in their hands a fruit like a pumpkin or a gourd, which, after they have taken out the fruit and the seeds, they fill with small stones or big kernels to make the more noise, and fastening that upon a stick, they sing to its accompaniment and make merry.'
"Wish Indians or something else was around to stir up a little excitement. Darn if I'd care whether it was merry or not, just so it was noise," sighed the lone watcher, shutting the book with a slam and tossing it onto the table. "I can't stand this any longer," he continued. "I'm going down to meet Jimmy and Turner, that's what I'm going to do."
No sooner was it thought than acted upon. After providing himself with a flash-light from Hardy's belongings, he hurried out, locking the door after him and pocketing the key. More stars were now shining, and, without assistance from his pocket light, he made his way to Lake Herring, pausing at times to listen for any possible suspicious sound.
Near the shore a distinct clanking struck his ear, but shooting his light, he discovered nothing more exciting than the chain of a wave-rocked rowboat attached to a post by the bridg of the hangar. The oars, their blades wet, lay across the seats.
Why not take the boat," thought the boy to himself, "and row on over to Cape Peril?"
"No," objected his conscience, "you can't do it. You've got your orders."
"Gosh a Moses! Somebody's been using it already," was the lad's conclusion on a closer inspection of the boat. Then it occurred to him that the waves splashing over the sides had caused the soaking.
Suspicion of trespassers out of his mind, he went along the bridge and inspected the empty hydro shed. Then he started back to the shore, where temptation seized him again. He climbed into the boat and began to finger the oars. Presently, releasing them, he began to play his flash-light around the bottom of the boat. Suddenly his eye was caught by a dull object. On closer observation, it proved to be an unusually large key of somewhat antique pattern.
"Where in the mischief did this come from?" he asked himself as he took it in his hand. "Looks like one I've seen before." And then, with a sudden flash of memory, "I know I've seen it before. It's the key to the Cape Peril lighthouse. If it's not, it sure is powerful like it."
The unusual size and make of the lighthouse key had attracted the boy's attention on the occasion of his visit to Cap'n Buffum.
"By golly! that's funny," he kept repeating. "How the mischief?"
He turned the key over and over in his fingers, but the longer he examined it the more convinced he was of its identity with the one he had noticed before.
"Maybe old Buffum's skipped—or maybe—I know, maybe that old woman's come and kidnapped him."
Both guesses were wild enough, but the most plausible he could hit on. He finally put the key into his pocket and sat spinning more speculations.
"Blame it!" he exclaimed after several minutes. "If Turner and Jimmy don't hurry I'm going." His eyes turned northward. "And I know where I'm going. I'm going over and take a look at that fire."
Glad to get away from any further temptation to use the boat, he acted on his new impulse and moved over to the path leading to the burning building. Jogging on, he had covered most of the way to his goal when suddenly he gave a start and came to a dead halt. Not far ahead of him and just back of the smouldering ruin he could distinctly see, lighted by the glow, a human form whose progress was so slow as to make it seem almost stationary.
Who was it? Cap'n Buffum was the lad's first thought, but, as he advanced a little farther, he was convinced that the figure was that of a less thick-set person. Whoever it was, the discovery called for instant action. He must get a closer view of the night prowler.
The boy began to run till he drew close to the blaze; then he veered off, skirting the shore just above the surf line. Opposite the fire, he slipped up to a sand hill, crawled to the top and peered over.
The form, though fast approaching the region of shadow, was still visible in the glow, and the sound of crunched sand was distinctly perceptible. The cause of the slow gait of the stranger was now apparent.
"He's got a game foot. Wonder if he's been shot," was the watcher's thought.
His scout training, the obligation to go to the aid of the injured, first asserted itself.
"You bet I won't go yet," was his second thought. "If he's all square, why didn't he come up to the house for help? I'll lay low till I find out what sort of bird he is. Gee!"
Up once more, the lad slipped along below the sand hills to a point well beyond the glow of the embers. Then he cautiously made his way to a higher point and looked over. The form, dragging slowly, was still in sight.
"I'm going to keep an eye on that fellow even if I run the risk of a bullet," Cat declared.