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CHAPTER IX OFF FOR PEBBLE BEACH
Where was Jerry?

Boys from Tent Four were crowding on the stage, getting the scene ready for the next act. Jake Utway stood stock-still, gazing at the rafters overhead, where his brother had been a moment since. He could not have descended into the lodge unobserved in the short time Jake had spent in his dark box. Why hadn’t he taken his cue and dropped to the stage at Chink’s summons? It was not like Jerry to do a thing like that. There must be some good reason——
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Jake went over in his mind the plan they had made for this “disappearing act” which had turned out to be a disappearance in real earnest. Jerry was not to go on the stage with the others for the first part of the magic show. He was to get the long ladder, climb silently to the roof of the lodge porch, and then cautiously crawl through the open window in the far gable of the building——That was it! The window! Why hadn’t he thought of that before? Jake rushed through the bunch of amateur actors dressing in the Chief’s office, and emerged on the lodge porch. A ladder leaned against the building, but even in the dim light he could see that Jerry was not on the ladder.

He was aware of a voice at his elbow. “Looking for something?” It was Sherlock Jones, who had followed him from the lodge.

“Jerry! He’s gone!” Jake blurted. “He must have crawled out the window again, and gone off somewhere. Why didn’t he tell me?”

“Look for clues—that’s the thing to do in a case like this,” advised Sherlock with a business-like air. “He must have climbed down the ladder. Come on.” The two boys ran around to the steps, and presently Sherlock snapped on his flashlight at the base of the ladder.

“No footprints can show up on this rocky ground,” observed the detective. Jake glanced wildly at the surrounding trees and bushes, as if determined to make them give up their secret.

“Jerry!” he shouted desperately. “Jerry!”
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There was no answer. Sherlock flickered his electric torch here and there about the scene of action. “No, sir, not a thing—— Wait, though! What’s this?” He caught the glint of metal about fifty yards in the direction of the tents, and ran toward it.

“This” proved to be a large-size can of tomatoes. A few paces down the hill was a similar can, and another of beans. Sherlock held them up for inspection.

“Clues! Jake, do you know where these came from?”

Jake groaned. It was as he feared. Even now Jerry might be wrestling in the darkness with a deadly foe, or lying senseless in the woods, struck down by a blow from behind——

“Come on!” he cried. “We’ve got to find him! Hurry!”

Above them, from the lighted lodge, streamed out a blare of music from the Lenape band. Pale stars glimmered overhead in the warm summer night.

“Which way?” asked Sherlock calmly.

Jake made no answer, but stumbled down the hillside, making to the left, where he remembered he had lost sight of his antagonist the night of the raid on Tent Fifteen. Then, the man had headed for the lake, and it was probable that under the same conditions he would again do likewise. It was a slim chance, but——

“Jerry!”
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Their footsteps guided by the yellow splash of brightness from the flashlight, the two boys broke through the campus and into the stretch of woods beyond. It seemed to Jake, as he raced through the night, that hours had passed since he was released from the box to find Jerry missing.

“Not much chance—find anybody in these woods,” panted Sherlock, holding his side. “Stop a second, Jake—give me time to get my breath——”

“Wait here, then, if you’re winded,” answered Jake fiercely. “Here, lend me the light, and I’ll come back for you. I tell you, I’ve got to find him!” Before the other could protest, he seized the flash and was on his way toward the lake’s rim at a breakneck speed.

He was now almost to the rustic bridge that cut across the stream through the marsh at the head of the lake. Water shone glassily through the trees at his right hand. A huddled form loomed ahead in the path beyond the bridge, showing ghostly in the pale beam of the lamp.

“Jerry!”

“That you, Jake?” came his brother’s voice.

“Jerry—what’s the matter? Are you all right?”
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“Sure.” Jerry rose and limped toward him. “I heard voices up the hill, and thought it might be you. Who’s with you?”

“I left that Jones kid up there—he got a stitch in his side. But are you sure you’re not hurt?”

“I got off into the marsh, and banged into some birch trees, that’s all. To-night it seems to be my turn to chase around in the dark and bump into things. But I’m sure sorry I spoiled the act.”

“That’s all right, now I’m sure you’re safe,” answered Jake with relief. “You saw him—the man?”

“Clear as daylight. I happened to be looking out the little window in the top of the lodge, just about the time you got into the box, and I saw him sneaking down from the kitchen. He must have been prowling around again, looking for something to eat, and thought it was a good time to break in, when everybody was watching the show.”

“And you went after him?”
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“There was just a chance to nab him—that’s why I didn’t yell out and get the whole camp on his trail. He might have got clean away by that time. Besides, we didn’t want to miss the reward, did we?” Jerry rubbed his bruised arm, which had suffered when his untimely fall had put an end to the chase.

“You’re sure he was the man?”

“Couldn’t have been anyone else, Jakie. But he spotted me when I was coming down the ladder, and dropped his stuff and ran. I followed him down about to here, and then I slipped on some muddy rocks and lost him. But we know where to find him if we want him, don’t we?”

“Shh!” Jake said warningly. “Here comes Dopey Sherlock. Don’t say a word—he’s suspicious enough already.”

The doughty detective had at last found his breath, and came stumbling toward them.

“So you found him, did you?” he asked. “What was he doing down here?”

“Just taking a walk, Sherlock old boy,” said Jerry easily. “Anything else you’d like to know?”

“Yes—a whole lot. Did you drop some cans of tomatoes and stuff?”

“Oh, they were just part of the show. If you’d been at the rehearsal this afternoon, instead of moping around by yourself, you’d know all about these things. Now, which would you rather do;”—Jake’s tone was threatening—“shut up, or get a sock on that long nose of yours?”
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Sherlock glanced timidly about him, and retreated a few steps. He knew that he was no match for the two Utway twins; and here in the darkness, far from the campers and protecting leaders, it would be unwise to arouse their ire.

Morning brought further news of the search for the escaped prisoner. The Chief announced that a band of volunteers, under the direction of prison guards, had made a prolonged search of the vicinity, but had found no traces of the missing criminal. The object of their search had been free for more than four days now, and it was thought by some that he might have gotten clear away and escaped unseen to a far city where he could go undetected for some time. However, it was best not to relax the precautions they had made; and therefore the plans for tent hikes that night would have to be changed. A storm of protest greeted these last words, for the campers dearly liked the fun that always came when each tent, under its leader, took its supper and made an evening’s camp in some favorite spot a few miles from their usual haunts on the campus. But the Chief was obdurate.
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At lunch, the Chief rose and stated that so many boys had come to him to ask that his ban on the tent hikes be lifted, that he had decided to allow these hikes to take place after all. He silenced the cheering with a lifted hand, and added that no group should camp more than a mile away from the lodge, and all should be in their own tents by ten o’clock at the latest.

This was good news. Noisy discussions took place at each table, as to what spot should be selected as the site of their evening meal. Jerry Utway shouted down the others at Dr. Cannon’s table, and finally got them to lay claim to Pebble Beach, a narrow bit of ground on the northeast border of the lake.

“I’m going with Jerry’s gang, please!” requested Jake. Mr. Avery, who had decided to take Tent Ten no farther away than Church Glade, gave a ready consent; and so it was arranged.

Directly the afternoon swim was over, the campers dressed in their hiking outfits, and two boys were sent to draw each tent’s rations from the kitchen. Jake and Jerry Utway, burdened with pans full of beans, raw potatoes, bread, salt, butter, and other provisions, headed for the dock, where two rowboats, filled with the remaining boys of Tent Eight, waited to shove off for their short journey across to Pebble Beach.
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“I don’t much like the look of the sky,” observed Dr. Cannon, sitting in the stern of one of the boats as the boys stowed away the provisions. “But I guess we’ll be all right. Everybody got his poncho or raincoat? If it starts to rain, we can get back to the dock in short order. Ready? Shove off!”

The two boats, manned by a husky youngster at each oar, drew away from the dock, and shot across the placid water in the direction of their chosen camping-ground. Thus calmly and unsuspectingly, Jake and Jerry Utway, at the oars of the foremost boat, embarked upon the wildest night of their lives.


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