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Title: George at the Wheel - Life in the Pilot-House
Author: Castlemon, Harry
Language: English
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GEORGE AT THE WHEEL;

Or,

Life in the Pilot-House.


[Illustration: GEORGE AT THE WHEEL]


Roughing It Series.

GEORGE AT THE WHEEL;

Or,

Life in the Pilot-House.

by

HARRY CASTLEMON,

Author of "The Gunboat Series," "The Frank Nelson Series," "The Boy
Trapper Series," &c.



The John C. Winston Co.
Philadelphia
Chicago      Toronto


      *      *      *      *      *      *

FAMOUS CASTLEMON BOOKS.


GUNBOAT SERIES. By HARRY CASTLEMON. 6 vols. 12mo.

FRANK THE YOUNG NATURALIST.
FRANK IN THE WOODS.
FRANK ON THE LOWER MISSISSIPPI.
FRANK ON A GUNBOAT.
FRANK BEFORE VICKSBURG.
FRANK ON THE PRAIRIE.


ROCKY MOUNTAIN SERIES. By HARRY CASTLEMON. 3 vols. 12mo. Cloth.

FRANK AMONG THE RANCHEROS.
FRANK IN THE MOUNTAINS.
FRANK AT DON CARLOS' RANCH.


SPORTSMAN'S CLUB SERIES. By HARRY CASTLEMON. 3 vols. 12mo. Cloth.

THE SPORTSMAN'S CLUB IN THE SADDLE.
THE SPORTSMAN'S CLUB AFLOAT.
THE SPORTSMAN'S CLUB AMONG THE TRAPPERS.


FRANK NELSON SERIES. By HARRY CASTLEMON. 3 vols. 12mo. Cloth.

SNOWED UP.
FRANK IN THE FORECASTLE.
THE BOY TRADERS.


BOY TRAPPER SERIES. By HARRY CASTLEMON. 3 vols. 12mo. Cloth.

THE BURIED TREASURE.
THE BOY TRAPPER.
THE MAIL-CARRIER.


ROUGHING IT SERIES. By HARRY CASTLEMON. 3 vols. 12mo. Cloth.

GEORGE IN CAMP.
GEORGE AT THE WHEEL.
GEORGE AT THE FORT.


ROD AND GUN SERIES. By HARRY CASTLEMON. 3 vols. 12mo. Cloth.

DON GORDON'S SHOOTING BOX.
THE YOUNG WILD FOWLERS.
ROD AND GUN CLUB.


GO-AHEAD SERIES. By HARRY CASTLEMON. 3 vols. 12mo. Cloth.

TOM NEWCOMBE.
GO-AHEAD.
NO MOSS.


FOREST AND STREAM SERIES. By HARRY CASTLEMON. 3 vols. 12mo. Cloth.

JOE WAYRING.
SNAGGED AND SUNK.
STEEL HORSE.


WAR SERIES. By HARRY CASTLEMON. 5 vols. 12mo. Cloth.

TRUE TO HIS COLORS.
RODNEY THE OVERSEER.
MARCY THE REFUGEE.
RODNEY THE PARTISAN.
MARCY THE BLOCKADE-RUNNER.


_Other Volumes in Preparation._

COPYRIGHT, 1881, BY PORTER & COATES.

      *      *      *      *      *      *



CONTENTS.


CHAPTER I.

Uncle John and Ned               Page 7


CHAPTER II.

A Surprise                           21


CHAPTER III.

The Contra-Guerrillas                36


CHAPTER IV.

More about Silk Stocking             54


CHAPTER V.

"Hold up there, Silver Buttons!"     72


CHAPTER VI.

George proves an alibi               91


CHAPTER VII.

A stormy interview                  108


CHAPTER VIII.

Life in the Pilot-House             127


CHAPTER IX.

The Pilot's gratitude               145


CHAPTER X.

Tony Richardson                     165


CHAPTER XI.

Down the river on a Coal-Barge      187


CHAPTER XII.

Tony finds a friend                 210


CHAPTER XIII.

On board the Princeton              225


CHAPTER XIV.

Tony makes another break            257


CHAPTER XV.

An old acquaintance                 263


CHAPTER XVI.

Walker discovers something          291


CHAPTER XVII.

The Key of the Safe                 313


CHAPTER XVIII.

Conclusion                          341



GEORGE AT THE WHEEL;

OR,

LIFE IN THE PILOT-HOUSE.



CHAPTER I.

UNCLE JOHN AND NED.


"Well, Ned, I must say, that you have had some narrow escapes. Have you
seen anything of those ranchemen lately? I mean the one who owns the
stolen horse and his companion?"

"No, sir; and I don't want to see them, either. It is true that they
might not recognise me in these clothes, for every time they described
me, they spoke of my buckskin coat and silver buttons; but I have no
desire to run the risk!"

"You say you haven't seen Gus Robbins since the day you reached town.
Where do you suppose he is?"

"I haven't the least idea. All I know is, that he has not gone home. He
got angry at some little thing I said, and left without bidding me
good-by. But I say, father, I don't want to stay here any longer. I
shall not feel safe until I am miles away from Texas!"

"Well, where do you want to go, and what do you want to do?"

"I don't know; I haven't thought about it. George and I talked of going
up to the head-waters of the Mississippi, and coming back in a canoe. I
should have enjoyed such a trip, but George had to go and get himself
captured by those Greasers, and of course that put an end to _that_
scheme."

"If Gus Robbins were here he might go with you. I suppose you wouldn't
care to go back to Foxboro' under the existing circumstances?"

"No sir, I should not. All the folks there know that Gus ran away from
home and came down here to visit us, and they would have too much to say
about it. We couldn't call on Mr. Robbins, of course. He is perfectly
well aware of the fact that I sent Gus the money to defray the expenses
of his journey, and he'd give us the cold shoulder at once. But, father,
what do you suppose those Greasers wanted of George? What did they
intend to do with him after they had taken him across the river?"

"I am sure I don't know. I am sorry that Gus left you as he did, for
there is no knowing what will become of him."

"What will the neighbors say when they learn that George is gone, and
that you made no effort to find him? Won't they suspect something?"

"I can't help it if they do. If there is anything done about it, Mr.
Gilbert must be the one to do it; for of course I can't go back there
until those ranchemen and Mr. Cook are satisfied. Now, make up your mind
where you want to go, and we will leave Brownsville to-night."

Uncle John Ackerman and his son Ned had been closeted in their room at
the hotel for the last hour, talking over the exciting events that had
happened since the latter left home. The boy, as we have already said,
told a truthful story, but his father had very little to tell him in
return. He did not want to talk about George, and every time Ned made
inquiries concerning him, Uncle John answered his questions in as few
words as he could, and made all haste to turn the conversation into
another channel. He seemed to grow nervous and excited every time his
nephew's name was mentioned; and this, taken in connection with his
anxiety to avoid all allusion to him, which was much too palpable to
escape Ned's notice, made the latter believe that his father knew more
about George's capture than he was willing to reveal.

"He is keeping something from me," said Ned, to himself, over and over
again; and the longer the interview continued, the firmer became his
convictions on this point. He brought his cousin's name in at every
opportunity, but could neither surprise nor coax his father into saying
more than he had already said, viz.: That he knew nothing whatever of
the object the Mexicans had in view, when they captured George; and
could not even guess what they intended to do with him. Those who have
read the preceding volume of this series, know the statement to be
false; and to enable those who have not read it to follow this story
understandingly, we will spend a few moments upon the missing boy's past
history.

George Ackerman, our hero, was born, and had spent the most of his life
on his father's cattle ranche, which was located a few days' journey
from one of the small frontier towns of Texas. When he was about
thirteen years of age his father died, leaving his immense property in
trust to his only brother, John Ackerman, who was named as George's
guardian. Uncle John came to Texas at once, bringing with him his son,
Ned; who, by the terms of the will left by George's father, was to be
the heir to the property in case his cousin did not live to reach his
majority. That provision of the will, was a most unfortunate one for
George, for it was the means of bringing him into a great deal of
trouble.

Uncle John was a poor man up to this time, and had been obliged to work
hard for his living. He held the position of book-keeper in a dry-goods
store in the town in which he lived, and Ned was clerk in the same
store. The latter was anything in the world but an industrious boy, and
when he learned that his father was to have the entire management and
control of an estate worth forty thousand dollars a year, his
astonishment and delight knew no bounds.

For awhile, Ned enjoyed the life of ease he led in his new home. The
first thought that came into his mind when he awoke in the morning was,
that during the whole of the long day before him, he need not turn his
hand to labor of any kind. There were a good many servants about the
ranche who were paid to work; and it was not even necessary that Ned
should black his own boots or saddle his horse. He had nothing to do but
enjoy himself. This was a glorious way to live, and Ned told himself
that he should never grow tired of it. But he did; and he even learned
to hate his life of inactivity and uselessness, as cordially as he had
hated the life he led in the dry-goods store in Foxboro'. There was
literally nothing he could do but ride on horseback, and Ned had found
by experience, that that was hard work. There was nothing to be seen on
the ranche; there was not a house in sight; no boys with whom he could
associate; no books in the small, well-selected library that he cared to
read; and the hours hung heavily on his hands.

To make matters worse, Ned learned that the other boys in the
neighborhood, were not as lonely as he was; that they visited one
another regularly; had hunting parties and barbecues, and were never at
a loss to know how to pass the time in an agreeable manner. But they
never asked Ned to join them. They slighted him on every occasion, just
as their fathers and older brothers slighted Uncle John.

Nobody in that country liked the new-comers, and the reason was, because
they would not work. The settlers, who were always busy at something,
did not believe that people could spend their lives in doing nothing.
Their creed was, that every man and boy must pass the time in some way;
and if they did not devote it to some honest occupation, they would
spend it in doing something dishonest. So, when they found that Uncle
John and his son held aloof from work and dressed in the height of
fashion, they became suspicious of them at once. There was only one
class of men in that country who lived and dressed in that way, and they
were rogues, every one of them.

Ned, being left entirely to himself, passed a most dismal winter. He
never went out of sight of the house but once, and then he spent a few
days with his cousin in camp; in the hope of finding an opportunity to
try his rifle on some of the big game with which he had heard the plains
were so well stocked; but he was caught out in a "norther," and so
nearly frozen, that it was a long time before he could get thawed out
again. He saw no game, and was glad to get back to the rancho.

When his cousin told him why it was that the boys in the settlement
would have nothing to do with him, Ned made a feeble effort to show that
he had something in him, and that he was capable of making an honest
living. He fenced in fifty acres of land and planted it to wheat--or,
rather, he sat on his horse and watched his father's hired men while
they did the work. While he was wondering how he should pass the long
months that must elapse before his crop would be ready for the reapers,
a bright idea occurred to him, and he lost no time in carrying it out.

Among the clerks belonging to the store in Foxboro' in which he had
formerly been employed was a young fellow, Gus Robbins by name, the son
of the senior partner, with whom he had once been on terms of the
closest intimacy. Gus had faithfully promised to visit Ned in his Texas
home, and while he was thinking about him, and the agreeable change his
presence would make in the gloomy old rancho, it suddenly occurred to
him that it was quite possible he could bring him there. He wrote to Gus
at once, and was almost ready to dance with delight when he received a
letter in reply stating that his friend would be only too glad to visit
Texas, and that want of money was the only thing that prevented him from
so doing. Ned promptly sent him a hundred dollars, urging him to come on
at once, and then settled back into his old aimless life again. But it
was not as gloomy as it had been, for he had something to occupy his
mind. He laid out numerous plans for the amusement of his expected
friend, and promised himself some exciting times when he arrived. But,
as it happened, the exciting times began before Gus arrived, and Ned was
the hero of a series of adventures that astonished everybody who heard
of them. The incident that led to some of these adventures was so simple
a thing as trading horses.

It was Ned's custom to ride every day to the top of a high swell, about
five miles from home, and there stake out his horse and lie down on his
blanket to watch the trail along which his expected friend Gus would
have to pass in order the reach the rancho. One day he encountered on
the top of this swell a flashily-dressed and splendidly-mounted
stranger, who astonished Ned by offering to trade horses with him. The
offer was promptly accepted, and the stranger rode hastily away,
leaving Ned holding by the bridle the handsomest horse he had ever seen.
The animal proved to be just as good as he looked, and Ned was delighted
with the way he behaved under the saddle--so delighted, in fact, that he
was willing to run a serious risk in order to keep him. He began to
suspect, after a while, that the horse had been stolen, so he said
nothing to his father about the trade he had made. His suspicions proved
to be well-founded, for that same night a couple of men came along
looking for this same horse, which they called Silk Stocking. Ned heard
them describe the animal, but he did not surrender him, as he ought to
have done, for the appearance of the two men, who were armed to the
teeth, frightened him, and he was afraid that if he acknowledged he had
the horse in his possession, they would do him some serious injury. He
knew that the men lived a long distance away, and he hoped that they
would go back to their own settlement and stay there; so he resolved to
keep the horse, although his resolution did not amount to much, for that
very night he lost him. A band of Mexicans, led by renegade Americans,
who lived on the other side of the Rio Grande and gained a livelihood
by stealing cattle from the Texas farmers and ranchemen, made a descent
upon the rancho. They came after the strong box which Uncle John kept in
the office, and which one of their spies had told them was filled with
gold and silver.

The appearance of the attacking party was entirely unexpected and so
sudden that Ned, who happened to be under the shed in which he had
hitched his new horse, did not have time to run into the house. He
concealed himself in the manger, from which he could obtain a fair view
of the yard and see every move the raiders made. He was greatly
astonished to discover that they were met at the porch by one of the
servants, who seemed to be waiting for them, and who gave them
instructions in regard to their future movements. This servant's name
was Philip, and he was Uncle John's cook. He had left one of the doors
open, and through it the raiders entered the rancho without opposition;
but they had scarcely crossed the threshold when they were discovered,
and a fierce battle ensued between them and the herdsmen, in which the
robbers got the worst of it.

Being driven out of the house, the raiders concealed themselves behind
wagons and lumber piles and opened fire on the herdsmen, which the
latter returned with their revolvers. One of them ran into the shed and
took refuge in the very manger in which Ned was concealed; but he was
quickly routed by some sharpshooter in the rancho, who sent his bullets
crashing through the planks altogether too close to Ned's head for
comfort. The robbers were finally obliged to mount and ride away without
accomplishing their object, and Ned's new horse went with them. The boy
had released the animal when the raiders first made their appearance,
for fear that by his neighing he would lead some of the band to his
place of concealment. He was glad to see him go, and hoped from the
bottom of his heart that he had seen and heard the last of him. He had
seen the last of him, but he was destined to hear a good deal more
concerning him. That same horse afterward came pretty near getting
George Ackerman into trouble, and how it happened shall be told in its
proper place.

A few days after this the long-expected visitor made his appearance. He
was met at Palos--that was the name of the nearest settlement--by one of
Uncle John's herdsmen, who showed him the way to the rancho. He had left
home without his father's knowledge, thus adding another to the list of
runaways whose adventures are to be described in this series of books.
Ned met him on the top of the swell before spoken of, and the two rode
homeward, talking over old times, and dwelling with a good deal of pride
and enthusiasm upon the numerous "scrapes" in which they had been
engaged in Foxboro'. Gus seemed eager to appear as the hero of new ones,
and Ned promised him that his ambition should be fully gratified. And he
kept his promise.

A few days afterward, the two boys rode over to look at Ned's wheat
field, and found the fence broken down, the crop entirely ruined, and
the enclosure in the possession of a small herd of half-wild cattle,
which acted as if they were fully sensible of the mischief they had done
and were elated over it. Here was a chance for Gus to get himself into
business, and he did it by shooting down one of the herd, Ned following
his example by severely wounding another. Then they drove the herd out
of the field and rode gaily homeward, all unconscious of the fact that
the owner of the cattle, Mr. Cook, had been looking at them over the top
of a neighboring ridge, watching their every movement. Ned knew better
than to do this. He knew, for his cousin George had told him so, that
such an act as he had just performed had once set the whole settlement
in an uproar, and brought about a reign of terror, the like of which
nobody there wanted to see again.



CHAPTER II.

A SURPRISE.


The settlement in which Uncle John and Ned lived was composed of two
classes of men, the farmers and the ranchemen. The former devoted
themselves to tilling the soil, and the ranchemen to raising cattle for
market. The ranchemen did not like their neighbors, for every farm that
was located and fenced in took away just so many acres of their pasture,
and the farmers did not like the ranchemen, because their cattle broke
down the fences and destroyed the crops. The little difficulties that
were constantly arising between these two classes of men gradually gave
way to greater ones, until at last the farmers began shooting the stock
that broke into their fields, and the ranchemen revenged themselves by
shooting the farmers. This led to a state of affairs that can hardly be
described; but the troubles had all been satisfactorily settled, and
would, perhaps, never have been thought of again if Ned Ackerman's evil
genius had not put it into his idle brain to raise another "neighborhood
row," as he called it, just to be revenged upon the settlers for paying
so little attention to him. His Cousin George urged him to abandon the
idea, telling him in so many words that, if he persisted, the country
would be made too hot to hold him; but Ned would not listen. He and Gus
Robbins shot the cattle, as we have described, and their punishment
followed close upon the heels of it.

George Ackerman was unlike his Cousin Ned in every respect. He was
industrious and saving, and by his own unaided efforts he had
accumulated property in stock worth six thousand dollars. He spent
almost all his time in company with his herdsman, Zeke, in taking care
of these cattle. He preferred living in camp to living at the rancho,
for the old house did not seem like home to him any longer, and neither
did his relatives act as though they wanted him there. The truth of the
matter was they did not want him there, and they had not been long at
the rancho before they began laying plans to drive him away. In order to
accomplish this, Ned urged his father to take George's herd of cattle
away from him, believing that if it were done, George would be too badly
discouraged to raise another, and that he would go off somewhere to seek
his fortune, leaving him and his father to manage the estate as they saw
fit. But George positively refused to surrender the herd for which he
had worked so long and faithfully, and said, more by his manner than by
words, that if Uncle John attempted to take it from him by force, he and
Zeke would make a most desperate resistance.

The conversation our hero had with his uncle on this subject took place
one morning just as George was getting ready to start out with a fresh
supply of provisions to join his herdsman, whom he had left on the
prairie with his cattle. It was some days before he found him, for Zeke,
having seen signs of an Indian raiding party, had moved the herd farther
away from the river, in order to insure its safety. But it was not safe
even then, as George soon learned to his cost.

The same band of cattle-thieves who had made the attack on the ranche
for the purpose of securing the strong box in which Uncle John kept his
money, found the herd and stampeded it. They drove the cattle right over
George, who threw himself into an old buffalo wallow, and thus escaped
being trampled to death. Two of the raiders kept on after the herd to
turn it towards the river, while the others provided themselves with
blazing brands from the camp-fire and searched the woods until daylight.

George, who could see all their movements, thought they were looking for
Zeke. The old fellow carried a repeating rifle, and when the raiders
appeared he made a stubborn fight, severely wounding several of their
number, and George thought they wanted to capture him, in order that
they might take revenge on him for it.

When the cattle-thieves went away, George filled his haversack with the
bacon and crackers they had left in camp, and set out for home on foot,
his horse and pack-mule having been driven off with the herd. A few days
afterwards he fell in with one of the wounded raiders, who had been left
behind by his companions, and from his lips he received some items of
information that astonished him not a little. He learned that an attack
had been made upon the rancho, that his Uncle John was laying plans to
get him out of the way so that Ned could inherit the property, and that
Philip, the Mexican cook, a man of whom George had always been
suspicious, was assisting him in carrying those plans into execution.

Springer (that was the name of the wounded cattle-thief, who had once
worked for George's father) assured the boy that it was through Uncle
John's connivance that the raiders knew where to find George's cattle,
and that it was George himself, and not Zeke, whom they were looking for
when they were searching the woods with their firebrands. If they had
found him, they would have taken him across the river into Mexico--what
they would have done with him after they had got him there, Springer
said he didn't know--and Uncle John would have rewarded them for it by
bringing in a thousand head of cattle and pasturing them near the river,
so that the raiders could come over and capture them at their leisure.

When the man had finished his story, George divided his small stock of
provisions with him, put him on his horse, and resumed his journey
toward home. He did not know what to think of the news he had just
heard, and he finally decided that he would go straight to Mr. Gilbert,
who was an old friend of his father's, lay the matter before him, and be
governed by his advice. He was obliged to camp one more night on the
prairie before he reached Mr. Gilbert's rancho, but he did not pass the
night alone. He had two visitors, one of whom was the owner of the
stolen horse for which Ned had traded, and to which he had held fast,
even after he knew that the man of whom he received him had no lawful
right to him.

The visitors did not know who George was, and consequently they were
very communicative. They told him all about Silk Stocking, and
threatened to do something terrible to Ned when they found him. They
were sure they would recognise him anywhere by the clothes and ornaments
he wore. They were looking for a boy wearing a Mexican sombrero, a
buckskin coat with silver buttons, high patent leather boots, the heels
of which were armed with silver-plated spurs, and who carried a
riding-whip with an ivory handle. They found a boy after a while who
answered to this description pretty nearly, and they--well, we have not
come to that yet.

George was greatly alarmed by what the men told him. He knew that his
cousin had got himself into serious trouble by holding fast to the horse
after he knew the animal had been stolen, and he could see no way to get
him out of it. If he had been satisfied that the men intended to punish
him in some lawful manner, it is probable that he would not have thought
of trying to save him from the consequences of his folly; for George was
a law-abiding boy, and he did not believe in assisting a culprit to
escape, even though that culprit might be his own cousin. But he had the
best of reasons for believing that his visitors had made up their minds
to take the law into their own hands, and knowing that they had no right
to do that, he resolved to save his cousin from their fury, or at least
to delay them in their search until he could see Mr. Gilbert, and ask
him what he thought about it.

When morning came the men, who had lost their way, asked George to put
them on the road to Mr. Ackerman's rancho, but he didn't do it. He sent
them thirty-five miles out of their course, after which he set out for
Mr. Gilbert's house, where he arrived just at dark. He told his old
friend all his troubles, not forgetting to repeat what Springer had said
about Uncle John and his plans, and Mr. Gilbert, in return, told him
some bad as well as some good news. The good news was that George's
horse and mule were safe in his (Mr. Gilbert's) corral; that Zeke was
unharmed, and that, with the assistance of some of the settlers he had
recaptured every one of George's lost herd. The bad news was, that Ned
and his friend, Gus Robbins, had been shooting Mr. Cook's cattle, that
all the ranchemen in the neighborhood were very angry at them for it,
and that they were going to meet at Cook's on the following day and
decide how they would punish them.

This last piece of intelligence made George all the more anxious to
reach home in order to warn his cousin, and Mr. Gilbert urged him to
lose no time in doing it. The best thing Ned and Gus could do, he said,
would be to go North and stay there until the events of the last few
days were forgotten; and as for Uncle John, he wasn't fit to be any
boy's guardian, and George had better take measures at once to have a
new one appointed. Our hero thought this advice worth acting upon, all
except that portion of it relating to the selection of a new guardian.
He could not bear the idea of disgracing his father's only brother.
Uncle John might be guilty of the offences with which he was charged,
and then again he might not. He had nothing but Springer's word for it,
and he would wait until he had better evidence than that before he took
any action in the case.

While the two were talking the matter over, the owner of the stolen
horse and his companion arrived. They had learned that they had been
sent a long distance out of their way, and they were in very bad humor
over it. While Mr. Gilbert entertained them, George slipped out of the
house, mounted his horse, which one of the herdsmen had saddled for him,
and started for home with all haste. Every body there was surprised to
see him, for Zeke had brought the news of his disappearance, and he was
given up for lost. More than that, the trail along which he had just
passed was watched by men who had orders to make a prisoner of him and
take him across the river. They were instructed to watch for a boy on
foot; but George came on horseback, and so passed them in safety.

Ned and his friend, Gus Robbins, were greatly alarmed when they heard
what George had to say to them, and so was Uncle John. They agreed to
every thing he had to propose, and in a very few minutes the three boys
were mounted and riding away in the darkness. George had used extra care
to enter and leave the house without Philip's knowledge, but the crafty
Mexican knew just what was going on. His first act, when the boys were
out of sight, was to put the owner of the stolen horse and his companion
on the wrong trail, and his next, to hunt up the two men who had been
ordered to capture George, and tell them that he had started for
Brownsville. Then he came back and told his employer what he had done,
and if George could have overheard their conversation, he would have
needed no better evidence that his uncle was his enemy. There was one
who _did_ overhear it, and who showed what he thought of it by knocking
Philip down.

George was overtaken and captured the next day while he and his
companions were in camp, and the last time we saw him his captors were
just starting to take him across the river. Before he took leave of his
cousin he received permission to change clothes with him, and it was a
very fortunate thing for Ned that he did so. The latter was twice
brought face to face with the owner of the stolen horse, who was
following him with the greatest perseverance, and if he had been dressed
in his nobby suit, he would have been recognised and pounced upon at
once.

When George was taken from them, Ned and Gus were left to find their
own way to Brownsville, which they reached in due time, and a very
unsociable pair they were, too. Ned very unreasonably charged his friend
with being the cause of all his troubles, and told him that he had
better go home and stay there. This made Gus so angry that he scarcely
spoke to Ned during the journey, and when they reached Brownsville he
left him without saying good-by. It was a long time before Ned heard of
him again. Where he went, and what he did, we have yet to tell.

As soon as Ned reached Brownsville he "dressed himself up like a
gentleman," as he expressed it, and waited impatiently for the arrival
of his father. Uncle John came at last, and took Ned around to his hotel
and up to his room, where we now find them, and where they had spent an
hour or more in talking over the incidents of the last few days. Ned was
surprised at the anxiety his father exhibited to learn all the
particulars of George's capture. He was obliged to tell the story over
and over again, and when Uncle John had heard all he wanted to know, he
dropped George entirely, and would not speak of him if he could help
it.

"He is glad George has gone," thought Ned, "and it wouldn't surprise me
in the least to know that he had something to do with his disappearance.
Well, if he _has_ gone for good, I don't see what I can do about it. I
don't see why I should cry over it, either, for I am master of a cool
forty thousand a year. I little thought, while I was handling the
yard-stick in old Robbins's store and working for starvation wages, that
I should ever be a millionaire. Forty thousand a year! How in the world
am I going to spend it, I'd like to know! Of course I must go to
Europe--all the gentlemen go there--but first I'll go to Foxboro' and
lord it over some of those fellows who used to slight me because I was
nothing but a dry-goods clerk. But, after all, I don't know that I blame
them. I shall not renew my association with those clerks, for a
millionaire ought to be particular in regard to the company he keeps."

"Now make up your mind where you want to go and we will leave
Brownsville to-night," repeated Uncle John, slapping his son familiarly
on the shoulder and breaking in upon his meditations. "We have nobody
but ourselves to look out for now that George is gone, and we can do as
we please."

"But he might escape and come back, you know," suggested Ned.

"I hardly think--I am afraid he will not be so fortunate," replied Uncle
John. "Those cattle-thieves are a desperate lot of men."

"Don't you think you ought to go back to the rancho and make some effort
to find him?" inquired Ned.

He asked the question simply to see what answer his father would make,
and not because he wanted him to act upon the hint thus thrown out.

"And put myself in danger for nothing?" exclaimed Uncle John. "That
would be the height of folly. How could I help him while he is across
the river in the hands of those desperadoes? They may have made an end
of him already. Mr. Gilbert, who thoroughly understands the temper of
the people in that settlement, advised me to go away for a while, and I
shall certainly do so."

"And when we come back I shall be the lawful master of the finest estate
in Texas," exclaimed Ned, with great enthusiasm.

"I confess that it looks that way now," replied Uncle John, who,
although he was as highly elated as Ned was, controlled himself better.
"Have you any idea what you will do with your wealth?"

"I know one thing," answered Ned, "and that is, I'll not live in Texas.
I'll leave an agent in charge of the ranche and go up north where white
folks live. They won't snub me because I wear good clothes. Who's
there?"

The bell-boy, who knocked at that moment, evidently took this question
for an invitation to enter. At any rate he opened the door, saying as he
thrust his head into the apartment--

"A gentleman to see you, sir."

[Illustration: GEORGE'S UNEXPECTED APPEARANCE]

Uncle John and Ned jumped to their feet in the greatest surprise and
consternation. The former could not have told just what he stood in fear
of, but Ned could. He fully expected to see the owner of that stolen
horse stalk into the room; but if that gentleman had made his
appearance, Ned would not have been so utterly confounded as he was at
the sight of the visitor who came in. Uncle John and Ned took just one
look at him and dropped back into their chairs without speaking. It was
George Ackerman. He looked as natural as life, and was apparently
none the worse for his short sojourn among the cattle-thieves. His
presence there proved quite conclusively that Ned was not yet lawful
master of the finest estate in Texas.



CHAPTER III.

THE CONTRA-GUERRILLAS.


The last time we saw George Ackerman he was dressed in his cousin's
nobby suit, and was riding away from camp between the two
cattle-thieves, whom Philip, his uncle's cook, had placed upon his
trail. He was their prisoner, and they seemed determined to keep him
too; for one of them, in order to prevent all attempts at escape, held
fast to one end of a lariat, the other end of which was tied around the
neck of George's horse.

The boy was not frightened in the least--he never was, unless he saw
something to be frightened at--but he was anxious and uneasy, as any
body would have been under the same circumstances. He began to believe
now, that Springer told the truth; and that his capture was the result
of the plans his uncle had laid to get him out of the way, so that Ned
could lay claim to the property. But beyond that he was all in the dark.

As long as George remained within sight of the camp he turned in his
saddle, now and then, to look back at the boys from whom he had been so
unexpectedly separated. They were disconsolate enough, if one might
judge by their actions. Gus Robbins was standing in the edge of the
timber gazing stupidly after the prisoner and his captors, as if he had
not yet been able to make up his mind, whether he was awake or dreaming;
and Ned was walking back and forth, wringing his hands and making other
demonstrations indicative of a very agitated state of mind.

"There is nothing for him to cry over," thought George, who was
surprised at his cousin's want of pluck. "He can't get lost if he tries;
and he will be sure to meet his father in Brownsville. He had no
business to shoot those cattle, for I told him he would get himself into
trouble by it."

When the camp and its two unhappy occupants had been left out of sight
behind the swells, George turned to take a good look at his captors.
They were dressed in Mexican costumes; but for all that, he knew that
they were Americans. They were a hard-looking pair; and if he had had
any intention of appealing to their sympathies, one glance at their
faces would have been enough to drive all such thoughts out of his mind.

"I always heard that the Ackermans was a plucky lot, but I didn't allow
to find a kid like you so mighty cool an' keerless like," said one of
the men, after he had looked in vain for some signs of alarm in his
captive's countenance. "Look here! You said that you knew all about
Fletcher, an' I ax you again, who told you about him?"

"And I give you the same reply that I did before," returned George,
"It's my own business. Were you with Fletcher on the night he made the
attack on our rancho?"

"Mebbe we was, an' mebbe we wasn't," replied the man.

"I hardly thought you would confess it," said George. "Philip thought he
was doing a very smart thing when he left that door open, so that you
could go into the house; didn't he?"

George's captors seemed greatly astonished at this question. They stared
fixedly at him for a moment and then they looked at each other.

"You didn't succeed in getting the money-box, did you?" continued
George, who knew that the men would have given something handsome to
know where he received all his information. "You got nothing at the
ranche but a horse--a dark chestnut with white mane and tail, and four
white feet."

"He is over the river now," said one of the men, who was so amazed, that
he spoke before he thought what he was doing.

"I know it."

"Wal, go on. What else do you know?"

"I know that you expect to receive a thousand head of fat cattle, as
your reward, for making a prisoner of me. You can tell Fletcher, for his
satisfaction, that the next time he wants to put a spy into any of the
ranches in this country, he had better select a more reliable man than
that Mexican cook. There!" added George, to himself, "If I am not very
much mistaken, Philip is in a fair way to see as much trouble as he has
tried to get me into."

There could be no doubt about that, if the expression on the faces of
the boy's captors, was any index of the thoughts that were passing
through their minds. He had purposely aroused their suspicions against
the cook, and the significant glances they exchanged with each other,
had a volume of meaning in them.

"When I get home, the first thing I do will be to tell Jake to kick
Philip out of the house," said George, again communing with himself. "Of
course, Fletcher will want to know who told me all these things, and it
would never do to say that I got my information from Springer. I say,"
he added, aloud, "where do you fellows make your home, anyhow?"

"You'll see when you get thar," replied one of the men.

"I suppose you were with Fletcher on the night he jumped down on me and
stampeded my cattle, were you not?" continued George.

"Mebbe we was, an' mebbe we wasn't."

"I know who was there."

"Who?"

"Springer. He used to herd cattle for my father, you know, and I
recognised him the moment I put my eyes on him. He was shot right
there," said George, placing the forefingers of each hand on his legs to
indicate the spots where Zeke's bullets had found a lodgement. "He was
badly injured, too, and I don't believe he ever got back across the
river."

"Wal, he did," said one of the men. "He had a hard time of it, but he
got through all right, an' he's thar now."

"I am very glad to hear it," said George, to himself. "That's just what
I was trying to get at. If I can find him, perhaps he will help me
escape."

George held no further conversation with his captors during the ride,
for they were busy talking with each other. As they conversed wholly in
the Spanish language, George could not understand what they said, but
still he knew that they were talking about Philip, for he heard his name
mentioned now and then, and it was almost always coupled with an oath.
They seemed to think that their trusted spy had been guilty of
treachery, and they made a report to that effect when they got across
the river.

It was five miles to the nearest belt of timber, and while they were
travelling toward it, the cattle-thieves exercised the utmost caution,
stopping on the top of every swell and sweeping their eyes around the
horizon to make sure that there was no one in sight. But they reached
the timber without being seen by anybody, and there they camped to wait
until dark. They did not think it safe to approach the ford in broad
daylight. George now had an opportunity to finish the nap from which he
had been so rudely awakened, and the cattle-thieves took turns in
standing guard.

When night came, he was ordered into the saddle again and led toward the
ford, his captors taking the same precautions as before to prevent his
escape. They crossed the river in safety, and as soon as their horses
had mounted the opposite bank, they were put to their full speed. There
was no need of concealment now, for the cattle-thieves were among
friends who, had they been pursued by ranchemen or troops from Texas,
would have done everything in their power to aid them to escape.

They now had a journey of eighteen miles before them, and it required
but a little over two hours for them to accomplish it. It was so dark at
first that George could not see his hand before him; but the moon arose
after a while, and then he was able to see that they were following a
well-beaten trail, which ran in a tortuous course through the hills.
This trail finally led them into a wide valley, from the middle of which
arose the whitewashed walls of what had been a comfortable rancho.
Their horses' hoofs rang out loudly on the pavement as they rode
unchallenged into the open gateway and along the arched passage that led
to the spacious _patio_ or court-yard. It was deserted, save by a few
goats that were feeding at a pile of fodder in one corner, and a
disconsolate dog or two which, having been awakened from his sleep, was
stealing off under the shadow of the walls to find a new resting-place.

On the four sides of the court-yard, doorways without doors yawned
darkly at the intruders. In front of one of these doors the
cattle-thieves dismounted, and while one remained outside to guard the
prisoner, the other entered with the horses, which he hitched there and
supplied with a feed of corn. When he came out again, he brought the
saddles and blankets with him.

"Now then," said he, as he led the way into one of the adjoining
apartments, "we'll go in here. Thar's plenty of room in our hotel, and
thar's no need of crowdin' the boarders. Spread your blanket down
anywheres, young fellow, and don't try to skip outen here durin' the
night, fur we always sleep with one eye open."

As if to put all attempts at escape out of the question, the speaker
spread his own couch in front of the door and stretched himself upon it.

A bed which consists simply of a blanket and saddle is quickly made up,
and George, who had not yet recovered from the fatigue of his five days'
journey on foot, fell fast asleep almost as soon as he took possession
of it. When he awoke at daylight he was not a little astonished at what
he saw. The rooms opening off the court-yard, which had been so silent
and apparently deserted when he rode into the rancho had, during his
sleep, given up a most unexpected tenantry--men, women, children, goats
and dogs, so many, in fact, that it was a wonder where they all came
from. A confused babel of voices saluted his ears, and finally awoke his
captors, who made no effort to restrain him when he put on his sombrero
and walked out into the courtyard.

Having heard some astonishing stories told of the almost regal state
maintained by wealthy Mexican rancheros before the war, George looked
about him with the greatest interest. On every side he saw the lingering
remains of departed grandeur. In the centre of the court-yard was a
ruined fountain, and beyond it was a long column of fluted pillars,
with gaily-carved capitals. In front of these pillars were the remains
of a garden, now trodden hard with the pressure of many feet, but still
affording a little sustenance to a few flowerless shrubs and one or two
sickly orange and fig trees. Upon the broad stone verandah on the other
side of the fluted columns the master of the house had doubtless feasted
his guests, or smoked and dozed away the time in his hammock, while the
fountain played merrily and the air was redolent of the perfume of
flowers. Now slouching figures, clad in rusty leather trowsers and
velvet jackets, and smoking villainous cigarettes, swaggered through the
court-yard, and from the adjoining rooms, with their tessellated floors
and frescoed ceilings, came the impatient calls of hungry cattle and
horses, which were growing tired of waiting for their breakfast.

While George was wondering where the master was, and what had happened
to bring about so great a change in the house, he walked slowly along
the court-yard, glancing into all the rooms as he passed, and no one
spoke to him, or even seemed to notice him. He took a survey of the
verandah, which was littered with blankets, ponchos, saddles and
weapons, and was about to retrace his steps, when he heard a suppressed
exclamation of astonishment near him, and turned quickly to find himself
face to face with his father's old herdsman, the cattle-thief who had
warned him against his Uncle John. He sat on his blanket, with his back
against the wall, and the crutches which lay by his side proved that he
had not yet fully recovered from the wounds that had been inflicted upon
him by Zeke's Winchester.

"Hallo, Springer!" exclaimed George, starting forward; but as he was
about to mount the steps leading to the verandah, the man threw up his
hand, with a warning gesture.

"Keep your distance," said he, in a low tone. "We mustn't be too
friendly, kase thar's too many watchin' you!"

"Humph!" exclaimed George. "There doesn't seem to be anybody watching
me. I have been all around the court-yard, and nobody said a word to
me."

"No difference," replied Springer. "They all know you, and have got
their eyes on you. Don't you think now that I knowed what I was talking
about when I told you that your uncle wasn't no friend of your'n? Where
did they find you?"

"They surprised and captured me while I was on my way to Brownsville,"
replied George, who, still adhering to the resolution he had already
made that he would not discuss private family matters with such a fellow
as Springer, hastened to add, "Who runs this rancho, and what are these
men doing here? Are they all cattle-thieves? There must be five or six
hundred of them."

"The house belongs to Don Miguel de--something; I disremember the last
name," answered Springer. "You see he thought when Max came over here,
him and the French soldiers would be sure to clean out Juarez; so the
Don, he accepts some kind of an office under the emperor, and Juarez, he
confiscates his property, and Max, he sends a regiment here to watch
things. But they don't find nothing much to watch, all the property
'ceptin' the house havin' been took away, an' so they settles down to
cattle stealin'."

"Then these men are Maximilian's soldiers, are they?" said George.

"Yes; they're the contra-guerrillas, and a bad lot they are, too."

"I have heard of them," said George, with an involuntary shudder. "The
people in Brownsville and Matamoras say there is not a man in the whole
crowd who has not committed some crime."

"No more is there," replied Springer. "I'd oughter know, kase I belong
to 'em."

"Is Fletcher the colonel of the regiment?"

"No. He's only the boss of the cattle stealin' expeditions, kase he
knows the country and the ranches on the other side of the river
better'n any body else. His idea of stealing you was a little private
speculation of his'n, an' thar's only a few of us into it. Philip is the
one that put him up to it. You see, he heard your uncle an' that boy of
his'n talkin' agin you, an' wishin' you was out of the way so't they
could have the ranche all theirselves, an' Philip, he skirmished around
in that sly way of his'n till he got on your uncle's blind side, an'
then he told him that if he'd promise to leave a thousand head of cattle
where they could be stole easy, he'd see that you didn't never trouble
him no more. I wouldn't tell you no lie about this business," added
Springer, earnestly. "You give me grub and water when I was starvin' fur
'em, an' put me on my hoss, an' give me a chance for my life, when
nobody else wouldn't a done it; an' I'm goin' to do you a good turn to
pay you for it, if I can."

"Well, it is quite in your power to do me a good turn," said George,
quietly. "You can help me get away from here."

"O, no, I can't do that," exclaimed Springer. "I want to put you on your
guard against your uncle an' cousin, so that you will look out for them.
They mean harm to you, sure's you're born!"

"And it seems that they have carried out their plans, too," said George,
dolefully. "Have you any idea what these fellows intend to do with me?"

"They ain't agoin' to do nothing to you," said Springer, encouragingly.
"They've just going to hold fast to you, that's all; an' as long as
Fletcher has got you under his thumb, he's just as good as owner of the
Ackerman ranche an' all the cattle that's onto it. You see?"

"No, I don't," answered George.

"Wal, then I'll make it plain to you. A'most all the beef we get for our
army comes from over the river. The soldiers eat a power of it, an' when
the quartermaster wants some more, he'll send word to Fletcher, an'
Fletcher, he'll send word to your uncle by that Mexican cook of his'n
to bring in another thousand head so't we can steal 'em, an' your uncle,
he'll have to do it; kase if he don't, Fletcher, he'll blow the whole
thing, an' what would the neighbors do to your Uncle John? They'd handle
him rough, I tell you!"

George made no reply. He could not bear to think of what the settlers
would do if they were acquainted with the fact that Uncle John had
deliberately caused his nephew to be captured and carried off by the
guerrillas in order that he might obtain possession of his property. It
was very probable that they would "handle him rough," and that, too,
without the aid of judge or jury.

"But look here, Springer," said George, after a moment's reflection.
"You told me that you were to receive only a thousand head of cattle for
capturing me. When you get them you can't demand any more."

"We can an' we will," said Springer, stoutly. "We'll ax for cattle just
as often as we please, an' your Uncle John, he dassen't say no to us.
That's Fletcher's plan."

"This is a pretty state of affairs," said George, angrily. "Must I pay
for my capture out of my own pocket, and then stand still and allow
myself to be stripped clean?"

Springer shrugged his shoulders as if to say that the boy could answer
these questions in any way he pleased, and the latter, after turning the
situation over in his mind, said with all the bitterness he could throw
into his tones:

"I am not going to stay here and be robbed in this way. The Mexican
government can't protect me, and my own government won't, for fear of
hurting the feelings of you cattle-stealing gentlemen, and I am going to
take care of myself. Springer, you must assist me to escape."

We must pause here for a moment to give the reader some idea of the
state of affairs on our Texan border at the time of which we write, for
George was quite correct when he said that the Mexican government could
not protect him and that his own government would not.

From the days of Jacob Sadelmayer, who visited the Apache country about
the year 1744, until within a few years past, the Mexican people allowed
themselves to be regularly and systematically robbed by bands of raiding
Indians who were armed with nothing more formidable than bows and
arrows. During our civil war, and for years afterward, these Indians
turned their attention to the frontier settlements of Texas, and forced
them back a hundred and fifty miles. Our government uttered some feeble
protests, but it was not to be expected that a people who had for so
many years submitted to the forays of these savages, were going to make
vigorous warfare upon them for our protection. It was not to their
interest to do so, for the reason that as long as these raiders could
find market for their plunder in Mexico, and could retreat there to get
out of reach of our troops, they allowed the Mexicans themselves to rest
in peace.

At the time George Ackerman was taken prisoner, Maximilian, having been
abandoned by the French soldiers, who had been withdrawn on the demand
of our government, was making his last stand against Juarez. His
soldiers were deserting him by hundreds, and as the most of them would
rather steal than work any day, they formed themselves into bands, and
plundered their own countrymen and the Texans with the greatest
impartiality. Fletcher and his band nominally belonged to one of
Maximilian's regiments, but they were nothing better than professional
thieves. They formed a sort of foraging party; but instead of foraging
upon the enemy, they raided upon the Texans, drove off their cattle and
sold them to Maximilian's commissary. These raiding parties were almost
always pursued, and although some of them were overtaken and punished,
the majority succeeded in crossing the river, where they were safe. The
Mexican authorities would not arrest them, and our troops dared not
follow them over the Rio Grande for fear of bringing on a war with
Mexico. Texan ranchemen, when they passed through Mexican towns, often
found property there that had been stolen from them, but their demands
for it were met with derision and contempt.

This was the way matters stood on the morning that George Ackerman found
himself a prisoner among the Contra-Guerrillas. His chances for seeing
home and friends again would have been much better if the United States
and Mexico had been at war and he had been captured in battle, for then
he might have looked forward to an exchange; but as it was, there was no
such hope for him.



CHAPTER IV.

MORE ABOUT SILK STOCKING.


"Turn about is fair play, Springer," said George. "I fed you when you
were hungry, put you on your horse and gave you a chance to escape to
this side of the river, and you must help me in some way."

"I don't see how I can do it," replied the wounded cattle-thief, who
seemed to be alarmed by the proposition. "If I do an' am ketched at it,
I'm a goner. You didn't run no risk by helpin' me."

"I didn't!" exclaimed George. "I know a story worth two of that. What do
you suppose the settlers would do to me, if they should find out that I
had given aid and comfort to such a man as you are?"

"How are they goin' to find it out? It ain't likely that any one of us
will tell 'em of it."

"And neither is it likely that I shall tell Fletcher if you assist me,"
answered George. "You see, Springer----"

"Easy! easy!" whispered the man, raising his hand warningly. "He's
coming."

"Who is coming?"

"The boss."

George faced about and saw a tall fellow, dressed in Mexican costume,
picking his way among the recumbent guerrillas who were stretched out on
their ponchos in the court-yard, waiting for breakfast. As he came
nearer, George turned away from Springer, and looked at him with a good
deal of curiosity. He was not a Mexican--there was that much to be said
in his favor--but there was nothing in his face that induced the captive
to appeal to his sympathies. When the boy descended the steps leading
down from the verandah, the robber chief stood at the foot waiting for
him.

"So you're George Ackerman, are you?" said he, thrusting his hands deep
into his pockets and looking down at the boy. "Now, I want to know, who
told you so much?"

The man spoke in an abrupt tone, but his face wore a good-natured smile,
and George did not feel in the least afraid of him.

"The fellows who brought you in here last night, seem to think that
Philip has been talking too much," continued Fletcher; "and if that is
the case, I want to know it."

If the man had looked toward Springer, who at that moment appeared to be
busily engaged in adjusting the bandages he wore about his wounded legs,
he would have seen that his face had grown very white, and that he was
listening intently for George's reply.

"You can ask Philip about that the next time you see him," was the
answer, which was given in a tone that was calculated to strengthen
Fletcher's suspicions against the cook. "I know why my uncle wants to
get rid of me, and how he intends to accomplish his object; and whether
or not he will succeed, depends entirely upon yourself. I am your
prisoner, and you have the power to do with me as you please."

"Well, you are a cool one, that's a fact," exclaimed Fletcher, who
seemed to be astonished at the boy's courage. "He will succeed, so far
as getting rid of all his cattle is concerned, your uncle will;
but----"

"They are not his cattle," interrupted George. "They belong to me
individually."

"No odds. We don't care who belongs to 'em, so long as we get 'em,"
replied the guerrilla, cheerfully. "As I was going on to say, your uncle
will get rid of all his cattle, but he won't get rid of you, by a long
shot. We want the beef, and we don't care how we get it, if we don't
have to fight for it; but I aint going to put an ugly hand on you, and
I'll make it hot for anybody who does. I haint got nothing against you.
You don't stand between _me_ and a fortune. I reckon there are others in
the settlement who know as much as you do?"

"There are some there who suspect as much as I know," replied George. "I
had a long talk with one of my friends about it, night before last."

"Then Philip will have to come away from that ranche, for he won't be of
no more use there," said Fletcher. "Now, I aint a going to be any harder
on you than I can help. You can walk around the ranche as much as you
please; but you can see for yourself, that it won't be of no use for you
to try to get away. If we should catch you at that, we'd have to shut
you up in one of those rooms and put a guard over you. Come on, and
let's get some breakfast."

"What are you going to do with me, any how?" asked George, as he
followed the guerrilla toward the other end of the court-yard.

"O, we'll let you visit with us, until we get all Ackerman's cattle; and
then we'll set you back across the river, so that you can make it warm
for the old rascal," replied Fletcher, with an encouraging wink.

"I don't want to stay here until my stock is all stolen," said George;
and he added to himself: "I won't, either."

The boy breathed much easier after his interview with the robber chief.
He had never expected to be so well treated by the man who always led
the guerrillas on their plundering expeditions, and whose deeds of
violence had much to do with the reputation those same guerrillas bore.
He had the assurance that no harm was intended him, and consequently his
mind was at rest on that score; but he did not want to stay there a
passive prisoner, and, what was more, he was determined that he would
not. If he saw a chance for escape he would improve it, and he would
take some desperate risks, too.

That day was a dreary one to George, who could find nothing to interest
him. He could not smoke and doze away the long hours in his blanket, as
the Mexicans did, and he had already seen every thing there was to be
seen about the rancho. He was surprised at the manner in which the
guerrillas performed garrison duty. There was no guard mount, such as he
had seen at the fort on the other side of the river; there was no sentry
at the gateway, no herdsmen to take care of the horses, the most of
which were allowed to run loose in the valley; and if Springer had not
told him that the regiment had been sent there to watch the rancho, he
never would have known it from anything they did to indicate the fact.
No one paid the least attention to him, not even Springer, who must have
taken himself off to some safe hiding-place, for George could not find
him again.

"He is afraid that I will ask him to assist me in making my escape,"
thought the boy, and he made a pretty shrewd guess as to the cause of
the man's sudden disappearance. "Well, who cares? If they are going to
allow me to run around as I please, I'll not ask help of any body. I
wonder what they have done with my horse?"

George answered this question for himself by directing his course toward
the room into which he had seen Ranger led the night before. The animal
was still there. He greeted his master with a low whinny of recognition,
and rubbed his head familiarly against his shoulders when the boy patted
his glossy neck. He tried to follow George, too, when the latter went
out, but he was tied to a ring in the wall, and his master dared not set
him at liberty.

"I am afraid that our days of companionship are over, Ranger," said
George, as he put his hands into his pockets and sauntered toward the
gate. "Fletcher seems to think that I can't get away from here if he
keeps you tied up. But there are other horses close at hand, some of
them as good as you are, probably, and I must take one of them."

There was no one at the gate to stop him, and George went through it,
and turning around an angle of the wall bent his steps towards the place
where the horses belonging to the guerrillas were grazing, walking
slowly and stopping now and then to look about him as if he had
determined upon nothing in particular. He did not know how many pairs of
eyes there might be watching him, and he was careful to do nothing to
excite the suspicions of his guard, if he had any. He moved leisurely
around the building and then went back through the gate and lay down
upon his blanket, which he had spread in front of the room that had
served him and his captors for a sleeping apartment. His short walk
outside the walls had satisfied him that unless some restraint was put
upon his actions his captivity would be of very short duration. If he
could leave the rancho after dark, it would be no trouble at all for him
to capture one of the horses that were feeding on the plain, and set out
for the nearest ford. He resolved that he would attempt it that very
night.

George made three or four more excursions outside the rancho that
afternoon, each time going a little farther away from the building than
before, and when he came in from his last ramble he had been gone two
hours, and Fletcher was looking for him.

"O, here you are," he exclaimed, as George approached him. "I reckoned
that perhaps you had skipped out."

The man said this with a grin which made George believe that perhaps his
escape could not be accomplished so easily after all. It told him as
plainly as words that he was watched.

"Skipped out!" repeated George, "I guess not. I have no desire to be
shut up in one of these rooms with a guard over me."

"I saw you looking at the horses," continued Fletcher. "Did you notice
that fellow with the white mane and tail, and four white feet?"

Yes, George had noticed him, and with the eye of a horseman, too. The
animal would have been conspicuous for his beauty in a drove of
thoroughbreds; and among the shaggy, ill-conditioned beasts that the
guerrillas owned, he looked like a well-dressed gentleman surrounded by
a crowd of ragamuffins.

"That's the fellow that followed us off on the night we went to your
rancho after that money box," said Fletcher. "He's just lightning, and
if some of those rich fellows down there with Max don't offer me
something handsome for him, I'll keep him myself."

"It must be the stolen horse that goes by the name of Silk Stocking,"
thought George. "I wonder if he would let me catch him? If he would, I
could get Ned out of one scrape easily enough."

"I reckon you won't be lonesome to-night while I am gone, will you?"
continued Fletcher, as he led the way into one of the rooms in which a
dozen or more guerrillas were sitting on the floor eating their supper
of broiled beef and tortillas. These, as George afterward learned, were
the men whom Fletcher had selected to accompany him on a raid he
intended to make that night. "Well, I can't help it if you are lonesome,
for business is business, and has got to be attended to while the moon
shines. We can't go but two or three times more, and then we'll have to
stop for a whole month," added the boss cattle-thief, with a deep sigh
of regret.

"That knocks me," said George, to himself. "I can't carry out my plans
while these fellows are off on a raid, for while I am looking around for
a ford I might run right into them. If I don't succeed in the very first
attempt I am done for." Then aloud he said: "You'll not hurt any body
while you are gone, will you?"

"Not if we can help it," replied Fletcher, in the most unconcerned
manner possible. "We're bound to have the cattle, and those who don't
want to get popped over will stay in doors, where they belong."

It was all George could do to refrain from telling the nonchalant robber
that things would not always be so--that if he lived, he would see the
day that he could not rob and shoot honest settlers without being
followed across the river and punished wherever he was found--and if he
had told him so, he would have uttered nothing but the truth. The time
did come, sure enough, and Fletcher lived to see it, when the simple
crossing of the Rio Grande did not insure the safety of the raiders.
They were pursued into their own territory and soundly thrashed there,
and George Ackerman himself was the first guide who led the troops in
the pursuit. But, angry as he was, the boy did not give utterance to the
thoughts that were flashing through his mind. He knew that it would be
folly to irritate the guerrilla, for the latter might put him in close
confinement, and then there would be no such thing as escape for him.

Supper over, the cattle-thieves went out to saddle their horses, and
when everything was ready for the start, they mounted and rode away,
Fletcher pausing long enough to ask his captive if he had any word to
send across the river. George replied that he had not, adding, in
undertone;

"I wish I could send word to the settlers to be on the alert, to give
you the worst whipping you ever had."

But, if George had only known it, there was no need of sending warning
to the settlers. Fletcher came back just before daylight with no cattle,
and three men less than he had when he went out. The noise the
guerrillas made on their return awoke George, who gleaned from the few
scraps of their conversation that he was able to catch, that they had
had their trouble for their pains--that the ranchemen were waiting for
them, and whipped them beautifully before they fairly gained a footing
on Texas soil.

"Good for the ranchemen," thought George, as he rolled himself up in his
blanket and tried to find an easy place for his head on his hard pillow.
"If that is the way they are going to do business, it will be a long
time before you get your pay for making a prisoner of me."

The boy did not leave his blanket the next morning until Fletcher came
in to tell him that breakfast was ready. He could hear the guerrillas
grumbling lustily over the ill-luck that had attended their companions
the night before, and he was in no hurry to mingle with them, for fear
they might vent their spite upon him in some way; but they showed no
disposition to do anything of the kind. Fletcher looked very savage and
was not as talkative as usual; the men in his mess swore a little more
over this meal, and that was all George saw or heard to indicate that
anything had gone wrong with them.

Although the raiders had been badly punished, they were by no means
disheartened. As soon as breakfast was over, they took fresh horses, and
reinforced by a dozen or more companions, set out to try another ford
twenty miles further up the river. They came back early the next
morning, and this time they were very jubilant, for they had met with
glorious success. They had brought five hundred head of stock back with
them, and some unfortunate rancheman on the other side of the river was
ten thousand dollars poorer than he had been a few hours before.

Fletcher and his men spent two more nights in this way, and to George's
intense disgust, they came back full handed each time. He had the
opportunity to look at the cattle before they were sent into the
interior, and had the satisfaction of seeing that none of them bore his
brand.

On the fifth morning of his captivity, George encountered Springer on
the verandah. He had sought an interview with him every day, but
Springer had taken good care to keep out of his way, because he knew
that he could not assist him in his efforts to escape without running
the risk of bringing himself into trouble with the boss cattle-thief. On
this particular morning, however, he purposely intercepted the boy while
the latter was taking his usual walk around the court-yard. He had
something of importance to say to him.

"Wal, George, you ain't gone yet, have you?" said Springer, after he had
looked all around to make sure that there was no one within ear-shot.

"No, but I haven't been wasting any time," was the reply. "I have
learned that I can go in and out of the rancho whenever I please, and I
have made a friend of Silk Stocking."

"Who's that?" inquired Springer.

"That is the name of the horse you raiders brought away with you on the
night you made the attack on our rancho," replied George. "I have fed
him crackers every day until he has learned to know me, and will let me
catch him any where. I got on his back last night, and if I had been
certain that the road was clear, you wouldn't have seen me here this
morning. I would have made a bold dash for home and freedom."

"It's just as well that you didn't try it," said Springer, hastily,
"kase the road wasn't cl'ar. You might have run plump into Fletcher's
gang afore you knowed it. Now I'll tell you what's a fact: I can't help
you none only by giving you good advice, an' I am risking my life by
doin' that. The road will be clear to-night, an' if you are bound to
start for the other side of the Rio, you'd best do it afore you see the
sun rise agin. Fletcher aint goin' on no more raids till next full moon,
but he's goin' to start with the regiment, bright an' 'arly to-morrow
morning, for our old camp at Queretaro; an' I'll just tell you what's a
fact, if you ever let yourself be took so far into the country as that,
it will be a long time afore you see Texas agin. Fletcher don't mean no
harm to you, but thar's fightin' goin' on down thar, an' I don't know
what may happen to us."

"I am glad you told me," said George. "I'll be off this very night.
Good-by, Springer. Don't go on any more cattle raids, will you?"

"I aint likely to go on any more for a while," said Springer. "I shall
be laid up for another month at least."

He looked all around the court-yard to make sure that there was no one
watching him, and then cordially shook the hand that George extended
toward him.

"If you had been engaged in some honest business that night you would
not have received those wounds," said the boy. "Now, when you get well,
cut loose from such fellows as these with whom you are now associating,
and turn over a new leaf. Good-by!"

"Good-by, an' good luck to you," said Springer, heartily.

George walked slowly across the court-yard, passed out of the gate and
went toward the place where the horses were feeding. Silk Stocking was
cropping the grass a little apart from the others--he seemed to be a
high-toned horse, and to look upon himself as something better than the
rest of the drove--and when George whistled to him he promptly raised
his head and came up to receive the piece of cracker which the boy had
taken care to put into his pocket that morning.

"I don't wonder that those men were so determined to recover possession
of you, old fellow," said George, as he ran his fingers through the
animal's long white mane. "You are a regular pet and as gentle as you
are handsome. Now don't go back on me when I come out to catch you
to-night, and I will see that you find your way back into the hands of
your lawful master."

George did not dare spend a great while in Silk Stocking's company, for
fear that some of the guerrillas might see him and suspect something; so
he walked slowly toward the rancho, after seeing him eat the cracker,
and the horse began cropping the grass again.

The hours always pass away slowly when one is impatient, and this was
the longest and gloomiest day of George's captivity. He spent it, as the
most of the guerrillas spent all their unemployed moments, lying at his
ease on his blanket; but to a boy of George's active habits this was
anything but an agreeable way of killing time. He found an opportunity
during the day to secure his lasso, which he tied around his waist,
buttoning his buckskin coat over it so that it was concealed from view.

George went to bed at dark, but of course he did not go to sleep. For
long hours he rolled uneasily about on his blanket, alternating between
hope and fear, and waiting impatiently for the guerrillas to retire to
their rooms; but there seemed to be more than the usual number of
wakeful and talkative ones among them, and it was almost midnight before
silence settled down over the rancho. Then he sat up on his blanket and
looked about him.



CHAPTER V.

"HOLD UP THERE, SILVER BUTTONS!"


During the time that George had been a prisoner among the guerrillas, he
had made it a point to leave the rancho two or three times during the
night, his object being to accustom his guards, if he had any, to seeing
him go and come at all hours. The fact that no one had ever attempted to
interfere with him in any way, encouraged the belief that no one ever
would interfere with him; but somehow he felt a strange sinking at his
heart as he arose from his blanket and proceeded to arrange it, so that
one to have taken a casual glance at it, would have supposed that it
still concealed a human figure.

"I can't imagine what is the matter with me," said George, to himself,
as he moved to the door with noiseless footsteps, and gazed about the
silent and deserted court-yard. "I never have been stopped while
passing through that gate, and I don't see why I should stand so much in
fear of being stopped to-night. Perhaps it is because I know that if I
don't escape the first time trying, I never shall. Yes, that must be it.
Well, I must make the attempt successful."

So saying, George stepped boldly out of the door, and after assuring
himself that his lasso was securely fastened about his waist, he thrust
his hands into his pockets and walked along with the greatest
deliberation, as he always did when taking his airings about the
court-yard. But he did not go straight toward the archway that formed
the gate. He drew up behind the wall and peeped cautiously around the
corner of it. As he did so he drew a long breath and his courage gave
away altogether. There was a sentinel at the opposite end of the
archway. He was leaning in an easy attitude against the wall, his feet
crossed and his hands clasped at a "parade rest" over the muzzle of his
carbine. His sombrero was pushed on the back of his head, and he was
gazing in a dreamy sort of way toward the hills that bounded the western
end of the valley.

The officer in command of the guerrillas (George did not know who he
was, for since he had been at the rancho he had heard orders given by
nobody except Fletcher), had stationed the sentry at the gate to keep
his men from straying away to visit some of the neighboring haciendas.
He wanted them all there when he was ready to begin the march for
Queretaro in the morning, and the measures he had taken to secure their
presence had shut up George's only avenue of escape.

So thought the prisoner, as he took another look at the sentinel and
walked back toward his quarters. He had scarcely moved away from the
wall when a loud yawn broke the stillness, and a moment later the door
which opened into the room next to the one he occupied as a
sleeping-apartment, was filled by a tall figure, who stretched his arms
and rubbed his eyes vigorously. It was Fletcher. George was really
alarmed by this unexpected encounter, but the cattle-thief's first words
proved that he did not suspect anything.

"Hallo, there!" he exclaimed, when he saw the boy coming toward him.
"What's the matter with you. Can't you sleep?"

"No," replied George. "I don't do enough during the day to make me tired
enough to sleep at night."

"You'll have enough to do to-morrow," replied the boss cattle-thief,
encouragingly; "so you had better go back to your blanket. We shall be
in the saddle at daylight."

"Where are we going?" asked George, who was not supposed to know
anything of the contemplated movement on the part of the guerrillas.

"Down to join old Max," was the reply. "Wouldn't wonder if we saw lively
times down there, too. They say that Max is on his last legs, now that
the Frenchmen have left him; and if that is the case, we are going to
leave him, too, and strike hands with Juarez. You see, there is going to
be some shooting done before this little matter is settled; and we don't
want to be found on the losing side."

"It is no more than I should expect of you," said the boy, to himself,
as he passed on toward his own room. "You joined your fortunes with
Maximilian when you thought he was sure to succeed; and stand ready to
desert him at the very time when he needs you the most. For downright
meanness, commend me to a renegade of your stamp."

But, after all, Fletcher and his men were not more despicable than some
who held higher positions in the army. One of Maximilian's trusted
native officers, General Lopez, betrayed him; and on the 19th day of the
following June, he was led out of his prison at Queretaro, to be shot.
The contra-guerrillas did, indeed, see lively times at that place, being
almost cut to pieces while they were on their way to join Juarez.

George afterward heard all about it from Springer, who came out of the
fight in safety, and profiting by the severe lesson he had received at
the hands of George's herdsman, made efforts to lead an honest and
respectable life.

George did not forget his own affairs, while commenting upon the perfidy
of Fletcher and his guerrilla companions. While he was thinking about
that, he was preparing to try another way of escape. He did not go into
his own room again, but passed on to the apartment that served as a
stable for his horse, which had never been allowed to run at liberty
with the others. It will be remembered, that Philip had warned the men
who captured George, to look out for that same horse, for he was very
swift; and if they allowed him the least chance, he would carry his
master so far out of their sight, that they would never see him again.
These men had, in turn, warned Fletcher, and that was the reason the
horse had been kept confined. But there was another steed about there
that was quite as fleet as Ranger, and which could be as readily caught
when running at large, and George was impatient to be on his back.

In the room in which Ranger was secured, was a window that was high and
narrow--_very_ narrow, the boy thought, as he looked at it, and then
took a survey of his broad chest. It had more the appearance of a
port-hole than a window; for the stones of which the thick wall was
built, were laid at such an angle, that the opening was much wider in
the room than it was on the outside of the building. Fortunately, there
were neither bars nor window-sash to impede his movements.

"It will be hard work," thought George, "but I must get through or go to
Queretaro."

He quickly pulled off his coat, which, with his sombrero and lasso, he
thrust through the window. Then having further reduced his proportions
by removing all his outer clothing, he crawled into the opening, feet
first, and after a good deal of effort and some very tight squeezing, he
worked himself through and dropped to the ground on the outside.

To put on his clothing again, catch up his lasso and leave the building
out of sight in the darkness, was the work of but a very few minutes. It
took him longer to find the horses, and he approached them with the
greatest caution, for fear of creating a stampede among them; but when
he found them, his troubles were over, for almost the first one he saw
was Silk Stocking. The animal allowed himself to be caught, raised not
the slightest objection as the lasso was forced into his mouth and tied
about his lower jaw, and when the boy flung himself upon his back, he
moved off without waiting for the word.

Now came the most dangerous part of the whole undertaking. In order to
reach the road that led to the river, he was obliged to pass along the
valley within easy gun-shot of the sentry at the gateway, who would
certainly have discovered him had it been even moonlight; but
fortunately the night was very dark--so dark, that the only way in
which George could tell when he reached the road was by listening to the
sound made by his horse's hoofs. That intelligent animal seemed to know
just what was expected of him. He kept in a rapid walk until he reached
the road, and then he turned into it without any guidance from his
rider, and of his own free will broke into a gallop.

Although George had passed along this road but once before, he had no
fear of losing his way. His bump of locality was so well developed, that
he could find in the darkest of nights any place which he had once
visited, and while he trusted to his horse to keep in the road, he
trusted to his own senses to keep him from straying off into the wrong
trail. He travelled as a river-pilot guides his vessel at night--by the
_shape_ of the trees and bushes on each side of the way, and they were
all familiar to him, although he had seen them but once. He stopped
occasionally to listen for sounds of pursuit, but if there was any
attempted, those who were following him never came within hearing.

For the first few miles George kept his horse moving along at an easy
gait, holding his speed in reserve for an emergency; but when half the
distance to the river had been passed over, and Silk Stocking, warming
to his work, showed an inclination to go faster, the boy did not try to
check him. He had not been long on his back before he told himself that
he didn't wonder that Ned's desire to keep him had been strong enough to
get him into trouble. The animal's speed was equal to his beauty and
docility.

As soon as George became satisfied that his escape had been
accomplished, he began to think of the future. Where should he go and
what should he do after he got across the river? His uncle and cousin
did not want him at home (he had heard and experienced enough to remove
all his doubts on that point), and George was too high-spirited to go
where he was not welcome. He knew that it was in his power to bring
about a different state of affairs at the rancho, and that he could do
it by simply applying for a new guardian; but his friend and counsellor,
Mr. Gilbert, had told him that the change would have to be made by
process of law, and George was afraid that before the matter was
settled, some very damaging disclosures regarding his uncle's way of
doing business would be brought to light. It would never do, he thought,
to allow his father's only brother to be disgraced, and if he permitted
him to stay there in charge of the estate, it was quite probable that
when George reached his majority he would step into a very small
patrimony.

"I don't know what to do," thought the boy, after he had racked his
brain in the unsuccessful effort to find a way out of the difficulty. "I
must either come down on Uncle John, or stand quietly by and see him
pocket all my money. I don't see why he and Ned can't behave themselves!
They will make enough out of me in an honest way, according to the terms
of father's will, to make them independent, and I do wish they would
stop stealing from me and laying plans to get me out of the way. I'll
speak to Mr. Gilbert about it."

Silk Stocking might have made quicker work of the eighteen miles that
lay between the rancho and the river, if his rider had urged him to do
it, but being allowed to choose his own gait, he accomplished it in
about two hours and a half, so that it was about four o'clock in the
morning when George crossed the ford and found himself again on Texas
soil. Feeling perfectly safe from pursuit, he jogged along at a very
easy pace, directing his course toward Mr. Gilbert's rancho. He did not
know that Uncle John had followed Ned to Brownsville, or rather, he was
not certain of it, and he did not want to see him again, until he had
had an interview with the only man in the settlement who was
unprejudiced enough to give him sensible advice.

It was twenty-five miles to his friend's rancho, and before he had gone
half that distance, he was aroused from a reverie into which he had
fallen by a quick movement on the part of his horse, which suddenly
threw up his head, and after turning his ears back as if he were
listening to some sound behind him, set off at the top of his speed. At
the same moment George heard the muffled sound of horses' hoofs in the
grass behind him. That was a most alarming sound, but it was accompanied
by one that was still more alarming--the sharp crack of a revolver and
the noise made by a bullet as it passed through the air close by his
side.

"Hold up, there, Silver Buttons!" shouted a voice that sounded strangely
familiar to the boy's ears. "That's only a warning! the next one will
strike centre, sure!"

Believing that Fletcher and his men were upon him, and that the time had
come for the exhibition of all the speed which Silk Stocking had thus
far held in reserve, George threw himself flat upon his horse's neck,
dug his heels into his side, and looking back over his shoulder, saw
that he was pursued by two men, who, by keeping their nags in the long
grass that grew on each side of the trail, had succeeded in coming quite
close to him before their approach was discovered. But they were not
Fletcher's men; they were Texans.

A single glance at them was enough for George, who, seeing one of the
men raise his revolver and take a steady aim at his head, brought
himself to an upright position, stopped his horse with a word and faced
about. The man lowered his revolver, and he and his companion rode up
and scowled fiercely at George, who knew who they were and whom they
supposed him to be, before they said a word to him. One of them was the
owner of Silk Stocking; and as George had his cousin's clothes on, of
course they supposed him to be Ned Ackerman, the boy who had given them
so much trouble. George remembered how savagely they had talked while
they were smoking at his camp-fire, that they had threatened to snatch
Ned so bald-headed that the next time he saw a stolen horse he would
run from it, and he wondered what they would do to him, now that they
had caught him with the stolen animal in his possession. Of course, it
would be no trouble at all for him to prove that he wasn't Ned Ackerman,
and that he had never had anything to do with the stolen horse, if they
would only give him the opportunity; but the probability was that they
would take vengeance on him first and listen to his explanation
afterward, if there was life enough left in him to make it.

There was another disagreeable thought that came into George's mind
while he was sitting there waiting for the men to approach (one thinks
rapidly when he is in danger, you know), and it was this: If he proved
that he wasn't Ned Ackerman, wouldn't it also be necessary for him to
prove who he was? And while he was doing it, wouldn't the men learn that
he had had something to do with Ned's escape? They would certainly be
very angry at him for that. In fact, it will be remembered that while he
was in Mr. Gilbert's library, he had over heard one of these same men
say, as he and his companion passed through the hall, that he would like
to get his hands on that rascally boy who had sent them so far out of
their course. Taken altogether, it looked as though George was in a
fair way to be punished both for what he did as well as for what he
didn't do.

"Well, my young Silver Buttons, you stopped just in time," said one of
the men, as he rode up and seized the lasso which served George for a
bridle. "If I had sent one more bullet after you, it would have struck
something, sure. Get off that horse before I knock you off. You have
backed him for the last time!"

George lost not a moment in obeying this order. The man carried a loaded
riding-whip, and as he uttered these words he wound the lash about his
hand, in readiness to strike the boy with the heavy butt, if he did not
move on the instant.

"A pretty chase you have led us," exclaimed the other horseman, whom we
have heard addressed as "Joe." "How did you get back from Brownsville so
quickly?"

"I haven't been to Brownsville yet," answered George, "but I hope to go
there to-morrow or next day."

"Perhaps you will, and then again perhaps you won't," said the owner of
the stolen horse, who answered to the name of Lowry. "It's my opinion,
that when we are through with you, there won't be enough of you left to
go any where."

"Very well," replied George, with a calmness that surprised himself. "If
you have made up you minds to that, of course you can carry out your
resolution, for I haven't the power to resist you. If I had, I should
use it. I confess that appearances are against me----"

"Yes; I should say they were," interrupted Joe.

"But I can explain everything to your satisfaction," continued George,
"and more than that, I can prove every statement I make."

"By whom will you prove it?"

"By people living right here in this settlement, who have known me ever
since I was born."

"Wouldn't trust 'em," exclaimed Mr. Lowry, quickly. "We know, by
experience, that the most of them are rascals who are in league with
you. One night, when we were lost on the prairie, we camped with a
cow-boy who told us a cock-and-a-bull story about having been robbed by
the raiders, and who sent us thirty-five miles out of our way; Gilbert
sent with us, as guide, a herdsman who lost us again on purpose; and
finally, we were met by one of Ackerman's servants, who told us, that
his employer had just started for Palos to be gone two or three weeks,
and that his son went with him riding this very horse. We went in
pursuit as soon as we got our own horses out of Ackerman's corral; and
we might have been riding toward Palos yet, if we hadn't been set right
by a man of the name of Cook. We knew that he wouldn't deceive us, for
he was very angry at you for shooting some of his cattle. He's the only
white man in the settlement."

"I am glad to know that you have confidence in somebody," answered
George, wondering who that servant was who sent Mr. Lowry and his
companion off toward Palos, "and I am perfectly willing to go to his
rancho with you. When you know all the circumstances connected with this
miserable business, you will not have so poor an opinion of the people
living in this settlement."

"Well, I must say that you ring a pretty oily tongue," said Mr. Lowry,
who was plainly surprised at the ease with which the boy expressed
himself. "Go on now, and explain why you didn't give Silk Stocking up on
the night Joe and I came to your father's rancho and got fresh horses
there?"

"Because I wasn't at the rancho that night, and neither was the horse in
my possession," answered George.

"You _were_ there," exclaimed Joe, in angry tones, "and the horse was in
your possession. You had him hitched under an open shed close by the
house, and you heard us say that he had been stolen."

"I can prove that I never heard you speak that night. I couldn't, for I
was miles away attending to my herd of cattle."

Joe seemed ready to boil over with rage when he heard this, and his
companion turned white with anger. The former would at once have fallen
upon the boy with his riding-whip if he had not been restrained by Mr.
Lowry; but the latter's forced calmness was more alarming than Joe's
belligerent demonstration, for it told George, as plainly as words, that
when his anger broke forth, it would be all the more terrible from being
so long restrained.

"Do you mean to tell us that we can place no dependence upon our
senses?" demanded Mr. Lowry, while an ominous light shone in his eyes.

"No, sir; I mean to tell you that you are mistaken as to my identity. On
the night you got those fresh horses I was at Catfish Falls, watching my
cattle which had been stolen from me, as I told you."

"As you told us!" echoed Joe. "Great Moses! Are you the scamp that sent
us to Dickerman's when we wanted to go to Ackerman's?"

"Hold on, Joe!" said Mr. Lowry, extending his arm to interrupt the
riding-whip which was brandished threateningly in the air. "He can't get
out of this scrape by pretending to be somebody else. We saw him
standing on his father's porch, and he had these same clothes on, too."

"These are not my clothes."

"Whose are they then, and what are you doing in them?"

"They belong to my cousin, Ned Ackerman, who, if he has had good luck,
is safe in Brownsville by this time. He was the one who traded for Silk
Stocking, and the reason why he would not give him up, was because he
was afraid that you would lay violent hands upon him. I exchanged my
clothes for his at the time I was captured by the Greasers, and I did it
for his protection, little dreaming that I should get myself into
trouble by it. I knew that you would follow him, and that if you came up
with him you would recognise him by his dress."

"What do you mean by saying that you were captured by Greasers?" asked
Joe, whose anger seemed to have given away to astonishment.

"I mean just what I say. I have been a prisoner on the other side of the
river since last Thursday, and it was there I found Silk Stocking."

The ranchmen looked at each other for a moment, and then broke out into
loud peals of laughter. George's story was too ridiculous for belief.



CHAPTER VI.

GEORGE PROVES AN ALIBI.


"Young fellow," exclaimed Joe, who was the first to speak. "I have often
said that when I came across the champion liar, I would give him my hat.
I think you are fairly entitled to it. Here, take it!" he added, pulling
off his sombrero and extending it toward George, who was forced to smile
in spite of himself. "I'll go home bareheaded!"

"You are a good one, I declare," remarked Mr. Lowry. "I said you should
never back my horse again, but I think you have earned a ride. Jump on
and come with us."

Without a moment's hesitation George swung himself upon Silk Stocking's
back and rode away with the ranchemen, who burst out into fresh peals of
laughter every time they looked at him.

"Do you know any more funny stories?" asked Joe, at length.

"I have only made a beginning," answered George.

"Got more of them back, have you?" exclaimed Mr. Lowry. "If I wasn't so
mad at you I would let you go on, just to see how big a story you can
tell."

"I could tell you one that would make you open your eyes," said George,
"and it would be nothing but the truth. But I know you wouldn't believe
a word of it, and perhaps it would be better that you should hear it
from somebody besides myself. You will give me a chance to prove that I
am not the boy you take me for, will you not?"

"O, yes," replied Mr. Lowry, who seemed to have recovered his
good-nature all of a sudden. "We'll give you all the chance you want."

"Then let's turn off here to the right. This is my ranche--or rather it
will be mine if I live to be twenty-one years old--and that house you
see over there was my home when my father was alive."

There was something in those words that touched Joe's heart. He looked
steadily at George for a moment, and then asked in a much kinder tone
of voice than he had thus far used in addressing him.

"Where is your home now?"

"I have none," replied George sadly. "But that is a part of my story,
and, as I said before, I would rather that somebody else should tell it
to you. Then perhaps you will believe it."

After this the three relapsed into silence, and did not speak again
until they rode around the house and drew rein in front of the porch.
Jake, who was acting as manager of the ranche during Uncle John's
absence, and Bob, another herdsman, who was officiating as cook, hearing
the sound of their horses' hoofs, came out to see who the visitors were.
At that moment George was just dismounting. The men took one look at his
sombrero, ornamented with its gaudy cord and tassel, and at the
patent-leather boots, with their silver-plated spurs, and were about to
walk away with an exclamation of disgust, when George turned his face
toward them. Then they uttered ejaculations indicative of the greatest
astonishment, and springing forward caught him in their arms.

"Why, Mr. George, _is_ this you?" cried Jake, when he had given the boy
two or three bear-like hugs, during which he swung him clear off the
ground. "It is, aint it? We thought the Greasers had got you, sure."

"And so they did have me," answered George, after he had brushed back
his hair and replaced his sombrero, which had fallen from his head. "I
have only just escaped from them. Now, Jake, I want you to answer a few
questions for me."

"Heave ahead, Mr. George," replied Jake. "Thar's been a heap of things
goin' on here since you've been away."

"I don't care anything about that. I want you to tell my friends here
who I am."

"Who you be?" The herdsman backed away and gave the boy a good looking
over, as if to make sure of his identity, and continued almost
indignantly: "Why, you are George Ackerman, the young gentleman who will
some day own this yere ranche an' everything what's onto it. An' a
mighty fine piece of property it is, too, gents," he added, nodding to
the two horsemen, who had not yet dismounted. "Worth a clean forty
thousand a year."

"Never mind that," said George, hastily. "Whose clothes are these I have
on?"

"They are Ned Ackerman's," replied Jake, throwing as much contempt as he
could into his tones. "But how you came by 'em, and how you can bring
yourself to wear that feller's duds, beats my time all holler. Don't it
your'n, Bob? He's the chap, gents, Ned is, who traded for this very
hoss, an' who held fast to him arter he knowed that he had oughter give
him up. He's the fine lad that shot Cook's cattle, too, Ned is. Oh, he's
meaner'n--meaner'n----"

Jake flourished his clenched hand over his head and glared wildly about,
being utterly at a loss for a simile.

"Remember who he is and say nothing hard against him," said George
quietly. "He has never injured you in any way. Was Ned at home on the
night these gentlemen came here in search of Silk Stocking?"

"'Course he was. He stood right here on the porch an' heard everything
they had to tell about the hoss bein' stole. That's why I say he had
oughter give him up."

"What was the reason he would not surrender him?"

"'Cause he dassent, the coward. He was afeared they'd trounce him. An'
served him right if you had, too, gents. That boy oughter have some
sense pounded into him."

"Hold on, Jake. Where was I on the night in question?"

"You? You was off to Catfish Falls, a'most a hundred miles from here,
whar the Greasers jumped down on you an' stampeded your cattle."

"Then they did rob me of my cattle, did they?"

"Mr. George!" exclaimed the herdsman, who had been every moment growing
angrier under this catechising, of which he could not see the object,
"what be you tryin' to get through yourself, any how?"

"Nothing at all. I only want you to answer my questions. Did the raiders
run off any of my cattle?"

"They run 'em all off; but Zeke, he put the settlers on the trail an'
got 'em all back agin. Mighty pretty herd it is, too, gents. Three
hundred head of 'em, an' all fit for market."

"You remember the night these gentlemen came here to punish Ned, and you
assisted me to get him out of the house before they arrived, do you
not?"

"I ain't likely to forget it," replied Jake, drawing himself up to his
full height, and looking defiantly at the two horsemen, as if to say
that if he and George had done anything wrong in assisting Ned in his
extremity, and they felt like punishing them for it, they (Mr. Lowry and
Joe) were quite welcome to attempt it.

"Have you any idea who it was that met these men before they reached the
rancho, and sent them off toward Palos on a wild-goose chase?"

"I know who it was; it was Philip."

"Where was the horse at the time?"

"He was across the Rio, most likely. But if he was there, I don't know
how you got him. Howsomever, I _do_ know, gents, that he went off with
the Greasers on the night they jumped down on this rancho."

"How do you know that it was Philip who sent them off towards Palos?"

The herdsman suddenly lost his defiant attitude, and became almost
cringing.

"I really don't like to tell, Mr. George," said he, after making several
ineffectual attempts to speak, "'cause, it's something I never did
afore. But I s'pose I'll have to answer that question, won't I? Wal, the
fact is, I never did like the way that chap Philip went snoopin' around
while he was here. On the night these gents came to the rancho, I seed
that he was riding about a good deal on hoss-back, an' that was
something I never knowed him to do afore. I seed him when he came back
an' put his hoss into the corral, an' I seed him, too, when he walked
into the house, an' straight to the office whar Mr. Ackerman was. He
went without bein' asked, an' that made me think that he was up to
something pizen; so I crept along the hall, an' looked in at the
key-hole. I didn't see nothing, though, for the cunnin' rascal had hung
his hat over the key-hole; but I heard something an' I--I listened, I
did, Mr. George. I never done it afore, an' I'll never do it agin, if
you don't want me to."

"All is fair in war," exclaimed Mr. Lowry.

He and his companion were so deeply interested, and so utterly amazed at
what they heard, that neither of them had spoken before. George had
proved that he had uttered nothing but the truth when he told them that
he could make them open their eyes.

"What did you hear?" added Mr. Lowry.

"Wal, gents, in the first place I heared something private, which I
don't tell to nobody but Mr. George," said Jake; and this answer proved
him to be a discreet as well as a faithful friend. "In the next place I
heared him tell Mr. Ackerman that he had met you on the trail, an' sent
you off towards Palos. In the next place, he said that the trail was
watched, so't George couldn't never come home agin."

"Who were watching for him, and what was the reason they didn't want him
to come home?" asked Joe.

"That was one of the private things you heard, I suppose?" remarked Mr.
Lowry.

"Sartinly, it was. That's something I can't tell you, gents. After that
Philip went on to tell that he had hunted up some Greasers an' put them
on the trail of Mr. George, who had started to guide his cousin to
Brownsville, an'--an' that's all."

Jake was about to add that Philip had suggested that his employer had
better pasture a thousand head of cattle near the river, so that they
could be easily captured by the raiders, as Uncle John had agreed to do
in case George was got out of the way, so that Ned could claim the
property; but he checked himself just in time.

"No, that ain't all neither," he added, after a moment's reflection. "I
listened at that thar key-hole till Philip opened the door to come out,
an' then I lifted him, _I_ tell _you_. I knocked him clean acrost the
room, just to let him an' Mr. Ackerman see that I knowed all about it.
Then, thinkin' that two heads was better than one in a furse like that,
I hunted up Bob, here, who had just happened to come into the kitchen.
He listened to what I had to say, an' then he allowed that we had
oughter gobble the varmint, 'cause most likely the settlers would want
to see him in the mornin'; but when we went back arter him, we found
that he had skipped. We ain't none of us seed him since."

George, who could not think of any other questions that he wanted to ask
just then, turned to Mr. Lowry and his companions and said, with a
smile--

"Now, Mr. Joe--I don't know what other name to call you--I shall be
happy to take your hat if you still consider me the champion liar."

George did not notice how quickly Jake's face and Bob's flushed with
anger when they heard these words, and neither did the ranchemen.

"I beg your pardon, George," said Joe, promptly. "I am sorry I said it,
but you will confess that appearances were very much against you."

"Didn't I say as much?" asked George, in reply. "Now, gentlemen, get
down and come into the house. As soon as we have had some breakfast, we
will ride over and see Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Cook."

"My lad," said Mr. Lowry, as he swung himself out of his saddle and
shook George warmly by the hand, "we can see now that we made a great
mistake. I never listened to a more remarkable story."

"But it is the truth, every word of it," roared the herdsman, as he
brought one of his huge fists down into his open hand with a ringing
slap. "An' any gent who don't believe it, just wants to step out with me
in front of this shed. We will soon see who's the champion liar."

"Jake, come back here and behave yourself," commanded George.

"I wouldn't get excited, my friend," said Mr. Lowry, calmly. "Never mind
him," he added, turning to George. "I don't blame him. I should do the
same thing myself under similar circumstances. We are entirely
satisfied, and there is no necessity of proceeding further in the
matter."

"There is one thing I forgot, Jake," exclaimed George, suddenly. "Where
is Uncle John now?"

"Gone to Brownsville," replied the herdsman, who was in a very bad
humor. "As soon as I knocked Philip down, he packed up an' cleared
himself. I have since found out that he went over to Gilbert's and left
money enough with him to pay for this hoss an' for the cattle that were
shot."

"Who is cook now that Philip has gone?"

"I am," said Bob, gruffly.

"Well, then, show us what you can do in that line, by serving up a good
breakfast in a little less than no time," said George, paying no
attention to Bob's black looks. "I, for one, shall bring a sharp
appetite to it. Jake, see that these three horses are fed, and pick out
a good one for me to ride over to Mr. Gilbert's. Ranger I shall never
see again. I left him in the hands of the guerrillas, and I suppose he
is on his way to Queretaro before this time. Come in, gentlemen."

Bob scowled savagely at George's guests as they passed, and as soon as
he saw them enter the hall, he walked slowly into the kitchen. His first
move was to take down from a nail in the wall a broad belt containing a
brace of navy revolvers. This he buckled about his waist, after which he
began his preparations for breakfast. When Jake came in, having attended
to the horses that had been entrusted to his care, he proceeded to arm
himself in the same manner. Then he threw himself into the nearest chair
and assumed a sort of dogged, defiant air as if he were waiting for
something to turn up.

What was the meaning of these warlike preparations? Why, one of the
ranchemen had called George the champion liar, and that, according to a
Texan's code, was a mortal offence. Explanations and apologies would not
make amends for it; nothing but a fight could do that. Jake and Bob
thought that the affray ought to have come off at once; and after they
had satisfied George's wounded honor by putting a bullet or two into
each of the visitors, then they would have invited them to breakfast,
but not before. However, the matter could be brought to a settlement
when the visitors went away, and the herdsmen were both determined that
it should be done. But George, being a Texan himself and understanding
the customs of the country, was on the alert. Having conducted the
ranchemen into the sitting-room, which Uncle John had furnished in such
gorgeous style, he excused himself for a moment and hurried into the
kitchen. The countenances of the two men he found there lighted up as he
entered, but fell again when George, pointing to the revolvers, said
quietly--

"Pull those things off!"

"But, Mr. George," began Jake.

"Pull those things off!" repeated the boy. "I know what you mean by this
nonsense, but I shall not allow my guests to be insulted in any such
way. You'd look nice, wouldn't you, Bob, waiting at table with a brace
of navy revolvers strapped about your waist? Why, those men in there
could use you up in a minute."

"Wal, I'd see that the buffalo gnats didn't bother 'em none while they
was a doin' it," replied Bob, sullenly.

"Pull those things _off_, I say!" exclaimed George, again, "or else
clear out and leave me to get breakfast alone."

That settled the matter. The herdsmen reluctantly obeyed the order, and
when George had seen the revolvers hung up where they belonged, he left
the kitchen and went to his own room. He quickly threw off his cousin's
fancy clothes--he was glad to get rid of them--and having removed all
travel-stains from his hands and face, and put on a neat business-suit
and a pair of well-blacked boots, he went back to his guests again. The
change in his dress made a great difference in his appearance, and if
Ned could have seen him now, perhaps he would not have been ashamed of
him.

During the half hour that elapsed before Bob announced that breakfast
was ready, George and his visitors chatted as unreservedly and
familiarly as three friends would who had long been separated. The
ranchemen told of their exciting race after the thief who had stolen the
horse, described their journey to Brownsville and back, and laughed over
their numerous failures to capture the boy of whom they were in search;
and George, in return, explained why he had sent them so far out of
their course on the morning they left his camp, and astonished them by
declaring that he was in the library on the night they came to Mr.
Gilbert's rancho, and that he had heard some of the threats they made
concerning him. The men praised him for his adroitness, and said that
he was a brave boy to risk so much for the sake of his cousin. If they
had known just how he stood in regard to that same graceless relative,
their admiration would have been greatly increased.

An excellent breakfast having been disposed of the horses were brought
to the door, and in a few minutes more George and the two ranchemen were
in the saddle, and riding toward Mr. Gilbert's rancho. That gentleman
regarded them with some uneasiness as they drew rein and dismounted in
front of his porch, but Mr. Lowry's first words reassured him.

"It is all right, sir," said he, as he grasped Mr. Gilbert's hand. "We
know all about it, and we beg to take back the hard things we said in
your hearing about the people living in this settlement. We were nicely
outwitted by everybody with whom we came in contact; but, as I said
before, it is all right."

Mr. Gilbert cordially returned Mr. Lowry's greeting and Joe's, and then
turned to welcome George.

"You can't imagine how anxious I have been about you," said he. "Jake
turned me out of bed to tell me that Philip had put some Greasers on
your trail, and I was really afraid that they might capture you."

"So they did," exclaimed Joe, before George could speak. "If they hadn't
caught him, we wouldn't have had Silk Stocking now."

Mr. Gilbert opened his eyes in surprise.

"I wondered how you got the animal back," said he, "for I knew that he
had gone off with the raiders. Come in, and tell me all about it."

The horses having been given into the charge of one of the herdsmen, Mr.
Gilbert ushered his visitors into the library.



CHAPTER VII.

A STORMY INTERVIEW.


"This is the room," said George, seating himself on the lounge, while
Mr. Lowry and Joe took possession of the easy chairs that were pointed
out to them. "I was in here when you came to the rancho, and heard you
say, as you passed through the hall, that you thought there was a
regular nest of horse-thieves at Ackerman's; and that you would like to
get your hands on that rascally boy who had sent you so far out of your
course. While you were waiting for supper, I slipped out, mounted my
horse, which in company with my pack-mule had made straight for this
place, when my cattle were stampeded, and put out for home."

"It was a pretty sharp trick," said Joe, "and you deserve credit for the
way in which you carried it out."

"Now, George," said Mr. Gilbert, "we are ready to hear your story. Where
have you been? and what have you been doing, since I last saw you?"

George settled himself into an easy position on the lounge, and
beginning with the night on which he had left Mr. Gilbert in so
unceremonious a manner, he gave a glowing description of his adventures
and exploits among the guerrillas. The only thing he omitted from his
narrative, was the conversation he had had with Springer and Fletcher in
regard to his uncle's plans. The visitors would have been glad to hear
that, for Jake had told them just enough to excite their curiosity; but
it was something that George reserved for Mr. Gilbert's private ear.

"Silk Stocking is in the hands of his lawful owner at last," said the
boy, in conclusion, "and as soon as Mr. Cook has been paid for the
cattle that Ned and Gus shot, all these difficulties will be happily
ended."

"Then they are ended already," said Mr. Gilbert. "Cook has been paid,
and says he is entirely satisfied."

"Of course he doesn't blame me for anything that happened," said George.

"Well, yes, he did," answered Mr. Gilbert, "and so did all the rest of
the settlers. They found fault with you for assisting those boys to
escape. They said you had no business to do it."

"Humph!" exclaimed George. "What do they take me for, I'd like to know?
Would any of them stand by and see a relative of theirs get into trouble
and never lift a finger to help him? I guess not."

Mr. Gilbert shrugged his shoulders by way of reply, and Mr. Lowry, after
a few minutes silence, remarked that he thought he and Joe had better be
moving toward home. Wouldn't they wait until after dinner, which would
be ready within an hour? No; he guessed they had better not. They had
been gone a long time, and unless they "showed up," pretty soon, their
folks would begin to worry about them. So, in accordance with their
request, their horses were brought to the door, and the ranchemen, after
taking leave of Mr. Gilbert and George, mounted and rode away.

"That business was settled in a way I did not expect," said the former,
as he and his young companion went back into the library. "You have
made a friend of every body in the settlement by the course you have
pursued, although I must say, that the neighbors were very angry at you
at first; but Uncle John and Ned--Well, what are you going to do in
regard to them?"

George replied to this question by completing the story of his captivity
among the guerrillas, which he did by describing his interview with
Springer, and repeating the conversation he had had with the boss
cattle-thief. Mr. Gilbert listened in silence, and when the boy ceased
speaking, he got up and began pacing the floor.

"Well, George," said he, at length, "you know what I think of this
difficulty. There is only one way out of it. Your uncle will not
willingly give up his position, and you must call upon the law to throw
him out, neck and heels."

"But if I should tell him, in so many words, that I know all about his
plans, don't you think he would be more careful in future?" asked
George.

"Beyond a doubt he would," replied Mr. Gilbert; and to himself he added:
"He would be so very careful that nobody would detect him in his
villainy again."

"That is what I thought," said George. "I don't want to turn him loose
in the world and send him back to his bookkeeping again, for he is
getting to be an old man. I can remove one temptation from his path by
keeping out of his way, and that I have decided to do. If I am ever
going to see anything of life outside of Texas, I must see it now, for
when I come into possession of the ranche and the stock that belong to
it, I shall be kept busy."

Mr. Gilbert rubbed his chin, and looked up at the picture that hung on
the wall over the lounge.

"I don't know whether you will be kept so very busy or not," said he, to
himself. "It is my opinion that if you give your rascally relatives full
swing, you will have very little stock to take care of."

But Mr. Gilbert did not give utterance to this opinion. He saw very
plainly that the boy was opposed to taking any legal action against his
uncle, and he was determined that he would not try to influence him in
the matter. He had given his advice simply because George had asked him
for it, and the boy was quite at liberty to do as he pleased about
following it.

"What course have you marked out for yourself?" added Mr. Gilbert,
aloud.

"I thought I would leave Texas for a year or two (you know you told me
that I would be safer anywhere in the world than I am here) and go into
business," replied George.

"Have you any idea what it will be?"

"No, sir; I have not."

"Neither have I. A boy who has spent most of his life in the saddle, or
in camp taking care of cattle, wouldn't make a very good clerk--at least
I shouldn't want such a one, if I were a merchant--and your schooling
hasn't fitted you for anything else."

"I can keep a set of books," said George, with some dignity.

"But you couldn't stand the confinement. You are not accustomed to it.
You will want some active, out-of-door occupation."

"And what is the reason I can't find it? There must be plenty of such
work to do."

This was but the beginning of a long conversation that George held with
Mr. Gilbert that day, and after he had told his friend all his plans,
and listened to some good advice, he mounted his horse and rode away to
find Zeke, who was pasturing his herd on Mr. Gilbert's grounds, about
three miles from the rancho. The honest old fellow was delighted to see
his employer once more, and was almost overwhelmed with grief when
George told him that he was going away to be gone a year, and perhaps a
good deal longer. The boy gave him some very emphatic instructions in
regard to the management of his herd, and then took a hurried leave of
him and galloped away; for the longer he remained in Zeke's company, the
more firmly he became convinced that he was about to abandon the only
life for which he was suited, and the stronger became his desire to give
up his "northern scheme," as Mr. Gilbert called it, and settle down
again to the business of herding cattle.

Having already said good-bye to Mr. Gilbert and his family, George did
not return to that gentleman's rancho, but held straight for home, and
sought an interview with Jake and Bob. To these faithful men he also
gave some very positive orders, and having entered into a sort of
alliance with them, both offensive and defensive, and spent an hour or
two in looking over some books he found in his uncle's safe, he packed
his valise, mounted his horse and set out for Brownsville, accompanied
by a young herdsman who was to bring back his nag, as well as those on
which his relatives and Gus Robbins had made the same journey a few
days before.

His first hard work, after reaching his destination, was to find Uncle
John and Ned, and there was but one way to do it. He visited all the
principal hotels and examined the registers. On one he found the name of
Edward Ackerman.

"I don't know who he is or where he is," said the clerk, when his
attention was drawn to the signature. "I judged by his appearance that
he was a cow-boy. He stopped with us about an hour and then dug out,
taking the key of his room with him and leaving his grip-sack behind. I
was under the impression that he had been doing something crooked, for I
never saw him after two men came here making inquiries about him. Did he
get in on you for any amount?"

"O, no," answered George. "He is square with the world--so far as I
know," he added, to himself, as he turned and walked out of the office.
"The men who came here looking for him were Mr. Lowry and Joe. I saw
their signatures on the register. It is probable that Ned saw and
recognised them, and that _that_ was the reason he 'dug out' so
suddenly."

At the next hotel at which he called, George met with better success.
His uncle was registered as one of the guests of the house, and the
clerk said he had seen him go up to his room an hour or so before,
taking a strange young gentleman with him. The bell-boy was summoned,
and George followed him up the stairs.

"A gentleman to see you, sir," announced the boy; after which he closed
the door and went back to the office, leaving George standing face to
face with his relatives, who hoped they had seen him for the last time.
The explosion of a bomb-shell in their room would hardly have caused
them greater astonishment and alarm. There was an expression on his face
that they did not like to see there. They stared, but could not speak to
him.

"Well, how do you do?" exclaimed George, as he deposited his valise
beside the door and seated himself on the bed, both the chairs being
occupied. "You seem surprised."

"We are indeed surprised, most agreeably so," said Uncle John,
recovering his power of speech by an effort.

He got up and extended his hand to his nephew, who took it, but did not
grasp it with any cordiality. Ned also came forward to greet him, but
anybody could see that it was something he did not like to do.

"Your cousin told me that you were captured by the Mexicans, and I never
expected to see you again," said Uncle John, as he went back to his
chair. "Did you escape from them, or did they release you; or how did
you get away? I am anxious to know all the particulars."

"It is a long story," replied George, looking carelessly about the room,
"and I have more important matters to talk about just now."

"Have you any idea why they didn't take Ned and Gus, too?" said Uncle
John, who knew very well what those "important matters" were to which
George referred. "Your cousin has had one or two very narrow escapes
from the men who were hunting for that stolen horse. Do you know what
they would have done with him if they had caught him? I wonder where
Silk Stocking is now?"

Uncle John thought, that by rattling on in this way, he could divert his
nephew's mind; turn the conversation into channels selected by himself;
and so, indefinitely postpone the discussion of a very disagreeable
subject. When George first entered the room, Uncle John told himself,
that he had come there "on purpose to raise a row;" and he thought so
now, as he noticed the hard lines about the boy's mouth.

There was something coming--the guilty man was sure of that--and he
wanted to put it off as long as he could; but George didn't. He was
waiting patiently for an opening, and it was presented the very next
minute.

"I never heard of those cattle thieves taking a prisoner before,"
faltered Ned, who knew that he ought to say something.

"Neither did I; and they never would have made a prisoner of me, if they
hadn't been hired to do it."

As George said this, his eyes ceased to rove about the room, and rested
first upon Uncle John and then upon Ned. The latter grew as pale as a
sheet under his gaze, while Uncle John's face turned very red. George
had dealt them a stunning blow, and Uncle John was the first to rally
from it.

"Why do you look at me in that way?" he demanded sharply. "And what do
you mean to insinuate, when you say, that those men were hired to make a
prisoner of you?"

"Yes," said Ned, in a very faint voice. "What do you mean to insinuate?"

"I insinuate nothing!" replied George, in a tone that alarmed his uncle,
for it told him very plainly that the boy was sure of his ground. "I
mean to tell you, in language you can easily understand, that I know all
about it."

"About _it_! About what?"

"Uncle John, it is useless for you to feign ignorance. You are to blame
for my capture, and I know it as well as you do. Jake knows it, and he
knocked Philip down in your presence to pay him for putting those cattle
thieves on my trail. Fletcher knows it, and I had a long talk with him
on the subject. If I hadn't escaped from him, my ranche would have been
stripped clean. His plan was to hold fast to me, so that he could make a
demand on you for stock whenever he felt like it. If you refused to
comply with those demands, he would have blown the whole thing among the
settlers. If he had ever done that, Uncle John, you would have been in
more danger than Ned and Gus were on the night I took them out of the
rancho. He may do it yet, for he has got as good a hold on you as he
wants. By the way, I don't see Gus anywhere. Has he gone home?"

"George!" exclaimed Uncle John, as soon as he could speak, "I don't
understand you at all. What are you trying to get at? There is only one
thing plain to me, and that is that somebody has been slandering me."

There was nothing "sharp" in the tone in which these words were uttered.
It was evident that Uncle John was very badly frightened, although he
was doing his best to keep up a bold front.

"Did Springer slander you when he told me that you were to pay Fletcher
and his gang twenty thousand dollars in stock for capturing me?" asked
George.

Uncle John settled back in his chair, with an air which said that he had
no patience with anybody who could put faith in so outrageous a
statement, while Ned, who began to tremble all over, got up and walked
to the window. He could not bear to meet his cousin's eye.

"Of course he slandered me if he told you that, and you insult me by
believing it," replied Uncle John. "I don't know Springer, and neither
did I ever hear of him before."

"You have heard of Fletcher, haven't you?"

Uncle John replied most emphatically that he never had.

"Did Philip slander you, when he told you to your face that you might as
well tell one of the men to bring in a thousand head of cattle and
pasture them between the rancho and the river, so that they could be
easily captured?" inquired George.

"He never used any such language to me."

"He wasn't knocked down in your presence, either, was he?"

"He never was. If such a thing had happened, I should promptly have
discharged the man who did it, for I will not allow any fighting among
my own servants."

"You had better not say that much to Jake or Bob when you go home, for
if you do, they will certainly knock you down."

"George!" Uncle John almost shouted, "have you been setting the servants
against me? If you have, you are guilty of a most contemptible
proceeding."

"That's the way to talk to him!" exclaimed Ned, whose courage seemed to
be coming back to him, now that he had placed himself out of reach of
his cousin's searching gaze. "You had better go out of the room, or
leave off insulting us."

"I am not insulting you. I am telling you the truth in plain language,
and if I stay in here, I shall continue to do so until I have convinced
you that your rascality has been most thoroughly exposed."

"Leave the room!" roared Ned.

"Very good," replied George, rising to his feet, and putting on his hat;
"I will leave the room very willingly, but I give you fair warning,
Uncle John, that if I do it, I shall go straight home and begin
proceedings against you. I have been advised to have a new guardian
appointed, and I begin to think it is the best thing I can do."

"Sit down! sit down!" cried Uncle John, when he saw the boy moving
toward his valise. "Let us see if we can't straighten things out to the
satisfaction of all of us."

"I think myself that you had better straighten them out now, instead of
waiting until you are obliged to do so before a court of law," said
George, significantly.

"Who advised you to have a new guardian appointed?" inquired Uncle John.

"Mr. Gilbert did."

"Of course," sneered Ned. "He is down on us because we are so far above
him. Who is he, any how, but a low, ignorant herdsman, whose money
entitles him to the position he holds? What would he be up North?"

"What were _you_ up North?" asked George, in reply.

"I was a gentleman, and I am one now."

"And Mr. Gilbert would be known as an honest man, no matter where he
went."

"I suppose you think I am not honest," said Uncle John, who, during this
side sparring had been allowed a little time in which to collect his
scattered wits. "You can carry out your silly threat about that court of
law just as soon as you please."

"If I do, you will have to account for every cent that has passed
through your hands since you have been my guardian," returned George.

"I can do it. The books show where it has gone."

"What entry did you make in reference to the money that Ned sent to Gus
Robbins to pay his way down here?"

"I charged it to myself," answered Uncle John, who was not a little
astonished by this question. He supposed that that was a matter that
George knew nothing about.

"What did you do with the ten thousand dollars you received for the herd
of cattle that Mose drove to Palos when he met Gus Robbins there?"

"I entered it upon the cash account in the proper way. The books show
it."

"They don't show it!" said George, bluntly. "They don't show more than
half the money you have received since you have been on that ranche."

"How do you know?" demanded Uncle John, starting up in his chair. "Look
here, young man! Have you been prying into my private affairs?"

"I have been examining the books you thought you left locked up in the
safe, if that is what you mean," replied George, boldly. "And as I know
something about bookkeeping, and _all_ about the money you have received
since you took charge of my affairs, I was able to see that your
accounts are frauds of the first water. Now, Uncle John, I have dwelt
longer on these matters than I intended to when I came up here, and I
am coming down to business. If you will promise faithfully that you will
deal honestly and fairly by me from this time forward, you can hold your
present position for five years longer; otherwise you shall not hold it
five days. In the first place, there must not be a single steer sold
from that ranche while I am gone. There is no need of it, for you have,
or ought to have, fifty thousand dollars in the bank to draw on. Do you
promise that?"

"I shall make no promises or concessions whatever," replied Uncle John,
whose terror had given away to rage intense and bitter. "I shall manage
that estate in future as I have in the past, according to my own
judgment."

"Then you shall not manage it any longer. Your account is twenty-five or
thirty thousand dollars short already, and I can't stand such a leak as
that," said George, as he put on his hat again and picked up his valise.
"I don't want to disgrace you, but I don't see how I can help it; for
you can bet your bottom dollar that I am not going to stand still and
see myself robbed."

George walked out of the room, banging the door behind him, while Ned
threw himself into his chair and looked at his father who mopped his
face vigorously with his handkerchief, while his hands trembled so
violently that he could scarcely control them. They had passed through a
very trying interview.



CHAPTER VIII.

LIFE IN THE PILOT-HOUSE.


"Now, I just want to know if anybody ever heard of such miserable luck
as I have," exclaimed Ned, who was the first to break the silence. "Here
I was, pluming myself on being the owner of the finest cattle ranche in
Texas, when, as if to mock me and show me how all my bright hopes are
destined to end, in walks George, as cool as a cucumber, and looking as
though he had never seen a Greaser. Why in the world couldn't they hold
fast to him after they got him? My forty thousand a year are up a hollow
stump, and George knows everything. Did you hire those men to capture
him?"

"Didn't you hear me say that every word of his story was false?"
demanded his father, fiercely. "Would I be likely to put my nephew's
life in jeopardy?"

"If there is no truth in it, I don't see how he came to hear it from so
many different sources."

"And neither do I see how he found out that you sent that money to Gus
Robbins," said Uncle John. "Have you any idea how that got to his ears?"

"Not the slightest," answered Ned. He saw that his father was almost
ready to boil over with fury, and he did not think it would be quite
safe to acknowledge that it was through his own admissions that George
had become acquainted with that little circumstance. "Gus must have told
him; or it may be that I have enemies as well as you. But what are we
going to do? That's the question."

And it was one that aroused Uncle John from the stupor into which he had
fallen, and showed him the necessity of prompt and decisive action. He
jumped from his chair and began walking up and down the room.

"Can George turn you out of your position and have somebody appointed in
your place?" continued Ned.

"Of course he can. I hoped to keep him in ignorance concerning that
fact, but Gilbert, or some other busy-body, has been posting him."

"Then you had better make things straight with him and be quick about
it," said Ned, growing frightened again. "If you don't, he'll oust you
sure, and then what will become of me--of both of us? You'll have to go
back to your desk again, and I'll have to pick up my yard-stick. Father,
I never could endure that sort of life again. You _must_ make it up with
him?"

Uncle John wrung his hands and groaned. He was terribly agitated, and it
was not to be wondered at. He could not have told which he stood the
more in fear of--punishment at the hands of the angry settlers, who
would be sure, sooner or later, to learn all about his dealings with his
nephew, or the loss of the management of his brother's property. He
could not bear to think of either.

"Where are you going?" inquired Ned, as his father suddenly turned
toward the door and laid his hand upon the knob.

"I am going to see George," was the reply. "It would never do to let him
go back home feeling as he does now, for you and I would never dare to
show our faces there again. I am going to try to reason with him first,
and if that has no effect, I shall use my authority."

"That's the way to talk," exclaimed Ned, gleefully. "Pound him within an
inch of his life, and if you want any help, call for me. I will leave
the door open so that I can hear you."

Ned had been on the very point of volunteering to go with his father, in
order to back him up during the coming interview, and holding himself in
readiness to assist him as circumstances might require; but the fear
that the interview might end in a fight, checked the words that arose to
his lips. George's fists were pretty large and heavy, and a good fair
blow from one of them would have played sad havoc with the little sense
that Ned Ackerman possessed.

"I hardly think that extreme measures will be called for," said Uncle
John, "but if they are, I shall use them. Stay here until I return."

"I declare, I didn't know that George could be so insolent," thought
Ned, as his father closed the door behind him. "The idea of a little
snipe like him sitting there and talking to a gray-headed man as he
would talk to a boy of his own age! I wonder that he wasn't kicked out
of the room for his impudence. But I believe that father is afraid of
him; he certainly acted like it; and if he is, it proves that he has
been up to something. I hope he will lay his plans with a little more
skill next time."

Ned kept his ear at the open door, but no sounds came up from below to
indicate that his father had found it necessary to use his authority in
order to bring the refractory George to his senses. He passed a long and
gloomy hour alone in his room, and sometimes his impatience and suspense
increased to such a degree that it was all he could do to keep from
going out in search of Uncle John. When the latter at last made his
appearance, Ned saw at a glance that he had passed through another
exciting and stormy interview. The perspiration stood on his forehead in
great beads, and his face was as flushed as it would have been if he had
just finished a hotly-contested foot-race with somebody. He dropped into
his chair, and drew his handkerchief from his pocket.

"Now, I tell you what's a fact," said Ned, to himself; "if he has been
trying to use 'extreme measures,' he has got worsted at it; he has come
back whipped. Well, why don't you speak?"

"Let me recover my breath, won't you?" exclaimed Uncle John,
impatiently.

"Is everything all right, or not?" demanded Ned, paying no attention to
this request. "I want to know the best or the worst, at once."

"I am to retain my position as his guardian," said Uncle John, "but he
imposes some hard conditions."

"You didn't agree to them, of course?"

"Of course, I did. I couldn't do otherwise."

"Why didn't you use the authority you talk so much about?"

"I didn't think it was best. I can do as I please about keeping my
promises."

"So you can; I didn't think of that."

"If I find that George's interests require me to exercise my own
judgment, as I have done in the past, I shall not hesitate to do it,"
continued Uncle John, who could not bear that his own son should see him
in his true character. "He cannot possibly foresee every emergency that
may arise."

"George told you that not a steer was to be sold off the place while he
was _gone_," said Ned. "What did he mean by that?"

"He meant just what he said. Zeke is the only one who has authority
from George to sell any cattle."

"Well, if that isn't a pretty state of affairs, I wouldn't say so,"
exclaimed Ned, in great disgust. "So Zeke is put over you, is he?"

"Oh, no; he is left in charge of George's herd, and when he wants money,
he is at liberty to sell cattle to get it. George himself is going North
to find something to do."

"Well, there!" cried Ned, bringing his hands together with a loud slap.
"I have heard some good news at last. That will leave us monarchs of all
we survey, won't it? I will get rid of that Zeke the first thing I do."

"How will you go to work? If I told him that his services were no longer
required he would pay no attention to me. George said so."

"Very well; let him stay; but when he comes after supplies, just see
that he doesn't get any."

"But he'll not come to us; he'll go to Gilbert. George arranged all that
before he left. Then he ordered Jake and Bob to visit every one of our
herds and find out just how many cattle there were in each of them. They
are to send a report to him through Gilbert, and George says that when
he comes home the number of cattle he finds on the ranche must
correspond with that report, or there'll be trouble between us."

"Why, father, he has tied your hands hard and fast," exclaimed Ned,
springing from his chair, and walking about the room in a state of great
excitement.

"He _thinks_ he has," said Uncle John, quietly.

"I don't see why in the world you agreed to any such degrading terms,"
continued Ned.

"I did it because it was that or the desk for me, and the yard-stick for
you," answered Uncle John. "But there are one or two contingencies that
George did not provide for. Some of the cattle will probably be stolen."

This was said in so significant a tone of voice that Ned would have been
dull indeed if he had failed to catch his father's meaning.

"Then, again, there are herdsmen in the country who will suit us much
better than those we now employ, and as fast as they turn up I shall
hire them, without consulting anybody's wishes except my own."

"So you can," exclaimed Ned, joyfully. "That boy has somehow got the
idea into his head that he is just a trifle smarter than anybody else,
but he will find that there are others in the world who are just as
smart as he is. Did he have any more to say in regard to those
ridiculous stories that somebody has been circulating about you?"

"He did, and he believes them to be true. I assured him that they were
not, that I was perfectly willing that my conduct should be investigated
at any time, and finally we shook hands, and agreed to let by-gones be
by-gones."

"I should think you would have felt more like knocking him down," said
Ned; "I know I should."

"His perverseness was certainly very trying to my patience; but, after
all, my way of settling the difficulty was the best. We shall leave
Brownsville for St. Louis to-night; and as we are to travel in his
company, I want you to be very guarded in your words and actions.
Everything is satisfactorily settled, and we must be careful to treat
him as kindly and considerately as we did before he insulted us."

A stranger would have supposed, from this, that Ned and his father were
the injured parties, and that George had no reason to complain of their
treatment of him.

Uncle John did not tell all that happened during his second interview
with George. While he was in the presence of his son his pride had
enabled him to keep up some show of courage; but when he was alone with
his nephew, he had nothing to sustain him, and it was all he could do to
keep from breaking down entirely. He loudly denied every accusation that
George brought against him, but the boy gave him to understand that he
knew just what he was talking about, and that there was but one way in
which Uncle John could ever regain his confidence. That was by dealing
fairly with him in the future. This the old man eagerly, almost
abjectly, promised to do; but we have already seen how sincere he was
when he made those promises.

"I don't want to see him again," said Ned, "and neither can I bear the
thought of travelling in his company as far as St. Louis. I don't see
why you consented to any such arrangement. Why didn't you let him go
alone, if he is so very anxious to leave to-night? We could have waited
until to-morrow."

"But we must be willing to do something for the sake of appearances,"
replied his father, who would have breathed much easier himself if
George had been a thousand miles away at that moment. "One reason why I
decided to go with him, was because I want to see him settled at
something before I leave him."

"But just think how he will lord it over us!" said Ned, who knew very
well how he would have acted if he had been in his cousin's place. "He
will let everybody know that he is the moneyed man and that we are the
dependants."

"You need not be at all alarmed. George is not that sort of a boy. I'll
say that much for him."

Ned's fears on this score were entirely set at rest when he met his
cousin at the supper table. George had always been somewhat reserved in
the presence of his relatives--he could not help feeling that there was
something between himself and them that kept them apart--and the events
of the last few days did not in the least widen the gulf between them.
Having taken his uncle to task for his rascality, and come to a plain
understanding with him, he regarded all differences between them as
settled for ever, and he never referred to them in any way. If Mr.
Gilbert had known it, he would have declared that George was "too
confiding for any use;" and perhaps we shall see that he would not have
been very badly mistaken if he had pronounced such a judgment upon the
boy's actions.

The three left Brownsville that night for Galveston, at which place they
boarded a steamer bound for New Orleans. They stopped there a week in
order to give Uncle John and Ned an opportunity to see the sights, and
to drive out the shell road to Lake Pontchartrain. Ned and his father
had, of course, passed this way when they went to Texas, but they were
so impatient to see the property of which Uncle John was to have charge,
and to begin the spending of its handsome revenues, that they had not
wasted a day in this or any other city along their route.

Having done New Orleans and vicinity to their satisfaction, they took
passage for St. Louis on board the steamer General Quitman.

She was a very fine and a very swift vessel (during the war she was
fitted up by the rebels as a cotton-clad ram, and we know, by
experience, that some of the gunboats in the Mississippi squadron were
very much afraid of her), and she left the miles behind her at an
astonishing rate, her loud "exhaust" proclaiming her approach to the
settlers who lived along the banks a league in advance of her.

While the novelty of this mode of travelling lasted, George and his
companions were at no loss to know what to do with themselves. They
found abundant gratification in sitting on the wide guards, enjoying the
rapid motion, and watching the panorama that passed so swiftly before
them; but this grew monotonous after a while, and then Ned took to his
bunk; Uncle John read the papers and magazines with which he had
provided himself before starting from New Orleans, and George, being
left to himself, strolled about the boat to see what he could find that
was worth looking at. One day he went up to the hurricane-deck, where he
took his stand and watched the pilot who was steering the vessel.

"Come in; come in," said the latter, when he saw that the boy was
interested in his movements.

"Thank you, sir. I didn't know that you allowed passengers in here,"
replied George, as he ascended the steps that led up to the pilot-house
door.

"O, yes we do, and we are glad to have them come, for we get lonely
sometimes. Sit down there," said the pilot, pointing to a high bench
that was built against the after-bulkhead. "Then you can look out ahead
and on both sides of you and see everything."

"I think you pilots have an easy way of making a living," said George,
as he took possession of the bench. "You have no dirty work to do as the
engineers have."

"That is very true," replied the pilot. "We are on duty only while the
vessel is under way. As soon as we reach port we are at liberty to go
ashore and spend the time as we please, until the boat is ready to start
again. But it is not an easy berth for all that. In fact, I don't know
_any_ easy way of making a living. You are a young man, and you don't
want to start out in life with the foolish notion that you can make
headway in the world unless you are willing to work."

"I know what work is," said George, with a smile.

"What is your business?"

"I have none just at present. I am looking for an opening. I am from
Texas, and I used to herd cattle."

"Were they your own, or did they belong to somebody else?"

"They were my own property."

"There, now!" exclaimed the pilot. "I'll warrant that you sold out your
herd in the hope of finding some easier way of making a livelihood. You
will never find it. I have spent some months in Texas, and I know how
those ranchemen live. They have nothing to do, month in and month out,
but ride around on horseback and keep their stock from straying away. If
I had money enough I would go into that business to-morrow; and if you
are wise, you will go straight back to it."

"I can't," replied George, who told himself that after his new
acquaintance had tried herding unruly cattle for a while, and been
caught out in a 'norther or two, and jumped down on by raiders, he would
be quite willing to resume his place in the pilot-house. "Circumstances
compel me to strike out in another direction. How long does it take one
to learn the river, and how much does it cost?" added George, who had
suddenly taken it into his head that he would like to be a pilot. It
was an active, out-of-door occupation, and that was just what he wanted.

"Well, that depends," was the answer. "If you have a good memory and are
a judge of water, you could learn it in three years, or less. The cost
need not amount to any great sum. If you have any personal friends among
pilots, one of them might be induced to take you for nothing; but a
stranger would probably charge you something. In fact, he wouldn't think
of taking you as a 'cub' unless you agreed to pay him."

"I don't know a single pilot," said George, "and I should be perfectly
willing to pay for instruction. How much does a licensed pilot receive
for his services?"

"That also depends. If there is plenty of freight, and the water is
good, they sometimes get two hundred and fifty dollars a month."

"Three thousand dollars a year!" exclaimed George.

"Well--no; not always. There is scarcely one pilot in ten who works
every month in the year. Unless his boat is in some regular trade, he is
paid off as soon as the trip for which he was hired is made, and he
remains idle until he finds another job. If times are dull and the water
low, he may not find anything to do for months; for pilots are not
wanted when boats are not running, you know, Tommy."

"My name is George Ackerman," said the boy.

"Ah! I am delighted to hear it. My name is Black. I suppose you can
steer a horse pretty well, can't you? I thought so. Do you think you
could steer this boat?"

"I am afraid not. I never tried it."

"Well, step up here and see what you can do," said Mr. Black, moving
away from the wheel, but still keeping his right hand upon one of the
spokes. "We often have passengers come up here and steer for us. One of
those boys who got off at Natchez, steered for me yesterday for over
three hours; but then he is a pilot's son, and has made a good many
trips up and down the river. Don't get in front of the wheel," he added,
as George stepped down from the bench and laid his hands upon the
spokes. "Stand at the side of it--so. Now you have got perfect control
of it. Do you see that white pole out there in the bow? That is the
jack-staff, and the large black ball you see about half way up the
staff, is the night hawk."

"What is it for?"

"That is what we steer by in the night."

"I shouldn't think you could see it."

"O yes, we can. It shows almost as plainly as it does in the daytime,
and by keeping one eye on it we can tell which way the boat is swinging.
Do you see that leaning tree up there in the bend? Well, keep the
jack-staff pointed straight toward it."

"If I do that I shan't keep the boat in the middle of the river," said
George.

"I don't want you to keep in the middle of the river. I want you to go
where the water is the deepest."

Mr. Black moved away from the wheel, and George had the swiftly-moving
boat under his own control.



CHAPTER IX.

THE PILOT'S GRATITUDE.


George was greatly surprised to find that it requires skill, and a good
deal of it, too, to do so simple a thing as keeping a steamer in a
straight course. Mr. Black had done it without the least apparent
exertion, not unfrequently managing the wheel with only one hand, but
George could not, for the life of him, keep the jack-staff directed
towards the object in the bend that had been pointed out to him. That
leaning tree was like the negative pole of a magnet: it seemed to repel
rather than to attract; and every time the jack-staff was brought to
bear upon it, the bow would swing to one side or the other, and George
could not hold it anywhere. Like all beginners, he kept the wheel in
constant motion; but he was quick to learn anything in which he was
interested, and it was not long before he found out that there was
always an increased strain upon the tiller rope before the boat began
to swing, and that easing the wheel a spoke or two did more good than
giving it a round turn. When he had learned this much, he had taken the
first step towards learning how to steer a steamboat.

"The deepest water is not always to be found in the middle of the
river," continued Mr. Black. "If it was, what would be the use of
pilots? Anybody could take a boat up or down the river, provided he knew
the bells and could handle the wheel. But the channel is constantly
changing, and to-day we find plenty of water in places where sand-bars
were high and dry a year or two ago."

"How do you know, then, but that the channel we are now following may
change over to the other side of the river before you come down again?"
said George.

"I don t know it. I shouldn't be in the least surprised, for stranger
things than that have happened. Do you see that tow-head over there?"
inquired Mr. Black, directing the boy's attention to a little grove of
willows that grew on the farther side of the stream; "that's 'Old'
river. The Mississippi used to run on the other side of that tow-head,
at least three miles from where it runs now. It is these constant
changes that make it necessary for us to have fields-men, who are
willing to devote all their time to keeping track of the channel. A
pilot of twenty, or even ten years ago, would find it hard work to take
a boat to New Orleans. In fact, I don't believe that he could do it, if
he depended entirely upon himself. But we help one another all we can.
For example, when we get to Cairo, some pilot there, who hasn't been
down the river for a few months, will ask me how I got into Helena;
there's a very bad river there, you know, and lots of bars, and those
bars are always on the move. I'll tell him all the turns I made, and he
will remember every word I say, and make the same turns in the darkest
of nights. That's why I told you that a man must have a good memory to
be a pilot. Now here we are in the bend, and this leaning tree will be
of no more use to us to-day. We must find something else to steer by.
Bring her around easy, keeping just about this distance from the
shore--that's it--now a little more. Steady at that. Do you see that log
cabin up there in the bight of the next bend? Well, run the boat right
in at the door."

George, who changed the course of the boat very cleverly in obedience to
these instructions, told himself that he was learning rapidly, and the
pilot remarked that he was doing very well indeed for a boy who had
never touched a wheel before. While he was thus engaged, Ned, who had
grown tired of idling away the time in his bunk, sauntered up to the
hurricane-deck, and exhibited the greatest surprise at what he saw when
he glanced toward the pilot-house. He came up the steps, seated himself
on the elevated bench, and listened eagerly to the conversation between
Mr. Black and his cousin. He must have heard something that interested
him, for when the dinner-bell rang, and Mr. Black took the wheel, after
telling George that he could come up and steer for his partner in the
afternoon, if he felt so inclined, Ned hurried off to hunt up his
father, whom he found in the barber shop.

"George has struck something already," he whispered, as he turned the
water into one of the wash-bowls, "and I hope from the bottom of my
heart that he will make the most of it. He has been steering the boat
all the morning, and from what I heard him say to the pilot, I gained
the idea that he has some intention of becoming a river man."

"Perhaps it would be a good opening for him," said Uncle John, burying
his face in one of the towels.

"I am sure it would," replied Ned. "It would take him three years at
least to learn the river, and there are no vacations, you know."

That was the reason why Uncle John had not suggested to George, that it
would be a good plan for him to go back to school, because there were
vacations; and because he knew that during those vacations, George would
be very likely to run down to Texas to see how things were going there.
It was Uncle John's desire to see the boy settled in some business, that
would occupy every moment of his time.

"It is a dangerous calling, but a very honorable as well as a useful
one," added Uncle John. "We couldn't get along without pilots, you
know."

"I heard George say, that he would be willing to give fifty dollars a
month to learn the business," said Ned.

"Very well. If he has made his decision, the want of money shall not
stand in his way. Could you describe the pilot to me, so that I could
recognise him?"

"Do you know that tall, dark man, with long black whiskers that come
clear down to his waist, and who always dresses in light clothes?"

"I believe I have seen him," said Uncle John, in reply.

This was all the conversation that passed between Ned and his father on
this subject, but it was enough to enable the boy to understand, that
Uncle John had marked out a course of action for himself. And so he had.
He scraped an acquaintance with Mr. Black before he went to dinner, told
him of the relationship that existed between himself and the boy who had
spent the morning in the pilot-house, and had a long talk with him about
river men and the dangers of the life they led. He told him, too, that
he (Uncle John) was a very wealthy man, and quite willing to indorse any
arrangements his nephew might be able to make with Mr. Black. This, of
course, increased the pilot's interest in George, and an incident
happened that very afternoon that increased it still more.

Contrary to his usual custom, George ate his dinner in great haste that
day. He had already become infatuated with life in the pilot-house, and
he was eager to see more of it. As he ran up the steps that led to the
hurricane deck, his eye chanced to fall upon something that lay close
to the cabin skylights, and under the shelter of the projecting roof,
where it must have rolled when it dropped from its owner's pocket. It
was a large, black pocket-book, and if there was any faith to be put in
appearances, it was well filled. George picked it up, turned it over in
his hands, and looked all around the deck to see if there was any body
in sight. As he did so, a rather flashily-dressed young man, who had
been standing near the bell, hurried up to him with a great show of
eagerness. He was one of the passengers, and George had often bestowed
more than a passing glance upon him, for the reason that he had seen him
drinking at the bar, and playing cards in the cabin for money.

"I am very much obliged to you," said he, as he held out his hand. "I
couldn't imagine where I had dropped it, and I thought I was ruined."

If the young man had hoped to surprise George into promptly surrendering
the article he had found, he was doomed to be disappointed. It is true
that the boy was from the country, and that he had never had anything to
do with city sharpers; but he was pretty smart, for all that, and his
quick wit served him in the place of experience.

"What is it?" said he, as he put his hand behind him.

"Why, it is my pocket-book. It is a black one with a silver clasp."

"I am well aware of that fact," replied George, who knew that the young
man must have caught a momentary glimpse of the article in question
while he was holding it in his hands. "It is easy enough to describe the
outside of a thing after you have seen it, but can you describe the
contents?"

"Of course I can. There's a good deal of money in it."

"How much?"

"That is something I can't tell, for I am so careless with money, that I
never keep a strict account of what I carry about with me. There are
also some papers in it that are of no value to anybody except myself."

"All right," said George. "Come on."

"Where are you going?"

"Down to find the captain. You can come with me and describe those
papers to him."

"I will give you a hundred dollars the minute you hand over my
property," said the young man.

"I don't want your money. I only want to be sure that I give the wallet
into the hands of its owner."

As he said this, he took his hand from behind him and put it into his
pocket. The young man had a fair view of the wallet, for George did not
attempt to hide it from his gaze, and he saw that it was pretty "fat."
Believing that its plumpness was occasioned by a big roll of greenbacks
which he would find on the inside in case he could get the pocket-book
into his possession, he thought he could afford to increase his reward.

"That's mine," said he. "I have carried it for years, and I would
recognise it among a thousand. Hand it over here, without any more
fooling, and I will give you two hundred dollars to reward you for your
honesty. Just think of it! That is a big sum for a boy like you to own."

"I don't want your money," repeated George. "Whenever you get ready to
prove the contents of this pocket-book, you can go to the old man to do
it."

So saying he ran down the stairs, paying no heed to the protests of the
young man, who increased his offer of reward to two hundred and fifty
dollars, and turning into the cabin found the officer of whom he was in
search just rising from the table.

"I have found something, sir," said he, "and I would thank you to take
charge of it until the owner calls upon you for it."

He handed out the pocket-book, as he spoke, and the captain at once
opened it to see if he could find anything to indicate who the owner
was.

"It belongs to somebody who is pretty well fixed," said he, at length.
"There's a big roll of bills here, as well as--Hallo! Jerry Black," he
exclaimed, pulling out a card and reading the name that was written upon
it. "He is one of my pilots--the man I saw you steering for this
morning. He will be glad to remember you for this, for you have placed
him under very heavy obligations. I say it knowing something of his
circumstances. If you are not afraid to trust me with it, I will give it
to him as soon as he awakes. He has gone to bed for the afternoon."

When George ascended to the hurricane deck again he looked every where
for the young man who had laid claim to the lost pocket-book, but he was
not to be seen. The boy had said nothing to the captain about that
little affair, because he did not want to get the would-be swindler into
trouble. He had easily foiled him in his attempt to cheat Mr. Black out
of his property, and that was the end of the matter so far as George was
concerned. When he entered the pilot-house he found there a new man, who
greeted him cordially.

"So you're the boy that wants to be a pilot, are you?" said he, "Jerry
spoke to me about you. Come on, and let us see what you can do."

George had the boat under his charge almost all that afternoon. About
four o'clock Mr. Black suddenly mounted the steps. His face was very
pale and he looked as though he had lost everything on earth that was
worth living for.

"What's the matter?" exclaimed his partner, as the owner of the lost
pocket-book threw himself wearily down upon the bench. "Are you sick?"

"Yes, sick at heart. I am a used-up man, Sam," replied Mr. Black. "My
wife and children will lose the roof that shelters them, and I shall be
turned out to begin the world again, as I began it thirty years ago,
with empty hands."

"You don't mean to tell me that you have lost it?" exclaimed Sam.

"Yes, I do."

"Then what in the name of sense are you staying in here for? Stir around
and make a fuss about it. If you dropped it on the boat, it may have
fallen into the hands of some honest person."

"And so it has," cried George, from his place at the wheel. "The old
man's got it."

George thought that since he was acting as a pilot, he ought to use a
pilot's language, and that was the reason he called the captain the "old
man."

"How do you know that?" demanded Mr. Black and Sam, in one breath.

"I saw him have it--it was a black pocket-book with a silver clasp--and
I heard him read the name of Jerry Black from a card he took out of it."

The owner of that name jumped off the bench, went through the door like
a shot, and disappeared down the stairs. He went straight to the
captain, who handed out his property without waiting to be asked for it,
at the same time telling the pilot who it was that had found it and
given it into his keeping. Mr. Black started for the pilot-house to
thank George for the favor he had rendered him, and on the guards he ran
against Uncle John.

"General," said he, acting upon an idea that suddenly shot through his
mind, "may I have a word with you?"

Almost everybody of any prominence in the South answers to some military
or judicial title. If he is pretty well to do in the world, he is a
major; if he is very well to do, he is a judge or a colonel; and if he
is wealthy, he bears the dignified title of general. Uncle John was
flattered by this show of respect, and announced that he was quite ready
to hear what Mr. Black had to say to him.

"General," said the pilot, slapping the recovered pocket-book into his
open palm. "I owe that nephew of yours something. He found this wallet
that I had somehow lost out of my pocket. It contains fifteen hundred
dollars that I borrowed in New Orleans to pay off the mortgage on my
house, and the receipts for all the money I have paid on that mortgage.
If I had lost the money, my house would have been sold over the head of
my wife, who is an invalid, and who could never survive the loss of the
home for which we have both worked so hard. My property is mortgaged to
a sharper who would foreclose in a minute in order to gain possession of
it."

"Well, sir," said Uncle John, with the dignity becoming his
newly-acquired title. "What has my nephew to do with it?"

"He has this much to do with it, or, rather, I have this much to do with
him: I want to make him some return for the service he has rendered me,
and I don't know how to go about it. You say that the boy is rich, and
that he will some day be richer, and of course, under the circumstances,
I couldn't think of offering him money."

"Certainly not," said Uncle John. "He doesn't need it. He can call upon
me for all he wants. There is only one way in which you can help him,
and that is by making a pilot of him."

"I should be glad to do it," said Mr. Black, "but I thought I had better
speak to you before saying anything to him about it."

"O, my consent is not necessary," replied Uncle John. "The boy has
always been his own master, and I suppose he always will be."

"But if he is so well off, I don't see why he should want to risk life
and limb by running on the river," said Mr. Black.

"Riches sometimes take to themselves wings and fly away, you know. No
matter how much money a young man may be worth, or how much more he may
have in prospect, he ought to be made to learn some useful trade or
business that will enable him to earn a living for himself, if
circumstances compel him to do so. That was his father's doctrine and it
is mine, too."

"And a very good doctrine it is," said Mr. Black.

"I repeat, that I stand ready to back up, with money, if money is
required, any bargain that you may make with my nephew," continued Uncle
John. "But I want you and him to understand one thing very distinctly;
if George takes up this business of piloting, he must stick to it until
he makes himself master of it. If he can't learn the river in three
years, I want you to keep him six. I don't believe in doing things by
halves."

"Neither do I. A poor pilot is worse than none, for he endangers every
boat and cargo that are placed under his care. George seems to take to
the business naturally; and if he will only stay with me, I will make a
first-class----"

"If he goes into it at all, he _must_ stay with you!" said Uncle John,
emphatically. "I want an agreement to that effect, made between him and
you. You need not say, however, that I suggested the idea to you. Speak
for yourself, but not for me."

"All right, general," said Mr. Black, as he turned toward the stairs,
"I'll bear it in mind."

"O, don't I hope he will take it, though!" exclaimed Ned, who had stood
a little apart from his father, but still quite near enough to him to
catch every word of the conversation. "I wonder if I could say anything
that would induce him to do so?"

"Probably not," answered his father. "George has somehow got hold of the
idea, that we don't want him near us--he told me so in plain language
during our second interview at Brownsville--and you might influence him
the wrong way."

That was something Ned did not want to do, and so he wisely resolved
that he would say nothing to his cousin on the subject. Knowing that
George was in the pilot-house, he hung around the foot of the stairs all
the afternoon, waiting to hear what he would have to say to Uncle John
when he came down.

Mr. Black returned to the pilot-house, looking very unlike the pale,
discouraged man who had gone in there a few minutes before. He carried
his pocket-book in his hand, and slammed it down upon the bench with a
triumphant air.

"George," said he, "let Sam steer the boat, and you come and sit down
here. I want to talk to you."

The boy reluctantly gave up his place at the wheel; and after Mr. Black
had shaken him warmly by the hand, and told him how deeply he was
indebted to him for the recovery of his money and receipts, he listened
while George described how he had found the pocket-book; and then he
drew him to a seat on the bench.

"If you really want to be a pilot, I will take you with me as a cub,
free of all expenses, except your clothes, which you will have to
provide for yourself," said he. "That is customary, you know. That is
the only way in which I can repay you."

"I hope you don't think I want to be paid for being honest," said
George.

"Certainly not; but still we always like to show our gratitude to those
who have done us a service. What do you say?"

This brought the matter squarely home to George, who did not know what
to say. He had never in his life thought of being a pilot until that
morning, and all the ideas he had of the business, he had gained during
the few hours he had spent in the company of Mr. Black and his partner.
He had only seen the sunny side of it; of its trials and perplexities he
knew nothing. He tried to obtain some information regarding them during
the long conversation that followed Mr. Black's proposition, and before
it was ended he came to the conclusion that unless his new friends told
some greatly exaggerated stories, there where not so many difficulties
and obstacles in the way of a cub-pilot, as there were in the path of
him who was ambitious to become a successful cattle raiser. Something
definite must have been decided upon, for when the supper bell rang, and
Mr. Black and George descended to the boiler-deck, Ned said to himself,
after taking one look at his cousin's face:

"He's done it! He's done it, as sure as the world, and we are well rid
of his hateful presence for long months to come."

And the sequel proved that Ned was not far from right.

When George had eaten his supper he drew a bee-line for the pilot-house.
He saw but one person on the boiler-deck, and that was the young man
who had tried to swindle him out of Mr. Black's money. George thought
that if he had been guilty of an act of that kind he would have gone off
somewhere and hidden himself; but the young man held his head up and
looked as honest as anybody.

"Well," said he, "I didn't succeed in fooling you, did I? I only wanted
to try you, you know. Have you found the owner yet?"

George replied that he had.

"I suppose he did the handsome thing by you?" said the young man, in an
inquiring tone. "I know I should if it had been mine."

"I am entirely satisfied with the reward I received," replied George.

"Was there much in it?"

"Fifteen hundred dollars, I believe, and papers worth twice that
amount."

The young man's countenance fell at once. He turned and walked away,
while George ran up the stairs that led to the hurricane-deck.

"Fifteen hundred dollars, and papers worth twice that amount," repeated
the young man, as he leaned upon the rail and looked down into the
water. "That would have set me square with my employer, and got me out
of a scrape that I am sure is going to end in something serious, sooner
or later. I have lost a lot of Clayton's money at poker, and how I am
going to replace it, I don't know. Why couldn't I have been lucky enough
to find that pocket-book? But I never have luck except in one way: I am
always able to get even with those who go back on me, and if I ever have
the chance to make this young snipe feel as miserable as I do this
moment, how quickly I'll jump at it."

The opportunity he wished for presented itself after a while, and we
shall see what use the young man made of it.



CHAPTER X.

TONY RICHARDSON.


"Anthony, why didn't you do this during school hours?"

The speaker was Mr. Bliss, the principal of one of the St. Louis grammar
schools. He leaned back in his chair and looked at a young fellow about
sixteen years of age, who stood in front of the rostrum with his eyes
fastened upon a dog's-eared algebra he held in his hand. This was Tony
Richardson, of whom we had something to say in the first volume of this
series, and he was the only son of one of the wealthiest steamboat
owners in the city.

"Don't you think this thing is getting to be a little too monotonous?"
continued the principal. "This makes the third time that you have been
kept after school this week for coming to the recitation-seat
unprepared."

"My head is so thick I can't learn figures," replied Tony. "It seems to
run in the family. I have heard my father say that he was the poorest
scholar in his class, so far as mathematics were concerned. No matter
how hard he studied, he couldn't get his lesson."

"But the trouble with you is, you do not study unless you are obliged to
do so," answered Mr. Bliss. "To be candid with you, Anthony, I think you
have fallen into the way of allowing your mind to wander off to the ends
of the earth, when it should be kept right here in the school-room and
concentrated on your books. That is a most ruinous habit, and you would
do well to break it off at once. You have committed this lesson in ten
minutes, simply because you knew that you would be required to do so
before you could go home. You could have mastered it in the same length
of time during school hours, if you had set about it in earnest. Now,
see if you can't give a better account of yourself in future. Try it for
one short week--for your father's sake, if you won't try it for your
own. That will do."

"For my father's sake," said Tony, to himself. "I don't see why I should
exert myself to please him, when he goes out of his way to refuse every
request I make of him."

He walked back to his desk, placed his algebra upon the shelf with the
rest of his books--it would have given him more pleasure if he could
have kindled a fire with it in the stove--bade his teacher good-night
and went out. Most boys would have been too sulky to be courteous, but
Tony Richardson was not that sort. With all his faults he was not
mean-spirited.

"This thing _is_ getting to be a trifle too monotonous," said he, as he
put on his hat and descended the stairs, "and I am not going to stand it
much longer; that's all there is about _that_. I don't see why father
wants me to study algebra, when he hated it so cordially himself. I'll
warrant that there are not two captains in his whole fleet who know the
binomial-theorem from a side of sole-leather, and yet they are all good
commanders. If they can run a boat without knowing anything about
mathematics, I don't see why I can't do the same. I want to go to sea--I
just know I was born to be a sailor--and if father won't let me go, he
must give me a place on one of his boats. I can tell him that much."

While these thoughts, and a good many others like them, were passing
through Tony's mind, he was walking rapidly toward the levee. When he
came within sight of the river he saw there, among the scores of other
vessels with which the levee was lined, one of his father's magnificent
boats, the Telegraph, which was advertised to start for New Orleans on
the following Monday. The engineer had just sounded his gong, and a boy
about his own age was ascending the steps that led into the pilot-house.
The captain had stationed himself near the bell that stood on the
forward part of the hurricane-deck, and the hands, under the charge of
one of the mates, were awaiting the order to haul in the gang-plank and
cast off the lines.

"She must be going up to the coal-fleet," thought Tony, as he ran
swiftly down the levee, swinging his hat over his head. "I shall have
plenty of time to go up with her, and get back to the depot before the
train starts for home."

The captain saw him coming, and knowing who he was, delayed the order to
cast off until Tony had run up the gang-plank. The latter stopped on
the hurricane-deck to exchange a few words of greeting with the "old
man," and then went into the pilot-house, where he found George Ackerman
at the wheel. George had now been on the river for more than six months,
and the reader will have some idea of the progress he had made in his
new vocation when we tell him that he was the only pilot on board the
Telegraph at that moment, that Mr. Black, after being engaged for the
trip, had gone to Webster Groves to take leave of his family, that his
partner, Mr. Kelsey, was somewhere on shore, and that neither of them
had felt the least hesitation in leaving George to take the boat up to
the coal-fleet, and bring her back again.

Our hero did not yet know the river, but he was a fine steersman, and
could make a landing or get the boat under way almost as well as
anybody. He was worth something now, and Mr. Black paid him twenty
dollars a month for his services. Regarding this in the light of a
promotion, George wrote to Texas about it, and was afterwards very sorry
that he had done so, for Uncle John, prompted by Ned, at once shut down
on the monthly allowance which he had thus far sent him regularly. The
amount he received was enough to clothe him as well as he cared to
dress; he was under no expense for board, for when he was not running on
the river, he lived with Mr. Black, in his home at Webster Groves. But
still George did not like that act on the part of Uncle John. It showed
him that his guardian was determined to exercise all the authority he
possessed, and more, too, if he could.

"How are you, Tony?" exclaimed George. "Sit down until I back her out
and straighten her up, and then I'll talk to you."

"And I'll take your place at the wheel, won't I?" said Tony, as he took
a seat on the elevated bench.

"Of course; that's always understood."

The two boys, having often been thrown into each other's society of
late, were well acquainted, and a sort of friendship had sprung up
between them. Mr. Black had been employed on one or another of Mr.
Richardson's boats ever since he left the General Quitman, and of course
George went with him everywhere as his assistant. Tony, who thoroughly
hated school and everything belonging to it, was deeply in love with the
water, and spent all his leisure hours in loitering about the levee; and
whenever any of his father's boats were moved from one wharf-boat to
another, or sent up to the coal-fleet, Tony was generally on hand to do
the steering. He took unbounded delight in a boat, and looked forward
with impatience to the day when he would take his position as captain of
one of the swiftest and most beautiful steamers on the river. What sort
of an apprenticeship he would have to serve before he would be qualified
to fill so responsible a berth, Tony did not know. In fact, it was
something about which he seldom troubled himself. There was one thing he
was certain of, however, and that was, he was not going to begin as deck
hand or watchman, or even as clerk or mate. The deck hands were a low
set, in Tony's estimation. Besides, they were obliged to handle the
freight, and that was not a genteel business. Watchmen were only a grade
higher than the deck hands, clerks had too much to do with figures, and
mates were generally too rough in dress and language to suit the boy. He
had heard of men stepping from the pilot-house into the captain's place,
and if he had to serve in any subordinate capacity before he could take
command of a steamer, he thought he would rather be a pilot than
anything else. These officers and the clerks comprise the aristocracy
among river men. They generally dress in the height of fashion, sport a
good deal of jewelry, and the pilots, if they choose to do so, can wear
kid gloves while they are at work. Their money comes easily, and, as a
rule, goes easier. Where there is one prudent man among them, like Mr.
Black, who puts his earnings into a home, there are a dozen who make all
haste to get rid of them.

We ought to say right here, that the prospect of becoming a riverman,
did not exactly suit Tony. His first love was the sea. He thought about
it during his waking hours, and dreamed of it when he was asleep. He
sang forecastle songs, told sea stories, and tried to talk and walk like
a sailor. When his father emphatically refused to aid him in carrying
out his insane ideas, Tony shed a good many tears in secret; banged his
school-books about more spitefully than ever; and fell back upon the
river as the next best thing to think about. If he went there he would
accept nothing but a high position, and he would hold it only
temporarily; for as soon as he became his own master, he would start as
straight for salt water as he could go.

"How do you like the river by this time?" asked Tony, as the Telegraph
was backed rapidly away from the wharf-boat.

"First rate!" replied George with great enthusiasm. "I like it better
and better every day, and I know I shall never get tired of it. I don't
think I should like to go back to herding cattle again."

"Well, there's no need of it. If I were my own master, as you are, I
should do as I please."

"And you would please to go to sea, I suppose?"

"Of course I would. That is what I am going to do sometime; and I don't
see why my father will not let me go now."

"Perhaps he has something better in view for you," suggested George.

"He can't have anything in view for me that will suit me half so well,"
replied Tony, with the air of one who had made up his mind. "I am old
enough to know what I want, and what I don't want. Let me have her now."

The Telegraph had by this time been backed away from the levee, and
straightened up the river, and George felt safe in resigning the wheel
to his companion. But he did not go far away from it. There were a good
many boats running about, some moving out of their berths and others
going in; and as it required some skill to steer clear of all of them,
George stood close by, so that he could seize the wheel in an instant;
while Tony, who was no mean steersman, managed it with one hand, and
kept up an almost constant signaling with the other.

When two boats meet, one going down and the other up the river, or if a
boat is backing out into the stream while another is coming up, the
upper boat has the right of way, but the lower one always whistles
first. For example, Smith, who is piloting a boat up the river, may
whistle once to notify Brown, who is coming down the river, that he
(Smith) intends to turn his boat to the right, so as to pass by on
Brown's left hand. If the latter is satisfied with the arrangement, he
gives notice of the fact by whistling once in reply; but if he is not
satisfied with it, if he wants to make a landing, or pick up a tow, or
do anything else that required him to make Smith pass by on his _right_
hand instead of the left, he whistles twice; and Smith must reply to the
signal, to show that he understands it; get his boat out of Brown's way,
and go by on the other side. The burden of the responsibility in
avoiding a collision, if one seemed likely to occur, would rest with the
pilot who was going up the river; for the reason, that his vessel could
be handled much more easily and quickly, than the one that was coming
down driven by all the force of a powerful current. George had learned
all these things, as well as a good many others, during the
comparatively short time he had been under Mr. Black's instructions; and
knowing his responsibility, he did not feel willing to trust his boat
entirely in the hands of his friend Tony.

The nearer the Telegraph approached to the coal-fleet, which was
composed of a number of barges moored to the bank two or three miles
above the city, the clearer the river became, and presently George moved
away from the wheel and seated himself on the bench. He kept one eye on
Tony, who was too busy to talk, and the other out ahead to see that
nothing came in their way.

The young pilot had been acquainted with his new friend long enough to
know that he was a very discontented boy, and he could not see why it
was so. He did not then know that the source of happiness is within
ourselves, and that our surroundings have not so much to do with it as
our own dispositions. By Tony's invitation he had once accompanied him
to his home, and he had found there all the aids to happiness that any
reasonable boy could ask for; but still Mr. Richardson was strict, and
Tony was very much of a rebel The more he resisted lawful authority the
tighter the reins were drawn, until Tony finally came to the conclusion
that home was always a dreary place, that fathers found no pleasure in
life except in denying their sons every gratification on which they had
set their hearts, and that no boy of any spirit would put up with such a
state of affairs after he became able to take care of himself. George
was not long in finding out how matters stood, and he wasted all his
eloquence in the effort to make Tony believe that he was then seeing the
happiest years of his life.

"You may some time know by experience, what it is to have no home to go
to," said George. "Stranger things than that have happened, you know,
and then you will wish that you had made the most of these days, which
now seem so gloomy to you, and improved the opportunities you slight
every hour of your life."

"You needn't preach," snapped Tony, in reply. "Haven't you told me more
than once that you left home because you were not happy there?"

"I have told you that I left Texas because I was not safe there,"
answered George.

"Well, it was your home, wasn't it?"

"It used to be."

"You lived in the same house that you lived in while your father was
alive?"

George said he did.

"And your father's only brother was your guardian and had charge of the
house?"

George said that was so, too.

"Then it was your home," said Tony, triumphantly; "and to be consistent,
you ought to have stayed there, whether you wanted to or not."

"But haven't I told you that I couldn't stay?" asked George.

"And haven't I told you that I can't stay here?" retorted Tony. "This is
not a new notion of mine. I have been thinking about it for a long
time--in fact, ever since I went into algebra. It is hard work for me to
go to school."

"It will be harder for you to earn your own living. I know what work is,
and you don't. There is no need of your going to sea, or running on the
river."

"I know what you mean. Of course, I shall be a rich man some day, if I
live, but I don't care for that. I want liberty to do as I please, more
than I want money, and I want it _now_. What's more, I'm going to have
it, either with or without----"

"Your father's consent," added George, when Tony paused.

"That's just it. I don't know that I ought to be so plain with you, but
you will not repeat what I say?"

"I have better business than carrying tales," replied George. "If your
father should ever say anything to me about it, I should tell him the
truth, and some day you would thank me for it. I know what you have in
your mind, and you had better take my advice and give it up."

"More preaching," said Tony, with a laugh. "I give you fair warning that
you will never make a convert of me, for you don't know what you are
talking about. You have led a free and easy life there on the plains,
being under no restraint, but coming and going as you pleased, and what
do you know of the trials and tribulations of a boy who is held with his
nose tight to the grindstone every day? Come, George, give us a rest. If
you do not let my father into my secret before he broaches the subject
to you, you will never say a word to him about it."

There was not the slightest danger that Mr. Richardson would ever speak
to George about Tony, but it was not very long before he took occasion
to speak to Tony about George. The next evening, while they were seated
in the cars waiting for the train to start toward home, Mr. Richardson
suddenly looked up from his paper and said:

"Anthony, who was that fellow you brought home with you yesterday?"

"He's not a fellow," answered the boy. "His name is Ackerman, and he is
Mr. Black's cub. He runs on one of your boats."

"Well, just drop him now; and don't bring him or anybody like him out to
Kirkwood any more. When you have so many nice acquaintances, I can't
imagine why you should be so intimate with those rivermen," said Mr.
Richardson.

"They are the ones who have made your money for you," said Tony.

"I am aware of that; and they have been well paid for serving me. I find
no fault with the men themselves--a braver and more skilful class cannot
be found anywhere--but I do object to the morals of the most of them.
Having passed some of the best years of my life on the river, I ought to
know something about rivermen. This boy you speak of may be all right
now, but he is under bad influences."

George never heard of this conversation between Tony and his father, and
there was nothing in Tony's behavior toward him to indicate that such an
interview had ever taken place. The latter kept track of the different
boats on which Mr. Black was employed, and whenever one of them came
into port, Tony made it a point to visit the cub pilot as soon as he
could get out of school. He liked George, and he had but one fault to
find with him; the latter had been a cattle raiser, and Tony wished he
had been a sailor, so that he could have talked with him about the sea.

The Telegraph reached the coal-fleet in due time, and fortunately for
Tony there was another boat there, the Ida Clifford, which, having
filled her bunkers, was about to return to the city. Being acquainted
with one of the pilots, Tony went aboard of her and steered her down,
thus saving himself a long walk. On arriving at the landing he went
ashore, and started for his father's office on Fourth street. When he
reached it, he saw Mr. Richardson standing in the door drawing on his
gloves.

"Ah!" said he, as Tony came up. "I began to think I should have to start
for home without you. You have been kept after school as usual, I
suppose?

"Yes, sir," replied Tony, "And when I got out, I went up to the
coal-fleet on the Telegraph."

"Well, now that you have come, we will start for the depot. We have
barely time to catch the train."

Mr. Richardson lived in Kirkwood, a beautiful little village located
about thirteen miles from the river. Its society was made up principally
of the families of wealthy men who did business in St. Louis. Living
within easy reach of the city, they were still far enough away from it
to escape all its heat, dust and noise. Tony and his father came in
every morning on the seven o'clock train, and returned together in the
evening after business hours were over.

"I should think you would get tired of being kept after school," said
Mr. Richardson, as they walked toward the depot. "The report you bring
home every week shows you to be anything but a faithful student. What do
you expect to gain by so foolish a waste of time?"

"I don't expect to gain anything by it," replied Tony. "I only want to
get through my school-days with as little trouble and work as I can. I
shall be glad when they are over."

"And you want to get through life in the same way, I suppose?" said his
father.

"No, sir; I am willing to work, and I should like to begin to-morrow. I
want to go to sea."

"Anthony, you might as well give up that idea first as last. You will
never go with my consent. I don't see what put that notion into your
head. You have about as clear an idea of what would be required of you
on shipboard as you have of the duties of a book-keeper."

"Will you let me do the next best thing, then? Will you let me go on the
river?"

"No, indeed. I want to see you something better than a steamboat man."

"I should really like to know what you want me to be, anyhow," said
Tony, with some impatience.

"I want to see you a respected member of society, for one thing," said
his father. "I hope you will not think that your school-days are over
until you have been through college. That was one thing I missed, for I
began life poor; but I don't want you to miss it. I can see now how
advantageous such training would have been to me. Get your education
first, and decide upon your life-work afterwards."

"But I don't want to go to college," said Tony; "and I won't, either,"
he added, in an undertone. "I am not going to study myself to death for
the sake of reading Greek and Latin. I don't want to go to school any
longer," he said, aloud. "I had the best notion in the world to pack up
my books to-night and take them home with me."

"That would have been a useless waste of strength and time on your part,
for on Monday morning you would have had the pleasure of packing them up
again and taking them back with you," said Mr. Richardson, bringing the
iron ferule of his heavy cane down upon the sidewalk with more than his
usual energy. "I believe I shall have something to say in regard to your
conduct for at least five years to come."

"Then I must go to school, whether I want to or not, must I?"

He asked this question in a tone of voice which he intended should make
an impression on his father, and lead him to see that his son had
resolved upon something. But, contrary to his expectations, Mr.
Richardson did not seem to be at all affected by it. He answered very
calmly and decidedly,

"Certainly, you must."

"Well, if you won't let me go to sea, as you know I have long wanted to
do, nor on the river either, can't you find a place for me in your
office?"

"I am going to give him every chance," said Tony, to himself, "and if he
doesn't see fit to improve one of them, he must take the responsibility
for anything that happens."

"I have no place for you," replied his father. "There is nothing in the
office you can do, unless you act as messenger boy, and I certainly
shall not discharge young Bowman to make an opening for you. He needs
the money he earns, for he is the only support of a widowed mother."

"Couldn't I be a clerk of some kind?" asked Tony. "I have given him
another chance."

"No, indeed. My clerks must all understand figures. I do wish you would
wake up and go to work in earnest. Anthony, didn't you tell me last
Christmas that if I would buy you a pony, you would work hard at your
books for a whole year?"

Tony believed he did have a faint recollection of making some such
promise.

"You have got the pony, and how have you kept your word?"

The boy did not reply to this question. The truth of the matter was, he
had learned, as a good many of us have, that there is more pleasure in
looking forward to the possession of a thing, than there is in
possessing it. The pride he at first felt in having a horse of his own,
very soon gave place to an unreasonable hostility toward the animal. It
was not so easy to ride him as it looked to be, and he was so slow of
foot that one of the Kirkwood boys offered to bet a six-bladed,
pearl-handled knife against Tony's "Barlow," that he could find a fellow
who could beat him in a fair race. Tony couldn't afford to study hard
for a whole year to pay for such a pony as that.

"But whether you wake up or not," continued Mr. Richardson, "you can
depend upon one thing: you are going to stay at school until you know
more than you do now."

"We'll see about that," was Tony's mental rejoinder. "I have tried my
best more than a dozen times to induce him to let me leave school--I'd
rather saw wood than pore over these books day after day--but he is
bound to disregard all my wishes, and now I will see how he'll feel when
he finds that I have disregarded his. I never can do anything I want to
do as long as I stay here, and I'm going to make a break. I am going out
into the world to begin life in earnest. I am off for salt water!"

As Tony said this, he closed his lips tightly and looked very
determined, indeed.



CHAPTER XI.

DOWN THE RIVER ON A COAL-BARGE.


Tony Richardson had never held five minutes conversation with a sailor,
he had never seen the ocean or a ship, and the inquiry will very
naturally arise: What could have put it into his head to go to sea? The
idea was suggested to him through the same hurtful influence that had
made a thief of Bob Owens, and sent him out into the world to make
himself famous as a hunter and Indian fighter. Perhaps you don't believe
that so simple a thing as reading a story could affect a boy's whole
life? If so, what do you think of the following, which recently appeared
in a Rochester paper? We have copied it just as it was printed, with
these exceptions: the names of the culprits have been changed, and
another substituted for that of the paper in which the story referred to
appeared:


     "_BOYS' PAPERS AND INCENDIARISM._

     "The speedy arrest of the 'fire-bugs,' who amused themselves two or
     three evenings in this city by firing buildings, was highly
     gratifying to our citizens, many of whom began to feel a little
     nervous over the operations of the young rascals. We refer to them
     and their work in this place because they afford another
     illustration of the pernicious influence upon boyish minds of evil
     literature. Damon, the elder of the two, is eighteen, and his
     companion, Volbets, is twelve years old. The former, when captured,
     had in his pocket two copies of the _Boys of the Nation_, one of
     those abominable sheets filled with wild stories of crime and
     adventure so fascinating to ill-disciplined minds, and he said that
     he was inspired to his criminal work by reading the story of 'Rory
     of the Hills; or, the Outlaws of Tipperary.' These boys had already
     burned down a house on Orchard street and a stave factory, when
     they were arrested, and they had planed to fire three more
     Wednesday night, if the detectives had not spoiled their game."


That proves, beyond a doubt, that stories have an effect of some kind,
does it not? Tony Richardson had imbibed some very ridiculous ideas
through the same channel. The story that made the greatest impression
upon him was the "Phantom Cruiser," which he had read and re-read until
he knew it almost by heart. It described the adventures and exploits of
a boy who, after passing through all sorts of perils, such as
shipwrecks, and battles with pirates, was finally turned adrift by a
mutinous crew because he would not join his fortunes with theirs, and
blown upon an uninhabited island in mid ocean. There he accidentally
stumbled upon a bed of pearl oysters, of wonderful richness, and after
he had loaded himself down with the valuable gems, he escaped from the
island, and set out for home to reward his friends and excite the envy
of all his enemies. Tony's thoughts often wondered off to that island
when they ought to have been fixed on his books. They wandered off there
now, while he was walking toward the depot with his father, and he
hoped, and sometimes he believed, that his sailor life would have an
ending quite as romantic and glorious.

Unfortunately for Tony, the realities of life had no charm for him. He
was constantly building air-castles, and looking for something that
never came. He lived in a little world of his own creation, and he was
not happy unless he was wandering about that world, and mingling with
the impossible beings with which his lively imagination had peopled it.

Having decided to "make a break," Tony went further, and made up his
mind that he would do it without any unnecessary delay. He could not go
on the river without his father's consent, for almost all the steamboat
men who ran out of St. Louis were acquainted with him, and some of them
would be sure to tell Mr. Richardson that they had seen him. If he went
anywhere, he must go to sea. But just here a difficulty arose: How was
he going to make his way to New Orleans, which was the nearest port at
which he could ship on an ocean-going vessel? There were three ways open
to him. He could ask some steamboat captain to pass him, or he could
ship as deck hand, or he could pay his fare in the cabin. There were
objections to every one of these plans. If he asked for a pass, he would
be sure to get it, but he would have to answer a thousand and one
questions. Did his father say he might go to New Orleans? and, if so,
why didn't Tony take passage on one of his boats?

"That would never do," soliloquised the boy, who had thought all these
things over more than once. "When I leave here I want to disappear as
completely as though I had ceased to exist. If father should find out
that I had left for New Orleans, it would be just like him to telegraph
there and stop me. I can't work my way as deck hand, for I couldn't eat
and sleep with such a lot of men as they are. Besides I am not strong
enough to handle heavy freight, and some of those sharp-eyed mates would
certainly penetrate any disguise I might assume. If I pay my fare in the
cabin, I shall run the same risks I would run in asking for a pass.
'Tony,' some inquisitive clerk would say, 'what are you doing this for?
Why don't you go down on one of your father's boats, and then you could
go for nothing?' I wish I was not so well known. If I only had money
enough I would go by rail; but I have only enough to pay for my ticket,
and I ought to have a little left to buy an outfit when I reach New
Orleans. Dear me! I am always bothered about something."

But, after all, getting to New Orleans was not so great a task as Tony
thought it was. Unluckily for him events took a turn which made it very
easy for him to accomplish his object, and that, too, without his
father's knowledge.

The next day was Saturday, and consequently there was no school; but
Tony went to the city as usual--we have said that he spent all his
leisure hours on the levee--and taking leave of his father at the depot
made his way toward one of the wharf-boats. There he encountered a
well-known coal-dealer, Mr. Vandegriff by name, whose countenance
lighted up at the sight of him.

"Looking for a job?" said he, as he shook hands with Tony.

"Not to-day, I guess," was the laughing reply.

"But I am in earnest," said Mr. Vandegriff, as he and Tony walked over
the gang-plank to the wharf-boat. "Here's the Armada loading for New
Orleans, and she is in such a hurry to get off that she can't stop to
coal up; so I have had a barge made fast alongside of her, and she is
going to take it down the river with her and coal up while she is under
way. When she gets all she wants she will turn the barge adrift, and
when one of my tugs comes in, I'll send down after it."

"Well?" said Tony, who knew that there was nothing unusual in all this.

"Well, I want somebody to go with her and check the coal and take the
money," said Mr. Vandegriff.

"Where's Hardy?" asked Tony. "I thought he attended to all such business
for you."

"So he did, but he will never do it again. I gave him his walking-papers
last night. He is too imprudent to handle any of _my_ money. The Handy
Andy took a barge down the river yesterday to coal up while she was
under way, and as she had a small crew, I sent fourteen of my darkies
with her to help. The Handy Andy let the barge go about twenty miles
below here, and Hardy was alone on that barge with that gang of men for
more than four hours. When the tug came up to take her in tow, Hardy
said to the darkies: 'Have any of you boys got a life preserver about
you?' They told him they hadn't; and Hardy said: 'Then, if the tug blows
up before we reach the city, I shall have to use this to buoy me up till
I can swim ashore;' and as he spoke, he drew out of his pocket a roll of
bills containing about three hundred dollars, and put under his arm."

"What a dunce!" cried the boy.

"Wasn't he!" exclaimed Mr. Vandegriff. "He acted as though he had no
sense. The darkies opened their eyes when they saw the money, and one of
them said to him: 'Fore de Lawd, boss, if we'd knowed you had all dem
greenbacks in your good clothes, you'd never tuk 'em to de city wid
you;' and to tell the honest truth, I don't think he ever would. It
would have been no trouble at all for them to rob him; divide the money
among themselves; jump into the skiff that was towing at the stern of
the barge, and take to the woods. The worst of it is, that Hardy, by
that one fool act, has made it dangerous for anybody to go down the
river on a barge with a gang of men, unless he is prepared to defend
himself. Those negroes have always believed, that the boat knew how much
coal she wanted, and paid for it before leaving the city; and that the
clerk went down with her simply to see that she didn't take more than
she had paid for. But now their eyes are opened, and there are some
reckless ones among them who will hereafter be on the watch."

"And is that the job you want me to take?" asked Tony. "I think you had
better get somebody else."

"Bless your heart," said Mr. Vandegriff, "there's no danger in going
down with the Armada. If there was, I shouldn't think of asking you. She
has got her full crew; and I shall send only a couple of my best hands
with you to make the lines fast, when the tug finds the barge. They have
worked for me a long time; and I would rather trust them, than some
white men with whom I am acquainted. I know that money is no object to
you," he added, seeing that the boy still hesitated, "but I don't want
you to do it for nothing. I'll give you ten dollars."

Tony pricked up his ears when he heard this. If he could get a few more
such "jobs" at ten dollars a piece, it would not take him many Saturdays
to earn money enough to pay for his sailor's outfit, when he reached New
Orleans.

"Suppose I should get into a fight with these two darkies, and keep them
from robbing me and running off with your money?" said Tony.

"Then you can keep a hundred dollars out of it, and hand me the
balance," answered Mr. Vandegriff, who little imagined that the boy
would ever be in a situation to take advantage of this permission.
"You'll go, won't you? Speak quick, for she will be ready to start in a
few minutes; and I must sign a blank receipt for you to fill out, when
she has finished coaling. I haven't time to look for anybody else; and I
can't go myself."

"Yes," said Tony, "I'll go."

Mr. Vandegriff walked rapidly toward the office, and as he drew the
printed form of a receipt from his pocket-book, the Armada's bell rang.
He quickly signed the receipt and placed it in a small account-book
which he handed over to the boy, who ran out and sprang on board the
Armada.

"All ashore, Tony," shouted the captain, from his perch on the
hurricane-deck. "We are in a great hurry. Where in the world is that
clerk of yours, Vandegriff?"

The coal-dealer replied by pointing out Tony, who shook his account-book
at the captain. The latter nodded his head to signify that it was all
right, tapped the bell, and when the lines had been cast off and the
staging hauled in, the Armada backed out into the stream, taking the
coal-barge with her.

As soon as the forecastle had been cleared up, long planks were run down
into the barge, and the crew of the steamer, assisted by Mr.
Vandegriff's two negroes, began filling up the bunkers, Tony and one of
the clerks sitting on the guard and checking the boxes as fast as they
were brought on board. It was about nine o'clock when the Armada moved
away from the wharf-boat, and it was a little past three in the
afternoon when she cast off the lines and left the barge to the mercy of
the current, and Tony Richardson sitting on the forward-deck with more
than five hundred dollars in his pocket, and a look of excitement on his
face. It was a much larger amount of money than he had ever had in his
possession before.

"Don't I wish it was mine?" thought Tony, as he straightened out his leg
and passed his hand over the huge lump in his pocket. "I wouldn't see
St. Louis again for one while, I bet you."

Notwithstanding his great desire to free himself from the restraints of
home and school, and to enter upon the glorious career of which he had
so often dreamed, Tony had never once thought of stealing money enough
to enable him to carry out his plans. The idea had never once suggested
itself to him, and if it had, by any chance, came into his mind, it
would have frightened him. He would no more have taken a dollar of Mr.
Vandegriff's money to keep him in his runaway scheme, than he would
have jumped into the river and made way with himself.

"Now, I believe I will eat my lunch," continued Tony, "and I hope by the
time it is finished that tug will be along. What Mr. Vandegriff told me
about Hardy makes me just a trifle nervous. But didn't he say that these
men were all right? He certainly did, and so I have nothing to fear."

Tony squared around on the barge so that he could look up and down the
river without turning his body, and while disposing of the good things,
the steward of the Armada had put up for him, he kept a good lookout for
the tug whose appearance he awaited with no little impatience and
anxiety. Now and then he turned his eyes toward the two negroes, who
were seated on the after-deck engaged in very earnest conversation, but
he paid no particular attention to them until he saw them arise to their
feet, as if moved by a common impulse, and start toward the bow, walking
along the gunwales of the barge, one on each side. When the barge was
loaded to its full capacity, the top of these gunwales was not more than
two feet above the water; but as fast as the coal was taken out, the
unwieldy craft rose, and now, when the cargo was almost all removed,
the gunwales were six or seven feet high. Each end of the barge was
covered by a deck about eight feet long, and this was where the crew
stood when they were handling the lines.

This movement on the part of the negroes alarmed Tony, who dropped the
leg of the chicken he held in his hand, and sprang to his feet.
Something told him that it would never do to allow those men to come too
close to him.

"Say, you Mose and Sambo," he shouted, "what are you coming here for? Go
back where you belong."

"Want to ax you something, sah," replied one of the negroes--the one at
whom the boy had looked when he called out the name of "Sambo." He
hadn't got either one of the names right, but still the ones he had
given them will do to distinguish them by.

"Stop, right where you are," commanded Tony, who, frightened as he was,
managed to speak in a very firm and determined tone of voice. "I can
hear what you have to say."

"We's comin' right dar whar you is," said the one who had been called
Mose.

As he spoke, he drew a long knife from his pocket, and with a quick
movement, threw open the blade, which caught with a spring. Tony's
terror was greatly increased by the sight of the glittering steel. It
was plain that the men intended to rob him of Mr. Vandegriff's money,
but what they intended to do with him after they got it, was not so
clear to him. The sight of the knife and the expression on the face of
the man who carried it, suggested only the most dreadful things. He
looked anxiously up the river, but the tug was not in sight. He turned
his eyes in the other direction, but the stream was clear as far as he
could see. Beyond a point which jutted out from the left hand bank, a
huge black cloud of smoke arose in the air, pointing out the position of
the Armada, which was flying down the river with all the speed her
powerful engines could give her. There was nobody to whom he could look
for assistance; he was utterly alone. He had never before been placed in
a situation of danger, and when he thought of it afterward, he was
astonished at the manner in which he conducted himself, and the
promptness with which he acted.

"Does you see dis yere?" said Mose, holding up the knife so that the boy
could have a fair view of it. "Don't make no fursin' or yellin' now,
kase if you do, it'll be wuss for you!"

"I am in charge of this craft," said Tony, still speaking in a steady
voice, "and I tell you again, and for the last time, to go back to the
stern of the barge where you belong. If you don't, you'll hear something
drop."

The negroes, who were surprised at the boy's bold front, halted and
looked across the barge at each other. If Tony had at that moment placed
his hand in his hip-pocket, or made any other demonstrations to indicate
that he had a pistol about him, it is very probable that the men would
have obeyed his orders, and that he would have been saved from something
that afterwards happened; but Tony, being the hero of an adventure that
really occurred, and not an imaginary character, did not do this. He was
too badly frightened to think of it, and he did just what he ought not
to have done. Seeing that the men hesitated, he sought to gain an
increased advantage over them and frighten them still more by stooping
quickly and picking up two lumps of coal. This simple act reassured the
negroes, and Mose shouted across to his companion--

"Hi, Jeff! He ain't got nuffin to shoot wid. Frow dem chunks down, boy,
or it'll be wuss for you, if you don't pay some heed to what we're
tellin' you!"

The men again advanced along the gunwales, and Tony, knowing that if he
allowed them to gain a footing on the deck they would quickly overpower
him, suddenly drew back his right-hand and sent one of the lumps of coal
whizzing through the air, toward the man who carried the knife. He had
been catcher for the Monitor ball club for two seasons, and the members
were loud in their praises of the way he threw to the second base. He
threw that lump of coal with all the force he could put into his arm,
and it went as straight for that darkey's head, as a ball from his hands
ever went for the hands of the second basemen. It struck that head too,
and bounded from it as it would have bounded from a brick wall; but it
checked the advance.

Mose flourished his hands over his head, and after trying in vain to
keep his balance, he sprang into the air; at the same time turning his
body about half-way around and throwing out his arms, so that when he
came down, they caught across the gunwale; and there he hung over the
water.

Tony was not a little frightened at the effect of his shot. He thought
that the man was about to fall into the river; and if he had, he would
have stood a fair chance of drowning, before his companion could have
gone out in the skiff and picked him up. But even while these thoughts
were passing through Tony's mind, he began to wish that the lump of coal
had been larger and heavier, and that his arm had been stronger. Mose
was not in the least injured by the blow he had received, nor was he
cowed by his narrow escape from being knocked overboard. He still held
fast to the knife; and the eyes with which he glared at the boy over the
gunwale, were fairly ablaze with fury.

"What you doin' dar, Jeff?" he shouted, as he drew himself up, and threw
one foot over the side of the barge. "Can't you frow chunks just as
well, an' mebbe better'n he kin?"

These words seemed to arouse the other negro, who had halted and been on
the point of turning back, when he witnessed his companion's
discomfiture. He quickly jumped down into the barge; and Tony, who had
been indulging in the hope that he could hold the robbers at bay until
the tug hove in sight, lost all heart when he saw him begin to gather
up the coal. He looked about the deck and saw at a glance, that if the
negroes were going to adopt his own mode of fighting, it would be
impossible for him to defend his position. They would have a thousand
bushels of coal within their reach, while Tony had not more than a dozen
lumps, and some of these were too small to be of any service. Two of the
biggest of these lumps, Tony in his desperation put to a good use. With
one of them he knocked Jeff flat, just as he was preparing to rise to
his feet with an armful of coal; and with the other, he inflicted a
severe cut upon the hand of Mose, causing him to howl with rage and
pain, and to drop the threatening knife. By these two shots, Tony
unconsciously created evidence that was strong enough to send both the
rogues to jail as soon as they reached St. Louis.

Jeff was on his feet again in an instant, and clearing his eyes of the
blood which trickled into them from an ugly cut in his forehead, he
looked all around for Tony; but the latter had disappeared. The moment
the last lump of coal left his hand, he sprang across the narrow deck,
and seizing a rope that was made fast to the bitts, descended it hand
over hand, and dropped into a skiff that was towing alongside the
barge. To shove off, pick up the oars and put the skiff in rapid motion
was the work of scarcely a moment.

[Illustration: TONY'S ESCAPE FROM THE COAL BARGE]

"Hyar he is, Jeff," shouted Mose, who had at last succeeded in climbing
up and seating himself on the gunwale. "Knock him outen dat dar boat, if
he don't come back. Bus' de bottom in. Do something mighty lively, kase
we's gone niggahs if dat dar tug kotch us hyar!"

Jeff must have thought so too, for his movements were much quicker than
they had been before. He climbed out of the barge to the deck as quickly
as he could, and opened a hot fire upon Tony, who was pulling swiftly
away from the dangerous neighborhood; but although his missiles were
thrown with power sufficient to do damage if they had hit anything, they
all went wide of the mark, and by the time Jeff's companion could raise
himself to his feet and run along the gunwale to the deck, the boy was
safely out of range. Mose fired a few chunks at him, but they all fell
short, and then it seemed to dawn upon the negroes all at once that
their prize had slipped through their fingers; that they had opened the
doors of the penitentiary for their reception, and gained nothing by it.
It must have been some such thought as this that set them into the wild
war-dance that followed. They jumped about the deck, stamped their feet,
and whooped and swore at the top of their voices; and Mose shook his
knife at Tony, and made furious gestures with the weapon, just to show
what he would do if he only possessed the power.

"Well, boys," said Tony, as soon as he could make himself heard, "it
looks to me as though you were in for it. I've got this thing in my own
hands. You'll stay there until the tug comes, and I'll stay here."

"No, we won't stay hyar, nudder," shouted Mose, in reply. "We kin swim
to de shoah."

"You try it, if you dare. If I see one of you take to the water, I'll
knock him on the head with an oar."

Tony had not only brought himself safely out of a very dangerous
situation, but he had very neatly turned the tables upon those who had
intended to rob him, and he felt very jubilant over it. Well, it _was_
something to be proud of, and it was a great pity that he should go
deliberately to work and spoil it all by his foolishness.

"I have earned a hundred dollars by this day's work," said Tony, as he
wiped the big drops of perspiration from his forehead, "and as soon as
I get it safe in my hands, I shall bid a long farewell to St. Louis."

Tony uttered these last words very slowly, as if he were talking about
one thing and thinking about another. And so he was. Why should he
return to St. Louis at all? he asked himself. Before he left home that
morning, something had prompted him to put into his pocket the
twenty-five dollars he had saved to buy his sailor's outfit when he
reached New Orleans. Why not add to that at least a portion of the
amount which Mr. Vandegriff had told him he might retain if he got into
a fight with the negroes and came off first best? It is true that he had
no clothes except those he carried on his back, and he told himself that
he did not want any more. It would be a waste of time to go back to the
city after a supply, and he would run the risk of being seen by somebody
when he crept out of his father's house with a valise in his hand. There
was something about such a proceeding that did not suit Tony. He thought
it would make him look too much like a sneak-thief. Besides, he wanted
to forget his home entirely, and he could not do it so long as he was
wearing any of the clothes his father's money had purchased for him.

"It is now or never," said Tony, to himself "I can go down the river in
this skiff to Cairo, purchasing my supplies at farm-houses along the
way, and there I shall find some Cincinnati or Pittsburgh boat whose
officers will not question me, because they are not acquainted with me.
I don't feel just right about taking that money, but I have fairly
earned it--I wouldn't go through such a battle again for ten times one
hundred dollars--and Mr. Vandegriff said I might have it. Good-by!" he
shouted, waving his hand to the negroes, "I'll go and hurry up the tug."

As Tony said this, he pulled toward the Missouri shore, and when he had
got out of the current, he turned and rowed up the river. As long as he
remained in sight of the barge, he kept his eyes fastened upon the
negroes, expecting to see them take to the water and strike out for
shore; but as they did nothing of the kind, the boy finally came to the
conclusion that they could not swim. At last the current carried them
and their floating prison into the bend around which the Armada had
disappeared half an hour before, and when the barge was out of sight
behind the point, Tony ceased his efforts at the oars and began to look
about him.



CHAPTER XII.

TONY FINDS A FRIEND.


"The first thing is to find a place in which to hide for awhile," said
Tony, to himself. "That tug can't be far away--Mr. Vandegriff said she
would come up with the barge by the time the Armada had taken all the
coal she wanted--and I must keep out of sight until she takes the barge
in tow and goes up the river again. I don't know what folks will think
when she goes back to St. Louis without me, and I don't care, either. I
don't expect to see any of them again for long years to come. I will
send Mr. Vandegriff his money as soon as I reach Cairo, and that will
make me square with him. I believe that is the spot I am looking for."

Tony had just discovered what he declared to be "the finest kind of a
hiding-place." A huge tree which had been undermined by the water had
sunk down into the river, and now lay with its top resting upon the bank
and its roots in the stream. These roots formed a mass twelve or fifteen
feet square, and between them and the bank there was water enough to
float the skiff. Tony pulled up to examine this hiding-place, his
movements being accelerated by a sound which just then came to his ears.
He exerted himself to the utmost, and to his great relief succeeded in
running his skiff behind the roots just as the tug came around the point
above. Had he been a few moments later he would certainly have been
discovered.

"A miss is as good as a mile," panted Tony, as he stretched himself out
under the thwarts and looked at the tug through an opening in the roots.
"If she doesn't see me now she never will, for it will be pitch dark
when she comes back with the barge. I'd give something to know how Jeff
and Mose will explain my disappearance."

Tony kept his eyes fastened upon the tug as she moved swiftly past his
place of concealment, and then he turned around, and lying with his face
toward the stern of the skiff, watched her until she disappeared around
the bend below. It _was_ pitch dark when her lights came into view
around the point, and her labored puffing, as she struggled against the
current with her heavy burden, became audible to the ears of the
runaway. Presently she began to whistle, and she kept it up at irregular
intervals.

"That's for me," thought Tony. "Captain, you're only wasting steam. I
hear you, but I'll not pay any attention to you."

In about two hours the tug passed Tony's hiding-place the second time,
and when the sound of her exhaust began to grow fainter, the boy made
his skiff fast to one of the roots and lay down to sleep. He slept, too,
and his slumber was not in the least disturbed by regretful dreams of
the home he had deserted. It needs contact with the world and a few hard
knocks from it to show a discontented boy what home is worth, and Tony
had not yet received any of these.

He awoke the next morning at daylight, hungry as a wolf, and impatient
to reach Cairo in order that he might send Mr. Vandegriff's money to
him. He was in a great hurry to be rid of it, for his experience on the
barge had satisfied him that he was not altogether safe so long as it
was in his possession. The first thing was to look out for a breakfast,
and this he obtained at a farm-house he found about five miles down the
river. At this place he also purchased a basket and cooked viands enough
to fill it. He did not want to go supperless to bed again if he could
help it.

Tony passed two more nights on the river, and by that time he had become
heartily disgusted with this mode of travelling. Whenever he became
tired of rowing, he drew in his oars and allowed the skiff to float with
the current; but during these periods of rest, his progress was very
slow, and he was so impatient to reach his journey's end, that he kept
the oars in motion almost all the time. He had to be constantly on the
alert, for there was a good many boats passing up and down the river,
and Tony made it a point to go ashore and hide in the bushes every time
one hove in sight. He was afraid that some of the pilots would see and
recognise him. He was plied with questions every time he stopped for
supplies. Canoeing was not as popular in those days as it has since
become, and the people living along the river had not grown accustomed
to the sight of solitary travellers making their way down the stream in
this primitive fashion. One long-haired, unkempt Missourian, after
filling his basket, informed him that he had given him a good looking
over, and that if anybody came that way in a day or two looking for a
stolen boat, he would be able to give an accurate description of him.

Tony passed the little town of Cape Girardeau bright and early one
morning, and shortly after twelve o'clock he looked over the levee on
the Illinois side, and obtained his first view of the city of Cairo. He
at once directed his course across the river, and running the bow of his
skiff high and dry upon the bank, he left it and the basket for the use
of the first person who might be in need of them, and set out for the
city on foot. In this way he saved himself a good deal of hard work, for
it would have taken him two or three hours to row around the point and
up the Ohio river to the wharf-boat. As it was, he reached the St.
Charles hotel in about half an hour, and having purchased two sheets of
note-paper and an envelope from the news-agent, he went into the office
and sat down to write a letter to Mr. Vandegriff. Having made up his
mind what he wanted to say, his pen moved rapidly, and in twenty minutes
the letter was finished. It contained a circumstantial account of the
battle on the coal-barge, and wound up with these words:--

"You told me that if those negroes attempted to rob me, and I saved your
money for you, I could keep a hundred dollars out of it and hand you the
balance. You will see, by reference to the book which I send you with
this letter, that I have kept out fifty dollars of it, which I need to
pay my expenses to the place where I am going. If you should happen to
see my father, I wish you would tell him for me that I have decided to
strike out for myself. I inclose you bank check for the rest of the
money."

When Tony read the letter over to correct the mistakes he had made in
his hurried writing, and came to this part of it, he could not help
telling himself that it was rather a heartless way of taking leave of
his relations; but he was in a great hurry to get through with the
business he had to do before the bank closed, and he had only time to
add, "Give my love to my mother." Then a sharp pang shot through his
heart. He had never cherished much affection for his father, who, being
completely engrossed in his business, scarcely ever spoke to Tony,
except to take him to task for something he had done. But his mother;
could he leave her in this way?

"It isn't too late yet," thought the runaway, settling back in his
chair, and holding the letter off at arms' length. "If I leave town this
afternoon by rail, I can be in St. Louis to-morrow morning, and I have
half a notion--no, I haven't, either. Father would give me a regular
overhauling for going away on that barge without first asking his
permission (I wasn't fool enough to do that, for I know he would have
said 'no' most emphatically), and what excuse could I make for dodging
the tug? No, sir; this thing has gone so far that there's no backing out
now."

As the boy said this he drew his hand hastily across his eyes, folded
and addressed the letter, and placed it into the account book, which he
put into his pocket. It was necessary that the book should go with the
letter, so that Mr. Vandegriff might know how many bushels of coal the
Armada had taken from the barge.

"I suppose there is a bank in this city?" said he, as he approached the
clerk's counter.

"Yes, sir," was the reply; "it is in the block up the levee."

"Where is the express office?"

"Two doors this side of the bank; same block."

After thanking the clerk for this information, Tony hurried away. He had
no trouble in finding the bank, and after he had counted out fifty
dollars of Mr. Vandegriff's money, he handed the rest, together with the
letter, to the cashier, with the request that he would give him a check
on St. Louis for it, made payable to the person whose name was on the
envelope. The cashier complied, and when Tony had placed the check in
the letter, and the letter in the account book, he started back for the
express office. The clerk he found there was accommodating enough to
supply him with paper and twine, and when he had wrapped the book and
its contents up in a neat package, and the clerk had further secured it
by sealing it with wax, Tony paid the charges on it and went out.

"That's done," said he, as he crossed the railroad track and bent his
steps toward the nearest wharf-boat, "and all I have to do now is, to
find a boat that is going down the river."

Just then the afternoon train came in from the north, and the steamer
lying alongside the wharf-boat began to whistle. Toward her the boy
directed his course; and ten minutes later, he was seated on the
boiler-deck with his chair tipped back, his feet on the railing, his
thumbs hooked in the armholes of his vest, and a ticket for Memphis in
his pocket. When he reached that city, he took passage on a steamer
bound for New Orleans, at which place he arrived early in the morning.
He stayed on board the boat long enough to get his breakfast, and then
sauntered out to take a look at things along the river. He had never
been in the city before, and and if he had come there under different
circumstances, he would have been glad to spend a day or two in seeing
the sights; but he was too full of his idea of becoming a sailor, to
waste any time in that way. The sooner he found a chance to ship, the
sooner he would be on the ocean.

A few minutes after he left the steamer, he obtained his first view of a
sea-going vessel. Of course, he was disappointed in her; we generally
are disappointed, when we see for the first time something of which we
have read and heard a great deal, and which we have often longed to
examine for ourselves. She was not near as large as he had expected to
find her; and there were many things about her, that did not suit Tony's
idea of marine architecture. While he stood on the wharf looking at
her, and wondering if anybody would order him ashore if he should step
aboard to take a closer view of her, he became aware that he was an
object of interest to a boy a little older than himself, who was leaning
over the rail, staring at Tony as hard as the latter was staring at the
vessel. He was a sailor, that was plain enough to be seen; and he might
have been a very good-looking one too, if he had taken a little more
pains with his personal appearance. He wore a tarpaulin, which was
pushed as far back on his head as it could go without falling off; a
blue flannel shirt with a wide collar, and trowsers of the same
material, which were thrust into a pair of heavy boots. His face was
almost copper-colored; and his hands, which were large and bony, were
profusely tattooed with India ink. He chewed tobacco, too, and threw
away a big quid before addressing Tony.

"Want to ship?" said he.

"That's what I am here for," answered Tony. "Do you allow folks aboard
there?"

"O, yes; come on. You don't look like a sailor man," he added, as Tony
sprang over the rail and approached him.

"And when you first went to sea, you didn't look any more like a sailor
than I do," replied Tony. "I know I am green, but I can learn as well as
anybody, can't I?"

"Of course you can," said the boy, backing up against the rail, and
running his eyes over Tony's clothes. "But I don't know whether you can
stand the racket or not. You don't look to be any too stout."

"I shouldn't care to measure strength with you," said Tony, with a
smile, "but still I have got a pretty good muscle, although I have never
done a day's manual labor in my life."

"What kind of labor is that?" asked the young sailor.

"I mean that I have never worked with my hands. I have always worked
with my head," explained Tony.

"O! Then you are not the stuff that sailors are made of," was the rather
disheartening rejoinder. "I didn't think you could stand the racket."

"Is it a hard life?"

"Well, it aint an easy one--not by no means."

"Then why don't you quit it and go at something else?"

"Me? O, I can't. There's nothing else I could do. I have been to sea
ever since I was eight years old, and I am now seventeen."

"You ought to be a first-class sailor," said Tony.

"I can hand, reef and steer as well as the rest of them, if that's what
you mean," replied the young sailor, rather proudly. "I am an able
seaman, and I should think I had ought to be. I made three voyages as
second mate of a little coaster."

"Are you an officer of this ship?" inquired Tony.

"This aint a ship, you lubber. She's a brig." "You see," he added, in a
little milder tone, "a ship has three masts, and this has only two. No,
I am not an officer. I always have to go before the mast on long
voyages, such as the one we have just made, but then I like them better
than I do short ones. If you have got any book-learning you might get to
be an officer in a few years. If you want to ship I know where there is
a chance for you."

"Do you?" exclaimed Tony, eagerly. "I am ever so much obliged to you for
telling me of it. I _do_ want to ship."

"All right! Come on. There's a berth for somebody aboard my old vessel,
the Princeton," said the young sailor, as he and Tony sprang out upon
the wharf. "She's the one I was second mate of, you know. I was down
there this morning, and the old man told me, if I heard anybody say he
wanted to ship, to send him along; but I guess I had better go with you,
for you might not be able to find her. If the captain takes you, you
will have the same berth I did when I first went to sea."

"What was it?" asked Tony.

"Jemmy Ducks!"

"I don't understand you. Who's Jemmy Ducks?"

"Well, he's a sort of lackey to everybody. He has to keep the cabin in
order, help the cook, and haul at the sheets; and he works for kicks
instead of ha'pence."

"Kicks!" exclaimed Tony. "Who'll kick me?"

"All hands and the cook. But, bless you, that won't hurt you. It only
makes you tough and waterproof. The only way is to work hard; keep
still, and say nothing to nobody till your time comes, and then let him
have it, good and strong."

"Let who have it?"

"Why, if you tend to your business straight and square you'll get ahead,
of course; and then you'll go for the fellow that takes your place."

"Must I kick somebody who has never done me any harm, simply because
somebody else has kicked me?" cried Tony.

"If you want to get square, that's the only way you can do it," said his
new friend, indifferently.

If Tony had never known before, that it will not do to put implicit
faith in everything one reads in books, he knew it now. In his favorite
sea-novels there was no mention made of the hardships of a sailor's
life, and the cruelties that are practised upon him. His existence was
described as one of ease and pleasure. Of course there were wrecks, and
fights with pirates and mutinous crews; but the typical sailor, who was
always loyal to his captain, rather enjoyed such things as these, for
they served to break the monotony of long voyages, and gave him
opportunity to show his skill and courage, and win a reward. The
constant annoyances and punishments to which a foremast hand is
sometimes subjected, were never spoken of; but Tony's new friend
referred to them as though they were matters of everyday occurrence. The
runaway found that they were, too. He began to believe that he had made
a mistake, and while he was informing himself of the fact, his companion
led him down to a pier and across to a little schooner that lay on the
opposite side. This was the Princeton--an ill-looking craft to bear so
dignified a name. She was not more than half as large as the brig to
which Tony's new acquaintance belonged, and neither did her deck present
the same scene of neatness and order.

"She's bound for Rio, so the old man told me this morning; and on the
way, she's going to stop at Havana," said the young sailor, as he and
Tony fell in behind a couple of longshoremen, who were rolling a heavy
cask down the gang-plank.

"To Rio Janeiro!" exclaimed Tony. "Why, that's in Brazil. This little
brig can't go there."

"This is a schooner," replied the young sailor, with some contempt in
his tones.

"She has two masts, just like yours."

"She's got two masts, I know, but she ain't like my vessel. Can't you
see that she is a fore-and-after, while mine is square rigged?"

This was all Greek to Tony, who could only gaze about the vessel and
look bewildered.

"Avast, there!" suddenly cried his companion, seizing him by the arm and
pulling him away from an open hatch, into which he would have walked in
a moment more. "Don't fall into the hold and break your neck before you
sign articles. Say, captain," he added, as he and Tony approached a
short, broad-shouldered, red-faced man, who had just ascended the
companion-ladder. "You told me this morning, that you wanted a
cabin-boy. How do you like the looks of this fellow?"

The captain run his eyes over Tony's face and figure, took one or two
pulls at his pipe, and said in a hoarse voice:

"He looks well enough, but can he do anything?"

"Nary thing," replied the young sailor, with refreshing candor. "Can't
you see for yourself that his mouth is always gaping like a contribution
box for dimes? He don't know a schooner from a brig. You'll have to
break him in."



CHAPTER XIII.

ON BOARD THE PRINCETON.


The captain gave Tony another good looking over, after which he took his
pipe out of his mouth long enough to say "Humph!" Then he put it back
again.

"Oh, he can make up the bunks and sweep the cabin and help the doctor,
if he don't know the ropes," exclaimed the sailor, who thought he ought
to say a good word for Tony, seeing that the latter did not know enough
to say it for himself. "You can do that, can't you, shipmate?"

"No, I can't," answered Tony. "I don't know anything about medicine; I
can't help the doctor."

The young sailor stared at the captain, and the captain looked hard at
Tony. Then they both looked up at the main top-mast, and broke out into
loud peals of laughter. After that the skipper also swore a
good-natured oath, and asked Tony where he lived.

"In St. Louis," was the reply.

"Why didn't you stay there?"

"Because I didn't want to. I would like to see something of the world,
and earn a living at the same time."

"All right; I'll take you."

"At how much a month, captain?" asked the sailor.

"Eight dollars," replied the skipper.

"That's settled," said the sailor. "Have you got any money? You want an
outfit--some bedding and clothes that will do to work in."

"Oh, yes, I've got enough for that," replied Tony.

"Then let's go ashore, and I'll show you where to get them. I am my own
master to-day, for we shan't begin to break cargo until to-morrow. When
do you sail, captain?"

"About four o'clock. Look here, Bradley, I'll leave that greenhorn in
your charge, and I want you to bring him back as soon as you can. And
you, Abraham," added the skipper, looking at the runaway.

"I am Anthony Richardson," replied the owner of that name. "Tony, for
short."

"Well, Tony, when you come back, report to the doctor."

As the boy was about turning away without making any reply, the captain
called sharply after him.

"Did you hear me?" he demanded.

"Say 'ay, ay, sir!'" whispered Bradley, giving the runaway a prod in the
ribs with his elbow.

Tony gave the required response, and the captain continued:

"Hereafter keep your ears open, and remember your manners."

"You had better bear that in mind," said Bradley, when he and Tony were
once more ashore. "Whenever an officer gives you an order, say 'ay, ay,
sir!' and don't waste any time about it, either."

"It hurts me to be obliged to show so much respect to such a fellow as
that captain is," replied Tony. "I have had better men than he say 'sir'
to me."

"That's what I thought," said Bradley; "and them are the fellows that
you had ought to have stayed with. But that's all over now. The respect
that's paid to a man on board ship don't depend upon the position he
holds ashore, and you'll find it out. An able seaman who hasn't got a
cent to his name, is worth more in a gale of wind than a landsman with a
million dollars in his pocket."

"I suppose that's so," said Tony, with a sigh. "I suppose, too, that I
shall be hauled over the coals a good many times before I know just what
is required of me. But, Bradley, I can't be of any use to the doctor."

"Yes, you can. The doctor is the cook."

"O!" exclaimed Tony. "I understand. But what makes the old man so
cross?"

"He ain't cross; it's only just his way. You won't have any trouble with
him to speak of, if you only do your duty up to the handle. But there's
one man there that you had better look out for. He's the captain's pet;
and pets on shipboard are a nuisance."

"I'll not have anything to do with him, if you will tell me who he is,"
said Tony.

"You can't help yourself. He's the first mate. Now, I'll tell you, as
near as I can, just what you will have to do, and the better you do it,
the less trouble you'll get into."

Bradley then went on to describe the duties that were imposed upon
himself when he first went to sea, and told of a good many difficulties
he had fallen into, which he could have avoided if he had had a friend
at the start to point them out to him. Tony listened with all his ears,
and treasured everything up in his memory. Bradley told him what he had
to expect in pretty plain language, and it was a wonder that Tony's
courage did not give way altogether.

"If a sailor has to work so hard, what is there in the life that is so
fascinating?" said he. "What is there about it that is pleasant?" he
added, as Bradley turned toward him with an inquiring look.

"There's nothing about it that I ever heard of that is pleasant for poor
Jack," was the reply. "Some of us like it, in spite of the hard work and
harder fare, but the most of the men who are before the mast to-day are
looking forward to the time when they can quit the sea and settle down
on shore. It's the captains that have the bully times. If you could see
the master of a fine ship come out of his cabin of a pleasant afternoon,
when the wind is fair and everything draws, and sit down on his
quarter-deck and smoke his cigar, you would say that he was the happiest
man in the world. Those old fellows are happy, and some of them are
rich, too. Let's go in here and see what we can find that is worth
looking at."

So saying, Bradley led the way into a cheap clothing store near the
levee, in which were to be found all articles of necessity and luxury
required by sea-faring men; at least that was what the advertisement in
the window said. If Tony had been left to himself he would not have
known what to ask for; but Bradley selected the articles for him, and he
went about it as though he understood it. Having purchased a good many
outfits for himself, he knew almost to a penny what a shirt or a hat was
worth, and setting his own price upon it, told the shop-keeper that he
could take it or leave it alone--just as he pleased. The consequence was
that he got the outfit for much less money than Tony would have been
obliged to pay for the same articles. It was not a very extensive one,
but Bradley assured him that it would answer until he could earn money
enough to add to it. When everything had been paid for, the clothes were
put into a canvas-bag, the mattrass was wrapped up in a pair of
blankets, and each boy shouldered a bundle and set out to return to the
Princeton. Tony's money had not much more than paid his expenses, for he
had only fifteen dollars left.

Arriving at the Princeton, Bradley led the way at once into the
forecastle, and throwing his bundle into the only empty bunk he found
there, laughed heartily at the expression of blank amazement he saw on
Tony's face. The latter had read much of the forecastle, and now he saw
one for the first time. He could hardly bring himself to believe, that
eight men could stow themselves away there. It was very small and dark,
and pervaded by an odor that Tony did not like.

"It's mostly tobacco smoke," said Bradley, "and there's a little tar,
slush and bilge-water mixed up with it. It's nothing when you get used
to it."

"But I don't see how I can stand it," said Tony, heaving a deep sigh as
he thought of his pleasant, little room at Kirkwood, with its neat
writing-desk, well-filled bookcase and easy chairs. "I have been used to
better things at home."

"Yes, I thought so, when I first slapped my peepers onto you," said
Bradley, "and there's where you ought to have stayed. But since you are
bent on snuffing salt water, it may comfort you to know, that better
men than you have lived in just such places as this; and that some of
those same men are now masters of our finest ships--East Indiamen, mail
steamers and crafts like them. The only way to make a sailor out of a
fellow is, to shove him in at the hawse-hole, and let him work his way
aft, without help from anybody."

While the young sailor was speaking, he was busy making up Tony's bed in
the empty bunk, which was in the lower tier and in the darkest corner of
the forecastle. This work took up scarcely two minutes of his time, for
all he had to do, was to put the mattrass in and spread the blankets
over it.

"There you are," said he, when he had finished his task. "Now when you
are ready to turn in, you can use your clothes-bag for a pillow. Is
there anything more I can do for you?"

"I don't think of anything," answered Tony. "I am very grateful to you
for the service you have rendered me."

"Belay that," said Bradley, hastily. "It's all right. If I was going
with you, I could give you a hint now and then that would be of use to
you."

"Why can't you go?" exclaimed Tony.

"Because the crew is all shipped--the bedding in these bunks shows
that--and I am not yet discharged from the brig. I want my money before
I leave her, and I don't know when I shall get it. It depends upon the
work there is to be done. Good-by! Who knows but you and I may some day
reef a top-sail together in a gale of wind? Now, pull off those shore
duds, and put on one of the suits I bought for you. When you have done
that, go on deck and report to the doctor, as the old man told you to
do."

Bradley, having shaken hands with the runaway, mounted the ladder that
led to the deck; while Tony, remembering that his new friend had told
him that promptness in obeying orders, was of the utmost importance on
ship-board, made all haste to pull off his fine clothes and put on one
of his new suits. He was very lonely now that Bradley was gone, and for
the first time since leaving St. Louis, he began to be homesick.

"I am really afraid I have made a mistake," thought he, as he packed his
clothes carefully away in his bag. "Now, that I have got out into the
world, I find that it doesn't look just as I thought it would. Instead
of being my own master, as I supposed I should be, it seems that I shall
have more people to rule me than I ever had before. I don't much like
the idea of being ordered around by such a fellow as that captain; and
then there's the cook. What if he should happen to be a darkey?"

Having prepared himself for work, Tony went on deck and made his way
toward the cabin, intending to ask the skipper where he should go to
find the cook, an idea which, if it had been carried out, would have got
him into trouble immediately. But, fortunately for him, he learned what
he wanted to know without making any inquiries of the captain. Passing a
little house on deck, he looked into it, and saw a negro banging the
pots and kettles about. There was a stove in it, and preparations for
dinner were going on. Tony's heart sank within him. This was the galley,
and beyond a doubt the man before him was the cook.

"Perhaps it would be well to show him at the start that I shall stand no
nonsense from _him_," thought Tony, as he leaned his arms on the window
sill, and looked into the galley. "Well, Snowball," said he, "is there
anything I can do for you?"

"Who is you?" demanded the negro, plunging a long-handled fork into one
of the kettles on the stove.

"I am the cabin boy, and the old man told me to report to you," replied
Tony.

The cook turned upon him like a flash when he heard this. "Look heah,
chile," he exclaimed, shaking the fork at Tony. "If you use any mo' sich
onrespecful language as Snowball to me agin, I chuck you in de ribber.
Dar can't no white trash like you talk dat ar way to me. Bring your lazy
bones in here, an' take dat knife an' peel dem taters."

Tony again thought of the advice Bradley had given him while they were
on their way to the clothing store, and what was more he was wise enough
to act upon it. He had been told that he must never answer back, no
matter how savagely he might be addressed. If he did that, he would have
everybody in the schooner down on him, and then his life would be a hard
one indeed. There were a thousand ways in which a sailor could bother a
landsman, and the only way in which he could escape being made a victim
of their malice, was to do cheerfully and willingly whatever he was told
to do.

"I feel very cheerful just now, don't I?" thought Tony, as he walked
into the galley, and began the work that had been assigned to him. "What
would my father say if he could see me at this moment? I don't think it
is quite safe to fool with that cook, for he looks to me like a man who
would chuck a fellow over the side in a minute if he got mad at him.
Say, doctor," he added, suddenly, knowing that if he wanted to keep up
his spirits he must not give away to his gloomy thoughts, "I want to
tell you----"

"I is Mr. Sands, I is," interrupted the cook.

All the rest of the crew aroused his ire every hour in the day by
calling him some name he did not like, and he was determined that the
cabin boy, the only person on board over whom he had any authority,
should treat him with due respect.

"All right, Mr. Sands," said Tony, who was rather amused by this
assumption of dignity. "I want to tell you that I know nothing whatever
about a cabin-boy's duties, and still less about cooking, and I want you
to be easy on me till I learn how to do my work."

"Well, den, peel dem taters thinner'n dat," said the negro, pointing at
Tony with his long-handled fork. "It's wastin' the schooner's money to
cut off so much tater wid dem skins."

The darkey, remembering that his new assistant had addressed him by a
title that he particularly despised, was inclined to be sulky at first,
but he gradually recovered his good-nature and began to question Tony.
The latter enjoyed the conversation, and exerted himself to do his part
of it. While he was talking, he was not thinking of the dismal prospect
before him.

Not being accustomed to work, Tony soon grew tired enough to sit down,
but he could not find the opportunity. No sooner was one thing done than
he was ordered to take up something else. Dinner being ready, the cook
showed him how to set the table in the cabin, and when the officers were
summoned, he had to take his stand behind the captain's chair in
readiness to pass dishes, or execute any other orders he might receive.
He took a good look at the two mates, whom he now saw for the first
time, and although he did not admire the appearance of one of them, he
was sure he would have liked the other if he had not been warned against
him. There was nothing in the countenance of the first mate to indicate
that he was such a brute as he afterwards showed himself to be. He
looked more like a gentleman than either of the other officers.

When the captain and his mates had satisfied their appetites, Tony,
having been previously instructed, set to work to clear away the table
and put the cabin in order. This done, he went into the galley, where he
was met by the cook, who, with his mouth too full to speak, waved his
hand toward some viands he had placed upon one of the shelves, and
nodded his head to Tony, as if inviting him to help himself. The boy
looked at the food with rather a doubtful eye. It was a portion of what
had been left over from the dinner in the cabin, and it was not dished
up with the same care that the cook had expended upon it when he placed
it before the captain.

"Have I got to be satisfied with other's leavings?" asked Tony, putting
his hands into his pockets and looking at the cook.

"Why, chile, dat's your grub!" exclaimed the darkey.

"Of course it is; and you may see the day when you will be glad to put
up with worse!" exclaimed another voice.

Tony faced about and saw the first mate standing in the door. He did not
look as amiable now as he did while he was eating his dinner.

"Who are you that comes aboard this vessel and finds fault with the way
things are done?" demanded the officer, angrily. "You are afraid to eat
after gentlemen, are you? Come out of that and turn to."

Tony had heard orders issued often enough to know that "turn to" meant
"go to work." He knew, also, that it was customary, when the work was
not very pressing, to allow the crew ample time to eat their dinner and
take a smoke after it. He did not want to smoke, but he was hungry, and
he did want something to eat.

"I haven't had my dinner yet," said he.

No sooner had the words left his lips, than he recalled Bradley's
advice, but it was too late to act upon it. The officer walked into the
galley, and seizing the boy by the collar, shook him until he was so
dizzy that he could scarcely stand when he was released. Then he dragged
him to the door, and giving him a kick to hasten his movements, said in
savage tones: "Jump into that yawl at the stern and hook them falls on.
Lay aft, the rest of us, and run that boat up," he added, waving his
hand to the crew who were sitting around the windlass.

Fortunately for Tony he understood this order. He made his way aft and
found the second mate then overhauling the falls. The yawl floated close
under the stern, and it was the work of but a few seconds for Tony to
drop down into it and hook the blocks fast to ring-bolts in the bow and
stern. By this time the crew arrived, and the boat with Tony in it, was
hauled up to the davits and made fast there.

"I believe I _have_ made a mistake," thought Tony, as he climbed back to
the schooner's deck, after pulling the plug out of the yawl, so that the
water that had leaked into her could run out. "This thing of working
under the eye of a darkey, and waiting at table, and saying 'sir' to men
I wouldn't have looked at a few days ago, isn't what it is cracked up to
be. It isn't what I want to go to sea for, either. If the mate is going
to make a practice of shaking me up in that way, I shan't have brains
enough left to learn the ropes. I wonder if I can eat my dinner now."

He found out when he reached the galley. As he was about to enter the
door, the cook held up his hand warningly; but before Tony could ask
him what he meant, the first mate appeared and seized him by the collar.

"Didn't I tell you to turn to?" he demanded, tightening his grasp until
the boy's neck-tie began to choke him.

"Yes, sir; but I thought I had got through," gasped Tony.

"Well, you haven't got through, and you won't as long as you stay aboard
this vessel. We want to get to sea some time this month, and you are to
help to clear up the decks. Go for'ard, now, and the second mate will
tell you what to do."

Tony found that there was a great deal to be done, but his services did
not amount to much. He made an effort to do something, knowing what the
consequences would be if he shirked his duty, and he exerted himself to
such good purpose that he succeeded in blistering both his hands, and
calling down upon his devoted head the hearty maledictions of the men he
was trying so hard to assist. Finally, the second mate got out of all
patience with him.

"Go and help the doctor wash dishes," said he, pushing the boy toward
the galley. "You are only in the way here, and we can get along better
without you."

It was hard for Tony to respond with a cheerful "ay, ay, sir!" when he
was spoken to as if he were an unruly dog, but he managed to do it,
adding that he hoped he would some day know his duty better.



CHAPTER XIV.

TONY MAKES ANOTHER BREAK.


"Go way! Go way from dar, boy!" exclaimed the cook, when Tony presented
himself before that important personage. "Didn't de fus' mate done tol'
you to turn to?"

"He did," replied the boy, "but the other one ordered me to come here
and help you."

"Den dat's all right. Dar's the dinner I done save for you; but you'd
bes' eat wid one hand, an' do something else wid de other, kase if de
fas' mate look in hyar an' see dat you ain't doin' nuffin' but eat,
he'll find work for you, suah. Dat's de kind of a man he is!"

Acting upon this advice, Tony ate his dinner by snatches, and for a
short half hour he was allowed a little peace; but at the end of that
time, the cargo was all aboard, the hatchways were closed, and a tug
came alongside to tow the schooner to the Gulf. As she was to pick up
two or three other small vessels on the way, the services of all hands,
as well as those of the cook and his clumsy subordinates, were called
into requisition in making up the tow.

No doubt there were many interesting sights to be seen along the river
below New Orleans, but if there were, Tony never knew it. He was kept
busy every moment, and between handling wet lines and hauling at the
halliards and sheets, his blistered palms fared badly indeed. He ate his
supper as he had eaten his dinner, holding his food with one hand and
working with the other; and at ten o'clock tumbled into his hard bed,
aching in every joint, and almost ready to cry with weariness and
disappointment.

"I know I have made a mistake," thought the runaway, who had borne up
remarkably well considering all the circumstances. Almost all the boys
who leave home as he did, shed bitter tears of repentance before the
first night has passed over their heads. "Bradley was right when he
said, that I am not the sort of stuff that sailors are made off, for I
can't stand it, to work all the time as hard as I can put in. I've made
one break, and if I get the chance I'll make another; but this one will
be toward home."

Tony was very homesick now; and he awoke the next morning from a fitful
slumber into which he had fallen, to find that he had been attacked by
another malady, that was almost as bad--sea-sickness. He got up when all
hands were called, but the officer on watch, seeing his condition, did
not order him to turn to. They were now well out in the Gulf, and the
shores of Louisiana were lying low in the horizon. The waves raised by
the brisk wind that was blowing, tossed the little schooner about in a
way, that made it impossible for Tony to keep his feet without holding
fast to something; and now and then a billow, higher than the rest,
would dash against her bows, and send the water in a shower all over the
deck. This was the life for which Tony had so often longed; but now that
he was having a little experience of it, he did not like it. The
bounding and plunging of the schooner, were very different from the
smooth, gliding motion of a river steamer, and Tony was frightened.

He never forgot the horrors of that day. His sea-sickness grew worse
every moment, and finally prostrated Tony, who took to his bunk and
stayed there, expecting every moment to be his last. When he found
himself, as he supposed, standing face to face with death, his courage
gave away altogether, and his hard pillow was wet with the tears that
could no longer be restrained. He thought of the innumerable pleasures
that had been his while he was at home, of the indulgences that had been
so freely granted to him, and he wondered why in the world he had never
appreciated them before. The little trials and troubles that fell to his
lot, appeared very insignificant now.

"I was a fool," said Tony, bitterly, "and if I ever live to get off this
vessel, I'll go as straight home as I can go. Thank goodness, I have
money enough to pay my fare from Havana to New Orleans."

As Tony said this, he raised himself to a sitting posture in his bunk;
took up the clothes-bag that served him for a pillow, and began throwing
out its contents. He was so ill, that he did not notice that the
articles were not so neatly packed away as they ought to have been. He
had placed the suit he wore, when he first came aboard the schooner, in
the top of the bag, so that it would not be wrinkled by the other
clothes pressing upon it; but he found it at the bottom. The vest was
the last article he brought to light, and to his great surprise and
alarm, he found that all the pockets had been turned inside out. Then it
flashed upon him, that the money he had been talking about had
disappeared. Somebody had robbed him. He held the vest away from him
with both hands, gazed at it a moment, and then dropped back upon his
back.

Whether he went to sleep or became unconscious, Tony afterward said he
didn't know; but he could not remember anything that happened during the
next few hours. When he came to himself it was dark, and the forecastle
was dimly lighted by a smoky lantern which hung from one of the beams
overhead. His sea-sickness was all gone, and he was very hungry. He was
pretty strong too, he found, when he came to sit up in his bunk, and he
was able to think clearly and to remember the resolution he had made
that morning.

"I am not going too stay among such a heartless lot as these sailors
are," thought the runaway, as he picked up the various articles of
clothing that were scattered about over the blankets, and put them back
into his bag. "I have been as sick as a fellow could be all day, and
not a soul has been near me to see whether I was getting better or
worse. I don't believe there is one among them who would care a cent if
I had died. That's not like the folks at home; and right there is where
I am going, with as little delay as possible."

Having put all his clothes back into his bag, Tony threw off the
blankets and arose to his feet. Then, he found, that he was not as
strong as he thought he was; but still he managed to make his way to the
deck. The crew, who were gathered about the windlass singing songs and
telling stories (it was the second dog-watch, as the hours from six to
eight in the evening are called, and they are the only hours of
recreation known on shipboard), paid no attention to him as he staggered
toward the galley; but Mr. Sands greeted him very cordially.

"I kinder reckoned you'd come around purty soon, an' so I kep' something
hot for you," said he. "Come in an' take a bite. You don't look so peart
as you did yesterday, when you come to de winder an' called me
Snowball."

"I don't feel so smart, either," replied Tony, in a faint voice. "I am
obliged to you for thinking of me when everybody else seems to have
forgotten me, and I will try to drink a cup of tea as soon as I come
back. I am going to see the captain."

"What you want to see de capin' for?" demanded the cook. "Better keep
away from him? I tell you. He don't like for to be pestered."

"I am not going to pester him. I want to tell him that I have been
robbed. I left fifteen dollars in the pocket of my vest when I put it
into my clothes-bag, and somebody has gone through it and stolen the
money."

The cook did not seem to be at all surprised by this piece of news. He
did not even look up from his work.

"Well, den," said he, "what made you luff your money down dar in de
fo'castle. Dat ain't no way. 'Course it would be stole if you don't take
care on it."

"It's gone, and I want the captain to get it back for me," said Tony.

"How can he get it back for you? Can you pick out de man who stole it?"

"No, I couldn't do that; but if the captain should find those bills in
some man's pocket, wouldn't he know that he was the guilty one?" asked
Tony.

"Could you sw'ar to dem bills, if you should see em?"

"Of course not," replied Tony, who began to see what the cook was trying
to get at.

"Den how de ole man goin' to get your money back? How you know dat one
of de crew took it? Mos' likely somebody slip down into the fo'castle
an' stole it afore we luff New Orleans. You bes' drink your tea an' make
no furse. You get nuffin but jaw from de ole man; I tell you dat. Nex'
time look out."

Here was another disappointment for Tony. He supposed that the captain
would interest himself in his case at once, and that it would be no
trouble at all for him to discover the thief and restore the lost money;
but now he saw that there were difficulties in the way. Suppose the
captain was willing to be "pestered" for once, that he searched the
crew, and found upon the person of each of them just fifteen dollars in
bills? How was Tony going to prove his property? He could not even prove
that he had fifteen dollars when he came aboard the schooner, for
Bradley, who was the only one who was acquainted with the fact, was
miles away at that moment.

"It's gone, and that's all there is about it," said Tony, to himself, as
he leaned against the bulkhead, and nibbled a piece of dry toast and
drank a decoction of herbs called tea, which the cook poured out for
him. "It's gone, and I am penniless as well as friendless. There is only
one thing I can do now, and if I live, I am going to do it."

The tea and toast tasted better than Tony thought they would; the fresh
gulf breeze blew away the slight headache he had brought out of the
forecastle with him, and gave him a little strength, and the boy finally
mustered up ambition enough to assist the cook in his work about the
galley. While he was thus engaged, the second mate came by, and seeing
that Tony had got upon his feet again, he stopped at the door long
enough to tell him that he belonged to his (the second mate's) watch,
which would go on duty at eight o'clock and remain on until midnight.
The crew of the Princeton was so small that the men were obliged to
stand watch and watch, all hands being on duty during the daytime.

Tony awoke the next morning to pass through the hardest day he had yet
experienced on shipboard. His troubles began at once, for everybody,
including Mr. Sands, seemed to have got up cross. While he was engaged
in washing down the deck, he was thoroughly drenched by a bucket of
water which was thrown into his face by the first-mate, who would not
allow him to go below to change his clothing, but ordered him into the
galley as soon as the scrubbing was done.

"Get out o' hyar, boy!" exclaimed the cook, when his assistant presented
himself before him with dripping garments. "I done wash dis galley dis
mornin', an' now you muss it all up again."

"What am I to do?" asked Tony, in some alarm. "The mate won't let me
change my clothes and you don't want me here."

"Well, den, go into de cabin an' set de table afore de ole man gets up,"
commanded Mr. Sands.

Tony stopped long enough to wring some of the water out of the legs of
his trowsers (that brought him a blessing from the second-mate, who told
him in rather sharp language, that that part of the deck had been
swabbed up once), and after drying his hands on one of the cook's
towels, he hurried into the cabin. When he was putting up the leaves of
the table, he heard the captain moving about in his stateroom and he
made all the haste he could, hoping to complete his work before that
officer came out; for he noticed with no little uneasiness, that he was
leaving a trail behind him wherever he went. It could be plainly seen,
too, dingy as the carpet was; and it was the first thing that caught the
captain's eye when he opened the door of his stateroom, which he did,
before Tony had fairly begun setting the table.

"What's that?" roared the captain, looking first at the carpet and then
at Tony.

"The mate threw a bucket of water over me, sir," replied the boy.

"Suppose he did! Haven't you sense enough to go and get on a dry suit?"
demanded the captain.

"I wanted too, sir, but he wouldn't let me."

"Well, I tell you to go and do it now."

The captain took a step forward, and Tony, who had already learned to
expect a kick every time he received a reprimand, sprang quickly up the
ladder.

"Now, I'll see what that mate will do about it," said he, as he made his
way toward the forecastle; and sure enough he did. He had scarcely
taken down his bag of clothes, when he heard footsteps, and looking up
saw the mate coming down the ladder. He walked straight up to Tony, and
without saying a word, knocked him flat with a blow of his fist.

"Are you going to obey orders or not?" said he, looking down at the
prostrate boy, who was so badly stunned, that he could not get upon his
feet. "I didn't tell you to come in here. I told you to go into the
galley. Now start or I'll give you another."

Tony heard the words, but they put no life into him. They seemed to come
from some far away source, and to have no reference whatever to himself.
He did not even know that they were addressed to him, nor did he fully
comprehend the mate's threat to give him another. He knew when the
officer picked him up and shook him; but when he was released, he sunk
down beside his bunk again. He heard the mate say, that he thought he
had received a lesson that he would not soon forget; and saw him when he
ascended to the deck, but still he did not move. He must have laid there
for half an hour or more, seeing everything in the forecastle and
hearing all that went on on deck, but fully sensible of nothing; and
during that time, no one came near him. At last his scattered faculties
began to come back to him very gradually, accompanied by a splitting
headache. After two or three ineffectual attempts, he succeeded in
rolling into his bunk; and for the first time since he could remember,
cried himself into a dreamless slumber.

His tears or the refreshing sleep he enjoyed put his head all right
again, but he found, upon examination, that his face was pretty badly
battered. His eyes had a long way to look to see beyond the swelling
that surrounded them, and when he made his way to the deck, the crew
looked at him in the greatest surprise. So did Mr. Sands, who, without
saying a word, led him into the galley and placed him in front of a
little piece of looking-glass that was nailed to the bulkhead. Both his
eyes were as black as his hat.

"Does you feel sick?" asked the cook, in a tone of sympathy.

"Yes, I do--sick at heart," added Tony, to himself. "Things never go
right with me as they do with other fellows, and I might just as well
fold my hands and let them go as they please without making any effort
to better myself. There's one thing about it: I'll burn up those lying
books as soon as I get home, and never think of a sailor or salt water
again."

"I knowed you didn't do right to go an' raise a furse wid dat fus'
mate," continued the cook. "He's a bad one."

Tony replied that he didn't raise any fuss with him, and then went on to
tell why the mate had knocked him down. When he had finished his story,
the darkey shook his head as if to say that it was a hard case
altogether; and then he whispered to Tony--

"He never luff up on you now so long as you stay aboard dis schooner. He
get wusser every day, an' de fus' thing you know you find yourself
overboard. Boy, you'd bes' cl'ar yourself."

"That's just what I am determined to do," answered Tony, in the same
cautious whisper. "How far are we from Havana?"

"We oughter to be dar to-morrer," replied Mr. Sands. "Now, I'll tell you
what's a fac': I allers have to go ashore arter de grub, an' I'll take
you along to help me tote it. If you shouldn't come back wid me, I
wouldn't blame you."

As the cook said this, he winked at his assistant, who tried to respond
in the same way; but he didn't succeed very well.

Tony's face would have excited the sympathy of anybody but a brutal
mate. The one who had given him the blow, called upon him just as often,
and expected just as much of him, as he would if the boy had been in
good working condition. His creed was, that so long as a foremast hand
was able to stand upon his feet, he was able to do duty; and more than
that, he must attend to it or take the consequences. Tony succeeded in
escaping further punishment, and it was well for him that he did so, for
another blow like that might have settled the business for him for ever.

The next morning at eight o'clock, the Princeton was made fast to a
jetty in the harbor of Havana, where she was to remain two or three
days, or until she had discharged a portion of her cargo and taken on
some more which she had been chartered to carry to Rio.

As soon as she was fairly in her berth and everything had been made
snug, the doctor and his assistant made ready to go ashore--or rather
the doctor did, for when Tony was about to descend into the forecastle
to change his clothing, the first mate, who was always around when he
was not wanted, ordered him back.

"I want to put on my shore rig," said Tony. "The captain told me to go
ashore with the doctor."

"All right," was the reply. "Go as you are."

"Ay, ay, sir! I wonder if he knows what I am going to do, and if he
thinks the want of good clothes will keep me from deserting this
miserable craft?" thought the boy. "If he does, he doesn't know Tony
Richardson. I will go with the first vessel that leaves this port for
New Orleans, if I have to hang on to the rudder."

Tony did not look much like the dashing young fellow who had clambered
over the Princeton's rail a few days before. His face, to quote from the
doctor, was getting no better very fast; the cheap stuff of which his
clothes was made, already began to show large spots of dirt and numerous
signs of wear; his hands looked as though they had never been washed;
and his hair wouldn't stay anywhere. No shipmaster would care to employ
such a miserable looking object as he was to wait upon him at the
table.

"Getting to New Orleans is the hardest part of the undertaking," said
Tony, when he and the doctor were safe ashore. "If I can only reach that
city, I shall be all right. Good-by, you miserable old tub," he added,
shaking his fist at the schooner. "I only wish I were a man so that I
could take satisfaction out of that mate. Now, doctor, I am going to
leave you. Good-by!"

"Dat won't do," said the darkey, hastily. "We mustn't be friendly enough
to shake hands, kase if anybody should see us, dat would fotch Mr. Sands
into trouble."

"Then you take the baskets," said Tony, who had one on each arm, which
the captain expected him to bring back filled with fresh vegetables.

"No, sir. I'll turn my back, an' you jes' luff 'em down an' cl'ar
yourself. Dat's de bes' way. Say, boy," added the darkey, directing
Tony's attention to a large steamer that lay at a pier a short distance
further up the bay. "You see dat boat? Dat's de City of Baltimore. She
runs between dat port an' New Orleans every three weeks. We's been in
New Orleans nigh onto four weeks, an' she's never been dar, so she mus'
be goin' dar now."

"I wonder if I could get a berth on her?" exclaimed Tony.

"Dunno nuffin' 'bout dat; but I'll tell you dis for a fac': Don't you
luff dat boat go to New Orleans widout you. You hears me, I reckon.
Hello! what's dat?"

Mr. Sands suddenly became very deeply interested in something that he
thought he saw going on over toward Moro Castle, and Tony taking the
hint, deposited his baskets on the ground behind him and hurried away.
He quickly placed a building between himself and the cook, and looking
around the corner of it saw that the latter had not yet changed his
position. When he thought he had given the boy plenty of time to get out
of sight, he faced about, looked all around him, and shaking his head as
if he were completely mystified, picked up the baskets that Tony had
dropped, and walked rapidly down the street.

"He's a good-hearted fellow," said Tony, who felt some regret at parting
with his sable friend, "and he was the only one who showed me any
kindness while I was on board the schooner. I hope he won't get into
trouble by going back without me. Now, if I only had my money in my
pocket, it would be very easy for me to reach home; and if I ever get
there again I'll stay. Home is the best place, after all, and it is a
great pity I couldn't see it when I was there. The old saying:
'Experience is a hard school, and none but fools learn therein,' applies
to me very strongly. It takes the hard knocks to put sense into the
heads of some fellows--" here he raised his hand to his face--"and if I
haven't got a little now, I never shall have any."

As Tony drew nearer to the steamer, he saw that there was a goodly
number of gaily-dressed passengers on her deck watching what was passing
on the wharf. He had seen the time when he had mingled freely with just
such a company on board his father's steamers; but if he should venture
among these people in his present plight, how long would it be, he asked
himself, before somebody would take him by the collar and assist him
back to the pier? His place now was on deck and among the men, and there
he was perfectly willing to go.

"Want to ship a hand, sir?" asked Tony, stepping up to a man who was
dressed in a suit of navy blue, and wore a gold band around his cap.

"Guess not," replied the officer, taking one glance at Tony and then
turning away.

"I'll not ask for any wages, sir," pleaded Tony. "I only want to work my
passage to New Orleans."

"Don't want you," was the curt reply. "The crew is full."

This was very discouraging, but still Tony's case was not hopeless. The
doctor's parting advice, "Don't you let that boat go to New Orleans
without you," kept ringing in his ears, and to prevent it Tony was
willing to do something desperate. He walked along the wharf until he
came abreast of the stern of the vessel, and there he took his stand,
and set himself to watch the officer to whom he had spoken. He moved
away presently, and then Tony ran up the plank that led into the after
gangway. There was no one in sight, but the hatchway was open, and as
quick as thought Tony seized the combings, and swung himself into it. He
crawled along over the boxes and bales, of which the steamer's freight
was composed, and settling himself into a comfortable position by the
side of a water-butt, drew a long breath of relief, and waited to see
what was going to happen.



CHAPTER XV.

AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE.


"The way affairs are ordered in this world bangs me completely. The
things we long for and dream about, and which we think are absolutely
necessary for our happiness, we can't get; and those we don't care a
cent for, are crowded on us."

It was George Ackerman who said this. He took possession of one of the
chairs on the guard and waved his hand to Tony Richardson who was just
entering the pilot-house of the steamer that was to carry him back to
St. Louis.

"Now there's Gus Robbins," continued George, as he pushed his hat on the
back of his head and elevated his feet to the top of the rail. "From the
little I heard of his history I gained the idea that he ran away from
Foxboro' because he had to work in his father's store. He didn't like
the business, and rather than follow it he was willing to trust himself
to the tender mercies of Ned Ackerman, who went squarely back on him the
very first chance he got. If Gus had had any sense at all, he ought to
have known that he couldn't spend his whole life in visiting with Ned,
that he would have to go to work again some time or another, and that
there was nothing on the plains that a dry-goods clerk could do. I
wonder where he went? If he could have heard the way in which Ned talked
about him while we were on the way from Brownsville to Galveston, he
would never have anything more to do with him."

We may anticipate events a little by saying that Gus never did have
anything more to do with Ned, but he had a good deal to do with
George--more, in fact, than he wanted to do. But George proved himself a
faithful friend, and saved Gus from passing some of the best years of
his life in prison.

The young pilot spent a few minutes more in thinking about Gus,
wondering where he went when he left Ned so suddenly in Brownsville, and
then his thoughts came back to Tony. It was the conversation he had had
with the latter a short time before that set George to meditating in
this way.

"And now here's another discontented boy," said he, to himself. "I know
he has everything on earth that any reasonable fellow could ask for,
with one single exception--his own way; and if he could get it, it would
be the worst thing that ever happened to him. He wants just what I've
got and don't care for--liberty to do as he pleases; and I want just
what he's got, but which I never shall have--a kind father and mother.
That's what makes me say that the things we want the most we can't get.
If I could trade places with Tony, how long would it be before he would
want to trade back again?"

While George was communing thus with himself, a sprucely-dressed, but
rather dissipated-looking young man, mounted the steps that led to the
boiler-deck, and stopped short when he discovered the cub-pilot sitting
on the guard. He looked sharply at him for a moment, while an expression
of anxiety settled on his face.

"What evil genius sent that fellow here?" said he, to himself. "He knows
too much about me, and I don't believe it is safe to have him around.
Look here, partner," said he, stepping up and laying his hand upon
George's shoulder, "this boat will not start until Monday afternoon."

The words and the touch aroused George from his reverie, and raising his
eyes to the face above him, he was surprised to see that it belonged to
an old acquaintance--the same young man who had tried to induce him to
surrender Mr. Black's pocket-book into his hands, instead of giving it
to its lawful owner. He had never seen nor heard of him since leaving
the General Quitman.

"I know it," replied George, "but how does it come that you know so
much?"

He did not like the arrogant tone in which the young man addressed him,
and he took this way to show it.

"Being chief clerk of this craft, I am supposed to know something about
her and her contemplated movements," was the young man's reply.

"O, you have charge of the office, have you?" said George. "I wasn't
aware of the fact."

"You are not going down the river with us, are you?"

"Well--yes; I have been thinking about it."

"Then you had better go ashore and wait until we are ready to start. We
don't keep a hotel, and we are not going to board you two whole days for
nothing. The truth is, I don't want him hanging around where he can say
something that would injure me," thought the clerk, as he turned on his
heel and walked away. "He looked at me pretty sharp, but I don't believe
he recognised me. If I thought he did, I should be in suspense during
the whole trip."

"He's a conceited little up-start," soliloquised George. "He has never
had charge of an office before, and it hurts him. It'll not take me long
to give him to understand that he has nothing to do with me."

George was at first inclined to be angry with the clerk for his
unwarrantable assumption of authority. He had been on the river long
enough to know that when a steamer is lying in port, no objection is
ever made to the company of any orderly person. If a visitor chooses to
sit on the guards, and watch the boats that are running up and down the
river, and enjoy the cool breeze, he is welcome to do so. If he wants to
ride up to the coal-fleet on her, he is at liberty to do that also; but
he is generally warned that he had better get off unless he is willing
to walk back. Of course, no passengers are received previous to the day
of sailing, but they are free to come aboard and look about as much as
they please.

"I have as much right aboard this boat as he has," thought George, "but
of course, he didn't know that. Taking me for a passenger, he thought he
would show off a little. No; that can't be the reason, either. He knows
that I am the fellow who found Mr. Black's pocket-book, and that was his
way of showing that he hates me, because I wouldn't give it up to him. I
wonder if Mr. Richardson's agent knows that he drinks and gambles?
Probably not; for if he did, he wouldn't trust him to handle any of the
boat's money. He wants to go easy on me, or I shall let him know that I
remember his doings aboard the Quitman."

George kept his place on the guard until the supper-bell rang, and then
he went into the barber shop. After washing his hands and face, and
brushing his clothes, he came out and took his seat at the table. One of
the waiters pulled his chair out for him, and, as it happened, seated
him next to the clerk, who stared at him as if he was greatly amazed at
his impudence.

"Tea or coffee, sah?" said the waiter.

"Hold on there!" exclaimed the clerk. "Have you got a ticket, young
fellow?"

"Tea," answered George; while the waiter smiled at what he regarded as a
pleasantry on the part of the first clerk. Only those passengers who
have paid their fare are served at table; and to show that they are
square with the office, it is customary for them to place their tickets
beside their plates, so that the waiters can see them.

"Beefsteak or mutton chop, sah?" continued the darkey.

George gave his order; and when the waiter had gone off with his plate,
he thrust his hands into his vest pockets, as if he were searching for
his ticket.

"I guess you haven't got one," said the clerk. "I know you haven't paid
your fare to me."

"I don't seem to find anything that looks like a ticket, that's a fact,"
said George, "but I'll take supper with you, all the same. I wouldn't be
too hard on an old acquaintance, if I were you."

"You are no acquaintance of mine," said the clerk, whose face grew a
shade paler than it usually was.

"But I have seen you before, anyway," persisted George. "I met you on
the Quitman, and we had a talk about a pocket-book I found on the roof.
I believe that, in a roundabout way, you rather gave me credit for
restoring it to its owner. I didn't think then, that you and I would
ever be attached to the same vessel, for I didn't know that you were a
riverman."

"O, you belong here, do you?" exclaimed the clerk.

"I do. My place is in the pilot-house."

"Why didn't you say so, without so much fooling?"

"Why didn't you ask me, if you cared to know?" said George, in reply.
"You ordered me ashore without taking the trouble to make any inquiries.
I think that settles _him_," added the young pilot, mentally. "I have
frightened him, judging by the looks of his face."

Yes, the clerk was "settled," but not in the way that George supposed.
As we know, this young man, when he came up the river on the General
Quitman, six months before, had lost at the gambling-table a thousand
dollars of the money he had collected for his employer. If he could have
induced George to give Mr. Black's pocket-book to him, he could have
replaced that money, and had something left for himself; but he failed
in this and got himself into trouble the moment he reached St. Louis.
His employer promptly discharged him from the lucrative position he
held, and gave him his choice between refunding the sum he had lost and
standing an action for embezzlement. Of course, he preferred to return
the money, but it was only after infinite trouble that he succeeded in
raising it, his father, to whom he first applied, refusing to aid him in
any way. When at last he procured the help he needed, it was through
representations as to his financial standing that would hardly have
borne investigation in a court of law. He was also obliged to make
promises that he could not keep, and to give a note that he could not
meet when it became due. He had agreed to return the money he had
borrowed in three months, with a heavy interest added. How he was going
to fulfil that agreement was a problem over which he had often racked
his brain, and to assist him in finding a way out of his troubles, and
to make his mind clearer, he regularly and frequently sought the aid of
something stimulating which the barkeeper fixed up for him. He had at
last arrived at the conclusion that there was no way in which he could
extricate himself from the difficulties with which he was surrounded,
and he had almost made up his mind that he would not return with the
boat to St. Louis--that he would abscond somewhere along the river and
leave his creditors to whistle for their money. This was the way the
clerk was situated on the night that he and George Ackerman sat at the
supper-table in the cabin of the Telegraph; and we have been thus
particular in describing it in order that the reader may readily
understand what happened afterward.

"Now, here's a kettle of fish," soliloquised the clerk, twisting
uneasily about on his chair. "This fellow knows me, and worse than that,
he is going down the river with us. I wonder if he knows old Richardson?
If he does, I must either get him off the boat or make a friend of him;
for if he should take it into his head to tell what happened on board
the Quitman, I should lose this berth as sure as I am a living man."

The clerk did not linger as long at the table as he usually did, and
neither did he again speak to George. He seemed to be thinking busily,
and the expression on his face indicated that the subject upon which he
was meditating was not an agreeable one. But at length he assumed a
more cheerful look, and as he arose from the table, he said to himself--

"I think I had better let him stay and try to make a friend of him. If I
can only do that, I can put myself square with the world once more, and
at the same time take revenge on him for getting me into this scrape.
For he is the one that is to blame for it. Why didn't he hand over that
pocket-book when I offered him a reward for it? My first hard work must
be to get on his blind side--make him believe that I am trying to
reform, and all that. He is one of those pious fellows who neither drink
nor smoke, and I must go to work at him in a pious way."

Just then, the young pilot sauntered out of the cabin, and turned toward
his chair on the guard; but when he saw that another close by it was
occupied by the clerk, who was smoking a cigar, he walked in another
direction. He did not like Murray--that was the clerk's name--and he did
not want to have anything to do with him. It would have been well for
him, if he had held to this resolution; but he allowed himself to be
talked out of it, and it required something that came pretty near being
a tragedy, to straighten matters out for him.

"Don't go away mad," said Murray, when he saw George moving off toward
the other side of the boat. "Since we are to be shipmates for one trip
at least, let's be sociable. Sit down here and talk to a fellow."

The young pilot could not well refuse. He sat down in his old place, and
of course, put his feet upon the rail. All the men and boys who sat on
the guards made it a point to do that.

"I didn't recognise you when I first saw you," said the clerk, "but I
knew you as soon as you spoke about that pocket-book. Most fellows would
have taken the reward I offered you, and got themselves into trouble by
it. I didn't know you were a cub. You were not attached to the Quitman,
were you?"

"No; but I made a bargain with Mr. Black during the trip, and I have
been with him ever since," replied George.

"Have a weed?" asked Murray, producing his cigar-case.

"I am obliged to you, but I don't smoke."

"You don't use tobacco or liquor in any form, do you?"

George replied that he never had and never would.

"I wish from the bottom of my heart that I could say the same thing,"
said Murray. "I am a total abstainer now so far as liquor is concerned,
but tobacco gets me. It would be useless for me to make any pretensions
to goodness in your presence, for you know more about my habits than I
wish you did. You saw the company I kept on board the Quitman; and I
don't mind telling you, confidentially, that I came pretty near getting
myself into a row by it. If I could only keep away from the bar, I
should soon be better off in the world than I am now."

"Then, why don't you do it?" asked George.

"Ah! That's just it. Why don't I? How shall I go to work?"

"Begin by throwing away that cigar," said George promptly.

"There she goes!" exclaimed Murray; and as he spoke, the cigar left his
hand and went over into the barge among the coal.

"Now," continued George, "say that you will never go near the bar
again, and stick to it. That's all there is of it."

"Yes; it's a very easy thing to say, but it's an almost impossible thing
to do. You don't know how hard it is for a fellow who is bound down by
the chains of habit, to keep a resolution like that. Why, bless you, I
have made it a thousand times and broken it as often. I took my last
pledge three months ago, and up to this time I have kept it; but I may
go back on it before I am an hour older. If some old friend should come
along and say: 'Murray, have something?' I'd go with him without
thinking. It is a sort of second nature to me. I wish I could be thrown
more into the society of such fellows as you are, and less into the
company of rivermen. Nine out of ten of them spend their money as fast
as they make it, and that's what keeps them on the river."

George leaned his elbows on the railing, rested his chin on his hands,
and looked down at the men who were at work in the barge, but made no
reply. The longer he listened to Mr. Murray, the less he liked him.

"Now, you can do me a great favor, if you will," continued the clerk,
"one that I shall always remember, although I shall never be able to
repay it. I wish you would stay by me as much as you can while you are
off duty. Make the office your headquarters. Come in at any hour of the
day or night--I shall not always be at work, you know--and if you hear
anybody invite me to take a short walk with him, just tip me the wink.
That will put me in mind of my pledge and help me to decline the
invitation."

"But will you decline?" asked George. "Won't you go, anyhow?"

"Of course I'll not go; I'll decline every time. All I want is somebody
close at my elbow to keep my pledge constantly in mind. If you will do
that for me during this trip, I am sure that by the time it is ended I
shall have fallen into the habit of saying 'No,' and then I shall be all
right. To tell you the truth, there's a good deal depending upon your
answer," added Murray, who thought by the expression on George's face
that he did not much like the part he was expected to perform. "My bad
habits have lost several very fine positions for me, and if I don't
break them off, I shall lose this and every other one I get. But I have
tried it often enough to know that I can't abandon them without help.
What do you say?"

"I say that I will do anything I can to help you," was George's answer.

"Thank you!" exclaimed Murray. George's reply argued well for the
success of certain plans upon which he had determined, and he could
scarcely conceal his exultation. "By the way," he added, "are you on
speaking terms with Mr. Richardson?"

"I am quite intimate with Tony, who steered this boat up here for me
to-day, but I am not much acquainted with his father, although I have
visited at his house by Tony's invitation."

"Well, you'll not say a word to him, or anybody else, about what
happened on board the Quitman?" said Murray.

"Not a word."

"All right. I am done with tobacco, liquor and cards for ever," said the
clerk, with great determination "I'll rub it all out, and begin over
again; turn over a new leaf, and see if I can't make a clean record for
myself."

The two sat there on the guards for a long time talking in this way, Mr.
Murray apparently being very communicative and confidential, while
George was exactly the reverse, and finally they bade each other
good-night and separated to their rooms.

"The plan works very well so far," thought Murray, as he locked the door
of the office behind him, and sat down to take another smoke. "Ackerman
is rather suspicious of me, and I shall have hard work to gain his
confidence. I am afraid that the greatest trouble will be to get him in
the habit of loafing about the office. If I can do that, I'll see that
he puts his foot into a very pretty trap. He got me into this scrape,
and he must help me out."

"He doesn't seem to be a bad fellow at heart," thought George, as he
tumbled into his bunk in Texas; "but I must say that he's mighty
palavering, and that his face is almost too red and bloated for that of
a man who has stuck to the pledge for three consecutive months, as he
claims to have done. I hope he is in earnest in his desire to reform,
and if I can help him by giving him a wink now and then, I shall be
perfectly willing to do it."

It was not long after that before the officers of the boat began to tell
one another that the chief clerk and Mr. Black's cub had taken a
wonderful liking for each other. George was in the office almost all
the time, and when the Telegraph left the coal-fleet on Monday morning,
and went back to the city, Murray steered her down for him. As soon as
she was made fast alongside the wharf-boat, George went ashore to make a
few purchases, and when he came back, he found the clerk full of news.

"Ackerman," said he, as the young pilot entered the office and threw
down a copy of a morning paper, which Murray had requested him to buy
for him, "I am sorry to say that Tony Richardson has steered the
Telegraph for you for the last time."

"Why, what do you mean?" exclaimed George. "Has he--has any misfortune
befallen him?"

He was about to ask if Tony had run away, but checked himself just in
time.

"I mean just what I say," answered Murray. "On Saturday morning the
Armada took one of Vandegriff's barges down the river so that she could
coal up while she was under way, and Tony went in charge of the barge to
check the coal and bring back the money. The tug that Vandegriff sent
down the river found the barge and brought it back yesterday morning,
but there was no Tony with her."

"Yes, sir; he's run away," thought George, climbing upon the high stool
and staring blankly at the clerk.

"I don't wonder that you are astonished," continued Murray. "So is
everybody. Poor Tony is at the bottom of the river, beyond a doubt, but
he gave a good account of himself before he went there, for both the
mokes came back with broken heads."

"Great goodness!" exclaimed George, almost tumbling off the high stool
in his excitement. "Then he didn't--do you mean to say that the negroes
threw him overboard?'

"Certainly; they are in jail for it now; but the money can't be found.
They acknowledge that they made an effort to rob Tony, but declare that
they didn't hurt him at all. They say that he jumped into the skiff that
was towing alongside the barge, and got away with the money; they
couldn't swim a stroke, and therefore they were obliged to stay with the
barge until the tug took them off. The general impression seems to be
that they knocked Tony down with a chunk of coal and robbed him, and
that he died from the effects of the blow. Becoming frightened at what
they had done, they threw the body overboard, hid the money, and made
up this story to lessen their punishment."

"If they did that, they didn't show much sense in staying with the
barge," said George, as soon as he could speak. "Why didn't they get
into the skiff and go ashore?"

"I can account for that only on the supposition that the skiff was lost
while the Armada was towing the barge down the river," answered Murray.
"If Tony ran off with it, as the darkies say he did where is he? If he
had rode up the river, he would have met the tug, and if he had tied up
to the bank, he would have seen her when she passed him. When the
captain of the tug saw the negroes' heads and listened to their story,
he was so certain that they had killed Tony, that he tied them hard and
fast, and never wasted a minute in looking for the boy, although he kept
up a constant whistling, which Tony would certainly have heard if he had
been able to hear anything."

George was so deeply affected by this gloomy news that he could not eat
any dinner. He visited the tug, which lay at a little distance down the
levee, sought an interview with her captain, and after telling him that
he was Tony's friend, questioned him closely in regard to his
disappearance, but without learning anything more than Murray had
already told him.

"It's my opinion," said he, as he walked slowly back to his boat, "that
we shall hear more of this matter some day. If the money wasn't gone, I
should feel certain that Tony had cleared out; but somehow I can't bring
myself to believe that he would steal funds to help him along. I don't
think he's that sort."

The missing boy was constantly in George's mind during the next few
days. He and Murray talked about little besides the mystery attending
his disappearance, and meanwhile their intimacy increased to such a
degree that the officers of the boat began to speak of them as the
"twins." Murray never lost sight of the object he had in view in working
his way into the young pilot's good graces, and circumstances seemed to
conspire to help him. He took particular pains to have it known among
the officers that he had "sworn off" on everything that was bad, and
that George was the one who had induced him to do it. As a consequence
the invitations to visit the bar that he received were numerous and
frequent. They were given principally in George's presence, but he was
never obliged to tip Murray the wink, for the latter seemed to be always
on his guard. This made George believe that he had wronged the clerk by
thinking that his desire to reform was not sincere, and the result was
that he gave him his entire confidence, and put implicit faith in
everything he said. He spent almost all his time when off duty in the
office, and whenever Murray could snatch a quarter of an hour from his
work, he was always to be found in the pilot-house.

The Telegraph reached her journey's end in due time, her freight was
discharged in good condition, her heavy bills were paid, and the money
deposited in the safe, of which Mr. Murray carried the key. In a few
days she was steaming back up the river, with a large passenger list and
a lot of other freight stowed away on the main deck and in the hold. Now
the chief clerk began to show signs of nervousness and excitement. Every
turn of the paddle-wheels brought him nearer to St. Louis, and to the
creditors whom he would have to face when he got there. His situation
being a desperate one, he had determined upon desperate measures to get
him out of it. If his plans failed, he was doomed.

"You say I look worried," remarked Murray, one day, when he and George
and Walker, the second clerk, were alone in the office; "and so would
you, Ackerman, if you had my responsibility resting on your shoulders. I
don't mind telling you in Walker's presence, because it is all in the
family, that there is money enough in this safe under my desk to start
us all on the road to fortune."

"Who--whoop!" shouted the pilot through the trumpet. "Anything for
Columbia?"

"Yes!" yelled Murray. "Walker, go out and warn the passengers who are to
get off there, and I'll see to the freight."

Walker left the office, and Murray took possession of the stool he had
just vacated.

"I shouldn't think you would like to have so much money in your charge,"
said George.

"Well, we do sometimes deposit it in the bank and take a check on St.
Louis for it. That's the better plan, but I was too busy to do it, and
besides I didn't know just how much I might want to use during the trip.
Another thing, I never heard of money being stolen from the office of a
steamboat. I don't suppose you could open the safe if I should give you
the key, could you?"

"I am sure I couldn't," answered George. "I don't know the combination."

"I'll give it to you," said Murray.

"That wouldn't be right, would it?" asked George, doubtfully. "Suppose
the safe should be robbed, and folks knew that I was acquainted with the
combination. What would they think about it?"

"Folks would never know anything it; and besides, as soon as you had
opened the safe, I should lock it again on another combination, and take
good care of the key," said the clerk, with a laugh. "Here, try it just
for fun. It's all in the family."

George, having never done business for any body except himself, did not
know that business men, and their clerks, too, if they are honest, are
very particular about their safes, and that they never, under any
circumstances, invite outsiders to tamper with them. He did not know
that the most of them lay so much stress on this point, that whenever
they go into an office where there is an open safe, they take care to
keep away from it; but it seems as if his common sense ought to have
told him that he was doing what he ought not to do, when he picked up
the key that Murray took out of his pocket and laid on his desk,
inserted it into the lock, and went to work on the combination the
latter had given him, which, by the way, was not the right one.

"You can't open it to save your life; you are a regular bungler," said
Murray, hoping to arouse George's pride or combativeness to such a
degree that he would keep at work at the safe until he could have time
to carry out a very important part of his scheme. "I must go down and
give the mate a list of the freight that is to be put off at Columbia,
and you stay here and work at it till I come back. The door shuts with a
spring-lock and nobody can surprise you."

These words ought to have aroused George to a sense of the situation,
but they did not. He never suspected anything, but resumed his work
after Murray went out into the cabin, telling himself the while that the
lock was more complicated than the one on the safe at home, for he could
not make the combination work at all.

Murray's first care when he heard the spring-lock close behind him, was
to look around for Walker, whom he finally found on the boiler-deck.

"Those passengers seemed to have disappeared all of a sudden," said the
second clerk. "I thought there were seven to get off at Columbia, and I
can find but three."

"Never mind the passengers," said Murray, speaking as if he were in a
great hurry. "I must go below for a few minutes, and I wish you would
step into the office and stay there. I left Ackerman there alone,
and--by the way--this is between you and me--I did very wrong to tell
him about the large amount of money in the safe. I don't at all like the
way he has hung around and questioned me ever since we left St. Louis."

Walker pricked up his ears at once.

"I wondered why you let him make the office a loafing-place," said he.
"I have several times been on the point of telling him to go out, but
you always appeared to be glad to see him----."

"Well, no; I wasn't glad to see him on account of the safe, you know,
and the money in it," interrupted the chief clerk. "But he was poor
Tony's bosom friend--intimate with the family and all that. Hurry up,
Walker."

Murray went below, and the second clerk hastened toward the office. He
did not go through the cabin, but passed along the guard, moving with
noiseless footsteps, and looking through the glass-door saw George
kneeling in front of the safe twirling the knob. The sight made Walker
about as mad as a man ever gets to be. Opening the door with a quick
push, he stepped across the threshold and confronted the young pilot,
who arose to his feet looking not a little confused. The first thought
that passed through his mind was that Walker suspected him of trying to
rob the safe, and the expression on the second clerk's face certainly
warranted that supposition.

"I guess I'll not try any longer," said George, throwing the key upon
the desk.

"No, I guess I wouldn't," said Walker, picking up the key with one hand
and trying the door of the safe with the other. "What business have you
with this key anyway, and how did it come into your possession?"

"Murray gave it to me and told me to see if I could open the safe,"
replied George, drawing himself up and steadily returning Mr. Walker's
searching gaze. "He gave me the combination, too."

"That's a little too thin, Ackerman," said Walker, closing the door and
throwing the catch into its place. "I have known Murray too long to
believe any such story."

"What do you mean by that?" demanded the young pilot, flushing hotly.
"If you throw out any more insinuations, I'll send you over the rail
into the river. Open that door."

Walker was a full grown man, but George was his equal in stature and
weight, and vastly his superior in strength. He looked dangerous as he
stood there with his sleeves pushed back and his fists doubled up, and
that the clerk thought he was dangerous, was evident from the haste he
used in opening the door and stepping aside so that George could pass
out.



CHAPTER XVI.

WALKER DISCOVERS SOMETHING.


George, who was almost ready to boil over with rage, went straight to
the lower deck and sought an interview with the chief clerk. That
individual saw him coming, and hastened to meet him, for he knew better
than to hold any conversation with him just then in the presence of a
third party. So great an indiscretion as that would have been the death
blow to his plans, which were only half, carried out.

"My dear fellow," said he, in a low tone, taking the young pilot by the
arm and leading him toward the jackstaff, "what's the matter with you?
You are as white as a ghost."

"A most unfortunate thing has happened," replied George, somewhat
mollified by the presence and touch of the man whom he believed to be
his friend. "While I was trying to open the safe, Walker came in
through the outside door and caught me at it."

"Suppose he did?" said Murray, soothingly. "What of it? Didn't I tell
you it was all in the family?"

"Well, you'll find that you have got anything but a peaceable family in
your hands if Walker ever speaks to me again as he did when he came into
the office," said George through his clenched teeth. "Do you know that
he just as good as told me that I was trying to rob the safe? I came
within a hair's breadth of knocking him clear across the state of
Arkansaw."

As the office was situated on the port side of the boiler-deck, that was
the direction in which the second clerk would have gone if George had
struck him. Its legislature had not then passed the law declaring that
the last syllable of the name of the state should be pronounced as
though it were spelled "saw" instead of "sas," but the river men
believed, no doubt, that such a law would be passed in time, for they
always called it "Arkansaw."

"He even had the impudence to lock the door, as if he were going to keep
me a prisoner there," continued George, hotly; "but I tell you, he
opened it pretty quickly."

"No matter, no matter," whispered Murray. "Don't talk so loud. It isn't
necessary that everybody should know it."

"I don't care who knows it. I can see now that I have been foolish, but
I have done nothing wrong. Walker asked me how the key came into my
hands, and when I told him that you gave it to me he said plainly that
he didn't believe it. But you did give it to me, didn't you?" said
George, turning his flashing eyes full upon the chief clerk.

"Of course, I did; certainly."

"Then come up to the office and tell him so," said George, turning
Murray around so that he faced toward the stairs leading to the boiler
deck.

"My _dear_ fellow, be easy now," said the clerk, coaxingly. "I wouldn't
bring you and Walker face to face while you are in such a passion for
any money. He is quick-tempered, and said some things he had no business
to say, and very likely you did the same. Hold on, now, and let me do
the talking," he added, when George withdrew his arm, and doubled up his
fists as if he were about to say something emphatic. "I know you think
now that your language and your actions were perfectly justifiable, but
when you get good-natured, you will be of a different--Oh, yes, you
will," said the clerk, seeing that the young pilot shook his head very
decidedly. "Never mind; leave it to me, and I'll straighten it all out
as smooth as--"

Murray shut one eye, looked at George through the half-closed lids of
the other, and spread his open hands before him as if he were smoothing
out a table cloth.

"All right. I want you to be in earnest about what you do," said George,
throwing all the emphasis he could into his words. "No half-way work,
you understand. Walker must be told, in so many words, that you asked me
to see if I could open the safe, that you gave me the key, and sat there
on your stool and saw me work at it. You did, didn't you?"

Again the flashing eyes, which seemed to shoot forth angry sparks of
fire, were turned full upon the clerk, who would no more have dared to
deny it, than he would have dared to enter a powder magazine with an
uncovered light.

"I don't want anybody to have so poor an opinion of me, and I can depend
upon you to explain matters to him, can't I?" continued George. "Make
sure work of it while you are about it, for if you don't, I give you
fair warning that I shall broach the subject in the presence of
witnesses the very first time I can catch you two together."

"George, you may depend upon me to the death," said Murray, solemnly.
"You have been a true friend to me since you have been on this boat, and
I am truly sorry that my unbounded confidence in you has been the means
of bringing about this misunderstanding between you and Walker. Why
couldn't he have kept out of the office until you got through?"

"Why couldn't I have let the safe alone?" said George, bitterly. "If I
had done that, there would have been no trouble."

"Don't think about it. Go to bed now, and when you get up I shall be
able to tell you that it is all right. By the way, George, don't say a
word to anybody about it."

"I believe I'll go to Mr. Black and tell him the whole thing," replied
the young pilot.

"My goodness, Ackerman, don't do that!" exclaimed Murray, in great
alarm. "Can't you see how such a proceeding would injure me? It would
get to Richardson's ears, of course, and he would sack me as soon as he
heard of it. Just leave everything to me, and if I don't put you right
with Walker, you can take the matter into your own hands."

George agreed to this with some reluctance, although on the face of it
it appeared to be a very fair proposition. Acting upon the clerk's
advice, he went up to his room and lay down in his bunk to make up for
the sleep he had lost the night before while standing at the wheel, and
Murray turned toward the office. He went in through the cabin, opened
the door with his key and stepped across the threshold, whistling a
lively tune; but he stopped very abruptly and looked inquiringly at the
second clerk, who was sitting on the high stool, scowling fiercely.

"Hallo! What's the matter with you?" exclaimed Murray.

"Where's the key of the safe?" asked Walker, in reply.

"Well, you could have asked that question without looking at me so
savagely, couldn't you?" said the chief clerk, as he stepped to the
lower bunk and threw back the pillow. "What do you want of it?"

Walker did not answer. He sat on the stool and watched the movements of
his superior, who looked all around the head of the bunk, and then
uttering an exclamation of astonishment, began pulling off the quilts.
In two minutes more the bed clothes, mattress and all, were piled in the
middle of the floor, and Murray was searching his pockets with frantic
haste.

"It's gone!" said he, dropping his hands by his side. "Look here,
Walker," he almost shouted. "What are you up to? Hand it here."

The second clerk very coolly took the key out of his pocket and laid it
upon the desk.

"I came in just in the nick of time," said he. "I found Ackerman trying
to open the safe?"

Murray started as if he had been shot, and leaned heavily on the desk
for support.

"I have thought all along that you were altogether too free with him,"
added the second clerk. "Do you generally keep the key under your
pillow?"

"Always," replied Murray. "It is safe there, and if I carried it about
with me I might lose it, you know."

"Ackerman must have seen you put it there some time, or take it from
there," said Walker. "At any rate, he found it as soon as you went out,
and went to work on the safe. You ought to have seen his face when I
opened the door and surprised him. I tell you, Murray, that boy is a
hard community. One would think that he would have been overwhelmed with
fear and shame when he found that he was caught, but he wasn't. He tried
to explain matters by saying that you had given him the key and the
combination, too, and told him to open the safe if he could."

"What a villain!" exclaimed Murray, indignantly.

"Of course he is. When he saw that I couldn't swallow any such story as
that, he showed fight. I locked the door and thought I would keep him in
here until you came, but I didn't dare do it."

When the second clerk ceased speaking, Murray looked down at the floor,
shook his head and sighed deeply. "So _that's_ what he has been hanging
around me for, is it?" said he. "An hour ago I wouldn't have believed
such a thing of him."

"What are you going to do about it?"

"I don't know. Wait until I get my wits together so that I can think
clearly. Walker, I don't believe I can ever trust anybody again."

"You'd better never trust a stranger. You didn't show your usual good
sense in taking up with Ackerman as you did. You ought to go straight to
the old man with it. If I were captain of this boat I'd put him and his
trunk ashore right here in the woods."

"I'll tell you what I think about it," said Murray, suddenly
straightening up, and looking at his assistant as if a bright idea had
just occurred to him. "It's an ill wind that blows nobody good, and it
seems to me that we can make this thing benefit us in some way. As the
matter stands now, I am as likely to be punished as Ackerman is, and in
the same way--by being kicked off the boat. I will be accused of
negligence of duty. Now, I think I see a way to avoid that, and put a
few dollars into the pockets of each of us at the same time."

"I am in for that," said Walker.

"I thought you would be. You say this fellow is a hard one, and that's
all the better for us, for he will not be satisfied with making one
attempt on the safe. He'll come again, depend upon it, so I say let's
hush this matter up, lisp not a word of it to anybody, and keep our eyes
open and catch him in the act. Of course Richardson would hear of it,
and what would be the result? He'd say: 'Those are wide-awake clerks
aboard that boat--honest and always looking out for things. Boys, here's
a check for a couple of hundred apiece, to show you that your fidelity
is appreciated.' Eh?"

Mr. Walker loved money, and such an argument as this was not without its
effect upon him. Murray, seeing by the expression on his face that he
had made a point, hastened to add:

"Now, there is only one way in which this can be accomplished, and that
is to make Ackerman believe that we don't suspect him of anything wrong.
We'll be friendly and sociable with him, as we always have been, and
never refer to the matter in any way. If he says anything to either of
us about it, and most likely he will, for these hardened fellows are the
very ones to try to face down an accusation by an assumption of
innocence, we'll assure him that it is all right. What do you think of
it?"

"I hardly know," said the second clerk, slowly. "I should like to see
him punished, for he richly deserves it."

"Of course he does; but think of the possible reward."

"I do think of it, and that's what makes me hesitate. If I was sure that
we could catch him, and that that stingy old Richardson would give us
anything"--

"We'll catch him," interrupted Murray. "Don't you worry about that. As
for Richardson, he'll come down handsomely. We don't run any risk, you
understand, for Ackerman doesn't know the combination."

"But he might blunder on to it," said the second clerk.

"There is not one chance in a thousand," replied Murray confidently.

The result of this interview was that at the end of half an hour the
chief clerk had brought his companion around to his way of thinking, and
it was agreed between them that they would treat George in the future as
they had treated him in the past; that they would act as though they
were utterly ignorant of the fact that he had been guilty of any wrong;
that if he ever referred to the matter in the presence of either or
both of them they would laugh at it; and that while they were exerting
themselves to the utmost to make him believe that they still had every
faith in his honesty, they would watch him as closely as ever a cat
watched a mouse. Having arrived at this understanding, Murray, who
wanted to be alone for a few minutes, walked out on the guard, rubbing
his hands gleefully as he went.

"If I had the ordering of things I couldn't make them work more to my
satisfaction," said he to himself. "There hasn't been a single hitch so
far, and if I am sharp there needn't be any at all. I shall be able to
pay that note and have a snug sum left over to put into my pocket, and
no one will be the wiser for it. Walker and I will be sacked for
negligence, but I don't care for that. I wonder what he would think if
he knew that he was preparing the way for his own discharge? I must work
rapidly now, for my time grows shorter every day. I must be very
cautious, too, for Ackerman has shown himself to be a fiery fellow, and
if I give him any reason to suspect me, he may knock me clear across the
state of Arkansaw."

The young pilot awoke about supper time from a troubled slumber, during
which he dreamed that he had been detected in numberless attempts to
open safes that contained immense amounts of money, and having made his
toilet with great care, he descended to the boiler-deck and began to
look around for the clerks. He had made up his mind to one thing, and
that was, that that unfortunate affair of the afternoon would have to be
satisfactorily settled before he went into the pilot-house that night.
The chief clerk had been allowed ample time to explain matters to
Walker, and if he hadn't done it, George was determined that he would do
it himself.

"I'll take him before the captain, that's what I'll do," said the boy,
as he turned toward the cabin after looking in vain for the clerks about
the deck. "He knows very well that I never would have thought of
touching that safe if he hadn't asked me to do it, and he must tell the
captain so in my presence. Of course I shall be sorry to get him into
trouble, but I am not going to rest under such an imputation as this any
longer."

When George entered the cabin he saw that the window opening into the
office was raised, and that the two clerks were at their desk. As he
stepped up and rested his arms on the window-sill he thought that
Murray started a little and changed color, but Walker greeted him with a
cheery "Hollo!"

"What have you to say to me?" demanded the boy without returning the
salutation.

"That I was a fool for my suspicions," answered Walker. "It's all
square. What a scoundrel he is," said the second clerk, to himself. "He
is actually trying to bluff us down."

"You are satisfied now that I had no intention of stealing your money,
are you?" said George.

"Perfectly satisfied as to everything," was the reassuring reply. "Go
around to the door and come in."

"No, I thank you," answered George, who had resolved that he would never
go into the office again. "I'll stroll around a little before supper,
for I must be at the wheel until midnight."

So saying, he turned and walked away, feeling as if a mountain of huge
dimensions had been lifted from his shoulders. Why was it that he did
not inquire particularly, as to the points upon which Walker had been
satisfied? Did he know that Murray had given him the key; that he had
asked him to try his skill upon the safe; and that he had watched him
while he was at work upon it? The chief clerk was afraid that some such
questions as these might be asked, and he was on nettles all the while
that George stood at the window.

"I declare, I can't look into Ackerman's face without telling myself
that I was dreaming; that I never saw him near the safe," said Walker,
leaning his elbows on the desk and looking puzzled. "I don't for the
life of me, see how a guilty boy can gaze into a fellow's eyes as
squarely as he can."

"O, guilt will stare innocence out of countenance any day," returned
Murray, carelessly. "Remember, now, that if he makes another attempt on
the safe, we must be on hand to catch him; if he doesn't, we must keep
the affair secret. It would hurt us, you know, if it should become
known."

Murray took the next day to rest in, and to screw up his courage
sufficiently to enable him to carry out the next step in his programme.
Everything he had done up to this time, was simply preparatory, and now,
that he had got matters arranged to suit him, he was ready to strike his
blow. On the morning of the second day, Walker worked at his desk until
nine o'clock, and then, after pressing his hand to his forehead several
times, he descended from his high stool and proceeded to shut up the
office. He put down and hooked the window, that looked out into the
cabin; closed and bolted the door that opened out on the guard, as well
as the blinds that protected that door, and went out into the cabin,
taking pains to satisfy himself that the spring lock on that door did
its full duty. Seeing his fellow clerk seated at one of the tables
reading a newspaper, he walked up and held out the key to him. There was
but one key between them, Walker having managed to lose his own.

"I have a bad headache," said he, "and I am going up in Texas to take a
nap. Call me at noon, will you? Here's the key."

"Keep it yourself," replied Murray. "I shall not go near the office
until you come down. There's not much to be done, and we can straighten
the business up in an hour. Sleep all day if you want to. I'll call you
when I want you."

Half an hour after this, Murray laid aside his paper, and arose to his
feet. He went out of the cabin, and about fifteen minutes later ascended
the stairs that led to the hurricane-deck. He went into Texas, and,
after looking all around to make sure that there was nobody in sight,
stepped cautiously into George Ackerman's room, and taking his pillow
off the bunk thrust something into it. He flattered himself, that this
action was entirely unobserved, but such was not the case. No sooner had
he gone out, than a black face, which was pressed close against a
transom over the door that gave entrance into a stateroom on the other
side of the little cabin, was withdrawn; and a moment later, the door
was opened, and one of the numerous darkies employed on the boat stepped
out. He crept to the door on tip-toe, glanced up and down the deck, and
after making sure that the chief clerk had gone below, he ran into
George's room, pulled down the pillow and looked into it. Between the
pillow and the case, he discovered two articles, one of which, after a
moment's hesitation, he put into his pocket. The other he left where he
found it; and the pillow he put back in its place on the head of the
bunk.

During the rest of the day, the chief clerk could scarcely control
himself, so nervous and excited was he. There was something hanging over
him, a trying ordeal to be gone through with, and he knew that he would
be in the greatest suspense until it was all over. If he succeeded, he
would be well out of the last scrape he ever meant to get into; if he
failed--but that was something he did not like to think about; and
besides, he would not allow himself to believe that there was any chance
for failure. His situation was too desperate for that. He _must_
succeed. He did not call the second clerk at noon, and the latter did
not get up until three o'clock. Murray saw him when he came down, and
went into the barber shop; and as soon as he could do so, without being
seen by his assistant, he ran to the lower deck and went back into the
engineer's room. He had been there perhaps a quarter of an hour, when
Walker, pale and agitated, suddenly made his appearance and seized him
by the arm.

"Good, gracious!" exclaimed Murray, while the engineers looked on in
amazement. "What's the matter?"

"Say nothing to nobody, but come with me," answered Walker, in a low
tone. "You were right when you said that he would make another attempt.
He's done it; and more than that, he has been successful. Didn't I tell
you that he might blunder on to that combination? Well, he did."

This startling announcement seemed to take away the chief clerk's power
of speech. Without saying a word, he allowed Walker to lead him to the
boiler-deck and around the guard to the outer door of the office. The
room certainly looked as though somebody had been there. The clothing in
Murray's bunk was tumbled up, the high stool was overturned, the safe
was wide open, the key was gone, one of the panes in the glass door was
missing, and the fragments were scattered about over the floor. Murray
seemed to be utterly confounded. After standing motionless for a moment,
he rushed up to the safe, jerked open a little drawer, and then
staggered back to his bunk and fell upon it.

"This is the condition in which I found the room when I entered it a
moment ago," said Walker, taking possession of the high stool. "I
haven't touched a thing. Before I went to bed this morning, I took
particular pains to see that everything was secure. The key of the safe
was under your pillow then, for I saw it there."

"How do you suppose he got in?" Murray managed to ask, in a trembling
voice. There was no sham about his agitation, but it was not occasioned
by the robbery of the safe. The ordeal he so much dreaded, was close at
hand; and in spite of the confidence he had thus far felt in the success
of his schemes, he feared failure and exposure.

"There is but one way he could have got in," answered the second clerk.
"He slipped his fingers in through the blinds and raised the hasp,
smashed that pane of glass, and put in his hand and opened the door.
Then he found the key under your pillow, stumbled upon the combination,
as I was afraid he would, and made off with that big envelope which you
put in the drawer with three thousand dollars in it. Say, Murray, your
plan didn't work worth a cent, did it? We can just consider ourselves
discharged."

"Go out and ask the old man to come in here," said the chief clerk.
"This thing has got to be looked into. We'll have to tell him about
catching Ackerman here, and explain why we didn't report the matter at
once. You must do the talking, for my wits have all left me."

The second clerk was gone scarcely more than a minute, for he found the
captain on the boiler-deck. When the latter was conducted into the
office he uttered an ejaculation indicative of the profoundest
amazement, and seated himself on the bunk by Murray's side. The
condition of the room, and the expression on the faces of the two
clerks, told him what had happened there.

"When was this done?" he asked, as soon as he found his tongue.

"Sometime between nine and three o'clock," replied Walker, who then went
on to tell how the thief had forced an entrance into the office.

"Why, it must be somebody who is acquainted with your way of doing
business," said the captain, in deep perplexity. "Now, where shall we
look for him? I have seen no one loitering about here except George
Ackerman."

"And everything seems to point toward him as the guilty party,"
exclaimed Murray. "I wish you would have his room searched at once."

"Bless my soul!" cried the captain. "You surely don't suspect _him_?
Well, well!" he added, more in sorrow than anger, when he received an
affirmative nod from each of the clerks. "That beats me. I would almost
as soon suspect my own son of being a thief."

"I know it is hard to believe," answered Walker, "but, captain, listen
to this, and tell us what you think of it."

The second clerk then began and described the incidents that had
happened in the office two days before; repeated the conversation which
he and Murray had held regarding George's unsuccessful attempt to open
the safe; and explained the plans they had laid to catch him, if he were
bold enough to make another effort to steal the money. The captain
listened in genuine amazement, and after asking a few leading questions,
arose to his feet saying:

"This affair must be probed to the bottom and that, too, before we make
another landing. Let us go and see if we can find Ackerman. Things look
rather black against him, I must confess, but I never will believe that
he is the one who broke into this office, until he tells me so."

The captain led the way to the hurricane-deck and into Texas. The boy
pilot, having finished his nap, had dressed himself, and was on the
point of leaving his room as his visitors entered it. He was about to
great them pleasantly, but the words died away on his lips when he saw
the way they looked at him.



CHAPTER XVII.

THE KEY OF THE SAFE.


"George," said the captain, closing the door behind him, "I am sorry to
tell you that Murray's safe has been robbed, that the key and three
thousand dollars in money are missing, and that you are supposed to know
more about it than anybody else."

The effect of these words can be more readily imagined than described.
George could scarcely believe that he had heard aright. His eyes opened
to their widest extent, his under jaw dropped down, and the expression
of his face changed like lightning. Bewilderment, grief, incredulity,
almost every emotion of which the human mind is capable, was reflected
in his countenance, but he did not look guilty. He tried to speak, but
he could not utter a sound.

"We have come here to search your room," said the captain.

These words aroused George. The only feeling that possessed him now was
one of intense indignation; but still he spoke calmly.

"Who dares accuse me of such an act?" he demanded. "Show him to me. Let
me stand face to face with him and ask him his reasons for suspecting
me. Is it you, Walker?"

"It is both of us," answered the second clerk.

"Do you suspect me because you saw me trying to open the safe day before
yesterday?" asked George, still speaking very calmly.

"Why, Ackerman, any sane boy would be willing to acknowledge that that
was a very suspicious circumstance," replied Walker.

"Didn't you assure me that the thing had been explained to your entire
satisfaction? I tell you in Murray's presence, as I told you once
before, that he handed me the key, gave me the combination and sat there
on his high stool and watched me while I was at work on the safe. Murray
is that so or not?"

The chief clerk's face was a sight to behold. He was white to the lips
and trembling so violently in every limb that he was obliged to place
his hand against the bulkhead for support. He opened his mouth as if he
were about to speak, but no words came forth.

"Why don't you deny it to him as you did to me?" demanded Walker, while
both he and the captain looked at the chief clerk in astonishment.

"I am too angry to say anything," replied Murray.

George was thunderstruck. "Am I to understand that you deny it?" he
cried, as soon as he could speak.

"I do, most emphatically," answered Murray, whose courage began to
return to him as soon as he heard the sound of his own voice. "There's
not a word of truth in it."

"Didn't you give me the key and tell me to see if I could open the
safe?" repeated George, who wondered if he were awake or dreaming.

"I never did. People who handle money are not in the habit"--

He never finished the sentence. All of a sudden George's right arm shot
out with the force of a thunderbolt, Murray's head came in violent
contact with the door, splitting one of the panels, and Murray himself
sank helplessly to the floor. The young pilot, who now began to have a
very dim idea that he was the victim of a deeply laid plot, was
thoroughly aroused, and he would have handled the schemer roughly indeed
if the captain and Walker had not caught him in their arms and held him
fast.

"What a desperate wretch he is," thought the second clerk, who did not
know which to wonder at the more--the cool assurance of the guilty boy,
or the power of the arm that had so quickly and easily made a "spread
eagle" of his superior. "He looks as innocent as a lamb."

"There's a bug under that chip, and it's a big one, too," thought the
captain, by which he meant to inform himself that there was something
back of all this that needed looking into. "No guilty boy ever looked
and acted like Ackerman. I shall not allow any more violence," said he
sternly. "I promise you that the thing shall be thoroughly investigated
and the blame placed right where it belongs; but if you don't behave
yourself I'll put the handcuffs on you."

"All right, sir," said George, in reply. "The sooner you get to the
bottom of it the better you will suit me. You said something about
searching my room. There are my keys. Go through my trunk thoroughly,
and if you can find anything in it or in my room to condemn me, I will
acknowledge myself guilty."

The captain took the keys, inserted one of them into the lock of
George's trunk and hesitated. He knew then, as well as he knew it
afterward, that he was on the wrong track. The second clerk being of a
different opinion, began an attack upon George's bunk. Picking up the
pillow, he caught the case by the corners and gave it a shake, when
something that gave out a metallic sound fell to the floor. Walker
caught it up and held it aloft with an exclamation of triumph. It was
the key of the safe. The young pilot fairly gasped for breath when he
saw it. He gave Murray one look and seated himself on Mr. Black's trunk.

"George, George!" exclaimed the old captain, sorrowfully. "How do you
account for that?"

"I can't account for it, sir," replied the boy; "I never put that key
there."

[Illustration: MURRAY ACCUSES GEORGE OF ROBBING THE SAFE]

The captain placed his hands behind his back, and looking down into the
clear, honest eyes that were gazing straight into his own, told himself
that the boy was no more a thief than he was. "Do you know where the
money is?" he asked.

"I do not, sir; I have never seen it. The one who put that key there can
tell you where he put the money. You have made a good beginning, and you
had better go on with your search."

"Pull off the pillow-case, Walker," said Murray, who had backed up into
one corner of the room, and stood holding his handkerchief over his
wounded eye. "I don't see why that money didn't fall out," he added,
mentally.

The second clerk acted upon the suggestion, but found nothing. Murray,
who closely watched all his movements, grew a shade whiter than ever,
and his heart sank within him. This was the second hitch in his
programme. The first was the captain's unshaken faith in George's
innocence. That was something that Murray had not look for, and perhaps
it was one reason why he did not play his part better.

"It was a well-laid scheme, and I cannot yet see where I made a mistake
in it," soliloquized the chief clerk, whose suspense and alarm were so
great that he scarcely knew how he was acting. He was almost ready to
thank George for giving him that blow, because it furnished him with an
excuse for keeping his face covered. "I can't imagine where that money
has gone. I put three hundred dollars in that pillow-case at the same
time I put the key there, and how it has disappeared so suddenly beats
me. If anybody saw me put it there--"

Murray could not bear to dwell upon this thought. It suggested too many
dreadful things to him.

As he was in duty bound to do, the captain made a searching
investigation, but the money he was looking for could not be found. He
questioned George very closely, but could learn nothing from him, for
the simple reason that he did not know anything about it.

"This is a sad affair," said the captain, at length, "and the law will
have to look into it. George, I have known you but a short time, but
somehow I have great confidence in you."

The accents of kindness touched the boy's heart, and his eyes filled
with tears. "Thank you, sir," said he, heartily. "I assure you that I
shall never abuse that confidence."

"Consequently, if you will promise that you will not leave the boat
until we reach St. Louis, I shall put no restraint upon you," added the
captain.

"I promise; I am as anxious to have this matter looked into as you are;
more so, for I have more at stake."

"Very well. Now, gentlemen, we will go below," said the captain,
addressing himself to the clerks. "I shall consult with some of the
officers, and be governed by their advice."

George's visitors went out, and the boy set to work to repack his trunk
and make up the bunks. When this was done, he walked leisurely up the
steps that led into the pilot-house, and found the captain and the chief
engineer in consultation with Mr. Black and his partner.

"George!" exclaimed Mr. Black, seizing the boy's hand in both his own
and shaking it heartily; "these fellows mean to ruin you, don't they?"

"I am afraid they have done it already," replied George, with a sickly
smile.

"Not by a long shot," said the other pilot, who stood at the wheel. "I
know that the evidence is against you, but your friends have not all
turned their backs on you. Has Murray any reason to be down on you?"

"Well, I'll tell you something, and then you can answer that question
for yourself," answered George, who then went on to describe how Murray
had acted when he saw him pick up Mr. Black's lost pocket-book. His
auditors opened their eyes and looked significantly at one another when
George explained how it came that he had been so intimate with the chief
clerk ever since the Telegraph left St. Louis.

"It's a put-up job," said the chief engineer, decidedly. "I heard that
Murray lost a good deal of Clayton's money at cards when he came up on
the Quitman a few months ago, and that Clayton discharged him for it.
That shows that he is not honest. You asked my advice, captain; I should
say, let the matter rest until we reach the city, and then set the law
at work. I'll promise that George will not run away," added the
engineer, poking the young pilot in the ribs with his finger. "If you
want to watch anybody, watch Bill Murray."

This was the captain's idea too, and after some discussion it was
decided that the engineer's advice should be followed.

Bad news flies like wild-fire, and it was not long before it was known
all over the boat that George Ackerman had broken into the office and
robbed the safe of three thousand dollars, and that the captain had
virtually placed him under arrest The chief clerk, who was obliged to
explain how he got that black eye, industriously circulated this story.
He saw the necessity of creating a popular opinion in his favor, for he
was literally alone. All the officers who heard his version of the
affair looked incredulous, and even Walker acted as though he had his
suspicions. Murray, of course, had known all along that when the
denouement came a rigid investigation would be held, but he relied upon
the overwhelming evidence he could produce to crush George and turn all
his friends against him. But the young pilot positively refused to be
crushed. Feeling strong in his innocence he was determined to make a
fight of it, while his friends--and it looked now as though every man on
board the boat was his friend--rallied to his support.

"There's something about this business that doesn't look just right to
me," said Walker, as he and Murray went back to the office and began to
put things in order there; "but I can't for the life of me tell what it
is. I can tell you this much, however, if there had been a stranger with
us when we went up to Ackerman's room, he would have declared that you
looked and acted more like a guilty man than George did."

"Walker," exclaimed the chief clerk, sharply. "Do you mean to insult
me?"

"No; I don't. I mean to tell you that I didn't believe Ackerman knows
any more about this robbery than--than I do." He was about to say "than
you do."

"Who did it, then. Why, man alive, just look at the evidence."

"I know. But when that evidence comes to be sifted by some sharp
lawyer"--Walker stopped there, and left his companion to finish the
sentence for himself. "Mark my words," he added, a moment later. "We're
going to see lively times before this thing is settled."

"I begin to think so, too," thought Murray. "I am afraid I have jumped
out of the frying-pan into the fire. I wonder if I hadn't better take
what is left of that three thousand, and step off the boat when we reach
Memphis without saying a word to anybody? That's an idea worth thinking
about."

While this storm was raging about the young pilot's devoted head,
another was brewing which proved to be as dangerous to human life as
this one was to George's reputation. A thick, black cloud, which had
been hanging in the horizon all the forenoon, now began rising rapidly,
and in ten minutes more it had covered the whole heavens. The rain fell
in torrents and the wind blew a gale. The Telegraph was within whistling
distance of Helena when the storm struck her. For a while it seemed as
if the wind would sweep her decks clear of everything; or, failing that,
drive her back down the river; but she struggled successfully against
it, and finally came abreast of the town. It was a matter of no little
difficulty to come alongside the wharf-boat without smashing something,
but under the skilful management of Mr. Black and his partner, the
landing was made, and after the engineers had been instructed to "keep
her working ahead pretty strong," so that the wind would not blow both
steamer and wharf-boat away from the bank, the occupants of the
pilot-house sat down on the bench to talk over the events of the day.

While they were thus engaged, the watchman suddenly made his appearance,
bringing with him a pale, scared face, and said something to the
captain, who stood in his usual place near the bell. The latter at once
hurried below, while the watchman came into the pilot-house to report
that one of the cabin boys had been "pinched" between a fender and a
stanchion and very severely injured. The way it happened was this: When
the Telegraph came abreast of the wharf-boat, the wind caught her and
swung her toward it with great violence. One of the mates, seeing the
danger, called out, "Stand by, everybody, to fend off! Drop those
fenders overboard! _Everybody_, I said," he added, shaking his fist at a
negro, who was passing along the deck from the engine-room with a pail
of hot water in his hand.

Now, although the negro knew all about the duties of a boy who was
employed in the cabin, he knew nothing about a deck hand's business.
Setting down his pail, he rushed to the side in readiness to assist in
pushing the Telegraph away from the wharf-boat; but it so happened that
he placed himself close to a stanchion, at the top of which was fastened
a fender--a heavy piece of timber long enough to reach from the
boiler-deck to the water. No sooner had he taken up his position, than
two of the deck-hands seized the fender attached to that stanchion and
dropped it overboard. It swung down to its place, and striking the
darkey with fearful force, pinned him fast. He was released as soon as
the Telegraph swung away from the wharf-boat, carried off in a fainting
condition, and laid upon one of the bunks in the deck hands' room, while
the watchman was dispatched to acquaint the captain with the accident,
and to inquire if there was a surgeon among the passengers. This was the
substance of the story to which George and his companions listened. None
of them had much to say about it, for accidents of all kinds were of too
frequent occurrence to attract any especial notice from men of their
calling. They could not foresee the results that were to grow out of
this one.

The storm abated about the time the Telegraph was ready to continue on
her way up the river, and George took Mr. Kelsey's place at the wheel.
As soon as the boat was fairly under way the captain turned toward the
pilot-house, when the doctor, who had been summoned to attend to the
injured man, came up the stairs. "I was looking for you, captain," said
he. "That man of yours is badly hurt and ought to go to the hospital."

"All right," said the captain. "I'll put him ashore at Memphis. I never
heard of so careless an act but once before. I knew a deck hand to put
his head between a stanchion and a fender, and his neck was broken short
off. It is a wonder to me that this man escaped with his life."

"We physicians while acting in our professional capacity, sometimes come
into possession of very important secrets. This man, believing that he
is going to die, has made a confession, and I--shall I tell it to you
here?"

"Yes, speak freely," said the captain, who wondered if the steward had
missed any of the silver belonging to the boat. "There is no one to
overhear you."

"I understand that there has been a robbery committed on board this
boat," continued the doctor, whereupon the captain began to open his
eyes; "but I don't know whether or not this man's confession will throw
any light upon it. He said that he was at work scrubbing out one of the
rooms in Texas, wherever that is--"

"There it is," said the captain, pointing to the little cabin under the
pilot-house. "The officers sleep there."

"O!" exclaimed the doctor. "Well, while he was at work in that
state-room he saw the chief clerk of the boat go into Ackerman's room,
take a pillow off his bunk, and put some money and a key into it. Here
is the money, and I--my goodness, what's the matter?"

When the doctor said "here's the money," he drew out of his pocket a
package wrapped up in something that looked like a piece of brown paper.
As soon as the captain's eyes rested upon it, he snatched it from the
hands of the astonished physician and opened it. The brown paper proved
to be a large envelope, and its contents were greenbacks. The envelope
bore Murray's name and address, and in the upper left hand corner were
the figures $300.

"Pardon my rudeness, doctor," said the captain, "but you don't know how
impatient I was to see what was in that roll. This is a matter of
importance, the first thing you know, and you have completely unravelled
something that was to me a deep mystery. Go on, please."

"Well," said the doctor, "when Murray went out, the negro stepped into
the pilot's room and stole the money. That's all there is of it. I don't
pretend to know why the clerk put the money into the pillow instead of
placing it in the pilot's hands, and neither do I know what the key was
placed there for."

"I know all about it," explained the captain. "If you will excuse me now
I will see you later."

The captain ran down to the boiler-deck and walked around to the outer
door of the office, which he entered without ceremony. Both the clerks
were there--Walker perched upon a high stool and Murray lying in his
bunk with his handkerchief over his wounded eye. They both stared at the
captain in great surprise. They had never seen such an expression on his
face before.

"Murray," said the captain, without any preliminary remarks, "you might
just as well own up. The whole thing is out on you!"

Murray raised himself in his bunk and tried to look astonished, while
Walker leaned his elbows on the desk and nodded his head, as if to say
that he had been expecting something of this kind.

"The man who saw you put the money and the safe-key into Ackerman's
pillow, in your endeavor to fasten this robbery upon him, has made a
confession," continued the captain. "I don't wonder that you tremble; I
should if I were in your place. You can save yourself trouble by
handing out the rest of that three thousand. You've got it, and I know
it. If you will do that, I think I can safely promise that Ackerman will
let the thing drop right here, and be content to leave you to the
punishment of your own guilty conscience."

The chief clerk could not say a word in reply. The rapidity with which
the young pilot's vindication had followed upon the heels of his
accusation bewildered him. The mysterious disappearance of the money
which he had so confidently expected that Walker would find in George's
pillow had caused him the most intense alarm, for it told him that
somebody had discovered his secret; that somebody had confessed, and it
was all over with him.

"There's the money you put into George's pillow when you put the
safe-key there," said the captain, handing the envelope and the bills
over to Walker, "and I tell you that you will have a time of it if you
don't refund the balance. Now, do as you please."

Murray sank back upon his bunk, covered his face with his handkerchief,
and without saying a word put his hand into his pocket and drew out a
roll of greenbacks. Walker took it and counted it while the captain
looked on. There were twenty-seven hundred dollars in it, and that
amount, added to the three hundred dollars which the injured darkey had
surrendered to the doctor, made up the three thousand dollars that
George had been accused of stealing.

"That's all right. Where's the key of the safe? Now," said the captain,
as Murray produced it, "vacate this office at once, and leave Walker in
charge. Don't come near it again."

The captain left the office and went up to the pilot-house. George and
the two pilots were there, and so was the chief engineer, who was laying
out some very elaborate plans for establishing George's innocence, which
were to be set on foot as soon as they reached St. Louis. When the
captain entered, he was saying,

"We'll put a detective after him, and find out everything he has done
since Clayton discharged him. Don't you think that would be the best
way, skipper?"

"There is no need of it," was the reply. "I know pretty nearly what he
has done since he has been on board this boat, and that's enough for
me. Don't look so down-hearted, George. I told you that the blame
should be placed right where it belonged, and I have kept my word.
Murray is the guilty man!"

Without paying any attention to the exclamations uttered by his
auditors, the captain gave a hurried account of all the incidents that
had happened since the Telegraph left Helena, and the story, while it
cleared George, confirmed the suspicions that every one of them had
entertained from the moment it became known that he was suspected of
robbing the safe. The young pilot was almost overwhelmed by the
congratulations he received, and it is hardly necessary to add that he
cherished the strongest feelings of gratitude toward the men who had
stood by him and believed in him when everything seemed to point to him
as the guilty one.

George never saw Murray after that. In fact, nobody seemed to think of
him, until the boat had left Cairo and was well on her way toward St.
Louis, and then some one asked, merely out of curiosity, where he kept
himself ever since the captain ordered him out of the office. Even
Walker couldn't tell. At Murray's request he had assigned him to a
stateroom, and he had not seen him since he went into it. An
examination showed, that the stateroom was empty, although the lower
bunk looked as though it had been occupied.

"He's all right; you may depend upon it, Ackerman," said Walker, who had
lost no time in making things straight with George. "I know, as well as
I want to know it, that he left the boat at Memphis. As we got there in
the night, it was no trouble at all for him to step off without being
seen by anybody."

The clerk was right. That was just the way that Mr. Murray had taken, to
avoid the troubles that would certainly have befallen him if he had gone
on to St. Louis. George never heard of him again, as long as he stayed
on the river.

Mr. Black was not out of a "job" more than two days after he reached St.
Louis. Another of Mr. Richardson's boats, the Benefit, was about to
start for New Orleans, and he was one of the pilots who was engaged to
take her down and bring her back. The other was Mr. Scanlan, who
afterward went down the river with Mr. Black and George on the ill-fated
Sam Kendall. Mr. Scanlan spent all his time ashore, Mr. Black stayed at
home with his family, and George was left to take the boat up to the
coal-fleet. He could not help thinking of the company he had the last
time he went up there, and wondered where Tony was now, and whether he
was not sorry he had ever run away from home; for by this time it had
become known, that he had not been killed by Mr. Vandegriff's negroes,
as everybody at first believed. He had been heard from at Cairo. From
that city he had written to Mr. Vandegriff, that he was about to strike
out for himself; and he had sent that gentleman all his money, with the
exception of fifty dollars, which he had kept out for his own use.
Unfortunately the report had became raised abroad, that Tony had stolen
those fifty dollars; but that was something that George could not
believe. It was not like Tony.

The Benefit arrived at New Orleans late one afternoon, and when George
had eaten his supper, he strolled out to take a look about the levee.
When he came back to his boat he did not go aboard, but seated himself
on a bale of cotton to watch a gulf steamer that was getting under way.
While he looked at her, he thought of Tony Richardson.

"I suppose that foolish fellow is on deep water by this time, and
supping sorrow with a big spoon," soliloquized George, as he put his
hands under his legs and kicked his heels against the bale of cotton. "I
don't know anything about a sailor's life, but from what I have heard
and read of it, I should say it was the very life for which Tony is the
most unfitted. There goes a sailor now. I wish Tony could have seen him
before he ran away."

The subject of these thoughts was a young fellow who just then came
sauntering along with his hands in his pockets. His face was covered
with coal-dust, his clothing was very dirty and ragged, and his shoes
were almost ready to drop from his feet. When he came opposite to the
place where George was sitting, he caught sight of the strip of canvas
which was stretched around the railing of the Benefit's hurricane deck,
bearing the words, "For St. Louis." He looked at it for a moment, and
then walked toward the gang-plank, still keeping his gaze directed
toward the strip of canvas, which presently came within range of the
steamer's name on the pilot-house. When the sailor saw that, he faced
about at once and started up the levee again, this time walking pretty
rapidly; but before he had made many steps, he felt George Ackerman's
grasp upon his arm.

"Tony!" exclaimed the young pilot, in great amazement.

The sailor turned his face toward George, but it was so completely
covered with coal-dust that nobody could tell what the expression of it
was. He looked at the trim, neatly-dressed boy before him, then his eyes
fell down upon his own dilapidated garments, and he made an effort to
pull himself away. "You have made a mistake," said he. "That doesn't
happen to be my name."

"Tony, Tony, that won't do," returned George, tightening his grasp on
the sailor's arm. "I was a little uncertain at first, but I am not now.
I know your voice. Aha! I thought so," said George to himself, as the
boy covered his face with his hands and sobbed violently.

It was Tony, sure enough. George put his arm around him and led him back
to the cotton-bale from which he had just arisen. He lifted Tony upon it
bodily, and seated himself by his side.

"No use of shedding the briny over it," said George, who was delighted
to see his friend once more. "You're going home now, are you not?"

"Yes, I am," replied Tony, between his sobs. "And if I ever get there,
I'll stay. That is, I'd like to stay, for I have had quite enough of
salt water, but I don't know whether the folks will want me there or
not."

"I do," said George, cheerfully. "They'll be overjoyed to see you again,
and you'll get there just as soon as the Benefit can take you."

"Oh, I can't go on her," exclaimed Tony. "She is my father's boat, and
almost all the officers know me. I was going aboard of her to see if I
could ship as deck-hand when I noticed the name on her pilot-house."

"You'd look nice, shipping as deck-hand, wouldn't you, now?" said
George. "You shan't do it while I have a bunk. What difference does it
make to you if the officers do know you? You'll have to meet people who
know all about it, and you might as well begin one time as another. Now,
where have you been and what have you been doing since I last saw you?"

There was no need that Tony should indulge in flights of fancy or use
glowing language to convince George that he had had an exceedingly hard
time of it during his short career as a sailor. He had hardly began his
story before the young pilot interrupted him with--

"You have lifted a heavy load from my mind. I was informed that you had
stolen that money of Mr. Vandegriff.

"I didn't," said Tony, stoutly. "I earned it fairly. I'll go to Mr.
Vandegriff with you as soon as we reach St. Louis and ask him if I
didn't."

"There is no need of that," answered George "I believe you. Go on."

"The hardest part of my experience," said Tony, after he had described
his life on the Princeton and told how he had deserted from her, "was on
board the City of Baltimore; but fortunately the voyage was not a long
one, and I was able to live through it. I suppose I was a rough-looking
fellow, but that was no reason why the mates should kick me and knock me
about as they did. I never showed myself until the ship was well out to
sea, and then I wished I hadn't showed myself at all. The jawing I got
when they found that I was a stowaway was fearful, but it was nothing to
the abuse that followed. I was put to heaving coal and kept at it until
I was ready to drop. The men who worked with me were changed every few
hours, but they wouldn't let me stop at all. I feel as if I could sleep
for a week."

By the time Tony had finished his story it was dark, and George took him
aboard the Benefit and up to his room in Texas. There were plenty of
towels, soap and water handy, and when George had laid out a suit of his
own clothing for Tony to put on, he left him to himself. An hour later
he went back to his room and found that the runaway had taken possession
of his bunk and was sleeping soundly. He looked more like the Tony of
old now that he had got rid of the coal-dust and put on a suit of better
clothes, but his face was thin and pinched and his eyes were still badly
discolored.

Great was the astonishment among the officers of the Benefit when it
became known that Tony Richardson had turned up safe, if not sound, and
that he was on his way home. Of course they were all glad to see him,
and praised him without stint for the courage he had exhibited during
the battle on the barge; but they never said a word to him about running
away from home. They did not talk or act as though they knew anything
about it. When the Benefit reached St. Louis he went straight to the
depot to take the first train for Kirkwood, George furnishing the money
to pay his fare, and promising to run up to the office and let his
father know of his arrival.



CHAPTER XVIII.

CONCLUSION.


The next half year of George Ackerman's life passed without the
occurrence of any event that is worthy of notice. The longer he followed
the river the better he liked it. When he was not asleep or at his meals
he was always to be found in the pilot-house, no matter whether it was
his turn to stand watch or not. He learned rapidly, and it was no
unusual thing for him to steer for hours together without a word of
instruction or advice. His memory was very retentive, and if Mr. Black,
when questioned by a brother pilot, forgot just how much water he found
on a certain bar, or in a particular bend during his last trip, he had
but to call upon George for the information, and he always got it.

When everything was going so smoothly with him, it was a great pity that
those of whom he had a right to expect better treatment, could not let
him alone. Pretty soon warning letters began to arrive from Mr. Gilbert,
with whom George had kept up a constant correspondence ever since he had
been on the river. The first one conveyed to him the information that
Uncle John had discharged Jake and Bob, and all the other herdsmen who
had found employment on the ranche during his father's lifetime, and
hired others in their places.

"That's some of my affectionate cousin's spite work," said George to
himself. "But he can't injure me in that way. One herdsman is about as
good as another, and when I return to Texas, if I ever do, I can get all
those old-time fellows back again. It wouldn't seem like home to me
there without them."

In another letter, which George received about two months later, Mr.
Gilbert told him that three very fine herds had been lost through the
imprudence or criminality of the men in charge of them, who, in spite of
the warnings of the settlers, persisted in pasturing them too close to
the river for safety.

"That's a more important matter," thought George. "It looks too much as
though Uncle John was paying Fletcher hush-money. I must see to that."

He thanked Mr. Gilbert for keeping so watchful an eye on his interests,
and took Uncle John to task for losing those herds in a way that made
him and Ned very angry. Two months more elapsed and a third letter told
George that his uncle was selling stock as fast as he had the
opportunity. He thanked Mr. Gilbert again and wrote to his uncle.

"Have you forgotten the agreement made between us during our second
interview at the hotel in Brownsville? I shall be down there to see
about your selling stock, which you were positively forbidden to do, and
I shall call upon you for a strict account of your stewardship."

George had intended to quit the river at once, and go home and assume
charge of his property with Mr. Gilbert for a guardian; but
unfortunately Mr. Black was taken ill about the time he had made up his
mind to start. He was not so ill that he was obliged to take to his bed,
but he was not able to stand his regular watch. Moreover, he was in such
a state financially that idleness meant ruin to him.

"I don't see how I can spare you just now," said he, when George told
him that his presence was needed at home. "I know I ought not to run on
the river, but when I look at my pocket-book, it tells me I must. If you
will only stay with me a little while longer, I shall be ahead of the
hounds; but if you leave me now, I don't know what I shall do."

"Well, don't worry over it," said George, after Mr. Black had talked to
him in this way a few times. "I'll stay. I can better afford to lose a
little more through Uncle John, than Mr. Black can afford to lie idle
with all those notes to meet," he added, to himself. "But just as soon
as he gets firmly on his feet, I shall start for Texas, to look into my
guardian's way of doing business."

The last boat that George Ackerman ever backed out from a St. Louis
wharf-boat, was the Sam Kendall--a crazy old craft, all paint and gilt
outside, but "rotten to the heart," as the rivermen said. If she had
been a sea-going vessel, she would have been called a "coffin ship." By
this time, Mr. Black had so far recovered his strength that he was able
to do a little duty, and he hoped that by the time he returned to St.
Louis, his health would be fully restored. George had resolved, that if
these expectations were realized, his piloting should end with this trip
on the Kendall.

They reached New Orleans without any mishap, her cargo was discharged,
another one taken on board, and the Kendall was made ready for her trip
up the river. The passengers began to arrive; and while Mr. Black sat on
the boiler-deck, watching them as they came up the gang-plank, and
waiting for George, who had gone ashore to purchase some papers for him,
he discovered among them a pompous old gentleman with a gold-headed
cane, whom he was sure he recognised. He turned and looked at the
gentleman as he came up the stairs, and telling himself that he had made
no mistake, arose and extended his hand to him.

"Why, general, how are you?" said he. "I did not expect to see you
here."

Uncle John, for it was he, gave him a haughty stare for an answer. Then
he raised his eye-glass and looked at the pilot through it.

"I am Mr. Black, you know," said the latter. "George Ackerman's----"

"O yes, yes!" exclaimed Uncle John, who was cordial enough now--not
because he liked the pilot, but because he believed the man could serve
him. "Are you and George attached to this boat? Well, that's fortunate.
Where is George?"

"I am expecting him every moment," replied Mr. Black. "I am sorry to say
that he is going to leave me. I really don't see how I can get along
without him."

"I believe there was a distinct understanding between you and him, that
he was to remain with you until he learned the river," said Uncle John,
as he and the pilot seated themselves. "You told me that it would take
him three years or more to do that, but he has been with you scarcely
eighteen months."

"But what am I to do when he positively refuses to stay with me any
longer?" inquired Mr. Black.

"Reason with him," was the answer. "Talk him into a different frame of
mind."

"I have tried to do that, but it is of no use. He says that matters in
Texas demand his immediate attention."

"What put that notion into his head?" asked Uncle John, who wanted to
know whether or not the pilot knew anything of George's history and home
life.

"I am sure I don't know. He receives letters from there regularly, and I
supposed they came from you."

"Well, I never said anything to indicate that his presence there was
needed," said Uncle John, who, during the long months that his nephew
had been on the river had written but two letters to him, and they were
wholly taken up with denying the accusations that George brought against
him. "I don't want him to leave the river--he mustn't; I'll not consent
to it. Of course I should like to have him at home with me, but I don't
need him there, for everything is going on to my entire satisfaction;
and this way of running from pillar to post, picking up first one
business and then another, won't do. It gets a boy into bad habits. You
must keep him here, Mr. Black."

The pilot, who had almost come to look upon George as one of his own
children, was delighted to find that his guardian did not approve the
course upon which he had determined, and promised that he would use
every argument he could think of to induce the boy to stay on the river
until he became a licensed pilot; although when he made the promise he
remarked that he didn't see how he could say more than he had already
said, and that, too, without producing the least effect.

"Well, use your best endeavors," urged Uncle John. "Try every plan you
think of, and if you succeed, I shall be your debtor for any amount that
you have a mind to draw on me for."

Uncle John said a good deal more to the same purport, and he was so
deeply in earnest about it that it was a wonder that the pilot did not
suspect something. The latter said he would not draw on the "general"
for a cent, but he would try to keep the boy with him, for he was very
fond of him, and believed that he would make a good pilot.

"I hope you will be successful," thought Uncle John, as he arose and
walked into the cabin. "But whether you are or not, George can make up
his mind to one thing--he is not going back to Texas to get me into
trouble."

Mr. Black kept his seat on the boiler-deck, and while he was wondering
what he could say to George that would induce him to stay on the river,
at least eighteen months longer, he discovered the boy coming across the
levee. Mr. Black's face must have told the young pilot that his friend
had some news for him; for, as he mounted the steps and stopped beside
his chair, he said, with a smile, "Well, what is it?"

"Prepare to be astonished," answered Mr. Black, as he took the papers
that George held out to him. "The general is here."

"The general! General who?"

"Why, your uncle, John Ackerman."

"Oh, great Cæsar, is he here?" cried George. "Are you sure?"

"Am I sure that I have eyes and ears? Of course he is here, and I have
had a long talk with him. He says he doesn't want you at home, that
everything is going smoothly there, and that he will not consent to your
leaving the river."

If Mr. Black could have read the thoughts that were passing through the
young pilot's mind, he would have been astonished beyond measure. He
knew nothing whatever of the boy's private affairs, for the latter had
made a confident of no one except Mr. Gilbert; but he was sharp enough
to see that the "general's" wishes would have no weight whatever with
George.

"Is there anybody with Uncle John?" asked the young pilot, as soon as he
had recovered from his surprise.

"I didn't see anybody. I think he is alone. During our conversation, he
informed me that he was going up the river on business, and that he had
struck this boat by the merest accident, not knowing that we belonged to
her."

Leaving Mr. Black to the enjoyment of his papers, George walked into the
cabin and looked all around for his uncle. He was not in sight, but the
clerks told him that a gentleman who answered to the name and
description he gave them, had purchased a ticket for St. Louis, and been
assigned to a stateroom; so George sat down in the cabin to wait until
he made his appearance.

Those who witnessed the meeting between the young pilot and his
relative, who called him his "dear nephew" loud enough to be heard by
every body in the cabin, told one another, that Uncle John certainly
thought a great deal of the boy, and that George ought to have his ears
boxed for giving him so cold a reception. If their meeting had taken
place in private, Uncle John would not have been quite so effusive. He
felt more like seizing George by the collar, than shaking him by the
hand.

"Where's Ned?" asked the boy, after a few common-place remarks had
passed between them.

"He is at home," replied Uncle John. "He has started a herd of cattle,
and is trying to show the folks there, that he is capable of making an
honest living. The troubles into which he so thoughtlessly brought
himself are happily settled, and he is very well contented. What has
become of Gus Robbins I don't know. But, George, what is this I hear
about your leaving the river? You surely haven't made up your mind to
that?"

"I certainly have," answered George, emphatically. "I am contented here
and should be glad to stay, but you won't let me. You have broken every
promise you made me in Brownsville."

"George," said Uncle John, earnestly, "every word that Mr. Gilbert has
written you about me and my doings is false--utterly false."

"I have never caught him in a lie, and I don't believe he knows how to
tell one," said George, with great spirit. "At any rate, I am going down
there as soon as this trip is ended, to satisfy myself of the truth of
what I have heard."

"Very well," replied Uncle John, indifferently. "If that is your
determination, you are at liberty to act upon it as soon as you please.
If I get through my business at St. Louis in time, I shall be glad to
go with you. Young man," he added, mentally, "you are not going back to
Texas."

"I don't know whether I want him to travel with me or not," thought
George, as his uncle arose and walked out of the cabin. "Something tells
me that I shall be safer if I go alone. His desire to keep me away from
Texas, makes me all the more determined to go there."

Having given his uncle time to get out of the way, George left the cabin
and turned toward Mr. Black, whom he found looking down at the deck in a
brown study. "George," said he, in a low tone, "I have been looking for
it for a long time, and it has come at last. I have made many a trip on
this old tub, and every time I thought I had made my last one--that
before I should be employed to handle her wheel again, something would
happen to her. I have seen the sign, and I predict that this is her last
trip!"

"What do you mean?" said George, drawing a chair into such a position,
that he could look into Mr. Black's face when he sat down.

The pilot turned about, and after running his eye around the boiler
deck, directed George's attention to a gentlemanly-looking passenger who
was dressed in black, and wore a white neckcloth. "I see him. He's a
gambler, I suppose," said George, who knew that these gentry, during
their trips up and down the river, assume all sorts of disguises to
assist them in fleecing the unwary.

"No, he isn't; and that's the worst of it," exclaimed Mr. Black. "If he
belonged to that class, the old Sam Kendall would be safe enough, for
she has carried an army of them, first and last. He's a preacher, and he
brought a gray horse aboard with him."

George, who knew the saying among rivermen, that a minister and a gray
horse would sink any boat that ever floated, jumped to his feet with an
exclamation of impatience.

"O, you may say 'pshaw!' as much as you please," replied Mr. Black,
solemnly, "but I tell you, that the Kendall is a dead duck. You'll never
steer her into St. Louis. That's my prediction and I want you to
remember it."

George did recall it to mind when he and Bob Owens, the boy who had
twice saved his life, sat shivering on the bank of the river and watched
the Sam Kendall as she burned to the water's edge; but that the minister
and his gray horse had anything to do with her destruction, was
something he could not think of without getting angry. Mr. Black was
honest in his belief that the Kendall was a doomed boat, and so was Mr.
Scanlan; and after they left New Orleans, one or the other of them was
always in the pilot house. But it happened that the minister and his
gray horse went ashore at Donaldsonville, and then the pilots breathed a
little easier.

"There!" said George, as the obnoxious passenger disappeared over the
levee, all unconscious of the alarm which the mere presence of himself
and his beast had excited in the minds of some brave but superstitious
men. "We brought him up here all right, and the old Kendall is still on
top of the water."

"I am glad to see him go," answered Mr. Black, "but the run isn't over
yet. There are a good many miles between here and St. Louis. But,
George, if we _do_ get through all right you'll stay with me, won't
you?"

Mr. Black and his partner had of late fallen into the way of asking
George some such question as this every time they entered into
conversation with him; but they could say nothing to make him change
his mind. Sometimes the boy was on the point of telling them everything
and then asking them what they thought about it; but he as often checked
himself, for he could not bear that even his friend Mr. Black should
know what a rascal his Uncle John was.

One gloomy night George stood alone at the wheel, while the Kendall,
with all her berths full of sleeping passengers, was ploughing her way
up the river through darkness so intense that one could scarcely see his
hand before him. Mr. Scanlan was snoring loudly in his bunk. Mr. Black,
who had tired himself out by standing his regular watch between New
Orleans and Donaldsonville, had gone below to obtain a little rest, and
George had the pilot-house to himself. He generally felt a thrill of
pride on such occasions as these, for the responsibility that was placed
upon him made him think that he was of some use in the world; but on
this particular night he was anything but cheerful. He was certain that
the minister and his gray horse had nothing to do with it, he was
equally sure that the unwelcome presence of his Uncle John, who now and
then passed before him like a thunder-cloud across a clear sky, was not
exerting a depressing influence upon him, but still he was very
uncomfortable, and could not rid himself of the impression that there
was danger hanging over him.

Being constantly on the alert George did not fail to see the bright
light on shore which suddenly shot up through the darkness, and which he
knew was a notice to the Kendall that there were passengers or freight
waiting for her at that landing. He blew the whistle, warned the
engineers, rang the bell for the lead, turned the bow of the steamer
toward the fire, and just then Mr. Black, who had heard all these
signals, came into the pilot-house. He allowed the boy to make the
landing, which the latter did in his usual good style, and then he lay
down on the bench with his hat for a pillow, while George went down to
the boiler-deck.

After awhile he saw a boy dressed in black, wearing his hat low over his
forehead and carrying a valise in his hand, come up the gang-plank and
disappear in the direction of the engine-room, but he did not pay any
particular attention to him. This was Bob Owens, with whom George was
destined to have a good deal to do during the next few years of his
life. Bob, as we know, had stolen a large sum of money from David
Evans, THE MAIL CARRIER, and run away from his home in Rockdale to enjoy
it. When he reached Linwood landing he was arrested by the constable,
who suspected him of having stolen the horse he was riding, but which
was Bob's own private property. Through the gross carelessness of that
officer he managed to escape from him very easily, and having turned his
horse loose and started him toward home, he changed his clothes and
boarded the Kendall, intending to go to St. Louis on her. When he
reached that city he was going to buy a horse and rifle and plunge into
the wilderness to win a name for himself as a borderman; but
circumstances arose which induced him to change his plans. He _did_ win
a name for himself, but it was as a soldier and not as a hunter.

When George became tired of watching the crew at their work, he moved
over to the other side of the boiler-deck, and seating himself on the
railing looked at a steamer that was going up the river and thought of
the future. He became so completely engrossed in his meditations
concerning his hard lot in life that he did not know that the bell rang,
that the lines were cast off, that the paddle-wheels were set in
motion, and that the boat began to swing away from the landing. The
sound that aroused him from his reverie was a stealthy footstep on the
guard behind him. He turned quickly and saw his Uncle John at his side;
but before he could speak to him the man gave him a push that sent him
into the river. He went over the rail with such force that he turned a
complete somersault, and striking the water feet first "went clear down
to China," as he afterward declared, although his friends rather doubted
this from the fact that he could give no clear account of what he saw
there.

When George found himself struggling in the water, he lost all heart. He
could not swim, although he made a feeble attempt to do so as soon as he
arose to the surface. He did not hear the uproar that arose on board the
steamer, or the frantic orders to "stop her," which the mates shouted up
at the captain, nor did he see the boy who plunged fearlessly into the
river and swam to his assistance. But he felt his grasp, and resigning
himself entirely to the boy's control, he was towed safely to the shore.
His rescuer was Bob Owens. He told the young pilot something of his
plans while they were changing their wet clothes for dry ones, and it
was through him that Bob was induced to abandon, for the present, his
idea of becoming a hunter. The two boys became fast friends, and their
friendship lasted until they got into trouble that tested Bob's a little
too severely.

After the young pilot and his companion had eaten a hasty lunch, they
went up into the pilot-house, and while they were there an alarm of fire
was raised. It is believed to this day, that the captain of the Kendall,
after trying in vain to run her upon a snag which had been the
destruction of two or three boats, applied the torch to her in order
that he might pocket the money for which she was insured; but this act,
like Uncle John's attempt to drown his nephew, had no witnesses, and
nothing could be proved against him.

During the wild scenes that followed, Bob Owens, who possessed physical
courage in the same degree that he lacked moral courage, exerted himself
to the utmost to rescue the passengers and crew whom the flames had
driven to the forecastle, but was at last obliged to take to the water
in order to save himself. He assisted George's worst enemy, who could
not swim, by placing in his hands an oar that supported him while he
floated down the current, and discovering the young pilot clinging to
the rudder, took him safely to the shore for the second time. They
warmed and dried themselves in the cabin of a friendly trapper, and
after spending some time in discussing the plans upon which they had
determined, they set out to walk to White river landing, where they
found a boat that took them to New Orleans.

Now it so happened that Uncle John was in the cabin at the same time the
boys were there, having been pulled out of the river by the trapper, who
saw him floating by on his oar. His clothing was drying in front of the
fire, and he was so closely wrapped up in the only blanket the trapper
possessed, that his nephew did not recognise him. He heard George tell
his new friend that he was going to take him to Texas and make a brother
of him, and as soon as the boys started for White river, he set to work
to defeat this plan. He went to New Orleans on a steamer which the
trapper hailed for him, and while in that city, made an effort to
separate the boys by enticing Bob on board a steamer that was bound to
some port in South America. He had nothing against Bob, but he knew
that he had money, while George had none; and his object was to keep the
latter in New Orleans until he could run down to Texas and straighten up
some things there that he had left in a pretty bad state. But this plot
was frustrated, and George and Bob sailed in company for Galveston.
There Bob's pocket was picked, and the two friends found themselves in a
strange city, hungry, penniless and without a roof to shelter them. They
spent the whole night on the streets, keeping constantly in motion in
order to avoid arrest, and the next day looking in vain for work.

Late in the afternoon of this particular day, Bob made a discovery that
proved too much for his friendship. He found a fifty cent scrip in his
watch-pocket. That would provide him with a good supper and a bed to
sleep in. It was not enough to pay for supper and lodging for George,
too, and believing that he had already shown his good-will for him by
saving his life when he could not possibly have saved it himself, Bob
slipped away from his companion and hunted up a cheap lodging-house,
where he had a square meal and a night's rest. The next day he enlisted
in the army. There was where we left him, and where we shall find him
the next time we see him. Surprising as it may seem, his life and
George's ran on in the same channel for months, and we shall have a good
deal to say about them and their exploits.

George never dreamed that Bob had deliberately deserted him. He missed
him after a while, and turning back, looked everywhere for him. Although
he did not find him, he found somebody else, and that was Mr. Gilbert,
the very man he wanted most to see just then. The last time the young
pilot saw him he wore a red shirt, coarse trousers, cowhide boots and a
slouch hat. Now he was dressed in clothing of the latest cut, and it
made so great a change in his appearance that the boy was not sure of
his identity until he heard his voice and felt the cordial grasp of his
hand.

"Where are you stopping?" asked Mr. Gilbert, after each had expressed
the surprise and pleasure he felt at meeting the other.

George moved his hand up and down the street. "This is my hotel," said
he, with a laugh. "I haven't a cent in my pocket, and have eaten but one
very light meal to-day."

"Is that so?" exclaimed Mr. Gilbert, seizing the boy by the arm and
turning him around. "Come to _my_ hotel."

"Hold on a moment," answered George. "I have a friend who is as hungry
as I am. I have only just lost him, and he must be close about here."

"Well, you know him, and I don't. Keep a sharp lookout for him, and tell
me your story as we walk along. Then I will tell you something that will
astonish you."

This announcement made George cut his narrative rather shorter than he
would otherwise have done; but still he dwelt long enough on all the
important points in it to enable Mr. Gilbert to understand just what had
happened on board the Sam Kendall. He did not go any farther back in his
history than the beginning of his connection with that boat, for
everything that had happened previous to that time had been fully
described in his letters. He wound up his story by saying:

"You will hardly believe it, Mr. Gilbert, but Uncle John really did push
me overboard."

"It is not so hard for me to believe as you may suppose," answered Mr.
Gilbert. "I know more about that man than you think I do."

"I am going to take your advice now and have a new guardian appointed,"
continued George. "You will bear me witness that I have been very
patient with Uncle John, and that I have been willing to submit to
almost anything rather than bring him into trouble; but his recent
attempt on my life has shown me what he is capable of, and I know I am
not safe while he is near me. Don't say anything about that, for I don't
want the settlers to know it."

"It isn't necessary," replied Mr. Gilbert. "They are as mad at him
already as they can be, and at you and me, too."

"They are!" exclaimed George. "What are they mad about? What do they
know about my affairs?"

"They know all about them. The whole thing has been let out among them
and the rope is ready. I had just time to put Ned on a horse and run
with him. If I had been five minutes later something disagreeable----"

"Mr. Gilbert," interrupted George. "You surely haven't been----"

"No; I haven't. I kept a still tongue in my head until I found that
everybody in the settlement knew as much as I did, and that was what
made the neighbors mad at me and you, too. They say we ought to have
told them about Uncle John, so that they could have run him out of the
country. If evidence was wanting to prove the truth of the story you
told Mr. Lowry, Joe and myself, regarding your experience among the
Contra-Guerrillas," continued Mr. Gilbert, "that evidence has been
produced. The regiment was almost cut to pieces at Queretaro, and out of
the seven hundred men who went into the last fight there, scarcely more
than one-quarter of them came out to tell about it. As bad luck would
have it, Fletcher and most of his gang escaped, and they have come back
to the Rio and gone into their old business of stealing cattle. Fletcher
has made several demands upon your uncle for hush-money, threatening, in
case those demands were not complied with, to tell the settlers that he
was hired to make an end of you, and that was the way you came to lose
those herds. But there was one in the gang who couldn't stand that, and
his name was Springer. He couldn't forget that you had helped him to
save his life, and so he came over among the settlers and told
everything about Uncle John and his plans. Luckily this happened after
your uncle had started for St. Louis. If it had happened before, it is
probable that you wouldn't have had any guardian now. They threatened
vengeance against Ned, and that was the reason I ran off with him. By
the way, do you know what Uncle John's business was in St. Louis?
Neither do I, but it's my opinion that he was going there to deposit the
money he received for the last cattle he sold."

George was indeed astonished by this revelation. He forgot that Uncle
John had twice put his life in jeopardy, and thought only of the danger
that threatened him when he returned to the rancho. "He mustn't go back
there," said the boy; "but how are we going to prevent it?"

"I know of but one way, and that is to stay here and meet him when he
comes," replied Mr. Gilbert. "You don't seem to find your friend, do
you? Let's go and get something to eat, and then we'll take another look
for him."

When they entered the dining-room of the hotel at which Mr. Gilbert and
Ned were stopping, George saw his cousin seated at one of the tables,
but the latter wouldn't look at him. He also took particular pains to
avoid him during the evening, and George, taking his conduct as an
indication that Ned wished to hold no farther intercourse with him, made
no effort to approach him. After supper he and Mr. Gilbert went out to
look for Bob Owens, but could not find him. During this walk a plan of
operations was decided upon which was to be carried out as soon as Uncle
John made his appearance. He came the very next day, and then there was
another stormy interview; but we will draw a veil over that, won't we?
It will be enough to say that at the end of half an hour Uncle John came
out of the room, in which the interview was held, wiping his face
vigorously with his handkerchief; that he and Ned set off at once to
find another hotel; and that George and Mr. Gilbert took the first train
for Austin, the latter carrying in his pocket a check for nearly sixty
thousand dollars which Uncle John had intended to deposit to his own
credit in some bank in St. Louis. Uncle John did not dare tell Mr.
Gilbert that everything the latter had written to George was false, and
when Mr. Gilbert told him that he could make a statement there in
Galveston or go back to the rancho to do it, just as he pleased, the
guilty man made a full confession. George allowed him every cent that
was due him, according to the terms of his father's will, and everybody
who heard of it said it was more than Uncle John deserved.

George's business in the courts was soon transacted, and then he settled
down at his rancho with his friend for a guardian, but more his own
master, in fact, than he had ever been before. Mr. Gilbert rode over
nearly every day, just to show his authority, as he said, but in reality
to talk to George, whom he was glad to have for a neighbor again. The
settlers had a good deal to say about his relatives, but it was in a
good-natured way, and the boy noticed that they never failed to speak in
the most complimentary terms of his fidelity to them.

When George had shaken hands with Zeke, who almost cried with joy at
seeing him once more, and had got all his old herdsmen back, and had
received letters from Mr. Black and Mr. Scanlan, both of whom had
floated down the river on a sofa until they were picked up by a boat
from the shore, he thought he was ready to settle down to business and
to begin to enjoy himself in a quiet way; but, as it happened, he was
not long allowed to rest in peace. Our dilatory government at last awoke
to the fact that if our border along the Rio Grande was to be protected
at all, we must protect it ourselves, and the general commanding the
Department of Texas was instructed to pursue the raiding parties across
the river, and punish them wherever they could be found. This raised the
ardor of the Texans, and every man in George's neighborhood and every
boy, too, who was old enough to do military duty, enrolled himself as a
member of a company of Rangers, which was ready to march in less than
forty-eight hours after it became known among the settlers that such an
order had been received. But the department commander, knowing the
deadly enmity that existed between these men and the Mexicans, would not
accept their services. It was his intention, he said, to rely entirely
upon the regular troops under his command; but he needed guides who knew
the country on the other side of the river, and who could lead him to
Don Miguel's rancho, which was supposed to be the headquarters and
stronghold of the most daring and formidable of the raiding parties--the
one led by Fletcher. There was one in the settlement who could tell him
where to look for that rancho, and his services, which were promptly
offered to the officer commanding the nearest post, were as promptly
accepted. What our hero saw and did after that, how he fell in with Gus
Robbins and Bob Owens, and how the latter gained a reputation as an
Indian fighter, shall be told in "GEORGE AT THE FORT; OR, LIFE AMONG THE
SOLDIERS."



+-------------------------------------------------+
|Transcriber's note:                              |
|                                                 |
|Obvious typographic errors have been corrected.  |
|                                                 |
+-------------------------------------------------+





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