Harper's Round Table, June 30, 1896
Copyright, 1896, by Harper & Brothers. All Rights Reserved.
|published weekly.||NEW YORK, TUESDAY, JUNE 30, 1896.||five cents a copy.|
|vol. xvii.—no. 870.||two dollars a year.|
INQUISITIVE BILLY AND HIS COUSIN GIBB.
BY RICHARD BARRY.
The only way to prove whether this story is true or not is to find theProfessor (who could tell you all about it) and the Quartermaster (whoclaims to have been an eyewitness), and ask them; or to believe the talethat Billy Schreiber, Jun., and his cousin, Gibson Peters, II., tell,without any proof at all. But the two young gentlemen say they reallyand truly had this adventure, and that it honestly happened on theFourth of July.
The Professor had rented the old Hope farm because it was the loneliestplace on Long Island; and although he had lots of business on hand, forsome reason he did not wish to be caught working at it. Perhaps he wasbashful, and did not wish anybody to see him in his shirt sleeves. Atall events, he took great precautions.
Now the way that Billy Schreiber and Gibb Peters found out that the Hopefarm (it had been deserted for years) was rented was this: They wentover there one day, and saw from Trotters Hill that the Hope barn hadbeen reshingled, that the house was evidently occupied, and some menwere at work building a road through the apple orchard. It was quitehalf a mile away, but they could make all this out very plainly.
"What's going on?" said Gibb to Bill.
"Something on the Q. T.," was the answer, "or father would have knownabout it, you can be sure of that!"
Mr. Schreiber senior was the station agent at the only railroad thatcame to that part of the country, and he knew the why and wherefore ofevery parcel that came into the village of Centreport. The boys lookedoff to the right, and saw piles of new lumber and boxes stored near the[Pg 838]barn-yard, and crawling along the lower road a heavy-laden team thatkicked up no small amount of dust.
"Those things never came by rail," said Gibb.
"Perhaps they brought them in from the south shore by boat," answeredBilly, wisely. "'Tain't more 'an fifteen miles."
"Well, the easiest way to settle it," said Billy, "is to go in and askthem what they're doing."
"Don't think they'd object, do you?" suggested Gibb.
"Of course not," Billy answered. "Let's walk right up the main road."
But they were forced by circumstances to abandon this straightforward,fair, and aboveboard way of doing things. They had hardly turned thebend in the road at the bottom of the hill when there, in front of them,stretched a heavy barbed-wire fence, with the strands so close togetherthat no one could possibly get through it or under it. Even climbinglooked risky, and on the top of a post was the following legend, in veryblack letters:
"Trespassing Forbidden. Beware! No one Allowed on this Property on anyPretence Whatever. No Admittance."
"That kind of stops us," observed Billy to Gibb. "Say! what do yousuppose is going on in there, anyhow?"
"Counterfeiters!" exclaimed Gibb; "that's what they are. I've read aboutthem hiring lonely houses."
"It may be," returned his cousin. "But I've got an idea."
Now Billy Schreiber was the smartest boy in the Northport, Eastport,Westport, and Centreport schools. He read all the newspapers that hecould lay his hands on, and, moreover, had the good fortune, of course,to be the son of his father—who had asked so many questions in his lifethat he could not help having imbibed a vast store of knowledge—andBilly had inherited some of his father's traits.
"Yes, I've got an idea," he repeated. "They're fitting out a Cubanexpedition."
Why they should be fitting out a Cuban expedition twenty miles from thecoast it might be hard to tell, but it sounded nice and adventurous. Itwas full of possibilities, and the idea struck Gibb at once as beingalmost worthy of "Old Sleuth, the Guessing Detective," of whose wondrousdiscernment he had read in a dime novel.
"Let's make believe we are spies," said Gibb, "and find out. Don't let'stell them in the village anything about it."
"All right," answered Billy. "Then get down on your hands and knees andcrawl through the bushes."
No sooner said than done, and the boys crept into the thicket ofscrub-oak. But the heavy fencing ran completely around the old Hopefarm, and they could get no nearer to the house than when they had firstsighted it, the distance of fully a quarter of a mile and more. Theycould see, however, that there were five or six men employed about thebuildings, that three or four large wagons were drawn off to one side,and that an object that looked like a steam threshing-machine, and yet alittle like a fire-engine, was under a sheltering tent made of canvas.
"I'll wager father could tell what that is," said Billy, pointing.
"But don't you tell him anything," said Gibb, "or you'll have half thevillage up here pokin' round. My father says your father is a knowin'feller, but he talks too much. I tell you what let's do, let's keep thisthing secret."
Now Billy and Gibb had had secrets very often during the course of theiracquaintance, but they had never succeeded in keeping them any length oftime. But on this occasion they determined to make a compact, sacred andawful, and not to be betrayed, no matter what happened. So that night,after every one else had gone to bed, they drew up a fearful paper inred ink, with skulls and cross-bones, and added the pictures of aneagle, a locomotive, and an American flag as extra decorations.
As it rained all of the next day, they staid in the house, drawing upthe plans of campaign, and were near to betraying themselves upon morethan one occasion. Gibb proposed to let his uncle into the secret, undera bond of strict adherency to silence, but Billy, maybe because it is awise child that knows its own father, refused to second the motion, andthe conspirators remained two in number.
Everything was arranged for an early start on Saturday morning, in orderto make it a day of reconnoitring. But, alas! Billy, who had beenailing, broke out with the measles. This was distressing enough; but asthe elder cousin generally led in most things, Gibb felt it incumbentupon himself to follow suit, and three days later he wanted to wagerthat he was "rasher than Billy, anyhow."
This unforeseen postponement rather reduced the intensity of theircuriosity; but when they were convalescing, after three weeks' closeconfinement, it was decided they must hasten, as rumors of the goings onat Hope farm had already reached the village, and Mr. Schreiber hadexpressed his intention of harnessing up and driving out that way sometime in the near future.
"Our scheme's a goner if he gets there before we do," said William, uponhearing this—and at last a day came when they got away.
They were a little weak in the knees, and the six-mile tramp down thedusty road wore upon them. But at last they arrived at the barbed-wirefence that blocked the old driveway to the farm. Apparently there wasnothing unusual going on, although a huge door had been cut in the frontof the hay-barn, and through the roof of one of the smaller buildings atall iron pipe extended, from which white feathery steam was spurtingregularly, showing that machinery was at work within.
Through the orchard ran a long board walk, or so it appeared to theboys, at least. They skirted through the underbrush, seeking a placewhere a brook entered the Hope property, knowing that there they couldfind out something by closer observation. As they crossed a little path,a man stepped from behind a tree directly in front of them. So intenthad been the boys on the idea that they were Spanish spies, that theyhad been communicating with one another in most unintelligiblegibberish, and their first idea was that they must have betrayedthemselves. But the man, who was dressed in a very citified fashion,appeared to be rather glad to see them.
"Halloa, boys!" he said. "Do you live here?"
They shook their heads.
"Well, do you know Professor Woerts?"
"Naw," said Gibb. "Who is he?"
The young man did not reply. "What's going on in there?" he asked. "Eh?Go on, tell us."
But Billy had learned something by this time in the question-askingline. "Who are you?" he put in.
"I'm a reporter for the Evening Detector, and have come here to findout what Professor Woerts is doing. Of course I know something about it,but he won't let any reporters on the premises."
It was evident that the Professor had adopted no half-way measures tokeep curious persons away, for a man on horseback, with a shot-gunacross his saddle, rode around a corner of the woods inside the fencejust at this moment. The boys were for running at once, but the youngman in the stiff Derby hat hallooed out: "Heigh there, mister! I want totalk to you."
The man on horseback rode closer.
"What's the matter with you fellows, anyhow?" began the reporter."Woerts ought to know that I'm going to write a story about this,whether I get in or not. Say! I'll give you five dollars to changeclothes with me and let me ride up to that stable—I won't steal thehorse or the house, either."
"It's agin' orders to let anybody inside here," answered the sentry,with a drawl—"until the day," he added.
"Well, look here," went on the reporter, "tell me something. Has she hada run yet?"
"I won't tell you nothing," the man replied, "and there's nobody ye cansee. Me and the Professor's the only folks on the premises. So go onaway."
"You're a polite gentleman; I like you," said the reporter, kissing hishand. "Say! I'm going back and write up a story about you all beingcrazy. The whole thing's a fake; that's my opinion."
At this the man on the horse woke up. "Fake, eh?" he said. "All youfellows will be let in at the right time. No, sir, it's a success. Youshould have seen last night—"
"Should've seen what?" asked the reporter, putting his hand in hispocket for his note-book.
"Nothing," the man answered. "Keep the other side of the fence!" Hetouched his horse with the whip and rode away.
Evidently the reporter was chagrined at his lack of success, for heinquired the direction of the nearest port and the time of the trains.
Schreiber, who was a walking time-table, gave him the necessaryinformation, and he strode off. The boys, however, continued their wayuntil they came to the brook. Sure enough, they could get under the wirefence easily if they wished to try it.
But as they were feeling hungry, they determined to postpone furtherinvestigations until later. Well, a week went by, and at last the nightthey had settled upon arrived. It was bright moonlight, and the day hadbeen a very busy and a noisy one. For, as it happened long ago, thesigners of a certain important paper connected with our national historyhad settled on this day to "proclaim liberty throughout the land." Itwas "the Glorious Fourth!" Billy and Gibb had fired fire-crackers untilthere weren't any left; had gone in swimming four times, which werethree too many; and had told their families that they were going over toWestport in the evening to see the "celebrashun," which was not exactlythe truth. But the Hope farm was in Westport, if in any place, andperhaps the result of their visit might be termed a celebration.
It was nearly midnight when they reached the brook, and splashed down ituntil they came to the wire fence. They ducked under the lower strand,and, soaking wet, they scrambled up the bank on the other side.
"Say! ain't this excitin'?" whispered Gibb,