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CHAPTER XII THE SIGNAL.
 “What in the name of common sense did you want to tell them we were going after Sicum for?”  
It was still early when they returned to their cabin after breakfast and Jack1 asked the question as soon as he had closed the door behind him.
 
“I had a reason and I’ll tell you about it while we’re on the way. We must get a couple hours’ sleep now,” Bob replied as he threw himself on the bed and was almost instantly lost to the world.
 
They had asked Jacques to call them at nine o’clock and shortly after that hour they were paddling down the lake. Bob was in the stern and, as soon as they had rounded the point just below the camp, instead of heading for the dam he turned the canoe in toward the shore.
 
“Hey, what’s the big idea?” Jack asked.
 
Bob did not reply until the bow of the canoe scraped on the sand, then he said:
 
“You wanted to know why I told the folks where we were going?”
 
“Sure I do.”
 
“All right. You see, it occurred to me that now would be a good time to put into execution a plan that I’ve had in mind for some time. It is this. If they are mixed up in this thing in any way the knowledge that we’re going to bring the dog here will, I believe, cause them to make some change in their plans. Now I’m going to let you go for Sicum while I slip back and watch the camp.”
 
“But suppose they should catch you?”
 
“I’ve thought of that but they won’t.”
 
“I don’t like it,” Jack declared after a short pause. “If they’re innocent and I still believe they are, I don’t like the idea of spying on them.”
 
“I expected you would say that and I feel the same way about it, but I’ve thought it all over and I believe that the end justifies2 the means. If they are in it of course it’s no more than they deserve and if they are not what they don’t know isn’t going to hurt them.”
 
“If only they don’t find it out,” Jack mused3 doubtfully.
 
“Well, of course, if you’re opposed to it we’ll drop it.”
 
“I’m not. Since you put it that way I think it’s a good plan only, for goodness sake, be careful.”
 
“I will,” Bob promised as he stepped out of the canoe.
 
“But where will I pick you up? And suppose they should take a notion to come down to the dam or—”
 
“Or a dozen other things,” Bob interrupted. “Let’s not cross those bridges till we come to them.”
 
“I know, but—”
 
“I’ve got the pocket radios here,” Bob again interrupted as he handed one of the small cases to his brother. “So we’ll be able to keep in touch with each other all right. It’ll take you about an hour to get down to the dam and another hour from there to Kernertok’s cabin. Give you an hour there and say three to get back and you ought to be here about three o’clock. Unless something happens I’ll be here before that time waiting for you.”
 
“Unless something happens,” Jack repeated. “That’s a good one.”
 
“What do you mean, a good one?”
 
“Did you ever know of us starting out on a thing like this unless something happened? I’ll bet something’ll happen all right.”
 
“Well, we’ll both be careful and that’s the best we can do,” Bob assured him.
 
“All right, so long,” and Jack pushed off and again headed down the lake.
 
Bob stood on the shore and watched until his brother was but a speck5 on the surface of the lake, then he turned and plunged6 into the forest which at that point was very dense7. It was only a short distance back to the camp and he was soon looking for a good hiding place from which he would have a good view of the cabins and himself remain unseen. He realized that his position was a most delicate one. If their friends were innocent not for worlds would he have them know that he was spying on them but as he had told Jack, he believed that suspicion pointed8 to them with sufficient force to justify9 the espionage10.
 
At the edge of the clearing and located about fifty feet from the cabin occupied by the Sleepers12, grew an exceptionally large spruce tree with very thick branches. After making a thorough survey of the place Bob decided13 that up among the branches of that spruce would be the best place he could find. They were thick enough, he thought, to shield him from any but a most searching glance. The problem of getting up there bothered him the most, and he knew that it would be a risk but, as he had been unable to find anything else which suited half as well, he decided to take it.
 
Keeping the trunk of the tree between himself and the cabin he crept up until he crouched14 at its foot. There he paused and listened. He could hear Helen singing within the cabin, but of her parents there was no sound. After a minute had passed he leaped for the lowest branch and quickly swung himself up. Up he climbed until he was nearly two-thirds of the way to the top. Here the branches were especially thick and two, growing only a few inches apart, made a fairly comfortable seat. By pushing aside a side branch he found that he had a good view of the greater part of the camp and was sure that there was little danger of being discovered.
 
For an hour he watched before catching15 sight of a soul. Then he saw the breed come from the dining cabin and slowly approach the cabin occupied by the Sleepers. As he stepped onto the porch Mr. Sleeper11 came out from the living room and met him. The boy was undecided as to whether or not the meeting was by appointment but, as the man motioned Jacques to a seat he judged that he had been expecting him.
 
If only he could hear what they were talking about, he thought, and then as he realized that it would be eavesdropping16, he knew that, even were it possible, he would shrink from doing it.
 
“But that’s practically what I’m doing now,” he thought as he slowly let the branch drop back into its proper place.
 
For a moment he seriously considered giving over the espionage to which he was subjecting the camp, but his better judgment17 prevailed and he decided to see it through.
 
“It can’t possibly harm any of them if they’re all right,” he muttered half aloud, as he again pushed aside the branch.
 
The two men remained in earnest conversation for the better part of an hour and, although he was, of course, unable to hear a word, he could tell that Mr. Sleeper was trying argument after argument to induce Jacques to consent to something and that the latter was steadily18 refusing. Whether or not he finally succeeded he was not sure, but they shook hands warmly when Jacques rose to go and, from the smile on Mr. Sleeper’s face he judged that his arguments had not been entirely19 in vain.
 
Just then he heard a slight buzzing sound and quickly taking a small case from his pocket, he unwound a short bit of cord and placed the telephone receiver to his ear. Then, placing his lips close to the mouth piece he spoke20 in a tone hardly above a whisper.
 
“All right, Jack?”
 
“Sure it’s all right.” The words came through the air as plainly as though the speaker were by his side. “How are things there?”
 
“Nothing definite and I don’t want to talk any more than I can help. I’m too near the cottage.”
 
“Righto, I understand and you needn’t say another word. I got here all right and Kernertok and Sicum are coming back with me as soon as we get a bite. I’ve told Kernertok all about things and, although you’ll hardly believe it, he’s really excited about it. Says that if Sicum can’t trail a ghost he’s no good. Sicum seems in fine fettle and wants to be remembered to you. I’ll call you again when we get to the dam and let you know how soon to expect us. Be careful you don’t get pinched. Good bye.”
 
Bob made no reply but took the receiver from his ear and carefully replaced the case in his pocket.
 
“So far so good,” he smiled as he took another peep.
 
No one was in sight and it was nearly another hour before the Sleepers came out of the cabin and went slowly toward the dining cabin. Evidently they were going to dinner and the thought reminded the boy that he was hungry, but knowing that he would have to wait several hours before he could satisfy his hunger, he proceeded to forget about it, a task at which he was very expert.
 
Half an hour later the Sleepers returned to their cabin and, after remaining inside for only a few minutes, Mr. Sleeper and Helen came out and the former carried in his hand an object which at once made the boy sit up and take intense notice.
 
“Now what the dickins,” he muttered.
 
The object was a paper balloon about two feet tall and bright red in color. They went toward the wharf21 and a moment later disappeared behind the dining cabin.
 
“They’re going to send it up from the end of the wharf or I’m a Dutchman,” he thought.
 
The big dining-cabin hid the wharf from his view but in about ten minutes he spied the balloon floating lazily up over the lake.
 
“Now what do you know about that?” he asked himself. “It doesn’t seem possible that he’s sending up a hot-air balloon simply to amuse Helen. She’s too old for that kind of amusement, I should think. No, it must be a signal for someone.”
 
The wind took the balloon far out over the lake and he watched it until it was lost in the blue haze22.
 
“There’s something phony about them sure as guns,” he muttered as he watched for their return.
 
But it was nearly a half hour before he again saw them. Then he could see that they were talking excitedly as they hurried back to their cabin.
 
“Kind of looks as though they’d had an answer already,” he thought. “What a mess it is. There seems to be more loose ends to this thing than you can shake a stick at. But just wait till Sicum gets here. Then I’ll bet there’ll be something doing unless that signal means ‘nothing doing at present.’”
 
A few minutes later he saw the girl come out of the cabin and, to his great alarm, she came directly toward his tree. She walked slowly, her eyes on the ground as though in deep thought, but she did not pause until she was right under him. Then she sat down on the ground and leaned her back against the trunk of the tree. Bob hardly dared to breathe. Why, of all places did she have to choose that particular tree to sit u............
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