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´╗┐Title: The Boy Chums in the Forest - or Hunting for Plume Birds in the Florida Everglades
Author: Ely, Wilmer M. (Wilmer Mateo)
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 "The Boy Chums in the Forest - or Hunting for Plume Birds in the Florida Everglades" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration: Cover art]



[Frontispiece: "Now, we are in for it," said Charlie, as he found a
seat in the fork of a limb.  Page 229.]



The Boy Chums

In the Forest


OR

Hunting for Plume Birds in the Florida Everglades


BY WILMER M. ELY



  Author of "The Boy Chums on Indian River," "The Boy
  Chums on Haunted Island," "The Boy Chums'
  Perilous Cruise," "The Boy Chums in the
  Gulf of Mexico."



[Illustration: Title page art]



A. L. BURT COMPANY

NEW YORK



Copyright 1910

BY A. L. BURT COMPANY

Under the Title of The Young Plume Hunters

THE BOY CHUMS IN THE FOREST



CONTENTS


CHAPTER

      I.  [Transcriber's note: no title]
     II.  ON THE WAY
    III.  WOODCRAFT
     IV.  A LESSON
      V.  THE 'GATOR HUNTERS
     VI.  SOME SURPRISES
    VII.  THE QUAGMIRE
   VIII.  THE BATTLE
     IX.  THE BEES AND THE BEAR
      X.  SHOOTING A THIEF
     XI.  THE PAWPAWS
    XII.  CHARLEY'S MISTAKE
   XIII.  THE BATTLE
    XIV.  THE VICTIMS
     XV.  A FLAG OF TRUCE
    XVI.  THE RETREAT
   XVII.  THE FLIGHT BY NIGHT
  XVIII.  CAPTURED
    XIX.  THE SWAMP
     XX.  SAVED
    XXI.  THE TREASURE
   XXII.  DISAPPOINTMENT
  XXIII.  MORE MYSTERY
   XXIV.  MORE SURPRISES
    XXV.  THE CHAPEL
   XXVI.  PREPARATIONS
  XXVII.  A TERRIBLE NIGHT
 XXVIII.  PREPARATIONS
   XXIX.  THE ENEMY
    XXX.  THE ATTACK
   XXXI.  THE PARLEY
  XXXII.  HELP
 XXXIII.  THE SEMINOLES
  XXXIV.  THE RETURN



THE BOY CHUMS IN THE FOREST

OR

Hunting for Plume Birds in the Florida Everglades.


CHAPTER I.

Night had fallen upon a wild Florida forest, and all was still save for
the hooting of a distant owl and the occasional plaintive call of a
whip-poor-will.  In a little clearing by the side of a faint
bridle-path a huge fire of fat pine knots roared and crackled, lighting
up the small cleared space and throwing its flickering rays in amongst
the dark, gloomy pines.

At the edge of the clearing, two wiry little Florida ponies, tethered
with rawhide ropes, browsed upon the short, dry wire-grass.

Nearer to the fire lay a neatly done-up pack, and beside it a
high-pommeled Mexican saddle, while the firelight gleamed on the
polished barrels of a fine shotgun and rifle leaning against the pack.

Close to the blaze a heap of glowing coals had been raked a little to
one side, and upon them rested a coffee-pot and large frying-pan from
which stole forth appetizing odors of steaming coffee and frying bacon.

The man bending over the coals was heavily bearded and past middle age,
but his broad shoulders and huge frame still gave evidence of great
strength and endurance.  There was about him an air of anxious
expectancy, and from time to time he rose from his crouching position
and with hand to ear listened intently.

"I sort o' wonder if they'll all fail me," he muttered, as he removed
the frying-pan from the coals but set it near enough to keep the
contents hot.

As if in answer to his soliloquy, there rose above the crackling of the
fire, the muffled distant thud of galloping hoofs.  A few moments later
a well-built, sturdy lad astride a mettlesome pony dashed into the
circle of firelight.

Throwing the reins over the pony's head, the rider leaped from the
saddle and with a rush had the elderly man clasped in his arms in an
affectionate hug.

"Captain Westfield!" he shouted in boyish delight.

"Charley West," cried the man, "glad to see you, lad, glad to see you.
My! you have grown.  How are you, boy?"

"Fine, Captain, couldn't be better.  But wait 'till I 'tend to my pony,
and we will have a good, long powwow."

With sure swift movements, the newcomer removed saddle, pack, and guns,
and staked his pony out near the others.  This done he returned to the
fire.

"What's in the wind?" he began, firing in the questions with the speed
of a Maxim.  "Something worth while, judging from that mysterious
letter of yours.  What is the scheme?  Why this secret meeting in the
forest instead of in town?  Why"--but the man he called captain
interrupted him with a chuckle.

"Hold a minute, lad.  Just bowse your jib for a bit.  You must be
hungry, boy."

"Starved as a wolf.  I could even eat a razorback, if I didn't have to
see it before it was cooked."

The captain forked out a quantity of crisp bacon upon a tin plate and
filled a big granite cup with fragrant coffee, for Charlie West, and
from his saddle-bags brought out a bag of hardtack.  Helping himself
also, both fell to with a will.

"What were you doin' when you got my letter, Charley?" asked the
captain between mouthfuls.

"Nothing, just kicking myself and brooding away in the city."  The
lad's bright, clear eyes looked frankly into the captain's as he
continued.  "I have been making a fool of myself, Captain.  Got into
some mischief with a crowd of fellows at school.  Of course, I got
caught and had to bear the whole blame for the silly joke we had
played.  The faculty has suspended me for a term.  I would have got off
with only a reprimand if I would have told the names of the other
fellows, but I couldn't do that, you know."

"No," nodded the captain, approvingly, "that would have been sneakish.
But how are you fixed for money, Charley?"

The lad's face fell.  "I spent it at first as though there was no end
to my little pile," he said.  "I had pulled up when your letter came,
but I only had enough left to pay my way back to Florida, buy this
pony, and the outfit you suggested.  There's nothing left.  The fellows
tried to get me to stay and work in the city until the next school term
opens, but I told them, no! that I was going back to the best friend a
boy ever had, back to the man who had been just as good as a father to
me ever since my own folks died and left me a young boy alone in
Florida.  I told them of some of the adventures we had been through
together, and what dandy chums we've been for such a long time."

"You told them city fellows all that?" exclaimed the delighted captain,
"you talked to 'em like that, Charley?"

"Certainly, it was only the truth," said the lad, stoutly.  "But it is
your turn now, Captain.  I am wild with curiosity."

"Lay to for a while, lad; I am expectin' another member for our crew
any time now, and it's no use spinnin' the same yarn twice."

Charley's open face clouded a trifle, and he hesitated before he said,
"I am not questioning your judgment, Captain, but you and I have camped
out enough to know that a good camp-mate is about the scarcest article
to be found.  If we take in a stranger on this trip, which I surmise
from the outfits is going to be a long one, the chances are more than
even that he will turn out a quitter or a shirker."

The captain knocked the ashes from his pipe as he inquired, "Now who
would you select for a third member, Charley?"

"I do not know anyone in Florida I would want to take a chance on for a
long trip.  I only know two fellows I would like to have along, and we
can't get them.  One is Walter Hazard, the Ohio boy who chummed with us
down here for so long.  The other is that little Bahama darky, Chris,
whom Walter insisted on taking back north with him and putting in a
school.  There wasn't a yellow streak in either one, and Chris was a
wonderful camp-fire cook."

"I wrote to Walt two days afore I wrote to you," observed the captain,
calmly.

Charley stared at the simple old sailor in frank amazement.  "You
surely don't imagine he'll drop whatever he is doing and travel a
thousand miles just for a trip with you and I?" he at last recovered
himself enough to demand.

The captain nodded complacently.  "I've sort of got a feelin' that way,
an' if I ain't mistaken, them's his pony's hoofs comin' now--someway
they sound different from what yours did, though."

Both adventurers rose to their feet and stood eagerly peering into the
darkness from which there came the thud of rapidly approaching hoofs.

A moment later and two ponies were reined up in the circle of
fire-light.  As Charley recognized one less robust than himself, he
gave a shout of delight and with a rush dragged him from his saddle in
an affectionate embrace, while the captain, his eyes dancing with
pleasure, was wringing the hand of a widely-grinning little darky who
had dismounted from the other animal.

"Go easy, Charley," said the newcomer with a happy grin, "you're
squeezing all the wind out of my body, and that is all there is in it
now.  Chris and I had to hustle to make connections and get here on
time.  We haven't had a bite to eat to-day."

"Walter Hazard, you are the one person I would have picked out for this
trip," Charley cried joyfully, "and Chris, too, it seems almost too
good to be true.  But come over to the fire, and we will cure that
empty feeling in a minute.  The captain is helping Chris put the ponies
up."

Charley quickly routed out a clean plate, and heaped it up with bacon
and hardtack, reserving, however, a generous portion for Chris.

"Fall to and don't wait," he commanded, and Walter lingered for no
second bidding.

In a few minutes they were joined by the captain and the little negro,
who was quickly helped to the balance of the bacon and coffee.

As the two munched away, the captain and Charley plied them with
questions which the hungry newcomers answered between mouthfuls.

"How was you gettin' along when that thar letter of mine reached you,
Walt," asked the captain, gravely.

"Good and bad both," said the youth, draining his cup with a sigh of
satisfaction.  "Some time before I had bought up the mortgage on the
farm without saying a word to father or mother.  I was selfish, I
guess, but I wanted the pleasure of their surprise."  His eyes sparkled
moistly.  "My! it was great.  It was worth every cent, although it took
nearly every dollar of my little pile.  You had ought to have been up
there to see them the morning the mortgage fell due.  Their faces were
sad, enough to have made you cry.  Thirty years they had worked and
lived on that farm, and I guess there is no spot on earth quite the
same to them.  When mother lifted up her plate and saw the canceled
mortgage underneath, it was some time before she grasped its meaning,
and then she just broke down and cried.  There were tears of joy in
father's eyes, too, and I began to feel a lump in my throat, so I just
got up and streaked it out for the barn, where I stayed until things
calmed down a bit.  But I am making a long story out of how my money
went.  I went to work in a store after that, but it wasn't long before
I began to run down and the doctor would have long talks with father
and mother.  Then your letter came, and--well, here I am."

"And Chris, how did he happen to come?" inquired Charley.

"Trace chains couldn't have held him back when he heard I was coming
back to join you.  They wouldn't give him a vacation, but they would
not keep him in the school after he began to have regular violent
fits," said Walter, dryly.

"Fits," exclaimed Charley, with a glance at the grinning ebony face,
the very picture of health.  "He never had a real fit in his life."

"Maybe not, Massa Charley," admitted the vain little darky, "but,
golly, I couldn't let you chillens go off alone widout Chris to look
after you.  Dey was powerful like real fits, anyway.  I used to get
berry sick, too, chewin' up de soap to make de foam.  Reckon dis nigger
made a martyr of hisself just to come along and look out for you-alls."

Charley turned to the captain to hide his grin.  "It's your turn now,
Captain.  We've all showed our colors, even to Chris.  It's up to you
now to explain this business."

The captain knocked the ashes from the bowl of his pipe before
remarking sagely, "I've noticed as how fish will bite at a good many
kinds of bait, but if you want to make sartin sho' of a boy, thar's
only one bait to use, and that's a good big chunk of mystery."

He glanced around at the suddenly crestfallen faces about him, and
hastened to continue, "Don't look so down, lads.  I ain't brought all
of you so fer just for a joke.  I just wanted to make sure of you and I
didn't want the town people nosin' around and askin' questions, that's
why I named this meetin' place."

The three faces brightened again.  "Go on, Captain, come to the point,"
urged Walter, eagerly.

But the captain was enjoying their suspense, and with a twinkle in his
eye proceeded slowly, "I was sort of loafin' around town one day about
two weeks ago when I come across a Seminole, who, I reckon, had been
sent in by his squaw to trade for red calico and beads," he paused for
a moment and Charley exclaimed impatiently--

"Bother the Indian, we are not bound for the Everglades to fight them,
are we?"

"He was about the drunkest brave I ever saw," continued the captain,
calmly ignoring the interruption.  "When I came across him he was
sittin' on the end of a waterin' trough declaimin' what a great Injun
he was, givin' war-whoops, an' cryin' by turns.  One of his remarks
sorter interested me and I didn't lose no time in makin' friends.
Lads, I couldn't have stuck no closer to that redskin if he had been my
long lost brother.  I kept him away from other folks, an' by an' by I
tipped him into the waterin' trough, kinder accident-like.  The water
sorter sobered him up a little an' pretty soon he began to want to hit
the trail for home.  I helped him out of town an' started him back for
camp, where, I reckon, his old lady was waitin' to give him fits for
forgettin' the calico and beads."  The captain paused as if his tale
was completed.

"For goodness' sake, Captain, what has your drunken Indian got to do
with us?" demanded Charley, his patience at an end.

The captain lowered his voice dramatically.  "Lads, that Seminole was
carryin' around on him over five hundred dollars' worth of white and
pink aigret plumes."

"Whew!" whistled the boys, half incredulously.

"Yes," affirmed the captain, "an' I found out where he got them, too.
He let out that he bagged them all out by the Upper St. John's River,
due west of here.  He declared the birds were as thick as the stars at
night, but I reckon some allowance has to be made for poetic license
and the red liquor he had in him."

Three boyish faces were shining, now, and questions and answers mingled
in eager confusion.

"How far is it to the river?"

"Two long days' travel."

"What kind of birds bear the plumes?"

"The blue heron, and the pink and white egret."

"What are the plumes worth?"

"Five dollars an ounce for perfect ones."

"Whew, it will be just like finding money."

Likely the eager young hunters would have talked the entire night away,
but the captain soon interrupted their flow of questions.

"Plenty of time to talk to-morrow, lads.  Get to bed now, for we want
to start at daybreak."

The boys promptly obeyed.  Blankets were spread out near the fire, and
with their saddles for pillows the little party were soon in the land
of dreams, blissfully unaware of the terrible experiences through which
they were soon to pass.



CHAPTER II.

ON THE WAY.

It seemed to the boys that they had only just fallen asleep when a
crash like that of mighty thunder brought them startled out of the land
of dreams.  Instinctively both reached for their belts and pistols,
which they had placed close to their hands on retiring.  There was no
need for their use, however, for the author of the deafening racket was
only Chris who, with a grin on his face, was beating on a tin-pan close
to their heads.

"You little imp, I thought it was an earthquake," cried Charley as he
hurled a shoe at the little darky, who dodged it nimbly.

"Just couldn't wake you no other way," grinned Chris.  "Time to get up,
Massas, daylight dun come."

The sky in the east was glowing rosy-red, and the boys lost no time in
slipping into their outer clothes and strapping on their pistol belts,
which completed their attire.

The captain was already astir, busily engaged in strapping the packs on
the animals, while, early as it was, Chris had breakfast ready.

"I tell you what it is," declared Charley, while munching his hardtack
and bacon, "we'll soon tire of this fare.  We must get some fresh meat
very soon."

"A wild turkey roasted over the coals would go pretty well," suggested
Walter.

"Deer foah dis nigger," declared Chris, "you-alls just ought to taste
de venison steaks when I dun broil 'em."

"I like bear steaks, sizzling brown," said Charley, thoughtfully.

"Oh, keep still, you gluttons," laughed the captain.  "We ain't likely
to get any of those things unless we stop and have a regular hunt, an'
I don't like to take the time for it.  Maybe we'll pick up somethin' or
other on our way.  But now hurry up, boys, it's time we were startin'."

After taking the precaution to cover their fire with sand, all were
soon in the saddle, and with Charley in the lead, took up the trail
just as the sun rose above the distant tree-tops.

After half an hour's riding, Charley reined in his pony.  "Trail's come
to an end," he announced.

"Good!" cried Walter, with all of a boy's delight in the unknown, "that
means we are getting beyond the range of hunters.  Hurrah for the land
beyond."

The captain produced a small compass and handed it to Charley.  "Steer
due west as near as you can," he directed.

Then followed hours of twisting and winding in and out amongst the big
trees, now headed one way, now another, but keeping the general
westerly direction.  All hands kept their guns ready, but, although
they saw evidences of big game on every hand, the noise of their
advance must have frightened the wild creatures to their hiding-places
long before our hunters came in sight.

As the party advanced the forest grew denser, the trees closer
together.  At last, when they began to fear that further progress would
be impossible, they burst suddenly into a stretch of open country
extending as far as the eye could see.

"Isn't it great!" exclaimed Walter; "just look at those pretty little
lakes, you can see one no matter in what direction you look."

"It is pretty," agreed Charley, "but I am thinking more of dinner than
scenery.  I suppose it has got to be bacon and hardtack again.  I'm--"
but Charley did not finish the sentence.  His pony had put its foot in
a hole and stumbled, while Charley, taken unawares, pitched over the
animal's head and landed on all fours in a little heap of sand beside
the hole that had caused the mischief.  To the surprise of his
companions, he did not rise, but remained in the position in which he
had fallen, staring at the hole.

"Are you hurt, Charley?" cried the captain, anxiously.

"Not a bit," grinned Charley as he regained a sitting position on the
sand-heap.  "I'm just holding down our dinner," he added calmly.  "Get
off, gents, and help me finish the job."

"Now, Chris," he directed, when they had dismounted, "do you see that
tall slender sapling over there?  It's just the thing I want.  Please
take the axe and get it for me, and don't cut off all the limbs."

Chris obeyed with alacrity, for experience had taught him that Charley
never made useless demands.  In a few minutes he was back dragging the
sapling after him.

With a few strokes of the axe, Charley lopped off all the branches save
one close to the small end of the trunk.  This one he cut off so as to
leave a projecting stub of about four inches, thus making of the end of
his sapling a sort of rude harpoon.

His companions looked on with curiosity, but asked no questions, for
they knew their chum delighted in surprises.

The pole finished, Charley poked the barbed end down into the hole.
Down, down it went, fifteen, twenty feet, then struck with a dull thud.
He began twisting the sapling over and over, then drew it slowly and
gently up, but the end came into view with nothing adhering to it.
Again and again was the fruitless operation repeated, and a look of
disappointment had begun to settle on Charley's face when at last his
harpoon came into view with a dark mass clinging to it.

"A turtle," exclaimed Walter in delight.

"No, a gopher, but I'll admit it is a kind of land turtle, although it
feeds entirely on grass and never goes near the water," explained
Charley, proud of his capture.  "Chris, ride on to that first little
lake yonder and get a fire started.  We'll be there in a few minutes."

Charley fastened a buckskin thong to one of the gopher's flippers and
hung it from his saddle-horn, then all remounted and turned their
ponies toward the place where Chris had disappeared among the trees
fringing the lake.

They had covered part of the distance when there came a yell and Chris'
pony broke from the trees and bore down upon them at a run.  The little
darky was clinging to its back, his face ashen and his eyes bulging
with terror.

"Go back, Massas," he shouted, "hit's a lake of blood, hit's a lake of
blood!"

Walter grabbed the flying pony's rein and brought the animal to a halt.
"Nonsense," he said, roughly, "you're crazy, Chris.  Come on all, let's
see what's scared him so."  He spurred forward followed by the others
and still retaining his hold upon the bridle of Chris' pony, in spite
of the little darky's chattering, "Let me go, Massa Walt.  Please let
me go."

In a few moments the little party entered the fringe of timber and
reined in their horses on the shore of the tiny lake.  For a moment
they sat speechless in their saddles, and truly there was in the sight
excuse for Chris' chattering teeth.  The little wavelets which broke at
their feet were the color of blood, while the lake itself lay like a
giant ruby in its setting of green; glistening and sparkling in the
sun's bright rays.

Charley dismounted from his horse and from his saddle-bags produced a
small medicine glass, which he filled with the liquid and held up to
the light.  The fluid sparkled clear as crystal and of a beautiful
crimson hue.

"It beats me," he announced, "I thought it might be the bottom gave it
that color, but whatever it is, it is in the water itself."

Walter wheeled his horse and studied the encircling trees carefully.
"I've got it," he announced, "do you notice all these trees are of one
kind?"

"You're right," Charley exclaimed, "they are all red bays.  It's their
roots that color the water."

The boys turned to chaff Chris, but he had slipped away at the first
words of the explanation.  Soon he reappeared with an armful of dry
wood.  His face was still ashen, but his teeth had stopped chattering.

"Golly," he exclaimed, pompously, "reckon dis nigger had you-alls scart
dis time.  Dis nigger shore had de joke on you dis time."

The boys glanced at each other and grinned.  "I wouldn't try it again,
Chris," Charley chuckled; "you might throw a fit next time, you act so
real."

While Chris was making a fire and preparing a bed of coals, Charley
cleaned the gopher.

This animal is very much like a turtle, but the tissue which unites the
upper and lower shells is so hardened as to be impervious to a knife.
Charley solved the problem by wedging it in the fork of a fallen tree,
and after two or three attempts he succeeded in separating the shells
with an axe.

"Let me finish hit, Massa Charley," pleaded Chris; "dis nigger knows
just how to fix him now you got him open."

Charley was nothing loath to turn over the disagreeable task of
cleaning to the little darky, who swiftly completed it.  He removed the
meat from the shell, skinned the edible portions, and threw the offal
far from the fire.  Next he washed both meat and shells carefully,
salted and peppered the meat, and replaced it in the shell, laying on
top of it a few thin slices of pork.  Then, he bound both shells
tightly together with wisps of green palmetto leaves.  Lastly, he
wrapped another green leaf around the shell and buried it in the bed of
glowing coals now ready.

"That's a new idea," grinned Walter, "making your game supply its own
cooking-pot.  My! but it smells good, though."

In a very short time, Chris pronounced the gopher done and it was
lifted from the coals and the shells cut apart revealing the steaming,
juicy meat within.

Our hungry party pronounced the meat far sweeter and more tender than
chicken, and the empty shells soon bore evidence to their sincerity.

After a brief rest, they mounted and again took up the trail, soon
leaving behind their halting-place, which the boys named Lake
Christopher, much to the vain little darky's chagrin.  He had a shrewd
suspicion that he would not hear the last of his fright for many a day.



CHAPTER III.

WOODCRAFT.

For a while the little party rode forward in silence, winding in and
out between pretty lakes and bunches of timber, with no path to guide
them, but with the help of the compass, managing to edge slowly to the
west.  Charley still maintained the lead, but in the open country
through which they were traveling it was possible to ride abreast, and
Walter soon spurred up beside his chum.

"Do you know, Charley, I begin to feel like a babe in the woods," he
confessed.  "I suspect you are the only one of us who knows anything
about woodcraft.  I know nothing about it, I am sure Chris doesn't, and
I suspect the captain is far more at home reefing a top-sail.  You have
got to be our guide and leader, I guess."

"I have hunted a good deal, and a fellow can't help but learn a few
things if he is long in the woods," said Charley, modestly, "but I've
never been so far into the interior before.  I wish, Walt," he
continued gravely, "that there was someone along with us that knew the
country we are going to better than I, or else that we were safely back
in town once more."

"Why?" demanded Walter in astonishment.

"I dread the responsibility, and," lowering his voice so the others
could not hear, "I have seen something I do not like."

"What?" queried his chum, eagerly.

Charley produced a square plug of black chewing tobacco from his
pocket.  "I picked that up in the edge of the clearing this morning,"
he explained.  "It wasn't even damp, so it must have been dropped after
the dew settled last night."

"Some lone hunter passed by in the night," suggested Walter, cheerfully.

"I wish I could think so," said Charley anxiously.  "But you know as
well as I that there are some gangs of lawless men in Florida, gathered
from all quarters of the globe, and, Walter," lowering his voice to a
whisper, "I saw signs that there was more than one man near our camp
last night."

"What kind of signs?" his chum demanded.

"Broken bushes, the marks of horses' hoofs, and a dozen other little
things of no importance when considered separately."

"A fig for your signs, you old croaker," laughed Walter, "you'll be
seeing ghosts next.  I didn't see any of the signs you talk about.
Besides, if anyone had wished to do us harm they could have done so
without hindrance last night."

"I know it," Charley admitted, "and that's what puzzles me.  As for the
signs, your not noticing them proves nothing.  It's the little things
that make up the science of woodcraft.  The little things that one does
not usually notice."

"My eyes are pretty good, and I don't go around with them shut all the
time," began Walter hotly, but Charley only smiled.

"Look around and tell me what you see, Walt," he requested.

"A flat, level country, covered with saw palmetto, dotted with pretty
little lakes, what looks like a couple of acres of prairie ahead, and,
oh yes, a lot of gopher holes all around us like the one you robbed
this morning."

"We'll begin with the gopher holes," Charley said with a smile.  "Tell
me what is in each hole as we pass it."

"Why, gophers, I suppose."

Charley reined in his horse before four large holes and pointed at them
with his riding-whip.  "Gopher in that one," he declared without
hesitation.  "Mr. Gopher is away from the next one, out getting his
dinner likely; a coon lives in the next, but he is away from home.
Rattlesnake, and a big one, lives in the fourth, but he is also away
from home, I am glad to say."

Chris and the captain had ridden up to the boys, and they with Walter,
stood staring at Charley in silent wonder.

"It's easy to see," explained the young woodsman.  "When a gopher goes
down his hole, he simply draws in his flippers and slides, but when he
wants to get out he has to claw his way up.  You'll see the first hole
has the sand pressed smooth at the entrance, while the sand in the
other hole shows the mark of the flippers.  That third hole is easy,
too; you can see the coon tracks if you look close, and you will notice
that the claws point outward.  The last hole is equally simple, you can
see the trail of the snake's body in the soft sand and those little
spots here and there made by his rattles show which way he was
traveling."

The captain brought his hand down on his knee with a hard slap.  "I
reckon I can handle any ship that was ever built," he said, "but I'm a
lubber on land, boys.  Charley's our pilot from now on, an' we must
mind him, lads, like a ship minds her helm."

"If I'm going to be pilot, I'll make you all captains on the spot,"
laughed Charley, as he spurred forward again into the lead.

"Do those wonderful eyes see anything more?" mocked Walter, as he once
more ranged alongside.

"Don't make fun of me, Walt," said his chum, seriously.  "What I have
done is nothing.  It's just noting little things and putting two and
two together.  You can easily do the same if you will train yourself to
observe things closely."

"Do you really think I could?" asked Walter, eagerly.

"Certainly you can, and now for the first lesson.  Look closely at all
the bushes as we pass them and see if you notice anything out of the
way."

They rode on in silence for a few minutes, Walter scanning the scrub in
passing with a puzzled expression growing upon his face.

"Well, what do you make of it?" Charley asked.

"I don't know what to make of it," Walter confessed.  "Every few
hundred feet there are branches partly broken off and left hanging.
Queer, isn't it?"

"Look closer and see if you can notice anything peculiar about those
branches."

"They haven't been broken off very long, for they are not very much
withered.  I should say it was done about ten days ago."

"Good," exclaimed Charley, approvingly, "notice anything else?"

"Yes," declared Walter, his wits sharpening by his success, "although
those boughs seem to be broken accidentally, yet all are caught in
amongst other twigs so that each one points in the same direction--the
way we are going.  What does it mean, Charley, if it means anything?"

"My color is wrong to tell you all that those broken branches mean, but
I can tell you a little.  About ten days ago a party of Indians passed
through this way bound in the same direction we are.  They expected
another party of their people to follow later so they marked the way
for them as you have seen.  If I were a Seminole, I could tell from
those broken twigs the number of the first party, whither they were
bound, what was the object of their journey, and a dozen other things
hidden from me on account of my ignorance of their sign language."

"Indians, Seminoles," said Walter, bewildered, "I had almost forgotten
there were any in the state."

"There isn't, legally.  Years ago the United States rounded them all up
and started to transport them out west to a reservation.  But at St.
Augustine a few hundred made their escape and fled back to the
Everglades, where they have lived ever since without help or
protection, and ignored by the United States government."

"What kind of a race are they?" asked Walter, curiously.

"The finest race of savages I ever saw," declared Charley, warmly;
"tall, splendidly-built, cleanly, honest, and with the manners of
gentlemen--look out!" he shouted, warningly.

Walter's horse had reared back upon his haunches with a snort of
terror.  Walter, though taken by surprise, was a good horseman, and
slipped from the saddle to avoid being crushed by a fall.

A few feet in front of the frightened pony lay coiled a gigantic
rattlesnake, its ugly head and tail raised and its rattles singing
ominously.  Two more steps and the pony would have been upon it.

"Don't shoot," pleaded Walter as Charley drew his revolver.  "I know
where I can sell that skin for $25.00, if there's no holes in it."

"Let me shoot it, Walt," pleaded Charley, anxiously, "they're awfully
dangerous."

"Aye, lad," seconded the captain, who, with Chris, had reached the
spot, "better let him shoot it, those things are too dangerous to take
chances with."

But Walter's obstinacy was roused.  "Keep back, I'll fix him," he
declared confidently.  "I'm going to have that skin and that $25.00."

Breaking off a dead bough from a scrub oak he approached the snake
cautiously while the rest sat in their saddles silently anxious, and
Charley edged his restive pony a little closer to the repulsive reptile.

Slowly Walter moved forward, his gaze fixed intently upon the slowly
waving head before him with its glistening little diamond eyes.  Nearer
and nearer he crept till only a few feet separated him from that
venomous head with its malignant unwinking eyes.

"Strike, boy, strike, you're getting too close," shouted the captain.

"Oh, golly," shrieked Chris, "look at him, look at him."

Walter had stopped as though frozen in his tracks.  His face had gone
deathly pale, and great drops of sweat stood on his forehead.  The hand
that held the stick unclasped, and it rattled unheeded to the ground.

"He's charmed," cried the captain.

"Jump to one side, Walt, jump," Charley shouted, "for God's sake, jump.
It's going to strike."



CHAPTER IV.

A LESSON.

The reptile's swaying head had drawn back and the huge snake launched
itself forward from its coils straight for the dazed lad only a few
feet in front of it.

Quick as was its spring, Charley was quicker.  He dug his spur cruelly
into his little pony's flank.  With a neigh of pain the animal leaped
forward.  For a moment there was a tangle of striking hoofs and
wriggling coils of the foiled reptile, while Charley leaning over in
his saddle struck with the butt-end of his riding whip at the writhing
coils.  Though it seemed an eternity to the helpless watchers it was
really only a few seconds ere the pony sprang away from its loathsome
enemy and Charley with difficulty reined him in a few paces away.  The
snake with a broken neck lay lifeless on the ground, while Walter,
sobbing dryly, had sunk into the arms of the captain, who had flung
himself from his horse with surprising agility for a man of his age.

With a glance at the group, Charley dismounted, and petting and
soothing his trembling horse, ran his keen eyes over the animal's legs
and flanks.  From the little pony's left foreleg trickled a tiny stream
of scarlet.

"Bring up the packhorse, quick, Chris," he commanded, with a break in
his usually steady voice.

Quickly he removed pack, saddle and bridle from his mount.  Rapidly as
he worked, he had only just removed the bridle when the pony sank to
its knees, struggled for a moment to rise, then sank slowly to the
ground, where it lay looking up at its master with dumb appealing eyes.

Something welled up in Charley's throat.  He flung himself on the
ground beside his pony and put his arms around its neck.

"Good-bye, Billy," he whispered.  "We haven't known each other long but
I've got mighty fond of you, Billy, and when the time came you didn't
fail me.  You acted like a gentleman, old man."

Poor Billy's legs kicked restlessly to and fro as the tremors went
through him.

With a mist in his eyes, Charley arose and looked down on the faithful
animal.  The wounded leg had already swollen to twice its natural size,
the body was twitching with spasms, and the large brown eyes were
eloquent with pain and suffering.

"I've got to do it, Billy.  It's to save you torture, old fellow, just
to save you useless suffering, Billy."  He drew his pistol from his
belt, took careful aim just behind the pony's ear, and, turning his
head away, pulled the trigger.

With never a backward glance at the still form, he strode over to the
pack pony and removing the pack transferred his own saddle to the
animal.

The pack was quickly broken up into smaller packages and distributed
equally amongst the party, and soon all were moving forward again on
their westerly course.

It was a still, white, and shaken Walter who once more rode beside his
silent chum.

"You saved my life, Charley, and it's a poor return to merely thank
you," he said earnestly.

"Don't say anything about it," protested Charley, cheerfully.  "The
shoe may be on the other foot next time, and I know you will do the
same for me then."

But Walter had not finished.  "I want to say," he continued, "that you
are the only one of us qualified to lead this party.  Hereafter, what
you say goes with me.  I know it will with Captain Westfield too."

"There's Chris," said Charley with a smile.  "I fear he will have to
have his little lesson before he gets in that frame of mind.  Walt," he
continued earnestly, "I do not want the responsibility but I am not
going to shirk it now that it is thrust upon me.  Frankly, though, I
can't help wishing that this trip was over and we were safe back in
town once more."

"Thinking about our visitors of the other night!" Walter inquired.

Charley nodded.  "If they meant any good to us, why did they not make
their presence known to us," he reasoned.  "Mark my words, we have not
seen the last of them,--but hush, here comes the captain and Chris,
there is no need to worry them with vague conjectures."

"See that prairie ahead, Charley?" asked the captain.  "Chris says
there's a big bird in the middle of it, but I can't see anything but
grass."

The party was now only a few hundred yards from the small prairie-like
patch.  Charley rose in his stirrups and scanned it carefully.

"Chris is right," he said.  "It's a big sand-hill crane."

"Good to eat, Massa Charley?" demanded the little darky, eagerly.

"I have eaten some that were equal to the finest turkey."

"Dat settles it," Chris shouted.  "Golly, I reckon dis nigger goin' to
show you chillens how to shoot some.  My shot, I seed him first."

"Don't shoot, Chris," said Charley, gently, "you can't get it and it
won't be fit to eat if you do."

But Chris' obstinacy and pompous vanity were aroused.  "Tink dis nigger
can't shoot, eh?  You-alls just watch an' Chris will show you chillens
somfin'."

Charley said nothing more but his mouth set in a grim line.  "Time for
his lesson," he murmured to Walter.

Chris waited until they had come within a hundred yards of the crane
when he unslung his rifle and dismounted while the others reined in to
watch the outcome.

The little darky rested his gun on his saddle and took careful aim.
The crack of his rifle was followed by a hoarse squawk and the tall
bird tumbled over lifeless.

Chris danced with delight.  "I got 'em, I'se got 'em," he cried.  Like
a flash he was on his pony and galloping towards the dead bird.

"Come back, Chris," shouted Charley, but the little darky galloped on
unheeding.

And now the rest of the party beheld a curious thing.  Chris' pony had
reached the edge of the grass and had stopped so suddenly as to nearly
throw its rider over its head.  In vain did the little negro apply whip
and spur.  Not a step further would the animal budge.  They saw Chris
at last throw the reins over the pony's head and leaping from his
saddle plunge into the grass.  Only the top of his head was visible but
they could trace his progress by that and it was very, very slow.  At
last he reached the crane and slinging it over his shoulder began to
retrace his footsteps.  His return was infinitely slow, but at last he
regained his pony and dragging himself and his burden into the saddle
headed back towards the group of curious watchers.  As he drew nearer
they stared in silent amazement.  He was wet from head to foot, his
clothing was in tatters, and the blood flowed freely from a hundred
cuts on face, hands and arms.

He rode up to Charley with a sickly smile.  "I got 'em, Massa Charley,"
he boasted weakly.

Without a word Charley reached over and took the crane from him.
Stripping away the feathers, he exposed the body of the great bird and
held it up to view.  The captain and Walter gave an exclamation of
disgust.  The body was merely a framework of bones with the skin
hanging loosely from it.

"It's their moulting season," he explained simply.

"Why you doan tell me dat place full of water, dat grass cut like
knife, an' dat ole mister crane wasn't no good nohow," Chris demanded,
hotly.

Charley gazed at the pathetic, wretched, little figure and his
conscience smote him.

"I told you not to go, Chris," he said gently, "but you would do it.
This time there was plenty of time to explain to you that what you
thought was merely a plot of grass was really a saw-grass pond, and
that sand-hill cranes are not fit for use this season of the year; but
suppose that a danger suddenly threatened us.  Is it likely, Chris,
that I would always have time to stop and explain just why I wanted you
to do this or that?"

But Chris was suffering too much pain and humiliation to be soothed by
Charley's explanation.  With a snort of anger he dug the spurs into his
pony's flanks and soon was far ahead of the rest of the party.  In a
few minutes he came tearing back to them, his face shining with
excitement.

"River ahead, river ahead," he shouted.

"It's the St. Johns," declared Captain Westfield, scarcely less
excited.  "There's no other river in these parts."

Although they spurred forward their jaded steeds the animals were so
worn out that it was dusk before they reached the river bank, and they
went into camp immediately.

After the supper was over, Chris approached Charley, who was sitting
apart from the rest, grave, silent, and evidently buried in deepest
thought.  The little darky began awkwardly, "Massa Charley, Massa Cap
say you de leader an' he going to do just what you say widout axin' no
questions, Massa Walt say same ting, an' I guess Chris better say same,
now.  Golly, I jus' reckon dis nigger made a big fool of hisself over
dat bird."

But although he answered Chris lightly and kindly, Charley was not
elated over his unsought leadership.  Vague suspicions were flitting
through his mind, and his new responsibility was weighing heavily upon
his young shoulders.  As the evening wore on he still sat silent,
buried in thought.  The captain was reading aloud from an old newspaper
he had brought along.  Suddenly Charley straightened up, and a swift
glance passed between him and Walter.



CHAPTER V.

THE 'GATOR HUNTERS.

The captain was laboriously spelling out the scare-head articles by the
flickering firelight.

"Desperadoes at large."

"Last night twelve convicts, all of them life prisoners, escaped from
E. B. Richardson's turpentine camp near Turnbull.  The escape was
effected by their overpowering the guards while their supper was being
served them.  One guard was killed and the balance were gagged and tied
up to posts in the barracks.  The revolters stripped their prisoners of
arms, ammunition and what money they had.  Next they broke into the
commissary, taking a large amount of clothing and provisions and
wantonly destroying the rest.  They then made their escape on horses
belonging to the guards.  As soon as their absence was discovered,
bloodhounds were put upon the trail which led towards the interior.
The dogs were soon completely baffled, however, for the fugitives had
evidently taken to water whenever they came near a pond or creek.  This
ruse, as well as the whole uprising, is believed to have been the
headwork of 'Indian Charley,' one of the escaped prisoners, who, it
will be remembered, was drummed out of his tribe and sentenced by the
courts for the murder of a white settler last spring.  Small outlying
settlements will rejoice when this body of hardened desperate men are
once more in the grasp of the law."

"I've got it!" exclaimed Charley, so suddenly that the captain looked
up in mild surprise.

"Got what?" he inquired.

"A pretty bad attack of sleepiness," Charley said with assumed
lightness.  "I feel all done up to-night.  Guess I'll turn in."

But although he was first to turn in, it was along in the wee small
hours of morning before slumber crept in on his tired brain.

He was awakened by Walter shaking him vigorously.

"Get up, you lazy rascal, get up.  The sun is half an hour high, and
breakfast is ready.  Get up and gaze upon the beautiful St. Johns."

"What does it look like?" inquired Charley, sleepily, as he buckled on
his heavy leggins and strapped on his pistol belt.

"For a dismal, wretched, man-forsaken stretch of country it beats
anything I ever saw," Walter exclaimed in disgust.  "The river itself
is about a half mile wide, but it twists, turns, and forks every few
yards so as to puzzle a corporation lawyer.  The shores for half a mile
back from the water are nothing but boggy marsh, with here and there a
wooded island.  Ugh, the sight of it is enough to make a man homesick."

"Not giving out already, Walt," Charley said, cheerfully, as he made
his way through the boggy marsh to the water to wash, followed by his
chum.

"Not much," said Walter grimly, "I for one am not going back
empty-handed after coming so far.  But I'm beginning to realize that
this is not going to be all a pleasure trip.  You noticed the article
that the captain read last evening about the convicts escaping.  Can it
be they are the party you saw signs of?"

"I believe they are," agreed his chum as they turned back towards the
camp where the captain and Chris were patiently waiting breakfast.  "I
may be wrong, but I thought it all over last night and I decided it was
only fair to tell the others what I suspect."

"The captain will want us all to pack right back home," said Walter,
glumly.

His fears proved true, for when Charley related his suspicions over the
frugal breakfast, the captain was visibly worried.

"I'm the cause of leading you into trouble again, boys," he reproached
himself.  "However, I reckon thar ain't nothing to be gained by
regrets.  As soon as we have finished eating, we'll pack up and head
back for the coast."

But Charley opposed the plan of returning decidedly.  "They have had
plenty of chance to kill us off easily on the way here if they had
wanted to," he argued.  "Why they haven't done so puzzles me.  Perhaps
they fear a searching party would be sent after us if we do not return
promptly.  I have a feeling, though, that they are after bigger game,
although I have not the slightest idea what it can be.  Anyway, I am
not going back, now, empty-handed, if there were twice as many
jail-birds at my heels."

"I am with you, Charley," Walter said quickly.

"Me too, Massa," grinned Chris, who was plucky enough when he
understood the nature of the threatened danger.  "Golly, I jest reckon
dis nigger got to stay and look out for you chillens."

The captain, whose only concern had been for the boys, brought his hand
down on his knee earnestly.  "Then I'm with you, lads, till the last
mast carries away.  You're the pilot in these waters, Charley.  What
course shall we steer now, lad?"

"I think," suggested Charley, modestly, "that the first thing is to fix
up a shelter in case of rain.  We must be careful, and if we come into
contact with any of those fellows we must not let them see that we
suspect what they are.  That would cause trouble right away, I am sure."

"Go ahead and give your orders, lad; we will carry them out."

"Then I'll deputize Chris to see if he can't get us some fresh fish,"
said Charley with a smile.

Chris, his face beaming, darted away to his saddlebags after his
fishing-tackle.  If there was one thing the little darky liked above
all others it was fishing, and wherever he might be, his tackle was
never far away.

As soon as he had departed, Charley, accompanied by the others, set
about selecting a site for their permanent camp.

"You see," Charley explained, "we want a place that we can stand a show
of defending if we should be attacked, and at the same time a place
from which we can escape by water if we have to."

They did not have to go far before they found the very place they were
hunting for, a long, narrow, scantily grassed point that penetrated
through the marsh far out into the river.

"It's just the thing," Charley declared.  "We will lead the ponies out
to the end and then fell a few pines across the neck here.  That will
form a kind of a fence and keep them from straying away.  There's grass
enough on the point to keep them busy for a week at least."

Within half an hour the three eager workers had felled enough pines
across the neck of the point to form a kind of rude stockade.  Then
they moved out to the end of the point and began the erection of their
shelter.  It was quite primitive and simple.  Two saplings about twelve
feet apart were selected as the uprights, and to them, about eight feet
from the ground, two poles were lashed securely with buckskin thongs,
the other ends of the pole being imbedded in the ground.  Other smaller
saplings were trimmed and laid across the slanting poles, and on them
were piled layer after layer of fan-like palmetto leaves.  In a short
space of time they had completed a lean-to which would protect them
from any storm they were likely to experience at this season of the
year.

"Have you noticed that, Charley?" inquired Walter, as they placed the
last leaves on the lean-to.  He pointed to a point, similar to their
own, scarce two thousand yards away, from which rose a thick column of
smoke.

"Yes, I've been watching it for some time," Charley said.  "I guess
it's our friends, the convicts.  They are late risers.  Somehow or
other, Walt, I've got what prospectors call a 'hunch' that they are not
after us and will not bother us as long as they think we are ignorant
of their true character."

"I'll never trouble trouble 'till trouble troubles me," hummed Walter,
cheerfully.

"A good motto," said his chum gravely, "but nevertheless it's better
still to be ready for trouble if it does come.  Now we must provide a
means of retreat.  Come, let's open packs one and two, we'll need their
contents soon anyway."

Packs one and two, when opened, revealed bundles of numbered pieces of
tough, thin flexible steel and packages of thick water-proofed canvas.
Under the captain's skilled direction, the steel was quickly framed
together, the canvas stretched over it, and in a short time two canvas
canoes were floating lightly at their painters at the end of the point.

All had been too engrossed in their labors to note the passage of time
until the captain snapped open his old-fashioned silver watch.

"One o'clock," he exclaimed in surprise.

Charley and Walter looked at each other apprehensively.  "What can be
keeping Chris?" Walter cried.

"Maybe he is having good luck and hates to quit," suggested Charley.
"Let's give him a while longer."

But two o'clock came and no Chris appeared.

"Get your guns, boys," commanded the captain.  "We must go hunt him.
Something's the matter."



CHAPTER VI.

SOME SURPRISES.

Loosening their pistols in their holsters, and grabbing up their guns,
the little party struck out in the direction in which Chris had
disappeared.

They were proceeding almost at a run when Charley checked their
headlong speed.

"Let's go slow," he panted, "it may be that the convicts have got him
and we may be running right into an ambush."

He but voiced the fear in the minds of the others, and they slackened
their advance to a slow walk, keeping a cautious eye on every bush or
tree large enough to conceal an enemy.

Trampled marsh grass and broken twigs gave them an easy trail to
follow, and in a few minutes they were in sight of the river bank.
Charley, who was in the lead, suddenly stopped short with an
exclamation of relief and disgust.

"Just look at that," he said.

On a little grassy knoll close to the water was Chris flat on his back,
his mouth open, fast asleep.  A half dozen fine bass lay on the grass
beside him, the end of his fishing line was tied to one ebony leg, and
a coil of slack line lay upon the turf.

"Let's give him a scare for causing us so much worry," Walter suggested.

"Wait a minute," cautioned the captain, "he's gettin' a bite, let's see
what he will do."

The little party drew in behind some bushes, where they could peep out
at the slumbering little darky.

The slack was running out rapidly, and at last the line tauted with a
jerk on the sleeper's leg.

Chris sat up with a start, rubbed his eyes and looked at the sun, then
at the pile of fish beside him.  The continued jerking of the line at
his leg seemed to bring him out of his drowsiness.  With a broad grin
he began pulling in the line, hand over hand.

The three watchers stood peeping eagerly through the bushes, expecting
to see another fine bass appear.

As the hooked victim was drawn in close to the knoll, Chris gave a
hearty yank and landed it on the grass beside him.

But the result was not what the watchers expected.  With a howl of
terror the little darky leaped to his feet and dashed away at a
bounding, leaping run, breaking through the undergrowth as though it
were reeds.  One glance, as he flew by the watchers without seeing
them, caused them to hold their sides and double up with laughter.  The
line was still fastened to Chris' leg, and drew after it the captive of
his hook.  One glance behind and Chris began to holler, "Help, help,
Massa Walt, help, Massa Charley.  De snake's goin' to get dis nigger.
Oh golly, oh golly!"

The line caught on a bush and broke short off, but Chris was making for
the lean-to with championship speed and knew it not.

Charley picked up the severed line and held up the prize to view.

"The biggest, fattest eel I ever saw," he declared exultantly.  "Guess
it must have been the first one Chris ever saw.  They certainly do look
like snakes."

"Keep it out of sight till we hear what he says," Walter said, and
Charley with a smile agreed.

The captain gathered up the fish and stringing them upon a cord slung
them over his shoulder.

In a few minutes they were back at the camp, where they found Chris
stretched out on the ground breathing heavily, his face an ashen hue.

"Why you-alls doan come when Chris hollers for help?" he demanded
indignantly.  "'Pears like you don't care if dis nigger's killed."

"We came as soon as we could, Chris," said Walter, soothingly, "what
was the trouble, anyway?"

Chris, mollified, sat up.  "Done got into nest ob snakes," he declared,
"reckon I killed fifty of 'em, but more and more kept coming so I had
to run.  Golly, I 'spect thar was mighty nigh a hundred chased me most
to camp.  Dat's why I yells for you-alls."

The captain smilingly laid down the string of fish, and Chris'
countenance fell.

Charley swung the eel into view.  "It isn't a snake, Chris," he
explained, "it's an eel; they are not poisonous, and are mighty good
eating."

For once the little darky was fairly caught without chance of evasion.
Without a word he started building a fire, gutted the fish, washed them
clean, and without removing head or scales, thrust them into the
glowing coals.  In twenty minutes they were done, the heads were cut
away, the skin with its load of scales peeled off, and our hungry
hunters sat down to a dish fit for a king.

They were in the midst of the meal when Charley arose and getting his
rifle put it down by his side.  "Get your guns quick and keep them
close to you.  We are going to have visitors," he said.

The bushes were crackling loudly at the neck of the point and a moment
later a body of men came into view.  As they clambered over the
barricade, Charley counted them.  They were twelve in number, one of
them an Indian, his face disfigured by a long scar that gave to it a
sinister, malignant expression.

"Keep close together and your guns handy," counseled Charley, as the
band approached.  "I declare, if they aren't all unarmed," he added.

"What in the world is the matter with them?" whispered Walter in
amazement; "see, some of them can hardly walk."

As the men drew nearer, our little party's wonder grew.  Most of them
dragged themselves forward with stumbling footsteps.  Their faces were
haggard, their hands moving restlessly and their features twitching.
They looked like men who had been for days undergoing severe mental and
physical strain and were on the verge of collapse.

Our hunters drew close together with their guns, close to hand and
awaited the convicts' coming with lessened apprehension as they saw
that they carried no guns.

The leader staggered in front, the balance following him like starved
sheep.  He stopped before the captain and sank to a seat on a stump.
The perspiration stood in great drops on his face and he was breathing
heavily.

"Strangers," he said hoarsely, "if you've got any tobacco, fer mercy'
sake, loan us some.  We haven't had a scrap for two days."

The boys had hard work to restrain a laugh, but the captain hastily
unbuckled the flap of his saddle-bags and brought out a huge package of
plug tobacco which he passed over to the spokesman.

"I brought it along to give to the Indians in case we met any, but I
reckon you need it a heap sight worse," he said mildly.

Without a word of thanks the man tore the package open and distributed
the plugs amongst his followers, and in a moment jaws and pipes were
going vigorously on the enslaving weed.

In five minutes a change was visible; slouching backs began to
straighten, dull eyes commenced to brighten, and the color to steal
back into haggard faces.

"I'm glad I never got into the habit of using it, now I have seen what
a slave it can make of a strong man," whispered Walter in disgust.

"Some of our soldier boys in Cuba went crazy for a while when deprived
of the use of it," said Charley.  "None of it for me.  It doesn't do a
young growing fellow any good."

As his muscles and nerves relaxed under the influence of the powerful
narcotic, the leader of the convicts removed his pipe from his mouth
with a sigh of relief.

"You sho' saved our lives that time, partner," he cried; "we done
forgot the bacca when we wus getting up our supplies, an' didn't find
it out until we'd come too far to go back.  Jim thar," (with a glare at
the culprit,) "had a sizeable piece, but he had to go and lose it on
the way."

"Out for a hunt?" inquired the captain politely.

"'Gators.  We're just plain, honest 'gator hunters, working powerful
hard for a mighty poor living," declared the ruffian.  "An' you-alls, I
reckon one guess will hit it, arter plumes, I allow."

"We haven't said so," said Charley quickly.

The ruffian favored him with an appraising leer.  "Don't have to say
so," he drawled, "if you ain't, what have you-alls got them dinky
little canoes for, an' if you were after 'gators you'd be packing big
rifles 'stead of them fancy guns.  You ain't got no call to deny it,
for I was aiming to give you a bit of neighborly advice."

"What is it?" inquired Walter curiously.

"That it ain't no use for you-alls to stop here.  The Injuns have got
this section combed out clean.  You couldn't get enough plumes around
here to pay for your bacon.  Now, I knows of a tidy little island 'bout
twelve miles south of here where there's stacks of the birds.  If you
start right now you'll hit it before them pesky varmints of redskins
find it.  I'm telling you in pay for that tobacco.  Max Hilliard ain't
the kind of man to take nothing without paying for it," he concluded,
grandly.

"Them Indians don't seem to be bringing many plumes into town," said
the captain.

"'Cause why?  'Cause they have to turn the bulk of what they get over
to their chiefs for tribute, an' them varmints are getting so foxy they
just hoards 'em up.  They know the price is goin' up right along.  Oh,
them pesky varmints are getting cunning these days.  But come, boys, we
must be getting back to camp."

The reinvigorated gang of cut-throats arose and with awkward, surly
thanks stamped away.

Their leader lingered behind for a moment.  "Better pack right up and
get out for that island right now, partners," he advised.  "Thar's a
gang of Injins coming down the river day after to-morrow, an' they'll
be sure to clean it out."  His voice grew low and menacing.  "Anyway,
you fellows want to get out of here afore day after to-morrow."

Before any of the hunters could question him, he was gone.

"He seems set on our leaving here," said Walter, anxiously.

"I reckon it was sort of an error of judgment that we didn't tie them
fellows up while we had the chance.  They was too plum wore out to put
up much of a fight," said the captain, regretfully.

Charley said nothing, but his expression was that of one who after long
puzzling has solved a troublesome problem, and has found the solution
not that which he desired.  The outlaws' statement that there was a
party of Indians on their way _from_ the Everglades had given him the
key.



CHAPTER VII.

THE QUAGMIRE.

It was already late when the convicts departed, and our hunters
immediately began their preparations for their first trial with the
plume birds.

"I wonder where we had better strike in at first," said the captain,
"there seems a powerful lot of them islands, an' they 'pear to me
pretty much alike."

"I have been keeping a kind of eye out all day," Charley answered, "and
it seems to me that there has been a lot of birds flying around that
little island of dead trees in the marsh right across from us.  Suppose
we try that first."

The others readily agreed, and, while Chris was cooking supper, the
boys prepared a number of torches from fat pitch pine and looked over
their fowling-pieces carefully.

As soon as it was dark, Charley and Walter entered one of the canoes
and the captain the other.  Chris begged hard to be taken, but Charley
was firm in his refusal.

"We will have to take turn about at tending camp, and you'll have to
stay to-night, Chris," he said.  "It won't do to leave the camp alone.
You'll have to keep a sharp lookout to guard against any possible
surprise from wild animals or men.  Keep up the fire so we can find our
way back, and have some hot coffee ready.  We'll need it when we get
back.  Keep a sharp eye out, Chris," he concluded.  "It isn't everyone
I would choose for such a responsible place."

"Golly, Massa Charley," exclaimed the little darky, the bald flattery
tickling his great racial vanity, "I jus' reckon nothin' goin' to get
past dis nigger, though I sure 'spects I'd ought to go along so as to
watch out for you chillens."

"We'll be careful," Charley assured him gravely.  "If anything troubles
you or you see anything wrong, fire off your gun twice, and we will
hustle back.  Shove her off, Walt."

Walter obeyed with a vigor that nearly upset their frail craft.  "My,
but she's cranky," he exclaimed.

"She is pretty ticklish," Charley admitted, "but just the craft for our
purpose.  She's so light she will float on a good heavy dew, and then
she's so easy to take to pieces and pack away.  But we'd better stop
our chattering, for we are getting near the island now."

The moon was shining brightly, giving to the dead whitened trees on the
little island a peculiar ghostly appearance.  The canoes soon grounded
in the marsh grass, and, fastening them to paddles, stuck down in the
mud, our hunters shouldered their fowling-pieces and trudged ahead
through the mire.  They had prepared themselves well for the trip and
each wore a pair of rubber boots reaching to the hip drawn on over
their rawhide boots and legging.

"I guess we are on the right track," grinned Charley, ere they had
proceeded far.

"Goodness, it's awful," exclaimed Walter.  "I wish I had a clothes-pin
on my nose.  Smells just like as island of Limburger cheese set in a
lake of broken spoiled eggs."

"I reckon that's comin' it a little strong, Walt," chuckled the
captain.  "I guess though we've stumbled onto a good big rookery for
sure.  That smell comes mostly from the dead baby birds, broken eggs,
an' such like.  But let's keep quiet, lads, we're nearly there now."

A few minutes more and the hunters entered the fringe of dead trees.
By the time they reached the center of the little island where the dead
trees were thickest, the little party was nearly overcome by the
horrible stench.  At every step they crushed in nestfuls of decayed
eggs which sent up their protests to high heavens.

At last Charley commanded a halt.  "We've gone far enough," he
whispered.  "Let's light up our torches together and make as short work
of it as possible.  Gee, but I'm sick for a mouthful of sweet, fresh
air."

The fat pine-sticks flared up as though saturated with oil, their
flickering blaze lighting up a weird scene; the gaunt, bare, white
trees, ghosts of a departed forest, the miry ground strewn with eggs of
all sizes, shapes and colors, and dead birds of many kinds, in amongst
which writhed and twisted dirty-looking, repulsive water moccasins and
brilliant yellow and black swamp snakes, while overhead on the whitened
limbs, roosted hundreds of birds partly roused from their sleep by the
glare of the torches.

"We'll have to shoot with one hand and hold our torches with the
other," said Charley.

The guns were very light fowling-pieces, and the birds were clustered
too thickly together to be easily missed.  The three guns belched out
their deadly message almost together and a score of birds fell to the
ground.  Again and again were the volleys repeated before the dazed
birds recovered their senses enough to take to their wings.

The hunters paused only long enough to pluck from the backs of the
fallen birds the long, silky plumes, which they carefully placed in a
stiff leather valise, then hastened on to another part of the island
where the same performance was repeated.

At first all three hunters stuck close together, but they soon
separated, each picking out for himself what seemed to be choice places
in the little wood.  Yielding to the incessant firing the birds began
to desert their roosts in great flocks until at last but few lingered
on the barren limbs.  Charley was about to call his companions together
and propose a return to camp when a sudden cry sent the blood tingling
through his veins.  It was Walter's voice, and its tone was that of
fear and horror unutterable.  Pausing a second to locate the direction
of the sound, Charley bounded away for it at the top of his speed.  As
he passed a thick clump of trees the captain broke out from among them
and lumbered on in his wake.

"What's the trouble, Charley?" he panted.

"Something's happened to Walt," he shouted back, "something terrible,
too--just hear him calling."

The cries rose again with redoubled vigor, a world of dread in their
cadence.

The island was small, and in a few minutes Charley was close to the
scene of the cries with the captain right at his heels.  Suddenly they
broke out of the underbrush into a small open space perhaps forty feet
across.  Near the center of this place was Walter, waving his torch
frantically back and forth.  He ceased his cries as their lights
flashed into view.  "Stop, stop!" he shouted, "don't come a step
further.  I am sinking a foot a minute.  The ground is rotten here.  I
guess it's up to me to say good-bye, chums," he continued in a voice he
strove vainly to make steady.  "You can't help me, and I'm sinking
deeper every minute."

"Cheer up, lad, we'll find a way," declared the old sailor, with a
hopefulness he was far from feeling, for he knew well, by hearsay, of
the terrible swamp quagmires that swiftly suck their victims down to a
horrible death in the foul mud.

Already Walter had sunk to his waist, and it was only a question of
minutes ere the slimy ooze would close over his head.  It was a
situation that demanded instant action.  For a moment Charley stood
silent beside the captain gazing hopelessly at his doomed chum.  Then
he turned swiftly and darted away like an arrow.

"Throw branches, boughs, anything that is light," he shouted back; "I
am going to get the canvas painters."

Frantically the old sailor tore down dead limbs and flung them to the
entombed lad.  His labor was in vain, for as each branch struck the
quagmire its own weight sunk it out of sight in the liquid mud.

"Better give it up, Captain," advised Walter, cheerfully.  "They are
doing no good, and Charley will soon be back with the ropes."

The captain measured the distance to the helpless lad with a practised
eye, and groaned in despair.  "They'll fall short by a dozen feet," he
murmured hopelessly.  "God forgive me, for bringing him to this plight."

In a moment Charley was back with the painters from the two canvas
canoes knotted together.  His first toss confirmed the captain's fears,
the rope foil ten feet short.

Charley's face grew sickly pale under the torch light, and he stood for
a space like one in a daze.  The captain near him was kneeling praying
fervently.

Of the three, Walter was the coolest.  He had resigned himself to his
fate at the failure of the first cast of the rope.  Already the mire
had sucked him down so that he had to throw his head far back to keep
the filthy stuff from entering his mouth.

"Good-bye, old chums," he called cheerfully, "we've made our last camp
together.  Don't feel too down, Charley.  Remember what the jockeys
say, 'There's nothing to a race but the finish.'"

Charley roused from his momentary trance.  "You shan't die," he cried
wildly, "you shan't, you shan't,--you shan't."



CHAPTER VIII.

THE BATTLE.

All around the quagmire were the skeletons of what had once been great
lusty trees with far-spreading limbs.  As Charley uttered his defiance,
his glance rested for a moment on the most advanced of these and a
gleam of hope lit up his face.  Although this dead giant of the island
was many feet from the sinking lad, yet in its youth it had sent out
nearly over him one long, slender, tapering limb.  In a second
Charley's quick eyes had taken in the possibility and the risk, the
next moment he had skirted round the quagmire at the top of his speed
and was swinging up the giant trunk.

The captain was not slow in divining his intention, "Come back,
Charley," he called wildly.  "It'll break with you, lad.  Come back,
come back."

Walter managed to twist his head around until he obtained a glimpse of
what was going on.  "Don't try it, Charley," he implored, "or there
will be two of us gone instead of one."

But Charley was smiling now and confident.  He knew the kind of tree he
was climbing up.  It was a black mangrove and among the toughest of
woods when well seasoned.  To him it had become merely a question of
reaching the end of that limb before the mire closed over his chum's
head.  Never did sailor go aloft more quickly than he swung himself up
from branch to branch.  Quickly he reached the overhanging bough.  At
its juncture with the trunk he paused for a second to catch his breath,
then swung himself out on it cautiously, hand over hand.  The bough
creaked and cracked ominously, but did not break.  Near the end of the
limb he stopped, and throwing a leg over to free his hands, he knotted
one end of the rope to the branch and flung the other end to his chum.

"You'll have to pull yourself out, Walt," he sang down cheerily, "this
limb will not bear two."

Fortunately Walter had managed to keep his arms above the mire.  He
caught the rope and began to pull.  He had occasion now to bless the
years of hard work that had made his body vigorous and his muscles hard
and strong.  Slowly he drew himself up out of the clinging ooze which
closed behind him with a sickening, sucking sound.  Once clear of the
mud, it was an easy feat to go up the rope hand over hand and soon he
was standing beside Charley at the foot of the tree where they were
speedily joined by the delighted captain.

"Let us thank God, boys, for your wonderful escape.  He put that plan
into Charley's head and gave him the courage and daring to carry it
out," the captain said.

Devoutly the two boys knelt at the foot of the tree, while the old
sailor in simple, uncouth speech, offered up a little prayer of humble
thanks for the deliverance of the two lads he loved so well.

As they arose from their knees, Walter caught Charley's hand and wrung
it vigorously.  "You saved my life again, old chum," he cried.

But Charley, embarrassed and blushing like a girl, pulled his hand
away.  "I guess we'd better be getting back to camp," he stammered,
eager to change the subject.

"Ever modest are the brave," quoted Walter with a laugh.  "But you are
right about getting back to camp.  I, for one, have had enough
slaughter and adventure for one night."

The guns and plumes were quickly gathered together and, guided by the
light of the camp-fire, the two canoes were soon made fast again at the
point and their occupants were soon busy removing their rubber boots
and drying themselves before the roaring fire.

Chris' eyes shone with delight when they spread out to view the
beautiful feathery pink, white and blue plumes.

"Sixty-three of 'em," he announced after a hurried count.  "Golly,
guess dis nigger goin' to be a rich man afore we get back home."

The captain rummaged in his saddle-bags and brought out a small pair of
steelyards.  The plumes were tied carefully together in a bunch and
suspended from the hook.

"Twenty ounces," he announced.  "At five dollars an ounce that makes
one hundred dollars, lads.  That ain't half bad for our first night's
work."

But in spite of their success the boys' faces were grave and depressed.

The captain glanced shrewdly from one to the other.  "I reckon you-alls
are thinkin' now of just what I've been studyin' on.  You're thinkin'
of all them poor innocent birds we've killed to get them feathers.
You're thinkin' of them and of the dozens you only wounded which are
bound to die a lingerin', sufferin' death, poor things."

Charley shuddered, "I killed one and it didn't fall," he explained, "I
climbed up and looked, and it was resting on a nest containing five,
cute, little fluffy ones."

"We can't go on with it," declared Walter with deep feeling.  "It's fit
work for brutes like those convicts but not for us."

"Pulling out the plumes won't kill 'em, an' I don't think it hurts 'em
much," said the captain, thoughtfully.  "Maybe we can rig up some sort
of trap that will do the work without killin' 'em.  It's time for bed,
now, lads, but think it over and, perhaps, we can hit on some scheme.
Had we better take turns at keeping watch, Charley?"

"I don't think we'll be bothered for a while yet, at any rate," said
Charley, thoughtfully, as he stretched out on his couch and pulled his
blanket over him.  "Good-night, all; here goes for the land of dreams."

Although he closed his eyes and endeavored to sleep, it was a long time
before it visited his excited brain.  He was only a boy in years and
the responsibility for the safety of the little party now trustfully
thrust upon him bore heavily upon his young shoulders.  It would not
have been so bad were it not for the close proximity of that band of
twelve, armed, desperate, escaped murderers.  Their attitude towards
the hunters, together with scraps of conversation they had uttered, had
bred in Charley's active mind a theory for their actions and object, a
theory involving a crime so vile and atrocious as to stagger belief.

"I'll be getting flighty if I keep brooding on this thing by myself
much longer," Charley mused.  "I am beginning to fear my own judgment
is wrong.  I'll confide it all to someone else to-morrow and see if
their opinion agrees with mine."  With little reflection, he decided on
Walter as the fittest one to tell.  This resolve lifted a burden from
his mind and he soon drifted off into healthy slumber.

"I've got something I want to talk over with you, Walt," he found a
chance to whisper while breakfast was cooking next morning.  "Let's get
away somewhere where the captain and Chris will not hear us," he
cautioned.

Their chance came soon after breakfast while Chris was cleaning up the
things and the captain was engaged in sorting out and packing away the
plumes in the tin boxes they had brought with them.

The two boys strolled off slowly and carelessly together, but did not
stop until they had reached the grassy knoll by the river.

"Hurry up, tell me what it is, you have got me half wild with
curiosity," cried Walter, flinging himself at full length upon the turf.

Charley smiled as he pointed at a thin wisp of smoke rising from the
convicts' camp.  "It is about our neighbors," he said.

"Have you learned anything new?" Walter demanded eagerly.

"No, but I've been putting two and two together concerning them again
and again until I'm uncertain whether I've got the proper answer or
have got everything distorted by long brooding over them.  I want to
know what the conclusion would be to a mind that is fresh."

"Good," said Walter, gleefully, "sounds just like a lawyer, go ahead,
I'll be the judge."

"First," said Charley, gravely, "we can admit as an undisputed fact,
that those fellows over there were either close behind or ahead of us
at least part of the way here."

Walter nodded assent, too interested to interrupt.

"From the closeness with which they tally to that newspaper account,
even down to the renegade Indian, we are, I think, justified in
assuming that they are the escaped convicts."

"Their faces would convict them without any evidence," Walter declared.

Charley was now so absorbed in his chain of reasoning that he scarcely
heeded the interruption.  "Twelve life convicts, which by the laws of
this state means twelve murderers, men without mercy, who would
hesitate at nothing, are for several days and nights close to a party
of four who do not even keep a watch at night.  Why do they not kill
off the four and help themselves to several things that would make them
more comfortable?"

"I give it up," said his puzzled chum.

"Again," said Charley following his line of reasoning, "what do bodies
of men who have broken prison always do when they escape?  Separate as
soon as possible, and scatter in all directions, make their way to
small, isolated places, change their appearance as much as possible,
and each shift for himself.  To remain together increases the risk of
capture for each and all.  There must be some powerful motive to make
them take such risks.  Such men risk nothing except for money.  But
there are no banks here to be looted, no strangers to be waylaid in
dark alleys, not even a blind beggar to steal pennies from."

"Then, for goodness' sake, what is their object?" demanded the
mystified Walter.

Charley's voice lowered in its seriousness.  "I know there is a party
of Indians on the river now.  I found traces on the shore, where they
had embarked in boats, they are likely the same party that were hunting
in the woods and have now returned to the Everglades.  By the signs I
pointed out to you there is another party following.  I told you I
could tell but little from the signs, but there is among the convicts
one of their race who can read their signs like an open book."

"But the Indians are poor," Walter objected.  "I don't see the
connection."

"Remember what the leader of the convicts said yesterday, that each
Indian had to give the larger portion of his plumes to his chief as
tribute.  Consider a party of expert hunters after a long hunt of
weeks; why, the chief's share must run up into the hundreds of dollars
to say nothing of each brave's individual portion."

"What a diabolical scheme!" cried Walter in horror, "they mean to
slaughter the Indians for their plumes as they come down the river from
the 'Glades.'"

"That's the conclusion I reached," said Charley coolly.  "I am glad
that you prove I am not going crazy brooding over the matter."



CHAPTER IX.

THE BEES AND THE BEAR.

Walter's first feeling was of horror and indignation, mingled with
frank admiration for the cleverness with which Charley had reasoned the
matter out to its logical conclusion.

"You have got a great head on you, old chap," he said, affectionately.
"It certainly seems as though you have hit the nail on the head this
time.  I understand, now, why their leader was so anxious to have us
move away.  They expect to encounter the Indians somewhere in this
neighborhood and they do not want any witnesses.  What shall we do,
Charley?"

"We are in an unpleasant fix," said his chum, musingly.  "The only safe
thing to do, I guess, is to take that convict's advice and move away at
once.  If we interfere with their plans or even let on that we know
what they are, it will mean fight, with us outnumbered three to one."

"But we can't leave here and let those fiends ambush and murder those
unsuspecting Indians," said Walter indignantly.

"Certainly not," said his chum, heartily.  "But we must be prepared to
take some risks.  We can't fight that crowd in the open, they are too
many for us.  We'll have to outwit them and put the Indians on their
guard without letting the convicts suspect that we have had a finger in
the pie.  It would be an easy trick to turn if it were not for that
renegade Indian with them.  I guess there isn't anything much that
escapes those black, beady eyes of his."

"You have a plan then?" said Walter eagerly.

"One, such as it is.  You see, we are between those fellows over there
and the Everglades.  A party of savages coming from the Glades would
have to pass us before coming in rifle range of the convicts' camp.
Now we could halt them here and explain matters, but that would give us
dead away to the enemy."

Walter's face fell.  "They would be sure to catch on," he admitted.

Charley pointed far to the south where, half a mile distant, another
long point jutted out through the marsh into the river.  "That is the
key to the situation," he declared.  "The Seminoles are not expected
until to-morrow, if that man's remarks are true.  Well, beginning
to-morrow morning early, one of us will be on that point while daylight
lasts,--Indians do not generally travel at night, and when we sight
them we will signal and warn them, and the convicts will be none the
wiser.  The Seminoles are no cowards and we can join them and wipe that
scum of humanity off the face of the earth."

"Splendid," approved Walter enthusiastically.  "But let's head for camp
now.  The others will be wondering what has become of us."

At the camp a surprise awaited the two boys.  The captain was stumping
back and forth near the fire, his usually good-natured face nearly
purple with suppressed anger, while, squatting on his heels before the
fire, sat Indian Charley, his face impassive but his keen beady eyes
watching the irate sailor's slightest movement.

At the sight of the boys, the captain lumbered towards them, waving a
dirty piece of paper.  "Read that," he roared, "just brought in by that
copper-faced, shoe-button-eyed son of a sea cook."

It was a piece torn evidently from a paper bag and on it was scrawled
in big, almost undecipherable characters.

"The shootin' an' racket you-alls are doin' air drivin' the 'gators
away.  You-alls have got to move.  This is our huntin' ground.  For
sake of that tobacco, which comes mighty handy, we'll give you-alls
'till to-morrow noon to move peaceable afore we comes down on you,
hands and feet."

"How's that for gall?" demanded the captain, his wrath increasing, but
Charley silenced him with a shake of his head and turned to the
impassive redskin.  "Tell your leader, that we are figuring on making a
move to-morrow," he said, courteously.  The Seminole's beady orbs met
his in a suspicious glance, then he turned without a word and glided
noiselessly away among the bushes.

Walter and Charley exchanged significant glances.  "That means they do
not expect them before to-morrow afternoon," Charley commented.

"Who! expecting who?  Don't talk in riddles, lads," exclaimed the
captain, testily, his temper still suffering from the unaccustomed
restraint he had put upon it.

In a few words Charley related his suspicions to him and Chris, and
detailed the plan he and Walter had agreed upon.

The captain's face beamed with unenvious admiration as he gave Charley
a hearty thump on the back that well-nigh drove the breath out of the
lad's body.

"Reasoned out plain an' fair as day," he exclaimed, "I reckon you've
hit it right plum center first shot, lad.  You bet we'll be on the
watch to warn them poor Indians, an' if there's any fightin' we'll sho'
help to rid this country of them ornary, low-down, murderin',
cut-throats.  It's a great head you've got for young shoulders,
Charley.  You've reasoned it out like a detective and made your plans
like a general."

Charley blushed with pleasure.  "It looks logical and I hope it will
work out all right," he said, secretly pleased at the tribute to his
mental powers.  But, as a great detective or general sometimes does,
Charley had passed over the simple, vital, obvious point that was the
most important of all and from its omission, destined to be far
reaching and terrible to hunters, Indians and convicts.

"There's nothing special to do this morning," said Walter, "so let us
make a trip to that point and pick out a good place for our lookout."

"Judging from their actions and their note, our neighbors don't intend
to make a move against us until to-morrow, so I guess it will be safe
for all of us to go," said Charley.  "We will take the guns and make a
kind of all day hunting trip."

"Den, I spect dis nigger's got to rustle around an' fix up some lunch,"
said Chris, his face falling.  "Golly, I spect you-alls going to be
powerful hungry nigh noon."

"No, this is going to be a holiday for all of us," declared Walter with
boyish enthusiasm.  "For one day let's all be just like the Indians,
get our food with out guns and not even take a frying-pan with us."

To Chris' great delight the others gave ready assent to the plan.  The
horses were watered and staked in fresh spots, and, with guns over
shoulders, our party followed their point in to shore, then struck off
southward along the margin of the marsh toward the distant point,
destined to be Point Lookout.

They found it much like their own point, but somewhat more heavily
wooded.

"Here's the very place for our lookout," exclaimed Walter, pausing
beside a clump of great oaks.  "See, it couldn't be better if it had
been made to order.  This knoll commands a good view of the marshes and
river towards the Everglades, while those trees will hide the watcher
from our point, and of course from the convicts' camp.  I have got a
big, red, bandanna handkerchief which we can use as a flag.  When the
one on watch sees the Indians coming, he can fasten it to that dead
sapling further out.  That will be a signal to those in camp to get
ready for a hot time."

"Bravo," said the captain approvingly.  "You have got the right course
logged out to a point by the compass.  Steer as you are going, lad, and
you'll have stored in your head as well packed and sorted a cargo as
good as Charley's here."

"Or me, or me, Massa Captain," chimed in Chris.  "Golly, I reckon
you-alls don't know what a smart nigger I is when I gets de chance."

"We are all wonders, in our own minds," laughed Charley.  "We have got
a chance to show our smartness right now.  I, for one, am getting
mighty hungry and we haven't bagged anything for dinner yet."

"We are for the woods, then," cried Walter, "on, noble leader.  Shall
we separate or go together?"

"We must stick together, provided you will try to keep that mouth of
yours closed and quit guying me," Charley retorted.  "If not, I shall
feel it my duty to take you across my knee and give you a good
spanking."

Walter checked the ready sally which was on his tongue's end, for they
had been moving on while talking and Charley was now leading them into
the dense forest where silence was absolutely necessary if they hoped
to secure any game.

For some time they picked their way carefully through the forest,
warily avoiding dry twigs, and maintaining an absolute silence.  But
although they saw numerous signs of game, both large and small, not a
glimpse of even a rabbit or squirrel rewarded their eager watchfulness.

At last when all were beginning to get a bit discouraged, Charley
called a halt.  "Now, all of you listen hard as you can for a few
minutes and then tell me what you hear," he said.

For a full minute his companions listened intently, then the captain
gave an exclamation of disgust.  "Can't hear anything out of the
usual," he declared.

"Once or twice I thought I heard something, but I guess it was only my
imagination," said Walter.

"And you, Chris?" inquired Charley of the little darky, whose face wore
a puzzled expression.

"Golly, dis nigger hear something powerful plain but he can't just make
it out.  Don't sound like anything he ever heard, afore.  Now hit
sounds like a big dog growling an' then again hit sounds like one
whinin'."

"Your ears are pretty good, Chris," Charley commented.  "I guess we'll
follow up that sound for a little while."



CHAPTER X.

SHOOTING A THIEF.

"Are you working one of your little surprises on us?" Walter inquired
eagerly of his chum as the little party again advanced in the direction
Chris indicated.  "Come, confess now that you know what is ahead of us."

"I am all at sea this time," admitted Charley.  "I heard just what
Chris described, but I can't fit the sounds to any animal I know.  It's
getting plainer now, surely you can hear it."

"Yes," said Walter, with a puzzled frown, "but what under the sun,
moon, and stars can it be?"

"A few minutes will settle the question.  It's only a little ways off
now.  My! it's getting to be a terrible din, we must be close at hand."
Charley's prophecy soon proved true for they suddenly came out of the
forest into a space which had evidently been fire-swept years before,
for it was bare of undergrowth and of the former mighty pines nothing
remained but the white, lifeless trunks.

For a moment the hunters stood in the edge of the clearing, gazing in
speechless astonishment at the sight before them.

Close to one of the largest of the dead pines was a large black bear,
reared back on his haunches and striking with both paws viciously at
some unseen foe.  The hair of muzzle, head and paws was matted and
plastered with some thick liquid, giving him a curious frowsy
appearance.  He was evidently in a towering rage but it was also
apparent that he was suffering great pain, his ferocious growls being
interspersed with long, low, pathetic whines.

"He acts as though he had gone crazy," exclaimed Walter, recovering his
speech.

At sound of his voice, the bear's head turned in their direction.  With
a growl of fury he dropped to all fours and with incredible speed made
for the hunters.

Charley had been quick to take in the meaning of the strange scene.

"Shoot and run," he shouted, as the maddened animal charged.

He, Walter and the captain shot almost at once.  The shots struck home
but the sorely wounded beast still lumbered forward at a rapid pace.

"Run," shouted Charley, striking into the forest at the top of his
speed, closely followed by the captain and Walter.  They had run but a
few paces before Walter, who was in the rear, stopped suddenly.  "Chris
has stayed," he shouted to the others, "we can't leave him."

Almost as rapidly as they had fled, the three retraced their steps to
the edge of the clearing.

"Stay where we are and watch," commanded Charley, with a grim smile.
"The bear's too badly hurt to be dangerous.  Watch him, fellows, just
watch."

Chris had knelt where he had been standing when the bear charged, had
rested his rifle on his knee, and was taking careful aim at the
advancing beast.  There was a look of stubborn determination on his
little ebony face while his heart was beating with pride and
exultation.  Here was his great chance to turn the tables on his white
companions.  No longer would they dare tease him about running from the
eel or about his adventure after the crane.  He would be able now to
twit them all, even the captain, with running away while he, Chris,
stood his ground.

"Run, Chris, run," shouted Charley from the edge of the clearing, but
the little darky ignored the warning.

His keen eyes could see that the bear was badly wounded and liable to
drop at any minute.  Already it was swaying drunkenly from side to side.

Now it was forty feet away, now thirty and almost ready to drop.  Ten
feet more and he would fire, Chris resolved.  But that ten feet proved
the ambitious little darky's undoing.  A concentrated drop of buzzing
liquid fire struck him above the eye, while hand and legs seemed
splashed with molten fire.  Down went the rifle with a thud and with a
shrieked "Oh golly, oh golly, oh golly!" a black streak cleared the
open ground with kangaroo-like leaps and shot into the forest.

"Run for the marsh and roll in the mud, Chris,"' shouted Charley after
the streak.

The bear stumbled forward a few feet further, then sank slowly to the
ground.  Charley looked after the flying Chris, shaking with laughter,
while the others stood beside him in silent amazement.

"Hold on a minute," said Charley, as the captain stepped forward toward
the bear which was kicking, out in the last convulsive throes of death.

"Aye, aye," agreed the captain cheerfully, stopping short, "you're the
pilot in these waters, lad."

"I promise you I will not keep you at anchor long, Captain," laughed
Charlie, as with his hunting-knife he began hacking at a clump of
scrub-palmetto.

A few minutes was all the time needed to accumulate a heap of the big,
fan-like leaves.  These Charley made into three torch-like bundles,
taking care to place a dead dry leaf between each two green ones.
Binding each bundle together with a wisp of green leaf, he struck a
match and lit up the three, passing one to the captain and Walter, and
keeping one himself.

The dry leaves blazed up like tinder but the green ones only smoldered,
sending forth a volume of black, thick pungent smoke.

"Keep waving them about you," he cautioned, "that's the way.  Now all
ready.  Forward, march."

As they drew nearer to the carcase of the hear, they became aware of a
curious humming sound in the air.  The cause was soon apparent and the
mystery that had puzzled them was solved when they reached the beast.
The carcase was covered with bees while close above it hummed a swarm
of others watching for an exposed place to plant their stings.

A few minutes beating about with the smoking torches cleared the scene
of the vicious little insects, those not stupefied by the smoke beating
a hasty retreat back to their home in the hollow log which bruin had
tried to despoil.

The hunters had now a chance to view their prize without being
molested.  It was only a common, black Florida bear, weighing not over
four hundred pounds, but fat and in the pink of condition.  Its thick,
glossy fur had protected its body from the bees' assault, but swollen
muzzle, eyes, and ears, told of the penalty it had paid in playing
robber for its favorite food,--honey.

All fell to work with their hunting-knives and speedily had the heavy
skin removed.

Walter smacked his lips as he cut away a couple of huge steaks with a
thick rim of fat.  "Gee, those are fit for a king," he exclaimed.  "I
wonder where our cook is.  Do you suppose he has stopped running yet?"

Charley chuckled.  "It's mean," he admitted, "but I can't help but
laugh when I think of how he looked kneeling there in stern resolve to
be covered with glory, and the transformation when he was covered with
bees."

The three laughed heartily at the recollection, but Walter's laugh
ended in a hungry sigh.  "I wish he was here to cook these steaks.  If
he comes back, don't let's tease him, fellows.  He's suffered enough
for one time."

"I bet he will be back by the time we get this fellow cut up and a fire
going," Charley said.

But the big animal was all cut up, what was not wanted for immediate
use cut into thin strips for drying, and a roaring fire going, and
still no sign of the missing one.

"Well, I guess we will have to cook some of it the best we can,
although I expect we'll make a sorry mess of it without Chris.  I guess
broiling some of it will be the easiest way."

Each cut himself a long, green palmetto stem which would not take fire
readily and sharpened one end to a point upon which he impaled a
generous slice of steak.  With flushed faces and singed fingers they
kept turning the meat over and over before the blaze.  It was an
unsavory mess, burnt and ash covered, which they at last pronounced
done and deposited upon a clean palmetto leaf.  Hungry as wolves, each
cut off a generous mouthful and began to chew.  They chewed and chewed
looking at each other with keen disappointment on their faces.

Walter at last spat out his mouthful in disgust.  "It's tough as sole
leather and about as tasteless.  We even forgot the salt, too."

A little figure lurking behind a tree on the edge of the clearing
evidently deemed this just the proper time to make its presence known,
for it stepped boldly out from behind its shelter.  Its right eye was
closed tight by an enormous swelling, and its nose was twice its
natural size, but it strode forward with head up and dignity in its
tread.

"Chris," shouted in delight the three beside the fire.

The little darky looked down on the pile of burnt and ruined meat in
disgust.  "I knowed you chillen's would go an' spoil de best part ob my
bear.  Now you-all jis get out ob de way an' dis nigger goin' to show
you how to cook b'ar meat."

"But it's so tough, Chris, that we can't chew it," Walter objected.

"You chillens jes get out of de way like I tells you," said the little
negro vaingloriously.  "Just come back in forty minutes an' dinner will
be ready.  Leave dis nigger alone 'till then 'cause he's powerful cross
to-day."

Charley nudged the captain and Walter and the three withdrew to a
little distance, leaving Chris in possession of the field.

"Chris will fix it up all right," Charley assured them.  "While he's at
it, let's have a try for some of the honey the bear was into," he
suggested.

His two companions gave an eager assent.



CHAPTER XI.

THE PAWPAWS.

Three more torches of palmetto leaves were quickly made, lighted up,
and, with extra handfuls of the green leaves, our party advanced
towards the tree where they had first seen the bear.  They were met by
a buzzing horde of the workers who swarmed out to defend their homes,
but these were soon silenced by the pungent smoke of the torches and
our hunters soon stood by the tree where bruin had met his Waterloo.

A few feet from the ground was a massive limb and a little above it was
a cavity in the trunk itself, around which more bees buzzed
industriously.  A few waves of the smoke torches quieted these, and
Charley swung himself up on the limb beside the hole.  A little more
smoke completed the job and with his hunting-knife he dug out great
squares of the clear, dripping comb, which he passed down to his
companions who had stripped off a slab of hickory bark for its
reception.

"That is more than we can eat," he at last declared, slipping to the
ground, "besides I've got a 'hunch' that Chris has got that bear meat
ready for us and I am hungry as a wolf."

"It may be cooked all right but it will still be too tough to eat,"
mourned Walter.

"Don't you believe it," chuckled Charley, "those bear steaks are going
to be as tender as chicken.  If you will not give me away to Chris, I
will show you the reason why."

The captain and Walter eagerly gave the promise of secrecy.

"See that shrub?" said the instructor, pointing to a banana-like stalk
of a tree-like shrub without branches, but from which protruded large,
round glossy leaves with short stems.  Close to its trunk near the
crown hung a close cluster of golden fruit about the size of an apple.

Walter plucked one of the ripe fruit and bit into it hungrily, but spat
out the mouthful in disgust.

"You have to acquire a taste for it, the same as you have to for turtle
eggs, olives, and a dozen other things that taste unpleasant at first,"
Charley said.  "You'll find that little tree scattered all over Florida
where the soil is at all rich.  It is called pawpaw by the natives, who
regard it highly for the sake of its one peculiar virtue.  A few drops
of the juice of its ripe fruit spread over a tough Florida steak will
in a few minutes, make it as tender as veal.  The same results can be
attained by wrapping the steak in the leaves and letting it lay a
slightly longer time.  The best of it is that meat treated in this
manner is not injured in the slightest.  In fact it seems to gain in
flavor from the treatment.  But there is Chris waving to us.  Keep
quiet about the pawpaws.  I want to hear his explanation."

They were too hungry to lose any time in obeying Chris' signals.  The
little darky had arranged a kind of tablecloth of moss on the ground
and had put upon it slabs of clean cut bark for plates, while upon each
rude plate reposed a thick, juicy, bear steak, done to a turn.  The
steak was delicious and tender as chicken and with a taste all its own.

"You're a born cook, Chris," declared Walter, as he paused to take a
full breath.  "What makes it so tender, now? that which we cooked was
tough as leather."

"You chillens doan know how to cook like dis nigger," declared the vain
little darky, proudly.  "Hit's all in de cookin', Massa Walter, hit's
all in de cookin'."

Charley turned over a morsel of his steak, examined it closely and
sniffed it critically, while Chris watched him with anxious suspicion,
and Walter with mischief dancing in his eyes.

Slowly Charley's eyes took on an absent, far-away look, his arms and
legs seemed to stiffen, and a tremor ran through his limbs.  Chris
watched him with distending eyeballs.

"I see," Charley said, in a low, hollow voice, "I see a tree, not a big
tree, but a small one.  It has round, green leaves and a cluster of
golden fruit near the top.  What is it I see creeping toward the tree,
a monkey?  No, not a monkey, though it looks like one.  It's a boy, a
small black boy.  He nears the tree.  He looks around to see if anyone
is watching.  He shins up the tree and breaks off several of the
leaves.  I see him again near a big fire.  He still has the leaves.  He
is wrapping them around pieces of meat.  As he does it, I can hear him
chuckling to himself.  I see----"

"Oh golly, stop him, stop him!  He's got de 'haunts'!" cried Chris in
terror, as he grabbed Charley by the shoulder and shook him wildly.

Charley seemed to come to with a start.  "Where was I, what was I
saying?" he murmured.

"You was filled wid de haunts," declared Chris solemnly.  "You was jes'
tellin' to yourself how dis shiftless, lying nigger got dem pawpaw
leaves to make dis bar meat tender."

Walter and the captain were roaring with laughter, but Chris went on
solemnly with his confession.  "Golly, but dis nigger's been a powerful
liar lots ob times, but you doan ketch him at it any more.  You sho' is
got de conjerer eye, Massa Charley, else how you know dat lake wid de
crane on it was full of grass like knives, else how you see bees round
dat bear when you is too far off to see 'em, else how you see Chris
getting dem pawpaw leaves when you is clean out ob sight.  I guess dis
nigger doan lie any more when you is round, Massa Charley."

"Well, if you are all through, we had better make back for camp for the
sun is getting low," said Charley, hurriedly, to forestall a lecture on
the wickedness of lying, which he saw by the working of the captain's
features, he was preparing to deliver to the little culprit.

Their things were quickly collected together and they were soon headed
back to their point.  With the passing of the excitement of the day,
they all began to have vague alarms as to what might have happened
during their absence, and to reproach themselves for leaving the place
so long unguarded.

Their reproaches were wasted, however, for they found everything as
they had left it, save stuck in the bark of a pine tree near the fire,
was the badly scrawled notice.  "Don't forget to pull out from these
diggin's afore to-morrow noon."

"They evidently mean business," said Walter, as the hunters stood
together reading the dirty, ill-written paper.

"And I'm not so sure but what we would be wiser if we obeyed their
warning, but I hate to run away from such a crowd," observed Charley
gravely.

"I feel the same way," agreed Walter, "but it would be cowardly to go
now and leave the Seminoles to their fate."

"Aye, aye, lad, truly spoken," said the captain, firmly, "stay we must."

"Golly, I jis guess dis nigger ain't none scairt of their
threatenings," chimed in Chris.

"Well, we seem to be pretty well agreed," Charley said, trying in vain
to shake off the vague feeling of impending evil, that had suddenly
settled over him.  "Speaking for myself, I feel too keyed up and
anxious to do anything much until we get this thing over with.  I move
we get all our gear into shape and try to plan some way to get the
plume birds hereafter without killing.  That will take us until dark, I
guess.  Then let's quietly take our blankets and move back into the
forest a ways.  Our neighbors may take a notion to pay us a visit
without waiting for to-morrow."

The others readily agreed to this proposal and were soon busy trying to
scheme out some means to take their feathered prey alive.

It was Chris who at last solved the problem.

"You know dat stuff we used puttin' dem boats together?" he demanded.

"A quick drying glue," exclaimed Charley, catching the idea at once.

"Golly, I should say hit was," grinned Chris, "hit dun stick my fingers
together so tight that it peared like I'd never get 'em apart.  Now
doan you reckon by spreading hit thick-like on dem limbs whar dem birds
roosts dat hit would hold 'em down till we-alls got ready to pry 'em
off?"

"The lad's got the right idea, I reckon," allowed the captain.  "We
could fix the limbs up just before dusk and needn't bother about 'em
any more until it was broad daylight."

The boys were unstinted in their praise of Chris' suggestion until the
little darky forgot the humiliation of the day and was once more his
bright, vain, cheery self.

As night shut down on the point, more wood was heaped upon the fire, a
hasty lunch was made from the remains of dinner, and, taking their guns
and blankets with them, our hunters stole off into the depths of the
wood.  They soon reached a little open spot that they had noted during
the day.  Their blankets were spread out upon the moss-covered ground
close together so as to be encircled with the hair rope which Charley
had brought to protect them from snakes while sleeping.

Before they wrapped themselves in their blankets, the captain offered
up a fervent, simple prayer of thanks for past protection and a plea
for blessings on the work before them on the morrow.

"How much of that glue stuff is there, Chris?" whispered Walter as they
stretched out to rest.

"'Bout two quarts, I reckon."

"Pshaw, that will not last us any time," said Walter in disappointment.
"It will be all gone in a week."

It was well for the lad's peace of mind that he could not look forward
into the future and see how little of Chris's discovery was destined to
be used.



CHAPTER XII.

CHARLEY'S MISTAKE.

All were awake early next morning, in fact, the captain and Charley had
slept but little during the night.  They were worried and anxious as to
what the coming day would bring forth.  As he lay awake during the long
silent hours, Charley felt his burden of responsibility grow heavy
indeed and doubts began to assail him as to the wisdom of the course he
was pursuing.  After all, there was yet time to retreat.  He had only
to say the word and his companions would willingly follow.  His plans
in remaining were built largely on guesswork and theory.  If they
worked out as he had reasoned, the Indians would be warned.  With their
aid the convicts could be surrounded, captured, and sent back to a
coast town under guard.  Some blood would likely be shed but not as
much as if they were left free to run at large.  But if his reasoning
were wrong, if his plan for some unforeseen reason, failed,--the boy
shuddered as he thought of himself and three companions pitted against
twelve desperate ruffians, far away from any help or assistance.  Deep
down in his active brain some awakened cell was trying to send a
message of warning, but it would not rise to his consciousness, he
could not quite grasp it or its meaning.  Thus tortured and worried,
our young leader passed a weary night, and was relieved when dawn began
to break and his companions to awaken.

As soon as it was light enough, they made their way back cautiously to
the camp, where they found everything as they had left it.  Evidently
they had had no visitors during the night.

"Well, it was just as well to be on the safe side," Charley announced,
"anything is liable to happen now.  I guess while you make some coffee,
Chris, I will stand guard at our wall.  Walt, you make up two packages
of provisions, say enough to do for a couple of days and put one in
each of the canoes.  Captain, if you will, please look over the outfits
and pick out what we will be able to carry and what would be most
useful to us if we should have to take to the canoes in a hurry.  Don't
be alarmed," he said cheerily, noting the grave look on the others'
faces.  "Things are going to go all right, but a good general always
looks to it that he has a way of retreat ready.  Now, as soon as Chris
has coffee ready, we will have one last talk together about this
thing."  Shouldering his rifle, he made his way to the breastwork of
fallen trees, where he paced back and forth until Chris came to relieve
him for breakfast.

During the meal, Charley went over the whole puzzle again, explaining
freely his doubts and fears, and the possibility of his whole chain of
reasoning being wrong.  "Now you know all I know about it," he
concluded.  "There is yet time to escape.  If you say the word, we'll
start in half an hour."

The captain shook his head gravely.  "Your reasoning seems clear as
print to me, lad.  You have just brooded over it so long that it's
natural you should begin to have doubts and fears.  To me it's as sound
as when you first gave it.  That being so, we can't run an' leave them
poor ignorant savages to be shot down maybe like snipe.  It wouldn't be
Christian like to go when that chance remains."

"Those are my sentiments exactly," said Walter eagerly.

"Good," Charley sighed in relief, "this shifts at least part of the
responsibility from my shoulders.  Now for our plans.  Walter, I am
going to put you to watch at Lookout Point to-day.  If you see the
Indians, signal them in and tell them of the whole plot against
them,--there's sure to be one or more of them who understands English.
As soon as you make them understand, lead them back through the woods
till you get to the neck of the convicts' point, then post them behind
trees and stumps so the convicts cannot get by them.  Then fire two
shots close together and we will be with you in ten minutes, and our
birds will be caged.  Have Chris fix you up a lunch, for the Indians
are not likely to pass the point until afternoon."  His voice sank from
the crisp tone of command to a softer note, and his hand for a moment
rested affectionately on his chum's shoulder as he continued.  "I hate
to send you out there alone, old chap, but I have got to stay here.
The convicts may try to drive us out of this place this morning.  No
matter how much shooting you may hear, don't desert your post."

"But, if for some reason you want me, how am I to know?"

Charley reflected for a moment.  "I have a couple of rockets in my
saddle-bags," he said; "if I send up one, you may know it's a signal to
come back.  Now be sure to keep your eyes out for trouble as you near
the point.  No one can tell, now, what the situation may be."

The two chums silently clasped hands in a hearty, farewell grip, and
Walter, picking up his rifle and some of the remnants from breakfast,
vaulted the tree breastwork and with a cheery nod and wave of his hand
to those left behind, quickly vanished in the forest.

Charley stood for a moment gazing after him with something like a mist
in his honest brown eyes.  "Dear old fellow," he murmured, "God grant
that all will turn out well and that we may be safe together again
before night falls."

The captain's voice brought him back from his musing.  "Well, Charley,"
he sung out cheerily, "I've got together the things we can't well spare
and distributed them between the canoes.  I reckoned that was where you
wanted 'em.  What's the next orders, General?"

"Nothing, but to get our guns and all the spare ones, and take stands
along the wall.  Those fellows may try to drive us off this morning."

The captain grinned with satisfaction as he took his place behind the
barricade.

"I reckon they'll have to be pretty smart to get on this point," he
commented.  "There's a tidy stretch of right open ground to be crossed
before they reach here."

"I picked it out just for that reason," Charley admitted.  "We can
stand them off here during the day, but at night we cannot stop them, I
fear."

"Aye, aye," nodded the captain thoughtfully, "that's the reason for
fixing up the canoes."

Charley nodded in turn.  "I hope we won't have to take to them," he
said.  "It would come hard to lose our ponies, our packs, and all that
helps to make our camp life comfortable."

"We won't lose 'em," declared the captain, cheerfully.  "This time
to-morrow night we'll be safe and hearty sitting around the fire
figuring up our share of the rewards they must be offering by this time
for those pretty jail-birds."

This ended the conversation, for each took his position behind the tree
barricade with all senses alert for any indications of an attack.

For long Charley kept shifting his gaze from the woods before him to
the tall sapling on Lookout Point.  At last a smudge of red showed near
the sapling's top for a minute, then disappeared, and he gave a shout
of relief.  "Walter's there all right," he called to his companions, "I
saw his signal."

The morning wore slowly away without a sign of their enemies.

"What have you figured out is the reason they ain't troubling us,
Charley?" the captain called when the noon hour was at last reached.

"I have been studying over it for a long time, sir," the lad answered,
"and have come to the conclusion that they have decided to postpone
finishing us up until they have disposed of the Indians.  I guess they
are afraid that the noise of firearms would put the Seminoles on their
guard if they happen to be within hearing.  Anyway, I guess, we can
spare Chris long enough to get us a lunch."

Chris lost no time in getting together a hasty dinner, which was as
quickly disposed of by the sentinels.

From now on Charley kept his eyes anxiously on the distant point and
sapling, hoping, longing, and expecting to catch a glimpse of the
fluttering square of red which would wave the welcome news that Walter
had sighted the Indian fleet.

One o'clock passed, two o'clock, three, and still no signal.

"Take it calm, lad, they'll be along soon," the captain said
soothingly, to Charley, who was nervously pacing back and forth, his
face drawn and anxious.

"For de Lawd sake, look over there by dem convicts' point.  Oh, golly,
oh golly!" cried Chris, suddenly.

Charley gave one glance and buried his face in his hands to shut out
the coming horror.  "Fool, fool that I was," he moaned.  "Not to know
that it would be the home-bound Indians loaded with plumes they would
be laying for, not the empty handed ones coming out of the glades."

The captain was by his side in a second.  "Don't take it hard, lad," he
said, gently.  "You done your best.  We all stumbled into the same
mistake.  Look away for a minute, lad.  It will soon be over, I dare
say."

But Charley, though torn with regrets, took his hands from his face and
gazed steadily at the tragedy nearing its climax.

Winding past the convicts' point in single file, came a long line of
some thirty canoes, uncouth, shapeless things, each hewed out of a
great cypress log.  In the end of each an Indian stood erect plying a
long pole which sent their clumsy looking crafts forward at surprising
speed.  Magnificent savages they were, not one less than six feet tall,
framed like athletes, and lithe and supple as panthers.

One man in each boat was the rule, but in the leading canoe a young
Indian lad was also squatted, in the bow.

With breathless suspense our hunters stood helpless to warn or help as
the long line glided on to its fate.

Ten, twelve, fourteen, fifteen stole past the point.  Then the horror
of horrors happened.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE BATTLE.

From the point burst out a sudden cloud of flame and smoke.  Six of the
canoes in the lead and six in the rear of the long procession came to a
sudden halt.  Of their occupants, some crumpled up where they had stood
like bits of flame-swept paper.  Others pitched forward in the bottom
of their crafts, while still others stood for a minute swaying from
left to right like drunken men, to finally crash over the sides like
fallen trees, taking their cranky crafts over with them in their plunge
of death.

Only for a second was there confusion amongst the remaining canoes.
Before the volley could be repeated, they had drawn closer together.
Each Indian had dropped his pole, and seizing his rifle crouched low in
the bottom of his craft, his keen eyes searching the point.

"They're heroes, that's what they are," cried Charley, his eyes
flashing and cheeks aflame, "they are as good as dead if they stay, and
yet they will not flee."

"Suicide, I call it," said the captain harshly, to conceal his emotion
of horror and admiration.  "But there's one there who is going to save
his skin.  See that young lad who was in the first canoe.  He is poling
away now that his companion has fallen."

"But not willingly," said Charley, who had been watching the little
by-play, "did you see him pick up his gun?  He wanted to fight, but the
rest shouted and made signs to him till he put it down.  I've got it,"
he exclaimed, "it was the chief in that canoe.  They are trying to
cover his retreat, poor fellows.  They are what I call men."

There had been no cessation in the fighting while the captain and
Charley were talking; flame and smoke continued to burst out from the
point in almost a continuous stream, while those in the canoes were not
inactive.  Where an arm or leg showed to their hawk-like eyes, their
rifles cracked sharply, to be generally rewarded with a howl of pain
from some cutthroat who had been winged.  But there could be but one
end to such a battle.  The convicts were well protected behind big
trees, while the flimsy sides of their canoes afforded the brave little
band of Seminoles almost no protection.  Still they fought stubbornly
on, answering shot with shot until the point and canoes were shrouded
in a fog of smoke.

"They see the young Indian, they see him," cried Charley in an agony of
suspense.  "Look, look, they are all shooting at him."

The young Indian had passed out of the smoke pall, but his flight had
not been undetected; some of the convicts, with an eye out for just
such escapes, had drawn back to higher ground where they could see
above the smoke which hung close to the water.  These at once gave the
alarm, and a shower of bullets began to rain around the dugout.

The Indian lad stood stoically at his poling, not even glancing back,
and paying no more attention to the hail of bullets than if they were
so many flies.  The little Seminole seemed to bear a charmed life,
bullets struck the pole he was handling, and again and again they sent
out splinters flying from the sides of the dugout itself, but still he
shoved steadily ahead.

"By the ghost of the Flying Dutchman," shouted the captain, "he is
going to get away from them.  Two hundred feet more and their bullets
won't hurt if they hit."

"He's hit," cried Charley, a second later; "watch him."

The Indian lad had given a sudden, involuntary start and one hand went
to his head, he sank to his knees, struggled to rise, then slowly and
gently slipped down; a huddled heap in the bottom of his canoe, while
an exultant yell rose from the convicts' camp.

Charley's face was white and haggard, but his voice was steady and cool
as he turned to the captain.  "Please go to my saddle-bags.  You'll
find two rockets there.  Set them both off; that will bring Walter, and
we will have need of him soon.  I am going after that Indian and bring
him in dead or alive.  You and Chris had better mount guard again at
the wall; those cut-throats will be here soon."

One look at Charley's face convinced the captain that remonstrances
were useless, so, with a hearty squeeze of the lad's hand, he turned
away to his duties.

Charley unmoored one of the canvas canoes and, taking his place in the
stern, with a mighty shove of the paddle drove it far out into the
stream.

"Massa Charley, my own Massa Charley, going to be killed," wailed
Chris, giving way to his fears and grief with the emotionalism of his
race.

The captain shook him vigorously.  "Shut up," he said, roughly, partly
to hide his own feelings, "Charley's comin' back without a scratch.
The good Lord, I reckon, don't make lads as true and white as he to be
killed off by a pack of jail vermin.  Come to the wall as he told us
to.  Maybe we'll get a shot at those murderers before the day is done.
Come along an' stop that blubberin'," and he grabbed the soft-hearted
little darky by the arm and dragged him to the post.

The convicts were quick to see and interpret Charley's action, and
their guns were quickly turned upon his frail craft.  As he drew nearer
the drifting dugout and came within range, a perfect hail of bullets
splashed the water into foam around him.  He did not falter or
hesitate, but with long clean strokes of the paddle, sent his light
little craft flying towards his goal.  Perhaps it was this very speed
that saved his life.  Bullet after bullet pierced the thin canvas sides
and one struck a corner of his paddle, tingling his arm and side like
an electric shock.  A few minutes of this furious paddling brought him
to the bow of the dugout.  Seizing its rawhide painter, he fastened the
end to a seat in his own boat.  Then taking the paddle again, he headed
back to the point.  The leaden hail fell as thickly as ever, but by
crouching low he was shielded somewhat by the high sides of his tow.
His return progress was now slow, but gradually he worked the two
crafts out of the range of the convicts.

Walter had lost no time in getting back to camp at the call of the
rockets, and was waiting at the water's edge to receive his chum.

"Haul both boats in and make them fast," Charley ordered as he wearily
paddled in.

Walter waded out knee deep, and seizing the bow of each boat as it came
in reach, drew it up on the shore, and taking the painter, quickly made
them fast to a nearby pine.

"We have got some heavy, quick work ahead of us," Charley said quickly
enough to forestall the volley of eager questions on the tip of his
excited chum's tongue.  "Every minute counts now.  I dare not call
either Chris or the captain away from their posts.  Help me into the
lean-to with these poor fellows, then get your gun and join the
captain.  Those murderers may be over here any minute now.  They are
bound for their own safety to let no witness of their horrible crime
escape."

As he rose from his cramped crouching position, Charley got his first
glance of the interior of the dugout and his face grew dark with anger
towards those who had brought this thing to pass.

Prone on his face in the bottom lay a magnificent specimen of savage
manhood.  His height, when standing, could not have been less than six
feet three.  His shoulders were broad and clothed with great, powerful
muscles.  His body sloped away gracefully to a slim waist and straight,
muscular limbs--the ideal body, striven for by all athletes.  His dress
was that usual to Seminoles on a hunt--a long calico shirt belted in at
the waist, limbs bare, moccasins of soft tanned deer-skin, and a
head-dress made of many tightly-wound crimson handkerchiefs bound
together by a broad, thin band of polished silver.  In the turban, now
dyed a richer hue from the blood flowing from the warrior's shoulder,
was stuck a large eagle feather, the insignia of a chief.  At his feet,
where he had crumpled down under the enemy's bullets, lay the Indian
lad in a huddled heap.  It did not need the tiny eagle feather in the
diminutive turban to convince Charley's observant eye that it was a
case of father and son, a chief and son of a chief.

All that we have taken so long to describe, Charley had taken in at one
swift glance.

"Both are still living," he declared.  "Run to the lean-to, Walt, and
get a blanket.  We will have to drag that big one up to the camp.  It
will be pretty rough, but it's our only way.  We cannot carry him."

In a minute Walter was back with a thick, strong horse-blanket, which
he spread out on the turf close to the water.

It took every ounce of strength the two lads possessed to lift the
heavy body from the dugout to the blanket, then each taking a forward
end of the blanket, they drew it gently after them sled-wise up to the
lean-to, avoiding rough places as much as possible.  There, they had to
exert themselves to the limit of their strength to lift their burden
from the blanket to one of the couches.

Their second trip was easier.  The Indian lad, though showing promise
of great future strength, was still only a stripling, and they bore his
limp body in their arms without difficulty.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE VICTIMS.

"Hurry back to the captain, Walt," urged his chum as soon as the Indian
boy was laid on another conch.  "He may need you any minute.  Those
demons will be here as soon as they finish off the Seminoles.  Thank
the Lord, the firing is still going on.  I will do what I can for these
poor chaps and be with you as soon as possible."  His eye flashed and
his face darkened as he added, "Tell the captain everyone must shoot at
anything that shows itself--and shoot to kill."

As soon as his chum had gone, Charley turned his attention to the
Seminole chief.  From the clotted mass of blood, he guessed the
location of the main wound, and with his hunting-knife he rapidly cut
away the shirt, exposing the warrior's chest and back.  As he drew back
the blood-soaked cloth, he gave a sigh of relief.  The bullet had
passed clear through the body close to the lungs,--a serious wound, but
one which perhaps with proper care need not prove fatal.  The amateur
surgeon had no antiseptic except common salt, but with that and water
he quickly cleansed and sterilized the wounds and tearing up one of his
own clean shirts, he first scraped a strip with an old case knife until
he had a quantity of soft lint with which he stopped both the ugly
holes made by the bullet, and then with other strips of the same, he
neatly bandaged the wounds.  Next he drew on one of the captain's
shirts in the place of the one he had cut away.  Lastly, he broke open
a pack and took out a quart bottle of brandy.  Pouring out a large
drink he let it trickle slowly down between the Indian's set teeth.

The effect was noticeable at once.  Slowly the warm blood flowed back
into the dusky cheeks, the limbs began to twitch, the breathing grew
audible, and the wounded man began to show signs of returning
consciousness.

Before turning to his other patient, whom he reckoned as good as dead,
Charley stepped outside the wigwam and cast a quick look around.  A
smile of satisfaction parted his lips as he noted the distant figures
of his companions behind the tree barricade, each at his post, gun in
hand, nervously alert.  From them, his glance went on to the point,
where the battle was still going on.  To even an unobserving person, it
was clear that the firing from the canoes was slackening rapidly, and
with a sigh of regret and anxiety, the lad turned back into the lean-to.

When he bent over the Indian lad, he uttered an exclamation of joy;
from the matted hair and abundance of blood he had believed him shot
through the head.  A closer examination showed, however, that the
bullet had only ploughed a neat little furrow down to the skull.
Charley washed the wound clean, forced some of the brandy down the
boy's throat, and dashed a cup of cold water in his face.  The effect
was startling.  In a few minutes the little Indian was sitting up,
swaying drunkenly and in a half dazed way staring about the little
shelter.

"You arc coming around all right, old chap," said Charley, cheerily.

His voice and face brought back to the Indian lad with a rush the
memory of the recent ordeal he had been through.  He gave one glance at
the unconscious form on the other couch and his hand darted to the
hunting-knife at his hip as he staggered, dizzily, to his feet.

"Stop, you are among friends," cried Charley, holding up both empty
hands palm upward as a token of peace.  "You were grazed on the head by
a rifle bullet and it knocked you out for a few minutes, so I went out
in my canoe and towed you in.  Your father is hurt pretty bad, but I
have fixed him up good as I can and I think he will pull through with
care."

The little Indian lad's keen, beady eyes searched the white lad's open,
smiling face, his hand dropped from his knife, and he sunk back weakly
on the couch.

"My father over there, heap big chief," he declared proudly, in
guttural English.  "Name Big Tiger.  Me, they call Little Tiger."  A
shade of suspicion crept over his face.  "You white you say you friend.
More whites hid behind trees and shoot and kill many of Big Tiger's
braves," he said with an ironical smile.

Charley saw that now, if ever, was the time to clear his little party
from the natural suspicion of the Seminole.  He sat down on the couch
opposite and his honest blue eyes met the other's keen, black ones
unwaveringly.  "The Seminoles, once a mighty people, have grown as few
in number as the deer in the forest," he began, falling naturally into
the speech of the Indians.  "Yet, few though they became, there walked
among them, at least, one of their race whose heart and mind was like
the night when the moon shines not and clouds have hid the stars.  One
day this evil one rose up and slew a harmless white settler.  The wise
men of the tribe took counsel together, saying, 'times are changing, we
will turn him over to the law of the white men.'  The ears of the
Little Tiger may have heard whispered the name of the white settler's
slayer."

The Indian's eyes were gleaming with scorn and hatred.  "Injun
Charley," he hissed.

"The white men judged the slayer of the settler according to their
laws.  They sent him to ha shackled with chain and iron ball and do
heavy, squaw-work in misery the balance of his years.  They did not say
because this Indian was bad that all Seminoles were slayers of white
men."

The young Indian started up and began to speak, but Charley silenced
him with a gesture and gravely continued.

"No, these judges were not fools to believe that a whole people should
be judged by the crimes of one, or a few of its race.  Among the
paleface race were brother, squaw, and father murderers, in great
numbers, not because the white race is worse than the red, but because
they exceed the red men in number as the leaves exceed the trunks of
the tree."

"With the bad Indian, serving out a lifetime of work and exile, were
eleven white men just as bad.  When those that watched them had their
eyes turned away, the twelve plotted.  One night they rose up and
murdered the guards, took their guns and ponies, and, under the lead of
the bad Indian, came as the crow flies for here, where were camped
myself and three companions, seeking only the bird that bears plumes
upon its back.  The balance you know," he concluded, gravely.  "As
brother to brother, should the Seminoles be judged by the slayer of
whites, or the white hunters by lawless murderers whose color is the
same as theirs?"

During Charley's short argument, the suspicion had fled from the young
chieftain's face.  At the conclusion, he drew himself up proudly erect
and extending his hand spoke the one English word he knew that stood
with him for friendship and confidence,--"How."

"How," said Charley cheerfully, giving the offered hand a hearty shake.
"Now let's get outside and take a look.  As soon as they have finished
with your followers, I expect the bad men to come down upon us."

Short as had been the time they had spent in the lean-to, a great
change had taken place at the scene of the battle.  The firing had
ceased from all the canoes but one, and even as they looked, a rifle
cracked, the canoe's occupant half rose, then crashed down over its
side, and the last Seminole rifle was silenced.

The pall of smoke had drifted away from the point, revealing a terrible
sight, twenty-nine canoes or dugouts drifted on the quiet water at the
mercy of wind or current, some floated bottom upward, others' sides
were punctured and splintered with innumerable bullets.  Here and there
was one splotched and spotted with the crimson life-blood of its heroic
defender.  Not a sign of life was visible amongst the little squadron.
As Charley looked, one of the convicts ventured out from his place of
concealment and with a long branch, drew the nearest canoe in to shore.
With a coil of rope in one hand, he jumped in and shoved out amongst
the drifting craft.  His errand was easy to be guessed, to make fast to
the drifting canoes and tow them all in to shore.

At the sight of the wiping out of the last of his comrades, the young
Indian had sunk to a seat on a log and buried his face in his hands.
Now, Charley tapped him gently on the shoulder.  "It is not a time for
the son of a chief to be grieving like a squaw," he said, "his
followers are gone, but they died like brave men.  Paleface history
tells of no braver stand than they made to-day.  It's not meet for the
son of a chief to sit repining.  His thought should be of punishment
for the doers of the evil."

The young Indian sprang to his feet, his eyes gleaming fiercely.
"How?" he demanded.  "They have slain the pack.  Will they not soon
come for the leaders?  Has the young white chieftain magic to work
against their many guns and canoes?"

"When the blood runs hot is not the time to reason coolly," said
Charley, calmly.  "I go now to help my comrades.  Go you into the
wigwam and watch by your father; when he awakens tell him all.  As soon
as we may, we will all meet here in council, and the counsel of a chief
will shed a light in the dark around us."

Without a word the young Seminole whirled on his heels and disappeared
in the lean-to, while Charley hurried in to the barricade, where his
presence was now sorely needed.



CHAPTER XV.

A FLAG OF TRUCE.

From the woods beyond the barricade the convicts were pouring in a
rapid fire upon its defenders.  Luckily the little band of hunters were
so placed that the shower of bullets pinged harmlessly against the
thick logs.  Whenever a convict showed an arm or leg one of the
defenders' rifles cracked and a howl of pain from the forest sometimes
followed the report.

Charley crept to where Walter was crouching, his face flushed and eyes
shining as he peered eagerly through a crack between the logs watching
for a chance to shoot.  "Gee, this is great sport," he exclaimed as he
caught sight of his chum.  "They are afraid to cross that open space
and are hiding amongst the trees just wasting powder and lead on these
logs."

Charley looked up thoughtfully at the sun, which was now less than two
hours high.  "You saw the killing of those innocent Indians," he said
gravely.  "It was terrible."

"It was grand the way they stayed to the last man and died that their
chief might escape," declared Walter with boyish enthusiasm.

"Grand but terrible," his chum agreed.  "But we must look out for
ourselves, now.  They are not going to let us get back to town, now,
with our tale of their crime and whereabouts.  We can keep them off
from this barricade until night, but what then?  They have boats now,
and can attack by land and water at the same time.  We are too few in
numbers to defend both ends of the point."

"What can we do, then?" demanded the other.

Charley smiled grimly.  "I am not going to trust my own judgment alone
this time, after the terrible mistake I've made.  We must scare those
fellows off for a bit and then hold a council to decide on the wisest
course.  Thank goodness we have cartridges to burn.  Fill your magazine
full, and when you see me raise my hand pour all sixteen shots into the
wood.  I'll have the captain do the same at the same time.  Chris and I
will fire while you two are reloading.  If we keep that up for a few
minutes, I think we will drive them off long enough to talk over the
situation."

Walter nodded comprehension and began stuffing shells into the magazine
of his Winchester.

From him, Charley passed on to the captain and Chris, to whom he gave
the same explanations and instructions.  As he took his own place
behind the barricade, the young Indian crawled quietly up beside him.

"Why did you not stay with your father?" said Charley, impatiently.
The little Indian drew himself up proudly and recklessly to his full
height, inviting a storm of bullets, all of which happily missed their
mark.  Before the volley could be repeated, Charley pulled him down on
the turf beside him out of danger.

"The chief has awakened from his sleep," said the young Seminole with
dignity.  "Of the things you had told me and I had seen, I told him all
and he believed.  Then he bade me come forth, saying, 'Where the
bullets sing is the place for the son of a chief.'"

"Then keep close to me and shoot when I do," Charley ordered.  He
raised his right hand in the air and the captain's and Chris' rifles
sent thirty-two bullets zipping and singing in amongst the trees.
Before the convicts recovered from their surprise, forty-eight more
leaden messengers whined through the air above them.  The effect was
magical, the convicts ceased their fire, and puzzled and alarmed by the
sudden leaden hail, sought shelter behind the largest trees they could
find.

For ten minutes the hunters poured volley after volley of lead into the
forest.  Suddenly a white rag tied to a stick was thrust out from
behind a tree.

Instantly Charley gave the signal to stop firing.  As it ceased, a man
stepped out into the open, bearing the flag of truce in his hand.

Charley laid down his smoking rifle and leaped lightly over the
barricade.

"Don't go to meet him, Charley," Walter implored, "anyone of those
murderers are likely to take a pot shot at you.  Do come back."

"Better listen to the lad, Charley," said the captain, earnestly.  "You
can't count on that gang respecting a truce flag.  Don't go, my boy."

But Charley only smiled determinedly.  "I want to hear what he has to
say, and I don't want him to see the weak points in our barricade," he
said, "besides, the other day, I was noticing that fellow coming.
Criminal he may be, but he is far too good for the company he's in.
I've got a feeling that he would not stand to be a decoy.  Here goes,
anyway.  Don't worry."

Midway of the open space the two met.  The convict was a young man,
with a dark, handsome face and bold, reckless eyes.  He greeted the
young hunter as coolly as though they were meeting for a pleasant
social chat.

"I came because the rest were afraid," he explained, cheerfully, eyeing
the other from head to foot with cool assurance.  "They are so crooked
and treacherous themselves that they think that your companions will do
as they would do,--not hesitate to fire on the bearer of a white flag."

"They have a good chance at me now," said Charley with a smile.

The stranger grinned as he skilfully rolled a cigarette with one hand.
"I gave them to understand before I left that they would have to reckon
with me if they tried any such trick," he remarked, cheerfully.  "I
guess that will keep the brutes quiet for a while.  But let's get down
to business.  I have," he said ironically, "the distinguished honor to
be their messenger, but first let me say that, although with that gang
of beasts, I am not of them.  I've killed my man, but it was in fair
fight, and not by a knife in the back.  I have no kick coming over what
the law dealt out to me.  Furthermore, if I had known the animals, I
would have to travel with, I would not have let my longing for freedom
draw me away from the turpentine camp.  Lord knows, I wish I was back
there now."  His voice, which had grown earnest, dropped again into a
sarcastic note.  "But I am wandering, as I said before, my noble,
gallant friends have made me their messenger and agent.  It will help
you to understand their demands if I state that the afternoon's work
has been far from satisfactory.  So many of the canoes were overturned
that the plumes secured will not amount to more than seven hundred
dollars where my friends expected to reap as many thousand as the fruit
of their labor."

"Come to the point," said Charley, impatiently, his eyes shifting
anxiously to the declining sun.

The other's tone grew still more bitterly sarcastic.  "We have been
bitterly disappointed," he declared.  "My brave, valiant companions
have suffered sorely in body and spirit.  You saw them engage a mighty
fleet of a race whose color was an offense in their eyes.  It was also
rumored that the fleet contained many thousands of dollars in bird
plumes which it was clearly wrong to leave in the possession of those
who would not know how to spend the money intelligently.

"It is true my dear companions kept in the shelter of the largest
trees, but the incautious ones,--there was an arm barked here and a leg
scratched there, and pain stalked abroad in our midst.  Then, when the
battle was over, judge of the bitterness of mind of my noble comrades
when they searched the canoes not overturned and found less than seven
hundred dollars' worth of plumes, barely enough for one good right's
drunk and carouse in town."

Charley was interested in spite of himself in this gay, humorous young
outlaw, who was so evidently superior to his brutal companions, and he
would have liked to let him come to the point in his own amusing way,
but the sun was getting low, and he feared to waste more time.  "Cut
out your nonsense and come to the point," he said curtly.  "What do you
want with us?"

The other dropped his mocking tone.  "We want that chief and his boy,
whom you are harboring in your camp.  According to our Indian
companion, they own, or know of the hiding-place of, a fortune in
plumes.  If the plumes are not to be easily reached, we can still hold
the chief and boy for a big ransom.  His people will raise it quick
enough, for he is a big man among them."  He hesitated and then went
on.  "The gang said for me to tell you, if the chief and boy were given
up, your party would not be troubled further."

Charley smiled incredulously.  "And what do you say?" he demanded.

"That whether you give them up or not, you are all as good as dead,"
exclaimed the other in a burst of frankness.  "Good Lord, boy, do you
dream that they figure on letting any eyewitness escape to a town and
set the officers of law on their trail?  You can hold them off here
until night, but when darkness comes you'll be wiped out like the
blowing out of a candle."

Charley laid his hand on the other's arm.  "You are too good for that
gang, better come over to our side," he said, earnestly.

The young outlaw hesitated for the fraction of a second, then shook off
the hand roughly.  "No matter how bad they are, they are my comrades,
and I am no traitor," he said curtly.  "Your answer, please."

"Tell them we will not give up the chief or boy," said the young envoy
earnestly.  "Tell them that they have not got us yet by a long shot.
Tell them that the one object we are going to work for from now on, is
to get them back into the hands of the law."

The young outlaw gave him a look of admiration.  "You've got the nerve,
all right," he said.  "Well, so long, till we meet again," and whirling
around he sauntered slowly off in the direction of the forest, merrily
whistling as he went.

Charley for a moment looked after him regretfully, then turning, he
quickly rejoined his companions behind the barricade.



CHAPTER XVI.

THE RETREAT.

A few words gave his companions the substance of the conversation.
"Now," he continued, "I wish we could all get together in the camp for
a few minutes to talk this thing over, and decide on our next move, but
it's too risky to leave the wall unguarded, although I don't believe
they will try another assault before dark."

The young Seminole spoke up, "when the Big Tiger speaks, the whelp is
silent, I will stay."

"Golly, I reckon dis nigger ain't no good at planning, spec I better
stay here, too," observed Chris.

A parting volley was fired into the forest, and under cover of the
smoke the rest retired quickly to the lean-to.

The wounded man was lying awake on his couch, his keen, black eyes
burning with an unnatural light.

Although he must have been suffering intense pain from his wound, his
features were calm and composed.  He tried to rise as the hunters
entered, but could not raise himself even on his elbow.

"Don't try to move," exclaimed Charley, hurrying to his side.

"How," said the sufferer, in greeting, extending a hand surprisingly
small and well-formed for a man of his size.

Charley gave it a hearty shake and his companions crowding around,
gravely followed his example.

The wounded man lay silent for a moment surveying the little party with
shrewd, appraising eyes.  A friendly gleam shone in his beady orbs as
they lingered for a second on the captain's kindly, weather-beaten
face.  He looked a trifle longer at Walter's eager, open countenance,
but his glance came back to rest on Charley's face, and to him his
words were addressed.

"He, whom his people call the Big Tiger, was made as weak as a tiny
papoose by the bullet of a jackal," he began in broken English.  "The
Little tiger has told me all; how the jackals would have taken their
prey but for your coming in the canoe of cloth and bringing the
helpless ones here.  The jackals' bullet has sped true, and the Big
Tiger will lead his followers no more in the hunt, but the son of a
chief will remain and his life will be at the young white chieftain's
command."

The stricken man burst into a fit of coughing, and Charley noted with
pity that flecks of scarlet stained the sufferer's lips.  "Shot through
the lungs," he decided, but he allowed no trace of pity to show on his
face.

"A chief of the Seminoles must be wise with the wisdom of the owl in
council," he said, as soon as the fit of coughing had left its victim.
"Payment from father or son we desire not, only the counsel of wisdom
now.  We are but braves in the hunt or fight, and great danger
threatens, now, but the ripe wisdom of a great chief may be able to
point out a path to safety."

Clearly and in few words, he described their present desperate position
and the demands and threats of the outlaws.

The Indian listened in impassive silence and for some time after
Charley finished, remained buried in profound meditation.

"The young white chief carries an old head on young shoulders," at last
he said approvingly.  "He speaks truly when he says that the air is
thick with danger.  When the blackness of night comes, then will come,
also, those who make war from behind the trees of the forest.  In the
darkness, how is the young white and his friends to tell enemies from
friends?  The jackals will wriggle through and over the wall of trees
like snakes through tall grass.  After what they have seen, can my
white friends expect mercy at hands already stained red?"

Charley shook his head.  "Thou speakest my thoughts, but are we to be
murdered in the dark by creatures such as those?"

"The mind of the young is ever quick and hasty in its flights,"
reproved the wounded chief, gravely.  "What use for the medicine man to
point out the sickness, unless he has the proper barks and plants?"

"Well," said Charley, "let the wisdom of one grown wise in councils
tell us of the cure for this disease."

The wounded savage was again seized with a fit of coughing, and it was
some moments before he could reply.  "Between the glades and here--a
swift half day's journey--a small island lies in the middle of the
river.  There, four men could stand off an army.  If I commanded the
paleface friends as I do my tribe, I would say, bury all things too
heavy to carry away in the canoes of cloth, while it is yet light, turn
the ponies loose that they may not starve.  Put all else in the cloth
boats.  Let some keep up a noise and fire from the wall of trees to
convince the white men without hearts that you are going to stay and
fight.  With the first darkness of night let all take to the boats.  I
with the Little Tiger will lead the way, then may come him you call
captain with the little one whose face is like the night, lastly, may
come you and the one with the eager face (Walter).  Without noise must
we go, and keep close to each other, for the river has many arms
stretched out for the unwary stranger.  At the island of which I spoke,
you may camp in safety while we go on alone.  I stop at my wigwam to
die, alone, in peace and quietness with the great spirit, as becomes a
chief of a long line of chiefs, but he, who will soon he chief, will
travel quickly on gathering together my people.  With them he will
return, and of the twelve who murder from behind trees not one shall
return to boast of his deeds.  When the buzzards are feeding off their
bones, then, may you return and secure that which you have buried, the
ponies, and all of that which is yours.  That is the counsel of one of
a race of chiefs.  What is the answer of the young white chief?"

"I must consult with those who share my dangers, Chief," said Charley
gravely.  "We talk not like squaws, and in five minutes you shall have
our answer."

The Seminole rolled over on his side exhausted from his long speech and
frequent coughing spells, while Charley beckoned the captain and Walter
out of earshot.

"You have heard it all, now I want your opinion," he said simply.
"After this last terrible mistake of mine, it will be long before I
trust to my judgment again."

"We all fell into the same error, lad," said the captain, kindly.  "The
blame, if any, belongs to us all.  Forget it, Charley, and don't let it
weaken your self-confidence.  Now what do you think of the plan of our
red-skinned friend?"

"I believe it's our only chance for life," he answered regretfully,
"those cut-throats have got us foul.  It's run away or be killed."

"Then I'm for running.  But, think you, he can be trusted to pilot us
aright?"

"He will not pilot us far, I fear," said Charley, sadly.  "I doubt if
he will reach his wigwam.  That bullet touched a lung all right.  If he
dies on the way we must look to the son; he is of the same spirit as
the father, or I am no judge of character."

"They both speak English wonderfully well," said Walter musingly.

"So do most of the Seminoles," explained Charley.  "They come in to the
outlying towns at rare intervals to exchange their venison and skins
for ammunition and cloth, and it's wonderful how quickly they pick up
the language.  But I am rambling.  The question before us is, shall we
abandon all our things and run away with a fair chance of escaping with
whole skins, or stay and fight it out with the certainty of being
killed, sooner or later?"

"Run," said the captain decisively, "and trust to luck and the chief to
recover our things."

"Retreat," voted Walter regretfully.

Without another word, Charley turned back to the bedside of the
suffering savage, whose pain-tortured eyes had never strayed from their
faces during the conference.

"Chief, we have decided that your plan is the only one to follow,"
Charley said, simply.

Exultation showed for a second on the Indian's, set features.  "Good,"
he exclaimed, "listen, young white chief.  Do not mourn the loss of
ponies and things such as you must leave behind.  To-day you risked
your life to save a stranger Indian and his boy.  Great shall be your
reward when this trouble is over.  That with which to trade for many
ponies shall be yours."

In his excitement the wounded man had partly raised himself on his
elbow, but the exertion was too much; there was a rush of blood from
his lips and he sank back on his couch in a dead faint.  In a second
Charley was by his side forcing down more brandy between the clenched
teeth.  The powerful stimulant acted quickly.  In a moment the sufferer
again opened his eyes to consciousness.  Charley beckoned to his chum.
"Go relieve his boy," he whispered, "and send him here.  I want him to
get his instructions from his father before there comes another attack.
The captain and I will fix for our departure."

"Good," exclaimed the chief, whose keen ears had caught the
low-whispered conversation, "we won't die yet, though.  Die in our own
wigwam when Great Spirit tolls the bell of mystery."

Walter was off like a shot, and the young Seminole soon stood by his
father's couch.  While the two indulged in earnest conversation in
their own tongue, the captain and Charley worked hastily, for the sun
was already setting.  What things they dared risk carrying were hustled
into the frail canoes.  One of the couches was conveyed to the dugout
and spread out in the bottom and two of the thickest blankets spread on
top of the leaves.  The ponies were cast loose to shift for themselves.
Their remaining stuff was shoved into the water-proof bag and buried in
a high spot.  By the time this was done, the first shades of night had
fallen.  At Charley's suggestion, all hurried into the barricade, and
for fifteen minutes poured a hail of bullets into the forest to
convince the outlaws that they were still there and on the alert.

Then all hurried back to the camp.  Many hands made easy and gentle
work of conveying the wounded man from his couch to the comfortable bed
in the dugout.  The young Indian took his place in the stern of the
ticklish craft, and with a single shove of his long pole sent it far
out into the stream.  The captain, with Chris, followed a few yards
behind, paddling with soft noiseless strokes.  A few yards in their
wake came the last canoe containing Walter and Charley, and quickly the
outline of the point was lost in the darkness behind.



CHAPTER XVII.

THE FLIGHT BY NIGHT.

As the canoes glided silently towards the convicts' camp the paddle
strokes of the fugitives grew slower and more guarded, the blades of
the paddles were no longer lifted clear of the water lest the falling
drops from them should be heard by those on shore.  The river narrowed
suddenly opposite the point, and the canoes would be compelled to pass
within a hundred feet of the enemy's camp.  All of the convicts might
be in the woods surrounding the hunters' camp, waiting to close in on
their supposed victims, but there was a chance that they had had the
foresight to count upon this very attempt at escape and had left some
of their number on the point to cut off the retreat.

Charley thought of all this as he knelt in the stern of his little
craft and plied the paddle slowly and with infinite caution, his every
nerve tense, and sight and hearing strained to catch any sound of
movement on the rapidly nearing point.  Were it white men only that
they were seeking to elude, he would have felt far less apprehension,
but he recognized that in the person of Indian Charley they had to deal
with a mind crafty and cunning, that would be likely to provide against
the very move they were making.  Even in his anxiety, Charley could not
but notice and admire the marvelous skill with which the young Indian
in the dugout handled his clumsy craft.  He hugged close to the farther
shore and glided along its border as noiselessly as a shadow.  The
captain, although but little used to the paddle, was also doing
surprisingly well and was following closely in the wake of the dugout.
Silently the dugout at last glided past the dangerous point, and a
moment later the captain's canoe also slipped gently by.

Charley gave a sigh of relief.  They were safely past and could laugh
at any attempted pursuit in the clumsy dugouts the convicts possessed.

But that one unguarded moment of relief was disastrous in its result.
In a deep, careless stroke, his paddle struck a submerged log and the
slender blade snapped short off with a loud crack, the ticklish canoe
careened suddenly to one side, then righted again with a sullen splash.
At the sound the silent point quickly stirred with life.  There was the
hum of excited voices and a blinding flash of flame lit up the
darkness, followed by the sharp crack of rifles and the hum of
bullets,--they were discovered.

"Give way all," shouted Charley, as he fumbled in the darkness for the
spare paddle, which he at last succeeded in finding.  "Are you hurt,
Walt?" he called anxiously to his companion.

"Not a bit," answered his chum cheerfully, "but hurry up or we will be
getting another volley."

The canoe had drifted beyond the point before her way died out, but was
still less than a hundred yards from it.  By the splashing of water the
boys could tell that the convicts were launching one of the dugouts in
pursuit.  With vigorous strokes Charley sent their light craft flying
ahead; a few minutes and they would be out of rifle-shot and out of
danger, but again there was the crack of rifles and Charley called to
his chum with a voice hoarse with pain, "You'll have to take her, Walt,
they got me that time."

"Bad?" cried Walter anxiously, as they changed places.

"In the shoulder," weakly, "but don't mind about me.  Shove her ahead
as fast as you can, the others have got quite a start of us, and we've
got to catch them."

For half an hour Walter paddled silently on, putting all his strength
into the strokes that sent the light craft leaping ahead, leaving the
pursuing dugout far behind.

"Charley," he called at last, "isn't it time we were up with at least
the chief's dugout?"

But only silence greeted his question, his plucky chum had fainted from
pain and the loss of blood.

For a few moments Walter let the canoe drift, while he pondered as to
what he should do.  He felt sure that they had passed the captain and
his companions--but how?  In the excitement of the pursuit he must have
passed unnoticed a point where the river branched and had taken the
wrong fork.  There were, he knew, dozens of such forks to the river and
the mistake was one that might easily have been made under any
circumstances.  The question now was what to do about it.  To return
was to run the risk of falling into the hands of the convicts, and the
chance of finding the stream the others had taken was exceedingly
small.  There might be a dozen tributaries between him and the
convicts' point, and how was he to tell which was the right one?  In
desperation he crawled forward to his unconscious companion and
sprinkled his face again and again with water from the river.

At last Charley opened his eyes with a moan of pain.

"We're lost," shouted Walter eagerly.  "I can't find the captain or
chief, what shall I do?"  He bent his head to catch the feeble answer
from the wounded lad's lips.

"Keep on, keep on.  When the river forks, take the largest stream,
and--" but Charley had fainted again.

With a heavy heart, Walter crept back to his place in the stern and
resumed the paddle.  It was a terrible situation for a young,
inexperienced lad; lost on a great river in a frail canoe, pursued by
relentless enemies, and alone, except for a wounded, and perhaps dying
companion.  It was enough to strike terror into one much older than our
boy hunter.

Throughout the long night the despairing lad paddled steadily on,
praying for the day to break.  At last it came with a blaze of glory in
the east.  When it grew light enough to see, he rose cautiously and
gazed around him.

The prospect was disheartening enough.  The river had narrowed to less
than a hundred yards in width and wound and twisted amongst the waste
of marsh that stretched desolately ahead and astern as far as the eye
could see.  To the east and west the marsh extended back at least a
mile before it met solid timbered land, here and there, and an
occasional long point jutted out until it met the stream.  Although the
weary lad strained his eyes in all directions, not a sign could he see
of the other canoes or of any human life.  With a sigh of despair, he
sank again to his knees and crawled forward to where his chum lay half
unconscious and moaning in pain.

Dipping his handkerchief over the side, he gently sponged Charley's
pale face with it.

The contact of the cold water seemed to revive the wounded lad.  He
opened his eyes and attempted to smile, although his lips were
twitching with pain.  "What a nuisance I am, old chap," he said faintly.

"Not a bit," declared Walter, cheerfully, overjoyed at his return to
consciousness.  "Here, take a drink of this cold water, and then I am
going to have a look at your wound."

With his hunting-knife, Walter cut away the bloody shirt from the
shoulder and exposed the gaping hole to view.  It was still bleeding
slightly, but he noted with satisfaction that the bullet had passed
completely through the fleshy part of the shoulder without touching the
bone, a painful wound, but not a fatal one.  He washed it clean with
river water and bound it up with strips from his own shirt.  "You'll be
all right in a few days," he declared cheerfully.  "Now just lay quiet.
I am going to paddle in to the nearest point and start a fire and make
you some broth."

Walter's heart was lighter than it had been in many hours as he again
resumed his paddle.  Day had brought fresh hope and courage.  Charley
was getting along far better than he had dared to hope during the
night.  He soon would be well enough to take command, and then, thought
Walter, they would soon find their friends.  He had great confidence in
Charley's ability to get them out of their present predicament.

Suddenly Walter paused in his paddling and sat staring at the point,
which was now scarce a hundred yards distant.  A thin wisp of smoke
curled up above the thick growth of palmettos with which the point was
covered.

"Charley," he called softly, "there is someone on the point; they have
just started up a fire."

"Better sheer off and give it a wide berth, then," counseled his chum.
"If it were the captain or the chief, you would see the canoes."

"But the boats may be pulled up among the mangrove bushes," Walter
objected.  "If it should be the captain and Chris, just think what our
passing by them would mean.  We might never see them again, Charley.  I
am going to have a look."

"All right," agreed his chum, "but be very careful, Walt."

The fire was located well in on the point, and Walter steered to land
some distance out from it.  A few strokes of the paddle sent the light
canoe gliding in amongst the mangrove bushes that fringed the shore.
Climbing out upon the curious gnarled roots, Walter pulled the canoe
far enough in to effectually screen it from sight.  Next he examined
his pistols to see that they were properly loaded, and with a parting
word of cheer for his chum, he made his way slowly and cautiously over
the intervening roots to the shore.

He soon found that it was no easy task he had set himself.  Between
himself and the fire fifty yards away, intervened the heaviest growth
of timber he had ever seen; palms, sweet gums, satinwoods, and pines
mingled in close and wild confusion, while the ground beneath them was
a matted mass of vines and creepers.

For a moment Walter hesitated.  Some of the vines and creepers, he
knew, were poisonous.  To touch them meant sores, swellings, and
suffering.  But it was only for a moment he paused.  The thought of how
much might depend on his errand drove him on.  Tearing two strips from
his already tattered shirt, he wrapped them around either hand, and
dropping on hands and knees he cautiously wound his way towards the
fire.

His progress was slow and painful.  Dangling brier vines drew blood
from arms and face, and sharp thorns repeatedly lacerated hands and
knees.  At each move forward he had to pause and remove the dead
branches and twigs from his path lest their cracking should betray him
to the campers.  At last, however, he could catch the sound of voices,
and wriggling forward with infinite caution, he reached a place from
which he could get a glimpse between the trees at the group gathered
around the fire.

The sight was not reassuring.  Near the blaze a half dozen of the
convicts lay lounging at their ease, while another one was busily
engaged in making coffee and frying bacon.  The neighing of ponies in
the background told the watcher how they had arrived at the point
before him.  They must have ridden most of the night to have covered
the distance, and Walter felt a sinking of heart as he realized the
determination of their pursuit.  The conversation that came to his ears
did not tend to reassure him.

The convicts were evidently tired and in bad humor, and a hot argument
was raging.

"I tell you it's all foolishness, this losing sleep and wearing
ourselves out," declared a tall, thin, pasty-faced individual.  "Here's
my plan: just break up into parties of two or three and each party
strike out for a different town and catch a freight out of the state.
I 'low we're just wasting time and making trouble for ourselves by
following up them chaps."

"Bill Salino, you've got as little sense as courage," declared a man
whom Walter recognized as the leader of the gang.  "The time for
scattering and getting out of the state has gone by.  There will be men
watching for us at every point, and to be caught means hanging for all
hands now.  We've got to lay quiet here for six months or so until they
give up watching for us.  We're safe enough here unless them chaps get
away and bring the Indians or a sheriff's posse down on us; and they
won't get away if I have to follow them into the heart of the
Everglades," he declared vindictively.



CHAPTER XVIII.

CAPTURED.

From the expression on their faces, Walter judged that the other four
convicts were in doubt as to which of the two plans they should lend
their support to.  "Are you sure we'll catch 'em, Cap?" inquired one,
doubtfully, "there are so powerful many forks to this river, it's like
hunting for a needle in a haystack."

"If we don't get 'em, Injin Charley will," declared the leader,
confidently.  "I wouldn't be surprised to see him show up with 'em any
minute now.  He's an Injin and knows just what course them redskins in
the dugout will be likely to take."

Still the outlaws seemed to waver, and the leader shifted his
arguments.  "If you fellows take up with Salino's fool idea, just think
what shape you'll be in, even if you don't get caught.  You won't have
no money and will have to go around like a hobo until you make a
strike.  Now if we catch this chief, I reckon we can torture him, till
he tells us where his plumes are hid.  Then when things have quieted
down a bit we can send a man in to dispose of 'em and walk out of here
like gentlemen with money in our pockets."

This argument seemed to appeal to his companions, and the murmuring
ceased.

Walter decided that he had heard enough, and turning, started to
retrace his way back to the canoe.  His second movement forward,
however, was his undoing.  A large limb upon which he had trusted his
weight broke noisily under him, and he was precipitated forward into a
huge clump of briars.  Before he could regain his feet, strong hands
seized him and dragged him, still vainly struggling, out into the
clearing.

"One of 'em," cried the leader triumphantly, "I reckon the rest ain't
far off.  Scatter and search the point for 'em, boys,--but wait a bit,
maybe this young cub can save us trouble."

But Walter had been thinking rapidly.  If he was to save his chum it
was no time for nice scruples.  With a silent prayer for forgiveness,
he waited the outlaws' questions.

The leader drew a revolver, cocked it, and presented it at the lad's
head.  "You can tell me the truth now or I'll blow your head off," he
growled.

Walter's face took on an expression of fear and cringing terror far
greater than he was really feeling.  The brutal ruffian eyed this
appearance of fear with every evidence of satisfaction.  "Now I guess
you'll answer my questions truthfully," he said threateningly.  "First,
where are your companions?"

"They left us in the darkness and we could not catch up with them.
They must be way up the river by now," Walter stammered.

His questioner swore loudly.  "Got past us, did they?  Well, no matter,
we'll get them easily now, we know for sure which stream they took."

Walter could hardly conceal his delight at having put the ruffian upon
a false trail, but he was ready for the next question, which came
quickly.

"How did you get here?"

"The canoe struck a log, capsized, and sank.  I swam ashore."

"What became of the fellow in the boat with you?"

"Drowned, I guess," said Walter with a sob.

The leader turned to the others.  "I reckon he's too scairt to be
lying," he said, "however, you had better take a look around the point.
Be quick about it, though, for we will have to hurry to catch up with
those other chaps.  Here, tie this fellow up before you go."

Walter was seized, his hands tied behind him, and he was lashed with
his back to a small satinwood tree.

He watched the departure of the ruffians with sinking heart.  If they
searched thoroughly, Charley and the canoe were sure to be discovered.

The outlaws soon returned, however, after a very careless search and
reported nothing in sight.  Truth to tell, tired as they were, they had
quickly wearied of trying to force their way through the dense jungle.

After a hasty breakfast, the leader gave the order to mount.  "You two
stay here and wait for Injin Charley," he commanded, indicating two of
the gang.  "We have got to let him know what we've learned.  I reckon
we'll be back by night, if we ain't, you follow us in the morning."

"What shall we do with the kid?" inquired one of the men.

"Turn him over to Injin Charley when he comes in.  I reckon he'll know
what to do with him," said the leader with a grin so evil and
suggestive that it made the helpless lad's blood run cold.

The four outlaws and their leader mounted their ponies and soon were
lost to sight among the trees.  The two left behind proceeded to make
themselves comfortable without a thought for the exhausted lad whose
tight bonds cut cruelly into arms and legs.  They raked up beds of
leaves upon which they spread their blankets and then proceeded to make
up for the sleep they had lost during the night.

Walter was not only suffering much physically, but was in great mental
distress as well.  He feared that at any moment Charley, alarmed by his
long absence, might call or fire off one of the guns and bring the
outlaws to his hiding-place.  How could he warn him of the danger he
was in?  Suddenly the bound lad was seized by an ingenious idea.
Assuring himself by their deep breathing, that his captors were fast
asleep, he began to whistle, softly at first, then gradually louder and
louder till the weird, mournful strains of the "Funeral March" filled
the air.

One of the guards tossed restlessly and woke up cursing.  "Shut up that
whistling," he shouted, "that blooming thing gets on my nerves."

Walter had no option but to obey, but the awesome tune had carried its
doleful message.  The mournful notes had reached the ears of the
wounded lad in the canoe.  Its message was plain to him.  Walter was a
captive, or in great danger.  And now began a contest between
will-power and pain and weakness from which many a man would have
shrunken.

Three times Charley struggled to rise to his feet, only to sink back
exhausted with great beads of sweat standing out on his brow.  At last,
abandoning the attempt, he began to wriggle back towards the stern of
the canoe.  His progress was slow and painful, and even in the short
distance to be covered, he had often to lay quiet and rest.  At last he
succeeded in reaching the stern, but here his difficulties were by no
means ended.  Working awkwardly with his left hand he managed to draw
his hunting-knife and slash open the pack of provisions they had
brought with them.  From these he selected a can of milk.  It was slow
work opening it with one hand, but at last he succeeded in removing the
top.  Part of the contents he swallowed as it was, the balance he
diluted with water and broke hardtack up in it.  By the time he had
finished the food, a little color had crept back into his face.  He was
still very weak, however, and another attempt to rise met with failure.
For a few minutes he lay quiet thinking, then rummaging in the pack he
brought forth a pint bottle of brandy.  With repugnance written on his
face, he took several swallows of the fiery liquor.  It ran through his
veins like fire.  Shoving the bottle into his pocket, he succeeded in
staggering to his feet and slowly pulled himself up on one of the
mangrove's roots, and, pausing frequently to rest, gradually worked his
way to the shore.

Walter's captors slept heavily until the noon hour, when they awoke,
stirred up the fire, and prepared some dinner; but they offered none of
it to the unfortunate lad, who watched its preparation with hungry
eyes.  Their repast finished, the two ruffians enjoyed a long smoke,
after which they played a few games of cards which ended in a violent
dispute that nearly resulted in blows.

As the afternoon wore on without the appearance of the party they were
expecting, they again composed themselves to slumber.  Slowly the
afternoon wore away and the two outlaws still slept on.  The sun went
down and night began to fall and still the two showed no signs of
awakening.

Suddenly Walter felt the bonds that held him slip to the ground and
Charley's voice whispered, "Drop on all fours, Walt, and work your way
back into the thicket."

Walter did as he was bid as quickly as his stiffened limbs would permit
and soon caught up with his chum, who had begun to retrace his steps as
soon as he had severed the captive's bonds.  In fact, he dared not wait
or tarry, for the false strength engendered by the brandy was fast
leaving him.  To give out on the way would be fatal to both.  He must
reach the canoe before the last remnant of his strength gave out or all
was lost.

Slowly the two boys wormed their way through the jungle, expecting
every second to hear the sounds that would indicate that the prisoner
was missed and pursuit begun.

At last they reached the clump of mangroves that concealed the canoe.
Here outraged nature claimed its due and Charley sank on the edge of
the shore unable to go further.  It required nearly all of Walter's
remaining strength to drag his insensible chum over the roots and lower
him into the canoe.  Precious as was each moment lost, Charley demanded
instant attention, his wound had broken open again from his exertions
and his tattered shirt was wet with blood.  Walter stuffed bits of
cloth into the hole and bound it up as well as he could in the
darkness.  This labor completed, he cast loose the canoe, and with a
few strokes of the paddle sent her over to the other side of the
stream.  Here he laid aside his paddle and sank back to rest and think.
The friendly darkness completely hid them from the gaze of anyone on
the point.  Until the moon rose they were as safe there as any place on
the river.  The plucky lad sorely needed rest and refreshment.  For two
days and a night he had been without sleep and for twenty-four hours
without food.  This, with the strenuous labor and excitement through
which he had passed, had rendered him nearly as weak as his unconscious
companion.  Sleep was out of the question until they were safe from
their enemies, but food was handy and he lost no time in making a
hearty meal on a can of corned beef, crackers and a tin of milk.  The
repast brought fresh strength and courage, although his head felt very
heavy and he could hardly keep his eyes open.

With the outlaws ahead and behind them, there was little choice of the
direction in which they should flee, and Walter paddled steadily on up
the river, keeping close to the opposite shore from the convicts.

Hour after hour passed and found him still paddling wearily onward,
every muscle and nerve in his body aching with fatigue.  At last a
brightening of the sky in the east warned him of the rising of the
moon.  As its bright beams lit up the gloomy river and desolate
marshes, Walter gave a cry of joy; directly ahead, right in the middle
of the stream, lay a small island, its shores fringed with a dense
growth of mangroves.  As the canoe drew nearer, Walter surveyed it with
increasing delight.  Here was surely a safe place of refuge where they
might stay as long as their provisions lasted and until their enemies
tired of the pursuit.  Where the island lay, the river had widened out
into a fair sized lake and the nearest shore was out of gunshot.  There
was no way that the outlaws could reach them except by boat, and they
had none with them.

With lightened heart, Walter ran the canoe far up into the mangroves
and fastened it securely to a large root.  Making his way ashore he
soon found a small space of cleared ground, to which he speedily
conveyed their blankets which he spread out on the dry sand.  Returning
to the boat he endeavored in vain to rouse Charley from the stupor into
which he had fallen.  At last he gave up the attempt and half carried
and half dragged his chum ashore and laid him on his blanket, then
quickly stretching himself out by his side, was soon fast asleep.

Once in the night Walter was awakened by a loud splashing.  With pistol
in hand he stole to the water's edge.  Many dark masses were slowly
gliding to and fro on the surface of the stream.  "Alligators," he
exclaimed with a sigh of relief and returned to his blanket and sleep,
from which he was only aroused again by the rising of the sun.



CHAPTER XIX.

THE SWAMP.

Walter's first thought on awakening was for his chum.  Charley was
tossing restlessly on his blanket, his face and hands flushed and hot
with fever.  All of Walter's attempts to rouse him met only with
unintelligible words and phrases.  The exertion of the previous day in
his weak state, the opening of his wound afresh, and the unhealthy
river water he had drank, had all combined to bring him to a dangerous
condition.

Walter removed the bandages and looked at the wound.  It was of an
angry red and greatly swollen, and its changed appearance frightened
him.  "Charley," he called, shaking him gently, "don't you know me?"

Reason gleamed for a moment in the sufferer's eyes.  "Sure, it's Walt,"
he muttered.

"Listen and do try to understand," begged Walter, earnestly.  "We are
safe, Charley.  The convicts cannot get at us now.  We can stay here
and rest up as long as we want to and you can lay quiet and get well
again.  Now, I am going to light a fire and get you some broth and
strong coffee, and, after you have taken them, I am going to heat some
water and give that wound a good cleansing.  Do you understand, old
chap?"

"Yes," murmured the sufferer, wearily.

After putting his own blanket under Charley's head for a pillow and
making the sick lad as comfortable as possible, Walter began his
preparations for breakfast.  Selecting a spot where the ground seemed
soft and free from roots, he dug a hole about two feet deep to contain
his fire.  It required only a few minutes to make one large enough for
his purpose, and his next step was to bring up the provisions and
cooking utensils from the canoe.

It was only a short distance to where the little craft lay moored
amongst the mangroves and a few steps carried Walter to the spot, but
on the edge of the bank he paused with a cry of surprise and dismay.

The canoe lay bottom side up in the water.

With the strength of despair, Walter succeeded in righting the
overturned craft and pulled it up on shore where he quickly tipped the
water out of it.

One glance at the interior confirmed his worst fears, nothing remained
inside but the paddle, which had been wedged under the seats;
provisions, guns, and ammunition were all gone.

Walter sank down on the bank in despair and buried his face in his
hands.  He understood now, the meaning of the splash he had heard
during the night.  A curious alligator had upset the light craft with
its nose or a flirt of its powerful tail.

For a long time Walter sat silent and still, pondering on their now
desperate situation.  One fact stood out clear in the mind of the
sorely tried and unhappy boy; they must, without delay, leave the
island, which only a few hours before had promised them a safe and
comfortable refuge.  Their only chance lay in finding their friends
before he became helpless from lack of food.  It needed no great
medical knowledge to tell him that Charley was fast sinking into a
critical condition.  Without food or proper medicine, the injured lad
was not likely to last long and every moment they tarried on the island
lessened their chances, which were already very slight, of escaping
with their lives.

When he had arrived at this conclusion, Walter arose and made his way
back to his companion, who was lying as he had left him, tossing
restlessly from side to side.

"I'm sorry, Charley, but you'll have to wait a little longer for your
broth," he said, cheerfully.  "I have decided we had better waste no
more time here but hurry on and catch the captain; he has medicines
that will soon fix you up and make you all right again."

His explanation was wasted so far as Charley was concerned, for the
wounded lad was beginning to rave in the delirium of fever.  After a
few unsuccessful attempts, Walter abandoned the effort to rouse him to
consciousness, and, leaving him as he lay, proceeded to make ready for
their departure.  He cut a pile of small myrtle boughs which he carried
down to the canoe and spread out upon the bottom and upon these he
stretched their blankets, making a soft and comfortable bed for his
chum to lie upon.  Now came his hardest task, the getting of the sick
boy down to, and aboard of, the canoe.  Fortunately the hearty meal and
rest of the night before had so far restored his strength, that he was
able, by half carrying and half dragging him, to get Charley, at last,
upon the bed prepared for him.  Then pausing only long enough to get
his breath again, Walter took his old place in the stern and paddled
out into the stream, where he headed once more for the south, and with
long, steady strokes sent their little craft flying towards the unknown.

As they slid over the water, leaving the miles rapidly behind them,
Walter kept a sharp watch on either bank for signs of the outlaws.
That they were still hunting for him and his friends, he felt no doubt,
but he cherished faint hopes that he had distanced them during the
night.  He consoled himself with the thought that even were they
captured, death by a bullet would be far quicker and less painful than
a slow, lingering death from fever and starvation.

All day the despairing lad paddled ahead, pausing only at noon for a
brief space to rest his wearied arms and drink sparingly of the river
water, which, black and foul as it was, reeked with fever.

Charley, on his bed in the bow, tossed and muttered incessantly.  Every
once in a while, Walter would crawl forward and sprinkle cold water on
the lad's hot face; it was all he could do to relieve the sufferer,
whose ravings fell heavily on his anxious heart.

As the afternoon wore away, Walter's strength began to fail; the mental
strain, steady work, the blistering sun, and lack of food, were fast
telling on him.  The temptation to stop and rest and sleep grew almost
irresistible, but he bravely fought off the weakness.  Their only hope
lay in pushing on and on until they found their friends or came out
upon civilization.  Whither the river led he knew not, but was in hopes
that it might at last bring them out into a settled country.  To stop
now meant certain death.

As night settled down, his tired eyes caught the gleam of a fire on the
shore not far ahead.  A wild hope possessed him that it might prove to
be the captain and his companions, but, warned by his previous
experience, he approached the blaze cautiously.

Slowly he drifted in towards the fire, against which he could soon
distinguish moving figures.  At last, he approached near enough to
recognize the forms against the bright firelight, and hope fled.  It
was another party of the outlaws, four in number, and, the disappointed
lad swung the canoe around to the further shore and paddled safely past
without being discovered.

The night passed slowly away, and through the long hours the lad in the
canoe urged it steadily forward into the darkness.  His tired, aching
brain was now possessed of but one thought, to paddle on, and on, and
on.  His hands had cramped to the paddle handle, and the strokes were
feeble as a child's, but the blade still rose and fell regularly, and
the canoe still moved slowly ahead.

Daybreak found him in the same position, the paddle still slowly
moving, and his bloodshot, staring eyes still fixed ahead.

The rising sun brought him staggering to his feet, a cry of hope on his
lips.

Dead ahead, and more than a mile away, the river disappeared in a great
forest of strange-looking trees.  Amongst its shelter might be found
food and friends, thought Walter, and the hope gave him fresh courage
and strength.

Before sinking back into his seat he carefully surveyed the further
shore.  His gaze was arrested at a point about a mile behind the canoe.
There for about a half mile, the shore lay comparatively clear of
timber, very likely having been swept by fire at some time in the past.
It was not the character of the shore, however, that arrested Walter's
attention.  His gaze was fixed upon four objects moving swiftly across
the open space and headed towards him.  It required no great reasoning
to tell him that the four figures wore mounted outlaws and that they
had sighted the canoe.  It was to be a race between ponies and canoe,
as to which should reach the forest first.

With the strength born of desperation, Walter forced the light canoe
ahead.  Behind him the riders spurred their ponies on at the top of
their speed.  Walter could see, by glancing over his shoulder from time
to time, that the outlaws were steadily gaining, but the canoe was
moving swiftly, also, and was rapidly drawing near to the strange
forest, and Walter decided with a thrill of joy that the enemy would
not arrive in time to cut him off from the shelter of the trees.

The outlaws were not slow to recognize this fact.  Their rifles began
to crack and the bullets to whistle around the canoe.  Fortunately the
motion of their mounts made their aim uncertain, and the bullets did
but little damage, only one touching the canoe, and it passed
harmlessly through the side far above the water line.  Before the
pursuers could draw near enough to make their fire certain, the canoe
had passed in amongst the trees and the outlaws reined in their mounts
swearing loudly.

As he neared it, Walter had watched the forest with growing amazement.
The river seemed to end at its edge, but as he drew closer the reason
for the anxiety of the outlaws to prevent his entering it was plain.
No horse could travel through that dark, gloomy expanse.  It was a
floating forest.  Great cypress and giant bays reared their mighty
stems from the surface of black scummy water.  Amongst their boughs
bloomed brilliant orchids and from limb to limb stretched tangled
masses of creeping vines and briers.

The trees with their huge spreading roots grew so closely together that
it was with difficulty that Walter forced the canoe in and out between
them.  His exultation at his escape from their enemies had given way to
a settled despair.  From descriptions he had heard, he recognized this
mighty floating forest as the fringe which surrounds that greatest of
all mysterious, trackless swamps, the Everglades.  Before him lay the
mighty unknown, unexplored morass, reeking with fever, and infested
with serpents; behind him waited sure death at the hands of the outlaws.

One faint hope alone remained to him.  If his strength held out, he
might in time come upon a camp of the Seminoles, the only human beings
in this unknown land.

Considering the small numbers of the Indians and the vastness of the
swamp, it was a faint chance indeed that he or his companion would live
to see any of the tribe, but, faint as it was, no other hope remained
and Walter sent the canoe onward with feeble strokes.

Gradually the trees grew further and further apart until at last the
canoe passed out from their shadows into a lake, surrounded by tall
growing grass and reeds.  Far as the eye could reach stretched the
dismal swamp, broken here and there by lakes or creeks and now and then
by an island of higher ground rising from the rotting mud.

Under the heat of the blazing sun there rose around the canoe thick
vapors from the scum-covered water and rotting vegetation, bearing in
their foul embrace a sickening, deadly stench.

The paddle strokes grew slower and slower, and gradually ceased,
Walter's eyes slowly closed, and he sank down unconscious.  His paddle
fell from his nerveless hand and floated away on the stagnant water
just as a dark, shapeless mass crept out of a bunch of reeds and struck
the canoe with a gentle thud.



CHAPTER XX.

SAVED.

Darkness, black as night, floated over Walter's reeling brain;
darkness, pierced by a thousand gleaming, twinkling lights, brilliant
as stars, then came a void and nothingness.  Slowly at last he felt
himself struggling up out of the void, battling, fighting for
consciousness, then came a delicious sort of languor.  If this was
dying, it was very pleasant.  Forms seemed to be flitting before his
half-opened eyelids and the hum of voices seemed to float in his ears.
One voice irritated him greatly; it was faintly familiar in its loud
joyousness.  What was it saying?

"Golly, Massa Captain, bless de Lawd, he ain't dead."

Another voice responded, "No, thank God, he's goin' to live, Chris.
Bear a hand and we'll get him into the wigwam."

There was a sensation of being home through the air, and Walter
surrendered to the delicious languor,--and slept.

When he opened his eyes again an ebony face was bending over him and
Chris' voice demanded, "Golly, don't you know me, Massa Walt?"

"It's Chris," Walter said, smiling feebly, and the little darky danced
about in joy.

Walter raised his head with an effort and looked about him.  He was
lying on a bed of soft moss with a pillow of blankets under his head.
He seemed to be surrounded by walls of bark which met in a point far
above his head; opposite him lay another figure on a bed similar to his
own.

"Where am I, and how did I get here?" he demanded confusedly, "the last
I remember was being in the canoe a few minutes ago and everything
getting dark before me."

"A few minutes ago," cried Chris, excitedly.  "Why, it's dun been two
days since Massa Captain come on you when he was paddlin' around the
lake.  You was layin' in the bottom of the canoe like you was dead."

"Two days," exclaimed Walter in astonishment; then, with a sudden note
of dread in his voice, he cried, "Charley!"

"He's gettin' along pretty well," said the little darky cheerfully,
"he's lyin' right across from you thar.  Now you jus' keep still an'
doan' talk no more," he commanded.  "Massa Captain out fixing up some
soup.  Reckon he'll let you talk some more after you drink it."

The captain soon appeared with a gourd full of steaming liquid.  He was
overjoyed at finding Walter conscious, but firmly insisted that he
should remain quiet, and he fed him liberally with the hot soup.
Indeed, Walter felt little desire to talk; a few swallows of the warm
liquid made him very drowsy, and he quickly sank into a deep sleep from
which he awoke feeling much stronger and almost like his old self again.

To his great joy, he found Charley conscious, and without fever,
although still very weak.  He sat down on the edge of the invalid's bed
and the two talked over the thrilling adventures through which they had
passed.

They were interrupted by the entrance of the captain and Chris, the
captain bearing an armful of yams and Chris a string of fresh fish.
"We are layin' in a stock of provisions against the appetite I reckon
you lads will have now you are gettin' better," explained the captain,
cheerfully.

Walter caught the old sailor by the sleeve and held him tightly.  "Now
you have got to sit right down and tell us your story before I will let
you go," he said.  "First, Charley and I want to know where we are."

The captain filled his old black pipe, and got it to drawing good
before he answered.

"You're on an island about two miles inside the Everglades, as near as
I can calculate."

"Did you build this shelter since you have been here?" asked Charley
eagerly.

A shade of sadness passed over the captain's open face.  "No," he said
slowly, "this island belonged to the chief an' this wigwam was where he
lived, an' it was here we brought him to die."

"To die?" echoed both boys together.

"Aye, lads, he passed away the same day we reached here," said the
captain, sadly.  "He was a white man clean through, if his color was
red.  I got to know him powerful well on the trip here, an' he sure had
all of a white man's feelings."

The boys remained silent in face of the captain's evident grief, and
the old sailor, after a pause, continued.  "We buried him under a big
oak tree, with his gun and plenty of food by his side, just as he had
directed, an' I reckon his spirit is up in his happy hunting-grounds
now."

"And the young chief, his son, what has become of him?" Walter asked
after a pause.

"Gone to gather his people together an' swoop down with them on the
murderin' convicts.  He found out from signs, that I couldn't make
nothin' of, that his tribe had divided into two parties, one going
towards a hunting-ground called Big Cypress, an' the other to another
place where deer an' bear are thick.  As soon as the chief was buried,
he jumps into his dugout an' starts to round 'em up.  If he gets back
with them in time to catch them outlaws, may the Lord have mercy on
their murderin' sin-stained souls, for the young chap will have 'em
slowly tortured to death if he catches them."

"Tell us all about your trip," Walter urged, "how did we get separated,
I wonder?"

"It puzzled me for a bit as to what had become of you, but the chief
soon explained it by saying that you likely had taken another stream.
Chris an' I was for turnin' back an' huntin' you, but the chief
reasoned us out of it, by saying that you might have taken any one of a
dozen forks and that there would be mighty little chance of our hitting
on the right one, while we would be almost sure to run right into the
convicts' hands again.  But what influenced us most, was his explainin'
that all streams thereabout ran into, or from, the Everglades, an' that
all we had to do was to get here first and keep a sharp lookout along
the cypress for you, and you'd soon show up.  The chief had great
confidence in your good sense, Charley, an' seemed to feel certain that
you would reason that the only safe thing to do was to keep right on up
the stream you had taken.  'Course, we never suspected that you had
been shot."

"Well, I guess my successor in command did all I would have done and
perhaps more," remarked Charley with a smile.

"It was just by luck that I happened to do the right thing," said
Walter, modestly.

"You didn't appear like as though luck had helped you much when I found
you, Walt," remarked the captain, dryly.  "It sorter looked to me like
only hard work an' an amazin' lot of pluck an' grit had brought you
that far."

"Now don't you go trying to make a hero out of me," said Walter, hotly,
"I won't have it.  I only did what anyone would have done, and I made a
whole lot of foolish blunders besides."

"Well, you can have it your own way, lad," agreed the captain, with a
glance of affection at the embarrassed young hunter.  "I reckon that's
about all of our story worth tellin'," he concluded.  "We made the best
speed we could so as to get here before you.  We caught sight of
parties of the convicts searchin' for us now an' then, but the chief
was more than a match for them an' they never caught sight of us.
Since we got here, Chris and I have patrolled the rivers' mouths for
sight of you every day, but we had begun to despair when we came upon
your canoe day before yesterday.  And now, that's all, my lads, except
that I feel we had all ought to join in thankin' our Heavenly Father
for deliverin' us from our enemies an' bringin' us together again."

With hearts full of gratitude, the young hunters sat with bowed heads
while the kindly old sailor offered up a simple, fervent prayer of
thanksgiving for the mercies they had received from the One who heeds
even the sparrow's fall.

"Thar's one thing more to tell you, an' then I'm through," said the
captain, breaking the thoughtful silence that had followed the prayer.
"The chief seemed to set great store by you, Charley.  I reckon it came
from your savin' his life at the risk of your own.  Anyway, he spoke
right often of the 'young white chief', as he called you, an' once he
said you should be honored with riches.  Not an hour before he died, he
gave me this an' charged me to give it to you."

Charley took with wonder the object the captain handed him.  It was a
piece of exquisitely dressed doe-skin about six inches square.  On the
smooth side was traced in a reddish sort of ink a kind of rude sketch
of a lone palm tree, amongst the leaves of which a large bird was
perched.  Resting against the foot of the palm was an object that bore
a faint resemblance to a paddle.

"It is sign language, but I cannot make out what it means," said
Charley in perplexity.  "I wonder why he wanted me to have it and what
he wanted me to do with it."

"I've puzzled over it some myself," said the captain slowly, "an' I
can't make anythin' out of it.  From what the chief let fall from time
to time, though, I gathered he wanted to make you a valuable present,
an' I've been kinder thinkin' that picture tells what an' where it is."

Charley folded the piece of doe-skin and put it carefully away in an
inner pocket.  "I will try to find out what it means when my head is
clearer," he said.  "Just now, all I can think of is something to eat."

"And you shall have something to eat right off," said the captain,
heartily, "it's about time for supper anyway.  Hustle up, Chris, an'
get them fish cleaned.  I reckon it won't hurt the lad to have a bit of
solid food, now, providin' it's well cooked."

The sun was just setting when the captain and Chris reappeared bearing
gourds full of smoking fish, and sweet sugary yams, and ears of curious
small kernelled Indian corn.

The boys made merry over the delicious meal, but a curious constraint
seemed to rest upon the captain and Chris.  Once Walter surprised them
exchanging glances full of a strange, expectant uneasiness.  The
circumstance aroused his curiosity, but he refrained from asking any
questions, deciding that the captain would explain the trouble in his
own good time.

As the evening wore away, the change in the captain's manner became
more and more marked.  All his cheeriness of the day had departed,
leaving him glum and silent.  He took no part in the lively
conversation going on between the boys, but sat apart answering their
questions in monosyllables.  His manner, Walter decided, was that of a
man who faces some great impending evil.

With the coming of darkness the air was filled with the noises of the
swamp; the croaking of multitudes of frogs, the hooting of owls, and
the hoarse bellowing of many alligators.

Suddenly the boys sat up erect and stared at each other in amazement.
"What is it?" Walter cried.

Clear and sweet above the noises of the night rang the tolling of a
silver-toned bell.

"It's the bell of the spirits callin' us," said the captain gloomily,
while Chris sat ashen-faced trying vainly to control his terror.



CHAPTER XXI.

THE TREASURE.

"Nonsense, there are no such things as spirits," cried Charley, hotly.
"That tolling is made by a big bell, and a remarkably sweet-toned one,
too."

"It's over a hundred miles to the nearest settlement," said the captain
gloomily, "do you reckon you could hear the biggest bell made that far?"

"No," the lad admitted, "but that bell is not over two miles away.
Some Indian has traded for a bell and tolls it for his own amusement."

The captain lowered his voice to a superstitious whisper.  "It's a
mystery to the Indians," he declared, "and they avoid the sound like it
were an evil spirit.  Even the chief could not tell me what it was,
although all his life he had heard its tolling.  He wasn't so much
afraid of it as are the other Indians an' he built this wigwam here so
as to be within sound of it."  The captain's voice dropped still lower
as he added impressively, "It tolled all the night after he died."

"Have you tried to follow up the sound and discover where it comes
from?" demanded Charley, sharply.

"Not me," declared the captain, solemnly, "I ain't got any call to
interfere with the doings of the dead.  I tell you, lad, this is a land
of mystery, an' a man's got no call to fool with what he can't
understand."

Charley checked the angry reply rising to his lips.  He bethought
himself that the captain had spent his life in a calling that often
makes the strongest minded superstitious, while Chris inherited a
belief in ghosts and spirits from his race.  Though he lapsed into
silence, Charley resolved that as soon as he was able to get around,
the mystery should be solved.

For about an hour the air rang with the sweet chiming notes, then they
ceased as suddenly as they had begun and the boys dropped off to sleep
to dream of this strange incident in this mysterious swamp.

Walter was astir early, apparently as well as he had ever been.
Hastily dressing he lifted up the bark flap which covered the doorway
and stepped out of the wigwam.

The captain was busy cooking breakfast over a rude fireplace of stones,
a few feet away, while Chris on the bank by the water was industriously
fishing.

The island upon which they were camped was only a couple of acres in
extent but rose high above the water.  It was barren of timber, except
for a large live oak and one lonely palm which Walter noted with an
increasing interest.  Some attempt had been made to cultivate the loamy
soil, and flourishing little patches of yams, sugar-cane, gourds, and
Indian corn testified to its fertility.

"Well, Captain, it doesn't look as if we ran much risk of starving to
death," remarked Walter, approaching the old sailor.

"No, thar ain't much danger of that, I allow," said the captain with a
heartiness from which all depression of the night before had fled.
"Over thar is the place you come in at, Walt," he continued, pointing
to the distant fringe of cypress.

Walter looked long and earnestly in the direction indicated.  "I can
see a thin line of smoke above those tree-tops," he declared finally.

"Aye, I noticed it too," agreed the captain.  "'Pears like them friends
are going to hang at our heels until they get another chance at us.  I
wouldn't borrow any uneasiness if it weren't for that Injin bein' in
the party.  I warrant he's found out already that the Injins are all
gone, an' is layin' his plans accordingly."

"Well, they can't get to us without boats," said Walter, hopefully.

"No, but they can make one if they are determined enough," observed the
captain, gravely.  "I sorter calculate to paddle up near enough to them
to-day to learn what kind of mischief they are up to."

"I'll go with you," said Walter, eagerly.

"No, you ain't strong enough yet.  Jes' keep quiet for a day or two, I
reckon that will be a plenty to keep you busy.  Wall, I guess this stew
is done an' we might as well have breakfast."

The kettle with its contents was carried into the wigwam, and from a
cake, made of pounded Indian corn, and the stew, our hunters made a
hearty breakfast.

After the meal, a council of war was held.  The captain outlined their
situation in a few simple words.  "We are fairly comfortable here at
present, lads, but it's goin' to be a week or ten days before Young
Tiger gets back with his people.  We've got plenty of food to last a
good while, but I reckon this swamp is about the most unhealthy place
on earth an' we run a good big risk of being sick with fever before the
Indians come.  On the other hand, it's risky to try to get out of here
any way but the one we came in.  We'd be about sure to get lost in the
swamp, an' there's no tellin' what might happen to us.  We can't get
out the way we come in as long as those fellows are standin' guard
outside waitin' for us."

"I vote to stay where we are," said Walter, promptly.  "We may be able
to escape the fever if we take good care of ourselves."

Charley and Chris quickly agreed with Walter.

"I guess it's the wisest thing to do," admitted the captain, "although
I will be mighty glad to get out of this creepy place.  I tell you this
ain't no place for white men, lads.  But I've got to leave you now,
boys.  Make yourself as comfortable as you can, an' keep out of the sun
during the heat of the day.  I reckon I'll be back long before sundown."

Walter accompanied the captain down to the canoe and begged hard to go
with him, but the old sailor was firm in his refusal and Walter watched
him paddle out of sight with a dim foreboding of evil at his heart.

On his way back to the wigwam, Walter paused a moment on the island's
highest elevation to take a more careful survey than he had yet done of
the surrounding country.  He discovered nothing new, however, save what
was apparently a large island lying some two miles to the west of their
own.  It seemed to rise far above the surrounding swamp and was
evidently very heavily timbered.

Passing on into the wigwam, he was greeted with an exultant cry from
Charley.

"I've solved it," he shouted.

"Solved what?" demanded Walter in amazement.

"This," cried his chum excitedly, extending the square of doe-skin with
its red ink tracings.  "It's really absurdly simple," he continued.
"According to the captain, the chief talked about leaving me riches of
some sort.  I took that circumstance for my key and tried to think what
a race as poor as the chief and his people would consider as riches.
The picture of that bird answered the question.  Plumes are their only
form of wealth, hence plumes must be the treasure of which he spoke."

"Reasoned like a detective," approved Walter, scarcely less excited
than his chum.

"The rest was simple.  The picture of the tree was to show where it was
hidden and the object at its base is intended as a shovel to tell that
I would have to dig for the treasure, but," and his face fell, "how are
we to find that identical tree?"

"There's only one palm on the island," Walter assured him.

"Then all we have to do is to go there and dig and we'll find the
treasure," Charley declared.  "But we must wait for the captain, we
must all be present when it is unearthed."

The morning slipped away quickly, the boys amusing themselves by
exploring their little island, fishing from the bank, and loafing in
the shade of the solitary palm, at whose base was supposed to lie the
buried treasure.

Dinner time came and the meal was eaten without the captain, who had
not returned.  As the afternoon wore away without any sign of the old
sailor, the boys began to feel a vague uneasiness which increased as
the sun set and night began to fall.  Walter, who alone knew the real
object of the captain's trip, was greatly worried.  Long after the
others had retired to the wigwam for the night, he sat alone straining
eye and ear for sight or sound that would herald the absent one's
return.  As the night wore away, anxiety deepened into certainty with
the troubled lad.  Something must have happened to the captain.
Impatiently the lad waited for daylight, determined to set off at the
first break of dawn in search of the missing one.  Suddenly, the lad
started up from the reclining position weariness had caused him to
assume.  Full and deep upon the still night air rang out the tolling of
the mysterious bell.  To the anxious watcher, its tones no longer rang
full and sweet as upon the previous evening, but sounded slow and
threatening, as if freighted with an ominous meaning.

A step sounded behind him and the overwrought lad sprang to his feet,
every nerve a-tingle.

"Where are you, Walt?" called Charley's voice from out of the darkness.

"Here," answered Walter, with a sigh of relief.

"The captain not here yet?" asked his chum, fearfully, as he found his
way to his side.

"No," said Walter sadly, "and I am sure something must have happened to
him.  I am off to search for him as soon as it's light enough to see."

"And I am going with you," Charley declared.

"You are not," said his chum, decidedly.  "You are too weak for such a
trip yet.  You would only make my task harder.  You have no business
even to be out in this night air and dew.  It may bring your fever back
on you."

"I could not rest inside when I saw your bed and the captain's empty
and heard the tolling in the air."

"What do you suppose it really is, Charley?" asked his chum, eagerly.
"It cannot be produced by anything human.  Remember the captain's
saying that it had been tolling this way longer than the oldest Indian
could remember back."

"It's a bell," declared his chum, a trifle uneasily.  "Nothing else
could produce those tones and that regular tolling."

"Charley," and Walter's voice lowered with the horror of the thought,
"the captain said it tolled all night when the chief died, and now the
captain himself is gone and the awful thing goes on as though it would
never stop."

Charley, with an effort shook off the feeling of dread that was fast
stealing over him.

"Nonsense," he said, cheerfully, "you are getting as bad as Chris and
the captain.  I repeat, it is a bell: listen how regularly it tolls."

As though in mockery at his words, the long, even reverberations
changed to a quick, harsh, discordant clatter and suddenly ceased.

For awhile both boys sat silent, Walter striving to overcome the
superstitious dread tugging at his heart, and Charley searching his
active brain for some explanation of the mysterious sound, that would
harmonize with common sense and reason.

At last Walter, by sheer will, regained his mental balance.  "I am
tired and nervous, or I would never imagine such foolish things," he
said.  "Of course it is as you say, produced by natural causes, and I
will likely laugh at my fears as soon as we stumble on the key to the
mystery.  And now I am going to insist upon your going back inside,
Charley.  It won't do for us to have you down with the fever again.
For our sakes, as well as your own, you must be very careful."

Reluctantly, Charley retired to the wigwam and Walter once more was
left alone.

With the first hint of gray in the east, he began to prepare for his
departure.  What cooked food was on hand he stored in the bow of the
canoe, and casting off the painter took his seat in the stern.  Then he
paused for one last look around before dipping his paddle.

Away in the distance a moving speck on the water caught his eye.  For a
few minutes he watched it in suspense, then gave a cheer of delight.

It was the captain's canoe.



CHAPTER XXII.

DISAPPOINTMENT.

As the speck drew nearer all doubt vanished, it was the captain's canoe
with the old sailor himself in the stern paddling with slow, weary
strokes.

Walter's cheer had brought forth his companions from the wigwam, and
all now gathered on the bank to welcome the wanderer.

Slowly the canoe drew in to the shore, and Walter at last was able to
catch the painter and haul the light craft's bow up on the sand.  Its
occupant sat still in the stern unable to move.  His clothes were
stained and tattered, his hands torn and bleeding from many scratches,
and his pale, haggard face told of hardship and suffering.

"Don't look scairt, lads," he called out cheerily, "I ain't hurt none;
jes' scratched up a bit, an' powerful tired.  I reckon you'll have to
give me a hand to get me out.  I'm cramped that bad I can't move a leg."

Walter and Chris flew to the old sailor's help and between them
assisted him out of the canoe and up into the wigwam.  Then Chris
quickly kindled a fire and soon presented the weary man with a gourd of
steaming coffee and the cold food which Walter hastened to bring from
the canoe.

The captain ate like one famished, while the boys stood around eager to
hear his story.

"I'll spin my yarn as soon as I've rested a hit, lads," he said, as he
finished the last morsel of food.  "I'm clean spent, now, and want to
stretch out for a while."

The boys helped him up and onto his bed, which he had no sooner touched
than he was fast asleep.

It was noon before the old sailor awoke to find a hot dinner ready and
the boys patiently waiting.  He was surprised to find that his
stiffness had nearly all disappeared, and, except for the cuts on hands
and face, he was as well as ever again.

"My, this grub tastes good," he exclaimed, attacking the smoking fish
and yams.  "I didn't have a bite to eat all day yesterday.  But I
reckon I had better start at the beginning of my yarn.  I reckon you
boys are some curious how I happened to turn up again in such shape.
Wall, after I left here I paddled on, till I came to that fringe of
cypress right opposite where the smoke was curling up.  When I got that
far I got mighty careful, an' the way I coaxed that little craft in
between them cypresses was so quiet that I didn't even wake up the
water moccasins asleep on the roots.  When I came near the outer edge
of the cypress, I fastened the canoe to a root and crept forward on
hands an' feet from one cypress tussock to another, sorter calculatin'
that I'd make less noise that way than in the boat.  At last, I got
where I could glimpse out between the trees and get a view of the fire.
There was the whole twelve of them rascals workin' away as hard as
honest men.  I watched them quite a while afore I caught on to what
they was doing, an', when I found out, it didn't make me feel any
easier.  Lads, they was hollowing out the biggest dugout you ever seed.
They had got a giant of a cypress chopped down, hewed it sharp at both
ends and were burning it out inside with fire.  While I was watchin',
that varmint of an Injin, Charley, left the gang an' struck into the
cypress an' passed by so close to where I was hid that I was sartin
sure he'd see me, but he didn't.  I lay still there for hours, afeard
to move for fear I'd meet him comin' back.  It was most sundown when he
returned, and I stayed on quite a bit after that listenin' to the
conversation.  As I guessed, he had been out scouting an' had found out
that we were on the island an' that his tribe was too far away to
interfere with any plans he had in his head.  Cute as he was, though,
he hadn't learned that the old chief was dead and the young one gone
for help.  When I had learned all I could, I crawled back to the canoe
and struck out for the island.  It was being cramped up so long in one
position in the cypress and in the canoe, that made me so stiff and
sore."

"They surely can't be so reckless as to think of entering this swamp!"
exclaimed Charley.

"'Tain't so very reckless, the way they look at it," observed the
captain.  "You see they think that the Indians are all far off an'
ain't likely to come back for some weeks.  When the redskins started on
their hunt they left plenty of signs behind to tell where they had
gone, and them signs are plainer than print to Injin Charley.  Now,
them fellows figures they can drop down on this island, kill off all
hands but the chief, an' torture him 'till he gives up the plumes he's
counted on havin', an' be off, an' safe out of reach afore the
Seminoles return from their hunt.  No, it ain't such a foolish sort of
undertaking after all."

"How long will it take them to finish the canoe?" Walter inquired.

"I calculate it will take at least three days more," said the captain,
reflectively.  "You see, the cypress is green an' burns pretty slowly."

"Three days," mused Charley, "and it will be at least a week before
help can come.  We have got to count on meeting this danger by
ourselves."

"I don't see nothin' to do but push on into the swamp," said the
captain disconsolately.  "They outnumber us three to one.  An' this
island ain't got no shelter for us to find cover behind."

"Let's not worry about it now," urged Walter cheerfully.  "The captain
says it will be three days at least before the canoe is finished so we
have plenty of time.  If we decide to leave the island, we can easily
keep ahead of a clumsy dugout in our light canoes."

"I am of Walter's opinion," agreed Charley.  "Something may turn up in
the next two days, and, anyway, there are some things I want to
investigate before I vote to leave this neighborhood.  I can promise
you one thing, captain, those fellows will never handle the plumes that
belonged to the chief."

The captain listened in admiring astonishment as Charley recounted his
solution of the chief's legacy.  "We have been wild to dig for the
treasure," Charley concluded, "but we would not touch a spadeful of
earth until you could be with us to share in the excitement."

"Then you needn't wait another minute," cried the old sailor, who was
nearly as excited as the boys.  "Get your spade an' we'll start right
in."

"We haven't got one," confessed Charley, suddenly crestfallen.  "What a
fool I was not to think of that."

"Golly, I reckon dis nigger goin' to fix up somethin' to dig with
mighty quick," cried Chris, whose eyes were sparkling with anticipation.

Running down to the canoe, the little darkey was back in a moment with
one of the paddles.  "Reckon dis will do," he said, "got to be mighty
careful not to break it, though."

Armed with the implement, which Chris' thoughtfulness had provided,
they lost no time in making their way to the lone palm.

The next perplexing question was on which side of the tree to dig.

"It's as likely to be on one side as the other," Charley declared.  "We
might as well start in at random and dig a circle around the tree until
we come to it."

The others had no better plan to suggest, and Walter, seizing the
paddle, began to throw the dirt away.  Luckily the soil was not packed
hard, for even, loose as it was, progress was very slow with the rude
implement he was wielding.  At the end of an hour, he was content to
surrender the paddle to the captain, who, when tired, turned it over to
Chris.

It was slow work and the sun was getting low in the west when the
circle around the palm was at last completed, and the diggers stood
looking at each other with disappointment written on their faces.

"We must go deeper," Charley declared, "I am certain that this is the
right spot, and the chief would have had no interest in deceiving or
misleading us."

"We have gone down two feet already," said Walter, in a discouraged
voice, as he started wielding the paddle again.  "I guess there is
something wrong with our calculation, Charley."  He stopped suddenly
and looked up with a comical look of surprise and anticipation.

"I struck something," he announced breathlessly, "something kind of
soft and yielding."

"Go on," Charley shouted in his excitement, and Walter bent to his task
again.

The removal of a few more shovelfuls of earth exposed to view a large,
dark, hairy object.  Stooping, Walter with difficulty lifted it out of
the hole.

All clustered close around it in their eagerness.

What had looked at first glance like a large, dead animal, proved to be
a deer-hide stretched on framework, the hairy side out.  A few slashes
of Charley's hunting-knife laid open this rude leather box and revealed
to their eager gaze a smaller similar box inside.  Charley lifted it
out and cut away the top.

By the now dim light, they could only see the tapering shapes of
hundreds of long plumes carefully packed inside.

"There must be all of fifty pounds of them," said Walter, in an
awe-struck voice, "why, they'll make us rich men."

"Give me a hand to carry them up to the wigwam," said Charley.  "Run
ahead, Chris, and stir up the fire so we can see what we have got."

The excited captain swung the box upon his shoulder and strode forward
hard upon Chris' heels.  He laid his burden down close to the fire and
all crowded around.

One look and a loud murmur of disappointment broke from every lip.

What the dim twilight had hid, the firelight revealed in all its
disheartening truth.  What had been once a beautiful heap of valuable
plumes, now lay an ugly mass of mildew and mould.

For a moment no one spoke, so keen was their disappointment.  At last,
Charley summoned up a feeble smile.

"Well, we are no worse off than we were before," he remarked with a
voice that he endeavored to render cheerful.

"That's the way to take a disappointment, lad," said the captain,
heartily.  "A pound of meat is worth more to us now than a hundred
pounds of plumes, anyway.  Now, Chris, quit your grieving an' see if
you can't rustle up some supper.  I reckon we'll all feel better after
a warm bite."

"What shall I do with them, Charley?" asked Walter, who had remained
kneeling by the ruined treasure.

"Throw them away, they are valueless," exclaimed his chum somewhat
testily, for his disappointment was almost more than he could bear
cheerfully.

Walter lifted the leather box and disappeared in the darkness toward
the water.  He did not throw it into the stream, however, but after a
moment's hesitation on the bank, descended to his canoe and, shoving
his burden far up under the stern deck, retraced his steps to the fire.

In spite of their attempts at cheerfulness, the gloom of their
disappointment hung heavy upon them, and it was rather a silent group
that gathered in the wigwam after supper.  Chris and the captain soon
sought their beds and ere long their loud, regular breathing told that
they had found solace for the disappointment of the day.  The two boys
felt too excited to sleep and sat long talking over their still
perilous situation.

Suddenly, as on the other two nights, began the now familiar tolling of
the mysterious bell.

The captain stirred uneasily in his sleep and Chris opened his eyes
drowsily but soon fell off to sleep again.

"Come outside, Walt, where we can talk without the chance of being
overheard," Charley whispered.

The two lads stole softly out of the wigwam and down to the water's
edge where they sat down on the grassy bank.

"Now listen closely," Charley commanded.



CHAPTER XXIII.

MORE MYSTERY.

The two boys remained quiet for several minutes listening to the bell's
deep toned tolling.  At last Walter remarked, "It don't sound as though
it was very far away from us, not over two miles, I should say."

"Good," exclaimed Charley with satisfaction, "I was about to ask you
what you thought the distance was.  Two miles is about what I had
estimated.  We can't say very exactly, for sound is likely to travel
far in this still air.  But let us make a liberal allowance for the
stillness.  I think we are safe in saying that the sound comes from a
point not more than four miles distant from this island.  Now, the next
question is, from what direction does it come?"

"It's hard to tell exactly, the sound seems to fill the air so, but I
should say that it came from the westward," said Walter after another
moment of careful listening.

"We agree again," declared Charley, "it is not likely that we are both
mistaken.  Now that we have settled the distance and the direction from
which the sound comes, what do you say to starting out in the morning
and trying to solve the mystery?"

"The captain will not let us go," Walter objected.

"For this once, I do not intend to consult him," Charley said.  "We
will get off before he is awake.  We can leave a note saying that we
will be back before dark."

"Good," exclaimed his chum, "even if we accomplish nothing else, we may
find an island that can be defended better than this one."

So it was settled and the boys crept back to bed eager for the coming
of the morrow.

The eastern sky was just beginning to lighten a little when the boys
got up and dressed, collected what cold food they could find, and,
leaving a note where the captain could not fail to find it, stole down
to the canoe and quietly embarked.

Charley's shoulder was still too sore to permit of his using the paddle
so he made himself comfortable in the bow while Walter in the stern
wielded the blade.

The canoe was headed around to the westward, as near as they could
determine, for the point from whence had come the tolling of the bell.
"I noticed what looked like a large island, from our camp, about two
miles off and in the direction we are headed," observed Walter as they
glided swiftly away.

"I noticed it too," Charley answered, "and I do not think we can do
better than start our search there, if it proves to be an island.  We
will be there in an hour at this rate.  I wish I could spell you, Walt,
but it don't seem right for you to be doing all the work."

"Nonsense, I am enjoying it," his chum protested, "everything about
this swamp is so novel and strange.  See those cute little turtles on
every log, and those curious looking smoke-birds, and did you ever see
anything more beautiful than those trees with their hanging moss and
with every bough full of orchids of every color of the rainbow?"
Walter ceased his paddling for several minutes and the canoe drifted
slowly on while the two boys gazed with delight at the novel beauty
that surrounded them.  The dark, stagnant water through which they
drifted was nearly hidden from view by great white and gold
water-lilies and the butterfly flowers of water hyacinths, the trees on
either side stood like beautiful gray ghosts under their festoons of
Spanish moss through which flashed the blazing hues of flowering
orchids.  Brilliant-hued paroquets and other birds flitted amongst the
tree-tops, while to finish the delicious languor of the scene the air
hung heavy with the subtle, drowsy scent of wild jasmine.

"It is the great swamp in its happiest mood," observed Charley, "but
even here under all this beauty are hidden countless serpents and
crawling things, while everywhere under this fair appearance lurks
fever and disease."

Walter resumed his paddle with a sigh of regret and sent the canoe
flying around a point and away from the scene of beauty.  Here the
stream widened out to about half a mile in width and increased in
breadth as they advanced.  Half a mile ahead lay the island they were
seeking, its banks rising high above the great lagoon in which it lay.
It was about four hundred acres in extent and its shores were covered
with a dense tropical growth.  Between it and the canoe was another
tiny island about two hundred yards distant from its big sister.
Between the boys and the smaller island floated a score of dark masses
like the roots of trees.

"Alligators," declared Walter as they drew nearer to the floating
objects.

"I am not so sure about that," said Charley, who was watching the
objects with closest attention.  "Sheer off, Walt, and give them as
wide a berth as possible."

He watched with anxiety as two or three of the strange creatures, as
though impelled by curiosity, swam lazily out towards the canoe.  "Give
way, Walt," he cried, "paddle as fast as you can."

Under Walter's vigorous strokes the canoe shot past the lazily swimming
creatures whose curiosity did not appear to be great enough to induce
them to increase their exertions.

When they were left behind Charley heaved a sigh of relief.  "They are
crocodiles," he explained, seeing his chum's look of surprise.
"Alligators are harmless, generally speaking, but if one of those
fellows should upset you, you'd be chewed up into mince meat in a
jiffy.  But here's island number one.  I guess we do not care about
landing there now, do we?  The bigger one looks far more promising,
let's try it first."

Walter gave ready assent, and they passed by the little island with
only a casual glance.

In a few minutes more they had left it behind and had drawn close to
its bigger sister.  Choosing a place at which the timber seemed
thinnest they ran the canoe up on shore and fastened it securely.

With guns in hand they scrambled up the high bank and stood for a
moment surveying the surroundings.  From that elevation, they could see
quite clearly for a couple of miles in each direction.  Save for the
little island they had passed they could see no other solid land within
the range of their vision.

Charley noted the fact with satisfaction.  "The solution of our mystery
must lie on one of these two islands," he declared, "and the chances
are in favor of this one, so here goes to discover it," and he plunged
into the timber with Walter close at his heels.  He had taken no more
than twenty steps when he stopped with an exclamation of surprise and
astonishment, his way was barred by a great wall of stone that towered
several feet above his head.  It had once been a fortification of
considerable strength, but growing trees had made breaches in it here
and there, their thrusting, up-growing trunks tumbling its blocks to
the ground, where they lay hidden by covering vines.

"Whew," whistled Walter as he readied his chumps side, "who could have
built this?  It could hardly have been done by the Seminoles."

"No," said Charley, who was examining the strange wall carefully, "this
stone is all limestone, which is found only along the coast or at a
great depth.  It has been brought here from a considerable distance.
Indians may have done the work, but they never did it willingly.  If
they did it at all, it was as slaves.  But we have no time for idle
speculation.  Let's walk along it and see how far it extends."

But after forcing their way along the wall for almost a quarter of a
mile, at the expense of a good deal of exertion, they gave up the task.

"I believe it extends clear around the island," Walter declared, "we
can't spare any more time to follow it up; it's noon already.  Let's
see what is inside."

Charley offered no objection, and the two boys climbed through a gap in
the wall and reached the great enclosure.

At first glance, they could see but little difference between the dense
growth amongst which they stood and that outside the wall, but a closer
examination showed that, while the timber was very thick, it was of
smaller size than that which they had left behind.

"This was a clearing at one time, years and years ago," Charley said,
"see, there is an ironwood stump there that still shows the signs of an
axe.  It takes generations and generations for one of those stumps to
rot."

"Look, Charley," cried his chum who had pushed a little ahead, "just
see this."

A couple of strides brought Charley to his side, "A road," he cried in
amazement.

Straight as an arrow, it extended before them into the depth of the
forest.  So well and carefully had its smooth surface been laid that
even the assaults of time and the forest had been unable to dislodge
the great blocks of stone of which it was composed.  Vines and creepers
had grown over its surface and the forest trees had met in solid mass
above it, but still it lay intact, a triumph of road building, as solid
and strong as when built.

With a feeling of awe, the boys moved forward over its hard surface.
They had to stoop continually to avoid branches and the tangled vines
and briers had often to be cut away, but their progress was easier and
far more rapid than it would have been through the forest itself.

They had proceeded perhaps a quarter of a mile when the road ended
suddenly at the base of another wall.  A break in the wall told of an
ancient gateway but the gate itself was gone, probably rotted into dust
by the passage of time.

The boys pushed through the gap and stopped short with a cry of wonder.
Before them lay an inclosure of perhaps two acres, and in its center
stood a half dozen buildings of stone, all in a fair state of
preservation.  Near the building closest to the boys, a sparkling
little spring gushed forth and flowed away down a gentle incline
towards a corner of the wall.

"Someone must be living here," Walter cried, "see, there are no trees
or vines growing here."

But Charley stooped and scratched away the dead leaves blown in from
the trees of the forest.  "As I suspected," he said, after a moment's
inspection, "this enclosure is paved like the road.  My, what workmen
those fellows that did this job must have been for their work to
continue so perfect down to this day!  I tell you this thing makes me
feel creepy, Walt."

"And me too," agreed his chum.  "Instead of solving a mystery, we have
discovered a greater one."

But the young hunters were not the kind of boys to remain long under a
superstitious dread, and they were soon approaching the buildings
before them.

The first building was the largest of the group.  It was constructed
entirely of stone and had been little hurt by the passage of time.  Its
doors and windows had, of course, rotted away, but otherwise it
appeared uninjured.  Passing through the arched doorway the boys found
themselves in a large apartment divided into two by a stone partition.
Small holes here and there in the walls left little doubt as to the
character of the building.

"It was their strong house or fort," Charley declared, as he gazed
around.  "Here was where they used to gather when danger threatened.
The other buildings are no doubt dwelling-houses where they lived in
time of peace.  You take one side and I will take the other and we will
search this one over carefully."

But although the boys searched closely they could discover nothing to
tell them who had been the builders of this little city in the swamp.

By the time they had completed their search of the larger building, it
was nearly noon and they sat down in the shade in the great arched
doorway and ate the lunch they had brought with them.



CHAPTER XXIV.

MORE SURPRISES.

"What do you make of it, Charley?" Walter inquired, as he munched away
at his fish and yams.

"The roads, walls, and these buildings were undoubtedly built by the
Spaniards," said his chum, decidedly.  "I have seen lots of their work
in St. Augustine, and the West Indian islands, and there is no
mistaking its character.  They are the greatest road-builders since the
Romans."

"But history contains no mention of such a place as this," Walter
objected.

"Yet here it is, history or no history," Charley replied.  "Perhaps all
the voyages of gentlemen adventurers following Columbus were not known
to the historians of the time.  Perhaps this place may have been built
by a detachment of De Soto's expedition.  We must bear in mind that
Florida was long the favorite land amongst the Spaniards.  From the
small number of buildings, I should say that this place was very likely
built by a comparatively small party, using, no doubt, the Indians for
slaves."

"And the slaves at last destroyed their masters," Walter suggested.

"I am not so sure about that," replied his chum.  "I expected to find
bones in the fort but we discovered none.  Perhaps the builders
abandoned this place even after going to so much trouble to fortify it."

"Maybe we can find something to throw light upon it in the other
buildings," Walter remarked.  "While you are finishing your dinner, I
am going to see where that spring goes to."

Walter followed the little rivulet to where it disappeared in a small
gully under a corner of the wall.  Climbing the stones the lad dropped
down lightly on the other side.

Charley finished his lunch, washed his hands at the spring, and
resuming his seat in the doorway, leaned back upon one of the great
pillars to wait for his chum.  The air was soft and warm and the noises
of the swamp stole to the tired lad's ears with a gentle lulling sound.
His eyes slowly closed and his head dropped forward upon his breast and
he slept.

Quickly the hours slipped away and the sun was getting low in the west,
when Charley awoke.  One glance at the declining sun brought him to his
feet, anxiety and dread in his heart.  What could have become of
Walter?  It took the thoroughly alarmed lad but a moment to reach the
wall where his chum had disappeared.  He swarmed up it like a monkey
and dropped down on the other side.  But no solid ground met his
descending feet.  Instead, he crashed through leafy boughs and landed
in a tangled mass of vines.  In the second before the vines gave way
under his weight, Charley succeeded in grasping a limb and swinging
himself in to the trunk of the tree where he found a safe resting-place
between two branches.  Below him yawned a gigantic pit, its edge hidden
from view by the clustering trees.

"Walter," he called anxiously, "are you down there?"

"Yes," growled his chum's voice, "and I have been here for hours.
You're a nice companion for a man when he gets in trouble."

"I fell asleep," confessed Charley, sheepishly.

"Well, don't sleep any longer," said his chum sharply.  "Help me out of
this, quick.  It is awful down here."

"All right, be patient a minute and I will have you out," Charley
answered as he climbed nimbly up his tree and reached the edge of the
pit.  A moment's search and he found what he wanted, a long, stout
grape vine strong as a rope.  He cut off a piece some forty feet in
length, fastened one end to the tree, and dropped the other down into
the pit.  "You'll have to pull yourself out, Walt," he called.

With the help of the grape vine and the aid of foot holds on the trees
growing up from the sides of the pit, Walter succeeded in scrambling
out.  His face was pale and there was a look of horror in his eyes.

"I believe I would have died if I had been compelled to stay down there
all night," he declared in a voice that trembled.

"What is there down there?" asked Charley regarding his chum curiously.

"The demon work of the fiends who built this wall," said Walter
fiercely, "It's their old stone quarry.  They didn't bring rock from
the coast, they just dug down till they found the kind they wanted.
And Charley, all around the sides, chained to the solid rock, are the
skeletons of the workers."

"I am right about the Spaniards building this place then," Charley
observed.  "That's the way that most Christian nation always used to
treat its captives."

"Let's go," his chum urged, "I guess my nerve is shaken from being down
there with those skeletons so long.  The sun is getting low, anyway.
We will not have time to more than get back home before dark."

"You're right, we must go, but I wish we had time to go through the
balance of those buildings," said Charley, regretfully.

The two boys soon regained the canoe and paddled safely past the
floating crocodiles.

"We haven't solved the mystery, after all," remarked Walter, as he
urged the canoe forward.

"No, but we have done far better," declared Charley, enthusiastically,
"we have found a place where we will have ample protection in case we
are attacked by the outlaws.  I am in favor of moving our camp there
to-morrow morning."

"Of course that is the wisest plan," Walter agreed, "but since my
experience in that pit I have a dread of the place."

"That will wear off in time.  Hallo, there's our island and there's the
captain and Chris on the bank waiting for us."

"I expect we will get a good lecture," grinned Walter, "I guess we
deserve it, too."

But the captain was so delighted over their safe return, that he let
both off with a light scolding.

Over the supper, the boys related the story of their discoveries amid
exclamations from the captain and Chris.

The captain readily agreed to their proposal to move camp to the larger
island.  "The young chief showed me how to fix signs that would tell
him which way we had gone in case we left the island before he
returned," the captain observed.

This removed the only possible objection to the plan, and early next
morning the hunters prepared to shift camp.

The little patch of yams was dug up, yielding several bushels of the
sugary tubers, the remaining ears of Indian corn were plucked from the
stalks, and a large quantity of dry gourds gathered, these, together
with the little that remained of their stock of provisions, were
conveyed to the canoes and our hunters were ready to depart.  Before
leaving, the captain arranged the signs agreed upon with the young
chief.  These were very simple, consisting merely of twigs partly
broken off and laid to point in the direction they had gone.

"I reckon he'll see those," observed the captain, "The worst of it is,
though, that Injin Charley ain't likely to overlook them either."

"That can't be helped," said Charley, "and once we are in our new home,
we will stand some show of being able to defy them.  I only wish we had
the two rifles that were lost when the canoe upset.  I wouldn't fear
the outlaws at all then."

"I wish we had more provisions," Walter added.  "Chris used the last of
the coffee this morning, and there is not much of anything else left."

"It ain't no use wishing, lads," declared the captain, "we had ought to
be thankful for what we have.  The Lord will provide.  Jes' think of
the trials an' dangers He has brought us through already."

A thoughtful silence, that continued until they reached the island,
followed the old sailor's gentle reproof.

Although they had been partly prepared by the boys' account of their
discoveries, the captain and Chris were astonished at the sight of the
great wall, the road, and the group of stone buildings.  It was plain,
too, that there was a good deal of superstitious dread mingled with
their wonder.

Charley was quick to note this in their faces and gave them no time to
brood upon their fears.  "We have got a lot of work to do," he
declared, as they deposited the loads they had brought up from the
canoes.  "I think, we will get along better if we divide it up and go
at it with some system.  Now, the captain and I will bring up the
balance of the things, and the canoes,--it will not do to leave them
where the outlaws can find them if they pay us a visit.  While we are
doing that, Walt, you pick out one of the buildings for us to
occupy--the fort is too big, we would be lost in it; and you, Chris,
light up a fire and get us something to eat."

The two addressed, accepted Charley's suggestions, cheerfully, and he
and the captain departed to carry out their own task.  When they
returned laden with the balance of the canoe's cargo, Walter was
standing idly by the fire watching Chris prepare the dinner.

"What, through already?" demanded Charley in surprise.

"No, just resting," smiled his chum.  But the moment the captain's back
was turned, his face became grave, and he gave a warning shake of his
head in Chris' and the captain's direction.

Charley was quick to catch its significance.  "I am afraid that
carrying is too much for my shoulder," he said, quietly, "Chris, you
give the captain a hand with the canoes, and I will look after the
dinner."

No sooner had the two disappeared, than Charley turned to his chum.
"What's the trouble?" he demanded eagerly.

"Come and see," said Walter soberly.

He led the way quickly to the first building and entered the open
doorway, followed closely by Charley.  At the threshold, Charley paused
in horror.  The room in which he looked was about twenty by fourteen
feet in size.  In the center a great slab of stone rested on four large
blocks of the same material.  It had evidently once done duty as a
table for at one side of it was a bench of stone, and upon the bench
sat, or rather lolled, four white, ghastly, grinning skeletons.  Death
had evidently come to the sitters like a bolt from the sky.  One
rested, leaning forward, with the bony claws clinching the table, while
yet another held a pewter mug as if about to raise it to his grinning
jaws.  They had evidently been feasting when the grim visitor came, for
before them on the table sat a great stone jug and dishes of crockery
stained and discolored with age.

"You acted wisely, Walt," declared Charley, recovering his composure.
"If Chris and the captain had caught sight of them, we would never have
been able to keep them on the island.  We will have to work quickly and
get them out of sight before they return."

With deep repugnance the boys immediately began the grewsome task of
removing the bodies.

"We have no time to bury them now," said Walter, "let's lower them into
the pit; they will not be seen there, and we can bury them at the first
opportunity."

The lads did not linger any over their task, but quickly bore their
ghastly burdens to the wall.  With the aid of grape vines, the whitened
bones were hoisted to the top of the wall and lowered into the pit.

They had only time to get back to the fire and pretend to be busy with
the dinner when the captain and Chris appeared bearing the first canoe.

"Now for the other buildings," said Charley, sharply, as the two again
disappeared, "we have got to work lively if we are to finish before
they return."

From building to building the lads swiftly passed.  In all but one they
found ghastly occupants, some stretched out in the posture of sleep,
some sitting at table like the first seen, but all showing that death
had come suddenly and unexpectedly.



CHAPTER XXV.

THE CHAPEL.

The boys worked with the utmost swiftness, expecting every moment to
see the captain and Chris appear, but, luckily, those two, wearied by
their hard work, had paused to rest before returning with their load.

"Thirty-one," counted Walter as he lowered the last grinning skeleton
into the pit.  "There seems a kind of stern justice in their present
position, Charley," he continued.  "Now, they are resting side by side
with those whom they tortured and enslaved while living."

"They paid terribly for their cruelty," said his chum, fingering the
flint arrow-heads he had found by the skeletons.  "The whole story is
as plain as print.  The thirty men whose bones we have just disposed
of, enslaved and tortured members of what was at that time a great
race, working them as slaves in building these walls, and in that
terrible quarry.  I confess to a feeling of admiration for them, in
spite of their cruelty.  They must have been great warriors, though so
few in numbers, to hold at bay one of the bravest of the Indian tribes."

"I wonder why they remained in this awful swamp," said Walter, musingly.

"Case of necessity, perhaps," Charley replied, thoughtfully.  "They had
probably lost many men by the time they reached this island, and had
concluded that to continue on meant utter annihilation, while here
they, with their superior arms and suits of mail, could stand off the
enemy.  So they decided to remain and make the best of it.  With the
labor of the Indians they captured from time to time they proceeded to
fortify the island and make it more secure."

Walter gazed at his chum admiringly.  "You talk as though you saw it
all in front of your eyes," he declared.

Charley did not heed the interruption.  "Years went by," he continued,
musingly, like one in a dream, "years in which they grew more and more
confident of their own power, and learned to despise their red foes.
But the Seminoles were only waiting with the patience of their race.
Mark the cunning of the savage.  There comes a day and night of
feasting and rejoicing in the Spaniards' religious calendar.  Work and
worry is laid aside and they gather in their homes to feast and
rejoice.  Night comes and as the sun sets the sentries cast a look
around.  Nothing is in sight.  There is nothing to fear.  They join the
merry-makers, and care and their suits of mail are laid aside, and
merriment prevails.  The Indians' hour has come.  Over the walls swarm
a red horde, creeping towards the unsuspecting feasters.  One long
war-whoop, a shower of arrows, cries of agony, and all is over."

Charley stopped.  "I've been talking like a five cent novel," he said,
sheepishly.

"I'll bet that is just the way it really happened," his chum declared.
"That explains why the fort was empty."

"Perhaps," Charley said, "but here comes Chris and the captain, and
we'll have to change the subject."

"I 'spect you-alls don't pay no 'tention 'tall to dis dinner," grumbled
Chris.  "De fire's all out, mighty nigh."

"We are not good cooks like you, Chris," said Charley soothingly, and
the vain little darky grinned at the compliment.

"Golly, I reckon dat's so," he declared pompously, "you chillens sho'
don't know nothin' 'bout cookin'.  Spect you-alls mighty near starve to
death if it warn't for dis nigger.  You chillens jes' get out, an' I'll
finish gettin' de dinner."

The boys, relieved of the cooking, turned their attention to other
tasks.  They carried the two canoes into the empty fort and placed them
bottom up in one corner.  The other goods they piled up in the shade of
a tree.

Charley then disappeared but soon came back with a large kettle he had
noticed when removing the skeletons.  "It's copper," he said,
exhibiting it proudly, "with a little cleaning it will be as good as
when it was made.  We need it for boiling water, for we have got to
clean house this afternoon."

While he carried the copper to the spring and scrubbed lustily away
with sand to remove the green verdigris with which it was thickly
coated, Walter attempted the manufacture of a mop.  Selecting a
straight piece of the root of a scrub palmetto, which grew in abundance
around the wall, he trimmed it with his knife into the desired shape
and size.  Laying the piece, thus prepared, upon a large stone, he
pounded one side of it lustily with a piece of rock.  A few minutes
sufficed to pound out the pith and leave the harsh fiber exposed.

By the time the two lads had completed their respective tasks, Chris
announced that dinner was ready and all fell to with appetites
sharpened by the morning's work.

As soon as dinner was finished, the copper kettle was filled with water
and placed upon the fire.  By the time the water had come to a boil,
the party was sufficiently rested to attack the house cleaning.

The building nearest the fort was selected as their future abode, and
never did mansion receive a more thorough scouring.  Walter plied the
brush, while the captain dashed the water about, and Chris wiped the
floor dry with armfuls of Spanish moss.  Charley, on account of his
still lame shoulder, was excused from this labor.

Leaving his companions thus busily employed, Charley took his way to
the building that had aroused his curiosity in the morning, the one in
which they had found no skeletons.

This building was a trifle larger than its fellows and differed very
little from them in external appearance, except that from its roof
projected a little tower.  It was the inside, however, which had
excited our young hunter's curiosity.  At one end was a kind of raised
platform and the space between it and the entrance was filled with
benches of stone.  Charley reverently removed his hat ad he entered,
for he had guessed the character of the place during his morning visit.
It was a chapel that the hardy adventurers of long ago had erected for
the worship of their Maker.

Upon the stone altar stood several vessels, likely of gold or other
precious metal for they were apparently untouched by the ravages of
time.  Charley gave them hardly a glance but passed on to the end of
the building until he stood beneath the tiny tower.

One glance upwards, and he uttered an exclamation of satisfaction.
Directly above his head in the little tower hung a large ship's bell.
A part of the mystery of the tolling was solved, but the most puzzling
part remained.

Charley sat down on one of the stone benches and fell into a deep
study.  There was the bell but where was the mysterious ringer?  The
bell rope had long ago rotted away.  The walls had once been plastered
and were still too smooth to offer a foothold to the most expert
climber.  How then to account for the regular nightly tolling?  The
mystery had in reality deepened instead of lightened.

When Charley at last left the building, he was still puzzled in mind
and had decided to say nothing about his discovery to his companions.
Chris and the captain would be sure to view the matter in its most
supernatural light.

On his return, he found the house scrubbed sweet and clean and the
workers taking a rest after their labors.  Feeling that he had not
performed his just share of the work of the day, Charley took upon
himself the carrying in and arranging of their possessions.  With these
unpacked and arranged, the room looked less bare and much more cozy and
home-like.

But Charley viewed their scanty possessions with a trace of
dissatisfaction.  Two rifles, two shotguns, a half of their ammunition,
and a half of their scanty stock of provisions had been lost when the
canoe upset.  Of their original outfit, the two boys retained only
their pistols and ammunition and the tattered clothes they were
wearing.  The captain and Chris still had their four guns but their
clothing was as rent and tattered as the two boys'.  Of the provisions
there only remained a little sugar, a few pounds of flour, and a small
strip of bacon.

"I tell you what it is," said Charley, as he joined his companion
outside, "we have got to do some tall hustling the next two days.  We
have got to lay in a stock of food sufficient to last us for at least a
week, and we have got to make some kind of windows and doors for that
building, besides, which, we have got to manufacture some kind of
clothing for ourselves--mine are almost dropping from me."

"My, what a list of impossibilities!" groaned Walter.  "Frankly, I do
not feel as though I could do another stroke of work to-day."

"No, we are all too tired for further effort to-day," Charley agreed,
"but we must get an early start in the morning.  We will get some
boughs for beds, have supper, and knock off for the day."

"I know just the stuff we want for beds," Walter declared, "there are
lots of the bushes growing just outside the wall."

The bush Walter referred to, proved to be a species of myrtle with
small leafy boughs of a delicious, spicy fragrance.  It grew so
abundantly, that in a few minutes the boys had gathered a large
quantity, which they carried back to the building and spread in four
great heaps on the floor.  Upon these their blankets were spread, and
the room took on a cozy, homelike appearance.

Supper was cooked over the camp-fire outside and by the time it was
eaten, night had begun to fall.  The little party at once repaired to
their room.  They know that the night air of the great swamp was
peculiarly unhealthy.  Already they had exposed themselves far too much
to its baneful influence.

They stretched out on their soft, fragrant couches and talked cheerily
over the events of the day and their present situation.  Not since they
had left the camp on the point, had the boys felt so bright and
hopeful.  They were well housed, none were sick, they were all together
once more, and even the threatened danger from the convicts did not
cause them great uneasiness.  They felt confident of their ability now
to keep the outlaws at bay until help arrived.

But their content was not to last long, for soon, harsh, and menacing
in its nearness, rang out the tolling of the bell.

The captain, brave as the bravest in most any kind of danger, turned a
sickly white and sunk to his knees in prayer, while Chris, trembling in
every limb, buried his face in the blanket to shut out the awful sounds.

"Come, Walt," whispered Charley, and the two boys stole out into the
darkness of the night.  A few steps brought them to the chapel, and
pistols in hand they circled around it in opposite directions, but
their eager eyes caught no sight of moving forms.

"It must be on the inside," declared Charley, as they met near the
door.  "Let's go in and see."

It took all their courage to venture into that dim, mysterious
interior, but the boys never hesitated, but stepped boldly in.  Back
and forth they paced the grim interior, searching every nook and
corner, and found nothing.  Not even a sound fell on their strained
hearing, save only the strong, steady tolling above their heads.

Charley stood under the little tower and gazed longingly up into its
darkness where the bell, under some mysterious power, swayed steadily
to and fro.

"I wish I could get up there, I'd tie the thing down," he declared.
"If this keeps up, we will have our hands full to keep Chris and the
captain on the island."

"Come away, Charley," said Walter, nervously, "this thing is getting
positively uncanny.  I declare I am beginning to feel a sympathy for
Chris' terrors."

The two lads retraced their steps to the hut where they found the
captain, in spite of his superstitious fears, preparing to sally out in
search of them.

For long the two boys sat trying to argue the captain and Chris out of
their superstitious fears.  They might as well have tried to argue
against fate itself.

"Aye, lads," the captain would say in reply to their logic, "I know
spirits seem against reason to shore-staying folks, but sailors know
better.  Now there was Tom Bowling who took to hearing bells during his
watch on deck, an' not two days later, poor old Tom was missing."

"Went crazy and jumped over-board," muttered Charley, but the captain
shook his head with the air of a man who had no doubt as to the nature
of his friend's fate.

It was not long after the bell ceased tolling that the last of the
little party fell into a troubled sleep.



CHAPTER XXVI.

PREPARATIONS.

At dawn Charley arose, feeling unrefreshed after his broken rest, lit
the camp-fire, started breakfast, and then awakened the others.

"We had better divide the duties for the day," he said, as they
dispatched their light breakfast.  "The two things most pressing, are
to secure more food and make our windows and door bullet-proof.  I
suggest that we divide into two parties for the day, one to hunt, and
the other to keep camp and work on our building.  Suppose we call for
volunteers for each party."

"I stay an' do de cookin', an' maybe catch some fish for supper," said
Chris, promptly.

"I reckon I had better stay with Chris," decided the captain, who had
in a measure recovered from his scare of the night.  "You lads are
nimbler an' better shots, an' consequently, likely to have better luck
in the hunting."

This arrangement delighted Charley and Walter who were eager to explore
the island.  Pistols were oiled, cleaned and carefully examined.  Their
own guns being at the bottom of the river, the boys had to borrow arms
of Chris and the captain.

Walter took Chris' light shotgun while Charley shouldered the heavy
rifle belonging to the captain.  Thus equipped they were prepared for
either small or big game.

Leaving the clearing, the boys plunged into the forest and headed for
the interior of the island.  Their progress was at first very slow, the
forest being almost as tangled and thickly grown as that which they had
encountered near the water.  As they advanced, however, the trees
gradually grew fewer and further apart until, after a half hour's slow
traveling, they emerged from the forest into a kind of prairie country,
consisting of stretches of flat grassy land broken by clumps of timber.

"This is just the place for game," declared Charley, "this grass seems
to be a kind of wild rice, there had ought to be birds here without
number."

As he spoke there was a whirl of wings, Walter's shotgun spoke twice,
and a brace of plump partridges struck the ground with a thud.

The report of the firearm woke the prairie into life.  Hundreds of
birds rose from amongst the tall grass.  For the next few minutes,
Walter was busy with his gun, while Charley with his heavy rifle could
only stand idle watching.

"Never mind, my turn will come," he declared.  "That little popgun you
have will not be any good against big game."

When the frightened birds had at last passed beyond range, the boys
gathered up those that had fallen victims; four partridges, three
doves, and a full dozen of black and red rice-birds.

"Good," approved Charley, as he surveyed the feathered heap.  "Those
are all fine eating and will provide us with a couple of dandy meals.
The only fault I have to find is that they use up too much ammunition.
If we use it up at this rate, we will have none when the outlaws come."

"We can make traps for the birds," Walter suggested.  "I know how to
rig up a figure-four trap that will fool the wisest of them."

"Well, we will not bother with traps this trip," Charley said.  "We
have got enough birds for the present.  We can come again to-morrow and
fix up for them."

"What shall we do with these?" Walter inquired.  "We don't want to turn
back yet, and they are too heavy to carry with comfort."

"Leave them tied up in the first tree we come to and get them on our
way back," his chum answered.

With this object in view, the two boys turned their steps towards the
nearest clump of timber.  At their first step amongst its dry twigs and
branches, there was a crash amongst the bushes and a form of yellowish
brown shot past them like an arrow.

Charley's rifle flew to his shoulder and its sharp crack woke the
echoes in the little wood.  "It's a deer and I have got it," he
exclaimed, dashing off after the animal which was staggering and
wavering as it ran.

Walter paused only to hang his birds high up in the crotch of a big
tree, and followed after his chum.

But the deer, though wounded and losing blood at every step, was really
running faster than either of the boys calculated.  It soon became
evident to both that they would have to work hard to overhaul the
wounded creature before it entered the main forest on the other side of
the prairie.  Once amongst the dense growth, it would soon lose its
pursuers.

Walter was only a few feet in the rear of his chum and running at the
top of his speed when Charley stopped so short and unexpectedly that he
collided with him with such force as to bring both to the ground.

"Look," exclaimed Charley breathlessly, as he pointed ahead, "did you
ever see such a repulsive sight?"

Charley had stopped just in time, not fifteen feet from where the two
had fallen, was a deep, saucer-like depression in the ground.  In its
center, where the ground was soft, and muddy, was a writhing, twisting,
tangled mass of snakes of dozens of kinds, though the dirty,
sickening-looking, stump-tailed moccasin predominated.  There must have
been thousands of serpents in the mass which covered a space twenty by
thirty feet, from which came the sibilant hiss of puff adders, and a
strong, nauseating odor.

"It's an awful sight," shuddered Walter after one glance, "and just
think how close you were to running into that mass.  You would never
have got out alive."

"I would never know what struck me," Charley agreed.  "I expect there's
a full quart of the deadliest of poisons distributed among those
beauties."

"Ugh," said Walter, "the sight of them makes me sick.  Come away,
Charley."

"They have done us considerable damage anyway," Charley said, as they
pressed on giving the snake-hole a wide berth.  "I cannot see anything
of the deer, can you?"

"No, I expect he got safe into the forest while we were delayed.  We
might as well follow up his tracks for a ways although I guess it's but
little use."

The fugitive had left a thread of scarlet blood behind him so the boys
had no trouble in following the trail.

At the very edge of the forest, the boys stopped with a cry of delight.
A motionless heap of yellowish brown lay half in half out of the fringe
of trees, the shelter of which the poor creature had striven so
gallantly to gain.

The boys wasted no time in rejoicing but at once fell to work with
their hunting-knives to remove the skin.  This done, they cut off the
valuable parts of the carcass and bound them up in the hide for
transportation back to camp.  When the task was completed the noon hour
had been reached and the boys kindled a fire and broiled some of the
venison.

"That was a lucky kill for us," observed Charley as he attacked another
juicy steak.  "It will give us fresh meat for several days.  What we
cannot use before it spoils, we can cut thin and dry.  The hide
properly prepared will furnish us with a couple of stout fishing lines
and a shirt for one of us."

After a brief rest the boys resumed their exploration.  They had no
present need for more game and were loath to waste any more ammunition.
The wild folks of the forest seemed to be aware of the fact and showed
themselves fearlessly.

"We won't starve for lack of game," declared Walter, "in the last half
mile, I have seen coons, possums, deer, and a wild-cat, to say nothing
of the thousands of birds."

"Yes, it's a sportsman's paradise," agreed Charley, "it has probably
not been hunted since the Spaniards' time.  Likely these wild creatures
have never seen a human being before."

The boys had been pushing onward into the forest as they talked.  By
the growing denseness of the jungle they surmised that they were
approaching the island's shore.  This surmise proved correct, for about
a quarter of an hour after leaving their lunching place, they came out
on the bank directly opposite where they had landed on the island.

This shore was very much like the other and the boys soon began to
retrace their steps.

As they neared the place where they had left their venison hung in a
tree, their ears were greeted with a curious sound of mingled grunt and
growl.

With their guns ready for instant use, the boys crept cautiously
forward.  An exclamation burst from them as they came in sight of the
tree.  Squatted round it in an angry, eager circle was a drove of at
least twenty wild boars; great, fierce-looking animals with dangerous
looking tusks.  They were sniffing longingly, and looking up at the
suspended meat.

"Don't shoot, Walt," cried Charley, but his warning came too late.

Without pausing to think, Walter had discharged both barrels of his
shotgun at the huddled animals.

The effect was not what he had anticipated.  The shot glanced
harmlessly off their thick hides, and with grunts of rage, the whole
drove charged for the smoke and sound.

"Get up a tree," shouted Charley, as he noted the effects of the shot.

Walter did not wait for a second bidding but swung himself up the
nearest tree which happened to be a huge spreading live oak.  Charley
swarmed up after him in such haste that he dropped his rifle at the
foot of the tree.  He was not a moment too soon for a large boar made a
lunge for his legs just as he drew them up.

"Now we are in for it," he exclaimed in disgust as he found a
comfortable seat in the fork of a limb.

"Oh, I guess they'll soon get tired and go away," Walter said
cheerfully.

But the boars seemed to have no such intention.  They ranged themselves
around the foot of the tree as they had around the venison and sat
looking longingly up among the branches.

"I am going to try a shot at that big fellow that seems to be the boss
of the gang," said Walter after an hour had dragged away without the
animals showing any signs of leaving.

"Don't do it," Charley advised, "you can't kill him with that small
calibered revolver, and it will only make them madder than ever."

Walter put back his revolver with a sigh.  "I guess you're right," he
admitted, "but, I declare, it makes me mad the way that big brute is
leering up at me."

Wearily the hours dragged away, the boys getting cramped and weary in
the tree, and the besiegers showing no sign of abatement in their
interest.

The darkness found two, very tired, hungry boys seated in the tree
while the boars still grunted in a circle around them.

With the rising of the moon came the distant tolling of the chapel bell
and the boys looked worriedly at each other.

"The captain and Chris will be frightened to death with that thing
tolling and we absent," Walter said.

"Yes, the captain will be sure to believe that we are all dead,"
Charley agreed.  "There is something unearthly about that ringing, but
of course there is a natural cause for it if we could only discover it."

"After our experience last night I am almost ready to agree with the
captain and Chris," said Walter.

"Except for its worrying those two, I would not mind it in the least,"
Charley declared.  "I am more upset by our position here.  I guess we
will have to stay all night, those fellows below show no signs of
leaving."

"What's that?" cried Walter, excitedly.



CHAPTER XXVII.

A TERRIBLE NIGHT.

A shrill piercing scream, like the cry of a tortured soul, rang out of
the forest, rising clear and trembling above the tolling of the bell
and the noises of the night.

The boys looked at each other with white, frightened faces.

"A panther," Charley cried, "a panther, and we penned up here helpless
as babes."

"Look," said Walter, eagerly, "look at the boars."

The great animals were stirring uneasily and their hoarse, threatening
grunts had dropped to a kind of frightened whine.  Again the scream
rose shrill and clear, and, with a grunt of fear, the big leader
charged into the forest followed by the rest.

"They are afraid of the panther, and I don't blame them," Charley
exclaimed.  "Come, we must get out of here in a hurry."

The boys slid to the ground as fast as their stiffened limbs would
permit, picked up Charley's rifle, and hastily cutting down the
venison, plunged out of the forest onto the prairie.

The screams, rapidly drawing nearer, hastened their footsteps, but,
fast as they traveled, the sound continued to draw closer.

"It has got a sniff of the venison and is following us up," Charley
declared.  "We can never get away from it, and there is small chance of
our being able to kill it in the dark.  We may as well stop right here
where there is a little wood and build a fire, that is our only chance."

Charley had chosen this halting place wisely, for a large dead tree lay
on the ground, where he had stopped.

Hastily the boys tore up a heap of dry grass and piling broken limbs on
it, lit the pile with a match.

The dry stuff roared up with a flame not a minute too soon, the
flickering light revealed a crouching form not thirty feet away.  With
a snarl of rage the creature retreated from the blaze and began
circling the fire from a distance.  The soft pattering footfalls could
be easily heard.

The boys crouched close to the fire filled with apprehension that
gradually decreased as they saw the panther feared to approach.  Thrice
Charley fired at the dim skulking form, but, in the darkness, his
bullets went wide of the mark, and he stopped wasting more ammunition.

"Let's set fire to the tree itself," Walter suggested, "it will make a
bigger fire, last a long time, and save us the trouble of gathering
wood."

"Good," exclaimed Charley, and seizing a couple of blazing brands he
thrust them under the tree's trunk.  The dry wood caught like tinder
and soon the whole tree was aflame.

"I hope they will see it at the camp," Walter said.  "If they do, they
will know we are still alive."

As their fear of the panther decreased, the boys began to feel hungry
and tired.  The venison was unwrapped and some thick steaks were cut
off and broiled over the fire, and from them the lads made a hearty
meal.

They felt greatly refreshed after their hearty repast but they were
still very tired and sleepy.  They strove to converse together and keep
awake but the fatigue of the day, the heavy meal, and the warmth of the
fire proved too much for them and every now and then one would catch
the other nodding.

"There's no use of both of us sitting up all night, when one is all
that is necessary to keep an eye on the fire," said Charley, sleepily.
"Let's make up a bed of the prairie grass and take turn about sleeping
and keeping watch."

Walter heartily agreed to the suggestion and they proceeded to make up
their couch without loss of time.  They did not have to go outside the
circle of firelight for their mattress, for the wild rice grew all
around the blazing tree.  All they had to do was to pull it up in great
handfuls and stack it before the fire.

Suddenly Charley gave an exclamation and leaped back out of the grass.
"Come out of that grass, Walt," he cried, "I have been bitten by a puff
adder.  I heard it hiss."

"Oh, Charley," cried his chum in terror, "what can we do?"

"Quick," commanded Charley, "open one of your shotgun shells and take
out the shot."  While he had been speaking the lad had slipped one leg
out of his pants and exposed the wound to view.  It was only a tiny red
puncture of the skin midway between knee and hip, but the bitten one
knew that tiny place was more dangerous than a rifle ball.  Like a
flash, he drew his hunting-knife and cut out a chunk of flesh as big as
a hen egg where the wound had been.  "Give me that cartridge," he
commanded, his teeth gritting with pain.

Walter passed over the open shell and Charley emptied its contents of
powder into the open cut.  Quickly, he applied a match to the black
grains and they caught with a hiss, there was a tiny cloud of black
smoke and a whiff of burning flesh.

Walter sprang to his chum's side and caught him, as he staggered and
reeled under the awful pain.

"Gee, but that was a plucky thing to do," he cried.

"I guess I got it done in time," murmured Charley, through pale lips.
"It was the only thing to do.  I would have been dead in half an hour
otherwise--and such a death.  But I guess I've got the best of it, I
cut out that piece before the poison had a chance to get into the
circulation, I think.  Give me a hand to bind up the cut before
anything gets into it."

Walter hastened to comply and bound up the gaping cut as well as he
could with the means at his command.  While Charley lay back and
gritted his teeth to keep back the moans of pain.

"Strange the place don't bleed any," said Walter, curiously.

"The heat of the powder flash cauterized the cut ends of the veins and
closed them up," Charley explained.  "I have seen the same thing done
before and the wound never bled."

"Is it always a good thing to do?" his chum inquired.

"It is useless in some cases.  It all depends upon the kind of snake
and where the person is struck.  I never knew a case of a person
recovering when hit by a genuine Florida rattlesnake.  Puff adders and
moccasins are deadly enough, but they are mild beside the rattler.  The
rattler's fangs are so long that they strike deep and the quantity of
venom injected is enormous, some of it is almost instantly taken up by
the veins punctured.  I do not believe that anything but instant
amputation would save the life of one struck.  But all bitten do not
die equally soon.  I have known a man struck in the ankle where the
circulation was poor, to live for several hours, while another struck
in the neck while bending over a flower, died almost instantly.  The
poor fellow did not have time to straighten up even.  But he was lucky
in dying quickly.  There is no death more painful and horrible than
that from a rattlesnake bite."

"What loathsome creatures," shuddered Walt, "and the state is accursed
with them."

"They are few in number compared with what they used to be," Charley
remarked, "and I'll bet you can't guess what has thinned them out so."

"The clearing up of the state and their wholesale destruction by
settlers," Walter suggested.

Charley smiled in spite of his pain.  "What settlers destroy in a year
do not amount to a ten thousandth part of the number born.  Each mother
snake has upward of twenty-five little ones at a time.  Birds,
especially the blue jay, kill a great many but their worst enemy is the
Florida hog."

"The hog?" exclaimed Walter, in surprise.

"Yes," Charley affirmed.  "If you want to clear a patch of ground of
snakes, just turn in a drove of hogs, they will do the work for you in
short order.  They kill and eat the most poisonous snakes without the
slightest hurt to themselves.  Either their thick hide saves them, or
else they are immune from the venom."

"No more Florida pork on my bill-of-fare," declared Walter in disgust.

Pain and excitement had driven all thought of sleep from both boys'
minds and they sat close together by the fire and talked the night away.

As the slow minutes slipped away, Walter watched his chum's face in an
agony of apprehension for any sign that the subtle venom was getting in
its deadly work.  But the hours passed by and, although Charley was
suffering considerable pain, there was no indication that any of the
poison had passed into his system--the lad's prompt act had saved his
life.

Dawn came at last and found two weary waiting boys, one of them weak,
pale, and haggard.

As soon as it was light enough to see, Walter made his way back to the
edge of the forest, and cut a strong forked limb to serve as a crutch
for his chum.

Before leaving the fire, the boys cooked and ate a couple more venison
steaks which gave them fresh strength and courage.

Walter shouldered the guns and venison and staggered on in the lead
under his heavy load, while Charley hobbled painfully on behind.

They had just crossed the remainder of the prairie and were resting a
bit before plunging into the forest on the other side, when Chris and
the captain broke out from the clump of trees and hailed them with
shouts of joy.

Chris relieved Walter of a part of his load while the captain assisted
Charley forward, and the little party made good time on their homeward
way and before long reached the clearing.

Chris' and the captain's haggard faces showed they had passed as
sleepless a night as the two lads.

"Golly," said Chris, gravely, "when night comes an' you chillens don't
show up, an' de haunts begin a-tollin' dat bell, I spects Massa Captain
an' dis nigger went most crazy.  When we seed you-alls' fire a little
later, we feels some better, but, Massas, I jes' tell you dat daylight
seemed powerful long comin' to dis nigger."

Amid the others' breathless interest, Walter related the adventures of
the night.  When the captain learned of Charley's accident, he brought
out the brandy bottle and insisted on his drinking what remained of the
liquor.  His wound was then bathed, clean and bandaged again and he was
made to lay down upon his couch in the hut, while Walter stretched out
on his own bed for a nap.

"Good," exclaimed Charley, as he caught sight of the windows and door,
"you and Chris made a good job of those, captain."

The captain nodded in satisfaction.  "I reckon it will take some
battering to get in there," he observed.

Inside the hut, the two workers had planted large posts of palmetto
that effectually blocked the windows save for the cracks between the
posts.  The door was similarly barricaded, save for one post left out
for present ingress and egress.  It stood close to hand, however, ready
to be slipped into the hole provided for it, at an instant's notice.

Charley suddenly staggered to his feet.  "I can't waste time lying
here," he exclaimed.  "Why, this is the day we expect the outlaw."



CHAPTER XXVIII.

PREPARATIONS.

"Sit down, Charley," said the captain sternly, "are you crazy, lad?
You can do nothing in your present state, and if you go and make
yourself sick, you will cause us all a deal of trouble and worry."

Charley sank back upon his couch.  "But there is so much to be done,
Captain," he protested.

"Now look here, lad," said the old sailor, "say those fellows have got
their boat finished and start for that island we left this morning, it
will take them quite a while to get there and I expect they will look
it over a bit before following us.  Take the time spent there and the
time it will take them to reach here, an' I reckon it will be late in
the afternoon before we see anything of them."

"It won't do to take any chances, Captain.  We had ought to be ready
now."

"Go ahead and say what you want done and we will do it while you
sleep," said the captain.  "But if you persist in getting up, I'll be
hanged if I'll do a stroke of work, outlaws or no outlaws."

"Me neither," chimed in Chris.

"Better go to sleep, Charley," advised his chum.  "I am going to get a
nap, myself.  I know I'll be able to work better for it."

Charley gave in with an unwilling sigh.  "All right, I suppose I'll
have to do as you all say."

"Tell us your plans and we will see that they are carried out," the
captain said.

"We cannot keep those fellows from landing on the island," said the
young leader, thoughtfully.  "There are so many places where they can
come ashore, and we are too few to guard the entire coast.  I do not
think we can even hold the walls against so many.  There are more gaps
in them than we could defend.  I have thought it all over and I believe
that all we can do is to confine the defense to this house.  We ought
to be able to hold this place until the Indians come."

"My ideas exactly," approved the captain.

"It's the only sensible thing to do," Walter agreed.

"To be successful, it is necessary for us to have a good supply of food
and water.  I intended to dry the venison, but there is not time to do
that, you will have to cut it into thin strips and smoke it, that will
not take long and it will keep for several days.  That big copper and
all the gourds should be filled with water and brought inside.  When
that is all done, we will have food and drink to last us a week with
care."

"Chris and I will see to it all," said the captain arising.  "Is that
all, lad?"

"We had ought to keep a lookout at the landing so as to know when they
come and be ready for them."

"We'll 'tend to that when we get the other chores done.  It's too early
to expect them yet, anyway.  Now you lie down and get a nap, lads, and
don't worry, Chris and I will look out for everything."

Charley laid back and closed his eyes, obediently, while Chris and the
captain passed out of the hut to attend to the tasks set them.

The two boys were soon fast asleep.

It was noon before Walter awoke, sat up, and looked around him.  He
noted that the workers had already completed their tasks; long strings
of smoked venison strips were hung down from the roof, gourds and
copper kettle were brimming full of sweet, clean water, and all of the
guns had been freshly cleaned and oiled.

Treading softly so as not to awaken his chum, Walter passed out of the
hut.

The captain and Chris were busily engaged in trying to dispatch a pot
of venison stewed with yams, and Walter lost no time in joining them.

"Well, we are all through," observed the captain as he took a second
helping of stew.  "We would have called you to dinner, but I reckoned
the sleep would do you more good.  How do you feel now?"

"All right," Walter answered.  "You should have left some of that work
for us to do, Captain."

"I reckon you will have enough to do before we get a chance to leave
this island," said the old sailor with a sigh.  "If you are through,
Chris, take your gun and go down to the landing and keep a sharp
lookout.  Those fellows had ought to be here this afternoon, some time.
I will come down and spell you in a couple of hours."

"You had better go in and get a nap yourself, Captain, while there is
nothing doing," said Walter.  "It may be all hands on deck to-night."

"I reckon I'll take your advice, lad.  I was awake all last night
worrying about you boys and I can't stand loss of sleep now like you
young fellows.  I will just take forty winks.  Call me when it is time
to spell Chris."

Walter sat waiting until the old sailor's loud snoring proclaimed he
was asleep.  Then filling a small gourd with water from the spring, he
made his way into the fort, where he righted one of the overturned
canoes and fished out a large package from under the stern and undid
its fastenings.  "I wonder they did not notice it when they carried the
canoe up," he muttered.

For a long time he was busily engaged with the contents of the package
and the gourd of water.  At last he gave a sigh of triumphant
satisfaction which died away as he heard Charley's voice calling his
name from the hut.

With an exclamation of impatience, he emptied out the water, quickly
bound up the package again, and thrust it back in its old place under
the canoe's stern deck, then turning the canoe again bottom up, he
passed out of the fort whistling, carelessly.

Charley in the door of the hut eyed him curiously as he approached.
"What has happened to you?" he exclaimed, "you look as happy as if you
had discovered a gold mine."

"Well, I haven't," laughed his chum, "how's your leg now?"

"Stiff as a ramrod, and, whew, how it hurts," Charley said with a
grimace of pain.  "I can't bear my weight on it."

"You don't want to try to," said Walter, severely.  "Just go back to
your bunk and keep still.  All the work is done, now, and I am going
down to the landing right off to relieve Chris so that he can get a
little sleep."

Charley obeyed and Walter made his way down to the landing where he
found Chris sitting on a log watching intently.

Walter took the gun from the tired little darky and sent him up to the
hut to rest.

The hours passed swiftly by without any signs of the outlaws.  When
darkness fell, Walter abandoned his now useless post and made his way
up to the hut where he found his three companions gathered around the
camp-fire outside.

"Have you seen anything of them?" Charley inquired anxiously as he came
in sight.  "Not a sign," Walter answered.  "I think you have done wrong
in lighting that fire," he continued gravely.  "There was a bare chance
that they would have given up the chase after not finding us at the
chief's island.  If they are anywhere near, though, that fire will give
us dead away."

"They would not have given up the chance of getting the plumes they
have worked so hard to obtain as easily as all that," said his chum
decidedly.  "Remember, they believe that Big Tiger and his son are
still with us and that the rest of the Indians are far away.  No, they
would not have given up so easily after the trouble they have been to."

Walter said no more but helped himself to an ear of corn and a piece of
fish and fell to eating.

The silence that had fallen upon the party was broken by an exclamation
from Chris.

"Golly, dar dey is," he cried.

Far off in the direction of the chief's island, a tiny shaft of light
pierced the darkness.

"They are on the island we left," exclaimed Charley, "that's their
camp-fire."

"No, no," said Walter.  "See, it is getting bigger, I bet they have
fired the wigwam."

In a few minutes all the party agreed with Walter, there was no
mistaking the cause of the pillar of flame that rose high in the air on
the distant island.

They watched it in silence until it died down and nothing remained but
a faint glare.

"Let's go to bed," said Charley at last.  "If they are on the chief's
island, they will not bother us to-night."

But after a short discussion, it was decided to stand guard and watch,
Charley and Walter to stand on guard until midnight, and then to be
relieved by Chris and the captain.

The two sentinels climbed up on a portion of the wall that lay in the
shadow of a big tree and from which they could command a good view of
the rest of the wall and inclosure itself.

"I have been thinking that the unsavory reputation of this island may
keep those fellows from coming here," Walter observed in an undertone.

"It will likely keep Indian Charley away, and I am more afraid of him
than all the balance.  I do not think it will stop the rest though,"
Charley answered, and they lapsed again into cautious silence.

The minutes had lengthened into an hour when there fell upon their ears
the now familiar tolling of the bell.

"I am going to have another look in that chapel," declared Walter, as
he slipped down from his perch.

"I'd like to go with you," said Charley, wistfully, "but my game leg
won't carry me that far."  He watched his chum until he disappeared in
the shadow of the church.

Walter hesitated for a moment at the chapel doorway.  It required more
courage to enter that gloomy, black, mysterious interior, alone, than
it had when he and Charley were together.  Summoning up all his
resolution he passed through the gaping doorway into the blackness
beyond.  All was dark and still inside, the bright moonlight shining
through the high little windows threw patches of ghostly light upon the
white, ghastly walls.  Walter felt his flesh creep as he made his way
through the darkness up towards the bell.

He stumbled often and bruised his knees against the stone seats but at
last he reached the little platform and stood beneath the little tower.
He could not see up into its gloomy interior, but the great bell above
him tolled mournfully on.

For a space Walter stood silent, a superstitious dread creeping over
him.  "Dreaming, dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before."  A
horror grew upon him, a feeling that something, some being
antagonistic, repugnant to his very nature was sharing the darkness
with him.  The strokes of the bell above him seemed to grow horribly
menacing to his feverish fancy.  He struggled with himself to throw off
the mantle of terror descending upon him but the feeling grew and grew.
With a rush of unreasoning anger he flung up his gun and fired at the
swaying bell.

A shrill, human-like cry rang out, the bell ceased tolling, and a heavy
body crashed down at the terrified lad's feet.

Throwing out his arms Walter sank to the floor in a dead faint.

He opened his eyes again to see Charley bending over, examining him by
the light of a flaring torch.

"What, what was it?" he whispered.

Charley shifted the torch and held it close to a dark figure stretched
out on the stone floor.

Its glare lit up a face strangely human, and bearing the apparent mark
of centuries in its furrowed features and wrinkled skin.

"A big monkey," gasped Walter in astonishment.

"Yes," said Charley gently, "an old man monkey, old, old, very, very
old."



CHAPTER XXIX.

THE ENEMY.

Walter broke into a weak, hysterical laugh, "and I took that for a
spirit," he exclaimed.  "Well, our mystery is solved now."

"Yes," his chum admitted, looking down at the dead bell-ringer with a
kind of regret, "still there are some points about it which still
remain a mystery, and always will.  There is no record of there ever
being monkeys found in this state.  It must have been brought here by
one of the Spanish gentlemen as a pet and taught the trick of ringing
the bell, and yet, that theory is unbelieveable.  Consider, Walter, if
such is the case, this creature has reached an incredible age."

Walter bent down and flashed the torch in the monkey's face.  "He looks
as though he had lived for centuries," he exclaimed, "his face is like
that of a shriveled mummy, and see, that look of cunning and
aged-wisdom in his features.  Charley," continued the tender-hearted
boy with a break in his voice, "I feel as badly about it as I would if
I had shot a man.  Think of the poor, harmless creature, remaining true
year after year to the one task he knew how to perform, and then to be
shot down at last while doing it."

"Nonsense, this is no time for sentiment.  We must get back to our
post, we have left it altogether too long.  You will have to help me
back, I guess, Walt," Charley said.

"How did you get here?" demanded his chum, the current of his thoughts
suddenly changed.  "Why, your trousers' leg is wet with blood and you
are as pale as a ghost."

"I couldn't have walked a hundred feet under ordinary circumstances,
but that scream brought me here on the run.  Now that the excitement is
over I feel weak as a kitten," Charley answered.

"You're going back to bed and stay there until that wound is completely
healed," declared Walter as he put his arm around his chum and assisted
him out of the chapel.

Before he could get the exhausted lad to the hut, he had become a dead
weight in Walter's arms.  Walter let him down gently upon the ground
and ran to the hut where he aroused Chris and the captain, and the
three bore Charley inside and laid him on his couch.

Captain Westfield bathed the wound and bandaged it afresh.  His face
was very grave as he examined the unconscious lad's skin and pulse.
"He has a high fever," he declared anxiously.  "I thought yesterday
from the way he was yawning and stretching that he was in for an attack
of swamp fever.  With a dose of it on top of this hole in his leg it is
likely to go hard with the poor lad.  I'd give a sight now for some
brandy and quinine."  He glanced up at Walter's haggard face.  "You get
to bed this minute or we will have two on our hands," he commanded.
"Chris and I have had a good nap and we'll keep watch the balance of
the night, though, I 'low, there ain't much use in doing it."

Walter was too near collapse, himself, to offer objections and dropping
down on his couch was soon sleeping the sleep of exhaustion.  He woke
again just as the sun arose feeling rested and quite his old vigorous
self, but his spirits soon fell as his chum's meanings fell upon his
ears.

Charley was tossing restfully upon his couch in a high fever and the
wounded leg was greatly swollen and flushed an angry red.

There was nothing he could do to relieve the sufferer, so Walter with a
heavy heart stole out of the hut.

The captain and Chris were busy over the fire preparing breakfast.
They greeted Walter with grave faces for Charley's condition was
resting heavily upon them.

"If I only had some quinine I could check that fever," sighed the old
sailor.  "He is healthy and clean-blooded and I reckon he'd get over
that bad leg in time, but he can't fight them both.  How in the world
did he come to start the wound to bleeding again?"

Sadly Walter recounted the adventures of the night.  He told of their
previous discovery of the bell, their first fruitless search of the
chapel, and of his venturing in alone and the shooting of the
bell-ringer.

As he proceeded with his narrative the captain's face grew crimson with
mortification and chagrin, as he saw his much-asserted ghostly theories
shattered.

The effect on Chris' humorous nature was different.  The first
expression of relief on his little ebony face was succeeded by a broad
grin.

"Golly," he giggled, "an' me an' Massa Capt was scart nigh to death by
a poor ole harmless monkey."

Few men like to be placed in a ridiculous position and the captain
turned on the little darky in a rage.

"Shut up, you grinning little imp," he shouted, "or I'll thrash you so
you can't sit down for a week.  What call have you got to be giggling
over the death of one of your ancestors?"

Chris checked the flow of words on his tongue, but sat rocking back and
forth in glee muttering, "Golly, only a monkey.  A poor, old,
he-monkey," until the irate captain chased him out of ear-shot.

Leaving the captain and Chris to the settlement of their trouble,
Walter took one of the canoes' paddles and proceeded to the chapel.
Just outside its wall he dug a deep grave, and carrying the faithful
old monkey to it he lowered him gently to the bottom and filling up the
grave again, heaped a little pile of stones on the mound.

To the tender-hearted lad there was something pathetic and touching in
the way the poor creature had met its death.

Charley's illness cast a gloom over even the irrepressible Chris, and
breakfast was eaten in sad silence.

As soon as he had finished, Chris shouldered one of the rifles and
headed for the landing to watch for the outlaws, while the captain and
Walter repaired to the hut to attend to the stricken lad.

There was little they could do to relieve his sufferings beyond
sponging his hot body with a wet cloth and giving him sparingly of the
water that he called for incessantly.  At last he sank into a kind of a
stupor and the heavy-hearted watchers stole outside for a breath of
fresh air.

Walter at last broke the silence that hung like a cloud upon them.
"I've been thinking," he said, "that it might not be a bad plan to meet
the outlaws at the landing.  We could dispose of several before they
could get on shore."

"No," said his companion decidedly, "they would only land in some other
place and maybe cut us off from the hut.  You mark my words, lad,
Charley thought over every side of this question before he laid his
plans an' we can't do better than follow them.  The most we can hope to
do is to hold this hut until Little Tiger comes with his people."

Their further discussion was cut short by the sudden appearance of
Chris.

"Dey's comin', Massa, dey's comin'," shouted the excited little darky.
"Dey ain't more dan a half mile away."

Gathering together the cooking utensils scattered around the fire, the
three entered the hut and soon had the last post secured in its hole,
effectually barring the doorway.

Through the cracks in the windows and door, the hunters watched for the
appearance of the foe.

An hour of suspense passed slowly by, then suddenly there came the
noise of a falling stone and an evil face peeped cautiously over the
wall.

Walter fired quickly but missed, and the face disappeared with
ludicrous haste.

For some minutes the outlaws remained quiet, no doubt conferring
together, then a tiny square of white was hoisted above the wall, to be
quickly followed by the youngest outlaw who dropped coolly down into
the inclosure bearing the flag in his hand.

"We can't fire upon him," declared Walter as Chris raised his gun.  "He
bears a truce flag and is unarmed.  You keep a sharp watch on the
others and I will talk with this fellow.  If I am not mistaken, it is
the one Charley was so impressed by."

The young outlaw approached the hut at a careless sauntering walk,
waving the flag jauntily in his hand.  He noted the barred openings and
protruding rifle barrel with a cool smile and strolled around to the
door.

"Hallo in there," he called, cheerfully.  "I want to talk to you."

"Go ahead," Walter answered grimly, "we're listening."

"Come now, that's no way to receive a visitor," said the young fellow,
lightly.  "I want to talk with that bright-eyed chap I talked with
before."

"You can't," Walter said, sadly.  "He's dying of fever."

"Why don't you cure him up?" demanded the envoy, sharply, "the swamp
fever is nothing if it's treated right."

"We haven't a grain of medicine," Walter replied.  "But state your
errand," he added sharply.

"Look here," said the young outlaw after a short pause.  "I talked
those fellows into this conference idea so as to get a good chance to
speak with you fellows.  I am sick of that gang.  I am not as bad as
they, and I am clean disgusted with them.  I want to join forces with
you fellows.  I know they are bound to finish you sooner or later, but
I would rather die with gentlemen than to live with murderers."

"We cannot afford to take any chances," Walter said decidedly.

"But you are taking chances, chances on the life of your friend," said
the outlaw sharply.  "I can cure him, I tell you.  I studied medicine
and I have a few things in my bag."

"Can we risk it?" said Walter, wavering, and turning to the captain for
advice.

"We can risk anything for Charley's sake," said the old sailor,
eagerly.  "We can shoot him at the first sign of treachery.  Let him
in, Walt."

"I have got to go back for my things," interrupted the outlaw, whose
keen ears had caught the low conversation.  "I'll be back again in a
minute.  I'll fix up some excuse to return.  I guess pretending that
you are considering surrendering will do as well as anything else."

Walter gazed after the young fellow's retreating form with reluctant
admiration.  "He moves like a trained athlete and he hasn't got a bad
face," he admitted.  "I pray he does not prove to be our undoing."

"We must take the chance, lad," said the captain.  "Better remove the
post so he can get inside quick."

In a few minutes the outlaw strolled carelessly back towards the hut.
A yell of rage went up from the convicts behind the wall as he darted
through the opening into the building.

Walter quickly replaced the post and turned to watch the newcomer.

Without a word, he had marched over to where Charley lay and knelt by
his side with his finger on the lad's pulse and his keen eyes searching
his face.

After a moment's examination he turned to face the others.  "Your
friend is nearly dead," he said quietly.



CHAPTER XXX

THE ATTACK.

"He has a bare chance yet," declared the outlaw, noting their looks of
grief.  "I will do what I can for him, but I wish I'd been here an hour
sooner."

He took a little package from the bosom of his shirt and spread the
contents out upon the table.  "I couldn't bring much without arousing
suspicion," he said regretfully, "but I guess I can make out with what
I've brought."

With deft fingers, the newcomer measured out a powder from one of his
packages and administered it to the unconscious lad and next turned his
attention to the wounded leg.  Emptying a spoonful of liquid from one
of his bottles into a gourd of water he began to bathe the inflamed
limb.

The hunters could not but admire the deftness and skill with which the
stranger worked.  His long tapering fingers seemed to have the
suppleness and deftness of a woman's and his whole attention seemed
concentrated upon his patient.

The hours passed slowly away, each seeming a day in length to the
anxious hunters.  The convicts remained hidden behind the wall and
there was nothing to do but to keep a sharp lookout.  At noon the
watchers made a light lunch on the smoked venison and water, but the
young outlaw waved away the offered food and remained engrossed by the
patient's side.  At intervals of a few minutes all during the
afternoon, he administered medicine to the sufferer and repeatedly
bathed the wounded leg with the solution he had prepared.

The sun was barely an hour high, when he arose from the side of the
couch with a weary sigh.  "I think he will live," he announced, "he was
almost gone for a while, though.  I gave him enough strychnine during
the first few hours to have killed a normal man, but his heart had
weakened so that the stimulant hardly raised his pulse a single beat.
The heart action is better now, and with close attention he had ought
to pull through."

"How can we ever repay you for what you have done?" said the old
sailor, with tears of thankfulness in his eyes, while Walter wrung the
stranger's hand warmly.

"The saving of many lives will hardly atone for one I took once, though
the deed was done in self-defense," said the outlaw gravely.  "I am
glad to have been of help in this case."  He glanced around the room
with a return of his former light careless manner and nodded
approvingly as he noted the stores of provisions and water.  "Good," he
exclaimed, "you are better prepared than I expected and certainly in
much better shape than my former gentle companions dream.  Why, it will
be impossible for them to take this place by force."

"Can you tell us of their plans, Mr.----," inquired Walter, hesitating
for want of a name.

"You may call me Ritter, James Ritter," supplied the outlaw promptly.
"I am not ashamed of my real name but my relatives had cause to be
ashamed of its owner in his present condition.  Their plans are almost
self-evident, my lad.  They will wait until dark and then slip over the
wall, some will stop in that big building while the balance will make
their way around to a building on the other side of you.  They will
then have you surrounded and have only to watch and wait to starve you
out.  They have plenty of provisions with them and can get that spring
behind the fort without exposing themselves.  It is only a question of
time before you will have to give up, and then may the Lord grant us
all a speedy death."

"Don't be too sure of it, friend," observed the captain.  "The Lord
never deserts those who fully believe and trust him.  Those villains
may be defeated yet."

The outlaw grinned as he looked around the room.  "My dear friends are
badly fooled," he chuckled with glee.  "They believe the chief is with
you, and he is not here.  Why, they have already spent, in imagination,
the money that they are going to derive from the sale of his plumes.
What a shock it will be to them when they learn that the bird has
flown.  I wish I could see their faces when they hear the news."

"The chief is dead," said Walter, "do you think they would go away if
they knew the truth?"

"No, I do not," replied Ritter, after a moment's thought, "in spite of
all you might say, they would have a suspicion that you had secured the
plumes yourselves, and, anyway, they are so mad that they will not
leave until they have finished the job."

The hunters were favorably impressed with the frankness of the former
outlaw.  He had the speech and the manners of a gentleman, and his
earnestness and apparent sincerity went far towards removing their
suspicions, and, much to their surprise, they found themselves soon
talking to him with the freedom of old acquaintances.

Ritter chuckled with delight when they told him of the young chief
going for aid.  "That gives us a fighting chance," he declared,
joyfully.  "We must put ourselves on short rations and try to hold out
until they come."

"Where is Indian Charley?" asked Walter, "is he with the others?"

"No, they could not induce him to set foot on the island.  The place
evidently has a bad name among the Indians and I am not surprised after
what I have seen.  Even the convicts are puzzled and a little alarmed
by the walls, courts, and buildings.  They none of them know enough
about history to lay them to the Spaniards as you folks have probably
done.  Charley, the Indian, swears that there is a mysterious bell
which tolls every night.  Have you heard anything of the kind?"

Walter briefly related their adventure with the bell-ringer, omitting
any reference to the captain's superstitious fears, much to the old
sailor's relief.

Further conversation was interrupted by darkness and preparations for
the night.

Chris built a little fire near the door where the smoke would pass out
through the cracks and prepared a stew of venison and some broth for
Charley.

Taking turns the besieged made a hearty meal which did wonders in
renewing hope and courage.

It was decided that they should take short shifts of watching during
the night, two in each watch.  It fell to Walter to share the watch
with the young outlaw, for which he was not at all displeased, for he
was greatly interested in the strange character, and their turns at the
watch passed quickly in pleasant conversation.

The outlaw spoke freely of the incident that had brought him to the
convict gang, claiming firmly that the deed which had made him a felon
had been done in self-defense, but, owing to lack of witnesses and to a
well-known enmity between him and the dead man, the jury had brought in
a verdict of murder in the second degree.

Walter, under the spell of the man's attractive, strong personality,
could not but believe his assertion.

At the end of their watch, Walter awoke Chris and the captain and
stretched out for a nap, but the outlaw never closed his eyes during
the long uneventful night.  When not watching, he was hovering over
Charley's bedside administering medicine or working over the bitten
leg.  Yet daylight found him as cool and fresh as ever, apparently
unaffected by his long vigil.

To the hunters' great delight, day found Charley visibly improved.  He
had fallen into a deep sleep, his body was wet with profuse
perspiration, and the swelling of the limb had greatly decreased.

They showered thanks upon the outlaw until he was visibly embarrassed
and begged them to say no more.

The morning passed as had the night, without any hostile demonstration
by the convicts.  Smoke curling up from the fort and from a building on
the other side of them told the besieged that the enemy had taken up
their positions during the night as Ritter had prophesied.  Evidently
they were willing to wait for their triumph rather than risk any lives
by trying to take their victims by assault.

When Chris started to make a stew for dinner, Ritter stopped him.  "We
can't spare any more water for cooking," he declared.  "I have used a
good deal on the patient, and the gourds are already almost empty.  Our
only hope of life is in husbanding our water and it would be wise to
put ourselves on an allowance now.  I figure that there is enough in
that big copper to allow each of us a pint and a half per day for ten
days."

The others saw the wisdom of his proposal and immediately agreed to it,
and they made their dinner of roasted yams, smoked venison broiled
before the fire, and a few swallows of water.

Once during the afternoon a convict tried a shot at a crack between the
posts barricading the window.  The bullet passed through, missing
Ritter's head by a scant two inches.  The former outlaw never winced
but began singing mockingly, "Teasing, teasing, I was only teasing you."

A perfect storm of bullets answered his taunt.

"The rascals don't appreciate good singing," he said with a grin.

Charley's condition continued to steadily improve under the outlaw's
careful ministrations and by nightfall, he was conscious once more and
comparatively free from pain.

Night brought no change in the condition of the besieged.  Watches were
arranged as on the night before, and those off duty retired as soon as
darkness had fallen.

"Do you believe in premonitions," asked Ritter, gravely, as he and
Walter stood peering out of the windows.  "Do you believe that coming
events cast their shadows before them?"

"I hardly know," answered Walter, thoughtfully, "sometimes I almost
believe that we are given warnings of coming events, but I can never
quite convince myself that the happenings confirming, for instance, say
a dream, are anything more than coincidences."

"A few days ago I would have laughed at such an idea, but all day I
have had a vague presentiment of coming evil which I have found
impossible to shake off," explained his companion.

"It's your liver, I dare say," said Walter cheerfully, "for my part, I
feel that we are going to get out of this hole all right, and live
happy ever after as the story books say."

"There can be but little happiness for me in the future, however, if we
come out of this affair," said his companion sorrowfully.  "Death, I
sometimes think, would be the best thing that could befall me.  I am a
life convict, you remember, found guilty by a jury, and condemned to
pass a life at hard, degrading labor in company with ruffians of the
lowest, most debased type.  It is not a future to look forward to with
pleasure!"

Walter remained silent, he could not but admit the truth of the man's
words and reflect upon the misery of such a life would naturally bring
to a man of education and refinement like this one.  "You might escape,
go to some other state, and begin life anew," he at last suggested.
"After what you have done for us, and believing you innocent as we now
do, we should do all we could to help you to get away."

"The life of a fugitive would be worse than that of a convict,"
declared the other bitterly.  "In every face I would read suspicion,
and dread of detection and arrest would haunt me all the time."

Walter could say nothing more to encourage this strange, unfortunate
character, and with an effort the other shook off the black mood that
had fallen upon him.

"I guess you're right, it must be my liver," he said lightly.  "After
all there is something in the old jockey saying, "There is nothing to a
race but the finish."  If I live a convict I can at least die a
gentleman."

A sympathetic silence fell upon the two that lasted unbroken until
their watch ended.



CHAPTER XXXI.

THE PARLEY.

Only once during the night were the watchers disturbed.  Two convicts
endeavored to worm their way up to the hut unseen but were quickly
spotted by the captain who emptied his revolver at them without any
other effect than to cause them to take to their heels.  Aside from
this incident the besieged were not disturbed.

The convicts were evidently keeping as keen a watch as the besieged to
guard against the possibility of any of them escaping.  A hat which
Chris squeezed out through a crack between the posts was promptly
riddled with bullets.

Morning found the hunters and their new friend weary with suspense and
their long inactivity.  All longed for a stroll in the open air, a
chance to stretch their legs, and an unlimited supply of water to
drink.  It almost seemed that their meager allowance of a pint and a
half each for the twenty-four hours did little more than increase their
thirst.  They could not safely alter their unpleasant situation,
however, and they wisely made the best of it and did not grumble.

They had one great consolation in Charley's rapid progress towards
health.  He was gaining with astonishing rapidity and bid fair to be
completely recovered in a few days.

With the coming of another day, the convicts opened an irregular fire
upon the doors and windows of the hut.  Many of their bullets passed
between the cracks in the post barricades and imbedded themselves in
the walls.  The defenders husbanded their ammunition, firing only when
a convict exposed arm or leg.  They were satisfied now of the
impregnability of their building and their main concern was to keep out
of the way of chance bullets.

The morning was well advanced when Walter, who was watching at a
window, felt a curious sensation in the soles of his feet, and,
startled, looked down to find that he was standing in a tiny pool of
water.  With a cry of alarm he sprang to where the big copper sat.  A
glance confirmed his worst fears; a stray bullet had torn a great hole
in the vessel near the bottom, and of their precious store of water
barely a cupful remained.

It was a staggering blow to all.  Food they could exist without for
several days, but in that warm, humid climate life could not be
sustained without water for any length of time.  Before forty-eight
hours had passed they would be confronted by the alternatives of
surrendering to the convicts, or to suffering the awful tortures of
thirst.

"We must hold out as long as we can," declared Ritter, "something may
turn up.  Even death by thirst would be better than torture at the
hands of those fiends.  What little water is left, I would suggest that
we save for the sick lad.  We can stand thirst longer than he."

The rest agreed heartily to this proposal and the little water
remaining was poured into an empty gourd and placed where it would be
safe from bullets.  By tacit consent they agreed that their loss should
be concealed from Charley, who had slept throughout the incident.  They
knew him well enough to be sure that he would not touch the little
water remaining if he knew they were suffering from thirst.

To add to the troubles of the little party, the day proved very hot and
sultry, not a breath of air stirring.  By noon all were very thirsty,
and when night came without bringing any relief from the heat, they
began to suffer severely for lack of water.

The hot night dragged slowly away to bring another breathless sultry
day, the close of which found the little party almost at the limits of
their endurance.  Since the night before they had been unable to eat
the dry venison as it greatly increased their thirst.  Their tongues
and throats were dry and swollen and every nerve and atom of their
heated bodies clamored for water.

As night fell, Ritter got out the punctured copper and busied himself
in plugging up the hole.

"What are you doing that for?" Walter inquired.

"I'll tell you when the rest are asleep," whispered the young outlaw,
"there is no use alarming them."

It was late in the night before the others, tortured by fear and
thirst, fell into uneasy slumber, and Walter and Ritter were free to
continue their conversation.

"We  are in a desperate condition," declared Ritter.  "In this heat we
cannot exist very much longer without water.  Something has got to be
done at once if we are to hold out another forty-eight hours."

"But what can we do?" said Walter, hopelessly.  "It's sure death to
venture outside."

"I am not so sure about that," said the other, "anyway, I am going to
try it, anything is better than the tortures we will soon be suffering."

"You'll be killed," exclaimed Walter.  "I'll go, Ritter, I can be
spared better than you."

"Death by bullet is better than death by thirst," said his companion
coolly, "and you cannot be spared as well as I.  Your companions are
fond of you and your death would be a terrible blow to them, while I am
only an unknown convict whom no one will miss.  But I am getting
tragic," he continued, lightly.  "I really think there is a good chance
of success, the night is dark, and the very boldness of the attempt
will be in its favor.  They will not dream of one of us venturing right
under the shadow of their fort."

Although he spoke with apparent sincerity, Walter was not deceived.
Both knew the hopelessness of such an attempt.  In vain did Walter
attempt to dissuade the other, Ritter remained firm.

"We will remove a post from the doorway as quietly as possible and you
do your best to protect me with your rifle," he said.

With a heavy heart, Walter assisted the other to remove the post.  He
had grown very fond of Ritter in the few days they had been together.
He admired him for his bravery and the cheeriness and sweetness of his
disposition under trials and suffering.  He gave the outlaw's hand a
long, friendly clasp at parting.

"May God bring you back safe and sound," he whispered, brokenly.

With a return pressure of the hand, Ritter dropped to his hands and
knees and wound his way out of the doorway into the darkness.  Walter
watched his progress from the doorway with an anxious heart.  He saw
him crawl a considerable distance from the hut, then rise to his feet
and saunter carelessly towards the fort.  The very boldness of the act
made it successful.  The convict on guard no doubt thought the figure
one of his companions, needlessly exposing himself to a bullet from the
hut, and only wondered vaguely at his taking needless risks and perhaps
speculated dully as to what was the nature of the large object he bore.

Carelessly, Ritter sauntered slowly past the fort and approached the
spring.  There was no guard posted on that side of the fort and he
partly filled the copper and kneeling by the cool water took a deep
drink and bathed his feverish face in the refreshing liquid.  Half of
his mad task was performed, but, as he fully realized, the riskiest
part was yet to come.

Taking another long drink, he lifted the heavy copper and, bearing it
in front of him so as to conceal it as much as possible by his person,
he walked slowly back towards the hut.

Two-thirds of the return was covered in safety when the convict guard
shouted with an oath, "Come back, you fool, do you want to get the
daylights shot out of you?"

Ritter's answer was a taunting laugh as he bounded towards the hut.

The guard's rifle cracked and the fleeing man staggered drunkenly but
sped on, while the convict working the lever of his Winchester with
remorseless cruelty, emptied its contents after the fleeing figure.

At the doorway of the hut, Ritter crumpled to his knees.

"Take the copper," he cried to Walter, "I'm hit."  Walter quickly
placed the vessel inside, then, heedless of the rain of bullets,
dragged the wounded man inside.

The others had been awakened by the noise and were quickly at his side.

"Chris, give me a hand to lay him on my bed; Captain, replace the post
in the doorway," Walter commanded with heartsore calmness.

The wounded man opened his eyes as they laid him gently on the couch.

"It's no use bothering with me, old chap," he said, quietly.  "I'm hit
in a dozen places and I'm doctor enough to know that I'm going fast."

Walter buried his head by the dying man's side and sobbed dryly.

"There, there," the other said, soothingly, "don't feel bad about it.
It's just what I wished for.  I'm going to die like a gentleman."

Walter hushed his sobs with an effort to catch the feebly spoken words.

The wounded man's eyes closed, and Walter held his breath for a second
thinking him dead, but in a moment he opened them again and smiled
faintly, "There's nothing to a race but the finish," he whispered.

A little longer he lay still breathing heavily.  Suddenly by a mighty
effort he raised himself on his elbow, his eyes shining with a strange
light.  "Not guilty, your honor," he said in a firm voice, then sank
back still and white.

"He's dead," said Walter, brokenly.  "He had his wish; he died like a
hero."

They covered the still form reverently with a blanket, and the silence
of bitter grief settled on the little party.  The others had not become
so intimate with the dead man as Walter, but they had grown to admire
him greatly, and the thought that he had given up his life in their
service added to their grief.

Walter's suffering was intense and it was well that his mind was of
necessity soon forced into other channels.

The convicts, exasperated at the way they had been outwitted, opened a
heavy continuous fire upon the hut, under cover of which several
attempts were made to carry the hut by assault.  But the assaulting
parties were easily discouraged by the steady fire that met them at
each attempt.

"It looks as if they were getting desperate," said the captain.  "I
reckon they know now that we can hold out for a long time yet, and they
are gettin' discouraged," and his companions agreed with him.

Towards morning the convicts' fire slackened and gradually ceased.

Just as day was breaking, the distant report of a rifle was borne to
the ears of the besieged.

Charley, who was now able to leave his bed, listened eagerly.  "It's
Indian Charley's rifle.  I know the sound," he declared, "ten shots; I
wonder what it means."

From the fort, came an answering volley of ten rifle shots.

"It's a signal," cried Walter.  "I wonder what it's for."

"Hallo there in the but, we want a parley," hailed a rough voice from
the fort.

"All right," answered Charley, "send forward one man, unarmed."

A convict emerged from the fort and advanced towards the hut with
fearful, hesitating footsteps.

"Don't be afraid, we won't hurt you," Walter called to him
encouragingly.



CHAPTER XXXII.

HELP.

"Say what you want and be quick about it," said Charley sharply, as the
convict halted close to the hut.

"Me and my mates want to know if you are ready to call this thing
quits," the man growled.  "We agree to leave you the island all to
yourselves right off if you won't fire on us while we are leaving."

Charley turned to the others for counsel.

"There's something in the wind," he declared in a low tone.  "This
proposal coming so soon after that signal means something.  Maybe the
Indians are coming."

"We can't bank on that, it's hardly time for them yet," observed the
captain.  "Better agree to their offer, lads.  I guess they are just
tired of the game."

"We can't well stop them if they have taken a notion to leave," said
Walter.  "I agree with the captain.  Let them go."

Charley turned to the man.  "We agree, provided you leave at once," he
said.

The convict, with a surly growl, turned and rapidly retraced his steps
to the fort.

The convicts were in evident haste to be gone, for their envoy had
hardly got inside before they began to file out, each bearing his gun
and other belongings.

Within ten minutes from the envoy's visit the last of the outlaws had
scaled the walls and was lost to sight.

The hunters waited for half an hour before they removed the barricade
from the door and let the fresh cool morning breeze into their stuffy
prison.  Even then they did not venture outside, for they still feared
some trick on the part of the convicts.  As the moments, passed quietly
by, however, without any sign of their foes, their fears began to
decrease.

"I am going to find out what has become of them," Walter at last
declared.  "Unless we make certain now of what they are up to, we will
be afraid to venture outside for a week to come."

His companions in vain tried to dissuade him from his rash project, his
mind was made up and he turned a deaf ear to their words.

Shouldering one of the rifles, he made his way to the wall, clambered
over it nimbly and disappeared on the other side.

It was over half an hour before Walter returned.  His companions had
begun to feel uneasy about him when he appeared on the top of the wall
and dropped down inside with a hearty cheer.

"Come out, all of you," he shouted, "there's nothing more to fear from
the convicts."

The little party crowded around him with eager questions.

"I followed them down to the landing," he said.  "They had just shoved
off in their dugout and were headed back for their old camp and
paddling away for dear life.

"I had not long to wait before I discovered the reason for their haste.
Far up the stream was a big fleet of Indian dugouts coming down, there
must have been forty of them at least.  Then all was as plain as print:
the convicts were aiming to get back to their ponies and make their
escape on them.  Likely they would have done so if Indian Charley had
only warned them a little sooner, but they were too late."

"Go on," said Charley, eagerly, as Walter paused in his story.

"They had only got as far as that little island near this one, when
another big fleet of canoes appeared just ahead of them.  I guess they
realized that they stood no show to make a successful fight for it,
crowded up as they were in the dugout; anyway, they ran ashore on that
little island and threw up mounds of sand and are lying behind them."

"Have the Indians attacked them?" Charley demanded.

"Not a shot has been fired.  The Indians have formed a circle around
the island with their canoes just out of good gunshot and seem to be
waiting."

"Let's all go down to the landing," proposed Charley, eagerly, as
Walter concluded his account.

The others were as excited as Charley and readily agreed to the
proposal.

They found the situation just as Walter had described, the little
island with the band of convicts on it with the circle of canoes around
it.

"They won't stand much show if the Indians attack them in earnest,"
observed the captain, "there ain't a bit of shelter on that island and
it ain't hardly a foot above water."

As the little party gazed eagerly upon the scene, the next act in the
grim tragedy occurred.

"Look," exclaimed Charley, "they didn't fasten their canoe and it is
drifting away.  They are so busy watching the Indians that they haven't
noticed it yet."

A yell of dismay from the convicts soon told that they had discovered
their loss.  A few dashed down to the water as though they would plunge
in after the drifting craft, but they evidently lacked the courage to
face the bullets that would surely greet them if they ventured the act,
for they stopped at the water's edge and soon returned to the
breastworks of sand.

An Indian paddled out from the circle of canoes and securing the
drifting craft, towed it back to the others.

"Just look," exclaimed Walter, "I wonder what the Seminoles mean by
that move."

The others gazed eagerly with many exclamations of astonishment.

The circle of besieging canoes was breaking up, first one dropped out
of the circle, then another, until the whole fleet had formed in one
long, unbroken line.  Paddles flashed in the water and the long line
came sweeping gracefully on past the little island.

"You may hang me to the cross-trees, if they ain't agoin' to let them
scoundrels go," cried the captain in disgust.

"It certainly looks like it," admitted Charley, sadly.  "All they have
to do is to swim to shore and make their way out on foot."

The big fleet came sweeping steadily on, headed directly for the
landing where the little party stood.

An exultant yell burst from the convicts as they saw the dreaded attack
so quickly abandoned.

A hundred yards from the landing, the fleet of canoes seemed to slacken
speed, many of the Indians stopped paddling, and the long line was
thrown into confusion.

An Indian in the leading canoe stood up and seemed to be haranguing the
others.

"That's Little Tiger," said Walter eagerly, as he recognized the
orator.  "He's making a speech."

The hunters could, of course, make nothing of the speaker's words, but
the tone of his voice told him that the young Indian was terribly in
earnest.  His clear, resonant voice seemed to now ring with despairing
scorn, now sink to touching appeal.

"My, but he's a born orator!" exclaimed Charley in admiration.  "It
sounds as though he was lashing them up to some desperate undertaking."

The Indian at last ceased speaking and resuming his paddle sent his
craft forward, his companions following in his wake.

He grounded his rude canoe at the hunters' feet and sprang out with the
light, lithe leap of a panther.

"How," he said, gravely, extending his hand to each in turn.

The hunters shook the small, shapely hand with genuine pleasure.  They
were all struck by the change in the young Indian.  In the short time
since they had seen him last he had changed from a care-free stripling
to a thoughtful chief whose word was law with his people.  His manner
had become grave and reserved, and there was about him an air of
conscious power that well became his manly bearing.

He glanced from one to the other of the little party with keen eyes.
"It is well," he said, in his clear, musical voice.  "All here, none
missing, not even the little one with a face like night.  The Little
Tiger's heart was heavy with fear lest he should come too late.  But
neither the jackal's tribe nor the spirits of the night have harmed his
friends."

"Did not the young chief fear to land on the island of the spirits?"
asked Charley with a smile.

The Indian drew himself up proudly.  "Shall a Seminole fear to follow
where the paleface dares to tread?" he demanded.

"Even the palefaces were filled with fear," said Charley, quickly,
regretting his attempt at pleasantry, "but they found that they had
been only children frightened at shadows.  They have slain that which
made the noises full of mystery."

"Does the young white chief speak with the tongue of truth?" asked the
Seminole, eagerly.

"Even as he would be spoken to," answered Charley, gravely.  "If the
Little Tiger will come with his paleface friends, they will show him
many wonderful things."

For a moment the young Indian hesitated, the fears bred in him by
tradition struggling with his curiosity, but curiosity conquered.
Turning to his followers, who had all drawn in to the landing, he gave
some sharp commands in his own language.  They stepped ashore with
evident reluctance and there was considerable murmuring amongst them.
The chief looked them over with a scornful eye.

"Some of my warriors are not men, but squaws in men's clothing," he
said, bitterly.  "Their blood is like water in their veins with fear."

The murmuring Seminoles grew silent under their chief's scornful gaze,
and when he moved forward with his white friends they followed closely
in the rear.

On the way up to the wall, Charley explained to the young Indian about
the bell and its nightly ringer.

The chief listened with relief and satisfaction on his face and quickly
communicated the news in his own tongue to his followers.  Immobile as
were the Indians' faces, they could not conceal entirely their relief
and pleasure at the explanation of what had been to them a life-long,
fearful mystery.

Little Tiger was astonished when he saw the ancient road through the
forest, and, at the sight of walls and buildings of stone, he exhibited
a childish delight.  "This is an island worthy of being the home of a
great chief," he declared.  "In the big wigwam of stone (the fort) the
Little Tiger will rest in peace when not on the hunt, and the squaws
shall make of this dirt of black, great fields of yams and waving corn.
It is good, that which the palefaces have done; how can their red
brother reward them?"

"By lending them one of his warriors to guide them back to where their
ponies and goods are waiting," answered Charley, promptly.

"It shall be done," said the chief, "though the hearts of their red
brothers will be heavy at parting.  Their hearts were filled with
gladness with the hope that the palefaces would bide with them and take
unto them squaws from among the Seminoles."

The captain was on the point of exploding with indignation at the
thought of an Indian squaw, but Charley spoke up quickly.

"Little Tiger does his friends great honor, yet, though their hearts
are heavy at the thought of parting, they must go."  Charley glanced at
the captain and added mischievously, "He with the gray hair on face and
head has, without doubt, many squaws amongst his people whose hearts
are longing for his return."

The old sailor glared at the speaker in speechless indignation.

"There cannot be too many hands to till the fields," observed the
chief, gravely.  "I will give him another squaw to take back with him
to his wigwam."

Charley silenced the embarrassed captain with a shake of his head.
"The chief is kind," he said, "but squaws are not as men, there would
be great enmity and hair-pulling between the white squaws and the red,
and when squaws quarrel the wigwam is sad for the warrior."

The chief nodded gravely.  "The young white chief speaks truly," he
said.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

THE SEMINOLES.

The conversation on the part of the hunters had so far been conducted
by Charley.  Walter had remained silent, busily thinking over the
wrongs that had been done them by the convicts.  He could not forget
the still, cold form in the hut that had been robbed of life by the
murderers' bullets.  He was not usually a vindictive boy, but, as he
thought of Ritter's noble act and sudden death, his passion steadily
grew and at last he turned scornfully to the young chief.

"Little Tiger speaks with the tongue of a man, but his deeds are those
of a squaw," he declared, bitterly.  "Are he and his braves afraid of
the murderers of his people and the slayers of his father that they
leave them to escape in peace and safety?"

"They will not escape," said the young Indian, his face darkening with
anger at the savage taunt.  "A man's death for a man, but jackals shall
die like jackals.  With hearts of terror and blood turned to water in
their fear, they shall die a death more horrible than the palefaces can
give them."

"You have offended him, Walter," said Charley, as the young savage
walked proudly away.  "Why couldn't you be more patient?  I have felt
all along that he had some plan for dealing with the convicts."

"I suppose I have put my foot in it," said Walter regretfully, "but
it's no use crying about it now."

The Indians were already lighting fires and preparing breakfast, but
the hunters had a task before them which they felt they must perform
before they could touch food, and they immediately set about it.

In the shade of a majestic live oak, they dug a deep grave and in it
laid to rest the body of the unfortunate Ritter.  Their eyes were moist
as the earth covered the remains of the young hero.

Little Tiger rose to meet them as they approached the group of Indians.

Walter walked up to him with outstretched hand.  "I am sorry for my
angry, foolish words," he said.  "When sorrow bears heavy on the heart,
the tongue grows bitter."

The young Seminole grasped the offered hand with evident pleasure.
"Even squaws forgive and forget, and a warrior should be nobler than a
squaw," he said, sagely.  "The palefaces shall be seated and share the
food of their red brothers."

The hunters would gladly have declined, but could not well do so
without giving offense, so they seated themselves in the circle
surrounding the steaming kettle containing the food and with inward
qualms partook lightly of the stew.

There was a kettle to every fifteen Indians, and their manner of eating
left much to be desired.  Spoons and forks they had none, but they
solved the problem by dipping their hands into the pot and fishing out
the portions desired.  With true courtesy, the guests were given the
first dip into the pot.

As they ate, the hunters had an opportunity to study their hosts more
carefully than they had yet done.

They were all splendid specimens of savage manhood.  Not one was less
than six feet tall, and each was shaped and muscled like an athlete.
All wore the usual Seminole dress, a long shirt belted in at the waist,
moccasins, and turbans of tightly wound red handkerchiefs.  They were
extremely neat and cleanly in appearance, a virtue not common with
Indian tribes.

There were a few squaws among the company, but they did not tempt a
second glance.  They were wooden-faced, slovenly-looking creatures
almost disgusting in appearance.  They were loaded with string upon
string of colored beads forming a solid mass, like a huge collar, from
the point of their chins down to their chests.

"Which one have you picked out for your own, Captain?" whispered
Charley.  "That big one over there seems to have her eye upon you."

The old sailor flushed with embarrassment.  "Look out or they'll have
you," he cautioned fearfully, "I kinder feel that big one has singled
me out, an' I don't want to encourage her none."

The Indians seemed to regard the day as a holiday to celebrate the
laying out of the spirits and the adding of a large fertile island to
their domain.

The morning was given over to feasting and to running, jumping and
wrestling matches.  Only the young Indians indulged in these contests,
the warriors sitting gravely looking on.

Our young hunters tried their strength and skill with the Indian lads,
but, although they were stronger and more nimble than most boys of
their age, they found that they were no match for the young Seminoles.

While the boys were enjoying the contests, the captain sat moodily
apart, keeping a worried eye upon the squaws.

With a mischievous twinkle in his eye, Charley drew aside one of the
Seminole lads, whom he had found could speak English, and whispered
eagerly to him.

The Indian lad's bright, beady eyes twinkled as he listened, and, when
Charley concluded, he nodded his head and slipped away into the group
around the fire.

"Look, Walt, oh, look," shouted Charley a moment later, "look at the
captain, oh my, oh my," and Charley rolled on the grass in wicked glee.

The young Indian had done his work well.  A dozen of the squaws had
formed a ring around the old sailor and were slowly closing in.  The
captain had struggled to his feet and with red face and horrified eyes
was waving his arms frantically, shouting, "Go away, go away," much as
one would shoo a flock of chickens.

"Don't be afraid, captain," called Charley, "they only want to embrace
you."

"I won't be embraced, I won't, I won't," cried the old sailor,
frantically.

"Come, Captain, do the Hobson act," said Walter, "the ladies expect it."

"Help, help," shouted the captain appealingly, as the circle of
grave-faced squaws steadily advanced, "I won't be embraced, I won't."

With a sudden howl of terror the squaws turned and fled.

In his fear, the captain had opened his mouth a little too far and his
false teeth had tumbled out.  The old sailor caught them in his hand
and continued to wave his arms.  "I won't be embraced," he shouted.

But there was no need of the defiance; the squaws would not, for untold
beads, have come near the strange being with the movable teeth.

"Shame, Captain," said Charley severely, as the two boys approached the
old sailor.  "You must have been flirting with those ladies to make
them act like that."

"I guess they was just attracted by my appearance," said the captain
modestly, "I always was a favorite with the ladies."

"Looks as if they were headed this way again," said Walter.

With a cry of fright the old sailor turned and dashed away for the
shelter of the hut as fast as he could run.

The boys shouted with laughter, and even the grave warriors smiled at
the scene.

After dinner the celebration was renewed, but this time the youths
formed the audience while their elders held shooting matches and more
sober contests of skill and strength.

The captain did not emerge from the hut until nearly sundown, and when
he did appear he carried both upper and lower teeth in his hand.
Whenever a squaw approached anywhere near him he would open his mouth
to its fullest extent and wave the teeth in the air.

"They will get used to seeing you without them and soon think you as
beautiful as ever," Charley said to him, gravely.

"Charley," said the old sailor, solemnly, "for good or ill, we leave
this island to-morrow.  It ain't often them Injin women meets with a
man of my looks, an' it has drove 'em plum crazy.  It ain't safe for me
to stay longer."

"I'm wondering what that widow lady in Shelbourne will say when she
hears of this," said Walter musingly.  "She will naturally think that
you must have given them great encouragement."

"If either of you lads breathe a word of this in town, I'll throttle
you," declared the apprehensive old sailor.

"We won't say a word," said Charley, severely, "but I must say you have
been setting Walter and I a terrible example, captain."

After this parting shot, the two tormentors retired quickly, for the
old sailor was almost at the exploding point with indignation.

The captain was not the only one to whom the afternoon had brought
trials.  Chris had not been without his share of troubles.  The
Seminoles treated him with marked disdain and would not even permit him
to eat with the others.

"The Indians consider the darky as an inferior being," Charley had
confided to Walter in a whisper.  "There are rumors that there is more
than one negro slave in the heart of the Everglades.  The Seminoles
have a proverb, 'White man, Indian, dog, nigger,' which expresses their
opinion of the colored race."

Chris' troubles reached their climax when the little party was seated
around the fire with the Indians in the evening.

The chief, who had been watching the little darky closely all day,
turned to Charley: "Me buy 'em," he said, indicating Chris with a wave
of his hand.  "Me buy nigger."

"I ain't no nigger," shouted Chris in a rage, "I'se a free-born black
Englishman, dat's what I is."

Charley silenced the indignant little darky with a wave of his hand.

"He already has a master and is therefore not ours to sell," he said,
while Chris bristled with indignation.

"Who master?" inquired the Seminole with an appraising glance at the
sturdy little darky.

"A man called King Edward," said Charley gravely, and Chris'
indignation subsided.

"Too bad," grunted the chief, and dropped the subject.

"What's that?" exclaimed Walter suddenly, as distant rifle shots echoed
in the air, were repeated irregularly and finally ceased.

"The convicts, I guess," whispered Charley, "I don't understand why
they are firing, though.  All the Indians are here."

Significant glances passed between the Indians.

"Jackals are dead," said the chief, a fierce exultation in his face.

"Who killed them?" cried Charley.

"Crocodiles," said the Seminole, briefly.

The little party stared at each other in horror.  They understood now
why the Seminoles had not made an attack, and had showed so much
confidence in the convicts not being able to escape.

Much as the hunters hated the men who had persecuted them, they felt
shocked and horror-stricken at the horrible fate that had overtaken
them.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

THE RETURN.

The hunters soon withdrew from the circle around the fire and made
their way to their hut.

"This has been a queer trip," said Charley musingly.  "I do not believe
I care to make another like it.  Look at all we have been through, and
what have we gained by it?  Nothing."

"We might stop on the St. Johns on our way back and hunt again for
plumes," suggested Walter.

But the others negatived the proposal decidedly.

"It would be like tempting Providence, after the dangers we have been
spared from," the captain declared.

"Dis nigger wants to get out ob a kentry where a black Englishman is
called a nigger," said Chris.

"Don't mention plumes to me," exclaimed Charley, "I am sick of
everything connected with this trip."

Walter smiled.  "I am quite sure that I would not feel at all bad if I
knew we were carrying back several thousand dollars' worth of plumes
with us," he said.

"Oh, quit your dreaming and go to bed," exclaimed Charley, testily,
"instead of carrying back a few thousand dollars' worth of plumes with
us, we will all have to hunt for a job, when we get to the coast."

But in spite of Charley's dire prophecy, Walter was smiling as he
undressed in the dark.

The hunters were astir at break of day and preparing for an early
start.  They cooked and ate a hasty breakfast and then carried their
canoes down to the water.

The Indian whom the chief had assigned as their guide was already
patiently waiting in his dugout.

It did not take the hunters long to stow away their few belongings and
they were soon ready for their departure.

The chief followed them to the water accompanied by all his band.

The hunters parted with the young Seminole with genuine regret, and he,
for his part, seemed greatly affected.

"The Little Tiger hopes that his white brothers will return again to
the Glades," he said as he shook hands with each.  "His wigwam will be
always open to them.  Will not he with the hair like the Spanish moss,
consider again, and choose from among them one of the squaws to cheer
his wigwam?"

"No, thank ye, chief," said the old sailor hastily, "it would only make
the rest of 'em jealous."

The rest of the Indians gathered around and each shook hands with the
little party, gravely saying "How," the only English many of them knew.

The hunters stepped aboard their canoes, and took up their paddles.
The Indian guide in his dugout took the lead and with flashing blades
the hunters followed closely in his wake.

As they passed the little island where the convicts had met their
death, the hunters could not repress a shudder of horror.  Around it
lay the repulsive-looking crocodiles, placidly sleeping on the water,
and amongst them floated a man's straw hat.  It was all that remained
of the cruel, merciless band.

"They deserved death, but the death they met was too awful for any
human being," Charley murmured.

"I wonder what became of Indian Charley," said Walter.  "He was not
with the others."

Their guide's quick ears had caught the question.  "He tied to tree in
swamp for mosquitoes to eat," he volunteered pleasantly.

"I think," remarked Charley, after a long pause, "I think I would
rather be a Seminole's friend than his enemy."

"Aye, lad," agreed the captain, "they are savages still in their loves
and hates."

The Seminole guide led them out of the Everglades by a short cut, and
the hunters sighed with relief when the great swamp was left behind.

For two days they traveled while daylight lasted, making camp at night
on some convenient point.  On the morning of the third day they reached
their old camp where their things were buried.  Here they went into
camp again while the Seminole scoured the woods for their ponies.  He
returned triumphant the second day riding one of the horses and driving
the others.  The animals were sleek and fat from rich feeding and long
inactivity.

The hunters made their guide presents of a couple of clasp knives and a
revolver with its ammunition and sent him away delighted.

"I wanted to wait until we got home to give you a big surprise, but I
can't keep it concealed any longer," said Walter regretfully, as his
companions began to take the canoes apart preparatory to stowing them
in the packs.

While the others gazed at him in surprise, he drew out a bundle from
under the thwart of one of the canoes.  Undoing it he took out a long
feathery plume.

"Where did you get that?" exclaimed Charley in surprise.

"It's one of those we dug up on the chief's island," explained Walter.
"You see I used to work in a store where they used to handle such
things, and I got an idea when we first opened the package that those
plumes were not in as bad shape as they appeared.  I did not say
anything about it, because I did not want to run the risk of possibly
causing more disappointment, but I put the box in the canoe and the
first chance I got on the island I took a weak solution of vinegar and
water and went to work on them.  I had only time to clean two or three,
but I am sure that at least three-fourths of them can be made saleable."

"Walter, you're a trump," exclaimed Charley in delight, and the others
were not much behind in expressing their admiration and joy.

Owing to Walter's thoughtfulness, it was a gay, happy party that took
up the trail back for the coast.

The return trip was made without any uncommon incident and the little
party arrived safely at the little seacoast town of Shelbourne.  Here
they sold their ponies and arms, and renting a little house, went
busily to work cleaning and preparing the damaged plumes for market.
When the task was finished and the last plume sold, they found
themselves the happy possessors of the not insignificant sum of $3,200,
which divided between them gave each a capital of $800.

With the first money they received from their plumes, they purchased a
handsome repeating rifle which they despatched to their friend, Little
Tiger, by an Indian who had come into town to trade.

A couple of weeks after, the hunters received a visit from the Seminole
who had acted as their guide.  He was the bearer of a bundle of
beautifully tanned deer-skins, a present from the chief.

"The Little Tiger mourns for his white brothers," said the chief's
messenger, "the beautiful rifle speaks to him like a message from them.
He bids them when they will to return and end their days in the shelter
of his wigwam.  He says, if the gray-haired one desires, the offer of a
squaw is still open."

The joke on the captain was too good to keep, and the boys have told it
to the widow lady whom the captain is interested in.  She sometimes
tasks him with having given the dusky ladies too great encouragement,
and the old sailor gets very red and protests that such was not the
case; that he couldn't help it; that he always was a great favorite
with the ladies.  At first, he used to call upon Walter and Charley to
prove the truth of his statements, but they would only shake their
heads ominously and remain gravely silent.

Upon their return the hunters had prepared a full statement of the
death of the convicts and mailed it to the proper authorities, but,
much to their indignation, their story was not believed but was
regarded as an attempt to secure the reward money that had been offered.

Chris is just now greatly incensed over a song that every one seems to
be humming.  We believe the chorus runs, "Coon, coon, coon, how I wish
my color would fade."  He regards "coon" as a much more offensive title
even than nigger, and contends that it is no name to be applied to a
free-born black English gentleman.

Just now all our hunters are resting up from their terrible
experiences.  One would think that they had passed through enough to
discourage them from undertaking another hazardous trip, but adventures
breed a love for adventure, and the free, open air calls loudly to
those who have followed stream and forest.



THE END.



THE BRONCHO RIDER BOYS SERIES

By FRANK FOWLER

A Series of Stirring Stories for Boys, that not only contain
considerable information concerning cowboy life, but at the same time
seem to breathe the adventurous spirit that lives in the clear air of
the wide plains, and lofty mountain ranges of the Wild West.  These
tales are written in a vein calculated to delight the heart of every
lad who loves to read of pleasing adventure in the open; yet at the
same time the most careful parent need not hesitate to place them in
the hands of his boy.


THE BRONCHO RIDER BOYS AT KEYSTONE RANCH; or,

Three Chums of the Saddle and Lariat.

In this story the reader makes the acquaintance of the devoted chums,
Adrian Sherwood, Donald McKay, and William Stonewall Jackson Winkle, a
fat, auburn-haired Southern lad, who is known at various times among
his comrades as "Wee Willie Winkle," "Broncho Billie," and "Little
Billie."  The book begins in rapid action, and there is surely
"something doing" up to the very time you lay it down, possibly with a
sigh of regret because you have reached the end; yet thankful to know
that a second volume is within reach.  Besides the adventure, there is
more or less rollicking humor, of the type all boys like.


THE BRONCHO RIDER BOYS DOWN IN ARIZONA, or,

A Struggle for the Great Copper Lode.

The scene shifts in this story, from the free life of the cattle range,
and the wide expanse of the boundless prairie, to that rugged
mountainous section of Arizona, where many fabulous fortunes have been
won through the discovery of rich ore.  The Broncho Rider Boys find
themselves impelled, by a stern sense of duty, to make a brave fight
against heavy odds, in order to retain possession of a valuable mine
that is claimed by some of their relatives.  That they meet with
numerous strange and thrilling perils while enlisted in this service,
can be readily understood; and every wideawake boy will be pleased to
learn how finally Adrian and his chums managed to outwit their enemies
in the fight for the copper lode.


THE BRONCHO RIDER BOYS ALONG THE BORDER; or,

The Hidden Treasure of the Zuni Medicine Man.

Once more the tried and true comrades of camp and trail are in the
saddle, bent on seeing with their own eyes some of the wonderful sights
to be found in that section of the Far Southwest, where the singular
cave homes of the ancient Cliff Dwellers dot the walls of the Great
Canyon of the Colorado.  In the strangest possible way they are drawn
into a series of happenings among the Zuni Indians, while trying to
assist a newly made friend: all of which makes interesting reading.  If
there could be any choice, this book would surely be voted the best of
the entire series, and certainly no lad will lay it down, save with
regret.


THE BRONCHO RIDER BOYS ON THE WYOMING TRAIL;

or, A Mystery of the Prairie Stampede.

As the title will indicate to readers of the previous stories in this
Series, the three prairie pards finally find a chance to visit the
Wyoming ranch belonging to Adrian, but which has been managed for him
by a relative, whom he has reason to suspect might be running things
more for his own benefit than that of the young owner.  Of course they
become entangled in a maze of adventurous doings while in the Northern
cattle country.  How the Broncho Rider Boys carried themselves through
this nerve-testing period makes intensely interesting leading.  No boy
will ever regret the money spent in securing this splendid volume.


      *      *      *      *      *

THE BIG FIVE MOTORCYCLE BOYS SERIES

By RALPH MARLOW

A Series of Splendid Stories, in which are contained the Strange
Happenings that befell a bunch of five lively boys, who were fortunate
enough to come into possession of up-to-date motorcycles.


THE BIG FIVE MOTORCYCLE BOYS' SWIFT ROAD CHASE;

or, Surprising the Bank Robbers.

It is doubtful whether a more entertaining lot of boys ever before
appeared in a story than the "Big Five," who figure in the pages of
this volume--Rod Bradley; "Hanky Panky" Jucklin; Josh Whitcomb; Elmer
Overton; and last, but far from least, "Rooster" Boggs.  From cover to
cover the reader will be thrilled and delighted with the accounts of
how luckily they came by their motorcycles; and what a splendid use
they made of the machines in recovering the funds of the robbed Garland
bank.


THE BIG FIVE MOTORCYCLE BOYS IN TENNESSEE WILDS;

or, The Secret of Walnut Ridge.

In this story the boys with the "flying wheels" take a trip through
Kentucky, and into Dixie Land.  The wonderful adventures, and amusing
ones as well, that were their portion on this glorious spin, have been
set down by the author in a way that will be most pleasing to the boy
reader who delights in tales of action.  There is not a single dry
chapter in the book; and when the end is finally reached, the happy
possessor will count himself lucky to have it handy in his library,
where, later on, he may read it over and over again.


THE BIG FIVE MOTORCYCLE BOYS THROUGH BY WIRELESS;

or, A Strange Message from the Air.

Even in a quiet Ohio town remarkable things may sometimes happen
calculated to create the most intense excitement.  The five motorcycle
boys were put in touch with just such an event through a message that
came to their wireless station while many miles away from home.  What
that "voice from the air" told them, and how gallantly they responded
to the call for action, you will be delighted to learn in the third
volume of this intensely interesting series.


THE BIG FIVE MOTORCYCLE BOYS ON FLORIDA TRAILS;

or, Adventures Among the Saw Palmetto Crackers.

Once more a kind fortune allows Rod Bradley and his four
"happy-go-lucky" comrades a chance to visit new fields.  Down in the
Land of Sunshine and Oranges the Motorcycle Boys experience some of the
most remarkable perils and adventures of their whole career.  The
writer spent many years along the far-famed Indian River, and he has
drawn upon his vast knowledge of the country in describing what befell
the chums there.  If there could be any choice, then this book is
certainly the best of the whole series; and you will put it down with
regret, only hoping to meet these favorite characters again in new
fields.


      *      *      *      *      *

The Boy Spies Series

These stories are based on important historical events, scenes wherein
boys are prominent characters being selected.  They are the romance of
history, vigorously told, with careful fidelity to picturing the home
life, and accurate in every particular.


THE BOY SPIES AT THE BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS.
  A story of the part they took in its defence.
  By William P. Chipman.

THE BOY SPIES AT THE DEFENCE OF FORT HENRY.
  A boy's story of Wheeling Creek in 1777.
  By James Otis.

THE BOY SPIES AT THE BATTLE OF BUNKER HILL.
  A story of two boys at the siege of Boston.
  By James Otis.

THE BOY SPIES AT THE SIEGE OF DETROIT.
  A story of two Ohio boys in the War of 1812.
  By James Otis.

THE BOY SPIES WITH LAFAYETTE.
  The story of how two boys joined the Continental Army.
  By James Otis.

THE BOY SPIES ON CHESAPEAKE BAY.
  The story of two young spies under Commodore Barney.
  By James Otis.

THE BOY SPIES WITH THE REGULATORS.
  The story of how the boys assisted the Carolina Patriots to drive the
  British from that State.
  By James Otis.

THE BOY SPIES WITH THE SWAMP FOX.
  The story of General Marion and his young spies.
  By James Otis,

THE BOY SPIES AT YORKTOWN.
  The story of how the spies helped General Lafayette in the Siege of
  Yorktown.
  By James Otis.

THE BOY SPIES OF PHILADELPHIA.
  The story of how the young spies helped the Continental Army at
  Valley Forge.
  By James Otis.

THE BOY SPIES OF FORT GRISWOLD.
  The story of the part they took in its brave defence.
  By William P. Chipman.

THE BOY SPIES OF OLD NEW YORK.
  The story of how the young spies prevented the capture of General
  Washington.
  By James Otis.

      *      *      *      *      *

The Boy Scout Series

By HERBERT CARTER

New stories of Camp Life, telling the wonderful and thrilling
adventures of the Boys of the Silver Fox Patrol.


THE BOY SCOUTS ON STURGEON ISLAND;

or, Marooned Among the Game Fish Poachers.

Through a queer freak of fate, Thad Brewster and his comrades of the
Silver Fox Patrol find themselves in somewhat the same predicament that
confronted dear old Robinson Crusoe; only it is on the Great Lakes that
they are wrecked instead of the salty sea.  You will admit that those
Cranford scouts are a lively and entertaining bunch of fellows.


THE BOY SCOUTS DOWN IN DIXIE;

or, The Strange Secret of Alligator Swamp.

New and startling experiences awaited the tried comrades of camp and
trail, when they visit the Southland.  But their knowledge of woodcraft
enabled them to meet and overcome all difficulties.


THE BOY SCOUTS' FIRST CAMP FIRE;

or, Scouting with the Silver Fox Patrol.

This book is brimming over with thrilling adventure, woods lore and the
story of the wonderful experiences that befell the Cranford troop of
Boy Scouts when spending a part of their vacation in the wilderness.


THE BOY SCOUTS IN THE BLUE RIDGE;

or, Marooned Among the Moonshiners.

Those lads who have read The Boy Scouts' First Camp Fire will be
delighted to read this story.  It tells of the strange and mysterious
adventures that happened to the Patrol in their trip through the
"mountains of the sky" in the Moonshiners' Paradise of the old Tar Heel
State, North Carolina.


THE BOY SCOUTS ON THE TRAIL;

or, Scouting through the Big Game Country.

The story recites the many adventures that befell the members of the
Silver Fox Patrol with wild animals of the forest trails, as well as
the desperate men who had sought a refuge in this lonely country.


THE BOY SCOUTS IN THE MAINE WOODS;

or, The New Test for the Silver Fox Patrol.

In the rough field of experience the tenderfoots and greenhorns of the
Silver Fox Patrol are fast learning to take care of themselves when
abroad.  Thad and his chums have a wonderful experience when they are
employed by the State of Maine to act as Fire Wardens.


THE BOY SCOUTS THROUGH THE BIG TIMBER;

or, The Search for the Lost Tenderfoot.

A serious calamity threatens the Silver Fox Patrol when on one of their
vacation trips to the wonderland of the great Northwest.  How apparent
disaster is bravely met and overcome by Thad and his friends, forms the
main theme of the story, which abounds in plenty of humor, and
hairbreadth escapes.


THE BOY SCOUTS IN THE ROCKIES;

or, The Secret of The Hidden Silver Mine.

By this time the boys of the Silver Fox Patrol have learned through
experience how to rough it upon a long hike.  Their tour takes them
into the wildest region of the great Rocky Mountains, and here they
meet with many strange adventures.


THE BOY SCOUTS AT THE BATTLE OF SARATOGA.

A story of Burgoyne's defeat in 1777.

      *      *      *      *      *

The Boy Chums Series

By WILMER M. ELY

In this series of remarkable stories by Wilmer M. Ely are described the
adventures of two boy chums--Charley West and Walter Hazard--in the
great swamps of interior Florida and among the cays off the Florida
Coast, and through the Bahama Islands.  These are real, live boys, and
their experiences are well worth following.


THE BOY CHUMS ON INDIAN RIVER;

or, The Boy Partners of the Schooner "Orphan."

In this story Charley West and Walter Hazard meet deadly rattlesnakes;
have a battle with a wild panther; are attacked by outlaws: their boat
is towed by a swordfish; they are shipwrecked by a monster manatee
fish, and pass safely through many exciting scenes of danger.  This
book should be read first.


THE BOY CHUMS ON HAUNTED ISLAND,

or, Hunting for Pearls in the Bahama Islands.

This book tells the story of the boy chums' adventures on the schooner
"Eager Quest," hunting for pearls among the Bahama Islands.  Their
hairbreadth escapes from the treacherous quicksands and dangerous
waterspouts, and their rescue from the wicked wreckers are fully told.


THE BOY CHUMS IN THE FOREST;

or, Hunting for Plume Birds in the Florida Everglades.

The story of the boy chums hunting the blue herons and the pink and
white egrets for their plumes in the forests of Florida is full of
danger and excitement.  In this story is fully told how the chums
encountered the Indians; their battles with the escaped convicts; their
fight with the wild boars and alligators; and many exciting encounters
and escapes.  This is the third story of the boy chums' adventures.


THE BOY CHUMS' PERILOUS CRUISE;

or, Searching for Wreckage on the Florida Coast.

This story of the boy chums' adventures on and off the Florida Coast
describes many scenes of daring and adventure, in hunting for ships
stranded and cargoes washed ashore.  The boy chums passed through many
exciting scenes, their conflicts with the Cuban wreckers; the loss of
their vessel, the "Eager Quest," they will long remember.  This is the
fourth book of adventures which the boy chums experienced.


THE BOY CHUMS IN THE GULF OF MEXICO;

or, a Dangerous Cruise with the Greek Spongers.

This story of the boy chums hunting for sponges is filled with many
adventures.  The dangers of gathering sponges are fully described; the
chums meet with sharks and alligators; and they are cast away on a
desert island.  Their rescue and arrival home make a most interesting
story.  This is the fifth book of adventures of the boy chums.


THE BOY CHUMS CRUISING IN FLORIDA WATERS;

or, the Perils and Dangers of the Fishing Fleet.

In this story Charley West and Walter Hazard embark upon a new and
dangerous quest for fortune.  With their old and tried comrades,
Captain Westfield and the little negro, Chris, they join the great army
of fishermen that yearly search the Florida seas for the thousands of
kinds of rare fish and water creatures that abound there.  The Florida
waters hide many strange and unknown dangers.  The perils the chums
encounter from weird fishes and creatures of the sea and the menace of
hurricane and shipwreck, make very interesting and instructive reading.
This is the sixth book of adventures of the boy chums.


      *      *      *      *      *

The Navy Boys Series

A series of excellent stories of adventure on sea and land, selected
from the works of popular writers; each volume designed for boys'
reading.


THE NAVY BOYS IN DEFENCE OF LIBERTY.
  A story of the burning of the British schooner Gaspee in 1772.
  By William P. Chipman.

THE NAVY BOYS ON LONG ISLAND SOUND.
  A story of the Whale Boat Navy of 1776.
  By James Otis.

THE NAVY BOYS AT THE SIEGE OF HAVANA.
  Being the experience of three boys serving under Israel Putnam in 1772.
  By James Otis.

THE NAVY BOYS WITH GRANT AT VICKSBURG.
  A boy's story of the siege of Vicksburg.
  By James Otis.

THE NAVY BOYS' CRUISE WITH PAUL JONES.
  A boy's story of a cruise with the Great Commodore in 1776.
  By James Otis.

THE NAVY BOYS ON LAKE ONTARIO.
  The story of two boys and their adventures in the War of 1812.
  By James Otis.

THE NAVY BOYS' CRUISE ON THE PICKERING.
  A boy's story of privateering in 1780.
  By James Otis.

THE NAVY BOYS IN NEW YORK BAY.
  A story of three boys who took command of the schooner "The Laughing
  Mary," the first vessel of the American Navy.
  By James Otis.

THE NAVY BOYS IN THE TRACK OF THE ENEMY.
  The story of a remarkable cruise with the Sloop of War "providence"
  and the Frigate "Alfred."
  By William P. Chipman.

THE NAVY BOYS' DARING CAPTURE.
  The story of how the navy boys helped to capture the British Cutter
  "Margaretta," in 1775.
  By William P. Chipman.

  THE NAVY BOYS' CRUISE TO THE BAHAMAS.
  The adventures of two Yankee Middies with the first cruise of an
  American Squadron in 1775.
  By William P. Chipman.

THE NAVY BOYS' CRUISE WITH COLUMBUS.
  The adventures of two boys who sailed with the great Admiral in his
  discovery of America.
  By Frederick A. Ober.


      *      *      *      *      *

The Girl Chums Series

ALL AMERICAN AUTHORS.

ALL COPYRIGHT STORIES.

A carefully selected series of books for girls, written by popular
authors.  These are charming stories for young girls, well told and
full of interest.  Their simplicity, tenderness, healthy, interesting
motives, vigorous action, and character painting will please all girl
readers.


BENHURST CLUB, THE.  By Howe Benning.

BERTHA'S SUMMER BOARDERS.  By Linnie S. Harris.

BILLOW PRAIRIE.  A Story of Life in the Great West.  By Joy Allison.

DUXBERRY DOINGS.  A New England Story.  By Caroline B. Le Row.

FUSSBUDGET'S FOLKS.  A Story For Young Girls.  By Anna F. Burnham.

HAPPY DISCIPLINE, A.  By Elizabeth Cummings.

JOLLY TEN, THE; and Their Year of Stories.  By Agnes Carr Sage.

KATIE ROBERTSON.  A Girl's Story of Factory Life.  By M. E. Winslow.

LONELY HILL.  A Story For Girls.  By M. L. Thornton-Wilder.

MAJORIBANKS.  A Girl's Story.  By Elvirton Wright.

MISS CHARITY'S HOUSE.  By Howe Benning.

MISS ELLIOT'S GIRLS.  A Story For Young Girls.  By Mary Spring Corning.

MISS MALCOLM'S TEN.  A Story For Girls.  By Margaret E. Winslow.

ONE GIRL'S WAY OUT.  By Howe Benning.

PEN'S VENTURE.  By Elvirton Wright.

RUTH PRENTICE.  A Story For Girls.  By Marion Thorne.

THREE YEARS AT GLENWOOD.  A Story of School Life.  By M. E. Winslow.


      *      *      *      *      *

The Girl Comrades Series

ALL AMERICAN AUTHORS.

ALL COPYRIGHT STORIES.

A carefully selected series of books for girls, written by popular
authors.  These are charming stories for young girls, well told and
full of interest.  Their simplicity, tenderness, healthy, interesting
motives, vigorous action, and character painting will please all girl
readers.


A BACHELOR MAID AND HER BROTHER.  By I. T. Thurston.

ALL ABOARD.  A Story For Girls.  By Fanny E. Newberry.

ALMOST A GENIUS.  A Story For Girls.  By Adelaide L. Rouse.

ANNICE WYNKOOP.  Artist.  Story of a Country Girl.  By Adelaide L.
Rouse.

BUBBLES.  A Girl's Story.  By Fannie E. Newberry.

COMRADES.  By Fannie E. Newberry.

DEANE GIRLS, THE.  A Home Story.  By Adelaide L. Rouse.

HELEN BEATON, COLLEGE WOMAN.  By Adelaide E. Rouse.

JOYCE'S INVESTMENTS.  A Story For Girls.  By Fannie E. Newberry.

MELLICENT RAYMOND.  A Story For Girls.  By Fannie E. Newberry.

MISS ASHTON'S NEW PUPIL.  A School Girl's Story.  By Mrs. S. S. Robbins.

NOT FOR PROFIT.  A Story For Girls.  By Fannie E. Newberry.

ODD ONE, THE.  A Story For Girls.  By Fannie E. Newberry.

SARA, A PRINCESS.  A Story For Girls.  By Fannie E. Newberry.


      *      *      *      *      *


THE LITTLE GIRL SERIES

By AMANDA M. DOUGLAS


A series of stories for girls by that popular author, Amanda M.
Douglas, in which are described something of the life and times of the
early days of the places wherein the stories are located.  Now for the
first time published in a cheap edition.


A LITTLE GIRL IN OLD NEW YORK

This is a pretty story of life in New York 60 years ago.  The story is
charmingly told.  The book is full of vivacious narrative, describing
the amusements employments and the social and domestic life of Old New
York.


A LITTLE GIRL IN OLD BOSTON

The story deals with the bringing up of little Doris by these Boston
people, who were her nearest relatives.  It is a series of pictures of
life in Boston ninety years ago.


A LITTLE GIRL IN OLD BALTIMORE

This tells the story of how a little girl grew up in a Southern city a
hundred years ago.  A host of characters of all sorts--women, children,
slaves, rich people and poor people, fill the pages.


A LITTLE GIRL IN OLD PITTSBURG

An interesting picture is given of the pioneer settlement and its
people; while the heroine, Daffodil, is a winsome lass who develops
into a charming woman.


A LITTLE GIRL OF LONG AGO

This story is a sequel to A Little Girl in Old New York.  This is a
book for girls and boys of the present age, who will enjoy going back
to the old times.


A LITTLE GIRL IN OLD CHICAGO

Ruth Gaynor comes to Chicago with her father when she is but eight or
nine years old.  Ruth is a keen observer and makes a capital heroine.


A LITTLE GIRL IN OLD NEW ORLEANS

The story gives a very picturesque account of the life in the old
Creole city.  It is a well told and interesting story with a historical
background.


A LITTLE GIRL IN OLD SAN FRANCISCO

This is the story of the little Maine girl who went to live in the
strange new city of the Golden Gate; she grows up a bright and charming
girl.


A LITTLE GIRL IN OLD WASHINGTON

This story carries one back to Washington, a city then in its infancy.
The story throws a strong light on the early customs and life of the
people.


A LITTLE GIRL IN OLD PHILADELPHIA

Little Primrose was the child of Friends, or Quakers.  The author tells
Primrose's experiences among very strict Quakers, and then among
worldly people.


A LITTLE GIRL IN OLD QUEBEC

The heroine is called "The Rose of Quebec."  The picturesque life of
this old French city, as seen through the eyes of the little girl, is
here pictured.


A LITTLE GIRL IN OLD SALEM

Cynthia Leveritt lived in old Salem about one hundred years ago.
Cynthia grows up, and so dear a girl could scarce have failed to have a
romance develop.  The book will be enjoyed by all girls.


A LITTLE GIRL IN OLD ST. LOUIS

This story will give a delightful treat to any girl who reads it.  The
early days of this historical old city are depicted in a manner at once
true and picturesque.


A LITTLE GIRL IN OLD DETROIT

The stirring times in which the little girl lived, and the social life
of a bygone age are depicted very happily.  The heroine is a charming
girl.





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