PRISONERS

The farmer smiled, but it wasn’t a pleasant smile, and it exposed half
a dozen yellow fanglike teeth that made Roy wonder whether there could
be any relationship between the dog and his master.

“Tell the other feller to come back,” said the farmer. “I seen him.”

“You mean you saw me,” murmured Chub, stepping into sight behind Roy.

“What’s that?” asked the farmer, suspiciously.

“How do you do?” asked Chub, affably.

“You’ll see how I do and _what_ I do,” was the grim reply. “What you
doing in my house?”

“We–we were just getting out,” answered Roy, with a sickly smile which
was intended to be propitiating.

“With your pockets full, I guess. You stay where you are, understand?”
He brought the shot-gun up and laid it over his arm in a suggestive
way that made Roy wish his legs were inside the window rather than out.

“If you mean that we’ve been stealing anything,” said Chub tartly,
“you’re making a mistake. We came up here to buy some milk and your
fool dog ran at us and drove us into the house. And here we are. If
you’ll take him out of the way we’ll get out.”

“Guess you will,” chuckled the farmer. “Guess you’d be pretty glad to.
But you won’t, understand? You get on back into that room.” This to Roy
in a threatening growl that fairly lifted the boy’s legs over the sill
and deposited them on the parlor carpet. “And you stay there till I
come, understand? Watch ’em, Carlo!”

Carlo growled and looked longingly at the boys. The farmer tucked the
shot-gun under his arm and disappeared around the corner of the house.
Roy and Chub looked at each other in comical dismay.

“Doesn’t this beat the Dutch?” asked Chub. “Say, where’s Dick? I’ll
wager he heard the old codger coming and has hidden. What are we going
to do, Roy?”

“Tell the truth. He hasn’t any business to keep us in here. If it
hadn’t been for his old dog–”

The farmer’s footsteps sounded in the entry and he entered the room,
his shot-gun still under his arm. He looked around suspiciously, as
though expecting to find the marble-topped center table and the cottage
organ missing, and cast shrewd glances at the boy’s pockets.

“Well, you see we haven’t stolen anything,” said Chub.

“Well, I ain’t taking your word for it,” said the farmer, dryly. “Maybe
if I hadn’t come when I did–”

“Now, don’t be unreasonable,” begged Chub. “I’ve told you how we came
to be here. We were passing along the road and wanted some milk–”

“Thought you’d find it in the parlor, did ye?”

“No, but your dog chased us in the back door and we couldn’t make any
one hear by shouting–”

“You shouted pretty loud, didn’t ye?”

“Yes, I did,” answered Chub, defiantly, “but that idiotic dog made such
a row with his barking that you couldn’t hear me. So then we came in
here to get out the window, because the front door was locked. Now you
know; and as we’re already late for supper, perhaps you’ll call off
that fool dog and let us go home.”

“Want to go, do ye?” asked their captor with a leer.

“Yes, we do,” replied Chub, shortly.

“Live right round here, I suppose?”

“You can suppose anything you want to,” broke in Roy, hotly. “But we
won’t tell you where we live. It’s none of your business and if you
don’t let us out of here this minute we’ll make trouble for you.”

“’Course you will,” said the farmer with a chuckle. “Go to town,
likely, and swear out a warrant for me, eh? How’d you know I was alone
here? How’d you know my wife was away?”

“We don’t know anything about your wife!”

“Some one told you, eh?”

“I tell you we never heard of you before–”

“And don’t want to again,” murmured Chub.

“But you didn’t know about Carlo, did ye? I bought Carlo after you was
here last month. He’s a good dog and–”

“After we were here last month?” repeated Chub. “Great Scott, we’ve
never seen your old farm before in our lives. We got here an hour ago
in our boat–”

“Travel in your private yacht, do ye? Left it down at the gate, I
suppose?” The farmer chuckled enjoyably.

“She’s tied up in the cove about a half mile below here,” said Chub,
angrily. “If you don’t believe it, you can come along and see her for
yourself.”

“Dare say, dare say. What you got in your pockets?”

“Nothing that belongs to you!”

“I haven’t seen anything worth stealing,” added Roy wrathfully.

“You haven’t, eh?” snarled the man. “Took it all last time, eh? Looking
for more silverware, I guess. Wan’t satisfied with what you had.
Should have been, eh? Made a mistake, didn’t ye? Made a mistake coming
back to the same place, eh? Thought Jim Ewing was fool enough to be
caught twice at the same game, eh? Huh!” he paused and looked at them
triumphantly. “More fools you, then. And you look sharp enough, too.
Wouldn’t have thought you’d have been such fools.”

“Oh, what’s the matter with you,” growled Chub, exasperatedly.

“Well, you march along up-stairs now, and you’ll see. Go along, and
don’t make any trouble or–” he patted the shot-gun–“this thing might
go off. That’d be a clear case of justifiable homicide, eh?”

“If you’ll just put that down a minute,” said Chub, yearningly,
“I’ll–I’ll–”

“No, you don’t; I’m a peaceable citizen, I am. Don’t say it wouldn’t be
some satisfaction to wallop you, but I’ll leave it to the law. Go on
up, now.”

“Look here,” said Roy, choking his anger, “what do you intend to do
with us?”

“Want to know, do you? You walk up-stairs, or–” he brought the ancient
shot-gun to the position of “charge.” Chub and Roy cast anxious glances
at each other. Then, with a shrug, Chub turned, crossed the room, and
mounted the staircase, followed by Roy and Mr. Ewing.

“Turn to the left at the top,” called the latter. “You’ll be real
comfortable while I’m gone, and you won’t find anything to tempt you
to steal. That’s it. Sit down, boys, and make yourselves to home. I
won’t be gone more’n an hour if I can help it. Don’t be lonesome.” He
closed the door and turned the key in the lock, and they heard him go
off down-stairs chuckling.

“I’d like to–to–!” But words failed him, and Roy dropped on the
old-fashioned bed and stared savagely about the little room.

“So would I,” said Chub, grimly, thrusting his hands in his pockets
and walking across to the single narrow window through which the late
sunlight slanted. When he turned again to Roy, there was a smile on his
face. “Isn’t this the greatest pickle, Roy? He thinks we’re a couple
of hardened criminals; thinks we have been here before.” He laughed
softly. “I’ve never been in jail yet. I wonder how it feels.”

“I don’t see where the fun comes in,” answered Roy. “We may have a
dickens of a time convincing folks that we didn’t come here to steal
his things. Where do you suppose Dick got to?”

“Blest if I know. Maybe he saw the old chap coming across from the barn
and hid himself. Maybe he managed to get out the back door while the
old fellow was round front. If he did–”

“He’s coming back,” muttered Roy. “And he’s bringing that beast of a
dog.”

“You stay here and watch, Carlo,” said the farmer outside the door.
“Don’t let ’em out, sir!”

“Mr. Ewing!” called Roy.

“Well? I hear ye.”

“Won’t you believe what we tell you? That we had no intention of
robbing your house.”

“Don’t you waste your breath on me, young man. Keep them yarns for the
police. I won’t keep you waiting longer’n I can help. You’d better not
try to get out; it wouldn’t be good for you; Carlo’s got a sort of a
mean disposition, he has.”

“So have you,” cried Chub. “You’ve got the upperhand now, but just you
wait till I get out of here! I’ll make you wish you had a grain or two
of common-sense; hear?”

“I hear ye,” muttered the farmer, “I hear ye. I guess what you fellers
need is a few years in jail, and, by gum, you’re going to get it! Watch
’em, Carlo!”

They heard him go stumping down-stairs and out of the house at the
back. Roy went to the window and after much grunting, managed to open
the lower sash. Chub joined him.

“We can’t get out here, that’s certain,” he said. “It’s thirty feet to
the ground if it’s an inch. Look at the old fool!”

Mr. Ewing was in plain sight in front of the barn. He had run a rickety
side-bar buggy out of the carriage shed, and now he entered the barn
again.

“He’s going to town for a constable,” mused Roy. “I wonder how far it
is.”

“He said he wouldn’t be more than an hour.”

“Then we’ve got an hour to find a way out of here.” Roy turned and
looked frowningly about the room. It was some twelve by fifteen feet
in size, with one door into the hall, and one window. The walls were
kalsomined a streaky white. The furnishings consisted of a bed and a
mattress, a yellow bureau, a chair, and a wash-stand with bowl and
pitcher and a square of rag carpet.

“If we only had some bedclothes,” muttered Roy.

“Or a ladder,” added Chub with a grin. “I guess we’re here to stay
unless–”

“What?”

“Unless Dick turns up. I don’t believe he’s gone off very far, do you?”
Roy’s reply was interrupted by the clatter of wheels and they went
back to the window in time to see Mr. Ewing rattle by in the buggy. He
looked up and grinned malevolently at the faces in the window.

Roy waved down to him airily. “Good-by, Pop!” he called.

The farmer cut the horse savagely with the whip and was out of sight
around the corner of the house.

“I don’t suppose it does any good to sass him,” said Chub, “but it
gives me a lot of satisfaction.” He went over and kicked the door and
was rewarded with a deep growl from Carlo. “Dear little doggie is still
at his post,” he said. He bent and put his mouth to the key-hole.
“Carlo,” he called softly, “dear little dogums! I’d like to wring your
blooming neck, do you hear? You do hear? Well, think about it, will
you?” He walked back to the window, whistling cheerfully. Roy, seated
on the edge of the bed, scowled.

“Don’t be an ass,” he said, grumpily.

“Why not? What’s the use of making a tragedy out of it? Let us dance,
sing, and be merry! ‘We’re here because we’re here, because we’re here,
because we’re here!’” Chub sang the words to the tune of Auld Lang Syne.

Roy smiled faintly.

“Let us play we’re Monte Cristos,” said Chub. “What was it he did
when he was shut up in the Castle of Thingamabob? Dug his way through
the wall, didn’t he? Well, let’s do the same!” Chub drew out his
pocket-knife and began to hack at the plaster.

“If you do that,” observed Roy, “they’ll give us ten days in jail
for destroying property, or vandalism, or disturbing the peace, or
something.”

“That’s so! I don’t see but they’ve got us anyway,” said Chub. “We
might as well be hung for a lamb as a–no, for a sheep as a lamb, as
the old saying goes. What’s that?” He stopped and listened. Then he
ran to the window and looked cautiously out. Below, at the edge of the
lane, stood Dick, his hands in his pockets, grinning up at the window.

“Hello, Chub!” he called. “Come on out!”

“Mother won’t let me,” answered Chub, with a grin. “Where were you
Dickums, when the storm broke?”

“In the preserves.”

“In the what?”

“Preserve closet under the stairs. I heard everything nicely. I thought
I’d die!”

“Did, did you?” asked Roy, sarcastically. “You always did have a crazy
sense of humor. What are you going to do?”

“Me? Go back to the boat and have supper, of course,” replied Dick,
with a wicked grin. “It’s a fine night, isn’t it? See the new moon?”

“Don’t be a ninny,” said Roy, impatiently. “Do something! He may be
back any moment.”

“Oh, no, he’s good for an hour; he said so. What’ll I do–shoot the dog
or burn the house down?”

“Find a ladder, you blathering idiot,” Chub laughed. “There ought to be
one at the barn.”

“There is. I looked.”

“Well, why didn’t you bring it?”

“It’s too short.”

There was silence after this for a moment. Then,

“How much too short?” asked Roy.

“About ten feet, I guess.”

“You guess! Well, go get it and let’s find out!”

“Instantly, your Majesty!” Dick went off toward the barn unhurriedly,
whistling softly.

“Isn’t he exasperating?” asked Roy.

“We’ll square up with him when we get down,” answered Chub with a grim
smile of anticipation. In two or three minutes Dick was back, dragging
the ladder after him. He placed it against the house under the window
and they viewed the result. It lacked at least ten feet of reaching the
sill.

“That’s no good,” said Chub. “Isn’t there a longer one anywhere? Have
you looked?”

“Yes, Exalted One.”

“I say, don’t be so funny! Do you think we want to be arrested for
burglary and have to spend the night in jail? Can’t you think of
anything?”

“Certainly.”

“Well, what is it? Now, don’t you crack any more funny jokes or we’ll
make you sorry when we get down.”

Dick looked up speculatingly.

“Maybe you have some such idea in your head already?” he asked. “I
believe you have. Now before I go on with this heroic rescue you’ve got
to agree, both of you, to let me laugh as much as I like. Do you agree?”

“Yes.”

“Honest Injun?”

“Honest Injun, Dickums. Go ahead, like a good fellow, and get us out of
here.”

“All right. I’ve got a piece of rope here; see?” He took it from under
his coat and held it up. “I’ll tie this to the top of the ladder and
throw it up to you. Then you haul the ladder up and make the rope fast
to something in the room. That’ll leave the ladder only about ten feet
from the ground. You can drop that distance easily.”

“Good old Dickums! You’re the right sort.”

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