AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE APPEARS

When Roy and Dick and Harry reached the store they found, to their
satisfaction, that the village inhabitants had gazed their fill and
gone. Roy and Dick amused themselves for a while in discovering clues
and evolving theories, but that amusement finally palled, and they
joined Harry at the front of the store and awaited the advent of Mrs.
Peel. With the doors open front and back it was fairly cool, although
outside the sun was baking hot. Two hours wore themselves away to the
slow ticking of the old clock, and Dick became restless.

“My!” he exclaimed, “I wish the old lady would come if she’s coming!”

“So do I,” said Roy, heartily. “And I wish I could get a drink of cold
water somewhere.”

“Why not use the watering-trough?” asked Dick. “Come on. I’m thirsty,
too. Have some, Harry?”

But Harry declined, and the boys went out and held their mouths to the
little iron pipe. And while they were drinking a two-seated carriage
turned the corner and drew up in front of the store. On the back seat
were Mrs. Peel and a tall man who, in spite of the heat, wore a long
black frock-coat buttoned tightly about his lank form.

“That’s Mrs. Peel!” whispered Roy. “Come on!”

Mrs. Peel climbed nimbly out of the carriage and entered the store,
while her companion remained to haggle with the driver over the amount
to be paid for the drive from the station. Roy and Dick entered close
behind Mrs. Peel.

“How do you do?” asked Harry, in a small voice.

“Why, bless me, my dear,” exclaimed Mrs. Peel, “I didn’t think to find
you here!” She looked about the store. “Where’s Jennie?”

“She didn’t come,” answered Harry, gaining courage, “and so we’ve
been keeping store for you. And we sold over twelve dollars’ worth of
things–”

“I want to know!” said Mrs. Peel, beamingly.

“Yes’m, but last night some one broke into the store and stole the
money and a lot of things!”

The little woman paled and glanced apprehensively about her.

“Burglars!” she whispered. “But who–”

“I guess we don’t have to look very far for ’em,” said a voice at the
doorway. Roy and Dick started and looked up. It was the man in the
black frock-coat.

“Thunder!” muttered Roy, softly. “_It’s Jim Ewing!_”

“This is my brother-in-law, Mr. Ewing,” faltered Mrs. Peel. “This
young lady is the one I was telling you about, James, and these
gentlemen–they are friends of yours, my dear?”

“Yes,” answered Harry, “we’re all together with my father and Chub–you
saw him the other day–on a house-boat.”

Roy and Dick were gazing fascinatedly at the farmer, and Mr. Ewing was
staring malevolently back at them.

“James, there’s been thieves here,” said Mrs. Peel, “and they
stole–how much did they take, Miss?”

“They took all the money in the drawer,” said Harry, “and we reckoned
up that they’d taken about nine dollars’ worth of bacon and canned
goods. They broke in the back door–”

“Up to your old tricks again, are ye?” asked Mr. Ewing, harshly. “Ain’t
content with robbing farms, eh? Have to take the bread out of the
mouths of the widows and orphans, too, do ye?”

“Why, James!” ejaculated Mrs. Peel, bewilderedly. “You don’t
understand! These aren’t the thieves! These gentlemen are–”

“Don’t need to tell me anything about ’em,” grunted the farmer. “We’ve
met before, ain’t we?”

“We have,” replied Roy, dryly.

“Didn’t think you’d dare deny it,” was the triumphant response. “Well,
I guess we’ve met once too frequent for your good, you young rascals! I
guess–”

“Why, what do you mean, James?” cried Mrs. Peel, nervously.

“Mean? Mean that these folks is a parcel of thieves, that’s what
I mean, Amanda! Travel around country, they do, in some sort of a
floatin’ robbers’ den. They broke into my house early in the spring
and stole more’n thirty dollars worth of silverware. And then here a
while ago, when Millie was up visiting you, they come around again, and
I found ’em at their tricks and pretty nigh got ’em. But this time I’ll
wager they’ll get what they deserve. You go out, Amanda, and send some
one for the constable.”

But Mrs. Peel was beyond running errands. She subsided into a chair and
fanned herself with her bonnet, looking dazed and frightened.

“You said they was friends of yours,” she whispered weakly to Harry.

“They are,” replied Harry, stoutly and indignantly, “and this gentleman
is quite mistaken. The store was robbed last night, while we were all
asleep on the boat or in the tent.”

“Of course, of course,” chuckled the farmer. “You didn’t know anything
about it, young lady; I don’t say _you_ did. But I guess these fellers
here can pretty nigh put their hands on the things if they want to.
Where’s the other chap?” he demanded of Roy.

“He’s–he’s fishing,” answered Roy.





“Fishin’, eh? Carried a bag along with him, didn’t he? To bring
the fish home in, eh? Yes, he’s fishin’, I’ll be bound–fishin’ in
hen-coops, likely! Got a room where we can lock ’em in, Amanda, till
the constable comes?”

“Why, James, I–I–don’t know what to think! I’m sure these young
gentlemen wouldn’t do such a thing! And–and even if there is a few
things missing,” she continued, nervously, “I–I wouldn’t want to make
any trouble, James.”

“You don’t need to,” he replied, grimly. “I’ll make the trouble. Now
you get up and march into the house, right through that side door
there.” This to Roy and Dick.

“Look here, Mr. Ewing,” said Roy, calmly, “you’ve made a fool of
yourself once before, and it’s time to quit. We weren’t robbing your
house that other time, and we don’t know any more about this affair
than we’ve told you. And if you think we’re going to let you lock us up
in a stuffy old room just so you can make a goose of yourself, you’re
mightily mistaken. Come on, Harry, and leave this crazy man to himself.”

“No, you don’t!” cried the farmer. “You stay where you are! I’m going
to have the law on you, I say! Don’t you defy the law now! Don’t you
do it! If you do it’ll go hard with you, I tell you that! I’ve warned
ye!”

“James,” gasped Mrs. Peel, “don’t be violent! Just–just let’s hear
what they have to say. You tell me, my dear, all about it.”

“Then he mustn’t call Roy and Dick thieves,” answered Harry, angrily.
“He’s a horrid old man, whoever he is.”

“Tell Mrs. Peel all about it, Harry,” said Roy, in a bored tone. “See
if you can make her understand.”

“Well,” said Harry, pausing a moment to collect her thoughts, “it was
like this.” And she told the story of the burglary from the time of
Mrs. Peel’s departure to the station to her return. Mr. Ewing sniffed
and snorted at intervals, and Dick looked several times as though he
was having hard work to refrain from pitching into him, but Mrs. Peel
listened attentively to every word, and when the narrative was finished
turned in triumph to her brother-in-law.

“There, James,” she said. “I told you you were mistaken. And these
young gentlemen have put the money back in the drawer–which I’m sure
they aren’t beholden to do–and it’s there now.”

[Illustration: “You stay where you are!”]

“A check!” scoffed the farmer. “I reckon I wouldn’t count too much on
any piece of paper they give you.” But it was to be seen, nevertheless,
that Mr. Ewing was somewhat shaken in mind, for it would have been very
difficult for any one to have disbelieved Harry’s story.

“Oh, if that’s all that’s troubling you,” said Roy, “we’ll give you the
cash instead.”

“And how about the other things you stole?”

“We didn’t steal them. And I guess you’ll have to look for them
yourself,” said Roy, wearily.

“And how about my silverware?”

“Oh, bother your silverware!” exploded Dick. “I don’t believe you ever
owned any! Anyhow, I’m sick of hearing about it. Come on, Roy, let’s
mosey along.”

But the farmer strode to the door, closed it, turned the key in the
lock, and dropped the key into his pocket.

“You’ll stay where you are a bit longer,” he snarled. “I ain’t decided
yet what to do with you.” Then, before either Roy or Dick remembered
the back door, he had headed them off in that direction as well, and,
with both keys in his pocket, was master of the situation.

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