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   Chapter 17 FLIGHT

The Adventure Club Afloat By Ralph Henry Barbour Characters: 11849

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

"Wink!" he cried. "Ossie! Come quick! Help here!"

The robber, having uttered a stifled cry of alarm at the instant of the unexpected attack, was now thrashing mightily about on the thick rug.

"Help!" he shouted. "Who are you? Let me go!"

"S-sh!" commanded Perry sternly, as the others plunged to his aid, overturning a chair on the way. "Be quiet! Sit on his legs, Ossie!" Perry was astride the man's chest, holding his arms to the floor. "Punch him if he makes a noise, Wink!" Perry, breathing hard, surveyed his captive in triumph. "Now then," he asked, "what have you got to say for yourself? What were you doing at that safe?"

The man glared in silence for an instant. To Wink it seemed that the emotion exhibited on the robber's countenance was amazement rather than fear.

"Come on," urged Perry. "What's the game?"

"Game!" choked the man, finding his voice at last. "Game? You-you young ruffians! You-"

"Cut that out, or I'll hand you something," growled Wink. "Answer politely."

"Let me up!"

"Nothing doing!" answered Perry. "Come across. What's your name and where do you come from? As you didn't get anything out of there, maybe we'll be easy with you if you talk quick."

"Let me suggest, if I may," said the man in a strangely quiet and restrained tone, "that you get off my stomach. This conversation can just as well be conducted under more comfortable conditions."

Perry blinked and Wink viewed the captive doubtfully.

"Promise not to try to run?" demanded Perry.

"I have no intention of running, thanks." The robber carefully dusted his clothes as he arose and then felt anxiously of a bruised elbow. "Now, if you will inform me what this-this murderous assault means I shall be greatly obliged to you."

"Suppose you tell us what you were doing at that safe?" said Perry sternly.

"Is that any of your business?" asked the other. It was evident that he was losing his temper again, and Wink drew a step nearer. "I presume I have a perfect right to open my own safe! What I wish to know-"

"Your own safe!" gasped Perry. "Oh, come now, you needn't try to tell us that you-you live here. You're a cracksman, my friend, that's what you are-"

Ossie tugged at Perry's sleeve, but Perry failed to notice it.

"One look at that face of yours is enough, old top," continued Perry. "It's got crook written all over it!"

"It has, has it?" gasped the man. "Let me tell you that my name is Drummond, sir, and that this is my house, and that is my safe, and-and if you'll mind your own business-"

"What!" asked Perry weakly. "You mean that you-that this-you mean that-"

"I mean," interrupted the man angrily, "that I was about to deposit some money in that safe, some money I'd been carrying around in my pocket all the evening and feared I might lose, when you-you young thugs set on me and knocked me down! Knocked me down right in my own house, on my own hearth-rug! Why, you-you-"

Mr. Drummond's wrath got the better of his speech and he only sputtered, waving an accusing finger at the retreating Perry. Wink was already glancing about for a means of escape and Ossie was frankly deserting.

"I-I didn't know!" gasped Perry. "I-we saw you come in-and you looked like-like a-"

"You've said that already!" said the man, "Never mind my criminal looks, young man!"

"No, sir, we don't-I mean I was mistaken, sir! But, you see, it looked so-so queer, you coming in like that-"

"Queer! What was queer about it!" demanded Mr. Drummond irascibly, "No one but a parcel of young idiots would think it queer!" He took an envelope from his pocket, tossed it into the safe, closed door and panel and faced them again. "Who are you, anyway? I don't remember you."

"Er-my name-my name-" stammered Perry, "my name-"

"Well, well! Don't you know your name? Who invited you here?"

"Yes, sir, oh, yes, sir! It's Bush. We-you see, we were on the porch there, and we wanted to get back to the-the front of the house-"

"Who invited you here, tonight? Who-" The host's expression changed from indignation to suspicion. "Huh!" he ejaculated. "Robber, eh! Well, what were you doing in this room? Seems to me-hm! We'll look into this, I think!" He stepped back and touched a button in the wall. "We'll have this explained! We'll see who the robber is! We-"

"Good night!" Perry spurned the table against which he was leaning, hurdled a chair and plunged down the room. Ossie was at his heels and Wink was a good third. They fled at top speed and from behind them came the irate commands of their host:

"Stop! Come back! Stop, I say!"

But they didn't stop. They only ran faster. Wink beat Ossie to the first window easily and passed out even with Perry. And as they landed on the stone flagging outside they heard Mr. Drummond excitedly directing the pursuit.

"Quick, Wilkins! Get them! They tried to rob the house!" Mr. Drummond's voice pursued them along the verandah. "Help! Robbers! Head them off!"

The boys took the stone steps in two bounds, crashed at the bottom into a hedge, went tearing through and emerged beyond in a service yard, dimly lighted by one struggling electric bulb over a back doorway. It was Ossie who fell into the clothes basket and Wink who collided with the clothes reel and sent it spinning wildly and creakingly around in the darkness. Perry fortunately avoided all pitfalls and was leading by six yards when he reached the top of another flight of steps and saw the marquee and the dancing platform and the gay lights at his right. To make their way in that direction would be sheer folly, while in front of them lay a tangle of shrubbery and trees. Into this they hurtled, as from behind them came cries of "Stop, thief!" and the crunching of many footsteps.

Off went Wink's hat as he fled after the scurrying Perry. Ossie went down in a tangle of briars and prickly things with a grunt, rolled somehow clear an

d was off again. "This way!" shouted a voice. "I seen 'em! They went in here! Come on, men!"

Perry was running alongside a wall now, as he hoped, in the general direction of the street. Behind him came Wink and Ossie, crashing through shrubbery with a desperate disregard for noise. Then suddenly, the wall turned abruptly to the right. Perry stopped short, looked and decided.

"We've got to get over!" he gasped, as Wink ran blindly into him. "Give me a leg-up!"

Wink leaned weakly against the wall and Perry set a foot on his cupped hands and was just able to reach the top of the wall. But that was enough. Up he climbed. Then up came Ossie, and together, while the pursuit drew instantly closer, they pulled Wink to safety. For a brief moment they sat there and caught their breath while wondering what lay below them in the gloom of the further side. But there was scant time for conjectures, for the pursuit was in sight. Three bodies launched themselves into space, there was a frightful, devastating sound of breaking glass and the boys disengaged themselves from a cold-frame and sped on again into the darkness.

A house loomed suddenly before them, a house with lights and folks about the porch and a panting automobile curving its way down a drive. They turned to the right and kept along a lawn in the shadows of the trees. The automobile passed them with a purr and a sweeping flare of white light. Then Perry was after it and in another moment they were all three huddled somehow on the gas-tank at the rear and going with increasing speed out of the grounds and along a road. For a few minutes they hung there, breathing hard, and then Wink gasped:

"We've got to get off, Perry! It's going the wrong way!"

"If we do, we'll get killed," answered Perry. "Wait till it slows up."

They waited, but it seemed that it never would slow up. It went faster and faster. It passed houses and stores and a church. It went like the wind. Ossie groaned as they left the village behind.

"I can't stay on much longer, fellows!" he said hopelessly. "I'm clinging by my t-t-teeth!"

"You've got to!" answered Perry above the noise of the exhaust. "You'll break something if you don't! Wait till it slows up!"

Toot! Toot! To-o-oot! said the horn. And then, so suddenly that Perry's head collided with something particularly hard, the brakes squeaked harshly, the car slewed into an avenue and the boys, making the most of the opportunity, fell off. Ossie rolled a full half-dozen yards before his progress was stayed by a tree, and Wink, or so Perry declared afterwards, described a beautiful and quite perfect circle. Bruised, breathless and dizzy, they got to their feet and staggered to the side of the road and subsided on the turf.

After a long minute Ossie said feebly: "Where-do you-suppose-we are?"

"About ten miles-in the country," answered Wink.

There was silence then, silence long and profound. At last they climbed to their feet and, without speaking, walked off in the darkness in the direction from which they had come. Perhaps ten minutes later there came the first sound to break the silence. It was a choking sort of gurgle from Wink.

"What's the matter with you?" inquired Perry listlessly.

"I was just-just thinking," replied Wink. "It was so-so-" But words failed him and he began to laugh. After a dubious instant Perry chuckled, and then Ossie, and presently they were clinging to each other convulsively in the middle of the unknown road and sending shrieks of laughter up to the starlit sky.

Over an hour later they reached the landing. Both tenders were gone. The Follow Me was dark, but a faint light still burned aboard the Adventurer. Perry cupped his hands and sent a hail across the water. A sleepy response was followed by the sound of someone tumbling into the dingey and then by the measured creak of oars. Han was grumbling as he drew to the float.

"A fine time to be coming back," he said. "Where the dickens did you fellows get to, anyway? We looked all around the shop for you. Did you get any grub?"

"N-no," answered Perry, as he sank wearily into a seat. "We got tired of sticking around there and-and went for a ride."

"A ride? Where to?"

"Oh, just around a bit. Out in the country a ways. Was-was the grub any good?"

"Was it!" Han grew quite animated. "It was the best ever! They had about a dozen kinds of salad, and cold meats all over the place, and sandwiches and cakes and ice-cream and ices and coffee and-"

"Oh, shut up!" begged Ossie almost tearfully.

"It was bully! Were you there when we chased the burglars?"

"When you-what?" asked Wink.

"Chased the burglars, I said. Mr. Drummer, or something-I never did get the name of the folks-found three of them trying to break into his safe, and they knocked him down and half-killed him, and the servants chased them, and then everyone took a hand! It was fine and exciting, I tell you! Had you gone off before that?"

"Why-er-seems to me we did hear something," said Perry. "When-when was this?"

"Oh, about a quarter to ten, I suppose. We were dancing-"

"You were dancing?" ejaculated Wink.

"Sure! All of us danced. Didn't you?"

"Who with, for the love of Mike?"

"Oh, lots of girls. Mrs. Thingamabob happened to find Joe standing around and made him tell her his name, and then she took him off and introduced him to some girls, and then he introduced the rest of us. It was a peachy floor. Some of the girls were all right, too."

"You seem to have got on fairly well," said Wink, "considering you weren't invited."

"We were invited just as much as you were," responded Han indignantly.

"Maybe, son, maybe," answered Wink, as he climbed aboard the darkened Follow Me, "but I'll bet they weren't half as sorry to see you go as they were to see us!"

With which cryptic remark Wink stumbled into the cockpit and disappeared.

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