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CHAPTER XXI
It was about one o’clock in the morning when they finally reached headquarters. Hardly a word had been spoken since the argument in the swamp. Scott opened the door and struck a light while Murphy guarded the prisoner. Scarcely was the lamp lighted than Mr. Graham appeared in the doorway in his pajamas.

“Well, by George!” he exclaimed, as he grasped Scott’s hand, “here you are at last. I have scoured the woods from Dan to Beersheba and was just about to order out a searching party to-morrow. Where under the sun have you been?”

“Scouring the woods same as you have,” Scott laughed, “but I guess Murphy can tell you better where we have been than I can. I did not know where we were most of the time. Come on in, Murphy, and bring your friend with you.”

The screen door opened and Qualley walked in closely followed by Murphy. He may have been very much humiliated, but it did not show in his face. He seemed to be the coolest one in the bunch.

“Why, hello, Qualley!” Mr. Graham exclaimed cordially. “I did not know that you were with the boys. Mrs. Murphy told me that you had gone with Burton,” he continued, shaking Murphy by the hand, “but she did not say anything about Qualley.”

“Guess she did not know about him,” Scott grinned, “he joined us later.”

“Well, let’s hear about it. Did you find any clue?”

“This one,” Scott answered, motioning toward Qualley; and at the same time Mr. Graham noticed the pistol in Murphy’s hand.

“What!” he cried in astonishment, “do you mean to say that this man is connected with the robbery?”

“Funny, isn’t it?” Murphy remarked. “First time I ever heard of a fellow robbing himself, informing on himself, and then helping to catch himself.”

Mr. Graham was too much astonished to say a word. He simply stared at Qualley open-mouthed. At last he recovered sufficiently to repeat his request to Scott to tell him about it.

Scott told the whole story of the long search through the swamp, the trip to the mill, the disappearance of the logs from the raft, the discovery of the canal, the elaborate plan that had been developed to manufacture the logs and dispose of the lumber, and all the wild adventures they had after they met the strangers at old St. Joseph’s.

Mr. Graham listened quietly, commenting or asking a question now and then when some point was not quite clear. He had heard of the mill which was shipping from the old port at St. Joseph’s but he had never dreamed of connecting it in any way with the disappearance of the logs from his own forest. He seemed rather amused and very much elated over the whole thing till Scott described Qualley’s attempt to murder them in the swamp on the way over from the station. Then his face suddenly hardened and he glared at Qualley with anything but a pleasant expression.

“So you would be a murderer as well as a thief,” he exclaimed contemptuously.

Qualley did not seem to be in the least abashed. “Now let me explain a few things to you, Mr. Graham, before you get a wrong impression of this thing. The story which these boys tell sounds reasonable enough and I have no doubt they think it is true, but they are altogether mistaken.”

Murphy gave a contemptuous grunt and Scott looked his indignation, but Qualley ignored them completely.

“First, in regard to this ridiculous story of my attempting to murder them. I might rather say that they attempted to murder me. I happened to remember that Murphy had been examining my revolver on the train; I had seen him load it and unload it once or twice and I thought that I better make sure that it was in working order. I took it out to examine it and just then Murphy whirled around and knocked me down without the slightest warning. When I came to he had my gun and made me come along here with him.”

“Sure I whirled and knocked ye down,” Murphy commented with an air of comfortable satisfaction. “I’d been listening for that same little click ever since I heard you talking over your murderous plans down there on the beach.”

“For that I don’t blame them,” Qualley went on plausibly. “I admit that I had a knowledge of what was going on over there at that mill all the time, but my connection with them was not criminal. Roberts was very bitter against them because he knew that his share of the business would take him to the penitentiary if he were caught and the wallop Mr. Burton gave him there on the beach made him worse. I had nothing against the boys and wanted to protect them, but I could not let Roberts see that I did. Consequently I pretended to be as bitter and bloodthirsty as any of them. I saw them in the swamp there when I was talking to Roberts beside the creek, but I did not show them to Roberts. He would have shot them there like dogs.”

“Sounds fine,” Scott remarked sarcastically, “but it’s a wonder you did not say anything about all this when you met us on the train.”

“The public train is not a very good place to talk over such matters as that,” Qualley answered with dignity.

“Qualley,” Mr. Graham remarked good-humoredly, “I’ll have to admit that you are about the smoothest villain I have ever seen, and I have to admire both your nerve and your ingenuity, but I am afraid you will have to tell these things to the judge.”

But Qualley had not yet come to the end of his wiles. “Wouldn’t it be better, Mr. Graham, to get hold of the men who were in active charge of this robbery, all of them, rather than to prosecute one man who was only remotely connected with the thing and let all the others go? I know where those fellows are and can tell you just how you may take them. Otherwise you cannot find them in a thousand years. Promise me my freedom and I will not only do this but will tell you all the details of their crime. A clean sweep.”

Mr. Graham gave him a look of unutterable contempt. “No, Qualley, I still have hopes of being able to find the others myself, but even if I could not I think I would rather prosecute one Judas like you than turn you loose for the sake of catching the others.”

“Suit yourself,” Qualley said with a shrug, “but let me know when you find the others. That’s all.”

“Oh!” Scott exclaimed with a grin, “I guess I forgot to say that we stumbled on to the cabin out in the swamp that Roberts had all stocked up with provisions ready for just such an emergency as this and I have no doubt that it is the one to which Mr. Qualley referred when he suggested that the rest of them should hide in the cabin in the swamp till they heard from him that it would be safe to leave there.”

“Perhaps it is,” Qualley remarked dryly. He had evidently exhausted his resources for he had nothing more to say.

After a few moments of silence Mr. Graham came to a decision. He glanced at his watch. It was a little after two. “We could call up the sheriff, I suppose, and might be able to wake him up in the course of time, but it would be a long time before he could get here. So I guess you boys had better go to sleep here and I’ll take this gentleman over to the sheriff.”

The boys protested that they were both willing and able to finish the job which they had started, but Mr. Graham would not hear of it.

“Nothing doing,” he said in response to their plea. “I’ll see that you get full credit for all that you have done, but I know from your account of your adventures since you left here that you have not had half a night’s sleep. To-morrow we shall have to go after the rest of this bunch and that may mean a pretty hard day’s work. No, I want you to stay here and rest up. I’ve already had about four hours’ sleep to-night.”

They recognized the wisdom of this advice, but it was hard to miss the satisfaction of seeing Qualley actually put under arrest.

Mr. Graham was soon dressed and ready to start. He took the pistol from Murphy and turned to Qualley. “All right, Qualley, let’s go. You fellows see how hard you can sleep till I get back. You may need all you can get, for now that we have a line on these fellows I am not going to stop till I have every one of them behind the bars where they belong.”

Qualley made one more try. “It might be healthier here in the future,” he remarked, “if I was not included in this bunch.”

Mr. Graham turned upon him angrily and glared at him for a minute. Then he burst out laughing. “You must be losing your nerve, Qualley, or your senses, if you think that you can scare me with a threat. I thought that you knew me better than that. Move along and I’ll put you where I will not even have to think about you, to say nothing of being afraid of you.”



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