“Perhaps I can get a horned toad there,” put in the professor hopefully.
After a short rest in the shade the little party headed for the beach. As they came in sight of it from a small hill, the boys uttered exclamations of delight, for a beautiful expanse of water was stretched out before them,— the Pacific ocean sparkling blue in the sun.
“Oh, for our motor boat!” exclaimed Jerry. “Oh, for the Dartaway! Couldn’t we have fine sport in her, out on that bay!”
“Don’t speak of it!” said Ned with a groan.
“What, is the Dartaway lost?” asked Rose.
“Gone! Busted! Smashed!” exclaimed Bob, and the boys all tried to talk at once, telling of the disaster that had befallen their craft.
“It’s too bad,” declared Olivia. “But never mind. We have a couple of rowboats, and maybe you can hire a little sailing skiff.”
“It wouldn’t be the Dartaway,” answered Bob, with a sigh. “That boat had the nicest little kitchen in it—”
“So, that’s all you cared about her for— the kitchen— where you could cook something to eat!” exclaimed Jerry. “Chunky, I’m ashamed of you; that’s what I am!”
“Well, I— er— I—” began Bob. “Oh, come on,” he continued, and led the way down to the beach, where there were some bathing pavilions and several houses. The professor was walking along behind, in the vain hope of yet discovering a horned toad, perhaps on its way to get a dip in the surf or drink some salt water.
“I think you’ll like some chocolate,” said Nellie, as the boys were in front of a little refreshment booth. “It is made by a Mexican—”
She stopped, for she saw that the boys were not listening to her. Their attention was drawn to a man who was just coming from the place they were going in. The boys could not help staring at him, for he was the man who had acted so strangely in the freight depot at Cresville.
A queer story
For several seconds the boys and the man stared at one another. The stranger did not seem to be the least bit embarrassed but, on the contrary, was smiling in a genial manner.
“Is he a friend of yours?” asked Nellie, of Jerry.
“Well, not exactly what you could call a friend,” was the answer. “We don’t even know his name,” and he spoke in a low voice. “We saw him back in Cresville, just before we started out west, and he was acting in a strange manner. We thought—”
“Excuse me,” suddenly interrupted the strange man, advancing toward the group of boys and girls, “but haven’t I seen you lads before? Your faces are very familiar.”
“We saw you in the Cresville freight office,” declared Ned boldly.
“Exactly! I knew it was somewhere. I remember now. I was there attending to some goods that had to be shipped in a hurry. I’m glad you remembered me. To think that I should meet you away out here! It’s a small world, isn’t it?” and he smiled, but there was something in his smile, in his looks and in his manner that the boys did not like. Neither did the girls, for, as Nellie said afterward, he acted as though he wanted to make friends so you would not be suspicious of him.