Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Beaufort Chums
Author: Sabin, Edwin L. (Legrand)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Beaufort Chums" ***

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



produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)



Transcriber's Note

Illustration markers have been moved near to the text they illustrate.

All variant spellings, including variant hyphenenation, have
been retained. However, obvious printer's errors have been
corrected and punctuation errors have been repaired.


[Illustration: HE LINED A COURSE STRAIGHT FOR THE BOAT.]



  BEAUFORT CHUMS


  BY

  EDWIN L. SABIN

  ILLUSTRATED BY CHARLES COPELAND


[Illustration]


  NEW YORK THOMAS Y. CROWELL & CO. PUBLISHERS



  COPYRIGHT, 1905, BY THOMAS Y. CROWELL & COMPANY



Contents


  I. THE JUNE RISE                         1

  II. THE GREAT LUMBER FIRE               21

  III. THE BREAK-WATER ACCIDENT           35

  IV. THE CAMP AT DEEP CREEK              49

  V. TURTLES, FISH, FROGS AND SNAKES      65

  VI. THE GHOST OF THE INDIAN MOUNDS      86

  VII. THE COUNTY FAIR                   106

  VIII. NED THE NIMROD                   117

  IX. THE CAMPAIGN PARADE                136

  X. THE TROUBLE AT BREEDE'S HILL        151

  XI. THE ROUTING OF BIG MIKE            168

  XII. THE LONG SKATE                    181

  XIII. AN UNEXPECTED BAG                202

  XIV. BIG MIKE AGAIN                    218

  XV. JUST ABOUT BOB                     237

  XVI. THE LAST OF BOB                   248

  XVII. THE RAID THAT FAILED             261

  XVIII. CHANGES                         274



Beaufort Chums



CHAPTER I

THE JUNE RISE


"The river is coming up at the rate of an inch an hour!" announced Mr.
Miller, reading from the evening paper. "At one o'clock it was eighteen
feet, and reports from the north indicate the highest water ever known
on the Upper Mississippi."

"Hurrah!" cheered Ned, who was sitting on the porch steps, waiting for
supper, and had heard through the open window.

"Why, Ned!" rebuked his mother. "Think of all the suffering this means!"

"Well, anyway, the river's booming," ventured Ned, abashed. "It's even
with the railroad tracks. I was down looking at it after school."

"I'm sorry for the poor people on the flats--the lowlands must be
flooded," continued Mrs. Miller.

"But they tie their houses to trees with ropes, and move into the
second stories, and go about on rafts," explained Ned, to whom such a
plight was not without fun.

"Still, I fancy that these people don't find their fix very amusing,
Ned," commented his father. "Nor is it humorous to the merchants to
have their cellars swamped and their goods damaged."

Ned temporarily subsided--meekly convinced of the serious phase of a
freshet, but nevertheless seeing sport in prospect.

"Say, father," he blurted out, in the midst of supper, "Hal----"

"Neddie! How often have I told you not to address anybody with 'say'?"
interrupted his mother, severely.

"Oh!" admitted Ned, guilt in his tones. Rallying from the setback he
resumed:

"I only wanted to ask if I couldn't go over on Eagle Island to-morrow
with Hal, in our boat. It's all under water, and every one has moved
off."

"_I_ have no special objection," answered his father, "if you'll
promise to be careful."

"Neddie, _do_ be careful," implored his mother. "You surely will, won't
you?"

"Of course," assured Ned. "But, pshaw, there isn't any danger. You
couldn't tip over the boat if you tried!"

"However, I wouldn't try, if I were you," remarked his father. Then he
added, teasingly:

"We'll let him have this Saturday for his fun, Helen, and next Saturday
he'll have some wood to pile! I've ordered eleven loads, and it will be
hauled during the week."

"Oh, father! Eleven loads!" exclaimed Ned, in dismay.

The next day, Saturday, dawned clear and soft, a typical June morning.
Ned turned out early, and had most of his chores done before breakfast,
despite the fact that a double supply of wood was necessary for the
kitchen stove, in order to last over Sunday.

When, at eight o'clock, Hal Lucas whistled for him, in front, he was
ready to start. Stuffing his lunch, wrapped in two packages, into his
side coat-pockets, he rushed through the house, kissing his mother on
his way, and out of the gate.

"Now, be careful, Ned!" called his mother, after him.

"I will," he shouted. "Good-bye."

Mrs. Miller stood on the porch, watching the two boys as they merrily
trudged off. Ned had many a time asserted, with truth, that although he
might go upon the river every day for fifty years, each time his mother
would be worried about him until he came home again. A mother's heart
is a very anxious heart.

Ned and Hal hastened down the street. Ahead of them they could see
the river sparkling under the rays of the sun. Ordinarily it was not
visible from this distance; but at present, far out of its bed, it was
right on a level with the railroad skirting it.

"My! She's on a tear, isn't she!" said Hal, enthusiastically.

"If ever she gets over the tracks she'll come whooping, my father
says," responded Ned. "She's higher than the street, now!"

Without question the river was, to use Hal's expression, "on a tear."
People along the Mississippi expect, as a matter of course, high water
in the spring and early summer. Moderate high water is welcomed. It
enables the logging companies to float their stranded logs; it washes
clean the banks and the lowlands, carrying away tons of stuff that
otherwise might breed illness; it is one of nature's thorough purifiers.

But here was a "June rise" with a vengeance. Up in the northern
pineries the heavy snows of the past winter were melting all at once
beneath long-continued rains. Every stream was a torrent, pouring its
swollen tide into the Mississippi. As a consequence of this hearty
diet, the old Father of Waters had increased his girth enormously.
Never was a prize grunter fattened so rapidly.

His bulk began to take up more room than was comfortable for his
neighbors. Some persons were forced to flee for their lives; others
were prepared to leave their homes at a moment's notice. Whole towns
were in danger of being flooded.

At Beaufort the sewers were being filled and the water, creeping
through them, flowed out far inland. Cellars were being invaded; and
seeping up, the crafty flood inundated great tracts of street and yard
in the lower-lying resident portions of the town.

When, after school on the previous afternoon, Ned had gone down to
look at the river, there had been hardly any water inside the tracks
at the foot of Maple Street. But this morning the boys found quite a
pond had gathered during the night. In places the board walks on either
hand were afloat, and children were running back and forth over them,
shouting with delight as the water spurted up between the cracks.

"She's soaking through," commented Hal.

Ned nodded, and saying, "Come on," deliberately continued on the route,
over the wavy, unsteady walk. Hal followed. Both boys disdained to
hurry their pace one bit, even to avoid wet feet. They deemed that a
show of dignity was necessary, to impress the scampering, screaming
youngsters who were spectators.

With a spring they leaped the open space between the end of the walk
and the railroad embankment. Their feet sank deep into the mushy
cinders as they scrambled to the top.

This was four tracks wide, and usually was a good stone's throw from
the river's edge. To-day the water was lapping at the rails. North and
south were scattered gangs of men with shovels, watching to patch the
slightest break. Seemingly the embankment was all that kept the water
from rushing into the principal streets.

Ned and Hal stood and gazed in silent wonder at the scene before them.
The river was not that friendly river to which they were accustomed.
It was a sullen, menacing monster, without a single familiar aspect.
The water was an opaque, ugly yellow, and was thickly charged with
sediment. Extending as far as eye could reach it swept past, bearing
on its mighty breast trunks of trees, pieces of lumber, fragments of
buildings, and not infrequently an entire shed or small house.

There was no levee, no shore, no anything--save water. The big Diamond
Jo warehouse, with its basement story completely submerged, was secured
by a hawser encircling it.

Commodore Jones' little fish-market and boats-to-hire establishment,
a few rods below, also was anchored by a rope. The water was within a
couple of inches of its platform; but nevertheless, river threatening
each moment to carry him away, here sat the commodore, smoking his pipe.

The boys strolled to a point on the embankment opposite him.

"Good-morning, commodore," they called.

"Mornin', young fellers," responded the commodore. "Better not come
crost them planks," he admonished, indicating the narrow bridge which
connected his quarters with the land.

"We don't want to," replied Ned. "How's the water? Still rising?"

"No," answered the commodore. "She ain't raised any since midnight. I
look for her to begin to go down pretty soon, now. She's fallin' up
north."

"Do you think the embankment will hold?" asked Hal, anxiously.

"Certain, 'less we have an east wind," assured the commodore, between
his puffs. "East wind would pile up the waves an' no knowin' what would
happen."

"I guess we'll go out in our boat," announced Ned.

"Well, it's there with them others under the lee of the warehouse,"
said the commodore, with a jerk of his pipe toward the cluster of
skiffs tied along the embankment, in the angle formed by the end of
the steamboat building, and thus shielded from the current. "Reckon
I wouldn't take no chances though, if I was you. River's full of
drift-wood."

The commodore was a stoical, gruff old veteran of the
Mississippi--whereby his title--and this advice was no small concession.

"We'll be careful," cried Hal.

"Oh, it's safe enough," grunted the commodore, lapsing into the
apparent surliness which covered a really kind heart.

The boys proceeded to their boat, and unlocked its painter from the
larger chain to which all the boats were fastened.

The craft of which they were joint owners was of that type known on the
Mississippi as scull-boat or sink-boat. It was low and flat, with a
smooth, dish-shaped keel, sharp prow, and overhanging stern. Its bows
were decked, and a combing ran along the gunwale.

It was a very convenient, reliable boat. Under the decked bows could
be stowed a surprising amount of stuff. Being made from thin strips of
cedar, it was exceedingly buoyant and light; and in consequence of its
width and "flatness," sitting as it did so low in the water, capsizing
was almost impossible. As an extra precaution, however, Mr. Miller and
Mr. Lucas had caused air-cylinders of copper to be inserted, inside the
bows.

There were no seats or thwarts. The boys sprawled about on the straw
in the bottom. The one who rowed sat on a soap-box; the one who
sculled--for in the stern was a hole for a sculling-oar--perched on the
gunwale.

You see, the boat was so steady that it did not much matter how the
persons in it acted.

Sometimes the boys rowed, sometimes they sculled, and sometimes, if in
a hurry or fought by a strong current, they both rowed and sculled.
When not in use the boat was quartered with Commodore Jones.

Hal jumped in, shipped the single pair of oars, and then plumped into
the stern; Ned shoved off, and squatting on the soap-box applied
himself to navigating, for it happened to be his turn.

"Watch out for the lath!" cautioned Hal.

"Say--I bet you it's from the Beaufort Lumber Company's yards!"
exclaimed Ned, twisting his head to look over the bows.

Countless bunches of lath, extending up the river as far as the boys
could see, were passing down in a long, straight string. A few vigorous
strokes with the oars shot the boat out of the eddy formed by the
warehouse, and into the current, and carried them through the line of
lath. Now the craft was clear of obstructions.

Eagle Island was a large tract of heavily wooded land, reaching down
river from off the lower end of town. It was four miles in length, and
half a mile or more in breadth. Paper-mill Slough separated it from the
mainland. Quite a settlement of wood-choppers, small farmers, and mill
employees lived upon it; and with its nuts, its fishing, and its other
attractions, it was a favorite resort for the Beaufort youth.

The powerful current of the freshet swept the voyagers rapidly onward.
In a moment they had passed under the bridge, against the piers of
which the water boiled and swirled. On the nearer shore they caught
a glimpse, here and there, of shanties held in place by ropes, and
of their tenants paddling about the thresholds in skiffs. The river
appeared to be among the lumber piles of the Mosher Lumber Company,
even!

Of the farther shore nothing was to be seen. The water stretched in
this direction for miles and miles, only a fringe of willows marking
its ordinary bounds.

And now they were beyond the lumber yards, and had entered Paper-mill
Slough.

The head of Eagle Island was still high and dry, above the reach of the
flood. The current, split by the promontory, was not so swift in the
slough as in the river proper.

The boys kept close to the island, and presently the ground had so
descended that the water was rushing in among the trees.

"Where will we go in?" asked Ned.

"Oh, anywhere," replied Hal; adding: "Let's go in here."

"Well, then, you scull," said Ned, dealing the boat a sudden twist with
the left-hand oar, and sending it obliquely into the woods.

With a quick motion he unshipped the oars from their locks and himself
from the soap-box, and sitting comfortably on the straw, his back
against the half-deck of the bows, he took it easy.

Between the hickories and the oaks glided the nimble craft, the
screw-like movement of the sculling oar, deftly managed by Hal, giving
it an agreeable wriggling, rocking motion.

The water varied in depth. In some places the oar-blade touched bottom;
again no bottom was to be found. Above the surface in the shallows
the tops of weeds and bushes swayed with the current. Not a sound of
human life was heard. The only noises to break the silence were the
twitterings of uneasy birds amidst the branches of the trees, and once
in a while a slight scrape from the boat's prow as Hal steered through
a narrow channel.

It was an enchanted island, spellbound by the freshet.

"Doesn't it seem queer, though!" commented Ned, after they had gone a
short distance, upon a zigzag course.

"I should say!" agreed Hal, letting the boat drift, and with eyes and
ears drinking in the novelty of it all. "Where will we make for?"

"I don't care," responded Ned. "See! there's a barn."

Sure enough, directly ahead was a small, unpainted, weather-beaten barn
just visible between the tree-trunks. Hal began to scull gently, and as
they drew nearer they saw a house, also, not far from it.

The scene was rather pathetic--this home, lonely and deserted, standing
waist-deep in the midst of the waters, its only companions the silent
forest trees.

"The folks who lived here must have skipped in a big hurry," observed
Ned. "They didn't even stop to close their up-stairs windows."

"Perhaps that's the way they got out," suggested Hal.

"I hear a dog!" suddenly Ned exclaimed.

"He's shut in the house," said Hal, poising his oar and listening.

"Poor fellow! He's around somewhere, that's sure," agreed Ned. "Let's
go nearer and see about him."

With the howling of the dog to urge them, they sculled forward. First
in their path was the barn; and with a change in their angle of view
Ned cried:

"There he is! He's in the loft!"

True enough. In the square doorway of the barn-loft was a medium size
brown dog, peering out to catch their coming. Evidently he had heard
their voices, and had howled for help.

"Now, I call that a shame!" declared Ned.

The dog howled back that indeed it was.

"Let's rescue him," proposed Hal, laying hold of a sapling, to keep the
boat where the dog might see them, while they discussed him. "Why, he
must be half starved!"

"Unless the family left him on purpose, and put some stuff in there for
him to eat," hazarded Ned.

"Then he ate it all up at once--dogs never save, like a cat," rejoined
Hal, sagely. "Besides, I don't believe his folks did that--they simply
deserted him, because they were scared."

"But how can we get at him?" queried Ned.

Hal released his hold on the sapling, and sculled across to the barn.
The dog, seeing them move toward him, whined frantically, and craned
his neck to watch them.

They rasped along the gray boards of the barn until they came to a
door, the upper half of which was out of water.

"See if you can open it," said Hal. "Perhaps we can go in with the
boat, to the stairs."

"Padlocked," informed Ned, briefly, and in disgust. "That proves it!
They left him here on purpose."

"No, sir-ee!" Hal insisted. "They never thought of the barn--they
skipped after it had been locked for the night."

They made a circuit of the barn, but there was no other door; and
although within easy reach there was a window, of dirty panes, it was
quite too narrow for entrance. Besides, the water hereabouts was five
feet deep, as Ned found by sounding with an oar, and there was no
knowing what disagreeable surprise the inside of the barn might offer
to a person dropping through the window.

He peered through the dingy glass, and as well as he could scanned the
dim, shadowy interior, faintly shown by the light which penetrated
between the boards.

"Anyway, I'm glad a horse or cow isn't in there," he said.

They had passed out of the dog's sight, and he was howling piteously,
thinking that he had lost them.

"We're coming," shouted Ned; and they hastened to station themselves
again at the sapling where the dog could see them.

This comforted him, and his howling changed to whines of greeting.

"Poor doggie," spoke Hal to him. "I wish we could help you out of your
fix."

"Jump," called Ned.

The two boys tried in vain by coaxing and commanding to make the dog
jump from the window. It was only about eight feet to the surface of
the water, and although he seemed to know just what they wanted, he
could not muster spunk for the leap. He barked and whined, and crouched
and stretched, one end willing but the other end afraid; and on the
very brink he always balked.

"Well," remarked Hal, finally, "I don't see what we can do--we can't
get up there, and you won't come down here. So we'll have to leave you.
I hope somebody will come after you pretty soon."

"It's a great big shame, that's what it is!" declared Ned. "We'll bring
you over some meat, won't we, Hal!"

"Yes, indeed," answered Hal, seizing upon the idea.

"One thing is sure--he won't die from thirst!" said Ned, looking back
regretfully, as they slowly sculled off.

The dog, seeing them go, lifted his nose and howled as if his heart was
breaking.

"Pshaw!" exclaimed Hal. "He thinks we're leaving him for good."

"He's going to jump! He's going to jump!" cried Ned, suddenly.
"Whistle!"

Yes, the dog was nerving himself to the feat. In desperation he
fidgeted from side to side of the doorway, craning, running back and
forth, and acting like a dog possessed.

The combined whistle of the boys was too much!

"Look!" shouted both at once.

With a last howl he was in mid-air, his legs outspread; and in a
twinkling he had disappeared, amid a mighty splash, beneath the water.

"My--that must have hurt his stomach like sixty!" laughed Hal.

But the dog seemed not hurt a particle. In a moment, above the surface
popped his head, and shaking it vigorously to clear his eyes and ears
of water, yapping with eagerness and excitement he lined a course
straight for the boat.

"Come on, come on, old fellow!" urged the boys.

"Yap, yap, yap, yap, yap!" said the dog.

And come he did, as fast as his legs and paws could send him, his chest
cleaving the ripples, and a bubbly wake extending far behind him.

Speedily he had gained the boat, and Ned had pulled him in. Convinced
that now he was saved, the dog went into perfect transports of
happiness. He barked, he yelped, he whined, he snickered, he twisted
his body into knots; he talked to one boy, and then to the other, and
then to the two at once, telling them all about it; he flicked water
over them with his whipping tail, and shaking himself doused them again
until they were well-nigh as wet as he. And how he grinned!

"He's laughing!" cried Hal.

Indeed, this was true. The pendant upper lip of the dog was wrinkled
back, so that he was showing his white teeth in a ridiculous grin!

"Well!" remarked Ned, staring at him. "It doesn't make him look very
pretty, anyway."

Which, also, was true, for the grin was like a snarl.

The dog, having paid his respects, cuddled himself on the straw of
the bows, in the sun, and there blinked, now and then expressing his
ecstasy by a contented little sigh.

"He knows we've got to keep him," declared Hal. "We can't throw him up
into the loft again, and there's no other place for him, except the
boat."

"I'm glad of it, too," asserted Ned. "Those people don't deserve a dog,
after the way they've treated him! Do they, pup?"

The dog, hearing himself addressed, whimpered as if in memory of a dark
past, and at the same time thumped his tail in celebration of a bright
present.

"But maybe we'll have to return him," prophesied Hal, mechanically
working the sculling oar. "He's a pointer, and perhaps he's valuable."

"Do you suppose we can find the house again?" mused Ned.

"Our folks might make us try," replied Hal. "Let's scull away as hard
as we can, without looking where we're going. Then we'll lose it."

Acting upon his own suggestion Hall sculled stoutly, skimming aimlessly
between the trees, and soon the house and barn were nowhere to be seen.

"There!" he panted, ceasing his exertions, and letting the boat drift.
"Now where are we?"

"I give it up," candidly confessed Ned. "The water changes everything
so. But what's the matter with eating? Aren't you hungry?"

"Hungry!" exclaimed Hal. "You watch me."

As the boys untied their packages of lunch the dog sat up in
expectation. He was all eyes and mouth.

"He's hungry, too," declared Hal. "He heard us say 'eat.' Here--catch!"

He tossed a slice of bread at their canine charge, and down it went,
apparently swallowed whole.

The lunch which had been intended for two did for three; the boys
munched and the dog gobbled, and presently scarcely a crumb remained.

During this time the boat had been carried by the current, bumping into
tree-trunks, and swinging to right and to left, with weeds and bushes
scraping along its bottom and against its sides.

The boys lolled on the warm straw, and the dog, no doubt exhausted by
his vigils in the barn-loft, went to sleep.

It was very pleasant, thus to float through the green woods, over
ground which they so often had traversed afoot. Occasionally they saw
other houses and barns, flooded and lifeless, and in all respects
appearing much the same as the place at which the pointer had been
discovered.

"Well, if the dog can go there again, all right," murmured Hal. "_I_
can't."

"I either," declared Ned, drowsily.

At length the boat emerged into an open area, with only pond-lily pads
and buds breaking the ripples.

"Hello!" spoke Hal. "This must be Beaver Lake, Ned."

"So it is," agreed Ned. "I believe we ought to turn back and strike for
home, if we want to take things easy. If we go any farther we'll have
an awful job getting back."

He seized the sculling oar, and swinging the craft around headed into
the trees again.

"I'll scull," he said, "and when we reach the slough you can row."

The return progress was slower, for the current was against them.
Whenever Hal could help with the oars, he did, but at many points there
was not room to use them. However, the current, while hindering, also
served as a guide.

"The river's falling!" suddenly cried Hal, pointing to a tree-trunk
close at hand. "See there!"

A narrow margin of wet, marking where the water must have been, was
visible on the bark, above the smooth tide.

"And there's some mud!" he triumphantly added, at a strip of ooze from
which the water had receded.

"Humph!" commented Ned; whether from pleasure or disappointment, was
not clear.

Yes, the crest of the freshet had passed. Upon every tree within sight
was the unmistakable sign.

But the dog in the bows of the boat slept on. He was not interested;
for all he cared the flood might last forever. He was beyond its
clutches.

The trip home was achieved by dint of incessant tugging and pulling.
The boys crossed the slough, and then worked their way along the shore,
where the current was not so fierce. Finally, with blistered hands
and numb wrists they glided in behind the warehouse, whence they had
started.

The dog, overjoyed, jumped out first; with a grunt of relief, they
followed.

"Back, are you?" greeted Commodore Jones (who sat just as they had left
him) when they approached with the oars.

"See what we found," bade Ned, nodding toward the dog.

"Pointer pup, eh?" said the commodore. "Where'd you get him?"

"Somebody had left him in a barn half under water," informed Hal; "on
Eagle."

"You don't say!" responded the commodore, pityingly. "Sech a man ain't
fit to have a dog. You'd better keep him."

"We're going to," answered the boys, in unison.

"What will we do about him?" asked Ned, as they were walking homeward.
"Shall we draw lots to see which'll take him?"

"N-n-no," responded Hal, reluctantly. "You can have him. My mother says
she won't allow a dog about, or else I'd have had one long ago."

"That's too bad," sympathized Ned. "At our house we all like dogs--at
least, mother does if they don't dig up her flowers."

"You ought to call him Robinson Crusoe--Crusoe was wrecked on an
island, you know," suggested Hal.

"Or 'Bob' for short," cried Ned, the idea appealing to him. "All
right--you name him and I'll have him."

"I suppose so," admitted Hal, ruefully.

When they parted at the street corner, the dog hesitated, uncertain
which to accompany.

"Come on, Bob," called Ned.

And Bob, quickly deciding, followed him.



CHAPTER II

THE GREAT LUMBER FIRE


The river went down as rapidly as it had come up, but left upon the
clap-boards of the Diamond Jo warehouse a line of mud in token of its
visit. People in the low-lying portions of the city hastened to move
back into their accustomed quarters, now soaked by the flood. Many
a cellar was pumped out. And at the levee Commodore Jones' flock of
skiffs was once more tethered in its usual place before the little
boat-house.

Much to Ned's disgust the eleven loads of wood arrived promptly at the
Miller premises--eleven great loads of wet slabs, making a mountain
higher than the alley fence, and filling all the space between the
wood-shed and the next back-yard!

These slabs were to be loosely laid, one upon another, in long,
parallel piles, so that the air could circulate freely between them.
When the wood had dried, it was to be split, and put in the shed, for
use.

It seemed to Ned an endless task, to dispose of such a mass, stick
by stick. However, he had accomplished it in previous summers, and
although each June it loomed into sight afresh, yet somehow by pegging
away he managed to struggle through it.

Having for several days dolefully eyed the mountain, on the morning
of the Saturday succeeding the Bob rescue he began, with a groan, the
base of his first pile. But he knew that groaning was of no use; he
was expected to devote this Saturday morning, and the next Saturday
morning, and two hours a day during the coming long vacation, to the
work until it was finished.

Bob, having industriously trotted hither and thither through the
yard, and having gazed right and left along the street, in search for
amusement, came and sat on his haunches near Ned, and with a puzzled,
wondering expression, surveyed his movements.

A week had effected quite a change in Bob's appearance. The warm
welcome which he had received at the Miller home, and the food and
petting which he was being accorded, already had slicked his coat, and
covered his ribs. That confidence in humanity which he had lost while
confined in the barn on Eagle Island, now had returned to him. He was a
very happy dog.

For a few moments he watched Ned intently. Presently, getting no
encouragement to frolic, and doubtless disgusted that upon such a
bright morning his master should be given to so stupid an employment,
he curled up in the sun, against the wood-shed, and fitfully dozed--one
eye at a time, in order that he might be on the alert, should something
happen.

And something did happen!

Bob had been napping for but half an hour when suddenly the unearthly
shriek of the fire-whistle pierced the still air. The Beaufort
fire-whistle was a most appalling sound--running up and down the
scales, at one instant a shrill tremulo, at another a deep bass. Under
favorable conditions it could be heard, folks claimed, fifteen miles!

With the first note Ned poised in his hands the slab which he was
transferring from heap to pile, and waited, breathless, to see
whether it was the water-works' alarm, or only a steamboat. With the
second he dropped his slab, and straightened. Yes, indeed, it was the
fire-whistle! Bob lifted his nose, and howled vigorously. This was the
influence of the whistle upon all dogs within ear-shot: it made them
howl and howl, but nobody knew why.

Ned scanned the horizon. In the southeast, topping the maples which
bordered either side of the street, he caught a glimpse of a huge cloud
of black smoke, sluggishly unfolding and spreading.

The spectacle electrified him. In a second he and Bob were rushing
wildly through the yard, and out of the front gate.

"It's the lumber yards--it's Mosher's lumber yards!" he cried, to his
mother, who was standing, anxious-faced, on the porch.

"Oh, Ned!" she exclaimed.

No more wood piling on _that_ day!

The pretty, modest resident street was all astir. Heads popped from
windows, voices called and answered, and young and old hastened upon
walk or horse-block, or into the road.

"It's Mosher's lumber yards!" was repeated, from lot to lot, and from
corner to corner.

The bell of the Congregational church pealed forth its clamorous
warning.

Two streams of people were set in motion--the one flowing tumultuously
toward the cloud of smoke, the other speeding frantically for the
nearest hose house, headquarters of the Pole Star Volunteers.

Ned, with Bob barking and leaping about him, fell in with the latter
current. Very soon, you may be sure, he arrived at the hose house. He
found a large throng of men and boys collected before the door.

"Where's the key? They can't find the key!" he heard announced from
every side.

The town marshal mounted the steps of the outside stairs, so that he
could look over the crowd.

"Does any one know where the key is?" he bellowed, searching the faces
of the jostling mob which, brimming with excitement, was constantly
increasing.

"Where's the key? Who knows where the key is?" echoed the people, to
each other, screaming the query as loud as they could.

"I know--it's hanging behind the door in Fleischmann's grocery!"
volunteered a youngster of ten years, barefooted, in faded blue
overalls and dingy checked waist. And off he scurried, importance
showing in every flap of his overalls against his bare ankles.

"It's in Fleischmann's grocery--the boy's gone to get it," volleyed a
chorus, to the marshal.

"Here it comes!" was shouted, in a moment. "Let the lad through--you
fellows out there!"

A dozen hands reached to grasp the urchin by the shirt and pull him
ahead.

"Pass up the key," ordered the marshal.

"But I ain't got it--it wasn't there," explained the boy, as rapidly as
he could. "They said they didn't have it any more!"

"Sold it for old iron, I bet you," remarked a joker. His hearers
laughed, and as this hit at Fleischmann went from mouth to mouth
guffaws went, too.

"Break in the door! Bust the padlock!" suggested a stout, white-aproned
man--Schmidt, the butcher.

"Smash a window and climb in," suggested somebody else.

"What good would _that_ do?" inquired Mr. Schmidt, scornfully.

"Here's the key--here's the key!" arose the cry, and the throng eddied
and swirled as a man elbowed his path through to the door, and applied
a key to the lock.

The crowd pressed forward when, with an impatient motion, the man
jerked open the padlock, and hurled aside the sliding door. So many
zealous helpers offered themselves that much confusion resulted.

"Keep out! Keep out! Hang it all, give us room!"

The mass upon the threshold separated violently to right and left, and
out from the dim, cool interior (smelling strongly of damp rubber) was
rolled the cart, guided by every person who could lay finger upon it.

Ere it had fairly emerged additional hands fought for the privilege
of grasping the ropes attached to it. Shoved and buffeted and trod
upon, Ned squirmed into the thick of the struggle, and was rewarded by
feeling his fingers close upon a rope. But what was his position he did
not know.

Now the cart burst away from the mob, and into the street. With a
whoop and a hurrah, clangor of gong and tooting of trumpet, up the
thoroughfare it trundled, drawn by two long lines of people--youth and
age yoked in a common cause. Those unlucky and envious people who,
owing to lack of space, were denied a place in the team, valiantly
formed a running escort.

As it happened, Ned had been particularly favored when he had grabbed
the rope, for his place was just behind the leader. This leader was
"Sandy" Baxter, Beaufort's foot-racer. He headed the two lines, and set
the pace; next came Ned, on the right, and Tom Walker, the attorney,
on the left. Who followed, Ned did not have time to see. He had all he
could do to hold his own, and not prove a drag. However, hold it he
did, for he was the best runner among all the boys of his neighborhood,
and he had a reputation to sustain.

Furthermore, plain in view, straight down the street, was that ominous
volume of smoke, ever swelling, like the terrible breath of a volcano.
Wasn't that enough to spur _any_ boy's legs? Certainly!

"Sandy" seemed not to care whether or not his team-mates could keep up
with him. He started in at a tremendous gait, and he did not abate it
in the slightest. He had no mercy. The lumber yards were burning!

Along the ropes short-winded persons began to fall out; some, grown
clumsy through their exertions, stumbled on the heels of their
file-leaders, thus promoting disorder and profanity.

"Spurt her up! All together!" urged the marshal, amid the lines.

"Hurroo! Hurroo!" responded his associates, with failing, husky voices.

A loosened tire of the cart rattled loudly.

"Clang!" sounded the rusty, cracked gong, at every turn of the wheels.

"Bow wow! Wow, wow, wow!" yelped Bob and several other canine
enthusiasts, outstripping, now and then, the whole crew, and halting,
with lolling tongue, for it to catch up.

The cart had been hauled, in this manner, three blocks, when on a
sudden an empty lumber-wagon dashed athwart its course, and came
sharply to a standstill.

"Pass the ropes aboard, boys," commanded the marshal. "Quick!"

The ropes were thrown into the wagon-box, were rudely fastened, the
marshal and "Sandy" Baxter clambered in to watch them. "All right!"
called a score of voices; the driver leaned forward from his seat and
lashed his steeds, and very nearly before the cart had stopped it was
once more upon its way, this time attached to the jolting, swaying
wagon drawn at a gallop by the heavy horses.

The folk whose occupation had thus been taken from them pursued as best
they might.

Ned, panting but determined, lustily labored on in the wake of the
cart, Bob loping beside him. The smoke cloud waxed larger and larger.
They could see an immense swarm of people collected apparently beneath
it, and could hear a medley, now faint, now quite distinct, of shouts
and cries.

The Congregational church bell was ringing without stop--just as
if by this time all Beaufort was not thoroughly aroused and bound,
helter-skelter, for the scene!

Five minutes more, and--

"Gee-_whiz_!" gasped Ned, transfixed with amazement.

He had reached his goal. Immediately before him lay the lumber yards.
Over them rested that black canopy which had been visible from afar,
and which, from a-near, was seen to be licked by leaping flames.
The air was pungent with the odor of scorched pine. On this side
of the railroad tracks which skirted the yards, at the north, were
the onlookers; men, women and children--packing every vacant spot,
occupying every point of vantage. Beyond the tracks, among the very
piles, were the fire-fighters, like groups of pigmies attacking a
blaze-vomiting giant.

Above the feverish cries of the spectators, above the hoarse shouts of
the firemen, sounded the crackle and roar of the conflagration.

The entire district south of the tracks seemed doomed to be wiped out.
Here, in the Mosher yards, were thousands upon thousands of feet of
dry lumber. The fire fairly flew from pile to pile, and so intense was
the heat that the pitchy material appeared to break into flames all at
once, from within.

East of the yards was the river; but west was that section of the town
known as South Beaufort, made up, mostly, of the homes of mill men and
railroad men. Fine opportunity did these houses, close together and
lightly constructed, offer to the fire!

At the outset little wind had been blowing; but the fire was creating
a draft, forming a vortex into which poured the cool air in a regular
gale. Enormous cinders whirled high aloft, to stream down everywhere.
The whole town was endangered by them.

"Here comes Hal," knocked Bob with his tail against his master's leg.

"Hello, Bob," called Hal, who was making for them through the crowd.

"Oh, Hal, isn't this awful!" greeted Ned.

"I should say so!" replied Hal. "Let's climb up on top of those
box-cars, where we can see better."

So they dodged over to some box-cars standing on the tracks which
branched northward, along the river, and secured seats from which they
had a view unobstructed by irritating heads and hats. Other persons had
preceded them, but there was plenty of room, and dangling their feet
down the end of a car they proceeded to watch and wait. Bob, after a
number of fruitless efforts to scale the side of the car, sat on the
ground and watched and waited, too. However, he was interested in the
two boys, more than in the fire.

"There's just dray-load after dray-load of goods being hauled out of
South Beaufort," said Hal. "I was over a while. The people are scared,
I tell you!"

"Let's go and help," suggested Ned, stung by the idea.

"No use," responded Hal. "They can't get wagons enough, for love or
money, to take what stuff is scattered round, already."

"Say--if the fire ever gets into South Beaufort, it will cross the
tracks, sure, and then--um-m-m!" exclaimed Ned, shaking his head.

"Then the whole town will burn!" faltered Hal, his face paling.

At this instant they perceived among the throng which they had just
left a bustle of excitement. Then came to their ears a cheer, and
another, and another; then a continuous uproar.

Everybody upon the box-cars stood up to peer and wonder.

"It's the fire department from Sundale! See! Hurrah! Hurrah!" shouted
Hal, swinging his hat.

"Hurrah!" chimed in Ned, and all the others.

Sundale was the neighboring village--a rival save in time of need like
this--two miles northward. Down the street, nearer and nearer, welcomed
by cheer after cheer, came the two carts, their plunging horses,
foam-flecked by their long run, exerting their last energy in one final
spurt; down, down, "clang! clang! clang!" straight through the living
lane and across the tracks. Hurrah!

"Bully for Sundale!" cried Ned.

"You bet!" agreed Hal; and none disputed.

"I hope they'll do some good," he added. "But, oh, look at it now, will
you!"

The sight was superb, but it was frightful. Even during the short time
that the boys had been on the car the fire had increased shockingly. It
did not seem to jump from the top of one pile to another, but it seemed
to devour entire piles at a gulp. Piles fifty, seventy, ninety feet
high disappeared in a twinkling. Their boards curled and withered like
leaves, as the fury of the fiery blast sucked them in.

"What's the use of standing off and squirting at it!" grumbled Ned.
"They aren't stopping it!"

"And they can't get close enough to reach it--and if they could the
water would turn to steam before it struck!" said Hal. "I--I guess I
ought to go home, Ned."

He was almost crying, and his voice ended in a despairing little wail.
Ned, too, felt a queer thrill of helplessness; but he answered, stoutly:

"Pshaw, Hal; they'll stop it some way. They must, you know."

"But Chicago burned up, Ned," quavered Hal. "_You_ needn't go--your
house wouldn't burn until after ours. So you can stay, if you want to.
My mother is scared to death----"

"Boom!"

"Listen! What is that?" interrupted Ned.

"Boom!"

"They're blowing up the piles with dynamite!" asserted Ned, exultantly.
"There's another!"

"Do you think that will help?" queried Hal, doubtfully.

"Of course," assured Ned. "It's the only way. It will keep the fire
from spreading, and make it burn down low where they can put it out
with the hose. See? They're blowing up the piles on the South Beaufort
side. Then if they stop the fire from getting past the open space
they've got it! Who cares for the lumber, so long as the houses don't
catch! And it can't come this way, for the tracks are too wide, here,
and south of it they can blow up more piles and stop it."

Ned's tones were so confident that Hal brightened, and said nothing
farther about leaving.

Besides, new distractions occurred. Over the railroad bridge thundered
a locomotive, twitching behind it a single flat car, and whistling long
and shrill.

"Hartville! It's from Hartville!" flew the report.

"Hurrah for Hartville!" cheered the spectators, the thousand voices
drowning the shrieks of the proud engine.

"Well," remarked Ned. "People in the other towns must think we're all
burned."

"But isn't it fine in them to send help!" exclaimed Hal.

"We'd do as much for them," responded Ned.

Scarcely had the Hartville men arrived, when from up the river echoed
the deep, excited whistle of a steamboat. The crowd turned its faces
that way.

"It's the ferry _Lady Rose_. She's bringing the Lynnton department!"
exclaimed Hal.

Down swept the ferry, the black smoke streaming from her stacks
and trailing behind her in two tossing, ever-expanding plumes; her
side-wheels turning at a prodigious rate; and her deck alive with
people who answered cheer with cheer.

The _Lady Rose_ effected a hasty landing just above the bridge, and her
passengers, fire-laddies and spectators, tumbled ashore. Then followed
two hose-carts; and right on the heels of the men from Hartville
followed the men from Lynnton, to help save the town.

But although the assistance was welcome, now, at last, the tide had
been stemmed. A wide line of lumber piles had been leveled, cutting off
the flames in their mad career. A little wind set in from the west,
driving the fire back toward the river. With hope renewed the firemen
stubbornly stood their ground, arrayed between the angry blaze and the
homes cowering just beyond.

And now the gallons of water being poured into the fire commenced to
have an effect. Coals sizzled and blackened. Embers smouldered and
died. Aided by the good wind, step by step the firemen advanced.

The day was won.

The fire lessened in volume; and seeing that the danger was past, the
people who had watched began to slip away.

"Come on," said Ned, at last. "We might as well go. It's about over."

They dropped off the car, and Bob, who had deemed the fire a very dull
affair (for a dog) welcomed them loudly.

"My, I'm hungry!" declared Hal. "I wonder what time it is."

Whereupon they found that it was half-past one; much after dinner time.



CHAPTER III

THE BREAK-WATER ACCIDENT


Although it had been subdued, and was deprived of its fangs, the fire
continued to burn for several days. It burrowed deep into the sawdust,
and lurked amid the great masses of black rubbish where once had been
lumber and lath, as if loth to leave its mangled prey.

The out-of-town firemen returned home that evening, but all that night,
and up to the middle of the next week, the Beaufort department kept
streams playing upon the smoking ruins.

For a time these sorry-looking yards were regarded by Bob and Ned
and other Beaufort youth as a very entertaining place. It was fun to
explore the desolate area, and conjecture what had been on this spot,
and what on that. No small spice of danger, too, was offered by the
tempting, swaying run-ways and crumbling piles. But at length the
sport palled, and the Beaufort boys sought elsewhere for amusement and
occupation.

In regard to occupation, Ned did not have to seek far. At his back
door-step were those eleven loads of wood. One Saturday had come and
gone, and scarcely an impression had been made upon the grim mountain
of slabs. This was the last week of school; another Saturday, and then
he must pile every day until he had performed his duty. That done he
would be free to do about as he pleased.

Could wishing have availed, those slabs would have been in Halifax
very soon, consigned there by Ned. But of course Mr. Miller would have
promptly ordered eleven more loads, and since in Beaufort were several
lumber yards to draw upon, Ned's case, even were Halifax to aid him,
was hopeless.

He did what any sensible boy would have done; he pitched into the wood,
working after school and all day Saturday, and by the opening of the
vacation he had dug a great cave in the flank of the mountain. Like the
majority of tasks, this one, when stoutly tackled, was not so big as it
had appeared.

In regard to the amusement, this never could be lacking while the
river flowed past the town. The warm rains and sun of the spring had
taken the chill from the water, and had made it almost comfortable
for swimming, when down had rushed the freshet, with its icy flood of
melted snow, and had spoiled matters. Now the Mississippi was again at
its ordinary level, and under the influence of the summer weather was
rapidly assuming an agreeable temperature.

By the wireless telegraphy of boyhood the news that there was "good
swimming" traversed Beaufort from end to end.

Ned, who had been fuming all the spring because his father had refused
to let him go in until the water was warmer, and thus had deprived
him of the glory of being among the first, received the tidings with
rejoicing. Surely, June was not too early for bathing!

Bob was more callous about the news. You see, already he had indulged
in a number of plunges, not to speak of the dive from the barn window;
therefore his enthusiasm had cooled.

"Can't I go swimming now, father?" begged Ned, immediately upon hearing
the reports. "All the fellows have been in and they say the water is
just as warm as milk! If you'd only stick your hand in it you'd see,
yourself."

"I haven't had much of a chance to 'stick my hand in it,' yet,
considering that my arm isn't four blocks long--and that is the nearest
I have been to the river, lately," replied Mr. Miller, laughing. "But
if 'all the fellows' say so, it must be true."

"Hal's father has let _him_ go," argued Ned, eagerly.

"I've nothing to do with Mr. Lucas's notions--nor have they anything to
do with me, Ned," responded Mr. Miller. "The Miller affairs give me all
that I can attend to. However, I guess, if you'll be careful and not
stay in too long, you can go ahead."

"And don't get in where it's deep," cautioned Mrs. Miller.

"Oh, pshaw, mother!" replied Ned. "Six feet is as bad as a mile--and
it's easier swimming where it's real deep, too."

"Well, I hate to have you go," said his mother, stroking his hair. "You
promise to be very careful, won't you, and not bathe so often or stay
in so long that it makes you weak, or----"

"Yes, mother. Don't you be afraid," he answered, giving her a hearty
hug.

"And don't neglect that wood," suggested his father, with a twinkle in
his eye.

"That's for mornings; I have my afternoons 'off,'" called back Ned,
capering out of the house. In a second he stuck his head in through a
window and cried: "I nearly forgot to say 'thank you,' father, didn't
I?"

"I believe you did, Ned," assured his father; and Ned vanished.

"I really don't see how it is possible that the water should be warm,
so soon," declared Mrs. Miller, anxiously, to her husband.

"I, either," he replied, smiling. "But Ned can stand it if the other
boys can. It won't hurt him any."

"I suppose not," assented Mrs. Miller, doubtfully.

Well, to tell the fact, the water was _not_ especially warm, in spite
of what "all the fellows" had declared. It was as warm as milk--but
that must have referred to old milk, not fresh; perhaps milk which had
been in an ice-box.

At least, so Ned thought, when gingerly he started to wade out, for
the first swim of the season. He stepped in, ankle-deep--and his toes
curled, and his knees shook, and with a hasty exclamation he sprang
back.

"Oh, jump in all at once!" urged Hal. "'Tisn't cold; it's fine," and he
paddled around to show his perfect satisfaction.

Ned was disappointed. When, on the way over in the boat, they had
dabbled with their fingers, to test, the water had seemed just right;
but now--ugh!

He tried again, and waded manfully until in above his knees; here he
faltered. The other boys, who had been through the ordeal and were
happy, began to splash him with chilling drops, so that his naked body
shrank, and he shivered and begged.

"I'm coming! I'm coming!" he chattered. "Only let me be, a minute."

"Then wet over or we'll douse you!" threatened his persecutors,
menacing him, in a half-circle.

"I will! I will! Quit! Don't you see I am?" implored Ned, wading a
little farther. "Gimme a chance to wet my head so I won't have cramp,
can't you?"

He stopped, and raising water in his hands dabbled it upon his chest
and back and hair, trying to get used by degrees to the change. To his
fingers the goose-flesh on him felt like stubble!

Bob, joining forces with the other scoffing spectators, raced along the
shallows of the beach, barking his derision. Great cats! what a silly
boy! _He_ had been in and out of the water a dozen times.

Suddenly Ned drew a big breath, shut his eyes, and ducked under,
sousing himself completely. He emerged choking, staggering, gasping,
while his companions, tickled into spasms of merriment, wallowed and
shrieked.

But Ned minded not; the worst was past. He boldly lunged ahead for a
swim, and the water was not a bit cold.

Beaufort bathers had choice of three favorite resorts. First, there
were the rafts, brought down by the steamboats for the mills, and laid
up against the shore, waiting their turn to be sawed into lumber--and
slabs for Ned to pile! Sometimes their outer edge extended clear to the
channel, and to dive from here into the swift, dusky current thirty
feet in depth was tremendously exhilarating. When you came to the
surface you were fifteen or twenty yards below the point whence you had
started.

At the lower end of the rafts was slack water, where you could swim
with no fear of being carried away. An especially good feature about
the rafts lay in the fact that the logs were nice and clean, and when
you dressed you did not get sand in your stockings.

Second, there was the large sand-bar opposite the upper part of town.
In low water this bar was enormous, comprising several acres. Its foot
shelved rapidly, so that you could dive from the firm brink into six
feet of beautiful, still water. The bar reached up-river, it seemed
forever; and over the dry, fine sand, or splattering madly, with the
water only to your ankles (keeping, of course, a sharp lookout for
step-offs) and your flat soles sending the sparkling drops far and
wide, you could run around until tired. The sand-bar was the best
resort of the three.

In very low water, it was possible to wade from it to the mainland on
the Beaufort side; and to swim to the other mainland was no trick at
all, if you knew the shortest route.

Third, there was the sandy beach across the river. This was the place
most popular; for although the water here was not so sweet and fresh
as that of the rafts and bar, the beach was convenient, safe, and
available throughout the season.

The rafts were not safe for the weak swimmer, because of the current;
at a normal stage of water the bar was a mere uncertain patch; but the
beach was always good-natured and ready.

At present it was to the beach that Ned and his chums went. Off the
rafts the water was decidedly frigid; the sand-bar was just beginning
to show its face, covered with a thin coating of mud left by the
receding freshet--and how cold this water in the middle of the river
was! The beach now held open house for Beauforters, young and old.

The boys went over every afternoon in Ned and Hal's scull-boat and in
skiffs. The entertainment afforded by the beach was endless. A quarter
of a mile above, a point of land jutted out, thus throwing the current
from the shore. In some places the beach sloped gently; in others it
pitched abruptly into the water. You could wade or you could dive, or
you could bravely launch yourself, paddle a short distance, and if you
had aimed exactly right you could then let yourself down upon a shoal,
with the water up to your neck, and the undertow tugging at your feet.
Or you could swim straight out until into the current, and turning upon
your back could deliciously float along as far as you deemed prudent,
with the sky over your face, and the shore passing in review in the
corner of an eye, and the saucy waves slapping at your nose.

Between times, here was the soft, hot sand in which to roll and bask.

Not to be omitted from the program were those times when a rafter, or
a stern-wheeler packet, ploughed up stream (the up-boats raised the
biggest swells), spreading in-shore long rollers and breakers whose
oncoming was rapturously awaited by the bevy of bathers.

The beach resort was so well rummaged and understood, that rarely did a
tragedy occur at it, and had Ned and his crowd stayed strictly within
bounds they would not have met with this experience which is about to
be related.

On an afternoon toward the last of June they were swimming at the
beach; two boat-loads of them--Ned and Hal and Bob, Frank Dalby, Sam
Dalrymple, Orrie Lukes, Tom Pearce, Phil Ruthers, Les Porter, and
others. They had been skylarking to their hearts' content; playing
tag, leap-frogging into the water, or diving slily and catching
an unsuspecting friend around the ankles. The scull-boat had been
capsized, and much sport was found in coming up under it, where was
air-space for breathing, and hooting for the benefit of the outsiders.
The packet _Pittsburg_, which had the reputation of making the highest
waves of any of the steamers save the rafter _Reindeer_, even had
surged by, leaving behind her swells and joy.

All was peace and good humor, when a skiff was descried approaching.

The boys glanced only carelessly at it, until Ned exclaimed:

"Say! There comes the South Beaufort gang!"

His words put a damper upon the frolicking. All gazed uneasily, and
fidgeted. The rough boys forming what was styled the "South Beaufort
gang" were their regular enemies.

"Well, who cares?" demanded Tom Pearce, defiantly.

"That's what I say," chimed in Les Porter. "They don't own the beach."

"No; but they'll try to run us off," asserted Hal. "Those Sullivans are
always spoiling for a fight, and they don't fight fair, either."

"They chaw raw beef on you, and paste mud at you," complained Orrie
Lukes, the smallest of the party.

"Eight of them," remarked Sam Dalrymple, who had been counting. "The
two Sullivans, and the Conners, and Big Mike Farr, and I don't know
who else."

"I tell you, fellows," suggested Ned; "we don't want any trouble--let's
go down to the breakwater and fool."

The plan met with some grumbling from Tom and Les and other stubborn
spirits; but it won, and dumping their clothes into their skiff they
made a change of base, wading and swimming and towing their boats, the
scull-boat bottom up.

The South Beaufort gang did not follow them, but, disembarking upon the
beach, went in swimming.

The breakwater was a few rods down stream. It was a long, stout parapet
of heavy, square timbers laid end to end, bolted and braced. It
extended up from the bridge, parallel with the shore, for two hundred
yards, and was designed to aid the rafters in sliding their rafts
through; it held the rafts off from the shore.

Behind it was water more or less shallow, and lukewarm from the sun. In
front of it was deep water, and considerable current.

At the risk of getting numerous splinters some of the boys scaled the
breakwater by running up the braces planted against it in the rear, the
others amused themselves among the tiny bays and inlets formed between
it and the shore line. Bob, after vainly trying to follow Ned to the
top, decided that he would take a turn through the near-by woods.

The breakwater was amply broad enough to give secure footing. The boys
lolled about upon it, the sunshine soaking them through and through,
and the novelty of their high position adding to the fun.

"Come on; let's dive, all together," proposed Ned, briskly rousing to
action.

"That's right--all together," seconded Tom.

Nobody opposed, and the six of them stood in a row.

"I'll count, and at 'three' down we go," said Ned. "Make ready----"

"Sam and I are going to jump; because when we dive head-first we get
water up our nose," explained Phil Ruthers.

"Aw, it's only eight or ten feet!" protested Hal.

"Just the same, I'm not going to get water up _my_ nose," declared Sam,
irritated.

"Make ready," warned Ned, again; and the boys poised for the plunge.

"One--two--three!" cried Ned.

With six splashes, almost like one, they struck the water and
disappeared, the four divers entering in regulation style, but Sam and
Phil upright, each with one hand closing tight his precious nose.

In a moment heads bobbed, one after another, above the surface, their
owners shaking them vigorously and snorting and blowing, while lustily
swimming, hand over hand, for the breakwater.

This the boys climbed from in front by sticking their toes into the
wide cracks between the lines of timbers, and by clinging to protruding
bolts. Once more on the top, they were resting, and chaffing when, in
a startled tone, Hal exclaimed:

"Why--where's Tom?"

Quite so; where was Tom? Six figures had left the breakwater, but only
five were upon it now! The boys looked at each other inquiringly.

"Maybe he's with the other crowd," volunteered Sam, and peering over he
called down to ask. Tom wasn't there.

"Perhaps he's hiding, to scare us," guessed Frank Dalby, weakly.

"No--Tom wouldn't do that," asserted Ned; and the faces of the boys
grew pale. "He must be down there still!" leaning over and scanning the
placid current. "I bet he never came up! Where was he standing?"

"He was right between Hal and me," excitedly said Phil. "Wasn't he,
Hal? And I stood here--just exactly, because I remember it by the
broken nut on this bolt."

"Tom! Oh, Tom!" shouted Frank, hopelessly.

No answer. The news had passed to the remainder of the bathers, below,
and a buzz of frightened talk arose.

"I'm going after him," hurriedly announced Ned. "You fellows watch
close. I reached bottom easy before."

"So did I, so did I! Let _me_ go! I'll go!" came an eager chorus.

"I'm first," replied Ned, with dogged firmness. "Get out of the way,
Hal! If I find him you fellows can come down and help."

Placing himself a little above where Tom had stood, he dived with all
his might.

In a few kicks he brought up against the muddy bottom. Groping around
about him in the cold, rayless regions, he suffered the current to bear
him slowly along, now and then paddling enough to keep himself from
rising.

He felt beneath him mud; nothing but mud; slimy, oozy, freezing
mud with clam-shells and sticks and rocks embedded in it. Then, on
a sudden, his hands felt something else--a smooth, not unfamiliar
object--it was a leg--it was Tom! Yes, Tom!

Ned's heart made a great leap of joy. With Tom in his arms he shot
upward--it seemed an endless journey--and bursting, exhausted, but
exulting, reached the surface.

The instant that he came in sight the boys--by this time the breakwater
held them all--who had been watching and waiting, saw at once his
burden, and swarmed to his rescue. They towed the unconscious Tom
through a gap in the timbers, and stretched him in the sun upon the hot
sand, and rubbed him, and rolled him, and worked so fiercely that in
fifteen minutes he showed signs of life, again.

Another fifteen, and he moaned; at which Bob, who was much moved by the
proceedings, howled in sympathy.

When he was able to sit up they bound his head, which was severely
cut, dressed him, after a fashion, and hurried him in the skiff to
town, Ned, as was fitting, happily nestling beside him, and the
scull-boat desperately following in their wake.

A doctor sewed up Tom's scalp, and it is a question who was the
prouder--the boys of Ned, or Tom of his ten stitches.

As for Ned, himself--he was not proud, precisely; rather, he was
thankful and satisfied.

The only thing that occurred to mar his pleasure was the action of
Zulette--called Zu-zu--Tom's little sister. She found him sitting by
Tom's chair, that evening, on the Pearce front porch; and with an "Oh,
Ned! Aren't you brave!" she ran up to him, and left on his face two
tears and a kiss. Then she ran into the house, crying as hard as she
could cry.

Ned wiped his cheek, and wished that she wouldn't behave so silly. To
be kissed by a girl--that was too much! And why was she crying, when
Tom was safe!

After the merits of the various theories had been well argued, it was
generally accepted that Tom had received his cut by striking a sunken
pile. However, no one went down into the water to see. The accident put
an end to diving off the breakwater.



CHAPTER IV

THE CAMP AT DEEP CREEK


When, of the eleven loads of wood, about three were still unpiled,
Ned began to feel need of a change of air. It seemed to him that the
climate of Deep Creek, sixteen miles down the river, would be just the
thing for him.

In short, he was stricken by his annual violent attack of the
camping-out-fever--a malady very popular during the summer, in Beaufort.

Hal, too, was taken at the same time. The symptoms were a burning
desire to get away from town, and into the woods; to lie around in old
clothes, regardless of time, and free from all fuss; to amuse oneself
as one pleased; to be lazy; to be uncivilized and unwashed; to row a
boat, which is fun, instead of to pile wood, which is work.

The two boys compared notes, and agreed, Bob voting "yea," that the
sooner they left, the better. Deep Creek appealed to both as the proper
locality; and Bob, it goes without comment, stood ready to follow them
any place.

Hal, whose father was less strict as to chores than was Ned's, was
used to dropping into the Miller back yard, once in a while, mornings,
and giving Ned the comfort of company at the wood-pile. This lightened
Ned's labors, but it did not hasten them, for there were moments when
the talk grew so interesting that he forgot to keep the slabs moving.

The camping-out fever now interfered seriously with the progress of the
piling. To make matters worse, these three remaining loads were the
most stubborn, closely packed loads conceivable. So stubborn were they,
that it was as if they grew each night, and thus made up what they had
lost during the day!

Camping details all had been discussed and settled, and finally Hal,
who had been impatiently awaiting the last hour of the heap, said
boldly:

"Why don't you ask your father to let you go anyway, Ned, and tell him
you'll pile the rest when you come home? It will have lots of time to
dry before winter!"

"He won't, I know," replied Ned, sadly.

"Oh, I bet he will," insisted Hal. "He doesn't care when the wood's
piled, if it's only dry in time."

"Well, I'll ask him," sighed Ned. "But he won't, I know."

He mustered his courage, and at the table that noon he hinted:

"Tom Pearce and Joe Cluny and a lot of other fellows went camping this
morning."

"Yes?" responded his father, politely.

"I wish Hal and I could go," continued Ned.

"But I thought you were going," remarked Mr. Miller. "I thought you had
arranged to go to Deep Creek."

"I mean, I wish we could go right away, when fishing's good," explained
Ned, squirming in his chair.

"What is hindering?" inquired his father, looking wondrous ignorant.

"The wood," faltered Ned. Then he blurted: "Say--can't I finish it when
I come back? It's just a little bit."

"Neddie!" reproved his mother. "The idea of addressing your father with
'say'!"

"Oh! The wood still hangs on, does it?" asked his father, innocently.
"Well, Ned, since it is 'just a little bit' you can finish it up
to-morrow, I should think, and have it off your hands. Besides, don't
you remember that I told you the wood must be piled, first, and the
camping could follow?"

"Y-y-yes," admitted Ned.

"If Hal is in such a hurry," added his mother, "why don't you suggest
to him that he might help you out by piling, instead of hindering you
by talking?"

Ned lapsed into silence. It was no use; the conversation had ended as
he had expected. He had only proved that he knew his father much better
than Hal did.

Yet, although Hal had failed on one tack, it was he who really brought
the rescue, after all. When, within an hour, Ned reported to him the
failure of plans for a truce, Hal thought an instant, and suddenly said:

"I tell you! I'll come down early to-morrow morning, and we'll jump
into that wood and not stop 'til it's finished!"

And to their great relief and no doubt to the surprise of the wood, the
last slab had been laid in place before noon of the next day!

They spent that afternoon collecting their camping outfit.

This consisted of blankets and provisions, mainly, although Mrs. Miller
made Ned, to his disgust, take a few extra articles of clothes. Mothers
seem unable to grasp how little a boy needs, in that line, when camping
in summer!

They gaily trundled a full wheelbarrow-load of stuff down to the
Diamond Jo warehouse; then they returned up-town to buy a lot of canned
goods, and coffee and sugar, with which to eke out the bread and
potatoes and onions, etc., furnished by the home larders.

These store things also having been wheeled to the warehouse, nothing
now was left to do but to wait until morning.

"Why, Ned--aren't you going to have a tent?" exclaimed his mother,
shocked.

"Of course not!" snorted Ned, in disdain. "There's a shed we can go
under if it rains."

Mrs. Miller, in dismay, broke the news to her husband, but he merely
laughed, and said, patting her shoulder:

"It won't hurt them any. When they get enough they can come home."

"It won't hurt them any," was a favorite remark of Mr. Miller's. He had
great faith in the happy-go-lucky ways of the average healthy boy, and
his theory rarely was at fault.

But Mrs. Miller, not yet at ease, continued to hover around Ned, and
ask him other anxious questions which seemed to him very foolish, but
which to her seemed quite natural.

"Neddie, I really don't believe you're going to have plenty to eat!"
she asserted.

"With two trot-lines? My, yes!" assured Ned. "Why, we can live on just
fish!"

His words had such a ring of confidence that his mother--although
"trot-lines" was a complete mystery to her--accepted them, and tried
not to worry.

At half-past six the next morning Ned and Hal and Bob were at the
warehouse, waiting for the steamer _Harriett_. The _Harriett_ was a
daily packet between Beaufort and Rapids City, forty miles below, and
not only stopped at the towns between, but also would take on and put
off passengers at points, wherever requested, along the shores.

At seven the _Harriett_ came down from North Beaufort, where she
was tied up at night, and thrust her nose upon the levee beside the
warehouse. The two boys and Bob gladly scampered aboard, over the
gangplank; the roustabouts carried on the two boxes containing the camp
stuff, and while its owners nervously watched, hauled the scull-boat
from the water, and stowed it, too, below deck. All the other freight
having been cleaned up, the _Harriett_ whistled for the bridge to open,
and at the same time backed out.

At last the boys were off.

Commodore Jones had just settled himself on his little platform, for a
morning smoke, and running up on the hurricane deck, they leaned out,
toward him, as they passed, and called:

"Good-bye, Mr. Jones. Want any fish?"

"Good-bye," he shouted, waving his pipe. "Yes; bring 'em--when you get
'em!"

Through the draw sped the _Harriett_, and on past the Mosher Lumber
Mill (disfigured but busy), past Eagle Island (Bob not deigning a
glance at his old homeplace), and on, with a stop or so, until soon the
Deep Creek landing was right ahead.

This landing was at a government light upon a small peninsular. A few
rods above, the Monga, a shallow but wide and swift stream, emptied
into the Mississippi, and to reach the Deep Creek grounds it was
necessary to cross. People who had no skiff with them signaled to Joe
and Sam, fishermen who lived beside the creek, to come and ferry them
over. Ned and Hal and Bob, however, had the scull-boat; and when they
and their traps and their craft had been dumped ashore, all at once,
and the _Harriett_ was fussily hurrying away, they lost no time in
loading up and pushing off.

Now, Deep Creek was not truly a creek. It was a narrow slough,
extending parallel with the Mississippi, between an island and the
shore. It was a popular resort for fishing parties, and a number
of Beaufort men had erected a little cabin beside it, for use as a
club-house.

Having passed the mouth of the Monga the boys entered the slough. Sam
and Joe, always upon the outlook for a job when the _Harriett_ was due,
were standing in front of their shanty, and opposite them Hal and Ned
rested on their oars, to ask:

"How's fishing?"

"Good," replied the brothers, together.

"Anybody else down here?" queried Ned.

Sam and Joe shook their heads, again together. They had this
peculiarity, possibly from being so much in each other's company, night
and day. One thought appeared to do for both, and when they spoke, or
laughed, or wagged their heads, they did so as one man! Considering
that they lived by themselves, summer and winter, in their shanty on
the bank of the slough, the wonder is, not that they grew to think
alike, but that they did not grow to _look_ alike, as well!

Sam had red hair and red whiskers and a red, freckled skin; Joe had
iron-gray hair and whiskers, and a skin tanned deep as mahogany. Sam
was quick-tempered; Joe was easy-going. Both were reserved in manner
and chary of words.

The boys proceeded up the slough a quarter of a mile, and landed. Here
they pitched their camp by tucking their boxes under a wild-grape arbor
at the water's edge, and sitting upon them. The sun was high, and the
thick shade of the arbor was an agreeable relief from the hot row along
the glassy bayou.

"This is better than any tent," declared Ned. "Isn't it!"

"Lots!" responded Hal, with enthusiasm. "Now let's set our trot-lines."

"All right," agreed Ned.

Bob took no part in this conversation. While yet the scull-boat
had been six feet from the bank he had leaped over the bows, and
half-swimming, half-wading, had scrambled ashore, to disappear in the
woods. Probably his doggy mind was bent upon discovering a nice camping
spot, in advance of his chums. But he must have missed the grape-arbor
and his chance, for here was the camp--and no Bob!

Fumbling in one of the boxes Ned pulled out the trot-lines, rolled in
two big balls, and the bunch of hooks to be attached, and a large slab
of liver for bait. Then he and Hal started off again in the scull-boat.

"Trot-lines" are long lines to which fish-hooks are hung, at near
intervals, by pieces of cord. Some trot-lines are strung with a hundred
or two hundred hooks. The boys' lines were only three hundred feet in
length, and they counted on hanging fifty hooks to each. The trot-lines
were the size of window-cord, or braided clothes-line, and had been
tarred so that they should not rot.

Ned and Hal slowly sculled up the slough, keeping their eyes open for
good places at which to set out their lines. Presently they came to an
old raft--or, rather, but a portion of a raft--lying along the island
side of the bayou. It must have been in Deep Creek for years, because
the logs were green with mossy growth. It was a peaceful old raft,
dozing here, forgotten, with one edge high and dry among the island
brush, and the other edge well out into the slough.

"Say--we can tie the lines to the raft!" proposed Ned, struck with the
idea.

"I should smile!" assented Hal, slangily.

"One above and one below," continued Ned. "Let's fix the upper one
first."

As they skirted the outer logs, on ahead of them turtles, sunning
themselves, slid hastily into the water, and the route of the boat was
thus marked by a succession of splashes.

The boys were nearing the head of the raft, when Ned stopped sculling,
and asked:

"What's the matter with this?"

"It's about right, I guess," replied Hal. "We can tie to that pin."

"Well," said Ned, "I'll hold the boat steady, and you fix the line."

He turned the boat in hard against a log from which jutted a stout
wooden pin almost touching the water. Hal, reaching over the bow,
securely tied the end of his line. Then with a shove he sent the boat
away, toward the middle of the slough, and Ned gently sculled until
they had gone at right angles about twenty yards, with the line
trailing between the boat and the raft.

Now Hal deftly attached the first hook by its two feet of cord, baited
it with a bit of liver, and let it slide overboard. Three feet farther
along the line he fastened another hook; and in this manner they went
edging across the slough, until the fifty hooks had been tied on and
baited.

The next step was to sink the line. Hal tied upon the free end two
heavy coupling links which had been stored in under the bows. Ned
sculled ahead, slightly up stream, to make allowance for the sluggish
current, until the line, with its dangling hooks and liver, was fairly
taut.

"There she goes!" remarked Hal; with a clink the coupling links
disappeared beneath the surface, and the line followed.

They were on their way to the foot of the raft, to set out their second
line, when a piercing howl from the main shore startled them. It was
Bob, lonesome, disgusted and impatient, demanding that they return to
land and to him. Where he had been, they did not know. But now he was
sitting at the water's brink, directly opposite them, and accusing them
of deserting him.

"Bob, be quiet!" ordered Ned.

However, Bob, hearing the voice, and judging that his howling was to be
in vain, decided that since they would not come to him he would go to
them; whereupon with a yelp of defiance he plunged into the slough,
and yapping at intervals laid a course for the boat.

"Go back, Bob! Go back, sir!" cried Ned.

"Let him come, Ned," pleaded Hal. "He won't do any harm."

"He'll only eat the liver, if he has half a chance, and hang himself on
a hook!" exclaimed Ned. "Help me make him go back."

Thus appealed to, Hal, understanding the situation, took sides with Ned
against Bob, and the two boys yelled commands, and splashed with the
oars.

Bob, wavering in the face of such a hostile reception, hesitated, swam
in a circle, and finally sought the shore again. Here he contented
himself with parading up and down, and venting his feelings by short,
indignant barks.

The second trot-line was put out, from a point near the foot of the
raft, by a method similar to that already told. Slanting athwart the
depths of the slough the two lines now extended, ready for business.
Satisfied, and also very hungry, the boys made for shore and the grape
arbor, where they were joyously welcomed by Bob.

According to the height of the sun, as well as to their stomachs,
it was ripe noon, and time for dinner. By common consent, in their
outings, Hal, who had a knack in that direction, was the cook. It was
Ned's duty to provide the wood, and to attend to camp affairs generally
outside of the meals.

Bob was watchman and sergeant-at-arms.

"What will we have?" inquired Hal.

"Oh, anything," answered Ned; "just so we have it quick!"

"Bacon and potatoes, fried together," proffered the cook.

And bacon and thin slices of potatoes, fried together in a skillet over
a brisk little fire of branches and driftwood, it was!

"I tell you there's nothing like bacon!" sighed Ned, scraping his tin
plate.

"And potatoes!" sighed Hal, also scraping. (Who says that cooking
spoils the appetite!)

Bob, having gobbled his share, was trying to lick the hot skillet!

"Do you know what we forgot?" exclaimed Ned, thunder-struck. "Coffee!"

"But if I'd had to make coffee you'd have had to wait a lot longer
for dinner. It takes an age to boil water over a fire like that one,"
explained Hal.

"Well, bacon and potatoes and slough water are good enough--in a
hurry," admitted Ned.

Bob cleaned the skillet and Ned the plates--the grease yielding before
a liberal rubbing with wet mud--and Hal, digging a hole at the water's
edge, buried the fruit-jar containing their supply of butter, so that
it should not melt too much.

This precaution having been taken, and the camp tidied, Hal mused,
looking up toward the raft:

"I wonder if we've caught any fish, yet."

"It's too soon to go and see," replied Ned, wistfully. "About four
o'clock will be time enough to try. Let's visit Sam and Joe."

"Come on," agreed Hal.

They found the Morgan brothers at home, and apparently glad to receive
company. A large brindle dog was much less hospitable, and during
the boys' stay he and Bob kept up a constant exchange of sneers and
threats. In fact, a pitched battle was only narrowly avoided--partly
through the efforts of the Morgans, and partly because Bob would not
stir from between Ned's legs.

The atmosphere about the shanty was quite fishy, and fish scales were
scattered everywhere. There also was another, much stronger odor, at
which the three newcomers wrinkled their noses in disgust.

Joe was occupying a bench, puffing at his pipe; and sitting on a second
bench, with a board across his lap, Sam, likewise puffing, was cutting
into small square cakes what seemed to be a mass of dough.

"Howdy," said the boys--Ned holding Bob by the collar.

The two men nodded gravely, and Joe, removing his pipe to knock out the
ashes, remarked:

"Got your lines set all right? See you fussin' 'long the logs a bit
ago."

"Yes, we thought we'd try a couple, just for fun," responded Ned. "Do
you think the raft is a good place?"

"W-w-well, I shouldn't wonder but what it is, for a short line," said
Joe, filling his pipe.

"Will we get any fish, Joe?" queried Hal.

"Mebbe," said Joe. "A few cats, like as not."

"Say--what's Sam doing?" questioned Ned, sniffing and frowning.

"He's--makin'--dough--balls," said Joe, between puffs of his freshly
lighted pipe.

"Dough-balls!" repeated Hal, quite in the dark.

"Yep," said Joe. "We take a lot o' cheese and let it lay outdoors 'til
it's real old an' then we mix it with flour, into a paste, an' when
it's good an' stiff we cut it into the right size for bait--like Sam's
doin' now. Them's dough-balls. Smell 'em?"

"Smell 'em!" cried both boys together.

"Well, the fish smell 'em, too," said Joe, tersely.

"What you boys usin'?" inquired Sam, speaking for the first time since
their appearance.

"Liver," stated Hal.

"That's better 'n dough-balls, I reckon," grunted Sam. "But if you had
four or five hunderd hooks to keep baited, you'd right soon run out o'
liver, I bet."

"You see, we've only fifty hooks on each line," explained Ned,
modestly. "When we haven't any liver we're going to use frogs, and
crawfish and things."

"How often ought we to run the lines?" asked Hal. "Every four or five
hours?"

"If you're a might to," replied Joe. "O' course, we run ours only
mornin' an' night, but it's kinder more of a job than _yours_ be! If
I was you I'd run 'em 'bout five o'clock, an' then 'long 'bout ten,
again, to bait 'em for the night, an' again arly in the mornin', an'
mebbe at noon."

"That'll keep 'em baited in good shape," put in Sam, "an' you ought to
get fish if there's any 'round."

"All right; much obliged," responded the boys.

"In case you get more'n you can eat at one haul," offered Joe, kindly,
"there's a fish-box, down in the water near that stake, that we ain't
using, and you can have it so's to keep 'em alive, if you want to."

"Sure; take it along," urged Sam.

"I should say we _would_ like it! It's just the thing!" exclaimed the
boys, delighted. "Much obliged."

They hung around for a short time, and then, haunted by that fish-box,
hastened back to camp--Bob growing braver and braver as they put
distance between them and the brindled dog--to bring down their boat
and get their prize.

Upon their return, with Joe's help they loaded the water-soaked box,
dripping from every slat, into their craft, and gleefully made off with
it.

Soon they had it sunk and anchored in front of their grape arbor.

"I don't suppose it's more than three, yet," hinted Hal, when,
uncertain as to what to do next, to make time fly, they paused and
wiped their hands on their trousers-legs.

"I suppose not," agreed Ned, noting the height of the sun. "But don't
let's wait till five, this time," he proposed. "Let's run the lines
now, just for the fun of it."

Hal needed no persuasion. Leaving Bob to be watchman over the camp,
they pushed out again from shore.



CHAPTER V

TURTLES, FISH, FROGS AND SNAKES


Aiming for the foot of the old raft, from which the first of their two
trot-lines had been set out, Hal and Ned cut diagonally across the
bayou.

Not a waft of air riffled the water; the sun was reflected from it as
from a looking-glass, right into their faces, and proceeded to turn
their complexions redder and redder. All around, the heads of curious
turtles dotted the surface, disappearing as the boat drew near, and
popping out again when it had passed. Here and there a hungry gar or
dog-fish leaped into sight for an instant, while numerous king-fishers,
brave in their blue and white, plumped down, with mighty splashes, for
minnows.

The perspiration rolled from the face of Hal, who was at the
sculling-oar; dripped into his eyes, and dropped off the end of his
crimsoning nose. Yet doubtless he felt cooler than did Ned, who, idle
in the bows, simply was baking instead of boiling.

However, neither cared. The weather figured little, and they were more
concerned over the immediate future than over the present.

"I bet you we don't get a thing except dog-fish!" commented Hal,
discouragingly.

"Oh, yes, we will," returned Ned, with more hope. "That is," he added,
"unless the turtles and gars rob the hooks as fast as we bait up."

"Well, may be; Sam and Joe seemed to think we would, anyway," admitted
Hal, blowing the beads from the tip of his nose.

They glided in against the raft, and Ned, reaching over, grasped the
line.

"Feel anything?" queried Hal, eagerly, as Ned paused a moment.

"Seems kind of like it," said Ned, fingering the line. "But perhaps
it's only the current jerking."

He lifted the line and laid it across the bows; and squatting on the
combing, beside it, gently pulled the boat, hand over hand, toward the
first hook.

"Nothing on that hook," remarked Hal, as presently the bit of cord by
which it was suspended rose, slack and lifeless, out from the water.
Then the hook itself dangled into view. No, it had nothing on it--not
even bait.

As it came in-board Ned stuck a piece of liver on it and let it slide
out again.

"Something's coming!" he cried, jubilantly, his hands pausing upon the
line. "I can feel it now, easy! See him jerk?"

"Hurrah!" shouted Hal, excitedly, edging forward, to be ready to help.

Hook two also was quite empty.

"Looks as though the slough's having a good big feast of liver,
anyway!" commented Ned, baiting.

"Hurry," urged Hal; for now the line just beyond was dipping and
surging, under the struggles of something on hook three.

"Say--it's a turtle! A big soft-shell--I saw him!" exclaimed Ned.

"Oh, shucks!" responded Hal, disgusted. "Yes, there he is!" as a stout
flapper darted up into sight and vanished again with a swirl.

Soon the line bent sharply over the side of the boat, and in the water
under their eyes the boys could descry the sprawling disk of Mr. Turtle.

"How will I get him _in_?" asked Ned, perplexed.

"Why, lift him right out," answered Hal.

Ned gingerly drew the prisoner to the surface, and then cried:

"The hook's in his flapper! How do you suppose he ever got caught that
way?"

"I don't know," replied Hal. "I guess he started to eat with his
fingers."

"Or else he put his foot in his mouth, and got hooked that way," added
Ned. "Did you say to lift him right out?"

"Sure," said Hal.

"Supposing you do it," suggested Ned, eyeing the turtle, whose
flappers, armed with long claws, were striking in all directions as
their owner strove to get away.

Hal thoughtfully surveyed the situation.

"We ought to have a landing-net," he declared. "But put your hands
under the edge of his shell, and throw him in. He won't hurt you."

"I'm not afraid of his biting me, but he scratches like fury. His claws
are about a mile long!" observed Ned, dubiously preparing to follow
Hal's advice.

The turtle, for the moment, was quiet, possibly waiting for his
embarrassed captors to do something. Ned suddenly grabbed him by the
shell, and before he realized what was taking place had heaved him over
the gunwale, into the boat.

The shock released the hook, which fell from the flapper, and now a
very angry turtle was at large in quarters altogether too restricted to
suit himself and two bare-legged youths.

The turtle was about the size of a wash pan. He was of the common
sharp-nose, fresh-water variety, of a drabbish-gray, with a smooth
shell flexible like cartilage. His legs were tremendously powerful, and
with his long, snaky neck far extended, his eyes sparkling, and his
mouth wide open, hissing with all his might he made straight toward the
stern and at Hal.

"Look out!" warned Ned.

Narrowly escaping going overboard, Hal scrambled upon the combing, and
ran along it until he had joined the laughing Ned, in the bows. Here,
perched upon the decking which extended over this portion of the craft,
they were out of harm's way--that is, the turtle's.

This individual, balked of a bite out of one of Hal's browned legs,
endeavored to climb up the side of the boat, but tumbled back time and
again.

"I wish he'd go," complained Ned. "We aren't after turtles, to-day."

"So do I," agreed Hal, ruefully wiggling a big toe, which he had
stubbed in his rapid flight. "We don't need him."

"I got him in--you get him out," proposed Ned, shrewdly.

"Well, either he gets out, or we do," declared Hal. And he tried to
assist the unwelcome captive by putting an oar-blade under him. Every
time, however, the turtle slid off, and meanwhile grew madder and
madder--if such a condition were possible.

Hissing and clawing, he scurried over the bottom of the boat.

Finally his turtle cunning led him to settle upon the stern as the
easiest point for escape; and never giving up he attacked the sloping
board again and again, only to fall back. Each time that the boys would
have boosted him with an oar-blade he turned and snapped, and appeared
so ungrateful that they were fain to leave him to his own efforts.

At last he managed to insert the claws of a hind flapper into the
little space left by the oar in the sculling-hole, and then was enabled
to thrust one of his fore flappers over the edge of the stern.

Up he went. For an instant he balanced on the stern, his four legs and
his stiff little tail, and his waving head all outstretched in air.

"Scat!" called Ned.

At the word Mr. Turtle disappeared with a fine splash.

"Good!" exclaimed Hal, much relieved.

"No more turtles come in _this_ boat, do they, Hal!" vowed Ned. "Better
to cut the line, and be rid of them."

The boys now proceeded with their business--that of finding out what
else their hooks had in store for them. Although the turtle was off,
still the line swayed and sagged, denoting another catch a short
distance ahead.

This proved to be on hook six.

"It's nothing but a gar!" announced Ned, peering down as he neared the
spot.

"Big one?" queried Hal, anxious for at least some consolation.

"No--just ordinary size," said Ned, disdainfully. "What will we do with
him?"

The gar was now lying on the surface of the water, beside the bows,
only occasionally giving a slight squirm. Maybe he was tired; or maybe,
as in the case of the turtle, he was waiting for an opportunity to do a
little damage. He was about three feet long, and with his slim, round
body, his wicked eyes, and his bill-like mouth armed with sharp teeth,
he looked fully capable of taking care of himself. The hook was firmly
embedded in the lower half of his long, bony snout.

Ned cautiously extended his hand, to try to release the barb--and the
gar snapped viciously.

"I don't believe we can get the hook out unless we kill him, and
there's no use doing that," asserted Ned. "He's too coarse to eat."

"Fishermen break their bills, and throw them back again," informed Hal.

"But that's torture; it makes them starve to death," replied Ned.

"Can't you jerk out the hook?" asked Hal.

Ned attempted this, by towing the gar back and forth, and pulling on
the hook at all angles. The fish submitted passively, and suddenly
appealed to Ned as so helpless and so unhappy that with a quick impulse
he severed the cord. With a flop of his tail the gar darted from sight.

"Get!" advised Ned.

He substituted another cord and hook, and both he and Hal felt relieved.

Their mercy was rewarded, for when they had run the line a few yards
farther, they met with opposition in the shape of a dead weight which
caused Ned to exert considerable strength to lift.

"Snag?" inquired Hal, anxiously, watching Ned raising the line inch by
inch.

"Don't know," grunted Ned.

"Just our luck!" groaned Hal.

However, Hal was to be agreeably disappointed. The knot fastening the
cord to which was suspended the hook came into view--and on the instant
the water underneath it swirled violently.

"It's a big cat! Come on, Hal, and grab him, or he'll tear out the
hook!" shouted Ned, wildly excited.

Carefully he seized the cord, and gently, so as not to frighten the
fish, drew him alongside.

"He's caught just through the edge of his lip! Watch out!" warned Ned.

Hal, regardless of any peril to himself, leaned far over. The victim,
sluggish but far from sleepy, looked like a young whale. Hal boldly
thrust his fingers in behind the cat's gills, to haul him bodily over
the gunwale; there was a sudden gigantic flurry, a splash, and presto,
change! Instead of it being the cat in the boat, it was Hal in the
slough!

Ned gazed in alarm; but before he could move to the rescue Hal's head
broke the surface a few yards off.

"Here's an oar, Hal!" called Ned.

"Uh-uh!" protested Hal, shaking his head while he blew the water from
his nostrils. "I'm all right. Did the fish get away?"

"I guess so--no, he didn't, either!" announced Ned gladly.

"I'll swim around to the other side of the boat, and you can be seeing
if you can't lift him in," declared Hal. "Don't _you_ tumble over,
too," he added, as a caution.

The catfish seemed to be satisfied with what he had accomplished; and
still about in the same spot, made no sign of farther trickiness.

However, Ned was very careful in approaching him. A moment, and the cat
came over the one gunwale as Hal came over the other.

The hook, which had caught merely in one of the lips, where it had worn
quite a hole, dropped while Ned was lifting, and there lay the victim
in the bottom of the boat, free too late.

"A regular 'yaller' mud-cat," laughed Ned. "Say--but we were lucky not
to lose him. If he'd only had sense enough he might have got loose long
ago."

"I bet he weighs twenty pounds," declared the dripping Hal.

"He's all mouth!" returned Ned.

The boys gazed and gloated. The catfish, gasping in the sudden change
from water to air, lay, after the fashion of his kind, inert and
emotionless.

He was a very ugly animal, of a dirty yellow, and while he was not
large for his species, he was the largest that the boys had ever
caught. Indeed, he was quite a chunk of a fish. He was shaped somewhat
like a flatiron; and, as Ned had remarked, he was about all mouth.

This mouth, which in appearance was a split severing his enormous head
from side to side, was fringed with long feelers. His eyes, almost
white, were small and piggish.

"Cut off his head, and there's nothing left but his tail," commented
Ned, ruefully awakening to the fact that perhaps they had not made much
of a catch, after all.

"Well, he's better than turtles and gars," replied Hal.

For the time being the capture of the prize had quite overshadowed
Hal's mishap; but now Ned eyed him, and snickered.

"Did you touch bottom?" he queried.

"No, sir-ee; I came up as quick as I could," avowed Hal. "Do I look
wet?" and he slapped his oozing thighs.

"Sort of," admitted Ned. "Where's your hat?"

"It must have kept on going down," answered Hal. "But I don't care.
No--there it is. I feel fine," he added, having rescued his hat with an
oar. "You ought to go in--it's great."

"Guess I'll wait a while," smiled Ned.

"Well, in half an hour I'll be as dry as you," asserted Hal.

And he was.

The catfish was too unwieldy to be put in the soap-box seat (which
they had upturned on bottom for a temporary hold-all), and stowing
him under the decking of the bows, out of the sun, they investigated
the remaining hooks upon the line. A large majority were stripped and
empty, but two channel-cat and one blue-cat were taken. None of these
weighed over six pounds; still, they were not seven-ninths head! No
more turtles or gars were encountered.

The upper line yielded five catfish; another soft-shell turtle, caught,
as had been his partner in distress, by the flapper; and a dogfish. The
turtle released himself, much to the boys' pleasure; but the dogfish
did not. He had swallowed the hook, so that the cord passed through his
cruel jaws, armed with their wicked teeth, into his stomach.

Unwilling to lose another hook, Ned solved the difficulty by quickly
dispatching Mr. Dogfish by a smart blow over the spinal cord at the
juncture of head and body, and made use of the otherwise worthless
fellow by baiting hooks with his flesh.

Running the two lines had occupied at least two hours. As they turned
campward Hal and Ned were conscious that nature's dinner bell was
sounding in their interiors.

Bob saw them coming. At first he was undecided whether to regard them
as friends, or enemies. When Ned shouted to him, however, his canine
sense told him that this was indeed the scull-boat, bearing his master;
and breaking from his puzzled stare into a volley of whines and barks,
he shortened the distance by venturing up to his back out into the
water.

Then, when the boys sprang to land, he spattered them well for not
having invited him. But who cared? They were about as wet and dirty as
they could be, anyway!

As they disembarked, Sam and Joe pulled out, below, with their short,
choppy fisherman strokes, bound for their own lines, which were not set
in the bayou, but in the deep water, toward the main channel.

The boys waved at the pair, and Joe languidly waved back.

Now it remained to place in the fish-box the haul from the trot-lines,
and to get supper. Hal volunteered to cook a fish if Ned would clean
one, but Ned decided that this would make a painful delay.

He hastily started a fire of driftwood and branches, and until there
should be coals upon which to put the frying-pan, he strolled with Bob
back into the timber to look for more fuel.

Presently, unable to stay long away from the base of supplies, he
returned to the camp. He had some news.

"You just ought to see!" he reported to Hal, who was squatting before
the fire, frying potatoes and bacon together. "There's a sort of dried
swamp a little ways back in the woods, and it's simply alive with young
frogs. They'll make splendid bait."

"Let's go and get a lot, after supper," said Hal. "I don't suppose the
liver will be any good by morning. And, besides, it's about all gone."

Ned seated himself on the ground, and sniffed the air. Bob did the same.

"Nearly ready?" they asked--the one with his voice, the other with his
dripping tongue, and glistening eyes, and nervous tail.

"Hold your plate," commanded Hal. Ned eagerly obeyed; Bob, having no
plate, gazed covetously. Hal shoveled out a generous portion from the
hissing frying-pan, and saying: "Here, Bob," laid another portion upon
a slab of bark. The rest he kept.

Each boy poured for himself, from the tin pail, a pint cup of coffee,
and all fell to. Bob went coffee-less--which no doubt was just as well,
considering that at home neither he nor his master drank any coffee,
let alone a pint cup full!

Still, out camping one does many things which would not agree with one
at home.

The coffee was very hot. The bacon and potatoes were very hot. Bob
circled his bark plate, with mingled anticipation and disgust; hunger
urged him on, while the memory of a certain burning mouthful held him
back. He suspected a trick.

At last, valor overcoming discretion, he plunged ahead, and gobbled as
fast as he could, while his companions jeered.

The supper having been cleared away--and save rinsing the utensils
there was no "clearing" to be done, after two hungry boys and a dog had
scraped and licked--a frog hunt was inaugurated. Protected now by shoes
and stockings, the boys, taking the willing Bob, proceeded to Ned's
swamp.

The sun was setting, a ball of dull red in the golden west, and as the
three chums traversed the short patch lying between the dried marsh
and their arbor upon the bank of the slough, already the wild-wood
was growing dusky and subdued. Birds were darting to their homes, and
were twittering their good-nights. A whippoorwill began to pipe in the
island across the bayou. Mosquitoes rose from the under side of leaves,
and here and there moths flitted aimlessly. The mooing of cows, as they
were driven to the milking-place, floated in from distant pastures.

"Here we are," announced Ned, pausing on the edge of a narrow open
strip.

"Listen! What's that funny noise?" exclaimed Hal, stopping stock still.
Bob who had been soberly following at the boys' heels, also stopped.

On the quiet atmosphere, almost from beneath their feet, rose a series
of shrill little squeaks--somehow the oddest sounds that the trio ever
had heard.

"Isn't that funny!" whispered Ned. "What is it, do you think?"

Hal didn't know. Bob didn't know.

Carefully they peered about, through the vicinity, and found out.

"Oh, Ned--it's a frog!" on a sudden called Hal. "Come quick, and see!
Two garter snakes have got hold of him!"

Ned hastened over, and sure enough, there was a small frog in as tight
a fix as ever a small frog could be! Each hind leg was deep in the maw
of a garter snake; and now the two snakes, forced to suspend their
swallowing operations, were lustily pulling in opposite directions,
while his frogship, stretched between them, was shrieking for help.

"Oh, pshaw! Let's rescue the poor thing," cried Ned; and suiting
his action to his word he struck one of the snakes a blow with a
switch that he had in his hand. Startled, the snake dropped the
frog--whereupon the other would have fled with the booty, had not Hal
halted him and made him disgorge.

The frog, nothing daunted, hopped away. Bob turned himself his avenger.
Wrinkling back his lips, with utmost disgust he seized the first snake,
in its retreat, and gingerly clutching it between his teeth, while the
saliva dripped from his unwilling jaws, shook it frantically until it
fairly flew to pieces. The other snake, having for a moment bravely
faced Hal and menaced him with its tongue, disappeared.

"Snakes?" spoke Ned, pointing. "Why, just look at them, will you!"

That swamp was fairly swarming with them, all, like the boys, out after
frogs. A garter snake considers a young frog a dainty morsel, and some
of the snakes were quite lumpy, from the unlucky victims that they had
engulfed.

"Well, if this doesn't beat the dickens!" declared Hal.

Bob could not bring himself to mouthing another of the snakes. He would
pretend to pounce upon one, and would quickly spring away, his curling
lips indicating his disgust.

Undaunted by the competition, the boys, urged on by the gathering
darkness, hastened to collect their frogs and put them in the coffee
pail! Bob was of not the slightest assistance. He loathed frogs as much
as he did snakes, and actually frothed at them, so intense were his
feelings.

"What do you think!" exclaimed Hal, presently. "Here's a snake that had
swallowed a frog, and when I came up he was so scared that he opened
his mouth, and the frog scooted out again!"

"Don't catch him," cried Ned, referring to the frog. "He's been dead
once, and now he's earned his life."

So Hal allowed the resurrected frog to go his way, and it is to be
hoped that the garter snakes were as obliging.

By the time the boys had secured some twenty-five or thirty of the tiny
green frogs, each about half an inch in length, twilight had deepened
into dusk, and trees and bushes were merged in shadows.

With a few stumbles over vines and roots they retraced their steps
to the arbor. Then arose the question, where to keep the frogs,
considering that the pail would be needed for the breakfast coffee!

The voices of men talking, and the snappy sound of oars shifting
between thole pins drifted from the mouth of the bayou.

"Sam and Joe are just coming back. Let's go down and report, and see if
they haven't something we can borrow, to put the frogs in," proposed
Ned.

So the three of them trudged along the bank, where a faint path had
been worn. It was presumed that Bob, of course, knew what was up. But
after they had gone far enough to indicate their goal, he suddenly
awakened to the fact that the route was leading to the brindled dog,
and refused to proceed farther. He sat on his tail, and pleaded with
his two comrades not to expose themselves to insults from that vulgar
fellow. As they refused to yield to him, he watched them until they
were out of sight, and followed them with his mournful howls. Then,
having done his duty, he returned to the grape arbor camp, and curled
to sleep on Ned's coat.

Soon, even had they been blind to the flickering light, and deaf to the
muffled voices, by their noses alone the boys would have known that
they were near the fishermen's cabin. Sam and Joe were busy, with aid
of a lantern, at their landing. Evidently they had just disembarked.

"Hullo, there!" hailed the boys.

"Hey!" cheerily answered Joe.

"Bow wow wow wow!" challenged the brindled dog--exactly as Bob had
predicted!

Sam said nothing. Sam was not much of a talker.

The boys scrambled down to the landing. Joe was in the stern of the
boat, handing out things to Sam, who was in the water beside it. Both
men had on their hip rubber boots.

"What luck?" asked Hal.

"Not much," replied Joe, without pausing in his operations. "What did
you boys get?"

"Seven catfish," informed Ned, trying to make his tone matter-of-fact.

"And two turtles and a gar and a dogfish," added Hal.

"And two turtles, and a gar, and a dogfish, eh?" laughed Joe. "Well, I
reckon that without 'em you beat us. Fish out where we be are gettin'
'bout tired o' dough-balls; ain't that so, Sam?"

Sam grunted; giving the fish-box in front of him a kick into deeper
water, he plashed to shore, and stumped up the slope to the cabin. Joe
followed.

"Come in," he invited, over his shoulder.

The boys entered. Sam was lighting a lamp in a bracket against the
wall. The cabin was small and close, with its two bunks, its stove
for cooking, and its walls hung with clothing and cooking and fishing
utensils and decorated with prints. The room was bedchamber, kitchen
and parlor, in one.

"We can't stay, thank you," spoke Ned, fancying that the two fishermen
would want to attend to their own affairs. "Only, we caught a lot of
frogs for bait, and haven't anything to keep them in. Have you got an
old bucket, or some tin cans, we can have?"

"Lot's of 'em," responded Joe. "Paw over that heap back of the shanty,
and take what you want."

"Better have the lantern," advised Sam--speaking for the first time.

With the brindled dog continuing to eye them as if suspecting that they
were stealing, Hal and Ned looked over the pile of refuse, and came
upon an old tin pail which suited their purpose.

Having achieved this, and said good-night, they went back to camp,
through the darkness; and they tripped so often, and stepped on so many
rolling sticks, and stones, that they wished they had their own lantern
along.

Upon hearing them approaching, the faithful Bob was in arms at once,
resolved to save the camp, or die; but upon being reassured by
Ned's whistle and call, he advanced and greeted them with his usual
wordiness, while he sniffed for traces of his down creek enemy.

With nothing especial to do, immediately, the boys sat on the bank, to
wait. Now the woods behind and the water in front were black, and the
trees across on the other side were but a vague mass. A whole colony of
whippoorwills whistled from point to point incessantly, and two owls,
one distant, one quite near, hooted a responsive duet. Bob whined and
shivered, for the air was damp with the falling dew and the mist rising
from the water. Beyond, in the channel of the river, sounded the soft
exhaust of an ascending rafter.

Despite the attentions of numerous mosquitoes, Ned felt himself growing
sleepy.

"Wonder what time it is," he hazarded.

"Must be nearly nine," said Hal.

"Sam said to run the lines again about ten, didn't he?" inquired Ned.

"Yes, about ten, and early in the morning," responded Hal, drowsily.

Conversation languished; and after an interval of silence, punctuated
only by the spasmodic complaints of Bob, who was acting very babyish,
Ned spoke up:

"Say--what's the matter with running the lines now, and not waiting
till ten. I'm pretty near asleep."

"Let's. So am I," agreed Hal.

They lighted their lantern, and taking the liver, the frogs and the
remains of the dogfish, tumbled into the scull-boat and pushed out.
Behind them, upon shore, stayed Bob, the disconsolate, who was growing
tired of always being "left." He was positive that he was missing much
fun.

The Deep Creek of night was decidedly different from the Deep Creek of
day, just as the most open woods, in the light, are transformed into
regular labyrinths, in the dark.

It was Ned's turn to scull. It seemed to both boys that they never
would reach the raft, so fast they appeared to glide, and yet so slow
they were in arriving. And all was so eerie--black slough, black woods,
black sky, and queer noises.

"There's the raft, right ahead!" exclaimed Hal.

Whereupon they bumped into it.

The water, which was so playful as under the rays of the sun it lapped
the mossy old logs, now was sullen and chill. Hal swung the lantern
over, and speedily found the end of the trot-line.

They were forced to run the lines by feeling rather than by sight, for
at best the beams of the lantern were shifty and uncertain. Either they
had come again too soon, or the fish had gone to sleep, or were gorged
with liver, for two medium-size catfish, one from each line, was the
total yield.

The boys were a little disappointed. Out of the assortment of dainties
at hand having baited afresh the empty hooks, they sculled back to
camp, and Bob.

With most of their clothing on, and their coats for pillows, they
rolled in their blankets, in the arbor, (Bob contentedly between them),
and not even the over-sociable mosquitoes could hold them awake for
more than five minutes and a quarter.



CHAPTER VI

THE GHOST OF THE INDIAN MOUNDS


The sun, from his station a little north of east, stared full into the
grape arbor sleeping room, and shone on Hal's still face. A fly hustled
in, and buzzed about Hal's nose. Hal frowned, and impatiently shook his
head; but unable to rid himself of sun or fly, opened his eyes. At the
same instant Ned, beside him, stirred and turned over, disturbing Bob,
who had been very comfortable.

Both boys sat up and blinked. Bob stretched, shook himself, and
strolled out.

"Say--we'd better get out and run those trot-lines!" yawned Ned. "We've
overslept."

"I should think so!" yawned back Hal.

"Do you know, when I woke, Bob was on my stomach. He must have been
there all night!" announced Ned.

"He was keeping warm," explained Hal.

"Well, he weighed about a ton," responded Ned, unwilling to make light
of it. "But then," he added, "he kept me warm, too."

The boys yawningly staggered to the water's edge and made their toilet
in a tin basin, with the scull-boat for a wash-stand. Already the sun
was climbing high, and the gnats and flies and all the world of insect
and bird were awake. Sam and Joe could be descried at work on their
lines, far outside the mouth of the bayou.

Only the three tenants of Camp Grape Arbor were sluggards!

Of these Bob was the friskiest. Ned and Hal, while trying to be good
natured, still were very irritable. They were stiff and lame, and
spotted with mosquito bites. Their hands were painfully cracked from
water and dirt and the oar, and their faces, burned by the sun, felt
strangely leathery. Hal's nose was peeling, and Ned, who foolishly had
rolled up his sleeves, was the owner of a huge water blister half way
between left wrist and elbow.

However, when they once more were in the boat, and had started for the
lines--Bob again remaining alone in camp, a state at which he never
failed to protest strongly--their spirits really rose, and they were
happy.

"There's the _Harriett_!" said Ned, as the mellow whistle of a
steamboat signaling for a landing chimed in the distance, over the
water.

"Then it must be about eight o'clock!" cried Hal, scandalized. "My! but
we're lazy!"

And to atone for their late rising he dug valiantly with the sculling
oar.

Their morning's haul consisted of five catfish, and, amid great
rejoicing, a fine pickerel, for their fish-box; a soft shell turtle,
who so easily released his own flapper, and swam off, that Ned
declared he was one of the two they had caught yesterday, and was
simply making his regular rounds; and a black bass, a mere minnow,
whose greediness had led him to take into his mouth more than he could
swallow. Him the boys let go, to grow.

As on previous occasions, all the other hooks were as bare of bait as
of anything else, and Ned had to scrape together every scrap at hand to
rebait them.

Upon their return to camp the hungry boys, with the ever-hungry Bob as
assistant, had breakfast. Breakfast consisted of--bacon and potatoes
and coffee. The critical Hal insisted that the coffee tasted "froggy";
just the same, he drank it!

For dinner they planned a much grander menu. But for the present, bacon
and potatoes filled a crying need.

It was necessary to get more bait; and refreshed by their breakfast,
the boys, having tidied camp to the extent of hanging their blankets
upon some bushes in the sun to dry, went with Bob on another frog hunt.
They found frogs, but no snakes; evidently the evening was the snakes'
special hour for foraging.

In their search they followed adown the little swamp which slanted in
toward the river. It grew wetter as they proceeded, and they were about
to leave it, when they heard a tremendous outburst of barks and growls
from Bob.

"Here, Bob! We're coming, Bob, old fellow!" they called, running
helter-skelter to back him up, or scold him, whichever was proper.

Bob was in a great dilemma. He had run across an immense
snapping-turtle, and did not know what to do with it. He was afraid to
close with it, and yet he was unwilling to flee from it, therefore he
had adopted the middle course of circling it at a respectful distance,
and abusing it in dog language.

The turtle was a patriarch. His shell was thick and black and knobby,
and the skin of his neck and legs was thick and black and warty. His
claws were long and curving, and as with his head he slowly followed
Bob's antics, his deep-set eyes fairly flashed sparks, while he held
his formidable mouth half open, as if hankering for a bite out of one
of Bob's legs. How he hissed, with a hoarse, gaspy hiss! He was so
enraged that he filled the air with a musky odor.

"Isn't he a whopper, though!" exclaimed Ned, grasping Bob, who, at the
arrival of reinforcements, had waxed altogether too fierce for safety.

"I'd hate to have him get hold of _me_!" asserted Hal, poking at the
monster with a stick. The turtle seized the stick with such a grip that
he jerked it out of Hal's hands, and Mr. Hal involuntarily jumped back
a pace.

"Well, I guess we aren't wanted here," remarked Ned, laughing. "Come
on, Bob."

"Keep the stick," called back Hal, as, dragging the reluctant Bob, they
moved off, leaving the turtle, his jaws firmly clamped upon the piece
of wood, in possession of the field of battle.

Having secured a supply of the hapless frogs, the boys took a short cut
to pay their respects to Sam and Joe. Bob, after pretending that he
was going back to have it out with the turtle, finally cooled down and
trotted along with them. But he could not be induced to approach the
shanty, and with an eye out for the brindled dog sat at a distance and
sorrowfully waited.

Sam was on the muddy beach, mending the seine; Joe was moulding
dough-balls, on the bench in front of the cabin.

"Good-morning," said the boys.

"Mornin'," replied Joe.

From the shady side of the shanty the brindled dog growled; from the
beach Sam nodded.

"How's fishin'?" asked Joe.

"Pretty good," answered Ned. "Only, we overslept."

"Thought you did. Seen you weren't up when we went out, 'bout five
o'clock," said Joe.

"Going to try the net?" inquired Hal, looking at Sam and his task.

"Yes, thought we'd make a haul or two 'crost the river this afternoon,"
informed Joe. "Ever see a big seine laid?"

"I have," said Ned.

"I haven't," said Hal.

"Better come along, then," invited Joe.

"All right--much obliged," responded Ned and Hal. "What time?"

"Oh, some'ers after dinner toward the shank o' the afternoon," replied
Joe. "You watch, an' when you see us gettin' ready, you come down."

With this in prospect the boys gleefully returned to camp, to run their
trot-lines and to have an early dinner. The running of the lines was
not especially a success, the haul being only two catfish; but the
dinner was a great success, being baked potatoes and fried pickerel,
pressed beef and coffee, and with dessert of toasted bread dipped in
canned blueberries.

Before Sam and Joe showed signs of starting out, the boys had time to
fit up a stove, by digging a hole in the top of the bank, covering it
with a piece of sheet iron, and making an entrance at right angles, for
fuel and draft.

It was quite a luxury to loll back, Ned against the mass of net heaped
upon the fish-box built into the broad stern, and Hal in the narrowing
bows, while Sam and Joe sped the boat across the ripply, sparkling
river. Soon the wordy, left-handed compliments being exchanged between
Bob, on guard at the grape arbor, and the brindled dog, on guard at
the shanty, died away in the distance, and the eastern shore of the
Mississippi came into plain view.

The boat landed on a wide, shelving, sandy beach, over which rose a
line of bluffs. Hal piled ashore, followed by Sam, but Ned stayed in
the stern and offered to "pay out" the net.

One end of the seine was passed to Sam, on shore; and then Joe slowly
pulled away in a great circle, the seine dropping, fold after fold,
into the water behind. Ned held himself ready to loosen any tangle; but
there were no tangles. The net had been coiled just right, and he was
not needed.

It did not take long to lay the thousand foot net, and Joe managed so
well that when the circle, marked by its slender line of round corks,
was complete, the boat was at the shore just below its former landing
place. Weighted by lead at the bottom, and buoyed by corks at the top,
the net now hung straight down from the surface, and formed a meshy
wall.

Sam and Joe began to haul in, evenly and swiftly, from one end. Yard
after yard the wet weave piled on the beach, and the circle gradually,
but none the less surely, lessened.

"Looks like a water-haul," commented Joe to Sam, scanning the water
inside the circle for signs of prisoners.

"Humph!" replied Sam.

The line of corks was now short and near, and still there had been not
a single struggle to pass them. The surface stayed placid and smiling.

"Humph!" again said Sam.

The boys did not give up, but continued to gaze hopefully. It did not
seem possible that there was nothing in the net.

However, such was the case.

"Water-haul!" declared Joe, finally.

"Humph," repeated Sam.

"Pshaw!" exclaimed the boys, with disappointment, eyeing the empty
seine as it lay on the sand.

"What do you mean by 'water-haul'?" queried Hal.

"Water's all we got, ain't it, sonny?" responded Sam, sourly, throwing
the net by armfuls into the boat.

"I reckon we don't try again till the moon changes," hinted Joe, with
a sly wink at Ned. But as Hal refused to be hoaxed into asking more
questions, after a slight pause he continued:

"Sam an' me have got to go up to Newton for provisions an' stuff. You
boys can go or you can stay an' we'll take you in comin' back."

Newton was a river hamlet about two miles above.

"Better let 'em stay," advised Sam, whom the "water-haul" appeared to
have made very grumpy. "We've got enough to pull against the current,
without them in too."

"We'll stay, of course," spoke Ned.

"How long will you be gone?" inquired Hal.

"Oh, jest for a spell," replied Joe.

"Don't you forget us," said Ned.

"Do you think they will?" asked Hal, growing nervous as he watched the
two fishermen row away.

"Of course not!" assured Ned. "Say--I tell you what we'll do. Let's
climb the bluffs, and while we're exploring we can see Sam and Joe when
they're coming back."

The river side of the bluffs had been cut away by running water until
in many places the bare limestone was exposed, to form perpendicular
cliffs. Between these cliffs were little gullies, thickly matted with
the wild strawberry, the wild morning glory, the violet, and a thousand
other woodland plants, all growing independent of man. Graceful and
stately, against the gray walls rose and drooped the rock honeysuckle.

Eager to reach the crest, the boys scaled from foothold to foothold,
and hot and breathless, speedily emerged upon the top. Here they stood
and looked down upon the bird's-eye view of land and water.

At their feet was the beach, much reduced in size, where they had
witnessed the "water-haul." North and south stretched the river, a
broad ribbon of blue emblazoned with silver, and rent here and there by
islands. Beyond, directly opposite them, was the mouth of the Monga,
just above which, they knew, was the shanty and the brindled dog, and
still farther above, the grape arbor and Bob.

On the hither side of the river Sam and Joe were plainly visible,
making their way, in their skiff, along the shore line, where the
shallows reduced the force of the current.

"My, but this is pretty, isn't it!" sighed Hal.

"I should say so!" agreed Ned. "I don't blame the Indians any for
hating the white men who made them give it up."

The two boys strolled along the crest, sparsely wooded with sentinel
oaks, and covered with short turf which furnished forage for a few
horses.

They had not gone far when they came upon quite a hole or pit,
extending down through the black forest loam into the yellow clay
beneath.

"Why was this dug, do you suppose?" remarked Hal.

"I don't know," said Ned, gazing into it, and pondering.

"There's another," cried Hal, pointing ahead.

So there was, and still another was visible, farther on.

"I tell you--these are Indian mounds, and people have been opening them
to see what's inside," exclaimed Ned, positively.

"But I don't see much 'mound' about them," objected Hal.

However, a series of gentle little rises could be made out, each with
its blunt top laid open, and its sides disfigured by heaps of dirt.

"What do they find in them?" asked Hal.

"Oh, skeletons, and arrow-heads, and things," informed Ned. "But you
have to dig good and deep; twenty feet, I guess."

The boys scanned with a thrill of awe these relics of a passed people
who loved thus to inter their chiefs on some lofty outlook, commanding
wood and stream.

"It must have been mighty long ago," mused Hal. "Here's a stump of a
tree that grew right out of the middle of one."

He fell to work counting the rings.

"Two hundred and sixty!" he announced.

"Gee!" blurted Ned. "Come on," he proposed, after a moment which both
required in order fully to grasp the message of the stump. "Let's poke
around inside of one, and perhaps we'll find some arrow-heads and
stuff."

He picked up a stout piece of branch, with a sharp end, and slid down
into the first pit; Hal, similarly equipped, slid after.

The boys wielded their sticks well, but no trophies resulted. Evidently
the mound had been well cleaned out, and nothing missed. They proceeded
to the next, and the next. Time sped more rapidly than they were aware
of. Suddenly Ned straightened up, in the third mound, and exclaimed:

"Say, Hal, do you know it's getting dark?"

They hastily scrambled out of the hole. Not only was the sun low, but
it was cloaked by a mass of dense, black cloud unfolding swiftly toward
the zenith. An ominous growl of thunder rolled up the sky. Birds were
twittering uneasily, and the slight breeze had died entirely away.

"Great Cæsar!" cried Hal. "I bet Sam and Joe have gone by, and we
haven't seen them!"

"No, they wouldn't do that. They'd look for us, and yell!" assured Ned,
stanchly. "But we're going to have a big thunder-storm, that's sure."

"I wish they'd come," murmured Hal, plaintively.

"Maybe they'll wait until after the storm," responded Ned. "Anyway,
we've got to find some place where we can keep kind of dry, and watch
the river, too."

"Don't you remember that cave we saw when we were climbing up?" asked
Hal, struck with an idea. "What's the matter with that?"

Nothing was the matter with it. It was a cavity worn out under a
jutting slab of limestone--much as though the sloping ground had fallen
away at this point. There was plenty of room to sit upright, for some
distance back in it.

A short time the boys sat on their roof, so to speak, and hung their
legs over the edge of the slab, while they noted the approach of the
storm. Swiftly the cloud marched onward, foot by foot blotting out the
blue. Vivid lightning played through the billows of heavy vapor, and
the thunder pealed and mumbled.

Nearer came the devouring line of black. Birds were flying for shelter.
A fresh breeze sprang up, blowing toward the advancing giant, as if he
were sucking in the air. The river, upon which appeared not a sign of
Sam and Joe, changed from silver to dull lead frosted by a multitude of
white-caps.

"It's pretty grand, isn't it!" commented Ned, struck with the majesty
of the storm, and with the novelty of their plight.

"Y-yes," replied Hal; who, nevertheless, preferred to look upon the
scene, however grand, from the neighborhood of some convenient house.

Until the very last moment they sat here; then, with the first
spattering drops of rain, they dived for shelter. With flare of
lightning, and crackle of thunder, and roar of wind, the rain descended
in torrents; but only a whiff of spray now and then reached the boys,
tucked in the farthermost recess of their cave.

It seemed as though the rain never would abate, for as often as it
slackened, and the boys took hope, so often it was sure to be swelled
by a gust of reinforcements. But finally it died to a drizzle, and Ned
made bold to slip out and take a survey.

The storm was over, practically, but the dusk of evening was settling
down in earnest.

"Who-oo-oo-oo-ee-ee!" shouted Ned, thinking that perhaps Sam and Joe
might be within hearing, although he did not see any skiff.

No answer.

Hal came out, and joined him in another call, which brought no response
but the echoes. Oppressed by the dampness and the rapidly waxing gloom,
the boys felt a strange desolation.

"I wonder how Bob liked the storm," spoke Ned, trying to be cheerful.
"He must have been scared!"

"And all our things are just sopping! We left our blankets out to dry,
you know," mourned Hal.

"Say!" on the instant exclaimed Ned, fumbling in his pockets. "Do you
know, I left my knife up there by one of those holes!"

"Oh, you can't find it, now," objected Hal, who somehow did not fancy
being deserted, even for a moment, in this weird spot.

"Yes, I can," flung back Ned, scrambling up the wet slope, and anon
slipping and stumbling. "It's by the second hole, where I sharpened my
stick."

Ned gained the crest at the same point where he and Hal had come out
when they had climbed before. It was very still, up here; only the
drip, drip, from the trees, and the soughing of the wind, breaking the
quiet. It also was much darker and lonesomer than he had expected it
would be, but he bravely trudged forward along the edge of the bluff
toward the old mounds.

He started to whistle, but his "Marching Through Georgia" came to an
abrupt stop right in the middle of the first chorus. What uncanny,
harrowing sound was that? He halted, with one foot upraised, and peered
ahead.

He was nearing the first of the opened mounds, when rising apparently
out of the second he descried a dim, white Thing, spectral, wavering,
menacing him with a series of ghastly noises.

The goose-flesh sprang out all over Ned's body, as if he had been in
swimming too long, a weakness seized on his knees, and he imagined that
his hair was rising under his battered felt hat.

It occurred to him that, rightfully enough, the Indians did not approve
of having their remains, which had slumbered through two centuries and
a half, exposed by means of spades and crooked sticks in the hands of
the pale-face. And having cautiously retreated backward, step by step,
suddenly he turned and bolted as hard as he could run! He didn't want
his jack-knife.

Guided through the blackness more by guesswork than by sight, over the
edge of the bluff he plunged, and fell, rather than ran, to the cave
and the arms of Hal.

Hal had heard him coming, and received him with concern.

"What's the matter, what's the matter?" he demanded.

"There--there's something white and funny in one of the mounds!"
panted Ned. "When it saw me coming it made a noise at me--a regular
ghost-noise--and--and I lit out."

"Aw, shucks!" scoffed Hal.

"Well, you go up with me, and I'll show you," declared Ned, indignant.
"Those mounds are graves, you know."

Up he went, again, Hal readily accompanying.

"Listen!" whispered Ned, clutching him by the coat sleeve, when they
had reached the top.

Those same dreadful sounds were being borne to them, amid the wailing
of the night wind.

Hal caught him by the hand.

"Sh!" cautioned Ned; and they softly stole forward, their heart in
their mouth.

Yes, the white Thing was there, just as Ned had predicted. They didn't
go very near.

Hal gave back a yard, and so did Ned. They were poised, all prepared to
run like deer if a hostile movement was made against them, when from
the beach below arose to them a strenuous yodling:

"Oooo-dle--loo-dle--loo-dle--loo-dle!"

Sam and Joe! The call broke the spell.

"Oooo-dle--loo-dle--loo-dle--loo-dle!" yodled the boys, fleeing as they
shouted. Never had signal been so welcome.

"Thought we'd left you here for good, didn't you?" queried Joe, when,
having been piloted by shouts and a waving lantern the boys, stumbling,
slipping, leaping, brought up beside the skiff, at the water's edge.

"Say----" hailed Ned, with scant ceremony, "there's some Indian graves
up on the bluff, dug open, and now it's dark there's a big white thing
in one of them, and we don't know what it is."

"It made an awful noise at us, and we think it's a ghost," added Hal.

"Wa-al, I'd like to look at it," drawled Joe. "I never seen a ghost.
Want to take a squint at it, Sam?"

"Naw," replied Sam. "I wouldn't climb them bluffs for ten thousand
ghosts!"

Joe, lantern in hand, strode to the foot of the bluff.

"If it's the genu-ine article, throw it down, an' I'll pass jedgment
on it," called Sam, after him. "A hundred foot drop won't hurt a real
ghost any, I reckon."

With Hal and Ned close at his heels Joe ascended the steep slope, and
at the top, warned by the two boys, paused to listen.

"There," whispered his companions, breathlessly, as upon the thick air
floated the mysterious sounds.

"By gorry, the _noises_ are genu-ine, all right," muttered Joe,
astonished, and making in the direction whence they seemed to come.

"Perhaps the lantern will put it out, so he won't see it," whispered
Hal to Ned, vaguely suspicious that ghosts cannot stand the light.

"Sh!" bade Ned.

However, the white thing was in the same position as when they last had
seen it. Joe never paused, but walked right ahead, and boldly swung his
lantern forward, reckless of consequences.

The boys, hard behind him, fully expected to behold some unearthly,
awesome shape exposed to view.

With a shock, partly of relief, partly of disappointment, they found
themselves gazing upon the protruding eyes, inquiring ears, kindly
face, and flowing main and forelock, of a white horse, while from his
nostrils issued strange snorts of appeal and alarm.

Only his head was visible above the mound. The remainder of him was
inside.

"Oh, gee!" exclaimed both boys, in chagrin, wishing that they, instead
of the horse, were in the hole--and out of sight.

Joe doubled over in a fit of laughter that caused him fairly to shake
and wobble on his feet.

"Whoopee! Whoopee!" he gasped. "Nothin' but an old white hoss, got
stuck in a hole. Or mebbe it's the hoss the Injun used to ride, and
had buried with him, and it's his night to come out. P'raps to-morrer
night'll be the Injun's turn."

"It--it looked like a ghost," faltered Hal. Ned was tongue-tied in his
shame.

"Git out o' here!" urged Joe, circling the animal, and smiting him
suddenly on the flank.

Under this sudden spur, with a grunt, a heave, and a volley of loud
snorts, the horse, awakening from his silly lapse into helplessness,
all at once plunged and reared, and was at last again on hard ground.
Forthwith he began to graze.

"Now there's room for the Injun to pop out, when he wants to," chuckled
Joe. "Come on, you ghost-finders, so he won't be afraid."

And, followed meekly by Hal and Ned, he returned to the boat.

Oh, how Sam jeered!

He and Joe never forgot. And thereafter, whenever they chanced upon
Hal or Ned they would be sure to ask, slyly:

"Seen any ghosts lately?"

As if to atone for his past ill-nature, as they pulled in at the shanty
landing, Sam--who really had a very kind heart--said, gruffly:

"You kids had better stop for a snack with us. Steak an' taters is all
we got, but that grape-arbor camp o' yourn must be nigh drowned."

The boys, with some misgivings lest Bob should find out, and feel hurt,
accepted the invitation; and Hal frankly yielded the palm to Sam as a
cook.

This seemed to tickle Sam more than anything else.

"Wa-al, I do know how to cook, a bit," he granted, "seein' as I've
cooked for Joe an' me for twenty odd year."

Carrying a bone which Sam sent, with his compliments, to "the dog,"
finally they arrived at their camp. Bob wanted to know where on earth
they had been so long--but was hushed, in the midst of his noisy
remarks, by the bone.

The camp, as Sam had predicted, was "drowned." Nevertheless, the sun
would repair all damage, inasmuch as the bread, the tenderest article
of food in their cupboard, fortunately had escaped the wetting.

Before a huge bonfire the boys partially dried their blankets, and then
retired to the near-by horse-shed to sleep.

Ere the mosquitoes had fully found them they were beyond annoyance, and
roundly snoring, while about their heads the little wood mice
rustled through the straw.

Not until morning did it occur to them that they had not found the
missing knife!

[Illustration: THE GHOST OF THE INDIAN MOUNDS.]



CHAPTER VII

THE COUNTY FAIR


The boys stayed at Rock Creek ten days. At last they were completely
out of bait; the little marsh had been scoured clean of frogs, and even
the snakes had deserted it; every stone and log had been overturned,
for crawfish; they had been driven to bacon-rind, which was too hard,
and to dogfish flesh, pressed beef, and bits of bread tied in mosquito
netting, all of which were too soft. Their provisions were reduced to
a few beans and a can of peaches, and the fish in the fish-box. Their
clothing was much the worse for hard service; so were their faces and
hands.

They decided, suddenly, to go home.

Thereupon, one morning they ran their faithful trot-lines for the
last time; took them up, not without regrets; ate an early dinner,
principally of beans and canned peaches; and by noon had their camp
broken, which was an easy matter, considering that their blankets and
their cooking utensils were about all the outfit that had survived.
They cleaned for market the forty fish, mostly cats, imprisoned in
their fish-box, and packed them in an old cask, with a chunk of
ice, donated by Sam and Joe, on the top under a piece of canvas.
At half-past six they were sculling to the government light on the
peninsula, with Sam and Joe waving farewell from in front of the
shanty, and with Bob, in the stern of the boat, defiantly barking back
across the water at the brindled dog, and telling him what he (Bob)
would have done had he (Bob) remained only a day longer.

Soon the _Harriett_ hove in sight around the bend below, and swinging
in at their bandanna handkerchief signal, stopped for them to hustle
aboard.

By eight o'clock they were at Beaufort, and had astonished Commodore
Jones by lugging their cask of fish upon his quarter-deck--that is, his
fish-market platform--and demanding payment.

As a result of the bargain, they came out gainers fifty cents each,
over and above their passage money both ways on the _Harriett_!

The first half of the long vacation was now gone, and what with
swimming and baseball and short jaunts after sunfish and croppies,
and other amusements furnished by field and river, the last half also
quickly passed.

As a glorious wind-up to the Beaufort youths' summer of fun, with the
closing week of vacation came the county fair. This was an annual
event, and was held on grounds maintained for the purpose upon the
outskirts of the town; and year to year Beaufort people, old as well as
young, looked forward to it with much interest.

Ned went, of course. And this year Bob went, too. It was his burning
ambition to go everywhere that Ned did; and in the case of school and
church, this created some embarrassment.

Considering that probably it was his first fair, and that there were
numerous temptations in the shape of fat pigs with ears delicious
to bite, and cows and sheep just prime to be chased, and countless
farmers' dogs ripe to be taught town manners, he behaved very well
indeed.

He and Ned covered the entire exhibition. They did not miss a single
item, although there were a number of things for which they did not
care a bit. They inspected the live-stock pens (where the pigs and
cattle nearly drove Bob to distraction); they traversed machinery
hall, and poultry hall, and all the other halls; and in particular
they explored the hall of arts. Here, worming their way through the
crowd they gazed with watering mouth--at least, Ned's mouth watered,
and Bob's still dripped in memory of the porkine ears elsewhere--upon
strained honey, and rich cheeses, and jellies and preserves and cakes
and doughnuts and cookies and other marvels into which ambitious
good-wives had put their whole hearts. Ned sought this building several
times; he had vague hopes that in some way he might encounter the
judging committee, and be invited to help "taste."

A close second in interest to this display was that of floral hall,
where the flowers themselves were rivaled in hues by apples and
peaches and plums and cherries and pears and grapes, in luscious
pyramids.

These two halls were extraordinary places for getting up an appetite!

However, one did not need to depend upon the stock pens and the various
"halls" for one's entertainment. Outside there was endless variety, and
the air was constantly athrill with excitement. All day a throng of
shows in tents did a loud and urgent business, inviting the people far
and near by banjo and gong and word of mouth to come in and see snakes
and wild men and bearded women and giants and dwarfs, and the like,
whose wondrous figures were outlined in gay colors upon the canvas
without. These shows formed a long street, lined with the pictured
marvels, and alive with shouts of:

"Hi yi yi yi! Walk in, walk in! Great free show, only ten cents, half a
dime!"

"Right this way! Everybody! Come everybody! Biggest show for the money
in the world!"

"Stop! Stop! Stop! Don't miss it! We are the people! A whole circus for
only ten cents!"

Every morning there was a parade around the race track of prize-winning
animals, where horses pranced, bulls roared defiantly, and donkeys
brayed and kicked.

Every afternoon at one o'clock there was a balloon ascension; and at
two o'clock began trotting and running races.

Not to miss anything on the fair grounds kept a boy and dog hustling,
although they went every day--which they didn't. Still, by virtue of
the addition to his funds of that fifty cents fish money, Ned managed
to go oftener than in any previous year.

Most fascinating was the balloon ascension. All through the morning
the balloon lay, a mass of inert, dirty, rubbery cloth, on the ground
at the spot whence the ascent was to be made. It always was surrounded
by curious people, who looked upon it with awe, but who were kept from
fingering it by a rope staked about it.

A little after twelve the program of filling it with gas began. Slowly
the dull heap inflated, until no longer was it inert; it swayed and
struggled, instinct with life.

The aeronaut, arrayed in tights of pink, with a spangled sash about
his waist, came out from a little tent, and while all eyes scanned
him admiringly, inspected the progress of the work. He was a slender,
alert man, with a tawny moustache, and keen glance. Finally the balloon
towered like a gigantic pear over the heads of the throng, and strained
to be free. It was held by a single rope, passing over the top, one end
tied to a stout stick and the other held by sturdy assistants. The rope
made a crease in the bulging, puffy dome.

Suddenly the aeronaut, having tested certain fastenings and knots,
commanded sharply:

"Let go!"

The persons holding the rope released it. It slipped over the top. Amid
shrill cheers and the hum of voices the balloon darted upward, dragging
after it a trapeze, and there, below the trapeze, was the aeronaut,
hanging by a slender cord. Up the cord he nimbly climbed, like a
monkey, and sitting upon the bar of the trapeze, while the balloon
continued its dizzy flight, kissed his hand to the gazing multitude
beneath. Then he performed a number of acrobatic feats, and later lit
somewhere, balloon and all, to appear and repeat the program the next
day.

Ned wondered how it felt. He was soon to find out.

From the first he had simply burned to catch hold of the rope, and help
keep the balloon down. But other boys who had volunteered had been
roughly rejected by the aeronaut, so Ned could only push as near as
possible, and be all ready.

It was the closing day of the fair, and the last of the ascensions was
about to occur. The balloon was filled and buoyant, and a fresh breeze
was causing it to tug unusually at the one rope. The men holding the
rope down were almost lifted, at times, off their feet. It was a tug of
war between the balloon and them, and the balloon seemed likely to have
the best of it.

"Here, you people; some of you give us a hand on that rope, will you?"
appealed the aeronaut.

At least half a score--many more than were needed--sprang over into
the enclosure; among them were Ned and Bob. Only three or four could
find room on the rope--and among these was Ned. Thus, at length, he was
where he had wanted to be.

The aeronaut was too busy to pay any attention.

"Now--let go!" he ordered, suddenly.

As the words were leaving his mouth, this is what happened: Wrenched
by a sudden fierce gust of wind the stake to which the balloon was
anchored was torn from the earth; the people who had been braced at
the other end of the rope sat down hard. The balloon jumped, and the
heavy stake, swinging inward, caught in the netting; the rope, quickly
kinking, knotted under Ned's shoulders as he sprawled, for a moment, on
the ground; and like lightning he was jerked into space.

The accident took only a second. Now Ned was valiantly set, prepared
to hold the balloon all by himself, if necessary; next, he was lifted
irresistibly, helplessly, into the air, and out of a great uproar of
voices he was conscious only of Bob's despairing, high-pitched yelps,
quickly fading away, beneath; and above, the aeronaut's imperative,
tense voice:

"Hang tight! Grab the rope!"

With both hands Ned had at once gripped the rope as high as he could
reach. It was wound about his chest, and the free end dangled below. He
raised his eyes, and there, over head on the trapeze, was the aeronaut.

"Get that end between your legs--that's right," bade the aeronaut. "Can
you hold on?"

[Illustration: "HANG TIGHT! GRAB THE ROPE!"]

"Y-y-yes," quavered Ned, for he was badly frightened, and between the
queer sensation of the bottom dropping out of everything, and the
pressure of the rope about him, he was nearly breathless.

"You're all hunky, then," said the aeronaut, cheerily. "In a jiffy
we'll be back. You can't fall; just hang on and wait."

"Y-y-yes," quavered Ned, feeling like a spider on a thread.

It was very still where they were. He heard a faint hissing, and he
wondered what it was. The aeronaut had opened the escape valve in the
balloon. Ned did not know it, but they were descending.

"How do you like your free ride?" queried the aeronaut, noting Ned's
drawn face, and trying to divert him from thinking on the peril of the
situation.

"P-pretty w-well," replied Ned.

"Don't look down! Look at me!" commanded the aeronaut, sternly. "Look
at me or I'll drop on top of you," he repeated.

Ned, alarmed, kept his eyes glued on those pink-clad legs twenty feet
above him.

Yet he could no more help glancing hurriedly beneath him, than after a
tooth has come out can you help putting your tongue into the hole.

He looked down for just a fraction of a second--and it was enough. He
had seen the world, laid flat; a patch of green, and a patch of yellow,
and a thread-like streak of silver; and the gulf that yawned under him
made his flesh creep.

Supposing the aeronaut should drop on him! Wouldn't that be awful!
The rope might break, and together they would whirl like stones down
through space. He watched the aeronaut anxiously.

"That's right--watch me," said the aeronaut. "If you don't----" And he
shook his head meaningly.

All this had required but a few moments, yet to Ned they had seemed
hours.

"Where would you like to land?" asked the aeronaut, in a chatty voice.
"Back at the fair grounds, or in a corn-field?"

"I don't care," faltered Ned. He was getting tired of his strained
position.

"Well, I guess we'll choose the corn-field this trip," decided the
aeronaut--speaking as if they were used to taking such hazardous rides
together. "Now, listen here," he continued, sharply. "We're getting
close to the ground. Hear the leaves rustling? Look down if you want
to, and see. Didn't I tell you? Pretty soon you'll be touching the top
of the corn. Then I'm going to cut your rope with my knife. It won't
hurt you to drop--you've often jumped out of trees and things higher
than we'll be--of course you have."

How near the ground was! Ned could scarcely believe his eyes. It seemed
to be rushing up at them. Below was a large corn-field, the stiff
stalks bending in the breeze.

"When I say 'three,' I'll cut," warned the aeronaut.

"All right," responded Ned.

The corn stalks just scraped his toes. The aeronaut put his knife
against the rope.

"One--two--three!" he cried.

Ned dropped. Crash, crash, thump! He ploughed through the corn, and
brought up with his hands buried to the wrists in dirt. But he was safe
on earth! Rather, he was safe _in_ earth! It didn't matter; he was
thankful.

Without delaying to unwind the rope, he started to stand up to look for
the balloon and the aeronaut. He caught just a glimpse of them, already
careening onward, far adown the field, where they had darted when
relieved of his weight--and then he sank back with an "Ouch!"

He had sprained his ankle.

He unwrapped the rope, and carrying it in his hand hobbled toward the
road. The aeronaut, who had made a better landing a quarter of a mile
away, came rattling up, balloon and all, in a farmer's wagon, to meet
him.

Then they made triumphal entry into town, and Mrs. Miller, astonished
at seeing the turn-out stop before her door, learned what a thrilling
ride aloft Ned had just made.

First she hugged him, and then she bound his ankle, and then she hugged
him again, and then she went off to cry. But she couldn't stay, and
came back with tears still in her eyes.

Next Mr. Miller arrived in haste, and after patting Ned softly on the
head, and saying: "Why, Neddie!" coughed violently, and had to turn his
back and blow his nose.

Last came Bob, trotting home in great chagrin over having lost track of
his master. He stood on his hind legs, and licked Ned all over the face.

Ned was considered very lucky--by older folks because he had escaped
with his life; by the boys because he had been up in a balloon; and by
himself because the sprain had come at the end of vacation, instead of
at the beginning or middle.



CHAPTER VIII

NED THE NIMROD


Ned's ankle healed all too rapidly, for _him_; he was out of school
only three days. However, it remained weak for a much longer time,
affording him the fun of limping about with a cane. The boys quite
envied him, and the girls gazed on him with mingled symptoms of awe and
pity.

Little Zu-zu Pearce, who, since his rescue of Tom, had adopted him
as her own especial hero, came up to him, as he was standing by the
schoolhouse steps, and looking at him gravely, said:

"Does it hurt you awful, Ned?"

"Naw," scoffed Ned. "It's nothing but just a common sprain, and it's
about well, now."

"I don't believe you'd say, even if it was killing you," asserted
Zu-zu, admiringly. "And you were awful brave not to let go of that rope
and be killed!"

"Aw, I couldn't have let go if I'd tried," asserted Ned, wriggling
uneasily. "I was tied on."

"Well, I don't care--you _didn't_ let go, anyway," returned Zu-zu; and
she skipped back to the other girls, leaving Ned red and embarrassed,
but nevertheless gazing after her with a pleased expression in his eyes
and a kindly warmth in his heart.

But, as in the case of many a badge of honor, the cane presently became
irksome. Ned wanted a gun, and he knew that it was no use to aspire to
be a hunter if he couldn't walk and run. So he dropped the cane, now
unnecessary, and fell to teasing his father for a shotgun.

Living as they did beside the Mississippi, which is a great
thoroughfare for wild fowl in their flights from north to south, and
from south to north, each fall and spring the Beauforters were given
splendid duck-shooting.

All the men who liked hunting, and nearly all the older boys, and some
of the younger whose folks did not care, had guns. Hunting played as
important a part in a Beaufort boy's program as did swimming and rowing.

Although Ned had mastered the two sports last mentioned, it did not
seem to his mother that she ever could consent to his taking up the
first--hunting with a gun.

Time had proved to her that there were plenty of dangers to which Ned
was exposed, without adding to the list powder and lead.

Ned argued for; his mother pleaded against; Mr. Miller listened and
smiled, and was strictly non-committal. Down deep in his mind he knew
that in the end Ned would win the day.

"Well, Helen, I don't see but what we'll have to give the boy the gun,"
he remarked to his wife, when they were alone, one evening.

"Oh, Will!" groaned Mrs. Miller, in piteous tones.

"But you see, my dear, it will be very hard to keep him from being with
other boys who have guns," explained her husband, "and it would be
better to let him have a gun of his own, and understand how to use it,
than to leave him to pick up what he can, and maybe get injured through
his ignorance."

"Oh, Will!" again appealed Mrs. Miller. "It doesn't seem as though I
_could_ agree to it."

Then mother-like, that her boy might live his strong, sturdy life, she
consented.

"Ned," spoke Mr. Miller, the next noon, "supposing we let you have a
gun, will you promise to do exactly as we say?"

"Yes, sir," agreed Ned, promptly.

"And you'll be careful?" implored his mother, anxiously gazing at him.

"Of course," assured Ned.

He half-way expected that his father would take him straight down
town and buy a gun; but he was disappointed. There were farther
preliminaries.

"All right," said his father. "But before you get the gun, I want to
be sure that you know how to handle it. I don't want you shooting
yourself, or shooting anybody else, which would be about as bad. So
I've arranged with Mr. Russell to take you out and show you a few
things."

Mr. Russell lived across the street. He was a great hunter, and had
all manner of shooting stuff. He was known as a very steady, prudent
man, and Mr. and Mrs. Miller felt that they could safely trust Ned to
him.

As for Ned, his disappointment was not keen, after all. Going out with
Mr. Russell, whom he regarded as the finest hunter in town, was next
best thing to having a gun, oneself.

"Say----" he began, his face aglow.

"Ned!" rebuked his mother.

"I mean--when are we going?" resumed Ned, too excited to offer other
apology. "And will he help me train Bob to be a hunting dog?"

"He'll let you know when he's ready," stated Mr. Miller. "And until
then you must wait, and not bother either him or us, about gun or dog."

Ned strove to walk his paths with patience, and soon was rewarded.
The twentieth of September, and the first frost had just passed, and
hazelnuts and hickory-nuts were ripe for gathering, when Mr. Russell
sent over word for Ned to be ready that night after school, and they
would go out for a little while.

"Hurrah!" shouted Ned, capering through the sitting-room. "Did he say
to take a lunch, father? Will you put it up, mother? How long are we to
stay? Where are we going? Can I stay as long as he does?"

"Oh, Neddie!" protested his mother, placing her hands over her ears.

"Ned, be still!" ordered his father. "I don't think you'll need a
lunch--although, judging from your appetite, you ought to carry one
with you all the time. No, Mr. Russell said that he was merely going
out on the flats for an hour, to shoot off some old shells, and that
you could help him, if you liked."

"Oh!" responded Ned, a bit crestfallen. "Shall I take Bob?"

"If neither Mr. Russell nor Bob objects, I'm sure I don't," laughed Mr.
Miller.

As soon as school was out Ned scurried to Mr. Russell's, and found
him sorting over shells, and stuffing some into his coat pockets. Ned
was a little surprised to note that he was dressed just as usual, and
evidently did not intend to wear his business-like hunting coat, with
its stains from game and weather, and its pockets with here and there a
mysterious feather; or his boots; or even his brown cap with slanting
visor.

"Hello, young man," greeted Mr. Russell.

"Hello," replied Ned. "Are we going to kill anything?"

"Nothing except some cans and chunks of wood, I guess," responded Mr.
Russell.

"Do you want Bob?" queried Ned, hopefully.

"Why, yes; take him along, if you wish to," answered Mr. Russell,
surveying Bob, who was wagging his tail near by. "He's pretty old to
train, now, but we can see if there's any good in him, maybe."

Bob, who, at the stroke of the bell for the close of school always
hied out upon the front walk to wait for his master, and thus, this
afternoon, had caught him ere he entered the Russell gate, had
been uneasily sniffing at the gun case, and eyeing Mr. Russell's
preparations. He whined, vaguely and uncertainly. There was something
that he didn't like.

In spite of Mr. Russell's ordinary garb Ned was as proud as a peacock
when they started up the street together, while Bob, with worried air,
trotted behind.

The flats for which they were bound lay just west of the town; they
were a wide stretch of low, level land, pasture and shallow marsh,
given over to cows and frogs.

Ned and Mr. Russell scrambled over a fence, and stopped in a field
where there were no cattle or persons within range.

Mr. Russell took the gun from its case, and snapped it together.

"Say--is that your gun?" demanded Ned, surprised. "I thought you had a
double-barrel!"

"This is a new one," replied Mr. Russell. "See, how it comes apart?"
and he unsnapped the fore-end, and took off the barrel. "Now you try,"
he bade, passing the parts to Ned.

Without hesitation Ned fitted them together. Then he handled the piece
fondly.

It was a compact little single-barrel, twelve-bore, with low,
rebounding hammer, pistol grip, barrel of bronzed twist, stock of
polished walnut, and all the metal trimmings blued, to prevent rust,
and avoid alarming game by flashes of sun; in fact, from the sight bead
to the rubber butt plate it seemed a perfect little gun.

"My!" sighed Ned, boldly putting it to his shoulder, and aiming into
space. "It is choke-bore, Mr. Russell?"

"Yes, siree," assured Mr. Russell, who had been watching him with a
twinkle in his eyes. "Shall I show you?" and he extended his hand.

With a final loving pat of the breech Ned regretfully turned the gun
over to him, and awaited the next number on the program.

Mr. Russell inserted a shell, and said:

"Now go off from me about thirty yards, and throw up this tin can, and
let's see what I can do to it."

Ned obeyed. He ran out, close followed by Bob, until Mr. Russell told
him to stop.

"Throw it high, and away from you," called Mr. Russell.

Up sailed the can. "Bang!" went the gun. "Clink!" sounded the shot
cutting the tin. The can jumped in its arc, and striking the ground
rolled over and over as though it had been mortally wounded.

Ned raced to pick it up. It was now a sorry looking can; and he brought
it to Mr. Russell, counting the shot holes as he did so.

"Sixteen!" he announced, triumphantly, giving it over for inspection.

"That's very fair," commented Mr. Russell, carelessly glancing at it.
"There goes your dog," he added, pointing across the field.

Sure enough; there was Bob, two hundred yards away, and making a
bee-line for home. He never looked back. His tail was between his legs
and his back was humped, and even at that distance his whole mien told
of outraged feelings.

"Here, Bob! Here, Bob!" called Ned; but he called and whistled in vain.

"No use, Ned," remarked Mr. Russell, laughing. "He's gun-shy. Somebody
must have shot at him, once; or fired off a gun close to his ears; and
now, you see, he's afraid when he hears a report."

"Won't he get over it?" asked Ned, astonished and puzzled.

"No, I don't think he will," answered Mr. Russell. "He's spoiled for
hunting."

"Well," said Ned, gazing after poor Bob, now a speck townward. "It
isn't his fault, anyway. He can't help it."

"Supposing you try a shot," proposed Mr. Russell, handing the gun and a
shell to him.

Bob's failure to toe the scratch, in this, the only particular,
vanished from Ned's mind. He gladly seized gun and shell.

"No, that's not the right way to put in a cartridge," corrected Mr.
Russell, kindly. "You have the muzzle pointed exactly at my stomach!
And when you close the breech, that will bring the muzzle about at my
mouth! Let me show you a better way."

"There!" he continued, returning the weapon to Ned. "When you load,
always be sure that nobody is in line with the piece. The chances are
that the shell won't explode, but if it should, even once in a thousand
times, or in ten thousand, and there be an accident, you'd never
forgive yourself. It's impossible to be too cautious, and it's very
easy not to be cautious enough, Ned."

Ned, somewhat abashed, but impressed by the earnestness of Mr.
Russell's voice, this time loaded more carefully, and Mr. Russell had
him repeat the operation to make certain that the lesson was learned.

"One small mistake might ruin your whole life, Ned," warned Mr.
Russell. "So start right. And now for a mark," he proceeded. "I'll set
a can on that fence post, yonder, and I'll wager that you can't put as
many shot in it as I did in that other can on the fly. Did you ever
shoot a gun?"

"Once," confessed Ned, reluctantly. "A long time ago. And it kicked me
over, and made my lip bleed, and when I came home, and father found
out he said it served me right. It was Chuck Donahue's; his big muzzle
loader."

"Did you hit anything?" queried Mr. Russell, smiling as he walked away.

"N-n-no," admitted Ned. "At least, there was only one shot-hole, and
Chuck said he made it. But I've aimed lots of times," he added, to
prove that he was not lacking in experience.

"Here!" called Mr. Russell, looking back. "Keep that gun pointed toward
the ground until you're taking aim! I don't want to be speckled all
over with lead."

"It isn't cocked," explained Ned.

"That makes no difference," retorted Mr. Russell. "Always handle a
gun, empty or loaded, cocked or not, as though you expected that it
would go off at any moment. That should become a fixed habit. Will you
remember--or shall we stop?"

"Oh, I'll remember," pledged Ned.

And, barring a few slight lapses, he did.

Mr. Russell balanced the smooth round can on the fence post, and walked
to one side.

"All ready," he announced.

Ned leveled the piece, and pulled on the trigger. He couldn't budge it.

"Why not cock your gun?" inquired Mr. Russell, quizzically.

Ned blushed. What a number of blunders he had made! Mr. Russell would
think him very stupid.

He aimed again.

"Bang!"

The stock of the gun flew up and jarred his head, but he didn't mind.
He peered through the thin smoke. The can had disappeared.

"I hit it! I hit it! I know I hit it!" he cried, setting out on the
dead run.

"I should say you did!" assured Mr. Russell, delighted, picking up the
can and examining it. "Bravo! Fifteen--sixteen, seventeen! You beat me
by one!"

Ned clutched the can, and delivered the gun into cooler keeping. He
scanned his trophy inch by inch, and gloated over the many holes. Mr.
Russell noted his puffed lip, and smiled.

"If you hadn't taken in me, too, when you swung your gun, to aim," he
commented, "you might not have been punished by that lip."

"Oh!" uttered Ned, a little taken aback, and becoming conscious of his
bump.

"Next time you'll hold the gun tighter against your shoulder--and be
more careful in that other respect, too," said Mr. Russell, simply.

They stayed on the flats for an hour and a half, and used up all of Mr.
Russell's cartridges; and when Ned went home he fairly was bursting
with information. He carried with him that riddled tin can, and with no
small degree of pride showed it to the family and to the boys of the
neighborhood. He had hit other cans, during the lesson, but this was
the result of his first shot!

Bob was waiting for him, at the front gate. He greeted his master with
a sheepish, apologetic manner, as though to say:

"I didn't mean to act so silly; but you know, I can't help it."

"That's all right, Bob," comforted Ned. "I understand. You shan't go
again."

Whereupon Bob whined wistfully, as much as to say:

"Well, I don't think you ought to go, then, either."

Bob, you see, was just a mite selfish in regard to Ned.

During the next week Ned went out several times with Mr. Russell, and
began to feel like quite a veteran. He not only could hit stationary
cans, but he learned to hit things tossed into the air. To tell the
truth, he was a fine pupil.

"Ned, Mr. Russell thinks that the public won't suffer if we go ahead
now and trust you alone with a gun," observed Mr. Miller, one evening,
at the supper table. "He says you're learning well, and that all you
need do is remember."

"I can hit a little piece of bark thrown up forty yards away," asserted
Ned, confidently.

"Very good," responded his father, pushing back from the table. "But I
didn't get Mr. Russell to teach you that, so much as to teach you _not_
to hit some objects more important!"

He went into the bedroom, and came back, bearing a gun case.

"How do you like it?" he said, giving it to Ned.

With feverish fingers Ned unbuckled the straps. The case had looked
familiar; the gun was still more familiar.

"Say----" he burst out. "Is it mine? Did Mr. Russell give it to me? Did
you buy it of him? It's the very same gun!"

"So it is," replied his father, pleased to see _him_ so pleased. "I had
Mr. Russell pick it out for me the day after you and your mother and I
talked together; so you've been using it all this time, and now you're
acquainted with it. It's yours."

"Not yet," interrupted Mrs. Miller. "Wait a moment. Give the gun to me,
Ned."

Ned wonderingly surrendered the treasure.

"Neddie," she declared, holding it behind her back, and trying not to
laugh, "you can't have it unless you promise not to use that dreadful
'say' any more!"

"I won't, I won't!" vowed Ned, in alarm.

"Won't what?" insisted his mother.

"Won't say 'say' any more," cried Ned.

"Or as much," restricted his mother, firmly.

"I won't say it at all," promised Ned.

With a kiss his mother restored the gun to his eager grasp.

The only personage within Ned's circle of relatives and friends who did
not rejoice with him in his new gun was Bob. Poor Bob! The weapon was
an eye-sore to him. When his master brought it out Bob gazed at him
reproachfully, and slunk off, dejected, woebegone. No coaxing could
lift his spirits, or induce him to come outside the yard, when the gun
was in sight.

The gun was the only break that ever occurred in the relationship
between Ned and his dog.

Ned speedily waxed to be a crack shot among his fellows. He practiced
incessantly, to the death of countless tin cans, and the disappearance
of his savings.

Mr. Miller did not object, but he outlined his views in a little
lecture on shooting in general.

"Destroy all the cans you want to, Ned," he laughed. "They're fair
game." Then he grew graver: "That's right. I want you to learn to
shoot straight, so as to kill when you intend to. But don't shoot for
practice at innocent birds. They love to live, as well as you. Don't
risk shots at game when the chances are that you can merely wound.
Shoot straight, and kill outright. Better let a duck go, than maim it,
so that it is liable to linger and suffer for hours or days. That is
why I gave you a single-barrel, and had it heavily choked. You will be
more careful than if you had a second barrel to fall back upon, and
when the load hits a bird, it will hit to kill."

"Oh, Neddie! I do wish that you would be content to shoot at cans and
such things, like you are doing now," pleaded his mother.

"Why, mother!" exclaimed Ned, horrified. "We can't eat _cans_!"

"So far as eating is concerned, Ned," spoke his father, drily, "we
shan't go back on our butcher just yet, even though you _have_ got a
gun! We might need him."

Of all the boys who accompanied Ned, to throw cans and blocks about at
his bidding, Tom Pearce was the most faithful, although Hal likewise
went quite often, and was trying to have his father get him a gun, also.

The frosty nights and the soft, delicious days of Indian summer
arrived; with them arrived the ducks, who well knew that winter was
near at hand, in ambush on the borders of autumn.

Ned's neck was stiff from perpetually searching the heavens to discover
scurrying flocks. He talked ducks from morn to eve, and dreamed ducks
from eve to morn, and the family assured him that he certainly would
turn into one, if he didn't let up.

And so far, despite his hunting excursions, and his tales of "big
mallards" that he "almost" got, the family table was still innocent of
game.

The tenth of November, and behold Ned, and Tom, his squire, across
the river, trudging among the winding sloughs that formed a popular
Beaufort hunting-ground. They had started from home at four in the
morning--as was their custom; and had been tramping ever since--as,
again, was their custom; and had not shot a single duck--which, alas,
also was their custom. Ducks were much more crafty than tin cans.

Yet the boys thought that tramping all a long day, laden with gun and
shells and boots, through swamp and over fields; with a few mouthfuls
of cold breakfast, and a cold lunch hastily gobbled; and at the
last not a feather to reward them, was much less work than piling wood,
for instance, or going down town for a yeast-cake!

Perseverance has its reward. On this tenth of November Ned and Tom had
stopped in a fence corner to eat their lunch, which consisted mainly
of bread and butter and sugar, hard boiled eggs, and cookies. They had
stiffly arisen, and had walked forward not twenty paces, when up from
under the high bank of a narrow inlet just in front of them, jumped
straight into the air, with a quack and a sputter, a panic-stricken
something, and was off like a bullet.

"Ned!" blurted Tom.

"Bang!" spoke the gun.

Down to turf upon the other side of the inlet plumped the something,
magically stopped in mid-flight.

"You got him! You got him! Hurrah!" howled Tom, dashing through the
water, up over his knees--and boots.

"Hurrah!" cheered Ned, in his wake.

It had happened so quickly that he was quite beside himself. He had no
recollection of taking aim. He had no recollection of anything save a
feathered blurr in the air, his gun banging--and the feathered blurr
had disappeared.

Through the shallow inlet they plashed, reckless of consequences.
On the way Ned ejected the empty shell and inserted, with trembling
fingers, a new one, to be ready in case the victim should suddenly
make off!

The precaution was unnecessary. The victim was past all "making off."
Tom reached it first, where it lay, a shapeless, pathetic little lump
of down and quill, twenty yards from the water's edge, and grabbed it
with the zeal of a retriever.

"It's a wood-duck!" he cried, joyfully.

Ned panted up, and with scant courtesy snatched it from him.

"'Tain't, either," he said, scornfully. "It's a green-wing teal. See
there."

Tom meekly granted the correction as coming from one who owned a new
gun and must know.

The boys turned the limp bunch--no larger than a pigeon, but,
nevertheless, their first prize--over and over in their hands, marking
its every feature.

Unlucky duckling; its life, begun only that summer, had quickly ended.

At last Ned tucked it in the pocket of his hunting-coat, and on they
strode, feeling now on the highway to slaughter.

Every few minutes Ned caressingly fingered the warm, soft ball hanging
against his left hip. He hoped that it would make a bloody spot on the
canvas of the pocket. Although he had done his best, the coat was still
altogether too fresh.

No more game fell to his gun that day; but neither he nor Tom cared.
They were not to go home empty-handed.

All the way through the streets Ned wondered if people suspected what
he was carrying concealed in that pocket; and he bore, without caring,
the gibes of sundry hateful urchins:

"Aw, didn't get nothin'! Didn't get nothin'! Ain't he a big hunter,
though!"

Tom stayed and helped him clean the teal. They sat in the barn door,
and scattered the feathers into the alley, while Bob sniffed and
sniffed at their operations. The smell of the duck seemed to revive in
his blood old instincts, inherited from his parents, and he was unhappy
and puzzled.

"You didn't kill that all at once, did you?" laughed a man, driving
past.

Well, it had not been very big, with the feathers on, and it was very
much smaller, with the feathers off. But it was a duck!

The boys counted the shot-holes, and traced where each pellet had gone
in and come out. They agreed that Ned's aim had been exactly right and
that the gun was a wonder.

Into the midst of their pleasure crept an undercurrent of pity which
stopped just short of regret.

"Seems kind of too bad, to kill it, doesn't it," commented Tom,
weighing the wee, cold, bare morsel in his palm.

"Y-y-yes," admitted Ned. "But I guess he never knew what struck him."

The wings, with their band of shiny emerald, had been put aside, to
keep.

"Here," said Ned, holding them out to Tom, as that stanch follower was
on the point of going home. "Take 'em."

"No, you keep 'em," insisted Tom.

"Give 'em to Zu-zu, then," blushed Ned, as if that was a second
thought. "She can wear 'em in a hat."

Ned was duly congratulated on his success by the family. The duck went
to the ice-box, and was roasted and served to him for dinner the next
day.

"Oh, Neddie!" exclaimed his mother, as the teal, now, after cooking,
was smaller than ever. "Do you mean to say that it took two boys and a
gun and nearly a whole day to kill a poor little bird like that?"

"It's good, anyway," excused Ned, his mouth full.



CHAPTER IX

THE CAMPAIGN PARADE


But this fall, gun and duck did not stand as the only excitement for
Ned and the other Beaufort youth. Politics were red hot. A president
and vice-president of the United States were to be elected, and the
town was in a perfect ferment day and night.

There were caucuses and parades and "rallies" and sidewalk discussions
and even fights, in all of which the boys, and the girls, too, took
lively interest.

At school the recesses were given over, for the most part, to debate.
Ned's father was a Republican, Ned was what his father was, and Bob was
what Ned was; Mr. Lucas was a Democrat, therefore Hal was a Democrat;
Tom had no father living, and so he sided with neither cause, but said
that he "didn't care."

    { "Democrats
    { Eat old dead rats!"

sang Ned and his crowd.

    { "Republicans
    { Lick old tin pans!"

retorted Hal and his fellow partisans.

Whereupon the Republicans claimed the best of the argument.

Nobody in Beaufort was more faithful in attending the various political
meetings than was Ned. With eyes and ears alert he sedately accompanied
his father; or else, doing as he pleased, tagged the band about through
the streets until it brought up at hall or opera house. He sat or
stood, squeezed in, the whole evening through, listening to orators
declare what great and wise things their party had done, and what
mean and foolish things the other parties had done. In case it was a
Republican meeting he cheered in triumph; in case it was the opposition
(for he did not limit himself to the one) he cheered "just for fun."
Thus he was able to do lots of shouting, and went home hot, hoarse, and
full of enthusiasm.

Of all the meetings in the town during the campaign, the crowning one
occurred as follows:

"Hello!" exclaimed Mr. Miller, glancing over _The Evening Clarion_.

"What is it?" inquired his wife, while Ned, hovering near, was at once
all ears.

"Why, I see by _The Clarion_ that Senator Lipp is to be here on the
twenty-ninth, and we're going to have the biggest Republican rally ever
held in the county," explained her husband.

"Say----" cried Ned, agog, and forgetful of his recent promise.

"Gun!" said his mother.

"Oh, I didn't mean to. It slipped out before I thought," excused Ned.

"Well, don't let it slip in again," laughed his mother.

"There'll be a big parade around the town, winding up at the opera
house," continued Mr. Miller, skimming through the article. "All the
outside places are to be invited to send marching clubs. It's the last
rally before election, and it will be a whooper."

"Oh, father! I want to march! Can I?" begged Ned.

"Certainly," replied his father, unexpectedly. "Go ahead."

"But I mean march in the parade," persisted Ned.

"We'll see," responded his father.

"But I'm sure they don't want boys fussing round them," objected Mrs.
Miller.

"Yes, they do, mother," quickly corrected Ned. "Lots of boys march."

"I'm afraid that they'll gladly take anybody large enough to carry a
torch," confessed Mr. Miller.

"The idea!" exclaimed his wife, shocked by this give-away of political
methods.

As time wore on, the approaching rally grew to mammoth proportions, and
kept Ned busy talking about its numerous phases.

_The Clarion_ devoted columns of space to it, and the town was well
plastered with posters bristling with exclamation points and heavy
type.

As to his marching, Ned now had not the slightest doubt. His father
said nothing more upon the subject, and silence gave consent.

"My father says _we_'re going to have a monster rally, too; the night
before election," at last Hal declared, in retort to Ned's vauntings.

"'Twon't be as big as ours," asserted Ned.

"'Twill, I bet," stoutly returned Hal, sticking up for the honor of the
Democratic party. "And I'm going to march!"

"Are you?" queried Ned, feeling as though some of the polish had been
taken off his own future.

Of course, there was the remote chance that rain would interfere with
the Republicans, or that in some other way the Democrats would be led
to outdo them.

"Say--no, I didn't mean that; but I tell you what," he proposed,
suddenly: "you march with me in our parade, and I'll march with you in
yours!"

"All right," agreed Hal. "You don't suppose they'll care, do you?"

By "they" he referred to Republicans and Democrats in general, who
might be disposed to resent such an exchange.

"I guess not," hazarded Ned. "It evens up, you know. And then, we're
only kids."

The day of the parade came, and dawned upon a town already gay with
bunting and banners. As the sun rose higher, and peeped into the
streets, seemingly at the touch of his rays other bunting and banners
unfolded. By noon Republican Beaufort was in gala attire. Democratic
Beaufort stolidly gazed, and resolved:

"Just wait until our turn, next week."

Lithographs of the Republican candidates were displayed on all
sides, in windows and attached to flags drooping from upper stories;
cheese-cloth, bearing mottoes and portraits, spanned the downtown
streets and stretched across corners; through the ordinary channels of
business and private affairs ran a current of excitement.

"So you're going to march, are you, Ned?" remarked his father, that
noon, at dinner.

"Don't, Neddie," begged his mother. "You'll get all covered with dirt
and grease; and I'm sure the sight of you in the ranks won't influence
_many_ voters."

"But I've promised Hal to march in his parade if he'll march in mine,"
explained Ned. "And he'll be mad if I back out. I'll wear my old
clothes."

Mrs. Miller sighed and looked, for support, at her husband. However,
not having Ned's garments to clean, he was filled only with amusement.

As the afternoon wore on, the delegations from outside points began to
arrive. In the shape of marching clubs, with wild cheers they tumbled
off from incoming trains, and forming at the depot paraded up town,
bands playing and people shouting. Or as farmers' families they rattled
in by wagon-loads, and tying the horses around the court-house square
wandered through the streets.

In the schoolroom Ned and his fellow prisoners could hear the cries
and music and sound of heavy wheels, and chafed to be free. With the
welcome four o'clock bell they poured abroad, quite certain that there
were a thousand new things to see.

This afternoon Bob sat at the front gate and waited in vain. He was cut
out by politics.

His master, who had found much to do in watching the depots, and not
missing what the streets also had to offer, did not appear until nearly
supper time.

"Here you are, Ned," called Mr. Miller, _Clarion_ in hand. "This means
you: 'Marchers not attached to any organization may obtain their
uniforms at Room 6, Shinn Block. It is requested that the uniforms be
returned here, either immediately after the meeting, or to-morrow.'"

"Good!" cried Ned. "What kind of uniform?"

"Oh, nothing very extra, you'll find," replied his father, destroying
Ned's visions of epaulets and a cocked hat.

"But it will serve to keep your clothes from the oil and soot, I hope,"
voiced the thrifty mother.

Ned galloped through his chores, and bolted a hasty supper. Hal
whistled for him, and ruthlessly shutting in the barn the luckless
Bob--who would have been unhappy, anyway, with so many bands playing in
his ears, and so many feet to dodge--he scooted off.

"We'll watch for you, when the parade comes past the corner," cried
his mother, after him; for the line of march led within a block of the
house.

Already streams of people, mostly men and boys, some even now in
uniform, were flowing toward the business centre of town; and that
business centre itself was a fascinating scene of bustle, as the
marchers, in a variety of costumes, strode the walks, or loitered at
their points of assembly.

For Ned and Hal, the first thing to do was to get uniforms. Until they
had some trappings they could not feel as though they amounted to much.

Room 6, Shinn Block, fairly was swarming with persons after uniforms.
In one corner was a pile of capes, near by was a stack of caps, and
in another corner were sheaves of torches. Evidently all that was
necessary to do was to walk up, pick out an outfit, and leave.

The two boys sidled in, and had just seized upon a cape apiece when
they were interrupted by a man who from beside the door was overseeing
things.

"Hey, you kids! What are you doing with those capes?" he demanded,
gruffly.

Ned and Hal, startled and abashed, dropped their spoils.

"We're going to march," stammered Ned.

"Oh, that's all right. It's Will Miller's boy," explained somebody in
the room, coming to the rescue. "Let him march."

"And isn't that young Lucas?" queried somebody else. "Is your father
going to march with us to-night, too, sonny?"

"No, he isn't!" retorted Hal, hotly. "He's going to be in a lots bigger
parade than this, next week!"

Amid the teasing laughter which greeted this sally the boys snatched
cape and cap and torch, and fled lest yet they might be stopped.

The capes were of blue oilcloth, and buckled at the throat. The caps
also were of oilcloth, but red, and were round, with a flat top and
heavy visor. The torches consisted of a long staff, at the end of which
swung a can containing kerosene and a wick.

As soon as they were clear of the room the boys donned their rigs. The
capes came down to their knees; and since in their haste they had not
taken account of size, their caps were far too large, and spun about on
their crowns. Paper, a tremendous quantity, having been stuffed under
the bands inside, then, with their caps still wobbly, but with their
capes rustling and their torches proudly held aloft, the two brave
marchers descended to the street.

Even during their brief stay while getting their outfit, a change had
taken place in the aspect of the world without. Darkness had fallen,
and torches were being called into life, right and left.

"Let's light up!" proposed Hal.

"Let's," seconded Ned.

This was as easily done as said; they simply applied their wicks to
the lighted wick of the next good-natured man whom they met--and good
nature was everywhere to-night--and now, with torches blazing, they
were fully in trim for the parade.

The procession was forming. On horseback marshals, distinguished by a
sash passing from one shoulder diagonally across the chest and under
the opposite arm, dashed up, and wheeled and dashed down again. Horns
gave preliminary, erratic toots, and drums broke in with sudden rolls.
Flambeaux flamed forth, and died out. Transparencies bobbed hither and
thither, upon invisible legs. Marching clubs stood at ease, while their
members jested and waited. The air was filled with kerosene smoke and
echoing voices.

Ned and Hal, holding their heads stiffly lest their caps should tumble
off, and wrapped in their blue capes like a cattle-man in his poncho,
sped to the corner mentioned by _The Clarion_ as the meeting place of
the "unattached." Here had gathered about fifty other blue capes and
red caps, and the number was slowly being swelled.

"Hi there!" hailed a marshal, spurring to them. "You men close in, in
column of fours, on the rear of the procession, as it passes by."

Off he tore again, while Ned and Hal felt not a little elated at having
been classed among the "men."

The parade started. Drums commenced to beat time, bands commenced to
play, and forth into the surrounding darkness flowed a little stream of
lights as if the sea of torches had sprung a-leak, and was trickling
down the street.

Hal and Ned had a good view of the make-up of the procession; but they
were impatient to become, themselves, a part of it, and fretted at the
delay.

"There comes the last!" exclaimed a self-appointed leader. "Get ready,
four abreast!"

In the confusion caused by forming some semblance of ranks, the two
boys found themselves elbowed aside by tall men who didn't want to be
made to look ridiculous, and by short men who didn't wish to be classed
with "kids," and by medium sized men who evidently never had been
boys--and finally, when the whole had been divided by four, Ned and Hal
found themselves sifted back to the rear, as remainders!

Nobody seemed to notice them or their plight. For a moment they were
dismayed.

"Aw, don't let's care," said Ned, bluffly. "We can march, just the
same."

"Of course," responded Hal. "And it's more fun to be two," he added,
defiantly.

The column moved jerkily past, "hitching" along, after the manner of
all processions in starting, as though it was learning to walk. When
the tail came opposite, the blue capes joined themselves to it, and now
the parade moved off, complete--a whip lash of bobbing lights, with the
blue capes forming the snapper, and Ned and Hal being the frayed tip.

Bands played conflicting tunes; flambeaux flared and red fire glared;
transparencies curtsied and turned themselves about for approval; the
people lined up along the curb upon either side of the route hooted
and cheered.

Away at the end Ned and Hal proudly held their torches as high as they
could, and tried to keep step with the men in front of them. Theirs was
the most uncomfortable station in the line. All the dust, and the soot
and reek from the kerosene drifted back to enfold them; the red fire
was burned out before they arrived, and likewise the spectators had
done their cheering and were taking short cuts to other points. Worse
than all this, as the rear of the procession filed by the onlookers
crowded in behind it, and fairly stepped on the heels of the two boys.

The parade was now about to traverse a section of South Beaufort--and
Ned and Hal, realizing that they were nearing the enemy's country, grew
a little nervous. It was at no little risk that a boy from Beaufort
proper crossed the dead-line into South Beaufort--the lurking place of
the Conners, and "Slim" and "Fat" Sullivan, and Luke McCoy, and "Big"
Mike Farr and "Loppy" Lynch, and the rest of the "gang"!

However, it was too late to back out. The rear guard must hold its post.

Hardly had the tail of the procession passed over the South Beaufort
threshold, when rose the jeering cry:

"The kids! Say, catch on to the kids hangin' on behind!"

A lump of dirt slapped against Ned's oilcloth cape. Another knocked
Hal's cap askew. Small lads and girls pressed close upon them and
threatened and mocked, while big brothers and sisters in the background
encouraged.

The two boys pretended not to notice, but looked straight ahead while
earnestly wishing that they were again in their own district.

But the worst was coming.

The nagging urchins, urged on from all sides, waxed bolder, and began
to jerk at the boys' capes, so that both were being compelled to
struggle along like engines towing a line of cars.

This was getting to be too much.

"Oh, let go, will you!" growled Ned, crossly, turning and giving his
foremost tormentor a sharp push.

"Hi, Mike, he hit your brother!" delightedly rose a chorus of voices.

"Sock it to him, Patsy! Don't you stand it!" advised others.

"Aw, Patsy! To let a feller like him hit yer!" jeered still others.

Thus egged on, Patsy, who was not even up to Ned's shoulders, doubled
his scrawny, dirty fists, and scowled fiercely.

"What did you hit me fer? I wasn't doin' nothin'," he demanded.

"I didn't hit you. You were too!" replied Ned, seeking to go on. But
too late. He was hemmed about, as through magic, by a circle which cut
him off from Hal and from the procession.

The parade with the blue cape snapper went its way, unaware that it had
lost its frayed tip, for Hal, too, was having his troubles.

"G'wan!" sneered Ned's mite of a foe, hunching himself forward, brave
in his knowledge that the majority was with him.

"Soak it to him, Patsy," howled the ring of spectators.

They took up the playful practice of shoving one another against Ned,
who, like a baited bear, was assailed from all sides.

"G'wan!" piped Patsy, again, trampling on Ned's toes.

Somebody smartly knocked Ned's cap off. Somebody reached over and
wrenched at his torch, and while he was striving to keep it his cape
was neatly turned over his head just as Patsy struck him a stinging
blow on the mouth.

Blinded in his cape, poor Ned floundered here and there, jostled,
kicked, and beaten, until he thought that his last hour had come. He
lost his cap, and he lost his torch, and finally the fastenings of his
cape gave way and he lost it, too. This proved lucky, for with a plunge
he broke the ring hemming him in, and in the mix-up escaped.

He was discovered.

"Here he is!"

"Stop him!"

"Head him off!"

"Kill him!"

Ned, never doubting that they would "kill him" if they caught him,
darted down the street, and into an alley, his laughing, whooping
pursuers full tilt after him. Over fences, through yards, breathless,
desperate, hunted, dodged Ned, and the hue and cry died in the
distance. He ventured out upon a street, and slackened to a walk.

Bareheaded, bruised and aching, his trappings in the hands of the
enemy, he cared no more for the parade. He went straight home.

As he neared the gate, he saw a figure sitting on the horse-block
before it.

"Is that you, Hal?" he asked.

"Yes," said Hal. "Did they hurt you?"

"No--not much," asserted Ned, going to the horse-block. "Did they jump
on you, too?"

"Yes," said Hal, with a little sob in his voice. "They grabbed me from
behind, and held me, and then somebody hit me, and then they all piled
on me--the dirty cowards."

"So they did on me," announced Ned, knowing that misery loves company.

"They don't fight fair!" sobbed Hal. "And they took my cap and cape and
torch."

"Mine, too," said Ned. "But I'll get my father to explain so the men
won't think we stole them. And we'll get even with that South Beaufort
gang, some day."

"You bet we will," vowed Hal, pulling himself together. "They didn't
hurt me much, only they didn't give me any chance."

The boys compared notes, and found that neither was damaged beyond a
few bruises, and their wounded spirits. They spent an hour going over
plans to get even; the best seemed to be to enlist all their friends
for the Democratic parade, and march through South Beaufort, and when
the moment came, to turn on the "gang" and simply annihilate it.

However, this plan did not ripen, mainly because the Democratic parade
was prevented by rain.



CHAPTER X

THE TROUBLE AT BREEDE'S HILL


"Ned--oh, Ned! It's snowing!" called Mr. Miller, up the stairs.

"Bully!" called back Ned, bouncing out of that bed which only a moment
before he had been loth to leave.

He jumped to the window, and gazed out. The big flakes swirled against
the pane at the end of his nose. Air and earth were white.

"Bully!" again exclaimed Ned, hustling on his clothes.

The affair of the campaign parade was now only an irritating memory;
a president and vice-president had been elected; processions were a
thing of the past, with the Republican county central committee short
two torches, two caps, and two capes; winter had arrived with a swoop,
sending the wild fowl scurrying for the gulf; Thanksgiving--a snapping
cold Thanksgiving of skating and appetites--was over; and still upon
the frozen ground no snow had fallen.

But here it was, at last, with a vengeance.

"Walks to clean, Neddie," teased his mother.

"I don't care," retorted Ned, from his room.

"There! Don't forget that you've said it," laughed his mother.

Now at the beginning of the winter it seemed to Ned that he would as
soon as not shovel walks. Anything that had to do with snow was fun.

All day the snow fell. At first it was in the shape of big, feathery
flakes which clung to everything that they touched. Then, when a good
thick coating had been given the world, down came the gritty, small
flakes, sifting upon their larger predecessors, and piling up for two
feet.

Thus, at the bottom was the layer of damp "packing" snow, and at the
top was the colder, freezing layer. Conditions for coasting could not
have been better had the Beaufort young people planned and carried out
to suit themselves.

Moreover, to-day was Thursday. By Saturday Breede's Hill would be in
prime condition.

With the approach of night the downfall slackened. Through all the town
sounded the scrape, scrape of the snow-shovel. Ned added his note to
the harmony, for he had a front walk, and a walk around the house, and
a path to the barn, and one to the wood-shed to clean, besides a few
trimmings such as the horse-block, and the steps and porches.

Bob welcomed the snow with great zest. He frolicked and barked, and
scooped up mouthfuls in defiance of the theory that eating snow gives
one the sore throat. No doubt he barked so much that his throat did not
have time to get sore.

Dogs have their own rules of hygiene, anyway.

Ned's sled had been brought out from summer quarters in the attic,
and had been waiting on the back porch for quite a month. Although, on
account of his extra chores, he could not use it at once, during his
labors between school and supper he could not resist giving it a moment
of exercise--just to limber it up. It left a red trail of rust; but he
knew that the rust would soon wear off.

This sled of Ned's was a novelty, and the joy of his heart. It was
of clipper pattern, but very low--not more than four inches from the
ground. It had sharp points, longer than its body; when Ned flopped
upon it the points stuck far out before, and his legs stuck far out
behind. The runners were round steel, and well sprung. How that sled
did go! It was no good for ruts, or for deep snow, but given a smooth
track it could beat any sled in Beaufort. No matter how icy the hill,
when other sleds had a tendency to veer and drift sideways this little
sled darted straight as an arrow beyond the mark of all.

Sighing because now was night instead of morning Ned restored the sled,
with a fond pat of promise, to its corner, and went in to supper,
whither he had been drawn for some time by the delicious sizzling of
fried mush.

Friday broke bright as a new dollar, with sunshine that proved just
warm enough to soften the snow and settle it. Around school passed the
word among Ned and Hal and Tom and kindred spirits to "come to Breede's
Hill and help break it."

Breede's Hill--ah, but that was a hill for you! Two blocks of slope
and two blocks more of slide, and all, in the height of the season, as
smooth as oil! Here were four blocks of street practically given over
to the coasters. For a driver to try the slippery incline, either on
wheels or on runners, was foolhardy; while to cross at the base was to
invite a sudden attack from catapult bob or sled.

A bob had been known to scoot right between the wheels of a wagon, and
not hurt a thing, so swift was it going; and Ned himself, horrified,
unable to stop, had taken the legs from under a stupid cow; but when
she had reached the snow with a thump he had been far away.

Breede's Hill had been so dubbed by some history enthusiast; on the
next street south was Bunker Hill, in like manner named. It was not a
proper hill for coasting, being rocky, and having a sharp curve.

On this Friday afternoon after school Ned, accompanied by Bob, gaily
dragged his snake-like sled to Breede's Hill. Here he and a dozen
others toiled lustily for an hour and a half, breaking a track. One or
two sleighs had been along the road, but the snow lay deep and white,
with its possibilities still undeveloped.

It was necessary to tramp the snow down, and drag sleds through it,
sideways, and even to roll in it, in order to clear a path which, under
the friction of the runners, should become hard and "slick."

To the tramping and scraping, and frolicsome rolling Bob lent nothing
but his noisy good-will and applause. One would have thought, noting
his hilarity, that the snow and the boys had come together simply for
his entertainment!

Finally a track deemed worthy of being tested had been leveled, and the
first coast of the season was made, with a whoop of joy, by the other
bob in the party--the bob-sled.

Farther and farther, each time, went the bob, with the single
sleds--all but that of Ned--in the party, bringing up behind. Ned rode
on the bob, until the moment when the track should be hard and fit for
his low clipper.

This was the only drawback to that pride of his heart: it was useless
in loose snow, or in ruts.

At dark, by dint of much play which seemed like work, Breede's Hill
was fit for the final polishing, by a hundred and more runners, on the
morrow. Ned went home, and Bob went home, and the other boys went home,
hungry and well satisfied; and none was more hungry or more satisfied
than Bob, who had done the least and fussed the most.

"Say--but the hill is getting dandy!" exclaimed Ned, at dinner,
Saturday, to which he had come panting and damp and perfectly empty.

"So you're tired of that gun, already, are you, Neddie?" remarked his
mother, quietly.

"My, no!" denied Ned, in alarm. "But the hill's splendid, anyway. It's
almost slick as glass."

"The whole town will be there, this afternoon," he added, poising a
generous mouthful of apple pie.

"I won't be there," said his mother.

"Nor I," said his father.

"Well, all the kids and girls will," explained Ned; and the chunk of
pie disappeared, to fill some mysterious crevice inside. "Shoveling
in fuel," his father termed Ned's eating during the cold weather;
but whether the statement was true or a joke, the reader must judge
according to his own experience.

That afternoon it really did seem that Ned had not exaggerated.
Breede's Hill was in its glory, and "the whole town" was on hand, with
sleds of all descriptions.

The track had been packed solid, and glistened in the glancing rays of
the sun. Downward sped, with shrill shrieks from the girls and wild
halloos of warning from the boys, a torrent of figures showing black
against the white background; and upward toiled, along either side of
the torrent, a swarm of other black figures, to halt, and gather, and
turn at the crest.

Bob was there, a privileged character. Not a dog in Beaufort was so
widely or favorably known. What fun he found here at a place where he
was almost the only one whose legs had to take him down hill as well
as up, is a problem. Like a flash Ned on his clipper shot from top to
bottom--and skirting the track, with tongue out and with excited yelps,
falling farther and farther behind, after him raced Bob, not to catch
him until the sled had stopped. Up trudged Ned, hauling his sled, with
Bob at last by his heels; and the performance was repeated.

At the hill all now was gaiety and glee. The only thing to mar, ever so
slightly, the sport, was the presence of a party from South Beaufort.
Eight strong they had arrived, with their bob; and discoloring the snow
with tobacco, and swearing freely, they had proceeded to impress the
others with their importance.

However, beyond elbowing their way about freely, and profaning snow
and air, and acting just as they pleased, they had made no especial
trouble, and Ned and the other boys tried to pay no attention to them.

By this time two grooves had been worn in the track, and along them
rushed, with no steering needed, the sleds great and small. The street
crossings were hair-raising bumps, which caused each sled to leap like
a frightened colt. Highest of all bounced Ned on his light clipper, and
farthest of all he went, setting a mark which none could touch. Still
firm in his faith that some time he would catch him was Bob, racing
madly down, and panting sedately up.

At last merely sliding down hill ceased to prove of much interest to
the South Beauforters. Trouble was what they wanted; trouble they would
have; and the meaner the brand the better it would suit them.

They began to bully the smaller boys, and to blockade, as though by
accident, but really with sly malice, the steps of the larger. They
sent girls' sleds careening down the slope, and in a hundred ways made
themselves a dread and an annoyance.

"Come on, Ned, let's go home," pleaded little Tennie Loders, who lived
near Ned, plucking him by the sleeve. "I'm cold."

"He's afraid," scoffed Sam Higgs. "That's what's the matter with him."

"You run along, Tennie," said Ned. "But I'm not going to leave till I
get good and ready. Nobody's going to drive _me_ off, you bet."

"Who's tryin' to drive you off? Say, kid, who's tryin' to drive you
off?" sneered Big Mike Farr, who overheard.

"I didn't say anybody was, did I?" returned Ned, stoutly.

"Well, don't go shootin' off your lip 'round here, then," grumbled Big
Mike, in an ugly tone. He waited to see if Ned wouldn't answer back and
give him a better chance to force a fight; but Ned never spoke a word,
and the South Beauforter slouched back among his fellows, while they
laughed loudly.

For a brief space the coasting continued without especial incident.
However, this was only a lull, during which the South Beauforters were
but biding their chance. Presently it came.

As they artfully lingered around their bob-sled, at the end of the
track, they saw Ned, head on, sweeping toward them upon his clipper.
Just as he reached them they neatly jerked their heavy bob square
across his path. There was no time for him to swerve. With a thud he
struck broadside the rearmost of the two sleds. The clipper stopped
short, as though killed; but Ned himself went plunging on, clear over
the bob, to plough the snow and slush with face and hands and stomach.

He scrambled up wet, furious, yet willing, if allowed, to accept the
mishap as a bit of rude joking. He felt that discretion was here the
better part of valor.

However, he was not given any choice in the matter.

"Say," accosted Big Mike, again, as Ned walked forward, while brushing
himself off, to get his sled, "what do you mean by runnin' into us?
Ain't you got eyes?"

"I couldn't help it," said Ned. "I didn't have time to turn out."

"You did, too," snarled a Conner, giving Ned's innocent clipper a
vicious kick into the ditch.

"I didn't. You pulled your bob across the track on purpose--you know
you did," accused Ned, goaded beyond bearing.

The words were attracting a little knot of spectators and listeners,
and as Ned started to rescue his beloved sled from the ditch Bob nosed
into the circle, seeking him. Whereupon a South Beauforter planted his
toe in Bob's astonished ribs.

"Ki yi! yi, yi, yi!" yelped Bob, and the sound was to Ned a bugle call
to action.

"Here--you'd better not do that again!" he warned, returning with a
spring.

"Do what again?" demanded Big Mike, threateningly.

"Hurt that dog. He's never done anything to you," asserted Ned, his
blood up in defense of his faithful partner.

"Aw, who's hurtin' yer dog?" scoffed Big Mike--at the same instant
aiming another blow at Bob, shivering close against his master's legs.

Ned responded with a violent shove that nearly took the South
Beauforter off his feet.

"Hit him, Mike!"

"Smash him one in the jaw!"

"Aw, I wouldn't stan' that from nobody!"

"Paste it to him!"

"He's the cully what struck Patsy!"

Amid this clamor from his backers Big Mike doubled his fists and stuck
his face close up to Ned's.

"Who you shovin', anyway?" he snarled, treading on Ned's toes, at the
same time shouldering him violently backward.

"You!" answered Ned, boldly, recovering his balance.

"Don't take any of his lip!"

"Punch him in the nose!"

"Aw, Mike! 'Feared of a kid like that!"

Thus urged, and with his gang pressing closer and closer about them,
Big Mike swung his clenched hands back and forth, menacingly, and
growled:

"Tryin' to pick a fight, ain't ye? I've a notion to lam the tar out o'
you!"

"You can't do it, alone," challenged Ned. "You know your gang will
pitch in and help, if you're getting licked."

"Naw, we won't. Of course we won't," cried the South Beauforters, in a
chorus. "It'll be fair play; sure it will!"

Ned knew that this was a lie. The South Beauforters never fought fair.
They were wolves, attacking from both front and rear, and five to one.
Besides, they bit and kicked and gouged, and had no mercy. Fair? Not
much!

Ned gazed hastily around the circle, seeking some one who might second
him, and protect his back. But of Hal or Tom or others of his chums he
saw not a sign. They must be at the top of the hill, or climbing, and
ignorant of his fix.

His heart sank a little.

However, he was not afraid of Big Mike, in a fair fight. "Big Mike" had
been thus nicknamed because he had been overgrown; but now, stunted
as he was by tobacco and by evil habits, flat-footed and with hulking
shoulders, no longer was he large for his age. Ned, on his own part,
had been leaping ahead by inches, until now he equaled Mike in height,
although considerably outweighed. But whatever advantage came to the
one from weight was more than balanced by the other's wiriness and
strength of limb gained on river and in wood and field.

Ned was not given much time in which to look about or debate over his
situation. Shoved by a member of the gang, after the fashion of the
kind, Big Mike came jamming into him, and swinging at the same time
cuffed him a blow on the ear. At this Ned poked stiffly upward with his
right fist, and his knuckles met Big Mike's teeth.

Big Mike backed away a step, and dabbled at his mouth with his fingers.

"Say--did you go to do that?" he roared.

"You hit me first," replied Ned, angrily.

With a volley of oaths, and a kick and a blow delivered together, Big
Mike charged at him--a regular wildcat.

A little murmur of "Oh's" and "Ah's" went up from Ned's sympathizers.

"Give it to him, Mike! Give it to him!" cheered the South Beauforters,
crazy with delight.

The blow took Ned on the top of the head; but the kick fell short. Ned
grabbed the leg and heaved up on it, until Big Mike tottered and took a
heavy fall.

He was on his feet in an instant, and with head down butted for Ned's
stomach. Hindered by the crafty gang Ned could do nothing but accept
the attack, and bump his opponent's nose with his lifted knee; and now
Big Mike, head into his stomach, had him tightly about the waist and
was striving to bend him backward. Ned doubled forward and while trying
to keep his balance reached under and punched Big Mike's face.

It was a deadlock, Big Mike straining, and Ned poking, and neither much
the worse off.

But the South Beauforters could not hold back any longer. Weaving in
and out so as always to be back of Ned as the fighters shifted and
struggled in a circle, they aimed treacherous blows at him; and at this
crisis little Patsy, keen to aid his brother, darting in seized Ned by
the ankles and enabled Big Mike to bring him to the ground.

"Shame! No fair!" cried indignant boys and girls.

Even at this juncture Ned was by no means defeated. His blood was
roused, and he felt that he was battling for his life. Big Mike tried
to sit astride of him, but he might as well have tried to sit on an
eel. Ned wriggled and twisted, and out of the rough-and-tumble behold
the picture of Ned on the top; with Big Mike's hands clenched in his
hair, it is true; but nevertheless, Ned on top!

To off-set the hair-grip, his thumb was against the side of Big Mike's
nose, pressing that individual's head sidewise until his cheek was in
the slush.

It was not a picture of beauty. Big Mike's lips were bleeding, and
Ned's left eye was inflamed where Big Mike had brutally stuck a thumb,
to gouge. The faces of both were red, and Ned's necktie was streaming
over his shoulder.

Nor was the picture pleasing to Big Mike's cronies. Their champion was
in the worse position of the two. So the Conners, with a curt command:
"Aw, get off of him, will you!" jumped in and obligingly turned the
pair over.

This was the South Beaufort way of winning fights.

In the meantime little Zu-zu Pearce, leaving the other girls, who, with
awe-stricken faces and throbbing hearts, unable to tear themselves
away, lingered on the outskirts, ran with all her might for the hill.
Up the slope she labored, slipping and puffing, until near the top she
overtook her brother, and Hal and a half dozen others, trudging with
their bob for the crest and a coast.

"Tom!" screamed Zu-zu, frantically. "Oh, Tom--the South Beaufort
fellows have got Ned Miller at the bottom of the hill, and are beating
him awful! They won't let him fight Big Mike fair."

"Gee! Come on, fellows!" exclaimed Tom; and in a jiffy the bob was
jerked about, and with the boys recklessly piling on was speeding down
the track, for the fight.

Close in their wake sped also a following of single sleds--for the news
had spread like lightning.

"Goody! Here they come!" cried the anxious girls, dancing in joy. "Oh,
hurry, hurry!"

Slim Conner heard, and glimpsed the reinforcements dashing down the
slope for the scene. He heard the shouts, and his mind acted quickly:

"Cheese it, lads! Here's the hull crowd!" he warned, hoarsely.

"Come away, Mike!" warned Patsy, tugging at his brother.

Mike wrenched himself loose from the grip of the prostrate Ned, and
with a final kick at his victim's head ducked through the circle; and
off, up the road, ran the South Beauforters, dragging their bob.

Hal and Tom and the rest of the rescuers arrived too late, although
they had ditched their bob, without waiting for it to stop, and had
rolled into the midst of the ring.

A few of the boys chased the South Beauforters a block or two, just as
a threat; but Hal and Tom stayed to attend to Ned.

"Shucks, he didn't hurt me a bit," vowed Ned, scorning assistance as he
scrambled to his feet.

"You're going to have a black eye, all right enough, though," assured
Tom.

"Am I?" asked Ned, cautiously feeling of his injured face.

"Well, just the same he was licking Big Mike, if they hadn't all
pitched on to him!" declared Tennie Loders, stanchly.

"Look at my knuckles, where I hit him in the mouth, will you!" said
Ned, proudly.

"Here's your necktie, Ned," proffered Harriett Taylor, holding it out
to the hero of the hour.

Ned tied it on in a crooked knot, while the crowd watched him
admiringly.

"Where were you fellows? Who told you about it?" he queried.

"Why, we were going ahead coasting," explained Hal. "Zu-zu was the one
who told us, and then we came lickity-split."

"Bully for Zu-zu!" exclaimed Ned. "She's a dandy!"

"I had to run all the way up hill," said Zu-zu, modestly, just arriving.

"Well, I'll remember you, all right, for it," promised Ned. "I'll give
you ducks' wings till you can't rest."

"Oh, I didn't do it for that!" cried Zu-zu, skipping off.

"Do you want to go home, Ned?" inquired Hal, tenderly.

"No, of course not," declared Ned. "I'm going to slide some more. It'll
take more than a black eye to get me off this hill!"

And during this recent fracas, what of Bob--Bob, who brought on the
fray? The rule of romance demands that he should have launched himself
to Ned's aid, and put the enemy to flight with his teeth. But no; this
history must take a different course. Twice kicked by heavy boots, to
which he had done no wrong; trampled upon by many feet, and thrust
aside by many legs, quite regardless of the plight into which he had
forced his master, he had turned tail and had trotted for home.

In his own mind, he had been sorely abused; and with the spirits taken
out of him by the ill-treatment, he made straight for shelter.

When his master appeared, with eye now surrounded by a blue-black mat,
Bob, never considering it, seemed to think that himself, and not Ned,
had been the sufferer.



CHAPTER XI

THE ROUTING OF BIG MIKE


Although Bob was, as it seemed, so callous to Ned's black eye, not so
with the other members of the household.

Filled with recipes from his friends, for changing a black eye to
normal white, Ned returned home, and unseen save by Bob, gained his
room. He put in an anxious half hour experimenting; but at the end his
eye seemed blacker than ever--a dense, deep, wicked black. It seemed to
Ned that there was nothing to his face but that black eye; and assuming
a manner of unconcern he descended the stairs and went about his chores.

"N-Ned!" gasped his mother, meeting him in the kitchen. Maggie, the
girl, giggled. Ned dropped his armful of wood into the wood-box with
the usual crash, and answered, mildly, keeping his head down while he
pretended to arrange some of the sticks.

"Yes, ma'am?"

"Look up here."

Ned obeyed, trying to present only his white side.

"Why, what in the world have you been doing? Is that a bruise around
your eye, or is it dirt?"

"Bruise, I guess," responded Ned, shuffling his feet uneasily.

"Where did you get it?"

"Fight. Fellow stuck his thumb in it."

Ned wished that his mother would let him alone; but she would not.

"The very idea! Whom did you have a fight with?"

"Big Mike Farr--and I'd have licked him only they all jumped onto me."

"Come here and let me look at it," bade his mother, aghast.

Ned approached, sheepish in mien, yet determined to stick up for
himself in case she took him to task.

But she did not. She stood him by the sink, and while she treated his
wound with homely remedies, applied by soft touch, she let him tell his
battle-story. And when his story and his treatment had been finished
together, and he had emerged with a huge bandage encircling his crown
like a turban, she only sighed:

"Oh, Neddie! Why _will_ boys fight!"

"Indeed, ma'am, an' I for one am mighty glad that he wor havin' the
best of that Mike Farr," blurted Maggie, who had been listening with
approval. "Sure, Mike Farr is nothin' but a coward an' a blow. _I_ know
him; I know him well, bad cess to him."

"He's mean, _isn't_ he, Maggie?" appealed Ned.

"That he is. He'll come to the gallows; he will. An' all that South
Beaufort gang, too. Yes, I know 'em," declared Maggie, wagging her
head. "They're regular little divils."

"Maggie!" exclaimed Mrs. Miller, somewhat shocked.

"Well, they'd better not tackle us fellows again," asserted Ned,
swaggering out for another armful of wood.

Maggie gazed after him admiringly.

"Sure, an' I bet he's a fighter when he gets started," she mused. "Look
at them legs an' arms! An' Big Mike twice his size, too."

"Maggie," reproved Mrs. Miller, "I don't want you to encourage Ned in
fighting. I don't like it."

And she withdrew in dignity to the sitting-room, where, safe in
privacy, she did not know whether to laugh or be provoked. At any rate,
she did not relish the idea of her Neddie going about with a chip on
his shoulder, challenging boys "twice his size," according to Maggie.

Mr. Miller, coming home, from afar descried Ned's turban as it bobbed
around in the back yard.

"Hello," he hailed. "That's a new kind of cap, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir," smiled Ned. "And I've got a new eye, too. Want to see it?"
and advancing toward the front to meet his father he obligingly lifted
the bandage.

"Phew!" said Mr. Miller, gravely. "I think I prefer the old eye. Was
this a present?"

"I traded for it," laughed Ned.

His father put a hand on his shoulder, and together they entered the
house. Here Ned, helped out by his mother, again made his explanations.
At the close his father simply said:

"Well, Ned, I don't see how you could have acted any differently--but
I don't approve of fighting, any more than does your mother. Fighting
is not always a fair test of your side of a question, you know. It
is better to avoid a fight by every honorable means in your power.
Sometimes it is more cowardly to fight than to keep from fighting. But
if you can't avoid it," he added, quizzically; "if there's nothing left
to do, to save honor, but fight, then fight for all there is in you!"

"Will!" protested Mrs. Miller, horrified.

"But if I had to fight--just _had_ to fight--you'd want me to lick,
wouldn't you, mother?" appealed Ned.

"I can't bear to think of your fighting at all, Neddie," declared his
mother, firmly.

Ned's black eye went away rapidly--although not so rapidly as it had
come--and he was made to wear the bandage only a short time. For
this he was thankful, since warm weather arrived, and with it "good
packing"--and what boy can throw straight with but one eye.

At first the thaw improved the coasting, but in the end it spoiled it.
So long as the coasting lasted the South Beaufort gang continued to use
the hill, but no more fights occurred.

The two crowds let each other alone, carefully ignoring each other's
presence, the only exception being when Bob dropped his tail between
his legs, reminded of past insults, and raised the bristles on his
back, and when Ned and Big Mike exchanged scowls of mutual defiance.
In this by-play of looks Ned came off rather the worse, his eye still
showing up, while Big Mike was apparently as good--or as bad--as ever.

The careful truce, however, was merely the calm before the storm. Big
Mike and his companions were biding their time.

Much to Ned's disappointment, the thaw merged into a Saturday of foggy
drizzle, under which the snow silently ran away in water, instead of as
silently, but more slowly, vanishing as vapor into the air.

Bound to have what few coasts might yet be found on the hill, Ned
and Bob hastened there the moment that they had finished their early
morning chores--"their" chores, for Bob, although of no real help in a
manual way, always faithfully "stood by."

At the same time with Ned and Bob, arrived on the hill Hal and Tom.
Les' Porter, Orrie Lukes, and three or four other boys already were
there, and several more came within a few moments.

The coasting was miserable. The track was slush down to bare road, and
from top to bottom the sled-runners tore through with a "squshy" sound.
Ned's clipper loyally set out to carry him as far and as swiftly as
ever, but after a few trials he was obliged to retire it to one side,
and take a seat on Hal's bob.

So poor was the going, that when a party of South Beauforters appeared
at the crest, they looked on for a minute, sneeringly, and then
slouched away, bobs, and all, in the direction whence they had come.

"Good riddance!" scoffed Ned.

"Good riddance!" congratulated the crowd generally, following his
example.

Bob flaunted his tail at the retreating backs.

Half an hour passed. The coasters, now about twenty--including girls
and small boys--were, as it happened, for the most part at the top,
preparing to plough down again along the soft course, when "thud!"
"slap!" "biff!" into their midst tore a hail of snowballs, smashing on
face and body and sled.

"Ki!" yapped Bob, startled by a stinging missile.

"Ouch!" exclaimed Jeff Patting, clapping his hand to his cheek.

Before the astounded coasters could look around, hurtled upon them
another volley, escorted by a slogan of shrill, triumphant, vengeful
yells.

South Beauforters!

That riddance had not been so "good," after all. Reinforced, the party
was returning, and pouring from the mouth of a convenient alley, down
swept the enemy, to profit by his sudden approach.

Big Mike was there, and the Conners were there, and Patsy, as fierce as
any of them, was there. South Beaufort had been wily enough to use the
hill while the hill was usable; but at last, in this day of slush, it
was free to throw off its mask and declare war.

The coasters scattered. The small boys, some of them frightened or hurt
into crying, ran for home; the girls, with scornful looks, disdaining
to hurry, withdrew in fair order to a safe distance; and the larger
boys, diverging to different points of the compass as they essayed
to reply yet bring off their sleds safely, sought here and there for
refuge.

With taunting cries the South Beauforters attacked them viciously,
worrying their every step.

"Watch out! They're throwing 'soakers'!" warned Ned, as, keeping
together, he and Hal and Tom, dragging their bob, answering snowball
with snowball and taunt with taunt, stubbornly gave ground up the
opposite alley.

"Oh, Ned! You left your sled!" suddenly exclaimed Hal, stopping short.

"Say----!" uttered Ned, taking a hasty step toward the crest again.

But too late. The crest was in possession of the South Beauforters,
and at the moment they had discovered the clipper, deserted and lying
in the ditch! Big Mike it was who hauled it forth, Big Mike it was who
gleefully waggled its rope, Big Mike it was who whooped the loudest and
the most maddening.

"Hey! You leave that sled alone!" yelled Ned, shaking his fist.

"You come and get it!" retorted Big Mike.

"I would if you were alone," asserted Ned.

"Aw, I'll give you another black eye," gibed Mike, while Ned dodged one
well-aimed shot, and caught a second on the leg.

"Just you wait till we put up this bob," threatened Hal.

"Yes, 'just wait,'" mocked Big Mike and his gang.

The bob was put up in short order by chucking it over the alley fence
of Hal's home; then back rushed the boys, to re-engage the foe.

They resolved that Ned must have his sled, at all hazard. It was awful,
to think of it in the hands of that Mike. True little sled, the best
sled in town.

As for Bob the dog, for all the aid he was to them, they might as well
have chucked him, too, over the fence and left him. He was no good
when it came to this fighting at long range, and with his tail tightly
reefed, and his ears down, and an expression of intense discomfort, he
clung close to Ned's calves.

Bob was no coward, but what dog likes to have things thrown at him; and
Bob was under the delusion that every ball was aimed at him alone. He
couldn't understand.

So for the rest of this fight he must be content not to understand, and
to play but a minor part.

The South Beauforters, now having in mind no more worlds to conquer,
decided to return to their haunts. Laughing and swearing, they started
to tramp up the road; and freest of all in mouth and actions was Big
Mike, twitching behind him the unwilling clipper sled.

From the alley the three boys delivered a round of snowballs as a token
that the combat was on once more.

"Head 'em off! Cut through the yards!" cried Ned; over fences and
through the yards scurried the boys, and came out at the front of the
retreating foe.

"Give 'em 'soakers'!" urged Hal, squeezing a snowball between his knees.

"Soakers," as the name shows, are snowballs which have been soaked and
wrung out, so to speak. They are heavy, and hard, and when they hit,
hurt.

They are not lawful snowballs, but in a warfare of this kind they prove
very useful.

By this time other boys had put away their bobs and sleds, also, and
had hastened to wage battle. By this time, moreover, comrades far and
wide were getting the news, and dropping chore and game were rallying
to the scene.

Through yards, around corners, they sped; in ambush behind tree-box and
fence they waited; into the ranks of the South Beauforters rained the
missiles.

"Soakers" was the watchword--and with the slush so handy there was no
danger of ammunition running out.

On a small scale it was like that memorable retreat of the British
from Concord to Lexington. The South Beauforters were the British, and
the others were the minutemen.

Big Mike and his gang tried to reply to the constant fire; one of
their balls, thrown by Slim Conner, took Tom square on the nose as he
incautiously poked his head above the fence. A yell of triumph arose
from Slim and Co.

"Great Scott!" appealed Tom, ducking hastily, and touching his
finger-tips gingerly to the wound.

"Let's see, Tom," said Hal.

Tom uncovered his nose. The left side of it was skinned!

"They're putting rocks in their snowballs!" declared Ned. "Isn't that
just dirty mean, though!"

Tom, while somewhat disfigured, was by no means disabled, and now and
then feeling of his nose, continued the pursuit.

Peppered from every quarter, the South Beauforters began to waver, and
showed a tendency to hop, skip and jump along, and to turn corners on
the double quick. Presently, as by common consent, all broke into a
run, and the retreat became a flight.

The "soakers" were waxing altogether too deadly.

Up the middle of the street, elbows raised to protect heads, bolted
the South Beaufort gang, and after them, into the open, scuttled their
attackers, whooping like Indians. Even Bob mustered courage to wave his
tail, and bark.

From the outset the three boys, and Ned in particular, had selected Big
Mike as their especial target. Had "soakers" been bullets they would
have landed him long before; but the most they had done was to make him
curse them heartily when some telling ball reached the mark. And still
he had the clipper in tow.

"Drop that sled, you thief!" Ned kept calling, fiercely.

"Thief! Robber!" chimed in Ned's companions.

Closer the attackers drew their lines. Matters looked promising for a
general fight. The boys' blood was up, and Ned was bound to get that
sled. "Soakers" seemed not to do it, and there was nothing left but
fists.

At this crisis, just as the pursuers were closing in on the pursued,
and "soakers" at short range were on the point of giving way, unless
something unexpected occurred, to fisticuffs--then the unexpected _did_
occur!

Out of a cross-street whirled an empty lumber wagon, mounted on runners
and whisked behind two horses, from the South Beaufort mills. The South
Beauforters hailed it as sent by a special providence.

At any rate, the rescue was planned exactly right, and in nick of time.

Just as the bob turned into their path, they met it. Without causing
it to slacken its speed, and without themselves slackening, into the
high box they tumbled, Patsy, and the Conners, and Red Sullivan, and
all--all except Big Mike!

Gleefully looking behind, to place thumb on nose and wiggle his
fingers at Ned and crowd, he proved his own undoing. He slipped, and
sprawled--and away without him was borne his gang, with the driver, a
South Beauforter, laying lash on steeds.

But Big Mike did not sprawl long. Like a cat he sprang to his feet, and
dropping the clipper now sought only to save himself from his deserts.

Ned, who was fleeter than the others, was the nearest to him. On
clumped Big Mike, spurred by fear, in the trail of the faithless bob.
After him struggled Ned, spurred by wrath and only a few yards from his
heels. Behind them strung out the other pursuers.

Of the two, hare and hound, the latter, Ned, because he had been
scaling so many fences and making so many circuits, was the more
exhausted. However, he grimly hung on, and at the last Fortune rewarded
him.

The first limits of South Beaufort had been reached; Big Mike was on
familiar ground. The hare had been run to its hole. With a sudden
movement Big Mike changed his course at right angles, and darted for a
friendly alley.

Ned dug his heel into the slush, and drew back his arm, at the same
time. Awaiting opportunity, during all the chase he had been carrying
a pet "soaker." It had grown harder and harder, and now opportunity
bade "Ready!" Just as Big Mike, presenting the broadside of his face,
entered the alley, Ned, without halting, sped his snowball. The
"soaker," whizzing like a grape-shot, burst with an icy "smack" on Big
Mike's ear!

"Ow-w-w-w!" screeched Big Mike, the last bit of spunk taken out of him
by that sudden blow.

Ned, puffing, turned and rejoined his comrades, to receive
congratulations--and his clipper.

The next Monday it was rumored at school, on good authority, that Big
Mike had an ear on him looking like an over-ripe pear. Ned, hearing,
was pleased. He felt that his black eye had been avenged.



CHAPTER XII

THE LONG SKATE


Like the ill wind that nevertheless blows some good, the thaw, although
spoiling the coasting, opened the way for two weeks of the finest
skating that Beaufort had ever known. The snow had become water, but
the water now became ice.

For in the north Winter heard how his sovereignty was thus being
intruded upon by an o'er-anxious Spring, and in haste dispatched to the
scene General Bitter-Cold. With his force General Bitter-Cold arrived,
amid a flourish of trumpets, late one night. So well did he work that
by morning Beaufort and the country round-about was Winter's again.

He sealed each pond and stream with the seal of empire, and then
proceeded to fetter anew the mighty river.

Beaufort had a system of weather flags; and when, for some hours
preceding General Bitter-Cold's arrival, the cold-wave signal was
flown from the staff upon the town hall cupola, it was received by
Ned and his cronies, save Bob, with much delight. Bob, being rather
thin-skinned, much preferred spring, no matter how early it might come.

But with no snow left, and with the streets mud and water, Ned decided
that almost anything would be welcome.

"The paper says that the temperature will fall forty degrees by
morning," announced Mr. Miller, at supper.

"Won't that be fine, though!" asserted Ned.

"It won't be very fine for the poor people, however," suggested Mrs.
Miller.

Ned tried to look solemn, but the picture of the skating quite blotted
out that of the poor.

That night, as he sunk his cheek into his pillow, about to go to sleep,
he heard old Boreas sound a fanfare down the flue; and he chuckled and
blissfully cuddled into a ball.

In the barn loft Bob, at the end of his burrow amid the hay, raised
his head for a moment, inquiringly; then, with a shiver instead of a
chuckle, he, also, cuddled closer.

The next morning Ned was detailed to sprinkle ashes and sawdust upon
the various walks and paths belonging to the premises, so that the
other members of the household might venture out with safety. For
himself he left a narrow strip, leading from back stoop to barn,
unsprinkled; it was his private slide, and was a constant peril to
other back-yard visitors, notably Maggie and Bob.

There was now excellent skating on the flats, where several large ponds
had been formed and had readily frozen over. But the river yielded more
slowly. However, the zero weather was genuine, and had come to stay a
while. Grimly General Bitter-Cold did his work, day by day and night
by night building from either bank out toward midstream, until finally
a juncture had been made and over the channel itself had been spread a
crust of crystal.

So quickly this crust deepened and toughened, that soon an ice bridge
had been staked out, and teams were crossing from shore to shore.

The work of freezing had been done very quietly. On this account the
Mississippi was now like glass. All Beaufort went skating. The field
was unlimited, save as in the swiftest parts of the current the water
continued to show, sullen and black.

"We're going to skate down to Newton next Saturday," declared Ned,
confidently.

"It's good of you to tell us," remarked his father, mildly.

Ned was puzzled. He was not exactly sure what the tone of voice meant.

"Well, can't I?" he inquired.

"That is a problem," replied his father, bent upon teasing. "But I
should think that a boy who not an hour ago declared himself unequal
to the task of filling up two coal stoves might find considerable
difficulty."

"Oh, pshaw!" pouted Ned, the hit telling. "I mean, _may_ I?"

"Just as your mother says," answered his father. "We'll leave it to
her."

Ned's face did not express any great joy over this condition upon his
going. He knew so well what an amount of convincing his mother, always
timid, winter or summer, about the river, would take. Nevertheless, he
went boldly at his task.

"May I, mother?" he appealed to Mrs. Miller, who had been listening
with a smile on her face.

"Oh, Neddie! I don't believe the ice is safe!" she said.

"Pooh!" scoffed Ned. "It's more than two feet thick, right in the
channel. You just ought to see the big chunks they're cutting out for
next summer."

"But Newton's so far," objected his mother. "You wouldn't get back
until long after dark."

"Why, mother!" exclaimed Ned, quite out of patience. "It's only
fourteen miles and we can skate that in an hour and a half easy."

"I'm so afraid you'll run into an air-hole, or something, Neddie,"
pleaded his mother, unwilling to pull down her flag.

"There isn't a bit of danger," assured Ned, eagerly. "Lots of the
fellows have been down and back, and there's a regular path."

"Who, for instance?" suddenly chipped in his father. "'Lots of
fellows,' I find, is sometimes rather indefinite."

"Lou Ravens and 'Duke' Burke did it just the other afternoon," promptly
responded Ned.

"Still, since they are not centipedes it takes more than two boys to
make a path, you know, Ned," said his father, drily.

"But we could follow their skate marks--really we could, father," cried
Ned. "May I go, mother?"

"What do _you_ say, Will?" asked Mrs. Miller, seeking refuge in her
husband.

"Now that isn't fair," cried Ned. "Father said he'd leave it to you.
May I? It's just as safe as our back yard."

"You'll be very, very careful, and watch out for air-holes?" asked his
mother.

"Yes, I will," promised Ned.

"And be home before dark?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"And not take any risks?"

"No, ma'am."

Mrs. Miller looked doubtfully at her husband. Ned foresaw surrender,
and with a hug and a kiss he won her over.

"Then I may! May I? I may--may I? Mother, you're just as good as you
can be! And if you'll give me a quarter I can get some oyster soup at
Newton. Hal and Tom will. You see, we ought to have something warm, and
oyster soup is dandy when a fellow's empty."

"Ask your father," bade his mother, roguishly. "I've furnished the
permission, and he'll have to furnish the quarter."

And it seemed to Ned that his mother had come out rather ahead, in the
bargain.

It was not such a tremendously long skate upon which the boys started
Saturday morning. In a straight line it would be only twelve miles, but
by the bending river, and by the extra strokes that they would make in
picking out the best patches of ice, it would be nearer fifteen. So
down and back, it must be figured as thirty miles--only, the "back" was
to seem twenty times longer than the "down"!

Hal called for Ned, and together they made for the levee, where they
were to meet Tom. Ned thought that he had done the feat of slipping off
without Bob's seeing him. Bob was a very able dog, _in_ the water; but
_on_ the water he was of very little use whatsoever. If in a boat, he
became seasick; and if on ice, he slipped and slid.

When the boys arrived at the levee they found there not only Tom but
also Zu-zu and a girl friend of hers.

"Why, _you_ aren't going, are you, Zu-zu?" asked Ned, in surprise.

"No--but I would if mamma'd let me," replied Zu-zu, tossing her head.
"I could skate that far as easy as not."

"I bet you couldn't," said Hal.

"I could, too," insisted Zu-zu. "You needn't think that just because
we're girls we can't do anything."

"What made you bring Bob?" queried Tom.

"I didn't," said Ned.

Yet, at the moment Bob came sidling up from behind; grinning, begging
pardon, hopeful that he would be forgiven and taken. It was very, very
rarely that he stole such a march upon his master, for when he wasn't
wanted he usually had strength of mind enough to stay away. But to-day
had entered into his head the idea that, willy-nilly, he would make
one of the party; and keeping out of sight he had slyly sneaked along
upon the opposite side of the street from the two boys, until farther
dodging had been impossible.

"Bob! What are you doing here?" scolded Ned. "Aren't you 'shamed of
yourself!"

Bob was. He hugged the snow, and with his nervous tail confessed his
hopes and fears.

"Go home!" thundered Ned.

Bob flattened himself still more, willing to be whipped, but unwilling
to go home.

"Oh, Ned, don't hurt him," begged Zu-zu. "We'll take him back, won't
we, Bess? Poor Bobbie!"

"All right," responded Ned. "Only, he's a bad dog, just the same. He
knew he'd no business to come."

Zu-zu gave Bob a friendly little pat.

"You'd like to go, the same as us, wouldn't you, Bob?" she said. "And
we _would_ go, too, if we were only boys."

"Oh, I wouldn't be a boy," asserted Bessie.

"I would," averred Zu-zu.

Bob said nothing upon the subject. As a rule, he was quite satisfied
with being a dog. Zu-zu's touch and voice, and the fact that the
threshing did not descend, filled him with sudden energy. Up he sprang,
thinking the crisis over; bounding and barking he rejoiced mightily,
and bade his master rejoice with him. But on the contrary Ned paid him
not the slightest attention. Bob was a dog in disgrace.

Off the six went, the girls proudly keeping abreast just to show what
they could do, and Bob clawing behind, trying to prove that he was as
good as any one on the ice, but nevertheless making poor work of it
when it came to turning corners.

They passed the Diamond Jo warehouse, and Commodore Jones'
"boats-to-hire" establishment, where wintered under cover the
scull-boat; and still skirting the shore sped under the bridge, between
the first pier and the high stone base.

Here the girls must stop.

Here Bob must stop.

"Mother said this was as far as you could go, Zu-zu," reminded Tom.

"Bob, go home!" ordered Ned.

"Come on, Bob," cried Zu-zu.

"Good-bye," said the boys, gliding on.

Bob was astounded, disappointed, hurt. He had not been taken. All his
apologies had been for nothing. He was to be left with the girls!

He stood stock still, as if stunned, watching the receding figures of
the three boys. Then he lifted his nose, and voiced his feelings in a
piercing howl.

"Good-bye," again called Ned, turning and waving his hand.

"Good-bye, Ned," called Zu-zu, waving back at him.

"Wow-ow-ow-ow-u-u-u-u!" lamented Bob.

"When a dog howls it means somebody's going to die," croaked Hal.

"Well, I guess it's none of us, anyway," spoke Ned, quickly.

"How do you know?" argued Hal. "Maybe we'll skate into a hole."

"Oh, pish!" said Tom. "Shut up."

"Wow-ow-ow-ow-u-u-u-u!" still mourned Bob.

"Yes, I know; it's a shame, Bob," said Zu-zu, patting him. "We could go
just as well as they, couldn't we? Only they're boys, and we aren't."

Bob never gave her a glance. He turned his back on her, and looking
neither to one side nor the other, with his tail curved downward and
inward he climbed the bank, and headed for home.

"He's disgusted. Come on, Bess," laughed Zu-zu. So they skated up to
the levee again.

The morning was glorious, with the sunbeams glistening over the ice,
and the air full of little crystals. The river stretched broad and
flat; here and there a hummock, and here and there a change from dark
to light or from light to dark.

The steady rasp of the saws in the ice fields mingled with the angry
shriek of the circular steam saws in the lumber-mills. All sounds were
carried far, through this crisp atmosphere, over the level plain where
once had been rippling water.

The boys felt like Mercuries, with winged heels, so swiftly their
skate-blades bore them onward. Before they had uttered another word
they were at the head of Eagle Island. Here they had the choice of
taking Paper-mill Slough, or continuing upon the river proper.

"Let's go outside the island," suggested Ned. "They say the water that
comes from the paper-mill is so warm it eats away the ice, and that the
slough's chuck-full of air-holes."

Ned's picture was enough to remove any question as to routes, and down
along the outside of the island they dashed, their skates clinking a
merry tune.

At first they followed, as Ned had assured his father they could, a
"regular path," made by the skate-blades of numerous others. They
met nobody save three or four Hollanders from the island settlement;
odd-looking people on wooden skates, bound, with easy, graceful motion,
for town.

The tracks dwindled and dwindled, and presently there were none at all.
Not a person was in sight. Before the three lay the vast expanse of
ice, waiting to be explored.

What had become of those reputed marks of Lou Ravens and "Duke" Burke,
the frozen river said not, and the boys spent no time in searching.

Stillness reigned, broken only by the wood chopper's ax echoing from
the island, the cawing of the black crows crossing overhead, the
metallic rhythm of the skate-blades, and the rumbling groans of the ice
as it cracked for miles under the grip of the cold.

"My--isn't this fine!" cried Hal, spurting to relieve his spirits.

"I should say so!" agreed both his comrades, spurting also.

For a quarter of a mile they fairly flew.

In spots the ice was so smooth that they flitted over it with a
velvety, rocking sensation; in others it was of coarser grain, through
which their steel "zipped" only slightly less easily. In others it was
rough enough to make the blades clatter.

But all the time the trees and bushes of the shore spun by as when
viewed from the windows of a railroad train.

Now the ice was black and clear so that in shoal spots one could descry
the sand beneath. Now it was dense and milky. To glide suddenly from
the white ice upon the black was apt to give one a shock, for the black
looked like water.

Zigzagging upon their course, trying to select the better ice, and
ever keeping their eyes fixed before them in order to avoid air-holes,
the boys, at times in close file and at times considerably separated,
skated at full speed.

Gradually they cut away from the island side, and when they had reached
the foot of Eagle they were far out, toward the shore of the mainland,
opposite. Such a thing as slackening to rest never occurred to them.
The miles fell behind with no effort; in fact, the pace was so blissful
that the boys hardly cared to break the charm by talking, and only
risked an occasional, "Isn't _this_ bully, though!" when they skimmed
across a particularly glossy patch.

With the island out of the road, here the river was again a mile
wide--a vast sheet of ice, with a few narrow strips of sparkling blue
which denoted areas that never froze over.

The shore line bent inward, slightly, and looking down the mighty curve
the boys could already see Newton, the clustered houses forming the
background to a sandy sprit.

"I'll stump you not to stop once till we get there," challenged Hal to
his companions.

"All right," agreed Tom. "I could keep this up all day."

"So could I," asserted Ned, although his ankle, not so strong as it was
before the sprain, protested that _it_ couldn't.

Ned ought to have supported it by a strap; but he claimed that only
girls and molly-coddles wore straps.

Aiming straight for the village spire the three dashed on as though
they were dispatch bearers. "Clink, clink, clink," and the yellow dunes
of the shore danced past, and Newton steadily drew nearer.

A last glorious burst of speed, to prove how fresh they were, and up to
the Newton levee, fringed with skaters, they dashed. Panting, running
perspiration, with a flourish and a scrape they halted.

"There!" they congratulated themselves, all together.

Thus they might go back home, and boast that they had come those miles
without a stop--for although Tom had caught his toe in a crack and had
pitched headlong, even while sliding the fastest he had regained his
feet and continued his way.

They took off their skates, and went up town. As they climbed the levee
their feet felt very flat and awkward, as is only natural when one has
changed from flying to walking. Ned's ankle pained him like sixty, but
he minded it not.

There was not much to see in Newton. It had only the single business
street. However, they sauntered here and there for an hour, feeling
like distinguished visitors.

"Let's eat," at length spoke Ned.

His proposal was instantly adopted. They recalled a sign which stated
"Oysters in All Styles"; and presently they had clumped into a
little back room, and seated about a small round table were waiting
impatiently for "three stews."

"Say--but this tastes good!" sighed Ned, when they had drawn up their
chairs, and the first spoonfuls had gone down.

"Um-m-m-m-m!" mumbled his two companions.

The stews disappeared; also, disappeared crackers and butter and
pickles and celery. None of the boys ate pickles at home, but
everything tastes good after a fifteen mile skate!

They pushed back their chairs, and sat a moment in silent contentment.

"Well, what do you say to starting?" yawned Hal, whom the warm soup and
the close room were making sleepy. "Then we can take it easy."

So they arose, and stiffly passed out.

"You boys come down from Beaufort, didn't ye?" inquired the
storekeeper, as each, with the air of a millionaire, planked his
quarter down upon the glass cigar-case near the street door.

"Yes, sir," responded Tom and Ned together.

"Wa-al, if you're calculatin' on skatin' back I'd advise ye to be
settin' off," drawled the storekeeper. "It's gettin' ready fer a big
storm."

"Do you think it will storm right away?" asked Hal, anxiously.

"Can't say; but she's a comin', all right enough," assured the
storekeeper.

As soon as they were in the open air the boys could perceive a great
change in the atmosphere. The sun no longer shone. Everything was gray,
and the wind was wailing.

It blew full from the north. When they had left the levee, and were
headed for home, it was exactly in their teeth.

It was a gusty, mean wind; sweeping upon them, with naught to
interrupt it for miles and miles of ice, it at times almost took them
off their feet.

With heads down, and coats closely buttoned, they stanchly pushed on.

Very different was this from the trip out.

"Whew!" gasped Tom, when they paused, after having covered about a mile.

"We'll do like the geese, when they fly," proposed Ned. "I'll go first
for fifteen minutes, and break the wind, and then you fellows can take
your turns."

They started, this time in single file, with Ned leading, and Tom next
and Hal at the rear, all taking short, choppy strokes together. At the
end of fifteen minutes, according to Hal's watch--which his father had
given him instead of a gun--Ned dropped back and Tom came to the front.
Hal succeeded to Tom, until it was Ned's turn again.

This plan worked very well; in the unity of action, the regular,
unvarying stroke for stroke, was a certain force that carried them
forward famously.

At the end of an hour and a half Hal suddenly called, from his place at
the rear:

"Oh, fellows, stop a minute."

Tom and Ned looked behind. There was Hal, lying flat on the ice!

"I've got to rest," he explained, as the wind drifted them back upon
him. Evidently he was the weak one in the party.

"Get up," commanded Ned. "You'll get all stiff."

"I should say! You'll feel worse than you did before," chimed in Tom.

But Hal only lay and puffed.

"It's snowing!" exclaimed Ned. "Come on, Hal; we've got to get home."

Hard particles of snow were rushing with the wind, cutting through the
air and scudding along over the ice.

Hal clambered to his feet, and the three lamely started again. The stop
had stiffened not only Hal, but also the other two, and it required
some effort to limber up once more.

The snow increased, coming in blinding squalls. The wind was keen and
raw. The boys kept on as before, now swinging their arms, now skating
with arms behind the back, and in other ways trying to ease their labor
by variety, until soon they were appealed to by Hal to stop again.

"You needn't lead any more, Hal," said Ned. "Need he, Tom? We can break
the wind, and he can keep behind."

"Of course," agreed Tom, stoutly.

But even then poor Hal needed frequent halts; he was doing his best,
only his best was not so good as the best of the two others. Tom, also,
began to be in distress. As for Ned, his weak ankle burned like fire.

The snow grew thicker, whirling out of the north, and with a wall of
white resisting their advance. The ice was covered, so that their skate
blades threw up little furrows. Now black ice and milk ice, rough and
smooth, looked alike, and over the air-holes was spread a treacherous
curtain.

"Come on, Hal! Don't lie down!" urged Ned.

"I can't. I'm tuckered!" gasped Hal. "You fellows go ahead, and let me
freeze."

"No, we won't do any such thing," declared Ned. "I tell you--we'll land
on Eagle and walk up it as far as we can. Walking will be a change."

Tom said nothing, but his lips were white.

The foot of Eagle was still over a mile beyond; how far they did not
know, because they could not see the shore on either hand. They were
alone in a trackless desert.

"You _must_ come, Hal," bade Ned, stooping and raising him. "Tom and
I'll push you."

"No, I'm going to freeze. That's what Bob's howling meant!" moaned Hal,
dismally.

But Ned and Tom each took an arm, and with him between them valiantly
struggled on. And it _was_ a struggle, with Ned doing most of the
pushing, and Tom having hard work to stand up for himself, and Hal a
dead weight.

After they had floundered on, in this way, with pauses to catch breath,
for seemingly a thousand miles, the wooded end of Eagle showed darkly
through the driving storm.

"Hurrah. There it is, Hal!" cheered Ned.

His ankle had ceased to pain him; it had lapsed from fire to an icy
numbness. Now it kept turning under him and his strokes were irregular
and lacked force. Tom, still thinking that he was helping Hal, was
walking on his skates, rather than skating. Ned was the only one who
talked. Hal was heart-sick, and Tom was one of those chaps who simply
press their lips the tighter, and plod on until they drop.

Eagle approached, oh, so slowly. Risking the danger of possibly thin
ice close in shore, Ned, pushing Hal, and with Tom stubbornly stumbling
along on the other side, strove for the point.

"There!" breathed Ned, as all three had done before, at the Newton
levee. This time, however, he was the only one to say it.

They flopped down among the brittle bushes, for a rest. It seemed good
to be on land--bleak as the spot was.

Presently Ned, arousing himself, kicked off his skates, and while Tom
was fumbling with his, removed those of the passive Hal, also.

Ned stood up. Tom stood up. Hal tried, and fell back.

"Hal, you must!" again ordered Ned. "Don't be a baby!"

"I'm _not_ a baby!" sobbed Hal, stung to the quick, and staggering to
his feet.

Tom looked on, saying nothing.

Off they went. As they warmed to their work, they found that walking
was an agreeable change. The wind was broken by the trees, and although
it wailed and roared, and the snow sifted in their faces, still they
were far more comfortable than they had been upon the river.

Hal pluckily braced up, and would take no more help. Tom made no sign
either way. Ned sang and whistled and joked, all by himself, and ever
one leg from the knee down was only a dead weight. Sometimes he stole a
glance at it to make sure that it was there.

Eagle Island seemed deserted. In all their long, dreary march,
slipping, tripping, faint with hunger and wet with snow and
perspiration, they saw not a house, nor heard, save Ned's, a human
voice.

When they reached the edge of the woods, they found that they had cut
across the island, and were at the Paper-mill Slough.

Here Hal broke down again.

"You aren't going to walk the slough, are you?" he whimpered, seeing
that Tom and Ned were hobbling on, without swerving.

"Sure. Why not?" answered Ned. "We want to get home, and that's the
quickest way, isn't it?"

"I'm afraid. The slough's all full of air-holes!" faltered Hal,
beginning to cry afresh from weariness and fear.

"We'll go first, Hal," comforted Ned. "You aren't afraid to follow in
our tracks, are you? See--Tom's half way across already."

For Tom had never paused, but had trudged ahead like a machine.

"N-no," said Hal, trying to be brave, and not think of Bob's howling.

It was dark. The slough was ghostly, and the farther shore was but a
dim line. Here and there a light glimmered; northward were more lights,
and Beaufort.

A couple of miles, and they would be home.

Over the slough stumped Ned; behind him trailed Hal, sobbing and
moaning, but coming on, just the same. It was no use for them to pick
their way. Air-hole and solid crust looked alike. And while the ice
cracked under them, sending their hearts into their mouths, and the
wind lashed them and the snow blinded them, they pushed forward and
arrived in safety at the mainland. Tom was waiting for them, like a
statue.

South Beaufort did not interfere with them as they toiled through it.
Big Mike and the Conners and all were housed from the blasts. As they
gained their own more familiar territory Hal blurted, suddenly:

"I'm sorry I was scared, fellows. But Bob howled so like the dickens
that I thought something was going to happen."

"Oh, pish!" muttered Tom--the first time in hours that he had spoken a
word.

"That's all right," said Ned. "Hal had more grit than _any_ of us,
because he came ahead even though he _was_ scared."

Mrs. Miller was half frantic, and even Mr. Miller, sure as he was that
Ned would "turn up," was getting restive, when Ned tramped upon the
front porch and in through the welcoming door.

"Oh, Neddie!" cried his mother.

"Don't scold me. I'm so tired!" pleaded Ned, now feeling free to give
in.

He pitched into a chair before the sitting-room stove, and they removed
his cap and scarf and mittens, and pulled off his boots. After he had
swallowed some warm supper, and had stammered his tale, he stumbled to
bed; and his ankle throbbed, throbbed, throbbed, through all the night.

The next day he was on crutches again. Hal reported as well as ever.
It was Tom, the silent, dogged Tom, who fared the worst, just as he
had said the least. For a month he was sick from the strain and the
exposure.



CHAPTER XIII

AN UNEXPECTED BAG


Spring came early, but none too early for the majority of Beaufort
people. In particular, none too early for Ned, whose ankle was proving
a check on his farther winter sports; and none too early for Tom, to
whom Christmas had brought a gun which he had hardly been able to use
even on rabbits; and none too early for Bob, who, as has been said, was
not a cold-weather dog.

With the advent of the south winds and the steady dripping thaw,
Ned's ankle and Tom's cough--keepsakes from that memorable Newton
trip--rapidly disappeared; and the nearer ventured the ducks,
the stronger felt the two boys. Together--Tom no longer Ned's
squire, but now, by virtue of that Christmas present, become his
brother-at-arms--they haunted the levee, watching for the flight to set
in and the ice to go out.

Bob accompanied them. But he was not especially interested in ducks.
Dread of gun forbade him to hunt them, alive; and instinct forbade him
to gnaw the bones of them, dead. Summer really was Bob's only unclouded
season, for then he could share in all Ned's excursions. Still, even a
dog cannot go through life without trials.

All through the spring vacation that ice which had made such good
skating on the Mississippi hung and hung, regardless of the fact that
its mission had been fulfilled, and that it ought to leave the field
to the hunters. Meanwhile the wild fowl had been making use of the
Missouri waterway; and when, at last, the blockade in the Mississippi
was lifted, and in the shape of enormous floes of slush swept down the
channel, mashing against the piers of the Beaufort bridge and piling up
on the shores, the relief was too late.

Most of the ducks had passed by, on another route, and Ned and Tom had
killed never a one.

Tom was disappointed beyond measure. His new gun yearned for its first
duck, and but illy submitted to the superior blood-record of Ned's gun.
Probably this is why, in its mistaken zeal, it brought to bag what it
did.

The duck crop being a failure, the boys had to content themselves with
the snipe crop. After the ducks, save now and then a wood-duck or a
blue-winged teal which had decided to stay all summer, were beyond
reach of even a thirteen-inch cannon, not to speak of a twelve gauge
single-barrel, jack snipe and plover still lingered in the marshes and
along the edges of the streams.

It was the second Saturday in April, and Ned and Tom were among the
sloughs across the river, raking the country for whatever might be so
unlucky as to offer itself as an acceptable target. The withdrawal of
the ice from the Mississippi had given release to that in the sloughs,
and everything was springlike and green and watery.

Now it was afternoon. As to what the boys had thus far secured, the
less said, the better. Of course, one cannot have good luck on every
trip. But there was a chance, yet, to round out the day well, had not
Tom's gun, impatient and unruly, sailed in without waiting, and on its
own hook.

The slough was on the boys' right. They were walking single file--Ned
carelessly a few paces ahead, or Tom carelessly a few paces behind,
just as critics choose--on the alert for game. It might be a pair
of plover winging overhead, or a jack snipe whisking from under
their feet, or, possibly, a belated duck squawking from its covert,
or--something else.

"Boom!" And Ned was on his knees, and, astonished, was trying not to
fall farther.

It had happened so very suddenly. The first thing that he knew, his
ears had been deafened by a tremendous crash, and at the same instant
he had been struck a violent blow on the back, and thrown forward. The
next thing that he knew, he was tottering on his knees, and Tom was
bending over him, wailing:

"I've killed him, I've killed him! Oh, dear, what shall I do!"

"I know you didn't mean to, Tom," comforted Ned, still rather hazy as
to just what had taken place.

"Are you dying, Ned? Don't die! Oh, don't die!" pleaded Tom.

Ned examined himself, inwardly, a moment, to determine what his exact
state might be. He could place no pain; but this was what seemed awful:
that he might be dreadfully wounded somewhere, and yet not know it!

"Where did it hit me, Tom?" he asked, faintly, and not daring to stir.

"I shot your shoulder all to pieces!" cried Tom, wildly. "And my gun
wasn't even cocked!"

Ned fearfully looked over at his left shoulder. He beheld his coat at
that spot in tatters, and his whole left sleeve torn so that it hung in
only threads.

With such havoc made, surely there ought to be pain; but on the
contrary the sole sensation was a curious numbness in his left side and
extending to his left elbow.

He wondered if it could be true that he was about to die. He found
himself not afraid, although it was hard to die away off there, in the
open country, beside a slough. He was sorry for himself, and for his
father and mother, and for Tom. What would Bob think? What would the
boys and girls say? Poor little Zu-zu would cry and cry, and keep his
duck wings forever.

"Can you move your arm? Try!" implored Tom.

Ned cautiously tried, and found that he could swing his arm and wiggle
his fingers. But it was as though he was experimenting with the arm of
somebody else.

Both were now becoming somewhat more hopeful. Of the two, Tom, as was
natural, was the more excited and frightened, because upon his head
rested the accident, and because it was he who could view the full
extent of the damage.

Ned could only imagine; Tom could both see and imagine.

"I don't believe I'm shot so bad, after all," mused Ned, easing himself
by settling back upon his heels. "It doesn't hurt a bit."

"But you are! I'm afraid you are!" moaned Tom, pitifully. "And it's all
my fault, though I don't see how it ever happened."

From the appearance of that back it seemed to Tom that the whole load
must have entered Ned's shoulder.

"Isn't any one in sight to help us?" queried Ned.

"Not a soul," said Tom, with a quaver of despair in his voice. "Shall I
fix you as good as I can, and then run like lightning and get a wagon,
or something?"

"I bet I could walk as far as the road," asserted Ned, pondering. "That
would be a better place to leave me, for people are more apt to come
along there, you know."

"But I hate to have you walk, Ned," said Tom. "It might not be right
for you."

Nevertheless he took Ned's hand and helped him get on his feet--which
was done with no apparent harm.

"I don't need to be held up," objected Ned, as Tom started to put
an arm around his waist, and lead him off. "You carry the guns. You
weren't going to forget them, were you?"

Tom raised Ned's gun from the spot where it had dropped when Ned
himself had dropped, and then gave his own, lying where he had flung
it, a kick.

"It can stay here and rust, for all of me," he declared. "I'll never
touch it again; never."

"Shucks, you will, too," scolded Ned. "Now you pick it up."

So Tom roughly picked it up. Together the two boys--the injured and the
sound--slowly walked across the field, with Tom watching Ned askance,
as if expecting him to keel over at any instant.

Ned, however, while keeping himself well in hand, and on the lookout
for any new and warning symptoms, did not feel the least discomfort
from the motion.

His shoulder was numb, and only numb.

To reach the road they had to cross a railway track; and as they neared
it Tom halted and cried, joyfully:

"Listen!"

A clattering rumble, around the curve, fell upon their ears.

"A train--it's a train!" cried Tom. "You stay here and I'll go ahead
and stop it."

"Maybe it won't stop," said Ned.

"Yes, it will. I'll make it," assured Tom, running forward. "They
wouldn't go on and leave you here to die!"

Uncertain as to how he would do it, but determined to stop the train at
all hazard, Tom flew for the track.

Around the long curve swept the Pacific Coast Limited, due in Beaufort
at 3:21. The engineer, peering ahead, was startled to see, planted
between the rails in the rapidly nearing distance, a boy with a gun in
each hand, threatening the advance of the train.

The engineer opened the whistle valve, and the engine sounded its
angry, impatient command: "Out of the way!"

Tom saw the white flare of steam, and a second later heard the quick
shriek of warning. But he never budged. He only waved his arms and guns.

He tried to make the engineer know; now he flourished the guns, and now
he patted his left shoulder, and now he pointed off toward Ned, and
wept aloud in his fear that he was not being understood.

The engineer and the fireman noted the gestures, and saw that the boy
stubbornly stood and budged not.

It seemed to be a question of either slowing down or running over him.

To Tom it was a question of either saving Ned or being run over.

The engineer's hand tightened on the air-brake lever. The other hand
grudgingly jerked the throttle.

Tom saw the engine still closing in upon him at relentless speed--and
he only gestured the more.

Then, on a sudden, with grinding of wheels, and a disgusted wheeze, the
train stopped; the pilot of the engine just touched his boot-legs.

"What's the matter with you, eh?" demanded the engineer, savagely,
leaning out of his window.

"A boy's been shot! He's got to be taken to town right away," explained
Tom, hastening around beside the cab, and looking up at the grimy face
far above him.

He clutched the cab steps imploringly, resolved that the train should
not start without him.

The fireman had jumped to the cab door and was listening.

"Well, where is he?" demanded the engineer.

"There----" began Tom, but he was interrupted by a brakeman, who,
followed by the conductor, came running up from the foremost coach.

"What's the matter here?" asked the brakeman.

"A boy's shot, and you've got to take him to Beaufort," announced Tom,
again.

"Where is he?" snapped the conductor, now taking hold of affairs.

"He's coming. All right, Ned," encouraged Tom, beckoning to Ned, who
was walking as fast as he could, through the field, toward them.

"That him?" demanded the conductor, shortly.

"Yes, sir," replied Tom. "He's----"

"Go ahead," ordered the conductor, turning on his heel, to the
engineer. "Young man, this is a dangerous business you're in--stopping
limited trains just for the fun of it. I've a mind to take you to town
and turn you over to the officers."

He glared at Tom, and the brakeman glared at Tom, and the fireman and
engineer glared at Tom, and all the faces stuck out of the windows of
the line of coaches glared at Tom.

The engineer reached for the throttle, and Tom reached for the
conductor's coat-tail.

"Oh, but it's true, it's true!" cried Tom. "He _is_ shot. I shot him
myself. You look at his shoulder and you'll see. Please wait! Please
wait, just a second. If it isn't so, you can do anything to me you
like. See--how his left sleeve is all torn."

"Have him hurry up, then," said the conductor, moved by Tom's appeal,
and able to see for himself that evidently something was wrong with Ned.

Tom dropped his guns, and jumping down the slight embankment sped to
Ned, to help him pass a barbed wire fence, and climb the gravelly slope.

"By Jinks--the boy _is_ hurt!" observed the brakeman.

The conductor tapped with his foot impatiently.

"At any rate, he's making us lose lots of time," he remarked.

"All aboard!" he called, as Tom and Ned toiled up to the track. And
he added, kindly, as the sight of Ned's pale face and tattered back
impressed him: "Get in the first coach, lad. Help him in, Jack."

With a boost from the brakeman Ned safely landed upon the vestibuled
platform. At the same instant, as though he had touched a concealed
lever, the train started, so eager was it to be again under way.

Ned, with Tom steadying him, entered the coach, and sat meekly in
the seat next to the door. The conductor came to interview them, and
curious passengers crowded around; the news that "a boy has been shot"
had spread adown the long line of aisles.

Tom answered a multitude of questions; and Ned, too, had his share. He
told everybody, in reply to their queries, that he felt all right, but
in truth his shoulder was beginning to throb and sting.

Presently a physician came through, and after a keen look into Ned's
face, and a light fingering of the arm and shoulder, pronounced no
bones broken; and being told that the victim was going only to Beaufort
gave it as his opinion that the wound should wait, rather than be
examined on the train.

Over the bridge rumbled the train; and in a moment Ned and Tom, two
forlorn figures, descended at the depot.

Their car had stopped beyond the depot crowd, and nobody noticed them
emerge from the vestibule, upon the bricks below. Tom, who had halted a
limited train, was equal to this next crisis.

The hacks and 'buses were at the other end of the depot, but across the
wide brick walk he saw Luke Denee's white horse and veteran express
and transfer wagon, with Luke himself standing by it, waiting for
whatever hauling the train might have brought him.

"Oh, Mr. Denee! Mr. Denee!" called Tom, running forward. "Won't you
carry Ned Miller up town--he's been shot!"

"What's that?" inquired Luke, bustling forward. "Ned Miller? Where is
he--why, bless my soul!" catching sight of Ned himself. "Who shot him?"

"I did. My gun went off by accident," explained Tom, wearily; he was
growing tired of confessing it so often. "He ought to be got to a
doctor right away."

"You bet I'll take him, and we'll get him there in a jiffy," assured
Luke. "Golly the grog and the great horn spoon, Ned boy--did Tom take
you for a goose, or a snipe, or what?"

"A what, I guess," replied Ned, as Luke helped him into the rear of the
wagon, and settled him upon a trunk. The train was pulling out, and
from every window the passengers' faces stared out upon them.

Barely waiting for Tom, with the two guns, to leap into the wagon, Luke
plumped upon the seat and lifting the lines clucked vigorously to his
white horse. The report of Ned's plight was now being repeated from
mouth to mouth through the depot and vicinity, and as the wagon rolled
away and turned down the street it was followed by a murmur and many
eyes.

With Ned sitting upon the trunk, and Tom standing beside him to steady
him, and Luke laying the whip on his astonished steed, the wagon
rattled down the thoroughfare. Scenting something wrong, the people
whom it passed gazed after it in wonder.

"Where to? Which doctor?" asked Luke, over his shoulder.

"Dr. Mathews--he's the one the Millers use," directed Tom. "Is that all
right, Ned?"

Ned nodded.

Dr. Mathews' office was at his house, and luckily they caught him in.
Ned was wearing a hunting coat, and an ordinary coat under it. The
doctor put him in a chair, and not saying "by your leave" swiftly
and skilfully cut away the layers of cloth, and ripping up the shirt
underneath laid bare the shoulder.

Tom, gazing, beheld a group of little round, blue holes, and some
smears of blood.

"Oh, dear!" he groaned. "Isn't that awful!"

The doctor was delicately inserting a slender steel probe into one of
the holes. Ned, hunched over, holding his breath and clenching his
teeth, feared a sorry time.

"Does it hurt you much?" asked the doctor, gently exploring with the
probe.

"N-n-no, it doesn't," replied Ned, relieved. He could not feel the
probe at all.

"Numb, eh?" remarked the doctor. "Well, that's good."

"Is it very bad, doctor?" asked Ned.

"Not a bit of it!" assured the doctor, cheerfully. "Just a flesh wound,
and in a week or so you'll be as well as ever! You've been struck by
only--let's see--ten, eleven, thirteen--by thirteen shot, and they're
on top of the shoulder-blade, every one of them, so far as I can tell."

"Oh, I'm so glad!" sighed Tom, bursting into tears. Now that the worst
was over, he collapsed.

"Don't cry, Tom, old fellow," begged Ned. "Everything's all right, now."

"Yes, indeed," assured the doctor. "But you had a very, very narrow
escape. The load must have passed between your shoulder and neck--and
if it had swerved a fraction of an inch to the right, or so as to enter
lower, you'd have bled to death long before this."

"Oh, Ned!" exclaimed Tom, aghast at what might have been.

"But it _didn't_ swerve, you know," prompted Ned.

Here Mr. Miller, frightened as he never had been frightened before,
rushed in. Bad news travels fast.

"Ned!" he cried, at the sight of his son under the probe.

"Now that will do, Mr. Miller," cautioned the doctor, smiling to quiet
his fear. "Ned is right side up, and almost ready for another hunt.
He's pretty tough, you must understand."

"Nothing serious?" questioned Mr. Miller.

"Not in the slightest," asserted the doctor, with a belittling shake of
his head, and withdrawing the probe from the last hole. "I'll simply
dress this place with antiseptic, and you can take him home in my
carriage. Just have him keep quiet for a few days, and I think that
he'll soon be as fit as a fiddle."

So Ned was carried home in Doctor Mathews' carriage, his father
driving. Tom was left to bring the guns, and answer queries along the
way.

One would suppose that Mrs. Miller, by this time, would have been so
used to having Ned return after having figured in some hair-breadth
escape, that she would take no especial notice of such a little thing
as thirteen shot in his left shoulder.

But when she witnessed him gingerly clamber down upon the horse-block,
his arm in a sling, she acted as though this was his first, instead of
maybe his hundredth, accident.

Yet the thirteen shot in his shoulder did not concern her so much as
did the rest of the load, that had passed so near, just missing his
neck and his lungs.

Bob followed Ned in from the gate, and sniffing the antiseptic, and
wondering why his master did not respond, as usual, to his energetic
greetings, remained upon the front porch, to consider the new smell,
and ponder over what was up.

Ned's wound did not trouble him much. He got his hurts easily, as a
rule, and just as easily he was rid of them. Young blood is good blood
for healing purposes, as well as for purposes in general.

Tom was constant in his attentions, as were Zu-zu and Mrs. Pearce. They
sent or brought fruit and books and everything that might benefit or
amuse.

Neither of the boys could understand why Tom's gun had exploded, when
it wasn't cocked. However, upon examining the cartridge it was found
that the cap bore a faint dot, where the plunger of the gun had rested
upon it. The cap had been too sensitive, and a light jar had sent it
off.

"Still, I'd no business to have it pointed toward you," asserted Tom,
when Ned tried to excuse him.

"Tom says he guesses you'll never want to go hunting with him again,"
said Zu-zu, one day, on paying a visit to Ned. "He says _he's_ never
going again, either."

"That's all nonsense," vowed Ned. "You tell him so, Zu-zu. He's the
safest fellow in the world to go with, now, he'll be so mighty careful.
My folks think that way, too."

When Zu-zu went home she carried in a little pill box six shot that the
doctor had cut out from just beneath the skin of Ned's back, where they
had come to the surface; and right and left she proudly showed them
among her friends.

Only one thing remains to note. Ten days after the shooting, Mrs.
Miller finally succeeded in tracing to its source an unsavory odor that
had been bothering her, about the house, for some time. She searched
Ned's ill-fated hunting coat, and with a cry of disgust bore it, at
arm's length, into the room where Ned, with the contented Bob beside
him, was sitting.

"What do you think I found?" she asked, thrusting in her hand, and
drawing out, between her finger tips, a mass of feathers.

"It's a plover!" fairly shouted Ned, with a howl of laughter. "That's
what I shot the day I was hurt. I'd forgotten all about it. Ugh! Take
it away!"

"And Tom was so jealous that he shot _you_!" retorted Mrs. Miller,
hurrying out. "Well, his bag was the biggest, I think."



CHAPTER XIV

BIG MIKE AGAIN


"Mrs. Miller, can't I take Ned fishing?" asked Tom, through the open
door.

He and Ned and Bob were sitting on the front porch. It was two weeks
after the shooting accident, and Ned, aside from the arm still carried,
for safety, in a sling, was apparently as hale as ever. Never a day
passed that Tom was not in to see him at least once, and often more
frequently, and visits from Hal and other friends swelled the calling
list.

Ned had told so many times just "how it felt" to be shot, that now it
was an old story, and he was getting tired of being the fashion.

"Why----I hardly think it would be wise, Tom," responded Mrs. Miller,
from within.

"But fishing'll soon be over--that is, the best of it," pressed Tom.
"Perch are running thick as flies, so you can catch them as fast as you
can throw in and pull out. Hen Swiggert brought home a hundred and four
yesterday, and he was gone just part of a day. It's too bad Ned has got
to miss the fun."

"'Twouldn't hurt me a bit, mother," urged Ned. "'Twould do me good."

"I think you ought to keep quiet," declared his mother.

"He can be just as quiet as he is here," argued Tom. "We'll go over on
Eagle. I'll row him, and we'll get up in Catfish Slough, and all he'll
need do will be sit in the shade and fish. He can fish with one hand,
easy."

"Of course I can," agreed Ned.

"Well, we'll see what the doctor says about it," promised Mrs. Miller;
and that was the best word that the boys could squeeze out of her.

The doctor said: "Go ahead, but don't get heated."

"Isn't he a dandy doctor, though!" exclaimed Ned, reporting to Tom.

"When I'm sick he's the doctor _I_ want! I'll tell my mother so,"
answered Tom. "When a fellow's ready to go out he doesn't keep him in!"

The boys had planned to use the scull-boat; but unluckily it turned out
that Hal wanted the craft upon the same day as they, and Ned said, "All
right."

"I should think Hal could let you have the boat, considering you're
hurt," hinted Tom. "Why can't he?"

"He and Orrie Lukes are going up the river and stay all night,"
explained Ned; "and they haven't any other boat they can sleep in very
well. The scull-boat's dandy for sleeping in because it hasn't any
seats."

Which was true.

"We can hire a skiff from Commodore Jones, I suppose, then," said Tom,
but in a tone not wholly satisfied.

"I suppose we'll have to," replied Ned. "We'll get the No. 19--she
pulls the easiest of any. But I'd rather have the scull-boat."

"I tell you what!" exclaimed Tom, struck with an idea which had popped
into his brain. "We'll get a boat down at the Paper-mill Slough and
then all we'll have to do will be to row across."

"Whose boat?" queried Ned.

"Oh, I don't know," answered Tom. "Anybody's'll do. There are always a
lot of skiffs tied along shore there--old leaky things, but good enough
for us to fool with."

"It wouldn't be stealing, would it?" asked Ned, anxiously.

"No; I wouldn't call that 'stealing,'" asserted Tom. "Some of them
don't belong to anybody, 'special. They're just used by the South
Beaufort fellows to monkey in, and aren't even locked. Nobody'll care
a bit if we take one for a day, and bring it back. It'll save us a big
row up against the current, too."

"Save _you_, you mean," corrected Ned. "I can't row, except with one
hand."

"You shan't row a stroke!" decided Tom, alarmed lest Ned might be going
to try. "I'm running this shooting-match!" Then he added, doubtfully:
"Zu-zu wants to go."

"Let's take her," urged Ned. "Of course! She wouldn't be in the way a
bit."

"Girls are a kind of bother, usually, out fishing, but Zu-zu's
different from most of them," said Tom, highly pleased.

"Zu-zu's got sense. She doesn't just stand round and squeal," observed
Ned, sagely.

"That's right. I'll say it, if she _is_ my sister," agreed Tom.

Half-past five o'clock Saturday morning found the four of them--Ned
and Tom and Zu-zu and Bob--at the Paper-mill Slough. Ned had under
his sound arm his and Tom's jointed rods, while Zu-zu proudly bore a
slender little pole purchased for her by Tom, on the previous evening.
Tom was in charge of a basket of lunch.

This basket vexed Zu-zu, who would have preferred that each one carry a
few slices of bread and butter and sugar done up in a paper bag, just
as the boys did when they went alone. But her mother had insisted upon
the basket, with lunch in it for three. Ned was to furnish nothing; he
was guest of honor.

Bob carried himself.

The morning was ideal--dewy and balmy and clear. Zu-zu, who rarely
had been up so early before, and who looked on this outing as the
greatest event of her life, was in the seventh heaven of delight over
everything; even Bob could not keep back a few yelps; but Ned and Tom,
as befitted old hunters and fishers, used to all hours and to all
sights, were very matter-of-fact and stoical.

Indeed, Ned had thought it quite out of keeping with his dignity to
have his mother arise before him, and hover over him while he ate his
early breakfast, to make sure that he was well provided for and that
his shoulder was not troubling him!

The sun was half an hour high, and, peeping over the trees of Eagle,
opposite, was shining across the smooth waterway. Fish were jumping,
birds were twittering, and the air was deliciously fresh.

With their noses resting upon the shore, and the little ripples lapping
against their sides, just below the paper-mill there were, as Tom had
predicted, quite a number of skiffs, of various shapes and in various
stages of ruin. But, contrary to that which he had predicted, all
seemed to be padlocked, with chains, to rings and staples.

"That's a pretty idea!" grumbled Tom, prying along the line. "You'd
think the old shebangs were worth something!"

"Isn't it almost stealing, Ned?" inquired Zu-zu. "Tom says it isn't."

"N-no," replied Ned, weighing the pros and cons of the matter. "You
see, if we find a boat that's unlocked it's a pretty sure sign that
either it hasn't an owner, or else the owner doesn't care if people
borrow it. We're just going across the slough in it."

Zu-zu accepted the decision as final; Tom and Ned ought to know. She
looked on anxiously as Tom examined the various fastenings. What if the
trip had to be given up!

Bob sat down near Ned, and whined. He wondered why this fussing and
delay. It was only a short swim.

"Hurrah--here's one that's only tied," announced Tom.

"Goodie!" exclaimed Zu-zu, jumping up and down.

Ned heaved a sigh of relief, and Bob pricked up his ears.

"Come on, Zu-zu," said Ned, descending to the boat, at the bows of
which Tom was fumbling.

The boat proved to be the worst of the lot. It was a clumsy-looking,
flat-bottomed affair, with square ends, and unpainted.

"What are you going to row with?" asked Zu-zu, stopping short.

Ned stared at Tom, and Tom stared at Ned. Somehow, oars had not
occurred to them, although had they thought, they would have known that
whatever the boat, the oars would not be left in it.

"I'll paddle with a board," declared Tom. "You get in while I'm hunting
one."

"Sit in the other end, Zu-zu," bade Ned, holding out his hand to help
her as she sprang from seat to seat. Bob was less polite. He rushed
rudely past her, as if afraid of being left, and planted himself in the
stern.

"Bob! Shame on you," reproved Ned. "Don't you know that the rule is
'ladies first'?"

"But that's meant for men, not dogs, isn't it, Bob?" comforted Zu-zu,
perching herself beside him, and sitting on her feet to keep them out
of the water that swished about in the leaky craft.

Tom, with a piece of board in his hands, hurried back, and when Ned
had securely squatted upon a seat in the middle, with a lusty heave he
slowly started the heavy boat from its mooring-place, and tumbled in.

He stood up, and with a long, sweeping motion paddled first on the
one side and then on the other. The craft, with its load, gradually
crept toward the shore of Eagle, a stone's throw away. Zu-zu, fixed
in the spot assigned her, longed to trail her hand in the water, but
refrained. She did not dare so much as move, lest she should become a
"bother."

Under Tom's efforts they floated into the narrow mouth of a little
bayou, called Catfish Slough, which wound through the island and
emptied into Beaver Lake, in the centre of the island.

"Gracious, but this is hard work!" spoke Tom, after they had run
aground several times in rounding corners. "The old thing won't answer
her helm."

"Poor Tom," cooed Zu-zu.

"Let's get out and walk," proposed Ned. "It'll be quicker, and easier,
too."

Bob already was walking--or, rather, scampering. According to his
custom, as the boat approached the land he had deserted.

"Let's," chimed in Zu-zu.

Tom swung the unwieldly craft in broadside against the bank,
where trees and bushes came clear to the water's edge, and all
disembarked--although by different methods. That is, Zu-zu skipped out,
Ned leaped out, and Tom merely stepped out, so that he could stoop and
tie the chain painter to a root. Bob was present to welcome them.

"There!" Tom said. "We've got here, anyway."

"Nobody'll take it, I guess," remarked Ned.

"Not if they have to row it," asserted Tom.

"It's the _Black Swan_!" cried Zu-zu, gazing back upon it. "See? It has
the name on the--the--well, I don't know whether you say stern or bow,
but it's right under where I was sitting."

"Huh! _Black Swan!_" commented Tom, in scorn. "They ought to name it
_Mud Turtle_."

"You ought not to complain, Tom," lectured Zu-zu. "You might have had
no boat at all."

Then she suddenly closed her lips, and grew red, for fear lest she
might have said too much.

But Ned and Tom only laughed good-naturedly.

They walked ahead for a short distance, following a path along the
little bayou, until they came upon a place where the bank was rather
high, and the water before it was unusually wide and deep.

"This will do, won't it?" spoke Ned, who was in advance, halting.

"I guess so," replied Tom, also halting.

Zu-zu said nothing; she had faith in the two boys. Bob dashed up and
pausing an instant to catch the drift of things, dashed off again. When
he was in the woods he was always very, very busy.

The bothersome basket, which nevertheless was soon to make itself
exceedingly agreeable, was dropped at the foot of a tree; the boys
fitted together the joints of their rods, and Ned baited Zu-zu's hook
for her, that she might be first to throw in. Although he was limited
to one arm, he could use the fingers of both hands.

Presently Zu-zu was staring at her cork, bobbing upon the ripples.

"Oh, it's under--it's under!" she cried. "What shall I do?"

"Pull it out, quick!" commanded Tom.

Thereupon Zu-zu gave a tremendous jerk, twitching high into the air an
astonished perch, which fell back with a splash. The empty hook landed
among the bushes far behind.

"Oh, dear! It got away!" complained Zu-zu.

"You mustn't jerk so hard, Zu-zu," advised Ned. "Watch how we do it."

At that instant his bobber, too, wavered, and ducked, and he cleverly
lifted to land a fat yellow perch.

"I've got one, too!" exclaimed Tom.

"Hurrah!" laughed Ned, joyfully. "They're biting fine, aren't they?"

"Poor things--just see how they flop," said Zu-zu, watching Ned string
his spoil. "Do you suppose it hurts them so very much?"

"I don't believe fish feel as much as we do, or they wouldn't have been
made to be caught," replied Ned.

"Well, please don't handle them any rougher than you can help," begged
Zu-zu; and plunged in thought, she freed her line from the bushes, and
dropped it in the water again.

Nothing more happened to her cork, and after guarding it for some time,
while her companions were pulling out fish right along, she hopped up,
and saying: "I shan't fish any more; I'm going to find Bob and look for
flowers," she tripped back into the woods.

Ned lifted her hook and glanced at it.

"Why, your hook isn't baited!" he called after her. "No wonder you
didn't catch anything."

"I don't care," answered Zu-zu. "I hate to see them flop so."

Ned baited it and let it down again.

"We'll give you all that are caught on it, anyway," he said.

Each of the boys was fishing with three hooks on a line; and the perch
bit so boldly that often three were hauled out at a time, with others
chasing them clear to the surface, trying to take the worm from their
mouths.

Sometimes a round sunfish elbowed a perch out of the road, and grabbed
the bait, only to meet a sudden fate.

Zu-zu's pole and hook and line, attended to now by Tom and now by Ned,
added to the general collection--and very nearly did more!

"Tom! Grab Zu's pole--quick! I can't!" warned Ned, abruptly, himself
engaged in safely landing two large perch.

It was high time, indeed, that somebody came to the rescue, for behold,
Zu-zu's cork was completely out of sight, and her pole, pulled by an
invisible force, was sliding into the water!

"It's a pickerel--it's a big pickerel!" cried Tom. "I saw his tail!"

He sprang for the pole--and at the very moment, with a bound and a
splash, that blundersome Bob bolted into the water, from the other
side, and made for their spot, laying a course that would cut exactly
across Zu-zu's line.

"Go back, Bob! Bob, go back!" ordered Ned, furiously.

But Bob swerved not. He merely flirted the water out of his ears, as if
to say: "I don't hear you," and ploughed on, barking his defiance.

Mr. Pickerel took alarm. Any fish might, with Bob's legs, working like
the flappers of an immense turtle, bearing down upon him. He darted
for cover. The line grew taut--and then relaxed, limp and lifeless,
while the thrill all went out of the pole in Tom's eager hands.

"He broke the hook!" mourned Tom, hauling in.

"Oh, Bob!" accused Ned.

Bob clambered up, shook himself, and hied into the woods once more. The
bayou was free for all, and he saw no reason why he should not swim in
it. He certainly had to cross, some way.

"He was longer than my arm!" asserted Tom, grieved, and gazing with
regretful eyes at the worthless shank dangling where the pickerel ought
to have been.

"Shucks!" muttered Ned; and his tone held a world of vexation and
disappointment.

Zu-zu came upon the scene. She heard the sad tale without being in the
least vexed.

"I don't care a bit," she said. "I'm glad the fish got away. He didn't
want to die, I'm sure. And we have lots of other fish, you know."

It was plain to the boys that Zu-zu, being a girl, could not understand
what a truly great loss had been suffered. So they did not argue the
case.

As suddenly as they had commenced, the perch stopped biting. The corks
lay idly upon the surface. The sun was high o'erhead. The dragon-flies
shot here and there over the water, and the gnats buzzed around the
fishermen's ears, and the ears of Mistress Zu-zu.

"Let's eat," suggested Tom.

"Yes, let's eat," wagged Bob, appearing as if by magic.

The rest of the company being of the same mind, the napkiny depths of
the basket were laid bare--and the way that basket heaped coals of fire
upon the heads of those who had despised it was a caution!

Fish bit only slowly during the remainder of the day. One might have
thought that they had worn themselves out with their greedy efforts of
the early morning. Zu-zu and the two boys idled in the shade on the
turf, and Bob, tireless, roamed east, west, north and south. If the
island, formerly his home, recalled any memories to his doggish mind,
he showed no will to sit and dream over them.

The shadows of the trees were long and pointed, bridging the bayou,
when the boys drew in the lines, and unjointed the poles, and counted
their fish.

"How many?" asked Ned.

"Fifty-three," proclaimed Tom. "How many you got?"

"Forty-two," answered Ned. "You beat me."

"But you had only one arm," reminded Tom.

"Let's see--fifty-three plus forty-two--that makes ninety-five; and
then there's the big fish that got away, which makes ninety-six!"
exclaimed Zu-zu. "My, what a lot! You ought to put some of them back."

"We've put the big pickerel back; that's all we can spare," asserted
Tom, ruefully.

They retraced their steps of the morning, along the path, until----

"Say--where's our boat?" cried Ned, astounded.

They had arrived at the spot where they had left the _Black Swan_, but
the craft had disappeared.

"Certain this is the place?" asked Tom. "Yes, it must be," he
continued. "There's the root I tied to."

"Somebody came along and helped himself, that's all there is to it,"
declared Ned.

"Maybe it just floated off," guessed Zu-zu.

"No, it couldn't; or else it would have come our way, with the current,
you know, Zu-zu," corrected Tom. "I call that a downright mean trick,
to take our boat like this."

"But we did the very same thing, ourselves. The boat wasn't ours in the
first place," retorted Zu-zu, daringly.

"Well, the only thing to do is to follow on up the slough, and if we
don't come across the boat we'll have to wait for somebody to take us
over to the paper-mill," spoke Ned.

They followed Catfish until they reached its head, where it branched
off from Paper-mill Slough. They caught not a glimpse of the _Black
Swan_. As they reached the shore the Beaufort whistles were blowing six
o'clock. The sun was slipping behind a heavy bank of clouds, and dusk
was at hand. The three could not make out a single person anywhere near
them, to succor them, and standing there upon the muddy strand, with
darkness closing in, and with nothing to eat and no place to sleep,
they felt like forlorn, shipwrecked sailors.

Bob, however, curled himself in a ball, and went into a shivery doze.

"Here come some people," announced Tom.

Through the mist now rising out of the water a boat approached from the
town side of the slough. It carried a dozen Eagle Islanders who worked
at the sawmills, and were returning home for the night.

"I'll go and ask them to take us over," volunteered Tom.

"No, I'll go," cried Ned. "They'll listen quicker to a fellow with one
arm."

The islanders landed some distance above the little party, and tumbled
out so quickly that by the time Ned had arrived all but one had trudged
into the woods. This one was bending over, fastening the boat.

"Hello," hailed Ned. "Can't you please take us over the slough? We've
lost our boat."

But the man only grunted, and shook his head; and picking up his dinner
bucket and coat, and the oars, stolidly tramped away.

Ned, indignant, examined the boat's chain, with the hot idea of using
the craft, anyway; but he found that it was padlocked.

He went back to his companions, who had been eagerly watching, and
reported.

"Oh, dear, what shall we do?" wailed Zu-zu, beginning to be dismal from
the mist and the shadows, and the suspicion that everybody but them
was going to supper.

"We'll yell like everything, and attract some one's attention on the
other side," proposed Ned.

"I'd swim and get a boat, if the water wasn't so cold," said Tom.

"Don't try, Tom. You'd get a cramp," begged Zu-zu.

The boys shouted, and Zu-zu screamed, and all waved their
handkerchiefs, while Bob raised his head in astonishment. Presently Tom
panted:

"Somebody's putting out in a boat, all right enough. Keep it up."

From the mainland opposite, where lights were beginning to twinkle,
a boat, barely seen against the dark shore-line, was starting out
into the slough. They heard the rattle of the oars dropping into the
oar-locks.

"Keep yelling," gasped Ned.

And they did, until it was plain that the boat was making for them.

"It's the _Black Swan_!" whispered Zu-zu, excitedly, as the craft
neared.

"Oh, no," scoffed Tom.

"But it is, it is!" insisted Zu-zu. "I know it is!"

And as it glided up through the muddy shallows at their feet they saw
that the _Black Swan_ it was. The rower stood up, and turned to face
them. He was Big Mike!

Bob growled.

"Want to go across?" asked Big Mike, with a grin.

"Yes--that is, we've lost our boat," stammered Ned, awkwardly.

"Get in; I'll take you," offered the South Beauforter.

"Will you? Good for you!" exclaimed Ned.

"I should say so!" spoke Tom.

Zu-zu was too flabber-gasted by the sudden presence of this arch ogre
to say a word.

They marched in. Bob followed, with a dash to get past his enemy in
safety.

"Was it you folks that took this boat? I found her up Catfish a little
ways," queried Big Mike, pushing off.

"Well--yes. You see, it was unlocked, and we didn't know it belonged to
anybody especial, and we wanted to get across," explained Ned.

"It didn't make no difference," said Big Mike. "If I'd knowed who had
it I wouldn't have cared. Only, I thought some of them Dutch on the
island had got it. They're all the time doin' that."

"Let me row," urged Tom.

"Naw; she rows easy after she gets started," grunted Big Mike.

"It's an awful nice boat. Did you name it?" piped Zu-zu, timidly,
hoping to please their dreadful host. Who knows--he might be planning
to dump them in the slough, and drown them!

Big Mike wriggled uneasily, evidently flattered.

"Naw; she was named before I got her," he answered. "She ain't very
pretty, but she's good enough for 'round here."

"How's your shoulder?" he asked, gruffly, of Ned.

"It's about well. It wasn't much, anyway," responded Ned.

They were half-way across, and the rest of the distance was covered in
silence, save when once Big Mike remarked again gruffly: "Perch runnin'
thick, ain't they?" to which both boys assented.

"We're much obliged, Mike," spoke Ned, as they rose to step out.
"Aren't we, Tom?"

"Yes, sir-ee!" exclaimed Tom.

"Oh, 'twasn't nothin'," growled Big Mike, tying the boat. "I jest
heared somebody yellin', an' thought I'd go over an' get 'em. I seen
there was a girl, and a feller with one arm done up."

Ned whispered to Tom, and Tom nodded, and with a gesture passed a
string of fish to Zu-zu.

"Here," said Zu-zu, holding out the string to Big Mike.

"_I_ don't want 'em," declared Big Mike, straightening after his task.

"But we ought to pay you for the use of the boat," said Zu-zu. "And
for coming after us, too; and we've got more fish than we can eat.
There--you'll have to take them," and she dropped them in a scaly heap
at his feet. Then the three of them hastened up the bank, with Bob,
glad to be free from the presence of his foe, frisking ahead. Looking
back, they saw Big Mike slowly lift the fish, and, shouldering his
oars, start off, no doubt homeward.

"Big Mike's not so bad, after all; is he?" asserted Zu-zu.

"No," agreed Tom and Ned.

Bob did not join in this opinion. Nothing that Big Mike would do could
make up, in the mind of Bob, for past offenses.



CHAPTER XV

JUST ABOUT BOB


Bob had now rounded into a fine, strong dog, pleasing in manners and
respectable in appearance. At the time of his rescue from the barn by
Ned and Hal he was in his hobbledehoy period--in dogs, as in boys, that
awkward, sappy state betwixt puppyhood and eye-teethhood. Out of this
he had grown up, under the good food and kind treatment of the Miller
household, into a dog who was a credit to the family.

He was rather larger than a pointer should be, with a head unusually
wide and full, a sign of great intelligence. His nose was a bit blunt;
and this, and his head, and his stubbornness, caused critics to hold
that somewhere in his ancestry was a strain of bulldog blood.

His ears were thin and long and velvety, drooping below his chops; his
lips were loose and swaying, and the skin of his neck was loose and
wrinkly. His eyes were a beautiful, faithful brown. His coat was a rich
mahogany, and was even and glossy. He had a magnificent chest--broad,
massive, with a bone that jutted out like that of a turkey gobbler.
Behind it was a barrel of a body, which all of Mrs. Miller's stuffing
never could make else but lean; while his ribs narrowed away until at
his flanks they ended in a sad hollow.

In truth, Bob's front half was much superior to his rear half, which
ran off into a short, stubby tail tipped with a warty knob. Whether
some accident had happened, to blight this tail in Bob's infancy, or
whether his mother's family had been so unexpectedly large that there
had not been material enough for finishing Bob completely, no one could
say. At any rate, he was not fitted with a tail such as a dog of his
size and breed should have, and he was always more or less conscious of
the fact.

Reference has been made to Bob's grin. When he was tickled over
anything his whole upper lip curled back, exposing a row of shining
white teeth and brilliant red gums. Thus, grinning at one end and
wagging at the other, he tried to show his pleasure. However, it was
not a becoming face that he made when he grinned, and many people, not
used to his oddity, mistook it for a snarl, and were afraid. As soon as
they came to know him, they understood what a good-natured fellow he
was.

Indeed, a more good-natured dog never lived. Also, never lived a dog
queerer and more human. No one made his acquaintance but to like him,
and he was suffered to do things that would have earned rebuke for any
dog but him.

When Ned was absent at school, sometimes Bob would become lonely, and
would start out to find his master. In manner unknown--but through his
nose, or ears, or eyes--he had discovered the room in which Ned was
caged during school hours, and there, in his quest, he would betake
himself.

If the door was open, in he would saunter, and sniff down the aisle;
and perhaps the first hint to Ned of Bob's presence would be that
sturdy head laid, amid titters, upon his knee.

As a rule Ned was asked by the teacher to escort Bob to the door again.
But occasionally Mr. Bob would choose, rather, to climb into an empty
seat, and there, by quietly curling for sleep, make amends for his
intrusion. In this case he was allowed to remain, and the room speedily
forgot that he was there.

At the stroke of the bell, Bob always promptly arose and trotted out.

Whether or not he learned anything of mathematics or physiology or
grammar during his snooze may be a mooted question; but Ned and friends
claimed that he did.

When it happened that Bob did not find Ned's seat occupied, he hopped
into it, and there sat bolt upright, as if to fill the vacancy, until
Ned returned. Once in a while he would refuse to get out--and then
would be hauled down by the collar, and led in disgrace to the door.

With all the wisdom got in school, nevertheless Bob did many foolish
tricks. For instance, he should have known better than to bury pancakes
in the fall, expecting to dig them up and eat them in the winter! When
the pancakes were buried, they and the ground were soft together; but
when they were sought again, a month or so later, they came up--if at
all--in flinty shreds scarcely to be told from the dirt. Yet Bob seemed
not to foresee this; and even during winter thaws he persisted in
scratching small holes and placing in them buckwheat cakes, for use in
the future!

He so loved to bury things that his nose was nearly always crowned
with a little ridge of soil. Once he brought home a five-pound roast
of beef, which a neighbor had got at the butcher's with intent to have
it for dinner. Bob buried it in the garden, and for a week and more
regularly uncovered it, took a few delicious gnaws, and covered it up
again.

Ned was obliged to find the neighbor another roast.

Bob was a dog not easily convinced. This is a polite way of putting it,
for the trait was neither more nor less than downright stubbornness.
When he would not do a thing, he wouldn't, until at last persuaded by
kind words, or hope of reward, or fear of punishment.

Ned found that patience and gentle argument were better than blows,
to make Bob yield, so threshings were dropped from the list of
"persuaders." Bob had a keen sense of shame, and the tone of the voice
could make him feel worse than the hardest licking.

His stubbornness was twice very nearly his death. The first time, he
was simply bound not to budge one inch from the way of a heavy farm
wagon. He lay flat in the road, and waited for the wagon to turn out
for _him_. But the wagon kept upon its route, and Bob, still sticking
to his position, did nothing but howl his protests as the wheels passed
over his back.

His bones being soft, he arose unhurt, and stalked off in the sulks.

The second time had as a scene the approach to the high trestle
bridging a slough just beyond the farther end of the river bridge.
Ned and Bob had been for a walk, and upon the return Bob had refused
to walk the trestle. According to his custom he flopped down, like a
spoiled child, on the spot.

Ned went ahead, hoping that at last Bob would arise and follow. He had
gone a short distance, leaving Bob sprawled on the gravel in the middle
of the railroad track, when suddenly he heard the rumble of a train,
nearing from behind.

"Bob! Here, Bob! Here, Bob!" he called, running back.

But Bob dumbly declined.

"Get up! Bob! Get up!" cried Ned.

Bob, with his master coming from one way and the train coming from the
other, stayed on his spot, deaf to the appeals of the former and the
warnings of the latter.

The engine reached him first. Ned, horrified, saw him hurled into the
air, up, up, twenty feet, his legs dangling and his ears flopping.
Turning slow somersaults down he came, clear of the trestle, into the
depths below. Ned caught a glimpse of the engineer and fireman looking
back from the cab and laughing, which made him mad.

The first freeze of the fall had covered the slough with an inch of
ice. Down dropped Bob, as swiftly as though he were from the dog-star,
and lit squarely, in a sitting position, on a shallow place.

The sound of a shrill yelp floated up to Ned, leaning over to gaze. Bob
bounced to his feet, and leaving the outlines of his hind parts, with a
hole marking where his tail had bored, across the slough he fled, his
ki-yi's drifting behind him, fainter and fainter.

After much whistling Ned found him again, hiding in the woods. In body
Bob was uninjured, but his feelings had been hurt; and for some time he
could not be made to believe but that a mean trick had been played upon
him by Ned and the train.

Finally he allowed himself to be coaxed upon the trestle, and with
whimper and trembling, with tail between his legs and with many a
backward glance, he made the journey across.

Thereafter he took the trestle in a hurry, without a sign of
hesitation. He had learned a lesson.

Bob's stubbornness was not always of mischief to him. Sometimes it
stood him in good stead, and above all in his fights. Now, Bob was not
willingly a fighter. There were times when he would run from a dog not
half his size. This lack of spirit was a cause of great vexation to
Ned, who, while he would not have Bob a bully like some dogs, upon the
other hand would not have him a craven and a coward.

But when cornered, or when once started, Bob was a perfect demon at a
fight. The dog that picked upon him, thinking to be able to nag him
without return, was likely to have a sudden rush of trouble.

Bob's great jaws closed on him with a grip that no struggles could
break. When Bob bit, he bit for keeps.

He had, in Beaufort, two particular enemies--almost the sole enemies
that he knew. Both were white bulldogs; one lived down town in a drug
store, and the other lived behind a picket fence, out toward the flats.

Up and down before this picket fence would race Bob, and up and down
behind it would race his enemy, and between the pickets sped a thousand
names and epithets, the most stinging in dog language.

These were Bob's moments of bravery; but let the bulldog dart out at
him, around a corner or through a hole, and Bob would flee for dear
life, with his foe bellowing at his heels.

This state of affairs lasted for several months, until, one day, Bob
was surprised and crowded against a high sidewalk, and obliged to make
a stand. The bulldog, after worrying him for a short space, on a
sudden found himself matched against a very angry lion. Bob's temper
was roused. He outweighed the bulldog, he outdid him in strength
and agility, and that canine had a sorry time before the people who
gathered could force Bob's teeth to unclose from a certain white
fore-leg. As for Bob, the loose skin about his throat had been all that
the bulldog could seize.

This bulldog's day as an ogre was over. Henceforth he was a wiser and
more humble animal.

The drug store dog learned a like lesson in a like way. One evening he
cornered Bob in between some dry goods boxes, and set about to have
fun out of him. The "fun" ended with Ned dancing around in dismay,
while a policeman, by the aid of lighted matches and the handle of his
club, induced Bob to let go! Then the bulldog's owner, crestfallen and
wrathful, carried his fallen champion home in his arms.

Bob proudly trotted on his way, licking his bloody chops. His enemy was
retired for a week, and came forth again more discreet, and smelling of
arnica.

Yet, with all his victories, Bob never went around with a chip on his
shoulder. He much preferred peace to war.

Bob's greatest gift was swimming. The pointer family is supposed not
to like the water, especially, save as a relief from the heat; but be
it hot or cold, Bob was ever ready for a plunge. His favorite fun was
to get out in the middle of the river, where the current was deepest
and swiftest, and swim up stream. He would do this with no object, it
seemed, except showing off his powers in the water.

Ah, what a grand swimmer Bob was! With his splendid fore-shoulders high
and dry above the surface, and his mighty chest throwing the waters
aside in a rolling wave, he would plough his path, regardless of the
distance, to the goal. If permitted, he would swim for hours at a
time--aimlessly paddling hither and thither, chasing stray bits of wood
and even bubbles.

He would make a pretense at diving, but this consisted simply in
sticking his head under, and withdraw it in a instant, coughing, and
shaking the water out of his ears.

Had he not been gun-shy he would have been an ideal retriever for
ducks. Indeed, Ned taught him to retrieve sticks and balls, and other
things thrown for the purpose; and whether or not Bob had seen them
drop, by ranging in circles he always found them and laid them at his
master's feet.

Ned also taught him to "charge." Bob would stay crouched against the
walk or road until Ned or Mr. Miller had gone on for a block, perhaps;
his eyes would be shining with eagerness, and his body fairly quivering
with excitement.

"Come on, Bob," would sound the whistle.

One note was enough. Up would he leap, and like a cannon-ball down
would he streak, yapping with glee at every jump. He never grew tired
of this game.

He would mind Ned or Mr. Miller--but upon Mrs. Miller or Maggie, the
girl, he used to impose dreadfully. Let them try to stir him from the
space that he had chosen before the kitchen or dining-room stove, and
he would give a growl so gruff as to frighten them into the distance
again. They would not catch the chuckle under the growl. However, he
never tried to fool Ned or Ned's father. When they said "Get up," Bob
got!

If he decided to accompany Mrs. Miller or Maggie, he always managed
to do it. They might send him back, as they supposed, a dozen times;
he only made a short circuit, and sneaking along behind fences and
sidewalks would come out upon them, and grin. In spite of their
scolding, and the stones and sticks that they tried to throw at him, he
persevered, and had his way.

He did not bamboozle the two other members of the family. It was only
the women upon whom he played tricks. He knew that, with all their
threats, they could not bear to hurt him.

His bedroom was the barn loft, save when, in the hottest weather, he
moved down-stairs. His favorite bed was a burrow in the hay; when a
fresh load arrived, Bob would dig and nose into it, until he had made a
long hole extending so far back that, in his nest at the end of it, he
was quite out of reach.

To Bob, Ned was the whole world. It offered no bliss that could equal
the touch of Ned's hand, and no music that might equal the sound of
Ned's voice. Just to be near Ned was joy enough for Bob, and if allowed
to snuggle at his master's side he was in ecstasy. A kind pat and an
encouraging word was all the reward that he wanted, no matter how hard
had been his task. Ned was at once his playmate and his king, and life
held nothing more.



CHAPTER XVI

THE LAST OF BOB


One o'clock in a morning of the last of May, and the Miller household,
all unconscious of disaster, was soundly slumbering. Then in amidst
Ned's dreams crept a dull series of noises, which became a persistent
pounding. Ned imagined that he had dived under his scull-boat, and that
the other boys were hammering upon the hull, outside, to bother him.
He struggled to escape, but somehow he seemed unable to get to the top
again. This is the way with dreams.

Mr. Miller, too, heard a pounding; only, he awakened enough to know
that it was a real pounding, upon the front door, and was no dream.

He sprang from bed, and sticking his head out of the window over the
porch called:

"What's the matter down there?"

"Are you folks all dead?" called back a man. "Get up! Your barn's
afire!"

And Mr. Miller suddenly saw that the night around-about was strangely
lighted.

Ned was still striving to escape from under the scull-boat, when he was
brought to the surface in a flash by his father's commanding voice:

"Ned! Ned! The barn's on fire!"

"Oh, dear!" wailed Ned, striking the floor in a heap.

"Keep cool, Ned," encouraged his father. "And dress as fast as you can."

Trying to force his eyes open, and collect his senses, Ned fumbled for
his clothes. Now the night in his room was turned to day by a glare
of red light, and he could see flames reflected in the mirror of his
bureau. In through the window floated a sharp crackling.

"Oh, dear!" he groaned, again, his too-eager hands making sad work of
his dressing.

He heard his mother's exclamations of alarm, and his father's replies
to calm her; and without, echoed the feet of running men, the cries:
"Fire! Fire! Fire!" and the doleful rise and fall of the water-works
whistle.

His father rushed heavily down the front stairs, and the door slammed
behind him.

Ned, his clothing only half fixed, instantly followed. As he flew
through the back hall he glimpsed Maggie, wringing her hands, quite
beside herself with grief and fright.

"Oh, Neddie!" said his mother, whom he passed at the head of the
stairs, her hands filled with valuables.

He did not reply, but dashed down, and out of the back door.

The whole west end of the barn, joining the wood-shed, was blazing. His
father was already attacking the sliding carriage-door (fastened from
within), with an ax, while a little group of spectators, anxious to
help, stood about him.

"Where's the key to this?" demanded a man, who was tugging at the
padlock of the smaller single door.

"Under the step--I'll find it!" gasped Ned, stooping and groping in
front of the sill.

The key had slipped into a crack, but he drew it out, and put it to the
padlock.

"Bob! Here, Bob! Here, Bob!" opening the door, he shouted, up the loft
stairs just before him.

At his words the flames and smoke sucked down upon him, nearly stifling
him.

"Bob! Here, Bob! Here, Bob!" he hallooed again.

But no Bob. With a sob in his throat Ned sprang across the threshold,
only to be seized from behind and dragged back, while the flames,
disappointed, licked after him into the outer air.

"You little fool--are you trying to kill yourself?" roughly asked the
man, holding him tight.

"But my dog's in there!" cried Ned, straining to break away. "Here,
Bob! Here, Bob!" he called.

"He's a goner, then," declared the man. "Don't you see? The whole
loft's ablaze!"

"Y-y-yes, I see," quavered Ned, growing limp with a sense of the awful
thing that had happened. Oh, Bob, Bob, Bob!

He ceased his efforts to be free, and the man released him.

In the meantime Mr. Miller's blows had splintered a hole so that he was
enabled to reach in and lift the hook. The sliding door crashed open,
and in through the smoke he dashed, seized the buggy by the rear axles,
and dragged it into the yard. Its varnish was blistering from the heat.

Time for rescuing anything else was not given. In a fierce tide a
torrent of blaze from the burning hay above poured out between the
warping boards, and bending inward with the draft filled the doorway.
Through the barn, top to bottom, ravaged the fire-giant with his
flaming sword.

Still the water-works whistle was tooting and yodling, but not a
hose cart had arrived. The crowd was growing rapidly, for the fire,
fed by a ton of hay, and a quantity of grain, was lighting up the
vicinity for blocks. There was a constant volley of queries about the
hose-companies, and a constant gazing down street for some sign of
their coming; Mr. Miller was in despair; but no cart was yet on hand.

The kitchen gable was beginning to smoke. Ned hurriedly coupled the
garden hose to the faucet set in the foundation of the house, and
turned the nozzle upon the scorching paint. The stream appeared
ridiculously small, and was bent and shattered by the storm of
inrushing air.

Mr. Miller crawled through a second-story window above the kitchen
roof, and hung a coverlet, hastily jerked from a bed and soaked with
water, over the gable where the heat seemed worst. A line of men was
formed from the pump and from the kitchen sink, up the back stairs, and
passed buckets of water out to him. These he emptied over the coverlet,
and here and there over the shingles.

Below, inside, were Maggie and Mrs. Miller, the one naturally as strong
as any man, the other nerved, by the crisis, to unusual strength,
standing at the faucets of the sink and filling pails, pitchers, wash
pans, anything that might serve to supply the line of men.

Outside, with the fire baking him, behind, and the spray from the
nozzle drenching him, in front, Ned valiantly plied his stream. On a
sudden it died away to a mere trickle. The hose, under the increased
pressure put on by the water-works, had burst.

Ned dropped the nozzle. At the same instant a chorus of shouts arose,
and a score of hands were upstretched, pointing at a spot where, eight
feet above the kitchen roof, under the exposed gable-peak of the main
portion of the house a flicker of flame was licking along.

Mr. Miller, bareheaded, his eyebrows and hair singed by the waves of
heat, from his position upon the sloping roof of the kitchen, heard the
cries of warning, and saw the blaze which had passed his defenses, and
was in his rear. But in vain he dashed water at it. Protected as it
was by the overhanging eaves, and occupying a place awkward for him to
reach, it resisted all his efforts.

"Climb up with a rope!" yelled some voices.

"Get a ladder! A ladder's the thing!" yelled others.

But nobody seemed able to find rope or ladder, and the flame continued
to grow.

Ned shot through the kitchen and up the front stairs. He bolted into
his room--it was hot as a furnace, poor little room!--and snatching
his ball of trot-line from the drawer where it had lain nearly a year,
bolted out again. He scrambled through the open window of Mr. and Mrs.
Miller's bedchamber, and running along the roof of the front porch
shinned up the water-spout and was upon the house-top. He scaled the
steep slant, and now, balanced astride the peak, shuffled toward the
farther end. The crowd saw him, and cheered.

In a moment his astonished father beheld him perched on the burning
gable.

"Ned! Go down," exclaimed Mr. Miller.

Ned wasted no time in arguing.

"Tie a bucket or something on this," he called, lowering his trot-line
as he unwound it.

Mr. Miller grabbed a small tin pail which was just being passed out to
him, and fastened it to the dangling cord. With the water splashing
from it Ned hauled it up, and the crowd of spectators watched,
breathless.

All he could do was to lean over as far as he dared and dash its
contents up under the eaves; a groan from the watchers told him that
he had done no good. Although attacked from above and below, the tiny
blaze lived on.

The fire had spread from the Miller barn westward, and by means of the
on-stretching sheds was eating its way, rod by rod. The Millers' next
door neighbors, on the west, were battling stoutly, with garden hose
and buckets, and the structures across the alley had caught.

[Illustration: ALL HE COULD DO WAS TO LEAN OVER AND DASH THE WATER
UNDER THE EAVES.]

These were low sheds, and not barns, so that the houses were not apt
to catch. The Miller house was the only one that seemed doomed. Try as
they might, neither Ned nor his father nor other eager helpers could
put out that steady flame under the eaves; and now the kitchen eaves,
also, were smoking and smouldering in a dozen places. The kitchen roof
was getting so slippery that Mr. Miller could hardly move about on it.

"Clang! Clang! Clang!" The approach of succor faintly fell on Ned's
ears. The hose-carts, at last!

"The hose-carts! They're coming now!" he shouted to his father.

"The hose-carts! There come the hose-carts!" murmured the crowd in
swiftly increasing tones.

"Hurrah!" cheered Ned, scrambling back over the roof to the porch.

"Thank God!" sighed Mr. Miller; and then he could not refrain from
adding, as he had a right to do, the mild criticism: "And it's about
_time_ they came, too."

Indeed it was. Down the dark street, shaded by the trees, appeared four
spots of light. "Clang! Clang! Clang!" louder sounded the gongs--never
a more welcome sound. With tramp of feet and hoarse shouts up raced the
rival carts of the Pole Star and Defiance companies, drawn by their
volunteers, and unreeling their hose as they came.

With a crash and a shower of sparks the loft of the barn fell in, but
there still was plenty of work for the two floods that presently gushed
from the fire nozzles. Mr. Miller hastily ducked through the window,
and above his head spattered a heavy stream before which the impudent
blaze beneath the main gable was blotted from existence. A driving
deluge swept against the kitchen, and all those little flames that had
been taxing the bucket brigade vanished in a twinkling.

The house was saved; but seldom house had more narrow escape!

Ned, climbing in again from the porch, had proceeded to do something
that long had been on his mind. His loaded shotgun cartridges!
Supposing the house should burn and they should explode and injure
people! He had a vague notion that he would be liable to arrest for
having kept powder around. Besides, he did not want anybody to be hurt.
So he groped his way into the attic, and piling the shells in his arms
carried them down and laid them under the front steps. Then he breathed
easier.

He found that his care had been needless. The house was out of danger,
and already the fire, in its march from shed to shed, had been met by
the nozzle-men and stayed in its tracks. Two streams were playing on
the barn, their water hissing among the red-hot embers. Other hose
companies had arrived, and under the efforts the glare of a few moments
before had sunk to a fitful glimmer.

Mrs. Miller and Maggie turned from their labors at the sink to the
gasoline stove and made a huge bucket of coffee. This they served to
the chilled, tired members of the bucket brigade, who were wet with
perspiration as well as with splashes from the pails.

Ned now found time to recognize in the throng of helpers and onlookers
people from far and near. The whole town was there--and had come, as
the funny costumes proved, in a great hurry.

Hal and Tom appeared in breathless haste, and sought him out, and
condoled with him.

"It's too bad, Ned," said Hal. "But I don't believe that even if the
hose companies had got here sooner they could have saved the barn. That
hay made an awful blaze."

"Why didn't they come sooner?" demanded Ned.

"Why, they had the wrong signal," explained Tom. "They went 'way off in
North Beaufort, and then they saw the flames and turned 'round."

"Didn't you save a thing?" asked Hal.

"Just the buggy," answered Ned, with a gulp as heart-sickness rose in
his throat.

"Oh, pshaw!" exclaimed the two boys, their tones expressing much more
of sympathy than the mere words tell. Ned walked away, and they kindly
let him alone.

By twos and threes the crowd thinned out. There was nothing now to see.
Gradually, as the need for their streams ceased, the lines of hose were
wound on their reels.

Darkness settled over the scene.

Before going to bed again the Millers had much to do. While they
themselves, with other fire-fighters, had been busy in the rear of the
house, a swarm of eager townsmen had been invading the front part, and
lugging out everything movable upon which they might lay hands. Chairs,
books, sofa, pictures, rugs,--all had been hurriedly borne across the
street and piled in a heap.

Even carpets had been pulled from the floors, and bundled into the
outer air.

On the top of the pile sat, as if on his own quarter-deck, Commodore
Jones. The commodore might be styled as in undress uniform; slippers,
trousers, and a red bandanna to keep the night damp from creeping down
the neck of his nightshirt forming his outer costume.

"Who is it?" asked Mr. Miller, peering up at him, through the dusk.

"Oh, it's only Jones. I was kinder keepin' an eye on these things o'
yourn," wheezed the commodore, carefully descending.

"Well, I'm sure we're much obliged, commodore," said Mr. Miller,
knowing the voice.

"You see," exclaimed the commodore, "I looked out o' my winder, and
I thought this whole end of town must be burnin'. An' after I'd got
started, I heared it was your barn an' house, an' I reckoned I'd come
on an' lend a hand. An' bein' as I can't stand a wettin' I thought I'd
mount guard over your truck, here. I've been burned out, myself, an' I
know how more things are lost by bein' stole an' damaged than by the
fire itself."

"It wasn't necessary, quite, to carry out so much," observed Mr.
Miller, surveying, as best he could, the heap of goods.

"They was a leetle premature, that's a fact," agreed the commodore.
"It's a pity you ain't goin' to move; you've got a fine start at it."

With the aid of the commodore and a few neighbors the Millers placed
their household furnishings back under cover. Ned carried his
cartridges indoors, again. Mrs. Miller declared that she could not
sleep with her kitchen in such shape--the floor one big puddle and
streaked with mud--and she and Maggie went at it with mop and broom.
They not only cleaned the floor, but also the porch and the back
stairs, which were wet from top to bottom with the overflow from the
pails and pans.

This done, the Miller household retired to resume its broken slumbers.
But during the rest of the night Ned, for his part, slumbered only by
snatches, now thinking that he smelled smoke from some fire anew, and
now thinking that he heard Bob appealing to him. Several times he found
his pillow wet with tears, despite his efforts to shut them back.

At last he gave way, and blubbered well in the dark, while he moaned:
"Bob! Dear old Bob!"

Nevertheless, all the time in his breast was a faint hope that perhaps,
by hook or crook, Bob was living. It did not seem possible that he
should be dead--gone forever.

However, in the morning the insurance men, poking among the ruins,
found him. He was in the midst of the charred hay. The flames had
scarcely touched him, and Mr. Miller said that a painless death by the
thick smoke had come upon him in his burrow without his ever waking.

Ned was glad to believe it, and was happier. He took only one look at
the still body of his faithful, loyal chum, and walked away across the
desolated yard, scarred and marred by the midnight events. He noted
naught of this desolation without, for his eyes were brimming, and
within, around his heart, reigned a greater desolation.

Later, where the horse's stall had been, were found four
horseshoes--these, and nothing more. Yet the fate of Fanny appeared to
Ned as nothing, beside the fate of Bob.

He went to school, as usual. Zu-zu came running up to him.

"Oh, Ned! Is Bob really dead?"

Ned nodded. Whereupon Zu-zu burst into tears and fled up the school
steps, into the shelter of the hall.

Ned wished that for the moment he, too, were a girl, so that _he_ might
act as he felt.



CHAPTER XVII

THE RAID THAT FAILED


Wood-piling time had come again. It found a new barn and a new shed
already standing, in place of the old ones, upon the Miller premises.
The scorched house had been repainted and the blistered buggy had been
revarnished. Thus far the damage by the fire had been made good. But
here the work must stop, for no new Bob could fill the place of the old
Bob.

Bob had long been put away; still Ned often dreamed of him, and
while knowing that such a thing was impossible, was always expecting
to meet him, suddenly, around some corner. No other dog would Ned
have, although his father told him to get whatever kind he chose. To
Bob--faithful, human Bob,--there could be no second.

The long vacation had begun, and Ned was making his morning attack
upon his eleven loads of slabs--that annual visitation to which he was
subjected--when he heard a familiar whistle, answered it according to
the code, and presently saw Hal climb over the alley fence.

"Hello," greeted Hal. "Got to work?"

"Yes," replied Ned, gloomily. "Just look at the wood, will you!"

"Want to know something?" queried Hal--news fairly sticking out all
over him. "Well, listen here. What do you suppose old Belton has got
planted 'way off behind his house! Watermelons!"

He paused in order to give his audience time to swallow the startling
fact.

"Whereabouts?" asked Ned, delight in his tone.

"Near the ravine, beyond the grapes," answered Hal. "He thinks he has
them hid, I guess; but I ran slap into them yesterday when I was taking
a short cut to the creek. Come on, and I'll show you."

"I can't come now," said Ned, slowly. "I've got to pile wood till noon.
But I'll go with you right away after dinner."

"Well, you come around, then," agreed Hal.

Squire Belton's "place," at the outskirts of the town, was a standing
challenge, for half the year, at least, to the Beaufort youth. Of
course, the squire was only prudent in guarding his fruit as he did. He
grew fruit to sell, not to donate to greedy boys. But they regarded him
as a cantankerous, mean old codger, and perfectly lawful prey.

It was very tantalizing to trudge along the dusty road, on a day of
late August, and to gaze helplessly at those trees laden with their
delicious, beckoning apples! However, the squire's big white house
commanded this orchard, and its windows were ever staring, and the
squire himself or some of his family never failed to catch the least
wavering from the straight path of honesty--in this case the path
outside the orchard fence.

In addition, the barbed wires of the fence were close together, and
as tight as fiddle-strings--ugly things to scale when the squire's
vigorous yellow dog was coming full tilt.

There were grapes, too; and these were on the slope, facing the house,
and in plain sight from the porch and sitting-room.

Orchard and vineyard stayed proof against nearly all plots and attacks.
But now, thanks to Hal's "short cut," for two Beauforters, anyway, a
new field of action was opened.

Hurrah for the melon-patch!

His mind filled with the bright prospect, Ned gobbled a hasty dinner,
and made a bee-line for Hal's house.

Together they took their way to the limits of town, and cunningly made
a circuit of the Belton premises until safe from those prying, alert
windows and the ever watchful yellow dog. Then Hal led his companion
into the ravine that pierced the squire's lands. Amidst a jungle of
undergrowth they worked a course, and when Hal gave the word warily
mounted the flank.

"There!" said Hal, when they had gained the crest.

In front of them lay a small, secluded area of low vines, with every
few feet a smooth, green oval showing itself--peaceful promise of a
fine feast to come.

"Isn't this luck!" whispered Hal.

"Say!" sighed Ned, overcome by his feelings.

Having surveyed, they beat a crafty retreat. So very cautious were
they, that on their way home they scarce even dared discuss the find.
It seemed too good to be true, and might vanish.

That evening, when at supper Mr. Miller remarked that an extraordinary
crop of melons was in view, Ned was so startled that he dropped his
knife. Yet his father's words had no reference at all to Squire Belton!

As the days passed Ned and Hal made regular visits to the melon-patch.
When speaking of the patch, so careful were they that they always said
"it," and by "it" each knew what the other meant. Thirty yards was the
nearest that they ventured to "it," since this was the space separating
"it" from the ravine. They kept their secret to themselves, deeming
that they could manage the raid--and the melons--without help. Ned
wanted to let Tom in, but Hal thought that two was enough, and inasmuch
as the patch was his by reason of discovery, Ned could only yield.

Week by week the melons swelled. The exact time for making closer
acquaintance with them was hard to decide upon. The raid must not be
too early, and on the other hand there was danger that it might be
too late. Finally, Ned and Hal could no longer stand it. Melons were
beginning to appear in market. The moment for action had come.

The boys chose a Tuesday night as the date for the attack. Ned invited
Hal over to spend the evening at his house, and to sleep there. As this
was nothing out of the way, it drew no suspicion.

They retired early up-stairs, the better to talk. They simply _had_
to talk, or they would have exploded. About ten o'clock, when the
household was quiet and abed, they climbed out of the window of Ned's
room, scampered softly in their stockinged feet across the sloping roof
of the little side porch, lowered themselves to the ground, hurriedly
put on their shoes, scurried for the back fence, vaulted it, and at
last were safely in the protecting alley.

There was no moon, and, old woodsmen though they were, their way seemed
to get all mixed up, full of sticks and cans and holes and hillocks.
Even in the most open road they were continually stepping on things
that snapped or clattered, and they imagined that the whole country
around-about must be aroused by the noise!

Faint in the distance, or near at hand, barked dogs of farmyard and
town-yard. An owl hooted in an accusing tone, and Pete, Deacon Rogers'
venerable clay-colored horse, from his pasture wheezed at them through
the misty blackness.

"What's that!" exclaimed Hal, huskily, startled; and Ned, too, jumped
at the sound.

Had they not been setting out to "hook" melons, they might have been
braver. A nagging conscience is a bad escort, especially on a dark
night!

They entered the ravine. What a ravine that was! Not very kindly by
day, by night it was downright wicked! Every twig thrust up a finger
to trap their feet; every branch shot out a hand to slap them in the
face. And there was not a single guide-post. Darkness had swallowed all
landmarks, and the boys could only guess.

When it seemed that they surely ought to be opposite the proper spot,
they climbed the steep slope.

"Hurrah!" cheered Hal, beneath his breath, when they reached the top.
"We've just struck it! Here's the poplar we go by!"

"Sh!" hissed Ned.

As they crossed the thirty yards that lay between them and the patch,
how the weeds crackled under their tread! At length they arrived at
the fence bordering the little field; formerly a fence with sagging,
swaying barbed wires betwixt which even the most awkward person ought
to slip without touching, but just at present a demon of a fence which
left a stinging scratch along Ned's back, and with a tearing sound
clutched Hal by the trousers.

"Jiminy!" exclaimed Hal.

"Shut up!" cautioned Ned.

And they were among the vines!

The only thing they could do was, carry off as many melons as they were
able--one under each arm--and eat them. The chief reward would be the
glory of having got ahead of Squire Belton. How mad he would be when
he found, in the morning, that he had been outwitted!

The boys groped about on the ground, with hands and feet as happened to
be most convenient. What is apt to be the case, the fruit which they
felt now here, now there, did not quite suit them. They fancied that
a bit farther on they would come across some better in quality. Since
they could take only a small quantity, they wanted it to be high in
quality.

So they proceeded, step by step, always in the hope that they would
light upon _the_ melon, a melon worth while.

"Cr-rash!"

"Oh, thunder!"

Hal had tripped on a vine, and had been sent sprawling.

"Bow-wow-wow! Bow-wow-wow-wow! Bow!"

The Belton yellow dog! Nothing was left for them but speedy flight.
What a watchful animal that was!

"Leg it!" ordered Ned.

At the instant of the accident to Hal, Ned had been fingering a sphere
of unusual fatness. Now with a jerk he wrenched it from its stem, and
hugging it in his arms put his command into practice. He "legged it."
So did Hal.

All sense of direction was lost to them; they remembered not which was
north or which was west; their sole thought was to escape the attack of
the yellow dog. Off to the left they dashed, dimly believing that they
were heading for the ravine.

"Look out for the barbed wire!" gasped Hal.

But they met with no fence, where they expected. Crunch, crash, stumble
and plunge, through the vines, out from the vines, and into a clump of
raspberry bushes! Cracky! How those bushes punished them! Yet on they
ploughed, each for himself, Ned clasping his melon, and the yellow dog
yelping in their wake.

Out from amidst the raspberries--and suddenly Ned was hurled backward
for a complete somersault! A wire fence, fortunately not barbed, had
caught him fiercely, raising a huge welt across his chest and another
across his knees.

"Hurt you?" panted Hal, alarmed, bringing up just in time.

"Not much," panted Ned.

With a rush they overcame the fence. Their hope lay in motion on and
on, until that dog was safely behind.

"Bow-wow-wow-wow! Wow! Wow-wow-wow!"

He was hard at their heels. Gallant old fellow, no doubt he enjoyed
many a hearty laugh over it all.

Hello! The vineyard! They had actually been running _toward_ the house,
instead of away from it. No wonder the dog was so excited.

Ned was a few feet in advance--a credit to his fleetness, but not to
his courage--and in trying to tack and veer in a new direction he
slipped, fell, and rolled down the slope, staying not for stalk nor
trellis, clear to the bottom.

"And Jill (or Hal) came tumbling after!"

Still Ned clung to his precious melon, which by a succession of
miracles was yet unbroken!

With a thump they landed in the dry ditch that cut along the foot of
the vineyard. They vaulted the board fence just beyond, noting, at the
same moment, that a light was glimmering in the upper story of the
Belton house. Evidently the dog's clamor had been heard.

The house was too close for comfort, but it gave them their bearings.
Only a stretch of level pasture now remained between them and the road.

"Almost there! Keep going!" urged Ned.

"Bow-wow-wow! Bow-wow! Wow-wow! Wow!" bellowed their pursuer.

They imagined that they could feel his hot breath through the holes in
their trousers. Hit or miss, they scaled the final fence--this time a
vicious barbed wire thing which took tribute in the shape of both cloth
and flesh--and for dear life pattered down the welcome road.

Towser's voice became subdued by distance. Looking over their shoulders
they saw the flicker of a lantern upon the squire's front porch. They
slackened their pace to a rapid walk.

"Jiminy!" puffed Hal. "Didn't we track it, though! The dog couldn't
catch us!"

"I've got a melon!" wheezed Ned.

"Bully for you!" praised Hal. "Let's feel."

"It's awful rough--it must be a musk-melon," he said, caressing it with
eager fingers. "Smell it."

Ned obeyed.

"Well, it doesn't _smell_ very musky," he muttered, doubtfully.

"I guess perhaps it's a watermelon," declared Hal. "But either way it's
all right. What's the matter with eating it now? Nobody'll follow us
this far."

"That's a go," agreed Ned. "I'm dead tired," and at once turning aside,
with a grunt of relief he threw himself upon the grass by the hedge
that skirted the road.

Hal lost no time in copying his example.

Mellowed by the damp night air, from the scene of the late hostilities
floated to them the fitful voice of the yellow dog, as he continued to
tell his family all about it. Of course he made out to them that the
boys were a band of determined robbers, whom he had surprised and put
to flight.

The moon, just rising, was shedding an uncertain light over the
landscape.

"Slice her open," suggested Hal--referring to the melon, not to the
moon.

Already Ned was fumbling with a battered jack-knife, trying to divide
the prize in a scientific fashion, so as to give each some of the heart.

It was a mighty tough rind. Could the melon be green, after all! He
worked as rapidly as he could, considering the poor light, and the
impatient remarks of Hal, who was getting thirstier and thirstier.

Victory! He managed to stick his fingers in a crack, and with a tug
pulled the stubborn mass apart.

"Here," he said, passing Hal a chunk.

He himself took the mate to it, and carried to his mouth a handful of
the spongy, stringy stuff.

The melon had not _felt_ precisely right--and certainly it did not
_taste_ precisely right!

"Faugh!" exclaimed Hal.

"Wa-a-a-a!" exclaimed Ned.

How they sputtered! Their melon was a squash!

Words cannot express their disgust. They had missed the melon-patch
entirely. All that trouble for only a squash! And now their chances had
been ruined. The squire would be on his guard.

"Come on--let's go home," blurted Ned; and the two stiffly stood up.
Stiffly it was, indeed, for their spirits had been most effectually
"squashed," and they began to be conscious of tokens of their recent
flight. They were drenched with dew. Every inch of their bodies and
faces and hands smarted and ached from the briars and collisions with
posts, wires, sticks and stones. Their heads throbbed. They were cold,
hungry, and completely fagged. They wished they were in bed.

Speaking scarcely another syllable they dragged their heavy feet along
the well-nigh endless mile of homeward journey. As they entered the
alley the town clock chimed twelve.

They scrambled over the fence, shinned up the porch--so tuckered that
they did not care whether or not they made any noise--and tumbled
across the bed. Such a soft, soothing bed as that was! Feebly they
started to undress as they lay, but they did no more than kick off
their shoes, and were asleep.

They slept like logs, until awakened by the rising-bell. Quite in vain
would they make themselves respectable, although they tried their level
best. All their scrubbings and brushings and pinnings really seemed to
improve their appearance not one whit. The raspberry bushes and the
barbed wire had been too thorough. Court-plaster, rather than pins, was
needed.

They were late to breakfast; and this enabled them to escape the keen
eyes of Ned's father, who, having been a boy, would _know_!

However, Mrs. Miller--thoughtful mother--was waiting for them.

"Goodness, boys! What _have_ you been up to?" she cried, as they neared
the table.

It might have been the scratches; it might have been the clothes;
probably it was both.

"Oh, we fell down," answered Ned, sheepishly.

His mother scanned him sharply, but made no farther remark;
nevertheless, Ned suspected that the end was not yet.

Squire Belton, or his yellow dog, must have talked around town, so that
certain fathers heard; and certain mothers, having patched and darned
some sadly-abused garments, must have exchanged notes, as mothers
will: at any rate, in a day or two the Miller family--save Ned--had
watermelon for dessert, but Ned's dessert was a huge piece of raw
squash!

And Hal reported exactly the same treatment.



CHAPTER XVIII

CHANGES


Thus passed the days in Beaufort; very good days they were, too, taking
them all in all. But they could not go on forever; in human experience
nothing--not even eleven loads of wood--lasts forever, and suddenly Ned
found himself on the brink of a change greater than his other greatest
one: the loss of Bob, now a year back.

For some time it had seemed to him that his father and mother were
sharing a secret between them, and keeping him out in the cold. They
would be talking, and when he drew near they would stop, with a glance
from one to the other that said: "Look out!" If he hung around for
quite a while after he had made them do this, he would be sent off on
an errand; and once his father had even said, frankly: "Ned, boy, run
away. Your mother and I want to talk about something."

The idea!

It could not be about Christmas, for Christmas was eight months ahead.
And it could not be about his birthday, for his birthday had just
been. And it could not be about another dog, for he would not have
another dog--ever! Then what _was_ it about? He felt abused, as well
as excited.

"Ned, how would you like to leave Beaufort?" asked his
father, abruptly, one evening, at the supper-table.

"Leave Beaufort!" repeated Ned, astonished.

"Yes," said his mother. "Move away, you know."

"For good? Where to?" demanded Ned, eagerly.

"Yes, probably for good; not for bad, let us hope," replied his father,
answering his first.

"To Chicago," replied his mother, answering his second.

"Will we take Maggie?" stammered Ned, with an eye to the pantry
supplies.

"I suppose so, but that isn't the point," said his father--although Ned
thought it a very important point, indeed. "The point is, would you
like to go?"

"I'd hate to leave the river, and--and everything," faltered Ned.

"But you'll have Lake Michigan, instead," spoke his mother.

"Tom and Hal and the other fellows won't be there," objected Ned.

"They can come to see you," explained his mother. "And you'll pick up
lots of new friends. Why, the parks are full of boys!"

"Having fun?" asked Ned.

"Yes; baseball and all kinds of games, some that you never saw,"
assured his mother.

"But there isn't any hunting, is there?" objected Ned. "I want to
hunt."

"You can do your hunting when you come back to Beaufort to visit,"
proposed his father.

"Can I take the scull-boat?" queried Ned.

"No, I believe you had better leave that here," decided his father.
"The lake has yachts, and steamers running across, you know----"

"Out of sight of land?" asked Ned, hopefully. "Do they get wrecked?"

"W-well, not often," said his father. "But they _do_ get out of sight
of land, that's sure."

"When are we going to move?" demanded Ned, now all ready to pack up.

"About the middle of next month," replied his father.

"Then I won't have any wood to pile!" cried Ned, overjoyed.

"No," said his father, laughing. "I guess we have enough to last us
through."

So they were really to move away from Beaufort! This was the secret.
Ned found out a lot of things before supper was finished, and as soon
as he could he rushed out to tell. He went up to Hal's--and Hal was
tremendously astounded. Hal and he went over to Tom's--and Tom was
astounded tremendously. And all three talked at once.

"My folks say I can have you up to visit me, right away as soon as we
get settled," announced Ned.

"I'll come if I can," agreed Hal.

"So will I, you bet," agreed Tom. "I've never been in Chicago--at
least, since I was big enough to remember."

"You can have the whole scull-boat, now, Hal," said Ned.

"I don't want the whole of it. That wouldn't be fair. You can take it
with you," proposed Hal.

"But I can't take it--and that wouldn't be fair, either," declared Ned.

"I'll tell you! You give your half to Tom!" cried Hal.

"That's so!" exclaimed Ned. "Good idea, Hal! You can have my share,
Tom. I'll make you a present of it."

"Oh, you're fooling!" asserted Tom, staggered at the thought of owning
part of the famous craft.

"No, I'm not," retorted Ned. "You can have it, truly you can."

"Sa-a-ay!" gasped Tom. "I don't know how I can ever pay you back----"

"Oh, shucks!" scoffed Ned. "'Tisn't anything. Besides, Hal thought of
it first. He's the fellow to thank."

"Well," said Tom, "anyhow, whenever you come around and want it you can
have it again. I'll just keep it for you."

The scull-boat being settled, the boys chattered and planned about
other things; and they talked as fast and as excitedly as though Ned
was leaving the next day, instead of the next month. So much had to be
discussed and arranged.

That night, Ned dreamed that he came down to breakfast and lo, his
father told him to hurry, because they were all packed and ready to
start; and there in the front yard was the scull-boat, heaped with
household goods, and waiting. His mother and father and Maggie got
in, and then when he followed he had scarcely any room. Off moved the
scull-boat, down the street, with him trying to stick on; and into the
river it glided--and just across the river, where the swimming-beach
used to be, was Chicago. Faster sped the boat, and now one of his
legs dangled in the water, and next both, and next he was slipping,
slipping, slipping, and with one last despairing clutch he was left
behind! He swam after the boat as hard as he could, but his clothes
pulled him down, and nobody noticed him--until suddenly dear old Bob
was there in the water beside him, and catching hold of Bob's stiff
tail he was towed, at the rate of a mile a minute, back to Commodore
Jones' fish-market.

But when he woke up, it wasn't so!

The remaining weeks were busy ones for Ned. He had so many things to
do, as farewells. Strange to say, all his friends envied him because
he was going, and he envied them because they were staying! Only, he
did not let on how he felt; it is rather nice to be envied, you see!
Yet deep in his heart he wished that he might have a while longer in
Beaufort, where he knew everybody and where there was so much fun.

At last his final trips down the river, and up the river, and across
the river, and to the flats, and everywhere else, had been made. He
had shaken hands with Commodore Jones--who took pipe from mouth long
enough to say: "Well, good luck to you, boy!"--and had patted the
scull-boat--who said nothing--good-bye for a space. At last all the
chores and errands of "moving" had been done. The furniture had been
stored, to be shipped later, the house was bare and empty, and it was
high time they got out, for another family was waiting to get in.

The Millers slept, that night, at a neighbor's; and in the morning they
left.

Ah, how limp Ned felt, at going. Chicago could not hold a candle, he
was sure, to Beaufort--even South Beaufort, where lurked Big Mike and
Big Mike's "gang."

Hal and Tom and Zu-zu were at the station to see him off. Hal brought
as a parting gift a knife with six blades (better than even the knife
which had been lost among the Indian mounds), Tom a flaming red silk
handkerchief (a thing of beauty), and Zu-zu six No. 8 shot (once they
had been in Ned's shoulder) set in a watch-charm!

"You've all got to come and see me as quick as we're fixed; don't you
forget!" reminded Ned.

"We will--and you've got to come and see us, too!" they reminded, back.

Ned was hoping that something might be wrong with the engine, so that
the train could not start. But alas!

"All abo-o-oard!" sang the conductor, watch in hand.

"Clang, clang! Clang, clang!" warned the bell. "Choo! Choo! Choo!"
warned the exhaust. The train began to move.

"Good-bye!" called the friends--Mr. and Mrs. Miller's friends, as well
as Ned's, were on the platform--waving.

"Good-bye!" called Ned, through the window, waving in answer.
"Good-bye, Hal! Good-bye, Tom! Good-bye, Zu-zu!"

Across the bridge, over the river, rolled the train; past the
breakwater, where he had rescued Tom, and above which was the
swimming-beach; past the slough, where he had been shot, and over which
was the trestle from which Bob had taken his amazing flight; and on and
on, into the country. Beaufort and Beaufort people, Eagle Island, Deep
Creek, and all, were far behind.

"Just the same, I'm coming back every chance I get!" vowed Ned, stoutly
fighting to keep down the tears.

"Of course you are!" said his mother, putting her arm around him.

Whereupon Ned proceeded to make the most gorgeous plans that ever were;
and the best thing about them is--that some of them came true!


THE END





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Beaufort Chums" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home