Could it be possible that the local authorities had in some manner become aware of the fact that law breakers were abroad in the land? Was Mr. Jared Pender, the Government expert, about to have rivals in the field? When those cronies of Ted spoke of following a trail could they have had any reference to the track of the wonderful red automobile with the khaki-colored top; and occupied by the two parties whom Mr. Pender wished to catch, as he said, “with the goods on?”
Paul hoped not. It would complicate things very much; and in the confusion the rascals might manage to slip away. Paul had known Chief Billings to undertake a clever piece of business before now; but never succeed in accomplishing one.
Some one banged into him as he turned a corner in the building.
“Why, hello! Paul, that you?” said a voice.
It was Si Growdy, who claimed to be a nephew of old Peleg, but who had never been known to be recognized by the crusty old farmer. He clerked in one of the general stores, of which Stanhope boasted several big ones, where everything, from a package of pins to a coffin could be purchased.
“What’s all the row about, Si?” demanded the acting scout master, as he seized hold of the clerk, to head him off; for Si seemed to be in a hurry as usual; he worked for a man who was a driver, and had to give an account of every minute of his time.
“Ain’t you heard nawthin’ about it, Paul? Where you ben all this afternoon?” was the way the clerk answered one question with another.
“Up in the woods with the scouts, doing stunts. But tell me what’s gone wrong? Another robbery at the jewelry store; or has some one sneaked away with one of the coffins your house carries?” pursued Paul.
“If anybody ever got off with a pin that didn’t belong to ’em at our emporium, the fact ain’t never been known. I’ve seen the boss chargin’ customers with the cracker they eat when samplin’. We got orders to make light weight if they buy. But about this rumpus; they’s a child lost!” said Si.
“Who’s child?” asked Paul, instantly deeply interested.
“Mr. Boggs’ little Willie. The Chief was just in to talk with him. He’s all broken up over it, because you know, he uses a crutch, and can’t help hunt.”
Paul knew Mr. Boggs assisted the post-master in his duties; and many a time had Paul chatted with the pretty little chap who played around the building while his father was assorting the incoming mails. Willie Boggs had always been a universal favorite. He was the sweetest child in all Stanhope, and everybody loved him.
Paul was shocked at the news. Still, he hoped it might not be as bad as Si said.
“Where did it happen? How do they know? Who saw little Willie last? What has been done to find him?” he fired at the clerk like the discharge of a Gatling gun.
“Glory! expect me to tell the hull story, with my boss asettin’ there inside the store, watchin’ the clock, an’ dockin’ me for every minute I’m late? All right, who cares? And besides, Paul, p’raps that troop of yours might be useful in follerin’ the tracks of poor little Willie,” Si went on.