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首页 » 经典英文小说 » The Mercer Boys on a Treasure Hunt » CHAPTER IV THE PROFESSOR IS ATTACKED
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After three days of preparation the boys and the professor were ready to leave for the west coast. They were to go to San Francisco and take a steamer there down to the settlements in Lower California. It was a bright Saturday morning when they waved out of the window to their friends on the station platform.

“Well,” remarked Don, as the train moved out of the station. “We are off for new scenes at last.”

The journey across the continent was uneventful. They enjoyed it thoroughly, never growing tired of the endless views which unfolded as the train sped westward. The professor, with his varied knowledge of places and people, his understanding of scientific facts and his historic incidents, proved to be a most delightful companion. In a few days they left the train at the great city of the coast and the professor hunted up a hotel.

Professor Scott had never been to California, although he had been in many other cities in the United States, and his interest was as keen as that of the boys. One of his first tasks, after they had been installed in a good hotel, was to hasten to the water front and inquire concerning a steamer to take them down the coast. When he returned he reported his findings to the boys.

“There is a steamer named the Black Star that will take us down the day after tomorrow,” he said. “I went aboard and arranged for our passage. It isn’t a passenger boat, but I didn’t have any trouble in persuading the captain to take us as passengers. The boat is a fruit steamer, but they have one or two extra cabins for our use.”

They turned in early that night and the next day took an extensive tour of the great city. A great many of the foremost buildings and places of interest were visited, and they obtained their longed-for view of the piece of wreckage of the Spanish galleon of which Ned Scott had written them. It was a huge piece, worn by the action of the waves, with studded leather on the sides and pieces of rigging still clinging to it. It occupied a prominent place in the city museum.

“If that thing could only talk,” the professor remarked, as they walked around it. “What a story it could tell!”

“I guess it would be very helpful to us, in our search,” smiled Jim.

When evening came the boys were tired, but strange to relate, the professor was not. His interest in places and men amounted to a passion with him, and he loved to study them at every opportunity. The boys were sitting around in the hotel room and the professor, after walking around restlessly, suddenly faced them.

“Are you boys too tired to do some more walking?” he asked.

“Well, I’m pretty well played out,” admitted Don. “But if you’d like us to go with you, anywhere, professor, we’ll gladly go.”

“Oh, no,” replied the professor, hastily. “I just wanted to ask you if you’d care to take a stroll down near the water front. There are some very quaint places down there, and I’d like to visit some of them. But I don’t want you boys to go out if you are tired.” He reached for his hat and went on: “I’m going down there for a stroll. I’ll be back shortly.”

“If you want us—” began Jim, but the professor cut him short.

“No, no, not at all. You boys stay here and I’ll wander a bit myself. See you later.”

“Take care of yourself, professor,” called Don, as he went out.

“I will, thanks. Don’t worry; I’ll be right back.”

Once on the street the professor struck off for the water front at a brisk pace. In the hotel room Jim looked inquiringly at Don.

“Do you suppose it is alright for him to go?” he asked.

“I guess so,” nodded Don. “He is pretty well able to take care of himself.”

The city was wrapped in darkness when the professor began his wandering, a darkness which was broken by the bright lights on the business streets and the more feeble ones on the side streets. The professor headed for the wharves, where the masts of the medley of crafts could be seen rising above the low houses which fronted the bay. Down in this section the savant found some queer crooked streets, lined with rows of box-like houses and cheap eating places. Groups of men and women sat on the doorsteps and fire escapes, children whooped and played in the streets, and scraps of music, jarring one on the other, came from phonographs and radios. Sailors and business men walked back and forth in the narrow streets, and the professor found much to study.

He strode along the docks, examining with interest the multitude of ships there, ranging from huge ocean steamers to small private boats. Liners, tramp ships, battered steam boats, sailing vessels, schooners, yachts, sloops, catboats, yawls and power cruisers lay side by side with tugs and ferries. An army of stevedores worked under blazing arc lights loading and unloading, and the air vibrated with the rattle of machinery, the hoarse cries of the men, and the thump of boxes and crates. So deeply engrossed was the professor in the scenes which he was witnessing that he forgot the passage of time.

He had wandered far down the shore line when he came at last to a street more narrow and crooked than the rest. It was in fact nothing more than an alley, flanked by tall seamen’s houses, with restaurants and pool parlors on the ground floors. The professor looked at a sign post and saw that it was named Mullys Slip.

“Mullys Slip, eh?” thought the teacher. “This is the quaintest of them all. I think I’ll stroll up it.”

Accordingly, he walked up the narrow sidewalk, looking with interest into the stores and eating houses as he passed by, listening to snatches of conversation as he passed groups who sat out taking advantage of the cool air. When he had walked to the end of the Slip he walked back, and seeing a well-lighted eating place near the dock, entered it and sat down at a round table. While he ordered a sandwich and coffee he looked around him.

It was a long, low room, the air of which was nearly obscured by tobacco smoke, half filled at the time with men who evidently came from the ships. Most of them were eating, the rest were smoking and talking, and a few slept, hanging over the tables. The professor ate his sandwich and sipped his coffee, content and easy in his mind, until, looking across from him into a narrow corner, he found the eyes of two men fixed upon him.

One of the men was a powerful individual with a heavy, unhealthy looking face, whose eyes, set close together, looked slightly crossed. The other was tall and thin, with long and dangling arms. Both of them were dressed in rough black clothing, which gave no real hint as to what business they were engaged in. They might have been sailors or stevedores, and both showed unmistakable signs of hardy, adventurous lives. They had evidently been talking about the professor, for their eyes were bent on him with earnest scrutiny, and when they observed that he had seen them they hastily resumed their conversation.

The professor paid no attention to them at first, but went on eating, looking around with keen eyes and mentally cataloguing the men in the place. But when he once more looked across at his neighbors they were bending the same intent look upon him. Vague doubt began to stir the mind of professor Scott.

“I don’t altogether like the looks of those fellows,” decided the professor, as he called a waiter and paid his small bill. “By the way they look at me I’d say they were talking about me. All in all, I’m in a pretty rough neighborhood, and perhaps the sooner I get out of it, the better.”

He went out of the place at once, casting a single look back of him as he did so, and he was not made to feel any easier as he noted that they were following him with the same steady look. He was not greatly alarmed, for he did not carry much money with him, but feeling that he would be better off on a well-lighted thoroughfare, he made his way back along the dark street. It was now growing late and the lights were being extinguished. He found his road darker than it had been when he had followed it earlier in the evening, and so he hurried on, bent on reaching the business section.

He had covered two blocks when he began to think that he was being followed. It was as much of a feeling as an actual fact, for each time he looked around he was unable to see anyone who looked as though he might be trailing him. He fancied once that he saw a shadow dart quickly into a doorway, but though he looked keenly in that direction he was unable to make sure.

“Humph, I had better get back to the hotel,” mused the teacher. “I think I’m beginning to imagine things.”

On the block beyond a number of dark alleys opened from the houses, and the professor was compelled to pass them. Either the houses were deserted or there was no one up at the time, for he saw no one as he crossed the corner. Only far ahead of him, on the opposite side of the street, a battered old car was pulled up to the edge of an empty dock, and a man sat looking out over the water at a group of three-masted coal carriers.

Just as the professor was passing a wide alley he thought he heard a step beside him. He turned his head quickly, and then gasped. Two shadows seemed to detach themselves from the passageway and bore down on him. Before he could utter any cry a powerful pair of arms was thrown around him and he was strained close to the body of a big man. At the same time, without loss of a moment, the second man dipped his hands into the professor’s trousers pockets and into his inside coat pocket.

Taken completely by surprise the old teacher for a second did not offer any kind of resistance and when he did it was rather feeble, for his arms were pinned close to his sides, and he was fairly standing on his toes. But his feet were free, and he managed to kick the man who held him a smart blow in the shin. A low, growling curse was his reward, and a blow of considerable force followed, landing on his shoulder. By a sudden twist the professor squirmed from the arms of the man who was holding him, and strengthened by his indignation, which was kindling into hot wrath, the savant punched the second man full on the mouth.

The first man, who was none other than the narrow-eyed individual of the restaurant growled in his throat. “I’ll bust your head, you old windjammer!” he roared, and swung his fist at the professor. The blow, which landed on the teacher’s neck, felled him instantly to the sidewalk.

“Grab him up,” ordered the second man, stooping over the professor, who was somewhat dazed. “We’ll dump him in the bay.”

Both men leaned down to pick up the form of the professor when there was an interruption. The young man who had been sitting in the nondescript automobile had had his attention attracted by the beginning of the struggle, and unnoticed by any of the principals he had jumped out of the car and was now upon them. Although he did not know one from the other he could see that two were against one, and noting, under the faint light from a nearby lamp-post that the lone fighter was an elderly man, threw himself without hesitation upon the two wharf-men. His active fist jarred against the jaw of the heavyset man.

“Take that, with the compliments of the lone star ranger!” he muttered. “Don’t know what it’s all about, but that’s my share.”

His blow infuriated the man, who drove at him with an angry roar, but the professor was scrambling to his feet, and the second man grasped his leader by the arm. He spoke to him in a low tone, and the two, with a slight hesitation, turned and fled up the alley. Convinced that pursuit would be useless, the young man turned to the professor.

“Are you hurt, sir?” he asked, quickly.

In the faint light the professor saw that he was a boy of twenty or thereabouts, tall and somewhat lanky, with red hair and a lean face, on which freckles had taken up a permanent home. The professor shook his head.

“No, thanks to you. Those fellows were going to throw me into the water. Were you in that car?”

“Yes,” grinned the boy. “That is my private chariot, called ‘Jumpiter,’ because of its habit of doing something very much like jumping! Have you been robbed?”

The professor felt through his pockets and nodded. “Yes, a few dollars and a letter has been taken from me. I don’t care much about the money, but the letter was from my son Ned, and I valued that somewhat. I would like to thank you sincerely for your timely arrival.”

“Don’t mention it,” begged the young man. “Let’s get out of here. I’ll drive you to wherever you want to go.”

When they entered the battered car the professor told the boy the name of the hotel at which he was staying and they rolled away. Then the teacher asked the name of his rescuer.

“Mackson is my name,” replied the boy. “Terry Mackson, from Beverley, Maine.”

“Why,” exclaimed the professor. “I come from Maine, too. I am a history teacher in Bridgewater!”

“In Bridgewater!” cried Terry as they entered the business section. “Then you must know the Mercer brothers.”

“Know them!” laughed the professor. “I have them here with me!”

“Here, with you? Well, I’ll be jiggered! They are my very best chums!” said Terry. “Last summer I was in Bridgewater, sailing with them, and we go to Woodcrest together, in fact, we room together. What are they doing here?”

“We are going down to Lower California to visit my son Ned, on his ranch, and make some scientific studies, and perhaps look up a treasure that Ned feels sure that he can find nearby. How did you come to be out here?”

“I didn’t have a thing to do this summer,” explained Terry. “My mother and sister went to visit friends in New Hampshire, and so I decided to tour the country in my car. I’ve been out here for the last two days, and I was going to head for Mexico tomorrow.”

“How very strange that we should meet,” commented the professor. “You must step up and see the boys. They will be glad to see you.”

“I won’t be a bit sorry to see them,” returned Terry, heartily. “They certainly will be surprised.”

They drove on until they were almost at the hotel, and then Terry, who had been thinking deeply, suddenly began to chuckle. Then, as the professor looked inquiringly at him, the red-headed boy spoke.

“Professor,” he said, “how would you like to help me in a little joke?”


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