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- The Motor Boys on the Pacific - 2/31 -
She owned some land in Florida; but did not consider it of any value. It developed that it adjoined Mr. Seabury's hotel property and, as he wished it to enlarge his building, he purchased the lot for a goodly sum.
The three boys, after the return of the Dartaway and Wanderer from the strange waters, had stopped for a week at Mr. Seabury's hotel, before journeying north.
"I'd like to see them again," said Bob, after a pause, during which the boys turned into the street leading to the depot.
"Who?" asked Ned.
"The Seabury family."
"Mr. Seabury-- or-- er-- the girls?" asked Jerry.
"All of 'em," replied Bob quickly.
"I had a letter the other day," remarked Jerry quietly.
"You did!" exclaimed Ned.
"From them?" asked Bob eagerly.
"Well, it wasn't exactly a family letter," answered Jerry, with just the suspicion of a blush. "It was from Nellie, and she said she, her sisters and father were going to lower California."
"To California?" exclaimed Bob and Ned.
"Yes; for Mr. Seabury's health. You know they said they expected to when we parted from them. The climate of Florida did not do him any good, and they are going to try what California will do. She asked us to call and see them, if we were ever in that neighborhood."
"I guess our chances of going to California are pretty slim," remarked Bob. "Our motor boat's gone now, and we can't make any more cruises."
"I don't see what that's got to do with it," declared Ned. "We couldn't very well cross the continent in her, even if we had the Dartaway, and she was rather too small to make the trip by water, even if the Panama Canal was finished."
"Oh, well, you know what I mean," retorted Bob, who did not exactly know himself. "We can't go anywhere right away. School opens soon, and it's buckle down and study all winter I suppose. But--"
Bob's remarks were interrupted by the arrival of the Boston Express, which rumbled into the Cresville station, where the boys now were and, after a momentary stop, steamed on again. A man leaped from the steps of a parlor car and ran into the freight office, first, however, looking up and down the length of the train to see if any other passengers got off.
"He seems in a hurry," observed Ned.
"Yes, and he must have some pull with the railroad, for the Boston Express never stops here," said Jerry. "Maybe he's the president of the road."
The boys kept on to the freight office. When they reached it they found the stranger in conversation with Mr. Hitter, the agent. The chums could not help overhearing the talk.
"Have you several packages here, addressed to X. Y. Z., to he held until called for?" the stranger asked.
"There they be," replied the agent, pointing to several small boxes, piled near the door.
"That's good," and the man seemed much relieved. "Now I want them shipped by fast freight to San Francisco, and I want to prepay them so there will be no delay. How much is it?" and he pulled out a pocketbook, disclosing a roll of bills. As he did so he hurried to the door and looked up and down the depot platform, as if afraid of being observed. He saw the three boys, and, for a moment, seemed as if he was about to hurry away. Then, with an obvious effort, he remained, but turned into the freight office and shut the door.
"He acts as if he was afraid we would steal something from him," said Bob.
"Or as if he didn't want us to hear any more about those boxes," supplemented Jerry. "He's a queer customer, he is."
"Well, it's none of our affair," remarked Ned, but neither he nor his chums realized how, a little later, they were to take part in an adventure in which the mysterious man and the queer boxes were to figure importantly.
In a short time the man came out of the freight office. He did not look at the boys, but hurried off down the street, putting some papers into his pocket book, which, the boys could not help noticing as he passed them, was not so full of money as it had been.
"Let's go in and ask Mr. Hitter what to do about our boat," suggested Ned.
They found the agent counting over a roll of bills.
"Been robbing a bank?" asked Bob cheerfully. "Guess I'd better tell dad to look out for his money."
"That was paid by the man who was just in in here," replied the agent. "Queer chap. Seemed as if he didn't want to be found out. First he was going to ship his stuff by fast freight, and then he concluded it would be better by express, though it cost a lot more. But he had plenty of money."
"Who was he?" asked Jerry.
"That's another funny part of it. He didn't tell me his name, though I hinted I'd have to have it to give him a receipt. He said to make it out X. Y. Z., and I done it. That's the way them boxes come, several days ago, from Boston. They arrived by express, consigned to X. Y. Z., and was to be called for. I thought of everybody in town, but there ain't nobody with them initials. I was just wondering what to do with 'em when in be comes an' claims 'em."
"What's in em?" asked Jerry.
"Blessed if I know," responded Mr. Hitter. "I couldn't git that out of him, either, though I hinted that I ought to know if it was dynamite, or anything dangerous."
"What did he say?" inquired Ned.
"He said it wasn't dynamite, but that's all he would say, an' I didn't have no right to open 'em. He paid me the expressage, and seemed quite anxious to know just when I could ship the boxes, and when they'd arrive in San Francisco. I could tell him the first, but not the last, for there's no tellin' what delays there'll be on the road.
"He was a queer man-- a very queer man. I couldn't make him out. An' he went off in a hurry, as if he was afraid some one would see him. An' he shut the door, jest as if you boys would bother him,-- Well, it takes all sorts of people to make a world. I don't s'pose you or I will ever meet him again."
Mr. Hitter was not destined to, but the boys had not seen the last of the strangely acting man, who soon afterward played a strange part in their lives.
"What you chaps after, anyhow?" went on the freight agent, when he had put the money in the safe.
"Our motor boat's smashed!" exclaimed Bob. "We want damages for her! How are we going to get 'em?"
"Not guilty, boys!" exclaimed the agent holding up his hands, as if he thought wild-west robbers were confronting him. "You can search me. Nary a boat have I got, an' you can turn my pockets inside out!" and he turned slowly around, like an exhibition figure in a store show window.
A DESPERATE RACE
"WELL," remarked Mr. Hitter, after a pause, during which the boys, rather surprised at his conduct, stood staring at him, "well, why don't you look in my hip pocket. Maybe I've got a boat concealed there."
"I didn't mean to go at you with such a rush," apologized Jerry. "But you see--"
"That's all right," interrupted the freight agent. "Can I put my hands down now? The blood's all runnin' out of 'em, an' they feel as if they was goin' to sleep. That'll never do, as I've got a lot of way-bills to make out," and he lowered his arms.
"Do you know anything about this?" asked Jerry, handing Mr. Hitter the telegram.
"What's that? The Dartaway smashed!" the agent exclaimed, reading the message. "Come now, that's too bad! How did it happen?"
The boys explained how they had shipped the craft north.
"Of course the accident didn't happen on the line of railroad I am agent for," said Mr. Hitter, after reading the telegram again. "If it had, we'd be responsible."
"What can we do?" asked Bob. "We want to get damages."
"An' I guess you're entitled to 'em," replied the agent. "Come on inside, and I'll tell you what to do. You'll have to make a claim, submit affidavits, go before a notary public and a whole lot of rig-ma-role, but I guess, in the end you'll get damages. They can't blame you because the boat was smashed. It's too bad! I feel like I'd lost an old friend."
Mr. Hitter had had several rides in the Dartaway for he had done the boys many favors and they wished to return them, so he was given a chance to get intimately acquainted with the speedy craft.
Taking the boys into his office, Mr. Hitter instructed them how to
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