“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.”