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   Chapter 25 THE FINISH OF THE VOYAGE

The Outdoor Chums on a Houseboat; Or, The Rivals of the Mississippi By Quincy Allen Characters: 9219

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"Tell them all to come in!"

A hearty voice uttered these words; and passing through a door, the three comrades of the houseboat found themselves in the presence of an elderly gentleman, who sat with a leg bound up, and resting on a chair. He had a thin face; but it was now wreathed with a genial smile, as he held out his hand to Will.

"Hello! Nephew Will Milton; glad you've arrived, safe and sound; and so these are your companions I've heard so much about, the Outdoor Chums? Well, after all, I'm beginning to believe the stories that have come to me about their prowess, and penetration; because in the first place you four boys have made this long voyage in good shape; look the picture of health; and last of all, you declined to be humbugged by any slippery case like Marcus Stackpole; eh?"

The boys looked at each other, too astonished for words; because Will had never written a single word to his uncle during the entire cruise; how then could he know anything about their unwelcome guest, who seemed determined to stick to the houseboat until it arrived in New Orleans, and whom they had only been able to get rid of through a clever ruse.

"Wonder how I knew about it; eh?" laughed the old gentleman, who had spent many years of his life in seeking sport under every sun, being a born Nimrod, as Will had long ago informed them. "Well, I'll let you into the secret, boys. I used to get a letter every little while, written on board the houseboat, which I see you aptly named the Pot Luck. And he wrote them all!"

"But," exclaimed Will, his eyes wide with surprise, "we don't understand it, Uncle Felix. You seemed so bent on not having us let that man aboard at all; and above everything warned us not to allow him to be there when we reached New Orleans; and yet you say he was writing to you all the while?"

"Why, I must have had a dozen letters about your carryings on," continued the old sportsman, still laughing at the puzzled looks on their faces; "and Marcus did you all justice, I'll wager, for he's a good hand at describing things, Marcus is. But all the same, I'm going to have you tell me everything that happened, from the time you started out. I'm deeply interested in the voyage you made; and unless I miss my guess, you're just the stripe of young heroes the accounts said."

"But, Uncle, we can't tell you anything at all until you satisfy our curiosity," declared Will, resolutely.

"I suppose that's only natural," the gentleman remarked, nodding.

"Why, just look at it yourself, Uncle," Will went on, as the spokesman for the four chums, "ever since I got your letter some months back, while still at college, we've been hammering our brains to understand just what it all meant. We had all sorts of ideas about it. One thought this Marcus Stackpole must be some bitter enemy of yours, who wanted to do you an injury."

"And see here," demanded Uncle Felix; "which one was it who was always so positive that I had some valuables secreted somewhere behind the paneled walls of the cabin, and kept on rapping and tapping every chance he got, trying to find the treasure trove?"

Jerry turned red, but he stood up manfully before the quizzical eyes of the old gentleman.

"That was I, sir," he said, boldly. "I thought it was a good guess, after reading that letter you wrote our chum, Will. But I gave that up when we learned that our passenger, Luther Snow, must be the man, Marcus Stackpole. Because I saw then how silly the thing looked. If there had been any valuables hidden, and he knew where to find them, he wouldn't have stuck to us like he did, but skipped out."

"That's correct, I guess, Jerry," commented Mr. Milton. "And now to lift the curtain and let you understand what it was all about. Just a little wager, my boys, between myself and my friend Marcus; who has been my comrade on many a hunt through African wilds."

"A wager!" faltered Bluff, weakly, looking at Frank; who smiled, as though some such idea might have flitted through his mind some time or other, to be dismissed as out of the question.

"Why, yes," continued the owner of the houseboat. "We had heard a great lot of stuff about you four boys. My sister-in-law even took the trouble to send me some clippings concerning a rescue you made of a balloonist from the waters of the Mexican Gulf. So Marcus and myself got to discussing things, and as I had that houseboat up North, I proposed that I get you four to take a long voyage down the big Mississippi during your vacation, which was near at hand."

"And that was something we'll always thank you for, U

ncle!" cried Will; "because we've surely had one of the finest times of our lives."

"Well, to go on," continued Mr. Milton, who it was evident was eager to hear an account of the entire trip from first hands; "one word led to another, I standing up for my nephew and his chums; and Marcus declaring that he'd wager a big sum he could hoodwink the whole lot of you."

"He did, and he didn't!" broke in Will, just then.

"Finally it was settled that the wager should be along these lines," Mr. Milton went on to say; "I was to write the letter I did, and which was partly dictated by Marcus himself. Then later, he was to meet you on the trip, and in some way manage to accompany you, in spite of my request that you take no passengers, and least of all the man called Marcus Stackpole. If he was aboard the boat when you came into New Orleans, with or without your knowledge, I was to lose; but if he found himself unable to get aboard, or stay there to the end after making a lodgment, Marcus was to admit that he was beaten. That's the story in a nutshell."

"Then you must have heard from him, sir," remarked Frank; "how we finally left him behind at Memphis, after penetrating his disguise?"

"Yes, he wrote me about it, and here is his letter. Let me read it to you, for it is really very short; and afterwards you're to spend hours telling me everything that happened from the hour you left St. Paul up to the time you landed here in New Orleans."

"Agreed, Uncle!" cried the delighted Will.

So Uncle Felix, with many chuckles, as though he thoroughly enjoyed the affair, especially the way it terminated, opened a crumpled sheet of paper, and read aloud:

----

"After all my boasting in previous letters how cleverly I was hoodwinking those wonderfully smart boys of yours, Felix, blessed if they didn't see my lead, and go me one better. Here I am, stranded in Memphis, with ten dollars thrust into my pocket, and a note telling me that they are on to my little game, and bidding me good-by. No use trying to deceive them again, and I own up beaten. They're a fine, manly lot of young chaps, and I've grown to love them as if they were my own boys during the time I've been watching them. Just now I must chase across to Chattanooga to settle a matter that had been suddenly thrust upon me; but if they are still with you in Orleans when I get there, it will be the greatest pleasure of my life to renew my acquaintance with Frank, Jerry, Bluff, and not forgetting your nephew Will.

"Your old campmate,

"Marcus Stackpole."

By this time all the boys wore wide grins, just as though they felt like shaking hands with each other, in congratulation over the fact that, after all their narrow escapes, they had in the end caused this friend of Uncle Felix to lose his wager.

And they were still in the strange old city of the lower Mississippi at the time Marcus Stackpole, whom they had known as Luther Snow, arrived. All of them were very glad to meet him again, for, as has been mentioned more than once, the boys realized that there had been something attractive about the passenger who came to them in such a singular way.

Many were the laughs that went around, when the story was retold; especially as Frank related how he set a little trap for Luther, to find out whether he had ever been a carpenter; because his hands looked too free from calloused spots, such as might have been expected upon the palms of one who had to earn his daily bread at carpenter work.

"That's a good one on you, Marcus," declared Uncle Felix; "the idea of you choosing that vocation on the spur of the moment, when you are the poorest joiner I ever knew. No wonder a sharp lad, like Frank here, could trip you up. But on the whole, I think you have all enjoyed your vacation immensely; and you'll go back to college more than willing to work because of the good time you've had; eh, boys?"

Upon that they were all agreed, and there was no hesitation about telling Uncle Felix so.

"Perhaps, when your next vacation comes around, we can have something else hatched up that will give you an equal amount of pleasure," the other continued, for it was evident that he had become very fond of Will and his chums during the week they had been with him.

And the reader may be sure that if fortune is so kind as to allow the Outdoor Chums further chances to enjoy an adventurous trip like those they have known in the past it will give us pleasure to write of the occasion, so that a host of friends may enjoy it with us. Until such time comes, then, we must say good-by.

THE END

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