U/AYNESTATDUNIVERSITY-LIBRARY

TUE-DLOISDRAMSLY-COLLECTION


L.B.How© Jr.

Capture op Luke Redman.

L.D.Howe J1?.

OUR FELLOWS;

OR,

Skirmishes with the Swamp Dragoons slj.,ky. Jicw © Jr.

BY

HARRY CASTLEMON,

AUTHOR OF “ GUNBOAT SERIES,” *' ROCKY MOUNTAIN SERIES,” “ BOY TRAPPER SERIES.” ETC.

PHILADELPHIA : PORTER & COATES.

1 AMI'S F.I.VKKSON.

IM i): I I.K A Ci >ATKS.

CONTENTS.

CHAPTER.

I.—WHO OUR FELLOWS ARE,

II.—AN UNINVITED GUEST, .

III.—MARK’S ADVENTURE,

IY.—A FRIEND IN NEED, .    .

Y.—WE TALK THE MATTER OVER, YI.—MARK MAKES A DISCOVERY, . YII.—OUR CHRISTMAS TURKEYS,

. YIII.—A RIDE AFTER THE INDIANS, IX.—CAUGHT AT LAST, .

X.—I STAND PICKET,

XI.—THE TABLES TURNED, . XII.—TOM IS ASTONISHED,

XIII.—TOM TELLS HIS STORY, . -    .

XIY.—TOM’S PLAN, .

XY.—DANGEROUS WORK,

XYI.—OUR STRATAGEM, .    .    .

XYII.—TAKING THE BACK TRACK, XYIII.—AN UNEXPECTED DELIVERANCE, XIX.—“ MARK TWO TIMES,”

XX.—CONCLUSION, .    .

OUR FELLOWS-

OR,

Skirmishes with the Swamp Dragoons.

CHAPTER I.

WHO OUR FELLOWS ARE.

MY name is Joseph Coleman, and at the time my story begins I was sixteen years of age. . Mark was my twin brother; and he looked and acted so much like me, or else I looked and acted so much like him, that only our very intimate friends could tell us apart. We always dressed alike, and that,, no , doubt, had something to do with the remarkable resemblance we bore to each other.

.Many were the mistakes that were made in regard to our identity—some of them laugh-

6    OUE FELLOWS.

able, others proving exactly the reverse, especially when I was called upon to stand punishment for his misdeeds. On one occasion Mark got into a difficulty with a half-breed. About a week afterward, while I was riding along the road, I met this same half-breed with a big switch in his hand, and all that saved me from a severe whipping was the speed of my horse.

Then there was our old enemy, Tom Mason, who had been badly worsted in an attempt to whip Mark, and ever since that time he had been robbing my traps, shooting at my dog and killing my doves, thinking all tlie while that he was revenging himself upon Mark, when he was in reality punishing me.

At the time of which I write we lived in Warren County, ten miles below Vicksburg, where our father owned an extensive plantation. He cultivated one thousand acres of cotton and six hundred acres of corn. He owned one hundred and fifty working mules and horses, twice as many young cattle, which ran loose in the swamp, and about twenty-five hundred hogs. It required from sixty to seventy-five cows to supply the plantation

WHO, OUR FELLOWS AEE.    7

with milk and butter, and almost as many dogs to protect the stock from the wild beasts.

Just think of that! Think what music this pack must have made when in pursuit of a bear or deer, and imagine, if you can, the delightful concerts to. which we listened on bright moonlight mights!

Perhaps you will wonder if we needed all these dogs. We should have been sorry to part with them, for they were as necessary to our existence as our horses, cows or mules.

Warren County at that time was almost a wilderness. Solves, foxes and minks were numerous, and our henroosts would have been cleared in a single night, if the dogs had not been there to protect them. Wild-cats were abundant, and panthers were so often met with, that traveling after dark was seldom undertaken for pleasure. Bears, however, were the principal pests. They were, to quote from the settlers, “ as plenty as blackberries,” and employed their leisure time during the night in roaming about the plantations, picking up every luckless hog and calf that happened to fall in their way.

8    OUE FELLOWS.

I must not forget to say that our fellows had nothing to do with all these plantation dogs. The most of them belonged to father, a few to the overseer, and the rest to the servants.

Our pack numbered only five dogs. Mark was the happy possessor of Rock and Dash, two splendid deer-hounds, which, for size, speed, endurance and courage, were unequaled in all [that country except by Sandy’s Sharp and Music. These four hounds were animals worth having. They could run all day, and when they once started on a trail, they never left it until the game, whatever it was, had been killed, or they were called away.

I laid claim to Zip. He was what we boys called a “ bench-legged catch-dog”—that is, his fore legs stood wide apart and curved outward, like those of a bulldog, and he was used for catching and holding game.

He was yellow all over except his head, which was as black as jet. His nose and ears were as sharp as those of a wolf, and he was bobtailed.

Zip was unlike any other dog I ever saw. There were a good many queer things about

WHO OUR FELLOWS ARE.    9

him, and lie liad at least one peculiarity that every body noticed. He never wagged Ms tail sideways, as other dogs do, but up and down, and he never wagged it at all except when following a warm trail.

There were five of us boys—Duke Hampton, his cousin, Herbert Hickson, Sandy, Mark and myself. We were near neighbors—that is, we lived about a mile and a half apart—and we were together almost all the time. We always spoke of one another as “ our fellows,” and we had finally come to be known by that name all over the country. Sandy merits a short description.

His name was Gabriel Lucien Todd—an odd name, perhaps, but it suited him, for he was an odd boy. Ho one ever thought the race of . giants extinct after seeing him. When he was thirteen years old he was as tall and heavy as his father, and much stronger. Indeed Sandy often boasted that he could pull as many bales of cotton on a wagon as any yoke of oxen in Warren County.

That, of course, was saying a great deal too much; but his strength was really something

10    OUR FELLOWS.

wonderful. He could outlift any two of our fellows, without puffing out his cheeks, but we could all take his measure on the ground as fast as he could get up.

There were other noticeable things about Sandy, such as his utter disregard for all the proprieties of language, his bright-red hair, and his extreme good nature, which I seldom saw ruffled. The first was by no means the result of ignorance, for Sandy, besides being a capital scholar in other respects, was looked upon by our fellows as a walking repository of grammatical knowledge.

He wrote splendid letters—and that is an accomplishment that every boy, or man either, does not possess—and he would correctly analyze and parse any sentence you could give him, no matter how complex; but when it came to talking he was all afloat. He twisted his sentences into all sorts of awkward shapes, and sometimes used words that had but little connection with the idea he wished to communicate. It was not the result of carelessness either, for he made some desperate attempts to “talk proper,” as he expressed it, espe-

WHO. OUR FELLOWS AEE.    11

daily in tlie'presence-of strangers; but the ‘harder he tried the more he blundered.

After saying this much, it is scarcely necessary to add that Sandy was as slow as an elephant in all his movements, and that he never got surprised at any thing that happened.

Mark’s room and mine was regarded as the, headquarters of our fellows. On one side two windows looked out upon a wide porch, and on the other was a fire-place, backed up by an immense brick chimney.

An unpainted board over the fireplace formed the mantel, on which were a collection of books, a couple of lamps, an ornamental clock, and a few articles of curiosity, such as alligators’ teeth, bears’ claws, stone arrow-heads and hatchets.

Two pairs of deer’s antlers were fastened to the wall over the head of the bed, and on them hung our guns, game-bags, shot-pouches, rid-ing-whips, gloves and hunting-horns. These last were of great use to us. They were simply cows’ horns scraped thin and supplied with carved mouth-pieces. They were used principally for calling the hounds during a bear or

12    OUR FELLOWS.

deer-hunt (it may astonish yon to learn that every dog knew the sound of his master’shorn and would obey no other), and with them we could talk to a friend on a calm day a mile distant.    i

I have lately learned that when boys in a city want a companion, they will station themselves in front of his gate and whistle. We did not go to all that trouble. If Mark and I had any thing exciting on hand, and wanted our fellows to join in, one of us would go out on the porch and blow three long blasts on his horn.

We were always sure of an answer, and in a few minutes here would come Sandy Todd from, one direction, and Duke and. Herbert from the other. We had written out a regular code of signals, and each of us kept a copy at hand for reference, so that there could be no mistake.

We could tell our friends that we wanted them to go hunting, fishing or blackberrying with us ; we could ask them to come over and pay us a visit; and we could tell them when to expect us. We had signals of distress, too,

WHO OUR FELLOWS ARE.    13

and we were all bound to give lieed to them when we heard them.

I ought to say that this idea did not originate with ,us ; we learned it from the settlers, who also had a code of signals which had been in use as long as I could remember.

If a planter some evening took it into his head that he would like to go bear-hunting on the following day he would go out with his horn and blow five long blasts and three short ones'; and, like us when we called our fellows, he was certain of a reply.

The neighbor who heard him first would respond, then another and another would follow, until all the men in the settlement for two or three miles around, had agreed to go bear-hunting, and that, too, without having seen one another.

Perhaps, now that you have heard so much about our fellows, you would like to have them personally presented. Step into headquarters, and I will introduce you. After that, if you think you would enjoy a four-mile gallop before supper, we will find you a good horse to ride. We are going down the bayou to visit an In-

14    OUK FELLOWS.

dian camp : and if you have never seen one, now is your chance.    -

The boy who sits in that big arm-chair, thrumming on his guitar and tickling the dog’s ears with the toe of his boot, is my brother Mark. If you don’t find him in some mischief every time you meet him, you mustn’t think it is his fault.

Do you see that broad-shouldered, long-legged, awkward-looking fellow sitting on the floor at the opposite side of the fire-place, with a hammer in his hand and a pan of hickory nuts by his side? That is Sandy Todd, the strongest boy and the best shot in our party.

That curly-headed, blue-eyed fellow, who smiles so good-naturedly every time he speaks, and who sits at the table devouring the hickory-nuts as fast as Sandy cracks them, is Herbert Dickson. He is blessed with a good deal of flesh, is Herbert, and sometimes answers to the name of “Chub” ; at others, “Duck-legs.” '    .

I have known plenty of boys at school to be badly deceived in that same Herbert Dickson. As clumsy as he looks, he can run faster and

WHO , OUR FELLOWS ARE.    15

jump higher and further than any other fellow of his age in the settlement. There is nothing in the world that Herbert more enjoys than the astonishment and chagrin of some lithe young fellow who may have challenged him, “just for the fun of the 'thing,” to run a race; for I don’t remember that I ever saw him beaten.

On the table at Herbert’s elbow is a chessboard with men scattered over it. I am sitting at one end of it, and the tall, dark, digni-fied-looking youth, in blue jeans roundabout and .heavy horseman’s boots, who is sitting opposite me, is Duke Hampton, than whom a better fellow never lived. He is an acknowledged leader. He settles all our disputes, when we have any—which, by the way, does not often happen—and is the projector and manager of most of our plans for amusement. He is handsome and polite, and, of course, a great favorite with the girls. He is a boy of high morallprinciple, strictly-truthful, and honorable even in the smallest matters, and these qualities render him a favorite with the men. He is the most daring and graceful rider among our fellows, and, next to Mark, the best wrestler.

16    OUR. FELLOWS.

He is a good chess-player, too; but by some unaccountable fortune I have driven him into a tight corner.

I do not suppose there is any necessity that I should again introduce myself. If it will help to place me in your good'books, however, I will tell you that I own the swiftest horse and the best dog in the settlement. Black Bess has never been beaten in a fair race, and Zip has yet to find his equal as a fighter and bear dog. I am not so modest but that I can tell you, also, that I am the champion hunter among our fellows. I killed a bear alone and unaided, and his skin now hangs on that nail at the foot of the bed; but my companions, one and all, are determined to equal me in this respect, and consequently I do not expect to hold the honors much longer. But here comes our little negro, Bob, to announce that the horses are waiting, and we must off for the camp if we intend to be back in time for’ supper.

CHAPTER II.

AN UNINVITED GUEST.

E found our horses at the door, saddled

and bridled, and held by two negro boys, who, judging by the tugging, pulling and scolding which they kept up, found it something of a task to restrain the fiery steeds, which were impatient to be off. As I have told you about our dogs, I will say a word about these horses. One of them has considerable to do with my story. •

The most prominent animal in the group was Herbert's horse, a magnificent iron-gray, large and good-natured like his master, very fleet, and able to carry his heavy rider like a bird over any fence in the country. He went by the name of Romeo.

The handsomest horse belonged to Duke Hampton. He was a cliestnut-sorrel, with white mane and tail, and four white feet. He

18    OUR FELLOWS.

was a good one to go, and was as well trained as any liorse I ever saw in a circns.

He would lie down or stand on liis liind feeh at the command of Ms master, and pick up liis gloves or riding-wMp for Mm. His name was Moro.    1

Tlie homeliest liorse was called Beauty. He was a Mexican pony, and belonged to Mark. He was a famous traveler—lie would go on a gallop all day, and be as fresli and eager at night as when he started out in the morning ; but he was so handy with his heels, and had such an easy way of slipping out from under a fellow when he tried to mount him, that, with the exception of his master, who thought him the very best horse in the world, there was not a boy among us who would have accepted him as a gift. But bad as Beauty’s disposition was, it was much better than that of Sandy’s mare, which answered to the name of Gretchen.

She was named after Hip Van Winkle’s wife. She was a large, raw-boned, cream-colored animal, and had an ugly habit of laying back her ears and opening her mouth, when

AN UNINVITED GUEST.

19

any one apxiroached her, that would have made a stranger think twice before attempting to mount her.

The fleetest, as well as the gentlest horse, was my little Black Bess. She was a Christmas present from an uncle who lived in Kentucky ; and I thought so much of her that I would have given up every thing I possessed, rather than Xiart with her.

I said that Bess was the swiftest horse in the group. She had demonstrated the fact in many a race, but somehow I never could induce the others to acknowledge it. Sandy stubbornly refused to give up beaten, and so did Herbert; and even Mark, with his miserable little pony, made big xiretensions.

We never went anywhere without a race; and on this particular morning Herbert, who was the first to swing himself into the saddle, leax>ed his horse over the bars, and tore down the road as if all the wolves in Warren County were close at his heels.

I was the last one out of the yard, but I Xmssed every one of our fellows before I had gone half a mile, and when I reached the out-

20    OUR FELLOWS.

skirts of the Indian camp, they' were a long way behind.

The camp, as I saw it that afternoon, did not look much like the illustrations of Indian villages which you have seen in your geographies. Instead of the clean skin-lodges, and the neatly-dressed, imposing savages which you will find in pictures, I saw before me a score of wretched brush shanties, which could afford their inmates but poor protection in stormy weather, and a hundred or more half-starved men and women, some of whom were jumping around in the mud and yelling as if they' were greatly excited about something.

There were plenty of these people in Warren County at the time of which I write. They were Choctaws—the remnant of a once powerful tribe,, who gained-a precarious living by hunting, fishing, stealing and cotton-picking. This band had been encamped on our plantation during the last two weeks. The women had been employed by father to pick cotton, and their lords and masters were now having a glorious time over the money they had earned.

AN UNINVITED GUEST.    21

The warriors—lazy dogs,' who thought. it a disgrace to perform any manual labor—had remained in their wigwams, passing the days very pleasantly with their pipes, while their wives were'at work in the cotton-field; but now that the crop had been gathered and the money paid, they had thrown away their pipes and picked up .their bottles. In plainer language, we rode into the camp just in time to witness the beginning of a drunken Indian jubilee.

The men were dancing, shouting, fighting, wrestling, going half-hammond (a Northern boy would have called it a “ hop, skip and a jump”), and, trying to run races; while the women stood around in little groups, chattering like so many blackbirds, and watching all that was going on with apparently a great deal of interest.

I do not suppose that the Indian boys drank any thing stronger than the muddy water that' flowed in the bayou, on the banks of which the camp was located; but, at any rate, they seemed to be animated by the same spirit that possessed their fathers, for we saw them engage

22    OUR FELLOWS.

in no end of figlits, foot-races and wrestling matches.

Presently a smart, lively young savage, the son of the principal chief of the band, who had easily thrown every one of his companions whom he could induce to wrestle with him, stepped up to us, and fastening his eyes upon Mark, asked him if he would like to come out and try his strength. Wow, if Mark had been in good health, the challenge would have been promptly accepted ; and if I am any judge of boys, that young Indian would have found himself flat on the ground before he could have winked twice; but he was just recovering from an attack of his old enemy, the chills and fever, and for that reason was obliged, much to his regret, to turn a deaf ear to the Indian’s entreaties.

“Oh, yes, you come,” said the young wrestler, after Mark had told him, perhaps for the twentieth time, that he was out of condition ; “I show youhvhat Indian boy can do. I put you down as quick as lightning. ■ Eh ! You come?”

As he spoke he stepped back and spread out

AN UNINVITED GUEST.    23

his sinewy arms, as if waiting for Mark to jump into them.

uCto oil about your business, Jim,” said Duke. “ Haven’t you sense enough to see that the boy lias had the ague ? If he was well, he would throw you or any other young Indian in the camp. Go away now, I tell you, or I'll take hold of you ; and if I do, I will put you down a little quicker than lightning.”

“Isn’t he a splendid-looking fellow?” said Mark, gazing admiringly at the young savage’s supple form, which, cold as the day was, was stripped to the waist. “Look at the muscles on his arms! I believe I’ll try him just one round.”

“Don't do it, Mark,” I interposed.

“Well, if you say so, Joe, I won’t; but I should really like to take a little of that conceit out of him. I'll soon be up to my regular wrestling weight,” he added, addressing himself to the Indian, “and then I will see what you are made of.”

“Ugh!'’ grunted Jim. “I wait for you.” We spent an hour walking about the camp, and then returned to the house. The jubilee was

24    OUR FELLOWS.

kept up all night, and we went to sleep with those wild Indian whoops ringing in our ears. To me there was something almost unearthly in the sound, and I thought I could imagine how our early settlers felt when they were - aroused from their sleep at dead of night by just such yells uttered by hostile red men.

The next day our fellows accompanied some of the settlers on a deer-hu-nt—all except Mark, who, being too wpak.to ride all day on horseback, remained at home with his hounds for company ; and, for want of something better to do, assisted the plantation blacksmith at his work by blowing the bellows for him.

The Indians were quiet all the morning, no doubt making up for the sleep they had lost the night before, but about ^eleven o’clock they began their dancing and shouting again. After that, Mark did not perform his part of the work very well, for his attention was fnlly occupied by the sounds that came from the camp.

Finally the horn was blown for dinner, and Mark started toward the house. Just as he was passing through the gate that led into the gar-

AN UNINVITED GUEST.    25

den, he was startled by a lond yell, which was followed by a great commotion in the kitchen, and the next moment out came mother and half a dozen yonng lady visitors.

A very fat negro woman brought up the rear, carrying in her hand a platter of roast beef, which she was too badly frightened to put down, and the screams that saluted Mark’s ears were almost as loud and unearthly as those which came from the Indian camp. He did not like the look of things, but, being a resolute fellow, he determined to find out what was going on in the house. He had two friends ■ upon whom he could rely in any emergency, and, with a word to them, he was off like a shot.    '    '    *

“ Oh, don’t- go in therei! ” cried mother, when she saw him running toward the kitchen, followed by his hounds. “He will kill you! He’s got a-big knife ! ”

Mark, who was too highly excited to hear any thing short of a terrific peal of thunder,

- kept on, and when he reached the door discovered the cause of the disturbance in the person of a tall, dignified-looking Indian,

26    OUR FELLOWS.

who was acting in a very undignified manner.

As Mark afterward learned, the savage had walked into the parlor, where all the ladies were sitting; thence into the kitchen, where active preparations for dinner were going on, attracting the attention of the cook by flourish ing a'knife, and uttering an appalling yell; after which he made known the object of his visit by exclaiming:

“ Ugh! Me big Injun, an’ me hungry.”

The yell and the sight of the knife occasioned a hurried stampede among the women, and the savage, being left alone, proceeded to help himself to what he liked best.

The table was loaded with good things, but there was not so very much left'upon it by the time this uninvited guest had got all he wanted. He filled his mouth, and his arms, too, and when Mark discovered him he was walking through the sitting-room toward the porch, demolishing a custard-pie as he went.

Mark was impulsive, and, without stopping -to consider what might be the consequences of the act, he started in hot pursuit of the Indian,

A N UNINVITED GUEST.    27

resolved to punish, him for what he had done, and to teach him better than to take such liberties with what did not belong to him.

He came up with the robber just as he was about to descend the steps that led down from the porch. The latter, wholly intent upon his meal, never thought of looking for an enemy in the rear, until Mark dashed against him like a battering-ram—an action which caused the Indian to flourish his heels in the air, and fall headlong to the ground, scattering the bread, meat, pies and cakes, with which his arms were loaded, about in all directions. Mark followed him down the steps, not to attack him, of course, but to keep ofl the hounds, which would have torn the savage in pieces if they had not been restrained.

“Don’t let those dogs hurt him,” said mother, who had mustered up courage enough to come back to the house.

“Ho, ma’am,” replied Mark. “How, old • fellow,” he added, as the robber rose slowly to his feet, ‘ ‘ you had better take yourself ofl. Your room suits us . better than your company.”

28    OUR FELLOWS.

But the savage had no intention of taking himself off. He glared fiercely around him for a moment, and finding that he was opposed by nothing more formidable than a few frightened women, a boy of sixteen and a couple of dogs, he caught up his knife, and gave a war-whoop.

An Uninvited Guest comes to Dinner.

CHAPTER III.

.mark’s adventure.

MARK was badly frightened, but he did not show it.

“Look here, old gentleman,” said he, with a pretty show of courage, “ you had better not try to hurt any body with that knife. Put it away, and go back to camp where you belong.”    /

The savage paid no more attention to his words than if he had not spoken at all. He wanted to be revenged upon something for the fall he had received, and not daring to molest either the ladies or Mark, he charged furiously upon the hounds, which nimbly eluded all his attacks, and easily kept out of reach of the knife.

“Ho you- see what he is doing, mother?” shouted Mark, astonished and enraged at the Indian’s attempts to injure his favorites. ‘ ‘ Say

30    OUR FELLOWS.

tlie word, and I’ll make the dogs stretcli Mm as if lie were a’coon.”

“No! no!” answered mother, hastily. “Don’t make him angry, and perhaps he will go away after a while.”

“He is as angry as he can be already,” replied Mark.

The boy curbed his indignation as well as he was able, and watched the savage as he followed up the hounds, which barked at him, but kept out of his way. They ran under the house, but the robber crawled after them and drove them out. They were too well trained to take hold of him without the word from their master; but they grew angrier every minute, and finally, as if they feared that their rage might get the better of them if they remained longer in sight of their enemy, they sullenly retreated up the steps that led to the porch.

“Hold on, there!” shouted Mark, as the Indian, yelling furiously, prepared to follow the dogs into the house. “Keep away from there, I tell you.”

But the noble warrior did not stop. Striking right and left with his knife, he sprang up

mark’s adventure. >    81

the steps into the midst of the women; and Mark, believing that it was his intention to attack them, yelled quite as loudly as the Indian.

“Hi! hi! Pull him down, fellows!” he shouted.

The hounds understood that yell; they had been waiting for it. As quick as thought one of them turned and sprang at his throat; the other seized him by the shoulder from behind, and the savage was thrown flat on his back— stretched as if he had been a “ ’coon.”

It was astonishing how quickly all the fight was shaken out of that ferocious Choctaw. He made one or two wild cuts at his assailants, then the knife dropped from his grasp and he lay like a log upon the porch. He was so still, and the blood flowed so freely from the numerous wounds he had received, that Mark became frightened and spoke to the hounds, which released their enemy very reluctantly. He never would have robbed any more dinner-tables if they had been allowed to have their own way with him.

“Ugh!” roared the Indian, when he found

82    OUIl FELLOWS.

himself free from the teeth of the hounds. “'Wh-o-o-p! ”

He was not seriously injured ; lie had been “playing ’possum.” He raised himself to a sitting xoosition and gazed about for a moment with a bewildered air, and then jumped to his feet, bounded down the steps and drew a beeline for camp at a rate of speed that made Mark open his eyes.

He did not stop to look for gates, or to let down bars. Whatever may have been that Indian’s claims to courage, he could certainly boast of being a swift runner and a most remarkable jumper.

“Oh, you awful boy! What have you done?” chorused all the visitors, as Mark entered the house.

“I’ve saved somebody from being hurt— that’s what I’ve done,” was the cool reply. “I am the only man about the house, and of course it was my duty to protect you.”

“ But don’t you know that an Indian never forgives an injury ? He will have revenge for that. He will come back here with his friends and kill and scalp us all.”

mark’s adventure.    33

“Well, lie had better bring a good many friends if he intends to try that,” said Mark, shaking his head in a very threatening manner. “I’ll take Rock and Dash and whip his whole tribe. How long before dinner will be ready, mother?”

For an answer to this question he was referred to the cook. How, Aunt Martha was an old and favorite servant, who had somehow got it into her head that she had a perfect right to grumble at any one, from her master down to the smallest pickaninny on the plantation. Having recovered from her fright, she was scolding at an alarming rate over the loss of her line dinner, and for want of some better object upon which to vent her spite -she opened upon Mark the moment he entered the kitchen.

Being unable to obtain any satisfactory replies to his questions, he walked off whistling to drown the clatter of the cook’s tongue, and as he went down the steps he heard her say to herself:

“Dat ar is a monstrous bad boy. He’s bouri’ to be de def of all us white folks.”

34    OUR FELLOWS.

At the end of an hour Mark was again summoned to dinner, which this time passed off without interruption. Aunt Martha had recovered her good nature, and sought to restore herself to favor by stepping down from her high position as head cook, and condescending to wait upon “young mass’r,” whose plate she kept bountifully supplied.

When Mark returned to the shop after eating his dinner, he noticed that an unusual silence reigned in the Indian camp. Not a yell, or a song, or even the bark of a dog came from'the woods, which were so still that Mark almost believed them to be deserted.

As he could not help feeling somewhat uneasy over what. had been said in regard to the savage coming back with re-enforcements, he kept his eye turned in the direction of the camp, and presently discovered a gray streak moving through the cotton-field.

As it approached he saw that it was an Indian ; and when he reached the fence Mark recognized the young wrestler, who appeared to be intensely excited about , something. He breathed hard after his rapid run, his eyes had

mark’s ADVENTURE.    35

a wild look in them, and he was in so great a hurry; to communicate the object of his visit that he began shouting to Mark as soon as he came within speaking distance.

He might as well have kept silent, however, ~ for he talked principally in his native tongue, and Mark could not understand that. Reaching the fence, he cleared it at a bound, and running up to Mark, who stood looking at him in astonishment, exclaimed:

“Mil-la-la, you white boy! mil-la-la you, quick!”

And as he spoke he seized Mark by the arm, and tried to pull him toward the house.

“How, see here,” said the latter, pulling off his jacket; “ do you want to wrestle ? If you do, you’re just the fellow I am looking for.” “No, no ! no, no ! ” cried the young savage, jumping back, and vehemently shaking his head. “ Mil-la-la, you !’’

“Talk English, why don’t you ?” said Mark impatiently. ‘ ‘ I can’t understand that jargon. What do you want me to do ? If you haven’t come over here to wrestle, you had better keep your hands to yourself.”

36    OUR FELLOWS.

“ Well, I mean you run,” urged Jim. “You run away, quick. See! Indian coming to kill!”

He pointed toward the cotton-field, and the sight that met Mark’s gaze made the cold chills creep all over him. A party of half a dozen ' braves were approaching the shop in single file at a rapid trot. They were all stripped to the waist, daubed with paint, wore feathers in their hair, carried knives and hatchets in their hands, and altogether their appearance was enough to frighten any boy who had never seen Indians in war costume before. The foremost warrior was the one who had been pulled down by the dogs. When he discovered Mark, he placed his hand to his mouth and gave the war-whoop.

“ Jeemes’ River ! ” was Mark’s mental ejaculation (that was what he always said when he was astonished or alarmed). “Don’t I wish I was somewhere ? ”

“ See, you white boy! ” exclaimed Jim, who was so excited and terrified that he could scarcely stand still. “You run, or Indian kill.”    ,    ■

“Keep your hands off,” said Mark, as the

mark’s adventure.    37

young wrestler once more tried to push, him toward the house. “This is my father’s plantation. I’ve more right here than they have. I haven’t done any thing to be ashamed of, and I shan’t run a step.”

The savages had by this time reached the fence that inclosed the cotton-lield, and there they stopped to listen to a speech from their leader, who emphasized his remarks by flourishing his knife and hatchet above his head and yelling furiously.

“Look here, Jim!” said Mark suddenly. “ Go and tell those fellows that if they know when they are well oil they won’t come over that fence.”

“Oh, no! You run!” entreated Jim, who seemed to be greatly distressed oil Mark’s account. “Indian kill, sure ! ”

“I shan’t budge an inch. Now, that’s flat. Jim, I shan’t tell you more than a dozen times that if you don’t want to wrestle you had better keep your hands away from me. Go and tell those painted gentlemen that I say they have come close enough.”

The young wrestler, seeing that Mark was

38    OUB FELLOWS.

firmly resolved to stand Ms ground, darted off like a flask, and, perching himself npon the fence, began a speech. He threw his arms wildly about his head, twisted himself into all sorts of shapes, and shouted at the top of his voice.

Mark could not understand a word he said, but the Indians could, and they seemed very much interested. They listened respectfully, no doubt, because the speaker was the son of their chief, only interrupting him now and then with along-drawn “ O-o m-i !55 which was probably intended for applause.

If Jim was trying to induce the warriors to return peaceably to camp, he did not succeed in his object. The leader looked toward Mark, who stood in the door of the shop, keeping his eye on the savages, and stooping down occasionally to caress his hounds, and becoming enraged at his coolness, again raised the war-whoop, whereupon Jim brought his speech to a sudden close, and, jumping down from the fence, hurried up to Mark, and begged him to run for his life.

£ I shan’t stir a peg,5 ’ was the angry response.

mark’s adventure.    39

“ Gro back and say to those men that I am tired of waiting. Tell them that if they come inside this lot I’ll make my honnds eat them up.”

Jim ran back to the fence, and for the second time occupied the attention of the warriors with a speech. They listened attentively for awhile, as before, but his eloquence seemed to make but very little impression upon them, for the leader again raised the war-whoop, and placed his hands upon the fence, as if about to spring over.

“ Come on ! ” shouted Mark, who was every moment growing more angry and impatient. “ Come inside this lot if you dare ! Hands off, Jim!” he added,ypushing back the young Indian, who once more tried to pull him toward tlie house. “I am just in the right humor for a wrestle now, and when I get through with your friends there I will show you what a white boy can do. Jeemes’ River! why don’t you come on?”

But the Indians, if they had any intention of crossing the fence at all, were not ready to do it just then. They listened to another long speech from their leader, and then, to Mark’s

40    OUR FELLOWS.

great amazement, started back tkrougk the cotton-field toward the camp. When they disappeared in the woods, Mark drew a long breath of relief, and turned to Jim, who stood looking at him with every expression of wonder and curiosity. The young wrestler was hardly prepared to believe that any one, especially a boy sixteen years old, could see the famous Choctaw braves in war-paint without being very badly frightened.

“You no afraid % ” he inquired.

“Afraid!” repeated Mark. “Scarcely. What’s the use of being afraid until you see something to be afraid of ? I feel grateful to you, Jim, for the interest you seem to take in my welfare, and I assure you that I shall always remember it. But-you know you challenged me to wrestle with you last night. Come on now; I am ready for you.”

But Jim was not ready for Mark. The latter had given evidence that he was blessed with a goodly share of courage; and the Indian, believing, no doubt, that he possessed strength and activity in the same proportion, thought

mark’s adventure.    41

it best to ke_ep out of Ms reach. He retreated toward the fence, crying out, “Ho, no ; no, no, white boy!” at the same time waving Mark back with his open hands.

“Well, then, if you don’t want to wrestle, perhaps you will be good enough to carry a message from me to your friends,” said Mark. “Tell them that if they will take my advice1 they will, leave this plantation with as little delay as possible. I shall ride through those woods with my hounds about sundown, and —pay strict attention to what I say now, Jim —if I catch a redskin, in that camp, I’ll—

rn—”

Mark finished- the sentence by drawing his head down between his shoulders, opening his eyes to their widest extent, spreading out his fingers like the claws of some wild animal, and assuming a most ferocious expression of countenance, which made Jim retreat a step or two as if afraid that Mark was about to jump at him.

I am not certain that Mark could have told exactly what he meant by this pantomime, and neither am I prepared to say how Jim inter-

42    OUR FELLOWS.

preted it; but I do know that he started for the camp with all possible speed, while Mark, highly excited, went back to the liouse to relate his adventure to mother.

That evening, about an hour before sunset, we returned from our deer hunt, and were not a little surprised to find the camp deserted. Not an Indian was to be seen. The warriors, squaws, pappooses, dogs and all had left for parts* unknown. Father laughed when mother told him what had happened during our absence ; but I could see by the expression in his eye that one Indian, at least, did a very wise thing when he took Mark’s advice and left the plantation.

I have since learned enough about these people to know that Mark showed himself a hero on that day. If he had taken to his heels the Indians would, have pursued him, and there was no knowing what they might have done in their blind rage. His bold front cooled their ardor, and perhaps saved somebody’s life.

Although the savages had left the plantation, . we were not yet done with them. A few nights afterward our cotton gin was set on fire, and

mark’s adventure.    48

tlie moccasin tracks in the. mud showed who did it. We had a lively time hunting up the incendiaries, and I came in for some adventures, the like of which I had never known before.

CHAPTER IT.

A FRIEND IN NEED.

UR fellows all ate supper at our lionse


that night, and a happier party than that which sat at our table was never seen anywhere.

Mark was the hero of the evening, and after he had entertained us with a glowing description of his adventure with the Indians, we related to him the exciting and amusing incidents that had happened during our deer hunt.

Duke, Herbert and Sandy started for home shortly after dark, and Mark and I went up to headquarters and prepared to pass the evening with our books. We intended to go back to school in the spring, and as we were too ambitious to fall behind our classes, we made it a point to devote a portion of each day to good hard study. I picked up my philosophy; while Mark settled into a comfortable position

A FRIEND IN NEED.    45

in Ms easy-chair, thrust Ms slippered feet out toward the fire, and soon became deeply interested in a problem in quadratic equations.

The hours flew rapidly by, and it was nine o’clock almost before we knew it.. By that time Mark had found a problem that brought him to a standstill, and resorting to his usual method of stimulating his ideas, he picked up his guitar and cleared his throat preparatory to treating me to his favorite song, “The Hunter’s Chorus,’’ which I had heard so often that I was heartily tired of it.

Just then the hounds'-'in the yard set up a loud baying. We heard the bars rattle, and then came the clatter of horses’ hoofs and loud voices at the door. Heavy steps sounded in the hall and ascended the stairs. A moment afterward the door opened and Sandy Todd came in, his clothes all splashed with mud, and his usually red face pale with excitement or anger, we could not tell which.

“What’s up?” we asked, in concert.

“ I reckon I might as well tell you to onct,” answered Sandy, “’cause you never could guess it. Jerry Lamar is in jail.”

V

46    OUK    FELLOWS.

“ In jail! ” we echoed. ‘‘ What for 1 ’’

“ lie is charged with stealin’ eight thousand dollars from General Mason,” was the reply.

I must stop here long enough to tell you something about Jerry Lamar, because he had considerable to do with the adventures that befell us during the winter. He lived about six miles from our house, on the banks of Black Bayou. His parents were poor, and Jerry and his father were lumbermen. They cut logs in the swamp, made them into rafts, and when the freshets came, floated them out to the river and down to Hew Orleans, where they sold them.

The timber they cut was all on our plantation, and father had so much confidence in their honesty that he never measured the rafts when they came out, but accepted the money Mr. Lamar offered him without asking any questions.

Jerry was one of the best boys I ever knew. Honest, good-natured and accommodating, he was beloved by every body (except old General Mason, who cared for no one but himself and his graceless nephew), and he would have been

A FRIEND IN NEED.    47

one of onr fallows if lie conld liave found time to accompany ns on onr expeditions ; but lie was too poor to own a horse or gun, and was obliged to work steadily from one year’s end to another. He was ambitious and tried hard to better,his condition, but somehow he always had bad luck.

General Mason (I do not know why people called him “General,” unless it was because he had plenty of money, for he never held a military commission in his life) was continually getting himself or somebody else into trouble.

He had long shown a disposition to persecute Mr. Lamar, because the latter refused to buy his timber in the swamps at double its value, and Mark and I had no hesitation in affirming that he had brought this charge against Jerry to be revenged on his father.

“I don’t believe a word of it,” said I.

“Anyone who knows Jerry Lamar would never suspect him of such a thing,” chimed in Mark.

“Iam sorry to say, fellers, that thar’s no mistake about it—that is, as fur as his bein’ in

48    OUR FELLOWS

jail is consarned, ’cause my father seed him when he was goin’ in. He’s down stairs now, pap is, talkin’ to your folks about goin’ Jerry’s bail.”

“ Is there nothing we can do for him ?” I asked.

“We can at least go down and see him., and assure him .of our sympathy,” said Mark.

‘ ‘ That’s j est what I thought, ’ ’ replied Sandy. “ I will ride over artor Duke and Herbert, and by the time I get back you can be ready.”

Sandy lumbered off down stairs, and Mark and I pulled on our boots and hurried after him. We stopped in the sitting-room for a f6w minutes to hear what Mr. Todd had to say about it, and when we saw father preparing to accompany him to town, we ran out to the barn to saddle our horses.

In about a quarter of an hour Sandy came back with Duke and Herbert, and we all set out for Burton (that was the name of the village in which the jail was situated), galloping along the road at break-neck speed, and spattering the mud in every direction.

When he had gone about a mile and a half,

A FRIEND IN NEED.    49

we suddenly discovered a horseman in the road in advance of us, whose actions we thought indicated a desire to avoid us, for he turned off the road into the bushes.

‘ ‘ That fellow, whoever he is, has been doing something mean,” said Duke, jumping his horse across the ditch beside the road and riding toward the place where the stranger was concealed. “An honest man wouldn’t sneak off into the woods and hide that way. Hallo, there ! Come out and show yourself ! ”

“Is that you, boys?” asked a trembling voice in the bushes.

‘ ‘ Oh, it’s that Tom Mason ! ’ ’ said Mark, contemptuously. “ What trick are you up to now? You have been about some underhanded business, or you wouldn’t be afraid of us.”

“I haven’t been up to any trick ; I haven’t, honor bright,” declared Tom, with more earnestness than we thought the occasion demanded. “ I didn’t know who it was coming down the road at that reckless pace. Where are you going in such a hurry ? ”

“To town, to see Jerry,” replied Duke.

50    OUR FELLOWS.

“You are! I wouldn’t .go near him if I were you. He’s a thief ! ”

- As Tom said this he came out into the road, and we saw that his face was deathly pale, and that he was trembling all over, as if he had been seized with an attack of the ague.

If we had known what Tom had passed through during the last few hours, perhaps we should not have been so surprised at the sight. Had we been in his situation, it is probable that we would have been frightened, too.

Tom Mason was the nephew and ward of the richest man in that part of Mississipxu, and the most unpopular boy in the settlement. He was so overbearing, and so dishonest and untruthful, that no one who had the least respect for himself could associate with him.

He cordially hated our fellowTs, because we would not invite him to accompany us on our hunting and fishing excursions, and never allowed an opportunity to do us an injury to pass unimproved. I shall have more to say about him presently.

“You fellows act as though you thought yourselves something grand,” continued Tom,

A FRIEND IN NEED.    51

“and I supposed you were above associating with, a thief.”

“ Now, I’ll tell yon what’s the truth,” said Sandy, shutting one eye and wrinkling up his nose, as he always did when he was very much in earnest, “ Jerry'ain’t no more of a thief than I be.”

“He is in jail, isn’t he?” demanded Tom. “That is enough to disgrace him forever. Those who visit him and sympathize with him are no better than he is.”

“Thar ain’t no disgrace whar thar ain’t no guilt,” replied Sandy, half inclined to get angry. “An’ another thing, what’s the use of a fellow’s havin’ friends if they go back on him the minute he gets into trouble? Jerry will find that we’ll stick to him now same as we did afore. Now I’ll tell you what’s the truth, Tom Mason : He don’t know no more about them thar eight thousand dollars than you do.”

“Nor half as much,” said Mark, decidedly. “Fellows,” he added, as we left Tom and went clattering down the road again, ‘ ‘ if the general has really lost any money, that boy knows where it is.” _

52    OUK FELLOWS.

We readied tlie village in a few minutes, and without any delay were conducted to the cell in which Jerry was confined.

I shall never forget .the thrill of horror that ran through me as the heavy iron door clanged behind us, or the despairing, woe-begone expression on the face of the prisoner. A few hours had made a great change in that jolly, wide-awake boy. He sat on his narrow bed with his face hidden in his hands, and when he looked up, I saw that his eyes were red and swollen with weeping.

“ I little thought I should ever come to this,” said Jerry, in a husky voice; “and I never expected to see you here, either.”

‘ ‘ When a fellow is in trouble he wants friends, doesn’t he?” asked Duke. “Have you had any examination yet ? ”

“I have been before the squire, if that is what you mean, and have been sent here-in default of bail—sixteen thousand dollars. The squire might as well have said a million.” “Ho, I reckon not,” said Sandy. “Mr. Coleman an’ Mr. Dickson an’ my father can raise sixteen thousand dollars, I think, but it

A FRIEND IN NEED.    53

miglit bother ’ em some to find a million. Now, I’11 tell yon what’s the truth, Jeremiah Lamar, did you steal them thar- eight thousand from General Mason ? ”

“No, I never saw the money.”

“How in the world did you manage to get into this miserable scrape ? ” asked Duke.

Jerry wiped his eyes and settled back on his elbow, while we disposed of ourselves in various attitudes about the cell and waited for him to begin the story.

CHAPTER Y.

WE TALK THE MATTER OYER.

AS Jerry’s utterance was often interrupted by sobs, it took him a long time to tell ns how this unpleasant state of affairs had been brought about.

During the progress of his story we learned that General Mason, according to the evidence he had given before the^squire, had that morning returned from Hew Orleans, where he had been to draw some money to make the first payment on a plantation he had recently purchased.

The boat on which hewas a passenger stopped at the mouth of the bayou to take on a supply of wood; and the general, learning that Mr. Lamar was about to come down with another raft, suddenly took it into his head that it would be a good plan to go up and examine it. He had lost a good deal of valuable timber of

WE TALK THE MATTER OYEE.    55

, late, lie said, and lie believed tliat Jerry and his father had stolen it. He would look at the raft, and if there were any of his logs in it he would know them, for they were all marked.

So he jumped into a skiff and pulled up the bayou, taking with him a valise containing eight thousand dollars in gold.

He found Mr. Lamar engaged in making up the raft, a portion of which was moored to the bank in front of his house. The general got out of his skiff, and after examining that part of the raft, walked up the bayou to the place where Mr. Lamar was at work.

The latter, knowing why he had come there, good-naturedly took his pike-staff and turned the logs over in the water, so that the general could see all sides of them.

But none of them bore his mark ; and without even apologizing to the lumberman for the trouble he had given him, the general returned to the skiff. He got out the oars and was about to shove off from the bank, when he discovered that the valise containing the eight thousand dollars, which he had carelessly left - in the boat, was gone..

56    OUR FELLOWS.

Jerry was busy chopping wood in front of the house, and without an instant’s hesitation the general sprang ashore, seized him by the collar, and walking him into the skiff, started off to take him before the magistrate.

“You can’t imagine how astonished I was,” said Jerry. “ When the general ffrst came there I was not at home ; I was up the bayou after a load of wood. You know that when the water comes up it makes an island of the hill on which our house stands, and we are obliged to bring all our firewood from the mainland in a canoe. I noticed the skiff when I came back, but I did not know who had brought it there until I saw G-eneral Mason up the bank with father, looking at the logs. When he came down I wished him good-morning ; but he did not speak or even look at me, and I went on with my work. The next thing I knew I was lying flat on the bottom of the skiff, and he was shoving off into the stream.

“‘You see I am prepared for any tricks,’ said he, flourishing a revolver before my face. 1 You have stolen eight thousand dollars out of

WE TALK THE MATTER OVER,    57

this boat. Now will you tell me where it is, or go to jail?”

“If the Mississippi had suddenly overflowed its banks and come pouring into the bayou, carrying every thing before it, I could not have been more astounded and alarmed. How could I tell him where his money was when I had never seen it ?

“ I said every thing I could to convince him that I was innocent of the crime with which he charged me ; but it was of no use. I might as well have kept silent. In obedience to his orders I picked up the oars and pulled down the bayou; and here I am.”

“Well,” said I, when Jerry paused, “I don’t see that you are in such a terrible scrape. How is General Mason going to prove that you stole his money ? ”

“Humph!” exclaimed Duke, “you had better ask ‘How,is Jerry going to prove that he didn’t steal it ? ’ I have read somewhere,” he continued, ‘ ‘ that a trial at law is a lie direct. One says ‘ You did,’ and the other says ‘I didn’t.’ In this case General Mason affirms that Jerry stole his money, and Jerry

58    OUE FELLOWS.

declares that lie never saw it. We know that the general is mistaken, but how are we going to convince him of that fact while he has the evidence all on his side ? ”

‘ ‘ I know how,5 5 exclaimed Herbert, excitedly. “We’ll find the real culprit, that’s the way we’ll do it; and I can pnt my hands on him in less than half an hour. That Tom Mason is the very fellow.”

“Where is your proof?” inquired the practical Duke.

“Who knows that the money was stolen at all?” asked Mark. “Perhaps it fell overboard.”    ■

“Well, suppose it did. That doesn’t help the matter any, for how are we going to show that it fell overboard ? ”

“Oh, I am ruined, boys!” groaned Jerry, who had listened attentively to what Duke had to say. ‘‘ I can’t prove that I did not steal the money, for there was no one near me., Mother ■was in the house, and I was alone with the skiff for at least ten minutes. . My word will go for nothing against that of a man like General Mason. But, fellows, if that money was stolen

WE TALK THE MATTER OYER.    59

at all, it was taken before I got back with my load of wood.”

‘ ‘ Did you see any one prowling around your liouse?” asked Duke. “Perhaps some of the Swamp Dragoons were up there hunting.”

“If they were, I did not see them. I was alone.”

Duke had shown us just how the matter stood, and our friend’s prospects began to look very dark indeed. IN'o one could blame General Mason, for the evidence was strong against Jerry. We knew he was innocent, but we could not prove it, and he would spend the best years of his life in prison, and the real culprit would never be discovered.

While we were thinking the matter over, and wondering what we could do to assist Jerry, we heard a heavy tramping in the hall, and presently Mr. Todd, Mr. Dickson and father came in, accompanied by the constable and jailer. They had found bail for Jerry, and he was once more at liberty to go where he pleased until the following month, when his case would come up for trial before the Circuit Court. He did not seem very much elated over his libera-

60    OU31 FELLOWS.

tion, for lie shrank from encountering the curious eyes which he knew would be turned upon him when he reached the street. But we did not give him time to think about that. Herbert and I caught him by the arms, Sandy put his hat on his hep,d (he was so completely wrapped up in his troubles that he seemed to have forgotten that he had a hat to wear, or a pair of feet to stand upon), and we hurried him out of the jail and across the road to the place where we had left our horses.

We sprang into our saddles, I took Jerry up behind me, and in a few minutes carried him out of sight of the village. In accordance with his request, I put him down at the head of the lane that led to the swamp, and there we all separated and set out for home.

It was late when Mark and I awoke the next morning. After breakfast, I shouldered an ax, and, mounting my horse, started for the woods, where I had agreed to meet the rest of our fellows and spend an hour or two with them in building turkey-traps, while Mark, who said he .didn’t feel like tramping around in the. mud all day, remained at home.

WE TALK THE MATTER OYER.    61

No one could have told from the way the day began, that it was destined to wind up with an adventure, and that Mark’s “ laziness,” as I called it, was to bring about a series of events that ultimately proved to be of the greatest benefit to Jerry Lamar ; but yet it was so.

Before Mark went to bed again he got into a scrape that well nigh cost him his life, and enabled him to prove Jerry’s innocence to every body’s satisfaction. In order that you may understand how it came about, I must follow his movements.

After I left, Mark studied awhile, read a little, and thrummed on his guitar a good deal. He passed an hour in this way, and at the end of that "time was aroused from a reverie into which he had fallen by a sound which never failed to throw him into a state of intense excitement—the “honk, honk!” uttered by a flock of wild geese as they flew over the house.

Mark was all life and activity in an instant. Dropping his guitar as if it had been a coal of fire, he caught up his gun, which he always kept loaded and ready for such an emergency, and, in less time than it takes to tell it, was

our fellows:

standing bareheaded in the yard, gazing np into the air, which was fairly darkened by wild geese.

Bang! bang! spoke the double-barrel, in quick, decided tones, and down came two of the flock, one stone dead and the- other with a broken wing.

After securing his -game, Mark stood watching the birds, which flew slowly onward, gradually settling down as they neared the swamp, and finally disappearing behind the bushes that lined the banks of the bayou.

“ They have taken to the water,” said Mark, gleefully, “ and if I don’t bag a dozen of them before I am an hour older, it will be because I have forgotten how to shoot on the wing.”

Mark ran up to headquarters, and presently reappeared in his big boots and shooting-jacket, his powder-flask and shot-bag slung over liis shoulder, and his trusty double-barrel under his arm.

He ran into the kitchen to ask Aunt Martha to put up a lunch for him, and in half an hour more he had embarked in the canoe which we kept moored in the bayou, and was paddling

"WE TALK TIIE MATTER OYER.    63

for dear life toward tlie place where he had seen the geese alight in the water.

If yon have .never seen a freshet I can not convey to yon even a slight idea of the appearance the swamp presented to-Mark’s gaze that morning.

In summer it was perfectly dry, and the bayou which ran through it was not more than ten feet wide, and so shallow that the little trading boats, which are said to be able to run after a heavy dew, could not possibly ascend it. -

How the swamp was covered to the depth of fifteen feet, and the bayon was booming along at the rate of ten miles an hour, carrying with it huge trees and logs, which were whirled about in every direction, threatening instant destruction to any thing that came within their -reach.    .    ^    '

'Of course navigation was dangerous in the* extreme; but Mark never thought of. that. His mind was wholly occupied with the wild geese.    -

The canoe, propelled by the current and the rapid strokes of the paddle, quickly reached

64    OUR FELLOWS.

the bend in which the geese had alighted, and as Mark rounded the point above it, he saw the flock'before him, and within easy range.

I need not stop to relate to you the incidents of the hunt, which continued nearly all day ; for, although interesting in themselves, they have no bearing upon the adventure which followed. It will be enough to say that the geese took wing as often as Mark approached them ; that they always left two, and sometimes four and five, of their number dead or wounded behind them ; that at last they became alarmed at the havoc made in their ranks, and rising high in the air, flew over the tops of the trees, toward the river; and that when they disappeared, Mark, with some difficulty, landed om- a little island in the bayou to rest after his long-continued exertions, and to eat the lunch which Aunt Martha had put up for him.

As soon as his excitement had somewhat abated, he proceeded to make an examination of his spoils, and found that he had been successful beyond his most sanguine expectations —thirty-two fine, fat geese bearing evidence to

WE TALK THE MATTER OVER.    65

the skill with which he had handled his double-barrel. '

He also became conscious of another fact after he had looked about him, and that was that he had not the least idea how far he was from home, or in what part of the swamp he had brought up. He could not discover a single familiar landmark. With the exception of the island on which he was standing, and which was not more than twenty feet square, there was not, a spot of dry land within the range of his vision—nothing but a wilderness of giant trees, standing half submerged in the dark, muddy water, which rushed by the island with the speed of a mill-sluice.

To add to the unpleasantness of his situation, the leafless branches above his head were tossing about in violent commotion, and the surface of the water was whirled into eddies by a fierce wind, which increased in fury every moment, betokening the approach of a tempest.

Some boys would have been frightened, but Mark was not. He ate his lunch with great deliberation, glancing up at the clouds occasionally, thinking over the incidents of the

66    OUR FELLOWS.

day, and trying to determine upon some plan of action.

There were two ways for him to return home. One was to pull back up the bayou in the direction from which he had come, and the other to float down the stream until he reached -the7 river.

There was one insurmountable obstacle, in the Way of carrying out the first plan, and that was, that alone and unaided he could not possibly propel his canoe against the cnrrent.

To the second plan there was also an objection—quite a formidable one, too—which, in order that you may understand what followed, I must explain at some length.

I have told you that the bayou emptied into the Mississippi River. About a mile above its mouth was a succession of falls, perhaps fifteen feet high, and at this point the bayou, which ran between two rocky bluffs, made a very abrupt bend. The foot of the bluff on the lower side had been worn away by the constant action of the water, causing the top to hang threateningly over the bed of the stream.

Against this bluff, and along the whole

WE TALK THE MATTER OVER.    67

length of it, was piled a dense mass of logs and trees, thus forming a sort of cavern, open at both ends.

This cave went by the name of “ Dead Man’s Elbow,” from the fact that more than one lumberman had lost his life there.

When the water was low it could be easily explored, and many a hot summer’s day had our fellows spent there fishing and shooting alligators ; but during a freshet it was a dangerous place.

The space between the bluffs was so narrow that only a small portion of the water could pass over the falls, and the most of it found its way into this cavern, through which it rushed and roared with the speed of a small Niagara; and any thing that came within its reach was hurried along with almost incredible fury, and dashed upon the logs and rocks below.

This was the obstacle that Mark would be obliged to pass on his way to the river. Of course there was a possibility that he would accomplish the descent in safety, for he was a skillful boatman, and he knew that more than

68    OUR FELLOWS.

one canoe and dozens of heavy rafts had passed over the falls when the water was at its highest; but if any accident befell him—if he once allowed himself to be brought within the influence of the powerful current that set toward the cavern—if his paddle broke or he became exhausted, it would be “all day ” with him.

Mark thought of these things while he was munching his sandwiches, and when the last one had been disposed of he stepped into his canoe and began to make preparations for his perilous voyage.

His first move was to pack the geese care f ully away under the thwarts, so that they would not be thrown overboard in case of any sudden lurching of his little vessel, and the second to fasten a strap to his shotgun and sling it over his shoulder.

Mark was greatly attached to that little double-barrel, and he was determined that if he passed Dead Man’s Elbow in safety, the gun should go through safely, also.

Perhaps his hands trembled a little while he was making these preparations, perhaps too, he wished that some other boy had been standing

WE TALK THE MATTER OYER.    69

in Ms boots just then ; but there was no alternative between attempting the passage of the falls and camping all night in the swamp without a fire, and of the two evils he thought he had chosen the least.

All, things being ready; Mark cast off the painter, and with one sweep of the paddle turned the canoe about and sent it flying down the bayou. He went at almost railroad speed, but kept his craft completely under control, and when at last he came suddenly around a sharp bend and found himself between two high bluffs, with Head Man’s Elbow in plain sight, he had screwed his courage up to the sticking point, and was ready to face the danger.

He placed his hat more firmly on his head, tightened his grasp on his paddle, and fastening his eyes on the falls before him, was nerving himself for the plunge, when his attention was suddenly attracted by loud.shouts, which sounded from the cliffs above. He looked up, and the sight that met his gaze filled him with amazement and consternation.

Hear the middle of the bayou, and but a

70    our fellows:

short distance above the falls, was a dead tree which must have possessed enormous roots, for it had stood there ever since I could remember, holding its upright position in defiance of the logs and rafts that had been dashed against it.

It was not the tree itself that fixed Mark’s gaze and excited his surprise, but something that was crouching among its branches. It was not a bear or panther, but a man, dressed in a tattered brown jeans suit, who seemed to be very badly frightened, for that portion of his face which was visible over his bushy, uncombed whiskers was as pale as death.

Stranded on the very brink of the falls was the skiff in which the man had doubtless descended the bayou. It was lying on its side, half filled with water, and all that kept it from going over the falls was the log against which it had lodged.

On the cliff above the falls stood the persons whose shouts had attracted Mark’s attention. There were half a dozen of them—boys about his own age—and they were the redoubtable Swamp Dragoons who have already been men-

WE TALK THE MATTEE OYEE.    71

tioned in this story, and who are destined from this time forth to play a prominent part in it.

One of them held a long rope in his hand, with which he had been trying to rescue the man in the tree. They were all in a high state of excitement and alarm, which seemed to be greatly increased by Mark’s sudden appearance among them.

As soon as he came in sight, one of the Dragoons, who, like a good many others in the settlement, had not yet learned to tell Mark and me apart, called out:

“Now, then, what do you want here, Joe Coleman? Jest turn right around and go back up the bayou. You’ve got no sort of business here.”

“Yes,” shouted the man in the tree, shaking his fist at Mark, “go back whar you come from. AYhat are you spyin’ about here fur?” At first Mark did not know what to make, of this greeting. Why should the man in the tree accuse him of acting as a spy upon his movements, and what reason had the Dragoons for ordering him away when he had as much right there as they had ? There could be but

72    OUR FELLOWS.

one answer to these questions, and that was that there was something in the vicinity which they did not want him to see.

“Do yon hear what I say!” shonted the man in the tree. “Get away—go back whar yon come from. We don’t want yon abont. here.”

‘ ‘ Get away yourself, ’ ’ replied Mark. £ ‘ Have-n’t yon sense enough to know that I couldn’t go back if I wanted to? There isn’t a man living who can paddle a canoe against this current.”

These words had scarcely left Mark’s lips before he became aware that he had got himself into trouble. While his attention was drawn to the man in the tree, his canoe had escaped from his control, and was now shooting with the speed of an arrow toward the cavern. It was not more than twenty feet distant, and if he once entered it no power on earth could save him.

When he saw and fully realized his danger, Ms face grew deathly pale, and for an instant the light paddle in his hand felt as heavy as lead. But it was only for an instant. His

WE TALK THE MATTER OVER.    73

power of action returned almost as quickly as it had deserted him, and, jumping to his feet, he fought hard for his life.

For a few seconds it seemed as if his puny arm could combat successfully with the roaring, foaming waters which leaped so wildly around him; but just at the moment when the canoe appeared to be perfectly motionless, and it seemed as if a feather’s weight might turn it either way—toward the falls,- where it would be comparatively safe, or toward the cavern where its destruction was certain—there was a' loud snap, and Mark found himself standing with a broken paddle in his hand, and saw the bow of the canoe swinging rapidly toward the waves which filled the mouth of Dead Man’s Elbow;

CHAPTER VI.

MARK MAKES A DISCOVERY.

IP there was any thing for which Mark was noted, besides his skill as a wrestler, it was the coolness and deliberation with which he acted in times of danger.

In this, he was a good deal like Sandy, who conld scarcely be induced to move one step faster than his ordinary gait even under the most exciting circumstances.

Mark often grew pale in trying situations, and sometimes seemed utterly powerless to lift hand or foot, but when the decisive moment came, and action could be no longer delayed, he moved with a promptness and celerity that was astonishing.

On this occasion it did not seem that there was the smallest chance of escape. The Swamp Dragoons and the man in the tree thought so, and looked down at him with blanched cheeks.

MARK MAKES A DISCOVERT.    75

Mark-thought so, and stood erect in his boat, gazing in a stupid, benumbed sort of way into the dark opening where more than one strong man had given np his life, and toward which he was being hurried with lightning speed. But all this time he knew what he was about, and, when the canoe was on the very point of taking the fatal plunge, he sprang into the air with the agility of a squirrel.

The instant he touched the water he gave one swift stroke and reached a place Of refuge  a huge sawyer, one end of which was imbedded in the mud at the bottom of the bayou, and the other projecting two or three feet above the surface of the water.

Clinging with a death-grip to this friendly support, he turned to look at his canoe ; but it had already disappeared, and was being smashed into kindling-wood as the mad waters hurried it through the cavern/

“Whew!” gasped Mark, drawing himself out of the water and seating himself on the sawyer ; £C did any body ever hear of a closer

shave than that %

“Well, you done come safe off, didn’t you ? ”

76    OUB FELLOWS.

growled the man in the tree, and Mark j adged bj^ the tones of his voice that he would have been much better pleased if he had gone into, the cavern with the canoe. c c The next time you come so nigh to goin’ out o’ the world, you’ll go ; you kin bet on that.”

Mark did not reply. He sat on the log, panting loudly, and looking first at the place where his canoe had disappeared, then at the angry waters about him, and finally he fastened his gaze upon the man in the tree, who seemed to be in no amiable frame of mind.

He was no stranger to the persons into whose company he had been thus unexpectedly thrown.

About ten miles from our settlement, in an almost inaccessible part of the swamp, lived a colony of people who gained a livelihood in some mysterious manner, that had more than once excited the suspicions of the planters. ^

The head man among them was Luke Hed-man, and he it was who was now crouching in the branches of the tree, glaring down at Mark like some wild animal which had been brought to bay by the hounds.

MARK MAKES A DISCOVERY.    77

The boys on the cliff were the younger members of the colony of which I have spoken, who seemed in a fair way to follow in the footsteps of their fathers, for a harder set of fellows could not be found anywhere.

They boasted a sort of military organization, and their officers were a captain and a lieutenant.

The captain was Barney Redman, the oldest son of the man in the tree, and his distinguishing badge was a squirrel’s tail, which he wore in front of his hat for a plume.

His brother Luke, the lieutenant, sported a coonskin cap and a couple of turkey feathers.

The Dragoons were gathered in a group on the edge of the cliff, holding a whispered consultation, and now and then looking down at Marie, as if he were the subject of their conversation.

“What’s the matter with you, Barney?” said Mark, at length, addressing himself to the captain of the Dragoons ; “you seem to be mad about something.”

‘ ‘ What' business have you got here ? That’s what I want to know,” replied Barney, angrily.

78    OUR FELLOWS.

Ct The best thing yon can" do is to leave here sudden.”

. “I am well satisfied of that. It is pretty cold, and I am not at all comfortable sitting here in my wet clothes. If you will tell me how to reach dry land, I shall be greatly obliged to you. But, I say, Barney ! ” -“Well, what do you want? ”

“ What’s been going on here?55

“ Who said any thing had been goin’ on ? ” demanded Luke Redman, in a tone of voice which indicated considerable alarm.

And as he spoke, he cast a sidelong glance over his shoulder toward his skiff, which was stranded on the edge of the falls.

There was something so stealthy in the action that Mark’s suspicions were aroused in an instant. He followed the man’s glance, and one look was enough to clear up every thing which, but a moment before, had appeared so mysterious.

“ Thar hain’t been nothin’ goin’ on here that I knows on,” repeated Mr. Redman. “ I come down the bayou, same as you did, an’ got ketched in the current an’ upsot; an’ if it

MARK MAKES A DISCOVERY.    79

hadn’t been for this yere tree, I’d ’a gone over the falls, I reckon.”

“ What’s that hanging to the row-lock of your skiff ? ” asked Mark, suddenly.

“Whar? I don’t see nothin’.”

“Don’t yon? Well, I do. It is a valise, and has General Mason’s name on it. I can see it as plainly as I can see yon. There hasn’t been anything going on here, eh? I know better. There are eight thousand dollars in gold in that valise, Luke Redman, and yon were making off with it. That’s what’s been going on.”

Mark had hit the nail squarely on the head. Luke Redman certainly had General Mason’s valise in his skiff, and he had come down the bayou, intending to escape to the river with bis booty, and cross into Louisiana ; and it is probable that he would have succeeded in carrying1 out his plans, had it not been for the iccident that compelled him to take refuge in the tree.

When the skiff was overturned, one of the randies of the valise had, by the merest acci-Ient,maught in the row-lock, and that was all

80    OUR FELLOWS.

that saved it from going to the bottom of the bayon.

There it hung, in plain sight, bobbing up and down in the water, as the skiff rose and fell with the waves.

A dead silence succeeded Mark’s bold announcement of the discovery he had made.

The Dragoons brought their consultation to a sudden close, and looked at Luke Redman, whose face turned pale with alarm, and then almost purple with rage.

“I call this a lucky hunt, after all,” said Mark, who, knowing that he was out of reach of his enemies, was disposed to be impudent. ‘ ‘ When I get back to the settlement, my first hard work shall be to clear Jerry Lamar, and put the authorities on your track.”

“ But you hain’t got back to the settlement yet,” shouted Luke Redman, “an5, what’s more, you shan’t go. You’ll never see your home ag’in, mind that.”

“Why not?” inquired Mark, who knew very well what the man meant by this threat. “Who’s going to hinder me ? ”

“I am, Don’t you think it would be a

MARK MAKES A DISCOVERT.    81

mighty smart thing for me to let yon go back to yonr folks, an5 tell ’em what you’ve done seed here to-night ? I hain’t quite so green as that. Halloo, there! Stop him, Barney. Jump on your hoss an’ foiler him up, an’ ketch him. If he gets away, we are done fur.”

The sudden change in Luke Bedman’s tone was brought about by an action on Mark’s part that astonished every body who witnessed it. While the man was speaking he had risen to his feet, and, balancing himself on the sawyer, took a survey of the situation, and calculated his chances for carrying out a desperate resolve he had formed.

As I have told you, there were two currents in the bayou at this particular point—one setting toward the falls and the other toward the cavern. The sawyer was situated near the edge of the latter current, and Mark was sure that a good jump and a few swift strokes would carry him beyond its influence into the comparatively smooth current that ran toward the falls.'

He determined to try it, and he did ; and to his infinite delight, and the intense amazement

82    OUR FELLOWS.

of Luke Redman, lie reached the smooth current in safety, and struck out for the skiff, intending to catch the valise as he went by and take it away with him.

But the current was much too strong for him. It carried him far out of reach of the skiff, and whirled him over the falls as if he had been a feather. He heard loud ejaculations of rage and alarm behind him, and caught just one'glimpse of the Dragoons, who were mounting their horses to pursue him, and then he was swept rapidly around the bend, and they were left out of sight.

How long Mark remained in the water, and how far his enemies pursued him, he did not know. He kept in the bayou until he passed the bluffs and reached a spot where the water once more spread out over the swamp, and there he turned and made the best of his way toward the chain of hills which ran along the bank of the river.

He had ridden over the ground on horseback more than once, but he had never swum over it before, and the distance seemed to have lengthened out wonderfully; but it was safely accom-

MARK MAKES A DISCOVERY.    83

plished at last, and when he crawled out upon the dry ground and turned his face homeward, he told himself that he had done something to be proud of. He had swum over the falls— and that was a feat that no one in the settlement had ever attempted before—and although he had lost his canoe and every one of the wild geese for which he had worked so hard, he had saved his double-barrel, and made a discovery that was worth a great deal to Jerry Lamar,

And his exploits were not yet ended. He was twenty miles from home, and for five long hours he trudged along the road in his wet clothes, facing a blinding stonn and splashing through mud more than ankle deep.

I never saw a worse-looking boy than he was when he burst in upon us about ten o’ clock, and I do not suppose he ever saw a more astonished family than we were, while we sat listening to the story of his adventures.

In spite of his remonstrances, he was put to bed immediately; while father and I donned our rubber coats and boots, and rode out into the storm to arouse the settlement.

CHAPTER VII.

OUR CHRISTMAS TURKEYS.

IN less than two hours after Mark reached home, three large canoes loaded -with settlers swept down the bay on and landed at the bluffs above Dead Man’s Elbow.

The place was found to be deserted. There were plenty of footprints in the mud on the top of the cliff, and that was all that remained to tell of the thrilling incidents that had happened there but a short time before.

The skiff and the valise had disappeared, and the tree in which Luke Redman had taken refuge was empty. How he managed to escape from his perilous situation—whether he imitated Mark’s example, and swam over the falls, or the Swamp Dragoons succeeded in pulling him up the bluff—we had no means of judging. He was gone, and the next thing was to find him.

OUR CHRISTMAS TURKEYS.    85

During .the next few days the settlement was in great commotion. In company with the planters, our fellows explored the county from one end to the other, but without finding the" slightest trace of Luke Redman and the Swamp Dragoons. They had disappeared as completely as though they had never existed at all.

At the end of a week, however, The excitement began to abate, and our attention «was called to other matters. Christmas was near at hand, and that was a great day with us. From the time we were old enough to be trusted with horses and guns, we had made it a point to spend the day hunting, in the woods, winding up our sports about four o’clock in the afternoon by eating a wild turkey which had been roasted over our campfire.

We had begun as early as the first of the month to make preparations for this all-important occasion, but our chances for securing the necessary game grew less promising as the day drew near. Wild turkeys were not only exceedingly scarce that year, but the few we saw

86    OUR FELLOWS.

during our rambles were so shy that it was next to an impossibility to shoot one ; and as we were resolved that we would not miss onr accustomed dinner, , we were obliged to resort to something that every true sportsman holds in supreme contempt—namely, traps.

We built several among the beech ridges in the swamp, but scarcely had we completed them before we became aware that somebody was w interfering with our arrangements. He visited the traps as regularly as we visited them ourselves, and took all the game out of them.

We knew as well as though we had seen him in the act that Tom Mason was the culprit, but for a long time our efforts to fasten the guilt upon him were unsuccessful. We came up with the gentleman at'last, however, and took a little satisfaction out of him for the disappointment and vexation he had occasioned us, although before the day was over he paid me for it in a way I did not like.

On. the morning of the day before Christmas, Mark burst into headquarters, where I was sitting in company with the rest of our fellows, his clothes all covered with mud that had been

OUR CHRISTMAS TURKEYS.    87

splashed over them by his horse’s feet, and his face red with anger. He had started out at daylight to visit the traps, and his looks showed plainly that he had met with no better success than usual.

“ It is no use, fellows,” said he, pitching his' hat spitefully into one corner, “ we might as well give it up. I don’t see whathuch boys as Tom Mason are made for, anyhow.”

“ Oh, no ! we can’t give up the dinner,” said Duke, quickly. “ If we don’t succeed in capturing a turkey, we will shoot a wild goose. We can find plenty of them, yon know.”

“ Well,” replied Mark, “if you want to hunt wild geese on a raft, yon can do it. I’ll stay at home.”

“ On a raft! ’ ’ repeated Duke. ‘ ‘ Where’s the canoe %

“You tell; or, if yon want to be certain about it, go and ask Tom Mason. He knows. It is gone, and I had to build a raft to go over to the island where we made our last trap.” We were all very much provoked when we heard this. It was irritating enough to have onr sports interrupted and our plans broken

88    OUR FELLOWS.

in upon by such a fellow as Tom Mason, but we did not mind that so much as the loss of our canoe. The Spitfire—that was the name we had given her—was a swift, handy little craft, and as it was the first one our fellows ever built, and we had owned it for years, we thought a great deal of it. Even easy-going Sandy, who seldom spoke harshly of anybody, declared that it was high time we were taking that Tom Mason in hand.

“I don’t think we can be expected to stand this thing'any longer,” continued Mark. • “I know that there are as many as fifty turkeys that roost on that island at night, and that some of them must get in that trap every morning. I propose that we camp out on the bank of the bayou to-night and watch the island.”

“That’s a good idea,” said I. “I will go down at once, and send a couple of darkeys into the swamp to build a shanty for us.”

While I was hunting up the negroes, and giving them some instructions in regard to the location of the shanty, the manner in which it was to be built, and the quantity of provision's

OUR CHRISTMAS TURKEYS.    89

we should need during the two days we expected to remain in the swamp, I heard a great rumpus in the house, such as might have been occasioned by a squad of cavalry driving rapidly through the hall. I knew, however, that the noise was made by the heavy boots worn by our fellows, who were rushing pell-mell down the stairs.

Wondering what was in the wind now, I ran around the house, and saw a group” of excited boys gathered in the lane.

Conspicuous among them was Tom Mason, who sat on his horse, flourishing his riding-whip in the air and talking at the top of his voice.

. Mark held his nag by the bridle, and was trying his best to induce Tom to dismount, threatening to pull him from his saddle if he did not immediately comply.

Believing that there was a fight in prospect, and that Tom would be severely punished, I jumped over the bars and joined the group, intending to do all I could to prevent a difficulty.

“I don’t know any thing about your old

90    OUR FELLOWS.

boat, Mark Coleman,” said Tom, as I came up ; “and even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you. I think you have good cheek to come to me for favors after treating me as yon have done. But I will tell you one thing—you had better look out for me now. I’ll sink that canoe if I can find it, and I’ll pull down every turkey trap you set in these woods.”

“Well, now, if you will come out of that saddle for about two minutes, I will convince you that you had better steer clear of us and every thing belonging to us,” said Mark.

“If you know when you are well off, you will stay where you are,” I exclaimed. “ Let go his horse, Mark. Now, friend Mason,” I added, as Mark released his hold of the bridle and fell back, ‘ ‘ the way is open, and you had better clear yourself.”

Tom rode a short distance up the lane, and then stopped and looked back.

“Where did you get that boat you were talking about? ” he demanded.

“We made it,” replied Duke.

“That’s a likely story. I’d as soon think you stole it. As I told you once before, those

OUR CHRISTMAS TURKEYS.    91

who sympathize with thieves are no better than they are. Yon won’t go hunting or fishing with me; but you will ride six miles through the mud to visit the beggar Jerry Lamar when he is in jail.”

“Yes,” replied Herbert, “we are particular in regard to the company we keep. We’re rather shy of boys who steal and tell falsehoods.”

“I know what you mean by that,” said Tom, angrily, “and I’ll pay you for it, too. I am going to make things exceedingly lively for all of you this winter, if you only knew it. I’ll settle up all the little accounts between us in a way you don’t think of ; mind that! ’ ’

As Tom gave utterance to this warning, he put spurs to his horse and galloped away, while our fellows returned to headquarters.

We spent an hour or two in talking over the events of the morning, and about eleven o’ clock mounted our horses and started for the swamp.

We passed the time until three in the afternoon in riding about among the hills, visiting our traps, and you can imagine what our feelings were when we found that Tom Mason had

92    OUR FELLOWS.

already begun to carry out the threats he had made that morning.

Two of our traps had been robbed siijce Mark visited them at daylight, and as many more completely demolished.

How did we know that any of them had been robbed ? By the feathers that were scattered about over the ground.

We found, too, that the thief had come into the woods by way of the bayou, for we tracked him to the bank, and found the place where he had landed from his canoe.

When we had visited all our traps in thal part of the woods, we turned our horses’ heads toward the camp ; and if you are one with the soul to appreciate such things, you'will know how we enjoyed the pleasant sight that greeted our eyes as we entered a little valley among the hills, and found a commodious pole shanty and a roaring fire waiting for us.

We dismounted, and, while we stood warming our benumbed hands over the cheerful blaze, looked around on the preparations that had been made for our comfort.

The negroes must have thought it was our

OUR CHRISTMAS TURKEYS.    93

intention to remain in the woods all the rest of onr lives, judging by the care they had taken in fitting up the camp.

The shanty was tight, and would have kept us dry if it had rained buckets. It was built with its back to the wind and the front open to the fire ; and looking inside, we saw five beds neatly made up on the floor, which was thickly covered with leaves.

On one side of the shanty was a supply of wood for the fire, and on the other was the wagon, beside which stood a span of mules, contentedly munching their corn.

Sam, one of the negroes, was exploring a huge mess-chest in the wagon, and bringing to light the good things mother had put up for us, now and then turning his head to look at the brace of wild ducks and the half a dozen squirrels that were broiling on the coals. '

I shall never forget that camp. It served us as our “ headquarters in the field” for many a year, and one memorable night was the scene of one of the most exciting adventures that ever befell our fellows.

“Not a single turkey have we seen yet,”

94    OUR FELLOWS.

said Mark, as we drew up around the fire. “Have you boys been on the island to look at that trap %”

“Yes, sah,” replied Sam, “an’ it’s done tore down. But I built it up ag’in, an’ throwed corn all around it. I reckon we’ll get some turkeys outen dar afo’ night, ’kase Cuff is hid in the bushes watchin’ de island, an’ if dat dar Mason boy comes pokin’ round ag’in, he’ll get cotched.”

We felt better then, and told one another that that Mason boy’s tricks were at an end, for that day at least. We talked the matter over while we were waiting for our dinner, and decided upon a plan of operations.

The island on which our trap was built was a noted place for turkeys. If there were any in the woods, they were always to be found there, and the secret lay in the fact that the island produced an immense quantity of beechnuts, of which turkeys are very fond.

We had made our camp about half a mile from the bayou, and our object in doing so was that the turkeys might not be frightened away by the smoke from our fire,

OUR CHRISTMAS TURKEYS.    95

The plan we decided upon was that, as soon ls we had eaten our dinner, two of our fellows ihould conceal themselves in the bushes on the )ank of the bayou, and hold themselves in •eadiness to alarm the camp if they saw Tom das on prowling about, or heard any thing sus-)icious going on on the island.

We did not carry this plan into execution, lowever, for just as the ducks and squirrels vere done to a turn and Sam had finished lay-ng the table, Cuff came dashing into camp, )reathless and excited, and announced that a arge flock of turkeys had just flown from the nainland over to the island.

That was enough for us.. We did not think my more about dinner just then, but seized )ur guns and started post-haste toward the >ayou. i

Herbert Dickson was the first to reach the )ank, but no sooner had he emerged from ;h§ bushes than he drew back again, and notioned for us to approach with more cau-:ion.

“ Fellows,” he whispered, as we gathered ibout him, “ we are not the only ones who are

96    OUR FELLOWS.

watching the island. Tom Mason is over there.”

Following in Herbert’s wake, we crept carefully toward the bank and looked toward the island. Our evil genius was not in sight, but his canoe was, and it was almost filled with turkeys—the proceeds of his morning’s raid upon our traps.

“We’ve got him cornered at last,” said Duke; “and if we move quickly and quietly, we can catch him in the act of stealing our game. I suggest that we teach him manners by ducking him in the bayou.”

“ And let us keep on ducking him until he tells us what he has done with our boat,” said • Mark. “ I know he has stolen it.” •

The raft Mark had made that morning was lying alongside of the bank, and it was but the work of a moment to- jump on board and shove out‘into the stream.

Just as we moved from the shore, we heard a loud flapping of wings in the bushes on the island, and a moment afterward a flock of turkeys arose above the trees, and sailed off into the woods.

OUR CHRISTMAS TURKEYS.    97

“ There ! ” exclaimed Herbert. “ Tom has frightened them away before they had time to get into the'trap.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said I. “There are more turkeys in that boat than we can eat at one Christmas dinner.”

Duke, who was managing the raft, used his paddle with all his strength; but, before we were half-way across the bayou, the robber came in sight, carrying a turkey slung over 'each shoulder. He stopped when he discovered us, and his face turned red with shame and then pale with alarm.

“Now, I’ll jest tell you what’s the matter, Tom Mason,” exclaimed Sandy. “We ain’t a-goin’ to put up with this yere kind of business no longer. We’ll wash, some of that ar meanness outen you by dumping you in the bayou.”

Tom stood for a moment as if he had been rooted to the ground, and then, dropping the turkeys, ran toward his boat.

Duke, comprehending ‘his design, exerted himself to the utmost to defeat it; but our clumsy raft moved very slowly through the

98    OUR FELLOWS.

water, and when we arrived within twenty feet of the bank, Tom reached his boat and shoved off. He could manage a canoe as well as any Indian, and he would certainly have succeeded in effecting his escape, had it not been for Sandy Todd. He saw that there was but one way to prevent the robber from making off with his booty, and he had the nerve to adopt that way. He hastily threw off his powder-flask and shot-pouch, and before we knew what he was going to do, he was in the water striking out for Tom’s boat.

For a moment he puffed and blew like a porpoise (you can imagine how cold the water is in December,, even in a warm climate like ours), but he kept on, and, after a few swift strokes, was near enough to Tom to seize the stern of his canoe.

“Let go!” shouted Tom, flourishing his paddle in the air. “Let go, I say, or I’ll rap you over the head! ”

“Hold fast to him, Sandy!” I yelled. “Those turkeys are ours, and we’re bound to have them.”

“If he attempts to strike you, capsize the

OUE CHEISTMAS TUEKEYS.    99

canoe and spill Mm out,” exclaimed Herbert.

' “-I’d like to see Mm do it,” said Tom, savagely. “ Once more, and for the last time, Sandy Todd, I tell you that if you don’t take your hands off my boat, I’ll—”

He did not finish the sentence. While, he was speaking, he raised his paddle to strike Sandy, and our fellow, acting upon Herbert’s suggestion, placed his hands upon the side of the canoe, and overturned it in an instant, emptying Tom and the turkeys into the cold waters of the bayou.

“Boo-hoo!” sputtered the robber, as he arose to the surface, his face blue with the cold, and his teeth chattering. “I’ll—fix— you for that—Sandy Todd ! ”

“ We are not done with you yet,” exclaimed Mark.i “You shan’t touch dryland again until you tell us what you have done with our boat.”

These words seemed to bring Tom to his senses again. He struck out manfully— I never saw a boy who could swim like that Tom Mason-—and in spite of all Duke’s- efforts

100    OUR FELLOWS.

to cut Mm off, lie reached the island, and scrambling up the bank, disappeared in the bushes.

Then we were sure that he was caught. He could not escape to the mainland without swimming the bayou, and we did not think he would be likely to attempt that after the experience he had already had with cold water.

Sandy crawled out upon the raft as we moved past him, and the instant our clumsy vessel touched the shore, we all jumped off and dashed through the bushes in hot pursuit of the robber; but we did not come within sight of him until we reached the foot of the island, and then, to our surprise, we discovered him in a canoe and about half-way across the bayou. He was paddling for dear life ; but when he saw us standing on the bank, he stopped to say a parting word to us.

“ You said that you are not done with me, didn’t you ? ” he asked.' “ You will find, before the winter is over, that I am not done with you. I have a plan in my head that will astonish you when you find out what it is. Keep your eyes open, and good-bj7-till I see you again.” -

OUR CHRISTMAS TURKEYS.    101

“Say, Tom, ”T shouted, “you told us this morning that you didn’t know any thing about our boat. You- are in it now.”

“I know it,” he replied, coolly. “She was hidden in the bushes not ten feet from where you are now standing.”

“Well, we want her, and we’re bound to have her.”

. “ If you get her before I am done with her, just let me know it, will you ? ”

Tom dropped his paddle into the water and pulled leisurely toward the shore, while we ran back to the head of the island, intending to jump into his boat-and pursue him. But he knew better than to try a fair race with us down thebayou.

Knowing that he could not escape with the canoe while we possessed the means to follow him, he held straight for the nearest shore, and when he reached it, jumped out and took to the woods.

We found our canoe where he had left it, and when we took it in tow and paddled back to the head of the island, we told one another that Tom Mason should never get his hands

102    OUR FELLOWS.

upon it again. We would put it into the wagon and take it home with us.

“This fellow has done a big business in stealing this morning,” exclaimed Mark, who had been counting the turkeys we found in Tom’s canoe. “How many do you suppose there are ? Twenty-three ; enough to furnish a Christmas dinner for half the planters in the settlement. We’ve done enough for one day, and I move that we break up camp and spend the rest of the afternoon in distributing some of these turkeys among our friends. We can’t use them all.”

We landed opposite the island, and knowing that we had a cunning enemy to deal with, left Duke and Herbert to watch our game, while the rest of us went to the camp to harness the mules.

I don’t know why it was, but the moment we arrived within sight of the shanty, a suspicion flashed through my mind that something had been going on there during our absence. My first thought was of my mare. She was gone. There was the sapling to which she had been tied, with a piece of the halter still

OUR CHRISTMAS TURKEYS.    103

fastened to it, but the mare was nowhere to be seen.

“ Where is she, Joe % ” asked Mark.

“ That is just what I should like to find out,” I replied. “I never knew Bess to break loose before.”

“An’ she didn’t break loose this time,” said Sandy, confidently. “That thar halter has been cut with a knife.”

‘ ‘ I shouldn’t wonder if this was a part of the plan Tom Mason told us about,” said Mark. “After he landed from his canoe, he slipped around here and stole the horse.”

Something told me that this was the true explanation of the matter ; but I would not allow myself to. believe it until I had questioned the negroes who just then came running up. The answers they gave to my hurried inquiries/destroyed my last hope. They had not seen the mare, and were greatly astonished to learn that she had disappeared.

Being very much interested in the result of our chase after Tom Mason, they had followed us to the bayou, leaving the camp to take care of itself. Our evil genius, or any other prowler,

104    OUR FELLOWS.

could have walked off with all we had, for there was nobody to prevent it.

I need not stop to tell yon all that was said and done when we at last made np our minds that Black Bess had been stolen. It will be enough to say that Sandy rode back to the bayou after Duke and Herbert, and that they all set out in pursuit of Tom Mason, leaving me to superintend the operation of breaking up the camp.

I placed our canoe and the turkeys in the wagon, and, after tying Tom’s boat to a tree on the bank, so that he could find it again when he wanted it (I tell you it cost me a struggle to do that ; I had half a mind to turn it adrift, and let it float out to the river and down to the Gulf of Mexico), I rode home with the negroes utterly disconsolate.

If you ever lost.any thing you prized as highly as I prized Black Bess, you will know just how I felt.

Our fellows came in at dark, but without any thing encouraging to say to me, and father and I rode over to see General Mason, Tom’s uncle.

OUR CHRISTMAS TURKEYS.    105

We found tlie young rascal in the library, poring over a book, and looking none the worse for his cold bath in the creek.

He seemed greatly amazed when father told him that the object of our visit was to ascertain what, he had done with the horse he had stolen, and so earnestly protested his innocence that I was almost willing to believe he was not the guilty one after all.

We had a few minutes’ conversation with the general, during which he promised to do all in his power to assist us in recovering the lost horse, and then returned home no wiser than we left.

CHAPTER YIII.

A RIDE AFTER THE INDIANS.

WHEN father and I reached home we found our fellows there, and also Mr. Todd and Mr. Dickson, who had come over to spend the evening.

The events of the afternoon had already-been thoroughly discussed, but the matter was taken up again when we arrived, and after that the mare’s mysterious disappearance was the chief subject of conversation.

One thing that not a little surprised us, was the coolness, not to say indifference, with which father and his two gentleman friends spoke of the loss I had sustained.

Our fellows went in strong for raising a hue and cry, and making the swamp too hot to hold the thief ; but the men shook their heads and said they thought that wouldn’t do. They had tried that in the case of Luke Redman, and what had it amounted to ?

A RIDE AFTER THE INDIANS.    107

The best thing we conld do would be to keep our eyes open and our mouths closed, and perhaps in a few days something would turn up in our favor.

At ten o’clock the two gentlemen took their leave, and our fellows went up to bed.

“How, I’ll jest tell you what’s the matter with me,” said Sandy, when he had settled himself snugly between the sheets. “My name hain’t Micawber, and that’s the reason I don’t believe in waitin’ fur things to ‘ turn up.’ I’ll tell you what we’ll do, fellers. If the men won’t help us, we’ll help ourselves. We’ll let our dinner go this once, take to the woods at daybreak, and spend Christmas in lookin’ fur that thar hoss, eh ? ”

Sandy could not have made a proposition that would have suited me better, or the rest of the fellows either, judging by the readiness with which they agreed to it.

The matter was settled without much debate, and then we arranged our pillows, and prepared to go to sleep. We did sleep, but not long. There was more excitement in store for us. About two o’clock our cotton-gin was set on fire,

108    OUR FELLOWS.

I need not stop to tell yon how frightened I was when my brother dragged me out of bed and shouted in my ear that the plantation was burning up ; how I looked out of the window as I pulled on my clothes, and saw the gin wrapped in flames ; how our fellows rushed out of the house, and, after bustling about for a while in a state of intense excitement, getting in every body’s way, and accomplishing nothing, stood quietly by my father’s side, and saw twelve thousand dollars’ worth of cotton consumed; how we wondered and made wild guesses as to who the incendiary could be ; and finally went back to bed, and lay for a long time talking the matter over. You can imagine all that, and will know just how we felt.

Excited as I was, I fell asleep again, but was awakened about daylight by the sound of horses’ hoofs in the yard. I ran to the window, and saw several mounted men waiting before the door. They were all booted and spurred, and some carried guns slung over their shoulders, while others had revolvers strapped about their waists.

. A negro stood by, holding a splendid coal-

A RIDE AFTER THE INDIANS.    109

black horse which belonged to father, and presently he came ont of the house, armed like the ethers, sprang into the saddle, and the whole cavalcade started down the road at a rapid gallop.

I caught my sleeping companions by the shoulders, and, after a good deal of shaking md pulling, succeeded in getting them out of eed and to the window, just in time to catch >ne glimpse of the horsemen before they dis-ippeared down a lane that led to the woods.

“Now I’ll jest tell you what’s the matter,” sxclaimed Sandy. “What’s up, do you 'eckon?”

“They’ve gone out to look for the men who et fire to that cotton-gin,” replied Duke, fairly umping into his trowsers. 4 ‘ That’s what’s up, nd here we are in bed and sound asleep, like o many wooden boys.”

“Hurrah!” yelled Mark. “Here’s fun! ’d give something to know what else is going o happen this winter.”

As he said this, he jerked on his boots, hrust one arm into his coat, and started down tairs to talk to mother, and find out what it

110    OUR FELLOWS.

was that had taken father and his companions oft' in so great a hurry, while the rest of us brought out the guns, and began loading them with hands that trembled violently. We could not have been more impatient to get the weapons ready for use if a band of hostile Indians had at that very moment been approaching the house.

“I am going to put twelve buckshot in my gun,” said Herbert, “ and if I meet the fellow who set fire to that gin, won’t I—won’t I wake him, eh ? ”

“How will yon know him if yon do meet him ? ’ ’ asked Duke, spilling a charge of powder on the floor in liis haste.

“Why, he will look guilty, won’t he? Well, what’s the matter?”

This last question was addressed to Mark, who just then came up stairs in two jumps.

‘ ‘ Mother says there are moccasin-tracks all around that gin,” said he, so excited that he could scarcely speak plainly, “and that shows that it was set on fire by the Indians. It was done by some of those worthless half-breeds—

A RIDE AFTER THE INDIANS.    Ill

probably by the same one with whom I had that fuss the other day. ’ ’

All our fellows thought that Mark’s idea of the matter was the correct one.

This half-breed—Pete, he called himself— and a half dozen others, who were as bad as he wias, had held a grudge against father for more than a year, and we had been expecting something of this kind. More than that, our gin was not the only one that had been burned during the last six months.

The guilty parties, whoever they were, had always escaped detection, but as Pete and his crowd had had some trouble with nearly every one in the settlement, the planters had suddenly taken it into their heads that they were the ones who had been doing all the mischief, and were resolved that they should no longer go unpunished.

“ Mother says that before noon there will be a hundred men in the cane-brakes,” panted Mark. ‘ ‘ Hurry up, fellows, or we shall miss all the sport. We don’t want any breakfast, do we?”    '    \

“ No !’’ we all shouted.

112    OUR FELLOWS.

“I couldn’t eat a mouthful if I should try,” said Herbert, seizing his gloves and riding-whip. “ Say, boys, wouldn’t it be a glorious thing for us if we could capture the incendiaries all by ourselves without any help from the planters?” .

Oh, wouldn’t that be an exploit worth boasting of ? Only let us have the opportunity, and see how quick wre would attempt it!

We thought we knew right where to go to find the Indians. Most likely they were encamped on- Deer Lake, about fifteen miles from the plantation.

We would go down there, dash into their camp like a squad of cavalry on the charge, and if we found that rascally Pete there, four of us would cover him with our guns; Sandy, being the largest and strongest in the party, would dismount and tie his hands behind his back; and we would bring him home with us, whether he was willing to come or not.

It would all be done before the Indians knew what was going on, and if they pursued us, or attempted to rescue Pete, we would keep them straight by pointing our guns at them.

A RIDE AFTER THE INDIANS.    113

Wasn’t that a glorious plan? and wouldn’t father and all the rest of the planters be astonished when they saw us and our captive?

We talked the matter over while we were dressing, and as soon as we were ready for the start, slung our guns over our shoulders, and dashed dowii the stairs like a lot of wild boys.

In the kitchen we met mother.

Now, according to my way of thinking, my mother was a model woman. She understood the nature of boys perfectly. She gave Mark and me all the privileges we deserved, and could not have sympathized with us more fully, or taken a deeper interest in our sports and pastimes, if she had been a boy herself.

She knew that we could not possibly stop to eat any breakfast while there was any thing exciting in prospect, and when we entered the kitchen, she handed us each a sandwich and a glass of milk.

“Now, boys,” said she, “ don’t run any risks.”

“No, ma’am,” we replied.

“Don’t try to accomplish any thing by yourselves,” she continued—and when she said that

114    OUR FELLOWS.

we looked at one another and frowned fiercely.

‘ ‘ What conld five boys like you do with a lot of savage half-breeds ? Find the men as soon as possible, and remain with them ; and if you don’t succeed in finding them, come home.”

Now, how do you suppose mother knew that we had made up our. minds to hunt those Indians on our own hook ? We hadn’t lisped a word of it to her ;. but then she knew all about boys, and perhaps she saw it in our faces.

We were greatly disappointed, but we promised obedience and hurried to the door. We found our negro waiting for us (the hostler had brought out mother’s horse for me to ride), and in less time than it takes to tell.it we were in our saddles and galloping furiously down the road, devouring our sandwiches as we went.    .

I do not believe those five horses ever traveled so rapidly before. They went along at a rattling pace, tossing their heads and snorting as if they enjoyed the rapid motion as much as we did, while we strained our eyes down the road in front of us, and looked into all the lanes we

A RIDE AFTER THE INDIANS. '    115

passed, in' tlie hope of discovering father and his party.

But the fleet horses on which they were mounted had carried them a long distance ahead of us, and finally, after a ride of an hour and a half, we drew rein on the shore of Beer Lake, covered with mud from head to foot, and much disappointed.

The Indians were not there, and neither was father. We ran our eyes all around the lake, and the only living things we could see were flocks of ducks and geese swimming about near the opposite shore.

We rode along the beach a short distance and then Duke led us down a bridle-path that ran back toward the plantation.

About two o’ clock in the afternoon, having visited all the places at which we thought we should be likely to find father and his party, we stopped on the banks of a bayou to allow our horses a few minutes’ rest, and to decide What we should do next.

“Now, I’ll jest tell you what’s the matter with me,” said .Sandy, suddenly. 44It’s hard work ridin’ or talkin’ on an empty

116    OTJK FELLOWS.

stomach, an’ I suggest that we have a bite to eat.”

“That’s the idea,” said Herbert, “and I ' wonder we did not think of it before. If we were at the lake now, it wouldn’t take us long to bag ducks enough for a good dinner.”

“ Oh, squirrels will do just as well,” replied' Duke. ‘ ‘ There are plenty of them about here, and, Joe, if you and Sandy will go out and shoot some, the rest of us will build a fire and get every thing ready. If you fellows areas hungry as I am, we shall want about ten. I can dispose of two, I know.”

So could I, and more, for that matter. I was as hungry as a wolf, and if there was any thing I enjoyed in my boyhood’s days, it was a dinner in the woods as Mark used to serve it up. He could not cook at all in a house over a stove ; ’ but take him out in the cane-brakes, and give him a good fire, a forked stick and a wild duck or some squirrels, and in a few minutes he would have ready a dinner that would tempt an epicure.

To get up a “hotel dinner,” as he called it, he needed a few crackers or biscuit, and a lit-

A ride; AFTER THE INDIANS. 117

tie pepper and salt for seasoning. An ear of green corn, fresh pulled from the field, and roasted in the shuck under his supervision, and served up on a piece of beech bark, answered all the purposes of a dessert, and tasted much better than any pie or pudding I ever ate at a table.

On this occasion, however, he had neither crackers, pepper nor salt, and it was too late in the season for roasting-ears ; but, as Duke had said, the squirrels were plenty, and I grew hungrier than ever when I thought what a feast Mark would have ready for us in about half an hour.

It having been decided that we should stop there and eat our dinner, we all dismounted, and after relieving our horses of the saddles and tying the animals to the trees near the place where we intended to make our camp, Sandy and I shouldered our guns and set out in different directions to hunt up the squirrels.

I walked down the bank of the bayou, and, before I had gone a hundred yards from the camp, brought a squirrel out of the top of a hickory.

118    OUR FELLOWS.

Shortly afterward, I heard the report of Sandy’s gun, and as he never missed his mark, I knew we had two of the ten squirrels -we wanted.

A little further on another was added to my bunch, and while I was hurrying forward to secure it, an incident happened that brought the hunt to a speedy termination.

The squirrel had fallen at the foot of a huge oak, but, being only wounded, started to climb the tree. I ran around after him, and just then something stirred the bushes close in front of me.

Before I could stop to see what it was, a pair of strong arms were thrown around me, my feet were tripped up, and in an instant more I was lying flat on my back, with a heavy weight on top of me holding me down.

As soon as I had in some measure recovered myself, I looked up into the dark, scowling face that was bending over me, and recognized Pete, the half-breed.

Things were not working exactly as our fellows had anticipated. While we were looking for Pete, lie had all the while been looking for

A RIDE AFTER THE INDIANS.    119

us; and he had found one of us, too, before we knew that he was about.

Almost involuntarily my hand moved toward the hunting-horn that hung at my side. One short, quick blast on that, had I been permitted to give it, would have put things right again in a hurry. Our fellows would have appeared as quickly as their horses could have brought them, and one-glance at the double-barrels pointed straight at his head, would, I am confident, have driven away the fierce scowl and brought an altogether different expression to Pete’s copper-colored face. But Pete knew something about hunting-horns, and was too wise to allow me time to make any signals.

With a quick movement he tore the horn from my grasp, and in a second more he had removed the belt which contained my hunting-knife and secured possession of my gnn.

I struggled fruitlessly in his strong grasp, and, as soon as I could find my tongue, exclaimed :

“You have already done more mischief than you will care to stand punishment for; and if you know when you are well off, you will

120    OUR FELLOWS.

release me at once. What do yon mean, anyhow ?5

“ You put dogs on Injun the other day,” replied Pete, in his broken English, which I could not imitate on paper if I should try.

‘ ‘ I pay you for that now! ”

These words afforded me a perfectly satisfactory explanation of the situation. I was to be punished for something Mark had done ; for, as you know, it was he and not I who put the hounds on the Indian.

I knew it would be of no use for me to deny the charge, for Pete had been acquainted with me for more than a year, and if he had not learned in that time to tell Mark and me apart, it was not at all likely that he would place any dependence on my word.

There was but one thing I could do, and that was to submit to whatever was in store '“or me, trusting to my friends to get me out of this disagreeable scrape. My only hope was that they would become alarmed at my absence, and rescue me in time to save me from the vengeance which I knew Pete intended to wreak upon me.


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A RIDE AFTER THE INDIANS.    121

Having disarmed me, Pete seized me by the ;ollar, pulled me to my feet, and then I found :liat lie was not alone. Another villainous-.ooking half-breed, whose name was Jake, glided up at this moment, and, without saying i word, seized me by one arm, while Pete took lold of the other, and between them I was Iragged rather than led to the bayou, where I found a canoe partly drawn out upon the bank.

In obedience to Pete’s command, I was about bo step into the boat, when suddenly the blast of a hunting-horn—Duke’s horn, I could have bold it among a thousand—echoed through the swamp, followed shortly afterward by the roar of a gun.

“Ugh!” grunted Pete and his companion, in concert.

They stopped on the bank, and stood perfectly motionless with surprise, while I clambered into the canoe, and looked up the bayou in the direction from which the report sounded, to discover what was going on ; but there was a bend just above me, and I could see nothing.

A moment's silence followed the roar of the

122    OTTR FELLOWS.

gun, and then came the clatter of a horse’s hoofs, a splashing in the water, a violent commotion among the cane on the opposite bank of the bayou, and presently, to my utter amazement, I saw—what do yon suppose ? It was something that caused me to forget the Indians and every thing else about me, and to make me determine to escape, or die in the attempt.

Without an instant’s hesitation, I clasped my hands above my head, and dived out of sight in the bayou.    ;

CHAPTER IX.

CAUGHT AT LAST.

FTER Sandy and I left tlie camp, onr

fellows bnsied themselves in' various ways—Duke kindling a fire, Herbert gathering a supply of wood, and Mark whittling out some spits on which to cook the. squirrels. When this had been done, they seated themselves on the ground about the fire, and passed the time in discussing the exciting events that had happened during the last two weeks.

While they were thus engaged they-heard some one coming down the bank of the bayou. The bushes were so thick that they could not see who it was, but they could tell by the sound of his horse’s hoofs that he was approaching the camp, and that he was in something of a hurry.

The;question “Who is it?” which our fellows all asked at once, did not remain longun-

124    OUR FELLOWS.

answered. The sound of the hoofs grew louder and louder, and presently a horseman emerged . from the bushes, and came toward them at a rapid gallop.

He was gazing earnestly toward the opposite bank of the bayou, and the^ first intimation he had of the presence of our fellows was the chorus of ejaculations they uttered the instant their eyes rested on him. Then he pulled up his horse with a jerk, and gazed at them with a countenance indicative of intense surprise and alarm.

One glance showed our fellows three things —that the man was Luke Redman, that he was mounted on Black Bess, and that he carried General Mason’s valise strapped on behind his saddle.

The meeting was so unexpected to both parties, that for a moment no one moved or spoke. The robber sat on his horse—my horse, rather—gazing at our fellows in stupid bewilderment, and our fellows looked at him as if they could not quite make up their minds whether their eyes were deceiving them or not.

CAUGHT AT LAST.

125

Duke was the first to recover the use of his tongue.

“Well,” said he, “this is the luckiest thing that has happened to us for many a day. We are glad to see you, Luke Redman. WeMl trouble you to dismount, and give up that horse and valise.”

These words seemed to bring the robber to his senses. He raised a short, heavy gun, which he carried across the horn of his saddle, and cocliing both barrels, growled out:

“I’ll trouble you to mind your own business. If ary one on you moves a hand or foot until I am acrost this yere bayou, I’ll send a charge of buckshot among you.”

This warning was uttered in a very savage tone of voice, and there was a wicked gleam in the robber’s eyes which was enough to convince our fellows that he meant all he said.

Duke slowly lowered the horn, which he had been on the point of raising to his lips ; and Herbert’s hand, which was stretched out toward his gun, that stood leaning against a tree close by, fell to his side.

Luke Redman saw the sudden pallor that

126    OUR FELLOWS.

overspread their faces, and believing that he had' thoroughly frightened them, turned his horse, and. rode down the bank of the bayou.

But the sequel proved that he did not know much about boys, especially such boys as those who were confronting him at that moment.

They had traveled through every nook and corner of the country, searching for this very man, and now that he was fairly before them, should they permit him to escape, and carry off General Mason’s money, and Black Bess, besides 3 It was not to be thought of.

“Hold on!” shouted Mark, excitedly. “That horse shan’t carry you a step further. Your game is up now,' Luke Redman ! ”

The robber, who had never once removed his eyes from the boys, seeing that Mark was reaching for his gun, quickly raised his own weapon ; but by the time it touched his shoulder there was not one of our fellows in sight.

They had dodged behind the trees, like so many squirrels, and each one was blowing his horn with all the power of his lungs, sending up signals of distress that awoke the echoes far and near.

CAUGHT AT LAST.    127

‘ ‘ Stop that noise, or I’ll shoot some on yon!5 ’ roared Lnke.

“Blow away, boys,” said Mark. “Perhaps some of the settlers are close by.”

This was just what Lnke Redman was afraid of . He knew that the cane-brakes were full of men, for he had been dodging them all day. The blasts of the hnnting-horns wonld call up' every one of them who might happen to be within hearing, and thus his chances for escape wonld be greatly diminished.

Seeing that he was in a dangerous neighborhood, and knowing that if he remained there he would certainly get himself into trouble, he dashed his spurs into his horse, which sprang into the bayou and made the best of her way toward the opposite bank.

In his rage, he discharged one barrel of his gun, sending the buckshot in a perfect shower about the trees behind which our fellows were concealed ; but, instead of frightening them, it seemed to add strength to their lungs, for the signals of distress arose louder and faster than ever.

The moment Luke emerged from the water,

128    OUR FELLOWS.

he put his horse into a gallop, and went flying through the swamp.

I caught sight of him as he came out of the cane-brake, and if I had had my gun in my hands, I believe I should have lifted him out of that saddle with as little hesitation as I ever brought down a squirrel.

To see my little Black Bess bounding along with that man on her back—going, too, with a free step, and arching her glossy neck and tossing her head as if she enjoyed the rapid motion—I tell you, the sight made me well-nigh desperate.

It drove all thoughts of the Indians out of my mind, and almost before I knew it, I was swimming rapidly toward the opposite bank of the bayou.

This was something my captors had not calculated upon, and they were greatly amazed. I was half way across the stream before they had realized what I had done.

■ “Hey, you!” shouted Pete, as soon as he could speak. “ Stop ! You no stop and come back, Indian shoot! ”

It was in Pete’s power to carry out this threat

CAUGHT AT LAST.    129

if lie had felt so inclined, for he held his own rifle and my shot-gun under his arm ; but I had no fear that he would attempt it.

I kept straight ahead, and Pete and his companion, seeing that I could not be frightened into surrendering myself into their hands, has- -tily launched the canoe and started in pursuit.

I was quite at home in the water, and prided myself on being a fast swimmer ; but of course I stood no chance with a canoe propelled by two, athletic Indians.

A few swift strokes with the paddles brought them close upon me ; but I was on the alert, and just as Pete bent down to seize me by the collar, I sank out of sight.

When I arose to the surface again, I was twenty yards further down the stream. As I shook the water from my . face and looked around for my enemies, I was surprised to see them paddling with all possible haste toward the bank they had just left; and the moment they reached it, they jumped out of the canoe and dived into the bushes like a. couple of frightened deer.

I was not long in finding put what had caused

130    OUR FELLOWS.

them to abandon their pursuit of me so suddenly, for scarcely had they disappeared when Duke, Herbert and Mark galloped up.

When they discovered me crawling out upon the bank, they drew rein and broke out into a loud chorus of questions and exclamations— one demanding what I was doing in the water, another asking if that wasn’t Pete who had just jumped into the bushes on the opposite shore, and the third shouting out something that I knew very well already, namely, that Luke Redman had just gone by, mounted on my horse.

I did not attempt to answer their questions, for I could not forget that Black Bess was very fleet, and that while we were wasting time in talking, she was fast increasing the distance between us, and lessening our chances for capturing her and her rascally rider.

“I can’t stop to explain now, fellows,” said I. “ Come back, and stand by me until I get my horse, and then we’ll start in pursuit of that robber! ”

The reason I asked our fellows to “ stand by” me was because I knew that Pete and his companion were not a great way off, and I was

CAUGHT AT LAST.    131

afraid that if I went back to camp alone, they would pounce down upon me and make a prisoner of me again.

I could see by the expression on my friends’ faces that they did not exactly understand why I stood in need of protection ; but they were too considerate to waste any more time in asking questions.

I led the way up the bank at a rapid run, and in a few minutes we arrived opposite to the camp.

Duke was on the point of riding across the bayou to bring my horse, when Sandy Todd came in sight, carrying four squirrels in his hand, and moving along with a slow and deliberate step that was exceedingly aggravating to us just then.

ITis stolid face bore not the least sign of excitement or surprise, although the first words he uttered showed that he had heard the signals of distress, and that he had returned to camp in answer to them.

“How,” said he, “I’d like to know what you fellows were blowin’ them horns fur I

“Sandy,” exclaimed Duke, “if you have

132    OUR FELLOWS.

any get up at all about you, show it now. Don’t ask any questions, but bring those horses over here at once.”

Sandy stopped, laid his squirrels carefully at the root of a tree, and pulling off his hat, ran his .fingers through his fiery locks. He looked all about the camp, then across the bayou at us, surveying us from head to foot as though he had never seen us before, and when his gaze rested on me, he drawled out:

“ Joe, ain’t this a mighty cold day to go in a-swimmin’ ?”

“ Sandy,” shouted Duke—and he could not help throwing a little impatience into his tones —“Luke Redman has just gone by here, mounted on Black Bess, and carrying General Mason’s valise tied fast to his saddle. We want to follow him up and catch him. How will you bring those horses over here ? ”

Sandy did not exhibit the least astonishment at hearing this piece of news. He dropped the butt of his gun to the ground, and leaning on the muzzle of the weapon, said :

“How I’ll just tell you what’s the matter.

CAUGHT AT LAST.    133

Whar’s he bin hid all the time that we’ve been lookin’fur him ?’’

“ How do you suppose we know ? Bring those horses over here.”

... Sandy slung his gun over his shoulder, moved slowly toward the tree to which his horse was tied, and with his usual deliberation, prepared to mount. He placed his foot in the stirrup, but immediately took it out again.

“Fellows,” he shouted, “whar do you reckon Redman got thar mar’ % You know—” “Yes, I know,” interrupted Duke. “We thought Tom Mason stole her, but it seems he didn’t. If we don’t see her again, it will be your fault.”

Our fellow began to stir about in earnest now, and I thought it was high time, for my teeth were chattering, and I, was so cold I could scarcely speak.

When you remember that it was midwinter, that I was as wet as a drowned rat, and that a fierce north wind was blowing, you will readily perceive that my situation was far from being a pleasant one.

I would have been glad of the privilege of

134    dub fellows.

standing before a roaring fire for a few. minutes, and would thankfully have .accepted a suit of dry clothes ; but if I went home I-would lose the opportunity of taking part in the pursuit of Luke Redman, and that was something . I could not think of.    /

When we had all become so impatient that it did not seem possible we could wait an instant longer, Sandy came across the bayou with the horses, and in a few seconds more we were all in the saddle and flying through the swamp on Luke Redman’s trail.

Sandy saw by our looks that the delay of which he was the cause had tried our patience severely, and he'hastened to apologize for it.

c‘Fellers,5’ said he, “ I may be slow a-talkin’ an’ a-walkin’, but I am not slow a-ridin’.”

And so we found it. He took the lead at once, and conducted the pursuit with a degree of energy that was surprising. For five miles Kis horse never broke a gallop ; and when at last he drew rein on the bluffs above Head Man’s Elbow, we were willing to vote him the most reckless rider we had ever followed. Perhaps you will wonder what plan Sandy

OAtiGHT AT LAST.    135

adopted in conducting the pursuit, and how he knew whether or not he was following Luke Redman’s trail. I can explain it in a few words.    ’    ^

I have told you that about a week previous to this time the swamp was covered with water to the depth of fifteen feet, but it was not so now. The flood was gradually subsiding, and patches of dry land were making their appearance all over the swamp.

The ridges were high and dry, and by following them, one could enjoy a pleasant ride, avoiding the water altogether. It was dangerous, however, to attempt to pass from one ridge to another, for the lowland, or “ bottom,” as we called it, was covered with a bed of mud, in which a horse would sink almost out of sight.

Luke Redman, in his flight, had followed one of these ridges, and we knew that he must follow it to the end, simply because he could not leave it. We knew, too, that the ridge led directly to Lead Man’s Elbow, and that when-the robber arrived at that point he would be obliged to abandon Black Bess, for the bluffs

130    OUR FELLOWS.

were steep, and there was no possible way of getting her across the bayon.

Another thing we knew was that the ridge ended very abruptly about a hundred' yards from the opposite bank, and beyond that the swamp, with its impassable bed of mud, extended for miles and miles ; so that, even if the fugitive succeeded in crossing the stream, he could not escape us.

The only question was, how we should capture him when we found him. He was armed, and we knew he would not surrender without a fight.

“Here we are,” cried Sandy, reining in his -horse on the very brink of the cliff, “an’ now comes the hardest part of the hul business. The fust thing is to hunt up that mar’. ' She’s hid somewhar in these yere bushes.”

W-e were not long in finding Black Bess, for even as Sandy spoke, a familiar neigh, which came from a thicket close by, led us to her place of concealment.

I tell you I was glad to see her, and -if one might judge by the way she pranced about and

CAUGHT AT LAST.    137

rubbed her bead against my shoulder, sbe was glad to see me, too.i

Sbe was just as handsome as ever, only her glossy breast was flecked with foam, showing that she had been driven long and rapidly, and her usually sleek coat looked as though it had not seen a brush or curry-comb for a fortnight.

While I was congratulating myself on my good fortune, the rest of our fellows were looking for General Mason’s valise ; but that, of course, had disappeared.

“We must have pushed him pretty hard,” said Duke, “for he did not have time to unbuckle the straps with which the valise was fastened to the saddle, but cut them with his knife. He isn’t far off. Spread out now, and let us see if we can find any signs of his having crossed the bayou.”

As we were all expert hunters, and good at following a trail, it did not take us many minutes to findtout what had become of Luke Redman. After a short search, we discovered the prints of his feet in the soft earth, and followed them from the thicket in which he had

138    OtJR FELLOWS.

^eft the horse to the edge of the bluff, where they ceased.

When we saw that, we were pretty certain that we knew where to find Luke Redman. He was hidden under the cliff.

My companions unslung their guns with a common impulse—how I wished for the double-barrel that Pete had carried away with him!— and waited for somebody to suggest a plan of operations.

“He is under our very feet, and almost within reach of us,” said Herbert. “Don’t you see that those bushes are bent down and look as though they had been tramped upon % He did that when he lowered himself over the side of the cliff.”

“Yes, we’ve treed him easy enough,” said Mark; “but how are we going to secure him? Luke Redman isn’t the man to allow himself to be captured and sent to state prison if he can help it, and perhaps he is standing below there, ready to put a charge of buckshot into the first one who shows his head over the bluff. I am afraid to try it.”    '

If Mark was afraid, it was plain that Sandy

CAtJOST AT LAST.    139

was not, for lie threw himself flat upon the ground, and, at the imminent risk of losing his balance and falling into the bayon, thrust his head over the brink of the cliff and looked .nnder it. He held this position a moment, and then called out:

“How, I’ll just tell you what’s the matter with you; you’re ketched ! ”

“Ho, I hain’t,” said a gruff voice, in reply. “ Better keep close up thar, or I’ll plug some pn you.”

“Ho! ho!” laughed Sandy. “You can’t skeer us none. You’re in a pretty situation to plug any body, hain’t you now? Fellers, if you want to see something, just look down here! ”

We did look, and, although we expected to see something exciting, we were little prepared for the' sight that was presented to our gaze. We saw at a glance that we had nothing to fear from our enemy.

A thicket of bushes grew on the %side of the bluff directly in front of the mouth of Bead Man’s Elbow, and there., hanging at arms’ length from this frail support, his feet almost

140    OUB FELLOWS.

touching the water, and his dark features convulsed with terror, was Luke Redman.

The valise hung under one of his arms, supported by a strap which passed over his opposite shoulder ; but his gun was nowhere to be seen. He had evidently made some desperate attempts to climb up the steep bluff, for we could see the prints of his knees and feet, in the soft earth.

When we had made these observations, we drew back on the cliff to hold a consultation.

f Hasn’t he got himself into a pretty scrape V ’ asked Duke, gleefully. “I understand what has happened as well as if I had been here on the bank and witnessed it.”

So did the rest of us, for the robber’s situation was a sufficient explanation of the accident that had befallen him. It had been his intention to lower himself over the side of the bluff, and find concealment on the top of the drift-wood which formed one side of the cav-. ern ; but his feet had slipped, or his hold had given wray, and he had fallen down the steep bank almost into the water.

In order to save himself, lie dropped his gun,

CAUGHT AT LAST.    141

which of course fell into the bayou, and now he was unarmed. His situation was dangerous in the extreme, and it was no wonder that he was frightened.

He could not climb up the bluff without assistance, for it was as slippery as ice ; and if he released his hold on the bushes, he would fall into the water, and be whirled into the cavern before he could have time to think twice. Dead Man’s Elbow seemed to be an unlucky place for Luke Redman.

“’.Now,- fellows,” continued Duke, in a hurried whisper, “I’ll tell you what we will do. We'll take our halters off our bridles, make them into a rope, and when Mr. Redman gets tired of hanging to those bushes, we’ll pass one end of it down to him, and pull him up the bluff.”    .    -

“But perhaps he won’t take hold of the rope,” said I. “ Then what ? ”

“ Then he can fall into the water and. welcome. But there’s no danger of that. Bad as he is, he isn’t tired of life.”

“ What shall we do with him when we get him up here?”

142    OUR FELLOWS.

“We’ll jump on him, and tie him hand and foot—-that’s what we’ll do with him. I guess we five fellows are a match for him.”

Duke’s plan was the best that could have been adopted under the circumstances, and we agreed to it without a word of comment.

In a few moments we had removed our halters from our bridles, and tied them together, thus forming a rope about thirty feet in length! When this had been done, we once more stretched ourselves out on the ground, and looked over the cliff to watch the movements of the robber.

■ He was struggling desperately to gain a foothold on the bluff; but the soft earth always gave way beneath him, and when at last he became exhausted with his efforts, he hung down at arms’ length to recover his breath, glaring up into our faces with an expression as savage as that of a caged hyena.

We saw with no little excitement and horror that a few more attempts of this kind would' seal his fate, for the bushes had been loosened by his frantic struggles, and their roots were slowly but surely giving way.

CAUGHT AT LAST.    143

“ Now I’ll jest tell you what’s the matter with you,” shouted Sandy. “ The fust thing yoffi know, you won’t know nothing. If you want any help, sing out.”

Luke Redman looked up at the bushes, then down at the angry waves which were dashing wildly against the base of the cliff, and being fully convinced that there was no other way of escape for him, said, in a hoarse whisper :

“ Lend a hand here ! ”

“All right! Here you are!” said Duke. And in a moment more, one end of the rope was dangling over the cliff, and our fellows were holding fast to the other, ready to hoist away when Duke gave the word. “ In order to guard against accident^ you had better pass the rope under your arms,” continued the latter. “ Take it easy. There’s time enough, and the more you thrash about, the more you exhaust yourself.”

Luke Redman thought it best to act upon Duke’s suggestion ; but he had grown so weak and was so nearly overcome with terror, that it was with the greatest, difficulty that he could inake the rope fast under his arms.

144    OUR FELLOWS.

He accomplished it at last, however, and then Duke told ns to haul away, adding, in an excited whisper :

‘ ‘ Be ready to grab him the instant his head appears above the cliff. Don’t flinch now, but be careful to keep out of the way of his fists, for they are as heavy as sledge-hammers.”

Luke, being utterly unable to help himself, hung like a lump of lead at the end of the rope, and it was any thing but an easy operation to raise him to the top of the cliff. He came up slowly, inch by inch, and at last his head appeared in sight, then his shoulders, and finally the valise, which Mark instantly pounced upon, while Sandy seized the rascal by the collar and pulled him upon the bluff.

“ How stand out o’ the way, or I’ll kick some on'you into the bayou,” shouted Luke Redman, whose terror vanished the moment he found himself on solid ground. “I’ve got a pistol in my pocket.”

“An’ that’s all the good it’ll do you,” replied Sandy, catching the robber’s hands and pinning them to the ground. “We are a few

CAUGHT AT LAST.    145

too many for you. Show what you’ re made of, fellers ! ”

Tired and weak as Luke Redman was, he had plenty of determination left in him. He struggled furiously, and scratched and bit like some wild animal; but he did not kick any of us into the bayou, and neither did he draw his pistol, simply because we did not give him an opportunity. We jumped upon him in a body, and while two of us confined his legs, which he kept flying about like the shafts of a windmill, the others pulled his arms behind his back and tied them fast. It was all over in five minutes, and the robber lay panting and foaming on the ground, while we. stood with our hands in our pockets, looking at him.

CHAPTER X.

I STAND PICKET.

I DO not believe that any five boys in the world ever felt more astonished or elated over a stroke of good fortune than we did at tlie unexpected success that had attended our chase after Luke Redman.

The men in the settlement had spent a week in searching for this same robber and trying to recover General Mason’s money, and their efforts had amounted to nothing ; but we had accomplished the work, and we had not been more than three hours in doing it, either.

The eight thousand dollars were safe, the thief was bound and helpless before us, and Black Bess was once more in my undisputed possession. I thought we had good reason to rejoice.

“ I say, Mr. Redman ! ” exclaimed Herbert, who was the first to recover his breath, “you

I-STAND PICKET.    147

wouldn’t mind telling us liow you managed to steal this money, and to get away with, it without, being discovered, would you ? ”

“ I didn’t steal it! ” growled Luke, in reply.

“ Mebbe you won’t b’lieve it,” he added, seeing that we smiled derisively, “but I can prove it.”    %

“ Well, you stole Black Bess, didn’t you?” “If I did, you’ve got her ag’in, an’ had -oughter be satisfied.”

“ Perhaps you know who set fire to our cotton-gin?” I observed.

“ P’raps" I do, an’ p’raps I don’t. But I’ll tell you one thing: You had better turn me loose, or it’ll be wuss for you! ”

“ Tell us another thing while you are about it,” said Mark. “How did you get out of that tree the other day? Did you jump into the water and swim over the falls, as I did ? ”

“ I reckon that’s my own business, ain’t it?”, It was plain that Luke was not in a communicative mood. Some rogues, when they find themselves brought up with a round turn, become penitent, and are willing to relate all the circumstances attending the commission of

148    OUE FELLOWS.

their- crime, but our prisoner did not belong to that class. He was sullen and morose, and bad no doubt made up Ms mind that he wrould say nothing that could be used as evidence against him.

We were a great deal disappointed at this ; .for there were one or two incidents connected with the loss of the money and the disappearance of Black Bess that we should like to have had explained, but as Mr. Redman was not in the humor to gratify our curiosity, we were obliged to leave the unraveling of $he mysteries to time and future events.

At this moment it Seemed to strike the robber that he had been a prisoner long enough, and, having in some measure recovered from his fatigue, he began to test the strength of the straps with which he was confined.

He was a powerful man, and his struggles to free himself were furious and determined indeed. He rolled about on the ground, gnashing his teeth with rage, his face reddening with his exertions, and the muscles on his arms standing out like cords of steel,

I STAtfP PICKET.    149

He threatened to take a most terrible vengeance on ns when he succeeded in liberating himself; and as we stood hatching his contortions, we trembled with the fear that some of the straps would slip or prove too weak to hold him. But, although we had done our work in great haste, we had done it well, and Luke was finally obliged to submit to his fate.

“Now, I’ll just tell you what’s the matter! ” exclaimed Sandy, who had stood with his hat ofi and his sleeves pushed up, ready to pounce upon the prisoner the instant he saw the least probability of his freeing himself from his bonds; “ give it up, don’t you ? Them straps *are purty strong, I reckon—hain’t they? You’re fast, an’ thar’s no use of wastin’ time in fussin’about it.”

“What are you goin’ to do with me?” asked Luke Redman, in savage tones.

“We’re going to take you to the settlement, and put you wheye you’ll never have another chance to steal money and horses,” I answered.

“I’ll bet you somethin’ big that you don’t take me to-the settlement. I’ve got friends

160    OtJE FELLOWS.

dost by who won’t let harm come to me. If yon expect to see daylight ag’in, yon had better tnrn me loose. I’ll pay the hnl lot on you fur this, miiid that.”

We began to prick np our ears when we heard this, and to see the necessity of taking onr prisoner to a place of safety with as little s delay as possible. We did not really believe that he had companions in the neighborhood who wonld attempt to rescue him, bnt we did not like to run any risks.

The Swamp Dragoons were always prowling about in the woods, and turning up most unexpectedly, and how did we know but that some of them had witnessed all that had taken place at Dead Man’s Elbow? If that was the case, they would never permit Luke to be taken to-the settlement if they could help it; and as they were a desperate lot of fellows, we did not care to come in contact with them.

I had another reason for wishing to start for home immediately. The cold, which had been intense in the morning, was increasing in severity, and some portions of my wet .clothing were frozen stiff; and now that the excitement

I STAND PICKET.    151

attending the chase and capture of the robber had somewhat abated, I found that I was chilled through, and so benumbed that I could scarcely stand.

More than that, the storm which had been , threatening us for the last three days had set in, and the rain and sleet began to rattle through the leafless branches above our heads. It promised to be a dismal night, and we were twenty miles from home.

These same thoughts, or others very nearly akin to them, must have been passing through - the minds of the rest of our fellows, for they looked anxiously at one another and at the lowering sky, and Herbert said:

.“We’ve wasted too much time already. The sooner we start for home the better. Friend Redman, we are not playing with you, and if you want to save yourself some rough handling, you will be careful what you do. Let’s untie his feet, fellows, and put him on Joe’s extra horse.”

.Our prisoner evidently thought it best to heed Herbert’s advice, for when the horse which I had ridden during the pursuit was

lfi®    OUR FELLOWS.

brought up, and we lifted him from the ground, and placed him on the animal’s back, he did not offer the least resistance. He uttered terrible threats, however, but we paid no more attention to them than we did to the whistling of the wind.

As soon as we had gone through all his pockets, in search of the pistol with which he had threatened us (by the way, he didn’t have any thing about him more dangerous than a pocket-knife), we sprang into our saddles and set out for home ; Duke heading the cavalcade, Mark following at his heels, leading the horse on which our captive was mounted, Herbert coming next with the valise, and Sandy and I bringing up the rear, keeping a close watch over Luke Redman, and holding ourselves in readiness to resist his first attempt at escape.

In this way we passed the five miles that lay between Head Man’s Elbow and the bayou on the banks of which we had stopped to eat our dinner.

As we rode through the camp, Sandy dismounted long enough to secure possession of the squirrels he had shot a few hours before,

I STAND PICKET.    153

and wliicli still lay at tlie root of tlie tree wliere he had left them.

“ Mebbe we won’t see home to-night,” said he, “so I’ll take these along; ’cause I know by experience that it is monstrous lonesome campin’ in the woods without nothing to eat.”

Luke Kedman started when he heard this remark, and an expression of great satisfaction settled on his scowling face. I noticed, too, that after we left the bayou he began to cast stealthy glances around him, as if he were looking for some one ; and once I saw his gaze fastened earnestly upon a cluster of bushes which grew on a neighboring ridge, running parallel with the one we were following.

I scrutinized the thicket closely, and would have been willing to declare that I saw a coon-skin cap, under which were a pair of eyes regarding us intently. But the cap vanished at the very moment I caught sight of it, and believing that I had been mistaken, I said nothing about it to my companions.

In less than half an hour after we left our old camp, night began to settle down upon us, and before we had-accomplished another mile,

154    OUR FELLOWS.

it was so dark that we could scarcely distinguish one another’s features.

The storm had all the while been increasing in fury, and now the rain and sleet came down in torrents, and it was not many minutes before we were all drenched to the skin. The cold and darkness grew more intense, and, to add to the unpleasantness of our situation, we reached the end of the ridge at last, and from that point our way lay across a bottom ten miles wide, which was covered with mud and ice, thickets of cane and blackberry briers, and studded with cypress knees, which rendered our progress slow and laborious.

“Duke,” said Sandy, at length—and I could tell by the tones of his voice that he was shaking with the cold—“ strike up a whistle. It is so dark we can’t see to foller you.”

“I am too nearly frozen to whistle,” replied Duke. “It is all I can do to talk. That isn’t the worst of it, either. I am afraid we are lost.”

How, getting lost was something that did not trouble us in the least, for a surer guide than Duke Hampton was not to be found in the

1 STAnt> PICKET.    155

country. His “bump of locality’7 was largely developed, and any place lie' liad once visited lie could find again on the darkest of nights. He sometimes laughingly said that he possessed owl’s eyes, and I have thought it was so, for it made not the slightest difference, as far as his traveling was concerned, whether it was high noon or midnight.

He once more urged his unwilling horse forward, and for two long, dreary hours we stumbled about in the darkness, the rain and sleet beating furiously in our faces, and every bone in our bodies aching with the cold.

During all this time no one spoke except Luke Redman, who abused and threatened us steadily for an hour, scarcely stopping to take breath; then, suddenly changing his tone, he entreated us to untie his hands, and, finding that we paid no attention to him, he solemnly declared that he was freezing to death, and relapsed into silence.

I began to think I was freezing valso, and when I could no longer endure the cold, I proposed to our fellows to abandon the idea of riding to the settlement that night, and

156    OtJR FELLOWS.

strike for our camp on Black Bayou—the one our negroes had built on the day we went into the woods to watch our turkey-trap.

There we would find warm, dry quarters and materials with which to kindle a fire ; and as Sandy had been thoughtful enough to bring the squirrels he had shot, we need not go supperless to bed.

This plan was hailed with delight by the others, and Duke at once turned his horse, and started off in a direction exactly at right angles with the one he had been pursuing.

If we had known all that was to happen to . us before we saw the ,sun rise again, our camp on Black Bayou would have been .the very last place in the world we should have thought of visiting.

How Duke knew what course to follow, was a mystery to all of us. I do not suppose he could have explained it himself, for the night was so dark that he could not see five feet in advance of him, and consequently he could not have had the assistance of any familiar landmarks.    •    ■

- He seemed to know the direction by.instinct,

I STAND PICKET.    157

and we, never doubting Ms ability to lead us to the place of refuge we had selected, followed' him blindly.

I shall never forget that ride. How far it was to the bayou, and how many hours Ave traveled before reaching it, I do not know. All I remember is that, when I became so cold that I could scarcely sit in my saddle, and with . the greatest difficulty resisted the inclination to dismount from my horse and give myself up to the droAvsiness that almost overpoAvered me, Duke suddenly dreAv rein, and in a cheery voice announced : “Here Ave are at last, felloAA^s.”

I aroused myself Avith an effort, and looked about me ; but all I could see was a dense black wall of trees, Avkick surrounded us on all sides. I was as completely lost noAv as I had been at any time during the night, and so Avas Herbert, if one might judge by the question he asked :

“ What place do you call this ? ” said he. “Why, this is our old camp,” replied Duke, and right glad am I to see it: for I do not believe I could ride a hundred yards further to save my life.”

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“You must have owl’s eyes indeed, if you can see any signs of a shanty here,” observed Mark.

“ Well, I can’t exactly see any thing, but I know it is the camp. Jump off, fellows, and let’s get to work.”

It was all very well for Duke to tell us to jump off, but, as far as . I was concerned, that was quite out of the question. I do not know whether I rolled out of my saddle or fell out; but I got out somehow, and did what I could to assist the others in gathering a supply of wood for the fire.

The exercise was beneficial in more ways •than one. It stirred up our sluggish blood, banished all the gloomy thoughts that had so long depressed us, and when at last the fire was well under way, and the flames were leaping high in the air, and lighting up the interior of our comfortable quarters, we began to feel more like ourselves.    -

We' forgot that we were cold, wet, hungry, and almost ready to drop with fatigue, and thought only of the glorious success we had achieved, and of the sensation we should create

I STAK'D PICKET.    159

when-we took our prisoner and General'Mason’s money into the settlement, on the following morning.

“I know this is comfortable, fellows,” said Duke, as we crowded about the cheerful blaze, “but let’s do our work first, and get warm afterward. Joe, suppose you and Sandy rub down the horses, and hitch them in some sheltered place where they will be protected from the storm. They have served us faithfully to-day, and it would be cruel to neglect them. While you are doing that, Herbert and 1 will get in some wood, and Mark can clean and cook the squirrels.”

We did not raise any objections to this arrangement, but hurried off at once to attend to the duties our leader had assigned us.    -

In half an hour more, the horses had been rubbed dry, and their legs relieved of the mud and ice that adhered to them; a supply of wood sufficient to keep the fire burning all night was piled in one corner of the shanty, and we lay stretched out on the leaves, enveloped in a cloud of steam which arose from our

160    OUR FELLOWS.

wet clothing, watching with hungry eyes the movements of our cook.

We were all in the best of spirits now, even including Luke Redman, who seemed for the moment to forget that his hands were bound behind his back, and that he stood a splendid chance of passing a portion of his life within the walls of a penitentiary.

“Now, then,” exclaimed Mark, “supper’s ready. I can’t say that it will go very far toward satisfying our appetites, ’ ’ he continued, glancing at the six pieces of beech bark on which he had placed each one’s share of the squirrels; “but it’s better than nothing. Who is going to feed our friend here ? ”

“ Untie my hands, and I’ll feed myself,” the prisoner replied. “I won’t trouble none on you.”

“ Now, I’ll tell you what’s the matter,” said Sandy ; “ ’ tain’t the least trouble in the world. If we should untie your hands, you might jump up an’ run out in the rain, an’ get wet ag’in ; an’that would be redikilis. I’ll tend to him, fellers.”

Sandy seated himself beside the prisoner,

I STAND PICKET.    161

and our cook, liaving passed around the pieces of bark, we fell to work in earnest.

In a very few minutes the last bone had been picked clean, and we sat looking wistfully at our empty “plates,” as if half expecting to see them filled up again in some mysterious manner ; but as nothing of the kind happened, we threw them into the fire, and once more stretching ourselves out on the leaves, listened in a dreamy sort of way to the rain and sleet pattering on the roof.

“Don’t go to sleep yet, boys,” said Duke, seeing that some of us began to blink and nod at the fire, as if recognizing in if an old acquaintance. “ I have Something to say to you.”

As he said this, he crawled into the furthest corner of the shanty, and we followed and gathered about him.

I believed that what he was about to say had some reference to Luke Redman, and the latter must have thought so, too, for he watched us with a great deal of interest.

. “ I reckon I know what you’re goin’ to talk about,” said he, with a laugh, “ an11 tell 3rou now, as I told you afore, that you’ll never take

162    OUR FELLOWS.

me to the settlement. - I’ll bet a hoss that things’11 be changed here afore long.”

“What do yon think of that, fellows?” asked Duke, in a low whisper.

‘ ‘ I think he wants to hear himself talk, and that we have no cause for alarm,” said I.

“That’s my opinion,” observed Herbert. “If he is depending on the Swamp Dragoons to rescue him, he’ll be disappointed, for they never could follow our trail through the woods on a night like this.”

“ An’ s’pose they did? I don’t reckon they’d, make much,” declared Sandy. “Thar’s six of them, an’ only five of us, but we’re the best men.”

“ Well, shall we go on to the settlement, or stay here ?” asked Duke.

“ Oh, stay here, by all means,” we answered, with one accord ; adding, with a shiver, as we looked out into the darkness, and thought of that dreary ride through the swamp, that under no ordinary circumstances could we be induced to get into our saddles again that night.

There was no necessity for it. We were as

I STAND PICKET.    163

comfortable in our camp as we would have been at headquarters, and as safe, too ; for, as far as an attack from the Swamp Dragoons was concerned, that was all in Luke Redman’s eye. Barney and his followers were not courageous enough to attempt such a thing ; but, in order to make “ assurance doubly sure,”-it might be well to put out pickets.

“That’s a good idea,” said Duke, glancing at his watch, the hands of which pointed to midnight. “If there are no objections, I’ll stand guard first, and at the end of an hour I’ll call—whom?”

“ Call me,” said I.

“All right. It shall be the duty of the pickets to keep the fire burning, to watch the prisoner closely, and to see that he does not find means to effect his escape, and to make the round of the camp at least three times during the hour. It is a wet job,” said Duke, looking out at the rain and sleet, which were coming down as fiercely as ever ; “but we shall all feel safer for it. It wouldn’t look well for us to- go back to the settlement without our prisoner, after working so hard to secure him.”

164    OUR FELLOWS.

“ Wal,” said Luke Bedman, seeing that the consultation was ended, “what are you goin’ to do ?”

. “We think some of staying here until morning. Any objections ? ”

‘ *' JSTary one. I’m monstrous glad on’t, ’ cause my boys will be along this way directly* If some on you gets your heads broke, you mustn’t blame me fur it. . I told you to turn me loose, an’ you wouldn’t do it.”

We made no reply to Luke Bedman’s threats, but showed him by our looks that wre were not at all concerned. We examined his bonds, to satisfy ourselves that they were secure, and then crawled back to our places by the fire—all except Duke, who pulled his collar up around bis ears, turned down the brim of his hat, and walked out into the storm.

A few minutes afterward, I heard him talking to his horse, and that was the last I remembered until a hand was laid on my shoulder and a voice whispered in my ear that it was one o’clock and time for me to go on guard.

I raised myself on my elbow, and, looking about me, -saw that the. aspect of things had

I STAG'D PICKET.    165

changed considerably during the hour I had been asleep.

The rain and sleet had turned to snow, the trees and bushes were loaded with it, and the air was filled with the rapidly-falling flakes. If you have ever had any experience in this line, you know there is no fun in turning out of a warm bed to stand picket in a snow-storm.

“ Is every thing all right?” I asked, glancing toward the prisoner, who was as wide awake as he had been an hour ago.

“Yes, so far, all’s well. But there’s one thing I don’t exactly like, and that is the way Luke Redman conducts himself. He has been seen sitting up ever since I. have been 011 guard listening with all the ears he’s got, and acting as though he was expecting some one. Keep your eyes open, Joe, and give the signals of distress the instant you see the least sign of danger.”

As Duke stretched himself out on the leaves I picked up his hunting-horn and walked out of the shanty. I threw an armful of wood on the fire and turned to look at the prisoner.

“Oh, lam safe enough yet,” said he, as I

166    OUll FELLOWS.

examined the straps with which his arms were confined, “but I won’t be so long. Thar’s somethin’ goin’ to happen, if you only knowed it.”

‘ ‘ Let it happen, ’ ’ I replied. ‘ ‘ If the Swamp Dragoons show their faces about here, they’ll get the best dressing down they ever heard of.” I walked Off without waiting to hear what Luke Redman had to say in reply, and started to make the circuit of the camp, keeping a good lookout on all sides and stopping now and then to listen.

I neither saw nor heard any thing suspicious ; and after stumbling about among the bushes for ten minutes, I reached the spot from which I had started on my round.

Taking up a position a short distauce from the fire, where I could distinctly see every move made by our prisoner, I leaned against the trunk of a giant- oak, which effectually protected me from the storm, and went off into a reverie, from which I was suddenly aroused by a sound that alarmed me not a little.

It was the angry growl of a dog, which ended very abruptly, and with a hoarse, gurgling

I STAND PICKET.    167

sound, as if the animal’s throat had been grasped by a strong hand. I turned quickly, and looking in the direction from which the sound came, saw a head disappear behind a log, not more than twenty feet,distant.

I was sure I could not be mistaken ; and in order to satisfy myself on that point, I sprang to the log and looked over it. One glance was enough. I gave the signals of distress with all the power of my lungs, and then faced about and ran toward the camp at the top of my speed.

CHAPTER XI.

THE TABLES TUENED.

WHAT had I seen behind that log that frightened me so badly?

It was Barney Redman, the leader of the Swamp Dragoons. He had thrown himself flat on his back to escape observation, and was holding in the leash a gannt, fierce-looking hound, which sprang forward and growled savagely at me as I approached his master’s hiding-place.

Now, although the captain of the Dragoons had the reputation of being a young desperado, I was not afraid of him or his dog either, and under almost any other circumstances I would, have been the last one to run from him ; but on this occasion, discretion was the better part of valor. •

His presence there was enough to convince me that there was trouble aliead ; and I knew

THE TABLES TTJBKED.    169

that the sooner my companions were aronsed and the camp pnt in a state of defense, the better it would be for ns.

I can not begin to tell yon how astonished I was to see him there. No one except an Indian could have followed our trail through the swainp that night; not even a bloodhound, for a good portion of our way lay over a bottom covered with water to the depth of a foot, and every one knows that scent will not lie on the water.

I couldmot understand it at all, and neither was I allowed time to think the matter over, for Barney, finding that he was discovered, raised a yell, and followed after me with all the speed he could command.

“Stop than, Mark Coleman,” he shouted. “We owe you a good lickin’, and we’ve fol-lered you too fur to let you get away now. Stop thar, I say, or I’ll let this yere dog at you, an’ he’s a varmint.”

The captain of the Dragoons had got things mixed again. You will remember that when Mark first made his appearance at Dead Man’s Elbow, and discovered Luke Redman in the

170    OUE FELLOWS.

tree and General Mason’s valise hanging to the rowlock of the skiff, Barney, who was standing on the bluff, had called him Joe Coleman, and threatened to have a settlement with him at some future day, if he did not immediately go back up the bayou, where he came from.

Since then he had found out that he had made a mistake in the boy, and that it was Mark, and not Joe, who had put the authorities on his father’s track.

When he saw me looking over the log at him, he supposed that I was my brother, and the very one he wanted to be revenged upon.

“Stop thar, I tell you,” repeated Barney. “We’re goin’ to squar’ accounts with you now fur findin’ out about that money.”

As I copld not see the use of allowing myself to be punished for what Mark had done, if I could help it, I did not stop. I ran faster than ever, and fear lending me wings, I made my way through the bushes at a rate of speed that the fleet-footed Herbert Dickson himself would not have been ashamed of; but before I had taken a dozen steps, a figure, which seemed to

THE TABLES TURNED.    171

rise out of the ground, suddenly appeared before me, and clasped me in its arms.

“Ugh!” exclaimed a familiar voice, “you wouldn’t wrestle the other day; you wrestle now.”

Here was another fellow who took me for my brother. It was Jim, the young savage whom we heard boasting so loudly on the day we visited the Indian camp.

How he happened - to be there with the Swamp Dragoons I did not stop to inquire, for he had caught me with a fair back-hold, and was trying to throw me down.

“ I am not the boy you' challenged to a trial of strength the other day,” said I; “but if you are determined to have a wrestle, and nothing but a wrestle will satisfy yon, I think I can accommodate you.” .

And I did ; for in less time than it takes to tell it, that young Indian’s heels flew up and his head came in violent contact with the ground.

Having disposed of Jim, I raised my horn to my lips, and, after repeating the signals of distress, was about to take to my heels again,

172    OUR FELLOWS.

wlien Barney and Ms dog came up, both fierce for a figlit.

I did not wait for them to begin, but took the initiative myself by lifting my heavy boot and hitting Barney’s fonr-footed friend a kick under the chin that fairly lifted him from the ground.

It was plain that he had got all he wanted, for he ran yelping into the bushes, and Barney and I were left to finish the battle alone.

The leader of the Dragoons paused for a moment when he witnessed the discomfiture of his ally, and then came on ftiore fiercely than ever.

“ Oh, ain’t I goin’ to give it to you now?” he shouted, and I knew by the way the words came out that he was almost beside himself with fury. “A fellow who hits my dog, hits me.”

About this time I became aware that there was a great uproar in the camp. I heard a crashing in the bushes, which was followed, first by Indian yells, hoarse shouts of triumph and the baying of hounds; then by a rapid 'shuffling of feet and the sound of fierce blows,

TIIE TABLES -TURNED.    ,173

all of which, told me that there was a desperate battle going on.

This continued for a moment, and then—you can imagine how the cold chills crept over me when I heard it—the report of a gun, fired twice in quick succession, rang through the swamp, accompanied by something that sounded very much like the voice of a human being in distress.

What was it % Had any of our fellows been shot by the attacking party, or had they, in their desire to prevent the rescue of Luke Redman and to save the eight thousand dollars, so far forgot their prudence as to fire upon the Swamp Dragoons ?

As this thought passed through my mind, I turned my eyes for one instant toward the camp, and to my amazement and alarm, discovered that the Swamp Dragoons wrere not alone. I saw a mass of struggling men and boys swaying to and fro in front of the camp, .and conspicuous among them were Pete and his half-breed companions.

I was hot so much astonished at this, however, as I was to see Tom Mason flitting.about

174    OUR FELLOWS.

here and there, swinging a riding-whip, and apparently one of the most fierce and determined of the attacking party.

I saw, too, that our fellows were getting the worst of the fight; .but, although they were greatly outnumbered, and were being pum-meled unmercifully by the heavy whips with which their assailants were armed, they were doing their best to retain possession of the prisoner and of General Mason’s money. Mark held the valise in his hand, Sandy was carrying Luke Eedman in his arms as if he had been an infant, and both were making the best of their way toward their horses, while Luke and Herbert were trying to cover their retreat.

I saw and heard all this during the single instant of time that I kept my head turned toward the camp. I was not allowed opportunity to make any further observations, for Barney had clutched me by the throat, and was making desperate efforts to put me on the ground.

He speedily became aware, however, that he had got his hands full, and began shouting loudly for help.

TIIE TABLES TURNED.    175

“Jake! Jim!” lie yelled, “lend a hand! Here lie is ! ”

Jim, who was seated on tlie ground rubbing his aching head, had already received convincing proof that I was there, and a moment afterward Jake must have been pretty well aware of the fact also ; for, as he came rushing up in response to the calls of his brother, I met him with a back-hander over the eye that must have made him see stars.

But I could not long hold out against three antagonists, each of whom was nearly, if not quite, as strong and active as myself.

Jake quickly recovered from the effects of the back-hander ; Jim managed to get upon his legs at last, and, being attacked on all sides, I was thrown to the ground, and held there by two of my assailants while the other pulled some pieces of rope from his pocket and proceeded'to confine my hands and feet.

If you have never been in such a situation, you can have 110 idea how* it makes one feel to find himself wrapped up in strong cords, and to know that he is •wholly in the power of his enemies, vrho can take vengeance on him at

176    OUR FELLOWS.

their leisure, and without the least fear of suffering in return.

- So long as he is able to resist, be it ever so feebly, he can keep up some show of courage; but when he finds himself powerless to move even a finger, then it is that his nerve is tested.

This was my first experience in this line, and my feeling, as I looked into the scowling faces of my captors after I had been jerked to my feet, were any thing but pleasant, I assure you.

I did not let them see how badly I was frightened, but looked them squarely in the eye, and nerved myself for the punishment which I expected would be inflicted upon me without an instant’s delay.

In this, however, I was most agreeably disappointed. Barney was either in no hurry to consummate his vengeance, or else he did not have time to do it then ; for, as soon as he had helped me to my feet, he ran toward the camp, followed by his companions.

All these events, which I have been so long in describing, happened in a short space of time. From the discovery of Barney behind the log until the end. of the fight between our

THE TABLES TURNED.    177

fellows and the Swamp Dragoons and their allies, probably not more than five minntes had elapsed.    '

During that time onr triumph had been turned into utter defeat, and our hard day’s work completely undone. We had been overpowered and whipped out.

My companions had escaped by throwing themselves upon their horses, and our enemies, after following them a short distance, returned to the camp, and were now gathered about the fire, talking loudly and laughing uproariously.

Remembering the reports of the gun and the cries of distress I had heard, I ran my eye over the group to see if any of them were wounded; but my fears on this score were set at rest when I discovered the bodies of a couple of bloodhounds lying in front of the cabin.

These animals, as I afterward learned, had attacked our fellows with the utmost fetocity, and had been promptly shot by Duke Hampton.

Almost the first man my eyes rested on was Luke Redman, no longer bound and helpless, but standing erect among his companions,

178    OUR FELLOWS.

carrying General Mason’s valise in one hand and holding Black Bess with the other.

He was looking down at the hounds, and I knew by the fierce frown on his face that somebody would have to suffer for their death. Would he vent all his spite upon me, now that my companions were out of his reach %

I am older now than I was that night, and during the course of along and eventful life have had more than my share of excitement and adventure ; but I do not believe that I was ever more nearly overcome with fear than I was while I stood there looking at the crowd of men and boys who were gathered about our canrp-fire.

I had good cause for alarm.- In the first place, I was mistaken for my brother, and I knew that nearly every person before me held a grudge against him for something he had done.- Tom Mason -would want revenge for the thrashing Mark had given him a long time ago ; Pete, the head man among the half-breeds, had been pulled down and thoroughly shaken by the dogs, and that was something he did not intend to overlook, as I knew by the expe-

THE TABLES TURNED.    179

rienoe I had already had with him that day. Barney and the rest of the Swamp Dragoons imagined that onr fellows had heaped a great many indignities upon them, and they would certainly settle their accounts now ; Jim would probably have something to say concerning the hard fall I had given him a few minutes before, and lastly, there was Luke Redman! I expected to suffer severely at his hands.

Barney, who was highly elated at the result of the encounter that had made me his prisoner, lost no time in hunting up his companions and revealing to them his good fortune.

They all yelled exultantly when their chief directed their attention to me, and after a short consultation with him and Tom Mason, they came forward in a body. Barney and Tom led the way, each of them carrying a riding whip in his hand.

I saw by the expression on their faces that something was going to happen.

CHAPTER XIX.

TOM IS ASTONISHED.

HEX the Swamp Dragoons reached the

place where I was standing, they gathered about me, and looked inquiringly at Tom Mason, as if waiting for him to say something. The latter advanced with a grin on his countenance, peered sharply into my face, and then looked' at me from head to foot, as if taking my exact measure.

When he had completed his examination, he stepped back, and striking his boots with his riding-whip, said:

c Do yon remember what I told yon the last time I saw yon, Mark Coleman? I said I was going to make things exceedingly lively for yon this winter, didn’t I? Well, I think I

have done it. Yon can thank me for every

thing that has happened to you.”

“It’s him, then, is it?” exclaimed Barney.

TOM IS ASTONISHED.    181

“Them fellers look as near alike as two peas, an’ I was a’ most afeared we had gobbled np the wrong chap.”

“And so yon have,” I replied. “I am not Mark Coleman, and Tom Mason knows it very well. My name is Joe.”

“No, I reckon not,” returned Barney, with a most provoking laugh. 4 4 Tommy has kno wed you fur years an’ years, an’ so have we; an’ you can’t pull the wool over our eyes in no sich way as that ar’ ! ”

44 You don’t know me any better than I know myself, do you % If Mark had been in my place, you never would have captured him.”

“ Wouldn’t ? Why not ? ”

44 Because he would have been too smart for you. He would, have' whipped you and Jake and Jim so badly that your mothers wouldn’t know you.”

44 Wal, now, we’d ’a kept the skeeters off’n him while he was a-doin’ it,” said Jake, who was angry in an instant at the imputation I had cast upon his prowess. 44 But you can jest hush up that sass, ’cause we ain’t a-goin’ to stand it from you.”

182    OUR FELLOWS.

“ No, we hain’t,” chimed in Barney. “We’re a-goin’ to pay yon fur it now, an’ while we are about it, we’ll settle with you fur all the other mean things you have done.”

‘ ‘ How are you going to do it ? ”

“Every one of us is goin’ to give you ten good licks with this yere,” replied Barney, flourishing his riding-whip in the air. “ Untie his hands an’ pull off his jacket! ”

- Seventy blows with a rawhide ! Wasn’t that a pleasing prospect? How would you have felt if you had been in my place ? Would you have taken the whipping quietly ?

I was fully determined that I would not. I knew that I had never done any of the Swramp Dragoons an injury, and even if I had, they had no right to deal out such punishment as this to me.

“That’s the idee!” said Barney, as Jake and one of his confederates pulled off my coat after untying my hands. “Now loosen up on his feet. That b’iled shirt o’ yourn’ll have marks on it afore we are done with you, won’t it, Tommy?”

“That’s just what’s the matter!” replied

TOM' IS ASTONISHED.    183

Tom, hitting his boots another cnt with his whip. “Yon don’t associate with boys who steal and tell falsehoods, do yon ? Ten good blows with this rawhide will pay. yon for saying that!”

Why the Swamp Dragoons were so stupid as to nntie my feet, when there was no necessity for it, I do not know; bnt they did, and it gave me an opportunity to fight for my liberty.

I improved it on the instant. Jake must have been astonished at the weight of the blow that was planted squarely in his face, and so was I; for it drove him against Tom Mason with such force that the latter was knocked fairly off his feet.

This opened a way through the ranks of my enemies, and, before they could lift a finger, to detain me, I had leaped over the prostrate forms, and was running through the bushes at the top of my speed.

I was quite as much astonished at what I had done as the Swamp Dragoons must have been.

I made the attempt at escape, not because I

184    OUR FELLOWS.

thought it would be successful, but for the reason that I wished to postpone the moment of my punishment as long as possible.

I had fully expected to be knocked down or tripped up immediately; but, having accomplished this much, I began to hope that, aided by the darkness, I might elude my enemies altogether.

This hope, however, was short-lived. There were Indians and bloodhounds behind me, and in less than a minute both were on my trail.

As soon as the Swamp Dragoons found their tongues, they uttered loud yells of surprise and alarm, and called upon the men about the fire for assistance.    '

“ What’s the matter over thar ? ”• demanded the gruff voice of Luke Redman,

“Mark Coleman! ” gasped the leader of the Dragoons. “ We ketched him, but he has got. away. Thar he is, runnin’ through the cane like a skeered turkey ! ”

“Turn your dogs loose on him!” shouted Luke. ‘ ‘ Come, Injuns, do something fur us ! ” There was no need that Luke Redman should call upon Pete and his companions for help.

TOJI IS ASTONISHED.    185

The former, at least, had reasons for wishing to prevent my escape, and as soon as he found out what was going on, lie set up a whoop and. started in pursuit.

I did not waste time in looking back at him, but my ears told me that he was coming, and that he was gaining on me at every step.

I heard the fierce yelps the hounds gave when they found my trail, and knew they would overtake me if the Indians did not. They might even tear me in pieces before their masters could come up to rescue me ; but fearing the rawhide more than the teeth of the dogs, I kept straight ahead, doing some of the best running I ever did in my life, until a heavy hand was laid upon my collar, and I was jerked backward and thrown upon the ground.

“Ugh! ” grunted Pete. “ White boy g<iod runner—very good runner; but no match for Injun. S’pose I put dogs on him ! ”

The Swamp Dragoons and the bloodhounds came up at this moment, and I feared that between them both I should be severely dealt with.

The dogs seemed determined to bite me, Jake

186    OUR FELLOWS.

and Tom were bent on taking revenge on me for knocking them down, while Pete, although he at first made some show of protecting me, was more than half inclined to allow them to act their pleasure.

There is no telling what might have happened had it not been for Luke Redman, whose stern voice sent the hounds cowering into the bushes, and arrested the hands that were uplifted to strike me.

“ Get' out, you whelps ! ” he roared. “Quit your foolin’, boys. We’ve no time to waste in settlin’ with him now. Fetch up the hosses, an’let’s start fur hum.”

In obedience to these commands, my captors ceased their hostile demonstrations, and began preparations for instant departure. Barney and Jake busied themselves in tying my hands ; the rest of the Dragoons brought up the horses belonging to the attacking party, which were hidden in the swamp a short distance from the camp, while Pete and the rest of the half-breeds ransacked the shanty, and took possession of the guns, saddles and hunting-horns which our fellows had left behind them.

TOM IS ASTONISHED.    187

When every thing was ready for the start, Luke Redman, mounting Black Bess, rode at the head of the cavalcade, and I followed • at his heels, in precisely the same situation in which the robber had been placed a few hours before—mounted on mother’s horse, with my hands bound behind my back.-

“ I told you somethin’ was a-goin’ to happen, an’ you laughed at me,” chuckled Luke Redman, “kow you’ll see how much fun thar is in ridin’ through a thick woods with your hands tied hard an’ fast.”

I had not gone a hundred yards from the camp before I found that there was no fun at all in it. The briers and cane were thick, and, as I could not raise my hands to protect my face, I received more than one blow and scratch that brought the tears to my eyes. But I made no complaint. Luke Redman had endured it during a journey of fifteen miles, and I thought I could endure it also.

That was my second dreary .ride that night, and it was one I never wanted to take again.

What my captors were going to do with me, and in what direction they were traveling, I

188    OUR FELLOWS.

had no way of finding out, for they would not answer my questions. All I could tell was that Luke Redman took especial pains to avoid the clear ground, seeming to prefer the muddy and almost impassable bottom to the high and dry ridges; and that when day dawned, and it became light enough for me to distinguish objects about me, I found myself in a part of the swamp I had never visited before.

“Thar!” exclaimed Luke, reining in his horse on the banks of a deep bayou, and glancing back at the labyrinth of. trees and bushes from which we had just emerged, “I’d like to see the man who can foiler our trail. Now, Barney, you an’ Pete come here a minute.”

The persons addressed followed the robber a short distance up the bayou, and held a long consultation with him. When it was ended, Tom Mason, Luke Redman and the Swamp Dragoons dismounted, I was dragged out of my saddle, and the horses we had ridden were taken in charge by Pete and his half-breed companions, who crossed the bayou and disappeared in the woods on the opposite bank.

TOM IS ASTONISHED.    189

' Barney and Ms followers, in the meantime, were hunting about among the bushes which grew along the edge of the stream, and presently a large canoe wTas brought to light.

My face must have betrayed the interest with which I watched these proceedings, for Luke Redman said:

“I’man old fox, an’ I think I have managed this thing jest about right. I know the men in the settlement will be arter us—I shouldn’t wonder if they was on our trail this very minute—an’ they may succeed in follerin’ us arter all the" trouble I’ve tuk to throw ’em off the scent. When they reach this yere bayou, they’ll see that the hosses have crossed to the other side, an’ they’ll think, in course, that we are still on their backs ; but we won’t be, 'cause we’re goin’ down stream in this yere dug-out. They’ll foiler the trail of the hosses, but they won’t make nothin’ by it, ’cause Pete’s an Injun, an’ knows how to fool ’em.” “Well,” said I, “since you have seen lit to explain your movements to me, perhaps you won’t mind telling me why you are keeping me a prisoner.”

190    OUR. FELLOWS.

Luke Redman rubbed liis chin, and looked 'down at the ground in a brown study.

‘ ‘ I reckon I might as well tell 3m u now as any other time,” said he, after a moment’s reflection. “I want to use you; that’s the reason I am keepin’ you here. I want to use Tommy, too, an’ that’s the reason I’m keepin’.' him.”

This was the first intimation I had had of the fact that Tom Mason was held as a prisoner, and the sudden start that young gentleman gave, and the expression of surprise and alarm that settled 011 his face, told me as plainly as words that It was news to him also. He looked earnestly1 at Luke Redman, then at Barney and his companions, and said in a faltering voice:

‘ ‘ I came here of my own free will, and you surely do not mean to say that I can not go home again when I feel so disposed ? ”

uYes, I do mean to say that very thing,” replied Luke,’ coolly. “ You’re a prisoner, same as this other feller.”

Tom staggered back as if some one had aimed a blow at him, his face grew deathly

TOM IS ASTONISHED.    191

pale, and lie looked the very picture of terror. In spite of all tlie trouble lie liad brought upon me, I pitied him from the bottom of my heart.

For several minutes no one spoke. Tom stood staring at Luke Redman in a sort of stupid bewilderment, as if he found it impossible to grasp the full import of the words lie had just heard, and the man leaned on the muzzle of Sandy Todd’s shot-gun, which he had appropriated for his own use, and stared at him in return.

“You don’t quite see through it, do you ?” said the latter, at length.

“Ho, I don’t,” Tom almost gasped. “I can’t understand what object you have in view in keeping me here, for I shall never reveal any of your secrets.”

“Oh, I ain’t at all afraid of that,” laughed Luke Redman, “ ’cause, if you should tell any of my secrets, I might tell some o’ yourn, which would be bad for you. Listen, an’ I’ll tell you all about it. The money in that carpet-saok belongs to your uncle. He don't need it, 'cause he’s got more than he knows what to do with ; but I do need it, an’, what's more, I’m

192    OUR FELLOWS.

bound to have it. You don’t see that young Injun Jim anywhar, do you % Wal, jest afore we left the camp whar my boys rescooed me, he went to the settlement with a note which Barney writ to your uncle. That note told him that if he don’t quit makin’ so much fuss about the loss of his money, an’ give me a chance to get across the river with it, he’ll never see you ag’in. I know he thinks a heap on you, an’ sooner than lose you, he’ll call in the settlers, an’ give up huntin’ fur me. Ain’t that one way to slip outen the hands of the law ? ”

“ It will never work,” said I, indignantly. “ My father is one of the settlers, and he’ll not allow you to escape, even if G-eneral Mason does desire it.”

“Hold on a bit!” interrupted Luke Bed-man. “ I ain’t done talkin’ yet. Your father will be one of the very fust to give up lookin’ fur me, ’cause I sent him a note, too, sayin’ that if he wanted to see you ag’in, he had best go home an’ mind his own business fur one week. If he does that, I’ll send you back to him safe an’ sound. If he don’t, I’ll sink you so deep in the bayou that none of your

TOM IS ASTONISHED.    193

fellers will ever find you ag’in. Do you know now why I’m so sot on keepin’ you a prisoner?”

I certainly did, for Luke Redman’s scheme was perfectly clear to me. He knew lie could not show himself outside the swamp as long as the authorities and settlers were on the watch, and he had detained Tom and me, hoping through us to work on the fears of our friends and relatives.

If they would let him alone for one week— or, to put it in plain English, if they would draw in the patrols who were guarding the river, and allow him to cipss into Louisiana with the eight thousand dollars—he would return Tom and m 3 to our homes, right side up with care ; but if they persisted in searching for him, he would put us where no one would ever see us again.

I had never heard of so desperate a scheme before, and to say that I was amazed would but feebly express my feelings.

While I was thinking it over, and wondering if it would succeed, Tom recovered from his bewilderment, and showed that he could be

194    OTJKr FELLOWS.

plucky and determined, as well as mean and cunning.

“Well, this gets akead of me completely,” said he, in great disgust. “ This is the' second trick you have played' on me, Luke Redman, and I want you to understand that I won’t put up with it—that’s all about it. If you expect to keep me here, you are deceived for once in your life, if you have never been before. Whenever I get ready to go home, I shall go ; and all the boys and bloodhounds and Indians in your whole gang can’t prevent me.”

“ Can’t! Wal, I’ll mighty soon show you. If you’re going to get your back up an’ act onreasonable, we’ll have to tie you, too. Barney, take that shoo tin’-iron away from him.”

The dark scowl on Tom’s face and the determined manner in which he spoke satisfied me that he was very much in earnest, and I thought it might prove a dangerous piece of business for Luke Redman or any of his boys to lay violent hands on him; but to my surprise he gave up his gun without the least show of resistance, and permitted the Dragoons to tie his hands behind his back.

TOM IS ASTONISHED.    195

He shook his head threateningly, and kept np a rapid talking during the whole proceeding ; and I knew that if ever the opportunity was offered, Luke Redman would suffer for his treachery.

“Thar,” said the robber, “that job’s done, and now we will start on ag’in. But you must be blindfolded first, ’cause we’re goin’ to take you to a place that no man, ’ cept them bJ longin’ to our crowd, ever looked at.”.....

As he said this, he took from his pocket a dirty red handkerchief, and tied it over my eyes so tightly that not a ray of light could reach them.

After a few seconds’ delay, during which he was doubtlessjperforming the same operation for Tom, I was lifted from my feet and laid, away in the boat, as if I had been a sack of corn, and in a minute or two more I heard the measured dip of paddles and felt the gentle motion of the little vessel as it sped rapidly « down the bayou. During the journey, which occupied the better part of the forenoon, no one spoke, and Tom and I were left to the companionship of our own thoughts. '

196    OUR FELLOWS.

That those of my fellow-prisoner were not of the most agreeable nature was evident from the continuous muttering he kept up and the uneasy manner in which he rolled about on the bottom of the canoe.

My own reflections were far from pleasant, for, aside from the pain occasioned by the cramped position I was compelled to occupy, my mind was kept in a state of anxiety and suspense that was little short of positive torture.

I tried to think as little as possible about myself, and kept my brain busy with other matters.

What had induced Tom Mason to become connected with this band of outlaws ? How did it come that Pete and his half-breed companions were associated with them ? Where was Luke Redman taking me ? and would he really drown me in the bayou if he were not left in quiet possession of the eight thousand dollars ?

Such questions as these, I say, occupied my mind during the journey down the bayou ; but I could not find a satisfactory answer to a single one of them.

TOM IS ASTONISHED.    197

About noon my reflections were interrupted by tbe sudden stopping of the canoe, and a movement among my captors which, told me that our voyage was ended.

I was lifted out and placed upon the bank, my feet were unbound, and, supported by Luke Redman on one side and Barney on the other, I was led along what appeared to be a bridlepath running through the woods.

In about ten minutes we reached a house ; a door was pushed open, and I was conducted across a floor and up a flight of creaking stairs, at the top of which my captors stopped long enough to unlock a second.door, which led into a room that I soon found was to serve as my prison.

“ Here you are ! ” said Luke Redman, pulling out his knife and cutting the ropes with which my hands were conflned ; ‘c an’ here you’ll stay till I get ready to leave the country. Don’t go to raisin’ any fuss, now ; ^cause if you do, I’ll send my boys up here with their rawhides.”

The door closed as the outlaw’s voice ceased, and a key grated harshly in the lock. I list-

198    OUR FELLOWS.

ened a moment to tlie retreating footsteps, and tlien tore the handkerchief from my eyes.

I might as well have kept them covered, however, for they were not of the slightest use in the intense darkness which filled my prison. I could not see my hand before me ; and not daring to move about the apartmenffor fear of running against something, I seated myself on the floor, to think over my situation and won-'der what was going to happen next.

Just then I heard a slight grating noise, close at my elbow, such as might have been made by pushing a heavy board across the floor.

This continued for a few seconds, and then little rays of light began to stream into the room from an opening which suddenly, appeared in the wall.

I was now enabled to make an examination of my prison. I swept one hasty glance around it, and saw that it was about ten feet square, that there was not a single article of furniture in it, and that the walls, floor and ceiling were formed of ’heavy oak planks.

When I had noted these things, I looked toward the opening again, and found that it

TOM IS ASTONISHED.    199

had increased in size sufficiently to admit the head and shoulders of Tom Mason, who gazed all about the room, then rubbed his eyes and looked again,

I was not glad to see him, and wondered what he might want there. If he intended to revenge himself on me for knocking him down, he would have a lively time of it, for I was not bound now.

“Joe,” said he, in a scarcely audible whisper.

“Why do you call me that?” I asked. “Didn’t you tell Barney that my name was Mark?”

“ I did ; but I knew better all the time.”

“Well, that is as much as I care to^ hear from you. Don’t you dare come in here.”

“I know yon despise me, Joe, and I don’t wonder at it; but if you will trust me this once, you will never be sorry for it. I am going to leave these fellows this very afternoon; and if you will go with me, and stick to me, we can take my uncle’s money with us, and Black Bess, too.”

I began to listen more attentively when I

200    OUR FELLOWS.

heard this. As Tom had got me into this scrape, I saw no reason why he should not get me ont of it, if he could. The only question in my mind was whether or not I could place any dependence on him.

He must have been able to read my thoughts, for he hastened to say:

“I don’t blame you for doubting me, Joe, but as sure as I am a prisoner here, like yourself, I have no intention of trying to deceive you. I am going to get you out of the hands of these outlaws, whether you are willing or not. If you won’t go with me, I will go alone ; and when I find the settlers, I will guide them straight to this place.”'

“How can you do it?” I asked. “You came here blindfolded, didn’t you?”

“Yes; but it was like locking the stable-door after the horse is stolen, I have been here many a time, and I know this house like a book.”

‘‘ But these people are your friends, are they not ? Why do you turn against them ? ”

“ Ho you ask me that after what you heard to-day ? Luke Redman went back on me com-

TOM IS ASTONISHED.    201

pletely, and I should be something more or less than human if I didn’t want to get even with him for that. Pd like to see him keep me here' an hour longer than I want to stay. Who do you suppose stole my uncle’s money?” asked Tom, suddenly.

“Mr. Redman, of course.”

“Well, he didn’t. 1 stole it. ’ ’

“ Tom Mason ! ” I exclaimed.

“ Don’t talk so loud, or you’ll bring Barney up here. It is a fact, I am sorry to say, and the reason I took it was because I wanted to get Jerry Lamar into trouble. In the first place, I intended to keep you and all your friends in hot water, if I could. I found plenty of ways in which to bother you, such as stealing your boat, robbing your traps and shooting at your dogs, but I did not know what to do to Jerry, for he never went hunting and owned nothing worth stealing. I happened to be up the bayou, duck-shooting, on the morning on which uncle visited Mr. Lamar’s house. I. saw the valise in the skiff, and knowing what it contained, I thought it would be a good plan to take it out and hide it. I

202    OTJR FELLOWS.

did so. I paddled across tlie bayou, took the money, and paddled back again, without being seen, either by my uncle or Mr. Lamar. Jerry was suspected of the theft, as I knew he would be, and would have been sent to prison, if- it had not been for your brother Mark.”

Tom paused, and I sat looking at him without speaking. Bad as I knew him to be, I had never dreamed that he could descend low enough to perpetrate an act like this.

His confession revealed a depth of depravity that Luke Bedman himself would have been ashamed of; and when I thought how narrowly Jerry had escaped being the victim of his cowardly vindictiveness, I had half a mind to pull him through the window into my prison, and give him the worst drubbing he ever had in his life.

I believe I should have done something to him, had I not at that moment heard a step on the stairs.

“ Somebody’s coming,” whispered Tom. “I have more to tell you, if you have the patience

TOM IS ASTONISHED.    208

to listen to it, and will see yon again directly.”

As he said this' he drew back from the window and pushed the board to its place, leaving me in total darkness.

CHAPTER XIII.

TOM TELLS HIS STOEY.

HEX Tom had disappeared, I settled

back on my elbow, and listened to the approaching footsteps, which slowly mounted the creaking stairs and stopped at my door. A key turned in the lock, the light of a lantern streamed into the room, and Barney and Jake Redman entered, one carrying a plate filled with corn-bread and bacon, and the other holding a bundle of blankets under his arm.

“ Wal, my young feller,” said Barney, with an awkward attempt to appear good-natured and patronizing, “how do you feel about this time ? Tired, hungry an’ sleepy, I reckon. We’ve brought you a bite of somethin’, an’ a blanket to lay down on. You’d best do some good eatin’ an’ sleepin’ while you are about it, ’cause we’ve got a long ways to ride to-night.”

“ Where are we going ? ” I asked.

TOM TELLS HIS STORY.    205

“ That’s somethin’ fur you to find out. You’ll know soon enough.”

With this assurance, the Dragoons deposited the lantern, blankets and plate on the floor, and went out, locking the door after them.

In a few minutes the sound of voices coming from the adjoining room told me that they had gone in to pay Tom a visit.

I had been very sleepy previous to my interview with my fellow-prisoner, but that had worn off now, although I was as hungry as ever. I did ample justice to the bountiful dinner with which Barney had provided me, and wrhen he came in after the lantern, I had emptied the plate, and lay stretched out on the blankets, which I had spread upon the floor.

The leader of the Dragoons showed a disposition to linger and enter into conversation—a proceeding to which I was strongly opposed. I was impatient to be rid of his presence, in order that I might see Tom Mason again, and, as I gave only short, crusty answers to his questions, and pretended to be very sleepy, Barney finally gave it up in disgust, and took his leave.

206    OUR FELLOWS.

The sound of his footsteps had scarcely died away on the stairs, when the board which concealed the opening in the wall was cautiously pushed aside, and Tom once more appeared, his jaws working rapidly, and his hands filled with corn-bread and bacon.

.. I looked at him closely, and could easily see that something had. made a great change in him. . The impudent, defiant expression his face usually wore had disappeared, and he looked melancholy , and down-hearted, as though he had lost the last friend he had in the world.

He did not wait for me to speak, but began the conversation himself.

“ When Barney came up I was relating how I obtained possession of the money, wasn’t I ? ” said^lie. “ I told you that I crossed the bayou with it without being seen by either my uncle or Mr. Lamar. I was seen by somebody else, -however, and by the very one, of all others, I: had the most reason to fear ; for as I sat look- -ing at the valise, after I had pushed my canoe out of sight among the bushes, and wondering what I should do with it now that I had got it,

TOM TELLS HIS STOEY.    207

I happened to raise my eyes, and, to my utter amazement, discovered a skiff not more than ten feet from me. In the skiff was Luke Bed-man, who stood leaning on his gun, and looking at me with an exultant smile on hisfface.

“I was certain that he had been watching me, that he had seen me take the money, and the . very first, words he uttered confirmed the

suspicion. ........

“f. Waly my young chap, I’ve ketched you,5 said he—‘ketched yon in the very act, too. This will be a nice story for me to tell in the settlement, won’t it ?5

“ When I heard this last remark, I for the first time began to realize what I had done. It flashed upon me in an instant that my plan for ruining Jerry Lamar was likely to ruin me, also.

“In order to satisfy a senseless grudge against.a boy who never did me the least harm in his life, I had broken the law, and rendered myself liable to the severest punishment.

“ I did not speak—I could not, so great was my bewilderment and alarm—neither did Luke Bedman. He sat down on one of the thwarts,

208    OUR FELLOWS.

and looked earnestly into the water, while I stared blankly at him, wondering what was to be the end of the matter.

“At length a bright idea struck the man. He brought his clinched hand heavily down upon his knee, and looking np, said, with a chuckle :

“ ‘ Yes, sir ; I’ve ketched yon in the very act of stealin’ your uncle’s money. Do you know what they do with fellers who commit robbery %

“ ‘ I have committed no robbery,’ I replied. ‘ I am going to take the money back. I only wanted to scare him.’

“ ‘That story won’t go down—not by no means,’ said Luke Redman, with another laugh. ‘ It’s a mighty nice way you have got of doin’ business, hain’t it, now % You steal a ca,rpet-sack full of yellow-boys, an’ when you are ketched at it, say you are goin’ to take it back, an’ that you only wanted to scare your uncle ! Who’s fool enough to b’lieve such a tale as that ar’ % Thar’s only one way you can get out of this scrape, an’ that is—Halloo ! what’s a-goin’ on over thar ? ’

TOM TELLS HIS STOEY.    209

“I heard loud voices at this moment, and looking through the bushes toward the opposite bank of the bayou, found that my plan for being revenged on Jerry was beginning to work much sooner than I had anticipated. I saw my uncle take him by the collar and walk him into the skiff, heard Jerry beg to know what he had done, and saw the despairing expression his face wore as he picked up the oars in obedience to my uncle’s command, and pulled down the bayou.”

“That’s the time you ought to have bestirred yourself,” said I, worked up to the highest pitch of indignation by Tom’s, recital. “Why didn’t you have the moral courage to undo the wrong you had done ? Could you sit there and see an innocent boy punished ? Why did you not pull out into the bayou and tell your uncle that you had the valise ? ”

‘ ‘ Oh, yes ! It is all very well for those who have never been guilty of any serious offense to prate about moral courage,” sneered Tom. “There isn’t a boy in the world who knows my uncle who would dare face him after doing a deed like that. Would you? I’ll bet you

210    OUE FELLOWS.

wouldn’t. He would have turned me out of house and home. I don’t know that I should be in any worse situation than I am now,” added Tom, reflectively, “for of course I can’t go back to the settlement after what I have done.

“ As I was saying, I sat there in my canoe, and saw Jerry and my uncle go down the bayou toward the village. When they had passed out of sight, Luke Redman said :

“ ‘It’s too late to give the money back now, even if you meant to do it—which I know you didn’t—an’ the best thing for you will be to turn it over to me.’

“ ‘Turn it over to you ! ’ I echoed, amazed at the proposition.    •    .    ^

“‘Sartin. I’ll take care on it for you. That’s the only way you can get out of this trouble.’

“‘Well, I’ll see you in Guinea first,’ I replied. ‘ I can take care of it myself.’

“ ‘Ho, you can’t, an’ you shan’t, nuther! ’ exclaimed Luke Redman, with as much authority as though the money had been his own private property. ‘I’ve ketched you in a

TOM TELLS HIS STOEY.    211

serape that’ll send yon to State’s prison fur the best years of your life, an’ if you want me to keep my mouth shet, you mustn’t put on no flourishes, ’cause I won’t stand it! I’ll take the money, an’ when things have quieted down a little, me an’ my family ’11 emigrate. We’ll go to Texas, an’ stay thar. We’ll say nothing to nobody about this yer business, an’ no one need know that you had a hand in it. If you won’t- agree to that, I'll go straight to the settlement, an’ tell your uncle that he has got the wrong buck by the horn, an’ that you are the guilty chap," an’ not Jerry. What do you say to that, my lad ? ’

“ I did not say any thing ; for I was so utterly confounded that I could not speak. Luke Redman must have taken my silence for consent; for he lifted the valise out of my canoe, and, after stowing it away in the stern of his skifl, pulled off through the swamp, and I never made an effort to detain him. I must have sat there for hours, gazing fixedly at the spot where I had last seen his boat among the trees, hoping and half believing that the events of the afternoon were a terrible

212    OUK FELLOWS.

dream, from which I would awake to find myself as I was before—an honest boy, if not a good one.

“It was only by a strong effort that I aroused myself. I returned by a circuitous route to the place where I had left my horse, and throwing myself into the saddle, rode about until nearly midnight, starting at every sound, and almost certain that every tree I passed concealed some one who would spring out and arrest me. '

“When I first discovered you and your friends coming down the road, on your way to the village to-visit Jerry, I nearly fell off my horse with fright. I knew it looked suspicious for me to sneak off into'the bushes, but I could not help it—I could not, face you.”

“You showed your guilt as plainly as daylight, ’ ’ I observed. ‘ ‘ There was not one among our fellows who was not willing to declare that you knew more about that money than any one else.”

“I can not begin to tell you what a miserable night I passed,” continued Tom, “My uncle

TOM TELLS HIS STORY.

repeatedly declared in my hearing that he knew Jerry to be the guilty one, but that did . not allay my fears in the least. The real facts of the case might leak out somewhere before morning—there were a thousand ways in which they might become known—and then what would he think of me % Above all, what would he do f

“ I never once closed my eyes in sleep, and early the next morning I set out for the swamp, to visit my evil genius. He and his boys were the only friends I had now, and, somehow, I felt easier in their company than any where else. I believed that I must keep close to them, to prevent them from telling some one of my secrets.

“I was glad to learn that Luke Redman intended to start for Louisiana immediately, and was sorry her had not gone hours before. I was angry, too, when I found that he was going alone, and urged him to take his whole family and clear out, bag and baggage, and never return ; but he said it would look suspicious *if they all went together, and I was obliged to submit to the arrangements he had made.

214    OtiE FELLOWS.

“It was Luke Redman’s intention to go down the bayou, to the river in his skiff, and the Swamp Dragoons and I were so anxious to see him off that we accompanied him on horseback.

‘ ‘ He would have succeeded in making his escape, had it not been for that accident at Dead Man’s Elbow. Although he had two oars, and was a good boatman, he allowed himself to be brought within the influence of the current that ran toward the cavern. His skiff was overturned, and the only thing that saved him from destruction was the tree that stood 011 the edge of the falls.

“ When your brother came down, I concealed myself in the bushes, and kept out of his sight. . I saw all that happened there that afternoon, and 'when Mark swam over the falls, I jumped on my'horse with the others, and did my best to overtake him; but he gave us the slip somehow, and we went back and worked for six long hours to get Luke Redman out of that tree, and to obtain possession of the valise.

“We accomplished both undertakings at last, and fearing that the settlement had been aroused, and that the river would be closely

TOM TELLS HIS STOKY.    215

1 guarded, we came back to this place; and while the settlers were searching all over the country for Luke Redman, he was concealed in this very house, I visiting him regularly, and keeping him posted in all that was going on.

“ Two days ago, Barney took a skiff down the bayou to the river, and hid it where his father could find it; and yesterday Luke Redman made another attempt to leave the state. This time he rode your horse, trusting to her speed to bring him out of any scrape he might get into.

“He had a lively time dodging the men in the cane-brakes, and finally you fellows discovered and captured him.

“Barney and I saw you while you were taking him through the swamp, and we hurried home, got the rest of the fellows, and Pete and his. crowd, and rescued him.

“You see, I knew it would prove a serious thing for me if he were taken to the settlement. He would be brought before the squire, and, of course, during his examination he would tell how he came by the money, which would be a bad thing for me.”

216’    OUR    FELLOWS.

“But, Tom,” said I, “didn’t von know all the while that the part yon have taken in this miserable business wonld become known sooner or later?”

“ Yes, I did ; I couldn’t help knowing it, but I Wanted to keep it hidden as long as I could. I stuck to Luke Bedman, and helped him by every means in my power, until he told me that I was a prisoner, and at that moment he made an enemy of me. He must look out for his own bacon now. I know what his plans are, and I’ll ruin them if I can, no matter what happens to myself. I’ll teach him a thing or two before I am done with him.”

Tom shook his head threateningly as he said this, and brought his fist down into the palm of his hand with a report like that of a pistol.

CHAPTER XIV.

tom’s plan.

66 rTl HERE are one or two other things I -L should like to have you explain, Tom,” said I, after a little pause. ‘ ‘ Who stole Black Bess?”

£ ‘ That is another act which you can lay to my charge,” replied my fellow prisoner. “I - knew by the way you fellows looked and acted that day that it'would be well for me to keep as far as possible out of your reach, so after I landed from the canoe, fearing that you might jump on your horses and follow me, I slipped around to your camp and stole the mare. I brought her to this house and left her here, and Luke Redman has been riding her ever since. He says she is the swiftest thing in the shape of a horse he ever saw, and he is going to take her to Texas with him.”

“He shan’t do it,” said I. “I’ll follow him

218    OFR FELLOWS.

wherever lie goes, and take lier away from him. She is my own private property, and I’ll not give her np to any body. Do you know who burned our cotton gin?”

“Yes, Pete is the man. He did it to be revenged on your brother for setting his dogs on him. By the way, don’t let him put his hands on you if you can help it. He thinks you are Mark, and if he gets half a chance, he’ll thrash you within an inch of your life. Among us all we have kept the settlement in an uproar for the last few weeks, haven’t wre? Barney and I have been at the bottom of almost every thing that has happened, and I am sorry enough for it now. If any one had told me two months ago that I should ever come to this, I would not have believed him. I have made an outlaw of myself. I can’t call any living person my friend—not even my uncle, for he will never forgive me for what I have done. If I could live over the last year of my life, I’ll bet you I would have a very different record to show. My first care would be to keep out of bad company. That is what has brought me where I am.”

tom’s plan.    219

For a long time after, this neither of ns spoke. Tom looked down at the floor, and I looked at Mm. He was"thinking over his past life, and I was wondering what the future had in store for him. I had at first been utterly amazed when I found how low he had fallen, but I was not so now. Knowing the life he had led for | long time past, it was unreasonable to expect any thing else. One can not handle coals without getting his hands black, and the longer the coals are handled the blacker the hands become.

When Tom first began to associate with the Swamp Dragoons, one year ago, he would have been greatly alarmed at the bare thought that he would ever become so depraved as to commit a robbery. This state of things had not been brought about in a moment—it was the worKof months. One mean act led to a second a little worse, another and another followed, and now he was] an outcast from home, and utterly friendless, for even Luke Redman and the Swamp Dragoons had deserted him.. He was learning by experience that the way of the transgressor is always hard, and I did not wonder that the future looked dark to him.

220    OUR FELLOWS.

“You'can’t imagine how heartily I always despised Duke Hampton,” said Tom, suddenly. “I hated the very sight of him, and now I would give -all I ever hope to possess if I could he in his place. Every one thinks so much of him. There is not a man, woman or child in the settlement who does not put the most implicit faith in his word, or one who would believe any thing mean of him.”

“And Duke deserves every particle of the confidence that is placed in him,” said I.

“ I know it. He never tries to build himself up by pulling others down, and he is much too honorable and manly to say any thing behind your back that he wouldn’t care to say to your face. If you should, tell him a secret, he wouldn’t lisp it to the best friend he has in the world. And he is honest, too. Whenever you find a boy like that, you find one that every body likes—except, perhaps, some" fool like me whom no one on earth cares for. How then, lam going to get away from here. I’ll first make amends for my misdeeds, as far as lies in my power, and then I’ll go off where no one knows me and begin again. If there is any

tom’s plait.    221

good in me, it must come out. I’ll make a man of myself yet, and, in order to do it, I’ll follow Duke Hampton’s example as nearly as lean.”

“ ‘ A wrong confessed is half redressed,’ you know, ’ ’ said I. “Why don’t you go kome and tell your uncle just what you have told me % I^would, if I were in your place.”

“Don’t ask me to do that, Joe,” said Tom, decidedly. “I may come back here one of these days, but I can’t think of staying now. Could I look any body in the face after what I have done % Could you ? But let’s talk about something else. Our enemies must be asleep by this time-, and if we are going to get away from here, we must be about it.”

“Why, we are not going to make an attempt. to escape in broad daylight, are we?”

“Certainly we are ; and the sooner we get to work, the better it will be for us. Luke Redman intends to start for the river as soon as it grows dark, and, what is more, he is going to take us with him. If we once begin that journey, we’ll have no chance to get away, for he will tie us hard and fast. It’s now or never. Come

222    OUR FELLOWS.

in here, Joe, and let us take a look at things.”

In accordance with this request, I crawled through the opening into Tom’s prison, and found that, in size and appearance, it was like my own, with' this simple difference : There was a window 011 one side of it, and I was surprised to see that it was not secured with either bars or a shutter.    -

“I don’t call this much of a jail,” said'31. “What is there to hinder you from climbing out of that window whenever, you choose ? I can’t imagine why Luke Redman confined you here.”

“He didn’t intend to confine me,” replied Tom. “ He only wanted to punish me for talking back to him. When Barney came up with my dinner, he told me that the reason his father had put me in this apartment was, that I might keep a watch over you. If you began rummaging about, and discovered the opening between the two rooms, I was to grab you and alarm the house. You see, Luke Redman knew that you and I were not on the best of terms, and thought I would do all in my power to

tom’s plan.    223

prevent your escape. He imagines, too, that I will stay just where he has a mind to put me, and obey any orders he sees fit to issue ; but I will show him that he has reckoned without his host.”

As Tom ceased speaking, I thrust my head out of the window to take a survey of the situation.

I found that the house stood in the center of a dense cane-brake, and that it was built close against the side of a perpendicular bluff. There was something peculiar in its construction that attracted my attention at once. It was an ordinary log cabin, containing probably not more than one room below, but the roof, instead of rising to a peak, sloped back from the front of the building, the after end of the rafters resting against the side of the cliff.

I noticed, too, that, although the rafters extended as high as the top of our prison, they did not cover it; consequently, the rooms could not have been in the house, but in the bluff. I wondered at this, and looked toward Tom for an explanation.

“It was a freak of Luke Redman’s,” said

224    OUR FELLOWS.

he. “ It is no uncommon thing for him to be obliged to conceal himself for a month or two ; and in order that he might have a safe harbor-ing-place, he built this house, which is situated on an island in a part of the swamp that no one ever visits, not even, hunters. Hot satisfied with this, he dug a hole in the hill, and walled it up with planks to keep it from caving in. It is an excellent place of concealment, for even if any of his enemies should find the house, they might ransack it from top' to bottom without discovering these two rooms.”

“But they could see this window,” I suggested.

“Hot from the ground,” replied Tom. “ This grape-vine_ covers it. completely. We can see out, but no one can see in.”

I looked out again to complete the examination I had begun, and to calculate our chances-for escape. The first things I noticed were several horses, my own and mother’s among the number, hitched to' trees a short distance from the house. They were all saddled, and the bridles were slipped over their heads, show-

tom’s plam.    225

ing that although Luke Redman and his followers fancied themselves perfectly secure in their hidden fortress, they had not neglected to make preparations for a hasty flight. A little further on, Pete and his companions, who had brought the horses to the island by some roundabout way, lay stretched out on their blankets around a smoldering camp-fire, sleeping soundly after their hard ride of the previous night. A pack of bloodhounds, probably eighteen or twenty of them in all, lay curled up in the sun direct] y in front of the open door of the cabin, from which there issued a chorus of terrific snores, telling me that the robber and his young confederates were also slumbering heavily.

I took in all these things at a glance, and my hopes fell to zero. If it were dark, we might possibly succeed in making our escape; but how could we lower ourselves from that window in broad daylight, walk past the hounds, and go into the house among those sleeping desperadoes—for that we would certainly be obliged to do if we expected to take the money with us—and, lastly, secure posses-

226    QUE FELLOWS.

sion of our horses and make off with them, without arousing somebody ?

: “Tom,” said I, “your plan won’t work at all. It is positively foolhardy. I believe I would rather stay here than run the risk of being torn in pieces by those hounds.”

“I haven’t yet told you what my plan is,” replied Tom. “Those dogs will not trouble you.- They all know me, and I can go where I please about the house, and they will hot even look at me.” ~

“ But they would follow your trail if they were put on it,” said I.

“ Of course they would, and eat me up when they caught me. That’s their nature. But I do not intend to give them the chance. I don’t ask you to run any risks. We will lower ourselves out of the window by the grape-vine, and you can stand at the foot of the bluff while I do the work. I’ll go into the cabin and pass out the money to you, and also a couple of guns; for I’ll tell you what’s a fact, Joe,” added Tom, with emphasis, “ if I once get that valise in my hands, I’ll never surrender it. I’ll send it back to mj^ uncle, where it belongs

tom’s plam.    227

When we have secured the gold and weapons, we will start for our horses. We need not stop to put the bridles on them, you know ; we can ride them without. Once fairly in the saddle, we can laugh at any thing in the shape of horseflesh'they can bring against us.’’

“ And at the hounds, too,” said I.

Tom’s enthusiasm must have been contagious, for almost before I knew it, I found myself entering heartily into the spirit of his plans. They were desperate, I knew, and the chances for carrying them out were small indeed ; but even that had a charm for me. If we failed, we could not be in a much worse situation than we were now ; and if we succeeded, Black Bess and the eight thousand dollars were the I>rizes we would carry away with us.

“ If the dogs follow us, we can shoot them, you know,” I added.

‘‘Certainly we can ; and what’s more, we will. Will you stick to me and never flinch ? ” “You may depend upon it.”

Tom seemed satisfied with this assurance, for without saying another word he crawled into the window, grasped the grape-vine, and

228    OTTE FELLOWS.

quickly disappeared from my view. While he was lowering himself to the ground, I kept a good lookout, dividing my attention between the hounds and the Indians at the camp-fire, and listening for any unusual sounds in the cabin; but Tom . accomplished the descent without disturbing any one, and I crept out of the window and followed him.

In a few seconds I was standing by his side at the foot of the bluff, and he was pulling off his boots, preparatory to entering the house.

“ I stand in more, fear of the Indians than any thing else,” he whispered, with a hasty glance toward the camp-fire. “ Their ears are sharper than a hound’s, and, asleep or awake, they always keep them open. Have an eye on them, and if you see one of them move, give one short, quick whistle.”

I was really amazed at the calmness with which Tom spoke, and the coolness and deliberation with which he acted. If I had been going into that cabin among Luke Redman and his boys, I should have felt a good deal of excitement and uneasiness ; and, what is more,

tom’s plait.    229

I should have shown it; but my companion did not.

With the exception of a reckless glitter in his eye, and a resolute scowl on his forehead, he was to all appearances the everyday Tom Mason. What a pity it was, I thought, that he had not devoted himself to his books, and spent less time in studying up plans for mischief. Such an undaunted spirit, such a determ-, ination to overcome obstacles, if exhibited in the line of study, or in any other laudable direction, would have raised him to a high place among his fellows.

While I was moralizing, Tom nodded his head at me as if bidding me good-by, and with a step that would not have awakened a cricket, moved toward the house. One of the hounds must have scented him—he certainly did not hear him—for he raised his head, gazed at Tom a moment with a pair of sleepy-looking eyes, and was about to lie down again when he discovered me.

His brute’s. instinct must have told him that there was something wrong, for he straightened up and uttered an angry growl, which aroused

230    OUR FELLOWS.

all the other dogs at once. I thought it was all over with us, and that our discovery was inevitable; but Tom was equal to the emergency.

“ Keep still, you rascals! ” he exclaimed, in a savage whisper. “Be off with you ! Clear out!”

The hounds had seen Tom so often that they had probably learned to look upon him as one of their masters, for when he stooped suddenly as if to pick up something with which to enforce his commands, they all scrambled to their feet and slunk away into the cane-brake.

CHAPTER XV.

DANGEROUS WORK.

HAVING- disposed of the dogs, Tom stepped cautiously into the house, and I moved up as near the door as I dared, to take the guns as he passed them out, not forgetting meanwhile to keep my eye on the Indians, as he had directed.

Once I ventured to look in at the door, and when I saw the sight the inside of the cabin presented, I wondered that Tom’s heart did not fail him. There were no beds in the room, and the forms of Luke Redman and his boys were scattered over the floor in such positions that Tom was obliged to step over one or two of them in order to reach the guns, which I saw were stacked in the furthest corner of the cabin, with the powder-flasks and shot-pouches belonging to them hanging from their muzzles. Luke, looking like a giant among pigmies, lay

232    OUE FELLOWS.

stretched out on liis blanket in the middle of the floor, one powerful arm thrown over his head, and the other passed through the handles of the valise, which he had hugged close to his side.

This was a most discouraging sight. I thought the money might as well have been locked up in some iron safe.

Tom, who had not failed to make the best use of his eyes, quickly discovered that he had something of a task before him, but I could see that he was not disheartened by it. The frown on his face deepened, and a determined expression settled about his mouth. He placed his hand on one of the guns, and then turned to look at Luke, as if thinking up some plan to secure the valise, when a powder-flask, loosened from its fastening, fell with a loud noise on the floor.

“ What’s that ar ? ” growled Barney, raising himself on his elbow so suddenly that I was almost ready to believe that he had been merely feigning sleep on purpose to be ready to catch Tom.

He rubbed his eyes as he gazed stupidly about the room, and I, knowing that I could

DANGEROUS WORK.    233

not stir without attracting his attention, remained perfectly motionless. Tom dropped on the instant, and, with a quickness that was astonishing, stretched himself at full length on the floor. If Barney saw him at all, he probably thought he was one of his companions.

The leader , of the Dragoons was too sleepy to spend much time or energy in investigating the cause of the disturbance. He yawned once or twice, and, reaching out his hand, took a gourd from a nail over his head, dipped it into a bucket of water that stood close by, and while he was drinking, I could have vowed that his eyes were fastened squarely on my face.

I stood just outside the door, in plain sight, and how it happened that he did not discover me, I can not tell; but it was very evident that he did not, for when he had satisfied his thirst, he returned the gourd to its nail, rolled over on his blanket, and, with one arm under his head for a pillow, speedily went off into the land of dreams again.

For full five minutes my companion in the corner remained so motionless that he scarcely seemed to breathe". At the end of that time a

234    OUK FELLOWS.

faint snore coming from Barney's direction mingled with the others, and that must have satisfied Tom that the danger was passed, for in a second he was on his feet again.

He at once turned his attention to the guns, and to my surprise, instead of selecting two of the* weapons, he began to load himself down with them. When he had collected all he could carry, he stepped cautiously over the prostrate forms and came out of the cabin.

“Joe,” he whispered excitedly, as I accompanied him toward the grape-vine at the foot of the bluff, “I have just thought of something grand. Those fellows may wake up and pursue us before we can reach a place of safety ; and wouldn’t it be a good iDlan to take all their guns away from them ? ”

“It would, indeed,” I replied; “but you will have to make two or three trips to bring them.”

“ Oh, I can carry them all at one more load, and then I’ll go back for that money.”

“Tom, you had better give that up,” said I. “You will only put yourself in danger for

DANGEROUS WORK.    235

nothing, for you can’t get tliat valise without waking Luke Redman.”

Can’t I? Well, I’ll show you that I can. I know just how to doit. How, Joe, while I am gone you had better pick out two guns— be sure and get the best—and hide the others under this grape-vine. They’11 never think of looking for them there.”

Tom went into the house again, and I hastened to carry out his suggestions. As the Indians had left their guns in the cabin with the others, I found my own double-barrel among those Tom had brought out, and also Sandy’s, of both of which I took possession.

After slinging the powder-flasks and shot-pouches which belonged to them over my shoulder, I dropped the ramrods into the weapons, and found that they contained more than five fingers of a load. They were heavily charged with buckshot, which would be just the thing for knocking over those fierce bloodhounds, if they were put on our trail.

I then proceeded to conceal the other guns among the leaves and bushes about the root of the grape-vine; and while thus engaged, it

236    OUR FELLOWS.

struck me that it would be a good plan to. put it out of the power of our enemies to use the Weapons, even if they found them. . This I conceived to be a bright idea, and I carried it out by emptying the contents of the shot-bags and powder-flasks upon the ground, those I carried over my shoulder of course excepted.

By the time this had been done, Tom appeared with .another armful of guns.

‘‘Those fellows are the soundest sleepers I ever saw,” he whispered. “I’d like to-be introduced to the man or boy who could fool about my bed that way without arousing me, even if I had been in the saddle all night, blow, put those shooting-irons out of sight somewhere, and watch me get- that valise. Keep the- guns you have selected in your hands, and also my boots, so that we can be ready to start for the horses the instant I come out.”

Tom moved off again, and I remained behind to hide the guns he had last brought out. This done I glanced toward the camp-fire, to make sure that the Indians were still asleep, and then crept to the door of the cabin and looked

DANGEKOUS WOKK.    237

in. Tom was kneeling on the floor beside Luke Redman, and when I caught sight of him, he was in the act of drawing from his pocket a^huge clasp-knife, which he opened with his teeth. He made' two quick passes with the keen blade, and the handles of the valise fell apart.

That much was done, and now came the most difficult part of the whole operation. Tom had no doubt thought over all the'details of his plan; for after shutting up the knife and putting it into his pocket, he seized the. valise with both hands, and slowly and cautiously raised it from the floor. The sinewy arm that clasped it slipped easily over its glossy leathern surface, and presently rested at full length on the blanket, while Tom lifted his prize above his head in triumph.

Our luck,- which had thus far been all that we could have desired, now began to change. The robber suddenly stirred in his sleep, and probably from the force of habit, threw out his arm as if to embrace some object. He expected, no doubt, to feel the weight of the valise, but his arm passed through the empty air and fell

238    OUR FELLOWS.

upon tlie floor again. This aroused him at once. Opening his eyes and discovering Tom kneeling at his-side, he comprehended the situation in an instant.

“Hallo, here ! ” he shouted, in his stentorian voice; “drop that ar’ carpet-sack.”

As quick as thought, Tom started to his feet, and made an effort to leap over the robber ; but it so happened that the latter arose to a sitting posture at the same moment, and this brought his head and Tom’s feet in violent contact. The result was that one fel] heavily back upon his blanket, while the other flew headlong through the air and out at the door as if lie had been thrown from a catapult. It was plain that Luke Redman had the worst of it, for he lay motionless where he had fallen, while Tom, who had clung manfully to the valise, was on his feet again almost as soon as he touched the ground.

“Now, Joe, we’ve got work before us,” said he, hurriedly. “We can’t get our horses, and consequently we must trust.to our heels.”

While Tom was putting on his boots—I never saw a boy get into a pair in less time

DANGEROUS WORK.    239

than he did on that occasion—I looked toward the camp-fire and saw that he was right when he said that we must abandon the idea of escaping by the aid of our horses. The Indians had been awakened by Luke Redman’s voice, and were hurrying toward us. In order to reach our nags, we would be obliged to pass directly through their ranks, and that was something we were not foolish enough to attempt.

“Give me one of the guns, Joe, and keep close behind me,” said Tom, who seemed to know just what ought to be done. “Watch the dogs, and don’t let them come too close.”

The Swamp Dragoons, who had been aroused by this time, were not long in finding out what was going on. Some of them hurried to the corner where they had left their guns, while Barney thrust his head out of the door and shouted for his hounds.

“Hi! hi!” he yelled. “Take ’em, you rascals! Here, Nero! here, Growler!”

Tom and I were not standing idle all this while. The instant he was fairly into his boots we commenced our flight; but although

240    OUR FALLOWS.

we made the very best use of our legs, we did not reach the cane in time to escape discovery by the hounds. They were quick to respond to the calls of- their master. A hoarse yelp sounded behind us, and looking over my shoulder, I saw the dogs advancing in a body, Growler and Nero leading the way.

CHAPTER XVI.

OUR STRATAGEM.

HAVE always thought that, next to a

hunting-horn, there is no music in the world equal to that of a pack of staunch hounds in full cry, nor a prettier sight to be seen than they present while flying over the ground, almost with the rapidity of thought.

How the deep-toned bays echo and re-echo through the woods, until it seems as if the bushes were fairly alive with the excited animals ! How easily they bound along, and how your heart swells within you, as you sit on your good horse, with your trusty double-barrel in your hands, waiting for the game to break cover !

This is grand and inspiring under certaim circumstances ; but if you are the hunted instead of the hunter, and those hounds are on your track, and you have nothing but a couple

-242    OUR FELLOWS.

of loads of buckshot and your own lightness of foot to depend upon, the case is very different. There is not so nrach music in their baying then, by any means, and you do not see any thing about them to admire.

I trembled with alarm as I gazed back at the savage brutes. Their long bounds were rapidly lessening the distance between us, and I saw that it was high time I was doing something. Raising my gun to my shoulder, I fired with both barrels in quick succession, and when the smoke cleared away, I saw that there were four hounds less in that pack.

Growler and Nero, the ones at which I had aimed, were lying on the ground, stone dead, and two others were badly wounded.

Luke Redman and his boys yelled, with rage when they witnessed the effect of my shots, and shouted after us threats that made my blood run cold.

“Never mind them!” exclaimed Tom, snatching the empty gun and handing me the other. “Keep it up. Show them that we are in earnest.”

The hounds were thrown into great confu-



OUR STRATAGEM.    243

sion by the havoc the buckshot made in their ranks, and I knew that they would not again take up their trail until urged on by their masters.

I leveled my gun a second time, but now the muzzle was turned toward Pete and his companions, who were rushing recklessly forward, expecting, no doubt, to capture us very easily. They stopped when they found themselves confronted by the double-barrel, and Pete began shouting some orders in his native tongue to his followers, who turned and ran back to their horses.

We did not wait to see what they were going to do, for, having by this time reached the cane-brake, we dashed into it, and quickly left our enemies out of sight.

Have you ever seen a cane-brake? If you have not, I am afraid I can give you but a poor idea of one. Imagine, if you can, a tract of country covered with ordinary fishing-rods, such as you city boys buy in the variety stories, at a shilling apiece, standing as closely together as the hair on a dog’s back, and growing to the height of twelve and fourteen feet.

244    OUR FELLOWS.

If yon can imagine this, yon will know pretty nearly liow a cane-brake looks ; bnt yon can not understand what an excellent, hiding-place it is. One might walk by within two feet without discovering yon ; and more than that, he could not follow the trail yon made in going in, for, as fast as you pass the cane, it closes up behind yon.

The one in which we had taken refuge, did not cover more than a dozen acres ; and yet, had it not been for the hounds, Luke Redman and his whole gang might have searched for us during the rest of the week, and they would never have found us.

“How. Joe,” whispered Tom, as he began to load the gun I had fired at the hounds, “I have another foolhardy plan to .propose. We’ll watch our chance to get back to the house, and climb up the grape-vine to our prison again. What do you think of it ? ”

“I think I won’t do it,” I replied, completely astounded at the proposition. “We might as well have stayed there in the first place.”

“Oh, no!” replied my companion. “We

'OUR stratagem.    24 o

are much better off now than we were before, because we’ve got the money, and a couple of guns with which to defend ourselves if we are crowded to the wall.”

“ Well, I am safe out of there now, and I’ll never go back if I can help it. That’s the most stupid plan I ever heard of.”

“I can convince you in less than a minute that it will be the very best thing we can do,” said Tom, confidently. “We are not going to stay here in the cane, to be hunted down like , a couple of wolves that have been robbing a sheep-pen ; and if we attempt to leave the island, we shall give the dogs a fair chance at us. The woods on the other side of the bayou are open, and there’s no cane to hide in. Listen! Those fellows have just found out that their^guns are gone.”

If that was the case, they must have been very angry over the discovery, for such an uproar I never heard before. Luke Redman was shouting out some orders, to which no one seemed to pay the least attention ; the Indians were talking loudly with one another; the uninjured hounds kept up a furious barking,

246    OUR FELLOWS.

and the wounded ones joined in the chorus with continuous yelps and growls.

Although we could not see our enemies, our ears told us just what was going on.

“ Silence ! ” roared Luke Redman, at length. “ If you don’t hush up that noise—the hull on you—I’ll knock some o’ you down. Barney, kick half a dozen of them dogs. Jump into your saddles, an’ ride fur the bayou as fast as your horses can carry you. If they have crossed to the mainland, it’s all right; we’ll ketch ’em easy. If they haven’t, they are still in this cane-brake, an’ it won’t take us long to hunt ’em out. If Tommy thinks he is goin’ to slip off with that ar’ carpet-sack, he’ll be the wust-fooled boy you ever seed.”

Before Luke had ceased speaking, the sound of horses’ hoofs came to our ears, telling us that some of his followers were starting out to obey his commands.

The whole gang rode rapidly down the path by which Tom and I had been conducted to the house, and which ran through the cane not more than twenty feet from our hiding-place. In a few minutes more they were galloping

OUR STRATAGEM.    247

lip and down the bayou, searching for our' trail.

“We had better be moving now,” said Tom, shouldering his gun, and picking up the valise. “They’ll soon find out that we have not crossed the bayou, and then they’ll be back. The house is the safest place for us.”

Since Tom first proposed this plan I had been . thinking it over, and was now ready to agree' to it.

As things stood there was but one way to leave the island, and that w^s to cross to the opposite side, and swim the' bayou. We might thus succeed in getting the start of our . enemies by half a mile or more; but what would that amount to while they were on horse-back and we on foot ? As Tom had said, the woods on the main land were open ; there was no cane to hide in, and the dogs could see us a long distance. There were still a dozen or more of these savage brutes in the pack, and although we might dispose of half of them by a volley from our double-barrels, the others would be upon us before we could load again.

If we returned to our prison, we could barri-

248    OUR FELLOWS.

cade the doors, and bid defiance to Lnke Redman and his gang. Onr friends would certainly reach the island before dark—we had no fears but that they could, follow our trail, in spite of the robber’s efforts to throw them off the scent, and we could hold our enemies at bay until they arrived.

I thought that a much better plan than running a race through the woods with a pack of hounds, and when Tom .started for the house, I followed him.

CHAPTER X V11.

TAKING THE BACK TRACK.

WE readied the edge of the cane-brake in a few minutes, and there we stopped to reconnoiter.

There was not a man, dog, or even a horse in sight; and having satisiied ourselves on this point, we sprang out of our concealment, and ran toward the cabin.

Tom led the wa v up the grape-vine, carrying the valise in his teeth. I followed close behind him, with both guns slung over my shoulder, and presently we found ourselves safe in our prison again.

“ I call this a masterly jnece of strategy,'’ panted Tom, drawing his coat-sleeve across his forehead. “ It will take them a long time to find out where we are, and delay will serve us as well as any thing else. All we want is to keep out of their clutches until the settlers arrive."

250    OUR FELLOWS.

The first business in hand was to fasten the doors, which was easily done. There happened to be several short pieces of plank in Tom’s prison, and from these we selected two • which answered our purpose admirably. By putting one end under the locks and bracing the other end against the floor, we secured both doors so effectually that, as long as the locks remained in their places, no power that could be applied on the outside could force them open.

There was but one way in which our enemies could effect an entrance, and that was by cutting down the doors; but we did not think they would be reckless enough to attempt that in the face of our double-barrels.

After we had fastened the doors, Tom sat down on the floor to rest after his exertions, and I stood at the window, awaiting the return of Luke-Redman and his friends.

The sound of voices, which came faintly to my ears, told me that they were still searching for our trail along the bank of the bayou, and during the next ten minutes they passed all around the island.

TAKING THE BACK TRACK.    251

By tliat time they must have been satisfied that we were still in the cane-brake, for they came back to the house in a body, the dogs leading the way.

Luke Redman, whose face was white with rage and excitement, rode directly to the door of the cabin and dismounted to put the hounds on our trail.

“Hunt’em up!” he shouted, running his hand along the ground and waving it in the direction of our supposed hiding-place. £ ‘ Hunt ’em up ! Be off with you ! ”

The dogs were willing enough to follow our trail, now that they were encouraged by the voice and presence of their masters. They quickly took up the scent, and ran yelping toward the cane-brake, with the horsemen close at their heels.

For a few moments their music grew fainter and fainter, and then began to increase in volume. Presently, they reappeared, still followed by the horsemen, and ran straight to the foot of the grape-vine.

I began to tremble now, but Tom was as cool as a cucumber..

252    OUR FELLOWS.

“ Wal, I never did see sicli fools of dogs in all my born days,” exclaimed Barney, as the hounds looked up at the window, and began barking furiously. ‘ ‘ They’ve follered the back track.”

“That’s jest what they’ve done,” said Luke Redman, in great disgust. “ If I had my gun in my hands, I would shoot the last blessed one on’em. Anybody with half sense could tell that them boys wouldn’t come back here an’ go up into them rooms arter they were onct safe out of ’em. Call ’em away, an’ put ’em on the trail ag’in.”

This was easier said than done. The hounds understood their business much better than Barney, and they positively refused to yield obedience to his commands.

They knew they had treed their game, and, if they were capable of thinking at all, were doubtless wondering why their master did not make an effort to secure it. Even Luke Redman’s voice had, no effect upon them; and, becoming highly enraged at last, he threw himself from his horse, and falling upon them with his rawhide, sent them yelping right and left.

TAKING THE BACK TRACK.    253

“Thar, dog-gone you!” he shouted, “char yourselves ! I’ll never trust none on you ag’in. Barney,” he added, suddenly, a bright idea striking him, “ s’pose you an’ Jake run up stairs an’ look into them rooms. ’Twont do no harm, although I know the boys hain’t thar.”

Barney and his brother disappeared in the house, and presently we heard them coming up the stairs. They went to the door of my prison first, and were plainly very much surprised when it refused to open for them. They turned the key several times, to make sure that they had unlocked it, and pushed with all their might, but with no better success than before. Then they tried the other door, but found it equally well secured.

They kept up a chorus of questions and ejaculations all the while, and Tom and I stood leaning on our guns, smiling complacently at one another, and wondering how the matter • would end.

The two Dragoons must have become suspicious at last, for they sunk their voices to a whisper, and after holding a short consultation, Barney cried out, in an excited tone:

254    OUE FELLOWS.

“Pap! I say, pap! Dog-gone my buttons, liere they be ! ”

Our faces lengthened out very suddenly when we heard this.

Things began to get exciting now. Barney’s announcement must have occasioned great surprise among the outlaw crew below.

The loud conversation they had Jkept up ceased instantly, and after a moment’s pause, Luke Redman said:

“I reckon you’re barkin’ up the wrong tree, ’ Barney.”

“Rot if I.know myself, I hain’t,” answered the leader of the Swamp Dragoons. “ Something’s the matter with these yere doors, ’cause they won’t open.”

Luke Redman, greatly astonished at this -piece of news, rushed into the house and came up the stairs half a dozen steps at a time. He seized the key, turned it in. the-lock, and threw all his ponderous weight against the door, but it did not give an inch. The other was equally obstinate ; and after a few ineffectual attempts to force an entrance, the robber stooped down and looked through the key-hole. He did not

TAKING THE BACK TKACK.    255

see any thing, however, for Tom and I were wise enongh to keep out of sight.

“Thar ain’t nobody in thar,” said he, ccbnt I reckon I know how the matter stands. They fastened the door afore they left. Barney, yon go down an’ climb np that grape-vine, an’ look in an’ see if they didn’t.”

“Wal, now, jest hold your breath till I go, will you % ” replied Barney. “ When you see me foolin’ with them two fellers, you’ll see a weasel asleep. They’ve got guns. I hain’t a-goin’ to stir a step.”

“You’re a coward ! ” exclaimed his father, angrily. “If the grape-vine would b’ar my weight,' I would go myself; but it won’t.. Jake, are you a coward, too ? ”

“ No, I hain’t,’’ replied that worthy. “ I’ 11 go,’cause I know they ain’t tliar.”

Luke Redman and his boys descended the stairs, and, looking out of the window again, we saw Jake pull off his coat and begin the ascent of the grape-vine.

“ What is to be done now % ” I asked, with' some uneasiness. “It won’t be safe to allow him to come up here.”

256    OUR FELLOWS.

“ Oh, yes, let him come on,” replied Tom. “We’ll go into tlie other room, and if he comes in there, we’ll see that he don’t get out again in a hurry. You know we are working for time now, and it makes little difference what we do.”

Tom, as usual, carried his point. We watched Jake until he had ascended almost within reach of us, and then retreating into my prison, crouched one on each side of the opening, and waited for him to make his appearance.

We heard the grape-vine rustling against the side of the cliff, and presently Jake’s head and shoulders darkened the window.

He panted loudly with the violence of his exertions, and after a little delay, during which he was doubtless looking all about the room, he sang out:    “    Wal, consarn it all! ”

‘‘What’s to do? ” asked Luke Redman from below.

“Why, they’ve got a plank fast agin’ the door, an’ that’s why we couldn’t open it,” answered Jake. “But thar ain’t nobody here.”

TAKING THE BACK TRACK.    257

“ Go through into the other room,” said his father.

This command was followed by a long pause on Jake’s part, during which lie was probably trying to make up his mind whether or not it would be quite safe for him to push his investigations any further, and then we heard him climb slowly down from the window and walk across the creaking floor. He stopped every few feet, and was so long in coming that we began to believe he had concluded to turn back ; but presently he placed his hands against the partition and thrust his head slowly and cautiously, inch by inch, into the opening.

It was much darker in this room than in the other, and for a moment his eyes were of but little use to him ; but they gradually became accustomed to the gloom, and Jake, whose face was turned away from me and toward Tom, began to think he saw something.

“ What’s this yere ?” he muttered, thrusting out his hand to examine the object which had attracted his attention, and which was nothing more nor less than Tom Mason’s head. ‘ ‘ Looks like somebody ! ’ ’

258    OUR FELLOWS.

, He was not long in finding out tliat it was somebody; 'for Tom seized bis wrists in a vise-like grasp, and at tbe same instant I caught him by the collar.

“Human natur’ !” yelled Jake, terrified almost beyond measure by the suddenness of our assault. '“Help! help! Here they be, pap ! Turn loose, consarn it all! ”

Hid you ever try to hold an eel % I have, and know that it is an exceedingly difficult thing to do, but not more difficult than to hold Jake Redman. Whether he was stronger than both of us, or fear lent him additional power of muScle, I do not know, but, at any rate, in less time than it takes to tell it, he slipped out of Tom’s hold, tore away from me, leaving a portion of his collar in my grasp, and with two jumps reached the window.

We dived through the openings, one after the other, and followed him with all possible .speed, but he was much too nimble for us.

He threw himself from the window, and must have dropped to the ground, for when we looked out he was standing among his companions, holding both hands to his head, which he had

TAKING THE BACK TKACK.    259

bumped pretty severely during Ms descent, and looking up at the window as if he could not quite understand what had happened. His pale face showed that he had sustained something of a fright.

“ What’s the matter of you?” demanded Luke Redman, as soon as he had recovered from his astonishment. “ Seed a ghost ? ” “Ho; but I’ve seed them fellers. They’re up thar, as sure as you’re a foot high.”

“ I don’t b’lieve it,” cried Barney.

“Ho odds to me whether you do or not,” replied Jake. “ I know it’s so, ’cause I seed ’em and felt ’em grab me. Pap, if yoiTll take an ax an’ chop down one of them doors, you’ll find ’em an’ your money, too.”

Luke Redman thought this- a suggestion worth acting upon. He disappeared in the house, followed by the boys, who could scarcely find words with which to express their amazement. They understood now why their hounds had followed the back track, and wondered at the stupidity we had exhibited in returning to our prison after once escaping from it.

This much we gathered from their con versa-

260    OUR FELLOWS.

tion, every word of wliicli we lieard distinctly.

Do yon believe yon can tell by the' way a man walks whether or not he is angry % I have thought I could ; and any one who had heard Luke. Redman coming up those stairs would have known that he was almost boiling over with fury.

He came thundering along as though he were shod with iron. Arriving at our door, he pounded upon it with some heavy implement —the ax, probably—and called but:

‘ ‘ Hay, Tommy, and you, Mark, open this door to onct. Hear me, don’t you %

Of course we heard him—we could have distinctly heard every word he uttered if we had been standing on the other side of the island— but it was no part of our plan to reply to him. Our object was to delay his operations by every means in our power.

“You needn’t try to pull the wool over my eyes by keepin’ so still,” he continued, in a very savage tone, “’cause I-know youarethar, an’ I jest ain’t a-goin’ to stand no foolin’. This is the last time I shall speak to you. If

TAKING THE BACK TKACK.    261

you don’t open this door. I’ll cut'it down, snake you both out by the neck, an’ give you the wust whoppin’ you ever heern tell on. Hear me, don’t you?”

Still no response.

Tom stood with his hands clasped over the muzzle of his gun and his eyes fixed upon the plank which secured the door, while I was watching the hinges, and waiting to see them driven from their fastenings by blows from the ax.

For fully a minute the robber crew stood listening for an answer. At the end of that time Luke Redman’s patience was alb exhausted, and, without more ado, he lifted the ax, and the door began to shake and bend under the heavy blows that were showered upon it. 1 .

It was time to speak now, and Tom was wide awake.

“ Hold on out there ! ” he shouted.

“Ah ha!” exclaimed Luke, “you’ve found your tongue at last, have you? You heern what I said, I reckon. What do you think iboutit?”

“I don’t think any thing,” replied Tom,

262    OUR FELLOWS.

coolly, ‘ ‘ but I know something. If yon strike that door again with that ax, I’ll send a charge of buckshot among yon. What do yon think of that ? ’ ’

These words were spoken in a most determined tone, and we knew by the sudden silence which followed them that they had not been without their elfect upon the outlaw and his gang.

Tom held himself in readiness to carry out his threat, and I am sure he would have done it, had it been necessary; but fortunately it was not. Luke Redman stood as much in fear of buckshot as we did of his hounds. He said a few words in a whisper to h^s boys, and then walked slowly down the stairs and out of the house, where he stood foaming with rage, and swinging his ax about in a way that made all his companions keep at;a respectful distance.

Tom thrust his gun out of the window, and* pushed the branches of the grape-vine aside, so that Luke could see him.

“I wish I had my shootin’-iron in my hands,” said Luke Redman,,glaring up at us with a most fiendisk expression of coun-

TAKING THE BACK TRACK.    268

tenance. .“I’d put a load into you as soon as I’d look at.you.”

“Oil, you’re joking ! ” replied Tom.

“Come down from tliar ! ” shouted the man, shaking his ax at us. “ If I get my hands on you, ril-ril—”

He finished the sentence with an oath.

“If angry, count fifty before you speak ; if very angry, count a hundred,” said my companion, in a tone of voice that must have aggravated Luke to the very last degree. “ That’s good advice, and I suggest that you act upon it ; but whatever you do, skip those hard words. Don’t swear. Take breath, and begin again. Didn’t I tell you that'I would be even with you for the little tricks you have played upon me ? You see I have the money,” he added, holding the valise up to the view of tlie outlaw crew. “It has been in your possession for the last time. I am going to send it back to my uncle.”

“I’ll bet a hoss you don’t! ” retorted Luke, his face brightening as if he had discovered a way out of the difficulty. “I’ll give you jest one more chance. If you will give up the

264    OUE FELLOWS.

money, yon can .go off abont your business, an’ nobody shan’t trouble yon; if yon won’t do that, I’ll fetch you down from thar in a way yon don’t think of. Let’s hear from yon.” “Now, friend Redman, do yon see any thing so very green in our eyes?” asked Tom, in reply. “Yon surely do not imagine that we will put ourselves in your clutches again, do yon ? We are a trifle too sharp for that. If it’s all the same to yon, we’ll stay here.” “Wal, yon shan’t stay thar, nuther,” roared Luke. “Bo yon know how I’ll get you onten thar? I’ll burn yon out, that’s what I’ll do. It won’t be no trouble in the world to set fire to this cabin. The wind blows your way, an’ it’ll soon get so hot up thar that you’ll be glad to come out. What do you say now?”

CHAPTER XVIII.

AN UNEXPECTED DELIVERANCE.

ES, sir,” said Luke Redman, who

seemed to grow more and more elated

the longer he thought of his new idea, “that’s the way Pll bring you down from thar. Now, will you give up the money ? I promise that you can go whar you please, an’ nobody shan’t bother you.”

“What’s the promise of a man like you worth ? ” I inquired; “Iwo uldn’t trust you as far as I could throw a church-house.” “Take your time, an’ think it over,” said Luke ; “but b’ar one thing in mind while you are about it, an’ that is, that I mean all I say.”

There was 110 doubt about that. Luke Redman was a desperate character, and money would tempt him to any deed of atrocity.

We stepped back from the window and

266    OUll FELLOWS.

looked at one another in blank amazement. I knew my face was pale, for the blood went rushing back upon my heart, and set it to beating like a trip-hammer. Tcm was as white as a sheet, and that added to my terror. He had shown himself to' be possessed of a remarkable degree of courage, and I knew that when he became frightened, there was good reason for it.

We were in a terrible predicament. If we remained in our prison, we would certainly lose our lives, and if we surrendered ourselves into the hands of our enemies, we would fare but little better, for they were almost beside themselves with fury, and we could expect nothing but the severest treatment. Seventy blows with a rawhide would be a light punishment, compared with the vengeance they would wreak upon us.

“Well, Tom,” said I, “this is the end of your plan.”

“It looks like it,” he answered, “and of us too. We have our choice between burning up and allowing ourselves to be pounded to death. This is infinitely worse than running a race

AN UNEXPECTED DELIVERANCE 2G7

with the hounds. Which horn of the dilemma shall we take, Joe ?”

“Let’s stay where we are, and trust to luck,” I replied, desperately. “ Something may turn up in our favor. The logs in the house may prove too green to burn, or the settlers may arrive before the fire gets fairly started.”

“ That’s a fact. We’ll risk it, anyhow.” “Hear me up thar, don’t you?” shouted Luke Redman, who had grown tired of waiting for an answer to his question. ‘ ‘ What are you goin’ to do about it?”

“Bring on your kindling-wood,” was Tom’s repl y.    ‘ ‘ We’ 11 stay here. ’ ’

“ Wal! ” shouted Luke, who seemed utterly confounded at the decision we had made. ‘ ‘ Ho you want to stay tliar an’ be burned up ? ”

“ Gro and find the shavings, Barney,” shouted Tom. “ Hunt up the matches, Jake. Set the old thing a-going, and let’s have a bonfire. Hurrah for the Fourth of July! , You’ll find us the pluckiest cubs you ever tried to smoke out.”

“I’ll see how much pluck you have got,” retorted Luke, “an’ if I don’t make you sick of

268    OUR FELLOWS.

your bargain afore yon are many minntes older, I’m a Dutchman! I’ll bet you’ll be glad enough to come out o’ thar.”

Luke had no doubt imagined that we could be easily frightened into compliance with his wishes, and, as a sailor would say, he was “ taken all aback ” by our answer.

It was some time before he recovered himself ; but rage got the better of his astonishment at last, and, without saying a word, he beckoned to his boys, and went into the house.

They were gone about ten minutes, and when they came out again/ they carried their blankets and a few other articles of value under their arms, and the expression on their faces told us what they had done.

“ The kindlin’ wood is found, an’.so be the matches,” said Luke Redman, with a fiendish grin. 4 4 The bonfire will be goin’ directly, ’cause them logs is dry, an’ will burn like tinder. Better come out o’ thar.”

Tom and I looked down at the cabin, and saw a thin wreath of smoke come curling out. It increased in volume every moment, and was finally followed by a sheet of flame. Then we

AN UNEXPECTED DELIVERANCE 269

heard'a great roaring and crackling below us, and .the planks in the door began to feel hot to the touch. The house was really on fire.

“ You see that I am not foolin’ with you, I reckon,” said Luke. “You may know that-I am bound to have that money, if I am willing to burn my house to get it. Do you guess you’ll have pluck enough to stand it ? ”

“Do you guess you have pluck enough to stand before the buckshot in these guns?” asked Tom. “We have seen enough of you, and you had better dig out. We’ll give you just a minute to clear the ground, and if there’s one of you in sight at the end of that time, he’ll get hurt. Hear me, don’t you ? ”

' Tom cocked his gun as he said this, ■ and rested the weapon on the window-sill, the muzzle pointed down at Luke Redman’s breast.

That worthy stepped out of range very quickly, and gazed after his boys, who, 'tak-■ ing Tom at his word, whistled to the dogs, and made the best of their way into the cane.

“You had better go, too, Luke,” said my companion. ‘ ‘ Time’s almost up.”

He turned the muzzle toward the outlaw

270    OUE FELLOWS.

again, .and the latter, beginning to see very plainly lie was in a dangerous neighborhood, followed after the boys, and quickly disappeared from our view.

“I had an object in sending them away,” exclaimed Tom. “Don’t you see that the smoke'from the fire is settling toward the ground ? When it gets thick enough to conceal our.movements, we’ll drop down from this window, and take to our heels. I know it is a desperate plan, but we are not going to stay here and be roasted.”

During all this time the fire had been gathering rapid headway, and now great sheets of flame began to shoot toward the sky, and dense volumes of smoke rolled past the window. It gradually filled our prison, too, and before many minutes passed, we could see the flames shining through the cracks in the door.

And this was not the worst of it. Luke Dedman and his boys must have suspected the plan we had determined upon, for as soon as the smoke concealed the window7, they came out of their hiding-places, and the sound of their voices told us that they had stationed

AN UNEXPECTED .DELIVERANCE. 271

themselves at the foot of the cliff, to cut off our escape.

Our situation was becoming really alarming. The smoke, filled our prison until we could scarcely breathe; the air was hot and almost stifling; the perspiration rolled down our faces in streams; and thin tongues of flame began to appear under the door.

It required the exercise of all the courage I possessed to stand there inactive, but my companion had shown so much generalship that I knew it was best to be governed by his movements.

At last even he could endure it no longer, for when the roof of the ..cabin fell in with a crash, and the sparks arose in thick clouds, and the door of our prison, which had been smoking for the last five minutes, suddenly burst into a mass of flame, Tom began to bestir himself.

“ Our last hope is gone,” said he. “Here it is almost dark, and the settlers have not yet arrived. We can’t stay here any longer,” he added, as a portion of the door fell down, giving us a view of the roaring mass of flames

272    OUll FELLOWS.

below. “ Climb out of the window, Joe, and the instant you touch the ground, run for your life. We can do no good now by sticking together, and each one must look out for himself.”

—- At this moment a noise at the opposite end of the room attracted my attention—a grating noise, as if a board was being pushed along the wall:    We both heard it, and our first

thought was that Luke Redman was attempting a iiank movement on us through some entrance to our prison, the existence of which we had never suspected., We knew that there was some one near us, but the smoke was so thick we could not see who it was.

“ Keep perfectly quiet,” said Tom, in a suppressed whisper. “There’s a chance for us yet. The minute he gets in here, we’ll make a rush for that secret passage-way.”

“Merciful heavens ! ” exclaimed a familiar voice, in low and cautious tones, as if fearful of being overheard, “he is not here.”'

I stood like a boy petrified. It was certainly my brother who spoke; but it seemed so impossible that he should be there, and that he

AN UNEXPECTED DELIVERANCE. 273

should enter our place of retreat in that unexpected manner, that for a moment I was unwilling to believe the evidence of my ears.

“We’re too late,” said the voice. “What in the world is to be done now ? ”

“Mark! ” I cried, so overjoyed that I could scarcely speak plainly.

There was no response in words; but I heard a step on the floor, and some one came bounding through the smoke and clasped me in an affectionate embrace.

It was really my brother Mark ; and in order that you may understand by what means he effected an entrance into our prison, and how he happened to arrive just in time to be of service to us, I must interrupt the thread of my story for a few minutes.

I have told you that after the battle at the camp on Black Bayou our fellows frustrated the attempts of Luke Redman and his gang to capture them, by throwing themselves on their horses. They had suffered. severely at the hands of the attacking party, for they had been resolved to prevent the rescue of the outlaw, and to save the eight thousand dollars, if

274    OUR FELLOWS.

within the bounds of possibility. As long as they saw the least chance for success, they did not think of retreat. They stood their ground 'bravely, fighting with reckless determination, and it was only when they saw that the Swamp Dragoons were assisted by Pete and his followers, that they lost heart and saved themselves by flight.

Sandy and Mark had been most unmercifully pummeled by the heavy switches with which every one of the attacking party was armed, especially the former. -He held fast to Luke until the last moment, and even succeeded in placing him upon a horse, but was obliged to abandon him at last in order to save himself.

That they were not all captured was probably owing to the fact that my brother carried his double-barrel in his hands. The sight of the weapon restrained the ardor of the robber crew, who, after they had rescued LukePedman, allowed Mark and his companions to mount their horses and ride off without making any very determined effort to seize them.

When our fellows had placed a safe distance

AN UNEXPECTED DELIVERANCE. 275

between themselves and the enemy, the foremost ones waited for those behind to come up, and then they found for the first time that I was missing. That occasioned them but little uneasiness, however ; for, knowing that I had been standing guard at the time the attack was made, they supposed that I had been allowed an. opportunity to escape, and that I had improved it. I would certainly turn up all right before morning,-and there was no need that they should stop to look for me.

Their first hard work must be to alarm the settlers, and the sooner this was done the more certainty there was of .capturing Luke and recovering the eight thousand dollars.

They kept their horses in a rapid gallop, and the five miles that lay between them and the settlement were quickly accomplished. When they reached the end of the lane that led from the swamp, Sandy turned toward his own home, Duke and Herbert kept on to theirs, and Mark, leaping his horse over the bars, dismounted at the porch and rushed into the house to arouse father.

During the next hour and a half the country

276    OUR FELLOWS.

fox two or three miles around was in great commotion. Mounted messengers«galloped in all directions, stopping at every house to alarm the inmates, hunting horns sounded, guns were fired, all the hounds in the settlement kept up continuous baying, and now and then squads of armed men dashed along the road and turned down the lane that led to the swamp.

Mark, who had thrown himself upon the kitchen floor in front of a blazing fire, snored through it" all, and about daylight awoke to find that father had gone off with the rest of the settlers, without thinking to awaken him.

“Now, this is a nice way to treat a fellow, isn’t it ? ” growled Mark, greatly disappointed. “They will find and capture those villains, and I’ll never have a hand in it at all. I think some one might have called me.”

“Here is a warm breakfast waiting for you, and you will find a fresh horse, saddled and bridled, standing at the door,” said mother. “There are three inches of snow on the ground, and you will have no difficulty in following the settlers’ trail.”

Mark, somewhat mollified by this, walked

AN - UNEXPECTED DELIVERANCE. 277

out on the porch to take a look at the horse that had been provided for him.

As he came ont the door, he discovered some 0"ne standing near the bars ; but the instant he caught sight of him, he sprang behind a thicket of bushes as if anxious to escape observation.

Mark’s suspicions were aroused in an instant. He jumped off the porch, and running around the bushes, found himself standing face to face with Jim, the young wrestler.

CHAPTER XIX.

“mark two times.”

TELLO, Jim,” exclaimed Mark, “you are just the chap I have been looking for! How I will show yon what a white boy can do in the way of giving a rascally Indian a good beating.”    ^

Expecting to meet with a most stubborn resistance, Mark’s attack was furious and determined, indeed; but to his great surprise, the young savage raised his arms above his head, and suffered himself to be thrown to the ground without even a show of opposition.

“Ho hurt! no hurt, white boy!” he exclaimed, excitedly, f ‘ Me no Jim—me Mark; me Mark Two Times.”

Mark, who grew more and more astonished, and who was above striking an unresisting foe, released his hold on the Indian’s throat, and the latter began a long speech, talking very

“make two times.”    279

rapidly and sometimes in his eagerness forgetting the little English he knew, and jabbering away in his native tongue.

But Mark understood the most of what lie said, and after listening to him a short time, he helped him to his feet, brushed off the mud that adhered to his hunting shirt, and drawing the Indian’s arm through his own, led him toward the house, talking to him all the while in the most friendly manner.

What had brought about this sudden change in Mark’s feelings toward the young savage? I will explain it in my own way, without inflicting Jim’s broken English upon you.

I do not know that the custom exists among other Indians, but the Choctaws had a habit of naming themselves. If they met a white man whom they greatly liked, they adopted his name, discarding the one by which they had formerly been known. This was a sure sign of friendship, and the man thus honored could trust his namesake to any extent.

Jim admired the courage Mark exhibited on the day he stood his ground against Pete and his friends, and out of compliment to him, he

280    OUE FELLOWS.

had dropped his own name and assumed the title of “Mark the Second,” or, as he expressed it, “ Mark Two Times.”

Of course, Mark was highly flattered by this show of respect, but believing, with a good many others in the settlement, that there was nothing good in an Indian, he did not know how much dependence to place upon his new ally.

“You’re a grand rascal, Jim,” lie began. “Me no Jim; me Mark Two Times,” insisted the wrestler.

“ Well then, Mark Two Times, I am afraid you are a slippery customer. If you are really a friend to our fellows, as you profess to be, how does it come that you assisted Luke Redman and his band during the fight at the camp % Explain that, if you can.”

The Indian could and did. He accounted for that act of seeming unfriendliness by saying that he had joined the attacking party for no other purpose than to learn their plans, and that as long as he remained in their company he was obliged to act with them, in order to avoid exciting their suspicions. While the

“mark two times.”    2S1

Swamp Dragoons and* their allies were taking up their positions preparatory to making the assault, he had watched and waited in vain for an opportunity to slip away from them, and warn us of our danger.

He then went on to say that after the light Luke Hedman had given him two letters—one to be left on. General Mason’s doorstep, and the other on our own. He had delivered the first, but he had given it into the general’s own hands, and told him just where to go to find the robbers.

After that, he had come to our house and waited for an opportunity to speak to Mark ; and the reason he had dodged behind the bushes was because his courage failed him at the last moment, and he feared that he might meet with a warmer reception than he had bargained for.

He wound up his story by telling Mark that I was a prisoner, and that if he would trust to his guidance, he would lead him by a short route to my place of confinement.

“Of course I will go with you,” said Mark, highly excited over this last piece of news ;

282    OUR FELLOWS.

“but bear one tiling in mind, and that is, if you attempt to come any of your Indian tricks over me, it will be worse for you.”

While Mark was conversing with the young savage, mother had twice appeared at the door and called him to breakfast—a summons that he could not now think of answering.

In the first place, he did not want to waste an instant of time, and another thing, he was afraid mother might ask him if Jim had brought any news concerning me ; and as he did not care to alarm her by revealing the real facts of the case, he thought it best to keep out of her sight.

He crept carefully to the porch, unhitched his horse, and succeeded in leading the animal out of the yard without attracting the attention of any one in the house.

The young Indian was already in the saddle, and as soon as Mark came out, he led the way at a rapid gallop toward the swamp.

They passed the camp which had been the N scene of the conflict, crossed the bayou at the ford about a mile above Head Man’s Elbow, -and at three o’clock in the afternoon drew rein

‘‘mark two times.”    2S3

■within sight of the cane-brake in which Luke Redman’s hiding-place was situated, without having once been out of the saddle, or even stopping to rest.

Luring all this time Mark had kept a bright lookout for the settlers, but had not seen one of them.

“Now, white boy,” said the Indian, after carefully reconnoitering the ground before him, “no time for foolin’. Do just like me.”

Mark followed his guide’s instructions to the very letter. He dismounted when the Indian did, and after hitching his horse, followed close at his heels as he wormed his way through the cane, stepping exactly in his tracks, and imitating as nearly as possible his cautious, stealthy movements.

Presently they came to a halt on the bank of the bayou. The Indian looked up and down the stream several times, carefully scrutinizing every thicket within the range of his vision, to make sure that there was no one in sight, and then stepped into the water and struck out for the island, still closely followed b}7-Mark, who held his gun and powder-flask above

284    OUE FELLOWS.

liis head with one hand and swam with the other. When they reached the bank they plunged into the cane again, and in a few minutes more were crouching in a thicket of bushes at the foot of the bluff against which Luke Redman’s house was built.

“Now, white boy,” said Jim, “you stay here, and me go and look.”

The Indian glided out of sight as he spoke, and for the next half-hour Mark sat there in the bushes with his back against a tree and his double-barrel resting across his knees, awaiting his return.

- As he had never been on the island before, he knew nothing of Luke Redman’s stronghold ; but he did knpw that the outlaw and his gang were not a great way off, for he could hear the sound of their voices.

The angry tones which reached his ears told him that a heated discussion was going on— it was about this time that Luke Redman announced his determination to burn us out if we did not give up the money—and Mark listened intently, hoping to obtain some clew that would guide him in his search for me.

“mark two times.”    2S5

Where was I ? What sort of a situation was I in? and what could he do to help me? were the questions he was constantly asking himself, and which were answered in a way he had not dreamed of.

At length there was a lull in the conversation, which continued about fifteen minutes, and then Mark saw dense volumes of smoke rising above the cane. At the same moment he heard voices and a crashing in the bushes close by, and, - looking in the direction from which the sound proceeded, he discovered Barney and his brother Jake coming up the bank of the bayou. They seemed to be very much interested in the conversation they were carrying on, and little dreaming that there was an enemy so near them, they walked straight to the foot of the bluff, and stopped in front of a cluster-of bushes not more than ten feet from Mark’ s hiding-place.

“ Here we are,” said Barney, pushing aside the bushes and disclosing to view a dark opening which seemed to lead up into the cliff. “How you stay here an’ watch, an’ if 'they come out, holler.”

286    OUR FELLOWS.

“What trick do you reckon them fellers is np to, anyhow?” asked Jake. “They ain’t a-goin’ to stay in them rooms and be burned up, be they?”

“In course not. They’ll be glad to come outen that winder when the lire gets too hot fur’em, an’then we’ll grab’em.”

- “Mebbe they know the way out by this hole, ’ ’ said Jake, doubtfully. ‘41 reckon you’d best stay, too, Barney.”

“One’s enough to watch here,” replied the leader of the Swamp Dragoons. “The rest of us will have to stand by that winder, ’cause they’ve got guns, you know. You needn’t be afeard, for they won’t come nigh you.”

Barney walked off, leaving his brother to watch the opening, while Mark crouched lower in his concealment, and thought over the conversation to which he had just listened.

He had heard enough to suggest to him a plan of action. He knew that I was in a house, that there was some one with me, that Luke Redman was going to drive us out by lire, and that there were two ways of escape for us—one by the window, which was guarded by all the

“mask two times.”    287

robber gang, and the other by this secret pas-sage-way, over which Jake alone stood sentry.

Mark inferred, from what Barney said, that I and my companion were ignorant of the exis-tence of this last avenue of escape; but he knew of it, and couldn’t he put his knowledge to some use ? Could he not secure Jake, or knock him over, and go into the passage-way and release us ?

The idea wras no sooner conceived than he proceeded to put it into practice. He arose slowly and cautiously to his feet, hoping to creep upon Jake unobserved ; but a twig which snapped under his feet betrayed him.

The sentry turned on the instant, only to find himself covered by Mark’s double-barrel, which was aimed straight at his heart.

“Consarnit all, don’t!” cried Jake, turning as pale as death, and trembling in every limb. 4‘Turn that we’pon t’other way, can’t you?”

“Silence!” commanded Mark. “If you speak above your breath again, you are a gone Dragoon.”

Just at this moment, when Mark was about

288    OUR FELLOWS.

to lay down his gun to secure his prisoner, help arrived.

A lithe, active figure, clad in buckskin, glided through the cane as easily and noiselessly as a serpent, and before the sentry knew that there was an enemy in his rear, the strong arms of “Mark Two Times” were clasped about him, and he was thrown to the ground.

It was an operation of no difficulty to bind him, for Jake, fearing the double-barrel, submitted without a word of remonstrance.

As soon as the prisoner was secured, the young Indian turned to Mark in great excitement. He had heard strange things and seen strange sights while he was skulking about the house.

He had seen Tom and me looking, out of our prison and heard Luke Red man tell us that if we did not come down he would burn the house. He had seen him carry his threat into execution, and he knew that unless something turned up in our favor very speedily, our chances for life were small indeed.

It took him a long time to tell this, for, as was always the case with him when he became

“MARK TWO TIMES.”    289

excited, lie forgot his English and rattled away in Indian.

“ I understand what you mean,” interrupted Mark. I know that my brother is in great danger, andl think, too, that I know where to look for him. Jake, how long is this passageway, and where does it lead to ? ”

“Now hold your grip till I tell you, won’t you ? ” growled Jake.

“You will tell me now—this very instant,” said Mark.

{Don’t! ” exclaimed the frightened Dragoon, seeing that the double-barrel was once more pointed his way. “It’s about twenty yards long, an’ leads to the rooms whar them fellers is. Turn that shootin’ -iron t’ other way, can’t you?”

Mark did not stop to ask any more questions, because he believed he had heard all that it was necessary for him to know; and, besides, the light that now began to shine through the cane warned him that the fire was gaining headway, and that there was no time to be lost.

At a sign from him, the young Indian seized Jake by the shoulders while Mark raised his

290    OUR FELLOWS.

feet, and between them lie was carried into the passageway, where he was laid upon the floor, and left with the assurance that his safety-depended upon his observing the strictest silence.    ,

The passage-way was about three feet wide, and quite high enough to allow Mark and his companion to stand upright.    ,

Luke Redman had doubtless built it in orcfer that he might have a way of escape in case his hiding-place was discovered and surrounded by the settlers.

It was as dark as midnight, but perfectly' straight, and as there were no others branching ofl from it, there was no danger that Mark would lose his way.

He hurried along with all possible speed, keeping his hands stretched out before him, and presently they came in contact with some obstruction, which blocked up the whole end of the passage-way.

Mark ran his fingers over it, and found that it was a wide oak plank, with a strap nailed to it. This he seized with both hands, and, after pulling it about in various ways, succeeded in

“mark two times.”    291

forcing back the plank, disclosing to view the interior of onr prison.

He was astonished and alarmed at the reception he met with. A thick clond of smoke, through which the flames were shining brightly, riished into his face, almost suffocating him and driving him back from the door.

He thought the room was on fire, and when he heard my voice, he bounded through the smoke, expecting to find me badly burned and almost smothered.

“ Can you walk, Joe ? ” he asked, speaking with the greatest difficulty. “ If you can, follow me. You here, Tom Mason %

Mark’s clinched hand was drawn back, and in a moment more Tom would have measured his length on the floor, had I not interposed.

“Ho violence,” said I. “ Tom has stuck to me like a brother, and you owe him thanks instead of blows.”

I knew by the expression on Mark’s face that ! he could not understand the matter at all. He did not stop to ask questions, however, but led us at once to the entrance to the passageway.

292    OUR FELLOWS.

When we reached it, it was my turn to be astonished, for there stood the young wrestler. He did not draw back as we approached, and neither did my brother seize him, as I expected he would.

On the contrary, the Indian extended his hand, and Mark took it to assist himin leaping through the opening. When we were all in the passage-way, and I had closed the door to shut out the smoke, we stopped to hold a consultation.

In order that Mark might understand how Tom happened to be my companion, I hurriedly recounted the various exciting incidents that had taken place during the afternoon, and Mark told us of his meeting with the Indian, and the manner in which he had secured the sentry.

We concluded that our best plan was to trust ourselves entirely to the guidance of the young wrestler ; and this being communicated to him in a whisper, he conducted us toward the entrance to the passage-way. When we came within sight of it, we stopped, not a little amazed at the scene presented to our view.

CHAPTER XX.

CONCLUSION.

THE prisoner, whom Mark had left securely bound, was standing in front of the month of the passage-way, trying to peer through the darkness that obscured it, and over his shoulder we could see the faces of the rest of the Dragoons, and also the scowling visages of Luke Redman and Pete, the half-breed. The robber was angrier than ever, and was swearing loudly.

“It’s lucky I thought to send Barney around here, ain’t it?” we heard him say. “Them boys would have been out an’ gone in five minutes more. They’re smarter than the hull lot on us put together. What’s to be done ? ”

‘ ‘ Let’s hide in these yere bushes an’ ketch ’em when they come out,” suggested Barney. “Jake, s’pose you go in thar an’ lay down

294    OUR FELLOWS.

ag’in like you was tied, so tliey won’t know thar’s any tiling wrong.”

“Wal, now, s’pose you go yourself,” retorted Jake. “ You’re miglity willin’ to send otlier fellows into danger, hain’t you? None on us ain’t a-goin’ in tliar to face the buckshot in them guns. Send the dogs in, pap ; that’s the way to bring ’em out.”

Luke Redman was prompt to act upon this suggestion. He set up a shout, and in a few seconds the houndp appeared and crowded into the mouth of the passage-way; while Mark, Tom and I stationed ourselves side by side and cocked both barrels of our guns in readiness to give them a warm reception.

But we soon found that we had nothing to fear from them. They made the passage echo with their baying, and acted fiercely enough to tear a regiment of men in pieces, but not one of them could be induced to advance a single step beyond the opening.

Luke scolded, urged and threatened in vain. Becoming highly enraged at last, he jumped among them, and kicking right and left with his heavy boots, cleared the mouth of

CONCLUSION.    295

the passage as quickly as a volley from our double-barrels would have done.

Having disposed of the dogs, Luke stormed about at a great rate, shaking his fists in the air and stamping the ground with fury.

“ We had oughter been on our way to the river long ago, ’ ’ said he. ‘ ‘ The hull settlement will be gallopin’ through these woods in less’n an hour, an’ if we’re here then, we’re booked for the lock-up, sure. But I ain’t a-goin’ to stir one step till I get that money. Call the dogs ag’in, Barney, an’ I’ll go in with ’em. I reckon they’ll foiler me. What’s that ar’ ? ”

As Luke Hedman asked this question, the savage scowl vanished and his face grew white with terror. For a moment he and his companions stood as if they had been rooted to the ground, casting frightened glances through the cane on all sides of them, and then with a common impulse they scattered right and left, and were out of sight in a twinkling.

We were not long in finding out what had caused their alarm, for just then the clear, ringing blast of a hunting-horn echoed through the woods, followed by a chorus of the same

290    OUR FELLOWS.

kind of music, which, coming from all directions, told us that the island was surrounded. Hounds yelped, men shouted, the tramping of horses’ hoofs came faintly to our ears, and then five dogs, my own faithful Zip among the number, dashed past the mouth of the passage-way, closely followed by Sandy, Duke and Herbert.

“Hurrah!” we all shouted at once. “We’re safe now. The settlers have come at last.”    '

Mark and the young Indian sprang down the passage, and I was about to follow them when Tom laid his hand on my arm.

“Joe,” said he, “ I will give this valise and gun into your care, and will thank yon to see that they are restored to their owners.' I know you will do this much for me, for it is the last favor I shall ask of you.”

I took the articles in question as Tom handed them to me, and when 1 raised my eyes to look at him, he was gone. He had jumped past me, dashed out of the passage, and disappeared into the bushes before I could say a word to him.

CONCLUSION.    297

I was not long in following him. Holding the guns over my shoulder with one hand, and grasping the valise with the other, I ran out into the cane just in time to place myself in the way of some swiftly-moving body, which struck me with such force that I was whirled through the air as if I had been thrown from the cow-catcher of a locomotive. The guns flew out of my hand, but involuntarily I tightened my grasp on the valise.

“Aha ! ” exclaimed a grufl voice ; “things is cornin’ out all right, arter all. The money is mine an’ so is the mar’.”

Almost as soon as I touched .the.ground, I raised myself on my elbow,"‘and when I had taken a single glance at the horse standing before me, I comprehended the situation.

It was Black Bess, and the man who was dismounting from her was Luke Redman.

He had by some means succeeded in securing the horse and eluding the settlers, and Avas riding at full speed through the cane, Avhen I had run directly in his path and been knocked down—a circumstance which the outlaAv re-

298    OUR FELLOWS.

garded as favorable to himself, although, it turned out exactly the reverse. .

He probably imagined that I was badly injured by the hard fall I had received, and he must have been astonished at the determined resistance he met with when he rushed up to me and attempted to take the valise out of my hand.

I have no idea how . long the struggle continued, for my brain was in a great whirl, and I took no note of time. All I knew was that I must hold fast to that money.

I was dragged about through the cane, beaten on the head by Luke Redman’s hard fist, and when at last he tore the valise from my grasp, I threw my arms about his legs and pitched him headlong on the ground.

Just as this happened, I heard a furious crashing in the cane, several dark objects bounded over me and commenced a desperate battle with my antagonist, cries of pain and ejaculations of surprise rang in my ears, and then all was blank to me. Some of the settlers, with their dogs, had arrived just in time.

It was dark when my consciousness returned.

CONCLUSION.    299

At first I did not know where I was or what was the matter with me, but gradually the remembrance of the scenes through which I had passed during the afternoon came back to me, and I started up in alarm, expecting to find myself once more a prisoner in the hands of the robber band.

A single look, however, was enough to satisfy me that I was among friends, and that I had nothing to fear. I was lying on a blanket in front of a blazing fire, and father and our fellows were stretched out on the ground beside me.

Camp-fires were shining in every direction among the trees, and around them reposed the stalwart forms of the settlers, all sleeping soundly after the fatigues of the day. A short distance off lay General Mason, with his valise under his head for a pillow, and a little further on stood Black Bess.

Under a tree, on the opposite side of the tire, lay every one of those who had belonged to the party which made the attack on our camp—-Tom Mason excepted—securely bound, and watched over by two armed sentinels.

300    OUE FELLOWS.

There was no one stirring in the camp, and, the silence was broken only by the crackling of the fires, the sighing of the wind through the leafless branches above onr heads, and the low murmur of the conversation kept up by the guards.

The feeling of comfort and safety I experienced was refreshing, indeed, after my day of excitement. I lay for a long time thinking over my adventures, and looking through the trees toward the spot whereon had stood the robber’s stronghold, now reduced to a glowing bed of coals,, and at last sank into a deep slumber.

The next morning I awoke to find that all our fellows were looked upon as heroes, and that the lion’s share of the honors-had been accorded to me. All the planters wanted to hear my story, and during the ride homeward I had a crowd of eager listeners about me all the time.

Our prisoners were lodged in jail at three o’clock that afternoon, and at the next term of the court they were dealt with according'' to their deserts. Luke Redman’s plea, that he

CONCLUSION.    301

did not steal the money from .General Mason, did not avail him. He had twice been caught with it in his possession, and, that was enough for the jury who tried him ; for he was sentenced to state’s prison for a long term of years, and the Swamp Dragoons, one and all, were sent to the Reform School.    *    •

There was evidence enough -to convict Pete of setting fire to our cotton gin, and so Luke Redman had company when he went to prison. The rest of the half-breeds were ordered out of the country, and I think- they went, for I.never saw Them afterward.

Taken altogether, it was a grand thinning out of rascals, and if no one else was glad of it, our fellows were.

{Mark Two Times ’ ’ lost nothing by the services he rendered us. . Father gave ~ him a splendid horse; I sent to Hew Orleans, and. bought him a silver-mounted rifle ; Mark presented Rim with a gaudily-ornamented suit of buckskin ; Duke gave him a couple of hounds ; and, in fact, there was scarcely a person in the neighborhood who did not remember him in some way.

302    OUR FELLOWS.

The scenes [I have attempted to describe to yon were enacted nearly forty years ago ; and now, as I sit at my study window on this bright March morning, putting the finishing touches to this story, and glancing occasionally at the group on the porch, I can hardly bring myself to believe that they are the ones I have been writing about. That man, sitting on the steps, claims to be my brother, and I suppose he is ; although I can see no resemblance between him and the smiling sixteen-year-old boy who looks down at me from the picture hanging over my desk. He no longer goes bounding over the ground, as though he were set on springs, nor does he pride himself on his wrestling powers, as in the days gone by. He walks with a crutch, and people who come here to see him call him colonel, and sometimes listen for hours while he tells of the battles he has passed through.

Sandy, who now answers to the title of major, is walking up and down the porch, with his hands behind his back, and his eyes fastened thoughtfully on the floor. He is the same good-natured, easy-going Sandy that I knew

CONCLUSION1.    303

in my boyhood. I should hesitate to apply that name to him now, he is so dignified.

That portly, neatly-dressed gentleman who sits on the step, conversing with Mark, is none other than onr old enemj, Tom Mason. He is the owner of one of the finest plantations in Warren County, and I have more than once heard it said of him that his word is as good as his bond. Would you believe that one who began life as Tom did could ever acquire so enviable a reputation ?

What was it that worked the change ? The silent influence of a boy who never presumed to offer him one word of advice.

Tom never forgot the promise he made on that long-tQ-be-remembered afternoon we spent in Luke Redman’s stronghold—that he was bound to make a man of himself, and in order to do it, should follow Duke Hampton’s example as nearly as he could. He has all his life held firmly to that resolution, and to-day there is not a man in the county who would suspect him of a dishonorable act.

That shows the force of example. There is not one among us so insignificant that his in-

304    OUR FELLOWS.

fluence does not amount to something. Our actions, our behavior, even the way we express ourselves, are imitated by somebody; and since they are so potent for good or evil, how important it is that they should be correct in every particular!

Duke Hampton does not know what a change his mode of life worked in Tom—he, never will know it in this life; for he, with his curly-headed, blue-eyed cousin, sleeps in a soldier’s grave on the battlefield of the Wilderness.

Jerry Lamar is a prosperous lumber merchant in one of the Western States. He was very grateful for the service Mark rendered him, and he never forgot it. There were tears in his eyes when he grasped our hands at parting, and said to us, as I now say to you, reader:

“Good-by ; and a smooth trail through life to you.”

THE END.