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Title: The Campers Out - The Right Path and the Wrong
Author: Ellis, Edward Sylvester, 1840-1916
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 Campers Out - The Right Path and the Wrong" ***

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[Illustration: THE NEXT MOMENT SOME ONE WAS SEEN HOLDING A LAMP IN
HIS HAND]



                           THE CAMPERS OUT


                     THE RIGHT PATH AND THE WRONG

                                  BY
                        EDWARD S. ELLIS, A. M.

                    Author of “True to His Trust,”
                     “Among the Esquimaux,” etc.

                     THE PENN PUBLISHING COMPANY
                       PHILADELPHIA MDCCCXCVIII



                            Copyright 1893
                    by The Penn Publishing Company



CONTENTS

    I. The Plotters
    II. How the Scheme Worked
    III. A Startling Occurrence
    IV. The Runaways
    V. The Way of the Transgressor
    VI. Sowing Seed
    VII. One Afternoon in Autumn
    VIII. Fellow-Passengers
    IX. Dick Halliard
    X. A Startling Summons
    XI. No Joke
    XII. The Victim of a Mistake
    XIII. Adrift in the Swamp
    XIV. Host and Guests
    XV. The Forest Path
    XVI. The Plotters
    XVII. A Brave Exploit
    XVIII. An Act of Forgetfulness
    XIX. An Error of Judgment
    XX. The Baying of a Hound
    XXI. “Help! Help!”
    XXII. Hot Quarters
    XXIII. A Brilliant Shot
    XXIV. Suspicious Footprints
    XXV. Up a Tree
    XXVI. Hunting the Hunters
    XXVII. A Race for Life
    XXVIII. A Cry from the Darkness
    XXIX. A Sad Discovery
    XXX. A Friend Indeed
    XXXI. Dick Halliard Is Astounded
    XXXII. How It Happened
    XXXIII. Conclusion



THE CAMPERS OUT



CHAPTER I

THE PLOTTERS


Jim McGovern was poring over his lesson one afternoon in the Ashton
public school, perplexed by the thought that unless he mastered the
problem on which he was engaged he would be kept after the dismissal
of the rest, when he was startled by the fall of a twisted piece of
paper on his slate.

He looked around to learn its starting point, when he observed Tom
Wagstaff, who was seated on the other side of the room, peeping over
the top of his book at him. Tom gave a wink which said plainly enough
that it was he who had flipped the message so dexterously across the
intervening space.

Jim next glanced at the teacher, who was busy with a small girl that
had gone to his desk for help in her lessons. The coast being clear,
so to speak, he unfolded the paper and read:

    “Meat Bill Waylett and me after scool at the cross roads, for
    the bizness is of the utmoast importants dont fale to be there
    for the iurn is hot and we must strike be4 it gits cool.

                                                             Tom.”

The meaning of this note, despite its Volapük construction, was clear,
and Jim felt that he must be on hand at all hazards.

So the urchin applied himself with renewed vigor to his task, and,
mastering it, found himself among the happy majority that were allowed
to leave school at the hour of dismissal. A complication, however,
arose from the fact that the writer of the note was one of those who
failed with his lesson, and was obliged to stay with a half-dozen
others until he recited it correctly.

Thus it happened that Jim McGovern and Billy Waylett, after sauntering
to the crossroads, which had been named as the rendezvous, and waiting
until the rest of the pupils appeared, found themselves without their
leader.

But they were not compelled to wait long, when the lad, who was older
than they, was seen hurrying along the highway, eager to meet and
explain to them the momentous business that had led him to call this
special meeting.

“Fellers,” said he, as he came panting up, “let’s climb over the fence
and go among the trees.”

“What for?” asked Billy Waylett.

“It won’t do for anybody to hear us.”

“Well, they won’t hear us,” observed Jim McGovern, “if we stay here,
for we can see any one a half mile off.”

“But they might sneak up when we wasn’t watching,” insisted the
ringleader, who proceeded to scale the fence in the approved style of
boyhood, the others following him.

Tom led the way for some distance among the trees, and then, when he
came to a halt, peered among the branches overhead, and between and
behind the trunks, to make sure no cowens were in the neighborhood.

Finally, everything was found to be as he wished, and he broke the
important tidings in guarded undertones.

“I say, boys, are you both going to stick?”

“You bet we are,” replied Billy, while Jim nodded his head several
times to give emphasis to his answer.

“Well, don’t you think the time has come to strike?”

“I’ve been thinking so for two—three weeks,” said Billy.

“What I asked you two to meet me here for was to tell you that I’ve
made up my mind we must make a move. Old Mr. Stearns, our teacher, is
getting meaner every day; he gives us harder lessons than ever, and
this afternoon he piled it on so heavy I had to stay after you fellers
left. If Sam Bascomb hadn’t sot behind me, and whispered two or three
of them words, I would have been stuck there yet.”

“He come mighty nigh catching me, too,” observed Jim McGovern.

“You know we’ve made up our minds to go West to shoot Injuns, and the
time has come to go.”

The sparkle of the other boys’ eyes and the flush upon their ruddy
faces showed the pleasure which this announcement caused. The bliss of
going West to reduce the population of our aborigines had been in
their dreams for months, and they were impatient with their chosen
leader that he had deferred the delight so long. They were happy to
learn at last that the delay was at an end.

“Now I want to know how you fellers have made out,” said Tom, with an
inquiring look from one to the other.

“I guess you’ll find we’ve done purty well,” said Jim; “anyways I know
_I_ have; I stole my sister’s gold watch the other night and sold
it to a peddler for ten dollars.”

“What did you do with the ten dollars?”

“I bought a revolver and a lot of cartridges. Oh! I tell you I’m
primed and ready, and I’m in favor of not leaving a single Injun in
the West!”

“Them’s my idees,” chimed Billy Waylett.

“Well, how have _you_ made out, Billy?”

“I got hold of father’s watch, day before yesterday, but he catched me
when I was sneaking out of the house and wanted to know what I was up
to. I told him I thought it needed cleaning and was going to take it
down to the jeweler’s to have it ’tended to.”

“Well, what then?”

Billy sighed as he said, meekly:

“Father said he guessed I was the one that needed ’tending to, and he
catched me by the nape of the neck, and, boys, was you ever whipped
with a skate strap?”

His friends shook their heads as an intimation that they had never
been through that experience.

“Well, I hope you never will; but, say,” he added, brightening up,
“mother has a way of leaving her pocket-book layin’ round that’s awful
mean, ’cause it sets a fellow to wishing for it. Pop makes her an
allowance of one hundred dollars a month to run things, and last night
I scooped twenty dollars out of her pocket-book, when it laid on the
bureau in her room.”

“Did she find it out?” asked Tom Wagstaff.

“Didn’t she? Well, you had better believe she did, and she raised
Cain, but I fixed things.”

“How?” asked his companions, deeply interested.

“I told her I seen Kate, our hired girl, coming out of the room on
tip-toe, just after dark. Then mother went for Kate, and she cried and
said she wouldn’t do a thing like that to save her from starving. It
didn’t do no good, for mother bounced her.”

No thought of the burning injustice done an honest servant entered the
thought of any one of the three boys. They chuckled and laughed, and
agreed that the trick was one of the brightest of the kind they had
ever known. Could the other two have done as well, the party would
have been on their Westward jaunt at that moment.

“I’ve sometimes thought,” said Tom Wagstaff, “that the old folks must
have a ’spicion of what’s going on, for they watch me so close that I
haven’t had a chance to steal a dollar, and you know it will never do
to start without plenty of money; but I’ve a plan that’ll fetch ’em,”
he added, with a meaning shake of his head.

“What is it?”

“I’ll tell you in a minute; you see I’ve got everything down fine, and
I’ve made some changes in our plans.”

His companions listened closely.

“You know that when we got through reading that splendid book,
‘Roaring Ralph, the Cyclone of the Rockies,’ we made up our minds that
we must have two revolvers and a Winchester repeating rifle apiece
before we started?”

The others nodded, to signify that they remembered the understanding.

“I was talking with a tramp the other day, who told me that he spends
each winter among the Rocky Mountains killing Injins, and it’s the
biggest kind of fun. He says he steals up to a camp where there’s
’bout fifty or a hundred of ’em, and makes a noise like a grizzly
bear. That scares ’em so they all jump up and run for the woods. He
takes after them and chases ’em till they climb the trees. Then, when
they are all trying to hide among the limbs, beggin’ for their lives,
he begins. He takes his place in the middle, and keeps popping away
until he has dropped ’em all. He says he has to stop sometimes to
laugh at the way they come tumbling down, a good many of ’em falling
on their heads. One time he treed forty-seven of ’em where the ground
was soft and swampy. Twelve of the bravest Injin warriors turned over
in falling through the limbs and struck on their scalps. The ground
bein’ soft, they sunk down over their shoulders, and stayed there
wrong-side up. He said he almost died a-laughing, to see their legs
sticking up in air, and they kicking like the mischief. When he got
through there was twelve Injins with their legs out of the ground and
their heads below. He said it looked as though some one had been
planting Injins and they was sproutin’ up mighty lively. He tried to
pull ’em out, so as to get their scalps, but they was stuck fast and
he had to give it up.”

“And didn’t he get their scalps?” asked Jimmy McGovern.

“No; it almost broke his heart to leave ’em, but he had to, for there
was some other Injins to look after. Well, this tramp told me that all
we needed was a revolver apiece.”

“Oh! pshaw!” exclaimed Billy, “we can’t get along without rifles of
the repeating kind.”

“Of course not, but we must wait till we arrive out West before we buy
’em. If each of us has a gun on our shoulder we’re liable to be
stopped by the officers.”

“Well, if the officers git too sassy,” suggested Billy, “why we’ll
drop _them_ in their tracks and run.”

“That might do if there wasn’t so many of ’em. We don’t want to bother
with them, for we’re goin’ for Injins, and now and then a grizzly
bear.”

“I’m willing to do what you think is best; but who is this tramp that
told you so much?”

“He said he was called Snakeroot Sam, because he rooted so hard for
rattlesnakes. He tells me what we want is plenty of money, and it was
our duty to steal everything we can from our parents and keep it till
we get out West, where we can buy our Winchesters. If the people
charge too much or act sassy like we can plug them and take the guns
away from ’em.”

This scheme struck the listeners favorably, and they smiled, nodded
their heads, and fairly smacked their lips at the prospect of the
glorious sport awaiting them.

“Snakeroot Sam is a mighty clever feller, and he says he will help us
all he can. When we get enough money we are to let him know, and he
will take charge of us. That will be lucky, for he can be our guide.
He isn’t very clean-looking,” added Tom, with a vivid recollection of
the frowsy appearance of the individual; “but he tells me that after
we cross the Mississippi it’s very dangerous to have our clothing
washed, ’cause there’s something in the water that don’t agree with
the people. That’s the reason why he has his washed only once a year,
and then he says he almost catches his death of cold.”

“Gracious!” said Billy, “if he knows so much about the West, we must
have him for our guide. Injin slayers always have to have a guide and
we’ll hire him.”

“That’s my idee exactly. I spoke to Sam about it, and he said he would
like to oblige us very much, though he had two or three contracts on
hand which was worth a good many thousand dollars to him, but he liked
my looks so well he’d throw them up and join us.”

“How much will he charge?”

“I didn’t ask him that; but he’s a fair man and will make it all
right. What I don’t want you to forget, boys, is that we’ve got to
raise a good deal more money.”

“What a pity I didn’t steal all there was in mother’s pocket-book when
I had such a good chance,” remarked Billy, with a sigh; “if I get
another chance I’ll fix it.”

“I think I can slip into father’s room tonight after he’s asleep,”
added Jim McGovern, “and if I do, I’ll clean him out.”

“You fellers have a better chance than me,” said Tom, “but I’m going
to beat you both and have twice as much money as you.”

This was stirring news to the other boys, who were seated on the
ground at the feet, as may be said, of their champion. They asked him
in awed voices to explain.

“You’ve got a pistol, Jimmy?”

“Yes; a regular five-chambered one, and I’ve got a lot of cartridges,
too.”

“There’s going to be a concert at the Hall to-night,” added Tom,
peering behind, around, and among the trees again to make sure no one
else heard his words, “and father and mother are going. They will take
all the children, too, except me.”

“How’s that?”

“He says I was such a bad boy yesterday that he means to punish me by
making me stay at home, but that’s just what I want him to do, and if
he feels sort of sorry and lets up, I’ll pretend I’m sick so he will
leave me behind. I tell you, fellows, Providence is on our side and
we’re going to win.”

His companions shared the faith of the young scamp, who now proceeded
to unfold his astounding scheme.



CHAPTER II

HOW THE SCHEME WORKED


“The folks will leave the house,” said Tom Wagstaff, “about half-past
seven, and there will be no one home but me and Maggie, the girl. I’ll
be up in my room and Maggie down-stairs. When I lean out the window
and wave my hand I want you, Jim, to fire two or three charges out of
your revolver through the winders of the dining-room.”

“What for?” asked the startled Jim.

“Wait, and I’ll tell you; the noise of the pistol and the breaking of
the glass will scare Maggie half to death: she will run out of the
house, and you and Billy must then slip inside, hurry up-stairs, tie
me to the bed-post, and put a gag in my mouth. I’ll have all the money
and jewelry ready in a handkerchief, and you can scoot with it. Maggie
will run down to the Hall and tell father and mother, and they’ll
hurry home and be so scared they won’t know what to do. They’ll untie
me, and I’ll pretend I’m almost dead, and they’ll call in the police,
and when I come to, I’ll have a story to tell about robbers with masks
on their faces, and all that sort of thing, and they’ll hunt for ’em,
and never smell a mouse. What do you think of it, fellers?”

It was a scheme which, in its vicious cunning, was worthy of older
scamps than these three young school-boys; but their minds were
poisoned by pernicious reading, and they eagerly entered into its
spirit. Everything promised success, and Tom, the originator of the
plan, found his companions as eager as himself to lend a hand in
carrying it out.

It seemed as if fate had arranged to help the boys. When the three
climbed over the fence again into the highway, and separated to their
homes, Tom, in order that there should be no miscarriage of the
programme, took pains to be particularly ugly and impudent to his
parents. His kind-hearted father was disposed at first to recall the
threat made in the morning that his son should not go with the rest to
the concert in the Town Hall, but he was so irritated by the behavior
of the lad that he not only carried out his threat, but was on the
point of chastising him before leaving home.

It followed, therefore, that when eight o’clock came, the condition of
the household was just what Tom prophesied and wished. Maggie, the
hired girl, was busy at her duties below-stairs, when he stole softly
to the upper story and began his work of ransacking the
bureau-drawers. He found considerable jewelry belonging to his mother
and sisters, besides over seventy dollars in money which his father
had left within easy reach.

All this was gathered into a handkerchief, which was securely tied and
placed on a chair beside the window, where the gas was burning at full
head. Then, everything being in readiness, he quietly raised the
window and looked out.

The night was dark, without any moon, and even his keen eyes could
detect nothing among the dense trees which surrounded the fine
residence of his father. But, when he whistled, there was a reply from
under the branches which he recognized as coming from his allies, who
were on the lookout.

Tom waved his hand, lowered the sash, and stepped back from the
window.

Maggie was singing below-stairs and, with that exception, everything
was still. His heart beat fast as he knew that the opening of the
drama, as it may be called, was at hand.

Suddenly the sharp report of a pistol rang out on the night, followed
by a second and third shot, mingled with the crash and jingle of
glass. Jim McGovern was doing his part with unquestioned promptness.

The singing of Maggie ceased as if she were paralyzed by the shock;
but with the third report her scream pierced every nook in the
building, and she was heard running to and fro as if in blind terror.
She would have dashed up-stairs to escape, but a noise on the rear
porch caused her to believe the burglars were about entering the
building, and she was certain to be killed if she remained.

Through the front door she went in the darkness, her screams stilled
through fear that the dreaded beings would be guided by them; and,
recovering her senses somewhat when she reached the street, she
hurried in the direction of the Town Hall to acquaint Mr. and Mrs.
Wagstaff with the awful goings-on at home.

Billy Waylett and Jim McGovern were on the watch, and the moment she
vanished they entered through the rear door, which remained unlocked,
and hastened up-stairs to the room where the gas was burning and from
which Tom had signalled to them.

“Quick, fellers!” he said, as they burst into the apartment, “father
will soon be back.”

“Where’s the rope?” asked Jim.

“There on the chair.”

“What’s that handkerchief for?”

“The money and jewelry is in it; tie me first and then hurry out with
that, and take good care of it till to-morrow, when we will fix
things; hurry up!”

Billy had the rope in hand, and both boys set to work to bind the
young rogue to the bed-post. Since the victim gave all the aid he
could, the task was completed with less delay and difficulty than
would have been supposed.

This was due also to the preparations which Tom had made for the
business. A strong bed-cord, cut in several pieces, was at hand. His
wrists were bound together behind his back; then his ankles were
joined, and finally the longest piece of rope was wound several times
around his waist and made fast to the bed-post. This rendered him
helpless, and he could not have released himself had his life been at
stake.

But the shrewd boy knew that something more must be done. Though tied
securely, his mouth was at command, and it was to be expected that he
would use his voice with the fullest power the moment his captors left
him alone.

But with all the cunning displayed by Tom, and with all his perfect
preparations in other respects, and after having referred to the
necessity of the gagging operation, he had forgotten to be ready for
it.

“What shall we put in your mouth?” asked Jim, pausing and looking
round after the binding was finished.

“Golly! I forgot all about that,” was the reply.

Billy darted to the bureau and caught up a large hair-brush.

“How’ll this do?” he asked, holding it up to view.

“It won’t do at all,” was the disgusted reply; “it’s too big for my
mouth.”

“I don’t know ’bout that; you’ve got the biggest mouth in school.”

“We’ll take a sheet off the bed,” said Jim, beginning to tug at the
coverlets.

“What’s the matter with you?” asked Tom; “do you think you can cram a
whole sheet in my mouth?”

“Why not?”

“’Cause you can’t; that’s the reason.”

“I have it,” exclaimed Billy, running to the corner of the room and
catching up a porcelain cuspidor; “this will just fit. Open your
mouth, Tom, and give me a chance.”

But at this juncture, when the perplexity threatened to upset
everything, Billy Waylett solved the difficulty by whisking out his
linen pocket-handkerchief.

“Now you’re talking,” remarked the pleased Tom; “why didn’t we think
of that before?”

It was curious, indeed, that they did not, and it was curious, too, in
view of the cunning shown in other directions, that all three forgot a
precaution which ought to have occurred to them.

A handkerchief was just the thing to be used to seal the mouth of the
victim, but it should have come from the pocket of Tom Wagstaff
instead of from Billy Waylett’s.

Perhaps had the boys felt that abundance of time was at command, they
would have thought of this necessity; but they were well aware that
Maggie, the servant, was making good speed to the Town Hall, and that
Mr. Wagstaff would not let the grass grow under his feet on his way
home. Besides, too, the screams of the girl were likely to bring
others to the spot before the coming of the owner of the house. The
boys, therefore, had not a minute to throw away, and they did not idle
their time.

The twisted handkerchief was pushed between the open jaws of the
victim, like the bit in a horse’s mouth, and then knotted and tied
behind his head. Billy, who took charge of this little job, was not
over-gentle, and more than once the victim protested. Little heed,
however, was paid to him, and his words were but feeble mumblings when
sifted through the meshes of the handkerchief.

“There! I guess that’ll do,” said Billy, stepping back and surveying
his work; “how do you feel, Tommy?”

The latter nodded his head, mumbled, and tried to speak. He was urging
them to leave, but his words were unintelligible.

Meanwhile Jim had picked up the other handkerchief, tied at the
corners, and was surprised to find how heavy it was. It contained much
valuable property.

The boys were reminded of their remissness by the sound of voices on
the outside. Neighbors were at hand.

“We’re caught; it’s too late; what shall we do?” gasped Jim, dropping
the handkerchief with its precious contents.

“They will hang us for bigamy,” replied Billy, turning pale and
trembling in every limb.

Tom Wagstaff tried hard to utter a few words, and was struggling to
free himself, but succeeded in neither attempt.

“Come on!” whispered Jim, catching up his load again; “they haven’t
got in, and we may have a chance.”

He whisked through the open door, and scurried down the carpeted
stairs, with Billy so close on his heels that both narrowly escaped
bumping and rolling to the bottom.

The voices were louder, and it looked as if the youngsters were
caught.

And such would have been the case, but for the timidity of the parties
out-doors. They had been drawn thither by the out-cries of the
servant, and were convinced that some fearful tragedy was going on, or
had been completed within the dwelling.

These people were unarmed, and it was only natural that they should
shrink from entering where several desperate men were supposed to be
at bay. They consulted with each other and decided to await the
arrival of re-enforcements.

This was the golden opportunity of the young scamps. The rear door was
ajar and they noiselessly drew it inward far enough to allow them to
pass through.

Before venturing forth they peeped out in the darkness. They could see
nothing, though, for that matter, there might have been a dozen
persons within a few feet without being visible; but the room in which
the lads stood was also without a light, so that the advantage was
equal.

The sound of the voices showed that the new arrivals were at the
front, and the way was open for the flight of the amateur burglars,
who still hesitated, afraid that men were lying in wait to nab them.

More than likely they would have tarried too long, but for a movement
on the part of the newcomers. They were increasing so fast that they
became courageous, and one of them pushed open the front door.

The creaking of its hinges and the tramping in the adjoining room
spurred Jim and Billy, who hesitated no longer. Through the door they
stole on tip-toe, and a few steps took them across the porch to the
soft ground, where the soft earth gave back no sound. The trees, too,
seemed to spread their protecting branches over them, and inspired
them with such courage that, after hurrying a few rods, they came to a
stop and looked back and listened.

“By George! that was the luckiest thing that ever happened to us!”
whispered Jim McGovern, with a sigh of relief.

“That’s so,” assented his companion; “I thought we was goners sure,
and we come mighty nigh it.”

“I wonder whether that gag is too tight in Tom’s mouth?”

“No, of course not; can’t he breathe through his nose?”

“But mebbe he has a cold.”

“That won’t make any difference, for he knows how to breathe through
his ears; Tom’s too smart to die yet. Besides, if he _is_ dead,
it’s too late for us to help him; them folks are upstairs by this
time, and they’ll get the handkerchief out of his mouth in a jiffy,
unless, mebbe, he has swallowed it.”

“I say, Billy,” said Jim, “this thing in my hand weighs more than a
ton!”

“It must have lots of gold in it; shall I help you carry it?”

“No, I can manage it; but what shall we do with the thing? It won’t do
to take it home, for our folks might find it.”

“We’ll bury it under that stump back of our barn.”

“Is that a good place?”

“There aint any better in the world, for nobody wouldn’t think of
looking there for it.”

“I seen our dog Bowser pawing under the stump the other day.”

“But he wasn’t pawing for money; we’ll hide it there till we’re ready
to use it.”

The two moved off, when they heard another cry from the house behind
them. They recognized it as the voice of Mrs. Wagstaff, who had
arrived on the scene with her husband, and was probably overcome at
sight of the woful plight of her boy.



CHAPTER III

A STARTLING OCCURRENCE


Mr. Wagstaff, on receiving word at the Town Hall from the janitor who
brought the message of the terrified servant to him, forgot, in his
excitement, to tell his wife of the fearful news, and rushed
out-of-doors without a word.

Mrs. Wagstaff knew it must be something awful that had called him away
in that style, and she lost no time in following, while the children
scrambled after them at varying distances.

The husband entered the door through which several of the neighbors
had timidly passed, only a few paces ahead of his wife, who was
upstairs almost as soon as he.

“Oh! my dear Tommy,” she wailed, as she caught sight of the silent
figure fastened at the foot of the bed; “have they killed you?”

The sight was enough to startle any parent. The father had just jerked
the handkerchief loose and flung it to the floor, and the lad’s head
was drooping over on one shoulder, his eyes half-closed, and his
tongue protruding. The parent caught up a pitcher of water and dashed
it in his face, while the mother frantically strove to unfasten the
cruel thongs at the wrists and ankles.

The unexpected shock of the water startled Tommy into gasping and
opening his eyes, but his look was dazed and aimless. His father
whipped out his pocket-knife and quickly cut the thongs. The released
boy would have fallen had not both parents seized and laid him on the
bed, where he moaned as if suffering greatly.

“Send for the doctor at once,” said the mother.

“And call in the police,” added the father; “a dastardly outrage has
been committed; it may prove murder.”

By this time the room was filled with horrified and sympathizing
neighbors. The solicitude of the parents for their child caused them
to pay no heed to the visitors until the father, seeing a friend at
his elbow, begged him to clear the house of intruders, and to admit no
one except the physician or an officer of the law.

It took but a few minutes to comply with this request, and the parents
were left to give undivided attention to their suffering child, who
continued to moan and roll his eyes as if he were at his last gasp.

The father was anxious, silent, and watchful; the mother demonstrative
and weeping. She rubbed her boy’s hands, chafed his limbs, gazing
lovingly the meanwhile in his face, and begging him to speak to her.
Maggie, the servant, had regained her senses, now that she was sure
she was alive and the precious heir had not been killed. She took upon
herself to fasten the doors and keep out intruders, finding time to
make a search up-stairs, which needed to be extended only a few
minutes to learn that an extensive robbery had been committed.

“Of course,” remarked Mr. Wagstaff, when the amount of his loss, as
well as that of his wife, was reported to him, “I knew what had been
done the moment I saw my poor boy.”

“Don’t tell me,” said the mother, waving the servant away, “I don’t
care if they have taken everything in the house, so long as my darling
Tommy lives.”

Her heart was kept in a state of torture by the alarming symptoms of
her heir. At times he seemed about to revive, a look of intelligence
coming into his eyes, but, after several gasping efforts to speak, he
sank back on his pillow and gave it up as a failure.

By and by, in the midst of the trying scene, the physician arrived and
took charge of the patient. He was a wise old gentleman of wide
experience, and his cheerful words did much to awaken hope in the
parents, who hung on his words and watched his manner.

It required but a few minutes for him to make known that their child
was not seriously hurt. During his examination he gleaned the
particulars of the outrage, and succeeded in getting Tommy into a
sitting posture. Then he expressed the belief that if the boy’s senses
did not come to him very soon he would have to bore a hole through his
crown with a large auger.

This astounding declaration was meant for the benefit of Tommy alone,
a sly wink at the parents preventing them from taking alarm. It was
noteworthy that the boy began to pick up at once, and in the course of
a few minutes was entirely himself.

When the chief of police arrived the urchin was able to talk with
something of his usual facility, and imparted to his awed listeners
his account of the daring outrage and crime.

He said he did not feel very well after his folks left for the
concert, and he went up-stairs to lie down on his parents’ bed. He
thought it strange that the gas was lit, though it was turned down,
but he supposed it had been done by Maggie.

Just as he lay down he fancied he heard a man moving softly about the
room. He rose from the bed and was about to call out, when he became
sure that there were two persons near him. Before he could give the
alarm he was seized and told that if he made any noise he would be
instantly killed.

Still the brave boy tried to shout, when he was gagged, bound, and
tied to the bed-post, where he remained while the robbery went on
around him.

The doctor having pronounced Tommy out of danger, his parents became
more composed, and listened quietly to the questioning of the chief of
police, who was one of the shrewdest members of his profession.

He listened gravely until the questions of the others were finished,
when he asked Tommy to describe the appearance of the criminals so far
as he could. The lad did so quite glibly. Both of the intruders were
masked, wore soft, slouch hats, long dark coats buttoned to their
chins, had gruff voices, and one of them took a dreadful-looking
revolver from his side pocket, and seemed to be on the point of
discharging several of the chambers at the captive.

Chief Hungerford asked the latter about the shots that had broken the
glass down-stairs, and given the servant such a fright. At first Tommy
declared he did not hear them, but upon being questioned further,
recalled that he did hear something of the kind just after he was
bound.

“Is this the handkerchief with which he was gagged?” asked the
officer, picking up the article from the floor.

“Yes, that’s it,” replied the father, who had snatched it from the
head of his son the instant he reached the room.

The chief continued talking without looking further at the linen, but
when the attention of the couple was diverted he slipped it into his
pocket. Then he asked liberty to make an examination of the house.
Permission was cheerfully accorded, and he spent a half-hour in going
through the lower story in his own peculiar but thorough manner.

At the end of that period he came back to the room where the parents,
brothers, and sisters were coddling poor Tommy, who was muffled up in
a rocking-chair, sipping lemonade, sucking oranges, and nibbling the
choicest candy. Now and then he would start convulsively and beg them
to take away those bad men, and not let them hurt him. Then, when he
was reassured by the kind words of the loving ones around him, he
complained of his throat, and found it helpful to swallow more
lemonade and take an additional suck or two at one of the oranges
pressed upon him.

Chief Hungerford stood in the door of the room, hat in hand, and
looked fixedly at the lad for a minute or two before speaking. Even
then it was only in answer to the question of Mr. Wagstaff.

“What have you found?”

“Nothing special, sir; there have been so many people in the house
tramping back and forth, that they have destroyed what clews we might
have discovered. Then, too, the job was so easy that there was no need
of leaving any traces.”

“How was that?”

“Why the doors were unlocked, so that they had only to open and enter
without forcing a window or fastening anywhere. After they got inside
they found you were kind enough to leave keys wherever they were
needed, and consequently no violence was required up-stairs.”

“But why did they fire those shots through the window down-stairs?”

“That was to frighten away the servant.”

“It seems a strange proceeding when the reports were sure to be heard
and bring people here, while the servant herself was certain to raise
the alarm. They might have bound and scared her into quiescence.”

The chief of police had thought of all this before, and looked upon it
as one of the peculiar features of the business; but he smiled, and
said, in his off-hand fashion:

“It may strike us both as a little odd, but the best proof of the
wisdom of what the scamps did is the fact that they got off with the
plunder and have not left the first clew behind. Well, good-evening
all; I will report as soon as I pick up anything worth telling.”

And courteously saluting the family he descended the stairs and passed
out of the door. Before doing so he questioned the servant on what
seemed unimportant points. Finally he entered the street and was
obliged to answer the innumerable questions that were asked him at
every turn. He had found it necessary to station a couple of his men
on the premises to keep away the curious people, who persisted in
crowding forward through the grounds and even into the house itself.

The rumors on the streets did not astonish him, even though they were
to the effect that Tommy (everybody called him “Tommy” since his
mishap) had been strangled to death, his last breath leaving him just
as he was caught in his mother’s arms, and that Maggie the servant had
been attacked and badly wounded, but escaped by leaping from the
second story window and running to the Town Hall, where the family
were attending a concert.

When the chief entered his private room he drew the handkerchief from
his pocket, spread it out on his desk under a strong gaslight and
carefully examined it.

He had little hope of finding anything worth knowing, but he was too
wise to neglect the least step. He carefully went over the somewhat
soiled piece of linen and smiled to himself when he observed that a
name was written in the corner in indelible ink.

“Burglars aint apt to carry handkerchiefs around even with their
initials written on them, but one of these gentry has been kind enough
to give us his whole name. It is written so legibly, too, that I can
read it without my glasses. Ah, ‘_William Waylett_!’ there it is
as plain as print.

“It strikes me,” continued the chief, following the train of thought,
“that I’ve heard that name before. Jim Waylett was my classmate in
college, and he has three daughters and one boy. The name of the
youngster is William, generally called Billy. That chap is the owner
of this handkerchief as sure as a gun.”

By this time, as the reader will perceive, the sagacious officer was
not only on the right trail, but advancing rapidly to the correct
conclusion. He had not heard all of Tommy Wagstaff’s story before he
began to grow suspicious. His experience enabled him to detect more
than one inconsistency despite the skill of the tremendous falsifier
who built up the structure.

Investigation and further questioning confirmed this suspicion until,
when he left the house, all doubt was gone. He knew that no man had
visited the Wagstaff home that night or taken any part in the
indignities to which Master Tommy was subjected.

But it was equally clear that the young rogue had had partners in his
shameless trick, and the chief meant to learn who they were.

He was confident that he could find them out from Tommy himself, whom
he could handle in such a way as to force a confession, but while the
parents, especially the mother, were in such a state of excitement,
they would be indignant at the first hint of the boy’s trickery, and
would defeat what advantage he might gain if left alone with him.

“They will come to it in the course of a few days,” reflected the
officer, who had seen similar scenes before, “and it won’t do any harm
to wait until then. I will get a chance at the boy before long, and,
if I don’t force it out of him, then I’ll resign my office and take to
the woods.”

The chief was desirous also of sparing the feelings of the parents of
the boy, whom he liked. They would feel much worse if compelled to
admit the truth after first refusing to listen to his suggestion.
Then, too, he had another boy to work upon. Billy Waylett must know
something of the affair. At any rate, he could tell how it was his
handkerchief came to be used to gag one of his playmates, and
_that_ little piece of information was likely to give him just
the clew that was needed.

“I’ll wait until things get cool,” concluded the chief, who happened
to have other matters pressing upon his attention just then.

Accordingly he gave his whole energies to the business which took him
out of Ashton for a part of two days. When he returned it was with the
resolve to take hold of the matter in earnest, but to his dismay, when
he came to make inquiry, he was told that Tommy Wagstaff, Jimmy
McGovern, and Billy Waylett had disappeared.



CHAPTER IV

THE RUNAWAYS


That fate which had seemed to favor the three audacious youngsters did
not desert them when the critical point in their enterprise arrived.

The chief of police was wise in restraining any hint of what was in
his mind to the parents of Tommy Wagstaff. It would have been repelled
with wrath and made them enemies—all the more bitter, perhaps, when it
should appear that the wise officer was right.

The youngster, having suffered so cruelly, received every compensation
his friends could give him. His father reproved himself for making him
stay home from the concert. Had he taken him with him, the outrage
never could have occurred.

The mother heaped favors upon her darling Tommy, who might have
luxuriated for weeks on the general sympathy felt for him. He was
visited by several newspaper reporters, who took down the thrilling
account from his own lips. The chief trouble in these cases was the
wide variance in the versions given by the lad. In some instances he
insisted there were three burglars, in others only two, while to one
young man in spectacles, he solemnly averred that there were seven by
actual count, and that they were all armed with tomahawks and scalping
knives. These wild statements were attributed to the lad’s nervousness
instead of to the real cause.

But on the next afternoon, or rather evening, Tommy did not make his
appearance at supper. The mother was greatly frightened and believed
the robbers had returned to revenge themselves upon her darling for
telling the truth about them.

Before the evening was late, Mr. Wagstaff learned that Tommy,
accompanied by Billy Waylett and Jimmy McGovern, had been seen
hurrying in the direction of the railway station. Inquiry there
revealed the fact all three had bought tickets for New York.

About this time a dim suspicion took shape in the mind of Mr.
Wagstaff. He gave no hint to his wife, but he telegraphed the
authorities in the metropolis to look out for three boys, and to
arrest them at once and communicate with their parents, Messrs.
Waylett and McGovern having joined in the request.

New York was so near Ashton that the runaways arrived there more than
an hour before the telegram was sent, otherwise they would have been
returned to their homes the same evening.

Their fathers next held a conference, and on the following day applied
to the chief of police for counsel. That gentleman listened grimly to
them, and then quietly said that the robbery of Mr. Wagstaff’s home
had been planned and carried out by the three lads without help from
any one else. They were shocked, but when he showed Billy Waylett’s
handkerchief, which had been used to check the utterance of Tommy, and
pointed out the numerous tell-tale slips made by the boys, especially
the shooting through the windows, they were convinced, and became
eager to capture them at the earliest possible moment, each parent
declaring that the instant his son was brought within reach, he would
give him a trouncing that he would remember to his dying day.

It was arranged that Chief Hungerford should undertake to hunt them
up, and he readily agreed to do so, for the gentlemen were warm
friends of his, for whom he was ready to make any reasonable
sacrifice.

And now that a pursuer is on the trail of the runaways, let us see how
they got along.

The indulgence shown Tommy by his parents gave him just the
opportunity he wanted. He was able to hold several meetings with his
intended partners, without any one suspecting what was going on, and
the arrangements were made for starting for New York on the afternoon
following the supposed robbery.

In one respect, the lads showed a wisdom beyond their years. Knowing
that prompt search would be made for them, and that they were likely
to be looked upon with suspicion, they decided to leave the stolen
jewelry where it had been placed beneath the old stump. If worse came
to worse, they could return and draw upon it, but if they should try
to sell the valuables in New York, they would be arrested on
suspicion.

So they wisely left the jewelry behind, and took with them only a
single gold watch, which Tommy wore, since it was the property of his
father. They found that they had fully a hundred dollars in money,
which, as nearly as they could learn, would carry them most of the
distance they wished to go, when such bright chaps would have no
trouble in hitting upon the means for raising the wind.

Since they expected to meet Snakeroot Sam, it was intended to send him
back to Ashton, to sell the plunder for them, inasmuch as he could
readily do it without danger, and was so honest that he would turn
over every penny of the proceeds to them.

Reaching New York ahead of the telegram, they were too wise to linger
around the large station at Forty-second Street. More than likely, all
three of their irate fathers would be there in the course of an hour
or two, and it was, therefore, no place for them.

Since it was growing dark, they decided to put up at some obscure
hotel, under assumed names, and make an early start for the West. The
wisdom shown by the lads was astonishing—the oldest of whom had not
seen fourteen years. They had talked and discussed the venture for
months, and stored their minds with all the information obtainable.
Consequently, when they sauntered out on the street, and, after some
inquiries, reached Broadway, they attracted no special attention. They
were well dressed, and the additional revolvers which they speedily
bought were carried out of sight, so that there was no noticeable
difference between them and the hundreds of other boys who may be met
on any day in the great metropolis of our country.

Billy Waylett, being the youngest, needed some coaching, but he was
tractable, and the lads were fortunate enough to escape the sharks
that are always waiting in the large cities for just such prey as they
would have proved.

The only thing that worried Tommy Wagstaff was the fact that he did
not know how to find Snakeroot Sam. That worthy had been told of the
intended start for the West, but, of course, the leader could not give
him the precise date of their departure. It was known, however, that
he spent a good deal of his time in New York city, and the leader of
the party instructed his companions to keep a sharp lookout for him.
They did so, but though they pointed out several persons who answered
his description, none of them proved to be the individual they were so
anxious to meet, and who, doubtless, would have blessed his lucky
stars could he have met them.

Tommy Wagstaff was satisfied that the crisis in their enterprise would
come when they reached the ferry to buy their railway tickets.
Officers would be on the watch for them, and if the three should
present themselves at the office and pay their fare to Chicago or some
other Western point, they were quite sure to be stopped and compelled
to give an account of themselves.

Accordingly, he arranged the matter with the shrewdness he had shown
from the first. They separated at the foot of Cortlandt Street and
made their way into the railway office, as though they were strangers
to each other. Billy had enough money to buy a ticket to New
Brunswick, and Jimmy to procure one to Trenton, while Tommy, who had
taken charge of the entire funds, paid his fare to Philadelphia. Then
they passed through the narrow gateway upon the ferryboat.

The three were alarmed by the sight of a blue-coated policeman,
standing at the broad entrance to the ferry, and who scrutinized them
sharply as they joined the swarm hurrying upon the boat. The officer
followed Billy with his eyes, and seemed on the point of starting
after him. The youngster’s heart was in his throat, and he wished that
something would blow up and scatter everybody so far apart that no
policeman could see him.

So guarded were the boys they did not speak to each other while
crossing the ferry, indulging in only an occasional sly glance, as
they stepped off the boat and passed up the slip.

Here they were startled again, for the big policeman near the
passageway to the trains, after one keen look at Billy, asked him
where he was going.

“To New Brunswick,” was the slightly tremulous reply.

“Let me see your ticket,” was the gruff command.

Billy fished out the pasteboard and showed it to the terrible fellow,
who was not yet satisfied.

“What are you doing in New York?”

“I aint in New York; I am in Jersey City.”

The officer smiled at the manner in which he had tripped, and asked:

“Where are the other two boys that came with you?”

Billy came nigh breaking down. He saw Tommy and Jimmy watching him
from a little way, and his naturally quick wit came to his relief.

“What two boys are you talking ’bout? Don’t you see there’s nobody
with me, and if you keep me much longer, I’ll miss the train, and
father will be mad, ’cause he expects me to be home as soon as I can
get there.”

The urchin made as if to move forward, and the officer, satisfied he
was not the one for whom he was looking, allowed him to pass on.

After entering the car, Tommy Wagstaff saw no risk in their
companionship. Since the train was not crowded, he and Billy sat
together, while Jimmy McGovern placed himself on the seat in front,
where no one shared it with him.

There was a bustle and novelty about this business which kept the boys
in such a constant state of excitement that they had felt nothing as
yet like homesickness. In fact, they were eager to get forward, and
though there was much to see that was new and strange, they would have
been glad could the cars have traveled with double the speed.

“The way I figure it out,” said the leader, feeling now that he could
talk freely, since they were well under way, “is that we shall reach
Philadelphia before noon. Jiminy! but that is traveling fast; shall we
get off there and stay over till to-morrow?”

“What would we do that for?” demanded young McGovern.

“There’s so much to see that I didn’t know but what you would like to
stop and look around.”

“Not much,” replied Jimmy, with a disgusted shake of his head; “we
can’t get out West soon enough to suit me; I feel hungry for Injins
and grizzly bears: how is it with you, Billy?”

“That’s me, clear through; you know we’ve got to get a Winchester
apiece, and then we’ll be ready to begin popping over Injins; that’ll
be more fun than anything else in the world, and what do I care for
all the cities and strange things that’s between us and the West?”

Tommy laughed, for he was pleased.

“That’s just the way I feel, but I didn’t know whether you two was
right up to the handle yet; I’m glad you are; it proves that we are
bound to win, like real brave American boys.”

All three smiled approvingly on each other, and, glancing out of the
window, wished the cars would run at the rate of two miles a minute,
for the rest of the distance.

The conductor came through, punched the tickets, and took up Billy’s,
because it entitled him to ride only to New Brunswick. He intended to
slip off there and buy one to Philadelphia, while Jimmy would do the
same at Trenton. If the Quaker City were reached without mishap, they
would conclude that all danger of being stopped was over, and from
that point would travel openly and without fear.

The little party chatted and discussed their plans, sometimes speaking
so loud in their ardor that the gentleman sitting just across the
aisle overhead their words and looked curiously at them more than
once, over the top of his paper.

Just before reaching the long trestle-work which spans the Raritan,
Billy said:

“We must be pretty near New Brunswick, Tom, and I guess you had better
give me enough money to buy a ticket: how much will it be?”

“I don’t know; I s’pose two or three dollars; you ought to travel on
half fare, but it aint worth bothering about; we’ll gather in all the
funds we want in Chicago.”

“It strikes me,” remarked McGovern, “that we might as well divide up
the money, so that if any one loses his share, we won’t be in a bad
fix.”

“I guess that would be a good plan,” replied Tommy, who reached in his
trousers pocket for the roll of bills which he had placed there.

He started and turned pale the next moment, and hurriedly ran his hand
in his other pocket. Then he sprang to his feet and frantically
searched the pockets of his coat and vest.

“What’s the matter?” asked Jimmy, with a sinking of the heart.

“The money is gone!” was the alarming answer.

“No; that can’t be!” faintly exclaimed Billy; “it must be somewhere
about you.”

“I put the roll in _that_, pocket,” replied Tommy, who kept up
his search, through all the receptacles, again and again. Then he
stooped down, and hunted under the seats with a nervous distress which
was fully shared by his companions.

Finally he straightened up and said, despairingly:

“My pocket has been picked, and we haven’t a dollar among us.”

He spoke the truth.



CHAPTER V

THE WAY OF THE TRANSGRESSOR


Three more miserable lads could not be imagined than our young friends
when the train stopped at the station in New Brunswick, and they knew
that the total amount of their joint funds was less than a dollar.

No one spoke, but they sat pale, woebegone and staring helplessly at
each other, undecided what to do.

The conductor, who was an alert official, said to Billy:

“This is where you get off; come, step lively.”

The lad rose to his feet without a word, and started down the aisle
for the door. His companions glanced at him, and, feeling that it
would not do for them to separate, also rose by common impulse and
followed him out on the platform, where they stood silent and wretched
until the train left.

Jimmy McGovern was the first to speak, and it was with the deepest
sigh he ever drew:

“Well, boys, what’s to be done?”

“Let’s go back home,” said Billy, “and get the jewelry under the
stump, sell that and start over again; I guess we’ll know enough to
take care of our money next time.”

“But we haven’t enough to pay our fare,” remarked Tommy.

“We can walk to Jersey City; we’ve got a little money, and we’ll sell
a revolver there: that will take one of us to Ashton, and he can get
the jewelry.”

It was a most repellent course, and they spent a half-hour in
discussing it; but it really seemed that nothing else was possible,
and the proceeding was agreed upon.

Few words were spoken as they walked down the slope from the station,
made their way to the bridge a short distance below the trestle-work,
and walked across to the other side. Inquiry showed them that they had
almost thirty miles to walk to Jersey City, and since the forenoon was
well advanced, they could not expect to reach their destination before
the morrow.

But it was the spring of the year, the weather was mild, and they
concluded they could beg something to eat. If the farmers refused them
permission to sleep in their houses, they could take refuge in some
barn, after the manner of ordinary tramps.

But an unexpected series of adventures was before them.

After crossing the Raritan and walking a short distance, they turned
into a stretch of woods, where they sat down to discuss further what
ought to be done. With the elastic spirits of childhood, all had
rallied somewhat from the extreme depression following the discovery
of the loss of their funds. The leader was especially hopeful.

“I don’t know but what it is best this happened,” said he, “for we
hadn’t enough money to see us through, and one of us might have to
come back after we got to Chicago, and that would have been bad.”

“But we expected to get money there,” said Jimmy.

“I don’t believe it would be as easy as we thought; now I will leave
you two in New York, after we reach there, go back to Ashton, get the
jewelry and bring it with me. We can sell it for two or three thousand
dollars, and we’ll be fixed.”

The others caught the infection of hope and rose to their feet, eager
to reach the metropolis as soon as possible.

They were about to resume their journey, when they heard voices near
them. Looking around, two frowzy men were observed walking slowly
toward them. One was munching a sandwich, while the other had a short
black pipe between his teeth.

The reader may not know that the woods, on the northern bank of the
Raritan, is the spot where the numerous tramps of New Jersey have
their general rendezvous. Several hundred of these nuisances are
sometimes gathered there, and they are held in great dread by the
neighbors, for they are lazy, thievish, and lawless, and have
perpetrated so many outrages that more than one descent has been made
upon their camp by the authorities, while the law-abiding citizens
have been on the point, at times, of taking severe measure against
them.

Unsuspicious of the fact, the boys had approached close to the camp of
the tramps.

The two tousled specimens caught sight of the boys at the same moment
that the latter discovered them. The one munching a sandwich stopped,
stared a second, and then, speaking as well as he could, with his
mouth full of food, exclaimed:

“Well, I’ll be shot if this doesn’t beat the bugs!”

“Why, Snakeroot Sam!” called the delighted Tommy Wagstaff, “if this
isn’t the luckiest thing that could happen!”

“Where did you come from?” asked that worthy, swallowing what was in
his mouth, and indulging in a grin which disclosed a double row of
large black teeth. His companion pulled his pipe and looked on in
silence.

“Why, didn’t I tell you we was going to start for the West about this
time?” asked the happy leader of the little party.

“So you did; I jotted it down in my notebook, but seein’ as how you
didn’t give me the percise date, I couldn’t be on hand to wish you
good-bye; but what are you doin’ _here_?”

“We’ve had bad luck,” was the disconsolate reply; “we’ve been robbed
of all our money.”

“And are goin’ to hoof it back?”

“That’s what we’ll have to do, but we mean to take a new start.”

“How did this unfortinit misfortune come to overtake ye?”

Tommy gave the history of their mishap, the two tramps listening with
much interest.

“This is my friend, Ragged Jim,” said Sam, when the narrative was
finished, “and he’s true blue.”

Ragged Jim nodded his head and grunted, without taking the black clay
pipe from between his teeth, while Snakeroot Sam munched his sandwich
at intervals.

“So you’ve no money with you?”

“Not a dollar,” replied Tommy.

“How ’bout your shootin’ irons?”

“They’re all right; we’ve got a good revolver.”

“Let me look at ’em; I’d like to be sure that they’re the right kind
to plug redskins with.”

The boys promptly produced their weapons, and passed them over to Sam,
who examined each in turn, and then handed a couple to his companion.

“I obsarve a watch-chain onto ye,” continued Sam; “I hope you aint so
dishonorable es to carry a chain without a watch at t’other end to
sorter balance it.”

“I’ve got my father’s time-piece with me,” replied Tommy, producing
the fine chronometer, and passing it to the tramp, who extended his
hand for it.

Sam turned it over in his hand with the same attentive interest he had
shown in the case of the revolvers. The single weapon he had shoved in
his hip-pocket. He held the timepiece to his ear, listened to its
ticking, surveyed the face, and then deliberately slipped it into his
trousers pocket, catching the chain in the hole through which he had
previously run a ten-penny nail to give his garments the right fit.

“How does that look on me?” he asked, with a grin, of his friend.

“It fits you bootiful,” replied Ragged Jim, “which the same is the
case with these weapons and myself.”

“Good-day, sonnies,” said Snakeroot Sam, doffing his dilapidated hat
with mock courtesy.

“But,” said the dismayed Tommy, “that’s my watch.”

“Why, sonny, you shouldn’t tell a story; that’s wicked.”

“But it _is_ mine; I want it.”

“Didn’t you just tell me it was your father’s?”

“Yes—but I want it.”

“Give my lovin’ respects to your governor, and tell him when I come
his way I’ll stop and pass it over to him.”

With tears in his eyes, Tommy rushed forward as the tramp began moving
off, and caught his arm.

“Sam, you must let me have that!”

“What! are you goin’ to commit highway robbery?” he demanded, as if
frightened: “do you want it bad?”

“Of course I do, and I mean to get it.”

“All right.”

Snakeroot Sam turned about, seized the boy by the nape of his coat,
and delivered a kick which sent sent him several paces and caused him
to fall on his face. Then he wheeled as if to serve Jimmy and Billy in
the same manner, but they eluded him by running out of the woods to
the highway. Ragged Jim stood laughing at the scene, and Sam made
again for Tommy; but he had leaped to his feet and hurried after his
companions.

“By-by,” called Sam; “when you get that money call on me again and
I’ll take charge of it.”

When the three came together in the road, each was crying. Tommy
suffered from the pain of his ill-usage, while all were in despair.
Neither could say a word to comfort the others, and they tramped
wearily along, beginning to feel for the first time that their good
fortune had deserted them at last.

Not one would confess it, but he would have given anything at command
could he have been safely at home at that moment, with the deeds of
the past few days wiped out and undone forever.

The sky, which had been sunshiny in the morning, was now overcast, and
they had not gone far when drops of rain began falling.

“We’re going to get wet,” ventured Billy Waylett.

“I don’t care,” replied Tommy, “I can’t feel any worse than I do now.”

A few minutes later a drizzling rain began falling, but, although they
passed a house near the road, they did not stop, and kept on until
their clothing was saturated. They were cold, chilly, and hungry, for
noon had gone and all ate lightly in the morning.

“I’m tired out,” said Billy, at last; “let’s stop yonder and warm
ourselves; maybe the folks will give us something to eat.”

The dwelling stood a little way from the road, with which it
communicated by means of a lane lined on both sides with tall trees.
No one was visible around it, but they turned through the broad gate
and hurried through the rain, which was still falling, with its cold,
dismal patter, every drop of which seemed to force its way through the
clothing to their bodies.

About half the distance was passed when Tommy, who was slightly in
advance of his companions, wheeled about and dashed for the highway
again.

“There’s a dog coming!” was his exclamation.

The others heard the threatening growl, and descried an immense canine
coming down the lane like a runaway steam engine.

Nothing but a hurried flight was left to them, and they ran with the
desperation of despair. Billy, being the younger and shorter, was
unable to keep up with the others. His dumpy legs worked fast, but he
fell behind, and his terrified yells a moment later announced that the
dog had overtaken him and was attending to business.

His horrified companions stopped to give what help they could, but the
dog, having extracted a goodly piece from Billy’s garments, was
satisfied to turn about and trot back to the house to receive the
commendation of his master, who was standing on the porch and viewing
the proceedings with much complacency.

An examination of Billy, who was still crying, showed that the skin
had only been scratched, though his trousers had suffered frightfully.
All had received such a scare that they determined to apply to no more
houses for relief, even if the rain descended in torrents and they
were starving.

And so they tramped wearily onward through the mud and wet, hungry and
utterly miserable. It seemed to them that their homes were a thousand
miles distant and they would never see them again.

They could not help picturing their warm, comfortable firesides, where
their kind parents denied them nothing, and where they had spent so
many happy days, with no thought of what they owed those loving ones
whom they were treating with such ingratitude.

Tears were in the eyes of all three, and, though they grew so weary
that they could hardly drag one foot after the other, they plodded
along until the gathering darkness told them night was closing in.

They had met wagons, horsemen, and several persons on foot. From some
of the last they made inquiries and learned that, although they had
passed through several towns, they were yet south of Rahway. Their
hunger became so gnawing that Tommy spent all their money in buying a
lot of cakes, which they devoured with the avidity of savages, and
felt hungry when none was left to eat.

To the inquiries made of them they returned evasive answers, and when
they reached any one of the numerous towns and villages between New
Brunswick and the Hudson, they hurried through them and into the open
country, where the people viewed them with less curiosity.

When the darkness became so deep that they could not very well see
their way, it was necessary to decide where and how they were to spend
the night. The drizzling rain was still falling; they were chilled to
the bone, and so tired that they could hardly walk.

In the gathering gloom, they observed a barn near the highway, in
which they concluded to take refuge, for it was impossible to walk
farther, and no better shelter was likely to present itself.

But for the cruel reception received at the first house earlier in the
afternoon, they would have asked for charity of some of the neighbors,
and doubtless would have received kind treatment, for it would be
unjust to describe all the people of that section as unfeeling and
heartless.

Had they made their predicament known in any one of the towns, they
would have been taken care of until their families could be
communicated with; but they were too frightened to think of anything
of that nature.

Halting a short way from the barn, Tommy cautiously advanced to make a
reconnoissance. He walked timidly around it, but discovered nothing of
any person, nor did he hear the growl of a watch-dog. The
dwelling-house stood so far off that it was distinguished only by the
lights twinkling from within.

When Tommy came to try the main door, however, it was locked, and he
feared they were barred out. He persevered, and with a thrill of hope
found the stable-door unfastened—a piece of carelessness on the part
of the owner, unless he meant to return shortly.

The lad whistled to his companions waiting in the road, and they
hurried to his side. Telling them the cheering news, he let them pass
in ahead of him, after which he carefully closed the door as it was
before.

Then followed several minutes of groping in the dark, during which
Jimmy narrowly missed receiving a dangerous kick from one of the
horses, and at last the hay-mow was located. With considerable labor
they crawled to the top, covered their shivering bodies as best they
could, and, nestling close together, to secure what warmth they could,
sank almost immediately into deep slumber.

They were so utterly worn out that neither opened his eyes until the
sun was above the horizon. The storm had cleared away, the air was
cool, and though their bodies were stiffened and half-famished, they
were in better spirits than when they clambered into the refuge.

When all had fully awakened and rubbed their eyes, they sat for a
moment or two on the hay, considering what could be done.

“I’m so hungry,” said Billy Waylett, “that I feel as though I could
eat this hay.”

“And I’ll chew some of the meal if we can’t do any better,” added Jim.

“Both of you together aint half as hungry as _I_ am,” said Tommy,
“and I’m going to the house to ask for something to eat.”

“Maybe they’ve got a dog,” suggested Billy, with a shudder.

“I don’t care if they have; I’ll kill and eat _him_.”

From this it will be seen that the young Indian slayers were in a
sorry plight indeed.

“You fellers stay here,” said Tommy, “while I fix things, and then
I’ll send for you; I’m bound to do something or die, for I can’t stand
this any longer—”

Just then the barn door opened, and several persons entered.

“I think we’ll find them in here,” remarked one; “they couldn’t have
traveled much farther.”

“But I don’t see how the young rascals could get in my barn.”

“We’ll take a look through that haymow.”

And the next minute the head and shoulders of a burly man rose to
view, and the runaways were discovered.



CHAPTER VI

SOWING SEED


Two men remained standing on the floor below, and the one who climbed
the hay-mow was Hungerford, Chief of Police of Ashton. He had struck
the trail of the runaways in Jersey City, and when he learned of three
boys that had left the train at New Brunswick, he was certain they
were the young rogues whom he was looking for.

He hired a horse and wagon in the city, secured the help and guidance
of an officer well acquainted with the country, and by judicious
inquiry retained the trail. He was so far behind the boys, however,
that it was growing dark when he was only half a dozen miles out of
the city, and he was obliged to put up for the night.

He was at it again before daylight, and the couple used their wits
with such effect that before long they fixed upon the barn where the
boys had taken refuge. An examination of the road and damp earth
revealed the tell-tale footprints, and they applied to the farmer for
his aid in searching the barn.

That gentleman was surprised to find he had forgotten to lock the
stable-door, but such was the fact, and a brief search brought the
runaways to light.

When they recognized the chief of police, they broke down and cried so
pitifully that the heart of the officer was touched. He cheered them
as best he could, and after they were taken to the house, given a warm
breakfast and their clothing was dried, they felt, as may be said,
like giants refreshed with new wine.

All were eager to be taken home. They had had enough of adventure, and
were willing to face any punishment awaiting them, if they could only
see Ashton again. Mr. Hungerford was confident that the three would
receive the chastisement they merited, but he gave no hint of his
belief, and prepared to take them thither.

He paid the farmer for the meal, and then decided to drive back to New
Brunswick, and make the real start from that point.

He had learned of the robbery the boys suffered, and he was determined
to recover the valuable watch of Mr. Wagstaff from thieving Snakeroot
Sam. His brother officer offered to give him all the help possible,
though he warned him that the task would be both difficult and
dangerous, because of the large number of vicious tramps in that
section.

The first thing done, upon reaching New Brunswick, was to telegraph to
Mr. Wagstaff that the runaways were found, with no harm having
befallen them, and they might be expected home that evening. Then,
leaving the boys by themselves, the officers set out for the tramp
rendezvous, where better fortune than they anticipated awaited them.

Snakeroot Sam was well known to the New Brunswick officer, and they
were fortunate enough to come upon him in the highway, where he had no
companions. He was collared before he suspected their business, and
the watch and chain were found on his person. Inasmuch as it would
have involved considerable delay to bring the scamp to trial and
conviction, besides getting the names of the runaways in the papers,
Chief Hungerford took his satisfaction out of the tramp personally.
The kick administered to Tommy Wagstaff was repaid with interest.
Indeed, there is reason to believe that Sam felt the effects
throughout most of the following summer. Certain it is that he never
received such a shaking up in his life.

Just as it was growing dark, the boys arrived in Ashton and were at
their respective homes to supper.

And then and there was made a mistake, so serious in its nature and so
far-reaching in its consequences that it forms the basis of the
narrative recorded in the following pages.

It will be remembered that each father concerned declared that, upon
their return home, the boys should receive severe punishment for their
flagrant offenses. Such was their resolve, and yet only one of the
gentlemen carried it out.

Mr. Wagstaff and his wife were so grateful for the restoration of
their son that they accepted his promise to be a better boy, and,
after a mild reproof, he was restored to their grace and favor.

It was the same with the parents of Jimmy McGovern. He professed great
contrition for his wrong-doing, and several days were devoted to a
consideration of the matter, when he, too, was allowed to escape all
punishment.

Billy Waylett, the youngest and least guilty, was the only one who
suffered at the hands of his father. The latter loved his child as
much as any parent could, and he felt more pain in inflicting the
chastisement than did the lad in receiving it. But it was given from a
sense of duty, and, as is always and invariably the case, the boy
respected his parent for what he did. He knew he deserved it, and that
it was meant for his own good.

What was the consequence? It marked a turning-point in the life of the
lad. He comprehended, as never before, his narrow escape from disgrace
and ruin, and from that time forward became obedient, studious, and
pure in thoughts, words, and deeds. He gave his parents and teachers
no trouble, and developed into a worthy young man, who became the
pride and happiness of his relatives.

Tommy and Jimmy chuckled together many times over their good fortune.
They saw how indulgent their parents were, and enjoyed the mock
heroism which attended a full knowledge of their exploit.

They did not give up their hopes of a life of adventure, and became
dissatisfied with the dull humdrum routine of Ashton. They were
content, however, to bide their time, and to wait till they became
older before carrying out the projects formed years before. The seed
unwittingly sown by their thoughtless parents was sure to bring its
harvest sooner or later.

Two years after the runaway incidents the parents of Tommy Wagstaff
and Jimmy McGovern removed to the city of New York, and in that great
metropolis the boys were not long in finding bad associates. The
preliminary steps were taken in their education which eventuated in
the incidents that follow.



CHAPTER VII

ONE AFTERNOON IN AUTUMN


The lumbering old stage-coach that left Belmar one morning in autumn
was bowling along at a merry rate, for the road was good, the grade
slightly down-hill, and the September afternoon that was drawing to a
close cool and bracing.

The day dawned bright and sunshiny, but the sky had become overcast,
and Bill Lenman, who had driven the stage for twenty-odd years,
declared that a storm was brewing, and was sure to overtake him before
he could reach the little country town of Piketon, which was the
terminus of his journey.

A railway line had been opened from this bright, wide-awake place,
and, though the only public means of conveyance between Piketon and
Belmar was the stage, its days were almost numbered, for the line was
branching and spreading in nearly every direction.

Bill had picked up and set down passengers, on the long run, until
now, as the day was closing, he had but a single companion, who sat on
the seat directly behind him, and kept up a continuous run of
questions and answers.

This gentleman’s appearance suggested one of the most verdant of
countrymen that ever passed beyond sight of his parent’s home. He was
fully six feet tall, with bright, twinkling-gray eyes, a long peaked
nose, home-made clothing, and an honest, out-spoken manner which could
not fail to command confidence anywhere.

He had made known his name to every person that had ridden five
minutes in the coach, as Ethan Durrell, born in New England, and on a
tour of pleasure. He had never before been far from the old homestead,
but had worked hard all his life, and had some money saved up, and his
parents consented to let him enjoy his vacation in his own way.

“You see, I could have got to Piketon by the railroad,” he said,
leaning forward over the back of Lenman’s seat and peering
good-naturedly into his face, “but consarn the railroads! I don’t
think they ever oughter been allowed. I read in the _Weekly
Bugle_, just afore I left home, that somewhere out West a cow got
on the track and wouldn’t get off! No, sir, _wouldn’t get off_,
till the engine run into her and throwed her off the track, and
likewise throwed itself off, and some of the folks on board come
mighty nigh getting hurt.”

The driver was naturally prejudiced against railways, and was glad to
agree with Ethan’s sentiments.

“Yas,” he said, as he nipped a fly off the ear of the near horse, by a
swing of his long lash, “there ought to be a law agin them railroads;
what’s the use of folks being in such a hurry, that they want to ride
a mile a minute! What good does it do ’em? Why aint they content to
set in a coach like this and admire the country as they ride through
it?”

“Them’s been my sentiments ever since I knowed anything,” replied the
New Englander, with enthusiasm, “but it looks as everbody is fools
except us, Bill, eh?” laughed Ethan, reaching over and chucking the
driver in the side; “leastways, as we can’t bender ’em from doing as
they please, why, we won’t try.”

“I guess you’re ’bout right,” growled Bill, who could not see the
stage-coach approaching its last run without a feeling of
dissatisfaction, if not sadness.

“Helloa!” exclaimed Ethan, in a low voice, “I guess you’re going to
have a couple more passengers.”

“It looks that way; yes, they want to ride.”

The coach had reached the bottom of the hill, and was rumbling toward
the small, wooden bridge, beyond which the woods stretched on both
sides of the highway, when two large boys climbed over the fence and,
walking to the side of the road, indicated that they wished to take
passage in the coach.

These young men were our old friends, Tom Wagstaff and Jim McGovern,
and they were dressed in sporting costume, each carrying a fine rifle,
revolver, and hunting-knife. Although they had not yet executed their
plan of a campaign against the aborigines of the West, they were on a
hunting jaunt, and were returning, without having met with much
success.

The young men had hardly taken their seats in the stage when Wagstaff
produced a flask and invited the driver and Ethan Durrell to join him
and his friend. The invitation being declined, McGovern drew forth a
package of cigarettes, and he and Tom soon filled the interior of the
coach with the nauseating odor. But for the thorough ventilation,
Ethan declared he would have been made ill.

Tom and Jim were not long in finding a subject for amusement in the
person of the New Englander. He was as eager as they to talk, and
Bill, sitting in front with the lines in hand, turned sideway and
grinned as he strove not to lose a word of the conversation.

“Are you going to Piketon?” asked Ethan, when the young men were
fairly seated in the stage.

“That’s the town we started for,” replied Wagstaff.

“Ever been there before?”

“No; we’re on our way to visit our friend, Bob Budd; we live in New
York, and Bob spent several weeks down there last spring, when we made
his acquaintance. Bob is a mighty good fellow, and we promised to come
out and spend our vacation with him, though it’s rather late in the
season for a vacation. I say, driver, do you know Bob?”

“Oh! yes,” replied Lenman, looking back in the faces of the young men;
“I’ve knowed him ever since he was a little chit; he lives with his
Uncle Jim now—rich old chap—and lets Bob do just as he pleases ’bout
everything.”

“That’s the right kind of uncle to have,” remarked Jim; “I wouldn’t
mind owning one of them myself. Bob wrote us that he was going to camp
out near a big mill-pond and some mountains; of course, driver, you
know the place.”

“I was born and reared in this part of the country; I don’t know the
exact spot where Bob means to make his camp, but I’ve no doubt you’ll
enjoy yourselves.”

“It won’t be our fault if we don’t,” said Tom, with a laugh; “that’s
how we came to leave the governor, without asking permission or saying
good-bye.”

“I hope you didn’t run away from home, boys,” said Ethan, in a grieved
manner.

“No, we didn’t run away,” said Jim, “we _walked_.”

Ethan Durrell checked the reproof he was about to utter, and the young
men laughed.

“You’ll be sorry for it some day,” remarked the New Englander, “you
may depend on that.”

“Did you ever try it?” asked Wagstaff.

“I did once, but I didn’t get fur; the old gentleman overtook me a
half-mile down the road; he had a big hickory in one hand and with the
other he grabbed me by the nape of the neck; well,” added the
gentleman, with a sigh, “I guess there’s no need of saying anything
more.”

“He must have had a father like Billy Waylett,” remarked Jim, aside to
his companion, both of whom laughed at the story of their new friend,
“he wasn’t as lucky as we.”

The reader has already learned considerable about these two young men.
They were wayward, disobedient, and fond of forbidden pleasures. It
was the intention of their parents to place them in school that
autumn, but while arrangements were under way the couple stealthily
left home, first providing themselves with fine hunting outfits, and
started for Piketon, with the intention of spending a couple of weeks
in the woods.

They did not not make their plans known to Billy Waylett, who was such
a willing companion several years before. Billy still lived in Ashton
and could have been easily reached, but they knew that he would not
only reject their proposal, but, as likely as not, acquaint their
parents with it.

The unwise indulgence of Mr. Wagstaff and Mr. McGovern was producing
its inevitable fruit. They had had much trouble with their boys, but
hoped as they grew older, and finished sowing their wild oats, they
would settle down into sedate, studious men, and that the end of all
their parents’ worriment would soon come.

Among the undesirable acquaintances made by Jim and Tom was Bob Budd,
who, as they intimated, spent several weeks in the city of New York.
He was a native of Piketon, which was becoming altogether too slow for
him. He chafed under the restraints of so small a country town, and
wrote them glowing accounts of the good times they would have together
in the camp in the woods. He urged them to come at once, now that the
hunting season was at hand.

Tom and Jim were captivated by his radiant pictures, and determined to
accept his invitation, whether their parents consented or not. The
near approach of the time set for their entrance at the high school
made the prospect in that direction too distasteful to be faced.

While they were still hesitating, with vivid recollections of the
dismal failure of their earlier years, another letter came from Bob
Budd. He told them he had not only selected the spot for their camp,
but that the tent was up, and it was well stocked with refreshments of
both a solid and liquid nature. He had painted a big sign, which was
suspended to the ridge-pole and bore the legend,

                  “CAMP OF THE PIKETON RANGERS.”

This was not only ornamental, but served as a warning to all
trespassers.

“Everything is ready,” wrote Bob, “and every day’s delay is just so
much taken from the sport and enjoyment that await you. Come at once,
boys, and you’ll never regret it.”



CHAPTER VIII

FELLOW-PASSENGERS


The two decided to give Bob Budd a surprise. They said it would be
hard for them to get away, and more than likely they would have to
wait several weeks before the matter could be decided. This letter was
followed at once by themselves, and they were now within a few miles
of Bob’s home without his suspecting anything of the kind.

Having informed themselves fully, they rode to a station not far from
Piketon, where they got off, leaving their trunks to go to the town,
while they spent a half-day in hunting. Their luck was so poor that
they gave it up, and were glad to use the stage for the rest of the
journey.

“What time are you due in Piketon?” asked Jim of the driver.

“Half-past eight.”

“That’s a good deal after dark.”

“So it is, at this time of the year, and it’s going to be dark sooner
than usual.”

“How’s that?”

“Don’t you notice how it has clouded up this afternoon? A big storm is
coming and we’re going to catch it afore we strike Piketon.”

“Well,” growled Wagstaff, “that isn’t pleasant; we were fools, Jim,
that we didn’t stay in the train; but we can shut ourselves in with
the curtains and let the driver run things.”

“I reckon I haven’t druv over this road for twenty-five years,” said
Lenman, “without striking a storm afore to-night.”

“Sartinly, sartinly,” added Ethan Durrell; “life must have its shadows
as well as sunshine, though I don’t like to be catched on a lonely
road this way. I say, Bill,” he added, in a half-frightened voice,
“are you troubled with any such pesky things as highway robbers?”

“If you hadn’t asked me that question I wouldn’t have said anything
about it; but I’ve been stopped and held up, as they say, just like
them chaps out West.”

“You don’t say so!” exclaimed the New Englander, while the young men
on the back seat became interested.

“I didn’t suppose you were ever troubled in this part of the world by
such people,” said Wagstaff.

“We aint often, but what place can you name where you don’t find bad
people?”

“How long ago was it you were held up?” asked Ethan.

“About six months; fact is, I’ve felt shaky for the last week.”

“Why so?” asked Wagstaff.

“I’ve seen a suspicious character down in Black Bear Swamp.”

“Where’s that?”

“It’s a piece of woods we pass through afore we reach Piketon; it
jines the woods where you tell me Bob Budd has put up the tent, but it
curves round and reaches the hills on t’other side.”

The words of the driver deeply interested all three of the passengers.
The knowledge that, though in the State of Pennsylvania, and in a
section fairly well settled, they were in danger of being “held up” in
the most approved style of the wild West was enough to startle any
one.

“Tell us all about it,” persisted Wagstaff, lighting a new cigarette,
and leaning forward to catch the reply.

“There isn’t much to tell,” replied the driver; “’cept there’s a
holler close to t’other side of Black Bear Swamp, and three times in
the past week, when I was passing, I’ve seen a tall, slim man moving
around among the trees and watching me, tryin’ at the same time to
keep me from seeing him.”

“But if he was a robber—”

“Who said he was a robber?” demanded Lenman, turning and looking
sharply at the young man.

“You said he was a suspicious character, and what else could he be?”
demanded Wagstaff.

“Perhaps a tramp, but I’ll admit I have thought it likely he was a man
looking for a chance to rob the stage.” “Why didn’t he do it then?”

“It happened that on each of the times I hadn’t a single passenger
with me.”

“And now you’ve got _three_,” remarked McGovern. “Well, I hope he
will attack us to-night.”

“What’ll you do if he does?” asked the New Englander.

“Don’t you see we’ve each got a rifle? Beside that, Tom and I carry a
Smith & Wesson apiece, and all our weapons are loaded; that fellow
won’t have time to call out for us to give up our valuables before
he’ll be filled as full of holes as a sieve.”

“My gracious! you wouldn’t do _that_, would you?”

“Just give us a chance, that’s all,” said Wagstaff, with a shake of
his head.

Had the young men been watching Durrell and the driver at that moment,
they would have seen a singular look pass between the two. It might
have meant nothing, and it might have signified a good deal. No words
were spoken, but the expression of their faces, to say the least, was
peculiar.

“I should have said,” continued the driver, “that the chap may have
learned something about that box, which was expected at Belmar, and
which I was to take to Piketon with me.”

“What box?” asked Wagstaff.

“The one that is strapped onto the rear of the stage.”

“Jingo!” muttered Jim, “things are beginning to look dubious.”

“As I was about to say,” continued the driver, “if that chap has made
up his mind to hold us up—and it looks mighty like it—this is the
night it will be done.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Haven’t I got three passengers for Piketon, which is the biggest
number I’ve took through in a couple of weeks, and, more’n all,
_that_ box is with me? The night is going to be as dark as a
wolf’s mouth, and when we strike Black Bear Swamp—”

“Why do they call it Black Bear Swamp?” asked Durrell.

“I don’t know of any reason, onless it is that there never was a black
bear found there, though they’re up among the mountains, where there’s
a deer now and then. But won’t the scamp be fooled, though?” chuckled
the driver.

“How’s that?”

“I never carry any shooting-irons, but you’ve got enough for us all,
and, when he sings out and you shove the muzzles of your guns forward
and let drive, why the State will be saved a big expense.”

“That’s so!” exclaimed Wagstaff, with a fierceness too vivid to be
wholly genuine; “we’ve started out for a hunting trip with Bob Budd,
and expect to bag all the bears and deer in the country, but we
weren’t looking for stage robbers, because I don’t know that we have
lost any, but if they choose to run into our way, why who’s to blame?”

“That’s so,” assented his companion, who, in truth, regretted more
than ever that they had not made the entire journey to Piketon by
train instead of partly in the lumbering stage-coach.

“It would be better,” he added, after a moment’s thought, “if the
rogue had chosen the daytime.”

“Why so?” queried the New Englander.

“We can see to aim better.”

“So can _he_, can’t he?”

“Yes, but we would have prepared better than we can at night,” replied
Wagstaff, nervously.

“And it would be the same with _him_. If you’re afraid you can’t
shoot straight, I’ll take one gun and Bill the other, and you can
crawl under the seats.”

“Who’s talking about crawling under the seats—what’s that?”

A peal of thunder rumbled overhead, and it was already beginning to
grow dark. The afternoon was merging into night, which, as has been
explained, was closing in sooner than usual, because of the cloudy
sky.

“We’re going to catch it afore we get home,” remarked the driver,
glancing upward and twitching the lines, so as to force the team into
a moderate trot.

“Why don’t you hurry up your nags more, and get home sooner?” asked
Wagstaff.

“A good master is marciful to his beast; I aint likely to gain
anything by hurrying, for the storm may come and be over afore we get
to town, while the animals are so used to this work, that, if I made
it a rule to push ’em now and then, they are likely to break down, and
trade aint good enough for me to afford _that_.”

“But if you should do it once, it wouldn’t hurt.”

“Another thing,” added the driver, as if the fact was a clincher to
the discussion, “if we should go rattling through Black Bear Swamp
ahead of time, that suspicious chap would miss us.”

“Well?”

“And we would miss _him_, which we don’t want to do. Being as
you’ve got your guns and are so anxious to use ’em on him, why I won’t
be mean enough to rob you of the chance.”



CHAPTER IX

DICK HALLIARD


The conversation was not of a nature to improve the courage of the
occupants of the stagecoach, for, when children spend an evening in
exchanging ghost stories, they find the darkness of their bed-rooms
more fearful than before.

Since the young gentlemen on the rear seat began to believe that a
meeting with a stage robber was quite certain to take place before
reaching Piketon, they saw the need of an understanding all round.

The driver repeated that he never carried firearms, for, if he did, he
would be tempted to use them with the surety of getting himself into
trouble.

“If a man orders you to hold up your hands and you do it, why he aint
going to hurt you,” was the philosophy of the old man; “all he’ll do
is just to go through you; but if you have a gun or pistol, you’ll
bang away with it, miss the chap, and then he’ll bore you; so it’s my
rule, when them scamps come along, to do just as they tell me; a man’s
life is worth more to him than all his money, and that’s me every
time.”

“But you might be quick enough to drop him first,” suggested Wagstaff,
who would have preferred the driver to be not quite so convincing in
his arguments.

“Mighty little chance of that! You see the feller among the trees is
all ready and waiting; he can take his aim afore you know he is there;
now when you fellers fire at him it won’t do for you to miss—remember
_that_!”

“We don’t intend to,” replied McGovern.

“Of course you don’t intend to, but the chances are that you will, and
then it will be the last of you!”

“But won’t you be apt to catch it on the front seat?”

[Illustration: THE MEETING WITH DICK HALLIARD]

“Not a bit of it, for them chaps are quick to know where a shot comes
from, and they always go for the one that fires; they know, too, that
a stage driver never fights—helloa!”

At that moment, a bicycle guided by a boy glided silently along the
right of the stage, turning out just enough to pass the vehicle. The
youth whose shapely legs were propelling it, slackened his gait so
that for a few minutes he held his place beside the front wheels of
the coach.

He was a handsome, bright-faced youth about sixteen years old, who
greeted the driver pleasantly, and, turning his head, saluted the
others, without waiting for an introduction.

“I’m afraid a storm is coming, and I shall have to travel fast to get
home ahead of it; do you want to run a race with me, Bill?”

“Not with _this_ team,” replied the driver, “for we couldn’t hold
a candle to you.”

“I don’t know about that,” replied the boy, with a laugh; “there are
plenty who can beat me on a bicycle.”

“But there aint any of ’em in this part of the country, for I’ve seen
too many of ’em try it. Bob Budd bragged that he would leave you out
of sight, but you walked right away from him.”

The boy blushed modestly and said:

“Bob don’t practice as much as he ought; he’s a good wheelman, but
he’s fonder of camping out in the woods, and I shouldn’t be surprised
if there’s a good deal more fun in it. I believe he expects some
friends to go into camp with him.”

“Them’s the chaps,” remarked the driver, jerking the butt of his whip
toward the rear seat.

The bicyclist bowed pleasantly to the young men, who were staring
curiously at him and listening to the conversation. They nodded rather
coldly in turn, for they had already begun to suspect the identity of
this graceful, muscular lad, of whom they had heard much from Bob
Budd.

Their country friend had spoken of a certain Dick Halliard who was
employed in the store of Mr. Hunter, the leading merchant in Piketon,
and who was so well liked by the merchant that he had presented him
with an excellent bicycle, on which he occasionally took a spin when
he could gain the time.

Bob, who detested young Halliard, had said enough to prove that he had
taken the lead in all his studies at school and surpassed every boy in
the section in running, swimming, ’cycling, and indeed, in all kinds
of athletic sports. This was one reason for Bob’s dislike, but the
chief cause was the integrity and manliness of young Halliard, who not
only held no fear of the bully, but did not hesitate to condemn him to
his face when he did wrong.

“I hope you will have a good time in camp,” said Dick (for it was he),
addressing the two city youths.

“That’s what we’re out for,” replied Wagstaff, “and it won’t be our
fault if we don’t; will you join us?” asked the speaker, producing his
flask.

“I’m obliged to you, but must decline.”

“Maybe you think it isn’t good enough for you,” was the mean remark of
Wagstaff.

“I prefer water.”

“Ah, you’re one of the good boys who don’t do anything naughty.”

It was a mean remark on the part of Wagstaff, who was seeking a
quarrel, but Dick Halliard showed his manliness by paying no heed to
the slur.

“Well,” said he, addressing the driver, “since you won’t run me a
race, I shall have to try to reach home ahead of the storm. Good-bye
all!”

The muscular legs began moving faster, the big, skeleton-like wheel
shot ahead of the stage, coming back into the middle of the highway,
and the lad, with his shoulders bent forward, spun down the road with
a speed that would have forced the fastest trotting horse to
considerable effort.

“By gracious!” exclaimed the New Englander, with his chin high in air,
as he peered over the head of the driver, “that youngster beats
anything of the kind I ever seen.”

“I don’t s’pose they have those sort of playthings in your part of the
world,” remarked Jim, with a sneer.

“Yes, we have enough to send a few of ’em down your way for you folks
to learn on. Bill, who is that chap?”

“Dick Halliard, and there aint a finer boy in Piketon.”

“He’s got a mighty fine face and figure.”

“You’re right about that; I want to give you chaps a little advice,”
added the driver, turning his head, so as to look into the countenance
of the city youths; “I heerd what you said to him and he had sense
enough not to notice it, but you’ll be wise if you let Dick Halliard
alone.”

“Is he dangerous?” asked Wagstaff, with a grin.

“You will find him so, if you undertake to put onto him; mebbe he
isn’t quite so old as you and mebbe he don’t smoke cigarettes and
drink whisky, but I’ll bet this whole team that if either or both of
you ever tackles him, you’ll think five minutes later that you’ve been
run through a thrashing mill.”

The youths were not disturbed by this bold statement, which neither
believed.

“You’re very kind,” said Tom, “and we won’t forget what you’ve said;
when we see him coming ’long the road, we’ll climb a tree to get out
of the way, or else run into the first house and lock the door.”

Bill had said all he wished, and now gave his attention to his team.
The thunder was rumbling almost continuously, and now and then a vivid
streak of lightning zigzagged across the rapidly darkening sky. No
rain fell, but the wind blew blinding clouds of dust across the
highway and into the stage, where the occupants at times had to
protect their eyes from it.

A short distance from the road on the left was a low, old-fashioned
stone house, but no other dwelling was in sight between the stage and
Black Bear Swamp, which was no more than half a mile ahead, appearing
dark and forbidding in the gathering gloom. The trees at the side of
the highway swayed in the gusty wind, and, when the flying dust
allowed them to see, Dick Halliard was observed far in advance like a
speck in the distance. He was traveling with great speed, and the
stage seemed to have gone no more than a hundred yards after the
interview when the young wheelman disappeared.

It was as if he had plunged under full headway right among the trees.
Piketon lay about two miles beyond Black Bear Swamp, but since the
width of the dense forest through which the public road wound its way
was fully a fourth of a mile, it will be seen that a considerable
drive was still before the stage.

The passengers would have viewed their approach to the woods with
relief, but for the fear of the highwayman. Its dense growth and
abundant vegetation offered a partial protection from the storm, which
promised to be violent; but the youths would have much preferred (had
they dared to speak their sentiments) to stand bareheaded in the
coming storm than to encounter that “suspicious” party, who they
believed was awaiting their coming.



CHAPTER X

A STARTLING SUMMONS


The stage was within a hundred yards of Black Bear Swamp when
something like a tornado struck it. The horses stopped, and the
vehicle was partly lifted from the ground. For an instant it seemed to
be going over. The driver and the New Englander started with
suppressed exclamations, while Wagstaff emitted a cry of alarm, as he
and his companion attempted to leap out.

“Sit still! you’re all right!” shouted Lenman, striking his horses
with the whip. They broke into a trot, and a few minutes later entered
the dense wood, where they were safe from the danger that threatened
them a moment before. Indeed, the volley of wind was as brief as a
discharge of musketry, passing instantly, though it still howled
through the wood, with a dismal effect, which made all heartily wish
they were somewhere else.

It was so dark that, but for the flashes of lightning, the passengers
would have been unable to see each other’s forms; but the horses were
so familiar with the route that they needed no guidance. The driver
allowed them to walk, while he held the lines taut to check them on
the instant it might be necessary.

Wagstaff and McGovern climbed forward, and crowded themselves on the
seat beside the New Englander, each firmly grasping his rifle, for, as
they advanced into the wood, their thoughts were of the criminal who
they believed would challenge them before they could reach the other
side.

Still the rain held off, though the lightning was almost incessant and
continually showed the way in front. The wind, too, abated, and all
began to breathe more freely.

“I guess the robber won’t dare show himself to-night,” said Wagstaff,
speaking rather his wish than his belief.

“What’s to hinder him?” asked Ethan Durrell.

“The storm.”

The driver laughed outright.

“It’s just what is in his favor—hulloa!”

“Gracious! what’s the matter?” gasped Wagstaff, as the team suddenly
halted, of their own accord; “let’s get out.”

“Something’s wrong,” replied Lenman; “don’t speak or make any noise;
we’ll soon know what it is.”

While waiting for the flash of lightning to illuminate the gloom, it
never seemed so long coming. A short time before the gleams were
continuous, but now the gloom was like that of Egypt as the seconds
dragged along.

No one spoke, but all eyes were fixed on the impenetrable darkness in
front, while every ear was strained to catch some sound beside the
soughing of the wind among the trees.

All at once, as if the overwhelming storehouse of electricity could
contain itself no longer, the whole space around, in front and above
was lit up by one dazzling flame, which revealed everything with the
vividness of a thousand noonday suns.

By its overpowering glare the figure of a man on horseback was seen
motionless in the middle of the road, less than twenty feet distant.
He knew of the presence of some one in his path, and he, too, was
awaiting the help of the lightning before advancing.

“That’s _him_,’” whispered Tom Wagstaff; “shall we shoot?”

Ethan Durrell felt the seat tremble under the youth, while the others
noticed the quaver in his voice.

“No,” replied the driver; “he hasn’t done nothin’ yet; wait till he
hails us.”

“That may be too late, but all right.”

“Helloa, Bill, is that you?” came from the horseman.

“Yes; who are you?” called back the driver.

“Don’t you know me, Hank Babcock?” called the other, with a laugh.

“I sort of thought it was you, Hank, but wasn’t sure.”

“You can be sure of it now; wait a minute till I get out of your way;
I’ll turn aside and let you pass.”

Everything was quiet for a moment, except the wind, the snuffing of
his horse, and the sound of his hoofs, as he was forced with some
trouble close to the trees which grew near the highway.

“Now, it’s all right; go ahead,” called Hank Babcock.

Lenman spoke to his animals and they moved forward. When opposite the
horseman, another flash revealed him sitting astride the animal, a few
feet to one side. He called a cheery good-night as he drew back, after
the stage had passed, and continued his course.

“Driver,” said Wagstaff, when they were moving again; “where is the
spot you thought it likely we would meet him?”

“We’re close to it now; you notice the road goes down a little, but
not enough for me to put on the brake; have your shootin’ irons ready,
for, somehow or other, I feel in my bones that you’ll need ’em.”

“Where’s that chap that was here a minute ago?” asked Jim, with as
much tremor in his voice as his friend.

“Who’s that?” asked the driver.

“That Yankee that was sitting right here; he’s gone!”

“I guess not,” replied the driver, reaching back his hand and groping
vaguely around; “he must be there.”

“He isn’t; he was here, but he’s missing.”

“Maybe he got so scared he took the back seat,” suggested Tom, who
held his rifle in his left hand, while he passed his right through the
vacancy in the rear of the stage; “no, I’ll be hanged if he is there;
he isn’t in the stage.”

“That’s mighty queer,” remarked the driver; “I didn’t hear him get
out, did you?”

“No, but I felt him; he was sitting right alongside of us, when
something brushed past me and he was gone—there!”

Once more the lightning brought everything out with intense
distinctness, and all saw that there were only three instead of four
persons in the stage.

The New Englander was missing: what had become of him?

“I guess he was scared,” suggested Wagstaff, with a weak attempt to
screw up his courage; “and preferred to hide among the trees rather
than run the risk of meeting that stranger—”

“_Sh!_” interrupted the driver, “there’s somebody ahead of us in
the road; the horses see him; be ready and remember that if you miss
it’s sure death—”

At that moment the most startling cry that could fall upon their ears
rang from the gloom in front:

“_Hands up, every one of you!_”



CHAPTER XI

NO JOKE


What more alarming summons can be imagined than that which rang from
the darkness in front of the stage, as it was slowly winding its way
through Black Bear Swamp?

The lightning which had toyed with them before seemed unwilling to do
so again, for the impenetrable night was not lit up by the first
quiver or flutter of the intense fire.

“Are you ready to shoot?” asked the driver, turning his head and
speaking in guarded tones.

“My gracious, no!” replied Wagstaff, as well as he could between his
chattering teeth; “I can’t see him.”

“He’s right there in the middle of the road; don’t hit one of the
horses—what are you trying to do?”

It was plain enough what the valiant youth was doing; he was crawling
under the seat, the difficulty of doing so being increased by the body
of Jim, who was ahead of him in seeking the refuge.

“I aint going to fire when there’s no chance of hitting him,” growled
Tom, still twisting and edging his way out of reach.

“But the lightning will show him to you in a minute.”

“Let it show and be hanged! I’ve got enough; I surrender.”

The words had been spoken hastily, and Tom and Jim did not throw away
any seconds in groping for cover, but, brief as was the time, the
terrible fellow in the middle of the road became impatient.

“Are all them hands up?” he roared, “or shall I open fire?”

“My two passengers are under the seat, but they won’t hurt you—”

The driver checked himself for a moment and then exclaimed, loud
enough for the youths to hear:

“He’s coming into the wagon!”

“Heavens! don’t let him do that,” protested Jim; “he’ll kill us all;
tell him we surrender and won’t shoot.”

“Where’s them young men that were going to fire so quick?” demanded
the fellow, hurriedly climbing into the front of the stage; “let me
have a chance at them!”

“It wasn’t us,” called back Wagstaff, “we haven’t anything against
you; take all we’ve got, only spare us; you can have our guns and
pistols and our money, and everything we have—”

He ceased his appeal, for at that moment he heard some one laugh.

A shuddering suspicion of the truth came over him, but before he could
frame an explanation, Bill Lenman and the man who had just joined the
party broke into uproarious mirth.

The youths saw how utterly they had been sold. There was no train
robber. Ethan Durrell had played the part of the heavy villain in
order to test the courage of these vaunting lads. The driver tried to
dissuade him from the trick, afraid of the risk incurred, but, as it
proved, he was never in any danger.

The boys crept back from their concealment, and, resuming their seat
in front, saw that it was useless to deny the dilemma in which they
were placed.

“I don’t see anything smart in a trick like that,” said Tom, angrily;
“some folks have queer ideas of a joke.”

“It’s lucky for you,” added Jim, “that the lightning didn’t show you
to us; I had my gun aimed and was just ready to fire, but couldn’t see
clear enough to make sure of dropping you at the first shot.”

“All that I was afeared of,” said the driver, “was that you would hit
one of the horses, and that’s what you would have done.”

“It would have served you right if I had.”

“But it would have been a costly job for you, young man.”

The team had resumed its progress and the violent flurry of the
elements began subsiding. The flashes were less frequent, though they
appeared often enough to show the course of the stage, as the animals
pressed on at a moderate walk.

The driver and the New Englander were more considerate than most
persons would have been under the circumstances, for they forebore
taunting the youths, whom they had at their mercy. Tom and Jim were
resentful enough to have used violence toward Durrell, who bad turned
the tables so cleverly on them; but the manner in which he did it gave
them a wholesome fear of the wiry fellow from down East.

“Then,” said Tom, addressing the driver, “that was all stuff that you
told us about seeing a suspicious person in these woods.”

“No, sir, it was all true,” was the unexpected reply.

This statement instantly awoke interest again in the question, for
even Durrell had supposed the driver was playing with the fears of the
boys.

“If that’s the case,” he said, “we may have trouble yet, though it
gets me how a man dare try anything like that in this part of the
world.”

“They haven’t tried it yet,” was the reminder of Lenman.

“No, and I guess they won’t; but from what I’ve read and hearn tell,
it’s just such crimes that succeed, ’cause nobody expects anybody
would dare try them.”

That night was an eventful one in the history of the occupants of the
old stage-coach plying between Belmar and Piketon. That the driver was
uneasy was shown by his silence and his close attention to his team
and matters in front. He took no part in the conversation, but let the
others do the talking while he listened and watched.

All noticed the rapid clearing of the sky. The disturbance of the air
was peculiar, for, while it threatened a severe rainfall, nothing of
the kind took place, not a drop pattering on the leaves. The electric
conditions changed back again to something like a normal state, the
lightning ceasing, the wind falling, and the clouds dissolving to such
an extent that, before Black Bear Swamp was crossed enough moonlight
penetrated the woods to reveal their course.

It was a singular sight when the party in the stage found themselves
able to see the ears of the horses, and, soon after, the trees at the
side of the road, and by and by could make them out for several paces
in front of the team.

This was a vast relief, but the boys, instead of resuming their places
at the rear of the coach, kept the second seat in front, while Durrell
put himself beside the driver, where both had the best opportunity for
discovering any peril the instant it presented itself.

“Do you think there will be any trouble?” asked the New Englander,
after being silent a minute or two.

“I don’t know what to think,” was the discomforting reply.

“But we are getting pretty well through the plaguey place; it can’t be
fur from t’other side.”

“That don’t make any difference; one spot in these woods is as bad as
another.”

“I’m sorry I haven’t a pistol,” said Durrell.

“I aint, for I tell you it won’t do to try to use anything like that
on them chaps.”

“If there were several it might be different, but the idea of two of
us surrendering to one man—it galls me, Bill. I was going to get one
of them boys to let me have a revolver, but I don’t want to do it as
long as you feel this way.”

“I wouldn’t have it for the world; if I was sure there was but the
one, I don’t know as I would object—that is, if you wanted to fight
purty bad.”

“You seen only one man, you told me.”

“But that’s no sign there isn’t others near.”

“True. By gracious, Bill!” whispered the New Englander, peering
forward and to one side in the gloom; “I believe I _did_ see a
person in front of us just then.”

“I didn’t notice him,” replied the driver, trying hard to pierce the
gloom; “where is he?”

“Not in the middle of the road, but on the left.”

That was the side on which Durrell was sitting, so that he had a
better opportunity than the driver. He believed something moved, but
the shadows among the trees were too dense to make sure. The fact that
the horses had shown no sign of fear was good reason to suspect
Durrell was mistaken, but enough doubt remained to cause misgiving.

They talked so low that the boys behind them could only catch the
murmur of their voices, without being able to understand their words.
They were in such trepidation themselves that they forgot their recent
farce, and, speaking only now and then in whispers, used their eyes
and ears for all they were worth.

“_If any one stirs, he’ll be shot!_”

Some one at the side of the road uttered these words in a low but
distinct voice, adding in the same terrible tones:

“Stop that team! There are three of us here, and we’ve got you
covered; each one of you get down and stand at the side of the road
and hold up your hands! Do as you are told and you won’t get hurt! Try
any of your tricks and you’ll be riddled!”

Ethan Durrell was the only one in the stage who spoke. His voice
trembled, so that his words were hardly understood.

“Don’t shoot, please, we’ll get down; we won’t do anything if you’ll
be easy with us; be keerful them guns don’t go off—”

“Shut up!” commanded the angry criminal; “we don’t want any talking.
Dick, keep your eye on ’em as they come out and don’t stand any
nonsense.”

“Do you want me down there, too?” asked the driver, who fancied he
ought to be excused.

“You can sit where you are, but don’t forget you’re covered, too, and
don’t stir. Come, hurry down, old chap!”

The last remark was addressed to Ethan Durrell, who showed some
reluctance to obeying the stern order.

The fact was the New Englander was straining his eyes to the utmost.
He saw the tall figure at the side of the highway, just abreast of the
horses’ shoulders, but he could not detect any one else. That might
not signify anything, as nothing was easier than for several persons
to conceal themselves among the trees.

The question the plucky Durrell was asking himself was whether they
had been held up by one man or more. If there were more than one it
was madness for him to resist, but if there was but one he meant to
make a fight, even though he had nothing more formidable than his
jack-knife about him.

He hesitated on the step in front, one hand resting on the haunch of
the horse and the other grasping the front support of the cover of the
coach.

“Don’t wait,” whispered Lenman, “or you’ll make him mad.”

“Hurry up,” added Tom Wagstaff, “and we’ll follow you.”

“Come, I reckon you’d better hurry,” added the figure at the side of
the road.

“All right, here I come!”

The New Englander sprang outward, and as he did so he flung both arms
about the neck of the rogue and bore him to the earth.



CHAPTER XII

THE VICTIM OF A MISTAKE.


Ethan Durrell may have been verdant-looking and peculiar in his ways,
but he was one of the pluckiest of men. It was impossible for him to
know whether the scamp who held up the stage had any companions or
not, until the matter was proven by taking a risk which, if he went
the wrong way, was sure to be fatal. With this uncertainty, and
without so much as a single weapon at his command, he leaped upon the
unsuspecting ruffian, and, throwing both arms around his neck, bore
him to the ground.

The attack was wholly unexpected by the fellow, who was standing with
loaded revolver pointed toward the stage, ready to fire on the instant
he observed anything suspicious. It was necessary for the New
Englander to spring down from the front of the coach, but every one
except himself thought his intention was to land in front of the other
and there submit to the inevitable. The quavering voice of Durrell had
convinced his friends that he was as timid as any of them in the
presence of real danger.

He closed his arms like a vise, so as to pinion those of the stranger
against his sides. The impetus of his own body drove the man backward,
and before he could recover Ethan tripped and threw him with such
violence that his hat fell off and an exclamation was forced from him.

He uttered fierce execrations and strove desperately to get his arm
free that he might use his weapon on his assailant, but there was no
possibility of shaking off the embrace of the wiry New Englander, who
hung on like grim death.

“Bill, you and the boys watch out for the other fellers,” called
Durrell, as he struggled with the man; “if any of them show
themselves, shoot! I’ll ’tend to this one.”

At this moment the rogue seemed to remember his friends, and he
called:

[Illustration: IT’S NO USE! I’VE GOT YOU!]

“Quick, Sam! Shoot him! Don’t miss! Let him have it!”

Even in that excitement Ethan noticed that the fellow’s appeal was to
“Sam” instead of the imaginary “Dick,” whom he first addressed. The
suspicion that he was alone was strengthened, and the daring New
Englander put forth all his power to subdue him.

“It’s no use! I’ve got you and I’m going for you like two houses
afire. Stand back, Bill, and don’t interfere; if I can’t bring him to
terms, then I’m going to resign and climb a tree.”

Everything was going like a whirlwind. Although Bill Lenman preferred
on such occasions as the present to be a non-combatant, he was not the
one to stay idle when a friend risked his life for him. He threw the
lines over the horses’ backs and sprang down to give what help he
could; but in the darkness it was hard to decide in what way he could
aid the other. It was evident that Durrell was pushing matters with
vigor, and there was no doubt that he expected to bring the rogue to
terms.

But it was easy for one in Ethan’s situation to be mistaken. As long
as the fellow kept his pistol, the New Englander’s life was in danger.
Bill stooped over with the intention of twisting away the weapon, but
at the moment of doing so it was discharged, apparently at the driver
himself, for the bullet grazed his temple.

Finding himself unable to turn the pistol on his assailant, the
ruffian saw a chance of deflecting the muzzle sufficiently to hit the
new-comer, as he thought, and he fired, missing him by the narrowest
margin conceivable.

Before he could fire again a vigorous kick of the driver sent the
weapon flying off in the darkness.

“Keep your hands off!” called Durrell, the moment he discovered his
friend was near him; “I can manage him alone. If you want to do
anything get ready to tie him.”

That was an easy matter, for stage-drivers are always supplied with
extras, and a little skill will enable one to get along without a few
straps already in use.

Durrell found his customer tough and powerful. He held him fast for
some seconds, but he seemed as tireless as his assailant, and the
contest would have been prolonged with the possibility of the fellow
working himself loose and darting off among the trees; but fully
mindful of this danger, the New Englander had recourse to heroic
measures.

He tightened his grip on the fellow’s throat until he gasped for
breath. This was repeated to the danger point, though the man
continued to struggle as long as he had the power.

But Durrell had no wish to punish him beyond what was necessary. He
now called to the driver that he could give some help if he wished.
Bill appeared to be bristling with straps and ropes, and was eager to
do something, for, truth to tell, he felt ashamed that, after all he
had said to the New Englander, the latter had attacked the fellow so
bravely, while until this moment the one chiefly concerned had given
no help at all. He was anxious to make amends.

Reading the purpose of his captors and knowing that if bound all help
was at an end, the robber struggled like a wild cat. He fought,
kicked, struck, bit, and shouted to his friends to come to his help,
addressing them by names without number, but all in vain; he could not
have been more helpless if enclosed by a regiment of men. Bill Lenman
was skilled in tying knots, and in less time than it would be supposed
the prisoner was so firmly bound that he resembled a mummy, so far as
the use of his limbs was concerned.

The moment came when he gave up in despair. He saw the game was over,
and it was throwing away his strength to resist further. While he had
been so ready with speech, he ceased all utterances when the first
knot was secured between his elbows, and resolutely refused to utter
another word.

“What are you going to do with him?” asked Lenman, as they stood him
like a post on his feet.

“What are we going to do with him? why, take him to Piketon, of
course, and deliver him to justice!”

“I know that,” replied Bill, with a laugh, “but I was thinking whether
it was best to stow him under the seats or strap him with the trunks
on behind; he might enjoy riding with _that_ box.”

“No; we’ll take him inside with us; some of the straps might give way
and we would want to be within reach of him. Where’s them boys?” asked
Durrell, abruptly; “I forgot all about them while this business was
going on.”

The attack and capture of the would-be stage robber consumed very
little time, but it gave a chance to our young friends which they
quickly turned to good account. They saw but one possible result of
the affair, and concluded to make a change of base. It could not be
doubted that they had done so, since neither was within sight or call.

Lenman had paid no attention to them, and it cannot be said that he
regretted their absence. True, their fare remained uncollected, but
that was not the first time he had carried passengers free, and he
could stand it again.

The prisoner was deposited with as much care on the middle seat of the
stage as though he were a package of dynamite. Durrell placed himself
behind him where he could forestall any movement on his part. It would
not be supposed that there was any chance of anything of that kind,
but Durrell had read and heard enough of such people to understand the
danger of trusting to appearances. The exploits of some of the gentry
in the way of tying and untying knots would rival the Davenport
brothers and other so-called “mediums.” Then, too, Durrell thought, he
might have other weapons about him, for no search had been made of his
garments. Anyway, it cannot be doubted that the New Englander was wise
in maintaining such a vigilant watch of the fellow.

Despite this exciting incident, which threw Bill Lenman’s nerves into
a more turbulent state than for years, he could not help smiling as he
listened to the efforts of the New Englander to open conversation with
the prisoner. Durrell’s curiosity was of the kind that it could not be
kept in the background. He was interested in the man and was resolved
to learn more about him.

He began in his insinuating way to inquire as to his name, how long he
had been in this bad business, what led him to make such a dreadful
mistake, where he was born, whether his parents were living, how many
brothers and sisters he had, and so on with a list of questions which
no one could remember.

But the prisoner never once opened his mouth. He saw nothing was to be
gained by so doing, and, though it is not to be supposed he would have
told the truth, he did not trouble himself to state fiction.

At the moment of emerging from Black Bear Swamp, Lenman was alarmed by
being hailed by a stranger who asked for a ride. This was unusual, for
he was now so close to Piketon that the walk would not have taxed any
one.

Durrell whispered to the driver to refuse to take him up, for no doubt
he was a confederate of the prisoner; but Lenman thought it more
dangerous to refuse than to comply. He therefore checked his team, and
told the applicant that the town was near by and he was about to
indulge in a needless expense; but the stranger cared naught for that,
and hastily climbed up in front and seated himself beside the driver,
who peered at him as best he could in the gloom, but was unable to
make out his features.

“If he tries any tricks,” said Lenman to himself, “I’ll neck him
before he knows it; after that chap from New England showed such pluck
I aint going to back out of the next rumpus.”

Evidently the driver felt the force of the example, for he kept a
close eye on the stranger. Besides this, he thought the occasion
warranted a little extra urging of the horses, and he put them to the
briskest trot they had shown since leaving Belmar.

Ethan Durrell, as may be supposed, was fully as anxious as the driver,
for he was almost certain the man in front was a friend of the
prisoner, and if so, there was little to prevent a rescue, since, as I
have shown, neither Durrell nor Lenman was armed.

The relief, therefore, was great when the lights of the little town
glimmered through the darkness, and shortly after the stage came to a
halt in front of the old-fashioned inn, where it had stopped regularly
for so many years.

The passenger last picked up, there was reason to believe, had never
seen the rogue before. The latter may be dismissed with the remark
that, having been caught in the commission of his crime, he received
full and merited punishment therefor.



CHAPTER XIII

ADRIFT IN THE SWAMP


Meanwhile Tom Wagstaff and Jim McGovern, the two youths from New York,
found themselves involved in a series of singular and stirring
incidents.

It will be admitted that they were not fond of meeting the kind of
persons who brought the old stage to a standstill in the dismal depths
of Black Bear Swamp, and, when they saw an opportunity to leave, lost
no time in doing so.

They were trembling in their seats, wondering what would be the next
act of the dreaded fellow dimly seen in the gloom, when Ethan Durrell
performed his brave exploit which ended in the capture of the rogue.

“Now’s our chance!” whispered Jim, who saw the couple struggling on
the ground; “bimeby he’ll kill that greenhorn and next the driver and
then _our_ turn will come.”

“If that’s so, I don’t see any use in waiting,” replied Tom, losing no
time in scrambling out of the coach, and dropping to the ground in
such haste that he fell forward on his hands and knees.

The driver and the New Englander were too much engaged at that moment
to pay any heed to the youths, who were in such desperate haste to get
away from the spot that they dashed among the trees at the imminent
risk of seriously bruising themselves.

After pressing forward until they were nearly out of breath, they came
to a halt in the depths of the wood for consultation. They had managed
to reach a point some distance from the highway, where they felt safe
for the time.

“It’s lucky we were cool enough to bring our guns with us,” was the
bright remark of McGovern, “or there’s no telling what might have
happened.”

“Do you think those robbers will follow us, Jim?”

“Of course they will; you don’t suppose they want us to testify in
court against them and have them hanged, do you?”

“But we didn’t see them plain enough to know them again.”

“That don’t make any difference,” was the brilliant reply, “for I
would know that fellow’s voice among a thousand.”

“I guess maybe you’re right; it won’t do for us to go back to the
road, for we would be sure to run against them.”

“No; we’ll push on through the woods till we come out somewhere. If we
were only acquainted with the country we would know what to do, but
there’s no saying where we’ll fetch up.”

At such times a person feels safer while in motion, and, though the
young men had no more idea of the points of the compass than if adrift
in mid-ocean, they pressed on, impelled by their anxiety to place all
the space possible between themselves and the stage-robbers, who, they
believed, numbered three at least.

They agreed that the New Englander was the most foolish of persons in
attacking the criminal, for, even if he succeeded in bearing him to
the ground and overcoming him, his companions had already rallied to
his help and would quickly dispatch him and the driver.

Jim and Tom listened for sounds of the conflict, and the fact that
they heard no shouts or more reports of fire-arms did not lessen their
belief that it was all over with Lenman and Durrell.

The boys were still picking their way through the lonely woods when
they found their feet sinking in the spongy earth and were stopped by
a morass which grew worse at every step.

“It won’t do to go any farther over this road,” said Wagstaff, who was
a few steps in advance, “for the water is getting deeper and I don’t
believe there are any boats for us to use.”

The obvious course was to turn back and make an abrupt change in their
route. This was done and they soon were walking over the dry leaves.

“Tom,” whispered his companion, who was still a few feet behind him,
“somebody is following us.”

“You don’t say so!” exclaimed Wagstaff, stopping short and looking
around in the gloom; “are you sure of that?”

“Listen!”

Both were silent. There certainly was a rustling of the leaves behind
them, which could not have been made by the wind, for hardly a breath
of air stirred the branches. The violent disturbance that had so
alarmed them when riding in the coach had entirely subsided and was
succeeded by a calm that gave no sign of the flurry.

“It’s one of them robbers,” was the frightened reply of Tom, “and he’s
after us sure enough.”

“You’re right; what shall we do?”

“How would it work to climb a tree?”

“What good would _that_ do?” was the sensible question of Jim.

“He wouldn’t know where we were, and by and by would give up the
hunt.”

“That won’t work. Why, Tom, I forgot; we’ve got our guns and they’re
loaded; why not use _them_?”

“That’s so. I didn’t think of that, but we must look out that he don’t
get in the first shot, I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” added Tom,
stepping so close to his friend that his mouth almost touched his ear;
“you walk around back of him, so as to place him between us; then
we’ll come toward each other and the first one that gets sight of him
will drop him.”

Jim was not over pleased with the plan, since it looked to him as if
his task was to be the most dangerous, but he could not well refuse.
He therefore faced the other way, and began advancing with the utmost
care, making a circuit to the right so as to be certain of not running
against the dreaded individual.

In fact, the young man made a larger circuit than was necessary, but
he kept his bearings, so that when he once more approached Tom it was
in a direct line and the stranger was between them.

McGovern held his rifle tightly grasped, ready to raise and fire the
moment he caught sight of their enemy. While there was a little light
here and there among the trees, it gave neither him nor his companion
any help. It was so early in the autumn that few leaves had fallen,
and, had he not used extreme care, literally feeling every step of his
way, he would have been injured by the projecting limbs and the
numerous trunks of the trees.

While it may be supposed that the strategy of the young men had placed
their foe at great disadvantage, they found themselves hindered by the
impossibility of giving or receiving any mutual signals. Since the
stranger was closer to both than Tom and Jim were to each other, any
attempt to send word over his head was certain to be caught and
understood by him. All that could be done, therefore, by the young men
was to follow the lines hastily marked out before they separated.

Jim having approached his friend as far as was prudent, stopped to
decide what to do next. The boys were not thoughtless enough to lose
sight of the danger to themselves in carrying out their plan. Since
they were coming together each was liable to mistake the other for an
enemy. They had not thought of this at first, but both remembered it
now, and each decided not to fire at any person who might come into
view until first challenging him.

In no other way could a fatal mistake be guarded against, and when,
therefore, Jim had stood motionless a minute or two, and was sure he
heard the same rustling in front, he simply brought his gun to his
shoulder.

“Tom, is that you?” he asked, in a subdued voice that could not fail
to reach the stranger.

The noise ceased, but there was no answer. The youth now slightly
raised his voice:

“If you don’t speak I’ll fire! I see you and won’t miss.”

The stillness continued unbroken, and the stranger did not stir. It
was impossible in the darkness to make him out clearly, but sufficient
could be seen to insure the success of a shot at so short a range.

“I’m going to fire, look out! _One—two—three!_”

Mr. McGovern ought to have reflected that no man, especially one
trained in wrong-doing, would stand up in this fashion and wait for
another to perforate him; but at the utterance of the last word Jim
let fly straight at the figure, and what is more, he struck it.

The hair of the youth seemed to lift his hat from his head, as a
strange cry broke the stillness, and he heard the body, after a single
spasmodic leap, fall on the leaves, where, after a few struggles, it
lay still.

“Have you killed him?” called the horrified Tom, hurrying from his
station a few rods away.

“I’ve killed _something_” was Jim’s reply, who, drawing his
pocket safe, struck a match and held it over his head, while both
stooped over and examined the trophy of their skill and strategy.

“Jim,” said Tom, the next moment, “I’ll agree never to say anything
about this, for I’m in it as bad as you.”

“It’s a bargain,” was the reply of the other; “we’ll never tell Bob,
even, for he would plague us to death.”

The object before them was a six months’ old calf. It had probably
become lost in the woods, and, hearing persons walking, followed them
with a dim idea that they were friends and would take care of it. The
result was a sad example of misplaced confidence.

Certain now that nothing was to be feared from the rogues that must
have disposed of Lenman and Durrell long before, the youths resumed
their progress through the wood with the same aimless effort that had
marked their journey from the first.

It was not long after their incident with the calf that both noticed
that they had entered what seemed to be a valley of slight descent.
The sound of running water warned them to be careful of their steps,
though it was evident the stream was small.

Wagstaff still kept his place slightly in advance, and was picking his
way with the same care he had shown from the first, when he stopped
short once more.

“What is it?” asked his companion, stepping to his elbow.

“What the mischief can that be?” asked Tom, in reply.

Although Jim could not see the extended arm, he knew his friend was
pointing at something which was now observed by him, and whose
appearance mystified him beyond expression.

“It must be a ghost,” he whispered; “I can’t make it out!”

“Don’t stir; wait and see; gracious, it’s moving!”



CHAPTER XIV

HOST AND GUESTS


Tom Wagstaff and Jim McGovern might well be puzzled at the sight which
greeted them while picking their way through the wood.

A strong light seemed to be shining through a screen. At first it was
stationary, its appearance preventing them from guessing its nature.
While they stood silent, wondering and frightened, on the point of
retreating, the shadow of a person glided in front of the light. It
was grotesque and gigantic, and flitted across their field of vision,
disappearing as quickly as it had come to view. The next moment some
one was seen holding a lamp in his hand and peering out in the gloom.

Then the whole explanation broke upon them. They had come upon a tent
in the wood, the light shining through the canvas and producing the
effect which first puzzled them. The person inside passed between them
and the lamp, so that his shadow was flung on the screen in front.
Then he picked up the light, and pushing aside the flap, peered out in
the gloom.

As he did so the glare from the lamp fell upon his face and showed his
features so distinctly that both boys recognized him, and uttered an
exclamation of astonishment and delight.

“Bob Budd, as I live! Why, you’re the very fellow we’re looking for!”
called out Tom Wagstaff, as he and his companion hurried forward and
greeted their friend, whose amazement was equal to theirs when he held
the light above his head and recognized them.

“Where under the sun did you come from?” he asked, all three walking
into the tent after shaking hands, and seating themselves, while the
host set the light on a small stand at one side.

“I didn’t expect you for a week or two,” added Bob, whose pleasure
could not be concealed.

“Well,” replied Jim, with a laugh, “we set out to surprise you, and I
guess we succeeded.”

“There’s no doubt of that,” said Bob; “but tell me how you found the
way to this spot.”

The visitors were not quite willing to give the whole truth, and Tom
ventured the explanation.

“We came most of the way in the cars,” said he, “but got off at a
little station a few miles out to tramp across the country, thinking
we might pick up some game on the way. We didn’t make out very well,
and rode to Black Bear Swamp in the stage. There we got out again and
set out to find you.”

“How did you know where to look?”

“The driver told us you had a camp out this way somewhere, and we
thought we might stumble over it.”

This narrative was so brief in the way of details that the boys ran
some risk of having it overturned when the account of the driver and
his passenger should be heard, but fortunately for them, Durrell and
Lenman forebore any references to the unworthy part played by the
youths, and Bob Budd remained ignorant of the real cause of the abrupt
flight of his friends, and their taking to the shelter of Black Bear
Swamp.

“I’ve had the tent up for three days,” added the host, who was about
the age of his guests, “and it’s so well stored with eatables and
drinkables that I come out every night to take a look at it, so as to
make sure no tramps or thieves are prowling around. I was about to go
home when you hailed me. Shall we go to the house or stay here till
morning?”

“I don’t see that this can be improved on,” replied Tom, looking
admiringly about him; “we’re pretty well tuckered out, and I would as
lief stay here till morning anyway.”

“Those are my sentiments,” added Jim, much pleased with the survey.

“Then we’ll stay,” said Bob; “I’m glad you’re suited. Where are your
trunks?”

“At the station at Piketon.”

“I’ll send the checks over in the morning and have our man bring them
here. I have my own gun and some things to bring from the house, and
then we’ll be in shape for a good old time in the woods. I guess,
boys, a little refreshment won’t hurt us.”

The liberality of Bob Budd’s Uncle Jim and Aunt Ruth, with whom he
lived (he having no parents or other near relatives), enabled him to
do about as he pleased, so far as his own pleasure and self-indulgence
were concerned. He quickly set a substantial lunch before his guests,
of which all partook. I am sorry to say that strong drink formed a
large part of the repast, all indulging liberally, after which pipes
and cigarettes were produced, and they discussed their plans of
enjoyment.

Wagstaff and McGovern did not hesitate to admit that they had run away
from home for the purpose of having this outing. The fact that their
parents were sure to be distressed over their absence was a theme for
jest instead of regret.

“They’ll learn to appreciate us when we go back,” said Wagstaff, with
a laugh, as he puffed his villainous decoction of tobacco and poison;
“you see, if Jim and I went home now they would be apt to scold; but
they will be so glad at the end of a fortnight that they’ll kill the
fatted calf and make us welcome.”

“A good idea,” commented Bob, passing back the flask to McGovern; “you
see, my uncle and aunt love me so dearly that they don’t object to
anything I do, though now and then Aunt Ruth holds up Dick Halliard as
a model for me.”

“We saw that lovely young man while we were in the stage,” remarked
Wagstaff; “he went by us on his bicycle.”

“Yes; he rides a wheel well, but it makes me mad to see him.”

“Why so?”

“Well, he’s younger than me, and I used to go to school with him; he’s
one of those fellows who don’t like many things a wide-awake chap like
me does, and he has a way of telling you of it to your face.”

“That’s better than doing it behind your back,” suggested Jim.

“He has no right to do it _at all_; what business is it of his if
I choose to smoke, take a drink now and then, and lay out the other
boys when they get impudent?”

“It’s nothing to him, of course; we’ll settle his hash for him before
we go back. I shouldn’t wonder,” added Tom, with a wink, “if he should
find that bicycle of his missing some day.”

“That would hit him harder than anything else,” remarked Bob, pleased
with the remark; “I’ve thought of the same thing, but haven’t had a
good chance to spoil it. I say, boys, we’ll have just the jolliest
times you ever heard of.”

“It won’t be _our_ fault if we don’t,” assented Jim, while his
companion nodded his head as an indorsement of the same views.

“Is there good hunting in these parts?”

“It, isn’t as good as up among the Adirondacks or out West in the
Rocky Mountains, but I think we can scare up some sport. I’ve a good
hunting dog, and as soon as we get things in shape we’ll see what we
can do. What sort of game do you prefer?”

“Anything will suit me—elephants, tigers, rhinoceroses, and the like;
or, if we can’t do better, I wouldn’t mind a bear or deer.”

“I daresn’t promise much, but we’ll have the fun anyway, and that’s
what we all want more than anything else.”

The boys kept up their conversation until the night was well along,
and all were in high spirits over the prospect. They smoked and drank
until, when they lay down in slumber, they were in that plight that
they did not waken till the sun was high in the heavens.

The day was so cloudy and overcast that, although it cleared up
before noon, they decided to defer their hunting excursion until the
following morning, or perhaps the one succeeding that. Tom and Jim
accompanied Bob to his uncle’s, where they were made welcome by his
relatives, though it must be said that neither was specially pleased
with their looks and conduct. They made themselves at home from the
first, and their conversation was loud and coarse; but then they were
friends of the petted nephew, and _that_ was all sufficient.

The trunks were brought from the railway station by Uncle Jim’s
coachman and taken to the camp of the Piketon Rangers. By that time
the news of the attempt to rob the stage had spread, and caused great
excitement in the town and neighborhood. Tom and Jim, finding no
reference to them in the accounts, deemed it best to say nothing,
since they might have found it hard to make it appear that they had
acted bravely at a time when such a fine chance was offered to play
the hero.

That afternoon the three fully established themselves in the tent of
Bob Budd. The day had cleared up beautifully, but it was too late to
start out on the great hunt they had fixed their hearts on, and toward
night they separated to take a stroll through the surrounding country,
with which they wished to become familiar. They believed this could be
done better if they should part company, since each would be obliged
to keep his senses about him, and to watch his footsteps more closely
than if he had a guide in the person of Bob Budd, their friend and
host.



CHAPTER XV

THE FOREST PATH


Dick Halliard was kept unusually late at Mr. Hunter’s store that
evening, for the busy season was approaching, when the merchant was
obliged to ask for extra work at the hands of his employees. Dick
showed such aptitude at figures that he often gave valuable aid to the
bookkeeper, one of the old-fashioned, plodding kind, who found the
expanding accounts too much for him to keep well in hand.

Reaching his home, he was met by his mother, who always awaited his
coming, no matter how late he might be. A light never failed to be
shining from the window for the only son, and a warm welcome and a
delicious meal were sure to greet him.

After kissing his mother and taking his seat at the table, he glanced
around and asked: “Did father become tired of sitting up for me?”

“He retired some time ago; he wished to wait, but I advised him not to
do so.”

The lad paused in his meal, and looking at his mother, who was trying
to hide her agitation, asked:

“Why do you try to keep anything from me? Father is worse, as I can
see from you face.”

“Yes,” replied the mother, the tears filling her eyes; “he is not as
well to-night as usual.”

Dick shoved back his chair.

“I will go for Dr. Armstrong; it’s too bad that he could not have been
called long ago.”

“I would have gone, but I feared to leave him alone, and we were
expecting you every minute. You must eat something and swallow a cup
of tea.”

Poor Dick’s vigorous appetite was gone, but partly to please his
parent, and partly because he knew it was best, he ate and drank a
little. Then he ran up-stairs to see his father, who was suffering
from a fevered condition which made him slightly delirious. The brave
boy spoke a few cheerful words, and then, promising to return as soon
as he could, hastened down-stairs and donned his hat and coat.

“You can go quite fast on your bicycle, Dick,” said the mother, “and
you know we shall count the minutes till the doctor comes.”

“You can depend on me to do my best; I will take my bicycle, though it
isn’t very far.”

He had kissed her good-night, and was out-of-doors. The machine had
been left just within the gate, where he always leaned it against the
trunk of a short, thick cedar. He advanced to take it, as he had done
so many times, but to his dismay it was gone.

The door had closed behind him before he had made the discovery, so
that his mother knew nothing of his loss.

Dick was dumbfounded. Nothing of the kind had ever befallen him
before. He had been in the house less than fifteen minutes, yet during
that interval his property had vanished.

“Some one must have followed me,” was his conclusion, “and while I was
in the house stole my bicycle.”

Had the circumstances been different, he would have set a most
vigorous investigation on foot, for he prized the wheel above all his
possessions; but, with his sick parent up-stairs, the minutes were too
precious to be spent in looking after anything else.

“I’ll find out who took that,” he muttered, as he passed through the
gate to the highway, “and when I do, he’ll have to settle with me.”

He studied the ground closely in the hope of discovering the trail, as
it may be called, of his machine, but the light of the moon was too
faint to show any signs, unless in the middle of the highway, and if
the thief had followed that direction, he took care to keep at the
side of the road, where there was a hard path over which he could
readily travel.

It was three-fourths of a mile to the home of Dr. Armstrong, who was
one of those hard-worked humanitarians—a country physician—subject to
call at all hours of the day and night, with many of them requiring a
journey of several miles during the worst seasons of the year.

Dick was fortunate in not only finding him at home, but in his office.
He had received a summons to a point beyond Mr. Halliard’s, and was in
the act of mounting his horse to ride thither. Since he had to pass
the house of Dick on his way, he promised to go at once, so that not a
minute would be lost.

The brief interview with the physician was satisfactory in the highest
degree to the youth, for the medical man explained that, singular as
it might seem, the fever which he described as affecting his parent
was a very favorable sign. It showed that the remedies already used
were doing the work intended, and there was more ground for hope of
his ultimate recovery than before.

With this burden lifted from his heart, the boy’s thoughts returned to
his bicycle.

“I would give a good deal to know who took it,” he murmured, as he set
out on his return; “I never knew of such a thing. Why didn’t I think
of it!” he suddenly asked himself, as he recalled that he had a little
rubber match-safe in his pocket.

Bringing it forth, he struck one of the bits of wood, and shading the
tiny flames from the slight breeze, stooped over and attentively
examined the road and paths at each side.

He discovered nothing to reward his search, and resumed his walk
homeward. “The thief must have taken the other road,” he concluded,
walking more rapidly.

Only a little way farther he came to the big stretch of woods which
surrounded the immense reservoir of water behind the dam that was
built years before. Dick was familiar with the locality, and knew of a
path which left the main highway and entered the woods, breaking into
two routes, one of which led to the mill-pond, while the other, if
followed, conducted a person to the wooded hilly region beyond.

Upon reaching the point where the path turned off from the highway,
Dick again paused and struck a second match. This was for the purpose
of studying the ground, for somehow or other he had formed the belief
that the thief would take to the woods with the property, until he
could find time to dispose of it without attracting attention.

There it was!

The ground, although quite hard, showed the imprint of the large and
small wheel distinctly. Upon turning into the wood the change of
direction necessarily threw the wheels out of alignment for a short
distance, and there could be no mistake about the prints that were
left in the earth.

“There’s where the thief went!” exclaimed the lad, straightening up
and striving to peer into the impenetrable gloom; “but he must have
walked and pushed the bicycle, for no one would dare to ride through
there in the nighttime. I don’t go home till I find out something
about the rogue that took it from the front of our house.”

It was a source of regret that, in his haste to go to the physician,
he forgot the precaution he had resolved to take, whenever he found it
necessary to go abroad at night. His father was the owner of a fine
revolver that had lain in the house for weeks without being used. If
the youth had it with him now, he would have felt double the assurance
that was his when he began making his way along the forest path.
Nevertheless, his resolution to recover his property was none the less
because of his forgetfulness.



CHAPTER XVI

THE PLOTTERS


Dick Halliard had walked only a short distance along the lonely forest
path when he made a startling discovery.

While he was stealthily following some one, an unknown party was
following him. His own senses were on the alert, and the young hero
caught the faint footfalls not far behind him.

“That’s more than I bargained for,” he muttered, “and now would be a
good time to have my pistol; but I haven’t got it, so what’s the use
of thinking about it.”

There was comfort in the thought, however, that the stranger who was
at his heels was unaware of the fact. Had he wished to approach
secretly, he could have stepped so softly that Dick would have heard
nothing of him.

But the sensation of being between two fires, and liable to run into
both, was so unpleasant that the lad stepped noiselessly from the path
and screened himself among the dense shadows, until the one at the
rear should pass him.

He had not long to wait when the footsteps were heard opposite, and
with the help of a partial ray of moonlight, which reached the path at
that point, he was able to discern the outlines of the party.

It was well that he was so familiar with the route, for, had he not
been, he must have betrayed himself against the overhanging limbs and
bushes, with an occasional depression in the ground, where it was
necessary to step with great care.

Had Dick not known the precise point in the dark where a small stream
wound its way across, he would have learned from an angry exclamation
of the fellow in front, who slipped and fell forward in it. A slightly
longer step than usual placed the eavesdropper on the other side, and
he continued his guarded pursuit.

The next moment brought a sharp shock to Dick, who suddenly became
aware that the footfalls in front had ceased. The fellow had stopped
walking, and seemed to be standing still, as if listening. The first
warning Dick received after he checked himself was a glimpse of his
head and shoulders just in advance.

Fearful of being detected himself, Dick instantly drew back with the
noiselessness of an Indian scout, and stood ready to retreat farther
or dart aside, as might be necessary.

“_Hulloa there!_”

The call had a gruesome sound in the solemn stillness of the woods,
and for a moment Dick was sure he was discovered. He made no answer,
and the hail was repeated, but with no more success than before.

He was convinced that the fellow was not certain any one was behind
him, but was seeking to verify a suspicion he had formed.

Failing of reply, he was quiet a moment longer, when he emitted a low
whistle, like the cry of a night bird.

This, too, had to be repeated, but was more successful than in the
former instance, for on the second call a reply came from a point
farther on, but not far off. Only a few seconds elapsed when some one
was heard approaching, and the couple quickly met in the path, not
more than twenty feet from where Dick was standing.

They began talking, but at first he could not catch the words, which
were uttered in low tones. He therefore stole a little nearer, and
heard them distinctly.

“I suppose you have become pretty well acquainted with the country?”
was the remark of Jim McGovern.

“Well, there isn’t much to get acquainted with. I went down to the
village and took a look around,” replied Wagstaff. “I thought I might
run against Bob, but he must have taken another route. I had a little
lark on my way home.”

“What was that?”

“I was passing Dick Halliard’s home, when I caught sight of his
bicycle leaning against a tree in the front yard, as if it was tired.
I thought right away of what Bob told us about that machine, and saw
it was the very chance we wanted. It couldn’t have been better. No one
was around, and I slipped through the gate, drew the bicycle out onto
the road, mounted and rode it down to the path, where, of course, I
got off and pushed it in front to this place.”

“Good!” exclaimed the delighted McGovern; “that couldn’t have happened
better. Won’t Bob be tickled! You are sure no one saw you bring it
away?”

“I won’t forget how I learned there wasn’t any one watching me.”

“How was that?”

“After I got out in the road I looked around to make sure. Nobody was
in sight, but I turned my head too far, and set the machine to
wobbling so bad that before I knew it I was over on my side, and
thought my leg was broken.”

“A cyclist must become used to taking headers; the wonder is that more
people are not killed. Tom, I want you to do me the favor of letting
me ruin that machine.”

“I don’t know that I have any objection.”

“Have you fixed on a plan?” asked McGovern.

“I haven’t had time to think. How would it do to blow it up with
dynamite?”

“Too risky for the rest of us.”

“Then we can chop it into splinters and make a fire to cook our game
with.”

“The trouble there,” said McGovern, who seemed to be quite cautious,
“is that there is very little if any woodwork about it; it’s nearly
all metal.”

“Let’s dig a hole in the ground and bury it.”

“That takes too much work; you know we’ve all sworn off labor for the
rest of our lives, and we wouldn’t dare hire anybody, for that would
be a dead give away.”

“I have it; we’ll run it into the mill-pond. The water is forty feet
deep, and nobody would ever think of looking there for it, and it can
be done with no trouble at all.”

“That’s the idea! It won’t take five minutes to put it where it will
never be seen again. Where is it?”

“Right up here on the edge of the mill-pond, all ready; it’s queer I
didn’t think of it myself. But since you feel as you do, why, I’m
agreeable.”

The couple moved along the path, and directly behind them stole Dick
Halliard. He had overheard every word that we have recorded, and he
was nearly beside himself with anger.

“So you mean to run my bicycle in the mill-pond, do you?” he muttered
between his set teeth; “look out if, instead of running it into the
water, that you two don’t get run in yourselves!”

It was an extensive contract for the single youth to checkmate these
fellows, but that was precisely what he had determined to do!



CHAPTER XVII

A BRAVE EXPLOIT


The danger with Dick Halliard was, that his anger was likely to
overmaster his judgment, and lead him to attempt something that would
cause his own disastrous overthrow.

The knowledge that the young man had just asked the privilege of
destroying his bicycle was exasperating to a degree, but he might have
reflected that, since the method chosen was by sinking it in the
mill-pond, he had only to wait and watch where the submersion took
place, when it could be readily recovered without injury.

“I won’t stand it,” muttered the wrathful lad, stealing after them;
“if they undertake that business somebody is going to get hurt.”

It was but a short distance to the pond. Dick was walking dangerously
near the couple, who were liable at any moment to turn and discover
him. He saw the gleam of the water in the faint moonlight, but just
before the pond was reached the path divided. While one encircled the
extensive sheet of water, the other turned to the left, and led
farther into the woods and among the mountainous regions beyond.

It was as this point the pair stopped for a moment and exchanged a few
words. The youth who had stolen the bicycle was the first to speak.

“Jim, you’re so anxious to drown the wheel, and I’m willing, but
there’s no need of waiting to see you do it.”

“What’s your hurry, Tom?”

“I’m anxious to see how Bob made out. I’ll turn off the path right
here and go to camp; you’ll be along in a few minutes, and if
everything is right, Bob ought to be there very soon, if he hasn’t
arrived before this.”

The matter was of no moment, and, as his companion took the path
leading deeper into the woods, Jim kept on in the direction of the
mill-pond, where the bicycle was leaning against a tree near the edge
of the water.

This little circumstance, however, encouraged the angry Dick, for he
now had but one person to contend with, though the second was near at
hand.

Jim, as he had been called, spent several minutes in searching for the
bicycle, though he was close to it all the time. This, too, was
fortunate, since Tom was walking rapidly away and was likely soon to
be beyond call.

“Ah, here it is!” muttered Jim, a moment later, “I thought Tom was
fooling me, but I’ll soon fix it now.”

He took hold of the wheel, and as it assumed the perpendicular, began
shoving it toward the water. The path was so narrow that some
difficulty was caused, and Dick heard him muttering angrily to himself
again.

“_I guess you had better drop that!_”

Dick uttered the words in the most guttural bass he could assume, and
they were startling enough in the gloomy stillness of the place.

Jim was on the very edge of the pond at the moment, balancing the
bicycle, and about to shove it out into the deep water at his feet,
where it would instantly drop from sight. The hiss of a serpent
beneath his feet could not have given him a greater shock.

He turned so abruptly that the machine fell over on its side with the
rim touching the pond, which just there was at its deepest. Seeing a
figure advancing from the darkness, he recoiled a step and faced the
intruder.

In his fright he stepped a few inches too far and fell backward with a
loud splash.

“It would serve you right if you were half drowned,” said Dick, moving
forward to pick up his wheel.

He had it erect in a twinkling, and started to push it along the path,
when the terrified Jim shouted:

“Help! help! I can’t swim! I’m drowning!”

This put a new and serious face on the business. Dick let his bicycle
tumble sideways again and ran to the edge of the pond to give help to
the unfortunate youth.

As has been stated the water at this part of the mill-pond was deeper
than anywhere else. The instant Jim went off the land, he was where a
twenty-foot pole would not have reached bottom. Furthermore, he told
the truth when he called that he could not swim. He was unable to
sustain himself for a single stroke.

Quick as was Dick Halliard in dashing over the brief intervening
space, he saw the head of the fellow disappear under the surface, the
disturbed waters bubbling over him.

But he knew he would come up again, and hurriedly looked around for a
pole or stick to extend to him. None was within reach and the seconds
were of too momentous value to allow him a further hunt.

Knowing the endangered youth was in a panic, Dick now strove to reach
him without leaving the land. Remembering where he had gone down, he
essayed to step as far out from the edge as he could, in the hope that
he might give him his hand.

But, familiar as he was with the big mill-pond and its surroundings,
he forgot that the shore at that place went downward as sheer as the
side of a stone wall.

As a consequence, the instant he bore the least weight on the extended
foot, down he went with a force that carried him below the surface.

But Dick was one of the most skillful of swimmers, and though the
water was chilly, he came up like a duck.

He was so prompt in doing this that he and Jim rose simultaneously,
and within arm’s length of each other.

“Keep still! don’t move, and I’ll take you ashore!”

He might as well have appealed to the whirlwind. The instant he
grasped the hair of the big fellow the latter turned and flung both
arms about his neck, and despite all his rescuer could do the two
disappeared again.

The young rescuer knew that unless the desperate lock was broken both
must drown, and the coolness with which he decided on the right and
only thing to do and did it, was one of the most striking exhibitions
our hero ever gave, or, for that matter, that any one could have
given.

While holding his breath below, the death-lock of the drowning youth
was slightly relaxed, but not sufficiently for his hold to be
released. Our body is slightly less in specific gravity than water,
and, aided by the exertions of Dick, the two quickly rose to the
surface again.

The crisis came the instant they readied fresh air. It was then the
drowning Jim would strive fiercely to gather his rescuer closer to
him, and nothing less than the power of Hercules could shake him off.
Dick knew it and acted accordingly.

At the moment he gasped for breath he let drive with his right fist,
landing directly between Jim’s eyes. It was the strongest blow Dick
could deliver, and like a flash he repeated it.

It did the business. Poor Jim was in a dazed condition already. The
two blows of Dick stunned him and he became a dead weight on his
rescuer.

Fortunately for the latter they were close to shore, else his attempt
to save the other might have resulted most seriously to himself. The
larger boy was likely to recover from the stunning blow in a few
seconds, and the instant he did so would become frantic again, while
Dick’s strength must speedily succumb.

The cry of the drowning youth rang through the wood and reached the
ears of Tom Wagstaff, who dashed back to learn what it meant. At the
moment he arrived Dick had reached one hand up on the planking which
ran along the edge of the pond, and, with his other arm under the
shoulders of Jim, kept his head in the air, but was unable to help him
further until he should recover his senses.

Dick knew who the second party was that suddenly appeared on the
margin.

“He’s all right,” he said, alluding to Jim; “reach down and give him
your hand; he’s coming to.”

The hand grasped by Tom was limp at first, but it suddenly gripped the
other with desperate force, and putting forth all his power, Tom gave
a pull which dragged out the half-drowned Jim, and stretched him on
his face, where he showed signs of speedily recovering his bewildered
senses.

“How did this happen?” asked the puzzled Tom, looking at Dick as he
emerged from the water.

“He was about to push my bicycle that you stole into the pond, when he
fell in himself; he called out that he couldn’t swim, so I jumped in
after him; and now, if you have no objection, I’ll take my wheel
home.”

As he spoke he advanced to where the bicycle was lying, stood it up,
and moved down the path.

And as for Jim and Tom they spake never a word.



CHAPTER XVIII

AN ACT OF FORGETFULNESS


It would be supposed that common gratitude would have filled the heart
of Jim McGovern after his rescue from death by the very lad whom he
had sought to injure, but when he returned to the tent, changed his
draggled garments, helped himself to strong spirits and began puffing
a cigarette, he was angered at seeing the smile on the face of his
companion.

“What’s the matter with you?” he growled.

“Nothing, only I think you and I ought to learn how to swim.”

“I don’t see any need of it,” replied Jim, who was in a savage humor.

“Then you won’t have to yell for Dick Halliard to help you out when
you tumble into the mill-pond.”

“He didn’t help me out; what are you talking about?” “He said so, and
you didn’t deny it.”

“It was _me_ that helped _him_ out,” was the unblushing
response of young McGovern, growing angrier every minute; “and I’m
going to get even with him.”

“Get even for what? For helping him out?”

“For lying about me; I don’t allow any chap to do that.”

“How are you going to do it, Jim?” asked Tom, glad of a chance to
tantalize his companion.

“Why, how do you suppose? I’ll lay for him.”

“Ah, that reminds me!” said his companion; “I forgot it until this
minute.”

“What’s that?”

“Why, when Bob started out this evening, he said he was going to do
that very thing—lay for young Halliard.”

“What’s _he_ got against him?” demanded Jim, resenting the idea
that any one should rob him of his anticipated pleasure.

“You heard what he said last night; Halliard holds himself so much
better than he that he feels it his duty to bring him down a peg or
two; he told me that while you and I took a stroll wherever we chose,
he would go down to Piketon to get some things at the store and before
he came back would fix Halliard.”

“I wonder if he did it before Halliard pulled me out of the pond—I
mean before I pulled him out.”

“If he did, it couldn’t have amounted to much, for he didn’t act like
a chap suffering harm. No, it must be that Bob has missed him; but
he’s likely to catch him on the way back. It’s so late that Bob must
be coming home, and he’ll be sure to meet the young gentleman and will
give him a laying-out that he will remember for years.”

Jim smoked a few minutes in silence. It is a principle of human nature
that if we do another a kindness we are apt to feel more friendly
disposed toward him than before, while the one receiving the favor is
inclined to resent it. His gratitude may overmaster this mean emotion,
but there is something in the thought of being under obligations to
another which is unpleasant, and results in stirring up emotions that
are no credit to us.

Jim McGovern could not forget that he was trying to injure an innocent
person when that person saved him from drowning. Had he not been thus
engaged, probably he might not have felt so ugly toward him. But his
situation was so humiliating, considered in all aspects, that he
looked upon Dick Halliard with more dislike than upon his bitterest
enemy.

“Tom,” said he, rising to his feet and flinging away the remnant of a
cigarette, “I aint going to stand it.”

“You are standing it this minute after sitting all the evening.”

“Stop trying to be funny; I’m going after that Halliard.”

“When—to-morrow?”

“No, to-night; right away.”

“Nonsense, it is very late; wait until to-morrow.”

“I can’t do it; I’m mad clear through; I’m off!”

He started toward the opening, but Tom sprang up and caught his arm.

“If you are bent on going take your weapons with you. There’s no
telling how badly you’ll need ’em.”

“No; I don’t intend to shoot anybody, but I mean to give that fellow
the biggest whipping of his life.”

“How are you going to manage it?”

“I can’t stop to explain. I’ll tell you when I come back;” and,
without saying anything more, the wrathful Ranger strode toward the
mill-pond, where he took the main path leading to the highway. As he
saw the gleam of the water he shuddered to recall how near he came to
death; but his evil nature had no room at that time for the sweet,
tender emotions that should have filled him.

At the moment of leaving camp he had fixed upon no clear method of
procedure, and he gave his meditations now to the best plan for
punishing his preserver.

“It’s easy enough,” he added, after walking a short way; “I’ll go to
the door and knock, and if it isn’t young Halliard that opens it, I’ll
ask for him, saying I must see him on something important. Then, when
I get him outside, I’ll jump on him. I can do him up before anybody
comes to his help. If he’s the first one to show himself, it’ll be all
the better.”

Bob had pointed out the modest little home of Dick Halliard that day,
while the three Piketon Rangers were returning from their call at
their leader’s house. Consequently McGovern had no trouble in finding
the place. He was surprised to observe the twinkle of a light from an
upper window, which he accepted as proof that Dick was in the act of
retiring.

I wonder whether, if he had known it was the light burning in the sick
chamber of his preserver’s parent, it would have restrained him from
pushing on with his scheme of revenge. I fear not.

Standing in front of the gate the Ranger spent several minutes in
making what might be called a reconnoissance.

So far as he could discover everything was silent and no one was
astir. It was the only house in sight, and the lamp, showing through
the curtain, was the solitary sign of wakefulness in Dick Halliard’s
home. No shadows passed in front of the light, and he wondered why it
was that all was so strangely quiet.

But the impressiveness of the hour did not deter the evil youth from
carrying out his purpose. He softly opened the gate and moved as
stealthily as a burglar along the short path leading to the front
door.

Here he paused a few seconds to make sure his plan would work
perfectly.

“When he shows himself, I’ll step back and ask him to come outside, as
I don’t want any one to hear me. I’ll get him to shut the door and
leave the porch; then when I’ve got him where I want him, I’ll let him
have a half-dozen right and left-handers, and run as hard I can down
the road. Nobody round here knows me and he won’t get a good look at
my face. If he does and makes a kick over it, I’ll prove an alibi.”

Nothing seemed amiss, and the expectant McGovern reached up his hand
to sound the old-fashioned knocker.

“More than likely it will be young Halliard himself that will come to
the door—gracious! I never thought of that!”

At that moment Bowser, the big bull-dog belonging to Dick Halliard,
having heard a slight noise in front, came trotting around the corner
of the house to see whether there were any tramps for him to devour.

Had Jim kept his place he would not have been molested, for Bowser was
too well trained to harm any one calling in the right way, and whose
appearance was not against him. But the instant the youth caught sight
of the ferocious canine, he did the very worst thing possible—he
started to run.

Bowser accepted this as proof that he was there on wrong business, and
he dashed after him like a runaway engine. Before Jim could open and
pass through the gate, the dog was nipping at the calves of his legs
with a vigor that compelled the terrified youth to yell at the top of
his voice.

Dick Halliard heard the shout, and, springing from his bed, threw up
the window and called to the animal to forbear. Bowser disliked to
obey, for he was just getting fairly at work; but he came trotting
back with his head down and a reproachful glance at his young master,
for having interfered at such an unlucky time for him.

Inasmuch as it is impossible to do justice to Jim McGovern’s feelings,
while making his way back to the tent in the woods, we will not
attempt to do so. Silence is the more eloquent under such
circumstances.



CHAPTER XIX

AN ERROR OF JUDGMENT


Had Jim McGovern taken another course when starting out on the
war-path, he would not have met such overwhelming disaster, for he
would have encountered Bob Budd returning from an experience hardly
less stirring than his own; but the two followed different routes and
did not see each other until they met in camp, after both had been
through their experience and the night was well advanced.

Reaching the highway, Dick mounted his bicycle and continued his
journey homeward at an easy pace. There was a faint moon in the sky,
and now and then the wind blew fitfully among the tree branches, but
he was in good spirits. The words of the physician concerning his
father encouraged him greatly, and he was happy over the unexpected
manner in which he had recovered his bicycle. Mr. Hunter had notified
him that day, that, on the first of the following month, his wages
would be increased, and that so long as he showed the same devotion to
his interests, he might count upon a yearly repetition of the favor.

“I’m luckier than I deserve,” he reflected, as he skimmed over the
highway, “for I was able to attend school until I graduated, and Mr.
Hunter, who was one of the trustees, told me that afternoon that he
had had his eye on me for several years and wanted me. Well, I have
tried to do as father and mother taught me when I was a little fellow,
and I’ve no doubt that that’s the reason for it all. I can’t
understand how any one can show the meanness of Bob Budd and those
boys he has with him. There was no earthly excuse for stealing my
bicycle—Hello! there’s some one in the road yonder.”

He was approaching a clump of trees where the shadows were so thick
that he could not see distinctly, but he was certain he observed a
figure step back as if to avoid being noticed.

Dick gently applied the brake to his wheel and hesitated whether to go
on or not. He recalled that he had heard rumors of robbery and
attempts at burglary in the neighborhood within the past week. Indeed,
there were signs discovered that very morning that proved an effort
had been made to pry open one of the shutters of Mr. Hunter’s store;
but the marauders were scared off by the dog that was kept on duty
every night.

Suppose one of these criminals had located himself alongside the road
for the purpose of robbing passers-by!

“He wouldn’t get much from _me_” reflected Dick, who had less
than a single dollar in change with him, “but, all the same, I don’t
fancy being stopped by him. He might shoot me because of his
disappointment. Maybe he thinks I am like some other clerks, who make
a practice of robbing their employers.”

By this time the bicycle was hardly moving, the headway being just
sufficient to enable him to keep his poise. He peered intently
forward, ready to turn and speed down the road on the first sign of
danger; but if a person was skulking among the trees, he took good
care to keep out of sight, and whether or not Dick was mistaken could
be learned only by going forward.

He was thinking fast. If he wished to reach home, where his parents
were expecting him, this was the only road, unless he went back to
town and made a circuit of eight or ten miles, a proceeding not to be
thought of when he was already within a half-mile of his own door.

True, he might adopt another method. He could return until beyond
sight of the rogue, whoever he was, leave his bicycle at the roadside,
and then cut across lots on foot.

But Dick was a plucky youth, and could not bear the thought of fleeing
from danger whose nature he did not understand.

“No, I’ll go ahead,” he muttered, compressing his lips, as he removed
the brake and began gradually increasing his speed. “If he stops me,
why, there’ll be a fight, that’s all!”

His plan was to “put on all steam” and dash through the gloomy space,
which was only a few rods in extent. By doing so he counted upon
surprising any enemy that might be lurking there and getting beyond
his reach before he could interpose.

There was but one difficulty in the way. He had already approached so
near the clump of trees that he could not well obtain the necessary
speed. But he could try, and try he did.

The muscular legs bore down hard on the pedals, and the big wheel
began increasing its swift revolutions, but the pace was hardly
one-half what it would have been had he possessed a few more rods in
which to set things humming.

Dick Halliard had good cause for his misgivings. There was an
individual among the shadow of the trees, waiting, like a spider, for
a victim to come within his net.

At the moment of gliding into the shadow the youth saw him. He was
standing in the middle of the road, directly in his path.

“Out of the way, or I’ll run you down!” shouted Dick, aiming
apparently at him, but making a sharp turn to the left.

“Try it, if you dare!” called the stranger in a gruff voice.

“What do you want?” demanded Dick, bending all his efforts to the task
of flanking the fellow.

“I want _you_!” was the startling reply; “get down off of that
wheel before I fetch you down!”

Whoever the fellow was he kept in Dick’s path so persistently, that
despite all he could do he could not prevent a collision. The bicycle
fell with a resounding bang on its side, and the rider was compelled
to make a dexterous leap to save himself from going down with it.

One of the most noticeable traits about the sinewy Dick was his
quickness of resource and presence of mind. While he suspected the
identity of the party who had thus stopped him, he was in doubt until
the last words were spoken. Then the young man in his excitement
forgot to disguise his tones. It was Bob Budd, who had taken this
occasion to carry out the threat he had made so often in the presence
of others.

Dick could not believe the bully meant to use any weapon, but intended
simply to chastise him. He meant to give the boy an unmerciful
beating.

It was this certainty that inspired Dick to assail him with all the
energy at his command.

The instant he was freed from his wheel, and, without uttering the
first word of warning, Dick let fly with both fists, in such sharp and
quick succession that the dazed bully went over on his back, as if
smitten by the hoof of a mule.

“I know you, Bob Budd!” said the younger youth, whose anger was at a
high point, “and you have been threatening me a long time; now we’ll
settle the business for good.”

“I aint Bob Budd, either,” replied that worthy, climbing to his feet.
Then seeing the absurdity of the situation, he added, desperately:

“Yes, I am Bob Budd, and I have a big account to square with you.”

“This is the time,” said Dick, who, impatient at his slowness, started
to assail him the moment he got on his feet.

“Hold on,” protested Bob, “can’t you wait till a fellow is up? Why
don’t you fight fair?”

“I’m holding on,” returned Dick, edging round into the moonlight where
he could observe every movement of his antagonist; “but I’m tired of
waiting for you.”

“I’m coming; you needn’t worry.”

But the vigorous reception of the younger lad had taught the bully to
be careful. While he was as confident as the other Piketon Ranger of
his ability to “do him up,” he saw the need of going about it
carefully. He threw out his arms in the most approved style, and, as
Dick slowly retreated a few steps, followed under the belief that he
was becoming timid and that the blows struck a moment before were of a
chance nature.

But the younger now had the elder in the moonlight, where he could see
every movement distinctly. He bounded at Bob again with such fierce
quickness that the big fellow was once more prostrate ere he could
strike or parry a blow.

“I guess that’s enough,” said Dick, “but if you are not satisfied I’ll
wait.”

“I’m not through with you yet,” replied Bob, who was now in a white
heat of anger; so much so indeed that he hastily drew the loaded
revolver that he carried at all times. He had lost his self-command
and was determined to punish Dick Halliard, who had turned the tables
upon him with such vengeance.



CHAPTER XX

THE BAYING OF A HOUND


Dick Halliard caught the gleam of the pistol in the hands of the
enraged Bob Budd, but before he could bring it into play the younger
lifted up his bicycle, ran it swiftly a few paces, sprang up behind,
and set his legs to work with desperate energy.

As he did so he remembered he was still in danger. He leaned as far
ahead as he could, like a frontier scout trying to avoid the shots of
a party of Indians. It was well he took the precaution, for Bob was so
beside himself with wrath that he deliberately pointed the weapon at
the fast-disappearing fugitive, and let fly with three chambers as
fast as he could discharge them. It was not his fault that the bullets
sped wide of the mark, for he tried hard to hit the lad that had
handled him so roughly.

Dick glanced over his shoulder, and as he caught sight of the dim
figure in the moonlight he said, with a smile:

“Bob wouldn’t have used his pistol if he wasn’t beside himself with
rage; any way, I think he and the rest of them will let me alone after
this.”

Bob Budd stood a full minute after the bicyclist vanished in the
gloom. By that time his anger gave way to a feeling of alarm, as he
reflected on what he had done, or rather tried to do.

He had stopped Dick Halliard on the highway; he had attacked him
without cause, and when he was fleeing had discharged his pistol at
him, doing so with the intention of hitting him with each cartridge.
If Dick chose to prosecute him, what could keep him out of State
prison?

The thought was a startling one, and did not contribute to the
Ranger’s comfort as he picked his way homeward, where, after a time,
he was joined by Jim McGovern, returning from his equally marked
failure to “even up” matters with Dick Halliard.

You may be certain that neither Bob nor Jim had anything truthful to
tell about their meeting with the young man. McGovern stated that he
lost his way, and, finding the hour was so late, decided to put off
his revenge until a more favorable time. He took care to keep the
marks of Bowser’s teeth from the sight of the others, and he was
therefore vexed by no annoying questions.

Bob explained that he had been looking for Dick Halliard, and wondered
that he did not meet him. The news given by his brother Rangers showed
that the doomed youth was elsewhere that evening, which, the bully
added, was mighty lucky for him.

When Wagstaff commented on the bruised appearance of Bob’s face, he
replied that he ran against the trunk of a tree in the woods, and then
he hastened to change the conversation.

“To-morrow we shall have our hunt, boys,” he said, with glowing face,
“and here’s success to it!”

The others eagerly joined in the toast, for the reason that they never
refused to join in any toast presented.

“You think we’re going to have good weather?” remarked Tom.

“There’s no doubt of it. I asked old Swipes, Carter, and the prophets,
and they all agree that the weather will be prime for several days to
come.”

“If that’s to be the case, the best thing for us to do is to sleep
while we can, so as to be up early in the morning.”

The suggestion was so eminently wise that it was adopted without
further delay.

The following morning was one after a hunter’s own heart. The air was
crisp and cool, but not sufficiently so to be chilly, nor was it mild
enough to render oppressive the slight exertion of walking.

It was too early in the autumn for many of the leaves to fall from the
trees, so that in most places a hunter could see but a short distance
in advance when picking his way through the woods.

The Piketon Rangers were not accustomed to rise with the sun, and
having retired quite late the preceding night, did not rouse
themselves as early as was their intention. But their minds were so
fixed on the expected enjoyment of the hunt that they willingly put
forth the extra exertion needed.

They were in high spirits, for everything was promising, and the
bracing air produced its effect upon them.

“I don’t think there will be any need of our pistols,” remarked
Wagstaff, doubtingly, when they were ready to start.

“I generally carry mine at all times,” replied Bob Budd, “but we have
got to do some mountain climbing, and will be likely to find them in
the way. I guess we had better leave them.”

This settled the question, and the three smaller weapons were hidden
within the tent, in a hollow which Bob’s ingenuity had fashioned, and
where the valuables were not likely to be found by any prowlers in the
neighborhood.

The rifles which Jim and Tom had brought from home were left at Bob’s
house, and he furnished each with a double-barreled shot gun, as the
kind of weapon most likely to be needed, though it seemed to the city
youths that the others were just what was wanted in the event of
meeting bears or deer. They had cause to regret their choice sooner
than they anticipated.

Not the least enthusiastic member of the party was Bob Budd’s hound
Hero, that had all a trained animal’s enjoyment of the hunt, and who
received so few chances of taking part in the sport that his appetite
was at the keenest point.

He darted ahead of the campers, running at his highest speed for a
half-mile in sheer wantonness of spirits, then darting off at right
angles, and finally trotting back to his friends, as if wondering why
they did not make greater haste.

Several times his baying roused the belief on the part of Jim and Tom
that he had struck the trail of some animal, but Bob, who had been out
with him before, shook his head.

“He lets out a peculiar cry when he takes the scent; I’ll know it the
minute I hear it.”

“But what makes him yelp _now_, when there isn’t any game?” asked
Jim.

“Because he can’t help it, just as we sing and shout when we feel
happy and merry.”

“There he goes! _That_ means something!” exclaimed Tom, coming to
an abrupt halt to listen to the baying of the hound, a considerable
distance ahead.

But Bob again shook his head.

“Wild animals aint so plenty that they can be scared up as quick as
all that; we must get further up the mountain before we can look for
anything worth shooting.”

When Bob was a small boy he had accompanied his uncle on several
hunting expeditions in this part of the world, and he held a bright
recollection of the occasion.

Many years before deer and bears had been plentiful, and he remembered
that his uncle described how the hunt for a deer should be managed
among the mountainous section to the rear of their camp.

That knowledge promised to be of great help to Bob, now that, after
the lapse of so long a time, he had started to hunt over the same
ground.

The course of the party was steadily ascending, and since there were
many rocks and considerable tangled undergrowth in their way, it was
not long before they felt the result of the unusual exertion.

“Great Cæsar!” exclaimed Tom Wagstaff, dropping down on a log and
panting hard; “this is like a good many other things which don’t give
half as much fun as we expect. Bob, where’s that flask?”

The others were also glad to sit down for a brief rest, and Bob lost
no time in producing the required article, which was applied to the
lips of each in turn with the bottom pointed toward the sky, and a
part of the fiery contents gurgled down their throats.

“Of course it’s tiresome, because it’s all the way up up-hill,” said
Bob, who took of his hat and fanned his flushed face; “but we’ll soon
get as high as we want to go, and then it’ll be plain sailing.”

“It’s easy enough to come down-hill, provided it aint too steep.”

“If it gets that way, all a fellow has to do is to lie down and roll,”
said Bob; “but I’m hopeful that Hero will start some animal before we
go much further.”

The three listened, but though the hound was absent nothing was heard
from him. He evidently was making a “still hunt,” but the moment he
struck a scent he was sure to let the young hunters know.

Whether or not they did their part, there could be no doubt that the
canine would perform his in a creditable manner, for he had been
trained by competent hands that fully understood how to teach so
sagacious an animal.

Having rested themselves, the party pushed up the mountain-side, until
they reached a sort of plateau or table-land, beyond which it was not
necessary to climb further.

By this time the three were pretty well tired out again, and once more
an appeal was made to the stuff in the flask, without which the
hunters felt they could not get along.

Then they indulged in several cigarettes apiece, that and the drink of
alcohol being the worst preparation possible for the sport in which
they were engaged.

“Now,” said Bob Budd, “we have only to wait here until Hero starts the
game for us.”

“Will it come up in front of us to be shot?” was the natural inquiry
of Tom Wagstaff.

“I shouldn’t have said that ‘we’ are to wait here, but one of us,” Bob
hastened to explain. “You’ve noticed that we have been following a
path all the way to this point. Well, it keeps on over the mountain
and down the other side.”

“Who made the path?”

“It is a hundred years old, if not older, and was made by wild animals
that came down the mountain to drink from the stream that makes the
mill-pond near our camp. The path branches off into three forks a
quarter of a mile up the mountain, each of the three having been used
by deer, bears, and other wild beasts that used to be so plentiful in
these parts.”

“Where are the other paths?”

“This is the middle one; about two hundred yards to the left is the
second, and not quite so far to the right is the third; now, if Hero
starts any game he is sure to take one of these paths in his flight.”

“But suppose the animal is on the other side of Hero,” said Jim, “that
is to say, suppose the dog is between us and him?”

“Then he will run the other way, but there’s where Hero will show his
training. He knows as much about hunting as we do.”

If Bob had said that the canine knew a great deal more he would have
told the truth.

“If Hero should strike the scent of a deer or bear he would know in a
minute whether he was closer to us than the game, and if the dog was
the closer, he would not bay until he had circled around and got on
the other side, for he knows that if he didn’t do so the beast would
run _away_ instead of _toward_ us, and his business is to
drive him down within our reach.”

Tom and Jim were filled with admiration of the brute, whose knowledge
of sporting matters was so extensive.

“I had no idea a pup could be trained to such a fine point,” remarked
Jim, “but I suppose it is the nature of the beast.”

“When I was a sweet, innocent little boy,” said Bob, disposed to be
facetious, “I came up here with my father and Uncle Jim to hunt deer.
They left me at this spot while father went to the left and Uncle Jim
to the right. I was too small to handle a gun, and they told me if I
saw anything to yell. Well, a very queer thing happened. A buck and
doe were started, and the old fellow came trotting over this path. He
never saw me until I let out a yell like a wild-cat, when he wheeled
off to one side and dashed through the wood to where father was
waiting. He was shot without trouble, and at the same moment Uncle Jim
brought down the doe, that took the other path.”

“Do you suppose there is any likelihood of Hero starting two to-day?”

“We will be lucky if he starts one, for the animals are very scarce,
and hunters have spent several days roaming over the mountains without
getting a shot.”

“It seems to me that to make sure of our sport we should station
ourselves as you did,” said Jim; “then if the animal comes down this
side of the mountain, he will be sure to take one of the three paths,
and Tom or you or I will get a shot at him.”

“It will be time enough when we hear Hero,” replied Bob, “for he aint
likely to start a deer very near us.”

The young man’s knowledge of the sport was so much superior to that of
his companions that they naturally deferred to him in the preliminary
arrangements.

“How long ago was it that you had that famous hunt with your father
and uncle?” asked Jim McGovern.

Bob reflected a minute, and replied that it was ten years, if not
more.

“You can see that I was but a sprig of a youngster, though I was
considered unusually smart. If they had given me a gun, and I had had
a chance to kneel down and aim over the rocks, I would have brought
down that buck, for he couldn’t have offered a better target than at
the moment I scared him away.”

“Do you suppose,” asked Tom Wagstaff, “that any deer have been over
these paths within the past few weeks or months?”

By way of reply Bob stooped down and brushed away the leaves covering
the space of several feet in front, doing it with great care.

“Look!” said he to the others, who kneeled beside him.

There, sure enough, were the imprints of the small, delicate hoofs of
a deer, the marks being so distinct that there could be no mistake
about their identity.

“But they are under the leaves,” said Jim.

“Yes; under the leaves that have fallen this year, but on top of those
that fell last fall; you can see how the rotten leaves have been
pushed down in the ground by the hoofs.”

“Then how long since the deer went by?”

“It is so early in the autumn that few leaves have fallen, so I’m
satisfied the game passed within a few days, probably not more than a
week ago.”

“If _that’s_ the case,” said the gratified Jim, “there is a much
better chance than I suspected for us—”

“_Hark!_”

The peculiar cry of the hound at that moment rang out on the autumn
air sharp, clear, and distinct.

“He has struck a scent as sure as you’re born!” exclaimed Bob.



CHAPTER XXI

“HELP! HELP!”


“Take your stations,” added Bob Budd, excitedly; “we’re going to have
the tallest kind of fun; I’ll stay here, and you—”

But his friends did not wait for further directions. Tom Wagstaff
sprang up, gun in hand, and went threshing among the trees and through
the undergrowth toward the path on the left (as they faced the
mountain ridge), while Jim McGovern was equally prompt in hurrying to
the trail on the right.

Within a few seconds after the first baying of the hound fell upon
their ears Bob Budd found himself alone.

“They’re such lunkheads,” he said to himself, “that the two together
don’t know enough to hit the side of a barn ten feet off. I hope the
deer will take the middle path so that I can show them how the thing
is done, which reminds me that it is time to take another drink.”

Meanwhile the dog Hero was getting in his work in brilliant style.

The first sounds of the hound showed that he was over the mountain
crest, and within the following minute it was apparent to all that he
was approaching, his baying rapidly growing more distinct.

This confirmed what his owner had said: he had held his peace until
beyond the wild animal, so that the latter, when he awoke to the
alarming fact that the hound was after him, naturally turned in the
opposite direction, and was, therefore, coming toward the three
hunters, though, of course, it must remain undecided for a time which
trail he would take.

The baying of Hero continued at brief intervals, and drew near so fast
that each of the three hunters knew the game was sure to pass near
him, and one of them was to be favored with a shot before he was a
quarter of an hour older.

Which would it be?

“I think I’m to be the lucky chap,” reflected the delighted Tom, over
on the left, “and I’ll show Bob, who thinks he knows so much, that
some things can be done as well as others. What the mischief is the
matter with me?”

This impatient inquiry was caused by Tom’s discovery that a singular
nervousness had taken possession of him and was rapidly increasing.
The belief that a wild animal was bearing down upon him and would soon
break cover affected him as he had never been affected before.

He found himself trembling in every limb, while his teeth rattled as
though he were shaking with the ague. Angered at his weakness, he
strove desperately to overcome it, but, as is the rule at such times,
though he was able to check himself for an instant, he was powerless
to master his strange weakness.

I suppose I hardly need tell you that Tom was suffering from that
peculiar nervousness known as “buck fever.”

Experienced hunters laugh at amateurs when they see them overtaken by
the exasperating disease (if it be proper to call it that), which
never attacks them.

“Confound it!” muttered Tom, “I wonder whether Bob or Jim is affected
this way; if I don’t get better, I hope the deer won’t come in sight
of me.”

Nevertheless, it quickly became apparent that the animal had taken the
path on the left, and was approaching the impatient hunter, who had
stationed himself behind the trunk of a large oak, with his gun at
full cock, ready to let fly with both barrels the instant he saw the
chance.

Each of the trails to which I have alluded were traversed so rarely
that they showed only dimly, and were overhung by the luxuriant
undergrowth and branches growing beside them. This prevented Tom
seeing very far along the path, so that his ear gave him knowledge of
the whereabouts of the animal before the eye located him.

The youth was still striving desperately to get the mastery of the
buck fever, when he heard the crashing tread of the game, which was
advancing along the trail, and unless he wheeled aside would pass
within twenty feet of where he stood.

Suddenly a commotion was discernible among the vegetation, and the
next instant Tom caught sight of the antlers of a noble buck, who was
sailing along with such speed that the next second his shoulders and
body burst into sight.

He was running fast with that peculiar lope natural to the animal, and
no doubt was panic-stricken by the baying of the hound, not far behind
and gaining fast.

The sight of the royal game intensified Tom’s nervousness. He
compressed his lips and held his breath, with the resolve to calm his
agitation or die in the attempt.

But finding it utterly beyond his power, he deliberately stepped from
behind the tree, and when the buck was no more than fifty feet away,
and coming head on, he let fly with both barrels.

Had the animal been perched in the topmost branches of the beech-tree
on the left he would have received a mortal hurt, but as it was, he
was not touched by a single pellet of the numberless shot that were
sent hurtling and rattling among the leaves.

“Confound you!” muttered Tom, aware of his absurd failure; “I’ll club
you to death.”

And swinging the butt of his weapon over his shoulder he rushed
savagely at the beast.

In doing so, he ran into a peril of which he did not dream, for
nothing is truer than that “a deer at bay is a dangerous foe,” and he
would have been practically helpless against an assault of the animal.

Had the latter been wounded there is little doubt that he would have
lowered those beautiful antlers and charged directly at the ardent
hunter, who would have been caught in a most unpleasant dilemma; but
the fact that he was unharmed, added to the terrible baying coming
closer every minute, drove all idea of fight from the buck, which
wheeled sharply to one side and went crashing through the undergrowth
toward the path where Bob Budd was waiting for him.

Tom Wagstaff was carried away by the excitement of the moment, and
with his gun clubbed started in frantic pursuit of the fleeing game,
resolved to help bring it down, even if he could not shoot it.

He doubtless would have chased the animal a considerable distance had
the route been favorable, but beside the rocks and boulders there was
no end to the wiry, running vines, one of which wrapped itself about
his ankle in a fashion peculiar to its species, and Tom sprawled
headlong on his face, his gun flying a half-dozen feet from his hands.

Still determined to keep up the pursuit, he hastily scrambled to his
feet, and catching up the weapon, tore ahead with the same frantic
haste as before.

Unfortunately for him, however, when he fell he was partly turned
around, and his ideas were so confused that he started back over his
own trail without a suspicion of the fact, not awaking to his blunder
until too late to correct it.

In the meantime the buck was making matters lively not only for
himself, but for the other parties.

The report of Tom’s gun readied the ears of Bob and Jim as a matter of
course, since they were quite near, but Bob knew that the shot had
failed to bring down the game, since he was heard plunging through the
wood toward the path beside which Bob Budd was excitedly awaiting his
approach.

It would have been strange if Bob had not felt something of the
nervousness that had played the mischief with Tom, but it was to a
much less extent, so that he did not doubt his ability to fire as
coolly and effectively as when practicing at a target.

It is a thrilling experience even for the veteran hunter when a noble
buck breaks cover within easy gunshot, and the sight of the animal, as
his leathery sides, proud head, and spreading antlers burst upon his
vision, stirred the pulses of Bob Budd as they had not been stirred
since his encounter with the Widow Finnegan, a couple of nights
before.

“You’re my game!” he exclaimed, aiming at the animal and discharging
the two barrels in quick succession.

He did better than Tom Wagstaff, though he failed to drop the buck in
his tracks, as he expected to do.

In fact, it seems to be one of the impossibilities to kill any of the
_cervus_ species instantly—that is, so as to cause him to fall at
once, like many other animals when mortally hurt.

I once sent a bullet straight through the heart of a deer that was
running broadside past me. He kept straight on with unabated speed for
a dozen yards, when he crashed directly against the trunk of a tree
and fell all in a heap. But for the tree in his way he would have run
considerably further.

Bob lost his head very much as Tom had done a minute before, for
observing that the buck did not fall, he clubbed his gun and rushed
forward with the intention of braining him.

But from this point forward there was no parallelism in the flow of
incidents.

The buck had been slightly wounded, just enough to rouse his anger. It
is not impossible, also, that the sight of a second hunter and the
sound of the baying hound near at hand convinced him that he was
caught in close quarters and must make a fight for it.

So when Bob rushed to meet him, instead of fleeing, the buck lowered
his antlers and rushed to meet Bob.

“Jewhilakens!” exclaimed the terrified youth, “I didn’t think of
_that_!”

And wheeling about, he fled for his life.

Where to go or precisely what to do except to run was more than the
fugitive could tell.

Accordingly he sped with all the haste at his command, running, it may
be said, as never before. His terror was irrestrainable when he cast a
single glance over his shoulder and saw that the buck was in savage
pursuit.

“Fire! murder! Tom and Jim! where are you? Come to my help, quick, or
I’m a goner!” shouted Bob, dodging to the right and left like a Digger
Indian, seeking to avoid the rifle shots of a pursuing enemy; “why
don’t you help me? The buck has got me and is going to chaw me all to
pieces!”



CHAPTER XXII

HOT QUARTERS


In such critical moments events come and go with startling rapidity.

Bob Budd was never in greater peril than when fleeing from the enraged
buck that was determined to kill him. It was not only able to run much
faster than he, but he was practically powerless to defend himself,
since his gun was empty, and though he might face about and deliver
one blow, it could effect nothing in the way of slaying or checking
the animal.

In his terror the fugitive did the best thing possible without knowing
it.

He caught sight of a large oak that had been blown down by some
violent gale, the trunk near the base being against the ground, which
sloped gradually upward and away from the earth to the top, which was
fully a dozen feet high, held in place by the large limbs bent and
partly broken beneath.

Without seeing how this shelter was to prove of any help to him, he
ran desperately for it.

Fortunately it was but a short distance off, or he never would have
lived to reach it.

As it was, at the moment he gathered himself to spring upon the
sloping trunk the pursuing buck reached and gave him a lift, which
accomplished more than the fugitive wished, for instead of landing
upon the trunk, he was boosted clean over, and fell on the other side.

Striking on his hands and knees, with his gun flying a rod from him,
Bob crawled back under the tree, where he crouched in mortal terror.

The animal stopped short, and, rearing on his hind legs, brought his
front hoofs together, and banged them downward with such force that
they sank to the fetlocks into the earth.

His intention was to deliver this fearful blow upon the body of the
boy, and had he succeeded in doing so it would have gashed his body as
fatally as the downward sweep of a guillotine.

The interposition of the trunk saved Bob, but so close was the call
that the sharp hoofs grazed his clothing.

In his panic lest the infuriated beast should reach him, Bob scrambled
through so far that he passed from under the sheltering tree.

Quick to see his mistake, the buck leaped lightly over the prostrate
trunk, and, landing on the other side, again rose on his hind legs,
placed his front hoofs together and brought them down with the same
terrific force as before.

Bob’s escape this time was still narrower, for his coat was cut by the
knife-like hoofs, which shaved off several pieces of the shaggy bark.

But the young hunter kept moving and scrambled out of reach from that
side just in the nick of time.

The buck bounded over again, but Bob was quick to see his mistake, and
now shrank into the closest quarters possible, taking care that the
solid roof covered him.

Then he forced his body toward the base of the leaning tree, until the
narrowing space permitted him to go no further, and he was so
compressed that he could hardly breathe.

[Illustration: THE BUCK LEAPED LIGHTLY OVER THE PROSTRATE TRUNK]

Meanwhile he did not forget to use his lungs.

“Tom! Jim! hurry up or I’m lost! Where are you? Come, quick, I tell
you! the buck is killing me!”

The frantic appeal reached the ears it was intended for, and the two
other Piketon Rangers dashed toward the spot, though not without
misgiving, for the wild cries of their imperiled comrade warned them
of the likelihood of running into danger themselves, and neither was
ready to go to _that_ extent to save their leader.

Tom Wagstaff was the first to reach the spot, and he paused for a
moment, bewildered by the scene.

He saw the buck bounding back and forth over the tree, rising on his
hind legs and bringing down his front hoofs with vicious force,
occasionally lowering his antlers as he endeavored to force the
fugitive out of his refuge.

At the first Tom could not locate Bob, whom he expected to see
standing on his feet, braced against a tree and swinging his clubbed
gun with all the power at his command.

The frantic shouts, however, enabled him to discover his friend, and
he called back:

“Keep up courage, old fellow! I’m here, and will give the beast his
finishing touch!”

The exasperating buck fever had vanished, and Tom’s nerves were as
steady as could be wished, though he was naturally flustered by the
stirring situation.

Bringing his gun to his shoulder, he aimed directly at the beast,
which could not have offered a better target, and pulled both
triggers.

But no report followed.

“Confound it!” he muttered, “I forgot that the old thing wasn’t
loaded! Can’t you stay there, Bob, for a day or two, till I go down to
Piketon and bring forty or fifty people to pull you out?”

“No; I’ll be killed,” called back the furious Bob; “the buck will get
at me in a minute more!”

“All right—”

“No, it aint; it’s _all wrong_!” interrupted the terrified lad;
“load your gun as quick as you can and shoot him!”

“That’s what I’m trying to do—_good-bye_!”

At that juncture the buck seemed to decide there was a better chance
of reaching Tom than there was of getting at Bob, so leaving him alone
for the moment, he rushed at the former.

It was the sudden awakening to this fact which caused Tom to bid his
comrade a hasty farewell and to take to his heels.

“I don’t think an empty gun is much good to a fellow,” said Tom,
throwing it aside as he fled with great speed.

It was Tom’s extremely good fortune that when he set on his frenzied
flight he had a much better start than Bob Budd, and he knew enough to
turn it to good account.

Heading straight for the nearest tree, he ran under it, making at the
same moment the most tremendous bound of which he was capable.

This leap enabled him to grasp one of the lower limbs with both hands
and to draw himself up out of reach at the moment the buck thundered
beneath.

“I wonder whether a deer can climb a tree,” was the shuddering thought
of the fellow, as he looked downward at the animal from which he had
just had such a narrow escape; “’cause if he can, I’m in a bad box; I
wish he would go back to Bob.”

And that is precisely what the buck did do.

Quick to perceive that the second lad was beyond his reach, he wheeled
about and trotted to the fallen tree.

Poor Bob, when he perceived the animal making after Tom, thought his
relief had come, and began backing out from under the trunk of the
oak.

He had barely time to free himself from the shaggy roof, when he
looked around and saw that the buck was coming again.

“Hangnation! Why don’t he let me alone?” he growled, and, it is safe
to say, he never scrambled under shelter with such celerity in all his
life.

Quick as he was, he was not an instant too soon, for once more the
sharp hoofs came within a hair of cutting their way through his
shoulder.

But so long as he shrank into the smallest possible space beneath the
oak he was safe, though he felt anything but comfortable with the buck
making such desperate efforts to reach him.

“Where the mischief is Jim?” growled Bob, who had just cause to
complain of the dilatoriness of his companion; “why don’t he come
forward and help us out?”

Jim McGovern had not been idle. He was the only member of the Piketon
Rangers that had a loaded gun at command, and when he heard the appeal
of Bob Budd he hurried from his station to his help.

But, as I have intimated, there was no member of that precious band
that thought enough of the others to risk his life to help him, and
Jim, it may be said, felt his way.

Instead of dashing forward like Tom, who was ignorant of the
combativeness sometimes displayed by a wounded buck, he moved
cautiously until he caught sight of the respective parties without
exposing himself to the fury of the wounded animal.

Jim arrived at the moment the beast made for Tom, and the sight
alarmed him.

“What’s the use of a fellow getting killed just to do a favor for some
one that wouldn’t do as much for you?” was the thought that held the
chivalrous young man motionless, when he ought to have rushed forward
to the defense of Bob Budd.

“Great Cæsar!” muttered Jim, shrinking behind the tree which he was
using for a concealment, “I never knew that a buck was such a savage
animal; he’s worse than a royal Bengal tiger that’s been robbed of its
young ones.”

But Jim had a good double-barrelled gun in his hands, and he was so
close to the buck that it seemed to him he ought to be able to riddle
him with shot. Besides, Jim had not a particle of the buck fever which
incapacitated Tom, but which does not attack every amateur hunter.

“The best thing I can do is to climb this tree,” he added, looking
upward at the limbs, “and then if I miss, why the buck can’t get at
me, for he don’t look as though he’s built for climbing trees.”

At this juncture the buck was on the further side of the prostrate
oak, trying to root out Bob from his shelter. Since he could not reach
him with his hoofs, he seemed to believe that a vigorous use of his
antlers would accomplish his purpose.

It looked as if he was about to succeed, for one of the blunt points
gave Bob such a vigorous punch in his side that he howled with terror.

At the same moment, while staring about as best he could for the tardy
Jim, he caught sight of his white face peering around the tree behind
which he stood.

“Why don’t you shoot, Jim?” he yelled; “do you want to see me killed?
The buck is ramming his antlers into my side! The next punch he gives
me they will go clean through.”

At this instant another party arrived on the scene.



CHAPTER XXIII

A BRILLIANT SHOT


The new arrival was Hero the hound. He came on the scene with a rush
and proceeded straight to business.

He did not need to pause to take in the situation, but with a faint
whine and short yelp he bounded for the savage buck, which did not see
him until they collided. But the old fellow was game. Though he had
fled in a wild panic when the baying of the dog rang through the
woods, yet now that he was at bay he fought like a Trojan.

Realizing that it was a fight for life, he whirled about, lowered
those splendid antlers and went for the canine like a steam engine.

The dog had no wish to be bored through by such formidable weapons,
and, with a bark of fear, he leaped back, alert and watchful for a
chance to seize his victim by the throat.

Now was the time for the young hunters to put in the finishing
touches, for the buck was so occupied with his new assailant that he
could give them no attention.

Bob Budd dared not crawl from under the tree and run for his gun lying
some yards away, which would have to be re-loaded before it could be
of use to him.

But the young man was convinced that the golden opportunity for the
others had arrived, and he did not hesitate to proclaim it in tones
that could have been heard a half-mile off.

Tom Wagstaff was persuaded that he was safe so long as he remained
astride of the limb where he had perched himself with such haste when
the buck gave him a lively chase, and if he knew his own heart (as he
was confident he did) he did not mean to descend from his elevation
and run the risk of being elevated or bored by the antlers of the
vicious buck.

“By the time I can get down there and get hold of my gun he will have
the dog knocked out and then he’ll start for _me_, and where will
Ibe? No; I had enough hard work to climb up here and _I’ll
stay_.”

And so, unmindful of the reproaches and appeals of the howling Bob,
Tom continued to play the part of interested spectator.

The fight between the buck and the hound promised to be a prolonged
one, though it looked as if the fine beast would have to succumb in
the end.

Had he been able to get the dog in a corner where he could not dodge,
it is probable he might have finished him, for one terrific ramming of
those antlers would have been enough, but the agility of Hero saved
him each time. When the horny weapons were lowered and the buck made a
rush which seemed sure to impale the canine, he sprang nimbly aside
like a skillful sparrer, still on the alert for an opening.

The deer displayed an intelligence that hardly would have been
expected at such a time. He avoided rearing on his hind legs, and
trying to hew his assailant with his fore-paws, as he had sought to do
in the case of the youngsters, for such an effort on his part would
have given Hero the fatal opening he wanted. One lightning-like bound,
and his sharp teeth would have closed in the throat of the buck, and
there they would have stuck until he gasped his last breath.

Not only that, but the hound would have kept his body out of reach of
the hoofs, while, as a matter of course, the antlers would have been
powerless against such a determined assailant.

It was this fact which must have been understood by the buck, that
caused him to keep his head lowered and toward the hound, who, despite
his rapid darting hither and thither, was unable for a time to catch
him off his guard.

It was a forcible commentary on the incompetence and cowardice of the
hunters, that there were three of them, all armed and one with both
charges in his gun, and yet they dared not interfere while the
feinting and striking was going on between the dog and buck.

It must be borne in mind that what I am relating took place in an
exceedingly brief space of time.

But the contest, if such it may be called, between the two animals
might have continued indefinitely, so far as Bob Budd and Tom Wagstaff
were concerned.

The latter, as I have explained, was safely perched among the branches
of a tree, while his unloaded gun lay on the ground some distance
away, and it was certain to lie there until the struggle between Hero
and the larger animal should be settled.

Bob was equally positive that it was his duty to keep himself squeezed
beneath the trunk of the oak, though his dread of the animal caused
him to edge as many inches as he dared toward the opposite side.

As for Jim McGovern, he was in a quandary. He was as strongly resolved
as the other two to avoid any charge from the buck, reasoning that if
neither of his brother Rangers was able to stay him with their loaded
guns, it was improbable that he could do so with his single weapon.

But somehow or other he felt it incumbent upon him to make use of his
gun, which he still held in hand with its two hammers raised and the
triggers ready to be pressed.

He inclined to favor the scheme of climbing a tree, where he could
open a bombardment at his leisure and smile at the anger of the buck
that was so much interested in the hound.

But the difficulty with this plan was that of taking the weapon into
the branches with him. To make his way up the trunk, he needed the use
of all his limbs, arms as well as legs, and it was therefore out of
his power to carry a heavy gun with him.

You will understand that the same obstacle would be encountered in
grasping a limb and lifting himself upward, for a lad who drinks
whiskey and smokes cigarettes can never be enough of an athlete to
draw himself upward with a single arm.

At such times as I am describing the most sluggish brain thinks fast,
and the thoughts I have named went through the head of Jim McGovern in
a twentieth of the time taken to narrate them.

He was inclined to the theory that he ought to do _something_,
though impatient with the continued yelling of Bob.

“Now’s your chance, Jim! What are you waiting for? Shoot quick, for
he’ll soon kill the dog and then he’ll finish _me_!”

“If you’ll shut up for a minute,” shouted Jim, in reply, “I’ll shoot,
but you’re making such an infernal rumpus that I can’t take aim.”

At this hint Bob ceased his appeals and something like silence settled
over the exciting scene.

The fiery Hero saw that he would soon have the buck at his mercy, for
the animal was tiring himself out by his savage charges. Sometimes he
would lower his antlers and dash forward for twenty paces at the dog,
which deftly avoided him and saved his strength. Then the buck would
slowly fall back, all the time maintaining his defiant front and
charging again, often before he had fully recovered from his preceding
effort.

It was an interesting fact that, during the few minutes occupied by
this singular contest, each of the combatants met with a hair-breadth
escape, so to speak, from the other.

Once when the buck made his rush, Hero, in leaping backward, collided
with an obstruction on the ground which caused him to roll over and
over, and the formidable antlers touched him; but with inimitable
dexterity he regained his feet and escaped the sword-like thrust that
grazed his skin.

No escape could have been narrower, but that which the buck met within
the same minute was fully as narrow.

It may have been that Hero was a victim to some extent of the
impatience which the youths around him felt, for seeing an opportunity
he bounded like a cannon-ball from the earth at the throat of the
buck.

The latter was quick to read the meaning of the crouching figure which
left the ground before he could drop his antlers to receive him, else
it would have gone ill for the assailant, but the buck flung his head
backward just far enough to save his throat from those merciless
fangs.

When it is stated that the flesh of the deer just back of his jaws was
nipped by the same teeth which could not get a hold deep enough to be
retained, it will be admitted that the fellow could not have had a
closer call.

But these furious efforts were far more telling upon the larger animal
than upon the dog, which could not have failed to understand that he
had only to wait a brief while to have the buck at his mercy, and
those teeth, once buried in the throat of the game, would stay there,
as I have said, until the last gasp of life departed.

By and by Hero saw a better opening than before and instantly gathered
his muscles for a spring.

A few seconds previous to this crisis Jim McGovern had mastered the
idea that there was but one thing to do, and that was to take careful
aim at the buck and kill him; no quicker means of ending the danger
could be devised than that.

He had learned that a good place into which to send the charge, no
matter what the species of the animal may he, is just behind the
foreleg, where a well-aimed bullet or charge of shot fired at close
quarters, is sure to reach the seat of life.

While running his eye along the barrel the buck turned broadside
toward Jim, and thrusting one foot forward gave the very opportunity
he wanted.

Fearful that he would shift his position the next instant, Jim
discharged both barrels in quick succession.

The report was yet ringing through the woods when a rasping howl rose
on the air that made the blood of every one tingle.

“I didn’t know that deer let out such cries as that when they were
shot,” muttered Jim, lowering his gun and walking forward, “but I
s’pose I sent both charges through his heart—_great
Jewhilakens_!”

He had suddenly awakened to the fact that instead of shooting the buck
he had sent both charges into the body of the hound, just as he was in
the act of leaping at the throat of his victim.

The inevitable consequence of this blunder was that Hero lay stretched
on the ground as dead as Julius Cæsar.



CHAPTER XXIV

SUSPICIOUS FOOTPRINTS


“You blunderhead!” called Bob Budd, forgetting his own peril in his
anger, “you’ve killed Hero. I hope the buck will gore you to death.”

The triumphant animal seemed to be on the point of doing so, for he
stood with head raised, his brown sides rising and falling like a pair
of bellows from his severe exertion, looking at the young man that had
fired the shot which ended the hunting career of Hero, as if debating
with himself how best to end _his_ hunting career.

It would be putting it mildly to say that Jim McGovern was
dumbfounded. He was transfixed for an instant, and then, awaking to
his own peril, he whirled about, threw down his gun, and dashed for
the tree behind which he was standing a minute before.

Throwing both arms and legs around the trunk, as though it were a long
lost brother, he began climbing fast and furiously.

It may be wondered whether a faint glimmering of the truth did not
force itself through the brain of the buck that had had such a strange
experience.

Can it be that he felt that the lad who had fired the last shot had in
some way done him an inestimable service in removing the hound from
his path?

Probably such a conception is beyond the reach of a wild animal, but,
be that as it may, the buck, after staring a moment at the flying
figure, turned and looked at Tom Wagstaff perched in the tree, and
then gazed down at Bob Budd, who was doing his utmost to shrink into a
smaller space than ever beneath the sloping trunk of the oak. Then, as
if disgusted with the whole party, he turned about and deliberately
trotted off in the woods, showing no further concern for those with
whom he had had such a lively bout.

The wounds given by Bob Budd a short time before were so insignificant
that, though they roused the animal’s rage, they could not have caused
him any inconvenience or suffering.

Finally, when it was apparent that the buck had departed for good, Tom
Wagstaff descended from his perch in the tree, Jim McGovern slid down
to the ground, Bob Budd backed out from beneath the oak, and each one
recovering his gun, they came together in the open space where the
dead Hero lay.

It was a characteristic meeting. Bob was maddened over the loss of his
hound, while he and all three felt an unspeakable relief in knowing
that the terrible buck had withdrawn without killing them.

“Of all shooting that I ever heard of, _that_ is the worst,” said
Bob, with a sniff of disgust, pointing at the carcass of Hero.

“It was better than yours,” retorted Jim, “for it killed
_something_, while yours didn’t hurt anything.”

“I hit the buck, any way,” said Bob, sullenly.

“The buck didn’t act as though he knew it,” was the truthful comment
of Tom Wagstaff.

“I don’t see that _you_ have any chance to talk,” retorted Bob;
“for you fired both barrels at him and then yelled for us to come and
save you.”

“But you didn’t come, and I had to run out here to help you.”

“Yes; and the minute you caught sight of the buck you took to a tree.”

“I was only doing what you had done a minute before,” said Tom; “only
I had better sense than to try to crawl _under_ a tree.”

“Because you hadn’t any to crawl under, _that’s_ the only
reason.”

“There aint any of us in shape to find fault with the others, for we
have all made an exhibition that it’s lucky nobody else saw.”

“It seems to me,” said Bob, “that we don’t amount to much as hunters;
what do you suppose has become of that buck?”

“He isn’t far off, but I don’t believe it will do to hunt him.”

“Why not?”

“There _is too much danger of finding him_,” was the significant
reply of Bob.

The point of this remark was so apparent to all that they smiled and
agreed that the best thing they could do was to return to camp. They
naturally felt exhausted after their lively experience with the
animal, of whose pluck they had gained a better knowledge than ever
before.

“Suppose there had been _two_ of them,” remarked Tom, leading the
way down the mountain path.

“Then there wouldn’t have been any of us,” replied Jim, who was
walking next to him, Bob Budd bringing up the rear.

“I don’t believe there’s half so much fun in hunting as a good many
people fancy,” was the sage observation of young Wagstaff, who found
it so much easier to walk down than up the path, that he felt inclined
to discuss their recent experience.

“Well, for those that like that kind of sport, why, that’s the kind of
sport they like. As for me, I’d rather stretch out in the camp and
take things easy.”

This picture was so fascinating to the others that they hastened their
footsteps so as to reach their headquarters with the least possible
delay.

“I can’t help feeling grateful for one thing,” remarked Bob, from the
rear of the procession.

“What’s that?” asked Tom.

“That Jim shot poor Hero instead of me. I can’t understand how I
escaped, for we weren’t more than twenty feet apart, and Jim was fully
as far as that from the buck when he took such careful aim.”

“My aim was all right,” replied Jim, “but after the charge left the
gun the hound and the buck changed places. If they hadn’t moved the
game would have caught it.”

Since, as I have explained, large game was exceedingly rare in that
section of the country, and since, also, the Piketown Rangers had been
unusually favored in scaring up a fine buck on such short notice, it
would seem they had no reason to believe there was any probability of
encountering any more quadrupeds larger than a rabbit.

All the same, however, each member of the party should have seen to it
that his gun was loaded before moving from the scene of the flurry
with the buck. Such is the rule among hunters, and you will admit that
it is a good one.

Nevertheless, all were trudging down the mountain-side with empty
weapons and with never a thought of preparation for meeting any more
game.

Had the buck suddenly made his appearance nothing would have remained
for them but to take to their heels; but inasmuch as they would have
done that if their guns were ready, I don’t see that it made so much
difference after all.

A short distance farther the trio reached a tiny stream of icy cold
and clear water, which bubbled from the rocks only a short distance
away on their left.

Naturally they were athirst again, and, since all their flasks had
been exhausted long before, they were driven to the necessity of
slaking their thirst with the _aqua pura_.

This was done in the original fashion with which I am quite sure all
my boy readers are familiar. Lying on their faces they touched their
lips to the sparkling fluid, and each drank his fill.

“Ahem!” sighed Jim McGovern, drawing the back of his hand across his
mouth, “that aint so bad when you can’t get anything better.”

“Yes,” assented Bob, “when a fellow is dying with thirst he can make
out very well on that stuff, but it’s mighty thin.”

“I would hate to be obliged to stick to it,” added Tom.

And yet every one of that precious party knew in his own heart that
the ingenuity of man cannot compound a nectar to be compared in
soulful, refreshing deliciousness with the tasteless, colorless,
odorless drink of nature.

Stick to _that_, boys, and never touch a drop of the enemy which,
put in the mouth, steals away the brains and wrecks not only the body
but the immortal soul.

“I think I can go a little more of that,” said Jim, kneeling down
again and helping himself as before; “I shouldn’t wonder now that if
there was a tax put on water the same as on whiskey a good deal more
of it would be drunk.”

Tom Wagstaff was standing a few feet farther up the streamlet,
carefully scrutinizing the ground.

“What are you looking at?” asked Bob Budd.

“Aint those dents the tracks of some wild animal?” he asked, pointing
to the damp, yielding earth on the other side.

Jim and Bob stepped beside him and scrutinized the marks that so
interested their companion.

“By jingo!” exclaimed Jim, “they are the tracks of _something_,
and if they were made by a man, then he’s got the queerest feet I ever
seen on anybody.”

Bob stepped across the brook and stooped down that he might examine
the impressions more closely.

“What do you s’pose?” he asked, looking up in the faces of his
companions with a scared expression.

“We s’pose we don’t know what made the tracks.”

“But _guess_” insisted Bob, with provoking deliberation.

“An elephant?”

“No.”

“A hippopotamus?”

“Nothing of the kind.”

“How can we guess?” asked Jim, impatiently; “if you know anything
about it let us know, and if you don’t know, say so.”

“Those tracks were made by a _big black bear_!”



CHAPTER XXV

UP A TREE


“Gracious!” gasped Tom Wagstaff, “let’s run!”

“I agree with Tom,” added Jim, glancing furtively around, as though he
expected to see the dreadful beast rush out of the woods after them.

“You’re a fine set of hunters, aint you?” sneered Bob; “after coming
out to hunt game you want to run when you strike the trail of the very
creature you’re looking for.”

“I aint looking for bears,” said Tom, “I haven’t lost any.”

“And besides,” added Jim, “there isn’t any fallen tree here where we
can crawl under to get out of the way.”

“But there’s plenty of trees which you can climb—_there he comes
now_!”

Tom and Jim each glanced affrightedly around, not knowing which way to
run to escape the dreaded brute.

But it was a joke of Bob’s, and he made the woods ring with his
laughter, while, as may be supposed, the others were in no amiable
mood.

“I don’t see any fun in that sort of thing,” growled Tom.

“You may do like the boy in the fable, who shouted ‘Wolf!’ once too
often,” added Jim, ashamed of his weakness.

The next instant Tom Wagstaff shouted: “_There he comes and no
mistake!_”

Tom and Jim were standing on one side of the streamlet, facing Bob on
the other side, so that his back was turned toward the point at which
they were gazing.

The expression on the countenance of the couple was that of extreme
alarm, though such a brief time had elapsed since Bob had given them a
scare that they had not yet recovered from it.

“You’re right!” Jim added, instantly, as he and Tom wheeled and dashed
off at the top of their speed through the woods.

Bob was determined they should not fool him. He laughed again in his
hearty fashion, throwing back and shaking his head.

“You can’t come that, boys!” he called, “it’s too soon after my little
joke on you.”

“But, Bob, we aint joking,” shouted back Jim, looking over his
shoulder, but still running; “the bear is coming as sure as you are
born.”

“You can’t fool me.”

Bob had not the remotest suspicion that his friends were in earnest,
but the sight of them climbing the same tree led him to think they
were pushing their poor joke with a great deal of vigor.

At this same moment he heard a crashing and trampling among the bushes
behind him, and, checking the words on his lips, turned his head.

The bear _was_ coming!

An enormous fellow of the ordinary black species had been descried by
Tom and Jim when less than a hundred yards away, and he was advancing
straight toward the spot where the three were standing.

They were in dead earnest, therefore, when they fled, calling to Bob
the frightful news.

Had not Bob just played a joke on them he would not have doubted their
sincerity, so that in one sense his peril was a punishment for his own
misdoing.

It need not be said that the laughter on Bob Budd’s lips froze, and he
made a break after his companions, who had so much the start of him.

“Gracious!” he muttered, “I didn’t think they were in earnest; I’m a
goner this time sure.”

Nevertheless he had no thought of sitting down and waiting to be
devoured by bruin, who lumbered along in his awkward fashion, rapidly
drawing near him.

Bob’s hat went off, his gun was flung from his hand, and with one
bound he landed far beyond the edge of the streamlet and made after
his friends, throwing terrified glances over his shoulder at the
brute, which took up the pursuit as though it was the most enjoyable
sport he had had in a long time.

Once more the exasperating vines got in the way, and the
panic-stricken fugitive fell sprawling on his hands and knees,
bounding instantly to his feet and making for the tree where his
friends had secured refuge.

By this time the bear was almost upon him, so close indeed that he
reached out one of his paws to seize his victim.

No words can picture the terror of Bob Budd when he felt the long
nails scratching down his back and actually tearing his coat, but
bruin was a few inches too short, and the youth made such good time
that he struck the tree a number of paces in advance of his pursuer.

The fugitive, however, did not stop, for before he could climb the
brief distance necessary to reach the limbs, the beast would have had
him at his mercy. He therefore continued his flight, yelling in such a
delirium of fright that he really did not know what words escaped him.

“Why don’t you come down?” he called to his friends, “and give me a
chance? Let him chase _you_ awhile.”

It is unnecessary to state that neither Tom nor Jim accepted the
urgent invitation of their imperiled comrade.

“Run hard, Bob, and show him what you can do!” called back Tom, who
really thought it was all over with their leader.

This shout accomplished more than was expected. The noise led the bear
to look up the tree, where he observed the two boys perched but a
short distance above him. He seemed all at once to lose interest in
the fugitive, who continued his flight some distance farther, when,
finding his enemy was not at his heels, he sprang for a sapling, up
which he went like a monkey.

The trouble with Bob, however, was that he climbed too high. It was a
small hickory, not much thicker than his arm. This kind of wood, as
you are aware, is very elastic, and the first thing the lad knew was
that the upper part, to which he was clinging, bent so far over that
it curved like a bow, and before it stopped he had sank to within six
or eight feet of the ground.

Had the bear continued his pursuit, Bob would have been in an
unfortunate predicament; but, casting a glance behind him, he noticed
the beast had stopped under the tree supporting Tom and Jim.

Two courses were open to him, either of which would have secured his
safety.

He had time enough to drop from the sapling and take to a larger one,
up which he could have climbed and been beyond harm; or he could have
slid a little farther down the hickory, so as to allow it to right
itself, and he still would have been safe, for a bear is unable to
climb a tree so slight in diameter that his paws meet around it.

But Bob was too terrified to do either. He simply held fast, and did
the worst thing possible: he continued to shout for his companions to
come to his help.

By this means he once more attracted the notice of bruin to himself,
whereas, if he had held his peace, he would have given the whole of
his attention to the two boys in the larger tree.

The bear had reared on his haunches, seemingly with the intention of
striving to reach the lads, when he turned his head and took a look at
the one in the sapling.

Stupid as is bruin by nature, he saw that it would be easier for him
to reach the single fugitive than the others, and he proceeded to do
so.

You need not be told that Tom and Jim, like Bob, had thrown away their
guns again in their frenzied flight, through fear that they would
retard their efforts to get beyond his reach.

Poor Bob, when he found himself once more the object of the animal’s
undivided attention, felt as though he might as well let go and be
devoured at once. All the same, though, he hung fast and continued his
cries, which, had there been time, would have brought help from the
distance of a mile.

He was clinging to the sapling with both hands, and his two feet, that
were wrapped about the small trunk, only a short distance below his
shoulders. This caused the centre of his body to hang down like the
lower point of a horseshoe, the curve being sharper than that of the
bowed hickory.

Halting directly under the howling lad, the bear reared on his
haunches, reached upward with one paw and struck Bob a sharp blow. It
caused him no material damage, but set the body to swaying back and
forth. At the same time the hickory nodded, letting the lad sink a few
inches and then rising with a regular, swinging motion.

This would have ceased in a moment of itself, but for the action of
the bear, who, every time the body came within easy reach, hit it a
sharp tap with his paw, causing it to swing back and forth in a sort
of rhythmic accord with the dipping of the sapling.

[Illustration: AN AWKWARD PREDICAMENT]

It is said that some, and indeed all, animals possess a certain
waggery of disposition which shows itself on rare occasions. The bear
inflicted no injury on Bob, but the scraping of those long, sharp
claws did considerable damage to his trousers, while keeping his fears
at the boiling point.

It certainly was a grotesque scene.

There sat bruin, with his right paw raised, regularly tapping Bob,
while the latter, with his hands and feet close together, and his body
doubled up like a jack-knife, swung up and down with a steady motion,
in response to the impetus given by the brute.

Of course the latter was silent, though if he had possessed the
capacity to laugh, there can be no doubt that he would have done so,
for, aside from the ever-present peril threatening the fellow, a more
amusing sight cannot be imagined.

Even Tom and Jim, when they saw their companion was suffering no harm,
broke into mirth, which grated on the nerves of the victim of a most
unprecedented combination of circumstances.

But sooner than Jim or Tom suspected the moment came when the laugh
was “on the other side of the mouth.”



CHAPTER XXVI

HUNTING THE HUNTERS


Bob Budd played the part of pendulum to the bear for perhaps ten
minutes or less, during which he kept up his outcries, and Tom and Jim
laughed till they were in danger of falling from their perch in the
tree.

“If Bob had only known what was coming,” said Tom, “he could have had
his trousers lined with sheet iron, and then he might have joined in
the laugh too.”

“Why don’t he give the bear a kick with his foot and knock him over?
He ought to have knowed enough to climb a big tree like us.”

“Helloa! what’s up now?”

Without any apparent reason bruin at this moment dropped down on all
fours, and, leaving Bob Budd to himself, lumbered over under the
refuge of the other two fugitives.

They felt no special fear, for it seemed impossible that the animal
could do them harm.

Bob’s experience was not lost upon him. He realized the mistake he
made when he took refuge in the sapling, and he now repaired it before
the opportunity passed.

Letting go, he dropped lightly on his feet and ran for another tree
double the size of the hickory, up which he hurriedly climbed to where
the limbs put out a dozen feet above the ground.

Here, as he flung one leg over the strong support, he felt that at
last he was safe against a regiment of bears.

Meanwhile, bruin was giving attention to Messrs. James McGovern and
Thomas Wagstaff.

He first walked deliberately around the tree several times, as if
searching for some vulnerable point, occasionally looking up at the
grinning youngsters and snuffing like one impatient to secure his
dinner.

“I wonder what he means by _that_” said Jim, with a vague feeling
of alarm.

“He wants us to see what a big fellow he is.”

“He is a bouncer and no mistake,” was the truthful comment of Jim.

“I wouldn’t care if he was ten times as large—good gracious! look at
_that_!”

Well might the boys start in alarm, for at that moment the brute began
climbing the tree!

They had lost sight of the fact, if indeed they ever knew it, that the
black bear is a famous climber when the trunks are big enough to be
grasped without his paws interfering.

While Tom and Jim were congratulating themselves on being safe beyond
all possible harm, they discovered they were not safe at all.

Bruin was on the point of ascending to their perch, when he was
tempted aside by the shouting of Bob Budd in the sapling, and he went
off to have some sport with him.

Why the brute should have left Bob at the time he had him within reach
it would be hard to say. It may have been he concluded that the single
lad had afforded him enough entertainment, and the moment had come for
the other two to take a hand.

The consternation of Tom and Jim may be imagined when they saw those
massive paws embrace the shaggy bark, which began to crumble beneath
the vigorous clawing of the nails, while the huge black body slowly
but steadily ascended toward the limbs, where the white-faced
youngsters watched his terrifying action.

Bob’s turn had come to laugh, and he called out:

“Wait till he gets up among the branches, then drop and run for a tree
that is too small for him to climb.”

This was good advice perhaps, though it occurred to the boys, for whom
it was intended, that if they allowed their foe to approach that near
it would be too late for them to flee.

Bruin had not very far to ascend when his huge, pig-like head was
thrust among the limbs, and he slowly drew his ponderous body after
him.

He was now close to the fugitives, one of whom was perched above the
other, and both as far out on the branches as they could get without
breaking them.

The big, shaggy form being fairly among the limbs, at the point where
they put out from the tree, bruin paused a minute, like a general
surveying the battle plain before him.

There were the two cowering boys about a dozen feet off, apparently
without any hope of escaping his wrathful appetite. All he had to do
was to make his way out on the branches and gather them in.

It will be seen that there was some difficulty in the bear’s path,
since his weight would not allow him to advance clear to his victims,
unless he used some other limb for his support.

As ill-luck would have it, the very means required was at his command.

Directly beneath Tom and Jim was another branch, broad and strong
enough to support two large bears. It was so near the ground that the
boys used the limbs immediately above, with a view of making sure they
were beyond the reach of the biggest kind of animal on _terra
firma_.

“_Here he comes!_”

It was Tom who uttered the exclamation, and he spoke the truth, for at
that moment bruin began cautiously moving out on the heavy limb just
under them.

“It’s a good time to leave,” whispered Jim, who, while the words were
in his mouth, let go and dropped to the ground.

Tom was but an instant behind him, imitating him so quickly, indeed,
that he struck directly upon his shoulders.

But no harm was done, and they were instantly up and off.

It will be seen from this that the couple adopted substantially the
advice of Bob Budd, which contained more wisdom than most of his
utterances.

Like their leader, the fugitives heeded the dearly bought lesson, and,
instead of taking refuge in a large tree or sapling, they chose one of
precisely the right size, each perching himself where he was as far
beyond reach as Bob Budd himself.

The lads were given plenty of time in which to take their new
departure, since the bear, instead of leaping to the ground as they
did, picked his way back to the body of the tree, and slid down that
to the earth, tearing off a lot of the bark in his descent.

This required so much time that when he once more stood on solid earth
all three of the boys were out of his reach, and could afford to laugh
at his anger.

Halting a short distance from the tree, bruin looked at the boys in
turn with such an odd expression that they laughed.

Gradually the idea appeared to work itself into the thick brain of the
animal that there was nothing to be made by remaining in that
particular part of the country, though his reluctance to leave caused
no little misgiving on the part of all three of the youths.

If he should decide to stay until the party were compelled to choose
between starving to death and coming down, the situation, to say the
least, would have its inconveniences.

“There he goes!” exclaimed Jim, a quarter of an hour after this
possible complication had been discussed by the youngsters from their
different perches.

The bear seemed to have decided that it was useless to hang around the
neighborhood, and began moving off in his lumbering fashion. He was
attentively watched until he vanished in the dense wood.

“We’re all right _now_” called Bob.

“Maybe he is trying to fool us,” suggested Tom; “you had better stay
where you are awhile longer.”

“Who’s afraid?” defiantly called back Bob, sliding nimbly down the
sapling; “you don’t catch me running from a bear again; all I want is
a chance to get hold of my gun and load it—Jewhilakens!”

A roar of laughter broke from Jim and Tom, who at that moment caught
sight of the brute coming back at a faster rate than he had departed.

Bob was equally quick in descrying his danger, and the manner in which
he shinned up the sapling would have surprised a trained athlete, who
could not have surpassed it.

“When is the fraud going to leave?” he growled, looking down on the
intruder that had stopped directly under him; “I don’t know whether
bears are good waiters, but I hope he won’t try to keep us here more
than a week.”

Bruin went snuffing around the spot, clawing the guns curiously,
gazing up at each lad in turn, and finally starting off once more.

The boys hoped his departure was for good, but you may be sure they
did not discount it. When, however, a half-hour went by without his
being seen, all felt there was ground for hope.

It seemed safe to experiment a little, and so Bob once more slid down
the sapling, after carefully reconnoitering all the forest in his
field of vision. He held himself ready also to climb again the instant
the beast reappeared.

The boys were too frightened to attempt any jokes on each other, and
when Tom and Jim reported that bruin was not in sight, Bob believed
them.

His gun was lying not far off, and he began timidly making his way
toward it. Step by step he advanced, glancing in every direction, and
ready to dart back the instant he saw or heard anything suspicious.

Finally he stooped over and picked up the weapon. Still the bear was
invisible, and Bob hurriedly reloaded his gun, though it cannot be
claimed that he felt much more secure than before.

Thus encouraged, Tom and Jim ventured to descend from their respective
trees, and they also recovered their weapons without bringing their
enemy down upon them.

“It must be he’s gone for good,” said Jim, in a guarded undertone.

“It looks that way,” replied Tom, “and the best thing we can do is to
follow suit.”

This was the unanimous sentiment, and it was acted upon without delay.

It cannot be said that a single member of the Piketon Rangers breathed
freely until fully a half-mile from the scene of their adventure with
the bear.

The slightest noise caused them to start and gaze around with
rapidly-beating hearts; they spoke only a few words and they were in
undertones, while they paused a half-dozen times in the belief that
some stump or dark-colored boulder was the dreaded brute awaiting
their approach.

But by the time the half-mile was passed they grew more confident.
They spoke in ordinary tones, and did not start at the sound of every
rustling leaf.

“That’s the last hunt I ever make up there,” said Jim McGovern,
turning about and glaring at the mountainous slope as though it had
done him a personal injury.

“I’m with you,” replied Tom Wagstaff; “them as like to have their
brains banged out by bucks ten feet high or chawed up by bears as big
as an elephant are welcome, but not any for me.”

“I feel sort of that way myself,” assented Bob; “it’s the first time
I’ve tried it since I was a tot of a boy, but I’ve had enough to last
me for the next three hundred and eighty-five years. I hope Uncle Jim
won’t ask too many questions about Hero, because he thought a good
deal of that hound.”

“He needn’t ever know that he departed this life through a mysterious
dispensation of Providence,” replied Jim; “all that it is necessary to
learn—and I don’t know that there’s any need of _that_—is that
Hero went off on an exploring expedition and hasn’t yet returned. The
particulars of his shipwreck are unobtainable, as is often the case
with other explorers.”

“Oh! I can manage it, I’ve no doubt, for I was never yet caught in a
scrape that I couldn’t get out of,” was the cheerful response of Bob
Budd.

The day was well gone when the three reached their tent at the base of
Mount Barclay, and they were glad enough to get back again.

During their absence Aunt Ruth had sent one of the hired men, as was
her custom, with a liberal supply of delicacies, which were disposed
of in the usual vigorous style of the three, who were honest when they
agreed that they had had enough hunting of bears and deer to last them
a lifetime.

“If we could only manage the thing without so much work,” said Bob,
“we might find some fun in it; but we had to climb up that mountain,
which is three times as high as I supposed, and when the danger came,
why we hadn’t our usual strength.”

“I think we did pretty well,” replied Tom Wagstaff, “but all the same
I don’t believe it would read very well in print.”

“Who’s going to put it in print?” asked Bob; “we know too much to tell
any one about it, or, if we did, we would get it in a shape that would
do us proud.”

“Well, being as we have had all we want of hunting, the next thing
will be—what?”

“Doing nothing,” replied Wagstaff.

“We can do the next thing to that, which is just as good.”

“What’s that?” asked Bob.

“Fish; stretch out along-shore in the shade, where there’s no danger
of rolling in, or go out in a boat and wait for the fish to bite, not
caring much whether they do or not. The best thing about fishing is
that you never have to tire yourself—”

“_Hark!_”

At that moment the three heard a prodigious roar, rapidly increasing
in volume, until the air seemed to be filled with one continuous
reverberating peal of thunder.

“Heaven save us!” exclaimed Bob Budd; “the dam has burst!”

“And it is coming down on us and we can’t get out of its path!” added
white-faced Wagstaff.

He spoke the truth!



CHAPTER XXVII

A RACE FOR LIFE


Those who have been so unfortunate as to be placed in the path of an
overwhelming flood, which after slowly gathering for weeks and months
finally bursts all barriers, need not be told that the awful roar
caused by the resistless sweep can never be mistaken for anything
else.

The mill-dam, to which we have made more than one reference, had not
been erected, like that at Johnstown, to afford fishing grounds for
those who were fond of the sport, but was reared fully twenty years
before to provide water-power for a company of capitalists, who
proposed erecting a series of mills and manufactories in the valley
below. They progressed as far in their enterprise as the formation of
a substantial dam when the company collapsed, and that was the end of
their scheme.

The dam remained, with its enormous reservoir of water, which, in
summer, furnished excellent fishing and, in the winter, fine skating;
but during all that time the valuable store of power remained idle.

The sudden breakage of the dam, without apparent cause, was
unaccompanied by the appalling features which marked the great
disaster in Pennsylvania a short time since. The town of Piketon was
not in the course of the flood, nor were there any dwelling-houses
exposed to the peril with the exception of the home of a single humble
laborer.

The water became a terrific peril for a brief while, but such masses
speedily exhaust themselves, though it was fortunate indeed that the
topography of the country was so favorable that the uncontrollable
fury was confined in so narrow a space.

But the camp of the Piketon Rangers lay exactly in the course of the
flood. Bob Budd and his friends had pitched their tent there because
the spot was an inviting one in every respect, and no one had ever
dreamed of danger from the breaking of the reservoir above.

It was night when that fearful roar interrupted the conversation of
the Rangers. The young men were silent on the instant, and stared with
bated breath in each other’s faces.

“Great Heaven!” exclaimed Bob Budd, rising partly from his seat, “the
dam has burst!”

“And I can’t swim a stroke!” gasped the terrified Wagstaff.

“Nor me either!” added McGovern; “I guess the end has come, boys.”

“I can swim,” replied Bob, trembling from head to foot, “but that
won’t help me at such a time as this.”

“Are we going to stay here and be drowned?” demanded Jim, rousing
himself; “we might as well go down fighting; every one for himself!”

As he uttered this exclamation he dashed through the tent and among
the trees outside, where the rays of the moon could not penetrate, and
it was dark as Egypt.

A strong wind seemed to be blowing, though a few minutes before the
air was as still as at the close of a sultry summer afternoon. The
wind was cool. It was caused by the rush of waters through the dense
forest.

It was evident to McGovern and the rest that there was but one
possible means of escape—possibly two—and he attempted that which
first occurred to him: that was by dashing at right angles to the
course of the torrent. If he could reach ground higher than the
surface of the water, as it came careering through the wood, he would
be safe; but he and his companions knew when the awful roar broke upon
them that the waters were close, while it was a long run to the
elevated country on either side.

But if anything of the kind was to be attempted there was not a moment
to spare. One second might settle the question of life and death.

“Maybe I can make it!” was the thought that thrilled McGovern as he
began fighting his way through the wood, stumbling over bushes,
bumping against trunks, and picking his way as best he could; “it
isn’t very far to the high ground, but I have to go so blamed
slow—great thunder! my head’s sawed off!”

At that moment a stubby limb caught under the chin of the frantic
fugitive and almost lifted him off his feet. He quickly freed himself
and dashed wildly on again with feelings that must have resembled
those of the multitude fleeing from before the sweep of the
overwhelming lava.

A vine enclosed the ankle of the fugitive and he fell headlong; he was
instantly up again and collided with a tree, which he did not detect
soon enough in the gloom; at any other time McGovern would have taken
his own time in rising and vented his feelings, but he did not do so
now; his single thought was one wild, desperate hope that he might
escape.

He never exerted himself so before, for, despite the stirring
experiences through which he had passed in his short life, he had
never encountered anything like this.

Those who have hovered on the verge of death have made known that in
the few seconds when life was passing, the whole record of their
former lives has swept like a panorama before them. The events of
months and years have clustered in those few fearful moments.

Jim McGovern’s experience was somewhat similar. There were mighty few
seconds at his command, while struggling with the whole energy of his
nature to reach the rising ground beyond reach of the flood; but in
some respects that brief interval of time was as so many years to him.

How well it will be if, when we reach that supreme moment which must
come to all of us, the hasty retrospect brings us pleasure and hope
rather than remorse and despair!

There was nothing of this nature in the review that surged through the
brain of the miserable fellow. Broken promises, disobedience to
parents, wrangling, thievery, drinking—these were the scarlet tints of
the picture which memory painted for him in vivid colors.

“If you’ll only save me,” he gasped, addressing the sole One who could
rescue him, “I will stop the bad things I’ve been doing all my life,
and do my best to live right always.”

Would he never pass the boundary of this narrow valley? It had always
seemed straight to him before, but now its width was expanded not to
yards and rods, but to miles. And never were the trees so close
together or the bushes, vines, and undergrowth so dense, or his own
wind so short, or his muscles so weak.

Suddenly something cold was felt against his ankle.

He knew what it was—it was water!

The fringe of the flood had reached him. Where the bursting away was
so instantaneous and the released volume was so enormous, the flow
could not be like that of an ordinary torrent, which rises rapidly
because of the swiftly-increasing mass behind it. The awful rush at
Johnstown resembled the oncoming of a tidal wave or wall of water, so
high, so prodigious, so resistless that nothing less than the side of
a granite mountain could check it.

It would have been the same in the case we are describing, though of
course to a less degree, but for the interposing wood, which,
beginning at the very base of the dam, continued the entire length of
the valley, which was several miles in extent.

Some of these trees were uprooted as if by a cyclone, others were bent
and partly turned over, while the sturdiest, which did not stand near
the middle of the path, held their own, like giants resisting death
tugging at their vitals.

The woods also acted as a brake, so to speak, on the velocity of the
terrific rush of waters. The flow could not be stopped nor turned
aside, but it was hindered somewhat, and, as it came down the hollow,
was twisted and driven into all manner of eddies, whirlpools, and
currents, in which the most powerful swimmer was as helpless as an
infant.

“It’s no use!” panted McGovern, when he felt the cold current rising
about his ankles like the coiling of a water-snake; “I must die, and
with all my sins on my head! Heaven have mercy! do not desert me now
when a little farther and I will be saved!”

Never was a more agonized appeal made to his Creator than that by the
despairing McGovern.



CHAPTER XXVIII

A CRY FROM THE DARKNESS


Within a few seconds after McGovern felt the water about his ankles it
touched his knees. He was still able to make progress, and with the
same despairing desperation as before, struggled onward.

At the next step he went to his waist, and fell with a splash.

“I’m drowning!” he gasped; but fortunately for him he had plunged into
a small hollow, out of which he was swept the next moment, and, with
no effort on his part, flung upon his feet.

The roar was overpowering. It seemed as if he were in the appalling
swirl of Niagara, with the raging waters all around him clamoring for
his life. He grasped a limb which brushed his face, and the next step
showed that he had struck higher ground.

But the torrent was ascending faster than he. It was gaining in spite
of all he could do, but hope was not yet dead. Another step and the
water was below his waist, and he was able to make progress with the
help of his hands. When he lifted one foot it was swept to one side,
and only by throwing his full weight upon it was he able to sustain
himself.

He had now reached a point where the trees were not so near together.
While this enabled him to see something of his surroundings, it gave
the sweeping volume greater power, and he was in despair again.

But the dim light of the moon showed that at that moment the boundary
of the current was only a few paces beyond him. Could he pass that
intervening distance before it further expanded he would be safe.

Rousing his flagging energies he fought on, cheered by the view of a
figure on the margin, which had evidently caught sight of him.

“A little farther and you will be all right!” shouted the stranger,
stepping into the torrent and extending his hand.

“I can’t do it!” moaned McGovern, struggling on, but gaining no faster
than the terrible enemy against which he was fighting.

“Yes, you will! don’t give up! take my hand!”

McGovern reached out, but he was short of grasping the friendly help.
Then the brave friend stepped into the rushing torrent at the risk of
his own life, and, griping the cold hand, exerted himself with the
power of desperation, and dragged the helpless youth into the shallow
margin.

“Don’t stop!” he shouted, still pulling him forward; “we are not yet
out of danger!”

Helped by the stranger who had appeared so opportunely, the two
splashed through the flood, which seemed striving to prevent their
escape, and would drag them down in spite of themselves.

But the rescuer was cool-headed, strong, and brave, and he kept the
weak McGovern going with a speed that threatened to fling him
prostrate in spite of himself.

The ground rose more sharply than before. A few more hurried steps and
their feet touched dry land. Still a few paces farther and they were
saved.

The torrent might roar and rage, but it could not seize them. They had
eluded its wrath, like the hunter who leaps aside from the bound of
the tiger.

McGovern stood for a minute panting, limp, and so exhausted that he
could hardly keep his feet. His companion did not speak, but kept his
place beside him, curiously gazing into his countenance, and waiting
until he should fully recover before addressing him.

The youth speedily regained his self-command, and for the first time
looked in his rescuer’s face. They were now beyond the shadow of the
trees, and could discern each other’s features quite distinctly in the
favoring moonlight.

“Well!” he exclaimed, “I think you and I have met before.”

“I shouldn’t be surprised if we had,” was the reply; “you tried to
destroy my bicycle last night.”

“And you saved me from drowning in the mill-pond.”

“I believe I gave you a little help in that way.”

“And now you have saved my life again.”

“I am glad I was able to do something for you, for you seemed to be in
a bad way.”

“I should think I was! If you had been a minute later it would have
been the last of Jim McGovern, and I tell you, Dick Halliard, he was
in no shape to die.”

No person escaping death by such a close call could throw off at once
the moral effect of his rescue. The bad youth was humbled, frightened,
and repentant. He was standing in the presence of him who had twice
been the instrument of saving his life in a brief space of time, and
that, too, after McGovern had tried to do him an injury.

“I don’t know whether you can forgive me,” he said, in the meekest of
tones, “but I beg your pardon all the same.”

“I have no feeling against you,” replied Dick, “and though you sought
to do me an injury, you inflicted the most on yourself; but,” added
the young hero, starting up, “where are Bob Budd and Tom Wagstaff?”

“Heaven only knows! They must be drowned,” replied McGovern, glancing
at the raging waters so near him with a shudder, as if he still feared
they would reach and sweep him away.

“Where did you leave them? How did you become separated?”

“We were in our tent when we heard the waters coming. We felt we
couldn’t help each other, and all made a break, some in one direction
and some another. They must have been drowned, just as I would have
been but for you.”

But what could he do to help them? He was standing as near to the
torrent as he dare. It had already submerged the spot where the tent
had been erected to the depth of twenty feet at least. Bob and Tom
could not have stayed there had they wished, nor was there any means
of reaching them.

“I wish I could do something,” said Dick, as if talking with himself,
“but I see no way.”

“There is none,” added McGovern, who was speedily recovering from the
ordeal through which he had passed, “but it is too bad; I would do
anything I could for poor Bob and Tom.”

It seemed hopeless indeed, but Dick could not stand idle, knowing that
others near him might be in most imminent need of help.

“If they are alive, which I don’t believe,” said McGovern, “they must
have drifted below us by this time.”

“I agree with you,” replied Dick, moving slowly along the margin of
the torrent, which, on account of the unevenness of the ground,
encroached at times and compelled them to retreat for a brief space;
“I should think if they were alive they would call for help.”

“Did you hear _me_?” asked McGovern, looking round in the face of
his companion.

“Yes, though I happened to be quite near when the flood came, and had
to scramble myself to get out of the way—”

“Hark!” interrupted McGovern, “that was a voice!”

“So it was, and it is below us!”

As he spoke he broke into a run, with the larger youth at his heels.
They had caught a cry, but it was so smothered and brief that it was
impossible to tell the point whence it came, except that it was below
them.

“Help! help! for the love of Hiven, help!”

“That’s the voice of Terry Hurley,” said Dick, who recalled that the
Irishman lived with his family a short distance away, and in the path
of the flood. In the whirl of events young Halliard had forgotten this
man and his wife and their two little girls.

But that cry showed they were in imminent extremity, and possibly aid
might reach them in time. McGovern, since his own rescue, was as
anxious as the brave Dick to extend assistance to whomsoever were in
peril.

The calamity had come with such awful suddenness that not the least
precautionary step could be taken. It was too early for neighbors to
arrive, but all Piketon and the vicinity would be on the spot in the
course of a few hours.

A brief run brought the boys in sight of the imperiled family. The
humble home of Terry Hurley did not stand in the centre of the valley,
like the tent of the Piketon Rangers, but well up to one side. Thus it
escaped the full force of the current, which, however, was violent
enough to fill the lower story in a twinkling, and threaten to carry
the structure from its foundations.

The two little girls, Maggie and Katie, had just said their prayers at
their bedside in the upper story, and Terry was in the act of lighting
his pipe when the shock came. The husband and wife might have escaped
by dashing out of the door and fleeing, but neither thought for an
instant of doing so. Both would have preferred to perish rather than
abandon the innocent ones above them.

Calling to his wife to follow, Terry bounded up a few steps and dashed
to the bedside. At the same instant that he seized one in his arms,
his wife caught up the younger.

“Whither shall we go, Terry?” asked the distracted mother, starting to
descend the stairs.

“Not there! not there!” he called, “but to the roof!”

By standing on a chair the trap-door was easily reached and the
covering thrown back. Then he pushed Maggie through, warning her to
hold fast, and the rest would instantly join her.

Next little Katie was passed upward.

“Now,” said Terry, “I will jine the wee spalpeens and thin give ye a
lift, Delia.”

The Irishman was a powerful man, and the task thus far was of the
easiest character. He drew himself through the door on the roof, and
extending one brawny hand to his wife, was in the act of lifting her
after him, when a scream from Maggie caused him to loose his hold and
look round.

“What’s the matter wid ye, Maggie?” he asked.

“Kate has just rolled off the roof!” was the terrifying reply.



CHAPTER XXIX

A SAD DISCOVERY


The horror-stricken Terry thought no more about his wife, whom he was
in the act of lifting through the trap-door, but let go her hand,
allowing her to drop with a crash that shook the whole building.

“Where is the child?” he asked, facing the elder daughter.

“Yonder; I was trying to hold her when she slipped away and rolled
down the slope of the roof—”

But the father waited to hear no more. Just then the cry of his baby
reached his ear, and he caught a glimpse of the white clothing which
helped to buoy her up. Like an athlete, running along a spring-board
to gather momentum for his tremendous leap, he took a couple of steps
down the incline of the roof to the edge, from which he made a
tremendous bound far out in the muddy torrent.

It was the energy of desperation and the delirium of paternal
affection itself which carried him for a long way over the water, so
that when he struck, one extended arm seized the shoulder of his
child, while the other sustained both from sinking.

Poor Katie, who had been gasping for breath, now began crying, and the
sound was welcome to the parent, for it proved that she was alive. Had
she been quiet he would have believed she was drowned.

The trees which grew so thickly in the little valley served another
good purpose in addition to that already named. The most powerful
swimmer that ever lived could not make headway against such a torrent,
nor indeed hold his own for a moment.

Terry would have been quickly swept beyond sight and sound of the rest
of his family had he not grasped a strong, protruding limb by which he
checked his progress.

“Are ye there, Terry?”

It was his wife who called. She had heard the frenzied cry of the
elder girl at the moment she went downward herself with such a
resounding crash. She was as frantic as her husband, and did that
which would have been impossible at any other time. Grasping the sides
of the trap-door, she drew herself upward and through with as much
deftness as her husband a few minutes before. She asked the agonized
question at the moment her head and shoulders appeared above the roof.

“Yis, I’m here, Delia,” he called back, “and Katie is wid me.”

“Hiven be praised!” was the fervent response of the wife; “I don’t
care now if the owld shanty is knocked into smithereens.”

The speech was worthy of an Irishwoman, who never thought of her own
inevitable fate in case the catastrophe named should overtake her
dwelling while she was on the roof. She could dimly discern the
figures of her husband and child, as the former clung to the friendly
limb.

“If yer faat are risting so gintaaly on the ground,” said the wife,
who supposed for the moment he was standing on the earth and grasping
the branch to steady himself, “why doesn’t ye walk forward and jine
us?”

“If my faat are risting on the ground!” repeated Terry: “and if I were
doing the same, I would be as tall as a maating-house wid the staaple
thrown in.”

“Thin would ye loike to have us join _ye_?” persisted the wife.

“Arrah, Delia, now are ye gone clean crazy, that ye talks in that
style? Stay where ye be, and I would be thankful if I could get back
to ye, which the same I can’t do.”

The wife had been so flustered that her questions were a little mixed,
but by the time she was fairly seated on the roof, with one arm
encircling Maggie, who clung, frightened and crying, to her, she began
to realize her situation.

“Terry,” she called again, “are ye not comfortable?”

“Wal, yis,” replied the fellow, whose waggery must show itself, now
that he believed the entire family were safe from the flood, “I faals
as comfortable, thank ye, as if I was standing on me head on the top
of a barber’s pole. How is it wid yerself, me jewel?”

“I’m thankful for the blissing of our lives; but why don’t ye climb
into the traa and take a seat?”

“I will do so in a few minutes.”

There was good ground for this promise. Although Terry had been
sustaining himself only a brief while, he felt the water rising so
rapidly that the crown of his head, which was several inches below the
supporting limb, quickly touched it, and as he shifted his position
slightly it ascended still farther. While sustaining his child he
could not lift both over the branch, but, with the help of the
current, would soon be able to do so.

Requesting his wife to hold her peace for the moment, he seized the
opportunity the instant it presented itself, and with comparatively
little outlay of strength, placed himself astride the branch. This was
all well enough, provided the flood did not keep on ascending, but it
was doing that very thing, and his perch must speedily become
untenable.

His refuge, however, was a sturdy oak, whose top was fully twenty feet
above him, and, like its kind, was abundantly supplied with strong
branches, so near each other that it was not difficult for the father
to climb to a safe point, where he was confident the furious waters
could never reach him.

Having seated himself in a better position than before, he surveyed
his surroundings with some degree of composure.

“Delia,” he called, “I obsarve ye are there yit.”

“I’m thankful that yer words are the thruth, and if ye kaap on
climbing ye’ll be in the clouds by morning.”

Now, while the rising torrent had proven of great assistance in one
way to Terry and his infant child, it threatened a still graver peril
to the mother and Maggie, who remained on the roof.

The house, being of wood, was liable to be lifted from its foundations
and carried in sections down-stream. In that event it would seem that
nothing could save the couple from immediate drowning.

Neither the husband nor wife thought of this calamity until she called
out, under the stress of her new fear:

“Terry, the owld building can’t stand this.”

“What do ye maan, me darling?”

“I faal it moving under me as though its getting onaisy—oh! _we’re
afloat_!”

The exclamation was true. The little structure, after resisting the
giant tugging at it as though it were a sentient thing, yielded when
it could hold out no longer. It popped up a foot or two like a cork,
as if to recover its gravity, and the next moment started down the
torrent.

It was at this juncture that Terry uttered the despairing cry which
brought Dick Halliard and Jim McGovern hurrying to the spot on the
shore directly opposite.

But unexpected good fortune attended the shifting of the little
building from its foundations. Swinging partly around, it drifted
against the tree in which Terry had taken refuge with his child. His
wife and Maggie were so near that he could touch them with his
outstretched hand.

“Climb into the limbs,” he said, “for the owld shebang will soon go to
pieces.”

He could give little help, since he had to keep one arm about Katie,
but the wife was cool and collected, now that she fully comprehended
her danger. The projecting limbs were within convenient reach, and it
took her but a minute or two to ensconce herself beside her husband
and other child.

Quick as was the action it was not a moment too soon, for she was
hardly on her perch and safely established by the side of all that was
dear to her when the house broke into a dozen fragments, the roof
itself disintegrating, and every portion quickly vanished among the
tree-tops in the darkness.

“Helloa, Terry, are you alive?” called Dick Halliard.

“We’re all alive, Hiven be praised!” replied the Irishman, “and are
roosting among the tree-tops.”

“It will be all right with you then,” was the cheery response, “for I
don’t think the flood will rise any higher.”

“Little odds if it does, for we haven’t raiched the top story of our
new risidence yit.”

Just then a dark object struck the ground at the feet of the boys,
swinging around like a log of wood. Seeing what it was, Dick Halliard
stooped down and drew it out of the current.

“What is it?” asked McGovern, in a whisper, seeing as he spoke that it
was a human body. “Great Heavens! it is Tom Wagstaff!”

“So it is,” replied Dick, “and he is dead.”

“And so is Bobb Budd!”



CHAPTER XXX

A FRIEND INDEED


It was a shocking sight, and for a minute or two Dick Halliard and Jim
McGovern did not speak.

Tom Wagstaff had been cut off in the beginning of his lawless career,
and his dead body lay at the feet of his former companion in
wrong-doing, with whom he had exchanged coarse jests but a short while
before.

It was as McGovern declared, and as the reader has learned. When the
Piketon Rangers heard the rush of the flood, each broke from the tent,
thinking only of his own safety, which was just as well, since neither
could offer the slightest aid to the others.

We have shown by what an exceedingly narrow chance McGovern eluded the
torrent. But for the hand of Dick Halliard, extended a second time to
save him from drowning, he would have shared the fate of Wagstaff. The
particulars of the latter’s death were never fully established. He
probably fled in the same general direction as McGovern, without
leading or following in his footsteps, since his body was carried to
the same shore upon which McGovern emerged. His struggles most likely
were similar, but, singularly enough, he knew nothing about swimming,
which, after all, could have been of no benefit to him, and he
perished as did the thousands who went down in the Johnstown flood.

Terry Hurley overheard the exclamation of McGovern, the roar of the
torrent having greatly subsided, and he called out to know the cause.
Dick explained, and the sympathetic Irishman instantly quelled the
disposition to joke that he had felt a short time before.

The boys were not slow in observing that the water was falling. When
they first laid down the body the current almost touched their feet.
In a short while it was a considerable distance away.

“I believe he was an old friend of yours,” said Dick, addressing his
companion, who was deeply affected by the event.

“Yes,” replied McGovern; “him and me run away from home together.”

“Why did you do that?”

“Because Satan got into us; we both have good homes and kind parents,
but we played truant, stole, fought, and did everything bad. Bob Budd
came down to New York some time ago, and we made his acquaintance; we
were fellows after one another’s heart, and we took to each other
right off. We showed Bob around the city, and then he made us promise
to come out and visit him. It was his idea to form the Piketon
Rangers.”

“I don’t know as there was anything wrong in that,” said Dick, who
felt for the grief of his companion and was awed by the fate that had
overtaken the others; “camping out is well enough in its way, and I
would do it myself if I had the chance.”

“It isn’t that which I mean; it’s the way we have been going on since
we have been together. I daresn’t tell you all the bad we did, Dick
Halliard.”

“Never mind; don’t think of it.”

“I am going home as soon as I can; this will break up Tom’s folks, for
they thought all the world of him.”

“It is bad,” said Dick, who saw how idle it was to try to minify the
dreadful incidents; “but sad as it is, it will not be entirely lost if
you do not forget it.”

“Forget it!” repeated McGovern, looking reproachfully in his face; “it
will haunt me as long as I live.”

“I have been told that people often feel that way when great sorrow
overtakes them; but,” added Dick, seeing his companion was grieved by
his words, “I do not believe it will be so with you.”

“I have run away from home before, but I think this was a little the
worst, for my father had everything arranged to send me to college,
and I know his heart is well-nigh broken.”

“Not so far but that you can mend it by doing what you say you mean to
do,” said Dick, thinking it wise to emphasize the truth already
spoken.

McGovern made no reply, but stood for a minute as if in deep thought.
Dick was watching him closely and saw him look down at the inanimate
form at his feet. He sighed several times, and then glancing up
quickly, said in an eager voice:

“Dick Hilliard, I wish I was like you.”

The words sounded strange from one who had been so reckless of all
that was right, but never was an utterance more sincere—it came
directly from the heart.

“Don’t take me for a model, for you can be a great deal better than I;
you tell me you have good parents; all you have to do is to obey
them.”

“You seem to doubt my keeping the pledge,” said McGovern, looking with
curious fixidity in the countenance of Dick.

“I believe you are in earnest now, but what I fear is that you have
become so accustomed to your wild life that you will forget this
lesson.”

“Well,” sighed the stricken youth, “that must remain to be tested; all
that I can now do is to ask you to suspend judgment, as they say.”

“You can give me your hand on it, Jim.”

It was a strange sight, when the two boys clasped hands on the bank of
the subsiding flood, with the lifeless body at their feet, and one of
them uttered his solemn promise that from that hour he would strive to
follow the right path and shun the wrong one.

But that pledge, uttered years ago, remains unbroken to this day.

Dick Halliard was thrilled by the scene, which will always remain
vivid in his memory. Despite the sorrowful surroundings a singular
pleasure crept through his being, for conscience whispered that he had
done a good deed in thus exhorting the wayward youth, and that it was
on record in the great book above.

It was not the impressiveness of that silent form that so wrought upon
the feelings of the youths, but the recollection of the missing one,
whose body they believed was whirling about in the fierce currents of
the torrent that was speedily exhausting itself in the deeper parts of
the valley, or perhaps was lodged somewhere in the lower limbs of a
tree, awaiting the morning for the shocked friends to claim it.

Considerable time had passed since the bursting of the dam, and the
news of the calamity spread rapidly. People began flocking hither from
the neighborhood, and before long there were arrivals from Piketon
itself. These gathered at the scene of destruction and viewed it with
bated breath. Some brought lanterns, but the broad space where the
waters had reposed for so many years was clearly shown in the
moonlight and made a striking sight.

The striking feature about the calamity, which, as we have stated, was
never satisfactorily explained, was that the dam, which looked strong
enough to resist tenfold the pressure, had not yielded in a single
spot, as would be supposed, but had been carried away almost bodily.
That is to say, three-fourths of the structure was gone, its
foundations being on a level with the bottom of the pond in the
immediate vicinity.

Perhaps the most probable explanation of the accident was that offered
by an old fisherman, to the effect that muskrats had burrowed under
and through the dam until it had been so weakened throughout most of
its extent that when a giving way began at one point it was like
knocking the keystone from an arch. Its results resembled those often
shown by the explosion of a steam boiler, when only a few fragments
remain to show what it once has been.

Before long a party reached the place where Dick and Jim were standing
by the dead body of Wagstaff. When it was proposed to remove it the
suggestion was made that it should not be disturbed until the arrival
of the coroner, who could be called by morning to view the body. This
practice, as the reader doubtless knows, prevails in nearly every
portion of the country, and was adopted in the instance named.

Meanwhile Terry Hurley and his family, perched among the branches of
the trees, were not forgotten. As soon as the waters subsided
sufficiently, parties waded out, and by means of ladders that were
quickly brought, soon placed the homeless ones safely on _terra
firma_.

The haste of the flight had prevented the couple from doing much in
the way of bringing needed garments, and the children, who were in
their night clothes, suffered considerably. But they were now in the
hands of good friends, who did everything possible. They were looked
after, and it is a pleasure to say that no serious consequences
followed.

Captain Jim Budd, the indulgent uncle of Bob, happened to be away from
Piketon on the night of the great accident, but was expected back in
the morning. Fortunately no one was so thoughtless as to hasten to
Aunt Ruth with the news of her nephew’s death, and therein she was
more favored than most people placed in her sad situation.

Dick Halliard made his employer his confidant as far as was necessary
concerning Jim McGovern. The good-hearted merchant took hold of the
matter at once.

Having obtained from McGovern the address of Wagstaff’s parents, word
was telegraphed them and their wishes asked as to the disposition of
their son’s remains. The father appeared that afternoon, and with the
permission of the coroner took charge of them.

Mr. Wagstaff proved to be a man of good sense and judgment. He told
Mr. Hunter that his life purpose had been to educate and bring up his
five children, with every advantage they could require. He and his
wife had set their hearts on preparing Jim for the ministry, but his
wayward tendencies developed at an early age. He was the only one of
the family to cause the parents anxiety, and he brought them enough
sorrow for all.

This parent was one of those rare ones who saw his children as other
people saw them. His boy had been as bad as he could be, and though
the youngest of the three, no excuse was offered for him on that
account.

“He has sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind,” remarked the father;
“he chose the wrong path instead of the right, and no one is blamable
beside himself.”

Mr. Wagstaff manifested deep interest in young McGovern, when he
learned what the young man had said to Dick Halliard. His father was a
prominent lawyer in New York, who had cherished the same hopes for his
son as he, but he would not be controlled, and he, too, had run off to
seek forbidden pleasures.

But the caller was touched by what he had heard as to the youth’s
change of feelings. He sought him out, and was pleased with his talk.
The same train which bore the remains of Wagstaff to New York carried
also Jim McGovern on his way to join his parents who had known nothing
of him for days.



CHAPTER XXXI

DICK HALLIARD IS ASTOUNDED


There were hopes until the following morning that Bob Budd might have
escaped the flood. The fact that one of the Piketon Rangers had
managed with help to extricate himself gave slight grounds for belief
that a second had been equally fortunate.

This hope grew less and less as the night passed, and the people
wandering up and down the valley, hallooing and calling the name of
Bob, received no response. Only a few retained the slightest
expectation of ever seeing him again.

Long before morning broke the flood had spent its force. Such a vast
outlet as the sweeping away of most of the bank was like the sliding
doors which admit passengers to the ferryboat. It was of such extent
that the supply quickly ran out.

In the middle of the valley, where the whole force of the torrent was
felt, large trees had been uprooted and hurled forward with a momentum
which helped to uproot others in turn.

The prodigious power rapidly diminished as the ground rose on either
side, until it was seen that the trunks were able to hold their own.
There was considerable dislocation of vegetation, so to speak, but
nothing to be compared to that in the middle of the valley.

The sheet of water had been plentifully stocked with fish, which were
now scattered everywhere along the valley, napping in little pools of
water as they did on the muddy bottom of the pond itself. It was a
veritable picnic for the small boys.

Captain Jim Budd was on the ground as soon after he heard of the loss
of Bob as he could reach the place. He was thoughtful enough to
arrange matters so that his wife should learn nothing of the
occurrence until his return. He placed a trusted friend on guard to
keep busy mongers from her.

Captain Jim was the contrast of Mr. Wagstaff as regarded the youth in
whom he was interested. He proclaimed to every one that Bob was not
only the brightest, but the best principled boy in Piketon and the
neighborhood. Had he lived he would have made his mark in the law or
ministry or whatever profession he chose to honor with his attention.
He had always been truthful, honest, and obedient, and his loss was in
the nature of a general calamity.

It seems incredible that a man of sense should talk in this fashion,
and not only utter such words, but believe them. The reader, however,
who has heard other parents talk, can credit the statement that such
was the fact.

The first thing that Captain Jim did, after learning the facts, was to
offer a reward of one thousand dollars for the recovery of the body of
his nephew. No doubt, he said, the whole neighborhood would insist on
attending his remains to the grave, that they might render a fitting
tribute to one thus cut off in the prime of his promising young
manhood. The Captain, therefore, felt it his duty to defer to so
proper a desire. He would erect a monument over the remains, to which
parents might impressively point, as they urged their offspring to
emulate the virtues of Robert Budd.

The large reward offered for the recovery of the body resulted in the
employment of fully a hundred and sometimes more people, who roamed up
and down the narrow valley through which the flood had swept from
early morning until darkness forced a cessation of the search.

Some three miles below the bursted dam the valley widened to fully
double its width. There naturally the current expanded and lost the
tremendous power displayed above. Most of this portion, like the rest,
was covered with trees, so that places innumerable existed where a
body might be hidden, thus making it almost impossible to find it
unless by a fortunate accident.

The surprise was general that the search should be prosecuted so long
and so thoroughly without result. It seemed that every foot of ground
had been covered and no spot left unvisited. The bushy tops of trees,
prostrate trunks, timbers, undergrowth, shrubbery, rifts of leaves,
and, indeed, everything that looked as if it could hide a body as
large as a dog were examined again and again, but without the
slightest success.

An excitement was roused by the report, the second day after the
search had been instituted, that the body had been recovered, but it
proved to be the remains of a heifer that was unfortunately caught in
the swirl and was unable to save herself.

Gradually the belief spread that Bob Budd’s remains would never be
found, and most of the searchers gave up the task. A few, prompted by
the promise of a still larger reward, kept at it, hoping that some
lucky chance might give them the opportunity to earn more money than
they could do otherwise in several years.

The disappointment was a sorrowful one to Captain Jim Budd and his
wife Ruth, the news having been broken to the latter. They could not
reconcile themselves to the thought that their beloved nephew should
be denied the last rites that were paid to the humblest individual;
and while all knew the character of the missing young man, they deeply
pitied his relatives.

Dick Halliard returned to his duties in the store of Mr. Hunter more
thoughtful than ever before. He was grateful that McGovern had shown
so strong a resolution of reforming his life and turning from his evil
ways, but it was shocking to recall that Wagstaff and Bob Budd were
placed beyond the power of undoing the evil they had committed.

Bob, as we have shown, was a native of Piketon, and had spent most of
his life there. He was an only son, who was left a considerable
fortune by his father, who appointed Uncle Jim Budd his guardian. This
old gentleman, though he sometimes flared up and threatened Bob
because of his extravagance and waywardness, was foolishly indulgent.
Whatever firmness he might have shown at times in dealing with his
nephew was spoiled by his wife, who refused the young man nothing that
was in her power to grant. Bob was not naturally vicious, and his
relatives were largely responsible for his going wrong.

One cause for deep satisfaction on the part of Dick was the wonderful
proof of the truth of the words spoken by Dr. Armstrong, when the
youth summoned him hastily to the bedside of his parent. From that
evening there was a marked improvement in his condition, and his
convalescence was steady until, in the course of a few months, he was
completely restored to health and vigor.

After thinking over the question for a day or two, Dick decided to
tell his parents everything. They had learned of what had occurred,
and he believed it would be a pleasure to them to be told that one
result of the blow was the reformation of McGovern.

Such was the fact, but the greatest happiness that could come to the
father and mother was that of learning the nobility of their boy, who
had conducted himself so admirably through more than one crisis, more
trying than most youths older than he are ever called upon to face.

Matters stood thus at the end of a week after the flood, when Dick
Halliard was surprised by the reception of a letter from New York. He
did not recognize the handwriting, and broke the seal with no little
curiosity. A glance at the bottom of the page showed the name of Jim
McGovern as the writer.

“My dear Dick,” he said, after giving the particulars of the funeral
over the remains of Wagstaff, “I can never tell you how deeply
grateful I am to you; I am not one of those who gush, and will not say
more except to repeat a remark which my father made when I had told
him all. ‘There is no earthly honor,’ said he, ‘which could be given
me, that I would not surrender for the sake of having a son like
Richard Halliard.’ Considered strictly as a compliment, I think you
will admit, Dick, that _that_ has some weight. I know your
modesty, but I must beg you as a favor to me to read all my letter up
to this point, when you must stop, for here comes something which is a
secret for the present between you and me. You will not give a hint of
it to any one.

“Come to think, however, there is no secret that I’m going to reveal
in the letter, but I will tell you the next time we meet that will
make your hair lift your hat. I want you to get permission right away
from Mr. Hunter to come to New York for a couple of days. Telegraph me
what time you will reach here, and I will meet you at the station and
take you home. If anything should happen to prevent my being there on
time come to No. — Madison Avenue, give your name, and wait for me. My
folks will be delighted to receive you, and you will not be kept long
waiting.

“I have arranged to enter Yale at the next term. I shall need to brush
up in my studies, but I’m confident I’ll get there all the same, if
you’ll excuse a little slang which still clings to me. But above all
things, come to New York _as soon as you can_. I promise you will
not regret it.”

As may be supposed, Dick Halliard found more than one cause for
surprise in this letter. The first was the fact that the writer
possessed a much better education than he suspected. The composition
was not only correct as regards grammar, punctuation, and spelling,
but the statement of his decision to enter Yale College showed the
advantages the youth had received, and which were far superior to what
would be supposed by one who heard McGovern discourse when a member of
the Piketon Rangers.

But Dick was shrewd, and, although he respected the request of the
writer that nothing should be revealed about the letter, he suspected
the nature of the “secret” to which he referred in such strong
language.

“Jim is in the flush of a mistaken sense of gratitude to me,” he said
to himself, “and he has persuaded his father to feel very much the
same way. They want to get me down there to their home, that they may
all see and tell me how thankful they are, and perhaps they mean to
make me a present of some kind. I don’t think I’ll go.”

Nothing could be more distasteful to young Halliard than a proceeding
of the kind he had in mind. It is no misstatement to say that he would
have preferred to receive personal chastisement to that of being made
a lion of by any one.

And yet he disliked to disappoint Jim, who was so strenuous in his
invitation. He would be grieved and repeat it more urgently than
before until further refusal would offend him.

“I’ll go!” finally concluded the youth, “but I will give Jim to
understand from the beginning that, if he attempts to show me off or
to tell others anything about me, or tries to force a testimonial on
me, I will take the next train home and forever afterward keep him at
arm’s length.”

With this resolution in his mind, he went to Mr. Hunter’s private
office and asked him whether he could be spared from the store a
couple of days.

“We should miss you at _any_ time,” said the genial merchant,
resting his hand affectionately on his shoulder; “but there is no
request that Richard Halliard can make of me which I will not
cheerfully grant if it is in my power to do so. Yes, take a couple of
days off, and a week if you wish, and may you have as good a time as
you deserve, young man.”

Dick blushed under this warm compliment, and, thanking his employer,
went home, where he told his parents of McGovern’s request, and
secured their consent to his departure.

Jim met him at the station with a carriage, and drove him hurriedly
homeward. After the warm greeting Dick wanted to warn him about the
lion and testimonial business, but reflected that it would be in bad
taste, since it was possible that Jim held no such intentions. In that
event he would resemble the politician who declines the honor that has
never been offered him.

McGovern seemed restless and uneasy on the way, often forcing an
unnatural gayety, which did not deceive his friend, of whom he showed
such extreme fondness.

Dick admired the handsome residence before which the carriage halted,
and it was with considerable awe that he followed Jim up the broad
stone steps, and was ushered into his father’s library. McGovern
showed commendable taste in not presenting his visitor to the members
of the household immediately on his arrival.

“But I have a friend in the library,” he said, as he led the way
thither, “that I think you will be glad to meet.”

A young man rose to his feet, and came briskly forward.

“How are you, Dick?”

“Heaven save me!” gasped Dick Halliard, in amazement, recognizing the
smiling youth as no other than Bob Budd himself!



CHAPTER XXXII

HOW IT HAPPENED


When the terrific roar of waters reached the ears of the three Piketon
Rangers in their tent, McGovern and Wagstaff started at headlong speed
up the right side of the valley toward higher ground, the former
succeeding in saving himself with the help of Dick Halliard, while the
latter lost his life.

Bob Budd turned the opposite way, impelled only by the wild desire to
escape, with little hope of doing so. But fortune was kinder to him
than to his companions. Had they followed his footsteps they would
have been saved with little difficulty, for the ground on that side
was not only freer from undergrowth, but rose so much more rapidly
than that on the opposite slope that his efforts kept him ahead of the
torrent, and he struck the level ground where it was untouched by the
flood.

But Bob was in a panic, and instead of waiting to see how his friends
made out, he broke into a run that was never stopped until, panting
and tired, he could barely stand. He was near his own home, and sat
down to reflect upon the situation.

He was clear of one danger, but he believed he was in another equally
to be dreaded. In fact, although he repressed all signs of the
agitation at the time, he was as uncomfortable as can be imagined
while talking with his companions before the giving way of the
mill-dam.

He believed that Dick Halliard was sure to make known his attack on
him. It was so flagrant in its nature that imprisonment was
inevitable, for when he came to think over the matter he lost his
faith in a triumphant alibi. He knew that Dick Halliard’s simple
assertion would outweigh all the perjuries he and his companions could
utter.

It was a fearful prospect, and Bob felt he could not face it. There
was but one escape that presented itself—that was flight.

Everything pointed to this as a successful recourse. The people would
believe he was drowned in the flood, as he believed Wagstaff and
McGovern had already been, and therefore they would not dream of
looking elsewhere. If he could get out of the neighborhood without
being recognized he would be safe.

He resolved to do so. Knowing that his uncle was absent, he managed to
climb into the rear of his own home without discovery. Making his way
to his room without disturbing any one, he changed his clothing,
putting on a slouch hat, which could be pulled down over his face so
as to hide most of his features. Then, drawing up the collar of his
coat, he sneaked out again by the way he had entered without his
presence having been suspected by his aunt or any of the servants.

Bob always had abundance of money at command, so no inconvenience was
likely to result from lack of funds. It was three miles to the nearest
railroad station, but the walk was not a trying one on this cool night
in autumn, and he easily made it.

Luck was certainly with the young scapegrace on that eventful evening.
The hour was so late that he encountered only one person on the road.
He was an old farmer, so tipsy that he would not have recognized his
own mother in broad daylight. He paid no attention to the solitary
figure on the highway, with his slouch hat drawn far down over his
face and his collar about his ears, as though it were midwinter.

Reaching the station just as the night express was starting, he leaped
upon the rear platform without stopping to purchase a ticket, and thus
escaped another danger of recognition. He saw no one in the car that
he knew, and the conductor who collected his fare was also a stranger.

Thus Bob succeeded in getting away from Piketon without a living
person suspecting the fact.

Arriving in the metropolis he went to the Astor House, where he
registered under an assumed name. He had been in New York before, and
breathed somewhat freely, believing that the great city offered better
facilities for concealment from the authorities than can be found in
the fastnesses of the Rocky Mountains.

Conscience makes cowards of us all, and Bob could never feel perfectly
secure. He feared every stranger whom he encountered on the streets
and who looked sharply at him was an officer that suspected his
identity and was meditating his arrest.

Even when he read in the papers the account of the disaster at
Piketon, and saw the name of Wagstaff and himself as the two worthy
young men that were drowned, he failed to obtain the consolation that
might have been expected. He was known to a good many in New York, and
feared he could not keep his secret much longer.

In this distressful state he dispatched a messenger boy to the home of
Jim McGovern, with the request that he would come to a certain room at
the Astor House to meet a person on important business. Bob did not
send a note or give his name, so that when the wondering Jim presented
himself at the famous hostelry, it was without the remotest suspicion
of whom he was to meet.

Possibly the amazement of McGovern may be imagined when he stood in
the presence of the former captain of the Piketon Rangers and listened
to his story.

“I have a great mind to sail for Europe,” he said, after making the
facts known.

“And why?”

“Because I’ll never be safe as long as I’m on this side of the
Atlantic; my attack on Dick Halliard will send me to prison for twenty
years.”

The frightened Bob now gave Jim a truthful account of his stopping
young Halliard on the highway and shooting at him.

“Have you told your uncle and aunt that you are here?” asked McGovern,
without referring to the incident, which, of course, he heard for the
first time.

“Gracious, no!” replied the startled Bob; “I wouldn’t do it for the
world.”

“Don’t you think you can trust them?”

“I know they would do anything for me, but it is too risky; they would
be sure to drop some hint that would let the cat out of the bag.”

“You needn’t be afraid of that; haven’t you reflected, Bob, how
distressed they are over your supposed death?”

“Yes, that is so, but I don’t know how it can be helped; you see how I
am fixed.”

“You are mistaken, and before I can agree to stand by you I must
insist that you write a letter to your uncle, Captain Jim, and let
him know that the thousand dollars he has offered for the recovery of
your body is safe. You can ask that until he hears from you again he
and Aunt Ruth shall let no one one suspect you are alive. You know he
believes in you, and you have only to say that you have important
reasons for the request, and they will be sure to respect it.”

“I wish I could feel as certain about that as you do,” said Bob, who
was made uncomfortable by the words of his friend.

“I am certain, and I can’t feel much sympathy for you as long as you
show yourself indifferent to the feelings of your best friends.”

“That’s queer talk for you, Jim; you didn’t think much about the
feelings of your folks when you and Tom run away from home.”

“I trust I am a different person from what I was then,” said Jim, his
face flushing.

Bob looked at him curiously, but did not speak the thought which came
into his mind at that moment.

“Well,” said he, with a sigh, “if you insist so strongly, why, I’ll do
it.”

“When?”

“In the course of a day or two.”

“I want you to do it _now_, while I am in this room.”

“But where’s the hurry, Jim?” asked Bob, impatiently; “I don’t see why
things need be rushed in the style you want.”

“Do it to oblige me, Bob, and then I have something to say to you
which is of importance and which will please you.”

“Let me hear it now,” said Bob, brightening up with expectancy.

“You sha’n’t hear a word till after the letter is written.”

The task was distasteful to young Budd, and he held off for awhile
longer, but Jim would not let up. He was determined that the letter
should be written in his presence and before he went away.

Seeing there was no escape, Bob turned to the stand containing writing
material, and addressed a brief note to his uncle, giving him the
important information that he had not suffered the slightest
inconvenience from the flood that drowned one of his companions and
came mighty near carrying off the other.

The main portion of the letter was taken up with an emphatic request
of his uncle and aunt not to give the slightest hint of what they had
learned until they heard further from him.

This letter was sealed and directed.

“Let me have it,” said Jim.

“What for?”

“I will drop it in the letter box as I go out.”

“Well, you beat the bugs,” laughed Bob, passing the missive over to
him; “now, what have you to tell me?”

It may be added that Bob Budd’s letter promptly reached the astounded
Captain, who found it hard to keep the joyful news to himself, but he
managed to do so, as did his wife, who went into hysterics when the
news was first broken to her.

But, as a means of averting suspicion, the Captain immediately doubled
the reward offered for the recovery of the body of his nephew. He
smiled grimly as he did so, and looked upon the matter as a capital
joke; but then some people do entertain peculiar ideas as to what
constitutes a joke.



CHAPTER XXXIII

CONCLUSION


Jim McGovern now gave the particulars of his own escape through the
help of Dick Halliard, and of their memorable interview on the border
of the rushing flood, with the body of Tom Wagstaff lying at their
feet. Bob listened with deep interest until he had finished, and then
shook his head.

“It beats anything I ever knew or heard tell of; but I don’t feel safe
now that Halliard has the grip on me.”

“Of course, he told me nothing about that affair; but, since he got so
much the best of it, I’m sure he will be satisfied to let it go no
further. I’ll guarantee it,” added McGovern, with a glowing face.

“I don’t see how you can do that; but I’m inclined to believe you can
make it right with Dick.”

“Of course I can; such a fellow as he is will do anything in the world
for you.”

But Bob was not free from misgiving. He had dwelt upon the troublesome
matter until he had grown morbid. It assumed a magnitude in his mind
beyond the truth.

“What are you going to do, Jim?”

“If I live I shall enter Yale College at the next term, and try to be
something that my folks won’t be ashamed of.”

“Whew! but that’s a big flop for you, and you will lose a mighty deal
of fun by trying to be good.”

“You can have tenfold more than by the other way; I haven’t tried it
long, it is true, but I have felt more genuine pleasure during these
few days than I ever knew in all my life; it will be the same with
you.”

Bob Budd sat silent a moment, looking out of the window. He had given
the same important subject a great deal of thought during the few days
that he imagined so many of those whom he met were hunting for him,
but the restraining power in his case was that he saw no safe way by
which to turn the sharp corner. So long as he was in danger of being
arrested so long he must remain a fugitive.

Now the whole case was changed. He knew, despite the doubts he had
expressed, that Dick Halliard could be relied upon, and that not the
slightest risk was run in trusting to his honor.

“Well, Jim,” he said, after his brief silence, “_I’ll try it_.”

The other extended his hand, and they shook cordially.

“That’s settled!” said McGovern, with much emphasis. He was wise
enough to refrain from any sermon, or disquisition upon the rewards
that were sure to accompany such a step. Bob understood the matter as
well as he did, and therefore needed no enlightenment. His friend
never displayed more admirable tact than he did by treating the mental
debate of the other as ended beyond all possibility of reopening. He
showed no doubt in his own mind, though, truth to tell, he was not
wholly free from misgiving.

“Now,” added Bob, with a laugh, “I suppose your next order will be for
me to go back to Piketon.”

“I don’t know that there is anything better for you to do; but I have
been thinking that it might be better to bring Dick Halliard to New
York, that we can talk the whole thing over and reach a full
understanding before you return.”

“That suits me better.”

“Our folks are anxious to meet him, for I have told them so many
things about him that he has become quite a hero in their eyes. And
then there’s another matter that I want to speak to you about,” added
Jim, rising from his chair, opening the door and peering into the
hall, as if he feared that some one might overhear his words.

“There’s no danger of anything like that,” said Bob, with a laugh; “we
are not of enough importance to have any one listening at the keyhole
to catch our words.”

“I don’t know about that,” replied Jim, with an air so mysterious that
the curiosity of his friend was aroused. “I guess I’ll risk it; but no
one knows of it beside father and mother.”

And then Jim, in a guarded undertone, made known another momentous
secret, while his companion sat with open mouth and staring eyes
listening to his words. He did not speak until he had finished and
turned upon him with the question:

“What do you think of _that_, Bob?”

“I agree with you; I’ll stand by you to the end; but what about Dick’s
visit to New York?”

“I’ll write to him now and mail both letters as I go out.”

“Don’t give him a hint about _me_,” cautioned Bob, as the other
placed himself at the table.

The letter, whose contents have already been known to the reader, was
written in the room of the Astor House where the other to Captain Budd
was formulated. Then Jim placed the two in his pocket and rose to go.

“Won’t you come and stay at our house?” he asked of Bob.

“Thanks, no; I’ll remain here; you can understand that it would be a
little embarrassing to meet your folks just now. When matters are
straightened out I will give you a call, and you will come down and
spend a week or two at Piketon.”

“That’s a bargain, provided it is not in the character of a Piketon
Ranger,” replied Jim, with a laugh.

Shaking the hand of his friend he took his departure.

That afternoon when Bob strolled up Broadway, he reflected that it was
the most enjoyable hour he had spent since his visit to the
metropolis. He feared no one now, and his future was brighter than he
ever dreamed it could be.

When the telegram from Dick Halliard reached Jim McGovern, making
known on what train he would reach New York, he drove down to the
Astor House and took Bob to his own home, where he left him in the
library while he hastened to the station for Dick.

We have already given a hint about their meeting, when Dick received
the greatest shock in all his life. For a few minutes he doubted his
own senses, but that it was the real Bob Budd before him he was
compelled to admit, after shaking his hand, looking in his laughing
face, and hearing his voice.

The three sat for a couple of hours discussing the subject which was
nearest to each one’s heart. Then Jim took his two friends out riding
in the Park, for it happened to be one of the most delightful of
autumn days. In the evening the family of Mr. McGovern made the
acquaintance of Dick and Bob, and the three visited a place of
entertainment.

The McGoverns insisted on Dick spending a week with them, but, though
it would have given him rare pleasure to do so, he felt that he ought
to return at the end of the time he had named to Mr. Hunter. His
friends finally compromised by allowing him to go, with the
understanding that he was to pay the visit during the holidays. Dick
promised that if it lay in his power he would do so.

The visit was made as per programme.

Bob decided to stay in New York for several days, until the excitement
of his disappearance had time to subside. It was agreed that Dick on
his return should make known the astonishing news to the people in
Piketon, that they might not be frightened out of their wits when they
encountered him on the street.

“I don’t know how to fix it with them,” said Bob, “and I will leave it
with you, Dick; your head is plumb, and you may be able to get up some
story which, while true, don’t give me away too bad.”

“I’ll do my best,” said Dick, as he bade his friends good-bye for a
brief while.

Upon reaching Piketon, Dick, after reporting at home, called on
Captain Jim and Aunt Ruth, whom he told of his meeting with their
nephew in New York. He brought a message to the effect that he would
soon be with them, and they were at liberty to make known all he had
told them, adding, by way of explanation, that he left for New York on
the evening of the flood on important business, which would soon be
finished, when he would be among them again. He had read in the papers
an account of the disaster, and was extremely sorry to learn of poor
Wagstaff’s death. He hoped all his friends would overlook his failure
to notify them more promptly that he was alive and well.

This was the story told by the captain and by Dick Halliard, and
though it was far from revealing everything, it cannot be said that it
partook of the nature of a falsehood.

On the second day after Dick’s return, a small box arrived by express
for Dick Halliard. When the wondering lad opened it he found within a
magnificent gold watch and chain. On the former was engraved the
following inscription:

                          “From Bob and Jim,

                         TO THEIR BEST FRIEND
                            Dick Halliard.

                   WE ARE ALL NOW FELLOW-TRAVELERS
                        ALONG THE RIGHT PATH.”

And that was the secret of the mysterious communication of Jim
McGovern to Bob Budd in the room of the latter at the Astor House.



                            COMRADES TRUE
                                  OR
                       PERSEVERANCE VS. GENIUS

                      by Edward S. Ellis, A. M.

       Author of “Among the Esquimaux,” “The Campers Out,” etc.

                 320 Pages, Illustrated. Cloth, $1.25

In following the career of two friends from youth to manhood, this
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  Sold by all booksellers, or sent, prepaid, upon receipt of price.

                     The Penn Publishing Company
                    923 Arch Street, Philadelphia



                         AMONG THE ESQUIMAUX
                                  OR
                  ADVENTURES UNDER THE ARCTIC CIRCLE

                      by Edward S. Ellis, A. M.

                  Author of “The Campers Out,” Etc

                 317 pages, Illustrated. Cloth, $1.25

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  Sold by all booksellers, or sent, prepaid, upon receipt of price.

                     The Penn Publishing Company
                    923 Arch Street, Philadelphia



                             ANDY’S WARD
                                  OR
                       THE INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM

                            by James Otis

      Author of “The Braganza Diamond,” “Chasing a Yacht,” etc.

                 358 Pages, Illustrated. Cloth, $1.25

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                    923 Arch Street, Philadelphia



                           CHASING A YACHT

                            by James Otis

        Author of “The Braganza Diamond,” “Andy’s Ward,” etc.

                 350 pages, Illustrated. Cloth, $1.25

Two boys have engaged to run a steam yacht for the double purpose of
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                     The Penn Publishing Company
                    923 Arch Street, Philadelphia





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