The Rover Boys on Land and Sea/Chapter 22

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"THOSE girls will ask some awkward questions, I reckon," said Jack Lesher, as the two prepared to leave the wreck.

"We had better not say too much," answered Baxter.

They were soon over the side and in the rowboat, which contained the bundle of clothing and a number of other articles. Then an idea struck the mate.

"Wait; I am going back," he said, and disappeared on the deck one more.

Dan Baxter imagined that Lesher had gone for more liquor. But he was mistaken. When the mate reappeared, he carried a box containing half a dozen pistols, two guns, and a quantity of ammunition.

"I am going to hide this in the woods on the other side of this island," he said. "The firearms may come in handy before long."

"A good idea," replied Baxter, and helped him place the case in a desirable spot, under some rocks, where the rain could not touch it.

"We are going to have a storm before long," said the mate, as they started to row back to the camp. "And if it is a heavy one we'll have to wait till it clears off before we rejoin the rest of our crowd."

The sky was growing dark, and by the time the beach in front of the house was gained the rain was falling.

"Where are Dick and old Jerry?" asked Dora in quick alarm. She had noted long before that only Baxter and the mate were in the rowboat.

"They stayed behind on the wreck," answered Lesher. "Come, help get the bundles out of the wet," he added to his companion.

"Why did they stay?" asked Nellie.

"Don't ask me," growled Lesher.

He and Baxter took the bundle to the house and dumped it on the floor of the living room. Then they brought in the other things from the boat. By this time it was raining in torrents, and from a distance came the rumble of thunder and occasionally the faint flash of lightning.

Not wishing to remain out in the storm, the three girls came into the house. Dora was very much disturbed, and Nellie and Grace were also anxious.

"It is queer that Dick and old Jerry remained behind," whispered Dora to her cousins. "They were so anxious to protect us before."

"I cannot understand it, Dora," returned Nellie.

"There has been foul play somewhere," came from Grace.

"Oh, do you think——" Dora could not finish.

"See here!" burst in the voice of Jack Lesher. "We want some dinner. Don't be all day getting it for us."

The liquor he had imbibed was beginning to tell upon him. He looked ugly, and the girls trembled before him.

"Dinner will be ready in a quarter of an hour," said Grace, who had been doing the cooking.

"All right." Lesher turned to the bully: "Baxter, join me in a glass of rum for luck."

"Thanks, I will," answered Dan Baxter, who did not particularly want the liquor, but did not dream of offending the mate.

Lesher produced a bottle he had brought away from the wreck, prepared two glasses of rum, and drank with great relish. Then he threw himself into a chair at the rude dining-table.

"I am the master here, and I want everybody to know it!" he exclaimed, banging his fist savagely.

"There is dinner," said Grace, and brought it in. "You can help yourself." And she went into the next room to join Nellie and Dora.

"Aint going to wait on us, eh?" grumbled Lesher, with a hiccough. "All right, my fine ladies. But I am master, don't you forget that!"

He began to eat leisurely, while Dan Baxter began to bolt his food. In the meantime the sky grew darker and the flashes of lightning more vivid. The girls were greatly frightened, and huddled together, while tears stood on Grace's cheeks.

"Oh, if only somebody was with us," sighed Nellie.

By the time Lesher and Baxter had finished eating the storm was on them in all of its vio lence. The wind shrieked and tore through the jungle behind them, and often they could hear some tall tree go down with a crash.

"This will tear our flag of distress to shreds," said Nellie. "And just when we need it so much, too!"

"I am thinking of the future as well as the present," said Dora. "What a rough time there will be if Lesher brings those other sailors here. Some of them were heavy drinkers like himself, and only two or three were Americans."

The storm had whipped the waters of the bay into a fury, and the rain was so thick that to see even the island on which the wreck rested was impossible.

"Dick can't come now," said Dora. "A boat on the bay would surely go down."

Having finished the meal, Lesher and Baxter sat down in the living room to smoke and to talk over the situation. The mate continued to drink, and half an hour later he fell asleep, sitting on the bench, and with his head on the table.

"The beast!" said Dora, as she peeped out at him. "Well, there is one satisfaction," she continued: "he cannot harm us while he is asleep."

"You girls better have your own dinner," called out Baxter. "I aint going to eat you up."

"We will get our dinner when we please," said Nellie, as she came out. "We are not afraid of you, Dan Baxter."

No more was said for a long time. The girls ate what little they wished and washed up the dishes. The rain still continued to fall in torrents, but the thunder and lightning drifted away to the eastward.

Dora was the most anxious of the trio, and at every opportunity she tried to look through the driving rain toward the wreck.

"I'd give almost anything to know if Dick is safe," she murmured.

"Don't be discouraged, Dora," said Grace. "Perhaps he will return as soon as the storm is over."

The girls were huddled close to a window, looking out into the rain, when Dan Baxter threw aside the pipe he had been smoking and approached them.

"See here, girls," he said, "why can't we be friends? What is the use of being enemies in such a place as this?"

"Dan Baxter, we want you to keep your distance," said Nellie coldly.

"And if you do not, it will be the worse for you when the others come back," put in Grace.

"Humph! I reckon you think it is fine to ride such a high horse," sneered the bully. "What are you going to do when we bring the rest of the sailors over here? We'll be eleven to seven then."

"Never mind what we'll do," said Dora. "I would rather have the company of some of those sailors than your company."

"That is where you make a mistake. The sailors are all rough fellows, some of them worse than Jack Lesher. Now, if you are willing to count me as a friend, I'll stand by you when the crowd comes over."

"We don't want your friendship, Dan Baxter, so there!" cried Nellie. "We know your past, and we know that you cannot be trusted."

"Don't think I am as good as the Rovers, eh?"

"We all know that you are not," answered Grace.

"What have you done to Dick Rover? " questioned Dora. "He ought to be here long be fore this."

"Oh, I guess the storm is holding him back," said Baxter, shifting uneasily as she gazed ear nestly into his eyes.

"If anything has happened to Dick, I shall hold you responsible," said Dora.

At that moment the fury of the storm cut off further talking. A sud<ten rush of wind had come up, whistling through the jungle and bringing down a palm close to the house with a crash. The fall of the tree made Baxter jump in alarm.

"The house is coming down!" he cried, and ran outside.

The wind made the waves in the bay rise higher and higher until they lashed furiously in all directions. Then came another downpour of rain, which caused the bully to seek shelter again.

"Hark!" said Nellie suddenly, and raised her hand for silence.

"What did you hear?" asked Grace.

"Somebody calling. Listen!"

All were silent once more, and just then the wind fell a little.

"I don't hear anything," said Dora.

But then followed a distant voice—two voices—calling desperately:

"Help! help! Our boat is sinking! Help!"