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首页 » 经典英文小说 » The Mercer Boys on a Treasure Hunt » CHAPTER V THE PROWLER IN THE NIGHT
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A few minutes later the professor entered the rooms which he and the two boys had engaged together alone. He found Don and Jim reading some magazines which the hotel management furnished.

“Hello, professor,” greeted Don. “Safely back, eh?”

“We were beginning to think that you had been lost,” smiled Jim, putting down his magazine.

“I was not lost,” returned the professor. “But I have had a most extraordinary adventure.”

“What was it?” they asked, in chorus.

“I came across a very distressing thing,” the teacher continued. “I wonder if you boys will help me? Outside, on a lonely street, I met a young man wandering, and it appears that he has amnesia!”

“Amnesia!” cried Don. “That means loss of memory, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” answered the professor, seriously. “He could not remember who he was nor where he came from. I questioned him at length, and while he answers rationally enough, he simply cannot remember a thing past a week ago.”

“That surely is tough,” murmured Don. “What did you want us to do?”

“I have the young man outside here,” replied Professor Scott. “I wondered if you two would help me question him? If we ply him with questions we may be able to suggest something that will make him remember who he is and some details of his past life.”

“We’ll be glad to help,” said Jim, heartily. “Where is he?”

“I’ll bring him in,” replied the teacher, and he left the room.

“That’s mighty hard luck,” commented Don. “I hope we can do something to help.”

A moment later the professor returned, gently leading someone with him. “Come right in here, young man,” he said, loudly and gently. “There are only friends in here, so don’t be afraid.”

“Thank you sir,” a voice replied. “Oh, if you can only do something for me!”

Professor Scott appeared in the room, leading with him a dazed-looking young man with red hair and freckled face, at the sight of whom Don and Jim sprang to their feet with a cry. The boy looked at them dully and swallowed.

“Terry Mackson!” they shouted.

“What!” cried the professor, in amazement, as he pushed the boy down into a large chair. “Do you know this boy?”

“We certainly do!” Don shot out. “This is Terry Mackson, an old chum of ours. We room with him at school.”

The professor looked down at Terry, who stared in puzzled wonder at Don. “That is very strange. He doesn’t appear to know you.”

“Perhaps he has been hit on the head,” suggested Jim, coming forward.

“This is fierce,” said Don, worry on his face. “Terry, don’t you know me?”

“‘Shoot if you must this old gray head, but I don’t remember you, she said,’” was the unexpected reply, and the corners of his mouth, which had been quivering, expanded. The professor burst into a roar of laughter.

The Mercer boys stood for a moment rooted to the spot, while Terry and the professor laughed in unrestrained glee. After the first moment of disgust their eyes narrowed and two determined chins were thrust forward.

“Jim,” said Don, quietly. “Put out the light. I don’t want the world to witness the awful thing that is going to happen here!”

“Put it out yourself!” retorted Jim. “I am due for a first class murder, and I’m late now!”

And with that the two brothers threw themselves in mock fury onto the body of their laughing friend and bore him to the floor, where they punched him soundly, finding their task an easy one, for the red-headed boy was weak from laughter. When they had tired themselves they jerked him up and pushed him into the chair, the professor enjoying it all hugely.

“That was positively the most low trick I ever saw,” declared Don disgustedly.

“I’d like to have a look at the brain that would think of such a thing,” chimed in Jim.

“Oh, boy!” laughed Terry. “If you could ever have seen the kindly, anxious looks in your eyes as you bent over me to help restore my fleeting memory! My friends, I thank you! If ever I do lose my identity I shall request that I be taken to the Mercers, who will surely restore me!”

“Oh, shut up!” said Don, beginning to smile. “We admit that we were completely sold that time. Where in the world did the professor find you?”

“I didn’t find him,” put in the teacher. “Luckily, he found me.” And he related the events of the evening to them.

“You aren’t hurt, I hope, professor?” asked Jim, anxiously.

“No, just bruised a bit. I would have been severely wet if it had not been for Terry’s timely intervention. It was while on the way over here in Terry’s—er—remarkable car that he proposed the trick that was played on you.”

“I’m surprised you would go in for such a thing, professor,” said Don. “But you can be excused because you don’t know Terry. But in the future never do anything that he suggests. If you don’t get in trouble you will be sure to lose all respect for yourself, so I advise against it.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” smiled the older man. “I enjoyed that little scene in which Terry lost his mind!”

“The part we enjoyed,” returned Don, grimly, “was the thumping part.”

“You say your letter was taken from you, professor?” asked Jim.

“Yes, and I wanted that more than anything else. However, it won’t do anyone else any good, so I suppose it is not such a loss, after all.”

For the next hour they talked and Terry related his experiences during his trip across the country. He spoke of going on down into Mexico, and the professor listened, his eyes fixed on the newcomer thoughtfully. At last he spoke up.

“Terry,” he said. “Why don’t you come along with us?”

Terry grinned. “I was hoping you’d say just that,” he admitted, frankly. “I have no definite plan in mind, and I would certainly hate to miss any fun that Don and Jim are in. But on the other hand I wouldn’t want to put you out any.”

“You wouldn’t,” said the professor, heartily. “Ned has plenty of room for all of us at his ranch. I’m really taking the boys along so that I won’t have to tramp all over the country looking for Ned’s treasure, and you can come along to help in that line.”

After some talk it was agreed that Terry should store his car away until such time as they should want it again. It was late when he left them, agreeing to meet them on the following day and go to the steamer with them. The professor and the Mercers slept soundly that night and the next day were ready to begin their trip down the coast.

Meeting Terry in the morning they all went down to the steamer, a small fruit carrier, and the captain consented to add one to the party. Although the steamer was not scheduled to start until evening the friends went aboard early in the afternoon and settled themselves in their cabin, a good sized room which was plain but clean. After that they wandered over the ship, keeping out of the way of the men who were storing crates, preparatory to their cruise southward to load fruit. The smell of different grades of fruit was a permanent part of the black steamer, and it was by no means unpleasant.

In the evening, just before sailing time, Don and Jim stood out on the deck, watching the men at work. The professor and Terry were in the cabin. Just before the gangplank was hauled in a heavyset man walked confidently aboard and spoke to the mate. The captain was nowhere about at the time. Although not particularly interested the boys noted that the man had a shifty, watchful look, and that his eyes were set close together. The mate appeared to know him and engaged him in conversation, talking in low tones and looking around sharply while doing so. At the end of their short conversation, during which both men looked at the two boys, the newcomer went forward and they saw no more of him.

The steamer cast off and headed south, swinging out in a wide arc, and the voyage was on. Terry and the professor came on deck at the sound of the last whistle and together they watched the purple coast line fade from sight. Supper followed and they made a hearty meal of it, eating with the captain at a private table in sight of the main mess tables.

The evening was spent in talking in the cabin and in pacing the deck. The night was clear and calm and the sky dotted with a myriad of stars, and the steady throbbing of the huge engines made almost the only sound as they ploughed through the blue waters of the Pacific. Quite early they turned in and soon fell into a deep sleep.

It was Terry who woke up with a sense that all was not right. He was a lighter sleeper than the others, and some slight noise had awakened him. He sat up in his bunk, peering across the room at a shadow which seemed out of place there. Thinking it might be one of his chums stirring he spoke.

“Hello there! Who’s prowling around?”

His words, spoken quietly, had an effect that astonished him. Someone moved out of the shadows and for a second into the faint light which streamed in through a port hole. Instantly Terry recognized one of the men who had attacked the professor on the previous night.

The man ran to the door, jerked it open and darted along the narrow hallway that led to the companionway ladder. Terry swung his feet over the edge of his bunk.

“All hands to repel boarders!” he yelled, and without waiting to put on shoes or clothing, dashed out of the door after the fleeing man.

The others woke up instantly, to see Terry streaking down the hall. Terry ran rapidly up the ladder and saw the intruder slipping over the rail. The steamer was close into the shore, and without hesitation the man dropped over into the water and struck out for the shore, just as Terry gained the rail.

While he watched the man swimming for shore the others ran up, followed a moment later by the captain and the mate, a lean-jawed man with a hooked nose and wide mouth. To their excited inquiries Terry explained what had happened.

“No use trying to catch him with a boat,” decided the captain, seeing that the man was almost to the shore. “What did he look like?”

Terry described him, and the professor and the boys were astonished to find that it was one of the men who had attacked the professor on the previous night. The captain broke out in an exclamation.

“Sackett!” he cried.

“You know him?” asked the professor.

“Squint Sackett is one of the worst bay bandits we have,” said the captain. “He is a noted river pirate, and the police would give a whole lot to lay hands on him. Mr. Abel, how did that man get on board?”

“I don’t know, sir,” said the mate, promptly.

“You don’t know?” asked Jim, in amazement. “Why you let him on board yourself. My brother and I saw you talking to him this afternoon, just before we sailed.”

“It’s a lie,” shouted the mate, darting a bitter glance at him.

“Oh, no it isn’t,” said Don, coldly. “We saw you. After you and he talked this man Sackett went forward, and you didn’t make any effort to stop him.”

“I’ve had my suspicious of you for sometime, Mr. Abel,” growled the captain, “and now I know you are crooked. You get off my ship! The first port we come to you sling your pack and get out. I can’t prove anything on you, but I won’t have any mate of mine having relations with a man like Squint Sackett. D’you understand?”

“I’ll break these kids in two!” shouted the mate, advancing. But the captain, who was bigger than the mate, quickly barred the way, his heavy fists raised.

“You touch these boys and I’ll bust you over the rail!” he roared. “Get down below and pack up. Tomorrow you’re clearing this ship. Now get!”

Muttering angrily to himself the mate obeyed, and when he was gone the captain turned back to the party. “I’d advise you to look out for that mate,” he warned. “I’m glad you found out what you did. Did Sackett steal anything from you?”

A hasty examination of the cabin revealed that Sackett had been in the act of going through the professor’s inside coat pocket at the time he was surprised by Terry, but nothing had been taken. Putting the whole affair down as an attempt at robbery the captain left them to themselves, assuring them that no further harm would come to them.

“We’ll have to keep our eyes open for this Sackett,” said Don, as they went back to their bunks. “For the life of me, I can’t see why he should take the trouble to come aboard and try to rob us. He must have a mistaken idea that there is a lot of money in this crowd.”

“That may be it,” agreed the professor, somewhat doubtfully. “But it does seem strange that he should take such pains to follow us.”

“Wonder how he knew we were on this particular boat?” mused Jim.

“That’s not so hard,” Terry explained. “Perhaps he hangs around the docks and saw us come aboard today. But that mate must surely be one of the gang.”

“No doubt of it,” said Don, yawning sleepily. “Well, he’s gone, and we probably won’t see anything of him again.”

But if Don and the others could have even guessed at the plans which were at that moment being formulated in the evil brain of Squint Sackett they would have had much food for thought. They were destined to see him again, and not in the distant future.


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