As they sighted the camp the cook was hanging a wash. Pat's eyes twinkled with mischief. Motioning Walter to follow him he stole in back of the stable. "Shure 'tis mcisolf that clane forgot to inthrodush ye to th' most, important number av Durant camp," he whispered. " Shtay here till yez wee some fun."
Ho slipped into the stable, and in a lew minutes was back, leaving the door open. Peeping mound the corner Walter saw a crow walk out with the stately step of his tribe. " Tis Crafty Moike ! " whispered Pat.
The black rascal stood for a minute or two blinking in the sun. Then he flew up on the stable roof, where ho appeared to have no interest in anything in the world save the proper preening and dressing of his feathers. In the meantime the cook finished hanging out his wash to dry and turned back to the cabin. Hardly was he inside the door when Crafty Mike spread his wings and without a sound Hew over to the clothes-lino, where he quickly and deftly pulled out every pin, giving each a throw to one side.
When the last pin was out and half the wash lay on the ground ho flew swiftly to a tall pine on the far Side of the clearing, cawing derisively as he went. It was plain that "Cookie" knew only too well what the sound of that raucous voice meant. Willi a pot iii one hand and a dish towel in the other he rushed from the cabin pouring out a perfect Hood of vituperation and invective on his black tormentor, while behind the stable Pat fairly hugged himself with glee. "Caw, caw, Billee, Billee! (Jaw, caw, caw ! " shouted Mike, sidling back and forth along a bare limb of the pine, evidently in huge enjoyment of tin; joke.
" Oi shplit his tongue so he talks a little, and Billy is the cook's name," whispered Pat, noting the look of amazement on Walter's face when he heard the crow speak.
"Caw, caw, Billee, Billee!" Mike was quite beside himself with enjoyment as ho watched the angry cook pick up the fallen clothes, which he was too wise to rehang while tin; Mack rascal was at liberty. Besides, many of them must be returned to the tub.
11 I'll blow your blasted head off, that's what I will !" shouted tin; cook furiously as he disappeared in the cabin with the last of the Wash. In a moment be was out again With a shotgun in his hands. Walter grabbed Pat by one arm. " You're not going to let him shoot, are you, Pat ? " he asked in real alarm.
Pat chuckled. " Don't yez worry about Moike," he said. " 'Tis not fer nothin' Oi named him Crafty. He knows a gun as well as Oi do, an'just how far it will carry."
The cook was now sneaking toward the pine, apparently quite unconscious that he was all the time in plain view of his would-be victim. Mike waited until he was half-way there, then spread his wings. The cook threw up the gun and blazed away with both barrels, though the range was hopelessly long, while Mike's derisive, 44 Caw, caw, Billee, Billee ! " floated back from the shelter of a thick clump of hemlocks beyond.
" But won't the cook get Mike when he comes back ?" Walter asked with real concern.
" Moike won't come back to-night unless Oi call him," replied Pat. 44 'Tis a woise burrd he be afther bein'! Whin Oi go in Oi'll tell cookie how much the byes will enjoy th' joke whin they come in. He'll shware a bit an' thin he'll be afther beggin' me not to say a wurrd about it. Oi'll promise if he'll promise to lave Moike alone, an' that'll be th'indavit till nixt toime." It was evident that Pat and Mike knew their man and were wise with the wisdom of experience.
" Moike is a great burrd," continued Pat. * He's as full av tricks as a dog is av fleas, an' th' wurst thafe in three counties, bad cess ter him. He'd shtale th' shmoile off' yez face if it was broight enough an' he could pry it loose. He'd follow me into th' prisince av th' saints. Oi have ter shut him up whiniver Oi lave th' camp or, glory be, he'll be taggin' along an' mebbe gettin' me in all sorts av throuble. But Oi love th' ould rascal just th' same."
At Pat's mention of Mike's thieving proclivities a startling thought flashed into Walter's mind. Had he at last found the long lost clue?
"Pat," he broke in abruptly, " did Mike ever follow you to Woodcraft? "
Pat scratched his head in an effort to remember. " Oi couldn't say," he replied. "Oi think loikely, fer there's few places he hasn't followed me."
" Would he follow you there now if you'd let him ? " asked Walter.
" Shure ! Oi couldn't lose him if he wance saw me hittin' th' trail."
" Can you call him now?" pursued Walter.
" Sure ! " Pat answered promptly.
" Listen, Pat," said Walter eagerly, and he hurriedly told Pat all about the loss of Mother Merriam's pin, discreetly omitting all reference to the suspicion against Pat himself so long entertained at the camp.
"Th' dirthy thafe!" broke in Pat indignantly. " Now who could it be, Oi wonder ! None av th' byes here wud do a thrick loike thot, and yez say there was no sthrangers in camp. But what has all this got to do with Moike?"
" Fm coming to that," said Walter. " Maybe it hasn't anything to do with him. That's what I want to find out. Maybe you don't remember coming into camp on an errand that morning and visiting Dr. Merriam's office, but you did. Now, if Mike had been following you, and had seen that pin on the window sill would he have been likely to have picked it up and carried it off? "
" As sure as little pigs has curly tails," replied Pat with conviction. " Oh, th' villain ! It's mesilf will wring th' black neck av him with me own hands wance Oi git thim on him I " he exclaimed, a realizing sense of the situation and the position in which he ha been placed dawning on him. " 'Tis a wonder yez didn't arrist me fer th' thafe, and Oi wud not have blamed ye at all, at all! Just lave me get th' two hands av me on that burrd I Sure his heart be as black as his coat!"
Walter laughed. " Wait a while, Pat, wait a while," he said. " We don't know yet that Mike had anything to do with it. Now here's my plan : You call Mike so that he can see us start down the trail to Woodcraft. Then you go with me until we get almost in sight of the camp. I'll leave you there and go ahead. I'll get a bright button or something and put it on the window sill of Mother Merriam's window and then get out of sight. Then I'll whistle three times and you come along in as if you had an errand at the office. Go right by the window and around to the front door, where I'll meet you. Then we'll watch Mike and see what he does."