Part 3 out of 3
"Can't help it; go to sleep and don't worry, Owen."
"But, say, hadn't we better make sure of that last pearl? It goes against
my grain to have such valuables kicking around in old coffee pots," Owen
"Shucks! then you didn't see me palm the pearl. I put a pebble in place of
it. Right now that pearl is in my coin purse, keeping company with the
rest," and Max chuckled again as he snuggled down under his blanket.
"Gee! you're a wizard, all right," said Owen, in a whisper, as he
reluctantly followed suit.
No doubt he lay awake for a long time, puzzling his head for a solution of
the mystery. But the balance of the night passed, and morning found the
boys wide awake, hungry, and ready for another day at the delightful task
they had set for themselves.
It was when breakfast was about over that Max chose to spring his little
Steve had just announced his intention of being in the party that would
follow the trail to the river that morning.
"Hope I duplicate my luck of yesterday, fellows," he was saying, with a
big sigh, when Max, leaning forward so as to catch his eye, remarked:
"By the way, Steve, do you happen to remember having any odd little
tricks as a kid--anything that'd be apt to give your mother and father
cause for anxiety _in the night_?"
Bandy-legs, who had been secretly told concerning the happenings of the
night, held his breath; Owen, too, immediately assumed an eager look, and
Toby, not knowing what it was all about, stopped eating, and listened.
"In the night--we have tricks, you say? Now, whatever in the wide world can
you mean?" asked the apparently astonished Steve.
"Well, like walking in your sleep let's say," continued Max. "Did you ever
do such a thing, Steve?"
The other grinned and looked a little foolish.
"I sure did, when I was a kid, and it's a fact, fellows," he admitted.
"But, say, I've been cured of that a long time."
"You _think_ you have, you mean?" Max persisted, while Owen and
Bandy-legs exchanged a look of intense relief, now beginning to grasp the
theory that Max was working along.
"Haven't done any stunts that way for nearly five years, give you my word,
boys!" declared Steve, looking a little worried at the same time.
"Oh! yes, you have, Steve," laughed Max. "You've fallen back into your old
bad ways again, it seems. For the last few nights you've been prowling
around our camp here, and giving me the biggest shock ever."
"You don't say?" exclaimed the other. "What did I do, Max. Tell me right
"Well, you seemed to have our precious pearls on your mind all the while."
"Good gracious! I hope now I didn't try--say? did I go anywhere near that
old haversack?" demanded Steve, plainly embarrassed.
"Every time, straight for it," replied Max.
"And took something out?" pursued Steve.
"Your one object," said Max, "seemed to be a terrible fear that some thief
might rob us. And so as to block this little game you set out to hide the
pearls in a new place."
"As where?" demanded the astounded Steve.
"Remember the second coffee pot we fetched along? Well, you hit on that as
the new hiding place"; and even as Max spoke, the other, scrambling to his
feet, hastened over to where the spare cooking utensils lay. Coming back
with the extra coffee pot he proceeded to drag out its contents.
When the papers and the little cardboard box that contained pink cotton had
all been opened, with the result that only the pebble and the few less
valuable pearls were found, Steve stared in dismay.
"Oh! they're all gone!" he cried, hoarsely. "I've lost the whole bunch,
just because I kept thinking about them so much, and worrying about their
being stolen. Whatever will we do, Max?"
"We don't have to do anything," replied the other, with a laugh, as he drew
out his coin purse; "because I've got every one of the little beauties safe
"Even the one that was lost first of all," spoke up Bandy-legs, as though
proud to show that he had been in the secret right along.
Steve's hand trembled when Max emptied the little white objects into his
palm. And perhaps there were tears in his eyes, even as there was certainly
a suspicious quiver to his voice as he went on to say:
"That's a low-down trick of mine, boys, and this time it came mighty near
blocking all our fine plans by losing the pearls that are going to get us
the money we need. Don't ever leave anything valuable lying around while
I'm in camp. It works on my mind, I guess. Ugh! ain't I glad you saw me do
it? How tough we'd feel if none of us could give a guess where the blessed
little things had gone. Here, put 'em away again, Max. It sure ain't safe
for a feller with my failing to be handling such pretty things."
Max, of course, did put them away securely. But his heart as well as those
of Owen and Bandy-legs felt much lighter.
Now that suspicion had given way to a knowledge of Steve's sleep-walking
weakness, they could look out in the future, and guard against such a
And all of them were happy in the conviction that their comrade's fair name
had been entirely cleared, for Steve would have been sorely missed had he
been dropped from the list of members in the club.
Although those who went out returned with a fair bag, no reward followed
the opening of the bivalves.
"P'r'aps we've cleaned up the old river, and there ain't another pearl to
be found," suggested Bandy-legs.
The others were loth to accept this view of the case; and for several days
they searched industriously for the now elusive fresh-water clams.
"Guess we'll have to call it off," remarked Max, when on the third day the
hunters came back with a scant dozen mussels, none of which yielded a
"But seems to me we've got all we need, and several times over," Owen
"All in favor of returning to Carson to-morrow hold up a hand," suggested
He saw four hands instantly raised.
"That makes it unanimous," he laughed; "and I guess I can see what ails you
all. It's how much are we going to get for our catch; and will the money
buy the five motorcycles we're aiming to get."
"Likewise supply us with a fund to purchase grub while on our trip,"
"Hear! hear!" sang out Toby, who always agreed with his rival whenever the
question of eating arose.
"I've an idea we don't need to worry about that," declared Owen,
"What about Jim and his daddy?" asked Steve.
"We'll have to make a stretcher, and carry the man down to our boats,"
"His leg is knitting bang-up," asserted Owen, as he cast a proud look
toward his cousin and chum.
"Well, let's get busy here, so we can leave early in the morning," Max
remarked, hastily, for he was modest, and did not like praise.
They set to work with a vim, and the packing was speedily accomplished.
Then in the morning all the stuff connected with the camp was carried down
to the river and carefully loaded in the two boats, which, of course, were
found safely just where they had been left.
After that, Tom Archer was carried on a rude litter, and made comfortable
in one of the boats.
It was about the middle of the afternoon when the little expedition reached
One of the Ted Shafter gang saw them come in and managed to get word to his
leader, as well as Shack Beggs. The three gaped to see a lame man carried
to a wagon, and asked many questions; but had to restrain their curiosity
until the story became known through the community.
When it was learned that the mussels along the Big Sunflower had yielded up
a number of fine pearls, said to be quite valuable, everybody in town, and
not a few eager men in the bargain, set to work searching the adjacent
But, apparently, Max and his chums must have about exhausted the mine of
good luck, for when every mussel within twenty miles of Carson had been
caught, the result was so meagre that the searchers gave up the new
"get-rich-quick" game in disgust.
True to their promise the boys saw the editor of the weekly paper, and just
as soon as he was able to limp, with the aid of a crutch, to the print
shop, Tom Archer began work at the case.
He vowed he would try and curb his roving spirit so that little Jim might
have a chance to get some schooling in the Fall.
And both Jim and his father declared they owed more than words could
express to Max, who had brought light when the darkness was greatest.
What about the pearls?
Well, two of them were taken into the city and pronounced as fine as any
discovered through the famous fresh-water pearl industries located along
the rivers of Indiana and other States.
When Max told the amount that was deposited in bank to their credit, his
four chums were fairly wild with delight.
"Let's send off right away for our motorcycles and get started on our
trip!" cried Steve, impatiently.
"And be sure to get mine with a short tread, because, you know, I haven't
got the reach the rest have," observed Bandy-legs, cautiously.
In due time the five motorcycles were ordered, and then a period of anxious
What wonderful plans these five chums had in view when the machines finally
arrived, and had been fairly mastered, will be given in detail in the pages
of the next volume of this series to be entitled: "The Rivals of the