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´╗┐Title: Charlie to the Rescue
Author: Ballantyne, R. M. (Robert Michael), 1825-1894
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Charlie to the Rescue" ***

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CHARLIE TO THE RESCUE, BY R.M. BALLANTYNE.



CHAPTER ONE.

INTRODUCES THE HERO.

To be generally helpful was one of the chief points in the character of
Charlie Brooke.

He was evidently born to aid mankind.  He began by helping himself to
everything in life that seemed at all desirable.  This was natural, not
selfish.

At first there were few things, apparently, that did seem to his infant
mind desirable, for his earliest days were marked by a sort of chronic
crossness that seemed quite unaccountable in one so healthy; but this
was eventually traced to the influence of pins injudiciously disposed
about the person by nurse.  Possibly this experience may have tended to
develop a spirit of brave endurance, and might perhaps account for the
beautiful modifications of character that were subsequently observed in
him.  At all events, sweet, patient amiability was a prevailing feature
in the boy long before the years of infancy were over, and this heavenly
aspect of him was pleasantly diversified, in course of time, by
occasional displays of resolute--we might almost say heroic--self-will,
which proved a constant source of mingled pride and alarm to his widowed
mother.

From a very early period of life little Charlie manifested an intense
desire, purpose, and capacity for what may be called his life-work of
rescuing human beings from trouble and danger.  It became a passion with
him as years rolled on, and was among the chief means that brought about
the changes in his chequered career.

Appropriately enough he began--almost in babyhood--by rescuing himself!

It happened thus.  One day, when he had reached the immature age of
five, he was left in the nursery for a few moments in company with a
wash-tub, in which his mother had been cleansing the household linen.

Mrs Brooke, it may be remarked, although in the middle ranks of life,
was very much below the middle ranks in financial prosperity, and had
therefore to perform much household drudgery.

Charlie's earnest desire to please and obey his mother constantly came
into collision with that self-will to which we have referred.
Separately, these qualities may perhaps work quietly, at least as
regards their possessor, but unitedly they form a mixture which is apt
to become explosive in early youth.

"Don't touch the tub, Charlie; I'll be back directly," said Mrs Brooke,
as she was leaving the nursery.  "Don't even go near it."

"No, muvver, I won't."

He spoke with much decision, for he adored water--not to drink but to
play with--and seemed to realise the danger of his position, and the
necessity for self-control.

The temptation to avail himself of the chance, however, was almost too
much for him.  Feeling that an internal conflict was pending, he toddled
to the fire, turned his back to it _a la_ paterfamilias, and glared at
the tub, resolved, come what might, to be "dood."  But fate was against
him!

Suddenly he became aware that something more than radiated heat was
operating in rear.  He glanced behind.  His cotton tunic was in flames!
In the twinkling of an eye he was seated in the wash-tub, his hands
clasped in horror as he thought of his guilt, and the flames thoroughly
extinguished!

The solemn glare and pursed mouth with which he met his mother's look of
blank amazement may be imagined but cannot be described--he looked so
quiet, too, and so evidently contented, for the warm water was
congenial!

"O Charlie! did I not say that--"

"Yes, muvver, but I'm bu'nt."

The fearsome and dripping black patch which presented itself to the
agonised mother when she lifted him out of the tub sufficiently
enlightened her and exonerated the child, but her anxiety was not
relieved till she had stripped him naked and ascertained for certain
that no scrap of his fair skin had been injured.

This may be said to have been the real commencement of Charlie Brooke's
career.  We mention it chiefly to show that our hero was gifted with
some power of ready resource even in childhood.  He was also gifted with
a fearless and daring disposition, a quietly enthusiastic spirit, a
modest mien, and a strong muscular body.

Of course these admirable qualities were not fully developed in
childhood, but the seeds were there.  In due time the plants came up and
the flowers bloomed.

We would here caution the reader--especially the youthful reader--
against supposing that from this point our hero was engaged in
rescue-work, and continued at it ever after without intermission.  Like
Samson, with his great strength, he exercised his powers only now and
then--more than half unconscious of what was in him--and on many
occasions without any definite purpose in view.

His first act of heroism was exercised, when he had reached the age of
nine, in behalf of a kitten.

It was on a magnificent summer day, soon after he had been sent to the
village school, that the incident occurred.  Charlie was walking at the
time with one of his school-fellows named Shank Leather.

Shank was a little older than himself, and a good enough fellow in his
way, but much given to boasting, and possessed of very few of the fine
qualities that characterised our hero.  The two were out for a
holiday-ramble, a long way from home, and had reached a river on the
banks of which they sat down to enjoy their mid-day meal.  The meal was
simple, and carried in their pockets.  It consisted of two
inch-and-a-half-thick slices of bread, with two lumps of cheese to
match.

"I wish this river was nearer home," said Shank Leather, as they sat
down under a spreading oak to dine.

"Why?" asked his companion, with a felicitous brevity and
straightforwardness which occasionally marked his conversation.

"Because then I would have a swim in it everyday."

"Can you swim?" asked Charlie, a slight elevation of the eyebrows
indicating surprise not unmingled with admiration--for our hero was a
hero-worshipper.  He could not well have been a hero otherwise!

"Of course I can swim," returned Shank; "that is to say, a little; but I
feel sure that I'll be a splendid swimmer some day."

His companion's look of admiration increased.

"What'll you take to drink?" asked Shank, drawing a large flask from the
pocket in which he had concealed it up to that moment with the express
purpose of giving his companion a pleasant surprise.

It may be well to add that the variety of dunks implied in his question
was imaginary.  Shank had only one flask, but in the exuberance of
convivial generosity he quoted his own father--who was addicted to "the
bottle."

"What is it?" asked Brooke, in curious expectancy.

"Taste and see," said his friend, uncorking the flask.

Charlie tasted, but did not "see," apparently, for he looked solemn, and
tasted again.

"It's liquorice-water," said Shank, with the look of one who expects
approval.  "I made it myself!"

Nauseous in the extreme, it might have served the purpose of an emetic
had not the digestion of the boys been ostrich-like, but, on hearing how
it came into existence, Charlie put it a third time to his lips, took a
good gulp, and then, nodding his head as he wiped his mouth with his
cuff, declared that it was "wonderful."

"Yes, isn't it?  There's not many fellows could make stuff like that."

"No, indeed," assented the other heartily, as he attacked the bread and
cheese.  "Does your father know you made it?"

"Oh yes, and he tasted it too--he'd taste anything in the shape of
drink--but he spat it out, and then washed his mouth with brandy an'
water.  Mother took some too, and she said she had tasted worse drinks;
and she only wished that father would take to it.  That made father
laugh heartily.  Then I gave some to little May, and she said it was `So
nice.'"

"Ay.  That was like little May," remarked Charlie, with a quiet laugh;
"she'd say that a mess o' tar an' shoe-blacking was nice if _you_ made
it.  But I say, Shank, let's see you swim.  I'd give anything if I could
swim.  Do, like a brick as you are.  There's a fine deep hole here under
the bank."

He pointed to a pool in the river where the gurgling eddies certainly
indicated considerable depth of water, but his friend shook his head.

"No, Charlie," he said, "you don't understand the danger as I do.  Don't
you see that the water runs into the hole at such a rate that there's a
tree-mendous eddy that would sweep any man off his legs--"

"But you're goin' to swim, you know," interrupted his friend, "an' have
got to be off your legs anyhow!"

"That's all _you_ know," returned the other.  "If a man's swept round by
an eddy, don't you know, he'll be banged against things, and then the
water rushes out of the hole with _such_ a gush, an' goes thunderin'
down below, over boulders and stones, and--an'--don't you see?"

"That's true, Shank; it does look dangerous, even for a man that can
swim."

He put such emphasis on the "man" that his comrade glanced sharply at
him, but the genuine innocence of our hero's face was too obvious to
suggest irony.  He simply saw that the use of the word _man_ pleased his
friend, therefore he used it.

Conversation was cut short at this point by the sudden appearance on the
scene of two strangers--a kitten and a dog.

The assertion that "dogs delight to bark and bite" is, perhaps, too
sweeping, but then it was made by a poet and poets have an acknowledged
licence--though not necessarily a dog-licence.  Certain it is, however,
that this dog--a mongrel cur--did bark with savage delight, and display
all its teeth, with an evident desire to bite, as it chased a delirious
tortoise-shell kitten towards the river.

It was a round, soft, lively kitten, with the hair on its little body
sticking straight out, its heart in its mouth, and horror in its lovely
eyes.  It made straight for the tree under which the dinner was going
on.  Both boys started up.  Enemies in front and rear!  Even a human
general might have stood appalled.  Two courses were still open--right
and left.  The kitten turned right and went wrong, for that was the
river-side.  No time for thought!  Barking cur and yelling boys!  It
reached the edge of the pool, spread out all its legs with a caterwaul
of despair, and went headlong into the water.

Shank Leather gazed--something like glee mingled with his look of
consternation.  Not so our hero.  Pity was bursting his bosom.  With one
magnificent bound he went into the pool, caught the kitten in his right
hand, and carried it straight to the bottom.  Next moment he re-appeared
on the surface, wildly beating the water with one hand and holding the
kitten aloft in the other.  Shank, to do him justice, plunged into the
river up to his waist, but his courage carried him no further.  There he
stuck, vainly holding out a hand and shouting for help.

But no help was near, and it seemed as if the pair of strugglers were
doomed to perish when a pitiful eddy swept them both out of the deep
pool into the foaming rapid below.  Shank followed them in howling
despair, for here things looked ten times worse: his comrade being
tossed from billow to breaker, was turned heels over head, bumped
against boulders, stranded on shallows, overturned and swept away
again--but ever with the left arm beating wildly, and the right hand
with the kitten, held high in air.

But the danger, except from being dashed against the boulders, was not
really as great as it seemed, for every time that Brooke got a foothold
for an instant, or was driven on a rock, or was surged, right-end-up, on
a shoot of water, he managed to gasp a little air--including a deal of
water.  The kitten, of course, had the same chances, and, being passive,
perhaps suffered less.

At the foot of the rapid they were whirled, as if contemptuously, into
an eddy.  Shank was there, as deep as he dared venture.  He even pushed
in up to the arm-pits, and, catching his comrade by the hair, dragged
him to bank.

"O Charlie, I've saved ye!" he exclaimed, as his friend crawled out and
sat down.

"Ay, an' you've saved the kitten too!" replied his friend, examining the
poor animal.

"It's dead," said Shank; "dead as mutton."

"No, only stunned.  No wonder, poor beast!"

With tender care the rescuer squeezed the water from the fur of the
rescued.  Then, pulling open his vest and shirt, he was about to place
the kitten in his bosom to warm it.

"No use doin' that," said Leather.  "You're as wet an' nigh as cold as
itself."

"That's true.  Sit down here," returned Brooke, in a tone of command
which surprised his comrade.  "Open your shirt."

Again Shank obeyed wonderingly.  Next moment he gave a gasp as the cold,
wet creature was thrust into his warm bosom.

"It makes me shiver all over," he said.

"Never mind," replied his friend coolly, as he got up and wrung the
water out of his own garments.

"It's beginning to move, Charlie," said Shank, after a few minutes.

"Give it here, then."

The creature was indeed showing feeble symptoms of revival, so Brooke--
whose bosom was not only recovering its own heat, but was beginning to
warm the wet garments--thrust it into his own breast, and the two
friends set off homeward at a run.

At the nearest house they made inquiry as to the owner of the kitten,
but failed to find one.  Our hero therefore resolved to carry it home.
Long before that haven was reached, however, his clothes were nearly
dry, and the rescued one was purring sweetly, in childlike innocence--
all the horrors, sufferings, and agonies of the past forgotten,
apparently, in the enjoyment of the present.



CHAPTER TWO.

THE SHIPWRECK.

We have no intention of carrying our reader on step by step through all
the adventures and deeds of Charlie Brooke.  It is necessary to hasten
over his boyhood, leaving untold the many battles fought, risks run, and
dangers encountered.

He did not cut much of a figure at the village school--though he did his
best, and was fairly successful--but in the playground he reigned
supreme.  At football, cricket, gymnastics, and, ultimately, at
swimming, no one could come near him.  This was partly owing to his
great physical strength, for, as time passed by he shot upwards and
outwards in a way that surprised his companions and amazed his mother,
who was a distinctly little woman--a neat graceful little woman--with,
like her stalwart son, a modest opinion of herself.

As a matter of course, Charlie's school-fellows almost worshipped him,
and he was always so willing to help and lead them in all cases of
danger or emergency, that "Charlie to the rescue!" became quite a
familiar cry on the playground.  Indeed it would have been equally
appropriate in the school, for the lad never seemed to be so thoroughly
happy as when he was assisting some boy less capable than himself to
master his lessons.

About the time that Charlie left school, while yet a stripling, he had
the shoulders of Samson, the chest of Hercules, and the limbs of Apollo.
He was tall also--over six feet--but his unusual breadth deceived
people as to this till they stood close to him.  Fair hair, close and
curly, with bright blue eyes and a permanent look of grave benignity,
completes our description of him.

Rowing, shooting, fishing, boxing, and swimming seemed to come naturally
to him, and all of them in a superlative degree.  Swimming was, perhaps,
his most loved amusement and in this art he soon far outstripped his
friend Leather.  Some men are endowed with exceptional capacities in
regard to water.  We have seen men go into the sea warm and come out
warmer, even in cold weather.  Experience teaches that the reverse is
usually true of mankind in northern regions, yet we once saw a man enter
the sea to all appearance a white human being, after remaining in it
upwards of an hour, and swimming away from shore; like a vessel outward
bound, he came back at last the colour of a boiled lobster!

Such exceptional qualities did Charlie Brooke possess.  A South Sea
Islander might have envied but could not have excelled him.

It was these qualities that decided the course of his career just after
he left school.

"Charlie," said his mother, as they sat eating their mid-day meal alone
one day--the mother being, as we have said, a widow, and Charlie an only
child--"what do you think of doing, now that you have left school? for
you know my income renders it impossible that I should send you to
college."

"I don't know what to think, mother.  Of course I intend to do
something.  If you had only influence with some one in power who could
enable a fellow to get his foot on the first round of any sort of
ladder, something might be done, for you know I'm not exactly useless,
though I can't boast of brilliant talents, but--"

"Your talents are brilliant enough, Charlie," said his mother,
interrupting; "besides, you have been sent into this world for a
purpose, and you may be sure that you will discover what that purpose
is, and receive help to carry it out if you only ask God to guide you.
Not otherwise," she added, after a pause.

"Do you _really_ believe, mother, that _every_ one who is born into the
world is sent for a purpose, and with a specific work to do?"

"I do indeed, Charlie."

"What! all the cripples, invalids, imbeciles, even the very infants who
are born to wail out their sad lives in a few weeks, or even days?"

"Yes--all of them, without exception.  To suppose the opposite, and
imagine that a wise, loving, and almighty Being would create anything
for _no_ purpose seems to me the very essence of absurdity.  Our only
difficulty is that we do not always see the purpose.  All things are
ours, but we must ask if we would have them."

"But I _have_ asked, mother," said the youth, with an earnest flush on
his brow.  "You know I have done so often, yet a way has not been opened
up.  I believe in _your_ faith, mother, but I don't quite believe in my
own.  There surely must be something wrong--a screw loose somewhere."

He laid down his knife and fork, and looked out at the window with a
wistful, perplexed expression.

"How I wish," he continued, "that the lines had been laid down for the
human race more distinctly, so that we could not err!"

"And yet," responded his mother, with a peculiar look, "such lines as
_are_ obviously laid down we don't always follow.  For instance, it is
written, `Ask, and it shall be given you,' and we stop there, but the
sentence does not stop: `Seek, and ye shall find' implies care and
trouble; `Knock, and it shall be opened unto you' hints at perseverance,
does it not?"

"There's something in that, mother," said Charlie, casting another
wistful glance out of the window.  "Come, I will go out and `seek'!  I
see Shank Leather waiting for me.  We agreed to go to the shore
together, for we both like to watch the waves roaring in on a breezy day
like this."

The youth rose and began to encase his bulky frame in a great
pilot-cloth coat, each button of which might have done duty as an
afternoon tea-saucer.

"I wish you would choose any companion to walk with but young Leather,"
said the widow, with a sigh.  "He's far too like his father to do you
any good."

"Mother, would you have me give up an old playmate and school-fellow
because he is not perfect?" asked the youth in grave tones as he tied on
a sou'-wester.

"Well, no--not exactly, but--"

Not having a good reason ready, the worthy woman only smiled a
remonstrance.  The stalwart son stooped, kissed her and was soon
outside, battling with the storm--for what he styled a breezy day was in
reality a wild and stormy one.

Long before the period we have now reached Mrs Brooke had changed her
residence to the sea-coast in the small town of Sealford.  Her cottage
stood in the centre of the village, about half-a-mile from the shore,
and close to that of her bosom friend, Mrs Leather, who had migrated
along with her, partly to be near her and partly for the sake of her son
Shank, who was anxious to retain the companionship of his friend Brooke.
Partly, also, to get her tippling husband away from old comrades and
scenes, in the faint hope that she might rescue him from the great curse
of his life.

When Charlie went out, as we have said, he found that Shank had brought
his sister May with him.  This troubled our hero a good deal, for he had
purposed having a confidential talk with his old comrade upon future
plans and prospects, to the accompaniment of the roaring sea, and a
third party was destructive of such intention.  Besides, poor May,
although exceedingly unselfish and sweet and good, was at that
transition period of life when girlhood is least attractive--at least to
young men: when bones are obtrusive, and angles too conspicuous, and the
form generally is too suggestive of flatness and longitude; while
shyness marks the manners, and inexperience dwarfs the mind.  We would
not, however, suggest for a moment that May was ugly.  By no means, but
she had indeed reached what may be styled a plain period of life--a
period in which some girls become silently sheepish, and others
tomboyish; May was among the former, and therefore a drag upon
conversation.  But, after all, it mattered little, for the rapidly
increasing gale rendered speech nearly impossible.

"It's too wild a day for you, May," said Brooke, as he shook hands with
her; "I wonder you care to be out."

"She _doesn't_ care to be out, but I wanted her to come, and she's a
good obliging girl, so she came," said Shank, drawing her arm through
his as they pressed forward against the blast in the direction of the
shore.

Shank Leather had become a sturdy young fellow by that time, but was
much shorter than his friend.  There was about him, however, an
unmistakable look of dissipation--or, rather, the beginning of it--which
accounted for Mrs Brooke's objection to him as a companion for her son.

We have said that the cottage lay about half-a-mile from the shore,
which could be reached by a winding lane between high banks.  These
effectually shut out the view of the sea until one was close to it,
though, at certain times, the roar of the waves could be heard even in
Sealford itself.

Such a time was the present, for the gale had lashed the sea into
wildest fury, and not only did the three friends hear it, as, with bent
heads, they forced their way against the wind, but they felt the foam of
ocean on their faces as it was carried inland sometimes in lumps and
flakes.  At last they came to the end of the lane, and the sea, lashed
to its wildest condition, lay before them like a sheet of tortured foam.

"Grand! isn't it?" said Brooke, stopping and drawing himself up for a
moment, as if with a desire to combat the opposing elements.

If May Leather could not speak, she could at all events gaze, for she
had superb brown eyes, and they glittered, just then, like glowing
coals, while a wealth of rippling brown hair was blown from its
fastenings, and flew straight out behind her.

"Look! look there!" shouted her brother with a wild expression, as he
pointed to a part of the rocky shore where a vessel was dimly seen
through the drift.

"She's trying to weather the point," exclaimed Brooke, clearing the
moisture from his eyes, and endeavouring to look steadily.

"She'll never weather it.  See! the fishermen are following her
along-shore," cried young Leather, dropping his sister's arm, and
bounding away.

"Oh! don't leave me behind, Shank," pleaded May.

Shank was beyond recall, but our hero, who had also sprung forward,
heard the pleading voice and turned back.

"Here, hook on to me," he cried quickly, for he was in no humour to
delay.

The girl grasped his arm at once, and, to say truth, she was not much of
a hindrance, for, although somewhat inelegant, as we have said, she was
lithe as a lizard and fleet as a young colt.

A few minutes brought them to the level shore where Brooke left May to
shelter herself with some fisher-women behind a low wall, while he ran
along to a spot where a crowd of fishermen and old salts, enveloped in
oil-skins, were discussing the situation as they leaned against the
shrieking wind.

"Will she weather it, Grinder, think you?" he asked of an elderly man,
whose rugged features resembled mahogany, the result of having bid
defiance to wind and weather for nigh half a century.

"She may, Mr Brooke, an' she mayn't," answered the matter-of-fact man
of the sea, in the gruff monotone with which he would have summoned all
hands to close reef in a hurricane.  "If her tackle holds she'll do it.
If it don't she won't."

"We've sent round for the rocket anyhow," said a smart young fisherman,
who seemed to rejoice in opposing his broad chest to the blast, and in
listening to the thunder of the waves as they rolled into the exposed
bay in great battalions, chasing each other in wild tumultuous fury, as
if each were bent on being first in the mad assault upon the shore.

"Has the lifeboat coxswain been called?" asked Charlie, after a few
minutes' silence, for the voice of contending elements was too great to
render converse easy or agreeable.

"Yes, sir," answered the man nearest to him, "but she's bin called to a
wreck in Mussel Bay, an' that brig will be all right or in Davy Jones's
locker long afore th' lifeboat 'ud fetch round here."

Silence again fell on the group as they gazed out to sea, pushing
eagerly down the beach until they were ankle-deep in the foam of each
expended wave; for the brig was by that time close on the point of
rocks, staggering under more sail than she could carry with safety.

"She'll do it!" exclaimed the smart young fisherman, ready to cheer with
enthusiastic hope.

"Done for!  Lost!" cried one, while something like a groan burst from
the others as they saw the brig's topmasts go over the side, and one of
her sails blown to ribbons.  She fell away towards the rocks at once.

Like great black teeth these rocks seemed to leap in the midst of the
foam, as if longing to grasp the ill-fated vessel, which had, indeed,
all but weathered the dangerous point, and all might have been well if
her gear had only held; but now, as if paralysed, she drifted into the
bay where certain destruction awaited her.

Just at that moment a great cheer arose, for the rocket-cart, drawn by
the men of the Coast-Guard, was seen rattling over the downs towards
them.

Anxiety for the fate of the doomed brig was now changed into eager hope
for the rescue of her crew.  The fishermen crowded round the Coast-Guard
men as they ran the cart close down to the water's edge, and some of
them--specially the smart young fellow already mentioned--made eager
offer of their services.  Charlie Brooke stood aloof, looking on with
profound interest, for it was the first time he had ever seen the Manby
rocket apparatus brought into action.  He made no hasty offer to assist,
for he was a cool youth--even while burning with impatient enthusiasm--
and saw at a glance that the men of the Coast-Guard were well able to
manage their own affairs and required no aid from him.

As the brig was coming straight in they could easily calculate where she
would strike, so that the rocket men could set up their triangle and
arrange their tackle without delay.  This was fortunate, for the wreck
was carried shoreward with great rapidity.  She struck at last when
within a short distance of the beach, and the faces of those on board
could be distinctly seen, and their cries heard, as both masts snapped
off and were swept over the side, where they tore at the shrouds like
wild creatures, or charged the hulk like battering-rams.  Instantly the
billows that had borne the vessel on their crests burst upon her sides,
and spurted high in air over her, falling back on her deck, and sweeping
off everything that was moveable.  It could be seen that only three or
four men were on deck, and these kept well under the lee of the bulwarks
near the stern where they were strongest.

"No passengers, I think," said one of the fishermen; "no women, anyhow."

"Not likely they'd be 'lowed on deck even if there was," growled
Grinder, in his monotone.

"Now, then, out o' the way," cried the leader of the Coast-Guard men, as
he laid a rocket in its place.  "Line all clear, Fred?"

"All clear."

Next moment there was a burst of flame, a crash, and a vicious whizz as
the powerful projectile leaped from its stand and sped out to sea, in
grand defiance of the opposing gale, with its light line behind it.

A cheer marked its flight, but a groan told of its descent into the
boiling sea, considerably to the left of the wreck.

"_What_ a pity!" cried Shank Leather, who had come close to his friend
when the rocket-cart arrived.

"No matter," said Brooke, whose compressed lips and flashing eyes told
of deep but suppressed feelings.  "There are more rockets."

He was right.  While he was speaking, another rocket was placed and
fired.  It was well directed, but fell short.  Another, and yet another,
rose and fell, but failed to reach its mark, and the remainder of the
rockets refused to go off from some unknown cause--either because they
had been too long in stock or had become damp.

Meantime the brig was tossed farther and farther in, until she stuck
quite fast.  Then it became evident that she must soon break up, and her
crew perish.  Hasty plans and eager advice were proposed and given.
Then the smart young fisherman suddenly sprang forward, and threw off
his oil-coat and sou'-wester.

"Here! hold on!" he cried, catching up the end of the rocket line, and
fastening it round his waist, while he kicked off his heavy boots.

"You can't do it, Bill," cried some.

"Too far to swim," cried others.

"The seas 'll knock the life out o' ye," said Grinder, "afore you're
clear o' the sand."

Despite these warnings the brave young fellow dashed into the foam, and
plunged straight into the first mighty breaker that towered over his
head.  But he was too much excited to act effectively.  He failed to
time his plunge well.  The wave fell upon him with a roar and crushed
him down.  In a few seconds he was dragged ashore almost insensible.

Example, whether good or bad, is infectious.  Another strapping young
fellow, stirred to emulation, ran forward, and, seizing the rope, tied
it round his own waist, while they helped poor Bill up the beach and
seated him on a sand-bank.

The second youth was more powerful than the first--and cooler.  He made
a better attempt, but only got past the first wave, when his comrades,
seeing that he was exhausted, drew him back.  Then a third--a broad
burly youth--came forward.

At this point the soul of Shank Leather took fire, for he was by no
means destitute of generous impulses, and he tried to get hold of the
rope.

"Out o' the way," cried the burly youth, giving Leather a rough push
that almost sent him on his back; "we don't want no land-lubbers for
this kind o' work."

Up to this point Charlie Brooke, although burning with eager desire to
take some active part in the rescue, had restrained himself and held
back, believing, with characteristic modesty, that the fishermen knew
far better than he did how to face the sea and use their appliances; but
when he saw his friend stagger backward, he sprang to the front, caught
hold of the line, and, seizing the burly fisherman by the arm,
exclaimed, "You'll let _this_ land-lubber try it, anyhow," and sent him
spinning away like a capsized nine-pin.

There was a short laugh, as well as a cheer at this; but next moment all
were gazing at the sea in breathless anxiety, for Brooke had rushed deep
into the surf.  He paused one moment, as the great wave curled over him,
then went through it head-first with such force that he shot waist-high
out of the sea on the other side.  His exceptional swimming-powers now
served him well, for his otter-like rapidity of action enabled him to
avoid the crushing billows either by diving through them at the right
moment, or holding back until they fell, and left him only the mad
swirling foam to contend with.  This last was bad enough, but here his
great muscular strength and his inexhaustible caloric, with his
cork-like power of flotation, enabled him to hold his own without
exhaustion until another opportunity of piercing an unbroken wave
offered.  Thus he gradually forced his way through and beyond the worst
breakers, which are always those nearest shore.  Had any one been close
to him, and able calmly to watch his movements, it would have been seen
that, great as were the youth's powers, he did not waste them in useless
battling with a force against which no man could effectively contend;
that, with a cool head, he gave way to every irresistible force,
swimming for a moment, as it were, with the current--or, rather,
floating easily in the whirlpools--so as to conserve his strength; that,
ever and anon, he struck out with all his might, rushing through foam
and wave like a fish, and that, in the midst of it all, he saw and
seized the brief moments in which he could take a gasping inhalation.

Those who watched him with breathless anxiety on shore saw little of all
this as they paid out the line or perched themselves on tiptoe on the
few boulders that here and there strewed the sand.

"Haul him back!" shouted the man who was farthest out on the line.
"He's used up!"

"No, he's not, I know him well!" roared Shank Leather.  "Pay out, men--
pay out line!"

"Ay, ease away," said Grinder, in a thunderous growl.  "He's a rigler
walrus, he is.  Niver see'd sich a feller since I left the southern
seas.  Ease away, boys."

A cheer followed his remark, for at that moment it was seen that our
hero had reached the tail of the eddy which was caused by the hull of
the wreck, and that one of her crew had darted from the cover of the
vessel's bulwarks and taken shelter under the stump of the mainmast.
His object was seen in a moment, for he unhooked a coil of rope from the
belaying-pins, and stood ready to heave it to the approaching swimmer.
In making even this preparation the man ran very great risk, for the
stump was but a partial shelter--each wave that burst over the side
sweeping wildly round it and leaping on the man higher than his waist,
so that it was very difficult for him to avoid being torn from his
position.

Charlie's progress was now comparatively easy.  A few vigorous strokes
brought him under the lea of the wreck, which, however, was by no means
a quiet spot, for each divided wave, rushing round bow and stern, met
there in a tumult of foam that almost choked the swimmer, while each
billow that burst over the wreck poured a small Niagara on his head.

How to get on board in such circumstances was a subject that had
troubled Charlie's mind as he drew near, but the action of the sailor
unhooking the coil of rope at once relieved him.  The moment he came
within reach, the sailor, watching his opportunity between waves, threw
out the coil.  It was aimed by an accustomed hand and fell on the
rescuer's head.  Another minute and young Brooke stood on the deck.
Without waiting an instant he leaped under the shelter of the stump of
the mainmast beside the seaman.  He was only just in time, for a wave
burst in thunder on the weather side of the quivering brig, and, pouring
over the bulwarks, almost dragged him from the belaying-pins to which he
clung.

The instant the strain was off, he passed a rope round his waist and
gave the end of it to the sailor.

"Here, make it fast," he said, beginning to haul with all his might on
the line which he had brought from shore.  "You're the skipper--eh?"

"Yes.  Don't waste your breath in speech.  I know what to do.  All's
ready."

These few words were an unspeakable relief to our hero, who was well
aware that the working of the rocket apparatus required a slight amount
of knowledge, and who felt from his manner and tone that the skipper was
a thorough man.  He glanced upwards as he hauled in the line, assisted
by his companion, and saw that a stout rope with two loops on it had
been fixed to the stump of the mast.  Just as he noted this with
satisfaction a large block with a thin line rove through it emerged from
the boiling sea.  It had been attached by the men on shore to the rocket
line which Charlie had been hauling out with so much energy.  Its name
was indicated by the skipper.

"Here comes the _whip_," he cried, catching hold of the block when it
reached him.  "Hold me up, lad, while I make it fast to them loops."

While Charlie obeyed he saw that by fixing the tail-lines of the block
quickly to the loops prepared for them, instead of winding them round
the mast,--a difficult process in such a sea--much time was saved.

"There, _our_ part o' the job is done now," said the skipper, pulling
off his sou'-wester as he spoke and holding it up as a signal to the men
on shore.

Meanwhile those to whom he signalled had been watching every movement
with intense eagerness, and with the expressions of men whose gaze has
to penetrate with difficulty through a haze of blinding spray.

"They've got the block now," cried one man.

"Does that young feller know about fixin' of it?" asked another.

"Clap a stopper on your mugs; they're a-fixin' of it now," said old
Grinder.  "There's the signal!  Haul away, lads!"

We must explain here that the "whip" above mentioned was a double or
endless line, passing through the block which had been hauled out to the
wreck by our hero.

By means of this whip one end of a stout cable was sent off to the
wreck, and on this cable a sling-lifebuoy was hung to a pulley and also
run out to the wreck.  The working of the apparatus, though simple
enough to seamen, would entail a complicated, perhaps incomprehensible,
description to landsmen: we therefore pass it by with the remark that,
connection with the shore having been established, and the
sling-lifebuoy--or life-saving machine--run out, the crew received it
with what was meant for a hearty cheer, but which exhaustion modified to
a feeble shout.

"Now, lads," cried the skipper to his men, "look sharp!  Let out the
passengers."

"Passengers?" exclaimed Charlie Brooke in surprise.

"Ay--my wife an' little gurl, two women and an old gentleman.  You don't
suppose I'd keep 'em on deck to be washed overboard?"

As he spoke two of the men opened the doors of the companion-hatch, and
caught hold of a little girl of about five years of age, who was handed
up by a woman.

"Stay! keep her under cover till I get hold of her," cried the skipper.

As he was passing from the mast to the companion a heavy sea burst over
the bulwarks, and swept him into the scuppers.  The same wave wrenched
the child from the grasp of the man who held it and carried it right
overboard.  Like an eel, rather than a man, Charlie cleft the foam close
behind her, caught her by the skirt and bore her to the surface, when a
few strokes of his free arm brought him close under the lee of the wreck
just in time to prevent the agonised father from leaping after his
child.  There was terrible suspense for a few minutes.  At one moment
our hero, with his burden held high aloft, was far down in the hollow of
the watery turmoil, with the black hull like a great wall rising above
him, while the skipper in the main-chains, pale as death but sternly
silent held on with his left hand and reached down with his right--every
finger rigid and ready!  Next moment a water-spout, so to speak, bore
the rescuer upward on its crest, but not near enough--they went downward
again.  Once more the leaping water surged upwards; the skipper's strong
hand closed like the grip of death on the dress, and the child was safe
while its rescuer sank away from it.

"Help him!" shouted the skipper, as he staggered to the shelter of the
companion.

But Charlie required no help.  A loose rope hanging over the side caught
his eye: he seized it and was on deck again in a few seconds.  A minute
later and he was down in the cabin.

There, terror-stricken, sat the skipper's wife, never venturing to move,
because she had been told to remain there till called.  Happily she knew
nothing of the incident just described.

Beside her sat the other women, and, near to them, a stern old
gentleman, who, with compressed lips, quietly awaited orders.

"Come, quick!" said Charlie, grasping by the arm one of the women.

It was the skipper's wife.  She jumped up right willingly and went on
deck.  There she found her child already in the life-buoy, and was
instantly lifted in beside it by her husband, who looked hastily round.

"Come here, Dick," he said to a little cabin-boy who clung to a
stanchion near by.  "Get in."

The boy looked surprised, and drew back.

"Get in, I say," repeated the skipper sternly.

"There's more women, sir," said the boy, still holding back.

"True--brave lad! but you're wanted to keep these from getting washed
out.  I am too heavy, you know."

The boy hesitated no longer.  He squeezed himself into the machine
beside the woman and child.

Then up at arm's-length went the skipper's sou'-wester as a signal that
all was ready, and the fishermen began to haul the life-buoy to the
shore.

It was an awful trip!  Part of the distance, indeed, the trio were borne
along well out of the sea, though the waves leaped hungrily up and sent
spray over them, but as they drew near the shore they were dipped again
and again into the foam, so that the little cabin boy needed all his
energy and knowledge, as well as his bravery and strength, to prevent
his charge being washed out.  Amid ringing cheers from the fishermen--
and a treble echo from the women behind the wall--they were at last
safely landed.

"My lass, that friend o' your'n be a braave cheeld," said an old woman
to May Leather, who crouched beside her.

"Ay, _that_ he is!" exclaimed May, with a gush of enthusiasm in tone and
eyes that made them all turn to look at her.

"Your brother?" asked a handsome, strapping young woman.

"No--I wish he was!"

"Hm! ha!" exclaimed the strapping young woman--whereat there was
exchanged a significant laugh; but May took no notice of it, being too
deeply engrossed with the proceedings on shore and sea.

Again the fishermen ran out the life-buoy and soon hauled it back with
another woman; then a third.  After that came the old gentleman, quite
self-possessed and calm, though very pale and dishevelled; and,
following him, the crew, one by one, were rescued.  Then came the hero
of the hour, and last of all, as in duty bound, the skipper--not much
too soon, for he had barely reached the land when the brig was
overwhelmed and engulfed in the raging sea.



CHAPTER THREE.

"IT'S AN ILL WIND THAT BLAWS NAEBODY GUID."

That many if not most names have originated in the character or
condition of individuals seems obvious, else why is it that so many
people take after their names?  We have no desire to argue the question,
but hasten on to remark that old Jacob Crossley was said to be--observe,
we do not say that he was--a notable illustration of what we refer to.

Jacob was "as cross as two sticks," if we are to believe Mrs Bland, his
housekeeper--and Mrs Bland was worthy of belief, for she was an honest
widow who held prevarication to be equivalent to lying, and who, besides
having been in the old bachelor's service for many years, had on one
occasion been plucked by him from under the feet of a pair of horses
when attempting the more dangerous than nor'-west passage of a London
crossing.  Gratitude, therefore, rendered it probable that Mrs Bland
spake truly when she said that her master was as cross as two sticks.
Of course we admit that her judgment may have been faulty.

Strange to say Mr Crossley had no reason--at least no very apparent
reason--for being cross, unless, indeed, the mere fact of his being an
old bachelor was a sufficient reason.  Perhaps it was!  But in regard to
everything else he had, as the saying goes, nothing to complain of.  He
was a prosperous East India merchant--not a miser, though a cross old
bachelor, and not a millionaire, though comfortably rich.  His business
was prosperous, his friends were numerous, his digestion was good, his
nervous system was apparently all that could be desired, and he slept
well!

Standing one morning in the familiar British position before his
dining-room fire in London, he frowningly contemplated his housekeeper
as that indefatigable woman removed the breakfast equipage.

"Has the young man called this morning?"

"Not yet, sir."

"Well, when he comes tell him I had business in the city and could wait
no--"

A ring and a sharp knock interrupted him.  A few moments later Charlie
Brooke was ushered into the room.  It was a smallish room, for Mr
Crossley, although well off, did not see the propriety of wasting money
on unnecessary space or rent, and the doorway was so low that Charlie's
hair brushed against the top as he entered.

"I called, Mr Crossley, in accordance with the wish expressed in your
letter.  Although, being a stranger, I do not--"

The young man stopped at this point and looked steadily at the old
gentleman with a peculiarly questioning expression.

"You recognise me, I see," said the old man, with a very slight smile.

"Well--I may be mistaken, but you do bear some resemblance to--"

"Just so, I'm the man that you hauled so violently out of the cabin of
the wreck last week, and shoved so unceremoniously into the life-buoy,
and I have sent for you, first, to thank you for saving my life, because
they tell me that, but for your swimming off with a rope, we should
certainly have all been lost; and, secondly, to offer you aid in any
course of life you may wish to adopt, for I have been informed that you
are not at present engaged in any special employment."

"You are very kind, sir, very kind," returned Charlie, somewhat
embarrassed.  "I can scarcely claim, however, to have saved your life,
though I thankfully admit having had the opportunity to lend a hand.
The rocket-men, in reality, did the work, for without their splendid
working of the apparatus my swimming off would have been useless."

Mr Crossley frowned while the youth was speaking, and regarded him with
some suspicion.

"You admit, I suppose," he rejoined sternly, "that if you had _not_ swum
off, the rocket apparatus would have been equally useless."

"By no means," returned Charlie, with that benignant smile that always
accompanied his opposition in argument.  "I do not admit that, because,
if I had not done it, assuredly some one else would.  In fact a friend
of mine was on the point of making the attempt when I pulled him back
and prevented him."

"And why did you prevent him?"

"Because he was not so well able to do it as I."

"Oh!  I see.  In other words, you have a pretty high opinion of your own
powers."

"Possibly I have," returned the youth, somewhat sharply.  "I lay claim
to no exemption from the universal law of vanity which seems to affect
the entire human race--especially the cynical part of it.  At the same
time, knowing from long experience that I am physically stronger, can
swim better, and have greater power of endurance, though not greater
courage, than my friend, it would be mere pretence were I to assume that
in such matters I was his inferior.  You asked me why I prevented him: I
gave you the reason exactly and straightforwardly.  I now repeat it."

"Don't be so ready to fire up, young man," said Crossley, with a
deprecating smile.  "I had no intention of hurting your feelings."

"You have not hurt them, sir," returned Charlie, with almost provoking
urbanity of manner and sweetness of voice, "you have only misunderstood
me."

"Well, well, let it pass.  Tell me, now, can I do anything for you?"

"Nothing, thank you."

"Eh?" exclaimed the old gentleman in surprise.

"Nothing, thank you," repeated his visitor.  "I did not save you for the
purpose of being rewarded, and I refuse to accept reward for saving
you."

For a second or two Mr Crossley regarded his visitor in silence, with a
conflicting mixture of frown and smile--a sort of acidulated-drop
expression on his rugged face.  Then he asked--

"What is the name of this friend whom you prevented from swimming off to
us?"

"Shank Leather."

"Is he a very great friend of yours?"

"Very.  We have been playmates from childhood, and school-fellows till
now."

"What is he?--his profession, I mean?"

"Nothing at present.  That is to say, he has, like myself, been trained
to no special profession, and the failure of the firm in the
counting-house of which we have both served for some months has cast us
adrift at the same time."

"Would it give you much satisfaction if I were to find good employment
for your friend?"

"Indeed it would--the highest possible satisfaction," exclaimed Charlie,
with the first symptom of enthusiasm in his tone and look.

"What can your friend Shank Leather do?" asked the old man brusquely.

"Oh! many things.  He's capital at figures, thoroughly understands
book-keeping, and--and is a hard-working fellow, whatever he puts his
hand to."

"Is he steady?"

Charlie was silent for a few moments.

"Well, one cannot be sure," he answered, with some hesitation, "what
meaning you attach to the word `steady.'  I--"

"Yes, yes, I see," interrupted Crossley, consulting his watch.  "No time
to discuss meanings of words just now.  Will you tell your friend to
call on me here the day after to-morrow at six o'clock?  You live in
Sealford, I have been told; does he live near you?"

"Yes, within a few minutes' walk."

"Well, tell him to be punctual.  Punctuality is the soul of business.
Hope I won't find your friend as independent as you seem to be!  You are
quite sure, are you, that I can do nothing for you?  I have both money
and influence."

The more determined that our hero became to decline all offers of
assistance from the man who had misconstrued his motives, the more of
urbanity marked his manner, and it was with a smile of ineffable
good-nature on his masculine features that he repeated, "Nothing, thank
you--quite sure.  You will have done me the greatest possible service
when you help my friend.  Yet--stay.  You mentioned money.  There is an
institution in which I am much interested, and which you might
appropriately remember just now."

"What is that?"

"The Lifeboat Institution."

"But it was not the Lifeboat Institution that saved _me_.  It was the
Rocket apparatus."

"True, but it _might_ have been a lifeboat that saved you.  The rockets
are in charge of the Coast-Guard and need no assistance, whereas the
Lifeboat Service depends on voluntary contributions, and the fact that
it did not happen to save Mr Crossley from a grave in the sea does not
affect its claim to the nation's gratitude for the hundreds of lives
saved by its boats every year."

"Admitted, my young friend, your reasoning is just," said the old
gentleman, sitting down at a writing table and taking a cheque-book from
a drawer; "what shall I put down?"

"You know your circumstances best," said Charlie, somewhat amused by the
question.

"Most people in ordinary circumstances," returned the old man slowly as
he wrote, "contribute a guinea to such charities."

"Many people," remarked Charlie, with a feeling of pity rather than
contempt, "contribute five, or even fifteen."

"Ah, indeed--yes, well, Mr Brooke, will you condescend to be the bearer
of my contribution?  Fourteen Saint John Street, Adelphi, is not far
from this, and it will save a penny of postage, you know!"

Mr Crossley rose and handed the cheque to his visitor, who felt half
disposed--on the strength of the postage remark--to refuse it and speak
his mind somewhat freely on the subject, but, his eye happening to fall
on the cheque at the moment, he paused.

"You have made a mistake, I think," he said.  "This is for five
_hundred_ pounds."

"I make no mistakes, Mr Brooke," returned the old man sternly.  "You
said something about five or fifteen.  I could not well manage fifteen
_hundred_ just now, for it is bad times in the city at present.  Indeed,
according to some people, it is always bad times there, and, to say
truth, some people are not far wrong--at least as regards their own
experiences.  Now, I must be off to business.  Good-bye.  Don't forget
to impress on your friend the importance of punctuality."

Jacob Crossley held out his hand with an expression of affability which
was for him quite marvellous.

"You're a much better man than I thought!" exclaimed Charlie, grasping
the proffered hand with a fervour that caused the other to wince.

"Young sir," returned Crossley, regarding the fingers of his right hand
somewhat pitifully, "people whose physique is moulded on the pattern of
Samson ought to bear in mind that rheumatism is not altogether unknown
to elderly men.  Your opinion of me was probably erroneous to begin
with, and it is certainly false to end with.  Let me advise you to
remember that the gift of money does not necessarily prove anything
except that a man has money to give--nay, it does not always prove even
that, for many people are notoriously prone to give away money that
belongs to somebody else.  Five hundred pounds is to some men not of
much more importance than five pence is to others.  Everything is
relative.  Good-bye."

While he was speaking Mr Crossley rang the bell and politely opened the
dining-room door, so that our hero found himself in the street before he
had quite recovered from his astonishment.

"Please, sir," said Mrs Bland to her master after Charlie was gone,
"Cap'en Stride is awaitin' in the library."

"Send him here," said Crossley, once more consulting his watch.

"Well, Captain Stride, I've had a talk with him," he said, as an
exceedingly broad, heavy, short-legged man entered, with a bald head and
a general air of salt water, tar, and whiskers about him.  "Sit down.
Have you made up your mind to take command of the _Walrus_?"

"Well, Mr Crossley, since you're so _very_ good," said the sea-captain
with a modest look, "I had feared that the loss o'--"

"Never mind the loss of the brig, Captain.  It was no fault of yours
that she came to grief.  Other ship-owners may do as they please.  I
shall take the liberty of doing as _I_ please.  So, if you are ready,
the ship is ready.  I have seen Captain Stuart, and I find that he is
down with typhoid fever, poor fellow, and won't be fit for duty again
for many weeks.  The _Walrus_ must sail not later than a week or ten
days hence.  She can't sail without a captain, and I know of no better
man than yourself; so, if you agree to take command, there she is, if
not I'll find another man."

"I'm agreeable, sir," said Captain Stride, with a gratified, meek look
on his large bronzed face--a look so very different from the leonine
glare with which he was wont to regard tempestuous weather or turbulent
men.  "Of course it'll come rather sudden on the missus, but w'en it
blows hard what's a man got to do but make all snug and stand by?"

"Quite true, Stride, I have no doubt that you are nautically as well as
morally correct, so I leave it to you to bring round the mistress, and
consider that matter as settled.  By the way, I hope that she and your
little girl have not suffered from the wetting and rough handling
experienced when being rescued."

"Not in the least, sir, thankee.  In fact I incline to the belief that
they are rather more frisky than usual in consekince.  Leastwise
_little_ Maggie is."

"Glad to hear it.  Now, about that young fellow."

"By which I s'pose you mean Mr Brooke, sir?"

"The same.  He has just left me, and upon my word, he's about the
coolest young fellow I ever met with."

"That's just what I said to the missus, sir, the very night arter we was
rescued.  `The way that young feller come off, Maggie,' says I, `is most
extraor'nar'.  No fish that--'"

"Yes, yes, Stride, I know, but that's not exactly what I mean: it's his
being so amazingly independent that--"

"'Zactly what I said, sir.  `Maggie,' says I, `that young feller seemed
to be quite independent of fin or tail, for he came right off in the
teeth o' wind and tide--'"

"That's not what I mean either, Captain," interrupted the old gentleman,
with slight impatience.  "It's his independent spirit I refer to."

"Oh!  I ax your pardon, sir."

"Well, now, listen, and don't interrupt me.  But first let me ask, does
he know that I am the owner of the brig that was lost?"

"Yes; he knows that."

"Does he know that I also own the _Walrus_."

"No, I'm pretty sure he don't.  Leastwise I didn't tell him, an' there's
nobody else down there as knows anything about you."

"So far, good.  Now, Stride, I want you to help me.  The young goose is
so proud, or I know not what, that he won't accept any favours or
rewards from me, and I find that he is out of work just now, so I'm
determined to give him something to do in spite of himself.  The present
supercargo of the _Walrus_ is a young man who will be pleased to fall in
with anything I propose to him.  I mean, therefore, to put him in
another ship and appoint young Brooke to the _Walrus_.  Fortunately the
firm of Withers and Company does not reveal my name--I having been
Company originally, though I'm the firm now, so that he won't suspect
anything, and what I want is, that you should do the engaging of him--
being authorised by Withers and Company--you understand?"

"I follow you, sir.  But what if he objects?"

"He won't object.  I have privately inquired about him.  He is anxious
to get employment, and has strong leanings to an adventurous life on the
sea.  There's no accounting for taste, Captain!"

"Right you are, sir," replied the Captain, with an approving nod.
"That's what I said only this mornin' to my missus.  `Maggie,' says I,
`salt water hasn't a good taste, as even the stoopidest of mortals
knows, but w'en a man has had to lick it off his lips at sea for the
better part of half a century, it's astonishin' how he not only gits
used to it, but even comes to like the taste of it.'  `Pooh!' says she,
`don't tell me you likes it, for you don't!  It's all a d'lusion an' a
snare.  I hates both the taste an' the smell of it.'  `Maggie,' says I,
quite solemn-like, `that may be so, but you're not me.'  `No, thank
goodness!' says she--which you mustn't suppose, sir, meant as she didn't
like _me_, for she's a true-hearted affectionate creetur--though I say
it as shouldn't--but she meant that she'd have had to go to sea reg'lar
if she had been me, an' that would have done for her in about six weeks,
more or less, for the first time she ever went she was all but turned
inside--"

"If you're going citywards," interrupted Mr Crossley, again pulling out
his watch, "we may as well finish our talk in the street."

As Captain Stride was "quite agreeable" to this proposal, the two left
the house together, and, hailing a hansom, drove off in the direction of
the City.



CHAPTER FOUR.

DRIFTING ON THE ROCKS.

On the sea-shore, not far from the spot where the brig had been wrecked,
Charlie Brooke and Shank Leather walked up and down engaged in earnest
conversation soon after the interviews just described.

Very different was the day from that on which the wreck had taken place.
It seemed almost beyond possibility that the serene sky above, and the
calm, glinting ocean which rippled so softly at their feet, could be
connected with the same world in which inky clouds and snowy foam and
roaring billows had but a short time before held high revelry.

"Well, Charlie," said his friend, after a pause, "it was very good of
you, old boy, and I hope that I'll do credit to your recommendation.
The old man seems a decent sort of chap, though somewhat cross-grained."

"He is kind-hearted, Shank; I feel quite sure of that, and hope
sincerely that you will get on well with him."

"`With him!'" repeated Leather; "you don't seem to understand that the
situation he is to get for me is _not_ in connection with his own
business, whatever that may be.  It is in some other City firm, the name
of which he has not yet mentioned.  I can't myself understand why he is
so close!"

"Perhaps because he has been born with a secretive nature," suggested
Charlie.

"May be so.  However, that's no business of mine, and it doesn't do to
be too inquisitive when a man is offering you a situation of two hundred
a year.  It would be like looking a gift-horse in the mouth.  All I care
about is that I'm to go to London next week and begin work--Why, you
don't seem pleased to hear of my good fortune," continued Leather,
turning a sharp look on his friend, who was gazing gravely at the sand,
in which he was poking holes with his stick.

"I congratulate you, Shank, with all my heart, and you know it; but--I'm
sorry to find that you are not to be in connection with Mr Crossley
himself, for there is more good in him than appears on the surface.  Did
he then make no mention of the nature of his own business?"

"None whatever.  To say truth, that mysteriousness or secrecy is the
only point about the old fellow's character that I don't like," said
Leather, with a frown of virtuous disapproval.  "`All fair and
above-board,' that's my motto.  Speak out your mind and fear nothing!"

At these noble sentiments a faint smile, if we may say so, hovered
somewhere in the recesses of Charlie Brooke's interior, but not the
quiver of a muscle disturbed the solemnity of his face.

"The secrecy of his nature seems even to have infected that skipper
with--or rather by--whom he was wrecked," continued Leather, "for when I
asked him yesterday about the old gentleman, he became suddenly silent,
and when I pressed him, he made me a rigmarole speech something like
this: `Young man, I make it a rule to know nothin' whatever about my
passengers.  As I said only two days past to my missus: "Maggie," says
I, "it's of no use your axin' me.  My passengers' business is _their_
business, and my business is mine.  All I've got to do is to sail my
ship, an' see to it that I land my passengers in safety."'

"`You made a pretty mess of your business, then, the last trip,' said I,
for I was bothered with his obvious determination not to give me any
information.

"`Right you are, young man,' said he, `and it would have been a still
prettier mess if your friend Mr Brooke hadn't come off wi' that there
line!'

"I laughed at this and recovered my temper, but I could pump nothing
more out of him.  Perhaps there was nothing to pump.--But now tell me,
how is it--for I cannot understand--that you refused all offers to
yourself?  You are as much `out of work' just now as I am."

"That's true, Shank, and really I feel almost as incapable of giving you
an answer as Captain Stride himself.  You see, during our conversation
Mr Crossley attributed mean--at all events wrong--motives to me, and
somehow I felt that I _could_ not accept any favour at his hands just
then.  I suspect I was too hasty.  I fear it was false pride--"

"Ha! ha!" laughed Leather; "`pride!'  I wonder in what secret chamber of
your big corpus your pride lies."

"Well, I don't know.  It must be pretty deep.  Perhaps it is engrained,
and cannot be easily recognised."

"That last is true, Charlie.  Assuredly it can't be recognised, for it's
not there at all.  Why, if you had been born with a scrap of false pride
you and I could never have been friends--for I hate it!"

Shank Leather, in saying this, had hit the nail fairly on the head,
although he had not intelligently probed the truth to the bottom.  In
fact a great deal of the friendship which drew these young men together
was the result of their great dissimilarity of character.  They acted on
each other somewhat after the fashion of a well-adjusted piece of
mechanism, the ratchets of selfishness and cog-wheels of vanity in Shank
fitting easily into the pinions of good-will and modesty which
characterised his friend, so that there was no jarring in their
intercourse.  This alone would not, perhaps, have induced the strong
friendship that existed if it had not been coupled with their intimacy
from childhood, and if Brooke had not been particularly fond of Shank's
invalid mother, and recognised a few of her good characteristics faintly
reproduced in her son, while Shank fully appreciated in Charlie that
amiable temperament which inclines its happy possessor to sympathise
much with others, to talk little of self, to believe all things and to
hope all things, to the verge almost of infantine credulity.

"Well, well," resumed Charlie, with a laugh, "however that may be, I
_did_ decline Mr Crossley's offers, but it does not matter much now,
for that same worthy captain who bothered you so much has told me of a
situation of which he has the gift, and has offered it to me."

"You don't say so!  Is it a good one?"

"Yes, and well paid, I'm told, though I don't know the exact amount of
the salary yet."

"And have you accepted?"

"I have.  Mother agreed, after some demur, that it is better than
nothing, so, like you, I begin work in a few days."

"Well now, how strangely things do happen sometimes!" said Leather,
stopping and looking out seaward, where the remains of the brig could
still be distinguished on the rocks that had fixed her doom.  "But for
that fortunate wreck and our saving the people in her, you and I might
still have been whistling in the ranks of the Great Unemployed--And what
sort of a situation is it, Charlie?"

"You will smile, perhaps, when I tell you.  It is to act as supercargo
of the _Walrus_, which is commanded by Captain Stride himself."

Young Leather's countenance fell.  "Why, Charlie," he said, "that means
that you're going away to sea!"

"I fear it does."

"Soon?"

"In a week or two."

For some little time Leather did not speak.  The news fell upon him with
a shock of disagreeable surprise, for, apart from the fact that he
really loved his friend, he was somehow aware that there were not many
other young men who cared much for himself--in regard to which he was
not a little surprised, for it never occurred to him that egotism and
selfishness had anything to do with the coolness of his friends, or that
none but men like our hero, with sweet tempers and self-forgetting
dispositions, could by any possibility put up with him.

"Who are the owners of the _Walrus_, Charlie?" he asked, as they turned
into the lane that led from the beach to the village.

"Withers and Company of London."

"H'm--don't know them.  They must be trustful fellows, however, to take
a captain into their employ who has just lost his vessel."

"They have not _taken_ him into their employ," said Charlie.  "Captain
Stride tells me he has been in their service for more than a quarter of
a century, and they exonerate him from all blame in the loss of the
brig.  It does seem odd to me, however, that he should be appointed so
immediately to a new ship, but, as you remarked, that's none of my
business.  Come, I'll go in with you and congratulate your mother and
May on your appointment."

They had reached the door of Shank Leather's house by that time.  It was
a poor-looking house, in a poor side street or blind alley of the
village, the haunt of riotous children during the day-time, and of
maddening cats at night.  Stray dogs now and then invaded the alley,
but, for the most part, it was to children and cats that the region was
given over.  Here, for the purpose of enabling the proverbial "two ends"
to "meet," dwelt a considerable population in houses of diminutive size
and small accommodation.  A few of these were persons who, having "seen
better days," were anxious to hide their poverty and existence from the
"friends" of those better days.  There was likewise a sprinkling of
individuals and families who, having grown callous to the sorrows of
earth, had reached that condition wherein the meeting of the two ends is
a matter of comparative indifference, because they never met, and were
never more expected to meet--the blank, annually left gaping, being
filled up, somehow, by a sort of compromise between bankruptcy, charity,
and starvation.

To the second of these the Leather family belonged.  They had been
brought to their sad condition by that prolific source of human misery--
the bottle.

To do the family justice, it was only the father who had succumbed.  He
had been a gentleman; he was now a sot.  His wife--delicate owing to bad
treatment, sorrow, and insufficient nourishment--was, ever had been, and
ever would be, a lady and a Christian.  Owing to the last priceless
condition she was still alive.  It is despair that kills, and despair
had been banished from her vocabulary ever since she had laid down the
arms of her rebellion and accepted the Saviour of mankind as her guide
and consolation.

But sorrow, suffering, toil had not departed when the demon despair fled
away.  They had, however, been wonderfully lightened, and one of the
brightest gleams of hope in her sad life was that she might possibly be
used as the means of saving her husband.  There were other gleams of
light, however, one of the brightest of them being that May, her only
daughter, was loving and sympathetic--or, as she sometimes expressed it,
"as good as gold."  But there was also a very dark spot in her life:
Shank, her only son, was beginning to show a tendency to tread in his
father's steps.

Many golden texts were enshrined in the heart of poor Mrs Leather, and
not a few of these--painted by the hand of May--hung on the walls of
their little sitting-room, but the word to which she turned her eyes in
seasons of profoundest obscurity, and which served her as a sheet-anchor
in the midst of the wildest storms, was, "Hope thou in God, for thou
shalt _yet_ praise Him."  And alongside of that text, whenever she
thought of it or chanced to look at it, there invariably flashed
another: "Immanuel, God with us."

May and her mother were alone when the young men entered; the former was
at her lessons, the latter busy with knitting-needles.

Knitting was the means by which Mrs Leather, with constant labour and
inexhaustible perseverance, managed to fill up the gap between the
before-mentioned "two ends," which her dissolute husband failed to draw
together.  She could read or assist May with her lessons, while her
delicate fingers, working below the table, performed miraculous
gyrations with steel and worsted.  To most male minds, we presume, this
is utterly incomprehensible.  It is well not to attempt the description
of that which one does not understand.  The good lady knitted socks and
stockings, and mittens and cuffs, and comforters, and other things, in
absolutely overwhelming quantities, so that the accumulation in the
press in which she stored them was at times quite marvellous.  Yet that
press never quite filled up, owing to the fact that there was an
incurable leak in it--a sort of secret channel--through which the
products of her toil flowed out nearly as fast as she poured them in.

This leak in the worsted press, strange to say, increased wonderfully
just after the wreck described in a previous chapter, and the rivulet to
which it gave rise flowed in the direction of the back-door of the
house, emptying itself into a reservoir which always took the form of a
little elderly lady, with a plain but intensely lovable countenance, who
had been, perhaps still was, governess in a family in a neighbouring
town where Mrs Leather had spent some of her "better days."  Her name
was Molloy.

Like a burglar Miss Molloy came in a stealthy manner at irregular
intervals to the back-door of the house, and swept the press of its
contents, made them up into a bundle of enormous size, and carried them
off on the shoulders of an appropriately disreputable blackguard boy--as
Shank called him--whom she retained for the purpose.  Unlike a burglar,
however, Miss Molloy did not "bolt with the swag," but honestly paid for
everything, from the hugest pair of gentlemen's fishing socks to the
smallest pair of children's cuffs.

What Miss Molloy did with this perennial flow of woollen work, whom she
came from, where she went to, who discovered her, and why she did it,
were subjects of inquiry which baffled investigation, and always
simmered in the minds of Shank and May, though the mind of Mrs Leather
herself seemed to be little if at all exercised by it.  At all events
she was uncommunicative on the point, and her children's curiosity was
never gratified, for the mother was obdurate, and, torture being illegal
at that time in England, they had no means of compelling disclosure.  It
was sometimes hinted by Shank that their little dog Scraggy--
appropriately named!--knew more than he chose to tell about the subject,
for he was generally present at the half-secret interviews, and always
closed the scene with a sham but furious assault on the ever
contemptuous blackguard boy.  But Scraggy was faithful to his trust, and
revealed nothing.

"I can't tell you how glad I am, Mrs Leather, about Shank's good
fortune," said Charlie, with a gentle shake of the hand, which Mr
Crossley would have appreciated.  Like the Nasmyth steam-hammer, which
flattens a ton of iron or gently cracks a hazel-nut, our Herculean hero
could accommodate himself to circumstances; "as your son says, it has
been a lucky wreck for _us_."

"Lucky indeed for _him_," responded the lady, instantly resuming her
knitting, which she generally kept down near her lap, well hidden by the
table, while she looked at her visitor and talked, "but not very
pleasant for those who have lost by it."

"Pooh! mother, nobody has lost by it," said Shank in his free-and-easy
style.  "The owners don't lose, because of course it was insured; and
the Insurance Companies can't be said to lose, for the value of a small
brig will be no more felt by them than the losing of a pin would be felt
by yourself; and the captain won't lose--except a few sea-garments and
things o' that kind--for he has been appointed to another ship already.
By the way, mother, that reminds me that Charlie has also got a
situation through this lucky wreck, for Captain Stride feels so grateful
that he has offered him the situation of supercargo in his new ship."

For once Mrs Leather's knitting-needles came to a sudden stop, and she
looked inquiringly at her young friend.  So did May.

"Have you accepted it?"

"Well, yes.  I have."

"I'm _so_ sorry," said May; "I don't know what Shank will do without
you."

At that moment a loud knocking was heard at the door.  May rose to open
it, and Mrs Leather looked anxiously at her son.

A savage undertoned growl and an unsteady step told all too plainly that
the head of the house had returned home.

With sudden interest in worsted fabrics, which he was far from feeling,
Charlie Brooke turned his back to the door, and, leaning forward, took
up an end of the work with which the knitter was busy.

"That's an extremely pretty pattern, Mrs Leather.  Does it take you
long to make things of the kind?"

"Not long; I--I make a good many of them."

She said this with hesitation, and with her eyes fixed on the doorway,
through the opening of which her husband thrust a shaggy dishevelled
head, with dissipation stamped on a countenance which had evidently been
handsome once.

But Charlie saw neither the husband's head nor the poor wife's gaze, for
he was still bending over the worsted-work in mild admiration.

Under the impression that he had not been observed, Mr Leather suddenly
withdrew his head, and was heard to stumble up-stairs under the guidance
of May.  Then the bang of a door, followed by a shaking of the
slimly-built house, suggested the idea that the poor man had flung
himself on his bed.

"Shank Leather," said Charlie Brooke, that same night as they strolled
on the sea-shore, "you gave expression to some sentiments to-day which I
highly approved of.  One of them was `Speak out your mind, and fear
nothing!'  I mean to do so now, and expect that you will not be hurt by
my following your advice."

"Well!" exclaimed Shank, with a dubious glance, for he disliked the
seriousness of his friend's tone.

"Your father--" began Charlie.

"Please don't speak about _him_," interrupted the other.  "I know all
that you can say.  His case is hopeless, and I can't bear to speak about
it."

"Well, I won't speak about him, though I cannot agree with you that his
case is hopeless.  But it is yourself that I wish to speak about.  You
and I are soon to separate; it must be for a good long while--it may be
for ever.  Now I must speak out my mind before I go.  My old playmate,
school-fellow, and chum, you have begun to walk in your poor father's
footsteps, and you may be sure that if you don't turn round all your
hopes will be blasted--at least for this life--perhaps also for that
which is to come.  Now don't be angry or hurt, Shank.  Remember that you
not only encouraged me, but advised me to speak out my mind."

"Yes, but I did not advise you to form a false, uncharitable judgment of
your chum," returned Leather, with a dash of bitterness in his tone.  "I
admit that I'm fond of a social glass, and that I sometimes, though
rarely, take a little--a very little--more than, perhaps, is necessary.
But that is very different from being a drunkard, which you appear to
assume that I am."

"Nay, Shank, I don't assume that.  What I said was that you are
_beginning_ to walk in your dear father's footsteps.  No man ever yet
became a drunkard without _beginning_.  And I feel certain that no man
ever, when beginning, had the most distant intention or expectation of
becoming a drunkard.  Your danger, dear old fellow, lies in your _not
seeing_ the danger.  You admit that you like a social glass.  Shank, I
candidly make the same admission--I like it,--but after seeing your
father, and hearing your defence, the danger has been so deeply
impressed on _me_, that from this hour I resolve, God helping me, never
more to taste a social glass."

"Well, Charlie, you know yourself best," returned his friend airily,
"and if you think yourself in so great danger, of course your resolve is
a very prudent one; but for myself, I admit that I see no danger, and I
don't feel any particular weakness of will in regard to temptation."

"Ah, Shank, you remind me of an eccentric old lady I have heard of who
was talking with a friend about the difficulties of life.  `My dear,'
said the friend, `I do find it such a _difficult_ thing to resist
temptation--don't you?'  `No,' replied the eccentric old lady, `I don't,
for I _never_ resist temptation, I always give way to it!'"

"I can't quite make out how your anecdote applies to me, Charlie."

"Don't you see?  You feel no weakness of will in regard to temptation
because you never give your will an opportunity of resisting it.  You
always give way to it.  You see, I am speaking out my mind freely--as
you have advised!"

"Yes, and you take the whole of my advice, and fear nothing, else you
would not risk a quarrel by doing so.  But really, my boy, it's of no
use your troubling your head on that subject, for I feel quite safe, and
I don't mean to give in, so there's an end on't."

Our hero persevered notwithstanding, and for some time longer sought to
convince or move his friend both by earnest appeal and light pleasantry,
but to all appearance without success, although he reduced him to
silence.  He left him at last, and went home meditating on the truth of
the proverb that "a man convinced against his will is of the same
opinion still."



CHAPTER FIVE.

ALL THINGS TO ALL MEN.

Under the influence of favouring breezes and bright skies the _Walrus_
swept gaily over the ocean at the beginning of her voyage, with
"stuns'ls slow and aloft, royals and sky-scrapers," according to Captain
Stride.  At least, if these were not the exact words he used, they
express pretty well what he meant, namely, a "cloud of canvas."

But this felicitous state of things did not last.  The tropics were
reached, where calms prevailed with roasting heat.  The Southern
Atlantic was gained, and gales were met with.  The celebrated Cape was
doubled, and the gales, if we may say so, were trebled.  The Indian
Ocean was crossed, and the China Seas were entered, where typhoons blew
some of the sails to ribbons, and snapped off the topmasts like
pipe-stems.  Then she sailed into the great Pacific, and for a time the
_Walrus_ sported pleasantly among the coral islands.

During all this time, and amid all these changes, Charlie Brooke, true
to his character, was the busiest and most active man on board.  Not
that his own special duties gave him much to do, for, until the vessel
should reach port, these were rather light; but our hero--as Stride
expressed it--"must always be doing."  If he had not work to do he made
it--chiefly in the way of assisting other people.  Indeed there was
scarcely a man or boy on board who did not have the burden of his toil,
whatever it was, lightened in consequence of young Brooke's tendency to
put his powerful shoulder voluntarily to the wheel.  He took the daily
observations with the captain, and worked out the ship's course during
the previous twenty-four hours.  He handled the adze and saw with the
carpenter, learned to knot and splice, and to sew canvas with the
bo's'n's mate, commented learnedly and interestingly on the preparation
of food with the cook, and spun yarns with the men on the forecastle, or
listened to the long-winded stories of the captain and officers in the
cabin.  He was a splendid listener, being much more anxious to ascertain
exactly the opinions of his friends and mates than to advance his own.
Of course it followed that Charlie was a favourite.

With his insatiable desire to acquire information of every kind, he had
naturally, when at home, learned a little rough-and-tumble surgery, with
a slight smattering of medicine.  It was not much, but it proved to be
useful as far as it went, and his "little knowledge" was not
"dangerous," because he modestly refused to go a single step beyond it
in the way of practice, unless, indeed, he was urgently pressed to do so
by his patients.  In virtue of his attainments, real and supposed, he
came to be recognised as the doctor of the ship, for the _Walrus_
carried no medical man.

"Look here, Brooke," said the only passenger on board--a youth of
somewhat delicate constitution, who was making the voyage for the sake
of his health,--"I've got horrible toothache.  D'you think you can do
anything for me?"

"Let's have a look at it," said Charlie, with kindly interest, though he
felt half inclined to smile at the intensely lugubrious expression of
the youth's face.

"Why, Raywood, that is indeed a bad tooth; nothing that I know of will
improve it.  There's a cavern in it big and black enough to call to
remembrance the Black Hole of Calcutta!  A red-hot wire might destroy
the nerve, but I never saw one used, and should not like to try it."

"Horrible!" exclaimed Raywood.  "I've been mad with pain all the
morning, and can't afford to be driven madder.  Perhaps, somewhere or
other in the ship there may be a--a--thingumy."

"A whatumy?" inquired the other.

"A key, or--or--pincers," groaned Raywood, "for extracting--oh! man,
couldn't you pull it out?"

"Easily," said Charlie, with a smile.  "I've got a pair of forceps--
always carry them in case of need, but never use them unless the patient
is very bad, and _must_ have it out."

Poor Raywood protested, with another groan, that his was a case in
point, and it _must_ come out; so Charlie sought for and found his
forceps.

"It won't take long, I suppose?" said the patient rather nervously, as
he opened his mouth.

"Oh no.  Only a moment or--"

A fearful yell, followed by a gasp, announced to the whole ship's
company that a crisis of some sort had been passed by some one, and the
expert though amateur dentist congratulated his patient on his
deliverance from the enemy.

Only three of the ship's company, however, had witnessed the operation.
One was Dick Darvall, the seaman who chanced to be steering at the time,
and who could see through the open skylight what was being enacted in
the cabin.  Another was the captain, who stood beside him.  The third
was the cabin-boy, Will Ward, who chanced to be cleaning some brasses
about the skylight at the time, and was transfixed by what we may style
delightfully horrible sensations.  These three watched the proceedings
with profound interest, some sympathy, and not a little amusement.

"Mind your helm, Darvall," said the Captain, stifling a laugh as the
yell referred to burst on his ears.

"Ay, ay, sir," responded the seaman, bringing his mind back to his duty,
as he bestowed a wink on the brass-polishing cabin-boy.

"He's up to everything," said Darvall in a low voice, referring to our
hero.

"From pitch-and-toss to manslaughter," responded the boy, with a broad
grin.

"I do believe, Mr Brooke, that you can turn your hand to anything,"
said Captain Stride, as Charlie came on deck a few minutes later.  "Did
you ever study doctoring or surgery?"

"Not regularly," answered Charlie; "but occasionally I've had the chance
of visiting hospitals and dissecting-rooms, besides hearing lectures on
anatomy, and I have taken advantage of my opportunities.  Besides, I'm
fond of mechanics; and tooth-drawing is somewhat mechanical.  Of course
I make no pretension to a knowledge of regular dentistry, which
involves, I believe, a scientific and prolonged education."

"May be so, Mr Brooke," returned the captain, "but your knowledge seems
deep and extensive enough to me, for, except in the matter o'
navigation, I haven't myself had much schoolin', but I do like to see a
fellow that can use his hands.  As I said to my missus, not two days
before I left 'er: `Maggie,' says I, `a man that can't turn his hands to
anything ain't worth his salt.  For why?  He's useless at sea, an', by
consequence, can't be of much value on land.'"

"Your reasoning is unanswerable," returned Charlie, with a laugh.

"Not so sure o' that," rejoined the captain, with a modestly dubious
shake of his head; "leastwise, however unanswerable it may be, my missus
always manages to answer it--somehow."

At that moment one of the sailors came aft to relieve the
man-at-the-wheel.

Dick Darvall was a grave, tall, dark, and handsome man of about
five-and-twenty, with a huge black beard, as fine a seaman as one could
wish to see standing at a ship's helm, but he limped when he left his
post and went forward.

"How's the leg to-day, Darvall!" asked young Brooke, as the man passed.

"Better, sir, thankee."

"That's well.  I'll change the dressing in half-an-hour.  Don't disturb
it till I come."

"Thankee, sir, I won't."

"Now then, Raywood," said Charlie, descending to the cabin, where his
patient was already busy reading Maury's _Physical Geography of the
Sea_, "let's have a look at the gum."

"Oh, it's all right," said Raywood.  "D'you know, I think one of the
uses of severe pain is to make one inexpressibly thankful for the mere
absence of it.  Of course there is a little sensation of pain left,
which might make me growl at other times, but that positively feels
comfortable now by contrast!"

"There is profound sagacity in your observations," returned Charlie, as
he gave the gum a squeeze that for a moment or two removed the comfort;
"there, now, don't suck it, else you'll renew the bleeding.  Keep your
mouth shut."

With this caution the amateur dentist left the cabin, and proceeded to
the fore-part of the vessel.  In passing the steward's pantry a youthful
voice arrested him.

"Oh, please, sir," said Will Ward, the cabin-boy, advancing with a slate
in his hand, "I _can't_ make out the sum you set me yesterday, an' I'm
quite sure I've tried and tried as hard as ever I could to understand
it."

"Let me see," said his friend, taking the slate and sitting down on a
locker.  "Have you read over the rule carefully?"

"Yes, sir, I have, a dozen times at least, but it won't come right,"
answered the boy, with wrinkles enough on his young brow to indicate the
very depths of puzzlement.

"Fetch the book, Will, and let's examine it."

The book was brought, and at his teacher's request the boy read:--

"Add the interest to the principal, and then multiply by--"

"Multiply?" said Charlie, interrupting.  "Look!"

He pointed to the sum on the slate, and repeated "multiply."

"Oh!" exclaimed the cabin-boy, with a gasp of relief and wide-open eyes,
"I've _divided_!"

"That's so, Will, and there's a considerable difference between division
and multiplication, as you'll find all through life," remarked the
teacher, with a peculiar lift of his eyebrows, as he handed back the
slate and went on his way.

More than once in his progress "for'ard" he was arrested by men who
wished hint to give advice, or clear up difficulties in reference to
subjects which his encouragement or example had induced them to take up,
and to these claims on his attention or assistance he accorded such a
ready and cheerful response that his pupils felt it to be a positive
pleasure to appeal to him, though they each professed to regret giving
him "trouble."  The boatswain, who was an amiable though gruff man in
his way, expressed pretty well the feelings of the ship's company
towards our hero when he said: "I tell you, mates, I'd sooner be rubbed
up the wrong way, an' kicked down the fore hatch by Mr Brooke, than I'd
be smoothed or buttered by anybody else."

At last the fo'c'sl was reached, and there our surgeon found his
patient, Dick Darvall, awaiting him.  The stout seaman's leg had been
severely bruised by a block which had fallen from aloft and struck it
during one of the recent gales.

"A good deal better to-day," said Charlie.  "Does it pain you much?"

"Not nearly as much as it did yesterday, sir.  It's my opinion that I'll
be all right in a day or two.  Seems to me outrageous to make so much
ado about it."

"If we didn't take care of it, my man, it might cost you your limb, and
we can't afford to bury such a well-made member before its time!  You
must give it perfect rest for a day or two.  I'll speak to the captain
about it."

"I'd rather you didn't, sir," objected the seaman.  "I feel able enough
to go about, and my mates'll think I'm shirkin' dooty."

"There's not a man a-board as'll think that o' Dick Darvall," growled
the boatswain, who had just entered and heard the last remark.

"Right, bo's'n," said Brooke, "you have well expressed the thought that
came into my own head."

"Have ye seen Samson yet, sir?" asked the boatswain, with an unusually
grave look.

"No; I was just going to inquire about him.  No worse, I hope?"

"I think he is, sir.  Seems to me that he ain't long for this world.
The life's bin too much for him: he never was cut out for a sailor, an'
he takes things so much to heart that I do believe worry is doin' more
than work to drive him on the rocks."

"I'll go and see him at once," said our hero.

Fred Samson, the sick man referred to, had been put into a swing-cot in
a berth amidships to give him as much rest as possible.  To all
appearance he was slowly dying of consumption.  When Brooke entered he
was leaning on one elbow, gazing wistfully through the port-hole close
to his head.  His countenance, on which the stamp of death was evidently
imprinted, was unusually refined for one in his station in life.

"I'm glad you have come, Mr Brooke," he said slowly, as his visitor
advanced and took his thin hand.

"My poor fellow," said Charlie, in a tone of low but tender sympathy, "I
wish with all my heart I could do you any good."

"The sight of your kind face does me good," returned the sailor, with a
pause for breath between almost every other word.  "I don't want you to
doctor me any more.  I feel that I'm past that, but I want to give you a
message and a packet for my mother.  Of course you will be in London
when you return to England.  Will you find her out and deliver the
packet?  It contains only the Testament she gave me at parting and a
letter."

"My dear fellow--you may depend on me," replied Brooke earnestly.
"Where does she live?"

"In Whitechapel.  The full address is on the packet.  The letter
enclosed tells all that I have to say."

"But you spoke of a message," said Brooke, seeing that he paused and
shut his eyes.

"Yes, yes," returned the dying man eagerly, "I forgot.  Give her my dear
love, and say that my last thoughts were of herself and God.  She always
feared that I was trusting too much in myself--in my own good
resolutions and reformation; so I have been--but that's past.  Tell her
that God in His mercy has snapped that broken reed altogether, and
enabled me to rest my soul on Jesus."

As the dying man was much exhausted by his efforts to speak, his visitor
refrained from asking more questions.  He merely whispered a comforting
text of Scripture and left him apparently sinking into a state of
repose.

Then, having bandaged the finger of a man who had carelessly cut himself
while using his knife aloft, Charlie returned to the cabin to continue
an interrupted discussion with the first mate on the subject of
astronomy.

From all which it will be seen that our hero's tendencies inclined him
to be as much as possible "all things to all men."



CHAPTER SIX.

DISASTER, STARVATION, AND DEATH.

The least observant of mortals must have frequently been impressed with
the fact that events and incidents of an apparently trifling description
often lead to momentous--sometimes tremendous--results.

Soon after the occurrence of the incidents referred to in the last
chapter, a colony of busy workers in the Pacific Ocean were drawing
towards the completion of a building on which they had been engaged for
a long time.  Like some lighthouses this building had its foundations on
a rock at the bottom of the sea.  Steadily, perseveringly, and with
little cessation, the workers had toiled for years.  They were small
insignificant creatures, each being bent on simply performing the little
bit of work which he, she, or it had been created to do probably without
knowing or caring what the result might be, and then ending his, her, or
its modest labours with life.  It was when this marine building had
risen to within eight or ten feet of the surface of the sea that the
_Walrus_ chanced to draw near to it, but no one on board was aware of
the existence of that coral-reef, for up to the period we write of it
had failed to attract the attention of chart-makers.

The vessel was bowling along at a moderate rate over a calm sea, for the
light breeze overhead that failed to ruffle the water filled her
topsails.  Had the wind been stormy a line of breakers would have
indicated the dangerous reef.  As it was there was nothing to tell that
the good ship was rushing on her doom till she struck with a violent
shock and remained fast.

Of course Captain Stride was equal to the emergency.  By the quiet
decision with which he went about and gave his orders he calmed the
fears of such of his crew as were apt to "lose their heads" in the midst
of sudden catastrophe.

"Lower away the boats, lads.  We'll get her off right a way," he said,
in a quick but quiet tone.

Charlie Brooke, being a strong believer in strict discipline, at once
ran to obey the order, accompanied by the most active among the men,
while others ran to slack off the sheets and lower the topsails.

In a few minutes nearly all the men were in the boats, with hawsers
fixed to the stern of the vessel, doing their uttermost to pull her off.

Charlie had been ordered to remain on deck when the crew took to the
boats.

"Come here, Mr Brooke, I want you," said the Captain, leading his young
friend to the taffrail.  "It's pretty clear to me that the poor old
_Walrus_ is done for--"

"I sincerely hope not sir," said Charlie, with anxious looks.

"A short time will settle the question," returned the Captain, with
unwonted gravity.  "If she don't move in a few minutes, I'll try what
heaving out some o' the cargo will do.  As supercargo, you know where
it's all stowed, so, if you'll pint out to me which is the least
valooable, an' at the same time heaviest part of it, I'll send the mate
and four men to git it on deck.  But to tell you the truth even if we do
git her off I don't think she'll float.  She's an oldish craft, not fit
to have her bottom rasped on coral rocks.  But we'll soon see."

Charlie could not help observing that there was something peculiarly sad
in the tone of the old man's voice.  Whether it was that the poor
captain knew the case to be utterly hopeless, or that he was overwhelmed
by this calamity coming upon him so soon after the wreck of his last
ship, Charlie could not tell, but he had no time to think, for after he
had pointed out to the mate the bales that could be most easily spared
he was again summoned aft.

"She don't move," said the captain, gloomily.  "We must git the boats
ready, for if it comes on to blow only a little harder we'll have to
take to 'em.  So do you and the stooard putt your heads together an' git
up as much provisions as you think the boats will safely carry.  Only
necessaries, of course, an' take plenty o' water.  I'll see to it that
charts, compasses, canvas, and other odds and ends are ready."

Again young Brooke went off, without saying a word, to carry out his
instructions.  Meanwhile one of the boats was recalled, and her crew set
to lighten the ship by heaving part of the cargo overboard.  Still the
_Walrus_ remained immovable on the reef, for the force with which she
struck had sent her high upon it.

"If we have to take to the boats, sir," said Charlie, when he was
disengaged, "it may be well to put some medicines on board, for poor
Samson will--"

"Ay, ay, do so, lad," said the captain, interrupting; "I've been
thinkin' o' that, an' you may as well rig up some sort o' couch for the
poor fellow in the long-boat, for I mean to take him along wi' myself."

"Are you so sure, then, that there is no chance of our getting her off?"

"Quite sure.  Look there."  He pointed, as he spoke, to the horizon to
windward, where a line of cloud rested on the sea.  "That'll not be long
o' comin' here.  It won't blow very hard, but it'll be hard enough to
smash the old _Walrus_ to bits.  If you've got any valooables aboard
that you'd rather not lose, you'd better stuff 'em in your pockets now.
When things come to the wust mind your helm, an' look out as I used to
say to my missus--"

He stopped abruptly and turned away.  Evidently the thought of the
"missus" was too much for him just then.

Charlie Brooke hurried off to visit the sick man, and prepare him for
the sad change in his position that had now become unavoidable.  But
another visitor had been to see the invalid before him.  Entering the
berth softly, and with a quiet look, so as not to agitate the patient
needlessly, he found to his regret, though not surprise, that poor Fred
Samson was dead.  There was a smile on the pale face, which was turned
towards the port window, as if the dying man had been taking a last look
of the sea and sky when Death laid a hand gently on his brow and
smoothed away the wrinkles of suffering and care.  A letter from his
mother, held tightly in one hand and pressed upon his breast told
eloquently what was the subject of his last thoughts.

Charlie cut a lock of hair from the sailor's brow with his clasp-knife,
and, taking the letter gently from the dead hand, wrapped it therein.

"There's no time to bury him now.  His berth must be the poor fellow's
coffin," said Captain Stride, when the death was reported to him.  "The
swell o' the coming squall has reached us already.  Look alive wi' the
boats, men!"

By that time the rising swell was in truth lifting the vessel every few
seconds and letting her down with a soft thud on the coral reef.  It
soon became evident to every one on board that the _Walrus_ had not many
hours to live--perhaps not many minutes--for the squall to which the
Captain had referred was rapidly bearing down, and each successive thud
became more violent than the previous one.  Knowing their danger full
well, the men worked with a will and in a few minutes three boats, well
provisioned, were floating on the sea.

The need for haste soon became apparent, for the depth of water
alongside was so insufficient that the long-boat--drawing as she did
considerably more water than the others--touched twice when the swells
let her drop into their hollows.

It was arranged that Charlie should go in the long-boat with the
captain, Raywood the passenger, and ten men of the crew.  The remainder
were to be divided between the other two boats which were to be in
charge of the first and second officers respectively.

"Jump in, Brooke," cried the Captain, as he sat in the stern-sheets
looking up at our hero, who was busily engaged assisting the first mate
to complete the arrangements of his boat, "we've struck twice already.
I must shove off.  Is Raywood ready?"

"He's in the cabin looking for something, sir; I'll run and fetch him."

"Stay!  We've touched again!" shouted the Captain.  "You an' Raywood can
come off with one o' the other boats.  I'll take you on board when in
deep water--shove off, lads."

"Jump in with me, sir," said the first mate, as he hastily descended the
side.

"Come along, Raywood," shouted Charlie, as he followed.  "No time to
lose!"

The passenger rushed on deck, scrambled down the side, and took his seat
beside Charlie, just as the long threatened squall burst upon them.

The painter was cut, and they drifted into deep water with the second
mate's boat, which had already cast off.

Fortunate was it for the whole crew that Captain Stride had provided for
every emergency, and that, among other safeguards, he had put several
tarpaulins into each boat, for with these they were enabled to form a
covering which turned off the waves and prevented their being swamped.
The squall turned out to be a very severe one, and in the midst of it
the three boats were so far separated that the prospect of their being
able to draw together again until evening was very remote.  Indeed the
waves soon ran so high that it required the utmost attention of each
steersman to keep his craft afloat, and when at last the light began to
fade the boats were almost out of sight of each other.

"No chance, I fear, of our ever meeting again," remarked the mate, as he
cast a wistful look at the southern horizon where the sail of the
long-boat could be barely seen like the wing of a sea-gull.  "Your lot
has been cast with us, Mr Brooke, so you'll have to make the best of
it."

"I always try to make the best of things," replied Charlie.  "My chief
regret at present is that Raywood and I, being two extra hands, will
help to consume your provisions too fast."

"Luckily my appetite is a poor one," said Raywood, with a faint smile;
"and it's not likely to improve in the circumstances."

"I'm not so sure o' that sir," returned the mate, with an air that was
meant to be reassuring; "fresh air and exposure have effected wonders
before now in the matter of health--so they say.  Another pull on the
halyards, Dick; that looks like a fresh squall.  Mind your sheets, Will
Ward."

A prompt "Ay, ay, sir" from Dick Darvall and the cabin-boy showed that
each was alive to the importance of the duty required of him, while the
other men--of whom there were six--busied themselves in making the
tarpaulin coverings more secure, or in baling out the water which, in
spite of them, had found its way into the boat.

Charlie rose and seated himself on the thwart beside the fine-looking
seaman Dick Darvall, so as to have a clearer view ahead under the sail.

"Long-boat nowhere to be seen now," he murmured half to himself after a
long look.

"No, sir--nor the other boat either," said Darvall in a quiet voice.
"We shall never see 'em no more."

"I hope you are wrong," returned Charlie; "indeed I feel sure that the
weather will clear during the night, and that we shall find both boats
becalmed not far off."

"Maybe so, sir," rejoined the sailor, in the tone of one willing to be,
but not yet, convinced.

Our hero was right as to the first, but not as to the second, point.
The weather did clear during the night, but when the sun arose next
morning on a comparatively calm sea neither of the other boats was to be
seen.  In fact every object that could arrest the eye had vanished from
the scene, leaving only a great circular shield of blue, of which their
tiny craft formed the centre.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

ADRIFT ON THE SEA.

"You are ill, Will Ward," was Dick Darvall's first remark when there was
sufficient daylight to distinguish faces.

"You're another!" was the cabin-boy's quick, facetious retort, which
caused Darvall to smile and had the effect of rousing the half-sleeping
crew.

"But you _are_ ill, my boy," repeated the seaman earnestly.

"No, Dick, not exactly ill," returned Will, with a faint smile, "but I'm
queer."

Each man had spent that stormy night on the particular thwart on which
he had chanced to sit down when he first entered the boat, so that all
were looking more or less weary, but seamen are used to uncomfortable
and interrupted slumbers.  They soon roused themselves and began to look
about and make a few comments on the weather.  Some, recurring naturally
to their beloved indulgence, pulled out their pipes and filled them.

"Have 'ee a light, Jim?" asked a rugged man, in a sleepy tone, of a
comrade behind him.

"No, Jack, I haven't" answered Jim, in a less sleepy tone, slapping all
his pockets and thrusting his hands into them.

"Have _you_, Dick?" asked the rugged man in some anxiety.

"No, I haven't," replied Darvall, in a very serious voice, as he also
took to slapping his pockets; "no--nor baccy!"

It was curious to note at this point how every seaman in that boat
became suddenly sympathetic and wide awake, and took to hasty, anxious
examination of all his pockets--vest jacket, and trousers.  The result
was the discovery of a good many clay pipes, more or less blackened and
shortened, with a few plugs of tobacco, but not a single match, either
fusee or congreve.  The men looked at each other with something akin to
despair.

"Was no matches putt on board wi' the grub an' other things?" asked Jim
in a solemn tone.

"And no tobacco?" inquired the mate.

No one could answer in the affirmative.  A general sigh--like a
miniature squall--burst from the sailors, and relieved them a little.
Jim put his pipe between his lips, and meekly began, if we may say so,
to smoke his tobacco dry.  At an order from the mate the men got out the
oars and began to pull, for there was barely enough wind to fill the
sail.

"No rest for us, lads, 'cept when it blows," said the mate.  "The
nearest land that I know of is five hundred miles off as the crow flies.
We've got a compass by good luck, so we can make for it, but the grub
on board won't hold out for quarter o' that distance, so, unless we fall
in with a ship, or fish jump aboard of us, ye know what's before us."

"Have we any spirits aboard?" asked the rugged man, in a growling,
somewhat sulky, voice.

"Hear--hear!" exclaimed Jim.

"No, Jack," returned the mate; "at least not for the purpose o' lettin'
you have a short life an' a merry one.  Now, look here, men: it has
pleased Providence to putt you an' me in something of a fix, and I
shouldn't wonder if we was to have some stiffish experiences before we
see the end of it.  It has also pleased Providence to putt me here in
command.  You know I'm not given to boastin', but there are times when
it is advisable to have plain speakin'.  There _is_ a small supply of
spirits aboard, and I just want to tell 'ee--merely as a piece of useful
information, and to prevent any chance o' future trouble--that as I've
got charge o' them spirits I mean to _keep_ charge of 'em."

The mate spoke in a low, soft voice, without the slightest appearance of
threat or determination in his manner, but as he concluded he unbuttoned
his pilot-cloth coat and pointed to the butt of a revolver which
protruded from one of his vest pockets.

The men made no reply, but instinctively glanced at the two biggest and
strongest men in the boat.  These were Charlie Brooke and Dick Darvall.
Obviously, before committing themselves further, they wished, if
possible, to read in the faces of these two what they thought of the
mate's speech.  They failed to read much, if anything at all, for
Charlie's eyes were fixed in dreamy expressionless abstraction on the
horizon, and Dick was gazing up into the clouds, with a look of intense
benignity--suggesting that he was holding pleasant intercourse with any
celestial creatures who might be resident there.

Without a word the whole crew bent to their oars, and resigned
themselves to the inevitable.  Perhaps if each man had expressed his
true feelings at that moment he would have said that he was glad to know
there was a firm hand at the helm.  For there are few things more
uncomfortable in any community, large or small, than the absence of
discipline, or the presence of a weak will in a position of power.

"But I say, Will," remarked Darvall, who pulled the stroke-oar, "you
really do look ill.  Is anything the matter with 'ee?"

"Nothin', Dick; 'cept that I'm tired," answered the cabin-boy.

"Breakfast will put that right" said our hero in an encouraging tone.
"Let's feel your pulse.  Hm.  Well, might be slower.  Come, Captain," he
added, giving the mate his new title as he turned to him, "will you
allow me to prescribe breakfast for this patient?"

"Certainly, Doctor," returned the mate cheerily.  "Come, lads, we'll all
have breakfast together."

In a few minutes the biscuit and salt junk barrels were opened, and the
mate measured out an exactly equal proportion of food to each man.
Then, following the example of a celebrated commander, and in order to
prevent dissatisfaction on the part of any with his portion, he caused
one of the men to turn his back on the food, and, pointing to one of the
portions said, "Who shall have this?"

"The Doctor, sir," returned the man promptly.

The portion was immediately handed to Charlie Brooke amid a general
laugh.

Thus every portion was disposed of, and the men sat down to eat in good
humour, in spite of the too evident fact that they had been at once
placed on short allowance, for, when each had finished, he assuredly
wished for more, though no one ventured to give expression to the wish.

The only exception was the little cabin-boy, who made a brave attempt to
eat, but utterly failed at the second mouthful.

"Come, Will," said Charlie in a kindly tone, pretending to misunderstand
the state of matters, "don't try to deceive yourself by prolonging your
breakfast.  That won't make more of it.  See, here, I'm not up to eating
much to-day, somehow, so I'll be greatly obliged if you will dispose of
half of mine as well as your own.  Next time I am hungry, and you are
not, I'll expect you to do the same."

But Will Ward could not be thus induced to eat.  He was really ill, and
before night was in a high fever.  You may be sure that Dr Brooke, as
every one now called him, did his best to help the little sufferer, but,
of course, he could do very little, for all the medicines which he had
prepared had been put into the long-boat, and, in a small open boat with
no comforts, no medicines, and on short allowance of food, little could
be done, except to give the boy a space of the floor on which to lie, to
shield him from spray, and to cover him with blankets.

For a week the boat was carried over the sea by a fresh, steady breeze,
during which time the sun shone out frequently, so that things seemed
not so wretched as one might suppose to the shipwrecked mariners.  Of
course the poor cabin-boy was an exception.  Although his feverish
attack was a slight one he felt very weak and miserable after it.  His
appetite began to return, however, and it was evident that the short
daily allowance would be insufficient for him.  When this point was
reached Dick Darvall one day, when rations were being served out,
ventured to deliver an opinion.

"Captain and mates all," he said, while a sort of bashful smile played
upon his sunburnt features, "it do seem to me that we should agree, each
man, to give up a share of our rations to little Will Ward, so that he
may be able to feed up a bit an' git the better o' this here sickness.
We won't feel the want of such a little crumb each, an' he'll be ever so
much the better for it."

"Agreed," chorused the men, apparently without exception.

"All right, lads," said the mate, while a rare smile lighted up for a
moment his usually stern countenance; "when the need for such
self-denial comes I'll call on ye to exercise it, but it ain't called
for yet, because I've been lookin' after the interests o' Will Ward
while he's been ill.  Justice, you see, stands first o' the virtues in
my mind, an' it's my opinion that it wouldn't be justice, but something
very much the reverse, if we were to rob the poor boy of his victuals
just because he couldn't eat them."

"Right you are, sir," interposed Dick Darvall.

"Well, then, holdin' these views," continued the mate, "I have put aside
Will Ward's share every time the rations were served, so here's what
belongs to him--in this keg for the meat, and this bag for the biscuit--
ready for him to fall-to whenever his twist is strong enough."

There were marks of hearty approval, mingled with laughter, among the
men on hearing this, but they stopped abruptly and listened for more on
observing a perplexed look on their leader's face.

"But there's something that puzzles me about it, lads," resumed the
mate, "and it is this, that the grub has somehow accumulated faster than
I can account for, considering the smallness o' the addition to the lot
each time."

On hearing this the men were a little surprised, but Charlie Brooke
burst into a short laugh.

"What!" he exclaimed, "you don't mean to say that the victuals have
taken root and begun to grow, do you?"

"I don't mean to _say_ anything," returned the mate quietly; "but I'm
inclined to _think_ a good deal if you've no objection, Doctor."

"How d'ee feel now, Will?" said Charlie, stooping forward at the moment,
for he observed that the boy--whose bed was on the floor at his feet--
had moved, and was gazing up at him with eyes that seemed to have grown
enormously since their owner fell sick.

"I feel queer--and--and--I'm inclined to _think_, too," returned Will in
a faint voice.

Nothing more was said at that time, for a sudden shift in the wind
necessitated a shift of the sail, but Dick Darvall nodded his head
significantly, and it came to be understood that "Doctor" Brooke had
regularly robbed himself of part of his meagre allowance in order to
increase the store of the cabin-boy.  Whether they were right in this
conjecture has never been distinctly ascertained.  But all attempts to
benefit the boy were soon after frustrated, for, while life was little
more than trembling in the balance with Will Ward, a gale burst upon
them which sealed his fate.

It was not the rougher motion of the boat that did it, for the boy was
used to that; nor the flashing of the salt spray inboard, for his
comrades guarded him to some extent from that.  During the alarm caused
by a wave which nearly swamped the boat two of the crew in their panic
seized the first things that came to hand and flung them overboard to
prevent their sinking, while the rest baled with cans and sou'-westers
for their lives.  The portion of lading thus sacrificed turned out to be
the staff of life--the casks of biscuit and pork!

It was a terrible shock to these unfortunates when the full extent of
the calamity was understood, and the firmness of the mate, with a sight
of the revolvers alone prevented summary vengeance being executed on the
wretched men who had acted so hastily in their blind terror.

Only a small keg of biscuit remained to them.  This was soon expended,
and then the process of absolute starvation began.  Every nook and
cranny of the boat was searched again and again in the hope of something
eatable being found, but only a small pot of lard--intended probably to
grease the tackling--was discovered.  With a dreadful expression in
their eyes some of the men glared at it, and there would, no doubt, have
been a deadly struggle for it if the mate had not said, "Fetch it here,"
in a voice which none dared to disobey.

It formed but a mouthful to each, yet the poor fellows devoured it with
the greed of ravening wolves, and carefully licked their fingers when it
was done.  The little cabin-boy had three portions allotted to him,
because Charlie Brooke and Dick Darvall added their allowance to his
without allowing him to be aware of the fact.

But the extra allowance and kindness, although they added greatly to his
comfort, could not stay the hand of Death.  Slowly but surely the
Destroyer came and claimed the young life.  It was a sweet, calm evening
when the summons came.  The sea was like glass, with only that long,
gentle swell which tells even in the profoundest calm of Ocean's
instability.  The sky was intensely blue, save on the western horizon,
where the sun turned it into gold.  It seemed as if all Nature were
quietly indifferent to the sufferings of the shipwrecked men, some of
whom had reached that terrible condition of starvation when all the
softer feelings of humanity seem dead, for, although no whisper of their
intention passed their lips, their looks told all too plainly that they
awaited the death of the cabin-boy with impatience, that they might
appease the intolerable pangs of hunger by resorting to cannibalism.

Charlie Brooke, who had been comforting the dying lad all day, and
whispering to him words of consolation from God's book from time to
time, knew well what those looks meant.  So did the mate, who sat grim,
gaunt and silent at his post, taking no notice apparently of what went
on around him.  Fortunately the poor boy was too far gone to observe the
looks of his mates.

There was a can of paraffin oil, which had been thrown into the boat
under the impression that it was something else.  This had been avoided
hitherto by the starving men, who deemed it to be poisonous.  That
evening the man called Jim lost control of himself, seized the can, and
took a long draught of the oil.  Whether it was the effect of that we
cannot tell, but it seemed to drive him mad, for no sooner had he
swallowed it than he uttered a wild shout, drew his knife, sprang up and
leaped towards the place where the cabin-boy lay.

The mate, who had foreseen something of the kind, drew and levelled his
revolver, but before he could fire Charlie had caught the uplifted arm,
wrested the knife from the man, and thrust him violently back.  Thus
foiled Jim sprang up again and with a maniac's yell leaped into the sea,
and swam resolutely away.

Even in their dire extremity the sailors could not see a comrade perish
with indifference.  They jumped up, hastily got out the oars, and pulled
after him, but their arms were very weak; before they could overtake him
the man had sunk to rise no more.

It was while this scene was being enacted that the spirit of the
cabin-boy passed away.  On ascertaining that he was dead Charlie covered
him with a tarpaulin where he lay, but no word was uttered by any one,
and the mate, with revolver still in hand, sat there--grim and silent--
holding the tiller as if steering, and gazing sternly on the horizon.
Yet it was not difficult to divine the thoughts of those unhappy and
sorely tried men.  Some by their savage glare at the cover that
concealed the dead body showed plainly their dreadful desires.  Brooke,
Darvall, and the mate showed as clearly by their compressed lips and
stern brows that they would resist any attempt to gratify these.

Suddenly the mate's brow cleared, and his eyes opened wide as he
muttered, under his breath, "A sail!"

"A sail! a sail!" shrieked the man in the bow at the same moment, as he
leaped up and tried to cheer, but he only gasped and fell back in a
swoon into a comrade's arms.

It was indeed a sail, which soon grew larger, and ere long a ship was
descried bearing straight towards them before a very light breeze.  In
less than an hour the castaways stood upon her deck--saved.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

INGRATITUDE.

A year or more passed away, and then there came a cablegram from New
York to Jacob Crossley, Esquire, from Captain Stride.  The old gentleman
was at breakfast when he received it, and his housekeeper, Mrs Bland,
was in the act of setting before him a dish of buttered toast when he
opened the envelope.  At the first glance he started up, overturned his
cup of coffee, without paying the least attention to the fact, and
exclaimed with emphasis--"As I expected.  It is lost!"

"'Ow could you expect it, sir, to be anythink else, w'en you've sent it
all over the table-cloth?" said Mrs Bland, in some surprise.

"It is not that, Mrs Bland," said Mr Crossley, in a hurried manner;
"it is my ship the _Walrus_.  Of course I knew long ago that it must
have been lost," continued the old gentleman, speaking his thoughts more
to himself than to the housekeeper, who was carefully spooning up the
spilt coffee, "but the best of it is that the Captain has escaped."

"Well, I'm sure, sir," said Mrs Bland, condescending to be interested,
and to ignore, if not to forget, the coffee, "I'm very glad to 'ear it,
sir, for Captain Stride is a pleasant cheery sort of man, and would be
agreeable company if 'e didn't use so much sea-langwidge, and speak so
much of 'is missis.  An' I'm glad to 'ear it too, sir, on account o'
that fine young man that sailed with 'im--Mr Book, I think, was--"

"No, Mrs Bland, it was Brooke; but that's the worst of the business,"
said the old gentleman; "I'm not quite sure whether young Brooke _is_
among the saved.  Here is what the telegram says:--

"`From Captain Stride to Jacob Crossley.  Just arrived, (that's in New
York, Mrs Bland); _Walrus_ lost.  All hands left her in three boats.

"`Our boat made uninhabited island, and knocked to pieces.  Eight months
on the island.  Rescued by American barque.  Fate of other boats
unknown.  Will be home within a couple of weeks.'"

"Why, it sounds like _Robinson Crusoe_, sir, don't it? which I read when
I was quite a gurl, but I don't believe it myself though they do say
it's all true.  Young Mr Leather will be glad to 'ear the good noos of
'is friend--"

"But this is _not_ good news of his friend; it is only uncertain news,"
interrupted the old gentleman quickly.  "Now I think of it, Mrs Bland,
Mr Leather is to call here by appointment this very morning, so you
must be particularly careful not to say a word to him about this
telegram, or Captain Stride, or anything I have told you about the lost
ship--you understand, Mrs Bland?"

"Certainly, sir," said the housekeeper, somewhat hurt by the doubt thus
implied as to the capacity of her understanding.  "Shall I bring you
some more toast, sir?" she added, with the virtuous feeling that by this
question she was returning good for evil.

"No, thank you.  Now, Mrs Bland, don't forget.  Not a word about this
to any one."

"'Ooks an' red-'ot pincers wouldn't draw a syllable out of _me_, sir,"
returned the good woman, departing with an offended air, and leaving her
master to understand that, in her opinion, such instruments might have a
very different effect upon _him_.

"Ass that I was to speak of it to her at all," muttered Mr Crossley,
walking up and down the room with spectacles on forehead, and with both
hands in his trousers-pockets creating disturbance among the keys and
coppers.  "I might have known that she could not hold her tongue.  It
would never do to let Mrs Brooke remain on the tenter-hooks till Stride
comes home to clear the matter up.  Poor Mrs Brooke!  No wonder she is
almost broken down.  This hoping against hope is so wearing.  And she's
so lonely.  To be sure, sweet May Leather runs out and in like a beam of
sunshine; but it must be hard, very hard, to lose an only son in this
way.  It would be almost better to know that he was dead.  H'm! and
there's that good-for-nothing Shank.  The rascal! and yet he's not
absolutely good for nothing--if he would only give up drink.  Well,
while there's life there's hope, thank God!  I'll give him another
trial."

The old man's brow was severely wrinkled while he indulged in these
mutterings, but it cleared, and a kindly look beamed on his countenance
as he gave vent to the last expression.

Just then the door bell rang.  Mr Crossley resumed the grave look that
was habitual to hint and next minute Shank Leather was ushered into the
room.

The youth was considerably changed since we last met him.  The year
which had passed had developed him into a man, and clothed his upper lip
with something visible to the naked eye.  It had also lengthened his
limbs, deepened his chest, and broadened his shoulders.  But here the
change for the better ended.  In that space of time there had come over
him a decided air of dissipation, and the freshness suitable to youth
had disappeared.

With a look that was somewhat defiant he entered the room and looked
boldly at his employer.

"Be seated, Mr Leather," said the old gentleman in a voice so soft that
the young man evidently felt abashed, but he as evidently steeled
himself against better feelings, for he replied--

"Thank you, Mr Crossley, I'd rather stand."

"As you please," returned the other, restraining himself.  "I sent for
you, Mr Leather, to tell you that I have heard with sincere regret of
your last outbreak, and--"

"Yes, sir," said Shank, rudely interrupting, "and I came here not so
much to hear what you have to say about my outbreak--as you are pleased
to style a little jollification--as to tell you that you had better
provide yourself with another clerk, for I don't intend to return to
your office.  I've got a better situation."

"Oh, indeed!" exclaimed Crossley in surprise.

"Yes, indeed," replied Shank insolently.

It was evident that the youth was, even at that moment, under the
influence of his great enemy, else his better feelings would have
prevented him from speaking so rudely to a man who had never shown him
anything but kindness.  But he was nettled by some of his bad companions
having taunted him with his slavery to his besetting sin, and had
responded to Mr Crossley's summons under the impression that he was
going to get what he styled a "wigging."  He was therefore taken
somewhat aback when the old gentleman replied to his last remark gently.

"I congratulate you, Mr Leather, on getting a _better_ situation (if it
really should turn out to be better), and I sincerely hope it may--for
your mother's sake as well as your own.  This therefore disposes of part
of my object in asking you to call--which was to say that I meant to
pass over this offence and retain you in my employment.  But it does not
supersede the necessity of my urging you earnestly to give up drink,
_not_ so much on the ground that it will surely lead you to destruction
as on the consideration that it grieves the loving Father who has
bestowed on you the very powers of enjoyment which you are now
prostituting, and who is at this moment holding out His hands to you and
_waiting_ to be gracious."

The old man stopped abruptly, and Shank stood with eyes fixed on the
floor and frowning brow.

"Have you anything more to say to me?" asked Mr Crossley.

"Nothing."

"Then good-morning.  As I can do nothing else to serve you, I will pray
for you."

Shank found himself in the street with feelings of surprise strong upon
him.

"Pray for me!" he muttered, as he walked slowly along.  "It never
occurred to me before that he prayed at all!  The old humbug has more
need to pray for himself!"



CHAPTER NINE.

SHANK REVEALS SOMETHING MORE OF HIS CHARACTER.

Taking his way to the railway station Shank Leather found himself ere
long at his mother's door.

He entered without knocking.

"Shank!" exclaimed Mrs Leather and May in the same breath.

"Ay, mother, it's me.  A bad shilling, they say, always turns up.  _I_
always turn up, therefore _I_ am a bad shilling!  Sound logic that, eh,
May?"

"I'm glad to see you, dear Shank," said careworn Mrs Leather, laying
her knitting-needles on the table; "you _know_ I'm always glad to see
you, but I'm naturally surprised, for this visit is out of your regular
time."

"Has anything happened?" asked May anxiously.  And May looked very
sweet, almost pretty, when she was anxious.  A year had refined her
features, developed her mind and body, and almost converted her into a
little woman.  Indeed, mentally, she had become more of a woman than
many girls in her neighbourhood who were much older.  This was in all
likelihood one of the good consequences of adversity.

"Ay, May, something has happened," answered the youth, flinging himself
gaily into an arm-chair and stretching out his legs towards the fire; "I
have thrown up my situation.  Struck work.  That's all."

"Shank!"

"Just so.  Don't look so horrified, mother; you've no occasion to, for I
have the offer of a better situation.  Besides--ha! ha! old Crossley--
close-fisted, crabbed, money-making, skin-flint old Crossley--is going
to pray for me.  Think o' that, mother--going to pray for me!"

"Shank, dear boy," returned his mother, "don't jest about religious
things."

"You don't call old Crossley a religious thing, do you?  Why, mother, I
thought you had more respect for him than that comes to; you ought at
least to consider his years!"

"Come, Shank," returned Mrs Leather, with a deprecating smile, "be a
good boy and tell me what you mean--and about this new situation."

"I just mean that my friend and chum and old schoolfellow Ralph Ritson--
jovial, dashing, musical, handsome Ralph--you remember him--has got me a
situation in California."

"Ralph Ritson?" repeated Mrs Leather, with a little sigh and an uneasy
glance at her daughter, whose face had flushed at the mention of the
youth's name.

"Yes," continued Shank, in a graver tone, for he had observed the flush
on May's face.  "Ralph's father, who is manager of a gold mine in
California, has asked his son to go out and assist him at a good salary,
and to take a clerk out with him--a stout vigorous fellow, well up in
figures, book-keeping, carpenting, etcetera, and ready to turn his hand
to anything, and Ralph has chosen me!  What d'ee think o' that?"

From her silence and expression it was evident that the poor lady's
thoughts were not quite what her son had hoped.

"Why don't you congratulate me, mother?" he asked, somewhat petulantly.

"Would it not be almost premature," she replied, with a forced smile,
"to congratulate you before I know anything about the salary or the
prospects held out to you?  Besides, I cannot feel as enthusiastic about
your friend Ralph as you do.  I don't doubt that he is a well-meaning
youth, but he is reckless.  If he had only been a man like your former
friend, poor Charlie Brooke, it would have been different, but--"

"Well, mother, it's of no use wishing somebody to be like somebody else.
We must just take folk as we find them, and I find Ralph Ritson a
remarkably fine, sensible fellow, who has a proper appreciation of his
friends.  And he's not a bad fellow.  He and Charlie Brooke were fond of
each other when we were all schoolboys together--at least he was fond of
Charlie, like everybody else.  But whether we like him or not does not
matter now, for the thing is fixed.  I have accepted his offer, and
thrown old Jacob overboard."

"Dear Shank, don't be angry if I am slow to appreciate this offer," said
the poor lady, laying aside her knitting and clasping her hands before
her on the table, as she looked earnestly into her son's face, "but you
must see that it has come on me very suddenly, and I'm so sorry to hear
that you have parted with good old Mr Crossley in anger--"

"We didn't part in anger," interrupted Shank.  "We were only a little
less sweet on each other than usual.  There was no absolute quarrel.
D'you think he'd have promised to pray for me if there was?"

"Have you spoken yet to your father?" asked the lady.

"How could I?  I've not seen him since the thing was settled.  Besides,
what's the use?  _He_ can do nothing for me, an' don't care a button
what I do or where I go."

"You are wrong, Shank, in thinking so.  I _know_ that he cares for you
very much indeed.  If he can do nothing for you _now_, he has at least
given you your education, without which you could not do much for
yourself."

"Well, of course I shall tell him whenever I see him," returned the
youth, somewhat softened; "and I'm aware he has a sort of sneaking
fondness for me; but I'm not going to ask his advice, because he knows
nothing about the business.  Besides, mother, I am old enough to judge
for myself, and mean to take the advice of nobody."

"You are indeed old enough to judge for yourself," said Mrs Leather,
resuming her knitting, "and I don't wish to turn you from your plans.
On the contrary, I will pray that God's blessing and protection may
accompany you wherever you go, but you should not expect me to be
instantaneously jubilant over an arrangement which will take you away
from me, for years perhaps."

This last consideration seemed to have some weight with the selfish
youth.

"Well, well, mother," he said, rising, "don't take on about that.
Travelling is not like what it used to be.  A trip over the Atlantic and
the Rocky Mountains is nothing to speak of now--a mere matter of a few
weeks--so that a fellow can take a run home at any time to say `How do'
to his people.  I'm going down now to see Smithers and tell him the
news."

"Stay, I'll go with you--a bit of the way," cried May, jumping up and
shaking back the curly brown hair which still hung in native freedom--
and girlish fashion--on her shoulders.

May had a charming and rare capacity for getting ready to go out at a
moment's notice.  She merely threw on a coquettish straw hat, which had
a knack of being always at hand, and which clung to her pretty head with
a tenacity that rendered strings or elastic superfluous.  One of her
brother's companions--we don't know which--was once heard to say with
fervour that no hat would be worth its ribbons that didn't cling
powerfully to such a head without assistance!  A shawl too, or cloak,
was always at hand, somehow, and had this not been so May would have
thrown over her shoulders an antimacassar or table-cloth rather than
cause delay,--at least we think so, though we have no absolute authority
for making the statement.

"Dear Shank," she said, clasping both hands over his arm as they walked
slowly down the path that led to the shore, "is it really all true that
you have been telling us?  Have you fixed to go off with--with Mr
Ritson to California?"

"Quite true; I never was more in earnest in my life.  By the way, sister
mine, what made you colour up so when Ralph's name was mentioned?
There, you're flushing again!  Are you in love with him?"

"No, certainly not," answered the girl, with an air and tone of decision
that made her brother laugh.

"Well, you needn't flare up so fiercely.  You might be in love with a
worse man.  But why, then, do you blush?"

May was silent, and hung down her head.

"Come, May, you've never had any secrets from me.  Surely you're not
going to begin now--on the eve of my departure to a foreign land?"

"I would rather not talk about him at all," said the girl, looking up
entreatingly.

But Shank looked down upon her sternly.  He had assumed the parental
_role_.  "May, there is something in this that you ought not to conceal.
I have a right to know it, as your brother--your protector."

Innocent though May was, she could not repress a faint smile at the idea
of a protector who had been little else than a cause of anxiety in the
past, and was now about to leave her to look after herself, probably for
years to come.  But she answered frankly, while another and a deeper
blush overspread her face--

"I did not mean to speak of it, Shank, as you knew nothing, and I had
hoped would never know anything about it, but since you insist, I must
tell you that--that Mr Ritson, I'm afraid, loves _me_ at least he--"

"Afraid! loves you!  How do you know?" interrupted Shank quickly.

"Well, he said so--the last time we met."

"The rascal!  Had he the audacity to ask you to marry him?--him--a
beggar, without a sixpence except what his father gives him?"

"No, Shank, I would not let him get the length of that.  I told him I
was too young to--to think about such matters at all, and said that he
must not speak to me again in such a way.  But I was so surprised,
flurried, and distressed, that I don't clearly remember what I said."

"And what did _he_ say?" asked Shank, forgetting the parental _role_ for
a moment, and looking at May with a humorous smile.

"Indeed I can hardly tell.  He made a great many absurd protestations,
begged me to give him no decided answer just then, and said something
about letting him write to me, but all I am quite sure of is that at
last I had the courage to utter a very decided _No_, and then ran away
and left him."

"That was too sharp, May.  Ralph is a first-rate fellow, with capital
prospects.  His father is rich and can give him a good start in life.
He may come back in a few years with a fortune--not a bad kind of
husband for a penniless lass."

"Shank!" exclaimed May, letting go her brother's arm and facing him with
flashing eyes and heightened colour, "do you really think that a fortune
would make me marry a man whom I did not love?"

"Certainly not, my dear sis," said the youth, taking May's hand and
drawing it again through his arm with an approving smile.  "I never for
a moment thought you capable of such meanness, but that is a very
different thing from slamming the door in a poor fellow's face.  You're
not in love with anybody else.  Ralph is a fine handsome young fellow.
You might grow to like him in time--and if you did, a fortune, of
course, would be no disadvantage.  Besides, he is to be my travelling
companion, and might write to you about me if I were ill, or chanced to
meet with an accident and were unable to write myself--don't you know?"

"He could in that case write to mother," said May, simply.

"So he could!" returned Shank, laughing.  "I never thought o' that, my
sharp sister."

They had reached the shore by that time.  The tide was out; the sea was
calm and the sun glinted brightly on the wavelets that sighed rather
than broke upon the sands.

For some distance they sauntered in silence by the margin of the sea.
The mind of each was busy with the same thought.  Each was aware of
that, and for some time neither seemed able to break the silence.  The
timid girl recovered her courage before the self-reliant man!

"Dear Shank," she said, pressing his arm, "you will probably be away for
years."

"Yes, May--at least for a good long time."

"Oh forgive me, brother," continued the girl, with sudden earnestness,
"but--but--you know your--your weakness--"

"Ay, May, I know it.  Call it sin if you will--and my knowledge of it
has something to do with my present determination, for, weak though I
am, and bad though you think me--"

"But I _don't_ think you _bad_, dear Shank," cried May, with tearful
eyes; "I never said so, and never thought so, and--"

"Come, come, May," interrupted the youth, with something of banter in
his manner, "you don't think me _good_, do you?"

"Well, no--not exactly," returned May, faintly smiling through her
tears.

"Well, then, if I'm not good I must be bad, you know.  There's no
half-way house in this matter."

"Is there not, Shank?  Is there not _very_ good and _very_ bad?"

"Oh, well, if you come to that there's pretty-good, and rather-bad, and
a host of other houses between these, such as goodish and baddish, but
not one of them can be a _half-way_ house."

"Oh yes, one of them _can_--_must_ be."

"Which one, you little argumentative creature?" asked Shank.

"Why, middling-good of course."

"Wrong!" cried her brother, "doesn't middling-bad stand beside it, with
quite as good a claim to be considered half-way?  However, I won't press
my victory too far.  For the sake of peace we will agree that these are
semi-detached houses in one block--and that will block the subject.
But, to be serious again," he added, stopping and looking earnestly into
his sister's face, "I wanted to speak to you on this weakness--this
sin--and I thank you for breaking the ice.  The truth is that I have
felt for a good while past that conviviality--"

"Strong drink, brother, call it by its right name," said May, gently
pressing the arm on which she leaned.

"Well--have it so.  Strong drink has been getting the better of me--mind
I don't admit it _has_ got the better of me yet--only _is getting_--and
convivial comrades have had a great deal to do with it.  Now, as you
know, I'm a man of some decision of character, and I had long ago made
up my mind to break with my companions.  Of course I could not very well
do this while--while I was--well, no matter why, but this offer just
seemed to be a sort of godsend, for it will enable me to cut myself free
at once, and the sea breezes and Rocky Mountain air and gold-hunting
will, I expect, take away the desire for strong drink altogether."

"I hope it will--indeed I am _sure_ it will if it is God's way of
leading you," said May, with an air of confidence.

"Well, I don't know whether it is God who is leading me or--"

"Did you not call it a god-send just now--"

"Oh, but that's a mere form of speech, you know.  However, I do know
that it was on this very beach where we now stand that a friend led me
for the first time to think seriously of this matter--more than a year
ago."

"Indeed--who was it?" asked May eagerly.

"My chum and old school-fellow, poor Charlie Brooke," returned Shank, in
a strangely altered voice.

Then he went on to tell of the conversation he and his friend had had on
that beach, and it was not till he had finished that he became aware
that his sister was weeping.

"Why, May, you're crying.  What's the matter?"

"God bless him!" said May in fervent yet tremulous tones as she looked
up in her brother's face.  "Can you wonder at my feeling so strongly
when you remember how kind Charlie always was to you--to all of us
indeed--ever since he was a little boy at school with you; what a
true-hearted and steady friend he has always been.  And you called him
poor Charlie just now, as if he were dead."

"True indeed, it is very, very sad, for we have great reason to fear the
worst, and I have strong doubt that I shall never see my old chum again.
But I won't give up hope, for it is no uncommon thing for men to be
lost at sea, for years even, and to turn up at last, having been cast
away on a desert island, like Robinson Crusoe, or something of that
sort."

The thoughts which seemed to minister consolation to Shank Leather did
not appear to afford much comfort to his sister, who hung her head and
made no answer, while her companion went on--

"Yes, May, and poor Charlie was the first to make me feel as if I were a
little selfish, though that as you know, is not one of my conspicuous
failings!  His straightforwardness angered me a little at first, but his
kindness made me think much of what he said, and--well, the upshot of it
all is that I am going to California."

"I am glad--so glad and thankful he has had so much influence over you,
dear Shank, and now, don't you think--that--that if Charlie were with
you at this moment he would advise you not to go to Mr Smithers to
consult about your plans?"

For a few moments the brother's face betrayed a feeling of annoyance,
but it quickly cleared away.

"You are right, May.  Smithers is too much of a convivial harum-scarum
fellow to be of much use in the way of giving sound advice.  I'll go to
see Jamieson instead.  You can have no objection to him--surely.  He's a
quiet, sober sort of man, and never tries to tempt people or lead them
into mischief--which is more than can be said of the other fellow."

"That is a very negative sort of goodness," returned May, smiling.
"However, if you must go to see some one, Jamieson is better than
Smithers; but why not come home and consult with mother and me?"

"Pooh! what can women know about such matters?  No, no, May, when a
fellow has to go into the pros and cons of Californian life it must be
with _men_."

"H'm! the men you associate with, having been at school and the desk all
their lives up till now, must be eminently fitted to advise on
Californian life!  That did not occur to me at the first blush!" said
May demurely.

"Go home, you cynical baggage, and help mother to knit," retorted Shank,
with a laugh.  "I intend to go and see Jamieson."

And he went.  And the negatively good Jamieson, who never led people
into temptation, had no objection to be led into that region himself, so
they went together to make a passing call--a mere look in--on Smithers,
who easily induced them to remain.  The result was that the unselfish
man with decision of character returned home in the early hours of
morning--"screwed."



CHAPTER TEN.

HOME-COMING AND UNEXPECTED SURPRISES.

Upwards of another year passed away, and at the end of that time a ship
might have been seen approaching one of the harbours on the eastern
seaboard of America.  Her sails were worn and patched.  Her spars were
broken and spliced.  Her rigging was ragged and slack, and the state of
her hull can be best described by the word `battered.'  Everything in
and about her bore evidence of a prolonged and hard struggle with the
elements, and though she had at last come off victorious, her
dilapidated appearance bore strong testimony to the deadly nature of the
fight.

Her crew presented similar evidence.  Not only were their garments
ragged, threadbare, and patched, but the very persons of the men seemed
to have been riven and battered by the tear and wear of the conflict.
And no wonder; for the vessel was a South Sea whaler, returning home
after a three years' cruise.

At first she had been blown far out of her course; then she was very
successful in the fishing, and then she was stranded on the reef of a
coral island in such a position that, though protected from absolute
destruction by the fury of the waves, she could not be got off for many
months.  At last the ingenuity and perseverance of one of her crew were
rewarded by success.  She was hauled once more into deep water and
finally returned home.

The man who had been thus successful in saving the ship, and probably
the lives of his mates--for it was a desolate isle, far out of the
tracks of commerce--was standing in the bow of the vessel, watching the
shore with his companions as they drew near.  He was a splendid specimen
of manhood, clad in a red shirt and canvas trousers, while a wide-awake
took the place of the usual seafaring cap.  He stood head and shoulders
above his fellows.

Just as the ship rounded the end of the pier, which formed one side of
the harbour, a small boat shot out from it.  A little boy sculled the
boat, and, apparently, had been ignorant of the ship's approach, for he
gave a shout of alarm on seeing it, and made frantic efforts to get out
of its way.  In his wild attempts to turn the boat he missed a stroke
and went backwards into the sea.

At the same moment the lookout on the ship gave the order to put the
helm hard a-starboard in a hurried shout.

Prompt obedience caused the ship to sheer off a little, and her side
just grazed the boat.  All hands on the forecastle gazed down anxiously
for the boy's reappearance.

Up he came next moment with a bubbling cry and clutching fingers.

"He can't swim!" cried one.

"Out with a lifebelt!" shouted another.

Our tall seaman bent forward as they spoke, and, just as the boy sank a
second time, he shot like an arrow into the water.

"He's all safe now," remarked a seaman quietly, and with a nod of
satisfaction, even before the rescuer had reappeared.

And he was right.  The red-shirted sailor rose a moment later with the
boy in his arms.  Chucking the urchin into the boat he swam to the
pier-head with the smooth facility and speed of an otter, climbed the
wooden piles with the ease of an athlete, walked rapidly along the pier,
and arrived at the head of the harbour almost as soon as his own ship.

"That's the tenth life he's saved since he came aboard--to say nothin'
o' savin' the ship herself," remarked the Captain to an inquirer, after
the vessel had reached her moorings.  "An' none o' the lives was as easy
to manage as that one.  Some o' them much harder."

We will follow this magnificent seaman for a time, good reader.

Having obtained permission to quit the South Sea whaler he walked
straight to the office of a steam shipping company, and secured a
fore-cabin passage to England.  He went on board dressed as he had
arrived, in the red shirt, ducks, and wide-awake--minus the salt water.
The only piece of costume which he had added to his wardrobe was a huge
double-breasted pilot-cloth coat, with buttons the size of an egg-cup.
He was so unused, however, to such heavy clothing that he flung it off
the moment he got on board the steamer, and went about thereafter in his
red flannel shirt and ducks.  Hence he came to be known by every one as
Red Shirt.

This man, with his dark-blue eyes, deeply bronzed cheeks, fair hair,
moustache, and beard, and tall herculean form, was nevertheless so soft
and gentle in his manners, so ready with his smile and help and
sympathy, that every man, woman, and child in the vessel adored him
before the third day was over.  Previous to that day, many of the
passengers, owing to internal derangements, were incapable of any
affection, except self-love, and to do them justice they had not much
even of that!

Arrived at Liverpool, Red Shirt, after seeing a poor invalid passenger
safely to his abode in that city, and assisting one or two families with
young children to find the stations, boats, or coaches that were more or
less connected with their homes, got into a third-class carriage for
London.  On reaching the metropolis he at once took a ticket for
_Sealford_.

Just as the train was on the point of starting, two elderly gentlemen
came on the platform, in that eager haste and confusion of mind
characteristic of late passengers.

"This way, Captain," cried one, hailing the other, and pointing
energetically with his brown silk umbrella to the Sealford carriages.

"No, no.  It's at the next platform," returned the Captain frantically.

"I say it is _here_," shouted the first speaker sternly.  "Come, sir,
obey orders!"

They both made for an open carriage-door.  It chanced to be a third
class.  A strong hand was held out to assist them in.

"Thank you," said the eldest elderly gentleman--he with the brown silk
umbrella--turning to Red Shirt as he sat down and panted slightly.

"I feared that we'd be late, sir," remarked the other elderly gentleman
on recovering breath.

"We are _not_ late, Captain, but we should have been late for certain,
if your obstinacy had held another half minute."

"Well, Mr Crossley, I admit that I made a mistake about the place, but
you must allow that I made no mistake about the hour.  I was sure that
my chronometer was right.  If there's one thing on earth that I can
trust to as reg'lar as the sun, it is this chronometer (pulling it out
as he spoke), and it never fails.  As I always said to my missus,
`Maggie,' I used to say, `when you find this chronometer fail--' `Oh!
bother you an' your chronometer,' she would reply, takin' the wind out
o' my sails--for my missus has a free-an'-easy way o' doin' that--"

"You've just come off a voyage, young sir, if I mistake not," said
Crossley, turning to Red Shirt, for he had quite as free-and-easy a way
of taking the wind out of Captain Stride's sails as the "missus."

"Yes; I have just returned," answered Red Shirt, in a low soft voice,
which scarcely seemed appropriate to his colossal frame.  His red
garment, by the way, was at the time all concealed by the pilot-coat,
excepting the collar.

"Going home for a spell, I suppose?" said Crossley.

"Yes."

"May I ask where you last hailed from?" said Captain Stride, with some
curiosity, for there was something in the appearance of this nautical
stranger which interested him.

"From the southern seas.  I have been away a long while in a South Sea
whaler."

"Ah, indeed?--a rough service that."

"Rather rough; but I didn't enter it intentionally.  I was picked up at
sea, with some of my mates, in an open boat, by the whaler.  She was on
the outward voyage, and couldn't land us anywhere, so we were obliged to
make up our minds to join as hands."

"Strange!" murmured Captain Stride.  "Then you were wrecked somewhere--
or your ship foundered, mayhap--eh?"

"Yes, we were wrecked--on a coral reef."

"Well now, young man, that is a strange coincidence.  I was wrecked
myself on a coral reef in the very same seas, nigh three years ago.
Isn't that odd?"

"Dear me, this is very interesting," put in Mr Crossley; "and, as
Captain Stride says, a somewhat strange coincidence."

"_Is_ it so very strange, after all," returned Red Shirt, "seeing that
the Pacific is full of sunken coral reefs, and vessels are wrecked there
more or less every year?"

"Well, there's some truth in that," observed the Captain.  "Did you say
it was a sunk reef your ship struck on?"

"Yes; quite sunk.  No part visible.  It was calm weather at the time,
and a clear night."

"Another coincidence!" exclaimed Stride, becoming still more interested.
"Calm and clear, too, when I was wrecked!"

"Curious," remarked Red Shirt in a cool indifferent tone, that began to
exasperate the Captain.

"Yet, after all, there are a good many calm and clear nights in the
Pacific, as well as coral reefs."

"Why, young man," cried Stride in a tone that made old Crossley smile,
"you seem to think nothing at all of coincidences.  It's very seldom--
almost never--that one hears of so many coincidences happening on _this_
side o' the line all at once--don't you see."

"I see," returned Red Shirt; "and the same, exactly, may be said of the
_other_ side o' the line.  I very seldom--almost never--heard of so many
out there; which itself may be called a coincidence, d'ee see? a sort of
negative similarity."

"Young man, I would suspect you were jesting with me," returned the
Captain, "but for the fact that you told me of your experiences first,
before you could know that mine would coincide with them so exactly."

"Your conclusions are very just, sir," rejoined Red Shirt, with a grave
and respectful air; "but of course coincidences never go on in an
unbroken chain.  They _must_ cease sooner or later.  We left our wreck
in _three_ boats.  No doubt you--"

"There again!" cried the Captain in blazing astonishment, as he removed
his hat and wiped his heated brow, while Mr Crossley's eyes opened to
their widest extent.  "_We_ left our wreck in _three_ boats!  My ship's
name was--"

"The _Walrus_," said Red Shirt quietly, "and her Captain's name was
Stride!"

Old Crossley had reached the stage that is known as petrified with
astonishment.  The Captain, being unable to open his eyes wider, dropped
his lower jaw instead.

"Surely," continued Red Shirt, removing his wide-awake, and looking
steadily at his companions, "I must have changed very much indeed when
two of my--"

"Brooke!" exclaimed Crossley, grasping one of the sailor's hands.

"Charlie!" gasped the Captain, seizing the other hand.

What they all said after reaching this point it is neither easy nor
necessary to record.  Perhaps it may be as well to leave it to the
reader's vivid imagination.  Suffice it to say, that our hero irritated
the Captain no longer by his callous indifference to coincidences.  In
the midst of the confusion of hurried question and short reply, he
pulled them up with the sudden query anxiously put--

"But now, what of my mother?"

"Well--excellently well in health, my boy," said Crossley, "but woefully
low in spirits about yourself--Charlie.  Yet nothing will induce her to
entertain the idea that you have been drowned.  Of course we have been
rather glad of this--though most of our friends, Charlie, have given you
up for lost long ago.  May Leather, too, has been much the same way of
thinking, so she has naturally been a great comfort to your mother."

"God bless her for that.  She's a good little girl," said Charlie.

"Little girl," repeated both elderly gentlemen in a breath, and bursting
into a laugh.  "You forget, lad," said the Captain, "that three years or
so makes a considerable change in girls of her age.  She's a tall,
handsome young woman now; ay, and a good-looking one too.  Almost as
good-lookin' as what my missus was about her age--an' not unlike my
little Mag in the face--the one you rescued, you remember--who is also a
strappin' lass now."

"I'm very glad to hear they are well, Captain," said Charlie; "and,
Shank, what of--"

He stopped, for the grave looks of his friends told him that something
was wrong.

"Gone to the dogs," said the Captain.

"Nay, not quite gone--but going--fast."

"And the father?"

"Much as he was, Charlie, only somewhat more deeply sunk.  The fact is,"
continued Crossley, "it is this very matter that takes us down to
Sealford to-day.  We have just had fresh news of Shank--who is in
America--and I want to consult with Mrs Leather about him.  You see I
have agents out there who may be able to help us to save him."

"From drink, I suppose," interposed our hero.

"From himself, Charlie, and that includes drink and a great deal more.
I dare say you are aware--at least, if you are not, I now tell you--that
I have long taken great interest in Mrs Leather and her family, and
would go a long way, and give a great deal, to save Shank.  You know--
no, of course you don't, I forgot--that he threw up his situation in my
office--Withers and Company.  (Ay, you may smile, my lad, but we
humbugged you and got the better of you that time.  Didn't we, Captain?)
Well, Shank was induced by that fellow Ralph Ritson to go away to some
gold-mine or other worked by his father in California, but when they
reached America they got news of the failure of the Company and the
death of old Ritson.  Of course the poor fellows were at once thrown on
their own resources, but, instead of facing life like men, they took to
gambling.  The usual results followed.  They lost all they had and went
off to Texas or some such wild place, and for a long time were no more
heard of.  At last, just the other day, a letter came from Ritson to
Mrs Leather, telling her that her son is very ill--perhaps dying--in
some out o' the way place.  Ritson was nursing him, but, being ill
himself, unable to work, and without means, it would help them greatly
if some money could be sent--even though only a small sum."

Charlie Brooke listened to this narrative with compressed brows, and
remained silent a few seconds.  "My poor chum!" he exclaimed at length.
Then a flash of fire seemed to gleam in his blue eyes as he added, "If I
had that fellow Ritson by the--"

He stopped abruptly, and the fire in the eyes died out, for it was no
part of our hero's character to boast--much less to speak harshly of men
behind their backs.

"Has money been sent?" he asked.

"Not yet.  It is about that business that I'm going to call on poor Mrs
Leather now.  We must be careful, you see.  I have no reason, it is
true, to believe that Ritson is deceiving us, but when a youth of no
principle writes to make a sudden demand for money, it behoves people to
think twice before they send it."

"Ay, to think three times--perhaps even four or five," broke in the
Captain, with stern emphasis.  "I know Ralph Ritson well, the scoundrel,
an' if I had aught to do wi' it I'd not send him a penny.  As I said to
my--"

"Does your mother know of your arrival?" asked Mr Crossley abruptly.

"No; I meant to take her by surprise."

"Humph!  Just like you young fellows.  In some things you have no more
brains than geese.  Being made of cast-iron and shoe-leather you assume
that everybody else is, or ought to be, made of the same raw material.
Don't you know that surprises of this sort are apt to kill delicate
people?"

Charlie smiled by way of reply.

"No, sir," continued the old gentleman firmly, "I won't let you take her
by surprise.  While I go round to the Leathers my good friend Captain
Stride will go in advance of you to Mrs Brooke's and break the news to
her.  He is accustomed to deal with ladies."

"Right you are, sir," said the gratified Captain, removing his hat and
wiping his brow.  "As I said, no later than yesterday to--"

A terrific shriek from the steam-whistle, and a plunge into the darkness
of a tunnel stopped--and thus lost to the world for ever--what the
Captain said upon that occasion.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

TELLS OF HAPPY MEETINGS AND SERIOUS CONSULTATIONS.

Whether Captain Stride executed his commission well or not we cannot
tell, and whether the meeting of Mrs Brooke with her long-lost son came
to near killing or not we will not tell.  Enough to know that they met,
and that the Captain--with that delicacy of feeling so noticeable in
seafaring men--went outside the cottage door and smoked his pipe while
the meeting was in progress.  After having given sufficient time, as he
said, "for the first o' the squall to blow over," he summarily snubbed
his pipe, put it into his vest pocket, and re-entered.

"Now, missus, you'll excuse me, ma'am, for cuttin' in atween you, but
this business o' the Leathers is pressin', an' if we are to hold a
confabulation wi' the family about it, why--"

"Ah, to be sure, Captain Stride is right," said Mrs Brooke, turning to
her stalwart son, who was seated on the sofa beside her.  "This is a
very, _very_ sad business about poor Shank.  You had better go to them,
Charlie.  I will follow you in a short time."

"Mr Crossley is with them at this moment.  I forgot to say so, mother."

"Is he?  I'm _very_ glad of that," returned the widow.  "He has been a
true friend to us all.  Go, Charlie.  But stay.  I see May coming.  The
dear child always comes to me when there is anything good or sorrowful
to tell.  But she comes from the wrong direction.  Perhaps she does not
yet know of Mr Crossley's arrival."

"May!  Can it be?" exclaimed Charlie in an undertone of surprise as he
observed, through the window, the girl who approached.

And well might he be surprised, for this, although the same May, was
very different from the girl he left behind him.  The angles of girlhood
had given place to the rounded lines of young womanhood.  The rich curly
brown hair, which used to whirl wildly in the sea-breezes, was gathered
up in a luxuriant mass behind her graceful head, and from the forehead
it was drawn back in two wavy bands, in defiance of fashion, which at
that time was beginning to introduce the detestable modern fringe.
Perhaps we are not quite un-biassed in our judgment of the said fringe,
far it is intimately associated in our mind with the savages of North
America, whose dirty red faces, in years past, were wont to glower at us
from beneath just such a fringe, long before it was adopted by the fair
dames of England!

In other respects, however, May was little changed, except that the
slightest curl of sadness about her eyebrows made her face more
attractive than ever, as she nodded pleasantly to the Captain, who had
hastened to the door to meet her.

"So glad to see you, Captain Stride," she said, shaking hands with
unfeminine heartiness.  "Have you been to see mother?  I have just been
having a walk before--"

She stopped as if transfixed, for at that moment she caught sight of
Charlie and his mother through the open door.

Poor May flushed to the roots of her hair; then she turned deadly pale,
and would have fallen had not the gallant Captain caught her in his
arms.  But by a powerful effort of will she recovered herself in time to
avoid a scene.

"The sight of you reminded me so strongly of our dear Shank!" she
stammered, when Charlie, hastening forward, grasped both her hands and
shook them warmly.  "Besides--some of us thought you were dead."

"No wonder you thought of Shank," returned Charlie, "for he and I used
to be so constantly together.  But don't be cast down, May.  We'll get
Shank out of his troubles yet."

"Yes, and you know he has Ritson with him," said Mrs Brooke; "and he,
although not quite as steady as we could wish, will be sure to care for
such an old friend in his sickness.  But you'd better go, Charlie, and
see Mrs Leather.  They will be sure to want you and Captain Stride.
May will remain here with me.  Sit down beside me, dear, I want to have
a chat with you."

"Perhaps, ma'am, if I make so bold," interposed the Captain, "Mr
Crossley may want to have Miss May also at the council of war."

"Mr Crossley! is _he_ with my mother?" asked the girl eagerly.

"Yes, Miss May, he is."

"Then I _must_ be there.  Excuse me, dear Mrs Brooke."

And without more ado May ran out of the house.  She was followed soon
after by Charlie and the Captain, and Mrs Brooke was left alone,
expressing her thankfulness and joy of heart in a few silent tears over
her knitting.

There was a wonderful similarity in many respects between Mrs Brooke
and her friend Mrs Leather.  They both knitted--continuously and
persistently.  This was a convenient if not a powerful bond, for it
enabled them to sit for hours together--busy, yet free to talk.  They
were both invalids--a sympathetic bond of considerable strength.  They
held the same religious views--an indispensable bond where two people
have to be much together, and are in earnest.  They were both poor--a
natural bond which draws people of a certain kind very close together,
physically as well as spiritually--and both, up to this time at least,
had long-absent and semi-lost sons.  Even in the matter of daughters
they might be said, in a sense, to be almost equal, for May, loving
each, was a daughter to both.  Lastly, in this matter of similarity, the
two ladies were good--good as gold, according to Captain Stride, and he
ought to have been an authority, for he frequently visited them and knew
all their affairs.  Fortunately for both ladies, Mrs Brooke was by far
the stronger-minded--hence they never quarrelled!

In Mrs Leather's parlour a solemn conclave was seated round the parlour
table.  They were very earnest, for the case under consideration was
urgent, as well as very pitiful.  Poor Mrs Leather's face was wet with
tears, and the pretty brown eyes of May were not dry.  They had had a
long talk over the letter from Ritson, which was brief and to the point
but meagre as to details.

"I rather like the letter, considering who wrote it," observed Mr
Crossley, laying it down after a fourth perusal.  "You see he makes no
whining or discontented reference to the hardness of their luck, which
young scapegraces are so fond of doing; nor does he make effusive
professions of regret or repentance, which hypocrites are so prone to
do.  I think it bears the stamp of being genuine on the face of it.  At
least it appears to be straightforward."

"I'm so glad you think so, Mr Crossley," said Mrs Leather; "for Mr
Ritson is such a pleasant young man--and so good-looking, too!"

The old gentleman and the Captain both burst into a laugh at this.

"I'm afraid," said the former, "that good looks are no guarantee for
good behaviour.  However, I have made up my mind to send him a small sum
of money--not to Shank, Mrs Leather, so you need not begin to thank me.
I shall send it to Ritson."

"Well, thank you all the same," interposed the lady, taking up her
knitting and resuming operations below the table, gazing placidly all
the while at her friends like some consummate conjuror, "for Ralph will
be sure to look after Shank."

"The only thing that puzzles me is, how are we to get it sent to such an
out-o'-the-way place--Traitor's Trap!  It's a bad name, and the stupid
fellow makes no mention of any known town near to it, though he gives
the post-office.  If I only knew its exact whereabouts I might get some
one to take the money to him, for I have agents in many parts of
America."

After prolonged discussion of the subject, Mr Crossley returned to town
to make inquiries, and the Captain went to take his favourite walk by
the sea-shore, where he was wont, when paying a visit to Sealford, to
drive the Leathers' little dog half-mad with delight by throwing stones
into the sea for Scraggy to go in for--which he always did, though he
never fetched them out.

In the course of that day Charlie Brooke left his mother to take a
stroll, and naturally turned in the direction of the sea.  When half-way
through the lane with the high banks on either side he encountered May.

"What a pleasant pretty girl she has become!" was his thought as she
drew near.

"Nobler and handsomer than ever!" was hers as he approached.

The thoughts of both sent a flush to the face of each, but the colour
scarcely showed through the bronzed skin of the man.

"Why, what a woman you have grown, May!" said Charlie, grasping her
hand, and attempting to resume the old familiar terms--with, however,
imperfect success.

"Isn't that natural?" asked May, with a glance and a little laugh.

That glance and that little laugh, insignificant in themselves, tore a
veil from the eyes of Charlie Brooke.  He had always been fond of May
Leather, after a fashion.  _Now_ it suddenly rushed upon him that he was
fond of her after another fashion!  He was a quick thinker and just
reasoner.  A poor man without a profession and no prospects has no right
to try to gain the affections of a girl.  He became grave instantly.

"May," he said, "will you turn back to the shore with me for a little?
I want to have a talk about Shank.  I want you to tell me all you know
about him.  Don't conceal anything.  I feel as if I had a right to claim
your confidence, for, as you know well, he and I have been like brothers
since we were little boys."

May had turned at once, and the tears filled her eyes as she told the
sad story.  It was long, and the poor girl was graphic in detail.  We
can give but the outline here.

Shank had gone off with Ritson not long after the sailing of the
_Walrus_.  On reaching America, and hearing of the failure of the
company that worked the gold mine, and of old Ritson's death, they knew
not which way to turn.  It was a tremendous blow, and seemed to have
rendered them reckless, for they soon took to gambling.  At first they
remained in New York, and letters came home pretty regularly, in which
Shank always expressed hopes of getting more respectable work.  He did
not conceal their mode of gaining a livelihood, but defended it on the
ground that "a man must live!"

For a time the letters were cheerful.  The young men were "lucky."  Then
came a change of luck, and a consequent change in the letters, which
came less frequently.  At last there arrived one from Shank, both the
style and penmanship of which told that he had not forsaken the great
curse of his life--strong drink.  It told of disaster, and of going off
to the "Rockies" with a party of "discoverers," though what they were to
discover was not mentioned.

"From that date till now," said May in conclusion, "we have heard
nothing about them till this letter came from Mr Ritson, telling of
dear Shank being so ill, and asking for money."

"I wish any one were with Shank rather than that man," said Charlie
sternly; "I have no confidence in him whatever, and I knew him well as a
boy."

"Nevertheless, I think we may trust him.  Indeed I feel sure he won't
desert his wounded comrade," returned May, with a blush.

The youth did not observe the blush.  His thoughts were otherwise
engaged, and his eyes were at the moment fixed on a far-off part of the
shore, where Captain Stride could be seen urging on the joyful Scraggy
to his fruitless labours.

"I wish I could feel as confident of him as you do, May.  However,
misfortune as well as experience may have made him a wiser, perhaps a
better, man.  But what troubles me most is the uncertainty of the money
that Mr Crossley is going to send ever reaching its destination."

"Oh! if we only knew some one in New York who would take it to them,"
said May, looking piteously at the horizon, as if she were
apostrophising some one on the other side of the Atlantic.

"Why, you talk as if New York and Traitor's Trap were within a few miles
of each other," said Charlie, smiling gently.  "They are hundreds of
miles apart."

"Well, I suppose they are.  But I feel so anxious about Shank when I
think of the dear boy lying ill, perhaps dying, in a lonely place far
far away from us all, and no one but Mr Ritson to care for him!  If I
were only a man I would go to him myself."

She broke down at this point, and put her handkerchief to her face.

"Don't cry, May," began the youth in sore perplexity, for he knew not
how to comfort the poor girl in the circumstances, but fortunately
Captain Stride caught sight of them at the moment, and gave them a
stentorian hail.

"Hi! halloo! back your to-o-o-ps'ls.  I'll overhaul ye in a jiffy."

How long a nautical jiffy may be we know not, but, in a remarkably brief
space of time, considering the shortness and thickness of his sea-legs,
the Captain was alongside, blowing, as he said, "like a grampus."

That night Charlie Brooke sat with his mother in her parlour.  They were
alone--their friends having considerately left them to themselves on
this their first night.

They had been talking earnestly about past and present, for the son had
much to learn about old friends and comrades, and the mother had much to
tell.

"And now, mother," said Charlie, at the end of a brief pause, "what
about the future?"

"Surely, my boy, it is time enough to talk about that to-morrow, or next
day.  You are not obliged to think of the future before you have spent
even one night in your old room."

"Not absolutely obliged, mother.  Nevertheless, I should like to speak
about it.  Poor Shank is heavy on my mind, and when I heard all about
him to-day from May, I--.  She's wonderfully improved, that girl,
mother.  Grown quite pretty?"

"Indeed she is--and as good as she's pretty," returned Mrs Brooke, with
a furtive glance at her son.

"She broke down when talking about Shank to-day, and I declare she
looked quite beautiful!  Evidently Shank's condition weighs heavily on
her mind."

"Can you wonder, Charlie?"

"Of course not.  It's natural, and I quite sympathised with her when she
exclaimed, `If I were only a man I would go to him myself.'"

"That's natural too, my son.  I have no doubt she would, poor dear girl,
if she were only a man."

"Do you know, mother, I've not been able to get that speech out of my
head all this afternoon.  `If I were a man--if I were a man,' keeps
ringing in my ears like the chorus of an old song, and then--"

"Well, Charlie, what then?" asked Mrs Brooke, with a puzzled glance.

"Why, then, somehow the chorus has changed in my brain and it runs--`I
_am_ a man!  I _am_ a man!'"

"Well?" asked the mother, with an anxious look.

"Well--that being so, I have made up my mind that _I_ will go out to
Traitor's Trap and carry the money to Shank, and look after him myself.
That is, if you will let me."

"O Charlie! how can you talk of it?" said Mrs Brooke, with a distressed
look.  "I have scarcely had time to realise the fact that you have come
home, and to thank God for it, when you begin to talk of leaving me
again--perhaps for years, as before."

"Nay, mother mine, you jump to conclusions too hastily.  What I propose
is not to go off again on a long voyage, but to take a run of a few days
in a first-class steamer across what the Americans call the big
fish-pond; then go across country comfortably by rail; after that hire a
horse and have a gallop somewhere or other; find out Shank and bring him
home.  The whole thing might be done in a few weeks; and no chance,
almost, of being wrecked."

"I don't know, Charlie," returned Mrs Brooke, in a sad tone, as she
laid her hand on her son's arm and stroked it.  "As you put it, the
thing sounds all very easy, and no doubt it would be a grand, a noble
thing to rescue Shank--but--but, why talk of it to-night, my dear boy?
It is late.  Go to bed, Charlie, and we will talk it over in the
morning."

"How pleasantly familiar that `Go to bed, Charlie,' sounds," said the
son, laughing, as he rose up.

"You did not always think it pleasant," returned the good lady, with a
sad smile.

"That's true, but I think it uncommonly pleasant _now_.  Good-night,
mother."

"Good-night, my son, and God bless you."



CHAPTER TWELVE.

CHANGES THE SCENE CONSIDERABLY!

We must transport our reader now to a locality somewhere in the region
lying between New Mexico and Colorado.  Here, in a mean-looking
out-of-the-way tavern, a number of rough-looking men were congregated,
drinking, gambling, and spinning yarns.  Some of them belonged to the
class known as cow-boys--men of rugged exterior, iron constitutions,
powerful frames, and apparently reckless dispositions, though underneath
the surface there was considerable variety of character to be found.

The landlord of the inn--if we may so call it, for it was little better
than a big shanty--was known by the name of David.  He was a man of cool
courage.  His customers knew this latter fact well, and were also aware
that, although he carried no weapon on his person, he had several
revolvers in handy places under his counter, with the use of which he
was extremely familiar and expert.

In the midst of a group of rather noisy characters who smoked and drank
in one corner of this inn or shanty, there was seated on the end of a
packing-case, a man in the prime of life, who, even in such rough
company, was conspicuously rugged.  His leathern costume betokened him a
hunter, or trapper, and the sheepskin leggings, with the wool outside,
showed that he was at least at that time a horseman.  Unlike most of his
comrades, he wore Indian moccasins, with spurs strapped to them.  Also a
cap of the broad-brimmed order.  The point about him that was most
striking at first sight was his immense breadth of shoulder and depth of
chest, though in height he did not equal many of the men around him.  As
one became acquainted with the man, however, his massive proportions had
not so powerful an effect on the mind of an observer as the quiet
simplicity of his expression and manner.  Good-nature seemed to lurk in
the lines about his eyes and the corners of his mouth, which latter had
the peculiarity of turning down instead of up when he smiled; yet withal
there was a stern gravity about him that forbade familiarity.

The name of the man was Hunky Ben, and the strangest thing about him--
that which puzzled these wild men most--was that he neither drank nor
smoked nor gambled!  He made no pretence of abstaining on principle.
One of the younger men, who was blowing a stiff cloud, ventured to ask
him whether he really thought these things wrong.

"Well, now," he replied quietly, with a twinkle in his eye, "I'm no
parson, boys, that I should set up to diskiver what's right an' what's
wrong.  I've got my own notions on them points, you bet, but I'm not
goin' to preach 'em.  As to smokin', I won't make a smoked herrin' o' my
tongue to please anybody.  Besides, I don't want to smoke, an' why
should I do a thing I don't want to just because other people does it?
Why should I make a new want when I've got no end o' wants a'ready
that's hard enough to purvide for?  Drinkin's all very well if a man
wants Dutch courage, but I don't want it--no, nor French courage, nor
German, nor Chinee, havin' got enough o' the article home-growed to
sarve my purpus.  When that's used up I may take to drinkin'--who knows?
Same wi' gamblin'.  I've no desire to bust up any man, an' I don't want
to be busted up myself, you bet.  No doubt drinkin', smokin', an'
gamblin' makes men jolly--them at least that's tough an' that wins!--but
I'm jolly without 'em, boys,--jolly as a cottontail rabbit just come of
age."

"An' ye look it, old man," returned the young fellow, puffing cloudlets
with the utmost vigour; "but come, Ben, won't ye spin us a yarn about
your frontier life?"

"Yes, do, Hunky," cried another in an entreating voice, for it was well
known all over that region that the bold hunter was a good story-teller,
and as he had served a good deal on the frontier as guide to the United
States troops, it was understood that he had much to tell of a thrilling
and adventurous kind; but although the men about him ceased to talk and
looked at him with expectancy, he shook his head, and would not consent
to be drawn out.

"No, boys, it can't be done to-day," he said; "I've no time, for I'm
bound for Quester Creek in hot haste, an' am only waitin' here for my
pony to freshen up a bit.  The Redskins are goin' to give us trouble
there by all accounts."

"The red devils!" exclaimed one of the men, with a savage oath; "they're
always givin' us trouble."

"That," returned Hunky Ben, in a soft voice, as he glanced mildly at the
speaker,--"that is a sentiment I heer'd expressed almost exactly in the
same words, though in Capatchee lingo, some time ago by a Redskin
chief--only he said it was pale-faced devils who troubled _him_.  I
wonder which is worst.  They can't both be worst, you know!"

This remark was greeted with a laugh, and a noisy discussion thereupon
began as to the comparative demerits of the two races, which was ere
long checked by the sound of a galloping horse outside.  Next moment the
door opened, and a very tall man of commanding presence and bearing
entered the room, took off his hat, and looked round with a slight bow
to the company.

There was nothing commanding, however, in the quiet voice with which he
asked the landlord if he and his horse could be put up there for the
night.

The company knew at once, from the cut of the stranger's tweed suit, as
well as his tongue, that he was an Englishman, not much used to the ways
of the country--though, from the revolver and knife in his belt, and the
repeating rifle in his hand, he seemed to be ready to meet the country
on its own terms by doing in Rome as Rome does.

On being told that he could have a space on the floor to lie on, which
he might convert into a bed if he had a blanket with him, he seemed to
make up his mind to remain, asked for food, and while it was preparing
went out to attend to his horse.  Then, returning, he went to a retired
corner of the room, and flung himself down at full length on a vacant
bench, as if he were pretty well exhausted with fatigue.

The simple fare of the hostelry was soon ready; and when the stranger
was engaged in eating it, he asked a cow-boy beside him how far it was
to Traitor's Trap.

At the question there was a perceptible lull in the conversation, and
the cow-boy, who was a very coarse forbidding specimen of his class,
said that he guessed Traitor's Trap was distant about twenty mile or so.

"Are you goin' thar, stranger?" he asked, eyeing his questioner
curiously.

"Yes, I'm going there," answered the Englishman; "but from what I've
heard of the road, at the place where I stayed last night, I don't like
to go on without a guide and daylight--though I would much prefer to
push on to-night if it were possible."

"Wall, stranger, whether possible or not," returned the cow-boy, "it's
an ugly place to go past, for there's a gang o' cut-throats there that's
kep' the country fizzin' like ginger-beer for some time past.  A man
that's got to go past Traitor's Trap should go by like a greased
thunderbolt, an' he should never go alone."

"Is it, then, such a dangerous place?" asked the Englishman, with a
smile that seemed to say he thought his informant was exaggerating.

"Dangerous!" exclaimed the cow-boy.  "Ay, an will be as long as Buck Tom
an' his boys are unhung.  Why, stranger, I'd get my life insured, you
bet, before I'd go thar again--except with a big crowd o' men.  It was
along in June last year I went up that way; there was nobody to go with
me, an' I was forced to do it by myself--for I _had_ to go--so I spunked
up, saddled Bluefire, an' sloped.  I got on lovely till I came to a pass
just on t'other side o' Traitor's Trap, when I began to cheer up,
thinkin' I'd got off square; but I hadn't gone another hundred yards
when up starts Buck Tom an' his men with `hands up.'  I went head down
flat on my saddle instead, I was so riled.  Bang went a six-shooter, an'
the ball just combed my back hair.  I suppose Buck was so took by
surprise at a single man darin' to disobey his orders that he missed.
Anyhow I socked spurs into Bluefire, an' made a break for the open
country ahead.  They made after me like locomotives wi' the
safety-valves blocked, but Bluefire was more'n a match for 'em.  They
kep' blazin' away all the time too, but never touched me, though I heard
the balls whistlin' past for a good while.  Bluefire an' me went, you
bet, like a nor'-easter in a passion, an' at last they gave it up.  No,
stranger, take my advice an' don't go past Traitor's Trap alone.  I
wouldn't go there at all if I could help it."

"I don't intend to go past it.  I mean to go _into_ it," said the
Englishman, with a short laugh, as he laid down his knife and fork,
having finished his slight meal; "and, as I cannot get a guide, I shall
be forced to go alone."

"Stranger," said the cow-boy in surprise, "d'ye want to meet wi' Buck
Tom?"

"Not particularly."

"An' are ye aware that Buck Tom is one o' the most hardened,
sanguinacious blackguards in all Colorado?"

"I did not know it before, but I suppose I may believe it now."

As he spoke the Englishman rose and went out to fetch the blanket which
was strapped to his saddle.  In going out he brushed close past a man
who chanced to enter at the same moment.

The newcomer was also a tall and strikingly handsome man, clothed in the
picturesque garments of the cow-boy, and fully armed.  He strode up to
the counter, with an air of proud defiance, and demanded drink.  It was
supplied him.  He tossed it off quickly, without deigning a glance at
the assembled company.  Then in a deep-toned voice he asked--

"Has the Rankin Creek Company sent that account and the money?"

Profound silence had fallen on the whole party in the room the moment
this man entered.  They evidently looked at him with profound interest
if not respect.

"Yes, Buck Tom," answered the landlord, in his grave off-hand manner;
"They have sent it, and authorised me to pay you the balance."

He turned over some papers for a few minutes, during which Buck Tom did
not condescend to glance to one side or the other, but kept his eye
fixed sternly on the landlord.

At that moment the Englishman re-entered, went to his corner, spread his
blanket on the floor, lay down, put his wide-awake over his eyes, and
resigned himself to repose, apparently unaware that anything special was
going on, and obtusely blind to the quiet but eager signals wherewith
the cow-boy was seeking to direct his attention to Buck Tom.

In a few minutes the landlord found the paper he wanted, and began to
look over it.

"The company owes you," he said, "three hundred dollars ten cents for
the work done," said the landlord slowly.

Buck nodded his head as if satisfied with this.

"Your account has run on a long while," continued the landlord, "and
they bid me explain that there is a debit of two hundred and ninety-nine
dollars against you.  Balance in your favour one dollar ten cents."

A dark frown settled on Buck Tom's countenance, as the landlord laid the
balance due on the counter, and for a few moments he seemed in
uncertainty as to what he should do, while the landlord stood
conveniently near to a spot where one of his revolvers lay.  Then Buck
turned on his heel, and was striding towards the door, when the landlord
called him back.

"Excuse my stopping you, Buck Tom," he said, "but there's a gentleman
here who wants a guide to Traitor's Trap.  Mayhap you wouldn't object
to--"

"Where is he?" demanded Buck, wheeling round, with a look of slight
surprise.

"There," said the landlord, pointing to the dark corner where the big
Englishman lay, apparently fast asleep, with his hat pulled well down
over his eyes.

Buck Tom looked at the sleeping figure for a few moments.

"H'm! well, I might guide him," he said, with something of a grim smile,
"but I'm travelling too fast for comfort.  He might hamper me.  By the
way," he added, looking back as he laid his hand on the door, "you may
tell the Rankin Creek Company, with my compliments, to buy a new lock to
their office door, for I intend to call on them some day soon and
balance up that little account on a new system of 'rithmetic!  Tell them
I give 'em leave to clap the one dollar ten cents to the credit of their
charity account."

Another moment and Buck Tom was gone.  Before the company in the tavern
had quite recovered the use of their tongues, the hoofs of his horse
were heard rattling along the road which led in the direction of
Traitor's Trap.

"Was that really Buck Tom?" asked Hunky Ben, in some surprise.

"Ay--or his ghost," answered the landlord.

"I can swear to him, for I saw him as clear as I see you the night he
split after me," said the cowboy, who had warned the Englishman.

"Why didn't you put a bullet into him to-night, Crux?" asked a comrade.

"Just so--you had a rare chance," remarked another of the cow-boys, with
something of a sneer in his tone.

"Because I'm not yet tired o' my life," replied Crux, indignantly.
"Back Tom has got eyes in the back o' his head, I do believe, and shoots
dead like a flash--"

"Not that time he missed you at Traitor's Trap, I think," said the
other.

"Of course not--'cause we was both mounted that time, and scurryin' over
rough ground like wild-cats.  The best o' shots would miss thar an'
thus.  Besides, Buck Tom took nothin' from me, an' ye wouldn't have me
shoot a man for missin' me--surely.  If you're so fond o' killin', why
didn't you shoot him yourself?--_you_ had a rare chance!"

Crux grinned--for his ugly mouth could not compass a smile--as he
thought thus to turn the tables on his comrade.

"Well, he's got clear off, anyhow, returned the comrade, an' it's a
pity, for--"

He was interrupted by the Englishman raising himself and asking in a
sleepy tone if there was likely to be moonlight soon.

The company seemed to think him moon-struck to ask such a question, but
one of them replied that the moon was due in half an hour.

"You've lost a good chance, sir," said Crux, who had a knack of making
all his communications as disagreeably as possible, unless they chanced
to be unavoidably agreeable, in which case he made the worst of them.
"Buck Tom hisself has just bin here, an' might have agreed to guide you
to Traitor's Trap if you'd made him a good offer."

"Why did you not awake me?" asked the Englishman in a reproachful tone,
as he sprang up, grasped his blanket hastily, threw down a piece of
money on the counter, and asked if the road wasn't straight and easy for
a considerable distance.

"Straight as an arrow for ten mile," said the landlord, as he laid down
the change which the Englishman put into an apparently well-filled
purse.

"I'll guide you, stranger, for five dollars," said Crux.

"I want no guide," returned the other, somewhat brusquely, as he left
the room.

A minute or two later he was heard to pass the door on horseback at a
sharp trot.

"Poor lad, he'll run straight into the wolf's den; but why he wants to
do it puzzles me," remarked the landlord, as he carefully cleaned a
tankard.  "But he would take no warning."

"The wolf doesn't seem half as bad as he's bin painted," said Hunky Ben,
rising and offering to pay his score.

"Hallo, Hunky--not goin' to skip, are ye?" asked Crux.

"I told ye I was in a hurry.  Only waitin' to rest my pony.  My road is
the same as the stranger's, at least part o' the way.  I'll overhaul an'
warn him."

A few minutes more and the broad-shouldered scout was also galloping
along the road or track which led towards the Rocky mountains in the
direction of Traitor's Trap.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

HUNKY BEN IS SORELY PERPLEXED.

It was one of Hunky Ben's few weaknesses to take pride in being well
mounted.  When he left the tavern he bestrode one of his best steeds--a
black charger of unusual size, which he had purchased while on a trading
trip in Texas--and many a time had he ridden it while guiding the United
States troops in their frequent expeditions against ill-disposed
Indians.  Taken both together it would have been hard to equal, and
impossible to match, Hunky Ben and his coal-black mare.

From the way that Ben rode, on quitting the tavern, it might have been
supposed that legions of wild Indians were at his heels.  But after
going about a few miles at racing speed he reined in, and finally pulled
up at a spot where a very slight pathway diverged.  Here he sat quite
still for a few minutes in meditation.  Then he muttered softly to
himself--for Ben was often and for long periods alone in the woods and
on the plains, and found it somewhat "sociable-like" to mutter his
thoughts audibly:

"You've not cotched him up after all, Ben," he said.  "Black Polly
a'most equals a streak o' lightnin', but the Britisher got too long a
start o' ye, an' he's clearly in a hurry.  Now, if I follow on he'll
hear your foot-falls, Polly, an' p'raps be scared into goin' faster to
his doom.  Whereas, if I go off the track here an' drive ahead so as to
git to the Blue Fork before him, I'll be able to stop the Buck's little
game, an' save the poor fellow's life.  Buck is sure to stop him at the
Blue Fork, for it's a handy spot for a road-agent, [a highwayman] and
there's no other near."

Hunky Ben was pre-eminently a man of action.  As he uttered or thought
the last word he gave a little chirp which sent Black Polly along the
diverging track at a speed which almost justified the comparison of her
to lightning.

The Blue Fork was a narrow pass or gorge in the hills, the footpath
through which was rendered rugged and dangerous for cattle because of
the rocks that had fallen during the course of ages from the cliffs on
either side.  Seen from a short distance off on the main track the
mountains beyond had a brilliantly blue appearance, and a few hundred
yards on the other side of the pass the track forked--hence the name.
One fork led up to Traitor's Trap, the other to the fort of Quester
Creek, an out-post of United States troops for which Hunky Ben was bound
with the warning that the Redskins were contemplating mischief.  As Ben
had conjectured, this was the spot selected by Buck Tom as the most
suitable place for waylaying his intended victim.  Doubtless he supposed
that no Englishman would travel in such a country without a good deal of
money about him, and he resolved to relieve him of it.

It was through a thick belt of wood that the scout had to gallop at
first, and he soon outstripped the traveller who kept to the main and,
at that part, more circuitous road, and who was besides obliged to
advance cautiously in several places.  On nearing his destination,
however, Ben pulled up, dismounted, fastened his mare to a tree, and
proceeded the rest of the way on foot at a run, carrying his repeating
rifle with him.  He had not gone far when he came upon a horse.  It was
fastened, like his own, to a tree in a hollow.

"Ho! ho!" thought Ben, "you prefer to do yer dirty work on foot, Mr
Buck!  Well, you're not far wrong in such a place."

Advancing now with great caution, the scout left the track and moved
through the woods more like a visible ghost than a man, for he was well
versed in all the arts and wiles of the Indian, and his moccasined feet
made no sound whatever.  Climbing up the pass at some height above the
level of the road, so that he might be able to see all that took place
below, he at last lay down at full length, and drew himself in snake
fashion to the edge of the thicket that concealed him.  Pushing aside
the bushes gently he looked down, and there, to his satisfaction, beheld
the man he was in search of, not thirty yards off.

Buck Tom was crouching behind a large mass of rock close to the track,
and so lost in the dark shadow of it that no ordinary man could have
seen him; but nothing could escape the keen and practised eye of Hunky
Ben.  He could not indeed make out the highwayman's form, but he knew
that he was there and that was enough.  Laying his rifle on a rock
before him in a handy position he silently watched the watcher.

During all this time the Englishman--whom the reader has doubtless
recognised as Charlie Brooke--was pushing on as fast as he could in the
hope of overtaking the man who could guide him to Traitor's Trap.

At last he came to the Blue Forks, and rode into the pass with the
confidence of one who suspects no evil.  He drew rein, however, as he
advanced, and picked his way carefully along the encumbered path.

He had barely reached the middle of it, where a clear space permitted
the moonbeams to fall brightly on the ground, when a stern voice
suddenly broke the stillness of the night with the words--

"Hands up!"

Charlie Brooke seemed either to be ignorant of the ways of the country
and of the fact that disobedience to the command involved sudden death,
or he had grown unaccountably reckless, for instead of raising his arms
and submitting to be searched by the robber who covered him with a
revolver, he merely reined up and took off his hat, allowing the moon to
shine full on his countenance.

The effect on Buck Tom was singular.  Standing with his back to the
moon, his expression could not be seen, but his arm dropped to his side
as if it had been paralysed, and the revolver fell to the ground.

Never had Buck Tom been nearer to his end than at that moment, for Hunky
Ben, seeing clearly what would be the consequence of the Englishman's
non-compliance with the command, was already pressing the trigger that
would have sent a bullet into Buck Tom's brain, but the Englishman's
strange conduct induced him to pause, and the effect on the robber
caused him to raise his head and open wide his eyes--also his ears!

"Ah!  Ralph Ritson, has it come to this?" said Charlie, in a voice that
told only of pity and surprise.

For some moments Ralph did not speak.  He was evidently stunned.
Presently he recovered, and, passing his hand over his brow, but never
taking his eyes off the handsome face of his former friend, he said in a
low tone--

"I--I--don't feel very sure whether you're flesh and blood, Brooke, or a
spirit--but--but--"

"I'm real enough to be able to shake hands, Ritson," returned our hero,
dismounting, and going up to his former friend, who suffered him to
grasp the hand that had been on the point of taking his life.  "But can
it be true, that I really find you a--"

"It is true, Charlie Brooke; quite true--but while you see the result,
you do not see, and cannot easily understand, the hard grinding
injustice that has brought me to this.  The last and worst blow I
received this very night.  I have urgent need of money--not for myself,
believe me--and I came down to David's store, at some personal risk, I
may add, to receive payment of a sum due me for acting as a cow-boy for
many months.  The company, instead of paying me--"

"Yes, I know; I heard it all," said Charlie.

"You were only shamming sleep, then?"

"Yes; I knew you at once."

"Well, then," continued Buck Tom (as we shall still continue to style
him), "the disappointment made me so desperate that I determined to rob
you--little thinking who you were--in order to help poor Shank
Leather--"

"Does Shank stand in urgent need of help?" asked Charlie, interrupting.

"He does indeed.  He has been very ill.  We have run out of funds, and
he needs food and physic of a kind that the mountains don't furnish."

"Does he belong to your band, Ritson?"

"Well--nearly; not quite!"

"That is a strange answer.  How far is it to where he lies just now?"

"Six miles, about."

"Come, then, I will go to him if you will show me the way," returned
Charlie, preparing to remount.  "I have plenty of that which poor Shank
stands so much in need of.  In fact I have come here for the express
purpose of hunting him and you up.  Would it not be well, by the way, to
ride back to the store for some supplies?"

"No need," answered Buck Tom, stooping to pick up his revolver.
"There's another store not far from this, to which we can send
to-morrow.  We can get what we want there."

"But what have you done with your horse?" asked Charlie; "I heard you
start on one."

"It is not far off.  I'll go fetch it."

So saying the robber entered the bushes and disappeared.  A few minutes
later the clattering of hoofs was heard, and in another moment he rode
up to the spot where our hero awaited him.

"Follow me," he said; "the road becomes better half a mile further on."

During all this time Hunky Ben had stood with his rifle ready, listening
with the feelings of a man in a dream.  He watched the robber and his
victim ride quietly away until they were out of sight.  Then he stood
up, tilted his cap on one side, and scratched his head in great
perplexity.

"Well, now," he said at length, "this is about the queerest affair I've
comed across since I was raised.  It's a marcy I was born with a quiet
spirit, for another chip off the small end of a moment an' Buck Tom
would have bin with his fathers in their happy, or otherwise, huntin'
grounds!  It's quite clear that them two have bin friends, mayhap pards,
in the old country.  An' Buck Tom (that's Ritson, I think he called him)
has bin driven to it by injustice, has he?  Ah!  Buck, if all the world
that suffers injustice was to take to robbery it's not many respectable
folk would be left to rob.  Well, well, my comin' off in such a
splittin' hurry to take care o' this Britisher is a wild-goose chase
arter all!  It's not the first one you've bin led into anyhow, an' it's
time you was lookin' arter yer own business, Hunky Ben."

While giving vent to these remarks in low muttering tones, the scout was
quickly retracing his steps to the place where he had tied up Black
Polly.  Mounting her he returned to the main track, proceeded along it
until he reached the place beyond the pass where the roads forked; then,
selecting that which diverged to the left, he set off at a hard gallop
in the direction of Quester Creek.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

THE HAUNT OF THE OUTLAWS.

After riding through the Blue Fork Charlie and Buck Tom came to a
stretch of open ground of considerable extent, where they could ride
abreast, and here the latter gave the former some account of the
condition of Shank Leather.

"Tell me, Ritson," said Charlie, "what you mean by Shank `nearly' and
`not quite' belonging to your band."

The outlaw was silent for some time.  Then he seemed to make up his mind
to speak out.

"Brooke," he said, "it did, till this night, seem to me that all the
better feelings of my nature--whatever they were--had been blotted out
of existence, for since I came to this part of the world the cruelty and
injustice that I have witnessed and suffered have driven me to
desperation, and I candidly confess to you that I have come to hate
pretty nigh the whole human race.  The grip of your hand and tone of
your voice, however, have told me that I have not yet sunk to the lowest
possible depths.  But that is not what I mean to enlarge on.  What I
wish you to understand is, that after Shank and I had gone to the dogs,
and were reduced to beggary, I made up my mind to join a band of men who
lived chiefly by their wits, and sometimes by their personal courage.
Of course I won't say who they are, because we still hang together, and
there is no need to say what we are.  The profession is variously named,
and not highly respected.

"Shank refused to join me, so we parted.  He remained for some time in
New York doing odd jobs for a living.  Then he joined a small party of
emigrants, and journeyed west.  Strange to say, although the country is
wide, he and I again met accidentally.  My fellows wanted to overhaul
the goods of the emigrants with whom he travelled.  They objected.  A
fight followed in which there was no bloodshed, for the emigrants fled
at the first war-whoop.  A shot from one of them, however, wounded one
of our men, and one of theirs was so drunk at the time of the flight
that he fell off his horse and was captured.  That man was Shank.  I
recognised him when I rode up to see what some of my boys were
quarrelling over, and found that it was the wounded man wanting to shove
his knife into Shank.

"The moment I saw his face I claimed him as an old chum, and had him
carried up to our headquarters in Traitor's Trap.  There he has remained
ever since, in a very shaky condition, for the fall seems to have
injured him internally, besides almost breaking his neck.  Indeed I
think his spine is damaged,--he recovers so slowly.  We have tried to
persuade him to say that he will become one of us when he gets well, but
up to this time he has steadily refused.  I am not sorry; for, to say
truth, I don't want to force any one into such a line of life--and he
does not look as if he'd be fit for it, or anything else, for many a day
to come."

"But how does it happen that you are in such straits just now?" asked
Charlie, seeing that Buck paused, and seemed unwilling to make further
explanations.

"Well, the fact is, we have not been successful of late; no chances have
come in our way, and two of our best men have taken their departure--one
to gold-digging in California, the other to the happy hunting grounds of
the Redskin, or elsewhere.  Luck, in short, seems to have forsaken us.
Pious folk," he added, with something of a sneer, "would say, no doubt,
that God had forsaken us."

"I think pious people would not say so, and they would be wrong if they
did," returned Charlie.  "In my opinion God never forsakes any one; but
when His creatures forsake him He thwarts them.  It cannot be otherwise
if His laws are to be vindicated."

"It may be so.  But what have I done," said Buck Tom fiercely, "to merit
the bad treatment and insufferable injustice which I have received since
I came to this accursed land?  I cannot stand injustice.  It makes my
blood boil, and so, since it is rampant here, and everybody has been
unjust to me, I have made up my mind to pay them back in their own coin.
There seems to me even a spice of justice in that."

"I wonder that you cannot see the fallacy of your reasoning, Ritson,"
replied Charlie.  "You ask, `What have I done?'  The more appropriate
question would be, `What have I _not_ done?'  Have you not, according to
your own confession, rebelled against your Maker and cast Him off; yet
you expect Him to continue His supplies of food to you; to keep up your
physical strength and powers of enjoying life, and, under the name of
Luck, to furnish you with the opportunity of breaking His own commands
by throwing people in your way to be robbed!  Besides which, have you
not yourself been guilty of gross injustice in leading poor weak Shank
Leather into vicious courses--to his great, if not irreparable, damage?
I don't profess to teach theology, Ralph Ritson, my old friend, but I do
think that even an average cow-boy could understand that a rebel has no
claim to forgiveness--much less to favour--until he lays down his arms
and gives in."

"Had any other man but you, Charlie Brooke, said half as much as you
have just said to me, I would have blown his brains out," returned the
outlaw sternly.

"I'm very glad no other man did say it, then," returned Charlie, "for
your hands must be sufficiently stained already.  But don't let anger
blind you to the fact, Ralph, that you and I were once old friends; that
I am your friend still, and that, what is of far greater importance, the
Almighty is still your friend, and is proving His friendship by
thwarting you."

"You preach a strange doctrine," said Buck Tom, laughing softly, "but
you must end your sermon here in the meantime, for we have reached the
entrance to Traitor's Trap, and have not room to ride further abreast.
I will lead, and do you follow with care, for the path is none o' the
safest.  My asking you to follow me is a stronger proof than you may
think that I believe in your friendship.  Most strangers whom I escort
up this gorge are usually requested to lead the way, and I keep my
revolver handy lest they should stray from the track!"

The defile or gorge which they had reached was not inappropriately
named, for, although the origin of the name was unknown, the appearance
of the place was eminently suggestive of blackness and treachery.  Two
spurs of the mountain range formed a precipitous and rugged valley
which, even in daylight, wore a forbidding aspect, and at night seemed
the very portal to Erebus.

"Keep close to my horse's tail," said Buck Tom, as they commenced the
ascent.  "If you stray here, ever so little, your horse will break his
neck or legs."

Thus admonished, our hero kept a firm hand on the bridle, and closed up
as much as possible on his guide.  The moon was by this time clouded
over, so that, with the precipitous cliffs on either side, and the great
mass of the mountains further up, there was only that faint sombre
appearance of things which is sometimes described as darkness visible.
The travellers proceeded slowly, for, besides the danger of straying off
the path, the steepness of the ascent rendered rapid motion impossible.
After riding for about three miles thus in absolute silence, they came
to a spot where the track became somewhat serpentine, and Charlie could
perceive dimly that they were winding amongst great fragments of rock
which were here and there over-canopied by foliage, but whether of trees
or bushes he could not distinguish.  At last they came to a halt in
front of what appeared to be a cliff.

"Dismount here," said Buck in a low voice, setting the example.

"Is this the end of our ride?"

"It is.  Give me the bridle.  I will put up your horse.  Stand where you
are till I return."

The outlaw led the horses away, leaving his former friend and
schoolfellow in a curious position, and a not very comfortable frame of
mind.  When a man is engaged in action--especially if it be exciting and
slightly dangerous--he has not time to think much about his
surroundings, at least about their details, but now, while standing
there in the intense darkness, in the very heart--as he had reason to
believe--of a robber's stronghold, young Brooke could not help
questioning his wisdom in having thus thrown himself into the power of
one who had obviously deteriorated and fallen very low since the time
when in England they had studied and romped together.  It was too late,
however, to question the wisdom of his conduct.  There he _was_, and so
he must make the best of it.  He did not indeed fear treachery in his
former friend, but he could not help reflecting that the reckless and
perhaps desperate men with whom that friend was now associated might not
be easy to restrain, especially if they should become acquainted with
the fact that he carried a considerable sum of money about him.

He was yet pondering his position when Buck Tom returned.

"Ralph Ritson," he said, laying his hand on the arm of the outlaw,
"you'll forgive my speaking plainly to you, I know.  With regard to
yourself I have not a shadow of doubt that you will act the part of an
honourable host, though you follow a dishonourable calling.  But I have
no guarantee that those who associate with you will respect my property.
Now, I have a considerable sum of money about me in gold and silver,
which I brought here expressly for the benefit of our poor friend Shank
Leather.  What would you advise me to do in regard to it?"

"Intrust it to my care," said Buck promptly.

Charlie could not see the outlaw's face very clearly, but he could
easily detect the half-amused half-mocking tone in which the suggestion
was made.

"My good fellow," said Charlie, in a hearty voice, "you evidently think
I am afraid to trust you.  That is a mistake.  I do not indeed trust to
any remnant of good that is in your poor human nature, but I have
confidence in the good feeling which God is arousing in you just now.  I
will freely hand over the money if you can assure me that you can guard
it from your comrades."

"_This_ will make it secure from _them_," returned Buck, with a short
defiant laugh.

"Humph" exclaimed Charlie with a shrug.  "I've not much confidence in
_that_ safeguard.  No doubt, in certain circumstances, and on certain
occasions, the revolver is a most important and useful instrument, but,
taking it all round, I would not put much store by it.  When you met me
at the Blue Fork to-night, for instance, of what use was my revolver to
me?  And, for the matter of that, after you had dropped it on the road
of what use was yours to you?  It only wants one of your fellows to have
more pluck and a quicker eye and hand than yourself to dethrone you at
once."

"Well, none of my fellows," returned Buck Tom good-humouredly, "happen
to have the advantage of me at present, so you may trust me and count
this as one o' the `certain occasions' on which a revolver is a most
important instrument."

"I dare say you are right," responded Charlie, smiling, as he drew from
the breast of his coat a small bag and handed it to his companion.

"You know exactly, of course, how much is here?" asked Buck Tom.

"Yes, exactly."

"That's all right," continued Buck, thrusting the bag into the bosom of
his hunting coat; "now I'll see if any o' the boys are at home.
Doubtless they are out--else they'd have heard us by this time.  Just
wait a minute."

He seemed to melt into the darkness as he spoke.  Another minute and he
re-appeared.

"Here, give me your hand," he said; "the passage is darkish at first."

Charlie Brooke felt rather than saw that they had passed under a portal
of some sort, and were advancing along a narrow passage.  Soon they
turned to the left, and a faint red light--as of fire--became visible in
the distance.  Buck Tom stopped.

"There's no one in the cave but _him_, and he's asleep.  Follow me."

The passage in which they stood led to a third and shorter one, where
the light at its extremity was intense, lighting up the whole of the
place so as to reveal its character.  It was a corridor about seven feet
high and four feet wide cut out of the solid earth; arched in the roof
and supported here and there by rough posts to make it still more
secure.  Charlie at once concluded that it led to one of those concealed
caverns, of which he had heard more than once while crossing the
country, the entrances of which are made in zig-zag form in order to
prevent the possibility of a ray of light issuing from the outside
opening.

On reaching the end of the third passage he found that his conjecture
was right, for the doorway or opening on his left hand conducted into a
spacious cave, also hollowed out of the earth, but apparently against a
perpendicular cliff, for the inner end of it was of unhewn rock.  The
roof of the cave was supported by pillars which were merely sections of
pine-trees with the bark left on.  These pillars and the earthen walls
were adorned with antlers, skulls, and horns of the Rocky mountain
sheep, necklaces of grizzly-bear's claws, Indian bows and arrows,
rifles, short swords, and various other weapons and trophies of the
chase, besides sundry articles of clothing.  At the inner end of the
cave a large fireplace and chimney had been rudely built, and in this
was roaring the pine-wood fire which had lighted them in, and which
caused the whole interior to glow with a vivid glare that seemed to
surpass that of noon-day.

A number of couches of pine-brush were spread round the walls, and on
one of these lay a sleeping figure.  The face was turned towards the
visitor, who saw at a glance that it was that of his former friend and
playmate--but it was terribly changed.  Hard toil, suffering, sickness,
dissipation, had set indelible marks on it, and there was a slight curve
about the eyebrows which gave the idea of habitual pain.  Yet strange to
say, worn and lined though it was, the face seemed far more attractive
and refined than it had ever been in the days of robust health.

Buck Tom went to the fire and began to stir the contents of a big pot
that hung over it, while Charlie advanced and stood for some minutes
gazing at the countenance of his friend, unwilling to disturb his
slumbers, yet longing to cheer him with the glad news that he had come
to succour him.  He chanced, however, to touch a twig of the pine
branches on which the sleeper lay, and Shank awoke instantly, raised
himself on one elbow, and returned his friend's gaze earnestly, but
without the slightest symptom of surprise.

"O Charlie," he said at last in a quiet voice, "I wish you hadn't come
to me to-night."

He stopped, and Charlie felt quite unable to speak, owing to intense
pity, mingled with astonishment, at such a reception.

"It's too bad of you," Shank went on, "worrying me so in my dreams.  I'm
weary of it; and if you only knew what a _terrible_ disappointment it is
to me when I awake and don't find you there, you wouldn't tantalise me
so.  You always look so terribly real too!  Man, I could almost pledge
my life that you are no deception this time, but--but I'm so used to it
now that--"

"Shank, my dear boy," said Charlie, finding words at last, "it _is_ no
deception--"

He stopped abruptly; for the intense look of eager anxiety, doubt, and
hope in the thin expressive face alarmed him.

"Charlie!" gasped, rather than said, the invalid, "you--you never
_spoke_ to me before in my dreams, and--you never _touched_--the grip of
your strong h--O God! _can_ it be true?"

At this point Buck Tom suddenly left off his occupation at the fire and
went out of the cave.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

LOST AND FOUND.

"Try to be calm, Shank," said Charlie, in a soothing tone, as he kneeled
beside the shadow that had once been his sturdy chum, and put an arm on
his shoulder.  "It is indeed myself _this_ time.  I have come all the
way from England to seek you, for we heard, through Ritson, that you
were ill and lost in these wilds, and now, through God's mercy, I have
found you."

While Charlie Brooke was speaking, the poor invalid was breathing hard
and gazing at him, as if to make quite sure it was all true.

"Yes," he said at last, unable to raise his voice above a hoarse
whisper, "lost--and--and--found!  Charlie, my friend--my chum--my--"

He could say no more, but, laying his head like a little child on the
broad bosom of his rescuer, he burst into a passionate flood of tears.

Albeit strong of will, and not by any means given to the melting mood,
our hero was unable for a minute or two to make free use of his voice.

"Come, now, Shank, old man, you mustn't give way like that.  You
wouldn't, you know, if you had not been terribly reduced by illness--"

"Yes, I would! yes, I would!" interrupted the sick man, almost
passionately; "I'd howl, I'd roar, I'd blubber like a very idiot, I'd do
any mortal thing, if the doing of it would only make you understand how
I appreciate your great kindness in coming out here to save me."

"Oh no, you wouldn't," said Charlie, affecting an easy off-hand tone,
which he was far from feeling; "you wouldn't do anything to please me."

"What d'ye mean?" asked Shank, with a look of surprise.

"Well, I mean," returned the other, gently, "that you won't even do such
a trifle as to lie down and keep quiet to please me."

A smile lighted up the emaciated features of the sick man, as he
promptly lay back at full length and shut his eyes.

"There, Charlie," he said, "I'll behave, and let you do all the talking;
but don't let go my hand, old man.  Keep a tight grip of it.  I'm
terrified lest you drift off again, and--and melt away."

"No fear, Shank.  I'll not let go my hold of you, please God, till I
carry you back to old England."

"Ah! old England!  I'll never see it again.  I feel that.  But tell
me,"--he started up again, with a return of the excited look--"is father
any better?"

"N-no, not exactly--but he is no worse.  I'll tell you all about
everything if you will only lie down again and keep silent."

The invalid once more lay back, closed his eyes and listened, while his
friend related to him all that he knew about his family affairs, and the
kindness of old Jacob Crossley, who had not only befriended them when in
great distress, but had furnished the money to enable him, Charlie, to
visit these outlandish regions for the express purpose of rescuing Shank
from all his troubles and dangers.

At this point the invalid interrupted him with an anxious look.

"Have you the money with you?"

"Yes."

"All of it?"

"Yes.  Why do you ask?"

"Because," returned Shank, with something of a groan, "you are in a den
of thieves!"

"I know it, my boy," returned Charlie, with a smile, "and so, for better
security, I have given it in charge to our old chum, Ralph Ritson."

"What!" exclaimed Shank, starting up again with wide open eyes; "you
have met Ralph, then?"

"I have.  He conducted me here."

"And you have intrusted your money to _him_?"

"Yes--all of it; every cent!"

"Are you aware," continued Shank, in a solemn tone, "that Ralph Ritson
is Buck Tom--the noted chief of the outlaws?"

"I know it."

"And you trust him?"

"I do.  I have perfect confidence that he is quite incapable of
betraying an old friend."

For some time Shank looked at his companion in surprise; then an absent
look came into his eyes, and a variety of expressions passed over his
wan visage.  At last he spoke.

"I don't know how it is, Charlie, but somehow I think you are right.
It's an old complaint of mine, you know, to come round to your way of
thinking, whether I admit it or not.  In days of old I usually refused
to admit it, but believed in you all the same!  If any man had told me
this morning--ay, even half an hour since--that he had placed money in
the hands of Buck Tom for safe keeping, knowing who and what he is, I
would have counted him an incurable fool; but now, somehow, I do believe
that you were quite right to do it, and that your money is as safe as if
it were in the Bank of England."

"But I did not intrust it to Buck Tom, knowing who and what he _is_,"
returned Charlie, with a significant smile, "I put it into the hands of
Ralph Ritson, knowing who and what he _was_."

"You're a good fellow, Charlie," said Shank, squeezing the hand that
held his, "and I believe it is that very trustfulness of yours which
gives you so great power and influence with people.  I know it has
influenced me for good many a time in the past, and would continue to do
so still if I were not past redemption."

"No man is past redemption," said the other quietly; "but I'm glad you
agree with me about Ralph, for--"

He stopped abruptly, and both men turned their eyes towards the entrance
to the cave.

"Did you hear anything?" asked Shank, in a low voice.

"I thought so--but it must have been the shifting of a log on the fire,"
said the other, in a similarly low tone.

"Come, now, Charlie," said Shank, in his ordinary tones, "let me hear
something about yourself.  You have not said a word yet about what you
have been doing these three years past."

As he spoke a slight noise was again heard in the passage, and, next
moment Buck Tom re-entered carrying a lump of meat.  Whether he had been
listening or not they had no means of knowing, for his countenance was
quite grave and natural in appearance.

"I suppose you have had long enough, you two, to renew your old
acquaintance," he said.  "It behoves me now to get ready some supper for
the boys against their return, for they would be ill-pleased to come
home to an empty kettle, and their appetites are surprisingly strong.
But you needn't interrupt your conversation.  I can do my work without
disturbing you."

"We have no secrets to communicate, Buck," returned Shank, "and I have
no doubt that the account of himself, which our old chum was just going
to give, will be as interesting to you as to me."

"Quite as interesting," rejoined Buck; "so pray go on, Brooke.  I can
listen while I look after the cookery."

Thus urged, our hero proceeded to relate his own adventures at sea--the
wreck of the _Walrus_, the rescue by the whaler, and his various
experiences both afloat and ashore.

"The man, Dick Darvall, whom I have mentioned several times," said
Charlie, in conclusion, "I met with again in New York, when I was about
to start to come here, and as I wanted a companion, and he was a most
suitable man, besides being willing to come, I engaged him.  He is a
rough and ready, but a handy and faithful, man, who had some experience
in woodcraft before he went to sea, but I have been forced to leave him
behind me at a ranch a good many miles to the south of David's store,
owing to the foolish fellow having tried to jump a creek in the dark and
broken his horse's leg.  We could not get another horse at the time, and
as I was very anxious to push on--being so near my journey's end--and
the ranch was a comfortable enough berth, I left him behind, as I have
said, with directions to stay till I should return, or to push on if he
could find a safe guide."

While Charlie Brooke was relating the last part of his experience, it
might have been observed that the countenance of Buck Tom underwent a
variety of curious changes, like the sky of an April day.  A somewhat
stern frown settled on it at last but neither of his companions observed
the fact being too much interested in each other.

"What was the name o' the ranch where your mate was left?" asked Buck
Tom, when his guest ceased speaking.

"The ranch of Roaring Bull," answered Charlie.  "I should not wonder,"
he added, "if its name were derived from its owner's voice, for it
sounded like the blast of a trombone when he shouted to his people."

"Not only his ranch but himself is named after his voice," returned
Buck.  "His real name is Jackson, but it is seldom used now.  Every one
knows him as Roaring Bull.  He's not a bad fellow at bottom, but
something overbearing, and has made a good many enemies since he came to
this part of the country six years ago."

"That may be so," remarked Brooke, "but he was very kind to us the day
we put up at his place, and Dick Darvall, at all events, is not one of
his enemies.  Indeed he and Roaring Bull took quite a fancy to each
other.  It seemed like love at first sight.  Whether Jackson's pretty
daughter had anything to do with the fancy on Dick's part of course I
can't say.  Now, I think of it, his readiness to remain behind inclines
me to believe it had!"

"Well, come outside with me, and have a chat about old, times.  It is
too hot for comfort here.  I dare say our friend Shank will spare you
for quarter of an hour, and the pot can look after itself.  By the way,
it would be as well to call me Buck Tom--or Buck.  My fellows would not
understand Ralph Ritson.  They never heard it before.  Have a cigar?"

"No, thank you, I have ceased to see the advantage of poisoning
one's-self merely because it is the fashion to do so."

"The poison is wonderfully slow," said Buck.

"But not less wonderfully sure," returned Charlie, with a smile.

"As you will," rejoined Buck, rising and going outside with his visitor.

The night was very still and beautiful, and, the clouds having cleared
away, the moonbeams struggled through the foliage and revealed the
extreme wildness and seclusion of the spot which had been chosen by the
outlaws as their fortress.

Charlie now saw that the approach to the entrance of the cave was a
narrow neck of rock resembling a natural bridge, with a deep gully on
either side, and that the cliff which formed the inner end of the cavern
overhung its base, so that if an enemy were to attempt to hurl rocks
down from above these would drop beyond the cave altogether.  This much
he saw at a glance.  The minute details and intricacies of the place of
course could not be properly seen or understood in the flickering and
uncertain light which penetrated the leafy canopy, and, as it were,
played with the shadows of the fallen rocks that strewed the ground
everywhere, and hung in apparently perilous positions on the mountain
slopes.

The manner of the outlaw changed to that of intense earnestness the
moment he got out to the open air.

"Charlie Brooke," he said, with more of the tone and air of old familiar
friendship than he had yet allowed himself to assume, "it's of no use
exciting poor Shank unnecessarily, so I brought you out here to tell you
that your man Dick Darvall is in deadly peril, and nothing but immediate
action on my part can save him; I must ride without delay to his rescue.
You cannot help me in this.  I know what you are going to propose, but
you must trust and obey me if you would save your friend's life.  To
accompany me would only delay and finally mar my plans.  Now, will
you--"

A peculiar whistle far down the gorge caused the outlaw to cease
abruptly and listen.

The whistle was repeated, and Buck answered it at once with a look of
great surprise.

"These are my fellows back already!" he said.

"You seem surprised.  Did you, then, not expect them so soon?"

"I certainly did not; something must have gone wrong," replied Buck,
with a perplexed look.  Then, as if some new idea had flashed upon him,
"Now, look here, Brooke, I must ask you to trust me implicitly and to
act a part.  Your life may depend on your doing this."

"The first I can do with ease, but as to the latter, my agreeing to do
so depends on whether the action you require of me is honourable.  You
must forgive me, Rits--"

"Hush!  Don't forget that there is no such man as Ralph Ritson in these
mountains.  _My_ life may depend on your remembering that.  Of course I
don't expect you to act a dishonourable part,--all I want you to do just
now is to lie down and pretend to go to sleep."

"Truly, if that is all, I am ready," said Charlie; "at all events I will
shut my eyes and hold my tongue."

"A useful virtue at times, and somewhat rare," said Buck, leading his
guest back into the cavern.  "Now, then, Brooke, lie down there,"
pointing to a couch of pine-brush in a corner, "and try to sleep if you
can."

Our hero at once complied, stretched himself at full length with his
face to the light, and apparently went to sleep, but with his left arm
thrown over his forehead as if to protect his eyes from the glare of the
fire.  Thus he was in a position to see as well as hear all that went
on.  Buck Tom went to the sick man and whispered something to him.
Then, returning to the fire, he continued to stir the big pot, and sniff
its savoury contents with much interest.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

FRIENDS AND FOES--PLOTS AND COUNTERPLOTS--THE RANCH IN DANGER.

In a few minutes the sound of heavy feet and gruff voices was heard in
the outside passage, and next moment ten men filed into the room and
saluted their chief heartily.

Charlie felt an almost irresistible tendency to open his eyes, but knew
that the risk was too great, and contented himself with his ears.  These
told him pretty eloquently what was going on, for suddenly, the noise of
voices and clattering of footsteps ceased, a dead silence ensued, and
Charlie knew that the whole band were gazing at him with wide open eyes
and, probably, open mouths.  Their attention had been directed to the
stranger by the chief.  The silence was only momentary, however.

"Now, don't begin to whisper, pards," said Buck Tom, in a slightly
sarcastic tone.  "When will ye learn that there is nothing so likely to
waken a sleeper as whisperin'?  Be natural--be natural, and tell me, as
softly as ye can in your natural tones, what has brought you back so
soon.  Come, Jake, you have got the quietest voice.  The poor man is
pretty well knocked up and needs rest.  I brought him here."

"Has he got much?" the sentence was completed by Jake significantly
slapping his pocket.

"A goodish lot.  But come, sit down and out wi' the news.  Something
must be wrong."

"Wall, I guess that somethin' _is_ wrong.  Everything's wrong, as far as
I can see.  The Redskins are up, an' the troops are out, an' so it
seemed o' no use our goin' to bust up the ranch of Roarin' Bull, seein'
that the red devils are likely to be there before us.  So we came back
here, an' I'm glad you've got suthin' in the pot, for we're about as
empty as kettledrums."

"Humph!" ejaculated Buck, "didn't I tell you not to trouble Roarin'
Bull--that he and his boys could lick you if you had been twenty instead
of ten.  But how came ye to hear o' this cock-and-bull story about the
Redskins?"

"We got it from Hunky Ben, an' he's not the boy to go spreadin' false
reports."

Charlie Brooke ventured at this point to open his eye-lids the smallest
possible bit, so that any one looking at him would have failed to
observe any motion in them.  The little slit however, admitted the whole
scene to the retina, and he perceived that ten of the most
cut-throat-looking men conceivable were seated in a semicircle in the
act of receiving portions from the big pot into tin plates.  Most of
them were clothed in hunters' leathern costume, wore long boots with
spurs, and were more or less bronzed and bearded.

Buck Tom, _alias_ Ralph Ritson, although as tall and strong as any of
them, seemed a being of quite angelic gentleness beside them.  Yet Buck
was their acknowledged chief.  No doubt it was due to the superiority of
mind over matter, for those out-laws were grossly material and
matter-of-fact!

"There must be some truth in the report if Hunky Ben carried it," said
Buck, looking up quickly, "but I left Ben sitting quietly in David's
store not many hours ago."

"No doubt that's true, Captain," said Jake, as he ladled the soup into
his capacious mouth; "nevertheless we met Hunky Ben on the pine-river
prairie scourin' over the turf like all possessed on Black Polly.  We
stopped him of course an' asked the news."

"`News!' cried he, `why, the Redskins have dug up the hatchet an' riz
like one man.  They've clar'd out Yellow Bluff, an' are pourin' like
Niagara down upon Rasper's Creek.  It's said that they'll visit Roarin'
Bull's ranch to-morrow.  No time for more talk, boys.  Oratin' ain't in
my line.  I'm off to Quester Creek to rouse up the troops.'  Wi' that
Hunky wheeled round an' went off like a runaway streak o' lightnin'.  I
sent a couple o' shots after him, for I'd took a fancy to Black Polly--
but them bullets didn't seem to hit somehow."

"Boys," cried Buck Tom, jumping up when he heard this, "if Hunky Ben
said all that, you may depend on't it's true, an' we won't have to waste
time this night if we're to save the ranch of Roarin' Bull."

"But we don't want to save the ranch of Roarin' Bull, as far as I'm
consarned," said Jake rather sulkily.

Buck wheeled round on the man with a fierce glare, but, as if suddenly
changing his mind, he said in a tone of well-feigned surprise--

"What! _you_, Jake, of all men--such a noted lady-killer--indifferent
about the fate of the ranch of Roaring Bull, and pretty Miss Mary
Jackson in it at the mercy of the Redskins!"

"Well, if it comes to that, Captain, I'll ride as far and as fast as any
man to rescue a girl, pretty or plain, from the Redskins," said Jake,
recovering his good-humour.

"Well, then, cram as much grub as you can into you in five minutes, for
we must be off by that time.  Rise, sir," said Buck, shaking Charlie
with some violence.  "We ride on a matter of life an' death--to save
women.  Will you join us?"

"Of course I will!" cried Charlie, starting up with a degree of alacrity
and vigour that favourably impressed the outlaws, and shaking off his
simulated sleep with wonderful facility.

"Follow me, then," cried Buck, hastening out of the cave.

"But what of Shank?" asked Charlie, in some anxiety, when they got
outside.  "He cannot accompany us; may we safely leave him behind?"

"Quite safely.  This place is not known to the savages who are on the
warpath, and there is nothing to tempt them this way even if it were.
Besides, Shank is well enough to get up and gather firewood, kindle his
fire, and boil the kettle for himself.  He is used to being left alone.
See, here is our stable under the cliff, and yonder stands your horse.
Saddle him.  The boys will be at our heels in a moment.  Some of them
are only too glad to have a brush wi' the Redskins, for they killed two
of our band lately."

This last remark raised an uncomfortable feeling in the mind of Charlie,
for was he not virtually allying himself with a band of outlaws, with
intent to attack a band of Indians of whom he knew little or nothing,
and with whom he had no quarrel?  There was no time, however, to weigh
the case critically.  The fact that savages were about to attack the
ranch in which his comrade Dick Darvall was staying, and that there were
females in the place, was enough to settle the question.  In a minute or
two he had saddled his horse, which he led out and fastened to a tree,
and, while the outlaws were busy making preparations for a start, he ran
back to the cave.

"Shank," said he, sitting down beside his friend and taking his hand,
"you have heard the news.  My comrade Darvall is in great danger.  I
must away to his rescue.  But be sure, old fellow, that I will return to
you soon."

"Yes, yes--I know," returned Shank, with a look of great anxiety; "but,
Charlie, you don't know half the danger you run.  Don't fight with Buck
Tom--do you hear?"

"Of course I won't," said Charlie, in some surprise.

"No, no, that's not what I mean," said Shank, with increasing anxiety.
"Don't fight _in company with him_."

At that moment the voice of the outlaw was heard at the entrance
shouting, "Come along, Brooke, we're all ready."

"Don't be anxious about me, Shank; I'll take good care," said Charlie,
as he hastily pressed the hand of the invalid and hurried away.

The ten men with Buck at their head were already mounted when he ran
out.

"Pardon me," he said, vaulting into the saddle, "I was having a word
with the sick man."

"Keep next to me, and close up," said Buck, as he wheeled to the right
and trotted away.

Down the Traitor's Trap they went at what was to Charlie a break-neck
but satisfactory pace, for now that he was fairly on the road a
desperate anxiety lest they should be too late took possession of him.
Across an open space they went at the bottom of which ran a brawling
rivulet.  There was no bridge, but over or through it went the whole
band without the slightest check, and onward at full gallop, for the
country became more level and open just beyond.

The moon was still shining although sinking towards the horizon, and now
for the first time Charlie began to note with what a stern and reckless
band of men he was riding, and a feeling of something like exultation
arose within him as he thought on the one hand of the irresistible sweep
of an onslaught from such men, and, on the other, of the cruelties that
savages were known to practise.  In short, rushing to the rescue was
naturally congenial to our hero.

About the same time that the outlaws were thus hastening for once on an
honourable mission--though some of them went from anything but
honourable motives--two other bands of men were converging to the same
point as fast as they could go.  These were a company of United States
troops, guided by Hunky Ben, and a large band of Indians under their
warlike chief Bigfoot.

Jackson, _alias_ Roaring Bull, had once inadvertently given offence to
Bigfoot, and as that chief was both by nature and profession an
unforgiving man he had vowed to have his revenge.  Jackson treated the
threat lightly, but his pretty daughter Mary was not quite as
indifferent about it as her father.

The stories of Indian raids and frontier wars and barbarous cruelties
had made a deep impression on her sensitive mind, and when her mother
died, leaving her the only woman at her father's ranch--with the
exception of one or two half-breed women, who could not be much to her
as companions--her life had been very lonely, and her spirit had been
subjected to frequent, though hitherto groundless, alarms.

But pretty Moll, as she was generally called, was well protected, for
her father, besides having been a noted pugilist in his youth, was a
big, powerful man, and an expert with rifle and revolver.  Moreover,
there was not a cow-boy within a hundred miles of her who would not (at
least thought he would not) have attacked single-handed the whole race
of Redskins if Moll had ordered him to do so as a proof of affection.

Now, when strapping, good-looking Dick Darvall came to the ranch in the
course of his travels and beheld Mary Jackson, and received the first
broadside from her bright blue eyes, he hauled down his colours and
surrendered with a celerity which would have mightily amused the many
comrades to whom he had said in days of yore that his heart was as hard
as rock, and he had never yet seen the woman as could soften it!

But Dick, more than most of his calling, was a modest, almost a bashful,
man.  He behaved to Mary with the politeness that was natural to him,
and with which he would have approached any woman.  He did not make the
slightest attempt to show his admiration of her, though it is quite
within the bounds of possibility that his "speaking" brown eyes may have
said something without his permission!  Mary Jackson, being also modest
in a degree, of course did not reveal the state of her feelings, and
made no visible attempt to ascertain his, but her bluff sagacious old
father was not obtuse--neither was he reticent.  He was a man of the
world--at least of the back-woods world--and his knowledge of life, as
there exhibited, was founded on somewhat acute experience.  He knew that
his daughter was young and remarkably pretty.  He saw that Dick Darvall
was also young--a dashing and unusually handsome sailor--something like
what Tom Bowling may have been.  Putting these things together, he came
to the very natural conclusion that a wedding would be desirable;
believing, as he did, that human nature in the Rockies is very much the
same as to its foundation elements as it is elsewhere.  Moreover,
Roaring Bull was very much in want of a stout son-in-law at that time,
so he fanned the flame which he fondly hoped was beginning to arise.
This he did in a somewhat blundering and obvious manner, but Dick was
too much engrossed with Mary to notice it and Mary was too ignorant of
the civilised world's ways to care much for the proprieties of life.

Of course this state of things created an awful commotion in the breasts
of the cow-boys who were in the employment of Mary's father and herded
his cattle.  Their mutual jealousies were sunk in the supreme danger
that threatened them all, and they were only restrained from picking a
quarrel with Dick and shooting him by the calmly resolute look in his
brown eyes, coupled with his great physical power and his irresistible
good-nature.  Urbanity seemed to have been the mould in which the spirit
of this man-of-the-sea had been cast and gentleness was one of his chief
characteristics.  Moreover, he could tell a good story, and sing a good
song in a fine bass voice.  Still further, although these gallant
cow-boys felt intensely jealous of this newcomer, they could not but
admit that they had nothing tangible to go upon, for the sailor did not
apparently pay any pointed attention to Mary, and she certainly gave no
special encouragement to him.

There was one cow-boy, however, of Irish descent, who could not or would
not make up his mind to take things quietly, but resolved, as far as he
was concerned, to bring matters to a head.  His name was Pat Reilly.

He entered the kitchen on the day after Dick's arrival and found Mary
alone and busily engaged with the dinner.

"Miss Jackson," said Pat, "there's a question I've bin wantin' to ax ye
for a long time past, an' with your lave I'll putt it now."

"What is it Mr Reilly?" asked the girl somewhat stiffly, for she had a
suspicion of what was coming.  A little negro girl in the back kitchen
named Buttercup also had a suspicion of what was coming, and stationed
herself with intense delight behind the door, through a crack in which
she could both hear and see.

"Mary, my dear," said Pat insinuatingly, "how would you like to jump
into double harness with me an' jog along the path o' life together?"

Poor Mary, being agitated by the proposal, and much amused by the manner
of it, bent over a pot of something and tried to hide her blushes and
amusement in the steam.  Buttercup glared, grinned, hugged herself, and
waited for more.

Pat, erroneously supposing that silence meant consent, slipped an arm
round Mary's waist.  No man had ever yet dared to do such a thing to
her.  The indignant girl suddenly wheeled round and brought her pretty
little palm down on the cow-boy's cheek with all her might--and that was
considerable!

"Who's a-firin' off pistles in de kitchen?" demanded Buttercup in a
serious tone, as she popped her woolly head through the doorway.

"Nobody, me black darlin'," said Pat; "it's only Miss Mary expressin'
her failin's in a cheeky manner.  That's all!"

So saying the rejected cow-boy left the scene of his discomfiture,
mounted his mustang, took his departure from the ranch of Roarin' Bull
without saying farewell, and when next heard of had crossed the lonely
Guadaloupe mountains into Lincoln County, New Mexico.

But to return.  While the troops and the outlaws were hastening thus to
the rescue of the dwellers in Bull's ranch, and the blood-thirsty
Redskins were making for the same point, bent on the destruction of all
its inhabitants, Roaring Bull himself, his pretty daughter, and Dick
Darvall, were seated in the ranch enjoying their supper, all ignorant
alike of the movements of friend and foe, with Buttercup waiting on
them.

One messenger, however, was speeding on his way to warn them of danger.
This was the cowboy Crux, who had been despatched on Bluefire by Hunky
Ben just before that sturdy scout had started to call out the cavalry at
Quester Creek.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

THE ALARM AND PREPARATIONS FOR DEFENCE.

"From what you say I should think that my friend Brooke won't have much
trouble in findin' Traitor's Trap," remarked Dick Darvall, pausing in
the disposal of a venison steak which had been cooked by the fair bands
of Mary Jackson herself, "but I'm sorely afraid o' the reception he'll
meet with when he gets there, if the men are such awful blackguards as
you describe."

"They're the biggest hounds unhung," growled Roaring Bull, bringing one
hand down on the board by way of emphasis, while with the other he held
out his plate for another steak.

"You're too hard on some of them, father," said Mary, in a voice the
softness of which seemed appropriate to the beauty of her face.

"Always the way wi' you wenches," observed the father.  "Some o' the
villains are good-lookin', others are ugly; so, the first are not so bad
as the second--eh, lass?"

Mary laughed.  She was accustomed to her fathers somewhat rough but not
ill-natured rebuffs.

"Perhaps I may be prejudiced, father," she returned; "but apart from
that, surely you would never compare Buck Tom with Jake the Flint,
though they do belong to the same band."

"You are right, my lass," rejoined her father.  "They do say that Buck
Tom is a gentleman, and often keeps back his boys from devilry--though
he can't always manage that, an' no wonder, for Jake the Flint is the
cruellest monster 'tween this an' Texas if all that's said of him be
true."

"I wish my comrade was well out o' their clutches," said Dick, with a
look of anxiety; "an' it makes me feel very small to be sittin' here
enjoyin' myself when I might be ridin' on to help him if he should need
help."

"Don't worry yourself on that score," said the host.  "You couldn't find
your way without a guide though I was to give ye the best horse in my
stable--which I'd do slick off if it was of any use.  There's not one o'
my boys on the ranch just now, but there'll be four or five of 'em in
to-morrow by daylight an' I promise you the first that comes in.  They
all know the country for three hundred miles around--every inch--an' you
may ride my best horse till you drop him if ye can.  There, now, wash
down your victuals an' give us a yarn, or a song."

"I'm quite sure," added Mary, by way of encouragement, "that with one of
the outlaws for an old friend, Mr Brooke will be quite safe among
them."

"But he's _not_ an outlaw, Miss Mary," broke in Darvall.  "Leastwise we
have the best reason for believin' that he's detained among them against
his will.  Hows'ever, it's of no use cryin' over spilt milk.  I'm bound
to lay at anchor in this port till mornin', so, as I can't get up steam
for a song in the circumstances, here goes for a yarn."

The yarn to which our handsome seaman treated his audience was nothing
more than an account of one of his numerous experiences on the ocean,
but he had such a pleasant, earnest, truth-like, and confidential way of
relating it and, withal, interlarded his speech with so many little
touches of humour, that the audience became fascinated, and sat in
open-eyed forgetfulness of all else.  Buttercup, in particular, became
so engrossed as to forget herself as well as her duties, and stood
behind her master in an expectant attitude, glaring at the story-teller,
with bated breath, profound sympathy, and extreme readiness to
appreciate every joke whether good or bad.

In the midst of one of the most telling of his anecdotes the speaker was
suddenly arrested by the quick tramp of a galloping horse, the rider of
which, judging from the sound, seemed to be in hot haste.

All eyes were turned inquiringly on the master of the ranch.  That cool
individual, rising with quiet yet rapid action, reached down a magazine
repeating rifle that hung ready loaded above the door of the room.

Observing this, Dick Darvall drew a revolver from his coat-pocket and
followed his host to the outer door of the house.  Mary accompanied
them, and Buttercup retired to the back kitchen as being her appropriate
stronghold.

They had hardly reached and flung open the door when Bluefire came
foaming and smoking into the yard with Crux the cow-boy on his back.

"Wall, Roaring Bull," cried Crux, leaping off his horse and coming
forward as quietly as if there were nothing the matter.  "I'm glad to
see you OK, for the Cheyenne Reds are on the war-path, an' makin' tracks
for your ranch.  But as they've not got here yet, they won't likely
attack till the moon goes down.  Is there any chuck goin'?  I'm half
starved."

"Ay, Crux, lots o' chuck here.  Come in an' let's hear all about it.
Where got ye the news?"

"Hunky Ben sent me.  He wasn't thinkin' o' you at first but when a boy
came in wi' the news that a crowd o' the reds had gone round by Pine
Hollow--just as he was fixin' to pull out for Quester Creek to rouse up
the cavalry--he asked me to come on here an' warn you."

While he was speaking the cow-boy sat down to supper with the air of a
man who meant business, while the host and his sailor guest went to look
after the defences of the place.

"I'm glad you are here, Dick Darvall," said the former, "for it's a bad
job to be obliged to fight without help agin a crowd o' yellin' Reds.
My boys won't be back till sun-up, an' by that time the game may be
played out."

"D'ee think the Redskins 'll attack us to-night then?" asked the sailor
as he assisted to close the gates of the yard.

"Ay, that they will, lad.  They know the value o' time better than most
men, and, when they see their chance, are not slow to take advantage of
it.  As Crux said, they won't attack while the moon shines, so we have
plenty of time to git ready for them.  I wish I hadn't sent off my boys,
but as bad luck would have it a bunch o' my steers have drifted down
south, an' I can't afford to lose them--so, you see, there's not a man
left in the place but you an' me an' Crux to defend poor Mary."

For the first time in his life Dick Darvall felt a distinct tendency to
rejoice over the fact that he was a young and powerful man!  To live
and, if need be, die for Mary was worth living for!

"Are you well supplied with arms an' ammunition?" he asked.

"That am I, and we'll need it all," answered the host as he led Dick
round to the back of the yard where another gate required fastening.

"I don't see that it matters much," said Dick in a questioning tone,
"whether you shut the gates or not.  With so few to defend the place the
house will be our only chance."

"When you've fought as much wi' Reds as I have, Dick, you'll larn that
delay, even for five minutes, counts for a good deal."

"Well, there's somethin' in that.  It minds me o' what one o' my
shipmates, who had bin in the London fire brigade, once said.  `Dick,'
said he, `never putt off what you've got to do.  Sometimes I've bin at a
fire where the loss of only two minutes caused the destruction of a
store worth ten thousand pound, more or less.  We all but saved it as it
was--so near were we, that if we had bin _one_ minute sooner I do
believe we'd have saved it.

"`But when we was makin' for that fire full sail, a deaf old apple-woman
came athwart our bows an got such a fright that she went flop down right
in front of us.  To steer clear of her we'd got to sheer off so that we
all but ran into a big van, and, what wi' our lights an' the yellin',
the horses o' the van took fright and backed into us as we flew past, so
that we a'most went down by the starn.  One way or another we lost two
minutes, as I've said, an' the owners o' that store lost about ten
thousand pounds--more or less.'"

"That was a big pile, Dick," observed the ranchman, as they turned from
the gate towards the house, "not easy to replace."

"True--my shipmate never seemed to be quite sure whether it was more or
less that was lost, but he thought the Insurance offices must have found
it out by that time.  It's a pity there's only three of us, for that
will leave one side o' the house undefended."

"All right Dick; you don't trouble your head about that for Buttercup
fights like a black tiger.  She's a'most as good as a man--only she
can't manage to aim, so it's no use givin' her a rifle.  She's game
enough to fire it, but the more she tries to hit, the more she's sure to
miss.  However she's got a way of her own that sarves well enough to
defend her side o' the house.  She always takes charge o' the front.  My
Mary can't fight, but she's a heroine at loadin'--an' that's somethin'
when you're hard pressed!  Come, now, I'll show ye the shootin' irons
an' our plan of campaign."

Roaring Bull led the way back to the room, or central hall, where they
had supped, and here they found that the debris of their feast had
already been cleared away, and that arms of various kinds, with
ammunition, covered the board.

"Hospitable alike to friend and foe," said Jackson gaily.  "Here, you
see, Mary has spread supper for the Reds!"

Darvall made no response to this pleasantry, for he observed that poor
Mary's pretty face was very pale, and that it wore an expression of
mingled sadness and anxiety.

"You won't be exposed to danger, I hope," said Dick, in a low earnest
tone, while Jackson was loudly discussing with Crux the merits of one of
the repeating rifles--of which there were half-a-dozen on the table.

"Oh no!  It is not that," returned the girl sadly.  "I am troubled to
think that, however the fight goes, some souls, perhaps many, will be
sent to their account unprepared.  For myself, I shall be safe enough as
long as we are able to hold the house, and it may be that God will send
us help before long."

"You may be quite sure," returned Dick, with suppressed emotion, "that
no Redskin shall cross this threshold as long as we three men have a
spark o' life left."

A sweet though pitiful smile lighted up Mary's pale face for a moment,
as she replied that she was quite sure of that, in a tone which caused
Darvall's heart to expand, so that his ribs seemed unable to contain it,
while he experienced a sensation of being stronger than Samson and
bigger than Goliath!

"And I suppose," continued Dick, "that the troops won't be long of
coming.  Is the man--what's his name, Humpy Ben--trustworthy?"

"Trustworthy!" exclaimed the maiden, with a flush of enthusiasm; "there
is not a more trustworthy man on this side of the Rocky mountains, or
the other side either, I am quite sure."

Poor Darvall's heart seemed suddenly to find plenty of room within the
ribs at that moment, and his truthful visage must have become something
of an index to his state of mind; for, to his surprise, Mary laughed.

"It seems to me so funny," she continued, "to hear any one ask if
Hunky--not Humpy--Ben is to be trusted."

"Is he, then, such a splendid young fellow!" asked the seaman, with just
the slightest touch of bitterness in his tone, for he felt as if a rock
something like Gibraltar had been laid on his heart.

"Well, he's not exactly young," answered Mary, with a peculiar
expression that made her questioner feel still more uncomfortable, "yet
he is scarcely middle-aged, but he certainly _is_ the most splendid
fellow on the frontier; and he saved my life once."

"Indeed! how was that?"

"Well, it was this way.  I had been paying a short visit to his wife,
who lives on the other side of the--"

"Come along, Darvall," cried Roaring Bull at that moment.  "The moon's
about down, an' we'll have to take our stations.  We shall defend the
outworks first to check them a bit and put off some time, then scurry
into the house and be ready for them when they try to clear the fence.
Follow me.  Out wi' the lights, girls, and away to your posts."

"I'll hear the end of your story another time, Miss Mary," said Dick,
looking over his shoulder and following his host and Crux to the outer
door.

The seaman was conscious of a faint suspicion that Mary was wrestling
with another laugh as he went off to defend the outworks, but he also,
happily, felt that the Rock of Gibraltar had been removed from his
heart!



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

DEFENCE OF THE RANCH OF ROARING BULL.

Every light and every spark of fire had been extinguished in the ranch
of Roaring Bull when its defenders issued from its doorway.  They were
armed to the teeth, and glided across the yard to the fence or stockade
that enclosed the buildings, leaving the door slightly open so as to be
ready for speedy retreat.

It had been arranged that, as there was a large open field without bush
or tree in the rear of the ranch, they should leave that side undefended
at first.

"They'll never come into the open as long as they can crawl up through
the bush," Jackson had said, while making his final dispositions.
"They're a'most sure to come up in front thinkin' we're all a-bed.  Now,
mind--don't stand still, boys, but walk along as ye fire, to give 'em
the notion there's more of us.  An' don't fire at nothin'.  They'd think
we was in a funk.  An' when you hear me whistle get into the house as
quick as a cotton-tail rabbit an' as sly as a snake."

After the moon went down, everything in and around the ranch was as
silent as the grave, save now and then the stamp of a hoof on the floor
of a shed, where a number of horses stood saddled and bridled ready to
mount at a moment's notice; for Jackson had made up his mind, if it came
to the worst, to mount and make a bold dash with all his household
through the midst of his foes, trusting to taking them by surprise and
to his knowledge of the country for success.

For a long time, probably two hours, the three men stood at their posts
motionless and silent; still there was no sign, either by sight or
sound, of an enemy.  The outline of the dark woods was barely visible
against the black sky in front of each solitary watcher, and no moving
thing could be distinguished in the open field behind either by Crux or
Darvall, to each of whom the field was visible.  Jackson guarded the
front.

To Dick, unaccustomed as he was to such warfare, the situation was very
trying, and might have told on his nerves severely if he had not been a
man of iron mould; as it was, he had no nerves to speak of!  But he was
a man of lively imagination.  More than fifty times within those two
hours did he see a black form moving in the darkness that lay between
him and the wood, and more than fifty times was his Winchester rifle
raised to his shoulder; but as often did the caution "don't fire at
nothin'" rise to his memory.

The stockade was of peculiar construction, because its owner and maker
was eccentric, and a mechanical genius.  Not only were the pickets of
which it was composed very strong and planted with just space between to
permit of firing, but there was a planking of strong boards, waist high,
all round the bottom inside, which afforded some protection to defenders
by concealing them when they stooped and changed position.

While matters were in this state outside, Mary Jackson and Buttercup
were standing at an upper window just opposite the front gate, the
latter with a huge bell-mouthed blunderbuss of the last century, loaded
with buckshot in her hands.  Mary stood beside her sable domestic ready
to direct her not as to how, but where and when, to use the ancient
weapon.

"You must be _very_ careful, Buttercup," said Mary in a low voice,
"_not_ to fire till I tell you, and to point only _where_ I tell you,
else you'll shoot father.  And _do_ keep your finger off the trigger!
By the way, have you cocked it?"

"O missy, I forgit dat," answered the damsel with a self-condemned look,
as she corrected the error.  "But don' you fear, Missy Mary.  I's use'
to dis yar blunn'erbus.  Last time I fire 'im was at a raven.  Down hoed
de raven, blow'd to atims, an' down hoed me too--cause de drefful t'ing
kicks like a Texas mule.  But bress you, I don' mind dat.  I's used to
it!"

Buttercup gave a little sniff of grave scorn with her flat nose, as
though to intimate that the ordinary ills of life were beneath _her_
notice.

We have said that all fires had been extinguished, but this is not
strictly correct, for in the room where the two maidens watched there
was an iron stove so enclosed that the fire inside did not show, and as
it was fed with charcoal there were neither flames nor sparks to betray
its presence.  On this there stood a large cast-iron pot full of water,
the bubbling of which was the only sound that broke the profound
stillness of the night, while the watchers scarcely breathed, so
intently did they listen.

At last the patient and self-restraining Dick saw a dark object moving
towards his side of the stockade, which he felt was much too real to be
classed with the creatures of his imagination which had previously given
him so much trouble.  Without a moment's hesitation the rifle flew to
his shoulder, and the prolonged silence was broken by the sharp report,
while an involuntary half-suppressed cry proved that he had not missed
his mark.  The dark object hastily retreated.  A neighbouring cliff
echoed the sounds, and two shots from his comrades told the sailor that
they also were on the alert.

Instantly the night was rendered hideous by a series of wild yells and
whoops, while, for a moment, the darkness gave place to a glare of light
as a hundred rifles vomited their deadly contents, and the sound of many
rushing feet was heard upon the open sward in front of the ranch.

The three male defenders had ducked their heads below the protecting
breast-work when the volley was fired, and then, discarding all idea of
further care, they skipped along their respective lines, yelling and
firing the repeaters so rapidly, that, to any one ignorant of the true
state of things, it must have seemed as if the place were defended by a
legion of demons.  To add to the hullabaloo Buttercup's blunderbuss
poured forth its contents upon a group of red warriors who were rushing
towards the front gate, with such a cannon-like sound and such wonderful
effect, that the rush was turned into a sudden and limping retreat.  The
effect indeed, was more severe even than Buttercup had intended, for a
stray buckshot had actually taken a direction which had been feared, and
grazed her master's left arm!  Happily the wound was very slight, and,
to do the poor damsel justice, she could not see that her master was
jumping from one place to another like a caged lion.  Like the same
animal, however, he gave her to understand what she had done, by
shouting in a thunderous bass roar that fully justified his sobriquet--

"Mind your eye, Buttercup!  Not so low next time!"

The immediate result of this vigorous defence was to make the Indians
draw off and retire to the woods--presumably for consultation.  By
previous arrangement the negro girl issued from the house with three
fresh repeaters in her arms, ran round to the combatants with them and
returned with their almost empty rifles.  These she and Mary proceeded
to reload in the hall, and then returned to their post at the upper
front window.

The morning was by this time pretty well advanced, and Jackson felt a
little uncertain as to what he should now do.  It was still rather dark;
but in a very short time, he knew, dawn would spread over the east, when
it would, of course, be quite impossible to defend the walls of the
little fort without revealing the small number of its defenders.  On the
other hand, if they should retire at once the enemy might find a
lodgement within, among the outbuildings, before there was light enough
to prevent them by picking off the leaders; in which case the assailants
would be able to apply fire to the wooden wails of the house without
much risk.

"If they manage to pile up enough o' brush to clap a light to," he
grumbled to himself in an undertone, "it's all up wi' us."

The thought had barely passed through his brain, when a leaden
messenger, intended to pass through it, carried his cap off his head,
and the fire that had discharged it almost blinded him.  Bigfoot, the
chief of the savages, had wriggled himself, snake-fashion, up to the
stockade unseen, and while Roaring Bull was meditating what was best to
be done, he had nearly succeeded in rendering him unable to do anything
at all.

The shot was the signal for another onslaught.  Once more the woods rang
with fiendish yells and rattling volleys.  Bigfoot, with the agility and
strength of a gorilla, leaped up and over the stockade and sprung down
into Jackson's arms, while Darvall and Crux resumed their almost
ubiquitous process of defence, and Buttercup's weapon again thundered
forth its defiance.

This time the fight was more protracted.  Bigfoot's career was indeed
stopped for the time being, for Jackson not only crushed the life almost
out of him by an unloving embrace, but dealt him a prize-fighter's blow
which effectually stretched him on the ground.  Not a moment too soon,
however, for the white man had barely got rid of the red one, when
another savage managed to scale the wall.  A blow from the butt of
Jackson's rifle dropped him, and then the victor fired so rapidly, and
with such effect, that a second time the Reds were repulsed.

Jackson did not again indulge in meditation, but blew a shrill blast on
a dog-whistle--a preconcerted signal--on hearing which his two comrades
made for the house door at full speed.

Only one other of the Indians, besides the two already mentioned, had
succeeded in getting over the stockade.  This man was creeping up to the
open door of the house, and, tomahawk in hand, had almost reached it
when Dick Darvall came tearing round the corner.

"Hallo!  Crux," cried Dick, "that you?"

The fact that he received no reply was sufficient for Dick, who was too
close to do more than drive the point of his rifle against the chest of
the Indian, who went down as if he had been shot, while Dick sprang in
and held open the door.  A word from Jackson and Crux as they ran
forward sufficed.  They passed in and the massive door was shut and
barred, while an instant later at least half-a-dozen savages ran up
against it and began to thunder on it with their rifle-butts and
tomahawks.

"To your windows!" shouted Jackson, as he sprang up the wooden
stair-case, three steps at a time.  "Fresh rifles here, Mary!"

"Yes, father," came in a silvery and most unwarlike voice from the hall
below.

Another moment and three shots rang from the three sides of the house,
and of the three Indians who were at the moment in the act of clambering
over the stockade, one fell inside and two out.  Happily, daylight soon
began to make objects distinctly visible, and the Indians were well
aware that it would now be almost certain death to any one who should
attempt to climb over.

It is well known that, as a rule, savages do not throw away their lives
recklessly.  The moment it became evident that darkness would no longer
serve them, those who were in the open retired to the woods, and potted
at the windows of the ranch, but, as the openings from which the
besieged fired were mere loop-holes made for the purpose of defence,
they had little hope of hitting them at long range except by chance.
Those of the besiegers who happened to be near the stockade took shelter
behind the breast-work, and awaited further orders from their chief--
ignorant of the fact that he had already fallen.

From the loop-holes of the room which Jackson had selected to defend,
the shed with the saddled horses was visible, so that no one could reach
it without coming under the fire of his deadly weapon.  There was also a
window in this room opening upon the back of the house and commanding
the field which we have before mentioned as being undefended while the
battle was waged outside.  By casting a glance now and then through this
window he could see any foe who might show himself in that direction.
The only part of the fort that seemed exposed to great danger now was
the front door, where the half-dozen savages, with a few others who had
joined them, were still battering away at the impregnable door.

Dick, who held the garret above, could not see the door, of course, nor
could he by any manoeuvre manage to bring his rifle to bear on it from
his loop-hole, and he dared not leave his post lest more Indians should
manage to scale the front stockade.

Buttercup, in the room below, had indeed a better chance at her window,
but she was too inexpert in warfare to point the blunderbuss straight
down and fire with effect, especially knowing, as she did, that the
sight of her arm in the act would be the signal for a prompt fusillade.
But the girl was not apparently much concerned about that, or anything
else.  The truth is that she possessed in an eminent and enviable degree
the spirit of entire trust in a leader.  She was under orders, and
awaited the word of command with perfect equanimity!  She even smiled
slightly--if such a mouth could be said to do anything slightly--when
Mary left her to take fresh rifles to the defenders overhead.

At last the command came from the upper regions, in tones that caused
the very savages to pause a moment and look at each other in surprise.
They did not pause long, however!

"Now, Buttercup," thundered Roaring Bull, "give it 'em--hot!"

At the word the girl calmly laid aside her weapon, lifted the big iron
pot with familiar and businesslike facility, and emptied it over the
window.

The result is more easily imagined than described.  A yell that must
have been heard miles off was the prelude to a stampede of the most
lively nature.  It was intensified, if possible, by the further action
of the negress, who, seizing the blunderbuss, pointed it at the flying
crowd, and, shutting both eyes, fired!  Not a buckshot took effect on
the savages, for Buttercup, if we may say so, aimed too low, but the
effect was more stupendous than if the aim had been good, for the heavy
charge drove up an indescribable amount of peppery dust and small stones
into the rear of the flying foe, causing another yell which was not an
echo but a magnified reverberation of the first.  Thus Buttercup had the
satisfaction of utterly routing her foes without killing a single man!

Daylight had fairly set in by that time, and the few savages who had not
succeeded in vaulting the stockade had concealed themselves behind the
various outhouses.

The proprietor of the ranch began now to have some hope of keeping the
Indians at bay until the troops should succour him.  He even left his
post and called his friends to a council of war, when a wild cheer was
heard in the woods.  It was followed by the sound of firing.  No sooner
was this heard than the savages concealed outside of the breastwork rose
as one man and ran for the woods.

"It's the troops!" exclaimed Dick hopefully.

"Troopers never cheer like that," returned Jackson with an anxious look.
"It's more like my poor cow-boys, and, if so, they will have no chance
wi' such a crowd o' Reds.  We must ride to help them, an' you'll have to
ride with us, Mary.  We daren't leave you behind, lass, wi' them
varmints skulkin' around."

"I'm ready, father," said Mary with a decided look, though it was
evident, from the pallor of her cheek, that she was ill at ease.

"Now, look here, Dick," said Jackson, quickly, "you will go down and
open the front gate.  I'll go with 'ee wi' my repeater to keep an eye on
the hidden reptiles, so that if one of them shows so much as the tip of
his ugly nose he'll have cause to remember it.  You will go to my
loophole, Crux, an keep your eyes open all round--specially on the
horses.  When the gate is open I'll shout, and you'll run down to the
shed wi' the women.--You understand?"  Crux nodded.

Acting on this plan Dick ran to the gate; Jackson followed, rifle in
hand, and, having reached the middle of the fort, he faced round; only
just in time to see a gun barrel raised from behind a shed.  Before he
could raise his own weapon a shot was heard and the gun-barrel
disappeared, while the Indian who raised it fell wounded on the ground.

"Well done, Crux!" he exclaimed, at the same moment firing his own rifle
at a head which was peeping round a corner.  The head vanished instantly
and Darvall rejoined him, having thrown the gate wide open.

"Come round wi' me an' drive the reptiles out," cried Jackson.  At the
same time he uttered a roar that a bull might have envied, and they both
rushed round to the back of the outhouses where three Indians were found
skulking.

At the sudden and unexpected onslaught, they fired an ineffectual volley
and fled wildly through the now open gate, followed by several shots
from both pursuers, whose aim, however, was no better than their own had
been.

Meanwhile Crux and the girls, having reached the shed according to
orders, mounted their respective steeds and awaited their comrades.
They had not long to wait.  Jackson and Dick came round the corner of
the shed at full speed, and, without a word, leaped simultaneously into
their saddles.

"Keep close to me, girls,--close up!" was all that Jackson said as he
dashed spurs into his horse, and, sweeping across the yard and through
the gate, made straight for that part of the woods where yells, shouts,
and firing told that a battle was raging furiously.



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

THE RESCUE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.

The ground in the neighbourhood of the ranch favoured the operations of
an attacking party, for it was so irregular and so cumbered with knolls
and clumps of trees that the defenders of the post scarce dared to make
a sally, lest their retreat should be cut off by a detached party of
assailants.

Hence Jackson would never have dreamed of quitting his house, or ceasing
to act on the defensive, had he not been under the natural impression
that it was his own returning cow-boys who had been attacked and
out-numbered by the Indians.  Great, therefore, was his surprise when,
on rounding a bluff and coming into view of the battle-field, the party
engaged with the Indians, though evidently white men, were neither his
own men nor those of the US troops.

He had just made the discovery, when a band of about fifty warriors
burst from the woods and rushed upon him.

"Back to back, boys! girls, keep close!" shouted Jackson, as he fired
two shots and dropped two Indians.  He pulled at a third, but there was
no answering report, for the magazine of his repeater was empty.

Crux and Darvall turned their backs towards him and thus formed a sort
of triangle, in the midst of which were the two girls.  But this
arrangement, which might have enabled them to hold out for some time,
was rendered almost abortive by the ammunition having been exhausted.

"So much for bein' in too great a hurry!" growled Jackson between his
clenched teeth, as he clubbed his rifle and made a savage blow at the
Indian who first came close to him.  It was evident that the Indians
were afraid to fire lest they should wound or kill the women; or,
perhaps, understanding how matters stood, they wished to capture the
white men alive, for, instead of firing at them, they circled swiftly
round, endeavouring to distract their attention so as to rash in on
them.

Bigfoot, who had recovered from his blow and escaped from the ranch,
made a sudden dash at Dick when he thought him off his guard, but Dick
was not easily caught off his guard in a fight.  While in the act of
making a furious demonstration at an Indian in front, which kept that
savage off, he gave Bigfoot a "back-handed wipe," as he called it, which
tumbled the chief completely off his horse.

Just then a turn of affairs in favour of the whites was taking place on
the battle-field beyond.  The party there had attacked the savages with
such fury as to scatter them right and left and they were now riding
down at racing speed on the combatants, whose fortunes we have followed
thus far.

Two men rode well in advance of the party with a revolver in each hand.

"Why, it's Charlie Brooke!  Hurrah!" yelled Darvall with delight.

"An' Buck Tom!" roared Jackson in amazement.

So sudden was the onset that the Indians were for a moment paralysed,
and the two horsemen, firing right and left as they rode up, dashed
straight into the very midst of the savages.  In a moment they were
alongside of their friends, while the rest of the outlaw band were
already engaged on the outskirts of the crowd.

The very danger of the white men constituted to some extent their
safety; for they were so outnumbered and surrounded that the Indians
seemed afraid to fire lest they should shoot each other.  To add to the
confusion, another party of whites suddenly appeared on the scene and
attacked the "Reds" with a wild cheer.  This was Jackson's little band
of cow-boys.  They numbered only eight; but the suddenness of their
appearance tended further to distract the savages.

While the noise was at its height a sound, or rather sensation, of many
feet beating the earth was felt.  Next moment a compact line was seen to
wheel round the bluff where the fight was going on, and a stentorian
"Charge!" was uttered, as the United States cavalry, preceded by Hunky
Ben, bore down with irresistible impetuosity on the foe.

But the Indians did not await this onset.  They turned and fled,
scattering as they went, and the fight was quickly turned into a total
rout and hot pursuit, in which troopers, outlaws, travellers, ranch-men,
scouts, and cow-boys joined.  The cavalry, however, had ridden far and
fast, so that the wiry little mustangs of the plains soon left them
behind, and the bugle ere long recalled them all.

It was found on the assembling of the forces that not one of the outlaws
had returned.  Whether they were bent on wreaking their vengeance still
more fully on their foes, or had good reason for wishing to avoid a
meeting with troops, was uncertain; but it was shrewdly suspected that
the latter was the true reason.

"But you led the charge with Buck Tom, sir," said Jackson to Charlie, in
considerable surprise, "though how you came to be in _his_ company is
more than I can understand."

"Here's somebody that can explain, maybe," said one of the cow-boys,
leading forward a wounded man whose face was covered with blood, while
he limped as if hurt in the legs.  "I found him tryin' to crawl into the
brush.  D'ye know him, boys?"

"Why, it's Jake the Flint!" exclaimed several voices simultaneously;
while more than one hand was laid on a revolver, as if to inflict
summary punishment.

"I claim this man as my prisoner," said the commander of the troops,
with a stern look that prevented any attempt at violence.

"Ay, you've got me at last," said the outlaw, with a look of scorn.
"You've bin a precious long time about it too."

"Secure him," said the officer, deigning no reply to these remarks.

Two troopers dismounted, and with a piece of rope began to tie the
outlaw's hands behind him.

"I arrest you also," said the commander to Charlie, who suddenly found a
trooper on each side of him.  These took him lightly by each arm, while
a third seized his bridle.

"Sir!" exclaimed our hero, while the blood rushed to his forehead, "I am
_not_ an outlaw!"

"Excuse me," returned the officer politely, "but my duty is plain.
There are a good many gentlemanly outlaws about at present.  You are
found joining in fight with a notorious band.  Until you can clear
yourself you must consider yourself my prisoner.--Disarm and bind him."

For one moment Charlie felt an almost irresistible impulse to fell the
men who held him, but fortunately the absurdity of his position forced
itself on him, and he submitted, well knowing that his innocence would
be established immediately.

"Is not this man one of your band, Jake?" asked the officer quietly.

"Yes, he is," replied the man with a malevolent grin.  "He's not long
joined.  This is his first scrimmage with us."

Charlie was so thunderstruck at this speech that he was led back to the
ranch in a sort of dazed condition.  As for Dick Darvall, he was
rendered speechless, and felt disposed to regard the whole thing as a
sort of dream, for his attempted explanations were totally disregarded.

Arrived at the house, Charlie and Jake were locked up in separate rooms,
and sentries placed beneath their windows--this in addition to the
security of hand-cuffs and roped arms.  Then breakfast was prepared for
the entire company, and those who had been wounded in the fight were
attended to by Hunky Ben--a self-taught surgeon--with Mary and Buttercup
to act as dressers.

"I say, Jackson," observed Darvall, when the worthy ranch-man found
leisure to attend to him, "of course _you_ know that this is all
nonsense--an abominable lie about my friend Brooke being an outlaw?"

"Of course I do, Dick," said Jackson, in a tone of sympathy; "an' you
may be cock-sure I'll do what I can to help 'im.  But he'll have to
prove himself a true man, an' there _are_ some mysteries about him that
it puzzles me to think how he'll clear 'em up."

"Mysteries?" echoed Dick.

"Ay, mysteries.  I've had some talk wi' Hunky Ben, an' he's as much
puzzled as myself, if not more."

"Well, then, I'm puzzled more than either of ye," returned Dick, "for my
friend and mate is as true a man--all straight an' aboveboard--as ever I
met with on sea or land."

"That may be, boy, but there's some mystery about him, somehow."

"Can ye explain what the mystery is, Jackson?"

"Well, this is what Hunky Ben says.  He saw your friend go off the other
night alone to Traitor's Trap, following in the footsteps o' that
notorious outlaw Buck Tom.  Feelin' sure that Buck meant to waylay your
friend, Hunky followed him up and overshot him to a place where he
thought it likely the outlaw would lay in wait.  Sure enough, when he
got there he found Buck squattin' behind a big rock.  So he waited to
see what would turn up and be ready to rescue your friend.  An' what
d'ye think did turn up?"

"Don' know," said Dick, with a look of solemn wonder.

"Why, when Buck stepped out an' bid him throw up his hands, your friend
merely looked at Buck and said somethin' that Hunky couldn't hear, an
then Buck dropped his pistol, and your friend got off his horse, and
they shook hands and went off as thick as thieves together.  An' now, as
you've seen an' heard, your friend turns up headin' a charge of the
outlaws--an' a most notable charge it was--alongside o' Buck Tom.  Jake
the Flint too claims him for a comrade.  Pretty mysterious all that,
ain't it?"

"May I ask," said Dick, with some scorn in his tone, "who is this Hunky
Ben, that his word should be considered as good as a bank-note?"

"He's the greatest scout an' the best an' truest man on the frontier,"
replied Jackson.

"H'm! so Miss Mary seems to think too."

"An' Mary thinks right."

"An' who may this Jake the Flint be?" asked the sailor.

"The greatest scoundrel, cattle and horse stealer, and cut-throat on the
frontier."

"So then," rejoined Dick, with some bitterness, "it would seem that my
friend and mate is taken up for an outlaw on the word o' the two
greatest men on the frontier!"

"It looks like it, Dick, coupled, of course, wi' your friend's own
actions.  But never you fear, man.  There must be a mistake o' some
sort, somewhere, an' it's sure to come out, for I'd as soon believe my
Mary to be an outlaw as your friend--though I never set eyes on him
before the other day.  The fact is, Dick, that I've learned physiognomy
since--"

"Fizzi-what-umy?" interrupted Dick.

"Physiognomy--the study o' faces--since I came to live on the frontier,
an' I'm pretty sure to know an honest man from a rogue as soon as I see
him an' hear him speak--though I can't always prove myself right."

Dick and his host were thus conversing, and the soldiers were regaling
themselves in the hall, the commander of the troops and Hunky Ben were
engaged in earnest conversation with Charlie Brooke, who gave an account
of himself that quite cleared up the mystery of his meeting, and
afterwards being found associated with, the outlaws.

"It's a queer story," said Hunky Ben, who, besides being what his
friends called a philosopher, was prone at times to moralise.  "It's a
queer story, an' shows that a man shouldn't bounce at a conclusion till
he's larned all the ins an' outs of a matter."

"Of course, Mr Brooke," said the officer, when Dick had finished his
narration, "your companion knows all this and can corroborate what you
have said?"

"Not all," replied Charlie.  "He is an old shipmate whom I picked up on
arriving at New York, and only knows that I am in search of an old
school-fellow who has given way to dissipation and got into trouble
here.  Of my private and family affairs he knows nothing."

"Well, you have cleared yourself, Mr Brooke," continued the Captain,
whose name was Wilmot, "but I'm sorry to have to add that you have not
cleared the character of your friend Leather, whose name has for a
considerable time been associated with the notorious band led by your
old school-fellow Ritson, who is known in this part of the country as
Buck Tom.  One of the worst of this gang of highwaymen, Jake the Flint,
has, as you know, fallen into my hands, and will soon receive his
deserts as a black-hearted murderer.  I have recently obtained
trustworthy information as to the whereabouts of the gang, and I am
sorry to say that I shall have to ask you to guide me to their den in
Traitor's Trap."

"Is it my duty to do this?" asked Charlie, with a troubled look at the
officer.

"It is the duty of every honest man to facilitate the bringing of
criminals to justice."

"But I have strong reason for believing that my friend Leather, although
reckless and dissipated, joined these men unwillingly--was forced to do
it in fact--and has been suffering from the result of a severe injury
ever since joining, so that he has not assisted them at all in their
nefarious work.  Then, as to Ritson, I am convinced that he repents of
his course of conduct.  Indeed, I know that his men have been rebellious
of late, and this very Jake has been aspiring to the leadership of the
gang."

"Your feelings regarding these men may be natural," returned the
captain, "but my duty is to use you in this matter.  Believing what you
say of yourself I will treat you as a gentleman, but if you decline to
guide me to the nest of this gang I must treat you still as a prisoner."

"May I have a little time to think over the matter before answering?"

"So that you may have a chance of escaping me?" replied the Captain.

"Nothing was further from my thoughts," said Charlie, with a flush of
indignation.

"I believe you, Mr Brooke," rejoined the Captain with gravity.  "Let me
know any time before twelve to-day what course you deem it right to
take.  By noon I shall sound boot and saddle, when you will be ready to
start.  Your nautical friend here may join us if he chooses."

Now, while this investigation into the affairs of one prisoner was going
on, the other prisoner, Jake, was busily employed investigating his own
affairs with a view to escape.

How he fared in this investigation we reserve for another chapter.



CHAPTER TWENTY.

JAKE THE FLINT IN DIFFICULTIES.

The man who, at the time we write of, was known by the name of Jake the
Flint had acquired the character of the most daring and cruel scoundrel
in a region where villains were by no means rare.  His exploits
indicated a spirit that was utterly reckless of life, whether his own or
that of his fellow-men, and many were the trappers, hunters, and
Redskins who would have given a good deal and gone far to have the
chance of putting a bullet in his carcass.

But, as is not unfrequently the case with such men, Jake seemed to bear
a charmed life, and when knife, bullet, and rope, cut short the career
of many less guilty men, Jake had hitherto managed to elude his
captors--at one time by strategy, at another by a bold dash for life,
and sometimes by "luck."  No one had a kind word for Jake, no one loved,
though many feared, admired, and hated him.  This may seem strange, for
it is usually found that even in the case of the most noted outlaws
there is a woman or a man, or both--who cling to them with affection.

Perhaps the fact that Jake was exceptionally harsh and cruel at all
times, may account for this, as it accounted for his sobriquet of Flint.
He was called by some of those who knew him a "God-forsaken man."  We
merely state the fact, but are very far from adopting the expression,
for it ill becomes any man of mortal mould to pronounce his fellow-man
God-forsaken.

In the meantime we feel it to be no breach of charity to say that Jake
had forsaken God, for his foul language and bloody deeds proved the fact
beyond all question.  He was deceitful as well as cruel, and those who
knew him best felt sure that his acting under Buck Tom was a mere ruse.
There is little doubt that he had done so for the purpose of obtaining
an influence over a gang of desperadoes, ready to hand, as it were, and
that the moment he saw his opportunity he would kill Buck Tom and take
command.  The only thing that had kept him from doing so sooner, it was
thought, was the fact that Buck had the power to gain the affection of
his men, as well as to cause them to fear him, so that Jake had not yet
found the time ripe for action.

After the outlaw had been put into the room by himself, as already
stated, the door locked, and a sentry posted below the window, he
immediately turned with all his energy to examine into his circumstances
and prospects.  First of all his wrists were manacled.  That, however,
gave him little concern, for his hands were unusually small and
delicate, and he knew from experience that he could slip them out of any
handcuffs that would close easily on his wrists--a fact that he had
carefully concealed, and of which men were not yet aware, as he had not
yet been under the necessity of availing himself of the circumstance.

The rope with which he had been bound on the way to the ranch had been
removed, the handcuffs being deemed sufficient.  As the window of his
prison was over thirty feet from the ground, and a sentinel with a
carbine and revolver stood below, it was thought that the bird who had
so frequently escaped his cage before was safe at last, and fairly on
his way to the gallows.

Not so thought Jake the Flint.  Despair did not seem to be a possibility
to him.  Accordingly, he examined his prison carefully, and with a
hopeful smile.  The examination was soon completed, for the room
presented no facilities whatever for escape.  There was no bed from
which to take the sheets and blankets to extemporise a rope.  No
mattress to throw over the window so as to break a heavy man's fall.  No
chimney by which to ascend to the roof, no furniture, indeed, of any
kind beyond a deal chair and table.  The door was of solid oak and
bolted outside.

Obviously the window was his only chance.  He went to it and looked out.
The depth was too much, he knew, for even his strong bones to stand the
shock; and the sentinel paced to and fro underneath with loaded carbine.

"If any one would only lay a feather-bed down there," thought Jake, "I'd
jump an' take my chance."

While he was gazing meditatively on the fair prospect of land and water
that lay before him, one of the bolts of the door was withdrawn, then
another, and the door slowly opened.

For an instant the outlaw gathered himself up for a rush, with a view to
sell his life dearly, and he had even begun to draw one of his hands out
of the manacles, when the folly and hopelessness of the attempt struck
him.  He quickly checked himself, and met his jailor (one of the
troopers) with a smiling countenance as he entered and laid a loaf and a
jug of water on the table.

The rattle of a musket outside told Jake that his jailor had not come
alone.

Without a word the man turned, and was leaving the room, when Jake, in a
voice of great humility, asked him to stop.

"You couldn't remove these things, could you?" he said, holding out his
fettered hands.

"No," answered the trooper, sharply.

"Ah!" sighed Jake, "I feared it was agin the rules.  You couldn't let me
have the use of a file, could you, for a few minutes?  What! agin' rules
too?  It's a pity, for I'm used to brush my teeth with a file of a
mornin', an' I like to do it before breakfast."

Jake interlarded his speech with a variety of oaths, with which we will
not defile the paper, but he could extract no further reply from the
trooper than a glance of scorn.

Left to himself, Jake again went to the window, which was a small
cottage one, opening inwards like a door.  He opened it and looked out.
The sentinel instantly raised his carbine and ordered him to shut it.

"Hullo!  Silas, is that you?" cried Jake in surprise, but paying no
attention to the threat, "I thought you had quit for Heaven durin' the
last skrimidge wi' the Reds down in Kansas?  Glad to see you lookin' so
well.  How's your wife an' the child'n, Silas?"

"Come now, Jake," said the trooper sternly, "you know it's all up with
you, so you needn't go talkin' bosh like that--more need to say your
prayers.  Stand back and shut the window, I say, else I'll put a bullet
through your gizzard."

"Well now, Silas," said Jake, remonstratively, and opening the breast of
his red shirt as he spoke, "I didn't expect that of an old friend like
you--indeed I didn't.  But, see here, if you raaly are goin' to fire
take good aim an' keep clear o' the heart and liver.  The gizzard lies
hereabout (pointing to his breast) and easy to hit if you've a steady
hand.  I know the exact spot, for I've had the cuttin' up of a good
bunch o' men in my day, an' I can't bear to see a thing muddled.  But
hold on, Silas, I won't put ye to the pain o' shootin' me.  I'll shut
the window if you'll make me a promise."

"What's that?" demanded the trooper, still covering the outlaw, however,
with his carbine.

"You know I'm goin' to my doom--that's what poetical folk call it,
Silas--an' I want you to help me wind up my affairs, as the lawyers say.
Well, this here (holding up a coin) is my last dollar, the remains o'
my fortin', Silas, an' this here bit o' paper that I'm rappin' round it,
is my last will an' testimonial.  You'll not refuse to give it to my
only friend on arth, Hunky Ben, for I've no wife or chick to weep o'er
my grave, even though they knew where it was.  You'll do this for me,
Silas, won't you?"

"All right--pitch it down."

Jake threw the coin, which fell on the ground a few feet in front of the
trooper, who stooped to pick it up.

With one agile bound the outlaw leaped from the window and descended on
the trooper's back, which was broken by the crashing blow, and Jake
rolled over him with considerable violence, but the poor man's body had
proved a sufficient buffer, and Jake rose unhurt.  Deliberately taking
the carbine from the dead man's hand, and plucking the revolver from his
belt, he sauntered off in the direction of the stables.  These being too
small to contain all the troop-horses, some of the animals were picketed
in an open shed, and several troopers were rubbing them down.  The men
took Jake for one of the cow-boys of the ranch, for he passed them
whistling.

Entering the stable he glanced quickly round, selected the finest horse,
and, loosing its halter from the stall, turned the animal's head to the
door.

"What are ye doin' wi' the captain's horse?" demanded a trooper, who
chanced to be in the neighbouring stall.

"The captain wants it.  Hold his head till I get on him.  He's frisky,"
said Jake, in a voice of authority.

The man was taken aback and obeyed; but as Jake mounted he turned
suddenly pale.

The outlaw, observing the change, drew the revolver, and, pointing it at
the trooper's head, said, in a low savage voice, "A word, a sound, and
your brains are on the floor!"

The man stood open-mouthed, as if petrified.  Jake shook the reins of
the fiery horse and bounded through the door-way, stooping to the
saddle-bow as he went.  He could see, even at that moment, that the
trooper, recovering himself, was on the point of uttering a shout.
Wheeling round in the saddle he fired, and the man fell with a bullet in
his brain.

The shot of course aroused the whole ranch.  Men rushed into the yard
with and without arms in wild confusion, but only in time to see a
flying horseman cross the square and make for the gate.  A rattling
irregular volley was sent after him, but the only effect it had was to
cause the outlaw to turn round in the saddle and wave his hat, while he
gave vent to a yell of triumph.  Another moment and he was beyond the
bluff and had disappeared.

"Boot and saddle!" instantly rang out at the ranch, and every
preparation was made for pursuit, though, mounted as Jake was on the
best horse of the troop, they could not hope to overtake him.

Hunky Ben, at his own particular request was permitted to go on in
advance.

"You see, sir," he said to the captain, "my Black Polly an't quite as
good as your charger, but she's more used to this sort o' country, an' I
can take the short cuts where your horse could hardly follow."

"Go, Ben, and good luck go with you!  Besides, we can do without you,
now that we have Mr Brooke to guide us."

"Come wi' me, sir," said Hunky Ben, as he passed Charlie on his way to
the stables.  "Don't you hesitate, Mr Brooke, to guide the captain to
the cave of Buck Tom.  I'm goin' on before you to hunt up the reptiles--
to try an' catch Jake the Flint."

The scout chuckled inwardly as he said this.

"But why go in advance?  You can never overtake the scoundrel with such
a start and on such a horse."

"Never you mind what I can or can't do," said Ben, entering the stable
where the dead trooper still lay, and unfastening Black Polly.  "I've no
time to explain.  All I know is that your friend Leather is sure to be
hanged if he's cotched, an' I'm sure he's an innocent man--therefore,
I'm goin' to save him.  It's best for you to know nothin' more than
that, for I see you're not used to tellin' lies.  Can you trust _me_?"

"Certainly I can.  The look of your face, Ben, even more than the
character you bear, would induce me to trust you."

"Well then, Mr Brooke, the first sign o' trust is to obey orders
without askin' questions."

"True, when the orders are given by one who has a right to command,"
returned Charlie.

"Just so, an' my right to command lies in the fact that the life o' your
friend Leather depends on your obedience."

"I'm your humble servant, then.  But what am I to do?"

"Do whatever Captain Wilmot orders without objectin', an' speak nothing
but the truth.  You don't need to speak the _whole_ truth, hows'ever,"
added the scout thoughtfully, as he led out his coal-black steed.  "Your
friend Leather has got a Christian name of course.  Don't mention it.  I
don't want to hear it.  Say nothin' about it to anybody.  The time may
come when it may be useful to drop the name of Leather and call your
friend Mister whatever the tother name may be.  Now mind what I've said
to ye."

As he spoke the last words the scout touched the neck of his beautiful
mare, and in another minute was seen racing at full speed over the
rolling plain.



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

TELLS OF A CRUEL DEED, AND SHOWS HOW MYSTERIOUSLY HUNKY BEN BEHAVED.

When Jake escaped from the ranch of Roaring Bull he tried the mettle of
Captain Wilmot's charger to the uttermost, for well he knew that the
pursuit would be instant and vigorous; that his late comrade Charlie
Brooke could guide the troops to the cavern in Traitor's Trap, and that
if his companions, who would doubtless ride straight back, were to
escape, they must be warned in time.  He also knew that the captain's
charger was a splendid one.  In order to accomplish his purpose,
therefore, he would ride it to death.

The distance between the ranch and the outlaws' cave was not so great
but that any mustang in the plains could have traversed it in a day, but
the cruel man had made up his mind that the captain's charger should do
it in a few hours.  It is not so much distance as pace that kills.  Had
any consideration whatever been extended to the noble creature by the
ignoble brute who rode it, the good horse would have galloped to the
head of the Trap almost without turning a hair.  At first he strode out
over the rolling prairie with the untiring vigour of a well-made frame
and a splendid constitution, leaping the little cracks and inequalities
of the ground in the exuberance of his strength; though there was no
need to bound, and coursing over the knolls as easily as he cantered
down the hollows, while his flashing eye betokened at once a courageous
and a gentle spirit.  But when the lower slopes of the hills were
reached, and steepish gradients were met with here and there, the horse
began to put back first one ear and then the other, and sometimes both,
as if in expectation of the familiar "well done," or pat on the neck, or
check of the rein with which the captain had been wont to sanction a
slackening of the pace, but no such grace was allowed him.  On the
contrary, when the first symptom appeared of a desire to reduce speed
Jake drove his cruel spurs into the charger's glossy side.  With a wild
snort and bound the horse stretched out again and spurned the ground as
if in indignant surprise.

Then the breath began to labour slightly; the sweat to darken his rich
brown coat, and the white foam to fleck his broad chest.  Still Jake
pressed him on with relentless fury.  It could not be expected that a
man who cared not for his fellows would have much consideration for his
beast.  Murder of a deeper dye than that of a horse was seething in the
outlaw's brain.  This to him useless expedition, which had so nearly
cost him his life, would be the last that Buck Tom should command.
After blowing out _his_ brains he would warn the others of the impending
danger and lead them away to other and more favourable fields of
enterprise.

At this point the good horse stumbled and almost threw his rider, who,
with horrible curses, plied the spurs and tugged at the bit until blood
was mingled with the flying foam.  Never, save once--when Captain Wilmot
was caught alone in the plains by Cheyenne Indians and had to fly for
his life--had the good charger been urged to anything like such an
effort as he was now called on to make, and _then_ there was no cruelty
mingled with the urging.  The very tone of his master's voice, as he
patted the neck and shook the rein and gently touched him with the spur,
must have convinced the intelligent creature that it was a matter of
life or death--that there was a stern need-be for such haste.

Turning at last into the gorge of the Trap, the charger gasped and
sobbed with distress as he faced the steep ascent and tried, with the
unabated courage of a willing heart, to pull himself together while the
unmerciful monster still drove in the spurs and galled his tender mouth.
But the brave effort was unavailing.  Stumbling over a root that
crossed the path, the horse plunged forward, and fell with a crash,
sending his rider over his head.  Jake, alighting on his face and right
shoulder, lay stunned for a few seconds.  Then he jumped up, displaying
torn garments and a face covered with blood.

Running to the horse's head he seized the rein and shook it savagely,
kicking the animal's face with his heavy boots in his anxiety to make it
rise, but the poor charger was beyond his cruelty by that time, for its
neck had been broken by the fall.

Oh! it was one of those sights which are fitted to make even thoughtless
men recognise the need of a Saviour for the human race, and to reject
with something like scorn the doctrine--founded on wholly insufficient
evidence--that there is no future of compensation for the lower animals!

The outlaw did not waste time in vain regrets.  Bestowing a meaningless
curse on the dead charger, he turned and went up the narrow glen at a
smart pace, but did not overstrain himself, for he knew well that none
of the troop-horses could have kept up with him.  He counted on having
plenty of time to warn his comrades and get away without hurry.  But he
reckoned without his host--being quite ignorant of the powers of Black
Polly, and but slightly acquainted with those of her master Hunky Ben.

Indeed so agile were the movements of Polly, and so thoroughly was the
scout acquainted with the by-paths and short cuts of that region, that
he actually passed the fugitive and reached the head of Traitor's Trap
before him.  This he managed by forsaking the roads, keeping a
straighter line for the outlaws' cave, and passing on foot over the
shoulder of a hill where a horseman could not go.  Thus he came down on
the cavern, about half-an-hour before Jake's arrival.  Clambering to the
crevice in the cliff against which the cave abutted, and sliding down
into a hollow on its earthen roof, he cautiously removed a small stone
from its position, and disclosed a hole through which he could both hear
and see most of what took place inside.

Lest any one should wonder at the facility with which the ground lent
itself to this manoeuvre, we may as well explain that the bold scout
possessed one of those far-reaching minds which are not satisfied
without looking into _everything_,--seeing to the bottom of, and peering
round to the rear of, all things, as far as possible.  He always acted
on the principle of making himself acquainted with every road and track
and by-path, every stream, pond, river, and spring in the land.  Hence
he was well aware of this haunt of outlaws, and, happening to be near it
one day when its owners were absent, he had turned aside to make the
little arrangement of a peep-hole, in the belief that it might possibly
turn out to be of advantage in course of time!

The clump of shrubs and grass on the rugged bank, which formed the top
of the cave, effectually concealed the natural hollow which he had
deepened, and the overhanging mass of the rugged cliff protected it from
rain and dew.

What Hunky Ben saw on looking through his peep-hole filled him with
surprise and pity, and compelled him to modify his plans.

Almost below him on a brush couch, lay the tall form of Buck Tom, with
the unmistakable hue of approaching death upon his countenance.  Beside
him, holding his head, kneeled the much-wasted figure of Leather--the
reputed outlaw.  Seated or standing around in solemn silence were six of
the outlaws, most of whom bore tokens of the recent fight, in the form
of bandage on head or limb.

"I brought you to this, Leather; God forgive me," said the dying man
faintly.

"No, you didn't, Ralph," replied the other, calling him by his old
familiar name, "I brought myself to it.  Don't blame yourself, Ralph;
you weren't half so bad as me.  You'd never have been here but for me.
Come, Ralph, try to cheer up a bit; you're not dying.  It's only faint
you are, from loss of blood and the long gallop.  When you've had a
sleep and some food, you'll feel stronger.  We'll fetch a doctor soon,
an' he'll get hold o' the bullet.  Dear Ralph, don't shake your head
like that an' look so solemn.  Cheer up, old boy!"

Leather spoke with a sort of desperate fervour, but Ralph could not
cheer up.

"No," he said sadly, "there is no cheer for me.  I've thrown my life
away.  There's no hope--no mercy for me.  I've been trying to recall the
past, an' what mother used to teach me, but it won't come.  There's only
one text in all the Bible that comes to me now.  It's this--`Be sure
your sin will find you out!'  That's true, boys," he said, turning a
look on his comrades.  "Whatever else may be false, _that's_ true, for I
_know_ it."

"That's so, dear Ralph," said Leather earnestly, "but it's no less true
that--"

Just then a noise was heard in the outer passage; then hurrying
footsteps.  Instinctively every man drew his revolver and faced the
door.  Next moment Jake entered.

"Here, one of you; a drink--I'm fit to--ha!"

His eyes fell on the figure of Buck and he shrank back for a moment in
silent surprise.

"Yes, Jake," said the dying man, with a glance of pity not unmingled
with scorn, "it has come sooner than you or I expected, and it will save
you some trouble--maybe some regret.  I've seen through your little
game, Jake, and am glad I've been spared the necessity of thwarting
you."

He stopped owing to weakness, and Jake, recovering himself, hastily
explained the reason of his sudden appearance.

"Fetch me a rag an' some water, boys," he continued.  "It looks worse
than it is--only skin deep.  And we've not a moment to lose.  Those who
have a mind may follow _me_.  Them that wants to swing may stop."

"But how about Buck Tom?" asked one who was not quite so depraved as the
others.

"What's the use o' askin'?" said Jake.  "It's all up with him, don't you
see?  Besides, he's safe enough.  They'd never have the heart to hang a
dying man."

"An' Leather!" cried another.  "We mustn't quit Leather.  He's game for
many a fight yet.  Come, Leather; we'll help you along, for they're sure
to string you up on the nearest tree."

"Don't trouble yourself about me," said Leather, looking round, for he
still kneeled beside his old friend, "I don't intend to escape.  Look to
yourselves, boys, an' leave us alone."

"Unless you're all tired o' life you'll quit here an' skip for the
woods," said Jake, as, turning round, he hurriedly left the place.

The others did not hesitate, but followed him at once, leaving Buck Tom,
and his friend to shift for themselves.

During all this scene Hunky Ben had been intently gazing and listening--
chiefly the latter.  When the outlaws filed past him he found it
extremely difficult to avoid putting a bullet into the Flint, but he
restrained himself because of what yet remained to be done.

As soon as the outlaws were well out of sight Ben arose and prepared for
action.  First of all he tightened his belt.  Then he pulled the hood of
his coat well over his head, so that it effectually concealed his face,
and, still further to accomplish the end in view, he fastened the hood
in front with a wooden pin.  Proceeding to the stable he found, as he
had hoped and expected, that the outlaws had left one or two
horse-cloths behind in their flight.  In one of these he enveloped his
person in such a way as to render it unrecognisable.  Then he walked
straight into the cave, and, without a word of warning, threw his strong
arms a round Shank Leather and lifted him off the ground.

Of course Leather shouted and struggled at first, but as well might a
kitten have struggled in the grip of a grizzly bear.  In his worn
condition he felt himself to be utterly powerless.  Buck Tom made a
feeble effort to rise and help him, but the mere effort caused him to
fall back with a groan of helpless despair.

Swiftly his captor bore Leather up the side of the hill till he got
behind a clump of trees, into the heart of which he plunged, and then
set his burden down on his feet.  At the same time, throwing back his
hood and flinging away the horse-cloth, he stood up and smiled.

"Hunky Ben, or his ghost!" exclaimed Shank, forgetting his indignation
in his amazement.

"You're right, young man, though you've only see'd me once that I know
of.  But most men that see me once are apt to remember me."

"Well, Hunky," said Leather, while the indignation began to return, "you
may think this very amusing, but it's mean of a big strong man like you
to take advantage of a fellow that's as weak as a child from wounds an'
fever.  Lend me one o' your six-shooters, now, so as we may stand on
somewhat more equal terms and--but a truce to boasting!  I'm sure that
you wouldn't keep smiling at me like a Cheshire cat if there wasn't
something behind this."

"You're right, Mr Leather," said Ben, becoming at once grave and
earnest.  "There _is_ somethin' behind it--ay, an' somethin' before it
too.  So much, that I have barely time to tell 'ee.  So, listen wi' both
ears.  There's a bunch o' men an' troops close to the Trap even now, on
their way to visit your cave.  If they find you--you know what that
means?"

"Death," said Leather quietly.

"Ay, death; though ye don't desarve it," said Ben.

"But I _do_ deserve it," returned Shank in the same quiet voice.

"Well, may-hap you do," rejoined the scout coolly, "but not, so far as I
know, in connection wi' your present company.  Now, there's Buck Tom--"

"Ay, what of him?" asked Shank, anxiously.

"Well, in the nat'ral course o' timings, death is comin' to him too, an'
that'll save him from bein' strung up--for they're apt to do that sort
o' thing hereaway in a loose free-an-easy style that's awkward sometime.
I was within an inch of it myself once, all through a mistake--I'll
tell 'ee about that when I've got more time, maybe.  Well, now, I'm keen
to save you an' Buck Tom if I can, and what I want you to understand is,
that if you expect me to help you at a time when you stand considerable
in need o' help, you'll have to do what I tell 'ee."

"And what would you have me do?" asked Shank, with a troubled look.

"Remain here till I come for 'ee, and when you meet me in company say
nothin' about havin' met me before."

"Can I trust you, Hunky Ben?" said Shank, looking at him earnestly.

"If you _can't_ trust me, what d'ye propose to do?" asked the scout with
a grin.

"You're right, Ben.  I _must_ trust you, and, to say truth, from the
little I know of you, I believe I've nothing to fear.  But my anxiety is
for Ralph--Buck Tom, I mean.  You're sure, I suppose, that Mr Brooke
will do his best to shield him?"

"Ay, sartin sure, an', by the way, don't mention your Christian name
just now--whatever it is--nor for some time yet.  Good-day, an' keep
quiet till I come.  We've wasted overmuch time a'ready."

So saying, the scout left the coppice, and, flinging open his coat,
re-entered the cave a very different-looking man from what he was when
he left it.

"Hunky Ben!" exclaimed Buck, who had recovered by that time.  "I wish
you had turned up half-an-hour since, boy.  You might have saved my poor
friend Leather from a monster who came here and carried him away
bodily."

"Ay?  That's strange, now.  Hows'ever, worse luck might have befel him,
for the troops are at my heels, an' ye know what would be in store for
him if he was here."

"Yes, indeed, I know it, Ben, and what is in store for me too; but Death
will have his laugh at them if they don't look sharp."

"No, surely," said the scout, in a tone of real commiseration, "you're
not so bad as that, are you?"

"Truly am I," answered Buck, with a pitiful look, "shot in the chest.
But I saw you in the fight, Ben; did you guide them here?"

"That's what I did--at least I told 'em which way to go, an' came on in
advance to warn you in time, so's you might escape.  To tell you the
plain truth, Ralph Ritson, I've bin told all about you by your old
friend Mr Brooke, an' about Leather too, who, you say, has bin carried
off by a monster?"

"Yes--at least by a monstrous big man."

"You're quite sure o' that?"

"Quite sure."

"An' You would know the monster if you saw him again?"

"I think I would know his figure, but not his face, for I did not see
it."

"Strange!" remarked the scout, with a simple look; "an' you're sartin
sure you don't know where Leather is now?"

"Not got the most distant idea."

"That's well now; stick to that an' there's no fear o' Leather.  As to
yourself--they'll never think o' hangin' you till ye can walk to the
gallows--so cheer up, Buck Tom.  It may be that ye desarve hangin', for
all I know; but not just at present.  I'm a bit of a surgeon, too--bein'
a sort o' Jack-of-all-trades, and know how to extract bullets.  What
between Mr Brooke an' me an' time, wonders may be worked, if you're
wise enough to keep a tight rein on your tongue."

While the scout was speaking, the tramp of cavalry was heard outside,
and a few minutes later Captain Wilmot entered the cave, closely
followed by Charlie Brooke.



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

The Cave of the Outlaws Invaded by Ghosts and US Troops.

We need scarcely say that Buck Tom was wise enough to put a bridle on
his tongue after the warning hint he had received from the scout.  He
found this all the easier that he had nothing to conceal save the
Christian name of his friend Leather, and, as it turned out, this was
never asked for by the commander of the troops.  All that the dying
outlaw could reveal was that Jake the Flint had suddenly made his
appearance in the cave only a short time previously, had warned his
comrades, and, knowing that he (Buck) was mortally wounded, and that
Leather was helplessly weak from a wound which had nearly killed him,
had left them both to their fate.  That, just after they had gone, an
unusually broad powerful man, with his face concealed, had suddenly
entered the cave and carried Leather off, in spite of his struggles, and
that, about half-an-hour later, Hunky Ben had arrived to find the cave
deserted by all but himself.  Where the other outlaws had gone to he
could not tell--of course they would not reveal that to a comrade who
was sure to fall into the hands of their enemies.

"And you have no idea," continued the captain, "who the man is that
carried your friend Leather so hurriedly away?"

"Not the slightest," returned Buck.  "Had my revolver been handy and an
ounce of strength left in me, you wouldn't have had to ask the
question."

"Passing strange!" murmured Captain Wilmot, glancing at the scout, who
was at the moment seated on a keg before the fire lighting his pipe, and
with a look of simple benignant stolidity on his grave countenance.
"Have _you_ no idea, Ben, where these outlaws have taken themselves off
to?"

"No more'n a lop-eared rabbit, Captain Wilmot," answered the scout.
"You see there's a good many paths by which men who knows the place
could git out o' the Trap, an' once out o' it there's the whole o' the
Rockie range where to pick an' choose."

"But how comes it, Ben, that you missed Jake?  Surely the road is not so
broad that you could pass him unseen!  Yet you arrived here before him?"

"That's true, sir, but sly coons like the Flint can retire into the
brush when they don't want to be overhauled.  That wasn't the way of it,
however.  With such a splendid animal as your poor horse, Captain, an'
ridden to death as it was--an' as I 'spected it would be--I knowed I had
no chance o' comin' up wi' the Flint, so I took advantage o' my
knowledge o' the lay o' the land, an' pushed ahead by a straighter
line--finishin' the last bit on futt over the ridge of a hill.  That
sent me well ahead o' the Flint, an' so I got here before him.  Havin'
ways of eavesdroppin' that other people don't know on, I peeped into the
cave here, and saw and heard how matters stood.  Then I thought o'
harkin' back on my tracks an' stoppin' the Flint wi' a bullet but I
reflected `what good'll that do?  The shot would wake up the outlaws an'
putt them on the scent all the same.'  Then I tried to listen what their
talk was about, so as I might be up to their dodges; but I hadn't bin
listenin' long when in tramps the Flint an' sounds the alarm.  Of course
I might have sent him an p'r'aps one o' the others to their long home
from where I stood; but I've always had an objection to shoot a man
behind his back.  It has such a sneakin' sort o' feel about it!  An'
then, the others--I couldn't see how many there was--would have swarmed
out on me, an' I'd have had to make tracks for the scrub, an' larn
nothin' more.  So I fixed to keep quiet an' hear and see all that I
could--p'r'aps find out where they fixed to pull out to.  But I heard
nothin' more worth tellin'.  They only made some hurried, an' by no
means kindly, observations about poor Buck an' Leather an' went off over
the hills.  I went into the woods a bit myself after that, just to be
well out o' the way, so to speak, an' when I got back here Leather was
gone!"

"And you didn't see the man that carried him off?"

"No, I didn't see him."

"You'd have shot him, of course, if you had seen him?"

"No, indeed, captain, I wouldn't."

"No! why not?" asked the captain with a peculiar smile.

"Well, because," answered the scout, with a look of great solemnity, "I
wouldn't shoot such a man on any account--no matter what he was doin'!"

"Indeed!" returned the other with a broadening smile.  "I had no idea
you were superstitious, Ben.  I thought you feared neither man nor
devil."

"What I fear an' what I don't fear," returned the scout with quiet
dignity, "is a matter which has never given me much consarn."

"Well, don't be hurt, Hunky Ben, I don't for one moment question your
courage, only I fancied that if you saw any one rescuing an outlaw you
would have tried to put a bullet into him whether he happened to be a
man or a ghost."

"But I have told you," broke in Buck Tom with something of his old fire,
"that Leather is _not_ an outlaw."

"I have only _your_ word for that, and you know what that is worth,"
returned the captain.  "I don't want to be hard on one apparently so
near his end, and to say truth, I'm inclined to believe you, but we know
that this man Leather has been for a long time in your company--whether
a member of your band or not must be settled before another tribunal.
If caught, he stands a good chance of being hanged.  And now," added the
captain, turning to a sergeant who had entered the cave with him, "tell
the men to put up their horses as best they may.  We camp here for the
night.  We can do nothing while it is dark, but with the first gleam of
day we will make a thorough search of the neighbourhood."

While the troopers and their commander were busy making themselves as
comfortable as possible in and around the cave, the scout went quietly
up to the clump of wood where Leather was in hiding, and related to that
unfortunate all that had taken place since he left him.

"It is very good of you, Hunky, to take so much interest in me, and
incur so much risk and trouble; but do you know," said Leather, with a
look of surprise, not unmingled with amusement, "you are a puzzle to me,
for I can't understand how you could tell Captain Wilmot such a heap o'
lies--you that has got the name of bein' the truest-hearted scout on the
frontier!"

"You puzzle me more than I puzzle you, Leather," returned the scout with
a simple look.  "What lies have I told?"

"Why, all you said about what you saw and heard when you said you were
eavesdroppin' must have been nonsense, you know, for how could you hear
and see what took place in the cave through tons of rock and earth?"

"How I saw and heard, my son Leather, is a private affair of my own, but
it was no lie."

Leather looked incredulous.

"Then you said," he continued, "that you didn't see the man that carried
me away."

"No more I did, boy.  I _never_ saw him!"

"What! not even in a looking-glass?"

"Not even in a lookin'-glass," returned Hunky.  "I've seed his
_reflection_ there many a time,--an' a pretty good-lookin' reflection it
was--but I've never see'd himself--that I knows on!  No, Leather, if
Captain Wilmot had axed me if I saw _you_ carried off, I might ha' been
putt in a fix, but he didn't ax me that.  He axed if I'd seen the man
that carried you off an' I told the truth when I said I had _not_.
Moreover I wasn't bound to show him that he wasn't fit to be a lawyer--
specially when he was arter an innocent man, an' might p'r'aps hang him
without a trial.  It was my duty to guide the captain in pursuit of
outlaws, an' it is my duty to shield an innocent man.  Between the two
perplexin' duties I tried to steer as straight a course as I could, but
I confess I had to steer pretty close to the wind."

"Well, Hunky, it is my duty to thank you instead of criticising you as I
have done, but how do you come to be so sure that I'm innocent?"

"P'r'aps because ye putt such an innocent question," replied Ben, with a
little smile.  "D'ye raily think, Leather, that an old scout like me is
goin' to let you see through all the outs and ins by which I comes at my
larnin'!  It's enough for you to know, boy, that I know a good deal more
about you than ye think--more p'r'aps than ye know about yerself.  I
don't go for to say that you're a born angel, wantin' nothin' but a pair
o' wings to carry ye off to the better land--by no means, but I do know
that as regards jinin' Buck Tom's boys, or takin' a willin' part in
their devilish work, ye are innocent an' that's enough for me."

"I'm glad you know it and believe it, Ben," said Leather, earnestly,
"for it is true.  I followed Buck, because he's an old, old chum, and I
did it at the risk of my life, an' then, as perhaps you are aware, we
were chased and I got injured.  So far I am innocent of acting with
these men, but, O Ben, I don't admit my innocence in anything else!  My
whole life--well, well--it's of no use talkin'.  Tell me, d'ye think
there's any chance o' Buck getting over this?"

"He may.  Nobody can tell.  I'll do my best for him.  I never lose hope
of a man, after what I've see'd in my experience, till the breath is
fairly out of him."

"Thank God for these words, Ben."

"Yes," continued the scout, "and your friend Brooke is at this moment
sunk in the blue dumps because you have been carried off by a great
mysterious monster!"

"Then he doesn't know it was you?" exclaimed Leather.

"In course not.  An' he doesn't know you are within five hundred yards
of him.  An' what's more, you mustn't let him know it was me, for that
must be kept a dead secret, else it'll ruin my character on the
frontiers.  We must surround it wi' mystery, my boy, till all is safe.
But I didn't come up here to enjoy an evenin's conversation.  You're not
safe where you are, Leather.  They'll be scourin' all round for you long
before sun-up, so I must putt you where you'll be able to look on an'
grin at them."

"Where will that be?" asked Leather, with some curiosity.

"You know the cliff about five hundred feet high that rises just over on
the other side o' the valley--where the water-shoot comes down?"

"Ay, it's likely I do, for I've seen it every mornin' for months past."

"An' you remember the hole near the top o' the cliff?"

"Yes--that looks about the size of a crow?"

"Whatever it looks like it's three times the size of a man, an' it's the
mouth of a cave," returned the scout.  "Now, I'll lead you to the track
that'll let you up to that cave.  It's a splendid place, full of all
sorts o' holes an' places where a man couldn't find you even if he
know'd you was there.  Once up, you may sit down, smoke your pipe in the
mouth o' the cave, an' enjoy yourself lookin' on at the hunt arter
yourself.  Here's a bit o' chuck I've brought to keep you from wearyin',
for they may keep it up all day.  When all danger is past I'll come up
for ye.  You needn't show more o' yourself, however, than the top o'
your head.  A man can never be over-cautious when he's bein' hunted
down.  An' mind, don't leave the place till I come for you."

Handing a cold roast fowl and a loaf to his companion, the scout got up
and led him away to the spot which he had just described.  It was by
that time quite dark, but as Hunky Ben knew every inch of the ground he
glided along almost as quickly as if it had been broad day, followed,
with some difficulty, by poor Leather, who was still in a state of great
prostration, partly because of his injury and partly in consequence of
his previous dissipation.  As the place, however, was not much more than
half-a-mile distant his powers of endurance were not much tried.  The
scout led him across the narrow valley just above the outlaws' cave, and
then, entering a steep rocky defile, he began to ascend a place that was
more suitable for goats than men.  After half-an-hour of upward toil
they reached a plateau where the track--if it may be so styled--seemed
to run in a zig-zag manner until it reached a small hole in the solid
rock.  Through this they entered and found themselves within a cavern
and in total darkness.

"We may rest a bit now," said the scout.  "There's a ledge hereabouts.
There you are.  Sit down.  I'll have to take your hand here lest you
fall off the bridge into the holes on each side o' the track."

"Are the holes dangerous?" asked Leather.

"They're dangerous enough to be worth takin' care of, anyhow, for if ye
was to tumble into one you'd never come out again.  There, now, let's go
on, for if I don't git back soon, they'll be wonderin' if the monster
hasn't run away wi' me too, as well as you!"

After advancing a short distance in total darkness--Ben feeling his way
carefully step by step--they came suddenly to the hole in the front of
the cave to which reference has been already made.  The place had
evidently been used before as a place of refuge and temporary abode,
for, near this front-mouth of the cave was found a litter of pine
branches which had plainly been used as a bed.

"Sit ye down there, Leather," said the scout, "see, or, rather, hear--
for the eyes aren't of much use just now--I've set down the grub an' a
flask o' water beside ye.  Don't strike a light unless you want to have
your neck stretched.  Daylight won't be long o' lettin' ye see what's
goin' on.  You won't weary, for it'll be as good as a play, yourself
bein' chief actor an' audience all at the same time!"

Saying this the scout melted, as it were, into the darkness of the
cavern, and, with noiseless moccasined feet, retraced his steps to the
rear entrance.

Left to himself the poor wanderer found both time and food for
reflection, for he did not dare in the darkness to move from the spot
where he had seated himself.  At first an eerie feeling of indefinable
fear oppressed him, but this passed away as the busy thoughts went
rambling back to home and the days of comparative innocence gone by.
Forgetting the dark surroundings and the threatening dangers, he was
playing again on the river banks, drinking liquorice-water, swimming,
and rescuing kittens with Charlie Brooke.  Anon, he was wandering on the
sea-beach with his sister, brown-eyed Mary, or watching the manly form
of his old friend and chum buffeting the waves towards the wreck on the
Sealford Rocks.  Memory may not be always faithful, but she is often
surprisingly prompt.  In the twinkling of an eye Shank Leather had
crossed the Atlantic again and was once more in the drinking and
gambling saloons--the "Hells" of New York--with his profoundly admired
"friend" and tempter Ralph Ritson.  It was a wild whirl and plunge from
bad to worse through which Memory led him now--scenes at which he
shuddered and on which he would fain have closed his eyes if possible,
but Memory knows not the meaning of mercy.  She tore open his eyes and,
becoming unusually strict at this point, bade him look particularly at
all the minute details of his reckless life--especially at the wrecks of
other lives that had been caused by the wreck of his own.  Then the
deepest deep of all seemed to be reached when he rose--or rather fell--
from the condition of tempted to that of tempter, and, somehow, managed
for a time to lead even the far stronger-minded Ralph Ritson on the road
to ruin.  But he did not lead him long.  The stronger nature soon
re-asserted itself; seized the reins; led the yielding Leather to the
cities of the far west; from gambling took to robbing, till at last the
gay and handsome Ritson became transformed into the notorious Buck Tom,
and left his weaker chum to care for himself.

It was at this point--so Memory recalled to him--that he, Leather, was
stopped, in mid and mad, career, by a man of God with the love of Jesus
in his heart and on his lips.  And at this point Memory seemed to change
her action and proved herself, although unmerciful, pre-eminently
faithful.  She reminded him of the deep contrition that God wrought in
his heart; of the horror that overwhelmed him when he thought of what he
was, and what he had done; of the sudden resolve he had formed to follow
Ritson, and try to stop him in the fearful career on which he had
entered.  Then came the memory of failure; of desperate anxieties; of
futile entreaties; of unaccountably resolute perseverance; of joining
the outlaw band to be near his friend; of being laughed to scorn by them
all of being chased by US troops at the very commencement of his
enterprise; of being severely wounded, rescued, and carried off during
the flight by Buck Tom, and then--a long blank, mingled with awful
dreams and scenes, and ribald songs, and curses--some of all which was
real, and some the working of a fevered brain.

So terribly vivid were these pictures of memory, that one of the shouts
of dreamland absolutely awoke him to the fact that he had extended his
wearied limbs on his couch of pine brush and fallen asleep.  He also
awake to the perception that it was broad daylight, and that a real
shout had mingled with that of dreamland, for after he had sat up and
listened intently for a few moments, the shout was repeated as if at no
great distance.



CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

THE TROOPS OUTWITTED BY THE SCOUT AND HIS FRIENDS.

Creeping quickly to the mouth of the cave Leather peeped cautiously out,
and the scene that met his startled gaze was not calculated to restore
that equanimity which his recent dreams had disturbed.

The narrow and rugged valley which lay spread out below him was alive
with horsemen, trotting hither and thither as if searching for some one,
and several parties on foot were scaling gorges and slopes, up which a
horseman could not scramble.

The shout which had awakened the fugitive was uttered by a dismounted
trooper who had climbed higher on the face of the cliff than his
fellows, and wished to attract the attention of those below.

"Hi! hallo!" he cried, "send Hunky Ben up here.  I've found a track that
seems to lead to somewhere, but it'll need the scout's nose to ferret it
out."

Leather's heart beat wildly, for, from the position of the man, he could
not doubt that he had discovered the track leading up to the cave.
Before he could think how he should act, a response came to the call
from Hunky Ben.

"Ay, ay," he shouted, in a voice so bold and resonant, that Leather felt
it was meant to warn him of his danger, "Ay, ay.  Hold on!  Don't be in
a hurry.  The tracks branch out further on, an' some o' them are
dangerous.  Wait till I come up.  There's a cave up there, I'll lead ye
to it."

This was more than enough for Leather.  He turned hastily to survey his
place of refuge.  It was a huge dismal cavern with branching tunnels
around that disappeared in thick obscurity, and heights above that lost
themselves in gloom; holes in the sides and floor that were of invisible
depth, and curious irregular ledges, that formed a sort of arabesque
fringe to the general confusion.

One of these ornamental ledges, stretching along the roof with many
others, lost itself in the gloom and seemed to be a hopeful
living-place--all the more hopeful that it was in the full blaze of
light that gushed in through the front opening of the cave.  This
opening, it will be remembered, was on the face of the cliff and
inaccessible.  But Leather found that he could not reach the ledge.
Hastening to the dark side of the cave, however, he saw that by means of
some projections and crevices in the rocky wall he could reach the end
of the ledge.  Creeping along it he soon found himself close to the
opening, surrounded by strong light, but effectually concealed from view
by the ledge.  It was as if he were on a natural rafter, peeping down on
the floor below!  As there was a multitude of such ledges around, which
it would take several men many hours to examine, he began to breathe
more freely, for, would the searchers not naturally think that a
fugitive would fly to the darkest recesses of his place of refuge,
rather than to the brightest and most accessible spot?

He gave vent to a sigh of relief, and was congratulating himself upon
his wisdom, when his eyes chanced to fall on the flask of water and cold
roast fowl and loaf lying conspicuous in the full glare of light that
flooded the front part of the cave!

If the fowl had been thrust whole into his throat it could scarcely have
added to the gush of alarm that choked him.  He slipped incontinently
from his arabesque ledge and dropped upon the floor.  Securing the
tell-tale viands with eager haste he dashed back into the obscurity and
clambered with them back to his perch.  And not much too soon, for he
had barely settled down when the voice of the scout was heard talking
pretty loudly.

"Come along, Captain Wilmot," he said, "give me your hand, sir.  It's
not safe to walk alone here, even wi' a light."

"Here, where are you?  Oh!  All right.  Haven't you got a match?" asked
the captain.

"Nothin' that would burn more'n a few seconds.  We're better without a
light, for a gust o' wind might blow it out an' leave us worse than we
was.  Mind this step.  There."

"Well, I'm glad I didn't bring any of my men in here," said the Captain,
as he kicked one of his heavy boots violently against a projection of
rock.

"Ay--'tis as well you didn't," returned the scout, in a tone suggestive
of the idea that he was smiling.  "For there's holes on both sides, an'
if one o' your men went down, ye might read the funeral sarvice over him
at once, an' be done with it.  There's a glimmer o' daylight at last.
We'll soon be at the other end now."

"A horrible place, truly," said the Captain, "and one that it would be
hard to find a fellow in even if we knew he was here."

"Didn't I say so, Captain? but ye wouldn't be convinced," said Hunky
Ben, leading his companion into the full light of the opening and coming
to a halt close to the ledge above which the fugitive lay.  "Besides,
Leather could never have found his way here alone."

"You forget," returned Wilmot, with a peculiar smile, "the monster might
have shown him the way or even have carried him hither."

"Ah, true," answered the scout, with solemn gravity.  "There's somethin'
in that."

Wilmot laughed.

"What a splendid view," he said, going forward to the opening--"and see,
here is a bed of pine brush.  No doubt the cave must have been used as a
place of refuge by the Redskins in days gone by."

"Ay, an' by the pale-faces too," said the scout.  "Why, I've had
occasion to use it myself more than once.  And, as you truly obsarve,
sir, there's small chance of findin' a man once he's in here.  As well
run after a rabbit in his hole."

"Or search for a needle in a haystack," observed the Captain, as he
gazed with curious interest around and above him.  "Well, Ben, I give
in.  You were right when you said there was no probability of my finding
any of the outlaws here."

"I'm ginerally right when I speak about what I understand," returned the
scout calmly.  "So now, Captain, if you're satisfied, we may as well go
an' have a look at the other places I spoke of."

Assenting to this the two men left the place, but Leather continued to
lie perfectly still for a considerable time after their footsteps had
died away.  Then, gliding from his perch, he dropped on the floor and
ran to the opening where he saw the troopers still riding about, but
gradually going farther and farther away from him.  The scene was not
perhaps, as the scout had prophesied, quite "as good as a play," but it
certainly did become more and more entertaining as the searchers receded
and distance lent enchantment to the view.

When at last the troops had disappeared, Shank bethought him of the food
which Hunky Ben had so thoughtfully provided, and, sitting down on the
brush couch, devoted himself to breakfast with a hearty appetite and a
thankful spirit.

Meanwhile Captain Wilmot, having satisfied himself that the outlaws had
fairly escaped him, and that Buck Tom was too ill to be moved, retired
to a cool glade in the forest and held a council of war with the scout
and Charlie Brooke.

"Now, Ben," he said, dismounting and seating himself on a mossy bank,
while a trooper took charge of the horses and retired with them to a
neighbouring knoll, "it is quite certain that in the present unsettled
state of the district I must not remain here idle.  It is equally
certain that it would be sudden death to Buck Tom to move him in his
present condition, therefore some men must be left behind to take care
of him.  Now, though I can ill afford to spare any of mine, I feel that
out of mere humanity some sacrifice must be made, for we cannot leave
the poor fellow to starve."

"I can relieve you on that point," said the scout, "for if you choose I
am quite ready to remain."

"And of course," interposed Charlie, "I feel it my duty to remain with
my old friend to the end."

"Well, I expected you to say something of this sort.  Now," said the
captain, "how many men will you require?"

"None at all, Captain," answered Ben decisively.

"But what if these scoundrels should return to their old haunt?" said
Wilmot.

"Let them come," returned the scout.  "Wi' Mr Brooke, an' Dick Darvall,
an' three Winchesters, an' half-a-dozen six-shooters, I'd engage to hold
the cave against a score o' such varmin.  If Mr Brooke an' Dick are
willin' to--"

"I am quite willing, Ben, and I can answer for my friend Dick, so don't
let that trouble you."

"Well, then, that is settled.  I'll go off at once," said the captain,
rising and signing to the trooper to bring up the horses.  "But bear in
remembrance, Hunky Ben, that I hold you responsible for Buck Tom.  If he
recovers you must produce him."

The scout accepted the responsibility; the arrangements were soon made;
"boots and saddles" was sounded, and the troopers rode away, leaving
Charlie Brooke, Dick Darvall, Buck Tom, and the scout in possession of
the outlaws' cave.



CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

THE MEETING OF OLD FRIENDS IN CURIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES.

When the soldiers were safely away Hunky Ben returned to the cave and
brought Leather down.

Charlie Brooke's love for his old school-fellow and playmate seemed to
become a new passion, now that the wreck of life and limb presented by
Shank had awakened within him the sensation of profound pity.  And
Shank's admiration for and devotion to Charlie increased tenfold now
that the terrible barrier of self had been so greatly eliminated from
his own nature, and a new spirit put within him.

By slow degrees, and bit by bit, each came to know and understand the
other under the influence of new lights and feelings.  But their
thoughts about themselves, and their joy at meeting in such peculiar
circumstances, had to be repressed to some extent in the presence of
their common friend Ralph Ritson--_alias_ Buck Tom--for Charlie knew him
only as an old school-fellow, though to Leather he had been a friend and
chum ever since they had landed in the New World.

The scout, during the first interval of leisure on the previous day, had
extracted the ball without much difficulty from Buck's chest, through
which it had passed, and was found lying close under the skin at his
back.  The relief thus afforded, and rest obtained under the influence
of some medicine administered by Captain Wilmot, had brightened the poor
fellow up to some extent; and Leather, seeing him look so much better on
his return, began to entertain some hopes of his recovery.

Buck himself had no such hope; but, being a man of strong will, he
refused to let it be seen in his demeanour that he thought his case to
be hopeless.  Yet he did not act from bravado, or the slightest tincture
of that spirit which resolves to "die game."  The approach of death had
indeed torn away the veil and permitted him to see himself in his true
colours, but he did not at that time see Jesus to be the Saviour of even
"the chief of sinners."  Therefore his hopelessness took the form of
silent submission to the inevitable.

Of course Charlie Brooke spoke to him more than once of the love of God
in Christ, and of the dying thief who had looked to Jesus on the cross
and was saved, but Buck only shook his head.  One afternoon in
particular Charlie tried hard to remove the poor man's perplexities.

"It's all very well, Brooke," said Buck Tom, "and very kind of you to
interest yourself in me, but the love of God and the salvation of Christ
are not for me.  You don't know what a sinner I have been, a rebel all
my life--all my life, mark you.  I would count it mean to come whining
for pardon now that the game is up.  I _deserve_ hell--or whatever sort
o' punishment is due--an' I'm willing to take it."

"Ralph Ritson," said Brooke impressively, "you are a far greater sinner
than you think or admit."

"Perhaps I am," returned the outlaw sadly, and with a slight expression
of surprise.  "Perhaps I am," he repeated.  "Indeed I admit that you are
right, but--but your saying so is a somewhat strange way to comfort a
dying man.  Is it not?"

"I am _not_ trying to comfort you.  I am trying, by God's grace, to
convince you.  You tell me that you have been a rebel all your days?"

"Yes; I admit it."

"There are still, it may be, a few days yet to run, and you are
determined, it seems, to spend these in rebellion too--up to the very
end!"

"Nay, I do not say that.  Have I not said that I _submit_ to whatever
punishment is due?  Surely that is not rebellion.  I can do nothing
_now_ to make up for a mis-spent life, so I am willing to accept the
consequences.  Is not that submission to God--at least as far as lies in
my power?"

"No; it is _not_ submission.  Bear with me when I say it is rebellion,
still deeper rebellion than ever.  God says to you, `You have destroyed
yourself but in _me_ is your help.'  He says, `Though your sins be as
scarlet they shall be white as snow.'  He says, `Believe on the Lord
Jesus Christ and you shall be saved,' and assures you that `whoever
will' may come to Him, and that no one who comes shall be cast out--yet
in the face of all that you tell me that the love of God and the
salvation of Christ are not for you!  Ralph, my friend, you think that
if you had a chance of living your life over again you would do better
and so deserve salvation.  That is exactly what God tells us we cannot
do, and then He tells us that He Himself, in Jesus Christ, has provided
salvation from sin _for_ us, offers it as a free unmerited gift; and
immediately we dive to the deepest depth of sin by deliberately refusing
this deliverance from sin unless we can somehow manage to deserve it."

"I cannot see it," said the wounded man thoughtfully.

"Only God Himself, by His Holy Spirit, can enable you to see it," said
his companion; and then, in a low earnest voice, with eyes closed and
his hand on his friend's arm, he prayed that the outlaw might be "born
again."

Charlie Brooke was not one of those who make long prayers, either "for a
pretence" or otherwise.  Buck Tom smiled slightly when his friend
stopped at the end of this one sentence.

"Your prayer is not long-winded, anyhow!" he said.

"True, Ralph, but it is comprehensive.  It requires a good deal of
expounding and explaining to make man understand what we say or think.
The Almighty needs none of that.  Indeed He does not need even the
asking but He _bids_ us ask, and that is enough for me.  I have seen
enough of life to understand the value of unquestioning obedience
whether one comprehends the reason of an order or not."

"Ay," returned Buck quickly, "when he who gives the order has a right to
command."

"That is so much a matter of course," rejoined Charlie, "that I would
not think of referring to it while conversing with an intelligent man.
By the way--which name would you like to be called, by Ralph or Buck?"

"It matters little to me," returned the outlaw languidly, "and it won't
matter to anybody long.  I should prefer `Ralph,' for it is not
associated with so much evil as the other, but you know our
circumstances are peculiar just now, so, all things considered, I had
better remain Buck Tom to the end of the chapter.  I'll answer to
whichever name comes first when the roll is called in the next world."

The conversation was interrupted at this point by the entrance of Hunky
Ben bearing a deer on his lusty shoulders.  He was followed by Dick
Darvall.

"There," said the former, throwing the carcass on the floor, "I told ye
I wouldn't be long o' bringin' in somethin' for the pot."

"Ay, an' the way he shot it too," said the seaman, laying aside his
rifle, "would have made even a monkey stare with astonishment.  Has
Leather come back, by the way?  I see'd him goin' full sail through the
woods when I went out this mornin'."

"He has not yet returned," said Charlie.  "When I relieved him and sat
down to watch by our friend here, he said he felt so much better and
stronger that he would take his gun and see if he couldn't find
something for the pot.  I advised him not to trust his feelings too
much, and not to go far, but--ah, here he comes to answer for himself."

As he spoke a step was heard outside, and next moment Shank entered,
carrying a brace of rabbits which he flung down, and then threw himself
on a couch in a state of considerable exhaustion.

"There," said he, wiping the perspiration from his forehead.  "They've
cost me more trouble than they're worth, for I'm quite done up.  I had
no idea I had become so weak in the legs.  Ralph, my dear fellow," he
added, forgetting himself for the moment as he rose and went to his
friend's side, "I have more sympathy with you, now that I have found out
the extent of my own weakness.  Do you feel better!"

"Yes, old boy--much--much better."

"That's all right.  I'm convinced that--hallo! why, who shot the deer!"

"Hunky Ben has beat you," said Charlie.

"Beat Leather!" exclaimed Darvall, "why, he beats all creation.  I never
see'd anything like it since I went to sea."

"Since you came ashore, you should say.  But come, Dick," said Charlie,
"let's hear about this wonderful shooting.  I'm sure it will amuse
Buck--unless he's too wearied to listen."

"Let him talk," said the invalid.  "I like to hear him."

Thus exhorted and encouraged the seaman recounted his day's experience.

"Well, you must know, messmates," said he, "that I set sail alone this
mornin', havin' in my pocket the small compass I always carry about me--
also my bearin's before startin', so as I shouldn't go lost in the
woods--though that wouldn't be likely in such an narrow inlet as this
Traitor's Trap, to say nothin' o' the landmarks alow and aloft of all
sorts.  I carried a Winchester with me, because, not bein' what you may
call a crack shot, I thought it would give me a better chance to have a
lot o' resarve shots in the locker, d'ye see?  I carried also a
six-shooter, as it might come handy, you know, if I fell in wi' a
Redskin or a bear, an' got to close quarters.  Also my cutlass, for I've
bin used to that aboard ship when I was in the navy.

"Well, away I went--makin' sail down the valley to begin with, an' then
a long tack into the mountains right in the wind's eye, that bein' the
way to get on the blind side o' game.  I hadn't gone far when up starts
a bird o' some sort--"

"What like was it?" asked the scout.

"No more notion than the man in the moon," returned the sailor.  "What
wi' the flutter an' scurry an' leaves, branches an' feathers--an' the
start--I see'd nothin' clear, an' I was so anxious to git somethin' for
the pot, that six shots went arter it out o' the Winchester, before I
was quite sure I'd begun to fire--for you must know I've larned to fire
uncommon fast since I come to these parts.  Hows'ever, I hit nothin'--"

"Not quite so bad as that, Dick," interrupted the scout gravely.

"Well, that's true, but you better tell that part of it yourself, Hunky,
as you know more about it than me."

"It wasn't of much consequence," said the scout betraying the slightest
possible twinkle in his grey eyes, "but Dick has a knack o' lettin'
drive without much regard to what's in front of him.  I happened to be
more in front of him than that bird when he began to fire, an' the first
shot hit my right leggin', but by good luck only grazed the bark.  Of
course I dropped behind a rock when the storm began and lay quiet there,
and when a lull came I halloo'd."

"Yes, he did halloo," said Dick, resuming the narrative, "an' that
halloo was more like the yell of a bull of Bashan than the cry of a
mortal man.  It made my heart jump into my throat an' stick there, for I
thought I must have killed a whole Redskin tribe at one shot--"

"Six shots, Dick.  Tell the exact truth an' don't contradic' yourself,"
said Hunky.

"No, it wasn't," retorted the seaman stoutly.  "It was arter the _first_
shot that you gave the yell.  Hows'ever, I allow that the echoes kep' it
goin' till the six shots was off--an' I can tell you, messmates, that
the hallooin' an' flutterin' an' scurryin' an echoin' an' thought of
Redskins in my brain all mixed up wi' the blatterin' shots, caused such
a rumpus that I experienced considerable relief when the smoke cleared
away an' I see'd Hunky Ben in front o' me laughin' fit to bu'st his
sides."

"Well, to make a long yarn short, I joined Hunky and allowed him to
lead, seein' that he understands the navigation hereaway better than me.

"`Come along,' says he, `an' I'll let you have a chance at a deer.'

"`All right,' says I, an' away we went up one hill an' down another--for
all the world as if we was walkin' over a heavy Atlantic swell--till we
come to a sort o' pass among the rocks.

"`I'm goin' to leave you here to watch,' says he, `an' I'll go round by
the futt o' the gully an' drive the deer up.  They'll pass quite close,
so you've only to--'

"Hunky stopped short as he was speakin' and flopped down as if he'd bin
shot-haulin' me along wi' him.

"`Keep quiet,' says he, in a low voice.  `We're in luck, an' don't need
to drive.  There's a deer comin' up at this very minute--a young one.
You'll take it.  I won't fire unless you miss.'

"You may be sure I kep' quiet, messmates, arter that.  I took just one
peep, an' there, sure enough, I saw a brown beast comin' up the pass.
So we kep' close as mice.  There was a lot o' small bushes not ten yards
in front of us, which ended in a cut--a sort o' crack--in the hill-side,
a hundred yards or more from the place where we was crouchin'.

"`Now,' whispers Hunky to--"

"I never whisper!" remarked the scout.

"Well, well; he said, in a low v'ice to me, says he, `d'ye see that
openin' in the bushes?'  `I do,' says I.  `Well then,' says he, `it's
about ten yards off; be ready to commence firin' when it comes to that
openin'.'  `I will,' says I.  An', sure enough, when the brown critter
came for'id at a walk an' stopped sudden wi' a look o' surprise as if it
hadn't expected to see me, bang went my Winchester four times, like
winkin', an' up went the deer four times in the air, but niver a bit the
worse was he.  Snap I went a fifth time; but there was no shot, an' I
gave a yell, for I knew the cartridges was done.  By that time the
critter had reached the crack in the hill I told ye of, an' up in the
air he went to clear it, like an Indy-rubber ball.  I felt a'most like
to fling my rifle at it in my rage, when bang! went a shot at my ear
that all but deaf'ned me, an' I wish I may niver fire another shot or
furl another t'gallant-s'l if that deer didn't crumple up in the air an'
drop down stone dead--as dead as it now lays there on the floor."

By the time Dick Darvall had ended his narrative--which was much more
extensive than our report of it--steaks of the deer were sputtering in a
frying-pan, and other preparations were being made for a hearty meal, to
which all the healthy men did ample justice.  Shank Leather did what he
could, and even Buck Tom made a feeble attempt to join.

That night a strict watch was kept outside the cave--each taking it by
turns, for it was just possible, though not probable, that the outlaws
might return to their old haunt.  No one appeared, however, and for the
succeeding eight weeks the party remained there undisturbed, Shank
Leather slowly but surely regaining strength; his friend, Buck Tom, as
slowly and surely losing it; while Charlie, Dick, and Hunky Ben ranged
the neighbouring forest in order to procure food.  Leather usually
remained in the cave to cook for and nurse his friend.  It was pleasant
work to Shank, for love and pity were at the foundation of the service.
Buck Tom perceived this and fully appreciated it.  Perchance he obtained
some valuable light on spiritual subjects from Shank's changed tone and
manner, which the logic of his friend Brooke had failed to convey.  Who
can tell?



CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

SHOWS HOW THE SEAMAN WAS SENT ON A DELICATE MISSION AND HOW HE FARED.

"Shank," said Charlie one day as they were sitting in the sunshine near
the outlaws' cave, waiting for Dick and the scout to return to their
mid-day meal, "it seems to me that we may be detained a good while here,
for we cannot leave Ralph, and it is evident that the poor fellow won't
be able to travel for many a day--"

"If ever," interposed Shank sorrowfully.

"Well, then, I think we must send down to Bull's Ranch, to see if there
are any letters for us.  I feel sure that there must be some, and the
question arises--who are we to send?"

"_You_ must not go, Charlie, whoever goes.  You are the only link in
this mighty wilderness, that connects Ralph and me with home--and hope.
Weak and helpless as we are, we cannot afford to let you out of our
sight."

"Well, but if I don't go I can't see my way to asking the scout to go,
for he alone thoroughly understands the ways of the country and of the
Indians--if any should chance to come this way.  Besides, considering
the pledge he is under to be accountable for Buck Tom, I doubt if he
would consent to go."

"The question is answered, then," said Shank, "for the only other man is
Dick Darvall."

"True; and it strikes me that Dick will be very glad to go," returned
Charlie with a smile of peculiar meaning.

"D'ye think he's getting tired of us, Charlie?"

"By no means.  But you know he has a roving disposition, and I think he
has a sort of fondness for Jackson--the boss of the ranch."

It was found when the question was put to him, that Dick was quite ready
to set out on the mission required of him.  He also admitted his
fondness for Roaring Bull!

"But what if you should lose your way?" asked the scout.

"Find it again," was Dick's prompt reply.

"And what if you should be attacked by Indians?"

"Fight 'em, of course."

"But if they should be too many to fight?"

"Why, clap on all sail an' give 'em a starn chase, which is always a
long one.  For this purpose, however, I would have to command a good
craft so I'd expect you to lend me yours, Hunky Ben."

"What! my Polly?"

"Even so.  Black Polly."

The scout received this proposal gravely, and shook his head at first,
for he was naturally fond of his beautiful mare, and, besides, doubted
the sailor's horsemanship, though he had perfect faith in his courage
and discretion.  Finally, however, he gave in; and accordingly, one fine
morning at daybreak, Dick Darvall, mounted on Black Polly, and armed
with his favourite Winchester, revolvers, and cutlass, "set sail" down
Traitor's Trap to visit his lady-love!

Of course he knew that his business was to obtain letters and gather
news.  But honest Dick Darvall could not conceal from himself that his
main object was--Mary Jackson!

Somehow it has come to be supposed or assumed that a jack-tar cannot
ride.  Possibly this may be true of the class as a whole to which Jack
belongs, but it is not necessarily true of all, and it certainly is not
true of some.  Dick Darvall was an expert horseman--though a sailor.  He
had learned to ride when a boy, before going to sea, and his after-habit
of riding the "white horses" of the Norseman, did not cause him to
forget the art of managing the "buckers" of the American plains.  To use
his own words, he felt as much at home on the hurricane deck of a
Spanish pony, as on the fo'c'sl of a man-of-war, so that the scout's
doubt of his capacity as a rider was not well founded.

Tremendous was the bound of exultation which our seaman felt, then, when
he found himself on the magnificent black mare, with the fresh morning
air fanning his temples, and the bright morning sun glinting through a
cut in the eastern range.

Soon he reached the lower end of the valley, which, being steep, he had
descended with tightened rein.  On reaching the open prairie he gave the
mare her head and went off with a wild whoop like an arrow from a bow.

Black Polly required neither spur nor whip.  She possessed that
charmingly sensitive spirit which seems to receive an electric shock
from its rider's lightest chirp.  She was what you may call an anxiously
willing steed, yet possessed such a tender mouth that she could be
pulled up as easily as she could be made to go.  A mere child could have
ridden her, and Dick found in a few minutes that a slight check was
necessary to prevent her scouring over the plains at racing speed.  He
restrained her, therefore, to a grand canter, with many a stride and
bound interspersed, when such a thing as a rut or a little bush came in
her way.

With arched neck, glistening eyes, voluminous mane, and flowing tail she
flew onward, hour after hour, with many a playful shake of the head, and
an occasional snort, as though to say, "This is mere child's play; _do_
let me put on a spurt!"

It may not be fair to credit such a noble creature with talking, or even
thinking, slang, but Dick Darvall clearly understood her to say
something of the sort, for after a while he reduced speed to a kind of
india-rubber walk and patted her neck, saying--

"No, no, lass, you mustn't use up your strength at the beginning.  We've
got a longish trip before us, Polly, an' it won't do to clap on all sail
at the beginnin' of the voyage."

At David's store Dick stopped for a short time to obtain a little
refreshment for himself and Polly.  There he found a group of cow-boys
discussing the affairs of their neighbours, and enlarging noisily on
things in general under the brain-clearing and reason-inspiring
influence of strong drink!  To these he recounted briefly the incidents
of the recent raid of the troops into Traitor's Trap, and learned that
Jake the Flint had "drifted south into Mexico where he was plying the
trade of cattle and horse stealer, with the usual accompaniments of that
profession--fighting, murdering, drinking, etcetera."  Some of the deeds
of this notorious outlaw, as narrated by the cow-boy Crux, who happened
to be there, made the blood of Dick run cold--and Dick's blood was not
easily made to run otherwise than naturally by any one--except, of
course, by Mary Jackson, who could at all events make it run hot, also
fast or slow, very much according to her own sweet will!

But the seaman had no time to lose.  He had still a long way to go, and
the day was advancing.  Remounting Black Polly he was soon out again on
the prairie, sweeping over the grassy waves and down into the hollows
with a feeling of hilarious jollity, that was born of high health,
good-nature, pleasant circumstances, and a free-and-easy mind.

Nothing worthy of particular notice occurred after this to mar the
pleasure of our sailor's "voyage" over the prairie until he reached a
belt of woodland, through which for half a mile he had to travel.  Here
he drew rein and began to traverse the bit of forest at a quiet amble,
partly to rest Polly, and partly that he might more thoroughly enjoy the
woodland scenery through the umbrageous canopy of which the sun was
sending his slanting rays and covering the sward with a confused
chequer-work of green and gold.

And here Dick Darvall became communicative; entered into conversation,
so to speak, with himself.  After a few minutes, however, this did not
prove a sufficient outlet to his exuberant spirits.

"Come, Dick," he exclaimed, "give us a song.  Your voice ain't, perhaps,
much to speak of as to quality, but there's no end of quantity.  Strike
up, now; what shall it be?"

Without replying to the question he struck up "Rule Britannia" in tones
that did not justify his disparaging remark as to quality.  He reached
the other end of the wood and the end of the song at the same time.
"Britons," shouted he with unalterable determination--"Never, never,
ne-ever, shall be--Redskins!"

This unnatural termination was not an intentional variation.  It was the
result of a scene that suddenly burst upon his view.

Far away on the prairie two riders were seen racing at what he would
have styled a slant away from him.  They were going at a pace that
suggested fleeing for life.

"Redskins--arter somethin'," murmured Dick, pulling up, and shading his
eyes from the sun with his right hand, as he gazed earnestly at the two
riders.

"No-n-no.  They're whites," he continued, "one o' them a man; t'other a
woman.  I can make that out, anyhow."

As he spoke, the racing riders topped a far-off knoll; halted, and
turned round as if to gaze back towards the north--the direction from
which they had come.  Then, wheeling round as if in greater haste than
ever, they continued their headlong gallop and disappeared on the other
side of the knoll.

Dick naturally turned towards the north to see, if possible, what the
two riders were flying from.  He was not kept long in doubt, for just
then a band of horsemen was seen topping the farthest ridge in that
direction, and bearing down on the belt of woodland, along the edge of
which they galloped towards him.

There was no mistaking who they were.  The war-whoop, sounding faint and
shrill in the distance, and the wild gesticulations of the riders, told
the story at once to our seaman--two pale-faces, pursued by a band of
bloodthirsty savages!

Unskilled though he was in backwoods warfare, Dick was not unfamiliar
with war's alarms, nor was he wanting in common sense.  To side with the
weaker party was a natural tendency in our seaman.  That the pursuers
were red, and the pursued white, strengthened the tendency, and the fact
that one of the latter was a woman settled the question.  Instantly Dick
shook the reins, drove his unarmed heels against the sides of Polly, and
away they went after the fugitives like a black thunderbolt, if there be
such artillery in nature!

A wild yell told him that he was seen.

"Howl away, ye land lubbers!" growled Dick.  "You'll have to fill your
sails wi' a stiffer breeze than howlin' before ye overhaul this here
craft."

Just then he reached the crest of a prairie billow, whence he could see
the fugitives still far ahead of him.  Suddenly a suspicion entered the
seaman's mind, which made his heart almost choke him.  What if this
should be Mary Jackson and her father?  Their relative size countenanced
the idea, for the woman seemed small and the man unusually large.

In desperate haste Dick now urged on his gallant steed to her best pace,
and well did she justify the praises that had been often bestowed on her
by Hunky Ben.  In a very brief space of time she was close behind the
fugitives, and Dick was now convinced that his suspicions as to who they
were was right.  He rode after them with divided feelings--tremblingly
anxious lest Mary should fall into the hands of their ruthless foes--
exultantly glad that he had come there in time to fight, or die if need
be, in her defence.

Suddenly the male fugitive, who had only glanced over his shoulder from
time to time, pulled up, wheeled round, and quickly raised his rifle.

"Hallo! get on, man; don't stop!"  Dick yelled, in a voice worthy of
Bull himself.  Taking off his hat he waved it violently above his head.
As he spoke he saw the woman's arm flash upwards; a puff of smoke
followed, and a bullet whistled close over his head.

Next moment the fugitives had turned and resumed their headlong flight.
A few more minutes sufficed to bring Dick and the black mare alongside,
for the latter was still vigorous in wind and limb, while the poor jaded
animals which Mary and her father rode were almost worn out by a
prolonged flight.

"Dick Darvall," exclaimed Jackson, as the former rode up, "I never was
gladder to see any man than I am to see you this hour, though but for my
Mary I'd surely have sent you to kingdom come.  Her ears are better than
mine, you see.  She recognised the voice an' knocked up my rifle just as
I pulled the trigger.  But I'm afeared it's too late, lad."

The way in which the man said this, and the look of his pale haggard
face, sent a thrill to the heart of Dick.

"What d'ye mean?" he said, looking anxiously at Mary, who with a set
rigid expression on her pale face was looking straight before her, and
urging her tired pony with switch and rein.

"I mean, lad, that we've but a poor chance to reach the ranch wi' such
knocked-up brutes as these.  Of course we can turn at bay an' kill as
many o' the red-devils as possible before it's all over wi' us, but what
good would that do to Mary?  If we could only check the varmins, there
might be some hope, but--"

"Jackson!" exclaimed the seaman, in a firm tone, "I'll do my best to
check them.  God bless you, Mary--good-bye.  Heave ahead, now, full
swing!"

As he spoke, Dick pulled up, while the others continued their headlong
flight straight for the ranch, which was by the only a few miles
distant.

Wheeling round, Dick cantered back to the knoll over which they had just
passed and halted on the top of it.  From this position he could see the
band, of about fifty Indians, careering towards him and yelling with
satisfaction, for they could also see him--a solitary horseman--clear
cut against the bright sky.

Dick got ready his repeating rifle.  We have already mentioned the fact
that he had learned to load and fire this formidable weapon with great
rapidity, though he had signally failed in his attempts to aim with it.
Being well aware of his weakness, he made up his mind in his present
desperate extremity not to aim at all!  He had always felt that the
difficulty of getting the back and front sights of the rifle to
correspond with the object aimed at was a slow, and, in his case, an
impossible process.  He therefore resolved to simply point his weapon
and fire!

"Surely," he muttered to himself even in that trying moment, "surely I
can't altogether miss a whole bunch o' fifty men an' horses!"

He waited until he thought the savages were within long range, and then,
elevating his piece a little, fired.

The result justified his hopes.  A horse fell dead upon the plain, and
its owner, although evidently unwounded, was for the time _hors de
combat_.

True to his plan, Dick kept up such a quick continuous fire, and made so
much noise and smoke, that it seemed as if a whole company of riflemen
were at work instead of one man, and several horses on the plain
testified to the success of the pointing as compared with the aiming
principle!

Of course the fire was partly returned, and for a time the stout seaman
was under a pretty heavy rain of bullets, but as the savages fired while
galloping their aim was necessarily bad.

This fusillade had naturally the effect of checking the advance of the
Indians--especially when they drew near to the reckless man, who, when
the snap of his rifle told that his last cartridge was off, wheeled
about and fled as fast as Black Polly could lay hoofs to the plain.

And now he found the value of the trustworthy qualities of his steed,
for, instead of guiding her out of the way of obstacles, he gave her her
head, held tight with his legs, and merely kept an eye on the ground in
front to be ready for any swerve, bound, or leap, that might be
impending.  Thus his hands were set free to re-charge the magazine of
his rifle, which he did with deliberate rapidity.

The truth is, that recklessness has a distinct tendency to produce
coolness.  And there is no one who can afford to be so deliberate, and
of whom other men are so much afraid, as the man who has obviously made
up his mind to die fighting.

While Dick was loading-up, Black Polly was encouraged by voice and heel
to do her best, and her best was something to see and remember!  When
the charging was finished, Dick drew rein and trotted to the next knoll
he encountered, from which point he observed with some satisfaction that
the fugitives were still pressing on, and that the distance between them
and their foe had slightly increased.

But the seaman had not much time to look or think, for the band of
Redskins was drawing near.  When they came within range he again opened
fire.  But this time the savages divided, evidently with the intention
of getting on both sides of him, and so distracting his attention.  He
perceived their object at once, and reserved his fire until they turned
and with frantic yells made a simultaneous dash on him right and left.
Again he waited till his enemies were close enough, and then opened fire
right and left alternately, while the Indians found that they had
outwitted themselves and scarcely dared to fire lest the opposite bands
should hit each other.

Having expended the second supply of ammunition, Dick wheeled round and
took to flight as before.  Of course the mare soon carried him out of
range, and again he had the satisfaction of observing that the fugitives
had increased their distance from the foe.

"One more check o' this kind," thought Dick, "and they'll be safe--I
think."

While thus thinking he was diligently re-charging, and soon cantered to
the top of a third knoll, where he resolved to make his final stand.
The ranch was by that time dimly visible on the horizon, and the weary
fugitives were seen struggling towards it.  But Dick found, on halting
and looking back, that the Indians had changed their tactics.  Instead
of directing their attention to himself, as on the previous occasions,
they had spread out to the right and left and had scattered, besides
keeping well out of range.

"What are the sinners up to now?" muttered the seaman in some
perplexity.

He soon perceived that they meant to go past him altogether, if
possible, and head towards the fugitives in separate groups.

"Ay, but it's _not_ possible!" exclaimed Dick, answering his own
thoughts as he turned swiftly, and stretched out after his friends.
Seeing this, the savages tried to close in on him from both sides, but
their already winded ponies had no chance against the grand Mexican
mare, which having been considerately handled during the day's journey
was comparatively fresh and in full vigour.

Shooting ahead he now resolved to join his friends and a feeling of
triumph began to rise within his breast as he saw them pushing steadily
onward.  The ranch, however, was still at a considerable distance, while
the Indians were rapidly gaining ground.

At that moment to Dick's horror, the pony which Mary Jackson rode
stumbled and fell, sending its rider over its head.  But the fair Mary,
besides being a splendid horsewoman, was singularly agile and quick in
perception.  For some time she had anticipated the catastrophe, and, at
the first indication of a stumble, leaped from the saddle and actually
alighted on her feet some yards ahead.  Of course she fell with some
violence, but the leap broke her fall and probably saved her neck.  She
sprang up instantly, and grasping the reins, tried to raise her pony.
It was too late.  The faithful creature was dead.

Jackson, pulling up, wheeled round and was back at her side instantly.
Almost at the same moment Dick Darvall came up, threw the mare almost on
her haunches, leaped from the saddle, and ran to Mary.  As he did so,
the crash of a pistol shot at his ear almost deafened him, and a glance
showed him that Jackson had shot his horse, which fell dead close to his
daughter's pony.

"Kill your horse, Dick," he growled sharply, as he exerted his great
strength to the utmost, and dragged the haunches of his own steed close
to the head of the other.  "It's our only chance."

Dick drew his revolver, and aimed at the heart of Black Polly, but for
the soul of him he could not pull the trigger.

"No--I won't!" he cried, grasping the lasso which always hung at the
saddle-bow.  "Hobble the fore-legs!"

There was such determination in the sailor's command, that Jackson felt
bound to obey.  At the same moment Dick bound the horse's hind-legs.  He
fully understood what Jackson intended, and the latter was as quick to
perceive the seaman's drift.  Seizing the reins, while his friend caught
hold of the lasso, Dick cried, "Out o' the way, Mary!" and with a mighty
effort the two men threw the mare on her side.

"First-rate!" cried Jackson, while his companion held down the animal's
head.  "It couldn't have dropped better.  Jump inside, Mary, an' lie
down flat behind your pony.  Let Mary have the reins, Dick.  She knows
how to hold its head down without showin' herself."

Even while he was speaking, Jackson and Dick leaped into the triangle of
horses thus formed, and, crouching low, disappeared from the sight of
the savages, who now came on yelling with triumph, for they evidently
thought themselves sure of their victims by that time.

"Are ye a good shot, Dick?" asked Jackson, as he gazed sternly at the
approaching foe.

"No--abominably bad."

"Fire low then.  You may catch the horses if ye miss the Redskins.
Anyhow you'll hit the ground if you aim low, an' it's wonderful what
execution a bullet may do arter hittin' mother Earth."

"I never aim," replied the sailor.  "Only a waste o' time.  I just point
straight an' fire away."

"Do it, then," growled roaring Bull, with something that sounded like a
short laugh.

At the same moment he himself took quick aim at the foe and fired; the
leading horse and man immediately rolled upon the plain.

As both men were armed with repeating rifles the fusillade was rapid,
and most of the savages, who seldom fight well in the open, were
repulsed.  But several of them, headed apparently by their chief, rode
on fearlessly until within pistol-shot.

Then the two defenders of this peculiar fortress sprang up with
revolvers in each hand.

"Lie close, Mary," cried Jackson as he fired, and the chief's horse
rolled over, almost reaching their position with the impetus of the
charge.  The chief himself lay beside his horse, for another shot had
ended his career.  As two other horses had fallen, the rest of the band
wheeled aside and galloped away, followed by a brisk fire from the white
men, who had again crouched behind their breast-work and resumed their
rifles.

Bullets were by that time flying over them in considerable numbers, for
those Indians who had not charged with their chief had, after retiring
to a safe distance, taken to firing at long range.  At this work Dick's
rifle and straight pointing were of little use, so he reserved his fire
for close quarters, while Jackson, who was almost a certain shot at
average ranges, kept the savages from drawing nearer.

"Lie closer to the pony, Miss Mary," said Dick, as a shot passed close
over the girl and whistled between him and his comrade.  "Were you hurt
in the fall?"

"No, not in the least.  Don't you think they'll hear the firing at the
ranch, father?"

"Ay, lass, if there's anybody to hear it, but I sent the boys out this
mornin' to hunt up a bunch o' steers that have drifted south among
Wilson's cattle, an' I fear they've not come back yet.  See, the
reptiles are goin' to try it again!"

As he spoke, the remnant of the Redskins who pressed home the first
charge, having held a palaver, induced the whole band to make another
attempt, but they were met with the same vigour as before--a continuous
volley at long range, which emptied several saddles, and then, when the
plucky men of the tribe charged close, the white men stood up, as
before, and plied them with revolvers so rapidly that they were fain to
wheel aside and retire.

"Ammunition's gettin' low," said Dick, in an anxious tone.

"Then I'll waste no more," growled Jackson, "but only fire when I'm safe
to hit."

As he spoke a distant cheer was heard, and, looking back, they saw, with
a rebound of hope, that a band of five or six cow-boys were coming from
the ranch and galloping full swing to the rescue.  Behind them, a few
seconds later, appeared a line of men who came on at a swinging trot.

"Troopers, I do believe!" exclaimed Jackson.

"Thank God!" said Mary, with a deep sigh of relief as she sat up to look
at them.  The troopers gave a cheer of encouragement as they thundered
past to the attack, but the Indians did not await the onset.  At the
first sight of the troops they fled, and in a few minutes pursued and
pursuers alike were out of sight--hidden behind the prairie waves.

"I can't tell you how thankful I am that I didn't shoot the mare," said
Dick, as they unfastened the feet of Black Polly and let her rise.  "I'd
never have been able to look Hunky Ben in the face again arter it."

"Well, I'm not sorry you spared her," said Jackson; "as for the two that
are dead, they're no great loss--yet I've a kind o' regret too, for the
poor things served us well."

"Faithfully--even to death," added Mary, in a sorrowful tone as she
stooped to pat the neck of her dead pony.

"Will you mount, Miss Mary, and ride home?" asked the sailor.

"Thank you--no, I'd rather walk with father.  We have not far to go
now."

"Then we'll all walk together," said Jackson.

Dick threw Black Polly's bridle over his arm, and they all set off at a
smart walk for the ranch of Roaring Bull, while the troops and cow-boys
chased the Redskins back into the mountains whence they had come.



CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

TREATS OF VARIOUS INTERESTING MATTERS, AND TELLS OF NEWS FROM HOME.

Dick Darvall now learned that, owing to the disturbed state of the
country, Captain Wilmot had left a small body of men to occupy Bull's
ranch for a time; hence their presence at the critical moment when
Jackson and his daughter stood so much in need of their assistance.  He
also found that there were two letters awaiting the party at Traitor's
Trap--one for Charles Brooke, Esquire, and one for Mr S. Leather.  They
bore the postmarks of the old country.

"You'd better not start back wi' them for three or four days, Dick,"
said Jackson, when they were seated that evening in the hall of the
ranch, enjoying a cup of coffee made by the fair hands of Mary.

Dick shook his head.  "I'm acting post-boy just now" said he, "an' it
would ill become me to hang off an' on here waitin' for a fair wind when
I can beat into port with a foul one."

"But if the Redskins is up all round, as some o' the boys have reported,
it's not merely a foul wind but a regular gale that's blowin', an' it
would puzzle you to beat into port in the teeth o' that."

"I think," remarked Mary, with an arch smile, "that Mr Darvall had
better `lay to' until the troops return to-night and report on the state
of the weather."

To this the gallant seaman declared that he would be only too happy to
cast anchor altogether where he was for the rest of his life, but that
duty was duty, and that, blow high or blow low, fair weather or foul,
duty had to be attended to.

"That's true, O high-principled seaman!" returned Jackson; "and what
d'ye consider your duty at the present time?"

"To deliver my letters, O Roarin' Bull!" replied Dick.

"Just so, but if you go slick off when Redskins are rampagin' around,
you'll be sure to get nabbed an' roasted alive, an' so you'll _never_
deliver your letters."

"It's my duty to try," said Dick.  "Hows'ever," he added, turning to
Mary with a benignant smile, "I'll take your advice, Miss Mary, an' wait
for the report o' the soldiers."

When the troopers returned, their report was, that the Redskins, after
being pretty severely handled, had managed to reach the woods, where it
would have been useless to follow them so close upon night; but it was
their opinion that the band, which had so nearly captured the boss of
the ranch and his daughter, was merely a marauding band, from the south,
of the same Indians who had previously attacked the ranch, and that, as
for the Indians of the district, they believed them to be quite
peaceably disposed.

"Which says a good deal for them," remarked the officer in command of
the troops, "when we consider the provocation they receive from Buck
Tom, Jake the Flint, and such-like ruffians."

"The moon rises at ten to-night, Dick," said Jackson, as they went
together to the stables to see that the horses were all right.

"That's so," said the sailor, who noticed something peculiar in the
man's tone; "what may be the reason o' your reference to that bit of
astronomy?"

"Why, you see," returned the other, "post-boys in these diggin's are
used to travellin' night an' day.  An' the troopers' report o' the
weather might be worse.  You was sayin' somethin' about duty, wasn't
you?"

"Right, Jackson," returned Dick, "but Black Polly is not used to
travellin' night an' day.  If she was, I'd take her back to-night, for
moonlight is good enough for a man that has twice taken soundin's along
the road, an' who's well up in all the buoys, beacons, an' landmarks,
but it would be cruelty to the good mare."

"Duty first, Dick, the mare second.  You don't need to trouble about
her.  I'll lend ye one o' my best horses an' take good care o' Black
Polly till Hunky Ben claims her."

"Thank 'ee, Jackson, but I'll not part wi' Black Polly till I've
delivered her to her owner.  I won't accept your invite to stop here
three or four days, but neither will I start off to-night.  I've too
much regard for the good mare to do that."

"Ho! ho!" thought his host, with an inward chuckle, "it's not so much
the mare as Mary that you've a regard for, my young sailor!"

But in spite of his name the man was much too polite to express this
opinion aloud.  He merely said, "Well, Dick, you know that you're
welcome to squat here as long or as short a time as you like, an' use
the best o' my horses, if so disposed, or do the postboy business on
Black Polly.  Do as ye like wi' me an' mine, boy, for it's only fair to
say that but for your help this day my Mary an' me would have bin done
for."

They reached the stable as he was speaking, and Jackson at once turned
the conversation on the horses, thus preventing a reply from Dick--in
regard to which the latter was not sorry.

In the stall the form of Black Polly looked grander than ever, for her
head nearly touched the roof as she raised it and turned a gleaming eye
on the visitors, at the same time uttering a slight whinny of
expectation.

"Why, I do believe she has transferred her affections to you, Dick,"
said Jackson.  "I never heard her do that before except to Hunky Ben,
and she's bin many a time in that stall."

"More likely that she expected Ben had come to bid her good-night,"
returned the sailor.

But the way in which the beautiful creature received Dick's caresses
induced Jackson to hold to his opinion.  It is more probable, however,
that some similarity of disposition between Dick Darvall and Hunky Ben
had commended itself to the mare, which was, as much as many a human
being, of an amiable, loving disposition.  She thoroughly appreciated
the tenderness and forbearance of her master, and, more recently, of
Dick.  No doubt the somewhat rough way in which she had been thrown to
the ground that day may have astonished her, but it evidently had not
soured her temper.

That night Dick did not see much of Mary.  She was far too busy
attending to, and providing for, the numerous guests at the ranch to be
able to give individual attention to any one in particular--even had she
been so disposed.

Buttercup of course lent able assistance to her mistress in these
domestic duties, and, despite her own juvenility--we might perhaps say,
in consequence of it--gave Mary much valuable advice.

"Dat man's in a bad way," said she, as, with her huge lips pouting
earnestly, she examined the contents of a big pot on the fire.  The
black maiden's lips were so pronounced and expressive that they might
almost be said to constitute her face!

"What man?" asked Mary, who, with her sleeves tucked up to the elbows,
was manipulating certain proportions of flour, water, and butter.

"Why, Dick, oh course.  He's de only man wuth speakin' about."

Mary blushed a little in spite of herself, and laughed hilariously as
she replied--

"Dear me, Butter, I didn't think he had made such a deep impression on
you."

"'S not on'y on me he's made a 'mpress'n," returned the maid,
carelessly.  "He makes de same 'mpress'n on eberybody."

"How d'you know?" asked Mary.

"'Cause I see," answered the maid.

She turned her eyes on her mistress as she spoke, and immediately a
transformation scene was presented.  The eyes dwindled into slits as the
cheeks rose, and the serious pout became a smile so magnificent that
ivory teeth and scarlet gums set in ebony alone met the gaze of the
beholder.

"Buttercup," exclaimed Mary, stamping her little foot firmly, "it's
boiling over!"

She was right.  Teeth and gums vanished.  The eyes returned, so did the
pout, and the pot was whipped off the fire in a twinkling, but not
before a mighty hiss was heard and the head of the black maiden was
involved in a cloud of steam and ashes!

"I told you so!" cried Mary, quoting from an ancient Manuscript.

"No, you di'n't," retorted her servitor, speaking from the depths of her
own consciousness.

We refrain from following the conversation beyond this point, as it
became culinary and flat.

Next day Dick Darvall, refreshed--and, owing to some quite inexplicable
influences, enlivened--mounted Black Polly and started off alone for
Traitor's Trap, leaving his heart and a reputation for cool pluck behind
him.

Of course he was particularly watchful and circumspect on the way up,
but saw nothing to call for a further display of either pluck or
coolness.  On arriving at the cave he found his friends there much as he
had left them.  Buck Tom, owing to the skilled attentions which he had
received from that amateur surgeon, Hunky Ben, and a long refreshing
sleep--the result of partial relief from pain--was a good deal better;
and poor Leather, cheered by the hope thus raised of his friend's
recovery, was himself considerably improved in health and spirits.

Fortunately for his own peace of mind, it never seemed to occur to Shank
that a return to health meant for Buck Tom, death on the gallows.
Perhaps his own illness had weakened Shank's powers of thought.  It may
be, his naturally thoughtless disposition helped to render him oblivious
of the solemn fact, and no one was cruel enough to remind him of it.
But Buck himself never forgot it; yet he betrayed no symptom of
despondency, neither did he indicate any degree of hope.  He was a man
of resolute purpose, and had the power of subduing--at least of
absolutely concealing--his feelings.  To those who nursed him he seemed
to be in a state of gentle, colourless resignation.

Charlie Brooke and Hunky Ben, having been out together, had returned
well laden with game; and Leather was busy at the fire preparing a
savoury mess of the same for his sick friend when Dick arrived.

"News from the old country!" he exclaimed, holding up the letters on
entering the cave.  "Two for Charles Brooke, Esquire, and one for Mister
Leather!"

"They might have been more polite to me.  Hand it here," said the
latter, endeavouring to conceal under a jest his excitement at the sight
of a letter from home; for his wild life had cut him off from
communication for a very long time.

"One of mine is from old Jacob Crossley," said Charlie, tearing the
letter open with eager interest.

"An' mine is from sister May," exclaimed Shank.

If any one had observed Buck Tom at that moment, he would have seen that
the outlaw started and rose almost up on one elbow, while a deep flush
suffused his bronzed countenance.  The action and the flush were only
momentary, however he sank down again and turned his face to the wall.

Charlie also started and looked at Shank when the name of May was
mentioned, and the eye of Hunky Ben was on him at the moment.  But Hunky
of course could not interpret the start.  He knew little of our hero's
past history--nothing whatever about May.  Being a western scout, no
line of his mahogany-looking face indicated that the start aroused a
thought of any kind.

While the recipients of the letters were busily perusing their missives,
Dick Darvall gave the scout a brief outline of his expedition to the
ranch, reserving the graphic narration of incidents to a more fitting
occasion, when all the party could listen.

"Dick, you're a trump," said the scout.

"I'm a lucky fellow, anyhow," returned Dick.

"In very truth ye are, lad, to escape from such a big bunch o' Redskins
without a scratch; why--"

"Pooh!" interrupted the sailor, "that's not the luck I'm thinkin' of.
Havin' overhauled Roarin' Bull an' his little girl in time to help
rescue them, that's what I call luck--d'ee see?"

"Yes, I see," was Hunky Ben's laconic reply.

Perhaps the scout saw more than was intended, for he probably observed
the glad enthusiasm with which the bold seaman mentioned Roaring Bull's
little girl.  We cannot tell.  His wooden countenance betrayed no sign,
and he may have seen nothing; but he was a western scout, and accustomed
to take particular note of the smallest signs of the wilderness.

"Capital--first-rate!" exclaimed Charlie, looking up from his letter
when he had finished it.

"Just what I was going to say, or something of the same sort," said
Leather, as he folded his epistle.

"Then there's nothing but good news?" said Charlie.

"Nothing.  I suppose it's the same with you, to judge from your looks,"
returned Shank.

"Exactly.  Perhaps," said Charlie, "it may interest you all to hear my
letter.  There are no secrets in it, and the gentleman who writes it is
a jolly old fellow, Jacob Crossley by name.  You know him, Dick, as the
owner of the _Walrus_, though you've never seen him."

"All right.  I remember; fire away," said Dick.

"It is dated from his office in London," continued our hero, "and runs
thus:--

  "MY DEAR BROOKE,--We were all very glad to hear of your safe arrival
  in New York, and hope that long before this reaches your hand you will
  have found poor Leather and got him to some place of comfort, where he
  may recover the health that we have been given to understand he has
  lost.

  "I chanced to be down at Sealford visiting your mother when your
  letter arrived; hence my knowledge of its contents.  Mrs Leather and
  her daughter May were then as _usual_.  By the way, what a pretty girl
  May has become!  I remember her such a rumpled up, dress-anyhow,
  harum-scarum sort of a girl, that I find it hard to believe the tall,
  graceful, modest creature I meet with now is the same person!  Captain
  Stride says she is the finest craft he ever saw, except that wonderful
  `Maggie,' about whose opinions and sayings he tells us so much.

  "But this is a double digression.  To return: your letter of course
  gave us all great pleasure.  It also gave your mother and May some
  anxiety, where it tells of the necessity of your going up to that
  wild-west place, Traitor's Trap, where poor Leather is laid up.  Take
  care of yourself, my dear boy, for I'm told that the red savages are
  still given to those roasting, scalping, and other torturing that one
  has read of in the pages of Fenimore Cooper.

  "By the way, before I forget it, let me say, in reference to the
  enclosed bill, it is a loan which I have obtained for Leather, at very
  moderate interest, and when more is required more can be obtained on
  the same terms.  Let him understand this, for I don't wish that he
  should think, on the one hand, that he is drawing on his mother's
  slender resources, or, on the other hand, that he is under obligation
  to any one.  I send the bill because I feel quite sure that you
  started on this expedition with too little.  It is drawn in your name,
  and I think you will be able to cash it at any civilised town--even in
  the far west!

  "Talking of Captain Stride--was I talking of him?  Well, no matter.
  As he is past work now, but thinks himself very far indeed from that
  condition, I have prevailed on him to accept a new and peculiar post
  arising out of the curious evolutions of the firm of Withers and
  Company which satisfies the firm completely and suits the captain to a
  T.  As the work can be done anywhere, a residence has been taken for
  him in Sealford, mid-way between that of your mother and Mrs Leather,
  so that he and his wife and little girl can run into either port when
  so disposed.  As Mrs L, however (to use his own phraseology), is
  almost always to be found at anchor in the Brooke harbour, he usually
  kills both with the same visit.  I have not been to see him yet in the
  new abode, and do not know what the celebrated Maggie thinks of it.

  "When you find Leather, poor fellow, tell him that his mother and
  sister are very well.  The former is indefatigable in knitting those
  hundreds of socks and stockings for poor people, about which there has
  been, and still is, and I think ever will be, so much mystery.  The
  person who buys them from her must be very deep as well as honest, for
  no inquiries ever throw any fresh light on the subject, and he--or
  she, whichever it is--pays regularly as the worsted work is
  delivered--so I'm told!  It is a little old lady who pays--but I've
  reason to believe that she's only a go-between--some agent of a
  society for providing cheap clothing for the poor, I fancy, which the
  poor stand very much in need of, poor things!  Your good mother helps
  in this work--at least so I am told, but I'm not much up in in the
  details of it yet.  I mean to run down to see them in a few days and
  hear all about it.

  "Stride, I forgot to say, is allowed to smoke a pipe in your mother's
  parlour when he pays her a visit.  This is so like her amiability, for
  she hates tobacco as much as I do.  I ventured on a similarly amiable
  experiment one day when the worthy Captain dined with me, but the
  result was so serious that I have not ventured to repeat it.  You
  remember my worthy housekeeper, Mrs Bland?  Well, she kicked over the
  traces and became quite unmanageable.  I had given Stride leave to
  smoke after dessert, because I had a sort of idea that he could nor
  digest his food without a pipe.  You know my feelings with regard to
  _young_ fellows who try to emulate chimneys, so you can understand
  that my allowing the Captain to indulge was no relaxation of my
  principles, but was the result of a strong objection I had to spoil
  the dinner of a man who was somewhat older than myself by cramming my
  principles down his throat.

  "But the moment that Mrs Bland entered I knew by the glance of her
  eye, as well as by the sniff of her nose, that a storm was brewing
  up--as Stride puts it--and I was not wrong.  The storm burst upon me
  that evening.  It's impossible, and might be tedious, to give you all
  the conversation that we had after Stride had gone, but the upshot was
  that she gave me warning.

  "`But, my good woman,' I began--

  "`It's of no use good-womaning me, Mr Crossley,' said she, `I
  couldn't exist in a 'ouse w'ere smokin' is allowed.  My dear father
  died of smokin'--at least, if he didn't, smokin' must 'ave 'ad
  somethink to do with it, for after the dear man was gone a pipe an' a
  plug of the nasty stuff was found under 'is piller, so I can't stand
  it; an' what's more, Mr Crossley, I _won't_ stand it!  Just think,
  sir, 'ow silly it is to put a bit of clay in your mouth an' draw smoke
  through it, an' then to spit it out again as if you didn't like it; as
  no more no one _does_ on beginnin' it, for boys only smoke to look
  like men, an' men only smoke because they've got up the 'abit an'
  can't 'elp it.  W'y, sir, you may git up _any_ 'abit.  You may git the
  'abit of walkin' on your 'ands an' shakin' your legs in the hair if
  you was to persevere long enough, but that would only prove you a fool
  fit for a circus or a lunatic asylum.  You never see the hanimals
  smokin'.  They knows better.  Just fancy! what would you think if you
  saw the cab 'osses all a-settin' on their tails in the rank smokin'
  pipes an' cigars!  What would you think of a 'oss w'en 'is cabby
  cried, "Gee-up, there's a fare a 'owlin' for us," an' that 'oss would
  say, "Hall right, cabby, just 'old on, hold man, till I finish my
  pipe"?  No, Mr Crossley, no, I--'

  "`But, my good soul!'  I burst in here, `do listen--'

  "`No use good-soulin' me, Mr Crossley.  I tell you I won't stand it.
  My dear father died of it, an' I _can't_ stand it--'

  "`I _hate_ it, Mrs Bland, myself!'

  "I shouted this interruption in such a loud fierce tone that the good
  woman stopped and looked at me in surprise.

  "`Yes, Mrs Bland,' I continued, in the same tone, `I detest smoking.
  You know I always did, but now more than ever, for your reasoning has
  convinced me that there are _some_ evil consequences of smoking which
  are almost worse than smoking itself!  Rest assured that never again
  shall the smell of the noxious weed defile the walls of this house.'

  "`Lauk, sir!' said Mrs Bland.

  "I had subdued her, Charlie, by giving in with dignity.  I shall try
  the same role next breeze that threatens.

  "I almost feel that I owe you an apology for the length of this
  epistle.  Let me conclude by urging you to bring poor Leather home,
  strong and well.  Tell him from me that there is a vacant situation in
  the firm of Withers and Company which will just suit him.  He shall
  have it when he returns--if God spares me to see him again.  But I'm
  getting old, Charlie, and we know not what a day may bring forth."

"A kind--a very kind letter," said Leather earnestly, when his friend
had finished reading.

"Why, he writes as if he were your own father, Brooke," remarked Buck
Tom, who had been listening intently.  "Have you known him long?"

"Not long.  Only since the time that he gave me the appointment of
supercargo to the _Walrus_, but the little I have seen of him has
aroused in me a feeling of strong regard."

"My sister May refers to him here," said Leather, with a peculiar smile,
as he re-opened his letter.  "The greater part of this tells chiefly of
private affairs which would not interest any of you, but here is a
passage which forms a sort of commentary on what you have just heard:--

  "`You will be amused to hear,' she writes, `that good Captain Stride
  has come to live in Sealford.  Kind old Mr Crossley has given him
  some sort of work connected with Withers and Company's house which I
  can neither understand nor describe.  Indeed, I am convinced it is
  merely work got up on purpose by Mr Crossley as an excuse for giving
  his old friend a salary, for he knows that Captain Stride would be
  terribly cast down if offered a _pension_, as that would be equivalent
  to pronouncing him unfit for further duty, and the Captain will never
  admit himself to be in that condition till he is dying.  Old Jacob
  Crossley--as you used to call him--thinks himself a very sagacious and
  "deep" man, but in truth there never was a simpler or more transparent
  one.  He thinks that we know nothing about who it is that sends the
  old lady to buy up all the worsted-work that mother makes, but we know
  perfectly well that it is himself, and dear mother could never have
  gone on working with satisfaction and receiving the money for it all
  if we had not found out that he buys it for our fishermen, who are
  said really to be very much in need of the things she makes.

  "`The dear old man is always doing something kind and considerate in a
  sly way, under the impression that nobody notices.  He little knows
  the power of woman's observation!  By the way, that reminds me that he
  is not ignorant of woman's powers in other ways.  We heard yesterday
  that his old and faithful--though rather trying--housekeeper had
  quarrelled with him about smoking!  We were greatly surprised, for we
  knew that the old gentleman is not and never was, a smoker.  She
  threatened to leave, but we have since heard, I am glad to say, that
  they have made it up!

"H'm! there's food for meditation in all that," said Dick Darvall, as he
knocked the ashes out of his pipe and put it in his vest pocket.



CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

HUNKY BEN AND CHARLIE GET BEYOND THEIR DEPTH, AND BUCK TOM GETS BEYOND
RECALL.

While hunting together in the woods near Traitor's Trap one day Charlie
Brooke and Hunky Ben came to a halt on the summit of an eminence that
commanded a wide view over the surrounding country.

"'Tis a glorious place, Ben," said Brooke, leaning his rifle against a
tree and mounting on a piece of rock, the better to take in the
beautiful prospect of woodland, river, and lake.  "When I think of the
swarms of poor folk in the old country who don't own a foot of land,
have little to eat and only rags to cover them, I long to bring them out
here and plant them down where God has spread His blessings so
bountifully, where there is never lack of work, and where Nature pays
high wages to those who obey her laws."

"No doubt there's room enough here," returned the scout sitting down and
laying his rifle across his knees.  "I've often thowt on them subjects,
but my thowts only lead to puzzlement; for, out here in the wilderness,
a man can't git all the information needful to larn him about things in
the old world.  Dear, dear, it do seem strange to me that any man should
choose to starve in the cities when there's the free wilderness to roam
about in.  I mind havin' a palaver once wi' a stove-up man when I was
ranchin' down in Kansas on the Indian Territory Line.  Screw was his
name, an' a real kind-hearted fellow he was too--only he couldn't keep
his hand off that curse o' mankind, the bottle.  I mentioned to him my
puzzlements about this matter, an' he up fist an' come down on the table
wi' a crack that made the glasses bounce as if they'd all come alive,
an' caused a plate o' mush in front of him to spread itself all over the
place--but he cared nothin' for that, he was so riled up by the thowts
my obsarvation had shook up.

"`Hunky Ben,' says he, glowerin' at me like a bull wi' the measles, `the
reason we stay there an' don't come out here or go to the other parts o'
God's green 'arth is 'cause we can't help ourselves an' don't know how--
or what--don't know nothin' in fact!'

"`That's a busted-up state o' ignorance, no doubt' said I, in a soothin'
sort o' way, for I see'd the man was riled pretty bad by ancient
memories, an' looked gittin' waxier.  He wore a black eye, too, caught
in a free fight the night before, which didn't improve his looks.  `You
said _we_ just now,' says I.  `Was you one o' them?'

"`Of course I was,' says he, tamin' down a little, `an' I'd bin one o'
them yet--if not food for worms by this time--if it hadn't bin for a
dook as took pity on me.'

"`What's a dook?' says I.

"`A dook?' says he.  `Why, he's a _dook_, you know; a sort o' markis--
somewheres between a lord an' a king.  I don't know zackly where, an
hang me if I care; but they're a bad lot are some o' them dooks--rich as
Pharaoh, king o' J'rus'lem, an' hard as nails--though I'm bound for to
say they ain't all alike.  Some on 'em's no better nor costermongers,
others are _men_; men what keeps in mind that the same God made us all
an' will call us all to the same account, an' that the same kind o'
worms 'll finish us all off at last.  But this dook as took pity on me
was a true blue.  He wasn't one o' the hard sort as didn't care a rush
for us so long as his own stummick was full.  Neether was he one o' the
butter-mouths as dursen't say boo to a goose.  He spoke out to me like a
man, an' he knew well enough that I'd bin born in the London slums, an'
that my daddy had bin born there before me, an that my mother had caught
her death o' cold through havin' to pawn her only pair o' boots to pay
my school fees an' then walk barefutt to the court in a winter day to
answer for not sendin' her boy to the board school--_her_ send me to
school!--she might as well have tried to send daddy himself; an' him out
o' work, too, an' all on us starvin'.  My dook, when he hear about it
a'most bust wi' passion.  I hear 'im arterwards talkin' to a overseer,
or somebody, "confound it," says he--no, not quite that, for my dook he
_never_ swore, only he said somethin' pretty stiff--"these people are
starvin'," says he, "an' pawnin' their things for food to keep 'em
alive, an' they can't git work nohow," says he, "an' yet you worry them
out o' body an' soul for school fees!"  I didn't hear no more, for the
overseer smoothed 'im down somehows.  But that dook--that good _man_,
Hunky Ben, paid my passage to Ameriky, an' sent me off wi' his blessin'
an' a Bible.  Unfortnitly I took a bottle wi' me, an when I got to the
other side I got hold of another bottle, an' another--an' there stands
the last of 'em.'

"An' wi' that, Mr Brooke, he fetched the bottle in front of him such a
crack wi' his fist as sent it all to smash against the opposite wall.

"`Well done, Screw!' cried the boy at the bar, laughin'; `have another
bottle?'

"Poor Screw smiled in a sheepish way, for the rile was out of him by
that time, an', says he, `Well, I don't mind if I do.  A shot like that
deserves another!'

"Ah me!" continued the scout, "it do take the manhood out of a fellow,
that drink.  Even when his indignation's roused and he tries to shake it
off, he can't do it."

"Well do I know that, Ben.  It is only God who can help a man in such a
case."

The scout gravely shook his head.  "Seems to me, Mr Brooke, that
there's a screw loose some wheres in our theology, for I've heard
parsons as well as you say that--as if the Almighty condescended to help
us only when we're in bad straits.  Now, though I'm but a scout and
pretend to no book larnin', it comes in strong upon me that if God made
us an' measures our movements, an' gives us every beat o' the pulse, an'
counts the very hairs of our heads, we stand in need of His help in
_every_ case and at _all_ times; that we can't save ourselves from
mischief under any circumstances, great or small, without Him."

"I have thought of that too, sometimes," said Charlie, sitting down on
the rock beside his companion, and looking at him in some perplexity,
"but does not the view you take savour somewhat of fatalism, and seek to
free us from responsibility in regard to what we do?"

"It don't seem so to me," replied the scout, "I'm not speakin', you see,
so much of doin' as of escapin'.  No doubt we are _perfectly_ free to
_will_, but it don't follow that we are free to _act_.  I'm quite free
to _will_ to cut my leg off or to let it stay on; an' if I carry out my
will an' _do_ it, why, I'm quite free there too--an' also responsible.
But I ain't free to sew it on again however much I may will to do so--
leastwise if I do it won't stick.  The consekinces o' my deed I must
bear, but who will deny that the Almighty could grow on another leg if
He chose?  Why, some creeters He _does_ allow to get rid of a limb or
two, an' grow new ones!  So, you see, I'm responsible for my deeds, but,
at the same time, I must look to God for escape from the consekinces, if
He sees fit to let me escape.  A man, bein' free, may drink himself into
a drunkard, but he's _not_ free to cure _himself_.  He can't do it.  The
demon Crave has got him by the throat, forces him to open his mouth, and
pours the fiery poison down.  The thing that he is free to do is to
will.  He may, if he chooses, call upon God the Saviour to help him; an'
my own belief is that no man ever made such a call in vain."

"How, if that be so, are we to account for the failure of those who try,
honestly strive, struggle, and agonise, yet obviously fail?"

"It's not for the like o' me, Mr Brooke, to expound the outs an' ins o'
all mysteries.  Yet I will p'int out that you, what they call, beg the
question, when you say that such people `honestly' strive.  If a man
tries to unlock a door with all his might and main, heart and soul,
honestly tries, by turnin' the key the wrong way, he'll strive till
doomsday without openin' the door!  It's my opinion that a man may get
into difficulties of his own free-will.  He can get out of them only by
applyin' to his Maker."

During the latter part of this conversation the hunters had risen and
were making their way through the trackless woods, when the scout
stopped suddenly and gazed for a few seconds intently at the ground.
Then he kneeled and began to examine the spot with great care.  "A
footprint here," he said, "that tells of recent visitors."

"Friends, Ben, or foes?" asked our hero, also going on his knees to
examine the marks.  "Well, now, I see only a pressed blade or two of
grass, but nothing the least like a footprint.  It puzzles me more than
I can tell how you scouts seem so sure about invisible marks."

"Truly, if they was invisible you would have reason for surprise, but my
wonder is that you don't see them.  Any child in wood-craft might read
them.  See, here is the edge o' the right futt making a faint impression
where the ground is soft--an' the heel; surely ye see the heel!"

"A small hollow I do see, but as to its being a heel-print I could not
pronounce on that.  Has it been made lately, think you?"

"Ay, last night or this morning at latest; and it was made by the futt
of Jake the Flint.  I know it well, for I've had to track him more than
once an' would spot it among a thousand."

"If Jake is in the neighbourhood, wouldn't it be well to return to the
cave?  He and some of his gang might attack it in our absence."

"No fear o' that," replied the scout, rising from his inspection, "the
futt p'ints away from the cave.  I should say that the Flint has bin
there durin' the night, an' found that we kep' too sharp a look-out to
be caught sleepin'.  Where he went to arter that no one can tell, but we
can hoof it an' see.  Like enough he went to spy us out alone, an' then
returned to his comrades."

So saying, the scout "hoofed it" through the woods at a pace that tested
Charlie Brooke's powers of endurance, exceptionally good though they
were.  After a march of about four miles in comparative silence they
were conducted by the footprints to an open space in the midst of dense
thicket where the fresh ashes of a camp fire indicated that a party had
spent some time.

"Just so.  They came to see what was up and what could be done, found
that nothin' partiklar was up an' nothin' at all could be done, so off
they go, mounted, to fish in other waters.  Just as well for us."

"But not so well for the fish in the other waters," remarked Charlie.

"True, but we can't help that.  Come, we may as well return now."

While Charlie and the scout were thus following the trail, Buck Tom,
lying in the cave, became suddenly much worse.  It seemed as if some
string in his system had suddenly snapped and let the poor human wreck
run down.

"Come here, Leather," he gasped faintly.

Poor Shank, who never left him, and who was preparing food for him at
the time, was at his side in a moment, and bent anxiously over him.

"D'you want anything?" he asked.

"Nothing, Shank.  Where's Dick?"

"Outside; cutting some firewood."

"Don't call him.  I'm glad we are alone," said the outlaw, seizing his
friend's hand with a feeble, tremulous grasp.  "I'm dying, Shank, dear
boy.  You forgive me?"

"Forgive you, Ralph!  Ay--long, long ago I--" He could not finish the
sentence.

"I know you did, Shank," returned the dying man, with a faint smile.
"How it will fare with me hereafter I know not.  I've but one word to
say when I get there, and that is--_guilty_!  I--I loved your sister,
Shank.  Ay--you never guessed it.  I only tell you now that I may send
her a message.  Tell her that the words she once said to me about a
Saviour have never left me.  They are like a light in the darkness now.
God bless you--Shank--and--May."

With a throbbing heart and listening ear Shank waited for more; but no
more came.  The hand he still held was lifeless, and the spirit of the
outlaw had entered within the veil of that mysterious Hereafter.



CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

CHASE, CAPTURE, AND END OF JAKE THE FLINT.

It was growing dark when Brooke and the scout reached the cave that
evening and found that Buck Tom was dead; but they had barely time to
realise the fact when their attention was diverted by the sudden arrival
of a large band of horsemen--cowboys and others--the leader of whom
seemed to be the cow-boy Crux.

Hunky Ben and his friends had, of course, made rapid preparations to
receive them as foes, if need were; but on recognising who composed the
cavalcade, they went out to meet them.

"Hallo!  Hunky," shouted Crux, as he rode up and leaped off his steed,
"have they been here?"

"Who d'ye mean?" demanded the scout.

"Why, Jake the Flint, to be sure, an' his murderin' gang.  Haven't ye
heard the news?"

"Not I.  Who d'ye think would take the trouble to come up here with
noos?"

"They've got clear off, boys," said Crux, in a voice of great
disappointment.  "So we must off saddle, an' camp where we are for the
night."

While the rest of the party dismounted and dispersed to look for a
suitable camping-ground, Crux explained the reason of their unexpected
appearance.

After the Flint and his companions had left their mountain fastness, as
before described, they had appeared in different parts of the country
and committed various depredations; some of their robberies having been
accompanied with bloodshed and violence of a nature which so exasperated
the people that an organised band had at length been gathered to go in
pursuit of the daring outlaw.  But Jake was somewhat Napoleonic in his
character, swift in his movements, and sudden in his attacks; so that,
while his exasperated foes were searching for him in one direction, news
would be brought of his having committed some daring and bloody deed far
off in some other quarter.  His latest acts had been to kill and rob a
post-runner, who happened to be a great favourite in his locality, and
to attack and murder, in mere wanton cruelty, a family of friendly
Indians, belonging to a tribe which had never given the whites any
trouble.  The fury of the people, therefore, was somewhat commensurate
with the wickedness of the man.  They resolved to capture him, and, as
there was a number of resolute cow-boys on the frontier, to whom life
seemed to be a bauble to be played with, kept, or cast lightly away,
according to circumstances, it seemed as if the effort made at this time
would be successful.

The latest reports that seemed reliable were to the effect that, after
slaying the Indians, Jake and his men had made off in the direction of
his old stronghold at the head of Traitor's Trap.  Hence the invasion by
Crux and his band.

"You'll be glad to hear--or sorry, I'm not sure which--" said the scout,
"that Buck Tom has paid his last debt."

"What! defunct?" exclaimed Crux.

"Ay.  Whatever may have bin his true character an' deeds, he's gone to
his account at last."

"Are ye sure, Hunky?"

"If ye don't believe me, go in there an' you'll see what's left of him.
The corp ain't cold yet."

The rugged cow-boy entered at once, to convince himself by ocular
demonstration.

"Well," said he, on coming out of the cave, "I wish it had been the
Flint instead.  He'll give us some trouble, you bet, afore we bring him
to lie as flat as Buck Tom.  Poor Buck!  They say he wasn't a bad chap
in his way, an' I never heard of his bein' cruel, like his comrades.
His main fault was castin' in his lot wi' the Flint.  They say that Jake
has bin carousin' around, throwin' the town-folk everywhere into fits."

That night the avengers in search of Jake the Flint slept in and around
the outlaws' cave, while the chief of the outlaws lay in the sleep of
death in a shed outside.  During the night the scout went out to see
that the body was undisturbed, and was startled to observe a creature of
some sort moving near it.  Ben was troubled by no superstitious fears,
so he approached with the stealthy, cat-like tread which he had learned
to perfection in his frontier life.  Soon he was near enough to
perceive, through the bushes, that the form was that of Shank Leather,
silent and motionless, seated by the side of Buck Tom, with his face
buried in his hands upon his knees.  A deep sob broke from him as he
sat, and again he was silent and motionless.  The scout withdrew as
silently as he had approached, leaving the poor youth to watch and mourn
over the friend who had shared his hopes and fears, sins and sorrows, so
long--long at least in experience, if not in numbered years.

Next morning at daybreak they laid the outlaw in his last resting-place,
and then the avengers prepared to set off in pursuit of his comrades.

"You'll join us, I fancy," said Crux to Charlie Brooke.

"No; I remain with my sick friend Leather.  But perhaps some of my
comrades may wish to go with you."

It was soon arranged that Hunky Ben and Dick Darvall should join the
party.

"We won't be long o' catchin' him up," said Crux, "for the Flint has
become desperate of late, an' we're pretty sure of a man when he gets
into that fix."

The desperado to whom Crux referred was one of those terrible human
monsters who may be termed a growth of American frontier life, men who,
having apparently lost all fear of God, or man, or death, carry their
lives about with hilarious indifference, ready to risk them at a
moment's notice on the slightest provocation, and to take the lives of
others without a shadow of compunction.  As a natural consequence, such
maniacs, for they are little else, are feared by all, and even brave men
feel the necessity of being unusually careful while in their company.

Among the various wild deeds committed by Jake and his men was one which
led them into serious trouble and proved fatal to their chief.  Coming
to a village, or small town, one night they resolved to have a regular
spree, and for this purpose encamped a short way outside the town till
it should be quite dark.  About midnight the outlaws, to the number of
eight, entered the town, each armed with a Winchester and a brace of
revolvers.  Scattering themselves, they began a tremendous fusillade, as
fast as they could fire, so that nearly the whole population, supposing
the place was attacked by Indians, turned out and fled to the mountains
behind the town.  The Flint and his men made straight for the chief
billiard room, which they found deserted, and there, after helping
themselves to all the loose cash available, they began to drink.  Of
course they soon became wild under the influence of the liquor, but
retained sense enough to mount their horses and gallop away before the
people of the place mustered courage to return and attack the foe.

It was while galloping madly away after this raid that the murderous
event took place which ended in the dispersal of the gang.

Daylight was creeping over the land when the outlaws left the town.
Jake was wild with excitement at what had occurred, as well as with
drink, and began to boast and swear in a horrible manner.  When they had
ridden a good many miles, one of the party said he saw some Redskins in
a clump of wood they were approaching.

"Did ye?" cried Jake, flourishing his rifle over his head and uttering a
terrible oath, "then I'll shoot the first Redskin I come across."

"Better not, Jake," said one of his men.  "They're all friendly Injins
about here."

"What's the odds to me!" yelled the drunken wretch.  "I'll shoot the
first I see as I would a rabbit."

At that moment they were passing a bluff covered with timber, and,
unfortunately, a poor old Indian woman came out of the wood to look at
the horsemen as they flew past.

Without an instant's hesitation Jake swerved aside, rode straight up to
the old creature, and blew out her brains.

Accustomed as they were to deeds of violence and bloodshed, his comrades
were overwhelmed with horror at this, and, fearing the consequences of
the dastardly murder, rode for life away over the plains.

But the deed had been witnessed by the relatives of the poor woman.
Without sound or cry, fifty Red men leaped on their horses and swept
with the speed of light along the other side of the bluff, which
concealed them from the white men's sight.  Thus they managed to head
them, and when Jake and his gang came to the end of the strip of wood,
the Red men, armed with rifle and revolver, were in front of them.

There was something deadly and unusual in the silence of the Indians on
this occasion.  Concentrated rage seemed to have stopped their power to
yell.  Swift as eagles they swooped down and surrounded the little band
of white men, who, seeing that opposition would be useless, and,
perhaps, cowed by the sight of such a cold-blooded act offered no
resistance at all, while their arms were taken from them.

With lips white from passion, the Indian chief in command demanded who
did the deed.  The outlaws pointed to Jake, who sat on his horse with
glaring eyes and half-open mouth like one stupefied.  At a word from the
chief, he was seized, dragged off his horse, and held fast by two
powerful men while a third bound his arms.  A spear was driven deep into
the ground to serve as a stake, and to this Jake was tied.  He made no
resistance.  He seemed to have been paralysed, and remained quite
passive while they stripped him naked to the waist.  His comrades, still
seated on their horses, seemed incapable of action.  They had, no doubt,
a presentiment of what was coming.

The chief then drew his scalping knife, and passed it swiftly round the
neck of the doomed man so as to make a slight incision.  Grasping the
flap raised at the back of the neck, he tore a broad band of skin from
Jake's body, right down his back to his waist.  A fearful yell burst
from the lips of the wretched man, but no touch of pity moved the hearts
of the Red men, whose chief prepared to tear off another strip of skin
from the quivering flesh.

At the same moment the companions of the Flint wheeled their horses
round, and, filled with horror, fled at full speed from the scene.

The Red men did not attempt to hinder them.  There was no feud at that
time between the white men and that particular tribe.  It was only the
murderer of their old kinswoman on whom they were bent on wreaking their
vengeance, and with terrible cruelty was their diabolical deed
accomplished.  The comrades of the murderer, left free to do as they
pleased, scattered as they fled, as if each man were unable to endure
the sight of the other, and they never again drew together.

On the very next day Crux and his band of avengers were galloping over
the same region, making straight for the town which the outlaws had
thrown into such consternation, and where Crux had been given to
understand that trustworthy news of the Flint's movements would probably
be obtained.

The sun was setting, and a flood of golden light was streaming over the
plains, when one of the band suggested that it would be better to encamp
where they were than to proceed any further that night.

"So we will, boy," said Crux, looking about for a suitable spot, until
his eye fell on a distant object that riveted his attention.

"A strange-looking thing, that," remarked the scout who had observed the
object at the same moment.  "Somethin' like a man, but standin'
crooked-like in a fashion I never saw a man stand before, though I've
seen many a queer sight in my day."

"We'll soon clear up the mystery," said Crux, putting spurs to his horse
and riding straight for the object in question, followed by the whole
cavalcade.

"Ay, ay, bloody work bin goin' on here, I see," muttered the scout as
they drew near.

"The accursed Redskins!" growled Crux.

We need scarcely say that it was the dead body of Jake they had thus
discovered, tied to the spear which was nearly broken by the weight of
the mutilated carcass.  Besides tearing most of the skin off the
wretched man's body, the savages had scalped Jake; but a deep wound over
the region of the heart showed that they had, at all events, ended his
sufferings before they left him.

While the avengers--whose vengeance was thus forestalled--were busy
scraping a shallow grave for the remains of the outlaw, a shout was
raised by several of the party who dashed after something into a
neighbouring copse.  An Indian had been discovered there, and the
cruelties which had been practised on the white man had, to a great
extent, transferred their wrath from the outlaw to his murderers.  But
they found that the rush was needless, for the Indian who had been
observed was seated on the ground beside what appeared to be a newly
formed grave, and he made no attempt to escape.

He was a very old and feeble man, yet something of the fire of the
warrior gleamed from his sunken eyes as he stood up and tried to raise
his bent form into an attitude of proud defiance.

"Do you belong to the tribe that killed this white man?" said Hunky Ben,
whose knowledge of most of the Indian dialects rendered him the fitting
spokesman of the party.

"I do," answered the Indian in a stern yet quavering voice that seemed
very pitiful, for it was evident that the old man thought his last hour
had come, and that he had made up his mind to die as became a dauntless
Indian brave.

At that moment a little Indian girl, who had hitherto lain quite
concealed in the tangled grass, started up like a rabbit from its lair
and dashed into the thicket.  Swiftly though the child ran, however, one
of the young men of the party was swifter.  He sprang off in pursuit,
and in a few moments brought her back.

"Your tribe is not at war with the pale-faces," continued the scout,
taking no notice of this episode.  "They have been needlessly cruel."

For some moments the old man gazed sternly at his questioner as if he
heard him not.  Then the frown darkened, and, pointing to the grave at
his feet, he said--

"The white man was _more_ cruel."

"What had he done?" asked the scout.

But the old man would not reply.  There came over his withered features
that stony stare of resolute contempt which he evidently intended to
maintain to the last in spite of torture and death.

"Better question the child," suggested Dick Darvall, who up to that
moment had been too much horrified by what he had witnessed to be able
to speak.

The scout looked at the child.  She stood trembling beside her captor,
with evidences of intense terror on her dusky countenance, for she was
only too well accustomed to the cruelties practised by white men and red
on each other to have any hope either for the old man or herself.

"Poor thing!" said Hunky Ben, laying his strong hand tenderly on the
girl's head.  Then, taking her hand, he led her gently aside, and spoke
to her in her own tongue.

There was something so unexpectedly soft in the scout's voice, and so
tender in his touch, that the little brown maid was irresistibly
comforted.  When one falls into the grasp of Goodness and Strength,
relief of mind, more or less, is an inevitable result.  David thought so
when he said, "Let me fall now into the hand of the Lord."  The Indian
child evidently thought so when she felt that Hunky Ben was strong and
perceived that he was good.

"We will not hurt you, my little one," said the scout, when he had
reached a retired part of the copse, and, sitting down, placed the child
on his knee.  "The white man who was killed by your people was a very
bad man.  We were looking for him to kill him.  Was it the old man that
killed him?"

"No," replied the child, "it was the chief."

"Why was he so cruel in his killing?" asked the scout.

"Because the white man was a coward.  He feared to face our warriors,
but he shot an old woman!" answered the little maid; and then, inspired
with confidence by the scout's kind and pitiful expression, she related
the whole story of the savage and wanton murder perpetrated by the
Flint, the subsequent vengeance of her people, and the unchecked flight
and dispersion of Jake's comrades.  The old woman who had been slain,
she said, was her grandmother, and the old man who had been captured was
her grandfather.

"Friends, our business has been done for us," said the scout on
rejoining his comrades, "so we've nothing to do but return home."

He then told them in detail what the Indian girl had related.

"Of course," he added, "we've no right to find fault wi' the Redskins
for punishin' the murderer arter their own fashion, though we might wish
they had bin somewhat more merciful--"

"No, we mightn't," interrupted Crux stoutly.  "The Flint got off easy in
_my_ opinion.  If I had had the doin' o't, I'd have roasted him alive."

"No, you wouldn't, Crux," returned Ben, with a benignant smile.  "Young
chaps like you are always, accordin' to your own showin', worse than the
devil himself when your blood's roused by indignation at cruelty or
injustice, but you sing a good deal softer when you come to the scratch
with your enemy in your power."

"You're wrong, Hunky Ben," retorted Crux firmly.  "Any man as would blow
the brains out of a poor old woman in cold blood, as the Flint did,
desarves the worst that can be done to him."

"I didn't say nowt about what _he_ desarves," returned the scout; "I was
speakin' about what _you_ would do if you'd got the killin' of him."

"Well, well, mates," said Dick Darvall, a little impatiently, "seems to
me that we're wastin' our wind, for the miserable wretch, bein' defunct,
is beyond the malice o' red man or white.  I therefore vote that we stop
palaverin', 'bout ship, clap on all sail an' lay our course for home."

This suggestion met with general approval, and the curious mixture of
men and races, which had thus for a brief period been banded together
under the influence of a united purpose, prepared to break up.

"I suppose you an' Darvall will make tracks for Traitor's Trap," said
Crux to Hunky Ben.

"That's my trail to be," answered the scout.  "What say you, Black
Polly?  Are ye game for such a spin to-night?"

The mare arched her glossy neck, put back both ears, and gave other
indications that she would have fully appreciated the remarks of her
master if she had only understood them.

"Ah!  Bluefire and I don't talk in that style," said Crux, with a laugh.
"I give him his orders an' he knows that he's got to obey.  He and I
will make a bee-line for David's Store an' have a drink.  Who'll keep me
company?"

Several of the more reckless among the men intimated their willingness
to join the toper.  The rest said they had other business on hand than
to go carousin' around.

"Why, Crux," said one who had been a very lively member of the party
during the ride out, "d'ye know, boy, that it's writ in the book o' Fate
that you an' I an' all of us, have just got so many beats o' the pulse
allowed us--no more an' no less--an' we're free to run the beats out
fast or slow, just as we like?  There's nothin' like drink for makin'
'em go fast!"

"I don't believe that, Robin Stout," returned Crux; "an' even if I did
believe it I'd go on just the same, for I prefer a short life and a
merry one to a long life an' a wishy-washy miserable one."

"Hear! hear!" exclaimed several of the topers.

"Don't ye think, Crux," interposed Darvall, "that a long life an' a
happy one might be better than either?"

"Hear! _hear_!" remarked Hunky Ben, with a quiet laugh.

"Well, boys," said one fine bright-looking young fellow, patting the
neck of his pony, "whether my life is to be long or short, merry,
wishy-washy or happy, I shall be off cow-punching for the next six
months or so, somewhere about the African bend, on the Colorado River,
in South Texas, an' I mean to try an' keep my pulse a-goin' _without_
drink.  I've seen more than enough o' the curse that comes to us all on
account of it, and I won't be caught in _that_ trap again."

"Then you've bin caught in it once already, Jo Pinto?" said a comrade.

"Ay, I just have, but, you bet, it's the last time.  I don't see the fun
of makin' my veins a channel for firewater, and then finishin' off with
D.T., if bullet or knife should leave me to go that length."

"I suppose, Pinto," said Crux, with a smile of contempt, "that you've
bin to hear that mad fellow Gough, who's bin howlin' around in these
parts of late?"

"That's so," retorted Pinto, flushing with sudden anger.  "I've been to
hear J.B. Gough, an' what's more I mean to take his advice in spite of
all the flap-jack soakers 'tween the Atlantic and the Rockies.  He's a
true man, is Gough, every inch of him, and men and women that's bin used
chiefly to cursin' in time past have heaped more blessin's on that man's
head than would sink you, Crux,--if put by mistake on _your_ head--right
through the lowest end o' the bottomless pit."

"Pretty deep that, anyhow!" exclaimed Crux, with a careless laugh, for
he had no mind to quarrel with the stout young cow-boy whose black eyes
he had made to flash so keenly.

"It seems to me," said another of the band, as he hung the coils of his
lasso round the horn of his Mexican saddle, "that we must quit talkin'
unless we make up our minds to stop here till sun-up.  Who's goin'
north?  My old boss is financially busted, so I've hired to P.T.
Granger, who has started a new ranch at the head o' Pugit's Creek.  He
wants one or two good hands I know, an' I've reason to believe he's an
honest man.  I go up trail at thirty dollars per month.  The outfit's to
consist of thirty hundred head of Texas steers, a chuck wagon and cook,
with thirty riders includin' the boss himself an' six horses to the
man."

A couple of stout-looking cow-boys offered to join the last speaker on
the strength of his representations, and then, as the night bid fair to
be bright and calm, the whole band scattered and galloped away in
separate groups over the moonlit plains.



CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

THEY RETURN TO THE RANCH OF ROARING BULL, WHERE SOMETHING SERIOUS
HAPPENS TO DICK DARVALL.

When Dick Darvall and Hunky Ben returned from the expedition which we
have just described, they found all right at the cave, except that a
letter to Leather had been sent up from Bull's ranch which had caused
him much grief and anxiety.

"I have been eagerly awaiting your return, Ben," said Charlie Brooke,
when he and the scout went outside the cave to talk the matter over,
"for the news in this letter has thrown poor Leather back considerably,
and, as he will continue to fret about it and get worse, something must
be done."

He paused for a few moments, and the scout gravely waited for him to
resume.

"The fact is," continued Charlie, "that poor Leather's father has been
given far too much to the bottle during a great part of his life, and
the letter just received tells us that he has suddenly left home and
gone no one knows where.  Now, my friend Leather and his father were
always very fond of each other, and the son cannot forgive himself for
having at various times rather encouraged his father in drinking, so
that his conscience is reproaching him terribly, as you may well
believe, and he insists on it that he is now quite able to undertake the
voyage home.  You and I know, Ben, that in his present state it would be
madness for him to attempt it; yet to lie and fret here would be almost
as bad.  Now, what is your advice?"

For some moments the scout stood silent with his eyes on the ground and
his right hand grasping his chin--his usual attitude when engaged in
meditation.

"Is there enough o' dollars," he asked, "to let you do as ye like?"

"No lack of dollars, I dare say, when needed," replied Charlie.

"Then my advice," returned the scout promptly, "is to take Leather
straight off to-morrow mornin' to Bull's ranch; make him comfortable
there, call him Mister Shank,--so as nobody'll think he's been the man
called Leather, who's bin so long ill along wi' poor Buck Tom's gang,--
and then you go off to old England to follow his father's trail till you
find him.  Leather has great belief in you, sir, and the feelin' that
you are away doin' your best for him will do more to relieve his mind
and strengthen his body than tons o' doctor's stuff.  Dick Darvall could
remain to take care of him if he has no objection."

"I rather think he would be well pleased to do so," replied Charlie,
with a laugh of significance, which the scout quietly subjected to
analysis in what he styled his brain-pan, and made a note of the result
in his mental memorandum book!

"But I doubt if Leather--"

"Shank," interrupted the scout.  "Call him Shank from now, so's we may
all git used to it; tho' p'r'aps it ain't o' much importance, for most
o' the men that saw him here saw him in uncommon bad condition an' would
hardly know him again, besides, they won't likely be at Bull's ranch,
an' the captain an' troops that were here have been ordered down south.
Still one can never be too careful when life and death may be i' the
balance.  Your friend niver was one o' the outlaws, but it mightn't be
easy to prove that."

"Well, then," resumed our hero, "I was going to say that I fear Shank
won't be able to stand the journey even to the ranch."

"No fear of that, sir.  We'll carry him down to the foot o' the Trap,
an' when we git out on the plain mount him on one o' the horses left by
poor Buck--the one that goes along so quiet that they've given it the
name o' the Wheelbarrow."

"Should I speak to him to-night about our plan, Ben?"

"No.  If I was you I'd only say we're goin' to take him down to Bull's
ranch i' the mornin'.  That'll take his mind a bit off the letter, an'
then it'll give him an extra lift when you tell him the rest o' the
plan."

In accordance with this arrangement, on the following morning a litter
was made with two stout poles and a blanket between.  On this the
invalid was laid after an early breakfast; another blanket was spread
over him, and the scout and Dick, taking it up between them, carried him
out of Traitor's Trap, while Charlie Brooke, riding Jackson's horse, led
the Wheelbarrow by the bridle.  As for Black Polly, she was left to
follow at her own convenience, a whistle from Hunky Ben being at any
moment sufficient to bring her promptly to her master's side.

On reaching the plain the litter was laid aside, the blankets were
fastened to the horses, and Shank prepared, as Dick said, to board
Wheelbarrow.

"Now then, Shank," said the seaman, while helping his friend, "don't be
in a hurry.  Nothin' was ever done well in a hurry either afloat or
ashore.  Git your futt well into the stirrup an' don't take too much of
a spring, else you'll be apt to go right over on the starboard side.
Hup you go!"

The worthy sailor lent such willing aid that there is little doubt he
would have precipitated the catastrophe against which he warned, had not
Hunky Ben placed himself on the "starboard side" of the steed and
counteracted the heave.  After that all went well; the amble of the
Wheelbarrow fully justified the title, and in due course the party
arrived at the ranch of Roaring Bull, where the poor invalid was
confined to his room for a considerable time thereafter, and became
known at the ranch as Mr Shank.

One evening Charlie Brooke entered the kitchen of the ranch in search of
his friend Dick Darvall, who had a strange fondness for Buttercup, and
frequently held converse with her in the regions of the back-kitchen.

"I dun know whar he is, massa Book," answered the sable beauty when
appealed to, "he's mostly somewhar around when he's not nowhar else."

"I shouldn't wonder if he was," returned Charlie with a hopeful smile.
"I suppose Miss Mary's not around anywhere, is she?"

"I shouldn't wonder if she wasn't; but she ain't here, massa," said the
black maid earnestly.

"You are a truthful girl, Butter--stick to that, and you'll get on in
life."

With this piece of advice Charlie left the kitchen abruptly, and thereby
missed the eruption of teeth and gums that immediately followed his
remark.

Making his way to the chamber of his sick friend, Charlie sat down at
the open window beside him.

"How d'you feel this evening, my boy?" he asked.

"A little better, but--oh dear me!--I begin to despair of getting well
enough to go home, and it's impossible to avoid being worried, for,
unless father is sought for and found soon he, will probably sink
altogether.  You have no idea, Charlie, what a fearful temptation drink
becomes to those who have once given way to it and passed a certain
point."

"I don't know it personally--though I take no credit for that--but I
have some idea of it, I think, from what I have seen and heard.  But I
came to relieve your mind on the subject, Shank.  I wanted to speak with
Dick Darvall first to see if he would fall in with my plan, but as I
can't find him just now I thought it best to come straight to you about
it.  Hallo!  There is Dick."

"Where?" said Shank, bending forward so as to see the place on which his
friend's eyes were fixed.

"There, don't you see?  Look across that bit of green sward, about fifty
yards into the bush, close to that lopped pine where a thick shrub
overhangs a fallen tree--"

"I see--I see!" exclaimed Shank, a gleeful expression banishing for a
time the look of suffering and anxiety that had become habitual to him.
"Why, the fellow is seated beside Mary Jackson!"

"Ay, and holding a very earnest conversation with her, to judge from his
attitude," said Charlie.  "Probably inquiring into the market-price of
steers--or some absorbing topic of that sort."

"He's grasping her hand now!" exclaimed Shank, with an expanding mouth.

"And she lets him hold it.  Really this becomes interesting," observed
Charlie, with gravity.  "But, my friend, is not this a species of
eavesdropping?  Are we not taking mean advantage of a pair who fondly
think themselves alone?  Come, Shank, let us turn our backs on the view
and try to fix our minds on matters of personal interest."

But the young men had not to subject themselves to such a delicate test
of friendship, for before they could make any attempt to carry out the
suggestion, Dick and Mary were seen to rise abruptly and hasten from the
spot in different directions.  A few minutes later Buttercup was
observed to glide upon the scene and sit down upon the self-same fallen
tree.  The distance from the bedroom window was too great to permit of
sounds reaching the observers' ears, or of facial contortions meeting
their eyes very distinctly, but there could be no doubt as to the
feelings of the damsel, or the meaning of those swayings to and fro of
her body, the throwing back of her head, and the pressing of her hands
on her sides.  Suddenly she held out a black hand as if inviting some
one in the bush to draw near.  The invitation was promptly accepted by a
large brown dog--a well-known favourite in the ranch household.

Rover--for such was his name--leaped on the fallen tree and sat down on
the spot which had previously been occupied by the fair Mary.  The
position was evidently suggestive, for Buttercup immediately began to
gesticulate and clasp her hands as if talking very earnestly to the dog.

"I verily believe," said Shank, "that the blacking-ball is re-enacting
the scene with Rover!  See! she grasps his paw, and--"

"My friend," said Charlie, "we are taking mean advantage again!  And,
behold! like the other pair, they are flitting from the scene, though
not quite in the same fashion."

This was true, for Buttercup, reflecting, probably, that she might be
missed in the kitchen, had suddenly tumbled Rover off the tree and
darted swiftly from the spot.

"Come now, Shank," said Charlie, resuming the thread of discourse which
had been interrupted, "it is quite plain to Dick and to myself that you
are unfit to travel home in your present state of health, so I have made
up my mind to leave you here in the care of honest Jackson and Darvall,
and to go home myself to make inquiries and search for your father.
Will this make your mind easy?  For that is essential to your recovery
at the present time."

"You were always kind and self-sacrificing, Charlie.  Assuredly, your
going will take an enormous weight off my mind, for you are much better
fitted by nature for such a search than I am--to say nothing of health.
Thank you, my dear old boy, a thousand times.  As for Dick Darvall,"
added Shank, with a laugh, "before this evening I would have doubted
whether he would be willing to remain with me after your departure, but
I have no doubt now--considering what we have just witnessed!"

"Yes, he has found `metal more attractive,'" said Charlie, rising.  "I
will now go and consult with him, after which I will depart without
delay."

"You've been having a gallop, to judge from your heightened colour and
flashing eyes," said Charlie to Dick when they met in the yard,
half-an-hour later.

"N-no--not exactly," returned the seaman, with a slightly embarrassed
air.  "The fact is I've bin cruisin' about in the bush."

"What! lookin' for Redskins?"

"N-no; not exactly, but--"

"Oh!  I see.  Out huntin', I suppose.  After deer--eh?"

"Well, now, that was a pretty fair guess, Charlie," said Dick, laughing.
"To tell ye the plain truth, I have been out arter a dear--full sail--
an'--"

"And you bagged it, of course.  Fairly run it down, I suppose," said his
friend, again interrupting.

"Well, there ain't no `of course' about it, but as it happened, I did
manage to overhaul her, and coming to close quarters, I--"

"Yes, yes, _I_ know," interrupted Charlie a third time, with provoking
coolness.  "You ran her on to the rocks, Dick--which was unseamanlike in
the extreme--at least you ran the dear aground on a fallen tree and,
sitting down beside it, asked it to become Mrs Darvall, and the amiable
creature agreed, eh?"

"Why, how on earth did 'ee come for to know _that_?" asked Dick, in
blazing astonishment.

"Well, you know, there's no great mystery about it.  If a bold sailor
_will_ go huntin' close to the house, and run down his game right in
front of Mr Shank's windows, he must expect to have witnesses.
However, give me your flipper, mess-mate, and let me congratulate you,
for in my opinion there's not such another dear on all the slopes of the
Rocky Mountains.  But now that I've found you, I want to lay some of my
future plans before you."

They had not been discussing these plans many minutes, when Mary was
seen crossing the yard in company with Hunky Ben.

"If Hunky would only stop, we'd keep quite jolly till you return,"
observed Dick, in an undertone as the two approached.

"We were just talking of you, Ben," observed Charlie, as they came up.

"Are you goin' for a cruise, Miss Mary?" asked the seaman in a manner
that drew the scout's attention.

"No," replied Mary with a little laugh, and anything but a little blush,
that intensified the attention of the scout.  He gave one of his quiet
but quick glances at Dick and chuckled softly.

"So soon!" he murmured to himself; "sartinly your sea-dog is pretty
slick at such matters."

Dick thought he heard the chuckle and turned a lightning glance on the
scout, but that sturdy son of the forest had his leathern countenance
turned towards the sky with profoundest gravity.  It was characteristic
of him, you see, to note the signs of the weather.

"Mr Brooke," he said, with the slow deliberate air of the man who forms
his opinions on solid grounds, "there's goin' to be a bu'st up o' the
elements afore long, as sure as my name's Hunky."

"That's the very thing I want to talk about with you, Ben, for I
meditate a long journey immediately.  Come, walk with me."

Taking the scout's arm he paced with him slowly up and down the yard,
while Dick and Mary went off on a cruise elsewhere.



CHAPTER THIRTY.

CHANGES THE SCENE SOMEWHAT VIOLENTLY, AND SHOWS OUR HERO IN A NEW LIGHT.

The result of our hero's consultation with the scout was not quite as
satisfactory as it might have been.  Charlie had hoped that Hunky Ben
would have been able to stay with Shank till he should return from the
old country, but found, to his regret, that that worthy was engaged to
conduct still further into the great western wilderness a party of
emigrants who wished to escape the evils of civilisation, and to set up
a community of their own which should be founded on righteousness,
justice, and temperance.

"You see, sir," said the scout, "I've gi'n them my promise to guide them
whenever they're ready to start, so, as they may git ready and call for
my services at any moment, I must hold myself free o' other engagements.
To say truth, even if they hadn't my promise I'd keep myself free to
help 'em, for I've a likin' for the good man--half doctor, half parson
as well as Jack-of-all-trades--as has set the thing agoin'--moreover,
I've a strong belief that all this fightin', an' scalpin', an' flayin'
alive, an roastin', an' revenge, ain't the way to bring about good ends
either among Red men or white."

"I agree with you heartily, Ben, though I don't very well see how we are
to alter it.  However, we must leave the discussion of that difficulty
to another time.  The question at present is, what hope is there of your
staying here even for a short time after I leave? for in Dick Darvall's
present condition of mind he is not much to be depended on, and Jackson
is too busy.  You see, I want Shank to go out on horseback as much as
possible, but in this unsettled region and time he would not be safe
except in the care of some one who knew the country and its habits, and
who had some sort of sympathy with a broken-down man."

"All I can say, Mr Brooke, is that I'll stay wi' your friend as long as
I can," returned the scout, "an' when I'm obleeged to make tracks for
the west, I'll try to git another man to take my place.  Anyhow, I think
that Mr Reeves--that's the name o' the good man as wants me an' is boss
o' the emigrants--won't be able to git them all ready to start for some
weeks yet."

Charlie was obliged to content himself with this arrangement.  Next day
he was galloping eastward--convoyed part of the way by the scout on
Black Polly and Dick Darvall on Wheelbarrow.  Soon he got into the
region of railways and steam-boats, and, in a few weeks more was once
again in Old England.

A post-card announced his arrival, for Charlie had learned wisdom from
experience, and feared to take any one "by surprise"--especially his
mother.

We need not describe this second meeting of our hero with his kindred
and friends.  In many respects it resembled the former, when the bad
news about Shank came, and there was the same conclave in Mrs Leather's
parlour, for old Jacob Crossley happened to be spending a holiday in
Sealford at the time.

Indeed he had latterly taken to spending much of his leisure time at
that celebrated watering-place, owing, it was supposed, to the
beneficial effect which the sea-air had on his rheumatism.

But May Leather knew better.  With that discriminating penetration which
would seem to be the natural accompaniment of youth and beauty, she
discerned that the old gentleman's motive for going so frequently to
Sealford was a compound motive.

First, Mr Crossley was getting tired of old bachelorhood, and had at
last begun to enjoy ladies' society, especially that of such ladies as
Mrs Leather and Mrs Brooke, to say nothing of May herself and Miss
Molloy--the worsted reservoir--who had come to reside permanently in the
town and who had got the "Blackguard Boy" into blue tights and buttons,
to the amazement and confusion of the little dog Scraggy, whose mind was
weakened in consequence--so they said.  Second, Mr Crossley was
remarkably fond of Captain Stride, whom he abused like a pick-pocket and
stuck to like a brother, besides playing backgammon with him nightly, to
the great satisfaction of the Captain's "missus" and their "little Mag."
Third, Mr Crossley had no occasion to attend to business, because
business, somehow, attended to itself, and poured its profits
perennially into the old gentleman's pocket--a pocket which was never
full, because it had a charitable hole in it somewhere which let the
cash run out as fast as it ran in.  Fourth and last, but not least, Mr
Crossley found considerable relief in getting away occasionally from his
worthy housekeeper Mrs Bland.  This relief, which he styled "letting
off the steam" at one time, "brushing away the cobwebs" at another, was
invariably followed by a fit of amiability, which resulted in a penitent
spirit, and ultimately took him back to town where he remained till Mrs
Bland had again piled enough of eccentricity on the safety valve to
render another letting off of steam on the sea-shore imperative.

What Charlie learned at the meeting held in reference to the
disappearance of old Mr Isaac Leather was not satisfactory.  The
wretched man had so muddled his brain by constant tippling that it had
become a question at last whether he was quite responsible for his
actions.  In a fit of remorse, after an attack of delirium tremens, he
had suddenly condemned himself as being a mean contemptible burden on
his poor wife and daughter.  Of course both wife and daughter asserted
that his mere maintenance was no burden on them at all--as in truth it
was not when compared with the intolerable weight of his intemperance--
and they did their best to soothe him.  But the idea seemed to have
taken firm hold of him, and preyed upon his mind, until at last he left
home one morning in a fit of despair, and had not since been heard of.

"Have you no idea, then, where he has gone?" asked Charlie.

"No, none," said Mrs Leather, with a tear trembling in her eye.

"We know, mother," said May, "that he has gone to London.  The booking
clerk at the station, you know, told us that."

"Did the clerk say to what part of London he booked?"

"No, he could not remember."

"Besides, if he had remembered, that would be but a slight clue," said
Mr Crossley.  "As well look for a needle in a bundle of hay as for a
man in London."

"As well go to sea without rudder or compass," observed Captain Stride.

"Nevertheless," said Charlie, rising, "I will make the attempt."

"Hopeless," said Crossley.  "Sheer madness," added Stride.  Mrs Leather
shook her head and wept gently.  Mrs Brooke sighed and cast down her
eyes.  Miss Molloy--who was of the council, being by that time cognisant
of all the family secrets--clasped her hands and looked miserable.  Of
all that conclave the only one who did not throw cold water on our hero
was pretty little brown-eyed May.  She cast on him a look of trusting
gratitude which blew a long smouldering spark into such a flame that the
waters of Niagara in winter would have failed to quench it.

"I can't tell you yet, friends, what I intend to do," said Charlie.
"All I can say is that I'm off to London.  I shall probably be away some
time, but will write to mother occasionally.  So good-bye."

He said a good deal more, of course, but that was the gist of it.

May accompanied him to the door.

"Oh! thank you--_thank you_!" she said, with trembling lip and tearful
eyes as she held out her hand, "I feel _sure_ that you will find
father."

"I think I shall, May.  Indeed I also feel sure that I shall--God
helping me."

At the ticket office he found that the clerk remembered very little.  He
knew the old gentleman well by sight, indeed, but was in the habit of
selling tickets to so many people that it was impossible for him to
remember where they booked to.  In fact the only thing that had fixed
Mr Leather at all in his memory was the fact that the old man had
dropped his ticket, had no money to take another, and had pleaded
earnestly to let him have one on trust, a request with which he dared
not comply--but fortunately, a porter found and restored the ticket.

"Is the porter you refer to still here?" asked Charlie.

Yes, he was there; and Charlie soon found him.  The porter recollected
the incident perfectly, for the old gentleman, he said, had made a
considerable fuss about the lost ticket.

"And you can't remember the station he went to?"

"No, sir, but I do remember something about his saying he wanted to go
to Whitechapel--I think it was--or Whitehall, I forget which, but I'm
sure it was white something."

With this very slender clue Charlie Brooke presented himself in due time
at Scotland Yard, at which fountain-head of London policedom he gave a
graphic account of the missing man and the circumstances attending his
disappearance.  Thence he went to the headquarters of the London City
Mission; introduced himself to a sympathetic secretary there, and was
soon put in communication with one of the most intelligent of those
valuable self-sacrificing and devoted men who may be styled the salt of
the London slums.  This good man's district embraced part of
Whitechapel.

"I will help you to the extent of my power, Mr Brooke," he said, "but
your quest will be a difficult one, perhaps dangerous.  How do you
propose to go about it?"

"By visiting all the low lodging-houses in Whitechapel first," said
Charlie.

"That will take a long time," said the City Missionary, smiling.  "Low
lodging-houses are somewhat numerous in these parts."

"I am aware of that, Mr Stansfield, and mean to take time," returned
our hero promptly.  "And what I want of you is to take me into one or
two of them, so that I may see something of them while under your
guidance.  After that I will get their streets and numbers from you, or
through you, and will then visit them by myself."

"But, excuse me, my friend," returned the missionary, "your appearance
in such places will attract more attention than you might wish, and
would interfere with your investigations, besides exposing you to
danger, for the very worst characters in London are sometimes to be
found in such places.  Only men of the police force and we city
missionaries can go among them with impunity."

"I have counted the cost, Mr Stansfield, and intend to run the risk;
but thank you, all the same, for your well-meant warning.  Can you go
round one or two this afternoon?"

"I can, with pleasure, and will provide you with as many lodging-house
addresses as I can procure.  Do you live far from this?"

"No, quite close.  A gentleman, who was in your Secretary's office when
I called, recommended a small lodging-house kept by a Mrs Butt in the
neighbourhood of Flower and Dean Street.  You know that region well, I
suppose?"

"Ay--intimately; and I know Mrs Butt too--a very respectable woman.
Come, then, let us start on our mission."

Accordingly Mr Stansfield introduced his inexperienced friend into two
of the principal lodging-houses in that neighbourhood.  They merely
passed through them, and the missionary, besides commenting on all that
they saw, told his new friend where and what to pay for a night's
lodging.  He also explained the few rules that were connected with those
sinks into which the dregs of the metropolitan human family ultimately
settle.  Then he accompanied Charlie to the door of his new lodging and
bade him good-night.

It was a dingy little room in which our hero found himself, having an
empty and rusty fire-grate on one side and a window on the other, from
which there was visible a landscape of paved court.  The foreground of
the landscape was a pump, the middle distance a wash-tub, and the
background a brick wall, about ten feet distant and fifteen feet high.
There was no sky to the landscape, by reason of the next house.  The
furniture was in keeping with the view.

Observing a small sofa of the last century on its last legs in a corner,
Charlie sat down on it and rose again instantly, owing apparently to
rheumatic complaints from its legs.

"La! sir," said the landlady, who had followed him into the room, "you
don't need to fear anythink.  That sofar, sir, 'as bin in my family for
three generations.  The frame was renoo'd before I was born, an' the
legs I 'ad taken off an' noo ones putt on about fifteen year ago last
Easter as ever was.  My last lodger 'ee went through the bottom of it,
w'ich obliged me to 'ave that renoo'd, so it's stronger than ever it
were.  If you only keep it well shoved up agin the wall, sir, it'll
stand a'most any weight--only it won't stand jumpin' on.  You mustn't
jump on it, sir, with your feet!"

Charlie promised solemnly that he would not jump on it either with his
feet or head, and then asked if he could have tea and a fire.  On being
informed that he could have both, he drew out his purse and said--

"Now, Mrs Butt, I expect to stay here for two or three weeks--perhaps
longer.  My name is Brooke.  I was advised to come here by a gentleman
in the offices of the City Mission.  I shall have no visitors--being
utterly unknown in this neighbourhood--except, perhaps, the missionary
who parted from me at the door--"

"Mr Stansfield, sir?" said the landlady.

"Yes.  You know him?"

"I've knowed 'im for years, sir.  I shall only be too pleased to 'ave
any friend of 'is in my 'ouse, I assure you."

"That's well.  Now, Mrs Butt, my motive in coming here is to discover a
runaway relation--"

"La! sir--a little boy?"

"No, Mrs Butt, a--"

"_Surely_ not a little _gurl_, sir," said the landlady, with a
sympathetic expression.

"It is of no consequence what or who the runaway relation is, Mrs Butt;
I merely mention the fact in order that you may understand the reason of
any little eccentricity you may notice in my conduct, and not perplex
your mind about it.  For instance, I shall have no regular hours--may be
out late or early--it may be even all night.  You will give me a
pass-key, and I will let myself in.  The only thing I will probably ask
for will be a cup of tea or coffee.  Pray let me have one about an hour
hence.  I'm going out at present.  Here is a week's rent in advance."

"Shall I put on a fire, sir?" asked Mrs Butt.

"Well, yes--you may."

"Toast, sir?"

"Yes, yes," said Charlie, opening the outer door.

"'Ot or cold, sir?"

"'Ot, and _buttered_," cried Charlie, with a laugh, as he shut the door
after him and rendered further communication impossible.

Wending his way through the poor streets in the midst of which his
lodging was situated, our hero at last found an old-clothes store, which
he entered.

"I want a suit of old clothes," he said to the owner, a Jew, who came
forward.

The Jew smiled, spread out his hands after the manner of a Frenchman,
and said, "My shop, sir, is at your disposal."

After careful inspection Charlie selected a fustian coat of extremely
ragged appearance, with trousers to match, also a sealskin vest of a
mangy complexion, likewise a soiled and battered billycock hat so
shockingly bad that it was difficult to imagine it to have ever had
better days at all.

"Are they clean?" he asked.

"Bin baked and fumigated, sir," answered the Jew solemnly.

As the look and smell of the garments gave some countenance to the truth
of this statement, Charlie paid the price demanded, had them wrapped up
in a green cotton handkerchief, and carried them off.

Arrived at his lodging he let himself in, entered his room, and threw
the bundle in a corner.  Then he rang for tea.

It was growing dark by that time, but a yellow-cotton blind shut out the
prospect, and a cheery fire in the grate lighted up the little room
brightly, casting a rich glow on the yellow-white table-cloth, which had
been already spread, and creating a feeling of coziness in powerful
contrast to the sensation of dreariness which had assailed him on his
first entrance.  When Mrs Butt had placed a paraffin lamp on the table,
with a dark-brown teapot, a thick glass sugar-bowl, a cream-jug to
match, and a plate of thick-buttered toast that scented the atmosphere
deliciously, our hero thought--not for the first time in his life--that
wealth was a delusion, besides being a snare.

"`One wants but little here below,'" he mused, as he glanced round the
apartment; "but he wants it longer than _that_," thought he, as his eyes
wandered to the ancient sofa, which was obviously eighteen inches too
short for him.

"I 'ope you've found 'im, sir," said Mrs Butt anxiously, as she was
about to retire.

"Found who?"

"Your relation, sir; the little boy--I mean gurl."

"No, I have found neither the boy nor the girl," returned the lodger
sharply.  "Haven't even begun to look for them yet."

"Oh! beg parding, sir, I didn't know there was _two_ of 'em."

"Neither are there.  There's only one.  Fetch me some hot water, Mrs
Butt, your tea is _too_ good.  I never take it strong."

The landlady retired, and, on returning with the water, found her lodger
so deep in a newspaper that she did not venture to interrupt him.

Tea over, Charlie locked his door and clothed himself in his late
purchase, which fitted him fairly well, considering that he had measured
it only by eye.  Putting on the billycock, and tying the green cotton
kerchief loosely round his neck to hide his shirt, he stepped in front
of the looking-glass above the mantelpiece.

At sight of himself he was prepared to be amused, but he had not
expected to be shocked!  Yet shocked he certainly was, for the
transformation was so complete that it suddenly revealed to him
something of the depth of degradation to which he _might_ fall--to which
many a man as good as himself, if not better, _had_ fallen.  Then
amusement rose within him, for he was the very beau-ideal of a typical
burglar, or a prize-fighter: big, square-shouldered, deep-chested,
large-chinned.  The only parts that did not quite correspond to the type
were his straight, well-formed nose and his clear blue eyes, but these
defects were put right by slightly drooping his eyelids, pushing his
billycock a little back on his head, and drawing a lock of hair in a
drunken fashion over his forehead.

Suddenly an idea occurred to him.  Slipping his latchkey into his pocket
he went out of the house and closed the door softly.  Then he rang the
bell.

"Is the gen'leman at 'ome?" he asked of Mrs Butt, in a gruff, hoarse
voice, as if still engaged in a struggle with a bad cold.

"What gentleman?" asked Mrs Butt eyeing him suspiciously.

"W'y, the gen'leman as sent for me to give 'im boxin' lessons--Buck or
Book, or some sitch name."

"Brooke, you mean," said Mrs Butt still suspicious, and interposing her
solid person in the doorway.

"Ay, that's the cove--the gen'leman I mean came here this arternoon to
lodge wi' a Missis Butt or Brute, or suthin' o' that sort--air you Mrs
Brute?"

"_Certainly_ not," answered the landlady, with indignation; "but I'm
Mrs Butt."

"Well, it's all the same.  I ax yer parding for the mistake, but there's
sitch a mixin' up o' Brutes an' Brookes, an' Butts an' Bucks, that it
comes hard o' a man o' no edication to speak of to take it all in.  This
gen'leman, Mr Brute, 'e said if 'e was hout w'en I called I was to
wait, an' say you was to make tea for two, an' 'ave it laid in the
bedroom as 'e'd require the parlour for the mill."

The man's evident knowledge of her lodger's affairs, and his gross
stupidity, disarmed Mrs Butt.  She would have laughed at his last
speech if it had not been for the astounding conclusion.  Tea in the
bedroom and a mill in the parlour the first night was a degree of
eccentricity she had not even conceived of.

"Come in, then, young man," she said, making way.  "You'll find Mr
Brooke in the parlour at his tea."

The prize-fighter stepped quickly along the dark passage into the
parlour, and while the somewhat sluggish Mrs Butt was closing the door
she overheard her lodger exclaim--

"Ha!  Jem Mace, this is good of you--very good of you--to come so
promptly.  Mrs Butt," shouting at the parlour door, "another cup and
plate for Mr Mace, and--and bring the _ham_!"

"The 'am!" repeated Mrs Butt softly to herself, as she gazed in
perplexity round her little kitchen, "_did_ 'e order a 'am?"

Unable to solve the riddle she gave it up and carried in the cup and
saucer and plate.

"I beg your parding, sir, you mentioned a 'am," she began, but stopped
abruptly on seeing no one there but the prize-fighter standing before
the fire in a free-and-easy manner with his hands in his breeches
pockets.

The light of the street-lamps had very imperfectly revealed the person
of Jem Mace.  Now that Mrs Butt saw him slouching in all his native
hideousness against her mantelpiece in the full blaze of a paraffin
lamp, she inwardly congratulated herself that Mr Brooke was such a big
strong man--almost a match, she thought, for Mace!

"I thought you said the gen'leman was in the parlour, Mrs Brute?" said
Mace inquiringly.

"So 'e--_was_," answered the perplexed lady, looking round the room;
"didn't I 'ear 'im a-shakin' 'ands wi' you, an' a-shoutin' for 'am?"

"Well, Mrs Brute, I dun know what you 'eard; all I know is that I've
not seed 'im yet."

"'E must be in the bedroom," said Mrs Butt, with a dazed look.

"No 'e ain't there," returned the prize-fighter; "I've bin all over it--
looked under the bed, into the cupboard, through the key'ole;--p'r'aps,"
he added, turning quickly, "'e may be up the chimbly!"

The expression on poor Mrs Butt's face now alarmed Charlie, who
instantly doffed his billycock and resumed his natural voice and manner.

"Forgive me, Mrs Butt, if I have been somewhat reckless," he said, "in
testing my disguise on you.  I really had no intention till a few
minutes ago of playing such a practical--"

"Well, well, Mr Brooke," broke in the amazed yet amiable creature at
this point, "I do assure you as I'd never 'ave know'd you from the worst
character in W'itechapel.  I wouldn't have trusted you--not with a
sixpence.  You was born to be a play-actor, sir!  I declare that Jem
Mace have given me a turn that--But why disguise yourself in this way,
Mr Brooke?"

"Because I am going to haunt the low lodging-houses, Mrs Butt and I
could not well do that, you know, in the character of a gentleman; and
as you have taken it so amiably I'm glad I tried my hand here first, for
it will make me feel much more at ease."

"And well it may, sir.  I only 'ope it won't get you into trouble, for
if the p'leece go lookin' for a burglar, or murderer, or desprit
ruffian, where you 'appen to be, they're sure to run you in.  The only
think I would point out, sir, if I may be so free, is that your 'ands
an' face is too clean."

"That is easily remedied," said Charlie, with a laugh, as he stooped and
rubbed his hands among the ashes; then, taking a piece of cinder, he
made sundry marks on his countenance therewith, which, when judiciously
touched in with a little water and some ashes, converted our hero into
as thorough a scoundrel as ever walked the streets of London at
unseasonable hours of night.



CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.

FAILURE AND A NEW SCENT.

Although our hero's plan of search may seem to some rather Quixotic,
there was nothing further from his thoughts than merely playing at the
game of amateur detective.  Being enthusiastic and sanguine, besides
being spurred on by an intense desire to rescue the father of May
Leather, Charlie Brooke was thoroughly in earnest in his plan.  He knew
that it would be useless to attempt such a search and rescue in any
other capacity than that of a genuine pauper, at least in appearance and
action.  He therefore resolved to conduct the search in character, and
to plunge at once into the deepest pools of the slums.

It is not our intention to carry the reader through the
Arabian-night-like adventures which he experienced in his quest.
Suffice it to say that he did not find the lost man in the pools in
which he fished for him, but he ultimately, after many weeks, found one
who led him to the goal he aimed at.

Meanwhile there were revealed to him numerous phases of life--or,
rather, of living death--in the slums of the great city which caused him
many a heartache at the time, and led him ever afterwards to consider
with anxious pity the condition of the poor, the so-called lost and
lapsed, the depraved, degraded, and unfortunate.  Of course he found--as
so many had found before him--that the demon Drink was at the bottom of
most of the misery he witnessed, but he also learned that whereas many
weak and vicious natures dated the commencement of their final descent
and fall from the time when they began to drink, many of the strong and
ferocious spirits had begun a life of wickedness in early youth, and
only added drink in after years as a little additional fuel to the
already roaring flame of sin.

It is well known that men of all stamps and creeds and classes are to be
found in the low lodging-houses of all great cities.  At first Charlie
did not take note of this, being too earnestly engaged in the search for
his friend, and anxious to avoid drawing attention on himself; but as he
grew familiar with these scenes of misery and destitution he gradually
began to be interested in the affairs of other people, and, as he was
eminently sympathetic, he became the confidant of several paupers, young
and old.  A few tried to draw him out, but he quietly checked their
curiosity without giving offence.

It may be remarked here that he at once dropped the style of talk which
he had adopted when representing Jem Mace, because he found so many in
the lodging-houses who had fallen from a good position in society that
grammatical language was by no means singular.  His size and strength
also saved him from much annoyance, for the roughs, who might otherwise
have bullied him, felt that it would be wise to leave him alone.

On one occasion, however, his pacific principles were severely tested as
well as his manhood, and as this led to important results we must
recount the incident.

There was a little lame, elderly man, who was a habitual visitor at one
of the houses which our hero frequented.  He was a humorous character,
who made light of his troubles, and was a general favourite.  Charlie
had felt interested in the man, and in ordinary circumstances would have
inquired into his history, but, as we have said, he laid some restraint
on his natural tendency to inquire and sympathise.  As it was, however,
he showed his goodwill by many little acts of kindness--such as making
way for Zook--so he was called--when he wanted to get to the general
fire to boil his tea or coffee; giving him a portion of his own food on
the half pretence that he had eaten as much as he wanted, etcetera.

There was another _habitue_ of the same lodging, named Stoker, whose
temperament was the very opposite to that of little Zook.  He was a
huge, burly dock labourer; an ex-prize-fighter and a disturber of the
peace wherever he went.  Between Stoker and Zook there was nothing in
common save their poverty, and the former had taken a strong dislike to
the latter, presumably on the ground of Zook's superiority in everything
except bulk of frame.  Charlie had come into slight collision with
Stoker on Zook's account more than once, and had tried to make peace
between them, but Stoker was essentially a bully; he would listen to no
advice, and had more than once told the would-be peacemaker to mind his
own business.

One evening, towards the close of our hero's search among the
lodging-houses, little Zook entered the kitchen of the establishment,
tea-pot and penny loaf in hand.  He hastened towards the roaring fire
that might have roasted a whole sheep, and which served to warm the
entire basement storey, or kitchen, of the tenement.

"Here, Zook," said Charlie, as the former passed the table at which he
was seated taking his supper, "I've bought more than I can eat, as
usual!  I've got two red-herrings and can eat only one.  Will you help
me?"

"It's all fish that comes to my net, Charlie," said the little man,
skipping towards his friend, and accepting the herring with a grateful
but exaggerated bow.

We omitted to say that our hero passed among the paupers by his
Christian name, which he had given as being, from its very universality,
the best possible _alias_.

A few minutes later Stoker entered and went to the fire, where loud,
angry voices soon told that the bully was at his old game of
peace-disturber.  Presently a cry of "shame" was heard, and poor Zook
was seen lying on the floor with his nose bleeding.

"Who cried shame?" demanded the bully, looking fiercely round.

"_I_ did not," said Charlie Brooke, striding towards him, "for I did not
know it was you who knocked him down, but I _do_ cry shame on you now,
for striking a man so much smaller than yourself, and without
provocation, I warrant."

"An' pray who are _you_?" returned Stoker, in a tone that was meant to
be witheringly sarcastic.

"I am one who likes fair play," said Charlie, restraining his anger, for
he was still anxious to throw oil on the troubled waters, "and if you
call it fair play for a heavy-weight like you to attack such a
light-weight as Zook, you must have forgotten somehow that you are an
Englishman.  Come, now, Stoker, say to Zook you are sorry and won't
worry him any more, and I'm sure he'll forgive you!"

"Hear! hear!" cried several of the on-lookers.

"Perhaps I _may_ forgive 'im," said Zook, with a humorous leer, as he
wiped his bleeding nose--"I'd do a'most anything to please Charlie!"

This was received with a general laugh, but Stoker did not laugh; he
turned on our hero with a look of mingled pity and contempt.

"No, Mister Charlie," he said, "I won't say I'm sorry, because I'd tell
a big lie if I did, and I'll worry him just as much as I please.  But
I'll tell 'e what I'll do.  If you show yourself as ready wi' your
bunches o' fives as you are wi' yer tongue, and agree to fight me, I'll
say to Zook that I'm sorry and won't worry 'im any more."

There was dead silence for a minute after the delivery of this
challenge, and much curiosity was exhibited as to how it would be taken.
Charlie cast down his eyes in perplexity.  Like many big and strong men
he was averse to use his superior physical powers in fighting.  Besides
this, he had been trained by his mother to regard it as more noble to
suffer than to avenge insults, and there is no doubt that if the bully's
insult had affected only himself he would have avoided him, if possible,
rather than come into conflict.  Having been trained, also, to let
Scripture furnish him with rules for action, his mind irresistibly
recalled the turning of the "other cheek" to the smiter, but the fact
that he was at that moment acting in defence of another, not of himself,
prevented that from relieving him.  Suddenly--like the lightning flash--
there arose to him the words, "Smite a scorner and the simple will
beware!"  Indeed, all that we have mentioned, and much more, passed
through his troubled brain with the speed of light.  Lifting his eyes
calmly to the face of his opponent he said--"I accept your challenge."

"No, no, Charlie!" cried the alarmed Zook, in a remonstrative tone,
"you'll do nothing of the sort.  The man's a old prize-fighter!  You
haven't a chance.  Why, I'll fight him myself rather than let you do
it."

And with that the little man began to square up and twirl his fists and
skip about in front of the bully in spite of his lameness--but took good
care to keep well out of his reach.

"It's a bargain, then," said Charlie, holding out his hand.

"Done!" answered the bully, grasping it.

"Well, then, the sooner we settle this business the better," continued
Charlie.  "Where shall it come off?"

"Prize-fightin's agin the law," suggested an old pauper, who seemed to
fear they were about to set to in the kitchen.

"So it is, old man," said Charlie, "and I would be the last to engage in
such a thing, but this is not a prize-fight, for there's no prize.  It's
simply a fight in defence of weakness against brute strength and
tyranny."

There were only a few of the usual inhabitants of the kitchen present at
the time, for it was yet early in the evening.  This was lucky, as it
permitted of the fight being gone about quietly.

In the upper part of the building there was an empty room of
considerable size which had been used as a furniture store, and happened
at that time to have been cleared out, with the view of adding it to the
lodging.  There, it was arranged, the event should come off, and to this
apartment proceeded all the inhabitants of the kitchen who were
interested in the matter.  A good many, however, remained behind--some
because they did not like fights, some because they did not believe that
the parties were in earnest, others because they were too much taken up
with and oppressed by their own sorrows, and a few because, being what
is called fuddled, they did not understand or care anything about the
matter at all.  Thus it came to pass that all the proceedings were quiet
and orderly, and there was no fear of interruption by the police.

Arrived at the scene of action, a ring was formed by the spectators
standing round the walls, which they did in a single row, for there was
plenty of room.  Then Stoker strode into the middle of the room, pulled
off his coat, vest, and shirt, which he flung into a corner, and stood
up, stripped to the waist, like a genuine performer in the ring.
Charlie also threw off coat and vest, but retained his shirt--an old
striped cotton one in harmony with his other garments.

"I'm not a professional," he said, as he stepped forward; "you've no
objection, I suppose, to my keeping on my shirt?"

"None whatever," replied Stoker, with a patronising air; "p'r'aps it may
be as well for fear you should kitch cold."

Charlie smiled, and held out his hand--"You see," he said, "that at
least I understand the civilities of the ring."

There was an approving laugh at this as the champions shook hands and
stood on guard.

"I am quite willing even yet," said Charlie, while in this attitude, "to
settle this matter without fighting if you'll only agree to leave Zook
alone in future."

This was a clear showing of the white feather in the opinion of Stoker,
who replied with a thundering, "No!" and at the same moment made a
savage blow at Charlie's face.

Our hero was prepared for it.  He put his head quickly to one side, let
the blow pass, and with his left hand lightly tapped the bridge of his
opponent's nose.

"Hah! a hammytoor!" exclaimed the ex-pugilist in some surprise.

Charlie said nothing, but replied with the grim smile with which in
school-days he had been wont to indicate that he meant mischief.  The
smile passed quickly, however, for even at that moment he would gladly
have hailed a truce, so deeply did he feel what he conceived to be the
degradation of his position--a feeling which neither his disreputable
appearance nor his miserable associates had yet been able to produce.

But nothing was further from the intention of Stoker than a truce.
Savages usually attribute forbearance to cowardice.  War to the knife
was in his heart, and he rushed at Charlie with a shower of slogging
blows, which were meant to end the fight at once.  But they failed to do
so.  Our hero nimbly evaded the blows, acting entirely on the defensive,
and when Stoker at length paused, panting, the hammytoor was standing
before him quite cool, and with the grim look intensified.

"If you _will_ have it--_take_ it!" he exclaimed, and shot forth a blow
which one of the juvenile bystanders described as a "stinger on the
beak!"

The owner of the beak felt it so keenly, that he lost temper and made
another savage assault, which was met in much the same way, with this
difference, that his opponent delivered several more stingers on the
unfortunate beak, which after that would have been more correctly
described as a bulb.

Again the ex-pugilist paused for breath, and again the "hammytoor" stood
up before him, smiling more grimly than ever--panting a little, it is
true, but quite unscathed about the face, for he had guarded it with
great care although he had received some rather severe body blows.

Seeing this, Stoker descended to mean practices, and in his next assault
attempted, and with partial success, to hit below the belt.  This roused
a spirit of indignation in Charlie, which gave strength to his arm and
vigour to his action.  The next time Stoker paused for breath, Charlie--
as the juvenile bystander remarked--"went for him," planted a blow under
each eye, a third on his forehead, and a fourth on his chest with such
astounding rapidity and force that the man was driven up against the
wall with a crash that shook the whole edifice.

Stoker dropped and remained still.  There were no seconds, no sponges or
calling of time at that encounter.  It was altogether an informal
episode, and when Charlie saw his antagonist drop, he kneeled down
beside him with a feeling of anxiety lest he had killed him.

"My poor man," he said, "are you much hurt?"

"Oh! you've no need to fear for me," said Stoker recovering himself a
little, and sitting up--"but I throw up the sponge.  Stoker's day is
over w'en 'e's knocked out o' time by a hammytoor, and Zook is free to
bile 'is pot unmorlested in futur'."

"Come, it was worth a fight to bring you to that state of mind, my man,"
said Charlie, laughing.  "Here, two of you, help to take him down and
wash the blood off him; and I say, youngster," he added, pulling out his
purse and handing a sovereign to the juvenile bystander already
mentioned, "go out and buy sausages for the whole company."

The boy stared at the coin in his hand in mute surprise, while the rest
of the ring looked at each other with various expressions, for Charlie,
in the rebound of feeling caused by his opponent's sudden recovery and
submission, had totally forgotten his _role_ and was ordering the people
about like one accustomed to command.

As part of the orders were of such a satisfactory nature, the people did
not object, and, to the everlasting honour of the juvenile bystander who
resisted the temptation to bolt with the gold, a splendid supper of pork
sausages was smoking on the various tables of the kitchen of that
establishment in less than an hour thereafter.

When the late hours of night had arrived, and most of the paupers were
asleep in their poor beds, dreaming, perchance, of "better days" when
pork-sausages were not so tremendous a treat, little Zook went to the
table at which Charlie sat.  He was staring at a newspaper, but in
reality was thinking about his vain search, and beginning, if truth must
be told, to feel discouraged.

"Charlie," said Zook, sitting down beside his champion, "or p'r'aps I
should say _Mister_ Charlie, the game's up wi' you, whatever it was."

"What d'you mean, Zook?"

"Well, I just mean that it's o' no manner o' use your tryin' to sail any
longer under false colours in this here establishment."

"I must still ask you to explain yourself," said Charlie, with a puzzled
look.

"Well, you know," continued the little man, with a deprecatory glance,
"w'en a man in ragged clo'se orders people here about as if 'e was the
commander-in-chief o' the British Army, an' flings yellow boys about as
if 'e was chancellor o' the checkers, an orders sassengers offhand for
all 'ands, 'e _may_ be a gentleman--wery likely 'e is,--but 'e ain't a
redooced one, such as slopes into lodgin'-'ouse kitchens.  W'atever
little game may 'ave brought you 'ere, sir, it ain't poverty--an' nobody
will be fool enough in _this_ 'ouse to believe it is."

"You are right, Zook.  I'm sorry I forgot myself," returned Charlie,
with a sigh.  "After all, it does not matter much, for I fear my little
game--as you call it--was nearly played out, and it does not seem as if
I were going to win."

Charlie clasped his hands on the table before him, and looked at the
newspaper somewhat disconsolately.

"It's bin all along o' takin' up my cause," said the little man, with
something like a whimper in his voice.  "You've bin wery kind to me,
sir, an' I'd give a lot, if I 'ad it, an' would go a long way if I
wasn't lame, to 'elp you."

Charlie looked steadily in the honest, pale, careworn face of his
companion for a few seconds without speaking.  Poverty, it is said,
brings together strange bed-fellows.  Not less, perhaps, does it lead to
unlikely confidants.  Under a sudden impulse our hero revealed to poor
Zook the cause of his being there--concealing nothing except names.

"You'll 'scuse me, sir," said the little man, after the narrative was
finished, "but I think you've gone on summat of a wild-goose chase, for
your man may never have come so low as to seek shelter in sitch places."

"Possibly, Zook; but he was penniless, and this, or the work-house,
seemed to me the natural place to look for him in."

"'Ave you bin to the work-'ouses, sir?"

"Yes--at least to all in this neighbourhood."

"What! in that toggery?" asked the little man, with a grin.

"Not exactly, Zook, I can change my shell like the hermit crabs."

"Well, sir, it's my opinion that you may go on till doomsday on this
scent an' find nuthin'; but there's a old 'ooman as I knows on that
might be able to 'elp you.  Mind I don't say she could, but she _might_.
Moreover, if she can she will."

"How?" asked Charlie, somewhat amused by the earnestness of his little
friend.

"Why, this way.  She's a good old soul who lost 'er 'usband an' 'er
son--if I ain't mistaken--through drink, an' ever since, she 'as devoted
'erself body an' soul to save men an' women from drink.  She attends
temperance meetin's an' takes people there--a'most drags 'em in by the
scruff o' the neck.  She keeps 'er eyes open, like a weasel, an'
w'enever she sees a chance o' what she calls pluckin' a brand out o' the
fire, she plucks it, without much regard to burnin' 'er fingers.
Sometimes she gits one an' another to submit to her treatment, an' then
she locks 'em up in 'er 'ouse--though it ain't a big un--an' treats 'em,
as she calls it.  She's got one there now, it's my belief, though
w'ether it's a he or a she I can't tell.  Now, she may 'ave seen your
friend goin' about--if 'e stayed long in Whitechapel."

"It may be so," returned our hero wearily, for he was beginning to lose
heart, and the prospect opened up to him by Zook did not on the first
blush of it seem very brilliant.  "When could I see this old woman?"

"First thing to-morror arter breakfast, sir."

"Very well; then you'll come and breakfast with me at eight?"

"I will, sir, with all the pleasure in life.  In this 'ere 'ouse, sir,
or in a resterang?"

"Neither.  In my lodgings, Zook."

Having given his address to the little man, Charlie bade him good-night
and retired to his pauper-bed for the last time.



CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.

SUCCESS AND FUTURE PLANS.

Punctual to the minute Zook presented himself to Mrs Butt next morning
and demanded audience.

Mrs Butt had been forewarned of the impending visit, and, although she
confessed to some uncomfortable feelings in respect of infection and
dirt, received him with a gracious air.

"You've come to breakfast, I understand?"

"Well, I believe I 'ave," answered the little man, with an involuntary
glance at his dilapidated clothes; "'avin' been inwited--unless," he
added, somewhat doubtfully, "the inwite came in a dream."

"You may go in and clear up that point for yourself," said the landlady,
as she ushered the poor man into the parlour, where he was almost
startled to find an amiable gentleman waiting to receive him.

"Come along, Zook, I like punctuality.  Are you hungry?"

"'Ungry as a 'awk, sir," replied Zook, glancing at the table and rubbing
his hands, for there entered his nostrils delicious odours, the causes
of which very seldom entered his throat.  "W'y, sir, I _know'd_ you was
a gent, from the wery first!"

"I have at least entered my native shell," said Charlie, with a laugh.
"Sit down.  We've no time to waste.  Now what'll you have?  Coffee, tea,
pork-sausage, ham and egg, buttered toast, hot rolls.  Just help
yourself, and fancy you're in the lodging-house at your own table."

"Well, sir, that _would_ be a stretch o' fancy that would strain me
a'most to the bustin' p'int.  Coffee, if you please.  Oh yes, sugar an'
milk _in course_.  I never let slip a chance as I knows on.  W'ich
bread? well, 'ot rolls is temptin', but I allers 'ad a weakness for
sappy things, so 'ot buttered toast--if you can spare it."

"Spare it, my good man!" said Charlie, laughing.  "There's a whole loaf
in the kitchen and pounds of butter when you've finished this, not to
mention the shops round the corner."

It was a more gratifying treat to Charlie than he had expected, to see
this poor man eat to his heart's content of viands which he so
thoroughly appreciated and so rarely enjoyed.  What Zook himself felt,
it is impossible for well-to-do folk to conceive, or an ordinary pen to
describe; but, as he sat there, opposite to his big friend and champion,
stowing away the good things with zest and devotion of purpose, it was
easy to believe that his watery eyes were charged with the tears of
gratitude, as well as with those of a chronic cold to which he was
subject.

Breakfast over, they started off in quest of the old woman with teetotal
proclivities.

"How did you come to know her?" asked Charlie, as they went along.

"Through a 'ouse in the city as I was connected with afore I got run
over an' lamed.  They used to send me with parcels to this old 'ooman.
In course I didn't know for sartin' w'at was in the parcels, but 'avin'
a nose, you see, an' bein' able to smell, I guessed that it was a
compound o' wittles an' wursted work."

"A strange compound, Zook."

"Well, they wasn't 'zactly compounded--they was sometimes the one an'
sometimes the other; never mixed to my knowledge."

"What house was it that sent you?"

"Withers and Company."

"Indeed!" exclaimed Charlie in surprise.  "I know the house well.  The
head of it is a well-known philanthropist.  How came you to leave them?
They never would have allowed an old servant to come to your pass--
unless, indeed, he was--"

"A fool, sir, or wuss," interrupted Zook; "an' that's just what I was.
I runned away from 'em, sir, an' I've been ashamed to go back since.
But that's 'ow I come to know old Missis Mag, an' it's down 'ere she
lives."

They turned into a narrow passage which led to a small court at the back
of a mass of miserable buildings, and here they found the residence of
the old woman.

"By the way, Zook, what's her name?" asked Charlie.

"Mrs Mag Samson."

"Somehow the name sounds familiar to me," said Charlie, as he knocked at
the door.

A very small girl opened it and admitted that her missis was at 'ome;
whereupon our hero turned to his companion.

"I'll manage her best without company, Zook," he said; "so you be off;
and see that you come to my lodging to-night at six to hear the result
of my interview and have tea."

"I will, sir."

"And here, Zook, put that in your pocket, and take a good dinner."

"I will, sir."

"And--hallo!  Zook, come here.  Not a word about all this in the
lodging-house;--stay, now I think of it, don't go to the lodging-house
at all.  Go to a casual ward where they'll make you take a good bath.
Be sure you give yourself a good scrub.  D'ye hear?"

"Yes, sir."  He walked away murmuring, "More 'am and hegg an' buttered
toast to-night!  Zook, you're in luck to-day--in clover, my boy! in
clover!"

Meanwhile, Charlie Brooke found himself in the presence of a bright-eyed
little old woman, who bade him welcome with the native grace of one who
is a born, though not a social, lady, and beautified by Christianity.
Her visitor went at once straight to the point.

"Forgive my intrusion, Mrs Samson," he said, taking the chair to which
the old woman pointed, "but, indeed, I feel assured that you will, when
I state that the object of my visit is to ask you to aid in the rescue
of a friend from drink."

"No man intrudes on me who comes on such an errand; but how does it
happen, sir, that you think _I_ am able to aid you?"

To this Charlie replied by giving her an account of his meeting and
conversation with Zook, and followed that up with a full explanation of
his recent efforts and a graphic description of Isaac Leather.

The old woman listened attentively, and, as her visitor proceeded, with
increasing interest not unmingled with surprise and amusement.

When he had concluded, Mrs Samson rose, and, opening a door leading to
another room, held up her finger to impose silence, and softly bade him
look in.

He did so.  The room was a very small one, scantily furnished, with a
low truckle-bed in one corner, and there, on the bed, lay the object of
his quest--Isaac Leather!  Charlie had just time to see that the thin
pale face was not that of a dead, but of a sleeping, man when the old
woman gently pulled him back and re-closed the door.

"That's your man, I think."

"Yes, that's the man--I thank God for this most astonishing and
unlooked-for success."

"Ah! sir," returned the woman, sitting down again, "most of our
successes are unlooked for, and, when they do come, we are not too ready
to recognise the hand of the Giver."

"Nevertheless you must admit that some incidents do seem almost
miraculous," said Charlie.  "To have found _you_ out in this great city,
the very person who had Mr Leather in her keeping, does seem
unaccountable, does it not?"

"Not so unaccountable as it seems to you," replied the old woman, "and
certainly not so much of a miracle as it would have been if you had
found him by searching the lodging-houses.  Here is the way that God
seems to have brought it about.  I have for many years been a pensioner
of the house of Withers and Company, by whom I was employed until the
senior partner made me a sort of female city-missionary amongst the
poor.  I devoted myself particularly to the reclaiming of drunkards--
having special sympathy with them.  A friend of mine, Miss Molloy, also
employed by the senior partner in works of charity, happened to be
acquainted with Mr Leather and his family.  She knew of his failing,
and she found out--for she has a strange power, that I never could
understand, of inducing people to make a confidant of her,--she found
out (what no one else knew, it seems) that poor Mr Leather wished to
put himself under some sort of restraint, for he could not resist
temptation when it came in his way.  Knowing about me, she naturally
advised him to put himself in my hands.  He objected at first, but
agreed at last on condition that none of his people should be told
anything about it.  I did not like to receive him on such conditions,
but gave in because he would come on no other.  Well, sir, you came down
here because you had information which led you to think Mr Leather had
come to this part of the city.  You met with a runaway servant of
Withers and Company--not very wonderful that.  He naturally knows about
me and fetches you here.  Don't you see?"

"Yes, I see," replied Charlie, with an amused expression; "still I
cannot help looking on the whole affair as very wonderful, and I hope
that that does not disqualify me from recognising God's leading in the
matter."

"Nay, young sir," returned the old woman, "that ought rather to qualify
you for such recognition, for are not His ways said to be wonderful--ay,
sometimes `past finding out'?  But what we know not now, we shall know
hereafter.  I thought that when my poor boy went to sea--"

"Mrs Samson!" exclaimed Charlie, with a sudden start, "I see it now!
Was your boy's name Fred?"

"It was."

"And he went to sea in the _Walrus_, that was wrecked in the Southern
Ocean!"

"Yes," exclaimed the old woman eagerly.

"Then," said Charlie, drawing a packet from the breast-pocket of his
coat, "Fred gave me this for you.  I have carried it about me ever
since, in the hope that I might find you.  I came to London, but found
you had left the address written on the packet, and it never occurred to
me that the owners of the _Walrus_ would know anything about the mother
of one of the men who sailed in her.  I have a message also from your
son."

The message was delivered, and Charlie was still commenting on it, when
the door of the inner room opened and Isaac Leather stood before them.

"Charlie Brooke!" he exclaimed, in open-eyed amazement, not unmingled
with confusion.

"Ay, and a most unexpected meeting on both sides," said Charlie,
advancing and holding out his hand.  "I bring you good news, Mr
Leather, of your son Shank."

"Do you indeed?" said the broken-down man, eagerly grasping his young
friend's hand.  "What have you to tell me?  Oh Charlie, you have no idea
what terrible thoughts I've had about that dear boy since he went off to
America!  My sin has found me out, Charlie.  I've often heard that said
before, but have never tally believed it till now."

"God sends you a message of mercy, then," said our hero, who thereupon
began to relieve the poor man's mind by telling him of his son's welfare
and reformation.

But we need not linger over this part of the story, for the reader can
easily guess a good deal of what was said to Leather, while old Mrs
Samson was perusing the letter of her dead son, and tears of mingled
sorrow and joy coursed down her withered cheeks.

That night however, Charlie Brooke conceived a vast idea, and partially
revealed it at the tea-table to Zook--whose real name, by the way, was
Jim Smith.

"'Ave you found 'er, sir?" said Mrs Butt, putting the invariable, and
by that time annoying, question as Charlie entered his lodging.

"No, Mrs Butt, I haven't found _'er_, and I don't expect to find _'er_
at all."

"Lawk! sir, I'm _so_ sorry."

"Has Mr Zook come?"

"Yes, sir 'e's inside and looks impatient.  The smell o' the toast seems
a'most too strong a temptation for 'im; I'm glad you've come."

"Look here, Zook," said Charlie, entering his parlour, "go into that
bedroom.  You'll find a bundle of new clothes there.  Put them on.  Wrap
your old clothes in a handkerchief, and bring them to me.  Tea will be
ready when you are."

The surprised pauper did as he was bid, without remark, and re-entered
the parlour a new man!

"My own mother, if I 'ad one, wouldn't know me, sir," he said, glancing
admiringly at his vest.

"Jim Smith, Esquire," returned Charlie, laughing.  "I really don't think
she would."

"Zook, sir," said the little man, with a grave shake of the head;
"couldn't think of changin' my name at my time of life; let it be Zook,
if you please, sir, though in course I've no objection to esquire, w'en
I 'ave the means to maintain my rank."

"Well, Zook, you have at all events the means to make a good supper, so
sit down and go to work, and I'll talk to you while you eat,--but, stay,
hand me the bundle of old clothes."

Charlie opened the window as he spoke, took hold of the bundle, and
discharged it into the back yard.

"There," he said, sitting down at the table, "that will prove an object
of interest to the cats all night, and a subject of surprise to good
Mrs Butt in the morning.  Now, Zook," he added, when his guest was
fairly at work taking in cargo, "I want to ask you--have you any
objection to emigrate to America?"

"Not the smallest," he said, as well as was possible through a full
mouth.  "Bein' a orphling, so to speak, owin' to my never 'avin' 'ad a
father or mother--as I knows on--there's nothin' that chains me to old
England 'cept poverty."

"Could you do without drink?"

"Sca'sely, sir, seein' the doctors say that man is about three parts--or
four, is it?--made up o' water; I would be apt to grow mummified without
drink, wouldn't I, sir?"

"Come, Zook--you know that I mean _strong_ drink--alcohol in all its
forms."

"Oh, I see.  Well, sir, as to that, I've bin in the 'abit of doin'
without it so much of late from needcessity, that I don't think I'd find
much difficulty in knocking it off altogether, if I was to bring
principle to bear."

"Well, then," continued Charlie, "(have some more ham?)  I have just
conceived a plan.  I have a friend in America who is a reformed
drunkard.  His father in this country is also, I hope, a reformed
drunkard.  There is a good man out there, I understand, who has had a
great deal to do with reformed drunkards, and he has got up a large body
of friends and sympathisers who have determined to go away into the far
west and there organise a total abstinence community, and found a
village or town where nothing in the shape of alcohol shall be admitted
except as physic.

"Now, I have a lot of friends in England who, I think, would go in for
such an expedition if--"

"Are _they_ all reformed drunkards, sir?" asked Zook in surprise,
arresting a mass of sausage in its course as he asked the question.

"By no means," returned Charlie with a laugh, "but they are earnest
souls, and I'm sure will go if I try to persuade them."

"You're sure to succeed, sir," said Zook, "if your persuasions is
accompanied wi' sassengers, 'am, an' buttered toast," remarked the
little man softly, as he came to a pause for a few seconds.

"I'll bring to bear on them all the arguments that are available, you
may be sure.  Meanwhile I shall count you my first recruit."

"Number 1 it is, sir, w'ich is more than I can say of this here slice,"
said Zook, helping himself to more toast.

While the poor but happy man was thus pleasantly engaged, his
entertainer opened his writing portfolio and began to scribble off note
after note, with such rapidity that the amazed pauper at his elbow
fairly lost his appetite, and, after a vain attempt to recover it,
suggested that it might be as well for him to retire to one of the
palatial fourpence-a-night residences in Dean and Flower Street.

"Not to-night.  You've done me a good turn that I shall never forget"
said Charlie, rising and ringing the bell with needless vigour.

"Be kind enough, Mrs Butt, to show Mr Zook to his bedroom."

"My heye!" murmured the pauper, marching off with two full inches added
to his stature.  "Not in there, I suppose, missis," he said facetiously,
as he passed the coal-hole.

"Oh, lawks! no--this way," replied the good woman, who was becoming
almost imbecile under the eccentricities of her lodger.  "This is your
bedroom, and I only 'ope it won't turn into a band-box before morning,
for of all the transformations an' pantimimes as 'as took place in this
'ouse since Mr Brooke entered it, I--"

She hesitated, and, not seeing her way quite clearly to the fitting end
of the sentence, asked if Mr Zook would 'ave 'ot water in the morning.

"No, thank you, Missis," replied the little man with dignity, while he
felt the stubble on his chin; "'avin left my razors at 'ome, I prefers
the water cold."

Leaving Zook to his meditations, Mrs Butt retired to bed, remarking, as
she extinguished the candle, that Mr Brooke was still "a-writin' like a
'ouse a fire!"



CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.

SWEETWATER BLUFF.

We must now leap over a considerable space, not only of distance, but of
time, in order to appreciate fully the result of Charlie Brooke's
furious letter-writing and amazing powers of persuasion.

Let the reader try to imagine a wide plateau, dotted with trees and
bushes, on one of the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, where that
mighty range begins to slide into union with the great prairies.  It
commands a view of mingled woodland and rolling plain, diversified by
river and lake, extending to a horizon so faint and far away as to
suggest the idea of illimitable space.

Early one morning in spring, five horsemen, emerging from a belt of
woodland, galloped to the slope that led to the summit of this plateau.
Drawing rein, they began slowly to ascend.  Two of the cavaliers were
young, tall, and strong;--two were portly and old, though still hearty
and vigorous; one, who led them, on a coal-black steed, was a
magnificent specimen of the backwoodsman, and one, who brought up the
rear, was a thin little man, who made up for what he wanted in size by
the energy and vigour of his action, as, with hand and heel, he urged an
unwilling horse to keep up with the rest of the party.

Arrived at the summit of the plateau, the leading horseman trotted to
its eastern edge, and halted as if for the purpose of surveying the
position.

"Here we are at last," he said, to the tallest of his comrades;
"Sweetwater Bluff--and the end of our journey!"

"And a most noble end it is!" exclaimed the tall comrade.  "Why, Hunky
Ben, it far surpasses my expectations and all you have said about it."

"Most o' the people I've had to guide over this trail have said pretty
much the same thing in different words, Mr Brooke," returned the scout,
dismounting.  "Your wife will find plenty o' subjects here for the
paintin' she's so fond of."

"Ay, May will find work here to keep her brushes busy for many a day to
come," replied Charlie, "though I suspect that other matters will claim
most of her time at first, for there is nothing but a wilderness here
yet."

"You've yet to larn, sir, that we don't take as long to _fix_ up a town
hereaway as you do in the old country," remarked Hunky Ben, as old Jacob
Crossley ambled up on the staid creature which we have already
introduced as _Wheelbarrow_.

Waving his hand with enthusiasm the old gentleman exclaimed, "Glorious!"
Indeed, for a few minutes he sat with glistening eyes and heaving
chest, quite unable to give vent to any other sentiment than "glorious!"
This he did at intervals.  His interest in the scene, however, was
distracted by the sudden advent of Captain Stride, whose horse--a
long-legged roan--had an awkward tendency, among other eccentricities,
to advance sideways with a waltzing gait, that greatly disconcerted the
mariner.

"Woa! you brute.  Back your tops'ls, won't you?  I _never_ did see sitch
a craft for heavin' about like a Dutch lugger in a cross sea.  She sails
side on, no matter where she's bound for.  Forges ahead a'most entirely
by means of leeway, so to speak.  Hallo! woa!  Ketch a grip o' the
painter, Dick, an' hold on till I git off the hurricane deck o' this
walrus--else I'll be overboard in a--.  There--" The captain came to the
ground suddenly as he spoke, without the use of stirrup, and, luckily,
without injury.

"Not hurt I hope?" asked Dick Darvall, assisting his brother-salt to
rise.

"Not a bit of it, Dick.  You see I'm a'most as active as yourself though
double your age, if not more.  I say, Charlie, this _is_ a pretty
look-out.  Don't 'ee think so, Mr Crossley?  I was sure that Hunky Ben
would find us a pleasant anchorage and safe holding-ground at last,
though it did seem as if we was pretty long o' comin' to it.  Just as we
was leavin' the waggins to ride on in advance I said to my missus--says
I--Maggie, you may depend--"

"Hallo!  Zook," cried Charlie, as the little man of the slums came
limping up, "what have you done with your horse?"

"Cast 'im loose, sir, an' gi'n 'im leave of absence as long as 'e
pleases.  It's my opinion that some the 'osses o' the western prairies
ain't quite eekal to some o' the 'osses I've bin used to in Rotten Row.
Is this the place, Hunky?  Well, now," continued the little man, with
flashing eyes, as he looked round on the magnificent scene, "it'll do.
Beats W'itechapel an' the Parks any 'ow.  An' there's lots o' poultry
about, too!" he added, as a flock of wild ducks went by on whistling
wings.  "I say, Hunky Ben, w'at's yon brown things over there by the
shores o' the lake?"

"Buffalo," answered the scout.

"What! wild uns?"

"There's no tame ones in them diggin's as I knows on.  If there was,
they'd soon become wild, you bet."

"An' w'at's yon monster crawlin' over the farthest plain, like the great
sea-serpent?"

"Why, man," returned the scout, "them's the waggins.  Come, now, let's
to work an' git the fire lit.  The cart wi' the chuck an' tents'll be
here in a few minutes, an' the waggins won't be long arter 'em."

"Ay, wi' the women an' kids shoutin' for grub," added Zook, as he limped
after the scout, while the rest of the little band dispersed--some to
cut firewood, others to select the best positions for the tents.  The
waggons, with a supply of food, arrived soon after under the care of
Roaring Bull himself, with two of his cowboys.  They were followed by
Buttercup, who bestrode, man-fashion, a mustang nearly as black as
herself and even more frisky.

In a wonderfully short time a number of white tents arose on the plateau
and several fires blazed, and at all the fires Buttercup laboured with
superhuman effect, assisted by the cowboys, to the unbounded admiration
of Zook, who willingly superintended everything, but did little or
nothing.  A flat rock on the highest point was chosen for the site of a
future block-house or citadel, and upon this was ere long spread a
breakfast on a magnificent scale.  It was barely ready when the first
waggons arrived and commenced to lumber up the ascent, preceded by two
girls on horseback, who waved their hands, and gave vent to vigorous
little feminine cheers as they cantered up the slope.

These two were our old friends whom we knew as May Leather and Mary
Jackson, but who must now be re-introduced to the reader as Mrs Charlie
Brooke and Mrs Dick Darvall.  On the same day they had changed their
names at the Ranch of Roaring Bull, and had come to essay wedded life in
the far west.

We need hardly say that this was the great experimental emigrant party,
led by the Reverend William Reeves, who had resolved to found a colony
on total abstinence principles, and with as many as possible of the sins
of civilisation left behind.  They found, alas! that sin is not so
easily got rid of; nevertheless, the effort was not altogether
fruitless, and Mr Reeves carried with him a sovereign antidote for sin
in the shape of a godly spirit.

The party was a large one, for there were many men and women of the
frontier whose experiences had taught them that life was happier and
better in every way without the prevalent vices of gambling and
drinking.

Of course the emigrants formed rather a motley band.  Among them,
besides those of our friends already mentioned, there were our hero's
mother and all the Leather family.  Captain Stride's daughter as well as
his "Missus," and Mr Crossley's housekeeper, Mrs Bland.  That good
woman, however, had been much subdued and rendered harmless by the
terrors of the wilderness, to which she had been recently exposed.  Miss
Molloy was also there, with an enormous supply of knitting needles and
several bales of worsted.

Poor Shank Leather was still so much of an invalid as to be obliged to
travel in a spring cart with his father, but both men were rapidly
regaining physical strength under the influence of temperance, and
spiritual strength under a higher power.

Soon the hammer, axe, and saw began to resound in that lovely western
wilderness; the net to sweep its lakes; the hook to invade its rivers;
the rifle to crack in the forests, and the plough to open up its virgin
soil.  In less time, almost, than a European would take to wink, the
town of Sweetwater Bluff sprang into being; stores and workshops, a
school and a church, grew, up like mushrooms; seed was sown, and
everything, in short, was done that is characteristic of the advent of a
thriving community.  But not a gambling or drinking saloon, or a drop of
firewater, was to be found in all the town.

In spite of this, Indians brought their furs to it; trappers came to it
for supplies; emigrants turned aside to see and rest in it; and the
place soon became noted as a flourishing and pre-eminently peaceful
spot.



CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.

The Last.

But a little cloud arose ere long on the horizon of Sweetwater Bluff.
Insignificant at first, it suddenly spread over the sky and burst in a
wild storm.

The first intimation of its approach came from Charlie Brooke one quiet
autumn evening, in that brief but delightful season known as the Indian
Summer.

Charlie entered his garden that evening with a fowling-piece on his
shoulder, and two brace of prairie hens at his girdle.  May was seated
at her cottage door, basking in sunshine, chatting with her mother--who
was knitting of course--and Shank was conversing with Hunky Ben, who
rested after a day of labour.

"There, May, is to-morrow's dinner," said Charlie, throwing the birds at
his wife's feet, and sitting down beside her.  "Who d'you think I passed
when I was out on the plains to-day, Hunky?  Your old friend Crux the
Cowboy."

"He's no friend o' mine," said the scout, while something like a frown
flitted across his usually placid brow.  "I'm not over-pleased to hear
that he's comin', for it's said that some old uncle or aunt o' his--I
forget which--has left him a lot o' dollars.  I hope he ain't comin' to
spend 'em here, for he'd never git along without gamblin' an' drinkin'."

"Then, I can tell you that he _is_ just coming to stay here," returned
Charlie, "for he has several waggons with him, and a dozen men.  I asked
him where he was going to, and he said, to locate himself as a
store-keeper at Sweetwater Bluff; but he did not seem inclined to be
communicative, so I left him and galloped on to report the news.  What
d'you think about it?"

"I think it'll be a bad day for Sweetwater Bluff when Crux comes to
settle in it.  Howsoever, this is a free country, an' we've no right to
interfere with him so long as he don't break the laws.  But I doubt him.
I'm afeard he'll try to sell drink, an' there's some o' our people who
are longin' to git back to that."

The other members of the party, and indeed those heads of the town
generally who knew Crux, were of much the same opinion, but some of them
thought that, being in a free country, no one had a right to interfere.
The consequence was that Crux and his men were permitted to go to work.
They hired a shed in which to stow their goods, while they were engaged
in building a store, and in course of time this was finished; but there
was a degree of mystery about the ex-cowboy's proceedings which baffled
investigation, and people did not like to press inquiry too far; for it
was observed that all the men who had accompanied Crux were young and
powerful fellows, well armed with rifle and revolver.

At last however, the work was finished, and the mystery was cleared up,
for, one fine morning, the new store was opened as a drinking and
gambling saloon; and that same evening the place was in full swing--
sending forth the shouts, songs, cursing and demoniac laughter for which
such places are celebrated.

Consternation filled the hearts of the community, for it was not only
the men brought there by Crux who kept up their revels in the new
saloon, but a sprinkling of the spirited young fellows of the town also,
who had never been very enthusiastic in the temperance cause, and were
therefore prepared to fall before the first temptation.

At a conference of the chief men of the town it was resolved to try to
induce Crux to quit quietly, and for this end to offer to buy up his
stock-in-trade.  Hunky Ben, being an old acquaintance, was requested to
go to the store as a deputation.

But the ex-cowboy was inexorable.  Neither the offer of money nor
argument had any effect on him.

"Well, Crux," said the scout, at the conclusion of his visit, "you know
your own affairs best but, rememberin' as I do, what you used to be, I
thought there was more of fair-play about you."

"Fair-play!  What d'ye mean?"

"I mean that when folk let _you_ alone, you used to be willin' to let
_them_ alone.  Here has a crowd o' people come back all this way into
the Rockies to escape from the curse o' strong drink and gamblin', an'
here has Crux--a lover o' fair-play--come all this way to shove that
curse right under their noses.  I'd thowt better of ye, Crux, lad."

"It don't matter much what you thowt o' me, old man," returned the
cowboy, somewhat sharply; "an', as to fair-play, there's a lot of men
here who don't agree wi' your humbuggin' notions about temperance an'
tee-totalism--more of 'em, maybe, than you think.  These want to have
the drink, an' I've come to give it 'em.  I see nothin' unfair in that."

Hunky Ben carried his report back to the council, which for some time
discussed the situation.  As in the case of most councils, there was
some difference of opinion: a few of the members being inclined to carry
things with a high hand--being urged thereto by Captain Stride--while
others, influenced chiefly by Mr Reeves, were anxious to try peaceable
means.

At last a sub-committee was appointed, at Hunky Ben's suggestion, to
consider the whole matter, and take what steps seemed advisable.  Hunky
was an adroit and modest man--he could not have been a first-rate scout
otherwise!  He managed not only to become convener of the committee, but
succeeded in getting men chiefly of his own opinion placed on it.  At
supper that night in Charlie's cottage, while enjoying May's cookery and
presence, and waited on by the amused and interested Buttercup, the
sub-committee discussed and settled the plan of operations.

"It's all nonsense," said Hunky Ben, "to talk of tryin' to persuade
Crux.  He's as obstinate as a Texas mule wi' the toothache."

"Rubbish!" exclaimed Captain Stride, smiting the table with his fist.
"We mustn't parley with him, but heave him overboard at once!  I said so
to my missus this very day.  `Maggie,' says I--"

"And what do _you_ think, Charlie?" asked Mr Crossley.

"I think with Hunky Ben, of course.  He knows Crux, and what is best to
be done in the circumstances.  The only thing that perplexes me, is what
shall we do with the liquor when we've paid for it?  A lot of it is good
wine and champagne, and, although useless as a beverage, it is useful as
a medicine, and might be given to hospitals."

"Pour it out!" exclaimed Shank, almost fiercely.

"Ay, the hospitals can look out for themselves," added Shank's father
warmly.

"Some hospitals, I've bin told, git on well enough without it
altogether," said Dick Darvall.  "However, it's a subject that desarves
consideration.--Hallo!  Buttercup, what is it that tickles your fancy
an' makes your mouth stretch out like that?"

Buttercup became preternaturally grave on the instant, but declined to
tell what it was that tickled her fancy.

Shortly after the party rose and left the house, Hunky Ben remarking,
with a quiet laugh, that deeds of darkness were best hatched at night.

What the conspirators hatched became pretty evident next day, for,
during the breakfast hour, a band of forty horsemen rode slowly down the
sloping road which led to the plains, and on the side of which Crux had
built his saloon.

Crux and his men turned out in some surprise to watch the cavalcade as
it passed.  The band was led by Charlie Brooke, and the scout rode in
advance on Black Polly as guide.

"Is it the Reds or the Buffalo you're after to-day, Hunky, with such a
big crowd?" asked Crux.

"Halt!" cried Charlie, at that moment.

The forty men obeyed, and, turning suddenly to the left, faced the
saloon.

"Hands up!" said Charlie, whose men at the same moment pointed their
rifles at Crux and his men.  These were all too familiar with the order
to dare to disobey it.

Our hero then ordered a small detachment of his men to enter the saloon
and fetch out all rifles and pistols, and those of Crux's people who
chanced to have their weapons about them, were disarmed.  Another
detachment went off to the stables behind the saloon.

While they were thus engaged, Charlie addressed Crux.

"We have decided to expel you, Crux, from this town," he said, as he
drew an envelope from his pocket.  "We have tried to convince you that,
as the majority of the people here don't want you, it is your duty to
go.  As you don't seem to see this, we now take the law into our own
hands.  We love fair-play, however, so you will find in this envelope a
cheque which we have reason to believe is fully equal to the value of
your saloon and all its contents.  Your lost time and trouble is your
own affair.  As you came without invitation, you must go without
compensation.  Here are your rifles, and revolvers, emptied of
cartridges, and there are your horses saddled."

As he spoke, one detachment of his men handed rifles and revolvers to
the party, who were stricken dumb with amazement.  At the same time,
their horses, saddled and bridled, were led to the front and delivered
to them.

"We have no provisions," said Crux, at last recovering the use of his
tongue; "and without ammunition we cannot procure any."

"That has been provided for," said our hero, turning to Hunky Ben.

"Ay, Crux," said the scout, "we don't want to starve you, though the
'arth wouldn't lose much if we did.  At the other end o' the lake, about
five mile from here, you'll find a red rag flyin' at the branch of a
tree.  In the hole of a rock close beside it, you'll find three days'
provisions for you and your men, an' a lot of ammunition."

"Now, mount and go," said Charlie, "and if you ever show face here
again, except as friends, your blood be on your own heads!"

Crux did not hesitate.  He and his men saw that the game was up; without
another word they mounted their horses and galloped away.

While this scene was being enacted a dark creature, with darker designs,
entered the drinking saloon and descended to the cellar.  Finding a
spirit-cask with a tap in it, Buttercup turned it on, then, pulling a
match-box out of her pocket she muttered, "I t'ink de hospitals won't
git much ob it!" and applied a light.  The effect was more powerful than
she had expected.  The spirit blazed up with sudden fury, singeing off
the girl's eyebrows and lashes, and almost blinding her.  In her alarm
Buttercup dashed up to the saloon, missed her way, and found herself on
the stair leading to the upper floor.  A cloud of smoke and fire forced
her to rush up.  She went to the window and yelled, on observing that it
was far too high to leap.  She rushed to another window and howled in
horror, for escape was apparently impossible.

Charlie heard the howl.  He and his men had retired to a safe distance
when the fire was first observed--thinking the place empty--but the howl
touched a chord in our hero's sympathetic breast, which was ever ready
to vibrate.  From whom the howl proceeded mattered little or nothing to
Charlie Brooke.  Sufficient that it was the cry of a living being in
distress.  He sprang at once through the open doorway of the saloon,
through which was issuing a volume of thick smoke, mingled with flame.

"God help him! the place'll blow up in a few minutes," cried Hunky Ben,
losing, for once, his imperturbable coolness, and rushing wildly after
his friend.  But at that moment the thick smoke burst into fierce flame
and drove him back.

Charlie sprang up the staircase three steps at a time, holding his
breath to avoid suffocation.  He reached the landing, where Buttercup
ran, or, rather, fell, almost fainting, into his arms.  At the moment an
explosion in the cellar shook the building to its foundation, and,
shattering one of the windows, caused a draught of air to drive aside
the smoke.  Charlie gasped a mouthful of air and looked round.  Flames
were by that time roaring up the only staircase.  A glance from the
nearest window showed that a leap thence meant broken limbs, if not
death, to both.  A ladder up to a trap-door suggested an exit by the
roof.  It might only lead to a more terrible leap, but meanwhile it
offered relief from imminent suffocation.  Charlie bore the half-dead
girl to the top rung, and found the trap-door padlocked, but a thrust
from his powerful shoulder wrenched hasp and padlock from their hold,
and next moment a wild cheer greeted him as he stood on a corner of the
gable.  But a depth of forty or fifty feet was below him with nothing to
break his fall to the hard earth.

"Jump!" yelled one of the onlookers.  "No, don't!" cried another,
"you'll be killed."

"Hold your noise," roared Hunky Ben, "and lend a hand here--sharp!--the
house'll blow up in a minute."

He ran as he spoke towards a cart which was partly filled with hay.
Seizing the trams he raised them.  Willing hands helped, and the cart
was run violently up against the gable--Hunky shouting to some of the
men to fetch more hay.

But there was no time for that.  Another explosion took place inside the
building, which Charlie knew must have driven in the sides of more casks
and let loose fresh fuel.  A terrible roar, followed by ominous cracking
of the roof, warned him that there was no time to lose.  He looked
steadily at the cart for a moment and leaped.  His friends held their
breath as the pair descended.  The hay would not have sufficed to break
the fall sufficiently, but happily the cart was an old one.  When they
came down on it like a thunderbolt, the bottom gave way.  Crashing
through it the pair came to the ground, heavily indeed, but uninjured!

The fall, which almost stunned our hero, had the curious effect of
reviving Buttercup, for she muttered something to the effect that, "dat
was a mos' drefful smash," as they conveyed her and her rescuer from the
vicinity of danger.

This had scarcely been done when the house blew up--its walls were
driven outwards, its roof was blown off, its bottles were shattered, all
its baleful contents were scattered around, and, amid an appropriate
hurricane of blue fire, that drinking and gambling saloon was blown to
atoms.

Would that a like fate might overtake every similar establishment in the
world!

This was the first and last attempt to disturb the peace of Sweetwater
Bluff.  It is said, indeed, that Crux and some of his men did, long
afterwards, make their appearance in that happy and flourishing town,
but they came as reformed men, not as foes--men who had found out that
in very truth sobriety tends to felicity, that honesty is the best
policy, and that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

THE END.





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