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Title: A Blundering Boy - A Humorous Story
Author: Munro, Bruce Weston
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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A BLUNDERING BOY.

A Humorous Story.

by

BRUCE W. MUNRO.



Published by
Bruce W. Munro,
Toronto.

Entered according to Act of Parliament of Canada, in the year one
thousand eight hundred and eighty-seven, by Bruce W. Munro,
in the office of the Minister of Agriculture.



                        TO THAT SUPREME AUTOCRAT,
                     THE SMALL BOY OF NORTH AMERICA,
                 THIS BOOK IS, WITHOUT PERMISSION, MOST
                         RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED.



CONTENTS.


  Preface                                                             XI.

  CHAPTER.                                                          PAGE.

        I. The Story Opened                                           17

       II. Will’s Lucky Blunder                                       23

      III. Will’s Native Village                                      33

       IV. The Heroes of this History                                 39

        V. An Unpleasant Ride for Will                                44

       VI. Steve’s Retaliation                                        54

      VII. The Young Moralist.--A Clever Scheme                       66

     VIII. George Comes Out Ahead                                     75

       IX. “Three Wise Men Went to Sea in a Bowl.”                    88

        X. The “Bowl” Comes to Grief                                  96

       XI. A Talented Lecturer                                       106

      XII. An Extraordinary Mad Dog                                  112

     XIII. The Six go to a Picnic                                    126

      XIV. Disaster Rather Than Fun                                  137

       XV. A Lesson in Ballooning                                    149

      XVI. Unheard-of Adventures with Balloons                       156

     XVII. They Prepare to “Giantize”                                163

    XVIII. The Cousins See More Than They Bargained for              169

      XIX. Within and Without the Demon’s Cave                       178

       XX. A Glorious Triumph                                        186

      XXI. Uncle Dick Himself Again                                  197

     XXII. Uncle Dick Evolves His Story                              204

    XXIII. The Sage’s Experiment                                     212

     XXIV. The Sage Unearths a Treasure                              220

      XXV. The Bitten Boy Takes Revenge                              229

     XXVI. Bob’s Downfall                                            240

    XXVII. They Propose to Turn the Tables                           245

   XXVIII. The Tables Turned with a Vengeance                        251

     XXIX. A Horrible Plot.--The Haunted House                       260

      XXX. The Blunderer at Work Again                               271

     XXXI. Will Mends His Ways                                       276

    XXXII. The Arch-Plotter Arrives                                  282

   XXXIII. “A Lesson in French”                                      287

    XXXIV. Henry Takes His Bearings.--A Stampede                     298

     XXXV. Marmaduke Grasps the Situation                            307

    XXXVI. To the Rescue!                                            319

   XXXVII. Marmaduke Struggles with Romance                          325

  XXXVIII. The Startlers Themselves are Startled                     335

    XXXIX. Repentant Plotters.--The Heroes Re-united                 342

       XL. The Heroes Figure as Hunters                              348

      XLI. How Will Lost His Deer                                    355

     XLII. What Curiosity Cost the Hunters                           362

    XLIII. Things Begin to Get Interesting                           370

     XLIV. Is the Mystery Solved?                                    377

      XLV. The Last Blunder.--A Last Conversation                    382

     XLVI. The Story Closed                                          390



PREFACE.


Silly as this story may seem, there is a fixed purpose in writing it;
and, like water in a goose-pond, it is deeper than it at first appears.

The intention chiefly is to be absurd; to cast ridicule on certain
pedants and romancers; and to jeer at the ridiculous solemnity, mystery,
and villainy, that hedge in works of fiction. Disgusted with tales which
cause exceedingly good heroes and heroines to live a life of torture,
only to find a haven of peace and security in the last line of the last
chapter, the writer determined to go over the old ground in a different
way. Now that the story is written, however, he has a horrible suspicion
that in some measure he has totally failed in his design, and that more
often than he cares to own, he has overshot the mark.

Having endeavored to make the intention tolerably clear, the reader may
now be able to get more enjoyment from this tale.

The tale aims to attack so-called “vagaries,” as well as great and
contemptible follies. It attacks the frailties of the school-boy with
as much gusto as it attacks the foibles of the romancer. In fact, from
first to last, in almost every chapter, the writer rushes gallantly
to attack something. Not satisfied with attempting to ridicule other
people’s tales, he often indirectly, but not the less insultingly,
attacks this one, as the careful reader will doubtless observe. This was
begun in jest, perhaps; but it soon became a fixed purpose, carried out
in earnest. Even a boy can generally see the drift of our narrative; but
it is often hard for the writer himself to see its true meaning--harder
still to appreciate it. Nevertheless, there is a good deal to be seen in
the story; and doubtless there are some who will see more in it than was
designed to be put there.

Again, the story is not written to instruct studious and solemn boys, who
mope about the house with grave biographies and heavy ancient histories
in their hands, while without, the sun is shining bright, birds are
warbling their extempore melodies in the fruit-trees, squirrels are
frisking across the garden-walks, and all Nature is smiling. Such people
are not _boys_; they are but figure-heads in creation, who, though they
may, perhaps, find a place in so-called “literature,” will never find one
in the history of nations. This story does not inform those who crave for
knowledge, and yet more knowledge, that the elephant is a pachydermatous
native of Asia and Africa, nor that the monkey is a quadrumanous animal,
with prehensile tail, whose habitat is in tropical regions. Still, the
attentive reader will, in all probability, gather from it that an ass
brays, that a punt leaks, that a school-boy’s pets are mortal, and that
gunpowder is liable to explode when fire is applied to it. It is not
written as a guide and instructor to youth. Its heroes are deplorably
depraved; they love to plot mischief. Yet a boy may possibly learn
something from our work. He may learn that the boy who plays practical
jokes on his school-fellows generally “gets the worst of it,” that he
often suffers more than the intended victim. He may learn, also, that a
boy’s wickedness brings its own punishment. (The writer takes great pains
to correct the culprits--in fact, he never fails to do so after each
offence.) Of course every boy has learned all this before; probably, in
every book he ever read; but as it is a fundamental principle in romance
to enforce this doctrine, it is here enforced.

Many a writer wishes to make assertions for which he does not always
choose to be responsible. In such cases, he puts the assertion into the
mouth of one of his characters, an “honorable gentleman” fathering it
sometimes, a “consummate villain” at other times. In some instances we
have followed this example.

The writer here modestly lays claim to a rare, an almost antiquated
virtue: though he excels in Wegotism, he never calls himself an author!
Yet if he were writing an elementary grammar, he might indulge in such
expressions as “The author here begs to differ from Mr. Murray;” or,
“The author’s list of adjectives may be increased by the teacher, _ad
libitum_.” But this story is intended for youths of a reasoning age. In
writing for juveniles of tender years, it is well to weigh carefully
one’s expressions, and to use only choice and elegant expletives.

Understand, gentle reader, that man only is attacked in this story.
Though the fair sex are occasionally and incidentally introduced, the
writer has too much respect for them to go beyond the introduction, in
this book. Even when Henry personates “Sauterelle” the motive is good.
Understand all this, and read accordingly.

The moral of this story is intended to be good; but in a story of its
light and fickle nature, the less said about a moral the better.

The writer has great affection for boys; he respects them, and loves to
see them enjoy themselves, but he is not prepared to say that he fully
understands them. A BOY is a credit to a neighborhood--till he hangs
a battle-scarred cat to the chief citizen’s flag-staff, or destroys
a mill-dam by tunnelling a hole through it, when, of course, he is a
disgrace to the race. Though it is uncertain who is the hero of this
story, Steve and Henry are the favorites. Steve is more or less a _boy_;
but as the story advances the reader will perceive that he improves in
both wit and wisdom. George is one of the boys who “love books;” but he
tempered common sense with study, and never refused to join with his
companions in their frolics or “expeditions.” With little or no benefit
to himself, or, for that matter, to anybody else, George, like most
studious youths of his age, read books entirely beyond his comprehension.
In one hundred pages of scientific reading, he probably understood
and retained one fact; the other facts were either misunderstood or
forgotten, or might better have been. Years ago, when the writer used
to wear out his pockets with bulky jack-knives, and quarrel with other
youngsters about the sagacity of his own dog, he knew a boy who, like
Jim, was subject to “the chills.” But the writer was probably too young
at that time to have an insight into another’s character, and the only
affinity between that boy and Jim is that both were a prey to “the
chills.” It may be objected that it is strange that Charles should be
able to work on the other boys’ feelings so well. Very true; so it is.
Still, he could not have slain a robber-knight, nor outwitted an Indian
scout. Henry is not one of the original heroes, but as he is necessary to
the story he is introduced.

The writer, disgusted with books in which the heroes are treated with
much respect, endeavours to heap every indignity upon these foolish boys.
In a word, he has no apparent respect for any one, big or little, old or
young, in this volume. To go still further, he has no respect for himself.

In the case of the blue-eyed heroine and each boy’s mother, however,
there is an exception, and exceptions prove the rule.

As for Mr. Lawrence’s “mystery,” it does not amount to much, though it
is intended, like everything else, to serve a purpose. Look at it as it
appears, and in ten minutes a bill-sticker could hatch a better plot.
Look at it as it appears, and it is idiotic, yet perfectly harmless; look
at it in its figurative meaning, and, though it is not so good as was
intended, it yet--but we are too discreet to say more on this head.

The writer respectfully observes that his maniac is not drawn from
nature, but from romance. He never informed himself of the habits of
those unfortunate people--never had the pleasure of even a slight
acquaintance with them--but drew Uncle Dick’s history blindly from
romance.

As for the villain’s confession, it is thrown in gratuitously, as ballast
to the story, and to pacify the readers of heavy romance.

    “Oh, what a tangled web we weave,
    When first we practise to deceive,”

as many a writer’s confused plot bears witness. Having many objects in
view in writing this story, the reader must make the best of it, if it
sometimes seems disjointed. Still, if the astute reader thinks he detects
a place where this history does not hang together, let him not be too
much elated, for the writer believes he could point out several such
places himself.

Of course, no boy will read this preface; it would, therefore, be a
waste of time to address a discourse to boys in it. Reader, did you
ever observe the manner in which a boy ignores the preface in his
school-books? If not, you do not know how much scorn a boy’s face is
capable of displaying.

Nevertheless, this preface may be of use to a boy. Suppose that an
indulgent uncle should be jockeyed into buying a copy of this book
for his little nephew. In such a case, would not this preface make an
admirable “flier” for the little nephew’s dart? Certainly it would; and
the next morning the little nephew’s mamma would find a picturesque dart,
with this elaborate preface fluttering at the end, adorning a panel of
the parlour door.

“Perhaps,” sneers the reader of mature years, “you think to have a fling
at the almost antiquated custom of writing prefaces?”

Perhaps so, kind reader, and why not?

It seems natural for some writers to wish to display their wisdom: some
make a show of hammering out tropes that no one can appreciate; others,
in coining new compound words that won’t find a place in the dictionaries
of the future; still others, in inserting such foreign words and phrases
as may be found in the back of a school-boy’s pocket dictionary. (To do
them justice, however, the latter geniuses, careful not to offend our
noble English, considerately write such words and phrases in italics.)
This writer, on the contrary, displays his _foolishness_ by tackling
things that he afterwards learns are out of his reach.

The writer seems most at home when attempting to poke fun at romance;
yet he is tormented night and day, so much so that he has no peace, with
romance. In fact, gentle reader, if any human being suffers more in that
way than he, pity him with all your heart, for he must be a wretch indeed.

Cannot this be explained logically? Perhaps so; but it isn’t worth
anybody’s while to do it.

Notwithstanding that our preface is so grandiloquent, the story opens,
the reader will observe, very modestly. But if he should persevere a
little way, he will find that the writer soon strikes out boldly.

Of course this preface was written after the story; but, let the reader
be entreated, if he will excuse the Hibernicism, to read it first. If he
does not, we are only too confident he will never read it. This is not
prophecy, but intuition.

                                                          BRUCE W. MUNRO.



A BLUNDERING BOY.



_Chapter I._

THE STORY OPENED.


William, baptized William, but always called Will, was a boy who
had a habit of committing blunders--a habit which, as will be seen,
occasionally led him into deep disgrace. When a mere boy, his blunders
were of little consequence; but when older they assumed a more serious
form. Most of them arose from want of care, as he did everything without
considering what the end might be. Doubtless, he ought to have been
reproved for this; but as he was only a boy, and as many of his blunders
partook of the ludicrous, his parents laughed at him, but seldom took
pains to correct him.

Will’s father owned a highly cultivated farm, near one of the great
lakes, and was a man of means. He indulged freely in dignified language,
in illustrated magazines and weeklies, in frequent pleasure trips by land
and water, and in gilded agricultural machines, fragile and complicated,
but quite as useful as ornamental.

Will’s mother was an amiable lady, who accompanied her husband on every
alternate pleasure trip, and who, by the help of an able housekeeper and
a fire-proof cook, spread a table that excited the admiration or envy of
all who knew her, the housekeeper, or the cook.

Such were Will’s father and mother, who generally, as he was their only
child, suffered him to have his own way, took notice of all his sayings
and doings, and occasionally jotted them down in a disused diary. But he
was not the kind of boy to be spoiled by such usage; on the contrary he
was a very good boy.

He was an athletic little fellow, able to undergo great fatigue, and
endowed with so much perseverance and hope that he would fish all day
for trout, and return at dusk with nothing but a few expiring mud-pouts
and two or three forlorn fish worms. He was known to all the villagers,
respected by all his school fellows, and was involved in all their
troubles. But his school fellows did not regard him as a hero; in their
expeditions he was seldom chosen leader; in their “trials by jury” he
was frequently a juryman--in time of need the entire jury--but only
occasionally the judge.

Will attended school regularly and learned his lessons carefully, whether
he understood them or not. His appetite for learning was keen, but his
appetite for sport was insatiable; no boy, on being set loose from
school, was more demonstrative than he.

When old enough to be out with his father, he followed him constantly.
About the whole farm there was not a hole into which he had not fallen,
not a stone of any size over which he had not stumbled, and no danger
of any kind, from animals or machines, from which he had not narrowly
escaped. He was often carried bruised, wet and tearful into the presence
of his terrified mother, who vowed that he should never again leave her
sight. But as soon as his wounds were dressed and his wet, muddy, and
sometimes blood-stained garments were changed, he would slip away, to
invite new dangers and contend with old ones. Even when sitting quiet
in the house, learning his lessons, his ink-bottle would unaccountably
pour its contents over his books, his papers, or on the carpet. Yet
Will’s father declared that the boy was neither awkward nor stupid, but
only “inconsiderate” and “headlong.” In proportion as he grew older, Mr.
Lawrence hoped that he would grow wiser, and less “headlong.”

Having thus touched upon Will’s characteristics, it is now in order to
begin at the beginning, when he was a small boy.

One day, when the boy had arrived at the age of seven years, a strolling
and struggling newspaper genius was invited to spend the afternoon and
evening at the farm-house. At the supper table this gentleman interested
himself particularly in the boy, and the mother, pleased with this
attention, began to enlarge upon her darling’s talents and cleverness,
till, warming with maternal pride, she became quite eloquent.

“What do you suppose he did the other day?” she asked.

Will’s face suddenly became red. His mother did not notice this, but the
newspaper genius did; and while he answered politely, he muttered to
himself, “Hanged somebody’s cat, I should infer from his looks.”

“Why, he--” began the mother, when she was suddenly interrupted by Will’s
saying, “Please don’t tell, mother!”

This remark, of course, drew the attention of all three to the boy, and
they saw that he appeared ill at ease, and that his face was painfully
flushed.

Mrs. Lawrence looked surprised. “Why, Will,” she said, “I’m sure its
greatly to your credit.” Then turning to the guest: “Mr. Sargent, the
other day he gave his papa the boundaries of every country and continent
on the globe; and he did it all from memory, not looking once at a map!”
Mr. Sargent was a polite man; he now expressed the liveliest astonishment.

“Oh!” burst from Will’s lips, followed by a sigh of relief, “Is _that_
what you wanted to tell?”

“What did you suppose your mamma intended to tell me?” basely inquired
the newspaper man, quickly recovering from his astonishment.

Will hesitated, but finally answered, “I thought it was about the
fire-crackers.”

The guest’s curiosity was awakened. “What about the fire-crackers?” he
inquired, so courteously that no one could take offence.

“Oh, he had a bad time with them; that’s all;” said Mrs. Lawrence, coming
to the rescue.

But Will, who was plainly dissatisfied with his mother’s version of the
affair, explained, with an effort that proved him to be a hero, “I had
some fire-crackers, and they set the chip yard on fire, and nearly burnt
up a cow in the cow-house!”

Having thus eased his conscience, he relapsed into silence. But it was
evident that his nerves were quite unstrung; the visitor was therefore
not taken wholly unawares when Will, in passing him the “preserves,”
spilt them on his pants.

With a sigh of resignation the unfortunate took the mishap as a joke, and
asked, as they rose from the table, if Will would bring out some of his
toys.

“Get out the gun you made yourself,” Mr. Lawrence suggested.

The boy left the room but soon came in with a rude weapon--which boys
would call a squirt-gun, but which Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence, from ignorance
or flattery, called a gun. But time is precious to some people; perhaps
they called it a gun to save breath.

The errant newspaper man took up the squirt-gun, to examine it at his
convenience, but lo! another mishap! The infernal machine, or whatever
one may call it, had discharged a black and muddy fluid over his spotless
shirt front.

Another involuntary “Oh!” broke from poor Will’s lips. “It must be the
poison we had for the red currant bugs!” he groaned. “I thought I had
squirted every drop out of the gun, but--”

“This is an extraordinary little gun, I’ve no doubt,” said the unhappy
man, in a pet, “but I don’t wish to experiment with it at present.
I should prefer to see some harmless toy, such as a wooden top or a
horse-hair watch-chain. It is always dangerous for me to meddle with
guns, anyway.”

For once, the newspaper man’s suavity had failed him.

But Mrs. Lawrence, in her heart, thought that a judgment had overtaken
him for ferreting out Will’s secret.

The owner of the gun took it and gladly left the room. He did not return
with his wooden tops, but climbed up on the roof of the stable, where he
whiled away the rest of the evening with his new jack-knife and a piece
of cedar. He did not cut his fingers very badly, however.

The distressed parents were placed in a very embarrassing situation,
but the sufferer’s equanimity soon returned, and the conversation again
flowed on smoothly.

When the visitor took leave, it is to be hoped that he took with him a
due appreciation of Will’s talents and cleverness.

Next morning Mr. Lawrence called his son and addressed him thus: “My
son, you are a very heedless boy. Reflect on the sad results of your
heedlessness, and endeavor to use the faculty of reason before you act
in any matter. Think of the annoyance you gave us last night! You ought
never to interrupt your mother, for you may be sure that she would never
tell a stranger anything to your discredit. Will you bear this in mind?”

“Yes, sir,” muttered the boy, trying to understand the meaning of the big
words. “But,” anxiously, “will he be scolded and whipped, as Jim was when
he got his clothes spoiled?”

“Are you speaking of the gentleman who passed the evening with us?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then don’t grieve about that, for his parents will not harm him,” Mr.
Lawrence replied with a smile.

A short time after this occurrence, Will informed his father that a
muskrat had built itself a home by a stream which ran through their farm.

“Should you like to catch it in a trap?” Mr. Lawrence asked.

The boy, of course, said yes. Immediately the fond father bought a strong
little trap and presented it to the would-be trapper. The trap cost
ninety cents; a wandering tin-peddler might perhaps be generous enough
to give Will fifteen cents for the pelt of the muskrat. In that event
everybody would be satisfied. But the home of the muskrat would be made
desolate.

Mrs. Lawrence beheld this trap with horror, and not without reason, for,
within the next two hours, Will contrived to imprison in it several of
his fingers.

After repeated warnings from his parents, the young hero set out for the
stream, trap in hand. Having successfully achieved the feat of setting
it, he returned and gave his father the particulars.

“I fear that some more historical animal than a muskrat will come to an
untimely end in that trap,” Mr. Lawrence said dolorously.

His words were prophetic.

In the morning, full of hope, Will hurried to the home of the muskrat.
Beyond a doubt, the trap held an animal. But it was neither a musk nor
any other kind of rat; it was a beautiful little greyhound, fast in the
jaws of the trap, and stone dead.

Will’s tears flowed freely at this pitiable sight, and fear was added to
his grief, when, in the greyhound, he recognized the constant companion
of Senator Murdock.

“Poor little Pet! How often you have played with me!” the trapper said,
in the interval of his sobs. “Oh, what shall I do, and what will Mr.
Murdock say to me!”

Just as the boy spoke, the Senator was approaching in his search of the
dog.

“Ah, my little man,” he said, as he drew near the sorrowing trapper, “can
you tell me where to look for Pet? I’ve lost him this morning, and I
thought you could help me to find him, if any one could. We live so near
that you and Pet are always together. Why, what is the matter?” he asked,
seeing that the boy was crying bitterly.

“Oh, sir!” was all Will could say.

But the Senator was now beside him, and, taking in the matter at a
glance, he exclaimed angrily, “What is this I see? Have you, whom I
always considered a moral little boy, have _you_ entrapped my dog! I am
amazed! Poor Pet! Poor little dog!”

“I didn’t mean to catch _him_,” Will pleaded, “and I am very sorry.”

“Well, I shall not blame you,” the Senator said slowly. “Your father
ought not to let you set traps so recklessly, and I lay the blame upon
him.”

“Don’t blame my father, for it is my own fault,” Will replied, ready, at
all times, to defend his father. “I will never do it again, Mr. Murdock;
indeed I won’t.”

“Hardly, seeing that the poor beast is dead. But help me to get it out of
trap, and I shall take it home and bury it.”

Then the two, man and boy, legislator and trapper, fell to work, and soon
liberated the dog from his prison.

If the Senator could have known what danger his white and dainty fingers
were incurring, that is, how narrowly they escaped being pinched, he
would have kept them away from that trap. In fact, considering the state
of excitement into which any mishap threw Will, it is strange that they
were not cruelly mangled. But they escaped without a scratch.

Mr. Lawrence was deeply grieved when he heard the ignominious fate of the
Senator’s dog. Probably he felt that he himself was blamable.

But the affair was soon all but forgotten by Will, because, at his age,
such misdemeanors are generally forgotten as soon as the offender repents
of them and is pardoned by the sufferers.

This chapter, like all the others, is intended to serve a purpose; yet,
lest the reader should fancy that we are writing for the entertainment of
juveniles, we shall relate but two more incidents of Will’s childhood.



_Chapter II._

WILL’S LUCKY BLUNDER.


Some two years after this incident, when Will’s parents announced one
fair morning that he was to accompany them on a trip to the city, many
miles distant, far from being in the mood to remember his father’s
injunctions, he was in the humor to commit the most atrocious blunders.

He was full of eagerness to be off, and his beaming face bespoke his
joy. At his tender age, all the help he could give was of little moment;
but yet, in his eagerness to get ready for the journey, he threw the
household into such confusion that he and his harassed parents barely
reached the platform in time for the train.

The day was fair, and the prospect from the car window delightful. The
scent of new mown hay (it was the month of June) rendered the trip as
pleasant as an eastern ruler’s dream. (The deeds of eastern rulers,
however, should not always be provocative of pleasant dreams.)

It was morally impossible for Will to sit still in his seat. For once
the good little boy was regardless of his parents’ wishes; and in spite
of mamma’s entreaties and papa’s commands, he persisted in thrusting his
head out of the window.

How fortunate it is that wrong doing inevitably leads to punishment! On
this occasion, however, the boy’s punishment was so long delayed that the
sanguinary sword of justice seemed to be rusted fast in its sheath. But
that sword was drawn at last.

After riding for ten minutes with his head far out of the car, with an
involuntary “oh” he abruptly drew it in, but--hatless.

The boy’s gestures of excitement and his parents’ evident vexation
attracted every one’s attention. Truly, the parents suffered equally with
the child. It is always thus.

“I’d put my present for Henry in it, and now it’s gone!” groaned Will,
unmindful of the fact that every one in the car could hear him.

“It serves you right, little boy,” observed a pious but melancholy
looking old lady, who occupied an adjacent seat. “Now you’ll have to
ride bareheaded,” she muttered. “That’s what comes from disobeying your
parents!”

“For shame!” whispered a humane, but characteristically lank,
Down-easterner to this meddlesome dame. “Just you let the poor little
fellow alone.”

Then, noticing Will’s sad condition, he began to search his pockets. Will
saw this and guessed what was coming, for he had often remarked that that
movement on the part of those interested in him was usually followed by
the bestowal of sweetmeats or other good gifts.

It may here be boldly stated that our hero was not above eating candy,
which he divined was what was coming.

Will was not mistaken in this instance, for his humane friend soon
approached him and put something round and hard into his hand, saying,
“Don’t fret, little man; here’s a bull’s-eye for you.”

Quietly as this kind action was done, it did not escape the old lady’s
sharp eyes, and she thus gave vent to her indignation: “O dear, what are
we coming to! Here’s a man rewarding, actually _rewarding_, a boy for
being wicked!”

However, neither Will nor his parents overheard her virtuous comments.
Will was wholly engrossed with his bull’s-eye, which was about the size
of a ten-year-old boy’s marble. Though originally white and striped with
red bands, it was now more or less discoloured and very sticky.

Will slipped the bull’s-eye into his mouth, but immediately spat it out.

“All covered with dirt and sweat, and as hard as an iron button,” he
muttered. “It was kind of the man to give it to me, but I can’t eat it.”

But what should he do with it? Clearly, the floor would be the best place
for it; and so, while his father’s attention was engaged with a cartoon,
and his mother’s with a wayside chapel, he stooped and laid it softly on
the floor, unseen and unheard.

Then he chuckled, admiring his great sagacity, not knowing that an
ordinary bull’s-eye may be dropped in almost any part of a railway
carriage in motion without arresting attention.

Would that a novelist who regularly “anticipates” were here! How he might
expatiate! Beginning thus, he might go on exhausting ink-bottles and
filling pages at pleasure:--

“Ah! little could Will dream, little could any one present dream, what
destiny had in store for that bull’s-eye! How different was its fate from
that which the benevolent gentleman supposed it would be!”

But it is cowardly and wicked in a writer to anticipate.

The kind hearted Yankee left the car soon after giving Will the
bull’s-eye, so that he was not a witness of what was to happen.

The rejected bull’s-eye, set in motion by the car, gradually made its
way into the middle of the passage between the two rows of seats, here it
stopped. If noticed by any person, it was not coveted, but was suffered
to lie there in peace.

Yes, there it lay; its locomotion arrested; its wanderings brought to a
close.

But hist! who enters?

It is the “Student of Human Nature.”

A gaunt yet spiritual-looking man opens the door, and slowly and
pompously, he marches towards the other end of the car.

His air, his gait, his costume, even to his boots, his cane--all were
peculiar.

His object in life was to rove hither and thither, studying that grand
theme, Human Nature. Although above conversing with his fellow creatures,
excepting when obliged to do so, his delight was to find some quiet
spot from which he might form opinions of them without being disturbed.
Whether he makes this employment “pay” by writing treatises on the
subject, is a question which only he himself can answer. What he pretends
to comprehend may be, and doubtless is, a noble science; but in his hands
it is only a mockery.

Only two or three persons in the railway carriage knew the man or his
employment, but his demeanor could not fail strongly to impress the
looker-on.

His intention, on this occasion, was to take a seat in some dark corner,
from which he might observe the occupants of the car. With stately tread
he approached that bull’s-eye, placed his foot on it in such a way that
it rolled, and with a crash the student fell headlong, with anything but
“studied grace.”

He was on his feet again before assistance could be offered--this,
however, was not remarkable, as nearly every one present was convulsed
by laughter--and, after glancing malignantly at the cause of his fall,
he scowled horribly on two or three of the loudest laughers, and then
tore his handkerchief out of his pocket. Too late! A flow of blood was
streaming fast from his nose, which organ had apparently been bruised in
his fall.

A boy with the “nosebleed” is an object alike of laughter and pity; but a
man with a bleeding nostril! Certainly his situation is ignominious. And
the situation of the student on this occasion was more than ordinarily
ludicrous.

How blind and wilful, how paradoxical men are! What a favorable
opportunity now offered for observing the various emotions depicted
on the faces of those people! Some were expressing their feelings by
their rapidly-working features; others by their waggish gesticulations;
still others by half suppressed interjections. While some looked merely
amused, others looked awe-struck: only two persons seemed sympathetic.
The more solemn passengers looked on with dignified serenity; but a
smile of savage delight, indicative of innate depravity or blasted hopes
and bitterness of heart, played over the wan faces of certain jaded and
woebegone book agents. A few paid no attention whatever, while a great
many made praiseworthy endeavors to keep their facial muscles from
twitching.

But the Student of Human Nature left this vast mine unexplored, and
hurried out of the car, hiding his bleeding nose in his handkerchief.

The now notable bull’s-eye was still in sight, and it was plain to all
that it had caused the mishap. The old lady looked at it intently, and
was heard to mutter that she knew no good would come from rewarding the
boy for his wickedness.

A tender-hearted person is severely punished when his own wrong-doing
subjects another to pain or annoyance. Now Will was tender-hearted: he
lay nestled in a corner of his seat, almost hidden from the occupants
of the car, doing penance by heaving dolorous sighs and shedding a few
remorseful tears.

His father and mother seemed ill at ease. Presently the former stooped
over him with awful solemnity, and whispered, “Oh, Will! why did you drop
that on the floor, when you could just as well have thrown it out of the
window! Your blunders are sufficiently bad when they affect yourself
alone; but they are lamentable when their results are disastrous to
others. You are old enough now to behave like a little gentleman; promise
me that you will be a good boy.”

On the instant Will ceased both to heave sighs and to shed tears, and he
earnestly promised to do better for the future.

In his way, Mr. Lawrence was a philosopher. He knew that any boy on being
addressed in such terms and forgiven, instantly dries his tears, breaks
into smiles, and promises to do great things. He reflected on this, and
spoke as he did because he did not wish his son’s eyes to be red and
swollen with crying when he should reach his destination.

Soon after the train slowed into the station at which they were to
alight. The good old lady softened so far as to bid the bareheaded boy
good-bye as he stumbled out of the car. The first thing to be done was
to buy him a hat, since his parents had not been so provident as to take
along an extra one. This was managed by leaving him and his father at the
depot, while Mrs. Lawrence went to the nearest hat store. The good soul
also bought some sugar-plums to replace the present which Will had lost.

As soon as the novelty of Will’s new hat had worn off, so far, at least,
as to allow it to remain quietly on his head, he and his mother went to
spend the rest of the day at the house of a relative, while Mr. Lawrence
made his way to a law office.

About nightfall the three returned to the depot, took passage by the
cars, and were soon on their way homeward.

It was still early in the evening, but the family party did not expect to
reach home till past midnight.

Will was thinking--not of his latest blunders, but of some second-hand
presents that he had received from his cousin, Henry. Mr. Lawrence, who
was accustomed to travel, seemed inclined to fall asleep--in fact, they
had not proceeded far on their way when a gentle snoring evinced that he
was indeed asleep. Will fancied that his mother also seemed tired and
drowsy, and he hastily concluded that his parents would have to depend
upon him to be awakened when the train reached their station.

This thought kept the boy on the alert, and he took pride in the
confidence thus placed in him. To him, however, the time passed much more
slowly than when going to the city in the morning. This was only to be
expected. Then, the sun was shining bright, the car was full of people,
and his parents were wide-awake and in a humor to talk to him; now, it
was night,--calm and starlit, but night,--the three were almost entirely
alone in the car, and his parents were tired, sleepy, and silent.

Nevertheless, much as he wished to keep awake, he at last fell into a
doze, from which he was aroused by the train’s coming to a stop and the
brakesman’s shouting out the name of a station. The name seemed familiar,
and Will, rubbing his eyes and yawning, at once began to reason, aloud:
“Our station! I must wake pa and ma, or the train will go on.”

Both were awakened without delay.

“What! is this our station already?” Mr. Lawrence asked, with some
surprise. “You must be mistaken, Will--or have I really been asleep?”

“Yes, sir, you have been asleep: and this is our station.”

“Then there’s no time to be lost, I suppose;” and Mr. Lawrence snatched
up his valise and started towards the door, followed by his wife and son.

“I almost wish we had stayed at Aunt Eleanor’s,” he muttered, as he
helped them off the train. “But I _must_ attend to that business in the
morning; and, fortunately, our house is not far from the depot.”

They stepped out on the platform and the train was off on the instant.
Mr. Lawrence went into the ticket-office, to speak to the night operator,
and, to his consternation, found that instead of being his own village,
he was at another, full twenty miles away.

His first act was to rush outside and make a vain attempt to signal the
engineer to stop the train. Too late! It had already left the station,
and was moving faster and faster.

That hope blasted, the unhappy man did not know what course to take, and
he strode up and down the platform like a mad man; while his wife and son
stood meekly by, the one filled with deep displeasure, the other with
agonizing grief and despair.

Presently Mr. Lawrence halted before the boy, with these words: “Oh,
Will! How could you have made such a blunder? I fail to trace a striking
resemblance between the name of this place and that of our own. You, who
know so much about geography, _you_ to be so grossly ignorant respecting
your own county! In an hour from this time we should have been at
home.--Never mind, Will,” he added in softer tones. “Come, don’t cry; I
suppose you, too, were asleep.”

“Yes, I must have been asleep,” Will acknowledged.

The writer does not entertain much respect for Mr. Lawrence, because
he was a man who alternately checked and indulged his son. But, on the
whole, he was a discreet and affectionate parent--at all events, Will
loved and honored him.

“I say,” Mr. Lawrence cried to a man with a lantern, “I say, when will
the next train going west be due?”

“Next train for you, sir? In just three hours,” was the cheering answer.

“Then my business is ruined!” groaned the unhappy man.

However, this fretfulness at length wore away, and the three resigned
themselves to wait, as patiently as might be, for the arrival of the next
train. Mrs. Lawrence went into the waiting room, while Mr. Lawrence and
Will spent most of the time out on the platform, gazing at the stars and
the signals along the railway-track.

After Mr. Lawrence had talked himself hoarse about the signs of the
zodiac, the perfection of signals used on the railways, and the
stupendous power of steam, he determined to improve the remaining time
by reasoning with his son on the sin of carelessness. Will--whose ears
were ringing with such terms as _spherical bodies_, _solar immensity_,
_eternal revolutions_, _average momentum_, _preternatural velocity_,
_lunar cycles_, _semaphorical warnings_, and _planetary systems_--sighed
on this change in the conversation, for he loved sonorous phraseology,
but listened humbly. After a long lecture, in which he touched upon
various matters not pertinent to his subject, Mr. Lawrence made a dark
allusion to his “ruined business,” and then wound up with these words:

“Will, if you continue in your present course, I am afraid your end will
be as terrible as your uncle Dick’s.”

“What became of Uncle Dick, pa?” eagerly inquired the boy, thinking that
the subject would again be changed.

Poor boy! he felt his guilt, but he winced under his father’s
polysyllabic reprimands.

“Listen, Will,” said Mr. Lawrence, “and I will give you a short
account of your uncle. Uncle Dick, my brother, was an eccentric man;
good-natured, but credulous, and always making blunders. In that
particular, he was not unlike you; but his blunders were far more serious
in their results than yours. Early in life he made a large fortune by
lucky speculations. One day he drew all his money from the banks and
collected all that he could from his debtors--for what purpose I never
knew; for, no sooner did he get his wealth into his own hands, than both
he and it vanished, and nothing has since been seen or heard of either.
Some suppose that he was robbed and murdered in the approved way; others,
that he left the country, to return unawares at some future time; while
a few unprincipled barbarians maintain that he has lost his mind. I,
myself, think that by some great blunder, or unlucky speculation, he lost
all his wealth, and prefers to stay away till he can return worth as much
as, or more than, he was before. Poor Dick! his fate is wrapped in awful
mystery.”

Mr. Lawrence considered himself an apt story-teller, and delighted in
his own narratives. But Will, to whom this story was new and almost
unintelligible, strove to discern even the faintest resemblance between
Uncle Dick’s doings and his own.

“I do not often speak of my poor brother,” Mr. Lawrence said sadly, “but
I think of him and dream of him, always. But, Will, I know you are good
and sincere in your heart of heart; this misfortune was only a blunder;
and so let us think no more of the matter.”

Gentle reader, observe that the mournful story of Will’s uncle is told on
the thirty-first page. Observe this carefully, as in the future you may
wish to read it again.

At that instant, news that nearly made Will a hero was flashed along the
wires.

Voices, loud and eager, were heard in the office. Mr. Lawrence went in to
make inquiries, and learned that an accident had happened to the train
from which he had been so abruptly hurried by his son.

The car in which they had been riding had broken loose, been hurled down
an embankment, and wrecked. Only two or three men were in the car at the
time, and they, being awake, had sprung nimbly and saved themselves,
though almost by a miracle. A few persons in another car were jolted and
disconcerted, but no one was hurt. The train was thrown into disorder,
and part of the track torn up; so that the railway would not be passable
for a few hours.

It was evident to Mr. Lawrence that, had he been in the car with his wife
and child at the time of the accident, they must have suffered a cruel
death, or else have escaped horribly mangled. Suppose that they had not
been asleep, he would still have met with great difficulty in saving them
before the doomed car went to destruction.

They owed their preservation then, first, to Divine Providence; secondly,
to Will’s blunder.

Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence were not slow to acknowledge this, and the boy
perceived that, at last, his worth was appreciated.

In process of time the night wore away; the road was repaired; and
father, mother, and son, pursuing their journey, reached home early in
the morning.

Mr. Lawrence’s business was not “ruined,” after all; for the man whom he
wished to see was also detained by the accident, but finally made his
appearance; and the business, which was really of importance, was soon
concluded.

The three slept peacefully and soundly afterwards, for the occurrences of
the last twenty-four hours had exhausted them.

From that time forward Mr. Lawrence generally passed by Will’s blunders
without rebuke; for he had determined not to reprove the boy again,
unless it should be a vital necessity.

In this way it chanced that Will’s childish blunder happened for the
best, after all.

Whereas these two chapters are merely expletive,--that is, are as useful
as the word _it_ in the following verse:

    “For the deck it was their field of fame,”--

it would be better to say no more about this blunder of Will’s, but
commence the story proper.



_Chapter III._

WILL’S NATIVE VILLAGE.


Another period in Will’s life has come. He is no longer a little boy,
but an agile, robust, crop-headed youngster of fourteen. He has by no
means outgrown the errors of his childhood: on the contrary, they stick
to him more closely than ever; and to speak of Will without referring to
them is--well, is merely a matter of courtesy. His parents have given up
all hope of his ever ceasing to make blunders--in fact, they have come
to expect nothing but blunders from him. They are no longer surprised
at whatever he does, or at whatever happens to him; they would be more
surprised to see him live without making blunders than at whatever might
befall; and remembering how fortunate was his blunder on the train a few
years before, they no longer find fault with him.

It would be foolish, however, to detail all the minor adventures through
which he passed--foolish and tiresome to the reader. Still, it must not
be taken for granted that all Will’s troubles rose from blunders, as
many of them rose from such mishaps as might happen to any boy.

In order to make the incidents related in this story perfectly
intelligible, it will be necessary to give a rambling description of the
neighborhood in which they took place.

Mr. Lawrence’s farm was a short distance out of a busy and flourishing
village, built on one of the great lakes of America. His home, as well as
a few cottages belonging to him, was within the limits of this village.
His farm was highly cultivated and full stocked, and a railway ran
through it and then on through the village. To these natural advantages
add that Mr. Lawrence was an intelligent man and practical farmer,
knowing how to improve his opportunities, and it will be seen that he was
well situated.

As for the village itself, it contained the ordinary number of
inhabitants and hotels. Here lived “the most skilful dentist in the
state;” but so modest was he that what was formerly a barrister’s office
(this will define the size of the apartment) served him admirably for
a “dentistry;” while an upper room in the same building, “artistically
fitted up,” served him for a “photographic gallery.” Here lived “the
most expert ball-player out of New York.” But his business was not to
play ball;--rather, he did not follow it as a profession;--he kept a
“Yankee notions store,” with a hanging aquarium in the window, and brewed
soda-water and ice-cream. In this gentleman’s “salon” many a rustic
indulged with his first dish of ice cream, eating it at the rate of two
exceedingly small spoonfuls a minute. His actions and the expression
of his countenance declared that it was monotonous, cold, and doubtful
enjoyment; but the village papers, the expert ball-player, and public
opinion, told him that it is an extraordinary delicacy, and he tried hard
to believe so. The rustic would sometimes bring along his sweetheart.
Then he ate his ice cream still more slowly; but probably it tasted
better. Two newspapers (so-called) were printed here, and the villagers
could tell you that each one had been the pecuniary ruin of six or seven
editors. These ex-editors still lived in the neighborhood,--some as
bookkeepers, others as insurance agents,--a warning to all right-minded
men to soar higher (or lower) than the editorship of a village newspaper.
But no one heeded the warning, and no sooner did an editor become
insolvent or entangled in a libel suit than somebody else was ready to
“assume the arduous duty of conducting the publication.” So long as the
new editor had means, excelled in bombast and calumny, was sound in his
political creed and could make vigorous attacks on his “contemporary,”
who supported the doctrines of the other party, all went well for a time;
but sooner or later the end came and then one more ex-editor was thrown
upon the people of the village.

The principal buildings were the bank, the churches, the town-hall, the
livery stable, the fulling-mill, the chair-factory, the fork-factory, the
Columbia foundry, the hotels, and several private residences. The village
had also its harbor, where vessels plying their trade on the lakes might
worry through the roughest gale that the most talented writer of nautical
romances ever conjured up.

But there was nothing remarkable respecting either its site, its
size, the regularity or magnificence of its buildings, its commercial
importance, or its antiquity. Further, it was not known to history.

A very large stream, or small river, flowed through the village, emptying
into the lake. (To be still more accurate: the people of this particular
village customarily called it “_the_ river;” while the base and envious
inhabitants of the neighboring villages--through which flowed no such
stream--took special pains to call it “_a_ creek.”) Several mills of
different kinds bordered this river, adding to the credit and vigor
of the place. About three miles up from its mouth there was a large
and natural waterfall, a favorite resort of the villagers and country
people. The current above these falls was not very swift, but it would be
perilous indeed to be swept over them. Shrubs, and at intervals, trees;
gay little boat-houses, where the ground sloped gradually to the water’s
edge; in the background commodious, ornamental, and pretentious dwelling
houses, habitations, or villas;--such dotted the right bank of the river
above the falls, presenting a fine appearance from the left bank.

This stream affording good fishing, sportsmen often came to it from
a distance. But they generally lost more in cuticle, clothing, and
valuables, than they gained in fish, sport, or glory; and it was remarked
that they never returned after the third time.

There were many considerations why the water below the falls was not
the principal play-ground of the juveniles. Being within the village,
swimming was out of the question; on account of sundry sunken logs and
other obstructions, they could not paddle about secure and tranquil on
the crazy old rafts and scows; and lastly, almost the whole stretch of
water below the falls lay open to the mothers’ watchful eyes, and the
boys did not feel inclined to jeopard their lives within sight of those
mothers. To some fastidious youths the water, perhaps, was too dirty, or
“roily.”

Above the falls, however, all was different. On the upper part of the
river no one ever molested the youngsters, unless they did something
atrocious; here they might swim and paddle up and down the river as much
as they pleased; for, in general, the banks were high, and bushes, rank
grass and reeds and other screens intervened, shutting them off from
outsiders.

The river was wide and deep at the falls, but above them it grew narrow
and shallow little by little. Five miles up it was a mere brook.
Throughout this long stretch the water was so clear that the most
fastidious did not hesitate even to drink it; and there were secluded
places that as swimming-places could not be equalled. At the falls the
water was so deep as easily to float over any log or brush-wood that
might come into the river from its banks, its source, or other streams.

One particular spot--a clump of evergreens, where forget-me-nots sprang
up in all their beauty, and where Nature was seen at her best--was held
sacred to lovers. But there were many parts of the river to which
the boys stoutly maintained their claim and of which no one was so
hard-hearted as to dispossess them. And oh! crowning joy! there was an
island in the river!

At this the reader may think that we are trifling with his feelings;
imposing on his credulity;--he may even refuse to believe in the
existence of so extraordinary a river. Never mind. But if the reader
wishes to enjoy these pages he will refuse to listen to the dictates of
reason, and look on this story as an orthodox romance.

In winter there was another attraction, that of skating, the danger
of which was a continual source of uneasiness to parents whose youth,
agility, and frolicsomeness had long before given place to gray hairs,
clumsiness, and sober-mindedness.

As the proprietors of the land along the river were generous-hearted men,
the river was free to all people, and was an actual paradise for boys and
picnickers.

Although further remarks might be made about this river, it is not
necessary to make them here. It is sufficient to add that as the reader
proceeds, he will observe how admirably this river is adapted to the
exigencies of the story.

This was the state of affairs in Will’s boyhood. But, alas! all has
changed since that time. A foreign aristocrat has bought up all the
land along the river, which he has fenced in, stocked with fish and
beautified--perhaps, _disfigured_--with sundry little wharfs, capes,
bays, stretches of “pebbly beach,” and floating islands. In conspicuous
places notices may be seen, beginning with “No Trespassing” and winding
up with the amount of the fine imposed on all persons “caught lurking
within the limits.” Consequently, the urchins of to-day, despoiled of
this haunt, have to content themselves with damaging the notices and
slinging stones at the swans that sail gracefully up and down the river.

There were also smaller streams in the neighborhood, one being in Mr.
Lawrence’s farm.

To the left of the village stood an extensive grove, swarming with
squirrels, birds, insects, and, of course, mosquitoes. In this grove the
heroes of this story whiled away many a happy hour; and when not on the
river they might generally be found here.

The lake also was a favorite resort, and on its broad surface they
sailed or rowed hither and thither; always getting wet, often narrowly
escaping death. Sometimes their joyous hearts were elated with a ride on
a tug; but when hard pressed they made almost anything serve them for
a boat. As naturally as a duck takes to water, Will and his associates
took to making little ships, which excited the admiration of all
beholders--sometimes on account of their beauty, but generally on account
of their liability to float stern foremost, with the masts at an angle of
twenty degrees.

Then there was the school-house,--a fanciful, yet imposing edifice, the
grained and polished jambs of whose mullioned windows had suffered from
the ravages rather of jack-knives than of time,--built in a retired
quarter of the village, and to the boys’ entire satisfaction, quite close
to the river.

If Will wished to go to the wharf he could walk thither in less than
half-an-hour; to the depot in ten minutes; to the school,--well, in from
twenty to forty minutes. To Mrs. Lawrence’s delight, it was nearly two
miles from their house to the falls. She had not the heart to forbid
Will’s going thither, but she fondly hoped that the distance would not
permit him to go very often; for, according to her view of the matter,
water and danger are synonymous.

But what are two miles to a boy, when a waterfall, a limpid and
gleaming river, boats, crazy rafts, plenty of fish, and other boys, are
the attractions? In fact, the time was never known, not even to that
venerable personage, “the oldest inhabitant,” in which a boy might not be
seen about those falls.

It is not strange that the youth of this village were happy, when Nature
had done so much for them.



_Chapter IV._

THE HEROES OF THIS HISTORY


Having given this slight and imperfect description of Will’s native
place, his school-fellows must now be introduced.

The boy whom he liked best was Charles Growler; a youth of his own age,
but possessed with greater abilities, and a universal favorite in the
village. Charles was nimble, strong, and good-natured; ready for any
adventure or exploit, and the very soul of drollery. No matter what might
happen he never lost his temper, his presence of mind, or his keen humor.
He was a very brave boy, rushing headlong into every kind of danger. In
fact, the boys admitted that they had never known him to be afraid.

He and Will entered school at the same time and had kept together in all
their studies. There was no jealousy or rivalry between them, nothing but
a quiet and laudable competition, which stimulated each one to do his
best. When one could assist the other he did so willingly and gladly. No
boy ever had a more sincere friend than Will in Charles or Charles in
Will. And yet this boy Charles was nicknamed “Buffoon.” Not, however, on
account of clownishness or monkey tricks, but simply on account of his
love of fun.

George Andrews was another boy of the village, associated with Will and
Charles. He was a good boy, smart and shrewd, but too much disposed to
display his abilities and his knowledge. In his tender childhood he had
overheard a weak-headed fellow drawl out, “Yes, George will make an
excellent scholard; I guess he’s a good scholard a’ready.” This so filled
the young hero with self-conceit that he really believed that he, a mere
boy, was indeed a scholar! Firm in this belief, he never let slip an
opportunity in which he might avail himself of his superior knowledge;
and having read a great deal in all sorts of books,--particularly in
certain musty and ponderous volumes that treated of everything under the
sun--he was able to have his say, it made no difference what subject
was being discussed. But, alas! he was just as apt to be wrong as to
be right; and worse still, his information, like the Dutchman’s wit,
generally came too late to be duly appreciated. He was a few months older
than Will and Charles, and outstripped them both in his studies. The boys
always rejoiced to have him accompany them--partly because of his actual
cleverness, partly because of his immoderate self-conceit, as it was
very amusing to hear him hold forth on a subject of which he really was
totally ignorant. Not at all to his disinclination this boy was dubbed
“the Sage.”

Marmaduke Baldwin Alphonso Fitz-Williams was a youth, the grandeur of
whose name drove abashed Johns and Thomases almost to phrensy. But the
name befitted the boy, for even at his tender age his mind was occupied
with strange thoughts. He delighted in the romantic; indeed, he had lived
in an atmosphere of romance from his baptism. This heavy cloud of romance
obscured the boy’s ideas, and sometimes caused him to speak and act more
like a hero of fiction than was seemly. When alone he would slide his
hand into his bosom over his heart, whenever the weight of romance and
mystery was more than ordinarily oppressive, and if his heart beat fast
he was satisfied with himself.

The boy who detects the conception of a nocturnal robbery or murder
in a stranger’s eye, simply because he [the cautious stranger] slips
his hand stealthily into his “pistol pocket,”--in this case the breast
pocket--to assure himself that his watch is still there, is a remarkably
shrewd member of the human race, whose genius and acuteness should be
diligently fostered. And such a boy was Marmaduke. But it was neither
fear nor idiocy that caused him to think thus; it was only an extravagant
imagination.

Marmaduke and George resembled each other in many particulars: each
one was prompt to arrive at startling conclusions; each one believed
himself equal to any emergency; but George was far more practical than
Marmaduke. Each of these boys took pleasure in learning, and each one
manifested a puerile eagerness to let people see how well informed he
was. For instance, they flattered themselves that they were accomplished
grammarians, and when any reference was made to grammar both looked very
knowing, as much as to say that _they_ apprehended what was meant.

Marmaduke had a strong will of his own, but, by manœuvring artfully,
Charles could generally make him look at things from his point of view.
The boys took advantage of his love for the marvellous to play mean
tricks on him; but when he found that they were making game of him, he
flew into a passion, and made himself ridiculous.

Poor boy! Though he is called Marmaduke in this book, his poetic names
were too long for everybody except his parents; and while his teachers
called him Mark, the school-boys called him “Marmalade,” or “Dreamer,” or
something else quite as appropriate and scurrilous. Some envious little
Smiths and Greens did not scruple to call him “Fitty.”

Next on the list is Stephen Goodfellow, one of the most important
characters in the tale. He was a fun-loving fellow, fertile in devices,
an adept at repartee, and too light-hearted to be serious for more than
five consecutive minutes. In a word, he was the most nimble, sprightly,
ingenious and good-natured boy in the village. At the same time he was
the most reckless of all boys, taking pride in rushing blindly into
danger. Indeed, he affected a stoical contempt for every kind of danger;
jumped backwards off empty schooners with his eyes shut; made friends
with the most unamiable and untractable bull-dogs in the place; lowered
himself into deep, dismal, and unsafe old wells to wake the echoes with
his bellowing voice, and busied himself about the punching and shearing
machine, the steam engine, and the circular saws in the Columbia foundry.
He knew every sailor of all the vessels that put into the harbor; knew
every engineer and brakeman on all the trains that passed through the
village; knew the name and disposition of every respectable dog within
the corporation; knew just where to look for the best raspberries and
the most desirable fish-worms; but he _didn’t_ know an adversative
conjunction from an iambic pentameter.

To be acquainted with this boy was to like him. By Will and Charles
he was actually beloved, and there was a mutual and lasting affection
between him and all our heroes. He was always ready to lend them his
counsel and assistance when agitating their dark schemes, and when any
waggish trick was in view, or when anything ludicrous was going on, his
approval and support were the first consideration. Some of the urchins
tried to equal Stephen’s feats of dexterity and to ape his sallies and
whimsicalness; but it could not be done, and they only exposed themselves
to his derision and made themselves more envious and unhappy than before.
Stephen was familiarly known as “Stunner;” which, being offensively
vulgar, we, out of respect for the reader’s feelings, have transposed
into Steve.

If this were the history of a sailor-boy, Steve would assuredly be the
hero; and we should eulogize him so unweariedly and enthusiastically that
the heroes of romance, goaded to frenzy by the praise thus lavished on
him, would commission their ghosts to haunt us. But Steve has nothing to
do with sailor-boys; and as we do not wish to incur the displeasure of
such heroes,--much less the displeasure of their ghosts,--or to compel
anybody to fall in love with him, it will be the wisest course to leave
it for impartial readers to praise him or to condemn him, to love him or
to detest him, as their judgment may determine.

George and Marmaduke, to the best of their ability, cultivated the
_science of grammar_; Stephen cultivated the _art of dismembering
grammars_, and of blazoning their fly-leaves with hideous designs of
frolicsome sea-serpents; wrecked schooners; what seemed to be superb
pagan temples suffering from the effects of an earthquake; crazy old
jades painfully drawing along glittering circus vans, with coatless
little boys--some took them for monkeys, but probably they were
circus prodigies--sitting _in_ the roof and driving; and all sorts of
monstrosities. We say _grammars_: Stephen’s designs were to be found
chiefly in them. But he was no niggard of his illustrations; for, to his
noble nature, it mattered little whether the book which he illuminated
belonged--so long as it was old and dilapidated--to himself or to
somebody else.

Last and least was James Horner. He was an infamous coward--in fact, so
infamous that although fifteen years old, even a sudden and loud sound
would unstring his nerves and twitch his facial muscles. As a natural
consequence, he very often heard sudden and loud sounds--in fact, he
heard all sorts of hideous and unaccountable sounds. But the boy was by
no means an entire fool; and he made greater progress at school than
might be expected. It is a lamentable fact--which, however, must be
chronicled--that his playfellows studied to excite his fears, and played
off some of their most farcical, sly, and atrocious tricks on him. Will
and Charles had too much self-respect and sound moral principle to snub
the boy; but Steve seemed to take a savage delight in snubbing him and in
turning him into ridicule. But, though many a sportive trick was played
on him, his confidence in mankind was still so great that he was very
easily deceived, it made no difference how often he was mocked. In this
confidence the others might well have copied after him. On the other
hand, his disposition was unamiable, and under undue provocation he was
a dangerous boy, who could harbour revenge. Nevertheless, he hardly ever
ventured to interfere with the boys’ schemes, but blindly and humbly
followed wherever they might lead. Why our heroes tolerated his company
can be explained on only two grounds: first, because they liked to play
tricks on him; secondly, because this history requires such a character.
When not called Jim, this abused lad was branded “Timor,” which shows how
notorious he was for cowardice. But in process of time this classical gem
became corrupted by the ignorant into “Tim.”

These five were the school-fellows and associates of Will, and generally
the six might be found together. It was only natural that they should
quarrel sometimes; but, for the most part, they were at peace with
themselves and all other boys. They were all full of mischievousness, but
taking everything into consideration, were as free from sin as boys can
be.

There is another youth that figures in this tale--Will’s cousin Henry.
He is perhaps the most distinguished hero. However, it is not yet time
for him; and as it is dogmatically and impolitically observed a few pages
back that it is cowardly and wicked in a writer to anticipate, he must
not yet be introduced.



_Chapter V._

AN UNPLEASANT RIDE FOR WILL.


One bright morning Will mounted a frisky little pony which had been
reared on the farm, and had always been considered Will’s own--not till
Mr. Lawrence might see fit to sell it, but for all time. The pony was
young and unaccustomed to a rider; but Will and his father thought it
would be prudent to ride it on the road.

In this belief, however, they were mistaken, for the horse no sooner
found himself on the open road than he set forward on a wild gallop. At
first this was very pleasant, and Will enjoyed it heartily; but when he
attempted to check the animal’s speed a little, he became aware that it
was past his control.

“Whoa, Go It! Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” Will screamed beseechingly.

This only incited Go It to greater efforts, and he redoubled his speed;
while Will collected his wits, stopped shouting at the refractory animal,
and exerted all his strength and dexterity to maintain his equilibrium in
the saddle. The mettlesome horse was soon galloping at a furious rate;
and the luckless rider seeing no one to whom he could appeal for help,
gave himself up as lost, and endeavored to prepare for the worst.

Very soon he drew near a company of little ragged orphan boys, squatting
in the imperfect shade of a rail fence that boarded the road, gingerly
sticking pins into their ears and assiduously polishing their war-worn
jack-knives in the soil. These heroic little ones involuntarily dropped
their instruments of torture and diversion, and beheld horseman and horse
with ecstatic admiration and delight. Then they collected themselves and
cheered--cheered so lustily that the horse snorted with fright, wheeled
to the left, and vaulted over the fence at a single bound--a feat which
called forth a roar of acclamation from the delighted juveniles.

“Can’t he jump!” chuckled the sharpest one.

“Jump?” echoed another. “Guess he can; beats a circus horse all hollow!”

“I wish he’d jump again,” sighed the smallest one.

“Ah,” exclaims the punctilious penman of romances which have lofty and
sonorous titles, becoming solemnity, inflated and funereal style, and
blood-freezing adventures--which, alas! too often end in smoke, or at
most, in a marriage that any fool could have foreseen--“Ah, how can this
paltry scribbler, this ‘we,’ discourse with this shameless levity, when
his hero is face to face with death!”

Instead of evading the penman’s intended question, the following
significant and sapient comments are offered for his leisurely
consideration:

It is sheer nonsense for a writer to work himself up into a state of
mad excitement about the “imminent dangers” that continually dog the
foot-steps of his persecuted heroes. So long as the hero is of the
surviving kind, he will survive every “imminent danger,” no matter how
thick and fast such dangers may crowd upon him. No assassin was ever
hired that could kill him for any great length of time; no vessel ever
foundered that could effectively swallow him up; no bullet was ever run
that could be prevailed on to extinguish the spark of his life.

After making such comments, for the reader’s peace of mind we
deliberately affirm that every man, woman, and child figuring in this
tale, is equally imperishable. Having made this candid remark, the
reader cannot impute it to us if he spend a sleepless night while
perusing this tale.

But it would be wiser to drop idle declamation for the present, and
return to Will and his frisky pony.

When the horse so nimbly cleared the fence, Will’s feet were torn out of
the stirrup, and he was thrown violently off the animal’s back. As he
lay sprawling on the ground, he looked as little like a hero as can be
imagined. As may be supposed, however, when he struggled to his feet he
was as sound as ever. On casting a glance around him, he found himself in
a field of ripe grain, through which the riderless pony was rushing madly.

Perhaps a good romancer, regardless of reason and effect, would have made
the boy “heroically” stick to his horse through thick and thin. But a
more careful romancer, like a good physician, would have an eye to the
boy’s system and feelings, and not suffer him to be tortured any longer.

Will carefully rubbed the dirt off his clothes with the palm of his
trembling right hand, while his eyes darted fierce glances at the gaping
and grinning juveniles outside of the fence, and despairing glances at
his horse within the field. This nice operation consumed three minutes,
and might have consumed many more; but a man who was at hand flew to the
rescue.

A blustering old harvester, the man who worked the field, saw the forlorn
young cavalier standing dejectedly by the fence, and the frolicsome
pony plunging through the ripe grain, and straightway fumed with awful
indignation. His first proceeding was to catch and stop the pony, after
which he turned his attention to Will. Will advanced a step or so to meet
the puffing farmer and the quaking horse, and was about to mumble his
thanks, when the farmer snappishly cut him short, crying hoarsely:

“You miserable scamp! How dare you jump into my fields like this? See,
will you, what damage your beast has done!”

“But, sir,” said Will, “it is not my fault at all; it is an accident.
The pony ran away with me, as you yourself can see.”

“Accident? What have I to do with your accidents? Don’t you know better
than to ride runaway horses? Don’t you----”

“Course he don’t; don’t know beans;” yelled one of the little gamins,
encouraged by the farmer’s bullying words to speak his mind. Or perhaps
he thought to win favor with the farmer by reviling the hapless horseman.

“Course,” chimed in the one who lost and found the most jack-knives.
“Course, what business did he want to git on to a runaway horse for
anyway?”

“I wish I had a horse, too,” whined the most “ingenuous” one.

“Guess he ain’t--”

“Stop that!” thundered the farmer. “Stop that, and get away from this!”

The little coves snatched up their jack-knives, but did not stop to look
for their pins, and darted off without a word. They ran a few yards and
then squatted in the shade of another fence corner.

The incensed farmer, also, meekly followed by Will leading the horse,
moved farther up the border of the field.

When they halted, Will a second time said it was all an accident.

“Accident or not, I’ll put the law on your track, I will you awful sneak!
See here, how old are you!”

“I shall be fifteen in September,” said Will, with boyish eagerness to
appear as old as possible.

“I didn’t ask how old you would be in the future, nor how young you were
in the past,” snapped the furrow-faced chuff.

Will always kept a careful account of his age, and consequently was able
to answer promptly: “My age, then, is fourteen years, ten months, and
seven days.”

“Very good,” said the farmer. “Well, I am only calculating,” he added
slowly and coolly, “whether you are old enough to be sent to jail.”

Doubtless, the hard-hearted wretch expected to see Will blanch at this
implied threat. But, if so, he was wofully disappointed, Will having his
own motives for maintaining his equanimity.

“You shall be punished, that is certain,” continued the farmer. “Come
along, now; don’t stand there like a stationary scarecrow; come along.”

Even as the violent old fellow spoke, he made a movement to seize Will
by the coat-collar. But this was more than human nature could bear; and
with a nimbleness that defied capture, Will sprang back, stood his ground
within nine feet of his persecutor, and began boldly:

“If you mean for me to leave this field, sir, I am quite willing to do
it; but it is not necessary for you to be so rough with me. Because my
horse jumped over the fence and trampled the grain a little, you needn’t
treat me like a convict. You yourself have trampled nearly as much as my
horse; and the whole put together doesn’t amount to much.”

“Stop there!” cried the farmer. “I was obliged to tramp the grain to
catch your horse. I didn’t wait for _you_ to do it,” insultingly.

“Yes, sir,” Will said humbly, “my head was bumped pretty hard. My father
will settle your account, but if you would like to put me into prison,
don’t let my youth interfere with that.”

Meanwhile, Will was leading his pony towards a gate in the fence, which
he reached as he finished speaking.

The farmer, who followed close behind, said sharply, “You are a pretty
fellow to use such language as all this to me; and it is only a waste of
breath for you to speak at all. According to you, it was great bravery
to jump my fences and rush through my oats; but the law will think
otherwise, and as certainly as I live, you shall be clapped into prison,
or else pay whatever sum I may choose to fine you. I swear it.”

“That is only what I can expect,” Will said resignedly.

“Oh, you think I am not in earnest, perhaps, but you will soon find that
I mean exactly what I say. What’s your name?” he asked, abruptly and
uneasily, as if struck with a sudden suspicion.

“William Lawrence.”

The questioner was literally stupified. A look of dismay overspread his
grim visage, and he stared helplessly at Will, as if the boy had been
metamorphosed into a devouring monster.

For a full minute the jurist was mute, and when he did speak, meekness
had entirely taken the place of bravado. “You’ll excuse my little jest,
won’t you, Mr. Lawrence? It is a shabby trick to joke so seriously, I
know; but it was only an idle joke, and doesn’t signify anything. I
_was_ some vexed to see the horse racing through the grain, but only
for an instant. How thankful we ought to be that you escaped unhurt!
To be sure, it was rather venturesome for me to rush forward and stop
the furious horse,” he said, guilefully, “but that is nothing compared
with your gallantry in keeping your seat so heroically. In fact, Mr.
Lawrence, I may say, without flattery, that you are a real hero, and that
this agile little pony of yours is the most spirited that I ever saw.
Indeed, he’s worth his weight in gold! Why, he vaulted over this fence
like--like--like a bird!”

In spite of himself, Will, nearly laughed at this labored simile. But he
was a strange boy, and enjoyed the faculty of suppressing his laughter
till he pleased to discharge it. Then he would laugh so uproariously that
whoever chanced to overhear him took him for a merry lunatic.

But there were other considerations why Will did not laugh at the
suppliant joker. In his turn he was astonished, astonished at the
reckless indifference with which the man could lie. But he was not to be
cajoled so easily; boy though he was, such oratory made no impression on
him, and he continued unmoved, even when deferentially addressed as “Mr.
Lawrence.”

Seeing that Will made no reply, the depraved wretch pursued in the
following strain: “I should like you not to mention this joke of mine,
for already I have the name of being an incorrigible practical joker.
Besides,” subtilely, “you would not like the boys to taunt you about this
runaway.”

“Oh, I think I saw several boys looking at me as I flew along,” Will,
replied carelessly, “and before this they must know all about the
runaway. Very likely the little boys that moved up towards the village
have spread the news, and perhaps they have told the beginning of your
joke,” artlessly. “At any rate, I must tell my father of this capital
joke, Mr. Jackson, for he likes nothing better than a good joke.”

The farmer now began to suspect that Will was nearly as shrewd as he
himself; and seeing how useless it was to palm off his threats as a
little joke, he abruptly took a different course, and said, with marked
and significant emphasis, “See here, Mr. Lawrence, I do not wish to
frighten you; but promise not to mention this, and I will let the matter
drop.”

Will believed that he, also, could use emphasis, and said, with what he
meant to be great significance: “You have not frightened me, Mr. Jackson,
because I knew you as soon as you came up to me. It isn’t worth while for
me to promise anything, for there is my father climbing the fence up near
the little boys, and they’re speaking to him. This way, pa,” the poor boy
shouted, with exultant and heartfelt thankfulness.

Mr. Jackson looked hopelessly in the direction pointed out by Will, and
muttered doggedly, “Baffled by a boy! He didn’t believe in that kind of a
joke, eh! Yes, that’s where I overshot the mark.”

How it was that Mr. Lawrence so seasonably hove in sight will be
explained further on. The writer, in common with all staunch romancers,
bears a rooted and virulent hatred to villains, and wishes to dismiss
this one as soon as possible, though he (this villain) is to appear again
in the next chapter.

Mr. Jackson blanched when Will gave his name, but now he grew black, and
seemed to be overwhelmed with consternation. He felt too cowardly even to
run away.

Mr. Lawrence soon joined them, and his first question was, “Will, are you
hurt?”

“Only a very little, pa,” said Will.

“How thankful I am for that!” Mr. Lawrence exclaimed fervently. “You must
have had a narrow escape, however.”

“A very narrow escape,” Mr. Jackson echoed tremulously.

Mr. Lawrence, assured of his son’s safety, now directed his attention to
the farmer. “Well, Mr. Jackson,” he said suddenly, “what seems to be the
matter?”

This blunt question so unsettled the practical joker’s mind that
he faltered, and at last said, with much emotion: “Matter, Mr.
Lawrence?--Why, it, it was--you see--I mean, he came,--that is, the
horse--the horse--the horse, the horse, the horse, the horse----”

Seeing that the embarrassed man was likely to continue repeating these
two words till delirium set in, or till his tongue whizzed equal to the
fly-wheel of a powerful steam-engine, Will cut him short by saying, with
pardonable spite: “Pa, he’s trying to tell you that he wants pay for the
damage that _Go It_ did.”

To many persons this might have been unintelligible, but not so to Mr.
Lawrence. Gathering a hint from the little boys’ gibberish, at a single
glance he had taken in all that had happened, and knowing the violence of
Jackson’s temper, he could guess at what had passed between him and Will.

“Let us have a settlement, Mr. Jackson,” he said.

The farmer seemed to have lost his wits; he could not carry it high, as
he had done with Will. Mistaking the tone in which Mr. Lawrence spoke,
and impelled by a guilty conscience, he dropped on his knees and said
pleadingly, “Oh, don’t turn us all out; don’t turn us all out! Don’t sue
me; I’ll--I’ll pay all the rent!”

Further comment is needless; the reader will now readily understand why
Mr. Jackson’s roughness gave place to humbleness and wheedling when he
heard Will’s name, and why he so dreaded an interview with Mr. Lawrence.

The latter gentleman spoke kindly to the supplicant. “Come, come,
Jackson,” he said, “don’t behave like that. In this free country you
shouldn’t play the spaniel to any man. I promise that I will not bring
an action yet; I will grant you one more chance. But come to the house
to-morrow, and we can talk over the matter at leisure. Don’t explain; I
see just what has happened to my headlong boy: but so long as he is not
hurt, I am satisfied. As you hardly know him, I can, from your looks and
his, figure the scene you have had. Now, I don’t like him to be abused
by--but no; never mind that; it can be pocketed. As for the actual damage
done, I think you will admit that ten dollars will settle your claims,
and I am going to pay it to you.”

Mr. Jackson gathered himself up, looking crestfallen and foolish, and
was so penetrated with gratitude that he refused the money, till forced
to receive it. According to Mr. Lawrence’s notions the man would now be
induced to make strenuous exertions to pay all that he owed.

Father, son, and pony, now started for home. Having made their way out of
the gate into the road, Will found the forlorn little gamins, hungering
for even a glimpse of the frolicsome leaper, still lingering in their
second position. Poor little fellows, they had not ventured even to climb
the fence. They knew Mr. Jackson--and Mr. Jackson knew them. They cast
reverent glances at Go It, but they beheld Will as one might behold a
traveller returned in safety from a voyage to the planets.

“I’ll bet he ketched it!” muttered a light-legged member of the group,
with a chuckle that disclosed he spoke from bitter experience. “Won’t the
rest of ’em wish they’d seen this show!”

The horse Mr. Lawrence had ridden was tied near these urchins. Both
mounted him, and then, leading the runaway and headstrong horse, the
picturesque cavalcade set off.

“Pa,” said Will, “I’m sorry this happened, and that you had to pay out
that money.”

“No, Will: say nothing about that. I blame myself for letting you mount
the half-broken nag; I should have had more prudence. But tell me how it
all was, and just what Jackson said to you.”

Will did so; and in the recital he waxed so eloquent that the rogue was
set forth in his true colors, and appeared so frightful a monster that
Will himself shivered with horror.

Mr. Lawrence groaned, but, with great presence of mind, said instantly:
“Don’t shake so, Will, or you will lose your balance. Oh, if I had known
this sooner, I should have done differently! But it is too late now to
punish the unprincipled wretch.”

The reader, perhaps, is curious to know how it was that Mr. Lawrence
arrived so opportunely. When too late to call him back, he saw that
Will was utterly unable to manage the pony. Not stopping to answer any
questions, he hastened to the stable, threw himself on the fastest horse,
and gave chase. Will, of course, was far in advance, but Mr. Lawrence
easily ran him down, and found him in Jackson’s field, as related.

Mr. Jackson made his appearance at the time appointed; and although he
brought only a part of the rent due, his deportment was so humble and
respectful; his promises were so fair and encouraging; and his apologies
were so ingenious, yet in reality so hollow and ridiculous, that Mr.
Lawrence’s indignation was softened; and the wretch was heard and
dismissed with a mock and stiff politeness that galled him.

Mr. Lawrence was very forbearing with such of his tenants as were hard
pressed; but this man’s threats to Will had provoked him extremely, and
now, as he brooded over his wrongs, he determined, as soon as the change
could be effected, to lease the farm to a more honorable man.

When a romancer reaches the colophon of his book, he is the most virtuous
of men, the most impartial of judges, parcelling out reward and judgment
with superhuman justice. Now, according to the laws of romance, Mr.
Jackson, in cutting that field of oats, ought to be thrown from his
reaping machine, and so cruelly mangled that his most implacable foe
would melt into tears of anguish.

But, alas! it cannot be, as unkind fate compels us to bring him once more
before the reader.



_Chapter VI._

STEVE’S RETALIATION.


The news of this, Will’s latest exploit, spread among the village boys,
and reached Steve’s ears. This worthy felt sorry for Will--so sorry that
a bright idea struck him.

“Here’s a fine chance to show Will how much I think of him!” he mused
radiantly. “Yes, I’ll get a whole gang of us boys together, and we’ll
swoop down on the old villain, and we’ll do it! Oh! what roaring fun it
will be! I guess it’ll teach the old loon to leave honest boys alone!”

Steve began to work with a will, and soon mustered a squad of idle and
saucy little wretches, who sported Guy Fawkes’ head-pieces, and were not
overstocked with either virtue or clothing. Nevertheless, their apparel
had at least one merit--it could be slipped on or stripped off in a trice.

Moonlight would be too bright for his dark schemes, and he waited
impatiently for a starlight night. Three days passed with unheard of
slowness. Then Steve convoked a council of his satellites; and after
having enjoined a promise of secrecy, he laid bare his plot in all its
details, and asked if they would stand by him.

“Guess we will!” they chorused, mad with delight; and Steve needed no
further assurance of their co-operation and fidelity.

About seven o’clock this worthy young avenger set out, his “gang” at
his heels, and one of the heroes who had seen Will taken over Jackson’s
fence bringing up the rear. This warlike company had no drums, but
their fast-beating hearts served instead; and they marched intrepidly
onward, measuring three miles an hour. Some were burdened with sundry
stout cords, ropes and straps; others were sweating under armfuls of
pine and cedar boughs, which Steve had gathered that afternoon; one
lank stripling was poising a couple of wooden levers on his grimy palms;
Stephen himself was freighted with a clumsy engine, which he fondly
imagined was a piece of wondrous mechanism--in fact, one of the six
mechanical powers.

Having left the village, they struck out for a pasturage about a mile
and a half to the right. Captain Stephen directed his forces to march in
single file. In vain: they were but raw levies, and in spite of all his
discipline, would persist in straggling or in huddling together. But in
good time they drew up at the seat of war, with every regiment intact,
and eager to engage the enemy.

As the atrocities they practiced there are unworthy of the most
abandoned renegate, it would be more seemly to lay aside martial
idioms,--particularly, as we do not wish to commit ourself,--and speak of
them as Steve’s minions.

They peered warily--perhaps, _quakingly_--to the right and left, but not
seeing any bugbears, human or otherwise, they boldly and jauntily flung
themselves over the fence of the pasture field.

Steve advanced a few steps, then halted, laid his burden gently on the
ground, and whistled a sigh of relief. His followers threw down their
burdens; and, after having ejected a great deal of spittle--purposely
on their hands, accidently on the ground,--they raised a grating
“ye-oh-heave ’er,” that reminded the “mournful whip-poor-will” of a
rooster’s first crow. Now they were ready to go to work.

In front of them was an old well; disused, perfectly dry, and partly
filled with rubbish. The top was covered with two layers of bulky and
heavy planks, so that the well was safe. Notwithstanding the number of
workers, it was no easy task to remove these planks; but the avenger and
his “gang” griped their handspikes, and toiled, groaned, and puffed with
a will.

What is toil to a boy when mischief is on foot? In play there are no
difficulties that a boy cannot surmount. Ah! if he would only do his duty
as willingly and efficiently as he builds a dam, how much happier he and
others would be!

As soon as the planks were removed, the boughs were dropped one by one,
so evenly that they formed a soft couch, only twenty feet from the mouth
of the well.

Then Steve took up the engine he had constructed, and set it up over the
well. This engine was neither more nor less than a thick and roundish
bar of tough wood, with each end playing in the apex of a rude and frail
scalene triangle. To impart strength and dignity to this contrivance, the
triangles were connected at their base by a long and stout fork-handle;
but whether this fork-handle served to keep the triangles apart or to
hold them together, Steve did not know. A triangle was placed on each
side of the wells mouth, over which the bar and fork-handle directly
passed. Steve pinned his triangles fast to the ground, but finding them
still unsteady, he had them propped with the planks. Then he announced
that it was ready for use. The bar revolved, it is true; but somewhat
reluctantly, and, alas! it wobbled!

We have said that Steve considered his contrivance one of the six
mechanical powers. Let us examine it further and see if he was right. It
might have been intended for the wheel and axle; but, if so, it lacked
the wheel. Or perhaps it was the pulley, with an extremely elongated
wheelless axle, the triangles taking the place of the block.

“Now, boys,” said the deviser of this novel engine, “see what comes
from knowing science! I learnt how to make this from George’s
Philosophy. It tells you all about powerful mechanics--no, mechanics
powerful--no,--well, I guess it’s all one in meaning. Now let us go to
work.”

With a Zulu holloa they rushed towards a couple of donkeys that were
grazing peaceably in the inclosure.

It will not require a particularly long-headed reader to guess that these
boys were trespassing on Mr. Jackson’s domains, or that the avenger
sought to retaliate on him by means of the innocent donkeys.

Steve endeavored to ward off the stings of conscience by telling himself
that he was avenging Will; while in reality he was indulging his love of
fun and mischief. His warty and freckle-faced followers were actuated by
the same motive.

They surrounded the donkey nearest them, resolved to take it prisoner.
After a violent conflict and four or five barked and bruised shins,--for
the beast was agile, as well as headstrong, and resented this nocturnal
abduction,--the seizure was effected, and Stephen adroitly slipped on
a halter. While some tugged at this halter, others pushed warily and
perhaps bootlessly; still others noisily threatened; one entreated;
but, in compliance with their leaders instructions, none belabored. The
school-boy avenger did not wish the poor animal to suffer “more than was
necessary!”

In a short time the donkey was brought close to the abandoned well. Then
the cords, straps, and ropes were picked up, and so securely bound on the
poor animal that it was utterly helpless, and at the mercy of Steve’s
youthful desperadoes. This was a hazardous attempt, considering all
things; but again, what does a properly organized boy care for danger,
when bent on mischief?

Stephen, weltering in sweat and already smarting from blisters and
bruises, then called a halt and addressed his “accomplices” in the
following approved strain: “Well, boys, we’ve nearly done it! Oh! won’t
Mr. Jackson be mad when he finds his donkey in the well! Won’t he dance
and holler! I know it’s a scurvy trick; but then he is so scurvy a man,
it serves him just right. I guess he won’t know what to say to himself
when he sees the ass here! At any rate, it will take him all the forenoon
to get him out!”

Gentle reader, please to observe how rich that harangue is in notes of
exclamation, and ask yourself if they were not invented as a safety-valve
for the emotions of overjoyed schoolboys and bloody-minded or weak-headed
romancers.

While speaking, Steve had run his hands into the pockets of his most
serviceable garment. He now drew his hands out of those pockets and took
up a strong rope, one end of which he made fast to the donkey, and the
other end he passed over the bar of his engine. Then, the rest helping
him, the donkey was slowly and carefully lowered into the well. Poor
beast, how foully it was degraded!

Then those wicked boys laughed--laughed till the tears came.

All but Steve. He could not laugh. The core of an apple that he had eaten
seven years before rose in his throat and choked him--him! the most
uproarious and unconscionable laugher in the village!

But the truth is, Stephen was beginning to relent. Now that the deed was
actually done, he saw his trick in a different light and conjured up all
sorts of horrors. What if a frightful thunderstorm should come on during
the night, and the donkey should be struck by lightning? What if the
sides of the well should cave in and fossilize it? Or, what if Jackson
should discover the guilty ones and transport him, as “ringleader,” to
Botany Bay?

These and many other disquieting thoughts rose in the boys mind. He
bitterly repented of his folly, and no longer considered himself a hero.
He pitied the donkey with all his heart; and if he had not shrunk from
provoking the derision of his uncivil and hard-hearted minions, he would
have drawn it out of the well and turned it loose.

Thus we get an insight into Stephen’s nature. His love of fun often ran
away with his better judgment; but as soon as the mischief was done, he
suffered, more than any one believed, from the agony of remorse.

But he roused himself and said, “Now, who will slide down on the rope
and set the donkey free? Of course we mus’n’t go away and leave the poor
beast tied fast; for it might get sick and die if it couldn’t move. You
agreed to do it, Pat Murphy.”

“I reckon we want our ropes and things back again, anyway,” growled a
practical strap owner.

“Certainly,” Stephen assented, with a faint smile. “Well, Pat?”

“Shure an’ I’m willin’ to stick to my bargain; only make haste, for mebby
the old feller ’ll be after prowlin’ around to look to his beasts.”

This was enough to disquiet every member of the “gang.” One excitable
boy, a famous seer of ghosts, instantly beheld a myriad of Jacksons,
hobgoblins, and banshees, hovering dangerously near. In his terror he
uttered a cry of deprecation--which so dismayed little Pat, who was then
in the act of descending, that he lost his hold on the rope and had a
fall of several feet. But the soft boughs and the ass so broke his fall
that he received no hurt.

Honest Pat’s mind must have been disturbed by a presentiment; for,
just at this conjuncture, Mr. Jackson, who was taking a by-path to the
village, entered the field from another direction. Being still at a
distance, he could not make out the boys clearly, but he could hear their
voices. Now, this Mr. Jackson was not famed for his discretion; and
instead of creeping upon them slyly, he hallooed at them from the place
where he stood.

Then, for the first time, the boys caught sight of him, and a panic,
which soon became a stampede, ensued. Setting up a dismal shriek of
consternation, the whole “gang” dashed to the fence, squeezed through it,
and ingloriously fled.

Little Pat heard the hurly-burly, and, clutching the rope, attempted to
scramble out of his narrow quarters. But, alas! no one was holding the
upper end of this rope, and it had not been made fast; consequently, it
rattled down into the well, leaving Pat a prisoner. Poor little Pat!
Believing he was deserted, he gave way to despair, yelled like a fish
peddler, and frisked about like an untutored dancer, now on the boughs,
now on the donkey, beating time to his piteous yet horrible screams
for mercy. This loosened the strap round the donkey’s snout; and an
horrisonous bray of righteous indignation smote upon the night air,
lending variety to a scene already sufficiently ludicrous. But one bray
was not enough to relieve the donkey’s pent-up emotion, and between its
bellowing groans Pat might be heard vociferating shrilly, “Tain’t me! I
ain’t done nothin’! I never did! It’s him! It’s Steve! It’s Ste-e-e-ve!”

A swarm of outraged hornets could not have hastened the flight of Steve’s
redoubtable desperadoes more than the united exertions of Pat and the
donkey. They flew towards the village as if hounded by demons, and were
speedily out of sight and earshot.

But where was Stephen! On the impulse of the moment he also took to
his heels; but when he reached the fence his native courage and honor
returned. He stopped, sighed profoundly, and nervously broke a splinter
off a loose rail. He did not know whether this splinter would be of any
service to him, but he mechanically carried it in his hand as he slunk
back to the well. There he sank down in a heap, and awaited Mr. Jackson’s
coming with much perturbation. However, he retained sufficient presence
of mind to pluck a tawdry feather out of his hat band, and then set the
hat fairly on his head. Wretched trickster! he did not consider how dusk
it was, or that Mr. Jackson would probably be more concerned about the
donkey than about a rattle-pated schoolboy’s headgear.

Now, if ever, he should have indulged in laughter, for the scene was
risible in the extreme. Ah! if he had been an innocent bystander, he
would have overnoised even Pat and the donkey. Alas! he felt his guilt,
and was more inclined to cry than to laugh.

“Oh,” he groaned, “why did I mix myself with such a pack of nasty little
cowards? I knew all the time that I had no business to meddle with that
ass. Ass?--why, I’ve made an ass of myself! Where will it all end, and
what will Mr. Jackson say to me or do with me?--Well,” with a sigh of
relief, “there’s one good thing: the ass will be let loose again!”

Stephen’s gloomy surmises were cut short by Jackson himself. “What does
all this mean, you scoundrel?” he roared. “What are you doing here? Where
are those boys? have they all gone and left you?”

At that instant another hideous bray, followed by a moan of mortal
terror, reverberated in the well, and the new-comer turned and looked in.
A boisterous laugh burst from his lips when he discerned the occupants of
the well. “Oh! this is rich!” he exclaimed, so jubilantly that Stephen
was stupified with amazement.

Encouraged by Mr. Jackson’s merriment, timorous Pat began with redoubled
energy. “It’s him! I hain’t done nothin’; so don’t tetch me, Mr.
Jackson, for I ain’t had nothin’ to do with it. Lemme go, _please_!”

Turning to Stephen, Jackson again demanded an explanation. Stephen did
not give a “succinct account of the whole proceeding;” but Jackson
gathered from his faltering confession that a trick lay at the bottom of
the affair.

“Yes, I understand it all,” Jackson replied; “but I don’t see your
motive. Well, little boy, I might put you to considerable inconvenience;
but it’s so capital a joke--so deep, so surprising, so silly--that I will
let you off. The grudge I owe Lawrence is paid now; paid in full.”

This last expression was probably not intended for Steve’s ears; but he
overheard it, and asked, with a start, “What about Mr. Lawrence, sir?”

“‘Lawrence,’ eh? Nothing about him; except that _he_ must settle with
you. That’s one reason why I’m letting you off. Yes, just take your bill
and your story to him; for its his place to deal with you.”

“I--I don’t know what you mean,” Steve made answer, becoming more and
more perplexed.

“I see that we don’t understand each other very well. _I_ don’t know
_why_ you put his donkey into this well; and _you_ don’t know--well,
what? You seem puzzled about something; but when I refer the matter to
Mr. Lawrence, I think you’ll find that he will understand it well enough
to send for a magistrate. Then come a lawsuit and all sorts of good
things.”

When a youthful offender or an ignorant person was the object of his
resentment, this man loved to enlarge on the terrors of the law; but when
he himself was the culprit, he shrank from the bare mention of the word.

“_His_ donkey, did you say?” Steve said, utterly confounded. “Oh! please
to tell me what you mean!”

“I mean what I’m talking about. You know, of course, the donkey in that
well belongs to Mr. Lawrence; you know, of course, he pastures both
donkeys in this field, which is leased to me. He will show you that
you can’t make a plaything of his donkeys, and to-morrow you will be
wanted. If this maltreated beast belonged to me, I would have ample
satisfaction!” savagely.

“I see your mates have left you,” he continued. “Well, I hope you will
enjoy yourself here with the donkeys. I should like to stop and see
the sport; but I can’t, I must go on. You had better haul the donkey
out--if you can. Of course, _I’ve_ no time to help you; and it’s no
concern of mine, anyway; so, good night! Hurrah! your rope is out of your
reach! This is an interesting case indeed! Well, you and your little
friend there can amuse yourselves by endeavoring to adjust matters. You
won’t be entirely alone; for the quadrupeds grazing in this field will
occasionally come and gape at you. The moon will soon be up; appeal to
it!”

Then, with a mocking bow, he turned on his heel and made off, leaving
Stephen alone with his troubles.

And this was the retaliation which Steve had planned so craftily! How
wretchedly his scheme had failed! Instead of imprisoning Jackson’s
donkey, he had imprisoned that of his friend Mr. Lawrence. Truly, here
was a case that called for many interjections--for more, in fact, than
hapless Steve could muster.

And he had been detected in the very act. What would be the consequences?
Would those dark threats of Jackson’s be put into execution? What
penalties might the law inflict on him? What did the LAW say about
feloniously dumping another man’s donkey into a disused well, anyway?
Alas! Steve did not know.

But, oh! comforting thought! Jackson plainly did not suspect anybody
of playing a trick on _him_. And it was well for Stephen that it was
so, as a suspicion of the truth would have stirred up the waspish old
blusterer’s fury.

“O dear!” groaned Steve, “I wish I was at home! I wish I hadn’t done it!
I wish--O dear! Well, I will never have anything more to do with those
mean sneaks. Why couldn’t they have stuck by me? Now they’ll go and
spread it all over, and what will people think of me? What will become of
me? Well, I shall be laughed at for a month, that’s very certain.”

This doleful soliloquy manifests that Stephen was but a boy, and
that he was but human. A man’s great care is (or should be) to guard
his reputation: a boy’s great care is to keep from becoming a
laughing-stock. This is a bug-bear which haunts him (the boy) from the
day when masculine apparel is first girded on him, and which prompts him
to do many things that, to his elders, are foolish and incomprehensible.
It is for this reason that a well-organized boy, however learned he may
be, prefers to use simple words of Anglo-Saxon origin, when he knows he
could make his meaning clearer by using Latin polysyllables.

But Steve’s disquieting speculations were interrupted by Pat, who
whispered warily, “Is he gone?”

Now, Steve did not know that this is a polite expression, and he answered
snappishly, “Yes, he _has_ gone.”

This was good news to little Pat. Forgetting that he had just been
accusing Stephen to Mr. Jackson, he began beseechingly: “Lemme out,
Steve! Lemme out, that’s a good boy. I al’ays knowed you was a good boy,
Steve, didn’t I? Lemme out now, and I’ll do anythin’ fur you.”

This reminded Stephen of the labor that lay before him. How was he to get
hold of the rope? The one could not climb up the sides of the well; the
other could not climb down; all the cords were bound on the ass.

However, Stephen searched his pockets carefully, and lighted on a new
and strong fish-line, with a fish-hook affixed. The fish-line was
not long enough to reach down to Pat; but by noosing the end to one
of the handspikes that difficulty was removed. There was now direct
communication between the two boys. Pat was rather fidgety when he saw
the fish-hook dangling under his nose, but he caught it fast to the rope,
which Stephen carefully and fearfully drew up.

If that fish line had parted, those boys and the writer would have been
placed in a sorry plight.

The rope was no sooner made fast than Pat scrambled up it, caught up his
shabby coat, and exercised his limbs of locomotion so nimbly that he was
nearly out of sight before Steve could recover from his amazement. This
was a whimsical way of manifesting gratitude!

“How he scampers!” Steve muttered. “What a pack of little wretches, and
what a mean man Jackson is! I wanted to slide down into the well myself;
and those boys know I agreed to let Pat do it on purpose to please him.
Well, I’ve done with ragamuffins!--I say,” he bellowed to the nimble
runaway, “you needn’t run so fast; _I_ don’t want you: you’re no good,
anyway.”

Pat knew that Stephen longed for his help; he knew that a boy, when left
in the lurch, speaks somewhat as Stephen had spoken, and yet Pat hurried
on.

Poor Pat! he was not aware that his unique and valued button ring, the
fruit of several hours’ toil with boiling water, a broken-bladed knife,
and a spoilt file, had been fractured in the well. Unconscious of his
loss, he clapped his hands over his mouth, and bleated playfully and
hideously.

Stephen now racked his brains to hit upon some feasible plan of taking
the donkey out of the well. Suddenly a happy thought struck him. His eyes
sparkled with joy. “My stars!” he exclaimed, “I see the very way to do
it! I can manage it after all.”

Then he mused on Jackson’s behavior, and another thought occurred to him.
“I suppose he believed I couldn’t get either of ’em out of the well. Yes,
of course he did; and he thought I should have to go to the village for
help. And then I wonder if he’d have set the magistrate and folks after
me! Ten to one. Well, I can beat ’em all, and keep out of trouble, too.”

Yes, that was the point. If he had been necessitated to seek help, he
would have been taught a wholesome lesson; but when his own precocity
suggested a way out of the difficulty, he was only hardened in his
mischievousness, and he admired his great cleverness.

Without further deliberation the deserted and frustrated avenger slid
down the rope, took the halter and a few straps off the donkey, coiled
them around his own neck, and then clambered up.

This was a foolhardy thing for him to do; for if the fastenings of the
rope had given way, he and the donkey world have been left to their own
resources. But the generality of boys delight in doing such things. With
a careless “I’ll risk it,” they rush headlong into danger, day after day.

Then Steve set about carrying his plans into effect. He sidled up to the
other donkey and chased it over the pasturage till the moon rose. This
was weary work for him, but at length he caught the donkey, slipped the
halter over its head, and led--or rather coaxed--it up to the well.

“Well, old fellow,” he said, addressing his first captive, “I didn’t make
any preparations to haul you out, but so much the better. Now, keep your
mouth shut, and don’t be afraid, and you’ll be kicking around this field
before no time. Now, heave away, boys! Ho! Heave ’er!”

He then pitched on the two lightest planks, exerted all his remaining
strength, and placed them so as to form a floor or platform, extending
from the transverse bars of his engine to the curb of the well. Thus half
the well’s mouth was covered.

Next, the donkey last caught was hitched to the rope, and by dint of
entreaty, induced to draw its yoke-fellow out of the gloomy prison.

“Saved!” cried Stephen, in tragic accents, as he turned both donkeys
loose. “Saved! And I have saved you!”

And then he fell to turning summersets, chuckling, and disporting himself
like a noodle. “_Oh! this is fun!_” he said.

A heavy fall brought the boy to his senses; and without more ado he
gathered up his belongings and began to whistle “Yankee Doodle,” as only
a boy whose conscience is tranquillized can whistle it.

The would-be avenger had expended so much of his strength that he was not
in a condition to attempt to replace the rest of the planks, or to carry
home his beloved pulley.

“Mr. Jackson may arrange those planks himself,” he muttered. “As for the
pulley--well,” with a last fond backward glance, “I suppose he’ll knock
it up into kindling-wood.”

It was late when Stephen reached home that night. Notwithstanding his
proneness to be mischievous and to play monkey tricks, he was free from
deceit and he was not deficient in moral courage. As soon as he and his
mother were alone, he made a clean breast of it, then walked off to bed,
with tears in his eyes, but loving his mother better than ever.

Although Mr. Jackson, while returning through the field that night,
should have precipitated himself into the half-open well, there to perish
miserably, yet he did not. The writer does not thirst for the blood of
his villains; but--lest he should be accounted utterly devoid of common
sense--the following statement is offered, by way of consolation, for the
punctilious readers perusal:--

Whilst replacing the planks, which were permeated with humidity, he
contracted a catarrhal cold, which did not yield to the apothecary’s
patent medicines till the next spring.

When Mr. Lawrence heard the particulars of Stephen’s prank, and the
“motive,” he laughed heartily.

Of course the peace-officers did not gain or lose by the affair; and
Steve observed oracularly, “I knew he was only fooling. He didn’t scare
me a bit!”

It is not necessary to waste time in tracing Jackson’s career further--in
fact, as he never annoyed our heroes again, he may as well be formally
thrown overboard now.

It was hoped that this experience would have a wholesome and lasting
effect on Stephen. Alas, no! Stephen Goodfellow was one of the many
irrepressible incorrigibles that flourish in this country.



_Chapter VII._

THE YOUNG MORALIST.--A CLEVER SCHEME.


As the school was now closed for “summer holidays,” the boys were free to
do whatever they pleased.

One bright forenoon the heroic six, full of merry jokes, set out on a
stroll to the woods. Charles and Will led the way, and _why_ they made
for the woods will be seen further on.

“Now, boys,” said Charley, “wouldn’t it be fun if we should have a
real adventure to-day? something romantic; something worth while--eh,
Marmaduke?”

Marmaduke’s eyes flashed like a persecuted hero’s whose case appears
hopeless. However, he did nothing desperate, he simply said, “Boys, some
day or another we shall light on something romantic--something awful!
I’ve always felt it. Then we will pry into the mystery until we unravel
it.”

Will, Charles, and Stephen, furtively exchanged glances. If their designs
should succeed, Marmaduke would have a mystery to pry into sooner than he
bargained for.

Just as they entered the woods they heard voices; and on looking about
they caught sight of three little boys sitting astride of a decayed log.
One seemed to have a paper of raisins, from which he was helping himself
and the other two.

“Hush!” Charley whispered. “They haven’t seen us yet; so hide behind the
bushes, and I’ll play a pretty trick on them.”

Without the least hesitation, without looking to see whether they were
sitting on grass or thorns, they crouched down. Charley “knew himself,”
and the boys obeyed him promptly.

Seeing that they were all concealed, he advanced boldly towards the three
small boys.

“Hollo, Tim!” he exclaimed. “What have you got there?”

“Raisins,” Tim answered laconically.

“Where did you get them?” was the next question.

“Maw sent me fur ’em.”

“Oh, I thought so. Now I can go to work,” Charley muttered, in a
theatrical “aside.”

“What do you want of me, and what are you a-saying to yourself?” demanded
Tim, becoming questioner in his turn.

“I’ll give you a whistle for one of them, Tim,” Charley said, so eagerly
that the boys in hiding wondered. Why should such a boy as Charley
wish to purchase a single raisin? Was _this_ a mystery? It seemed so
mysterious that they pricked up their ears, and impatiently waited for
further developments.

Tim’s thoughts are unknown. He replied indifferently, “Well, if your
whistle’s a good one, I guess I don’t mind; but I’ve give these here boys
so many raisins that Maw’ll think that there new store-keeper cheats
worse’n the old ones. Let’s see yer whistle, anyway.”

Charles turned his back to Tim, and searched his pockets for the whistle,
a scrap of paper, and a forlorn lead pencil that had once done duty as
the bullet of a popgun. Having found these articles, he scrawled a few
words on the scrap of paper.

“Can’t you find the whistle?” Tim inquired unsuspectingly.

“I’m coming,” was the answer.

Then the gaping ambushed five saw him slip the battered pencil into his
pocket, take the paper in one hand and the whistle in the other, and step
briskly up to Tim.

Tim reached out the bag, and Charley ran his hand which secreted the
paper far into it. Then he drew out his hand--empty.

“No, Tim,” he said, “I think you have given away enough already. But
here’s the whistle, all the same. Now, run home, like a good boy.”

Young Tim tried his whistle somewhat doubtfully, for he was at a loss to
know why it should be given to him for nothing. Big boys did not make a
practice of throwing away good whistles on him, unless they looked for
some return. Generosity so lavish astounded him.

But the first toot assured him of the soundness of the gift; a smile of
pleasure flitted over his grimy face; and he exclaimed joyously, “Man!
It’s bully, ain’t it?”

“Oh, it’s a good one,” Charley averred.

“I--I was afraid p’r’aps it was busted,” Tim acknowledged.

Then young Tim rose to his feet and wended his way homeward, piping
melodiously on his whistle, unconscious of the bomb-shell hidden in the
bag; while hard behind him, licking their daubed lips as they went,
trotted the two parasitical boys who had been junketing on his mother’s
raisins.

Charley, grinning and chuckling, hurried back to his comrades.

“I hope I’ve taught that thieving little sneak-thief a lesson he will
remember,” he said, with a smile intended to be exceedingly moral.

“Why, what did you do? What on earth’s the matter? Tell us all about it,”
cried a chorus of voices; “we could see something was up, but we didn’t
know what.”

“Well, boys,” Charles began, “I have often caught that rascal feeding
little boys, and big ones, too, from parcels of raisins, sugar, and other
things; and I thought I would make him smart for it some day. So to-day,
when I saw him at it again, I thought of writing something on a scrap of
paper, and getting a chance to slip it into his bag. You saw me do that,
perhaps. What I wrote was, ‘O, mother! please to forgive me! I stole your
raisins and things, but I won’t do it no more.’ When his mother empties
out the raisins, she will find that, and it will be enough for her. Then
she’ll put two and two together, and then, most likely, she’ll put Tim
and his skate-straps together. That is all, boys.”

“Good for you, Buffoon!” exclaimed Stephen, to whom this knavish trick
was highly amusing. “Mr. Tim will ‘pay dear for his whistle’ this
time--unless your confession should slip out of the bag!”

“No, I put it down nearly to the bottom,” Charley replied. “He won’t be
likely to open his bag again, either, for he has eaten and given away
about half of the raisins.”

“I say, boys,” said Stephen, “isn’t that what they call _philanthropy_?”

“What?” Charles asked eagerly.

“Teaching a boy that it’s wicked to steal.”

“No; it’s the vice of perfidy!” George replied, so promptly that a keen
observer would have said, “This boy is impelled by envy; he wishes he had
been guilty of the same vice.”

But George was in the right; Charley’s trick was inhumanly treacherous.

“Did you intend to take one of his raisins?” Jim faltered, a wolfish look
in his eyes.

Charles’ lips curled with disdain; his nostrils dilated; virtuous
indignation strove for utterance. But he knew that he could not look
so injured that the boy would hang his head in shame; so he resolved to
annihilate him by a single word. To gain time to hit on an expression
sufficiently awful, he demanded threateningly:

“What do you mean, Sir?”

Jim’s nerves were always weak, and this jeering question so unstrung
them that he spoke the first words that occurred to him. (By the way,
the phrase was a favorite one of his, one that he used on all occasions;
and according to the tone in which he said it, it implied either doubt,
indifference, petulance, fear, or _profanity_!)

“I don’t know, I’m sure,” is what he said.

“You hadn’t better!” Stephen thundered with lowering brow.

The reason why Steve espoused Charley’s cause so readily was because the
boys still teased him about the donkey; and he rejoiced to find that
another--that other his schoolfellow Charles--could be guilty of the
misdemeanor of playing tricks. Truly, the abusive adage, “Misery loves
company,” is right.

“It is bad enough for the store-keeper to handle the poor woman’s
raisins; and Charley’s fingers don’t look so clean as a store-keeper’s,
even;” George observed tauntingly.

“I guess Charley’s fingers are cleaner than Tim’s” retorted Stephen,
always eager to play the part of champion to some aggrieved wight,
especially so now.

But Charles perceived that his joke was not appreciated as it should
have been; and he turned beseechingly to Will, his firm upholder in all
things. “Will,” he said, “what do _you_ think about it? Did I do wrong?”

Thus appealed to, Will made answer: “Capital joke, Charley; but you have
begun your career as a reformer rather early in life.”

This did not satisfy Charley, and he took to his last expedient.

When a renowned general becomes entangled in a snare which he himself
has spread; when he is caricatured and lampooned in all the newspapers,
and without a friend in all the world, he makes an impassioned and
well-punctuated declamation in his defence, in which he sums up
the difficulties that lay in his way so eloquently; sets forth the
rightfulness of his cause so manfully; represents the disinterestedness
of his actions so carefully; discourses on the purity of his designs
so volubly; harrows up the feelings of the audience, and the disguised
editors so subtly; exposes the fallacies under which his defamers labor
so jocosely; and reiterates his asservations so persistingly, that all
except the most malevolent and perverse are brought to coincide with his
views.

Charles was now “on his defence.”

“‘The end justifies the means,’ you know. Now,--”

“That’s what the Jesuits profess, and they are--” George interrupted.
But, not knowing exactly what the Jesuits are, he stopped short, and
Charley went on without further interruption.

“Now, that Tim was a rascal, but this will reclaim him. He has been
cheating his mother on a small scale for more than a year. She has sent
him to all the different stores for her groceries, but with the same
results. He is the only one she has to send, and he has a chance to
steal at his leisure. Now, if I had informed her that her son does the
cheating, what would have become of me? Ten to one, she would have called
me a sneaking talebearer, and told me to march off home and get my father
to belabor me. As it is, _Tim_ will probably get the drubbing. There now,
wasn’t my ‘confession’ plan just the thing? Of course it was. You boys
must be blind, or crazy, or silly.”

No oratory here, gentle reader. But the speaker was only a boy; if he had
been older and more experienced, he would not have omitted to remark,
incidentally, that he had acted “on the impulse of the moment.”

However, his reasoning, especially the latter part of it, was conclusive.
“Quite right;” said all the boys. Then, as time is _very_ precious to a
schoolboy during the holidays, Stephen added, “Now let us go on; we’ve
fooled away too much time doing nothing.”

Will and Charles taking the lead, the explorers advanced deeper into the
woods; and taking an obscure pathway, soon found themselves in a quarter
scarcely known to some of the boys. Heaps of brush-wood blocked up the
way, making their progress very slow. But this only exhilarated their
adventurous spirit; and they tore through the brush with smiling contempt
for sundry bruises and scratches.

All except George, whose mind was still exercised about Charley’s “vice,”
and who took no interest in squeezing through underwood, and stumbling
over heaps of loose and rough brush-wood.

“Look here, boys,” he said, “why should we overstrain our limbs and
muscles here, when a little way to the north there is a capital spot to
rest? We can learn nothing here, and by floundering about like top-heavy
goblins we shall improve neither our minds, nor our morals, nor our
garments. At any rate, _I_ am going back; _I_ am not going to make an
Amazon of myself.”

Sooner or later, the most inattentive of readers will be struck with
admiration at the artifice which Charles displays in working on the
feelings of his comrades.

In this instance, though George had actually turned back, he paused
irresolute on hearing Charles exclaim sarcastically, “George, I’m afraid
you will never become an explorer. Why, if you only knew it, we are
penetrating a jungle now! Think of that! _We_ in a jungle!”

Though coaxing would not have influenced the sage, this happy expression
did. He cast a sweeping glance in search of Charley’s “jungle,” and then
went on with the others.

Charles was satisfied, for he knew that however much the boy might
grumble, he would not turn back again.

A certain word George had spoken, excited Steve’s curiosity. False
pride never restrained Stephen from asking for information, and he said
eagerly, “George, what’s a namazon?”

George’s smiling face discovered that the right cord had been struck
at last, and, always willing to enlighten the ignorant, he answered
benignly, “Steve, an Amazon is a West African woman warrior, who
fights instead of men. And she fights with a vengeance--harder than a
sea-serpent that I read about the other day. Why, she wears a sword
called a razor, and it’s so strong and heavy that she can chop off an
elephant’s head at one blow with it!--At least” truth obliged him to add,
“I guess she could, if she chose. And she will scale a rampart of briers
and thorns,--no, _brambles_ the book said,--of brambles, all in her bare
feet, and come back all covered with blood and chunks of bramble, but
with her arms full of skulls!”

Steve’s look of horror only encouraged George to make greater exertions.
But he was forced to pause for want of breath, and his hearer inquired in
alarm, “Where do they get the skulls? Do they kill folks for them?”

Now, it was very inconsiderate, very disrespectful, very _wrong_ in
Stephen to put such a question. George was wholly unprepared for
it; and it rather befogged his loquacity. After a doubtful pause,
he began blunderingly: “Why, as I told you, they scale a rampart of
bri--_brambles_,--sixty feet high, sometimes--and come off with those
skulls. I--I believe they are put there beforehand; and the feat is
to pounce on them.--I mean, the feat is to scramble over the brambles
barefooted. It is a valiant achievement!”

Then a bright idea occurred to him, and he continued impetuously, “Why,
Steve, you must be crazy, crazy as an organ-grinder! You don’t know what
a skull is; you don’t know a skull from a dead-head. Why, I’m astonished
at you!”

“Oh, of course. I see what you mean now; yes, of course they do;” Stephen
assented with alacrity.

“I might lend you my book about all these things,” George graciously
observed.

“Oh, thank you!” said Stephen with sparkling eyes.

Meanwhile, the heroes had been pressing deeper and deeper into the
“jungle,” and would soon be at their journey’s end. But at this critical
juncture the sage’s evil genius again preyed upon his spirits, and he
muttered with filial concern: “A boy’s first duty ought to be to take
care of his clothes, and--”

“But it never is!” Steve broke in.

“--and here we are destroying ours!” the sage continued, disregarding
Steve’s impertinent interruption.

“Never mind the ‘garments,’ George,” Charles replied. “Your old coat
looks as if it might survive the frolics of a hurricane; so, ‘banish care
and grim despair,’ as the second page of our new copy-book says.”

This was indiscreet in Charles. The aggrieved George was but a boy, and,
naturally, he was angered. “Look here,” he exclaimed, “what is your
object in dragging us through this dismal place? Where are we going? If
you should lead the way to a python’s lair, should I be bound to tag
blindly after you?”

This reasoning was forcible, and for a schoolboy, poetical. Will--knowing
that their scheme would be disconcerted if George should turn back, and
fearing that he would--bounded forward a little way, and then flung
himself plump into a certain pile of brush.

“Oh!” he screamed. “Come here! Boys, hurry! Something rattles all around
under me!”

The others quickly urged their way towards him, some in real, some in
pretended alarm.

George now proved himself a hero. The vigour of his intellect overawed
the others, and they made way for him respectfully. At length he was
about to derive some advantage from the ponderous tomes whose pages his
grimy thumbs had soiled so often.

“Yes,” he said, “I know just what you heard. Don’t be excited, Will; keep
very cool. _It’s a rattlesnake!_ The great naturalist says they skulk
around brush-heaps and tangled bushes, ready to pounce on their prey.
I know, for I’ve read all about it; and luckily, I am prepared for the
worst. Now, where are you bitten, and I’ll cauterize it.”

And the speaker busied himself by stripping his pockets of their
treasures, which he dropped on the ground at random.

Jim, however, did not view the matter so philosophically. At the bare
mention of the word _rattlesnake_, he turned and tore wildly through
the “jungle,” crying piteously: “Oh! I’ve got the chills! I’ve got the
chills! the chills! the chills! awful chills!”



_Chapter VIII._

GEORGE COMES OUT AHEAD.


Meanwhile, Will stepped out of the pile of brushwood and said, somewhat
foolishly, “Now, George, don’t be foolish; you know well enough there are
no rattle-snakes in this part of the country. Put up your instruments of
cauterization, and let us all take a squint under these ‘brambles.’”

Poor George looked so crestfallen that Will almost relented. “Didn’t you
get bitten?” the former asked blankly.

“What could bite me, George!” Will asked mildly.

“Well, _I_ don’t know what,” George said savagely, “But Charles
Goodfellow declares this is a jungle; and we all know, I hope, that
poisonous lizards, and reptiles, and centipedes, and tarantulas, and
all hideous creatures, live in just such a place as this--I mean in
jungles. So, _what_ disturbed you in that brush-heap! Answer that
question!--Botheration!” he continued furiously, “here you’ve led me into
this horrible place, made fun of me, and contradicted me--you, who have
no practical knowledge. And now, to cap it all, I’ve lost my jack-knife,
the best jack-knife in these regions, and I got it only yesterday!”

Poor George! One thing after another had happened to irritate him, and he
was now in a savage mood. In fact, he was really angry, and the boys had
never seen him angry before.

Charles felt a pang in the region of his heart, and Stephen was very
uneasy.

“Never mind George,” Will said soothingly. “I’ll help you to look for
your knife as soon as we see what is under the brush.”

He stooped over the brush-heap, groping, and then said with awe, as
_he_ supposed: “Boys, here are bones! It was bones that rattled under
me!--George,” conciliatingly, “what does that mean?”

“Well, I don’t care what it means. My knife is worth more than all
the bones you can find in a whole summer; and I intend to look for
it in spite of everything. You boys may squabble over those bones
till--till--any time you choose.”

Charley was dismayed. George was too sullen to catch at the bait, and
their little scheme seemed likely to end ingloriously. Was it for this
that they had toiled and plotted?

But Marmaduke, who had hitherto held his tongue, now came to the front,
saying eagerly, “Bones! Bones! Let me see!”

He rummaged among the branches, and while Will, Charles, and Stephen,
crowded around him, George looked on “askance.”

“O-o-h!” gasped Marmaduke, “what a horrible discovery we have made!
Bones! Bones of a mortal! Boys,” with emotion, “SOME ONE WAS FOULLY
MURDERED HERE.”

“O-o-h!” echoed all the boys, as in duty bound.

But Steve gave a horrible chuckle, and whispered to Charles, “It works
already with _him_; and,” pointing his elbow at George, “_he’ll_ come
around.”

The pain in Charley’s heart was not very deep-seated, and it now made
room for exultation. The searcher was left to his own musings, and the
rest were absorbed in the discovery.

Marmaduke paused a moment, to realize the awfulness of the word _murder_;
then, snatching up the branches, he nervously tossed them out of the way.

A little heap of white substances was disclosed which--to Marmaduke’s
heated imagination--were all that remained of a human skeleton.

Now, the writer has so much respect for the feelings of his readers that
he herewith warns them, in all honesty, that what is immediately to
follow, borders upon the grisly; and that consequently it would be well
for the queasy reader of fashionable fiction to skip the rest of this
chapter and all of chapter the twelfth.

Marmaduke was now in his element; he felt somewhat as a philosopher does
when a new theory in science bursts upon him; he was happy. All boyish
bashfulness forsook him, and he began rapturously:--

“Yes, boys, we have made a great, an _appalling_, discovery! We have
certainly stumbled on a dreadful mystery! It now remains for us to solve
this great problem, and gain immortal renown. In the near future, I see
us sitting in the courts of law, with the ferret-eyed reporters; the grim
lawyers; the shrill-voiced foreman keeping order among the honest and
eager jury; the gaping multitude; the venerable judge; and the quaking
murderer, found at last, and his crime unearthed and fastened on him by
_us_. Then the grand old judge, in solemn tones, will turn to us and say,
“You are now called upon to give your conclusive evidence, and charge the
crime--long hidden, but brought to light at last--upon the trembling,
cringing wretch--this murderer!” Oh! what a proud day it will be for us!
Now, boys, an unpleasant duty lies before us, and if any of you wish to
withdraw, do so at once. As for me, I will not drop the matter till the
mystery is cleared up, and the murderer gibbeted. But who ever wishes to
take a bold part with me, must continue in it till justice is satisfied.
Then together we shall reap the fruits of our zeal.”

This neat little speech amply repaid the boys for all the perils they
had encountered in penetrating into Charley’s jungle. Their delight is
beyond our description. Charley, Will, and Steve, exchanged winks most
recklessly.

Marmaduke, however, paid no attention to them, but drew a scrap of paper
and a lead-pencil, which he always carried, from his pocket.

“What are you going to do now?” Steve queried of the romance-stricken boy.

“I am going to make a memorandum of this affair,” was the answer.

“Where is Jim?” Will asked, thinking that youth would enjoy the scene.

“Oh,” said Steve, “his old and convenient disorder seized him when George
spoke of rattle-snakes, and he skedaddled.”

“Yes,” supplemented George, who was recovering his temper, “there is a
good deal of philosophy in his complaint; for, like most things cold, it
vanishes away when heat is applied; and, to generate heat, Jim sets out
on a run.”

“Good for you!” Charley said promptly, hoping to induce the boy to
examine and pass an opinion on the bones.

But George still felt too sore--perhaps, too obstinate--to yield.

“Look here, Marmaduke,” he said, “how are you going to prove that
somebody was _murdered_ here? Perhaps he was gobbled up by an
unprincipled and broken-down quadruped--say, a shipwrecked gorilla.”

“Yes,” chimed in Steve, “perhaps a devouring monster of a famished
sea-cow fell on him, and gnawed him, and wallowed him around, and
extinguished him!”

Marmaduke was now being jeered in his turn. Considering that he was only
a boy, he put up with their banter with stoical unconcernedness; but
his quivering lips and humid eyes betrayed that he felt it, and turning
to Will, he said, “In such a case as this, you always find something
to discover the guilty one,--a pet dog’s collar, a monogrammed metal
tooth-pick, an old card case, a seal-ring, a gold watch-key, a book-mark,
a--a--or something else.”

“Why, have you found anything?” Steve asked quickly.

No answer. Silence, in this instance, was peculiarly golden; more, it was
sufficient.

“Then how do you know, and how are you going to prove it was murder?”

Then Marmaduke’s indignation was roused, and he scowled upon Stephen
so malignantly that this worthy quailed, unable to bear up under that
“steady gaze of calm contempt.”

Turning to Will and Charles, the persecuted boy thus explained himself:
“Not long ago, I read in a story how an awful murder was cleared up,
simply because a cast-off wig, that had fallen into the murderer’s pocket
by accident, and belonged to nobody in particular, fell out again at
the fatal moment, and proved the whole crime. You boys might read about
such things from to-day till your hair turns gray; and you would find
that some little trinket, some trifle, turns the evidence one way or the
other, and decides the verdict. Why, where would the romance of romances
be, if it wasn’t so?” excitedly. “I mean to hunt for that lost trinket
when I get ready; it has been here all this time, and it isn’t going to
disappear forever now.”

“How long has it been here?” asked George, laying stress on the word
_how_.

“When we stumbled on this mystery,” pursued Marmaduke, too much absorbed
to regard George’s incivilities, “it was about ten o’clock.”

Having made a note of this, he went on, “the scene was a tangled glade in
a thick jungle.”

Another note.

“Fit scene for such a tragedy!” Charles commented.

“The bones were hidden under brush-wood, which _I_ removed,” and again
his pencil was heard to scribble a note.

We say, _scribble_. The boy intended to “polish” his notes at a more
convenient season.

“I say,” interrupted Stephen, “it isn’t _your_ place to take all these
notes; you ought to inform a constable, or, a bailiff,--or, better still,
a detective!”

Marmaduke scowled at him again, but held his peace.

“Oh, I see,” continued Stephen, bent on teasing the poor boy; “you’ll
hand your notes over to some detective, so that he’ll see how clever you
are.”

Then Marmaduke spoke. “Boys,” he said, “I’m astonished at your levity and
indifference in such a case as this.”

With that, he laid down his pencil and paper, and again examined the
bones, handling them with reverence, and muttering what he supposed to be
their names.

For some time a fierce conflict had been raging in George’s
mind--curiosity battling with wounded vanity. Which would triumph?

While Marmaduke mumbled, George took mental notes. Soon a broad grin
spread over the latter’s face, and he said, “Look here, boys; Marmaduke
has named five thigh-bones, and thirty-one ribs! I know, for I’ve kept
count. Now, the skeleton of a common man has no business with so many
thighs and ribs; and Marmaduke isn’t supposed to know the name of a bone
as soon as he sees it. Now, I’ve studied into the matter, and I ought to
know something about it. I’m just going to see them for myself.”

Curiosity had triumphed!

This disconcerted poor Marmaduke. He made room for George, and sat down
beside Charles. A look of dismay appeared in his face, and he pondered
deeply. “Boys,” he said, “did you ever hear that anybody was ever
murdered in this neighborhood?”

“Never!” shouted all four in a breath.

“I don’t care; it _is_ a skeleton!” doggedly. “I know as much about it
as _he_ does,” glaring at George, “and I will stick to it, it was a
skeleton.”

“Whatever it _was_ it’s not a skeleton _now_!” roared George.

Do not take alarm, gentle reader: this history is not the register of any
squabbles among savants: the writer is too tender-hearted to inflict such
a punishment on you.

George resumed: “That is a foolish conclusion; for there are no human
bones here at all! Not a skull, nor a radius, nor a--, a--”

At this point Charley interrupted the osteologist by saying, “George,
don’t tell off the parts of a skeleton with such disgusting gusto; have a
little respect, even for bones.”

“Well, I will;” George assented--the more willingly because he found
himself less versed in the matter than he had imagined. “But it was very
foolish to think of murder. Boys, do you want to know what it is? _I_
know; _I’ve_ solved your mystery: _I’ll_ reap all the glory!” he cried,
so excited that he lost control of his voice.

“Well, what is it?” Will asked sharply, perhaps afraid that George had
detected the fraud.

Groundless fear; George was quite as credulous as Marmaduke.

Wild with excitement, his voice rang out loud and discordant. He shouted,
at the top of his voice, “Boys, _it’s a fossil_!”

“A _what_?” Charley demanded.

“A _fossil_! An _extinct animal_! A _mastodon_! A _gyasticütûs_! (If
this word is new to the reader, let him raise his voice and pronounce
it according to the accents.) Yes; here is a field for a geologist or
naturalist; not for a humdrum, cigar-puffing, bejewelled detective!”

And the Sage’s form dilated with pride and complacency. His day had come.
He could have it all his own way now; for what did the others know about
geology?

Poor George! his imagination was as powerful as Marmaduke’s; but he could
not equal him in oratory.

As for the boys, they were thunder-struck; this exceeded their utmost
expectations.

Steve was the first to speak. “Don’t yell so loudly, George; there are no
geologists near to hear you;” he said.

Then again the boys, Marmaduke excepted, huddled around the bones, and
expressed unqualified astonishment.

“What will you do about it, George?” Will inquired.

“Travel them around the country for a show;” Marmaduke sneered.

But George was too much elated to regard such gross indignities. Let
the envious little simpleton rave; hadn’t he read that every great man
has his enemies and detractors? He would ignore the mean wretch and his
insulting words.

But for all his philosophy, the words did rankle in his breast.

“Well, what will you do?” Will inquired again.

“Ship them to a geologist, I suppose;” George said jocosely.

“Excuse me, George,” Charles broke in, “but I always used to think they
found those old mastodons under ground; and these bones are _on_ the
ground.”

“EH?”

“Yes; don’t they dig all those horrid old telegraph poles of bones out of
the ground?”

George rose, looking very black and wretched. That important fact had
escaped him. His castle in the air toppled down as Marmaduke’s had done,
and all his grand ideas were buried in its ruins.

“Perhaps I’m wrong,” Charles continued; “but,” proudly, “I’ve read a
little about such things, and I believe they come out of the ground. But
you know better than I do, George; so, which way is it? Which of us is
right?”

It was cruel for him to ask such a question. George, however, was not
a boy obstinately to persist that he was right, when common sense said
that he was not. In justice to the boy, it must be observed that,
although he was fully aware of his own cleverness, he did not consider
himself infallible, but was at all times open to reason. To be still more
explicit, he was apt to change his opinions very abruptly.

“No, Charley,” he said, “you are right enough. But I’m astonished to
think we should take those paltry bones for a fossil! Why--”

“I never did!” Marmaduke interrupted furiously.

“Why,” he continued, “of course not! A real fossil would be ashamed to
look at such bones; they would be to him what a minnow’s bones are to
ours. I--I didn’t think, boys; I know what a fossil is, of course.”

George was miserable if he fancied any one thought him ignorant in any
matter; and he was about to give the natural history of the mastodon,
when Steve diverted the train of his thoughts by asking, “If it ain’t a
fossil, what is it?”

“Well, it’s part of the remains of some very rare animal, I should
say,--a bison; or a wolverine; or a jackal; or--or----”

It is the needle that breaks the camel’s back. Will, Charles, and Stephen
could suppress their laughter no longer; they shouted and guffawed like a
desperate villain who fancies that he has married the heroine and lodged
a bullet in the hero’s heart.

“What’s the matter?” George asked in astonishment.

Another roar of laughter was the only answer vouchsafed. Steve lay on the
ground, and enjoyed the joke heartily; Charles and Will endeavoured to
take it more moderately.

Then George’s suspicions were excited. “You boys are fooling me!” he
cried angrily. “Why did you coax Marmaduke and me to look at these bones?
Why did you make us speak about them? Why didn’t _you_ have anything to
say about it? Boys, _why_ did we come here at all?”

After these direct questions an explanation could be delayed no longer.
The three looked guilty and ceased from laughing. “We never coaxed you to
look at them; and you arrived at your own conclusions. You know you did,
George,” said Charles.

Will explained as follows: “George, we fixed those bones ourselves, on
purpose to draw you and Marmaduke out. We gathered up a heap of bones of
all kinds, from all over, and brought them here, and covered them up with
boughs. Then we six came here to explore the jungle--we found them--and
you did the rest.”

The victimized boys did not swoon away, but they were more or less
exasperated. That was the worst feature in the “trick”--it provoked anger
in George and Marmaduke, and lessened their faith in human nature.

“What a mean, hateful, nasty set of fellows!” was George’s natural
comment. “They must be fond of prowling around bone-heaps; and handling
them; and carrying them up and down the country; eh, Marmaduke? They
ought to be told off--clapper-clawed--bastinadoed--soused in hot water!
We’ll fix them some day; won’t we?”

“Only,” Steve observed, “_we_ didn’t finger the bones as you two did;
_we_ put them into a basket, and then brought ’em here, and dumped ’em
out--without _once_ touching ’em! Therefore, I advise you both to lather
and scrub your paws with all the soap you can find. Scrub ’em hard, boys,
if you know what is good for ’em.”

“Yes,” put in Will, “it is polite to handle skeletons and fossils, but
not vulgar bones like these.”

“Oh! what scurvy boys!” was all poor George could say.

As for Marmaduke, he held his tongue, being too sulky, too horrified, to
do more than gurgle out a few dismal moans.

“Well, boys,” said Charley, “it will soon be dinnertime; so let us cover
up these mysterious old bones, and start for home and the soap-barrel.”

But George was recovering his equilibrium, and he thirsted for revenge. A
light that boded no good to his deceivers shone in his eyes; he was bent
on mischief.

“Look here, boys,” he began, “how do you know these are the same bones
you accumulated? We stumbled around in the woods just as it happened; we
found ourselves here; and Will suddenly found himself floundering in this
brush-heap. Can you _prove_ this is the place you think it is?”

“It is not likely that there are bones under all these bushes, George;”
said Charley. “Besides, we took notice where we were going, and we’ve
often been here. I’m certain its the place.”

“No; you can’t be _certain_; absolutely _certain_;” George replied, so
positively that Will, who lacked firmness, wavered, and helped George’s
cause by saying, “Well, the place has a different look, I believe! But
these _must_ be the bones, surely!”

“It looks different, because we generally came in from the south;” Steve
returned. “Any boy with two eyes isn’t going to get so far astray in
these woods.”

“Well, what if it isn’t the place we think it is?” Will asked.

“Oh, you will have to give in that it’s murder,” Marmaduke said. “I knew
it was murder all the time. How do you know that nobody was ever murdered
here? You don’t know anything about bones; George is most likely right.”

“Don’t make a fool of yourself again, Marmaduke; let us go home,” Steve
growled, and he had taken a step homeward, when a long and doleful cry,
followed by a hideous and piercing scream, electrified all the boys.

They conjured up all sorts of horrors, and the bravest turned pale with
fright. Suddenly the “glade” became gloomy and awful; bugbears lurked
in the shadows; ghost stories flitted through their heads; the “Phantom
Ship” loomed before them.

“Don’t talk about murder, boys; I can’t stand it so coolly as you can,”
Will entreated, with a quavering voice that told of abject terror.

“Oh, what is the matter?” Steve gasped. “What could yell like that?”

At that instant another shriek, more appalling than the first, rang out,
rose and fell in grating discord, and then died away in the distance.

It was sufficient; Charley himself believed that they had made a mistake,
and had been desecrating a human skeleton. Was this the ghost of the
murdered one, or was it the perpetrator of the deed?

Instinctively the demoralized heroes huddled together, and Marmaduke
found comfort in whispering hoarsely, “Now the mystery is going to be
solved. I knew it was mur--”

One more shriek! The ghost was very near them now, and its lungs were
strong. But it labored under the disadvantage of a cracked voice; or
perhaps it was not “in practice.” At all events, the sound was so
wild, so awful, that they shuddered with horror--they felt their flesh
crawl--cold chills ran down their back.

This is not exaggeration; the boys were not easily frightened; but the
ghost--who was at an age at which the voice is subject to changeable and
discordant utterance--was exerting himself to the utmost.

“I won’t budge, no matter what happens!” Steve declared heroically.

“No, we must stick by each other, boys,” Will added.

Once again the ghost found voice This time, however, it spoke--spoke
in tones of fury. “Who dares to say there was not murder here!” was
thundered forth. “Who dares to touch my bones! Let--him--be--ware!”

This was too much. With a yell of horror and dismay, four boys started to
their feet and tore out of the “jungle,” morally certain that a band of
furious demons was hard behind them.

“Its dangerous to stay,” Marmaduke said, “for that is poetry!”

_Four_ boys fled; George lagged behind. “They’ve caught Jim’s disease!”
he chuckled ecstatically. “I’ll teach ’em not to palm off old bones on
me! Perhaps they’ll find that I can play a trick that knocks theirs all
hollow!”

He performed a jig, and then set out in mad pursuit of his comrades.

We assign no reason for this act; but if the reader was ever a boy, he
will understand.

George gave a yell of triumph; but it savoured so strongly of fear that
Will, who had gained an open space, called out cheerily, “Don’t be
afraid, George, if it’s you. Come straight ahead; here we are.”

“What on earth made such a rumpus?” demanded Stephen, already recovered
from his fright.

“It must have been something; but of course we were not frightened;” said
the others, whose fears the bright sunshine and the twittering birds had
dispelled.

“The idea of saying I was afraid!” George roared. “I did that myself.”

“You made that noise?” gasped the four, in one breath.

“Yes, boys; I was the ghost;” George said complacently.

“And the murder--?” Marmaduke began.

“Never was!” George declared. “Boys, last night I was reading about
ventriloquism; and I set to work and practised it. The man that wrote it
said, ‘After five minutes’ practice, the veriest tyro will find himself
able to rout a coward;’ and I guess he was right.”

“Botheration! we are sold!” Charles exclaimed, in surprise and
mortification.

“Yes; you fooled me, and I fooled you all. We’re even now.”

Steve winced when the Sage again made reference to the learned
ventriloquist’s weighty observation, and demanded indignantly, “Why
didn’t you tell us all that before? Why didn’t you ventriloquism as we
came along?”

“I was only waiting; I intended to do it before night,” George said
honestly.

“You read too much, George;” Will commented sorrowfully. “We won’t try to
fool you any more.”

“The worst of it is,” Charles said, with a droll smile, “is that one of
us can’t make fun of another, for we all made fools of ourselves.”

“There’s Jim,” Steve suggested.

“So there is! Well, what about the murder?”

“It certainly is a skeleton,” Marmaduke said grimly.

“Well, to please you, let us call it an ‘open question,’” George, who was
now in jubilant spirits, observed.

“Let us go back and look for the lost trinket; that will solve the
problem;” Stephen proposed.

“Never mind the trinket, boys;” said Charley; “it will keep till another
day. But give me a scrap of paper and a more respectable pencil than my
own ruinous one, and I’ll write something worth while.”

Wonderingly, Marmaduke handed out the articles asked for, and Charley
wrote as follows:--

                        ONE SLATE PENCIL REWARD.

                             DEAD OR ALIVE!

    This reward will be given to anybody who revives a ghost, dead
    or alive, to claim these bones and solve this mystery.

                                                     C. GOODFELLOW.

Then, to prove his fearlessness, he retraced his steps to the bones,
looking as brave as the hero of an orthodox love story, and pinned his
notice to a scrubby tree hard by.

Tracking his way back to his schoolfellows, he said, “Boys, I’m hungry.”

Without more ado the heroes turned their faces homewards, each one except
Marmaduke satisfied with his own exploits. Marmaduke jogged on ahead in
sullen silence; and while the sage held forth, with schoolboy oratory,
on anatomy, astronomy, geology, navigation, jugglery, osteology,
whale-fishing, and ventriloquism, the other three amused themselves by
carving baskets out of peach-stones, and wounding their index fingers in
the hazardous attempt.



_Chapter IX._

“THREE WISE MEN WENT TO SEA IN A BOWL.”


A few days later the boys gathered together and strolled down to the
beach, hoping something there would turn up to amuse them.

Two or three schooners and a steamboat were moored at the wharf; but
to-day they excited only a languid interest in the boys.

“If we could only go out on the lake,” Will murmured, “it would be fun.”

“Why, where should we go?” inquired one.

“Oh, just out on the lake for a mile or so; or perhaps we might round the
point and have a swim in our swimming-place.”

“Well, then,” said Jim, always with an eye to safety and comfort, “why
not get out your father’s boat? Wouldn’t it float us all? And it’s so
safe!”

“Yes,” said Will, “it’s pretty safe--very safe in the boat-house. And the
key of the boat-house is safer still, at home! That’s the way it goes,
boys; and when I want a boat ride, I generally struggle around the best
I can. It isn’t worth while to trudge home for it; because, most likely,
we should find something else to do when we got there. But I think we can
light on a craft of some sort if we scratch around a little.”

Although Will’s father owned a boat, the key of his boat-house was always
kept at home; and poor Will was about as much benefited as are most boys
whose fathers own boats, and ponies, and carriages.

“I hanker for a boat ride,” Charley said. “Let us take the punt.”

“The punt, of course!” Steve chimed in. “The punt is just what we want.”

“Oh,” groaned Jim, “the punt is dirty and worn out; and it leaks; and it
tips over; and it won’t go; and an awful storm is going to come up!”

“Look here, boys,” the Sage began, “Jim’s half-way right about that punt;
it’s vulgar! And besides, it isn’t so safe as it ought to be. Only the
other day, I read about some boys that went out in a cockle-shell of
a boat,--I suppose it meant a punt; only, as I told you, punt is very
vulgar, too vulgar for this author, at any rate,--and all got drowned!
And another thing; I’ve been reading about the weather lately, and I
understand just how it goes now.”

And the Sage looked so knowing that it was difficult for the boys to
suppress their laughter. He was now casting intelligent glances at the
sky, the birds, the grasshoppers, the lake, and even the ground. Soon he
spoke.

“Boys,” he said, as impressively as he knew how, “I’m saying nothing
rashly, but deliberately and--and--_correctly_. I’ve observed the weather
indicators, and _a dreadful storm is coming up fast_! A storm that will
stun an equinoctial, and tear Germany all to pieces.”

And the meteorologist’s form swelled with science and satisfaction.

“Whereas, on account of these gloomy auguries, resolved: that we go
home and hide in the cellar hatchway till the storm is over,” Charles
commented.

“No, boys; I’m in earnest, and I don’t care to go out in the punt,”
George said firmly.

“I want to inquire into this drowning affair,” Steve said, “Didn’t you
read about it in a little gilt-edged story-book?”

“Well, yes, I did,” George reluctantly acknowledged. “But, what of that?”

“Only this, were they all bad boys?”

“Come to think, they were.”

“That accounts for it then. They always put those solemn tales in books
for little boys that get sick, and can’t get out doors, to make ’em
think that a sound boy is always bad, and that it’s better to be sick.
But somehow the superintendent always make a muddle of it, and give all
those books to little girls. My little sisters have got a big cigar box
chock-full of ’em, endwise up, and I never got one!”

“Yes, I know them; each nine chapters and a preface long,” said Charley.

“They’re the ones,” said Steve.

“What do your sisters do with them?” Will asked.

“Oh, they mostly build houses with ’em on rainy days,” Steve answered.
“Now, we are not bad boys--never were. We are a first-rate crew, so let
us go. But to please you, George, I’ll go and ask that sailor about the
weather. I guess he ought to know, if anybody’s going to.”

Without loss of time, Steve went up to a sailor a little way off, and
inquired, “Bill, what sort of weather are we going to have to-day?”

“Weather,” echoed Bill, grinning good-humoredly. “Well, look out for
a rough gale; pretty rough and pretty long. Yes, there’ll be an awful
blow--a hurricane--a typhoon!” he added, remarking Steve’s dissatisfied
looks, and mistaking their cause. “Why, who knows but that there’ll be a
zephyr that’ll swoop the hold clean out of a vessel and carry a door-knob
clean over a flag staff.”

Stephen appeared more dissatisfied than ever; and the jocose sailor,
who wished to please him, was about to give a startling account of what
the weather _might_ be; but more than satisfied, Steve thanked him, and
returned to the expectant five.

“Well, what does he say?” Will demanded.

Stephen dejectedly repeated what the sailor had told him.

George was not in a humor to say, “I told you so!” On the contrary, he
was furious against the sailor. He allowed his indignation to boil for
a few moments, and then exclaimed, haughtily, “What does that man know
about the weather? Why, he doesn’t know any more about it than a caged
dromedary. Why, he’s nothing but a lubber--a fresh-water sailor--a
stone-boater--a--a--”

“And, besides,” chimed in Marmaduke, “that isn’t the way a genuine sailor
talks. He must be some disguised--”

“Yes, of course it isn’t; of course he is;” George broke in. “He is some
disguised vagabond, trying to humbug us fellows. Come along, boys; I’m
going with you in that punt, through thick and thin, in the teeth of
every lubberly sailor, and wishy-washy weather indicator, and high toned
thunder-storm, that ever astonished anybody!”

This strikes the key-note to the Sage’s character.

But Stephen was angered. “See here, George,” he exclaimed, “that man is
an honest sailor and a decent fellow, and you just let him alone!”

The boys, thinking time enough had been fooled away, then made a rush for
the punt. This punt was an old derelict, heavy, unwieldy, full of chinks,
and boasting of only two crazy poles, called “oars,” or “paddles,” or
“sculls,” according to the humor of the wretch who gallanted them. No
one could step into this craft without getting wet; and why it was kept
there, or what use it was to the community, was unknown; for no one,
except a few freckled and grimy street urchins, ever shoved off in it.
Perhaps it was kept for them!

The six, however, had urged their way round the wharf in it.

“Come along, Jim!” Steve shouted, seeing that Timor lagged behind.

“Such a dirty boat to get into!” Jim objected. “And I’ve got my good
clothes on, too!”

“Come, now, Jim, you and George are altogether too careful of your
clothes. If they are so new and good, or so old and rotten, that you
can’t go with us, then stay at home. Hurry up, you’ve got to go with us,”
and Steve forced him in--an unwilling passenger.

And so the adventurous boys embarked in this dirty and dilapidated craft,
with which Time, so to speak, had worked wonders.

“How are we to make the crazy thing go?” Will asked, when fairly afloat,
looking around in vain for any motive power.

It is always thus with boys. Not till their own imprudence plunges them
into difficulties, do they pause to consider what it all means, and
what they had better do. When a boy is small he clambers upon the roof
of his father’s barn, enjoys the perspective for one brief moment, and
then ruminates as to how he shall get down. His mother sees him, and
with tears in her eyes and dismay at her heart, tears out of the house,
and exclaims, “Oh, Johnnie, why did you get up there?” Then the little
innocent answers stoutly, “Well, ma, I reckoned if I could get up, I
could get down again. Now, you jest watch, and I’ll climb down like a
spider. Don’t be afraid, ma, it’s nice up here; I can see Mr. Morley’s
shed,” (the object which bounds his view.) When older, he “volunteers;”
girds on his uniform with swelling heart; breathes the word _patriotism_
with lover-like tenderness,--and then! Ah! then he fears to confront his
father.

“Botheration!” cried Stephen, “we’ve left those oars on shore! There they
are; behind Reichter’s boat-house. Back her up, boys, and I’ll jump out
and get ’em.”

Poor sea-farers! In their eagerness to be off they had “set sail” without
the “oars.” After a great struggle, they succeeded in urging the punt
back so that Steve could jump ashore. Then the dauntless young voyagers
told off the crew, and struck out gallantly.

“Now, Tim,” said Stephen, “if you’ll take that old oyster-can, and bale
out this vessel, you’ll feel so much at home that you’ll be happy; and
bye-and-bye I’ll help you.”

“It has no business to leak,” Jim grumbled. “But I told you it did!” he
added, triumphantly.

“Of course it does; what’s a boat, if it doesn’t leak?” Steve snorted.

On they went; drifting, paddling, and sculling; laughing and joking. It
seemed so joyous and secure that even Timor lost his uneasiness. Before
they had determined whither they were going, the abutments of the wharf
were passed, and they were fairly out on the lake. The farther they went,
the higher their spirits rose, and the more jocose they became. Not one
of them troubled himself about a storm.

“Well, boys, we can round the point, and have our swim right along. Let
us do it,” said Will.

“Yes, I haven’t had a swim in the lake for three weeks!” Jim solemnly
declared, as he rested a few minutes from baling out the punt.

The others were duly astonished at this (we say it boldly) neglect of
duty.

Steve, who was tugging lustily at his oar, called out to George, the
helmsman: “Fetch her around, there, old fellow; brace about for the
shore, will you? Don’t be so lubberly, now, or you’ll keel her over. Hug
her up for the shore, I tell you!”

“Look here, Stephen Goodfellow, I can navigate this dingy without so many
orders; so, let me alone!” the helmsman retorted, indignantly.

“Now, boys,” said Will, “if we are mariners, let us behave ourselves. A
captain and his crew always act in harmony, like a drummer’s drum and a
tooter’s horn.”

“Of course,” chimed in Charley. “They don’t wrangle like a couple of
bumpkins of boys in their collarless shirt sleeves.”

“What’s a dingey?” asked Jim.

“I--I believe it isn’t in my dictionary; but it’s a good-for-nothing
craft, that is always an eyesore to the noodle that harbors it,” said
George.

The punt was headed for the beach; but a decided swell, which had
hitherto been in their favor, was now against them, and progress was
slow. By dint of exertion however, in the course of time, they grounded
their craft at the water’s edge, and sprang out to enjoy their bath. The
gloomy speculations about the weather were forgotten, and not one noticed
the threatening clouds looming up in the west.

The old sailor had not trifled with them; a storm was brewing.

Although their swimming-place was somewhat difficult of approach, it
was retired and delightful, the great resort of all the swimmers in the
neighborhood. That was the only drawback; it was too much resorted to by
swimmers. But to-day the boys had it all to themselves.

“Well,” said Marmaduke, as he plunged into the water, “we boys and the
rest of the folks are acquainted with a good place to swim in, as the
Frenchman would say.”

“Never mind the Frenchman now, Marmaduke;” replied Will; “English will
float you through the world.”

Jim had hardly stepped into the water when he cried out, “Oh, boys, the
water is too cold and nasty; I’m shi-i-ivering!”

“Well, then,” sang out Steve, whose head was bobbing up and down some
thirty yards from the shore, “bundle on your clothes, and play the anchor
to that punt. It’ll drift across the lake, if somebody doesn’t take
charge of it.”

But it _was_ cold and disagreeable, and their swimming was of short
duration. They waded ashore with chattering teeth, and huddled on their
clothes as quickly as their shivering limbs would permit.

“Boys, suppose that we go home by land?” Steve proposed. “It wouldn’t be
so very far, and then it would be a change.”

“That’s a capital idea, Steve; but what would become of the dingey? We
mus’n’t leave it here,” said Will.

“Then let us make off.”

Without delay the six took their places in the punt, and shoved off.

There was now not only a perceivable swell, but also a perceivable
breeze. In a word, the scullers found that it was unnecessary to handle
their sculls, for the punt drifted merrily seaward without a stroke from
them.

“Look here, boys,” cried the Sage, prefacing his remarks, as usual, with
his darling expression, “we could hardly make the shore a while ago; and
now just see how fast we are drifting out! I don’t believe we could get
back to our swimming place; let us try it.”

“Let us be glad that we are getting a boat-ride without work,” was
Steve’s foolish comment.

But his fellow-voyagers considered the matter in a different light, and
tried to back the oars. They could still do so, but only by putting forth
all their strength. Their situation was now so critical that they turned
pale with dread.

“O dear!” gasped Timor, too frightened to say more.

“Why didn’t we go home by land!” Steve ejaculated.

“Pity we didn’t do that,” Will said. “Before we could row ashore, the
swell would be too much for us, wouldn’t it?”

“Of course it would,” George answered.

“And we’re almost too far from shore to swim to it,” Charles asked,
rather than said.

“Couldn’t swim there without getting the cramps, Charley,” Will replied,
in a hoarse whisper.

“Look to the west!” Jim cried in terror. “Oh, boys! I’ve got ’em! got the
chills! dreadful chills! awful chills! O boys! we shall all be drowned!
We’ll perish! We’ll be drownded! drownded to death! Oh! what a dreadful
storm!”

All looked towards the west, and saw that a storm was almost upon them.
The black clouds piling up were certainly ominous; the breeze was getting
stiffer every minute; the lake was getting rougher.

“Well boys we’re caught!” Stephen said gravely. Poor boy! all his mirth
had forsaken him.

But it was now convenient for George to remember that he had
prognosticated a storm; and, forgetting the incident of the “disguised”
sailor, he exclaimed, “Yes Steve, we’re in a tight place. But I was right
about the storm, boys.”

Steve was too much flurried to remind the boy that he had arrived at a
different conclusion, scouted the idea of a storm, and determined to
accompany them.

“Well, boys,” said Marmaduke, “this is a storm at sea: let us enjoy it
while it lasts.”

“No, Marmaduke, let us be thankful that it is _not_ a storm at sea,” Will
replied. “As for enjoying it, that would be pretty hard work. Don’t you
know that we are in danger?”

“O dear! what will become of us!” Jim groaned.

The shock was wearing off now; and Charley found courage to ask,
jocularly, “Is that all you have to say, Marmaduke? I expected something
better from you.”

Steve put in promptly, though he was still very much discomposed: “Oh,
Marmaduke’s mouth is full of words; he’s only puzzling which to say
first.”

“Look here, boys,” said the Sage, “how far astray was I about the
weather?”

“Very far, George; nearly as far as that miserable stone-boater,” Steve
answered maliciously.

This nettled George, and he asked testily in a grum voice, “What about
the little books now, Steve? Don’t you think they were right enough?”

“Well, George, it seems like it, surely enough,” Steve acknowledged.

“Don’t say spiteful things when we are in such danger,” Charles here
interposed. “And besides,” he added, “we are all in the same scrape, and
no one is to blame for it. So, let us lay our wise heads together, and
try to save ourselves.”



_Chapter X._

THE “BOWL” COMES TO GRIEF.


The first shock had now passed away, and the foolhardy scullers were
beginning to recover their spirits. Although each one was still almost
quaking with dread, yet each one believed that they would be rescued;
and each one--except, perhaps, Jim--had a theory of his own as to how
it would be effected. They viewed the matter logically. To them, it did
not seem possible that six clever boys, determined, true, and good, (the
writer and the reader may not agree to this) could perish so near home.
They searched their minds diligently, conscience helping them, and many
little things that made them uneasy were remembered; still: _they would
be rescued, they knew it_.

The punt was now a long way out on the lake; the point was passed;
looking longingly towards home they could discern the vessels at anchor,
the wharf, and several buildings in the village.

In the confusion of the moment, they had left off bailing out the
ramshackle punt, in which there were, consequently, three or four inches
of water. A dead fish and half a dozen emaciated fish-worms--abandoned, a
few days before, by an amateur angler of ten years--were carried hither
and thither over the bottom of the punt, adding to the ghastliness of the
scene.

Jim was the first to discover the water washing over his boots. Here was
a new source of distress. Forgetting the storm, which was still more
or less in the distance, his attention was centred upon that water. To
him, in his “good clothes,” it was more to be dreaded than the bellowing
waves, or the approaching storm. Thus, gentle reader, we get an insight
into the boy’s character.

“O dear!” he said piteously, “my feet are soaking wet in the bottom of
this nasty boat; and I’m cold; and I’m catching cold; and I’ve got the
chills.”

“Well, then, set on to your feet and bale her out,” Steve growled. “I
guess we don’t want to drown in this old coal-slide of a punt.”

Heaving an agonizing sigh, Jim snatched up the floating oyster-can, and
fell to work. Poor boy! his toil was monotonous and painful.

“Is it worth while to row?” Charley asked, not hopelessly, but
speculatively.

“Perhaps not, but it will keep up our spirits, anyway,” Will said. “Steer
it, George,” he added. “It would seem like giving up all hope, if we
don’t do something to help ourselves.”

Foolish fellow! he could not realize that it was out of their power to
help themselves.

“This is a sorry ending for our little trip, and things look pretty black
for us,” George observed, “Charley, how do you suppose we can be rescued?”

Thus appealed to, Charles assumed an air of importance, and said
knowingly, “If this wind should get much worse, we shall be driven away
out into the lake, and perhaps lost; unless--” here he hesitated.

“Unless what?” Jim demanded, with much emotion.

“Well, a passing schooner might pick us up, but there is none in sight.”

This was _his_ theory. Nothing would have pleased the young Argonaut more
than to be picked up by a passing sailing-vessel; and for this reason, he
was morally certain that, sooner or later, such would be the case. Why he
chose to speak so doubtfully about it, is best known to himself. Probably
the sharp young reader can guess.

“Or, they might send for us from home; but I can’t see anybody coming
along in a life-boat,” Will said, giving his particular theory.

“Haven’t any life-boat to send; and I guess they won’t telegraph for
one!” Steve exclaimed rudely.

“Oh, you mean fellow!” Jim broke in, apostrophizing unpoetic Stephen.
“You made me come, and you’ve got to get me home!”

“The truth is, we may as well prepare for the worst!” George said,
deliberately and with seeming sincerity. But the grin on his face
belied his words. He was only waiting for a fit time to pronounce his
opinion--the most extravagant of all.

“George, how long could a fellow live on the water without any food?”
Steve inquired, not at all awed by George’s lugubrious asseveration.

“Oh, how long?” said George, so pleased to have an opportunity of drawing
on his extensive and miscellaneous reading that he lost track of his own
pet theory. “Well, boys, a shipwrecked sailor once lived twenty-two days
without food; but he was a fat old fellow--a captain, I think he was.
Now, in our case--”

“Don’t talk nonsense, George;” Will interrupted at this point. “We are
not going to experiment in that way; for _on the lake_,” with significant
emphasis, “we shall not have a chance to see how long we can live without
food, as it’s either saving or drowning with us. Look at those clouds
again. It will rain in a few minutes. But cheer up! I think we shall be
safe at home within three hours; and then this storm will be an episode
in our lives as long as we live. If we could only let the folks on shore
know, they’d soon come along.”

“Yes, if we could open up communication with the people at home!” Charley
sighed.

“Boys,” said Marmaduke, with great animation, “I can tell you how to do
that; tie a handkerchief, or something else, to one of the sculls!”

“Good for you, Marmaduke!” Charles cried, with delight. “You are a
genius!”

“Yes, Marmaduke, you’ve hit on the very thing!” said Steve. “Now, whose
is the largest?--Mine is;” and two minutes later Steve’s handkerchief was
fluttering as a flag.

“I--I was just thinking about that, too;” Jim stammered.

A hearty laugh--the first since they had left their swimming-place--burst
from the boys at this.

The little white flag on the oar was romantic; it inspired hope in them;
they became fearless, even merry. Each one was sufficiently susceptible
of romance to place the greatest confidence in the saving powers of that
little handkerchief. It was medicine to Jim’s troublesome disorder, while
to Marmaduke it was everything. He sat bolt upright, devouring it with
his eyes, his heart going at high pressure. Environed with romance, with
danger on every side, he made an idol of the little square of linen,
which, but for his sapience, would not have left its owner’s pocket. What
did he care for danger? Though they should float for hours, this would
eventually save them. Thus he sat, gazing eloquently and lovingly on the
white flag.

Did we say _white_? Alas! it was not white! Two days previous to this,
Steve had made it serve him for a towel.

Meanwhile, the breeze increased to a gale, and the punt was tossed about
in a manner to make even Steve fidgety, while it made pigeon-hearted Jim
draw groans expressive of unutterable agony. The sinking sun was hidden
by black clouds; the storm was upon them. In fact, their situation was
really becoming desperate.

“Why is it so dark, boys?” Jim articulated faintly.

“Why, surely enough, it’s so dusk, so _hazy_, that we can hardly see the
harbor!” George said.

“My stars, boys, it’s an eclipse!” cried Steve, forgetting his peril
in the excitement of his astounding discovery. “An eclipse! The
down-rightest eclipse that ever was! George,” banteringly, “don’t
you wish you’d brought in something about this eclipse when you were
foretelling the weather!”

The Sage experienced some of the emotions of a huffish philosopher when
floored by a hulking lout from the copper regions.

George’s words had directed Charley’s attention towards the harbor. “Oh!
Look! look!” he cried. “They’re coming! coming at last!”

“Where? where?” cried the others eagerly, stretching over the gunwale of
their crazy craft and peering into the darkness.

The water-loving boatmen soon descried a long-boat drawing towards them.

“Help at last!” Will ejaculated thankfully. “And it will reach us barely
in time to save us.”

“The signal has done it, boys,” Marmaduke observed with complacency.

“Let us yell!” said Will.

How they shouted! Their pent-up woes found vent, and they shouted till
hoarseness necessitated them to forbear.

But the manager of the signal had not shouted, and when the voices of the
others finally died away in a discordant murmur, he said snappishly, “You
needn’t yell like an hobomokko; this flag will guide them to us.”

“Yes; but it’s better to yell,” Steve panted. “In fact, I couldn’t help
it!”

“I wish we could stop this punt till they come up with us,” Will said,
“for we are drifting farther from them all the time,” sighing to hear the
water plunk against the punt with remorseless and dreary monotony.

“Well, we can’t anchor; but they’re rowing hard and coming fast,” Charles
replied.

“Will, it’s your fault that we came; you proposed it;” Jim said.

“That may be, Jim,” the standard-bearer replied; “but I think we all
had a hand in it--except, of course, you. But _I_ am the one who has
saved you, and saved us all. This signal of distress has been sighted,
and then immediately they made ready to rescue us,” and he looked
triumphantly at the boys, defying a denial.

“Oh, yes; I know it’s all right; I ain’t afraid;” Jim said quickly.

Stephen spoke next. “How everybody will laugh at us!” he said,
elaborating a dolorous sigh and putting on a hideous grimace.

Now that succor was at hand, this thought began to depress his mind.

The approaching long-boat was a fascinating sight to all, to Marmaduke
especially. As it drew nearer, the latter suddenly and most unwarrantably
struck the improvised flag and stuffed it into Stephen’s coat-pocket.
Had he become ashamed of it? Could he be so base? No! no! but it was not
needed now!

In good time the long-boat came within hailing distance.

“Hollo there, you lubbers!” a voice bellowed. “You’re a pretty lot of
fellers, ain’t you?”

“Why didn’t he say, ‘Ship, ahoy!’ or ‘Boat, ahoy!’” Marmaduke murmured.

“You mean, why didn’t he say, ‘Punters, ahoy!’” Steve corrected.

George felt it incumbent on him to make some reply, so he called back
feebly, “All right!”

Each boy now began to “feel like an idiot,” as Steve put it. Each one
experienced the feeling that any boy, caught in a similar predicament,
would experience. The writer has suffered in that way, and consequently
knows how to pity those miserable boys.

The long-boat was soon alongside. It contained several men,--among them,
Will’s and Jim’s father, overjoyed at this happy meeting,--and the sailor
whom Steve had questioned concerning the weather appeared to be leader.

The rescue came about in this way: When the storm was seen approaching,
the boys were found to be missing, and inquiries for them were at once
instituted. For some time these were fruitless; but at length Mr.
Lawrence, guessing shrewdly that they would be on the water at such a
time as this, went down to the wharf, and came upon and interrogated
the old sailor. “Well,” said the latter, “one of ’em asked me about the
weather, and I expect they all went off on the lake, but I don’t know; I
saw ’em poking around for a boat, I guess it was, and then I went into
the hold of the schooner, and didn’t see ’em any more. We can overhaul
them, Sir, but it will be a long and hard pull.”

This clue was sufficient; a good glass was procured, and the boys were
descried far out on the lake. Then a boat was manned in hot haste, and
put off to the rescue.

“Well, younkers,” said the old sailor, “you must hurry up, for there’s
no time to be idled away.” Then, with a sportive wink, (which the gloom
made invisible) he added, “I guess you fellers will believe me next time
I warn you to look out for blows.”

“Yes, boys, you’ve done a foolish thing, but your mothers will be so glad
to see you that they’ll forgive you,” a good-natured sailor observed.

The transfer from the punt to the long-boat was soon made, and then one
of the rescuers demanded, “What about this craft? Shall we cast it off,
or tow it into harbor for another set of boys to drown in?”

But a practical man, who made it an established principle of his life
never to lose anything that came in his way, passed his dictum that the
punt must be preserved at all risks.

“Of course this will be a warning to all the boys,” he said, “and it
would be a sin to lose a ship-shape craft like this. Just see how well
it floated them! No boy is so wrong-headed that he won’t profit by
experience.”

So, much to the chagrin of the boys, who now regarded the punt with
deadly hatred, it was hitched to the long-boat, and the flotilla set sail
for home.

“Speaking of experience,” spoke up a furrow-faced rower, who plied his
oars lustily, “I never knew but one boy that profited by experience, and
he never did it but once, when he couldn’t help himself, so to speak.”

“What are the details of the particulars, Tom?” asked one.

“Well, the boy went fishing with a tinker, against orders.”

“And he profited--?”

“’Cause he caught cold, and died of too much cough-syrup and remorse.”

“Boys,” said Mr. Lawrence, seriously, “you have risked your lives for
a moment’s pleasure, and even yet we are in some peril. I do hope, I
sincerely hope, that _you_ will profit by this lesson.”

The boys turned pale. A second time they realized their danger, and they
breathed a silent prayer of thankfulness for their deliverance.

“What were you doing to help yourselves?” Mr. Horner inquired.

“We were trying to steer the punt as well as we could,” Will answered.

“What?” cried the furrow-faced sailor in astonishment. “Steering? how?
where? why? whew! where on earth were you steering to?”

“Well, we thought we’d keep it as straight as we could,” Will said,
apologetically.

“Well,” gasped the sailor, not at all awed by the presence of Messrs.
Lawrence and Horner, “that beats me! To think of a pack of noodles trying
to save themselves by steering, when their craft is going the wrong way!”

To return to the punt. When Jim saw help approaching, he did not bale
the punt so carefully; consequently, at the time of starting for home,
there was considerable water in it. Fuller and fuller it became; not
only did the water leak in through the cracks, but volumes of it poured
in over the stern. When almost filled, the lumbering and water-soaked
craft quivered a moment on the surface of the waters, then suddenly sank,
snapped the rope by which it was tacked to the long-boat, and disappeared
forever.

The practical man sighed meekly: the sailors grinned; the rescued heroes
chuckled audibly.

So trifling an incident may seem a blot on these well-written pages, but
it is related because it discovers the characteristics of boys.

Will and Jim, awed by the parental presence, said but little during
the voyage homewards. Stephen, however,--whose spirits neither strange
gentlemen, nor blustering seamen, nor chilling rains, nor raging seas,
could damp,--soon recovered his sprightliness, and demanded:--

“Why didn’t you come for us in the steamboat there at the wharf? It would
have taken so much less time to reach us.”

“The steamboat!” echoed a sailor, wondering more than ever at these
boys. “Well, that beats all! A steamboat! You must be a goose! You live
beside the lake, and I’ve seen you poking about the vessels and steamers,
as smart and pert as a homeless peanut boy; and yet you ask me such a
question! Don’t you know, from watching the engineers, how long it takes
to get on a good head of steam? And, s’pose we had come for you in the
steamboat--why, it would have knocked you and your ragamuffin’s punt
endwise!”

Steve fetched a hollow and piteous sigh, and mumbled something about
knowing something.

“Yes, of course; but if you had brought along a few gallons of oil,”
suggested the sage, rejoicing in the opportunity afforded for holding up
his knowledge, even in so hopeless a cause, “you could have calmed the
water, stopped the steamer, and picked us up without any trouble.

“Exactly--_if you had been worth a few gallons of oil_!” was the crusty
blue-jacket’s cutting reply.

“The life-boat is the right thing to go and save people in,” Marmaduke
commented.

“Yes, of course it is;” the sage hastened to observe. “I only made the
remark.”

“I think you are very remark-able boys,” put in Mr. Lawrence.

“What made you think we were on the lake?” Will inquired.

“I suppose you caught sight of my--_our_, I mean,--signal of distress?”
Marmaduke said placidly.

“Your what? ‘Signal of distress?’ Well, that knocks everything else on
head: that is most extraordinary!” the scandalized tar ejaculated.

Poor fellow! The boys’ observations and inquiries had kept him in a state
of continual bewilderedness. It was he who had expressed his astonishment
so huffishly every time.

“Yes,” rejoined Marmaduke, “the handkerchief on the oar. That brought
you, didn’t it?”

“I don’t know anything about any handkerchief on any oar; and you must
be crazy to think we could see one in this darkness,” was the depressing
answer. “But, to be sure,” the sailor added, “I did notice that a pole
with a rag on it seemed to be lowered just before we came up to you; was
that the signal?”

“Boys, I knew how fond you are of endangering your lives, and when
you were nowhere to be found, I shrewdly suspected that you had found
your way out into the storm--and surely enough, you had!” Mr. Lawrence
explained.

“Marmaduke, don’t meddle with romance again!” Charles whispered.

“I never did like sailors, except in stories,” Marmaduke muttered; “they
are always a mean and sneering set of fellows, except on the ocean.”

“I never knew such fellows,” muttered the sage; “I--I shouldn’t be
surprised if they turn out to be ex-pirates!”

“I’ll bet they are!” said Steve, who took kindly to this brilliant idea.
“Jim, I say, Jim,” he whispered slyly, “it’s too bad you’re in your good
clothes; for you’ll have to change ’em for the old ones! Now, _we_ can
change for our best.”

“Let me row!” he said suddenly to the furrow-faced rower, so coaxingly
that the row-locks creaked in sympathy.

“No, I came to save you, and I’ll be hanged if I don’t,” the man said
roughly. “You did the punting; just leave me alone for the rowing.”

Poor Stephen! He longed to take a turn with the sailors in rowing, but
this crushed him, and he was mute.

“They’re not a bit like sailors,” he mumbled to himself, drawing his
water-soaked hat down over his gleaming eye-balls.

The men’s surliness, on this occasion, was because they were disgusted
with the worthies whom they had come so far to save.

Soon afterwards they reached the wharf, where a knot of people had
assembled to welcome them. A hearty hand-shaking followed, and then the
six, mighty heroes, in _their_ eyes, were marched off home in triumph.

At least six families were made happy and thankful that night, for the
boys had had a narrow escape.



_Chapter XI._

A TALENTED LECTURER.


A few weeks later, the holidays, like all other good things, came to an
end, and the six returned to school.

On the opening day a certain great man--great in his own estimation,
at least--was to deliver a speech to the school children. This notable
gentleman bristled with facts and figures; but, alas! he had acquired
so much erudition that he had lost all sense of the fitness of things.
Having learned all that is possible for one mortal to know, and yet live,
he now made it his pursuit to journey through the country, delivering
lectures at the different colleges, and sometimes, as in this instance,
at the public schools. There was nothing wicked about this most peculiar
man; but, with all his learning, he lacked one thing--practical wisdom.

He was of “slender bulk,”--that is, short and gaunt--saffron-faced,
and had a pugilistic and threatening manner of poising himself while
speaking, his hands, meantime, describing geometrical curves that were
picturesque in the extreme. His eyes were sharp and prominent; his nose
followed suit: and his cane, which was stout and elaborately ornamented,
was worth, to descend to a hackneyed comparison, an emperor’s ransom.

He employed the same technical terms that he did when addressing the
most polished audiences; and, for that reason, the younger children
looked upon him as a sort of hero, while to George and Marmaduke he was
a full-fledged demi-god. The former (George) listened attentively to the
lecture, and took mental note of the big words, with a view to explain
their import to his less learned schoolfellows, should an opportunity
offer for doing so without too much ostentation. But, alas! poor youth,
many words which were strange to him rolled glibly from the professors
tongue.

Here we pause--not to make a “digression,” but a vulgar harangue.

The writer has the temerity to hazard the assertion that there might
be, in some lone corner of the world, an English-speaking romancer, as
familiar with a foreign language as with his own, who could write a tale
about people speaking that language, and yet have his tale so purely and
thoroughly English that the most neuralgic critic could not cavil or
repine. But this is only a rash surmise, and is probably fanciful.

Or is it only those who have acquired a smattering of another language
that are so eager to lug in words and phrases peculiar to that language?

When will the mediocre writer of English come to understand that his
meanest, as well as his sublimest ideas, may be manifested with as much
force in English as in any other language? Alas, never! Instead of
saying “such a man is a sharper,” he says, “such a man is a _chevalier
d’industrie_.” What could be more expressive than “he is a devil of
a fellow?” And yet our learned penmen prefer to say, “he is _uomo
stupendo_!” It is a notorious fact, that whatever language a writer is
most conversant in, he draws upon oftenest. Happily, the reading public
are not much bored with scraps from the Esquimau.

But, protests the reader, there are certain terms, and entire phrases,
that are not yet Anglicized, but that are in everybody’s mouth.

Very true; against the proper use of such terms and phrases, _in
moderation_, no objections can be raised.

Having thus prated nonsense enough to incur the deadly hatred of every
sentimental scribbler to the weeklies of rural towns, this interesting
argument may be dropped, particularly as it only heads up to the
following observation:--

Our circumforaneous holderforth was one of those who cannot make a speech
without “borrowing from the classics;” but (for the best of reasons,
gentle reader) we kindly suppress his redundancies in that respect.

After a few introductory remarks, he cleared his throat, and in sonorous
tones began to speak of--hydrophobia! Why he should pitch on that as a
subject of discussion is as great a marvel as the man himself. Possibly,
he had been bitten by an exasperated mad dog at some period in his
life, and could not overcome the temptation of speaking of it now. But
the probability is that he considered himself the fountain-head of all
sciences and theories, of physics and etiology. At all events, whatever
the wiseacre’s motive may have been, it is certain that he spoke of
hydrophobia.

“My dear little children,” he began, affectionately, “it is of the
utmost importance that you should be made acquainted with the latest
discoveries that science has made with regard to that most subtle
distemper, learnedly called lycanthropy. To those among you who intend to
become physicians on attaining majority, this subject will be absorbingly
interesting. It is not my purpose to trace this dread distemper from the
first mention we have of it down to the present time, but merely to give
you a concise description of its operations in the human system, from
its incipient stages to the final paroxysms, and also to touch upon the
various methods of treatment in repute among those who have conquered
immortality by their researches in that field.

“Probably none of you ever beheld a rabid canine. When fleshed in the
blood of his victims, he presents one of the most appalling sights that
the imagination can conjure up, and rivals in ferocity the fabulous
monsters of the ancients. But in good time I shall discourse more at
large on his appearance; for the present it is sufficient that I make
apparent the--But,” breaking off abruptly, “it is well that there should
be a thorough understanding between a speaker and his auditors.”

Then, with that benevolent smile, peculiar to instructors of juveniles
when propounding their knotty questions, he demanded, “Little ones, can
you define _hydrophobia_ for me?”

The “little ones” stared stolidly and helplessly, but said nothing.
The teacher, Mr. Meadows, looking encouraging--then, beseeching--then,
mortified--then, irritated--then, wicked. Still the “little ones”
maintained silence, both the scholastic and his lecture being
unintelligible to them.

He repeated his question; and George--who, although he did not wish to
be ranked with the “little ones,” yet feared that the learned man might
consider him equally ignorant if he did not speak--rose prepared to give
a precise and lengthy definition.

This strikes the key-note to the Sages character.

But a mischievous little gum-chewer, who doubtless could have answered
with tolerable correctness, if he had chosen to do so, forestalled him by
shouting, at the top of his voice: “Burnt matches and water, Sir!”

Now, it is probable that the juveniles had a chaotic idea of the
signification of the word, though unable to define it; and as the
youngster just cited was generally correct in his answers, they jumped to
the conclusion that he was correct this time; therefore, with a deafening
shout, some fifty “little ones” yelled: “BURNT MATCHES and WATER, SIR!!!”

Poor Teacher Meadows! The emotions with which his bosom glowed, were
written on his face; and he hitched uneasily in his seat, with that look
of grave displeasure supposed to be peculiar to aggrieved persons.

The professor, probably seasoned to such rebuffs, soon recovered his
equanimity, and turning to the older scholars, asked, “Cannot _you_ give
me a satisfactory answer? Come! Anyone! What is hydrophobia?”

Again an answer quivered on Georges lips; but now Charles forestalled
him. Taking his cue from the gum-chewer, Charley said, “Excuse me, sir,
but you addressed the little folk, and we, quite politely, left it for
them to answer. We know what it means, sir. Hysterphostia is a sort of
influenza that yellow dogs catch when they’re fed on too much picnic
victuals and spoilt molasses. Then they’re turned loose, with tin cans
on their tails, for policemen to shoot at; and everybody that sees them
rushing along the street is sure to inhale quinine hyster--”

At this point the speaker’s voice was drowned by roars of laughter from
the astonished and delighted boys and girls, and he sat down “amid
thunders of applause.”

They, at least, appreciated his absurd reply, his pretended ignorance,
and his unblushing effrontery in thus wantonly insulting the august
professor. They had evidently taken a dislike to the scientific
gentleman, who was altogether too knowing for them, and, idiot-like,
rejoiced to see him thus grossly insulted.

The teacher looked stern and furious, and endeavored in vain to stop the
hubbub. Was his noble patron to be thus shamefully treated by a mob of
ignorant and good-for-nothing school-children, supposed to be under his
training and control? Must not the offenders be made to smart for it?

The professor himself was electrified. However, he had too much
self-respect to regard anything that a school-boy might say, and after
shooting Charles a look of calm contempt, he resumed his discourse, and
proceeded to enlighten Teacher Meadows’ brazen-faced blockheads. He spoke
long and earnestly on all things relevant to canine madness, and mad
dogs, and at length ventured to propose another question.

“What should you do,” he asked, “if a mad dog should burst into this
apartment--his bloody eyes starting from their sockets--his mouth
wide open, reeking with its lethal venom, and disclosing his cruel,
hideous fangs--he himself dashing headlong hither and thither, in his
ungovernable fury remorselessly laying low victim upon victim--we
ourselves imprisoned here, utterly unable to extricate ourselves?--Ah!
you may well shudder at the frightful picture! I forbear. But I repeat,
what should you do? Boys and girls, listen:--

“All that is necessary is sufficient presence of mind, together with
firm reliance on your nerves, and you will always be able to face and
avert the most appalling dangers. And this is the precept that I wish to
impress upon you: _Strive to acquire the habit of self-reliance, for no
habit is more important._”

“Yes, yes, boys and girls; mark that; always remember that precept;” good
Teacher Meadows cried, rising from his seat, and smiling approval.

But the darkened intellect of the juveniles could not take in the weight
of such a precept, and a faint murmur of resentment passed from mouth to
mouth. In the momentary interruption that ensued, Steve, who sat near
an outside door, rose and slipped out quietly. “I guess I’ll show the
professor and the rest of the folks what a _rabid canine_ is like!” he
chuckled sardonically.

But the scene still lies within the school-house.

The professor was in earnest, and he certainly seemed capable of making
personal application of his precepts, though, alas! he had never been put
to the test!

“What should you do in such an emergency?” he again demanded.

But he did not wish for an answer, and now he had the goodness to tell
the gaping children what he should do. “Without a moment’s deliberation,”
he said, “I should, almost mechanically, muster my strength, and prepare
to ward off the danger. Knife in hand, I should calmly await his
murderous onslaught, and when almost upon me I should disarm his fury by
ruthlessly stabbing him to the heart.”

To add force and illustration to his words, and to gain credit with his
hearers, the orator whipped out of his pocket a treasure of a knife,--a
knife, the possession of which would have shot a thrill of happiness
through any understanding boy’s heart,--and brandished it wildly, yet
gracefully, slaying myriads of imaginary mad dogs.

Certainly, he seemed master of the situation; but in an actual attack of
a mad dog he might have experienced some difficulty in getting his knife
out of his pocket, and opened, in time.

But where was the professor’s dignity? Why should he make himself
ridiculous for the pastime of idiotic school-children?

Although his spirit revolted at the thought of thus sacrificing himself,
yet his benevolence prompted him to do many strange things for the
instruction of the ignorant; and on this occasion, he labored not to
amuse, but to discipline them.

“Most magnanimous soul! most disinterested savant!” breaks in the reader,
struck with admiration for our noble-minded professor.

But when an audible titter ran round the company, the philanthropist
hastily pocketed his weapon. Not to be turned from his purpose, however,
he resumed his discourse, and artfully harrowed up the feelings of his
victims, pausing occasionally to pronounce, and amplify on, some wise and
weighty precept.

Teacher Meadows nodded his approbation; the tired school-children became
restless and thirsty; their feet went to sleep; they rolled their watery
eyes pleadingly. Still the strong-lunged enthusiast continued to hold
forth, seemingly taking a malicious pleasure in preying upon their
emotions.

Suddenly a distracted boy beheld an object that utterly demoralized him.
A piercing shriek of agony burst from his lips, and his eye-balls gleamed
like those of an ambushed highwayman.



_Chapter XII._

AN EXTRAORDINARY MAD DOG.


It is now in order to follow up giddy-headed Stephen, and see what mad
plot had been hatched in his fertile brain.

By turning back a little way, the reader will find that that hero left
the audience-chamber immediately after the professor had so vividly drawn
the onslaught of an imaginary mad dog.

“It would serve the crazy old shouter right to test his courage,”
he muttered. “What business have people to let such a man speak to
chicken-hearted little young-muns, all full of weak nerves, and awful to
bellow? He might scare some of ’em into fits! I know I’m fond of ‘boorish
tricks,’ as George calls them; but if Charley can talk that way about
hydrophobia and yellow dogs, I guess I can safely play this one nice
little trick. Why, this would only be in the interests of common sense!
And,” cheerfully, “_how Jim would yell!!!_”

Stephen’s mode of reasoning was exceedingly subtile--in fact, like the
speech of the philosopher on whom he contemplated playing a trick, it
is too subtile for our comprehension. But so long as it removed his
scruples, he cared not a goose-quill what others might think.

“Now,” he said to himself, “let me strike out my plans. First is, to find
my dog Tip; then, to white-wash him and paint him. But,” doubtfully,
“I’m afraid I can’t get any white-wash or any paint. Anyway, it would be
better and more natural if I could get him on the trail of some animal.
Poor Tip! It’s too bad to treat him so; but then it won’t hurt him any,
and if the professor keeps on working up their feelings, I guess there’ll
be a stunning howl when Tip bounces into the room, the very picture of a
‘rabid canine’!”

If Steve had tarried a little longer in the school, and seen the
professor as he flourished his murderous weapon, he would have thought
better of having Tip play the mad dog.

Hurrying along through the school-grounds, he finally halted under
a venerable and wide-spreading shade-tree, beloved by all the girls
and boys of the school. There before him, rolled up in a ball, lay a
vivacious-looking dog, sleeping soundly.

“Eh, Tip!” Steve said. “Good old boy! here you are, just as I hoped.”

At the first words the dog hopped up briskly, and began to caress his
master, frisking and barking to express his delight, and disporting
himself as only a pet dog can.

It is conjectured that our young readers may be curious to know what
species of dog this was. Alas! it is impossible to inform them. Neither
his master Stephen nor any other person in the village could affirm
positively to what particular species Tip belonged, but all agreed that
he was a dog of some sort. This much, however, is known concerning
him: He was of medium size and of divers colors, black and white
predominating, a universal favorite with all the heroes and heroines of
this history.

“Eh, Tip, are you glad to see me? Shall we have some sport? What do you
say to a run in the road?”

By way of answer, the dog seized his master’s pants with his sharp teeth,
and tugged playfully at them, his way of angling for sport.

“I guess you’ll do, Tip. You’ve got lots of fun in you, if I can keep you
going;” and Steve swung open the gate of the school-grounds and passed
out with a chuckle, Tip hard at his heels.

Then this giddy-headed boy and his unsuspecting dog turned a corner
of the fence, found themselves in a dusty and unfrequented lane, and
prepared for action.

“Now, Tip,” said the young rascal, “if we can make you run up and down
this lane till you get all covered with dust, and dirt, and slobber, our
fortune’ll be made! Come on, Tip; we shan’t need any white-wash nor any
paint. Eh, Tip?”

Going on a little farther, till they reached the river, this wicked
boy incited his dog to plunge headlong into the water after sticks and
stones. Then, returning to the lane, he urged the wet dog to course up
and down in the midst of the dust--sometimes after sticks, sometimes
after himself. The playful dog enjoyed the sport, and entered into it
fully. Soon he presented a woful appearance, but Steve unpityingly
spurred him on till he began to pant hard.

“Good!” cried he. “Pant away, Tip, and get yourself well covered with
slobber. That’s it! Run, now,--fetch him, Tip; go for him. There, roll in
the dust!”

Thus he continued, till the poor dog was fagged out. Then Stephen, even
Stephen, relented, and thought seriously of giving up his proposed
experiment.

But, ah! the reason was--

“I’m afraid, Tip, that if you _run_ back to school, you’ll be too tired
to scare them much, and if you _walk_ back, you’ll lose most of your foam
and slobber. And perhaps we might be too late, anyhow. Upon my word,” he
cried suddenly, “I never planned how I am to get you into the building! I
can’t go with you, and you can’t get in alone!”

In his indecision, Stephen retraced his steps to the gate of the
school-grounds, opened it, and with his eyes tried to measure the
distance from that place to the castellated school-house--Tip, meanwhile,
recovering his strength and sportiveness.

On a sudden, Fate interposed in the form of a muscular and war-worn cat,
which appeared leisurely crossing the school-grounds. Tip saw it, and
forgetting his weariness, furiously gave chase.

“Sic it, Tip! Sic it!” cried Steve, who, in the excitement of the moment,
apparently forgot his trick, and eagerly joined in pursuit.

Tip soon came up with his hereditary enemy, and a frightful combat
ensued. Instinct or the force of habit impelled warlike puss to fight
stoutly for escape, and he rained blows and execrations, (in the cat
language,) that would have done credit to a battle-scarred pirate, upon
his assailant.

Tip fought because of his “liking for the thing,” and because his master
was pricking him on to victory by such spirit-stirring exclamations as:
“Oh, sic it, Tip! Go for him! Beat ’em! Maul ’em! Sh! sh! sh!”

Rabid canine and outraged feline! Would that the professor could have
beheld the combat between them!

Presently the dog, with a piteous howl, ceased to fight, and rubbed his
head vigorously on the ground; whilst the cat, seizing its opportunity,
scampered away towards the school-house.

“Poor little Tip!” said Steve remorsefully, as he observed that his dog
was reeking with dust, froth, wounds, and _blood_.

In a moment, however, Tip was up again and in hot pursuit of the
persecuted feline, but, not wishing to risk another engagement, that
redoubtable warrior found refuge somewhere about the school. Not so Tip.
He dashed straight ahead, and made his way into the very room in which
were all the school-children, together with Professor Rhadamanthus and
Teacher Meadows.

Steve was close on the dogs heels; but on seeing this, he turned back and
shot off in despair.

“Oh!” he groaned, “this is worse than I meant it to be! Every one’ll
think that Tip is stark staring mad! O dear me! What shall I do! what
shall I do!”

Tips arrival was most opportune. Thanks to the professor’s vivid imagery,
all the scholars were perspiring with racking excitement, and so
blood-stained an apparition as Tip could not fail to create a commotion.
Tip still retained sufficient strength and agility to burst impetuously
into the room, and the sudden appearance of an animated mass of slaver,
wounds, and blood, was enough to unhinge the mind of any school boy in
the Union.

There were more than one hundred boys in the school; more than forty
had a stout jack-knife in their left-hand trowsers pocket; more than
thirty had one in their right hand trowsers pocket; some five had both
a penknife and a jack-knife about their person; about twenty phlegmatic
and chuckle-headed cubs--who took only a languid interest in anything but
peppermint candy, circus serpent-charmers, and noisy fireworks--had their
jack-knives out, and were trying to while away the time by rounding off
the sharp angles of their brand-new lesson-books. As for the others, they
had lost their jack-knives on their way to school, and consequently had
none. Alas, professor! your golden precept was lost on those youths! Not
one, _not one_, drew his knife to “stab the beast to its heart.”

An awful yell of consternation smote upon the air, as the demoralized
and panic-stricken boys and girls struggled to escape. The young ladies
were too prudent to faint, but they screamed with a voice as shrill and
discordant as their brothers’. It fared worst with the little girls, who
were jostled about and shoved aside without ceremony. Not a spark of
gallantry animated the bosom of those youths; each one strove to save
himself, himself only, and took no thought for the weaker and less active
girls. Rough and lubberly boys, in their struggle to escape, brutally
trod hats and bonnets, books and slates, foot-stools and benches, and
school-mates’ toes, under foot. Such commotion had never been known
in that school. Suddenly a boy stepped heavily on the dog, and poor
Tip howled so lustily that he was heard above all the tumult. This, of
course, added to the panic, and a perfect Babel ensued.

Then, with a roar of horror and agony, a bouncing boy cried out that he
was bitten!

What wonder that poor Tip should bite, when he was bedewed with grimy
tears of honor, yanked this way and that way, stumbled over, jammed
against desks, pelted now and then with a stone ink-bottle, and trampled
nearly to death?

At length the apartment was cleared of all save a few. As it has been
emphatically stated that most of the six were brimming with noble
heroism, perhaps it would be better to say nothing about how they
behaved. Let the reader imagine how _he_ would behave under similar
circumstances.

By the way, it was very rash and foolish in the writer to speak
of their bravery at all; and it has cost him (or her) no little
annoyance--instance chapter the eighth. In fact, on mature deliberation,
the writer recants all that has been said of their bravery.

As Will was tearing out of the room,--it may be remarked incidentally
that it happened he was almost the last to do so,--Tip hobbled past him
to get out. Quick as thought, Will caught up a heavy chair, and brained
him on the spot.

“There,” Will said joyously, “the danger is over now; the dog is dead.”
On giving the dog closer examination, he exclaimed, in surprise: “Why,
it’s Steve’s dog Tip! Poor Tip! Surely he wasn’t mad!”

Meanwhile, where was the great authority on all things in general, rabid
canines in particular? Where was he with his knife?

At the first note of danger, he, being nearest the front-door, had leaped
to his feet and ingloriously shown his heels; but not being so familiar
with the internal arrangement of the building as he thought, he fell
heavily down the four steps of the entry. The fall stunned him, and for a
few minutes he lay insensible. Where was the wonderful knife that was to
disarm the fury of all mad dogs? Alas! it was safe in his pocket!

Before the learned man could grapple with the situation and gather
himself up, the horrified school children were swarming out of the door,
and--over him! Awful magnate that he was, not one among them hesitated to
make him a stepping-stone in this time of fancied danger. In fact, the
next day an immoral boy was heard to say that the professor made a better
door-step than speaker; “for,” as he phrased it, “we slid down over him
at top speed, and got outside all the sooner.”

As for Teacher Meadows, he had perceived that the peroration was at hand;
and when the dog appeared, he was carefully digesting an “extempore”
little speech, in which he intended to express his gratitude to the
learned man for the very lucid and forcible manner in which the absorbing
topic of hydrophobia had been presented to the “students.” But the advent
of the dog diverted the train of his thoughts, and his nice little speech
was never made. After a vain attempt to stem the hubbub and find where
the mad dog was, he followed the example set by the noble speaker, and
hurried out of the school; for, though naturally brave, he saw that it
was useless to remain.

Although the dog was slain, it was some time before the quaking
children could be brought to understand that the danger past, and when
at last their fears were quieted, it was found that a great many were
missing--among them, the boy who had been bitten. What a startling report
they spread in the village about that mad dog! As may be imagined, the
strange orator’s name was so much mixed up in their incoherent and
“artless” story, that most of the villagers laid all the blame of the
affair on him.

Let us return to him, the precept-giving sage, the gifted declaimer. As
soon as he recovered himself, and found an opportunity to do so, he made
good his escape--without even making his adieux to Teacher Meadows! He
reached the depot without molestation; but instead of taking the train
for the next seminary, to rant on his darling themes, he took the first
train for his home, in Boston.

There he lamented the degeneracy of American youth, and trembled for
the integrity of the Union if those boys should ever usurp the right of
running the machinery of government.

Now, our wondrous-wise philosopher firmly believed the heart to be the
seat of courage. Being aware that he had played the poltroon on the
occasion of the struggle with the “mad dog,” he became alarmed about the
state of that organ, and consulted one of the most eminent physicians of
Boston, who gravely informed him that the left ventricle was affected.

Hence you perceive, gentle reader, that the professor must not be
censured for deserting his post as he did; for had his heart been in its
normal condition, he would have proved a far more formidable antagonist
to Tip than the pugnacious grimalkin.

But Teacher Meadows probably suffered most acutely, and he should be
pitied most. Let us return to him. After mustering the remaining school
children, he demanded threateningly. “Can any of you throw any light on
this mysterious affair?”

There was silence--unbroken, except occasionally, by an hysterical “Ah!”
or “Oh!” from some tender and cream-faced child, who still quaked with
fear.

Soon Will spoke. “The dog is dead, Mr. Meadows,” he said. “I killed him,”
with boyish pride, “and I don’t believe he was mad at all; for he was
Stephen Goodfellow’s dog.”

“Oh, the dog is dead? Well, let me see it; where is it?” Mr. Meadows said
eagerly.

Will led the way to the place where Tip lay dead, and good Mr. Meadows
vainly tried to determine whether the dog had been mad or not. Poor man!
he was better versed in Latin verbs than in “lycanthropy.”

“Can any one explain this?” he again demanded. “I never before saw a dog
in so pitiable and unnatural a condition, but as to his being mad--” and
he stopped short, nodding his head in great perplexity.

“I guess I saw him first,” piped up the chubby hobbledehoy who had been
the first to cry out in terror on the dog’s arrival. “I saw him bolt in
through the winder.”

“You did not!” exclaimed another. “He came in through the door.”

“I know it; I only said I saw him bolt in through the winder,”
screamed the first speaker, who was blissfully ignorant of syntactical
constructions.

“Well?”--

“Well?” mockingly. “Don’t you wish you’d seen him bolt in, too?”

“Oh, you!” furiously.

“Stop that noise!” cried the teacher, authoritatively. “You must say,
‘burst in.’” Then, swelling with pettishness, he said vehemently, “I
demand an explanation! Some one must know how and where this originated.”

“I can explain it--mostly,” said Jim (our Jim), stepping forward.

Poor Jim! It had fared hardly with him; for, besides having his weak mind
nearly thrown off its balance, he had been clawed and pommelled cruelly
in his struggles to escape, and was now suffering with an agonizing
attack of his peculiar disease--“the chills.”

“_You_ can explain it?” said Teacher Meadows. “Then, wherefore have you
withheld your communication so long?”

He, at least, had profited by the professor’s discourse; he had caught
that long-winded gentleman’s scholastic phraseology.

“I--I--was afraid to speak; I--I ain’t well;” Jim stammered.

“Pray begin your version of it,” said Mr. Meadows, with a weary look,
that told of an aching head and a sore heart.

“Yes, Mr. Meadows,” Jim said hastily. “While Mr. Rhadamanthus was
speaking, I saw Steve slip out of school and go to the far end of the
grounds, where his dog was sleeping; and then they both got up and they
went outside of the gates; but the fence hid them from me, and so I can’t
tell you what they did outside of the gates.”

Here the narrator paused to take breath, and Teacher Meadows said,
sharply, “Yes, very good; but why didn’t you pay attention to the
speaker? Instead of idly gaping out of the window at a boy and his dog,
why didn’t you listen to that spirited dissertation on hydrophobia, and
assiduously take notes of the learned remarks? So distinguished a speaker
may never visit our town again; and--”

“Yes, sir,” interrupted Jim, “but if I hadn’t looked out of the window, I
shouldn’t have known how it all happened.”

Teacher Meadows was nonplussed. With a zigzag wave of the hand, he simply
said, “Resume; I will not argue the point.”

Jim resumed. “I was sitting by the window, and I watched until they came
back to the gates. They were too far away for me to see what they had
been doing; but I watched, and pretty soon I seen Tip chasing a whopping
big old striped used-up cat like--like--like--”

“Like _what_?” angrily asked the teacher.

Jim started, hesitated, and said, desperately, “I don’t know, I’m sure.”

“Go on!” said the wearied listener, with a sinister frown.

“Yes, sir. Well, he caught the cat, and they had an awful fight! I expect
Tip got used up in the fight, Mr. Meadows. Then the cat got away--then
Tip chased after it towards the school--and then the next thing I knew,
Tip was right in the school! That’s all I know about it, sir.”

“A most succinct relation, James,” commented Mr. Meadows, with a reckless
disregard for the rules of grammar as regulated by logic in his octavo
grammar. “But when you knew all about it, why didn’t you warn us in time?
Then this misfortune would not have happened.”

“I--I was frightened myself, sir,” Jim acknowledged.

“Where was Stephen? You left him at the gate,” said the teacher.

“No, sir; I wasn’t with him; I didn’t do anything to him;” Jim said
innocently.

“I guess he ran off after the fight,” ventured a boy.

“Here comes Steve now,” a scholar announced.

And a minute later the boy under discussion hove in sight, but so changed
in appearance that he seemed another boy. Light-hearted and light-headed
Steve was now a haggard, woebegone wretch, who looked as if his
conscience had goaded him over the verge of frenzy. From a distance he
had heard and seen the uproar at the school; and, far from felicitating
himself on the “success” of his trick, he had undergone torments. In
fact, the thought had been forced home to him that there is a higher
purpose in life than that of playing coarse practical jokes, and that he
had frightened the children more than even the orator, Mr. Rhadamanthus.

Yet the boy had at least one good quality; he was always ready to
shoulder the blame of his misdoings, and he never tried to take refuge by
telling a lie or by distorting the truth.

“Stephen Goodfellow,” began Mr. Meadows, severely, “let me hear you in
your defence. According to all accounts, _you alone_ are the guilty one;
so give me your version of this scandalous affair.”

“Yes, sir; I did it all;” Steve said, meekly. “It was my dog Tip; but he
wasn’t no madder than I was.”

“Then he must have been remarkably sane!” commented the teacher.

We need not weary the reader by detailing the trickster’s “version.”
When he had rehearsed his story from beginning to end, Teacher Meadows
said, in deliberate and awful tones that cut Steve to the quick, and
fairly made his hair stand on end: “I have a few remarks to make, but I
will not detain you long. Your ‘trick’ may have been strikingly novel
and daring, the inspiration of a genius; but that it was dishonorable
and brutal, unworthy of a citizen of this glorious republic, I presume
no one will attempt to deny. You have created a great sensation in
our peaceful little village, but what you have done will not redound
to your credit; you have forfeited the esteem and friendship of your
school-fellows; you have, I doubt not, mortally wounded the feelings of
Professor Rhadamanthus, the great philosopher and able speaker, as well
as cast opprobrium upon our school; you have terrorized the children,
and even fatal results might have ensued; and by sequestering yourself
from the scene of conflict, you have laid yourself open to the stigma of
cowardliness. Though great harm has been done, I will not punish you, for
the odium of this affair and the prickings of your conscience will be
sufficient punishment. Your dog, the sportive Tip, is dead, as I suppose
you know. You will acknowledge that no one except yourself is to be
blamed for that. But one word more: I advise you all to hasten to your
homes, to try to forget this shameful occurrence, and never to practice
cowardly tricks.”

Steve did not know that Tip was dead, and he gave a convulsive gasp and
then burst into a flood of tears, for he loved his dog. Poor fellow,
his heart was so full of grief and remorse that his eyes mechanically
pumped the tears cut of their reservoir. And that reproof! His former
misdemeanors had generally been overlooked by the kind-hearted teacher,
and this oratorical reproof stung him to the quick.

As for the teacher himself, his own eloquence had a wonderfully soothing
effect on him. No one, except a few gaping, trembling school-children,
was there to hear him, it is true; but for all that, he was pleased with
his little speech, and--surprised at it! In fact, it did his headache as
much good as an application of hartshorn and alcohol.

Fearing, perhaps, that the teacher might change his mind and re-open
school, the juveniles set off for home at a round pace. Steve was not
wholly avoided by the boys; on the contrary, several gathered round him,
to condole with him or to blame him, as the case might be. Not a few
envied him the “notoriety” to which he had attained.

“Well, Steve, are you a ‘citizen of this republic’ or not?” Charles
anxiously inquired. “I couldn’t settle that point from what Mr. Meadows
said.”

The unworthy citizen smiled mournfully, but said nothing.

“Steve,” Charley pursued, “I hope that between the phenomenon Mr. Prof.
Rhadamanthus, yourself, and your dog, the ‘little ones,’ ‘big ones,’ and
every one present, will have a tolerably clear idea of hydrophobia and
mad dogs.”

“Please don’t speak of Tip, boys,” Steve said pleadingly.

“No, Steve, we won’t,” George replied. “But really, now,” he added, “I
wasn’t so flurried as the rest of them; and I took it coolly; and I
doubted all the time whether the dog was mad. You see, I’ve read a good
deal on the subject lately, and he hadn’t the build of a dog that would
go mad. Mad dogs always look--”

At this point the Sage was interrupted by a burst of laughter, in which
even Stephen joined feebly.

“Then, George, I suppose you understood that lecture?” Will asked.

“Y-e-s,” George said, with some hesitation.

“Steve, it was me that killed your dog;” Will said doubtfully. [Though
the writer has heard hundreds of boys say, “it’s me,” “it’s him,” etc.,
he never knew but one boy to say, “it is I.” That boy did not say it
because he knew it to be correct, but because necessity compelled him to
do so. The phrase occurred in a sentence which he was reading.] “It was
me that killed your dog; but I thought I was killing a mad dog at the
time. I’m sorry for it, Steve.”

“No, Will; you did all right: I don’t blame you a bit;” Steve replied.

“Don’t!” said Marmaduke, softly. “Respect Steve’s grief, and talk about
something else.”

The excitement in the village was appeased at last; but great indignation
was felt towards Stephen when it became known that he was the author of
it all.

The poor boy who had been bitten was in great terror, and his parents
sent for the doctor in hot haste. That worthy--who had a theory of
his own about hydrophobia, and was only waiting and longing for an
opportunity to put it into practice--chipperly trod his way to the rescue
with a case of surgical instruments, and was about to perform some
horrible operation on the hapless youth, when the news came that the dog
was not mad. Then he applied a soothing poultice to the bite, and wearily
plodded his way back to his office, full of bitterness because he had not
been able to try his little experiment.

The bitten boy, however, was of a malicious disposition, and he vowed to
take dire revenge for the indignities heaped upon him.

Stephen’s position was not one to be envied. He was so thoroughly ashamed
of himself that he latibulized in the house for four livelong days; and,
for a boy of his restless disposition, that was unheard-of penance. What
passed between him and his scandalized parents would not benefit or
interest the reader, consequently it is not recorded here. He mustered
his resolution and took to reading his sisters’ “little books,” which he
had always abhorred and eschewed with the unreasonable and implacable
hatred of boyhood, and gladdened his mother’s heart with his staidness
and meekness. For one whole month he refrained from playing off or
studying up any trick, and those most interested in him began to hope
that his reformation in that respect was sincere.

Alas! such hopes were built on quicksands! His father, taking pity on the
_dogless_ boy, had bought him a frisky Newfoundland pup, which he cared
for lovingly and almost idolized; and as the memory of poor Tip gradually
faded from his mind, he forgot the many morals and precepts that had
been held up to him by his well-meaning parents. In a merry moment Steve
named this pup “Thomas Henry;” but as this provoked the laughter of his
school-fellows, in sheer desperation he nicknamed it “Carlo.”

At the end of that one month, the street urchins got tired of teasing
him about mad dogs, and he recovered his spirits and his love of
mischief, and returned to his former pursuits with gusto. In a word,
Stephen became himself again.



_Chapter XIII._

THE SIX GO TO A PICNIC.


About this time a picnic was planned by the villagers, to be held in
a grove beside the river. Everything was arranged beforehand, so that
no hitch might occur; but, for all that, a hitch _did_ occur, since
seventeen plum-cakes and five hundred and nine tarts were baked. A fire
was to be lighted on an “island” in the river, and another on the shore;
and over those fires, something, no one could have told exactly what,
was to be boiled. Boats were to be provided to ferry the picnickers to
and from the said island. By the way, this pigmy island was prettily
clothed with grass and flowers, and presented a fine appearance from
the river; therefore, by the poetical, it was appropriately named “The
Conservatory.” It was also roundish in shape, and therefore, from the
vulgar, it received the unique nickname of “The Saucer.” Our heroes
generally gave it the latter name.

The children of the school, of course, to be present in all their finery,
with their elders in attendance, to keep them from destroying themselves.

Now, Stephen knew all the plans that had been formed, and it occurred
to him that it would be a capital joke if he should take a bunch of
fire-crackers along with him, and introduce it secretly into one of the
two fires.

“Of course,” he said to himself, “I wouldn’t poke ’em in while any of the
ladies or little youngsters were around; I’d do it while none but boys
were there. No; for I don’t want to get mixed up in any more tricks!”

The longer Steve meditated this, the more determined he was to do it; for
he had not yet learned that an action, harmless in itself, may lead to
unpleasant, if not serious, results.

On the day before the picnic, he applied to a shop-keeper for the
crackers. In vain; the “Glorious Fourth” was passed too long. “But,
to accommodate you, I can get some in a few days, I suppose,” the
shop-keeper said, with great benevolence. “How many bunches do you want?”

“No, I want them to-day, or not at all;” Steve said, as he turned to leave
the shop.

But he did not give up hope yet. He thought of Will, and the next minute
was on his way to see him. By what fatality was he sent there?

“Oh, yes, Steve; I happen to have a whole bunch of them;” said Will. “You
see, I had more than I wanted last Fourth, so I was saving these, but you
can have them all.”

“Yes,” said Stephen; “but I guess you’re the only boy I ever heard of
that couldn’t fire off all his crackers. Why, I could make use of a
barn-yard full of them!”

“So could I, Steve; but I scorched my hand, and _had_ to stop firing
them.”

“Yes, I remember it, Will; that’s the reason I came to you. But I don’t
see why you didn’t fire ’em when your hand got well.” Then to himself:
“Just like Will; wonder he didn’t scorch his head off.”

“Well, Steve, let us look for those same crackers,” said Will.

But they had been mislaid, and the two boys conducted the search almost
at random. In length of time they came upon a little wooden box.

“Here they are, Steve!” Will exclaimed. “This is the very box I put them
in; but I don’t know how they got here, among father’s guns. But then I
wasn’t keeping track of them--in fact, I had forgotten that I had them
till you spoke about them.”

“Thank you, Will!” said Steve, with a broad grin, as he took the box.

Then, with thumb and forefinger, he tried to open it, to take out the
crackers and gloat over them. But he could not force it open. “What’s
the matter with this box, Will?” he asked. “I can’t open it at all.”

“That’s queer,” said Will; “likely the lid has swollen. Well, take them,
box and all, Steve; and if you break it in opening it, it won’t be any
great loss.”

Steve mumbled a feeble remonstrance, but pocketed the box and turned to
go.

“But what are you going to do with the fire-crackers?” Will suddenly
asked, as a dread suspicion entered his mind.

Steve looked disconcerted, and said something like, “Oh, you’ll see.”

Now, when a boy falters and says, “you’ll see,” it is generally safe to
infer that he is plotting mischief.

Will evidently thought so, for as Steve whisked out of the house and over
the gate, he said to himself, “I believe Steve is working up some trick
again. And to-morrow is the picnic! Well, Stunner, I’ll just keep an eye
on you!”

On reaching home, Stephen found that he could not open the box without
tearing it to pieces, and he decided that he would put the fire-crackers,
box and all, into the fire.

“That’ll be the easiest way to open the pesky old box,” he said. “Of
course the crackers won’t go off till it is burnt, but a rousing old fire
will soon burn it.”

Having formed this determination, the boy’s mind was at rest. If,
however, he had succeeded in opening the box, he would have found not
fire-crackers, but _gunpowder_; for Will had made another blunder, and
given him a box filled with powder. This box belonged to Mr. Lawrence;
he having bought it a few days before, filled it with powder, and put it
away among his guns. The reader now understands that it was not the box
Will thought it was. The reason why Steve could not open it, was because
the lid caught with a hidden spring.

If that box should be introduced into the fire, it would make more of
a “stir” than fire-crackers, and give somebody a little employment in
setting things to rights.

The next day was the picnic. The sun shone bright, and promised a
peerless September day. This was agreeable; and the juveniles flocked
to the scene in good time, with a hungry look in their eyes--a look that
always plays over a boys visage when pursuing his way to a picnic, or
“anniversary.” Stephen, of course, was there; full of animal spirits, and
with the box straining the lining of his coat-pocket.

A fire was soon lighted on the island, but Steve did not find an
opportunity to put his crackers into it so soon as he expected; for, warm
as the day was, the little boys crowded eagerly around it, discovering
their delight in exultant shouts, and heaping on more brush with
never-ending amusement.

Steve idled about patiently a few minutes, and then determined to leave
the island for awhile, till the youngsters had either sought some newer
source of pleasure, or else burnt their fingers or scorched their
garments.

Unknown to Steve, Will, who had guessed how and when the boy intended to
use the fire-crackers, was watching him sharply. Will had also discovered
the mistake that had been made, and consequently was all the more anxious
to keep a watchful eye on Steve. He had planned, moreover, to turn the
tables, and play a knavish trick of his own on incorrigible Stephen.

Mr. Lawrence had said to him, “Now, Will, seeing that Steve is preying
on my valuables, you must make the best of it, and teach the idleheaded
fellow a lesson. You may do whatever you please; but don’t let an
explosion take place. The powder, I think, got damp the other day, and so
it wouldn’t explode for some time--even if he should drop the box plump
into the fire. In fact, unless he has succeeded in opening it, which is
doubtful, he will probably put it into the fire. Let him do it; you can
snatch it out again. If, on the other hand, he has forced the box open,
both his trick and your trick will be spoiled. Perhaps that would be
best. Now, Will, above all, _do not frighten other people_.”

It will be seen that Mr. Lawrence had guessed Steve’s intention.
But he was wrong in permitting his son to meddle in the trick. The
straightforward way would have been to tell Stephen what the box really
held, and then he would have given it up directly.

No doubt, gentle reader, you are tired of these beggarly little “tricks.”
But have patience a little longer, O reader, for when this last trick is
finished, we shall wing our way along smoothly throughout the rest of the
book without any tricks whatever.

When Will saw Stephen leave “Conservatory Isle” he thought himself at
liberty to take his ease for awhile, and coolly taking possession of an
unoccupied boat, rowed over to the shore.

While drifting along the shore, a spruce gentleman hailed him, and asked
to be ferried across the river.

“Yes, sir,” said Will, placing the boat in a favorable position for the
gentleman to enter it. He sprang in lightly, saying, “I’ve forgotten
something over there: take me as fast as you can.”

In nervous haste to do his best, Will gave the boat a vigorous shove,
and then looked his passenger full in the face. The latter also looked
at Will. The recognition was mutual; for if Will recognized the peculiar
features of the newspaper genius whom he had shot with poison in his
youth, the newspaper genius likewise recognized the remarkably talented
son of the lady who had been his hostess when he visited the neighborhood
some years previously.

Letting his emotions get the better of his principles, the man uttered a
cry of horror, mechanically rose to his feet, and fetched a random leap
for the shore. But the motion that Will had communicated to the boat
had placed it some distance from the shore, and the impetus of the leap
adding to that distance, the leaper found himself in deep water, in the
exact position the boat had occupied a moment before. Any boy at all
acquainted with the navigation of boats, rafts, or anything floatable,
can substantiate this.

Then the unfortunate man said something very wicked--too wicked, in fact,
to be set down in a story like this. Then he struggled to reach the
shore, but Will said, politely, “Don’t try to get ashore, sir, or you
will get covered with mud. The best thing to do is to climb into the boat
again; I’ll help you.”

This was clearly the wiser proceeding of the two, and the man, feeling
very foolish, scrambled out of the water into the boat.

Bending a ferocious gaze on the innocent boatman, he asked roughly, “Can
you row?”

Will proudly answered in the affirmative, and the disgusted
picnicker--elaborating a dolorous sigh as he flirted his eyes over his
tousled and mud-spattered garments, and experiencing an emotion of regret
as he thought of a new cabinet photograph of himself, that was tucked
away in his coat-tail pocket--said snappishly:--

“Then take me to some sheltered place where I can wring out my clothes a
little, and afterwards I’ll find my way to the fire on the island. Can I
get dry there in peace, and alone?”

“I think so, after a few minutes,” said Will, tugging stoutly at his oars.

“Well,” mused the dripping newspaper man, as he sat dejectedly in the
boat, with his head resting on his disordered cravat, “I--I--was very
foolish to jump overboard; but it is strange that I should encounter this
wretch when I least expected it. Much amusement I shall have to-day, in
these wet clothes. Well,” firmly, “I will never return to this village
while this bane of my life inhabits it!”

After landing the luckless Mr. Sarjent at a sequestered spot, Will
pointed his way back to the island, to look after Stephen. He arrived
just in time. Steve and a choice band of his school-fellows were grouped
about the fire, and the little folk had sought other quarters.

At first Will feared that he was too late; but he was reassured on seeing
Stephen dodging around the fire, evidently trying to shove the box into
it without being observed.

Keeping a vigilant look-out, Will soon had the pleasure of seeing Steve
poke the box into the extreme edge of the fire.

“Good!” Will chuckled. “Pa was right--and so was I. I can snatch it out
without any trouble, and then won’t Steve wonder what has become of it!
Just wait till I play my little trick on him!”

As soon as Steve looked in another direction, Will sidled up to the fire,
adroitly drew out the box, and slipped it into his pocket.

He had scarcely done so when Steve whirled around and saw him.

“Will!” he cried excitedly, “come away, or you’ll be burned!--The--the
fire is very hot, you know,” he added, by way of explaining his
solicitude.

“So it is,” Will assented, stepping back. To himself he added, “Poor
Steve! you thought I should be blown up by the fire-crackers, did you?
Well, it is a good thing you don’t know it is gunpowder, and it’s a good
thing I am here to prevent a catastrophe!”

Stephen waited eagerly and anxiously for the supposed crackers to go off.
He imagined that the boys would be struck with amazement and horror to
see the fire suddenly snap, and hiss, and roar, and vomit forth ashes and
coals. Then he would explain how it was done, and the boys would cheer,
and laugh, and say, “That’s a bully trick, Steve!” And then they would
saunter off, filled with admiration and envy, forced to admit that in
originality and daring Steve had no equal in the county.

But as no explosion took place, Steve became uneasy. He was of a restless
disposition, and a trifle was sufficient to make him fidgety. He had not
observed that the box was fabricated of wood that would not readily take
fire, and he expected to hear the crackers detonate almost immediately.

“Surely it ought to be burnt clear through by this time!” he mumbled to
himself. “What in the world is the matter? O dear! I hope they will go
off before the people come here to see to things! Why didn’t I at least
see how thick the pesky box was!”

“Oh, come along, boys, there’s no fun here, and it’s as hot as
pain-killer,” an owl-eyed booby exclaimed. “Come along, boys; let’s leave
this here Saucer.”

The others coincided with him, and they were actually getting into an old
boat, to punt their way across the river, when Steve said imploringly,
“Oh, don’t go, boys! Stay just a little longer, and you’ll see sport.”

“‘See sport’?” sneered one. “Sho! I guess all the ‘sport’ you’ll see
here, will be to see yourself sun-struck! No; it’s too hot here.”

And before the trick-player could give them a hint as to what the “sport”
would be, he experienced the vexation of seeing them leave the island in
a body! It was hard to be cheated thus! But the worst was yet to come. A
man was descried rapidly drawing near the island, in a gay little boat
decked in holiday attire. A few minutes later this man made the island,
and Steve recognized Mr. Lawrence. Good man, he came to see that the
powder was in safety.

Will, who was the only one left, except Steve, stepped into the boat as
his father stepped out, and whispering, “All right, Pa,” rowed lightly
away, with a wicked chuckle of triumph.

Mr. Lawrence inclined his head in token of approval, and edged his way
up to Stephen. “Good morning, Stephen,” he said. “I see you have a fire
lighted early in the day.”

“Yes, sir,” Steve quavered. “O dear!” he groaned, “if people are going to
keep on coming here like this, the fire-crackers will go off right before
them! And then,” drawing an abysmal sigh, “there would have to be an
explanation.”

Mr. Lawrence walked round the fire two or three times--so close to it
that poor Steve shuddered. “If they should go off now,” he groaned, “Mr.
Lawrence would be scorched and hurt!”

Stephen became very uneasy. His heated imagination magnified the power of
fire-crackers, and he feared that there would ultimately be a deafening
explosion. Indeed, it seemed to him that they must be gaining strength
with each succeeding minute.

“Well, Steve,” said Mr. Lawrence, familiarly and pleasantly, “I hear you
are quite an expert in playing tricks. Your adventure with my donkeys,
now, was amusing, it is true; but, Steve, if you would keep clear of such
scrapes, it would be better for you. For instance, that experience with
the dog--that must have been very distressing to you, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, sir,” Steve acknowledged; “it was.”

“But I am pleased to hear of your good behaviour since that time, and I
hope that your reformation is real. I do not wish to vex you, Steve; I
take the liberty of speaking to you thus because I know you are good at
heart, and because you have always been a loyal friend to my son.”

Such “advice” had been dinned into the sufferer’s ears so incessantly
lately that he had come to expect it and to endure it with fortitude.
Still, he could not but see that Mr. Lawrence meant well, and he mumbled
“Yes, sir,” very meekly.

But his mind was filled with great dread. “If they should pop off now,”
he ruminated, “what would Mr. Lawrence think of me? He would think it was
all my doings, of course, and that I am as bad a boy as ever! How mad he
would be! Oh, why didn’t I leave those fire-crackers alone!”

“It is very warm on this island, Mr. Lawrence,” he said.

Mr. Lawrence, however, was in no humor to take hints from a school-boy,
and he simply said, “So it is, Stephen. Why do you stay here, in solitude
and misery? Why don’t you get up and enjoy yourself with the other boys?
Surely you find no amusement in keeping up this useless little fire!”

Steve looked confused, but contrived to say, “It needs some one to watch
the fire, sir; it might do a great deal of harm.”

“Oh, no, Stephen; it wouldn’t be any great loss if the fire should burn
up the whole island, and all the brush and firewood piled up on it. It
couldn’t spread any farther, of course. Come, come, Stephen; don’t make a
martyr of yourself by staying here and broiling your face. The face looks
better bronzed by the sun and the fresh air than by fire, anyway; though
some ladies are not aware of it.”

“Yes, sir; but the fire might go out.”

“I wish it would, Steve; I wish it would; for no one would light it
again. It was a downright shame to make a fire on this little gem of an
island; but some picnickers have more romance than poetry. Well, I am
going, anyway; good-bye.”

A good look at Steve’s face showed Mr. Lawrence that the graceless
trickster desired to be left alone. “I think this will be a lesson to the
poor boy,” he said in himself “for he is evidently suffering torments.”

Steve’s relief was great when he found himself alone. “Let me think how
it was,” he muttered. “Will didn’t know where the box was. He found a box
like his own, but was it the same? He didn’t open it, and I couldn’t; so
perhaps there were no fire-crackers in it, after all!”

A gleam of hope shot through his wrung heart; but that gleam was soon
effectually put out by this appalling thought:

“He found the box among his father’s guns--what if there is powder in it!”

He started up in horror. “But no,” he reflected, “if it had been powder,
it would have exploded as soon as the box got hot, or on fire. Now, was
Will playing a trick on me? No, for he didn’t know anything about it till
I asked him for the fire-crackers; and I followed him around while he
looked for the box. Oh, it must be some blunder of his.”

Steve could not shake off his doubts and fears, and his excited
imagination conjured up all sorts of horrors.

He had just resolved to find the hateful box, or scatter the fire to the
several winds, when a melancholy-looking individual, whose approach he
had not perceived, landed on the island, made his way hurriedly to the
fire, and sat down close beside it.

Stephen drew back in desperation, while the new-comer snatched up a stick
and savagely stirred up the rather dull fire.

“Sir,” Stephen began hesitatingly, “don’t sit so close to the fire; you
might get burnt.”

“Hold your tongue and let me alone, if you please! Can’t you see I’m all
wet?” fiercely shouted the new-comer.

Stephen now observed that the man’s pants were clinging unnaturally
close to his legs, as though he had been fording the river for scientific
or other purposes, and that his entire appearance was woebegone. He
waited a few minutes, and then ventured to accost the intruder again.
“This is a miserable fire, sir,” he said, “and I think there is a good
big bright one on shore.”

“_Can’t_ you let me alone! There is no one here except _you_, and I
_must_ dry these clothes.”

“If it’s powder, I suppose it might explode yet, and he’d be killed or
badly wounded,” Steve thought, in agony. “Shall I tell him? No, he would
laugh at me, and take me for a downright fool. If he would only move
away, I’d poke that fire till I was satisfied. What a day of suffering
this has been for me! The women will soon be coming to the island--if it
should explode then!”

Once more he warned the shivering picnicker. “Sir,” beseechingly, “it is
dangerous to sit there; I--”

“Dangerous!” cried the stranger, his face showing surprise and contempt.
“Do you take me for an ass, or are you one?” furiously. “A few years ago,
I was very indulgent in my dealings with boys; but the more I see of this
evil--this curse of civilization--the more impatient and exasperated
I become. I don’t want to corrupt your morals, bub, or I would swear!
But say one word more to me, throw out any more insinuations about this
fire’s being dangerous, and I will begin the assassination of every boy
under twenty by making you the first victim! So, be careful! I tell you,
my patience is exhausted!”

Of course the reader recognizes the speaker as the man who jumped
out of Will’s boat. But it will not be easy to recognize him as the
polished gentleman who dined with Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence in days gone by.
Nevertheless, we assure the reader that we are positive he is the very
same.

This murderous threat seemed to amuse and comfort Mr. Sarjent, but Steve
quailed beneath it. “Shall I make a confidant of any one?” he asked
himself. “Not of George, for he would investigate matters, and maybe get
burnt. Charley would tell me the box holds some horrible, new-fangled
explosive, that will stay in the fire a long time, and get stronger and
stronger, and then go off like a blowed-up pirate, and tear this island
out by the roots! Perhaps it is! Who knows? Perhaps its some terrible
poison that will suddenly strike us all dead, or else make us all idiotic
for life! Oh! I shall go crazy! Shall I speak to Will? I--I’d be ashamed
to do that. Pshaw! I couldn’t speak to anybody, if I would, for there’s
no one near, except _him_.”

Stephen’s brain was now in a whirl; the strain on his nerves was too
great to last long.



_Chapter XIV._

DISASTER RATHER THAN FUN


Leaving the newspaper man and the player of tricks to their different
trains of thought,--the former enveloped in steam arising from his pants,
the latter environed with gloom, and doubt, and mute despair, arising
from his own misdeeds,--we shall shift the scene to Will paddling away in
his boat.

“I can safely leave Steve now, while I look up Charley and the other
boys,” Will thought, as he plied his oars.

Charley was soon found, and Will told him all about Stephen and the
fire-crackers. Charley, of course, was delighted with Will’s artifice;
and together the two planned to torment poor Stephen still further.
With the co-operation of the other boys, they determined to execute the
following programme: First, to bury the gunpowder under a large stone,
on the shore farthest from the picknickers, with a boy in charge to fire
the train at the proper time; secondly, to lure Stephen into a boat, row
him down past the “arsenal,”--the sounding name Charles gave to the place
where the powder was to be buried,--and when the explosion took place,
let him infer that a catastrophe was the upshot of his trick.

In fiendish atrocity, this little plot probably outherods anything ever
planned by boys. Their only hopes of success was that Steve would prove
an easy victim. But they need not have been afraid; they were destined to
carry their scheme.

Truly, as the ancient Romans used to say, “Fortune favors the brave.”
Only, the ancient Romans probably said it in Latin.

“We can do it, Will,” Charles said, confidently, “and it will do poor
deluded and misguided Stunner a good turn, if it teaches him to leave
tricks to you and me. All that is necessary is, to lay our plans well,
keep Steve’s back to the place where the explosion will come from, and
play our parts with sober and horrified faces. The hole in the ground
will be gazed at and admired about the time the picnic folks get the
feast spread, and our little game will sharpen our appetites like a
whet-stone. Now, let us go and find George, and Jim, and Marmaduke, and
go to work.”

These worthies were hunted out forthwith; and when the plot was unfolded
to them, they signified their readiness to take part in so good a trick
against Stephen.

Jim threatened to do his best; but, in his own mind, determined to keep
at a safe distance when proceedings actually began, though he locked this
wise determination in his breast--which was capacious enough, if not
strong enough, to keep it.

“It won’t amount to much, boys,” George observed, “because, you know, wet
gunpowder has lost most of its virtue.”

“Why, how’s that?” Charles demanded. “Where did you find out that? Why,
gunpowder hasn’t any virtue, anyhow.”

“No, of course not, what has powder to do with virtue?” Will chimed in.

“I tell you it has; don’t contradict folks that know!” the sage
indignantly retorted. “Don’t you remember, John Hoyt, on that island,
wasn’t afraid of being blown up, because he knew the powder had lost its
virtue?”

“Y-e-s,” Charles reluctantly assented, “but I never could understand how
John knew that, when he’d always lived on that island, and never seen or
heard of powder before.”

“I don’t understand that, either,” said George; “but John was right; he
knew--or if he didn’t, the man that wrote the book did!”

That settled the question; the Sage had triumphed.

At length everything was arranged to the plotters’ satisfaction, and the
Sage was detailed to fire the train.

“You won’t see much of the fun, George,” said Charles; “but you will
understand the business. I never knew you to bungle anything; don’t
bungle this.”

“You can’t expect much from wet gunpowder, but if you do your part as
well as I intend to do mine, _all right_!” George replied with spirit.

They picked out a very good place to fire the powder, so far away from
the scene of the picnic that no one would be likely to intrude on them.

“The boats are wanted very much just now,” said Will; “I wonder whether
we can get one or not.”

Now, those boys knew that they were doing wrong, and the writer ventures
to assert that they all cherished a secret hope that they would not
succeed in carrying their little game.

But presently a bulky old gentleman (bulky is not used in contempt,
but because it is well known that bulkiness and generosity are twin
brothers), who owned a staunch little boat, told them to use his boat
as much as they pleased. He did not suspect, however, that a party of
dare-devil boys wanted it for their own exclusive use, but supposed that
one or two of them purposed rowing indolent pleasure-seekers up and
down the river. Had he guessed their nefarious designs, he would have
moderated his generosity, and set out in quest of a peace-officer.

Thus put in possession, the four pulled stoutly for the island. They
were in some doubt as to whether Steve would still be there, for not one
dreamed that he had taken the matter so much to heart.

“Steve was a little uneasy when I left him,” said Will; “how do you
suppose he feels about it now?”

“Oh!” said Charles, “he’s all right, I’ll wager. You may depend he hasn’t
been moping over those fire-crackers all this time. No, he’s as lively as
a baulky horse by this time; but our explosion will muddle his wits, all
the same.”

“He’ll get his dander up when he finds it out,” Jim observed.

“I wonder if the boats are all gone, and he’s fast on the island,”
Marmaduke speculated.

“Boys,” said Will, “if that wet and muddy fellow that I told you about,
went back to the island, as he said he should, perhaps he has kept Steve
from finding out that--”

“Pshaw! I tell you, Steve is all right!” Charles reiterated.

“Then, if the boy is all right, what is the use of our trick?” Will
demanded. “We can’t scare him worthy a cent, if he’s all right.”

“I don’t make out what you’re driving at, Will. At first, you were eager
to scare him; and now, you are talking in riddles.”

“I--I’m beginning to relent,” said Will, sheepishly.

“Well, we’ll see how he is, and settle that accordingly.”

“There they are!” said Marmaduke, sighting Steve and the ireful newspaper
genius.

The boys recklessly waved their oars, and enthusiastically chorused a
stentorian hollo.

Stephen, hearing his schoolfellows’ greeting, quickly turned round, and
returned a faint, but joyous, hollo.

“How kind they are to come!” he said to himself. “Now, I guess it will be
all serene; for they can soon tell me what to do. Well, the boys always
were better to me than I deserved. I’ll tell them just how it is, and I
don’t believe they’ll laugh at me a bit.”

“More boys!” groaned the steaming Mr. Sarjent. “More boys coming to
torment me.”

The plotters soon landed, and crowded around Stephen.

“What a fire, Steve,” said Charley. “It smells as if you’d been burning a
witch.”

“Come on, Steve,” said Will; “we’ve got a good boat, and we’re off for a
cruise before they set the tables.”

Steve’s face brightened, then clouded, and he said, hopelessly, “I can’t
go.”

“Can’t go?” echoed Charley. “Why, Stunner, what’s the matter with you?
You look like a phantom, and here you sit, like an Indian idol; taking no
exercise, having no fun, and doing nothing! Come now, you’ve got to go
with us.”

“Charley,” Steve whispered, “don’t joke with me, nor make fun of me, for
I can’t stand it. Charley, if you should have some old fire-crackers done
up in a box, and you should put ’em into a fire, what do you suppose they
would do?”

“Do?” said Charley. “Why, if they were _old_, as you say, they might be
mildewed, for all you or I know, and burn up with the box, like so much
solid wood--or else squib and hiss a little, and then go out.”

This novel and striking idea was too much for Steve’s fevered brain.
Mildewed fire-crackers! His head swam; but with an effort he recovered
himself, and flashed Charles such a look of gratitude that the plot came
within an inch of crumbling into a woeful ruin.

“Poor fellow!” thought Charles. “Here he is fretting about those crackers
yet! It is mean to play this trick on him, when he is so worried and
excited. But then he is _male-spirited_, as my father says, and I know he
would like to get hold of as good a trick himself.”

“Well, Steve, will you go?” Will asked impatiently.

“’Pon my word, I believe Steve has been afraid to get into a boat ever
since we were out on the lake!” Jim exclaimed maliciously.

“Don’t stay on _my_ account, bub,” sneered the man in the water-soaked
garments. “I shall not be lonely without you.”

Stephen had been recovering his spirits ever since the boys arrived; and
Jim’s taunt roused him to anger, while these last outrageous words stung
him to the quick.

“Bub!” he repeated to himself. “That’s twice he called me _bub_! I can’t
stand being called that; I never knew a boy that could. Botheration!
I’ve a great mind to go with them, after all! _They_ will treat me well,
and not bother me, nor call me--no, I won’t say that horrid word again.
Well, surely, whatever was in the box, is burnt up now!”

Seeing that Stephen still hesitated, Mr. Sarjent took in the situation,
bent a gorgon look on him, and again acted the huffer. “I made a
blood-curdling threat a while ago,” he said; “I see I shall have to put
it into execution, or else you will have to leave. Go, all of you!”

“My stars, Timor! I’ll show you whether I’m afraid to get into that boat,
or to do anything else!” Steve cried, in desperation.

Then he caught up a stick and thrust it into the fire here and there,
in spite of the peevish and browbeating stranger’s remonstrances. Of
course he saw nothing of the box. Though not quite satisfied,--for it was
impossible to get entirely over his uneasiness so quickly,--he stopped
with a sharp--

“Boys, I’ll go!”

Jim, as recorded above, had no burning desire to go with the boys; but,
for all that, he found himself in the boat, and the boat on its way from
the island. Then he became alarmed, but seeing no help for it, determined
to make the best of it. Two facts are well-established: first, he who
accuses another of cowardice is commonly a downright coward himself;
second, no right-minded boy can be called a coward without doing some
foolhardy thing to prove the contrary.

Poor Steve! The artful boys had quietly had him sit with his face towards
the island, and he stole uneasy glances towards it, as if still fearing
an explosion. By degrees he became calmer; the fresh, sparkling water
revived him; and at length he became even merry. Yet his gaiety was more
assumed than real, though the others did not know it. They were delighted
with the success of their plot, and thought that he would be as pleased
as anybody when the shock of the explosion should be over.

“Let me row,” he said suddenly.

“No, no!” Charles said hastily. “We are going to give you a free ride,
Steve; so, sit where you are, with your back against the gunwale, and
watch the picnickers.”

Steve complied with this request, little knowing why it was made.

The boat glided along smoothly and swiftly, and presently a bend in the
river hid the island from sight, and soon afterwards the merry-makers.
Stephen still lolled comfortably in the same position. But as the
distance between them and the island increased, he became restless again.

They were now approaching the falls, and would soon be opposite to George
and his mine--the “arsenal,” as Charley called it.

Charley was afraid that Stephen might ask embarrassing questions about
the fire-crackers, or their course, and he kept up so lively a flow of
conversation that the poor boy could not edge in a word.

It was downright cruelty to humbug the boy in this deliberate and
underhand way, and we do not wish to palliate their guilt. The reader,
however, must bear in mind that these boys are not the sinless and
noble-hearted youths who generally figure in stories, but are at all
times mischievous, though rarely cruel or wicked.

As they neared the falls, Charles suddenly ceased to talk, and Steve
seized the opportunity to ask eagerly, “Will, can you tell me what was in
that box? I almost concluded that some mistake had been made, and that
perhaps you had found it out since. _Were_ they fire-crackers?”

Will answered hesitatingly, as though ashamed of himself: “Why, yes,
Steve, sure enough, a mistake was made. This morning I discovered that
instead of fire-crackers, I gave you a box of my father’s, full of wet
gunpowder.”

Steve’s face blanched. Not being so learned as George, it seemed to him,
in his present state of mind, that wet gunpowder must be more dangerous
than any other kind.

“That’s why it didn’t go off; but, if it’s there, it will go off yet!” he
muttered.

Will observed the look of dismay on the boy’s face, and said soothingly,
“Pshaw, Steve! Don’t be frightened; _wet gunpowder_ has no virtue; don’t
trouble about it or the fire.”

Charles and Will, having thus eased their conscience, and Steve’s
anxiety, felt that all the warning that duty required had been given; and
unshipping their oars, let the boat drift with the stream--taking care,
however, to keep close to the bank where George lurked in ambush.

But Stephen, in his awakened uneasiness, did not heed Will’s comforting
remark, nor did he wonder how Will could know anything about what had
been done with the box.

“Boys, we’re near the falls!” Jim cried, in terror. “Stop the boat!”

But this warning was disregarded, and Charley struck up “Yankee Doodle,”
the signal agreed upon with George.

Stephen, of course, did not know what this meant; but Jim did, and he was
oppressed with gloomy forebodings.

Mark this: Stephen faced the _right_ bank of the river, while George
was on the _left_ bank. The island was hidden by a bend in the river.
Consequently, if an explosion should take place, Stephen would naturally
jump to the conclusion that it had taken place on the island.

The boat slowly but steadily neared the falls. It certainly would have
been prudent to stop their downward course, but no one, except Jim,
appeared to be aware of this. Charley whistled bravely, though he
wondered why no sign came from George, whom the high bank, fringed with
bushes, effectually concealed.

Then the archplotters themselves became uneasy; and concluding that the
powder had no virtue whatever they shipped their oars in mournful silence.

What was George doing meanwhile? As soon as the boys left him, he set
about digging his mine. “Now,” he mused, “I shall not be so foolish as
Stephen; I shall pry the box open, and see what is in it. It may be only
a paint box, for all I know.”

By means of his jack-knife he forced off the lid, and found that it was
powder--genuine powder--perfectly dry. But alas! the tried and trusty
business blade of his knife was snapped off short!

Now, as the reader knows, George was a philosopher, and he took his good
fortune and mishap philosophically. “By the end of the week,” he said, “I
may be sorry about this knife, but I can’t be now!”

Then, picking up and gloating over the box: “Dry as the sun! How capital!
Won’t I make the most of it! But what a blundering family those Lawrences
are! Even Mr. Lawrence himself has made a mistake; he thought the powder
had got wet. Well, they beat all the folks to blunder that I ever saw; it
must run in the family.”

With a chuckle of ineffable satisfaction, he sat down to map out his mode
of procedure. “I understand how to make the most of good gunpowder,” he
mused; “what fun it would be to have a loud explosion--one that would
stun even Will and Charley! I can do it, _and I will_!”

He arose and began to work as only a boy whose mind is bent on mischief
can work, gathering up heaps of stones and rubbish; that soiled his
picnic clothes, almost beyond restoration. Then he laid the box of powder
in the bottom of his mine, placed a heavy stone on the wrenched-off lid,
and piled the accumulated stones and rubbish over it so scientifically
that a warlike explosion would be a foregone conclusion. The “train” was
very simple--only a little pile of chips, twigs, and shavings, and a
cotton string that led down to the powder.

When he heard the signal, he set fire to the train; but it took the fire
some time to burn its way down to the powder. In his anxiety to see
whether it would ignite, he neglected to place sufficient space between
himself and his mine; therefore--but the consequence may be guessed; it
is sufficient to say that he was neither killed nor seriously wounded.

Charles and Will had taken only a few strokes with the oars, when
suddenly a tremendous explosion took place. With a roar like that of St.
George’s Dragon the mine had sprung, and a cloud of stones and sundry
other things rushed up into the air, only to descend with fury on the
surrounding regions. Its effects were startling. Charles and Will were
wholly unprepared for such a finale, and their faces showed the liveliest
amazement as they stared blankly at each other, struck dumb with
consternation.

Before they had time to think, the stones came whistling down all around
them--the larger ones striking the water with a heavy and sonorous
thud--the smaller ones singing and hissing like bullets.

There was no help for it; they were obliged to sit still and take their
chances. Jim screamed himself black in the face, while Marmaduke vainly
attempted to realize grandeur or romance in their perilous situation.
Poor Stephen! with a ghastly face he kept his seat, apparently unable to
move or speak.

All excepting Stephen escaped injury. He, poor fellow, had his arm broken
by a falling piece of stone. The boat, however, did not come off so well;
two stones bored two large holes through the bottom of it.

The water poured in through these holes, and Jim, boohooing and fearing
he knew not what, jumped overboard. This roused the two plotters, Charles
and Will, and they shouted, “The oars are gone--we can’t row! Jump out
and swim for the shore, or we’ll all be taken over! Come, Steve, _don’t_
be frightened; _don’t_ mind. We did it all, Steve; we did it, and George
fired it.”

But Stephen’s brain was in a whirl, and he did not understand them.

“Save Jim! He’ll be too frightened to swim,” Will cried. “Steve and
Marmaduke can swim well enough. Hurry! we’re near the falls!”

Will and Charles sprang out of the boat for Jim, grappled him, and,
after a violent struggle with the current, towed him ashore, safe, but
perilously near the brink of the falls. All three had nearly been swept
over! Marmaduke joined them a moment later. They did not know that
Stephen’s arm was broken, and believing that he was safe on shore above
them, their first thought was for George.

“Oh! he must have been blown to atoms!” Will groaned.

His agony far exceeded Stephen’s on the island--in fact, the tables had
been turned in an unlooked-for manner.

“Yes, we must see about him,” said Charles, with pale face and unsteady
voice, a gnawing pain in the region of his heart--a sensation that is
experienced only when a person is strongly moved.

Scrambling up the bank, they saw George--bruised and bleeding, but
looking supremely happy--peering into a jagged hole in the ground.

“Hallo, George!” Will called out. “Are you hurt?”

“Oh, a little,” said George. “Yes,” he added, “I--I’m pretty sore.”

“We were afraid you were destroyed.”

“Well, I never thought of the stones flying about so; I only thought of
the noise;” George avowed. “But,” with a self-satisfied smile, “how did
you like it?”

“Like it?” said Charles. “Why, it was awful! I’d no idea that gunpowder
is such strong stuff: this must have been pretty virtuous, after all!”

“Well, boys, I opened the box, and the powder was as dry as a bonfire.
So I fixed things to make a noise; but I never thought the stones would
shoot so--I mean, I knew it, of course; but I didn’t _calculate_ for it.
It was a fine sight, though, to see them shoot up into the air. How did
it appear to you?”

“‘_Appear!_’ Well, the stones broke two holes through the boat!” Will
growled. “But where is Steve? haven’t you seen him?”

“Seen him? No, where can he be? How did he take it, anyway?”

“I think he was very much frightened, he looked so queer,” said Charles.
“Oh, boys! where is he? Perhaps he was hurt!”

Then they flew to the bank. But the most searching glances failed to
discover either the boat or Stephen.

“Steve! Steve!” they shouted, in convulsive grief.

“Oh, who saw him last?” Will asked. “Was he in the boat, or swimming?”

No one could answer the question, and the boys’ pale faces betrayed how
their conscience was reproaching them.

In truth, Stephen’s broken arm, together with the shock of the explosion,
had rendered him helpless, and he had been swept over the falls in the
boat.

It would be dramatic to break off here, leaving the reader a prey to
fruitless inquiries as to Stephen’s fate, drop down among the hungry-eyed
little picnickers in the grove that bordered the river, and give a
glowing description of what was going on. But as this story has very
little to do with the picnic, and as most readers would a little rather
hear about Stephen, I will deliberately transgress the laws of romance,
and tell how it fared with him.

The explosion was distinctly heard by the merry-makers, and the picnic
broke up in confusion. Crowds of excited people were soon skirting the
winding banks of the river, and Stephen was found and fished out of
the water, more dead than alive. He was immediately taken to his home,
and a surgeon was called in. The surgeon set the broken arm, and after
examining the boy carefully, said that although severely bruised, he was
not hurt internally. But Stephen’s sufferings were not over yet. The
fright and the shock proved too much for him; fever set in; and it was
long before he rejoined his school-fellows, and several months before he
recovered his health and strength.

Mr. Lawrence, “a sadder and a wiser man,” blamed himself for having
indirectly contributed to the disaster. He reproved his son in these
words: “I must say, Will, that you and your companions showed a
deplorable want of honor in your dealings with poor Stephen this day.”

The man in whose field the explosion had taken effect set up a howl
of righteous indignation on seeing the “chasm” in the ground; and did
not stop to consider that the youngsters had only altered the physical
features of a little plot of stony and untilled ground by changing the
position of a few ancient stones, and by removing a few others into the
bed of the river.

The portly and benevolent old gentleman said sadly, as he gazed upon
the wreck of his sometime gay little boat, “Well, it is now manifested
that a boat cannot be taken over these falls without being shattered
to flinders. But, of course, nothing can kill a modern _boy_; _he_ is
indestructible.”

The observing reader of this history will remark that whatever these boys
meddled with generally came to a dishonorable end.

And the “reformers” themselves, what of them? Probably, in the whole
United States there could not have been found three more miserable boys
than Will, Charles, and George, as they trudged home that day from the
scene of their exploits--the clothing of the first two uncomfortably
wet--the frame of the other smarting with pain. But their forlorn and
dilapidated appearance excited no pity from the horrified villagers.

Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence, in despair, sent their son to his aunt Eleanor’s,
to spend a few days, hoping that he would there reflect on the folly of
his doings, and amend. He and the others suffered tenfold more shame than
Stephen after the scandal about the “mad dog.”

Boys, listen to the moral of this unconscionably dreary chapter:

It is quite right and desirable that you should, under proper tuition,
learn the uses and the usefulness of gunpowder; but, if you know of any
_trick_ in which it is to be an agent, think of Stephen, and hang back.



_Chapter XV._

A LESSON IN BALLOONING.


Perhaps no one will be able to take in the moral lurking in the following
chapters--except, it may be, some atramental old critic, who can discern
a “hidden meaning” where no meaning, “hidden” or otherwise, is intended.
Our only hope of escape from such critics is that they will consider this
story entirely beneath their notice, and so pass it by in silence and
contempt.

Will was sent to his aunt’s. This would have been, perhaps, a wise
proceeding, if his aunt had been a severe old maid--but she was not. She
was, on the contrary, a loving and cheerful woman, with a mettlesome,
rattle-headed, yet resolute, son, Will’s “Cousin Henry.”

Will’s rueful mien excited the compassion of the entire family to such
an extent that they did their utmost to divert him. Cousin Henry, with a
noble disregard of self, gave up his school for two weeks, and devoted
himself wholly to Will’s services. The sequel was, the two were soon
sworn bosom-friends, pledged to stand by each other to the close of life.

Now, as this Henry was a hare-brained sort of fellow, permitted to do as
he pleased, it may readily be supposed that he and Will were not long in
getting into trouble.

“Will, did you see my balloon when you were here last?” Henry asked one
day.

“Balloon? No; can you make a balloon?” Will inquired, in some surprise.

“Of course I can. American boys can make or do anything. All we want is
some tissue paper for the cover; whalebone or cane for the ribs; a piece
of wire; and a piece of cotton batten dipped in alcohol to make the gas.”

“I never heard of such a balloon,” Will replied. “_How_ do you make the
gas?”

“Why, just set fire to the batten,--that will be fastened under the mouth
of the balloon by a bit of wire, you know,--and that’ll soon make the
gas. Then away it goes, like a rocket.”

“I should think it might set something on fire,” said Will.

“Well, let it set. There are fire-engines enough in the town to put it
out,” Henry replied, with easy indifference. “But, Will,” he added,
“don’t be afraid; I’ve rigged lots of them, and they never set anything
on fire yet.”

Ah, Henry! You did not observe that your balloons were generally
fabricated so fragilely that it was impossible for them to do any harm!

“Then let us make one!” Will rejoined with alacrity.

The cousins, without delay, repaired to Mrs. Mortimer’s apartments, to
look for some of the things required. Henry rummaged in a careless way
that quite shocked poor Will, and at last issued from the room, leaving
everything in appalling disorder. Next, Mr. Mortimer’s valuables were
overhauled, and last of all, the hero’s own.

“Now we’ve found everything we need, Will, even to the tools,” he said.
“Let us go to work.”

“Won’t you straighten up things, Henry?” Will ventured to ask.

“Straighten! Creation, no! Don’t you know it’s fall house-cleaning time?
I don’t fool away _my_ time in straightening!” with virtuous indignation.

Choosing Henry’s room for a workshop, the two fell to work.
Notwithstanding the fact that the science of aëronautics was entirely
new to him, Will suggested so many improvements that Henry was both
astonished and delighted.

“We shall have a famous balloon!” he exclaimed.

“Why shouldn’t it be as good as any you ever made?” Will asked mildly.

“Why, yes, of course; why shouldn’t it. _I_ don’t see,” Henry answered,
not at all disconcerted.

“Will, would you like to go with me to the Demon’s Cave some day?” he
asked abruptly.

“I never heard of the ‘Demon’s Cave.’ Where is it, and what is the Demon?”

“Then I can tell you all about it while we work. The ‘demon,’ Will, isn’t
a ‘what’ but a ‘who;’ and a terrible sort of a fellow he is. Everybody
around these parts knows all about him; some foolish people are afraid
of him, some even pretend that he is a ghost! Some people that ought to
know better say he’s an escaped criminal; but,” in a positive tone, “my
father always knows what he is talking about, and he says the poor fellow
is more or less crazy. He lives in a queer sort of a cave, or hovel, or
hole, in a bank of earth. I’ve heard lots of the boys say that there are
several rooms inside; but _they_ don’t know; how should they?”

“Did you ever see him?” Will asked eagerly.

“I never got a good look at him, because he stays denned up like a bear
in winter; but one night, a long time ago, some of us boys went howling
and yelling around his cave, and he came out at us and chased us like a
hungry wolf. The boys ran away like velocipedes, and I--I ran too. The
demon was as fierce as a humbugged pirate [Henry was fond of comparison],
and he caught one boy, and mauled him like a Spanish blood-hound. That
was the only time I ever saw the demon; but that was enough for me.”

Will became interested in the man, and he inquired: “What did he look
like?”

“Look! How can I tell? I was only a little boy then, or I shouldn’t
have ran away. Well, let me think. Will,” suddenly, “did you ever see a
correct picture of Satan?”

“No!” Will said, with horror.

“Well, _I_ have, and it wasn’t half so ugly as the demon. That’s enough
to say about his looks, isn’t it? And his clothes! Why, Will, they set
him off so well that he looked like a shipwrecked Turk, dressed up in a
savage’s stolen spoil!”

Will endeavored to grasp the meaning of this, but Henry hurried on.

“Well, Will, at any rate, he lives there all alone, and has for years.
Some folks say he has lots of money; and likely they are right, for what
else can he live on?”

“Why, does he buy food at the market?” Will asked.

“No; didn’t I tell you that he keeps shut up like a nun in a coffin? They
say a friend of his goes there every once in a while with victuals and
things; and likely the demon pays him for them. All the boys say that he
has a poultry-yard full of hens and chickens somewhere in his cave. I’ve
heard, though, that he prowls around at night, and gets his living that
way. Very likely a little of both; for he is often seen out in the night.
For all you or I know, Will, he may have a chest full of gold, like a
hermit in a story-book for little girls.”

“Then it’s a wonder he doesn’t get robbed,” Will observed.

“You’ve hit it, Will!” said Henry. “A whole gang of thieves broke into
his cave once, so the story goes, thinking they would carry off his
money, if he had any. But the demon was too clever for them. He hid
himself in a dark corner, and frightened the robbers nearly to death.
They rushed out of the cave like bumble-bees on a holiday.”

“And didn’t they steal anything?”

“They didn’t see anything to steal, Will. The demon had either put his
treasures out of sight, or else he hadn’t any. But I don’t know whether
the story is true or not; perhaps it is only a concocted one.”

“Why do the people let him stay there?” was Will’s next question. “Why
don’t they take him out of his cave, and take care of him?”

“For several reasons. He is harmless when he is not molested; he lives
there quietly, and likely wouldn’t leave his cave unless taken away by
force; and no one likes to interfere with his affairs. Of course the
people keep an eye on him, and won’t let him suffer.”

“Why do they call him ‘the Demon?’”

“Oh, that’s only a nickname he got. Didn’t you ever notice, Will, how
people like to give outlandish nicknames? They’ll pick up the silliest
old hunks they can find,--a man that doesn’t know enough to put on his
own hat, even,--and ornament him with the name of some vanquished hero.
Don’t you see, the ‘Demon of the Cave’ sounds pretty strong; it’s sure
to make a stranger turn around and look over his left shoulder, as if he
was afraid of himself. Yes, the people in this country like to give big
nicknames; they nickname even the Evil One!”

“And doesn’t any person know where this man came from, nor who he is?”

“No, the people here don’t seem to know anything about him before he came
to these parts; but there are all kinds of stories about him.”

“Poor fellow!” Will said, softly. “He must have a miserable life there,
all alone. Does he have any fires in his cave?”

“Oh, yes; I believe he keeps a good fire all day long; but it must be
cold there in winter. I think he gets his firewood prowling around in
the night,--not that he _steals_, but he gathers up rubbish and old
boards. They say he cooks his food nicely over his fire. There is a
spring, or underground well, of some kind in his cave, so that he does
not suffer from want of fresh water. But, Will, I could go on talking
about him for hours. There are all kinds of stories about him, stories
that would make you turn black and blue, and shiver all over. When we go
to bed to-night, I’ll tell you some of the worst.”

“You can’t scare me that way, Henry; so you might as well tell them now.”

“Oh, well, they don’t amount to very much, anyway. All the boys say he’s
a cannibal, and every few weeks he steals somebody, and eats him up.
There was a man missed here once, Will, and he never came back again; so,
of course, they say he was taken off by the demon. The man never came
back again to say where he had been; and so the story got going, and it’s
going yet. The boys say that sometimes he has awful fits of madness,
and tears everybody that he meets all to pieces. Oh, there are lots of
stories, Will; but if they don’t frighten you, what’s the good of telling
them? They’ll scare some boys, though. There’s one little boy that goes
to school that the boys make a habit of frightening very often, by saying
that they’ll take him to the Demon’s Cave. Then he bellows, and rams his
fists into his eyes, and punches ’em nearly out, and swears he’ll shoot
all the boys when he gets big enough.”

“And do you tease him, too?” asked Will.

“No, Will; I don’t. I hate to see a boy with the nosebleed, and this
little fellow bellows so hard, and pommels himself so much, that he
nearly always gets it. You see, one attack of nosebleed doesn’t get
rightly cured before another comes on.”

“I see,” said Will.

“Well, Will,” after a pause, “would you like to go and see this cave and
the demon some day?”

“Yes, Henry, I should like nothing better;” Will said, with boyish
eagerness. “How far away is it, and when shall we go?”

“Well, it’s about three or four miles from our house, and we can go
to-morrow night, if it should be pleasant. I’ve always wanted to get
inside of that cave, Will, to see whether any of the stories about it are
true. We will get into it when we go, or perish on the spot, won’t we?”

Will was quite willing to go and see the place where the demon lived;
but, “to beard the lion in his den!” that was asking too much;
especially, as he had resolved not to get into any mischief during his
stay at his aunt’s.

“Come, Will; _you_ are the only boy I would ask to go with me. I’ve
always wanted to go, but I could never find the right boy to have along.
_You_ are the very chap; _you_ have nerve; _you_ wouldn’t run away, if
the demon should be in one of his fits of fury. And you would enjoy it;
you would have it to think of and dream of when you were an old man!”

This last argument, not proving conclusive, Henry continued: “Just think
how the boys would envy us! You could tell the boys at home, and make ’em
jealous of us for life; and I could stir up the boys that I know, and
make them so mad that they would chew India rubber and think it was gum!”

Will was only a boy, and he could, not withstand so seductive an
argument. “Well, Henry,” he said slowly, “_I’ll go._”

“Of course; you would always be sorry if you didn’t.”

Now that he had secured Will’s promise to go, he ventured to hint at the
propriety of taking pistols.

“Pistols!” Will exclaimed, with horror. “Surely, we don’t want pistols!
Why, we might as well turn highwaymen, and be done with it!”

But Henry was a year older than Will, accustomed to have his own way,
and he would not yield to the boy’s entreaties. His stronger nature soon
overruled Will’s scruples, and he consented to do whatever Henry thought
best, though feeling ill at ease.

“Of course, Will, we don’t think of shooting at anything--not for all the
world;--but the plan is to get behind an old tree near the cave, fire a
pistol to draw the demon out, and then rush in while he is looking to
see what made the noise. Don’t you see? Perhaps we shan’t need to fire a
pistol at all; but it will be best to have them.”

“Why should we take more than one, and why should we put in a ball?” Will
asked uneasily.

“One apiece, Will; and we must have both loaded, for we don’t know what
might happen. Now, don’t be frightened; we won’t do any harm, nor break
any laws; I know how to manage things too well for that.”

“I promised to keep out of mischief,” Will said, dolefully.

“I know it, Will; and I’m going to help you keep your promise. We can be
very careful, and what fun it will be!”

“I’m afraid somebody will get shot,” mournfully replied the assistant
balloonist. He was beginning to repent of his promises to Henry; and in
his heart of heart he knew it would be extremely ridiculous, not to say
wrong, for two hare-brained youths to set out on a nocturnal expedition,
with loaded pistols.



_Chapter XVI._

UNHEARD-OF ADVENTURES WITH BALLOONS.


The little balloon was now completed, and the demon and his affairs were
forgotten. The balloon was rather clumsily constructed, it is true; but
it promised to float well, and the cousins were enchanted with it. They
bore it tenderly out into the back-yard, arranged it for flight, and were
about to fire the prepared cotton batten, when Henry cried excitedly:
“Wait, Will! Wait a minute! I’m going to fix a car under it! I see a
little old straw-hat of the baby’s here in the yard, and I’ll just hitch
it on for a car. Of course; what’s a balloon without a car?”

Henry hastened to do so, and the little bonnet was tied fast to the
balloon, immediately under the gas-producing apparatus. Then he set fire
to the batten; very soon the balloon quivered; and then up it rose, a
really pretty sight. The boys shouted, cheered, and flung out their arms
in wild delight.

It rushed up like a rocket--it flew along--it soared--it became
smaller and smaller--the “car” took fire--the whole balloon blazed--it
wavered--it fell headlong--it lit on the roof of a public building--it
set it on fire!

The boys had watched its ascent with enthusiasm, cheering lustily; but
when it took fire, their enthusiasm cooled, and in proportion as the
balloon burned brighter, their hearts grew heavier. When it fell, their
spirits fell with it. They grew sick with fear on seeing flames burst
forth on the roof of the building, and looked at each other in utter
helplessness. Henry was the first to collect himself, and he gave the
alarm by shouting “Fire!” in thundering tones.

Several householders, Mrs. Mortimer among them, flew to their doors at
the dreadful cry of _fire_, to see whether their own buildings were the
ones menaced. The fire was soon pointed out; the fire-engines rushed
gallantly to the rescue; the hoses were adjusted; and the firemen sprang
to their work. The two boys got over their terror sufficiently to throng
to the scene of action. To Henry it was a familiar sight; but to Will it
was entirely new, and he enjoyed it, in spite of himself.

The fire was soon extinguished, and but little harm was done to the
building. The whole affair, from the time when Henry attached the “car”
to his balloon till the last spark was extinguished, took up only a few
minutes.

As the cousins returned to the house, they felt that all was not over yet.

“That’s the worst thing, almost, that ever happened to me,” said Will.

“Never mind it, Will; its over now, and not much harm done. I wouldn’t
let that trouble me a minute. We boys in the city, don’t count _that_
as much; we’re used to all sorts of horrible things happening to us; we
get hardened to it; we expect it. But it was all that dismal straw-hat;
_that_ did the mischief. If I hadn’t flung it into the back-yard the
other day, our balloon might be soaring around yet! Well, it’s burnt up
now, from stem to stern.”

“Yes, Henry; but it isn’t a very good way to keep out of mischief; it--it
makes me feel very miserable. George would say we are _incendiaries_.”

“Who’s George? Somebody that is nobody, I guess. Well, at any rate, that
isn’t the word. _Giantize_ is a great deal better. _To giantize_, Will,
is to eat like a giant; to do big things; to astonish the natives; to
be a hero; to rescue captives. We’ll _giantize_ to-morrow night when we
rescue the man--if there _is_ a man--in the Demon’s Cave. Some day, Will,
I’ll take you to a bookstore, and show you a weekly paper with continued
stories in it, and continual heroes in the stories. These heroes are
very, _very_ strong, and good, and brave, and handsome; and they make it
a settled business to giantize.”

“Oh, I know what those papers are, Henry; I know a Mr. Horner that takes
two or three of them; and he gets so excited over the stories that
sometimes he can’t sleep at night. But his boy Jim--Timor we call him--is
the biggest coward that ever ran away from a lapdog.”

The boys sat down to dinner with little appetite. Mr. Mortimer made
inquiries about the fire, and they acknowledged their share in it. To
say that Mr. Mortimer was vexed would hardly express the state of his
feelings. In the afternoon a deputation of the City Fathers waited on
him, and he and the two cousins were closeted with them some time.
What passed between them was never made known; but as they took their
departure one of them observed: “Yes, that makes it all right. Well, I
never realized before that a straw-bonnet would set fire to a roof. I
must tell my boys never to make balloons; or, at least, to make them
without cars. By the way, what was it that you dipped in alcohol to make
the gas?”

Will was too confused to make a reply. Not so Henry. “Cotton batten, sir,
is what we used,” he said, “but a sponge is better still.”

After they had gone, he said to Will: “Now he’ll get himself into
trouble! His boys are always trying experiments; and if he tells them
about our balloon, they’ll go to work and make one that’ll set the whole
place on fire! Oh, they’re awful boys! Only a few days ago they poisoned
off a dog with some dangerous gas, and drove the house-keeper’s cat into
hysteric fits. Why, Will, their mother can’t keep a tea-kettle three
weeks before they swoop down on it; and turn on a full head of steam; and
plug up the spout; and batten down the lid; and blow it all to nothing.
Oh, that man will have his hands full of sorrow before long.”

“But what does their mother say about it? Surely, she doesn’t like to
keep on buying new tea-kettles! And their father,--doesn’t he get mad?”

“Oh, as long as the boys don’t get hurt, their parents think they are
smart; and they tell everybody that goes into the house that when
the boys grow up, they will revolutionize chemistry and remodel the
steam-engine.”

Then the two talked of exploits that they had achieved; adventures that
had befallen them; and perils through which they had passed. Henry said
that he had had the mumps, the measles, and the small-pox; Will said he
had had the sore throat, the chicken-pox, seven boils, lots and lots of
warts, and the measles, too. Henry said a circus horse once kicked him
hard, and a circus monkey once stole his handkerchief; Will said he once
shot a cat with his father’s gun, and it fled away and lived all winter
with the bullet in its heart. Henry said that was nothing; he once shot a
deer, and if somebody else hadn’t come along and killed it, he believed
his ball would have killed it. Will said he could beat that, for he was
nearly drowned once. Then Henry said he one day drank so much water that
he nearly died; and the next day those smart boys that he had spoken of
set him on fire, and scorched his coat till he couldn’t recognize it.

Then they talked of other things, and Will told his cousin all about his
school-fellows. Then Henry again referred to the demon and his wickedness.

Judging by the performances of the last few hours, Henry would be a
strange companion to visit the Demon’s Cave with, at night, and armed
with loaded pistols, “ready,” as he phrased it, “to defend themselves in
case of danger.”

       *       *       *       *       *

It was morning. The cousins were standing in the commons. A crowd of
people was assembled. In the centre of the inclosure a colossal balloon
(do not smile, gentle reader) towered up into the air. Its manager, Prof.
Ranteleau, was haranguing the people. In a few minutes he would ascend in
his balloon--who wished to accompany him? He was an adept in the science
of aëronautics, and would insure every one a safe, novel, and delightful
voyage through the aërial regions. When they had sailed among the clouds
to their satisfaction, he would return and descend on the common.

A few people said “good-bye” to their friends, and climbed into the car.
The cousins did likewise. The fastenings were cast loose; the professor
seated himself with a complacent smile; and with a great lurch the
balloon began to ascend.

The people began to make poetical remarks upon the “sublimity,” the
“immensity,” the “profundity” of the scene, before the car was fifty feet
above the ground.

Will and Henry sat still and looked on; for to their untutored minds the
scene did yet seem particularly sublime.

But the balloon rapidly gained in speed, and soon whirled its occupants
along at an astonishing rate. Things below became more and more
indistinct, and were gradually lost to view. Then the balloonists felt
in their pockets for sundry barometers and thermometers; buttoned their
over-coats up to their ears; and prepared to enjoy themselves.

The professor reached out his hand to adjust some part of the mechanism.
But a valve refused to open, the bulky monster gave a great lurch
forward, and he perceived that it had become unmanageable! His benign
countenance assumed an air of woe, but he hoped that all was not yet
lost. He was deceived.

Suddenly the balloon careened over, and sailed through the air in a
horizontal position, very unpleasant to the balloonists. Striking a
certain parallel of latitude, it circled round this world of ours like
a beam of light. In vain the professor attempted to get control of the
unwieldy monster. Dropping their barometers and thermometers, the unhappy
æronauts clutched the sides of the car with an agonized grip. Nothing was
now said about the “sublimity” of things below; for no one durst cast his
eyes to the ground.

Soon they were circumnavigating the world in the twinkling of an eye; and
the balloon increased in speed till it exceeded the wildest calculations
made by man respecting motion. The wretched travelers of the sky could
no longer maintain their hold, and were one by one flung from the fated
balloon like missiles from a catapult. They went whirling through space
with a rotary motion, like balls from a rifle; while, from a peculiarity
in the way in which they were flung, they took a different course from
that taken by the balloon, more downward and southward.

Thus the pedagogue’s question, whether anything can be discharged from a
motive power in motion, is set at rest forever.

In spite of the awfulness of his situation, Will could not help pitying
whatever obstacle they should bring up against, for there would be a
frightful collision.

For the thirtieth time the Rocky Mountains rose before them, and a
large man, built on the approved Dicken’s model, was shot from the
balloon. To the spectator’s horror, he went right through one of the
loftiest mountains, just below the limit of perpetual snow, tearing a
hole eight feet in circumference through the solid rock. When the “hardy
mountaineer” comes upon that hole, he will call it a “freak of nature,”
and be at a loss to account for its usefulness. “Ah! he didn’t ought to
come!” the professor managed to articulate. But he was not heard, for in
an instant an ocean of ether rolled between him and his words.

One by one the unfortunates were hurled from the balloon, till out of
thirteen only the professor and the two cousins remained. The monster
circumnavigated the globe one hundred times; then quivered, hesitated,
slackened its speed, and finally, taking a new start, it left the
earth entirely behind, and swiftly drew near one of the planets. It
redoubled its exertions, and soon exceeded its former velocity. The air
became warmer and warmer, nearer and nearer they came to the planet. The
professor determined to make one more effort to check their wild flight,
and took his right hand from the support it clutched, to pull a rope
leading to a valve.

That movement was fatal: the professor himself was shot out of the
balloon. He, however, took an upward course. The balloon seemed to
know that he was gone; and quivering with joy and relief, it once more
assumed a perpendicular position. The boys relaxed their hold, and gladly
stretched their stiffened limbs. But its velocity seemed only to increase.

Six seconds later, the boys felt an awful crash above them. The balloon
had overtaken its latest projectile, the professor, and a great collision
was the result. Then the gas coming from the professor’s throat, and
the gas inside of the balloon, met; and an explosion that jarred the
planet they were drawing near,--though it was still three thousand miles
away,--took place.

The balloon immediately collapsed, and then a strange thing happened.
Will dilated till he reached the dimensions of the last exhumed New
Jersey fossil, and then a cry of pain broke from his lips. He opened his
eyes.

A calm September sun was shining into the bedroom window; the birds were
singing gayly outside; while down stairs he heard Henry’s merry laugh.

“A dream!” Will exclaimed, in great relief! “Only a dream. But it seemed
more real than any dream I ever had! Oh, dear! Even in dreams I get into
trouble! What will become of me next? Shall I always keep on making
blunders? Shall I always get into disgrace, like an idiot or a bothersome
dog?”

After a pause, he continued: “Well, I do feel a pain, sure enough! I
suppose I ate too much pudding for dinner.”

In this observation he was partially correct. Boys, listen to this
glorious precept: _Never eat heartily when you feel as Will felt that
afternoon._

“I wonder how a genuine balloon would behave itself?” Will mused, as he
jumped out of bed. “Not much like Professor Ranteleau’s, surely. If I
could see George, now, I guess he could tell me all about it. Perhaps
Henry knows how it would be. Well, I don’t care for such dreams; they
make me feel homesick. Poor Stephen! I wonder how he is this morning. Oh!
Oh! this is the day for the visit to the Demon’s Cave!”

Having said that, he went down stairs in search of Henry.



_Chapter XVII._

THEY PREPARE TO GIANTIZE.


The boys spent the day in suppressed excitement, not caring to engage
in any amusement, but roaming about the house and making their
“preparations.” After much wandering through the building, they gathered
up everything they thought would be needful.

“It’s a great pity we haven’t more weapons,” Henry said. “Now, Will to
go armed rightly, we should have revolvers, not pistols. Seven-shooters,
with a box of cartridges apiece, would make us very formidable, and then
we ought to have other weapons. Well, I’ve a compass, anyway; you must
take it, Will, for you don’t know the way so well as I do. These pistols
of mine are very good, for pistols; but after all, they are only pistols.”

Henry was wrong in being ashamed of his firearms. They were very neat
and highly ornamented pocket-pistols, which his father had given to him
some years before, under a promise not to use them till he should be old
enough to do so with safety. He had strictly kept that promise.

There was nothing wrong with them; but Henry got out his father’s oil
can, and the two boys toiled over them for upwards of an hour. The oil
in the little can ran low, and a pile of greasy rags rose beside them;
but when they at last desisted from their labors, a sweet smile of
content lit up their grimy features, and unthinkingly they drew out their
handkerchiefs.

“Oh!” cried Will with a look of dismay.

“Never mind,” said Henry, composedly. “Just keep yours, and I’ll keep
mine, and they’ll make the very best kind of a slate-cloth, and when they
get worn out for that, the ragman will buy them at a cent a pound. Now,
Will, just look at these pistols; they are as clean as a snow-storm!”

This sublime comparison restored Will’s cheerfulness, and together they
wended their way outside to wash.

“Will,” he said, “to show you how _very_ careful I am, we won’t load this
pair of pistols till just before we go. All the accidents you read about
in the newspapers come from loaded pistols and revolvers lying around
loose; so we’ll cheat fate, and not load them till the last minute. And,”
he added, “to be still more careful, _you may load them both yourself_.”

But where Will was concerned, Fate was not to be cheated so easily; in
fact, on this occasion, Henry was “only playing into her hands.”

For some reason, neither of the boys said anything to Mr. or Mrs.
Mortimer about their intended expedition, wishing, according to their
account, to have a “tale to tell” the next morning. Although they kept
saying to each other that they would be doing nothing wrong, it is
probable they feared Mr. Mortimer might think they would be better at
home than at the Demon’s Cave. To do them justice, it must be stated
that neither meditated doing any harm; they wished only to effect an
entrance into the cave. They were certain that they would reach home by
bedtime; and then, the affair being all over, they could narrate their
adventures at their leisure. They were observing boys, and knew well
enough that when they returned in triumph and safety, their little prank
would be excused; and far from being blamed, they would be regarded with
admiration--even lionized.

Yes, Will and Henry were wise in their day and generation.

In the morning Henry had said to his mother: “Ma, could you get supper
earlier than usual to-night? Will and I want to go out about sundown.
We’ll tell you all about it afterwards.”

Mrs. Mortimer supposed, of course, that everything was all right, and
never thought of questioning them as to whither they were going. She,
good soul, promised to get an early supper on purpose for them, and even
proposed that they should take some eatables with them. The boys heartily
agreed to this--not that they cared to eat on the way; but they thought
it would become them, as armed heroes, to take along a knapsack of food.

When supper was announced the impatient knights-errant hastily ate it.
Then Henry put some tempting sandwiches--the eatables his kind mother had
prepared--into his satchel, or knapsack, and called to Will to get ready.

“Now, Will,” he said, as they flew up stairs to his room, “we must hurry
like a train of cars behind time. It is getting late, and you must
load the pistols as fast as you can, while I change my boots. Here is
everything you want in this drawer, and you know just where to lay your
hand on whatever you want.”

“Oh, yes,” said Will.

“See, Will, here’s a big jack-knife for you, and another for me. They’re
the toughest and grittiest old fellows you ever saw; stick this one into
your pocket.”

So they armed their persons with these formidable and bulky knives. Did
they expect to kill anyone, or to be killed themselves?

Will felt no uneasiness about taking a pocket-knife, however big it might
be; but he looked at the pistols with awe.

“You secured the compass before supper?” asked Henry.

“Yes.”

“Then don’t stand fooling, Will, but load the pistols.”

The sun had set, and the boys’ bedroom facing the east, it was somewhat
dark within it. Will knew he must hurry, for it was getting late, and
Henry would soon be ready. His old dread about taking the pistols
returned, and his hand trembled with suppressed excitement as he snatched
them up.

“I’ll load ’em,” he said desperately, “but I don’t like to do it.”

“Don’t be chicken-hearted at the last minute, Will; you know I rely on
you to help me;” Henry called out, from the adjoining room.

“Never mind,” Will replied confusedly, as he opened the drawer of which
Henry had spoken. There were many things in this drawer, arranged in
excellent order, Henry thought; but to anyone else, everything seemed
to be in appalling _dis_order, as though thrown into it at random.
Boxes, strings, cords, fishhooks, slate-pencils, lead-pencils, discarded
buttons; a glass ink-bottle that a blue-eyed girl had once given him
for prompting her against the rules; a top that a dead brother had spun
in days gone by; a diary that began with a grand flourish and ended
miserably on the fifth page; and several other things, were stowed away
in that drawer. If the reader wishes to know _exactly_ what its contents
were, let him look into the sanctum of such a boy as Henry.

Groping among these things, Will found his cousin’s powder-flask, poured
a generous charge into the barrel of both pistols, and then rammed in a
wad.

“Ready?” asked Henry, as he slipped on the second boot.

“Oh, yes; in a minute;” Will replied, becoming very much confused.

Fumbling in the drawer again, he drew out a box which he supposed held
the bullets. Tearing off the lid without stopping to examine what the
soft black balls really were, he dropped one into each barrel, and
secured it with a wad.

Poor boy! Of course he had made a blunder, and mistaken artificial balls,
that Henry had made for his little brothers pog-gun, for leaden bullets!
These balls were made of tow, soaked in water, and then rounded into
shape. They were excellent for a pop-gun, but rather out of place in a
pistol.

Poor knights-errant! They were not armed even so well as Henry imagined.
In case of an attack from the demon, all that they could rely on would be
their jack-knives.

Unconscious of his mistake, Will observed, with a sigh of relief, “There,
they’re loaded! I’m not much used to loading pistols, Henry; but I know
better than to put the balls in first!”

“Then why didn’t you say so before?” Henry demanded, as he stepped into
the room. “You are too nervous, Will; you ought to take things coolly, as
I do. Of course the pistols are all right; but let me see them.”

Taking them up, he said, with an amused smile: “It’s pretty dark here,
Will, _but I think I could see the caps, if they were on_!”

“Oh!” was all poor Will could say.

Henry hurried to his drawer, found his box of caps, and speedily remedied
Will’s neglect. But he did not see the mistake Will had made about the
balls.

Then each boy thrust a pistol into his coat pocket, and looked every inch
a redoubtable hero.

“Never mind shutting up the drawer, Will; never mind doing anything;”
Henry cried impatiently. “It is nearly a quarter to seven; so let us
hurry, and we’ll swoop down on the demon just in the nick of time.”

As they passed out of the house, Henry’s little sister asked where they
were going.

“Wait till we come back, Topsy, and we’ll have a whole story-book full of
tales to tell you,” said Henry. “We are going to do something wonderful,
and perhaps we’ll find something to bring back to you. Topsy, tell your
baby brother that if we meet Jack the Giant Killer, we’ll smash his head
for him.”

A minute later, the boys were fairly on their way to the cave.

“Henry, there is a question I want to ask you,” said Will, as they strode
along. “It will be so late when we get home, and we shall be so tired;
why didn’t we start early in the afternoon?”

“Ho! what a question! Why, Will, I’m astonished at you! What would be
the fun in going in daylight? Don’t you see, _night_ makes everything
solemn and romantic, and spurs a fellow on to be very brave--so brave
that he wouldn’t be afraid of the skeleton of a devil-fish. Will, do you
ever read novels? stories? legends?”

“Yes.”

“Well, don’t the heroes do all their noble deeds at night? Villains and
ruffians prowl around at night, and the heroes know that, and lay their
plans to grapple them. Will, when different nations go to war, like two
dogs over a bone, if they can only manage to do the fighting at night,
they always do. And then what a battle there is.”

He held forth in this strain till he became almost eloquent; but wound
up by saying, with great inconsistency, “Besides, it isn’t night at all;
it’s only evening.”

To all this Will meekly assented.

“As for being tired,” Henry continued, with intense disgust, “you’re no
true boy, Will, if you care a straw for that, when such sport is in view.”

“No, of course not!” Will hastily replied. But he asked himself whether
his cousin had any of Marmaduke’s notions.

“Well,” after a pause, “I _did_ have a reason for coming at this
particular time. I know a good-natured fellow that comes along this way
every evening with a team. I see him coming now; and he’ll give us a
ride, as sure as our pistols are loaded. He’ll set us down not far from
the cave, and that will be a great help; and, Will, if you are tired, ten
to one we’ll get a ride going home!”

Will began to think his cousin was a strangely contrary boy.

Mr. Mortimer’s house stood in the suburbs of the town, which the boys
had now left entirely behind. Eagerly they hurried on, but the teamster
soon overtook them, and as Henry had said, he offered them a ride. As
they rattled on over the dusty road, they felt that this world is very
beautiful, after all; and that it is a fine thing to have a teamster for
a friend.

When they left him they were within a quarter of a mile of their
destination.

It was between two hills that they alighted, the road coming down one,
crossing a bridge that spanned a little stream, and then going up
another. The land on either side was low,--even marshy in places,--and
used principally for pasturage. To the left of the road there were no
banks; but to the right, for a long way up the stream, there were high
and steep banks, with a wide valley between them. It was in one of these
banks that the cave was situated.

The cousins ran across the road, and down into the valley, on their way
to the demon’s abode. The teamster watched them as he drove along, and
muttered: “So _that’s_ where the rascals are going! Well, let ’em go;
I reckon they’ll soon come howling back again, very much the worse for
wear, and rather broken in wind!”



_Chapter XVIII._

THE COUSINS SEE MORE THAN THEY BARGAINED FOR.


Will was about to follow the stream, but Henry called out to him, “Don’t
go there, Will, for the ground is too soft after the rain. Besides, we
must be careful; the demon may be prowling around; and he might see us.
Let us follow this steep bank for a little way, and then we shall find a
path leading right up to the top of it.”

It was a desert place, far from any habitation--a wilderness within sight
of a town. High above them rose an almost perpendicular bank, of _earth_,
not _rock_; while directly opposite rose a similar bank, nearly as high.
Between these lay the pasture-land. Will and Henry were sensible of the
desolation of the place; it fired their enthusiasm, and warmed their
blood; and they peered into the shadows as though they imagined a whole
band of demons lurked near, ready to spring upon them.

If they should be attacked, as Henry seemed to fear, so far from help,
his pistols and pocket-knives would be frail weapons of defence.

They soon reached the path leading upwards, and began to ascend.

“Henry, wouldn’t it be better to go boldly up to the door of the cave,
and knock?” Will asked. “Surely, the demon would let us in, and show us
around; and if he should, of course, he would let us out again.”

“No, Will; that wouldn’t do at all. The demon never lets any one into
his cave; and as I told you, the story runs that whoever he _takes_ in
never gets out again. If we should knock at his door he would be on his
guard, and I doubt whether we should be able to get in at all. Besides,
it wouldn’t be poetical to get in that way. No; we must entice him out,
and then rush in like a whirlwind.”

“But how are we to get out again?”

“Now, Will, I don’t mean _you_ when I say it; but that is a coward’s
thought. I never troubled myself about that--in fact, I never let such an
idea come into my head. If we had wanted to get in that way, we should
have stayed down in the valley. By going around on the top of the hill,
as we are, we can lay a trap that the demon will certainly fall into. You
see, Will, if we want to get fun out of this expedition, we must have a
plot. I don’t blame you for being nervous, Will; those trick-playing boys
at your place have unsettled your nerves, and unstrung your faculties;
but if you stay with me long enough, I’ll string them up till you are
ready for anything.”

Will heaved a sigh, blinked painfully, and said, “Thank you!”

Henry resumed: “Yes, Will, I think we can safely leave that question till
we get ready to go out. Some way will be found then, never fear. The main
point is to get in; it will be easy enough to get out.”

“Let us stop a minute, and look around,” Will said, as they strode warily
along on the brow of the hill.

“By all means, Will. Here,” stretching out his arms, and speaking with
theatrical vehemence, “here is scenery! This is where the travelling
photographers come to astonish themselves!”

A splendid view was obtained from this elevation; the country could be
seen for a long distance, and glimpses were caught of three or four towns
besides Henry’s.

But the writer seems to forget that he is not a school-girl writing a
prize composition in description of some far distant and romantic land of
which she, in her younger days, had learned a piece of poetry, difficult
and tiresome, but studded with beautiful metaphors that fired her budding
genius.

A great many dumb beasts, but no human beings, were in sight.

Henry soon broke the silence by saying, “Come, Will, we must go on.”

They hurried along on the brow of the long hill, conversing in low tones.
Still no appearance of the demon. There was a well-beaten path, evidently
worn by the demon himself, which they followed. After following this path
for a few minutes, Henry suddenly stopped, and said in a hoarse whisper:

“Will, I think we are directly over the cave. Hush! Keep very still, and
look out for danger; but be as collected as a desperado. We are two to
one; so there is nothing to be afraid of. Now, Will, crouch down, and
we’ll lay our plans right over the demon’s head. He can’t hear us, and I
want to make everything clear to you. Don’t you see, Will, its a striking
idea to plot and scheme over the very cave itself?”

“Yes, it’s just like outlaws,” said Will.

“Well, by going on a little farther, we shall find another path leading
down this hill into the valley. We must take that path, so that we can
come up to the cave from behind. The demon will never suspect any one of
coming from that direction, and he will be trapped nicely. We can get
behind the big old tree you see down there, and then fire! You see, Will,
we had to come this roundabout way over his cave; it would never do to
pass in front of it, and run the risk of being seen.”

Will saw, and admired Henry’s stratagem.

“It makes me think of Robinson Crusoe and his cave,” he whispered, as
they rose and went on.

Soon they reached the path leading downwards, which they descended
warily, and then found themselves once more in the valley. A few steps
ahead was a monstrous old tree, lying flat on the ground, and jutting out
towards the opposite bank; while farther along, round an angle, was the
entrance into the cave. Any person behind that tree would be effectually
hidden from that entrance; and, of course, that entrance would be hidden
from him.

Henry’s plan was to fire, and then keep a sharp look-out over the tree
till the demon should come out and place some distance between himself
and his cave, looking for the cause of the loud noise. He imagined that
what with the angle, the surrounding cliffs, and the echoes that would
follow, it would be impossible for a person in the cave to tell the exact
place from which the report came. When the demon should be at a safe
distance from his cave, Henry and Will would dash into it.

Henry thought they would be perfectly safe; for would they not be
protected on every side, except from the rear?

From the rear!

When they reached the foot of the hill, they paused and looked warily,
even fearfully, up the valley. But it was fast getting dark, and they
did not see a man who crouched against the cliff in time to escape
observation.

He was the man commonly called the Demon.

The cousins turned and proceeded slowly and circumspectly toward their
ambush, fearing every minute that the demon might appear in front of
them. As they went they conversed in whispers. The man, or demon,
followed so closely behind them that he heard every word; and yet so
carefully did he tread that they were not aware of his presence. As
will be seen, he gathered the whole plan of attack from their whispered
conversation, and took his measures accordingly.

“Now, Will, we must settle the last details of our plot,” Henry said.
“You may fire your pistol, Will, but I’ll keep my fire till I see whether
we need it or not. I’ll climb the trunk of the tree, when we think it is
safe, from your shoulder, and then pull you up. Of course we can jump
from the tree to the ground, and then, to run for the cave!”

“But suppose the demon isn’t in his cave?”

“That’s just what we’re afraid of, Will, and we are only taking our
chances. He ought to be in at this time of night, eating his supper and
tormenting his captives--if he has any. He _must_ be in! I feel that we
haven’t come all the way here for nothing; I feel that we are in for a
grand adventure! And what will the demon say when he finds two armed boys
in his den!”

“Suppose he won’t come out when I fire? He may be too cute to rush out,
and leave the door open, and straggle off.”

“Oh, do quit supposing! If he won’t come out, we will shove our way in.
If he is a good old man, we must cheer him up, and help him; but if he is
a wicked old knave, with captives and treasures, we must set them free,
and plunder him for the National Treasury. Here we are at the tree, Will;
get out your pistol ready to fire. No, wait! Let me take a look over the
log, to see that he isn’t prowling around there.”

After much scrambling, Henry succeeded in climbing upon the tree. Will
stood by, fumbling idly with the pistol. The demon, a few steps behind,
pressed close against the cliff, and remained unseen.

“I don’t see anything of the demon,” Henry whispered, from the trunk of
the tree. “Don’t fire till I slip down, because he might pop out quick,
and see me. In a minute or two, I’ll venture up again.”

Before he had finished speaking he was on the ground; and, as bravely as
a war-worn general, he said, in a higher key than Will’s proximity made
necessary: “FIRE!”

Of course every accomplished story-teller, when he “gets into the thick
of it,” must pause deliberately, and give prolix descriptions of people
or places about whom or which the general reader cares next to nothing.
It is unjust to the impatient, but powerless, reader; but it is the
custom. We must plead guilty of this time-honored meanness, and seize the
present opportune moment to introduce the demon as he appeared at that
time.

He was a tall, powerful man, with light, active movements, worthy of a
soldier. His features were regularly formed, and apparently he had once
been a fine-looking man. Now, however, he was haggard and stooped from
long-continued privations. His eyes had a ferocious glare,--not pleasant
to beholders, but supposed to be an attribute of maniacs,--a suspicious
look, as though he dreaded some enemy were lurking near, ready to spring
upon him. In fact, his entire appearance showed that he was always on his
guard. His long and intensely black hair waved about his shoulders in
wild profusion; whilst his beard, likewise black, reached far down his
breast. His clothing, old and tattered, was in keeping with his general
appearance.

All taken together, he looked like a madman; and if Marmaduke could have
seen him, he would have been in ecstacy, thinking that at last he had
found one of Dickens’ monstrosities.

The “gentle reader” has not been kept in suspense very long, but the
narrative may now resume its course.

The demon crept stealthily out of the shadow, and, unperceived by the
boys, stole swiftly, but noiselessly, upon them. When Henry said “fire!”
Will raised his pistol with a trembling hand, and cocked it, preparatory
to firing into the air. But before he could do so, the demon sprang
upon him, and the luckless boy found himself encircled by two long and
powerful arms--an embrace anything but loving.

With a gasp of intense terror, he turned and saw by whom he was held. To
his heated imagination, the demon appeared a monster.

Henry, also, turned around and saw him. With a cry of dismay, he threw up
his arms, and struck the pistol, which still dangled in Will’s nerveless
hand.

How it happened--whether Will unconsciously pulled the trigger, or
whether the blow did it--can never be known; but with a stunning noise
the pistol discharged its contents, and then fell to the ground.

To Will’s consternation, Henry staggered; flung his arms out wildly for
support; gave a moan of pain or terror; and also fell, heavily. The
charge had struck him somewhere--but where?

At this catastrophe, Will forgot that the demon’s arms encircled him,
forgot everything but that he had shot his cousin Henry. A boy does not
swoon away, or else he would have done so; but he was horror-stricken:
the terrible word _murder_ seemed to be hissed into his ears by unseen
spirits, and he was unable to move or speak.

The demon, heaving a sigh, lifted him easily off his feet, and bore him
away. Will made no resistance, for his brain was in too confused a state
to perceive what was going on. His eyes were fixed on the prostrate form
of Henry, and the demon strode on with him, following the length of the
tree. Soon the end of the fallen tree was reached; and as the demon
turned and walked towards his cave, Will caught a last look of Henry, who
was still lying flat on the ground.

All this happened in a very short time, of course; for the demon paid no
attention to the report of the pistol, but immediately marched off with
our doughty hero.

The reader, unlike him, is aware that the pistol, though heavily loaded
with powder, instead of a leaden bullet held a ball made of tow.

Will grew calmer, but offered no resistance to his captor.

The entrance of the cave was now disclosed. Before them an almost
perpendicular cliff rose several feet towards the sky, twisting into
strange shapes to the south, and on the north jutting out irregularly
some distance westward, thus forming the angle spoken of before. Exactly
in the centre there was an opening in which a strong and heavy door was
hung. Two or three grated openings, which served for windows, were to be
seen high above the door, and several feet apart.

The _outside_ of the cave was somewhat formidable, as no doubt the demon
wished it to be. What was the _inside_ like?

Will did not care to know. Suddenly he put forth all his strength, and
struggled manfully and furiously to break away from the demon. But the
latter, without a word, folded his arms more tightly round him, and held
him fast in a grip that put an end to all the poor boy’s hopes of escape.

Advancing with the would-be knight-errant, the demon arrived at the door
of his cave; and manipulating some complicated contrivance which took the
place of a lock, the secret of which was known only to himself, the door
opened and captor and captive passed in.

So, this was the way in which Will was to gain admittance into the
stronghold! A great improvement on Henry’s little plan!

A spacious apartment was disclosed, the floor bare, but the roof and
sides covered with planks, to prevent the earth from crumbling in. It was
very dark inside, as during the day but little light came in through the
openings mentioned, during the night, none. A fire was struggling to burn
in the middle of this dismal hole, but its feeble light only added to the
gloom. Round the walls on benches and rude tables all sorts of things
were lying; blankets, old clothes (_our_ “recluse” had more than one
suit), trays, bowls, some other kitchen utensils, even eatables, being
grouped together in confusion, with a view to convenience rather than
neatness. In fact, the demon seemed to take no pride, no interest, in the
affairs of the household. In one corner a big pile of firewood proved
that the occupant could make himself quite comfortable. In spite of all
his misery, Will distinctly heard the cackling of hens and chickens,
evidently the brood of which Henry had spoken, in another apartment.

The cave was now stifling from a horrible smoke arising from the
smouldering fire. When the demon was present he blew away the smoke by
means of a huge fan suspended from the ceiling; but it accumulated in his
absence.

Although there were several bye-rooms, each one of which served its own
purpose, this was the principal one--the one in which the demon lived.

Of course Will had no time to see what we have dimly outlined, for the
demon hurriedly crossed this room and opened a door leading into another,
much like it, excepting in its furniture. Here there were no rude benches
or tables. A comfortable and even handsome bedstead stood against the
wall, with a few sheets and quilts, and one old buffalo-robe, upon it.
There was an attempt made at covering, or carpeting, the floor; and in
one corner there was a crazy stove, or oven, clumsily built of refuse
bricks. Above this stove there was a chimney, which managed to dispose
of most of the smoke when a fire was lighted--that is, it took it into
another and larger room.

This was the bedroom, in which the demon slept as peacefully as a knight
in his moated castle.

Having thus, “by slow degrees, by fits and starts,” cooped Will up in
the Demon’s Cave, description may rest awhile and the narrative may be
resumed.

The demon laid our hero gently on the bed, and then, for the first time,
he spoke to him. “Poor boy!” he said, in a not unpleasant tone. “Perhaps
you did not wish to do me any harm, but I shall keep you here till--”

He stopped abruptly.

There was nothing threatening in this, yet Will trembled. His thoughts
were doubtless of Henry.

The demon turned and left the room, fastening the door behind him. Then
he left the cave, taking the precaution of fastening the outside door,
also.

“There was another one,” he murmured; “I must see to him.”

Swiftly he retraced his steps round the tree, and arrived at the scene
of conflict not more than five minutes after he had borne Will away. But
Henry was nowhere to be found! He had vanished, leaving nothing, not even
a drop of blood, behind him!

“Was there another?” the demon asked himself, dubiously. “What is it?
Have I dreamed, or is this some new device of the enemy?”

Seeing the pistol which Will had discharged, he picked it up and returned
to the cave, not making the slightest effort to look for the missing
knight-errant.

Will remained inactive as long as the demon was near, but as soon as he
heard him go out, he leaped off the bed and made a desperate attempt to
open the door. He put forth all his strength--but in vain: the door was
rock.

Then he groped about the room, to see if he could find some other means
of escape. Again in vain--no outlet presented itself.

“I am a prisoner!” he groaned. “And what a terrible prison! But, oh! poor
Henry! Was he dead? Have I killed him? Oh, this is too much!”

Then he recollected that his cousin had insisted that there were captives
hidden away in the cave, and in a voice that--we grieve to say it, but
truth is inexorable--quavered with fear, he shouted: “Is anyone hidden
here?--Speak! Any captives here?”

His own voice mocked him, and he started back in terror.

Evidently, no captives there.

But Will was not comforted. Hobgoblins crawled over the floor, and
ground their teeth under the bed--demons crowded round him and jabbered
ominously--human skeletons rattled their dry bones horribly, and pointed
their fingers jeeringly at him--his murdered cousin came to him, and
looked him full in the face with a sad, reproachful smile.

Will could endure it no longer. With a cry of horror and agony he flung
himself on the bed, and buried his face in the old buffalo-robe.

At that moment the Demon of the Cave returned and entered his dwelling.

This is a convenient, suitable, and orthodox place for the chapter to
close; so let it close.



_Chapter XIX._

WITHIN AND WITHOUT THE DEMON’S CAVE.


What had become of Henry?

The ball had struck him in a tender place; and not seriously hurt, but
very much frightened, he fell headlong with a groan of--fear!

While the demon was carrying off Will he lay still and made use of his
wits.

He reflected logically as follows: “Whatever Will loaded my pistols with,
it certainly wasn’t a genuine bullet! So it would be useless for me to
fire this pistol at the demon--useless--wicked--and against the laws!”

Gentle reader, mark that; read it carefully two or three times; muse on
it; and remember that you yourself were once a boy--or, if not, your
father was.

“Oh, how my side smarts! There’ll be a blister, surely!” Henry groaned.
“Well, the best way to help Will will be to lie here perfectly still till
the demon gets entirely out of sight, and then hop up and scramble away.
Where shall I go? To the road? I must look for help somewhere, or Will
may be killed! It won’t do to yell for help here, for no one except the
demon could hear me. Yes, I must keep still a little while!”

As soon as the demon was well out of sight, Henry arose. But he found
himself more bruised than he had thought.

“Now, to save Will--and myself,” he muttered. “What a capital idea,”
he chuckled, as a happy thought struck him. “They think I’m dead, very
likely, and so the demon won’t be on the watch for me! Of course; and if
I can’t get help, I’ll swoop down on him and do the rescuing myself.”

As fast as he could he went back to the path, thinking to climb the hill
and hurry to the road. A lingering fear that the demon might return and
look for him lent speed to his feet, and he walked with long swift steps.
In his generous heart he resolved to liberate Will at all hazards; and if
he could devise no other means of doing so, he would return and “beard
the lion in his den.”

When he reached the foot of the hill he chanced to look back, and saw
a man standing by the tree. It was the demon, looking for him. To his
intense relief, the man turned and went slowly back towards the cave.

“I am safe now,” he thought. “He won’t come to look for me again. But
does he think I am dead, or carried off? Well, at any rate he will see me
before long!”

Eagerly he turned to climb the hill, thinking meanwhile:--“Poor Will! No
telling what that cruel demon may do with him! Oh, dear! we are both in a
very bad scrape! O my pistols!--I must hurry!”

What with scrambling up hills and rushing down them, Henry’s limbs were
already becoming stiff, and he found it hard work to climb. He succeeded,
after making great and desperate struggles, in getting nearly to the top
of the hill; when he took a false step, slipped, was thrown off his feet,
and--in spite of all his efforts to save himself--slid headlong down to
the very bottom. An avalanche of stones and dirt thundered down in his
train.

A little mound of earth brought him to a standstill, and a cry of pain
escaped his lips.

In spite of the pain he suffered, his first words were characteristic of
him. “Well,” he said, grimly, “I’ve blotted out the demons path up that
hill! His nice little path is now in ruins in this valley!”

But, with a groan of agony, he ejaculated: “Oh! my foot is broken all to
pieces! Oh! O--o--h!”

For a little time it was difficult for him to keep from screaming with
the pain.

As soon as he felt a little better, he took off his boot and stocking,
and carefully examined the injured foot, muttering meanwhile between his
groans: “Oh, I hope the demon didn’t hear that noise! How the stones
rattled and thundered! If he heard, he will come rushing out to attack
me, and I am not able to help myself a bit! Oh, what a catastrophe this
is!”

Poor Henry! That time-honored accident, which, in romance, befalls all
heroes of the chase, had befallen him. “He had sprained his ankle!”

Only, in this instance, no lovely huntress was to find him, and have
him tenderly conveyed to her dwelling. No sporting companions were with
him, hastily to construct a litter, and smuggle him into the castle
of some incarcerated maiden, whom, making light of his suffering, he
would release from her “turret prison;” and then, drawing the wicked
jailer--her scheming, hunch-backed uncle--out of his concealment, he
would fall upon him, and slay him, without mercy.

No; no love-marriage was fated to result from that adventure; Henry was
to lie there all alone; and suffer.

It was sad, but our hero bore it patiently and philosophically. He
believed that he should not be molested by the demon, and that was some
consolation. But Will? Alas! All hope of rescuing him, so far as Henry
was concerned, was at an end. That grieved him more than anything else.

Slowly the time wore away. As the demon did not come out again, Henry
thought that the noise made by the falling stones had not been heard in
the cave. He was full of anxious and remorseful thoughts for himself as
well as for his cousin; and, much as he revolved the affair in his mind,
he could hit upon no feasible plan of deliverance.

“If I had only told our folk where we were going,” he reflected, “they
would hunt for us when they find us missing. But now they will be uneasy,
and not know where on earth we are! No; they won’t have the slightest
clue to track us! Oh, dear! What is going to become of us? How is this
spree to end? What about my ankle? What on earth! Well, now are we to
stay here all night? Will in the cave, and I here? ‘So near, and yet so
far!’ My stars! I’ve read that in stories, but I never guessed what it
meant! ‘So near, and yet so far!’ The man that wrote those words knew
more than I ever shall, anyway! Oh! What will the demon do to poor Will?”

Henry could reason logically, and now, as well as his aching ankle would
permit, he reviewed the whole scheme of visiting the Demon’s Cave. In the
light he now had it seemed very foolish, whichever way he looked at it.

“It was a humbug,” he acknowledged to himself; “but after all it is just
what all heroes do, and I don’t see why we should not have managed it
better.”

His sprained ankle pained him intensely; he began to feel the effects
of his involuntary ride down hill; the place where the “bullet” struck
him smarted and itched in a manner to make him writhe. In a word, he was
miserable in both body and mind.

He reverted to the scene of conflict! “What could have been wrong with
that pistol?” he asked himself angrily. “_Something_ struck me--but
_what_? Certainly, not a bullet. My father says that a big dose of
powder will drive almost anything hard and solid into the flesh. Now,
this struck me, and hurt me; but it didn’t punch a hole through my
vest. Well, if I could only unload this other pistol, I should know to
a certainty.--What became of the pistol Will fired? If he carried it
off with him, he may suddenly scare the demon out of his wits!--Now,
I wonder whether Will loaded my pistols wrong on purpose!--Well,
this _is_ rum old sport, sitting here like a dying gladiator, and
not able to turn over for fear of howling with pain! No; I can’t
budge from this spot!--Botheration! I won’t take Will to see any more
curiosities!--Surely, the demon won’t hurt him!”

Thus the boy continued, speaking disjointed sentences just as the spirit
moved him.

As no help came to him, he, the irrepressible, began to despond. It
seemed to him that Death only would come to his release. Suddenly, he
thought of the glass ink bottle hidden behind “Robinson Crusoe” in his
drawer. He dwelt on it for the space of three minutes, and then, between
a sigh and a groan, he said: “I wish I knew whether _she_ would care if I
should die here--alone, and in pain! Would _she_ be sorry, or would she
go to school as light-hearted as ever, and let some other boy sharpen her
pencil? I wonder whether she would borrow Johnny Jones’ history! Oh! how
I despise that boy! I wish I could see him leave the country! I wish now
that I had given her my history out and out; _that_ would keep my memory
green in her eyes.”

Now, as Henry seldom or never soared higher than comparison,--to make
our meaning clearer, as he was not in the habit of apostrophizing
his treasured glass ink-bottle as an animated being of the feminine
gender,--we must conclude that the veil is lifted from a romance in his
life.

Do not laugh at him, reader; his woes were actual. In fact, we venture
to assert that every member of the sterner sex, from the age of sixteen
or seventeen till he is happily married, if he has any _feeling_, any
_heart_, any _soul_, suffers more or less acutely from jealousy of a
rival, real or imaginary.

After a time the moon came out, and dimly lighted up the valley. Henry
was not afraid of goblins; and in sheer desperation he resolved to wait
doggedly till something should happen.

Notwithstanding all his woes, he began to feel hungry. Then he
recollected that he had set out with a knapsack of sandwiches slung over
his shoulder.

“It will amuse me, and turn my wandering thoughts into a different
channel,” he muttered, as he felt for the knapsack.

Alas! In sliding down hill his knapsack had been torn into ribbons, so
that the carefully prepared sandwiches were strewn along the hillside.

His thoughts were “turned into a different channel;” but he was not very
much “amused.”

In this way, the time passed with Henry. He could not, or would not, make
an effort to move from the heap of earth which had arrested his downward
course.

Having thus disposed of him, how did it fare with Will?

When the demon re-entered the cave, he, according to his custom, fastened
the door. Next he kindled a good fire on the smouldering coals of the old
one; and then, having stepped up to the room where Will was a prisoner,
he unlocked and opened the door and told him to come out. Will did so
with alacrity.

The demon said no more, but pointed out a seat, and quietly prepared to
get supper. He took a fat bird out of his pouch, and roasted it carefully
over the fire. Then he fixed part of a chicken, a delicious fish, and
sundry other eatables, each on a separate stick, where the fire would
cook them. To Will’s astonishment, he suddenly appeared with a few slices
of bread, which he put on a toaster and toasted while the other things
were being cooked. Now, who ever read about a hermit that toasted bread?

By the way, the demon, like the writer in inditing these few chapters,
had several “irons in the fire” at once.

When everything was ready, he set a table with the food thus prepared,
and took a pan of skim-milk from a crazy cupboard built in the wall.

“Sit down and eat,” he said to Will; “I’ll speak with you afterwards.”

Will was in no humor to care about eating, and as it was yet early in
the evening he was not hungry; but not liking to refuse the strange
man’s hospitality, he sat down to the table and “ate like an emigrant,”
as Henry would have phrased it. He afterwards told his friends that the
“victuals were very good.”

After supper the demon cleared off the table and put everything in the
room in far better order than it was when the hero was taken into it.

Up to this time scarcely a word had been spoken between them. Will was
filled with dread that he had killed, or at least severely hurt, his
cousin. He, of course, did not know that Henry was in full possession
of his senses as he lay on the ground, nor that he was doing this only
to disarm the demon. The wildest fears flashed through his brain; his
sufferings were more intense than Stephen’s had been on the island. He
blamed himself; he blamed Henry; he blamed the pistols; he blamed the
demon. Yet he felt himself utterly unable to escape. And he was troubled
on his own account. What did the demon intend to do with him? Why did
he detain him there? These questions perplexed the boy; and not knowing
what else to do, he tried hard to think it all a dream. But no; it could
not be a dream, for in a dream there is never any smoke to make one
sneeze. Then Henry’s wild tales about the demon’s cannibalism and cruelty
recurred to him. Certainly, the demon’s look was forbidding--almost
ferocious; but Will did not think him capable of torturing any one. He
had too much good sense to think that the man would do him any harm; but
still he feared him, and felt ill at ease in his presence.

He had had no particular desire to come on this wild-goose-chase, because
he wished to keep out of mischief during his stay at his aunt’s. He was
not so mercurial, whimsical, and romantic, as his cousin, and he had
consented to go as much to please him as for any other reason.

“I think I shall have to get pa to shut me up, if I ever find my way
back home,” he mused, in his despair. “No matter what I do, something
always comes to grief. I thought surely it would be safe to fly a little
balloon, when Henry had always done it. But no; it must come down, and
set a building on fire! How is it that everything goes wrong with me?
Am I a blockhead, or a fool? Oh dear! I get into worse scrapes every
time; but _this_ is the worst yet--_this_ beats them all! If Henry and I
survive this, I suppose we shall stumble into something that will finish
us entirely! Now, I knew it was wrong to start with loaded pistols, and I
didn’t want to do it. Then, _why_ did I? I deserve all this misery for my
foolishness. But poor Henry! It seems to me now that he _must_ be alive.
Oh! If I could only know!”

Then he began to wonder how it was that the demon had come upon them so
suddenly. “He was there all at once,” Will said to himself, as he glanced
furtively at the “recluse.” “Did he come from the cave, or the valley,
or the bank, or a hollow in the tree, or the clouds? All I know is, he
wasn’t anywhere near, till suddenly he had me in his arms! And Henry was
as much surprised to see him as I was! Well, the man must be a wizard--or
else a witch, or a humbug! If I could only get away!”

It has been shown that Henry reflected that no one would know where to
look for them. The same appalling thought occurred to Will. But, like an
inspiration, it came to him that the teamster who had given them a ride
eyed them narrowly as they went up the valley.

“Now, if that teamster will only do us as good a turn as the sailor did
when we paddled away in the punt,” he said to himself, “we may be saved
yet!”

Boy-like, the hero pinned his faith on the teamster, and felt
considerably happier. In fact, five minutes more, and he had settled it
in his own mind that, sooner or later, they would be saved through him.

Some writers, with fiendish ingenuity, seem to set themselves
deliberately to work to unstring the nerves of their weak-headed readers,
so that they shall plunge headlong into unfortunate speculations, and be
ruined.

But the writer of this history is actuated by no such motives. He,
good soul, uses no guile with his readers, wishes to deprive no one of
needful sleep, and would shrink with horror from tampering with any one’s
business or intellect.

When the writer was a boy, he read a strong and exciting romance, written
by a master-hand. There were no idle dissertations in it; every chapter,
every paragraph, every sentence, every line, rang with meaning; and it
was so forcibly written that it would captivate a stronger mind than his.
He [your humble servant, “the writer,”] was not content with one perusal,
but read it again, and then lent it to three other boys, who read it with
equal avidity. When returned, he might have been tempted to read it for
the third time; but, alas! those boys, in their eagerness to read, had
apparently neglected to wash their hands; and had turned over the leaves
so hurriedly that it was in a state of dilapidation.

The writer has nothing to say against that romance. He learned many
things from it, and unhesitatingly pronounces it the best he ever read.
It is still green in his memory--in fact, he looks back on it to-day
with feelings of respect and admiration. But it distracted his thoughts
from his lessons, and muddled his wits to such an extent that he fears
sometimes they are muddled yet.

Behold the result. A reaction set in, and all preposterous romances, that
one excepted, have become to him an abomination.

Hence outbursts like the one above.



_Chapter XX._

A GLORIOUS TRIUMPH.


We have strayed so far from our subject that the reader may be at a loss
to take our original meaning. If so, when the boys are saved let him
refer to Will’s soliloquy and what immediately follows, and light will
burst upon him.

Will drew nearer the fire, and looked at the demon with wondering eyes,
as every fifteen minutes or so he swung the huge fan suspended from the
ceiling. This fan effectually cleared the apartment of smoke, but what
became of the smoke was to Will an appalling mystery.

As time passed, and no relief came, Will’s uneasiness returned. His
anxiety about Henry became intolerable; he could endure it no longer.
Better even to anger the demon than sit in silence and suffer torments.
When he went out, surely he must have seen Henry.

This hero was one of those extremely patient people who, lest they should
incommode somebody else, will endure untold agony, when a simple question
might set all their doubts and fears at rest.

“Sir,” he ventured to ask, “do you think he was badly hurt?
Or--or--didn’t you go to look for him?”

The demon, who had been sitting beside the fire for the last half hour,
with his head resting on his hands and his elbows supported by his knees,
started violently. He had evidently been so deeply absorbed in thought
that he had forgotten another was present.

“Ha!” he cried excitedly. “Ha! What is this?” (Madmen always say “ha!”
generally twice.) Then, recovering himself, he added, “Yes, yes; I’m
going to speak to you presently. What did you say just now?”

Will repeated his question.

“Ho! There _was_ another with you, then!” he exclaimed. “I was afraid
that I had been mistaken again. I am deceived so often that I don’t know
when to believe even myself. Then there was another. But he had gone when
I went out to see. Who was he?”

Will was thunder-struck. Could he rely on this strange man? If Henry
had gone, he could not have been killed. But where could he be? Had he
forsaken him, his cousin? No; he could not believe that Henry, so noble,
brave, and true, could be guilty of such treachery. Then had he been
found by some one, and taken away? If so, why did he not return with a
band of men to save his cousin? In truth, Will was mystified. If he had
known that the poor boy was near him, lying helpless on the ground,
exposed to the cold night air, and moaning with pain, he would have
thought their case a desperate one indeed.

At length he collected himself sufficiently to answer the demon’s
question by giving his cousin’s name.

“And who are you?” asked the madman.

“William Lawrence.”

“Why did you two come here?” the demon asked abruptly.

This was an unexpected question; Will was not prepared to answer it. “To
see the cave,” he said at last.

“Did you two come alone, or is some one else lurking near?”

“No, sir; we came entirely alone.”

“That is well. You did not come to do me any harm?”

Will thought he could safely say “no” to that.

After a pause the demon said slowly, as though he had settled it in his
own mind: “You are a good little boy. I like you; you must stay with me;
I want a fine little fellow like you to be with me all the time.”

Will was struck dumb with consternation. He could not appreciate the
compliment thus paid him.

“No, sir,” he said imploringly, “I cannot stay here at all. You must let
me out, and I must find my cousin and go home.”

“No, I cannot let you go! You shall live with me for the rest of my life.
Sit down!” he cried, as Will started to his feet.

Then he darted to the door, and placed his back against it.

“But what would my parents say to that? They would never let me stay
here,” Will protested.

Luckless boy! In his distress he knew not what to do or say.

“_Parents?_ Have you _parents_?” the demon inquired.

“Certainly I have,” said Will, with great dignity.

“Then, why did they allow a little boy, you are only a boy, to come here
at this time of night?”

Will could say nothing in his defence. He hung his head in confusion.

“Well, I shall keep you here till morning, at least. If I should let you
go now, how do I know what you two might plot against me? No! Here you
are; here you stay!”

Will was only a boy, and he did not consider that a strong man is seldom
or never afraid of the machinations of school-boys, so he said earnestly:
“If you let me out immediately, I promise that we will go: home as fast
as possible.”

The demon continuing inexorable, the boy said desperately, “Sir, we have
friends who will certainly come for us, if you do not let me out.”

“Say no more,” replied the demon, “for I cannot let you go. Listen:
People take it into their heads sometimes to molest me, _but I always
come out all right_! _I teach them a lesson that they remember!_ Your
punishment will be to remain till I choose to set you free.”

The horrible stories told by Henry again flashed through the prisoner’s
mind, but he was not terrified. Looking intently at the demon, he fancied
that instead of wickedness he saw playfulness in his eye.

“He is only trying to frighten me,” was Will’s thought.

The demon had moved back to the fire after making his last remark, and
presently Will, seeing no other means of escape, sprang to his feet and
rushed headlong towards the door. He had barely reached it when the demon
was upon him. Once more two long and sinewy arms encircled the helpless
boy, and he was borne struggling back to the fire.

“Treacherous boy!” cried the demon. “I’ll settle your fate in the
morning; now you will have to be locked up in your room.”

Without another word he carried Will into the bedroom already described,
and laid him upon the bed.

“Get in between the quilts, and you will be comfortable,” he said, as he
turned to go.

Again the door was fastened, and again our blundering hero found himself
a close prisoner in the demon’s bedroom.

His thoughts were far from being pleasant. “If I had had the cleverness
of any other boy, I should not be here now,” he muttered. “By my own
silly questions and answers I only made matters worse. Henry, Charley,
George, or even Marmaduke, could have outwitted him easily; Steve would
have made _him_ a prisoner, ten to one, and escaped at his leisure. Oh!
this is horrible! I _must_ get away!”

He jumped lightly off the bed, and knelt before the door. By good
fortune, he found a crack through which he could observe every movement
made by the demon.

“Well, this is a good beginning!” he said, hopefully, “I shall watch till
he goes to bed, and then try again.”

But the demon, with provoking composure, sat and dozed before his fire.

Time passed exceedingly slowly to poor Will. He thought it must be near
the middle of the night, while it was not yet ten o’clock.

At length the madman arose and opened a concealed door in the wall. Then
he lighted a candle, passed in, and shut the door softly behind him.

Will, like all boys, had a touch of the romantic, and he was delighted
to see Henry’s suspicions verified. His spirits rose, and he chuckled
joyously: “Well, it’s a regular robbers’ den, after all. Concealed doors
and everything to match. If Henry is only alive, and I can get away, it
won’t be so bad, after all! And now that he’s gone I guess I can manage
it, after all!”

He waited a few minutes, and then began to fumble at his door. While in
the outer room with the demon, he had taken notice of the way in which
this door was fastened, and seen that it was by means of a heavy bolt on
the outside. He had also observed that in the door, above the bolt, there
seemed to be an opening, covered with a shingle that slid back and forth
on the inside.

Feeling carefully for this shingle, he found it, took out a pin which
held it fast, and shoved it back.

“The demon ain’t so careful as he wants to be!” Will said sagely.
“Surely, here is a loophole of escape! I wish I could ease my feelings by
heaping up big and meaning words, as Henry or George would do.”

He waited a few moments in some uneasiness, fearing that the demon might
have heard him tampering with the lock; but as all remained quiet he put
his hand through the opening, and shoved back the bolt.

The door opened, and Will stood in the outer room.

Having taken the precaution of shutting and bolting his door, he was
warily drawing near the front door, when a strange sound proceeding from
the demon’s hiding-place attracted his attention.

He heard the clink of money.

Will paused. “I’ll see what this means,” he said heroically, “but I’ll
not run the risk of being captured. No; I’m too near freedom to throw
away my chances just to see a crazy man finger his money.”

Picking up a stick from the smouldering fire, he softly approached the
concealed door.

Poor boy! Experience should have taught him better than to play the
Robber-Kitten--but when does experience profit a boy?

His usual luck befell him; he stumbled and fell prostrate with a crash.

The demon must have heard him, for he had barely regained his feet when,
with a cry of dismay, the concealed door was flung open. On seeing Will,
the demon did not stop to shut it, but darted upon him with fury. In his
headlong course he struck against a stone and fell heavily.

Will waited to see him rise, and stood ready to defend himself. But
the demon lay upon the floor immovable. His head had struck some hard
substance, and he was insensible.

Presently Will went up to the demon. “Poor fellow!” he said
compassionately, “he is badly hurt! His fall was serious; mine was only a
stumble. I can’t go away and leave him in this state; I must help him.”

Tenderly he raised the powerless man, and exerting all his strength, he
dragged him to a bench close by, and laid him on it. Then he saw that the
demon’s head was severely hurt.

“Now, if he wakes up and finds me taking care of him, he won’t hurt me;
so I shall go and get some water to bathe his head,” was Will’s next
thought. “Henry said there was a spring, or water of some kind, in the
cave, but there is certainly none in this room. Well, I must leave him
and look for some.”

Snatching up a little pail, he hurried into the room which the demon had
just left. Here he stopped a moment to look about. The room was very much
like the two already described; there was a rude couch in it, but it was
scantily furnished. The demon had evidently given up his “best bedroom”
to Will.

Our hero’s wandering eyes soon rested on the most noticeable “chattel” in
the room,--a large and strong box, the lid of which lay open. In this box
there was a little pile of silver coins.

“Hello!” he said, “The demon has some money, after all! This is what he
was jingling and counting, I suppose. Well, there’s no water here; I must
go on.”

If Will had stopped to count the demon’s treasure, he would have found it
a very modest fortune. In round numbers it amounted to only five dollars.
($5.00.)

    O, golden legends of our youth,
    O, thrilling tales of riper years,
    How cruelly do you deceive!

A door stood open, leading from this room into a larger one.

“I’d better try this,” Will muttered. “It looks dark enough and big
enough for a cavern, and there ought to be water in it, if anywhere.”

Having made his way into this apartment, Will found it to be spacious,
but dark and desolate. A solitary lamp, which burned feebly, was of
little avail in such darkness. After taking a few steps he heard the
purling of water; and on reaching the spot he found a little stream of
pure water, which doubtless emptied into the brook in the valley, running
over the ground. He filled his pail and hurriedly retraced his steps,
noticing several openings into the outer room, concealed there, but
visible here.

“Well, this demon _is_ a queer fellow!” he soliloquized, as he went
along. “He seems to have all kinds of hiding-places here, that nobody
knows about. Now, what in the world does he do with so many rooms, and
why does he keep a light burning in this hole? Perhaps he keeps it
burning all the time on account of the darkness. I don’t wonder he has
money; it must take a fortune to live here, for it is just the same as
living in a castle. Well, I’ve explored his secret regions till I’m tired
of it; and I guess Henry was right when he said a band of robbers fitted
it up for a menagerie.”

A minute later he was again with the demon, whom he found still
insensible. Taking out his handkerchief, he bathed the man’s head gently,
and did everything he could to restore consciousness. But all in vain.

“Oh, dear!” he cried, “I shall have to leave him and look for Henry. I’m
sure Henry is alive, but I must find him, and then we can come here again
and help the demon.”

He arose and left the cave.

The writer has a great deal of boldness in attempting to depict the
emotions of his numerous heroes in their joys or sorrows; but he declines
to say anything about the meeting of the cousins on this occasion. It was
affecting in the extreme.

As time passed and the boys did not return, Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer became
very uneasy. Being fully aware of their son’s recklessness, they did not
know what danger he and Will might, even at that moment, be incurring.
All day the two had been whispering mysteriously together, as though
contriving some dark scheme; and perhaps, like Don Quixote and his
squire, they had set out in quest of adventures.

“Why couldn’t they have said where they were going, anyway?” Mr. Mortimer
growled impatiently.

Mrs. Mortimer was a woman who permitted her son to do very much as he
pleased, never interfering with his plans of amusement as long as he kept
within proper bounds.

“Henry said he would tell me all about it when he came back; and he
seemed, to be in such a hurry that I didn’t like to question him,” she
said mildly. “I--I think it must be all right.”

“Let us go up to the boys’ room,” Mr. Mortimer said; “perhaps we can find
a clue to their whereabouts.”

They went up-stairs immediately. The cousins had not shut the drawer, and
a single glance into it told that they had been loading pistols.

“Oh! this is horrible!” groaned Mr. Mortimer. “Wasn’t that boy Will sent
here because he got into disgrace about gunpowder?”

“Yes,” Mrs. Mortimer said faintly.

“Yes; and now, after trying to destroy the boys in his own village, he
has come here, to put an end to our Henry!” he continued fiercely. “Till
_he_ came, Henry’s balloons were all right, and I was proud of them; but
see how _he_ tampered with his model! Henry never dreamed of loading his
pistols, and going out with them. Henry is full of life, I know; but this
is all that boy’s doings.”

This was unjust to poor Will; but what parent would have laid the blame
on his own son?

Seeing that his wife was ready to burst into tears, he moderated his
anger, and said soothingly, “Oh, they’re all right, Nelly; Henry knows
enough to keep out of danger, if Will doesn’t. But I can’t stand this
suspense any longer; I’ll go out and hunt till I find them; and I’ll let
you know as soon as I get on their track.”

As he went out of the house he muttered audibly: “Well, I must send word
to this boy’s mother to keep him in leading-strings till he’s twenty-one.
How easily we manage Henry! It’s all in management, of course; and if
Mrs. Lawrence would do as well as her sister, Will would be a very good
boy. As it is, he can’t behave himself even away from home; and now the
two are deep in some horrible powder trick!”

How grieved Henry would have been if he could have heard his father speak
slightingly of his elaborate plot as a “trick”!

Boys, here is another pretty precept, which you will do well to commit to
memory: _Never associate with those who are smarter than yourselves; for,
if you do, you will be blamed equally with them when they lead you into
mischief._

After many fruitless inquiries, Mr. Mortimer at length met with a youth
who told him that about dark he had seen Henry and another boy riding off
with a teamster. Mr. Mortimer felt relieved, and sent word to his wife;
but for some time he could trace them no farther. At last, however, he
found the very teamster,--he having returned to the city,--and from him
he learnt where the boys probably were.

Having assembled a body of men, he set out for the cave forthwith, and
reached it a few minutes after Will had joined Henry. A happy meeting
took place, and tears of joy and thankfulness trickled down the cheeks of
the knights-errant. Henry was tenderly carried to the road, and put into
a vehicle in waiting.

Meanwhile, Will was speaking to Mr. Mortimer about the demon. He
listened attentively; and seeing no better way of settling the matter,
he determined to take the unfortunate man home with him. Then, after
fastening up the cave against intruders, the entire party returned to
town.

On the way, Henry and Will recounted their exploits glibly; the former
nobly taking to himself all the blame, or heroism, the latter putting in
a word now and then to enforce the others remarks. Poor boys! Now that
the affair was over they wished to make the best of it. Mr. Mortimer
listened patiently, and gradually it dawned upon him that his own son had
planned this expedition to the cave. However, as long as _Henry_ had done
it, it must be all right. He did not reprove them for their foolishness;
he was troubled about many things, and feared that his son’s injuries
were more serious than they seemed.

When the cousins entered the town they found that there was something of
a commotion among the people. Prominent citizens stopped Mr. Mortimer to
express their congratulations, and to see the youths who had “bearded
the lion in his den;” while the little street Arabs gave vent to their
feelings by shouting, “Bully for you!” “Henry’s a bouncer!” “Up with yer
hands, and off with yer hats; Henry’s the boy for to b-u-s-t um!”

“Will, I guess we’re heroes, after all!” Henry chuckled, “When I was
suffering down there at the foot of the hill, I almost concluded that
we’d made fools of ourselves; but this doesn’t seem like it!”

“Yes; but I wish they wouldn’t take so much notice of us.”

“Fiddle! Will, you ought to live in the city!”

The party moved on. A golden head leaned out of the upper window of
a certain house which they were approaching; the beautiful blue eyes
glanced anxiously up and down the street; a well-known voice--the voice
of the girl who had given Henry a glass ink-bottle--asked timidly of a
passer-by: “Have they found them yet?”

A certain boy--by name, the estimable Johnny Jones--was loitering near,
blinking with sleep and jealousy; and he took it upon himself to answer
jeeringly: “Found them? Oh, yes; they’ve found the heroes, and they’re
carting them home in the wagon that’s just here.”

The golden head was drawn in quickly, but the window was not shut.

The heroes were so near that they heard all. Then again the street Arabs
ran alongside; again they took up their cry.

Poor Johnny Jones! His envy, or jealousy, was almost too much for him.

And Henry?

His heart bounded with delight; he was supremely happy. To hear such
words from _her_ lips was ample recompense for all that he had suffered
or might yet suffer.

It was nearly five years later; Henry was just twenty-one. He and a
beautiful woman, dressed in bridal costume, were stepping into a railway
carriage that was to take them to a steamer about to set sail for Europe.

“Will,” he said suddenly, “pull off your hat quick, and bow! I--I can’t;
I’m too stiff.”

Wonderingly, and, alas! how awkwardly, Will raised his hat.

After they had passed the house Henry began to wonder what Johnny Jones
had been doing there. Had he been talking to _her_? His eyes flashed
fire; he was miserable.

Foolish boy, he was troubling himself needlessly. And if he had been more
a philosopher, he would have known that Jonny Jones, in saying those few
jeering words, had forever ruined his cause in the eyes of--------.

When the cousins reached home, Henry’s remaining pistol was unloaded, and
a hearty laugh followed; for all knew, of course, that both pistols must
have been loaded alike.

Henceforth, he could have the pleasure of telling his school-mates that
he had been “shot.” There was, however, one drawback: there was no wound
to heal, and there would be no scar to show to doubters.

Henry was thoroughly warmed; his ankle was rubbed with sundry liniments
and carefully bound up; and then the young adventurers were sent to bed.

“Well, Will, among other consolations there is this: we don’t sit up till
ten minutes to twelve every night, do we?”

“No. And we did it, Henry, after all! I explored the whole cave, and I’ll
tell you all about it to-morrow; I’m too tired now. Besides, _we rescued
the demon_!”

This proves that the heroes had not profited by their sufferings.

Meantime, the people of the house had been taking care of the madman.
Under their careful treatment he recovered sufficiently to be able to sit
up and converse.

He also had a “tale to tell,” but deferred telling it till the next day;
and by one o’clock the whole household was wrapped in slumber.



_Chapter XXI._

UNCLE DICK HIMSELF AGAIN.


The exposure of that night brought on a severe attack of rheumatism, and
the next day Henry was tossing about on his bed in agony. His sprained
ankle also was very painful.

A doctor was sent for in haste; and under his treatment and Mrs.
Mortimer’s watchful care, the boy recovered slowly.

Will was so grieved to see his cousin suffer that he almost fell sick
himself; and he took up his stand at the bedside, so that he might attend
to his slightest wish.

“I don’t mind being sick so much,” said Henry, as Will was peeling an
orange for him, “because it proves that a fellow’s mother and--and--and
_friends_ care for him, and want him to get well; but, I don’t want the
rheumatism, because it’s mostly old men and hardly used soldiers that
suffer with it.”

“What should you like to have?” asked Will.

“Well, Will, I don’t mind telling you. Will, I’ve always had a hankering
to be wounded so that it would leave an honorable scar--a scar that I
could be proud of, you know.”

The morning after the rescue the demon had a totally different air. He
no longer regarded strangers with suspicion, but frankly and promptly
replied to all who spoke to him. His eyes were calm and benign, no longer
having that “hunted look” which seemed so terrible. In a word, the demon
was no longer a madman; “the blow on his head had restored his reason.”

In real life this is, we believe, an uncommon occurrence; but in romance
it is becoming intolerably common. It is inserted in novels that are
otherwise good; it haunts some writers like an evil spirit; it is tricked
up in a new garb, sometimes, to throw the unsuspecting reader off his
guard; but if it is there, sooner or later it will crop out--often when
least expected, least desired.

In fact, whenever the practised reader picks up a tale in which a
_harmless_ maniac figures, his suspicions are at once aroused, and he
flings it aside with a gesture of contempt.

Having called Mr. Mortimer to his side, the disenthralled man said, with
a pleasant voice, “Sir, I do not know where I am, and I should like
to ask you a few questions. Last night I was not in a humor to make
inquiries, as I was so tired and weak; but this morning I am much better
and stronger. May I ask your name?”

Mr. Mortimer was surprised at and pleased with the man’s improved
appearance.

“I am happy to see that you are so much better, sir,” he said. “As to my
name, it is Mortimer; may I, in turn, ask yours?”

“Certainly, sir; I am Richard Lawrence.”

Mr. Mortimer started. He perceived that the man who spoke was in full
possession of his reason, quite as sane as he himself. In former years
he had been intimately acquainted with Dick Lawrence; the story of the
“mysterious disappearance” was familiar to him; and he thought that at
last the mystery was to be solved.

He seized Lawrence’s hand and shook it heartily.

“Don’t you remember me, old friend?” he said. “Don’t you remember when
you beat me in that race, so long ago? And besides, we are almost related
to each other; for, as you surely remember, your brother and I married
sisters.”

A long conversation followed between the two reunited friends. The events
of other years were spoken of with peculiar pleasure, and Mr. Mortimer
told his friend what had been taking place in the world of late years.

“Well, now, I had almost forgotten!” Mr. Mortimer suddenly exclaimed.
“Your nephew Will is in this very house! You will remember him as a very
little boy; and now he is a--a--now he is a great big boy. I must bring
him in immediately.”

He hurried out of the room and soon returned with Will, saying
apologetically, “You must excuse me, Will, but when two old friends meet,
they forget that there are boys still in the world, and remember only
that they were once boys themselves.” Then to his guest: “Mr. Lawrence, I
have the pleasure of introducing your nephew Will, who is on a visit to
my son. I think it is safe to say that you owe your deliverance to these
hare-brained youths. You will hear graphic particulars of it afterwards.”

A happy meeting took place between uncle and nephew, the former being
highly pleased with his new-found kinsman.

“Yes,” Mr. Mortimer resumed, “this is your nephew Will; a fine little
fellow, who had a strange interview with you last night. Have you any
recollection of it?”

“Not the slightest; so far as I know, I have not seen the boy since,
since--when?”

“Ten years, uncle.”

“Then you know nothing about your life in the cave?” Mr. Mortimer asked.

“You are speaking in riddles, Mr. Mortimer.”

“My son, Will’s cousin, is ill to-day, or I should present him; for he,
dear boy, was instrumental in your release,” the fond father observed,
wishing that his son should receive due honor for his good deeds.

Mr. Lawrence was impatient to see his brother, but there were several
matters to attend to before this could be done.

“There is a strange tale yet to be unfolded, Mr. Mortimer,” he said
musingly. “I must visit the town where insanity first took hold of me.
There are many things not clear to me; but I believe that by going there,
I shall be enabled to unriddle the mystery. A foul wrong was done to me
in that place, and I will have justice. As I intimated, I know absolutely
nothing of what took place while I was insane; but I believe all that can
be made clear by making diligent inquiries of people living in R----.
Yes, I shall go to this place in a day or so; then take a run down to my
brother’s; and come back just in time to go home with Will. But first of
all, I shall visit the cave where I spent so many years; and you and my
nephew must accompany me. I am full of curiosity to see the place, but I
suppose I shall have to be piloted through it.”

A day or so afterwards Mr. Lawrence felt stronger, and the three set out
to explore the cave. Will thought that he was going to the Demon’s Cave
under very different circumstances, and sighed because Henry was unable
to accompany them. But Henry was destined never to enter that cave.

When they arrived at the place, they perceived that some one was there
before them, as the door stood open. As they passed in they heard
a confused murmur of voices, together with whistling, singing, and
hallooing. Evidently, the intruders were trying to keep up their spirits
and intimidate any goblins that might be hovering near. A great fire was
blazing in the old place, but the explorers seemed to be in the largest
cave.

Suddenly the new-comers were heard, and a howl of horror came from the
explorers.

“Oh, golly! It’s the demon or somethin’ else!” wailed one.

Then two wild and fearful eyes peered out through the concealed door, and
a voice quavered: “N-o-o, it ain’t the demon; but I guess we’d better
clear!”

Seven gaunt youths stole through the concealed door; glanced fearfully
at the new-comers; and then broke and fled tumultuously out of the front
entrance.

The two men smiled; the boy laughed.

“A boy is the same creature that he was when I was young,” Mr. Lawrence
observed.

“They’re the very fellow’s that cheered us the other night,” said Will.
“I guess they wanted to be ‘bouncers’ too.”

“Now, why in this world did the little rogues make a fire?” Mr. Mortimer
queried.

“That question is easily answered,” said Mr. Lawrence. “When a boy comes
upon a heap of wood, the temptation to kindle a fire, if he has any means
of doing so, is too great for him to resist.”

“And you see nothing here that is familiar to you?” asked Mr. Mortimer.

“No; everything is strange to me; and I must apply to Will to lead the
way.”

“Uncle, how queer it is that I should know more about your cave than you
do!” said Will, grinning foolishly. “It doesn’t seem that you are the
same man that picked me up and carried me off.”

“That’s because I’ve visited the tailor and the barber, Will.”

“Well, uncle, if I hadn’t been through the cave that night, we shouldn’t
know anything about the money.”

“Money!” cried both men, in a breath.

“Yes,” Will replied. “I found a little pile of money, but so many queer
things happened since that I forgot all about it. Come this way, uncle;
it is in this room.”

“Your lost fortune!” Mr. Mortimer exclaimed.

“Perhaps,” sighed Uncle Dick.

“If those explorers have not enriched themselves with it!”

But the treasure was found untouched.

“Is _this_ what you found?” cried Mr. Mortimer, with disgust. “_This_ is
intolerable--monstrous--outrageous! This--this--”

“No, I think it’s all right,” said Mr. Lawrence. “There is a mystery
behind it, but when that mystery is cleared up, I think we shall find
that this is all there is left.”

“I guess the boys didn’t see it,” Will observed, “or else they were
afraid to meddle with it.”

“No,” said Uncle Dick, “a boy has more honesty than most people imagine.
Well, Will, what there is, is yours. Take it, Will; it won’t fill more
than one pocket; but I wish, for your sake, it were a fortune indeed.”

“If I hadn’t left these inside doors open, the boys wouldn’t have been
able to explore these two rooms,” Will presently remarked. “Now, I wonder
whether they found those hens and chickens! _I_ didn’t, but I didn’t look
for them.”

“‘Hens and chickens!’” growled Mr. Mortimer. “What’s the matter now,
Will?”

“Why, Henry said the demon--I--I mean my _uncle_--had lots of hens and
chickens here, and I heard them clucking several times while I was in the
cave; but I never saw’ a scratch of them.”

“Perhaps the young explorers made away with _them_,” Uncle Dick suggested.

“No, uncle, they found their way here only because I had left the
concealed doors open,” Will said. “I guess the hens are some place else.”

“We don’t know how many hidden chambers there may be here, nor what
secrets they may hold,” Mr. Mortimer sighed despairingly.

“There can’t be many more,” Uncle Dick replied. “We’ll say there is one
more apartment, in which my nephew’s hens are cooped up. Now, unless
they set up a cackling, how are we to know where to look for them? I
think we had better leave them to their fate. No! Will, listen! When we
get back to town, speak about these hens incidentally to some little
tobacco-chewer, and within an hour a force of would-be desperadoes will
troop down to this cave, and liberate these hens or perish in the ruins
of the general demolition!”

To economize time and space, to ease the reader’s anxiety, and to
maintain the reputation of this history for exactness and solidity, it
may here be stated that although Will set a band of street Arabs on the
track of those miserable hens and chickens, they were never found, and
the probability is that they are slowly becoming fossils.

The three then made a burning stave serve for a torch, and marched
through the cavern in which Will had found the water. Then they returned
and went into the “best bedroom.”

“I have a fancy that there is money buried here,--buried, or concealed in
some article of furniture,” Mr. Mortimer observed.

“I doubt that,” said Uncle Dick. “Now, if your son were well, he and Will
might come here and ransack every cavern. What a pity we interrupted
those boys! They would have amused themselves here all day, and would
certainly have found whatever there may be to find! Poor little fellows,
their fun had just begun! Well, they will be back again, and then they
are welcome to all the spoil they can carry away.”

Having fastened the outer door, the party returned to the city.



_Chapter XXII._

UNCLE DICK EVOLVES HIS STORY.


The next day Mr. Lawrence, leaving his nephew still with Henry, went to
the town of which he had spoken. Here insanity had taken hold of him, and
here he expected to unravel his mysteries.

The two boys laid their heads together, and arrived at the conclusion
that the world is not hollow, after all; and that if they were not heroes
yet, a few years would make them so.

“The stuff is in us, Will; all we have to do is to work it up.”

“Yes, Henry; and when you come to see me, the people in our neighborhood
had better be prepared. There are no captives for us to rescue, but I
guess you can hit on something good.”

“Why, Will,” said Henry, smiling his delight, “you are almost getting to
be like any other boy! You--you talk sensibly. What has come over you?”

“Well, when I saw that good came from our journey to the cave, and that
we rescued my uncle, I concluded that I had been wrong and you right. I
guess it’s safe to play tricks with you, anyway; and----”

“‘Tricks!’” echoed Henry, scowling horribly.

“No, no!” Will hastily declared. “I--I--mean--Henry--Don’t be vexed,
Henry; I meant _stratagems_!”

The affronted patient softened. “Yes, that is the word you meant, Will,”
he said, “but you always ought to say what you mean. I always do; and so
I never have to stumble, and correct myself, and appear as though I don’t
know what I’m talking about.”

Will’s eyes expressed a mild rebuke.

Henry was not fluent in making apologies; on this occasion he simply
said, with a look of pain that spoke volumes in his behalf: “It’s in my
left knee, Will; hand me that bottle, please.”

“Next time I venture on any more stratagems,--if I ever do venture on any
more,--I’ll warn all the sailors and teamsters in the settlement, so
that I can be rescued just in the nick of time,” Will Said good humoredly.

“Yes, as long as they didn’t follow too close at your heels, and spoil
the fun. Well, Will, I knew I could cure you if you stayed with me long
enough; but I didn’t expect to do it so soon.”

When the patient was easy Will read to him. The books that pleased them
most were about mustached heroes who cruised in Polynesia, discovering
“sea-girt isles” which Captain Cook and later navigators had missed, and
which almost invariably held captive some ragged individual, who, after
divers adventures with pirates and Chinamen, had finally succeeded in
nailing $795,143 up in a mahogany coffin, only to be shipwrecked with it.

In after years Will looked back on those days spent with Henry as the
pleasantest in his boyhood. He had no haunting dreams; got into no
disgrace; and, except when he thought of poor Stephen, felt no reproaches
of conscience.

One day the mother of the girl who had given Henry a glass ink-bottle
came in to inquire personally after his health.

“I heard you were getting better, Henry, but I thought I should like to
come and see for myself,” she said pleasantly.

“I wonder now if _she_ didn’t hint to her mother to do this!” Henry
thought to himself. “I believe she did; but I wish I knew. Why can’t
folks tell the truth, anyway, and say right out how it is! How am I to
find out! I know when _she_ had a bad cold, I hinted till my mother went
there to ask about her! Botheration! I _will_ know!”

“It’s very good of you to take so much interest in me,” he ventured,
slightly emphasizing the word _you_.

“Yes, Henry, when I saw the doctor call here twice yesterday I thought I
must step in and see you.”

The boy was silenced, but not satisfied.

“I’ve brought a book for you, Henry, that I think you will like,” she
said, taking a handsomely bound volume out of her reticule and laying it
on a stand at Henry’s elbow.

He picked it up. “_Her_ book!” he thought exultingly. “I know it’s hers,
for I’ve heard her speak of it. She sent it to me! Of course she did.
_She sent it!_”

Once more his heart bounded with ecstasy; once more he was supremely
happy. The blood rushed to his face; his lips quivered; his hands
trembled.

The visitor remarked this, and turning to Mrs. Mortimer said
sympathetically, “Poor boy! How patiently he bears it!”

Then, stepping up to the bedside, she laid her hands on his head, kissed
his forehead gently and affectionately, and asked softly, “Is the pain
very bad, Henry?”

It seemed to Henry that his heart stood still.

“It is _her_ mother,” he thought, “and she has kissed me!”

Their eyes met. A woman perceives many things intuitively; Henry’s secret
was hers from that moment. For all answer she kissed him again. From that
day the two were firm and true friends.

When Henry found himself alone he examined every leaf of that book
carefully.

“_She_ sent it,” he muttered, “and perhaps there is something written in
it. She may have written, ‘I hope you will like this book, Henry;’ or,
‘This is the story we spoke of, Henry;’ or, ‘When will you be able to
start to school again, Henry?’”

The observing reader will perceive that in each of those sentences the
hero’s own name occurs. Henry was capable of strong feelings; in some
respects he was a boy; in others, a man.

At last, at the top of a useless fly-leaf, he came upon two initial
letters. They were not hers; they were not his. The writing was very bad;
he could not recognize it. He did not consider that a book-seller often
scrawls a cipher or two on the fly-leaves of his books. He was mystified.

Jealousy, however, soon suggested an explanation; jealousy pointed out
that those characters were written by _her_, and that they stood for “J.
J.”

Once more he was miserable.

He saw Johnny Jones in his true colors; saw all his defects, all his
emptiness, all his insignificance, all his baseness. And yet he was
jealous!

The lover very often feels his rival to be the most despicable person on
the face of the earth; and yet, at the same instant, he fears that rival,
despicable as he is, will steal away the heart of his beloved.

To a man whose thoughts never rise above the earth on which he
walks, this may seem preposterous; but it is true, and may easily be
explained--so easily, in fact, that the writer leaves it for some one who
can do so more ably and clearly than himself.

It has been said that Henry was fated never to explore the Demon’s Cave.
He never did.

The City Fathers, fearing, in their wisdom, that the cave might become
the haunt of evil characters or the lair of some wild beast, convoked a
council, and drew up a document which began and ended thus:

“Whereas, ...

“Resolved, that said cave be forthwith demolished.”

Then five men and two hundred and seventy-three or seventy-four boys fell
to work upon it, and executed this command to the letter. The Demon’s
Cave had served its purpose: it was no more.

The view from the opposite bank was marred; but the City Fathers knew
that they had done their duty, and their conscience was easy.

After an absence of a week Uncle Dick returned to Mr. Mortimer’s. He
had visited the little city; solved his mysteries; and been to see his
brother.

He made himself comfortable in an easy chair, and while those interested
in him listened attentively, he romanced as follows:--

“Several years ago, when I was still a young man, by prudent and lawful
speculations I amassed a fortune. But I was not satisfied; I still wished
for more; and one day when a stranger came to me with wonderful stories
about making colossal fortunes in a far-off part of the world, I listened
eagerly, and secretly resolved to settle my affairs and hasten away with
him. I should need every dollar I possessed to embark in this scheme,
the stranger told me; and the sooner I could get away, the sooner I
should return to my native country a rich man.

“I kept my purpose hidden from my nearest friends, and got together all
my money as secretly as possible. I was not to deposit this money in a
bank, and draw it as I needed it; oh, no! I must pack it up snugly in a
strong trunk, and take it all with me. This man, Black, advised me to
‘keep my own counsel to the very last;’ and I also knew that my people
would oppose my taking up with an entire stranger, and embarking in such
a wild-goose chase. Consequently he, and I, and the trunk of funds,
stole away like criminals, leaving only a short note of farewell and
explanation behind us. By the way, Mr. Mortimer, my brother tells me that
he received no such note, and I must infer that Black found means to
destroy it.

“I knew that I was acting dishonorably, but I excused my conduct to
myself by thinking I should soon return in triumph, worth millions. At
that date, enormous wealth was the summit of my ambitions; and it must
come suddenly and easily; petty speculation had become tiresome to me,
and I wished to wake up some morning and find myself a nabob.

“In a certain city--the place to which I went after leaving you--we
halted, ‘to complete our arrangements,’ as my betrayer put it, if I
remember rightly. Having entered a small and out-of-the-way building,
which he called his own, probably correctly, I was assaulted by him and
another villain who was unknown to me. I remember distinctly Black’s
saying to this man, ‘Now, Bill, a heavy blow on his head, and he is dead.
Then his trunk of money is ours!’ I started to my feet, but at that
instant a furious blow was struck at my head, and I, poor fool, knew no
more.

“My object in going to that city last week was to see whether I could
learn what had happened to me from the time of that attempted murder
till I appeared here as the ‘Demon of the Cave,’ In this I succeeded
very well. It seems that the police were on these men’s track, and that
they broke into the building just after I had been knocked down. The
villains, Black and his accomplice, doubtless thought me dead, or else
meant to deal another blow, but had not time. Their crime was bootless;
for they were thrown into prison, tried in due time, and sent into penal
servitude, where they are still.

“Then I was taken to an hospital; but as I had scarcely anything with
me, except my clothes and my chest of money, no clue could be found to
inform my friends of my whereabouts. So they kept me on there, within a
few hundred miles of my home, and took the greatest care of me. The cruel
blow on my head had taken away my reason, and all the doctors of the
hospital could not restore it.

“What puzzles me is that my friends did not find me in process of time,
as the whole affair was published in the newspapers. Well, I suppose they
thought of me as being far away and that I could not possibly be the
madman in K. Hospital. I never saw the account in the newspapers, and the
description of the madman may not have tallied with the Uncle Dick of the
country village.

“And now comes the most extraordinary part of my story. I was ill in the
hospital for several weeks, and meanwhile the authorities took charge
of my chest. It seems that I was aware my money was in it, and with all
a maniac’s cunning I kept watch over it. One day, when my bodily health
and strength were quite restored, both I and my chest of treasure were
missing!

“So the story runs; but there I am bothered; there is mystery. From
that day all is dark to me; all is a blank; and I can only speculate.
I am left to suppose, then, that I made off with my chest of money;
roamed over the country in search of a home; came upon the cave in this
neighborhood; and established myself in it!

“Now, that is contrary to reason--in fact, it would require a powerful
imagination to put any faith in such a cock-and-bull story.

“I have a notion that a great deal of my money was taken either by
dishonest servants while in the hospital, or else by thieves after I left
it; and I think even that I was robbed of the whole amount, and came upon
some money in the cave. How could a lunatic make his way through the
country with a chest of money, and not be molested? It is impossible. In
fact, Mr. Mortimer, from the moment I left the hospital till I took up
my abode in the cave, it is all a muddle to me. It may be explained some
day; but it is all a muddle to me now.

“From inquiries I made in this place, I found that a dealer brought me
supplies while I lived in the cave, and that I paid him for them. I
hunted him out, and he told me he made my acquaintance through another
man, when I first came here. He is a simple, honest, old man, incapable
of cheating even a madman; and I am satisfied that he acted fairly with
me, and had no hand in my coming to the cave.

“But who is the other? I believe the whole question hinges on that; and
if we could meet with him, I would force the secret from him. The dealer
affirms that he knows nothing about this man; he saw him only once; and
then he told him (the dealer) to send supplies to an eccentric man who
intended to live for a short time in what was then called simply, ‘The
Cave.’ But, alas! it continued through ten years!

“While living in the cave, I am told that I was continually on the watch
against robbers; which proves conclusively, I think, that people of that
calling preyed upon me either before or after I left the hospital.

“Mr. Mortimer, as far as I can make it out, this is my story. It is not
much, but I have made the best of it.” The next day Mr. Lawrence and
his nephew set out for home. The long-lost man had, at length, after an
absence of ten years, returned.

He lived with his brother, and for a few weeks, did nothing. Ten years
in a cave had undermined his health, but as soon as his constitution
regained its natural vigor, he went into business on his own account. At
forty he found himself penniless, and obliged to begin life anew; ten
years were as though they had not been, and he had summarily got rid of a
fortune.

He was of a cheerful and hopeful disposition, and did not grieve about
this; still, he could not help thinking what misery would have been
spared if he had not trusted himself implicitly to a villain.

For the present Uncle Dick must sink into oblivion. He will be
resuscitated, however, at the proper time.

Will was received by his parents with open arms. He had behaved nobly;
he was a little hero. All the praise must be given to him, of course.
Had he not rescued his uncle, alone and unaided? Had he not done all in
his power to help that uncle when he lay helpless in his cave? Had he
not stayed by him and tended him? Had he not explored the horrible place
known as the Demons Cave? He had; he had done all this; and yet come off
without a scratch!

Of course, Henry meant well, but he had no hand in rescuing Uncle
Dick--he had not even entered the cave. Henry was a good, a manly little
fellow, but in that affair he had been only a figure-head.

Will found that Stephen was recovering fast. His school-fellows crowded
round him and listened eagerly while he dilated on his cousin’s and
his own exploits. Now that the affair was happily over, he delighted
in telling them about his “adventures” in the cave, and Marmaduke,
especially, delighted in hearing them. To him, Henry was a mighty hero.

The affair with Stephen sobered the others for a time, and when the poor
boy again appeared among them, nothing they could do for him was left
undone. He was a martyr in their eyes, and they willingly left off their
own sports to talk to him. Under these kind attentions, what wonder is it
that the boy soon recovered his health, strength, and spirits?

The whole tribe of heroes kept clear of tricks and misdeeds till the
following summer; but Will, of course, committed his diverting little
blunders daily. But it would be foolish to chronicle them.

As for Henry, he recovered rapidly, and when Will and his uncle left he
was a great deal better. He missed Will very much, but he did not suffer
a relapse. He put his remaining pistol carefully away, vowing to load it
himself, if he should be tempted to use it again. As for the one which
Will discharged, it was lost the night of the expedition to the cave.



_Chapter XXIII._

THE SAGE’S EXPERIMENT.


It is summer again. The six are enjoying themselves as usual, but are
playing no tricks worthy of mention. Considering all things, it is
surprising that they have kept out of mischief so long.

But the Sage was revolving a certain matter in his mind. He had been
reading about Capt. Kidd the pirate, and the treasures he is said to have
buried. He did not believe there were any such treasures,--at least, he
thought he did not,--and to show how erroneous all those old traditions
are, he resolved to make what he called an experiment.

“Look here, boys,” he said to his school-fellows, “wouldn’t it be capital
to look for gold some day; some of Capt. Kidd’s gold, you know!”

“No, George, I guess we don’t know much about it; so go ahead and tell
us,” Stephen replied.

“You’ve heard the stories about his buried treasures, of course. Well,
let us follow the directions, and look for a stray treasure some night.”

“What directions?” Stephen asked. That day he seemed to be in a humor to
persecute somebody.

“Why, the directions given in fortune-telling books for finding buried
treasures,” George said good-humoredly. “I have a good necromancer’s
book, and I have studied this thing all out. So, suppose we go to work
and try it, just to prove how nonsensical all such stories are, and what
a humbug necromancy is. Boys, it would be sport.”

“The very thing!” Charles exclaimed. “Now, tell us all about it.”

“Well, I’m glad some one can understand my meaning,” the Sage said
smilingly. “We must go along the banks of some river at night, when the
moon rises just as the sun sets. When the moon throws the person’s
shadow four feet up into an evergreen, any evergreen tree, stop and say
over some enchantment. Then shoot an arrow straight up into the air, and
it will strike the water--at least it ought to strike it. Shoot another,
and it ought to fall at your feet. Shoot one more, and it will light
on the ground exactly over your treasure. But you must dig for it with
paddles.”

“Paddles!” cried the boys.

“Yes, dig two feet with paddles, or the treasure will escape. Then you
may take spades, or anything you choose, to dig with; and six feet down
you’ll find it.”

“How wonderful!” Marmaduke exclaimed languidly.

“How foolish, you mean,” wise Will observed. “Really, George, I used to
think you had more common sense. Who cares about paddles, and arrow’s,
and necromancers, and moons, and shadow’s, and rivers, and--and--now,
George, you know such tomfoolery isn’t worth listening to.”

“Of course I don’t believe it,” George replied earnestly; “I only want to
expose it.”

Charles and Stephen had been whispering together and exchanging winks
while the others were speaking, and the former now said, with feigned
seriousness: “Certainly you don’t, George. It’s a likely story that
a boy like you believes in a bald-headed, goggle-eyed, broken-nosed
necromancer, that never washes his hands, nor blows his broken nose, nor
combs his whiskers, nor cuts his toenails. No, George, you read too much
science to believe in such a dilapidated ruin as a necromancer must be;
but, as you say, it would be roaring fun to follow his directions. How
right and praiseworthy to expose the superstitions of the wicked old
necromancer! Boys, let us go, by all means!”

George looked at the speaker rather suspiciously; but seeing how grave
and earnest he appeared, never guessed that he was laughing inwardly.
He replied warmly, “You’re a true friend, Charley. You understand my
motives, and see what little faith I put in the old necromancer. Now,
boys, you must give in that we could get a great deal of amusement out
of this. Honestly, couldn’t we?”

“It’ll be the best fun we’ve had yet!” Steve declared. “But doesn’t he
give any more directions, George?”

“Oh, yes. There is a page of what you’re to do and say, and if we should
conclude to make the experiment I’ll learn it, for you mustn’t take the
book along with you.”

“Of course not,” Charles said promptly. “Well, you’ll go, won’t you,
Will?”

“Wouldn’t miss going for anything!” Will replied with decision.

Without stopping to wonder at the sudden change in Will’s and Steve’s
opinions, the sage continued, “According to the almanac, this is the very
night for us to go, because the moon rises as the sun sets.”

“Exactly;” commented Stephen. “And the river is our river, of course. As
for the evergreen, I know where there is a fine tall one near the river.
We must start just at the right time to have the shadow according to the
rule when we arrive at the evergreen. Now, boys, I’ll scare up a good bow
and half a dozen arrows; and Charley, I’m sure, can bring a long-handled
spade; and Will can supply us with an oar or two. If the book says
anything else is needed, George, you must see to it, for you, of course,
will be our leader.”

George gracefully acknowledged this tribute to his merit.

Jim now spoke for the first time. “But what has all this to do with
Captain Kidd?” he asked.

Ever since Will’s experience in the cave he had been filled with lofty
ideas, and now, in his wisdom, he thought this the first weighty remark
that had been made.

George replied thus: “We don’t know of any other man that would be
foolish enough to bury treasures, Jim, so let us suppose that we are
looking for one of Kidd’s.--All in sport, of course.”

Will looked at the Sage with pity that was not akin to love, and
observed, “Now, George, I haven’t been reading the history of Captain
Kidd, as you have, but I know well enough that he never buried any money
in these parts _because it stands to reason he was never here_! Perhaps
he buried some along the sea-coast, but certainly none in this far-off
wilderness--as it was then.”

This argument was irrefutable; the Sage was mute. With all his reading,
all his knowledge, was he to be insulted thus?

In fact, he looked so woe-begone that Charles came to his relief, saying,
“Never mind Mr. Kidd, boys; let us follow the necromancers orders
blindly.”

All agreed to do this, and soon afterwards they separated.

All unknown to them, they had had a listener. The conversation had taken
place in the school-grounds, and a great over-grown boy had seen them,
and drawn near enough to hear every word. As a wood-pile was between
him and the heroes, he escaped notice. This “great, hulking lubber,” as
Charles called him, was the boy who had been bitten by Stephen’s dog
several months before, and who, as was intimated, thirsted for revenge.
Ever since that time he had dogged the six, in the vain hope of detecting
them in some evil scheme.

He was a cowardly, treacherous boy, this Bob Herriman, or he would not
have played the eaves-dropper on this occasion. He now resolved to
precede the boys, hide himself in the evergreen, and do his best to
torment them.

Most horrible revenge, truly!

“I’ll get there ahead of ’em,” he muttered, “and climb the tree Stepping
Hen (the opprobrious nickname by which, in his anger, he privately knew
Stephen) spoke of! I think I know the very tree. I’ll yell, perhaps, or
scare ’em awful in some way, and if they do any harm to anything, I’ll
tell on ’em! Oh! what fun!”

Then this embryo villain strutted away, with a mischievous look--a look
that boded ill to the Sage’s experiment. He was an _immoral_ boy, while
Will and his companions were only _boyish_, and full of animal spirits.

The boys longed for night to come, as they imagined they could easily
confute the vile and slovenly old necromancer’s errors, and find food for
laughter. Some time before sunset they turned out in force, and mustered
just below the falls. Everything that could possibly be made useful was
on hand. George, poor boy, had freighted himself with a coil of heavy
rope, but he bore up bravely, and strode onward without a groan.

When they were fairly started, Charles suddenly in-inquired of him: “What
in the world have you brought that rope along for, George?”

“To draw the treasure home with,” was the somewhat startling answer,
coolly given.

“The treasure!” Charles cried. “Why, I thought you ‘put no faith’ in
that! and besides, you can’t draw gold and silver with a rope!”

“Don’t be foolish,” the Sage replied. “I believe in no treasure at all;
but you must _pretend_ to believe in it, or else you will never get it.
As for taking it home with a rope, the book says it will be in a huge
chest, bound with iron bands. Therefore, I bring this rope along to make
the spirits believe I believe in their beliefs.”

Having made this logical explanation, the Sage panted for breath, but
drew himself up proudly, and looked defiantly on his tormentor, crushing
him beneath his eloquence and his aspect.

Charles finally uttered an “Oh!” of relief, and then the procession moved
on.

As the sun sank lower and lower, the boys hastened more and more. Will
had calculated the time very accurately, and said it was foolish to
hurry; but his school-fellows were aware of his failing, and for fear he
had made a mistake, they were too impatient to proceed leisurely.

Notwithstanding the ridicule which the boys cast upon George for his
strict observance of all the “directions,” they did not wish to omit any
of them in making the experiment. Accordingly, all were anxious to arrive
at the evergreen just in time to have the moon throw a shadow on it four
feet high.

And by some strange chance they did.

As soon as the tree came in sight, Steve exclaimed, “There it is, boys!
The very same, identical, self-same tree!”

“Its very close to the water,” George growled, as he made a vain effort
to ease his aching shoulders.

“It’s from two to five feet from the water,” Steve replied. “That’s
plenty of room to go between it and the shore, and plenty of room to
measure the fine shadow there will be.”

“Then we must draw cuts to see whether it’s the right evergreen, as the
book says.”

This was done, and they found that this was the tree intended.

Again they marched on, and presently stood before the mystic tree.

The Sage halted, and threw down the coil of rope with a sigh of relief.
“The coast is clear, boys,” he said, joyously. “There is no one here
swimming, or out boating, or shooting squirrels, or----”

“Or fishing for water-snakes and crunching peppermint candy,” Steve put
in, as a finale.

For a moment George looked vexed; but this was Stephen’s way, and he knew
no insult was intended.

If the boys had known that this very evergreen, under which they stood,
harbored an enemy, they would have acted differently. Bob Herriman had
ensconced himself in this tree, and even while Steve spoke, he was trying
to rub the gum off his hands and clothes, and glaring wickedly down at
the heroic six and the equally heroic dog, Carlo.

“Well, boys,” George observed, “I must go on alone, with Steve close
behind to measure my shadow. If we all go crowding along together,
somebody will get shoved into the river.”

The wisdom of this was so apparent that the rest waited patiently while
the other two went on.

George walked cautiously along the bank of the river, and when the rising
moon threw a faint shadow of his figure on the bark of the evergreen, he
halted. Stephen, however, stepped up so briskly and boldly, and so near
the brink, that shovelfuls of loose earth rattled down into the water.
When he reached George he whipped a homemade folding ruler out of his
pocket, and applied it to the shadow.

“Just four feet!” he cried, excitedly.

George looked on complacently, and the boys in waiting, hearing Steve’s
remark, uttered a shout of surprise and delight.

“Stop! stop!” George cried, angrily: “I cannot allow such a noise!”

A dead silence ensued. The four moved on till they had passed the tree,
and then George and Stephen joined them.

“That tree is very thick up among the branches,” Jim observed.

“Never mind that,” Charles said. “Now, George, it’s time to go to work.
Are you sure you know the verses?”

“_What_ verses?” the Sage asked, indignantly.

“Why, the necromancer’s, of course.”

“You call it ‘verses,’ do you? Well, Charley, a boy generally does. But
you should say ‘poetry.’ Now, this is genuine poetry--an ode, an--an----.
Well, the book says it’s an Apostrophe, or Address to----”

“Fiddle-sticks! George, do you know it?”

The Sage made no answer, but, facing the river and the moon, he drew
himself up proudly, and merely observing that he must have silence,
cleared his throat for action.

The rest were all behind him, and so escaped notice. Then each one
took out his handkerchief and dammed up that organ which is the seat
of laughter. By this means they succeeded in choking back all their
merriment, and behaved so well that poor George was highly gratified.

It must have been a comical sight to Bob Herriman in his tree. At all
events, he gazed at the different actors with open mouth and ears, while
the Sage delivered the following:

          ADDRESS TO THE BENIGN SPIRITS OF RIVERS AND STREAMS.

  O, all ye spirits, sprites, and elves, come, listen unto me,
  A humble mortal who would seek light on some points from ye.
  To _me_ ’tis known, bright roving sprites, that countless treasures rust
  In caves, in seas, in shady dells,--or even in the dust.
  To _you_ ’tis known, O spirits bright, where millions may be found;
  Where gold and silver, precious stones, and gems of earth abound.
  Why should ye not disclose the place where some of these lie hid?
  In awful depths, in gloomy wastes, or flowery bowers amid?
  From those who put their trust in you, O spirits, elves, and sprites,
  Why will ye always flee away, not giving them their rights?
  Tell me, I pray you, airy sprites, and fairies good and kind,
  Where I, through your great influence, may some lost treasure find.
  Tell me, O all ye sprightly elves and fairies that I see,
  And I will your most faithful friend and servant ever be.
  I long for wealth, for ease and peace, for honour, fame, and might;
  O spirits, hasten--hasten----

George hesitated, stammered, stopped! The necromancers rhymes were too
much for his already overstocked brain. He made one more desperate
effort, but Charles, with his habitual promptness, cut him short,
shouting:

    “----hasten us out of this sad plight!”

At this, the others tore out their handkerchiefs and laughed derisively.

George wheeled round quickly, and just in time to see five handkerchiefs
shoved into as many pockets. He did not know what they had been doing
with their handkerchiefs, but he was angry, and he said, snappishly:
“Look here, if you boys can’t behave any better than that, you had better
stay at home! I didn’t come here to amuse gigglers, and I won’t do it.
No; I’ll stop right here; I won’t go on with the experiment.”

Charles knew’ that this was only an idle threat, but he said, hastily:
“Now, George, you’re too old and too sensible to be vexed because we
laugh at what is comical. To-morrow you’ll laugh yourself. And besides,
what did we come here for? To rout the necromancer, or to be routed
ourselves?”

“Of course; we came here to enjoy ourselves and have some fun,” chimed in
Stephen.

“Yes, but you might behave yourselves,” the Sage growled. “Now, where was
I? Oh, pshaw! it’s all a muddle! Only two or three more lines, and it
would have been finished. Well,” brightening up, “perhaps the charm isn’t
spoilt; and, Steve, hand me your bow and arrows.”

The boy still felt aggrieved, and he now fired furiously towards the sky.

The arrow rushed into the air, and came down a moment later, striking the
water fairly.

The archer’s face beamed with smiles; he spoke. “Boys, that is as it
should be; and when we get warmed up in this game, it will be sport.”

“It will certainly be _warm work_ if we dig down six feet in this dirt,”
Will growled.

The boys changed their positions before George shot the next arrow, and,
as luck would have it, Will took his stand near a horrible, miry hole
which had been scooped out by the river in a great overflow that very
spring. He threw his paddles down carelessly, and fixed his eyes on the
experimentalist.

That worthy now fitted another arrow to the bowstring, and after taking
deliberate aim at a star overhead, he gravely “fired.”

Every head was bent to observe the arrow’s flight, and each one was
prepared to spring aside if it should come down too close to him. Each
one except Bob Herriman. He, poor wretch, had placed himself in so
cramped a position that he could not see it fly.

Having made this clear to the reader, surely he will guess what happened.

The arrow descended fairly in the evergreen, struck a branch, glanced,
and Mr. Bob received a stinging blow on the back of the head. He
wriggled and nearly fell out of the tree. His mouth flew open, and a
half-suppressed ejaculation escaped him.

The arrow then struck the ground in such a manner that it ran along it,
and finally ceased its wanderings within a few feet of George.

“How strangely everything is fulfilled!” he said, with evident
satisfaction.

The boys grinned--even Marmaduke was amused at the Sage’s behaviour.

“I believe that tree is inhabited,” Stephen remarked. “I’m sure there was
a great rumpus in it when the arrow’ struck it, and I thought I heard a
groan.”

“Go to grass, Stunner!” said Charles. “You don’t know a groan from a
wasp’s nest.”

“I guess you’re about right, Charley;” Will added. “I guess George’s
arrow smashed an ancient and worn out bird’s nest.”

Let it be understood that none of these boys were aware of Bob Herriman’s
presence. They accompanied the Sage only to see to what extremes he would
go, and to while away the time. But probably they had hopes that some
unforeseen incident would happen to cause merriment.

Again George fired deliberately into the air, and again the arrow was
narrowly watched. This time it came down so perilously near Stephen’s dog
that Stephen was grievously offended.

But as this was the last arrow to be shot upward, and as all wished the
proceedings to be continued, he was soon pacified.

George looked complacently at the arrow, and at last seemed ready to make
use of the paddles and spade. With some pompousness he traced a circle
round his arrow, and looked so important that the boys could hardly
suppress their laughter. But it seemed to them, boys though they were,
that practical George was out of his sphere.

“Now, William,” he said, “bring me those paddles of yours.”

Will smiled to hear himself addressed by his full name, and turned to
pick them up.

Steve, still thinking about his dog’s narrow escape from injury, snarled:
“Don’t _William_ him, or he’ll make you _wilt_.”

“Stop!” the Sage shouted to Will, even as Steve spoke. “I forgot. It is
necessary that an arrow should yet be shot.”

“As your grammar would say,” supplemented wicked Stephen.

The Sage took no notice of these jeering words, but continued: “Yes, I
must shoot an arrow through the very middle of the evergreen.”

Bob Herriman, who could hear every word, now had reason to be alarmed. Up
to this time he had looked on calmly, intending to keep still till the
boys should be very much engrossed, and then terrify them all in some
mysterious way--how, he had not yet determined. Now, however, he lost
sight of everything except his own safety, and not stopping to collect
himself, he gave vent to the most ear-piercing, heart-appalling howl,
shriek, and roar, combined in one, that the boys had ever heard.

Boys, imagine a deep-chested lad of sixteen mechanically drawing in a
full breath, and then suffering it to escape in one long cry of mortal
terror.



_Chapter XXIV._

THE SAGE UNEARTHS A TREASURE.


The effect on the boys was startling.

In the confusion of the moment, George probably took it for one of his
“sprites;” and he dropped Steve’s bow, stepped on it, and broke it.

Marmaduke felt that there must be something ghostly and necromantic in
such a cry, coming, in the hush of evening, from a shapely evergreen that
rose beside a rolling, moonlit river.

Jim was seized with a painful attack of his chills, and ran bellowing
homewards.

Stephen, impetuous and heedless as ever, picked up a stone and threw it
furiously into the tree.

The reader of fiction does not need to be told that “all this happened in
an instant.”

Where the stone struck Mr. Herriman is not known; but with a crash he
fell headlong to the ground, rolled over twice,--roaring, meantime, with
rage, pain, and terror,--and before the thunderstruck boys could recover
from their stupefaction, he had disappeared in the water.

Then Stephen, with great presence of mind, exclaimed: “Boys, I told you
that tree was inhabited!”

“Save him! Save him! Whoever he is, save him!” Charles cried. “Get
George’s rope, and throw it out to him!”

He and Stephen made a rush for it, and stumbled over each other, but
finally managed to get all but a few inches of it into the water. There
their rescuing ceased.

Mr. Herriman, whose feet touched bottom, floundered and sputtered about
in the water like a madman. He could easily have made his way to the
shore, but apparently he had lost his wits. Every other second he gave
utterance to some pithy interjection. Doubtless he would have yelled
continually; but every time he opened his mouth a small cupful of water
and animalcules poured down his throat, and well-nigh choked him.

A panic seized upon the boys, and although chattering and gesticulating
like monkeys, they were powerless to help him. And so Bob struggled in
the river, in some danger of being drowned.

But a deliverer was at hand. Carlo awoke to what was going on, and, more
sensible than the boys, plunged into the river, and an instant later was
beside demoralized Bob. He caught first his coat, then his pants, then
his coat again, Bob insanely striking him off each time.

The truth is, it galled the boy to be rescued by Tip’s successor.

The noble dog persevered in his efforts, however, and Bob, eventually
seeing the folly of resisting, suffered himself to be towed to the bank.

Then the brave boys exerted themselves, and succeeded in hauling
bewildered Robert Herriman on shore.

His first act betrayed his cowardly nature.

“Get out, you brute!” he said, and struck the gallant dog which had just
saved him, and which stood by, wagging his tail to express his delight.

Then, with a jeering laugh at the dog’s low growl, he darted away from
the now enraged boys.

He ran a few’ steps, then halting, he picked up a stone, and heaved it
among the experimentalists.

“Take _that_ for throwing stones at me!” he said derisively, as he took
to his heels again. “Look out for your dog, Stepping Hen, and good-bye
till I see you again,” he shouted as he ran.

This was more than human nature could bear. With fury in their eyes, and
uttering a warwhoop that electrified the flying wretch, they all broke
into a run and gave chase, determined to wreak dire vengeance on him.

Bob yelled fearfully,--well he might,--and redoubled his speed.

The pursuers were gaining on him, when a wild cry, a beseeching, almost
despairing, appeal for help, reached their ears.

They stopped and stared vacantly at each other. The look each one put on
seemed plainly to inquire, “What next?”

“It’s Will,” Charles said. “Where on earth is he?”

“Follow the sound,” the Sage said, philosophical as ever.

The pursuit was instantly given over, for all the boys bore Will too much
love to neglect him. One and all, the four ran back to the scene of their
late exploits, and Herriman escaped.

“Who saw Will last?” George asked anxiously.

“The last I saw of him,” said Steve, “was when you told him to bring the
paddles.”

In fact, poor Will was so startled at Bob’s appalling cry that he had
tumbled backwards into the pit. He and his paddles. In the confusion that
ensued he was not missed, but was left to his own resources while the
others were engaged in “rescuing” and dealing with Rob.

Unhappy boy, he found himself in narrow quarters. The hole was large at
the top, but small at the bottom, and he was unable to climb out of it.
Soon he found himself sinking into the horrible, sickening mire, which
gave way beneath him.

He heard the shouts of his companions, and struggled manfully to save
himself--and his paddles.

Why didn’t he cry out for help immediately? That is very easily explained.

Will got into trouble so often and made so many egregious blunders--which
invariably provoked the laughter of others--that he had fallen into
the habit of keeping as many of them secret as possible. He had a
preternatural horror of being made a laughing-stock, and consequently,
when he found himself out of sight in a pit, he was desirous to work his
way out of it before he should be missed.

Besides, after his exploits in the cave, this experiment of the Sages
was but ignoble pastime, and it would ill become him, the hero who had
delivered and cured his insane uncle, to come to grief in this slimy hole.

He struggled heroically to gain dry land, but the more he struggled the
deeper he sank in the mire. At last, hearing his comrades chasing some
one, he concluded that he should have to cry out for help, or else be
left to a horrible fate.

But it grieved him to think that he was not missed and searched for.

“Whatever is the matter, among so many there might be _one_ to think of
me,” he muttered, sadly. “Don’t I amount to a button, that they don’t
miss me? Or is something awful going on?”

Then, with great reluctance, he shouted for help.

When the four gathered round the hole, they beheld its tenant with wonder.

“How in this world did you get down there?” Steve asked.

“Fell down,” Will said, laconically. “I knew there was a hole in these
regions, and, botheration! I found it, and tumbled overboard into it! But
say, what was all that row about?”

“So you’ve missed all the fun!” Charles said, pityingly.

Then the boys told him all that had happened.

“But why didn’t you yell for us to help you at first?” Steve asked.

“Why didn’t you miss me?” Will retorted, sourly.

The boys could not be blamed for this. Probably not more than ten minutes
had elapsed from Bob’s first cry of terror till Will’s cry for help; and
they had been very much excited and distressed all that time.

“This is no way to get Will out!” Charles said, angrily. “Stop talking,
Steve, and bring George’s rope here.”

“George’s rope!” said Will. “That will be the very thing! Get it, Steve;
you’re used to hauling donkeys out of pits, you know, so show us your
skill.”

The boys laughed for a full minute, and Steve said, as he darted away for
the rope, “Will, that’s blunder number ten thousand seven hundred and one
for you.”

The rope was found, but it was wet from end to end. However, it proved
more useful than when the boys attempted to rescue Herriman with it, and
Will, with considerable detriment to his clothes, was pulled out of the
hole--his paddles, too.

Although coated with disagreeable slime up to his watch pocket--which, by
the way, contained fish-hooks instead of a watch--he took it coolly, as
became a redoubtable hero.

In order to turn the conversation from himself, he said, hurriedly, “Now,
go into details about Herriman, and then I must pack off home.”

Foolish boy, he need not have been alarmed; he was an object of pity
rather than of laughter.

“We told you about Herriman,” growled Steve. “I wish I could have got
my claw’s on that boy; I would have made him strain his voice and his
muscles!”

“You had better go home this minute, Will,” Charles said, kindly. “As
for Herriman, Steve, I guess he has strained his voice and his muscles
and his joints enough already. Well, Will, I’ll go home with you, and
tell all about Herriman as we journey along. Stephen, I suppose you will
stay here to go on with the necromancy business, which was so meanly
interrupted. Be sure to bring home Will’s paddles and everything else.”

“Yes, the necromancer must be routed,” Steve replied. “I’ll see to
everything; good-bye.”

“Good-bye,” said Charles and Will, as they plodded off.

“I say, Will,” Charles said, with a grin, as soon as they were out of
hearing, “I say, Will, by to-morrow I guess I’ll be the only one to see
any fun in this business; for Jim ran howling away, Bob got the worst of
it, you robbed the hole of much mud, Steve’s dog was insulted several
times, and before Steve gets through with the Sage and Marmaduke, all
three will be sick of it.”

Thus let them go.

The sport seemed to have lost much of its zest after all these
interruptions and departures; but George and Stephen mended the bow as
well as they could, and then the former, with due solemnity, shot an
arrow through the tree lately occupied by Herriman.

If the complicated plot of this and the preceding chapter has not proved
too great a strain on the reader’s memory, he will probably remember that
the next thing to be done was to dig.

Marmaduke came up with the paddles, and tried to make a spade of one of
them; but it rebounded and jarred his hand till it ached.

“Stop!” screamed the Sage. “You’ll spoil the charm! The sods must be
raised with something sharp, of course. _Boys_,” solemnly, “_they must be
raised with a knife that has slain something!_”

“Slain!” Marmaduke repeated, aghast.

“Yes; and I’ve brought along a knife that once killed a deer and a lion.”

“George, this is going a little too far; what business have you to tote
around a hunter’s weapon?” Stephen inquired. “Why, if _you_ had fallen
into the river with that horrible knife hitched fast to you, you would
have been ruined.”

“Don’t be jealous, Steve,” George said, sarcastically. “You know there
isn’t a boy in the State that owns such a knife as this; you know it has
a romantic history; you know my grandfather willed it to _me_; you know
it once saved Seth Warner’s life; you know an old Turk once----”

“Yes,” interrupted Steve, “I know; I’ve heard you talk about that knife
ever since I first knew you. But if you don’t look out, it will come to
grief like all your other wonderful knives--you’ll lose it.--Well, never
mind, George; I was only surprised to think you could bring along that
keepsake--no, relic--to dig up sods! So,” mildly, “go on, George.”

George “went on,” and soon the sods were raised, and a circle of earth
exposed. Then the paddles were used very laboriously, first by one and
then by another. It was hard work, but at last a hole was scooped out,
and Steve, in despair, took up the spade and dug with ease.

“How do you suppose Herriman came to be in that tree?” George asked.

“That’s a mystery,” Steve replied. “Likely he was prowling around, and
saw us coming, and scrambled into the tree to hide himself. Well, I never
hankered to make a squirrel of myself in an evergreen.”

“Let me dig,” George now said.

Stephen handed over the spade to him, and after a vigorous attack with
it, with a thud that startled the three, he struck something very hard.

Visions of gold and precious stones flashed through their mind; George
trembled with excitement; Marmaduke was in ecstacy; Steve was bewildered.

George stopped for a moment, panting and eager; then he turned to digging
again--so furiously that the sweat streamed from every part of his body.

Not a word was spoken.

Dirt enough was soon removed to discover--what?

An iron-bound box!

Again the Sage paused. Although Steve was as much excited as the others,
he thought this a fitting time to observe: “Well, George, we have exposed
the necromancer’s fable, and it is getting late; so let us pack up and go
home.”

“Go home?” echoed George. “Go home--without seeing what we have found?”

“Certainly. It can’t be a treasure, you know; _because it isn’t six feet
down in the ground_!”

George was thunder-struck. But he soon rallied, and made answer: “Well,
so many queer things have happened, perhaps the spirits got demoralized,
and raised the box.”

“No they didn’t,” Steve retorted; “spirits never get demoralized. And
besides, I’m ashamed of you, George, for staying here any longer. You
know you don’t believe a single word of it,” with cutting irony. “So, let
us do what the copy-book tells us, and make the most of time while we are
young. Let us hurry home.”

Whilst this talk was going on, Marmaduke--much to the secret satisfaction
of both boys--was busy, trying, by using the spade and paddles as levers,
to get the iron-bound box out of the hole. Not finding it so heavy as he
expected, he succeeded without much effort.

Now that it was out of the ground, George, Stephen, and Marmaduke,
pounced on it, pried off the lid, and found--what?

A heap of mouldy old boots, a cracked cow-bell, a worn-out vest, several
broken articles, a few door-knobs, a defaced copy of the Constitution,
rusty nails, the works of a clock, the rudder of a toy ship, a heavy
flat-iron, the head of a medieval image, rubbish, all sorts of things.

Steve, foolish boy, laughed till he was obliged to sit down. As for the
other two, they were, to use a polite expression, “deeply chagrined.”

As soon as Steve recovered himself he said, “This is some of Crazy Tom’s
work! Of course you two have heard of him; he used to live in these
parts, and spent all his time gathering up all kinds of trash, and the
boys say he buried it sometimes. Now I know that story is true. Oh! what
a treasure we have found! Our fortune is made!”

George and Marmaduke were familiar with the legends respecting Crazy Tom,
and they were mute.

“Oh dear,” groaned Steve, “we must get this box back into the hole, and
shovel in the dirt, before we can go home.”

This proves that there was something good in Stephen, after all. A great
many boys would have gone away, leaving everything in confusion.

“There might be something valuable in it,” Marmaduke suggested.

“Yes, of course,” Steve replied. “But I don’t know who’d want to rummage
among all these disgusting old things.”

George and Marmaduke thought of the bones in the woods, and with one
breath, both said, “No!”

“To be sure,” Steve continued, peering into the box, “if we could find
some fellow that hadn’t any respect for himself, we might hire him to
handle its contents, and separate the good from the bad. Now, I’ve a good
mind to take out this----Roanwer!”

“What’s the matter?”

“Matter!” roared Steve, starting back. “My gracious! That box is
inhabited with some awful looking grubs!”

Without further parley the lid was laid on, the box shoved into the hole,
and the dirt shoveled in.

“Steve,” said George suddenly, “I believe you knew about this. Why were
you all at once so eager to go, and why did you pick out this tree, and
guess the box was Crazy Tom’s so quick?”

“Now, George, don’t be foolish. I came for the fun of it, that’s all.
Now, didn’t you shoot all the arrows, and didn’t I do all I could to help
you? Didn’t I work hard digging? Why did I know about where Crazy Tom
buried his treasures? Why, George, are you losing your wits? Come, now,
be sensible; and think it’s a great joke.”

George looked full in Stephen’s honest face, relented, and said
desperately, “Well, I suppose it is very funny; but I’ve made an awful
fool of myself.”

Everything except the big rope was taken home. It was enough for the Sage
to carry it when in excellent spirits, unruffled temper, and fired with
“enthusiasm.” Now, his spirits were broken,--for the time only,--his
temper was soured, he himself was sore and weary, and the rope was
“forgotten.”

The three wended their way homeward in a different frame of mind. Steve
was so light of heart that he chuckled to himself and his dog, and
swung his arms furiously. Marmaduke was uneasy about his lessons for
the next day; George was glum and miserable, full of bitterness against
necromancers, sprites, and Crazy Toms.

“I’ll never meddle with nonsense again,” he muttered, as he jogged on.
“And as for Captain Kidd----”

From that day, he had another name--the Necromancer. It was not much
used, however.



_Chapter XXV._

THE BITTEN BOY TAKES REVENGE.


After that, George renounced all literature that treated of the magical
arts, but his reading was as varied and extensive as ever. He carefully
avoided the subject of necromancy, but when his companions referred to
it, he put up with their jokes and cruel remarks about “iron-bound”
“treasure-chests” with the calm indifference of a true philosopher.

Charles was mistaken in saying that he would be the only one to see any
amusement in the affair after it was all over, for Stephen never tired of
calling up George’s look of misery when the box was opened.

“Oh, if you and Will had only waited!” he often sighed to Charles.

Stephen almost forgot the insults heaped on himself and his dog during
the earlier part of the evening, and as Bob Herriman prudently kept out
of his sight for a few days, he almost forgave that wretch his wickedness.

One day he asked George if he might see the book of necromancy.

At first the Sage was inclined to be vexed at such a question; but
finally, pointing upwards, he said, with a peculiar smile: “Well, Steve,
I guess the _smoke_ of it is up there. And now, don’t say any more about
it, please.”

“George, that night we passed through an _experience_ instead of an
_experiment_;” Stephen replied solemnly, looking wondrous wise. “I
promise not to bother you about it any more.”

Stephen kept his word religiously.

As for Will, strangely enough he took no cold, but was minus one suit of
clothes.

Bob Herriman kept out of the boys sight for a few days. He had several
very good reasons for doing so. In the first place, he was sore and stiff
from many bruises; secondly, his cowardly nature dreaded meeting with the
boys for whom he had lain in ambush, and whom he had exasperated beyond
endurance; and thirdly, he wished to avoid Steve’s dog, which he now
feared.

On account of this, the boy kept quiet near home, although his parents
probably thought him at school. In these “holidays” he worked out a plan
for revenge.

Revenge for what?

The only answer that can be given is that the boy was so vindictive in
his nature that he wished to do the boys and the dog some injury--simply
because he had fallen out of the evergreen; been humiliated, stunned, and
hurt; had an unpleasant struggle in the water; and generally “got the
worst of it,” as Charley put it.

At last he hit on a plan that pleased him greatly.

Suppose that, in order to lend variety, animation, and dignity to these
pages, we forbear giving the details of his plot, and keep the reader in
a state of mild suspense and wonder? Such a course would smooth our task,
and not seriously disturb the readers peace of mind.

Although a raft has not been referred to specially as one of the
attractions of the river, yet, for all that, an ill-made and
disproportioned, but substantial and floatable one was moored a mile
above the falls. Many hours had been spent by the boys in building and
repairing this raft, and many times they had sailed proudly up and down
the river on it. It was a source of great amusement to them all.

Some ten days after the adventure last narrated, Bob Herriman built a
little “house,” which, seen from one end looked like a hen-coop, from the
other like a dog kennel, while a stupid person behind might take it for a
clumsy woodbox, another equally stupid person in front might take it for
a modern home-made bee-hive. One end was three feet wide, the other three
feet six inches. By laying a brick underneath it, its roof was level,
with the spirit-level. By placing it on a perfectly smooth floor, without
the brick underneath it, it rocked gently--just sufficiently, in fact, to
lull a person to sleep. Briefly, Robert was not intended for a carpenter,
and this “house”--which was almost worth its weight in nails--to be still
further disproportioned, was much wider than it was long. Its width has
already been given; its length was two feet and two, three, four and five
inches. Its height was in exact proportion to its width and length. The
door of a disused cupboard was brought into use, and once more did duty
as a door.

Boys, exercise your ingenuity, and draw a correct picture of that
“house.” It may help you to understand Bob’s plot.

Into this building its architect put several things which he thought
would be needed to carry out his schemes successfully.

Every Saturday afternoon Stephen and his dog went swimming in the river.
The other boys generally, but not always, swam with him. This was
well-known to Herriman, and he took his measures accordingly.

The next Saturday Bob set out immediately after dinner, getting a boon
companion of his to take his contrivance in a light waggon to the falls.
This boy, whose thoughts never soared above the driving of his nag, asked
no questions, and scarcely noticed the “house” or its contents. At the
falls Bob set it down carefully, and then the two went their several
ways--the youth with the waggon turning back and going to market, the
plotter getting his building laboriously up the hill by the falls. The
few people near stared at him in wonder, but said nothing.

When this wicked boy got his contrivance a few rods above the falls he
stopped, took out of it and stowed away upon his person whatever water
might damage, and then took an enormously long and very strong cord,
which had hitherto been inside, and tied one end fast to a staple in what
was supposed to be the roof of the “house.”

Having done this, he shoved the unwieldy thing into the river, and eyed
it wistfully.

“No, it isn’t coming to pieces,” he exclaimed, joyfully, as he saw that
his work bore the strain of floating in the water.

Then he grasped the rope--which will be described presently--and towed
his invention--it _was_ an invention--rapidly up the river.

Arrived at the raft, he fastened this thing (we don’t know what else to
call it) firmly on it. Then was shown the beauty and usefulness of the
staple spoken of. Bob ran a strong cord through it and through some of
the many staples and rings which were planted in the raft.

You perceive, gentle reader, that this boy was much better at scheming
than at building.

Then he loosened the rope from the--let us call it _cage_--from the cage,
and tied it fast to a ring in one end of the raft. This rope, or cord,
was new and strong, and was actually one thousand feet in length! Bob
did not believe in doing things by halves--but he had another object in
view when he procured the long rope. Excepting a few yards at the end
made fast to the raft, it was as yet coiled up neatly. About the middle a
heavy iron ring, or sinker, was attached.

Bob arranged everything to his satisfaction, and had just set the raft
afloat and made it stationery with an anchor, in the form of a sharp
stick, when he espied Stephen and Carlo coming for their customary bath.
He himself was screened by friendly shrubs and trees, but Stephen was in
plain sight.

All that he had to do was to remain quiet and keep the raft to its
anchor, and Stephen, he felt assured, would not see him.

In this belief the crafty plotter was right. Stephen hurriedly undressed
a few rods below him, and plunged headlong into the river, Carlo beside
him. Carlo, however, seemed uneasy, as though he suspected the presence
of an enemy.

Bob examined the raft to see that it was securely anchored, and then
stepped lightly ashore, an old muzzle and some pieces of rope in his
hands. Unobserved, he stole along behind the shrubs, trees, and ridges,
till he gained a hollow which completely hid him from Stephen, and then
he stopped. Probably no boy in the neighborhood knew the lay of the land
better than Mr. Bob.

Suddenly, he uttered a cry like a squirrel’s, which produced the effect
he thought it would.

Both Stephen and his dog, not far away, heard it. Steve immediately
stopped swimming, and said, “Sic it, Carlo! Sic it! Fetch him out!”

Bob chuckled, again uttered the cry, and was rewarded by hearing Carlo
flying towards him. “Now, to keep out of the dog’s sight till he gets
into this hollow,” he muttered, suiting the action to the word. “If Steve
should come, too,”--and he grew pale at the thought,--“I’ll get the worst
of it! But Steve won’t come.”

In this conclusion Bob was quite right; for Stephen preferred a good
bath to a doubtful chase after a squirrel. Besides, he could not hunt
the squirrel without dressing himself; and before that could be done,
Carlo would probably have caught it, or else have given up the pursuit.
Therefore, Stephen wisely determined to enjoy his bath, and let his dog
hunt alone.

Crafty Bob had considered all these points, and felt quite easy in his
ambush. He was wise in his day and generation.

“Sic it!” Stephen cried again; and Carlo, with his nose bent to the
ground, ran hither and thither, trying to get scent of the “squirrel.”

Bob gave another encouraging squeak, and the dog plunged through the
shrubbery into the hollow.

He feared the dog, and knew the risks he was running; but revenge spurred
him on, and he remained collected and resolute, while Carlo, quite
surprised, was taken at a disadvantage.

They grapple with each other, almost human dog and almost brutal boy,
have a severe struggle, and fight desperately; but in the end, Bob slips
his muzzle over Carlo’s nose, fastens it, and then binds his feet with
the cords and straps.

Bob is master of the situation.

Swiftly he dragged the helpless animal by the way he had come, till he
arrived at the raft. It was the work of but a minute to haul it on board,
tear up the “anchor,” and shove off. When fairly afloat, the door of the
cage was opened, and Carlo ignominiously thrust in.

Thus the reader perceives that this mysterious cage was to do duty as a
prison. Had not its manufacturer been perusing some of the “literature”
of the present day when he contrived his plot? Only, he varied the
stereotyped form by abducting an heroic dog instead of an heroic fool.

Stephen gave up his whole attention to the delightful and thoroughly
boyish pastime of swimming. In all probability he thought no more of his
dog, believing him to be in full pursuit of the “squirrel.” But Bob had
no sooner got under way than Stephen spied him.

Contrary to all the laws which regulate the actions of the heroes of
romance, he engaged in conversation with the depraved youth. A hero in
a book would have looked the other way in dignified silence when such a
wretch came in sight, but not so Steve.

“Hollo!” he called out. “Why, Bob, I haven’t seen you since the night you
yelled so bravely, and fell overboard into this very river. Have you got
the plasters off your bruises yet? You ought to be as tender as pounded
beef-steak after all your tumbles that night.

“But I say,” in a quarrelsome tone, “what are you doing with our raft?
That raft isn’t common property; it belongs to us.”

“Who is ‘us’?” asked Bob, mockingly.

Now that he was on the raft, all his impudence returned. He knew that he
could work his way into deep water before Stephen could reach him; for,
unlike most rafts built by boys, this one was managed with ease, and
propelled with something like swiftness.

“Who is ‘us’?” Steve echoed in amazement. “You know well enough that
that raft belongs to us four--Will, and me, and Charley, and George, and
Marmaduke, and myself--”

Bob could not deny the justness of Steve’s claim on the raft, so he
waived the question, and cut him short, saying derisively, “Steve, I
reckon you’d better stop, if you can’t count straighter’n that.”

“Well, you have no right to use it,” Steve replied. “What are you doing
here anyway? Are you spying on me again?”

“Where is your dog? I thought he always followed you,” Bob observed,
oaring briskly away.

“Carlo? So he does. He went after a squirrel a minute ago. ’Pon my word,”
as if the thought had just struck him, “it’s very strange that I don’t
hear him bark! Now, what’s the matter! Carlo, Carlo, Carlo, Carlo.”

Bob had now floated the raft down stream into deep water, and with a
burst of idiotic laughter, he swung it half-way around. Up to this time,
that side of the cage which looked like a dog-kennel had been toward
Stephen; but the side which looked like a hen-coop was now, in turn,
presented to him.

The raft had drifted down so far that it was nearly opposite to Stephen;
and now, for the first time, he beheld his beloved dog, bound and
helpless, in the clutches of an enemy.

An agonized cry of astonishment and horror broke from his lips.

Bob’s revenge had begun, and like all approved villains, he was destined
to have a short, but brilliant, career.

“Why don’t you swim out and save your dog, Stepping Hen?” he asked
mockingly, well knowing that he could soon out-strip an ordinary swimmer.

“Oh, just wait till I catch you, you abominable sneak!” yelled Steve.
“I ought to have taught you a lesson before! Oh dear! O-o-h! Carlo!
C-a-r-l-o!”

But Carlo could only whine piteously.

“Stay where you are,” Bob yelled back, “and when I get across the river
you’ll ‘see sport,’ as you said on the island, at the picnic.”

Lustily and swiftly this thirster for revenge worked his way across
the stream, jeering at poor Stephen’s threats and entreaties. The raft
grounded near the bank, and, the coil of rope in his hand, he jumped
ashore, and shoved it off. Then, oh most humane action! he jumped on
the raft again, opened the door of the cage, and cast off the cords and
straps that bound Carlo’s feet, thus leaving the poor beast at liberty to
struggle feebly in his narrow prison. Having made the door of the cage
fast, he landed once more, this time, however, getting his feet very wet.

To set the dog free was evidently an after thought, or he would have
done so before, and so have saved himself time, trouble and a wetting.

Meanwhile, poor Stephen danced excitedly about in the water, shouting
and gesticulating wildly. In fact, the poor boy was at his wits’ end. He
made several desperate efforts to swim after the “jolly young waterman,”
but failed in each effort. He lacked George’s great self-possession, and
allowed his anger to get the better of his judgment. Thus he acted, and
there he remained, until his teeth chattered and his limbs turned into
what is known familiarly to the boys as “goose-flesh.” Then he rushed out
of the water, and pulled on his clothes promiscuously.

To the frantic boy’s horror, he next saw Bob running _up_ the stream,
along the bank whilst the raft, with the dog still on it, was drifting
_down_ the stream.

“The scoundrel!” Steve gasped. “Is he going to run away, and let my dog
drift over the falls?”

Such was not the case. Bob’s _left_ hand was toward Stephen, while in his
_right_ hand he carried and unwound as he ran, the coil of rope. No; Bob
was only “paying out the cable.” But Stephen was too far off to see this.

This one thousand feet of cord, however, did not work so harmoniously as
Bob had imagined it would; it became most mysteriously and provokingly
entangled at every step. The sinker on the cord kept the greater part of
it under water; and when Bob at last reached the end of it, and turned,
he changed it from his right hand to his left hand, so that it was still
out of Stephen’s sight.

Bob stood still a moment, puffing and perspiring, and the raft stopped
drifting and pulled gently, very gently on the cord. Then he moved on
slowly, and to Stephen on the opposite bank, there seemed to be no
connection between him and the raft.

If Steve had looked narrowly, however, he would certainly have seen the
cord coming out of the water in front of Bob; for, if a boy can see the
string leading to his new kite when his mischievous brother is flying it
nearly a quarter of a mile away,--mark this, we do not say that any one
else could see it,--then surely, in spite of the distance between him and
Bob, he could have seen what little of the cord there was in sight.

But Steve’s attention was centred upon the raft, where his dog was.

Let not the peruser of this work of fiction suppose that the raft was
really one thousand feet below Bob. By no means; sundry loose knots,
kinks, or snarls, shortened the distance greatly.

But it was undoubtedly a long way below him.

“Hollo, Stepping Hen!” Bob yelled. “Don’t you see that _your_ raft and
the dog are sailing towards the falls? Why don’t you stir around and save
’em?”

Stephen heard him distinctly, and it seemed to him that Carlo’s doom was
sealed. He was now running madly up and down the margin of the river, in
the vain hope of finding some craft on which he might set out in pursuit.
But he could find nothing that would serve his turn.

Bob saw the boy’s dilemma, and like all orthodox villains, when
successful in their wickedness, he could not conceal his delight. His
powerful imagination saw a log in each broken twig, a huge boulder in
each little stone, a frightful chasm in each slight depression in the
ground; and he passed along by leaps that bore considerable resemblance
to those of an Alpine hunter. He writhed his whole body, distorted his
features, rolled his intensely blue eyes, hallooed, sang and uttered
original and untranslatable interjections, expressive of triumph.

Such actions could not but be injurious to his system; but--fortunately
for himself and the rest of the world,--as Bob afterwards invented and
patented an ingenious saw-horse--they were to be of short continuance.



_Chapter XXVI._

BOB’S DOWNFALL.


To Stephen’s intense relief, he now saw Charley and George coming towards
him from the village. He welcomed them with feverish delight.

“Hollo, Steve!” Charlie shouted. “What performance is that on the other
side of the river? Who has set our raft afloat, and what is that thing on
it?”

A hoot of defiance came booming across the river from Bob. He still felt
himself secure; and instead of one witness of his triumph, there would
now be three.

Stephen ran to meet the new-comers, and told them all that he knew about
the matter, not sparing the arch-villain.

Their expressions of hopelessness and anger exceeded even Stephen’s.

“Isn’t there anything we can float over on?” Charles asked.

“Not a thing. Do you suppose I’d be here if I could cross?” Steve
retorted, angrily.

“Take it coolly, boys,” the Sage advised. “We are not going to let that
Herriman have it all his own way; surely we can work some plan to outwit
him.”

Bob looked on in ecstasy, and hallooed as barbarously as a wild Indian on
the war-trail. His plans had succeeded in every particular--almost beyond
his expectations. Why should he not rejoice and be merry?

This shifting of the scene from one bank of the river to the other is not
conducive to the reader’s happiness or the writer’s reputation. It would
be better to single out one party and let the other go.

After a critical examination of how matters stood, the Sage said
abruptly, “Look here, boys; there is room for hope. In the first place,
Bob and the raft are moving at the same rate; second place, he has a
cord fastened to the raft, with the other end in his left hand--but it’s
an enormously long cord; third place, Will crossed the river in the
village, and he will soon be coming up on the other side. Now, look at
Bob and the raft, and see for yourselves.”

But before he had finished speaking, Steve and Charley had descried the
rope in Bob’s hand.

“Oh, George!” cried Stephen, “you _are_ a philosopher!”

George was right about Will. A few minutes later, he was seen coming up
on the other side of the river, and accompanied by Marmaduke and Jim.

Thus the whole band of heroes was assembling! Gentle reader, when that
event takes place, you know that the villain’s downfall is at hand.

Stephen and Charles, beside themselves with delight, screamed to the
three heroes to pounce on Bob and save Carlo.

The Sage--puffed up with pride at hearing himself called a philosopher
by Stephen, who never flattered anybody--took another survey of affairs,
and remarked: “Look here Steve, that raft is only drifting slowly, and by
swimming out I could easily reach it, and then let Carlo free. The only
objection to this plan is, that I should have to stay on the raft without
my clothes on until I could get to them again. But there is no one to
see me, and I don’t mind when Carlo’s fate hangs by a--a--tow-line. And
by doing so, Will and the rest can chase Bob; for Bob will move nimbly
somewhere in a minute or two.”

This striking idea took well with Charles and Stephen.

“Oh,” groaned the latter, “why didn’t I think of doing that before you
came up!”

Will, Marmaduke, and Jim, hastened on, taking in the whole plot at a
glance.

“Look out for Bob!” they heard from the three on the opposite bank. “See
to Bob; we’ll take care of Carlo.”

Bob, however, had awakened to a sense of his danger. He saw Will,
Marmaduke, and Jim, approaching; but not so soon as the boys across the
river, as the intervening shrubs and inequalities in the ground obscured
his view.

In all his nice little calculations he had not thought of, nor provided
for, such a casualty as this. In the midst of his triumph why should
three boys all at once come upon him? Why should they be coming up on his
side of the river, when he had never known them to do so before?

But there was no time to be lost in idle speculation.

Should he fly? Then in which direction? To fly towards home seemed
madness, for the three would have to be passed, and he knew well that at
least one, Will, could outrun him. Or he might go _up_ the river, as he
would have a start in his favor. But he was already a long way from the
village and his home; of course he would be pursued; and where would the
pursuit end?

His wild behaviour now gave place to gravity, and his last exultant shout
died away on his lips.

He considered a moment, and then rejected both these possible means of
escape, and determined to take what seemed the only course left open to
him. The raft was under his control--he would haul it up and sail away on
it!

If Bob had been a boy of George’s sententious terseness, he would have
said, “I can defy my enemies when I am on the raft.” If he had been a
hero of romance: “So shall I balk my persecutors, and frustrate their
evil designs.” But being neither, he simply said to himself, “I’ll mount
the raft; and then let ’em sing and holler as much as they want to! And
the dog will be under my thumb, too!”

If Bob had reflected a little longer, perhaps he would not have resorted
to this extreme measure; for, although he would be at liberty to float
whither he pleased, in reality he would be as much a prisoner as the dog.
Five resolute boys and one willing-hearted candle-holder, Jim, would
sooner or later contrive some plan to entrap him.

Not a little to the boys’ astonishment, he now began to draw the raft
hastily towards him. He worked as though his life depended on his
agility; and as the rope came in hand over hand, it fell in a loose coil
at his feet. If the raft had caught on a snag or run into the bank, he
would have been left in a sad predicament; for the faster he drew in the
rope, the faster Will bounded towards him. It was a strange, exciting
race--not a race for life, but a race between meanness and its inevitable
punishment.

The three on the opposite bank could not at first guess Bob’s intention.
George was undressing himself preparatory to swimming out to the raft;
but this manœuvre caused him to desist, and with the other two he stood
stupidly gazing at the plotter, eagerly awaiting further developments.

But when the truth dawned upon him, he cheered Will so heartily that all
the boys, together with the squirrels and birds, took up the cry, and
made the place ring again. In fact, there was danger that all this hubbub
might draw on them the wrath of some peace-loving paterfamilias.

Bob had reason to fear that the boys would take dire vengeance if they
should overhaul him, and he toiled worthy of a better cause. Yard after
yard of the rope passed through his hands, but notwithstanding all his
efforts, he saw that Will was gaining on him. Although at his wit send,
he yet had the sagacity to pull steadily and not too fast--that might
break the rope.

At last the raft was alongside; and having gathered up the folds of the
rope,--which he durst not leave behind, because that would put it in the
power of Will easily to secure boy, dog, and raft,--he made a desperate
and final effort, and sprang almost at random.

At the time of the leap Will was almost upon him.

Bob sprang courageously, but wildly. Alas! “the best-laid schemes of mice
and men--” the rest is not English.

The tangled rope in his hands proved his downfall; it coiled round his
feet with a merciless grip, and he alighted on the raft in a sorry
plight. There he lay, sprawling and struggling, a most ludicrous sight.
The more he struggled to free himself, the more tightly he was encircled
by the terrible coils. Boys, the youth who becomes entangled in one
thousand feet of rope is to be pitied.

To add to his misery, shout after shout of laughter burst from the entire
six. _Their_ hour of triumph had, in its turn, come.

The impetus given to the raft carried it on a little farther, but Will
soon reached it, sprang, and almost fell over struggling Robert. No need
to make him a prisoner; both hands and feet were bound fast by the long
rope.

Will’s first act was to liberate poor Carlo, and take off his muzzle.

Bob groaned and shivered, but the noble dog stretched himself and frisked
about the raft, scarcely noticing him.

“Carlo, Carlo, come, Carlo,” Stephen called joyously.

Carlo plunged into the river and swam towards his master, who, half
beside himself with exultation, cried: “Steer for this port, Will; and
bring the prisoner.”

“All right!” Will shouted back, and put the raft to the bank to take on
Marmaduke and Jim, who soon came up.

The raft sank low under the weight of the four, but still it floated
them; and Will and Marmaduke took up the oars and began to work their way
slowly across the stream. Jim sat on the cage and pretended to steer; but
his eyes roved from the prisoner to the boys on the opposite bank, and
then, by way of the oarsmen, back to the prisoner.

The hearts of the six beat loud with triumph; but poor Bob’s heart
sank, and beat very faint. “Oh,” he gasped piteously from among the
serpent-like coils of the rope, “Oh, let me go! For mercy’s sake, let me
go! Don’t take me over to Stephen and his dog; and I’ll promise never to
meddle with you boys any more.”

Will looked pityingly at the abject creature, but answered with firmness:
“No, Bob, I must take you to Stephen. You have played a mean trick on
him, and he must settle with you. But,” whispering in his ear, “I guess
you’ll survive.”



_Chapter XXVII._

THEY PROPOSE TO TURN THE TABLES.


Bob saw that it would be useless to crave further for mercy, and he
remained sulky and silent; but Jim looked in vain to see him blubber. No;
in everything except age Bob was an orthodox villain; and an orthodox
villain never whimpers when his schemes topple about his ears. On account
of his youth and inexperience, he had not provided himself with poison in
the event of failure--nay, he did not even attempt to roll off the raft
into the river.

“This is rather a home-made rabbit-house, eh, Will?” Marmaduke observed,
inclining his head towards the cage.

“It’s kindy weak,” Jim chimed in. “It looks strong enough to hold me, but
it keeps cracking every minute.”

“Hush!” breathed Will.

He had many fine qualities. Even at his early age, he could respect the
feelings of a fallen foe.

“Hello there, Steve,” he said, as they drew near the group of three. “I
killed Tip, but I’ve saved Carlo, so my mind is easy.”

The three returned Will’s grin of pleasure with a shout of applause. So
eager were they to welcome the victors that they tore off their boots
and stockings, rolled their pants _nearly_ up to their knees, and waded
out till the water was two or three inches _above_ their knees. Youth
manifests its enthusiasm very recklessly at times.

At this moment Will experienced some of the triumph of a conquering hero.

“Now, Bob,” Charles began, as they floated the raft into its harbor;
“now, Bob, you will be tried by us for your misdoings.”

“He has surely had punishment enough; let him go;” said tender-hearted
George, sitting down on the bank and looking pityingly at the wild-eyed
captive.

“Yes, Steve; let him go; for how on earth can we punish him?” Will
supplemented.

“No!” Charles said resolutely. “The boy who can float another boy’s dog
over these falls is a scoundrel, and--”

“I never did!” Bob here put in.

“And,” continued Charles, “_he ought to be court-martialed_!”

Bob did not know what this meant; neither did Charles; the former looked
awe-struck, the latter, wise and august.

Steve, however, added promptly: “Of course. His father must have
court-plastered him the other night for his bruises; and now we must
court-martial him for his wickedness.”

“Well,” said Marmaduke, seating himself with great composure, “I am going
to be neutral.”

Poor boy, he thought “neutral” had an imposing look in his history, and
he would seize this opportunity to illustrate its beauties.

With that, the entire six sat down in a circle around the raft. Charles
and Stephen were resolved on punishment. Jim also. For some reason,
George and Will were in favor of pardon.

“Well, boys,” said Will, “of course you can do what you like, but I
believe I should let him go--box, and rope, and straps, and all. I
perished poor Tip, but I’ve rescued Carlo, and I’m satisfied.”

No doubt Will thought this a very genteel expression. Not so Marmaduke:
he sprang to his feet with a gesture of surprise, and said earnestly,
“Oh, Will! _perish_ is a neuter verb!”

Will flushed, and moved uneasily from right to left.

“What is all this nonsense about neuters and neutrals?” Steve asked,
angrily. “What do we care about your neuters? Botheration, you boys have
put off this trial long enough. But,” with a mischievous twinkle in his
eye, “tell us what a _neuter verb_ is; and then, I hope, we may go on.”

Marmaduke was ill prepared for such a question, and he was never prompt
in giving explanations. His face blanched, he sank dejectedly to the
ground, took off his hat and toyed with it nervously; took out his
handkerchief and feebly tried to blow his nose; looked appealingly at
the Sage; and at last began, hesitatingly: “Well, hem, Steve, _Stephen_,
I’m afraid I can hardly make it clear to you, because--because--well,
you know, Stephen, you don’t understand grammar very well. Well,
_perish_--but,” brightening and rising, “I’ll just illustrate it for you.
Now, you see, I’m standing up. Well,” suiting the action to the word, “I
_sit_ down when _I_ go to the ground; but,” suiting the action to the
word, “I _set_ down my _hat_--or _you_, or _any other boy_, or a _thing_,
or a _word_ in a book.”

Marmaduke put on his hat and picked up and pocketed his handkerchief with
the air of a man who has triumphed.

“Yes,” Steve admitted, “you make it pretty plain, Marmaduke; but these
neuter verbs, and conjunctions, and things, were always a muddle to me.
But,” guilelessly, “tell me this, and then we must attend to Bob: Is it
right to say, I _sit_ myself down, or I _set_ myself down?”

Poor Marmaduke! He was struck dumb; he had a new view of neuter verbs.
A look of woe that would have melted a heart of stone passed over his
face. He arose and took a seat where Steve could not see him, muttering
confusedly: “A neuter verb can’t do anything, but active verbs do.”

Stephen chuckled: “I always knew those rules in the grammar wouldn’t work
both ways.”

Charles and Will did not seem inclined to help Marmaduke out of his
difficulty--probably they were as much puzzled as he. As for George, he
was not at all disconcerted: _when he understood a thing, he knew that he
understood it_. He looked on with supreme indifference, not thinking it
worth while to give his views.

“See how Bob behaved himself the night of the experiment,” Charles
observed, coming back to the matter in hand. “He will always be trying to
do us some harm if we let him off this time.”

“Yes,” chimed in Steve, glancing at the helpless captive, who was still
on the raft, “we let him go that night and see how he has rewarded us for
our mercy!”

“You wouldn’t have let him escape if it hadn’t been for me;” Will
corrected.

“We didn’t hunt him down the next day, as we might have done!” Steve
rejoined, as though that settled the question.

“I hope we are hardly such a set of cold-blooded fellows as that!” George
said. “And besides what great harm did he do that night?”

“Oh, you, George Andrews!” Stephen retorted wrathfully. “I suppose you
think we’re harping on your performances that night, but we’re not.”

“You had better not, Stephen Goodfellow!” said George also becoming
wrathful. “You promised that you wouldn’t speak of that to me again.”

It is a lamentable fact, hinted at in the outset of this history, that
these heroes quarreled occasionally. When one of these differences took
place, each one had the strange, boyish habit of calling the other by his
christian name and surname. If you doubt this, fair reader, [she for whom
this is written will understand,] be so good as to play the eavesdropper
on two small and quarrelsome juveniles disputing about the color of an
absent playmate’s marble.

“I’m not; I’m keeping my word;” Steve replied seriously. “But perhaps
your mind is running on _clemency_, that bothered you so much the other
day.”

“Perhaps _yours_ is running on the term ‘_Lynch law_!’”

At this juncture neutral Marmaduke, who was beginning to recover his
equanimity, and who doubtless felt spiteful towards Stephen, hopped up
and declared, in the tone of a dictator rather than of a peacemaker:
“Gentlemen, the jury have disagreed; the case is dismissed.”

“Marmaduke Fitzwilliams,” cried Charles, rising in his turn, “four or
five boys don’t make a jury; you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Lawyers would say, _constitute_ a jury,” Marmaduke corrected.

“Well, let ’em say it; _we_ are not lawyers;” Charles roared.

“It would not be acting politically to punish him ourselves,” the
neutral one contended. “There is a whole court-house full of men in the
village, that make it a business to punish people.”

Poor Marmaduke! He seemed to have a preternatural longing to figure in
the courts of justice.

“Marmaduke,” George said musingly, “don’t you suppose you are out of your
reckoning when you say ‘acting politically’?”

“Yes, what does ‘politically’ mean, any way?” Stephen inquired, thinking
to ensnare the boy once more.

This time, however, Marmaduke answered without hesitation.
“Why,” said he, “it’s an adverb, and adverbs always mean, _in a
manner_--_politically, in a political manner_.”

Steve did not seem much enlightened, and Charles with a merry twinkle,
asked, “Always?”

“Always!” firmly.

“Oh, then, _politically_ ought to mean, _in the manner of a policeman_;
_abed, in the manner of a bedstead_; and so on.”

Marmaduke looked aghast, and Charles the persecutor continued
mercilessly: “_Alongside, in the manner of a man who wears a long side._”

The neutral one was now quite discomfited, and he arose and stole back
to his seat, trying to collect himself and make out what “in a manner”
really signifies.

But Steve yelled after him: “And _to go_ means _in the manner of a
goner_.”

At this dreadful outrage it is a wonder that Words did not take to
themselves a voice to howl in the offender’s ear: “We cannot all be
adverbs!”

As for Marmaduke he was utterly demoralized.

“Whatever you do, boys, don’t leave Bob to stiffen in his coils on that
raft,” Will meekly suggested.

Charles and Stephen were so eager to have some one side with them that
they took it for granted that Will, for very weariness, was now in
favor of punishment; and Stephen, on the spur of the moment, made this
startling observation:

“Why not do with Bob as he did with my dog? He has got himself all in a
jumble on the raft--let us give him a ride up and down the river. It will
be good for his constitution.”

Strangely enough, this idea was favorably received by the boys. They
laughed, and applauded Stephen.

“It would be a very light punishment,” he continued, pressing home his
advantage. “Don’t you all agree to it? Come, Will, what is your opinion?”

“It was you Bob was molesting, Steve, and you must stir up your
conscience to see what it says, and then go ahead,” Will answered. “You
put it very mildly, but I suppose your meaning is, to cram Bob into
Carlo’s prison, untangle the rope, and then float him around as he
floated Carlo around.”

“Y-e-s,” Steve assented, somewhat discomposed at this plain statement of
his views.

“I’m tired of all this,” George exclaimed, with a sigh. “Fire ahead,
Steve, and do whatever you like.”

“Hurrah, then,” Charlie cried gladly, “let us give Bob an airing.”

At this instant Marmaduke again appeared before the boys, and opened his
mouth to make some sage remark; but Stephen,--now all animation,--in
tones whose cheerfulness took away the harshness of the words, silenced
him, saying: “Stop your noise, Marmaduke. You’re a neuter verb, you know;
and they mustn’t do anything.”

“Perhaps you ought to consult Bob himself,” Will suggested. “He might
observe some valuable observations about his punishment.”

“Let the prisoner speak,” chimed in the irrepressible neutral one.

“Well, Bob,” said Charles languidly, “moisten your lips and tongue, and
let us have your views. In the first place, what was your plot? What did
you intend to do with Carlo?”

Bob scowled at the speaker and was silent. But finally, having thought
bettor of it, he did as directed, and said, “I was only going to fool you
fellers; I never meant to do more’n scare him,” looking at Stephen, “and
then I was going to let his dog go. But,” sorrowfully, “you came along
and spoilt it all.”

“Suppose Carlo had gone at your heels when you let him out of the box?”
Charles asked.

Bob turned pale and muttered something in confusion.

“Well, what do you say about our turning the tables on you?” George asked.

“Nothin’,” the prisoner answered stoically, still playing the part of
an orthodox villain. No; he, a boy of nearly seventeen years, would not
again beg for mercy at the hands of his inferiors--in age; and he awaited
his punishment with well-feigned indifference.

If the boys had been better versed in human nature, they would have known
that this passive submission on his part boded evil to their future
welfare.

Although Bob was acting like an orthodox villain, the six, in taking upon
themselves to judge and punish him, were not acting like orthodox heroes.
By no means. They were not the irreproachable youngsters who figure in
octodecimo volumes. They all had an idea of the fitness of things; and
all--even George and Will--thought it just and right that Bob should
know, by actual experience, what Carlo’s feelings had been during his
imprisonment.



_Chapter XXVIII._

THE TABLES TURNED WITH A VENGEANCE.


The six judges arose, and stood before the culprit.

The cage was critically examined, and Steve seemed to find it very
amusing to point out its defects. Bob was pestered with questions about
it, but he maintained a sullen silence, submitting doggedly to the
inevitable.

“We must put you into narrow quarters for a little while, Bob,” Stephen
said good-humoredly, “and try to disentangle a few leagues of this good
cord.”

Two of the heroes supported Bob while Steve freed him from the rope. The
discomfited plotter was too stiff to make much resistance, yet when he
found himself free he struggled nervously, but feebly, to break away from
his tormentors. Then Jim, who was trying to make himself useful, threw
open the door of the cage, and Charles and Stephen dumped him gently in.

Now, Bob had not built the cage for such a purpose; consequently, he did
not sit comfortable in it--worse still, it threatened to burst asunder.
But it did not.

His feet and legs were got inside somehow, but his head was mercifully
left out, exposed to the sun and air. His hat had fallen off when he
sprang upon the raft, and been taken over the falls; but George, more
humane than the others, took off his own hat, and placed it firmly, but
gently, on the exposed head.

Unknown to the soi-disant judges, the boy was wedged so fast in his cage
that he was powerless to help himself. Thus he was virtually a prisoner
in the very prison that he had prepared for another! This was turning the
tables with a vengeance! This was poetical justice!

Poor little villain! He must have been in an exceedingly cramped and
uneasy position; but his pride and his orthodoxy came to his relief, and
he would not complain to the pitiless arbitrators of his fate.

“Look here, boys,” George cried, “if you are bound to punish him, you
ought to kick out the end of that box, so that he could sit up straight,
like a man, and be comfortable.”

“Yes, it _is_ too bad,” Steve said pityingly. “But it will soon be over;
and if we should go to tampering with the box, we might kick Bob in the
stomach. Besides, Bob looks more forlorn than he is; and we have no
business to destroy his boxes and things.--Now, where’s the rope, and
then we will hurry through with it and let Bob out.”

About three hundred feet of the cord were disentangled, and once more the
raft was set afloat with a prisoner on it.

In order to humble Bob still further, Steve intended to let Carlo carry
the end of the rope in his mouth for a little way. But now he had not the
heart to do it. As the raft floated along lazily, Steve essayed to give
a shout of triumph, but it died away in his throat.

The dog, however, began to gambol, sneeze, and bark, in an extraordinary
manner. During the trial he had been the only really neutral one, and now
he seemed to enjoy himself more than any of the self-styled judges. Bob
looked on in some uneasiness, but he need not have been alarmed, for the
dog made no motion to swim out and attack him.

The boys did not exactly understand it, yet somehow they seemed to take
no pleasure in floating Herriman down the stream; and instead of an
exultant procession along the bank, they marched solemnly onward, hardly
speaking, and each one becoming more and more ashamed of himself. George
had a theory of his own about this, but he did not make it known.

Seeing that matters had gone so far, Steve and Charles did not wish to
stop till Bob had had his ride; but they felt ill at ease, and their
conscience almost persuaded them that they were in the wrong.

So with the entire five (Jim being, as the reader has doubtless divined,
a mere supernumerary in this history, although he figures conspicuously
once or twice.) From the moment they placed the boy in his cage they
began to relent.

To any person coming upon them, this risible spectacle would have been
presented: six boys marching gravely down the stream; some three hundred
feet in advance a raft drifting lazily along; on said raft a box, from
which protruded an enormous head,--large enough for a genius,--neatly
covered with a now battered but once respectable--nay, fashionable--straw
hat.

Thus the raft drifted till within a quarter of a mile of the falls. Then
Stephen said, “Ever since I went over the falls I’ve felt too nervous to
prowl around very near them; so let us pull her up stream now, and let
Bob go when we get into port.”

All agreed to this, and the rope, which had hitherto been slack, was
pulled taut. The raft stopped its downward course, and was drawn towards
them--perhaps, half a foot.

Then something that might have been expected from the beginning happened.

The rope broke!

Unknown to them, the jagged edge of the raft had worn the rope all but
in two while Bob was hauling the raft towards him. In this place it now
parted.

There was consternation among the self-constituted punishers. In truth,
it is impossible to describe their terror, anguish, and remorse. All
through their own foolishness a fellow-creature was in imminent danger.
To be swept over the falls in his helpless condition meant Death. And
whatever was done must be done quickly.

The boys felt as guilty as criminals _ought_ to feel.

“Bob,” Charles screamed, “climb out, and jump into the river, and swim!”

“Oh, he can’t! he can’t!” Will cried, seeing that Bob was struggling
desperately and vainly to get out of the box.

“George,” Steve cried wildly, “you spoke about swimming to the raft while
Carlo was on it--swim now! Quick!”

“Of course,” the Sage replied, still a philosopher, but a perturbed one.
“Yes, of course, I’ll go.”

To add to the confusion, stunning screams now came from Bob. He forgot
that he was a villain; all his orthodoxy and stoicism forsook him; and he
again brought his stentorian lungs into play. Far from having impaired
his lungs on the night of George’s “experiment,” he seemed only to have
strengthened them; and now he howled and bellowed like a wounded giant.

Cannot this be explained logically? The age of the romancer’s younger
villains ranges between twenty-seven and thirty-nine; while the age of
older villains varies greatly among different authors, and, much to the
reader’s sorrow, is not always given. From this it would seem that Bob
was too young to set up for a knave.

In view of this, the reader, having more discernment than the writer,
suggests the following: The only reason why Bob had taken it so coolly
was because he knew the boys too well to fear any harm from them.
Besides, he had heard all that was said during the “trial,” and he saw
that the boys’ anger towards him had abated. But when he found that the
raft was no longer under their control, he naturally became alarmed.

Yes, Bob again began to discharge atrocious and high-sounding
interjections.

All the boys saw that George was more composed than they; and by mutual
consent, he was left to plan a rescue. His coat had been off ever since
he prepared to swim to Carlos relief; and now he stripped off the rest of
his clothes, plunged into the river, and swam boldly for the imperilled
boy.

He had, however, more self-confidence than self-possession; or he would
have run down the bank till opposite to the raft, and so have gained
time. He now swam as fast as possible; but the raft was some distance in
advance, and steadily drawing nearer the falls.

The boys watched George anxiously, but were too demoralized to aid him in
any way.

“Hello, you vagabonds!” was thundered behind them. “What does all this
noise mean?”

The heroes were startled; and on turning, were appalled to see a burly
rustic coming towards them at a round pace.

“Oh, dear,” groaned Will; “why does this fellow want to come here just at
this time?”

“Oh, dear,” echoed Charles, Stephen, Marmaduke, and Jim.

“What does all this mean, you young villains?” roared the new-comer.

“A boy is floating over,” Marmaduke gasped.

“Well, do you mean to let him float? Why don’t you
get up and save him? Oh, you awful boys! This is
murder--parricide--manslaughter--abduction--gravitation--parsimony!
What do you suppose the law’s going to say about this? It--it is
un-con-sti-tu-tion-al!”

The five trembled--Jim exceedingly. In fact, he seemed on the point of
betaking himself to flight.

“I say, I’ll persecute you all for litigation!” the new-comer next
observed.

He was an ignorant, brutal man, an inhabitant of the village. In his
boyhood he had been snubbed by old and young; and now, in his manhood, he
took delight in bullying all the boys he met.

“George Andrews, there, is trying to save him,” Will said, pointing at
the swimmer.

“Humph! much _he’ll_ do!” growled the rustic. “Well, I’m going to set
here (at this Marmaduke shuddered) till that boy is lost or saved. Its my
duty to the Government, and I’ll do it if it takes all day.”

His duty to the Government, however, did not prompt him to take an active
part in rescuing Bob, and he stretched himself along the bank and looked
on with dogged composure.

George did not know of this man’s arrival. He swam bravely, but gained
on the raft very slowly. His heart sank when he saw this, but he kept on
hopefully, and just at the critical moment the raft grounded on a snag,
and was held fast. Bob was saved! Not through human agency, however.

Bob ceased from howling, and George called out cheerily: “You are all
right, Bob; and I’m--”

At that instant a little wave washed down his throat and effectually cut
him short.

He had never swum so close to the falls, but he proceeded warily, and
managed it so that the shock of striking the raft eased it off the snag.
Then he scrambled on board, took up an oar, and for a full minute feared
that the current would carry them both over. But the raft was brought
under control, and slowly, very slowly, rescuer and rescued left their
dangerous position.

“Bob, when we get a little farther up, I’ll try and get you out of that,
and then we can go faster, if you will help.”

The joyful cries of the boys now attracted his attention, and, to his
horror, he perceived that some person was with them.

“Oh, Bob,” he groaned, “who is that man on the bank?”

Bob peered in the direction indicated, and said, hesitatingly, “I--I
guess it’s somebody else.”

“Now how mean!” George growled. “I can’t land till that fellow goes away;
and here I am in a great hurry to get my clothes on, for fear a crowd
should gather round us! Bob, did you ever moralize how it is crowds
gather? Let anything happen, and a crowd is sure to come along to see how
it will end.”

“No, I never morry-lice,” Bob replied, good-humoredly.

“Well,” said the Sage, fetching a great sigh, “I don’t know but that you
are just as well off.”

One by one the five were now coming along the bank, each one looking
pleased, yet crest-fallen.

“C-can we help you in any way, George?” Marmaduke asked.

George looked his indignation. However, he soon recovered his
equilibrium, and said, frigidly, “If one or two of you would bring my
clothes down here, and if the rest of you would stay up there with that
man, to keep him from coming here, I should be very much obliged to you
all.”

This was done, and George brought the raft to the bank and dressed,
screened by three of his doughty school-fellows.

“I’ll see you all again,” shouted the law-abiding rustic. And he walked
away, muttering learnedly about “burglarious incendiarism.”

George was soon dressed, and then he set about liberating Bob, who was
still cooped up in his cage.

“I’m afraid this will have to be broken open,” George said.

“Break it, then!” said Bob, glaring fiendishly at his sometime darling
contrivance.

The Sage, with the help of the other boys, then forced the top, or roof,
off the cage; and Bob was again at large. Poor boy! he did not linger,
nor make any threats, but after mumbling in George’s ear, “you’re the
best of them all,” set forward at a business-like pace.

Then, at last, the boys got over their fright.

George was quite satisfied with himself, and he looked about him with a
peaceful expression on his face that the others tried in vain to assume.
But now and then he would glance furtively up and down the river, to the
right and to the left.

“What are you looking for, George?” Steve finally asked, breaking the
silence.

“I--I--well, its rather strange that a crowd doesn’t come. Now in all
that you read, in newspapers or stories, a crowd always gathers.”

“Not generally in murders--in the stories,” Marmaduke corrected.

“Well, this is a pretty nice business!” Will said, ruefully. “I--I’m
ashamed of myself!”

“So am I,” said Charles and Stephen.

“George, I couldn’t possibly have swum out and saved that boy,” Charles
admitted, frankly. “My heart was beating like a----”

“Yes you could,” George interrupted, not wishing to receive more praise
than he deserved.

“How is it that it turned out so badly?” Steve asked. “Bob used us very
badly; and _we got the worst of it when we punished him_!”

“We ought to have been merciful, and let him go as soon as Will gave him
up to us,” George commented. “That’s a good way to cure some people of
meanness,” he added, in a “moralizing” mood.

“Well, now!” Steve ejaculated. “Jim has made off too! I guess he
skedaddled while Mr. Reiter was around.”

“Yes; and Bob has left the spoils in our hands!” Will observed. “What
shall we do with them?”

“They are not ours, but Bob won’t hanker for them,” Charley replied,
jocosely. “Suppose we let the prison float over the falls, with the long
rope dragging behind. Perhaps we should not be so melancholy doing that
as we were when we made a floating battery of Bob.”

“Hurrah! Hurrah! Bravo! Well done! That’s just what we want! Now, we
can sail up to our harbor on our raft, and tow this oriental bird-cage
behind, and let it drift away whenever we choose.”

This felicitous expression was made by Stephen, of course.

This programme was carried out, and then the boys went home, feeling
that they had had a little satisfaction from Herriman, after all.

Although a crowd refused to gather on the banks of the stream, yet the
news of this exploit travelled throughout the village,--which established
moralizing George’s theory,--and as each hero passed through his doors,
a storm of righteous indignation burst over his devoted head; for very
properly, honest parents were scandalized to find that their children
could commit such atrocities.

Whether Bob still meditated vengeance is not known, as shortly after this
occurrence, Mr. Herriman borrowed some of Mr. Horner’s romances, which so
unhinged his mind that he turned gold-hunter,--or silver-hunter, he was
not morally certain which,--and removed, with his family, to a far-off
Territory, and the six heard of Bob no more.

Poor Bob! The horror of being swept over the falls made a deep, but not
lasting, impression on his mind.

As for the six boys, they profited little by that lesson.

It would be wise to close this chapter here; but doubtless the reader is
aware that the writer of this tale is not wise.

That night Marmaduke waded through the verb and adverb in five different
grammars:--one, a dog’s-eared, battered, and soiled volume, which his
father was supposed to have studied in his youth; another, a venerable
ruin, which, tradition said, had been his grandfather’s; still another,
his mother’s, whose bescribbled fly-leaves held the key to a long-buried
and almost forgotten romance; his little brother’s “Elementary;” and his
own “Logical and Comprehensive.”

What wonder is it that the poor boy went to bed with an aching head,
feeling, like Stephen, that it is “all a muddle,” and that he did not
understand it at all?

The object is not to ridicule the noble science of grammar, but to point
the finger of scorn at those grammarians who suppose that _children_ can
understand that science; and also to check those juveniles who flatter
themselves that they are perfect in it.



_Chapter XXIX._

A HORRIBLE PLOT.--THE HAUNTED HOUSE.


The summer holidays were again at hand. Before school closed, however,
the head master, Mr. Meadows, intended to give a prize to the “student”
who should write the best composition. Each one was at liberty to choose
his or her own subject; and the whole six--except, perhaps, Steve and
Jim--were resolved to do their best to win.

Of course this prize was to be given with due ceremony and parade. Still,
it was not thought that any thing specially noteworthy would take place,
and the affair would not be brought up except to show the mournful
blunder made by Will.

A few days before this, the four most distinguished heroes--Will,
Charles, Stephen, and George--assembled at their favorite resort, a mossy
bank bordering the river. Here they hatched a horrible plot--a plot
far exceeding in enormity and inhumanity the pitiful one contrived and
executed by Bob on this same river a week or so before.

In order to show that these boys had no notion to what lengths their
unchecked fancy might lead them, their whole conversation on this
memorable occasion is given.

“Boys,” Charles began, “I wish we could plan some amusement for the
holidays--something that would make it lively.”

“I think we have had enough of playing tricks,” Will said with disgust.

“We are older and wiser now than we used to be,” Charles replied, “and we
should have more sense than to get ourselves into trouble any more.”

“What about Bob’s punishment?” asked George. “Didn’t we get into trouble
enough then, and is that so very long ago?”

“Exceptions prove the rule!” Charles triumphantly retorted.

“Well, what is it that you mean to do?” Steve inquired lazily.

“Oh, I don’t know; nothing in particular;” Charles answered. “But let us
lay our heads together, and plan something startling.”

“Very good; but who is the one to be startled?” the Sage asked.
“According to all accounts, we boys have startled the inhabitants of this
village quite enough. Only the other day I heard a good old lady say, in
speaking of us, ‘Those awful boys! They carry consternation with them!’”

“Of course;” put in Steve. “And now that we’ve got our reputation up, we
must keep it up. It would be very wrong for us to let our talents dwindle
and rust away; so, Charley, if any new idea has come to you, let us know
it.”

“You all know the old house away up this river?” Charles asked.

“Well, I guess we are acquainted with it,” Will replied. “But what about
it? What could we do there?”

“It seems to me that it would be a good thing to go there and inspect it.
I never went through it, but I should like to do that now. And when we
get there, we should feel so romantic that we might hit on something--we
might even lay a plot!”

“What would the owner say to us for inspecting his house?” George asked.

“Don’t you know that it has no owner?” Charley asked, in some surprise.
“I’ve heard my father say that there has been a sign with ‘For Sale’
on it swinging there for twenty years. It’s such a crazy wreck that no
person will rent it; and I guess by this time it is a heap of ruins, and
not worth tearing down and carting away. There is only half an acre of
ground belonging to it, and likely that is full of great weeds. The man
who owns the place has more property, and he lets this go to ruin without
remorse; but every year he comes along and picks the ten or twelve apples
and pears off the old trees in the yard. He doesn’t care any more for it,
and the house has been empty so long that it’s called ‘Nobody’s House.’
No one cares to live in such a place, so lonesome and gloomy, and with
those ghostly fruit-trees and the neglected fence, all looking like
spectres. In fact, there is a story that the place is haunted!”

“You seem to know all about it, Charley,” said Steve. “I’ve seen it a
long way off, and I’ve heard that it is haunted, but that is all.”

“Yes, I asked pa to tell me about it, for I want to go and explore the
place some day,” Charles replied. “And it seems to me that it would be
fun for us _all_ to go some day. What a hubbub there would be if we all
got there together! And I’m certain the ‘owner’ wouldn’t care, if we tear
the old ruin all to pieces.”

“That’s a good idea!” said Steve, with sparkling eyes.

“Don’t you see, we might even take up our quarters there, it’s so far out
of the way,” Charles continued. “No one would come to molest us; for more
people than you suppose, believe the house is haunted, and never go near
it.”

“I see what you’re thinking of,” said Steve. “You mean to bring that old
ghost back to life!”

“Well, that might be done for a little by-play, but that isn’t what I
meant,” Charley returned. “I know that boys in stories try to raise a
ghost or two sometimes, when everything else fails them, but it wouldn’t
be a profitable business for us. We don’t want to copy after such
vagabond heroes; let us strike out in another line.”

“Well, if you have laid any plot, tell us what it is,” Stephen said
impatiently.

“Boys, I want to hatch a plot, with that shell of a house for our
head-quarters; but I want your help, for I don’t know how to go to work.
As I said before, I haven’t thought of any thing yet.”

“Don’t tell us what you ‘said before,’ Charley;” said Will. “It sounds
too much like a lecturer reminding the people of what he has said, just
as if he thought they didn’t pay attention enough to him to remember a
word of his speech.”

“Well, boys, I have an idea at last,” Charles said slowly, after a long
pause. “Let us persuade some one to go there, thinking a great villain
has a prisoner there.”

“Pshaw! Who would believe that!” said George, contemptuously.

“Wait till we get everything arranged,” Charles rejoined grimly. “This
is a good idea, George, and I can prove it to you. And now that I have
thought of it, I am going to work it out. We might even compose a letter,
begging for help, and seeming to come from some lonely prisoner in that
house, guarded by jailers and villains, and afraid of being put to death.”

“I don’t know who would be foolish enough to be caught by such a letter,”
George replied laughingly.

“Well, let us try it, anyway; and if we succeed it will be capital
sport,” said Stephen, interested already in the scheme. “But who will be
the victim, the fellow to be imposed on?” he asked suddenly. “Surely none
of us, after what we have said, will be foolish enough to be trapped.”

“Hardly,” said Charles, with a smile. “But Marmaduke isn’t with us; let
us make him the dupe.”

“Why single out Marmaduke?” asked Will.

“Well, the victim must be one of ourselves, and Marmaduke knows nothing
about our plot, of course. And besides, he is so full of mysteries and
romance that if he should get such a letter, he would believe every word
in it, and be mad to plan a rescue. His notions about such things are so
queer that it will do him good to be wakened up.”

“If Marmaduke is the one to be awakened,” George said, “I think your plan
may succeed very well; because, poor fellow, he is always expecting to
light on some prodigious mystery. I must give in, Charley, that it would
be fun to drop such a letter some place where Marmaduke would be sure
to find it, and then we could hide ourselves and see the result. How he
would rave at the thought of rescuing a captive!”

“Doesn’t it seem to you, boys, that it would be rather a mean trick to
play on anyone, especially on a schoolfellow?” Will asked.

“Certainly it seems mean,” Charles replied, “but it is only for fun, and
Marmaduke would enjoy it at the time, and soon get over his anger when
we explained everything. Of course, we will be and careful not to do
anything _too_ wicked.”

“Well, it is bad to stir up such a boys anger,” Will persisted.

“Let me improve on your plot,” Steve ventured to say. “Let us suppose
that a beautiful French young lady was stolen by an enemy of her father’s
and brought over to America, and imprisoned in ‘Nobody’s House.’ Let her
write a wild appeal for help, which we will drop in Marmaduke’s path.”

“That’s going a little too far,” Charley said decidedly. “I shouldn’t
like to meddle in such a desperate game as that.”

“Wouldn’t a French captive be apt to write a letter in her own language?”
Will asked, as though he were overseeing that scheme.

“That would be the fun of it,” Stephen answered. “A letter in genuine
French would draw a less romantic boy than Marmaduke.”

“Very true,” said George. “But could you write such a letter?”

“Of course not--Mr. Meadows himself couldn’t, perhaps. Ten to one,
Marmaduke would think he could do it perfectly.”

“Marmaduke may be rather foolish,” said Charles, “but I doubt whether he
would write such a letter, and then be imposed on by it!”

“Do you take me for a fool?” cried Stephen, with theatrical indignation.
“Now, Will’s cousin Henry can scribble French like a supercargo, Will
says--let us get him to do it.”

“The very thing!” cried Charles and George in a breath. “Come, Will, we
are going to do this, and you must help us,” the former requested.

“I don’t like your ideas at all, boys,” Will replied, “but if you are
bound to do it, why, I don’t want to be left out, and so I’ll write to
Henry, and get him to come here. He spoke of coming soon when he wrote
to me last; and now I’ll ask him to hurry along as soon as the holidays
begin.”

“You’re a jewel, Will!” all three exclaimed in excitement.

“Oh, we’ll hatch a famous plot, won’t we, boys?” and Steve, the speaker,
clawed the ground as though he were a demon or a hag.

“It’s my turn to suggest something now,” the Sage observed. “When
Marmaduke sets out for the prison-house, we, of course must go with him.
Let Henry and Stephen, or whoever we may think best, slip on in advance,
and represent the prisoner and the fiendish villain when we arrive.”

A shout of acclamation greeted this new proposal.

“The plot is getting pretty thick,” said Steve. “And now, what about the
ghost in the back-ground?”

“Oh, we might manage to have a ghost appear to Marmaduke, but we can
attend to that afterwards,” Charles returned. “Now, Will,” he added, “its
your turn to improve on our plot--what do you suggest?”

“I shall leave that for my cousin to do,” Will answered. “Unless I’m out
of my reckoning, he will make improvements on the original plan that will
astonish us all; for it is as natural for Henry to lay plots as it is for
Steve to play tricks.”

“Yes, Henry will make great improvements,” Charles commented. “Well, now
that it is settled that the thing is really to be, we must all vow to
keep it to ourselves, because if any more boys get hold of it they will
spoil everything.”

“Very true,” George observed. “Now, if we want our plot to work well, we
must go to this old building and explore it thoroughly, from the cellar
floor to the rafters. But our plot can’t come off till holidays begin,
nor till Henry gets here and understands it, so there will be plenty of
time.”

“If it is such a crazy old hulk,” Will said gravely, “ten to one
something will give way, and bury us all under the ruins.”

“We must take our chances,” Steve said heroically.

“There is one great objection to all this,” Will continued. “This
building is so far from our homes in the village.”

“Yes, that is too bad,” Steve sighed. “But we won’t mind that when we
consider all the fun in store for us. Why not go to the place now? Eh?
There’s lots of time, and we are so far on the way.”

“Hurrah!” cried the conspiring four. “Let us be off, as Steve says.”

They arose, and turned their faces up the river. The untenanted house
which was to be the field of operations was two miles farther up the
river, which flowed past it, but which, at that place, was so narrow that
it would require a very wide stretch of imagination to call it anything
else than a brook, or creek.

Stephen’s first proposal had been received, when fully explained, as so
decided an improvement that he now suggested another addition to the
plot. “Boys,” he said, “let us make a man of straw, or something, to look
like a scarecrow, and then stow it away in the house a day or two before
we do the rescuing. Then when Marmaduke and the rest of us arrive, we can
seize on it as the villain, and hang it to a fruit tree. Marmaduke can
be rescuing the prisoner at the time, and he’ll certainly think we are
hanging the persecutor.”

“We will see about that afterwards,” said George.

“Marmaduke has been more or less a Frenchman in his ideas ever since the
day he proudly wrote, ‘Nous a deux chiens,’ or in English, ‘We has two
dogs,’” Charles observed, intending to be very sarcastic.

But he could not speak French well--in fact, he could not speak it at
all. However, the others thought this must be a very weighty remark, and
so they laughed approvingly.

Then Charles continued, as though he took a fatherly interest in the lad:
“Perhaps this great conspiracy of ours may induce him to become a good
American again.”

Will’s conscience was now at work, and he said as severely as he knew
how: “It’s a shame to serve a boy of his notions such a boorish trick,
and you boys needn’t flatter yourselves that such a performance will do
him a bit of good. Let us explore the house as much as we please; but let
us give up the intention of preying on him.”

“No!” cried the others, with fixed determination, “We have hit on this,
and we’ll go through with it, if it makes our hair turn gray! Will, if
you want to leave us, after all, why, go ahead; but you would be a very
foolish fellow to do it. Come, now, give your reasons--what is there so
very wicked and horrible in our plot?”

“I am not a moralist, boys, and so I can’t explain it. All that I know
is, that it seems a mean thing to do. And, yes, I have a presentiment
that something terrible will happen.”

“So have I, boys,” Steve chimed in. “I have the worst kind of a
presentiment. But just to prove that presentiments are superstitions and
nonsense, I’m bound to help Charley work out his plot.”

“Well, then,” said Will resignedly, “if you _will_ do it, I promise to
stick by you through thick and thin.”

“Then it’s settled, boys,” said Charles eagerly. “And whatever happens,
we four will stick by each other, and hold on to our plot.”

“Yes,” commented the sage, bringing his learning into requisition, “we
four are a cabal, a faction, a junto, a party of intriguers, a band of--”

“--Of good-for-nothing school-boys,” Charles said quickly, not wishing to
be ranked as a greater personage than he was.

In due time the house was reached. It was a forlorn-looking building,
truly, and in a solitary place; but it was hardly so dilapidated as
Charles supposed. It was now old, uncared for, and weather beaten; but
when new, had been a handsome and pleasant house, suitable for a small
family. It was a story and a half in height, with four or five rooms on
the first floor and as many on the second. If built in a less dreary,
locality, it probably would never have been without a tenant. But the man
who built this wayside dwelling must have had more means than brains.

Even the rough boys of the village shunned this place; consequently,
after all these years, there was still here and there a whole pane of
glass in almost every window-sash. As for the doors, the best of them
had been taken away, and the two or three that remained, were, as may be
supposed, worthless and useless.

The floor of the first story was still sound. Up the creaking stairs the
plotters went recklessly, and found a state of even greater desolation
than below. The rooms here had never been particularly elegant, and now
they were filthy and horrible with accumulated dust, mould, and rubbish.
The roof was full of holes, through which the water evidently streamed
whenever it stormed. The roof was originally set off with two picturesque
chimneys; but inexorable Time had already demolished one, and was playing
havoc with the other.

Next they went to explore the cellar; but the earth had caved in and
partially filled it up, and it was so dark and loathsome that even the
hero Stephen hesitated to descend. Then, as the front door had been taken
away and the entrance secured with boards, they crawled through a window,
and once more gained the pure air.

All things considered, even a pirate would have shrunk from passing a
night in this house. But a peaceable, home-keeping ghost, in search of a
summer residence, could not have found a more suitable one than this. The
parlor would have served him admirably for a bed-room, while the dining
room could have been fitted up for a laboratory; and in case any chance
comers should intrude on him, he could have buried himself in the cellar,
where he would have been perfectly safe.

In fact, this was an excellent building for a ghost’s headquarters; but
it would require unlimited faith in romance to believe it a likely place
for a prison-house.

Evidently the plotters were dissatisfied with it, and Steve said
disconsolately, “Well, such a rum old bomb-shell of a hole I never saw! I
guess our plot will have to find other quarters, or else be given up.”

“Oh, we can come here and tinker it up,” Charles said hopefully.

“Yes, it’s bad enough; but it’s a good deal better than Charley seemed
to think,” Will observed. “As Steve says, or means, it isn’t exactly the
place that a French villain would choose for a prison, when the whole
world is before him.”

“Did we decide how the Frenchman was to bring his prisoner from France
to our sea-coast, and then on to this place?” George asked, beginning to
have a just appreciation of the difficulties that lay before them.

“It will be safe to leave all that for my cousin to arrange,” Will said
proudly. “He will make everything clear in the letter, I’m sure.”

“Of course he will,” Steve said promptly. “Now, I say, boys, there is one
thing that puzzles me: this place is worth exploring and I should like
nothing better than to ransack it again; but why have we never been here
before?”

“Exactly;” chimed in the Sage, as another doubt arose in his mind.
“Charley, if this place is really so worthless, and if it is free to all,
why haven’t we been in the habit of coming here often, to fool away our
time?”

Charley reflected a moment, and then said, boldly, “Well, if we look at
it as a play-house, it’s too far gone for that; and if we look at it as
a heap of romantic and interesting ruins, it isn’t gone far enough,--not
destroyed or broken down enough, for that;--so why should we want to come
here, except on account of our plot? There’s nothing else to draw us;
and ten to one we should never have thought of coming here at all, if it
hadn’t been for the plot. And as for being a place worth keeping up, I
don’t know about that; but the man it belongs to doesn’t seem to think it
is. Why, boys, we can have it all to ourselves; it will be just the place
for our prison.”

“Well,” said Steve, “by the time we get it cleaned, and scoured, and,
tinkered, and made respectable and ship-shape, we shall all be good
housekeepers, and housemaids, and masons, and carpenters, and tinkers,
and--and--. Boys,” suddenly, “we needn’t stand here staring in at this
window, when we haven’t been through the garden yet.”

The yard, or garden, was then viewed, as suggested; and certainly it
did not seem as though care or labor had been bestowed on it for many
years. It was overrun with a growth of luxuriant weeds and thistles; and
Charles,--the head plotter till Henry should arrive,--after escaping, by
a hair’s breadth, from being swallowed up in an out-of-the-way and only
partially covered old well, concluded that they had had glory enough for
one day, and proposed that they should go home.

So the heroic four turned their faces homewards, and jogged on, plotting
and exultant.

That night one of them was troubled with fitful and uneasy dreams,
in which he saw Marmaduke struggle manfully with frightful monsters,
fashioned of old clothes and villains; whilst hideous French whales
soared overhead, winked their wicked eyes, and swore they would catch
every boy and dismember him in the deserted and spectre-peopled house.

When the dreamer of this dream awoke, he muttered: “Well, this is a
presentiment; but, to prove that presentiments are humbugs, I’ll go
through with this plot of ours, if--”

Further comment is needless.

It is cruel in a romancer to anticipate, but sometimes it is necessary in
order to make both ends meet. In this case, it is justifiable; therefore
it may be said that as soon as the holidays began, frequent journeys
were made to ‘Nobody’s House,’ and the sound of the hammer and the saw,
together with strains of popular airs, rang out in its deserted chambers.
The plotters worked with a will, and with the utmost disregard for the
noxious vermin which abounded in their midst, and which they did not
attempt to exterminate. Their efforts were rewarded; for the house was so
transformed that the ghosts, who, in their heart of heart, they fancied
inhabited it, would have failed to recognize it.

In the upper story a dangerous place was found, where a person might fall
through the floor. This was marked out and avoided.

In this world everything proves useful one day or another; and this
house, after lying idle all these years, after being a nuisance to its
owner, a by-word in the community and a reproach to it, was at last to
prove of the greatest usefulness to these boys and to the writer of this
history.

It is now in order to return and chronicle the events that took place
before the holidays opened.



_Chapter XXX._

THE BLUNDERER AT WORK AGAIN.


Will was now at work on a very learned dissertation on “Philosophical
Ingenuity.” That is the name he gave it,--but the name had nothing
in common with the subject, “Socialism” would have been quite as
appropriate,--and according to his views, he handled it in a graphic,
original, and striking manner; and he was firmly convinced that he should
make a very good thing of it.

Poor boy, it was too bad, after all the pains he took.

What was too bad?

This. The same evening on which he wrote out his composition for the last
time, he sat up late and wrote to his cousin Henry, inviting him to come
and pay them a visit in the holidays.

When this boy (Will) gave Stephen gunpowder instead of fire crackers, and
again when he loaded Henry’s pistols with wads, his mistakes were glossed
over, and he himself was laughed at, rather than blamed. But _now_ the
truth must be made known; he cannot be excused any longer. Right over his
eyes, where the phrenologists locate order, there was a depression.

There, the secret is out, and the writer’s conscience is easy.

Boys, it is hard to have to deal with a hero who is not a paragon; but
you must be indulgent, and we will do our best.

After finishing and directing the letter to his cousin, Will went to bed
and slept peacefully, little dreaming of the thunderbolt which would soon
burst over his head, and which he himself had prepared.

Next morning he found his writing materials strewn over his table in
great confusion, and in a lazy, listless manner he set to work to put
them to rights.

In order to keep his composition, or “essay,” perfectly clean, he
intended to put it into an old envelope. Alas, poor boy, he made a
blunder, as usual; and mistaking the composition for the letter, he
thrust it into the envelope directed to Henry, which he sealed on the
spot, and stowed away in his pocket. Then he put the letter into the old
envelope and put it carefully away in his satchel.

Not one boy in fifty could possibly have made so egregious a blunder, but
nothing else could be expected from Will.

On this eventful day, the “essays,” as Teacher Meadows saw fit to call
them, were to be read, and the prize was to be delivered over to the
“successful competitor.”

Full of his expected triumph, Will set out for school. He _knew_ that
_his_ composition was good, and he could judge what the _others_’ would
be. He was a little uneasy about George and Charles, but as for the
rest--pshaw! the rest couldn’t write!

He imagined he saw his schoolmates watching him as he went home that
evening with about the biggest book ever printed. He even heard their
disappointed tones, and saw their sullen and envious looks, as he passed
through the streets.

And that old lady who often cast admiring glances towards him--she
would call next day and say, “Well, Mrs. Lawrence, your boy is just the
smartest boy in the whole village.”

In a day or so Stephen would drop in and let him know what was said about
it by the villagers in general, the schoolboys in particular.

And when his uncle and aunt heard the news, they would certainly be
overjoyed, and send him (just what he wanted, of course) a monkey! As
soon as it could be done, his father would buy him a little gun.

Full of these dreams, he went on, stopping at the post office to send, as
he supposed, his letter to Henry.

Time wore away, and the hour for the “essays” to be read, came at last.
Teacher Meadows took his seat, and they were laid on the desk before him.
Good man, he himself would read them all, lest the “composers” should
not do themselves justice.

Only a dozen or so had competed for the prize, but all these had done
their best, and the handwriting was so plain that it was a pleasure to
read it.

A few of the competitors’ parents and “well-wishers” were present, “to
see justice done to all,” as they pleasantly put it. But they served
only to increase the master’s pompousness and self-esteem, and the
“essayists’” bashfulness and inquietude; while they themselves were
surely neither very much instructed nor very much delighted.

In fact, the truth was probably forced home to the more intelligent of
the audience, that schoolboys and schoolgirls who would soar to the
pinnacle of fame by attempting to write beyond their capabilities,
generally find themselves floundering about in the slough of ignominious
failure.

Mr. Meadows certainly read the different compositions with great care and
earnestness, and took as much pains with the worthless ones as with the
tolerably good ones.

By some chance, Will’s was the last to be read, and dead silence was
observed till it was finished.

Whenever a new idea had struck the boy, he had set it down without the
slightest regard to consecutiveness; and if the same idea was afterwards
seen in a different light, he had promptly expressed his views, though in
the midst of a paragraph.

A mere handful of words had been sufficient for him on this occasion, and
these were repeated with unwearied persistency. A schoolboy writing a
letter excels in repetition, at least.

If either Mr. or Mrs. Lawrence had reviewed it for him it would not have
been so incomprehensible.

The letter ran as follows:

    DEAR HENRY,--I am going to write to you all about us boys and
    our doings, and tell you all about a great plot that all of us
    are going to have. I received your letter of last month safe
    and sound, and I expect you expected to hear from me right off.
    But, Henry, I’ve had all sorts of things to do, and just now
    we boys are trying for a prize. I expect it will be a beauty.
    I would not write till it’s all over, but we boys want me to
    write to you right off to come down and help us in a plot we’ve
    got made up to impose on one of our number. I’ve been puzzling
    over my essay for the prize for nearly three weeks or more (the
    boys here don’t know that) or I should have written before;
    and so, just to please them, I’m sitting up late and writing
    to-night instead of day after to-morrow.

    They expect it will be the most tremendous fun that ever was,
    and of course it will. I’m rather tired of playing tricks, but
    they say this isn’t playing tricks at all. In your last letter
    you asked me if the boys were the same rum old poligars that
    they used to be. I don’t know what that means, Henry, but I
    guess the boys are just the same--only worse. Well, Henry, I
    guess I’ll try and give you a better idea of them than I did
    when I was with you. You know all their names; so first there
    is Charley. He is a capital good sort of a fellow, and he often
    helps me. But he is a very queer sort of a fellow, and he
    thinks it’s tremendous big fun to use big words when he talks
    with us--well, so do the others. It seems natural for George to
    use them, but I don’t know why Steve does. I expect he thinks
    it’s tremendous big fun too.

    Stephen is a great fellow to play tricks. My father says if he
    lives, and keeps on at this rate, he and the law will meet with
    violence some of these days.

    But I hope Stephen will never get into such trouble. He makes
    us laugh more than all the other boys put together, and I
    expect when you come down and we get fairly started rescuing
    the captive, we’ll laugh ourselves sick in bed. Marmaduke, he’s
    the one, is not to see you till in the haunted house.

    Charley likes to have me tell him stories about the demon.
    Marmaduke--he’s the next one to tell about. We boys are not
    very well satisfied with the way we get on in French. We
    haven’t a genuine Frenchman for a master, as you have. We
    all like Mr. Meadows, but he has not the knack of making us
    understand French, though he is a splendid teacher in other
    things. But the boys all say that Marmaduke is satisfied.

    Because he can write “A red-haired sailor dressed in blue
    says the physician’s house is burnt,” “The king’s palace is
    built on the river,” “The neighbor’s wicked little boy has
    stolen the carpenter’s hammer,” and so on, he thinks he and
    the French language understand each other. Mr. Meadows himself
    isn’t satisfied with the Method he uses. One boy here says
    the reason he doesn’t get a better one is because he studied
    it when he was a boy, and, etc., etc. But that is a very mean
    thing to say, eh, Henry? and I don’t believe it a bit. That’s
    the reason we want you to come, to write us a good letter in
    French. George is a nice boy. He always says, look here, boys,
    when he has something on his mind. He reads a great deal, but
    it doesn’t spoil him from being a boy a bit. Ask him what
    he reads, and he’ll say, Oh, anything from an almanac to an
    unabridged dictionary, and I expect that is so. Marmaduke is
    just the wildest boy in his notions that I ever saw. The boys
    mean to take advantage of this, and delude him. But I have
    explained all that. Jim always, generally, goes with us, and he
    is the most first-rate coward that I ever saw. We’ve shut him
    out this time. But he is a nice fine boy in lots of things.

    In reading over what I’ve written I’m afraid I haven’t
    explained our plot at all, Henry; but it’s too long to explain
    now, because I’m tired, Henry, and I expect to see you soon,
    Henry, and then I can explain it better than I could in
    writing. Perhaps I’ve written too much about the boys, but you
    know just how much I think of them. They are all good fellows
    and we would do almost anything for each other. We don’t care
    much for the other boys here, only ourselves. I can tell you
    this much about our plot, we pretend to rescue a prisoner out
    of an old house. George calls it the necropolis, and Charley
    the scare-crow’s factory; but Stephen has a better name--at
    least, it sounds better. He calls it the Wigwam of the Seven
    Sleepers. Last time I forgot to ask you to excuse my writing,
    so I might as well now, this time. I’m too tired to write any
    more this time, and my letter is pretty long, anyway. Don’t
    wait to write again, but come as soon as possible next week,
    for our plot will come off as soon as possible.

    I am, I was, and I always mean to be,

                                          YOUR SLEEPY COUSIN WILL.



_Chapter XXXI._

WILL MENDS HIS WAYS.


Teacher Meadows read this remarkable letter as though uncertain whether
he were asleep or awake. It would be difficult to describe the effect on
the “audience.” They were not particularly emotional people, but this
letter seemed to affect them strongly.

Poor Will! his cup of sorrow was full! The first words told him the
mistake he had made, and he listened, with the anguish of despair, while
Teacher Meadows read on remorselessly to the end. He could neither creep
under his seat nor steal out of the apartment. He knew that every eye was
fixed upon him--oh, what would people think! Once, when the letter was
nearly finished, he ventured to glance towards some of his school-mates;
but their faces were so full of anger, astonishment, and horror, that he
hastily looked in another direction.

But in the midst of all this suffering, there was one consolation--his
parents were unable to be present. He knew how grieved they would feel,
and so he rejoiced at their absence, and bore his misery as patiently as
he could.

And yet he was tortured almost beyond endurance. Oh, why had he written
so freely about his school-fellows in this letter? Why had he written so
disrespectfully about Mr. Meadows, who was always so kind to him?

Teacher Meadows, who scarcely ever spoke unkindly to his pupils, now said
to the hero, in a constrained and harsh voice: “I cannot understand how
any boy could think such a subject--say, rather, _want_ of subject--and
so free an expression of his views, could possibly win him the prize.”

In a low and faltering voice, Will said something about “a great mistake.”

“Oh, a _mistake_,” said Mr. Meadows. Then he added sarcastically: “That
is too bad; for if your friend Henry had received this letter, he would
have had a _very_ vivid idea of your comrades’ characteristics and of
your teacher’s incapacity.”

Then, remembering that others were present, he checked himself, and said
more mildly, “Will, I am disappointed in you; I had formed a much better
opinion of you. There, let it pass; I shall say no more about it.”

Poor boy, he was certainly to be pitied! Censure was to him intolerable;
and censure before all these people! Truly, he was being punished for his
carelessness.

After all, he had not said anything so very wicked about either teacher
or school-fellows; and perhaps an impartial judge would have decided
that, all things considered, the writer of such a letter deserved the
prize. But Mr. Meadows’ judgment was biassed; he felt insulted; and he
thought otherwise.

“But,” chuckles the astute reader, “surely Marmaduke could not be duped
after that!” We beg your pardon, gentle reader; but if you think that,
you are not skilled in the art of writing stories.

Marmaduke, also, was unable to attend school that day; and if you read
the letter carefully once more, you will perceive that it is so vague and
incoherent that no one except the four in the plot could make anything
out of it. Those who heard it would not perceive that any great danger
menaced Marmaduke; and even if they should warn him to be on his guard,
he would hardly connect this letter with the one he was to receive in due
time. No; Marmaduke would be as unsuspicious as ever, no matter how much
he might be warned.

And thus it happened that Will’s muddled wits preserved the plot.

But the other boys! Ah, they had reason to feel aggrieved and insulted!

All except George were indignant at poor foolish Will. Mr. Meadows had
decided that the odds were in favor of George, and, much to the chagrin
of four ink-loving youths who _knew_ they would win, he bore away the
prize. He was a philosopher, but not a stoic, and now supreme content
played over his visage. In fact, he felt so joyous and exultant that he
could laugh at Will’s blunder.

Not so, the others. Out of sight and hearing of the people, they pounced
on Will, (figuratively speaking,) and glared at him with the most
ferocious and horrible expression of countenance that they could put on.

Even good-natured Charles was vexed to be thus openly criticized, and he
said sullenly, “Well, Will, I guess you needn’t call our plot mean after
this.”

Will heaved a sigh, but said nothing.

“Look here, boys,” the winner of the prize interposed; “suppose that one
of us had been asked by a cousin a long way off to give an opinion of his
school-fellows, would it have been as mild and as sincere as the one Will
gave? I know that a great many boys would have said far meaner things
than Will did; for, when a boy comes to speak of his school-fellows, he
will hardly ever say a word in their praise. I’ve often wondered why it
is,” musingly, “and I think sometimes a boy is a blockhead, anyway. Well,
perhaps it isn’t so; perhaps I’m mistaken. Come, Charley; be just to poor
Will.”

“Listen to the orator!” mockingly observed a defeated competitor [not
one of the six]. “He talks as though he made it a business to study a
‘school-fellow’s’ habits!”

“The prize has made an oracle and a hero of him,” chimed in another, who
probably felt that there was more or less truth in the Sage’s remarks.

“What’s the name of his prize, anyway?” queried still another defeated
one, with considerable interest in his tones, but not deigning to glance
towards the victor.

“Oh, it’s some mighty _good_ book, I suppose;” answered the first
speaker. “In fact, so _good_, that it’s _bad_!”

The four inky-fingered youths who _knew_ they would win, thought this so
comical that they laughed derisively.

George’s eyes flashed fire and his blood boiled, but he said, as calmly
as he could, “I’ve often noticed that boys that guess at things hardly
ever hit the mark. Now, your ideas about this prize are very wild; for
it’s about a midshipman’s cruise round the world.”

The four defeated ones scowled at him, and one of them said, as he turned
to go, “Well, boys, we might as well be off, for these fellows don’t care
for us, they say.”

And they strode away, leaving the four plotters together.

It may not be pertinent to the subject to picture here so dark a side of
life, but now the reader will understand why the six avoided the society
of the other boys of the village, and clung to each other. Poor fellows,
with all their faults, they were free from such jealous passions.

As soon as they found themselves alone, George said eagerly, “Come,
Charles, don’t be too hard on Will.”

“Well, George, I don’t know but that you’re right in what you said,”
Charles admitted; “but it was very unpleasant for us, and what will
people think?”

“Pshaw! what do we care about that!” the Sage exclaimed contemptuously,
hugging the prize to his bosom. “After all, I don’t know but that Will
said more in favor of us than against us; and wasn’t it worse for him
than for us? If he can bear it, _we_ can.”

“George is quite right,” Stephen declared. “Will is more to be pitied
than all of us put together.”

“I don’t want anybody’s pity,” Will said sourly.

“Marmaduke and Jim got it the worst,” said Steve. “The only thing that
troubles me at all, is that our plot is spoiled;” in a doleful tone.

“Spoiled! How is it spoiled?” the Sage inquired. “Marmaduke wasn’t there
to hear the letter, and no one else could make any sense out of it.--I--I
mean,” he added quickly, “no one would know what it meant.”

“Well, how are we to patch it up again?” Charles asked uneasily.

“I think we had all better make up friends with Will this minute, and
get him to write to his cousin again,” George said, smiling brightly.

Charles and Stephen were of the same opinion, but poor Will was in a bad
humour, and he said sullenly, “I won’t write to him any more; so that you
needn’t make up with me on that account.”

The boys were appalled. George’s words had revived hope in their breast,
but now it seemed that their darling scheme must fail; for, without
Henry to write the letter and help them forward, it would be only a
humdrum affair; and unless Will would send for him, he perhaps would not
come--or, if he should come, he would spend all his time with Will, and
have nothing to do with them. Consequently, the three crowded round Will,
made him so sensible of his own importance, and played their parts so
well, that he finally smiled, relented, and promised to do any thing they
wished.

“And you will write soon, won’t you?” Charles asked eagerly.

“Yes; I’ll write as soon as I can;” Will returned. “Say, boys,”
anxiously, “do any of you know what Mr. Meadows did with my--my letter?”

“Yes; he kept it for a witness against you;” wickedly and promptly
answered quick-witted Stephen.

“Jim is the next one for us to deal with,” said George; “and,” sighing
profoundly, “there’s the rub!”

Then Charles, who had been reading a novel of the “intensely interesting”
sort, said jocosely, “Perhaps we can buy his silence.”

“As the nervous old gentleman said when he gave a nickel to a little boy
to stop his noise,” Steve subjoined.

“He will have to be soothed and let into our councils,” the Sage
observed, “and perhaps it will be just as well, because we shall need
more than five to manage our plot, and ‘the more, the merrier,’ you know.”

“I know something, too; I know that ‘too many cooks spoil the pudding,’”
said Steve, in a tone of melancholy foreboding.

“Stephen Goodfellow, we are not cooks!” Charles retorted.

Soon afterward the plotters separated; Will, to go sorrowfully homeward;
George, to hasten gladly to his parents and be congratulated on his
success; Charles and Stephen to find, “soothe,” and let into their
councils, the boy called Jim.

It is sufficient to say that Jim was overjoyed to take part in their
plot, though vexed at them for having kept him in the dark so long, and
at Will for having spoken of him as a “first-rate coward.”

Thus the bad effects of the exchanged composition were remedied, though
mischief enough had been done by causing Teacher Meadows to have a bad
opinion of Will. And Will, foolish boy, fancied that by this means he had
been cheated out of the prize.

Perhaps it was the best thing that could possibly have happened to him,
for, from that day forward, he cultivated order so assiduously and
determinedly that in course of time he became more orderly than even
George. He vowed to wreak dire vengeance on himself if such a mishap
should ever again befall him, and it was noticed by his mother and
schoolfellows that his ridiculous blunders were on the decrease. With
all his belongings in perfect order, it was much easier to keep out of
trouble; especially, as he was also more circumspect in all his movements
than heretofore.

An additional advantage. Two bumps, one over each eye, took root, and
grew, and grew, and continued to grow, till they bulged out exceedingly.
Not knowing the cause of this, Will continued to cultivate order, and
his bumps continued to grow and bulge out, till he became the most
distinguished looking youth in the village.

Boys, never mind the bumps, but take the moral to heart, and if any of
you are untidy, reform before your want of order exposes you to disgrace
and pain, as Will’s did him.



_Chapter XXXII._

THE ARCH-PLOTTER ARRIVES.


On the next day Will wrote another letter to his cousin, in which he
invited him to come and pay them a visit. He gave a rambling explanation
of the “essay,”--which, he thought, would not only puzzle, but also
astound, poor Henry--and avoided mentioning his school-fellows at all.
In fact, he had resolved in his mind that hereafter, in writing letters,
he would confine himself to the matter in hand, and not discourse on the
virtues and vices, the wisdom and folly, of his school-fellows. As for
the plot, he said simply that they had “a game on foot,” filling up his
letter by giving an interesting record of the weather for the past month,
and a touching account of a lump on his horse’s hind leg.

Will posted his letter with a light heart, feeling that his presentiments
must have related to the exchanged composition, and that now all would be
well.

In the eloquent words of sundry novelists: “It was well for him that he
could not look into the future.”

The holidays had now begun, and, as was said above, the plotters spent a
great part of their time in fitting up the deserted house, which was to
be the scene of their comedy--or tragedy, as the event should prove.

Having done this, the plotters, Jim included, again assembled in solemn
council, to deliberate on certain features of their plot. They wished
to make themselves thoroughly acquainted with all the details, so that
everything should work smoothly.

“Now, when Henry comes,” said Will, “we must meet him at the station, and
keep him out of Marmaduke’s sight till he sees him in the ‘Wigwam’ as
the captive. Marmaduke will be all unprepared, and will take him for the
captive without a doubt.”

“Yes,” Charles assented; “but will Henry consent to be rigged out as a
French captive?”

“Oh, he will have to do that,” said Will; “he will have to do whatever we
tell him; and _we_ shall have to do whatever he tells us. Oh, we shall
work together just like a--a--like a--”

“Like the works of a clock,” suggested Steve, never at a loss for a
simile, however inapt it might be.

“Well,” Charles observed, “let us make a being of straw, or old clothes,
to look like a discomfited tramp in effigy, and then hang him out of a
window up-stairs. Marmaduke will take it for the persecuting captor,
of course. And besides, we shall want something to do while Henry and
Marmaduke are rescuing each other. This is your idea, Steve,” he added,
“and I give you all the credit for it.”

All the plotters were in favor of doing this, and so _that_ question was
settled.

Jim--who bore the plotters a grudge for not having acquainted him with
their designs till forced to do so--was suddenly struck with a peculiarly
“bright” idea. He said nothing to them, but chuckling grimly to himself,
he muttered fiendishly: “It would serve ’em right, I guess, anyway!”

Stephen was suddenly struck with a horrible fear; he gasped faintly:
“Boys!--say, boys! Oh, dear! Boys, won’t the French young lady be
supposed to speak in her own language? And how could Marmaduke understand
that?--that is, if Henry could speak it right along?”

The plotters were appalled. With consternation in every face, they stared
at each other in utter hopelessness, whilst their beloved plot tottered
on its foundations.

But presently the Sage, with his customary philosophy, came to the
rescue. Said he: “Look here, boys, all that is necessary is to have
the captor and the wicked jailers teach the beautiful captive to speak
English, broken English, a little. Alas, it seems to me that this captive
will be an endless trouble to us, and I think Henry will wish himself
himself again. Yes, I shall be glad when its all over.”

“Never mind;” said Stephen. “Now, this broken English will settle _that_
question; but, Will, can Henry speak broken--I mean _cracked_--English?”

“Of course he can,” said Will confidently; “he can do anything.”

The self-styled conspirators breathed freely, for their plot was now
established on a firm foundation.

The work of fashioning a “being” progressed rapidly; and the day
before Henry arrived they put the finishing touches to an object that
was a monstrosity indeed. If the curious reader wishes to know what
this object, or “being,” or monstrosity, looked like, let him turn
to the picture of the fourth giant in his baby brother’s “handsomely
illustrated” “Jack the Giant-Killer.” The resemblance between that giant
and this “being” is striking.

Yes; they had hit upon their vocation at last; and if they should remove
to the haunts of savages in the Polynesian islands, or in the unexplored
regions of Africa, and set up in business as idol-makers, their fame and
fortune would soon be an accomplished fact.

But this story drags already; so let it be sufficient to add that the
“impostor,” as they fondly called it, was lovingly and secretly conveyed
to the lone house, and hidden away till it should be needed.

Thus time passed with the plotters. They often had great difficulty in
keeping all their movements and plans a secret from Marmaduke; more than
once he came upon them in their journeys to and fro, and it was only by
using the greatest tact that they prevented him from following them to
the old building.

Poor Marmaduke! he was at a loss to know why the boys should act in so
strange a manner. He would come upon them sometimes, seated, and talking
earnestly; but the moment they caught sight of him, all were silent. At
last he began to think that he had offended them in some way--how, he
could not guess. However, the time when he should be rudely awakened was
at hand.

Henry Mortimer, the boy-lover of the sweet little blue-eyed heroine,
was somewhat surprised to receive through the post a very learned
dissertation on “Philosophical Ingenuity;” but two days afterwards
Will’s letter of explanation and invitation followed it, and then he was
all eagerness to be off, as he anticipated having a delightful visit
with his cousin and his aunt. But there were other reasons why he was
glad to go away from home for a few days, or even weeks. _His_ school,
also, had closed for the holidays; and consequently, he saw but little
of--(It must be tiresome to the reader to see the writer of this history
continually using circumlocution in speaking of this little girl, but
as there are private reasons why her name should not be made known,
he [the helpless reader] will have to make the best of it.) Moreover,
a handsome and clever youth, a first cousin of the little blue-eyed
heroine’s, was spending the holidays at her parents’, with her elder
brother; and Henry’s feverish imagination (poor boy, he was jealous as
ever) immediately conjectured that he and she would fall in love with
each other! To be sure they were first cousins; but Henry had latterly
taken to the bad habit of reading English novels, and so he let his
fears get the better of his judgment, and thought it only logical that
she should eventually shake him off, and marry the cousin. As if to
confirm his fears, he had seen her, the heroine who had given him the
glass ink-bottle, walking down the side-walk, accompanied by the stalwart
cousin. This had worked his jealous passions up to boiling heat, but
feeling his utter helplessness, he had affected to be unconcerned; and
now, to prove how little he cared, he would go away on a visit, and
stay--well, _perhaps_ he might stay two weeks.

Preparations were immediately begun, but it was hard for Mr. and Mrs.
Mortimer to part with their son, if for only a short time. The “game on
foot” hinted at in the letter troubled the latter--the more so, as she
was aware of her son’s recklessness, and was firmly persuaded that her
young nephew was totally devoid of common sense. But, at last, when the
holidays were a week old, the redoubtable hero departed, with repeated
warnings to keep out of danger, and to be very, _very_ careful of
himself, ringing in his ears.

The same day Will was delighted in two different ways. He received a
telegram, directed to _himself_. Delight number one.

The telegram ran as follows:--

    “Your cousin Henry will be there to-morrow morning; meet him.

                                                      “M. MORTIMER.”

Delight number two.

Will hastened to inform his fellow-plotters of this good news, and joy
reigned among them all.

The next morning came, and with it came Cousin Henry. Each one of the
heroes, except Marmaduke, was at the depot to welcome him; each one was
struck with his commanding appearance; each one thought what a beautiful
heroine he would make. Proudly, but very awkwardly, Will introduced them
to each other, and then proposed to his cousin that he should bind a
handkerchief loosely over his head, so that it should partially conceal
his features.

“What for?” asked Henry, with surprise. “I haven’t the tooth-ache, nor
I’m not ashamed to be seen.”

“Yes, but there’s a boy here not in our plot; and if he should happen to
see you, all would be spoiled,” Will pleaded.

“We might meet him, any minute, Henry, for he’s always prowling round at
this time of day,” Stephen chimed in.

Stephen and Henry looked each other full in the face: congenial spirits
met.

“Well,” said Henry resignedly, “go ahead, and trick me out as you
please.” Then, a woe-begone look overspreading his face, he added: “There
is no one here to know me, so that it makes no difference how I am
trussed up.”

Ah! his heart was with the loved ones at home, and he cared little what
these boys did with him.

But “tricked out” and “trussed up!” Those words took well with the simple
village boys; they held their breath for admiration.

Then the cleanest handkerchief (which was Henry’s own) that could
be found, was bound about his head, so as to flap over his mouth
unpleasantly, and wanton in the sultry July breeze.

Needless precaution, for nothing was seen of Marmaduke.

Weary as Henry must have been after his long journey, he was hurried away
to one of the boys’ retreats, in a retired quarter of Mr Lawrence’s
garden. At first the boys were quite reserved, for Henry had been
represented to them as a very extraordinary personage; but in the course
of half an hour they became as well acquainted with him as if they had
known him from the days of the plesiosaurus dolichodeirus.

For a full hour they talked almost at random; narrating their late
adventures with Bob, touching gingerly upon Will’s last lamentable
blunder, and giving a minute, but bewildering and disjointed, account of
their darling scheme.

Then, after Henry had received confused notions of various matters, the
party dispersed; and the poor boy was allowed to see his aunt and uncle,
wash, partake of some food, and snatch a wink of sleep.

They had appointed to meet early in the afternoon, to discuss their plot
in all its bearings, and to have Henry compose the vexatious letter; but
he and Will spent a short but very pleasant time in each other’s company,
and when the hour came for them to repair to the rendezvous, the former
had grasped the boys’ idea, and mapped out his own course.

To say that Henry was delighted with this plot, would be to do him gross
injustice--in fact, to speak out boldly, since yesterday the writer has
racked his brains in a vain endeavor to hit upon some single adjective
that would adequately describe the boy’s ecstasy.



_Chapter XXXIII._

“A LESSON IN FRENCH.”


“Here we are!” Steve joyously exclaimed, as the last one of the plotters
arrived at the rendezvous in Mr. Lawrence’s garden. “And now, then, let
us go to work.”

“Are you perfectly sure this Marmaduke will believe the letter is
genuine, and fly to the rescue?” Henry asked dubiously.

“He would believe anything, Henry,” Charles rejoined “And the more
romantic the letter is, the more he will believe it.”

“Why,” said Steve, “I shouldn’t be surprised if he falls in love when he
meets you all tricked up--tricked _out_--as a heroine!”

Henry smiled grimly, but said nothing.

“Oh, no,” said George dogmatically. “Henry’s eyes are blue, and so are
Marmaduke’s; and you know--at least, I’ve often read--that people alike
in that respect seldom fall in love with each other.”

Oh, how indignant Henry was! Who was this impertinent little boy, who had
opinions (and such opinions!) on all topics?

“Are you in the habit of reading love-stories?” he asked curiously.

“No,” said the Sage slowly, “I’ve never read many genuine love-stories; I
don’t care much for them; they’re not solid enough.”

“You’ll see the day when you’ll care to read nothing else,” said Henry,
melodramatically.

Perceiving that the plotters were looking at him intently, he said
hurriedly, for he did not wish these boys to guess his secret, “You
haven’t told me yet when the plot is to come off.”

“We never settled that ourselves; but if to-morrow evening is pleasant,
let us go then,” said Will.

“We have had so many unfortunate expeditions in the night that I think we
had better set some other time,” the Sage observed.

“The evening is the time, of course;” said Henry decisively. “We can take
care of ourselves, I think, if we try. To-morrow forenoon I must disguise
myself and go and see this old house with some of you; and then, as we
are coming back, if the rest of you could come up with Marmaduke, I could
hide, and look on while he ‘finds’ the letter. Have you settled that
point yet?”

“Yes,” said Charles, “we planned to fix the letter in a bottle, and fling
it into the river a few rods above him. The river, you know, flows past
the house; so that when he reads the letter he’ll think the prisoner
threw the concern into the river, and that it floated down. Marmaduke
will think that is romance itself.”

“I understand,” Henry commented; “and when we write the letter we can say
something to that effect. Now, what do you say to mixing up a priest in
the plot?”

“A priest?” they asked, at a loss to guess his intent.

“Yes, a poor old priest, that found out the villain in his capturing
schemes, and had to be seized and brought along, or else made away with.

“I--I don’t--see why,” Charles stammered.

“Will tells me that Marmaduke is to suppose I’m the captive, and that I’m
to be dressed accordingly,” Henry said lazily. “Now, if you boys can’t
see what I mean, keep your eyes and ears open, and when the time comes,
there will be so much the more sport for you.”

The plotters did not see what Henry was driving at; but, thinking it must
be an “improvement” that had suggested itself to him, they were content
to wait.

“Now, we must all swear that none of us will laugh, no matter how droll
things may be,” Will observed.

Henry could never be guilty of such a misdemeanor. He was a boy who could
do and say the most absurdly ridiculous things without the slightest
smile on his face; and the others had tolerable control over their facial
muscles.

“Don’t be too hard on Marmaduke, Henry;” said Charles, still at a loss to
conjecture to what use the imaginary priest was to be put, and beginning
to fear that some great danger menaced hapless Marmaduke.

“I will be careful,” Henry replied.

“About the letter--let us write it,” Steve cried, impatiently.

“I have the materials to write it in the rough,” said Henry. “To-night I
shall polish it, and write it off on French note paper, and to-morrow I
shall hand it over to you.”

“Make the letter very strong,” Charles suggested. “The more extraordinary
and whimsical it is, the more poor deluded Marmaduke will be delighted.
Poor fellow, if it is hard to make it out, he will stammer over it till
his face and hands get damp with sweat.”

“Doesn’t he understand French very well?” Henry asked.

“None of us do,” Charles dolefully acknowledged.

“Well, is he in the habit of wandering through the dictionary?”

“I--don’t--know,” said Charles, wondering what Henry was driving at now.

“Well, then, I will run the risk,” said the master-plotter, like the hero
he was.

Not allowing the curious boys to ask any questions, he continued: “As
you don’t understand French very well, I must read the letter carefully
to you to-morrow, for it would be jolly fun if none of you could make it
out. Well, fire ahead, and I’ll write; but after I polish it, your letter
may be very different from the original draft.”

With that he produced pencil and paper, and then slowly, like a
blood-thirsty author hatching his plot, a draught was made of the letter;
each particular, as it occurred to the boys, being set down at random.
When finished, it was, like Will’s letter, so incoherent that it would
give a person a headache to read it. But in their own room that night
Henry wrote and “polished,” whilst Will looked for words and phrases
in his dictionary. They worked long and carefully, and about midnight
the letter was transcribed for the last time; and with dizzy head and
heavy, blinking eyes, poor Henry tumbled into bed, saying, drowsily, “I
have portentous ap--apprehensions that by--by to-morrow night--I shall
need--need some--some Cayenne pepper mixture.”

But he slept long and well, and felt himself again the next morning.

We give the letter in French, just as Henry wrote it. This is not
done because of a morbid love of writing something in a foreign
language--which seems to be so strong in some people, whether they
understand it or not--but because of three very good reasons: First,
to show the length to which the boys went in carrying out their plot;
secondly, to give the good-natured reader an insight into Henry’s
character--for a man is best known by his writings; thirdly, because it
is a well-known fact that intelligent youths who are studying a foreign
language have an eager desire to read, or attempt to read, whatever they
can find in that language; and it is well to gratify such healthy desires.

After holding forth in this strain, perhaps it will be as well to
observe, that the youth who expects to perfect himself in French by a
careful perusal of this letter will be most bitterly deceived.

One word more: Henry, and Henry only, is responsible for this letter,
therefore all the praise must be given to him. But is it reasonable to
suppose that the French Academy will survive the publication of this
letter?

The envelope enclosing the letter bore the following superscription:

“A celui qui trouvera: Lisez le contenu de cette lettre sans délai!”

“To the finder: Read the contents of this letter without delay!” as Henry
read it to the boys.

That is good; that is orthodox.

The letter ran as follows:

    O lecteur, je suis prisonnière! Un méchant homme m’a prise, et
    m’a emportée de mon pays. Je suis la fille d’un des seigneurs
    de la France, le Duc de la Chaloupe en Poitou. Un des ennemis
    de mon père--quoiqu’il soit le meilleur homme du monde, il ne
    laisse pas d’avoir ses adversaires, mais c’est parce qu’il est
    favori de notre empereur puissant, Napoléon trois--je répète,
    un de ses ennemis, un faquin impitoyable--un _misérable_--un
    DÉMON, considéra tous les moyens de le perdre.

    Enfin, voyant qu’il n’a pas d’autre moyen de blesser mon papa,
    ce monstre résout de lui dérober sa fille. Il ourdit finement
    sa trame, et conspire à dresser des embûches pour m’attraper.
    Il fait emplette d’un yacht à vapeur, un vaisseau bon voilier,
    et il l’équipe. Puis il ancre dans une petite crique, près du
    château de mon père. Ne songeant pas au danger, mon précepteur
    et moi nous sortons pour voir ce vaisseau étranger; et en nous
    promenant le long du rivage le capitaine nous prie d’aller
    à bord, pour en faire le tour. Nous le font; mais à peine
    sommes-nous montés sur la tillée, qu’on nous saisit et nous
    enferme dans deux petites cabines! O perfide! il s’empare
    facilement de sa prise! Et moi! Depuis ce moment j’ai éprouvé
    beaucoup de malheurs.

    Ses drôles ingambes se mettent en train; l’équipage lève
    tout de suite l’ancre; le pompier vole à sa pompe à feu; les
    matelots déferlent les voiles; bientôt le yacht vogue; tout à
    l’heure il marche à pleines voiles. La fenêtre treillissée de
    ma cabine, ou prison, donne sur la demeure de mes ancêtres, et
    je vois courir ça et là nos serviteurs, avec des cris aigres
    de chagrin et d’horreur. Trop tard! le maroufle s’évade avec
    sa captive! Oh, mon cher père et ma chère mère! Qu’êtes-vous
    devenus!

    Le yacht a marché quelques heures quand il entre un homme dans
    ma cabine, suivi de mon précepteur, le bon prêtre. Je reconnais
    Bélître Scélérat, l’ennemi de mon papa! C’est lui qui m’a
    captivée. “Tranquillisez-vous,” me dit-il; “je ne vous ferai
    pas de mal. Je suis l’ennemi de votre père le duc, mais je ne
    suis point votre ennemi. J’en userai bien avec vous, tant que
    vous n’essaierez pas de vous échapper. Ce prêtre sera votre
    instituteur comme a l’ordinaire; et vous pouvez y être aussi
    heureuse que si vous étiez chez vos parents.” Je le prie de
    me rendre, mais j’ai beau supplier. Le prêtre, à son tour,
    raisonne avec lui, mais le monstre hausse les épaules et il est
    sourd à nos prières.

    Après un voyage de long cours nous abordons en
    Amérique--c’est-à-dire, je crois que c’est ce pays. Un complice
    de mon capteur l’aide a transporter le prêtre et moi dans
    le sein du pays, où l’on a préparé une prison pour nous. Je
    fus captivée le cinq mai; c’est maintenant le dix juillet.
    Il y a donc soixante-six jours que je n’ai vu mes parents!
    J’ai passé le temps dans solitude et tristesse. Le bon prêtre
    m’encourage, mais il est le seul sur qui je puisse compter. Ah!
    je deviendrai folle si personne ne vient me secourir.

    Il semble que je sois près d’un chemin de fer, parce que
    j’entends quelquefois le hennissement du cheval de fer. La
    prison dans laquelle je me trouve couronne la cime d’une
    petite colline, auprès laquelle il serpente un beau courant.
    Quant à la prison, elle est fortifiée en forteresse; et le
    prêtre et moi nous sommes gardés comme des bêtes sauvages par
    les guichetiers durs. Le voisinage est la solitude même. Pour
    surcroît de malheur, la place est l’abord de revenants! J’avais
    coutume chez moi de rire de l’idée de spectres, mais j’ai vu
    dans cette prison une infinité d’affreuses apparitions, de
    lutins ailés.

    Bélître Scélérat nous traite passablement, c’est-à-dire, il
    ne nous menace pas. Il ne nous voit pas souvent, comme il
    va partout le pays, pour conférer avec ses agents, ou bien
    il court la mer en forban. Ses geôliers, pourtant, ont soin
    de nous, et ils nous gardent rigoureusement. Je n’ai jamais
    été hors de l’enclos, et toutes les fois que j’y vais pour
    aspirer de l’air frais les geôliers montent la garde pour me
    surveiller. Bélître Scélérat dit qu’il m’affranchira aussitôt
    que mon papa lui paiera une rançon énorme; mais il ajoute qu’il
    compte me tenir prisonnière long-temps, pour que mon papa paie
    la rançon promptement.

    J’ai écrit cette lettre en secret, et j’ai dessein de la mettre
    en sûreté dans une bouteille. Puis j’essaierai de la jeter
    dans le ruisseau, dans l’espérance que quelqu’un la trouvera.
    Lecteur, ayez pitié de moi! Venez à mes secours, ou c’est fait
    de moi! Je vis en espoir d’être sauvée. Suivez le cours dans
    lequel vous trouvez cette lettre, et vous arriverez à la maison
    qui est ma prison. Si vous ne pourrez me délivrer, envoyez ma
    lettre au Duc de la Chaloupe, et il viendra avec une armée pour
    me sauver. Hélas! peut-être mon illustre père est-il mort!

    Si le lecteur est à même de me sauver qu’il se dépêche car
    Bélître Scélérat ne sera pas à la maison cette semaine, et les
    gardes sont plus poltrons que braves. Ainsi mon élargissement
    se fera aisément! Mon père le duc récompensera qui que ce soit
    qui me sauve, j’en suis sûre. Peut-être sa majesté l’empereur
    desire-t-il encore un général. Voulez-vous être ce personage
    honoré? Mon père le duc est un de ses conseillers:--le sage
    entend à demi-mot!

    J’écris mon placet en français, parce que je n’entends bien
    aucun autre langage; mais si le découvreur n’est pas en état
    de le prouver,--c’est-à-dire, si je suis en Amérique, où l’on
    ne parle point français, il ne faudra pas qu’il la détruise.
    Il pourra trouver aux environs quelqu’un qui sait le français,
    car ma langue incomparable est sue par toutes les parties de la
    terre.

    J’attends ma liberté. Venez avec des hommes braves, et les
    projets de mon persécuteur seront renversés. Hâtez vous.

                                SAUTERELLE HIRONDELLE DE LA CHALOUPE.

This is the letter as Henry wrote it. Lest the reader should not be able
to make out this “langue incomparable” as rendered by him, we give the
translation which he gave to his admiring fellow-plotters next morning.

    Oh reader, I am a prisoner! A wicked man has captured me and
    taken me away from my country. I am the daughter of one of the
    lords of France, the Duke de la Chaloupe, in Poitou. An enemy
    of my father--although he is the best man in the world he has
    his enemies, nevertheless, but it is because he is a favorite
    of our mighty emperor, Napoleon the Third--I repeat, an enemy
    of his, a pitiless scoundrel--a _wretch_--a DEMON, cast about
    to hit upon some plot to ruin him.

    Seeing that he had no other means of harming my father, this
    monster resolved to rob him of his daughter. He hatched his
    plot artfully, and conspired to lay an ambush to entrap me. He
    bought a steam yacht, a fast sailer, and manned and equipped
    it. Then he anchored in a little cove, near my father’s castle.
    Little dreaming of danger, my tutor and I went to see this
    strange ship, and while we were walking along the shore, the
    captain invited us to go on board, to examine it. We did so;
    but we had scarcely got on the main deck when we were seized
    and shut up in two little cabins! O treacherous man! how
    easily he got possession of his victim! And I? From that time I
    have experienced many misfortunes.

    His agile knaves sprang to their work; the crew weighed anchor
    immediately; the engine-driver flew to his engine; the sailors
    unfurled the sails; soon the yacht was under way; presently she
    sailed away under full sail. The grated window of my cabin, or
    prison, looked upon the home of my ancestors, and I saw our
    retainers running to and fro, with shrill cries of grief and
    horror. Too late! The villain escapes with his captive! Oh, my
    dear father and mother! What has become of you!

    The yacht had sailed a few hours when a man entered my cabin,
    followed by my tutor, the good priest. I recognized Bélître
    Scélérat, the enemy of my father! It was he who had captured
    me. “Compose yourself,” said he, “I will do you no harm. I am
    the enemy of your father, the duke, but I am not your enemy. I
    will treat you well, so long as you do not attempt to escape.
    The priest will be your tutor the same as before; and you may
    be as happy here as if you were with your parents.” I implored
    him to return me, but I implored in vain. The priest, in his
    turn, reasoned with him, but the monster shrugged his shoulders
    and was deaf to our entreaties.

    After a long voyage we landed in America--at least, I believed
    it was that country. An accomplice of my captor assisted him to
    convey the priest and me into the heart of the country, where a
    prison had been prepared for us. I was captured May fifth, and
    it is now July tenth. Sixty-six days, therefore, have passed
    since I saw my parents! I have spent the time in solitude and
    sadness. The good priest encourages me, but he is the only one
    on whom I can rely. Ah! I shall go mad if no one comes to help
    me.

    It seems that I am near a railroad, because I often hear the
    neigh of the iron horse. The prison in which I find myself
    crowns the top of a low hillock, past which winds a fine
    stream. As for the prison, it is fortified equal to a fortress;
    and the priest and I are guarded like wild beasts by the
    remorseless turnkeys. The neighborhood is solitude itself. For
    greater misfortune, the place is the resort of ghosts! At home
    I used to laugh at the idea of ghosts, but I have seen a great
    number of hideous apparitions, of winged hobgoblins, in this
    prison.

    Bélître Scélérât treats us tolerably, that is to say, he does
    not threaten us. We do not see him often, as he goes all over
    the country, to confer with his agents, or else he cruises as a
    pirate. His jailers, however, take care of us, and they guard
    us rigorously. I have never gone out of the enclosure, and
    whenever I go there to breathe the fresh air, the jailers mount
    guard to watch. Bélître Scélérât says that he will set me free
    as soon as my papa pays him an enormous ransom, but he adds
    that he intends to keep me a prisoner a long time, so that my
    papa shall pay the ransom promptly.

    I have written this letter in secret, and I intend to secure it
    in a bottle. Then I shall try to throw it into the stream, in
    hopes that some one may find it. Reader, have pity on me! Come
    and help me, or it is all over with me! I live in hope of being
    saved. Follow the stream in which you find this letter, and
    you will arrive at the house which is my prison. If you cannot
    release me, send my letter to the Duke de la Chaloupe, and he
    will come with an army to save me. Alas! perhaps my illustrious
    father is dead!

    If the reader is in a position to save me, let him make haste,
    for Bélître Scélérât will not be at home this week, and the
    watchmen are more cowardly than brave. Thus my release will
    come about easily! My poor father will reward whoever saves
    me, I am sure. Perhaps his majesty the emperor might wish one
    more general. Should you like to be that honored person? My
    father, the duke, is a counsellor of his:--a word to the wise
    is sufficient.

    I write my petition in French, because I do not understand any
    other language well; but if the finder is not able to make it
    out--that is to say, if I am in America, where French is not
    spoken--he need not destroy it. He will find some one in his
    neighborhood who knows it, for my incomparable language is
    known throughout the world.

    I am waiting for my freedom. Come with brave men, and the
    schemes of my persecutor will be overset! Hasten!

                               SAUTERELLE HIRONDELLE DE LA CHALOUPE.

If Henry had been an authorized translator, he would have exerted himself
and made the translation entirely different from the original; as he was
only a school-boy, he gave a close, but not excellent, rendering of it;
and by employing the past tense instead of the present, all sublimity was
lost. In fact, like everything else translated into _English_, it did not
equal the original.

In the whole of this letter not a single reference is made to the beings
of Mythology, to the state of affairs in France, to the goblins of the
Hartz Mountains, to Macaulay’s New Zealander, nor to our own Pilgrim
Fathers! This neglect is intolerable; but remembering that Henry was only
a boy, we must judge him with leniency, and give him credit for writing
in a straightforward and business-like style.

The boys listened with rapt attention while Henry read this letter. To
them, it was grand, sublime, awful; and from that moment Henry was looked
on as a superior being, as far above ordinary mortals as an average
American citizen is above any “crowned head” in Europe.

Their admiration was graciously acknowledged by Henry. But he made
several innovations, some of which took the embryo villains by surprise.
In their wildest dreams they had never soared so high as to think of
giving the imprisoned one a title--and Henry had made her a duke’s
heiress! Ah! they were not so well acquainted with the ways of the world
and the laws of romance as Henry.

But perhaps what pleased the plotters more than anything was the liberal
use made of notes of exclamation. Charles counted them carefully, and
reported their number to the gaping boys. The more the better, in this
case, at all events, thought Steve. Poor innocent! he did not know that
villainy and notes of exclamation go hand in hand.



_Chapter XXXIV._

HENRY TAKES HIS BEARINGS.--A STAMPEDE.


“I must have a copy of that letter;” Charles declared, emphatically.

“Yes; as a lesson in French, it’s worth from twenty to thirty of Mr.
Meadows’,” Stephen chimed in.

He, however, had no great desire to obtain a copy and buzz over it.
(Steve always buzzed when he “studied.”)

“I don’t doubt that Marmaduke will believe in it,” Henry said, with
pardonable conceit in his own production; “but the question is, will he
act on it? I know if I should come upon such a petition, I should let
somebody else do the rescuing, and fly the other way as if I were pursued
by--”

“A demon!” Steve interposed, grinning foolishly.

“No,” continued Henry, “by worse than a demon--by an _algebra_!”

Stephen hated the study of algebra--hated it with deadly hatred; hence he
smiled in sympathy.

“Yes,” Charles commented, “most boys would be apt to run away; but
Marmaduke isn’t like most boys.”

“Henry, there is one point I don’t quite understand,” George observed.
“Why do you say in the letter, ‘if you cannot rescue me, send this letter
to my father’? Suppose that Marmaduke should take it into his head to
send it! Then--then--”

“Well, George, I put that in to make the letter seem less like a fable.
Don’t you know that a person in trouble would naturally say or write
something to that effect; and besides, right under that I wrote, ‘perhaps
my father is dead.’ Therefore, he will hardly send the appeal off to
France; but if he speaks of it, use your wits and persuade him to hurry
to the rescue.”

The plotters held their breath for admiration, and their honor for Henry
increased. To them he was a wiser and greater being than any of the grave
heroes who figured in their dog’s-eared, mutilated histories--wiser than
the great Solon--deeper than the emissaries of Mephistopheles--more
learned than--than--but here their well of eloquence ran dry, and they
could not express themselves further.

Will was quite happy now; his cousin had come; the plot was well under
way; the genius who was to direct it was admired, honored, reverenced. It
was glory enough for him to have such a phenomenon for a near relative.

But George was bold enough to point out another irregularity. Said he:
“Look here, Henry, we didn’t give any account of the journey from the
coast to the prison! Marmaduke is very particular to have little things
explained; and that is passed by.”

“George, don’t be foolish;” Will returned angrily. “Henry couldn’t
explain everything; and the letter is long enough as it is.”

“Of course; no one can improve on it;” Charles declared.

“Leave that to Marmaduke,” said Steve. “His imagination will soon find
the ways and means.”

“Yes,” chimed in Charles, “his imagination will supply all defects--but
there are none. The letter is perfect perfection.”

“That about ‘the general’ is a happy thought,” Stephen remarked.
“Marmaduke will snatch at that like a hungry hawk.”

“Yes, I changed your draft a good deal, and added new points,” Henry
observed. “But it is greatly improved by them, I think,” he added
complacently.

Alas! Henry was beginning to have a very good opinion of himself. Two
days before he was not aware that he was so clever.

But the Sage, actuated by--what? seemed determined to criticize the
letter still further. “Henry,” said he, poring over the letter with
knitted brows, “Henry, near the end you have written, ‘if the reader is
not able to make this out,’ and so on. Henry,” smiling pleasantly, “I
didn’t know you were an Irishman before, but that sounds like it!”

Henry was about to reply, but Charles took up the defence, saying:
“George, give me that letter; you do nothing but find fault with it.
Don’t you see that Marmaduke will take that passage as a piece of refined
French na--nave--_knavery_! Botheration! You know the word I mean, Henry.”

“Naïveté?” Henry suggested.

“Yes, that’s it. Marmaduke will take it for na-a-a-a--. Yes; for that;”
he concluded, gulping down a sob, and becoming somewhat flushed and
perturbed.

“Charley, listen to a little sound advice,” Henry said, with the air of
a great philosopher. “In the first place, that isn’t the right word in
the right place. Second place, never speak in a foreign language, nor
whisper even a syllable of it, till you know it, and not then, unless you
are learning it, or unless it is necessary. Some people who can write
their address in French strike out in print in the village ‘Weekly’ with
half-a-dozen meaningless words, that they themselves don’t understand.
But the printer, who knows even _less_, and cares for no one’s feelings,
always makes an interesting muddle of it all. So, Charley, take warning
and steer clear of such nonsense. English is the best, as long as you are
where it is spoken.”

All looked admiringly at the oracle, Charley by no means angry at being
thus reproved.

“How did you manage to get the pretty French names?” Jim asked,
innocently enough.

Will scowled at the boy, but Henry answered readily: “They are not real
_names_, Jim; only _common nouns_. I relied on Marmaduke’s ignorance
of French to bring in some rather uncommon words instead of names.
Besides, I didn’t know of any names long enough, and grand enough, and
sonorous enough, to suit the occasion; but still, some of these words
may be family names for all I know or care. First name, _Sauterelle_,
a grasshopper; second name, _Hirondelle_, a swallow; Patronymic, _de
la Chaloupe_, of the longboat. Now _Bélître Scélérat_ really means
_Atrocious Scoundrel_; but _Scheming Scoundrel_ sounds better in
English--it has a true poetic ring. Of course, boys, when he finds the
letter and you help him to make it out, you will read the words as they
are in the letter, not as I have explained them.”

The plotters’ admiration knew no bounds. The substitution of _nouns_ for
_names_ was, in their eyes, the very acme of wit; and Henry was no longer
an ordinary hero, but a veritable demi-god.

How learned this boy must be, and how ignorant they must seem to him! In
fact, this so worked on the feelings of one boy (it is immaterial which
one, gentle reader,--no, we _defy_ you to guess which boy it was) that,
in order to demonstrate _he_, at least, knew the difference between nouns
and names, he laughed so hard, so monotonously, and so patiently, that
long-headed Henry perceived the cause, and was, very rightly, disgusted.

“Well, boys,” said Henry, “I haven’t seen the prison-house yet, and if
you will bundle me up in your disguises, we’ll set out for it, ‘The
Wigwam of the Seven Sleepers,’ as George says Stephen calls it, and
arrange everything as it should be and is to be.”

At this time they were in Mr. Lawrence’s garden. Will ran to the house
and soon came back with a headgear which Charles compared to a Russian
Jew’s turban, but Henry said it looked like a knight-errant’s sun-bonnet.
Then Steve, not wishing to be outdone, said it was one of Father Time’s
cast-off nightcaps. Then, having fitted it, whatever it may have been,
to Henry’s head, and pinned it fast to his coat collar,--he had first
changed coats with George, and turned his neck-tie wrong side out,--the
plotters declared that he was admirably disguised, and they set forward
in high spirits. However well Henry might plot, they were not adepts in
the art of disguising; and this strange garb, far from concealing Henry’s
features, served only to attract the attention of passers-by.

But they had not gone far when Henry pulled his Scotch cap out of his
pocket and put it forcibly on his head. Then Charles mildly suggested
that if a handkerchief were tied so as to pass over one eye, Henry might
stroll through the streets of his native city without danger of being
recognized.

“Well,” Henry said, reluctantly, “if you can tie it to give me the
appearance of a wounded soldier, go ahead; but if it makes me look like
an old woman sick with the neuralgia, I’ll--I’ll--no, you mus’n’t.”

A handkerchief had no sooner been tied over Henry’s eye so as to suit
all concerned, than it occurred to Stephen that one amendment more was
needful to make the disguise complete.

“Your ears are peculiar, Henry,” he said, “and very pretty. Now,
Marmaduke always notices people’s ears,--at least, I _guess_ he does,--so
let me pull the flaps of the sun-bonnet clear over them.”

But good-natured Henry was only human,--or perhaps if his ears were so
pretty, and somebody else had said they were, he did not wish to hide
them,--and now he turned his one blazing eye full upon the boy, and said,
almost fiercely: “Stephen, let me alone! I can barely manage to work my
way along the road, as it is! Don’t you know, Steve,” he added mildly,
“that it is hard enough for a fellow to get along in this world with all
his five senses in full play?”

“It is too bad for Henry to go all the way there and back twice in one
day,” Charles kindly observed. “Couldn’t we manage it for him to go only
once, say in the afternoon, and then wait till Marmaduke and the rest
come on?”

“No; I want to go now, with you all;” Henry said, firmly. “Suppose
that I should take a pailful of supper with me, and not go till the
afternoon--what if Marmaduke shouldn’t come, after all! Something might
happen, you know, that he could not or would not come; and then,” putting
on a comical smile, “I should have to stay in that dreadful haunted house
for who knows how long?”

“Yes, it is better for Henry to get familiar with the old ruin while we
are with him--I mean, it is better for us to go with him,” Will said.
“Then to-night, about half an hour before Marmaduke and the rest of us
start, he and Stephen will leave in advance of us, with a bundle of
disguises and lanterns; so that when we, the rescuers, arrive, the place
will be lighted and the captive clothed properly.”

“And the priest shaved,” Steve chimed in.

“Exactly,” Henry commented. “And, Steve, I can meanwhile drill you to act
the part of a priest, shaved or not shaved. Don’t fret about the extra
travelling, boys,” he added; “for if my boots dilapidate while I’m here,
I’ll add them to the pile of rubbish in ‘Nobody’s House,’ and patronize
one of your shoemakers.”

In due time the plotters arrived before the house. It was no longer the
grim wreck described to the reader at the time the boys first visited it.
No; thanks to their industry and ingenuity it was in much better repair;
and, yes, it looked very much like--like a prison?--no! very much like a
gigantic hen-coup.

“Why,” Henry cried in pleased surprise, “I wasn’t so far out of the way
after all when I ventured to write about its being fortified equal to a
fortress! But say, boys, where did you get the iron bars for the windows?”

“Irons!” Charles echoed, in ecstasy. “If _you_ take ’em for iron bars,
Marmaduke certainly will! No, Henry; no iron there; nothing but painted
laths nailed on. We had two good reasons for putting on those laths;
first, because in nailing up a crack every pane of glass left shivered
itself all to flinders, and therefore the empty window-frames had to be
hidden; and next, we put them there to make the place look like a grated
prison.”

“And they do;” declared Henry, stripping off his “disguise” and heaving a
sigh of relief.

“Yes, and they made _me_ nail on all their laths,” said Stephen, “because
I was foolish enough to say I could straddle a window-sill and whittle
out a steamboat, or do anything else. You see that top window to the
right?--Well, I was sitting there, struggling to drive an obstinate nail,
when suddenly I pitched head over heels down to the ground!”

“Hurt yourself?” Henry inquired.

“No-o-o; but their hammer disappeared and lost itself ever since!” Steve
chuckled.

“Stephen wouldn’t consider that he was in a post of honor,” Charles
observed, “and when the hammer could not be found, he said, ‘serves you
right.’”

“I guess _you_ would have said it, too, if _you_ had had _your_ best
coat-pocket and flap torn off on a nail that YOU pretended to drive!”
Stephen wrathfully retorted.

“What? Did you have an encounter with a nail in your way down?” Henry
inquired.

“I did.”

“Steve didn’t tell us about all those losses,” Charles commented; “but he
said he was going home, and he went.”

“It’s the first I’ve heard about the coat-pocket,” the Sage observed.

“Hurrah! where did you make the acquaintance of this awful door!” Henry
exclaimed. “It--it looks like the door of a castle in the air.”

“No, Henry, it’s too strong for that,” Will corrected. “That door used
to be our raft; but we had to make a door, and there was nothing else to
make it of; so we hauled it up stream, pounced on it, and tore it all to
pieces.”

This was too true. The gallant old raft, which had served so useful a
purpose as a source of amusement, had been sacrificed by the remorseless
plotters to fill up the gap in the front doorway. But they, in their
eagerness to further their daring scheme, would not have hesitated to
destroy anything to which they could lay claim.

“It was too bad to waste a good raft on this old hen-house,” Henry
observed.

“Oh, a prison without a door would be rather too much for even
Marmaduke;” Will replied. “And the timbers of the raft are here yet, and
we can build it over again next week.”

“Henry,” said Stephen, who had quite recovered his equilibrium, “it is in
front of this door that the sentries do the patrolling, and ground their
muskets, and----and----what else do sentries do, George?”

“Will,” said Henry, grimly, as his eyes roved over the yard, or orchard,
“I guess it would need several pretty smart and nimble sentries to
prevent any one from escaping from _this_ ‘inclosure.’”

Then they opened the door and passed in. By the way, there was something
very remarkable about that door--so remarkable, in fact, that the writer,
who has had great experience in the building of playhouses (don’t look
for this word in a dictionary, O foreigner, but ask any little boy to
interpret it for you,) here pauses to note it. Though made by boys, it
not only played smoothly on its hinges, but even entered the door-case,
and admitted of being fastened!

“It must have cost you fellows a good deal to fit up this old hulk,”
Henry remarked, as the boys showed him proudly through the house.

“Cost!” Stephen exclaimed warmly. “I should think it did cost! Besides
that hammer that I lost, an old worn-out axe perished somewhere around
here, after Will had hewed a pair of new boots all to pieces while
dressing the new door. Among the five of us, we’ve worn out two suits of
clothes, and made three hats ashamed of themselves, just since we started
to tinker up this prison house. I’ve used all the salve and plaster in
our house, and the day before you came I got another cut. That reminds
me, Henry, when Will hewed his new boots he cut his big toe nearly clean
off--come here, and I’ll show you the bloody mark.”

“Never mind,” said Henry. “I’ve just noticed, Steve, that the doors and
walls and windows are thick with bloody gore.”

“Well, it’s all ours,” Stephen declared. “We’ve broken a band-box full
of old tools and things, and destroyed all our jack-knives. We have used
heaps of nails, and--and--all sorts of things. Henry, we have suffered!”

Really, in heroism and fortitude these boys equalled the ancient
Spartans; for they would have encountered any danger, undergone any
hardship, to secure the success of their plot. Yes, they toiled as if
they had a better cause in view.

The “Imposter” was next unearthed. It excited Henry’s liveliest
admiration; and Steve said, as they deposited it in its hiding-place,
“we’ll make it hot for you to-night, you old Atrocious Scoundrel, you!”

“Why, this is Mr. Atrocious Scoundrel, isn’t he, boys?” Henry said,
beaming with delight.

“Of course he is,” the rest answered promptly.

But hold! Did not the letter state that this personage was away from
home, that is from the prison? Surely, here was an oversight! Here was a
quicksand! In good truth, the plot was too much for those boys to manage,
and it had turned their brain.

_It had turned their brain._ Mark that, gentle reader, for it may help
you to understand what is to follow shortly.

A guilty look was on Jim’s face whilst the boys spoke thus, but it
escaped their notice. No, they did not suspect that there was treachery
in the camp--least of all, that Jim was the traitor.

Then Henry donned his various “disguises,” and the little band of little
plotters set out for the village. But Henry had not taken fifteen steps
when he stumbled headlong over a submerged wheel-barrow (submerged in
dense grass and rank weeds, gentle reader) and fell heavily.

“What the mischief!” he ejaculated. “Is this a demoralized sentinel, or a
trap set by the hobgoblins?”

“It’s a wheel-barrow, Henry,” Will explained, “that belongs to this
place.”

“Oh it _belongs_ here, does it?” Henry asked, struggling to rise.

“Yes, it’s a _fixture_, Henry, a _fixture_;” piped up Steve, who had
stumbled upon this word in a time-worn document a few days before.

Then Henry essayed to trundle it out of the way; but its wheel howled so
piteously for grease that he desisted, saying in disgust, “Why this is as
rusty and as worthless as an heir-loom.”

“Oh, we mostly turn it upside down and straighten nails on it,” Steve
said, deprecatingly.

“Now,” said Henry, as they strode on, “when you rescuers come, I shall
be just behind the front door, and Stephen will be in another room or
up-stairs.”

“All right,” replied one of them.

As they were proceeding towards home, Will suddenly espied Marmaduke
walking leisurely up the river. Although they had prepared for such
a contingency they did not expect it. Did they put faith in their
“disguise,” and advance calmly to meet him? Not for one moment! Instantly
the greatest consternation prevailed, and they stopped and stared at each
other in blank hopelessness.

“Oh, this is awful!” groaned Charles. “Our--plot--”

“Is ruined!” Steve gasped.

“O dear!” sighed Will. “Henry, do--do you suppose--”

Marmaduke continued to advance, and presently he hailed them.

Then Will lost all control of himself, and cried wildly: “Oh, Henry, we
must run for it!”

“Yes, Henry; unblind your eye, and _run_!” Steve counselled.

The Sage, who had just hit upon a stratagem to get out of the difficulty,
endeavored to restore order. But he was too late, as usual; and so,
seeing that the boys were bent on flight, he had sufficient presence of
mind to shout: “Split, boys, split; so that when Marma--”

But Henry had already torn off the handkerchief, and he and the other
demoralized plotters were flying as though pursued by a regiment of
light-armed Bélître Scélérats.

When Will and his relative gained the security of their own chamber, the
latter said frankly: “Well, there is a lot of nice fellows here, and I
like them well.”

“Yes,” said Will, “but you haven’t seen Marmaduke yet!”

“Will, I never ran away from anybody before--and this fellow is only a
harmless and innocent schoolboy!”



_Chapter XXXV._

MARMADUKE GRASPS THE SITUATION.


Early in the afternoon, according to agreement, the boys betook
themselves to the banks of the stream. Here Marmaduke was to be
entrapped. Henry, with his peculiar “disguises” still about him was
securely hidden in a tree, from which he would be able to see and hear
the whole performance.

Charles had spent the noon in making himself tolerably familiar with
the letter, which he now had in a bottle in his pocket. The others were
gathered round the tree which was Henry’s hiding-place. Stephen was not
with them, he having gone to look for the victim and induce him to come
to the river.

Just as the plotters were beginning to fear that Marmaduke would not
come, after all, he and Stephen appeared, striding along towards them.
They were then all excitement, knowing that if their plot succeeded it
would be now or never. Charles quietly moved a few rods farther up the
river, and concealed himself behind a convenient bush.

At this the enraptured reader is heard to mutter that along that
extraordinary river all the bushes seem to grow just where they will be
most convenient.

“Hello, Marmaduke! how are you?” Will asked, in friendly tones.

“Hello, then! Boys, I’m vexed; how is it that you shun me, and run away
like shooting stars whenever you see me?”

“Well, old fellow, let us make up friends, and have no more hard
feelings,” Stephen said cheerfully.

Marmaduke did not know why there should ever have been any “hard
feelings;” but, not wishing to press the matter, he heaved a sigh of
relief, heartily said “all right,” and sat down among them.

Then they were at a loss to know what to talk about. But finally Will hit
upon the topic of mowing-machines, and then each one was called upon to
give his views. Then the conversation flagged, and for full five minutes
there was silence, during which Marmaduke tranquilly pared his nails,
while the plotters looked at each other in growing uneasiness. Where
could Charley be? Why didn’t he fling the bottled letter into the river?

“Boys, what are your plans for the holidays?” Marmaduke suddenly
inquired.

At that instant a faint splash, the bottle striking the water, was heard
by Jim.

“There it is!” he blurted out.

The plotters knew what he meant, though the dupe certainly did not.
Nevertheless, it seemed to them that such blunders must be put down; and
accordingly they bent their brows, and cast such annihilating glances at
the offender that he quailed, and felt decidedly “chilly.”

Will arose and said, “Let us stroll up a little way.”

All cheerfully agreed to this proposal, though Marmaduke probably
thought that by “stroll” Will meant a tramp of perhaps three or four
miles. They had taken only a few steps when all except Marmaduke saw the
bottle floating lazily along. The question was, how should they draw his
attention to it without arousing suspicion?

Stephen was equal to the emergency. Stooping, he picked up a smooth
stone, gave it a legerdemain fling, and it shot forward, performing all
sorts of whimsical gyrations. As Stephen had foreseen, all the boys,
Marmaduke included, observed every movement of the stone from the instant
it left his hand. Then he repeated his trick with a second stone, and lo!
the second stone fetched up very close to the bottle! In order to keep up
appearances and carry out the deceit, he was about to cut a geometrical
curve with still another stone, when Marmaduke exclaimed, “Boys, what is
that floating down stream! It looks like a bottle.”

Crafty Stephen! His ruse was entirely successful.

“It _is_ a bottle!” Jim cried, in _intense_ excitement. “A bottle! A
floating bottle! Isn’t that very strange, boys?”

“Yes, it’s rather curious, but it isn’t a natural phenomenon, so don’t
make so much stir about it,” Will said, fearing that Jim might overdo the
matter. “I’ll strip off my clothes and swim after it, boys, unless some
of you would like to take a plunge into the water.”

“Let us go out on our raft; that would be the proper way to get it!”
declared ceremonious Marmaduke, not knowing that the raft had been turned
to better account. “Come; the raft isn’t much farther up; let us get it
out, and we can soon overtake the bottle.”

Ah, plotters! your troubles were beginning already!

“Pshaw!” cried Stephen, in seeming disgust. “It would be a loss of
time to go up stream to sail after a wayfaring bottle like that. But
we must get it, of course.----Now, hello, who is this fellow whistling
and paddling on a home-made punt across over from the other shore down
towards us? ’Pon my word, it’s Charley, without his clothes on! No;
they’re strapped over his shoulders. Well, this is funnier than Jim’s
wonderful bottle!”

Stephen’s astonishment was not feigned, for the boys had not planned
how Charles was to rejoin them after setting the bottle afloat, and his
sudden appearance in this guise was a great surprise to them all.

On Marmaduke’s arrival, Charles had paddled across the river on a stout
plank, launching the bottled letter on his way, and drifted down by the
opposite bank till abreast of the boys. Then, having turned his rude
canoe, he struck out for them boldly; and the inference was that the boy,
being on the right bank of the river and seeing his comrades on the left
bank, had hit upon this semi-savage means to join them. Thus Marmaduke
never suspected that there was any connection between Charley and the
floating bottle.

But Jim felt insulted at Stephen’s last words, and he muttered sullenly:
“_’Taint_ my bottle! _I_ never put it there!”

“You look like an alligator, Charley;” Marmaduke hallooed. “Where do you
come from?”

“Oh, I’ve been prowling around,” Charles shouted back.

“There’s an old bottle about opposite us,” Stephen yelled; “heave ahead
and bring it here; we want to see what it means.”

“The raft would be the best to get it,” Marmaduke murmured.

Ah! if he could have known that the plank bestridden by Charley was the
foundation timber of their late raft!

“You see that our plot is working!” Stephen mumbled in the Sage’s ear.
“He will believe it all!”

Charles directed his barge to the mysterious bottle, seized it, and then
worked his way to his companions on the bank. While he unstrapped and
huddled on his clothes the bottle was passed from one to another.

Marmaduke, who had hitherto taken only a languid interest in the matter,
exclaimed feverishly, on seeing that the bottle held a paper, “Give it to
me! It’s mine, because I saw it first!”

In a trice he had the paper out, and was endeavoring to make out
its contents. As these have already been given, it would be only a
wanton waste of time and foolscap for the reader to reperuse them with
Marmaduke. It might afford a hard-hearted reader considerable amusement
to hear his absurd interpretations, but it is both unwise and immoral
to laugh at the mistakes and the ignorance of others. It is sufficient,
therefore, to say that the great difference between Henry’s style and the
style of teacher Meadows’ Method bewildered the young student.

Charles waited impatiently to read for him, while the rest moved down
the river and took up their stand under the old tree in which Henry was
ensconced.

Marmaduke and Charles soon followed, and presently the latter ventured to
say, “Perhaps I could help you, Marmaduke.”

“No you couldn’t; it’s French, and I understand French just as well as
you do,” was the ungracious answer.

“Oh, is it? Well, perhaps if we should put our heads together we might
be able to decipher it; for,” he added, truthfully enough, “I’ve taken a
great interest in French lately, and studied it tremendously. But, say,
how did French get into that bottle?”

“Let me alone; I understand French;” Marmaduke growled, becoming more and
more bewildered. But at last, after ten minutes’ unceasing study of the
letter, he turned so dizzy that he was fain to give it up in despair.
“Here, read it, if you can,” he said, handing it to Charles. “All I can
make out is that it speaks of nobles, and steamboats, and castles, and
anchors, and priests, and sailors, and an English king’s yacht, and
America, and pumpers, and--and--castles, and--and General Somebody--.”

Charles had made himself tolerably familiar with the letter, but he could
not yet read it very readily. However, his memory served him well, and he
managed to get the main points. But after all the time and learning Henry
had squandered on the letter, it was too bad that it should be “murdered”
thus. Marmaduke listened eagerly, too much absorbed to wonder how it
was that Charles could read so much better than he. As for the other
auditors, to all appearance they were at first more startled than even
Marmaduke.

“Well, boys,” said he, as Charles folded the letter, and wriggled
uneasily in his damp clothes, “well, boys, you jeered at me about the
bones, but at last we have stumbled upon romance! Here is something
mysterious!

“Boys, let us solve the mystery! If we were only gallant knights of old,
what glorious deeds we should perform!”

The speaker strutted up and down as pompously as a schoolboy can, while
the plotters exchanged villainous winks, and glanced eloquently at the
boy in the tree.

“Read that again!” was the command, and Charles dutifully obeyed, the
dupe listening as eagerly as at first. The others made no remarks, but
endeavoured to look grave and horror-stricken, while the master-plotter
overhead was highly entertained.

“Oh, the monstrous villain! How durst he steal away a French noble’s
daughter?” Marmaduke exclaimed vehemently. “And she, the heroine, how
bravely she endures her lot! What a heroine!”

“Well, what shall we do about it?” Will asked, anxious that Marmaduke
himself should propose going to the rescue. Foolish plotters! they
supposed he would strike in with their views without any demur!

“Why, we must send it to our Government; it is a fit subject for our
new President to deal with. There will be negotiations about it between
France and America; we shall become known all over the world as the
finders of the letter; and finally the illustrious prisoner will be
delivered with great pomp. Yes, boys, we must write to Washington
immediately.”

The plotters were appalled. Marmaduke was rather too romantic. He viewed
the matter too solemnly.

There was silence for a few moments, and then Charles said quietly, as
though it made little difference to him what steps Marmaduke might take,
“I hardly think that would be the best way, Marmaduke, because, as you
say, there would be negotiations between the two countries, and the
imprisoned lady might remain a hopeless captive a long time before the
business could be settled and herself set free. We are too chivalrous to
let her pine away in solitude; and besides, by rescuing her ourselves our
renown would be increased millions!”

These words, (especially the last dozen of them), so sonorous, so
eloquent, so logical, had a telling effect on Marmaduke.

“You are right!” he exclaimed. “Yes, my brave companions, we will to the
rescue! We may revive the days of chivalry! Now, who will dare to go with
me?”

Then those wicked plotters laboured to suppress a burst of laughter, and
declared that they would all “dare” to accompany him on his hazardous
expedition.

Henry in the tree looked on in wonder. “What sort of a boy was this! He
talks like a sixty-year-older!” he muttered; “well, I didn’t expect him
to bring on the heroics till he met me as ‘Sauterelle,’ O dear! this limb
isn’t so comfortable as it used to be.”

“Oh, what a glorious day this will be for us!” the enraptured one
continued. “The emperor will dub us all knights! I must have that letter,
Charley; but read it again first.”

Charley did so, but the letter was growing decidedly monotonous to him.

“Boys,” said Marmaduke musingly, “it seems to me that there are hardly
interjections enough in it--no expressive ones at all, and, you know, a
good Frenchman never says _anything_ without several strong interjections
and expletives.”

“If she was a French soldier, that would be quite right,” Charles
admitted carefully. “But, she is the daughter of a noble duke.”

“If she were,” Marmaduke corrected, triumphing even in defeat. But he was
open to reason, and said no more about interjections.

From time to time every boy except Marmaduke was irresistibly tempted
to shoot a cheering glance toward Henry; but whenever this worthy could
catch an offender’s eye through the leafy branches, he scowled so
horribly that the offender instantly beheld something very attractive
down the river.

“Now then, let us draw our conclusions,” said Marmaduke; “first, where
can this prison be?”

“The letter says up this stream,” the Sage returned. “I--I guess perhaps
it must be ‘Nobody’s House.’”

“That place! George, you are getting very crazy to say that! Well, we
shall see as we go up the river; for, of course, as soon as we see the
prison we shall know it’s the prison. Now, boys, see what an interesting
fact is given us. The letter is dated July 10th, yesterday; therefore it
has been floating only one day! How fast the current has swept it along!”

The boys had paid no attention to the date that Henry affixed to the
letter, but they did not think the velocity very great.

“But, boys, there are some things strange in this;” Marmaduke observed.
“In fact, there is one thing very strange--yes, _very_ strange.”

The plotters, Henry included, quaked with fear. Was their ingenious
scheme, the much-loved plot, which had cost so much “blood and treasure,”
to come to nought? Had Marmaduke detected some flaw in the letter which
had escaped their notice? Were they about to be unmasked in all their
wickedness?

O plotters, your scheme, which was based and reared on fraud, was to
proceed successful to the end.

“Wh-what is wrong?” Charley asked, with a quavering voice, his lips of
that “ashy hue” which good romancers delight in introducing.

“Why,” Marmaduke began, “don’t you observe, sometimes the writer
addresses the finder distantly in the third person, and then again
familiarly and imploringly in the second person! Now, that is ridiculous.
Grammar says not to mix the second and third persons together in writing;
use either the one or the other.”

At this, Henry crammed the strings of his headgear, together with his
fingers, far into his capacious mouth, and forgot that the limb on which
he roosted was no longer comfortable; whilst the others heaved an audible
sigh of relief, perceiving that Marmaduke, instead of wishing to find
fault with the letter, wished only to display his great knowledge of
things and people in general, grammar in particular.

But the plotters, one and all, had been in ignorance of this gross insult
to grammar. Whether Henry had not been aware of the rule as quoted by
Marmaduke, or whether he had been too sleepy to observe it, is an open
question. It is stated (he stated it himself, of course, for no one heard
him), however, that he muttered in his throat: “Certainly, this Marmaduke
is no boy at all! His language is too far-fetched for a Yankee boy. Yes;
he is some stunted old crack-brained dwarf of sixty!”

As soon as Charley could collect himself sufficiently he replied in
these words: “I presume that the captive was in too disturbed a state of
mind to pay particular attention to such minor matters as grammar. And
besides, her grammars were probably at home in France, for likely she
didn’t go aboard with a satchel of school-books in her hand. Now, the
_person_ considered most was evidently the _person_ who should fly to the
rescue.”

“Don’t treat her woes so lightly,” Marmaduke said angrily, beginning to
suspect that the boys were making fun of him.

“That ghost story is queer; what do you think of it?” asked Will, anxious
to have the grammarian’s opinion of that.

“Well, you know the French are a more excitable and romantic race than
we are,” was the answer. “In her solitude and misery perhaps she fancies
that ghosts are hovering near, for all French people have a powerful
imagination.”

Ah! the boy overhead was gifted with a more powerful imagination than any
one believed.

“Or,” continued Marmaduke, recollecting what he had read in a book at
home, “or, who knows but that it is some trick of Scélérat’s to terrify
her? Perhaps the monster thinks to drive her distracted!”

“Perhaps he does,” sighed Steve.

“Marmaduke, how do you suppose Bélître Scélérat managed to transport the
prisoners from his yacht to this prison?” George had the curiosity to ask.

The deceived one ruminated a moment and then said sagely: “Well, as
modern Frenchmen are so perfectly at home in balloons, for all we know
they came that way. It would not take long, and the authorities could not
overhaul them.”

“The very thing!” cried delighted Stephen. “And when we go to the rescue
we can capture the balloon, if it is still there! Yes, I’ve heard before
that Frenchmen love balloons.”

“Stephen,” shouted Marmaduke, “you have no finer feelings.”

“Well, let us hurry to the rescue!” Charles said impatiently. “Come, when
shall we go?”

“I am to be your leader in this, because I take more real interest in
the prisoner than any of you,” Marmaduke returned. “Yes, _I_ must be the
favored one to restore her to freedom. As to when the rescue can be made,
I can’t possibly complete my arrangements till next week.”

The boys stared blankly, knowing that it would never do to defer the
“rescue” till the next week. Marmaduke would certainly detect the
imposture before that time.

Charles, however, soon recovered his equanimity, and said calmly: “That
would be very wrong, for don’t you know the writer says she shall go mad
if not rescued immediately? And she urges the finders to come this week,
as Bélître Scélérat will be away. We are only boys, of course; but we are
pretty lively boys, and more than a match for all his jailers.”

“Yes; but I want to meet this very man, this Scélérat.”

“O dear!” groaned Will, “if he is so anxious to meet the Atrocious, I’m
afraid he’ll pounce on the ‘impostor’ as we go to hang it!”

Poor Will! The plot had quite turned his brain!

“Try chivalry again,” Stephen whispered to Charles.

“Well, we are too chivalrous to put off the rescue, only because one of
us wishes to encounter this Bélître Scélérat,” cunning Charley observed.
“At least,” he added, “I hope we are too chivalrous--in France they would
be.”

In his hands chivalry was a mighty lever, one by which foolish Marmaduke
could be turned, and made to act as they saw fit.

“Well, then, let us go this evening,” Marmaduke answered.

The plotters were delighted. By skilful management their would-be leader
proved very tractable.

Will, who had hitherto held his peace, now exclaimed with unfeigned
enthusiasm, “How eagerly Sauterelle will welcome us!”

A grievous frown darkened the champion’s brow. Confronting Will, he
thundered: “How dare you boys speak of her in that way?--her, the
daughter of one of France’s proudest nobles! When it is necessary to
mention her name, speak of her as the Lady de la Chaloupe.”

Henry did not know whether to feel complimented or not. He was slowly
forming a very unfavorable opinion of Marmaduke, not knowing that the
boy was now in his element, and hardly responsible for his actions. When
nothing mysterious occurred to arouse him, Marmaduke was very much like
any other boy; but let him stumble upon a mystery, and he was entirely
changed.

But Stephen, fearing that Marmaduke did not yet sufficiently realize the
magnificence of the duke’s genealogy and title, said excitedly, “That
Duke Chalopsky is the descendant of a whole gang of peers, and lords, and
such people, just like any other duke; isn’t he Marmaduke?”

Will trembled and whispered, “Hush!”

The deceived knight-errant felt insulted, and asked, haughtily, “What do
_you_ know about it, Stephen Goodfellow?”

Stephen quaked, but finally answered meekly, very meekly, “Oh, I’ve
studied about dukes that ran back to the Conquest of something or other,
and so I thought likely he did.”

The Conquest! Marmaduke’s face brightened; he smiled; he spoke. “O-o-h,
Stephen!” he said, “your notions of history are as much a muddle as all
your other notions! But I haven’t time to enlighten you now. Now, boys,”
he continued, affably, “let us take a lesson from Will and his cousin
when they set out to hunt the demon. We must not carry firearms, but we
must go armed with pikes and sabres.”

“Where shall we procure ‘pikes and sabres?’” Steve, no longer confused,
but smarting and angry, sarcastically asked. “_I_ can’t imagine,
unless we carve ’em out of broomsticks and staves, and such ‘pikes and
sabres’ don’t amount to much. So, let us go to the rescue armed like
the dusty warriors of the forest--with hatchets, and bows, and George’s
grandfather’s great knife, and slings, and levers, and catapults, and
arrows.”

Steve probably meant _dusky_ warriors. However, either expression is
correct.

Marmaduke very properly paid no attention to Steve’s insulting
suggestions, but condescended to ask, “How many jailers do you suppose
there will be?”

“There were to be three, weren’t there, boys?” Will blunderingly replied
to him, and asked of the others.

“Why, how do _you_ know?” Marmaduke asked in surprise. “The letter says
nothing about the number of jailers; so, how can _you_ tell? What do you
mean, anyway, Will?”

Will looked so disconcerted that Marmaduke, although his faith in
Sauterelle was still unshaken, began to suspect that the boys were trying
to impose on him in some way.

At this crisis the traitor Jim grinned, and said, “Well, you fellows
needn’t make faces at me after this! Will has said worse than I did.”

Let it not be supposed that Jim’s treachery lay in seeking to overthrow
the plot. By no means; he rejoiced in it, and spoke as he did only to
revenge himself on the others for scowling at him so wickedly, as related
in the beginning of this chapter. Such was Jim, who could bear malice
for a long time; while the others, although they might be very angry for
a few minutes, soon subdued their passions, and _never_ “nursed their
wrath.”

And yet these unguarded words nearly made an end of the entire plot. It
was now in real danger; again it tottered on its foundation. Only the
greatest tact and presence of mind could save it from utter destruction.

Charles was the one to avert such a disaster, and he said jokingly,
as though the salvation of the plot did not depend on him: “Here are
two extraordinary juveniles; one thinks because a white man in his
school-book was captured by Indians and guarded by three jailers, _every_
captive is bound to have just three! The other thinks because a boy makes
a face at him he is brewing some great wickedness!”

It was not so much the words he said as the nonchalant way in which
he said them. The happy boldness of acknowledging that somebody had
“made faces” at Jim disarmed Marmaduke, and for the time, at least, his
suspicions were allayed.

Will had too much sense to be offended at being thus ridiculed. If he had
answered back sharply, a quarrel would certainly have ensued, and then
the plot would as certainly have been blown up. As for Jim, though sulky
and wrathful, he also held his peace.



_Chapter XXXVI._

TO THE RESCUE!


The plot was saved; but the plotters saw that a great deal of immoral
scheming was required to keep it up, and that, after all, it was
a volcano which might at any moment--not exactly “hurl them to
destruction,” but tear itself to pieces.

The time and place of meeting were then appointed, and all the boys
departed for their respective homes; all excepting Will and Stephen, who
lingered to escort Henry.

As soon as the homeward-bound party was out of sight, the latter
slid down from his perch, stretched himself with many a groan, and
readjusted the knight-errant’s sun-bonnet, as, the plot being now so near
completion, he was very anxious to take every precaution.

“Well,” he growled, “it took you a mighty long time to arrange matters;
and that tree is the most abominably uncomfortable and hard-hearted tree
that I ever saw. Boys,” dolefully, “I don’t like this hiding around in
strayed forest trees, and it is a good thing you persuaded him not to
wait till next week, for I couldn’t have kept out of his sight so long.”

“Well, what do you think of him!” Will asked eagerly.

“Oh, he is as much like a musket as a boy,” Henry replied indifferently.
“But,” with some show of interest, “what did he mean by wanting to sail
out on the raft, just to get the bottle?”

“Oh,” said Will, “Marmaduke thinks if it is worth while to do anything,
it is worth while to do it with great ceremony. If the raft had been
where he supposed it was, and if we had let him alone, he would have
spent half an hour floating around after the bottle, and very likely have
got as wet as if he had gone in swimming for it with his clothes on!”

After digesting this explanation, Henry proposed that they also should go
home. Will and Stephen were agreed, and the trio slunk off towards the
village as fearfully as if a minion of the law were in hot pursuit. Now
that their plot was an accomplished fact, it would be very unfortunate if
they should be caught napping.

After supper Henry was joined by Stephen, and the two archplotters set
out for “Nobody’s House” in the most exuberant spirits. Already Henry
felt a little tired, (let it be remembered that he had not yet recovered
from the effects of the preceding day’s journey,) and he was obliged to
get Stephen to carry a mysterious-looking bundle which he had brought
away from his aunt’s. This bundle contained the fantastic “disguise” in
which Henry was to figure as Sauterelle.

From the tender age of two years, Stephen had been a regular attendant
of picnics, where he had imbibed many extravagant notions, and arrived
at a very boyish and extremely absurd conclusion respecting lovers.
According to his views, a lover is a young man, who, after perfuming his
handkerchief and smearing his head with hair-oil, escorts a young lady
to a picnic, breaks her parasol, fails to provide ice-cream enough, and
finally sees her escorted home under the protection of his hated rival.

“Henry,” he said, as they hurried on, “I saw Marmaduke tricked out for
the rescue, and, he didn’t mean me to find it out, but I did; he had put
hair-oil on his head, and, as he had no scent, _on his handkerchief,
too_! Henry, I was so--so--”

“Demoralized?”

“That’s the word, Henry. I was so demoralized that I said, without
thinking: ‘why, Marmaduke,’ said I, ‘you look more like a genuine lover
than any boy I ever saw!’”

“And what did he say to that?”

“Nothing; but he looked so insulted and heart-broken that I apologized,
and told him he was a bully boy, and I always was a fool, anyway. Well,
Henry, when he comes to the rescue, things will be lively, according to
that, eh?”

“Well, Steve, I once cured a brave boy of his bravery, and if I don’t
cure this fellow of his romance and credulousness, I shall at least make
awful fools of us both.”

“How did you cure a boy of being brave?” Stephen asked eagerly, regarding
Henry with respect and admiration.

But here the writer remorselessly shifts the scene to the others.

As soon after the departure of Henry and Stephen as was prudent, the
“brave men” who were to be the rescuers--Will, Charles, George, Jim,
and the heroic “leader,” Marmaduke--assembled and set out for the
rendezvous, armed very much as Stephen had suggested.

Visions of figuring on future battle-fields of Europe as Marshal
Marmaduke Fitz-Williams flitted through the hero’s brain, and he strove
to deport himself with as martial an air as possible. But such an air
hardly ever sits easy on a school-boy’s shoulders.

“Comrades,” he began, using, as far as he knew how, the identical
phraseology of a French soldier when addressing his companions in arms,
“comrades, we are embarking in a hazardous undertaking, but the nobleness
of our work will spur us on to deeds of victory. It is a noble deed that
we are called on to perform--the release of a daughter of one of the
potentates of earth! Let this thought inspire us with enthusiasm! Let
us fly to the rescue, fixed in the resolution to win or die! We shall
warrior like the doughty knights of old!”

Poor hero! he had yet to learn that _warrior_ is not used in that way.
His eloquence, however, was entirely lost on his hearers, it being too
grandiloquent for even the Sage to appreciate; and like many another
orator, he but “wasted his sweetness on the desert air.”

“Fellow-soldiers,” he continued, “I will use my influence to procure your
promotion, and you will all one day be renowned generals of the empire.”

Alas! about the time the speaker took to singing love-songs and reading
love-stories that empire was disrupted!

“That about the emperor’s wanting one more general was a good stroke, eh,
Will?” Charles whispered.

It would be foreign from the purpose to record all Marmaduke’s bombastic
speeches as he and his fellows marched to the field of battle. Let it be
taken for granted that in due time they drew up before the fortress.

Marmaduke reconnoitred the grim old building with its grated windows
and formidable door, and soon decided that here was the prison, though
it was patent to all that he was disappointed, having expected greater
things--having, in short, expected to see a structure bearing more or
less resemblance to the Bastile itself.

Marmaduke screened himself behind the dilapidated fence, and called out,
in commanding tones: “Hist! I call a halt!”

As his troops had already halted, they sat down, thinking that if Henry
and Stephen were not yet prepared to receive them this delay would be in
their favour.

“Corporal James Horner, do you perceive a sentinel on guard before the
prison?” the would-be commander asked.

“Corporal Horner,” who could not see that part of the prison so well as
the questioner himself, was struck with awe, and answered timidly, “No,
sir, I don’t see nobody.”

“_Sir_ to me! You would do better to call me _General_.”

“Yes, sir,” Jim returned, feeling his terrible chills creeping on.

“Lieutenant Lawrence,” said the young general, “keep order among your
forces! Positively, no straggling!”

The newly-made lieutenant executed his superior’s orders promptly and
effectually. “If he keeps on at this rate,” he whispered to George,
“there will be fun enough to last for a year! Oh, if Henry and Steve were
only here to enjoy it!”

“Silence in the ranks!” roared the general. “Commodore Charles Growler, I
call a council of war.”

This was too much for the more deeply read George, and he cut short the
general’s programme, saying: “A _commodore_ commands a squadron of ships.
There are no ships here that I know of--only a _squad_ of boys.”

The general was nonplussed. He even felt inclined to dismiss this
arrogant fellow from the service; but fears of encountering a swarm of
armed jailers induced him not to dismiss so good a warrior as the Sage
was known to be. So, after deliberating a moment, he said, meekly enough,
“Boys, we are only losing time here. Let us make a charge, and burst the
door open, and then we can fight our way right on.”

Burst open the door! Then indeed the timbers of their raft would be
destroyed! But this was no time to reason with Marmaduke, and they
consented to the sacrifice cheerfully.

Charles very readily came upon what had once been a pump; and after great
and violent efforts the corporals, lieutenants, commodores, generals,
etc., succeeded in raising it to their shoulders; and then, with
soldier-like disregard for the hideous grubs which nestled on it, they
marched, with martial tread, to force an entrance into the prison.

“This will do instead of a genuine ram,” the general observed
deprecatingly. “Such people as we are often have to resort to various
shifts to do what they wish to do.”

“So do _boys_,” Charles commented sarcastically, but without a smile.

“Charge!” cried the general valiantly, when about thirty feet from the
door.

A blind rush was made; but barely five steps had been taken when the
general, who of course led, tripped over a stone, and the entire “squad”
fell headlong, the “ram” and its grisly inhabitants descending on their
backs with a cruel thud.

Of course no bones were broken, gentle reader, for it is impossible to
kill a hero, and, as a general rule, impossible to hurt one. And all
these were heroes.

Yet much of their enthusiasm escaped with the “ohs!” that started from
each pair of lips.

“Such little accidents are disheartening,” the general gasped, as he
struggled to his feet; “but we are above letting them deter us from our
duty. Charge again! Only, be more careful.”

As he alone was blamable for the mishap, this advice was superfluous.

The ram was shouldered again, somewhat reluctantly; a furious charge
was made; and the ram was brought against the “blood-bought” door with
considerable force. A peal of thunder ensued, and the nowise strong door
was shattered, fatally. Truly, this was effecting an entrance in warlike
style.

But a catastrophe might have been the result. Henry was seated in the
hall, not aware that the besiegers were at hand, and little dreaming that
they intended to force an entrance. When the door was suddenly burst
open, he was started into action in an unlooked for manner--the flying
timbers striking his crazy chair so forcibly that it gave way, flinging
him headlong to the floor.

More startled than hurt, Henry sprang to his feet, and recognizing Will
and some of the others, shrieked, in accents unmistakably English:
“Saved! Saved!”

The appearance presented by the rescued one was superlatively ridiculous.
None of the boys had seen him attired in this disguise, and they were
thunder-struck at the metamorphosis. Even Marmaduke stared aghast at the
sight he beheld.

In a spirit of mischief Stephen had clothed Henry thus, saying, “Poor
Marmaduke; he’ll never know; he’ll think you’re dressed up in the height
of fashion. But he _will_ think that Paris fashions, in crossing the
seas, lose much of their beauty; and while _your_ costume is all right,
_other_ people’s must be all wrong!”

As a hoodlum boy would have put it: _He looked like all possessed!_



_Chapter XXXVII._

MARMADUKE STRUGGLES WITH ROMANCE.


Kings, ghosts, sea-nymphs, heroes, heroines, all beings, are made to act
and speak in romance just as the exigencies of the plot demand; and yet
it is intimated, in the same breath, that “it is all quite natural, just
as it would be in real life!” In this story every one certainly acts as
the writer pleases, but, so far as he knows, these boys behave as like
boys under similar circumstances would behave. In this chapter, however,
there is an exception, where a change from nature is necessary; and
without a moment’s hesitation, they are made to throw off all restraint,
and talk and act as befits the occasion. In a word, the boys are here no
longer boys, but the noble beings of romance.

We do not pretend that any boys would carry on a conversation in their
high-swelling strains, the narrative being couched under such strains
for a particular and well-meant purpose. The object being, throughout the
story, to cast ridicule on all sorts of things, this freedom to write in
whatever style is most pertinent to the matter under discussion is our
prerogative, and we use it. In short, we act here on the principle, that
a writer should be hampered by no conventionalities or restrictions that
interfere with the plan of his story.

It seems to be a well-established principle, that love cannot be
expressed in romance except in a poetic form. We do not believe this
holds good in real life, yet, wishing this story to be accounted a
romance, we have thought it well to abide by the rule in this instance.
After a short deliberation, we have decided to write their passionate
colloquy as though it were only prose; but the intelligent reader can
easily read it as verse--in fact, if he chooses, he can set it all to
music.

After digesting this preamble in connection with what goes before, the
reader of mature years, if not entirely witless, will be able to grasp
our meaning and discern our motive--or motives, for in this chapter the
aim is to kill several birds with one stone. But the boys--for whom,
after all, the story is written principally--had better skip this turgid
preamble, because a boy always likes to believe a story is more or less
true, and we should be grossly insulted if any one should insinuate that
_this_ story is true.

Considered in this light, the chapter appears to be only a piece of
foolishness, after all. But, in a measure, it may be considered logically
also. For instance, there seems to be a “vein of reason” running through
it all, and if the reader is on the watch, he will see that this “vein
of reason” crops out frequently. After this preamble it opens _very_
rationally.

“Considered logically,” says the reader, “how could this Henry, a
veritable lover, stoop to play the fool, as he did? How could he do this,
if he had any respect for his passion, or for the one whom he loved?”

Considered logically, gentle reader, Henry was a _boy_; his heart was
sore from fancied slights; he was desperate; it occurred to him that,
placed as he was, he might “view the question from the other side!”
Furthermore, although he and Stephen had conspired to torment Marmaduke,
it is plain that almost everything he said, he said _extempore_.

As for Marmaduke, he had no sisters, was scarcely ever in the society of
young ladies, and knew nothing of their ways.

“These are but sorry excuses,” sighs the reader, “unworthy of even a
school-boy!”

Very true. But they are the best that we can trump up, and therefore
it would be better for you to consider this chapter as founded on the
opposite of reason and logic.

Marmaduke was anxious that he alone should be recognized as the
liberator, for he wished to receive all the glory of rescuing the
captive. With that intent he pressed nearer Sauterelle, directing his
followers, by an imperious wave of the hand, to disperse in search of the
enemy, and, when found, to give them battle.

Interpreted into language, that command would have run: Hound down the
mercenary crew, and spare them not! Their evil deeds have brought this
fate upon their heads!

The avenging party understood this, and, thirsting for blood and glory,
they hurled themselves out of the apartment, whilst Marmaduke turned
his attention to the captive. He saw gratitude, admiration, even
reverence, in the two blue eyes that looked at him. No fear of not being
acknowledged as the rescuer-in-chief: Henry would acknowledge him, and
him only.

“Ah, my deliverer!” he cried, in so-called French; “you have come to
rescue me, to restore me to freedom! You have found my appeal for help,
and these brave men are your followers?”

Marmaduke tried hard to understand this, but was obliged to ask if the
conversation could not be carried on in English.

“Yes, yes, I can speak English,” came the reply. “The good priest has
taught me English.”

At that instant a fierce combat was heard in an adjoining room, and
horrisonous cries of rage and terror filled the whole building. The hero
knew at once that his followers had encountered, and were waging deadly
contest with, the wicked jailers, and his heart swelled with emotion.

He was right; his followers had drawn their home-made weapons, and while
Charles, Steve, and Jim, personated these wicked jailers, Will and
George personated the gallant liberators. Having had a rehearsal a few
days previous, they now fought easily and systematically, and with such
heroism and fury that victory must inevitably perch upon their standard.
But, after all (and in this they were quite right), they fought as much
with their lungs as with their arms, so that the din was tremendous. For
full five minutes the combat raged without abatement. The gray light
coming in through the open doorway cast a greenish and peculiar hue over
our hero’s grand face, and he stood stock-still, collected but voiceless;
while the other, wholly unprepared for such an uproar, longed to thrust
his fingers into his ears, and pitied himself with all his heart as he
thought of the racking headache that must soon seize him.

But finally they vanquished the enemy, and all except Stephen, who had
not yet turned priest, rushed into the presence of the hero and heroine,
shouting wildly: “Routed! Worsted! Slain!”

“All? Are all slain? And is the battle past?”

“All; one and all; and we have won.”

“And so my freedom comes to me again!” cried Sauterelle. “And I am free,
free as the birds, for all his evil schemes are baffled now!”

Then, as was right on such an occasion, Sauterelle sank at our hero’s
feet, and began in the “bursting heart” style, without which no such
scene ought to be drawn: “Oh, my deliverer, accept my thanks! Through you
I thus am freed! through you I once again shall see dear France,--dear
France, that land of heroes!--Heroes? Ah! all are heroes here, in this,
the land of liberty! Oh, gallant men, you have done well!”

“Ah, yes, ’tis for the brave to battle for the fair in every land,” our
hero said, as though he, too, had fought.

Sauterelle still kneeled before our hero, expecting to be lifted up. But
an immense, pyramidal head-dress, many inches high, which only Steve
could construct, towered upwards till almost on a level with our hero’s
eyes, bewildering him.

“Noble American, this is a rescue worthy of a prince!” Sauterelle cried,
suddenly rising and grasping our hero’s hands in a bear-like grip.

“Your ladyship--”

“No, no! My title here is but an empty sound, so call me simply
Sauterelle.”

“Sau-ter-elle Hi-ron-delle. What sweet and pretty names!” our hero
murmured softly, as Sauterelle let go his hands.

“What is the name of him who sets me free?”

“Fitz-Williams is my name; my first name, Marmaduke.”

Our hero’s followers, still hot, exhausted, and bruised, but not
particularly blood-stained, now rose and stole away, and presently
another great uproar was heard from them. They had seized the impostor
and were carrying it, or him, roughly along.

“Here is the great chief villain and arch-plotter of them all! Here is
Bélître Scélérat himself!” they roared.

“Bélître Scélérat? How comes he here? I understood that he was far away,”
our hero said, much puzzled.

They paused in doubt and consternation. Then a flash of reason penetrated
to their darkened intellect, and dimly conscious that some one had
plotted too much, or not enough, they started into action and pressed
tumultuously on with their captive.

“Oh, for a sword, that I might pierce the monster’s heart!” our hero
sighed, but sighed in vain.

At that instant, Steve, now the priest, passed pompously through the
room, and catching our hero’s last words, replied: “No, no! Soil not thy
hands with such a perjured wretch, nor soil thy sword. These soldiers
here should pierce his ears, not thee,” wilfully mistaking the word
_heart_ for _ears_--or perhaps he did not understand English so well as
his pupil. “Brave men, go forth and hang this captured knave from some
great height, and leave him there to crumble into dust.”

Our hero’s blood-thirsty followers lugged Bélître Scélérat out of the
room and up the stairs with a haste that proved how well and strongly he
was made, and remorselessly prepared to consign him to his ignominious
fate.

Then our hero and heroine again broke out into their poetry, the latter
saying, “And now, my freedom is achieved. Ah me! I almost now regret that
we should leave these shores, this land of blessèd liberty, and travel
back alone to our loved France! Ah, in my hour of triumph am I sad? Yes,
woe is me, I am!--Oh, Marmaduke, there is no need of this! The priest is
here, the bridegroom and the bride! Oh Marmaduke, there is no cause why I
should go alone. Ah, thou wilt soon be mine, and I shall soon be thine!
Thy husband,--_wife_, I mean. Oh, Marmaduke, dear Marmaduke!”

As Sauterelle ran on in this strain our hero grew pale and sick with
dismay. Was he to be made a sacrifice of thus? Must the rescue of
necessity lead to this? Oh, it was too awful!

“A beauty here that would befit a queen; and, yes, I feel love springing
in my heart! But should _I_ marry? _I_, a boy, and _this_, the daughter
of a duke? Oh, that it might be so! As I have said, the French are more
excitable than we. But am I not the rescuer-in-chief? In such a case as
this, what should I do?”

A triumphant shout of sated vengeance now rang through the building.
Bélître Scélérat was securely fastened, not exactly hanged, out of an
upper window. A minute later the executioners came clattering noisily
down stairs, then filed respectfully past our hero and heroine into
another room, and took up a position where they were screened, but from
which they could see and hear all that was going on. This action on their
part was more conformable to human nature than to the laws of romance or
the dignity of heroes.

A sidelong glance disclosed the fact that our hero’s face was of the
hue of polished marble, and that large tears of heartfelt emotion were
starting from his eyes, while other tears were welling from the pores of
his neck and forehead.

“Père Tortenson, Père Tortenson,” cried Sauterelle. “Is he not here? Then
go, some one, to look for him, and bring him here to me. The marriage may
take place without delay.”

“Dear Sauterelle,” our hero said, “I feel I love thee well indeed, but
yet I may not marry thee. Thy friend, thy humble servant, guide, and
helper, I will ever be; thy husband--ah!”

Our hero’s grammar says _mine_ and _thine_ are used only in solemn style.
Our hero and heroine were aware of this--they were but paying tribute to
the solemnity of the occasion.

“No! say not that! You own that you love me as I love thee. What is there
then to come between us and our happiness? Is it, alas! my title and my
rank? Think not of them; they shall be nought to us. My Marmaduke, I’d
lay them all aside for thee. Or what is it? Speak, Marmaduke; I wait to
hear thee speak.”

“Alas, dear Sauterelle,--if really I may call thee so,--I am not worthy
thee. It is indeed thy title and thy rank. How couldst thou wed a
non-commissioned officer like me?”

“Perhaps you are the kidnapped heir of some great English lord.”

“Oh, _could_ it be? Oh, would it were! Then I thy equal--Oh, say not
that! No; do not torture me.”

“I understand it now,--my love is not returned,--you do not care for me.”

“Love thee! Indeed I love thee well--love thee, as boy never loved
before--love thee, as I ne’er can love again!”

“Oh, Marmaduke! dear Marmaduke! you cause me joy. My Marmaduke, I’ll call
again the priest.”

“Thy father!--No, no! I dare not meet thy father!”

“Dread not my father’s ire. He loves his child; his child loves thee. Ah,
thou art all mine own, for all that thou hast urged is but a paper wall.”

“Dear Sauterelle, I must admit I love thee well. To be thine own--oh,
joy! But no; it cannot be. I have no wealth, no heritage at all. A wife
is far from me.”

“Wealth? What is wealth to me? Wealth is an idle word--non-entity--a
gin--a snare--a clap-trap. How should we live? Let no such thoughts occur
to thee. Though wealth is nought, ’tis true, my father hath it, and thou
couldst have enough to live as princes live.”

“‘Alas,’ you said, ‘perhaps my father lives no more.’”

“Ah, then am I his heir, and all his riches ours. Oh, Marmaduke, why
should you longer hesitate to take this step, or longer pause for foolish
whims? Then call again the priest. Why loiters he?”

But our hero was not yet sensible of the duty that devolved upon him--he
did not yet fully realize his position--he still hung back--and his
poetical objections having been one by one confuted, he now had the
excess of baseness to offer another.

“Alas, I know not well thy foreign tongue. How couldst thou hear me
always in my rough tongue, when thine, so sweet, so soft, so beautiful--”

“No! speak not so!” cried Sauterelle. “I will not hear thee speak so! Oh,
slander not the language that is thine. And, ah!--thou art a ready youth,
I see it in thine eye,--how sweet the task of teaching thee my polished
mode of thought and speech! But yet, even as it is, we can converse quite
easily! Père Tortenson, the time for marrying is here.”

“Ah, that is truth!” our hero cried. “You speak my English quite as well
as I!”

Then, in a rational moment, he said rationally, “As you have said, dear
Sauterelle, we love each other well; but being still so young, so very
young, we must not think of marriage yet a while. ’Tis hard to part with
thee,--our lot is doubly hard,--but fate is ever merciless. Farewell, my
love, we part.”

He tore himself away, as though he would have fled.

“’Tis true that we are young,” said Sauterelle. “Our hearts are warm and
young, not chilled and seared with age and woe. To leave me? No! it shall
not be! Thou must not go!”

“To love is either happiness or pain; to love, and to be loved
again,--oh, this is ecstasy!”

“Oh, Marmaduke, you thrill my heart with joy!”

“Alas, dear Sauterelle, that love and duty should thus clash! But, oh,
I must not marry thee; I am so far beneath thee. Dear Sauterelle, thou
wilt return to France and be the wife of some great prince, while I,
alas! shall wear my life away in hopelessness and grief. And yet, oh
Sauterelle, I love thee so! I love thee so! I fear I yet shall yield to
love, forgetting duty.”

Then Charles stepped out of his lurking-place, and said respectfully:

“Forgive me, sir, that I should speak to you, but duty is not always what
it seems. How can this helpless one return to France alone! A priest
at hand, a marriage, sir, is duty in this case. Your father’s house
is near--live there till Duke Chaloupe hears of this rescue and this
marriage. Then Duke Chaloupe will send us funds for all to go to France.”

“Oh, would that I could think that you are right! I should no longer
hesitate.”

Then, forgetting himself and his position, he fell back on prose. “Why
should not Lady Sauterelle and the priest return? Are there no hoards of
jewels and treasure here in this building, that would pay the passage, at
least? Scélérat, perhaps, has millions buried here, which can be found.”

“No he hasn’t,” said Will, thrusting his head into the room. “Not a cent.
What did you expect the captive to do after the rescue? What were your
ideas on that point?”

“Alas,” groaned Marmaduke, “I had none! I never thought what any of us
would do immediately after the rescue; my thoughts were far ahead in the
future. Oh, if I had only sent that letter to the Government!”

At that moment a person with majestic mien strode into the room, saying,
“I come, I come; who calls Père Tortenson? Is it a marriage, lovely
Sauterelle? If so, quite right. Who is the honored bridegroom?”

As Marmaduke’s chivalric notions of right and wrong still admonished
him not to enter into marriage with a person of noble birth, he had the
uprightness to resist the feelings of his heart once more, though it
cost him a hard struggle to do so.

Then the other, casting on a tragic air, said, “Alas for the decay of
chivalry! In the old days it was not thus. Then no weak whim of fancied
right e’er came between two loving hearts.”

Charles whispered to our hero’s followers, and then, having stepped into
the room, they chorused, their voices, attuned by war and conquest,
filling the place with harmony: “Your duty, sir, is very plain, and we
are grieved that we should have to point it out: a marriage, as you are.
A few years hence, and you will be the mighty king of some great land.”

Then Marmaduke shone forth in all his native nobleness. He reverently
took Sauterelle’s hand in his own, but before giving the word to the
priest he chanted: “In rank, in ti-tle, and in birth; in rich-es, age,
and clime; in all things, thou surpassest me, O lovely Sauterelle.”

“Yea, even in height!” chimed in Père Tortenson.

“Proceed, sir priest,” said Marmaduke.

       *       *       *       *       *

The plot was now, they supposed, at an end. It would be as well to
consider its framers as boys again.

Henry did not wish to prolong the scene, and he whispered to Will: “This
is as far as I dare go; but try to think of something--_anything_--to
keep up the fun a little longer.”

Stephen pretended to be fumbling in the pockets of his robe. Turning
to the Sage, he whispered imploringly, “Oh, George, can’t you
‘ventriloquism’ a little--_ever_ so little?”

“The ghost!” George muttered. “Let us bring in the ghost!”

“The ghost? My stars! we never settled how that was to be done!” Steve
said blankly.

“Oh, Steve, I wish you were free to play the spectre!” Will sighed. “What
was it that we intended the ghost to do, anyway?”

“Oh, my gracious, I don’t know; I’m all a muddle!”

But the moments were slipping away very fast. Marmaduke heard their
mutterings, though he did not understand them, and he was becoming uneasy.

“Proceed with the ceremony,” he repeated.



_Chapter XXXVIII._

THE STARTLERS THEMSELVES ARE STARTLED.


But the tables were to be turned in a startling and wholly unlooked-for
manner. The boys had had their day of imposing on simple Marmaduke; and
now, in their turn, they were destined to suffer acutely from uneasiness
and remorse for several hours.

Such a sentence always finds a place in romances at certain conjunctures,
and, if judiciously worded, reflects great credit on the romancer. But
the reader cannot always perceive the beauty of such a sentence, and
therefore it would be showing more respect for his feelings to follow our
Jim.

This hero had slipped away from his companions shortly before Stephen
at last appeared as priest. Being only a figure-head on this occasion,
his absence or presence did not concern them in the least, and he was
suffered to slip out of the backdoor without comment.

He wished to make his way into the upper story without going up the
stairs, as to do that it would be necessary to pass the hero and heroine.
However, being well-acquainted with the building, and knowing how to
climb, he easily made his way into the upper story from the rear. Then
he stole noiselessly across the gloomy chamber, and felt his way to the
window, where the “imposter,” Bélître Scélérat, hung in state.

It is a fundamental principle that villains, when about to perpetrate
their dark crimes, should express their wicked thoughts in “hurried
whispers.” This is very foolish on the part of the villains; but it is
not easy to see how novels could be written if it were otherwise. Of
course the romancers do not always overhear these “hurried whispers,” but
the walls in the vicinity have ears, and probably the romancers get at
them in that way.

“Now, then,” muttered Jim, “I’ll teach ’em better than to leave me out of
their plots till they have to let me in. Charley and Steve intend to come
along for this to-morrow, do they, and take it away, and float it burning
down the river? I’ll bet they won’t! I’ll burn it all to smoke and ashes
now, as it hangs on its pins, and serve ’em right!”

“Hum, _this_ is Jim’s treachery!” sneers the reader. “I was led to expect
something better; I am disappointed.”

Gentle reader, if you are a faithful peruser of novels, you must have
a great fund of patience. Draw, then, on that fund, and more of Jim’s
designs will presently be unfolded. Draw on your imagination, also; for
his treachery was never fully made known.

Suiting the action to the word, Jim fumbled in his pocket and took out a
bunch of matches, which he had put there for this very purpose. He knew
he was doing wrong, and his hand trembled as he struck a light. He knew
that his terrible disease might seize him at any moment; and so, fearing
to stay longer where he was, he hastily applied the light to the spectral
figure, and turned to steal away.

The inflammable material of Bélître Scélérat’s clothes instantly caught
fire, and he himself was soon ablaze.

“Now to run and tell Marmaduke he is fooled,” Jim muttered.

In this way, poor simpleton, he thought to ease his conscience! But the
“still small voice” will be deceived by no such flimsy excuses.

“Then to yell ‘Fire!’--Oh, if any ghost _should_ be up here, now,--if
there _are_ such things as ghosts,--this is the place for them! Now, to
get away.----Ow! Ow! Ouowh!”

The cause of these unmusical yells from Jim was that he heard hasty
footsteps issuing from a room to the left, and then a ghost-like figure
appeared in the flaring light of the burning impostor.

Jim had almost expected to encounter something horrible, and when this
apparition hove in sight his terror was all the more intense.

Setting up horrisonous howls, that would have been a credit to Bob
Herriman himself, he forgot all about the dangerous place in the
floor,--which, as has been said, the explorers discovered, carefully
marked out, and avoided,--and rushed blindly upon it. A groan, a
trembling, and it gave way beneath him with the crash of an earthquake.

Marmaduke had just given the word to the priest for the second time, when
a succession of frightful howls and yells of agony struck their ears, and
a moment later a blinding cloud of dust, plaster, and splinters, pervaded
the apartment.

Jim, a scratched and woe-begone object, also fell.

Thus the plotters’ little difficulty was obviated; thus a ghost came to
them.

But that was not all. It so happened (rather, _of course_ it happened)
that Sauterelle and the general were in the course of the faller.

Before any of the demoralized plotters could think what was the matter,
or even think at all, Jim dropped heavily downward, and his feet caught
in the rescued one’s outlandish headdress. It was rudely torn off, and
Henry’s aching head received so violent a wrench that he could have
roared with the pain.

Although Jim’s fall was not stopped, its course was deflected, and his
head and body were thrown furiously into Marmaduke’s and Stephen’s arms.
He thus escaped with sundry painful bruises, owing perhaps his life
to the accident of striking Henry’s headdress and being thrown upon
Marmaduke and Stephen.

These two, also, were stunned and slightly hurt; and a pair of unique
goggles, that Steve wore as a partial disguise, went the way of the
hammer, the axe, and the band-box full of rusty tools.

Confusion reigned for a few moments; but as soon as the general could
think at all, his thoughts reverted to Sauterelle.

“Oh, where is Lady Sauterelle?” he cried.

He flew to Henry’s side, to behold--oh what?

Henry had seized his opportunity to strip off his disguise, and now
stood revealed in coat, vest, and pants--a very boy-like boy.

The plotters, somewhat recovered from their surprise, and seeing that no
one was much the worse for the fright, saw the dupe’s look of horror and
consternation, and could restrain themselves no longer. The long pent-up
laughter burst from each mouth in one deafening roar. This was what they
had plotted for, and it had come.

With a tragic and truly pathetic air, Marmaduke threw up his hands,
cried, in piteous tones, that the plotters will remember till their last
hour, “I am betrayed!” and fled out of the house like a madman.

For the first time the boys felt heartily ashamed of themselves. They all
ran out to call him back and beg his forgiveness, and discovered what
they would have known before, if they had not been so engrossed with
Jim’s fall and Henry’s unmasking.

The building was on fire and burning furiously! Though it was not five
minutes since Jim struck his match, the fire had gained too great a hold
to be extinguished.

Jim was appalled. Nothing was further from his thoughts than the burning
of the prison-house; though a little reflection would have shown him
that a figure fashioned of greasy clothes, and stuffed with rags, straw,
shavings, and sundry valuables that slipped in unawares, could not burn
within a few inches of a wooden building without setting it on fire.

“Fire! fire!” yelled the heroes, hardly knowing whether to be delighted
or otherwise at the prospect of such a bon-fire.

In the excitement of the moment the search after Marmaduke was given up.

“Are--are we all out, or is somebody burnt up?” Will asked, wildly, but
with rare presence of mind.

“Oh, boys, I did it, but I didn’t mean to burn the house,” Jim confessed.
“All I wanted was to burn your impostor, and tell Marmaduke the truth,
and--Ou! ou! ou! ou!” he shrieked. “There it is again! ou, ou!” and the
boy with the chills took to his heels.

Jim practised running: on this occasion he was soon out of sight.

The rest looked in the direction pointed out by Jim, and beheld a figure
in white gliding towards them. Was it a ghost, or some one wrapped up in
a sheet, so foolish as to play the part of a ghost?

“Oh, dear;” gasped Steve, “what is going to happen next?”

All the boys were wrought up to a pitch of great excitement, and were
more terrified than they cared to acknowledge. Henry’s thoughts reverted
to his Greek history and Nemesis.

But after a moment the Sage observed, with his habitual philosophy,
“Well, if it’s the ghost that inhabited that house, he is wise in seeking
other quarters, for it will soon be nothing but red-hot ashes.”

Then, afraid that Henry might think him weak enough to believe in ghosts,
he added, hastily, “Of course, you know, boys, that there are no such
creatures as ghosts; only--”

At this juncture the speaker broke off abruptly, and whatever information
he had to impart was lost. The apparition was now quite close to the
boys, and as the last words left George’s lips, it flung off something
very much like a sheet, and exclaimed, in a voice quite as human as
ghostly:

“Well, young gentlemen, since you hesitate to take me for a supernatural
being, I shall reveal myself to you.”

“Do it, then,” said Steve, in street Arab style. “Do it, for we must be
off to look for a comrade.”

“This to me!” cried the new-comer, angrily. “I’d have you know that I am
Benjamin Stolz.”

“Oh, horrors!” groaned Steve. “It’s the man that owns ‘Nobody’s House.’”

Mr. Stolz spoke again. (By the way, his full name was Benjamin Franklin
Stolz.) Laying aside the bantering tones in which he first addressed
them, he spoke fiercely:

“Young men, I want to know who owns that burning house?”

“The one straight ahead of us?” Will asked, as if they were in the midst
of a burning city, with buildings on fire on every side.

Mr. Stolz stooped, picked up a small stone, and flung it towards the
fire, saying, “That is the building I have reference to, unhappy youth.
If you can’t see it yet, I will carry you up to it. I repeat, _who is
supposed to own that place_?”

“I am to blame for all this, Mr. Stolz,” Charles had the courage to say.
“I persuaded the boys to come and make use of it; but I thought it was so
useless, and had been left idle so many years, that no one valued it. I
beg pardon, Mr. Stolz.”

Stolz hesitated. The boy’s willingness to receive all the blame touched
him. “He is a fine little fellow,” he said to himself, “but now that I
have started this I must go through it.”

Charles gained, rather than lost, by his confession, yet he did not
escape punishment. Perhaps he did not expect that.

“Well,” began Mr. Stolz, “think twice, or even four or five times, before
you plan to ‘make use of’ the property of others again. When I choose
to burn down my establishments, I shall do it myself, and not call in
schoolboys to do it for me. Did any of you ever hear what the law says
about burning a man’s house? Law, and the newspapers, and insurance
agents, call it _incendiarism_. Judges and juries call _incendiarism_
a very nefarious occupation. Now, don’t wait to see the walls
collapse--begone! all of you! To-morrow I shall send a writ of summons to
each of you! Begone! Good night.”

Having discharged his horrible threat about the writ of summons, Stolz
turned and strode towards the blazing and roaring fire, a very odd smile
on his lips.

The “incendiaries” did not see that smile, and they stood staring at his
retreating figure, speechless and hopeless. This was the end of their
plot! Ah, its growth had been difficult and uneven--its end was sublimely
tragical!

Not one of them had accused Jim of firing the building, though, from
his own confession, each one knew that Jim only was guilty of the deed.
However, they deserve no praise for this, since they were all so utterly
confounded that not one of them remembered it. But as Mr. Stolz was the
ghost that caused Jim’s panic, flight, and fall, he must certainly have
known all about it, and consequently it was better that they should hold
their peace.

After a solemn silence, Stephen asked faintly, “Boys, what’s a writ of
summons? Isn’t it something awful?”

The Sage brightened and answered him thus: “Yes, Steve, it is a dreadful
instrument of justice to deliver culprits up to the fury of Law--to
trial, punishment, and torture.”

Steve, who had a very vague notion of what the word _instrument_ means,
instantly thought of thumb-screws, racks, and divers other engines of
torture, that our “chivalrous” forefathers were so ingenious as to invent
and so diabolical as to use.

“Boys,” said Charles, “we are in a worse scrape than ever before. It
would be an awful thing if we should be sent to prison! Oh, it would kill
my mother! Henry, do you really think Stolz could send us to prison?”

“I don’t know,” said Henry, in a mournful voice, little above a whisper.

“Look here, boys,” spoke the Sage, with his time-honored phraseology, “we
have lost track of Marmaduke altogether. We must find out what has become
of him.”

“O dear, if he is missing, I shall not care to live!” Henry declared
sincerely. “Where do you suppose he is, boys? Is he a boy to take such a
thing very much to heart?”

“I’m afraid he is,” Will acknowledged. “He takes everything so seriously
that this will be almost too much for him.”

“Why didn’t you tell me that before?” Henry asked bitterly.

With wildly beating hearts the little band began to search for the
missing one, calling him imploringly by name and begging his forgiveness.
The search was continued till Henry became so completely exhausted that
he could no longer drag himself along; and then it was incumbent on the
others to take him home.

As they drew near the village, one of them proposed to stop at
Marmaduke’s home and inquire after him, in the faint hope that he might
be there. The others agreed to this, but with little hope of receiving a
favorable answer.

“Is Marmaduke at home?” Charles asked timidly, as Mr. Fitz-Williams
opened the door.

“No, he is not,” came the answer, “and we are very uneasy about him.”

The plotters did not explain themselves, but turned away, more heart-sick
than before. Suppose that he should wander off, and be found dead some
time afterwards, would not they be held guilty? Would not they be goaded
by remorse to the end of their days? Or suppose that he should follow the
slighted schoolboy’s bent, run away to sea, and never be heard of again
for twenty years.

Stephen was so distressed that he actually said to his fellow-sufferers:
“Boys, if he would only come back, I wouldn’t tease him about getting
married. I intended to tease him about it for months; but I won’t now, if
he will only come back; I won’t, not a bit!”

Stephen was a boy of boys; and for him to say that was to express his
contrition in the strongest possible terms.



_Chapter XXXIX._

REPENTANT PLOTTERS.--THE HEROES RE-UNITED.


The discomfited plotters were forced into a confession of all their deeds
for the past few days, and a party headed by Mr. Fitz-Williams set out
to scour the country for the missing boy. Then, contrite and woebegone,
the evildoers slunk into their respective homes, there to receive what
punishment their outraged parents should see fit to inflict.

It is not best to enter into details; it would be too harrowing. It is
sufficient to say that when their weary heads at length sought their
pillows, sleep refused to come to their relief, and such a night of
torture few of them ever passed.

“If it wouldn’t make us appear guiltier than we are,” Henry said, with
feverishly bright eyes, “you and I would pack up, too, Will, and run
away, and travel all around the world.”

As Henry did not deign to state how this might be accomplished, we are
left to infer that he had an idea of a flying-machine in his mind.

Stephen and Charles wore out the night in wondering what they should do
with themselves if sent to prison. The former resolved that he would
undermine the prison foundations with his jack-knife, and make his escape
to Robinson Crusoe’s island.

“There I shall spend my life,” he sighed heroically, “thinking of
Marmaduke. Robinson lived alone twenty-eight years; I’m only sixteen, I
shall probably live alone about sixty years, if the cannibals don’t catch
me and eat me up.”

Poor dreamer! He was not sufficiently well versed in geography to know
that Robinson Crusoe’s island is not now so desirable a place to play the
hermit in as it was in the seventeenth century.

George, who was of an inquisitive disposition, finally left his bed,
broke into the lumber-room of his ancestral home, and after diligent
search, found a bulky tome, which, years before, had been consigned to
that dreary region as being more learned than intelligible. This tome was
entitled “Every Man his own Lawyer.”

With this prize he returned to his bedroom, muttering, “Now I shall see
just what the law can do to us boys, and all about the whole business,
and what we ought to do and say.”

After an hour’s careful study of this neglected “Mine of Wealth,” the
Sage let it slip out of his hands, and tumbled into bed again, muttering:
“Yes, one of us is guilty of the crime of arson. That is very clear. All
of us are liable to be sent to prison. That is pretty clear. As I make
it out, the sentence ranges between six months and a hundred years. Which
will the judge conclude we deserve, six or one hundred? Oh, well, it will
be hideous to live in a prison at all, for there will be no books there!”

According to the Sage’s notions, the worst fate that could possibly
overtake him would be to be deprived of his books.

“But, O dear,” he pursued, “I should be willing to give up all my books
if Marmaduke could be found.”

Morning dawned on the reformed plotters with mocking serenity. There
could be no enjoyment for them while such a cloud of mystery hung over
their companion’s fate.

The searchers were not so successful on this occasion as when they used
to rove over land and sea for Will and his companions; not the slightest
clew to Marmaduke’s whereabouts being found.

The news of the preceding day’s doings was already known throughout
the neighborhood, and the boys were spoken of in no flattering terms.
Those villagers whose phraseology was refined, called them “whimsical
juveniles, wise beyond their years;” while those villagers whose
phraseology was terse and expressive, brutally gave them Greek and
Japanese nick-names for the Evil One.

As the hour of dinner approached, a grim-visaged man, who looked like
the descendant of a long line of executioners and muleteers, so grave
and stern were his features, called on each one of the five boys who had
had an interview with Mr. Stolz, and delivered to each one a formidable
envelope that bore the impress of the Law, and a single glance at which
was sufficient to freeze one’s blood. Having done this, the “minion of
the law,” as the terrified boys supposed he was, left the village at a
round pace, looking less and less grave with every step. Reader, this
person was a bosom-friend of B. F. Stolz’s, disguised with a lawyer’s
neck-tie, hat, and cane, or cudgel.

Fearfully the awe-inspiring seals were broken, and the legal missives
were found to run as follows:

    “Having observed a party of urchins prowling around my place
    up stream, and having, by the merest accident, learned the
    contents of a certain ‘letter’ written by a certain William,
    I was so long-headed as to put this and that together; and I
    resolved to make myself acquainted with what was going on.
    Accordingly, I watched, and waited, and hovered lovingly near
    you, when you knew it not. I discovered your plot. Last night I
    was hidden away up-stairs, within earshot, prepared to spring
    among you suddenly as a ghost, when I had an unexpected meeting
    with Jim. The rest I believe you know. Don’t be at all alarmed
    about the fire; Jim alone is responsible for that; I will
    take no further notice of the affair. I wished to punish you,
    however, and hit on this little plan. Whether I have succeeded
    or not, you yourselves know best. If you were kept awake by
    uneasiness last night as much as I was by laughter, I am more
    than indemnified for the loss of ‘Nobody’s House.’

    “In the matter of Marmaduke, I believe he is keeping house in
    the big barn on the road to----. I have already notified his
    parents of this. To the Rescue, O ye Heroes!

    “I have the honor, your excellencies, to sign myself your
    humble servant.

                                                      “B. F. STOLZ.”

This Stolz was a remarkable man--almost a genius. Professionally a
farmer, he was wholly taken up with the pastime of playing practical
jokes. No subject, no person, was too exalted to escape him; and, as his
letter proves, he stooped to play off his tricks on even boys! In this
instance he had actually spied on them, and let them make free with his
house, intending to electrify them as a hobgoblin when they should have
worked themselves up to a proper pitch of excitement.

But, like every one else concerned in this scheme, he himself was a
sufferer.

The boys were relieved. No more haunting fears of being sent to
penitentiary; no more ingenious speculations as to how they should occupy
themselves there. Better than all else, they had news of Marmaduke.

When Marmaduke discovered the imposition, and fled, he was almost
beside himself with grief, horror, and anger. It seemed to him that boys
who could deliberately contrive and execute so base a scheme must be
exceedingly depraved--cruel, and lost to all sense of honor. It seemed
to him, in short, that they were worse than they were. After having been
duped so completely by them, he could not endure the thought of ever
seeing them again, and so resolved to abandon his country.

Poor Marmaduke! He was of a sensitive temperament, and believed that his
heartless school-fellows would ridicule him for evermore.

He wandered on till he came to a large and empty barn, and then it
occurred to him that it would be proper for him, as an exile, to take up
his quarters in it for a short time. He reasoned, also, that if he should
be looked for, it would be well to keep hidden till the search was over,
when he could continue his flight towards the sea-coast, or any other
place, in peace and safety.

“I am resolved that they shall not take me,” he said in himself, “for I
could not survive another attack from those boys. No, I shall wander off
to some happy land, where my merit will be appreciated. Then I shall set
to work, become rich and famous, and after long years have passed I shall
return for a few days to my insulting countrymen, _a great man_! _Then_
people that think it is hardly worth while to say ‘good-day’ to me now,
will be glad to catch a glimpse of me from behind a window-curtain; and
that horrible old woman that says _I_ look a little like her _son_, the
_carter_, will discover that the _Governor of the State_ looks just like
_me_! Then those boys--they will be men then--will remember that I used
to be Marmaduke, that they used to sit in the same seat with me, and that
they used to study out of my books sometimes; and they will come around
me, humble and cringing, and try to get me to recognize them. But I won’t
recognize them--by even a look or a turn!”

Full of his future triumph and of his most original manner of slighting
his persecutors, Marmaduke effected an entry into the old barn in a
very burglarious way, not at all compatible with his dignity. To speak
plainly, he picked the lock with a pair of tweezers, which he had used a
few hours previous for a different, a very different purpose.

Here he spent the night, dozing, fuming against his school-fellows, and
speculating on his future glory; while his nearly distracted parent was
dragging ponds, snappishly replying to the impertinent questions of
curious old women, sending little boys and big men hither and thither on
a fool’s errand, and goading sleepy knights of the telegraph almost to
frenzy.

Next morning as Mr. Stolz was passing the old barn, he fancied he heard
strange sounds within. He slid off his horse, warily drew near, and
looking through a knot-hole, discovered the missing boy lying on the
floor, holding quiet converse with himself, as he matured his plans for
the future.

Stolz hurried back to his horse, almost beside himself with laughter, and
thinking that the boys’ plot was most sublimely ridiculous.

Just as the dreamer was in the midst of composing an elaborate letter of
farewell to his mother, his sterner parent appeared on the scene, and
poor Marmaduke’s trip to “some happy land” was postponed indefinitely.

Strange as it may at first seem, Marmaduke was more pleased to return
home than he cared to acknowledge. Life as an exile in a gloomy old
barn was decidedly monotonous; and his curiosity as to who the prisoner
represented by Sauterelle could be, was becoming excited. It was a
mystery which he must fathom.

His poor mother and his remorseful companions welcomed him with
heart-felt joy; and twenty-four hours after he and Henry first met, they
were debating--with considerable constraint, it is true--whether there is
more fun in fishing with a spear than with a pole and line.

Such is life--among school-boys.

What effect did this have on the tricksters, in a moral point of view?
Only a slight one, certainly not a lasting one. Though shocked and
conscience-smitten for a time, they were soon as reckless and perverse
as ever; and the lesson their suffering should have taught them was
unheeded.

Considering the leniency with which Mr. Stolz treated them, they should
have felt grateful towards him. On the contrary, whenever this practical
joker hove in sight on his goggle-eyed old charger, instead of advancing
to touch their hats to him respectfully, they regarded him with such
deep-seated rancour that they invariably jumped over the handiest fence,
and strolled off somewhere through the fields.

The gossiping villagers had a new subject of comment, and they took
delight in jeering at the “French lords,” as they insultingly called
the ex-plotters. For that reason it was dangerous, as long as the
holidays lasted, to say anything to them about France or Frenchmen; and
Stephen fell into such a habit of looking furious that his left eye was
permanently injured.

As for Henry, he became so home-sick and heart-sick that, after a visit
of only ten days, he packed his valise and returned.



_Chapter XL._

THE HEROES FIGURE AS HUNTERS.


Perhaps the reader may think that while the seven heroes were together,
instead of packing Henry, the seventh (observe the comma immediately
after Henry; observe, also, that it is not written Henry VII.), off home,
it would have been better to relate a few more of their exploits. Not so.
In imposing on Marmaduke, each one was guilty of a breach of trust, so
that it would not be right to have them appear with such a stain on their
reputation. As for Jim, he premeditated villainy; and in good romances
no villain can long be regarded as a hero--unless he happens to be a
highwayman, and it would be preposterous to attempt to have Jim play the
highwayman. Now, the intention is to write this story on a moral basis;
therefore, a few years are suffered to elapse, and they are supposed to
reform in that time.

Marmaduke did no wrong, so that his history might be continued, without
doubt. But this story could not go on, unless all the boys, Jim included,
were in it.

Suppose, therefore, that six years have passed since the burning of
“Nobody’s House.” The boys, now men, are still alive, and in good health
and spirits. How they have spent those six years is not difficult to
imagine. All of them regularly attended school till they were big and
awkward, when most of them were sent to a university, to complete their
education.

It was originally the intention to relate some thrilling incidents that
took place while they were students; but being too lazy to collect
sufficient scientific facts to do so with effect, that intention was
reluctantly given up.

Gentle reader, if you are ever at a loss for something to sigh about,
just think what you have missed in not reading how four sophomores barely
escaped blowing themselves and a leaky steamboat up into the clouds,
fancying that they understood the _theory_ of working a steam-engine.
To torture you still further, imagine, also, a scene in which a learned
professor’s “focus cannon” mysteriously, unadvisedly, and to the heroes’
amazement and horror, shot a ball into a pair of glass globes, which the
affectionate students were about to present to him.

It was autumn; and the seven young men, heroes still, were preparing to
journey far northward, to hunt deer, or whatever else their bullets might
chance to strike.

Will and Henry prevailed on Uncle Dick to accompany them--greatly to the
satisfaction of the elders, who fondly hoped he would keep a fatherly eye
on the reckless hunters, and prevent them from destroying themselves.

Fully equipped, the party of eight set out for the “happy hunting
grounds,” firm in the resolution to kill all the game still remaining in
the great northwest. If plenty of ammunition and fire-arms would avail,
then certainly they should bring home a great supply of animal food.

But whether the fourfooted creatures of the forest were forewarned that a
band of mighty hunters was on the war-trail, and fled from their sylvan
haunts, or whether they obstinately remained, and bade defiance to the
Nimrods’ balls, is a mooted point, which the intensely interested reader
may set at rest as he pleases.

Having arrived at the outskirts of a growing settlement, close to a
genuine forest, the eight hunters fell to work, and soon built an
uncomfortable and unsafe little shanty.

“This will be life in earnest,” Charles observed joyously.

The young ladies of his native village politely spoke of him as “Mr.
Growler;” but his moustache was still so white that we should not be
justified in so honoring him.

“Yes; this is the artless life our forefathers lived;” said Marmaduke,
poetical as ever.

“No,” corrected Stephen, “our forefathers didn’t range through the forest
with Castile soap in their bundles and charms dangling on their watch
chains.”

“Come, now, considering that you smuggled the soap into Marmaduke’s pack,
you are rather hard on him,” said Will.

“Oh, I smuggled it there for my own use as well as for his,” Stephen
explained.

This proves that Steve was as fond as ever of monkey tricks.

Of course the hunters were to depend on what they killed in the chase for
food; and so, as soon as they were fairly settled, Will and Henry set out
to shoot something that would make a delicious stew for dinner.

All at once a strange, shadowy form was espied by Will, lurking in the
edge of the wood; and without a moment’s hesitation he raised his gun
and fired. Now, at home, Will was considered an excellent marksman;
therefore, Henry, who was beside him, was not surprised to see that,
whatever the animal might be, it was stone dead.

They hurried to the fallen prey, and were almost as much disappointed
as the small boy is when he finds that his fish-hook has captured a
demonstrative crab instead of a good-natured chub.

“Well,” the destroyer said, with a grim smile, “I have done what Steve
has often tried to do, but never did--_I have slain a grimalkin_!”

“Cats have no business to prowl around here, and they deserve to be shot,
though we haven’t come all this distance to shoot them,” Henry said
peevishly. “But let us hide this hoary fellow; for if Steve should hear
of it, he might be tempted to box it up and send it home as your first
deer.”

It would not be worth while to give the weary and fruitless tramp the
cousins took; it is sufficient to say that they shot nothing that a
civilized cook would take pride in preparing for the table. At last
Henry was fortunate enough to disable a brace of woodcocks, and after an
exciting chase they secured them, and then returned to their quarters.

Next morning the entire party went hunting, resolved to kill something.
They penetrated far into the forest, talking as freely as if they were in
a desert or on the ocean. Consequently, they did not see much game.

“Hist!” Mr. Lawrence suddenly exclaimed. “What enormous beast is that
yonder?”

“It’s a bear?” Will cried with rapture. “A genuine bear!”

“Are there bears here, in this part of the world?” Jim asked uneasily.
“Did we come to hunt bears?”

“Of course we did; of course there are;” Henry said with disgust. “Jim,
I wish our good old professor could have you among his students. There
would be virgin soil, and you would make an apt student, I am sure.”

“Yes, it is a bear,” George said emphatically. “A large bear, and
probably a ferocious one. There is the true bearish head, thick and
heavy; the cropped ears; the thick snout; and the long shaggy coat. It is
larger than even the one in the museum, isn’t it, Henry?”

Henry thought it was.

“I see the very place to plant a fatal shot,” George hinted.

“Plant it, then,” Steve growled.

George, eager to slay the monster, fired quickly.

The smoke cleared away, and there lay the bear, in exactly the same
position.

“It is stone-dead, surely enough!” Will said, as though surprised.

“No; I fancied I saw it move a little,” Mr. Lawrence said.

“Then let us all fire a round of balls into it,” Steve suggested.

“I won’t have it riddled with shot!” George said angrily. “I saw just
where to hit it, and I hit it there, and it’s dead.”

But his wish was disregarded, and some of the hunters cowardly fired.
Then they advanced cautiously, still fearing that the bear might have
life enough in him to give battle. But the “bearish head” was not raised;
the “thick snout” was not dilated.

Steve, who was ahead, suddenly gasped out a plaintive “Oh.” Then the
others also saw. The sun shone through the trees, and left a peculiar
shadow on the grass and brushwood. That was the bear.

“Let us clap this bear into the museum,” Stephen presently observed.

The disgusted hunters concluded to separate, and meet at a certain time
and place, if they didn’t get lost or eaten up.

Will wandered off alone, and shot scores of useful birds and animals--not
useful to him, as a hunter, but useful in the economy of nature. But
after one shot had been thus thrown away, a yell of anger and terror rang
through the forest, and with his heart beating time to his footsteps,
Will hurried in the direction of that yell.

He soon came up to a man, sitting on a fallen tree, distorting his
features, and nursing his finger in his mouth, with a gurgling noise,
peculiar to a sobbing school-boy trying to soothe the pain inflicted by a
hasty-tempered wasp.

“Hello, there!” cried this man. “Did you shoot that bullet?”

“Yes, I have just discharged my gun,” Will answered. “Did--did it hit
you, sir? If so, I am extremely sorry, for, I assure you, I had no
intention--”

“That’ll do!” broke in the wounded man, removing his finger for a
moment. “It is plain enough that _you_ are no hunter,” contemptuously. “A
genuine hunter doesn’t go cracking around like a boy with a pop-gun, nor
talk like as if he was writing to the post-master general. But, I say, do
you know what you have done? You have smashed my little finger!”

“What? Are you really hurt? Did the ball strike your finger?”

“Of course it did,” angrily; “and it’ll be the dearest bullet you ever
bought! I tell you, I’m sick of having city chaps tearing through our
woods, and scaring the deer and things, and if they keep it up much
longer, the whole population’ll be shot off. Oh, cracky, but my finger
smarts! I was never shot before.”

“Let me see your wound,” Will said.

But the “child of nature” showed no disposition to let Will examine his
injured member, and Will was both amused and relieved to hear him make
the following observation: “No, it ain’t so much the finger that troubles
me; it’ll soon heal; but I had a bully good silver ring on it, that I
found in an old dust-heap, and that there bullet has busted it.”

Then the shooter stepped up to the rustic, saying: “Come, I must see
your finger. If it is badly hurt I will bind it up for you; I have the
materials all ready in my pockets.”

“Well, _you_ are quite right in carrying rags, and salve, and thread, and
pins, and soft cotton, and strings, and such trash, always stuffed in
your pockets, for you look like as if you might blow your head off any
minute,” the wounded man insultingly said, as he got a nearer view of
Will.

Without further delay he submitted his finger to Will’s examination. Will
presently observed: “I think your strong silver ring saved the finger,
if not the entire hand, from a severe wound, as the bullet struck its
ornamental carvings and then glanced. In a day or so your finger will
be as sound as ever. Well, I’m sorry I hurt you, but I must be off.
Good-day.”

“Now, just wait a minute,” said the man with the silver ring. “You don’t
know how much I think of a good ring. I’m a very affectionate feller, and
as there’s nothing else for me to take to, I think a heap of a good ring.
And this one’s ruined and busted now. It may be ever so long before I can
get as good a one--and you made fun of it, too! I say, what did you say
about ‘carvings.’”

“But the ring saved your hand,” Will persisted.

“I don’t say nothing about that; but your bullet has spoilt my ring, and
I mean to have the worth of it. Do you understand that? I ask for the
worth of it.”

“Certainly; how much is your ring worth?”

“Eh? Well, I don’t know; it was a pretty valuable ring. How high will you
go?”

Poor Will was becoming tired. He longed to leave the barbarian’s company,
and was fumbling in his pocket for a small gold piece that was there,
when a rustling in the underwood drew his attention.

“Wumblers! There’ll be another bullet here next! Whoop! here comes
another hunter full drive! Oh! cracky, there’s buck after him! Lemme see
your gun, and I’ll show you how to knock ’em over.”

This was quite true. Romantic Marmaduke had stumbled on the fresh track
of a deer, and following on, had soon come up with it.

So much he freely confessed to his inquiring fellow-hunters. But how
the deer came to give chase--whether he showed the white feather at the
critical moment, or whether he chanted poetry to the hunted creature, and
so infuriated it past endurance--is a question which he could not, or
would not, answer.

Will’s heart beat fast. Here was a large deer within range of his rifle.
If he should kill it on the spot he would achieve a valiant deed, as well
as put an end to Marmaduke’s ignominious flight.

“Lemme see you gun,” the man said eagerly.

Will did not choose to comply with his request, but levelled his rifle at
the approaching animal, and fired.

While hunting the last two days, he had suffered so many disappointments
that he himself was perhaps somewhat surprised to see the deer plunge
forward and gasp out his life in a short but awful agony.

“Good for you, old feller; you can shoot some, after all!” the forester
ejaculated.

Marmaduke stopped his flight, saw Will, heaved a sigh, and said
pathetically, “It is hard to see the noble beast cut off in all his pride
and strength.”

“Yes, but better than to suffer from his fury, I hope;” Will replied.
“But how under the sun did the chase begin?” he asked, glancing from his
rifle to the deer with intense satisfaction.

But the chased one was reticent on that point, as stated above; and to
evade an answer, he turned to the man with the marred silver ring, and
asked, “What gentleman is this?”

“What was it you said about cutting up the buck, just now, stranger?”
this gentleman eagerly inquired. “If you’re going to cut him up, I’ll
help you; and for my share I’ll take a haunch.”

Alas! Though forest-born and familiar with woodland scenes and noble
deer, this man had not a poetic soul, and he interpreted Marmaduke’s
beautiful apostrophe as a wish that the deer should be cut up!

“_Your_ share! What have _you_ to do with it?” Marmaduke inquired, coming
down to the things of this world with startling abruptness.

“Well, this here feller went and shot me; and I’m going to help you cut
up your deer; and for all my trouble and suffering I only ask for a
haunch. I’ll have it, too!” determinedly.



_Chapter XLI._

HOW WILL LOST HIS DEER.


Marmaduke now demanded and received a brief explanation of affairs.

Seeing a way out of the difficulty, he pointed obliquely over the injured
man’s shoulder, and said, “Will, there is a plump and sweet partridge in
that tree;--no, lower down;--further on;--hadn’t you better shoot it for
him?”

After a moment’s deliberation the man who loved a good silver ring agreed
to be satisfied with the partridge.

Yet an evil smile curved his lips--a smile that foreboded mischief to
something--perhaps to the partridge.

Will had no sooner fired than a howl of awful agony burst from the man’s
lips, and having spread his huge hands over the region where the ignorant
suppose their vitals are situated, he bowed his body downwards, and there
passed over his face a look of suffering that, in sublime tragedy, almost
equalled the frightful spasms so graphically portrayed in our patent
medicine almanacs.

_Almost_--nothing can quite come up to the patent medicine almanacs in
that respect.

With a voice that was appalling in its unrestrained vehemence, he fell
to delivering hideous ecphoneses,--too hideous, in fact, to be repeated
here,--and then gasped faintly, “You’ve done it now!”

Poor Will! He was nearly crazed with grief.

“Oh!” he groaned, “have I killed him? Have I taken a fellow-creature’s
life? Has my hastiness at last had a fatal result?”

“Oh,” Marmaduke murmured, “how could Will’s ball glance so as to enter
that man’s body?”

For several seconds the two unlucky hunters stood perfectly still, held
to the spot by devouring horror and anguish.

During this time, the forester seemed to be undergoing exquisite pain;
but presently, with an effort worthy of a hero, he struggled to an erect
posture, and said, with a faltering tongue: “Young men--perhaps--I’m,
I’m gone.--I--can’t blame--you, sir;--a man--can’t tell--how his
ball--may glance.--Go,--both of you,--go--and get a--doctor.--Bring
a--doctor--you,” to Will; “and you--” to Marmaduke, “go east--from--from
here--half a-mile--to my--father’s.--I--I--can stay--alone.”

“Poor, poor fellow,” said Will, with tears in his eyes. “Can you stay
here alone and suffer till we come back?”

“Yes,” groaned the wounded man. “I can--stay-till--the
other--fellow--finds my--father.--It won’t--be long.”

“Let me at least see your wound before I go,” Will entreated. “Perhaps I
could ease you, or even save your life.”

“Go! oh go!” urged the wounded man. “I’ll--hold out--if you are--quick.”

Then the two hunters strode sorrowfully away in their different
directions--Will with a vague notion that the nearest surgeon lived
several miles to the south--Marmaduke thinking that the “peasants” of his
country are a hardy and noble race.

They were barely out of sight on their errands of mercy when a change
most magical came over the sufferer’s face. Two minutes before, and
his features wore the tortured look of an invalid “before taking our
prescription;” now they wore the happy smirk of a convalescent, relieved
from all pain, “after taking our prescription.”

Then, villain-like, he muttered: “I hardly expected to make so much out
of the two fools--a whole deer! That’s striking it pretty rich! I don’t
shoot a deer in a month; but this is just as good, for I can make off
with this one at my leisure. Well, I reckoned that little ‘wound’ would
work.”

A horrible chuckle escaped from his lips, he sprang to his feet as sound
in health as a person could expect to be, walked up to Will’s deer, and
coolly began to drag it away into the depths of the forest. All that part
of the forest was known to him, and he soon dragged his prey into a place
of concealment where its rightful owners would hardly find it.

“There,” he muttered, “I guess I have dragged the old feller far enough.
He’s safe enough here till I can take him home. Now, they haven’t been
gone long, and if they keep on, they may get lost; and it’s mean to have
’em get lost on a fool’s errand. Perhaps this’ll bring ’em back on a keen
run. How they will hunt for me and the deer!”

As the thief spoke he retraced his steps a little way, discharged a
pistol concealed on his person, and then slunk back to his hiding-place.
Yes, he was so humane that he did not wish the two deluded hunters to
bring succor to a man who did not need it.

The report of his pistol had the desired effect. Both Will and Marmaduke
heard it; and fearing that the poor wretch was attacked by some foe,
human or otherwise, they hastened back to the scene of bruises and
wounds, meanness and trickery.

Of course they found nothing, and, although they were heroes, they were
unable to track the knave to his hiding-place. Will was furious. He had
felt so grieved at having wounded a fellow-creature; so proud, a moment
before, of having been the first to kill a deer; and now he naturally and
correctly concluded that the “wound” was a mere ruse on the rogue’s part,
in order the more surely to get possession of the deer.

“Will, I took the fellow to be a very fair example of our peasants; an
honest, ingenuous and hardy forester. How bitterly I am deceived.”

Will replied: “Well, _I_ took the fellow for a hypocrite and a downright
knave from the first. It isn’t so much the deer,--though that is really
a great loss for me,--but the depravity that the man has shown, that
grieves me. And I was just going to give him a new dollar gold piece
to squander his affection on! But, Marmaduke,” with a flash of his old
jovialness, “don’t talk about _peasants_ and _peasantry_, for free
America knows no such word. Marmaduke, I’m afraid your trip to Europe in
the summer filled your mind with some ridiculous notions. Shake them off,
and be yourself again.”

“Well, Will, you are in the right. Now, suppose that we look for the
partridge, for I believe your ball killed it.”

“No, Marmaduke. I missed it, for I saw it fly away untouched, just as
that man doubled himself up and began to howl.”

“Then you took it for granted that he received the ball?”

“Yes. Well, it is useless to remain here, so let us hurry on to the
trysting-place, due west, if we want to meet the others. But if I
don’t unearth that wretch to-morrow, it will be because--because his
ill-gotten deer poisons him!”

Having taken this dreadful resolution, the two set off for the
rendezvous, where they arrived just in time to meet with the other
hunters.

“Ho!” cried Steve, when he observed Will’s gloomy looks. “Ho, old fellow!
your face _indicates_ a _moody mood_.”

“Well,” snarled Will, “have you shot some school-boy’s grammar, and read
it through?”

Then he narrated his encounter with the man in the forest.

It was received with plaintive cries of astonishment, anger, and horror.

“Well, Will,” said Steve after the first paroxysms of rage had subsided,
“I gather two morals--morals full of instruction, too--from your
narrative.”

As no one inquired what these “morals” might be, the speaker was obliged
to resume his discourse rather awkwardly. But no one could cow Steve into
silence.

“Yes, boys; two morals----”

A pause--in vain.

“Two morals, I say. In the first place, when you are in a forest like
this, always protect the fourth member of the left paw with a sculptured
silver ring. In the second place, never fire at a partridge when a
jewelled rustic occupies a log some thirty feet southeast of your left
ear, as Marmaduke hints this one did. It is as dangerous as a nest of
hornets on the North Pole.”

“Don’t be so atrocious,” said Charles. “In my mind’s eye, I can look
back eight years or so, and see a battered-knuckled urchin called Steve
Goodfellow, wriggling on a bench in a certain Sunday School, and turning
idly round and round a _beautiful_ silver ring, that adorned first one
and then another of his fingers.”

Steve sat down so suddenly that he burst the paper collar around his
neck. However, he took no notice of this, but changed the subject and
diverted the boys’ attention by saying: “I say, Will and Marmaduke,
George, as well as you, has had disappointments to-day. I shouldn’t
relate this little anecdote, if George hadn’t given me permission;
because it would be too mean for even _me_, and _that_ is saying a good
deal. O dear! I’m sorry, boys; but I can’t help it!”

“Well, Steve, there is one thing in your favor,” Charles said soothingly.
“You always confine what you are pleased to call your _meanness_ to us
boys; and we can survive it all--in fact, we expect it from you, old
fellow.”

“Thank you, Charley; you can see below the surface, and see just how
heavily and guiltily my great heart beats when I attempt to insult
over you boys. But now for my anecdote. George and I meet in a ‘bowery
glade.’ Though we glare wickedly round in search of prey, I see nothing
but Nature’s loveliness. George espies a phenomenon high up in a monster
of the forest, ‘an old primeval giant,’ whose branching top fanned the
blue sky. In other words, he espies something queer, perched high in a
grand old fir. It is large; it is strange; it moves. ‘It is a creature
of the air,’ thinks George. ‘It _is_! It is a bird new to science! Oh,
what pleasing discovery do I make? Am I about to cover myself with
glory? I am! I feel it in my inmost heart, my heart of heart. Steve,’ he
continues, ‘I know my destiny--the pursuit of science. My fate is now
marked out; I shall write _ornithologies_! Now I must shoot this percher
down; I cannot climb to catch it, though more’s the pity.’ O boys, it
was, alas! a bird’s nest! A great big bird’s nest! And when he fired, it
was no more. This is my mournful tale: this is my anecdote.”

“Steve, don’t relate any more such anecdotes,” said Charles, “or you will
burst your ‘great heart’ as you have burst your paper collar.”

“Steve, did George tell you _how_ you might relate that incident?” Will
asked suspiciously. “But, Steve,” he added gravely, “be good enough to
tell me what you have shot to-day to make you so merry.”

“With the greatest pleasure,” Steve replied grimly. “_I shot the barrel
of my gun all to pieces._”

“What?” Will asked, at a loss to take Steve’s meaning.

“In other words,” Mr. Lawrence said, “Stephen overcharged his gun, and it
burst--burst with a vengeance.”

“It seems to me that a good many things have burst, or failed to burst,
to-day,” George muttered.

Then they proceeded to their camp,--as Marmaduke loved to call the
miserable shanty that barely afforded them shelter,--affecting to carry
their guns and their almost empty game-bags as though they were veteran
hunters.

Each one was thinking about the deer which was rightfully Will’s, and
each one felt that the affair was not over yet.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is with some real reluctance that the scene with the forester is
introduced, because romancers take altogether too much delight in
parading villainy; but at one time this scene seemed, in a measure, to be
necessary to the construction of this story. Afterwards the writer had
not the moral courage to leave it out.

Most readers can remember that in almost all novels that they have read,
(excepting, of course, the “intensely interesting” ones,) there was at
least one chapter which, taken by itself, seemed tiresome and useless;
but which, woven in skilfully, and taken in connection with the whole,
was necessary to the perfection of the novel.

After writing these two paragraphs, in order to disarm all hostile
criticism, we shall imagine a conscientious reader’s referring to this
chapter, after he has carefully perused the entire story, and saying,
with a horrible fear that his usual insight into things has forsaken him:
“Well, I can’t see the particular need and worth of this chapter,” while
we furnish this consoling information--“_Neither can we!_”

Now, carpers, if you can apprehend the meaning of all this, draw out your
engines and bring them into play.

Another point: Let not the conscientious reader rack his brains in a
vain endeavor to discover what particular “follies,” or “foibles,” are
attacked in this chapter, for the writer himself does not know; though
he is morally certain that he has not written these two chapters just to
injure the trade in silver rings.



_Chapter XLII._

WHAT CURIOSITY COST THE HUNTERS.


Next morning the mighty Nimrods breakfasted, in imagination, on their
deer; and then struck out into the forest, resolved to unearth the rogue
who had gulled poor Will.

But soon the fickle hunters concluded to secure the services of an
officer of the law, and on reaching the edge of the forest they were
directed where to find such a person.

They came up with this man in his orchard, but whether he was gathering
apples or only eating them they could not guess. He listened patiently to
the story of their wrongs (they did not give it _exactly_ as it happened,
but they did not falsify it at all), and then told them that they might
go on with their hunt and not trouble their heads about it further, for
he would soon overhaul the villain.

The hunters lingered irresolutely, but the man seemed to know his own
business best, and with a peremptory “good day” he scrambled into a
patriarchal apple-tree, and fell to shaking down his apples so recklessly
and disrespectfully that they thought it prudent to withdraw.

“I will catch the rascal myself, after all,” Will declared.

“Yes, let us penetrate far into this old forest,” Marmaduke added. “If we
explore its length and breadth, perhaps we shall find some trace of our
game.”

“Perhaps, if we set to work in earnest, we shall be more successful
hunting for man than we have been for beast,” the young man who used to
be called the Sage observed.

With that the hunters struck out boldly.

“Boys,” said Charles, (they still used the familiar appellation of former
years,) “did any of you ever read a romance in which a scout figured as
the hero, or in which the hero sometimes played the part of a scout, or
spy?”

“I have,” said two or three.

“Well, how did they go about it?” Charles asked.

“Oh,” said Stephen, who took it upon himself to answer, “they always wore
leather breeches, moccasins, and shot-belts; they always struck the trail
at once, smoked the chiefs’ peace-pipe, and slew the common Indians; they
always followed their trade _alone_,--or if they had a mate, _both_ went
alone,--and chewed home-made tobacco with the few tusks still left them;
they always tomahawked deserters, other people’s spies, or scouts, and
wild-cats; and finally, they always found out secrets that got them into
trouble, but lived to receive a gold snuff-box on the occasion of the
hero’s wedding. What they did with the gold snuff-box I don’t know; for
there the romancer, being too much exhausted to write ‘The End,’ which
has six letters, always wrote ‘Finis,’ which has only five.”

“Thank you, Steve,” said Charles. “But according to that, it is hopeless
for us to act the orthodox spy, so we shall have to go on blindly and
take our chances.”

And they did go on blindly--so blindly, that five hours later, when
hunger began to show her hand, they perceived that they were lost! Lost
in a vast forest, which, for all they knew, was infested with robbers!

“It is strange that we have not travelled in a circle,” George mused.
“You all know, of course, that when a man loses his way, it is a
fundamental principle that he should travel in a circle.”

“Well, if we keep on diligently, probably we shall have the pleasure of
finding that we are travelling in a circle,” Charles commented.

“I tell you what it is, boys;” Steve said, making use of an expression
that had left his lips at least once daily since his twelfth year; “I
tell you what it is, boys; now that we are lost, let us make the most of
it. I have had a hankering to get lost ever since I cried myself to sleep
over the mournful tale of the ‘Babes in the Woods;’ and now I am going to
enjoy the novel sensation of being lost! Hurrah!”

And in the exuberance of his spirits careless Steve plucked off his hat
and flung it aloft so adroitly that it caught in a tree and dangled there
tantalizingly, quite out of his reach. However, a ball from Charles’s
rifle induced it to fall.

“That is the most useful thing I have shot, Steve,” he confessed
dejectedly; “and if it had been a thing of life, I should have terminated
that life,” pointing to a ghastly hole in the crown of the hat.

“Don’t be so much moved, Steve,” George observed; “for you may fare worse
than even the ‘Babes in the Woods.’ Poor little creatures, they died
happy, at least.”

“Oh,” said Marmaduke, also delighted to think he was actually lost, “we
can live very well for a few days in this magnificent old forest. We
can, of course, procure all the animal food we shall need, together with
roots, herbs, and berries--no, it’s too late for berries. A man can live
on fish, fruit, and roots, without injury to his system; and in a few
days we shall find our way out, or else be rescued by others.”

“Very good,” said Will; “but where are we to catch the fishes?”

“Oh,” Steve said promptly, “Marmaduke bases his argument on the
supposition that whenever a hunter gets lost, he and a ‘pure stream,’
stocked with fish, presently fall into each other’s arms.”

“Speaking of _rescue_,” said Charles, “many a poor lost hunter is
_rescued_ from his sufferings by wild beasts that devour him.”

“It is sheer nonsense to talk of becoming lost here,” Will declared
dogmatically, “because this forest is not extensive enough for any
sensible man to remain lost in it for any great length of time. I
see daylight to the north, now; though where we are is more, I must
acknowledge, than I can tell.”

“My compass persists that that light comes from the west,” Stephen soon
said; “but of course, Will, you are too sensible a man to get lost or
make such a mistake, therefore my compass has become demoralized.”

Will took out his compass, looked at it very hard, and then pocketed it
with a sigh.

The hunters moved towards the light, and soon found themselves in a
clearing of some extent. A strong log-hut stood in the centre of this
clearing, and divers emblems of civilization and occupation were strewed
around it. What seemed most strange, to even the most inattentive of the
hunters, was certain implements which are seldom seen in the midst of a
forest. These were such implements as are used in the construction of
railroads.

“Hello!” yelled Steve, glancing at all these implements, “hello! we
have stumbled on a new railroad, have we? Well, we ought to be able to
find our way out now pretty easily; for railroads don’t spring up in
wildernesses.”

“Yes, we are just within the woods; outside we shall find the railroad
and civilization,” Will returned. “Well, I don’t see much romance in
getting lost for an hour or so.”

“Hello, what is this?” Steve cried suddenly. “Here is a neat little tube,
something like a cartridge. Now, _is_ it a cartridge?”

“Be careful, Steve,” Will cautioned. “There is no knowing what dangerous
things may be lying about here. I remember, when I was a pretty little
boy, my father told me horrible stories about gun-cotton. He made it out
to be a frightful explosive, in order to deter me from meddling with
things strange to me. Now, perhaps--”

But at this point the prudent one was interrupted by a shout of laughter
from Charles. “Will,” he said, “what do you mean by ‘a pretty little boy?’
Do you mean, when you were a handsome, though diminutive, urchin, or
simply, when you were rather small?”

George now drew on his knowledge, and prepared to enlighten them.
“Gun-cotton, boys,” he said, “is a composition which con--”

Doubtless George would have given a very lucid explanation of the nature
and virtues of gun-cotton; but at this point, Steve, who still held the
little “tube,” said impatiently, “Now, what do I care about gun-cotton?
There is no cotton here, and as for a gun--go to grass! This tube can be
made to fit the blunt end of my pencil, very neatly; and what is more, it
shall be put there.”

“Why, Steve, I didn’t give you credit for being so sensible,” Henry
observed. “I didn’t believe you were studious enough to carry a pencil.”

“Oh,” Charles ingeniously replied, “Steve doesn’t carry a pencil for
studious purposes; I doubt whether he ever takes notes; but whenever
he finds a clean and smooth surface,--such as a new shingle or a solid
fence built of newly planed boards,--he draws his name, or a mythological
figure, or the Phantom Ship, on it, with dazzling flourishes.”

“Draws his name, eh?” asked Henry.

“Exactly.”

“Well,” sighed Steve, “it is one of the few things I can do well.”

With that he took out his penknife.

He was not the only one that had found one of the little tubes. For
some minutes Jim had been silently filling his coat pocket with them,
intending to take them home. It is not easy for us to guess his object in
doing this, but perhaps the poor fellow, despairing of shooting anything,
wished to bear away some trophy, or souvenir, of this hunt.

George, seeing all this, and that his proffered explanation was
contemptuously rejected, resolved to make an “analysis;” but, acting on
the spur of the moment, he went about it in a very puerile way. He set
one of the mysterious little tubes on a flat stone, then seized a smaller
stone, and prepared to grind his particular tube to powder.

Truly, here was Genius laboring under difficulties! Here was a scientific
philosopher endeavoring to solve the appalling mystery by utterly
annihilating a tube! But his hand was so unsteady with the awfulness of
the revelations he was about to make that (fortunately for him) his first
blow overshot the mark, and he paused before aiming a second.

Meanwhile Mr. Lawrence, Charles, and Will, expostulated in vain. Henry,
not dreaming of danger, looked on with great curiosity, and was almost
tempted to examine some of the mysterious little tubes for himself.

All this happened simultaneously? Certainly. Just as George struck his
fruitless blow, Steve began to carve out the ornament for his pencil.

Reader, do not look upon this scene as savoring of levity. _This_
incident is true in every particular, a party of would-be hunters having
experimented with little cartridge-like tubes just as our heroes did
here. The story as told by them is the same in substance with this,
though, of course, we have touched it up a little here and there.

Having thus kept the reader in suspense long enough, it is now in order
to return to Stephen. He had barely begun to “dig out the stuff,” as he
phrased it, when a loud report startled the eight hunters. Steve’s tube
had exploded with more violence than any fire-cracker he ever handled.

Appalled, his penknife fell unheeded, and he gazed at the others with a
silly, bewildered, and horrified expression of countenance, that at any
other time would have provoked a roar of laughter.

George’s second blow was never struck, but springing to his feet, he
fixed his eyes on Will with a look of extreme horror.

Will’s actions, in fact, attracted the attention of all. As soon as the
tube exploded he sprang high into the air, and then fell to bounding
about like a harlequin or a piece of black rubber, shouting frantically:
“Oh, my head’s off! my head’s off! my head’s off!”

His head was certainly not off, though blood was streaming down his
cheeks.

“Oh, Will,” groaned Steve in agony, “what is the matter? Oh, Will, speak!
Have I killed you?”

“My head’s off! My head’s off!” was Will’s only answer.

“Nonsense! your head is all right!” Uncle Dick said sharply.

But now Will struck another note, groaned “Oh, my knee!” and fell down in
a swoon. Foolish fellow, he had danced till his knee slipped out of joint.

(N.B.--O youth, let this be a warning against dancing.)

Mr. Lawrence and George anxiously bent over him; and, for the first time,
Charles and Stephen looked at each other.

“Your face!” shrieked Steve.

“Your fingers!” gasped Charles.

Then poor Steve perceived that his thumb and first and second fingers
were shattered. It was a sickening sight, and he now felt a severe pain
in them.

From his fingers Stephen again looked at Charles. Several small pieces of
the metal had pierced the flesh around the eyes, making painful, but very
slight, wounds.

At that instant Jim set up his peculiar cry of terror. Poor wretch, his
terror and his mode of expressing it still clung to him; but it was a
hundred times more ridiculous in the man than in the boy. The explosion
(if it may be called so) and Will’s amusing performance, cut short by his
sad accident, had kept him quiet up to this time, but now he broke out
into loud and plaintive cries. This time, however, he was not a prey to
“the chills.”

“Oh, boys,” he wailed, “I have some of them--a lot of them--in my pocket!
Oh, boys, they will explode there! They will explode and tear us all to
pieces!” And here his voice increased in volume, and rose higher and
higher, faster than even the scale of C. “Help me, some one, for _I_
can’t get ’em out!--Oh! I explode!”

“Console yourself, Jim,” Henry laughed; “I’ll help you to disgorge them.”

“Have you any about you?” Jim quavered.

“No,” said Henry; and with that he took the explosive little tubes out of
Timor’s pocket.

“Boys, Mr. Lawrence, I know now what these horrible, cartridge-like
tubes are,” George here observed. “They are _dynamite_--a new explosive,
very useful to fire other explosives, I believe. I have read about them
lately, but I never saw one before, and don’t know much about their
properties, except that--”

“George,” Steve interrupted, “if you had told us all this ten minutes
ago, you would have spared us much annoyance and suffering. Excuse me,
George, but this has roiled my emotions more than anything that ever
happened. Yes, you have knowledge of sundry curious and useful facts, I
admit; but that knowledge is not turned to account till the mischief is
done. Some day, when you see me all torn to pieces, you will discover
that what I took for a pretty music-box was an infernal machine; and then
you will chuckle over your profundity, but I shall not hear you.”

“Well, they had no business to leave dynamites scattered about so
loosely,” Charles said, his eyes tingling just enough to make him surly.

“Had we any business to meddle with them?” George growled.

“Oh,” sighed Will, now revived, “I’m afraid I made an egregious fool of
myself; and I was probably the least hurt of all. Some pieces entered my
ears, cheek, and neck;--an ordinary hurt for a little boy;--but through
my foolishness I have disjointed my knee!”

Marmaduke now joined them. He had taken the affair most unconcernedly,
and strolled off to make a reconnaissance.

“Boys,” he began, “we are within four or five rods of a railroad, surely
enough; and we have been meddling with the company’s dynamite. But if
we had observed the notice on the other side of the little log-hut, or
store-house, we should certainly have been more careful; for there, on
the door, is written, in red-chalky letters, ‘Powder Magazine.’”

“Marmaduke, it seems to me that your style is not so pure as of yore,”
Steve grinned, in spite of his pain. “The animals in this forest have
corrupted it. ‘Red-chalky-letters,’ forsooth!”

“I found, also,” Marmaduke continued, passing by Stephen’s taunt, “that
the shortest route to a surgeon’s is due east, through the forest. We can
easily reach him by following our compasses.”

“Did you inquire of some one outside?” George asked.

“Yes, George, I had a talk with a man there. Now, Steve and Will must
have their hurts dressed as soon as may be; so let us start. Will will
have to be carried, of course.”

Steve shuddered. The name _surgeon_ had an unpleasant sound; it grated
his ears. Then he perceived that Marmaduke had been caring for his
comfort, and his conscience was stung with remorse. Acting on the impulse
of his better nature, he strode up to Marmaduke, grasped his hand, and
murmured: “Old fellow, you must forgive me, and not mind anything I say;
for I don’t mean it, I assure you. It is too bad for me to be continually
jeering at you in particular, Marmaduke, and from to-day I will try not
to do it again.”

Notwithstanding Steve’s protestation that he did not mean what he said,
Marmaduke saw he was in earnest now, and replied: “Say no more about it,
Steve, for each of us has his little peculiarities. Now, sit down here,
beside me and I’ll bind up your hurt for you.”

Then the two sat down together, and Marmaduke took off the handkerchief
which Stephen had hastily and clumsily wound round his thumb and fingers.
Abused Marmaduke had many gentle ways, and now he tore the handkerchief
into strips, and as neatly and carefully as a woman could have done it,
bound up each hurt separate, Steve awkwardly trying to help him.

This incident of binding up his hurts so kindly touched Stephen’s
heart, and from that day the two have been firm friends. Stephen is now
Marmaduke’s sworn defender; and if any person brings up the latter’s
romantic notions with a view to make him appear ridiculous, Stephen will
say something so sarcastic that the aggressor will wince and immediately
speak of something else.

Meanwhile the others were taking care of Charles and Will.



_Chapter XLIII._

THINGS BEGIN TO GET INTERESTING.


Reader, do not turn faint with disgust at these heart-rending details,
nor imagine that the writer is a half-reclaimed desparado all the way
from “bleeding Kansas;” for this is just as it happened to those hunters
in the flesh. But if he ever attempts to narrate a true story again, he
will tone it down as well as touch it up.

“Let us be thankful that it is no worse,” Mr. Lawrence said. “We have had
a narrow escape; for if Steve’s tube hadn’t exploded immediately, George
would certainly have struck his, and then we might all have been hurled
into eternity.”

“Do you think Steve will lose his thumb and fingers?” George asked,
faintly.

“Oh, I hope not!” Uncle Dick said, fervently. Then dolefully: “I am
afraid I shall have a heavy account to settle when I see your parents
again.”

Then the sound hunters framed a rude litter, and laid Will on it gently.
George and Henry were to take turns with Mr. Lawrence and Marmaduke in
carrying him. And then the little procession passed solemnly through
the woods, with but little of that sprightliness which had hitherto
characterized the party.

“I think this hunt will last me for a lifetime,” Will groaned.

“I am afraid you will feel the effects of your hurt all the rest of your
life,” Uncle Dick sorrowfully rejoined.

“There is _one_ consolation,” said Steve, who was walking with his well
arm linked in Marmaduke’s. “Next time we see a ‘dynamite’ we shall know
what it is, and probably I shall not care to make a plaything of one
again.”

After a weary march due east, they came to a small cleared space, in
which stood a miserable hut. A faint line of smoke was curling out of the
roof, but no person was in sight.

“Now, this isn’t another powder magazine,” said Steve; “therefore it must
be a ‘wayside hut.’ My wounds have made me thirsty, of course, and we can
probably get a drink here, whether any one is in or not, so I am going
in.”

The others, also, felt thirsty; and Charles was advancing to knock at the
door, when Steve softly called him back.

“Now, Charley,” he said, “I haven’t read romances for nothing, and if
there’s villainy any where in this forest, it’s here. Of course you’ve
all read that villains have what is called a ‘peculiar knock?’”

“Yes,” whispered four out of the seven.

“Well, I’m going to give a ‘peculiar knock’ on that door, with my sound
hand, and you must mark the effect it has. You needn’t grasp your
weapons; but just keep your eyes and ears open. Then will you do whatever
I ask?”

“We will,” they said, smiling at Steve’s whim.

Then the man who had not read romances for nothing stole softly to the
door, and knocked in a peculiar manner.

Without a moment’s hesitation, a voice within said, “Well done!”

Steve faced the others and winked furiously, while he reasoned rapidly
to this effect: “Evidently, here is a nest of knaves. The fellow on the
inside thinks his mate is in danger, and knocks to know whether it is
safe for him to enter.”

Then the voice within asked uneasily, “Jim?”

“Will,” said Marmaduke, leaning over the litter, “we are certainly on the
track of the man who stole your deer!”

“Oh, I had forgotten all about the deer,” Will groaned.

Steve started, but collected himself in a moment, and whispered to Jim,
“Come along Jim; this fellow wants to see you. Now be as bold as a lion;
blow your nose like a trumpet; and observe: ‘By the great dog-star, it’s
Jim; lemme in.’”

Jim managed to do this; but he basely muttered that he wasn’t brought up
for a circus clown.

“Then come in; the door isn’t locked;” the voice within said harshly, but
unhesitatingly.

Stephen flung open the door and strode proudly into the hut, closely
followed by the others. One scantily furnished room, in a corner of which
a man lay on a bed, was disclosed. This man’s look of alarm at this
sudden entrance filled Steve with exultation.

“What does all this mean? What do you want?” the occupant of the bed
demanded.

“A glass of water,” said Steve.

“Well, you can get a dish here, and there is a spring outside,” with an
air of great relief.

“Is this the man?” Steve asked of Marmaduke.

Marmaduke sadly shook his head.

“I am very low with the small-pox,” said the unknown, “and those of you
who have not had it, nor have not been exposed to it, had better hurry
out into the open air.”

This was said quietly--apparently sincerely.

The hunters were struck with horror. It seemed as though a chain of
misfortunes, that would eventually lead them to destruction, was slowly
closing around them. Small-pox! Exposed to that loathsome disease! They
grew sick with fear!

“Was it for this we went hunting?” Charles groaned.

For a few moments the hunters lost all presence of mind; they neglected
to rush out of doors; they forgot that the sick man seemed wrapped in
suspicion; they forgot that they had gained admittance by stratagem;
Steve forgot that he was playing the hero.

A cry of horror from Jim roused them from their torpor.

“What a fool I am!” cried Henry, “I had the small-pox when I was a little
boy; and now, to prove or disprove this fellow’s statement, I will run
the risk of taking it again. The rest of you may leave the room or not,
just as fear, or curiosity, or thirst, or anything else, moves you. I
believe, however, that there is not the least danger of infection.”

“No, no; come out!” Mr. Lawrence entreated, not wishing to be responsible
for any more calamities. “Come out, Henry, and leave the man alone.”

“Believe me, Mr. Lawrence, I run no risk,” Henry declared. “I shall----”

“Ha!” shrieked the sick man. “Lawrence? Did you say Law--”

He stopped abruptly. But it was too late; he had betrayed himself.

“Yes, my man; I said Lawrence;” Henry said, excitedly. “Come, now,
explain yourself. Say no more about _small-pox_--we are not to be
deceived by any such pretence.”

The sick man looked Uncle Dick full in the face; groaned; shuddered;
covered his face with the bed clothes; and then, villain-like, fell to
muttering.

After these actions, Jim himself was not afraid.

“Mr. Lawrence, Will, all of you,” Henry said hoarsely, “I think your
mystery is about to be unriddled at last. This man can evidently furnish
the missing link in your history. He is either the secret enemy or an
accomplice of his.” Uncle Dick trembled. After all these years was the
mystery to be solved at last?

Stephen’s hurt and Will’s knee were forgotten in the eagerness to hear
what this man had to say. All were familiar with Uncle Dick’s story, as
far as he knew it himself, and consequently all were eager to have the
mysterious part explained. The entire eight assembled round the bedside.

After much inane muttering the sick man uncovered his head, and asked
faintly, “Are you Richard Lawrence?”

“I am.”

“Were you insane at one time, and do you remember Hiram Monk?”

“Yes, I was insane, but I know nothing of what happened then.”

“Well, I will confess all to you. Mr. Lawrence, I have suffered in all
these three years--suffered from the agony of remorse.”

“Yes,” said Uncle Dick, with a rising inflection.

“I will keep my secret no longer. But who are all these young men?”
glancing at the hunters.

“They are friends, who may hear your story,” Uncle Dick said.

“To begin with, I am indeed sick, but I have not the small pox. That was’
a mere ruse to get rid of disagreeable callers.”

At this Steve looked complacent, and Henry looked triumphant; the one
pleased with his stratagem, the other pleased with his sagacity.

At that very instant quick steps were heard outside, and then a “peculiar
knock” was given on the door, which, prudently or imprudently, Steve had
shut.

“It is a man who lives with me,” Hiram Monk said to the hunters. “We
shall be interrupted for a few minutes, but then I will go on.” Then
aloud: “You may as well come in, Jim.”

If this was intended as a warning to flee, it was not heeded, for the
door opened, and a man whom Will and Marmaduke recognized as the rogue
who on the previous day had feigned a mortal wound in order to steal
their deer, strode into the hut.

On seeing the hut full of armed men, he sank down hopelessly, delivered a
few choice ecphoneses, and then exclaimed: “Caught at last! Well, I might
’a’ known it would come sooner or later. They have set the law on my
track, and all these fellows will help ’em. Law behind, and what on earth
in front!--I say, fellows, who are you?”

“Hunters,” Henry said laconicly.

Then the new-comer recognized Will and Marmaduke, and ejaculated, “Oh, I
see; yesterday my ring was ruined, and now I’m ruined!”

The officer of the law, whose nonchalance had provoked the hunters in the
forenoon, was indeed behind, and soon he, also, entered the hut, which
was now filled.

“Just like a romance,” Steve muttered. “All the characters, good and bad,
most unaccountably meet, and then a general smash up takes place, after
which the good march off in one direction, to felicity, and the bad in
another, to infelicity--unless they shoot themselves. Now, I hope Hiram
and Jim won’t shoot themselves!”

“Jim Horniss,” said the officer, “I am empowered to arrest you.”

“I surrender,” the captured one said sullenly. “You ought to have
arrested me before. I’d give back the deer, if I could; but I sold it
last night, and that’s the last of it.”

“That will do,” the officer said severely.

Up to this time the writer has studiously masked his ignorance by
invariably speaking of this man as an officer of the law. It seems fated,
however, that his ignorance should sooner or later be manifested; and now
he declares that he is so utterly ignorant of Law, in all its forms, that
he does not know what that man was--he knows only that he was an officer
of the law. But for the benefit of those who are still more ignorant, it
may be stated that he is almost positive the man was neither a juryman,
nor a conveyancer, nor a plaintiff.

The hunters now held a short conversation, and it was decided that Mr.
Lawrence and Henry should stay to hear what Hiram Monk had to say for
himself, but that the others should go on with Will and Steve to the
surgeon’s.

The officer of the law thought it might be necessary for him to stay in
his official capacity, and so he took a seat and listened, while he fixed
his eyes on Jim Horniss.

And the confession he heard was worth listening to.

The hut was soon cleared of all save the five; and the six first
introduced to the reader were again together, and on their way to the
surgeon’s.

“Well,” said Will, “it seems I have lost my deer; but I have the
comforting thought of knowing that the rascal will receive the punishment
he deserves.”

“How strange it all is,” said Marmaduke, “that your uncle should stumble
on the solution of his mystery when he least expected it; and that you
could not find the thief when you looked for him, but as soon as you
quit, we made straight for his house.”

“No,” Steve corrected good-humoredly, “that isn’t it; but as soon as I
took to playing the part of a hero of romance, ‘events came on us with
the rush of a whirlwind.’”



_Chapter XLIV._

IS THE MYSTERY SOLVED?


Leaving the wounded and the unwounded hunters to pursue their way through
the forest, we shall return to the hut and over-hear Hiram Monk’s
long-delayed confession.

As soon as the door was shut on the six hunters, he began. His face was
turned towards Mr. Lawrence, but his eyes were fixed on his pillow, which
was hidden by the coverlet; and his punctuation was so precise, his style
so eloquent and sublime, and his story so methodical, complicated, and
tragical, that once or twice a horrible suspicion that he was reading the
entire confession out of a novel concealed in the bed, flashed across Mr.
Lawrence’s mind.

If this dreadful thought should occur to the reader, he can mentally
insert the confession in double quotation marks.

We are too humane to inflict the whole confession on the long-suffering
reader; this abridged version of it will be quite sufficient, as it
contains the main points.

    “Seventeen years ago, I was an official in K. Hospital. My
    duties were to keep the record of the hospital; but still I
    passed considerable time with the maniacs, as my influence with
    those unhappy creatures was very great. I am a man of some
    education and ability, I may say, without ostentation; and till
    I met you, Mr. Lawrence, I was honesty itself.

    “You were brought to our hospital a friendless man and a
    stranger; and it was rumored that you had been attacked by
    thieves, who, however, failed to get possession of your
    treasure. A great chest of gold and silver, labelled, ‘R.
    Lawrence,’ to be retained till your friends or relatives could
    be found, was brought and deposited in our magazine. It was a
    most romantic story, a man travelling through the country with
    a vast sum of money in a strong-box!

    “The demon entered into me, and I resolved to make it still
    more mysterious. In a word, I resolved to appropriate your
    fortune to my own use; and in order to do so the more easily
    and safely, I set about destroying every clue to your identity.
    All papers found on your person, which might lead to discovery,
    I carefully burned. It was I who wrote an account of the affair
    to the journals, and I purposely distorted your name beyond
    recognition. This, of course, was considered a mere printer’s
    blunder, and the ‘mistake’ was never rectified.

    “Here was a great step taken. I now flattered myself that none
    of your friends could possibly trace you to our hospital, and
    that all I had to do was to wait a short time, and then quietly
    slip away with my ill-gotten riches.

    “But many difficulties lay in my way. Your bodily health
    and strength gradually improved, though you still remained
    disordered in intellect. Then, in order the better to work
    out my plans, I caused myself to be appointed your especial
    attendant, or keeper; and I made you to understand that you had
    a large sum of money, of which your enemies sought to rob you,
    deposited, for safe-keeping, in our vaults. With all a madman’s
    pertinacity, you took hold of this idea, and eagerly listened
    to all that I said. You ordered the chest of treasure to be
    brought into your own apartment, and you became suspicious of
    every one but me.

    “Here was another great point gained; and I now matured my plot
    to get the money. I induced you to believe that you were soon
    to be robbed, and that we must flee, as you were now strong
    enough to quit the hospital at any time. I obtained leave
    from the superintendent to go on a flying visit to a friend
    of mine in another state, and I made all my arrangements to
    depart openly. You were to have another keeper, of course; but
    I plotted with you to return at night, and we would escape
    together. I believed that the superintendent would never
    suspect me,--at least, not till too late,--but would think that
    you had eluded your new keeper’s vigilance in the night.

    “That afternoon I set out ostensibly for Frankfort in
    Kentucky; but I remained in the neighborhood, and at night I
    returned to keep my appointment with you. As I was perfectly
    familiar with all the entrances into the hospital, as well
    as with all their regulations, and as I had given you your
    instructions prior to my feigned departure, we easily made our
    escape with the chest of treasure.

    “And now I had you and all your money wholly in my power; I
    could do what I pleased with you. But, to do myself justice,
    I must add--no, I affirm positively--that I had no intention
    of harming _you_. My design, matured beforehand, was to reach
    a certain cave, establish you in it, make provision for your
    subsistence and comfort, and then slip away with the hoards I
    coveted.

    “I do not know whether we were pursued or not; but, if so,
    we eluded the pursuers, and in due time arrived at the
    cave, which, as I had supposed, would serve my purpose
    admirably. Yes, it was an excellent place to desert you so
    treacherously--an excellent place.

    “But we had barely arrived when you seemed to grow suspicious
    of me. That must be stopped immediately, and I hastened to
    make preparations for departure. I left you alone for a time,
    went to the neighboring city, and engaged a trader to take
    necessaries to a certain man who purposed living in ‘The
    Cave,’ as it was called. I represented you as being deranged
    and idiotic, but quite harmless, and charged him to deal
    fairly with you, and keep his own counsel for a short time,
    in which case all would be well. Then I returned to the cave,
    and acquainted you with such of these facts as you might know.
    That night I gathered up my own effects, as well as the stolen
    money, and fled.

    “I did not suppose that you would remain long in the cave. On
    the contrary, I supposed that through the trader, or by some
    other means, your identity would soon be established. But I
    wished to place myself beyond the reach of pursuit before that
    should happen. To that end I had compacted with the trader; to
    that end I now fled precipitantly.

    “My better nature returned for a moment, and I thought of
    advertising your retreat, or even of calling upon your kinsmen.
    But I was dissuaded from this by fears of incurring danger of
    being apprehended by the superintendent of the hospital, whose
    suspicions must, by this time, have been aroused. May I enquire
    how long you remained in ‘The Cave,’ Mr. Lawrence?”

    “Ten years.”

    “Ten years! Then, indeed, I deserve the severest penalties that
    the law can inflict! Ten years! I could not believe that from
    other lips than yours! And that man knew you were there all
    that time, and yet took no action to set you at liberty! But
    no; I had told him that it was better so, and I suppose he took
    it for granted that it was. Yes, he is guiltless in the matter.

    “To resume my confession. I escaped with the money intact, as
    I imagined; but when I came to open the receptacle, far away
    from you and the cave, I found, to my consternation, that more
    than half of it was missing, and its room taken up with stones
    and earth! You had evidently grown so suspicious of me as to
    abstract the money and conceal it in the cave during my absence
    in the city. That was the only solution of the mystery that
    occurred to me.

    “How I raged! My punishment was beginning already. But I was
    not softened; if I had dared, I should have returned to the
    cave, and dug up every foot of ground within it. But I feared
    that detectives were already on my track, and I hurried on, a
    baulked and furious man.

    “Greater misfortune was yet to overtake me. The box containing
    the stolen treasure was torn asunder in a steamboat explosion
    on the Mississippi, and the treasure was scattered and lost
    beyond recovery in the muddy waters. Thus I lost what remained
    to me of the treasure, and was left, penniless, friendless,
    homeless; a fugitive, an outcast. Since that time, I have lived
    I know not how; at one time stricken with fever in the tropics;
    at another time languishing in prison for some petty crime;
    sick, persecuted, longing for death. Minions of the law often
    pursued me for minor irregularities; but the secret of my one
    great crime never came to light. In my distress I joined the
    army, and hoped to find relief in fighting the battles of my
    country--my country, to which I was an odious reproach! I often
    thought of returning to the cave, to discover what had become
    of you, and to make such restitution as lay in my power; but
    I never had the moral courage to do so. For the last year, I
    have lived in this forest, in fellowship with this man, James
    Horniss.

    “I now surrender myself to outraged justice,--voluntarily, even
    gladly,--for I can endure this way of life no longer. Forgive
    me, if you can, Mr. Lawrence, for I have been tortured with
    remorse in all these years.”

The villain’s story was ended; and Uncle Dick, Henry, the officer of the
law, and Jim Horniss, fetched a sigh of relief.

They felt extremely sorry for the sick man who had confessed so
eloquently and prolixly; but Mr. Lawrence was not so “tortured” with pity
as to plead for his release from punishment. In fact, he had nothing
to say against the law’s taking its course with him. However, he spoke
kindly.

“Mr. Monk,” he said, “I forgive you freely, for it was my own foolishness
that led me into your power. As for the money, it seemed fated that it
should melt away, and to-day not one cent of it remains. I am glad to see
you in a better frame of mind, sir; but I must leave you now to see how
it fares with my nephew. Come, Henry.”

“And _your_ story?” asked the confessor, with a curious and eager air.

“Excuse me, Mr. Monk,” said Uncle Dick; “but _my_ story would seem
prosaic, exceedingly prosaic, after _yours_. Good day.”

And he and Henry brutally strode out of the hut, leaving the ex-villain
“tortured” with curiosity.

Thus those two villains, Hiram Monk and Jim Horniss, pass out of this
tale.

If the reader thinks it worth while, he can turn back to the
twenty-second chapter, and compare the story which Mr. Lawrence told Mr.
Mortimer with the story narrated by Monk in this chapter. But seriously,
gentle reader, it is hardly worth while to compare the two. Time is
too precious to be fooled away in trying to comprehend the plots and
mysteries put forth in certain romances.

Mr. Lawrence and Henry hurried on in the direction taken by their
fellow-hunters an hour before.

“Mr. Lawrence,” said Henry, “I think I shall never go hunting again; I
consider it a wicked waste of gunpowder and shoe-leather.”

“Yes, for a company of heedless innocents, who know little or nothing
about fire-arms, and still less about the habits of animals, it is all a
piece of foolishness;” Mr. Lawrence replied. “For those who are prudent
enough to keep out of danger, who can understand and enjoy hunting and
trapping, and go about it systematically, it is all very well.”

Parents and guardians, accept this as a warning--not that your sons,
or wards, will clear up any appalling mystery by going hunting, but
that they will be far more likely to destroy themselves than to return
burdened with game.



_Chapter XLV._

THE LAST BLUNDER.--A LAST CONVERSATION.


To the heart-felt joy of the entire party, the surgeon declared that, by
taking great care, Steve would not lose his thumb and fingers, though
they might be stiff and mis-shaped for life.

As to Will’s knee, that was really a serious matter, and he would
probably suffer more or less with it to his dying day. This was appalling
to poor Will, who was so fond of physical exertion, but he bore it as
bravely as he could.

As for the cuts made by the flying pieces, the surgeon regarded them
with unutterable disdain. “A schoolboy,” he said, “would chuckle over
such hurts, and make the most of them while they lasted; but he wouldn’t
degrade himself by bellowing--unless his sister happened to dress them
with vitriol. But if a piece had entered an eye, now, there would have
been a tale to tell.”

And yet those hurts, slight as they were, had frightened Will so much
that he had injured himself for life.

After all their wounds had been dressed, the Nimrods wended their way
back to their humble cabin, still carrying Will, of course. As they
went along they naturally conversed. Seeing that it is their last
conversation, we deliberately inflict the whole of it on the hapless
reader. However, the hapless reader cannot be forced to read it all.

“Let us have a little light on the subject, as the bloody-minded king
said when he dropped a blazing lucifer on the head of a disorderly noble
of his,” Steve observed, as they left the surgeon’s.

“What are you driving at now, Steve?” Charles inquired.

“The confession made by Monk, if Mr. Lawrence has no objections.”

“Certainly;” said uncle Dick. “Henry, you can give it better than I can;
do so.”

“I wish, with all my heart, that I had taken it down,” said Henry, “for I
consider it the best thing I ever heard. That man is a born romancer; but
he wasted his talents keeping the records of his hospital, and afterwards
dodging the ‘minions’ and his own conscience. However, I’ll give it as
well as I can.”

The six, who had not heard it, listened attentively--even Will ceased to
moan, in his eagerness to hear every word.

“What an extraordinary story!” cried Steve. “I hope he didn’t devise it
for our amusement, as he devised his fiction about the small-pox!” he
added grimly.

“Oh, he was very solemn about it,” Henry asserted.

“Didn’t Mr. Lawrence get back any of his lost fortune?” Marmaduke asked.
“Surely he should have! Why, there is no moral at all in such a story as
that!”

“Even so, Marmaduke; Hiram Monk made a grave mistake when he suffered
the remainder of the fortune to be ingulfed in the ‘muddy waters’ of
the Mississippi. He should have swelled it to millions, and then buried
it near the first parallel of latitude, so many degrees northeast by
southwest. When he confessed to Mr. Lawrence to-day, he should have
given him a chart of the hiding-place, and in three months from this
date we should have set out on the war-trail. After having annihilated
several boat-loads of cannibals, and scuttled a pirate or so by way of
recreation, we should have found the treasure just ten minutes after
somebody else had lugged it off. But of course we should have come up
with this somebody, had a sharp struggle, and lugged off the treasure
in our turn. Then we should have returned, worth seven millions, a tame
native, and an ugly monkey, apiece. But, alas! I don’t take kindly to
that kind of romance any more, Marmaduke; I don’t pine to shed the blood
of villains, cannibals, and pirates.”

So spoke Charles. A few hours before, and Steve would have said it, or
something like it; but now Steve was looking very grave, and seemed
already to pounce on Charles for speaking so.

“Charley,” he growled, “you talk as if we read Dime Novels; and I’m sure
_I_ don’t, if you do.”

Charley winced, but could not hit upon a cutting retort.

“What Charley says is very good,” Marmaduke, unmoved, replied; “but
I don’t see why a whole fortune should be utterly lost, nor why Mr.
Lawrence should spend ten years in idleness without some compensation. I
hope you haven’t let Monk escape!” he cried, turning to Henry with such
genuine alarm that the whole party broke into a laugh.

Even Steve forgot himself and joined in the laugh, Marmaduke’s expression
of horror being so very ludicrous.

But he checked himself in a moment, and turned fiercely upon Charles:
“Charles Growler, I am astonished at you! We do not know Marmaduke’s
thoughts; we cannot judge him by ourselves. By nature, he is of a finer
organism than we, and he sees things in a different light. Some day,
when he is a poet among poets, he will hold us poor shallow creatures up
to ridicule in some majestic and spirit-stirring satire.”

Stephen was in earnest now, but the others were not accustomed to this
sort of thing from him, and thinking he meant to be only unusually
sarcastic, their laughter broke forth again; and while Charles laughed
uproariously, Henry said severely--so severely that Steve was almost
desperate: “You ought not to be so personal in your remarks; you ought to
have a _little_ respect for another’s feelings.”

Marmaduke remembered the promise Stephen had made on the log, and he now
looked at him reproachfully, thinking, with the rest, that Steve was
jeering at him.

Poor misunderstood boy! He knew not how to explain himself. This was the
first time he had had occasion to play the champion to Marmaduke, and he
was making an egregious fool of himself.

“Oh, you stupid fellows!” he roared. “I’m taking his part; and I mean to
take it after this, for he is the best fellow in the world.”

“I’m glad to hear you say so,” Henry said heartily. “As for Hiram Monk,
like all worn out villains, he is anxious that the LAW should care for
him; and the officer who secured Jim Horniss will secure him, also. As
for the confession, let us make the most of it as it is; for we can’t
make it either better or worse if we stay here till we shoot another
deer.”

“Well, boys, what about going home?” George asked.

“If _you_ are ready to go, I’m morally certain _I_ am,” said Steve.

Now that the subject was broached, the others were willing to acknowledge
that they had had enough of hunting, and would gladly go home. Charles,
however, thought it would be more decorous to offer some plausible
excuse for returning so quickly, and so he said, “Yes, boys, I must go
immediately; I have business that calls me home imperatively.”

“‘Business?’ _What_ ‘business?’” Steve asked in great perplexity.

He knew that Charley did not yet earn his own living at home; he knew,
also, that Charley was not learning to play on the violin; hence his
curiosity.

Charles was not prepared for such a question. He wanted, actually, craved
for, a glass of lemonade and one of his mother’s pumpkin pies; but this
seemed so flimsy an excuse that he hesitated to say so. He stammered; his
cheeks flushed; and at last he said, desperately, “Well, boys, I should
like to see how these cuts look in the mirror!”

Will, who shrewdly suspected what Charles was thinking of, said softly,
in French--which he understood better now than he did six years
before--with a faint attempt at a smile, “And in the eyes of that dear
little girl.”

“This is a great change in our plans,” Henry observed. “We intended to
stay three weeks; and now, at the end of three days, we are disgusted and
homesick.”

It was evident that Steve had something on his mind, and he now asked,
inquisitively: “Should _you_ like to go home, Henry?”

“Stephen, I am going home immediately--even if Will and I have to go
alone.”

Stephen was about to make a sententious observation; but he checked
himself abruptly, and his voice died away in one long, guttural, and
untranslatable interjection.

The day before, Stephen had come upon Henry alone in the depths of
the forest, leaning against a tree, and whistling as though his heart
would break--whistling passionately, yet tenderly--whistling as only a
lover can whistle a love-song. Yet it was not a love-song that Henry
was whistling, but a piece of instrumental music,--“La Fille de Madame
Angot,” by Charles Godfrey,--the first piece that, some three or four
years before, he had ever heard his blue-eyed sweetheart play; and the
last piece that, in memory of those old days, she had played for him
before he set out to go hunting.

Steve had stolen softly away, feeling that the person who could whistle
that waltz as Henry whistled it, did not wish to be disturbed. He now
refrained from making his observation, and said to himself: “Well, now,
I feel just about as happy as if I had said what I wanted to say! Only,
it was _so_ good!”

“Of course; that’s just what we should have thought of first,” said
Charles, beginning where Henry left off. “Will must be taken home this
very night--that is, a start for home must be made this very night. We
will go with him, of course; for we don’t want to stay and hunt alone.”

“Of course,” chorused the others, not wishing to hunt “alone.”

“Shall we buy some deer of regular hunters?” Jim meekly suggested. “Every
one will laugh at us if we go home without even a bird.”

Steve answered him: “No! If we can’t shoot a deer to take home, we had
better go empty-handed. And besides, we can buy deer nearer home than
this. As for _birds_, I didn’t know that amateur hunters take home birds
as an evidence of their skill--unless they happen to shoot an eagle.
As for the _laugh_, why, I tell you, we shall be worshipped as wounded
heroes!”

“Perhaps, as stupid blunderers!” George said, testily.

For the first time, George’s whole skin troubled him. He had not received
even a scratch; while all the others had some hurt, bruise, or mark, as a
memento of this hunt. Even Jim had not escaped, a vicious hornet having
inhumanly stung his nose.

They were now drawing near the place where they supposed their cabin
stood. But everything seemed strange--very strange.

“Are we lost again?” was the cry that burst from Will’s lips.

“Not _lost_, but _burnt out_!” Steve exclaimed. “Yes, boys, we are burnt
out of house and home! Now, in such a case, who is going to stay here and
hunt? Why, our bitterest enemies wouldn’t expect it of us! Hurrah! But,”
he added, gravely, “I’m afraid I’m reconciled to this disaster!”

“I think we all are,” Charles said, with a hideous grin.

“Now, I want to know how and why that shanty caught fire?” Will
ejaculated.

By this time the hunters had reached the spot lately occupied by their
cabin, and they now stood around the pile of still smoking ruins, with
probably “mingled emotions.”

“You cooked the few morsels we had for breakfast, Will; therefore you
ought to be responsible for this,” Henry observed.

“O--h!” groaned Will, “so I am! I didn’t put the fire entirely out this
morning, and I forgot a box of matches on the hearth--the homemade
hearth. They have met!”

“At first I grieved that our hovel was so small,” said Charles; “but now
I’m glad it was, or else the fire might have gone into the forest.”

“And burnt us alive!” Steve said, with a shudder. Then he left Marmaduke,
bent over the sufferer on the litter, and whispered in his ear: “Will,
as soon as ever we reach home, I intend to deliver you over to Mr. B. F.
Stolz!”

Having discharged this horrible threat, Steve returned to Marmaduke,
muttering: “A hunter has no business to build a shanty to live in; he
ought to pitch a tent, if it’s nothing but a parasol on a fish-pole.”

“What about this fellow’s bumps?” chuckles the reader.

It is very ungracious in the reader, after all our kindness towards him,
to throw out such insinuations, and we refuse to give him any other
explanation or satisfaction than this: Will’s bumps were not so prominent
as usual that day.

George now spoke. “Look here, boys; stop your foolishness and listen to
me. Didn’t we leave some valuables in that building? Where are they now?”

“Oh!” gasped the others, in one breath.

“Where are they now?” George roared again.

As no one seemed to know, he continued: “Well, I’m going to look for
the wreck of my fowling-piece.” And he set his feet together, and
deliberately leaped into the midst of the smouldering ruins.

He alighted on his feet, but they gave way beneath him; he staggered, and
then fell heavily, at full length.

The hunters were alarmed. Was he hurt?

“George!--George!” they shrieked. “Oh, George!”

“Well, what’s the matter?” he growled, as he struggled to his feet.

“Oh, George, come out,” Charles pleaded. “You must be hurt.”

“Am I?” George cried, wildly, hopefully. “Am I hurt, I say?”

“You will probably have a black eye,” Mr. Lawrence sorrowfully observed,
as the explorer emerged from the cinders.

“Am I much bruised?” he asked, turning to Stephen, certain that that
worthy would do him justice. “Am I, Steve? I don’t feel hurt or bruised a
bit.”

Quick-witted Steve saw what was going on in the questioner’s mind, and
replied, promptly: “Bruised? Why, you’re a frightful object--a vagabond
scare-crow! You must be wounded from your Scotch cap to the toe of your
left boot. You’ve secured _not only_ an exceedingly black eye, _but also_
a swelled cheek, a protuberant forehead, a stiff neck, a singed chin, a
sprained wrist, and, for all I know, a cracked skull! Why, George, you’re
a total wreck! The folks at home will think that we took you for some
wild beast, and that each of us fired at you and hit you.”

The Sage turned away with a happy smile on his lips.

“Surely,” he soliloquised, “Steve wouldn’t go so far if there isn’t
something wrong. But I hope there is no danger of a black eye!”

Then aloud, and cheerfully: “Yes, boys, let us go home.”

Do not imagine, gentle reader, that this hunter fell purposely. He was
not so foolish as that; but when he did have a fall, he wished to profit
by it. Still, he could see neither romance nor poetry in gaining nothing
but a black eye.

It is worse than useless to prolong their conversation, so here it closes.

The hunters felt somewhat crest-fallen when they found that the fire had
consumed almost everything left in the cabin. However, they packed their
remaining effects in some new boxes, and then set out for home in pretty
good spirits. They arrived safe, and were welcomed as wounded heroes, as
Steve had foretold.

For the consolation of those readers who have an antipathy to mutilated
heroes, it may be stated that Stephen’s hurts healed, leaving no other
bad effects than ugly scars.

For the consolation of conscientious readers, it may be stated that Hiram
Monk and Jim Horniss were tried by law, and _sentenced_ to the punishment
they deserved. If a learned lawyer should be beguiled into reading this
story, he might know what punishment those wretches _deserved_--he might
even guess at what punishment they _received_.

But the majesty of the law is possessed of a fickle mind.



_Chapter XLVI._

THE STORY CLOSED.


Some novels, like an endless chain, seem to have neither beginning
nor end; others, while they give every little incident with wearisome
minuteness, stop suddenly when they come to the colophon, pause in doubt
and trepidation, and finally conclude with two or three sentences of
sententious brevity, in which the word _marriage_ occurs at least once.
The writer of this history, like all right-minded scribes, becomes
disgusted when the last difficulty is surmounted, but yet has sufficient
moral power to devote a whole chapter (though a short one) to the
conclusion. Gentle reader, you ought to be indulgent to one who has such
self-abnegation--such firmness of purpose--such greatness of mind.

This story draws to an end for several reasons: first, there is no great
affinity between schoolboys, for whom it professes to be written, and
volumes seventy-nine chapters in length; secondly, if the reader is not
tired of it, the writer begins to be; thirdly, a story dies a natural
death as soon as its writer unriddles, or attempts to unriddle, its
mysteries; fourthly (and this is perhaps the strongest reason of all),
there is nothing more to be written.

If there are other reasons why the story should be brought to an end,
they concern the writer, not the reader, and therefore need not be
specified. But in case the reader should care to hear what became of
those boys, the writer graciously spins out a few pages more.

Naturally they married, observes the reader who is familiar with works of
fiction. Certainly; every one of them married.

Marmaduke fell desperately in love; and, as was evinced when he rescued
Sauterelle, he was a man who could love passionately and for ever. He
married the object of his choice, of course. By the way, she was actually
a French heiress--at least, her papa was a Frenchman teaching French in
one of our colleges, and on the wedding-day he gave her the magnificent
dowry of five hundred dollars, the accumulated savings of very many years.

Charles married the young lady referred to incidentally in the last
chapter. All the heroes were present at his wedding; and their enthusiasm
ran so high that they clubbed together, and bought the happy pair a
marvel of a clock, that indicated not only the seconds, minutes, hours,
days, weeks, months, years, and centuries, but was furnished, also, with
a brass band,--which thundered forth “Yankee Doodle,” “Hail Columbia,”
and “Home, Sweet Home,”--a regiment of well-dressed negroes, an
ear-piercing gong, and “all the latest improvements.”

Charles and his pretty little wife tolerated this nuisance exactly three
days, and then the former proposed the following resolution: “That clock
runs just one year after being wound, and the boys wound it up tight when
they brought it here and set it up. If we let it alone till it runs down,
we shall be as mad as the man that made it. I used to delight in “Yankee
Doodle,” but now I abominate it! We can keep the handsomest darkey in
remembrance of the boys’ mistaken kindness,--rather, in remembrance of
the horrible fate they prepared for us,--but the clock’s doom is sealed.
I will immolate it this very evening; and the street boys may make off
with its broken remains.”

It is hardly worth while to go on and describe the wedding-feast of each
of the heroes. Turn to the last page of any novel whatsoever, and you
will find an account quite as applicable to this case as to the original
of a hero’s marriage.

Will continues to commit his ridiculous blunders as of yore; but they
are not quite so ridiculous as those narrated in this tale, for he has
learned to keep a strict watch over himself. But, notwithstanding that,
notwithstanding his bumps, notwithstanding that he is now a man, he
will occasionally unstring the nerves of some weak-headed person by an
unseemly act.

Stephen still takes delight in playing off his practical jokes. He often
gets into trouble by this means, but it is not in his nature to profit by
experience.

George is a man, wise and learned in his own estimation. He sends
scientific treatises to the leading journals sometimes, but, alas! it
generally results in their being declined. But George does not value time
and postage-stamps so highly as he should, consequently he still persists
in harassing the editors with his manuscripts. He is very dispassionate
in his choice of subjects, writing with equal impartiality and enthusiasm
about astronomy, geology, philosophy, aëronautics, and philology.
Probably that is the reason why he does not succeed. If he should take
up a single science and devote all his energies to it, his name might
eventually become known to every school-boy in the land.

The less said about Timor, the better. Any boy who will attempt to hide
from a June thunder-storm by skulking under his bed, can never become a
_man_. He may grow up to man’s estate, doubtless; but he will be nothing
but a big, overgrown coward.

Bear this in mind, O parent; and if you should ever catch your little son
skulking in the aforementioned place while the lightning is playing over
the vault of heaven, fall on him, drag him out by the coat-collar, and
hoist him on the gate-post, that he may see how beautiful and marvellous
the lightning is.

Henry is a _man_, in every sense of the word. He has a good head for
business, and in a few years will, in all probability, become a rich
man--which, in good romances, is the main point.

Marmaduke never became a poet, as Steve fondly prophesied. But he is
probably the most orthodox antiquary in the United States. He may safely
be consulted on whatever relates to antiquities, as his information
is unlimited, and his home one great museum of curiosities and
monstrosities. To be sure, there are some hideous and repulsive objects
in his cabinets--objects which a child would shudder to pass in broad
daylight--but his home is the resort of profound, but absent-minded and
whimsical, antiquaries from all parts. He and his wife live a quiet
and happy life, pitied contemptuously by the ignorant, but honored and
respected by those who know them best. He is not so romantic as formerly,
his experience with “Sauterelle” having shaken his faith in romance
and mystery so much that he afterwards transferred his attention to
antiquities, leaving romance and mystery for the novelists and detectives
to deal with. He is undeniably a genius, and, much to Steve’s joy, a
thorough American.

Reader, it is utterly impossible for the writer to inform you of the
occupation of all the others--in fact, he is not morally certain that he
did right in making an antiquary of Marmaduke. Take the matter into your
own hands, and think in what business those boys would succeed best. If
you can tell, good--very good; the writer is spared the trouble.

Therefore: Each reader is at liberty to make what he pleases of Will,
Charles, George, Stephen, Jim, and Henry. There is, however, this
proviso: Do not think of Charles as an ambassador to Persia; of Steve, as
the “proprietor” of a pea-nut stand; of Jim, as a reader of ghost-stories
at midnight. Do not think of _one_ of them as a future candidate for the
presidency.

Something has been said of Steve’s calligraphic propensities. But he
never made his fortune with his pencil; he did little more than while
away an idle hour.

“Ah,” sighs the conscientious reader, “were those boys not reformed? Did
the faults of their boyhood cling to them in their manhood?”

Yes; they clung to them. It was originally the intention to reform them,
one and all; but insurmountable difficulties lay in the way. In the
first place, nothing short of a frightful, perhaps _fatal_, catastrophe
could have a lasting effect on them; and it is unpleasant to deal with
catastrophes. Consequently, they are suffered to live on, their ways not
amended. But the writer is as grieved at their follies, or faults, as you
are, gentle reader.

After a careful and critical perusal of this composition,--which the
writer is conceited enough boldly to call “tale,” “story,” and “history,”
and indirectly to call “romance” and “novel,”--the reader may inquire,
vaguely: “Who is supposed to be the hero of it, anyway?”

The writer does not resent this as an insult, but replies calmly that he
does not know. In the beginning, it was designed that Will should be the
hero-in-chief, but it soon became manifest that that was a mistaken idea.
Will is, at best, a shabby hero, not half so noble as the gamins in the
fable, who stopped stoning the frogs when the frogs reasoned them out of
it.

In point of religion, Will is probably the best of all, though each one
is sound in his belief. George does not permit his scientific hobbies
to shake his faith in God or man; and if the reader imagines he detects
profane levity in the course of this book, he is mistaken, for nothing of
the sort is intended.

We do not inform possible inquirers what church these worthies attended,
or whether each one attended a different church. We do not disclose with
which political party they sided, but it may be taken for granted that
they were not all Republicans nor all Democrats.

There is a motive for this reticence--a very base and significant motive.
That motive is--_policy_!

To return to Will. He endeavored to live up to the precept enforced in
the following lines:

      “So live, that when thy summons comes to join
    The innumerable caravan, which moves
    To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
    His chamber in the silent halls of death,
    Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
    Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
    By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
    Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
    About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.”

The disgusted reader, if he has persevered to the end, tumbles this
volume into an out-of-the-way corner, fetches a yawn of intense relief,
and mutters, “Good-bye to that self-styled writer, with his Wegotism
and his ‘demoralized’ heroes, who are always ‘chuckling’ over their
atrocities; and who are a set of noodles, anyway; always quaking with
fear, overwhelmed with consternation, or shuddering with horror--and all
for nothing.”



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber’s note:

A large number of printing errors have been corrected without note.

Use of hyphens, e.g. schoolboy/school-boy, is variable.





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